Shuddersome Shorts

Tales of Eerie Terror

#78



P&D welcomes back "Jolly" Joshua Reynolds and his phlegmatic 1920s Southern ghost-buster, John Bass (previously seen in The Wicked Wood)

Last Week, a Hollywood movie star bought up an old southern mansion...but during a big party, strange things started occuring, and the lawyer, Fitch, reluctantly calls in the one man he knows in these parts who has experience with the strange...John Bass...

 
 

The Weeping House
(Part Two of Two)

By Josh Reynolds
About the author



T  HEY RODE IN SILENCE for awhile, Fitch shooting covert glances at the taciturn individual sitting beside him. He though back on what his father had told him of John Bass. Bass had served with some little distinction in the Spanish-American War and then overseas in Europe for the World War, a satisfactory soldier who would never gain in rank beyond sergeant, for such had he been in the company commanded by FitchĎs father in France in 1917. There were stories of Bass from that time, stories Kale Fitch, Curloweís father, had put little credence in but nonetheless never forgot. Troopers in the company told stories of Bassí encounter in a necropolis in the French countryside with some dead thing that walked and hunted the trench lines. Others spoke of the ruined church in Averiogne where Bass had supposedly spit in the Devilís very eye.

After the war Bass had grown tired of the army and came home and tried to revive the family farm in his native Jackapo County, but he had failed. Some said it was his lack of skill in the arts of the farmer. Others said it was because he had grown a demonís crop that leached life from the very soil, the Devilís revenge for Averiogne. In any event, his days as a farmer had been marked by disappointment and failure and Bass had seemed doomed to follow not far behind his dreams when he had been asked by King Slope, the high-sheriff of the county, to investigate a supposedly possessed house in Jack-Town. Slopeís sons had been troopers under Bass and had told the stories to their father. That began John Bassí reputation as a ghost-breaker.

A reputation he kept up quite well over the next few years. Bass had supposedly routed ghosts and ghouls from many a home and shack and had even confronted Satan himself for a second time in the grim halls of the Jackapo County Asylum. Or so the inmates claimed. Bass was known in the black communities around Jackapo, Richland and Orangeburg counties as a figure on par with the witch-men Doctor Crow and Duke Meshach.

In the white communities, he was a huckster, a con-artist and a low man. Though that didnít stop any from calling on John Bass when they felt he was needed, when certain unpleasant circumstances warranted. Like now for instance.

Curlowe Fitch had never believed in the devil. But two nights ago in Will Stoneís house the lawyer had come to the uneasy conclusion that just maybe the devil believed in him.

So he had called his mother.

Who had called her friends in Jackapo County.

Who had contacted John Bass.

Curlowe did not like the man, even if he had been a dear friend of his fatherís. Bass was one of those individuals who gave off the distinct impression that they found the world and its inhabitants wanting in some way and as such were hostile to all and sundry. When he had gone off to college, and his father died, he had hoped to never again see the irascible Bass again.

Unfortunately, such was not to be.

He cleared his throat and looked over at the older man. "How was the ferry ride?"

"Donít much care for boats. But tolerable all the same." Bass said gruffly, eyes closed as he leaned back in his seat. "Whyíd you send for me Little Fitch?"

"Right to the point then?"

"Soonest said is soonest done."

"Very well thenÖdo you know Will Stone?"

"Canít say as I do."

"Heís in pictures.."

"Most folks are these days, cameras beinĎ prevalent anĎ allÖ"

"I meant motion pictures. Hollywood. The silver screen." Fitch said tightly.

"Oh. Donít go see those. Waste of a manís nickel. Your daddy thought the same, God Bless him." Bass opened his eyes and frowned. "Whatís all this got to do with why you called me?"

"I sold the property we owned on Manke Island to Will Stone, an actor. Two nights ago at a party held at the house he built on the property, certain things occurred and continue to occur which I felt required yourÖexpertise with the esoteric."

"Meaning something you canít rightly explain happened so you want me to give it a whirl." Bass stated, staring hard at Fitch. The lawyer sighed.

"Yes."

"Donít come cheap."

"Will Stone himself will be paying you for your services, however much use they may be."

"Good. Didnít want to have traveled all the way out here for nothing." Bass settled back in his seat and closed his eyes once more. "Wake me when we get there Little Fitch." Soon he began to snore softly. Fitch gritted his teeth and sped up.

They arrived late in the afternoon, the orange just beginning to creep into the sky and the tide rolling in high on the beach down below the property. Will Stone was waiting for them on the front porch, his normally jovial features unshaven and haggard from the stress of the past few evenings. "Thank God youíre back, Fitch. Itís been like a nightmare here. Most everybodyís left except forÖwell, you know, Desmonda and the others. And the noises, like rats in the walls. And I keep hearing someone following me everywhere throughout the house." Stumbling down the white-washed steps, Stone finally took note of the stocky figure of John Bass. "Is this him? That ghost fellow you mentioned?"

"Yes, Will, this is John Bass. John Bass, this is Will Stone."

"Iím sure Mister Bass knows who I am, Fitchy, but itís a pleasure all the same." Stone said, reaching out to shake Bassí hand. Bass took it with a grip of iron, pumping Stoneís hand once swiftly, then releasing it.

"This the house, Little Fitch?" Bass said, moving past Stone who rubbed his sore hand gingerly. Fitch nodded.

"Yes."

"Figures." Bass squatted beside the old stones that made up the foundation of the porch and ran a leathery palm over the cool rock. "Old foundations. Solid. Probably go down a ways."

"Yes the foundation originally belonged to Byre Chownís house before it was destroyed during the war."

"Byre Chown. A bad name. Bad place, too." Bass stood and rubbed the back of his neck. "This here ground is soaked in nastiness and sin. Slapping fresh shingles and a new coat of paint on it ainít gonna clean it up no-sir. Fire maybe. Or lightning. Best thing would have been to let the sea take it back one day. But you had to have your house didnít you, mister actor? And you had to have your money, eh Little Fitch?"

" Damn it, John Bass! Itís not like I knew the place was a stomping ground for dead folks now did I?" Fitch shouted clenching his fists. Bass looked at him blankly.

"You knew. But you didnít believe. And now Byre Chownís done got his claws back into the world cause of it." Bass said finally. "And now I gotta go step on his fingers and make him let go. Two-hundred dollars."

"What?"

"Two-hundred dollars or I let Chown keep your house."

"Thatís outrageous! I wonít pay such a-"

"Pay him, Will." Fitch interrupted Stoneís rant. "Unless you like having roommates."

"Fine, but I expect results."

"So do I." Bass said, grinning nastily as he moved towards the stairs.

________________________________________________________________________


Bass left behind footprints of wet sand on the polished wooden floors as he roamed through the house, his blunt fingers trailing across walls and cabinets. He whistled a little ditty to himself as he poked around in rooms and opened doors.

Bass did not have any sort of psychic sensitivities despite what many thought. Indeed, Bass would have been the first to state that he wasnít very sensitive in any sense, psychic or otherwise.

But, he would admit to certain feelings. Bass got a lot of feelings. And he had read many books in the few short years since his return from the frontlines of Europe. Books with moldy covers and foreign names that he didnít rightly understand but knew what they were on about regardless.

The diagrams helped a lot.

Common sense and diagrams. The tools of Bassí trade.

Bass saved the drawing room for last. Fitch and Stone were already sitting down in the room along with several others when Bass meandered in, his piercing eyes examining every nook and cranny of the now cheerless room. He raised a gray eyebrow at the site of the empty liquor bottles strewn about and looked at Stone who shrugged uncomfortably.

"Sorry, havenít had the frame of mind to straighten up."

"Iíll bet." Bass grunted. He turned to the drawing room table and sorted through the sťance paraphernalia. "Stupid. Stupid." he said with resigned calm as he swung his head back towards the group of terrified individuals who stared at him in perplexity. "Always asking for trouble your kind does. Donít got no respect."

"Now see here-" Stone began. Bass ignored him, staring at Fitch.

"Themís the ones what spoke in slave-talk?" he asked, waving a hand at Desmonda and the others. Desmonda struggled out of her seat, black circles under her red eyes, and irritation writ on her pallid face.

"Yes we are. And we can speak for ourse-"

"You remember what you said?" Bass interrupted smoothly.

"No I-"

"Then sit-down. Fitch, you tell me. What was they sayiní near as you could figure?" Bass said sternly. Desmonda sat, her mouth hanging open in shock.

"Nothing I could understand. It was babbling. Prayers. Pleas. Then they all folded over, like they were dead, one after another."

"And then?"

"The-the laughter."

"Chownís I reckon." Bass rubbed his grizzled chin, his eyes unfocused. "Haints like to replay their killings over and over again, like a skipping record. Specially ones who were as nasty in life as Chown was supposed to be."

"So whyís that important?" Stone asked querulously.

"Tíaint important. Just wanted to know whether he was going to be original about this thing." Bass chuckled. "Guess he ainít." He knelt and picked up a bottle of wine that was nearly empty. Popping the cork he upended the remnants into his mouth, his craggy throat moving slowly as the expensive liquor drained away. Then, placing the now empty bottle on the table he wiped his mouth and smiled. "Whereís the basement to this here place?"

"Basement?"

"Foundations rather? Said you rebuilt this place over the foundations of Chownís house right? So his basementís still here. Where?"

"Why?"

"Think on history, Little Fitch. Never found Byre Chown, nor the slaves, nor certain members of the Manke Island royalty right? Ainít no mystery, Fitch. They in the damn basement. Only 'cause nobody knew there was a basement back then, nobody found them. But you know. 'Cause you saw the foundations. And Iím betting you had the workers turn it into a wine cellar yeah?" Bass laughed. "So whereís the wine cellar, Fitchy?"

"Iíll show you." Fitch whispered, his eyes downcast.

Fitch led Bass and the others back towards the stairs which led to the second floor of the beach house. Outside, night was rolling on fast bringing another storm with it. The sea wind whipped loose sand against the windows and tugged at the leaves of the palmetto trees. Under the stairs, a thin door sat, the same color as the wall around it. It was an unassuming looking thing, small and unnoticeable. Stone took a key out of one pocket and unlocked the door. He pushed it open just as a crack of thunder rumbled loud and strong from out across the ocean.

"There a light down there?"

"A pull chain at the bottom of the stairs, yes." Stone said, his eyes nervously flicking to the doorway, then back to the windows. Bass grimaced and started down the stairs.

"Shut the door behind me." he said as he descended into darkness. And they did.

Down in the dark, at the bottom of the stairs, John Bass pulled his hand across a column of cool stone. Old and wet with the mold of years. He reached up as the end of the pull chain brushed the top of his head, and yanked on it. A weak bulb flickered to life grudgingly and the empty expanse of the basement, now wine cellar, was illuminated in a flood of sickly yellow light. Through the stone of the walls, Bass could hear the storm above, growing, growling, raging. He gave a cursory glance at the racks of illicit wine, then turned his attention to the bare dirt of the ground in the center of the room. Fitch had been cheap. He had only had paving stones put from the steps to the wall where the wine rack stood. Everywhere else was just dirt.

Dirt and the black blood that bubbled up through it. Or maybe not blood per se. Bass had heard of something called Ďectoplasmí. Regardless, he had seen it before. He stepped off the paving stones, his booted feet making no noise as they carried him across the dirt. Hands in his pockets, he looked down at the blood as it bubbled and frothed and frowned.

"Stop it." he said quietly. As the words left his mouth, the air became cooler, colder than it had been. His breath frosted in the yellow light. The blood froze over, sluggish now as it pumped out of the soil like the cut vein of some buried giant. And then, the weeping.

It seemed to slide and slither out of every corner and shadow, a harsh, ragged sound. Thick sobbing, tormented babblings, loud and growing louder. The very air was choked with noise and floating particles of ice. Bass stumbled as, behind him, the bottles of wine began to explode from the cold, showering him with glass and liquid slush. A piece of shrapnel grazed his forehead and sent him down to one knee in the blood and dirt. "Stop it!" he roared. "Byre Chown! Byre Chown you no-account trash! You come out here and you and me weíll settle this!"

The first hand erupted as he struggled to stand, a wizened bony claw pushing through the swirling puddle of black oily sludge to clasp at him. Others pushed out of the soil around him, and he could hear the muffled clacking of rotted jawbones chewing their way free of the dirt. Bass leapt away from the rising skeletal horde, scrambling his way onto the paving stones. The weeping of the walls threatened to burst his ear drums as it suddenly rose in a crescendo, then just as suddenly died off.

The laughter began, deep and nasty. It sounded like a knife felt, going in a manís belly. The laughter of Byre Chown.

And Bass knew then, knew the source of the weeping of this house. He had read up on it once, somewhere. Perhaps in one of the books Pursuivant had lent him a year or two back, right before that night at the asylum. Sometimes, in a place of badness, one soul could hold others in chains. The sin in Byre Chown had twisted and coiled around the souls of his victims and bound them up in chains of hate. Chains he would never turn them loose of.

Not unless he was made to. Or it rather.

"You ainít Byre Chown." Bass said loudly, talking over the laughter in his best sergeantís voice. "You ainít that raggedy man. You just his echo. Just his laugh and his hatefulness buried down here and stinking up the good clean earth of this place. Thatís all you is."

The clink of rusty chain links drew his attention back to the rotted horrors clambering out of the dirt before him. He could see the chains that bound the skeletons now, old and blackened by their time under the earth, but strong enough for all that. Bass turned to the wine rack, empty now, and grasped one of the shelves. Placing his foot at the base of the rack, he pulled on the shelf, his shoulder muscles bunching and coiling beneath his shirt like tension wires as he ripped the wooden board loose and whirled to face the rising horde. But he did not strike. He had no quarrel with the slaves. Only the master. "Come on, Chown! Gonna send your slaves to do your fighting? You know they ainít good for nothing but laying in the ground and moaning! Come on, you son of an ill-begotten whore!"

And the laughterÖstopped. The skeletons grew still, their dirt clogged skulls swiveling to face the center of the room, where the blackness pumped and frothed. Something pulsed, a heart-beat, the heart-beat of Satan himself perhaps, deep and strong echoed in the stone room.

It rose smoothly, glistening wetly in the weak light, a mockery of the human form. Like dark jelly sculpted into the shape of a sneering maniac it rose, a shadow given life, dripping with unhallowed juices. Byre Chown. Rumpled clothing and long hair and all. All made out of blood and sin.

It spoke without sound, mouthing noiselessly into the freezing air. Bass grinned mirthlessly. "Bet you fancied yourself a talker back then. Most witch-folk of one sort or another do. Is this supposed to frighten me?"

The Chown-thing stepped forward, its feet squelching in the mud made by its presence. Itís eyes flashed crimson. Or perhaps that was just a trick of the light. Bass warily hefted his board. "Bet when you was breathing, weíd have had us a tussle. Maybe you could have magicked me all the way to hell I reckon. But maybe not. Now though, now you ainít got no power old son, not over the living anyway." Bass swung his board like a baseball bat, swift and sure, the wood smacking into the head of the Chown-thing with a sound like a jelly-fish hitting a rock. "But we still gotta break your power over the dead donít we?"

It staggered, then lunged back towards Bass, screaming silent obscenities. Bass lowered his board like it was a rifle and darted smoothly forward in a classic bayonet strike. The edge of the heavy wood penetrated the loathsome mass and Bass forced the undead thing back as it writhed, clawing at him, spitted like a bug on a scientistís pin. Bass only stopped moving when the end of the wood crunched into the opposite wall of the basement. The Chown-thing grasped at the wood, slick with its own essence and began to pull itself along, its dead red eyes locked on Bassí pale ones. Slimy fingers scrabbled at his throat and he fell heavily as the weight of the thing threw him off balance.

Bass gasped and cursed as he struggled in the darkness that had once been Byre Chown. It was like fighting an ocean of filth. Nowhere to grasp. Nowhere to hit. Bass dug his fingers through it, like a man digging his own grave. In his mind, the laughter began again.

He had been foolish, the laughter said. Foolish to think he was a match for the Master of Manke Island. Foolish to think he could contend with such power. As a tide of blackness choked his mouth and nose, blinded him, John Bass was forced to agree that perhaps the dark laughter was correct.

Or perhaps not. Suddenly, his fingers scraped something smooth and hard. Bone! The giggling shadow abruptly pulled away in a full body heave, leaving Bass gasping for air. Shaking his head like a dazed bull, Bass followed, diving into it as it tried to writhe away, his fingers outstretched. Again, he found it. No light touch this time, but a hard grab. The laughter turned to maniac gibbering as Bass threw himself out of the squirming essence, the skull of Byre Chown clenched tightly in his rough palms!

"You a nightmare sure enough, Byre Chown. But every man alive knows a nightmare canít really hurt you none, unless you let it." Bass said harshly to the grinning skull as he half lay beside the paving stones at the foot of the stairs, his barrel chest heaving in exertion. He lifted the skull high over the closest stone. "Go back to hell, Byre Chown and trouble this place no more." Bass smashed the pale skull of the Master of Manke Island down upon the stone then and watched in satisfaction as the shards went flying away all over. With a jangle of chain and a soft sigh that might have only been a draft, the half risen skeletons of the last ten victims of Chownís wicked ways fell limp and lifeless once more.

Bass wiped the blood from his face and got to his feet with a groan. He started up the stairs, his movements those of an old man. He would come back and exhume the rest of the skeletons, to give them a proper Christian burial with their kin in the Manke Island cemetery, but not until tomorrow. For now he needed to rest, and to tell the frightened people upstairs that they owed him two-hundred dollars cash money.

The End



Previously ...Part One (of Two)

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The story is copyright by Josh Reynold. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)