A call to the altar

devil worship

I had visited the house as a boy and such was its impact that my mind knew it well. It now stood with a timbered stoop, inching towards decrepitude, thrusting itself in parts against the underscored weeds that told a tale of storm and gale.

It was inhabited by two aging spinsters, with whom I had some dealings, and who invited me to join them, to dine and engage with their circle of friends. I well recall my walk up to the old place. It led me up a sloped lane, formidably inclined, that near wore out the leather of my shoes, and lined with beeches, to the summit which broadened out into an avenue that led to the Chase.

A splendid autumn afternoon was reaching the zenith of its bloom; the year dying with more than a hint of decadence, wrapping itself in its gorgeous robes like a high priest. On arriving at my destination the sun had softened its hold of the day, and had already dipped below the horizon, the eastern front of the house projecting an ominous black shadow at its foot. What was there in its greying facade that reminded me of the grave I cannot say; but it was indeed more than just a fleeting sense of foreboding for it never waned in the hours I remained there.

I traversed the threshold like a schoolboy forced into the care of some hideous matron; and soon, having dressed for dinner, a servant escorted me to an upper chamber, where I was left — as far as I could tell — entirely alone. No sooner had he left me than I became aware of a weird and discordant sound in the room — a sort of shuddering sound, one that I could only describe as “suppressed dread”.

Everything about its nature told me that it was close by. I gave little heed to it at first, directing blame at the wind in the chimney, or a sizeable draught from the half open door; but, positioning myself in various parts of the room, I perceived that the sound moved with me. Whichever way I turned it came after me. I went to the furthest point of the chamber — it was there, as if stalking my every move.

I began to feel queasy and quite unsteady on my feet, for its peculiar singularity had left me quite disturbed. I completed my toilet in haste, and descended quickly to the drawing-room, hoping I should thus leave the detestable sound behind — but not so. It lay in wait for me on the landing, and on the stair; it accompanied me during my descent — always the same unearthly sound, that of shuddering horror, faint, but audible, and always within breathing distance. Even at dinner, when the ravelled sounds of conversation flagged, my ears continued to alight upon it, and heard it unmistakably several times, and so close that if there were an entity bound to it we were two on one chair.

It seemed to be entirely unheard by all those gathered, but it ultimately got the better of me, tapping upon my nerves with indelicate pronouncements, only, I think, to be moderated by the relief that I had not to sleep in the house that night. At an early hour — with several of the guests having left the room, presumably to ready themselves for a travel of some distance — the party broke up, and it was most pleasing to me to take in the fresh, invigorating air of the night, and feel rid at last of my shuddering horror.

From the lawn, I was able to make a careful inspection of the front of the house. There, where all was quite lifeless on the upper floor, a beacon of light shone forth through the central window; its illumination an eerie, forlorn-looking light in such contrast to its surrounds, and one that seemed to have little in common with the world or the life that is — it was the upper chamber!

There was something that urged me back — a sound that insisted on my presence. But on entering the house and climbing to the luminous room, I grew aware of a marked change in the atmosphere. The light within was not full, but sufficiently so to distinguish the hosts and their guests — none having left the house – their heads bowed and eyes shut as if in prayer, now standing motionless at the entrance to the sitting-room, a wall of bodies backed by a uniform diffusion of the light; and one so strange that no single person projected any shadow on the door, nor did they themselves project any shadow. Looking beyond them, into a great mirror over the mantelpiece, my eyes fell upon the supplanted reflection of the dim, wan-lighted chamber, and of a cowled stranger, his head facing down in dark reverence to something ungodly. I turned sharply to make my escape but it was now impossible with so many limbs entwining themselves around me, pushing me forward, a sickness stealing over me, a feeling as if my very soul was in peril. They thrust me forwards, and the more I struggled the more arms I felt restrict my movement until, finally, I reached the top of the stairs and was carried back into the illuminated chamber, where the cowled figure now stood with open arms, his eyes flickering in the light of a hundred black candles.

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