Relmouth was a simple village, with simple people. Every morning they would awaken and go about their daily routine; the men would go to tend the fields, the women would tend to the home, and the children would tend to the animals. Such was the way things were for as long as anyone could remember, and the people were content.
Every night of the men of the village would gather at the bar, the Rusted Sickle, and drown their sorrows in cheap ale and beer, telling tales of days long since passed and of dreams yet to come. Over the years, the tales grew taller and the dreams grew wilder all save for one story that stayed the same no matter who told the tale.
The story of the Winthrop house.
The Winthrop house sat on a barren hill in a nest of dead trees and bristle bushes not far from the village. An ancient manor that nobody could recall who had lived there, the oldest men and women sitting around the smoky tavern merely recalling a caretaker being hired every now and again for the decaying property. With rotted walls and moldering wood, the Winthrop house was a sight to behold every full moon, when supposedly the ghost was most active.
Nobody could agree on who the ghost was in life, nor could they explain why the ghost haunted them so. But they could all agree that the ghost was very much real, and very much a threat. Every full moon, the villagers would lock up their animals, seal up their homes and say their prayers. But it never seemed to help, as every morning that followed there would be signs of activity that nobody could explain.
People told tales of how they could hear the specter scratching at their front doors, or beating on their walls. Some could recall going out the next morning to find their prize cattle or sheep dismembered and mutilated, a bloody trail leading back up to the manor. Every so often, when someone was foolhardy enough to try, a man or child would go missing for several days before being found in pieces in the village square.
And so it was the people of Relmouth learn to live with the ghost of Winthrop house.
One day, a man from the city came.
Tall and lean with a swimmers build, the man introduced himself as Eric Tubbs, a collector of odds and ends. Meeting with the mayor of the village, he told him of how he heard of the ghost of Winthrop house and wished to buy it from the village. Confused, the Mayor explained that the ghost couldn’t be bought or sold, but only avoided.
Eric happily disagreed with the man, explaining that he had collected ghosts and ghouls from all over England and Ireland, from the moors to the cities; they were all the same. The Mayor, ashen-faced, agreed to finally allow Eric to enter the Winthrop house on the condition that should he not be able to capture the spirit, that he at least not anger it and bring its wrath upon the village.
Eric heartily agreed and they shook hands on it.
Later that night, under the pale moonlight, Eric and three of the braver men of the village climbed the barren hill, lanterns in hand, ready to capture the ghost. When asked how he would do it, Eric would simply smile and say that it was a simple as breathing. His only demand had been for volunteers to aid him in the capture.
Upon arriving at the doorstep of the rotting house, Eric asked one of the men to break down the door so that they could enter. The man balked, at first, saying he did not wish to disturb the spirit in such a way, but Eric demanded that the man follows his orders.
And so the man relented and kicked in the door.
A horrid wail pierced the night air, and every one of the village knew the ghost was awake.
But Eric seemed determined and so he led the shaken men into the house, lantern held high.
The interior was nothing but dust and fluff, draperies thrown over antique furniture and spider webs tracing the walls. Paintings hung crooked, and great holes were torn free from the walls, with broken wood scattered about the floors. Eric quickly told the men to extinguish their lanterns, so as not to alert the ghost of their presence. The man balked at the idea of walking through the Winthrop house in darkness, but Eric demanded that the men follow his orders. And so, with great reluctance, the men extinguished their lanterns one by one, plunging the group into the cold embrace of the night.
Eric, somehow able to see without the aid of the lanterns, led the men deeper into the house, ordering them to begin praying aloud. The men happily did so, for their fear of the specter was reaching new heights as they heard the spirit rise to greet them.
It wailed like the wind in a storm and beat on the walls with fists as hard as iron, whispering dark threats into the ears of the men as they traveled deeper and deeper into the house. One man faltered in his prayers and fell to his knees sobbing. While unable to see, the other men heard his sobs stop and his screams begin moments after he stopped praying, making their cries to God more fervent and louder.
They finally stopped in a room with wide windows, lit only by the light of the moon. In the room was a long table of ancient wood and polished ivory. A lone chair sat at the head of the table, with a lone body resting against the high-backed chair.
Eric ordered the remaining two men to relight their lanterns and placed them upon the table. Shaking hands and sweaty palms did so, prayers still on their lips as their eyes grew wide at the sight that the light revealed.
The body was not that of an ancient dead, but that of nightmares. Twisted flesh and exposed bone glimmered under a sheen of moisture as twin red eyes stared back at the men from within the deep sockets of the skull.
The table shuddered and shifted the wood groaning as it slid several inches along the stone floor. The whispers grew louder, and to voices that the men could not understand.
“Be still!” Eric cried, pulling a small velvet box from his vest. “I have come for your spirit, to offer you solace and a new home with those that would understand you.”
The table rattled and shook, the moldering corpse twisting as the skull moved for the first time in years to stare at the man who dared command it.
“Be gone!” The voices cried, the very walls shaking beneath the hollow baritone.
“Be still I command! I come offering you peace, and you will accept it.” Eric declared, opening the small box and setting it on the table lightly.
“No… Leave now! Get out!” The voices hissed, as one of the men was thrown bodily into the wall, falling to the ground with a broken neck.
“You cannot make me leave spirit, for I come with what you seek.” Eric calmly said over the shrieking voices in turbulent cries.
“You cannot give what I need!” The corpse shrieked, finally coming to life and pushing itself up from the chair.
Faster than the man could follow, Eric drew a knife from his belt and rammed it into the man’s stomach. Choking back on the throat full of blood, the man fell to his knees as Eric began chanting in a tongue none would recognize. A dull glow came from the box and the corpse, with glowing red eyes, stared into the light.
As the man bled onto the floor, he watched in horror as his blood seemed to soak into the wood like water into a sponge, the only sign of his wound was the slight scent of copper in the stale, dusty air of the house.
The shrieking voices began to die, and the table began to settle as the light from the box grew brighter and brighter still. The corpse, once shaking in anger, dropped back down into its seat limply, dead as it should be.
Eric, still chanting, turned to the dying man with his bloody knife and grabbed him by the hair, yanking his head up to where he could gaze into the eyes. And with a flick of the wrist and a flash of the knife, he plucked out the man’s left eye before shoving him to the ground.
“The eye of a pious man shall see to it that you finally find rest, good spirit.” Eric intoned as he carried the eye to the box, placing it in the brilliant circle of light. “Fed by the blood, and shown the light, let your spirit take flight!”
The corpse let out a low moan as it slumped further in its chair, the spirit finding itself pulled into the box, which clapped shut before clicking locked.
“Bound by the spirits of three good men, let yours now rest,” Eric said with a tone of finality, plucking the box from the table and tucking it into his vest. Kneeling down to wipe his blade on the dead man’s clothes, Eric closed his eyes before making his way out of the house and back down to the village.
The people of Relmouth, despite their tears over the loss of the men, thanked Eric for his deed that day. And he left a hero, heading back to the city.
However, when the next full moon rose into the sky, the people of Relmouth were shocked to find their homes assaulted by three angry spirits instead of one. Angry as the living dead that wailed and beat at their walls, the people of Relmouth were forced to do as they had always done and merely lock their doors and shutter their windows.
It would seem the curse of Winthrop house was more than the man from the city could handle.