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A Legacy of Dirt: The Shunned Place — A Tale of Lovecraftian Noir by Peter Guy Blacklock — Chapter One: Hell House on Haunted Hill

Posted by Harbinger451 on March 20, 2020

The Horror of it All CategoryA Legacy of Dirt: The Shunned Place — A Tale of Lovecraftian Noir by Peter Guy Blacklock — Chapter One: Hell House on Haunted Hill

Here I present to you a newly edited version of the first chapter to my Lovecraftian Horror, hard-boiled Noir mashup. An earlier draft of this chapter is available in the previous post HERE. Initially I was going to update that post with this new version, but then thought that some might find it useful or interesting to compare and contrast an early draft with a much later one that is close to, or might actually be, the final edit. Originally intended to be a novella (of about 40,000 words), this story may now have to be expanded into a short novel (of about 50,000 to 60,000 words) depending on how the rest of the writing and editing process goes.

I’ve also got lots of ideas for further stories involving the protagonist from this tale, so it may well end up as a series of stand-alone short novels, each titled under the main banner of A Legacy of Dirt follwed by their respective stand-alone titles. This first one, called The Shunned Place will explore various haunted house tropes. I’m toying with The Long Lament as a title for the second, for which I already have a cool idea exploring the tropes of cursed objects.

Before I get to the text of the chapter, here’s an initial mock-up of the proposed cover to get you in the mood…


Chapter One: Hell House on Haunted Hill

It was a dark and stormy night, so the cliché goes, and suddenly, as it oft continues, a shot rang out.

Of course, nights are invariably dark, but this one was particularly so, and the storm that raged was uncommonly vicious. It was the right sort of night for the wrong kind of outcome. The shot ripped a red-hot slug of metal through the rain-swept windscreen. It screamed past Lofty’s head, tearing a chunk of flesh and cartilage from the tip of his right ear. Lofty braked hard. The big Lincoln-Zephyr four-door sedan skidded and skewed to a halt down the sloping muddy lane. It veered toward a waterlogged ditch that lurked at the bottom of the incline where the backroad took a sharp left. The large automobile stopped short of the flooded trench with mere inches to spare.

Lofty could see nothing through the opaque fanning of fractured glass that was the holed windscreen. The wipers kept up their frenzied metronomic flailing regardless. The blackness through the rest of the car’s windows was almost complete, like mirrors reflecting a murderer’s soul. His hand instinctively rested on the butt of the snub-nosed Colt Detective Special in his shoulder holster. He listened, alarmed and alert. At that moment, the pounding of torrential rain and the gusting wail of the wind was all that he could hear. A sharp flash and flare of lightning split the sky with a massive crack of thunder. He caught a glimpse of a pale and sodden young woman stumbling toward him down the backwoods lane.

Winding the window down on his left, Lofty reversed and turned the Lincoln to shine its headlights up toward her. He leaned out, peering into the tempestuous downpour. The bedraggled woman, dressed in a sheer white gown entirely unsuitable for a night such as this, staggered toward the twin beams. Her distress was evident in her gaunt and distraught face. The woman stumbled and fell hard to her knees just short of Lofty’s car. She stared wide-eyed at him, her big beautiful eyes pleading and begging hands outstretched.

“God damn it!” Lofty exclaimed under his breath, acutely aware that another shot could come tearing his way at any moment. The big man, lean and muscular, got out of the car and bundled the slight and shivering woman up in his arms. Hunkering low, he carried her slim and — he couldn’t help but notice — shapely form to the expansive back seat of the Lincoln. He wrapped her in the blanket that spread along that seat.

“Hit a tree!” She said between gasps and shivers. He got in beside her and leant forward over the front seat to close the side window. “Tire blew out,” she continued, “lost control and hit a tree!”

She didn’t look like she had any injuries, except for a pair of grazed knees. Lofty pulled a hip-flask from his jacket pocket and offered it to her. “Here, Sister,” he said, “have a snort of sour-mash; it’ll take the edge off.”

She took the flask with a half-smile and a rather pouty lick of her lips. “Thanks, Gee,” she said, taking a swig, “but my edges rubbed off a long time ago.” She coolly looked at him then pointed to his bloodied ear, “What happened to you?”

Just as coolly, Lofty pointed to the little round hole at the top of the windscreen. The wind was now whistling through it. “Someone took a pot shot at me, coming down that incline.”

“That’s where my tire blew; I managed to get round this bend before careening off the road.” Her forehead furrowed as she raised a concerned eyebrow. “You don’t think someone was trying to drill me too, do ya?”

He was pretty damn sure someone was. “We better get out o’ here.” He said as he clambered awkwardly from the back seat to the front.

“My, but you’re a BIG galoot, aren’t ya?” She said. “All strong arms an’ long legs.”

The V-12 was still purring under the hood as he got back into the driver’s seat and took the hand-brake off. Lofty eased the engine into a growl, and the Lincoln soon picked up speed. He punched his fist through the shattered windscreen in front of him, so he could at least have some idea of where he was going. The left wiper finally gave up the ghost and jammed halfway up.

“Wait, wait!” The young woman exclaimed. “My things, in the car… I can’t leave them here.”

He glanced back at her with a steely glare that revealed a slight flash of anger.

“Everything I own is in that crate. I can’t abandon it all; someone might glom the lot, and it’s all I have in the world!” She insisted, her steel matching his.

Lofty caught a glimpse of what looked like a brand-new maroon ‘47 Ford two-door convertible rammed into a tree. He braked suddenly, sending the blanket wrapped young woman sliding forward. She slipped clean off the back seat with a startled yelp.

“What am I getting?” He bristled, though the flicker of anger had vacated his granite chiselled features. He had a cleft chin and high cheekbones with the kind of lazy, sad eyes that had seen far too much of the world.

Sitting back up in the seat, she said. “There’s a case and vanity in the foot-well on the passenger side. A pocketbook in the glove compartment. Oh, and a clutch-purse, a fur stole an’ jacket, and a folio on the passenger seat too.”

He looked back at her, and with a hint of sarcasm, said, “Is that all?” He guessed she was about twenty, but she could have been a couple of years on either side of that. She had a knowing face and an easy air, a self-assurance that he liked a lot.

“Yep.” Not short of sass, she added with ironic demure, “I’m a simple gal of modest means.”

Lofty backed the Lincoln up a little and then eased himself over to the passenger side. The convertible’s door was already wide open, so when Lofty opened his door wide, the two doors met. “Open your door too,“ he said to the girl, “an’ I’ll pass all your worldly goods to ya.”

Staying low, the big man quickly shifted over to her car. It still had that new car smell, and all her luggage looked pretty damn pristine too. “And not cheap,” he mumbled as he started lifting and schlepping the items to her. Case, vanity, pocketbook, clutch, folio, and then he threw the stole and jacket — white fox fur, all very expensive — right in after them. “Modest means?” He said as he got back in the Lincoln. “Quite the doll, aren’t ya.”

“They were a gift… from a friend.” She said. “Not that I need to explain myself to you.”

“No, you’re right — ya don’t.” Doors closed, hand-brake off, and they were on their way again. “I apologize.” He said, peering through the fist-sized hole and the still pouring rain.

“Apology accepted.” She said. “We’re both a bit nervy, that’s all. Got any butts on ya? I’m gasping.”

Three rapid flashes of lightning bleached the whole of Essex County — if not the entire State of Massachusetts — for a brief second or two. It was all stark woods, dank marshes, unwholesome creeks and small, isolated, barren-looking farmsteads. The accompanying cataclysmic claps of thunder rattled the windows in the car,

“I’ve got almost a full deck in my inside pocket,” He said, negotiating a series of tight bends. “If you can reach around and get ‘em — don’t want to take my hands off the wheel at the moment.”

“Sure thing, Gee.” She said, reaching for the pack of Camel cigarettes.

“Flare one up for me too, will ya, Doll?” He glanced at her with a droll but intimate grin.

“Sure thing.” She replied with a coy smile. Martha lit the two cigarettes simultaneously with a lighter pulled from her purse. Then reached forward again to place one of them in Lofty’s mouth. “So, what’s your name Gee?” Her face was level with his now, and he felt her warm breath on his cheek as she spoke.

“Robertson.” He said, drawing in on his cigarette. “Mitch Robertson — but most folks call me Lofty.”

“Lofty!” She laughed. “Your friends aren’t the most original, are they?”

He laughed too, “Nope, but that’s soldiers for ya — I got the name in the army, and it stuck.”

“You a G.I.?”

“Was.” He said. “82nd Airborne Division, 505th P.I.R., Sergeant First Class.”

“Sergeant First Class!” She said, impressed. “What does P.I.R. stand for?”

“Parachute Infantry Regiment.”

“A paratrooper!” Again, she seemed impressed. “You must have been in the thick of it during the war; did you see much action?”

He nodded and said, “Some — Sicily, Italy, Normandy… all the way through to Germany.”

“Damn!” She said, but sensed his demeanour turn. He had tensed up at the close of her question. She had seen enough young men back from the war in the last two years to understand. Some wanted to talk about it, but most didn’t; she had learned it was best not to push, for many were broken — inside as well as out. She changed the subject, “So, what do you do now… for a living, I mean?”

“I’m a gum-shoe, but it’s not much of a living.” He said.

“You’re a Johnny Buttons?” A lot less impressed this time, she simmered a palpable hostility at the very idea that he might be a police detective.

“A Private Op.” He qualified.

“Oh, a P.I. — you must be a glutton for punishment. Couldn’t leave the excitement and danger behind when you demobbed, is that it?”

Lofty laughed, “Believe me, it’s not that exciting. It’s not like it is in the movies or some dime-novel, you know. It’s cheating husbands an’ wives mostly. What about you; what’s your story?”

“There’s not much to tell.” She said in a defensive tone. “I was a hostess for a while and have done a bit of modelling, a bit of dancing — chorus line… tried a bit of acting. You know, this an’ that.”

“Well, you seem to be doing well for yourself — new car, Chanel bags and Arctic Fox furs. You must have quite the benefactor?”

“Hey!” She said, offended. “What are you implying?”

“I’m not implying anything… hell, we all have to do what we have to do to get by in this world — I’m in no position to judge anyone in those regards. Think I can afford a bus like this on twenty-five dollars a day plus expenses?”

“Humph,” she said, “still sounds like you’re implying something to me.” Though, now she was more feigning offence than taking it.

“There’s a gas station up ahead. We better stop an’ tell them about your wreck back there; maybe call the local Clubhouse, tell the cops that there’s some kind o’ lunatic taking potshots at people.”

Lofty spent about five minutes out of the car while Martha bit her thumb inside it. She could see him and the attendant gesticulating to each other, getting directions she presumed, but the raging storm meant she heard none of it. The attendant took his time filling the tank. There were some more gesticulations.

“Damn this godforsaken place!” Said Lofty when he got back in the Lincoln, slicking his Brylcreemed black hair down. “Didn’t have a phone — hell, I doubt they even have cops out here anyway… the place is a total backwater.” He sat there a moment, thinking. “We’re not too far from my destination… is there anywhere I can take you? Where were you heading? Because I have to say, there’s not much of anything around these parts.” He turned to look back at her, “and I can’t figure what a big-city gal like you is doing all the way out here?”

“Ah, well… this big-city gal happens to have been born all the way out here. Orphaned at age four and sent to distant relatives in Boston.” A hint of bitterness crept into her soft caramel voice. “At twelve, they sent me to even more distant relatives in New York, been a big-city gal ever since.”

“Go figure,” he said, “so was I, born way out here that is. I got drafted into the army in 1940, twenty-two years old and fresh out of M.U., saw the world and opened my eyes… after the war, I moved to the big city myself — San Francisco. Never thought I’d ever come back here.”

“Me neither,” she said, “but I’m here… got an offer I couldn’t refuse. Some great-great-uncle I’d never heard of up an’ died and left me some kind of inheritance or bursary.”

“And you’ve gotta attend the reading of the will to receive it?”

“Yes, how’d you know?”

Lofty delved into an inside pocket, “Me too.” He said as he handed her an envelope.

She took it, removed the letter still inside and read it. “This is the same letter I got,” she said, “word for word, I think, except my name in place of yours.”

Lofty asked, “Do you still have the letter you received?”

“Sure.” She said and retrieved it. Hers too was still in the envelope, now folded in half. She pulled it from her pocketbook then handed it to him with his own.

He studied the two envelopes. Each address was written in the same hand. With identical post marks indicating they originated from Ipswich, a small town about three or four miles further up the road. Both dated October the 13th, about two weeks ago. Hers sent to Ms Martha Woodstern, 118a, Rapelye Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn, New York. The letters inside were indeed identical except for the names, and they were both typed — probably on the same machine. The shaky signatures matched too, from a William Castle, the last surviving child of the great-great-uncle previously unknown to them.

“Well, Ms Woodstern,” he said, handing back her letter, “it looks like we’re related, if somewhat distantly.”

“And this William Castle bird, that we’re going to meet, if he’s our great-uncle… how old must he be?”

“He’s eighty-seven… I looked him up. I spent the last couple of days back in Lynn and then Salem, at the Public Libraries and the Records Office. He’s from a rich family that has a long and complicated history. Of both Scottish and English descent. How it all relates to my family tree, I have no idea.”

“If he’s eighty-seven?” She exclaimed. “How old was great-great-uncle Wilbur when he died?”

“He was a-hundred-and-nine by all accounts.”

“Damn, talk about charmed lives.”

“Like I said, they’re rich. Have been for centuries. Old Wilbur’s father, Wilbur senior, paid to have a Scottish baronial castle moved stone by stone across the Atlantic and rebuilt here, in Massachusetts, in the 1830s. On the site of some deserted colonial village. With its cemetery and an old abandoned mine that he’d managed to acquire. It caused a hell of a stir. Young William still lives in that castle to this day. That’s where we’re heading now, Castle House.”

Martha laughed dryly, “So William Castle actually lives in a castle, and I was born to humble farm stock who’d worked themselves to death trying to feed me…  where’s the connection?”

“Not sure. I couldn’t find a connection to me either.” Lofty pondered. “It makes me wonder how many more prospective distant relatives are on their way to this Last Will and Testament reading?”

After a moment’s silence, Martha asked, “How much further is it?”

“Not far up this road, there‘s a turn off to the right. It loops back through the woods and salt-marshes to Castle House, toward the coast. It should take about fifteen or twenty minutes.” Lofty eased the Lincoln’s V12 back into a growl, and they set off from the gas station.

Castle House was an early sixteenth-century Tower House and courtyard, a big one, with two seventeenth-century towers at alternate corners of the massive keep-like house. It sat at the top of a relatively low conical hill known as Castle Mound. An old graveyard sloped down the right side toward the salt marshes, with a ruined church and village down the left to some woods. Essentially, it was an island that dominated the surrounding wetland of the Castle Neck River estuary. Lofty kept getting glimpses of it through the hole in the windscreen as he drove along the narrow causeway that twisted through the marshes between thick copses and over swirling tributaries. After another flash of lightning and burst of thunder, he said. “Looks like a backdrop from a Universal monster movie. All we need is Bella Lugosi or Boris Karloff and an overly dramatic musical score.”

“Gives me the creeps!” Said Martha in the back. It was not the sort of castle she had imagined; it was all bleak and foreboding and reminded her of nightmares that plagued her in childhood. Martha really wanted Lofty to turn the car around. “Something doesn’t feel right about this whole setup,” she warned, “the letters… a great-great-uncle that neither of us has ever heard of before. It has to be a joke or a con, a scam of some sort, or a trap — someone has already tried to kill us!”

Lofty uttered a dismissive laugh. “These rubes are rich, and I’ve got the jump on them. We both stand to carve a substantial chunk of sugar from inside that pile. I at least want to see how the cards fall before I consider checking out of this particular house game.”

She said no more, and he didn’t turn the car around. He thought about telling her what the gas-station attendant had told him, a nervous little man who wasn’t — Lofty suspected — entirely compos mentis. “It be a Hell house,” he had said, “a Hell house on a haunted hill! You don’t want to go up there. Often-times, people drive up there, but very few of them seem to come back down!”

Of course, he didn’t tell her — that fool of an attendant was speaking nonsense, and he figured she was jumpy enough as it was. So they continued following the road, snaking up the hill to the forbidding gatehouse that fronted the walled courtyard of Castle House.


Martha Woodstern and Mitch “Lofty” Robertson on their way to Castle House

Chapter Two: Dissolute Progeny is now available to read HERE and I may feature up to two more of the initial chapters in subsequent posts before publication of the finished ebook and paperback later in the year.

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