Memories of the Black Cell
A Ghost Story for Christmas
By P.T. Mayes
Copyright © 2013 P.T. Mayes
The count is angry with me. What have I done? He has not come to see me since the jailor locked me down here, in the black cell, with nothing to keep me company other than the dust, the dark and the spiders that crawl over my face when I try to sleep. I have appealed to my jailor for, oh, a hundred times now, but he simply laughs and gives me a sneer of contempt, as if I should know exactly what my crime is. At least I have been left water in a jug and twice a day my silent jailor slides a tray with either a hunk of stale bread or some thin gruel in a wooden bowl through a crack in the door. Oh, and I have also been left a few sheets of grubby paper and a stub of a pencil to write with. At first I wondered why they would give me such luxuries, after all I'm sure most prisoners aren't given such means of self-expression, are they? But then it occurred to me that they want me to dwell upon my crime (whatever it might be) and they want to see the evidence of it. These scant few pages of paper are to be my confession. I'm not sure what I should write.
But first I must become acquainted with my new home. For a cell I assume it is quite large, almost six metres by four, which at least gives me a little room to exercise my legs and body during the scant daylight hours; to stretch and think. In one corner there is a pail for my toilet, in another a rude cot covered with a threadbare blanket that smells as bad as it looks. There is only the narrowest of openings on the wall facing the iron-banded door, but it is too high for me to look out of, even if I stand on the cot, and so narrow that I doubt I would have been able to push an arm through it, let alone the rest of my body. At least the window permits a little light to fall into this damned place, and allows me some means of which to tell the time of day by. As I write this I can see that the light coming through the window is dimming and believe that evening is approaching again. If that is the case I will have to stop writing soon as I have no candle, and there is no chink in the door to allow any light from the passage beyond to give me some comfort. When it is dark in here it is the most intense pitch black I have even know, and all I can do is lie on the cot and look into myself.
I believe that two days have passed since the count ordered my incarceration. At first I was too distraught by the sudden change of my circumstances to think of marking the passing of time, let alone write down my troubled thoughts and feelings, but now I'm calmer and in a more reflective mood I count the hours with the zeal of a condemned man. Where I am I know all too well, the black cell, which is located in the lowest, dampest place in the chateau. I have been at the chateau in my professional capacity less than a year and yet the tales I have heard of this place were enough to disturb my sleep even in my comfortable chambers in the west wing, although during the daylight hours I scoffed at such superstitious nonsense. Blind Haack, this cell's former jailor, might scare the chateau's simpleminded manservants, maids and cooks, but not me.
Blind Haack was not blind in the normal sense of the word; he was called that because he was "blind" to all the terrible and inhumane things in the world, as if those activities were normal and wholesome to him; and he took great joy from every misery and misfortune he dealt out by his own twisted hand on the unfortunate innocents in his care. Some ninety years have passed since Blind Haack passed away, ironically dispatched in his own cell and at the end of his very own instruments of misfortune, after making a treasonous remark while drunk on cider (it is said he was informed on by his enemies, of which he had many), but even though he has long been dead and buried in an unmarked grave somewhere here in the chateau grounds, apparently he has never actually left this place, his home. From a wide-eyed chambermaid I learned that Blind Haack walked the cellars at night in search of the secret entrance to the black cell, rattling his chains, twisting at the iron manacles that bound him and moaning like some common-place phantom, so much so that nobody dared venture down into the cellars past sundown. And from a stable hand I heard that Blind Haack's favourite means of execution was to prune his victims of their extremities until he would finally snip off their heads with a long curved sword that he had brought back from a trip to the far East. If parents wanted to scare their offspring into obedience they would say that Blind Haack was coming to get them, and if a man wanted to instil fear in his foe he would claim that he would do a Blind Haack on him. Such a threat was enough to shut up even the most hardened bruiser. Of course I, being of more rational disposition and a student of science, treated such things with disdain.