“To Dwell on Tainted Ground” by John B. Ford


Today we present another excellent story from the fine pen of writer John B. Ford.  Hodgson has been a major influence on John’s writing and of this particular story, he says: “I think it was first published in the Masters of Terror anthology by Andy Fairclough back in 2001. It came about when I challenged myself to try and recreate the atmosphere and prose style of House on the Borderland.”  It does a very good job of recreating that atmosphere as I think you will see.

To Dwell On Tainted Ground

by John B. Ford

Prologue:

On my recent travels through the bleak and unpopulated areas of Western Ireland, I came across a deserted old house stood at the edge of a pine wood. The outer door stood open, and so I entered inside. Walking down a corridor, I found a door to my left, and passing through it, entered into what once had once obviously been the library. Strangely, the room seemed to be burnt and charred in many places, and upon a table in the centre of the room, I saw what appeared to be a time-yellowed manuscript.

Though scorched in places, I saw the content of the manuscript was still perfectly legible, and I found it to be some kind of account written by a former owner of the house. Recorded on this document was every aspect of the time the man had spent within this house. It is the strangest thing I have ever read! From every single sentence that passed before my eyes there issued the incredible feeling that all this could be true. What other conclusions I reached I will keep to myself. The entire manuscript is printed out in full for the first time. I leave you to make your own judgement.

JBF

***

Darkness

 

                                                      Hush! And hark to the sighs of the dark,

To the creatures of Fear who feed on my fright,

And in me a craving for God’s holy light.

But the flowers of dawn will sway in the threat

Of the swift-coming night and a sun made to set.

For this sun made to set is a Time-ravaged orb

That gives out false hope but will only absorb

All the fluid of life and the essence of souls,

It dims before Time and let’s Death steal our goals,

And tearfully I pray for the dying. .  .

Yes tearfully I pray for this dying earth.

NB:   This poem I found written on a separate piece of paper

There are ungodly things happen in this house that should not be.  I came here five years ago, seeking solitude and a place of sanctuary from the world. Since that time, I have witnessed many strange events that can only be described as bizarre and unholy. For more than sixty years this house stood untenanted, apparently having had some kind of a reputation. At first I scoffed at this, but as time went by, I came to realise that its reputation was well-deserved. For the things I have witnessed here are unnatural, and have no place within God’s holy scheme of things.

More alarming still is the fact that these events I speak of are not confined to the house. The whole surrounding area is tainted ground, belonging more to the Devil than anything holy. The house itself is a mansion that stands alone at the edge of a dark pine wood. With the exception of one small village, there are no dwellings for miles in any direction.

And so I must now relate to you of these weird happenings, for I feel in writing this down, I will perhaps make sense of things in my own mind. The first few weeks here were of quietness, though at times I did have the queer feeling I was being secretly observed. The house still being without electricity, it was lit only be candlelight, and many times I would find myself studying the darkly shadowed areas of rooms, almost certain I was not alone.

At night, as I walked the long dark corridors, I would often pass through areas of curious coldness that could not be explained. Then, at the beginning of my fourth week here, something happened that would make most people leave instantly. I had chosen for my bedroom a room on the upper corridor beneath the attic. On the night in question, it was about midnight, and as I lay in bed, reading, drowsiness slowly came over me, so that soon I extinguished my candle, intending to sleep.  Then, as I lay back on my pillow, I heard a noise – the creaking of the attic door. And as I lay there in the darkness, there came another sound – the sound of soft footsteps coming down the corridor. At the point outside my door, they stopped, and it seemed to me then, that someone or something was listening for my breath; trying to determine whether sleep had yet taken me or not.

Quickly I reached for the matches and relit my candle. Summoning my courage, I left my bed and walked towards the door. Taking hold of the handle, I opened it rapidly – there was nothing to be seen. But then, when I walked the corridor and checked the attic door, I found it locked, as it had been since the time of my arrival. The rest of the night I hardly slept.

The next day my books arrived from the village. They came on a cart driven by a peasant, who for some reason seemed in a constant state of fear. He unloaded them as though every second counted, and when I offered him money, he backed away in a state of great terror. Still, what need have I for people? I was glad to see him go! The rest of the day I spent stocking the library with my books and reading those of the former occupant which remained upon the shelves. Curiously these were of witchcraft, and I found them fascinating.

By the end of the day I was tired from my exertions, and so retired early to bed. Sleep came to me instantly, but in the early hours of the morning I suddenly awoke, shivering. The entire room seemed filled by an unnatural coldness, and this time a sense of fear cut deep inside me. I heard something that sounded like a footstep, and as I lay there in the darkness, listening, my blood turned to ice when I heard my name called from outside the door. And though inside I was quaking in fear, my thoughts were also of anger, for this was now my house and nothing would alter that fact!

Again I lit the candle and moved towards the door, and with a sudden movement I passed through it into the corridor. The flame from my candle lit the surrounding darkness, but still displayed nothing unusual. Then, as I looked further down the corridor, I saw a dark shadowy shape stood before the balustrade of the staircase. In the next instant it began to descend the stairs.

I followed, walking rapidly, and almost fooled myself I had it on the run; for it had seemed to me something like the outline of a man. And as I descended the staircase, I heard the sound of the heavy oaken door to the library creaking open. Standing still for a moment at the foot of the stairs, I listened, but no further sound came to me, and so I gathered my wits and walked towards the library. As I stepped inside, my candle went out; as though somehow snuffed, and in a state of sheer panic I heard the door slammed shut behind me.

In the next second all hell seemed to break loose. From the shelves I heard the sound of books being flung from every direction at once. And then I could take no more so that I thought I would die from the sheer terror of it all. But as my screams rang through the air, I felt my throat gripped so tightly that my breath was stifled. I raised my hands to release whatever held me, but they touched nothing beside my own skin. Mercifully I passed out.

Next morning, I awoke to the light of dawn entering in through the leaded windows. Seeing the floor was scattered with books, I set about the task of picking them up, but as I did so, I noticed that all were the books that I had brought here. The ones of the former occupant remained upon the shelves. In a corner of the room I saw that something had been ripped into shreds. When I walked over to examine it, I saw it was the Bible.  It was at that point when I almost left this place. My immediate reaction was one of complete horror, but as I thought about the matter, my stubborn nature again resurfaced. This was merely a scare tactic; a stunt to make me leave the house – but I would not leave! My throat still hurt sorely, and upon examination in a mirror, I saw five lacerations of the skin and an odd greyness in the surrounding area.

Later that morning I left the house and walked into the pine wood, for I needed fresh air and time to think on things. The morning mist still hung amongst the trees, mixing with shadow, and concealing green foliage. I noticed that the whole wood seemed oddly quiet. No bird sang; nor was there any sign of one. I had ventured maybe a mile from the house when I heard the distinct sound of twigs breaking underfoot. Then, when I happened to glance to my right, I saw what looked to be dark shadowy shapes moving along to keep pace with me. But perhaps this was just an overwrought imagination, for in the next second I saw nothing. Trying to put the thought out of my mind, I continued walking. It was as I walked around a mass of thick rhododendron bushes, that I saw something that definitely wasn’t imagination. A figure of evil stood before the swirling mist, its entire body covered by a black leathery skin. It faced in my direction and studied me with green luminous eyes of a vile intelligence.

At that moment my nerves gave way. I turned quickly and ran madly in the direction of the house. But as I did so a dark satanic howl filled the entire wood, and I knew I was being pursued. I heard the sound of movement all around, and it seemed to me that every moment the unholy presences of the wood closed in. But somehow the sheer terror added speed to my flight, so that at last I broke free from the confines of the wood and ran across the open space of the lawns to the house. When I entered inside, I immediately locked both outer doors and secured every window. For it came to me then that the Thing in the wood had been cloven hooved; and then I knew the whole wood to be populated by the spawn of the Devil.

The rest of that day I spent reading in the library, for though now a great fear had accosted me, still a burning curiosity remained within my mind. I needed to know more of this strange place; I would make an effort to understand it. And so I began to read the books on witchcraft, the days turning to weeks as I became engrossed by them. The house became quiet, almost as though on its best behaviour on approval of my research. But as time passed by, a thing of physical curiosity began to bother me. For the patch of greyness on my neck had begun to spread upwards and onto my face. At this point I gave up travelling to the village for my food supplies, for my physical appearance had begun to attract attention. Instead I deposited monies at a store and had my groceries left once a month in a disused cattle-shelter about a mile from the house.

This routine carried on for over four years, and in this time I began to feel more at one with the house, almost a part of it. Then one day I came across a self-penned book of experiences and vile practices. A previous tenant had studied and practiced the black arts. What unholy Things had been unleashed into the house and the surrounding grounds? With a sudden horrible realisation I knew the house approved of what I was doing. I was being drawn towards these evil practices.

Anger flooded through me. I collected every one of those satanic books and carried them to the front lawns, stacking them together. Dowsing them thoroughly with paraffin, I struck a match, threw it, and watched them burn. But as the flames flickered upwards, I looked back towards the house once more, and for the first time in five years I became afraid. And though the house continued in its quietness, still a sense of fear grew in me, for I knew it merely bided its time.

It would have vengeance.

***

The quietness ended a month ago. Late one night as I walked the upper corridor to my bedroom, I noticed the attic door stood ajar. At that, a chord of terror struck deep within me, but still a sense of curiosity reigned. I approached it, and by the light of my candle I saw a flight of small wooden steps leading up into darkness. I walked upwards, slowly and in silence, prepared to turn and flee at the slightest noise. At the top of the stairs I saw another door. I turned the handle and opened it inwards, my candlelight partially illuminating a dust-filled room.

The nearest part of the room appeared to be empty, but further away I saw something laid upon the floor in a more darkly shadowed area. I walked cautiously across the floor towards this object, feeling drawn by something more than curiosity, but with the revelation of what I then saw I froze in terror. Before me lay an open coffin and within lay the grey faced corpse of a man. And as I stood there, paralysed by fear, the eyes of the corpse opened. A draught of wind came from nowhere to extinguish the flame of my candle, and at that moment my screams filled the air, for the eyes of the ‘man’ had focused on me. They burnt through the darkness like two glowing orbs of fire. I thank God that I regained the ability to move, so that I fled from that terrible room, slamming the door shut behind me.

The remainder of that night I spent downstairs in the kitchen. But still the thought came to me that no room in this entire house would be truly safe. And now I feared no more for my life; I feared for my very soul. For, when I had stared upon the face of that corpse, its features had changed in one instant to those of my own. I fear now that these days and nights will be my last. I have neither the will nor the ability to take any place in society. My bodily strength seems to be waning now; the greyness now covers my entire face.

***

Yesterday evening I tried to lose myself by reading a book in the library. Suddenly an extreme coldness radiated through my entire body, and a feeling came to me that I was being watched. I looked over towards the leaded windows and saw two green eyes that gazed in at me. It was one of the devil-creatures from the wood! A sudden terror ran through me, for I remembered the outer door was still unlocked. I crossed the room quickly, and those terrible, staring eyes followed me. Then, as I hurried down the corridor towards the outer door, I heard a sound of shuffling that came from beyond it. In a mad dash I ran towards it, but before I got there the handle began to turn.

Quickly I dived forwards and somehow managed to slide the bottom bolt across before the thing made entrance. Then, as I stood listening, I heard more shuffling and the strange, distorted sound of inhuman voices. In the next instant my head became filled with the sound of a dark, satanic howling. This time it held a quality of anger such as I had never known. Excruciating pain filled my entire body and darkness descended before my eyes.

I woke the next day, midway through the afternoon. My body was still painful and I felt as weak as a baby; then, when I lifted my hands to my face, I felt a dried crusting of blood that had flowed from my ears. Somehow I crawled to the library, and here I have remained since that time. And now, as the day draws towards its close and darkness once more descends, I feel I cannot withstand the coming horrors the night will again hold for me. A short time ago I managed to walk to the storeroom. I returned here with a container of paraffin – I have dowsed half the room with it. Tonight I will die and this house will die with me! This account is now one of supreme irony; it will burn unread just as I will burn with my dark story untold. I have lit the fire and may the Lord purify this house with its flames. Already half the room is burning; I hear the roar and feel the heat upon my body.  But wait… My God! Please… help me… something is forming amongst the flames; it’s staring at me from amid the flames!  Please God… It’s moving towards me. It’s reaching—

***

Epilogue:

Here the account ended. There was no sign of a corpse in the room, and the rest of the house is undamaged. Out of curiosity I walked up to the attic, but found it locked. One strange fact I have neglected to tell you is that, despite what the account says, I found the library stocked with arcane books of witchcraft. I have since read many of them and find them fascinating. In doing so I have reached my own conclusion about what formed amongst the flames. It is too incredible to even impart to you! This whole house interests me intensely.

JBF

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2 Comments

Filed under William Hope Hodgson

2 responses to ““To Dwell on Tainted Ground” by John B. Ford

  1. Micky

    Tut, tut… What did the author want to say? Virtually, this is nothing but a very weak attempt at a five page version of Hodgson’s “House on The Borderlands”, chaotic and including events which happen in order to something happen. Sorry to be so frank, but I can not feel “the atmospheric styles of William Hope Hodgson the author writes in,” as Wikipedia states. But to tell the truth, I have read worse stories than this one 🙂

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