The Haunting Shadow

by Franc

It was an eerie and peculiar autumn day in the year of 1903, when I had arrived at the quaint town of Amherst in Massachusets. A streetcar had passed by Sunderland St crossing in front of the town hall. From the train station I had taken a carriage that was provided for me to escort me to the outside of the town, where I was to reach the estate of a Mr Joshua Dickinson. As the carriage got closer to the estate I could descry noticeably, a discernible aspect that was haunting in nature. On top just below the mansard roof were three marble figurines or statues of angels. The mansion had panes that were distinctively Victorian, as well as the double-hung windows that were divided by the mullions. Once there I met the proprietor, who exuded a warm cordiality and firm handshake, but there was something selcouth about his persona that I thought somewhat distinct. He was a willowy man with an aquiline nose and high cheekbones, a fair complexion and hair. He carried a walking stick with him, to maintain his balance; for he had a visible gait that bore a limp. I was there to see the stately mansion on behalf of my bank's request. My name is Arthur Langford an Englishman residing in Boston.

Inside the mansion I was then escorted to my chamber that was on the first story of the home, but not before I was able to see the intricate woodwork in the panels of the rooms, the doorknobs, and marble fireplace, the grand staircase. My chamber was impressive and elaborate in its design and meticulous arrangement. I was aware of the fact that the Dickinson lineage in the province was well reputable and established. From what I was told by the bank was that the Dickinsons were the first Europeans that came during the 17th century. It was indeed something that I would enquire once I had settled in and was able to speak to Mr Dickinson in his private study with no unwarranted interruptions.

After a sumptuous repast, we had entered into the private study that was adjoining the library to discuss the possible purchase of the estate that included the mansion. I had expected to pay a lofty price for which I had prepared myself and had brought my check book with me. The mansion was in stellar condition and the rest of the estate was also in pristine condition. There were no obvious signs of decadence or erosion in the structure of the house to be detected with the naked eye. For some apparent reason when asked why he was selling the estate, his reply was that ever since the unfortunate death of his beloved daughter Margaret, he no longer could live in the home he adored. The expressions on his face were clearly tangible and emotive, when he spoke about her passionately. I could tell the subject pained him at great length and made him feel very uncomfortable to say the least.

The discussion was adjourned until the morning, due to the fact that Mr Dickinson had a prior engagement to attend to. He invited me to stay the night and I gladly accepted his kind offer and hospitality. He said he would return within an hour, and in the meantime, he told me that the servants would tend to my beckoned needs. My impression of the situation was somewhat uncertain as it unfolded. On one hand, I was extremely confident that we could reach an agreement if feasible, but on the other hand, there was something strange about the mansion and the death of the late Miss Dickinson that had unnerved me. Along with the bizarre comportment of Mr Dickinson afterwards.

I was in one of the corridors looking at a family portrait, when from the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of an image pass by the edge of the corridor. For a moment, I mistook the image for a reflection of the sun, but I had realised that the windows were closed. Thus, my curiosity to investigate the occurrence had compelled me to reach the edge of the corridor. Once I had arrived there, I found a small trinket or heirloom on the surface of the floor. When I picked it up, I saw it had the initials of MD engraved in the back. I had assumed it had belonged to the deceased daughter Margaret. As I held the object in my hand, I began to hear the sound of a whispering voice. It was coming directly from one of the chambers nearby. I was not sure if it was the howling wind outside, but I proceeded to follow the course of the noise. It came from the chamber indeed. When I had approached it and turned the doorknob, the door was closed. For some reason unbeknownst to me, it was kept closed. I thought it was odd. I could hear the voice behind the door. It sounded like the voice of a mysterious woman.

It was then that one of the female servants had seen me prying, 'Is there something I can do for you sir?'

'Good God, you startled me. Whose room is this, if I can ask?' I had queried.

'Oh, this room belonged to the late Miss Margaret'.

'Why is it closed?'

'I am afraid you will have to ask the Mister'.

'Can I ask you, how long she has been dead?'

'Oh, over a year I reckon'.

'What did she die from?'

'The poor Miss Margaret had a terrible accident'.

'What do you mean by that?'

'Perhaps, it is best that you ask the Mister'.

The carriage of Mr Dickinson was heard approaching.

'The Mister is here. I must go now. I got my duties to finish. If you will kindly excuse me'.

'Of course'.

I waited for Mr Dickinson at the main hall, as he had entered the house and found me there. I was eager to know about the chamber that was closed, but I had an urgency to deal with, the matter that had brought me to his estate in the first place, the potential purchase of the property. Instead of the familiar surroundings of the private study, we went into the library to resume our prior conversation on the sale of the estate. We sat down and he had offered me a drink. I was not much of a habitual drinker, but I did accept the token gesture as a sign of his formality. After all, I needed a drink to calm down a bit my anxiety. He too was a nervous fellow.

'What will it be brandy or sherry my good friend?'

'I'll take a glass of sherry. Thank you sir'.

'What part of England are you from? Your accent is British, but I can't seem to recognise the origin of the accent'.

'I am from Stratford or to be more precise Stratford-upon-Avon'.

'The birthplace of Shakespeare'.

'Yes. That is correct sir'.

'Tell me Mr Langford. What exactly if I can ask, brought you to this country? You are pretty far away from your native land. You seem like an unassuming fellow'.

'Well sir adventure. I wanted to come to America to prosper. My brother had emigrated here a decade ago and asked me, if I was interested in joining him at the bank where we are both employed'.

'That is an admirable adventure and rather bold if I can say so. Do you like your stay in the country? What do you think about Amherst?'

'Indeed, I enjoy America. As for Amherst, I must admit I have not had sufficient time to see much of the town. I shall have to reserve my judgement'.

'And the estate? Do you find the house to be welcoming as I am?'

'So far I must say I have'.

'Good. Let us proceed to the transaction, before I give you the deed Mr. Langford'.

'By all means sir'.

After we had finished the transaction, I asked him about the mysterious room that was closed.

'Pardon my intrusive nature and inquisitive mind, but I had discovered a closed chamber nearby the corridor. Why is this chamber closed sir?'

He hesitated for a moment, as if he did not expect the question. His response was, 'You are indeed a rather curious fellow Mr. Langford'.

He had paused then continued, 'There are secrets that are best kept quiet'.

I did not think it was prudent to persist. Thus, I had desisted for the nonce. I would stay the night and leave in the early midday back to Boston. With the completion of the necessary transaction, my task had been accomplished. Normally, I would be extremely satisfied about doing my diligence, but my keen fascination with the mystery surrounding the death of Miss Margaret was manifest. I had considered myself a man, with an acute awareness and proclivity for discovery; even though I began to sense an instinctive prescience of the approach of danger. From what? I was not certain of its nature. That was the daunting question. Naturally, once the property was refurnished in certain areas, the closed chamber would be reopened. The bank was not interested in foolish tales of fret and scare, instead with the interest of selling the estate for a worthy amount and profit.

That night, I had remained in my chamber seated at a desk provided to write an urgent correspondence to the bank. I was supposed to stop in Cambridge the next day to handle another affair for the bank. As I was perusing the fine details of the deed, I began to hear the sound of a faint whisper close-by. At first, I had dismissed the particular sound as the whistling wind, but the whisper then had intensified and became more audible. When I rose intrigued to investigate the source of the whispers, I could clearly hear the utterance of my name. The doorknob in my chamber was heard moving slowly, as if someone was trying to enter uninvitedly.

I had reached for the doorknob, when suddenly the movement stopped. I cautiously opened the door afterwards and stuck my head in the corridor to see if anyone was there nigh. No one, not even a soul, or so I thought. Once more my curiosity had convinced me to explore the strange occurrence. At that moment in time, a storm from afar had reached the estate. There was lightning at first, then thunder. I proceeded to walk towards the closed chamber of the late daughter of Mr Dickinson. When I had arrived, I noticed that someone had recently been present, due to the soily footprints on the ground. The question was who? It was then that the whispers of my name I heard anew. As I had stood before the door, I would be startled by one of the female servants again that had seen me.

' there something I can do for you? Are you lost by chance?'

'Good God, you startled me. I did not see you at all'.

'I saw you standing before the door of the late Miss Dickinson'.

'The door. Oh yes indeed. I apparently had thought I heard a noise coming from behind the door'

'Noise you said sir. Like what?'

'Like the sound of a whispering voice'.

'Oh was probably the howling wind. There is a storm that is approaching. Do you not hear the sprinkle of the rain?'

'Rain. Oh yes. It could have been the rain'.

'Will you be needing anything, before I retire for the night sir?'

'Oh no. I am going to return to my chamber and attempt to rest; even though I doubt I can with the emergence of the rain'.

'I am afraid it is a common occurrence during this time of the year'.

'Common occurrence. What do you mean?'

'The storm sir. I am referring to the storm naturally'.

'Oh, indeed. It must be the long hours and travelling that has made me weary and a bit confused. Good night'.

'Good night sir'. When I had returned to my chamber, I tried to repose, but the storm had intensified with the roaring thunder. It would seem the storm was interminable. I became restless as I sat in the bed. It was then that I heard a giggling voice, as the doorknob was once more turned from side to side. I had proceeded with the utmost caution and heightened intrigue. As I had reached the door, the giggling halted as well as the turning of the doorknob. I was resolute to unmask the obfuscating mystery of the house. The solution was to obtain a key that would open the door of the private room of the late Miss Margaret. I was aware that the servants would go in and out of the rooms; all except this particular room. There was a huge fireplace with a distinctive mantel that had dominated the parlour, whilst a tiny scullery was located on the other side. I knew the servants had retired to their quarters. Thus, I cautiously had walked towards the scullery discreetly, but it was locked. I had returned to my chamber to ponder how I could open the door. The idea of using a coat hanger had entered my mind. I quickly went to the wardrobe to find one. The chamber I was staying had shelving, a desk and dressing table as well. I had pulled one out and I immediately thought about heading to the mysterious room, but for some strange reason, I was locked from inside, by someone unannounced.

The storm had began to unnerve me more, as I tried to concentrate on what was my next step. If I had called out to the stranger, I would awaken suspicion and the servants too. I had paced the floor of the room, thinking about the enigma of the mansion that was attached to the death of the daughter of Mr Dickinson. I had paced and paced more by the minute, until I could bear no more. Therefore, I was resolute to solve the pending mystery. In the morning, I would try to open the door of the chamber of Miss Dickinson. I would sleep very little that night, for the storm had disquieted my night and troubled my mental faculties.

The following morning, I was awakened by the noise of the servants that were up and about doing their daily duties. Unbeknownst to me, someone had unlocked the door of my room. My immediate thoughts were gaining entrance to the room, but I had to remind myself that I had to deal with the matter that had brought me to the Dickinson Estate in the first place, the business of the property. My carriage was being prepared as I had bided my time anxiously. I was supposed to head to Cambridge after all. I knew that I had some time in between my expected departure. I then proceeded to go to the room and was able to open the door. I made certain that nobody was observing me. Once I had entered stealthily, I saw a mahogany chest of drawers, with a trace of magenta blood, next to the brass bed. The windows were shut tight and the blue draperies were closed. The furniture was polished and remained in its superb condition, but there was something noticeable in the room that stood out, a lone wooden rocking chair.

A peculiar sentiment had prevailed over me. It was one of a haunting intuition that brought a cold chill down my tingling spine. I was uncertain of the reason for this awkward sensation I was experiencing. As I had approached to investigate more the mystery, the rocking chair began to move side to side. I could hear the sound of the chair in clear movement. I had stopped in my steps for a moment, before I advanced. When I did, the rocking chair had ceased its inexplicable movement. A daunting silence had occurred next that discomfited me. I felt a queer breath upon my bare neck of a creepy presence of an invisible and unknown stranger. Something or someone had entered the room uninvitedly and had arrested my attention. Abruptly, the creak of a floorboard broke the silence and had interrupted the sequence of events. The breathing had intensified, as I started to walk back towards the entrance of the room, but the door had closed. When I had turned around, I saw at last, the guise of the hideous ghost that was the late Margaret, the daughter of Mr Dickinson.

At first, the ghost was no more than a sudden chill drifting within the air, a shimmer of ethereal mist, diffused. The wallpaper began to peel with the rising damp becoming slightly out of focus, like an undeveloped photograph revealed. When the mysterious figure formed into a shape of matter, it was a corporeal reverent that I had descried. I could discern the shape of a female being with long flowing black silk hair wearing a black dress that was worn on the occasion of a funeral. Her pale lineaments were tangibly recognised within the decomposition. But it was her dark opal shaped eyes that mesmerised me whilst she stared into mine. A loud vociferous screech came from her dried lips and mouth. It was the voice of a young woman with the rasping tones of death. The words uttered sounded like "Get out!" It was enough to discompose me into an unsettling state of mind. The ghost then disappeared into the air with a celerity.

I had banged on the door loudly as I could with my all my force, until the door was opened by lo and behold Mr Dickinson himself who was standing there observing me, with a sarcastic grin on his face. It was indeed, an unexpected sight to see him standing there so imposing. It almost appeared as if I was staring into the face of the devil for a moment. My pulse was rapid and my heart beat was pounding and pounding, within my apprehension.

'Good God you startled me Mr Dickinson. I did not see you standing there in front of the door'.

'Your curiosity got the most of you Mr Langford. You could not keep your nose out where it did not belong. Couldn't you?'

'What I have seen in this room is beyond any family secret. Bloody be...I have seen the ghost of some poor wretch. What was it is that I saw? What is the secret you are hiding in this room, Mr Dickinson?'

'If I told you the whole story, you would not understand me Mr Langford. It is the curse that haunts me since Margaret died'.

I had looked into his piercing eyes and saw such a darkness never seen before by me in any man, "What curse are you talking about? Are you referring to your daughter Margaret?'

He had proceeded to escort me outside to a damp and drear setting behind the gloomy garden. There in a solitary tombstone laid the body of the late Margaret Dickinson. There was a legible epitaph in bold letters written on the precious tombstone of Plutonic rocks. A lone red rose was placed over the grim tombstone. The inscription said, "Here lieth the body of the late Margaret Dickinson Jordan, daughter of Joshua and Martha Dickinson. Born in 1880 died in 1903".

'I am afraid I don't know what this proves exactly, except the fact that she is dead, Mr Dickinson?'

'There is more to the story Mr Langford. Be patient'.

'I wish I was a patient man, but you must surely understand that at this moment, I am more flustered than patient'.

'Understandable. What I have failed to reveal and what I have kept from you as a family secret, is the fact that, I killed my daughter Margaret. I had to'.

My reaction was of utter shock and disbelief, 'What are you saying Mr Dickinson?'

He had started to relate his tale of absolute horror and dread, 'I could not allow her to bear a bastard child unmarried. Thus, I had her womb mutilated and she ultimately bled to death in the same room that I have closed, since her awful day of death. You must surely understand that what I did, I did for the sake of my reputation'.

'And for the sake of your daughter? What of her? Good God, do you realise what you are telling me? You murdered your own daughter. You have committed a bloody crime. A senseless one. All for the sake of your foolish need to preserve your untarnished reputation.'

'You do not have a child Mr Langford. How dare you question my honour. My family comes from a long list of proud descendants and lineage. I could not allow that lineage to be tarnished by a bastard child out of wedlock. She was like the whore of her mother. She too had cheated on me and was murdered by me'.

'And the child? Where is the unborn child buried at?'

'In an unmarked grave.'

'How long did you think you could hide this secret?'

'Forever, if I had too. The police think she committed suicide. There is no further proof that she was killed'.

I began to walk away, 'You don't expect me to be an accomplice of this macabre event?'

But as I did this, Mr Dickinson had pulled out from his coat a pistol and pointed it directly at me, before he uttered, 'Stop there Mr Langford-you do not think that I can let you walk away so easily, knowing what you know now'.

'You said to me before that the case was declared a suicide. Who would believe me, if I told them that you killed your daughter? What evidence do I have to contradict that?'

'True, but I cannot take a chance that some day soon, you might convince the authorities in charge. It is with a regrettable sigh that I must as well, kill you Mr Langford. The sad irony about it all, is that I was beginning to like you'.

He had ordered me to walk several kilometres ahead into the forest, where he then told me to halt my advance. I knew as I had walked that he would ultimately murder me. Thus, I knew I had to react quickly, if I was to save myself from the clutch of death. The forest had appeared to be the ideal place to commit a crime and not be noticed by anyone. In particular, any unwelcomed onlooker lurking nigh.

'Stop here. This is a perfect spot. Who will hear the shots. Not one soul, if I am not mistaken'.

'What if you are wrong? Will you take that risk?' I asked him desperately.

'I suppose it is a risk I must take. You see Mr Langford, the consequence supersedes the risk. It is I am afraid that simple'.

As he was about to shoot me, the sound of rustling leaves being stepped upon could be heard, as if someone was approaching. I had quickly seized the moment, and attempted to scurry, but I would not get far, before he found me and ordered me to come with him back to the house. His visible gait was no problem for him to locate me. To my chagrin, I was unfamiliar with the surroundings to be able to hide from his menace. I had no other choice but to acquiesce unwillingly. With his pistol at my back, he escorted me back into the house again. There were no servants in the vicinity, as if it was planned, including my cold-blooded execution. He had led me into the corridor leading to the cellar below, but something very unusual would occur of an ineffable nature. When we were reaching the door of the cellar, it would not open. Mr Dickinson had tried and tried to open it, but to no avail. It was then, when the sound of deep breathing could be heard, and the footsteps of a stranger coming closer to us by the second. Mr Dickinson had paused for a moment to listen, sensing the presence of a familiar foe to him. It was lo and behold, his deceased daughter Miss Margaret.

'I know it is you Margaret. Have you come back to take me? If you have then take me. Forgive me for the sin I have committed upon you. I have been haunted ever since that day', confessed Mr Dickenson.

I had looked on incredibly with the utmost consternation, as I saw then, the spectral guise drenched in the moisture of the soil she was buried in, and with the garments she bore on her tragic day of death. Those unforgettable piercing eyes could not be dismissed so lightly. She had stared into my eyes for a brief minute or so, and like a rapid bolt of electricity, she had reached Mr Dickinson. She stood before the same man that killed her and was her beloved father once before.

'Margaret....I did what I had to do to save you and the disgrace of the family'.

No words were uttered except the words of "Father'". The horrible scream of a mad daughter seeking vengeance for his betrayal was heard loudly. The ghost of Miss Margaret had picked him up and pierced his heart with a sharp dagger afterwards. Mr Dickinson fell to the floor, as the dagger killed him instantly. I stared on with complete amazement, as I was not certain that I was not to be the next victim. Instead, the ghastly ghost had allowed me to live. The sound of a crying infant was heard in the secret room of Miss Margaret. She had passed by me and headed towards the room. I followed her still shaken by the whole ordeal. When I had reached the room, the door was open as I walked inside. What I saw next, only I am a witness of its dreadful occurrence. Miss Margaret was sitting in the rocking chair back and forth, as she held her dead infant in her hands. The child was drenched in the same awful soil and stench. I had gazed into her eyes as she stared into mine, before she disappeared forever into the nothingness. The rocking chair ceased to sway, and what was left behind as a token of this haunting story was a silver broach with an embroidered red rose in the middle. For a brief moment, it was bleeding, until it bled no more. I took a profound breath, then I had walked out of the room and the house. Outside, I had turned around out of curiosity to look at the creepy house with the eldritch figures of marble angels, whose eyes had watery tears flowing from them. Thus, I had quickly walked to my carriage and left the Dickinson Estate, to return no more, as I felt the cold breeze brush my face and hair with a ghostly caress to remind of its indelible presence. What I did not know with absolute certainty was, if the baleful curse had been in the end uplifted forever.

End of Story.

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