The Woman Annelida
The Haining is a country house and estate in Selkirk in the Scottish Borders. The present house dates from the 1790s, and was a property of the Pringle family. In 2009, the house and grounds were bequeathed to the people of Selkirkshire and the wider public, and a charitable trust is now working on developing the building as a centre for exhibitions and events, highlighting art, culture and history.
Although there has been no documented evidence of any drowning in the vicinity, locals have mentioned over the years about a mysterious female figure seen hovering on and around the lake. She has been named quite simply, the Lady of the Lake. She is still seen by some today.
The following story is purely fictional and all characters and story are the author’s own creations.
Any resemblance in whole or part to anyone living or deceased, is entirely coincidental. The Haining House is only being used as the setting for the story.
I am watching you.
I am unseen. Unknown. Untouchable. Yet –
You fear me.
For I am unexplained. Unearthly. Unmentionable.
Enter my realm, and you will be lost in my inky nothingness. My black heart.
You cannot run from the shadows embraced by the tendrils of delicious dismay.
Ah, such infinite bliss! Your sorrow is my joy. Your pain, my pleasure. Your hopelessness - my goal.
Come hither and dance with me. Let my waltz of mournful souls enrapture and bind you to me.
Heed not the lies and empty promises of mortal beings - those who would discourage you from inviting the true beauty of my one kiss. Let me feed.
I am death’s concubine and your past, present and future, will simply belong... to me.
“Are you absolutely sure about this?” Lyn asked her fiancé Mark, as he switched off the engine of his Range Rover County First Generation 3.9L V8 SUV.
He sat, forearms leaning on the steering wheel, with his chin resting on the back of his hand. He stared out the windscreen in awe of the 18th century house in front of them. Smiling broadly, he replied. “Of course I’m sure, Lyn! I can’t believe we got this so cheaply? I was meant to go to that auction, I tell you. I mean, look at it! It’s amazing.” He turned his excited eyes to her. She shrugged, uncertainty written clearly on her face.
Mark stepped out the vehicle. As soon as his feet crunched across the gravel he just sensed it. He was home. Like a child at Disneyland he spun with his arms wide and the look of sheer wonder crossed his face. He was euphoric.
Watching him from the safety of the vehicle, Lyn’s dire cocktail of emotions continued to simmer under her usually calm exterior. She felt elation for Mark that he had finally found his dream home, a project which he had hungered for years, something he would put his heart and soul into. But, the conflicting emotions were of her own complete and utter dread at being chained to such a monstrosity. Granted, such buildings were amazing when it came to designing interiors, furnishings, colour schemes, themes all in keeping with the period of the building. It was her job after all, although she much preferred interior design for modern built homes. The likes of this 18th century blot on the landscape however, was far removed, in every way, from what she had envisioned as being their first home. As far as she was concerned, this fossilized construction this should remain in magazines, books, people’s imaginations or at best used for film sets only. Better still, away from her fiance’s eyes. Too late for that though. These unappealing, cold shells were incapable of being made into a proper home, in her opinion.
Yet, Mark was ecstatic about this find. The deed was done and signed over. Maybe, once it was restored she could convince him to sell. He would make a fortune from it and then they could easily afford the type of home which she just knew they would be so much happier in. And, it would be somewhere in the city, not in a god-forsaken tiny community like this stuck in the middle of nowhere.
She knew however, that she had to accept the fact this was now their property. With a deep sigh she shook her head. Firmly closing the vehicle’s door she joined her fiancé. She caught his arm as he staggered slightly in the middle of the circular driveway. “You’re like a little boy at times, Mark,” she chided.
“Well, this little boy just became Lord of the Manor,” he beamed.
Lyn’s mouth quivered. She really didn’t like this house. Mark noted the look in her eyes. Turning to face her he reached out and lifted her chin. “And you, beautiful …” He smiled then picked her up in his arms and spun round once.” are the Lady of the House.”
Lyn grimaced at his enthusiasm and wriggled free of his embrace. “I can’t help but question why it was so cheap. Something must be wrong with it.”
Trying desperately to hide his exasperation at her gloomy outlook of his prize purchase, he forced a broad smile. “Oh, Lyn! Nothing is wrong with it. It will take a good few thousand to fix it up, yes, but it’s not impossible to achieve. I think it was simply a case of not everyone has that level of commitment. But I’m lucky, I have the money to take on such a project. And can’t you see the potential? Yes it will need a lot of work, it hasn’t been lived in for ten years or so but still ...” He stood, arms extended, bathing in the potential glory of renovating this wondrous piece of architecture. “Look at it!”
Nothing could tarnish Mark’s enthusiasm. She let him fantasise as she wandered to the side of the great house. Staring up, she imagined all kinds of eyes watching her from behind the dirty windows and broken shutters. A city girl at heart, old houses in the middle of nowhere had always left her feeling cold. Her eyes scanned over the expansive lake at the back of the house. Some may have found the view beautiful, tranquil, romantic even. Lyn hated it. She just had a gut feeling about this place. There was an ominous presence here, and she did not like the prickling sensation she felt at the back of her neck. She tried to shrug the feeling off and moved across to the far side of the graveled driveway.
A small crop of wooden crosses under a rowan tree caught her attention. On closer inspection, she read names like “Mossy”, “Pip”, “Snowy”. It wasn’t hard to deduce someone’s beloved furry companions were buried here.
“Boo!” Mark had snuck up behind her.
Taken completely by surprise she screamed and instinctively lashed out at him. He laughed gently holding her wrists, before planting a loving kiss on her lips. “Sorry,” he said, rubbing noses with her. She smirked and quickly kissed him back. “What did you find here?” Mark asked, sliding an arm round her waist, pulling her against him.
“A pet cemetery by the looks of it.” Unsure whether it was cute or morbid, she moved further along the path, pulling Mark with her. It led to the old stables. The buildings were run down. The outer wall crumbling and inside the wooden partitions were rotten, some gone altogether. Old manure, rusted iron, mouldy leather mixed with the stale air and damp assaulted Lyn’s sense of smell. She covered her nose and mouth and started back the way she came.
Passing under the stone arch which spanned the cobbled courtyard, the sound of squabbling crows made her turn and look up. The birds fought, stray feathers floating down in a see-saw motion, before they both took flight and in swooping circles, chased one another.
A sudden chill ran over Lyn as her eyes caught sight of something in the centre of the arch. “Is – is that what I think it is?” she said pointing. Mark’s gaze followed to where she indicated. Although petrified, and almost difficult to see under the tumbling ivy, a horse’s skull was attached to the stone.
“Oh my god,” he replied, smirking. “Ingenious way to signpost the stables, don’t you think?” He laughed a little, until he saw the look on Lyn’s face.
“I don’t like it,” she said. She shuddered and turned to go back to the house. The surprises didn’t stop there however. Her eyes caught another sight which chilled her blood. On their left, pressed up against a crumbling wall and mostly covered with the voracious ivy, was an enormous iron cage. It was about ten feet in height, the tops of the iron spars sharpened, forming deadly spikes, bent inwards. Whatever was once kept in that cage, no-one had wanted it out, at least not unsupervised. Mark stood gaping at it, he could only muster a “Wow,” under his breath.
She pulled him along until they stood once more in front of the main door to the mansion. Her heart was hammering, and her breathing short and shallow. Her eyes looked larger than normal in her pale face.
“Okay,” Mark said, seeing how dejected she looked. “Let’s give a it go, work on the house a bit, and after a few weeks, or months, if you still don’t like it, then...” He sighed.
She looked up at him. His warm brown eyes searched her face for an answer. She watched as the breeze buffeted his brown curls, adding to his roguish charm and good looks. He had ached for a project like this for such a long time. She didn’t have the heart to deny him his dream.
It was decided. She would persevere and help at least - for a while anyway. There was always the option that she stayed weekdays in the city and weekends only at the house. She smiled warmly and nodded.
The massive solid wood panels of the main door loomed ahead of them. A large brass lion’s head sat in its centre, the knocker dull and blackened having tarnished over the years. Mark rattled the knocker. Its sound permeated the wooden door and as they listened it receded and disappeared inside like a distant echo.
Mark wiggled his fingers in Lyn’s face. “A bit Scooby-doo, don’t you think?” he said. She slapped his hands away and tutted at the ridiculous parabolic comparison.
Mark sighed and pulled the old iron key from his jacket pocket. He slotted it into the keyhole. With a blood-curdling scrape and crunch the old mechanism surrendered and after years of being unused, the key finally turned with some resistance. “Ready?” he said to a forlorn Lyn. She nodded.
He turned the handle and pushed. The wooden door swung back with a low, agonising creak revealing a large entrance hall that stretched back under the stairwell. The stairs rose up to a balcony on the facing wall before opening to an upper hall. A minky grey mass rose, swirling, dancing; years of dust and cobwebs stirred into life by the swoosh of the door.
“It’s a massive undertaking, Mark” Lyn said as they stared inside.
“Yep, sure is.” he smiled.
They had months of hard work ahead, but within four weeks had managed to get the main sitting room, kitchen, master bedroom and one of the bathrooms all in some semblance of completion. They were at least habitable. Lyn had led the interior design, décor and soft furnishings advising on the features to remain and those needing renewed, while Mark oversaw any structural, plumbing, gas and electrical works.
With the tradesmen having gone for the evening, the couple then sat down to dinner at the kitchen table. As Mark shovelled some mashed potato and steak pie into his mouth, Lyn slapped an old journal in front of him.
“What’s this?” he asked, looking up at her through dark lashes.
Lyn poured some wine and drained her glass in seconds. She topped it up again and poured one for Mark. He eyed her quietly. “I found it,” she finally answered, “wedged behind the old fireplace in the bedroom next to ours.”
“Strange place for a book,” Mark commented.
“Hmm,” Lyn mumbled. “Not as strange as its content, however.” She took another large gulp of wine.
Mark continued eating while he flicked through the old pages, occasionally glancing up at Lyn. The book had to be in the region of 300 years old. Its cover was dark brown, almost black leather, bound and etched with strange symbols. “Witchcraft?” Mark pondered. “Or some gaelic, celtic symbols?”
Lyn just pinched her eyebrows and refilled her glass; she didn’t really care either way, she liked neither. Mark inwardly sighed as he watched her topping up her glass. She was on her third to his first. She will be blasted soon at this rate, he thought.
The contents of the book were not all the same age as the cover. Faded parchment with the flamboyant penmanship of quill and ink, were beyond what either Mark or Lyn could decipher, and most definitely the oldest entries. The later pages however, ranged from 75 years up to as recently as a decade ago.
Mark pushed his plate away and picked up his wine. “This was dated when the last resident lived here,” he said pointing to the writing at the bottom of three of the pages.
“I know!” Lyn said, swallowing audibly. “I was reading some this afternoon. The entry about the woman and the stable boy is interesting, if not a little... disturbing.” She laughed, but it seemed forced, false, and Mark noted it. He glanced up at her. She really didn’t like things like this, they unnerved her, hence the reason she was making short work of the wine.
“It’s just a book, Lyn. Fairy stories.”
Lyn smiled nervously. “Read it. Tell me then it’s just a fairy story.” She stood, glass in hand, nibbling her bottom lip to the point she bled it. Mark scraped back his chair and went to hold her. She trembled.
He nodded to her glass and grinned. “Guess you’re staying the night here then,” he said nuzzling her ear. He pressed himself against her, his mouth feverishly covering hers but she pushed him away. A sound like a small sob escaped her. Clearly, there would be no romance this evening. He pulled her into his embrace again and rested his chin on top of her head. Able to read him perfectly, she returned his embrace and mumbled an apology. “It’s alright, don’t worry.” He responded. “Come on,” he steered her towards the stairs. “I’ll tuck you in at least. You need a good sleep.”
Later that night, as Lyn slept, Mark picked up the leather journal to read the story about the woman and the stable boy. It began with an explanation of its origin.
The tale took place in 1663 in the Haining grounds, just over one hundred years before the present house was built. In its place stood another mansion, relatively conservative for its day, but still grand by today’s standards. It was owned by the Laird James Campbell, a stern, god-fearing man but one who ran his estate with an iron rod.
The original entry had been penned by the laird himself up to a certain point but it was a different hand which finished the story. Although not confirmed, it was suspected it was one of the stable hands who completed the tale.
As the pages had started to fade with time, the entry had been re-written down the decades; viewpoints altered to make it more like a story than a diary entry. Mark assumed therefore it was most likely owners of the older mansion and now the newer construction which kept up this practice as they would be the most likely to encounter the journal.
By all accounts, the last author wrote, do not ignore this warning. To do so, will seal your fate.
Mark cocked an eyebrow. Such drama, he grinned. Then, taking a sip of wine, he settled in the armchair across from where Lyn slept peacefully and began to read.
In the year of our Lord 1663, was how it began...
The laird’s favoured stable boy, Nicholas, had been leading a new thoroughbred from the fields at the front of the house to the stables at the rear. He had to pass an enormous cage where the foul tempered boar hounds, hunting dogs, were kennelled. Fierce brutes they were.
Mark paused and thought about the cage with the spikes. Could this be the very same one?
When one of the hounds started barking, the horse was stricken with fear and reared up, eyes rolling, nostrils flaring as it whinnied uncontrollably. The boy, trying to calm the horse was critically injured as its mighty hooves rained down on him repeatedly, cracking his bones and splitting his skull.
A young maid had been hanging out the laundry when she heard the horse’s fretting and shouts of alarm coming from the stable yard. She ran to where the boy was being pelted by the horse’s hooves. No-one was trying to help. She scowled at the observing stable-hands and moved forward.
Bravely, she stood in front of the stallion and raised her hand to its muzzle, muttering something which was unintelligible to the others nearby. The horse calmed instantly. With the beast placated, she knelt beside the boy, placing his bleeding head on her lap. He was only fourteen, a child still. She wept as she knew he would soon pass.
The laird, having heard the commotion from the house, ran out to see what had happened. He found the woman cradling the boy’s head as the last breath left the youth’s lips. Staring hotly at the stable hands, he demanded to know what had happened.
Afraid of recrimination for their failure to have prevented the incident and death of the favoured boy, they quickly accused the woman of spooking the horse to the point it killed the lad. They then told the laird that she calmed the horse with a mere wave of her hand and the words of Satan. Cries of witch, demon, devil’s whore, followed suit.
The woman was terrified. Pleading with the laird, she tried to protest her innocence. The laird however, devoutly religious, had instantly passed judgement on hearing the witnesses account of satanic mumblings spouting from her mouth. He immediately ordered her bound. Laird Campbell would tolerate no devilry nor witch on his land. Then, to make sure her evil had not infected his precious stallion he ordered the horse killed and told the stable hands to mount its head on the arch as a warning to all.
Mark shifted uncomfortably in his seat. This was a bit uncanny. He took another sip of wine before continuing.
The woman was dragged, kicking, screaming and cast into the lake. They left her in the water long enough until they assumed her guilt or innocence had been determined by the “trial”. Her body was then dragged out. She was covered from head to toe in leeches. There were so many of them that the onlookers swore they could hear them feeding on her. A gut-wrenching chorus of suckers worked on the woman’s body, her own flesh barely visible between the hundreds of gelatinous, slimy bloodsuckers.
Shrill screams and shouts rose from the stable hands and even the laird himself, as the woman lifted her head and stared at them all.
“I am no witch!” she cried, her voice impossibly strong having been submerged for so long and her body being drained as she spoke. “But if I were, I would curse all who live on this land forever more, and I would feed on you like these annelids feed on me! Your womenfolk shall join me in watery depths and you men will rot in hell!”
The leeches writhed as if in frenzy. The woman’s voice then lowered a little, but her words were nonetheless still menacing and spoken with indubitable clarity. “Your sorrow shall be my joy. Your pain, my pleasure. Your hopelessness - my goal. May God have mercy on your souls, for I shall not!”
Her body was thrown back into the lake. And there it remained.
Mark shut the journal and looked at Lyn as she slept. “Ok,” he admitted. “It’s a little more sinister than a fairytale perhaps.” He swallowed. “But it’s still just a story.” Even as he said the words, he found himself repeatedly trying to convince himself, it’s just a story, just a story, just a...
Something smashed downstairs. He jumped, dropping the leather journal as he did so; it landed with a dull thud on the wooden floor. The shutters rattled and the low moan of the wind encompassed the house. He sighed with relief, laughing lightly at his irrational thoughts. The wind, that was all it had been. He lifted the journal and placed it on the bedside table. Ensuring Lyn still slept peacefully, he left the room.
He headed downstairs, to check out what had smashed. Flicking on the light in the kitchen, he looked around. The net curtains on the kitchen window billowed and fluttered. He walked over, shut the window and looked in the sink. “Ah, there’s the culprit,” he said finding Lyn’s broken wineglass. The nets must have caught on the glass when it was on the drainer and pulled it over the side into the enamel sink. He carefully lifted out the broken pieces, wary of the slivers and shards, and put them all in the bin.
Another loud clatter from his left had him jumping again. The French window in the dining room must have been left open too. It swung silently on newly oiled hinges, but the frame had hit the sideboard next to it. He grinned at his over-active imagination and moved to close it.
Something moving on the floor next to the doors caught his eye. He kneeled down. “Ugh!” His knee was soaking. On closer inspection, he saw the floor was wet in several places. He looked outside expecting to see it raining. It wasn’t. There was not a cloud in the sky. He checked the floor again. Water spread inwards from an unknown source. He shook his head, I’m losing it, he thought.
His eyes nevertheless followed the steady pool until they came across muddy footprints heading further into the house. His eyes came to rest on two filthy yet ghostly feet, wet and partially covered in a moving slimy mass. Droplets of water splashed and bounced on the polished wood and gathered around the feet.
“Oh fuck!” he breathed. He was frozen to the spot. His eyes widened in horror as the wretched figure of a young woman, swaddled in the remnants of a maid’s gown and shawl, opened her arms as if in invitation.
“I am Annelida,” her ghostly voice wrapped around him, almost seductively. She moved a little closer.
Her form, translucent, ethereal, was wavering in the pristine beams of the moonlight which filtered through the French window. Her eyes, nothing more than black shining orbs looked massive on her slender face. The black slit that was her mouth broke into something resembling a smile. From the corner of her lips, a black, pulsing shape emerged. It hung there, suspended but for a moment, before dropping to the floor. Another appeared, and another. Leeches, hirudinea, annelids.
His heart hammering, he suddenly understood. Annelida was not her name, it was what she had become – a leech. In the far reaches of his mind he heard her voice from the journal and days gone by. “I am not a witch! But if I were, I would curse all who live on this land forever more and I would feed on you like these annelids feed on me!”
The figure flickered, wavered, before consolidating in front of Mark’s eyes. The woman tilted her head from side to side, studying the man in front of her in his night attire. The smile she offered this time was unnerving to say the least; a harbinger of doom. This time when she spoke, her voice was hard, unforgiving. “You are not welcome here.”
In the blink of an eye, her entire body morphed into a moving mass of hundreds of black, brown, grey pulsing and wriggling bloodsuckers. They all dropped to the floor, the sound of wet, slick thuds and slaps as they made contact with the polished wood. En masse, they moved towards the stricken home owner. His mouth was open in a silent scream as they crawled over his feet, under his pyjama bottoms, up his legs towards his abdomen and higher still. He could feel their anterior suckers opening against his skin and the rows of calcite teeth making their unforgiving incisions. When no surface skin was left available they slithered their way into his mouth, ears, nostrils and anus. Every orifice was entered, violated, fed upon.
As they gorged, swelling from the sweet nectar of his blood, he crumpled to his knees. Hundreds of them pulsated and swarmed over his entire body, draining every last drop of his life source. The ghostly voice of the woman Annelida echoed. “Your sorrow shall be my joy. Your pain, my pleasure. Your hopelessness - my goal. May God have mercy on your souls, for I shall not!”
“Mark?” a hazy voice from upstairs caused the gorging mound of death to retract.
A hollow clatter sounded in the dining room as Mark’s body fell forward. Still. Empty. The leeches left behind a mere husk of what was once the most recent proud owner of Haining House.
"Mark?” the voice was panicked.
The leeches slithered and shuffled back, leaving trails of water and blood across the floor before piling up and restructuring to become that of the woman Annelida once more. She turned towards the staircase and stared at the top landing. Her mouth split into a malevolent smile. Levitating, she floated, ghostly tendrils caressing the decorative balustrades as she ascended to the nervous sounding woman.
Her bedraggled, diaphanous form drifted through the upper hall until it came to the room from where she heard the soft whimper of a stricken woman within. She entered the room.
A shrill scream rang out across the lake and into the night. No-one heard the desperate pleas of a dying woman.
In the autumn of 1990, Haining House was once more for sale. The recent owner, thirty-two year old architect, Mark Cavanagh, had been found dead in the dining room, from a suspected heart attack, although there were peculiarities even forensics could not account for. Rumours were abound that his body was emaciated, but it was never officially disclosed.
His fiancée, interior decorator, twenty-nine year old Lyn Hamilton, had disappeared. Her absence gave rise to speculation that she had a hand in the young architect’s death. But, she was never found and nothing was ever proven.
We are watching you.
We are unseen. Unknown. Untouchable. Yet –
You fear us.
For we are unexplained. Unearthly. Unmentionable.
Enter our realm, and you will be lost in our inky nothingness. Our black hearts.
You cannot run from the shadows embraced by the tendrils of delicious dismay.
Ah, such infinite bliss! Your sorrow is our joy. Your pain, our pleasure. Your hopelessness – our goal.
Come hither and dance with us. Let our waltz of mournful souls enrapture and bind you to us.
Heed not the lies and empty promises of mortal beings – those who would discourage you from inviting the true beauty of our one kiss. Let us feed.
We are death’s concubines and your past, present and future, will simply belong... to us.
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, AJ WrightWrite a Review