Ghostlore: The Phantom of the Fell

Public Domain

Presented below is a retelling of a Lancashire folktale from Goblin Tales of Lancashire by James Bowker, where it was called The Phantom of the Fell.

The High Fell at Night

The High Fell is an impressive sight in daylight but at night when the moon is full it takes on a glory of its own.  One evening in the middle of June a local man named Giles Wheeler had been celebrating the wedding of a distant relative. During those celebrations he had felt within him a longing for the company of his own dear sweetheart the rosy-faced, warm-hearted Lisa, who was the miller’s only daughter.  It was a long road home and in daylight the quickest way was through the ravine that split the Fell in two but that was something few local people did after dark. It had long been rumoured that something evil lurked in the ravine and walked the Fell at night. Even in daylight people walked a considerable distance out of their way to avoid passing near the darksome place.

Giles was not overly superstitious and being a vigorous man in the prime of life had little fear of the Fell at night or the supposed fiend that haunted it though normally by habit  he would have played safe and avoided it because of its darkness and danger from the cliffs and ridges. However, this night the moon lit the hillside gloriously and he judged he had sufficient light to pass through safely.  Had he not been in such a hurry he might have noticed that as well as being gloriously moonlit, it was a calm and peaceful night. The only sound was the gently whispering of the breeze through the bracken.

Giles took no notice of such trivialities as moonlight and the breeze through the bracken he had his mind full of the delights of Lisa.   Maybe another night, with less pressing concerns on his mind Giles would have avoided the ravine on High Fell despite it being a substantial short cut to the old mill and the miller’s cuddly daughter.

The Ravine

On this night he was in a hurry and putting aside all of the terrifying stories he had heard he stepped into the darkness of the ravine leaving the moonlight behind.  His desire for Lisa was strong but as he walked along in the moonlight he kept thinking back to those tales. Each shadow that loomed before him and each rustle behind him made him start and his heart jump.  His skin grew cold and prickled and his fear rose. He told himself not to be foolish, that the shadows were nought but shadows and the rustling behind him was nought but the breeze in the bracken. Entering into the ravine he was surprised to find it was very misty and he pulled his coat around him feeling chilled to the bone despite it being a warm midsummer night. He felt it before he heard it.  The scream penetrated his brain.  He froze in fear. It cut right through him.  Possessed him! 

Forcing himself on the deathly wail broke the night again as he reached a curve in the ravine.  The terrible wail was not intended to terrify rather to express melancholy, sadness and woe. As it washed over him he knew the maker of such a sound could not be from this world.  Startled, he looked in its direction and in the moonlight saw the shape of a woman against the moon standing upon a cliff.  Her face was pale with a fragile beauty, her long black hair had a strange lustre, her dark eyes a melancholy, pleading, allure that sought him out and looked deep into his soul and then she was gone.

She appeared a little way before him and he stood spellbound worshiping her beauty.  All fear was replaced by a delirious desire to speak – to speak and to be spoken to – by this most beautiful woman who appeared to be in such anguish.  As her lips moved his heart beat faster expecting her to speak to him.

To his shock and disappointment instead of speaking words she uttered another long, low, lamenting wail and held out her arms invitingly to him.  Now, he hurried forward eager to greet her. She turned slowly gliding on a few paces before turning and beckoning – inviting him to follow. She floated further along the ravine where the moonlight was at its brightest beckoning and appealing to him with those dark eyes and he hurried after her.  She turned and holding her arms out towards him, her eyes pleading, inviting, her arms welcoming. As he reached out to touch and take her, she vanished and he grasped at nothing.  Bewildered and deeply disappointed he ran around anxiously trying to find her again. Frantically, he looked around, but there was no sight of her to be seen. He retraced his steps through the ravine but even in the bright moonlight could find no trace of her.  Fearful of losing her he crisscrossed the ravine desperately seeking her and roamed around High Fell until dawn.  Finally, instead of continuing his journey to his sweetheart Lisa he went back to his own family home.

Home

Unwilling to tell his parents of his experience on the High Fell during the night he told them that he had not left the wedding celebrations until midnight. Having drunk too much ale he had become lost on the way home. This appeared to satisfy them though it was remarked that after such festivities it was a wonder he had found his way home at all! 

Throughout the day his mother and father became aware their son was unusually quiet and reflective and nothing like his usual cheerful and energetic self.  His father put it down to the ale the night before, while his mother thought perhaps the wedding was making him reflect on his own marital status and hoped for one for her son soon.

When Giles suddenly stood up and announced he was going out for a few hours, giving no hint of where he was going, his mother nodded and looked knowingly upon her son as he walked purposefully through the door into the falling twilight.  In fact, it was not in the direction of the old mill that Giles turned when he left the house but the opposite direction he stepped with his eyes fixed upon High Fell. He deliberately took his time loitering here and there with the deliberate intention of entering the ravine that evening after the gloaming by the light of the moon.

He walked unwarily with no intent at concealment knowing on the path he traveled at that time of the evening he would be unlikely to meet anyone.  All he cared about was meeting the beautiful woman – phantom – or spirit, that he had met the night before on the Fell. Taking a seat on a boulder outside the ravine he sat down to wait for the moon to rise hoping she would appear once again to him.

Woman or ghoul he did not care he had to see her and he waited.  He waited and watched as the night began to unfold around him feeling her presence, knowing she was near as the mist appeared and thickened around him. Once again he felt it before he heard it a strange lamenting wail cutting through his mind.  He knew there were words in that long moaning scream but could not make them out. 

Return to the Ravine

He entered the ravine as the moon rose in full glory and walked slowly down the path between the crags.  Again he felt her presence, but stronger than before, then the low, long mournful wail crept through the night he looked towards the sound and saw her standing in the moonlight high upon a crag her outstretched arms beckoning to him.

In growing desire and anticipation he moved towards her as she floated down from the crag to stand a short way down the path before him.  He caught a glimpse of those mysteriously dark eyes – appealing – pleading. She beckoned to him, turned and glided further down the path toward the heart of the dark clough.  He had no other choice than to follow as she drew him deeper into the jagged maw of the ravine and turned to face him her dark eyes shining in the moonlight her black hair flowing in the breeze.  There she stood, white dress shimmering in the moonlight her arms outstretched beckoning, her eyes pleading – inviting. Giles stumbled on reaching out for her but as he looked into the depths of her pleading eyes, she uttered a low mournful cry and as he reached to hold her she dissolved before him.

Aghast, Giles ran up and down trying to find her but she was gone.  All that was left was that low mournful sound that echoed in his mind.  He spent the night searching the ravine and the Fell but all in vain. As the sun rose he made his way back to the farm of his parents feeling mournful at her loss, bewitched and musing upon how he could find her again.

Over the following days the urge to gaze upon that beautiful face and to lose himself  in those pleading eyes consumed him. He took to sitting around and refused to eat. In the evenings he would leave his parents farm to ramble alone on the High Fell in the hope of once again seeing that mysteriously beautiful stranger.  

Lisa

June passed into July and his mother, father and Lisa could not help noticing the change in his behaviour. Worse still, the continual refusal to explain himself and his nocturnal ramblings caused them great worry and they speculated wildly upon what it was that was troubling him.

July passed into August and the miller, Lisa’s father, to her upset took a less than charitable view suggesting Giles nocturnal rambles were in fact visits to a nearby town and that he had fallen into evil ways. Despite her father’s dark opinion of Giles, the ever faithful Lisa went to her fiance’s house to meet and talk with him in the hope of winning back his devoted attention.

Giles listened to her earnest and heartfelt pleadings full of shame but would not, indeed, could not, give her assurances that he would change his ways.  She argued with logic, she reasoned, she begged she pleaded and used all her womanly wiles, but Giles refused to promise to change his ways.

Lisa was left thinking that her father was right and bitterly accused him of being dishonest and unfaithful to her and left for home in tears.  Halfway home she stopped and thought about running back to him, throwing herself upon him and begging him to tell her the truth. She would forgive any indiscretions but insist his behaviour must stop.  Something inside her stopped her, perhaps pride, perhaps anger but she didn’t. Instead, she went back home to her father at the mill. As for Giles, he was deeply upset and desperately ashamed and sorry for his behaviour but he knew he could not stop and refused to tell further lies. Nevertheless, he realised he was steadily falling completely under the power of the mysterious woman and tried to resist. 

August passed into September and then into October and all those long days and nights his mind was assailed by the vision of the woman of the Fell and he heard her long lonely moan day and night.

The Mad Man on the Fell

One night towards the end of November he made his way up to the High Fell to the ravine and began searching for the mysterious woman in white.  He walked up and down and round and round in circles, becoming increasingly frantic as the night progressed without her appearance. Again and again he spoke out loud appealing to her to present herself to him, but to no avail.

Occasionally, as on this night poachers visited the High Fell in the hope of finding game.   This night two of the miller’s men were out poaching and on hearing a voice quickly concealed themselves so as not to be discovered in their illicit activity.  They were both intrigued and shocked at what they witnessed that night. 

In their place of concealment they saw Giles appear out of the ravine frantically babbling as if he was talking or appealing to an invisible being.  He ran straight towards them appearing half-crazed shouting and babbling in agitation. They could not quite make out what he was saying but as he drew nearer they realized he appeared to be appealing and begging to some invisible being to show themselves to him. 

The two poachers remained hidden, first not wanting to reveal themselves in their illegal activity, but also, quite simply, they were scared at what they saw and agreed together to say nothing to anyone of what they had seen of the madman on the Fell.  When Giles ran the opposite way to where they were they took their opportunity and ran as quickly as they could back home.

Fever

At dawn Giles somehow made his way down the hillside and back home.  To the worry of his parents he was in a state of high fever and delirium ranting and calling out to some invisible presence only he could see. He raved about a beautiful, mysterious face and someone with dark, pleading eyes. 

This confirmed to his parents their worst fears. Sorrowfully they tended to his needs as he lay raving in bed.  This terrible affliction continued for several weeks and in that time, especially at night, Giles would try to leave the safety of his family home to go wandering in the dark.  His parents steadfastly thwarted this ambition but still he called out to someone they could not see or hear, sometimes whispering, “She of the dark, dark eyes is calling,” while his broken-hearted parents wept by his bedside.

It was bad enough for his devoted parents to see the physical deterioration in his body along with his mental state.  It was made worse for them by learning from his ravings of a beautiful woman with “dark, dark eyes” that he appeared to have been meeting up on the High Fell.  Nevertheless, he was still their son and although they loved him dearly they could not help but to think he had fallen into sin and shame as they listened to his wild and impassioned ravings.

The Feeroin

They lived on the edge of a tight knit community and it was not long before people began to talk and word reached the ears of Lisa.  She carried herself through these troubled times staunchly, believing she was now seen as an object of pity.

It so happened that the two of the miller’s men who had been up on the fell poaching went to their employer telling him of what they had seen that night. They told him they believed Giles was under the spell of the feeorin of the fell.  The miller rebuked them for poaching but sent them to speak to the worried parents of Giles of what they had seen.  For Lisa this gave her hope that her fiance had not been unfaithful as she had feared. She was sorry for ever doubting him and she went along with them.

After the two told their story of what they had seen and that they believed him to be under the spell of the feeroin of the fell his parents readily seized upon it.  To them this seemed the most sensible explanation of their son’s behaviour and rebuked themselves for not having more faith in him. Although a load was removed from their shoulders Giles still remained critically ill, but now Lisa stayed on and helped to take care of him.

Lisa and Giles

Both she and his parents now ignored his ravings and nursed him diligently and carefully.  Eventually his condition improved enough for him to sit in a chair by the fire. As the December snows began to fall he sat by the hearth in a dream-like state watching the pictures in the flickering flames.   Seeing his improvement Liza dared to dream of the day when he would return to his old self and happiness would smile upon them. She desperately wanted their wedding day to be fixed, despite all the love and attention she heaped upon him Giles treated her with a cold, but polite dispassion.   He was not being ungrateful, in fact he fully appreciated the dedication and nursing  she had lavished upon him. He always politely thanked her for each and everything but realised that Lisa sensed something was still amiss with him.  Despite this, she still she lovingly continued her service to him without question. 

Giles, no matter how he tried, could not return the love she bestowed upon him.   He was completely possessed by the dark eyes of the mysterious woman on the Fell. Knowing that the truth would devastate Lisa he kept himself to a polite silence.

On Lisa’s part she sensed the coolness towards her but restrained from remonstrating with him fearing it might reverse the good progress in his physical health he had made.  Sadly, when she was alone she wept for the change she saw in him. 

For all the love she poured upon him Giles could not return what he not  did not feel. His heart and mind was entirely possessed by the mysterious woman on the Fell.  He knew it was wrong and he was wracked with guilt at the same time. No matter how he tried he could not get the image of her out of his mind; her dark eyes, her long flowing hair, and that sad mournful cry. It was these that dominated his thoughts and his emotions while he knew poor Lisa suffered but could not in anyway alleviate that suffering.  

For him the intense longing he was feeling or the mysterious girl in the moonlight was building up. As the days moved towards Christmas and the festive season, he again began to see her dark eyes everywhere and hear her mournful lament in the wind through the trees. He tried to enter into the spirit of the season hoping it would take his mind off the mysterious woman.

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve came and Lisa went home to her father promising to visit him in the morning.  His parents went to bed early being exhausted and feeling their age and left him to sit up alone staring into the fire.  From where he sat by the fire he could turn his head and look through the window to the High Fell and saw in his mind’s eye the woman in the moonlight beckoning and crying her long, sad cry. 

In the distance he saw the High Fell black against the sky and he knew she was calling to him.  He longed more than anything in the world to take her in his arms and look into those dark eyes though he feared what he knew he would see. 

Fortunately there had always been someone nearby, either one or other of his parents or the faithful Lisa, who had prevented him from venturing out.  Tonight on Christmas Eve he found himself alone and looking through the window at the falling snow and glancing towards the High Fell he swore he saw her.   And then she came to him ….

The Phantom of the Fell

He heard her call and through the window he saw her.  Those dark, dark eyes pleading and her outstretched arms beckoning him into her loving embrace. With no one to stop him he left the fireside and put on his coat and ventured outside into the snow.  Slowly and weakly but with steely resolve he made his way through the biting wind and thick snow to the haunted ravine.

When his parents awoke Christmas morning they let their son lay in while they prepared the festivities. When Lisa arrived bearing him a special Christmas gift his mother called into his room to see where he was and his absence was discovered.  She called her husband who wasted no time in seeking help from his neighbours and they followed his tracks in the snow. They reached the High Fell and found it shrouded in a thick mist which frigid pink sun shone through turning the ravine into a  phantasmagoria of ghastly jagged teeth. In the weird light they followed his footprints up to the ravine and pausing looked at one another in hushed silence and then and then entered the dread place.

From the tracks Giles had made they guessed he had become frantic with steps leading back and forth and hither and thither.  His father, who was leading the party, suddenly stopped holding up his hand. The tracks ended abruptly at the edge of a cliff he had almost stepped over.  After a short discussion it was decided to follow the course of the path which would twist round and pass below the cliff. With growing dread they followed the path to place below the cliff where the grief of his father father and the horror of all present they found his broken body on the path his face frozen in a wild death mask.

© 23/12/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright zteve t evans December 23rd, 2019

Ghostlore: The Night Humphrey Dobson Had A Fright

Illustration by Charles Gliddon – Believed to be Public Domain

Presented below is a retelling of a story from Goblin Tales of Lancashire called the Pillion Lady collected by James Bowker.

The Pillion Lady

It had been a beautiful summer day and after conducting a good day’s business in the local market Humphrey Dobson had spent a few hours drinking with his friends in his favorite tavern. Deciding he had drank his fill he mounted his easy  tempered mare and set off on the road home.  

It was a warm and balmy evening and the moon was throwing down her light making the road easy to follow.  There was one place along the route that Humphrey was always wary about. This was where a road crossed over a stream which was said to be the scene of where a maiden was murdered many years ago.  Nevertheless the moon was high and lighting the road sufficiently for Humphrey to see the stream and fortified by the beer he pushed on. 

The bridge was shrouded in darkness caused by dense branches of overhanging trees that blotted out the moonlight.  It was the dark bridge that gave Humphrey the shivers. He had heard many eerie stories of a headless woman reputed to haunt the bridge that appearing to terrified travellers.  To bolster his spirits he began to sing an old song and stoutly urged his horse onwards.

“He rode and he rode till he came to the dooar,

And Nell came t’ oppen it, as she’d done afooar:

‘Come, get off thy horse,’ she to him did say,

‘An’ put it i’th’ stable, an’ give it some hay.”‘ (1)

Nevertheless, as he approached the bridge he could feel his heart beginning to quail and suddenly he spurred his horse forward to gallop cross the bridge.  No sooner had his horse’s hooves struck the stone on the bridge when an eerie, unearthly laugh rang out from beneath the arch. The horse shuddered and snorted and galloped nervously forward but as it did so Humphrey’s blood turned to ice as he felt a deathly cold arm creep smoothly around his waist and  at the same time experienced faint, cold, pressure against his back as if someone or something was close behind and leaning on him.

Shocked and startled by the experience his heart racing and breaking into a cold sweat he hardly daring to look around. His horse galloped wildly out of control itself sweating in fear, eyes wild and rolling. Humphrey fought to gain control of the terrified beast as its iron-clad hooves thundered upon the cobbled stones causing flashing sparks in the darkness.

Another eerie cackling laugh split the night but this time seemed so close to his ear that Humphrey looked quickly around and was shocked and terrified at what he saw. It was not the headless woman he had heard so many frightening tales about.  The thing behind him with its arm wrapped tightly around him certainly was not headless but more grotesque and terrifying than that. The ghastly thing had a head, or rather a grinning skull that looked out of black hood so close to his face they were almost cheek to cheek, a pale light flickering from its empty eye sockets and its ample teeth white in the light of the moon.

Paralyzed by fear Humphrey was forced to ride cheek by jowl with the terrifying thing as the mare galloped wildly down the road.  Every now and then his ghastly pillion passenger let out a hideously laugh its jaw snapping grotesquely close to his ear. As its arm tightened around him he slipped his own arm down to feel but was alarmed to discover that what encircled his waist was the cool hard skeleton of an arm.

Shocked and terrified to the core Humphrey continued on the wild ride clasped in the loving embrace of his skeletal companion. He lost all sense of time as frozen in fear he careered wild down the road on his frantic horse.   Suddenly the horse came upon a sharp corner in the road and had to turn sharply to get round it as the ghastly figure behind let out another terrifying laugh. Humphrey was completely unready for such a sudden a manoeuvre and was thrown over the head of his terrified steed landing heavily upon the road.

There he lay unconscious through the night until the sun began to rise.    He finally regained consciousness with the dawn chorus in the trees above in full song.  Looking around he saw his horse quietly grazing just along the road. Climbing painfully to his feet, for he was battered, bruised and bleeding, he managed to mount the horse and ride carefully home.

On his return he was greeted by several farm lads who listened to his story with disbelief and not a little humor.   They jibed him and jested at the idea of his ghastly skeletal passenger making great fun of him. Yet thereafter, not one of his tormentors, dared cross the bridge over the stream alone after dark,  ever since the night Humphrey Dobson had a fright.

© 31/07/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright July 31st, 2019 zteve t evans


Faustian Pacts: The Soul of Edgar Astley

Public Domain Image

The Faustian Pact

A Faustian pact or bargain is also sometimes known as a Deal with the Devil. This is where someone makes an agreement or contract with the Devil or his demonic representative.  It is named after a character from German literature, legend and folklore named Faust, sometimes known as Dr Faustus or Faustus, who made just such a contract.  The devil grants their material or worldly desires such as riches, knowledge and power, usually for a set length of time, in return for their soul.  The pact must be honored and when that time comes the devil or his representative arrives to take the soul of his contract partner.

Hoghton Tower

Presented here is a retelling of a tale from Goblin Tales of Lancashire, a collection of folktales by James Bowker that appeared as The Demon of the Oak.  For those who like a little bit of history with their folk tales the story is set in an ancient fortified manor in Lancashire, England called Hoghton Tower.  This was the ancestral home of the de Hoghton family descended directly from Harvey de Walter, who was a companion of William the Conqueror. Their female line of descent is also impressive  descending from famous Lady Godiva of Coventry, wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia. The setting in time is uncertain but it is known the the land has been in the hands of ancestors of the de Hoghton’s since at least the 12th century and the present  house dates from about 1560–65 and rebuilt and extended between 1862 and 1901. The narrative centers around a young gentleman named Edgar Astley who in the story stayed at the manor and whose actual existence is much more nebulous than that of his hosts.

Edgar Astley

In fact, Edgar was a rather earnest young man whose habit of dressing in black indicated that he was still in mourning for someone dear who had passed away.  The servants of the tower, much like servants everywhere, discussed among themselves the reason for his sombre style of dress and melancholy air. They came to the conclusion he mourned for a woman whom he greatly loved and had deceived him and had married a rival instead of him. The lady in question had died mysteriously soon after for reasons unknown.

The speculations were sufficient to give the young man an aura of mystery and romance among the servants.  This was fueled when it was reported among them that strange colored lights had been seen from his room in the Tower at night.  This increased their suspicion making them wary and uncomfortable with the air of melancholy that he exuded

The more the superstitious servants thought about him the more they saw in him that was strange and abnormal.  They noticed how he would suddenly start out of a gloomy mood when approached making no secret of his desire to avoid where possible all society and companionship.   Even so, no one could ever accuse him of being unfriendly or rude and he was always very kind and patient with the youngsters of the household.  He always found time to chat cordially with the females of the household. When asked he would accompany them on rambles through the woods and countryside  and escort them on excursions to the local towns.

Yet it was noticeable that he did so more out of a sense of duty and chivalry rather than his own pleasure and quickly return to his station under the oak.  There he would read his dark books lost and become lost in dark thoughts. The ladies regarded him with an affectionate pity. They would try to encourage him to join them in more cheerful and sociable activities.  All though he complied he would only bear so much before politely returning to his books and dark dreaming.

The Baronet who was his host and master of the Tower liked him greatly despite his melancholy and strange ways.  Everyone else looked on him with pity. The general consensus was that time alone would eventually heal the darkness that appeared in his soul  and were happy for him to be amongst them. For his part, Edgar appreciated their sympathy and the freedom they allowed him in their home. He came and went as he pleased and the hosts were content to allow him this freedom asking no questions, just accepting him and his ways as they were.

Servant’s Talk

In the servant’s quarters the talk about Edgar was of  very different kind. One particular servant claimed he knew a servant who had known a footman, who had worked for Edgar’s family and there was a tragic story attached to the young man.  Apparently Edgar had once been betrothed to a young lady by the name of Anna.  She was a very attractive lady and had many suitors but she narrowed these down to Edgar and another young man.   She saw both of them at intervals and was very much in love with both but could not decide which she preferred and was well aware which ever one she rejected would be terribly hurt.  

Nonetheless, she enjoyed the attentions of both men and would play them off against each other.  Both suitors had been the best of friends but then a bitter rivalry developed between them for the love of Anna.  Both loved her with a passion and would have done anything in the world to win her favor and it seemed when she accepted Edgar’s proposal of marriage that he had won.  The date was set for the happy event and Edgar was looking forward to spending the rest of his life with the woman of his heart’s desire.

Edgar’s rival was not one to simply accept whatever fate should throw at him and the night before the wedding went to Anna and begged she elope that night with him.   She agreed and the two made off in her father’s coach and horses with all speed heading for Gretna Green.

The next morning word came to Edgar of the disappearance of Anna.  Of course he was devastated. Knowing that it could only have been at the instigation of his rival he took off after them intending a final confrontation with his rival.

Such was the talk in the servant’s quarters and their curiosity towards Edgar grew and grew and were fed by the peculiarity of his own habits.  It had been noticed that he stayed up late at nights in his room and strange lights and sounds could sometimes be seen and heard coming from it.  It was therefore decided that one of them should creep up to his room at midnight and listen at the door and look through the keyhole to try and learn more of this mysterious young man’s behaviour.  To his chagrin it was the servant who knew a servant who knew a footman that worked for Edgar’s family that was chosen for this dubious task. Therefore at the stroke of midnight, wishing he had kept quiet, the servant was sent up stairs to listen at Edgar’s bedroom door and spy through his keyhole.

Once at his station the reluctant spy knelt and put his eye to the keyhole listening intently for any sounds that should come through the door. Through the keyhole he saw that Edgar was seated at a table intently studying an ancient black book he had spread out before him. With one hand he shaded his eyes from a flame that burnt in  a small cauldron upon the table.

The Pale Student

Suddenly he leaned forward and with a quick movement of his hand took a pinch of a bright blue powder  placed in a saucer and sprinkled it upon the flame. The room was filled by strange, sickly aroma while the flame burst upwards with sudden life. The pale student of unhallowed arts turned over a page in the book and began to softly chant strange words unaware he was being watched.  Then he looked puzzled and muttered,

“Strange, I have bat’s blood, the severed hand of a dead man, viper’s venom, mandrake root and the flesh of a newt.  These are the ingredients stated and yet I still fail. Must I use the spell of spells at the risk of losing my life?

Think, man! What  is there for one such as me to fear in death? So far I remain unharmed from my experiments but were it otherwise I must still proceed to the bitter end.

There was a time when I would have given all my future happiness for her to be called by my name.  What is there left in this empty life for me that I should fear in this desperate enterprise to gain one last glimpse of her lovely face?”

As the pale student bent over the book studying the dreadful words on the cracked pages for the spy at the door the silence was almost palpable.  The night appeared to stand still and a harsh, rasping voice from the air cut through the silence saying,

Answer truly, will you give your very soul in exchange for a glimpse and a brief exchange of speech for she who you were once betrothed.”

The pale student quickly jumped to his feet excited and declared,

“Make no mistake, what ever you are, whoever you are, if you deliver her to me for a glimpse, a  brief word or two for the briefest of time my soul shall be yours forever!”

The night,  inside the house and outside, fell silent and the world seemed to stand still.  The spy at the door could hear the beating of his own heart and the the disembodied voice spoke once again,

“So it shall be! You have one last spell left that you must invoke at midnight beneath the spreading arm of the old oak and there and then shall you be rewarded with your heart’s desire.   Dare you look upon my face?”

replied the pale student.

“Devil or demon, whatever kind of beast you may be, I have no fear of seeing you”  

This was not the case for the spy at the keyhole who knelt shivering in fear at what he was witnessing and as soon as the lights flared a lurid blue he fell in a faint at his station by the door.

The Spy Discovered

When the spying servant finally came to he found himself inside the dread room with the pale student standing over him demanding,

“Who are you?  Why do you spy on me and what have you seen?  Tell me all, tell me true!”

Trembling in fear the terrified servant told him everything he had seen and heard while  Edgar listened gravely. When the servant had finished he would not allow him to leave until he had sworn on all that he held valuable that he would not tell a soul of what he had seen and heard that night.  To ensure the complete silence of the servant Edgar bound him by several terrifying threats of what would happen should he speak and then gave further instructions.

When the servant returned to the servant’s quarter his fellows all wanted to know what he had seen and heard.  They were disappointed when he told them he had spied so long and seen nothing and overcome with fatigue and boredom fallen asleep at his station.  Nevertheless, this appeared to satisfy his eager friends who could not help wondering what would have happened should he have been discovered.

The day passed in much the same way  as other days with the only notable exception being Edgar’s absence from the table under the old oak.  As evening fell dark clouds swept in from the distant sea and the wind began to rise and shake the old oak in its rage.

As usual the household had retired at eleven that night and only Edgar and one other were awake.  Edgar sat in his room at studying intensely the black book, but every now and then glancing impatiently at the clock.  At last he stood up and sighing to himself said,

 “The time I have longed for draws near.  Once again we shall meet!”

Taking up his small cauldron, the book and a few other items he left his room and went down the ancient staircase.  As he did so the servant stepped from the shadows and followed him. Calmly walking down to the old oak Edgar place his items at the foot of the tree and then taking a hazel wand from his pocket drew a circle around him and the servant.  Placing some red powder in the cauldron he put it down before him. As he did so a red flame leapt up from cauldron blazing with a steady flame while the wind roared in fury all around.

The Spell

In the gateway of the tower the chained guard dogs howled mournfully but Edgar pressed on with his task, striking the ground three time with his hazel wand, crying,

“Anna my love, my heart’s desire I summon thee!  Hear my words and obey, come to me this night!”

No sooner had he stopped speaking when the filmy figure of a most beautiful child appeared and floated around the outside of the circle.  The servant groaned in fear and sunk to his knees covering his eyes. The necromancer took no notice and as lightning flashed and thunder rolled he began incanting a new spell before finishing with these words,

“Soul of Anna, spirit of my love, spirit of my heart’s desire, I summon thee!  Come to me with all haste and without deceit and without power over my earthly body, spirit or soul.  May the shadow of death fall upon thee for ever if you refuse! Come now to me”!

With these last word the storm abated and all around fell to brooding silence. Suddenly the flame in the cauldron flared upwards several yards in height and a sweet voice could be heard engaged in a melodious chant.   A rasping, invisible voice said,

“Are you ready to behold the dead?

“I am ready!”

Before his eyes a column of mist formed and swirled and in that column slowly appeared the form and face of a beautiful woman still wrapped in her burial shroud.  She looked at him with sad, mournful eyes and asked,

“Why, Egar, why”

“Because I loved you, Anna! Did you love me?”

“I did!”

“And did you love him Anna, did you really love him?

“I do!”

Edgar gazed upon the ghost of his betrothed in tortured silence for some time. Slowly he reached out into the mist trying to embrace her.  As he did so the servant fainted at his feet as if struck down by death and thunder broke the silence.

“Edgar Astley, thy time is done and thou art mine forever!”

hissed a harsh disembodied voice at his side.  As these word were spoken the door of the tower were flung wide open and out rushed the baronet followed by his servants.

“Keep back, keep back! Save yourselves!”

“We would save you too! In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti!”  

cried the baronet striding forward to the circle holding a silver crucifix before him. No sooner had he spoken when the thunder fell quiet and the lightning ceased to flash and the moon broke through the dark clouds throwing down a soft light.

The servant was found face down trembling in the circle and carried indoors.  Edgar was found leaning against the trunk of the old oak. His eyes glazed and fixed upon the spot in the air he had last seen the ghost of his betrothed.  Gently the baronet took him by the hand and led him away as one would lead an innocent and trusting child. All reason and purpose had left his mind and his body was but an empty husk for he had gained his heart’s desire but in doing so given away his soul.

© 06/03/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

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