© 2004 by Bobette Bryan
I was a business associate of Mr. Scott and had, of late, become a frequent visitor to the Scott home and was with the family on a Halloween night that I'll never forget. The leaves were as crisp as rice paper and the wind as cold as the tin on the roof. The two girls were in their room on the second floor, preparing for the night's festivities, as I sat by the fire with Mr. Scott, carving a pumpkin and enjoying the spiced cider and chocolate confections that Mrs. Scott was renown for.
Mr. Scott and I had been in the business of exchanging spooky tales throughout the evening, and each tale seemed more frightening than the one before it. Mrs. Scott seemed not to mind the fearsome path of our discussion. Far from it. As she stood before the mantel, she occasionally added a quip or two as she jabbed the burning coals into a raging fire with a poker to ward off the autumn chill that snuck through the windowpanes.
At half past nine, I stood with match and candle, ready to take my pumpkin to the front porch where its terrifying visage would delight the children as they left for the town festival. I'd just put the candle inside, lit it, and assigned the jack-o-lantern to the pedestal that Mrs. Scott had sat out for it when I heard a scream.
I dashed into the lower hall just before Mr. and Mrs. Scott arrived there. Then we rushed upstairs at once to find the youngest girl, Eileen on the floor, her white Princess lace in a big puff all about her, legs and face nearly hidden in an assault of crinoline. Elizabeth, the other girl, dressed as Cleopatra with a serpentine headpiece, was shaking so that a December wind might have crossed her soul. Mrs. Scott put her arms around the girl while Mr. Scott helped the youngest to her feet. The moment Eileen opened her eyes, one word came from her mouth: "Monk."
You'd think that Mr. Scott had just seen a ghost as well, for he went as white as ice milk and stood on unsteady legs as Elizabeth continued.
"It was a monk, Papa. After we'd dressed, we heard a light tapping at the bedroom door, and thinking it was you or Mama, Eileen went to open it--"
"Only the monk stood there," Eileen piped in. He was tall, his hood draped over his face. He wore a skull ring, which seemed to be alive. The face glared. The eyes glowed red. It was so terrifying that I fainted."
"I saw the ring too," Elizabeth said. "After Eileen screamed, I ran to the door and saw the monk float away and enter the closet down the hall. I ran to the closet and locked it in with the spare key that I keep in my pocket."
We all looked that way, our faces carved with fear. Then I turned to Elizabeth. "Are you always in the habit of keeping a spare key to the linen closet?"
Elizabeth only nodded, but Eileen could be counted on to provide the rest of the details.
"She's afraid of the linen closet. She thinks there's a ghost in there. She saw it two weeks ago. So Mama and Papa gave her the key so that she could lock it in if she ever saw it again."
"What a clever idea," I said, trying to appease the girls' fear. "Now let's see if you did, in fact, catch the specter. If so, we'll dispatch the nasty fellow posthaste."
I took the key from the girl's trembling hand and was the first to march down the hall. I paused before a door at the end and pointed to it. "This one?" I asked as there was another door on the opposite side.
The girls both nodded, inching closer, parents not far behind them. I put the key in the lock and slowly turned it--everyone scarcely breathing as the door opened.
But alas, there was nothing there that was out of the ordinary with the exception of a rather large cobweb which housed a startled spider. A hooded figure, or anything remotely resembling it, however, was not found.
Mr. Scott, whose thoughts seemed distant, didn't seem surprised. He nervously rubbed a palm with his knuckles as he paced the hardwood floor and said. "Come, we must go downstairs. There's something that I must tell you."
We eagerly followed and gathered around the dining room table, the center of which had been decorated with a fragrant bouquet of autumn leaves, golden rod, yellow chrysanthemums, and strings of cranberries. We waited for Mr. Scott to speak his piece, but he was suddenly reluctant to breech the ponderous subject that was on his mind, and so we sat in silence for several minutes, admiring the festive decor and straining to absorb some of the warming rays from the fireplace before he finally blurted out a declaration. "We can't go out tonight."
"What?" said Mrs. Scott.
"The festival, Papa..." said Eileen.
"Papa, we've been waiting for this evening for months," Elizabeth added. "Mama has worked so hard on our costumes, and--"
"We must stay put!" he thundered.
His voice echoed through the room and then silence fell heavy again, before Mr. Scott attempted an explanation. "I know that monk well, you see. He has visited my family for centuries, and he only appears on the day that there will be a death in the family."
The frowns fell from the girls' disappointed faces to be replaced by fear.
"Do you mean..." I began.
"Yes. One of us will die tonight!" said Mr. Scott.
"Has the monk ever been wrong?" I asked, fascinated by the tale.
Mr. Scott shook his head. "I wish it were so, but alas, he's always correct."
"But perhaps his foreboding is for none of you, but for a distant relative in England." I said.
"To my knowledge, sir, I have no living relatives in England. We are the last of the Scotts--we four in this room. Which is why my family and I must stay here together tonight. Perhaps, if we remain together, there's a possibility that we can overcome this thing. Surely if we all sit here at this table, nothing bad can befall us. Come now, children, give me your hands. Eileen, take Mama's. I want us to form a circle and pray. Maybe our prayers will ward off this terrible evil."
They bowed their heads as did I, but Inwardly, I thought this all a bunch of hokey pokey superstition. It certainly appeared to be real to Mr. Scott and to his wife, who raised her head after the prayer and stared into nowhere, knuckles as white as bone China as she clasped her husband's hand.
"I take it that you too have had experience with the monk," I queried her.
She looked hard at me, and I saw the depth of the fear in her dark eyes. "Yes. I saw it when George's father died. It was quite terrifying, to say the least."
Mr. Scott nodded. "I saw it that day too. I've seen it many times and hoped I'd never see it again. The last time I saw it, I was walking with my cousin Ellen in the garden. We were accompanied by my brother and sister. Ellen was showing us her prize roses. When all of the sudden the monk appeared, rose in a mist from the ground, stretching out its long, boney arm and touching her chest with that terrible ring. Though the rest of us saw it, she never did. I don't believe that she felt its touch either. For the remainder of the day, she'd seemed perfectly fine--in her usual good health and spirit, but by nightfall, for no apparent reason, she suddenly died."
"But it never touched one of you today?" I said.
"Not that we are aware of, but perhaps, like dear Cousin Ellen, one of us was touched without knowing it," said Mrs. Scott.
"What do you think it is?" I asked. "Is it an apparition of what was once a living person?"
"No. Something much more terrifying and powerful than an ordinary ghost," Scott declared. "I believe that it's an evil spirit or earth elemental, which, for some mysterious reason, attached itself to my family ages ago."
"Papa, how long must we sit here like this?" Eileen asked, squirming in her seat.
"Until after midnight," he said.
"You, of course, should go, dear man," said Mr. Scott, studying me thoughtfully. "There's no reason why you should miss the festivities over a matter that doesn't concern you."
"Why, dear God, no. I could not make merry while a friend is in such a state. I will stay with you until this dreadful thing has passed and give my assistance where I can."
"If that is your wish, sir, then you are welcome to stay."
"That is my wish, sir," I said as I rose. Then I took some candles from the mantel, lit them, and sat them on both ends of the table. "White light," I said, "to ward off evil spirits."
Mr. Scott nodded, apparently unassuaged by my actions.
I'd spoken in jest, of course. I didn't believe a word of this evil spirit business. As for the specter, I thought the girls were merely spooked from the Halloween atmosphere. Perhaps one of them had drifted downstairs earlier and heard one of our ghost stories. Or perhaps the Scotts were all good actors and were merely attempting to play a Halloween prank on me. Whatever the case, the whole thing was, nevertheless, entertaining, and I was determined to stay and see it to the end.
And yet, like the rest of them, I nearly jumped when someone cranked the doorbell.
Mrs. Scott rose from her seat, but Mr. Scott grabbed her hand. "Don't go to the door! It could be someone who intends to bring death to this house."
She nodded blankly and sat back down, and as she did, it appeared that she'd already resolved herself to death and was grieving the anticipated loss. Surely the woman's terror grew each time the mysterious visitor cranked the bloody bell.
"Let me answer the door," I said. "If it is the monk, he can't hurt me. And I wouldn't mind getting a look at the fellow for myself. Think of the stories that I could tell when I return to London in the spring. If it's not the monk, I'll send the visitor on his merry way.
The bell rang again, and shortly afterward, nerves giving way at last, Mr. Scott reluctantly agreed to let me see who it was. I returned to the dining room a few minutes later and handed him a sealed missive, which he opened immediately and read out loud.
"Dear Mr. J. A. Scott. I regret that I must bring you bad tidings; however, it is of a necessity that I inform you that May Alexander Scott is in poor health. Furthermore, sir, she's not expected to live into winter. As you are her only living heir, she hopes that you will help her settle her worldly matters before she returns to her maker. Please reply at once."
As he laid the missive on the table, Mrs. Scott gave a sigh of relief. "Then you do have a relative."
Mr. Scott squinted as if trying to see something distant. "I don't remember having an Aunt May."
"Nevertheless, you have one, and she's on her deathbed," Mrs. Scott said, waving the letter. "Thus the reason for the monk's visit."
Shaking his head with disbelief, Mr. Scott appeared to still be searching for the lost memory of the mysterious aunt who couldn't have come into his life at a better time. "Maybe a child of Henry...no...perhaps the offspring of my great uncle James..."
"Oh, what does it matter?" Mrs. Scott said. The important thing is that it's over. It's past. We're safe."
"You're right. Of course. You're right," he said joyously. He leapt to his feet to take his wife into his arms as the girls all gave a cheer and twirled around in unison, eager to cast aside all thoughts of the horrible specter and return to their Halloween fun.
"I think that if we hurry, we can still make it to the festival," I said.
The girls gave another cheer, and Mrs. Scott added, "Yes. We should make it. Get your capes, girls."
We gathered our things and made our way to the front hallway, Mrs. Scott in her shawl and hat, and carrying a box of her chocolates to share at the gathering, Mr. Scott in his jacket and cap, and the girls in their wool capes and scarves. I put my hat and coat on and was the last one out the door, and as I reached in to pull the inner door closed, I paused and nearly gasped, ingesting the ungodly taste of my own Halloween terror. For a bit of long brown sleeve had slipped out from beneath my white shirt and coat, nearly giving me away. I quickly tucked it back in, gave a long sigh of relief, and followed the Scott's out onto the porch with a triumphant smile.
Yes, it would be interesting indeed to see this thing play out. It would be the first time that I'd ever claimed four souls in a single night.
This fictional account was actually inspired by several true stories I'd read about spectral monks. In my paranormal research, I came upon many accounts of families being haunted by a spectral monk who bears a foreboding of death similar to that of a banshee. Some families are even haunted by nuns. What these apparitions are is anyone's guess, but they're certainly the type of ghost that you don't want to meet.
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© 2004 Underworld Tales Magazine