Bob Clandillion had walked past his ancestral home a thousand times in his eleven and a half years of life, and yet he had never been inside once.
“Father!” he whined in piping tones. “Father, why don’t we ever go into Clandillion Tower?”
“Ugh, I’ve told you a hundred times,” grouched Sir Rondom Clandillion, gruff and surly as a bear with a headache. “We don’t go in there. We have a new family home now.”
“Yes, but why did we have to get a new one? What was wrong with the old one?”
“It fell out of fashion.”
“What d’you mean?”
“It fell out of fashion.”
“Yes, but why? How?”
“It fell out of fashion.”
“Well … what about it is so unfashionable?”
“It fell out of fashion. They’ll tear it down soon.”
Bob wanted to pull out his hair and scream. His father would only ever repeat those same words when asked about the tower until he got so vexed he would shout at Bob for the endless quizzing. Then, Bob would go quiet and wonder what he had done wrong. Normally, he was encouraged to ask questions when he did not understand. It was almost as though his father was bewitched. His mother, too. When he asked her the same questions, she gave the exact same vague replies and then got irritated with him if he pressed her just the same as did his father. Bob did not understand it. If only they would tell him the truth, he would stop asking the questions.
He had the strangest impression that his father – indeed, everybody around him – saw something different when they looked at the tower than he did. The only other people he had seen start in fright at the sight of it as he had upon first viewing were children his own age and younger. Everybody else strolled right past it as though it were as commonplace as a fat baker, perfectly congruous apparently amid all the bright limestone buildings all around it. Bob regarded those buildings, their immaculate facades, marble thresholds, porticos, vivacious gardens, paned windows and neatly tiled roofs, and then turned his attention to Clandillion Tower.
He felt tainted by the mere sight of it, like an invisible slug was somehow slithering across the inside of his skin, giving him the heebie-jeebies. He shuddered, but forced himself to take it in in its entirety. Clearly, there had once been a wall around the property, but now only a few stacked dusty old stones remained, attached to the frame of a rusty iron gate which could no longer latch. It banged against the frame whenever a breeze blew by, making Bob jump, and creaked ominously the rest of the time, swinging to and fro. Beyond the gate, overgrown weeds and brambles occupied a space once meant for a garden, Bob presumed, curling over the loose rocks like miserly fingers.
The tower itself was a crumbling ruin situated dead in the middle of the city of Justiqua, decrepit and leaning forebodingly to one side as if exhausted, as if a stiff wind might do it in. Bob always wanted to cry out for the people lurking in its shadow to move lest it crush them, but they never seemed to give it a second thought. The tower was also black. Bob was not sure why. He thought it looked like it might be covered in some sort of eerie algae; he had never gotten close enough for a good look. The castellation on top was gap-toothed, and its thin windows were bare. Its doorway, a rotting wooden number, swung open and shut like the gate as if the two were composing the world’s most sinister duet. Bob gulped as he felt a chill slide up and down his spine, unsure which way to go to escape the trauma. The whole place exuded an aura of go away, you are not welcome here.
And so, Bob had always gone away. He had listened to his father and gotten on with his life thus far. Every time he passed it, though, it niggled him. Why was no one else concerned about the rickety old thing falling down? Why did everyone else ignore it as if it were just as bland as the rest of the tenements? Why was no one shrieking in horror and demanding that somebody tear down that ugly eyesore? Or at the very least clean it up a bit? Why was he the only one who seemed to see it?
He had no answers.
Until one day, he decided to get some.
One day, when his father was away Knighting, doing what Knights do, and his mother was absorbed in her crochet, Bob put on his dirtiest, oldest clothes and snuck out of Clandillion Manor. He had ambled the streets many a time with his father and knew exactly where to go to get to the tower. It was only a couple of streets away after all. It haunted his dreams it was so close. Dodging around urchins and concerned adults, he made it to the tower uninhibited. He stopped outside the creaking gate and stared at the finger of stone for a while, his courage yo-yoing inside him. Even in bright daylight, the tower was a dreary, soul-sucking sort of a place.
A raggedy beggar leaning against a low wall nearby croaked at him, “Hey, boy! Hey, boy! What are you looking at, boy?”
Bob could not contain a disgusted expression as his eyes roved over the old beggar, his lank grey hair, stubble and patched brown cloak. Bob could practically see the smell coming off him; he could certainly feel it in his watering eyes.
Nevertheless, he held his chin high and said proudly, “This is my ancestral home, I’ll have you know.”
“Oh, is it now?” cackled the dirty old man. “You’re a Clandillion, are you, boy? Interesting, interesting. I wonder if you’ll go down the same path as old Vinus, yes indeed, I wonder.”
Bob frowned. Vinus was his grandfather’s name. Sir Vinus Clandillion.
“What d’you know about him?” Bob scoffed, turning away.
The beggar would not be ignored, however. “Oh, more than you, I should think!” he giggled, an edge of madness in his hysteria. “More than they’ll have told you, I’m sure. More than they can see with those sightless, useless eyes of theirs.”
Bob was beginning to feel uneasy. You never should have spoken to this madman in the first place, he berated himself, should never have even acknowledged his existence.
“But that’s the problem, isn’t it?” asked the beggar suddenly, placid as a picnic. “That’s why they don’t see it like we do. Because they refuse to acknowledge its existence. Do not become like them, boy. Do not let your eyes be blinded by age and misplaced surety. Let your senses guide you, and you will see the world for what it truly is!”
“Okay, thank you,” said Bob, sidling away from the old crackpot.
A town guard in blue livery spotted him and shouted, “Oi, you! What are you doing out here all by yourself, young man?”
Bob jumped out of his skin and hared through the rusty gate before the guard could lay a hand on him. As soon as he was through, he turned back to behold with wonder the guard turn away, his expression glazed. He seemed to look straight through Bob without seeing him at all. Bob’s heart flipped upside down in panic for a moment. Was he dead? Was he a ghost? No, he told himself, don’t be silly. You’re not a ghost. You wouldn’t have died and forgotten about it. That’s not the sort of thing you forget.
Mollified, he turned away from the vapid guard and craned his neck to glance up at the tower’s heights. He thought he saw a silvery face yanked back out of sight over the battlements on top for a moment, then shook his head. You must be imagining things, he told himself. He could not stop the jitters, though. Regardless, he picked his way carefully through the forest of weeds, nettles and brambles, getting stung and cut through his breeches and tunic as he went. By the time he made it to the door, he was muttering curses that would have made a sailor blush. He knew his mother would give him a hiding for the wounds and torn clothing when he got home. He hoped the tower was worth it. He glanced up at it again, and somehow he knew it would be. He inspected the slick black stuff coating the tower, but it looked too gross to touch, so he came to no conclusions on its nature.
He thought he heard moaning from within, but assured himself it was just the wind, took himself by the scruff and thrust himself into the tower before he chickened out or wet himself. It was dark inside, darker than it had any right to be in daytime, and his clicking footsteps seemed to echo for eternity. Bob had seen windows from outside, but now he could see none. Daylight did not even seem to follow him in through the threshold past the swinging door; it seemed to have stopped at the gates, in fact. He shivered as he considered what could cause such an unnatural pall to be cast over the tower. He should have brought a torch or a candle, he thought, although that might have looked suspicious in the middle of the day. He considered backing out again when a voice startled him. A dribble of urine ran down his leg.
“A visitor?” crooned a high, frail old voice, airy as an open crypt. “It has been so long since we had a visitor. Who dares to tread within the bounds of the dreaded Clandillion Tower?”
“Who-who goes there?” Bob squeaked mouse-wise, trying to sound authoritative. “This is my family’s ancestral home, I’ll have you know. I have every right to be here.”
“So … a Clandillion returns to the tower after all this time, eh?” ruminated the voice, sounding as though it were speaking between crunchy mouthfuls now. “Hmm, that is intriguing. Why are you here, young master? Do you seek to follow in your forebear’s footsteps? Do you seek a life as cursed as that of Sir Vinus?”
“What happened to Sir Vinus?” Bob whispered, almost too afraid to ask the question.
Like the tower, his family pretended his grandfather had never existed. Any time he was brought up – or even almost brought up – the topic of conversation was always hurriedly changed. Bob had rapidly learned not to ask about Sir Vinus lest he be subjected to a chastising for asking too many questions, just as he had learned not to ask about the tower.
“Oh-ho!” chortled the voice, before swallowing audibly. “You do not know! How amusing. Well, you are here now, Clandillion, and you will learn.”
A scraping noise preceded the flaring of candlelight. By the abrupt, flickering radiance, he saw the man with whom he had been speaking. Stick-thin, scabby and entirely hairless, with a complexion so pallid he looked as though he had not seen the sun since he was a young boy the previous century, the man was a wasted specimen, sickly and consumptive. His eyes shone like milk in the candlelight, and Bob became quite sure he was blind as his wrinkly face swung this way and that. Taking in the tiny skeletons and the old blood crusting his lips and woollen brown robe, spattered on the walls and floor, Bob surmised the old man had been living on a diet of weeds and rats. He felt his stomach lurch and thought he might throw up.
“Who are you?” he whispered, barely able to breathe, tasting bile at the back of his throat.
“I am Agnost, servant to Sir Vinus,” wheezed the old man, “and I have been keeping this candle by my side for just such an occasion for years, waiting for a Clandillion to return. Now, young master, follow me and I will introduce you to your grandfather, the master of the tower. Follow me and I will introduce you to Sir Vinus.”
Bob was sure the old man had gone mad. “Surely Sir Vinus can’t still be alive? He’d be ancient by now!”
The blind man grinned foolishly, revealing gums and a few brown teeth. “Ancient, yes. Dead, no. Take you to him, I will.”
“You’ll do no such thing!” rapped a stern voice, and both spun to behold the new speaker.
“Ah!” Bob let loose a yelp of shock and terror at the sight that confronted him.
He was instantly frozen in place and chilled to the bone as he laid eyes on what he assumed must be a ghost. It had the body, arms and face of a man, but beneath the waist it had nothing more than a bluish grey wisp like mist, so that the torso seemed to float along in the air almost unsupported. Also, it was see-through. Bob could fuzzily make out an inglenook and a rotten old mantelpiece through the spectre’s chest. The man had clearly been a Knight when he had been alive, for even in death he was garbed in a steel plate cuirass emblazoned with a white inverted V, a gorget, pauldrons, vambraces and gauntlets. A longsword with a lion-head pommel was strapped to his waist. He even wore an old-fashioned helmet with a visor that could be flipped up and down. Reaching up with a gauntleted hand, he flipped it up to reveal a moustached face fit for the very strictest of disciplinarians. His crow’s feet had not come from laughing too much at any rate, of that Bob was sure. An otherworldly aura emanated from him, its glow further illuminating the shoddy room.
“You’re a g-g-g-ghost!” Bob stammered, pointing.
READ THE OTHER HALF OF THE GHOST OF CLANDILLION TOWER FOR FREE BY SIGNING UP TO MY MAILING LIST!