Sunday, October 29, 2023

Lagfoot Browne

[I originally wrote this as a teenager, as a creative writing assignment in the style of Edgar Allen Poe.  I came across the image below in the thumbnail, which was part of the original inspiration, and decided to post it in time for Halloween.  My teenage self loved purple prose.  I pared the language down to make it legible, while trying to remain true to the original assignment.  Except the phrasing, this is as I wrote it twenty years ago.]

Even from my youth, I had always been plagued by migraines.  The pain built behind my eyes, incapacitating me for hours.  Often it became so unbearable I would vomit.  Light or sound were excruciating.  I had found it best to lock myself alone in my chambers, enclosed in darkness, until the fits subsided.  

Within those dark times, I would often find myself confronted by frightful and fevered visions.  No matter my shouting, the befuddled nurses who attended me always failed to perceive these visions.  The visions varied often, and all so real I aver I could have reached out my hand to touch them, but the vision which most impressed upon me the reality of its presence, is also the one which most often recurred.  I came to know this vision most, and feared its reappearance, however inevitable.  It was, as far as my pain-anguished eyes let me see, a small imp, its skin a blotted red and brown, with eyes that held the very chaos of Hell inside.  It would dance through my bedchamber and with horrid claws shred my books, humming all the while.  The tune was unfamiliar, and yet a constant, and over the years I learnt it well.  

My nurses insisted on the creature's nonexistence.  They never saw it, nor felt presence of it, or so they claimed.  And when the migraines passed, there were my books in tact where I had laid them.  And yet, I cannot begin to impress by words the substance of the imp’s presence.  The very air seemed to bend as it moved.  On some occasions it had touched me with its dirty little hands, and I felt through my senses its realness, as real as any living man.  Still, I was not believed, and my nurses and others in the room only tried to calm me, or dismiss me when I brought up my visions in normal conversation.

It was not until early in my adulthood that I received a confirmation.  I was in the library in the east wing, reading over the journal left by my forefather who had lived in this house before me.  The library is furnished with wood shelves crafted from the ancient beech trees that once occupied the estate where the manor stands.  Its walls of cold, absorbent stone leave one able to think.  The servants quarters is on this wing, and during the daylight hours it is entirely empty.  I found no trouble in concentrating, though my curiosity was fighting a growing drowsiness.  

I learned from the journal – and this I had long heard rumored – that the manor was built upon a vast abyss of mining tunnels from old efforts at mining the New World.  The entrance to these caverns was sealed up over a century ago following a cave-in that claimed one of the servant boys.  Reading confirmation of these legends, my mind began to race.  If the entrance were found, I thought at the time, the mines could be reopened.

The print strained my eyes, and gradually they grew heavy and began to shut.  It was then that the imp appeared to me.  Though now familiar, I was startled.  It had until now only shown himself inside my bedchamber, and only during my migraines.  It was on the top-most shelf on a far wall, ripping pages from a worn tome I had never before noticed.  The imp murmured to itself words to a song.  The tune was by now familiar, the very same tune it had hummed these many years.  The words were too bizarre for me to entirely remember, most apparently nonsense syllables.  Today, only a single line remains with me: “Black most hall, gold kills all."  I reached for my cane to strike the imp.  It eluded my attack and persisted in tearing books from shelves in its flight, sowing chaos.  Close I followed, ready to land a blow and end the wretched thing for good.  I was free of the incapacitating pain of the migraines that until now accompanied its presence.  I had it cornered, and closed in.

“Stop!” it squawked with a shrill, raspy voice, like nails scratching glass.  “Stop and I will show you something of your great-grandfather!”

I was positioned to bludgeon the demon with my cane and leave the matter resolved.  Yet I faltered.  My great-grandfather had been the master of the house during the Revolutionary War.  Countless legends of treasure and outlaws in deep halls surround him, tales that have excited my imagination since I was a boy.

Greedy for this knowledge, yet not wishing to be seeming to show to the creature any mercy, I took hold of its neck and pinned it to the wall.

“Your name, demon!” I demanded.  “What is your name?!”

It squealed, “Lagfoot Browne.”

I had read legends of demons, of Faust, Pope Sylvester, and Solomon the Great.  Possessing its name, I was persuaded that it was now in my power.  I demanded it reveal what it knew of my great-grandfather.  It asked that I follow, and I, being a foolish mortal, took this imp – from which I had not yet learned what I had to fear – into my confidence.

It leapt from the corner and led me down the tall aisles of bookshelves of the library.  We approached the southern-most wall, and there, where I should have seen it every day of my life, was an old steel door barricaded shut by a simple cross-arm of wood, sealed closed with mortar.  How it had stood here, clearly in the open, unnoticed in all my childhood explorations, I knew not.  Lagfoot began sniveling to himself and caressing its hands, and said to me, “This takes us there.”

I shouted at the beast, “Lagfoot, what is this door and why is it only now that I see it?”

“This door takes us to where your great-grandfather buried the mine," the demon squawked.  "This door’s always here, always.”

I knew not how the door came to now be.  Yet I believed the monster.  I asked that he proceed.  With a barbed claw, Lagfoot dug out the mortar sealing the door, threw open the cross-arm, and pried free the portal.  Stairs led downward into darkness.  From the pit the reek of cold, stagnant air pervaded.  I grabbed a lantern and followed the imp into the ancient caverns below.

Lagfoot skipped before me, singing to itself more of that song, “Black most hall, gold kills all.”  With triumphant joy it chanted, skipping deeper into the earth, and I behind it.  I found it all terribly irritating, and felt the beginnings of another migraine forming.  I yelled at the imp about our speed, desiring to be out of its company as soon as possible.  If gone too long, I would be missed.  I wanted little for anyone to come looking, and to find out me here, wandering through the foreclosed mine following a demon.  

After much time, we came to a section of tunnel that opened wide into a cavern.  Though the change was invisible to the weak light of the lantern, I could feel the change in pressure and dampness on my skin.  Lagfoot Browne, ahead still, had mentioned nothing more of our purpose.  I began to suspect the little imp had fooled me.  Anger rose in me.

“Lagfoot Browne!” I commanded.  Obediently, the demon regarded me with fear.  “On what business have you brought me here?”

Its grating voice made half-started sounds, stumbling to complete its words.  I only grew more angry with the creature, so I again took it by the neck, and held it above the cavern floor, and demanded to know our business in this cavern.  When it still would not answer, I held the lantern flame agaisnt its skin so that the creature howled something like a bleeding pig.  More furious still, I threatened to let the fire consume it alive, should it not produce a reason for our venture here.

“Your great-grandfather’s tomb!” it choked.  “I know, yes, where it is.  It is here, in the west corner of the mine.  Yes, yes, I take you there, only another few steps further.  Yes, let me show you please, will good master?”

I released it, and it dropped to its feet.  With the same enthusiasm as before further, it dashed off further into this cavity of the earth, scraping its filthy claws through the caked dirt and rock and yelling gleefully its song.  Though at first merely abrading, the tune began to unsettle me.  Finally the beast stopped, and cackled with horrible glee.

As I approached, I saw a large stone door carved into the bare earth and rock of the surrounding tunnel.  It was long rumored that my great-grandfather had buried with him half the wealth he had through war bonds from the Continental Army.  After thirty years, at the end of his life, they remained worthless, and were interred with him.  Now they must be worth a fortune.  I demanded of the imp at once that the tomb be opened, and Lagfoot Browne was keen to do so for me.  It rattled a taloned forefinger inside of the lock until it snapped open, then energetically jumped for the lever to open the door.  With a deep groan the heavy stone door swung inward.

I entered the burial room and set my lantern upon a crate.  My great-grandfather’s casket lay near a far wall.  The three barrels beside it contained wine from the year of his birth, as was custom in our family.  Crates on the opposite wall were packed with the clothing he wore in life.  The weak light of my lamp barely pierced the ancient darkness of the crypt, being insufficient to fill the entire room.  To my right an open doorway lead to a separate chamber of the same stone.  Perhaps, I thought, this was the room containing my great-grandfather’s riches – the lavish jewelry of his three wives, his personal books, and the rumored Revolutionary War Bonds.  Intrigued, I left my lantern atop the crate and approached this adjacent room.

At this moment the demon I had accompanied to this underground place howled and kicked the lantern over.  It smashed to the ground, and only the thin light of its guttering flame provided light.  The imp became more violent than its usual chaos and began upturning the crates and barrels and bellowing squeals that echoed into the caves as I chased it across the crypt, hoping now only to finally strike it down.  Memories of my days of torment came to me, in bedridden agony, and the mischief the miserable beast would cause as I lay unable to stop it.  My anger and hatred of the creature grew.  I cursed it in the name of all my predecessors, and in the name of all my descendants that would live in this house after me.  More, it smashed and turned over the contents of the tomb, and finally, having shattered every timber of furniture, it dashed into the adjacent room containing my great-grandfather’s personal belongings.  Inside it yelled and shrieked and smashed something glass upon the floor.  Whereon I flew to it and threw closed the door.  Audibly, the bolt latched tightly from the inside.

“Ha!  Foolish demon!” I yelled at it through the door.  “For years you have haunted me!  For years I have been helpless against your torments!  And now I trap you here, hundreds of feet beneath my house in the silent earth!  You will rue this day, Lagfoot Browne, the day a mortal man took you by the neck and drove you straight back to the Hell in which you belong!”

But there came no answer, not even the lawless cachinnations of the unhallow.  Dead silence filled the tomb.  Panicked, I ran for the door that lay to my left.  My hands fell breathless on the portal as I threw it open to reveal the darkness of the deep Earth.  I found in my pockets my matches for the now-ruined lantern, and struck one to see by.  And lo! – that which I beheld froze my heart to stone.  For before the doorway stood not the brown chasm of packed earth from which I came, but the walls of the resting place of the dead.  The crates stood before me, packed full of gold and jewels and fine silks that had been placed within these impassable walls.  Behind me, the stone door of the entrance, barred and locked from without.  

By my own greed had I been driven here, to the deep places beneath, trusting in the promises of demons!  By my own hand I had shut the door on my escape!  Through my own ire had I imprisoned myself to lie in the house of the dead and await the punishment that will come! And in this prison of the damned shall I wait, until we have met and I may recount my story to you more fully...

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