Hello, faithful readers!
We keep up with this blog because we love stories, and you presumably read our blog because you also love stories–funny how that works, isn’t it? And, because October is generally seen as kind of a creepy month, stories just abound. It’s a time when we can pretend that the supernatural elements we love to read about can be glimpsed in the world around us…and, if we’re lucky, they might not think we’re lunch.
We here at Bibliobibuli, then, thought that the perfect way to celebrate Halloween was to share our very own scary story with you–enjoy!
The rain came down steadily, measuredly, the tempo undisturbed and unchanging. It provided a fine gray curtain, tangible and intangible at the same time, through which Ivy Terrace appeared almost like a mirage. And yet, coming closer, the house proved itself to be real enough. It was a manor house of pale grey stone, liberally covered (as the name might suggest) with trails of ivy. They crawled over the stone, over some of the windows, reaching up greedily past the gutter towards the roof—one had the idea the house might eventually be entirely swallowed by the stuff.
In full sunshine Ivy Terrace lost some of its charm. The grounds were overgrown, the house somewhat gloomy, the windows dark and empty. But seen through the rain, the house regained some air of mystery and wonder. Some aspect, perhaps, of a fantasy tale. Not necessarily a perfectly happy fairy tale, but a place where magic could happen.
The front of the house was rather usual—a long driveway connecting to the main road, lined with sentinels of trees which disappeared just before the steps. The back, however, was a wonderland. Once an elaborate and well-tended garden, it had become gloriously wild of late. Flowers overran their beds to grow and bloom at will. Weeds encroached on the too-perfect lines of the pathways. Heaps of moldy leaves lay around the roots of even the most lovely of trees. Near where the paths all ran together to form something of a plaza, a once-gaudy gazebo had lost all its paint and was in the process of losing the more distasteful trim pieces. A sundial stood in the plaza, just in view of the large windows of Ivy Terrace, its function entirely impeded by the rain and the object on top of it.
The human head on top rather spoiled things. It was not a tasteful head, and at this point in the unrelenting rain not particularly fresh either. The eyes were glazed, and the swollen tongue was visible through the half-open mouth. In addition, the skin was not the color skin should be. This might have been borne had the head been attractive in the first place—but it had belonged to a grumpy, gray-haired man, who was now looking much the worse for wear.
When it had been placed there, blood had traced complex sigils over the face of the sundial. Now, the rain had washed it clean again. The symbol, too, carved into the forehead had been cleansed of blood. Were it not for the deliberateness of the broken skin, the damage could have been thought to be incidental. But it was not. Symbol and blood served a purpose, one that at least was undiluted by the rain. This would not have pleased the man whose head it was, had he been alive to understand, but he might have at least acknowledged his current predicament as an intriguing scientific experiment: does a head rot faster when it has been sacrificed to demons?
There was a tragic story behind the house and the head, a long and terrible story worthy of Mary Shelley herself. Perhaps, had she been in England rather than Switzerland when she told her ghost tales, she might have come up with this one herself. But, since she was abroad, it falls on other tongues to tell the story.
Both house and head had shortly before belonged to one Arthur Grey, a rather unpleasant man. This is not to excuse his death, which was far more unpleasant, but in the minds of many it later served to bolster some concept of ‘just desserts’. He had been well known in the area around Ivy Terrace as an irritable eccentric, a man who had by some good fortune inherited enough money to waste no time on employment. Indeed, he had enough money to devote it all to his chief and only love, science. In this, too, he was held to be generally strange and worthy of distrust.
It was known that once, long ago, he had loved something other than science, and that something was a woman. Her name had been Frances Evelyn Morton, and she had been quiet and lovely and still, as if she were a porcelain doll rather than an actual person. Arthur Grey, it was rumored, had loved her fiercely long ago, had lavished money and attention on her—more than he had ever lavished on a living being before or since. But she was long dead, that lovely porcelain woman, and since then Arthur had become even more irritable and eccentric. Darker.
When mothers wished to scare their children into behaving, they would tell tales of Old Grey. How he had been so devastated by the death of his wife that he had sworn, a modern Orpheus, to wrest her back from death himself. That he had been a Frankenstein, working frantically to bring dead flesh to life. That he resembled Dr. Moreau, heedlessly pursuing science regardless of any risk or suffering. That when a person around the town went missing, Old Grey was to blame. A generation of children had grown up on these tales, enough to harbor no surprise at his ultimate, grisly end. It is unknown whether Old Grey himself would have expressed much surprise at his current predicament—after all, his intellectual forebears, Moreau and Frankenstein and all the rest, had not died peacefully. Perhaps he would have been comforted by the scientific rigor of his death.
As any proper experiment needs a control, so did the head have accompaniment. Not much of the man’s body had survived without being hacked up, mutilated with symbols, and buried in strange yet significant parts of the garden. You could see the places, if you looked closely enough—although the blood had been washed away, the disturbed pebbles of the path, the freshly dug-up ground, told a telling story. The casual observer might not be able to tell what purpose they served, although the casual Satanist might have. The murderess had known that body parts decayed less quickly underground, but she was not, precisely, testing mere decay. Rather, she was testing something more sinister. Indulging, as one will, in a ritual of arcane origins, sinister behavior and potentially limitless information. And now, she was waiting.
The obvious place to wait was the salon, dreary despite the large windows looking out onto the garden. Sheets covered most of the furniture, their drapes looking decidedly ghostly in the badly lit room, and the floors had not been cleaned in a long while. A tablecloth had been laid out before the windows, and on that tablecloth was a girl, a doll, and some of the last remains of Old Grey.
The girl was not, precisely, a girl. Her childish pinafore might have proclaimed her so, but something in the shape of her body might have made an observer think she was perhaps too old for her clothes. There was a strangeness to her, an unsettling unorthodoxy—the way her dirty pinafore contrasted with the length of her legs, how odd the ribbon in her dark hair looked. Her skin was pale, as if sunlight had never touched it, and her lips were a strangely dark red. Had she been a doll, she would have been the less popular one, although perhaps one that could inspire a brief flash of pity from time to time.
“Here is the church, and here is the steeple,” she chanted under her breath, as she placed the last finger on the roof of her little building. “Look, Polly, isn’t it pretty?” She looked at the doll, as if seeking an answer, and then looked back down at the building. “But there are no people to see—and no doors but the thumbs. Should we make the thumbs the people?” She pulled one away, and the little building collapsed. “Hmm, we shall have to work on this. Shoddy construction, really—maybe if I had more pieces. But we all only have two hands.” She pushed the pieces of Old Grey’s hands off of the tablecloth, onto the tile, and then turned back to the doll. “Oh, Poll, you’ve a spot of blood on your cheek—where did that come from?” She wet her finger and brushed it along the dolls cheek, fastidiously cleaning the blood off the doll before sucking it off her finger. “There, all gone.”
She took a long look at the hands, as if debating their use, and then turned her attention back outside. The watch had to be kept, regardless of the rain. The rain didn’t fool her—it tried, oh yes, but Evelyn Grey was smarter than that. She knew that dead things didn’t always stay that way.
“Toes,” she said to herself, or rather to the doll. “The toes can be the people—and we can make them pretty with little ribbons. Won’t that be sweet?”