There are things in life that one naturally keeps a secret. Most people do not believe in ghosts because anyone who has ever seen a ghost has understood that this is something too frightening to share. The supernatural likes to hide behind a veil of mystery. Whenever we come across one of those stories, we dismiss it as fiction, something that someone made up, be it to entertain, annoy, or simply be creative. Know now, that this is one of those stories and that you probably won’t believe it. And I don’t judge you for that. Finding refuge in ignorance is one way of dealing with the truth.
To understand this story, you will have to know a few things about me. When I was a boy, I went to a boarding school in Germany. One would think that that’s not that far away from Switzerland, but keep in mind that a little boy will perceive distance much more intensely than an adult, used to the globalized qualities of the world, will. Back then, I thought that I was at the end of the world, at a school in a foreign country, far away from anyone I knew. Especially in winter, I would get desperately homesick. Because apart from the fact that I never liked winters and I still don’t, winters in northern Germany are so much different from the ones in Switzerland. Because of the lower landscape, you hardly ever get any snow, but since it’s considerably farther north, the temperatures can get surprisingly frosty.
It was one of those cold winter nights when this story took place. It got dark early, and the later it got, the more I felt like something was creeping up on me. You know the feeling when you think you saw someone in the corner of your eye, but when you turn around, there is not a trace of anyone having ever been there? That’s how I felt. Like something was wrong tonight. But I didn’t think too much of it – as I said, I would often get homesick, and this was just one of its frequent side-effects. I spent the entire evening staring out the window, yet, there was nothing to see because huge clouds of thick fog had made the outside’s inherent darkness even more impenetrable.
It was a conservatively Christian boarding school, so when it was bedtime, we all went to the little chapel to say our prayers. The chapel had always had a mysterious air to it, I thought. The dim light, the flickering candles, the chanting voices – all of it turned this place into a synthesized myth. Obviously, I was relieved to be able to leave and go to my room. Although technically, it was not my, but our room; I shared it with 4 other boys. When it was time to go to sleep and the lights went out, we would stay awake for a while and tell each other funny stories and jokes. Every once in a while we would all be still and hold our breaths as the custodian passed our door in the hallway. Often, after such a break, one of the boys would have fallen asleep and the rest would continue snickering at the silly stuff that boys our age come up with. Due to this lighthearted conversation, I soon forgot about the unease that the night had caused in me initially and slowly, the voices started to fade, and I fell asleep. The last thing I heard was one of the boys asking another: “What do you think? What’s in the old castle?”
The old castle is a building that – for all I know – might still exist to date. It is a small castle next to the premises of the boarding school. It isn’t the kind of castle you could describe as fortress, but rather what the French call “chateau”. A beautiful piece of architecture surrounded by an extensive garden. For us boys, it had always been a place of wonder and excitement. Not that we ever actually went there; the adventurous qualities of the castle remained but a figment of our collective imagination. We made up stories of kings and princesses; we thought of the castle as of a palace; we attributed a past to it that was full of glamour and excitement. It was strange that this place came up in their conversation of that particular night.
I don’t know what time it was when I woke up. It was still dark; from the other beds, I could hear the rhythmic breath of the others. It must have been well after midnight, but obviously, that is an observation the poor little boy I was back then did not make. Blinking at the darkness around me, I tried to make out what it was that had caused me to wake up so abruptly. I couldn’t see anything when suddenly, I heard a voice calling my name. It was a pleasant voice – soothing and warm. And then, I saw the man standing in front of my bed. He was old and he looked wise and experienced. His wrinkly face was smiling at me – it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, or so I thought.
“Come on, get out of bed, fetch your shoes – I need to show you something.”
His charming voice did not leave me any choice, and if it had, I would have blindly followed anyway. Almost instantly, I jumped out of bed and grabbed my little shoes. I looked up at the man, but he was already leading the way out of our room, out of the building and off the premises. I tried to keep up, ran, my heart beating in exhaustion and excitement.
“What is it that you want to show me?”
I half asked, half screamed for he was much faster than a little boy could run. He did not answer.
“Who are you? Why have I never seen you before?”
He did not answer, just kept walking towards the old castle. I followed, still numb from the soothing charm his words had enchanted me with. Only when we stood at the enormous doors of the castle, I noticed that what I was following the man through was the garden in front of it. I looked up at the mysterious stranger and he looked down at me, smiling in the most inebriating way.
“Go ahead, the door is open.”
And indeed, it was. I looked back once more and then moved into the castle driven by the adventurous spirit all boys have at this age, the spell that the old man had cast on me, and sheer curiosity.
It was dark inside. I found myself standing in a huge hall with what seemed like hundreds of doors and in the middle of this enormous room, there was the most impressive staircase a little boy like I was could possibly imagine. There also were two gigantic windows high above the door I had just entered, but because the night was such a dark one, the only light came from the top of the stairs. It was a shimmery, gleaming, red light. A bit like there was a fire burning upstairs, but not quite orange enough. It only felt natural to me to move towards the light.
Step by step, I climbed the stairs. When I finally reached the last step, I was quite exhausted again and even though I felt like I needed a break, I kept moving towards the half open door from behind which the red light seemed to be emitted. I did not look back or anywhere else and today, I fear this might have been my biggest mistake of that night.
Like there was nothing to it, I fully opened the door and the red light flickered over the entire hallway I had just passed. It took me a moment to realize what I was seeing. All over the walls of the room, there were hundreds of small skulls. They seemed to be the size of a boy’s head and they were nailed to the walls. And as if that wasn’t enough to startle me to death, the skulls had eyes! They were glowing red and they were looking at me. I could hear the whispers of a thousand voices, but I couldn’t see anyone in the room.
Panicking, I turned around. Behind me, the old man was standing. Although the strange part was that I recognized him as the same old man who had taken me to this place. He still looked old, but his wrinkly face had lost all of its charm, replaced by a feeling of foulness and deceit. His skin was gray and the red light was not enough to bring any color to it. His rotten teeth showed when he started laughing. It was an evil laughter, the kind that you can feel in every fiber of your body. All the beauty and enchantment of his sweet voice was gone. I was overcome by a feeling of pure horror.
The evil man reached his hand out for me. And that is when I started to run. My mind went “Zigzag, Zigzag” and my feet responded. The tricky part came first. Obviously, I did not want to run into the room with the skulls, so the only option left was to run back, directly into the evil man’s arms. The ugly, yellow nails of his fingers pointed towards me as if to emphasize the path his hand was steadily pursuing. I ducked, jumped forward, made a step to the side. Now I was standing right next to him. He smelled of rot, like a dead animal. The evil man probably didn’t expect my quick reaction, and to this day, I do not understand why that was. For a moment, he stood there without moving a muscle. By the time he had started to turn his head after me, I was already speeding down the stairs, heading for the huge door I had entered through.
“A little chase, huh?”
This almost playful exclamation was again followed by his blood-boiling laughter. He started running after me and all the while, his laughter echoed in the hall downstairs. The moment of surprise I had had was the only reason why I managed to reach the door before him. It was closed and when I tried to open it, I couldn’t. I don’t know if I was merely too weak to move the heavy door or if it was simply looked. I looked back in fear to see the evil man approaching me, his eyes now glowing in a similar red color as the skulls’ – although there seemed to be something much more black about this particular light, something that simple names for colors couldn’t do justice. Both his hands were reaching for me and his face showed the most evil, diabolic grin I had ever seen.
I gave up trying to open the door and ran along the wall to the right until I found a door. While the evil man closed in on me with extraordinary speed, I tried the knob and found that the door was open. I ran into the room behind it and slammed the heavy wooden door as hard as I could. From the other side, I heard more fiendish laughter.
“Why are you making this so hard? I will get what I want anyway!”
Cold fear ran down my neck, as I heard the man approaching the door, and as the knob slowly started turning, I had finally managed to get an overview of the room I was in. Basically, it was empty. A large room with a floor of reflecting glass and two big windows at the other end. I figured that those windows were my only hope of escape. I ran again, almost out of breath, and tripped. As my elbows, trying to soften the fall, landed on the floor, I noticed that it was not made of glass, but that the entire room’s floor was covered by a liquid. I don’t know if it was because of all the red lights I had seen in the castle, or simply the sheer horror of my situation that immediately led me to believe that the liquid was blood. I jumped up again, as I heard the door behind me swing open. The laughter had gotten louder again.
The windows did not seem to have handles or any other means of opening them. Once again, I turned my head and I saw the evil grin almost right behind me. The man had already made half the distance from the door to where I was standing. And in that moment, I gathered all the strength and all the courage I had in my little body, swallowed the panic and the fear, took two steps of inrun, closed my eyes, and jumped head-first through one of the windows. The evil laughter merged with the scream of shattering glass. Although I landed in a rather soft hedge outside of the castle, everything hurt. I had driven myself to the limits of what I was capable of both physically and mentally. I had bruised my knees and elbows, I had cut myself on the broken glass, and I had felt exhausting horror and fear. All I wanted was to sleep, for this to be over. But it wasn’t over. In a way, it would never be over, but I didn’t know that back then. When I heard the abominable scream of the evil man, I knew that I had to get away from this place, run just a little more.
I crawled out of the hedge, and ran off the premises. I didn’t know whether or not the man was following me, but I feared that he was. When I reached the building where the boarding school’s bedrooms were in, I found the doors locked; I was locked out! I ran along the building and tried every door, but I couldn’t find an entry. Finally, I came to the chapel and tried that door. It was unlocked. Quickly, I entered the small room filled with thick air from the candles that were on the verge of fading out. As I closed the door behind me, I realized again how cold and dark it was outside. Even though there were only a few candles inside the chapel, it almost felt bright and warm in comparison to where I had been tonight. When I suddenly saw a tall shadow move along one of the blurry windows, I quickly crawled behind the altar, closed my eyes as hard as I could and hoped that the evil old man wouldn’t come in here.
Like this, I stayed there for the rest of the night. In the morning when one of the custodians had unlocked all the doors, I came out of my hiding place and stealthily snuck back into my room. Later, some people noticed the bruises and cuts, but I didn’t tell them where I got them. From that day on, I couldn’t sleep anymore, always scared the old man might return. At night, his evil laughter resonated in the silence of our room. Two weeks later I left the boarding school forever.
Physically leaving that place of horror behind helped changing things for the better. Soon, I was able to sleep quietly again, free of the nightmares that had haunted me whenever I would actually have been able to fall asleep. And with time, I began to think that all of the events in the castle actually were nightmares, themselves. But they were not.
I never saw the old man again until I was 48 years old. Sadly, my daughter had been overrun by a truck. The little girl hadn’t known what was coming her way until it was too late. It was a sad time for us all. On her funeral, while the priest was babbling all kinds of Latin prayers, I saw the evil old man standing behind him. I froze to stone when I realized that it was him. His eyes were glowing and he was grinning at me.
“I told you I would get what I want!”
Apart from the pure evil, there was something triumphant in his voice. He started laughing victoriously and an immense anger overcame me. I tried to charge him, but suddenly, I was unable to see him. This caused a lot of commotion. I was sent to a shrink to “help me handle my loss”. I told him the story. He did not believe me. Two weeks later, I was admitted to something that we no longer call “an insane asylum”.
As I said: You probably won’t believe me. And I cannot blame you. I wish I could shroud these events in ignorance. But I can’t. And the reason why I wrote all of this down is that I am desperate. No one believes me and even if I don’t have high hopes that you will, I still have to at least try. I am locked up, have no way of proving that I am not insane from my cell. This is a cry for help – and a warning. Beware of the evil old man.
Image courtesy of Layoutstparks.com