New Flash Fiction – Thanks for the Memory

“C’mon, man, let’s go!” Reg said, tossing his backpack in the small boat. “I wanna get out there before it gets dark.”

“Why, Reg? You scared?” Derrick joked, putting his own backpack in the back of the boat before climbing down after it.

“No, but if I don’t have to be out on the water after dark, then all the better. That house doesn’t scare me, but losing my way and spending all night looking for land in all the wrong places doesn’t sound like a shitload of fun either. I’m not exactly Captain Stubing. If I can see it, I can get us to it. After the sun goes down? You’d be better off with Captain and Gilligan, at least they found an island.”

“Yeah yeah yeah, but you’re right. You’re not Captain and Gilligan, more like Cap’n Crunch!” Derrick checked his bag one more time. Everything he needed was there. Flashlight. Cameras, both video and still. Water bottles. First aid kit. There was also an electromagnetic frequency detector, but Derrick wasn’t all that thrilled with it. Damn thing seemed to pick up everything except something interesting. Still, searching for ghosts at the Castle Island ruins? That was going to be fun and freaky, just the way Derrick liked it.

“Ready?” Reg asked. Derrick nodded and Reg turned the engine, and they eased away from the dock, steering toward the far islands where the ruined castle cast a long shadow over a sunset lake.

As they neared the island, the two grew silent and narrowed their eyes, focusing on a small landing spot they’d scouted earlier in the week. Reg pulled the boat into a spit of land jutting out into the lake just below a stand of trees. Beyond the trees, the ruins of Barrington Castle. The Barrington was a testament to the heady excess of the 20s followed by the crash of the 30s.The Barringtons lost their fortune in the stock market collapse, their house fell into disrepair, then things turned a far darker shade than Black Tuesday.

No one knows for sure what happened. It was said that Mr. and Mrs. Barrington couldn’t stand the loss of their fortune, and couldn’t adjust to life without money. As their home slowly fell apart around them, so too did their sanity. Early one morning, the two of them simply got up from their beds. They entered the bedrooms of their two children, Rebecca and Christina, and viscously killed them. A maidservant who’d stayed at the castle after the crash, working for room and board, heard the screams of the children. She ran to see what was wrong and was met by the Barringtons in their nightclothes, now stained in blood.

She ran, never looking back. She ran to the island’s shore and dove into the chilling water. She swam the distance to the mainland and managed to raise the attention of early morning fisherman come to test their luck and their bait. When the police arrived on the island, they were greeted by the Barringtons themselves, still wearing their blood-soaked nightclothes and drinking morning coffee.

After a short trial, they were hung for the murder of their children. The castle was left to fall apart on the island.

With this tale from history in his mind, Derrick, determined to make a night of exploring the castle himself, brought Reg along to provide backup. Exploring places like this was safer in pairs. That, and Reg knew how to pilot a boat far better than Derrick could. Reg skillfully pulled the launch into the land and within minutes they’d roped the boat to a nearby tree and headed into the castle as the twilight faded into absolute darkness.

“Huh,” Reg said, looking up and around the fallen doorway that was the front of the mansion. His headlamp, clipped to his ball cap, played a beam of bright light over delapidated walls. “Check this out, Derrick. I don’t know how they did this, but these doors look like they were knocked down from the inside.”

Derrick nodded and took a couple of photos, closing his eyes everytime the flash went off and warning Reg to do the same. “Maybe some vandals hooked them up to a rope and pulled them down with a boat or something? You’re right, it’s weird.”

They ventured inside, each looking the place over and making sure nothing was going to fall on them. Everything above them looked secure and somewhat stable. The floor was littered with trash and debris. Grafitti covered part of all the visible walls, some of the paint looking very old itself. Picking a direction, they made their way down a hall, their footsteps echoing in the empty chambers of what used to be a splendid palace.

“Dude, I’ve seen some of this type of tagging before,” Derrick said, pointing out a couple of emblems emblazoned upon the wall in Krylon. “Blybergh and Hottensot… I’ve seen those in a couple of abandoned places out on the edge of town. When you’re poking through old buildings for ghosts, you see a lot of graf on the walls. Guess they got out here too.”

“Right on, but tell me… what the hell happened over here?” Reg pointed at a massive work of grafitti on a far wall at the end of a hall. Green and red paint clashed together on the wall in such a way that Derrick thought it was someone dogging another’s work. On closer inspection, he twisted his head to one side as a dog does when confronted with an odd sound. The letters on the wall ran together, overlapped, yet made sense. Or, at the very least, the words made sense on their own but not together. It appeared that two people painted the wall, but with radically different messages:

MEMORIES NEVER REMAIN GO FROM BEYOND BEFORE THE DOOR

“The fuck?”

“Yeah, I know,” Derrick replied. “That’s… different.”

They turned from the wall, and Derrick grabbed Reg’s arm, his voice lowered to a hissing whisper.

“Shit! Did you see that?”

“What?” said Reg, peering into the darkness beyond his headlamp. “I didn’t…” his voice cut short as he glimpsed movement down a side passage. “Over there!” he whispered.

Derrick brought his larger Maglite up and scanned the darkness. Walking toward the source of the movement, nothing seemed amiss in the stillness of the ruins. Left, right, the high beam of the flashlight cut the darkness, but faded into nothing beyond its reach. They pursued farther down the hall, something occasionally seemed to flicker, just out of the reach of the light. The hallway ended with a door, slightly open, a small draft whistling through the gap.

Reg grabbed the door handle, gave a look at Derrick who nodded and silently count down from three before Reg yanked the handle, pulling the door open. Before them spread a glorious bedroom, completely unlike the rest of the house. Nothing littered the clean, wine dark carpet. Candles flickered on the a table near a canopy bed, covered in transluscent cloth that shimmered in the lights of the candle and flashlights. The vanity table on the opposite wall displayed beautiful bottles of perfume, their frosted and coloured glass dazzling the light passing through them. Stranger still, a record player spun a tune, just barely audible to their ears. Derrick didn’t recognize the song, but it sounded like an oldie to his young ears.

Thanks for the memory
Of candlelight and wine, castles on the Rhine
The Parthenon and moments on the Hudson River Line…

Dumbstruck, Derrick looked the room over again. It was immaculate, like it’d never been touched by time but was still in use today, or even… tonight?

They each took a step in. Reg was the first to find his voice. “Hello?” he called out, but the record played on and the music was their only response.

 Thanks for the memory
Of rainy afternoons…

“Um, hello? Is anyone here?” Derrick called into the room, nothing.

Swingy Harlem tunes
And motor trips and burning lips…

The perfume sitting on the vanity smelled sweet, light. Derrick bent over and took a small whif. Yes, this was real. His eyes, nose, and ears told him it was. What in the hell? This room looked new!

Many’s the time that we feasted
And many’s the time that we fasted
Oh, well, it was swell while it lasted
We did have fun and no harm done.

The last part of the song was followed by a small pop, much louder than the music itself.

We did have fun and no harm done.

Reg looked up from the photos on the dresser toward the old record player. Derrick moved over toward the bed. Reg was looking over a dresser off to one side. Black and white photographs adorned the top, sitting in gilted frames.

We did have fun and no harm done.

Reg reached out for the bed’s canopy curtain, the light from the candles on the night table beckoned through the cloth, casting a lurid glow on his side. He brushed the curtain to one side, gently parting it to reveal the bed behind.

We did have fun and no harm done.

Photograph by Shaun O'Boyle.
Photograph by Shaun O’Boyle.

His voice failed, only a slight gasp escaped him. Jerking his hand back, he eased away from the bed. Reg ran to him, grabbing his arm. Derrick’s eyes turned on his friend, he saw Reg speaking, conern etching his face. But he heard nothing.

WE DID HAVE FUN AND NO HARM DONE.

Reg shook his friend, screaming his name, pulling him toward the door. Derrick’s eyes fixated beyond Reg, looking over his shoulder. Reg turned, gripping the massive Maglite and ready to fight.

WE DID HAVE FUN AND NO HARM DONE.

No! Derrick thought. It’s not possible! It doesn’t make sense! There’s no way they’re still….

WEDIDHAVEFUNANDNOHARMDONE

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Image credit: Shaun O’Boyle. See more of his work.

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