a ghost story
11 August, 1910
My darling Charles,
It is first necessary for me to explain the circumstances through which I came to acquire the house in Co. Kerry called Gleann Fia. Consider it part of your education in Gaelic to note that "Glenn Fia", translated, means "Glenn of the Red Deer". If I had had my way, I should have named the house "Stafford's"; that is, in honour of fmr. Manchester United captain Harry Stafford, whom I have met socially, and who has expressed his gratitude to me for my continued support of, & loyalty to, that God-bless'd band of boys. How-ever, and for reasons I trust will become clear to you in the course of this letter, the decision was not mine to make. In-deed, it never was.
In the year 1901 I married the lovely Annabelle Sanger (a widow) at the Parish Church of the Ascension in Manchester, the city of my birth. Determined to provide my new wife with a fruitful existence of opportunity and pleasant occupation, far away from the vulgarities of English city life that she found disagreeable (e.g. smog, Jack the Ripper), I cast out beyond my bachelor's lodgings in Liverpool, where I was then engaged as a shipbuilder. Between my own savings acquired in that profession, the modest moneys left to my wife from her late husband, a baker, and a sizeable wedding gift from my father, I could lay claim to a small fortune. Annabelle had always spoken fondly of the Irish countryside she had visited as a child, and by happy contrivance, I was eager to put aside shipbuilding and venture into that most worthy and fundamental of professions; that is, Farming. I must also mention that Liverpool was becoming more & more inhospitable. Following a so-called "trouncing" of Manchester United by the local Liverpool team (whose name I am unaware) I was made subject to barbed jests from mean-spirited Liverpool loyalists; e.g. at the shipyards, the fellows delighted at throwing handfuls of nails at my body & face amidst much hooting and hollering. You can see why I--that is, we--were rather ready to depart!
It was a trivial matter to acquire a stately manor in Co. Kerry; this was arranged by our family's lawyer, and I did not concern myself with the details. Charles, let me tell you a thing or two about this house, as it was described to us. Glenn Fia had been standing for some five-and-fifty years in lush, un-tended pastures, the site of which was a brisk walk to and from the misty lip of the N. Atlantic. As you entered the vestibule & hall from the front entrance, you would find four rooms of note. First on the left was the library; this was where I imagined I would undertake my reading (e.g., of books). On the right was the parlour, where we would receive guests. Connected to this room through an archway was the third room on this floor, the billiard room... Charles, when our agent revealed this billiard room to me, I daresay I roared with delight! I have always dreamed of a billiard room… the "clink" the balls, the soft felted table… I love it all!
Lastly, this floor played host to the dining room. Much good eating would take place in this room, or so we thought. But, I digress--next in your journey, ascend the stairs to the second floor, where you will find five whole bed-chambers, a second library, and a bathroom. Can you imagine the excitement we felt upon my purchase of this property--we were quite near expecting to live the proverbial "Life of Myron"!
Our enthusiasm was dashed decisively upon our arrival. Put lightly, the house needed work. I can recall the inventory of defects as if I had made it yesterday: the planks of the floor bowed, and in some cases even bent; the roof was given to suffer leaks; a nasty smell pervaded throughout the chambers; the weeds overgrew the porch; dents and cracks marred the wallpaper; and the electric lighting our agent had promised had not, in fact, materialised. It is under-stating matters to remark that Glenn Fia was a true Project. Fortunately, I considered myself nothing if not a "Handy Man"... After all, had I not built hulls with these two paws? did I not intend on drawing milk from cows with these honest mitts?
Annabelle girded my resolve to “get on with the job’ by singing to me when-ever I appeared with the tasks before me:
We cannot see what is to be,
or what is God's design;
all we can say is we'll make our way,
without complaint or crime.
What sense is there in worrying?
The sun will always rise.
What sense is there in worrying?
God is 'ever wise.
Why do we fret so very much o'er what we can't control;
I do not worry, for to the Lord I give
my body and my soul.
This is a beautiful melody and work-song (if somewhat Puritan in its implications) written by my wife. Annabelle had some of the qualities of an artist, although I was very careful never to encourage her excessively in the direction of that embarrassing vocation. I also fancy myself as having a touch of the writer's gift, having written songs of my own, e.g.:
O, I am always delighted,
to see the boys of Man United
stride the field and kick the ball;
A man United will Never Fall!
You see, Charles, both your parents are possessed of tolerable skill in the musical arts.
While the condition of Glenn Fia was often a source of aggravation, we were both be-calmed by the charms of Kerry itself. The land was picturesque & full of promise, and the fulsome waters of the N. Atlantic were a most effective tonic for my sea-loving wife. We were fortunate also to locate a source of lively & rejuvenating company in the customers of O'Sullivan's, a (our?) local pub, famous for a proprietary beverage its bartenders called "Diarmuid's Drink". (It is largely salt.) The patrons of this establishment, primarily farmers themselves (you will recall I intended to "wade my toes" into this industry) were welcoming & hospitable to us, and quite solicitous of our attentions once they learned we were the new inhabitants of the Glenn Fia house. It was a blessed thing, said they, to see that house lived in again. I inquired why they made that remark. It was from this conversation that I learned that although Glenn Fia had stood for five-and-fifty years, it had been essentially abandoned for the most recent six-teen.
I then remarked, "I fear your information is incorrect. I am quite sure that I purchased this property from its legal owner, and I might add that I spared no small expense in so doing. Surely you do not mean to intimate that the house had no owner previous to myself? which would imply, therefore, that the transaction to which I was party was fraudulent; i.e. that I was taken for a fool in commerce?"
Said the farmer who had made the initial remark, "I meant no such insult. Your information is correct, and doubtless your purchase of the property was faultless. I would beg your leave to clarify my offending comments: Yes, the property has been abandoned for some time, but in that time, it has had a legal owner! I need not tell you, sir, that the owner of a property is not always its resident."
"What! you mean to say, sir, that a man owned that grand estate, but did not live in it?"
"That is correct."
"Then I would congratulate him, for he must have been a wealthy man indeed."
"It is as you say," said the farmer. "We speak of Lord Prescot, who hails from your land: Liverpool, I believe."
Liverpool! Had I not escaped Liverpool and its loutish "lads"? Even in Ireland, they wrought damage upon me: one need only to reflect upon the state of my roof! I considered this new evidence sourly as I sipped my salty Diarmuid's Drink. Turning to happier matters, I arranged to purchase three (3) cows from one of the men. You might be given to observe that I already had my "hands full" with making improvements to the house without learning the "ins-and-outs" of cattle & milking, but I have always been a strive-r and an achieve-r, given in all circumstances to "do the do" without any "hoo-ha" and Fuss!
It is necessary to admit, how-ever, that the house neatly resisted my best efforts to address its defects. The electric lighting proved unreliable, flickering at odd times, and the bed-chamber doors were rarely content to remain either open or closed, preferring instead to clatter and slam in the wee hours of the morning. I am a light sleeper, given to suffer nocturnal interruptions, and I was awakened by these wayward doors many a time. I recall that one night I awoke to the sound of scratching at our window. Expecting a bird, I observed instead at the window a tall and shimmering smear, resembling almost the outline of a man. A ludicrous prospect, for our bed-chambers were on the second floor, thus no man could stand outside our windows. I investigated, and the apparition proved to be a smear, after all, but one made of a strange film unfamiliar and unpleasant to the touch.
At this juncture I should make mention of an even stranger occurrence. One fort-night after procuring my cows, they ceased to produce milk. No variation to the firmness of my squeeze improved this condition. Well: I was a novice to farming, and so I sought advice from my more experienced peers at O'Sullivan's. They greeted my diagnosis with evident worry, and urged me gravely to act immediately upon this matter. I was advised to sit down with the cows and read to them from the Bible.
"What passage?" I asked facetiously.
"Any will do," they answered. "It is not the word of God to which they will respond, but His voice."
I suspected that they took me for a fool: a prime example of the proverbial "English Fool" of whom the Irish no doubt gossiped... yes, despite my great affection for the Irish, do not think I was unaware of the insults they hurled at us. I had heard them all: "British Dummy". "Manchester Penis". But on this occasion I sensed no jest in their countenance. Could they be genuine? If so, it rendered them all the more pitiable in my eyes. Label me whatever you wish, but I do not go in for folk remedies, and I told them as much before retiring from O'Sullivan's with a flourish of my cape.
Yet weeks passed with no change. I lay awake at night wondering what was transpiring in the organs of my cows. What had happened to that milk? Finally, in desperation, I resolved to attempt the remedy recommended to me. What happened next will sound very queer: I retrieved our Bible from the first floor library, but I was unable to open it! It was as if the covers of that holy book clung to the paper with the resolve of a ship-wrecked sailor holding to a shattered mast in stormy waters... What devilry is this, I remarked aloud, and I commanded it to open. Finally, I prised the book apart, only to find its pages obscured by black, sooty hand-prints. How could this have occurred? I had not consulted the good book since arriving in Glenn Fia, God forgive me, and Annabelle could not have made such marks for I forbid her to touch soot. I decided that this desecration must have occurred in transit from Liverpool (there, you see, the mischievous influence of sordid Liverpool is felt again!) and resolved to obtain a replacement from the nearest Bible merchant, post-haste. Finally clear of mind and purpose, I retired, satisfied, to the bed-chamber. How-ever, it was only eleven o'clock in the morning, so I do not know why I did that. Weeks passed, and with no improvement in the condition of the cows, I was forced to release them in the streets of the nearest city.
Do you think me mad, Charles? If so, you could be for-given... but you do not under-stand what unholy pressure was being exerted upon me during these events. It is all the more vital, I realise, that I finish this account, for I am unsure how else you might possibly be given to under-stand exactly what occurred.
I invite you now to consider the events of one fateful day. Late at night I was awoken by loud noises--as had now sadly become common-place--but these noises did not fade with time; rather, they intensified! I heard a shattering and a clattering, and as my mind shook away the lingering tendrils of sleep's total embrace, I identified these noises as occurring down-stairs. Well, as I have said, I am for-ever prone to "do the do” (for if you do not, then the do will do you), and certainly do not shrink away when conflict is visited upon me. I crept down-stairs, bearing no weapon but my hands, fully prepared to confront the cause of these noises. It occurred to me that perhaps whatever disturbed my slumber this night was also responsible for the myriad interruptions and cacophonies that had plagued our lives for the duration of our residence at Glenn Fia; you will understand I was excited to put a stop to them!
Standing in the hall-way, I could hear a distinct scrummaging, and I believed that this noise originated from the parlour. Good: my intruder persisted in his dark deeds, having taken no notice of my approach. There was nothing more for it, then, but to confront this foul villain! I threw open the door to the parlour, and shouted at the top of my lungs:
Charles, what I saw before me was nothing more than a man. A common lout, rifling through our belongings, and easily startled by my sudden appearance. Frozen, perhaps, by fear, he did not move.
"Identify yourself!" I commanded.
He began, in the characteristically weak cadence of the coward, to stammer out a name.
"G... g... gu..." is all that I can re-collect hearing. For no sooner had he ejaculated his first syllable that his entire personage vanished, right before my eyes, as if erased utterly from existence. I could not under-stand what I had seen, and I searched the room for clues that would testify to an explanation of this mysterious event. I found nothing. Improbably, the thief had simply disappeared. I found myself wishing that he had died, or that I had been forced to murder him, because for all the inconvenience that would entail, I would at least have been able to account for his whereabouts. Now, I knew nothing of where he was or what had become of him, but I felt, strongly and horribly, that something of him remained in this house. Quite disconcerted, I returned to our bed-chamber, but when I opened the door I entered another room all-together. I attributed this to temporary confusion, and retracing my own steps I arrived in my bed-chamber, where Annabelle slumbered comfortably as if nothing at all had happened. I glanced at the window and did not see the silhouette-like smear that had been present before, which worried me, only because I was very certain it had been there when I had woken.
Matters worsened with my next visit to O'Sullivan's. The topic of the day was the unexplained disappearance of a local man named Denis. With some trepidation I inquired for a physical description of this Denis, and was distraught, but not surprised, when the description I received matched the visage of the person I had seen in the parlour that strange evening. I said nothing of what I had seen, for what could I say? How could I give evidence of the phenomena I had witnessed and expect to be believed? You may think me cowardly, Charles, but how could I have told these folk that their countryman "simply disappeared" in my presence? A highly unlikely story, especially when it came from the Manchester Penis. No, I did not speak (though my paleness was much remarked upon) but resolved to address the ongoing happenings at Glenn Fia with the assistance of one more versed in matters of the extra-ordinary than I.
Yes, this is to say that I returned to Glenn Fia in the company of a man of the stiff, high collar; that is, the local priest. Father James was his name. I recall the name all these years later for it has haunted me since his visit to a considerable degree. I explained to the Father the odd things that I had witnessed in the house, including the odd fate of the thief Denis. He spoke not a word as he wandered in and out of the house's myriad chambers, touching at irregular intervals the walls and the flooring.
"Father, what do you make of this?" I cried, when I could bear the silence no longer.
"I fear there is something quite wrong with this house."
At this affirmation of my torment I was over-joyed! "O! praise God! praise Him! Then, you sense it too?"
The Father nodded. "But I cannot tell its origin."
"O! O, mercy!"
"You say that you acquired this estate from a Lord Prescot? You say, secondly, that this Lord was not in residence for the past several years?"
"Aye, you are correct on both counts! Six-teen years, to be exact!"
"I can-not think of what would be wrong," he mused. How maddening I found his in-decision! "I assume the sale of the house was in order?"
"Sir, you take me for a commerce fool--I assure you, the sale was handled through our family solicitor, who is most diligent in all matters."
"I apologise for any offence caused. I mean only to establish authoritatively the facts of the matter, not to imply wrong-doing on your part. In that same spirit, while inviting you to forgive such a simple question, I must ask: you sought and received permission to inhabit this estate, correct?"
"I have already told you that I acquired this property from its legal owner."
"Yes, who I believe did not reside here? Forgive me if my facts are in error. How-ever, I assume you sought permission from those who did reside here?"
"Father, it is you who must forgive me, for I do not catch your meaning."
It was near this juncture in the conversation, I recall, that Father James' visage acquired a ghastly pallor.
He continued: "You mean to tell me, sir, that you did not ask permission to live in this house?"
"Once again, I must say, I do not know what you mean!"
The Father's face, which had before been white, now transformed into a colour I had seen neither before nor since.
"Strengthen us in the power of Your might, O God," he intoned with his head turned Heaven-ward. "Dress us in Your armour so that we can stand firm against the schemes of the devil! We know that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness... in the heavenly places!"
I do not mind telling you that I thought this religious display was excessively disproportionate to whatever infraction I had supposedly committed, and whose exact nature I remained incredibly unclear. Nonetheless, despite my clear disapproval, the priest continued in the recitation of his cant, while moving slowly, but decisively, for my front door.
"Christ be with me, Christ within me," he cried. "Christ behind me, Christ before me..." Then, to my horror, he disappeared, exactly as the thief Denis had done. It was as if he was never supposed to exist, and whatever forces lie beyond the realms of our understanding had, through his deletion from this physical space, had swiftly corrected their mistake. But I was--I am--a man of reason, and this made no sense to me. I under-stood neither his fate nor the matters of which he babbled. I did not tell Annabelle of this when she returned from her church choir that afternoon, for I think it is difficult enough to be a woman and run a household without being inducted into this nonsense. I do not know if a lady can roast pork if they are occupied with the possibility that a priest died recently in their kitchen, but even if they could, I do not think that that is a pork I wish to eat.
I commiserated instead with my fellows at O'Sullivan's, drowning my despair with parching gulps of Diarmuid's Drink, while remaining careful even in my inebriation not to admit to my knowledge of the disappearances of Denis or the good Father.
"Recently, I received advice that I found non-sensical," I opined to my friends. "When consulting with a certain personage about the difficulties that I have encountered at Glenn Fia; i.e. the drying up of the cows, I was asked whether I had received permission from the residents of that house to occupy it. As you know, however, the house had no residents at all, only Lord Prescott, who I am given to understand has secreted himself away for some time in another of his estates, in Co. Cork."
The assembled men exchanged knowing glances, though their meaning was certainly not known to me. One of them, a salty old dog for whom I would have perhaps built ships in a former life, said: "Aye, sir, we are aware of the circumstances of Lord Prescot, but I suspect your anonymous advisor wished to ascertain whether you had sought permission from the residents of that house before occupying it. Lord Prescot, while the owner, was not the resident."
"But, Devil take it--if not Lord Prescot, from whom should I have sought permission?"
"Sir, the residents!"
"Blast it, what residents? The house was empty!"
The men appeared to simultaneously become aware of something very horrible.
"Is it possible you are unaware? Sir, to purchase the deed to a property is but one thing. One must also request permission to occupy that property from those who have lived and died there."
"Died there? What is your meaning? You would wish me to ask permission from ghosts?"
Once again, they exchanged glances, which were even more knowing than before. "Well, yes--of course! We all must!"
"Ask permission to live in a house from a cohort of ghosts?" I barked.
"Sir, yes, of course!"
I found this entirely risible--more Irish provincial folk wisdom! I had never heard of such a custom. Even the degenerates in Liverpool would not credit such flimsy superstition. What right would ghosts have to a property, or a deed of sale--I should like very much to see that contract!
That evening, Annabelle had prepared roast pork for dinner. We supped upon it silently, in the dining room, until Annabelle, perceiving my dark mood, inquired as to my thoughts. I set down my pork knife and gave her an account of the events at O'Sullivan's. Upon the conclusion of my tale, Annabelle threw down her cutlery in anger.
"Sir, are you being quite serious with me?"
"In-deed I am, and you are not alone in your disgust, for I can scarcely credit these tall tales myself!"
"Henry, Henry, are you an absolute mad-man?”
“Well, yes, actually, I do consider myself an absolute mad-man -- that is, for the boys of Man. United, so I take that as a great compliment.”
“Henry, no, Henry… do you mean to tell me that you forgot to ask permission before we moved into this house?”
“Annabelle! Do not tell me that you, too, believe in these provincial fairy tales!”
“It is neither provincial, nor a fairy tale! Everyone knows this! Everyone knows that one must seek permission from the spirits of the house before one may reside in it! This is basic procedure, Henry! The dead haunt these places; one must make peace with them! How could you not know this? How? O, woe! O, woe!”
“Madam, desist your repetition! I have not heard of this custom, nor do I understand it! Why would I, or any gentle-man, ask permission to reside in a house that I purchased, and from those who are no longer living?”
“Do you not understand? It is about respect, Henry! It is simple respect! For, it was once their house, too! O, woe!”
“Well, this is quite foreign to me, and my father’s agent certainly did not inform me of this custom.”
“Calm yourself, Annabelle! Look, if you will not heed my words, then heed your own. Remember your old song? 'We cannot see what is to be, or what is God's design; all we can say is we'll make our way, without complaint or crime.’ It is your turn, now, to abide by that creed!"
My darling wife seemed to lose half her presence. “How do you know that song?”
“What do you mean? Why, you sang it to me!”
“Sang that song? To you? I would never, Henry, I have never! You must tell me, by what means have you heard it!”
“From your own lips!”
“Impossible… no, that is impossible!”
“For-sooth, tell me why it is impossible!”
“That song… that was the song that my husband Thomas used to sing to me! O, Thomas! I have never sung it, I would never sing it! In-deed, I can-not sing!”
In order to verify this outlandish claim, Annabelle attempted to sing the Lord’s Prayer, but her voice was nothing like the sweet, honeyed deliverer of that humble work-song. I found myself now a passenger in her fright.
“I admit that perhaps I have erred, though I profess total ignorance of this supposed requirement. Even so, it must be said that the failure is not wholly mine. Must not the former owner of this house share blame? Why did he, upon purchasing this property, not seek the permission of which I hear so much talk? Certainly he has failed in the discharge of his duty.”
“There is sense in what you say. None-the-less, I shall not remain a moment more in this house for as long as your business with the departed is unresolved!”
I quickly agreed to that resolution, and we abandoned our pork dinner to seek rooms at O’Sullivan’s. I did not soon forget the filthy looks I attracted upon the conduction of that visit!
Immediately upon the crow of the cock the following morn, I set out for Co. Cork, where I was told I might find Lord Prescot. His current estate, numbering four stories and exceedingly modern in its design, was certainly more impressive than his former dwelling, and upon seeing it with mine own eyes I could understand why he had quitted haunted Glenn Fia in favour of this opulent abode. I suspected also from the modern facade of the building that he was its first occupant; therefore, if I under-stood correctly the “rules”, he would have not needed to seek any permissions. At the gate-house, I sought permission (ha!) to enter, but when my name & mission were relayed to Lord Prescott, I was refused. Well, that was hardly a satisfactory answer under the circumstances. I am not ashamed to say that I forced my way in, pushing the servants aside, and I followed the sound of incessant screeching to a bed-chamber, and upon entering I was confirmed in my suspicion that those unpleasant noises belonged to the very Lord Prescott. The man who had caused me all this trouble was an elderly sort, and bound to a wheel-chair. He carried a crucifix with which he bade me to dispel myself.
“Do you not know me, sir?” I thundered. “I am Henry Watson, no less than the man to whom you sold your property Glenn Fia!”
At the very mention of the name, he snarled. “What of it, man? Do you consider this affords you the right to play the role of intruder? for it does not!”
“Rules? You speak, sir, of rules, and yet I am lately given to under-stand that you discarded an essential custom in your acquisition of Glenn Fia!” The Lord’s face darkened, but confident in the righteousness of my mission, I had no fear.
“To what custom do you refer, invader?”
“Sir! the part of the innocent does not suit you! Do you expect me to believe you did not know that custom required you to seek permission from the spirits of Glenn Fia before residing in that domicile? In-deed, I can-not believe that you were ignorant, for you strike me as a property magnate, sir, and thus well-versed in such matters. Yet I am plagued by whatever forces claim affinity with Glenn Fia, and I suspect, sir, that I have you to blame. My question to you is two-fold: did you choose not to seek permission from the spirits of that house to reside there; and if not, my God, man, what on Earth possessed you in that direction?”
O! the fury I beheld in his furrowed brow! “No, sir,” said he, “I did not ask permission from those spirits, and to your question, I should pose another: why should I? do you think that the Empire was built on asking permission?”
“But, sir, why, would you with-hold your request, when it would cost you nothing but a kindness, and I can testify from my own experience, that the cost of not asking is quite hell-ish in-deed?”
“The English do not bow!”
“But what sense is there in refusing to bow, sir, when the rest of the world apparently does so without complaint?” I could under-stand, as I spoke these words, why this odd ritual might have become a custom, and I found myself disgusted with Lord Prescot for reasons beyond his culpability for my present predicament.
It seemed Lord Prescot could not be drawn on any further detail. He merely repeated: “The English do not bow!”
“And who, may I ask, was the object of your disrespect? Some Irish family? Understand, I am quite curious, as they currently torment me for your crime!"
It seemed I had surprised Lord Prescott, for his eyes widened, and in a tone resembling fear, he said: “An Irish family? Ha, you understand so little! No, they are much older than that. Much older.” He would, how-ever, say no more.
“Sir, it appears you have left me no choice but to correct your mistake. I will return, then, to Glenn Fia, and I will request the permission you so cavalierly neglected!”
“If you truly wish to commune with those devils,” Lord Prescot cried, “then you must go alone, and at mid-night, and they will respond only if you make the first entreaty, with a performance of your heart-song!” I know not why he offered me this advice when he so evidently disapproved of my mission. Perhaps it is so that the fraternal bonds between English-men are deep in-deed, and one English-men can-not stand to be party to the ruin of another. How-ever, I need only think back to the men of the Liverpool ship-yard hurling nails at me to suspect that this is not true after all.
None-the-less, I followed Prescot’s advice and re-entered Glenn Fia precisely at mid-night, a lit torch in my hand. The house was overwhelmingly quiet, though I smelt the pork dinner Annabelle and I had left behind. Entering the dining room, I witnessed its cannibalisation by a shroud of flies. Turning away from this ugly sight, I projected my voice into all corners of the house, asking for a par-lay with the spirits of Glenn Fia so that I might resolve the mistakes of the past. I received no response. I then recalled Lord Prescot’s strange commission: “A performance of your heart-song!” I required no further prompting. I ascended the staircase, waving my torch back and forth, and I sung to coax life back into this empty house:
O, I am always delighted,
to see the boys of Man United
stride the field and kick the ball;
A man United will Never Fall!
It was then that a strange compulsion over-took me, the nature of which I do not consider myself at liberty to explain, but my voice issued forth a new chorus that was unknown to me:
Brave boys dominate score boards
and bless the tricksy woodsy lord;
who hoards the bones of old Manchester
in oldee cairns, yea they do rest there.
I play defence, I play forward
always I play for the woodsy lord!
I was drawn then, as if sleep-walking to my own bed-chamber. I opened the door.
I admit that what I saw, I found at first shocking, but the longer I reflected upon this encounter I felt more and more at peace, as if I had been journeying my whole life towards a resolution that had now arrived.
As I entered the chamber, a tall figure was climbing out of my bed, my bed-sheets trailing behind its otherworldly form. It glided towards our closets, and occupied itself by calmly and methodically shredding our garments in its long fingers. To begin with, it was a man, but I would say three metres tall, with gnarled antlers protruding from his temples. This beast was profoundly naked. If Queen Victoria had still been alive to see its lengthy member, I fear the bitter shadow of puritanism would have settled upon England for another three centuries!
I spoke calmly, for it seemed vital in that moment to be possessed of confidence. “Sir, I ask your forgiveness. I was unaware of the custom of requesting permission, and I have no-one to blame for this over-sight than myself. I realise now that I am ignorant of certain duties of life, due to my being too comfortable entrusting such matters to the providence of others. This should not do of any man and I shall shirk from such duties no longer. In the mean-time, I humbly ask your permission for my wife Annabelle and I to reside in this house. We love it dearly, we love the country-side and the sea, and we enjoy O’Sullivan’s, and we hope that all of this may serve as the foundation upon which we, together, build a new life and family. That is, of course, with your blessing, which I now, belatedly but no less meaningfully, request.”
The beast laid down Annabelle’s shredded frock upon the dresser. “Thank you for asking,” it said, though I could tell not the orifice from which these words were issued. My heart pounded dread-fully as I waited for the beast to give an answer.
Then, finally, he said: “Your request is denied.”
“May I ask why?”
It smiled, but not how I had expected it would smile. “You are good fun.” The beast knelt, and kissed my hand, and then it was gone, vanished in the familiar manner.
It may surprise you to hear that after this encounter, life at Glenn Fia returned more or less to normal. The structural defects in the house were now able to be easily fixed. The cows returned of their own free will and produced milk again. Annabelle and I moved back into the manor, and all was well. Some things were different. Occasionally we caught sight of foreign beings, wandering down the hall or across the patio, including Father James, and the thief Denis, but they did not look or behave exactly as I remembered them. They were, however, benign in action, and over time we approached something like an accord of co-habitance, in which all parties were able to live in peace and with the freedom to pursue their own ends without interference. Al-ways, how-ever, I was aware of the long history of Glenn Fia and the lives it had housed, and I was felt great pride and responsibility in the role I had assumed as the care-taker-for-life of Glenn Fia.
Annabelle and I considered selling the house, but for the reasons I have outlined above, the property value was profoundly low.
Within a few years, you were born, and brought great joy to our lives; you, Charles Nathaniel, the first Webster of Ireland. You were an exceedingly happy infant, and you occasioned even greater happiness in our lives.
It was easy to believe that all was well until the day that I entered your bed-chamber to find the beast, in appearance and affect exactly identical as from the visit years ago, cradling you in his arms.
“Congratulations,” he said to me. I trembled to see you under his power and knew not what to do.
Then, the beast asked, “Has he requested permission to live here?”
“Has he? No, of course not; he is a mere infant, he cannot speak at all!”
The beast shook his head.
“I request permission,” I demanded. “I request permission on behalf of my son!”
“Things do not work in this manner.”
“Then what? What would you have me do? He is but a child!”
“He must ask.”
“As soon as he can."
Charles, this is the basis of my message to you. Ever since the events I have described, and their apparent resolution, I have al-ways feared that there was a price to pay for my continued residency in this place, and that one day I would be forced to pay it. I know not what that price may be, but when I saw you in the arms of that beast I feared that it would have some-thing to do with you. It is imperative that you ask this beast for permission to reside at Glenn Fia as soon as you are possibly able.
Now, were you to remain until adolescence in the care of myself and your mother, we would guide you towards this task, but I fear, based on what I have seen, that neither I nor your mother may be around to advise you when you need us. I have seen men disappear in an instant, and stranger things besides. It is not unreasonable to me to believe that by the time you discover your voice, dear Charles, I will be gone; vanished by the obscure will of the spirits of this house. As contingency against my potential absence, I shall arrange for this letter to be sent to you upon your sixth birthday. It is my hope that it will provide the wisdom necessary to escape your predicament. Ask permission, my son; ask!
Just know, Charles, if you are reading this, it means that Annabelle and I are gone. I dread to think what might have befallen you if we are absent, but if we are, know that if you still reside in Glenn Fia, whoever raises you now are not your parents. You may think that they are, and they may have told you that they are, but they are not. I expect fully that the spirits of this house are capable of such. Their intentions have always been unclear to me, but I am certain that they do not mean us well. Remember our names: Charles and Annabelle.
To you, my son, I send you good luck, and convey to you the maximum sum of love that can be marshalled between the worlds of the living and the dead.