The Castle that Silent Movies Built
The Castle that Silent Movies Built
Kit was fiddling with the key in the lock on the front door of Palace Video. The parking lot was empty save for his car and an RV with wood paneling that rolled in every night just before he closed the store. The man who slept in the RV was named Howard Peacock, he had lost his mind in Vietnam. Sometimes Kit would bring him a candy bar from the rack by the cash register and the two of them would chat about the Grateful Dead. Howard followed the band whenever they were east of the Mason-Dixon line and sold silk-screened t-shirts and homemade acid to keep the gas tank in his RV full. Sometimes the two of them would split a tab and sit down by the water and wait for the bioluminescence to arrive.
The faint sound of Jim Morrison warning about a serial killer on the road in blank verse leaked from the ancient caravan. Kit didn’t have any candy bars in his pocket tonight. He had used the Palace Video account to order a Hong Kong action film that buzzed through the movie-obsessed chat-room he spent the last two hours of every shift obsessing over. Over one thousand movie lovers from around the world gathered on their computers around eight o’clock every night to share the most obscure movies they ever heard about. The discussions had become an addiction. Every evening he felt the approach of eight o’clock like a junkie felt the buzz in his brain for the new fix. He knew it was the chat-room that enticed him to work seven-day-a-week. Even the owner of Palace Video asked him more than once to take a day off. So Kit fell into the habit of not clocking-in one day per week, so he wouldn’t receive the obligatory call from the owner who lived in Kansas City, Missouri, and only kept track of three things, revenues, inventory, and payroll. Otherwise, the business ran on autopilot as far as anyone in Missouri knew.
The headlights of Tom’s car slashed across the parking lot just as Kit turned from the door of the video store. Kit could make out Andy’s head that hung out the window of the car staring up at the stars.
“Look, Andromeda,” Andy cried.
Jay stopped the car in the middle of the parking lot and jumped out.
“What on earth are you guys doing here?” Kt wanted to know. “I’m totally closed up.”
“Jump in,” Jay said.
“Are you out of your mind,” Kit asked? “Why would I want to get in a car with you guys?”
“Jasmine Carmichael,” Andy said in a reverent whisper as though he were sharing a secret that might untether the universe. “What did he say?” Kit took two steps closer to the car. “I’m going home, guys. I have been waiting all day to watch this.” He held up the videocassette in the blank, gray case.
“That movie you were telling them about,” Jay explained. “We’re going to find it.”
“Are you out of your gourd?”
“The Girls of Clossum Corner…,” Andy sang.
Tom and Magdalena climbed out of the passenger seat. Magdalena rode over on his lap because only three people could squeeze into the backseat of the blue Datson. She was still laughing about a joke Tom had whispered in her ear when they pulled into the parking lot.
“We couldn’t at least try and convince you,” Tom said. “We didn’t want to leave you out. If there is one person who would want to see a movie that so few people ever saw. We couldn’t at least not invite you.”
“That’s crazy,” Kit said. “You want to break into Holleran Castle? That’s impossible.”
“How long have you known me?” Jay scoffed. “You think I can’t find a way into an abandoned castle? That’s what I do.”
They parked the overstuffed car in the abandoned lot of a daycare center. The sign was stenciled with stick figures of cartwheeling children painted red, yellow, blue, and green. Stepping onto the gravel lot it was noticeable how much darker Maine kept their streets than Massachusetts. There were no light posts around the school yard. Even shroud in darkness the unkempt lawn revealed itself dusted with white clover that gathered the moonlight.
Andy fell out of the car first, allowing the three girls to tumble after him. Petra rode the whole way practically in his lap. It was like a clown car with more bodies stepping out every few moments. The three other boys scrunched in the front seat. Halfway along the highway Kit regretted not driving his own car. The little, blue Datson wasn’t built to hold seven teenagers and an overweight man the kids assumed was middle aged even though he was only twenty-six.
Andy remembered his mother using this parking lot when she took walks along Marginal Way, a jagged trail maintained by the National Parks Service with splendid views of Maine’s rugged coast and the moody Atlantic. All the parking in town was taken with tourists sleeping in the Bed and Breakfasts that dotted First Street and Ocean Way, the nexus of commerce for this seaside village.
Meredith stumbled into the roadway desperate to be heard. When the car was still on the highway, she desperately pleaded her case to find a telephone, but nobody appeared to take her seriously. At least, they didn’t take her demands urgent enough to halt their progress towards the castle.
“They don’t care how late I’m out as long as I call,” she said. “What part of I need a phone don’t you people understand? I made a deal with my folks at the beginning of summer. As long as they know where I am I won’t have a curfew.” She looked up the road and back down the other direction trying to discern which way would lead her back to civilization. “I’m not spending the rest of the summer in lockdown because I didn’t update my parents after ten. Somebody, please tell me which way gets me to a town?”
Andy spun in circles around the parking lot scuffing-up dust clouds. Head thrown back, he gazed up at the bands of light shattering the night sky as his body whirled and whirled within the earth bound prison of gravity. “It’s like a lazar show. Don’t you see it?”
Petra was trying to keep up with him. Their hands were interlaced when they spilled out of the car, but now she couldn’t catch his hand as he gyrated across the gravel.
“What did you say he took?” Kit asked again. He posed the question in the car while they sped across the leafy expanse of southern New Hampshire, but no one could hear anything because Daphne’s voice that sounded like rain when the sun was still out flooded the tiny car.
“I think it was a fish,” Jay said. “Isn’t that right, Petra?”
Meredith counted eenie-meenie-miney-mo on her fingers as she pointed one way down the road and then the other because she could come up with no better way to decide. She pointed with her finger one direction and then the other and then back again as she counted off in her head. “Out-goes-y-o-u…”
Tom and Magdalena wandered right by Meredith down the road without acknowledging her. Tom’s mouth nearly brushed her ear as he whispered a secret nobody else would ever know. Before they disappeared into the shadows of the street, Meredith heard Magdalena laugh.
“Wait for me,” Meredith said. She glanced over her shoulder one last time to see if anyone else was following.
Andy had fallen onto the shaggy lawn in front of the daycare center and Petra dropped on top of him.
Meredith shook her head as she jogged into the road to catch up to the two she hoped were making their way toward town.
“Come on, guys, they are getting way ahead,” Kit interrupted the two teens rolling around in the grass.
Andy peered over Petra’s shoulder. “You look like a fat Pied Piper in that hat.”
Petra punched Andy in the arm. “You can’t say that.”
The shadows and the slant of moonshine transformed the contours of Kit’s face. His mouth expanded three times the size of his head. Jagged silver teeth as sharp as razor blades flashed in the milky light. Bloodshot red eyes poured over the mounds of his expanded cheeks. Expanded to make room for the hundreds of gleaming blades that clanged together like silverware falling off a table when he opened and closed his mouth. Andy closed his eyes to wipe the vision clean.
Inside his eyelids flared up like a movie screen revealing an ancient stone city in flames. Black smoke billowed from the parapets of a castle keep. His ears were full with the screams of women and children. He shook his head. He rolled out from beneath the suffocating weight of Petra’s body.
“What’s wrong?” She asked.
When Andy opened his eyes again, the round, bearded face of the video store clerk returned. The knife teeth and the dripping eyeballs metamorphosed back to the man who only moments before begged them to catch up to the others.
Using the curb for a balance beam, Petra stretched out her arms like a tight-rope walker and rocked back and forth as she danced along the rounded curb that separated the grass from the road. “I’d heard there was a castle up here but I didn’t ever know anything about it.”
“When Halloran was blackballed in Hollywood, he fled to Europe. He spent two years indulging the pleasures of the ex-pat lifestyle. Of course, unlike the ex-pat stories we often hear about struggling artists and creative people finding their voice on bread and espresso in Paris cafes, Halloran arrived in Europe with money to burn. He took full advantage of the decadence of Switzerland, Austria, France, and Spain between the wars. But when he landed in Italy, he fell in love.”
“God, Italian women,” Petra said.
“Is there something you need to tell me?” Andy studied the arch of her back when one foot missed the curb and she swayed to regain her balance.
“He fell in love with a small city named Trieste on the Adriatic Coast. It’s known as the city of cliffs. The city is famous for hundreds of stories of broken hearted lovers who dove off the cliffs and shattered their bodies on the rocks below in order to stifle the pain of unrequited love. While staying in this place he became friendly with a wealthy aristocrat who owned a castle built up the side of one of the cliffs. It was an architectural marvel of the middle ages. The two men played cards and talked late into the night for weeks. And one evening the aristocrat confessed to Halloran about his one true love. The man had fallen in love with a girl when he was sixteen. She was Jewish and her family would never allow her to be with a Catholic. She was so distraught by her family’s decision she threw herself off the cliff. Halloran’s new friend said he never loved again. Halloran considered the dilemma. After several nights of internal debate, Halloran approached his new friend with a proposition. He asked the man what he would give to spend another day with the woman he loved. The man laughed of course. The two of them had been drinking brandy and playing cards for many hours when Halloran broached his insane proposal. Halloran became very serious. He told the man the story of the movie that caused him to be sent out of Hollywood. He told the man how he had conjured the dead on screen and the event was so scandalous he was banished from the studios. He told the man the story of his lost love so touched him he was willing to bring her spirit back from the dead for one day if that was what the man wished. The man told Halloran he would trade anything for one day with her. He had been rich all his life but none of his wealth ever gave him the pleasure of one minute with the girl he loved.”
Petra dropped off the curb into the street. She snatched Andy’s hand in hers. “That is such a sad story,” she said.
“That’s not all of it.”
“Did he bring the girl back?” Andy said.
“Halloran struck a deal with the middle aged aristocrat. He told the man if he brought back the woman he loved for one day the man would give him his castle. The man laughed. The castle had been in his family for seven hundred years. But the aristocrat had also never married. He knew he would never love anyone again the way he loved the girl who threw herself off the cliff. So who would inherit the castle when he died? What did it matter if he gave the castle away? Was this man going to stay in Italy for the rest of his life to tend to such an enormous estate?
“Halloran had no intention of spending his life in Italy. He had a revenge plot brewing in his mind. He had spent his years in Europe concocting a grand plan against the people who forced him out of the movie business. This castle was the first step in that plan.
“When Halloran brought the woman the aristocrat loved back from the dead she led him to the edge of the cliff where she died and she begged him to follow her. The apparition of the woman convinced the man to leap from the cliff. She promised the man that if he jumped the two would be reunited in the afterlife.
“Halloran, always the businessman first, had all the papers signed and notarized before dragging the aristocrat into the catacombs of the castle to perform the ritual. After the man was found in pieces on the rocks at the edge of the Adriatic Sea the castle was taken apart brick by brick and rebuilt here in Maine. That was how Halloran ended up spending the rest of his life in Maine. The cliffs here in Ogunquit were the closest he could find on the eastern shores of America that resembled the ones in Trieste, Italy.”
Tom, Magdalena, and Meredith were standing at the end of a tighty planted line of fir trees.
Petra scurried ahead and swung her arms over Meredith’s shoulders. “Any phones?” She asked.
“Somebody cut the cable on a payphone by the diner,” Meredith pointed down the deserted street shaded by conifer trees.
“Vandals,” Jay said in a tone that sounded like a smile filled with broken teeth.
“What are you guys looking at?” Andy said.
Tom said, “There’s razor wire at the top of the fence.”
Andy pressed his face through the prickly spines of the fir tree so he could get a look at what Tom referred to. “Well, that’s a problem.” Beyond the trees and the fence, Andy could make out stone statues. An array of mythological creatures. His eyes landed on a winged lion. The craftsmanship and details of the lion’s face and the texture of the wings took his breath away. As he squinted in the gloom to see better the creature turned and arched up on its hind legs. The stone face cracked open and the statue roared into the impenetrable, black night sky. Andy stumbled backward out of the branches and almost fell down.
Tom reached out and snatched the collar of his white t-shirt. Steadying Andy with his arm, he asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Petra, did you see that?” Andy said breathlessly.
Her body was still pressed between the trees. She was taken aback by the cultivated hedgerows, the flagstone courtyard, the iron work on the enormous wooden door. Around the stone archway that offered entrance were chiseled faces. However, each visage was deformed in some way. The eyes drooped. The jaws were slack. The tops of the heads were smooth as though covered by a hood of some kind. She wondered if the faces had been designed to haunt visitors to the castle. The carvings so mesmerized her that she didn’t hear Andy’s question when he lept back from the trees.
“You didn’t see it?” Andy asked again.
“Have you guys looked at this place?” Petra asked, ignoring Andy’s question.
“We looked enough to see there is no possible way in from this side,” Jay said.
Kit said, “Did you all think you’d just walk through the front door?”
“I know you called it a castle,” Magdalena said, “but I had no idea.”
“You really never knew about this place before?” Meredith couldn’t believe her friend lived so close without the knowledge that this castle existed.”
“We have to scale the cliffside. The only way in is from below,” Kit explained.
“What do you mean, scale the cliff?” Magdalena didn’t have the full picture of how the castle was constructed.
Petra explained: “This whole thing is built into the side of a cliff.”
“It’s pretty crazy when you see it from the water,” Meredith wanted everyone to know. “My uncle has a sailboat and he took me up here once to see it.” “You guys have to hear the story Kit was telling us.”
“Story?” Tom said.
Kit shook his head, “It’ll take a minute to hike down. If we are really doing this, we should keep moving. Night’ll burn up quicker than you think.”
They followed the row of densely planted needly trees for a quarter mile until they reached a tall, wooden archway. A sign hanging from the top of the frame read Marginal Way.
“This is where my mom goes walking with her friend,” Andy said.
They turned down the path that was nothing more than trampled down grass and some smooth rocks that shorn through the soil. Along the left side of the path was a rolling lawn that spilled into a small inn with a disproportionately large swimming pool. Blue lights shone from under the water. Dozens of white, Adirondack chairs were set around the paving stones. The pool area was deserted at this time of night despite the inviting warm, blue glow rising from the water. The path began in earnest once they left the lawn and the inn behind.
Kit veered off the path once they reached the natural barrier of bushes and deciduous trees meant to protect the tourists from the steep plunge off the cliff’s edge.
Meredith halted at the shoulder of the drop-off. “Holy crap!”
Jay peered over the edge. The ocean roared below. A faint white spew was visible when the waves crashed against the rocks at the bottom.
Magdalena edged closer to Jay and peered over his shoulder. “That’s steep.” She glanced back at Kit and considered his girth and coordination against the jagged hike down the cliff face but refrained from saying anything.
“Not too long ago there wasn’t any need for the fence and the razor wire,” Kit said. “A developer actually almost bought the castle with the hope of turning it into a five-star hotel.”
When they began the descent down the cliffside, they realized it wasn’t as steep as it appeared from above. The angle of the slope pitted against the sudden plunge of the massive stone castle created an optical illusion that the rocky escarpment dove straight down into the ocean below when in fact there were natural grooves cut into the crag that formed narrow pathways in a zig-zag pattern along the edge of the structure.
“Before the developer bought the hotel he hired a team of assayers to go into the abandoned castle in order to make a report about the state of the place. Five men with different skills entered the castle several years ago but none of them ever returned.”
“What do you mean, never returned?” Meredith said.
“That usually only has one meaning,” Andy clarified.
“If anybody else ever went in, I haven’t heard about it. It was shortly after the men vanished that the Maine State Forestry Department had these fences put up and planted all the trees.”
“You’re trying to tell me five men went inside this place and never came out but nobody went to find them?”
“That’s the story I heard,” Kit explained. “I’m not making claims to know everything that went on behind the scenes.”
“What Kit’s trying to do is spook you before you go inside.” Andy offered by way of ruining the spell of the story.
“This place is creepy enough without stories of people vanishing,” Magdalena noted.
“I’m with her,” Petra said.
The castle loomed over them as they steadied themselves along the jagged switchbacks cut by centuries of wind and rain. From this vantage point, they could make out the thin spire that formed the castle’s keep. A protruding buttress loomed at the corner of the great wall like a challenge to the sea herself.
Halfway down the gnarled face of the rocky cliff, the second row of parapets jutted from the massive structure. The parapets appeared to have been built to protect an enormous balcony.
Jay halted the party to study what little he could make out of the giant outcropping in the misty purple hue of coming-midnight. There was a flare of refracted moonlight in the glass of a window recessed deep in the terrace.
“This might be our best bet,” Jay decided.
Meredith took several steps along the slope above him and stared down into a vast chasm between the rugged crag and the massive stone architecture of the castle. At the bottom of the narrow cleft, the white foam of churning water was just visible in the gloaming.
“Are you out of your mind?” Meredith said.
Magdalena moved in beside her and examined the ravine. She considered Kit’s girth. Then gazed down into the black crevice that roared with the echo of roiling tidewater. The distance wasn’t implausible. Without the security of ropes and harnesses, it would require a few nimble and well-executed moves to heave one’s self across the divide and scale the broad parapet.
“This can’t be what you had in mind, Kit?” Tom said.
“This was your guy’s grand plan,” Kit reminded them. “I just said you couldn’t get in through the front door.”
“How did you even think to come down here?” Andy said. “I thought maybe you had been here before.”
“I had an idea there might be a way in from the bottom since the castle was built down the side of a cliff. It stood to reason that there were windows or some form of entry-point beyond the area enclosed by fences.” Kit wiped the sweat from his forehead with the seam at the bottom of his Palace Video polo. “I was on my way home to watch a kung fu movie. I wasn’t plotting a breakin when you guys drove up on me.”
“Maybe we should turn back?” Meredith proposed.
Andy jockeyed outside the ridgeline they stood on so he could see the spectacular grandeur of the fortress. The massive grey stones turned blue in the moonlight. The vaulted windows shone like watchful eyes against the encroaching night. He said, “We’ve come this far…”
Jay added, “How can you pass up seeing what’s inside this place?”
“I don’t care about old movie stuff,” Meredith admitted. “Isn’t that what this is all about some old movie nobody even watched?”
Petra said, “It’s more than that though. I agree with Jay, imagine what this place must be like inside if this is what the outside looks like. It’s like another world.”
“One wrong move and you’re dead,” Meredith stretched out her hand in order to indicate the perilous divide between the castle and the edge of the cliff.
When Andy peered down the gorge, a cloud of bats rose from the gaping mouth of rock. Their wings beat the invisible air violently. Their jet black eyes glared. Their pinched mouths screamed as they raced past his face. Andy stumbled backward, flailing his hands as he desperately tried to grasp a hold of something that would steady him. His hands came up empty. Tom watched feebly as Andy scrambled away from the opening in the ground. He was too far away to catch hold of his friend before the heel of Andy’s sneaker caught the edge of a protruding rock and set him scuttling backward down the cliff-face.
Jay instinctively lunged towards the falling body, but everything happened too fast and he couldn’t get into position to stop Andy’s momentum.
Andy crashed against a rock as he vaulted over the path and down the ravine. The stone slashed through the fabric of his shirt and tore the flesh of his back and shoulder. He gasped with pain. The contact with the obstacle couldn’t stop his momentum. He bounced off the rock and continued to fall another few yards. Fortunately, the violent bash against the stone slowed his trajectory. Otherwise, he might have continued to bounce and bang down the gage until he landed in the rushing, icy waters of the Atlantic.
“Oh my God,” Petra cried.
He bounced off a shallow outcropping and landed hard on his knee. The impact caused a crunching sound and Andy shuddered. He hit the ground again hard enough it changed the velocity of his descent. This time he was able to grasp a large clump of seagrass that sprouted between the crags.
His course had taken him at least ten yards below where the others were standing. It was dark enough that they could hardly make out his figure where he dangled from the seagrass.
“Andy!” Petra called again.
“It’s ok,” he yelled back. “I’m alive.”
Jay began to scramble down the side of the cliff no longer following the crevasse that formed the path they initially followed.
“Don’t come,” Andy warned. “I can make it back. It’s too steep.”
“You sure you’re ok,” Tom said.
“A little banged up, but I’ll live.”
He could feel the blood dripping down his arm from the gash on his shoulder.
Once Andy was close enough they could see him again clearly, Tom said, “What happened?”
“The bats.” Andy was breathing heavier from the steep climb back up the cliff. He used jagged outcropping for leverage rather than using the naturally occurring switchback cut into the crevice. “Those bats almost hit me in the face.”
“What bats?” Jay asked.
“What are you talking about?” Andy said. “Like fifty bats just flew out of that crevice.”
“There weren’t any bats, Andy,” Kit confirmed.
“Why else do you think I fell?” Andy said.
“I swear, Andy,” Tom urged, “there weren’t any bats.”
Petra moved in to support him on the last few steps of his hike back up to the ridge where everyone still gathered. “You’re bleeding,” she said. She yanked her hand back from his arm sticky with his fresh blood. After collecting herself, she put her hand back on his arm to steady him.
“I caught my shoulder and my knee pretty hard.”
“This settles it,” Meredith said. “We gotta go.”
“Anybody who wants to leave, I totally understand, but there is no way I’m not finding out what’s inside this place,” Andy said.
“But you guys are my ride,” Meredith reminded them.
“There’s that B&B,” Tom reminded her. “They let you use the phone before.”
“My parents would freaking kill me if I called them from a B&B in Maine in the middle of the night for a ride,” she said. “Are you out of your mind?”
“We all agreed to this,” Magdalena reminded her.
“I’d hardly use the word agree,” Meredith warned. “Plus my parents think I’m sleeping at your house, Petra.”
“We’ve come this far,” Petra said.
Kit stood at the edge of the fissure. He refused to look down. When he reached his arm across the precipice, he realized there were only about two feet from the ends of his fingers to the stone battlement. “You have to die somehow…”
Magdalena turned at the sound of Kit’s voice, her attention was focused on her friend who was beginning to lose her nerve. Before she had a chance to respond to Kit’s comment, she witnessed him leap off the loose shale and lunge for the outcropping at the edge of the castle wall.
She covered her mouth with her hand so she wouldn’t scream.
She couldn’t believe his body had the dexterity to contort the way it did in mid-air. His arms slung over the top of the stonewall. His stomach and chest made an audible slap against the cold, hard wall. His feet scuffed and shimmied as he fought to push his body up the wall. She imagined his labored breath even though she couldn’t make it out over the sound of the lapping water below.
“Guys...” Magdalena finally managed to say. His long, elegant index finger pointed into the darkness.
“What is it?” Tom said.
When the rest of the group realized what had happened, they stared open-mouthed across the divide unable to accept what Kit had accomplished.
“Are you out of your mind?” Meredith said.
With an enormous grin on his face, Kit crossed his arms as a note of defiance. Inside his chest, the thunderstrokes of his heart refused to quell. “Let’s move foks, the night’s a wastin’,” Kit proclaimed from his secured position on the parapet of the castle. From the vantage point of the cliffside, it was impossible to gauge how massive the balcony was. It must be the size of half a football field. There was enough space to throw a party for a thousand guests. For an instant, his mind flashed to a scene of torchlit celebration with partygoers milling about in lavish dresses and pantaloons with frilled blouses and billowing sleeves. Each one wearing a more horrific mask than the last. Elongated bird-beaked face-coverings with hollow eyes and garish carvings on the sides and covering the mouth holes. It was the medieval plague years when the wealthy aristocrat who owned the castle held a celebration for the birth of his first son. The terrifying masks were a protection from the invisible disease that ravished the city. Kit blinked until the visions of his imagination dissolved. Across the flagstone landing, he studied the massive windows and double wooden door with tooled iron hinges.
That’s when he heard the sound of Jay’s body smash into the stone outcropping. One leg swung over the wall before the rest of his body spilled onto the flagstone floor. He hopped to his feet and dusted off his shirt with open hands. Then he turned back to the wall to position himself to help the next person across.
On the far side, Petra asked Andy how his arm was feeling. “Will you have the strength to pull this off?”
A large portion of his Stryper tee-shirt had been torn in the fall. He managed to rip the other side clean off and use it as a bandage around the gash. The blood had already soaked through the fabric and it felt like a wet rag slapped across his skin. “I’m good,” he said. However, when he touched the shoulder it caused him to wince.
Jay dangled over the wall with a hand outstretched that grasped Meredith’s wrist. When she launched off the granite shelf, Jay leaned back and yanked her hard up and over the wall in a single clean move. The velocity of the two bodies continued even after Meredith was drawn over the gorge where they tumbled on top of one another onto the ground. Meredith didn’t move right away to free herself from the entanglement of their bodies.
“That wasn’t so bad,” Jay said.
“I didn’t want to say this to the others,” Meredith confessed. “This place gives me the creeps.”
“We haven’t even seen inside yet.”
Neither of them noticed that Tom had already vaulted the walls while they continued to embrace on the cold, stone floor. “Am I interrupting something?” Tom laughed.
Meredith scrambled to her feet. “Where’s Magdalena?”
Tom turned to face the cliff again. He stretched out his hand to secure her wrist before she leapt. When she stepped to the edge her flip flop jammed in an invisible crevice halting her trajectory and she flew forward over the side of the ravine. The strip of cheap plastic that formed a Y between her toes was the only thing that momentarily held her from pitching entirely over the edge and down the treacherous crevasse. Tom swung his arms as low as he could manage to secure her frame, but only brushed his fingers through the salty gnarls of her tangled hair.
“Oh my God, Mags,” Petra cried as she lunged for her friend.
The Y of the flip flop strap slowed Magdalena just enough that she could grasp a handful of protruding granite. She stared straight into the churning abyss. Her body was stretched like a bridge across the mouth of the chasm.
Tom lowered himself over the wall while Jay held his feet. Arms outstretched, he attempted to get a hold of the fabric of her sleeveless shirt.
Petra saw the place the sandal caught between the rocks. That was when she grasped Magdalena’s ankle with both hands.
The outcropping Magdalena used to secure herself above the pit began to crumble in her hand. She could feel dust slipping through her fingers. Her other hand flailed about searching for something to grasp. Only the smooth wall slid beneath her fingers. The tips of her fingers found the seam between the massive stones where they had been mortared together. A fingernail split down the middle as she scratched at the shallow indentation trying to find a grip. A pain like someone lit a fire inside her veins shot up her arm. She bit back a scream. Tears streamed from her eyes.
“Tom,” Petra yelled. “Get her.”
Jay took a step forward allowing his brother’s body to fall farther over the edge of the castle wall.
Both of Andy’s arms scooped around Petra’s waist in case she started to slide with the weight of Magdalena’s body.
The clump of rock gave way.
Magdalena screamed as her body fell.
Petra started to vault forward with the thrust of Magdalena’s falling body.
Tom swung just low enough he caught one of her biceps in his fist.
“Andy!” Petra cried out as she felt her foot slip on the loose pebbles and dust beneath her sandal.
“I got you.” Andy pulled back with all his strength. The searing pain in his shoulder howled when he clenched his muscles to hold her body.
Tom swayed with the force of Magdalena’s body dragging him down. Then he was able to get his free arm around her and grasp her other wrist.
“Pull me up, Jay!”
Jay heaved backwards with all his might. He glanced over his shoulder to try to find where Kit had vanished in the dark.
“Kit,” he called.
Meredith jumped in to help Jay. She said, “I don’t know where Kit vanished too?”
By lowering his body to the flagstone floor he was able to increase his leverage and pull the two bodies higher up the wall.
Tom winced as his legs scraped over the stone. There was pressure in his knees as his brother was forced to bend them backwards in order to drag him over the precipice.
Petra dreaded freeing her friend’s ankle from her grasp, but she knew she must. She had to trust that Tom wouldn’t let her go.
Magdalena was crying by the time Jay and Meredith had finally pulled the two of them over the wall.
Meredith dropped to her knees beside Magdalena and embraced her. She wiped the strands of salt-tangled hair, now wet with tears, out of her face. “You’re okay,” she whispered. “It’s okay.”
Petra and Andy stood at the edge of the ravine. The only thing she wanted to do was be reunited with her friends. The idea of jumping terrified her after what had happened but she wanted to join the rest of her friends on the balcony of the castle.
Tom was still catching his breath. He wasn’t ready to pull another body over the side of the battlement. His legs trobbed, but he was too afraid to lift his pants and witness what shape they were in. He could feel the abrasions through the fabric. However, he was grateful he changed out of his boardshorts before leaving the beach. He was glad he had a pair of sweatpants in the trunk. His legs would be a mangled mess if he had been wearing shots when he vaulted over the wall to save the girl.
“I got this,” Jay said. He went to the edge of the wall and outstretched his hand for Petra.
The three girls were huddled together on the ground celebrating life with collective weeping.
“Where the hell did Kit go?” Jay said.
Andy, Tom, and Jay ventured across the dim balcony searching for the missing person.
They couldn’t see it until they found themselves directly in front of it, but there was an open door beyond a larger picture window that must be fifteen feet high.
Kit stepped through the door.
“How did you open it?” Jay said.
“That’s the strange part,” Kit explained. “I didn’t.”
“What do you mean, didn’t?” Andy wanted to know. He was trying to edge around Kit’s body that blocked the way so he could look into the castle.
“I tried that other one first,” Kit pointed to the larger double door with the iron tooling across the front and the massive hinges. “Then I heard this door creak open…”
The girls were suddenly beside them. In the darkness, they didn’t see them approach.
“Are you saying it opened on its own?” Petra asked?
Jay put a hand on the door to test what it was made of. He studied the latch to see if something was stuck. Perhaps it didn’t close properly.
“It just opened. There was like this loud creak like it hadn’t been oiled in fifty years. I turned and the door was open,” Kit said.
“It doesn’t even look like a door,” Tom said as he moved in closer to examine the shape.
“In the dark, I couldn’t even tell there was a door there,” Kit agreed.
“How long did you say this place was abandoned?” Andy pushed his way closer to the door. “Who knows what state things were left in?”
“It wasn’t just the creaking,” Kit stammered. “I swear I heard a voice.”
“This is freaking me out,” Meredith said.
“Ok, that’s enough,” Jay said. “Who knows what you heard, Kit? We were all just screaming a minute ago. You might have missed it, Magdalena nearly fell through the crevasse.”
“That is weird,” Kit acknowledged. “I didn’t hear you guys at all…”
“What do you mean, you didn’t hear us?” Petra did not see how that could be possible.
“It was like a whispering sound,” Kit doubled-down on his conviction about the voice coming from inside the castle.
“There’s no way I’m going in there,” Meredith said.
“You’d rather go back over that wall?” Magdalena asked pointing into the darkness that swallowed up the parapet and the battlements beyond.
“Where did it go?” Andy said.
The whole group of them peered across the balcony. It was as though a black curtain had fallen over everything they had just crossed to get to this open door at the side of the castle wall. There was something of a magic trick in the deception that was played on their eyes. They knew what they were looking at couldn’t be real. They knew they had come over the wall. They knew the cliffside still existed in the distance. Beyond that the ocean still smashed against the rocks below. There had been a moon in the sky and smattering of stars blinking at the edges of the rolling clouds. However, they stared into nothingness. The darkness encroached with such voracity that everything outside of five or ten feet of their vision had vanished or was swallowed up by blackness.
“It must be an illusion,” Jay said.
Tom twisted his head up to study the towering castle above him. “Maybe it has to do with the design of this thing.” He made a wide gesture with his hand encompassing the whole structure rising into the sky. “Perhaps it is casting a strange shadow that blocks everything out.”
“Why did I let you talk me into this?” Meredith said to no one in particular. She couldn’t hardly remember who was the decisive voice in convincing her to come. At the beach, everybody seemed as equally thrilled by the prospect of breaking into the castle. Andy was the most interested in finding the lost film reels, but everybody was taken by the notion of finding out what hid beyond the walls of this mysterious place. Meredith felt herself being drawn into their enthusiasm most out of a fear of missing out. She didn’t want to be left behind to hear about the events secondhand. Now, standing at the entrance of the brooding monstrosity, she could think of nothing better than being at home safely tucked into her bed.
Meredith turned away from the foreboding door again and moved out towards where the cliff had once loomed. The darkness appeared to be encroaching farther. It appeared that she could see even less of the balcony than even the last time she glanced in that direction. Perhaps whatever was creating this shoad of utter blackness was forcing them towards the opening, driving them inside.
Magdalena put her arms across Meredith’s shoulders, she looked into her eyes, then said, “There is no way it is more dangerous to go inside then it is to go back over that wall and up the cliff. Trust me.”
There was a warmth to the shadowy umbra of the vaulted entryway of the castle. As opaque as the encroaching blackness had been on the parapet, a moonlit interlunation prevaded the expansive room. The contours of objects and walls were manifest through the gloom.
Petra moved in close to Andy and clutched his arm with both hands. He winced from the gash in his shoulder when her small hands brushed against it.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “I almost forgot.”
Her breath tickled his earlobe and the tender crevice of his neck behind his ear that was seldom touched. The sensation set off fireworks under his skull.
She traced her finger along the torn edges of his tee-shirt. “Maybe there is a kitchen somewhere in here. There could be a first aid kit. You’re still bleeding.”
Kit stood on a broad, twisting staircase that flowed upwards onto a veranda with marble pillars cast in blue light from the moon leaking through the window. The walls were draped with elaborately designed, ornamental rugs. The tightly woven silk threads shimmered even though they were shroud in so much shadow. Everywhere but the rugs, the objects and decor had lost their luster from years of neglect. The hand carved railings on the enormous staircase were dulled by a thick coat of dust.
The ceiling of the foyer must have been fifty feet straight up. Andy leaned his head way back so he could stare straight up. It made him dizzy to bend his neck so far back he could consider so much space straight up. There appeared to be a pattern of gold leafing on the rotunda. Some sort of design was made from the gold but Andy couldn’t discern it. Instead, he waited for it to move or shift before his eyes the way so many other things had moved and changed before his eyes ever since he ate the fish with the red haired boy by the fire. There were paintings along the wall and he expected the figures trapped in the frames to spring to life and dance across the room.
The rest of the group were already on the stairs as the swirling mosaic of gold on the ceiling hypnotized Andy. “You were the one so anxious to find this movie,” Meredith called from the stairs.
“This place isn’t getting any smaller,” Jay added.
Petra snatched Andy’s hand. When he pried his attention from the gilded craftsmanship above he looked into Petra’s eyes. That was when he noticed the ravishing sirens swimming in her blue irises. He could see that they were singing but he couldn’t make out the tune. Although incredibly tiny, each face on the mythical temptresses was intricately cast. Three sirens took up residence in each of her eyes and they had unique characteristics and personalities that he could fathom in a glance. Their song was for him but he didn’t know what it was meant to do.
“What is it?” Petra said.
He knew it would be impossible to put into words.
“Don’t you want to come?” She asked.
One of the creatures swam to the middle of Petra’s pupil. The tiny mouth of the thing inside Petra’s eye opened. It didn’t stop opening, instead, it continued to expand until it consumed the remainder of the face. But not a single sound escaped. All he could hear was the footfalls from the rest of the group as they barrelled up the marble staircase towards the gathering cloud of darkness hovering at the top of the stairs.