Collector of secrets.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: The Dark And Suspenseful

Madge Cummins always wanted to know people's secrets, but curiosity killed the cat.

The hissing sound brought her back to the outside world, to the place where she was less than she should be. Increasingly she lived inside her head, her private world where she was in control of everything. Madge Cummins watched as the column of steam began rising from the kettle spout, and she vaguely wondered when it had all started. This obsession that had consumed all of her adult life, but the origins she was sure, dated even further back. She never had what could be described as a real childhood, when the other kids deposited their school bags in the hallway and went out to play; Madge rolled up her sleeves and helped at home. She had nursed her ailing father and did the housework, while her mother tended to the running of the post office. When she reached sixteen she became postmistress in all but name, until finally her mother passed away and she officially took over the post.

While all the girls she grew up with went dancing and had their first experiences with boys, Madge was confined to her world. There was no furtive fumbling of hands beneath her skirts, even though her passion burned as fiercely as any girl her age. Madge had to be content to satisfy her feverish desires in her head in the darkness of her room; this she believed was the catalyst to her obsession. A memory came to her of the first time she had indulged her obsession, in her mind’s eye she saw every little detail of it. Even now thinking about it excited her, and tingling spread from the center of her being. It had been a letter addressed to Michael Crawford, a boy she had fantasized about a great deal. The writing was easily recognizable, for she had sat beside Jennifer Higgins for two years at school, and would know her handwriting anywhere.

The steam from the kettle had easily lifted the flap of the cheap envelope and granted her access to Jennifer’s letter. Thinking back now it was the adolescent ramblings of an infatuated girl, but oh, the pleasure Madge gained from reading it. She vividly pictured Michael Crawford having his way with the infatuated Jennifer, and she had pleasured herself right there at the kitchen table. Even now at almost forty years of age, Madge felt her passions rising at the thought of that first time. So began Madge’s obsession and her secret life, there had been thousands of letters since and countless packages. She had perfected her methods to the extent, that there were very few envelopes or packages she could not open and reseal, in such a manner that no one was ever the wiser. This was Madge’s way of being part of a world that had left her behind; she had become the keeper of their secrets.

The second best part of Madge’s day was meeting the people whose private correspondence she had just read, the post office was contained within the grocery shop that Madge also owned. It was the perfect setting for Madge as it was the last grocery shop to remain in the parish, so anyone that did not want to drive fifteen miles to town had to depend on her shop. So night after night she read their mail, and day after day they presented themselves for her scrutiny. Madge had her nicknames for them all, usually based on the secrets she knew about them. She would stand behind the counter and name them in her head. Margret Liston was the adulterer, Philomena Pierce was the harlot, and the list was quite extensive.

This parish had them all, adulterers, prostitutes, informers, and even a murderer; she was especially pleased with what she had learned about the local clergy of both denominations. The juicier or downright evil the secrets, the more she liked them. Not that she would ever repeat them; they were for her mind only, and she would take them to the grave with her. Joe McConnell the local cattle dealer was a big strapping man, Madge had pleasured herself several times while imagining bedding him. However, it came as quite a shock to learn that he had a boyfriend called Cyril, and oh, the vivid descriptions of what they planned to get up to. That appeared in their correspondence. She sometimes toyed with the idea of trying to seduce him, just to see if he swung both ways. After all, she was still an attractive woman, with all her curves in the right places.

The high point in Madge’s life was always when someone new moved into the parish, but unfortunately, this was a rare occurrence these days. In the past fifteen years, she could only name three newcomers, mind you one of them turned out to be an interesting character. He had moved here from the city, and he was blackmailing a government official. But other than that Madge had to content herself with the goings-on of the locals, but there was always a new affair brewing in the hot-blooded natives, the cheaters were being cheated on. Madge would delight when she got packages from adult mail-order catalogs, she could tell them by sight now. “Is it your birthday Mary”. She would inquire with a knowing smile; she loved to see the way the self-righteous bitches squirmed. Apart from the lack of a lover, Madge was content in her role as the keeper of their secrets. She felt intimately connected to every family and individual in the local.

Sean Scanlon retired headmaster and informer was the first to break the news, Madge had overheard him telling the local vet. The same vet that carried on the correspondence of a sexual nature, with at least three local farmer’s wives. Madge overheard him tell the vet that he had personally witnessed activity at Rosslane house; the huge stately home had been on the market for the last few years. Throughout the week it was on more people’s lips, the old stately home had been sold. The prospect of having new people to snoop on got Madge’s juices flowing, especially if they were people of means. The chances were that whoever bought it had to be extremely rich; the asking price for the big house was way beyond the average person’s means. When the upkeep of the old place was taken into consideration, then only a person with wealth could afford it. In Madge’s considerable experience it was the more successful people, which had the juiciest secrets.

The week seemed to drag on and she found it hard to concentrate on anything, her mind was filled with thoughts of who had bought the big house. Saturday morning came around and it was a beautiful crisp autumn day, Madge spent the morning clock watching. As soon as the hands reached one p.m., Madge hurried to the door and locked up. She had a quick bite to eat and headed for the garden shed where she kept her bike. She had decided it was time to check things out for herself, a trip to the big house was in order. Rosslane House was located two miles from the village, and it stood a mile off the road surrounded by acres of woodland. Ever since she was a child Madge had listened to the stories about the old mansion, legend among the locals had it that Rosslane house was haunted.

 There were many versions of the story, but they all had a common theme of Devil worship and dark deeds committed inside its walls. Not that Madge had much interest in such ramblings, but she felt that sooner or later the new residents would provide her with juicy secrets. Madge knew exactly how to approach the house without being seen, avoiding the main avenue she opted for the back avenue that led from the road to the stables. The entrance to the avenue was overgrown, and once Madge pushed her bike through the vegetation she was concealed from the outside world. Parking the bike against a tree she set out, and fifteen minutes later she was standing at the back of the stables. Keeping to the cover of the Rhododendron trees that encircled the house, she made her way to the front of the building. Two large trucks were parked by the front door, and four men were busy carrying crates and items of furniture inside.

Although she was a little too distant from the activity for her liking, she was near enough to see that some of the items being taken in looked like expense antiques. Madge stood watching the proceedings for a while, and she toyed with the idea of just walking up and questioning the movers. However, the last thing she wanted to appear as was a nosey local. After all, she held a very important position in the community, a position of trust she thought. The irony of this thought escaped her, as the curiosity bubbled inside her. The skies began to cloud over and a breeze that promised to bring rain came up, with great reluctance she decided to call a halt to her voyeurism for the day. Madge was just about to leave when she heard the sound of an approaching car, turning she saw the big car enter the yard. A Rolls Royce no less, the big black and silver car looked magnificent.

Madge stood open-mouthed as the big car came to a halt fifteen feet from her hiding place; she had only ever seen a car like it in a magazine about royalty. She barely managed to stifle a gasp, when the driver got out dressed in a full chauffeur uniform. Much to her disappointment, the chauffeur went to the back door, on the opposite side of the car from where she stood. He opened the door, but it was a while before anyone got out, eventually, a tall elegantly dressed man appeared. The occupant of the car wore a long black cashmere overcoat, a white silk scarf, and a black trilby hat. In his right hand, he held a cane with an ornate silver handle; she caught a glimpse of grey hair brushing the scarf about his neck. Even from this distance, she felt an aura of power emanating from the stranger; it was almost as if his presence filled the area.

The tall man stood leaning on the cane watching the men unload the trucks, he nodded to the driver who stood at his side, and the chauffeur took the car around to the rear of the house. For some reason Madge found herself mesmerized, and she could not take her eyes from the man’s back. Something told her that here was an individual of extreme confidence, someone that was used to having his every wish catered for. He began to walk towards the house, before stopping to take a cigar case from his pocket. Madge watched him as he lit the cigar with a gold lighter, the aromatic smoke drifted to her and tickled her nostrils. For one terrible moment, she thought she would sneeze, but thankfully the sensation passed. The tall man resumed his leisurely walk towards the front door of the house; a sense of disappointment came over as he mounted the steps. Just as he was about to enter the house he paused and turned, Madge felt he was starring directly at her. His strange grey eyes seemed to home in on her where she hid, and she felt naked under his gaze.

She had no sooner mounted her bike when the rain came; the gentle breeze was replaced with a biting wind that drove the rain into her face. By the time Madge made it home, she was chilled to the bone and soaking wet. She lit the stove that she had set since the morning, and stripped the wet clothes from her body. Wrapping a blanket about her naked body she sat in front of the fire, there she sat for hours gazing into the flames her mind on the big house. Before bedtime she ran a hot bath, soaking in the tub she closed her eyes and an image of the elegantly dressed man came to her. Something about the stranger had captured her imagination; he was quite unlike any of the local men. Sophisticated, the word came to her mind, but deep down she knew it was much more than just this. Madge pictured those intense grey eyes staring at her, it was almost as if he was there watching her bathe and goosebumps covered her skin. More than any other person she needed to know this man’s secrets, and she would bet her life they were deep and dark.

Madge looked at the letter and felt nothing, for the first time in as long as she could remember; the buzz was just not there. She had just learned that Sile Ryan was pregnant, and the father was a man of high standing in the community, who just happened to be supposedly happily married and not to Sile.  Normally such salacious gossip would bring her immense pleasure and excitement, but instead, there was just an empty feeling. For the past week, she just was not herself, nothing seemed to stimulate her waking moments. However, her sleeping moments were a different matter altogether, she was plagued by strange dreams. In the beginning, she may have described them as erotic dreams, but they had become increasingly perverse and disturbing. It was as if her mind was being corrupted, the things she found herself doing in those dreams disgusted her waking mind. Yet, night after night she found herself sexually excited, by stuff that disgusted her to imagine when she was awake.

She would wake, morning after morning, exhausted as if she had not slept at all. More than once she had awoken in the throes of an orgasm. Yet, the disjointed images she could remember from the dreams chilled her to the bone. Images of blood and debauchery horrified her, but the thing that troubled her most was the fact that she was performing these acts to satisfy an unseen observer. It was as if she was performing for the gratification of whoever watched from the shadows, and it was this that brought the excitement. Madge forced the thoughts of her dreams from her head, resealing the letter she had just steamed open she prepared for the day. Not for the first time that week she tried to convince herself, that it was all just a passing phase. But she could not shake that faint feeling of self-loathing and a growing sense of foreboding.

Things settled back to somewhat normal in the following weeks, the dreams became less frequent, or at least she could not recall her dreams on waking. She even began to regain some of the joy she got from reading other people’s correspondence, but if she was honest it was nothing like it used to be. The secrets that thrilled her now seemed slightly dull; it was as if she had begun to outgrow the petty indiscretions of the parish. More and more Madge found herself wondering about the big house and the mysterious man that had bought it. No one seemed to know whether he had a wife, or indeed if he had any company at all in the big old house. Several times she had contemplated going back there, but for some reason, the thought made her nervous. Not as much as a postcard came through her post office for the owner of Rosslane House, Madge began to think he might have a post box in town. The thought of this left her unsettled, and more than a little jealous.

It was almost a month to the day that she had traveled to Rosslane House when the high-end car pulled to a halt in the village green. Madge was in her usual position behind the counter facing the shop window, and the sight of the Rolls Royce gave her a peculiar feeling. It was just as well that she was alone in the shop because she stood like a statue watching the car, not even daring to breathe. The chauffeur opened the rear door and stood waiting, an umbrella in his hand to shelter his employer. The elegant man climbed out of the big car and said something to the driver; the man closed the umbrella and got back behind the wheel. Adjusting the collar of his coat upwards, the new owner of Rosslane House made straight for the post office. Madge watched him approach with a pounding heart, she felt giddy like a young girl on her first date. Just as he neared, she turned her back and pretended to be busy doing something, the tinkle of the bell above the door made her heart skip a beat.

 Madge felt her face flush and beads of sweat formed on her top lip, she took the time to compose herself before turning to greet the stranger. When she did face him, the welcoming smile on her face felt as if she was grinning like an idiot. He was taller than she remembered and so sophisticated looking, everything about his clothes screamed money and privilege. He wore a grey goatee beard, but the thing that was most noticeable about him was his piercing light grey eyes. In her eyes he was the most handsome man she had ever seen, she put his age around the sixty marks but he was more alluring than any of the younger men in the parish. He stood watching her, his eyes seemed to glint slightly in an amused fashion. It was only then Madge realized that she was gawping at him like a simpleton; once again she felt the heat rise into her face. She tried to think of something to say, and in the end, she just about managed “Hello”.

“Good afternoon Mrs. Cummins, it is a pleasure to meet you.” His voice was scarcely above a whisper, yet every word was enunciated to perfection. She thought she detected a slight hint of an accent, but she could not be sure. “It is Miss Cummins actually” Once she had the words out she was sorry, it sounded like she was flirting with him. “Then someone will be a very lucky man, I feel.” He took her proffered hand and brushed his lips to the back of it, his grey eyes looking deeply into hers. This old-world gesture aroused her more than anything she could remember, and she could have purred like a cat. Erotic images flooded her mind, and she could scarcely concentrate on what he was saying. By the time he had left the shop Madge was so aroused she could have jumped on him, for the first time in quite a while Madge was both happy and excited. The cause of his visit excited her almost as much as the physical attraction she felt for him, he wanted her to hold all his mail for him.

Benjamin Abelman, she kept repeating his name over and over in her head, as if by the very fact of repeating it, she would know him better. Mr. Abelman told her he had made arrangements for all his correspondence to be forwarded to her office, but better still he wanted her to hold his mail until he collected it. Abelman traveled a lot on business, and he wanted his mail kept safe until he returned. Madge could not be happier if he had proposed to her, she would have plenty of time to peruse his correspondence and learn his secrets. By the time she was finished, Madge was convinced she would know as much about Benjamin Abelman, as she knew about any of the locals. Madge moved from behind the counter and went to the window. Abelman paused before getting into the car and turned to look back, his grey eyes met hers and she went weak at the knees.

The next week passed in a blur for Madge, she lost interest in everything except the expectation of receiving some correspondence addressed to Abelman. Her nights were filled with fantasies of the most erotic kind; in her mind, she committed passionate acts with Abelman. Ten days after his visit, Madge received the first mail for Rosslane house. There were four letters and a mysterious looking package, but to her extreme frustration, the letters were sealed with wax. There was no way she could open and reseal the letters without his knowledge; this left her with just the package to work her magic on. Madge finally managed to open the oblong package, inside it contained a case of highly polished wood. The box contained a small dagger, which appeared to be fashioned from bone. It also contained a letter of provenance; the majority of this letter was in a language she was not familiar with. Madge consoled herself that she at least learned something about the man; it appeared to her that he was some kind of a collector.

Abelman thanked her and picked up the mail from the counter, the letters he put in his pocket, and then he proceeded to examine the package. He turned it over in his hand examining it as if something about the package puzzled him, now and again he took his eyes from it and looked at Madge. She knew she had resealed the package perfectly, but now it was obvious to her that he suspected she had opened the package. “Ah! Yes, I have been eagerly awaiting this; it will be a great addition to my collection.” He treated Madge to a smile that never quite reached his grey eyes. He turned to leave but suddenly stopped as if something had occurred to him. “Perhaps you might like to visit Rosslane house and see my collection, it would be nice to chat and learn about the village. I seldom have company these days, and even more seldom the company of a beautiful woman.” Madge was not quite sure how she answered his invitation as her words sounded garbled to her ear. But whatever she had said.it was arranged that he would send the car to pick her up on Saturday evening.

Madge stood in front of the mirror and cast a critical eye over her image, but she had to admit she looked well in her silk lingerie and sheer nylons. It had been an outfit she had been keeping for a special occasion, and this was as special as it got. The dress she would wear over the new underwear was a nice black number that came to just above her knees. Even at her age she still had good legs, it was just short enough to give a glimpse of stocking top when she sat on the bed and crossed her legs. The excitement had been building in her all week, and now she felt as if a fire was burning inside her. Madge had dreamed of such an occasion like this for years, and she had every intention of making the most of it. She finished doing her makeup and smiled at the results, she felt like the cat that got the cream. Downstairs she treated herself to a large glass of wine, and by the time the Rolls Royce pulled up outside she was floating.

The house itself was a bit of a disappointment, the years of neglect were still obvious and the place smelt slightly damp. However, the fact of being in the company of Benjamin Abelman, more than compensated for her surroundings. Madge was seated at one end of the long dining room table, while her host sat at the far end. The meal was served on antique platers by a sullen young man that refused to make eye contact, and if she was honest the food was not at all to her liking. The plater was piled high with some kind of meat and a few lackluster vegetables on the side, the meat was rare enough to be raw and when she cut it the blood ran freely. Watching the blood pool around her plate made her stomach queasy, but her host tucked into his with gusto. She found his eating manner slightly disturbing; he made sounds like a pig at a tough. The blood ran down his chin, and he lapped at with a tongue that seemed black in the flickering candlelight. Madge did her best to ignore his table manners and concentrated on draining her wine glass as often as she could.

When the host finally pushed his plate away from him, Madge felt a sense of relief. The tall gentleman led her to the drawing-room, to show some of his collection. It was as if he was a different man than the one at the dining table, once again he was the charming attentive man he had been in her shop. Abelman took her by the hand and led her to the glass cases that lined the wall of the big drawing-room. The touch of his hand was cool against her skin but it excited her, he gave a running commentary on the various antiquities but she was lost in her fevered thoughts. “Ah! Here we have my latest acquisition”. He came to a halt in front of a glass case containing the small dagger carved from bone. He slipped his hand around her waist and pulled her closer to him. “I am sure you have seen something like this before.” His arm tightened around her waist, and he laughed softly. Madge was torn between the excitement of his touch and the fear that he knew she had opened his package.

 The moment passed and he led her to the fireside chair, she was grateful to sit down as her legs felt shaky. Abelman filled them both drinks and sat opposite her, there he sat in silence his grey eyes looking deeply into hers. The world seemed to withdraw and all that remained were those unfathomable grey eyes, Madge felt as if she was detached from reality. When he spoke his words seemed to come from inside her head. “We have a lot in common Madge; we are both collectors of a fashion. I collect rare and unusual antiquities, and you, my dear collect secrets. I have brought you here tonight to bestow a gift on you.” Madge blinked and when her eyes opened again he was standing in front of her, his cold hands clasped either side of her head. His grey eyes seemed to glow and she felt him inside her head, then the secrets were revealed. Terrifying beyond anyone’s imagination, Madge tried to shut them out but they kept coming. Her mind was flooded with images that were horrible beyond description, this thing that was Abelman had lived countless lives. He had committed atrocities beyond human comprehension, and now she was privy to his secrets.

Madge awoke to the sound of sobbing; it took her a while to figure out that it was she that was making the sound. A furtive glance around her told her she was at her kitchen table, but something was wrong. Try as she would, she could not remember anything that had occurred since she closed that afternoon. She was just lifting the cup of tea she had made, when it happened. An almost unnoticed shift in her consciousness and the secrets came flooding back. Images of Abelman preparing the human flesh they had eaten for dinner, images of bloodletting, and unmentionable debauchery that spanned centuries. Madge clasped her hands over her face and screamed, she tore at her hair in a vain attempt to wrench those secrets from her mind. In the end, she took to banging her head off the wall, but still, they came. Secret after terrible secret, until she ran upstairs and threw herself from the bedroom window, Even as she lost her grip on life, Abelman’s secrets followed her into the darkness.

 

 

 

 


Submitted: November 14, 2020

© Copyright 2020 Patrick G Moloney. All rights reserved.

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