Horror Historical Fiction

This story contains sensitive content

CW: suicide/self-harm, physical violence.

Arthur Wellston came into possession of Dallow House by misfortune. The grand estate had been owned for many years by a distant cousin of the Dallow family, who then passed on rather abruptly after a bad bout of pneumonia. The cousin’s son took it upon himself to sell many of their own possessions, as their financial situation was not as stable as it had once been. The house, unlived-in for nearly a century, had once been the pride of a very proud family but had to be sold at a mere fraction of its worth out of desperation to sell and the state of disrepair. 

      Enter Arthur, a man riding the high of a recently acquired fortune and a desire for country living. He could hardly believe his luck when he secured the house, and its grim state of shabbiness didn’t deter him in the least when he rode up the hill to lay eyes on it for the first time. 

      “She must have been a fine sight in her day,” Arthur remarked. He set down his bags and took in the impressive old mansion for a few moments. A beautiful house, indeed; though the people down in town were an odd sort. He had had a Devil of a time procuring a driver to bring him to the house, and the man had been jumpy and nervous, refusing to take Arthur any farther than the hill upon which Dallow House sat. Arthur couldn’t fathom why anyone should be afraid of an old house, but people in town didn’t seem to even want to speak of the place. 

      “Country folk must just be different,” Arthur decided. He took up his bags again and made his way to the imposing front door, pulling out the keys he’d been given when the deed was signed over to him. The door was heavy, and swung open slowly. The interior of the house was dark, heavy drapes drawn over the windows and no working lights. It seemed like the opening of a great maw; an animal stretching and coming awake after a long slumber. Arthur shook himself with a slight laugh at the idea. Country air was already turning him imaginative, it would seem. 

      Arthur sent for people from the next town over to assist with the repairs and cleaning of the enormous house; he knew no one in the small village would be willing to step foot on the property and doubted they had the necessary skills to fix the house, besides. At first he sensed nothing amiss with the house, aside from the creak of old wood and the whistle of the wind and the crashing of the sea, of which he had an excellent view from many rooms in the house. Dallow sat above the sea, like a lover waiting on a ship to come in, bearing their true love back into their arms. 

      Arthur rather liked the poetic side of him that his new house seemed to bring out, but after some time he began to think that the house was not so romantic as a pining lover after all. It began with a workman falling from a ladder and nearly breaking his neck. He had been fixing a window and, though no one could figure out how it happened, a puddle of water formed below him. When he went to climb back down, the ladder slid and bucked him off like a wild horse. 

      There was no leak in the roof and there had been no rain yet in any case; nor was there anything to knock over and spill in the vicinity. Two nights later a cleaning woman went screaming from the house in the dead of night, claiming she had seen something in her room. They could find no trace of anyone, save for a few damp footprints in the hall. The woman left that night and refused to come back. 

      They made steady progress on the house, returning it to something resembling its former glory. Something heavy and sad still seemed to hang over the place like a shroud; there were shadows that the new lights could not seem to pierce and occasionally they would find small puddles of water where water had no business being. Arthur found himself nervous at night, thinking he heard other sounds beneath the churn of the sea and call of the wind. He thought sometimes, that he heard a wailing; as if someone were in great distress. 

      As rooms were cleaned and repaired, they came upon a collection of portraits that could only be the Dallow family. Arthur came upon one of a young woman, with long blonde hair and green eyes that seemed to see right into his soul. He couldn’t bring himself to stick the portrait away in some storage room, so he had it hung in his study. Then he went on a quest to find the girl’s name. A bit of rifling through old papers left in the house; it seemed the Dallows had left in a rather great hurry; he discovered that the girl in the portrait was Catrina Dallow, the youngest child and only daughter of George Dallow; who had been the last of his line to live in the house. 

      Finding himself unable to put the girl out of his mind, Arthur scoured the rest of the house for any more information on her. Any trace of the Dallows that was found was to be brought directly to his study. He pored over faded letters and scraps of newspapers about the family’s grand parties under the watchful eye of Catrina. 

      The damp footprints began to appear more frequently, and the wailing that plagued Arthur at night grew louder. One night he was fairly shaken awake by the sound; it seemed to be coming from right beside him. When he looked, he saw nothing. But he could feel the cry down to his very bones. He felt silly, shivering there in his bed like a child afraid of the dark. He leaped out of bed with a shout as he felt a damp hand brush the back of his neck. He scrambled for the lamp, flicking it on but still finding nothing. 

      “I’m losing my mind in this place,” he said, trying to calm the frantic beating of his heart. He went around the bed, checking to see if someone was hiding there. There was no one, but there was a small puddle of water. The townspeople no longer seemed quite so odd for their refusal to come here. It seemed rather sensible of them now. 

      But Arthur did not leave. He had gone to great expense to refurbish this house, and though the portrait of Catrina had begun to make him uneasy, he did not take it down, and he did it stop searching for remnants of her life in Dallow House. It seemed an obsession was taking hold of him. And then he found the key to understanding the girl that looked on at him from her portrait: Catrina’s diary. Tucked inside it was a bundle of letters, tied carefully with a faded silk ribbon. He’d discovered at the bottom of an old trunk in a room that had been locked. Arthur had had to force the door open, for he could find no key for it. It had been a bedroom once, though everything inside was warped from water damage. The very walls were peeling, as if battered relentlessly by salty sea air. But the window was securely shut, and no other room in the house was in such a state. 

      Arthur returned to his study with the diary and the letters; oddly untouched by the water that had destroyed the rest of the room. He placed his new finds carefully into his desk drawer. That night he awoke with a start, for the wailing he had been hearing for weeks was coming from all around him. He nearly fell from the bed, calling out to ask who was there. There was anguish in the wail, and fury too. Arthur had never heard such a sound. He felt damp hands upon his person again, gripping the front of his nightshirt. But still he could see no one. He pulled away from the hands, his shirt now damp and icy cold. 

      His bedroom door swung open and he went into the hall, finding more wet footprints and, when he touched the wall to steady himself, it too was damp. Cold seawater was pouring down his walls! At the end of the hall, he saw a flicker of movement. A figure in white, running away from him. Arthur raced to the end of the hall but the figure was gone. The wailing grew in its intensity, until he was forced to his knees from the force of it. He covered his ears with a grimace, worried his eardrums may shatter. And all around him, water oozed down the walls. It was rising all around him. He would drown if he didn’t move, but he was frozen in place. Time itself seemed to have stopped. With a final crescendo, the haunting wail suddenly stopped and Arthur found himself lying awake in bed, sunlight streaming through his window. 

      He sat up with a gasp, his terror lingering despite the cheeriness of the morning. His ears still rang with that awful sound. And he was freezing. When he cast off his blanket, he found that his clothes were soaked through. When he went into the hall, however, he could see no other trace of what had happened last night. The walls and floor were dry and unblemished. Quickly changing into something dry, Arthur went straight to his study and got a fire going. It did little to chase away the cold, which had seeped into his bones. He pulled out the diary and the letters, and began to read, and as he read; he began to understand. 

      Catrina met Joseph Harper at the end of a long voyage.  She was at the dock to meet her childhood friend, Minnie, as she returned from a journey to America. That is when she noticed the handsome man coming down the gangplank behind her friend. He noticed her as well; you couldn’t miss Catrina Dallow when she crossed your path. The moment their gazes met, their fate was irrevocably sealed. Catrina, ever a romantic, gave her heart entirely to this man, and Joseph gave his with equal willingness. They would leave letters and small trinkets for each other in the garden, and would meet under the cover of night in Catrina’s favorite spot along the shore. 

      They had to keep their meetings a secret; Joseph was a man trying to make a name for himself while Catrina was born with a name as lustrous as polished gold. Her father would never allow such a match for his only daughter; in regards to many things Catrina could get her way but on the subject of her marriage George Dallow would not bend. He set about arranging a proper match for his daughter now that she was old enough to marry, and that is when Catrina realized that she could no longer keep her love for Joseph a secret. She was with child, and everyone would know it soon. 

      Fearing her family’s wrath, Joseph suggested they run away together, but Catrina believed her father would understand if she just explained to him that Joseph was a good man who would provide for her. Catrina was the beloved daughter, surely her father would come around. 

      But George Dallow flew into a rage upon learning of his daughter’s transgressions. No decent man would have her now, and he would not raise the bastard son of  a man with no future under his own roof. 

      “You have disgraced us all, damn you.” George dragged a weeping Catrina to her room and locked her inside. No amount of begging and banging her fists upon the door would sway him to let her go. When Joseph had not heard from her for several days, he grew worried and went to Dallow House to find her. He was let in; the housekeeper was frightened of Master Dallow but she feared for Catrina as well and she told him what had happened when Miss Catrina told her father about their affair. 

      Joseph went to Catrina’s room, breaking her door clean off its hinges to rescue her. But it was not to be. George Dallow appeared before them, like a man possessed, barring the door. 

      “We only want to leave and raise our child in peace,” Joseph said. “We will not trouble you further.” 

      “Indeed, you will not.” And George revealed the pistol in his hand and fired it. Between one blink and the next, Catrina watched her lover fall to the floor as if in slow motion. Crimson bloomed across his chest. Catrina screamed, falling beside him and trying to staunch the bleeding. Joseph touched her face once before the light faded from his eyes, and Catrina was left with bloodied hands and a broken heart. In a rage, she flew at her father, pounding at him with her red fists. 

      “You killed him!” she cried. “You monster! I will never forgive you for this! You killed him!” 

      George dragged his distraught daughter back up the stairs and for now locked her in one of the spare rooms, shouting for her door to be replaced. Catrina sank into a depression from which she never emerged. She was as listless as a paper doll, and her diary became a shrine to her grief. Her child was born, a son. He had his father’s eyes but was small; too small. He shouldn’t have come yet. Catrina named him Joseph, and two hours after drawing his first breath, he drew his last. 

      In her final diary entry, Catrina cursed her father for all he had done, and swore to make him suffer. 

      Arthur started as a boom of thunder rattled his windowpane. A storm had kicked up outside and he hadn’t even noticed. When he turned back to the diary he let out a yell of fright at the sight of a woman passing the doorway. He followed her, though he knew deep in his heart that he was only chasing his own doom. Catrina walked down the hall, her white dress and blonde hair dripping water in her wake. Down the grand entry stairs, across the foyer, and out the door she walked; and Arthur followed. Into the rain, he followed her. And to the edge of the cliff. Catrina stood for a moment, eerily still as she gazed out over the sea. 

      That heartbroken wail filled the air, rivaling the thunder and crash of the sea in volume. Catrina turned to face the house again, her face a mask of despair that stopped Arthur’s breath. She spread her arms and rocked backward, slipping over the edge of the cliff. In some part of his mind, Arthur knew that he could not save her. She was already dead. But a larger part of his mind had become bound to this tragic phantom and he lunged for her anyway. His hands met only air as he fell, still following Catrina Dallow, into the churning depths of the dark water below. 

     George Dallow had fled his home a year after his daughter threw herself into the sea. Guilt had set upon him and his wife, and Catrina had made good on her oath to make him suffer. Every night the walls shook with her cries, and water poured relentlessly down the walls of her room like bitter tears. No longer able to stand it, the Dallows left their grand house and most of their possessions. But their guilt would haunt them to the end of their days, and Catrina was now anchored to this world; too heavy with sorrow and anger to leave the site of all her suffering. 

      No one knew for certain what became of young Arthur Wellston, though people in town speculated that he’d been driven mad by Dallow House. And so too was anyone else who lived there. They would see strange footprints and hear cries in the night. Occasionally a young man would fling himself, inexplicably, over the cliff and vanish into the sea. People claimed to see apparitions; some of mournful looking young men. And sometimes the figure they saw was a woman, with long blonde hair, dressed in white and dripping seawater. 

November 04, 2022 06:06

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