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The International Writers Magazine
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Rag Castle
Kevin Schofield

If malevolence had the power to manifest itself in stone and mortar, then Rag Castle was its purest embodiment. It bespoke, with its sombre grey walls and stagnant putrid moat, a clear warning to stay away – or else. A warning that seemed to have prevailed upon the wildlife of the area to perform a mass exodus many years ago. Doom-laden and desolate, its enormous bulk cast a pall of deep unease upon the land. As Malone and Abigail drove across the drawbridge into the courtyard their first impressions were radically different.

Malone felt pleased with himself for having discovered such an abysmal pile, and was looking forward to exploring the interior. Abigail felt violated however. She had the oddest sensation that someone had just probed a finger into her and was exploring her insides. She wriggled involuntarily and experienced a sudden uprush of tearful emotion. Her head felt hot and vague, and then icily cold and unpleasantly clear. Vivid tableaux of medieval abasements and cruelties shot through her mind like an obscene slide show. It stopped after a second, and left her feeling low and crushed and stained. ‘Abigail! What’s the matter?’
‘Oh God, I’ve just had a funny turn. I feel foul, and acutely conscious of badness – people have suffered horrible tortures in this place. Such wretchedly sick things have been done here.' She sighed, looking at Malone who was clearly oblivious to this feeling she had. 'Don’t worry, I’ll be okay in a second.’
‘A strong cup of tea will settle your nerves.’ Malone was generally at a loss with women, and psychic women were light years beyond his comprehension.
‘Nerves? Nerves! For God’s sake Malone, this is like Hades’ antechamber, what the bloody hell possessed you to book us into this place?’
‘I booked us in here because you said the television people wanted a place that exuded an authentic atmosphere of evil.’
‘Yes, I know, but I didn’t mean this authentic, this makes Dracula’s Castle look homely.’

Malone and Abigail were quite a double act. He was forty-four, Irish, well built, and an ex-priest. She was twenty-seven, Nigerian, petite, shapely, and an ex nun. The Church had condemned them both and expelled them from their vocations for sins of the flesh. That is, they had committed the sin of fornication together. They did not accept expulsion quietly however, and caused a furore in the Church by mounting an eloquent public defence of their liaison. The media loved it. Their notoriety paid dividends in terms of celebrity and wealth, and afforded them the opportunity to pursue their passion for spiritual exotica.

The owner of Rag Castle felt he had rather too much spiritual exotica, and had invited Malone and Abigail to investigate. A television documentary about the recent bizarre happenings, and perhaps a televised exorcism, might do something to retrieve his fortunes and prevent imminent bankruptcy. Frank James had bought the castle three years ago with the intention of cashing in on its ghastly appearance and haunted reputation. At astronomical expense he had carried through his plan to convert the place into a hotel. He had been confident that his guests would be thrilled and delighted by the prospect of encountering spooks and poltergeists – he had been wrong. Initially people booked with him, but most didn’t stay. Those that did tended to become psychologically disturbed, and five of his guests had died of heart failure. Thus Frank James was a dejected and woebegone man when he welcomed Malone and Abigail in the lounge bar at Rag Castle. ‘Thanks for offering to help,’ said Frank, ‘I really am terribly grateful, but I’m not optimistic that you’ll succeed in evicting whatever’s blighting the place. Three exorcists have tried, and each was stricken by an extremely virulent bout of diarrhoea – one nearly died.’
‘Tell us about the people who died of heart failure, did they have anything in common?’ asked Abigail.
‘Well, er, yes, as a matter of fact they did. They were all men and each was found completely naked. And…well…er,’ Frank stuttered in embarrassment and redirected his gaze from Abigail to Malone, ‘they were all erect.’
‘What? You mean they were all found standing up!’ exclaimed Abigail, repressing a fit of the giggles at Frank’s quaint sense of propriety.
‘No, no, I mean…er…’
‘She knows what you mean Frank,’ growled Malone. ‘Abigail delights in mischief, and believes a light heart and levity are undervalued panaceas. She was also educated in a convent, so what can you expect? ’
Abigail resumed her questions. ‘Is there much poltergeist activity: footsteps, doors opening and shutting, things moving of their own accord, that sort of thing?’
‘All the time, and its getting worse, especially at night.’ Frank winced and shuddered as he spoke. ‘Things have intensified over the past few nights, even with medication I’ve found it impossible to sleep, so I’m moving out. After 6pm you will be the only people in the castle apart from Virginia Tate, my deputy. She will be leaving tomorrow morning. Most of the staff left yesterday, and the few remaining will go this afternoon. I’m sorry if you expected company, but no one will stay after what was seen on Sunday.’
‘An apparition?’ Malone asked.
Frank’s face whitened, he took a deep breath and said: ‘Well, I suppose it must have been, it appeared at the end of the bar, just over there, in front of everyone, stayed for about five seconds and disappeared. It was a monster, a horrible, squat deformity. It stunk to high heaven as well – something akin to rotten eggs and the stuff you find in a cesspit. There was pandemonium, people were violently sick, absolutely traumatised. Everyone was utterly bewildered and shocked. I don’t blame them for leaving.’
Abigail’s pulse quickened, she felt anxious and disturbed. ‘I don’t like this, Malone. Frank is describing an elemental; a demonic thing conjured up from wickedness and hate. The men who died in a state of sexual arousal could have been the victims of a succubus. The atmosphere is charged, it’s positively rancid with ill intent. As Frank said, things are escalating; a storm is brewing. We could be stepping into danger, you more so than I.’
‘What’s a succubus?’ Frank asked.
‘It’s a female demon of the night, devoted to having sexual intercourse with men whilst they’re asleep.’ Abigail answered. ‘If there is a succubus at work, it would seem that she’s developed a taste for murder as well as sex,’ she added.

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© Kevin Schofield - March 2005
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