The Oubliette, by Steve Foreman
My daughter Alice and I, whilst on a holiday to Cumbria, formed an incongruous friendship with a fellow traveller named Virgil Kilgore, a former police homicide detective who by coincidence was staying at the same hotel. Virgil was a large, cigar-chewing, back-slapping type of character; a character that would not normally enter the sphere of our professional or private lives. Nevertheless, my daughter and I felt a soft spot for the lonely American, and we formed a peculiar fellowship during our short stay in Blackstow.
My passion, beyond leading as safe and undisturbed life as possible, is numismatics and it was to my joy that I found many of the shops of Blackstow devoted to antiques, curios, and most appealingly, coins. During our visit I ventured into the shops that specialised in coin collections—although the price of the more attractive coins was beyond my means – while my daughter showed great interest in the architecture and history of the buildings.
Such were the characters of our trio when one day we found ourselves together on a trip to Blackstow Castle. On arrival we joined forces with half-a-dozen other tourists and following our guide climbed the steps for our tour of the medieval castle. Having navigated about half of the perimeter walls, we left behind the fresh air and cawing of crows and plunged suddenly into the dim interior and lamp-lit vaulted halls and corridors in which were situated various showcases, suits of armour and other artefacts. I was particularly attracted to a display of ancient coins set within several glass-topped cases. An overweight, middle-aged man wearing thick spectacles and bearing upon his green jacket a name tag of “Gordon Poad—Curator of Antiquities”, was hovering nearby.
I was soon engaged in conversation with this expert, discussing the various individual coins. “As you can see,” said Poad, in a thin, lispy voice, “some are very rare and beautiful… not unlike your daughter.” He smiled at Alice, and she reluctantly nodded her acknowledgement. Our talk revolved around the subject in general, during which time, because of his polite enquiry, I informed him of my search for affordable specimens and where we were staying in Blackstow.
Unable to spend too long at this display, due to the schedule of the guide, we moved on. I was, however, quite relieved to be free of Poad’s presence, due to the obnoxious smell he exuded that was the combination of both body odour and halitosis.
The group continued the tour of halls before, about one hour later, commencing a labyrinthine visit to the catacombs and dungeons. Lanterns hung from brackets giving the place a distinctive medieval feel.
Virgil appeared slightly bored and suddenly grabbed my sleeve. ‘Look over here!’ he whispered, pointing to a heavily studded door in the shadows. ‘What do you say we take a peek, huh?’ I was naturally reluctant, but felt an unprecedented tingle that must have been the thrill of adventure. I glanced across at my daughter, who first shook her head, then wandered off with the group.
The door was closed but not locked. A small, stencilled sign stated, “Danger – No Entry”. Virgil opened the door, and we entered a small chamber, obviously not intended for the public view. Loose brickwork lay about the dusty floor and the walls were cracked and bowed. Virgil flicked a match and lit an oil lamp hanging next to the doorway.
In the far corner was another door, small and heavily studded, but our attention was drawn to the large trapdoor set in the middle of the floor. Virgil held the lamp up to a tarnished plaque bearing the title, “Deadman’s Drop”, and read aloud the following:
“Torture was a very common occurrence in dungeons in the 18th century. Often jailers did not need to torture or even execute prisoners, as the conditions in the prisons took care of that naturally. The prisoners rarely received quality food or water, and many starved to death.
The ‘Deadman’s Drop’ is a deep oubliette used to dispose of the corpses of those who died in the dungeons.
Legend has it that some monstrous creature evolved in the labyrinthine sewers, feeding on the corpses. The legend still holds that the monster – or its ghost – continually haunts the tunnels, eternally awaiting the next corpse.”
Virgil gave a chuckle at this last, but heaved open the trapdoor and holding the lamp aloft peered into the darkness below. I leaned over and was rewarded with the awful sight of slowly-moving effluent. It may have been the wavering light from the lantern reflecting on the slow eddies of rank water, but for a moment I imagined I saw something pale moving in the darkness. At that moment Gordon Poad appeared from the small doorway and Virgil dropped the trapdoor with a thud.
“What do you think you are doing?” Poad shouted; a look of anxiety upon his podgy face.
“Sorry, just curious, that’s all,” said Virgil, with a rather comical grin,
Poad went quickly to the entrance and tapped the notice affixed there. “This room is out of bounds… can’t you read? You must leave at once!”
We filed out past Poad, who stood sentinel-like at the door.
“How the hell does a rat like that get a job as a Curator?” the American asked rhetorically, as we walked away. “I don’t like the look of him at all.”
I silently agreed with Virgil’s sentiment.
The next day I resumed my coin-hunting foray in the old streets of Blackstow. Alice, wishing to avoid the heat of the day, decided to spend her time on the veranda of her room, reading a book concerning the history of the castle.
I examined all the shops, searching without success for rare but affordable coins, before, in the waning afternoon, finding myself back at the hotel. My daughter was not in our rooms. I went to the reception and enquired. The young girl on duty informed me that Alice had earlier left in the company of a man, but had no idea where they had gone.
I found this to be most exceptional; completely out of character with my daughter’s behaviour and even more peculiar considering that she had left no note. I knocked at the door of Virgil’s room, but there was no response.
I returned to our rooms to try to fathom the implications of this development. I wondered if Virgil was the person with whom Alice had left the hotel. I had no choice but to wait for Alice’s return. To my utter consternation, Alice had not returned by six o’clock that evening. I was about to venture out once more when there came a loud knock upon the door and in strode Virgil Kilgore.
“What the hell is going on, Arthur? I’ve been looking for you two all evening… where is Alice?”
“I was hoping you would answer those questions, Virgil. Alice has apparently gone off with a man.”
I then related the conversation I had had with the hotel receptionist.
Virgil asked; “Did the receptionist give a description of the man she left with?”
I admitted with embarrassment that she had not, and nor had I asked for one, assuming incorrectly, as it was now apparent, that the man had been Virgil.
Virgil suddenly picked up a piece of yellow card from the vanity dresser. “What’s this?” he asked.
I confessed I had not noticed the document; it was an information leaflet showing examples of rare coinage, printed by the Antiquities Department of Blackstow Castle.
“C’mon Arthur,” Virgil said, with enthusiasm. “If you want to find Alice, I think I know where to go!’
Without further explanation, he left the room and I followed his heavy footfalls down the stairs. We wove our way through the quiet streets to the Castle. Crossing the well-kept lawn outside the walls we made our way quickly to the gates.
“Where are we going, Virgil?” I asked.
The American glanced sideways at me. “I saw that weird Poad character gawping after Alice yesterday. Couple that with the leaflet in Alice’s room… I just put two and two together.”
The castle was closed at night, but Virgil, with the use of some arcane instrument taken from his pocket, soon had the gates open and we found themselves inside the walls of the ancient building. With mounting trepidation and our way lit by a small flashlight Virgil had produced; I followed the American carefully through the shadows to the chamber that contained the Deadman’s Drop. We entered cautiously and moved to the small door on the far side. Wasting no time trying to see if it was locked… Virgil smashed it open with his shoulder. My gaze fell immediately upon my daughter. Naked, the poor girl stood strapped upright by her wrists and ankles against the wall.
Opposite her stood Gordon Poad, his face a mask of fearful surprise. He was naked, and in one hand he held a knife. Virgil launched himself at the curator, punched him in the face and knocked him down. I rushed to my daughter’s aid; first freeing her from the restraints and then lowering her gently to the floor. I covered her with her dress, which was lying nearby.
“It was Poad!” she managed to cry, although her speech was slurred. “He drugged me!”
Virgil disarmed Poad and hoisted him roughly to his feet. He twisted one of Poad’s arms up between the shoulder blades.
“Get her outta here, Arthur!” Virgil cried.
Taking a lantern I escorted Alice from the horrible chamber, out of the labyrinth and up to the battlements, waiting to see what happened next. About fifteen minutes later Virgil arrived; he was alone.
“Where’s Poad?” I asked, trembling. “Surely he cannot get away with this!”
“Don’t you worry about him, he ain’t going anywhere for a while,” Virgil mumbled quietly. He took me to one side, out of the hearing of Alice.
“That pervert Poad had a regular rapist’s den down there,” he whispered out of the corner of his mouth. “There’s women’s underwear, handcuffs, butcher’s knives and a whole lot of other unsavoury stuff. I’m damned sure Alice ain’t the first girl that he’s lured there … girls who have disappeared without trace, I bet. C’mon, Arthur, let’s get out of here!”
With that, he ushered us from the castle and back to our hotel.
Alice, once recovered, explained to us what had occurred. “Poad came to the hotel this afternoon in search of me, offering to sell a very rare set of four 18th Century coins at a much reduced price.”
Virgil picked up the leaflet and waved it questioningly in the air.
Alice nodded in agreement. “I was easily persuaded, knowing my father’s personal finances were limited and he was having no luck finding anything affordable.” She paused and smiled at me before continuing, “I really wanted to surprise him with a gift, so I accompanied Poad to the castle. I was surprised to be led down into the catacombs. Poad explained the coins were not on display, but were kept in his private collection.”
She paused and closed her eyes. “As soon as I entered his dirty little room, he spun around and jabbed me with a needle. I remember little else until you burst in, Virgil.” She patted his hand.
“Will you both do something for me?” Virgil asked.
“Anything,” I replied.
“I want you both to completely forget about what happened tonight. Never mention Poad’s name to anyone… especially not the police. Is that clear?”
“But what about Poad…?” I began, but was silenced by Virgil’s raised hand.
“I’ve handled that side of things. Poad will never assault another woman again; I can assure you of that damned fact… but you two say nothing to anyone; deal?”
“Deal,” I agreed, shaking the big man’s hand.
“Now, please excuse me, it’s getting late. Good night.” Virgil said, and left the room.
He had departed by the following morning and we never saw Virgil again.
I was unable to settle. The situation may have been satisfactory to the big American, but it left me with a very uneasy feeling. Although I had a terrible inkling, I had to see for myself what had transpired in that chamber.
Having been assured by Alice that she was unharmed and leaving her with the comforts of room service, I hurried to the castle and once more joined a tour.
My heart was palpitating as the group approached the displays of coins, fearing that I might see the gloating figure of Poad at his station. In his place was a young man. He wore a green jacket with a badge proclaiming him to be “Richard Braintree, Castle Staff.”
I followed in the wake of the group, lagging further and further behind as we descended the stairs to the lower levels. The group was almost out of sight when I came within sight of the fearful door. Once the group had turned a bend in the passageway and the droning voice of the guide had faded to a murmur, I unhooked a lantern from the wall and discretely let myself into the chamber, closing the door behind me.
The light of the lantern wavered in my shaking hand, as I cautiously crossed the small room towards the little door on the far side. I had never been so nervous in my life. Just as I laid my hand on the latch, I heard from behind me a strange muted sound. Spinning around I held the lantern aloft, but could see nothing in the chamber. The noise continued, however, and I pinpointed it as coming from beneath the trapdoor. Summoning all my courage, I set the lantern upon the floor and using what little strength I had, as quietly as possible I hauled open the trapdoor until it was supported on its chains. The sound was now clearer; a disgusting, wet squelching noise drifted up towards me. Quaking with fear, I lifted the lantern and peered over the edge of the hole. Some ten feet below me on a cobbled ledge just above the level of the rancid water, I spied the lifeless body of Gordon Poad, as somehow I knew I would.
But another figure was bent over the corpse; the spine naked, curved and knobbly. Upon hearing my sharp intake of breath, its head lifted, a wrinkled pointed ear cocked to one side. My lantern shone into blind, milky white eyes; its mouth was open in a snarl, revealing long sharp fangs from which red blood dripped. In one clawed hand the creature held the dismembered and half-eaten arm of Gordon Poad. I screamed. The blind, glabrous beast hissed venomously at me, dropped the ravaged arm and splashed off into the darkness of the tunnels.
Slamming the trapdoor, I departed the castle as quickly as possible and returned to my hotel and the pleasurable company of my gentle daughter.
We departed Blackstow that very day… never to return.
I am British, living in Entebbe, Uganda, with my wife and two kids, and work as an independent security consultant and contractor throughout East Africa. I have been published in several magazines, including BBC Wildlife, Soldier magazine, Combat & Survival, SCUBA magazine, Church of England Newspaper, African Travel Review, Land Rover World, Your Dog, Travel News and Lifestyle (Kenya), What’s Happening in Dar (Tanzania), The Dar Guide (Tanzania), Daily Mail newspaper (UK), Twisted Dreams (USA) and others. I have four books published by Gypsy Shadow Publishing: ‘Beneath the Surface’; ‘Trips to the Dark Side’; ‘Worm’; and ‘Surviving your African Safaris.’
My Amazon Books Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/steveforeman
Posted on January 20, 2014, in Issue 12: The Shadows Only Hide the Monsters: Poe & Lovecraft Tribute and tagged e-zine, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, horror, monsters, paranormal, short stories, The Were-Traveler, Tribute. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.