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Authors: KJ Charles

The Caldwell Ghost

BOOK: The Caldwell Ghost
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The Caldwell Ghost

by KJ Charles

 

Dedication:

With thanks to WH Hodgson for the loan!

 

A note to the
Editor

Dear Henry
,

I have been Simon Feximal
's companion, assistant and chronicler for twenty years now, and during that time my
Casebooks of Feximal the Ghost-Hunter
have spread the reputation of this most accomplished of ghost-hunters far and wide.

You have asked me
often for the tale of our first meeting, and how my association with Feximal came about. I have always declined, because it is a story too private to be truthfully recounted, and a memory too precious to be falsified. But none knows better than I that stories must be told.

So here is it, Henry, a
full and accurate account of how I met Simon Feximal, which I shall leave with my solicitor to pass to you after my death.

I dare say it may not be quite
what you expect.

Robert
Caldwell

September 1914

 

***

 

I am, my friends agree, a fairly easy-going sort of chap, not quick to anger or to fear.
Thus, when I came to live in Caldwell Place, I paid no mind to the screams in the night, which could easily have been foxes or cats (never mind that they sprang from the empty air of my bedroom). I scarcely objected to the muffled moans, which could have come from a neighbour's pleasures (if the house had not stood alone, with no neighbour for a mile to either side)

But
I did feel it was a bit much when the walls began to bleed.

 

***

 

Simon Feximal, ghost hunter, stood in the imposing entrance hall of Caldwell Place, the ancestral home that I had inherited from my uncle along with a fortune insufficient to restore the dilapidated property, and an angry spirit. Mr. Feximal was observing his surroundings. I was observing him.

He was worth the observation.
A little above medium height but with very broad shoulders and an erect stance, he held himself like a pugilist. His face was more like that of a priest, albeit not one of any religion practised today. The sort of priest who wielded a sickle, or a ceremonial dagger, I thought: stern, unsmiling, dedicated. He had a beak of a nose, heavy brows over deep-set dark eyes, and a thick head of steel-grey hair, although his face suggested he was not many years older than my own twenty-five.

Mr.
Feximal turned, looking around him, brows drawn together.

"
Have you inhabited Caldwell Place long, Mr. Caldwell?" His voice was a deliciously deep baritone. I repressed the urge to shiver at the sound.

"
Not six weeks," I told him. "I inherited it from my uncle three months ago. The house has stood empty for many years because of its evil reputation. I felt that was an absurd superstition, and I need to sell the place, so I thought I could come and put paid to the nonsense with a bit of nineteenth-century common sense." Both of us turned and looked at the dull brown-red streaks on the wall, where the blood had bubbled, flowed and dried. "I have now decided I was wrong."

Feximal nodded. He had doubtless heard many similar openings
to many similar stories. "May I see the portrait?"

I took him into the Blue Drawing
Room, lighting all the candelabras and lamps in the room. The night had drawn in and I felt the atmosphere was sufficiently sinister without dark shadows. He stood in the middle of the room, slowly turning to take it all in, and once again I took the chance to observe him, admiring his strong thighs and muscled back. Apparently ghost-hunting kept one in excellent shape.

The room was also worth observing, although less attractive.
It was furnished in the style of seventy years ago, and although the dustcovers had been removed and the upholstery cleaned, the stiff-backed chairs were still faded and ancient. The parquet floor was bare of rugs. A large, speckled mirror dominated one wall with its heavy gilt frame -- I saw Feximal pay particular note to that -- and a handful of family portraits hung on the wall opposite. It was one of those that we had come to see, the one whose image had appeared all over the house, etched in shadows, woven in spiderwebs, and finally outlined on the walls in blood. I had taken this to be a hint.

"
Randolph, Lord Caldwell," I said, walking towards it. Feximal came to stand at my side. He smelled faintly of an odd spice that I could not place. "My ancestor of some two centuries."

"
The story, as you know it, please?" Feximal contemplated the picture with a frown in his fine dark eyes. The man in the painting looked back with a faint smile. He was a handsome chap, with green eyes rather like my own, but a much more assured, aristocratic demeanour, wearing the curled white periwig adopted by gentlemen in those bygone days.

"
I can't vouch for the truth of this," I began. "It's family history, and not the kind that's preserved in the books. What I've heard is that Randolph here was a degenerate of the most unrepentant kind."

"
Meaning?"

"
He had a fondness for men." I glanced over. Feximal didn't look shocked, or disgusted, or even very surprised. "He apparently spread his attentions widely, from the stableboys to the butler, from his tenants to his neighbours. He seems to have been indiscriminate."

Feximal looked again at the portrait. His gaze was assessing.

It is a strange phenomenon that men of my tastes often have a knack for sensing when another man shares those tastes. Without signals, hints or touches, one can often simply
tell
. I possess that knack. It had prevented me being assaulted or arrested on many occasions, and now I felt the slightest bat-squeak of awareness and it struck me that the stern, mysterious, powerful Mr. Feximal and I might possibly have something in common.

Not that I would have
pressed the issue, alone in a haunted house with a ghost-hunter. But still.

Feximal was still looking at the portrait.
"What sort of man was he? Is he said to have forced his attentions on the unwilling?"

"
Not that I know," I was pleased to report. "He was not a brute, to my knowledge. Simply a man of decided inclination, applied widely and enthusiastically."

Feximal
's mouth twitched. I wondered what he would look like when he laughed. If he laughed.

"
He met a violent end," I went on. "It seems that he was in bed with someone -- a man -- when he was shot to death. The murderer was never caught or tried, because of the possible scandal, I suppose. Whether it was a spurned lover, a current lover that he had yet to spurn, his own wife, a neighbour's wife..."

Feximal held a hand up.
"I grasp the point. Did he have decent burial?"

"
I suspect it would have been hurried. He was taken in the act, and the law was even less kind then than it is now."

"
You sound sympathetic."

"
Of course I am. The poor fellow was murdered."

"
I find most of my clients lose their powers of empathy when the screaming starts."

I shrugged. I had a fellow feeling for the deceased Lord Caldwell, but it seemed something of a risk to say so.
"I don't suppose he wants to be here any more than I want him here."

The dark eyes turned to me with clear approval.
"You are quite right. If I can find a way to free him, it is as much in his interest as yours." Feximal peered at the portrait again. "If you don't mind going over it once more, the symptoms of the haunting include--?"

"
The bleeding walls, of course. That's happened several times now. Screams at night. And other noises."

"
What sorts of noises?"

"
Moans. Lots of moans."

"
Of pain?"

"
Er, no, not precisely." I felt myself blush.

"
Then of what nature?" Feximal asked.

"
Of pleasure."

"
A man's pleasure?"

"
Precisely," I said, and wondered if he might speculate how closely I was acquainted with the sound of men's pleasure.

He didn
't seem to, instead looking away to assess the room. "I see."

"Mr.
Feximal, do you think you can deal with this?" I asked. "I have no knowledge of what you do or how you do it. Can you make it -- him -- go away?"

He
turned back to me then, his eyes rather stern under the heavy brows. I felt a decided quiver at being the object of his full, commanding attention. "It is not a matter of making anything go away, Mr. Caldwell. A wrong was done here, a pain caused, a circle opened that has yet to be closed. Only when the story is finished, by whatever means, will the haunting be over."

"
I am a journalist," I blurted out, because his deep, authoritative voice and chiding demeanour were giving me quite inappropriate sensations. "I know about stories. They must have endings. A story without an ending is an unbearable itch to the reader."

"
And worse to its protagonist." He looked at me and there was a connection there now which warmed me even more. Did I see appreciation in those dark eyes, too, an awareness of me as a man? I could not tell. "So I shall find the ending, and end the haunting. I fear I must ask you to leave me to do that alone, and to depart this house now."

That was a
bitter disappointment. As a journalist, my curiosity was boundless, and I had been anticipating the spectacle of a ghost-hunter in action. As a man, I should have liked to hear more of that deep voice that seemed to press like dark velvet on my nerve endings.

"
I should rather not leave you alone here," I said. "It is an uncomfortable place even without the haunting, and the manifestations of the thing's presence have become stronger and angrier by the day. I should not like to be alone here myself, and I worry for your wellbeing. May I not assist you? After all, the ghost is my family responsibility."

"
I am used to working alone."

"
Might you not benefit from companionship, even so?"

He did smile at me then, almost reluctantly, as though he was not used to the
act. The expression was surprisingly warm on such a stern face. "Thank you, Mr. Caldwell. That is a rare consideration. But this is my profession, and I have secrets to keep."

There was no hint of concession there, and I gave in
to his will. In truth, I had not enjoyed the experience of being woken by screams to see blood bubbling out of my walls, and the old house was uncomfortably chilly tonight. I should doubtless be more comfortable elsewhere.

"
Very well, if you insist. I shall bank up the fire for you and then go." I glanced at the fire as I spoke, and blinked. It was already burning brightly, far too brightly for the icy tang in the air. "That's odd, it's quite high. I wonder why it's so cold in here."

Feximal turned sharply. As he did so, the fire went out. One moment,
it was a cheerful blaze to the eye, the next black, cold, dead coals, without a hiss of steam.

I stared, disbelieving. Feximal spoke urgently.
"Go, Caldwell. Go now.
Run
."

I will admit, I bolted, scurrying to the door, tugging on the handle. Then again. And again.

"It's locked," I said. There was nobody else in the isolated building. The door had never stuck before. It would not open now.

Feximal strode over. He gave the doorknob a tug.

"It seems to be locked," he agreed. "Although I should point out that there is no keyhole."

Nor was there. Yet the door was, without question,
closed, and staying that way. The fire was out, and as I stared frantically around the room, the candle flames began to wink out, one after another, each tiny bulwark against the darkness extinguishing as I watched.

BOOK: The Caldwell Ghost
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