Estimated reading time — 49 minutes
After only three months of preaching in Versailles, France at the Parish church, Bernard Reason had taken a ferry back to England and was now on a train back to his hometown and family in Skegness.
While he had been away at France, he had been replaced at his local church by one of his colleagues and was joined not so long ago by a young Scottish priest; Mr Lawrence Harding. As well as sending letters to his wife, teenage daughter and young son, he also exchanged letters with his old colleagues back in England, and they had told him queer stories of the new young priest. A seemingly stable and righteous man who looked all prepared to hold a service, but it seemed that he would get some form of stage fright; he would be carrying out the service extremely well, and then would look up or look down and quieten suddenly, as if he had lost all ability to speak. Sometimes he would even yelp, as if an unholy image had appeared in front of him that he could only see. No one had suspected such strange behaviour and mannerisms from Mr Harding; he was a righteous man who was apparently always very helpful and considerate, then he would unexpectedly turn extremely quiet, moody even, following something invisible in the room, whether it was on the ceiling, in the corners, on the floor. He proved to be very strange among his peers, almost leading him to be unpopular because of his abnormalities.
His colleague, Reverend Jacob Birkbeck had suggested to Mr Harding that he chose some other occupation, or else to get help if he needed it at all, but Mr Harding was determined to be a priest and promised to be better. It seemed that the letters that reached Bernard after that were positive, for Reverend Harding was sent to another chapel at Chapel St Leonards, but only after a week, the chapel informed Rev. Birkbeck of strange behaviour and poor Mr Harding was sent back to Skegness.
Bernard got back home with an armful of presents he gave out to his family who welcomed him back warmly and ecstatically. His thirteen year old daughter, Lucy and his seven year old son, Samuel, were eager to listen to their father’s tales of living in France, to learn its culture and to picture its scenery.
Bernard was sad that his family did not go with him, but that had been his wife’s fault. Rebecca was proud that she was British and in her opinion what was born in Britain, stayed and died in Britain; she refused to move and forbade Bernard to go too, but it had been a chance of a lifetime; he would never get the chance again, and ever since he was a young boy, when he read about all the explorers that had founded islands and had discovered new traditions, he had always dreamed of going to France. He regretted storming off without his family, but now he sat happily with his two children, telling them what he had experienced there, and promised them faithfully (out of Rebecca’s ear-shot) that he would take them one day on the ferry.
Bernard made his way straight away the next day to Archangel Ariel’s church where he had retired from. Rev. Birkbeck greeted him warmly, shaking his hand firmly, happy he was to see him back.
“Where is the young priest?” asked Bernard, walking with Rev. Birkbeck on the grounds.
“Mr Harding? He is at home; he stated this morning that he was ill, but he is to do a christening tomorrow afternoon.”
“And you will be there too I presume?”
Rev. Birkbeck’s ‘yes’ carried across a tone of worry and anxiety; he wouldn’t miss that christening for the world.
“You say Mr Harding is quite an eccentric lad. How is he?” asked Bernard after a slight pause.
“He is the most eccentric twenty-one year old I have ever met, Reason; I can’t help but suspect he has something that is mentally wrong with him; he seems to see things that we can’t; hear things we can’t; he stops abruptly in the middle of sentences. He is very queer indeed, Reason. He was born in the Scottish Highlands and as a boy moved to Louth, but only moved here a couple of months ago with absolutely no family ties and if he has any family he lives with or lives near to, he does not speak of them. I have asked the town’s doctor to come and talk to him, but…I don’t know how Harding responded…”
“Perhaps” muttered Rev. Birkbeck, licking his lips nervously, his eyes glazing over, deep in thought.
“Anyway, I would love to attend the service; I’d love to meet the Harding fellow too” said Bernard, after another slight pause.
“Yes” smiled Rev. Birkbeck, snapping out of his trance, “You are very welcome to come, Bernard. I have told Mr Harding quite a bit about you, and I am sure he will be anxious to meet you too.”
The Scottish priest Mr Harding was not at all what Bernard had expected. He was quite gangly and sallow, his face unshaven, but taller than he had imagined with untamed thick strawberry blonde hair and deep but distant looking eyes. His eyes darted from place to place around the church from time to time and he spoke monotonously, as if he had too much on his mind that it prevented him from speaking clearly.
The child to be christened was no more than ten month’s old, but behaved rather well as Rev. Harding dipped his hand into the basin of holy water and sprinkled it over the baby’s head. But as he kept doing this and reciting his psalms, his reciting became slower, his movements became rigid and slow, until it became so slow, he stopped praying.
Bernard was slightly worried to see the young priest’s lips moving as he talked to himself, as he argued with himself. He seemed to be saying silently ‘no, no, no, no, no.’ His breathing became heavier, his eyes filled with tears and horror.
Rev. Birkbeck, who wasn’t far from the scene, sensed this irregularity and edged closer to him, but no one would ever have expected what Rev. Harding did next. With shocking suddenness, he pushed the baby into the water, pushing her down to drown her. A cry came from everyone; even Bernard, and Rev. Birkbeck was the one who pulled away Rev. Harding and saved the baby, she was crying from the shock and panic, but she was alive and breathing.
Some people turned to look at Rev. Harding accusingly, glaring at him for doing such a monstrous thing, some glanced at him worriedly, scared out of their wits, but Rev. Harding did not look back up at them. His head was lowered, his eyes wide and vacant, as if in some sort of trance, still and rigid as a wooden puppet.
Bernard escaped to his home, breaking open his brandy and shakily pouring out glass after glass.
“Daddy? What’s the matter, daddy?” asked Lucy, knocking on his study door timidly and coming in slowly.
Bernard had no intentions of telling his daughter what had happened that day and told her to go to bed; he had meant to say it lovingly to his kind, sweet daughter, but it came out like an order and quite harsh, Lucy looked hurt and started away quite quickly.
Rebecca came in later asking what the problem was.
“The new priest at the church, Mr Harding…While I was in France I…had numerous letters of complaint and anxiety because of the boy. He is only young; twenty-one in fact and from the Scottish Highlands, but…he is strange. He was supposed to carry out a christening of a baby today, no more than ten months old at least, and…he…he tried to drown her.”
“What?” cried Rebecca, “How could he? What’s wrong with him? Is the baby alright?”
“Quite alright thanks to Mr Birkbeck-if he had not been there, she would’ve surely died; I was so scared I was rooted to the spot, as was the babe’s family and friends.”
“But why would Mr Harding do something like that?”
“I don’t know” sighed Bernard, after a pause, “But Mr Birkbeck told me that he has been acting queer from the first day he stepped into that church. He’s tried sending him to other churches; tried to suggest he go into some other occupation; tried to make him talk to the town doctor, you know, Mr Roger Humphries? But…none have seemed to work.”
Bernard found out the next day from Rev. Birkbeck that Mr Harding had been sent to Louth, his second hometown.
“He is very sorry he did not get to meet you” added Rev. Birkbeck, “I informed him of your appearance there and he is very regretful.”
Mr Harding seemed so regretful in fact that he sent Bernard a letter.
‘Dear Mr B. Reason
I learnt that you were at the christening at kirk that day when I did such a diabolical thing I can’t even begin to think why I did it. My apologies to you, sir, though I am sure a hanard pardons will not excuse what I almost did to that puir bairn. I ken from Reverend Birkbeck that ye are an understanding man and I would likit to meet ye to gab to ye and would like ye to come to my manse in Louth, it being aboot a block away from the train station. Thir thacts that rin through my heid are not normal and have unhaly and unco origins that I maun tell ye-I maun tell someone, can it be ye? I await your visit and I ken it’s a lang gate but I wad be ever grateful if you cam’. But please, dae not come after mirk or at nicht. I wad be sae grateful if you cam’, this is most urgent;
Mr L. Harding’
Though most of the letter was written in Scottish slang, he realized that Mr Harding really was very anxious to meet him and whatever he wanted Bernard for was urgent; but whatever could he want Bernard for? How could he ever help the being he saw try and drown a babe?
But pity took hold of him and though the letter instructed him not to come at night, he caught the evening train (which was the only one available that weekend) and arrived at Louth just after sunset.
He had written back to Mr Harding, informing him he would be on his way to Louth as quickly as possible, but Bernard doubted the letter had yet reached him.
Bernard hopped off the train and walked down the lonely road to Mr Harding’s house. He noticed opposite the train station there was a graveyard with a huge mausoleum between a willow tree and an oak tree with no door to it. Bernard shuddered; it was very eerie. It looked like the miserable, cold, lonely and dark descent into Hades, the Greek Underworld.
Mr Harding’s house was the only house that was a block away from the train station, totally cut off from everything else. Bernard walked precariously to the front door, the house giving him a chill and a feeling of dread. He knocked on the door timidly and it was answered shortly by a black servant.
“I’m here to see Mr Harding” stated Bernard, quietly.
“You are Mr Reason, yes?” asked the servant in broken English.
“This is a most inconvenient time…”
“Please, I have travelled a long way and the train I caught was the only one available today and I gather Mr Harding needs to see me urgently?”
The servant blinked and then nodded and led Bernard inside.
“He is in his room, but if you would kindly wait in his study I will go fetch him for you.”
“Thank you.” nodded Bernard
Mr Harding’s study was quite a mess with lots of books and pieces of paper left around in muddled stacks. The room was shrouded in mostly darkness as the velvet crimson curtains shut out most of the light coming in from the one window.
Curiously, Bernard went over to the books, his footsteps soundless on the Persian rug that looked at properly would make your eyes cross, and picked up a few that were on his desk.
‘Coping with grief and loss’
‘Ghosts and demons; what’s the difference and what are their origins?’
Bernard blinked at the books, thinking them a weird thing for a young priest to be reading and flicked through the papers that lay scattered on the floor and desk.
To his astonishment, they were drawings of numerous things, mainly the things that you see in church, people, tools and the buildings alike. All of them had been scribbled on messily in blood red writing.
‘Ben the auld’
‘Atween the aik and the saughs’
‘God have massy on me!’
‘Its een and its gim are like the Deevils’
‘It will howff me to the grave!’
‘It’ll drive me wud!’
‘I grue and greet at its scrieghin’ and evil in my saul!’
‘I will kill ye by the sword and your wives shall be widows and your children fatherless’
‘And there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying; Let us alone, what have we to do with thee, Jesus of Nazareth? Art thou come to destroy us? I know who thee art, the Holy one of God. And Jesus rebuked him, saying; Hold thy peace, and come out of him!’
‘They would attempt by a thousand means to destroy him; because they hate men with a deadly hatred’
‘They continually strive to destroy me, not as the body only, but especially as to the soul; for to destroy any man or spirit is the delight of all life that are in hell’
Bernard was shocked; what to make of this?
“Sir?” said a voice from behind him.
Bernard was so shocked at what he had seen on the papers that he jumped and turned suddenly, his heart thumping. It was Mr Harding, looking a little healthier than he had at the church.
“Mr Harding?” trembled Bernard, then he saw that Mr Harding was looking at the papers still in his hands.
“I…I…they were on the floor, I…I just picked them up for you” stuttered Bernard, placing them on the overcrowded table.
“I see” nodded Mr Harding.
“What is it you wanted to see me about, sir?”
“Weel actually, it was aboot that” said Mr Harding, quietly, nodding at the papers Bernard had just put down.
Bernard gulped, not really knowing what to say.
“Reverend Birkbeck tauld me ye used to be a doctor…a psychiatrist…a doctor in your younger days” continued Mr Harding.
So that’s what he wanted Bernard for; he wasn’t willing to talk to a doctor that was still a doctor, but was willing to talk to a used-to-be doctor that was now a priest. That’s why Bernard had gone into the church twenty or so years ago; people seemed to have more faith in the priests and nuns than they did in doctors.
“Yes…that is quite true.”
“Then I maun tell ye why I tried to droun that puir bairn, while it is seelent and away.”
“What’s ‘silent and away’?”
“The thing that makes me dae eldritch things” sighed Mr Harding, “Makes me think and dae and say eldritch things.”
Though Lawrence hadn’t offered him a seat, Bernard sat down anyway by the desk and sat back in his chair, his hands clasped together.
“Explain” said he.
Mr Harding sighed and turned to the window, looking outside from the little gap he had made between his half-drawn curtains.
“Dae ye…believe in the unco? The supernatural, Mr Reason?” he asked after a slight pause.
Bernard blinked. He thought about what he had just been asked. He remembered years ago, when he was just a boy, that he had believed in the supernatural; when his grandpa died he was sure that in spirit form, his grandpa was following him around, this did not help when a gypsy told him that he had a family member watching over him. As he grew up, he realized what the gypsy had said was a good thing-his grandpa was watching over him like a guardian angel-but then again, did he believe such creatures exist? For if he believed in the existence of angels he had to surely believe in the existence of demons. Of course, Bernard had heard and read stories where people have ‘experienced’ ghostly phenomena, but Bernard couldn’t believe everything he read. They were ghost stories; that was it; just stories.
“I…I’m not quite sure, Mr Harding. Why? Do you think you are being haunted?” came his honest reply.
Mr Harding’s eyes turned dark, as if thinking about his disturbing problem was too much to confess.
“I’m being haunted in a gate ye could never imagine” came the chilling voice that made Bernard shiver, “I have put up wi’ this thing for twa years-though it has seemed much langer. It a’ started wi’ my grandpa’s funeral back in 1879.”
Here he paused to sigh softly and close his eyes, trying to word this perfectly so his listener could understand it.
“I used to have a brother, ye kens” he said, “His name was William. He was just six when we won to my grandpa’s funeral-mysel’-eicht. He was buried in the kirkyard opposite the train station. I’m sure ye noticed it when ye won past. That kirkyard’s an auld place, sae naturally, after the funeral, we won exploring. Will found a crypt wi’ na door…”
Bernard shivered; that ‘no door’ was still there today.
“…I dinna like it and tauld Will to come wi’ me back to the family, but…he won in and won doon, wherever it led to… I never saw him again”
Bernard breathed in audibly, wondering what to say; surely this couldn’t be all the story and the reason behind his troubled ways? Just as Bernard was opening his mouth to ask him to tell him more, Lawrence continued.
“Twa years ago, I was on the train back coming back fra’ my hametoun, and I lookit at the graves opposite me and saw the na door. It made my heart wham faster as I remembered wha’ happened there so many years ago. As I stared, I saw a muckle black dog coming out of the na door wi’ drool dreepin’ fra’ it’s snarling moo, it’s eens thirled mine, but before I even kenned it, I was right in front of the na door, aboot to go in. The dog cam’ oot again, making me lowp and it gied sic eldritch scrieghiri, I rin a’ the gate hame, though I have na idea how I found the courage to move my feet. Sisyne, I’ve been plagued by it. It’ll come when it wants and go when it pleases, like now; but it will come back, for suir it will, Mr Reason. It never barks, but whiles snarls and howls, whiles shriegh’s like a monkey, and whiles barks in my lub to dae eldritch things. It sits on the Bible as I try to read it, covering it up on purpose; it circles me whiles; and wha’ can I dae but to watch it closely, to see wha’ it’s up to. I thought at first, it was my brother-a dog wad be just his style; playful, affectionate and protective-but thir are nane of the qualities of this dog. I ca’d out to him ance; I ca’d oot ‘Willy, is that ye?’ A’ I got was a howl of amusement, sae it’s never tauld me who it is. Maybe it is my brother, maybe he’s angry that I didna try to stop him gawn inower that God forsaken place. But it’s made me a gangrel in my toun, in my job, in my community because of wha’ it tells me to dae. Whiles the voice’ll be sae loud in my lub that I can’t droun it oot, the mair I try to droun it oot, the louder it gets until it almost deaves me and…it’ll make me dae things, Mr Reason, sae mony bad things that I ken I shouldna, like wha’ I did to that wee bairn-it wasn’t me that did it-it was It. It takes over me, Mr Reason. I ance almost smoored my puir neice in her bed ane nicht in my hametoun-if I hadn’t have come to my senses in time and realized wha’ I was daeing-she would’ve died. And when I learn wha’ I dae whiles I sit and greet while it looks at me in amusement and likit, making its een thirlin’ my very saul, thrawnin’ my heid. Ye see, it kens everything, Mr Reason, it see’s everything I dae, it watches me in sic an unnerving gate, whether it looks at me directly or ower my shoother, that I flinch away fra’ it. Ye see Mr Reason, I never believed in bogles or spunkies; I was a sceptic, sir-that is until I met that muckle black dog. I ken it’s a hard story to believe, sir, but fra’ wha’ Rev. Birkbeck’s tauld me; ye’s a kind and understanding man, and I maun tell my story to someone before it comes amang us again.”
Mr Harding finished his disturbing tale with tears in his eyes.
“So…what is that you want me for, Mr Harding? Do you wish for me to help you?” asked Bernard, quite shakily, after quite a long silence.
“I am beyond help, Mr Reason, but if ye have a solution to rid me fra’ the demon, I would be very grateful if ye mentioned it, sir.”
“But sir, you are a reverend; can’t you rid yourself of this demon for yourself?”
“Na” came the immediate reply, “It sticks to ye like glue, and just when ye think its gane, it comes back again-ye can never get rid o’t!”
The look on Mr Harding’s face was pure fear and his tone almost sounded hysterical and Bernard jumped up from his seat to comfort and reassure him.
“I believe you” he said, “I do, but I will have to ask my counsel about this; they will know what to do, sir, I am sure. We will rid you of this curse you have.”
It was all he could think of to say; he would indeed tell his colleagues about Mr Harding’s horrific secret, but Bernard knew that most of them would think Mr Harding a loon-and him too if he believed in such a thing. Indeed, he only half-believed the story himself; it seemed too incredible; too much like the stories the children told each other at sleep-over’s late at night while lighting a candle and holding it underneath their faces for extra emphasis in the spookiness of the story.
As if Mr Harding was reading his thoughts, he said;
“Dae ye think that they’ll believe a word of my story? Even if they did; they’d be too fleyed to help me get rid o’t.”
“I’m highly respected in my town, Mr Harding” reassured Bernard, “I will do my best to do everything I can to help you, I promise.”
Mr Harding sniffed as if he had a hard time believing Bernard, even though he had asked for his help.
“It’s getting late” he said finally, “It’ll soon be pit-mirk oot there-go back to Skegness, sir-ye don’t want to be hingin’ around here much langer. Thank ye for your time, Mr Reason, thank ye for coming; I truly am grateful.”
Bernard had no choice but to leave as Mr Harding ushered him out of the house.
“Stay away fra’ that crypt, sir; whether it’s my brother in there or not; I don’t trust it; it’s so auld ye don’t ken wha’s in there”
And with a quick good-bye, he closed the door and locked it.
Bernard had to wait more than an hour until a train came to pick him up and take him back to Skegness. While he was waiting, he couldn’t help but look back over his shoulder to the eerie crypt with no door and he felt a shiver go down his spine, and he wondered whether Mr Harding’s tale was true or not. Was it real and he was really being tormented by a being that was not of this earth or was it just that he’d been grown up in a place where ghost stories were all the rage and had grown up with an over-active imagination?
As the train stopped finally into the station, Bernard happily jumped on it and sat down, daring to have another glimpse at the no door just before the train set off again back home, and Bernard swore, even though he was at quite at a distance, he swore he heard an unearthly roaring coming from within.
Only a week had gone past and Bernard received another letter from Mr Harding labelled ‘urgent’ so it got to him faster. Bernard had not yet told anyone about the terrifying tale Mr Harding had told him; not even his wife. He was still wondering who to tell-and how to word it so it wouldn’t sound crazy. He opened the letter with shaking hands, wondering what else Mr Harding had to tell him; his story had already shocked him enough, and Mr Harding’s writing was scribbled on the page, slanting downwards and upwards all over as if he had written it hurriedly and in great distress.
It’s back. It’s come back-and it kens. It kens that ye cam’ ower the ither nicht and it kens that ye ken aboot it. Please come ower again as soon as ye can, please. It’s driving me crazy already; I need your help, sir, but don’t come ower at nicht like last time, please; ye will be in danger if ye dae.
Begging ye on my knees,
Bernard decided to set off immediately, and thankfully, there was a train going there that morning.
As he travelled back to Louth, he took the letter out of his pocket and read it over and over again, and shuddered. Mr Harding warned him that it knew. What did he mean by his warning? Was it going to come after him now and put Bernard through the same torture as it was putting Mr Harding? As much as Bernard tried to tell himself that whatever it was that was tormenting Mr Harding and what he felt and what he heard was all in his mind and he needed some help, he couldn’t help but believe the tale as well. Bernard put his head in his hands; he was so confused; his head was popping just thinking about all this. One side of his mind was telling him that Mr Harding needed help, that this thing was real, and it was here, and it’s dangerous. The other side of his mind was arguing that it couldn’t possibly be real; Mr Harding had a psychological problem; schizophrenia maybe and needed professional help; and how could he even possibly think that something’s after him? He’d be treated like one of the patients in Bedlam if he kept up the paranoia and kept looking over his shoulder all along.
But when Bernard reached Louth and got to the house, he realized he was too late. Police and doctors crowded the grounds and the inside of the house. His heart almost stopped beating, his breath came out in shallow gasps, and then he found himself running inside, despite a nearby policeman’s protests.
There Bernard saw the black servant that had welcomed him in only a week before; he was sat down, his eyes dull and wide, the tear stains still apparent on his face.
“What happened?” asked Bernard.
“Mr Harding, sir…he…he is dead.”
“How?” asked Bernard, summoning up his courage to speak.
“He wrote the letter to you the other night and told me to take it straight down to the post office and told me to tell them it was urgent. He acted very strangely after that, sir; he would not eat, though I made him his favourite, he would not drink anything I presented to him, he just sat in his bed, staring into space; sometimes I heard him talk to himself, but it was like he was talking to another person. He yelled to himself, and I, so distressed, went to see what the matter was; but he had locked his door and he told me to leave him alone. I am obedient man, sir, so I left him alone, though I worried for him. I work for him for four years, sir, and I have never seen or heard him act like that before. Early this morning, around five ‘o’ clock, I went to see if Mr Harding had woken. I knocked on his door, there no answer. I knocked on it twice, still no answer. So I pushed open the door, which was now unlocked and…there I saw him.”
At this, he started to sob and put his face in his hands.
“He has always kept a loaded pistol under the bed in a box, sir, for protection if there should be any intruders. He had reached for this pistol at some time in the early hours of the morning, sir, and put it to his head and pulled the trigger.”
Bernard gulped as the servant cried and turned to see Mr Harding in a black body bag being carried down the narrow stairs by three policemen.
“Did he mention anything about the supernatural before he…shot himself?” Bernard asked quietly, turning back to the bereaved servant.
The servant shook his head.
“Though…he did complain about a dog. A large black dog, barking, howling and shrieking…if dogs do such a thing as shriek. I looked outside to shoo it away, but there was nothing out there. He complained of it quite a bit actually, and I always assumed that it was a dog from another neighbourhood come here, so I would always look around the grounds for it, but there was never anything there. Of course, Mr Harding was tired, so…maybe it was his just his mind playing tricks on him.”
Bernard and his family attended Mr Harding’s funeral, as did Rev. Birkbeck in Louth, in the very graveyard with the cursed crypt.
“What a terrible loss” he sighed as he walked with Bernard, “He wrote a letter to tell me you had been very charitable to him, Mr Reason; he said you went to see him. What did you talk about?”
Bernard stiffened and was silent; he wasn’t sure whether to tell him or not.
“He…he told me what made him try and drown that baby at the baptism” he replied, finally
Rev. Birkbeck widened his eyes and stopped in his tracks, looking at Bernard with curiosity.
“And…what did he tell you?” he asked.
Bernard gulped, his mouth feeling suddenly dry.
“He said you had told him that I was a doctor in my youth and he thought I would understand his…condition, though I am just as baffled as anyone else about his tale. He spoke to me of a black dog that he saw come out of the no door…”
“The crypt here without a door; it’s very old, no date is precise to tell us exactly when it was built, and who for, but he told me of the sighting and ever since then, it plagued him, it made him do things, told him awful things. I’m quite sure I wasn’t the right person to talk to…I believe I am sceptic, but…now I…I am not sure. This event has shaken me up rather.”
Rev Birkbeck blinked.
“Dr Humphries talked to Mr Harding as you know… I think you ought to speak to him about it all.”
Lucy Reason didn’t like funerals, not since she went to her grandma’s when she was a very little girl; not even six. They were awful, morbid things that meant someone was squeezed into a coffin and buried beneath the earth, doomed to hear the echo’s of the living’s footsteps high above them.
So, naturally, as Mr Harding was lowered into the ground, she went exploring for something to do. She didn’t mind looking at the graves; some were quite pretty; some in the style of a Celtic cross, some were stone angels in prayer. She came to a deserted bit of land where only an oak and a willow tree dwelled. She swung from the oak’s branches for a while and then started to skip to the willow, but she stopped when she saw that in between these two trees was a crypt with no door.
‘How eerie’ she thought, ‘I wonder why there’s no door or, if there had been one, what happened to it?’
The long, narrow, dark void she saw was like a magnet, drawing her closer and closer. Then she heard a sneeze and a little cough, that only belonged to one person she knew…
“Granny?” she gaped, incredulous, “Granny? Is that you?”
Like a bull that is being led to the sacrifice altar, her steps quickened toward the pitch black doorway to the unknown…
Bernard and Rebecca Reason were woken that night by the sound of screaming. They raced to Lucy’s room, and sure enough, she was sat up in bed, her eyes wide, her face sickly and pale, screaming until her voice was hoarse and she felt sick. Nothing that Rebecca or Bernard said or did to console her or calm her down helped her; she calmed down and quietened when she wanted to.
And there she sat, her eyes still wide, her face sweating, making her dark hair stick itself to her face as if it were honey. She never said a word, but kept her eyes fixed on something that only she could see.
“Lucy? Are you all right? Lucy?” called Bernard, lovingly, stroking the wet tangles of hair off her face.
She sat as still as a statue for a while, hardly breathing, her eyes unblinking, then her eyes blinked and shifted to her father, almost making him jump. It had seemed so quick and unexpected; it was like she would never move again.
“Daddy, daddy, help me” she started out as a whisper, but then her voice got louder and more urgent, and she grabbed his arm with a vice-like grip, pulling him toward her, “Please, help me! The shrieks! The screams! She’s crying out for help, daddy, she’s crying out for someone to deliver her from the pain! Oh, the pain! The pain! It cuts through my very soul, daddy! Daddy, help me! Help me!”
She started laughing hysterically, she clutched at her quilt as a five year old would her teddy bear when she was upset. Bernard felt like jelly; he had never seen his daughter act like this before, and all he could do was stare at her in horror; it was Rebecca who slapped Lucy round the face to calm her.
“Lucy! Snap out of it! What’s wrong with you?”
But though Rebecca had slapped her, Lucy continued to cry out;
“She’s screaming in agony, mummy! She’s screaming in pain! Help her! Help her for God’s sake! I can’t take much more of her pitiful cries!”
“What in God’s name are you talking about, child? I can’t hear anything! There is no one crying out in pain-in this house or any house on this street!”
But Lucy continued to sob and rolled up into a ball in her bed, closing her eyes tight to shut out the cries and screams she herself could only hear.
Bernard and Rebecca could do nothing to quieten her and went back to their beds, even though none of them could sleep with their daughter sobbing all night.
By morning, Lucy had stopped crying and screaming, but she was confined to her bed. Bernard had called Dr Humphries to diagnose her illness.
“Perhaps a fever” he said, “I would advise for her to stay in bed for the time being and get plenty of rest.”
But Bernard invited Mr Humphries to stay; he wanted to ask him what Mr Harding had told him before he killed himself.
“Well, I have no definite diagnosis of what he had, Mr Reason” he said, “He told me about his young brother-a tragic circumstance when one is so young, to never know what happened to your sibling; to long for their return, but knowing deep down that they are most probably departed from this world. He told me he kept seeing a huge black dog that kept barking and, if you mind, screeching like a monkey.”
“Yes, he told me that too” nodded Bernard, “What else?”
“Nothing more really; he told me the dog talked to him; told him to do things that were evil and terrible.”
“Do you believe that it did?”
“What did? The dog? Of course not; dogs can’t talk, and the dog was part of Mr Harding’s imagination. As I said, diagnosis was not definite, but perhaps he had a personality disorder; schizophrenia maybe or bipolar or even borderline; these mental imbalances are common for those who have had traumatic pasts.”
“Did he mention the no door?”
“The crypt in the Louth churchyard-it has no door. Surely you saw it opposite the train station?”
Mr Humphries cocked his head thinking.
“Ah yes, I do recall that that was the place in which Mr Harding’s brother went down and never came back up-yes, he told me-which makes it all the more rational to say that because he knows that place may hold his dear young brother, he is sure to feel spooked around it, and perhaps the steam from the train caused Mr Harding to see spectral illusions-or he may have been abusing something at some time, perhaps he drank alcohol or smoked tobacco too much”
Bernard paused, sipping from his tea cup, thinking.
“Mr Humphries, you are a doctor; and I too used to be one, but…I feel like I believe Mr Harding about what he saw at the no door. I think I believe that something really was haunting him.”
He didn’t really know what to expect from Dr Humphries, but the reaction made Bernard recoil in humiliation.
Mr Humphries laughed. “My dear old boy, you can’t really believe all that rambling on he did about that dog? Black dogs are the most commonly seen spectral illusions because of their association with death! Death is what haunted Mr Harding more than anything else, i.e. his young brother. Perhaps I was wrong about Mr Harding as having a mental disorder, perhaps this is an epidemic-your daughter seems very disturbed and pale at the minute, so soon after Mr Harding’s illness and death-and now you’re coming down with it too!”
Bernard nodded vaguely, though he didn’t really agree with what Mr Humphries was saying. He knew whatever Mr Harding had seen was real, and now a shiver went down his spine as he remembered those chilling words from his last letter;
‘It kens, it kens that ye cam’ ower the ither nicht and it kens that ye ken aboot it’
What did that mean? Was that thing coming after him now? He thought about Lucy and he paled; was that thing in Lucy? Was it that that she could hear? Screeching and crying out in her head to drive her mad as it had Mr Harding? No! Lucy had no idea what the no door or where it was; she couldn’t be touched by it! It was impossible! Or was it…
Another week went past and still Lucy was chained to her bed; but it looked like she never slept; her eyes were weighed down by purple bags, they were bloodshot and clouded over with terror. She was as white as a sheet and she either couldn’t keep still; wriggling, moaning and crying about the tortured voice in her head, or she would be as still as statue; her eyes unblinking, her breaths coming out deeply and heavily.
A priest at Boston became sick, and Bernard was asked to go and cover for him for a couple of days, though this turned out to be for a week.
Bernard worried very much about his poor teenage daughter and as soon as he returned from Boston, he asked his wife straight away how she was.
Rebecca paled and gulped, though her mouth had suddenly turned very dry. Mr Humphries was by her side, looking slightly worried himself, though he was still convinced it was a kind of epidemic spreading around that caused hallucinations and odd behaviour.
“She is…well…she is worse” choked Rebecca, “Come and see.”
Slowly, Bernard was led upstairs, each step up filled him with dread, wondering how his daughter could be any worse, what kind of state she was in, the words of Mr Harding’s tale and letter kept repeating in his mind, it was like a hammer was pounding them into his brain until it drove him crazy.
Rebecca opened Lucy’s bedroom and Bernard saw all the curtains had been closed and Lucy was completely hidden underneath her sheet.
Though she was reluctant, Rebecca went to her side and slid off the sheet.
Underneath, it looked like to Bernard Lucy was curled up into a ball, but now that the sheet had come off, he gaped at her. Lucy was in the oddest position he had ever seen. She looked like a contortionist from the carnivals that he used to take her to when she was younger. How they used to gape and laugh at what they did with their bodies; but there was nothing funny about this sight; she was lying on her belly, her head pressed down on the bed because her right leg had stretched over and round her head so that it was trapped in between. Her left leg was stretched in front of her face; her left arm rested underneath her stomach but was stretched enough to touch her bum; her right arm reached up to her headboard, but wasn’t touching it.
“My God, what’s happened to her? Are any of her bones broken?” choked Bernard, incredulous.
“Oh no, she’s…fit enough, but…” began Mr Humphries, but he could not finish his sentence, for he hadn’t seen one of his patients like this before-in fact he hadn’t seen any one like this before, not even a contortionist in a carnival.
“Lucy? Lucy?” called Bernard, getting as close to her as he could without actually touching her twisted body, “In God’s name please tell me what’s wrong.”
Lucy’s eyes that were glazed over; she was even possibly asleep with her eyes open, now seemed to come to attention and snarled.
“Ber-nard. Ber-nard Reeeaasoon”
Lucy seemed to come back to her old and normal position again.
“You know who I am. You knew Lawrence Alexander Harding”
The voice was a growl that sounded half-woman half-man; Bernard almost forgot to breathe; it had got Lucy. Lucy had somehow stumbled upon the no door and it had got her. Whatever had Mr Harding, now had her. He bustled quickly out of the room, hearing that thing give a short cruel laugh.
Mr Humphries followed him.
“Bernard, Bernard, wait up there! What’s wrong?”
“It’s real, Roger. The thing that had Mr Harding is now in Lucy!”
“Bernard, please! Not this nonsense again! What did I tell you about grief? It can cause depression and other mental disorders, hallucinations…”
“Lucy has not a clue what Mr Harding told me the night I went to see him; she has not a clue that he was haunted by something unholy; why was it just then that she said-well…more like it said-that I knew it, that I knew it from Mr Harding?”
Mr Humphries swallowed, thinking of a rational explanation.
“Well…” he started.
“I want an exorcism performed” Bernard cut in, “I should’ve believed Mr Harding and arranged an exorcism as soon as I got back from Louth; but I didn’t help him-and now he’s dead. I’m not letting that thing take my daughter as well!”
“This is lunacy, Bernard! Get a hold of yourself! Besides, the church would never agree to one!”
“I agree to one-and I’m a priest! I will carry out the exorcism myself if need be!”
“You’ll be crazy to do such a thing, Reason; if anyone found out…”
“No one will know of this if we all keep quiet about it”
Bernard narrowed his eyes at Roger, challenging him to say different.
Roger Humphries sighed in defeat.
“Fine, do what you wish; all my advice would be to just let her get some sleep and make sure she has plenty of medicine, but if you insist… Just don’t drag me into this.”
“On the contrary, I want you there.”
“What?! Me? I would never witness such a thing!”
“I want you to, Roger. Or are you too scared? That’s just it isn’t it? You deny the existence of these things because you are scared of them, and won’t see any different! Well?”
Mr Humphries looked into Bernard’s eyes and knew there was no getting out it; he would have to be there.
“Fine” he sighed.
Bernard told the church nothing of his plans; indeed, they didn’t even know Lucy was ill, so everything was a total secret. Bernard had reluctantly told his wife everything; at first she seemed sceptical, but as the details got more vivid and alarming, her face went pale and she started to shiver in fear. She was to still come to terms with it all; she was in her room, sat on her bed in silence, ashen and shaking.
“Are you sure you want to do this, Bernard; exorcisms are serious ceremonies; anything could happen” said Mr Humphries, cautiously.
“Roger, that thing made Mr Harding put a gun to his head! I’m not letting it make my daughter turn to death too!”
Mr Humphries nodded; he convinced himself this was total lunacy, that it was a paranoid and hallucinogenic epidemic that they had all caught; God help them if the whole town caught it; they’d be killing each other in such brutal ways, but fear and believing tried to worm their way in-Roger tried his very best to push them out-that’s what must start off the illness.
Lucy was in her nightdress that was drenched in sweat and was in the same twisted and painful position that she was a few nights before. It seemed as though she was sleeping; her body didn’t move though any other normal person’s would jerk violently at such stretching of the limbs.
“Lucy?” said Bernard, softly.
There was no reply; Bernard glanced at Roger and both jumped as Lucy’s hand grabbed the headboard and pulled her head up to see them, some bones cracking. In the few weeks she had been like this, she had lost an alarming amount of weight, and her spine, collarbones, ribs and cheekbones protruded out.
“Berrrrnaaaard” came the raspy growl from Lucy’s-a sweet, innocent thirteen year old girl’s-lips
“It said my name” breathed Bernard
“Of course she did, Bernard! She’s your daughter!”
“Whatever is inside my daughter, you tell me now in the name of God who you are” commanded Bernard, ignoring Mr Humphries, looking at the body that now didn’t belong to his lovely daughter.
“Bernard, there is nothing inside her-you know that” whispered Mr Humphries, his back leaning against the bedroom door.
Lucy picked her head up even more, making her neck crack with the strain.
“He who speakssss iss a murderer” it rasped.
“Wh…what?” quivered Mr Humphries.
“Rogerrr…Humphriesss…I know your secretsssss” it seemed to sneer.
“I…I have no secrets” gulped Mr Humphries, trying to sound confident.
The thing laughed, using Lucy’s mouth and voice.
“I know all those children, Roger, I know all those children, and they cry and scream and shout and bawl. They all cry out in misery.”
“What…what children?” stuttered Mr Humphries.
“Those you killed.”
“This is madness! I haven’t killed anyone! I’m a doctor; I try and save lives!” argued Mr Humphries, glancing worriedly to Bernard, to Lucy and back.
“Well you’re not a very good doctor; you don’t try enough! And you’re not on God’s list to go to Heaven! He will never forgive the sins you have committed!” it roared, “You killed all those children in that winter! You wouldn’t help them, though you pretended to; though I wouldn’t exactly give you a job in acting, Roger Humphries! You also killed little Lucy’s granny who’s death so haunts her and that’s why she can hear her poor granny crying out in pain, begging for deliverance, though there is only me. Murderer! Baby killer! Murderer of your wife’s child! Murderer of your own wife too!”
Mr Humphries was almost as pale as Lucy now and was trembling violently.
“What is this evil that you speak of?” demanded Bernard.
But Lucy wasn’t paying attention; she had her eyes now on Roger and had now sat up properly. She stared for a while, but then she suddenly smiled and beckoned with her hand for Mr Humphries to come closer to her. Mr Humphries was reluctant to go over to her and looked at Bernard for advice, but Lucy was adamant that he come closer to her.
“Come” she whispered so quiet they could barely hear her, beckoning passionately with her hand, smiling and nodding.
Mr Humphries, seeing Bernard didn’t know what was best either for this situation, closed his eyes and took a deep breath, before he slowly edged closer and closer to Lucy, she moving toward him too so when they stopped, they were almost nose to nose.
“I have a message from your unborn baby” she whispered, still smiling, but this smile wasn’t welcoming and nice as it was a second ago, it was cruel and sly, “It still hears and see’s you know; it knows you did wrong and did something against God’s law.”
As Mr Humphries stared at her with wide-eyes, trembling, his face pale and sick, Lucy just smiled, her vacant, unblinking eyes penetrating his. Then she screamed, she screamed until it became a shriek; that ghastly shriek that Lawrence Harding had described.
Mr Humphries recoiled in fear, but Bernard threw ropes at him and ordered him to tie her to the bed before she could do anything violent, as bad spirits tended to do when inhabiting a body.
“Murderer! Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!” bellowed Lucy, snarling at the ropes Bernard and Mr Harding wrapped round her wrists and ankles. The ropes were tied tightly and attached to the headboard and bed posts; there was no way Lucy could wriggle free from their grip.
“We’re not here to discuss, Mr Humphries…Thing, we are here to discuss you. And that body you are in…Thing…is not you; it is my thirteen year old daughter, Lucy, and I ask you now to leave her body at once.”
Lucy-who was not really Lucy-stared at Bernard blankly, adamant in not leaving the perfectly healthy body it had abducted.
“Then you leave me no choice, unholy spirit, but to force you out-Roger, say prayers with me.”
Bernard and Roger recited psalms and prayers to God-Bernard louder and clearer than the mumbling Mr Humphries, who still cowered away from Lucy-and sprinkled holy water onto her. It was a sickening sound as they heard the water sizzle on her skin that was wet with sweat.
Then they began to recite the Lord’s Prayer, Lucy growling, snarling, howling in pain, breathing heavily and quickly as if there was a shortage on oxygen.
“Curse you demon to Hell; leave this vessel! Leave this vessel in the name of the Father, the Son and…”
“Daddy! Daddy! Stop, please!” begged Lucy in Lucy’s voice, tears streaming down her face, “Daddy, please stop; I’m alright now; I’m fine. It’s gone, it’s gone, daddy. Daddy?”
Bernard was not convinced; he knew the spirit wouldn’t leave a body so silently and suddenly. He narrowed his eyes and flicked the holy water from his bottle onto her body.
“…And the Holy Spirit…”
Lucy’s voice was gone, replaced by the voice that sounded like you had dragged your nails down wood. It roared now, louder than before and Lucy’s body lifted from the bed. She was only there screaming for a few seconds, but to Bernard and Roger, it felt like she had been that way for hours.
She finally collapsed back onto the bed, making the bed wobble and shudder.
“In God’s name I command you to leave this vessel!” bellowed Bernard, sprinkling even more holy water onto her.
“Oh shut up you son of a bitch! Stop it! You’ll rot in Hell! All of you in your house, including your precious daughter and your ancestors will all rot in Hell! A curse! A curse on your family!” spat Lucy.
“Quiet, foul thing!” ordered Mr Humphries, finding his courage to speak.
“Shut up, you baby killer! You’ll rot in Hell too! God would not forgive something as such as you! You’ll be dragged to Hell; you just see!” Lucy spat in his face.
It was Roger now who confronted the beast, wiping the spit from his face, while Bernard splashed holy water and recited psalms uncertainly, swallowing with nervousness and fear. He didn’t know whether he liked Lucy the way she was not half an hour ago or the way she was now; her eyes were wide with hate and vengeance, all bloodshot and blazing with fire; her face personified the meaning of evil, she jerked around wildly, trying to escape from her restraints. Bernard shook his head; he liked neither state she was in; he liked the old state better; the Lucy he knew; the real Lucy his wife had bore and brought up.
But while Roger and the thing argued, Lucy was now wriggling free from her loose restraints and made a grab for Roger’s face.
“No!” cried Bernard, jumping to the rescue, pulling Lucy off of Mr Humphries. Lucy spat at him, baring her teeth and to the men’s astonishment she began to climb her bedroom wall as if she were a human spider. They dragged her down, trying to pin her down. She was too strong for them to throw back on the bed, and she wouldn’t keep still enough to tie her up again.
Bernard’s hand, soaked in holy water, now pressed on her forehead, while Mr Humphries pinned down Lucy’s legs.
Samuel opened the door, rubbing his eyes, disturbed from his sleep.
“Daddy, Lucy woke me up with her screaming again” he whined.
Then he saw her spitting and hissing at the two men. “What’s wrong with her, daddy?” he shook.
Lucy turned her head to look at Samuel and stretched out her hand to him.
“Sam…uuu…eeeeelll” she rasped.
“You will stay away from him!” cried Bernard, “Samuel, go back to bed, now!”
Samuel did as he was told.
“I command thee, demon, to be cast out of this vessel! I command you now to leave this vessel! The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit rebuke thee; you will be cast out in the name of God! Leave. This. Vessel!”
And finally, Lucy’s body went limp, her snarling and screaming stopped, her eyes slowly closed, and there she was again as a teenage girl in her father’s arms.
“Do…do you think it worked?” asked Mr Humphries.
Bernard looked down at Lucy; there were no differences to be noticed; she was just asleep.
“I don’t know” mumbled Bernard, sorrowfully.
“She’s…she’s not dead is she?”
Bernard quickly went to feel her pulse and breathed a sigh of relief.
“She’s alive; she’s breathing.”
Gently, they lifted her up and placed her on the bed in a comfortable and peaceful position and left the room, locking the door behind them just in case.
“So now do you believe me?” asked Bernard after they had got changed and retired to Bernard’s study room with a glass full of brandy.
“I…I don’t know” shook Mr Humphries.
Bernard narrowed his eyes, feeling his stomach boiling up in anger.
“For goodness sake, Roger! You’ve just seen my daughter say and do unholy and unnatural things! How can you not believe that something has taken over her-that thing that caused Mr Harding to commit suicide?!”
Mr Humphries sighed.
“I am a doctor, Bernard, I am right to be sceptical about such behaviour; you see it almost all the time at Bedlam and other mental institutions; people who claim to see the dead; people who claim to have been taken over by something that is not of this earth. It’s just when…when she…when she mentioned those kids…and…my wife…”
He choked and bowed his head.
“Yes, what was that all about?” asked Bernard, his eyebrows knitting together again.
“Your mother-in-law died that winter many years ago, I know. Many others did too-of cold, starvation, pneumonia; I was an inexperienced doctor then, still learning; of course I suggested things that could make it better but…I could’ve helped more.”
Tears sprang to his eyes and he wiped them away quickly before continuing.
“You see, Reason, I was a lousy, violent, careless drunk back in that day; not caring about anyone; why I chose to be a doctor boggles the brain. I had a wife; a real lady too, I just didn’t know what I had at the time. Here I was with an almost brilliant job, a wonderful wife with a baby on the way… But I abused all that. I was down at the ale house most nights when I was off work and would return home, drunken and violent and…I would hurt my wife in such dreadful ways. I am sorry now that I did. After she lost the baby I made her lose…”
He choked at this again, tears streaming down his sallow cheeks.
“…and after my poor, poor young wife killed herself, I…I stopped drinking, and I only wish to God now that I had realized sooner what I was doing to myself and my family, and that I had been sensible enough to stop. You see, that is also why I am a sceptic, Bernard, because I know that the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde that you read in the book is very true, but only to those who have a pint of beer, or those who keep anger and hatred locked up within themselves or those who are tormented in mind, body and soul over something-a death, an argument, anything.”
Mr Humphries sighed, and Bernard felt a pang of sympathy for the doctor that was so respected now in the town.
“Have you told anyone about this before?” asked Bernard.
“No” sniffed Mr Humphries, shaking his head, “Of course, people knew that my wife had killed herself over the loss of her unborn baby, but they would never have suspected that I was a violent drunk as I was.”
He sighed again and the pair were overcome with silence, then threw the half-drawn curtains, they saw the sun rising.
“It is dawn-perhaps I should wake Rebecca.”
“Yes, I better leave too” said Mr Humphries, putting down his glass on the table, “I’ll leave you to it. Good luck, Bernard.”
He started to the door to grab his coat and go back to his house, but Bernard stopped him by putting a hand on his shoulder.
“Thank you, doctor.”
Mr Humphries nodded and left.
When Bernard pushed open the door to he and his wife’s room, he found that Rebecca was already awake. Her eyes were swollen and puffy, as if she had been crying all night and violet rings circled underneath her eyes; she hadn’t had any sleep at all.
“Is it done? Is she better?” she asked desperately, but not looking directly at him
Bernard didn’t want to give Rebecca false hope that the one exorcism had worked, but he also didn’t want to tell her that it was hopeless either.
“Only time will tell, Rebecca” he answered, quietly.
She started to sob and Bernard put a comforting arm around her shoulders.
“Oh Lord, how could this happen to her?” she sobbed, “How could that thing just waltz in here and take over my Lucy?”
“Its fine, Rebecca; she’ll be fine, I’m sure of it. Look, we’ll have breakfast and then we’ll see how she is.”
Breakfast was served, though both of them didn’t really feel like eating, and Lucy was hardly conscious to come downstairs to join them, so her breakfast was delivered to her room. Her favourite was specially made; toast with jam and butter with a side plate filled with one slice of bacon, two sausages and a scrambled egg.
Rebecca was like a child with her breakfast; poking and picking and playing until everything was just a big ugly looking mess in the middle of the plate. She pushed it away and started to get up.
“I’m going to see Lucy” she announced.
Bernard sighed and looked down at his half-eaten breakfast which had been played with for far too long and was now cold.
He poured himself another cup of tea and leaned back in his chair thinking about Lucy and if the exorcism had really worked. He could never tell the church about this; there would be uproar of such a thing going on in the town; but what if he needed help; what if he needed a professional? He would have no choice but to tell the church.
There came a deafening scream from upstairs and Bernard leaped from his chair and dashed upstairs, wondering what could be happening. Rebecca tumbled out of Lucy’s room with blood on her hands. When she saw Bernard she raced to him and clung to him, burying her teary face into his shirt, but Bernard made her look at him.
“Rebecca, what’s happened? What happened to you?”
“L…Lu…Lucy!” she sobbed, crying so much she couldn’t get her words out properly.
She cupped her hands around Bernard’s face but started gagging and sobbing more when she saw that they were covered in blood.
“No! Lucy! Lucy! My Lucy! No! She’s dead! She’s dead!”
Bernard’s heart almost stopped; he had no idea how he made his feet race to Lucy’s bedroom. There was nothing there, apart from messy sheets on the bed, a tray with a plate full of untouched toast, sausages, bacon and scrambled egg, a butter dish and a small pot of jam left alone, but with a missing knife…
Bernard opened the door to the adjoining bathroom and he felt his knees give and he was on the floor, his hand over his mouth.
Lucy had slashed her throat so brutally the blood had spattered on the sink, in the bath, all over the floor…
The exorcism hadn’t worked.
After Lucy’s death, Bernard hardly left the house; he shut himself within his study drinking brandy. Besides, he needed to watch over his wife, who was close to self-murder herself. She was in a worse state than Bernard; she wore the same clothes everyday without washing them, hardly noticing what she’d got on; she trailed around the house miserably, hardly eating, hardly speaking. Bernard somehow blamed himself for his daughter’s death; and he wouldn’t blame his wife for thinking likewise as well.
At her funeral, the perceptive and generous sister of Rebecca offered to take care of Samuel for a while.
“Only until you feel better of course” she said, “It must be terrible losing your only daughter at such a young age like that. Why would she kill herself? It doesn’t make sense” she sighed mournfully and then carried on, “But you mustn’t blame yourself, Bernard, Rebecca; whatever the child’s problems were weren’t your fault. But I know you still need time to grieve and it’s not fair for Samuel to be in a sorrowful and unhappy atmosphere, even though he’ll grieve too, I am sure. But if you like, I can take him in. There’s a lovely little churchyard at our place that’s quite a nice spot to play and to have picnics.”
So Bernard and Rebecca agreed for Samuel to go with his Aunty Agnes and Uncle Charles and stay there for a few weeks; school wouldn’t be a problem; Samuel and Lucy were home-tutored by the retired teacher, Miss Pennyweather, it would be no trouble to send her to Agnes’ house.
At that moment in time, Bernard couldn’t remember where Agnes lived; nor did he really care, but if he had known that Agnes and her family lived in Louth, he would never have let Samuel go. He himself would never want to step foot in Louth again.
Samuel was with his Aunt Agnes, Uncle Charles and his cousins, Levi, Samantha and George. They were having a picnic at a nearby churchyard, and Samuel recognized it to be the place where Reverend Harding’s funeral took place. Up to now, he wasn’t having a very good time; he worried for his mother and father and his poor sister, Lucy. What had happened to her to make her go into eternal sleep? And he was annoyed; Samantha was nine and very lively and mischievous and teased him, and Levi, who was the same age as Samuel wasn’t much better behaved, so Samuel decided to get away from her and explore the grounds for Mr Harding’s grave. But as much as he wandered, he could not find it, but found a mysterious place with an oak and willow tree with a small crypt without a door. Samuel pulled a face; he didn’t like it; it was like one the ghost stories Samantha would tell to scare him. He was about to walk away from it, when he heard a quiet voice calling his name from within the crypt.
“Sam?” he called, wondering if it was Samantha playing one of her tricks again, but as he edged closer to the no door crypt, he recognized the voice to be Lucy’s.
Lucy screamed and screeched.
“Lucy?” shook Samuel. Was Lucy really alive? What was she down there for? And she was screaming; suppose something had happened to her? Samuel edged nearer and nearer to the no door until he was almost through the entrance when he felt two firm hands grip his shoulders, pulling him back. He gave a yelp; the gesture took him by surprise; he hadn’t even heard anyone behind him he was so entranced by the empty, dark void.
It was Uncle Charles and Aunt Agnes come to find him.
“Oh thank God we’ve found you; we thought we’d lost you!” cried Agnes, “Now I know I don’t have to reveal more bad news to your parents; one child gone is enough for them.”
“Lucy isn’t gone” said Samuel.
“I know, Sam; she’s here in our hearts” nodded Uncle Charles, sympathetically.
“No, I mean she’s down there” said Samuel, pointing down to the open space in the crypt.
Aunt Agnes and Uncle Charles blinked.
“No, sweetheart, Lucy wasn’t buried down there; she was buried in Skegness where you live, remember?”
“No…” started Samuel, but he was being dragged back home. He turned his head to look back at the no door and saw a black shape of a dog emerging from the entrance, screeching just as Lucy did.
Agnes wrote a letter to Bernard just a few days after Samuel went to stop with her in Louth. The letter was marked ‘urgent’ and Bernard almost tore it in half; his heart thumped, his hands shook as he read it.
It seemed Samuel didn’t want to come to Louth in the first place, he was very miserable and distant as anyone would guess; he’s still terribly upset about his sister. Charles and I took him to the churchyard the other day; it was a lovely day and the children seemed to enjoy it, only Samuel wandered off. We found him eventually near an old crypt and we took him home, but since then, he’s been acting very oddly. He came crying into our room about a black dog; we checked outside and checked in his room, but nothing was there. He then spoke of Lucy, though we tried hard to tell him in the kindest way that Lucy was up in Heaven with the angels, but he was adamant on convincing us that Lucy was there with him. At first, he seemed happy at the idea, but now he is behaving in an alarmingly strange way; he cries a lot and the poor lad doesn’t seem to know where he is. He keeps asking for you, Bernard. I hate to take you away from your duties and hate to put more strain and worry onto your troubled mind, but I do think it’d be best if you came to see your boy to talk to him.
Bernard turned pale. Samuel was at Louth. How could he have ever forgotten that Agnes lived in Louth? And it sounded as if Samuel had gone to the no door and had seen the black dog, just as Lucy and Mr Harding had.
Bernard set off immediately on the next train.
Home again, Samuel kept himself in his room. Unlike Lucy, he was not of unholy mind and did not speak in tongues or do unspeakable things, but he hardly seemed to know where he was and he seemed terrified, afraid to move, trying to restrain himself from shaking.
Bernard called on Roger Humphries immediately and told him of Samuel’s little trip to Louth with Aunt and Uncle.
“I suppose you believe the boy is cursed too?” he sighed.
Bernard felt his anger bubbling.
“You do not believe me? Even after all we’ve been through? You saw my daughter! How can you deny that something unholy was within her? For goodness’ sake, Roger, she put a knife to her throat-just as Mr Harding put a bullet in his head!”
Mr Humphries looked taken aback, and tears came to his eyes, remembering the terrible things Lucy had tormented him with involving his volatile past.
“Is…is Samuel the same? I mean…in the same state that Lucy was?”
“No” said Bernard, “But he is scared, just as Mr Harding was.”
Bernard, Rebecca and Mr Humphries went to look at Samuel; Mr Humphries being the doctor, kneeling down beside him on his bed taking a good look at him.
“Hmm, he is a little pale? What happened at Louth, my boy?” he asked, carefully.
Samuel didn’t seem to hear, but stared into oblivion.
“There isn’t any sign of psychotic behaviour; are you sure this isn’t to do with grief?” Mr Humphries asked Bernard.
Bernard looked to his wife, saw her sallow, pale face, her trembling, thin body, her limp, dull hair, the colour and life in her grey eyes had died and they were as frosty and cold as a winter morning.
He couldn’t tell Rebecca Samuel had seen something at the no door.
When Bernard looked back and Mr Humphries retrieved back to the couple, a gag almost choked him. His eyes bulged and his hand flew to his throat as if he had been poisoned.
“What is it, Bernard? What’s wrong?” cried Rebecca, with wide eyes, rushing to her husband’s side.
But Bernard could not answer her, for he could not believe it himself. The reason Samuel was as stiff as a stick was because Lucy had him in her grasp. She was dressed all in black, her eyes blank and wide, her face as white as the moon. One hand was on the side of Samuel’s head, just above his ear, and the other was toying with his hair, stroking and caressing it, but not in the loving way his mother did when she was soothing him to sleep. Her legs encircled him; he could get up if he wanted to, but he was too scared to do so.
“What is it, Bernard? Do you see the thing?” whispered Mr Humphries, putting his hand on his shoulder and squeezing it.
“Rebecca…leave us” said Bernard, quietly, after a long pause.
“What?” moaned Rebecca, her face crumpling; now extremely worried for her only son and remaining child, “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“Please, Rebecca, just leave for a moment. We’ll make sure Samuel’s all right.”
A single tear rolled down Rebecca’s cheek and she spun on her heel and left, sobbing.
“Are you going to tell your wife about this?” asked Mr Humphries.
“No… Not yet anyway… Not if I can help it.”
At this, Lucy-that-wasn’t really-Lucy looked up from her blank and unblinking stare and turned her evil gaze to Bernard and Mr Humphries. Only Bernard could see her and he was alarmed to see a deep red gash in her throat…
“Leave us, demon!” he commanded in a loud, dominant voice, holding up his hand, making the sign of the cross, “Leave my son alone, I implore you!”
Mr Humphries made the sign of the cross and the demon hissed, jumping off the bed and taking Samuel with her. Samuel screamed as he was dragged across the room by a very rampant demon version of Lucy.
Their cries and Samuel’s screaming made Rebecca come bursting in. She saw her son on the floor, but not the demon. She ran to her son to scoop him up and hold him.
“No, wait!” cried Bernard.
But Rebecca had already reached out for Samuel and the demon hissed and scratched her arm. Rebecca recoiled in pain, blood dripping from her arm, her sleeve slashed.
“Stop! In the name of God I order you to stop!” boomed Bernard.
The demon hissed again, turned into a black dog over Samuel’s trembling body and disappeared, leaving a shattered window.
“Wha… Our…our son!” Rebecca sobbed, her arm still held her wounded arm, but she ran into Bernard’s arm overcome with dread and fear, and there she sobbed into his shoulder, he holding her, just as scared as she was, staring in horror at his boy on the floor, his arms around his knees, his eyes wide with fear.
“Roger, how do we stop this thing? It preys on those most vulnerable that goes near the no door. What can I do to save my boy?” sighed Bernard to Roger; he had sent a hysterical Rebecca to bed; her eyes closed and she went into a deep sleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.
“What…what exactly did you see, Bernard?” asked Mr Humphries, shaking, the ice rattling in his glass of brandy.
“I saw Lucy-but it wasn’t Lucy. It’s an It-and It seems to take form of whatever is haunting us most that relates to death. Mr Harding was so convinced it was his brother; my Lucy heard the cries of agony of her grandmother on her deathbed, and my boy…my boy must be so traumatized about Lucy’s passing.”
Mr Humphries said nothing and sipped his brandy, while Bernard sat back in his chair and thought hard. He had tried an exorcism; it hadn’t worked. He could try to get the church’s permission to send out a professional exorcist… No, there had to be another way. He knew the church would look down on it; besides, the thing from the no door seemed to be too powerful and resistant to run away from holy reciting. There had to be another way…
“What if we go there ourselves?” thought Bernard, out loud.
“Excuse me?” asked Mr Humphries, not understanding what he meant; Bernard was a deep thinker and normally forgot he was thinking and not talking, so when he did speak, the sentences he spoke didn’t make sense to the conversation.
“Why don’t we go to the no door? This thing feeds off our grief and sorrow and plays on it, making it worse until it makes us do horrible things; to others or to ourselves. There has to be a way to beat it; what if we go there and stand there to show it that we’re happy, that we will not be tortured by our losses?”
Mr Humphries gulped; he was a happy person…well, until now. He still couldn’t get the accusing and haunting voice of Lucy out of his head, reminding him of those selfish days of that bleak and murderous winter. He was a doctor, he should’ve cared about other people’s lives, should’ve helped them…but he didn’t; he was alive, and that was all that mattered, and now he felt guilty. So terribly guilty. And these days he felt guiltier about his selfish and uncaring past than ever before. The memories tortured him; the moans of the agonized and freezing children and the elderly, so skinny because of the crop failures, so pale, their lips and fingertips blue, hardly speaking it was so painful, such a strain. He was tortured by the memories of his drunkenness, his stumbling and slurring, his bellowing, pinning his wife against the wall, throwing her to the floor, kicking her until her stomach was as purple as the freezing homeless outside, seeing the blood pour out from her; their baby, their child, gone. He was tortured by the sight of blood; seeing his wife lose his baby, the child she was so happy to carry, the sight of his wife hanging in the small room, swaying from side to side gently, her eyes closed, her face one of misery but peace. He had nightmares about it every time he went to sleep. Sometimes in his nightmares, her eyes would open suddenly and stare at him accusingly. She didn’t need to say a word, she didn’t need to point or gesture; she said it all with her eyes. Common sense told him he had a psychological problem; but he was a doctor, he couldn’t see help from another doctor; he would lose his job. Doctors can’t get mentally ill. But maybe this really was an epidemic; this…this grief thing. Mr Harding had it, Lucy had it, Rebecca was on the verge of having it, Samuel now had it, was Roger on the brink of getting the disease too?… When one in the household catches cold, it is common for the whole household to catch it after.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea, Bernard? This is serious; you don’t want to end up like Mr Harding do you?”
He didn’t say Lucy.
“I won’t; if we beat this thing then I won’t…we won’t. I need you to accompany me, Roger; I need you; you’re the nearest one to know everything about this whole ordeal.”
Mr Humphries licked his lips, obviously extremely nervous.
“I know it’ll be tough” nodded Bernard, as if reading his thoughts, “but if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a doctor and a priest; you can’t hide or run from your fears, you’ve got to face them and hit them hard in the face.”
Mr Humphries licked his lips again.
“When do you want to do it?” he asked, finally, clearing his throat so his voice wouldn’t break.
Bernard looked outside his window; it was dark now.
“Immediately” he replied.
Bernard Reason and Roger Humphries caught the late night train to Louth, only buying a single ticket; they planned to stay the whole night. They had taken a large candle each with them and a match box, a vial of holy water and their pistols with them in their coat pockets, even though they knew no mortal weapon could ever beat such an entity.
They went straight for the no door, in between the oak and the willow and sat out there on a fallen tree trunk from many years ago, waiting for something to happen. Bernard sat there, calmly and patiently, staring into the pitch-black void of the no door, while Roger sat shaking, stroking his gun nervously for something to do.
It seemed like hours before anything happened, and it was Roger who spotted it first.
“Look” he choked, pointing at the no door with a trembling finger. The void now contained an image of a black dog, and it stared at the two gentlemen for quite a while and it shook them up with fear as its penetrating, glowing eyes never blinked once, its mouth sometimes opening to snarl, baring its teeth, saliva dripping from its fangs. Then it disappeared.
“What? Is that it?” asked Roger, blinking, confused.
“No, no, it can’t be; that was too easy” said Bernard, quietly, shaking his head, “It’s trying to lure us in definitely, but…”
At that moment, another figure appeared out of the darkness. A figure of a young girl. She too stared them for a while and then slowly stared to shuffle away, but she kept on looking at them with her wide eyes, her head sticking out, watching. She giggled and turned back into the darkness.
The giggle was unmistakable; it was Lucy’s, and it was at this, that Bernard started to quiver, but it seemed that Roger had seen a different child for he made a choking noise, but then got up soundlessly and without a word started to the no door.
“Roger?” breathed Bernard, “Roger, what are you doing? Remember, we’re here to beat it.”
But it seemed that Roger wasn’t listening, he went on forward until the darkness of the no door had swallowed him up like a whirlpool would suck in an unfortunate boat.
Bernard waited, at what seemed like hours, but concern and worry for Roger made him get up himself, but before he could start to the dark rectangle to hell, he saw the figure of the girl appear again, a ghostly white girl with a slash across her throat…
There came again the unmistakable giggle even though nothing of the phantom move; the lips were clamped shut and not at all curved into a smile and the body was still, so still. It was like someone had placed a statue there.
When the girl had disappeared once more, Bernard took baby steps to the no door, listening out for any screams, any more giggles, anything that would indicate that something was luring him in, to indicate that Roger was in trouble.
When Bernard got to the entrance, he stopped.
“Roger?” he called
There was no answer; only silence and a deep blackness. Bernard stood there for quite a while before he could see even a shadow of anything before him. Steps. Leading where?
It was only when he heard a single gunshot that he became alarmed and knew he had to find out what had happened.
He continued his descent; he had to find Roger. He just couldn’t leave him down there.
Bernard took his time; he didn’t want to step or trip up on something before he could actually see it and stopped to adjust his eyesight to the darkness and then carried on.
Mr Humphries was propped up against the wall, looking drained of energy, like he couldn’t carry on anymore.
Bernard started to him, hoping that Mr Humphries hadn’t shot himself, but was blocked by a hissing child, ghostly white, dressed in rags, its eyelids and lips blue. Bernard choked on a scream and fell back to bump into another child, and another, and another, all creeping toward him and Mr Humphries, their blue hands and skinny arms reaching out for them.
Bernard fumbled inside his coat pocket and pulled out his candle and shakily drew out a match from the box and lit it. The children all shrieked and fled, as if cowering away from the bright flame; they were afraid of light. Well of course they were; they were the dead; the dead have no need for light; that was for the living. Light was needed for growth, for life. The dead didn’t grow. They were trapped in darkness, in a void that was stuck in an ancient time and watched the rest of the world age. They watched from within the shadows, watching until it grew dark, only then could they spread around and attack and become visible to their victims, only then could they play with the dark like a cat plays with its food and giggle at their victim’s fear.
Bernard groped in his pocket for the vial of holy water and flicked it around the crypt, speaking holy words, making the sign of the cross.
“Roger, you can fight them! Come on, lad!”
Mr Humphries was stirring (at least he was alive,) but he was still very scared. His hands shook as he began to search his pocket for his holy water and he began to sprinkle it around.
Bernard moved around, making sure he spattered the water everywhere; he could almost hear the beast screech and scream in agony.
Then he came face to face with Lucy again. Her eyes were blood red, her face so angry that Bernard hardly recognized her; he had never seen that expression on Lucy’s face before.
She reached out for him, he backed off at first, not wanting to let the creature touch him, but when the touch of the beast seemed all too real on his skin when her hand brushed against his, he reached out for her instead and using his finger, wet with holy water, he made the sign on the cross on her forehead, just like he had done when she was alive.
“I order you in the name of the Lord to leave me and mine alone! To leave this place and to leave the innocent, for they are protected by God! I order you to leave, leave, LEAVE!”
But Mr Humphries was having trouble coming to terms with his guilt and grief. His pounding heart beat a rhythm in his ears, he thought he might faint again, he felt hot and clammy, then he screamed. His wife had jumped and she was hanging in front of him, her eyes staring accusingly at him as children circled him and he heard his unborn baby’s screams.
“No! Roger! Don’t be scared of them! You’re stronger than them! They’re dead; you’re alive! Show them you’re not afraid and they’ll go away!” cried Bernard, pleadingly.
But Mr Humphries didn’t seem to be listening. He was on his knees again, his hands covering his face, cowering in the corner from the many ghosts of his past.
Bernard kept reciting prayers and exorcism rites, and at last, they disappeared with a defeated moan. Bernard and Roger sat opposite each other, taking deep breaths, staring at the flickering of the candle light. Not long after, Bernard saw a little light through the no door; it was dawn, though it didn’t touch him. How could it? He was in Hades, the place of the dead, where only darkness was the light.
When Bernard and Mr Humphries got back home, Bernard asked immediately how his son was. Rebecca smiled, relieved.
“He seems to be better, Bernard…he is much better!”
Rebecca began to sob, but not out of grief or horror, but of sheer relief. Her son was well; he wouldn’t die like her poor daughter.
“Son?” muttered Bernard at Samuel’s bedside.
Samuel opened his eyes from his sleep; it looked as though he had had a rough night too. He was sweating and panting a little.
He smiled as he saw his father.
“Daddy…Lucy knew that you’d know what to do. She came to me in the night, daddy, she was with the angels. She knew you would know what to do.”
Bernard smiled and stroked his son’s hair off his face.
Two weeks later, Mr Roger Humphries killed himself and Bernard ordered for someone to brick up the no door, so it would finally have a door, so there was finally a barrier between the living and the dead.
CREDIT : Naydin Rowland