The dense fog lingered over Raspbone Manor, smothering the house; it permitted no sliver of the moonlight through its suffocating wall, laying a cover of pitch black across the grounds for at least a mile around. The pitter-patter of tiny rodents’ feet echoed across the stone courtyard but could only be heard intermittently as the whispering wind pushed and prodded the solitary, open window of a bedroom on the upper-east side, causing it to clatter in the night.
A light went on as footsteps shuffled down the hallway towards the noise. Dressed in a flowing silk dressing gown, Lord Raspbone stopped outside the bedroom door; he looked up and down the corridor as if expecting someone. His bushy eyebrows quivered. Silence. He reached for the handle and turned it slightly. The wind had eased, but the window still crashed against the wall. Lord Raspbone reached for the light switch and flicked it.
He hobbled across the wooden floor, towards the open window. A tiny light flashed into the room, causing his pupils to contract. He licked his lips and coughed, lifting his liver spotted hand to wipe the spittle from his wrinkled chin. Lord Raspbone held the window open with one hand and peered into the dark towards the light, the wind causing the hairs on his arms to raise. His dark eyes flashed, his skin turning a deathly white as he took a step back. There she was again. Staring at him. The face that never let him forget.
“No. Not again…”
He turned and marched, with great difficulty, over to a dressing table in the corner of the spacious room, picked up the phone and began to prod in the numbers. Every time he entered a new digit, he would look back out of the window at the face across the courtyard.
“Blast that bookshop. You will leave me alone!” He pointed threateningly at the building, as the phone started to dial.
There was a click on the other side.
“Yes, is that Miss Davids? I’ve changed my mind. I want to sell, no, need to sell Cemetery Bookshop. You should come in the morning. Yes, Goodnight.”
Lord Raspbone returned the phone and backed away from the window, leaving it open as the silhouette in the building across the courtyard faded into the darkness.
* * * *
“Look, I’m going to have to miss tonight…Yes, I’m aware it’s the third time…Rosie. Stop shouting. I have to get this place otherwise Graham is going to fire me. You’ve met him. You know what he’s like. Okay – I’ll try and come back tonight, but it’s a four-hour drive. No promises. Yes, love you too. Look, I’ve got to go, Graham is on the other line. Bye.”
Fleur David’s finger pushed the button on her headpiece. It beeped, and the line clicked. Her lips pursed as her knuckles tightened around the steering wheel. The voice that escaped her mouth did not match the expression on her face.
“Hi Graham. How are-…yes, I’m on my way there now. Should be about another hour. Yes, I’m aware bonus season is coming up, I have worked for you for fourteen years-No, I wasn’t being funny. Yes, I’ll let you know when I’ve spoken with the client…Graham?”
The line clicked again. Fleur took a deep breath and pulled the car into a layby, before letting her head hit the steering wheel repeatedly, while an agonising moan seeped from her like steam from a freshly boiled kettle. She remained there for a few minutes before a loud knock on the window jolted her. A Police Officer had his face pressed against the glass, his breath creating a smudge as he inhaled and exhaled with great force. The window went down as Fleur stared at him. Silence descended as neither one spoke. Fleur’s expression changed rapidly, her forehead loosening whilst her eyebrow raised.
“Can I help you Officer?”
“Yes, Miss. Just wanted to make sure you were okay. Making quite a racket you were, banging your head like that. Could have done yourself some damage.”
“How did you hear me? We’re miles from anywhere.” Fleur looked around, giving her time to finally take in her surroundings; the rolling fields of green and yellow brought a smile to her face as the fresh smell of honeysuckle flicked at her nostrils. The Officer smiled before leaning through the window. Fleur fidgeted in her seat, pushing herself away from the Officer, watching him suspiciously.
“Beautiful place isn’t it? Lived here all my life.”
“Yes, very. Could you just back up please Officer? You’re a little close.”
The Officer looked down and laughed, before taking his hands off the car.
“Oops. Any-hoo, what are you here for Miss? Sampling our famous Cider? Enjoying the cliff walks?”
Fleur shook her head as she reached into her handbag. The Officer continued to smile as she pulled out her phone. A dark look came across the Officer’s face as Fleur showed him a picture.
“I’m heading to Raspbone Manor to see the Cemetery Bookshop.”
“Why would you want to go there?” His disposition had grown icy, the beaming smile a distant memory. Fleur hesitated. The Officer’s upper lip started to curl as he craned his neck towards the car,
“You’re from that company, aren’t you?”
“Which company?” Fleur’s eyebrow raised, her tone growing shorter.
“Don’t be coy with me Miss. You know which one I’m talking about. Which one we’re both talking about. It’s the last bit of locally owned history we have and you want to take that from us, tear it down and turn it into some holiday park. Not on our watch. No sir.”
He straightened up, brushing his uniform down, eyes darting back and forth. Fleur noticed that the sun was now engulfed in rolling, black clouds and a wind had picked up. She pulled her coat tighter and went to wind up the window. The Officer’s hands slammed down, causing her to jump. He leaned in as close as possible, piercing green eyes staring at her, unblinking. He took a breath and spoke very clearly with a slight growl,
“I am the friendliest person you’re going to meet whilst you’re here Miss Davids. Just remember that.” The stare lingered before he removed his hands. Fleur clicked the button, breathing heavily. She looked in the rear-view mirror and watched the Officer walk back to his car, before starting the engine and speeding away with such force it caused the wooden sign post adjacent to the layby, to shake violently. Fleur peered up at it in the darkness.
The Village – 10 miles.
She shivered, before getting the car started and pulled away as the thick fog descended onto the road.
* * * *
The thick smoke snaked slowly across the bar, providing Fleur with some privacy from the onslaught of beady eyes that stared at her from all corners of the room. She waved it away and coughed, trying to make eye contact with the pub Landlord as he made idle conversation with one of his elderly patrons, who was one of several that puffed away on a pipe.
“Sure that’s illegal,” Fleur muttered, pushing around in her handbag before pulling out an inhaler and taking two blasts. She held up her hand towards the Landlord and beckoned him over. He angled his head slightly to the side, looked Fleur up and down. The Landlord and his elderly patron looked at each other and chuckled, sneers on their faces as they continued to stare at Fleur, muttering.
Fleur held her head back and took a deep breath and closed her eyes. It was times like these that she really needed Rosie’s sunny disposition and felt a little guilty about missing so many of their wedding preparation events. She smiled slightly at her phone’s wallpaper; her and Rosie were holding hands while on holiday in Orlando. Fleur couldn’t stop staring at it.
“That your friend?”
Fleur jumped. The Police Officer from earlier loomed over her, staring at Fleur’s phone. She pocketed it swiftly and looked away.
“Yes. Something like that.”
He continued to stand there. Fleur could make out his clown like feet bobbing up and down in unison, the black brogues squeaking. She looked back over at the Landlord.
“Excuse me. I need a room.”
The Landlord noticed the Police Officer and made his way over.
“Alrigh’ Officer Thomas? Gettin’ dark now innit?”
Officer Thomas nodded before shifting his eyes from Fleur to the Landlord, who shook his head, lips pursed.
“Any rooms Frank?”
The Landlord’s eyes narrowed, and the pub went deathly silent.
“No…” He looked at Fleur, “Fully booked.”
Fleur looked from Officer Thomas to Frank and then to the eyes of the customers that had not stopped staring at her since she had entered. She was met with vacant faces. Fleur kicked her stool back, threw her coat around her shoulders and swung her handbag so violently, Officer Thomas had to duck.
“Watch it Miss Davids.”
“No, you watch it.” She poked his chest, causing him to wince.
“I am here to buy the Cemetery Bookshop and finish this job. This whole town has been nothing but rude and inhospitable towards me and my company. We saved this town and you were all too grateful to take our money. Well this is the final piece of the puzzle and you will have that luxury holiday park bringing all those lovely, inquisitive tourists to your back doors.”
She looked around the room, her look dared anyone to answer back. When she was satisfied, she nodded and turned to leave.
Officer Thomas grabbed her arm as she marched towards the door. Fleur looked down at his hand, before turning her glare towards the Officer.
“Let. Me. Go.”
“There’s a storm coming Miss Davids and there’s only one rickety, old bridge up to Raspbone Manor. It’s too dangerous.”
Fleur took a breath and bit her lip, her eyes sweeping the room. She yanked her arm from the Officer’s grasp.
“It’s safer out there than it is here.”
Fleur looked around the room, taking care to stare down every single customer one last time, before turning on the spot and exiting the pub, leaving the murmur of chatter to restart as if nothing had happened.
* * * *
The windscreen wipers could barely deal with the force of the rain as it battered the car, causing Fleur to huddle very closely to the steering wheel, peering through the elements that blanketed the road in front of her. Out of nowhere, a bridge came into view; dominating the skyline, it provided the only route to Raspbone Manor across the river.
It creaked and moaned, exacerbated by the wind, as Fleur edged the car across. Her knuckles were white as she bit down hard on her bottom lip.
The bridge shuddered, throwing the car off route. Fleur had to swing the steering wheel hard to the right to prevent the car from crashing through the barrier and into the icy waters below. She then smashed her foot to the floor. The car jerked back into life and hared across the end of the bridge as the whole structure collapsed behind her. She stared into the rear-view mirror, eyes wide and pupils like pin pricks before stopping and reaching for her phone.
“Damn it.” Her phone had no service. She tossed it back onto the passenger seat and continued to drive as a peeling sign swung in the wind, welcoming her to Raspbone Manor.
Fleur could feel her hands shaking as she trundled through a tall, wrought iron gate and up the winding path, the Manor in the distance. About a hundred yards in front of her was another building, surrounded by a six-foot wall. She pulled over and wound down the window to light a cigarette. After a few drags, she started to cough and reached for her inhaler, taking a few puffs. She couldn’t quite make out the name written across the building, but its large bay windows and distinctive red brick were familiar to her. After all, she had been staring at the blueprints for the past eighteen months.
She smiled, taking another drag on the cigarette. The coughing returned, and she glared at it,
“You’ll be the death of me…” Fleur stopped mid-sentence. The wind was still, as complete silence surrounded her. Then a low, croaking drifted across the air and a light scraping on the gravel caused her to look about. She could see no movement in the dark. Fleur noticed a flickering light from one of the bay windows and craned her neck forward.
Fleur dove into the back seat as there were a further two taps on the window.
“Hello? Are you okay?” A muffled voice shouted from outside. Fleur popped her head up and saw the outline of an elderly man. Laughing, her hand went to her chest in relief before she opened the rear passenger door and hopped out.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. You must be Miss Davids? Lord Raspbone at your service.” The elderly gentleman held out his bony hand and Fleur grabbed it and shook strongly, afraid she might break his fragile frame.
“I thought I saw…Never mind.”
Fleur looked back at the Cemetery Bookshop, quiet and still. She shook her head.
Lord Raspbone smiled, revealing a pristine set of teeth.
“Let’s get you inside then and make you a nice cup of tea.” He signalled at the car, “Leave your bags. I’ll have someone fetch your things later.”
With that, Fleur followed him to the Manor, taking one last time to look back at the bookshop.
* * * *
Fleur looked tentatively around the kitchen as Lord Raspbone busied himself, fumbling around; oddly matched cupboard doors with ornately decorated handles painted a picture of mad exuberance; there was no sign of modern technology or creature comforts as Fleur’s host heaved a matte black, cast iron kettle onto an old-fashioned cooker and spent several minutes thumbing around drawers.
“I can never find those blasted matches. Where did she put them?”
Fleur paused and listened. The house was silent apart from the whisper of the wind that scratched at the tiny, four-paned kitchen windows.
“Hmm?” Lord Raspbone looked up, eyes unblinking and yellowish.
“You said she. Does someone else live here?”
He paused, and his eyes rolled side to side, as if searching for something. After a few moments, he shook his head and continued to make the tea.
“Oh no. Just me…”
There was a creak from one of the upstairs floorboards. Both looked up. Lord Raspbone pulled a strange grin, once again showing off those perfect teeth.
“…and the wind.” He turned his back to Fleur and started to pour the hot water, continuing to chat away.
“It has been me for the last ten years, ever since…” He paused as his head dropped.
“The fire?” Fleur offered. Lord Raspbone continued to stand in silence. Fleur checked her phone. Still no signal. She jumped as a large, ceramic mug was slammed down in front of her. Lord Raspbone sat down opposite and peered over the top of his china cup and saucer, taking delicate sips. After several moments, Fleur pulled a tablet from her handbag and offered it to Lord Raspbone, who eyed it incredulously.
“Tell me Miss Davids, do I look like the typical millennial client you deal with?”
Fleur held the tablet in mid-air, mouth open.
Lord Raspbone placed the cup on the saucer and sighed.
“Paper, Miss Davids. Do you remember what that is? I like to feel the document that’s about to decimate my livelihood and family history.”
Fleur started to dig around in her handbag, Lord Raspbone looking on sullenly. She dropped the document file as she pulled it from her bag, placing her hand on her forehead.
“Everything okay Miss Davids?”
“Yes, yes. Just felt a little funny then.”
“Have more tea.” Lord Raspbone gestured at the mug, whilst eyeing the clock on the wall.
Fleur picked up her overtly large mug and took several more gulps as her host started to thumb through the documents, sighing at every turn.
“This won’t do. You are vultures, picking the last remaining bits of flesh you can find. Vultures.” Lord Raspbone hurled the document at Fleur’s head, catching her on the cheek. Such was the force, it knocked her off the chair and sent her crashing to the ground. Head spinning, Fleur grabbed the chair and hoisted herself back onto her feet.
“What’s wrong with you?” She slurred as her legs started to buckle beneath her. Her focus went to the contents of her mug, which now had a strange, black tint.
Lord Raspbone drifted around the table towards her, concern written on his face. He grabbed Fleur by the elbow to support her as she dropped to her knees.
“I had no intention of selling to you. I needed you. My loved ones need to be freed. This isn’t personal.”
“You’re…insane. Rosie…” Fleur could feel the room spinning as her head hit the cold, linoleum.
* * * *
A draft howled under the thick, wooden door that had just been bolted from the outside; the scratching at the window as the overhanging trees brushed against the bookshop’s walls, mixed with the tiny pitter-patter of scurrying feet in the darkness brought Fleur back to her senses. The musty stench of aged wood and burned candle wax caused her to wipe her eyes several times and cough violently. Fleur at up and started to panic, patting herself all over, before she pulled out her inhaler and took several, sharp blasts. A letter box that sat at the top of the door unbolted and opened with a clunk, a familiar pair of old, yellowish eyes peering in. Fleur found her balance and ran at the door, banging her fists hard on its surface.
“Let me out, now you jumped up jailor. I’ll call the Police and bring the blue fury down on you, believe me.”
Lord Raspbone sighed.
“And how exactly will you do that?” Fleur’s hands went straight to her pockets and started to pat herself down again. The sudden realisation dawned on her as she took a few steps backwards. Fleur looked up at Lord Raspbone, confusion lining her face.
“My girls. She needs to feed.” The desperation and fear were clear in his voice as it trembled. He paused.
With that, he slammed the letter box, leaving Fleur in pitch black, except for a sliver of light from a lone candle that hanged above the door. The pitter-patter of scurrying feet stopped suddenly as the draft under the door grew stronger. Fleur jumped to her feet, still nursing the back of her head and reached for the candle, its wax dribbled down the side at every movement.
She turned to face the room, holding the candle out; in the darkness, she could see outlines of bookshelves that ran along the walls and down the middle. The ceiling was so high, she couldn’t see it in this light. Draped across the empty walls were tattered, moth eaten banners that had once been brilliant emerald and gold but had now faded into obscurity. Fleur reached out and touched one of the banners, dust spraying everywhere. She looked away to shield her face; the candle light illuminated a collection of old picture frames that hanged on the wall opposite. As she got closer, the outline of a plaque came into focus. Fleur reached out and wiped away the layers of dust.
Fleur’s eyebrows raised as she held the candle closer to the pictures and started to blow away the remaining dust. Every single one had Lord Raspbone besides two women, one older and one younger. Etched into each was tiny writing scrawled in black ink: Lord Raspbone, Lady Raspbone and Agatha Raspbone.
A high, pitched scream blared from within the darkness, causing the candle’s flame to whip back and forth. Fleur’s eyes widened. She took a step forward and held out the candle; a spider made its way down the central bookshelf, leaving a trail of web neatly decorated across the dusty tomes and started to scurry across the stone floor. It stopped just at the edge of the candle light as a delicate tapping started from within the darkness. Fleur took another step forward. The tapping stopped as Fleur stared at the floor where the spider was; busy scurrying around in a circle, it seemed to be entranced by a greyish mass.
As Fleur continued to tread closer, she finally realised what the grey mass was – a human toe. It stopped tapping as the spider scurried into the darkness. There was a crunch and a giggle. Fleur gasped. An ice-cold blast tickled up the back of her neck as she heard something whisper in her ear,
Fleur spun around. Nothing. Another ice-cold blast to the back of her neck.
She spun around again to see two bloodshot eyes staring at her from within the darkness; what skin was visible was tight and grey, hidden by straggly auburn hair. The figure grinned widely, its yellow teeth making Fleur gag as it brought up a finger, topped with a split, crusty nail to its lips.
Fleur was frozen solid. The figure took a step forward and Fleur shut her eyes. After a few moments, the smell of death disappeared, so she reopened them. From her right-hand side, she heard a rasping, deep voice,
“We told you. No LIGHTS!”
Another blood curdling scream as the candle blew out. Fleur sprinted into the dark, clammy hands held out to feel the way. A series of clunks echoed behind her as something stalked her every move past the bookshelves, gradually increasing speed. Fleur caught her foot and crashed into a bookshelf. Several heavy, dusty tomes cascaded down on her as she hit the stone floor with bone shattering force. As she heaved, struggling to breathe, hunched over on her knees, Fleur could see her breath freezing in front of her as the clunking came to a stop, immediately behind her. She lashed out.
“Leave me alone!”
She peered into the darkness, searching for movement. There was only silence. Her breath returned to normal, as she took a few more blasts on the inhaler. That icy feeling had gradually been replaced with an unusual warmth, which reminded Fleur of camping by the lake in Zurich as a child; the familiar scents of freshly cut grass, budding tulips and fresh water brought a smile to her face.
“Okay Fleur. Get a grip. This is all in your head. You just need to find another way out.”
As her eyes adjusted, Fleur started to make out an old, boarded up window. A tiny flicker of light was struggling to find a way through the barrier. After pulling and heaving, there was a crack as the boards tore away in Fleur’s hands, allowing a mercury coloured beam to illuminate most of the bookshop. Fleur’s mouth was wide as she surveyed the room; despite its unmanaged state, the bookshop was a magnificent sight, its Victorian detailing along the walls and ceiling, coupled with a wrought iron winding staircase towards the end of the central bookshelf, where every step and inch had a unique carving welded on, carried such magnitude. Fleur shook her head,
“I cannot believe we’re just going to knock this place down.” She paused before starting to fan herself, face moist with sweat.
The clunking sound restarted. Fleur froze, her eyes stretched as far to their corners as they could manage, without turning around. She tentatively took steps towards the staircase, left leg then right leg, breathing deeply and rapidly. Every step closer she got, the warmer it became.
Fleur spun around to find a silhouette, but she couldn’t quite make out the features.
“Rosie? Why are you here? How did you find me?”
“Come here baby. I need to hold you.”
Fleur shook her head and took a step back.
“I’m cold baby…” repeated the silhouette.
“No. You’re not Rosie. Get out of my head!” Fleur yelled, taking several more steps back. She reached out and felt the handrail of the staircase. The silhouette grew completely still as Fleur was frozen to the spot. Without warning, the silhouette inclined its head to look at the source of light, before catapulting itself onto the window, morphing into an odd, black mass. Fleur was transfixed as its body rippled, swaying back and forth on the wall like a cobra would, waiting to pounce. Fleur turned and sprinted up the staircase.
As she reached the top, panting and puffing, she took a further blast on the inhaler before turning and staring to the bottom of the staircase, desperately trying to control her breathing.
For several moments, she could only hear the frantic ticking of her heartbeat. Then a greyish, aged hand was placed delicately on the bottom step. Fleur froze, her breath completely taken away. A second hand joined it as the same bloodshot eyes peered up at her,
“Why are you running? We’re all so cold.”
Fleur took several, small steps backwards, hands outstretched to feel for anything that she could protect herself with, while her focus remained dead in front of her, eyes unblinking.
She felt the wall gently align with her back. She let out a short, sharp gasp, but quickly placed her hand over her mouth.
The sound moved up the staircase, step by agonising step, ringing out with relentless momentum. Fleur waited, hand still over her mouth as the clunking reached the top most turn of the staircase, expecting to see those eyes.
Moments passed without any flicker of movement or sound. Feeling around in the dark, Fleur’s fingers wrapped around what she managed to find first, a robust book. She pressed forward, book held aloft, ready to strike. She reluctantly poked her head out over the top of the staircase. Nothing. Her hands started to burn and she yelped, dropping the book. It had suddenly grown red hot and hissed as it hit the cold, stone floor. Fleur kicked it a few times, nudging it along the floor. Nothing. It was back to normal. She reached down and picked it up, walking over to a nearby table, where she rested it and stared at the front cover. Unlike the rest of the books in this place, it had no sign of wear or tear nor any dust along its spine or front; despite the practically zero levels of light, Fleur could still make out a rich, burgundy hue to the book, with a soft, velvet touch. There was no illustration or title to the book, on any of the sides.
She flipped open the cover and found a few lines of ink scribbled on the inside cover. Fleur repeated softly,
“This place is cursed. My family are cursed. Get out now while you still have time…”
Fleur moved her finger along the darker blotches that were drizzled down the rest of the page; sticky to the touch, Fleur saw a deep red tint to it.
“Oh my god!” She frantically rubbed her hand up and down her coat, the substance eventually coming off. She noticed more black fingerprints on the edges of the pages. Flipping through them, she read each one aloud, one after the other,
“Day 1: Today we moved into Raspbone Manor. It’s a beautiful place. Mother and Father are happy to have the family home back. It’s nice to see them smiling again. There’s a bookshop on the edge of the grounds. It’s where I found this diary. It belonged to my new friend. She lives in the bookshop.
Day 7: Father was not pleased that I went into the bookshop. He said it’s not safe. It was built on an old cemetery. I don’t see the problem, I like talking to the dead people. They’re friendly. My cough doesn’t hurt me in there. I like it.
Day 30: Mother was only trying to protect me, but Father didn’t like it. He’s locked her in the bookshop, but I can’t help her. I see her sometimes in the window looking out. Father says he will board them up if she doesn’t start to behave. My cough is much worse. I’m struggling to breathe.
Day 60: It was Mother’s funeral today. Father didn’t cry. I didn’t cry, but that’s because I know Mother lives in the bookshop now with all my friends. I’m going to run away tonight to be with Mother.
Day 75: Father can’t get in the bookshop. My new friend keeps him out. She’s nice, even though she doesn’t like the light. It hurts her. My cough has completely gone now. I finally feel happy, even though I’m still scared of Father.
Day 90: Mother hasn’t spoken to me since I’ve been here. My friend tells me she is still hiding, waiting for me to join her, whatever that means. I am feeling weaker now and my friend seems different. She’s like a black blob wherever there’s some light. It’s scary. She doesn’t want Father to join us. Maybe I will let Father in tomorrow. I want to leave."
Day 91: I let Father in. She is not happy. Father brought a torch and oil. It’s really hot and we can’t escape. My cough is even worse. I’m going to hide this diary and come back when it’s safe.”
Fleur laid the book down and took a deep breath.
“What is going on here?”
It wasn’t until the cold snap rang back along her spine that she started to realise that the air had grown arctic once more. Fleur started to shake. She could see a dark form in the corner of her eye.
“Please help us. We’re so cold.” The same rasping voice as before.
Fleur swallowed and closed her eyes.
“One. Two. Three…” She turned her head to the right; stood side by side were the two women from the picture and despite their greyish skin and straggly hair, they were holding hands. They took a step forward, their long, black gowns swaying back and forth.
“Help us. She’s coming.”