The castle was like none I’d ever seen before.
Massive was too feeble a word to describe it. It was gargantuan, but even that word falls short. I arched my head back to see its summit, but it was lost as the thickened darkness surrounded its higher reaches. What lay up there was left to the dreams of madmen, the architecture was so severe. Several spires pointed from lower wings and archways, but the castle’s real secrets lay on the other side of that darkness.
I cannot recount just what brought it on, but I had an overwhelming feeling of dread of the place. I knew that if I went in there, I would not come out. Aside of the large main door, too large for any person were two large tapestries set into stained glass. Their darkened and faded colours lamented the castle and they wept now in dull colours as opposed to the vibrancy which I imagined they had once been. No light escaped the castle’s windows. It was as though it drew everything surrounding to it. The attention, the light, even the air and it seemed thick here and somewhat pungent. It held a flavour I could not place, a scent I could not pronounce.
I found myself unable to take my gaze from it and I felt my resolve fleeing me in the presence of the looming intimidation which oozed from the very brickwork of the castle.
In my thoughts I tried to picture the architect of the place. He was an isolated man with a vast wealth and held none of the ties which pulled common folk. He was mad and upon concocting his grant scheme, became obsessed with its accomplishment. He worked thousands of slaves to their deaths and beyond, using them as mortar for the bricks. That way they would stay their duty forever more. Upon completion and following the subsequent decoration of the castle, the architect then became paranoid from being locked away from company for too long. He cast out any and all folk who wished to marvel at his creation and locked his doors both literally and figuratively. He became a hermit inside his own labyrinth and he whittled out his days in his own kingdom and became solitude incarnate, peaceful within his own fairytale.
Subsequently, people began to ignore him and from then on there his castle stood, seen but never seen. No man other than those that worked on its construction had seen inside and not long after, rumours began to arise from the still smouldering ashes of the architect’s bitterness. Rumours of a great wealth hidden away inside, rumours of occult horrors and monstrosities dwelling inside, rumours of a secluded paradise where only the most prestigious were allowed access to its hedonistic depths. The rumours circulated rapidly at first and some men, keen on adventure, sought to investigate the castle. When they found that the doors would not grant them entry, they decided to scale the castle and climb through an open window. None of the men returned from one reason or another, falling to their deaths or infighting over who would get the most riches, save for one man who had rescued his own life at the cost of his brother’s. His brother had indeed found an open window and had entered. The man’s rope had then become caught and as he hung while his brother investigated, the window slammed shut and the man barely managed to climb down and return to town. He never saw his brother again. This made rumours flare towards the occult setting and many believed the castle was cursed, damned and evil. The people ceased their adventures and soon the rumours were no more than stories which children passed around as often as the winds to frighten each other.
All the while the man inside the castle lived all alone, watching the towns below his highest tower, his shoulder resting on the full moon, as he enjoyed his solitude.
I did not want to go in. The fear in my gut had formed into a coherent thought and it screamed “I’m not going in there!”
Just before I had the chance to say the words aloud, Richard spoke quietly, obviously afflicted with the same fear.
“Shall we?” Was all he could muster. My bottom lip, cold, trembled and the sore lump in my throat had to be swallowed before I could do anything. It grated on its way down and I agreed with him.
Our feet crunched the snow beneath us in a lacklustre rhythm which kept desynchronizing like a wheel bumping over rocks on the road. As we neared the castle walls it seemed to loom over us more like it was leaning over at us to glimpse at the soon-to-be intruders. I felt a great surge of malevolence emanate from the place and I wanted to tell Richard I was turning back, I knew that we must proceed.
Our footprints in the snow marked the first footprints to grace the frozen pathway for a time I did not know and could not fathom. The age of the castle seemed eternal, as though it was older than the world itself. It was a part of the rocks on which it was built, fused into it by time and aesthetics. Perhaps it predated the world, this world. It predated the world as it was today, but the earth and granite itself beneath had been there since time became time, perhaps longer. Our every footprint seemed a testament to ourselves and to our journey. We would enter the castle by one means or another and we would encounter whatever was inside its walls accordingly, showing them the same pardon that it showed us be it monsters and demons, a lake of dust and mould or other things which I could not imagine.
We walked towards the stained glass window to the left side of the great doorway. I noticed the frozen ponds at either side of the pathway, entrenching it. I wondered if any fish lived in the pond and if so, how many. I saw that on either side of the arched doorway and at its zenith sat gargoyles, each with a ferocious snarl and a sharp maw. Their perpetual gazes possessed all in front of the castle, us included. They sat obediently and watched us from their frozen seclusions.
We reached the wall which I noticed was immaculate and seemed completely unscathed by the ravages of time and punishment of the elements. It was as though this place was distant from the world, where the rules of normality did not apply.
Richard unslung the rope with the spiked hook attached to one end. He took stance and began swinging it in a circle. After five revolutions he flung it upward where it clanged against the brick and skidded down. The clang echoed through the forecourt and I found myself looking around, glancing at the gargoyles in case they would come to life.
Richard tried again and missed, the third time however, the metal hook hit the glass and smashed through. The glass shrieked and smaller fragments of it twinkled down upon us. The pieces that faced inwards were pristine and it was almost as though they were glad to be renounced for the immaculate quality of the glass brought a smile to me, breaking the frozen look of fear which had galvanized my visage since setting foot in the forecourt. Sepulchral air sighed from the hole in the glass and I could smell its stale and musty scent. It was a melancholic breath which forced me to turn away.
Richard tugged on the rope until it was taught then after carefully placing his feet on the wall, began to walk up it, hoisting himself up as he walked. I followed with the same rhythm and as he reached the ledge, I was close behind.
Richard dropped into the castle. He fell into the shadows and vanished from my sight. I heard an echo as he hit the ground and I then heard his voice, but could not make out the worlds, the wind still struck any noise away from me.
I reached the ledge and perched myself up on it. I glanced down at Richard who I saw had landed safely below then I turned to pull up our rope. The snow had begun to fall again and filtered much of the view. Our footprints would disappear and nobody would know we were here. From the corner of my eye, I swear I saw a man standing hooded and distant in the centre of the forecourt. He glared at me with shrouded eyes and I aver that I felt his malevolence burn into me with a pleasurable malice.
I turned to Richard frantically and as I loosened my grip to grab the rope, my footing slipped and I fell into the castle.
We were trapped in there now, alone.
Short story I had published in the LEP (Lancashire Evening Post) on 2/1/10.
About a deified, vilefied, esoteric castle. Two men attempt to sneak into it for their own reasons.