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The Haunting of Parsons Manor


Part 1

The Arrival

     The old Parsons Estate frowned down upon the lonely town of Rockhaven from where it sat, brooding atop a desolate foothill just outside of town. The Victorian mansion was among the first of its kind in the area and, at one time, shined like a jewel in the crown of the Catawba Valley; however decades of neglect had taken its toll upon the once grand edifice. Abandoned, the house was merely a shadow of what it had been. Weather-stained whitewashed walls, which had long since tarnished to a dull gray due to the incursion of various molds and mildew, were draped in a rambling network of ivy whose greedy tendrils spread out, over the surface as they slowly suffocated the structure. One would almost feel naked as they stood before the vacant eye-like windows that seemed to stare morosely at the blight stricken landscape as though they were searching for the glory of the manor’s youth, which had long since left, never to return to its abandoned halls. The moss-eaten steep facets of the asymmetrical roof thrust crooked spires into the air at irregular angles, giving the whole at once a grim sense of beauty, laced with an air of utter depression. Even the occasional breeze, which stirred out of the nearby Smoky Mountains, blew across the land with a heavy sigh that carried with it the stale scent of air, which had been trapped for far too long within the mansion’s abandoned halls. Skeletal snags of withered hardwoods dotted the estate, reaching out at agonizing angles with gnarled limbs, as if pleading for release from their rheumatic existence, their piteous, bleached trunks adding to the cold and lonely edge, which lingered about the manor on even the warmest of days.

    From the manor’s second story window, one could see that a solitary visitor approached, traveling the weather-beaten cobblestone road that was known to the people of Rockhaven as Old Briar Run. He was dressed in a simple outfit of breeches, shirt, and jacket, with a backpack slung over his shoulder. Every so often, he would spy a rock in his path and give it a light boot to dislodge it from its resting place and send it tumbling, end over end, down the worn road that served as the main route between Rockhaven and Lovelady. A frigid gust of wind hissed as it passed through the trees whose limbs intertwined like bony fingers to form a barren canopy overhead, forcing him to pull his jacket more tightly about his thin frame. The raspy protest of a raven drew his attention to the air above him and the creature’s shadowy black form as it made its way toward the old estate. He could almost feel the carrion bird’s beady eyes glowering down at him as it passed him by in the fading light of the afternoon, its malevolent cries sending a chill down his spine that had nothing to do with the autumn weather. His eyes wandered from the raven to fall upon the ominous structure that loomed bitterly beyond the nearby gates.

    Paul felt a knot of dread form in his abdomen as he gazed upon the forlorn features of the old Victorian manor. The shadows of the late afternoon had begun to creep over the land, shrouding the estate in dismal shades of monochrome, adding to the unearthly despair that plagued its surrounding lands. As the youth looked warily upon the old house and its environs, he found himself thinking of the stories, which had been told about the Parsons Estate since long before his parents’ time. He recalled the tales of Jonathan Parsons- of how he kidnapped and tortured women and children from the town of Rockhaven and the surrounding townships- how one of his victims managed to escape, revealing his sadistic secret- how the townsfolk, outraged, banded together and raided his house to find the evidence of his brutal undertakings. How they found him in his study, locked in a state of dementia- and how they dismembered him alive on his own worktable where he had performed his grisly acts of torture, and then burying his body in different places throughout the estate. He even recalled one story that told how the townsfolk heard his agonized wailing even as they buried his remains, and every night for weeks thereafter. According to the town elders, no one since had been able to stay there for longer than a day or two and those who had tried were never heard from again. It was even said by some that the torso of Jonathan Parsons would drag its way out of its grave and search the estate for its missing remains, but no one ever said whether it succeeded, or what would happen if it did. He could not suppress the shudder that coursed through his body as his mind connected the stories to the foreboding manor that seemed to beckon to him with malevolent interest. He grumbled a curse at himself for letting Jacob and Christopher Jenkins talk him into staying up in the old house for the night. He also chastised himself for allowing his mouth get him into another situation that he couldn’t get himself out of.
It had all been set about a week ago when Paul, the Jenkins brothers, and Charlie Baker had been exploring the woods near the Parsons Estate. After wandering around, and following countless trails, they had come to a small clearing where they could build a campfire and sit for a while. They had been talking about everything from guns to what they were going to do for the Festival of Samhain in a few weeks when Paul spied the angular spires of Parsons Manor. Upon asking about the house in the distance, the other boys’ mouths dropped.

    “You don’t know what that is,” Jacob asked, his face a mask of disbelief? Paul gave him a questioning look and shook his head.

    “Should I,” he inquired?

    “Oh my god,” he gasped “I can’t believe this,” he looked around at the other boys to see if they were as shocked as he was. “You’ve never heard about the Parsons Estate?”

    “Well… yeah,” replied Paul with a shrug, “I’ve heard about it, but I’ve never seen it or knew where it was. Isn’t it supposed to be haunted or something like that?” 

    “Haunted,” Christopher chimed in, exasperated at what he was hearing “there’s not a soul between Rockhaven and Summerville that doesn’t get chills from just hearing its name! 

    “My grandma says that the ghost of Jonathan parsons haunts the place, and that his body searches for its missing remains from where he was cut up by a lynch mob and buried in different parts of the estate,” Charlie said with a visible shudder that brought him closer to the crackling logs of the campfire.

    “According to my aunt Claudia, no one has ever been able to stay there for very long, but those who have tried has either left town or disappeared altogether,” Jacob added. 

    “Aw come on,” Paul said with a look of disbelief, “don’t tell me that you’re unnerved by ghost stories?” Paul shrugged as he continued, “I mean sure, some bad stuff has happened up in that old house, but surely it can’t be that bad.”

    “What,” Jacob expressed with a look of shock on his face, “are you saying that don’t believe the stories about the Parsons Estate? People have seen things there, heard things there, and have even gone missing after going there, and you’re saying it’s not that bad?”

    “No, I’m just saying that how do you know that most of the stories about that old house weren’t just told to scare kids around the fireplace, or on the night of Walpurgis or Samhain?” Paul shrugged and tossed a couple of small sticks into the fire sending a shower of sparks into the air, and then continued. “No one really knows for sure if those stories are even true or not, that’s all.”

    “Well then,” replied Jacob with a knowing look on his face, if you’re so sure that the Parsons Estate isn’t haunted, then why don’t you stay there yourself, hmm?”

    “I don’t know,” Paul replied with a gesture that said that he wasn’t interested… 

    “What’s wrong;” Jacob retorted before Paul could worm his way out of it, “you’re not scared of ghost stories that you don’t believe in, are you?”

    Paul looked at his friends who sat looking at him with faces that showed that he had let his mouth override his common sense and now they wanted him to back up his claims by showing them that the tales of the Parsons Estate were nothing more than stories to be told around the campfire. “No, I’m not scared at all,” he replied, “it’s just that I don’t know if I can.”

    “Listen to that, guys,” Christopher commented sarcastically, “first he says that the stories aren’t real, but when he gets a chance to prove it, he backs out like a scaredy cat.”

    “I’m not a scaredy cat,” Paul shot back, growing annoyed with his friends’ heckling! 

    “Then prove it,” Jacob declared resolutely. “Prove that the stories that have been told about the haunting of Parsons Manor are only tales to frighten kids around the fireplace.”
Paul knew that there was no getting out of this without one of two things happening; either he could outright refuse to back up his words and lose any credibility that he might have with his peers, along with becoming the subject of their harsh jokes and criticism; or he could face a night in one of the most renown and shunned haunted houses in the area. Sadly, only one of which would gain the respect of his friends and make anything he said worth hearing. So after a few moments of thinking, along with the jeering chastisement of his friends, Paul emitted a heavy sigh. “Alright, when do you want me to do this?” As he spoke he was not looking at them, but toward the jagged spires that rose above the trees in the distance like broken skull’s teeth. A cold wind blew through the clearing chilling him to the bone, a wind that the others did not seem to feel, or if they did, it didn’t show.

    “How about this weekend,” Jacob suggested thoughtfully? “You can take anything you want, but you have to do something to show us that you’re there.” He cupped his chin with his hand, furrowing his brow in deep thought. “Christopher,” he said after a moment, “how can we know if know-it-all Paul here is in the old house where he’s supposed to be instead of weaseling his way out of his word?”

    Christopher thought for a minute, then answered, “I know, from the attic room of our house, we have a pretty good view of Parsons Manor. It’s a little far,” he explained, “but you can see the chimneys with no problem. So if Paul will start a fire in any of the fireplaces, we should see the smoke rising from whatever chimney he uses, providing we camp out in the attic anyway.”

    “Great idea,” Jacob exclaimed casting an approving look at his brother, “we’ll say we’re having a sleepover at our house!” He turned to look at Paul, “Once we see you off to the Parson’s estate, Charlie, Christopher and I will go back to our house and get ready for a sleepover in the attic room where we can watch for the smoke from the chimneys of the old Parsons house…” he stared at Paul, waiting for a response, “how’s that sound to you?”
Paul knew there was no backing out now so he offered a resigned shrug and answered, “It’s good enough for me I guess, so Friday it is.”

    “Good, it looks like we’re set then,” Jacob concluded glancing at everyone in turn. “Then we’ll see if the stories are true or not”

    A cold wind whipped through the trees, rattling them like a chime of dry bones, its chill biting at him through his jacket, summoning him back to the present. Once more, he was standing before the heavy wrought iron gates that sealed the Parsons Estate away from the rest of the countryside. Ivy draped over the entrance like a tattered shroud, nearly obscuring his view, save for a few places where the foliage was thin enough to allow a window-like peek of the estate. The knot in his stomach became a chunk of ice as he gazed upon the dreary landscape that lay just beyond the cage-like portal. With a deep, heavy sigh, he reached up and tried the gate. Hinges, all but paralyzed by decades of rust and neglect shrieked in protest as he forced the gate open, announcing his arrival to anything that might be within the surrounding area. He cringed as the sound echoed in his ears and across the overgrown estate, drawing the attention of the raven that had passed him only moments ago. It glared at him from the top of a gnarled and withered oak tree that seemed hunched over and twisted in a painful contortion, appearing to watch his every move as he passed through the entry. Dull gray grasses and various weeds had overrun all but the most worn parts of the old road that led to the manor house, making travel more precarious as Paul had to pick and choose where to walk to avoid brambles or the random patches of beggar lice that waited to ambush anyone that ventured too close. As he carefully traversed the desolate landscape, he became aware that the sounds that usually accompanied the coming of night in Rockhaven and the Catawba Valley- the mournful song of a whippoorwill, the chorus of crickets and katydids which sang of the coming cold, and even the melancholy call of an old owl waking for the night, had grown distant as though they shunned the dismal dwelling that sat atop of this lonely hill. The realization of this imminent isolation of things most natural sent a shudder through his very being, and even as he made his way up the path that would take him to the front entry of Parsons Manor, he wondered if the stories told in town might have more truth to them than he had originally skepticised.

    The path wound around a couple of ancient ash trees whose bleached, white trunks seemed to glow with an unearthly luminescence in the fading twilight. Great knot holes pocked the trunks just above the first large branches, which separated off from the main tree with crooked joints similar to that of a crone whose body and limbs are forever twisted by the knotted joints afflicted with arthritis, their hollows swollen with shadows giving them the appearance of the empty sockets of a skull’s face that watched wholly unfeeling as he skulked by. The feeling of their gaze upon him felt as though they pierced him to the very core of his being, baring his soul for whatever dark powers which gave them life to see. Here and there, he spied things that seemed to move and dart among the shadows at the edge of his vision, but were gone too quickly for him to discern their source.

    His eyes roved over the darkening landscape only to find their way to the looming beast that was Parsons Manor which now stood over him like a sentinel of darkness waiting to welcome him into the void. The wide porch branched out to either side of the tower-like veranda whose wide steps cascaded downward to the end of the overgrown walkway. Thick columns lined the porch in regular intervals connected to one another by archways of carefully sculpted filigree which reminded the viewer of an ornate garden which had long been forgotten by all but time. The hardwood steps groaned under his weight as though they were no longer used to being trod upon. He had to shake off a chill as the shadow of the house enveloped him, embracing him in its deathless grip. Thoughts of nameless terrors raced through his mind with each pace he took across the once welcoming porch to the heavy oaken door that waited for him as a spider waits for the fly to innocently crawl into its web before sealing its doom. A dirt-stained and decayed old welcome mat lay otherwise undisturbed at the foot of the door, its once friendly design marred and weathered by age and neglect, which seemed more like a living thing of its own design now than when it was fashioned so many years ago. In many ways the thought had crossed his mind that it might snap at his feet were he to venture too close, and so subconsciously he tried to avoid its moss riddled, grimy surface as much as possible.

    Paul extended a wary hand to try the gothic lion-headed doorknob and was both relieved and disappointed to find that it was locked. As much as he would have liked to have said that he had tried and gone home, he knew that he had already come this far and needed to see the rest of this terrible deed through. After all he had gotten himself into this mess, so it was up to him to get himself out of it. With that thought in mind he began searching for the key to the door. He ran his hand along what ledges he could reach, feeling his fingers trace the intricate carvings that matched in many ways the arches of the porch. Once he swept his hand through the silky strands of a hidden spider web which made him jerk his hand back in revulsion of the blatant invasion of his external senses. He could not suppress the heavy shudder that wracked his body as he thought about the creature that probably narrowly missed his probing extremities. When he had exhausted his limit of hidden places around the great door, his eyes fell forlornly to the foot of the entrance, and the decayed welcome mat that just moments ago he had tried to avoid. A sickly feeling churned in his stomach as he thought of having to touch that decrepit ornamentation to see if the key had been placed under its vile watch. He sighed heavily and with a reluctant motion reached down, half expecting it to leap at him like a wounded animal, carefully placing his fingers around the nearest, least overgrown, corner and began to peel it upward. Something squished between his fingers making him grimace with disgust at not knowing what it could possibly have been. He reached out with his other hand and started feeling around in the collected grime beneath the rug. He was disgusted yet relieved when his fingers happened across the cold metallic shape of an old skeleton key.

    Paul cleaned the key by rolling it around on the mat, hoping to get off most of the collected dirt that it had gathered during its long stay underneath the grimy old rug. Once he had gotten most of the excess off of it, he stood up and tried it on the door. The lock resisted at first, as though age had frozen its ancient tumblers in place, but with another try, the key turned stiffly, and with a loud clank of the square bolt, the door was ready to be opened. The hinges groaned under the weight of the heavy door, heralding his arrival to the inhabitants of the old manor whether they were alive or dead. As Paul took in a breath, he found himself fighting back the urge to cough himself hoarse from the putrid combination of dust and stale air which he had stirred up by opening the door. Thick dark shadows beckoned to him as he gazed into the void which lay beyond the entry. A sharp wind hissed through the corrupted boughs of the warped trees as though it was trying to issue one last warning to him about what waited for him within those forbidden walls. The door creaked loudly on its own, an action that, although it unnerved him, Paul dismissed it as something caused by the stiff breeze.

    Paul took a moment to light his lantern before going into the utter darkness that seemed to throb from within the house. He shifted his backpack around until he managed to slide it from his shoulders. Kneeling down by the door, he unstrapped his lantern and began fumbling around in his pack in search of the box of matches that he had brought with him. The cold wind moaned as it exhaled across the land with a sigh born out of depression, sending a chill through Paul’s body as he pulled the small box of wooden matches out of one of the backpack’s side pouches. He checked the fuel to ensure that he had enough oil to last him the night, and within moments had his immediate surroundings bathed in the golden yellow hues that emanated from the lamp as he adjusted the flame. Once he had the light set where he wanted it, Paul stood up, tucking the matchbox into a pocket where he could find it much easier the next time he needed it. He stooped and picked up the lantern, brandishing it in front of him to ward off the oppressive darkness that threatened to engulf him as he reluctantly entered the shadowy confines of the mansion. A feeling of apprehension permeated the core of his very being as he stepped across the threshold that separated the outside world from the bleak trappings of Parson’s Manor.

    The light from his lantern cast eerie shadows about the entry hall that loomed like phantoms, lingering just at the edge of sight, yet vanishing should he venture too close. Paul fought the urge to sneeze as the bitter combination of stale air and dust assaulted his nostrils. Taking a deep breath to settle his senses, he raised his light to get a better look at his surroundings. The foyer was coated in a fine layer of dust that dulled the shine that it once held many years ago. An ancient secretary of varnished oak crouched near the center of the room, adamantly protecting whatever secrets that it contained within its hidden recesses, the spidery limbs of a hat and coat rack, which cowered in the distant corner as though it was trying to avoid the light, were wrapped about its slender frame as though it had long since succumbed to mortality, and a long ornately carved staircase emerged ominously from the center of the floor just behind the secretary, climbing into the shadows beyond the reach of any available light source. Somewhere in the distance, Paul heard the chime of an old grandfather clock, which struck him as unseemingly odd in this abandoned abode, for as far as he knew, no one had been here for years.

    “Hello,” he called out, his voice was shaky and weak, but in the dark hollows of the foyer, it echoed almost as if to mock him. He waited for an answer, but none came. After a minute or so he tried again, “Hello… is anyone there?” Again he was mocked by the hollow echo of himself; its resonance in the hollow foyer made him want to cringe. As before, his call was met by the uneasy silence of the house. For an instant, he wanted to turn around and leave just as he had come, but he knew that he had to light a fire in the fireplace so that Jacob and Christopher could see the smoke from their house, or else this whole trip would have been in vain. Paul sighed heavily, hating the self-made defeat that had placed him in this position, and with a resigned step forward he began to explore the entry hall. 

    His footsteps echoed in the hollow darkness, accompanied by the stiff groans of hardwood planks, protesting their having been disturbed from their age-long rest as he made his way across the foyer. Starting to his left, Paul ambled to an ornate set of double-doors whose oiled surface had long since been stained by the collection of dust which had settled along their corners and edges. Decades of neglect had stiffened the knobs and hinges; however, with a little persuasive effort, the doors soon gave, complaining profoundly as they swung open to reveal a fairly large, dimly lit room. Even in the low light, Paul could see that the room was haunted by the apparitions of antique furniture which had, long ago, been shrouded with bleached linens in order to preserve their vintage beauty from the unforgiving wear of time. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling, corners and various wall decorations in thick, tattered curtains that swayed, ever so gently, in time with the constant shift of the wind. As he surveyed the room, Paul could not shake the feeling that he had, somehow, wandered into the drug induced dream of a madman on opium. The dusky shades of twilight that filtered in through the dingy, water-stained windows highlighted the dust and cobwebs with the somber hues of night, subduing the room in ethereal overtones, and only the mere glow of his lantern served as his defense against the unearthly gloom that encroached upon his very being. A vague sigh of reprieve escaped his lips when his eyes fell upon the carved mantelpiece of a classically adorned fireplace that nearly dominated the northern wall. Its stone recesses gaped like an open maw and had been blackened by years of use, yet the layer of webs that lined its entirety disclosed much about its lack of attention these past decades.

    Paul hurried to the fireplace, setting his lantern upon the carved mantle as he began to finger through the fireplace tools below. He filched the cinder broom from the rack and used it to sweep away as many of the cobwebs as he could reach without climbing inside of the flue. As he returned the broom to its hanger on the tool rack, Paul’s eyes roved over the room, searching for something to start a fire with. In the murky twilight, he could see that several wooden crates had been stacked carelessly against the distant wall. It only took a few minutes for him to gather some of the spent boxes and to begin breaking them apart. Using some old newspapers that apparently had been left behind by the house’s most recent inhabitants, he piled some of the broken planks into the hearth. Within moments he had a fire crackling to life in the old fireplace for the first time in decades. The flame burned warm and bright, beating back the dismal shadows that plagued the room, but it did little to burn away the vile chill that contaminated the air. Still, despite it all, Paul felt a reassuring measure of comfort as he stood there, basking in its light.

Part 2

Venturing out into the Darkness

     Paul relaxed some as he felt the heat of the fire soak into his body, warming him despite the perpetual chill that seemed to linger in the air. He tossed some more wood onto the flames, sending a shower of sparks spiraling up the chimney; then using the bright yellow-orange glow from the flames, he surveyed the room about him. From what he could tell, by the grandeur of the covered furniture and the elaborate ornamental décor, he was in a grand drawing room. Even as his eyes danced among the sofa, chairs and various tables, he could imagine that this place had seen much use during the house’s early years. He almost felt a pang of pity as he looked upon the state of disrepair into which the house had fallen. Paul’s eyes continued to rove over the area around him until the secretary in the entry hall caught his eye. He had noticed it before; however, something about the oaken desk seemed to beckon to him, now. It was as though it was offering to share its innermost secrets with him, should he just open its sealed door. With a few moments of mulling it over and a restored sense of confidence from having warmed himself by the fire, he decided to take the desk’s offer. Gathering up his lantern once more, he sauntered back into the entry hall, cringing as he was again met by the haunting groans of the old floor.
    The secretary wasn’t nearly as extravagant as some of the covered furniture that graced the floor of the drawing room; however, the oaken desk was in remarkably good condition for having been constantly exposed to the dust and other various elements these past decades. Its door was set on a simple pivot and slide mechanism, held fast by a hook and release latch which no longer had a lock to seal its contents away from unwanted eyes. Paul unfastened the latch and lifted the door with relative ease. The ancient wood creaked stiffly in its joints as he slid the door back into its holding compartment. Just as it had promised him from the distance, its secrets were now revealed for Paul to see. Only a few objects had been placed under the secretary’s care; a leather-bound guestbook whose pages had become brittle with age, a steel tipped quill that still had dried ink in its tip from its last use, along with an inkwell which had long since dried into a useless mess within its glass container. He raised his lantern to get a better look at some of the desk’s other contents, and was pleasantly surprised to find a chamberstick and a small box of candles tucked away in a small cubby-hole at the back of the work area. The idea of using candles to light his immediate area appealed to him since doing so would save his lamp oil for when he might really need it. He took the chamberstick in hand and began examining it in the glow of his lantern. The reflector dish and chimney had collected a minimal amount of dust during its long stay within the confines of the desk, and it didn’t take much to wipe their surfaces clean. Once he was satisfied with the candle holder’s condition, Paul grabbed a handful of candles; he then took his lantern and candle holder back to the fireplace in the drawing room.
    Paul settled before the fireplace once more, tossing some fresh wood onto the lowering flames. The fire popped and cracked greedily as it accepted his offering, brightening up the room again. As soon as he could see more clearly, he dismantled the chamberstick with expert precision and placed a candle into its empty socket. Using a long splinter from the fire, he lit the wick and waited to see if it would continue to burn. With a nod of satisfaction, he placed the chimney into its position and extinguished his lantern. The chamberstick only gave off slightly less light than the lantern had, and in doing so, it would suffice for what he needed. Without warning a gust of wind swept across the estate, grabbing the heavy front door, swaying it back and then slamming it shut.
    Paul’s heart nearly stopped as the thunderous sound echoed throughout the house, rattling the walls. He chastised himself for not having shut the door behind him when he came in, but as he regained control over his pulse, he laughed at the incident altogether. How many times had his mother told him to shut the door behind him when he was at home; or how many times had a stray wind pulled the door to when they would have it open during the summer to air out the house? In his head, he could hear his mother’s voice scolding him about whether or not he was raised in a barn. His thoughts were interrupted by the sudden yet eerily familiar chime of the grandfather clock from somewhere further in the house. Its steady toll sent a chill down his spine as he wondered how or why such a thing would even be working in this abandoned abode. He began to wonder if he wasn’t entirely alone in the old house, but figured that it might not be a bad idea to find out before settling in for the evening. He threw some more wood onto the fire, and decided that while he was exploring, he might as well look for another source of firewood since his current supply would soon be spent.
    Paul skulked through the entry hall with his chamberstick held out, lighting the way. Its bright yellow glow illuminated little more than his immediate area, reducing anything outside of its reach into vague shadowy forms that taunted the imagination. He slowly made his way around the foyer, cringing against the audible protests of the hardwood floor, as he moved to the nearest door. The door was a single entry, similar in uniform and design to that of the previous room. The candle illuminated the tarnished brass doorknob that had been molded with filigreed ivy about its outside edges. Paul reached out, his hand trembling anxiously, and slowly turned the knob. The door yawned open without much effort, exposing a large room that was by far darker that the drawing room had been. Paul ventured into the darkness, holding the chamberstick high to spread the light out farther. He was thankful for the reflector plate as it served not only to cast the light out ahead of him, but it also shielded his eyes from the night blinding effect of the tiny flame being at eye level.
    The feeble glow of the candle wrestled back the ominous shadows which had engulfed the room, keeping them just enough at bay to reveal that Paul had wandered into what appeared to be the den. As with the drawing room, the decorative furniture had been wrapped in white linens to protect their surfaces from the elements. He strode carefully deeper into the den, hoping to steal a better look at the room as a whole. The cobwebs, though present, were considerably less prevalent here than in the previous room. As he made his way across the floor, he noticed that the placement of the furniture had been centered on the tasseled edges of a great rug whose interwoven surface stretched along the floor like a great shadow. It was obvious that the room’s design was for the sole purpose of making the both family and guests feel more at home; however, as spacious and comforting as the room had once been, something about the room made his skin prickle with disfavor. Maybe it was the overwhelming darkness that unnerved him, or the tiny, eyelike windows whose sight had been dimmed by the encroaching ivy that scratched at its panes with each hissing breath of the wind, like the claws of some ancient unnamable beast trying to find its way in. What really made him squirm with unease though, were the tiny beads of light that glared at him from beyond the reach of his candle. Something about them had his instincts screaming for him to back out of the room, gather his things and leave the house as quickly as his feet could carry him, but it was his stubborn resolve that drove him toward the source of those ghastly lights. Step by step, he edged his way closer to the flickering fires that seemed to stare right though him, watching his every move. He stepped onto the rug, careful not to get his foot caught under its edge as he skulked closer to whatever it was that seemed to watch his approach. The growing tension in the air threatened to strangle Paul as the throbbing lights gazed at him from just beyond the edge of the candlelight. Sweat beaded his brow as he forced his foot forward; taking the next step that would bring the source of the tiny lights into view. A gasp of relief escaped his lips as he found himself staring into the long dead eyes of a mountain goat whose head had been mounted on the mantle wall above the large stone fireplace. The relief he felt was short-lived though; for something about the goat’s head didn’t feel right. There was a malevolence that lingered about the mounted bust, poisoning the air with its vile presence. That tainted feeling was reflected in the thing’s long dead eyes as it unflinchingly glowered out, over the den. The ominous gaze chilled Paul despite the fact that the mountain goat had been slain, long ago, and displayed as a grim trophy to accentuate the large gathering room. He tried to ignore the beast’s loathsome scowl as he attempted to explore the room further, but it didn’t take long for the sinister glare of those piercing eyes to send him back through the door from which he entered.
    The hollow shadows and creaking floor of the entry hall was a welcome relief by comparison to the den and the goat whose terrible eyes stared out, ever vigilant, into the darkness. Paul shuddered as he tried to shake the dread of the mounted bust watching his every move, but the overwhelming anxiety created by the beast’s glare held fast. He opened the next door with hope that whatever lie behind its wooden portal would be better than the den. With his candle leading the way, he stepped into the bend of an oblong hallway that served as the passage between the various parts of the first floor. From where he stood, there were only a handful of doors to either side of him, each of which, he figured, led to a different room of the manor. Paul started with the door closest to him, reaching out for the knob as he came within reach. The knob turned with a click, allowing the door to swing open, groaning as it revealed itself to be nothing more than a musty linen closet. Dusty, moth-eaten sheets and other various cloths neatly lined the shelves, appearing as though they had not been disturbed in ages. With a shrug of disappointment, the youth closed the door and moved on to the next.
    An icy chill ran down Paul’s spine as he stood in the narrow doorway, gaping into the vast nothingness just inches away. The shadows beyond the door seemed to swallow everything they touched, including the feeble light of his candle. He put out a hand to brace himself against the door face, as he felt strangely drawn to the darkness much like a moth to the flame that singes its wings before fully consuming the rest of its victim. He could feel as the breath pulled itself from his body to leave him involuntarily searching for air as he gazed into the pulsating emptiness that led to the manor’s basement. Without warning the house exhaled, assaulting him with the stench of musty trapped air, mingled with the smell of decay that is often found in forgotten crypts. His resolve nearly melted to water as his mind began to fashion all manner of horrors that could be lurking in the dark void that dominated the basement. It took all the courage that he could muster to reach his hand out, take hold of the doorknob, and pull the door to. To his horror, it resisted, held open by something he could not see. For an instant he panicked, fearing that something had grabbed the door and was only inches from dragging him into the darkness that had consumed everything else. With a final desperate tug, the door gave, slamming shut and knocking a decorative sconce from the adjacent wall. His heart pounded audibly within his chest, leaving him short of breath as he fought to regain control of his nerves.
    Paul gathered himself together and then began checking the next few doors, one by one. The door at the short end of the hall was jammed shut, and refused to budge, though, he swore that he had heard someone talking in hushed voices on the other side.
    “Hello,” he called as he tried the door again, but it was no use, “is anyone in there?” He was answered by silence. Whoever or whatever was on the other side was gone.
    He turned around and started back down the hall, nearly dropping his chamberstick when he saw a figure staring at him whose glowing face was obscured by shadows, until he realized that he was staring into a dusty hallway mirror that he hadn’t noticed before. With a laugh that border lined hysteria at the idea of being startled by his reflection; he allowed himself a moment to clear his mind before rounding the corner where he had entered the hall. The youth’s footsteps echoed as he took a turn to the right, following the passage to yet another door. The oaken door opened with a yawn, allowing him to peer inside. Something about the room seemed vaguely familiar as he brought his candle to bear. A sudden realization came crashing down upon him as his lamp sparkled on a pair of hideous orbs in the distance. Once more he was gazing at the fearsome eyes of the mountain goat which had unnerved him only moments before. Even now they seemed to glare menacingly at him as he dared to invade their sanctum. With an audible shudder, he closed the door faster than he had opened it, knowing now that he had found another entrance to the den and the creepy mountain goat which brooded therein.
    Somewhere nearby the clock chimed again, making Paul jump with a start as its bells pealed louder than before. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to still his nerves against the cold gaze of the mountain goat, the living darkness of the basement, and the disturbing chime of a clock that had no reason to be working in the abandoned manor. He held his chamberstick out like a shield against the darkness and proceeded carefully down the hall. The narrow passage soon gave away to a cavernous room that in and of itself seemed colder than the rest of the house. Maybe, he thought, it was because he was on the windward side of the estate, and this part of the house was more exposed to the effects of the wind than the front, or maybe it was because the room was larger than the others he had encountered. Either way he knew that this room was much like the others, save that it was both larger and colder. The ethereal hues of night highlighted the bleached dust cloths that wrapped the furniture, setting them aglow in the ghostly overtones which were common in the dismal twilight. The colorless sheets seemed to move with the ebb and flow of the nightly breeze, making them seem more like living things rather than common room accessories as he made his way through the cavernous great room. His candlelight was too finite to illuminate anything beyond his immediate surroundings in this large room, leaving the rest to the obscuring effects of night, and making him wonder how the previous residents managed to beat back the twilight shadows.
    The sudden, yet faint click of clockwork gears shifting nearby broke the dead silence that dominated the room, causing Paul’s hair to rise on the back of his neck as he turned to locate the source of the unexpected sound. Hidden among the velvety shadows along the southern wall, stood an old handcrafted grandfather clock whose visible surface reflected the neglect of decades long past. Paul strode forward to get a better look at the wooden sentinel whose random chimes had been echoing throughout the manor since his arrival. Despite the years of negligence that mottled its surface, the great clock stood proudly as it guarded the room from its sanctity among the shadows. Gothically designed Roman Numerals lined the outer rim of the face, which was inlaid with a filigreed sun dial that seemed more like a cyclopean eye as it stared out, unflinchingly into the darkness. Through the dust-stained glass door, he could see the suspended weights and counterweights that were used to operate the clock between windings. They were preceded by a heavy pendulum which hung forsakenly from the mechanism, looking as though it had not been moved in years. As he took in the worn grandeur of the old clock, a sudden realization dawned on him that formed an icy pit in his stomach. The pendulum, which set the pace of the mechanism, had not, in fact, been moved, yet he had just heard the subtle tick of its pass less than a moment before.
    “Wait a minute,” he muttered to himself, if only to quell the oppressive silence that seemed to press in on him with a claustrophobic effect, “how can this clock be working if the pendulum isn’t swaying to keep the time?”
    His gaze shifted from the motionless pendulum to the cyclopean dial, raising his chamberstick for a better view. His breath caught in his throat as his suspicions were confirmed. The grandfather clock was a chain driven mechanism operated by winding its weighted gears with a crank or a chuck key, only there was no key to be found. It was clear that he had been hearing this clock’s chimes at random intervals, just as he had heard the shift of its gears, yet for all purposes, the clock had not been disturbed since the last owners left the manor house. Paul shrank away from the clock as the shadows attained a menace that he had not felt since his discovery of the mounted goat in the den. He felt as though alien eyes were watching his every move from the lingering darkness beyond the safety of the candlelight. As he strained to see through the inky shades of twilit darkness, he longed for the comfort of the fire that still burned in the drawing room. Continuing to cast a wary glance about the obscurely lit great room, Paul carefully made his way back to the hallway. As he moved, it seemed to him that the wind laughed mockingly at him as it swept through the trees outside.

Part 3

Sanctuary in the Shadows

     Paul was relieved to be back in the warm, comforting glow of the fireplace. The encounter with the grandfather clock had left him shaken and the low, yet unwavering light of the coal bed offered a small measure of consolation. He placed some broken planks on the glowing embers, hoping that it wouldn’t take much to build the blaze back up again. To his delight, it only took a moment for the cinders to accept his offering as the flames began to consume the dry wood. Soon the fire once more pushed back the wayward shadows as it filled the drawing room with light and warmth. His heart sank as he gazed upon the dwindling pile of planks, knowing, full well, that if he didn’t find more wood, he would soon be sitting in the cold, lifeless darkness that had encroached upon this once beautiful house. Paul generously tossed another couple of planks onto the fire for good measure, and then sat back pondering where he might be able to find enough wood to carry him through the night. In the distance, the grandfather clock tolled; its bells echoed through the house, forcing a shudder of revulsion through Paul’s body as he was reminded of its foreboding presence. The drawing room suddenly seemed to grow colder, despite the fire that burned only a few feet away. He utterly hated having taken the dare that had gotten him into this mess. He stared at the flickering coals beneath the flames, longing for the coming of daylight so that he could go home and be done with this wretched place. As it was, he had only been there for roughly more than a couple of hours at the most. Paul added another plank to the flames and gave himself a few moments to allow the warmth soak into his body; however, when the fire started to burn low again, he piled the remaining planks onto the embers, reluctantly took up his chamberstick, and set out to find the necessary supplies that he would need to see the night through.
    Once more the rheumatic floors of the entry hall greeted Paul as his next venture took him to the base of the long staircase whose ornamental structure rose up from behind the oaken secretary only to disappear into the murky gloom that hovered overhead, just beyond the reach of the candlelight. He gazed warily into those shadows as if trying to pierce their ethereal veil; however, even with his chamberstick raised as high as he could reach, the candlelight was much too finite to penetrate the ebony shroud, allowing whatever secrets they contained within their shadowy folds to remain cloaked in mystery. Paul’s blood ran cold as it seemed to him that the looming shadows pulsated with a life of their own. He swallowed hard at the insatiable dryness in the back of his throat as he wondered what unnamable horrors might be waiting for him within the deepened folds of that impenetrable blanket should he venture into their shadowy embrace. From the drawing room, the fire popped, startling him, tearing his attention away from the hypnotic void overhead, and reminding him of what he had set out to do. With an uneasy sigh of resignation, he pulled his gaze away from the darkness of the second floor and turned for the front door.
    He had only taken a couple of steps on the cantankerous hardwood floor when he was stopped short by a curious sound emanating from somewhere behind him. He paused, turning his head to get a bearing on its origin; however, the brief, yet sudden shift in his weight conspired against him as the floor groaned loudly. Its profound complaints echoed throughout the hollow shadows of Parsons Manor, forcing an involuntary cringe from the youth at the blatant invasion upon the utter silence that otherwise ruled this abandoned abode. Paul took a deep breath, steeling himself so that he could once more listen for the stray sound. He waited silently as the moments passed like hours, straining to hear what it was that had stopped him in the first place. In his effort to listen, he had not realized that he had been holding his breath until he felt the tell-tale burn in his chest as his lungs screamed for fresh air. He emitted a sharp gasp followed by several deep, rapid breaths as his body drank in the musty yet fresh air. Paul was just about to dismiss the sound as a figment of his imagination when the soft, faint sound of a melody came drifting aimlessly through the night air.
    The song was a lonely ballad, whose haunting tune hung in the air like an old funeral hymn. Its graceful, yet melancholy tone seemed vaguely familiar to the youth as it drew him in; lulling him toward it, like a moth to a flame. Before Paul knew what he was doing, he had abandoned his search for wood and was ascending the long staircase that would take him into the shadowy folds that loomed above.
    The eerie melody tantalized Paul’s ears as he stepped onto the upper landing, its elusive sound growing only slightly more audible with each step, yet remaining too distant to discern its apparent location. Night had gorged itself upon the second floor, leaving only murky black shadows in its wake which ebbed mercilessly at the tiny flame of the youth’s chamberstick, and cloaking anything beyond the feebly illuminated globe in obscurity. Paul strained to see though the deepening gloom, but soon gave in to the futility of his effort. He knew that the source of the melancholy ballad lay hidden somewhere in the darkness ahead, beckoning to him with its mournful tone. Once more its notes swelled to a pitch of vague familiarity, pulling at him with the lure of a siren whose lonely call lulls the unwary sailor to his doom.
    With carefully placed steps, the youth started forward, following the haunting tune… or was he being drawn in by its hypnotizing rhythm? He was no longer sure as his feet glided over the wooden floor. The creak of a loose board assaulted him, rattling his senses as its unholy screech echoed down the darkened hall. With a shudder of pure revulsion, he continued on, passing the shadowy alcoves of what he assumed was doors. Further down the hallway, the gloom gave way to a murky twilight haze that whispered of a window somewhere up ahead. Cobwebs hung in various intervals from the walls and remote corners like grim tapestries that swayed with even the slightest stir of the air. The house exhaled a ghastly sigh as a stiff gust of wind buffeted the old manor with the fury of a brewing storm, stirring the phantasmal curtains to life, and giving them the appearance of apparitions locked forever within the amorphous mists of purgatory. Something about the sudden change in the air sent a chill through his body that made him long for the comfort of the fire which now seemed so far away; though the drawing room was merely at the bottom of the stairs.
    “The fire”… he thought for a moment, blinking his eyes profusely as he cleared his head. Paul felt dazed, as though he had just awakened from a strange dream. Glancing about, the youth found that he had wandered into an open room, where dwelt the shrouded phantoms of antique furniture that had, long ago, been abandoned and left to their solitary existence among the gathering dust and age. Dreary twilight hues peered in through dust-stained window panes, illuminating the linen shrouds that had been haphazardly draped over their distorted frames in a vague attempt to keep them safe from the decadent elements that had long ago overtaken the Parson’s Estate. Paul knew that he needed to get back to his ongoing search for firewood, but found himself rather mystified by the state of disrepair that this particular room had fallen into. Without warning a blinding flash lit the room in a ghastly shade of blue that revealed everything all at once and then left him once more standing in the impenetrable gloom, with only his chamberstick and the meager twilight to push back the darkness. Had Paul ventured forth and dared to peer out one of the second story windows, he might have seen the distant lights of Rockhaven dotting the landscape like so many stars, attempting futilely to light their place in the ebon sea. He was, however, distracted as a random gust of wind blew through the darkened halls, snuffing out his candle, and plunging the youth into utter darkness.
    Petrified by the sudden turn of events that had put him in such a dire position, Paul nervously fumbled with his chamberstick for what seemed like an eternity as he tried to separate the lamp’s vital components that would allow him to re-light the candle or change it out for a fresh one if necessary. His blood chilled over as the toll of the old grandfather clock pealed through the hollow shadows of the old manor, reminding him yet again that he had entered a place where he should have never been. He winced as a sharp pain shot through his fingertips, forcing him to involuntarily jerk his hand back as his searching fingers found the hot glass surface of the chimney, nearly knocking the chamberstick from his grasp in the process. Paul rubbed his tender fingertips together checking for any injury that the unwavering cloak of night would not allow him to see. Though he was thankful that it was nothing serious, he cursed himself inwardly for not having used his lantern for this particular trek. He berated himself for a number of things in that moment- for allowing himself to be side-tracked from his search for the much needed firewood, for having come to this dreadful house where the shadows seemed to roam of their own free will, where clocks that shouldn’t work toll the hour with hollow notes of intoned madness, and melancholy ballads play into the night serenading only those unfortunate enough to be within the sound of their haunting melodies. He even chided himself for getting himself into this god-forsaken mess when he could have been at home with his family, safe, warm, and happy; not thinking about haunted mansions, unruly dares, and dreadful things that lurk in the shadows just beyond sight.
    Once more the soft, sad melody drifted hauntingly down the lonely, shadow consumed corridors of the upper floor, echoing from somewhere behind him. The mournful ballad beckoned to him, it seemed, enticing him, and unnerving him all at once as he kneeled upon the oaken floor of the sitting room. His chamberstick lay nearly dismantled on the floor as Paul struggled blindly to take the lamp apart with only the random flash of lightning from the gathering storm to reveal what was before him. He reached into his pocket and produced one of the candles that he had pilfered from the secretary at the base of the stairs and searched his other pockets to find the box of matches. After what seemed like hours alone in the unyielding cloak of night, Paul managed to light the candle, its tiny yellow flame struggling defiantly to beat back the shadowy folds that had enfolded him so abruptly. He dribbled a bit of hot wax onto the hardwood floor, making a place for him to set the candle while he worked on the chamberstick.
    There was just enough light for the youth to see what he was doing, so Paul worked quickly and had the lamp dismantled, the candle switched out and was back on his feet within moments. Though the dim glow of his chamberstick did little to push back the oppressive shadows that had devoured the second floor, its golden light and the meager illumination that came with it brought a small measure of relief to the teen as he found himself once more skulking back down the upstairs hall in search of the ever elusive song that had lured him into this sanctuary of shadows. Lightning flashed outside, briefly illuminating his area in somber shades of blue that were gone as quickly as they came. The melody led him to a dust-stained oil treated door near the top of the stairs, where he could hear the mournful melody telling the story of a lost love whose broken heart took them to their grave, filtering through the wooden portal. It soon dawned on him why the song was familiar to him as he stood there listening to the notes as they passed through the door. He had heard some of the town’s men and women sing it when their families gathered in the living room or the parlor on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
    Paul reached up, thinking only to knock on the door, but found his hand wrapping around and turning the enameled surface of the doorknob instead. The door groaned open with rheumatic hinges that probably hadn’t been oiled since the last owners lived here, announcing his arrival to anyone who might be inside. The melancholy ballad spilled out of the door and into the night, resonating through the empty halls of Parson’s Manor, and crooning to the somber shadows that forever haunted the old mansion’s abandoned passages.
    “Hello,” Paul inquired as he peered into the room through the small opening, “is anyone there?” He thought he heard someone or something move in the shadowy confines of the room, but when he pushed open the door; the chamber was empty save for a great French Provincial canopy bed that brooded like a lavish cage of wood and linen, between the windows of the far wall. The room, into which the youth found himself gaping, was large and lofty, leaving him a bit awestruck as he peered into its depths. The twilight hues that filtered in through the dirty, plate glass windows did nothing to brighten the somber shadows of the long forgotten room. Lightning lit up the night sky, illuminating the room in ominous shades of pale blue, allowing Paul a vague view of the magnificent room before him. He wandered in, taking in the scene bit by bit as he went. From the various wall sconces that dotted the walls and the ornately crafted fireplace, to the old gramophone that lingered in an all but forgotten corner, the youth was enraptured by the simple elegance of the room despite the years of neglect that had taken its toll upon the place. Dust cloaked the floor and general furnishings in a fine layer, while cobwebs hung from the walls where they met the ceiling and extended to the canopy of the bed like ethereal veils that swayed in the still air like phantoms dancing in the night, and the fusty scent of age and decay lingered in the air like the smell of a tomb which had long been sealed away from the light of day. An itchy dryness nagged at the back of the boy’s throat, threatening to gag him if he didn’t sate its irritating persistence.
    Even with the room’s current state of disarray, there was a sense of welcoming that appealed to Paul as he sauntered along. His chamberstick revealed the tell-tale ruins of a couple of wooden crates, similar to the ones that he had used to start the fire in the drawing room, heaped in a shadowy corner as he made his way across the room. He passed a vanity, that had been haphazardly wrapped in linen as though it were being fitted for a burial shroud rather than shielded from the musty elements of age, and eyed a number of well placed wall sconces that despite the despite the mansion’s long period of abandonment, were still fitted with half used candles. If lit, he pondered as he ambled toward the old gramophone, they would help beat back this perpetual shroud of gloom and make passing this black, stormy night more bearable.
     Lightning lit up the room with its transient glow as he neared a window, stretching his shadow painfully across the floor and against the distant wall, before the insatiable shadows of the house squelched its luminescence once more. Blinking away the images of the master bedroom that had been burned into his eyes, Paul was thrust back into the twilit world of dim, dusky light, and the bleary images of his surroundings, illuminated only when the mere light of his candle fell upon them.
    As the youth passed the nearest window, he peered out through the dust-stained glass to see the shadowy silhouette of the outlying forest as it stretched ever outward until it met the dismal violet of the distant horizon. Lightning streaked the sky with forked tongues like a deadly asp searching out its prey, as it paid homage to the gathering storm. Stiff winds buffeted the resilient hardwoods with the violent ferocity of an angry giant, as though it would uproot the mighty timber for just daring to oppose its unabashed wrath. Paul longed for home, the comfort and safety of his bed, and his family with whom he had weathered many such storms, knowing that when the night was done, the harsh weather would be gone.
    He turned from the window, sparing only one more, quick glance to the world outside, and walked over to the gramophone. A cylindrical tube was mounted in place with the needle resting gently upon its grooved surface. As the youth neared the old record player, he stumbled, jarring its stand. At once the cylinder began to turn, immersing Paul in the haunting rhythm of the melancholy ballad that had been so essential in luring him into the embrace of the shadows that frequented the upper floors of Parsons Manor. It was a pleasant reprieve for him to hear the gramophone playing due to his own inept action, unlike the grandfather clock which seemed to toll its bells for no explicable reason, save for its own vile whim. As if reading his thoughts, the hollow tone of clock chimes echoed through empty halls of the house, taunting the youth from its place among the shadows of the great room. Paul shuddered as an icy chill ran down his spine; he hated the peal of that cyclopean sentinel whose random chimes stole the silence with a sense of wrongness that curdled his very being. He reached out; sweeping the cobwebs and dust from the flower shaped horn and crank, and then gave the handle a few turns. Soon the echo of the lonely, melancholy ballad resonated among the abandoned halls of Parsons Manor, banishing the unquiet silence that had been so commonplace among this sanctuary of shadows, and making it a little easier to accept the twilit veil that had long since cloaked the manse’s once well groomed passages.
     Paul surveyed the room around him- the king-sized canopy bed, the wall sconces with candles that longed to be used, the old gramophone and its sorrowful melody that echoed from its flower-like horn, and the ornately carved fireplace- with a sense of comfort that he had not felt since entering this abandoned abode. “With a little light and some music to pass the time,” thought aloud, if only to hear himself his own voice on the matter, “this is where I could spend most of the night.” With his decision made, he set to work preparing his surroundings for his stay.
    After what seemed like an eternity lost in the oppressive shroud of night, Paul basked in the comforting glow of the wall lamps. To his favor, each of the sconces contained a side-pocket where one or two spare candles were stored, reassuring him that he had enough light to last until morning. Candlelight danced and played among silky, dust covered gossamer as the thick cobwebs moved and swayed from where they draped among the ceiling and walls, casting surreal shadow plays upon their surroundings. Outside, lightning lit up the night, occasionally offering to add its solemn blue highlights to the master chamber as Paul gathered kindling for the fire. The youth prepared the fireplace for use much like he did in the drawing room, using the cinder broom to sweep away dust and cobwebs before stacking the kindling into place. The ebb and flow of the perpetual updraft from the chimney gave him some comfort in the knowledge that he didn’t have to open the flue before starting his new fire. Once he had placed the kindling into the hearth, he pulled out his matches and prepared to light the second fire of the night; however, just as he was about to strike the wooden match, he was interrupted by the echo of someone rapping at the front door. Paul stopped and looked toward the door to the master bedroom, wondering who would be knocking at the door of this abandoned manor, especially at this time of night. Again the knock echoed up the stairs, summoning him to answer its call. As he descended the long staircase, he heard the shuffle of someone or something on the porch, confirming that someone was outside. He figured that one of the townsfolk had seen the light from the master bedroom and had come to see who was staying in the old mansion.
    The entry floor greeted him with a groan of protest as he stepped once more onto its fickle surface. The grumbles and complaints seemed to follow his every step as he walked to the front door. Upon opening the heavy wooden door, he was met with an eerie silence save for the vile hiss of wind through the barren trees. He was both unnerved and relieved to find that, despite the knocks that he had heard and the movement of someone on the front porch, there was no one at the door, save for the grisly old welcome mat that had so violated his extremities earlier that evening. He stepped out, careful to avoid the decrepit old mat, as he glanced around to see if anyone was around. Both alarmed and annoyed at the same time, the thought crossed his mind that Charlie and the Jenkins Brothers might be toying with him, hoping to scare him into leaving so that they could laugh and poke fun at him when they saw him.
    Something shuffled just out of sight amidst the shadowy recesses where the porch met the front parlor; however, Paul didn’t notice that he wasn’t entirely alone on the veranda, for his eyes were fixed on the single most important component that he needed to see the night through. Stacked indiscriminately against the railing near the drawing room was a finely stocked, if well aged, stack of firewood. Lightning brightened the night in a searing flash, burning away the shadows and revealing all secrets hidden within the ebony folds of night. Had Paul looked toward the opposite side of the porch at that moment, his nerves would have become water, and he would have forgotten about the wood, the fire, and even the dare that had put him in such a dire position. Rather, he was beginning to gather what he needed to stock both the drawing room and the master bedroom for the night. Thunder rumbled as the winds picked up with the steady incursion of the storm, letting him know that he didn’t have long to get the wood inside before the whole was drenched with the imminent torrent that would arrive at any minute.
    Paul was met by the rheumatic complaints of the entry hall as he worked quickly to carry firewood to both the drawing room and the master’s chambers. A steady rain had begun to blow in on the veranda, as he fumbled with the final load, letting him know that he had found the necessary supplies none too soon. He took the armful of wood into the drawing room, where he placed it by the hearth so that he could tend to the low burning coals that had just a little while earlier had been a blazing fire full of warm bright flames. Once he had stoked the raw embers back up to a steady blaze, he packed the fireplace with enough firewood to last for several hours, and then placed the bi-fold cinder gates along its perimeter to contain the flames in his absence. The warmth of the fire radiated out, caressing his back gently as he gathered his things and prepared to move his camp up to the master bedroom.
    The light from the upstairs room pulsated menacingly as it cast its dismal glow through the churning shadows of the second floor, with only the melancholy music of the old gramophone to help shake off the chill that pervaded the manor’s dreary upper floors. In many ways, Paul could not believe that he was about to enter that sinister realm of night of his own free will, but with a deep, heavy laden breath, he began to ascend the long stair gradually succumbing to the cold, ethereal embrace of the ever lurking shadows above.
    It didn’t take long before Paul had the fire burning in the master bedroom. As the flame grew large enough to sustain itself, he added a few small logs to the greedy blaze, which accepted his offering with a satisfied crackle as its tongues licked at the dry fuel. Paul basked in the fire’s warm embrace as it drove the moist chill from the air. Thunder rumbled as rain pelted the windows in leaded sheets, announcing that the storm had arrived. Getting up only long enough to crank the old gramophone, he retired before the steadily burning blaze, adding a log or two when it was needed, and listening as the haunting melody as it resonated throughout his newly found safe haven

Part 4

The Haunting of Parsons Manor

     The storm raged on outside, relentlessly battering the walls of the mansion with its raw unchecked fury- lightning lit up the night in violent bursts, thunder bellowed with cacophonous claps that shook the very walls of the manor as if to rattle the once proud edifice to the ground; howling winds buffeted the derelict old structure, wailing and moaning like a banshee robbed of her glory, and a torrential rain assaulted the window panes as if they would shatter the feeble plate glass that held nature’s fury at bay, allowing the storm to enter the very house itself with all of its destructive force.
    Paul watched the spectacle from the comfort and safety of the well lit master bedroom, glad that he did not have to face this dark, dreary night in the eternal shroud of darkness that pervaded the rest of this forlorn manor. He left the window and resettled by the fire, taking comfort in the radiant warmth that it brought to this otherwise cold, dank setting. The melancholy hymn resonated from the gramophone, keeping the oppressive silence at bay, yet allowing the somber atmosphere to remain intimately close, while it aided in the passing of the time. As the youth became more comfortable with his surroundings, it soon dawned on him that he hadn’t eaten since much earlier in the day. He put a couple of logs onto the fire to keep its blaze burning bright, and then got up to fetch his backpack.
    After a moment of fumbling through his supplies, Paul withdrew a smaller sack containing two wrapped mason jars and a loaf of bread. He tore off a chunk of bread and began eating it to stave off his hunger until he could heat the jar the rest of his meal by the fire. The youth removed the wrapping from the first jar, producing a container of freshly brewed tea, which he immediately opened and took several gulps from. The dark amber liquid left a bitter taste on his tongue as it washed down the smaller bits of bread that clung to his parched mouth, threatening to strangle him if he didn’t moisten his tongue soon. He then removed the second jar containing his mother’s beef stew and sat it as close to the fire as he could without burning himself to let get warm.
    It didn’t take long for the stew to get warm enough for him to eat. He had to turn the jar occasionally to ensure that it was getting warm evenly, but when it was ready, he used an old shirt to remove the jar from the heat and loosen the old zinc lid so he could eat. He fished around in his supplies until he found the spoon that he had packed and then sat back to enjoy a hot meal. Outside, lightning flashed with a cacophonous clap of thunder that shook Parsons’ Manor to its very foundations. Leaden sheets of torrential rain battered the widows even harder than before obscuring any possible view beyond its pummeled panes. Paul breathed a sigh of relief, thankful that he had found the firewood when he did; else he may have been forced to sit the night through in the damp, cold darkness that crept into this manor, shrouding it in perpetual gloom.
    As he took in the comforts of the master’s chamber from his camp, on the floor near the fireplace, he leisurely consumed the meal that he had brought with him. Paul didn’t realize how famished he was until he took the first bite of the stew. It felt good to have the piping hot mixture of savory broth, meat, and vegetables warming him from the inside, lifting his spirits, and pushing away the hunger that he did not realize was affecting him in this cold, clammy dwelling. Downstairs, the old grandfather clock tolled, its hollow tone reverberating throughout the shadow ridden halls, reminding him that he was still in the proximity of that creepy timepiece that worked, it seemed, of its own free will. Just hearing that vile tone sent an involuntary shudder coursing through his body, despite the warmth of his new safe haven, as if to tell him that he was still by himself, in a place where no one should ever have been. He grabbed a couple of logs, more out of reflex than of necessity and tossed them onto the fire, sending a shower of sparks spiraling up the flue, to knock the edge off of the uncanny chill that seemed to have crept into the room. Lightning streaked the sky with a loud burst of thunder that sounded like a cannon had been fired off in the nearby woods, rattling the windows in their panes, and rumbling off through the night as it echoed off of the distant mountains.
    Paul spooned frustratingly at the final morsel which seemed to evade his every effort to retrieve it from the bottom of the jar. After a moment of grumbling and coaxing, he managed to coerce the last bite onto his spoon. Lightning lit up the night sky in a brief, yet ominous, highlight of blue, setting the windows aglow, if only for a second. From the corner of his eye, Paul spied the face of someone leering malevolently at him from the window by the bed. His pulse quickened as he jerked around to see who was there. There was a loud clatter as his jar and spoon fell to the floor, its clamor echoing through the all but empty room. As his eyes focused on the window, lightning flashed, revealing only an empty rain battered windowpane. He was both relieved and unnerved by the absence of whatever he had seen, for he was sure that someone was there. He sat watching, waiting for whoever or whatever had been there to make another appearance, but as nothing happened, a starting realization dawned on him, adding a sense of practicality to the situation. Paul realized that he was on the second floor of the mansion, and the window itself was several dozen feet above the ground. Had he been in the drawing room below, then it might have been possible for someone to be staring in through the window, if only to see who would dare to occupy this ramshackle dwelling. As it was, only someone with a ladder or some other means of scaling the side of the house could peer in through the bleak weather-stained portal. Paul got up and hesitantly stole toward the window to peer out, when lightning illuminated the grim rain-washed portal revealing a plausible solution- for as the sky lit up, he saw his reflection in a manner that was more noticeable during the brief seconds of illumination than at any other time. Paul allowed himself a sigh of relief as he accepted the possibility that he had been startled by his own reflection yet again even though a cold, prickling feeling in his spine and an uneasy sinking in the pit of his stomach told him that he wasn’t entirely convinced. The room had grown quiet, he’d noticed, deliberately turning his attention away from the window and any thoughts of what might or might not have been there just seconds ago. Using the fact that he was already on his feet as a welcome excuse; Paul sauntered over to the gramophone and gave it a few cranks to start the music again. Once more the soft sad melody of the lonely ballad filled the silence of the room with its solemn timbre. Satisfied to have the haunting tune to help break the almost tangible silence that had settled over the place, the youth returned to the fireplace and retrieved his eating utensils, putting them away so that he would not forget them come morning.
    Time ticked away slowly, with only the occasional soul-wrenching toll of the old grandfather clock to steal the tranquility from the chamber. The slow, soft music helped to sooth Paul’s nerves, acting almost like a morose lullaby as it played on into the night. Between the warmth of the fire, and the fresh hot meal that he had consumed, the youth soon felt his eyelids growing heavy. He stretched, feeling the warmth soak into his weary limbs, and then tossing a couple of logs into the hearth for good measure, leaned back onto his bedroll. As he lay, basking in the heat of the glowing fire, his mind began to drift over the events that had taken place this evening- his departure from the home of the Jenkins’ Brothers- the long lonesome walk down Old Briar Run- the raspy cry of the solitary raven that seemed to guide his journey as it flew past him along the way- his arrival at the derelict old manor- the chilling encounter with the mounted goat’s head in the den- and the inexplicable tolling of the cyclopean old grandfather clock whose very tone resonated with the foreboding reminder of ominous tidings. As if to herald his thoughts, the clock tolled, echoing through the darkened halls of Parsons’ Manor, causing the youth to shudder involuntarily as its unearthly peal cut through the air, even above the ballad that still played on the record player. Once the spine-tingling din of the clock had passed, fading into the night, Paul relaxed as the heat of the blazing fire washed over his weary form. The music soon stopped; allowing silence to creep back into the old mansion, save for the random pop and crack of the fire only a few feet away or the steady rumble of thunder outside. As Paul lay, bathing in the radiant heat of the fire, the sounds gradually grew more and more distant until they were merely a fading memory.
    …Once more Paul wandered through the open woods of Rockhaven, autumn leaves shifting with each step in chorus of hushed whispers. It wasn’t raining, and hadn’t appeared to have even sprinkled in more than a week. The tall sentinels of ancient timber surrounding him were ablaze in autumn splendor; an appearance enhanced by the chill breeze that blew through the glade, carrying with it the icy touch of the coming winter. Stray leaves that had been caught up in the passing waft tossed and swirled like restless spirits in the sunless gray sky. From what he could tell, he was alone in the dell, save for a distant raven, whose raspy voice split the silence on occasion. A glum, low burning, and cheerless fire spit and sputtered in a crude, makeshift pit before him, its flames desperately clinging to life as it fed on the gnarled limbs of some dead snag that had long ago succumbed to the elements and passed its fate on to the gasping flames. Something moved in the nearby brush; the heavy rustling like a person tromping through the underbrush. Amidst the crackling limbs and leaves, Paul could hear hushed, hoarse whispers that mocked him profoundly with the eerie impish laughter of children that moved around to remote and random places, always just out of sight as if to keep him guessing their apparent location. Leaden-hued clouds blotted out the sky beyond the rusted canopy of boughs that reached out at various angles as if to support the very weight of the heavens above. The cool evening breeze, which seemed to ebb and flow at whim, grew into a gusty wind that came and went with the sharp hissing breath of some vile beast that had been awakened from its ancient slumber. The air became cold and clammy as the chill of night began to settle on the land, its pestilent vapors encroaching upon the teen, and diminishing what little warmth his tiny fire had to offer…
    Paul awoke with a shudder as the damp chill of the air settled upon his body. The fire had burned low, leaving only angry red coals in its place, along with the occasional tongue of bluish flame that licked the air in search of something to feed its unquenchable hunger. Without its roaring blaze to keep the stormy night at bay, the moist, cool air had encroached upon the master bedroom, leeching the warmth from all within reach of its clammy tendrils, including the youth himself. Lightning flickered outside, lighting up the night in monochromatic shades of blue that highlighted the room in spectral splendor before fading back into the darkness, and thunder growled like the awakening of some ancient unearthly beast as it shook the walls and rattled the windows, announcing the storm’s continued and menacing presence. Wind and rain howled in an unholy torrent as the elements threw themselves against the walls of Parsons’ Manor, time and time again, as if to wear through the structure by sheer force of will. This was only trumped by the ghastly peal of the cyclopean sentinel downstairs as it resonated through the forlorn corridors of the mansion, its disturbingly hollow notes robbing the peace as it stole into the room.
    Paul quivered; a reaction that had little or nothing to do with the damp chill that slunk into the room whilst he slept. Rousing, he stretched against the cold and lethargic stiffness that had settled upon his prone form, and then set to gathering enough kindling to build the fire back up. The coals were stubborn at first; however, they soon accepted the tiny bits of wood that had been placed among their bed with a pleasant crackle. Within a moment or two, Paul had worked the fire back up to a steady blaze that once more pushed back the dank chill of the night.
    He had turned to fetch a few more logs to place into the growing flame, when he was stopped short by the groan of something heavy moving at the base of the stairs. Thunder rolled across the land in an ominous roar that drown out the silence and handicapped his ability to listen to what he might have heard; if only for a few seconds. While he sat with a log in his hand, poised to be placed in the fiery hearth, he strained to hear whatever had made the grumpy entry floor protest so profoundly. After a moment, he reached out and placed the log onto the fire, taking much needed care to not make any incriminating sounds. His head snapped toward the door of the master bedroom as he heard a loud thump, followed by the sound of something heavy being dragged along, upsetting the cantankerous floor at the bottom of the stairs. The hair stood up along the back of Paul’s neck, sending a tingle of icy cold fingers down the back of his spine. He was supposed to be alone in the old house. His pulse quickened, as he heard the heavy thump and drag reached the stairs. His heart pounded even more as he realized that the bedroom door was standing open several inches, even though he could have sworn that he had closed it when he had settled in earlier. Part of the youth wanted nothing more than to jump up and shut the door to keep out whoever or whatever was climbing the stairs, but he knew that if he did, they would see that he was there and come after him.
    The frightened teen’s thoughts were interrupted as the thud and dragging sound ascended the stairs, slowly as if someone were pulling a body up the long staircase. With each heavy step, the sound grew closer, echoing through the hollow shadows of the empty hall. Paul’s mind raced about what he should do; he looked to the bed and to various closets trying to think about where he might hide to keep from being found, only to have the thought’s driven from his mind by the hellish peal of the grandfather clock resonating through the foreboding gloom of the abandoned old manor. He felt his body wanting to curl up and deny him any control of movement as the toll was followed by the sound of the approaching doom that made its way up the stairs.
    He sat fearfully watching the door, knowing that whatever or whoever was climbing the stairs would be there at any moment when something shuffled nearby. The thump and heavy dragging had all but reached the upper landing, but that was now only a mere part of his main concern, for Paul realized to his ultimate dismay, that he was not alone in the room. As if to confirm his ill-omened tidings, the gramophone, which had been so instrumental in pushing back the somber atmosphere of the dark, stormy evening in this sanctuary of shadows, wound itself and began playing the eerie, haunting melody without the help of anyone’s touch. It all began to sink in to Paul as he felt his nerves turn to water- the old gramophone and its melancholy ballad had lured him to this room, away from the safety of the drawing room which was so close to the front door and his only means of escape. He had been lulled into thinking that he was safe- to dropping his guard against the signs that had been so prevalent had he only listened to his instinct rather than reason, and now, like a fly which had wandered too far into the widow’s web, only to find that its presumed safety was the true snare of the trap, and escape wasn’t as easy as once believed.
    Paul surveyed the room with a wary eye, now seeing danger and deception where he, only a short while ago, found solace. As if to garner the mood which had overtaken his sensibilities, lightning crashed outside, illuminating the night with concussive force that shook the house to its very foundations. Wincing against the thunder that rattled the windowpanes, the youth’s eyes roved over the common effects of the room- the linen shrouded vanity that had not seen the light of day in more than a decade- the old gramophone that now played with a horrifying mind of its own- and the ornately carved canopy bed which had not seen use since its owners had departed so many years ago, with an uneasiness that bordered panic, for Paul new that he was anything but alone at that moment. As he took in the finer details of the room, he realized that he was, once more, being watched from the window. He glanced at the portal, turning only his eyes to catch a glimpse of whoever or whatever was there; however, when he saw it, he just as quickly wished that he hadn’t, for glowering at him from the windowpane was the mummified face of a corpse. Sunken eyes full of hatred and malice bore straight through his soul, peeling away at the layers of Paul’s reason, and baring his very being for the vile thing to see. Before he realized what he had done, he turned to look fully at the deathly visage that glared at him so violently from the rain battered portal. The skin had dried, growing taut and leather-like with emaciated cheeks that had shriveled around the bones, drawing the thin cracked lips back, exposing dried teeth and gums in a frightful mockery of a wicked grin. Lightning flashed beyond the thing, turning its leering grin into a dreadful silhouette whose shadow chilled his blood as it fell upon him.
    Terrified beyond words, the youth could not tear his eyes from the glowering face that stared through his very core from the twilit window. Even as he heard the slow approach of the thump and dragging of whatever horror lurked near the top of the stairs, his fear of the face in the window kept him frozen, unable to move from the place where he sat. Every part of him wanted to run; wanted to scream; wanted to deny what was there, staring at him with such malevolence that he could feel his skin crawl. He knew without question that the ghastly visage belonged to none other than Jonathan Parsons. The one name, associated with this accursed estate that put an icy tinge of fear into the hearts of even the bravest of men in the town of Rockhaven. It was just as the stories had said, even the ones told by Charlie Baker and the Jenkins Brothers- he had taken them up on the dare, even talked his way into it, and now here he stood; staring at the disembodied head of Jonathan Parsons, absolutely paralyzed with fear. The withered, cracked lips of the mummified head somehow managed to contort themselves into a malevolent smile that drew them back even further upon the gums making the grisly visage even worse. Patches of dark, mud caked hair dotted the weathered cranium in sparse areas and fell in wet clumps as the zombie-like countenance nodded, propelling itself from the windowpane and rolling along the old wooden floor to land at Paul’s feet. The youth’s eyes followed the unearthly corpse’s movements, though he himself was too petrified to do anything else.
    Without warning, the mummy-like head bounded up; its dirty teeth sinking into the soft yielding flesh of Paul’s left leg. The sudden explosion of pain that shot up the accosted limb snapped the youth out of his terror induced shock. Screaming both in horror and in pain, Paul began thrashing his leg about in an attempt to dislodge the corpse head from his throbbing limb. During the desperate frenzy, Jonathan’s head was tossed from his leg, taking a piece of his calf with him. Paul cried out both in horror and in pain, as he grabbed his injured limb. Warm red liquid coated his hand as he tried to staunch the bleeding, while gaping wide-eyed at the withered cranium that turned and sneered at him with a bloodstained grin. Paul fought to scramble to his feet, despite the burning ire in his leg, but just as he was about to make any headway, the mummified head of Jonathan Parsons leapt propelled itself at him once more. Its shriveled jaws snapped, teeth clacking, as it moved in for another bite of the young man’s soft flesh.
     Paul wasn’t sure how he did it, but he managed to evade the snapping skull’s advance. As it sailed past him, the youth looked around for a weapon that he could use to fend off his ghastly attacker. A sickening wave of pain blazed through his leg, threatening to overwhelm him and send him crashing to the floor. Beyond the door, whatever was climbing the stairs reached the upper landing dragging its heavy burden along with it. The zombie-like head turned and bounded up at Paul’s face, catching the terrified youth off-guard. All he could do, in his defense, was to throw his arms up in an attempt to deflect the thing’s attack. Paul realized his error when the snapping jaws of Jonathan Parsons dug into his forearm. White hot pain seared through his left arm driving the youth mad with terror as he screamed, tearing and pulling at the shriveled head with his good arm. Jonathan’s teeth dug in, chewing and thrashing as it fought to retain the flesh that it held in its withered jaws.
    Paul’s mind was wild with terror as he tried to rid his arm of the corpse’s head. Paul’s fingers scraped and dug at the dead leathery flesh until he managed to dislodge the mummified cranium. A searing explosion of pain coursed through his arm as the stained, bloody mouth took a chunk of his arm with it, leaving an angry gaping wound where it had been. A stream of red ran down Paul’s left arm, dripping onto the floor, a mark that would forever stain the hardwood planks. He felt the pulse racing through his arm and leg- felt the crippling throb that grew in his injured limbs that swelled to a fever pitch, threatening to steal his control and leave him helpless before the cruel corpse-thing- he even felt the warm sticky liquid that oozed steadily from each bite, but he was too terrified to care about anything other than getting away from the undead corpse that defied all logic and sensibilities that once kept his world grounded. The head of Jonathan Parsons lolled around and with a wicked sneer, lunged at him. It danced among his feet snapping and biting at anything that came within range. Paul jerked and thrashed, taking several nips before the thing managed to latch into his other leg, and begin whipping about like a rabid dog.
    Paul fell to the floor with a wail of stark terror, his hand searching for anything that he could use to rid his leg of its violent assailant. Without thinking about what he was grabbing, the young man’s fingers closed around the first thing that he encountered. A shower of sparks swarmed up the chimney as he pulled a log out of the fireplace and began swinging it at the zombie-like face that was mauling his leg. Hot coals singed Paul’s hands beyond recognition, but the youth was too terrified to notice as he frantically beat the dead, bloody head until it was loosed from his leg, leaving only a chunk of torn skin and muscle in its wake. In a desperate attempt to get away, Paul swung the searing hot log against the side of the long dead skull, knocking it across the master bedroom. He quickly discarded the flaming brand, putting it back into the fireplace whence he grabbed it and began scrambling for the door of the chamber. He didn’t have time to examine his ruined hands as he staggered to his feet and stumbled toward his only way out. He tore open the bedroom door, leaving a blackened-bloody handprint in his wake, ready to tear down the stairs; however, he was staggered back as his eyes fell upon the mummified, half-decayed trunk of a body pulled along by a pair of dirty, spindly, skeletal arms ending in withered, bony, claw-like hands.
    He held out his charred and bloody hands in denial as he beheld the grisly spectacle before him. Thunder clapped outside as though heralding the arrival of this grim spectacle that seemed to sense his every move. The room swirled as Paul reeled against the door face, the sheer horror of his circumstances overwhelming is very being. The tell-tale clicking of snapping teeth drew his attention from the creeping torso to the mummified skull of Jonathan Parsons which had started toward him once more. Paul cringed as the crawling body reached up for him with a gnarled bony claw. Torn between the disembodied head and the decayed remains of a torso that groped the air for him, Paul stumbled back, and then threw himself into a frantic leap hoping to make it to the stairs. His hopes were dashed as he felt the raking burn of bony fingers tearing at and into the flesh of his leg. He cried out as the sharp unbearable pain seared through his lower limbs, taking his mind away from what he was doing long enough for him to miss his landing. In his moment of pain and confusion, Paul didn’t feel himself falling, nor did he feel the floor rush up to meet him in a crash that bounced his head, hard, off of the floor. A brilliant flash exploded through his eyes in time with the concussive force that blurred his senses and stole his vision if only for a vital second. The white flash soon dissipated, leaving a myriad of star-like blotches barring his full vision. Something warm ran down his forehead, stinging as it dripped into his eye- a hot coppery taste penetrated his lips and coated his tongue as a steady stream of blood poured from his busted nose, yet all Paul could think about was tearing his leg away from the mummified corpse’s vile clutches before Jonathan’s snapping skull got to him.
Thunder roared as the storm bared its fury, shaking the walls of the house and adding to the dizzying blur that had clouded Paul’s mind. The ghastly peal of the grandfather clock rang out from the great room, adding to the cacophony of the distress that weighed upon the moment. As if to drive him further from his rationale, the gramophone played that mournful ballad, louder than ever, making the his head ring with a dissension that made it difficult to retain his bearings. With a desperate tug, he wrenched his leg free of the deathly claws that held him so, their bony fingertips tearing bloody grooves down his leg as he pulled himself free. He stumbled clumsily down the long staircase fighting the urge to give in to the merciless gravity that threatened to pull him to the base of the stairs against his will.
    The crabby floor of the foyer groaned and complained as vertigo overtook the injured youth and brought him plummeting down the last part of the stairs. Dazed from both the fall and the grievous wounds that he had received in the last few moments, Paul struggled to push himself up from the floor; however, to his distress, the room spun uncontrollably around him, stealing his equilibrium, and dropping him back to the floor with a groan. From behind, he heard the distinctive dragging and of Jonathan Parsons’ body, as the dreaded cadaver made its way to the edge of the upper landing. Fear of the approaching horror sent an icy chill through Paul’s prone form, forcing him back to his feet with an uncomfortable grunt. With a desperate lunge, he raced toward the front door as fast as his injured legs and blurred vision would allow. Cracked and bloody fingers groped frantically at the lion-headed doorknob, turning and twisting until the heavy wooden portal groaned open. He was ready to get out of that damnable mansion where clocks chimed of their own will- vile goat’s heads ruled the den with the malcontent of a fiend- where gramophones played haunting ballads that lure unwary victims into their diabolical melodic clutches- where shadows ruled and fed upon the mundane, twisting it and turning it into a hellish fiend that dogged guests with every breath and every step- and where the zombified remains of a demented killer roam the halls in search of their severed brethren, bringing harm to anyone or anything in their path. Paul staggered back as he was met by a pair of gaunt, decayed pair of disembodied legs, tapping its feet at the threshold of the front door. To his horror, they began stiffly walking toward him, step by step, backing the terrified young man into the foyer, where the grumpy floor mocked his every movement. Something snagged Paul’s foot, tripping the injured youth and sent him sprawling backward to the floor. He flailed desperately at the empty air as he fell, only to feel the wind blasted from his chest as he landed hard on the old hardwood floor. Stunned, Paul was unable to move as he lay there, gasping for the breath that had been stolen from him by the impact of his fall. His heart sank as he heard the horrid clack of Jonathan Parsons’ teeth approaching, as the decrepit head tumbled down the stairs followed immediately by the heavy, clumsy, clamor of the cadaverous torso. Paul hated the sinking dread that washed over him as the nightmare before him continued to get worse with every turn of events. He liked it even less when the dismantled corpse began ambling toward him with a pace that insinuated its malign and sadistic sense of anticipation.
    Paul struggled to get his limbs to respond against the waves of pain that wracked his body from the abuse that he had received over the last few moments. Striving against the nauseating agony that protested and resisted his every effort, Paul managed to scramble, crab-like into the dimly lit drawing room, hoping that putting a little distance between him and the creeping horror that was Jonathan Parsons would buy him some time to recover his footing. White fires of blistering pain blazed like an inferno in the seared flesh of his chapped, raw, and bloody hands, with each motion that he made, threatening to knot up his arms and render them useless at any given moment. A blue haze lit up the room as lightning flashed violently outside, revealing the dismal dwelling to its only living occupant. He gazed in fright as the dismantled parts of Jonathan Parsons halted their pursuit long enough to begin assembling themselves into the gangly, patchwork semblance of a man. Paul knew that he didn’t have much time to waste, so with agonized effort, he scrambled into the shadows of the drawing room, hoping beyond hope that he would make it out of this place alive.
    His heart pounded so heavily that he could no longer tell the difference between the pulse that coursed through his veins, and the raging storm that assaulted the mansion. Jonathan Parsons stood upright, nude save for a few tattered rags that once may have resembled clothing, but now only served to enhance the ominous nature of the undead thing that stalked the halls of the manor. Lightning flashed illuminating the ghastly being in somber hues that revealed a face so full of malice that it nearly made the youth faint from the horrid nature that lay behind the undead thing’s daemonic eyes. The walking corpse moved with the rickety grace of a marionette just learning to walk on its own, but quickly picked up its pace as it gathered its composure. Jonathan moved toward the drawing room swiftly for something that had been dead for nearly a century. His eyes burned with an unearthly fire, laden with menace as they seemed to pierce the lingering shadows in search of his prey.
    Paul’s breath caught in his throat as he forced himself back to his feet, fighting with every motion against the pain and dizziness that bore down upon his very being. His encounter with the legendary specter of this estate had left him with a shattered view of reality, and a nearly broken body from the ferocity of the thing’s relentless assault. He searched for any means of escape that would take him as far away from this God-forsaken manor, though he could feel the damage that this experience had done- his hands were ruined- his legs ached and burned as did his left arm; as if severe infection had set in to his wounded limbs- and his face throbbed as it had begun to swell from his fall at the top of the stairs.
    The gaunt form of Jonathan Parsons made for the youth at a terrifying pace, his gnarled, twisted claws groping at the air as they sought to dig into their intended prey. Paul, frozen with fear at the unbelievable speed and grace of such a thing as this corpse, was nearly unable to move in time to escape the grisly corpse’s foreboding advance. He made to dash by the gangly thing, and run for the front door, but he was caught fast as a flash of hot pain burned into his left shoulder. Sharp bony fingers raked across his arm tearing shirt and skin alike, drawing another stream of warm sticky fluid from his already abused body. Paul hardly felt the blood that ran down his arm and back as he fought wildly to get away from the mummified thing that had snagged his torn garment. Another hand clasped his wrist in an iron-like grip, digging its bony claw-like appendages sharply into the young man’s flesh.
    Sunken eyes burned with malign glee as Jonathan Parsons ensnared his victim, drawing him closer. The withered corpse released the youth’s torn shirt and reached up with its gnarled hand, stroking the claw-like appendage dauntingly along the side of Paul’s face before clasping the teen’s face tightly, just under the jaw. Paul winced both in pain and revulsion as the sharp, bony fingertips dug into his face, forcing his mouth open despite any efforts he made to resist. The undead thing that was Jonathan Parsons moved its decaying, zombie-like visage close to the young man’s, opening its mouth as wide as the taut, leathery tissue would allow. Shrunken skin cracked and frayed, dropping flakes of dirt and dried flesh with each movement- a ribbon of fresh blood oozed from its oral cavity where Jonathan’s teeth had found their way into Paul’s tender hide, mingling the scent of decay with the repulsive coppery tang of a fresh wound, arousing a sense of nausea along with the many other infirmities that currently ailed him. As if to further disgust the panic-stricken youth; the undead creature’s chest emitted the wet, sickly rattle of some unknown phlegm-like substance moving around as it drew in a long, exaggerated, and deep breath.
    A new wave of terror gripped Paul, shaking him to the very core of his being as he felt himself beginning to fade in and out while the undead corpse of Jonathan Parsons inhaled. It was as though the cadaverous thing was taking his very life force- like the that vampire feeds on the blood of the living, Jonathan was feeding upon his very essence- maybe even his very soul. With each passing second the room grew more and more dim; even the angry, bright red glow of the coals in the hearth faded from view. Paul knew that he was in dire straits- that he had to do something soon- he had to escape before he was too weak to move. The breath stopped and Jonathan drew back to prepare for another breath, the crack of a dry joint alerting Paul to what might be his one and only chance to get away. In an act born more out of primal instinct and survival than of conscious thought, the youth began thrashing, kicking and screaming at his captor like some trapped beast of the wild, pulling away from the walking dead thing with all of his might. He twisted turned and struggled against the undead thing- against the knotted up wounds that burned like the coals of the fire; then at some point, somewhere, something gave, and all that Paul knew was, he was loose, and reeling backward out of control- out of the drawing room and into the entry hall, only to lose his footing and slam his head hard into the beveled edge of the oaken secretary.
    A brilliant explosion of pain wracked his skull with the effect of a thunderbolt, leaving behind a myriad of spots that bobbed, moved and swayed, hampering his vision. He tried to blink them away but it only made his head hurt all the more. His tongue was numb save for the fresh coppery taste that accompanied the dull ache in his jaw that spoke of him having bit the inside of his cheek. Paul’s head throbbed violently, threatening to rob him of his sight as the world around him blurred in and out of focus. He could vaguely make out the shambling silhouette skulking toward him from the drawing room; yet he could feel the maniacal gleam in its gaze as the corpse advanced. Hurt and terrified beyond words, Paul clambered to his feet, using the secretary to steady his ascent and then lurched for the front door. He only made it a few steps before the room began to swirl in a maelstrom of shadows and highlights that swept his balance up with it. Struggling desperately to stay on his feet, Paul somehow managed to make it to the door before he had to catch his balance against the door face.
    The grandfather clock tolled from within the bowels of the shadows behind Paul, its dull clang pulsing through his hurting head, and sending waves of disorientation through his senses. He was alerted to the vile curses of the foyer’s hardwood floor as its sharp complaints rattled his vision, announcing the dreadful approach of the cadaverous man-thing that was once the owner of this rundown estate. Upon seeing the ghastly figure shambling toward him, Paul fled out into the storm, his mind wild with fright, staggering as he fought to maintain his balance on the murky, overgrown path that had long since flooded due to the wailing torrent. Lightning split the night sky in a blinding flash that nearly made the youth swoon as the intense burst of bluish-white light invaded and overwhelmed his senses. As he tried to blink the numerous multicolored spots from his eyes, he risked a glance over his shoulder, only to feel his heart sink into the pit of his stomach as the gangly form of Jonathan Parsons loped off of the veranda, following him into the raging storm. The harsh, driving rain fell in leaden sheets, which soaked him to the bone and left his clothes hanging from his small frame in limp soggy rags that weighed him down, impeding his every movement as if he was in a bad dream from which he could not awaken. Paul’s injured limbs, infected by the bites that he had received from the disembodied head of his pursuer, festered; the corruption growing, contaminating his once healthy self, making it difficult at best to keep up his ragged momentum. He fought desperately against the dizziness that threatened to overwhelm him- to leave him face down in the muck, helpless before the cadaverous monster that pursued him. A clap of thunder shook the heavens and earth, driving the young man to a knee as the concussive blast roiled through the night sky, despite his best efforts to maintain his momentum.
    Paul forced himself back onto his feet, regardless of the pain that once again crippled him; urging himself forward once more, only to be taken aback as a flash of lightning lit up the night illuminating a pair of towering apparitions that loomed over him with soulless hollow eyes that peered into his soul and seemed to drain the very life from his bones, as they all but barred his way out of this hellish domain. Aghast with fright, Paul threw his hands up in a meager defense against the bleached specters as he fought to change direction; however, his weakened legs conspired against him, giving out, and dropping him in an ungainly heap in the swampy muck of the unkempt pathway- a cry of utter helplessness escaped is lips as the rain-washed, overgrown trail rushed up to meet him. The world around him reeled for a moment as he lay there, trying to move, trying to force himself back to his feet once more. A distant flash of lightning revealed the apparitions as the same skeletal snags that seemed to have been watching his arrival at the manor several hours earlier. Their bleached white trunks had obtained an unearthly luxuriance in the wake of the rain and twilight that reflected the sullen sky every time the lightning lit up the night.
    Barely able to drag himself to his feet, Paul shambled forward once more, staggering past the phantasmal snags that were once trees, and fighting to maintain his footing against the harsh winds that buffeted him as though the very elements themselves conspired to trap him and leave him at the mercy of the thing that was Jonathan Parsons. The gnarled limbs of the wicked snags thrashed about in the torrential gale, giving them the impression that they were trying to reach for and claw at the youth as he stumbled by. Glancing around as much as his swirling vision and dazed state of mind would allow, Paul sought for any signs of his deathly pursuer, both relieved and disturbed when he found no sign of the hideous corpse. Lightning flashed allowing his eyes to see the only hope he had of surviving this dreadful night as he viewed the ivy covered wrought iron gate through the torrential downpour, just ahead. He staggered onward, hoping beyond hope that safety and salvation lay just beyond the ivy-strewn border that separated the Parsons Estate from the outside world.
    Paul’s head throbbed- the world around him becoming swimmy as he tried to run, making each forced step even harder as he trudged on with water-logged feet that seemed as heavy as lead. His pulse raced through his body, echoing in his ears- the thunderous beat of his heart, rivaling the raging cacophony of the storm and deafening his awareness of the world around him. His feet were cold, waterlogged, and heavy laden and had become trammeled with the various clumps of wild grass, roots and whatever else he had the misfortune of stumbling across as if the very grounds of the estate had turned against him. Something shuffled in the shadows just far enough out of sight to keep the youth from discerning its origin, and raising his fear to a state of near panic. His heart thudded in his chest like a giant’s fist pounding to break free as he spared paranoid glances about him, praying that one of his glimpses didn’t involve the terrifying image of Jonathan Parsons. With each fleeting look off the main road, Paul was forced to regain his bearings as his vision blurred in and out of focus, making him swimmy-headed at best; an action that cost him valuable time with every occurrence.
    Lightning brightened the shadows, and stung Paul’s sensitive eyes, revealing the gate to be only a few yards away. Paul thanked the heavens above as he broke into a desperate run that had him lurching awkwardly along the unkempt path, and sloshing clumsily through the flooded depressions that lay between him and his destination. When he reached the gate, he was surprised to find that it was closed, though he didn’t remember having closed it when he entered earlier that evening. Paul saw freedom- saw salvation just beyond the wrought iron bars and the draped curtain of ivy that all but obscured it from view, and began tugging at the portal with all of his might. He strained against the wrought-iron gate- against the pain that wracked his body in bursts of white hot hatred- against the agony of his ruined hands, cracked and bleeding from the severe burns inflicted by the flaming brand he used to fend off Jonathan’s skull- and against the onrush of vertigo that rose up against him like a tide of never ending darkness just waiting to envelop him at any given point. The torrent blared on both from the storm and inside of his all but broken body, swelling to fever pitch, and hazing his vision over in a murky haze.
    Just as the gate began to budge, Paul felt the horrifying stab of sharp, bony claws digging into his shoulder, shoving him hard against the wrought-iron gate. Paul felt only the brief explosion of pain as his head slammed into the metal bars, followed by the fading weightlessness of his descent as he fell for what seemed like an eternity to the flooded, overgrown roadway. The last thing that the young man saw was the devilish countenance of Jonathan Parsons leering down wickedly at him, just before blackness overtook his senses.

*     *      *

     No one heard or saw Paul after that dreadful night. The Jenkins Brothers knew that something was wrong when they didn’t see Paul emerge from the gate of Parson’s Manor the following morning. Charlie Baker felt bad about the whole affair and wanted to come clean, but anytime it was brought up, the Jenkins Brothers gave him a none-too-subtle hint that suggested their part in their friend’s disappearance be kept secret. Days passed becoming weeks, with no sign of Paul; until one day almost a month later, when Robert Thornton was hunting in the woods along the outskirts of Rockhaven. He approached his favorite hunting spot; a small dell just beyond the thicket, where he could watch for deer, rabbit or anything else that might tickle his fancy. Robert had always favored the dell because of the privacy it often gave him- surrounded on three sides by woodland and bordered by the thicket on the fourth, yet for all its riches in game, no one would bother him there because of its close proximity to the Parsons Estate. Today, however, was different, for someone or something sat huddled in the underbrush at the edge of the clearing- cowering among the shrubs as if hiding from someone.
    “You there,” he called in a hoarse whisper, a little irked for someone to have invaded his hunting grounds, “what’re ye doin’ in my huntin’ spot?” He waited but the person didn’t respond, so thinking that they didn’t hear him or were ignoring him one, he slowed his gait down to a cautious skulk just in case they weren’t friendly. Once he was in range, Robert reached out a trembling hand to touch the person’s shoulder. Robert was thrown back on his heels unprepared for the sight before him as the person jerked about attempting to see who or what had grabbed him; for there before Robert was the youth that had been missing for several weeks, Paul Greene. Paul’s visage was all but marred beyond recognition, his eyes had been gouged out and horribly sewn shut, his hair, once dark brown and beaming with youth had turned silvery-white, and he gave the rough appearance of being much older than a youth of thirteen years. His body was covered in bruises, bites, cuts, and scrapes; but most of all, his mind had been shattered, leaving the youth unable to communicate, save for a steady stream of incoherent gibberish, a condition from which the broken youth would never recover.
    No one ever really knew what transpired that dark stormy night, when a seemingly harmless dare took a bright young man from the village of Rockhaven and thrust him willingly into the hungry shadows of Parsons Manor. No one that is, save for one… And he never uttered a sane word again.


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