Fate drove me to my death, and by death I mean the tarot card interpretation; the end of an old life and the beginning of the new. A repetitive dream haunted me from childhood. I would find myself in pouring rain roaming scared and lost through a thick woods drenched in night’s suffocating darkness. Finally I would hear the cries of the ocean’s tide hammering against a distant shore. On reaching an unkempt grassy clearing a once magnificent, now derelict mansion would come into view. I felt it looking at me, waiting for me and drawing me in; built of sturdy ageing stone, broken Georgian style windows, yet alive and calling for me.
Beyond lay a muddy beach littered with pebbles and overlooked by an abandoned lighthouse. Occasional jolts of lightening would illuminate the overbearing gargoyles that adorned the large, stretched eyes of the main first floor windows. Reluctantly I would enter the curved oak doors that had been left ajar as if welcoming me. Candles would flicker alive showing a grand hall, magically unscathed by age and bedecked with old portraits of people from long ago that stared longingly at the giant staircase. Behind the art stood high, crimson walls that complemented the dark wooden rails and floor.
An archway to my left revealed a splendid lounge full of Chaise-Lange’s, a crackling fire filled with logs and further pictures. One would always catch my gaze; A refined man, tall with thick black hair and the most soul-searching blue eyes. Pangs would always run through my body, pangs of attraction and a sub-conscious recognition. After a momentary stare I would climb the stairs. The first floor encompassed the stair case revealing numerous bedrooms. All furnished beautifully with king size beds, closets and rugs. One particular chamber attracted me, it lay between two other rooms and had doors accessing both. The bed had four posts and red covers, walls, floors.
Deeper into the house I would go, passing the servants’ quarters of the second floor and up into the attic. The attic called me and I was drawn to it. I always knew in the back of my mind that there were two staircases that led to the top floor; one ran directly from the scullery in the basement and the other from the landing of the second floor. I climbed higher, but a pain in my belly told me to turn back, to run. The hair on my neck rose, but I would always lose control of my feet. Forced to move on I would feel the panic welling up, lights dimmed and the splendour of the main house would soon be forgotten.
Mazes were incomparable to the intricate rooms that ran one from the other and across various levels. It would occur to me in my adult years that the attic rooms existed in a self-contained block to the rear of the house directly over the extended scullery and kitchens. The rooms varied from what appeared to be empty servants’ quarters and vast collections of old books. The largest room appeared to be a study of sorts and must have sat to the rear as it over looked the sea and lighthouse.
Layers of rocks, corals and pools provided an awkward array of stepping stones to the menacing tides and lighthouse. Sometimes I would move into a pitch black back room. I always felt disturbed, as if an inhumane soul suffered in the purgatory of this chamber. I could feel the threatening presence. I would try to escape, but my feet would draw me in deeper and darker. On other occasions I would dream that I stepped onto the balcony of the study and climbed over the barrier down to the first layer of rock. The hard weed soaked mass swept in a rugged semi-circle dropping at one edge to another layer and at another to a rock pool that would tidally transform into a cruel tide sucking water into the jaws of the ocean.
I would feel him behind me, a greying mass of black and white, unable to reflect colour. I would feel his massive form enshrouding me and instinctively would edge towards the rock pool with fear. I knew him, the man before me, the man from the portrait, but could not place him. As I backed away his hand would stretch alongside great strides until it stroked my cheek. The fear would always make me unsteady, the fear and the swirls of the tide beckoning to me, I would slip as I backed away, tripping, stumbling trying desperately to get away from this monstrous spirit. He always uttered the same words as he angrily strode towards me,
‘We have been waiting!’ and I would fall into the whirling eddy below. Dark water sucked me under every time and every time I would drag myself to the surface choking and suffocating. He would watch cruelly as I cried out and begged for help. The tide would drive me outwards towards the rocky shelf separating the pool from the vicious sea. My nails would crack as I threw myself onto the largest stone, wrapping my arms about its huge form. Then she would come, the lighthouse would glow and she would come. My stinging, salty eyes would glance back and he would be staring, waiting and transparently illuminating as the ancient light flicked across the shore.
Her icy, drenched pale hand would appear first from beneath the waves, grabbing at the boulder with fingers crunched like talons. Her long black hair rose from the deep and clung to the rocks as if every single lock was an individual entity coming for my soul. I would always freeze with terror as a second hand splatted next to my face. Her bowed head would rise in neck cracking strokes and two dark eyes would peer from the downturned face turning me to stone.
Psychology was my subject of choice at eighteen and circadian rhythms and dream analysis thereafter for my Doctorate in London. My social life was non-existent as I desperately searched for meaning. Psychiatrists failed to alleviate my suffering as did counsellors, hypnotists and priests. I spent my free time wading through photograph after photograph of old houses, but none seemed to match the image that my mind had conjured up. My own work had not given me the insight I desperately needed and after graduation, a ceremony that I chose not to attend, I booked a costly appointment with a medium. Needless to say I was sceptical.
The scepticism increased when I found the woman, who called herself Helena, in a small Soho shop surrounded by trinkets, tarot cards and candles. It seemed a little tacky and I expected nothing. Helena offered me green tea, which I politely declined, before leading me down a steep flight of wooden stairs to a small candle lit room containing only a dinner table and chairs, nothing spectacular. I sat down an involuntarily allowed an unimpressed sigh to escape my lips.
Advising me to shuffle and focus on my quest, the woman handed me a well-use pack of cards. Steadily I mixed the deck as the old woman pushed her greying curls back and closed her eyes. I placed the cards in a heap before her and without examining them she ran her hands over the top whilst taking deep breaths. She batted her lashes and then whispered to me that caution was needed. She then rose and left the room returning with a map of The British Isles. Her palm stroked the plan until stopping on a small Scottish village lying between the ocean and the Outer Hebrides, Meallta. Abruptly her demeanour changed, she grasped my hand moaning and shaking her head, imploring me not to go. I forced her away and left my payment on the table.
I was drawn, I knew after years of unrest that I had to go regardless of Helena’s negativity. My searches online had revealed very little about the area, so I had no choice but to conclude my quest, to find out what had been driving me and if this house existed at all. Within hours I found myself lightly packed and on the night train to the North. The journey was largely uneventful, I was tired and slept for the most part only waking to change trains at Fort William. The morning sun rose from behind crimson skies as I left the station at Glenfinnan and waited for what felt like an eternity for a taxi.
The driver said very little to me on the road to Meallta and seemed reluctant to be visiting the small village at all. He was courteous enough to leave me at a small tavern with rooms to let. This of course sounds like a reference to an old horror film, but this is not the case. The fact is that Meallta was such a small village that little else existed; a few houses in the village, the tavern, a small shop and a smaller school with farms dotted along the rural horizon. The harbour only provided enough room for four fishing boats each only big enough for two or three men. It was clear that the village was self-sufficient and neither wanted nor required outside interference; it was trapped in time.
The people were polite enough, unlike the harbingers expected to drive strangers out in the old films and quickly accommodated me and offered me a good home roast. The tavern was run by a middle aged childless couple calling themselves Mary and Brian. She was a petit woman whose thick red curls were piled into a loose bun and he was a sturdy fellow darker in both complexion and hair. They spoke at length about the fishing population who they fed during the day and gave porter to in the evening.
Once I found the couple to be at ease and happy with my company I broached the subject of historical houses. I did not want to explain my far-fetched reasoning and instead explained that I was writing a book on old buildings. There was a brief and uneasy exchange of glances, but logic overcame any out-dated superstition and Mary explained that there had been a large house that backed on to the sea many years ago. This house had been burned down by the English landlord, a General in a fit of temper following the loss of his wife; only the bare ruins stood now. Before retiring I persuaded my good landlords to show me the location of the ruins on a map and bathed and took to my bed early to prepare for the day ahead; a day which I hoped would bring years of distress to a swift conclusion.
I woke to a coal fire burning in the grate and a small plate of soda cake, butter, jam and a fresh pot of tea. I refreshed myself and swept my hair back tightly. My attire consisted of loose trousers, shirt and trainers to facilitate any excess climbing or walking that may be required. The walk was longer than expected as the ruins stood someway outside of the village. A few passers-by on bicycles or foot saluted as I overtook them on the road, but the journey was otherwise quiet giving me time to wonder whether I was chasing ghosts and at times even question my own sanity.
At length, having passed a small abandoned monastery, I found a dirt road holding an unkempt signpost pointing to the historic site of Meallta House. I strolled up the road, anxious to reach my destination and barely taking in the lush green beauty of the overhanging trees that smothered the path blocking the view to the sea. The sound of the waves crashed through my ears as I drew closer to the site. The track grew rougher until it morphed into a ragged field and then a wooded copse, with little indication of regular tourism. I crunched through leaves, dried mud heaps and fallen branches until reaching the clearing, the one I had so often dreamed about and beyond I spied the ruins.
Most of the ground floor still stood, the door rotted and hung open, but the window panes were no more, just vacant eyes staring into the distance. Clambering up through the front door I found the layout as expected; the great hall, the lounge now a blackened, debris filled chasm, the stairs collapsed and the upper floors fallen into heaps, strewn carefree about the place with weeds growing between the planks. Clumsy stones made the surfaces dangerously unstable. The ebb and flow of the tide seemed to echo and scream to me. I abandoned the building and circumnavigated its huge walls until reaching the pebbled layers heading out to sea.
Sadly, the desolate lighthouse gazed at me. Rugged rocks clawed a path to it and masses of rock pools formed a dangerous, tidal pathway to its door. I closed my eyes and listened to the roaring sea, screaming in desperation and in that second everything changed.
Darkness fell, unnatural darkness, the sun’s rays disappeared from beyond my eyelids and slowly, recoiling in horror I opened them. Dense black clouds smothered the sky leaving only a slit for the rays of a glowing, ill-timed moon. A smog rose upwards from around my feet and misty claws crept from the trees beyond. I could feel my heart racing and urgency filled my belly, desperation to flee, but terror cemented my feet to the ground.
I turned my gaze to the house which hastily began to evolve and regress, the planks and stones rose rebuilding its original magnificent state, regressing into a past form. Shadows flittered and shuffled with a speed beyond human perception and there before more eyes stood a well-lit manor whereby the present and the past occupied the same space. Overawed and overwhelmed I lifted my heavy feet and trudged mesmerised towards the nightmarish house.
The door opened at my approach and I sauntered in drawn instantly to the depths of the scullery and the bleak staircase that led me to the servants’ quarters. The climb was steep and the staircase narrow. The thrumming of the waves beat in my ears covering the sounds of my own footsteps. At the apex a series of sparsely furnished rooms and halls created a maze across the top floor, one room bleaker than the previous. I moved through servants’ quarters, rooms stocked with books and boxes, corridors, until finally I came to a large rear facing communal room whose huge semi-oval windows stared intensely onto the lighthouse and whose balcony provided and layers of rock provided a treacherous path to the sea.
As my eyes flitted from room to sea I noticed a drink’s globe and a high backed armchair facing the crackling fire. Therein sat the General; I recognised his rank from the long out-dated uniform and his image from the picture in my dreams. He rose slowly and held his arms out to me, moving rigidly forwards and taking my hands in his. He closed his eyes and instinctively I closed mine allowing our minds to converse in pictorial silence.
Images of the life he had lost flashed through my brain like a lightning storm; a feared General pre-eminent in developing the American colonies who returned to Scotland with his beloved servant Rosaline. Over time his infatuation with his dainty servant developed into obsession; her soft songs, her long, black flowing hair and her ebony eyes bewitched him and slowly drove him to the brink of delirium. He intentionally dispatched his family to London and began his advances, which were welcomed by the girls’ open arms.
In time his second weakness, the bottle, reared its cruel head and he would often neglect his cherished Rosaline. In her loneliness she found solace with a stable hand. One lust-filled night the General recovered his senses and on discovering his concubine entwined in the limbs of another grew enraged. The ultimate insult was the location; the coupling took place on a beautiful, plush chair beneath his portrait.
The General, consumed with an agonised heart and ravenous anger pulled the large iron tongs from the fireplace and bore them down on the head of his rival. Blood gushed and sprayed instantly onto his beloved. Terrified she ran towards the front door and the maddened General pursued the demon who had cursed him. The howling wind froze her form; she hugged her arms about her breasts stumbling over the rocks, mud and fallen leaves.
The roar of the General swirled in the air and she hobbled down onto the beach. With the tide steadily trickling in she struggled along the shallow rock pulls, tears pouring from her blood-stained skin she headed towards the lighthouse. The bleak night concealed the whereabouts of her assailant, the man she adored and loved so deeply, but his voice rang menacingly around her. Rosaline clambered up the rocks to the light house, threw open the door and panted heavily as she climbed the spiral staircase.
He had caught up with her by the time she had fallen out onto the top gallery. In wrath he raised the tongs still wedged in a furious clenched fist, delicately she approached him and placed her palm over his fist lowering the weapon and under her breath muttered the curse that would trap them both in their self-made prison until a suitable receptacle could free them and then in one sudden move threw herself over the balcony ending her life on the rocks below.
Insanity overwhelmed the General, insanity and grief; her touch had shown him their purgatory trapped in the house while her soul and body would be imprisoned beneath the waves both entrapped together and yet apart. The General would be haunted by his lover’s death and his spirit would mourn daily until a sacrifice could be made to reunite the two. He saw the curse in Rosaline’s eyes before she leaped to her death. Desperate to stop the pain he raced to the manor and there used shelves of books and the open fire to burn the place down. His mad laughter echoed through the halls as the flames consumed him, but in death he, the estate and the agony were reborn.
As his hands released mine I realised I was the sacrifice. Somehow he had drawn me here, perhaps he was an ancestor or I was a descendant of hers. I was unsure of the connection, but felt it none the less. He wanted my body for his beloved. The door slammed and bolted on its own volition. I darted through the open window and climbed over the balcony onto the rocks below. He followed; I climbed down further, layer after layer of rock until I reached a plateau that lay between him and the deep rock pools. The tide was high and angrily lashing and spewing jets, spraying me with bullets of water.
I backed away, pleading, imploring him to let me live. He had waited too long to be reunited with Rosaline, his resolve was immovable. In a second my footing was lost, I fell into the depths of the cruel waves. The current proved unmanageable, I was dragged to the rear of the pool. My nails scraped and clung to the rocks as I desperately tried to save myself. My nails achingly bent and ripped. I coughed as water washed into my lungs. I could see his blurred figure waiting on the rocks. Then she came!
One pale, scrawny hand reached out of the sea. The fingers bent and contorted as it latched onto the rock next to me. The elbow bent as she heaved her corpse from the sea. Jet black tendrils of hair covered the skeletal face and black eyes, each tendril seemed to have a life of its own and climbed the rock like ivy. I tried to scream, but no sound came out. My whole body shuddered with an evil fear. A second clawed hand joined the first. I tried to pull myself away, but my strength had left me and the sea overwhelmed me.
Her gnarled face stared into mine. In a moment of fear I released my grip and an eddy formed swirling me, dragging me downwards. She moved along the rocks like a contorted insect until hurling herself towards me. As she floated towards my struggling frame her head sunk lower and lower until nothing but hair sprayed across the sea. A firm hand gripped my leg and I was dragged downwards, down into the darkness at the centre of the eddy. There was no water, no air, nothing except darkness. Eyes glowed therein, penetrating my eyes. Soft whispers cursed my eternal being. Her soul burned through my pupils and ripped into my mind with a volcanic eruption I was wrenched from my body, locked in the darkness forever as the lovers reunited in their own ghostly world above.