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. It had been knocked askew¾not tipped or broken but 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, dreading 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 for a closer look. Nothing out of the ordinary explained the shift. He returned the vase to its proper place, then cried.
He became aware of these subtle shifts gradually, obvious only to a keen observer. Charles watched and waited, hoping his overactive imagination simply played tricks on him. As days turned into weeks, the bizarre phenomenon became impossible to deny. He wanted to tell his beloved wife but dreaded doing so because he knew she would reason her way out of what she considered his delusional paranoia.
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 about it?"
He balled his unsteady hands into fists. "It just moved. I watched it happen!"
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, desperately 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 do believe my castle is trying to destroy me, little by little." His voice mirrored his shaky 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 and that's why it doesn't look right. Accidents happen."
She kissed him, tucked him in, and got into her side of the bed.
* * *
The next morning, Charles woke early and felt well enough to venture downstairs alone to the kitchen. Not wanting to wake Geoff, the butler, 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. He shook his head and shut his eyes. A minute later Charles opened them, alarmed to find the picture closer still.
Terrified, he rushed upstairs to get his wife. She 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 he might trip and tumble down headfirst in such an agitated state.
"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. "Well, that is odd. Are you sure Geoff didn’t move it?"
"Let's ask him." Charles yanked the golden rope and waited.
Moments later, Geoff appeared, distinguished as ever in his morning suit. "Can I help you, Sir?"
"Geoff, did you clean the dining room yesterday?" Charles cocked his head, anxious for tangible evidence.
"Yes, as I do every day. Did I do an unsatisfactory job?"
Susan smiled and spoke before her husband could answer. "Not at all. But I do have one question: Did you forget to put the china cabinet back where it belonged?"
"No, 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."
Charles straightened up, his face growing red. "I’m telling you that cabinet moved. I watched it happen!"
"Calm down, Charles. There’s no need to panic. There must be a logical explanation." She went over to the offending wall and leaned, willing it to move; nothing happened. "See, this wall is as solid as the stones it was built with."
Charles scanned the room frantically 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 heavy face. "I’ll have you know something awful went into the building of this castle."
His wife peered at him. "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 things into perspective. I want you to know why my castle is trying to kill me."
She gave his hand a little squeeze. "Go on, tell me. I'd give anything to know what's going on here."
"You know I had this castle built during the Depression, stone by stone." Charles gripped his juice glass so hard his knuckles turned white.
His wife nodded. "Yes, dear, that was thirty years ago. What's your point?"
Geoff shook his head. "Perhaps I should take my leave."
"No, stay," Charles said and then cleared his throat. "I took great pains to create an authentic atmosphere worthy of royalty. I had these stones imported from England; back where our ancestors lived. 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 only found out after the fact. By then, this castle had already been built." He shook his head. "Some people have no respect for the dead."
Silence filled the room.
Charles continued, "I have a hunch the walls are being moved by the headstones' former owners." Geoff stared at the cold, flagstone floor beneath him.
Susan scoffed. "Ghosts? That's ridiculous!" She shook her head for a long time. "Even if, oh, even if! Why would they wait so long to seek revenge?"
Geoff shrugged. "Everyone’s patience has its limits, even the dearly departed."
Susan glared at the butler. "Don’t encourage his delusions!" She helped Charles to his feet.
Charles made his way over to the other end of the room and pointed to a stone that had been hidden behind the china cabinet. "And the dead know who I am. I didn't notice the etchings until much later. Come over here and I'll show you what I mean."
Susan and 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.
“They’re coming for me!" Charles clutched his chest and collapsed.
The butler called an ambulance.
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."
"Understood." The butler nodded.
She tried to take her husband’s hand while Geoff prepared lunch, but Charles shook her off and wandered the hallway, checking the stones for inscriptions. Finding one that was illegible but slightly visible, he flinched. "The walls have moved again! I just saw it happen with my own eyes!”
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. "Mr. 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." Geoff headed for the kitchen.
Susan tightened her grip on Charles's arm and shot 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 tugged on the golden rope dangling next to the bed.
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."
Charles pulled the covers up to his chin. "Don't be too sure."
* * *
Charles lay in his bedroom alone. He felt the walls advancing on him, he'd seen them advancing all along, but he had no idea how to make them stop.
He took his glasses off and set them down carefully on the nightstand. Then 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, until he realized he wasn't wearing his glasses. When Charles put them on, he realized all four walls actually had closed in silently while he slept. Frantic, he struggled to get up, but stopped after a few seconds. With the bed crushed between them he couldn’t budge.
Charles strained to yank the golden rope dangling next to the bed 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. "Honey, open the door."
He screamed, "I'M TRAPPED BETWEEN THE WALLS!! NOW DO YOU BELIEVE ME?!"
“What? Open the door!”
"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.
Charles could hear Geoff’s voice. "I’ll fetch a crowbar!"
It seemed Geoff was gone for an eternity. Charles lay helplessly pinned by the walls, desperately hoping nothing would move. He felt a twinge of hope when the butler returned, and he could hear the man prying at the door.
Suddenly there was a loud rumble overhead that sounded like thunder. Charles could hear the butler drop the crowbar; it clattered and slipped between the cracks of a rapidly growing fissure in the cold, flagstone floor beneath him.
Charles heard Susan’s voice from the other side of the door. "Are you still there, honey?"
He shrieked in reply.
* * *
The rumbling ceased, the lights flickered, but thankfully stayed on, providing some comfort. Outside the bedroom door, Geoff frowned and turned to Susan. "It sounds like Charles was right after all."
Susan opened her mouth to answer but was cut short by a headstone that landed smack-dab on top of her.
Geoff staggered backward as the castle crumbled around him in row after row of flagstone dominoes; far too many to count. A hailstorm of headstones landed this way and that. The final blow knocked Geoff to the ground. His death delivered swiftly by a headstone, which read: HERE LIES RICHARD RAMPART 1856 – 1916.
More About Amy Grech
Amy Grech has sold over 100 stories to various anthologies and magazines including:
A New York State of Fright, Apex Magazine, Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled, Dead Harvest, Deadman's Tome Campfire Tales Book Two, Expiration Date, Fright Mare, Hell’s Heart, Hell’s Highway, Needle Magazine, Psycho Holiday, Real American Horror, Tales from The Lake Vol. 3, Thriller Magazine, and many others. New Pulp Press published her book of noir stories, Rage and Redemption in Alphabet City.
She is an Active Member of the Horror Writers Association and the International Thriller Writers who lives in New York. Visit her website: https://www.crimsonscreams.com. Follow Amy on Twitter: https://twitter.com/amy_grech.