The Soft Place

My father, an English hatmaker in Dublin, died of consumption and my mother and I went into service at Harrow Hall near the end of Queen Victoria’s reign. It was the home of landed gentry and the very old Harrow family of English extraction who had established the house in the 1600s. It was a magnificently faded gothic house in the Irish countryside, far away from the view of the surrounding towns. It was said to be haunted, and indeed it was and on many fronts.

mansion in the woods

(image: Angelus YODASON)

First, the Harrow family was steeped in tragedy, with a son lost at sea a number of years before as he was on business, and a daughter who had gone mad as a result, it was said. A younger brother lived there as well, although little was known of him. My mother told me that he was about my age, which was eleven. But, she said, I must never seek him out or speak with him as despite his misfortunes in losing an older brother, he was my better.

And that was another layer of the haunted nature of Harrow Hall. If there were ghosts in that gloomy place, then surely I was to be among them. My duties were to the dusting of the great cabinetry, the polishing of the silverware, the scrubbing of the stone floors, the cleaning of the chandelier in the front hall once Mr. Purves, the butler, had seen to its careful decscent to the marble floors below. I was to be a shadow, a shade, a spectre in that house. For no one there was to converse with the family, least of all Master Harrow, who’s Christian name was Edmund. But, even the utterance of that name was forbidden by the staff. Continue reading

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Shave And A Haircut

Razor IMG 1145

Rufus Stevens was just a boy when the Men came to the farm.

It was the outlaw Duncan Chester’s men. They’d robbed a train, and the job had gone badly. The Pinkertons had set a trap for them, and several of the gang were killed when they tried to take the payroll on board. Those who weren’t shot outright bolted into the night. They rode hard through the rains, across the dark, wet fields of Missouri until they found the warm light of the Stevens homestead.

They were desparate men, intent on taking what they needed.  They took Rufus’ mother, and his sister. They shot his father and his younger brother. They took everything; food, lanterns, blankets, firewood.

But, Rufus they spared.

“Let him tell the story.” said Duncan Chester himself, looking down on a shame-faced, guilt-ridden Rufus. Chester was wounded. He’d used a shred of Rufus’ raped and murdered sister’s dress as a bandage across his cheek and under his ear, plugging the gaping wound that was the result of a Pinkerton’s bullet.

They left Rufus in the dark and broken house, the hoof beats of their horses echoing in the night, eventually leaving only a breath of wind as the rains stopped. The clouds parted to reveal a full moon, reflected in the twin pools of dark young eyes that stared upward from the floorboards of that lonely homestead.

Continue reading

Forever Young

The Museum of Art was unusually busy for this time of night. Admission was free on the first Tuesday of the month. They kept this space open until midnight in the hopes of enticing attendees who otherwise tended to busy themselves with television sitcoms or sitting on their favorite barstool. They welcomed a motley lineup of tweed jacketed intellectuals, college hipsters, romantic couples in ties and pearl necklaces and tourists with backpacks and cameras slug over their shoulder. Everyone was welcome. Continue reading

Quoth the Crow

Assignment: Mystery/Comedy with a random object/thing – a crow

When it comes to tales of mystery and the imagination, you could do a lot worse than going back to the father of the genre; Edgar Allen Poe himself. Poe was a haunted man who lived in obscurity, and who struggled with some pretty serious demons. I suppose that’s one of the reasons he was able to do what he did, which was to change the course of storytelling that helps readers to explore the dark side of what it is to be human.

Yet, he was a writer like any other when it came to sitting down and filling up a blank page. He must have had a process for it; maybe even a Dark Muse to help him along. So, this story is a sort of speculative fiction about the author of “The Raven”, and the inventor of the modern mystery story. But, where does the crow come in? Well, therein lies the comedy, complete with a pun in the end as a payoff …

***

Edgar sat at his desk, and the crow perched on his stand near the window, looking over Edgar’s shoulder.

Edgar Allen Poe the Raven

Illustration by Édouard Manet 1875

“Once upon a midnight dreary…,” Edgar recited, holding his quill meaningfully over the parchment.

“What the hell does that mean?” asked the Crow.

“Reggie, I’m trying to write something. Do you mind just being quiet for just a while?”

“Quiet? Dude, I’m a crow. I don’t do quiet, man.”

“Look, Reggie. You’re supposed to be here to, y’know, inspire me to explore the dark side of the human imagination.”

“Hey! I’m doing my part. And all you can come up with is ‘Once upon a midnight dreary’? Again: what the hell does that mean?”

“It’s just a line to establish the setting, and the mood. It’s a proven technique. But, what would you know about that?”

“I know what I like. And that sucks.” Continue reading

Lochbyrne Hall

The Lake District

Adapted from a photo by: Tejvan Pettinger

October 17, 1805

Dearest Emily,

Cousin Margaret has repaired to the country and to Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner at Ramblehurst, and has sent a letter to London to ask me to join her. She is to be ward to Mr. Gardiner  where she will continue her studies under a tutor whose services have been arranged between Uncle Benjamin and Mr. Gardiner. The city air has exacerbated the lung ailment that has plagued her since girlhood, and it was upon the orders of her physician that the Lake District envrons would be more forgiving. She told me before she embarked that she relishes the thought of a lengthy stay in the land of Misters Wordsworth and Coleridge, hoping perhaps to see the good gentlemen on their rounds as they go about gathering their immortal visions as inspired by the grandiosity of creation. I share in her enthusiasm of such a possibility, although I am not as convinced that such a thing as a meeting with the immortal poets could come to pass as she. Yet, perhaps a visit from their Muse may not be so far from the realm of possibility.

I am not to travel alone, fortuitously as Mr. and Mrs. Ralston of Mayfair are visiting their maiden aunt in the village of Birthwaite in Cumbria and I have been invited to travel with them. When I reach Birthwaite, I will meet with Mr. Bodkins, Mr. Gardner’s man. It is Mr. Bodkins who will take me to our beloved Margaret at Ramblehurst. I know you think me headstrong, and impulsive, being my older and wiser sister. Yet it is these very characteristics that also sharpen my wits and my senses, making me the ideal candidate to keep our Margaret company until winter passes in scenic Cumbria. Even at fifteen, I feel the moorings of childhood unfastening inside of me, and I am of the belief that the voyage to womanhood calls. It is time for an adventure, however small. I believe that my influence will bring Margaret out of her shell and I shall endeavour to make her my constant companion in whatever unfolds. Continue reading