To Gilbert Derry
October 11, 1972
I know that asking you to take care of my estate
is a difficult task. And I am profoundly sorry that I will not be here
at this time to help you, I have the utmost faith in your strength and
perseverance. I wish only that your parents had lived long enough to
see the strong man you have become. They would be so proud of you and
your successes, of that you can be assured.
Now we must move to the task at hand. As it was stated
at the formal reading earlier today, I have left you the townhouse in
Queen's Park as well a tidy sum of money. However, there is one piece
of this business that has no doubt left you in a bit of a quandary:
that being the matter of 'Montcalme'. Let us dispense of the few bits
of fact surrounding it that are simple enough to explain. First, it
is a 135-acre estate in the north of France that now belongs to you.
Second, the estate derives its name from the hill named 'Montcalme'
(literally 'Calm Mountain', it is neither) on the southern end of the
property. Third, there is no house on the estate, though, at one time
in the not so distant past, there was. Fourth, I ask that once a year,
on St. Anthony's day you pay the parish priest a small sum to bless
the grounds of the old chateau. I would never place such a burden upon
you without explaining my reasons for it, so what remains of this letter
is my best and true account of the reasons behind how we came to possess
and ultimately must try to retain 'Montcalme'.
In the spring of '25 I was not as you knew me, I
was just a simple teacher. I was also a veteran of that 'Great' war
and I reaped the rewards of my sufferings in a perpetual state of alcohol
fueled celebration and jazz music.
I will say this about the war and continue with the
story: I was ashamed of my behavior in battle. I had expected fear in
me, and there was a little of that, but honestly, there was more, something
of a bloodlust, or 'lustmord' as the Germans call it. I enjoyed it;
I took pleasure in the kill. Man cannot be blamed for his behavior in
war, but I drank away those bleak memories, as so many others of my
day did. But this celebration eventually took its toll on my ethic and
teaching position at University.
It also pushed me dangerously close to not being acceptable
enough to marry your grandmother. Faced with this uncertainty, I spent
a depressingly long summer break with my best friend Alex by my side,
(a man is lucky to have at least one friend he thinks of as his brother;
the man who has no such friend is a hollow man indeed), inside a bottle
of bourbon with no real hopes of emerging. No hope that is, until I
found out, quite unexpectedly, that I had inherited an estate in France!
You have no doubt guessed by now that the estate in
question was Montcalme. I had always known that I had a French uncle
named Pierre Derry; I had even spent a day in London with him when I
was 10 (he struck me as a bit 'off' even at my tender age). However,
it never occurred to me that he had such possessions or wealth, even
more astounding was the question of why would he leave them to me? The
answer was simply that I was the last of the Derry line.
Of Uncle Pierre himself I remember only that he was
repellent in nature to my family, that they despised spending time with
him, and subsequently he was never invited to attend family celebrations.
I assumed that this was because he was a distant relative, and that
he was obnoxious and rude in a way only an aging pariah can be.
I fear that I am carrying on with trivial details
and not getting to the important matters of the story I need to impart.
Let us speed up by saying, for whatever reasons, Alex and I struck upon
the idea that, with a little sponsorship from his father, he and I would
take sabbatical from school. I would spend 6 months or more on the estate,
gathering information for a book about the region's history, and more
importantly, how it was recovering a scant seven years after the war,
and he would use Montcalme as a home base while studying the area's
rich medieval architectural history for a book of his own. As for me,
being an assistant professor in French History, this would be easy enough,
but I could also add the unique perspective of being a soldier who himself
had fought in this very region in that very war. This would allow me
the opportunity of full professorship at a good university, and most
importantly, fulfill all my requirements to marry Caroline.
Even Alex would get something out of this (though
the book he wrote about the region went unpublished) and this way he
could spend a fortnight from time to time with me while he made his
tours. So it was decided and all plans were made, tearful farewells
given and Alex and I found ourselves bound for my new estate the 5th
day of July 1925.
There was little ceremony made over the estate, the
barrister in the adjacent town had but two papers for me to sign before
giving me the keys and ground surveys. He had little information as
to the origins of the estate or why it had befallen me and beyond hints
of lineage, he'd never even heard of me.
The road to the estate close to town revealed
nothing of the surprising sights to be beheld further along, it was
only after two miles that the way became completely overhung with ancient
trees. If one drove on the main highway as fast as some cars do nowadays,
the turnoff would be missed altogether. After a further half-mile or
so, the road suddenly chicaned, the trees broke away to the sides the
road and the estate was suddenly presented to the startled viewer.
The house itself was amazing. We turned from the main
road and followed a oce splendid drive until it rolled a casual semicircle
around the façade of the main building. We realized almost immediately
that it was a chateau more than a house. It was quite large, more than
I would ever need, and it had a style of design that I can best describe
as resembling the palace at Versailles (though not nearly as grand in
Alex placed it in the period of Louis XVI; the late
18th century. It was canary yellow in color; the plaster covering a
bit chipped and faded in places by time, but wonderfully warm nonetheless.
It was flat faced and perfectly symmetrical in front having a central
doorway and two rows of 5 windows on either side. Every frame was done
in carved wood in the shape of spinning columns, crested atop the by
friezes in the shape of hand carved seashells. The roof was flagstone,
cut to fit together like a jigsaw, and though some were cracking, it
was in quite good condition considering.
After spending a few minutes lost in awe at my sudden
windfall, Alex and I wandered in a circuit around the house. When we
reached the side, the view of the estate opened up and we could see
that an overgrown and neglected vineyard covered the whole of the nearby
acreage. The vines were browned and tangled from lack of care, but it
was apparent that it had been a hearty vineyard as recently as the start
of the war. This continued for miles, as far as the eye could see, broken
only by darkened forests and the occasional hill, and to the east and
south, the bald top of Montcalme, stripped of trees and brush by years
of bombing and entrenching during the war. Only wild brush grew there
now; the knot of thorns that now brambled and spread across its top
was more formidable to cross then any French or German pickets of 10
Before entering the house, we looked to survey it.
Our plans would obviously be ruined if the chateau proved to be unlivable.
Following the long disused garden path that encircled the house, we
continued to the rear and discovered that the house was shaped as a
'T'. Alex explained to me (he being the expert) that this was an odd
design for a chateau of the 18th century. The front of the house was
the flat of the 'T', and the leg of the 'T' spread out almost the length
of the façade. It was of the same canary yellow plaster, and
it was mostly obscured by creeper vines and wild rose buses. One thing
that was apparent however was that this part of the chateau was almost
windowless, and the openings that were present were of an ancient style;
tall and thinly slitted, as opposed to the more modern rectangular style.
This extension was clearly much older, but it took
Alex's expertise to explain why. The base was made of local stone and
mortar and had been covered in plaster as well, but somewhere in the
past century, the plaster had cracked and come loose, exposing the original
rock. The mortar between the rocks was fragile and crumbling to the
touch, and the rocks themselves had blunt impact lines as if fashioned
by rudimentary instruments. From these details, Alex surmised the events
surrounding my chateau.
He explained that although fires were not common,
in 400 years of an estate like this, they were not unheard of. He guessed
from this evidence that an ancient chateau, at least from the 15th century,
had once stood on the same spot. When it had burned, this section (perhaps
a dining hall), having high, vaulted ceilings and being mostly made
of stone, had survived the conflagration. The owners had more than likely
decided to incorporate the hallinto the new construction. It all sounded
quite reasonable to me, but I did wonder one thing: it wasn't a particularly
attractive building, why didn't they simply knock it down?
That question was answered when we moved to the back
of the chateau. As we stepped onto the patio, we beheld an amazing sight:
the entire length and breadth of the west wall was made up of a gorgeous
and completely intact stained glass window. Dominating the window was
the figure of a knight upon a horse, obviously a very important figure
to merit such a work in his honor. Archers soldiers and even pageboys
on either side, with bows nocked, flanked him, forever at the ready
to serve their master. There were several flags on poles and lying to
the sides, along with broken armor strewn in the background; there were
fires burning from a besieged city. The whole effect was to give this
flaxen bearded warrior the look of conquering hero. And though the knight
had a somewhat moribund and brooding look about him, the work was still
a remarkable sight. It truly was one of the most astounding works of
art I had beheld, and it was the sole reason, no doubt, that this part
of the old chateau remained.
Alex and I stood spellbound, transfixed by the sensation
that the finely painted eyes of the knight and his men seemed to follow
us wherever we went. It was a distinctly disturbing effect. Recognizing
that the window was meant to be appreciated from the inside (the paint
was on the interior of the glass), and through the light of the setting
sun. We decided that we would retire to this very room to witness the
Once inside we studied the heart of the chateau. The
interior of the house was done in rococo style; every eave, every facing
gilded with beautiful, but obviously flaking gold leaf. The ceilings
were painted to give the appearance of open sky, complete with winged
cherubs ascending to heaven. However, all of the rooms were sparsely
furnished, my uncle no doubt having to sell the antique furniture to
stave off his growing debts. The center of the house had a grand curved
staircase leading to the upstairs bedrooms, which were slightly more
accommodating than the first floor rooms, but nonetheless very similarly
On the first floor, behind the staircase, we were
immediately struck by the great age of the original wing of the house.
The wall behind the stair was of solid wood, heavy and dark from years
of lacquer and wood smoke. This wall was most certainly of the old house,
it had a massive solid oak door fitted roughly into it and held fast
to the wall with massive wrought iron hinges. It sat in a recess slightly
down from the floor of the front part of the house, and though it was
well done, it was clear that the architects had to do a bit of jerry-rigging
to get the two houses to fit together. Perhaps because of this it took
a lot of effort and sweat for both Alex and I to force it open it.
Once inside, the dominating presence of the knight
in the stained glass was undeniable. The sun had sunk further on the
western horizon and its light streamed through the portrait, breathing
an unearthly light into the warrior. He strode his horse in direct alignment
with the beautiful and ancient feast table, his figure being an overpowering
12 feet tall. Even his attendants loomed larger than life. The single
piece arrowheads resting in their quivers were the size of a man's hand.
The impressive bows that each held in their right hand were of one solid
thin piece of brown glass, an amazing 10 feet long. One would not have
to gaze long before realizing the time and expense that went into the
crafting of such a work.
Again, the foreboding eyes seemed to follow us throughout
the room. Inside the building, the feeling was more profound, and this
was probably its intended effect upon guests. More detail of the paint
could be seen from inside, like how the lord's magnificent azure beard
looked as though every hair had been painted on. There was even grit
painted on his fingernails.
The rest of the hall was unremarkable in comparison.
Directly opposite the stained glass wall was a little retirement niche,
perfect for taking after dinner brandies, replete with a warm fireplace,
a few bookshelves filled with various books and some comfortable reading
chairs. It had a pleasant feel to it, the rest of the room did not,
and I knew I would spend many hours here, whiling away the evenings
pouring over the old books contained on the shelves. For the topic of
my book, the regional history contained within these tomes would prove
The hall took on an entirely different aspect as the
sun set, streaming its light across the stained glass and filling the
room and all its corners with every color of the spectrum. The effect
was such that we felt as though we were inside a tinted nickelodeon,
watching with utter amazement as the reflection of the knight's face,
in perfect detail, tracked slowly across the room, finally resting on
the fireplace and its mantle before fading with nightfall. I was instantly
reminded of the hellish nights in Normandy during the final push of
the war, when the night sky lit up with vibrant colors as the shells
exploded around us.
Alex stayed with me another fortnight, popping off
for a day at a time to absorb the history contained in the local monuments
and abbeys. This period was a pleasant and restful one that offered
many distractions from the constant thought of Caroline. I took this
time to examine my new chateau. Mostly, I was left to clean up after
my great uncle, who left the chateau in a state of shambles: books stacked
everywhere, and as I had mentioned before, hardly a stick of furniture
was left. As his mental state must have decayed, his funds must have
run short, requiring him to sell his accouterment.
The kitchen was largely functional for domestic needs,
but left most habitable and welcoming was the great hall. Every other
room, though habitable, was in no real state to spend time in. As a
result I gravitated to that room and spent my working hours in the alcove.
The large fireplace made the area seem like less of a niche and more
a room unto itself. I spent hours studying the rare collections of volumes
there, using many of them as references for my book.
The most intriguing of the collection was a book called
La Naissance et la Mort Tragique de Brittaine; La Premiere Famille,
or The Birth and Tragic Death of Brittany; The first (or Best) Family.
It was originally written by a Portuguese Jesuit named Rodrigo in 1656
and translated into French from Latin in 1705. Though it was dogeared
with age, this 220-year-old book still could have kept my uncle in good
comfort for a few months, had he ever chosen to sell it.
Latin translated into early 18th century French is
a slow go, but the attention to fact and detail exhibited by this abbé,
along with his prosaic flow, made it an interesting read. The first
few chapters spoke mainly of the War of the Roses, paying special attention
to the damage done in northern France, weighing the human costs of the
conquering and re-conquering that occurred. Of course it delved heavily
into the value of both the real and mythological Joan d'Arc, not only
of her value as a soldier and leader of men, but of her iconic, soon
to be sainted status, with the populous.
The book dealt with her support staff, touching upon
the military greatness of some of them, but mainly it looked to the
vast social and economic damage visited upon this region by years of
bloody, grinding warfare. It turned out to be an excellent comparison
with the Great War, as in some cases, the effects of specific economies,
industries and pastoral cultures were nearly identical.
I passed much of the summer this way, spending hours devouring
historical information, and making notes, taking only a few days off
when Alex would return to make rest after a few straight weeks of 'study'.
Work was progressing rapidly for me, which only encouraged me the more,
and soon I was referencing several books in the collection, but always,
there was the one, the jewel of my library, the book that merited two,
three, sometimes five hours a day of translation at a single sitting.
As my own form of relaxation from work, I would take
walks upon the estate. The summer and fall days were remarkably pleasant
after 6 PM, and the sun would hang in the sky for what seemed hours
at least. The August hot air melted into September's night breezes,
and the days still passed idylically but full and fulfilling, spent
behind the books or on the trails.
It was in September that things began to change at
the house. One night, early in the month, I had my first visitation
by a 'spirit' of the manor, and as for the phrase 'visitation by a spirit',
I can put it no less bluntly than that. To attempt to wrap the appearance
of the specter in a blanket of hyperbole would act to remove the profound
and overwhelming surprise caused by its appearance.
Alex had been back at the estate for a few days, and
we had fallen into quiet routine. He was an early morning fellow, something
I could never be. After he retired for the evening, I settled back into
the comfortable leather chair that had become my center of study in
the great hall. I read from La Naissance until the wee hours.
Up to this point, nothing out of the ordinary had occurred, so as I
began to nod off in the chair, facing the tall glass window, I thought
nothing of the strange things occurring in the stained image. I wrote
it off as my mind beginning to play tricks on me, for I swore that one
of the pageboys left his bow and disappeared from the picture. Before
I had closed my eyes, the page was there on the right of his liege,
but once I opened them again he was gone. I would have investigated
this matter further had I not droped off immediately after.
I know not how long I slept before the noise awoke
me, but to my body it felt like half the night at least. The moonlight
streamed through the stained glass window from high in the sky, and
the temperature had dropped substantially. I was about to drift off
again when I heard the noise repeated, this time more clearly. I looked
around, thinking Alex was in the room, for the sound was human. I heard
it yet another time, this time from the kitchen but coming closer. I
could tell now that it was a word, but I couldn't make it out through
the walls. I again assumed it was Alex, up early, and I prepared to
get a few more hours of sleep in a bed. As I put my arms on the chair
to push myself out, I heard it again from around the corner, and the
sound froze me in my tracks. The voice was NOT Alex's.
This time I had heard it precisely, a young man's
voice, coming from the open hall between the kitchen and the great hall.
The voice said "château", I supposed in reference to
Montcalme. I refused to move, expecting to see a thief at any moment
walk around the corner looking for loot. Hopefully he wouldn't notice
me here, but being this was the only part of the room that contained
anything in it at all, it was only a matter of time before I was discovered.
I looked about for any sort of weapon that would aide me, but only the
fire poker presented itself, and it was at least 10 feet away. I was
I held perfectly still, waiting with dread for the
thief's appearance, when to my even greater surprise a small child,
of all things, dressed in a white bed cloth came around the corner,
directed by a man not many years his senior. I didn't dare move as they
approached, even when I realized that this creature was the pageboy
from the stained glass window! There was no other answer than I was
looking at the ethereal bonds of two who had departed from this world
centuries ago. As they passed before me, my fears were confirmed. Although
both appeared solid, when they crossed between myself and the moonlight,
I could see through them to the wall behind!
I was closing in on panic and had I not found anything
more substantive than vapors to grasp to, I fear I would have succumbed
under the pressure. Luckily, the specter spoke again, the page to the
child, repeating the word 'chateau' to him. This gave my mind something
to process; a word, a function my brain could manage, and this pulled
me back from the brink of madness. Upon hearing the word so closely
and unencumbered by walls, I realized that it wasn't 'chateau' , but
'gateau', which means 'cake'. He wasn't commenting on the house, but
more likely offering the child a sweet and leading him to it.
My mind worked over this piece of tangible information
in a heartbeat. It is amazing how quickly information is processed by
the mind in times of need or strain. Perhaps when these two had existed,
they had shared a birthday surprise, I thought. Perhaps this was the
son of the knight in the stained glass. Perhaps a table had been laid
out here by the fireplace at one time and they had shared a dessert
They continued walking toward the fireplace and again,
the page spoke: 'Il y a gateau
' ('There is cake
my first opinion, but the rest of the sentence changed my view of the
event, shaking me to my core. '
Vers le bas ici, avec moi, mon
doux enfant' ('
Down here, with me, my sweet child'). As he spoke,
he turned the smiling child toward the fireplace, holding firm to him,
a broken smile coming across the page's face the likes of which I have
only seen once before, on the faces men mad with battle.
With that, they disappeared, heading downward into
the fireplace. One cannot tell how long I stayed frozen in the chair,
perhaps an hour, but to me it felt as if the spectral visitors had just
left. Though they hadn't even noticed me as they passed within mere
feet of me, I feared for my life. I knew that what I had just witnessed
was no birthday treat. I knew from the look on the pageboy's face that
the room he led the child into was likely the last room that child would
see. I knew now that I had witnessed an imprint of a very old and very
real past traumatic event.
Though they were gone, I could still feel a sinister
presence in the room, one that had perhaps been there all along, but
now was revealing itself because my senses were so much more attuned
now. My mind raced back to the event. Why had he murdered that child?
I knew why; he had enjoyed it, I'd seen that look in men's eyes before,
I had even shamefully felt it during some assaults in the war, but why
a child? Surely he could have slaked that thirst on the battlefield.
How could he murder in the chateau without the lord of the manor finding
out? The child would certainly have to have been a stranger to him.
There would be too much risk to kill a neighbor's child. There were
certainly plenty of stray orphans during that time, that part would
have been easy enough, but again, how could he have done this successfully
right under the master's nose?
As I pondered this I could not move. The presence
was still building in the room, pinning me with fear to my chair, paralyzing
me. It wasn't until I looked at the window that I found the strength
to move, and then only to flee in terror. The pageboy had returned to
the glass, and he was looking straight at me.
Alex had just awoken when he first saw me.
Through the dawn's light he could see me standing outside, my back turned
to the house, away from the horror of what I'd witnessed. I was still
deep in thought, watching the last night stars disappear from the sky
when he came out to meet me with morning's coffee in hand.
I immediately explained to him the events that had
transpired scant hours ago, sparing no detail. He remained skeptical
of my tale, but not of my belief in it. He did not think I was lying
to him, rather that it was probably a waking dream, a vivid nightmare,
brought on by too much work or too much wine. He calmly explained to
me that one of the page boys had always looked at us from his perch
in the stained glass window, and though I did not think so, after much
discussion my recollection became bent to the point that I could not
longer decide which page boy looked away, or if both did, or none at
all. My fear was still great, but I had a confidant with me, I managed
to accompany Alex back into the Great Hall.
In the morning light the page's stare was much less
threatening, almost soft. Despite my embarrassment, or perhaps because
of it, I found the stares of the page and the knight to be almost quizzical,
as if they were confused by why I should be so fearful of them. For
the record, the other page looked away, towards the woods. I felt silly,
like a child who had been startled by a ghost story. None of the malevolent
presence I had felt just a short time ago remained; already the room
had a warmth about it that made me want to ignore my trepidation and
stay for breakfast. Perhaps Alex was right, I thought, perhaps I had
a waking nightmare after all. Besides, had it been a real ghost, why
would he have walked into the fireplace, hardly a place to be discreet.
Still, those words echoed in my mind: 'Vers le bas ici
My mood improved with each bit of news received at
breakfast. Alex had been planning to leave that day, and would have
been gone for another fortnight, but given the events of the night,
he decided to cut the trip to a week's time. Adding to the good news,
he promised to take my notes and writings and review them. Not only
was this of great value to my book, but it also meant that I got a much
needed and earned week off from work. Whatever meager happiness this
brought me was short lived, however. The strange apparitions were not
finished with me, nor were they content to be contained within the house.
Having no work to be done and still being a little
bit trepidatious, I avoided the great hall. I passed the first two days
in idle activity. I walked the breadth of the vineyard the first day,
packing a picnic, heading west on the vineyard road. I continued for
a mile before passing the old road as it left the vineyard road and
struck off due south through the forest, passing by Montcalme's eastern
side. The old road was very clear to see as it met up with the vineyard
loop, but even from 200 yards, one could tell that it became pretty
spotty as it passed into the forest.
I made a mental note to follow that path someday soon
before I continued down the vineyard road. The second day was spent
taking what little furniture and shelving that remained in the front
of the chateau and devoting it to two of the fronts' nicer rooms. Though
this made the house seem even more empty than before, it made part of
the front, for the first time, entirely livable.
On the third day I awoke late. I had breakfast at
lunchtime and lunch at tea time. By late afternoon, I was in a funk.
Eating as close together had left me with a bloated belly. I decided
the best course for that, as well as punishment for my sloth-like behavior,
would be another walk upon the estate. So I packed up a little water
and bread, a flask of brandy, a pack of Gauloises and made south from
the house along the vineyard road.
It was nearing 5 PM before I hit the old road. It
was the beginning of October, not too far into fall, which meant that
I had a few hours of sun left. Having felt that a mile was not enough
punishment, and having no desire to see acres of grapevines again, I
took up the old road path. As I walked the road towards the edge of
the forest, it was quite clear just how old the 'old' road really was.
As the path passed over exposed rock, ruts could be seen, at some points
a foot or more deep, carved into the rock from years of wagon wheels
passing over them. It was hard to imagine just how wagons made it through
the ruts, as they were up almost to where the axles would be. Perhaps
this was the ultimate reason why the road was abandoned for the one
just a few miles east.
It took very little distance before I was in the forest.
The canopies of the trees were not so dense at this time of year, and
with every breeze that passed up the lane from the north more leaves
let go of their tenuous grasp and fell. In the sunlight, it was still
warm, but once the forest surrounded me, it became a little chilly.
Despite the cold, the walk was refreshing and the forest had a beauty
in it that made me wish that mother England had decided to keep just
one forest still intact.
It was slow going at times, as it had rained the night
before and it was hard to forge a path that did not run into mud. The
road had been cleared in the past ten years (probably by the French
Allies that held Montcalme, albeit briefly, during the war) and where
it was cleared, the hard-packed clay developed a glaze of water and
dirt that was quite slippery. The grassy middle between the ruts was
still quite manageable, however, and it broke up so infrequently that
it was not difficult to keep to a relatively dry path.
The forest was really an exceptionally beautiful thing.
It presented as if it were a single organism, the birds chirped in rhythm
to the beating of the earth under my feet, and the breath of the forest
came down the lane from the north, and then as if by an eddy of the
same wind it created, expelled ever so slightly back the way it came
and into the surrounding woods. The feeling was to me as if I were a
small creature, deep inside the wet, healthy lungs of some magnificent
massive mythological beast. Deer could be heard moving not far off in
the deep grasses and thickets. With no predators left, and no hunters
on the estate for years, I could only imagine how fat, happy and abundant
they must be. Chipmunks scrambled at my approach, racing through the
fall leaves for safe haven.
After about an hour, I began to notice a change.
The woods became more dark as the sun sank, the sounds of the creatures
quieted, became less frequent. As the temperature fell, a mist came
up from the dank ground. As ominous as It was quite a spectacle to behold,
and since the road was so much lighter in color than the forest, I pressed
on even as the mist became a light fog. An early harvest moon rose as
I walked, and in the diffusing fog, provided excellent illumination.
The moonlight streamed through the shadows of the trees, straight and
fast; its' beams piercing the darkness like swords striking the ground.
I continued on in this soft light until I forded a
brook that flowed under the road as it meandered through a clearing.
I was only a little further down the road before a breeze blew from
around the corner, and rolling in with it was a thick, impenetrable
layer of mist. As it approached I turned to watch and in doing so, I
stepped off the middle and onto the slippery wheel ruts. In my attempt
to recover, I slipped even further, hitting my head on the ground. As
I lay dazed in the mud, I felt the fog rolling over me. I found a stump
to pull myself up to my feet,, I confess I could no longer tell north
from south, my head spun so from the blow.
Rather than panic, I simply sat back on the stump
and made ready to wait on the fog to clear. Though my head hurt I hadn't
done any real damage and the pain soon passed. The forest was almost
invisible around me, and I knew it was best to hold fast until I could
see which way was home rather than risk venturing blindly into the mist.
I surmised twenty minutes had passed and I occupied
this time by watching the constant sway of the fog to and fro as the
wind blew. It carried down the road for four seconds, then paused and
returned back for one. Four and one, four and one it went, more or less.
I was watching this rhythm of the forest when my stupidity occurred
to me: The wind had blown from the north in exactly the same manner
as I was walking into the forest. The north must then be to the right,
the present direction of the wind, so all I needed do was carefully
find the middle of the path and return home with the wind.
I prepared myself and made a step for the road when
I was accosted by an unearthly sound, emanating from the bowels of the
earth. It sounded as if a cannon had been fired, but from deep under
ground. A loud 'THOOOM!' it was, and with it, the birds scattered suddenly
from their beds in the trees. I froze in my tracks while leaves dislodged
by the rattle and the birds' departure fell slowly around me. No living
thing could make such a sound. It came from the direction of Montcalme
Hill, or so I guessed, and could not have been more than a half-mile
Bereft of any context, I used my experience in war
to come up with a reasonable, rational explanation: if an old munition
had gone off from deep in the churned mud it would sound similar. In
the morning I would be able to see the result of it, a black steaming
heap of earth surrounded by perfectly undisturbed shrub brush on the
top of the mountain, and with that the matter could be put to rest.
That was as good an excuse as any, and satisfied with my deduction,
I prepared to make way again. Again it sounded, but this time much closer,
and after a pause of maybe five seconds, the sound's wake could be seen
passing through the fog, racing down the road until it passed by me
and down the way, out of sight.
The odds of old munitions randomly going off a minute
apart were exceedingly slim. With this realization the same sweaty,
sickly feeling of fear from the other night welled up in me. This time,
I was at least a little better prepared and I made ready to face it,
or stand up to it as best I could. After all, the last ghost I had seen
completely ignored me, why wouldn't this one? This one, as it turned
out, would ignore me, but it was not the only visitor there.
I remained frozen, waiting to see what would happen
next. The whole atmosphere was wild with the strangeness, even the wind
had died, leaving the wet fog to hang heavy and still, like a deep,
arial lake. With the dying wind no longer supporting it, the heavy fog
began to pool at the ground. For the first time, I could get a look
at my surroundings: the road bent around me running from my back right,
where the brook was, passing in front of me and bending back to my left,
disappearing into the thick and ever-present wood. Across from me seemed
to be the very base of Montcalme, steep and gray, growing away and up
out of my vision, reaching above the canopy of the trees. To the right
of it, a little ivy covered clearing ran off for 30 feet before rejoining
I was startled to see a shape across the road in
the clearing. It was small, and white. . . A little boy, wan and thin,
dressed in shabby white bedclothes, more sheet than boy, stood sad and
silent across the road from me.
I remained still, not wanting to startle him, but
through the thin light, he simply stared at me. I took a step closer
to him, asking him "who are you?" but he shrunk back from
me. I recognized my error and replied again, this time in French: "Qui
êtes-vous?". He made no verbal response, but seemed to loosen
his stance. I seized upon the moment; I took two more steps closer,
asking in French "Why are you here? Are you lost?" he said
nothing still, but allowed me to get closer until I was a mere five
feet from him.
I could see that his clothes were very shabby indeed,
and out of style for the time. Perhaps he was the child of a gypsy camped
not too far from here. He clearly knew of the path behind him because
he had glanced back at it twice since I had first spoken.
"Can I help you, child?" I asked, not expecting
a response. To my surprise he turned to the right and looked down the
road. He lifted a wiry finger and pointing in that direction, he spoke
very timidly, "Êtes-vous avec lui?" ("Are you with
him?"). I could see now that he was frightened, more than likely
by the thought of whomever 'him' might be than by my presence. "With
whom?" I asked.
"Him." He said, becoming distressed in his
inability to make clear the nature of 'Him'.
"Who is HIM?" I asked. "Where is he?"
I could see nothing on the road, nothing where he pointed but mud, trees
"HIM!" he cried, and with that, the sound
fired off again, shaking the very earth we stood on. We froze, placing
our arms out instinctively, lest we fall. The sound wave rolled quickly
across the fog and past us. I felt a shiver as it passed. Had I seen
something in the fog? It was brief, but I swear it had a form to it.
"He is coming for me, he comes now!" he
said, becoming upset. He began pacing in his place, shooting darting
glances down the road and back.
"Who comes?" I insisted. "Where are
your parents? Who comes?"
"HE comes!" He shouted. The cannon
rang out again, trailing the boy's declaration, even closer than before.
The child was becoming extremely strained; I could tell he was getting
ready to bolt like a deer, straight into the forest. If I went after
him and failed to grab him before we were into the woods, I would surely
become lost. Still, I knew I must try, so I made a move to get closer,
taking a soft step toward him.
He pointed down the road. "He comes!" He
shouted. "He comes NOW!" and with that he sprung for the brush
and the trail that ran back to the woods. I sprang with him, grabbing,
and out of the corner of my eye, I could see the sound wave rolling
through the fog, this time so strong it pushed it ahead. There were
shapes in the fog, indefinable, indiscernible shapes, but shapes nonetheless;
alive and moving in it like hands coming out of the surf. I closed my
eyes as the wave approached, its white hands grasping at nothing, roiling
over the top of the crest, frantically clutching at the air, desperate
to find anything. Still stumbling after the screaming child who was
mere inches in front of me, I made one last desperate lunge to grasp
him. I thought that if I could only grab a hold before the blast hit
us I could cover him, I could protect him from whatever was reaching
out of the wind. The wave was nearly upon us. "He comes!"
he wailed. "He Co". A cold blast pushed through me,
and I was knocked to the ground.
I held my head down for a second or two, upset that
I had missed the child. However, I knew his fate before I looked up.
When I did, I saw that the fog was gone, blown down the road like dirt
swept out a door. I lay in the ivy about 10 feet from the forest path,
but the boy was not the path, he was not anywhere to be seen. Where
he had stood on the road, in the glazed mud, there were no footprints
save mine, clear as day. He was not there; he had never been there at
I knew that the path into the forest would reveal
some answers, but not tonight. I had no light by which to see, and I
would be in a better way and safer in the daylight. I walked home along
the path, trudging in the mud. I had lost the boy. Even though I had
come to the conclusion that he was a specter from god knows when, and
probably fell victim to the page boy on this very road over 500 years
ago, I still felt that, realistic or not, I had a chance to save him
from whatever torment awaited him tonight. I had failed, and worst of
all, my dalliances had kept him there just long enough for the wind
to come and take him.
There was no more sound, save the returning sounds
of the night birds and the creatures of the forest, but even had there
been a sound, I would not have been afraid. I was angry, too angry to
be frightened anymore. I was angry with myself, angry with my situation,
angry with everything, but mostly I was angry at the spirits. I was
full of blind fury and I wanted to exact revenge on whatever demon would
prey on children. I wanted to cry tears of rage. But how does one exact
revenge on a ghost?
I returned to the chateau and violently kicked open
the door. In the kitchen I snapped up a bottle of brandy; then stormed
into the great hall and sat in the chair and poured myself a drink.
I could feel that the knight was looking at me more intently than he
had before. That only fueled my rage, and as the night progressed I
spent it, staring the knight down, until dawn broke and I mercifully
The following day I did not rise until
2 PM. It did not matter when I arose, however, for another storm lashed
the surrounding hills with steady strong rain all day. I spent thewhole
day in the front of the house, nursing a bad head and working through
theories about the house and the hills. Were the whole of the surroundings
haunted? Just what kind of demonic pit had my uncle left for me? It
explained his eccentricities. I imagined that had I spent an entire
lifetime here, I too would have fallen into corruption. How much had
my uncle known? Not the whole truth or he would have warned me. Unless
he had been in league with the spirits, or come to embrace them. Whatever
truth there was, I felt my uncle had known more than the locals had
The following day dawned, and the sun, absent for
so many days, returned. It was warm for late October and under other
circumstances I'm sure I would have enjoyed it. But the only thing that
concerned me was getting back to the path in the woods. I left at noon,
to ensure at least five hours of sunlight, but to allow for the ground
to dry a little as well.
The old road was muddy and slick, but in the day,
it was very easy to stay in the grassy middle. Eventually I made it
to the brook, though I could hear it for quite some time before. It
was running high, but it was clear that during some point recently,
it had completely leapt its banks and drenched the area. There was detritus
wrapped around the tree on the bank, some of it waist high. However,
after doffing my boots and carrying them above my head, I crossed safely.
Just past the brook, I came to the scene. The ivy
hid well any evidence of me ever having been there. In the day I could
clearly see Montcalme hill rising up and away from me, a muddy monolith
on its top, a granite Gibraltar on its base. There was no fresh mortar
pit, no evidence of a recent explosion upon it. To the right of it lay
the path into the woods, the same path to safety the boy had tried in
vain to make the night before last. I took a deep breath and stormed
forward, making sure to turn around and study my surroundings once I
was a few yards into it. I need not have worried, it stayed but one
path the whole time, and it was clearly used by the animals frequently,
for it was broad and clear.
The path never strayed far from Montcalme hill, always
keeping it to the left, always within a few hundred yards. Even with
the thick woods, Montcalme hill was always visible, always close at
hand. After perhaps a distance of a half-mile, the woods dissipated
into a clearing, and this glade edged slowly downward to a pond, surprisingly
clear, and not brackish. The brook rolled into it near the paths egress
and continued out at the other end of the glade. The tall grass was
matted from heavy rains, but the earth was hard below my feet and made
for easy progress.
I knew immediately that this was the place the boy
had tried to reach. The glade was large and backed right up to the cliff
face of Montcalme. It had clearly been lived in from time to time, for
though part of it was created naturally, there were cut stumps of trees
around. Nearer to the cliff face there were even remnants of what looked
to be a rudimentary shack. The midday sun streamed into the glade, covering
most of the grass with a shimmering light. It was pleasant, and despite
the turns of a couple nights ago, I felt a warmth and safety from this
I continued my investigation, searching the ground,
starting with the edge of the pond. There were fire circles exposed
there, recent ones, perhaps no more than ten or fifteen years old. The
grass was spotty in places and in those places I found traces of human
refuse: broken spokes, wagon wheels, shards of glassware, old tin cans,
rusted brackets and nails. This must have been a refugee camp during
the Great War. It would have provided the perfect setting, at least
until the Germans came and shelled the surrounding area into nothingness.
Here was clean running water, probably fish, certainly game, it was
near the road, but definitely far enough away to go hopefully unnoticed.
Had the boy lived here?
I came to another clearing and picked through the
debris. There were more items to support my theory: a Belgian beer glass,
sardine tins, a flour tin stamped with the Red Cross. Also, there was
a piece of wagon strut lying across a timber. I picked it up, and discovered
the truth I had been seeking. The piece of timber had originally been
planted and pounded into the ground like a stake before it rotted, the
wooden piece of strut had been nailed to the timber to make a rudimentary
cross. On the strut there was a waterlogged and barely definable picture
and these words carved into the wood: N'tr fils, Michelle Bertrand,
11 ans, disp. 6 Oct, 1915 Dieu le protègent. Though the picture
was almost ruined with rot I could still make out the face. It was the
According to his memorial he was named Michelle Bertrand
and he disappeared on the 6th of October, 1915, ten years to the day
that he appeared before me. In that war at that time, his poor parents
would have had little recourse to find help. An abduction could very
well have been perpetrated by either army, not to mention the millions
of traveling homeless roaming the countryside. The little they could
do would be to remain here, helpless, hoping that Michelle would
return to his temporary home. He never did. And when the Germans came,
the Bertrands were forced to give up the one piece of home and hope
they had left and flee the only area he might return to.
They had no way of knowing (though the cross is an
indication that they came to accept the fact) that he was already dead.
I knew it, I had seen the thing that had killed him rushing down the
lane, reaching for him from the fog. I didn't know how exactly, but
I was positive that the thing that took the child in the great hall
400 years ago was the same evil that took young Michelle 390 years
later. I also knew that this same thing, it was one and the same as
the knight and pages in the window. This evil was so powerful it had
found a way to escape the confines of the manor to roam and prey on
innocence. But if it was the knight, how had it come 400 years after
his death to take a living, breathing child?
I decided to take the picture with me to show to Alex.
Though this was no proof, it might be enough to convince him to help
me solve this mystery and bring to divine justice the perpetrators.
However, when I tried to extricate it from its frame, the picture simply
dissolved. Too many years of moisture and exposure had done its job.
Now all that was left of Michelle was his ghost: just a mental photograph,
an impression of a tragedy, snapped in an instant and held up to view
Alex, reacted with expected disbelief to my
statements. But, after a few brandies and a few checks of my temperature,
he came to believe at least that I believed it. I, naturally, took him
to see the place where the boy appeared to me, and in somewhat crazed
fashion I'm afraid, I described the scene in the fog. I took him to
the grave and showed him the encampment, I even showed him the putty
that used to be the boy's photograph. Alex was more disturbed by my
erratic behavior than by the threat of ghosts, I think. Realistically,
I wasn't giving him much sane behavior to work with.
However, as our days progressed together, my behavior
calmed. I still believed everything that I had seen, but with the passing
of time, and the comfort of a friend, my behavior became less, well,
maniacal. As Alex witnessed this change in me, and yet my beliefs stood
firm, he began to sway to the possibility that strange events were indeed
afoot on the estate. I can say that my rages and streams of consciousness
about demons and devils had done little to help him sleep and now he
was attuned to every little noise and creak that the old house made
(and old houses make many). And perhaps being constantly exposed to
the unknown and the strange wore down his defenses.
I, on the other hand, slept much better; partially
I think because Alex was at the estate, but mainly because the events
in the forest had raised my bloodlust and I was filled with the raw
courage and blind stupidity in the face of danger that accompanies it.
Perhaps I would have been left to rage at nothing had I not had the
most terrible dream.
Alex had been back for two weeks when it occurred.
I made a fateful error and fell asleep reading the book in the great
hall. I knew better than to sleep there anymore, but of course, I never
intended to fall asleep. When I awoke, I was in total darkness. The
darkness was not an empty void, but a cold, breathing thing unaware
of me or my presence; asleep, surrounding me, enveloping me in its cold
malevolence. Breathing was an effort, a labor. Pulling in the air of
this darkness was like dragging tar into my lungs. I could feel the
corruptible foul mass of blackness pull into and blow out of my lungs
as if it were one solid object. I began to panic. I feared that I would
wake the dormant void, for the more I panicked, the harder I breathed,
the harder I breathed, the more difficult it was to get air, thus I
I pushed forward in the void looking for an exit.
As I did, I became aware of voices, muffled at first, but the further
I pushed toward them, the louder they became. I made my way toward the
voices and in a moment, I was thankfully extricated from the vile darkness.
I immediately recognized the great hall. But Gil, it was not as it was
in 1920, but how it must have looked in 1450! The stained glass window
was gone, as was the fireplace, instead replaced by a central fire pit
that illuminated the room, though only so far. As the light moved toward
the walls it stopped as if bent. The darkness that covered the walls
and corners hung languidly, the same living black void that I had just
left. It breathed and arched with the flicker of the flames. It clung
to the roof and beams like creosote. I could sense that it wasn't aware
of me, or it cared not about me, but that did not change its ominous
nature. I felt that at any moment it could take me away to its horrible
I turned to face the voices in the center of the room,
carefully hiding myself behind one of the massive oak chairs. I peered
over the side and down the long table in the direction of the sounds.
At the far end of the table I saw the knight, a few other men of stature,
the pages and a boy. The knight sat in a huge hand-crafted chair, a
wine goblet in his hand. I could not make out what was being said but
it was clear that the knight was giving orders to the page for the page
nodded frequently. I could not make out the face of the boy, but he
looked to be the same as the boy who had been led down the fireplace
by the page.
Suddenly the knight pointed in my direction. I ducked
behind the chair and prayed that I had not been discovered. After a
moment's silence, it became clear he hadn't seen me, but had instead
pointed for the pageboy to exit. I peered carefully from behind my sanctuary
and saw the pageboy walking toward my position, leading the child by
the hand. His body blocked from view the boy's face until they passed
around the middle of the table, but when it was revealed to me, true
terror struck my heart. It was not the same boy as before! No, it was
not he, but I had seen him before. It was the boy from the woods!
I crouched behind the chair and silently prayed to
the almighty to be quickly delivered from this horror, but just as in
war, my prayers went unanswered. I heard them approach and in a matter
of seconds, they came around the table, page first, Michelle in tow.
As before the page walked past me without noticing, but young Bertrand
saw me. He saw me, Gil! He made no motion or call, but as he passed
he bent his head toward me and his eyes met mine, holding the gaze as
he passed. So cold and dead were his eyes that to this day I can feel
them upon me. Never would I wish such a feeling upon anyone. I had failed
this boy and he knew it, he knew me. And here I was failing him again.
I wanted to get up and rush the page, but behind them I could see the
ever-present void, slumbering for now, but only seconds from pulling
me away if awoken.
As the two approached the void by what should have
been the fireplace the void peeled back from them as if repelled by
their presence. As it withdrew firelight poured into the space it vacated,
revealing not a fireplace, but a spiral staircase! This had been the
reason the page had descended in the first encounter! There was once
a cellar there! A nefarious place, no doubt, were unspeakable deeds
occurred. Perhaps it still existed! Perhaps that was how I could exact
my revenge, I could unearth the knight's shameful secret! As the pair
descended, the void descended with them, shoving out the light and returning
the staircase to darkness.
I contemplated my revelation, but soon after my attentions
became focused yet again upon the knight for he spoke again, this time
in a voice loud enough to be heard and understood by anyone in the hall.
"Où est l'homme que m'a apporté
cette belle générosité? Apportez-moi mon bienfaiteur!"
(Where is the man who brought me this beautiful bounty? Bring me my
benefactor!) he bellowed. I turned around and lifted my head carefully.
I wished to know of whom it was he spoke of so highly. No doubt it would
be the creature of the fog, the very same beast that had taken the boy
from me just a few nights before. Across the room I could see the void
stirring. Slowly, from its depths an image began to extricate itself.
To my surprise, it was no demon, but a young man. The knight stood up
with arms wide to greet him. As he approached the knight, his face became
more and more exposed in the light. Around him, the faces of other men
could be seen in the darkness, but not much else. When I saw the face
of this man, I let a shriek of horror escape my lips. I recognized him!
Upon hearing my shriek both men turned and faced me.
The knight's face turned from the first recognition of surprise to that
of pure anger. He opened his mouth and arched his back, emitting a roar
inhuman and deep; a roar that struck terror into my soul and made the
void quiver on the wall. I turned around to see the void moving, pouring
across the floor toward me like ink from an overturned bottle. I crept
away from it but I knew it would get to me, there was no place to go
where it couldn't reach! What could I do to defend against the void?
I had already tasted its horror, and the mewmory of that made my stomach
Burn! That was it! In a mad dash I ran for the center
of the room and the fire pit. As I bolted across the table I could see
the void rushing at me from all sides of the room, swallowing all. I
could only assume it was right on my tail as well. I could hear it knocking
over the chairs on all sides as it rushed me. However, as it approached
me from the far side, it slowed down to bend around the fire pit. It
could not obscure or swallow that much light! I seized this straw of
hope and leapt from the top of the table, diving for the fire. As I
did, however, the blackness reached for my ankle from behind, tripping
me in mid air and sending me crashing face-first onto the hard stone
within arms reach of the sanctity of the fire.
The void quickly poured over me, surrounding me, pulling
me from back. As my last effort of hope I shoved my hand into the fire
and pulled a burning log from it. The searing pain of my flesh burning
was enormous, but only for an instant as the painful signals awoke me
to the land of the living again. My pain dissipated in the early morning
light as I recognized my surroundings. I had escaped, but just. I would
not be so lucky next time.
I knew now who young Michelle's cruel murderer
had been and I knew where I would most likely find Young Bertrand's
body, for I had recognized the face of his abductor, though not the
bloated, greasy sagging face that I had known it to be when I was a
child. Though younger, and more vital, it was still unmistakably the
face of my uncle, the former master of Montcalme. Youth and vitality
must have been the immortal gift for making such a demonic sacrifice.
I awoke Alex, and told him the full extent of my ordeal.
"I worry for your sanity, Mon ami." He said.
"I'm as sane as I've ever been. This is real,
Alex!" I declared.
"I believe you," he replied, "Which
is why I'm so worried." We walked into the great hall. "It
seems our friend up there," he pointed to the knight "has
designs upon the house and we don't fit into them. Well, you don't,
"But why?" I asked. "Why me?"
"Don't be so egotistical." He proclaimed.
"He's probably done this for years. After all, he's got your uncle,
hasn't he? He was there."
"It would explain a lot." I replied.
"And all those others," He said "For
all you know, they could be the previous masters. This could be a ghastly
"Well, it must be stopped."
"And how do you plan to stop the dead?"
I explained to Alex what I planned to do, and he agreed,
on two conditions. "First," he explained, "We must locate
the crypt. It is imperative that we discover who our foe is." I
agreed, I could call on the barrister for that detail. "Second,"
he continued "We must stay in here tonight."
"What?!" I yelled. "I was nearly killed!
Are you mad!"
"Possibly, " he said. "But I must see
what you are seeing! I must know. I simply must! Do you understand?
You have communicated with - damn, man - you've fought with ghouls and
goblins and various elements man only sees in his dreams, and all the
while I have slept off hangovers and dusted off musty books in lowly
abbeys! I demand to share the experience! What a story it will make!"
I relented, but gave him this warning:
"This may be more than you can handle. It has
nearly driven me to madness. He feeds, Alex." He looked at me quizzically.
"He feeds on your shame and your fear and your anger. I have relived
things I prayed I'd never have to see again."
"The war." He said, needing no explanation.
Alex and I drove his Deusenberg into town and bought
the tools we would need to discover the truth of Montcalme. Afterwards
we made for the barrister's office. Along the way, and in almost every
nook and cranny there were shrines, some new, some quite old. The oldest
of all the shrines sat in the middle of the town square. "Good
lord." I said. "I never knew the French to be so
"They aren't usually." Replied Alex. "This
must be some sort of local hero. You know, hometown boy promoted to
We arrived at the barrister's and I asked him about
"The Crypt?" he responded.
"Yes, tell me where the family crypt is located."
"Well," he explained. "No one knows
for certain. There used to be one, but where? One cannot say."
"But what of my uncle? Where is he buried."
"He is not." He replied. "He was cremated."
"And as for the cemetery," he continued.
"I'm afraid it met the same fate as the soldiers on Montcalme hill,
Monsieur. It was demolished in the bombardment."
"Completely?" I asked.
I thanked him and took my leave. I stopped at the
door, and just remembering, asked him "Who is this saint I keep
"What do you mean?" He asked.
"Well, is he a local saint? I mean, was he from
"Oh, no, Monsieur." He said. "That
is Saint Anthony."
"Oui." he said. "The patron saint of
I told Alex everything that transpired. He
nodded grimly. "It is too dark now to try and explore the cemetery."
He said. "We are best to return home and prepare for the night.
Do you have the coffee?" I showed him the bag of beans, freshly
purchased. "Good, we shall need it." He got into the car and
pressed the start button. "Perhaps we'd be wise to pour a cup for
saint Anthony." The old Deusenberg rolled down the street, carrying
us off to the fates.
I can tell you, Gil, that having been off the estate
for the first time in weeks, I had no desire to return anytime soon.
However, I knew there was a great force propelling me there. Besides
the desire to save the child's soul, to free him from his torment, there
was something else, perhaps an even greater force. I was being called
back. I had sensed for a time that the estate felt I belonged there.
I cannot explain it any more lucidly, I'm afraid. At first, it was just
a feeling very light and simple and easily explainable. When I would
open doors, the wind would go into the house, as if pulling me in, or
when it was misty, it was almost as if the mist bent away from me when
I was near the house. Later, however, it became more apparent. It was
as if the chateau was a living, breathing thing like the forest, only,
to the house I was a part of it, the heart perhaps, the animus that
breathed life into it.
Driven by this force, I reluctantly returned with
Alex. We set up shop in the great hall, bringing our equipment in and
placing it near the fire pit. "What do you hope to find here?"
Alex asked me.
"A spiral staircase." I replied.
Alex studied the mortar intensely. "Have a look at this."
He showed me how the mortar on the side crumbled almost
just by touch, whereas the mortar on the floor of the fireplace was
hard, and very difficult to budge.
"It's been replaced." He said, with a self-satisfied
"Couldn't the fireplace have just cooked it and
made it firmer?" I asked.
"I thought you might say that," he answered.
"Rub the mortar between your fingers." I did. "This new
stuff is of much higher quality, much finer grain. It's definitely new,
"How new is new?" I asked. That he didn't
"But it's promising nonetheless," he said.
I grabbed the recently purchased hammer and chisel and started picking
away at the mortar. Alex retired to the chair with a fresh glass of
"As we agreed, we'll take shifts."
It took Alex and Myself at least three hours to remove
most of the mortar. Finally, the large stones were loose enough to be
lifted. Alex returned with a crowbar and shovel. "I lift, you wedge
and so on until we can roll it out of the fire pit."
After 15 minutes we had moved the first and largest
stone out of the fireplace. It was 9 PM."It's just dirt!"
I said, shocked and disappointed.
"What did you expect?" he asked. "Even
if there is a staircase, it will be likely covered by years of deposit."
He was the archaeologist, I deferred to his opinion. "Oho!"
he said "What have we here?" He reached down into the dirt
and pulled out a chard of a wine bottle. The label had long since rotted
away, but sealed on the glass was a date: 1911. "So." Alex
said with satisfaction, "We can confidently date that mortar as
being put in after 1911, I think." This bit of good news redoubled
our efforts and we continued removing the stones. By midnight we had
enough removed to dig in the fire pit.
We continued digging, in tandem, first removing a
foot of soil, then another. We went slowly, as the archaeologist in
him required that we sift through the dirt to see what we find. It turned
up nothing, save the rest of the broken bottle and a soldier's uniform
button, also recent.
"Do you suppose he paid a soldier to do this
work?" I asked.
"In his dress uniform, with gold buttons?"
he said. "Doubtful. More likely this was somebody's money. Soldiers
cut off gold buttons to pay for supplies when they were flint."
At 1:00 AM, we struck something metal and hard. Frantically,
we dug around to find its edges. It was a giant hinged door, laid flat
on the ground, perhaps 4 feet by 4 feet. Alex clasped my hand, handed
me a crowbar and said "Shall we?" I put my hand on his shoulder.
"Alex, wait." I said. "I think we know what we'll find
down there, let's remember this is not a dig, it's a mission. Perhaps
we should wait until morning and summon a priest to come with us."
"When did you become so religious, old boy? Besides,
I've seen many an old desiccated bag of bones in my day."
"Have we at least got a bible?" I asked.
We hadn't. To appease me, Alex went through the house until he found
a suitable one, a French Catholic version of the King James Bible. Off
in the distance, a fall storm was brewing.
The door was rusty on the edges and only gave way
after much prying, and when the seal was broken, air rushed in to the
blackness with amazing speed. We worked to flip the door over and away
from the pit. After the dust settled, Alex took a torch and lit it.
Below us, in the pit, was a spiral staircase. "This is it."
We descended into the vault very slowly. The staircase
was made of stone, so we had no fear of it collapsing, but all the same
we trod lightly. When we reached the bottom, we were greeted by a horrible,
foul smell, the smell of damp earth and the decay of once living things.
It was so powerful we had to cover our mouths with our scarves. 'What
is this place?" Alex asked. Within a few steps, the flickering
light of the torch would bring our answer into view: it was the crypt.
Lightning crashed in the distance and Alex and I nearly jumped out of
Oh Gil, I cannot describe to you the horror of what
I saw, save to say this was no ordinary crypt. I wish to god and heaven
I could block from my mind what was hung on the walls, what lay in piles,
what existed on every turn, but I see them, I see them even now. I see
them and my only thought is how unfair the world can be, how bloody
unfair it all is to some. I'd seen this carnage before but not on children.
I dare not speak of what I saw, except to mention two things of utmost
importance: One, we found an ossuary, covered in gold, placed in a shrine
surrounded by various icons and statuettes placed willy-nilly. Scrawled
in the stone, poorly, and by untrained hands were the initials G. d.
R. Against our better judgment, we opened the ossuary and found nothing
but ashes and chips of bone. Despite the gold, we left it where it lay.
Second, at the foot of the shrine, we found bones,
piled together, as if thrown there. There were bits of dried skin still
on them, though, and it turns my stomach to say it, most if the skin
looked to have been bitten off. The bones lay upon a greasy, dirty scrap
of cloth, and upon further examination, it proved to be a bed cloth.
We had found what was left of poor Michelle Bertrand. Taken to this
hellacious place and executed, he had been left as some demonic sacrifice
by my uncle at the shrine of this GdR. Sadly, I cannot say that my uncle
was the only Derry to behave this way, merely the last. There were others,
many others, but too foul is it to speak that I have never and will
never relive the details of it.
Oh uncle! How could my own flesh and blood perpetrate
such an act? How could one bring such suffering upon a child! I couldn't
save the boy from my uncle before, but perhaps I could save him now.
We quickly placed the bones of young Michelle into a burlap sack, and before
we lost our minds from the sights in front of us, we made way out of
the crypt and out into the great hall. The hall was almost completely
dark, except for the area illuminated by our lamp. The storm was almost
on top of us now. And with every bolt I could see the knight in the
window. Alex rushed to the table.
"Oh god." He sighed, ripping off his scarf,
breathing heavily of the untainted air. "It's so horrible."
Lightning crashed again, much closer, perhaps only
a mile or two away. The eyes of the knight pierced me with their stare.
I set down the bones.
"I think I know who he is." Alex said all
of a sudden.
"Who 'who' is? " I asked. Again lightning
struck. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the giant visage of the
knight. He sat on his horse, the pages, arms at their sides, resting
on bows, their eyes looking at me. Did they always look at me? I couldn't
"The knight!" he said. "I think I know,
but it can't be, it's too horrible."
"Who is he?!" I demanded.
"The book! I need the book!" he shouted,
referring to my beloved La Famillie. "On the shelf." He rushed
to get it. He ran back and thumped it on the table.
"It could be him, it could be him." He muttered
as he whipped through the pages. I bent over to see. Lightning crashed
again. Out of the corner of my eye I saw them again. The knight on his
horse, the pages, hands on their quivers.
"Where are you!" he said, while muttering
along in French the pages he was speed-reading.
"Who is it?!" I asked. ]
"You don't understand, it could be him!"
he said "Dear God, I hope not, but it could be!" He fluttered
through fifty pages quickly, heading toward the end of the book. Lightning
crashed again, very close. The knight still stood there, rapt in attention,
the pages as well, hands on their bows.
"Who is it?" I demanded. He ignored me,
continuing through the book.
"THERE!" he shouted, lifting up the book
in triumph. His eyes were afire as he read it. I placed my hands on
him and shook him. "Who is he, Alex?" He leaned up from his
book to tell me and behind him, lighting crashed again. This time very
close. As it did, I caught a full view of the stained glass windows.
Something was very wrong. The knight was still on
his horse, but the archers had arrows in their bows, which were fully
extended. Their eyes were squinted and trained directly upon Alex. I
grabbed him and pulled him as fast as I could for the door. A mere second
later it struck. A bolt careened down on the heels of the previous one
and struck the base of the window, blowing it out with incredible force.
Shards of glass and bits of lead and solder came ripping toward us.
We had only a moment to react when I felt Alex get lifted off his feet
and pushed into me with the force of a rugby scrum. We both tumbled
through the door and into the kitchen, flopping onto a broken pile of
glass and wood. I was certain that Alex must be dead. Whatever shank
of glass was that hit him had the power to knock him off his feet, and
with that kind of power, it would surely cut him in half.
The sound of the implosion and the bolt itself was
deafening. I stood up, my ears ringing, covered in glass shards, but
no worse for wear. I rolled Alex over, and to my amazement, apart from
some nicks, he was all right.
"What hit you?" I yelled.
"The bloody stained glass window!" he replied.
"Are you alright?"
"Yes!" he replied. He looked himself over,
he was still clutching the book. "Hey." He yelled. "Have
a look at this!" He rolled the book over so I could see it. Wedged
in it, almost clean through, was a brown piece of glass, the size of
a man's hand. I remembered that glass from the window. It was an arrowhead.
"Bloody Christ." He said. "I think that one had my number
on it." The other one wasn't far away. It was wedged deep in the
stucco of the far wall, exactly where my head had been right before
Alex careened into me.
We cautiously entered the great hall. The wind was
whipping into the room. Bits of glass lay strewn everywhere. The kaleidoscope
that had been the great window lay bowed and broken across the entire
room. Fragments stuck in walls, clung to tapestries, left scratches
on desks. It would no doubt be explained as a blast caused by lightning,
but Alex and I knew better. "We can't stay here tonight."
I said. "Right." He said. We picked up young Bertrand's bones
and the book and limped into the Deusenberg. As I left I saw the eyes
of the knight, lying on the floor, following my every step out of the
"Who is he?" I asked.
"He's Gilles De Rais, old boy. He's bloody Bluebeard."
He drove the car to a safe distance and opened
the book to the page he had marked right before the explosion. Here's
why you could see him, Monsieur Derry. I think this just about sums
it up." He took a big pull from his flask before it disappeared
back into his cloak. I read from the ancient French, disturbed by what
"The de Rais family still exists, the descendants
of Gilles, living not far from the ancestral home in Chartres, though
they too wish to disavow him. In an ultimate slight against this one
time hero of France, the have changed their name to an English one:
"Bluebeard." I mumbled. "I thought
he was just a horror story told to bad children."
"Oh, no." he said. "He's real, my boy.
I've read the works of Baring-Gould. He's very real indeed. Some say
he murdered 600 children before he was burnt at the stake."
"Those ashes!" I proclaimed. "The GdR!"
"That was Bluebeard's grave." He said.
"But what would he want with me?"
"You're his bloody descendant!" he shouted.
"Do you suppose he wanted me to carry on the
"Only you wouldn't, so he tried to have you killed."
"It's all too fantastic to believe." Alex
just nodded as he put the Deusenberg in gear and sped off.
We drove back to town and slept fitfully and fretfully
in Alex's car, waiting for the storm to end and the sun to arise. When
the rays of hope finally crested over the hood, we made for the local
abbe' and after much bribery and promises of conversion we convinced
the priest to bury poor Bertrand in the cemetery grounds and give him
a proper burial. After even more bribery we convinced him to help us
exorcise the house of its demons. But as we drove up the road to the
Chateau, an acrid, evil, smoldering smell filled my nostrils. "It's
gone." I said, knowing full well what we would see as we rounded
the turn. "What is?" asked Alex.
"The house." As I spoke this proclamation
we turned the bend that took the trees out of our way, leaving us a
clean, unobstructed view of the chateau. It was no more. All that remained
was a smoldering hulk and one corner of the great hall. The rest had
toppled in on itself, creating a heaping wreck of red-hot stone and
ash. I cannot say I was sorry to see it go.
The house, and perhaps its original lord had decided
not to let the world see its secrets revealed, and so rather than surrender,
it had decided to destroy itself instead. All the same, we had the confused
priest bless it anyway.
Gil, you had once commented that I seemed driven by demons in my charitable
work. Well, now you know them and they are your demons now. I only hope
what I have done to help the children of the world, and what I hope
you will continue to do for them will in some small way offset the terrible
burden our family has placed upon this earth, though secretly I suspect
it will never be enough.
As for you, you carry half again the amount
of Bluebeard's blood in you that as I do, so that should come as some
small comfort. As always, you are free to do with your life as you wish,
but I hope and pray you lead a good and decent one. As for why I tell
you this, when the demons come, and they will come, I hope you will
see them for what they are, weak parasites dependent on you for success.
With that knowledge you can take strength in knowing they can be beaten.
Perhaps that is not entirely accurate: They can be beaten back.