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After talking to Dr. Babbitt, I decided to conduct a little research on the late Mr. Buckrest at the local library. Dr. Gibson said he would look for more clues at Wingate House, and then I agreed to call him when I was done.
Nicholas Buckrest was born in Charleston in the 1930s, some sources say 1934, others record as late as 1938. He was the only child of Wallach and Roma Buckrest, from a long line of Carolina plantation owners and shipbuilders. Records of the Buckrest clan in the Carolinas or anywhere else go as far back as 1819, where John William Buckrest began his farming operations in Lowcountry. By the time Nicholas had come along, the Buckrest family had accumulated a great deal of wealth, building Wingate House and owning much property in the region. Before the Civil War, the Buckrests were owners of a vast plantation that was destroyed during the war. With nothing left to show but a few hundred acres around the cherished manor, the Buckrests decided to venture to the sea. Over time, the grand, vaulted name of the Buckrest clan, so surreptitiously appearing in the annals of South Carolina, and specifically Charleston lore, ebbed away until all that was left was the last one, the singleton Nicholas Buckrest.
According to my research, Nicholas was an odd child. He was admonished for burying a neighbor’s cat alive; when his father found out what his son did, he ran to save the animal, but it was too late. The reports say that Nicholas was shy and had few friends. His closest acquaintance was a peculiar individual named Manning Drachma, an abandoned Gypsy boy who was raised by the du Bois family. The boys met in kindergarten and became fast friends, the strange combination of the two and their activities unnerving their classmates and teachers. For example, during recess, while the other boys played games appropriate for their age, Manning and Nicholas would silently grab unsuspecting girls one at a time as they ran by in a secluded corner in the schoolyard, bind them with rope, and gag them with a rag. They would then take turns drawing thorns from a nearby rose bush across the skin of the girls’ soles of their feet, arms, hands, and finally necks. Occasionally they would sink the thorn as deep as it would go into the flesh of the girls. They were in search of blood, the sign of successful infliction of pain. At eighteen, several months before graduation, the du Bois family home burned to the ground, and Manning’s entire adoptive family, father Reuben, mother Angela, older sister Penny, and older brothers Gregory and Wayne, died as a result of the fire. Arson was suspected, and the number one man on the local police list was Manning. They had caught him at the Prince of Light Cemetery, desecrating a grave. He was taken in for questioning but refused to speak; since they had him on the grave desecration charge, they kept him overnight. In the morning, when the authorities went to check on Manning, he was found hanging from his ankles from the ceiling, his hands hanging down to the floor, with wrists slit, entirely drained of blood.
Nicholas went on to attend the College of William and Mary in Virginia, earning a degree in Classical Studies. He hung low at Wingate House, living with his parents, until he was in his thirties. His parents died during an accident while riding a cruise ship down the Cooper River to the Atlantic; the ship, Midnight, struck an unseen fallen tree, sending a horrendous jar through the vessel and knocking Wallach and Roma overboard. Unable to swim, the couple died, leaving the bachelor Nicholas the entirety of the Buckrest estate. The irony, of course, was that the family that made its fortune building ships could not swim, and lost their lives at sea.
After the death of his parents, Nicholas lived in virtual isolation. The majority of his human contact came in the form of his servants, Eli Calhoun and Sumner Pickens. Although the scant details on the lives of Nicholas’ servants suggest they were both secret immigrants from Eastern Europe with assumed names, they were otherwise upstanding citizens, having never gotten in trouble with the law, faithfully serving their employer for decades. When Eli died nearly twenty years before Nicholas, and Sumner died five years after Eli, Nicholas chose not to replace his help. His last decade of his life was spent contributing his wealth to charities, holding gala events, and socializing with the big shots of Charleston who’s-who. After the majority of the guests would leave for the evening, a select few would remain for an exclusive after-party event to the basement, where strange rites from around the pagan world would be reenacted to the shock and titillation of the guests. At some point, this activity evolved from being mere entertainment to the heart’s embrace of the weird spiritual essence behind the rituals, and every week the same attendees would arrive to celebrate the same mocking, perverted masses. The disgusting rites seemed to come to a stop about a year and a half before Nicholas’ death, as he started to divest himself of the crowd he had gathered. The spectacles Nicholas had concocted always had rumors swirling around them of their legality, but the controversy surrounding them were not enough to arrest Nicholas or put an end to his activities. He finally shooed away the debauched friends he had accumulated over the years to live out his final months alone, only to choose to give up his life with the corpse of Crystal Henderson.
A few weeks before Nicholas’ death, a story was written about him in the Charleston Daily Ledger, a local newspaper. The article was written by Pearl Hamilton, and described to the locals the brazen heretic and the madness he orchestrated in his home for years. I tracked down Miss Hamilton to speak with her. She lived in an apartment in downtown Charleston, with a view of the Ravenal Bridge in the distance. She was a woman in her early forties, no longer working in journalism but now in public relations for a large non-profit organization.
“Tell me about these gatherings Buckrest would hold. They seemed absolutely depraved.”
“They were. The rich, the well-to-do, the old money, they all got together at Nicholas’ home and felt that they were so important and powerful they could dabble with occult forces. They reveled in it, their proximity to ultimate wickedness was heady, exciting.”
“No evidence was ever found of any crimes being committed. Since Buckrest’s death, have any investigations taken place at Wingate House to see this?”
“No, I’m afraid not. But I’m certain that crimes were committed. Clearly, human sacrifices were conducted at the house, a throat was slashed, blood drained, the victim dead, and all drank thereof. Their favorite victims were the infant girls.”
“Did Buckrest admit this to you?”
“No, but I spoke with several folks who were there and witnessed it. They couldn’t believe babies being murdered and civilized pillars of the community effectively cheering it on. They stepped away but were visited soon after by the ‘drinkers’ to encourage them to keep quiet. That’s why they never took their testimony to the police.”
“You didn’t discuss this in your article.”
“It was in the story, but my editor chose to redact that portion out.”
“Why do you think the police have not conducted an investigation at the house? I mean, yes there’s a gag on the witnesses, but I’m sure at least one or a couple must have said something.”
“Certainly there were rumors of the evil going on at that place. But Nicholas’ estate has prevented any impromptu investigations from taking place there.”
“Are you talking about the dogs? Dr. Gibson and I took care of them.”
“Yes, the estate placed those Barghests there to protect the property. I’m impressed with your ability to take down one of the most feared creatures in the spectral world.”
“Wait, what do you mean it was Buckrest’s estate that prevents the police from investigating that house? I thought Buckrest never married. Did he have children we weren’t made aware of.”
“There’s no record of that anywhere, but in his will, Nicholas named Dr. Sang Babbitt executor.”
“Sang Babbitt, of the Carolina Library of Classical Studies?”
“That’s the one.”
“He denied knowing of anything related to Buckrest. Who else was involved in the exclusive, after-party decadence dance?”
“Well, the only one who is still alive to my knowledge is Bridget Morgan.
“Kendra Morgan’s mother?”
“Yes, that’s right. She was married but her husband disappeared several years ago. She used to run around with Dr. Babbitt.”
“Miss Hamilton, thanks for your help. Can I call you if I have more questions?”
“By all means. I’m happy to help.”
I called Dr. Gibson to let him know what I learned. “Come over to the estate,” Dr. Gibson said excitedly. “You’ll never believe what I found!” I rushed to the estate and met Dr. Gibson at the old wrought iron gate. When I greeted him, he was completely excitable, not allowing me to say at word. “I can’t believe this,” he stammered. “Wait’ll you see.” He led me into the property and then the house. He took me to the door to the basement.
“Oh no,” I hesitated. “I’m not going down there again. That place is evil.”
“Kid, that’s where it’s at! You’ve got to come down and check it out,” Dr. Gibson insisted. He grabbed my elbow and led me down the stairs. In the basement, the same disorienting hideous figure stood in the corner, turning my stomach. Dr. Gibson charged right up to it, much to my horror, and reached behind it. The figure lurched forward, jutting out toward the center of the room. Its garment divided, and he pointed at it for me to enter. For some reason, he seemed to refuse to speak.
“YOU go first!” I demanded. Exasperated, his shoulders fell and went in, with me following. The garment closed behind us, and we walked down a dimly-lit, steeply slanted staircase, then a downward sloping hallway. The familiar smell of decay irritated my nostrils, and the damp, decrepit conditions were perfect for the incubation of such microscopic creatures as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The stench was confounding, yet we marched on. A distant drip echoed through the vacant corridor. Dr. Gibson advised me not to touch the chalky limestone walls, as my hand unconsciously reached up toward them to steady myself. As we cautiously stepped through the gently winding hall, going up and down the gradients, I noticed that the walls grew progressively darker. Dr. Gibson reached into his pocket and produced two small flashlights, which helped illuminate the gloomy passageway. The path suddenly took a sharp upward grade, as if I was walking up a ramp, and soon, a squat, dark trapdoor sat above us.
“It’s in here,” Dr. Gibson said flatly, disproving the excitement that sparkled in his eyes. He reached up and turned the knob. Somewhere along the path, my curiosity overtook my fear and I headed in first. My eyes had to adjust at what I saw.
What first struck me was the light that filled the room. It was still dark, but much brighter than the accursed hall. I noticed that the light’s source was six gently burning candles that surrounded the perimeter of the space. The fetid stink of our walk seemed to reach its acrid culmination in the room. The room, about sixteen feet by twenty feet in area, seemed to have walls smeared in dark paint, randomly brushed against a whitewashed background. In the dim light, I could make out a proper door, but it seemed sealed shut as no light entered its cracks.
“Look there,” Dr. Gibson said, pointing to the floor. What I saw sent a shiver up my spine. The rough, unfinished wood floor planks were marked with an encircled five-pointed star, a pentagram, painted in black, about eight feet in diameter. Incidentally, the pentagram pointed south, as it were. Splattered in an irregular pattern towards the left-hand side of the star, if one were facing south, was a dark substance, difficult to see in the room’s poor light. Dr. Gibson reached forward with a swab and collected a sample of the substance. “Tests positive for iron – could be hemoglobin.”
The oppressive evil that surrounded this room choked the air out of my throat. I must have unconsciously stepped back, bumping into a switch. Instantly, a convoluted machinery from above drew down a slab, suspended with crude cables, to the center of the floor, hovering directly above the pentagram. Upon the slab lay the twisted elements of the diabolical rites: the goat skull, the gnarled goblet filed with a dark, viscous fluid, a dagger of at least a foot in length, the decayed wings of doves, spent candles, and ashes. We gathered the dove’s wings into a plastic bag to test for how long they had been rotting, but based on what we saw, it appeared to have been mere days, ten being the most. I strongly recommended to Dr. Gibson that we leave the premises at once.
As we rushed back out through the trap door, down through the serpentine hall, and we found ourselves back in the basement. We went back up to the first floor, and out the back door. “There, there it is! There’s the building we were in!” Dr. Gibson said, pointing to a detached building in a far corner of the property. It appeared that its original intent was a garden shed, and then Buckrest converted it for his underhanded desires. We ran toward it to inspect it. It seemed an approximate distance, but with the path being underground, and now us above ground, it was difficult to tell for sure. The house appeared to be a match with regard to floor plan size, but we were not able to enter to confirm this. The house was sealed, not even a ray of sunshine could penetrate.
As Dr. Gibson and I returned to the front of the house, we were startled to see a young lady standing at the front stoop. She looked to be in her late teens or early twenties. She had shoulder length blonde hair, and piercing green eyes.  We approached her as the initial look of surprise left her face. “Is there something we can help you with?” I asked her.
“Oh…no, that’s quite all right. I was just passing through.”
“Are you familiar with the history of this property?” Dr. Gibson asked her.
“A little. I spent many nights in the attic.”
“My name is Ronald Gibson, and this is my associate Henry Unger. We’re investigating some crimes for which this property may be significant.”
“My name is Laura Clark.”
“The attic?” I asked. “What were you doing up there?”
“When I was seven or eight years old, my parents would spend some evenings here.”
“Really? Can you tell me what happened at all?”
“Well, we were pretty young. It’s hard for me to remember. I do remember coming to this house, and it was very scary for me. I would be sent up to the attic, where there were a few beds and couches. I remember there were some children whose parents went to the parties also, and we all played together upstairs. The kids would come and go, but there were a few who I became good friends with.”
“Do you remember their names?”
“One was Kendra…Kendra Morgan I believe. And there was another girl named Amanda, oh, what was her last name? I believe it was Amanda Gabeau.”
“Were you aware that a Kendra Morgan was kidnapped a few days ago?” I asked her.
“No! That’s terrible! Poor Kendra. She was so sweet. Do you know who did it?”
“We have reason to believe it may have been Nicholas Buckrest, the former owner of this property,” Dr. Gibson answered.
“So he no longer owns this house?” she asked.
“No, he is no longer the owner…” Dr. Gibson said, measuring his words. “You don’t know what happened?”
“I’m afraid not. When I was about eight years old, my parents moved the family to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to be closer to my father’s side of the family. I’ve come back to see this life that I remember through a fogged window, trying to make sense of the world I lived in as a child.”
“What can you tell us about Nicholas Buckrest?” I asked her.
“I remember coming here as a little girl, with my parents. They would have these parties downstairs in the living room. They would eat these strange foods, and the children would go up to the attic and eat kid food, you know, hot dogs and pizza. Then the kids would play games and toys together until it was bedtime. We would be told to sleep in the beds up in the attic. It was a frightening room, with paintings of skulls and death everywhere. All the while, the adults would be downstairs partying up a storm. Even though we were supposed to be asleep, we could hear the adults party on through the night. Eventually, of course, we would go to sleep, and in the morning, our parents would summon us down.”
“What about Buckrest himself?” I repeated my request.
“I didn’t know him too well. He was definitely strange. I heard that he was an old man but he didn’t look old to me. He was very charming, but there was something not right about him, a sort of putrescence, that I could put my finger on. He was definitely unusual. There was one thing I’ve been trying to come to terms with after all these years, though. When I was eight, a month before we moved, we came to this house one night. I went upstairs as was usual, and my parents went downstairs. There were lots of kids that came and went but two girls that had been there a long time were Amanda and Kendra, as I said earlier. This one particular night started off nothing different. We had our hot dogs and coke, and me and my two friends played as we usually did. But in the middle of playing, one of the adults came up and asked for Amanda to go down to the party with them. Kendra and I talked about how lucky Amanda was to go downstairs, and we wished we could join the adults too.  They always seemed to be laughing so loudly and crying out in so much fun. As we played, I could have sworn I heard a scream, only to be followed by uproarious cheering. I felt it must have been Amanda’s voice, and I was unnerved for fear that she might be in danger. But she was in the adults’ hands, and I thought she would be safe there. In any event, the next morning, my parents got me before dawn and we drove back to the house. I continued to sleep in the back but when I woke up after sunrise, my parents told me that we would be moving as soon as possible. Within the month, my father found a job in Pittsburgh, and we moved up there. I have never been back to Charleston in that time, but that night has haunted me from the moment I heard the fearsome cries in the night.
“I wonder what happened to Amanda,” Laura continued. “I haven’t seen her since that night. I have tried to look her up online, and nothing can be found about her. It’s as if she’s disappeared. I fear she may have died that night.” Laura burst into tears. “I just felt so helpless that night, I was there and couldn’t do anything about it.”
“Miss, there’s nothing you could have done,” Dr. Gibson said to console her. “You were merely eight years old. How could you have done anything? You were a powerless little child, witnessing something no child of that age should be exposed to.”
“Ms. Clark, we have gathered information about Buckrest that suggests that your friend may have been in real danger that night. May we speak to your parents?”
“My parents died three years ago in an automobile accident.”
“Oh, I’m sorry for your loss,” I said.
“Thank you. I wish I could help more with Buckrest. What is going on with Kendra?”
“Ms. Clark,” I began, “you were brought to a house that not only dabbled in the occult, but immersed itself in it. The adults at those gatherings performed strange rites, brutal rituals and dangerous tampering with spirits from the beyond. We have no concrete evidence, but it may be that your friend Amanda met an untimely end.”
“And your friend Kendra Morgan may have been kidnapped by the same individual who held those gatherings, Mr. Nicholas Buckrest,” Dr. Gibson continued. “The strange thing, however, is that Mr. Buckrest died nearly six years ago.”
“But how?” Laura stammered.
“We believe Mr. Buckrest is a vampire,” Dr. Gibson answered. Laura shuddered.
“Somehow, he has returned from the dead and is involved in the series of murders and kidnappings over the past several months in this area,” I said.
“I was so scared of what happened to Amanda,” Laura said, bursting out in tears. “We just left so abruptly. I asked my parents about what happened to her all the time, and each time I did, they became very quiet about it, as if they were uncomfortable. I asked outright if she was okay once, and they just ignored me. I asked if she was okay over and over and they pretended they didn’t hear me. It was so perplexing. Do you think she’s okay?”
“There’s no way of knowing right now,” I tried to offer.
“Vampires? Are you kidding me? There’s no such thing…”
“I wish that were the case,” Dr. Gibson said. “But Buckrest is exactly that. Let me explain, in my years as an independent investigator specializing in the occult, I have come across some horrid things, learned how the underworld works, and know a thing or two about how things happen. Typically, a vampire is a corpse, a dead person. Someone summons a demon from the pits of Hades and the demon answers their call by asking the summoner what they want done. In the case of a vampire, they will ask that their faithful servant, the name of the departed, be returned to the land of the living. The demon vanishes from the presence of the summoner and the deceased reanimates. It’s been my understanding, now that I’ve done this numerous times, that the demon itself actually inhabits the corpse, not the original person’s soul. So if this is in fact what we think it is, then this is not Nicholas Buckrest at all, but a demon possessing his dead body, at the bequest of someone still living on Earth. I guess our question now is, who?”
“Laura, would you care to come inside with us into the mansion?” I asked. “I think it would help us if you could reenact what would happen those nights.”
“I don’t know,” Laura hesitated. “I shudder to think at what could have happened in there.”
“It would mean a great deal to us if you could do this for us,” Dr. Gibson said. “Please remember, Henry and I are trained professional lawmen. We will be right with you if anything is a threat to you. You have our word.”
“All right, let’s go,” she said. She began to mimic the motions that would typically occur on a night when her parents would attend parties at the Buckrest mansion, and she accompanied her movements with a running narration. “Okay, the door…We would arrive around six or six-thirty. A young man would let us in.” We entered the foyer then went inside the drawing room. “Usually there was another young man taking coats. These young men were different every time, which leads me to believe that they were hired for the night.” We followed Laura to the living room. “The grownups would come here next. They’d all be standing around with drinks in their hands. Everyone would be talking and laughing, and all the grownups would look at the kids and say how pretty we were or how big we were getting. We were allowed to stay downstairs for a bit, but soon my mother would take my hand and lead me upstairs.” We followed Laura to the staircase. “As we walked up the stairs, I looked down there,” she said, pointing to the dining room, which came after the living room. “The grownups then started to sit down around the table. I could see this from the staircase.” We walked upstairs to the second floor. “My mother would usually rush us to the top of the stairs.” We all went up into the attic.
Here was a hideous room, and this was in comparison to the rest of the house. Dimly lit by candles standing sentinel at each small, tightly gabled window, the repulsive flickering shadows danced their demonic rhythms against a darkened wall, tickling the repugnant images nailed into the wallpapered partitions, almost bringing them to unholy life. Pictures of masked, mocking demonic fiends dancing their putrid worship to Hades-inhabiting spirits lined the walls besides inverted crosses, pentagrams, and crescent shapes in motifs of six. Grimacing portraits of what seemed to be actual deaths hung over our heads. Bookshelves held volumes with scripts never seen by my eyes, a mad dash of squiggles and squeaks, the occasional question mark or exclamation point providing the only relief to the unfamiliarity. “This is just as I remember,” Laura managed to choke out of her throat, mesmerized by the fear and foreboding of standing in such a ghoulish place again.
She led us to a small door. “Our beds were here,” she gasped. We followed her into a cramped, pitch black room whose claustrophobia scarcely yielded any air for my lungs. A sense of anguish was compounded by the highly sloped grade of the ceilings, which followed the roofline outside. “After our meal and a time of playing, we were to come to our beds in here. It was always dark.” Dr. Gibson extracted a flashlight and clicked it on, shedding light onto the short walls and elongated ceilings. The blasphemous images of fallen angels agonizing over their abandonment of God peered down at us with unnerving accuracy. “We would lie in bed, and soon Mr. Buckrest would come up and enter the room where we lie. Sometimes he would climb into bed with us, and he would kiss us on the face and lips.” The walls and ceiling were black as a chalk board. Dr. Gibson illuminated one bed, which remained unmade after all these years; a faded brown cast circled the sheet. Clearly a vast amount of blood had been shed on this bed. Dr. Gibson cast his light onto another bed in the compressed room, and we were utterly horrified to see a human skeleton, about three and a half feet tall, wearing a white shirt with flowers and a pair of purple pants. Laura let out a scream. It was Amanda. “That’s exactly the outfit she wore the last night I saw her!” she cried out through her tears.
“This is a crime scene now,” Dr. Gibson said.
“I’ll call Carpenter,” I said, pulling out my cell phone. Suddenly within dark quarters, a gust of wind began to circle in place, whipping up a storm in the abandoned house. Within the circle of wind, a tall, pallid man stood before us. Blackest hair, ashen skin, overgrown fingernails, and eyes that glowed red like embers ablaze made up the hellish vision. This man-creature, with his pencil-thin mustache and dusky gray suit, smiled demurely at us as he approached. I looked at Laura and she stood nearly catatonic. The creature glided towards us, took Laura’s hand and put it to his lips. Then he approached her face closely and smiled.
“Oh Laura,” the Creature said, “the years it’s been since I have tasted your flesh, so delicate, so pure. My knees grow weak at your aroma again.” He kissed her on the mouth, then down her jaw line, to her neck. He opened his mouth wide, then paused before going any further. He stood up straight again. “Detective Unger, Dr. Gibson, I presume,” he said to us. “My name is Nicholas Buckrest, welcome to my home.” I looked at Laura and she stood absolutely still, motionless, save for the tears streaming down her cheeks, her eyes fixed upon the debonair demon. “Laura, it is so good to see you again.” Buckrest continued, turning to Dr. Gibson and me. “In spite of the fact that you gentlemen were not invited into my home, you are nevertheless my treasured guests. You must, however, know this: I am no mere man. I can overcome anything you could ever think of trying to use to apprehend me. I shall begin my reign and there won’t be much you can do to stop me. Now gentlemen, I bid you farewell.” Buckrest kissed Laura on the mouth; she wilted to his will. “Until next time, my beautiful Laura.” And with the same storm that brought him in, Buckrest disintegrated into the night.


Submitted: September 20, 2010

© Copyright 2022 Peter Amaral. All rights reserved.

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