Ghost Stories from Hell, page 21
Tom shook his head. The guy was too tall to be Bill, but he could certainly be one of Bill’s buddies still drunk from going out last night. The five volunteer firefighters that had come with the truck were trying to get the man away from the house so they could get at the fire.
Tom grinned, trying to think what the hell they would—
The grin dropped from Tom’s face as the man with sword brought the weapon back and with a single, massive swing cut a firefighter’s head off.
Tom watched, confused, as the head bounced and rolled, the body falling limply as the other firefighters stumbled back and away from the swordsman. Tom was sure that someone was screaming. Maybe even all of them.
But no one was going to go near that swordsman.
The swordsman, however, was going to go near them.
The man started walking forward, the sword held easily in both hands. Bill’s sprinkler system kicked in, the sprinkler heads rising up out of the ground to care for the lawn. As one did, a firefighter tripped and fell, trying to twist away and catch himself.
Then the swordsman was on him, driving the sword through the firefighter’s chest and twisting the blade before pulling it out. The firefighter, Tom knew, was dead.
A shape came staggering out of the front door of Bill’s flaming house.
“Shit,” Tom said.
“What?” Vicki asked sleepily.
“Shit,” Tom said again.
A moment later, she was beside him. “Oh my God, Tom,” she said.
Even as the words left her mouth, Tom saw the swordsman turn around as if he had sensed Bill’s presence. With two long strides, the swordsman was upon Bill, driving the long blade up to the hilt into the soft white flesh of Bill’s stomach.
Vicki screamed—a loud, piercing scream that made Tom’s ears ring and his head ache.
The swordsman looked up at them in the window.
“Oh no,” Tom said. “Oh please no.”
Vicki was still screaming as he grabbed her by the wrist and nearly dragged her away from the window and out of the bedroom. She finally stopped when they were in the hallway and by the time that they reached the stairs he didn’t have to hold onto her wrist.
When they reached the kitchen, she grabbed her purse from the counter and his wallet from the top of the microwave while he removed the keys from their hook and stepped into his beat-up sneakers. He opened the door, a wave of smoke rolling into the kitchen and a wall of heat waiting for them as Vicki slipped into her flipflops. Even as Tom hit the ‘unlock’ button on the key, he glanced over at Bill’s house.
The swordsman was killing the last of the firefighters, parrying a clumsy ax swing from the man before severing the firefighter’s head partially from his neck.
“Oh Jesus,” Vicki said. “Oh, Jesus, oh Jesus, oh Jesus, Tom. Where are Janet and the boys?”
“Get in the car,” Tom said, turning his head away as he saw a small shape run by one of the upper windows of Bill’s house. “Just get into the car, Vicki.”
They both got in and for a moment, Tom almost laughed hysterically, wondering if he was going to drop the keys as he tried to get the key into the ignition, but the key went in smoothly, and the engine turned over as he slammed the car into ‘reverse’, backing up as fast as he could.
Then he lost control.
The car slammed into the back corner of the fire truck so hard that it got stuck part way under it. Cursing and swearing, Tom shifted into drive, but the car wouldn’t budge.
Then, Vicki’s window was smashed in. A pale hand reached inside, grabbed her by her blonde hair as she screamed, and dragged her out through the broken window. Tom watched in horror as the swordsman wrapped a massive hand around her neck and squeezed.
The breaking of her neck and the sudden, final gasp of breath set Tom to vomiting.
“Coward!” the swordsman snarled.
Out of the corner of his eye, Tom saw the sword driving in towards him.
Chapter 21: Elizabeth O’Grady and the Brownie
Elizabeth O’Grady slept little, if at all, most nights, and this past Thursday had been par for the course. She didn’t hear particularly well anymore—one of the sad truths of aging.
She sat at her dressing table and finished the last bits of a ritual that had lasted for decades. She put on her black dress, pinned her hair back into a bun, and made sure that the plain gold wedding band that Murphy had given her was still properly on her finger.
Lastly, she put her crucifix around her neck. The chain was of small, silver links, and the crucifix was of the same, each detail of Christ’s suffering exquisitely wrought in the metal. Finishing with her ritual, she offered up a prayer to the blessed Virgin and took her cane off of the dressing table’s edge. Using it carefully, she rose to her feet and made her way around her small bed to the hallway.
She traveled along the hall and realized that something wasn’t the same.
The hall was spotless.
Not a single particle of dust. The floor was swept, the wooden wainscoting polished. Even the glass shades of the sconces had been washed. When she reached the kitchen, she found that it too had been scrubbed. The metal fixtures positively gleamed, and the few pots and pans which had been from last night’s dinner were washed and put away. Fresh vegetables and fruit were in bowls upon the table.
The doors, Elizabeth saw, were still locked, as were the windows.
Elizabeth pulled one of the two chairs out from under the table and sat down. She picked a peach out of one of the bowls and looked at it for a long time.
Finally, she put the fruit back and stood up. She made her way to the refrigerator and took out a small container of cream. From a cabinet over the toaster, she removed a demitasse cup and saucer. She carried all three to the table, set the cup on the saucer, and poured cream into the saucer. With that finished, she returned the cream to the refrigerator, retrieved a paring knife and small plate from their respective places, and took her seat at the table once more.
After taking the peach out again, she carefully cut it in half, removed the pit, and cut the halves in half again. She placed one slice on the saucer beside the demitasse cup.
Elizabeth ate a wedge of peach, wiped her mouth with a napkin, dried her hand and said in a soft voice, “Thank you. Will you join me?”
She sat in silence for several minutes before a creak sounded near the back door. A small creature appeared from a shadow, a small hat held in his hands. He wore a neat pair of knickers and a white peasant shirt with a corduroy. His feet were large and bare, his arms and legs gangly. His hands, like his feet, were large, the fingers gnarled. He stood no more than two feet tall, and when he approached the table he climbed up the other chair deftly, standing politely on the table.
He looked her in the eye and gave her a smile of crooked, yellow teeth. He smelled of smoke and cleanliness.
“Please sit,” Elizabeth said.
He nodded and sat down.
“The cream and the peach are for you.”
“For me, Ma’am?” he asked, and his small but deep voice was thick with an Irish brogue.
“Yes,” Elizabeth said, “in appreciation of the fine work that you did.”
He smiled broadly and put the hat down on the table before picking up the demitasse cup daintily. He took a noisy sip and sighed happily. “It is a pleasure, Ma’am,” he said, “to find a Mistress who is well bred.”
Elizabeth nodded her thanks.
He picked up the peach and tucked the piece fully into his mouth. He chewed and hummed to himself, swallowed, and took another sip.
“You’ve met no others who know?” Elizabeth asked.
“I tried only one other before you, Ma’am,” he said.
“And may I ask who?”
“Your neighbor,” he said, “the one across the street in the yellow house.”
“The Labries?” Elizabeth asked.
“French, were they?”
“Yes,” Elizabeth said.
“They were not pleased?”
“Not at all,” he answered. “She ignored what I did, assumed it was some other. Not a word of thanks.”
“What happened then?” Elizabeth asked.
“I burned their house down,” he said simply, finishing his cream, “with them in it.”
Elizabeth twisted in her seat slowly and finally could look out the front window. Not much remained of the house. It had burned almost to the foundation.
The place smoldered still, and the Labries’ cars remained in the driveway, covered in ash and debris.
No one had tried to put out the fire. That was clear.
“What’s your name?” she asked, turning back to him.
“Leabhar,” he smiled.
“Leabhar,” she repeated.
“Yes, Ma’am,” he said. He looked longingly at another wedge of peach.
Smiling she picked one up and handed it to him.
He ate it quickly but politely. When he finished, he smiled at her. “Ma’am, I saw that your woodbox was empty, and winter’s coming on. Would you like me to fill the wood box?”
She thought of him with the wood and near the fire.
Elizabeth smiled and nodded. “Please, Leabhar.”
As he got off of the table and climbed down the chair, putting his small hat back upon his head, Elizabeth looked out the window.
A pity, she thought. Here’s hoping that it was the smoke that killed them, and not the flames.
Elizabeth offered up a prayer to the blessed Virgin and smiled as Leabhar made his way outside.
Chapter 22: Down by the Pool
Somewhere, a fire truck, whose siren had been screaming for nearly an hour, suddenly went silent.
Jim looked over his shoulder toward where the sound had been coming from. In the early morning light, columns of smoke were rising up and staining the sky.
“Just keep moving,” Fred said, patting Jim on the shoulder. “There’s nothing that can be done right now.”
Jim nodded and turned his attention back to the narrow path that ran along Hassell Brook. They had cut across the brook nearly half an hour before, and they were keeping a steady pace. The woods were strangely quiet around them. None of the bird or animal sounds were familiar in this part of New Hampshire.
Ahead of them, Jim caught sight of large weeping willow trees filling the spaces between the old trees. Boulders and large rocks started cropping up amongst the trees as well. The sound of water slapping against rocks reached his ears. Jim drew his pistol.
“Take it slow,” Fred said softly, “nice and slow.”
Jim only nodded.
He moved at a slow pace forward, listening.
Yet he heard only the water, nothing else.
The path they followed curved down slightly, and there before them appeared a trio of large boulders, looking almost like monstrous eggs. A little beyond them grew a massive weeping willow tree. The path led directly to the stones, cutting in amongst them.
Jim walked down, following the path directly to the stones. He passed through a curtain of willow branches, Fred right behind him, nearly bumping into him as Jim came to a complete stop.
In the trunk of the tree was a tall, broad door. There was no window, but there was a doorknob of cut crystal set into a brass plate with a keyhole.
“Well, damn,” Fred said.
“You said it,” Jim sighed. He put his left hand into his pants pocket and took the key out. Stepping up to the door, he put the key into the keyhole and unlocked the door before grasping the knob and turning it. With a grunt, he pushed the door open.
Within the depths of the living tree, a room spread out before them. It was far larger than the outside of the tree, and thick carpets were laid across a stone floor. A hearth with a small fire occupied the far wall, and torches were set in brackets along walls of smooth stones. Draperies hung from the tall ceiling down to the floor, and a single bed stood off to one side. A writing desk stood opposite of the bed and had a scattering of books and papers upon it.
“What the hell do we do with this?” Jim asked.
In the distance something roared—a terrible sound that weakened Jim’s knees.
“We go inside,” Fred said.
Jim nodded, took the key out of the lock, and went into the room. Together he and Fred pushed the door closed and found iron mounts on the back for thick boards to be dropped into. Without speaking, both of the men did just that before stepping away from the door.
Whatever they had heard outside roared again, yet it was louder and closer than it had been. Faintly, they heard a splashing sound, and then the sound of two male voices arguing. The voices were incredibly deep, and Jim had a suspicion that giants were the owners of the sounds being made. A third voice suddenly joined the first two and there was a great deal of howling and yelling that arose.
Jim winced, put his pistol back into the holster, and covered his ears. It did little to help the raucous hurting his ears and causing his head to throb with pain. Soon came the sounds of blows. A glance at Fred showed the man to be standing impassively in the center of a rug, his rifle cradled in his arms.
Shortly, the battle being fought rolled away from the pool and silence returned, filled by the small noises of the fire burning in the hearth.
“Let’s see if there’s any coffee in this place,” Fred said. “I’ve a thirst now.”
They found the coffee in a clay jar by the fire, and behind one of the draperies they discovered a hand-pump and some cooking-ware as well. It took a minute to get the water but when it came, the water was cold and sweet. They filled a cast iron kettle and Fred set it on an iron hook before swinging it out over the flame. Jim carried a pair of clay mugs out of the small room and placed them near the hearth.
The two of them sat down on the floor a few feet from the fire and waited for the water to boil.
“So,” Fred said, “this has been a hell of a day.”
“Yeah,” Jim agreed.
That sat silently for a short time.
“I keep wondering,” Jim said, breaking the silence, “if any of this is real.”
“That’s to be expected,” Fred said. “It’s never easy to face these things.”
“All of the killing?” Jim asked.
“That too,” Fred said, “but I was talking about the dead and the faery folk.”
Jim looked at Fred, surprised.
“What are you saying?” Jim asked. “Have you seen the faery folk before?”
“Not exactly,” Fred said. “Not that we’re seeing now. I did three tours in Vietnam, you see, and the supernatural is active there. Sometimes we were fighting the Vietcong, some days the NVA, and some days we were fighting things that could be seen but couldn’t be defined.” Fred looked over at Jim with a wry smile on his face. “Hell, Jim, I even saw a dragon over there. It was really a hell of a thing.”
“Jesus,” Jim muttered.
“Yeah,” Fred said, “we called on Him a hell of a lot.”
The two of them lapsed back into silence, waiting for the coffee to boil. When it started to boil, Fred got up, found a poker to pull the iron swing arm out from the flames, and took a rag off of the floor. Using the rag, he took hold of the kettle and carefully poured the steaming coffee into the mugs.
The smell was soothing as Fred handed him a mug, and Jim realized just how tired and worn out he was. All around them, the town of Thorn was being torn down and even though he was a State Trooper, Jim wasn’t able to do a thing. He stopped a few creatures.
Hell, he even killed a giant with Fred, but they were losing the town.
The town would be lost.
Jim looked over to the writing desk and drank a little of his coffee.
“I suppose,” Jim said after a minute, “that the information we want is over there somewhere?”
“Yes,” Fred answered, glancing at the desk. “It probably is.”
Jim watched the fire eat away at the neatly stacked logs before finishing the mug and standing up. Fred did the same a moment later. They walked over to the desk together, and Fred leaned his weapon against the wall.
From what they could tell, the papers on the desk were letters from a professor in England to one Thomas Blood. Jim and Fred scanned through them.
“Here,” Fred said, holding up a letter.
“18th April 1866,
“My dear Captain Blood,
“I have received your letter and have, as promised, scoured the literature on the question that you asked regarding the binding of a tract of land. Usually, these bindings are made to protect a home and not, as you are seeking, to bind the faery folk in. I have read of only one instance of such a use, and that is in your own state of New Hampshire, though the records do not tell me who or why or when such an event occurred.
“With that being said, sir, I have located the name of a book with purports to offer up the applicable information. The title of this book is Iussitut Ligatis Pedibus Mediocris. The book was published anonymously in the last years of the last century, and there are many who believe it is simply a satirical endeavor. There are few, if any, copies to be found for sale.
“If you wish to purchase the book, please let me know and I will put out a request for further information. Until that time, sir, I have been pleased to assist you, and I do hope to hear from you again.
“Professor Archibald E. H. Wellington.”
Fred put the letter down and pointed at the pile of books.
There, on the top, was a small leather bound book with gold lettering stamped into it: Iussitut Ligatis Pedibus Mediocris.
“Can you read Latin?” Jim asked, looking at Fred.
Grimly, Fred nodded. “As a matter of fact, Jim, I can.”
With the fire crackling behind them, Fred reached out and picked up the book.
Chapter 23: Fred O’Dierno and the Book
It had been a long time since Fred O’Dierno had read any Latin other than those found on school mottos and for military units, but he hadn’t forgotten what the Brothers of the Sacred Heart had taught him nearly fifty years earlier. It just took a few minutes to get back into the groove of it.