"Sometimes, late at night, sleep comes not to the weary.
Some rooms will not stay silent.
Some houses stalk their inhabitants with ghastly intent…"
My travels in Eastern Europe had brought me to a strange place, located in the dominion of Romania. I sojourned to a destination about 13 miles to the North of the city of Timisoara, where I found the sprawling expanse of an ancient castle, once used by Stephen the Great of Moldavia (1457 – 1504). It was literary pursuits that lead me to such out-of-the-way stops, as I conducted my research. By day, this gilded station offered many fascinating discoveries: a grand library filled with treasured tomes of old; an enchanting, if moribund, Ball Room where opulence once found its true expression and extravagant masquerades took place; I saw mesmerizing chandeliers and an impressive sitting room, within the Great Hall, which was home to a majestic hearth.
On the day of which the events recounted here unfolded, the hearth was enlivened by a roaring fire the caretakers built for the guests. The blazing timbers provided much needed warmth on that sodden, wispy, late-autumn day. I admired the armory and the regal Coats-of-Arms. I skulked with trepidation within the bleak and forbidding dungeons. As I explored the many rooms and passageways, it occurred to me that this was a space mysteriously ensouled with medieval history and told of a former glory, long since passed. I felt caught up in the enigmatic atmosphere as I gave in to rhapsodic ruminations of what life must have been like, in those distant times. Yet, I also encountered something more…something which disturbed my revelry, by degrees, as the day progressed.
As I opened my imagination to a divining altered by the antiquarian surroundings, I began to detect a more malevolent, yet unseen, presence. Illusive whispers wafted toward me from a distance; my trammeled vision seemed to perceive phantasmal shapes with the similitude of persons, lurking. There appeared unexpected movement, but when I looked there was nothing. It was as if the shadows in the rooms and hall ways were reaching out to me, almost clawing at my clothes. Something otherworldly was trying to convey to me that I was not alone, even as I conducted a solitary route. The startling sensations seized my lucid mind in fits; a wrinkle in reality reared up but quickly dissipated, causing me to question my reason. Had I heard someone speaking? Was someone crouching yonder, just beyond my field of sight? What made my skin crawl and the hairs stand? It was these transient but peculiar incidents that I carried with me into the evening.
The night had come, with full moon looming high. After a delicious meal, I took my evening Brandy with a book, in the reading room. I read of the history of the castle which expounded upon both the marvelous and the disturbing of its 800-year existence. The Medieval world in Romania was indeed a bloody time (i.e., in wars against the Ottoman Empire) and the castle dungeon "apparatus" were utilized to dark effect, over the centuries. I had felt a very “close” and unnerving atmosphere in that part of the castle; a palpable sadness hung in the air...and I felt there was also a latent anger that lingered. I could only imagine the tortures that were carried out there. I turned in about 10:30, with the day’s events, the rigors of my travels and the thoughts of history preoccupying my thoughts. After a while of restlessness, I drifted off, as a boat upon a mild bucolic lake. The peace, however, would be violently upended. At the late hour of 3:00am, I awoke with a start and sat up, sharply, in my bed. The cause of my upset was this: I thought I heard a voice in my room where no other voice should have been! Worse still, this voice seemed cloaked in villainy; it was harsh, guttural and brutish. It cackled and threatened from the black corners! In my panicked state, I believed that someone or something sinister was watching me! I struggled to discover a source, as I blinked furiously, looking this way and that! My sight was, in turns, elucidated and bewitched by the ethereal countenance of a moonlight-enticed obscurity. For a time, I felt utterly enslaved by the oppressive persuasion of this sudden horror, as I trembled in the semi-darkness of my esoteric enclosure. “Who is there?!” I called, into a deadening silence. My ears filled with the sound of my heart beating and belabored breathing. During those enthralled minutes, I became aware of the various occasional creaks, groans and pops that tend to emanate from old buildings in the quiet hours of nightfall. There was a drone of wind gusts outside, as well, that impinged upon my hearing. When, after a quarter of an hour had lapsed, I heard no further nefarious sounds, I began to calm myself. I decided that I may have been dreaming or mistaken a natural sound from the old castle for something unexplainable. I laid my head back down but kept a weather ear out for any odd disturbance. My restfulness began to flow, slowly, back to my soul. My heart steadied, my breathing became measured and drawn out, I thought of more pleasant things… Quiet returned to my mind. Sleep cajoled and invited me back to a relaxed state of suspended consciousness. Deeper I slipped into the lake of these languid hours…
That is when the unexplainable returned: the naked horror of the moment! The twisted evil of that VOICE in my ears! A savage FACE next to my burning skull! Boney, hairy claws on my gasping throat! A reviled breath most acidic and repellant forced its way into my fleeting, aghast sentience! I recoiled from that side of the bed and leaped away, towards the door, in the dark. I crashed to the cold floor as sweat poured from my shrieking face. I clamored upwards, clutching the handle, swinging the door open, and I stumbled out into the hall way! The scream of undiluted shock echoed through the ancient building.
All the sound I heard was white. All the light I saw was red. All the world I knew was black fear!
Not a poem but a short story. Just enjoying writing up an homage to my favorite Ghost story writer, M.R. James.