The lifting of the Veil.

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

What lies beyond the veil covering the past can be fatal.

She could no more avoid this new morning ritual than she could breathing, she would rise early and be the first resident in the dining hall. A hearty breakfast and a leisurely read of the morning paper, followed by a stroll around the magnificently landscaped grounds of the retirement home, was what she had previously considered the perfect start for the new day. But these simple pleasures were now replaced by this new ritual. Margret Price would now hurriedly gobble down her breakfast and be back in her room before most other residents had even visited the dining room. She had even considered having her meals brought to her room, but she thought this might draw attention to the fact that all was not well with her.

Margret had carefully cultivated a certain persona for the outside world over the past few years, and it had served her well. She was always polite but with a good deal of aloofness towards others, she never allowed anyone to get too close to her. This had enabled her to draw a veil of secrecy over her past, and by and large, she had managed to force herself to forget about that other life. Margret had wiped the slate of her life clean, she had reinvented herself. Those that she had allowed any little knowledge of her, would swear that the fragile old woman was once a successful businesswoman who chose to live out the remainder of her life in this exclusive retirement home. Even the physical image she projected was faux; there was nothing fragile about her. Margret was sharp of mind and possessed a hidden physical strength.

Up until two weeks ago, everything was well in Margret’s new life; at least it was until she received the first letter in the post. The content of the letter was just an old faded photograph of a building, not as much as one word of text was included. But it was more than enough to cause that veil in the darkest recesses of her mind to rustle as if disturbed by a sudden draft. Other letters had followed and the veil covering her past began to fail, the ghosts of the past were restless now. She knew without a doubt that once the veil was lifted, the past would destroy her. So every morning she would wolf down her breakfast without any enjoyment, before rushing back to her room. Here she would sit in the armchair staring out at the avenue below and wait for the postman to arrive. If no one came to her room with a letter in the hour after his departure, she would manage to relax. Mind you, she could not relax totally, her thoughts played a constant loop in her mind as she tried to think who was behind this.

 Her heart pounded in her chest, and the smiling young woman standing before her swam in and out of focus. “You must have an admirer, Margret”. The pretty young woman chirped in a good-humored voice. Margret managed to tear her gaze from the envelope in the woman’s hand and focus on her face. Margret attempted to return the woman’s smile but failed miserably, what was meant as a friendly smile froze as a grimace. She bit down on her tongue until she felt she would surely draw blood, it was the only way she could prevent herself from screaming in the care assistant’s face. In her mind, she screamed at the woman, “Get the fuck out of my room and take that poison letter with you”. She pictured herself smashing her silver-handled walking cane into that smiling face until it was a bloody pulp. But in the end, she just reached a trembling hand and took the accursed envelope from the smiling woman. She even managed a half-hearted thanks, while in her mind she screamed. “I hate you, and I hope you die in agony”.

Margret placed the envelope on the side table and turned her attention to the magnificent landscaped gardens below. But the magnificent vista below her faded from view, as her mind’s eye showed her a different vision. A vision of a time and place she had spent the last two decades trying to forget. The most disturbing thing about this was the fact that a part of her missed those times. It was dusk by the time she managed to tear herself from the dark muse, a tray on the side table contained her untouched lunch. Yet, she had no recollection of anyone having brought it to her room; she had lifted the veil and immersed herself in the past. But now that she had, she felt strangely calm. For the first time in two weeks, her mind began to function properly again, a situation had presented itself and she would have to deal with it. Whoever was behind this torment would pay dearly, and when it was dealt with, the veil would once more be placed firmly over the past.

The most recent photograph like the others was faded, but unlike the previous ones, this one contained people. Margret went to her chest of drawers and retrieved a magnifying glass, and even though the image was emblazoned clearly in her newfound memories. She still held it under the standing lamp and examined it with the magnifying glass. It was of a group of children standing in an orchard, their faces locked in a blank expression as they stared into the lens. The dour-looking children were arranged in a semi-circle, and behind them stood three adults. Well in truth there were two adults and a man child, the simpleton looked strangely out of place in the setting. His dim features fixed in a permanent look of confusion, one of his shoulders hung lower than the other in a lopsided posture. Margret could visualize his hunch back and twisted right foot, even though they were not shown in this image.

To the left of the malformed adolescent stood a tall thin man dressed in clerical garb, the priest’s attempt at a smile looked more akin to a scowl. But it was the figure standing to the left of the priest that captured her attention, even though the wimple exposed only her young face there was no mistaking her image. The face was rounder and without a wrinkle, but no one could mistake that it was Margret. Except for back when this photograph was taken, Margret Price did not yet exist. The young woman in the picture went under the name Sr Agnus, and it was her secrets that lay hidden behind the veil in Margret’s mind. Margret went to her bedside locker and retrieved the other photographs she had received; she laid them out on her bed and studied them. Whoever had sent them to her had a clear message for her; the sender was letting her know that they knew about her past life. Funnily enough, the photographs no longer terrified her, for the old feelings had been stirred inside her. Those emotions of anger and cruelty she had buried, now rose to the surface.

The woman sitting at the desk in the public library bore little resemblance to the woman that had got out of the taxi two hours previous. As soon as the cab had driven away, Margret had taken a wide-brimmed hat from her bag and dark glasses to hide her features. But the most striking difference was in her demeanor. The woman who had walked into the library bore not the slightest hint of fragility or timidness; she strode into the building with an air of confidence and purpose. Now she trolled through the newspaper archives for any scrap of information on the institution she had once run with an iron fist, but most importantly she looked for any references to the staff or anybody with close links to the orphanage. By the time the library was due to close, she had two names written down. One was the priest from the last photograph, and one was the malformed simpleton. It was hard to believe but she was certain that it was one of those names behind the letters she had been receiving.

The man before her was nothing more than a living cadaver, the rheumy eyes staring at a point someplace far beyond the walls of the small room. Spittle ran in a constant stream from the corner of his slack mouth, the parchment-like skin of his chin looked raw and inflamed. The curtains were only opened a crack and the gloominess of the small room felt oppressive, Margret took a step closer to the figure slumped in the armchair, up close the dying man looked even more horrific. The ammonia stench of urine hung around him like a shroud, she called his name softly but nothing registered in those glazed eyes. Margret’s mind struggled to reconcile the skeletal figure before her with the man she had once conspired with, her fellow partner in hideous crime had faired a lot worse than her over the past two decades. Her mind fled from that death room and took her to a time when the dying man looked different from this pitiful creature.

She was a mere girl of twenty-five when she first walked through the doors of Saint Margret’s home for wayward girls, the tall dour-looking priest that met her at the front door made her nervous. But little did she know they would form a bond that would leave her soul beyond redemption, and at the same time leave her finically secure in the twilight of her years. Fr James Quincey had seen something dark in her, and before long he had nurtured that darkness into something terrifying. He had taken her hand and led her down the dark path of grievous sin, and she had followed willingly. The system was already in place when she came to the home; young women shunned by their communities would come to Saint Margret’s to have their unwanted babies. For the duration of their stay, the wayward women would be press-ganged into either the laundry or the sewing room; their labors were hired out to the community. It was a simple industry that paid for their keep and turned a meager profit for the home.

Margret was quick to see that the home had much greater potential; Saint Margret’s had a policy of persuading the young mothers to place their unwanted offspring up for adoption. It did not take much persuading to get James Quincey to see the commercial possibilities in the adoption side of things. It became especially easy to gain his support once she began to cater for the carnal side of his nature, she had turned the tables in short order. Now it was she that made the decisions and he followed on, the corrupted had become the corrupter. The more desirable babies were sold to the highest bidder, and soon they had an international market for their produce. The weaker and less appealing children that had once become the responsibility of St Margret’s, was another problem she quickly solved. The runts of the litter as she thought of these children were simple placed to one side for nature to take its course. The finances of the institution improved modestly under her management, while her finances improved exponentially.

The pitiful creature in the chair made a disturbing whimpering sound, which brought her mind back to the present. She moved closer thinking he was about to speak and the stench hit her, the old priest had soiled himself. For some reason this made her furious, to think that she had once allowed this disgusting thing to share her bed. For a brief moment, she had an overwhelming urge to put her hands around his scrawny neck and choke the life from him. But the fear of drawing even more attention to herself prevented her from acting; she contented herself with lifting his head by the hair and spitting in his face. This man was not the one that threatened her; he was not long for this world. She needed to find out what had become of the hunchbacked simpleton, something deep inside her had convinced her that he had something to do with this. Why she thought this she could not say, but perhaps the fact that she had been particularly cruel to him was the reason. She stopped at the door as she was leaving, and turned once again to the old priest. “Goodbye James, I will see you in hell”. She whispered but he made no reply.

The next couple of days saw her make frequent trips from the retirement home; she scoured the archives and diocesan records for any mention of the hunch back. She even went to the register of deaths for the area but there was no mention of a Michael Crawford. The hunch back seemed to have disappeared from the face of the earth, and when a couple of weeks passed without any more anonymous correspondence she began to allow herself to believe it had all passed. But then the dreams began vivid images of how she had abused him over the years. She had taken every opportunity to make the hunch back’s life a living hell; she had beaten him and humiliated him at every turn. Michael Crawford was the only subject she could not bend the priest to her will on, she had wanted him thrown out of the institution and left to his own devices.

 But the priest was not for turning on the subject. So she carried out a regime of torture on the malformed youth. She especially liked to make him bury the runts that had passed on in the orchard; she could see the toll this task had on him. He would lay the bodies gentle to rest and cry over the graveside uncontrollably for hours on end, he would not eat for days and cry himself to sleep at night. When the institution finally closed she had hoped that he would die alone on the streets, she even checked the daily papers to see if there was news of him being found dead. But then the stories of abuse in the religious institutions began to find their way into the press, and Sr Angus had to be laid to rest. She pushed all memories of her past to the darkest reaches of her mind and drew a veil over them. She became Margret Price and moved into the luxury retirement home, and her life changed until those accursed letters began to arrive.

Almost a month had passed without any further correspondence, and Margret convinced herself that the threat had gone. She had even taken to enjoying her breakfast again and a leisurely browse through the morning paper. But one particular morning her re-discovered tranquillity was badly shaken. The headline on the paper jumped out at her, and she gasped. “Site of an old institution to be re-developed.” A photograph of St Margret’s below the headline brought an involuntary shiver to her, the old place had become severely dilapidated and the image had a foreboding feel to it. She hurried to her room taking the paper with her; the thought of machinery digging in the old grounds terrified her. Suddenly the ghosts of the past seemed all too close. In her room she once again took her seat overlooking the approach to the home, she attempted to read the article in more detail but her mind would not take it in. In the end, she threw it in the corner of the room and concentrated on her vigil.

It came as no surprise to her when the smiling carer arrived with the envelope; she just took it from the smiling girl’s hand and turned her back until she left the room. Even though the figure at the window in the image still appeared blurred under the magnifying glass, she knew instinctively it was the hunchback. Margret also knew what message this image was meant to convey. A time of reckoning had arrived; he was summoning her to the old building. But Margret was no longer afraid, the old priest’s mind had turned to soup, and the hunchback was the only living person that could connect her to what went on there. Her mind was made up now, she would confront the simpleton in that place and only one of them would leave that place alive. Now that she had decided on a course of action she felt almost elated, for the first time in many years she felt in charge. She would visit that place one more time, and the past would be banished forever.

It was dusk when the cab pulled up on the quiet country lane, out here there were no streetlights but a silvery moon provided ample illumination. The silver light of the moon glinted dully on the kitchen knife in her bag as she retrieved the money for the fare; she paid the driver and arranged for him to pick her up in the same spot in two hours. Margret waited until the taillights of the cab had disappeared before walking a hundred yards to the entrance of the institution. It came as no surprise to find the door of the old building standing ajar, she walked inside with hesitation. The sound of glass crunching beneath her feet seemed unnaturally loud in the old building; the moonlight streaming through the grime-covered windows illuminated the decay surrounding her. She paused for a moment in the entrance hall and allowed her mind to imagine the place as it once was, the vision was powerful and she fancied she could still smell the candle wax and furniture polish.

A half-heard whisper jolted her back to the present. A shadow darted in her peripheral vision and the faint sound of footsteps ascending the stairs reached her ears. For a brief moment a wave of panic surged inside her, she thought of turning around and fleeing. But as quickly as it arrived, the panic subsided. It was replaced by a wave of burning anger and determination, she strode purposefully towards the stairs determined to confront whoever was up there. The ornate staircase that once gleamed with wax polish was now covered in a thick layer of grey dust. She hesitated at the bottom step as no footprints were visible in the layers of dust; the thought that she had imagined the footsteps caused her to doubt herself. But the sound of someone moving on the upper landing drove her on; she took the knife from her purse and hurried up the stairs. On the landing she caught a glimpse of movement ahead of her; she followed the figure down a dark hallway. Margret turned a corner and the hallway ahead was flooded with silver moonlight, it was plain to see she was alone.

The source of the moonlight was a large arched window and she found herself drawn to it, she gazed outside and found herself looking at the overgrown orchard below. A figure moved in an awkward shuffle out of the shadow, and Michael Crawford came into view. The hunch back stood lopsided in the open, his eyes fixed firmly on the window above. The simmering anger inside her now reached a crescendo; she grasped the handle of the knife so hard her fingers ached. But something about the whole thing was not right, and she was halfway down the stairs before her mind made sense of it. The figure in the orchard did not look a day older than when she had last seen him, if the rage had not consumed her she may have stopped to consider this. Instead, she made her way to the rear of the building intent on nothing less than murder, consumed with the hatred she was blind to the sounds of crying children that echoed through the empty building. She had come here to bring an end to all this, and nothing would stop her.

The backdoor leading to the orchard was wide open and she rushed outside with little regard for her safety, the empty vista before her brought her to a sudden halt. Confused now she moved forward with more caution, the hunchback must be hiding somewhere. Moving with more stealth now she crept forward, something moved behind an apple tree and she surged forward. It took her a while to comprehend what she was looking at; the roughhewn wooden cross had a name carved into it. Bending low she traced her fingers across the faded lettering. “Michael Crawford.” and a date had been carved into the wood. It was a date less than one year after she had last seen him. The knife dropped from her hand as the confusion raged inside her, but the confusion was quickly replaced by an unfathomable terror as the ground beneath her feet began to undulate. The tiny skeletal hands that broke the clay grasped her legs like teeth; she had been drawn beneath the cloying soil before she even realized what was taking place.

The burst of crackling sound from the radio startled him; as he was won’t do lately; Joe Melfort had been lost in his thoughts. The dispatcher's disembodied voice drifted from the radio, and his first instinct was to ignore it. Joe was due to retire at the end of the month, but in truth, he had retired in his mind years ago. Thirty years as a police officer sounded like a worthwhile contribution to society, but Joe knew different. By and large, his entire career had passed in a blur of mind-numbing boredom, occasionally interrupted by short periods of frightening activity. The one thing that he could honestly say he had learned from the whole thing, was the fact that people were capable of strange things. He had also learned that there was very little new in this world, he had seen it all, and nothing surprised or shocked him anymore. The dispatcher’s ghostly voice once more interrupted his train of thought, there had been some incident at a construction site. He listened to the address which was less than a mile from the layby he had parked up in, and against his better judgment he responded.

The moment the big old building came into view an uncomfortable feeling came over him, it was nothing more than an old abandoned building. Yet something about the place felt sinister, an urge came over him to turn the patrol car and drive in the opposite direction. But the rational part of his mind convinced him that the incident would be nothing he had not seen plenty of over the years. The big heavyset man with the high visibility jacket stood waiting for him in the front yard of the building, a cigarette dangled from the corner of his mouth and his hands fidgeted with the hard hat he held. The construction worker looked as if he had just seen a ghost, and just beckoned Joe to follow him. Around the back of the building, the huge earth-moving machine stood motionless in a dilapidated orchard, the driver stood back and pointed with a trembling hand at a hole in the ground.

Joe Melfort stared into the hole and a sudden thought came to him, he had to admit that this was a first. The body of the old woman looked as if had been buried yesterday, but it was covered with tiny skeletons and the skeleton of a deformed adult. The strangest thing was someone had arranged the skeletons like a veil over the woman, and they looked as if they were holding her beneath the earth. For the first time in thirty years, Joe began to think that there were strange things in the world that he had not yet seen.  

Submitted: February 08, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Patrick G Moloney. All rights reserved.

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