“The Estate” Twisted Gothic Horror by Ciaran Doran

Kronborg/Elsinore castle near Helsingor, Denmark

My name is Carl Witold, of the Danish family Trampe. I am currently bound for the port of Elsinore, thirty miles north of Copenhagen, being commissioned to undertake restoration. That is my trade, learned from my father and grandfather. I specialise in cut glass and chandeliers. The work itself will take place in the town’s harbour fortress. You may know it better as Hamlet’s Castle. I have renovated the interiors there more than thirty times. Soon I will retire. This may be my final boat journey though, due to ill health, so I wish to leave this testament behind in the library at Kronborg.

My tools are carried in a leather case, the same as any doctor or chemist might porter. I find it most useful. The boat trip northwards is always pleasant and I can still recall the first time I took it, as a boy. The last time I took it though, three years ago, everything seemed different. A line of squalls came from nowhere, forcing our crew to sail with the blow and create delays. In fact, the wind seemed to change direction so often that we were sometimes going around in loops and circles. Many people were seasick due to the choppy water but one of my companions seemed to be made of sterner stuff. He remained unperturbed by the roughening sea which quite frankly sent a few of us into panic, though we suppressed it as best we could. The mysterious man possessed a similar bag to my own and we struck up a conversation based on that, once plain sailing had returned. The odd thing about the sea after squalls is that it can become unnervingly calm. Quite dead really and spookily so. No birds cross the breeze. No insects bite the skin.

One almost wishes for the squalls to return to offset the feeling of being in a void, but not quite. This man I addressed was an otherworldly figure with unkempt hair and a spindly frame. He said he was born in the Netherlands but had travelled for most of his life. Let it be clear that I spoke to him. I do not think he would have bothered with me, had I not attempted to make his acquaintance. There was an air of hard-won peace about him which I found intriguing. It was quite unlike the high banter of the sailors and the restless eyes of the other passengers who were mere pawns in the play between nature and seafarers.

He gave his name as Van Horn and called himself a retired sailor, but on much rougher seas than the Sound between Copenhagen and Elsinore. The Arctic Ocean was his home for six months of the year, during the summer season when most of us enjoy the milder air.

No, Van Horn was a whaler, one of the most dangerous professions there is and still very prevalent at this time, the year now being 1851. In fact, he told me the reason for whaling ships being forced into the inhospitable Artic was that the seas on both sides of Greenland were fished out. Whalers had become so proficient that they were in danger of running out of prey. Large populations of Bowhead whales had recently been discovered in the Arctic though and became highly prized due to their thick blubber, the thickest among all the whale species.

Van Horn had traveled overland from Esbjerg to Copenhagen to pay a debt, a journey requiring several days. The debt was one that couldn’t be allowed to fester as the lender was known to track payees down, some of whom disappeared. Van Horn, to his chagrin only received this information after he’d invested a good portion of the money. Therefore, instead of taking his usual period of recuperation on land after a long stint at sea, he wisely grabbed another opportunity and made the money up.

This left him quite exhausted and as his coach came within a half days ride of Copenhagen, he decided to bunk in the Danish capital for a few days and rest his weary bones. Relaxation would come only after paying the debt off, with whatever interest had accrued. The plan of his own devising was not meant to be however, and things changed dramatically when another passenger stepped onboard his coach near the Roskilde Cathedral. It had long since gotten dark, being well after midnight so when the coach stopped abruptly Van Horn struggled to see further than the coach window’s velvet curtain. Just ahead of the shining black horses, a lamp lit the gloom and from the darkness behind it a priest emerged to make his way onboard, joining Van Horn. Our fellow, on seeing that the priest was pale, and trembling stepped out to help him up the high coach step.

The driver, most uncharacteristically for a coachman remained facing sternly forward, seemingly uncaring. He had also completely forgotten to mention the fact that another passenger would join Van Horn. Inside the cabin, the priest introduced himself politely as Father Petersen but even after resting for a while he seemed no more at ease and Van Horn asked the venerable if he was unwell. Petersen mopped his brow and revealed that he had just received some terrible and unexpected news. It concerned the death of a young curate, a close personal friend of his. Van Horn offered the meagre handful of sympathetic words that a sailor possesses and lent an ear but Petersen did not elaborate further. Thus they traveled for several miles in silence.

After that time Petersen must have felt like he had composed himself sufficiently because he spoke up again, ready to tell the story in full.

The curate had been sent to investigate a hill mansion. The mysterious owner, a man known locally as Baron Jaeger, on account of his wealth and not his nobility had been a hermit by many accounts and went unseen for long periods at a time. Still, he was at least observed until almost a year before the death of the curate. Jaeger’s disappearance coincided with two storms merging into a frighteningly large hurricane and battering the East coast. Several omens appeared during the storm, which were interpreted as evil having descended on the area, having been attracted by some misdoing. To begin with, a blue fireball burst through the stained-glass window of the evangelical church and razed an entire section of the altar. Those who braved the storm to pray for safety found themselves face to face with a rarity of nature’s wrath. By some miracle though, none were hurt. Secondly, a school of green dolphins beached themselves on the rocky shore at the foot of the estate. By the time the winds had died again it was too late to save any of them. All the local residents could do was to bury the carcasses before the process of decomposition caused them to explode with a pervasive and lasting stench. Powerful red lightning was also clearly seen to have struck the big house many times in succession during the storm. Therefore, a kindhearted neighbour by the name of Jensen went to check on the house and the occupant afterwards but never returned home.

When the authorities called to the mansion to investigate Jensen’s disappearance, they found it empty. After a meticulous search the only conclusions that could be realistically reached were that the well-heeled Jensen must have met some unfortunate fate at the hands of robbers and that Jaeger could have taken a trip, most likely abroad. Still, none could account for the fact that a small blade, belonging to Jensen was found in the extensive library of the building.

Stranger still was the fact that it wasn’t lying haphazardly on the floor but inserted between two heavy tomes on a shelf, as if it had been used in attempting to pry them apart.

The issue of the disappearances simmered down until some children who ventured to play in the house also went missing without trace.

Despite being forbidden to go there, and perhaps because it’s exciting to break rules, six local children climbed the gates and ascended the hill to the house. One companion was lame and struggled to make it up the slope as quickly as the others. This boy, a sensitive child later told a story that he couldn’t possibly have invented. At first, he saw the faces of his friends appearing at the windows and waving happily to him. Yet when he finally got inside, they were nowhere to be seen. His initial thought was that they were hiding to tease him and so he expected a friendly scare at any moment. None came though. Room after room was empty. After some time he heard crying and then muted wailing, which seemed to come from a great distance or over the wind but he knew not how to track the voices down. After a final frightened search, he limped home to tell all. It was dark by then, so when the parents eventually gathered, they lit torches and moved as one to search the entire house from top to bottom.

Nothing was found. No signs of struggle and no bodies. If the boy’s story was true it was an incredibly eerie one. At first then, unable to believe it the people accused the child of lying and threatened him with severe and lasting punishment, as if he was taking a part in a twisted game. The old saying goes that games taken too far can bring misfortune. As the night wore into daylight and the children stayed away the heartbroken parents came to accept the truth.

The disappearances were no coincidence. The house was possessed. Somehow it had become a gateway to another realm which swallowed souls randomly. All but the most stoic expressed their growing fears and avoided the area.

A year later, some distant relatives of Jaeger’s, having not heard from him, presumed him dead. They moved to sell the estate, but rumours had spread, and none would buy it. A messenger sent by their advocate approached the curate. He was parish priest by then and responsible for the church’s duties in the district. The family offered to donate a considerable sum to the church if he would only bless the house. The important condition that was to be met before payment though, was that the curate make the public aware he had cleansed the property. In other words, he had to perform an exorcism or at least spread word that he had. Through his own zeal to gain this money for the church the curate was led like a lamb to the slaughter.

The priest himself had trained the novice curate and besides giving him basic sacristan skills, he had also explained that the path of a clergyman was not an easy one. The curate was full of ambition though and cared only about progress and development. Although the young man was superficially polite, the older priest felt he had secretly scoffed inside when it came to the more arcane aspects of spiritual knowledge. Therefore, he had held back on imparting matters of a suprarational nature. Petersen confessed to Van Horn that he had partially done this out of spite and naturally he felt terrible about it in light of the events.

So, in this regard the mentoring priest felt he had failed. He had not pressed the young man hard enough on vital issues and the curate had met his fate rather ill equipped. That was the pressing reason for Petersen undertaking his journey, with Van Horn as the only other passenger.

He felt he must answer for the curate’s death and do what he could to send any malevolent spirit onwards and close the door to Hell which must have opened on its arrival. Petersen was not entirely sure he would fare any better than the curate though, so he had come prepared to face his own death and did not mind admitting apprehension to Van Horn.

The Dutch-born whaler expressed surprise that the mansion had not been burned to the ground by the locals or even the authorities. The priest however thought its intact structure to be quite logical. With the entity’s place of attachment destroyed it would only grow in malevolence and seek a replacement. What person would want it taking over their home instead? Van Horn could not see past this reasoning and fell into contemplation for a while, not just about the story he’d heard but about life as a whole. People come and go. He knew that. He’d never before thought about where they went though. To Van Horn, the priest beside him seemed suddenly fragile. He had no friendly associate even to carry his bag. Van Horn found himself offering assistance and even telling the lie that such matters had interested him his whole life.

Petersen initially seemed glad to hear this but he also gave Van Horn a stern warning to renege there and then or follow his offer through. He warned that once they were engaged in the process there would be no way out until a conclusion was reached, one way or the other. With some trepidation and considering fully the risk of delaying his debt, Van Horn agreed to stand by his offer. Thus his course and his life was diverted. He stepped out of the carriage along with the priest not far from the woods.

They walked for the best part of three miles until they saw the house sitting lonely atop a hill. It had been empty for well over a year and was beginning to show signs of dilapidation. Birds had torn at it here and there and were nesting in its crevices. Crows especially had made it their haunt. They were large and numerous. Van Horn had never seen so many gathered together. Father Petersen interpreted this to be a sign and not one they should celebrate. He gave clear instructions as they neared the steps. Van Horn was to remain behind the priest at all times and not speak if addressed directly by any voice or apparition. Petersen warned that some beings have existed as long as man has walked the earth and their methods are tried and tested. They can toy with the human mind, seduce wills of iron and even have power to create illusions which do not exist in reality. Thus, cautioned Van Horn stepped back and allowed the priest to lead the way. Once inside the house, Petersen seem to grow in stature. He announced himself and his intention, introduced Van Horn as his assistant and asked for the entity’s cooperation in being laid to rest. The hallways of the grand mansion’s entrance reverberated with the authority in his voice. A long silence followed. Van Horn moved to say something but the priest’s hand shot up like a bolt to stay him. The clergyman was listening intently. Something had arrested his senses.

“Do you hear me?” he suddenly shouted. “I know you are present!” From far away, the walls began to shake slowly with a rumbling wail that grew in intensity until it was all around them and the ground shuddered under their feet. It rose in pitch to become an ear piercing shriek so terrible to hear that they couldn’t help but cover their heads and cower. Then it ceased abruptly. Van Horn was intensely aware of a presence close by, alike to someone standing there watching them but no one was. If they had been, Van Horn would have sworn their face was twisted with rage and hate. The reality of the sensation was chilling beyond compare. Even all the oddities he’d witnessed at sea: flying fish, giant squid marks on sperm whales, jellyfish as big as tents, St. Elmo’s fire and even mermaids’ tails disappearing into the deep could not have prepared him for that moment.

The feeling retreated gradually but still he felt watched, as if from a high place he could not see. He looked at Petersen. The priest nodded solemnly and determinedly. They each set foot on the stairs which were wide enough for four men abreast and proceeded to the generous landing. A large library faced them, impressively stocked with shelves to the ceiling. Petersen immediately wandered to the fireplace to examine the portrait of a dark-haired woman carrying a child. Her eyes were sad beyond imagining. Upon looking at her face, Van Horn wondered how the artist held his brush steady to paint her. He told me he would have gotten lost in her eyes which rested on the innocent child, had Petersen not distracted him with movement. The priest was then rummaging among a set of scrolls that were held in a deep alcove above the fireplace, presumably to keep them dry.

As Petersen reached to the back of the alcove, Van Horn saw his foot depress a tile which sank by several inches. This occurred and a bookcase slid to one side revealing an unlit passageway. With no hesitation the priest walked into the darkness and Van Horn had to follow suit or end up alone. He said he had barely gone ten steps when he realized the priest was no longer there. He spoke Petersen’s name, but his own voice replied, echoing. This frightened him, especially in the confines of the dark corridor. He thought about turning back but he remembered the promise he made in the carriage and so with some morality he steeled himself. The passage he estimated to be about thirty feet in length and highly curved. In fact it was so curved that he could not believe he did not come full circle. At the end though he came to a different room entirely. Two swords hung crossed on the wall beneath a yellow lamp and there was a door to the left and right. The new room was otherwise bare and windowless.

As soon as Van Horn stepped inside to investigate the doorways, a bookcase moved behind him to seal the room off. Indeed, the bookcase looked like many others that the library had contained, yet it stood alone, blocking the passage. This was extremely unnerving. Despite his best efforts and he was certainly not lacking in strength, Van Horn could not get the bookcase to budge. At one point he even resorted to removing a sword from the wall and used it to pry at crevices. The whole mechanism was so well crafted that even this was to no avail.

Temporarily resigning himself to the situation, Van Horn opened the left hand door and looked inside. The room was identical to the one he stood in. His mind spun in confusion. How could it be? Even the sword he had removed was gone from its position and lay where he had left it by the bookcase. Van Horn crossed that room and opened the far door. Again, the next room was identical. And though he tried his best the passage would not open in those rooms either.

He admitted to me that panic rose when he realized he was trapped in some type of illusion. He began to hurtle through the rooms without pause or hesitation, flinging the doors open and rushing on to the next and the next without any change in the situation. Eventually he worked himself into such a frenzy that he thought he had gone insane. There were no windows in the rooms, no way to get a bearing on the outside world. All was the same. Then the man began to wonder if he had inhaled a dust in the passage that brought on a hallucination, but everything seemed so tangibly real. It was baffling.

At length Van Horn grew tired and stopped for a rest. No sooner had he sat down with his back against the wall when a loud knock came from the unopened door in front of him.

Startled, he jumped to his feet and watched the door carefully. It did not open, the handle remained inanimate. “Who is there?” Van Horn asked with more bravado than he felt. His question was answered only with a stark silence. After a long time he cautiously opened the door but the next room was empty, just like all the others. By then he was no longer sure that he truly did hear a knock. Perhaps it was a trick of the mind, brought on by fear and isolation, he thought. Van Horn sat down again, nonplussed, and closed his eyes once more to gain some peace. Again a loud knock came. Three times. Once more he jumped up, alarmed, and called out but again there was no reply. When he opened the door all was as before. A quiet, empty room the same as all the others met him, in defiance of reason.

Van Horn said the knocking convinced him that someone, somewhere was active in the house and manipulating the whole scenario. The thought gave him the determination to keep going until he found the culprit or another clue at least. Therefore, Van Horn passed through and stubbornly opened many scores of doors but never was there a soul to be seen.

Yet, all the while an eerie sense of emptiness pervaded the air constantly, as if a person had recently left the room he was in and only the slight breeze created by their haste remained.

It was then that his mind returned to Petersen. Was the priest in a similar situation to himself? Surely though, the knocking was caused by another. If Petersen was knocking, the sound was bound to be more frantic, more persistent. Van Horn feared for the ardent clergyman almost more than himself. How long could the priest survive without food and water? In his mind, Van Horn began to calculate. Petersen had met the coach after midnight. They had arrived at the gates of the estate by midday. Having been awake the entire night before, Van Horn was sure his bout of tiredness had come on in the late afternoon. He was confident though that he had traversed more than a thousand rooms in his desperation. Therefore, night must have been upon him again.

Feeling heavy with the realization, he lay down and tried in earnest to sleep. Barely adrift, he felt the knocking invade his consciousness and stir him roughly. He tried to ignore the sound but its force intensified to become violent in nature. Then sorely afraid, he seized the sword beside him and got up to face the trouble. No trouble came though and the next room he barged into was just the same as the one he left. He was made no less nervous by this and kept the sword in his hand for a long while. Only after proceeding through several hundreds of rooms did it grow so heavy that he set it down. Van Horn’s nightmare began to darken at that point because he needed rest but the knocking showed him no mercy.

The repetitive circumstances continued for what felt like days. Right until Van Horn started rambling aloud to stave off the silence, the feeling of being watched, and to convince himself that although he was trapped by some evil force, he would be able to remain calm and sane by employing the power of logic. He could not figure out though how any creature, mortal or otherwise had the ability to assume full command over its immediate environment. Eventually, with no other information for deduction available, he came to suspect that he had entered Hell somehow or a place of purgatory at least. If that was the case the number of rooms could well be an infinite one.

Was it not then wiser, he began thinking, just to sit and wait for death? He would conserve his energies, prolong his life and could use the time to reflect back upon his actions and prepare for what might follow material existence. Then again, how could he possibly be sure that the very next door did not lead out of the terrible labyrinth? Van Horn dragged his bones onward with only the faintest glimmer of hope to light his way. I say dragged because that is how I imagine it myself. He told me quite frankly that as time went on he became emaciated and physically impotent. No power remained in his body to struggle and his mind became disoriented and untrustworthy due to hunger. Due to this undignified descent into the animal state, he then vowed that before it became too late to assert any control over his own life, he would use the last of his strength to sever an artery with the sword. Food he eventually stopped caring about, but water; he desired water more than anything he’d ever wanted in his whole life.

For a whaler who steals goliath mammals from their ocean home, he thought it a form of divine punishment perhaps that he too should come to miss the life-giving fluid so much. His mind was harried with images of the men cutting whale flesh alongside boats with long-handled spades. Also, the boiling vats of blubber onboard, prone to spillage on the waves that scalded seamen when they did. Yea, whaling is no clean process and despite constant scrubbing, boats come to stink of rotted flesh. It is said that ships downwind can always smell a whaler passing.

So, with the sins of his soul unfolding for his perusal, Van Horn became uncomfortable and chose to end himself. The sword’s blade was sharp enough. He tested it neath thumb and she drew blood well. Next was the decision of where to cut. Which nick would end his life most efficiently? Unlike the Japanese military nobility who take their lives painfully by sword as penance, Van Horn felt no obligation to suffer further. He wanted the quickest way out and decided to slash his neck in a running-pressing movement. As he touched the cold metal to his neck, he half expected some intervention, to wake up from a dream or to be called to a halt but none of these things happened. The situation was real and none came to offer help.

Then, just as he at last began the rush of steel he heard muffled shouting in the room ahead of him. Could it be? He stopped to listen. It was! Father Petersen’s unmistakable voice rang out again but why was he shouting? That was the abstract thought that ran through Van Horn’s mind. Nevertheless, joy surged within him at the prospect of seeing the priest again. He pushed the door open and saw Petersen standing silently in the middle of the room, facing the wall. “Father!” was all Van Horn could manage to say before he realized something was terribly wrong.

The priest did not respond normally, only turned mechanically to see who had entered. His eyes were soulless, black as night and in the center of each glowed an ice-white spark. The priest then walked towards Van Horn showing no emotion whatsoever.

Van Horn opened his mouth, but no sound left it. The first blow was solid and imbued with a power that a man of the cloth should not have possessed. It caught Van Horn by surprise, the fist knocking his head sideways but he did not fall. The priest lumbered forward and hit him again in the face.

The second blow forced Van Horn down but he scrambled to his knees and tried to get to the door behind him. He managed to close it and put his weight against it but the door burst out of its hinges and sent him flying. The priest charged through like a fireball and glared at Van Horn, his face so distorted with hate that it was unbearable to look upon. Van Horn could only run and he intended full pelt. He was caught from behind though by Petersen and sent crashing to the floor. By chance, the whaler’s hand came to rest on the lying sword’s hilt and with recourse to little else he turned with it upheld as protection.

Petersen bore down on him so strongly that he immediately ran himself through. He was as heavy and incongruous as lead on a sapling though and for a moment all Van Horn could do was to hold him there and watch his impossible struggles against death. Finally, as it ended and Petersen curled up, his own weight carried him to one side. The priest hit the wall with a thump and slid softly to the floor. For a moment Van Horn watched him carefully because the priest’s eyes were as large as saucers and he twitched several times. There was no way life could return to that body though because the abdominal wall had been penetrated and the spinal cord severed. Petersen was gone for good.

Van Horn rose with unfamiliar feelings inside of him. He had taken human life and it was the life of an honest cleric. Any witness would say the action was to save Van Horn’s own skin, but the Dutchman felt no peace with it. He knelt to say a prayer and an inept, pointless farewell. The altercation had sapped a great deal of his remaining strength and he thought he might follow the priest in a brief time anyway. Then they would be reunited. While he could though he would find the creature responsible and avenge all of the unnecessary deaths.

The rooms began to pass him again, one hundred, two hundred, there was little point in counting. Then, suddenly, up in the distance he heard shouting again. It couldn’t be! Clearly, it was Petersen’s voice but whether a creature was mimicking it or guilt haunted him with a hallucination, he could not tell. Again, Petersen bawled, much closer this time. How could it be so, Van Horn asked himself. He looked back but the priest’s body lay there in every room he could see, part of an infinitely long chain of doorways and bookcases.

With a rattle and a creak, the next door in front of Van Horn began opening and he ran blindly with terror in the opposite direction. Petersen’s roar behind him was as powerful as a lion’s. Despite the peril, Van Horn could barely command his legs to carry him. The priest or whatever monster that was, caught him easily and knocked him to the ground just as before. In the middle of the chaos, Van Horn managed to reach two conclusions as quick as lightning. The first was that the priest had somehow survived being run through by the sword. The second was that the creature had revived the priest for fresh purposes of evil. No matter which case was true, Van Horn resolved not to kill again and let the nearby sword lie peacefully.

It was a fateful decision because as he turned, Petersen’s hands were already on his throat and his thumbs closed Van Horn’s windpipe.

Now, a whaler possesses strength that normal men do not. Months and years of rowing against tides, cutting blubber and hauling monstrous pieces of flesh, give rise to sinews like tree branches. With them, Van Horn tore at the priest’s arms but impossibly, they were still stronger than his own. They were hard like iron and Van Horn could not find any movement to counter the force within them. He was destined to endure the hatred flooding into him through the priest’s eyes like two blinding suns. Remarkably though, in that moment of madness, just behind the baleful glare he thought he could sense Petersen’s own soul. Van Horn could see the man was possessed, but by what exactly? He sought some way to communicate with the cleric’s soul but although he could sense Petersen, it was as if Petersen could not recognise his kind companion. Thus, he felt he could not possibly reach him, and they would both be lost, Van Horn through suffocation and the priest by becoming his murderer by some evil puppetry. Van Horn could not think any more. The air in his lungs was disappearing too quickly. As stars began twinkling inside his head and blackness encroached on the edges of his peripheral vision, all he could do was to watch the other man’s demonic expression and madly rolling eyes.

Then, when Van Horn was absolutely certain he would die he forgot his own fear and all that remained was gentle concern for Petersen. Somehow, this fundamental change in Van Horn’s state of mind affected the priest, for his gaze gradually became fixed and and clear. Van Horn could see Petersen’s mind becoming present in his own body again. The cleric looked down baffled at his hands and struggled mightily to release the grip.

Once, twice, thrice before the iron softened into flesh and bone. No sooner had the priest achieved his goal than something came out of his body and rose to ceiling height above them. Although it was incorporeal some external features were discernible, and the image of a fine-boned person was there to behold. The baleful nature of its countenance gradually softened, leaving only the impression of a terrible loneliness. Tears flowed from its midnight blue eyes. Then it ascended quickly and was gone.

Petersen immediately lost consciousness and slumped over. He rolled off Van Horn who got up to tend to him. Without the power of the possessing demon to sustain the priest’s life though, there was nothing to be done. Van Horn closed the man’s eyes respectfully. Then he closed his own and said a prayer for the deceased. As he did so he felt a warm beam of sunlight touch his face. How could it be? He opened his eyes to see that it was true. The sunlight had been revealed by a moving cloud outside a window that he hadn’t seen before. The sound of laughter came from without, and Van Horn moved quickly to the glass to peer outside. A group of children played on the lawn nearby, and among them was a little lame boy smiling brightly at the others. They looked to be playing hide and seek.

Turning back in amazement Van Horn saw that the window was actually in the mansion’s library and not far from where he stood was kind Father Petersen, alive, well and smiling broadly. They discussed what had just happened in great detail, both sharing their own experience and able to corroborate the other’s. Both felt they’d been dreaming but how can any two people share the same dream? Then Van Horn’s eyes were caught by a glint on the wall behind the priest. There hung two swords, just as they had in the endless rooms. When Petersen followed his gaze and spied the swords, he was suddenly overcome by a possessive greed, so powerful that he had never felt its like before. He seized a sword and took Van Horn’s head off in one blow.

Until that point, I had followed the tale with the flame of an open mind, shielded only from flickering by a mild skepticism. I then knew immediately that something was awry. Dead men don’t talk. My mouth stood open while my mind tried to frame the question but at that very moment the boat docked with a jolt and the man before me stood up. Though his hands were free to hold his bag, I saw his feet were not. Between them were shackles and these were linked to a nearby guard. I suddenly became aware that I had been talking to a prisoner all along. As we stepped off the boat, with him led away and I walking freely, he called back on the then gentle breeze, saying only, “I am he, Petersen.”

Ciaran Doran is a former museum curator and ancient music archivist who has been fortunate enough to work on a number of international projects. He has contributed on occasion to British newspapers and written short pieces for the WWF For Nature. 

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