Fifteen shillings is all it took to bribe the old custodian of Lawley Manor to let us enter the castle that loomed above us like a great stone giant.
My elder brother Robert had negotiated the deal for us to enter the dilapidated building, which had been declared unsafe and closed to public for over a decade.
Robert had teased Margaret that she was too scared to enter the forbidden castle and to our utter amazement, she not only accepted his challenge but also insisted we all spend a night there.
We rapidly made our way through the long, dark corridors with only our candlelight to shield us from darkness. The draft suddenly strengthened, making me shiver. Every step we took disturbed the dust, making the spiders shrink back into their cobwebs. As we passed the dark gloomy portraits on the wall their stern eyes followed our every step.
“Now I know why Uncle forbade us to enter this castle,” complained my sister, Margaret.
“Oh! Stop whining!” said Robert, “There is nothing to worry about.”
So here we were in the middle of an adventure standing at the end of a long corridor, which led to a number of rooms. We looked at each other apprehensively. I hesitated, and then asked, “Do you want to spend the night in my room. We would be better off together.”
Margaret gave a grateful nod while Robert shrugged and pulled out the room key. As he opened the heavy iron door, I smiled wryly. How confidently we had started out to prove that we could spend a night at Lawley castle, and how quickly that confidence was ebbing away. As Robert opened the door, it started to creak, silently at first and then loudly, as though cautioning us not to enter.
We surveyed the room where we had decided to pass the night, straining our eyes into every corner to make sure it was empty. Dusty somber looking furniture adorned the room. The one candle in the room acted more as a barricade against the sweeping shadows, rather than something to dispel the darkness.
Margaret and I started clearing the room. The only other source of light was through he dusty window where the moonlight’s silvery illumination struggled to pierce through the darkness.
The three of us stood huddled in the corner, with our one lone candle preventing us from being pulled into the darkness.
“I think we should light up this room with the candles on that table,” said Robert. We placed the candles into all corners of the room, making sure that the only shadows in the room were that of our own. By the time we finished the room did not look as gloomy as it did before.
Since we were too frightened to sleep, we sat cross-legged, facing each other, narrating funny stories to ease the tension that hung like a cloak around us.
I started to recall what had happened to the last person who had slept in the room we were in right now. The Earl of Lawley’s wife had apparently said that he had gone mad from fear ever since he had started sleeping here. I tried to shut out these thoughts by staring at the candle on the mantelpiece. I noticed how it quivered whenever the draft blew, how helpless it seemed against the powers of nature. I stared at into the glowing whit epicenter, which was the only part of the flame that stood firm. Just then, the candle went out.
I took the matchbox and went to relight it, when another candle blew out. Then another and yet another. Robert stood up while Margaret sat covering beneath him. As I lit a candle three more went out behind me. The shadows swooped in to take its place, and as each candle went out, the darkness continued its unstoppable march.
“Good God! This is a pretty strong draft!” said Robert as five more candles went out. We were now enveloped in darkness with only a solitary candle still glowing. Three of us rushed towards it, and as we did, it too went out.
Robert and Margaret started to panic.
“Don’t worry. I’ll open the door and then we can leave this place,” said I, trying to hide the fear in my voice. I felt my way towards the door. I reached for the handle, turned it and pulled hard but it refused to open. I struggled with all my strength, trying to force the door open but it was all in vain.
Looking around helplessly for any source of light, I saw the moonlight illuminating part of the wall. I started feeling my way towards it when I stopped abruptly. On the wall, in blood was written, “DEATH IS NEAR.”
I heard Margaret shriek in the other side of the room and turned towards them. It was then that I saw the Earl of Lawley.
His pale parchment skin made him look a walking corpse and his eyes were dug into his skull as if somebody had pushed them in. His toothless smile widened as he hovered in the air above me. I never thought of ghosts existing but this was as real as life.
I shrieked for help as the ghost closed in on me. I tried to run but I collided with something on the wall.
“Trespassers will die,” said the ghost, “You will die!” I screamed and groped around me for anything that could save me. The apparition cut the wire holding up the chandelier and as it fell a swelling formed in my throat. The chandelier ripped through me and my blood splattered everywhere, but I felt no pain.
I got up suddenly. I felt slightly dizzy and a bit light. I stood up and looked at the room around me. I then saw the Earl of Lawley beckoning me.
“Come, join me. They are yours to kill,” said the Earl slowly, handing me a dagger. I looked at what he was pointing at. A boy and a girl were crouching under the bed, petrified. I laughed gleefully and hovered towards them, intent on capturing their souls.