Odds and Dead Ends : New Slains Castle / Dracula’s Scottish Home

You always find stuff that you didn’t know when preparing these articles, and this little nugget it happens is my find of the week. It’s been well reported that Stoker got part of his inspiration for Count Dracula from Vlad Dracula III (Vlad the Impaler), though retro-actively working the figure into his idea, rather than being originally inspired by him. I was also aware that one of Stoker’s colleagues, actor Henry Irving, who worked at the Stoker-owned Lyceum Theatre, was widely considered another inspiration for the character. However, I was not aware that one of the largest inspirations may have come from New Slains Castle, up in Aberdeenshire, in Scotland.

Admittedly, my Stoker knowledge is, depressingly, severely lacking. The extent of it goes to lots of Dracula and its various adaptations, my undying devotion to The Jewel of Seven Stars (which people who read my section here a lot will know I bang on about constantly, but damn you, it’s an incredibly bleak and unnerving novel), and Lair of the White Worm on my phone which I’ve sadly never gotten around to. So it surprised me to discover that this castle, which is mentioned in The Watters’ Mou and The Mystery of the Sea (more well-read readers can confirm this for me), may not only have inspired the castle in Seven Stars, but also Dracula’s castle, particularly a specific octagonal room mentioned in the novel. It turns out that Stoker frequently went on trips to the area on holiday, and so would not only have known the area very well, but most likely been very familiar with the castle, both its location and grounds, and its interiors.

A brief history lesson first. The old castle was built in the early 14th century by John Comyn, part of the Comyns family who held it for many years. In 1594, it was attacked by King James VI of Scotland (who was also James I of England, successor of Elizabeth I, final ruler of the Tudor family) as the then-owner, Francis Hay, 9th Earl of Erroll, was leading a rebellion against him. The old castle was mostly destroyed with gunpowder and cannon-fire, though remnants of it remain to this day. It remains a ‘scheduled monument’, a title given to architecturally important monuments in the UK and as such protected against change and modification.

The new Slains Castle (The one we’re interested in) was built by Hay upon his return from exile (the uprising hadn’t gone too well) a little ways up the coast. Originally a tower house and courtyard, it was expanded and changed over the years, with wings and towers built up as the centuries went past. In the mid 1800s, a complete redesign was ordered, turning what was there into a more contemporary, Baronial-style castle, giving it granite facing update. Large gardens were designed and laid out only a few years before Stoker visited for the first time. The whole thing was eventually unroofed not long after WWI, and has remained derelict ever since.

The history lesson over, this brings us back to Dracula, and the octagonal room in question. The novel has a small passage which reads as follows: ‘The Count halted, putting down my bags, closed the door, and crossing the room, opened another door, which led into a small octagonal room lit by a single lamp, and seemingly without a window of any sort.’ (my copy, p 21). It turns out that New Slains Castle has a similar room, specifically octagonal in design, and considering Stoker knew the castle well, the very unusual design seems to be a big red flag alerting us to the fact that New Slains is indeed where he got it from. Coupled with the fact that Stoker is rumoured to have been staying in, or near, the castle at the time he was beginning to plan, or even write, Dracula, it’s not too far a stretch to say that, even if parts of the castle weren’t intentionally lifted and transported to the rugged hills of Transylvania, there was more than likely a subconscious application.

Obviously, the location in the novel is nothing like the coastal views of the Scottish ruins, and there doesn’t seem to be any reports or rumours of ghouls, ghosts, or sunlight-fearing vampires lurking in Slains Castle. I would assume it’s now in the ownership of the National Trust, or some other organisation, so I’m not sure if you could just rock up and have a look around, but if you are ever in the area, might be a fun time to go and check out the real Castle Dracula.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: @KJudgeMental

Postscript: People interested in following up on this topic might want to check out When Brave Men Shudder: The Scottish Origins of Dracula, by Mike Shepherd. I haven’t read it, but it’s got an introduction by Dacre Stoker, great-grand-nephew of Bram, and plenty of 5 star reviews on Amazon. Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/When-Brave-Men-Shudder-Scottish/dp/1907954694

Daphne’s Den of Darkness: 5 Spooky Places You Can Visit Virtually

As we’re all going a little stir crazy (Cabin Fever marathon anyone?), more and more museums and exhibits are moving online. For Horror Addicts, there are some great options. It may not be the same as visiting it for yourself, but it’s the next best thing.

Just try not to get your computer haunted in the process.

The Paris Catacombs

In the 18th century, Paris ran out of room in their cemeteries and undertook the monumental project to move over 6 million corpses into the abandoned mines under the city. The result was the largest human grave in the world and a massive, mesmerizing piece of macabre artwork. I wrote about my experience in the Catacombs for the HorrorAddicts.net Next Great Horror Writer Contest (you can read it here!).

You can take a free virtual tour here.

The Winchester House

The Winchester House is a winding, confusing mess of stairways and rooms with doors to nowhere and ghost traps strewn within. Built by Sarah Winchester between 1884 and 1922, it is said that construction continued around the clock in order to confuse the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles. Whether Sarah Winchester was genuinely haunted or actually mentally disturbed, we call all agree that her house is truly terrifying.

You can purchase the virtual tour here.

It might be safer than going in person anyway—less chance of getting lost.

The RMS Queen Mary

The Queen Mary is an ocean liner that is now permanently docked in Long Beach California. More importantly, it is considered one of the most haunted places in America. Over 60 deaths have occurred on the ship including a supposed murder in one of the staterooms.

You can watch the tour (the same one given in person!) here.

The Conjuring House

If you’re a fan of the Conjuring movies (and all their many, many spinoffs), you may be interested to know more about the real-life house that the original movie was based on. Supposedly haunted by the ghost of Bathsheba Sherman, the house was investigated by Ed and Lorraine Warren in the 1970’s.

You watch some explorers walk through the house here.

The Lizzie Borden House

This house in Fall River, Massachusetts is the site of one of the most famous murders in American history. Though Lizzie Borden was acquitted for the brutal ax murders of her parents, popular culture has remained fascinated by the story, producing dozens of books, movies, and tv series dedicated to the alleged murderess.

You can watch an (unofficial) tour here.

Haunt Jaunts : Voodoo and My First Horse-Drawn Carriage Ghost Tour

With Courtney Mroch

The first thing I spotted as we took a jaunt to scope out the Jekyll Island Club & Resort’s surroundings was the A-frame sign listing all of the horse-drawn carriage tour options. Of course, the ghost tour caught my eye.

“A horse-drawn carriage ghost tour?” I exclaimed to my husband. “I’ve never taken one of those before. In fact, have we ever even taken a carriage ride together?”

“I’m sure we have.”

“Where?” I challenged, pretty sure we hadn’t.

He thought about it for a second.

“I don’t know, but it seems like we did once upon a time.”

“Well, to make sure we do, can we take one tonight if they’re offering the ghost tour? Wouldn’t that be so romantic?”

His expression answered better than any words could. His idea of romance and mine were very different.

Begrudgingly he agreed to the tour, though. Probably for a few reasons.

  1. We were only there the one night.
  2. We didn’t have anything else planned that evening, so he couldn’t very well make excuses for why we couldn’t.
  3. I think he was hoping that since it was past spooky season, as well as being the island’s offseason, there wouldn’t be a ghost tour.

Sadly for him, but lucky for me, there was. We made our reservation and then continued our exploration.

Along the way, we passed a shiny ebony horse pulling a white carriage whose occupants were getting a history tour of the island. I heard the driver call out, “Whoa, Voodoo, whoa!” as she maneuvered the carriage off the trail in front of one of the millionaire’s cottages.

At the same time that my husband said, “Did you hear the horse’s name?” I said, “Voodoo? I hope that’s the horse we get for our tour!”

I’ll save you the suspense. We did.

I’ve taken a few ghost tours in my day. Ones on foot, some by car or bus, but never in a horse-drawn carriage led by a horse named Voodoo.

Jekyll Island is nestled along south Georgia’s coast. It was a crisp late November night that we met the driver (who also served as our ghost tour guide) at the designated pick up point. We climbed aboard where a seat with thick, heavy blankets waited for us to bundle ourselves under them.

Our guide was wonderful. I wish I could remember her name. I thought I had written it down. I guess I was so excited about Voodoo and my first horse-drawn carriage ghost tour that I didn’t.

To my surprise, she had a plethora of stories to tell. I knew the Jekyll Island Club where we were staying for the night was rumored to be haunted. That’s why I’d booked us there.

I also knew from a previous visit to the island that the former cottage that had once housed the bookstore allegedly had a ghost. The last time I’d visited had been with my sister. Like me, she couldn’t pass a bookstore and not stop in.

It had been my sister’s birthday. She loved riding bikes, so my present to her was taking her up to Jekyll, renting bikes for the day and cruising all over the island.

Stopping in the bookstore also allowed us a little rest stop. That’s how my sister got to talking to the owner and somehow it came out the place was haunted.

This was years before I started my site, Haunt Jaunts, but it was another reason why I did. Back then I was always going on unofficial haunt jaunts. Except for that day. Ghosts hadn’t been on my mind. Yet, a story of one still fell in my lap.

I’d forgotten about that until our guide related a story about Phoebe, a little girl of one of the staff members back in the day who allegedly disappeared from the island. Her body was never found, but that’s who some think they see when they spot a child spirit in a couple of places on the Jekyll Island Club’s property. Among them being a small cottage that used to be the bookstore, which had since relocated and its former building now stood vacant.

But before we got to the part about the bookstore, our guide shared a little history about the island and its former inhabitants.

It had started as a private hunting club for America’s elite, such as Rockefeller, Pullitzer, and even the Macy family. However, they soon decided it would make a fine place to get away with their families in the winter, so several of them built “cottages.”

Their idea of a cottage, however, resulted in stunning seaside mini-mansions in a variety of architectural styles.

I have been enamored (and obsessed) with the cottages ever since I first saw them back in the late 1990s. I had only seen them in the daytime previously, though, as I’d never been fortunate enough to stay overnight on the island — until the night of the tour.

Voodoo led us down the live oak-lined trails where Spanish moss created a canopy above us that fluttered in the breeze. One of the first ghost story stops was the Hollybourne Cottage.

It would turn out to be my favorite stop.

Almost all of the cottages have lighting illuminating them at night. Hollybourne was no different. However, when Voodoo circled the carriage around the drive, the light cast a marvelous silhouette of his head against the cottage’s grey tabby facade.

For a moment I felt I had leaped back in time. Except I remembered what age I was in and that we had cameras on our phones. I scrambled to pull mine out so I could capture the sight of Voodoo in the light because it was Gothic and haunting and I wanted to capture that memory.

If ever there was a time for a ghost to appear, that would’ve been it. One did manifest — by way of the ghost tour guide’s tales.

Allegedly a little girl died in the house. Some claim to have seen her face appear when they stand before the home’s glass front door.

I didn’t have time to test it then, but I made a note to go back and try the next morning. (She didn’t appear for me, but that’s okay. Perhaps she sensed I might not have been as impressed by that as I was by the site of Voodoo in the light the night before.)

As we pulled away from Hollybourne, our guide asked, “What room are you in?”

I told her and she said, “I always ask because the little girl’s mother haunts room 3101 in the Annex.”

I think I surprised her when I said, “Darn. That’s just down the hall from us.”

I don’t think she meets many people hoping to stay in a haunted hotel room.

She shared other tales of the island’s ghostly inhabitants, like the helpful phantom bellman who assists wedding parties staying at the hotel.

The island had been abandoned during the Civil War and the animals had all been left behind. After the war, when people returned, they were trying to round up the animals, including a white stallion, but he kept eluding them. While chasing him, he ran into the water and drowned. Some say disembodied horse noises coming from the water belong to him.

She even showed us the photo of a ghost face in the Sans Souci, which was essentially an apartment building Rockefeller built. His quarters were on the top floor.  Some report smelling cigar smoke. He had a penchant for smoking them.

Does his restless spirit still roam there? Our guide believed he does. She showed us a photo of the building. It was taken during the daytime, but she zoomed in to show us a white specter’s face looking out of one of the top floor windows. (I spent a great deal of time the next morning trying to recreate the shot, to no avail.)

But the scariest part of the night was when Voodoo led us around a curve and not even five feet away stood a deer. Not that I’m afraid of deer, and maybe “startle” is a better word, because that’s what happened. It startled me to see the deer appear seemingly out of nowhere.

It was real, though. Not a ghost. It stood contemplating us inquisitively, its ears twitching a bit, its tail flicking a time or two. Voodoo clopped away, leaving the deer to watch us as we drove off.

As ghost tours go, it was short. Only about 30 minutes. But it couldn’t have been more perfect. A chill in the hushed air. Snuggled up next to the love of my life. The gentle glow from the few street lights interspersed with the carriage’s lantern. A perfect romantic atmosphere for listening to ghost stories.

And then there was Voodoo, who added an extra bit of pizzazz to make the evening pure magic.

Haunt Jaunts : McKamey Manor

How Long Do You Think You Could Last Before Using the Safe Word?

Are you familiar with McKamey Manor? The first I remember hearing about it was circa 2014. At that time it operated out of a house in San Diego, California, and apparently had been for several years.

However, McKamey Manor’s owner, Russ McKamey, has since moved and brought his house of horrors with him. It’s now open in two locations –Summertown, Tennessee (about an hour south of Nashville) and Huntsville, Alabama. Although, they might be part of the same location. I’m still not sure if you have to survive the Nashville location long enough to be taken to the Huntsville location or if you can opt to go straight to the Huntsville one.

All I do know is that McKamey Manor has become so popular it’s not just open for Halloween anymore. Now it’s open year-round.

It’s often called the most intense Extreme Haunted Attraction/Survival Horror experience imaginable.

Not everyone would want to do this, but of those who do, not everyone is allowed. Unless they meet a host of stringent requirements, including:

  • Completing a Sports Physical
  • Passing a background check
  • Providing proof of medical insurance
  • Passing a portable drug test the day of the show
  • Signing a 40-page waiver –which also requires initialing each clause in the contract

If you make the cut, you’ll endure torturous challenges involving mud, bugs (eating them and maybe them trying to nibble on you), water, fake blood and more. There are even rumors of eels and caimans being part of the deal.

It looks awful –unless you’d like to star in scenes from any of the Saw or Hostel movies, that is.

If you can’t handle it, you can use the safe word to end the experience at any time. The whole experience could last as long as 10 hours, but it never has.

Russ knows what will break a person. He doesn’t hesitate to pull out all the stops to break them as quickly as possible from what I read in a Nashville Scene article about McKamey Manor and the reporter who attempted it. That’s where I learned the average amount of time people last is only eight minutes.

How long do you think it’d take you to use the safe word? I wouldn’t even make it to reading the waiver.

 

Paranormal/ Hauntings Month: The Old Charlseton Jail by Violet Tempest

 

Excerpt from: Legends of Old by Violet Tempest

The Old Charleston Jail, located at 21 Magazine Street, Charleston, SC is well known to locals as being haunted. Some refuse to go near this structure while thrill seekers buy tickets from Bulldog Tours for guided tours. The long history of this jail does give creditability to its many hauntings. Having been used as a prison for over 200 years there was a great deal of suffering that occurred on the grounds and in the cells. (pg. 72)

My personal experience of the tour and afterward:

When our daughter was eleven years old, my husband and I decided it would be fun to start a Halloween tradition of going on a different Ghost Tour in Charleston, SC every year. These would allow us to spend time as a family and introduce our daughter to Lowcountry History.

The area goes back to 1670 when settlers landed on the shores of the Cooper River, founding what is now known as Charlestown Landing. Our first tour was a family friendly tour of the old churches and graveyards in Downtown Charleston.

Two years later we decided to take it up a notch. That’s when we took The Haunted Jail Tour.

By this time our daughter was familiar with the lore of the area, and like us she found the old tales intriguing. Little did we know that the tour would change our views on ghost tours.

We booked a tour for the Saturday before Halloween of 2008. It was chilly evening, and the tour didn’t start until after dark. WE made an event of it, like we had done in the past. Going out to dinner, and our daughter invited her best friend to go with us. The four of us were looking forward to a fun spooky filled evening.

We arrived at the Old Jail with about 20 minutes to spare, so we, along with others who were arriving for the tour, had to stand outside while the tour in progress finished up. Standing on the sidewalk we could hear an occasional loud bang followed by a scream or two. The girls moved to the sidewalk opposite the street, and we weren’t too far behind them. Even across the street we could feel the heavy despair that hung around the old building and grounds.

Finally, the tour ended, and it was time for us to take ours. Friendly, joking banter floated around as strangers teased one another. Nothing that anyone in the group took seriously. I mean, everyone knows the noises on these tours are false.

Right?

Before we could enter, we were told the rules; the most important was to stay together, no one was to wander off. Then the tour began. Standing outside the front entrance our tour guide told us that what is now known as the old jail started out in a hospital for the homeless and other impoverished people.

Years later, in 1802 that building was torn down and replaced with the building that currently stands. Over the years the building that was designed to hold 128 prisoners would at times have so many occupants that there was standing room only. Not only inside, but outside as well. The grounds would be packed with barely enough room for the prisoners to move, and men and women were placed together. They did not separate them.

As you can imagine, the conditions created disease, and many died before they were released. The city kept a body cart on the property where the dead bodies were stacked on top of one another.

When the cart was full, it was then driven to the river, and the bodies dumped. Our guide said that there were many times the bodies piled up before they decayed and so another site, further down the river, would have to be used. Her words painted a vivid image and my flesh crawled as my mind carried me back to that time.

That wasn’t the end of the horror she painted for us.

We followed her inside, and she showed us the shackles that are still on the walls. The torture devise varied from room to room. Our guide told us how the prisoners who were considered the worst of the Charleston population were tortured, shackled, and starved.

Next, we went up the narrow staircase and saw the huge rooms where,  in the winter there wasn’t any heat nor, of course, in the summer any air conditioning.

The criminals weren’t shown any kindness.

These harsh conditions made it almost impossible to survive. It is approximated that by the time the jail closed in 1939 over 10,000 people died on the property.

It was in the last room where we heard the tale of Lavina Fisher, according to legend she’s the country’s first female serial killer. And yes, while we were in the room a loud bang sounded out. Where exactly it came from I cannot say. The sound echoed all around us. Now, even though I have experienced the unexplained since I was a small child, I was skeptical.

“But surely it was Lavina?” some may be asking. I do not know. Personally, I feel it was all sound effects the tour company added to give their customers a thrill. I can tell you the despair that bore down on us before we started the tour did not leave me. There were times that it felt like someone was behind me, but when I looked no one was there. Other times a cold reached my bones that wasn’t from the chilly autumn air.

Throughout the whole tour I couldn’t shake the feeling of evil all around me.

No one was injured on the tour, and everyone took plenty of pictures. Nothing unusual showed in ours and driving away we talked about the history that we had learned that night. Little did we know that our experience with the old jail was far from over.

Over the next year our daughter and I could not shake the feeling of something watching us at all times. Even in our sleep. After a couple of months things progressed. Our daughter began staying in her room all the time and was always sleepy and moody. We chalked it up to her becoming a teenager, even though that didn’t squelch our concerns.

Then she started showing me her sketches. They were full of an evil crawling out of the darkness of her closest. It wasn’t until one night while she stayed with a friend that I discovered what was really happening to her.

My dear husband snores, and when I say snore I mean shake the walls snore. So that night I was awoken by what can only be called an Earth-Shattering Rumble, I went down to her room and crawled into her empty bed. The snoring was tolerable down there, and I eventually fell back asleep. How long I was asleep I do not know. But while I lay there on my right side, under her comforter, deep asleep,  I felt something jump on the bed, placing hands and feet on either side of me, startling me awake.

At first I thought it was our dog, and I turned to pet her and get her to snuggle up beside me.

What I saw was not our dog.

From the streetlight that peeked through the curtains, I could make out the thing on my daughter’s bed straddling me was a deep, dark, green. Its skin was slimy in appearance. Its squished face did not have a nose, but instead two slits located where one should’ve been. Two glowing red embers for eyes, and a thin, toad-like mouth. When it saw me, those lips pulled back in a snarl showing me sharp, pointy, yellow teeth.

That snarl told me it was not expecting me to be there. It raised its thin right arm and swung claws like a big cat at me.

I jumped from the bed. My muscles quivering, my heart pounding.

“How dare you! You meant to attack my daughter!” I said. The creature jumped down off the bed, and with a laugh that was full of evil, made its way toward me. I did the only thing I could think of.

I stood there in the room, shaking my head, anger filling every pore of my body. “No! You will not get away with this.”

I placed my right palm in the air, toward the ceiling, toward the universe. With my left hand I pointed at the creature and with every fiber of my being I said the only thing I could think of.

“I call on the power of the one who created me. I call upon the power of the supreme one to send you back to the depths of Hell from which you came from!”

As those words left my lips, I felt a warm energy enter my right palm, surge down my arm, through my core, before shooting out my left arm. A bright blue beam shown from my left hand.

The creature’s eyes grew big. Its slimy face filled with fear as its mouth opened in a silent scream. Then it was gone, and I was left standing alone in the center of my daughter’s room.

Looking around, I realized what had happened. A demon had come to attack my daughter and to its surprise found me instead. My heart felt like it was going to beat its way out of my chest, and my body trembled as fear started to take the place of anger. Finally satisfied it was gone, at least for the night, I turned and walked quickly back to our bed where my husband was still sound asleep, his snores now a sound of comfort. I slid back under our covers and laid there the rest of the night.

Sleep did not return.

Come morning, I got up and went back into the room. The bed was still a mess like I’d left it and in the light of day, the previous night’s experience seemed unreal. My mind quickly brought up the images of my daughter’s sketches and I knew that thing had been after her. And I also knew where it had come from.

For some reason it latched on to us at the jail. Coming home with us; a sort of supernatural souvenir.

I talked to my daughter and husband about what happened that night and that’s when we found out the creature had been terrorizing her. It had thrown her clothes across the room. Even lifted her up and spun her around. I told her what I had done, and that I hoped that took care of it.

She changed rooms to what was the spare room. Who could blame her?

Never again has the creature made an appearance and no longer do we feel like something is watching us from the shadows. I will tell you this, The Old Charleston Jail is one place I refuse to go back to.

If you decide to take the tour remember this, there’s no telling what souvenir you will end up with.

To learn more about The Old Charleston City Jail and other South Carolina Lowcountry legends read Legends of Old by Violet Tempest with Bonus Feature section with short stories never before published.

Available as Kindle Unlimited, eBook, and paperback on Amazon.com. Click link above to purchase.

Logbook of Terror: Ruins Of Castle Rocca Sparviera!

The ruins of Castle Rocca Sparviera!

After a frightful and dreary travel in which I mistakenly visited the wrong location and was chased from a decaying castle by the rotted corpses of a mob of re-animated skeletons, I finally arrived at my destination: the ruins of Castle Rocca Sparviera. A chilly night had fallen and a storm brewed overhead, hiding the moon and stars behind layers of thick, foreboding clouds. Thunder cracked nearby and with only the light of my electric lantern to guide me, I set out to explore the ruins. 

I walked the perimeter of the formerly grand castle, treading carefully over rocks and desolate mountain terrain, wondering what lonely spirits might be left wandering these hills. After hiking to what seemed to be the edge of the property, I turned and strolled along the inner side of a disintegrating wall. After several minutes I halted to take stock of my surroundings and, up ahead, saw a spot of soft light swaying in the darkness. Could it be a fellow explorer making camp and a fire for the night? I hurried on my way to find out. 

Upon drawing closer, I saw that the light was pouring out through a doorway in another crumbling wall. I stepped through and found myself in a great dining hall. My head swam in disbelief, for the hall and all its contents were in pristine condition. The stone walls and floor were clean, polished, and intact. High wooden beams secured the solid ceiling and the entire room was alight with the soft glow of a myriad of candles. The luscious aroma of fresh cooked meat, bread, and vegetables drew my eyes to the huge table in the center of the room. A disembodied voice called out to me, welcoming me home, inviting me to feast. The ghostly voice spoke in French, a tongue completely foreign to me, yet I understood the voice’s every word.  

Smiling guests materialized around the massive banquet table, their regal clothes in tatters and covered in dust and cobwebs. Their gray skin was spotted with deep holes, from which worms wiggled in and out, and blood and pus trickled in rivulets over decaying flesh. With loud, hollow voices the dinner guests beseeched me to join them. Entranced, I approached the table. 

Thunder crashed over the high ceiling. A fierce flash of lightning lit up the table and I saw before me, two children, their flesh roasted, their small bodies chopped in pieces and placed carefully on garish silver platters. Their heads were intact. The two dead little girls turned their eyes to me. Help us! Help us! They pleaded. 

Lightning and thunder exploded. Rain poured from the ceiling. The pieces of the children joined and melded together, forming the hacked children into morbid wholes. Once reformed, they rolled off the great table and crawled toward me. The dinner guests sang a church hymn while their bodies melted in the rain. I felt the children’s small, dead hands grasp my ankles. Feast with us! They screamed at me. Feast with us! Their small eyes burned bright red with horror. I gasped. Shocked out of my trance, I broke the children’s hold and ran. 

Once out of the banquet hall, I ran to the path at the edge of the property. There, I saw a woman in royal dress. She stood upon a large rock. Tears stained her face. She held her arms high and screamed a curse into the night. I felt a sudden surge of heat behind me. Turning, I witnessed what surely could not have been: a fully intact castle engulfed in flames of grief and fury which were so intense, not even the deluge of rain could quench their angry burn. The royal woman turned her fierce eyes on me. I knew at once –it was Queen Jeanne! With terror in heart, lantern in hand, and my satchel over my shoulder, I sprinted away down the mountain, desperately hoping to outrun the curse that the queen was casting. 

I do not know how long I ran. Dawn seemed to arrive without warning and I was back on a road with the warm sun drying my sopping clothes. Not far into the morning I was able to secure transport with some locals who were en route to a nearby village. They spoke clear English and we began to converse. When I remarked on the previous night’s storm their faces turned grim. They inquired if I had been at the ruins during the night. I confirmed that I had. The driver shook her head and said that the region had seen no rain for over a week. The driver’s companion held up her left hand. Her skin was maligned, covered in burn scars. She said that she too had seen the queen, apparently too closely. 

After the kind couple dropped me off, I acquired proper food and lodging. I have resolved to stay in this quaint and pleasant country village until I receive my next assignment. The past several nights have been difficult. Sleep eludes me, for whenever I close my eyes, I see those of the dead children staring up at me.

Logbook of Terror: Winchester Mystery House

Winchester Mystery House

More than any other human invention, I find firearms to be the most tragic, heinous, and unnecessary. Yet I found myself walking the halls of a mansion built with the blood money earned from the sale of untold thousands, perhaps millions, of the life-taking invention known as the Winchester rifle. A yawn escaped my mouth as the tour guide expounded upon the lavish architecture which surrounded the small group of which I was a part. Terminally bored and feeling that I could fare better on my own, I walked away to explore. 

First a left turn, then a right, then another left, another left, and a quick jaunt down a hallway full of windows that looked into more interior spaces. Alone with my thoughts, I indulged my personal scorn for automated weapons of all ilk while I followed one twisting and winding passageway after another until I had absolutely no clue as to where I was. I told myself not to worry, turned around, and went back the way I’d come, all the while listening intently for the voice of the tour guide, or the voices of the tour group to hopefully guide me along. Every turn led to another turn which led to another turn. Then, I saw a door ahead which looked familiar. Feeling heartened, I hastened to it and swung it open. Behind the door stood another door. I opened the second door to find yet a third, which opened onto a brick wall. Confounded, I closed the doors and made another attempt to find my way back to my starting point. A nervous fear set in, a sinking dread that I would be lost in this house and become stranded alone once business had ceased for the day. But, then I heard them: low murmurs, voices from somewhere nearby. My fear lessened. With stealth, I followed the sound in hopes to be led to the tour group. 

As I approached a closed door, I could clearly tell that the voices were just on the other side. Believing my troubles to be over, I opened the door and crossed the threshold into a dimly lit room. Two women sat at a round table in the center of the room, an oil lamp burning between them. Upon my entrance, one of the women –an elderly lady in solid black clothing, with a shock of unkempt white hair and wrinkled skin- looked up in my direction. The lamp light illuminated the woman’s eyes, of which only the whites were visible. She shook in her chair, announcing that the spirits were among them. The other woman demanded to know what the spirits wanted. I calmly told the elderly one that I was most certainly alive, not a phantasm as she claimed. She told the other woman that I wanted revenge for the deaths of my people. I protested and denied any desire whatsoever for vengeance of any sort, telling the woman that I was simply lost and looking for my tour group. The old hag explained to her companion that I was doomed to wander the halls of the mansion for all of eternity and that she must construct more halls for me to walk. Then it struck me –I must have happened upon a dramatic scene intended for the tour! I smiled to myself as I went to the room’s door, which seemed to have closed on its own, probably due to a wind or an old, uneven floor. I grasped the doorknob and turned. It was stuck. I jiggled the handle and pulled at the door. It did not budge. I glanced back at the two women. They sat closer to one another, staring at me, their hands intertwined. I slammed my hand on the door and yelled to be let out of the room. The women jumped in their seats. The elder shouted at me to leave at once. I told her I was trying but the door was stuck. Again she commanded me to begone. Frightened and frustrated, I returned her shouts with screams of my own. The women shrieked and huddled together. I cursed aloud and desperately twisted the doorknob in the opposite direction. The door latch clicked and the door swung open with a great gust of wind. The two ladies howled in fright. Just before I walked out, I looked back at the table to see it deserted and the room cloaked in gloom. I shuddered and tripped over my own feet as I hurried down the hall.

For what felt like ages I wandered twisting and turning corridors and passages. Daylight was fading. My heart raced. There had to be a way out of this dreadful house! I turned down yet another unfamiliar passageway and noted the scent of sawdust lingering in the air. The faint sound of a hammer on nails floated to me. I followed the sound to another door. I flung the door open. Entering an unfinished room, the ambient noise of heavy construction assaulted me. I held my ears and fell back out into the hallway. A gunshot rang out, its sharp report shattering my nerves. Another shot exploded at my back and echoed down the hall. I pitched forward and ran. A thousand invisible hammers beat on the wooden walls, the sound enveloping me, ripping at my eardrums and sending waves of pain through me. Hammers and guns escalated in their violence and intensity, creating a mad symphony that threatened to crush my skull. Peals of laughter joined the cacophony. I fell to my knees, screaming for the noise to cease. Blood began to flow from my ears. Please, please stop! I begged. The reverberations only increased and were joined by the sounds of sawing, sanding, and scraping. I struggled to my feet and stumbled down the corridor. A man’s coughing, the sound of someone taken violently ill, came from a room to my right. I looked and saw a middle-aged man, prostrate in a large bed, coughing up what appeared to be pint upon pint of dark, heavy blood. A doctor and a nurse attended the man while the younger woman from the previous room sat by the bed and wept. My skin crawled. I lurched down the hall and fell down a flight of stairs. 

My screams bounced off the stairwell walls. When I stopped tumbling, I opened my eyes. The tour group was gathered around me, eyeing me with curious stares. The tour guide knelt at my side and informed me that I must have fainted from the heat. After being helped to my feet I saw that I was still in the same room in which the tour had begun. It appeared that I had never left the group after all. The tour guide explained to the group that only the very weakest and worst guests fainted. A woman to my left suggested that they ought to simply shoot me so as to make for certain that I wouldn’t ruin any more of the tour. A hearty round of agreement sounded among them, and they all drew their rifles on me. The tour guide instructed the group to fire on her command. I pleaded to be spared. They laughed. The tour guide yelled, Fire! An explosion of gunfire filled the air. My body came apart in a hail of bullets. Blood showered the smiling faces of the tour group. My limbs fell from my body, severed by the storm of ammunition. I felt bullets enter my brain and erase all of my memories and thoughts, the last of which was, why didn’t I call my mother and tell her I loved her when I still had the chance.

I woke up screaming, still in the rocking chair on the Winchester Mansion’s front porch where I had decided to sit down and wait until the tour began. The guide walked out onto the porch and announced that the tour would begin momentarily. I lept from the chair and ran for my life, never considering looking back at that accursed abode.