Echoes of the past. No 23 in the Jack Burkes series.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic


Latest addition to the "Tales from beyond the shadows" collection.

Submitted: September 06, 2017

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Submitted: September 06, 2017

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Sometimes deep in the hidden part of his mind, memories stirred in the darkness just below the surface. Well at least something in his head made him believe that these things were memories, and to describe any part of this man as a mind would be a stretch of the imagination. If the mind is described as the seat of thought and reasoning, then this creature had lost his mind a very long time ago. His very existence and every action, was now controlled by the mind of someone else, if he had ever experienced free will. Then it had been banished to that place of darkness inside his head, the place where these memory things moved below the surface. He was little more than a guard dog now, a mindless sentinel programed to guard the dark secrets of his masters. Time was of no consequence to him, be it a year or a century he shuffled around the vastness of this empty house and waited. He waited for the one thing he now existed for, to kill anyone who came in search of what he guarded.

Other unseen things existed in the vast old mansion, the sentinel was aware of their presence. They moved around him somewhere beyond his peripheral vision, whenever he turned towards them they faded like wisps of smoke on a breeze. But he did not need to see them to be aware of their presence; he felt their emotions crowding around him. Sometimes he felt their overpowering emotions weighing heavily on the very air inside the old building, a clinging cloak of sadness, fear and anger. He would hear their faint voices on occasions, crying and lamenting in the darkness. The sounds were very faint, but in the beginning they stirred an emotion inside the empty vessel he had become. Somehow the sentinel recognised this emotion as fear, but that was a very long time ago. Perhaps it was at the very beginning, when a vestige of his former self still lingered inside him. He no longer feared them now for he had come to understand, they were merely part of the secrets he had been tasked to protect.

The voices faint as they were, had a different tone to them today, they chattered continuously in an excited manner. The sentinel felt something was different in the old house, now and again on his continuous rambling through the seemingly endless rooms. He would turn quickly and catch a more substantive glimpse of them; they were slower to fade from his sight now. The owners of those faint voices were small in appearance; at least their hazy outlines suggested they were. They also seemed less fearful of him; something had changed in the rambling old mansion.  He had just entered the once grand drawing room when he felt it, a searing pain deep inside his head. The sentinel stopped dead in his tracks, he knew what this pain meant. The one that controlled him had entered his head; the pain passed quickly and was replaced by rapidly moving images. When the images disappeared he knew his instructions, the man with the cane was coming. He was to kill that man and anyone he brought with him, the existence of the others was to be kept secret. The man was to die before he learned the secret; he must not be allowed to see the shadowy things that once were children.

The light had faded and the driving rain beat relentlessly on the outside of the window, it was not yet five p.m. but the street lights were already on.  The green shaded banker’s lamp illuminated a small circle surrounding the old office desk, the rest of the small office remained in shadow. Jack Burke held the old photograph beneath the lamp and starred at the image, it was of a man somewhere in his late thirties or early forties. The man’s chiselled features and buzz cut hairstyle, were reminiscent of a comic book image of a hardened soldier. However the most striking feature of this man was his eyes, they stared back at Jack from the photograph. Those eyes appeared to be staring into his very soul, and those eyes were filled with menace and cruelty. Suppressing a shudder Jack flipped the photograph and concentrated on the neat writing on the back. This time he could not suppress the shudder as he read the words. “Mervin Holdrege, White Peak, October ’48”.

Jack placed the old photograph face down on the desk top, foolishly he felt uncomfortable with the thought Mervin Holdrege was staring at him. He turned his attention to the contents of the file opened in front of him. Apparently Mr Holdrege had been employed in the orphanage in White Peak as an orderly; his employment had started in the spring of ’47. However there was no termination date on his work history, this led jack to believe that he remained working there until the establishment closed down. It bothered him to think that this cruel looking man was employed there while Mabel and her siblings were incarcerated in that bleak institution. It also infuriated him to think that this man had taken part in the ungodly acts that had occurred there, a disturbing vison of glass jars and urns filled with body parts seared his mind. For a moment, the memories came flooding back, memories of a stark three story limestone building with a turret and sad eyed children making snow angels.

Jack stood watching the deserted street image below; the scene was distorted by the rain water running down the window pane. However his mind played a different scenario, as a kaleidoscope of images of the past played in his mind’s eye. So the collector had continued to track down anyone that was involved with White Peak, but suddenly Jack found himself filled with doubt. He himself had gone to that accursed place in a misguided attempt to lay the past to rest for Mabel, but in the end he had only drawn attention to her. He had placed a target on her back, they had got to her and now she spent her time locked in a convent in the middle of nowhere. Not only locked in that convent but also locked inside her own mind, he wondered if he was responsible for how she was. White Peak was a place of dark secrets, dark secrets of very powerful people. Now he was frightened that by continuing to chase these secrets, he might be putting her in even more danger.

It took a hell of a lot of phone calls and favors called in, but Jack finally got lucky. A contact in city hall managed to get a handle on Mervin Holdrege; apparently after the orphanage in White Peak had been closed down Mr Holdrege had fallen foul of the law. A serious assault on a hooker in a town in Connecticut had landed him behind bars, after that things got a little murky. However his contact in city hall had it on good authority that money changed hands and he was realised, the kicker was that Holdrege had left the state to take up a caretaker position in Maine. Now all Jack had to do was to get one of his ex-colleges in the police department, to make contact with the arresting officers in Connecticut. He just needed another piece of luck and he would know where to look for Mervin Holdrege. It had taken him a while to come to a decision regarding this case, but in the end he realized Mabel would never again be safe. Until he had dealt with all those who had been involved in White Peak, Jack had a feeling that to do this he would have to see just how deep the rabbit hole really was.

The rain he had left behind him in New Hampshire had given way to sleet by the time he had crossed into Maine, the farther north he traveled the colder it became. By the time he neared his destination the sleet had stopped but the skies were filled with ominous clouds that promised snow. Except for a brief stop outside Portland for a quick meal and toilet break, Jack had been behind the wheel for near enough ten hours. He was happy to see the sign post for the small town he was heading for, he badly needed to stretch his legs and then get his head down for a few hours. The small town nestled in a hollow surrounded by forested hills; it would be beautiful here in the spring and summer he thought. But now that winter had begun take a grip the area had feeling of isolation about it, it was as if nature held the whole place captive. Jack parked the car in the small parking lot at the side of the quaint hotel; the town’s main street was eerily quiet and devoid of people. The man behind the check in desk had a jovial and pleasant demeanor; that was right up until the moment Jack asked him about the old mansion that lay north of the small town. His mood suddenly became more sullen, although he did begrudgingly provide Jack with directions to the rambling old house.

It was just gone eight thirty the following morning but the sun had yet to make any impact on the Maine country side. The promised snow had not materialized but the rain fell in heavy sheets, driven by a biting north easterly wind. Jack stood outside the small hotel and lit a cigarette; he had contemplated showing the hotel owner the photograph of Mervin Holdrege. But thought better of it due to the way he had reacted the previous night, when Jack had asked about the old mansion. Jack had lingered over breakfast in the hope that the morning would brighten up, but it looked like it was going to continue to be a grey day. Now that he was here Jack began to have doubts and found himself reluctant to make the final steps, but in the end he knew there was no going back. Taking a last lung full of acrid smoke, he crushed the butt beneath his heel and started towards the car. As he turned north on the deserted street, he once again found his head filled with the images of those glass jars and urns and their grisly contents.

Three miles northwest of the town he found the entrance to the house, a narrow road through a densely wooded area carried him to his destination. Here among the trees it was still dark as night, Jack had to drive with full headlights. The narrow roadway turned sharply to the left and he found himself in a large clearing, the grey light of the morning illuminated what once would have been carefully tended lawns. The huge old house looked completely out of place in the wildness of its surroundings. Someone had tried hard to reproduce an English country mansion in the rural Maine country side, but as he parked in the weed strewn courtyard he suddenly realized the place had been abandoned a long time ago. The house had an air of desolation about it, which made him suddenly feel that it all had been a wasted journey. Jacks first instinct was to turn the key in the ignition and drive away. However now that he was here, he had no other choice but look inside. Perhaps Mervin Holdrege had left some clue as to his present whereabouts.

The front door was swollen from moisture and screeched in protest as he forced it open; the grey morning light scarcely illuminated the entrance hall. The sound of his cane tip against the terracotta floor tiles, echoed around the emptiness of the big house. He had only taken a few steps inside when he felt it; a strange atmosphere pervaded the place. Jack suddenly realized that somewhere in the last couple of minutes, he had drawn his gun from the shoulder holster. On another occasion he may have felt foolish at such an action, but something about this place was disturbing. By the time he had explored the ground floor the light level outside had risen, the grey illumination seeped through the grimy window panes. However this only served to heighten the sense of desolation that hung over the once grand house. It was when he climbed the stairs to the first floor he felt it, the house was empty yet he was not alone.

It was the sickly sweet stench of decay that lured him to the attic level, by now he was surrounded by a myriad of faint voices and quickly moving shadows. Most of the voices were unintelligibly but every now and again an urgent voice whispered, “The attic, what you seek is in the attic”. A short flight of steps from the upper floor led him through a door to the attic space; this space consisted of one large room that ran the width of the big house. It was windowless and the only illumination came from and old storm lantern, the lantern was held by the source of the sickly sweet smell. Mervin Holdrege stood in the middle of the vast room, or at least what once had been Mervin Holdrege. The man with the lantern was for all intents and purposes a walking corpse, a caricature of a living thing that should have been buried a long time ago. The arm holding the lantern rose robotically and the circle of light spread wider, to Jacks absolute horror he saw the walls were lined with shelves. Each shelf was weighed down with rows and rows of glass jars and urns.

Jack stood like a deer caught in the headlights, transfixed by the awful sight. Then a sudden burst of urgent chattering from the shadows, made him turn his gaze from the shelves. He was just in time to try and avoid the blow; the handle of the axe in Holdrege’s hand caught him a glancing blow on the shoulder. He staggered backwards dropping the gun from his numbed hand, the axe rose again high above his head. Dropping his shoulder Jack charged and threw his full weight against his attacker, the thing that was once Holdrege gasped and a gust of foul smelling air came from its mouth. Jack swung the ornate cane and felt his arm jar as the cane hit; Holdrege grunted and staggered back the lantern falling from his grasp. The lantern landed on a pile of ancient looking manuscripts, by the time Jack had retrieved the gun the whole room was illuminated by the dancing flames. He continued to pull the trigger until the magazine was empty, what remained of Mervin Holdrege lay still amid the flames. The old house was going up like tinder now; Jack struggled to grab as much papers as he could before he had to retreat.

Jack lay face down on the wet grass outside, his body wracked from coughing as he tried to clear his lungs. By the time he managed to get to his feet the old house was an inferno, he staggered to the car and climbed in. There he slumped exhausted across the steering wheel and lay there for quite a while, when he finally lifted his head he stared at the burning house through blurred eyes. Nothing in that old place could be saved, even the small bundle of papers in his fist were badly charred. He had come here looking for answers, but all he had got was confirmation that whatever took place in White Peak was not an isolated incident. The people behind all of this were very good at covering their tracks, but this had only served to strengthen Jack’s failing resolve. He would not rest until he caught up with these people and learned the full story of what they were at. If it took him the rest of his life, this was one case he would solve. Perhaps if he could learn who had paid the money for Holdrege’s release, he might still get to the bottom of this.  A final glance in the rear view mirror showed the house as just a burning shell, and it also showed him a group of ghostly children holding hand s and staring at the flames.

 

 

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2018 Patrick G Moloney. All rights reserved.

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