The Chronicles of Mark Johnson.
Here is the first of the eight stories in my award-winning book - www.amazon.com/dp/B008BEDMSO
The man sitting on the clifftop at the edge of his garden, taking photographs of birds as they swooped and dived, looked calm and in his element. Until the phone rang, the phone call brought him back inside the house, which was not a good start for Mark Johnson who begrudged spending time indoors. After many years working in laboratories and studios trying to make a name for himself, he longed for the air.
“Mark! When are you going to do some high-profile work again? This damn phone is ringing off the hook for you ?”
No further introduction was not needed. Phil Moore, a longtime friend, was the only person who had the reclusive Mark’s phone number.
“Well, you know my philosophy, Phil, so you can feed them whatever BS you want. I do not do celebrity shoots, models, or work for tabloids. When I do a shoot, it has to be for real. Not because someone needs to be in the limelight for a while! When I get a real shoot, I will come back from obscurity - then and only then, Phil!”
“I don’t get you, man! Top of the class in photojournalism; agents calling me for you to shoot their people. You could be out there with the lights on you, making so much more of your talents than selling the odd article here and there.”
“You hit the nail on the head when you said photojournalism. I do picture stories, not pretties for the glams and tabloids. That part of my work is what drove me here if you remember. I found it soul-destroying and sickeningly shallow.”
“That is as may be, but it's the best-paid work, and you are the best. All the top magazines want you.”
“They can want all they like until I get something that can arouse my spirit, I am content as I am. The stories I sell allow me what little pleasures I require- a roof over my head, food in the freezer, and the pleasure of being out here in the elements.”
“That's something else I never got about you. Mark. How, when you can make such a lot, are you happy with next to nothing?”
“I just never got into wanting all the trappings of fame. The story is what it's all about. I am a photojournalist first and foremost. If the shots don’t tell a part of the story, then I have failed. I know I can make my name, have lots of money and fame, but for me, it was never about that. For me, it has always been about the shots.”
“I can’t tempt you, then? Not even with a trip to Italy for three weeks in the sun, with masses of pretty girls to shoot.”
“No. You can treble any offer made, but I am not interested. Never was, never will be. Those that chose that lifestyle can keep it. I am doing what I like now. I stuck with that false crowd for four or five years when I got started. Every night I ached to take real pictures - stories that would do my art justice.”
“All the years I have known you, you have never changed. Throughout college courses and afterward, money was never your driving force was it?”
“No, you have that right. I would rather struggle to sell a few stories and being true to who I am, than clicking for magazines, to show how pretty a lady is. If she is that pretty, then let it shine through. So many of them love themselves, and I cannot abide their shallow lives. Out here in the wind and rain, watching the birds and animals, that is what I am all about, Phil. If you get an interesting story for me, please let me know. As for any offers for celebrity shoots, feed them the BS you feel is right.”
“OK, Mark. I have got the message. Can you tell me something?”
“I will try to.”
“There was a rumor about your college having a research group checking into psychic abilities. Was there any truth in it?”
“There was no secret about it, Phil. We did have the grant to do Psychic research, some of us developed great powers and can see the spirit world at times. We didn’t make it known for obvious reasons, we were doing serious research into psychic ability and didn’t want to be classed as just a bunch of crackpot ghost chasers.”
“You are kidding, seeing ghosts!”
“Not at all, think of us as receivers of signals, some people are more adept at receiving than others. We started as a group of about 20, by the mid-term of the first year there were only three left. Me, Rachel Stockman & Pat Sammels. We call them essences rather than ghosts, they come in all forms and some not very nice.”
After Mark put the phone down, he turned and walked across his ramshackle old kitchen to the stove; he lit the gas so he could make a pot of his favorite coffee. The wind was picking up, and the choppy seas were making the bell in the river clang loudly.
“Be good shooting today," Mark thought as he looked out across the bay.
That was always something that mystified his friends. When the sun was out, Mark would rarely take a shot. Give him winds, rain, and high seas, and he would be out there for hours. One friend asked him why and Mark replied, “If you want great shots, you have to go chase the weather; you won't get them if you're sitting inside in on windy days!”
The clouds rolling over the hills were low and threatening as the thunder roared and the lightning flashed. Upon the mountain, Mark thought he could see a face at the old Morton Manor, but he was sure nobody lived there. It had lain derelict for the past twenty years, and no-one had been near it since the mysterious disappearance of the young girl. Over the years of his, seclusion Mark had become adept at tuning into the lost and lonely souls of the dead, at first he wondered what had happened to make this occur, now he realized he was a receiver of messages from across the void and accepted it.
Some stories told of a stranger in the area, days before she vanished. Others spoke of light in the old house and weird howling noises. Here on the coast, tales of strange happenings abound, but this had taken place in recent times, with modern equipment, not olden days with old instruments that could not be trusted.
Mark felt this was an interesting story, worthy of his talents; a mystery for over twenty years, all but forgotten in the area. From those he had asked about the secret, he had received the same answer – a wall of silence. It was as if the townsfolk were hiding something; something they did not want to admit. No police reports were kept, and no record of the events at the house was available. The whole town was cloaked in deathly silence as if this was their curse for all time.
Since Mark was a virtual newcomer, he had not known about the history of the Morton house, as he was usually out on the cliffs. He barely paid attention to the old house on the hill until, one day, he happened to be passing on his way to photograph some strong waves crashing in the cove. It was then he thought he saw a face peering out from the house. As a journalist, this piqued Mark’s curiosity. However, all avenues of research ended either in a dead-end or a wall of silence. The greater the silences and dead-ends, the more determined he became. But how could he get to the bottom of the mystery?
As well as searching through the town records, he went to the County, but all attempts to get information proved fruitless. He had plenty of questions, but could not get answers from anyone. After months of foot slogging and stone-walling, he just gave up. But he never forgot about the face which plagued him constantly. But when all records have been cleared out, where can you go?
As much as it pained him, he was forced to come to terms with the facts: something terrible had happened, and they wanted to hide it. He felt beaten. The whole area seemed to be locked down. Whatever it was, it must be awful, he thought.
For years, nothing more happened, but every time he saw the old house he wondered about it. One night he was sitting on the cliffs when a stranger approached along the cliff path. At first glance, it appeared to be a young man in his thirties. There was something odd about him. Mark could see he was limping, as he dragged his left leg behind him.
“I see you are a photographer as well," observed the man.
“Yes, I came here to escape the rat race, the glamour shoots and the celebrity. I used to be well-known years ago, but now I sell a few stories.”
“I know. I have been watching the house for the last few months, deciding if I was doing the right thing or not.”
“What do you mean?” asked Mark.
“My name is Richard Morton. I used to own the house on the hill, I came here thirty years ago and lived happily on my own for ten years. Then a girl came from the city. She was beautiful, with long black hair and a slender figure. She worked up at the house as a cook and cleaner, until she went missing that fateful day.”
“I don’t know. I was in town for the day, and when I got back, all hell had let loose. They had her wet body on the ground. When they saw I was wet as well, it became a mob mentality. I had no chance against fifteen deranged men. They beat and kicked me, then threw me over the cliffs to make it look like a suicide. I survived more through luck than judgment. The incoming tide broke my fall a little, but even so, I was severely injured. I managed to crawl to the caves down there and believing I was dead, they never checked. I survived for days on crabs and lobsters I scavenged from pools. I died from my injuries a few months ago and had come for one last look.
“That explains the lack of records of what happened. You said you were wet?”
“Yes. It was a windy day, and I loved to walk on the shore. That day the waves were running, and I got soaked through.”
“Did they find out what happened?”
“Oh yes, a few days later. By then the deed was done, and the town had was sworn to silence to protect the guilty families.”
“Since the records got expunged, how can I find out what happened?”
“The only way is to go up there yourself. The face you see in the window is hers. She is riddled with guilt that her death led to my murder. If you can free her soul, we can be freed to love again on this side.”
“I will see what I can do for you.”
“Thank you, kind sir.”
As the day started to draw to a close, mists came in from the sea. Mark began his walk up to the old house with a feeling of trepidation. He was unsure if he was doing the right thing. The town had closed the subject, and no-one had ever mentioned it.
Maybe, I should let sleeping dogs lie, he thought. But there has been a terrible miscarriage of justice, and the town needs to be cleared of this shared blame so they can move past it.
As he arrived at the old house, there was an overwhelming sense of gloom surrounding it. The darkened windows were filled with cobwebs, and there were broken tiles on the ground. The door groaned as Mark pushed it open, camera in hand. He slowly moved across the hallway. Nothing stirred, not even a breeze. The air was so still and damp it was stifling, and Mark found it difficult to breathe. As he approached the kitchen door, he felt a sea breeze. Turning to the right, Mark noticed a door was ajar. He slowly walked through it and down the steps to the sea below. The closer to the shoreline Mark got, the steeper the steps became. He was just about to place his foot on another level when a voice from behind halted him. Turning around, Mark looked up and saw the girl. She did not move as he took her photograph.
“Please be careful," she called. "It was there I slipped and cracked my head before I fell into the water.”
“Then the outgoing current carried you out and left you on the shore, where they found you?”
“Yes, I was semi-conscious. Not being able to swim, the tow pulled me under, and I drowned. When Richard returned, they all thought he had drowned me in a fit of jealousy. He would never have harmed me. We loved each other so much that summer."
“The moaning the town’s people can hear -is that you?”
“No. I don’t know where that came from; I began to look at the lovely glowing lights, slipped and fell to my death.
After thanking the girl, Mark took some photos of the caves, the steps, and reflections. As he was just about to turn away, the girl motioned him down to the shore. As he looked down, the last shot he took was of the two lovers, gliding out of the caves, arm-in-arm, finally at peace.
As he was walking away from the house, Mark was met by a local fisherman. “The council has asked me to tell you that they will be in contact with you about what has gone on,” the man said as they stood in the street talking.
In his hotel room, he was writing up about the mystery, when he heard a knock on the door. “Who can that be this late?” he thought.
Going to the door, he noticed an envelope had been slipped underneath and was lying on the mat. He opened it, and inside was a note:
Dear Mr. Johnson,
We are sorry you have met with such resistance during your investigation of the mystery of Morton House. We would like you to attend a meeting, as we understand you have more information on this subject. We cordially invite you to a meeting in the library so that you may explain your findings and we may end this matter.
As requested, Mark showed up at the library the next day, notes in hand, ready for any questions.
He explained how the girl had gone to see the lights and had fallen down the slippery steps. He spoke of the accident and told the group how she had ended up on the beach. There was silence for a few minutes before the questions began.
“Mr. Johnson? In your opinion, if it wasn't the girl, who did make the noises?
“I don’t know for certain, but my best theory is that since the caves have a strange way of transmitting sounds, it was probably the waves crashing.”
“What caused the lights we saw?”
“Sorry, but that has me foxed as well. I looked all around, took photos from all angles and in all conditions from drizzle to bright light, and still, have no ideas.”
“We cannot thank you enough for being brave enough to go ahead and see this through despite our silence,” offered one of the leaders of the group.
“You are very welcome. It was a delight to have something to write about for a change.”
The story made the local papers, and the national press clamored for Mark again, knowing he was a truthful man. His star was on the rise once more.
The Porthern Case
Since resolving the matter of the trapped spirits at the old Morton house a few years prior, Mark Johnson’s expertise and skills as a photojournalist were in demand again. He was now getting firm job offers for both his photographic and writing skills. Even though wealth was heading his way, Mark had not changed. He preferred to stay a recluse in his cottage by the coast, his only contact with the outside world being his lady friend, the artist Annette Palmer and his agent, Phil Moore. He met Annette a few months earlier on a case; he felt an affinity towards her
from the moment they met
Today he was out walking the dog when the house phone rang.
“Hello Phil, what can we do for you?" Annette asked.
“Hi, Annette. I might have a story for Mark, plus a chance of some artwork for you at the same time.”
“Sounds interesting. Go on.”
"I've just had a call from a man called Patrick Kingsley. He said he'd like the two of you to meet him at Darringby."
“Did he say what he wanted us for, Phil?”
"No. All said was that it would be right up your street, both for you as a painter and for Mark as a photojournalist.”
“Sounds interesting. All we need do is sell it to Mark, but we know how obstinate he can be at times.”
“You don’t need to tell me. I've known Mark for a long time, and I still can't work him out. Here he is making a living again, instead of just surviving, and you are still stuck in the back of nowhere with little comforts. Can’t you convince him to get some luxuries?”
“Now Phil, you should know there is no way I can get him to buy something unless he wants it or I can coax him to get it for us. We're happy here. Neither of us watches the television; we have our music our food and each other.”
“How about a new car for the pair of you? Your old one is near its end.”
“That’s true, especially as Mark can’t walk far these days since his leg got injured.”
"Then how are we going to pitch this to get his interest?”
“I have to admit that’s going to be hard; he doesn’t go out on a limb for strangers unless he spots something to pique his interest. Wait! I have an idea, Phil!”
“If you can get a vague idea of what this man wants, I can take the two of us out for a drive one day. I’ll take him in the direction of our mystery caller to see if he shows an interest.”
“Sneaky, but it might work," Phil laughed as they ended their call.
Days turned into weeks. Mark and Annette continued enjoying time together, loving the seclusion of their cottage. Annette sold her paintings at local fairs in the nearby town, which gave them little extra spending money. Mark was happy taking photographs in the area, content to see his work admired as well as his writing being published and read. They were content with their lot.
Then one Tuesday the phone rang.
Mark answered. “Hi, Phil.”
“Hi, Mark. Is Annette in?”
“Yes, she is. I’ll get her for you. Can I tell her what it’s about?”
“Don’t worry, my friend, she’ll know.”
By now, Mark was curious. What on earth was Phil phoning Annette about 'that she already knew'? I wonder what can this Phil can want? He only calls me ‘my friend’ when he wants something, he mused, stepping through the back door to find Annette.
As he strode into the garden, Mark observed Annette sitting in the far corner, looking out over the cove. As he watched the swooping of the gulls and guillemots amid the beauty of the countryside around them; he could see Annette watching the shoreline and could not help giving silent thanks for the gift of such a beautiful woman. They had been together for four months now, with never a cross word. Attuned to each other, they calmly discussed their differences of opinion, rather than fighting. Hugs of appreciation usually ended such debates.
“Love, Phil is on the telling-bone," Mark called out. He laughed at the phrase he had used, recalling the television series Catweazle.
“Oh, okay, on my way.”
As she passed him, she gave him a quick kiss and a hug. Mark knew something was afoot, but could not figure out what scheme his love and best friend we're cooking up.
As Annette picked up the phone, she looked around to check where Mark was. He might be intrigued, but he always gave her privacy.
“If it’s to do with me, she will say something," Mark thought as he strolled over to the kitchen.
Phil started talking. “About the matter, we discussed earlier - our client got back to me yesterday and said if you are still interested, you might be able to help solve a mystery.”
“How are you going to pitch it to Mark? You need to get him up there.”
“I have the answer already.”
“Oh! That quick? I thought it would take a lot longer.”
“You gave me the answer to our problem.”
“I did! How?"
“When you said we needed a new car! I saw one in the Market Holm Times last week that seems just right for us.”Well, that's lucky. It's just down the road from Darringby; once you have the car, perhaps you can go for a ride to see what our friend wants.”
“That's what I thought we'd do.”
“He gave me directions. When you get to Darringby, take the Porthern Road, about two miles down the hill you'll see an old derelict house, that's supposedly haunted!”
“What happened there?”
“That's the mystery, nobody knows, or if they do, they won't say. There have been reports of strange sightings and noises at all hours of the day.”
“That's odd! Most spirits come out at dusk. This spirit has me puzzled Phil. I am truly motivated to drive him out there, now."
“Great news, Annette. So you think you can do it then?”
“Consider it done! When does he want to see us?”
“He didn't’ say. I explained about getting Mark involved in this and how hard it might be. We agreed that once you get Mark interested, you will phone me, then I can call him. We can see about arranging a meeting later.”
“We can probably get things underway by next Tuesday. I know we will be free as Mark chose that day to get revitalized – no shooting or writing.”
When the weekend came, Annette started to drop hints about the trip.
“Darling we need a new car!”
“Yes. I suppose we do and we can afford one now. Let's put this poor old thing to rest; our old car has been good and deserves her peace now.”
“I saw the perfect car for us in the Market Holm Times last week.”
“I did wonder why you were reading it, love. Thought you might be thinking of us getting another house there.”
Annette laughed at the idea. “You! Talking of a second house; The very idea.”
“Well, what else was I to think?”No, I was looking for a new car for us. It's something we need now, and Market Holm has the perfect one for us. I thought since we are free on Tuesday, we could pick it up then, and later spend the day in Darringby.”
“Does this have something to do with that phone call from Phil, a few days ago?”
“Yes. In some ways it does.”
“Some ways? In what way?”
“I can’t tell you, love. I want you to see something for yourself before you make a decision.”
Mark smirked and gave Annette a wink and a sly grin. “That explains so much! Phil called me ‘my friend,' which is something he only does when he wants my help!"
Tuesday arrived, and the couple drove to Market Holm to view their prospective new car.
“She certainly looks like good value,” Mark commented. “Not too many miles on the clock and nice paintwork. A few dents and scratches, nothing excessive that I can’t repair myself. We'll take her.”I know it was wrong of me to get you hereunder pretenses," Annette said warmly, "but we do need the car.”
Mark winked at Annette.“Well, we won’t say 'pretenses' then, will we darling? Just hidden truths. So, now we know there is another reason for the trip. What are we looking for, love?”
“I'm as much in the dark as you, honestly. All I know is that a man contacted Phil, saying he thought we could solve a mystery here. We haven’t arranged to meet him yet, as we didn't know if you would be willing to do a piece on this – whatever it is!”
“Well, I am certainly intrigued so far. You know how I love a juicy mystery!”
They got into their new car, drove out of Darringby and headed along the coast road. When they reached the junction that turned onto the Porthern Road, they drove slowly, not knowing the route. They were about two miles down the road, looking for the house when the engine stalled. The fuel gauge was reading full, yet the engine was dead. All other power was working – the radio, lights, and wipers worked, but not the engine.
As they gazed down the road, they could see the house they had been seeking. It was only a few hundred yards away, yet it appeared to be in darkness. As Mark and Annette sat in their car, surrounded by blue skies and bright sunlight, they watched in amazement as they heard the thunder and saw the rain lashing down on the house.
Mark looked in shock at the house, ”As you have the talent to tune in to things as well, can you see the snake winding around the house? Look at the grounds as well, the area by the fence is dead. It is almost as if there is an oil seepage there, killing everything it touched.”
Annette shook her head as she looked at the house.”Yes, I see the snake. This creature is not around the house. The house is the source, it is spreading out from the house, if you look carefully you can see the ripples as it moves away.”
“Now I am more than interested," Mark said, as the engine suddenly decided to turn over. They drove back to the crossroads.
Annette was having trouble breathing, she had gone very pale, and her hands shook as she said. “Wow, that was weird and scary." Mark could hear the emotion in her voice.
He looked at her. “You can call Phil and tell him that I am in.”
They drove back to Darringby, stopping at a petrol station to have a drink of coffee to calm their nerves. As he looked back at the house from the petrol station, Mark could see the air movement patterns gathering the heavy clouds together, blocking the light out. It was almost as if an evil spirit was within, sucking darkness to the house, then the dark getting stronger, pushing the shine away. Something was sucking energy from somewhere and blocking off the sun. Mark was now determined to find out what it was.
When they arrived home, they had a serious discussion about what had transpired.
“What did you make of it, love?" Annette asked.“I don’t know, darling. It didn't look good. Whatever it is, it's feeding from energies deep within the dead ground near the house.”
“Are you still interested, now that we've been there?”
“Try and stop me! I thrive on these stories!”
“How are we going to go about this?”
“I have a great idea. I'll take some shots on video showing the air movement I saw. Then we'll go down with clear minds - no images of what we saw the other day. You can paint the spirits around the house, and I will move around taking photos.”
“From what we saw, will you have the light for that, love?”
“Couldn't be better for what I am doing.”
“Sorry! You have lost me now!”
“For what I wish to do, I need infra-red films.”
“So what, if anything, do you think we'll find?”
“I have no idea, love. Which is why we need to have a clear mind to let the spirits tell us who or what is in that house.”I will phone Phil in the morning and tell him your idea.”
All that night Mark tossed and turned, hardly daring to close his eyes, afraid of the demons he might find when they returned to Porthern.
Annette called Phil the next morning to tell him the plans for the trip.
“I'm worried!” Phil said. “If this power is as evil as you say, there may be a grave chance you will not return, and I couldn't bear to lose my best friends on a wild chase into Lord knows where. Believe me, Annette, I have seen Mark do hairy things and barely get back.”
“Then you know, there is no way he won’t go through with this now?”
“Yes. I pray to God you do get back.”
“Count me in on that, Phil. This situation creeps me out. I wish now we'd never thought of this plan."
“Me, too. It seemed a good idea at the time. Now I have to hope my best friends don’t get killed, or I'd never forgive myself!”Later that afternoon, Phil telephoned Patrick Kingsley and made arrangements for them all to meet at the Darringby Library. When Phil, Annette, and Mark arrived at the library, they responded by an old man wearing a battered raincoat and a seaman’s cap.
“Hello, I am Patrick Kingsley," he said.
“Pleased to meet you. I am Phil Moore. You phoned me about the mystery - and these are my very close friends, Mark Johnson and . . ."
Before Phil could complete the introductions, he was interrupted by Mr. Kingsley.
“The attractive young lady is none other than Annette Palmer. It is an honor to meet you, Miss Palmer. I have admired your work for many years."
“Thank you so much, kind sir,” Annette replied, blushing slightly.
The older man continued. “As you can see, I am an ex-sailor. I sailed for most of my life in trawlers, steamers and even the odd tramp when times got hard.”
“Excuse my ignorance, but what is a tramp?" Annette queried.“She is an unchartered ship, usually flying a flag of convenience, which means she is paid to do dirty works like smuggling or things other ships consider too dangerous.”
“Isn't that extremely dangerous?” Annette asked with concern.
“Yes, it is ma’am! We got a slightly raised pay but took a lot more risks. We ran closer than was safe to shore to outrun customs men, went up rivers nobody else dared to go. We lost many a good man running the tides and rocky creeks. I wasn't proud of what I did, but a job puts food in your belly. A starving man will do things no other would consider. That is what the bosses relied on.”
“I see Mr. Johnson has come fully equipped," Patrick continued. “I am asking for your help in this case. My last ship went down ten years ago, out there." With tears in his eyes, he pointed to the rocky headland.
“Yes, I noticed from the garage at the top of the road there was atmospheric anomalies. When we went there a few days ago, it was so dark that normal film would not record, so I loaded up infrared films, this time.”
“That is the mystery, Mr. Johnson. My ship got pulled onto the rocks, and all hands and cargo got lost. Even though we had four men on the wheel, pulling like lunatics, we still ran aground. I lost all my mates that night.”
Patrick stopped for a while as he fought to get his words out. Tears of pain and loneliness coursed down his cheeks as he mopped them with an old handkerchief.
“How or why I got out, I cannot say? All I know is I got blamed for the loss of the ship. I lost my license, family, and friends. I became a pariah here. Nobody would let me onboard, not even as a lowly deckhand. For a while, I had enough back pay to feed myself, but when that ran out, I had to try and go back to fishing to get some food. It was while I was out crabbing that I came across something bizarre.”
He paused, whether for breath or effect it did not matter, his audience was fascinated.“If you could please spare a few coppers for a pie and a pint for an old sea-dog, I'd be happy to continue.”
Mark went over to the Porthern Arms to get them all some food and drink, returning to a very grateful sailor.
“Thank you, kind sir," said old Patrick appreciatively. "As I was saying, out past Middern point, where the rocks are on the left, is a giant eddy. Most ships steer wide of the rocks and never get bothered by it. That day, as I said, I was out crabbing, and my pots almost got me dragged down. I can tell you, and I thought I was dead!”
“Do you think that is what caused the wreck? Phil queried.
“No, sir, I do not. That was a magnetic surge that pulled us in, of that I am sure. It's the only thing I do know. What happened was caused by something in that house; which is why I want you to find out what it is, and clear my name. I don't have much else left. I want a clear name, when I meet the Lord!’As Patrick rose to leave, he turned and said, “I will see you in a few days. If you cannot clear my name, I thank you for taking the time to listen to me, for believing in me and my story, when others just shunned me.”
As the trio looked at the ex-sailor, who had been forced by circumstances to beg a meal from strangers, tears filled their eyes. They wondered if this poor soul would last until they came back. He looked so bedraggled as if a stiff breeze would crush his weak body.
“I can only say, please do not go into the house. Some foolish people did about five years ago, and the only thing left of them is the deathly screams we sometimes hear on a cold night, as their souls cry for peace.”
“I will take that into consideration, thank you," Mark replied, almost casually.
Listening to Mark, a chill ran down Phil’s spine. He knew what his friend had in mind.
“Please tell me, Mark, you are not going to do what I think you are?”Honestly, Phil, I don’t know myself until I get there. As you know from our past, I go where instinct dictates. I have no plans at all.”
“That's what worries me about you. gYou take so many risks leaving me roup began to wonder if I will have to bury you.”
“The excitement of freeing a soul is so exhilarating it enlivens me, and makes me more cautious than normal, Phil.”
“Is it worth the possible cost this time, Mark? I would hate to lose my closest and dearest friend because he was trying to save souls who probably should have stayed away.”
The trio left the library and walked into the bright sunlit day. It seemed impossible to think that only a few short miles away was such an evil force that devoured light, excluded all life and fed on the dark energy within the dead ground around the abandoned house. Walking past the reception desk, Phil could see from the look on Mark’s face that he was planning something, years of friendship had taught him what to see. The group crossed the road to where Phil had parked his car, as he turned the engine on, he could see Mark checking his camera bag, as he pulled out onto the road he asked a question he wished he did not have to. “Everything packed and ready to roll?” The worried look on his friends face showed him. Mark was also concerned.
Shortly afterward the car topped the hill. In the distance, the house could be seen shimmering. Phil stopped the engine. Turning to the two men, Annette asked, “Can we have a little prayer please, so we can concentrate on this moment. We may not be here again.”
Sitting in the silent car, Mark debated what to do. He thought about what Patrick had told him – and then considered Phil's ideas. Both had their merits. He knew Phil was right. Too many times he had challenged death and won. Sooner or later he was bound to lose.
Mark turned to the others. “Phil, you stay with the car, keep the engine ticking over in case of an emergency. Annette, if you come with me and sit just outside the grounds, I’ll let you find a spot to paint from; I beg of you, under no circumstances come in. I don't know what's in there. If I get in trouble, do not think twice. Run like hell, tell Phil to run the car and get away as quickly as possible."
Phil shuddered at the thought of losing his best friend.
“This could be your best story yet Mark!” Annette added, “Or your epitaph. . . He died saving souls and fighting demons.”
Mark laughed, “Talking of epitaphs, can’t I choose one? How about He died doing what he loved?"
Annette and Phil agreed – that was the appropriate epitaph.
Looking at their sad faces, Mark laughed, “Hey! I'm still here, don’t write Mark Johnson off just yet.”
With a confident stride, Mark and Annette left the car; as the walking down the road, their thoughts were as one. Would they see each other again? Or would Annette be writing the story as a memorial to her lost love?
A few hundred yards from the gate, Mark stopped. Turning, he said, “This is our parting, love, go pick your spot." With that, he kissed her and walked on.
As he arrived at the gated entrance, he turned to look back, blew a kiss and crossed himself, before entering the doomed and darkened grounds. Inside, all he could see was blackness so dark that at times he could not look at his hands. He could feel the evil creeping around him, trying to find any weakness in his soul to exploit.
The essence found only a kind soul in Mark, with no signs of greed, jealousy, anger or malice. It was forced to accept a stalemate, as it could not devour him, no more than he could banish it. Mark walked around the grounds shooting pictures with his camera, not knowing if it would record, as this was an essence, not substance. He was walking around taking his photographs when suddenly he was forced to blink as a flash of blue light shot at him. Outside, Annette was sitting still, brush in hand, waiting for guidance from the spirits. Suddenly, her hand started to paint, as she painted she could see forms inside the house taking shape, moving, and changing. All the time new faces appeared at other windows, new voices asked to get painted to capture the agony of being alone.
Mark walked around the grounds, feeling a pull on his soul, half of him wanting to go in, the other half saying 'stay here.' It was a tough choice to make. He knew one way or another no-one would blame him for his actions. Slowly plucking up courage, Mark advanced to the door of the old house. It was covered with the slime of old rotten wood and emitted a pungent and disgusting stench. Mark slowly opened the door and was immediately hit with an overwhelming feeling of misery from within the house. Many lost souls lived within these walls, yet he somehow felt that to free them was beyond his control, as they needed to forgive and forget past mistakes.
Annette’s spirit guide was painting a giant worm that covered the house, encircled the grounds, with teeth and faces exuding from every pore. It was almost as if this had lived deep within the grounds for centuries.
Mark was walking around the upper floors when he heard Annette call to him. “Please do not open the door, love!”
The terror in her voice was so apparent that he obeyed, walking past the door, leaving it closed. After he had run down the stairs and out the doors, he looked back, kissed his cross and never turned around.
“Thanks for the warning love,” he called to Annette.
“What warning? I didn't shout at you. I thought you wouldn't hear me if I did, anyway.”
“But I heard you clear as now!”
“Believe me, darling, and I did not call out to you. Where were you when you heard me?”
“On the upper floor, third door on the left.”
“Oh, God!” Annette cried.
“What’s up, love?”
“Look at the spirit painting, darling!”
As Mark examined the painting, he could see that behind the door in question was the central mouth of the snake, its jaws snapping and drooling.
The next few minutes passed slowly, as the couple thanked the spirits for saving Mark, and bringing him back to safety. Then the two lovers walked back to the car. Sitting in the car knuckles tense and ready, Phil hardly noticed the pair until Annette said, “It’s okay, Phil, you can relax now.”
“I saw Mark go in and thought the next thing I would hear would be Annette screaming at me! Why aren't you harmed, Mark?”
“The only reason I can think of," Mark explained, "is that because I never craved material wealth, nor was I envious of those who did, the essence couldn't find a weakness in me.”
* * *