The Black Letter (Part 2 of 3)

Posted on Oct 14, 2011

0


*This is a continuation from part one of the story which you will need to read first. I hope you’re enjoying it!

Oxford, October, 1874

A few months have passed since I last wrote here. I fear I don’t have much time left. So much has happened and there’s still so much to tell so I shall keep only to what you need to know and miss out anything I feel you will not need to know. Time is indeed short for us all, especially I now fear for me…
Pray, I hope that all is now over but in my heart know that it is not. I shall say my prayers tonight and hope that God does hear my voice.

The last entry I wrote was of when my husband, Thomas had disappeared for three days and had been brought back by our faithful butler Miles.
I had slept that night very uncomfortably, full of bad dreams and loud screams which may or may not have been from my head? I was exhausted though, not having slept much when my dear husband had been missing for those few days. Now, even though it had been a restless sleep, I felt a little refreshed when I awoke. I bathed and went downstairs to see my husband and find out where he had been, why he was in the dreadful state that he was the night before and more importantly to see if he was well as the night before he looked in such a terrible confused state and it frightened me so.
I went into the living room, the study, the dining room and the reception room to find not a soul about. None of the maids seemed to be around the house or even Miles. The kitchen was a good place to try so there I headed to next. Again no-one was there. I hadn’t checked the rooms upstairs but I somehow knew no-one would be there.
Where on earth had everyone gone?
The kitchen table had food on it and a steaming cup of tea. I was suddenly very worried as the thought occurred to me that this had happened on the Marie Celeste when Thomas had boarded it with the crew of the Dei Gratia.
A fear crept over me then. Images of dead sailors, of wet men came to me and all the people in the house taken by them. Drowned.
I then had a thought, but I had to remain calm and collected first. I needed to try the garden and summer-house that’s by the stream which flows through our garden.
The weather was still and was neither warm nor cold. It was as though the earth had stopped spinning as I entered in the garden of our home. Not a thing moved nor may a sound.
I was suddenly very frightened. What was happening? Where had everyone gone? Why was Thomas acting the way that he was? And why was I having nightmares about drowned men?
All these questions and more tumbled through my mind as I walked nervously across the freshly cut lawns of our seven acre garden. Flowers and trees stood motionless as I passed them, watching me it seemed, with eyes I couldn’t see.
The summer-house was about six hundred feet away and was guarded by three huge ash trees.
It was a beautiful place and I would often go there in any season and read a book or write in my diary. It was a sanctuary away from the world and even the house.
But today it seemed so foreboding. The sun was actually shining but as I was nearing the stone structure, a huge black cloud covered the golden disc leaving a darkness over us all below and an even darker and foreboding summer-house than I have ever seen or ever read about in those fanciful ghost stories that are all the range now.
To me, it suddenly seemed alive and threatening.
I was only about forty feet away from it now and my nerves were on edge.
Thirty feet away and I thought I saw something move in one of the windows.
I stopped. Did I see a face at the window? I couldn’t tell as they were steamed up.
Should I turn back and go and get help or should I move forward a little? Oh how scared I was at that moment in time.
I looked back at the house that now seemed so so far away and small whilst the summer-house seemed large and like a wild animal ready to pounce.
I also felt that suddenly I was not alone and that someone was behind me…
So with that in my mind plus with what I thought I saw at the window of the summer-house, I had the notion that I was being stalked and was now trapped.
If I went to the summer-house then maybe my worst fears would be realised but if I turned around then whatever was behind me may also be a threat.
Moving left or right was not an option for the stream was on the right-hand side and the left was walled off. There was though a small walkway over the stream which was around forty feet away but it would be a long run in my heavy dress. Oh why am I so stuck in conventional ways! Why don’t I just do as I wish and humbug to them all! If It wasn’t for Thomas. Dear Thomas…
It was then that my mind was made up for me as a loud crack of a branch from behind made me spin around. Standing there was a figure in black from head to toe and it looked soaking wet. There was no way of knowing if it was male or female as it was hooded in a cowl-like greatcoat. It stood around a hundred to a hundred and feet from me. I shrieked aloud like girls do and to which I adhere.
I ran then to the summer-house which only fifteen to twenty feet away from me now.
Ten Feet.
Four feet.
Two feet.
And then I was at the door. I put my hand to the handle and twisted it and then pushed. It wouldn’t open! My God in heaven help me I cried inwardly.
I pushed at it with all my might and still it would not budge. Then It came to me. It was locked. I bent down quickly and looked through the keyhole. It was locked from the inside! What was happening?
I looked over my shoulder to see the figure still standing there menacingly. Why was it just standing there and why wouldn’t it move?
Panic now set in and I beat the doors with my fists hoping whoever or whatever was inside would open the door to let me in. I just hoped that they were no threat like the figure in the garden.
I turned to see if the figure had moved and saw it still standing there. I had the unnerving impression that it was smiling at me under that cowl.
”Oh god in heaven, please open the door,” I screamed.
I couldn’t hear a sound from instead. Maybe there was a window open that I could climb through? Something made me turn around then at that moment. The figure had moved a bit closer but was as still as a statue.
I felt sick and very very scared. I needed to get control and to think fast!
I looked around again. The figure had moved once more and was around sixty feet from me now. How had it moved so fast without me knowing?
Deciding to move around the building, I moved slowly, one eye on the door, then other on the motionless figure behind me. I came to the corner of the summer-house by the side of the stream where I knew there was another set of doors that opened up to the water. We had contemplated putting a walkway from there over the stream but had never really got around to it and at that moment I wished we had done so.
I moved along what little of ground there was to the side doors, then remembered that the doors were damaged and a board was across them from the inside. What was I to do. Maybe there was a way in through them anyway or by the window on the left side of them? I now couldn’t see the soaked figure in the garden. For all I knew, it could be right around the main door waiting for me to go back to.
I pushed that image to the back of my mind as quickly as it came.
The doors were locked as I knew they would be and drapes covered them so I couldn’t see inside. The window though I could see was slightly ajar, probably left open by a maid to let air in. I couldn’t go no further as I would end up in the fast flowing stream but even that was better than what was waiting for me in the garden.
The window was low down, about shoulder height and if I could get a foothold on the wall then I may be able to get in and keep out what was out there with me.
I saw enough footholds to use and proceeded to climb them. I was at the window in no time but even though it was slightly open, it was stiff and would not budge an inch. I was balancing awkwardly and if I fell, I would fall into the stream, hurting myself in the process, but opening myself up to whatever was out there. I pulled with all my might, maintaining a tight grip on one part on the window. It just wouldn’t give!
Then I heard it. A wheezing sound coming from where I had come from. Oh God, I thought to myself. Please window open, please!
Suddenly I found a new strength I never knew I had and the window gave way a little. Then I heard a another sound, like that of scrapping but slow as if something was being dragged down the wall. Something sharp.
I now pulled with everything that I had and the window finally gave way and I almost lost my balance but grabbed a hold onto the ledge and the window frame.
I hauled myself up, my dress getting caught up on the window. The inside of the summer-house was dark and musky. I couldn’t see a thing but could make out a table below me more from memory though than sight I must admit. I was half in and half out when suddenly I felt a cold wet clammy hand on my ankle. I screamed then, so loud that I heard another noise from inside of the summer-house. This is it I thought to myself. It’s all over.
Then I felt another hand grab my other ankle and suddenly something inside me snapped. I kicked out, hoping that I would unbalance who was out there. I was pulled back a little and I kicked out more furiously than I had already. Something gave and I felt one foot come free minus a shoe. I felt myself move forward even more but still one leg was being held. A smell of rotten fish came to me then as I fought to free my other leg. The bile rose in my throat and I’m ashamed to say that I was sick whilst dangling in the window frame. If this was any other time it would be comical but I was fighting for my life then I felt.
I kicked with all my fury and rage, fear fueling this on.
Suddenly I was in the summer-house, falling to the floor with a crash, banging my head and shoulder in the process. There I lay, dirty, shaken and in pain. I had to close the window fast. I grabbed whatever came near for defensive purposes and pulled myself up. I moved quickly to the window, slamming it shut. It was then that I saw a hand from outside on the glass. It just rested there again the pane, then eerily it tapped a beat with its fingers slowly.
It had me trapped and it knew it by saying with one hand it had all the time in the world to wait. What was I to do? I was so engrossed with my thoughts that I didn’t hear or feel the breathing from inside the darkened summer-house. It was only when a hand touched my shoulder that I spun around in fright and screamed.
I must have fainted about then upon seeing those shocking eyes staring back at me for they had the look of death in them…

Darkness all around me. Complete darkness. I was lying on the settee in the summer-house. All the drapes were drawn and there was no light inside or out. There was no warmth either as I was shivering even with a blanket over me. I was afraid to speak out but logic dictated that whomever was in here with me was, like me, hiding from the figure outside. It had to be one of the servants, maybe Miles himself or even my dear husband, but something was holding me back from calling out? Why was this so? Maybe I didn’t want to alert whatever was out in the garden. So many questions were now rattling around in my head and I somehow knew not all would be answered. I decided to risk it and see who was with me in the summer-house.
”Hello,” I whispered, ”Is anyone there?”
No reply came back from the darkness.
”Hello,” I whispered even louder and was just about to get up when a hand went over my mouth and held me down in the chair. What the hell was happening here I thought. I struggled for a brief few second and again felt the hot breath of someone mouth against my ear. ”Be still and very quiet,” came the very soft reply. It was a man’s voice but I couldn’t tell whose it belonged to.
I lay still and unmoving listening to the slightest sound for what seemed like an eternity. I don’t know how much time had passed as day passed into night but I felt myself drifting off to sleep. I tried to stay awake but my head kept on nodding to the side and I would jolt it back awake. I listened for my companion and heard not a thing. Why hadn’t the figure from outside tried to come in? What was keeping it away from us and from braking down the doors? This must have been the last thing I thought as I awoke from a deep slumber to a dreadful sound from outside. It started with a scratching noises on the glass, a horrible long drawn sound like those of nails on chalkboards, then there was a horrible wailing noise that sent the hairs on the back of my neck on end and gave me goosebumps all over.
I felt someone by me which I guessed was the same man as before. His hand rested on my arm as I sat up. I took this as for me to be still. I could feel him close to my ear again. ”Don’t do a thing. Stay calm and whatever you do not alert them to your presence here.”
I thought this ridiculous as whatever the figure was outside saw me enter into the summer-house. It was then that I realised what my companion had just said. He had said them denoting more than one. My god, how many were out there!
The noises went on for what seemed like hours but was probably only an hour and a half at the most. It was the sound of the dead, of agony, of the damned. I have no wish to hear that sound ever again I thought to myself then little realising what was about to follow in the next three days.
When it had all stopped, an eerie peace descended upon us and somehow I knew that they had gone. Still though none of us moved and it wasn’t until streaks of bright sunlight came through the gaps in the drapes that I saw who my companion was. His name was Robbins and he was the gardener. He was a man of forty years, had blonde hair and was of a powerful build. He was a good man and was married with two children who sometimes came to see him. I would spoil them when they did and fuss like a mother hen even though they were not mine. They would call me auntie Mary and it sent a warm glow over me upon hearing this. I loved them so much.
Robbins shook me gently from my reverie, with a look of relief on his face. ‘I’m sorry for the way I treated you yesterday miss, but to be honest I thought you had been taken too or worse. I’m glad you’re well.” He said these words with such compassion that I knew then that I knew something terrible had happened. What though. I was about to ask when he moved off to the single door where I had tried to get in yesterday. He told me to stay put until he knew it was safe.
So I waited.
And waited.
I was nervous now. Robbins had been gone for around ten minutes or so but again time really had no meaning. All felt like an immeasurable eternity the past few months. I walked up to the door, picking up what I had held yesterday to defend myself. It was a poker for the fire in winter when I sometimes came here in the colder months. I moved cautiously, fearing I may alert what could be out there. I was shaking now but determined I would not fall to whatever fate was waiting for me.
I opened the door, pulling it towards me and poked my head out.
Nothing or no-one was there. I ventured out a little further. Ducks were swimming in the stream, birds were singing in the trees, and all seemed right with the world, except for a feeling…
Nothing seemed out-of-place. Indeed, it seemed as if the events of the past few days, even the past few months hadn’t occurred. It was as if I had been asleep in the summer-house and had dreamed everything that had happened.
I suddenly felt very foolish and relaxed my guard.
It was then that I saw poor Robbins hanging from a tree from further down the garden and was dripping wet. It was though he had been dragged through the stream and had been hung out to dry like a peace of dirty meat. I felt bile rise to my throat for the second time in tow days and not for the first time either I was again caught off guard as cold wet clammy hands grabbed me from behind and all went black once again…

*Read on for the third and final part.