The Curse of Shah Malabra

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic


The ancestral secret of the Subcontinent has risen from the grave.

Submitted: October 26, 2017

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Submitted: October 26, 2017

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Ryan Coleridge was experiencing what clairvoyants call a premonition - an ill-omened vision of coming doom - yet, this sensible man schooled in modern medicine was far too pragmatic to possess the psychic insight necessary to detect when he was being warned by the sibylline oracles of fate.

All Ryan knew at the moment was that he was frightened. What frightened him most was that in his predictable world of ordinary reality there existed no psychological structural framework with which to identify and classify the abhorrent object of his growing fear - the ugly dark blotch on the palm of his right hand that, scrub as he might, simply would not wash off.

Holding his trembling hand under the icy water flowing with a snaky hiss out of the cold harsh metal of the stainless steel tap, the official Crook County Medical Examiner who moonlighted as a mortician at the Lily of the Valley funeral home, scrubbed furiously at the hideous puzzling blotch with the coarse bristles of a scouring brush. He rinsed, then heavily lathered his hand for the sixth time and, again, began scrubbing madly, but when he rinsed the soap suds away, the ugly inky smear still clung to his palm with stubborn immovable resolve. The gross thing seemed to mock him.

His afflicted hand was becoming sore. The flesh around the dark splotch was turning red from the violent scouring that had no affect whatsoever on what, in his wholesome conventional mind, was a detestable blight of shame - a devil’s bane.

This is what he got for not going into research as his academic adviser had suggested. Two of Ryan’s fellow medicos from his graduating class had laid claim to the prestigious Nobel Prize. Miles Avercrombe was awarded the legendary honor for his groundbreaking work in stem-cell research. Mortimer Hoskins won the coveted prize for the development of a protein which has amazing properties capable of reversing the effects of Alzheimer’s. By contrast, what was Ryan Coleridge’s claim to fame? A humdrum medical examiner doubling as a mortician in a Podunk county among the infinite timber mazes of snowy freezing Maine.

Oh well, at least it wasn’t snowing at the moment. Almost Halloween and the first snow had yet to fly. In fact, the sun had been shining often of late and the weather had been unseasonably balmy, but such hopeful thoughts couldn’t distract Ryan’s harried mind from the foul stain on his irritated palm.

In addition to the creepy fact that tomorrow would be the dreaded night of All Hallows’ Eve, during the last six weeks there had been six murders, the most recent of which had occurred in the very same alley that the unidentified horribly dehydrated female body had been found. The victims of the six gruesome murders had all been young women who had recently reached eighteen years of age. They had all died violently bloody deaths by having their tender beating hearts torn from their pale pretty chests.

The police had so far not been able to arrive at any motive for the brutal crimes. The only clue other than the gory nature of the horrific atrocities was a peculiar bluish-gray powdery substance which had been found around each of the gaping wounds in the victims’ chest cavities. Vexing this ominous clue was, because Ryan had noticed that the badly shriveled corpse found in the alley appeared to be covered with the same mysterious bluish-gray powdery substance. He shuddered at the thought.

Giving up in exasperation, he finally shut off the tap and quit scouring. Why hadn’t he listened to the indigent in the dark alley where the grotesquely emaciated corpse had been found?

“Don’t touch the relic!” the dirty smelly vagrant had warned, “whatever you do, don’t touch the relic! It’s polluted with deadliest evil!”

In his official capacity as medical examiner, Ryan had scoffed against the foul odor and lunatic ravings of the filthy vagabond who had crawled back inside a large cardboard box behind a dented green dumpster and covered himself with layers of discarded newspapers.

At the crime scene among red flashing lights of ambulance and police cars, the ominous warning issued by the illiterate bum had seemed but the irrational rant of a brain that had been burnt out by years of alcohol abuse; but now, alone in the gloomy morgue with the dead body of an unidentified woman of terribly advanced years lying on the cold examining slab, the cautionary words of the grubby homeless man had somehow begun to loom with a haunting threat of real lethal danger.

Few places are as chillingly irksome as a morgue or funeral home at night. To Ryan, the two establishments were the same - no difference at all; both morbid, both depressing. Ryan didn’t like including ‘home’ with the word funeral. He didn’t consider himself superstitious, but something about that particular word combination seemed unhallowed. He preferred to say funeral parlor. Parlor didn’t seem ominous when included with the word ‘funeral’.

With a sudden quick jerk of his head, Ryan turned to look all around at the uninviting tile walls and floor of the silent pale green room. He listened with ears that strained so hard they seemed to ring in their heightened alertness. Everything was deathly quiet. The frigid room was infused with the sharp scent of antiseptic. A single drop of water fell from the tap echoing in the empty sink like a woeful bell of sorrow.

The most difficult aspect for most people to stomach about a morgue or funeral parlor is the idea of a dearly departed loved one lying motionless on the icy autopsy table while dark red life blood is drained from veins to make room for embalming fluid. Ryan’s wide wandering eye fell upon the dead body on the hard flat table before him.

The scrawny stiff bore a sinister outline. In all his years as medical examiner he had never seen such a desiccated corpse. Nothing in his training had prepared him for such an unexpected mysterious anomaly. The odious thing appeared to be mummified. He would get to the bottom of the mystery tomorrow when he performed the autopsy. Right now it was getting late. Time to go home.

Ryan’s watery gray eyes remained fixed for a moment on the eerily silent shriveled cadaver of the severely aged Jane Doe - an unheard voice of omen from a distant murky past lying under a ghostly white sheet that draped over the edges of the table reminding the anxiety-racked medical examiner of a ritual death shroud. Had he heard a sound? Had something moved under that shroud?

He listened hard for another moment, then turned back to the large utility sink. He would try one more time to get the ugly stain off his palm. He splashed bleach on the mocking dark blotch. He let the bleach soak into the affected area for two whole minutes, then turned on the water and began scrubbing furiously again.

The ugly dark spot in the center of his palm would not wash off.

It really was getting late. If he didn’t go home now, his precious fiancée would begin to worry. But what about the filthy smear on his palm? Never mind the accursed thing for now. Ryan would wear a glove on that hand. He would tell anyone curious enough to ask that he had burned his hand with sulfuric acid while conducting a forensic analysis to uncover clues to the identity of the homicidal maniac who had been brutally slaughtering eighteen-year-old girls for the last six weeks. Who would question him? He was a medical doctor, for crying out loud!

Before switching off the lights, Ryan paused at the door to take one last look at the unidentified corpse draped under the grim white sheet. He could have sworn he had heard a slight noise not normal to the sounds of a morgue. He was positive his peripheral vision had detected a subtle hint of movement - some faint brief locomotion under that death shroud. Ryan shook his head as if to toss off the ridiculous worrying. It had been a long day. It was late. He was tired. His mind was suffering from hallucinations brought on by the delirium of exhaustion.

He flipped the light switch to the off position, closed the door, locked it, then bid farewell to the night watchman on his way out of the basement of the Crook County Medical Center.

Unbeknownst to the worry-haunted Ryan, earlier that day, his younger brother, Hy, had been talking to Laura, the good doctor’s lovely young bride-to-be. The highly suspect conversation had taken place with the soothing steamy aroma of hot chamomile tea sweetened with tupelo honey wafting among the cool shadows of the study in the great old mansion which had been built a century before in the fashion of a medieval manor house.

“Now that we’re going to be members of the same family,” the pretty engagement ring ornamented lass queried spryly, “tell me about your name. Hy. It’s such a fun perky name, but so unusual. I’ve never heard it before. What does it mean?”

Ryan’s snide younger brother was making cunning note of the physical features and dainty mannerisms of his elder sibling’s soon-to-be wife. Fancying himself luring her under his intoxicating spell, Hy responded as if he really derived pleasure from talking to his overtly effeminate future sister-in-law, “The name Hy, my dear Laura, has its origins in the ancient Greek and Hebrew. Hy means life, my brother is exalted. It’s a name related to the flower, Hyacinth.”

“Oh, how romantic!” Laura beamed, “Thank you for sharing that sentimental background with me. I’m glad I asked! I feel as if we’ve already become closer, Hy, more intimately acquainted, the way a brother and sister should be.”

Laura’s hourglass figure titillated from beneath her tea-length dress, the strapless sweetheart neckline showing off shapely milk-white shoulders that curved gracefully to a long supple neck. Laura was a healthy girl. The strong pump of the young heart beating in that tempting bosom pushed her circulation close to the surface, giving her silky skin a rosy warmth of cheerful promise. Her auburn hair flowed down the delicate arc of her alluring back in thick voluminous abundance.

Like a ruby-throated hummingbird, the innocent maiden fluttered to the fireplace for a closer look at something that had caught the attention of her sapphire blue eyes. Hy winced as Laura picked up a framed photograph. His normal reaction to anyone touching the cherished heirloom would have been one of belligerent violence, yet Hy was already having iniquitous visions of how his brother’s beautiful fiancée could best serve his hidden agenda. Hy didn’t want to put the unwary damsel on guard against his wicked plans.

“What a lovely portrait,” the unsuspecting Laura commented with undisguised admiration in her musical voice, “this girl has a rare beauty about her. There’s a quiet sadness in her eyes.” Laura gently caressed the ornate gilded frame as she carefully studied the mysterious girl in the old monochrome photograph which was slowly acquiring a sepia tint due to its remarkable age.

Gently taking the picture from an inquisitively smiling Laura, Hy spoke softly, reverently, “This photograph is over one hundred years old. It was taken with a Kodak Autographic Vest Pocket camera, a folding camera that was advertised as ‘The Soldier’s Camera’ during World War One. It used 127 film which could be processed - the photos developed - by machine or hand.”

“How very fascinating that you know all this interesting history!” Laura replied gleefully, “Who is that sad little girl?”

Hy carefully settled the photo back in its place on the mantel, then began speaking in a distant detached voice as he gazed thoughtfully at the precious picture, “Laura, my dear, you are looking at Her Ladyship Shah Malabra. The exquisite girl in that portrait is my great great grandfather’s sister’s child. His niece. He never fathered any children, but he doted on his darling niece as if she were his own daughter.

“There’s a grim legend associated with that old portrait. You know what they say about a picture being worth a thousand words. The sadness you see in the girl’s eyes is because she didn’t like living in India. From an early age Shah Malabra suffered from a recurring nightmare that foretold of some painfully horrific catastrophe that would befall her. It was an ominous portent, really, because, some years after this photo was taken when she had recently celebrated her eighteenth birthday, the sad girl in this old photograph did in fact meet with a ghastly fate.”

Laura was spellbound, “Oh dear, but that is sad. Hy, don’t be cruel! Don’t tantalize me so coyly! Tell me the story! Please, Hy, oh, but you have to!”

Hy was most assuredly smiling coyly as he turned to Laura and slyly intoned, “Well, as I said, it’s a grim tale….a horror story, really.”

“I don’t care if I end up having nightmares, Hy! A real life tragedy in your family? I must know all! If you don’t tell me, I’ll get Ryan to divulge the shadowy secret, but I’d rather you told me, for as much as I dearly love your admirable brother, I must admit that you are a much better storyteller.”

“Well, if you really think you want to hear it.”

“Oh yes! I must! I must!”

Hy blushed a little - his vanity would not be denied - then the devious Hy Coleridge sat in the high-back wing chair closest to the fireplace. Laura curled up in a corner of the love-seat opposite and waited with the excited anticipation of a schoolgirl anxious for a puppet show to begin.

Hy took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, then, with the somber air of an oriental mystic, commenced with a dreary narrative that sent chills down Laura’s tense spine with every word of the telling.

“Before I begin, I want it noted for the record that I warned you.”

“Duly noted!”

“Very well, then. According to the legend, Her Ladyship Shah Malabra has the power to rise from her grave. This mysterious occult circumstance evolved from the following chain of ill-omened events. As Ryan may have told you, the Coleridge family was once very prominent in the mining of precious gems in India. Coleridge was one of the most well-known and highly esteemed names in that exotic faraway land.

“My great great grandfather, Stamford Hathorn Coleridge, was the owner of the largest ruby mining corporation in all of India. In his twenty-ninth year, he had been knighted. Since the region in which he carried on his mining operations was known as the Malabra, my great great grandfather became Lord of the Malabra.

“As I’ve already mentioned, Lord Malabra never married and never fathered any children of his own, yet his sister, my great great aunt Elyse had a daughter whom my ancestral grandfather loved as if she were his very own child. Elyse was widowed when her brave young husband, who had been hunting down poachers in the jungle, lost his life after being bitten by a Bungarus, or banded Krait, which is one of, if not the deadliest snake on the Subcontinent.

“Bungarus venom contains neurotoxins which overstimulate production of the neurotransmitters acetylcholine and norepinephrine resulting in paralysis of the entire nervous system. The venom is so poisonous that several vials of Tiger Snake Antivenom, if available, are required to reverse the deadly effects of Bungarus envenomation. One bite from a banded Krait is so lethally potent that it can kill sixty adult humans.”

Laura shuddered and pulled her knees tightly to her chest as if to defend herself against attack from such a fatal slinking beast. Hy inwardly grinned, reveling in delight at the morbid effect his eerie tale was having on his brother’s pretty fiancée. On Hy went, unveiling with sadistic pleasure the mysterious family legend.

“The tragic death of the girl’s father immediately preceding her birth was seen as an inauspicious sign by other members of the family and by the workers in the ruby mines, who were all very superstitious by nature. It was whispered that the girl’s life was shadowed by an evil curse, but Lord Malabra paid no attention to what he considered mere idle gossip. Being a practical-minded fellow, he detested all religion and superstition. Mysticism was, to the noble mining magnate, an anathema.

“Neither did Lord Malabra favor the idea of boys being anywhere near his cherished niece. For the first seventeen years of her troubled life, though pampered in royal opulence by the vast wealth brought in from the family mining interests, her Ladyship was never permitted to have any male playmates.

“It is here worthy of note that, in addition to her stunning beauty, Shah Malabra bore a unique physical trait in the form of an irregular-shaped birthmark on the palm of her right hand. This, according to the haunted girl, had something to do with identifying her one true love. The elegant young lady also lamented sorrowfully that the shadowy birthmark was a harbinger of the tragic fate portended by her enigmatic recurring nightmare.

“Shah never had anything approaching a boyfriend, her hand had never been held by a male admirer, and she certainly had never been kissed. Yet, when her eighteenth birthday was approaching, Lord Malabra knew that his pretty niece would not continue to be corralled by his overprotective tendencies. My great great grandfather dearly loved Shah Malabra. She was far more valuable to him than all the rubies in all the mines of India; therefore, he could not possibly bear if any scorn for himself were to take root and begin growing in his lovely niece’s heart.

“Lord Malabra made the decision that, as long as they were from peer families of established wealth and as long as they met with his approval, he would permit his niece to receive visits from potential suitors. It was about this time that the worst tragedy in our family’s tumultuous history occurred.

“On a fateful night, after one of the terrifying recurring nightmares, a Red Scorpion with a mysterious dark blotch on its back crept into her Ladyship’s bed. The vile thing had been seen by the servants for a week prior to the tragic night. They had endeavored to kill the venomous creeping beast, but, sadly for the young heiress, all the loyal servants’ valiant efforts had been in vain. The prophetic Red Scorpion was curiously capable of eluding extermination. After suffering an agonizing sting from the cold-blooded scorpion, the stricken girl fell critically ill. Her delicate body was racked by a high hot fever.

“The poor girl’s mind became a fury of incomprehensible confusion. It was as though an evil hex had been cast upon her. She began babbling incoherently about fearfully morbid subjects such as Attila the Hun, Vlad the Impaler, Bloody Mary, and Ivan the Terrible. Her terrified mother, along with other women from the church, prayed over the ailing girl who was taken to hospital, but neither prayers nor doctors could stem the rapid decline in the unfortunate maiden’s failing health.

“One of my great great aunt’s lady friends whispered about a Daayan who lived on the outskirts of the Malabra in a shanty town.”

“What’s a Daayan?” Laura blurted in uncontrollable curiosity.

“In India,” Hy portentously replied, “Daayan is the word for witch.”

Laura’s eyes widened and she drew herself tighter into the corner of the love seat. Hy spoke in tones of increasing luridness, relating with fiendish zeal the ghostly events of the haunting family history.

“The sick girl’s mother knew that seeking the aid of a witch was diametrically opposed to my great great grandfather’s stern sensibilities. Lord Malabra would never permit any such occult interference with his treasured family members, especially not with his beloved niece, so, while the patriarch was at work overseeing mining operations, my great great aunt Elyse, in utter desperation, took her sorely afflicted daughter to the shanty town where she found the old witch woman in a decrepit hovel covered with leaning sheets of rusty tin. The dilapidated shack was full of a mind-boggling array of eerie occult oddities. Saffron, cardamom, garam masala, and other herbs and spices common to India mystically scented the gloomy space of the ramshackle dwelling.

“With great trepidation the sickly girl’s troubled mother inquired of the Daayan if she could help her daughter. Upon inspection of the fevered adolescent, the old witch realized that drastic measures would have to be taken, because the girl was anemic, ashen, burning up with dangerously high temperature - she was dying.

“Of course the Daayan knew of the staggering wealth possessed by the Coleridge mining family, so, in payment for her healing services, she requested a single star ruby - one which was embedded in a pendant worn round the neck of great great aunt Elyse.

“Without hesitation Elyse removed her expensive necklace and gave it to the witch who nodded approval and immediately set about with candles, roots, herbs, spices, and a mysterious knife, the Dagger of Daayan, to effect a cure for the terminally ill Shah Malabra.”

“What’s the Dagger of Daayan?” Laura interrupted.

Hy turned toward a glass case in a corner of the room, “It’s similar to the dagger in the curio.”

Laura looked to the curio which contained a number of exquisite trophies and artifacts from India. She was familiar with the collector’s piece to which Hy referred - a large knife with a razor-sharp curved blade similar to a scimitar with a ruby-encrusted elegantly carved ivory handle.

The ancient knife was highly treasured as a venerated relic which had been crafted nearly one thousand six hundred years in the mist-shrouded past for King Bimbisara himself by a master metalworker of the Magadha kingdom during the spectacular reign of the Haryanka dynasty which thrived in regal splendor so many moons ago amid the mysterious enchantment of the mythic Indus Valley. Laura gazed at the arcane dagger for a moment, then turned back to Hy as he carried on with the macabre Coleridge lore.

“It was entirely possible that Shah Malabra would have been cured by the old witch who urgently muttered over the unconscious girl massaging her thorax while invoking secret sorcery, yet, as fate would have it, her obsessively possessive uncle had a loyal servant who sent a messenger to the mines to warn him of what his sister was doing with his cherished niece.

“The ruby tycoon was incensed. He summoned his driver to rush him to the shanty town where, in a flaming rage, he burst into the Daayan’s shack, shoved her aside, and, with his sister pleading in pitiful tears of desperation, the furious lord scooped up his sick niece and out the rickety door of the ramshackle hut he marched to return the sorely afflicted girl to the hospital.

“At midnight of that very evening, his unfortunate niece succumbed to the deadly illness. Lord Malabra was devastated. His sister never forgave him for the angry outburst in which he interrupted the curative ritual the Daayan had been performing to save the girl’s life. Elyse, her skin having grown pallid and her hair white, died less than a year later of a broken heart.

“Lord Malabra could no longer endure life in India, a land that would to him be forever associated with the worst catastrophe of his life. He sold his ruby mining corporation and returned home where he also sold his ancestral estate in Suffolk, after which he left England for the United States where he purchased this sprawling acreage in the heart of Maine.

“Rumor has it that the aging lord was so forlorn that he himself turned to the occult in a yearning effort to ease his intolerable suffering. When he was having this great house constructed, he also had a crypt built in a hidden location somewhere on these grounds in which he interred Shah Malabra’s earthly remains.

“When the house was completed, my sadly distraught great great grandfather, according to family legend, walked out in secret one night to the hidden crypt and, after chanting a Celtic spell, called aloud that with his life’s blood he was giving his beloved niece the supernatural power to resurrect her own life. Then, with a .22 caliber revolver, he blew his brains out letting his hot flowing blood spill over the coffin of Shah Malabra.

“The necromancy that the ill-fated lord employed was based upon the number seven. You’ve probably heard of someone getting the seven-year-itch or that if a person breaks a mirror they’ll be plagued with seven years of bad luck. There are also the Seven Seas and seven days in a week. So, seven is a powerfully significant number in the occult.

“The spell, being of Celtic origin, is also heavily interwoven with the secrets of the Sabbats. The Celts celebrate changes in the seasons of nature with vibrant food and festivals . They call these celebrations Sabbats. One of the most legendary of the Celtic Sabbats is Samhain, a/k/a All Hallows’ Eve.”

This announcement sent ghostly fingers of unseen hands crawling down Laura’s tense spine. She would be turning eighteen at midnight tonight. She had been born on the Pagan holiday Halloween. Hy knew all this, but he pretended not to notice the irksome affect his cryptic information was having on the bride-to-be.

“As the family legend goes, the spell that the lord of this manor’s blood invoked upon Shah Malabra shall be acted out when a handsome man is near her place of burial and when said handsome man’s life is in the Return of Saturn. As you may know, Laura, the Return of Saturn is the time when the jewel planet makes a complete revolution of the sun to arrive back at the same location in the Zodiac that it was in when a particular person was born - that time interval is 29.5 years.”

Laura gasped! Ryan Coleridge, Laura’s own beloved fiancé, was in his twenty-ninth year!

It was all Hy could do to keep from bursting into diabolical laughter, but with a supreme effort, he maintained his expressionless stoic resolve.

“Now this is where the legend gets really grotesque, so, Laura, my soon-to-be sister-in-law, if you want me to stop here, I will.” Hy’s face was still as stone, but his voice carried a deceptive tone of smirk.

“Oh, no, Hy, please, please tell me the rest of the story! You’ve come this far, I’ll simply die if you don’t tell me the rest!”

“Die,” Hy couldn’t help himself commenting, “is, if you’ll pardon me saying, a rather ill-chosen word, but, all right, if you insist, I’ll finish the gory tale.” Hy adjusted his posture to one of overt haughtiness, then spoke in his most devilish tone.

“The Celtic spell that the retired ruby baron cast on his dearly departed niece gives her petrified corpse the paranormal power to rise from its place of interment. The resurrection will begin seven weeks prior to All Hallows’ Eve. A young woman, eighteen years of age, will be murdered each week leading up to the Pagan Sabbat.

“The first six victims will have their hearts cannibalized - torn out by the ghostly mummified cadaver who shall devour the bloody organs in order to facilitate the renewal of its own dead flesh. In the seventh week, on the eve of Halloween, the final victim’s heart will be used to replace the withered muscle in the chest cavity of my long-dead ghoulish cousin. The final ritual act of carnage will occur during the midnight hour that initiates the Celtic Sabbat Samhain. This dreaded prophecy, my dear Laura, is known in the Coleridge family as The Curse of Shah Malabra.”

Laura sat motionless, scrunched into her chosen corner of the love seat, her reeling mind taking it all in - the ghastly family legend of the man she was about to marry. Finally, she mustered the courage to speak, “You say that Shah Malabra is buried in a crypt on this very estate?”

Hy nodded.

“Well, where?”

“No one knows,” Hy replied as though bored with the subject, “oh, I’ve looked all around these grounds, but to date I haven’t seen the slightest indication of anything that might suggest a hidden crypt.”

“The power to rise from the grave! The Curse of Shah Malabra!” Laura mused.

“Yes,” Hy was eyeing her like a hawk, “one might imagine she would use her incredible supernatural power to raise an army of the dead for world conquest and enslave the living population of Earth to do her inscrutable bidding, yet such visions of grandeur the ghostly maiden does not entertain. All Shah Malabra wants is a lover, so that she doesn’t have to spend eternity alone.”

Hy shrugged his shoulders and stood up, “Perhaps it’s only a myth - a romantic fantasy handed down through generations of the Coleridge family like a tabloid keepsake. Don’t let it worry you, Laura. Ryan will probably be obnoxiously irritated with me for telling you the horrid tale, but remember, in spite of my warning, you insisted.”

With which Parthian shot, Hy walked out of the quiet study leaving Laura alone to contemplate the frightful cloying nature of the grim Coleridge family lore.

Two of Laura’s dearest friends, Stephanie and Kayla, who were to be bridesmaids in her wedding, came bouncing loudly into the study, “Laura, darling! There you are! We’ve been looking all over for you! Why on earth are you sitting alone in the cold shadows of this dreary room? Come out on the lawn with us where the sun is shining! We’re all about to start in on a romping fun game of croquet!”

“We’re in Maine,” Laura quipped, “it’s late October. It’s probably just as cold outside as it is in this smoky old study.”

“October in Maine it may be,” Stephanie rebutted, “but the weather is unseasonably agreeable, so stop making excuses! Get off your lazy duff and come outside with us!”

Each of them took one of Laura’s hands pulling her up off the love seat and outside where the others were already choosing colors and mallets.

The scheming Hy Coleridge crept up the creaking staircase that led from the sewing room on the second floor into the attic which was large enough to serve as a third story for the centuried manor house. Hy kept the attic tightly secured from prying eyes. He possessed the only key which he turned in the tarnished lock. Entering the eerie cobweb ambiance of the large musty room filled him with lewd pleasure that oozed from the pores of his untrustworthy flesh like a miasma of contempt. He paused for a moment to feast his serpentine eyes on the unpainted rafters and joists of the melancholy attic. To Hy, this quiet retreat was imbued with preternatural intimations of primeval witchcraft.

Moving to the far end of the stale space that smelled of old lumber, Hy knelt devoutly before a much aged dust-covered cedar chest which bore dents, abrasions, and faded customs stamps from various ports of call - scars of its long journey from India to Maine.

To this time-worn chest, Hy also possessed the only key. He unlocked the antediluvian trunk and carefully raised the heavy lid. Peering in with charnel delight, Hy groped through the odd contents and dug out the tattered moth-eaten diary that had belonged to his great great grandfather Stamford Hathorn Coleridge. He turned to the page for which he searched and began studying the cryptic scrawl, committing to memory the melodic phrases of the arcane incantation which would invoke the eldritch spell.

Hy especially thrilled to the last line of the ghostly chant, “Beware all ye unworthy meddlers, for the Curse will descend like a plague of locusts on wings of death to crush the foolish head of he who defiles the eternal resting place of Her Ladyship Shah Malabra.”

The sharp click of a croquet mallet striking one of the colored balls rose up from the lawn penetrating the stained window pane of the lofty airless attic. Hy was panic-stricken! That ball had gone in the wrong place!

Quickly, he returned the ragged diary to the dusty cedar chest, closed the heavy lid, locked it, then shot out of the attic, pausing just long enough to lock the door. Hy dashed furiously down the creaky wooden staircase. He hurried along as fast as his anatomically undersized feet would carry him, but would he make it in time to prevent disastrous discovery of his dastardly secret?

Down on the lawn, Laura was peering in among the thick underbrush. She spied the bright red croquet ball. Reaching her arm in she yowled, “Ouch!” One of the razor sharp points of the thorny vines had pierced her tender flesh. She decided to reach in with her mallet and use it to rake the ball out of the dense prickly growth.

In she reached with the croquet mallet when an unexpected rush of icy air blasted over her pretty face. Looking deep into the thorny thicket, she noticed narrow moss-covered stone steps that led down to what appeared to be a doorway hidden in cold murky shadows behind the tangled undergrowth. She heard a ghostly female voice call her name, “Laura!

Surprised, and slightly frightened, Laura stood motionless.

“Who’s there?” she called. No answer.

Laura nearly jumped out of her skin when a hand touched her shoulder from behind. Squealing, she jerked round to see Hy standing at her back with a whimsical grin on his handsome aquiline face. “My heavens,” Laura thought in her whirling mind, “he’s as good-looking as his older brother!”

“Did you find your ball, Laura?” Hy spoke mildly, suppressing his lungs from heaving due to his sprint out to the lawn, “you haven’t lost your ball have you? Here, let me retrieve it for you.”

“Hurry up. Already!” one of the bridesmaids called from far out on the wicket-strewn lawn, “what’s taking you so long?”

“Join us in this rousing game of croquet, Hy!” the maid of honor shouted.

Hy thanked the other players, but politely declined saying he had urgent business to attend to in the study.

Laura pondered Hy’s odd behavior for a moment. He seemed suspicious. It was as if there was something hidden behind that thorny thicket that he didn’t want her to see. Well, Laura von Weems wasn’t one to be daunted so easily. She was a clever young lady. She would wait until everyone had retired to their bedchambers for the evening and when she was sure they were all asleep, she would creep out into the night with a flashlight to find out the secret of where those narrow moldy steps descended. What could be cloaked behind that heavy iron door she saw down in those threatening shadows? Had she really heard a disembodied voice calling her name?

Of course the moment Ryan got home that evening, Laura wanted to know why he was wearing a glove on his right hand. He stuck to his fabricated story explaining that he had burned his hand with acid and thus had to coat it with a special ointment which cooled and numbed the pain while promoting rapid healing. The glove had to stay on his hand to keep the ointment in place and protect against accidentally aggravating the injury. It would be all right in a couple of days. Nothing to worry about.

She then proceeded to tell Ryan of the cryptic family lore his younger brother had revealed to her that afternoon. To this not surprising news, Ryan rolled his eyes in overt disgust.

“Laura, my darling, you really mustn’t pay any attention to my brother’s wild tales. He has an overactive imagination. He’d really do quite well as a fiction writer. Hy has been infatuated with that silly photograph since we were children. It is a fact that our long-deceased cousin was stung by a Red Scorpion in India, but the rest is all Hy’s made-up fantasy. The poor girl died within twenty-four hours of being stung. Her body is interred in the family vault in a graveyard in Suffolk.

“Why my great great grandfather purchased this acreage and decided to live here in Maine is a matter of conjecture and speculation, but, whatever the reason, it certainly has nothing to do with a curse. Shah Malabra was simply a girl who met with an unfortunate demise - end of story.”

Ryan sighed despondently, “I’m tired, my dear. I don’t mean to sound grumpy. Your birthday starts at midnight tonight and our wedding is tomorrow. It’s been such a long trying day. I need to shower so I can rest, but I know how excited you are, so we’ll have a little chat before bedtime.”

Laura hugged her exhausted fiancé, “You might not be much of a romantic, my dear Ryan, but you are a hard worker and I know that you love me with all your sensible practical heart.”

Ryan smiled at Laura, “You bet I do. I’ve got the most beautiful loving bride in the world.” He was about to say something else to prove that he wasn’t merely a boring stuffed shirt when his cell phone began ringing.

“Oh no,” Laura moaned, “don’t answer it. This is our private time together - our very last moments before we are wed.”

“I’m afraid I must answer, darling.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s apparently a call from the Crook County Sheriff’s Office.”

Laura’s expression was one of disappointment, but she said nothing. Probably a death call. He would have to go tend to a corpse in either his capacity as medical examiner or Lily of the Valley mortician. Which, now that she thought about it, was all right with Laura, because the servants, guests, and Hy would all be asleep, so that the minute Ryan departed for his distasteful duty, she could grab a flashlight and sneak out to discover what lay behind the dense prickly thicket at the far end of the croquet lawn.

When the call ended, Ryan looked at Laura for a moment.

“Ryan, whatever is the matter? Was it bad news? You look positively tormented. Why the worried expression?”

“It’s probably nothing, but for some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, I have bad feeling about tonight . Will you do me a favor, Laura?”

“Of course! Anything for you, my darling! You know you don’t have to ask that!”

Ryan smiled ever so faintly, realizing how bizarre his request was probably going to sound, “Please lock the door and stay here in your room until I return. I won’t be gone long.”

“What? Ryan, you’re not making any sense!”

He placed his hands on hers, “Please, Laura, I know it sounds weird, but please do as I ask. I’ll be back before you know it.”

Laura crinkled her face into a pout, “When you get a death call, sometimes you are gone for hours!”

“I won’t be tonight, I assure you. Please promise me you’ll stay locked here in the safety of your room until I return?” Laura maintained her pout for a moment, then smiled and batted her long luxurious eyelashes, “Okay, Ryan, my true love, I promise.”

Ryan kissed his pretty bride and left. He listened as she locked the door behind him. Laura also listened. As soon as she heard the car door close and the engine start, she stood at her upstairs window and watched as the red tail lights faded out of the driveway. Then she leaped into action!

Hy, the servants, and all the guests had retired to their rooms early in preparation for the big day tomorrow. Everyone was probably already asleep. Donning her housecoat, Laura ran downstairs to the kitchen pantry where she found a flashlight. Shoving her bare feet into her hiking boots by the back door, the mischievous soon-to-be lady-of-the-house crept out alone into the autumn chill of the dark night. Her skin tingled all over with impish delight at her clandestine adventure.

What Laura didn’t know was that Hy wasn’t in his room. She also didn’t know that the big knife was missing from the curio in the study.

Arriving at the dense thorny thicket, a very expectant Laura aimed her flashlight all around in search of some means of passing unscathed through the dangerous undergrowth. If she couldn’t find an easy way in, she would dash over to the tool shed for the manual hedge trimmers. She wouldn’t want to turn on a power tool to alert others of her covert activity in the quiet stillness of the cool dark night.

It was at this pivotal moment that an odd thought occurred to Laura. It was something that had irked and vexed her all afternoon. Some subtle connection between the macabre family legend and recent events. This troublesome vagueness dominated her mind to the extent that she wasn’t paying any attention to where her flashlight was shining. She was so absorbed by the querulous quandary that she would have passed right over a path through the thorns without noticing it.

Suddenly, like a sleuth in a mystery novel, Laura experienced a profound leap of intuition - the elusive connection had finally been made. The subtle worry that had gnawed at her subconscious all afternoon was the fact that the victims of the rash of barbaric murders during the last six weeks had all been young women who had recently reached their eighteenth year of life. Laura stopped waving her flashlight around and stood erect and motionless as the realization dawned on her that at midnight tonight, she herself would be eighteen.

Her cheeks flushed with heat of embarrassment and fear of danger. She scolded herself mercilessly. Why had she not thought of this earlier? Why hadn’t she had this critical revelation while she was still locked safely in her bedroom? Why had she not obeyed her caring fiancé's injunction to remain in her room? No wonder Ryan said he had a bad feeling about tonight!

Laura was about to spin round and race back to the mansion when a deep voice from immediately behind froze the paranoid damsel in her tracks. Her natural instinct was to cry out for help, but fear gripped tightly at her neck, locking her voice in her throat. Laura von Weems could not utter so much as a faint squeak.

The phone call that had come in for Ryan was not to summon him to a crime scene, but to the morgue. Police cars were parked outside the entrance that led down into the basement of the hospital. When the medical examiner walked in he was greeted by Burt McGruder, a homicide investigator with the Crook County Sheriff’s Department.

“Sorry to disturb you so late at night, Doc, but your morgue has seen some excitement.”

Ryan saw a sheet draped over something on the floor. He knew by the silhouette of the bulging belly that the motionless body under that morbid covering could be none other than Clarence Neff, the night watchman.

“What happened?”

“Well, Doc, it seems you’ve got a dead night watchman and a missing corpse.”

Ryan pulled the sheet back and, from the dark discoloration and terrible swelling around the throat, knew immediately the cause of death. He felt of the spine at the base of the skull. The night watchman’s head lolled about as if it weren’t connected to the rest of his body.

The medical examiner stood up, “His neck’s been broken.”

“How, Doc? Don’t tell me he slipped on a smear of formaldehyde and fell hard enough to snap his own neck?”

Ryan shook his head, “No, no, a simple fall couldn’t do that. It would take something very powerful to cause the kind of damage that has been done to poor Clarence. His cervical vertebrae have been shattered as if they had been crushed in the steel jaws of a metal vice.”

“Well, what about the missing corpse, Doc? You think it just got up off the autopsy table and walked out of here?”

Ryan’s expression was one of confusion mingled with growing concern, “I don’t know, Burt. I don’t have an explanation for this unorthodox situation.”

McGruder looked thoughtful for a moment, then, “The brutality of this crime in combination with the mysteriously missing cadaver makes me wonder if what happened here tonight has anything to do with the eighteen-year-old girls who have been murdered during the last six weeks. We found that Jane Doe in the same alley where the slaying of the last victim occurred. Do you think there’s a connection?”

Ryan was suddenly stricken by the fact that at midnight tonight his beautiful young bride would become eighteen years of age. In a raspy voice that was barely more than a strained whisper, the horrified medical examiner intoned her name, “Laura!”

“What?” The homicide investigator was surprised to see Ryan running like a madman out of the morgue, “Hey wait a minute, Doc! We’re not through here! Hey, where you goin’?”

Arriving back at the Coleridge mansion, Ryan bolted upstairs to Laura’s room.

“Please, let her still be safely locked in her room,” he muttered to himself as he bounded up the stair steps two at the time. His heart sunk down into a part of him he didn’t even know existed when he discovered the door to Laura’s room thrown wide open and his bride nowhere in sight.

He charged back down. At the bottom of the stairs he ran into the old cook, Margie, who stood comically clad in housecoat, nightcap, and bedroom slippers, gaping at her distressed employer.

“Margie, dear sweet Margie, have you seen Laura? Do you know where she is? When I went out on a death call awhile ago, I begged her to remain in her room until I got back, but her door’s open and she’s not there!”

The loyal old cook placed a trembling hand over her mouth as tears welled up in her rheumy eyes.

“What’s the matter, Margie? What’s wrong? Speak to me! If you know something, tell me, please!”

The trembling cook looked over her shoulder as if to make sure she wasn’t being overheard, then turned to Ryan and spoke in a quavering whisper, “Mr. Ryan, sir, I don’t know how to tell you this, but, I saw your beautiful bride take a flashlight from the pantry and walk out into the night. She went out in hiking boots and nightgown across the back lawn, and Mr. Ryan, sir,”

“Yes? Yes, Margie, what is it woman! Speak!”

“I saw your own brother, Mr. Hy, following out after her! Mr. Hy thinks no one else knows about that buried crypt that your great great grandfather had dug in secret, but I’ve known for many years, sir. Mrs. Brimley who trained me when I first came to work here when I was no older than your young bride told me in confidence. How she found out, I never did know, but she made me swear an oath that I would never tell another soul, and I haven’t until this very moment, and still wouldn’t have, but under these unusual circumstances, I think I’m right in breaking my oath.

Your bride was going in the direction of the secret crypt and your brother was following after her! You’ve always been so good to me sir, and I’ve known you since you were a baby!”

After her monumentally consequential confession, the tired old cook was emotionally overwhelmed. She could bear up under the disheartening strain no longer. Turning away from her master, the loyal old servant waddled back to her own room, sobbing as she went.

Ryan was dumbfounded, “Secret buried crypt? Laura and Hy out there in the darkness? What could be the meaning of all this? What could the two of them possibly be doing, out there alone in the night?”

The medical examiner’s confused mind was whirling with myriad conjecture and supposition - all of it distastefully unthinkable. He ran past the dimly flickering embers of the fireplace through the study and out onto the back lawn. He had no idea which direction he should go, and was desperately racking his brain for some idea about what to do next when he clearly and distinctly heard his precious bride Laura screaming as though an evil claw from Hell had reached up from the Bottomless Pit to tear savagely at her innocent flesh.

Running across a lawn at night is a hazardous occupation, because in the shadows one has difficulty discerning dangerous obstacles which might obtrude ones means of egress. Stepping on a croquet ball in the near total darkness, Ryan’s foot rolled over under his weight. A sharp pain shot up through his leg and he collapsed in weakness, trembling from the piercing agony of a badly sprained ankle. He cried out at the terrible hurt that felt like hot lava was being poured through his skin penetrating right down into the bone marrow.

Using a pair of croquet mallets as makeshift crutches, Ryan Coleridge, bent over at the waist to keep weight off the hurt ankle, hobbled as quickly as he could toward the location of Laura’s desperate horrified screams.

Ryan didn’t know of a way around the thorny thicket, so he plunged straight through, the sharp points rending his clothes and piercing his skin. After muscling through the harsh undergrowth, the bleeding medical examiner tumbled down the narrow stone steps and into the crypt, his injured ankle horrendously swollen, puffy as a water balloon.

The cold underground chamber was eerily illuminated by several flickering candles. Ryan released his croquet mallet crutches and fell to the hard rocky floor aghast and appalled at the terrifying shock of the unspeakable horror that met his wide unbelieving eyes.

Laura was lying flat on her back on the icy stone floor of the shadowy crypt. Hy was kneeling over her prostrate body. He was working at her lovely chest with something.

Ryan vomited when he saw - it was the big knife from the curio, the Dagger of Daayan.

Standing and turning to his brother, Hy held up Laura’s heart, blood trickling down his pale naked wrist and onto his forearm.

“You’re just in time, Ryan! I had to wait till midnight, you understand. She had to be eighteen when her heart was removed. You’re about to witness the greatest occult sensation since the Law of Thelema was communicated to Aleister Crowley by the Stele of Revealing all the way back in 1904! It may seem a primitive method, dear brother, but it is astonishingly effective!”

In the overwhelming fervor of his sadistic act of depraved perversity, Hy threw his head back and laughed psychotically.

Ryan’s ears grated at the revolting sound of his neurotic brother’s unhinged voice. Groping for a croquet mallet, Ryan Coleridge had but one object in mind - the enraged medical examiner wanted to brain his younger brother. Hy turned to an embalming table beside him from which he removed a white sheet. Ryan recoiled in horror at the gruesome sight of the desiccated mummified body - the godawful aged corpse that was missing from the morgue.

Using the Dagger of Daayan, Hy opened the chest cavity of the lifeless cadaver. He removed something from inside, a smutty object that resembled a lump of coal. It was a stomach-churning sacrilege what Hy did next. He placed the blood-soaked heart of Ryan’s murdered beloved bride Laura into the grotesque bosom of that hideous emaciated corpse.

A bolt of spectral green lightning was immediately followed by a deafening clap of thunder. Ryan was mortified beyond description at what he was witnessing. It was too much for his reeling brain. He was growing faint. The scrawny shriveled corpse began to move. The monstrous thing reared itself up to a sitting position!

Hy began chanting some inscrutable babble. All Ryan could make out were the last few phrases uttered by his ravenously insane brother, “With the Dagger of Daayan, I command you, Shah Malabra! Your supernatural powers of witchcraft have become mine! You shall obey my every command! You shall do my bidding! With this ancient knife of the Forbidden Occult, I control thee! As above, so below! Mote it be!”

The vile corpse was standing now, a grotesque abomination mottled all over with cankerous sores; thin strands of long gray hair sagging in ghostly putrescence from a nearly bald head. The bluish-gray powdery substance - the same as had been found at the crime scenes of the recently murdered girls - completely covered the reanimated dead body. The bloody heart of Ryan’s slain bride now beat loudly in the badly decomposed breast of this phantasmagoric obscenity.

It was Hy’s turn to be shocked. The gory thing he had raised from the grave was not obeying his triumphantly voiced commands. The gruesome monstrosity reached for Hy’s throat.

“Stop, Shah Malabra! In the name of the Dagger of Daayan, I command thee! The power of the dagger compels thee! Stop! Stop! No! No! Oh my god, No!”

The loathsome thing clutched Hy’s throat in its powerful grip, ugly pasty skin stretched tight over skeletal bone. It made a quick jerking motion. Ryan’s stomach retched again at the sound of his brother’s neck breaking. Hy’s head rolled unnaturally about, limp as a discarded rag. The ghoulish corpse threw the murdered body onto the hard ground then stepped down on the defenseless skull. Ryan closed his eyes against the blood-curdling noise of cracking bone as Hy’s ruptured hemorrhaging brain oozed onto the cold stone of the crypt floor.

The grisly monstrosity turned its dark soulless eyes on Ryan, who was petrified with debilitating fear. The sinister thing began moving toward him, but the injured ankle prevented rapid retreat. Ryan was convinced he was facing certain death. The overwhelming odds against survival combined with the fiery pain shooting up his leg to wilt away all hope. For a moment, the spirit-broken medical examiner wanted to die, then he heard the soft heavenly voice, musical as a choir of angels. It was emanating from the decayed flesh of the resurrected corpse that loomed over him.

“Ryan, my darling, I have waited generations for you!”

He looked up. All rational thought departed his throbbing brain. In the center of the monster’s palm was an unsightly blotch exactly matching the one on Ryan’s own hand. By some cunning power of the occult, he no longer saw a disgusting rotting cadaver, but instead a young woman of surpassing beauty. To his utter dismay, it was the sensual visage of the girl in the old photograph that sat on the mantel above the fireplace. Ryan Coleridge was looking into the hypnotic eyes of the legendary Shah Malabra.

Her zombie pupils burned like red rubies.  Viscous and smutty as unrefined crude, the tears of a hundred years of imprisoned sorrow came flooding from those pitifully lonely eyes. She knelt on the floor and embraced the helpless medical examiner in her thin repellent arms.

The lurching horror pressed itself against the twenty-nine-year-old Coleridge heir. She could sense the godlike power emanating from his Return of Saturn. The hideous abomination spoke softly, her icy breath of death chilling his hearkening ear with the prescience of the age-old curse.

“I can give you what you want, Ryan,” the erotic voice of the cadaver woman was turning him on, “You covet the Nobel Prize,” the grotesque thing cooed, “I can give it to you, my darling. All things are possible through me. I can make your dreams become reality. All your ambitious desires I can fulfill, for I am in touch with a dimension which holds the keys to Earthly success! Kiss me! Kiss me, my handsome lover!”

The dry pasty wrinkled strips of thin leather that stretched over the yellowed teeth of the petrified skull were to Ryan soft and succulent as rose petals. With eager acceptance he yielded to the monster, locking lips with her in a deep passionate kiss.

“Hold me, Ryan! Embrace me, my lover! We are soul mates! The destiny of our eternal bond is written in the immortal stars! Kiss me! Make sweet love to me!”

The animal magnetism was wildly overpowering, searing Ryan’s flesh with hot desire for his haunting female cousin. He could taste the carnal lust in her hungry mouth. The pragmatic medical examiner was psychologically and emotionally engulfed. He couldn’t stop himself from falling hopelessly in love with the detestable thing from the grave that was defiling his living flesh with hex-spawned fornication.

He wanted her. He needed her. He desired her. Struggling in vain, his will fell, lost in urgency, before the phantom onslaught of the reeking creature’s irresistible allure. He would devote his life to this ghostly damsel from a century before. He would obey her every command. At a word from this charnel creature, Ryan Coleridge would kill.

Caught in the ecstatic rapture of this nightmare moment of unparalleled romantic blind devotion, Ryan didn’t notice the heavy metal door of the dark dank crypt as it rotated malevolently on its squeaky rusted hinges to forever entomb him in the icy Stygian silence of the hidden underground grotto with his savagely slain bride, his brutally murdered deceitful brother, and the rotting remains of the immortally cursed Shah Malabra.

For a continuation of macabre chills authentically penned by Sean Terrence Best, read the epic supernatural thriller Bloodstone and Broomcorn: Curse of the W.I.T.C.H.

The published books authored by Sean Terrence Best are available via Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble, and many other booksellers.


© Copyright 2018 Sean Terrence Best. All rights reserved.