(Horror. The full story of the Hardwick House is revealed in a disturbing conclusion)
The smell was what hit her first, followed by the nasty sound of something metallic clanking against something else. Her flashlight cut through the darkness, tracing through lines of chains and hooks and other things less clear to her. She could not make out a stairway, ladder or other door; her heart felt like it was going to jump out of her chest in raw panic.
“Colin,” she whispered hoarsely, “is someone else here?”
Before she could react, the flashlight was knocked out of her hands, smashing on the floor and sputtering out. Colin’s camping light was somehow distant or failing; she could barely see for the shadows. Her arm was pinned behind her, followed by the other. She raised her knee and kicked out, though it seemed not to affect her attacker. A moment later, something slipped over her wrists and held them in place behind her back. As if remembering she could, Macy screamed for Colin; the last thing she could remember before blacking out, wild with fear.
Colin felt ill. Reality, ugly and dark, was sinking in fast. The presence had materialised in front of him. The gloomy figure of Charles Hardwick, founder of the American Hardwick clan and resident, undead psychopath stood before Colin. His image was indistinct and blurred, though it was unmistakably the old man. Colin had known him for a long time.
“The appointed time hath come, young Colin,” Charles said in his usual mix of mumbles and groaning.
“I know, Grandfather,” Colin said, strangely self-conscious about speaking aloud to the apparition, “and I am here.”
“’tis well,” Charles said. “Time doth drain me, though it be a curse of my own making. Art thou prepared?”
“Almost,” Colin said, hanging his head. “I have to tell her before it is done.” He could feel a wave of angry disapproval emanate from Charles, as easy to notice as a sudden change in temperature.
“A waste,” Charles spat. “What is gained by it, young Colin?”
“My conscience will be appeased, if only a little,” Colin said flatly, not wishing to debate his decision.
“Ye throw the minutes to the wind as a wastrel, child,” Charles uttered with distaste. “My curse holds as ye dally with idle talk.”
Colin had prepared for this exchange as he had for the one to convince Macy to explore the secret passage. It was just a matter of executing the plan.
“I am no longer a young boy, Grandfather,” he said calmly. “Still, I plan to honour my oath to end the curse. Midnight has not come or passed, so the time between is mine to use as I please, and it pleases me to explain all this madness to her. You have lingered here for over two hundred years, a few more moments should be an easy matter.” Grandfather was angry and impatient, yet shrewd enough to try hastening things.
“Your conscience will cause ye no ill, lad,” Charles said, still angry. “Mind ye, I might. Think on it.”
“You never had a conscience, Grandfather,” Colin said, remaining calm despite his rising temper, “so your advice has no weight to it. And harm me if you want. I know you will not. I am the last Hardwick, the final heir to the family, and if I fail tonight your own curse will deny you rest for eternity.”
“As ye will, child,” Charles growled, simmering rage beneath his words. He stood silent and still, hovering over the room with the appearance of patience. Colin felt energized after standing up to his grandfather.
Colin tied Macy’s ankles tightly before lifting her onto the ancient table, securing her further with chains. It would be enough to hold her until it was over. He gently shook her. “Macy,” he said, “you need to wake up for a while. Just for a while, darling.”
Macy was slow to come around. The moments of fear she last remembered were distant and dreamlike. It took a minute for her to recall her situation; her fear was less frantic, abated, perhaps, by her helpless condition. Colin looked menacing in the strange light, yet his presence was a bizarre comfort.
“There are things you need to know,” Colin began explaining, not wishing to drag the ordeal out.
“Why?” was all she asked. “What is happening?”
“The family has been troubled by accidents and tragedy for many generations,” Colin said, keeping it plain. “This is not chance. Rather, it is a curse from beyond.”
“What are you talking about?” Macy asked, understanding his words but not really following his meaning.
“The family has been under a curse, imposed by one of its own patriarchs many generations ago,” Colin said, simply moving along without concern if she did not follow in detail. “You see, Charles, the grey haired man in the portrait in the master suite, came into conflict with his son over…business matters. The old man wanted to continue illegal practices as part of the regular business. His son wanted to phase that out. Things became tense between them, threatening to divide the family.”
“Colin,” Macy said, eyes growing wide with fear, “what is going on? Did you drug me?”
He glanced to his side. Charles hovered there, half mist and half shadow; every bit the ghoulish beast he had always been. Macy must be feeling his intense malice and anger at being denied an immediate resolution, he thought; something he had grown used to.
“Sorry,” Colin said, only wanting to finish his explanation without distraction. “The old man turned on his son, threatening to disown him, or worse, if he failed to obey. The son was not pleased with the threats and mustered his own supporters, turning on the old man. They stormed the house.”
Macy was growing hysterical. “Not real, not real, not real…” she began to whisper, like a protective mantra. Colin was tempted to slap her, shock her out her state.
“The old man was unprepared,” Colin went on. “They took him and were not certain what to do with him. They worried he would return with hired help, or something, if they simply cast him out. The biggest thing, really, was the money. Charles had hidden the greater share of the family fortune somewhere, and was not telling. The money was critical to the Hardwick future, no matter what direction the business took.”
Macy had stopped her whispered chant but hardly seemed to be absorbing Colin’s explanation; which was mattering less and less to him.
“They brought him here,” Colin said, “to this very room. I am sure they did not plan for things to be overly brutal, but it was a dark age and things turned ugly. A few days beatings turned to whippings, and escalated from there. The torture became something grotesque, medieval. It was long and terrible, ending in the death of old Charles, keeping his secret to the end. The family found the money some years later, making the horrendous act meaningless.”
Macy finally seemed to regard Colin in a lucid state. “They killed him?” she asked, almost numbly.
“Yes, Macy,” Colin said, tenderly, “and in his later moments he cursed them, us, to lives of tragedy and suffering for several generations. He committed his own spirit to enforcing the curse in this world. His rage and resentment is not diminished.”
“Why this, Colin?” Macy asked gently.
“Old Charles became a regular companion of mine, as a boy,” Colin explained, “until my father caught wind of our communications and moved us away. The curse can be lifted with a sacrifice. The Hardwick heir must kill his betrothed, here in this room, by the end of today. It is the only way.”
“I love you, Colin,” she said, almost as if she welcomed her fate.
“I love you, too,” he replied, not meaning it but wishing her a touch of comfort in her last moments. The blade was an old one, suggested by Charles so many years earlier.
Colin turned to the apparition beside him, feeling the eagerness flow off him, and narrowed his eyes with resentment.
“What I do now,” he said, as much to Charles as he did to whatever God might be out there listening, “is not of my own free will. I am coerced by a demon beside me, may his soul reside below for all time.” Charles stayed silent, seeming concerned only with what was to come.
Macy was strikingly silent, only gasping slightly as the blade punched through her chest; her heart broken twice by the blow. She struggled to breathe for a few moments before expiring. It felt like she had passed in less than a minute.
“Is it done?” Colin asked.
“Her passage is beginning now,” Charles said. “The soul is holding to the flesh as a babe to the womb before birth. It will be done soon.”
“Then what? Do you move on? Am I truly free?”
“I shall pass to the beyond and be judged,” Charles said, with the first tinge of sadness Colin had ever heard from him. “With that, I or my curse shall trouble thee nevermore.”
After some moments of standing over Macy’s still body, Charles finally reacted to something invisible to Colin. “Her departure begins,” he said, as if in awe.
Colin felt relieved, somehow. This thing had stayed with him, troubling him like a monster under his bed for his lifetime. He could truly live, now.
An irksome, troubling feeling from Charles struck Colin as harshly as a bucket of ice water might have. The look and feel from the elder ghost grew into a state of malice and rage such that Colin had never known from him. Something was extremely wrong, and Colin could not think of what it might be.
“What is it?” he asked, fearfully.
“Thou wouldst cheat me,” Charles said in blood soaked words. “Such is the manner of mine own kin, sadly.”
“I did everything my oath required,” Colin said, never so afraid as this before. “How did I cheat you?”
“Ye bring a betrothed to me, already known to a man before,” Charles spat, raw rage a torrent from him now. “Ye, the last Hardwick, shall suffer worldly torments worse than mine own before we ride to the seven hells together.”
Colin was too shocked to respond or take any action, at all, as Charles descended upon him, a force of pure wrath. Colin’s screams found him as Charles began his vengeance.