Past Stories: 2013
Kingsbury Manor - Phantom Opus
Note for note, and an eye for an eye
SYNOPSIS: Young, creative, and sensitive to the supernatural, William Kingsbury discovers an heirloom organ that soon consumes his days. Regrettably, it's a musical instrument of doom when angry ghosts are drawn to its power...note for note, and an eye for an eye!
William Kingsbury had always been what the old ones called, "sensitive." Ethereal energies were attracted to him. He of course never knew the difference; it had always been this way for him. He had a childlike tendency to maneuver in ways that allowed supernatural things to happen around him.
So it was that afternoon in early October, 1907 that forces unnamable led William to the music room. Maybe it was the doors that inched open upon his approach, or the unexplainable déjà vu that propelled him quite inexplicably but inexorably to a room in the restored wing where a dusty organ occupied a sunlit corner.
The old organ had been in the family for decades and was one of the first things his great-grandpa, Jonathan Kingsbury, purchased when he'd first built the farm in the 1860's. Now, it was one of but a few surviving pieces from the fire in that wing of the Manor in 1890. There were black zebra patterns fading up from the bottom where infernal flames had licked the wood that tragic night.
Being an educated young boy, William was already familiar with the piano and spent the afternoon experimenting with the organ's various mechanisms and means of making sound. It was a new feat of coordination, but the bright young lad pulled it together within a couple of hours and was soon playing a few things reasonably well.
Playing it felt right to him, almost as if he was really more remembering how to play it rather than acquiring a new skill. But there was a dark edge just beyond the horizon of his thoughts. It was a shiver, a thrill of danger, a sliver in his shoe that added just the faintest color of preternatural things to his thoughts that afternoon. He didn't understand it, but William felt compelled to continue and thus spent the better part of the month visiting the organ daily and learning its secrets.
The sounds radiating around the manor did not escape notice. Both William's father and mother took a kind of delight in their son's new interest. He was always adding an amusing artistic flair to everything he did and this new endeavor came as no real surprise. When queried at supper time one day about how the playing was coming along, William suggested a recital for the family and staff. Cheerfully, they agreed.
By the next evening, the impromptu little concert had a room full of guests including Williams's parents, his sister and little brother, and a handful of the available staff ready to listen and clap and tell him how wonderfully he'd played. Folks were smiling and offering half-joking advice, and William took his seat at the Organ, signaling all to be quiet.
The first note, a drone note, sounded as if blasting from the bowels of the earth. A low bourdon tone, like a funeral bell, rocked everyone back and took their breath away. The guests shifted in their seats uncomfortably. The air started to shimmer as William added the first line. The shadows in the room grew longer, reaching for the feet of the chairs and spreading in the corners like octopus ink. His fingers spider-walked across the keys, his eyes fluttered closed, thoroughly cocooned in the moment.
It wasn't even that the music was necessarily good. Objectively it was quite mediocre. But the very atmosphere seemed to recoil at the sound and some chilling, phantasmal energy swept in to take its place. The creaks and groans of the old machinery inside sounded more and more like distant cries and pleas. The air got thick and cold. The onlookers were becoming quite agitated as inexplicable lights danced in and out of the ever-expanding gulf of shadows and the sounds of screams got louder and louder and horrifically louder.
Then the metal-against-wood clang of the doors locking reverberated in the room. Robert Kingsbury spun in his seat to view the closed doors behind him, then whirled to shoot a look to his head steward there, a man who could only shake his head in wide-eyed terror.
It was time to end this. Robert Kingsbury stood up and walked swiftly to his son with long, purposeful strides. William craned his neck and looked up and back at his father as the older Kingsbury put his hand on the boy's shoulder. A look of bewildered terror sprawled across his face, tears rolled out his eyes...dear God his eyes! They'd taken on the the solid white pallor of dull marbles, a blind and unholy gaze that shook Robert Kingsbury to near tears himself. And yet, the boy's hands continued their dance of death across the keys and his feet worked the bellows while he sobbed loudly over the music, "Great Grandpa did a bad thing!"
The elder Kingsbury felt himself get dizzy...hadn't he always suspected? And now the tortured souls that crossed over the night of the Masked Ball were venting their wrath. That old organ had become imprinted with the violence of the event. The sole survivor. It sat in a room unplayed for years until William Kingsbury discovered it and unlocked a door that should have stayed shut forever.
The boy continued his wailing: "They never got out, and they don't want us to either!" But Robert Kingsbury barely heard his son over his own screaming.
- Story by Ian Stone
The Cabinet of Curiosities
Some doors should remain locked forever...
SYNOPSIS: Thaddeus Ortch is the owner of the Cabinet of Curiosities, a museum of bizarre and grotesque oddities that otherwise would be flawless except for two things: his Egyptian sarcophagus needs a mummy, and he needs something from the Kingsbury family. When one of those things falls into his possession, his quest for the other has dire consequences! Some doors should remain locked forever….
Thaddeus T. Ortch absent-mindedly played with the fancy, ruby ring on his right hand, turning it around and around on his finger as he stared at the key ring that had come into his little Museum on the hill in Corning, NY. Those keys were a missing puzzle piece in an otherwise first-class stockpile of the strange and unnatural from the Northeast, and indeed the world at large. Now the final piece had pretty much fallen into his lap. Ideas were forming in his skull.
The little museum was actually Thaddeus's house, an old Victorian-era beast that rested at the foot of the hill next to Corning's bustling Market district. Years ago, after his wife passed away, he converted the entire downstairs into repositories for the enormous collection of bizarre and unearthly things he'd spent his life collecting. Unpacking from closets, and attic and basement crates, Thaddeus soon opened his Cabinet of Curiosities and enjoyed charging a small fee for a steady stream of tourists to stroll through the thoroughly eccentric and sometimes grotesque assemblage he had dubbed "The Collection." Neighbors weren't always sure what to think of the outlandishly tall and skinny man and his agglomeration of uncanny artifacts.
But there was always something missing that would've rooted The Collection more firmly in local lore, and that was something of the Kingsburys'. Besides being a source of ongoing gossip, the Kingsbury odyssey of the last several decades also offered a plethora of artifacts that would've been right at home in the Cabinet of Curiosities. He'd had a chance to get Clem Hanson's meerschaum pipe after Clem's widow died. That was an agonizing near miss. Another time he was just a hair's breadth away from snatching Jonathan Kingsbury's twisted masquerade mask, but the family opted to dispose of all articles from that dismal affair. To this day, he'd almost kill to get a hold of the creepy doll that Clara Kingsbury carried around for practically all of her short eleven years. But, alas, none of these otherworldly treasures would come to be his.
This is certainly not to say that Thaddeus T. Ortch's Cabinet of Curiosities was lacking in artifacts. On the contrary, that house was stuffed to the gills with pieces that he'd curated from around the world. One such piece from The Collection that seemed to draw the most attention was the Egyptian sarcophagus he had acquired last year. Literally and figuratively it was the crown jewel in The Collection, but it was an incomplete piece as the mummy inside had been desecrated and lost decades before Thaddeus ever got his hands on the thing. He'd sunk a small fortune on acquiring it and shipping it, and while the sarcophagus itself was impressive, he knew people wanted to come see an ancient corpse, not merely a pretty box. Thaddeus, though, had learned enough from others in his profession and followed the likes of P.T. Barnum to know that verisimilitude—the appearance of being true—was good enough and sometimes even better than actual truth.
Unbelievably, it was in the same week that Thaddeus made the decision to fill that empty box with a suitable facsimile that this most significant piece entered his Collection: a set of antique keys on an impossibly intricate, scrimshaw key fob with the well-known "K" monogram engraved in its side. Now, Thaddeus knew that the Kingsburys had acquired a short list of enemies around the Southern Tier: the Bruntons, the recently orphaned Keller brothers, a clutch of widows and family members that lost people to Jonathan Kingsbury's masked ball "accident" ten years ago. It was also clear to Thaddeus, who knew a thing or two about the supernatural, that there were ominous whispers and more than one agitated spirit with its evil eye on the family and the farm. It was clearly a coalition of these very forces that brought the key ring here to the Cabinet of Curiosities that afternoon.
Thaddeus's heart pegged against the inside of his chest when it dawned on him that the keys were Silas Montbard's property set. The Caretaker's keys were his, now, in The Collection. What a glorious, glorious day! Who cares about who that shadowy stranger was that afternoon? At this moment, Thaddeus was sincerely unconcerned with the man that slithered amongst the slow parade of museum attendees to deposit this package in his hand, smile, and say, "For your Collection, good sir," before dissolving again into the mob gawking at the displays.
For now, all that mattered was that his mind was made up. That's all there was to it. He would use the keys to enter the Kingsbury crypt. He would take one of the Kingsburys buried there and then he would have not only a suitable actor to play his mummy, but also his coveted Kingsbury component. And barely able to contain his eagerness he went that very night, trembling from the anticipation, fumbling all the way. The deed was difficult. It was hard work. But when he was back home and had the grisly stand-in carefully wrapped in linens and laid out inside the sarcophagus, his aching old muscles and sweaty, dirt caked brow were a small price in exchange.
He would've proudly displayed it immediately, but the Cabinet didn't open for business the next day. Or the next. Or the day after that. It must have been a week or more when the lack of the normally buzzing little Curiosity show attracted the attention of Thaddeus's shy neighbors. Uneasy around the oddball old man and his creepy house-museum, a group of local men screwed up their courage and investigated the unusually quiet house.
Walking into the unlocked back door, they poked around in the dusty half light streaming in through the windows. They called out through dusky sunbeams. They stepped carefully through the rows and shelves and in a room that was probably originally the study, they found an old Egyptian sarcophagus with a mummy in it, clearly much too tall for the sarcophagus it was in, linen-wrapped legs broken into excruciating angles and laid carelessly about the bottom third. Several things were knocked over and strewn about. Wooden shelves were splintered and leaning precariously this way and that. Clearly there had been a struggle. But there was no sign of Thaddeus T. Ortch whatsoever, and so the group somberly left to inform the authorities of probable foul play.
On his way out, the last of the investigators, a young man who'd just started courting a pretty girl, lagged a step or two behind and quietly slipped off the gorgeous ruby ring that was peeking out of the bandages on the mummy's right hand. "He don't need this anyhow," he whispered to himself, dropping it into his waistcoat and jogging back to the tail end of the group.
- Story by Ian Stone