THE MYSTERY UNFOLDS
After returning from the horrors and weirdness at North Moor, Mark and Annette stopped at the offices of Phil Moore to let him know the results of the excursion.
“Glad to see you in one piece, Mark!” Phil greeted them.
“I could never have done it without Annette and her guide, though; things were too weird for my liking.”
Looking at Annette, Phil asked, “And how is Annette, after your excursion into the darker area of Mark’s fears?”
“It certainly was challenging, and so, so exhilarating, I had to really focus my energies and keep on the ball. I hope to be able to offer assistance again.”
“I will never get over the fear of North Moor,” Mark said.
“I know. That is what keeps you alive. Let your guard down and we could lose you. Do you remember Portorling?” asked Phil.
“Wish I didn't!” said Mark.
“What happened?’ Annette asked, looking worried.
“Who is going to tell it, Phil?”
“As you were in the thick of it, I think it would be better if you did, Mark.”
“It was three cases after the Morton house case. I was feeling good again, the work was coming in nice and steady, just enough to keep me happy, not enough to feel I was under pressure. Phil took a call from a lady calling herself Jessica Mellows. She said she was the housekeeper for the Pritchard family living in Coddisham. They had told her that the Manor was haunted and the spirits were keeping them locked inside. I know the Coddisham area well as I used to spend holidays there as a child. So I was delighted to have a chance to go back to my old haunts,” Mark explained to Annette.
“The old house on the hill above the shoreline had always been of interest to me as there never seemed to be any lights on, even late at night. Yet I often saw lights moving around the house. There was a story of a shipwreck and ghostly sailors. I never put much value in it as sea stories are full of weird tales like that. Until…”
Whether for effect or just to pause to collect his thoughts, Mark paused. It did not matter. Annette was eager for more.
“One night, I was cycling along the road under the house. Looking up, I saw a young girl’s face at the lower-floor landing. I couldn’t hear her, but the look on her face said more than words ever could. She was standing, eyes wide with terror, banging on the window like a woman possessed. All I could see were flashes of light behind her and the occasional shape, but I could not say what I saw as things was changing so fast. All I knew was that whatever it was, was not letting her cry for help or get out of the house. Looking at the other windows, I saw the same thing. The family was being held captive by some force.”
Mark stopped to take a breath before continuing. “As I looked around the area, there was only one footpath to the house, a steep winding lane overrun by bushes. From behind the bushes, I could see mysterious lights moving. They seemed to be bobbing up and down. Being a teenager, I didn’t dare risk interfering but that scene has haunted me all these years. I never knew what was going on, until we got the call.”
Mark continued to recall the phone call and what happened later. “When Phil told me where the call was from and what it was about, I had flashbacks to those days and that poor trapped family trapped and those strange bobbing lights. I packed my cameras and went off, thinking I might be able to help the family.
“This time I approached the house from the other end of the road. It is higher ground, still below the windows, though. Looking towards the sea, I saw the wreck of a ship on the rocks and a line of sailors marching inland, carrying what they could to the house, up the previously hidden path. From what I could see, the men were from the late 18th century, all armed with cutlasses and pistols and covered in raw wounds.”
Mark paused for breath and to see how Annette was taking this. She was entranced by the mixture of ancient seamen and the modern world.
“Out in the cove, there is a really nasty series of rocks. Even with the full tide, rowing boats scarcely clear the ripping edges. Whether wreckers had pulled her in with false beacons or the winds and tide forced her in, I didn't know. Most ships don't ever come as close as that to the edges of the cove, for fear the riptide will drag them onto the rocks. There the ship was in ruins and these men were plundering her and taking the booty to the old house. I did some research before I left. The house was owned by James Marromere, a feared pirate who had roamed these shores for over 25 years.”
Annette’s curiosity was running high when she asked, “What happened to him?”
“Nobody knows for sure, love. There are tales of him dying at sea in a mutiny or in a gunfight with the excise men at Scarnby-on-Sea but no record is totally accurate.”
“Do you think the men were from Marromere’s crew?”
“I have no doubts!”
“Why are you so sure?” Annette asked.
“I heard them calling to him. “Cap’n James, this is all we got from her.” As I looked to where the voices were coming from, I saw the family, all banging in terror on one window, as if their weight could shatter the glass and then at least the girl might get free.”
“Was this the same girl as before?”
“Yes, she and her family had not aged at all in the last 20 years, which made the case even more intriguing for me. As I approached the house, I passed through the gateway and was met by a ghostly fine mist, without knowing I had been sent back in time to fight the pirates. I saw a way past the guard that Marromere had posted. Not knowing the new layout, as they were working from their plans, they didn't know of the garage that James Marker, the last owner, had built. This provided a blind spot for the guard. Slipping quickly around him, I came from behind and hit him on the head with a rock, knocking him out.
“Though he had a pistol, I chose his cutlass as my weapon, working on the idea that I could hold a few spirits better with that, than the odd shot from a pistol. Gathering the cutlass, I made my way across the open grounds to the south of the main windows. Keeping a watchful eye on the house, in case somebody saw me, I was able to get as far as the back door before being seen. And even then it was just by chance, as it was change of guard and the new man was coming out of the kitchen with a chunk of pork.
“As he drew his pistol, I ran at him and ran my sword through his side as he turned. I just caught him. Though bleeding heavily, he still got a shot off before dying. With my cover and the element of surprise gone, I had to think quick and act quicker. There was no time to have second thoughts now.”
Pausing for breath and to let Annette take all this in, Mark could see how this story held Annette enthralled. Then he continued.
“As most of the lights and screams were from upstairs, I ran full speed to them, taking the stairs three at a time. When I got to the landing, I tripped and rolled, which was fortunate because if I had been standing, I would have been hit with a hail of pistol fire. Now we were even. This had turned into a sword fight, with my spirit to guide my blows. I was reeling, cutting and carving a swathe through the mob. I realised the family needed my help more now that Marromere and the crew were losing this fight. I had to channel my energies to protecting them from Marromere’s revenge. He was known for putting people who got in his way to the sword, for no reason at all.”
“That would have left you defenceless, darling!” Annette replied with a look of horror in her eyes.
“I know, but it had to be done. With my powers weakening, I knew I could not fight them off for long. I had to make a snap decision and I charged the nearest group to try and scatter and confuse them. This tactic gave me a little time, and I yelled to the family to follow me out the back door. Marromere and his men were chasing me and were not far behind, when I tripped on the last step. Lying there on the ground, I could hear them approaching fast.
“I feared this was it for Mark Johnson, dying the way I wanted, freeing souls. I was just getting up from the floor when a pistol ball landed where only seconds earlier my head had been. Looking back, I could see Marromere leading his troops forward, at a walking pace. I was not going anywhere and time was their element.” Mark stopped for a few seconds, to regain his breath before continuing again.
“Marromere and his cohorts were walking two-a-breast, swinging swords as they came towards me. Though I was up, there was no way of fighting without my guide. I just had to hope I could damage one or two. As they charged, I ran for the door and just closed it behind me as a volley of pistol fire rattled the hinges and locks.”
“That was too close for comfort, love! Did you find out why the family couldn't leave?”
“Yes, I went to the library the next day. With the information I gathered and remembering what happened in there, I put together my version. It was a mutiny, only not at sea. The crew had decided on bigger shares. Though Marromere did the planning, they took the risks. Being captain, he got the first and largest share of the booty. So, they decided to kill him. They killed him and as he died, he cursed their souls to plunder the cove forever and remain trapped within these walls, which is why the family could not escape, as they were direct descendants of Jacob Pritchard, the gang leader.”
“Do you think they knew of the history of the house?”
“The Pritchard family has lived here for over 300 years; it would be hard for them not to know. They probably thought time had dulled the curses.”
“Why didn’t Jessica get trapped then?”
“She wasn’t a Pritchard, she was a Mellows. The one crewman who stood by Marromere was Abe Mellows, his first mate.”
Annette looked at Mark in amazement before she said, “Phil is right, you do take too many chances, love.”
“I know, but I wouldn’t be me, if I didn’t.”
“I have a question for you.”
“Go on, love.”
“Have you thought about our trip to Parleby-on-Sea?”
“Well, eeeeerrrrrrrrrr mmmmmmmmmmm. It is on my mind.”