3LBE #10
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Rampart

by Amy Grech

 

When Charles Rampart looked up from his book and squinted through glasses as thick as slices of bread, he swore the vase in the far corner of his study had moved suddenly. It had been knocked askew — not tipped or broken but it had definitely shifted slightly at the exact moment he felt a sudden jolt as the walls crept forward —

His noble castle creaked and moaned —

A fire flickered lazily in the fireplace to his right, creating strange shadows that seemed to sway. Charles cowered in the wavering light — startled — afraid of the inevitable. He shut his book and set it down quickly on the end table by his side. Reluctantly he rose from his comfortable, red leather chair and shuffled over to the delicate vase resting on the middle of the polished cherry table near the entranceway. After considerable effort, he managed to lift it so he could examine the table; nothing extraordinary explained the shift. He returned the vase to its proper place and cried.

His beloved wife, Susan, tiptoed into his study and stopped short at the sight of him weeping openly. “Charles, what’s got you so upset?”

Charles shook his head vigorously. “Do you see that vase over there?”

“Of course I do.” She laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “What’s wrong with it?”

He balled his unsteady hands into fists. “It just moved.”

Susan rolled her eyes. “Don’t be foolish! It’s impossible to see anything in this dim light, let alone the vase on the other side of the room.” She extinguished the fire. “You look exhausted. Your eyes must be playing tricks. That happens sometimes, when you’re tired.”

“I know what I saw!!” He looked around, searching for an explanation.

“Come to bed — everything will look better in the morning. I promise.” Susan coaxed him upstairs. All the while, he stared at the floor, unable to bear the dreadful sight of the walls closing in.

His wife frowned. “What’s wrong now?” She took his hand and held it tight.

Charles worked up the nerve to take a quick look around. “I think my castle is trying to destroy me, little by little… “ His voice was as shaky as his movements.

“Prove it.” Susan raised her eyebrows.

He pointed to the vase. “Look, that vase isn’t even with the door. It was this afternoon. Explain that!”

“There’s nothing to explain. That vase hasn’t moved in years.” Her eyes lit up. “You probably kicked the table by mistake, that’s why it doesn’t look right.”

Charles bit his lip. “Why would I do that?”

“Maybe you weren’t watching where you were going. Accidents happen.” She kissed him, tucked him in, and got ready for bed.

• • •

The next morning, Charles woke early and felt rested enough to venture downstairs alone to the kitchen. Not wanting to wake Geoff, he prepared a feast for Susan and himself of scrambled eggs, bacon, French toast, orange juice, and coffee. Charles placed everything on an enormous tray and set it down gently on the dining room table, trying hard not to look at the walls along the way.

Much to his dismay, they had shifted a bit. He noticed a slight difference; early in the morning, the picture of Susan at the far end of the room was even with the china cabinet, but now it seemed much closer to the dining room table — too close.

Terrified, he rushed upstairs to get his wife, who had just finished dressing and met him in the hallway.

“What’s wrong now?” Susan took him by the hand and led him downstairs, afraid that in his agitated state he might trip and tumble down headfirst.

“The walls moved right in front of me!” Like a frightened child, Charles cringed, wide-eyed. “Come see for yourself!”

She sighed, tired of these grueling episodes. “Show me where.”

“In the dining room.” He led her to the scene. “Your picture doesn’t line up with the china cabinet anymore.”

Susan examined the china cabinet. “Really? I never noticed.”

“Let’s ask Geoff and put my mind at ease.” Charles yanked the golden rope and they waited.

Moments later, Geoff appeared, distinguished as ever in his tuxedo. “You rang, Sir?”

“I did. Geoff, did you clean the dining room yesterday?” Charles cocked his head, anxious for tangible evidence.

With a furrowed brow he nodded. “Yes. Did I do an unsatisfactory job, sir?”

Susan smiled and spoke before her husband could get a word in. “Not at all. But I do have one question: Did you forget to put the china cabinet back where it belonged?”

“Not at all, sir. I didn’t move the cabinet. It’s much too heavy for one man to move single-handedly. I call in part-time movers every six weeks to help me clean behind such furniture.” Geoff scratched his head, quite puzzled. “If you ask me, it looks perfectly fine where it is.”

“I'm telling you that cabinet moved. I watched it happen!” Charles folded his arms. “I'm a doomed man!”

“Calm down, Charles. There’s no need to panic. There must be a logical explanation.” His wife went over to the offending wall and leaned, willing it to move; nothing happened. “See here, this wall is as solid as the stones it was built with.”

Charles scanned the room in desperation. He shuffled over to the troublesome wall and caressed the cold stone with rough fingers.

Then he looked at his wife with a suddenly heavy face. “I’ll have you know I did something dreadful.”

“Charles, what in the world are you talking about?” Susan gritted her teeth. “Have you done something wrong?”

“You could say that,” he muttered, drifting around the room, allowing his fingers to linger on random stones.

His wife wrung her hands, turning them bright red. “Charles, I think you should sit down before you fall down.”

Geoff helped Charles over to the table.

Susan sat next to her distraught husband and held his hand.

Charles took a long drink of orange juice. “I want you to understand what I’ve done, to help put this in perspective.”

She gave his hand a little squeeze. “Go on, tell me. I'd give anything to understand what’s going on.”

“You know I had this castle built during the Depression.” He did not phrase it as a question. He squeezed his juice glass so hard his knuckles turned white.

His wife nodded.

Geoff shook his head.

Charles cleared his throat. “I took great pains to create a genuine atmosphere worthy of royalty; I had these stones imported from England. Little did I know that most of them, especially the ones on the second floor, were actually headstones filched from local graveyards, stolen from their rightful owners, the dearly departed. I was not there to oversee the unearthing. I had no idea what happened.” He shook his head.

“I have a hunch the walls are being moved by the headstones’ former owners.” Geoff stared at the cold, flagstone floor beneath him. “Some people have no respect for the dead.”

Susan gasped. “Ghosts? That’s ridiculous!” She shook her head for a long time. “That’s ridiculous,” she repeated. Then she said, “Even if, oh, even if! — why would they wait for such a long time?”

The butler shrugged. “Everyone’s patience has its limits.”

She helped Charles to his feet.

Leaning on his wife for support, Charles made his way over to the other end of the room and pointed to a stone that had been behind the china cabinet. “I didn’t notice the etchings until much later. Come over here and I’ll show you what I mean.”

Geoff followed close behind.

He paused in front of a flat stone with these words etched upon it, scarcely legible but unmistakably there: HERE LIES RICHARD RAMPART 1856 – 1916.

“Your grandfather?!” Susan gasped.

“I'm doomed!” Charles clutched his chest and collapsed.

Susan screamed.

The butler dialed 911.

An ambulance arrived minutes later. The paramedics let Susan ride in the back with her husband. When they arrived at the hospital, the prognosis was encouraging. Dr. Heartwell told Susan that Charles had suffered a mild heart attack and would have to be kept overnight for observation. Sedated, he slept soundly. She stayed by his side until the doctor discharged him the following morning.

• • •

“Are you feeling better, sir?” Geoff greeted them at the front door when the silver Rolls Royce pulled up.

“Quite.” Charles winked.

Susan pulled Geoff aside to whisper in his ear. “Dr. Heartwell said he needs plenty of bed rest and no more nasty surprises.”

“I understand completely.” The butler nodded.

She helped Charles up to the bedroom while Geoff prepared lunch.

Charles wandered the hallway, checking the stones for inscriptions. Finding one that was illegible but slightly visible, he flinched. “The walls have moved again!”

Susan and the butler hurried to his voice.

Charles looked at them. “I just felt the tremors.” He shuddered. With trembling fingers, Charles touched the stone, observing its roughness and permanence of the letters carved upon it.

Geoff cleared his throat. “Mrs. Rampart, frightening though they are, I'm sure we’ve experienced an earthquake, and nothing more. This is California, after all. Just a mild quake, at that. Nothing to worry over.”

Susan shook her head. “Not now, Geoff! Can’t you see I’ve got my hands full?!”

The butler frowned. “Sorry, madame. Just trying to put things into perspective.”

Susan tightened her grip on Charles’s arm and gave Geoff a dirty look. “You’re still delirious, Charles. Come with me, you need your rest.”

She led her husband into the bedroom, took off his shoes, and helped him into bed.

He struggled to sit up. “Susan, I'm hungry. Where’s my lunch?”

“I’ll ring Geoff and have him bring it to you right away.” Susan gave the golden rope dangling next to the bed a firm tug.

Moments later, the butler appeared with a tray of cucumber sandwiches and two glasses of lemonade, Charles’s favorite meal.

“Lunch is served.” He set it down on the bed next to Charles.

“Thank you, Geoff. You may go now.” Susan smiled and sat down on the edge of the bed, next to her husband.

Geoff bowed and left the room.

Charles devoured half of the sandwiches in record time.

“You must be feeling better.” Susan helped herself to a sandwich before Charles polished them off. “I see your appetite is back. That’s a good sign.”

He shook his head. “I won’t rest until I'm certain the walls have stopped moving.”

She laughed. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

“Don’t be too sure.” Charles pulled the covers up to his chin.

• • •

Susan went downstairs with Geoff, leaving Charles alone to rest. He'd felt the walls advancing on him, he'd seen them advancing all along, but he had no idea how to make them stop.

Sighing, he took his glasses off and set them down carefully on the nightstand. He shut his eyes and drifted off into a troubled sleep.

Charles dreamed he was reading in his study again when the walls suddenly rushed at him from all sides. It happened so fast that he couldn’t get out of his chair before being sandwiched between them with no hope of escape —

He awoke with a start and squinted and peered, until he realized he wasn’t wearing his glasses. When Charles put them on, what he saw made him wish he were already dead: all four walls in the bedroom actually had closed in silently while he slept. Frantic, he struggled to get up, but it was no use, the bed was wedged so tightly between them he couldn’t budge.

Charles strained to yank the golden rope until he heard Geoff and Susan rush upstairs to his aid. He clutched the bedcovers in trembling hands.

“Charles, honey, what’s wrong?” When Susan jiggled the doorknob; the door didn’t budge. “Come open the door and let me in.”

He screamed, “I'M TRAPPED BETWEEN THE WALLS!! NOW DO YOU BELIEVE ME?!”

His wife gasped. “I'm so sorry I didn’t listen, but the notion of the walls closing in seemed ridiculous!”

“Sir, try to calm down and tell us exactly what happened.”

Charles took a deep breath. “I must’ve dozed off after lunch. When I woke, the bed was caught between the walls, and that’s when I rang the bell.”

“Try to hang on, sir!” Geoff shouted, “Susan and I will try our best to rescue you!”

“Please help me, before I'm crushed! There isn’t much time!” Charles’s voice cracked with strain.

They threw their weight against the door in a futile attempt to break it down. The wood didn’t even splinter.

“Sir? I shall run and fetch the crowbar!”

“YEESSS!!!!”

It seemed Geoff was gone for an eternity.

When he returned, he and Susan pried at the door for a long time. It seemed a longer eternity before they slumped against it in defeat and exhaustion.

“Are the walls still moving, Charles?” Susan buried her face in her hands.

Charles’s shriek was the only reply.

“I had a feeling it would come to this.” The butler dropped the crowbar; it clattered and slipped between the cracks of a rapidly growing fissure in the cold, flagstone floor beneath him.

 

 

Amy Grech has sold over seventy stories to various magazines including: 1000Delights.com, Alexandria Digital Literature, Blue Murder Magazine, Buried.com, Cold Storage, Dark Funeral, Dark Muse, Deviant Minds, Funeral Party 2, Horrorfind.com, House of Pain, The Murder Hole, Nasty Snips, Rogue Worlds, Shadow Keep, Shadow of the Marquis, Tapestry Magazine, Terror Tales, The Swamp, Twisted Tales, and Venus or Vixen. Her novel, The Art of Deception is available at amazon.com. Stories are forthcoming in: Blood Moon Zine, Blood Rose, Micro Stories Anthology, Reckless Abandon, Savage Night, and The Dream People. She is an Active Member of the Horror Writers Association who lives in Brooklyn. Visit her web site for a good fright.


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ISSUE #10

June 2002

FICTION

ART