The Faded Curtain
Following an altercation with my family which rendered me homeless, I had what I thought was the good fortune to be recommended through a mutual acquaintance as a lodger to an old woman with charitable proclivities.
My acquaintance, whom I shall call Bob, I had met a few weeks' earlier on a training course. Bob described himself as a sorcerer, but as I had yet to witness any manifestation of his powers, I put it out of my mind.
The woman he knew as his former landlady was ninety if she was a day, yet still quite sprightly. She had a wiry frame and quick movements. What had impressed me the most, though, upon being introduced to her, was her face. It was like old tanned leather. She seemed to have a wrinkle for each day of her life.
We sat having tea on a big polished mahogany table in the middle of the living room.
She explained her reason for taking me in as being benevolent as well as because she was lacking companionship. She was a spinster, and had only one brother, who was nearly the same age as herself, who lived nearby and would come round nearly every night.
After we had been introduced to each other round muffins and tea, Bob showed me to my room. It was a dark and windy night just at the beginning of November and the house was an old farmhouse situated in the middle of fields.
"Why is everything like it was in 1914 here?" I had noticed the dates of some of the photographs. One was of her.
Bob stopped with the candle and turned round. He was a fat man with beady black eyes that glistened in the candle-light and a sweaty red face. The smell of the tallow seemed to go well with the creak of the floor-boards.
"Celia was engaged. Then the war happened. He went away and never came back. That's all we know. She never moved on."
I was curious, maybe too curious for my own peace of mind.
"How old was he?"
I shuddered as I realized it was my twenty-fifth birthday in a couple of days.
The age of the pictures hanging hanging along the picture rail on the walls that lined them to the end bedroom seemed to be following me. There was a gale blowing outside, yet the candle did not flicker.
Bob stopped at the end bedroom on the right and opened the door. Inside, facing the door was a single bed.
"This is where she came at me with a knife, in the middle of the night, shining a torch in my face, so lock your door," warned Bob, without a hint of remark. I noticed the door had a chain fitted.
"Her brother's even worse. He never did like me. See this?" he continued, rolling up his shirt sleeve.
I nodded and was stuck for words at the scar across his forearm.
"Accident--or so they say--with the shears!" Bob laughed cynically.
"Why does he not like you?" I asked dumbfounded.
"He wants the house for his son. So does Mrs. B.,--another neighbour--want it for her family. They think I might be in the way. That's your problem now." He nodded, then moved over to the window facing the street and set the candle on the desk in front of it before closing the window. What struck me was the way that he waved the candle in front of the window before drawing the curtains.
Then I noticed that the door of the room also had a curtain to draw over it. It was threadbare and faded tapestry and slid on oaken rings.
"What's that for?" I asked, pointing to it.
"To keep the draught out. Draw it before you go to sleep."
I moved over to it and noticed it had strange markings on it. "What is it made from? It's very heavy."
"It's a priest's chasuble. Her...betrothed was a priest. He gave up the priesthood for her before going away."
Bob left me then, with a caution to draw the curtains--including the ones beside the door, before going to sleep and to put the chain on.
"It's solid silver. I made it myself," he boasted, giving it a rattle and he left.
I heard the footsteps echoing down the hall and tried to catch him to ask him to explain more, but he was gone.
It was then that I turned around and noticed another similar grey curtain drawn over a rectangular area in the wall opposite the door.
I drew it aside and noticed it was covering another door in the alcove, up a couple of steps.
It wasn't directly behind the curtain, but hidden round the corner of the wooden alcove. It was locked. The brass handle looked as though it hadn't been tried for some time, as it was stiff and rusty.
At the other side of the alcove was a smaller door which opened into a small cupboard. The cupboard contained only old picture-frames.
I drew the curtain again and went into the small kitchen between the bedroom and the alcove. I found a knife in one of the drawers and took it into the bedroom before I went to sleep.
It was a long time before I managed to get to sleep in that strange bed and when I did, I dreamt that the door was opening. I got the feeling there was something black and evil behind it, but then I woke with a start, just as the chink began to grow wider.
I did not know which door it was, as in the dream, things became blurred.
I went about my usual business the following day, trying not to worry about it and to dismiss it as a dream, waiting till the following week, when I planned to have enough money to move.
But the following night, I crept past the two inhabitants sitting chatting in the lounge and made my way up the stairs and along the corridor to my room. I noticed the hairs I'd placed over all the doors had been broken: including the one in the alcove.
I fell into an uneasy sleep and had the same dream, but this time the door opened wider before I woke up with a start. I still could not see what was behind it.
It was worse the following night. This time the door was flung open and a huge wolf came at me in my dream. I awoke sweating and screaming.
Feeling I could take no more, I hatched a plan to find out what was behind the door. In my dream, the wolf had come up from a cellar. I waited till the landlady went to her Sunday morning meetings at church and then gemmied open the door. The steps led upwards to another door. Behind it, was an attic. So no cellar at all - just a brightly-lit attic. My dreams had been a mare's egg.
There were dusty floorboards and skylights in the roof, but apart from that, not much else. It smelled of sawdust and the wind was getting in the cracks of the old house, making an eerie whistling sound, but it was broad daylight and felt reassuring. I was just preparing to turn around and go back, thinking of how I was going to repair the door, when something caught my eye.
It was just a couple of wooden chests in the corner, but then I noticed their odd shapes. They were coffins.
I plucked up the courage to go over to them and noticed that one of them had no lid. The lid was lying at the side. It was empty. But the other one was sealed.
I brushed the dust off the brass plaque and read:
"Here lie the remains of Father Joseph Shaw, died August 1st, 1914, waiting for the Eternal Resurrection."
I looked at the lid of the other one. Its name plate bore no inscription.
I turned to run, but there was a click behind me. These people had been farmers and they had shotguns. Her brother was standing in the doorway with one pointing at me. He looked sour.
“I thought I heard burglars. Thought you'd break in when there was no one in, eh?”
“It was like that when I got here,” was all I managed to say. “I came in to investigate, like you.”
He seemed to half believe this and for a second, lowered the gun. I took the opportunity to pounce on him and the gun went off as I rolled on top of him.
When the deafening roar and blinding flash had subsided, I grabbed it and flung it through the broken attic skylight. It rattled down the roof outside and fell into the garden below.
“Now, tell me what's going on here,” I demanded, standing over him. “I don't like having that gun pointing at me.”
He stood up, red-faced and shaking, dusting the plaster off himself.
Some of the pellets had embedded themselves in the coffin, as well as all over the other surfaces.
“Oh, Oh,” was all he could say, falling to his knees and crawling towards the coffin.
“What's the matter?” I asked, standing behind him ready to kick him in case he tried anything else.
“You killed him,” he screamed. “You've killed him. Don't you see? She'll be so upset.”
“What? He's already dead.”
“No. The idea was that she should meet him in the Resurrection. Don't you see? The Father is the Son is the Holy Ghost.
“Those bullets were silver. If they've hit him, he'll be destroyed. She'll not...”
“Who is he?” I shouted.
“He's her husband. He's her son. He's her spiritual soul-mate. He's her...”
...This brother of hers wasn't making much sense.
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