“Shadowcast”

 

by Terry “Irish” McNeely

and Dan McNeely

Irish2@erols.com

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

The first sight of it left everyone mute.  Perched at the edge of a Monterey cliff, the sound of crashing waves constantly echoing, a magnificent mansion of the very early 1900's soared towards the sky.  A colossal monument to the kings of commerce who grew rich beyond measure in the booming California economy of the first two decades of the twentieth century, the Moorish/Mediterranean- influenced structure sat squat and glistened in the afternoon heat like a misplaced sultan’s palace.  Red-tiled roof and manifold turrets captured and enchanted the eye.  Vaulted balconies ran across the front and back of each story of the three story villa and brilliant multi-colored mosaic patterns flowed across and down each balcony and balustrade.  The mosaic was repeated in the elaborate front entryway to the port-cocherè and was found repeated on the paths that lead throughout the superbly landscaped gardens and around the pool, jacuzzi, and changing cabanas.  The hand-carved double door at the top of the front steps was of the finest ebony wood and had obviously been created by an artisan of the highest skill.  Lining the mile-long driveway were beautifully tended palm trees and on each side of the mansion a soaring weeping willow in its full prime rustled in the shimmering warmth of the late October sun.  The elaborately engraved brass plate set into the stone column on one side of the wrought iron gate leading into the driveway announced the name of the estate as simply:ROSAMOND.”  Aside from the sound of the sea, silence reigned, close to unnatural in its depth and magnitude. 

 

Standing next to the SUV they had rented at the airport, Walker, Alex, C.D., and Jimmy simply stared.  Trying to take it all in, they needed a few moments to process their reactions to this opulent white-elephant.  Walker spoke first, “My God, Alex, you OWN this?”  Jimmy added, “It’s HUGE!  There must be fifty rooms in there.”  C.D. growled, “Dang thing’s bigger‘n the hanger ya’ need to house a Texas Moh-squeeta.” Jimmy uttered a low-whistled, “Whew...” and started shaking his head.  Walker shifted uneasily and added quietly, almost to himself,  “Why can’t we hear any birds?”  Alex Cahill-Walker simply leaned against the side of the car, staring up at the banks of glittering panes of glass, truly stunned by the reality of her inheritance. And the myriad rows of empty-eyed, empty-souled stained-glass windows stared malevolently back.

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

The group finally finished ogling the structure and headed up to the door.  Finding a huge gargoyle-inspired brass knocker, Alex rapped several times.  After several minutes, the door creaked open slowly.  Facing them was a gnome.  Or, at least that was the overall impression.  The small woman on the other side of the door was, perhaps, all of four feet, eight inches tall, wizened, wrinkled, and dressed in a dark green housedress with Turkish styled slippers on her feet. Alex’s eyes briefly registered the fact that the slippers even had curved toes.  Meeting the woman’s visage, Alex was greeted with two of the blackest, most sparkling, and vivacious eyes she’d ever seen and the wispy remnants of what had once been hair the color of coal. With a smile that would melt the heart of the devil himself, the gnome spoke. “Well, Hello! Hello, Ms. Alex.  You don’t remember me, do you? But I certainly remember the lovely little lady who used to come with her Daddy to visit Ms. Adele.  When I heard that your Great-Grand Aunt had left you this place, I was just delighted.”  Alex started, and exclaimed, “Good Heavens, why it’s Miss Cat, isn’t it? I do remember you, now. You used to let me sit in the kitchen with you and make very bad-tasting cookies!”  After an exchange of warm hugs, Alex introduced everyone to Cat, whose full name was Catheryn McConnell and who had been the estate manager for close to forty years.  The entire group found the seventy+ year old woman to be charming and adorable. 

 

Cat led everyone in and after a “fifty-cent” tour of the downstairs rooms, helped them find the guest bedrooms they would be occupying.  She led Alex and Walker to their room last.  It was the old master bedroom that Adele Charbonneau had occupied during her life.  She watched as Alex and Walker stared open-mouthed at the sheer magnificence and luxury of the suite.  Taking her leave, Cat noted that dinner would be served at 7p.m. and drinks and hot appetizers would be available in the library beginning at 5 pm.   Closing the door behind her, Alex and Walker did not see the elderly woman sag against the doorframe and silently pray, “Oh God, help them all.  Protect them.”  Nor did they see the horror on her face as the ethereal whisper of a hissed answer echoed back down the corridor. Too late, Cat, too late!”

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

C.D. had unpacked and taken a good look around his room. He’d never seen anything like it.  His attention was taken with a mirror over the rococo dresser.  Examining it more closely, C.D. admired the plaster frame’s gorgeous workmanship.  As he continued to study the framing, C.D. became aware of a sense of unease, almost as if he was being watched.  His police officer “mode” went on alert.  Looking around sharply, he could find nothing out of place, nor out of the ordinary.  Checking at the time, he realized he should head to the library to meet the others.  Straightening, he turned toward the door, then whipped back to the mirror. “What! What?” His spine froze, chilled to the core.  “No, nothing.  It was nothing,” the retired Ranger breathed to himself.  He left his room, quickly.  But the smokey-grey eyes in  the mirror radiated a murderous rage.

 

Jimmy was delighted by his accommodations.  He couldn’t help smiling at some of the things in his room.  It had obviously been a room for a gentleman.  There was nothing feminine about it, that was certain.  He found himself fascinated by a portrait on one wall. It appeared to stem from the very late 1800’s and was of a sandy-haired, bearded, blue-eyed sea captain.  Staring at it for several minutes, Jimmy finally realized why he found it so compelling.  “Good Lord, it looks just like Walker! Wait ‘til I show them this.”  Checking the time he knew he’d better hurry down to the Library. “GET OUT! GET OUT NOW!” Jimmy hesitated, sensing, what? But the anguish-filled voice found no listener, Jimmy continued out the door.

 

Alex unpacked her suitcase and arranged her toiletries in the old-fashioned bathroom.  She loved the claw-footed tub and old-fashioned accessories. The bed was a gorgeous four-poster with intertwined palm trees carved into both the head and footboards, with beautifully rendered pineapples decorating the top finials of each post.  As she meandered around the room, eyeing other beautiful antiques, Alex became aware of a feeling of heaviness, almost sadness, overcoming her.  Sensing how quiet she had become, Walker paused in his putting away of clothes in one of the armoires. Seeing Alex staring out of one of the gothic stained-glass windows, he went up behind her and put his arms around his frowning wife. She stiffened and then relaxed, leaning back into him. “What is it, Darling?”  “I don’t know, Walker, I don’t know.  I just don’t like it here.  You know, I never liked it here as a child, either.  When my Dad used to bring me to visit I couldn’t wait until we left.  I always felt frightened here.”  Tightening his hold, Walker held Alex close. “Don’t worry, Alex, it’s safe. I promise.”  Alex smiled, turned in his arms, and gave her new-minted husband a warm and promising kiss. Walker wasn’t about to tell Alex that he didn’t like this place either. What was the point of telling her that he had felt almost nauseous with tension since the moment they had crossed the threshold? Glancing at the exquisite Cartier wristwatch that had been Walker’s wedding gift, Alex gave a little exclamation. “Oh! Walker, look at the time.  We’d better get down to the Library.”  “NO! No! She’s wrong. It’s not safe, not safe, not safe… Run!  Run!”  But the echo of those heart-broken sobs were lost to the drafts of an old house.

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

It was a truly delicious meal. Cat had prepared a perfect roast lamb, with new potatoes, fresh spinach and mandarin orange salad, homemade buttermilk rolls, and the best blueberry pie that any of them had ever tasted, C.D. included. Now they were all back in the Library, relaxing in front of a roaring fire, post-prandial drinks in hand.  “Cat?” “Yes, Alex?”  “What is the history of this place?  I know I visited several times as a child, but Aunt Adele never seemed to have time for questions.” “That’s not surprising, Alex.  Adele was very elderly, even then, and found it difficult to deal with a small child.  Did you know she was 104 when she passed away last month?” Alex’s eyes widened in honest surprise. “No, I had no idea. Just what was her relationship to my Dad?”  “Adele Charbonneau was the sister of your Father’s Grandmother; generation wise, she was the equivalent of your Great-Grandmother.  She was born in San Francisco, April 3rd 1896, the second daughter of Alexander and Theresé Charbonneau. She had one older and one younger sister.  The younger became your Dad’s Grandmother.  Alexander Charbonneau was a rather a rogue, I’m sorry to tell you.  He grew wealthy bringing Chinese immigrants over to be indentured to the railroads. It was really a form of slavery, when you read about the conditions those poor people worked under.  He had this house built by the famous architect, Sanford White, in 1903.  He became a loner and a recluse around 1905, just after Theresé passed away, and died here in the house, himself, in 1926 when Adele was about 30.  She stayed home to care for him as he became more and more feeble.  Ended up the proverbial “old maid.”  Which often happened in that era. No one’s really sure why he ended up a miserable old hermit.” “Oh yes you do, Cat, don’t you?  You know full well.”  There was a slight hesitation in Cat’s voice.But the reports of the time indicate that Alexander was a heavy drinker and when he drank, he was apparently one mean S.O.B.  Oh, I hope that doesn’t offend you, Alex.  I forgot that you’re his descendant.”   “Oh, no, Cat, not at all. I’ve watched my own Dad struggle with the issue of alcohol. I’m not offended in the least.  Hmm, you said that Adele had an older sister, as well as a younger? What happened to her older sister?”  “Well, that may have had something to do with why Alexander became a recluse. History says the older daughter argued with her Father over her choice of husband, a young sea captain that Charbonneau disapproved of, and the daughter left San Francisco with her husband, taking Charbonneau’s grandson with her.  And never returned.”

 

It was going on 10 pm and Alex had started yawning.  Walker glanced over at C.D., and smiled to see him fast asleep in a comfy old leather armchair.  Jimmy was still wide awake but had been strangely quiet all evening.  “Jimmy, you ok?”  “Sure, Walker, just tired from the trip.”  Alex stifled yet another yawn and announced, “Well, I’m turning in. It’s been a long and exhausting day.”  Turning towards Walker she gave a sweet smile and asked, “Ready to call it a day, Darling?”  Walker needed no further invitation. “Absolutely, Sweetheart, absolutely.”  Jimmy agreed that his bed was calling to him also and they all woke up CD and told him to “hit the sack.”  Sputtering and protesting that he’d only been “resting his eyes,” the older man covered a fatigue-induced yawn and ambled out of the Library behind a snickering Jimmy.

 

Cat stood before the fire, lost in her own thoughts and memories.  “Going to be an interesting night, isn’t it, Cat?”  “NO, please NO! Just leave them alone!  In the name of all that’s Holy, just leave them alone!  Ah, but Cat, there’s nothing Holy about me, is there?”  And Catheryn McConnell sank to her knees, bowed her head, and wept in mortal fear.

 

CHAPTER FIVE.

 

The child laughed and giggled.  He was a handsome little fellow, about two, maybe two and a half years old.  Red-haired, blue-eyed, mischievous, delightful in only the way the very youngest are; just discovering the fascination of life, and so excited about it all.  Alex leaned down to scoop him up, but he moved out of her reach and scampered down the hallway, still giggling.  Laughing, Alex followed. Each time she tried to reach him, he escaped her grasp. Exasperated, she followed the little boy down the stairs and saw him run from the foyer out the front door. Alex followed. Rounding the corner of the mansion, where the child had disappeared, Alex stopped rock still.  The boy was bent over a white-enshrouded form, keening and wailing piteously.  Alex’s breath began to fail her. She knew with absolute certainty that the child was in peril of his life.  She began  to run…

 

“ALEX, ALEX, WAKE UP!!!”  Walker was almost panicked.  Alex was hyperventilating and thrashing around in her sleep and he couldn’t seem to rouse her.  She shuddered and then lay still.  Walker shook her once more.  “WAKE UP!”  Alex responded this time.  “Oh, God, Walker, it was awful.  He’s going to die.  That beautiful baby boy!  He’s going to die.”   “Alex, you’ve had a nightmare, Walker said, cautiously.” “No, it was real, Cordell, it was real!”  Alex was crying, softly. Walker enfolded his lady in his arms, and tried to quiet her.  “Shssh, Shssh…, There’s no child here and if there was, we’d never let any harm come to it, would we?”  Go back to sleep, Darling.” Alex lay back, still shaking.  Eventually she calmed down and returned to a fitful sleep.  Walker dozed.  Neither of them heard the bedroom door open.

 

C.D. Parker was enraged to the point of insanity.  “Damn you, Damn you, DAMN YOU!!”  I’ll KILL you.  I’ll KILL YOU!  And then I’ll kill her!!! And one slightly used and retired Texas Ranger began to choke to death the one of the two men on earth he truly regarded as his sons.   Jim Trivette stopped him.    And in the deepest shadows, Evil smiled.

 

CHAPTER SIX

 

“You have absolutely no memory of what happened, C.D.?”  It was 7 a.m., and this was asked by a very anxious and upset Cat McConnell.  “No, Cat.  Nothing.”  Walker, Alex, and Trivette were hovering nearby.  After Jimmy had pulled C.D. off of Walker, they’d all had a horrible time trying to wake C.D. up.  It was as if he’d been sleepwalking and having a nightmare at the same time.  C.D. was deeply, horribly shaken.  “It was as if I WAS that enraged man,” he said.  I felt as he felt, reacted as he reacted, and there wasn’t a single thing I could do about it.” Alex went to comfort him.  As she took his hand she thought, “My God, his skin is ice-cold.”  

 

They got C.D. back to bed, where he was able to rest for several hours.  Jimmy stayed with him.  Alex wanted to leave, immediately.  But Walker’s common sense prevailed.  “I just love people with common sense, don’t you, Cat?”

“Don’t do this, I beg you. Don’t do this!”  Not your choice, Cat, this was ordained long before you were ever born.  And besides, it’s so wonderfully fun!” Go to hell, you miserable bastard!”  “You forget, I’m already there, Cat.”

 

The remainder of the day was uneventful.  Walker and Alex went in to Monterey to see the sights, (and to give Alex something else to concentrate on), while Jimmy stayed by C.D.’s side.  They met up again for dinner and held a conference in the Library afterward.  Swirling a robust brandy around in a turn-of-the-century crystal glass, Walker looked around at the assembled “players.”  “All right,” He said.  “Given what happened last night, I don’t think we can ignore, or overlook what is happening here.  A haunting, a possession, or simply shared fear?  We don’t know.  But Cat, I have a feeling you know more than you’re saying?”  Cat McConnell swallowed hard, stared at Walker, and lied.  “I have no idea what you mean, Ranger Walker.”  Walker eyed her long and hard, but Cat had nothing further to say.  “Good girl, Cat, good girl.  I’ll leave you alone tonight, IT hissed in her ear.”  Cat closed her eyes, briefly, and begged for God’s forgiveness.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

The four friends parted around 11pm and each fell into a restless and inadequate sleep…

 

Alex watched as the handsome sea captain made his way to the front door.   Pounding on it unceasingly, he demanded “Open up, Alexander Charbonneau, I have business with you!” The older man opened the door and faced the young man he hated with all his being. “No you don’t, you worthless, dirty piece of crap!  Don’t even think of coming back here asking for my daughter.”  “GET OFF MY PROPERTY!” 

 

The woman this sea captain loved stared out of the window of her room.  Alex watched as this “Other-Woman” began to cry and sob, hearing her Father turn away the man to whom she had already given her heart.  The tall, blonde, lithesome young woman ran down to where she could see her Father screaming at her beloved.  “STOP IT! Oh, please, STOP IT!”  Turning to her Father, she gathered all her courage.  “There’s to be a child, Father. Would you have it baseborn, without the honor of its Father’s name?”  The ruggedly handsome sea captain turned towards his lady and smiled with all the joy such an announcement usually engenders.  “My love, a baby?”  How wonderf….  It was the last utterance the doomed man ever made.  “Damn you, Damn you, DAMN YOU!!  I’ll KILL you.  I”LL KILL YOU!  And the blow that landed on the young sea captain’s head from the leaden statue that the old man grabbed from a nearby foyer table and wielded with deadly accuracy, was never felt.  And the young woman fainted.  She never saw her seven year old little sister, Adele, scrunched up on the stairway landing, watching in horror as her Father murdered the man her sister loved.

 

Alex awoke, bathed in sweat, shaking with adrenalin-driven fear.  Walker, Jimmy, C.D., and Cat were at the foot of the bed. All white with nerves, all laden with unspoken questions.  “Wonderful, isn’t it, Cat?  Things are coming together rather nicely.  I’ll  have them all.  AND you.”  Cat swayed and fell senseless to the floor.  IT was hugely amused, until IT turned and saw the small boy staring at him with tear-filled eyes.

 

A barely registered swish of sound.  “What do we do, what do we do?”  I don’t know, let me think.”  “He’ll kill them, you know he will, said with rising anxiety. And he can’t reach us, still can’t reach us!!  Yes, I know,  but  we’ll think of something. We will, I promise!”  Silently, he begged, “Help us, Cat, please!” The soft murmurs fading out, no more than an imagined stirring of the curtains.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

They managed to revive Cat, with some difficulty.  They gave her some “medicinal” brandy and she finally dared to look up at them all.  Quietly, calmly, Walker took the lead.  “All right, Cat. We need answers, and you have them. Give us a chance to understand what is going on here, please?”   Cat saw an ephemeral movement out of the corner of her eye.  She knew no one else saw it.  In all her years at this dismal house, she’d never had the courage to confront her deepest fears.  But she knew if she continued to play the coward, she would not be the only soul, current or past, to pay the price.  So she stared directly into the eyes of Hell and found the courage of Angels.  And the demons screamed as she told her story.

 

“He killed him. The sea captain, you know?  And he buried him somewhere on the grounds of this estate. No one ever knew, except his daughters and his wife.  Theresé, who began to fade from that day forward.  The girl had her child, a son, whom she named Christopher.  Alexander Charbonneau put it out in the San Francisco community that his oldest girl had married the sea captain and they’d re-located to Ireland, where the captain had become the manager of a ship-building firm. He never dared to register the boy’s birth, as much as his soul ached and screamed to register him as Christopher Charbonneau, heir to his name and his fortune. His oldest daughter and her son remained on the estate. Alexander loved his grandson fiercely, but sadly, unfortunately, Alexander had a devastating problem with….

 

… Alcohol.” Everyone jumped. Cat shook unceasingly, and Alexander Charbonneau’s oldest daughter began to speak. Alex, who had been seated in front of the warming fire, looked up. But she was no longer Alex, a shadow had been cast, and a voice from the past took up the narrative.  “I lived here until Christopher was somewhat past two.  One evening in late October, 1905, my nine year old sister, Adele, was foolish enough to mention Christopher’s father’s name.  My Father, drunk as usual, whipped her within an inch of her life.  My Mother, bless her soul, told my Father to get out and never come back.  And that if he valued his life and reputation, he would support his family without comment or reservation.  My Father was enraged, but not totally stupid.  He agreed to the terms my Mother set.  He had his valet, a man named Jim Trivail, pack all his things up. Waiting to get things packed into his new contraption, called an automobile, my Father wandered out into the gardens.  He happened upon Christopher digging.  In exactly the wrong place.  An unusually green area had interested the boy, and he had dug fairly deep.  Deep enough to uncover the hand bones of a human skeleton.  My Father backhanded my little son and, all inadvertently, broke his neck. I had come outside, looking for Christopher and saw witnessed happened.  I attacked my Father with the intention of killing him.  But I was much weaker than he, and he choked my life out of me.  Adele saw it all from her bedroom window.  And from that moment on, my small sister became an absolute prisoner of this house.” “And it was Cat’s unfortunate destiny to be very sensitive and able to see and hear the secrets of this abysmal place.” 

 

“My Love?  Oh, My Love?”  Walker strode toward the figure sitting in front of the fire. C.D. looked into Cordell’s eyes and felt the cold grip of searing horror upon him.  This wasn’t Cordell Walker.  C.D. didn’t know who it was peering out of Cordell’s eyes, but it wasn’t the man he loved as his own.  James Trivette felt as if he was going to faint.  He only managed to stay upright because C.D. hadn’t passed out. And he, too, knew it wasn’t Alex or Cordell that occupied those two bodies in front of the fireplace.  CD felt his soul fade into ice.  He fought, he fought as he had never fought anything in his life.  But he lost and God, in his infinite mercy, made sure he would never remember the next ten minutes of his life. “KILL YOU, KILL YOU, I’ll kill you both!  The overshadowed C.D. screamed invective and curses at the two innocents in front of him.  He had grabbed a heavy Greek statue from a nearby desk in the Library and was brandishing it in front of “his” daughter and the young man she loved.  History was about to repeat itself, almost one hundred years later. 

 

CHAPTER NINE

 

“Grandpa?”  The wavering little voice was sweet and hesitant.  “IT” turned and faced the “thing,” the one “entity,” whose death had truly condemned him. The voice of the little child he had killed. “You’re not going to hurt Mamma, again, are you?”  And for the first time in almost a hundred years, Alexander Charbonneau began to cry. Cry for what could have been. Cry for the wasted years, Cry for the evil he had wrought. Cry for the people he had murdered. Cry for the innocent, sensitive soul named Cat, whom he had terrorized for almost forty years. Cry for the sorrow he had inflicted upon his family. Cry for his condemned soul. And he bowed his head in agony and defeat.  “Forgive me,” he asked the eyes of his daughter, staring out at him from Alex’s face.  “I do, Father, I do.”  Turning, still holding sway over C.D.’s body, he asked Cat, “Forgive me?”  Cat, despite her exhaustion, had the presence of mind to say, “Yes, if you tell us where they are. Where did you bury these poor souls?  They deserve proper burial.  You KNOW that.”  In the almost palpable silence, IT said, “follow me.” 

 

“C.D/Alexander” led the way.  They all turned around the corner of the mansion and followed CD to steps that led down to the beach from the ocean cliff.  “IT” pointed to very small cave entrance set off to the side of the slight bay the area offered. 
”There, IT said, that’s where they lie.  “Forgive me?”  “Yes, was the faint but audible answer.  CD collapsed upon the sandy ground.  “Alex” and “Walker” ran toward the cave.  And stopped.  And felt something/someone leave each of their bodies.  Gasping, unbelieving, astonished, they lay upon the sand and could only watch as two people, a blonde, beautiful young woman, and a handsome red-bearded gentleman, walked towards the cave that “Alexander” had indicated.  And coming towards them, laughing, giggling, and full of spirits, a very little boy.  And the last thing they remembered hearing was:  “Momma, Papa!”  And for all of their lives, they would remember the indescribable joy of that moment.

 

And at that very second, Catheryn McConnell found her peace, and her soul’s ease.  And was welcomed among the Angels.  And Christopher welcomed her first.

 

And they buried the poor, pitiful bones that they found in the family cemetery. “Who was he, Walker?“ asked Alex. “Who?” asked Walker.  “That sea captain. Who was he?”  Walker looked seriously at Alex, judging how much more she could, or could not assimilate. “Well, according the description under the portrait in Jimmy’s room, he was a Scotsman named Gordon.  Gordon Dawson.  Affable and friendly fellow, apparently.  Alex eyed her husband long and hard.  But chose to say nothing. ”And what was the older sister’s name?  Do you have a clue?” “Oh yes, said Walker, sadly, solemnly, her name was ”Rosamond.” Alex bowed her head and prayed for them all.

 

HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYONE!  And all the legal disclaimers, etc…  But if you want to forward this, please ask our permission first.  Thanks. And special thanks to Mims, for giving me the name, Charbonneau.  (the name Cat McConnell is from my Aunt, who’s maiden name actually was “Cat McConnell.” Thanks for your permission to steal your name Aunt Cat!)