Short Shocktober Day 5: Whispers

The Whispers of the Saltmarsh Stone

5th of October, 1891

Yesterday we finally took our little trip to ‘the seaside’. Just a short excursion for the day, along the estuary to the salt marsh. It seems rather preposterous to say that you have taken a trip ‘to the seaside’, when Weatherly Hall overlooks the cliffs and sea, but Arthur has lived here all his life and that is what they have always called it, ‘the seaside’, as though it were the only coast in existence.

               And what a sea it is! Grey as slate and almost always miserable. I long so dearly to be back in Monaco with its sparkling blue sea, but Arthur, with his fussy old ways, will leave Britain on his death bed, I fancy. No matter.

               At the saltmarsh, Arthur and I disembarked and asked Jenkins to wait for us. We strolled then, I matching Arthurs arthritic gait as much as I could, though the slowness of his pace made my step feel as though I were hobbled.

               Through the skinny trees of the saltmarsh we walked, along the planks set out for that purpose. The path led to a small black sand cove, and this was where Arthur presumed that we were going, but I had other ideas for our walk, and my ‘beloved’.

               ‘What’s down there, darling?’ I asked as we came to a split in the path. He peered between the thicker trees and up the path that sloped up to drier land.

               ‘Oh, just some old standing stone, dear, nothing interesting.’

               ‘Oh, an ancient monument? I should like to see it, if we may.’ It didn’t take much cajoling. Strong though he once was, and admittedly, in his upper body, still is, a short walk with a rest at a monument was more appealing than a traipse to the black sand shore.

               Our little stroll was pleasant enough. As the trees grew thicker and the brackish smell of the marsh receded, the smell of loam and deep woods grew. The thin sun was bright enough to light the leaves from above, so we walked beneath a canopy off translucent green. My anticipation grew as we neared the spot I had discovered and hatched my design.

               In the centre of the clearing stood a moss covered stone. It came to my chest, and I dragged Arthur over, arm in arm, to stand before it and inspect the strange designs carved into the slanted surface. With a deftness that I didn’t know I had, I withdrew the sewing needle I had hidden in the hem of my sleeve, and jabbed him with it.

               ‘Great heavens!’ he exclaimed and jerked away. I dropped the needle.

               ‘Oh my darling, what’s wrong? Is it an insect bite? Let me see.’

               He swiftly acceded to my ministrations. I held his hand over the ancient surface of the stone, and told him that we had best ensure the sting didn’t remain, and under those pretences, squeezed out a single ruby drop of his blood, which dripped on to the stone.

               It was absorbed into the dark surface instantly.

               The curse began to take effect just as swiftly. We returned to the carriage, Arthur’s mood soured, and by the time that we were home, he was complaining loudly about the whispers.

               ‘That damn whispering! Is it you?’ he accused me, ‘are you playing some sort of jape? I demand you stop it at once.’ Soon after, he took to his bed, and this morning I have sent for a doctor to tend his rapidly emaciated frame. He’s barely sane now, you see, having had to listen to their whispers all night long. It worked perfectly – he’ll be no longer able to manage his estate, but he isn’t dead yet, and it will be a simple enough thing for me to remain here and live the life I desire at Weatherly Hall, effectively by myself. A rousing success, I think.

               To other matters. My hand is a little sore; I seem to have given myself a splinter somehow. Perhaps I caught it on a thorn on our little trip yesterday. No matter, it will heal swiftly enough.

               The servants will have to go, of course. They don’t like me very much. Even now, I’m certain I can hear them whispering in the hallway, probably accusing me of poisoning their poor master. Damn them.

               It’s the strangest thing; I went to confront them, and there wasn’t a soul there. I must be hearing thi-

               No, there it is again! Where on earth is that whispering coming from?


Prompt: Whispers

Word Count: 761

That’s Day 5! I should have posted this yesterday, but forgot, so here it is this morning, instead. This one’s much longer than it should be, over the target by over half, but I was enjoying this one so much that I decided to make it a little longer. Enjoy!

Short Shocktober Day 4: Snapping

The Less Trod Path

The planks had creaked under his weight as he’d walked across them, gingerly, but they’d held. He’d been pressed flat against the rough rock of the mountain, calloused fingers searching desperately for solid holds in the abrasive rock. The clean, cold wind plucked at his hair and hems. Below the sheer rock face, hundreds of metres below, the mountain began to slope, and cypress and firs began to crowd the rock. It was beautiful, but he was immobile, too terrified to pay it any mind.

               ‘Don’t go by yourself,’ McTierney had said. ‘It won’t be like the plank walk at Huashan. No one’s been there for six hundred years, according to this,’ and he tapped the scroll covered in ancient Chinese characters. ‘If it’s there at all, it’ll be rotten and unmaintained. There won’t be a safety rope pinioned to the wall. You’ll be lucky if there are still the holes where the stone post had been!’

               He’d ignored him. The draw of being the first was too strong. McTierney had thought that refusing to go with him would be enough to stop him going, but he’d underestimated the draw of being the first. He’d underestimated his foolishness.

               The planks had held, surprisingly sturdy, their six hundred year old stone posts holding, too. Then he’d rounded the corner. He hadn’t gone more than a few metres and there was a rumble. He pressed himself to the rock, cowering, praying to avoid the stones falling from above, but they hadn’t been falling on him. He crept back to the corner. The planks were gone; only snapped stone posts remained.

               ‘Onward, then!’ he’d thought. There was no other option. The air was cold, that was what was giving him the shakes, he told himself, as he shimmied along the ancient, creaking planks. The sun began to set, and cast gold across his shoulders. He watched his shadow gingerly move along the rock face.

               At the edge of the next corner, he peered around.

               Nothing. A few holes, and a single stone peg that had once held a series of narrow planks. He shifted his weight uneasily and the wood beneath his feet squeaked in protest. Palms sweaty, heart thundering, he crept back to the middle of his planks, finding a stone peg to ‘rest’ above.

               There didn’t seem to be hand-holds forwards or backwards. Above, the sheer face of the mountain was worn smooth by the wind. He rest his forehead on the rough rock face, and sighed. Only McTierney knew where he was; he didn’t want to spread the word to competitors. How long would he wait before he came to look for him?

               He hadn’t moved, but the plank beneath him creaked ominously, and the stone peg ground in its socket.

               It didn’t matter how long McTierney waited. Even if he was already on his way, he thought, as the planks gave another, more urgent, cracking noise, he probably didn’t have much time left.


Prompt: Snapping

Word Count: 494

Day Four of Short Shocktober! Kind of an oblique interpretation of the prompt, but I think it works, nonetheless!