The Black Letter (Part 3 of 3)

Posted on Oct 26, 2011

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* This is the third and final part of the Black Letter. I hope you have enjoyed what you have read so far

October 1874, Oxford

I awoke on the grass feeling nauseous and a feeling like I had drunk a whole bottle of wine, then been on ship on very rough seas. A pile of sick lay on the ground around me and I realised it was my own.
I got up on my feet, swaying slightly, disoriented and trying to get my balance. I looked up, the sun-bright and warm in my face, momentarily blinding me.
Birds were twittering in the trees again.
It was then that I noticed the body of Robbins hanging from the tree. Fear rose in my empty stomach and I retched at the sight of the poor man.
A little unsteady still, I walked back towards the house. I tried avoiding looking at the body Robbins swaying gently from the tree, but couldn’t help myself as my eyes were drawn to his face.
Water was dripping from him. His hair was flat and he was completely soaked through. Everywhere else around him was bone dry, yet it looked like it had rained solidly on him for hours or his body had been drowned and hung out to dry? But his face was what I was drawn to the most. Oh the look on his face!
I had never seen such a look of sheer horror in them before. His eyes were open wide in fear and his mouth open in a scream. It was a frozen moment in time.
I hurried past, walking as fast as I could to the kitchen. I needed to get help from someone and find out what had happened to the others?
Once inside the house, I went about my business cautiously, hoping not to attract whomever or whatever had murdered poor Robbins.
I put on my coat, grabbed a few things and headed for the front door. Opening it, I almost screamed aloud for standing there were two policemen with stern looks on their faces.
” ‘Ello miss,” said one of them with a deep authoritative voice. ”We’d like a word with you if we may?”
”Oh Officer!” I proclaimed, ”I was just on my way to get you. Something dreadful has happened. Something so terrible that I dare not tell you of it should you think me mad!”
”Now, now miss. Calm down. It’s we who have come to see you for we have some news of a manner in which you may need to sit down…” This last part he let trail off but at first the words did not register with me for I was in shock. Then suddenly as I was being led into the living room, babbling away incoherently to them I must think, it suddenly dawned on me what they had just said.
You came to see me?” My voice was just a whisper to them. I must have looked such a state.
”Yes miss,” said the first officer. The second just stood there looked at me with a serious look on his face. The one who was talking to me now had a concerned yet worried look on his face. ”Jones, get a brandy for the lady here will you.”
The other policeman did as he was told going to the desk which held the decanter of alcohol. I was shaking and the lead officer saw this.
”I’m afraid we’ve some bad news for you,” he said sombrely.
I just sat there staring at him, but not really seeing him. Time seemed to be slowing down at that moment.
A glass was put into my hands and not one for brandy or whiskey, I was surprised as were the policemen I should wonder, that I drank it in one huge swallow.
”I’m afraid we’ve some bad news for you miss I said?” He said this thinking I couldn’t hear but I did. I heard every word and somehow knew what they contained.
He coughed a little uncomfortably, the other policeman, Jones, walking off to search the house I expected. To find someone to help with their enquiries and possibly to be with me.
He spoke again, his voice back to that of a policeman. ”I’m afraid I have to tell you that your husband, Mr Thomas Black has been found dead on a merchant ship in London. He wasn’t alone. There were two others with him. They all appear to have been drowned. I’m afraid to say that we have no leads to who has done this horrible thing but we have men looking out for suspects.” He didn’t sound confident.
”Who are the other men with him?” I asked this in the same low voice.
”That’s what we were hoping you would tell us. We have an artist’s impression of what they look like so there will be no need to come down to identify them.” His voice was back to being soft again.
I took the drawings and instantly recognised them.
”This one,” I said showing the first picture to the lead policeman, ”Is Miles, Our head butler. The other is O’Neill, a serving boy.” I looked at the drawings, lost in their intricate eye for detail. Another was placed before me and I instantly recognised that too. Tears streamed down my face then onto the picture. It was my husband, Thomas. ”Is that your husband miss?” he said softly.
”Yes officer, it is.” I said with a lump in my throat.
He moved off and came back with another brandy which I gratefully accepted. I sipped it this time, the liquid burning down my throat unlike the one before which I barely felt.
”I need to know what they were doing in London and what would have brought them to their deaths? Did they have enemies and if so who were they?” The questions rattled off him now so fast that they flew past me like bullets.
”Thomas worked for the government officer in business that was kept from me, but I knew some small details and knew him to be a spy, albeit a reluctant one. He had no wish to enter the service of espionage but preferred to be with his beloved navy. But there was a case closing in on two years now that bothered him to the point of paranoia to a stranger looking in, but to me it was something else.”
”Go on,” the officer said.
”You have of course heard of the Marie Celeste?” He nodded to this quietly
”Well he was a spy on the other ship that found her…”
”The Dei Gratia?” he interrupted
”Yes I said a little surprised. Well, he was on there to investigate some funny goings on. It was thought the crew were supplying arms or something to the Ashanti people supplied by Americans but he doubted this. There were other rumours that the crew were also about to scuttle a ship, probably their own and another story was that they were pirates, but none my husband saw of the men. He said they seemed good honourable people just doing their job when they came across the Marie Celeste alone, just floating there.”
”Yes, they boarded her, found her crew gone but everything pretty much in place. There was an investigation and all were acquitted of any crimes that may have been committed? The officer said enthusiastically and with some knowledge.
”They were, yes and nothing was indeed found. They were investigated even a few months after but again nothing was ever linked between them and the missing crew. The crew had simply disappeared in the middle of her voyage. But that wasn’t where the problems started for my husband.” I paused, taking a sip of the warming brandy.
”Yes, Mrs Black, go on?” I hadn’t failed to notice that that was the first time he had called me by my name.
”Well, a few months after, Thomas swore the house was being watched. At first we thought nothing of it, but then strange things started to happen, but only it seemed to him. he would see a stranger, a wet man watching the house and sometimes he thought that he was being followed. Then Thomas would be gone for days. The house staff were very frightened of his behaviour and I knew that they thought him a little mad. That was until a couple of them reported seeing a stranger staring at the house. Always in the same place, always unmoving. But whenever someone went out to confront the stranger, they would be gone. Then, My parents came to visit as did his and on both occasions, wet footprints were found in the house. I thought it one of the staff and had private words with them but none ever admitted to it and until about a month ago, I never really believed it to be them anyway. They were all lovely and loyal staff.”
”Were?” He had picked up on this finally.
”Well, you see Officer..? I’m sorry, I don’t know your name?”
”Morse miss, Sergeant Morse.”
”Well Sergeant Morse, some of the staff left you see. They were so scared, especially after Thomas went missing for around four days, which is the thing Sergeant. He was brought back last night by Miles from god knows where and now no-one is in the house except maybe for the killer of poor Robbins out in the garden.” I stopped, a look of horror on the Sergeant’s face. He called out to his colleague, but nothing came back to him. He suddenly had a nervous look on his face.
”If you could just give me a few moments Mrs Black, I’ll just go check on Constable Jones. He’s probably got lost.” He moved as if to go off, when he suddenly stopped and looked back at me. He had a look of confusion on his face and something else too. Something like resignation and… Sadness? Yes, that was it, deep sadness. It was as if he knew then all what had gone on before and all that was about to happen.
I sat there with the brandy in my hands, sipping at it every now and then, waiting. And waiting. And waiting…
Light turned to darkness and there was a knock on the door again. Still, I sat and did nothing. The knocking grew louder and more impatient. Shouts from the other side of the door, then heavy banging and suddenly a crash.
Yet, still I sat with my brandy, half gone and just stared at nothing in particular. I think at that moment I accepted all that had happened and was going to happen to me.
My fate was sealed…
People were rushing about in front of me.
Screams and shouts.
A gun went off.
A sound like the something in absolute agony.
It was all nightmarish, yet still I sat and didn’t really see.
Then silence.
No candle.
I was in complete darkness.
A sound came to me from somewhere in the room. My eyes couldn’t adjust to the gloom as the street lights from outside had been put out. The door was still open as I could feel the cold yet no-one had come in to see what the noise was about.
I was alone.
With the exception of the intruder in the room.
The killer.
I felt its presence close to me as the door to the living room was closed. I felt foetid breath and smelled rotten fish. I smelled decay.
I shut my eyes tight, unmoving. No sounds would come to my mouth yet in my mind I was screaming for help. Oh how I was screaming. Closer to me the figure came and I knew it was looking at me, its face nearing mine. I felt something drop into my drink and on my hands which writhed about. I was repulsed but was frozen to the spot.
Frozen with absolute fear.
No matter how hard I tried, I could not move! I was indeed frozen like a block of ice that would not melt. Why oh why couldn’t I be free?
I had never before felt a fear like this and I knew that pure evil was in the room with me then. How could I fight against such a thing. Everyone else had failed and I knew that everyone else had died at that moment. The staff of my house, the policemen, the others who had come in after. Maybe even my family and Thomas’s?
Even though my eyes were closed, I could open them but chose not to, yet still I could see a hooded head move towards me, even though I couldn’t see the actual face.
Closer it came.
Closer.
And closer…
And the next thing I knew it was gone and daylight had once again come around. There was a man shaking me with a concerned expression on his face. Words were coming to me from him but I couldn’t here them. The world and everything in it seemed so far away from me now. Maybe too far away for me to ever get back to?
I felt gentle hands pick me up and the next I was on a stretcher being carried away and that was when I finally passed out.

I awoke two days later in a room that was all white. There was a window with bright sunlight shining through it. I looked around the room which was bare and minimal. It was very clean and I at once knew that I was in a hospital or so I hoped. My head was slightly pounding but it was nothing new of late. Not for the first time I was confused and couldn’t remember much at first. The past two years or so had been nightmarish, especially the past year. My head was a bit foggy, probably with the brandy.
I tried to get up out of the bed and suddenly realised that I couldn’t move. At that moment, everything came rushing back to me. I remembered all the horror and the nightmarish things that had happened.
And I remembered the wet man and the face coming towards me and the fact that I couldn’t move. I felt the fear rise again and looked around the room nervously. I tried to scream out and struggled to move as the panic had set in.
Two people were above me, restraining me and something was poured down my throat. Everything then became cloudy and I relaxed, lost in a haze. I saw things. Monstrous things but they couldn’t hurt me. They were beyond reach. I was floating away from them and all the horrible things of the world.
And then All was dark…

When I awoke again, my head was very foggy and sore but I was calm. What on earth had happened? I tried to move but found again I couldn’t. This time though I relaxed, realising that I had been restrained to the bed, probably for my own safety or maybe others?
I stared up at the ceiling thinking of all that had happened. I cried for them all, especially my husband.
The door opened and a man walked in along with a woman. I could tell one was a doctor, the other was a nurse. They looked me over as I lay there silently and spoke to each other in whispers. I never really heard their words, lost in the haze still.
They then left me, coming back every couple of hours it seemed to check on me. By now I was very calm and just lay there staring into space, unseeing.
I slept fitfully and without nightmares.

The following morning I was being gently shaken awake. I opened my eyes to see a kindly man with silver hair and a short silver beard staring down at me. He was smiling and quietly saying my name over and over.
”Mrs Black? Mrs Black? Came the gravelly, yet gentle voice.
”Yes,” I replied hoarsely.
”My name’s Doctor Whome. I’m sorry to wake you, but there is a gentleman here to see you, although he can wait. How are you feeling? Are you okay in general?”
”Yes Doctor, I’m fine. Just a bit groggy.”
”Ah yes, I’m sorry about that. I had to give you laudanum to calm you down. You have been thrashing about and screaming for days now. We were quite worried about you. Some of the more superstitious here at the hospital wanted you exorcised or committed but I know better. You have been through an ordeal that most soldiers do not go through and I knew that your symptoms were just bad dreams. Rest was what you needed. You said some strange things and I had to give you the laudanum every day for the past two weeks to instil a calmness in your system. I hate to use the stuff as it can have some very bad side effects but in your case it was necessary.”
”Two weeks!” I said incredulously, ”I thought I had been here for a few days?”
”No Mrs Black. You have been feverish and in and out of consciousness and we have had a hard time trying to keep you with us. To be honest, we thought it was touch and go at a few points. I’m just glad you’re with us now and seem to be in good health all things considering.”
”Who wants to see me? Who are they?”
”Mmm… I must admit, I have no idea although he looks official. Defiantly not police, but I’m thinking more government? There’s something about him… I’ve been very curious about him and was going to wake you but you were in too deep. I’ve been interested in your case and how you came to be here over the past few weeks. Can you tell me in your own words what exactly happened?”
I looked at the kindly Doctor, his eyes earnest yet there was something about him that didn’t fit. Something not right, yet exactly right. It’s hard to explain but he didn’t feel as though he belonged here yet at the same time he did? I felt that I could not only trust him, but that I could tell him anything, which is exactly what I did from start to finish, missing nothing out. He looked at me gravely, nodding and mumbling to himself about things I didn’t quite understand.
When I had finished, he looked at me with those eyes that seemed older than they seemed, held my hand and asked me if he wanted me to stay when the man questioned me. I said no, that I would be fine and with that he left me saying he would be back soon.
The man came in who had been waiting to talk to me. He was in his mid forties, with dark brown hair, and piercing blue eyes. He did indeed seem to be a government official for I had met a couple before who came to the house to see my husband. His clothes were immaculate and he wore a long greatcoat. he looked at me for a moment before speaking.
”Mrs Black. I’m sorry for all that you’ve been through over the past few months but I need you to tell me exactly what happened. No details missed out, no matter how irrelevant to you they may seem.”
I almost told him that I had just been through this to the good Doctor but something stayed my tongue. So I again related all that had happened. He interrupted a couple of times but mostly kept quiet writing things down in a notepad.
He made ready to leave when all was finished and as he was about to do so, stopped and looked back at me.
”Mrs Black, Some of your household staff have been found. Three are dead, two are in an asylum where I believe they’ll stay for the rest of their days, and six are unaccounted for. I suggest you never go back to the house again. As you can imagine, it is in quite a mess still. I’ll, have someone watch over you just in case. As for staying somewhere, I also suggest that you stay with any family or friends. Good day to you.”
And with that he left. I couldn’t believe what he had just said. Those poor people! I had no way of contacting him or even his name. Everything was getting stranger and stranger.
Within a few days I was deemed fit enough to leave the hospital and I left in a sombre spirit but also defiant. I would not let this defeat me. I chose to stay at a hotel, not wishing for any family fuss. I heard nothing from Doctor Whome or the strange man from the government but I did see two men follow me from time to time as and when I left the hotel. I called one guardian and one angel for I knew that they were my protectors.
Weeks passed into months and nothing happened out of the ordinary. I was almost happy again. Well, as happy as one can be under such circumstances.
Then one evening, just six weeks ago, I decided to return to the house. I went there with trepidation in my heart but knew I had to go. I had been making notes on paper of all that had happened and wished to return to the house to lay the ghosts of the past to rest so to speak.
I stood outside the house, looking at it in the morning light. It was empty and desolate, devoid of life. After all I had learned from the government man, I really had no wish to enter the building again, but I was damned if I was going to let this beat me. I walked up to the door, now fixed and inserted the key. The house was dusty and smelled of rotten flesh. Light shone in the rooms through the windows as I walked through the rooms. Some curtains were closed and I opened them to let the light in to the rooms that were dark and damp.
I went into the study and collected a few things of Thomas’s and also went to my own study to collect my diary. I then went up the stairs to the bedroom to collect a few clothes and necessities before returning downstairs, but as I was about to do so, I heard a noise from behind me. From one of the other bedrooms.
My heart beating in my chest, I called out, ”Hello? Who’s there?”
Nothing.
There was a walking cane by the stairs that my husband uses as was the fashion. I picked it up. ”Hello,” I called again. Still nothing.
By now, I was very scared. Was it intruders of some kind? Had the police come back for something? Was it my Guardian and Angel? Or was it something much much worse…?
I held the cane up, ready to strike whomever or whatever was inside the room. My hand shaking, I cautiously moved closer, just a few feet away now. No sound came from the room. Maybe it was a rat or some other animal that had got in somehow? I had now reached the door to the guest bedroom.
Brandishing the cane tightly, I readied myself to charge into the room and confront the intruder at whatever cost.
Heart beating faster now, I counted in my head.
One.
Two.
Three.
I flew into the room screaming, holding the cane up high. The cat ran from the room making a horrible sound and scaring me half to death. I sighed with relief and even laughed to myself. I suddenly felt better for doing so. Leaving the room I went back down the stairs and into the living room, surveying the scene before me. The smell was indeed strong in here and I had to think calmly in case I was sick. I suddenly needed out of the house and into the fresh air. To be as far away from there as possible. I turned around to face the door and standing there before me was the wet man in all his menacing horrible glory. Again the cowl covered most of his face but I knew that this was pure evil standing before me. He had been waiting for me it seemed. I was standing there holding the bag that I had all my things in, collected from the house. I felt disoriented and very sick. I couldn’t move. I tried to scream and my vision was starting to go.
The next thing I knew, I heard shouts, followed by screams of terror and then silence. I then felt the thing come close to me, its foetid breath on my face, its smell of rotten fish and death surrounding it. I wanted to be sick but couldn’t do so. I was losing the will to control my own actions.
I felt it by my ear and it whispered something to me. Something horrible. The words sounded like why were we left alone? Why were we deserted? And images flashed through my mind then. Of ships. Of a lonely ship in the sea. Of drowned men stuck to the ocean bottom of Davy Jones’ locker, of the horrible death screams and then worse. The silence of the ocean and the sightless eyes as they looked into the darkness of the sea. I saw more still and would have understood all I think had Not there been a crash from the room and a strange sound and shouts from someone in the room.
A scream came from the wet man then and I fainted yet again.

I awoke in my hotel room, my head again very cloudy. I looked around only to see Doctor Whome looking out of the window to the street below.
”You’re awake then,” he said merrily.
”Yes Doctor, I am,” I replied a little confused.
”Well, I’m glad. Now, First things first. The two men who were meant to be protecting you are dead. I’m also sorry to say that as are your parents who were killed in a bizarre accident on their way down here to see you. I’m very sorry.”
I shed silent tears at this, but knew that it would happen, that their time would come as it had to everyone else connected to the house. To the Marie Celeste.
”In all my long long years, I have never encountered anything like this and always relish a challenge. But there seems to be more at work here than meets they eye and I think you know that more than most.” He said matter of factly. ”Also, the thing that killed all those people and seems to have an unhealthy interest in you, won’t be sated until it has done what it has come to do.”
”You mean until it has killed me you mean?”
”Good god no! It has no intention on killing you. It needs you. It feeds off you. It has been trying to keep you alive to feed off your fear. But all things must pass and one day your heart will give out and it will go to whence it came.”
I was silent at this. Incredulous but at last understood. I couldn’t do anything to defeat it or nor could the Doctor or anyone else.
”Then I have to put up with it? To let it torture me?”
”You won’t have to worry for a while. I’ve injured it I suppose you could say? So you have time. I’ll teach you how to do this the next time you encounter it but you have to be strong or you’re helpless otherwise and it will win. I think it best that if you need anything from the house, then do so now as the wet man could return in the next few weeks. I’m very sorry, but there’s nothing I can do for you, except help you to fight this out.”
With that he came over to me, kissed me on the forehead, handed me some papers with writing on them and bade me farewell.
I watched him go and when he had done so, I got up to look out of the window. I saw him then from three floors up walk into a big blue box that disappeared before my eyes. I knew then that I was delirious.
I got back into bed and slept soundly.

Days later and here I am writing this letter. I’ve decided to put the house up for sale, take the proceeds and move away as far as possible. I’ll probably go back to Scotland. I’m unsure as yet.
The man from the government came to see me and told me he would protect me himself but I told him of my plans and he left it at that. I think he was rather upset by this but accepted it all the same.
As for Doctor Whome? Well, no-one had heard of him at the hospital but they had at Oxford University it seemed, or someone a lot like him for someone matching his description had once studied there and had also taught there too but at very different times. At this I was confused.
As for me, I await my death with open arms now. I’m only in my late twenties and have outlived everyone I have ever loved. This letter I shall put in the box in the attic. I shall put it in a black envelope and entitle it the Black Letter for I fear that the wet man will never be sated with my demise and will continue with whomever lives in the house. I have no wish to pull it down for after all the sadness and horror that has happened there, so many happy memories have also lived under that roof.
I hope that the evil dies with me.

My love and prayers to you

Mary Elizabeth Cassandra Black
January 3rd, 1875, Oxford