This is a continuation of a story I was writing some time ago. See here for the last instalment.
This story was inspired by the following word prompts:
Today’s things are: farewell, retirement, pasture
James returned to the Kitchen to find that Mrs Ponsomby had breakfast well underway.
The smells of the sausages and bacon sizzling in the pan made his stomach rumble. It was one of his favourite aromas.
Jennifer was helping Mrs Ponsomby by beating the eggs with a little milk.
“Go and Wash your hands, James, you’re all covered in grime and cobwebs from that cellar” Jennifer chided automatically falling back into her role as the bossy younger sister. Since growing up in the orphanage, they’d always been close but the last couple of years they had led separate lives. He worked in the City as a bank clerk and Jennifer was a teaching assistant at a Primary school in the suburbs. They both had their separate little dingy flats and led separate lives, meeting up occasionally. It was funny how being back together they had reverted. He was once again the protective older brother.
Obediently he went upstairs and cleaned himself up, then returned to the dining room and set the table.
After enjoying breakfast, Jennifer decided to secrete herself away in the Library and read. She enjoyed reading immensely and had been pleased to find that there were several old classics on the shelves that she’d always meant to read but never go round to it. The musty, mouldy smell was prevalent but not as bad as in the dining room, and it mingled with the smell of paper and crumbling leather which gave it an almost comforting fragrance. Jennifer kicked off her shoes and curled up on the large green leather armchair and opened up a large tome. The leather cover was marked with a circular symbol with a five-pointed star inside, single point down. It reminded her of a talisman she’d seen, somewhere. She couldn’t remember where, exactly, it could have been a film or movie. The symbol seemed to call out to her, entice her to open the book and read.
James was content to leave Jennifer in the Library, he felt instinctively that she would be safe in there.
Walking into the Kitchen he saw Mrs Ponsomby peeling and slicing potatoes.
“I’m preparing your dinner now. I hope Bacon and onion potato gratin will be OK? I’ll leave it in the oven so you can warm it up when you want it, then I’ll make your lunch before I leave.”
“You’ve only just got here and you’re talking of leaving already?”
“I don’t stay here a moment longer than I have to. Oh, and I am sorry about your Aunt.”
“What do you mean?” James asked aggressively.
“Well, she’s disappeared, hasn’t she? She’s not the first to disappear from this house. No-one has ever been found.” Mrs Ponsomby returned to her potatoes and kept her head down, clearly reluctant to say anything more.
James decided to go down and have another explore of the cellar. As he opened the Cellar door, Mrs Ponsomby looked up, startled.
“You’re not going down there again, are you? The Cellar was one of the two places I could never bear to go in this house. Always felt so wrong down there.”
“Oh, Where was the other place?” James enquired curiously.
“Why, The Master’s bedroom, of course. I never felt comfortable in there. That’s why the Master always cleaned it himself. That’s why when he died we had Dr Forbes come.” Mrs Ponsomby realised she’d said too much and stopped abruptly.
“Who’s Dr Forbes?” James remembered his name being mentioned before, something about locking the Master bedroom door and taking away the key.
“If you don’t mind, I need to get these potatoes sliced, they always take the longest” Mrs Ponsomby turned her back, picked up a large knife and began slicing away.
James turned on the cellar lights and went down into the bowels of the old house.
The same cold feeling passed through his body. The same eerie glow came from the far unlit chambers leading off from the main area.
He found the room with the scientific equipment, the leather armchairs and the jars and books.
Meanwhile, Jennifer was trying to decipher the meaning of the words she was reading. The old leather book seemed to be a journal kept by Josiah Van De Gaard who must have been Aunt Elizabeth’s and Uncle Joshua’s father, judging from the date. It had been written in ink and the hand was elaborate with lots of flamboyant embellishments to the letters that made it quite hard to read.
“Today, I start my most radical experiment and scientific adventure yet. I, who have discovered a substance that can remove all pain and that enables one to pursue the most arduous of mental tortures without strain. I, who have explored further than anyone into the deepest and darkest knowledge known to man. This will be my greatest achievement. The pursuit of the fifth and all-encompassing element, the quintessence, the fifth substance in addition to the four elements, thought to compose the heavenly bodies and to be latent in all things; the very fabric of the Soul.”
This was dated February the 4th, 1898. The next entry was dated the 22nd of April 1890.
“Oh, How can a man direct his intellect fully and engage with science when he is burdened with a wife. I should never have married her, but she is with child and I felt obliged to honour my promises, all for a moment of physical pleasure. I thought I was above such weaknesses of the flesh, but I realise I am as weak as any other man. I must seek to remove these weaknesses from within me. To accomplish my task I must become cold and emotionless. Only with a clear mind will I achieve greatness. I must take my retirement from normal life and direct all my attention to study.”
For a while, the entries became obscure with references to scientific jargon mixed with arcane symbols.
Then an entry dated October 31st 1900 made Jennifer shudder.
“Here, I am, a man avowed never to wed or enter into carnal relations, with a wife and four children. I cannot keep getting distracted by my weakness. I have turned the Cellar into the place for my experiments and things have reached a critical point. I will not be spied upon. Not by Martha’s nephew, Henry and not by the maid, either. They have been punished, appropriately. Henry, I butchered like the proverbial Lamb at pasture. I even hanged his body on the meat hooks in the kitchen. Elizabeth came in and saw him. I thought she would scream, but she looked up at the body and laughed. I think she has inherited my sense of humour, at least. Sally won’t be spying on anyone ever again either. I enticed her out to the boathouse and showed her the bottom of the lake. I enjoyed feeling her squirming and kicking, her life force gradually leaching away. I felt her youth and vigour filling me instead. Restoring my own energy. Is this the secret of immortality? I wonder.”
Jennifer stopped reading and dropped the book and pulled her cardigan around her.
There was a knock on the door and it swung open to reveal Mrs Ponsomby.
“I’ve put your lunch on the Dining room table. It’s only tinned ham and salad, with pickled beetroot, I’m afraid, but it should tide you over until dinner. Dinner’s in the oven and will take two hours to cook. There’s enough for your Aunt if she should return, but I wouldn’t hold up much hope, Miss. People don’t come back.”
“Thank you, Mrs Ponsomby. Have you seen my Brother?”
“He went back down to the Cellar about an hour ago, Miss. I told him you wouldn’t catch me going down there. Well, I’ll say farewell, now. I will be back in the morning to cook you Breakfast before you leave. I hope to see you then. Oh, and Happy Hallowe’en.”
Mrs Ponsomby turned and left the house. As she so often did when departing that place, she made the sign of the cross and said a prayer for the departed and hoped that young girl wouldn’t be joining them soon.
Copyright: Kristian Fogarty 30/September/2018