Ronald Knaggs’s day had begun somewhat curiously. He’d stayed up late the previous evening, working on his third novel, Silver Flower, a tale of John Silver, psychic investigator. Silver’s first two escapades had sunk without trace and Knaggs felt a certain trepidation over this latest incarnation. If it didn’t excite public interest this time, Nigel Mountain, his publisher, and a man fond of throwing his hands up in the air, might just wash his hands of John Silver.
His head felt sluggish as he brewed a cafetière of coffee. Too many whiskies whilst pondering plot complexities and fighting with dialogue, he supposed. On his way to the downstairs toilet, he spotted a card pushed under the front door. That was odd. He bent down to pick it up, feeling the familiar stab of pain in his back, arms and knees.
‘The Coffin Club invites Ronald Knaggs Esq. to The Haunted Windmill for an evening of intrigue,’ it read. Knaggs rubbed his unshaven cheeks. The Coffin Club? He’d never heard of it, and as for the Haunted Windmill, well, there was only one windmill he could think of locally and that was rammed with a family of layabouts and barking dogs.
As the coffee nudged his brain fog aside, he examined the card and saw that the meeting was the following evening and that the windmill was out on the coast, on an old salt marsh, about half an hour’s drive away. Hmm. Thinking about it, maybe it might give him some ideas for Silver Flower. Almost breaking a tooth on a slice of burnt toast, he determined to go.
The road out to the coast was dark and lonely. Knaggs would have welcomed the glare of another’s vehicle’s headlights, even if they were in his eyes momentarily, but the road was empty.
A dim light burned at the end of the drive to the windmill and Knaggs took the bumpy track, trying to dismiss the trepidation he felt building in his guts. Then he could see the high black sails of the mill against scudding purple clouds, lit by a thin crescent moon. As he grew closer, he breathed more easily. Lights shone in a couple of windows and other vehicles were parked outside.
He parked in an area of rough, pitted tarmac, and got out, shocked to see the other vehicles looked like wrecks, with windows cracked and bodywork spotted with rust and dirt. He felt like getting back in his car and driving straight back home post-haste. No, he hadn’t come here to play chicken, he must go through with it.
The front door was ajar and inside a dim bulb illuminated the foot of the staircase. “Hello,” Knaggs called. “Hello, is anyone home?”
There was no answer, just a sullen silence, thick like fog. He began to climb the creaking wooden stairs, spiralling upwards past closed doors. Apprehensively, he tried one, but it was locked. “Hello,” he forced himself to sound cheery, “Hello. It’s Ronald Knaggs!”
Small, dim lamps lit his way until he reached an open door near the top of the mill. Inside a light burned and music played softly. An old song, before his time, but one that his grandmother used to sing.
“We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when …”
He pushed the door open to see a coffin on a trestle table. Candles burnt on an ancient sideboard and a disc turned on an old-fashioned gramophone. Knaggs suddenly found himself feeling emboldened. Of course, this was all some kind of silly joke, maybe even a ruse by his agent, Rupert. “OK, OK, very funny,” Knaggs spoke loudly, forcing joviality. “You can come out now, the joke’s over!”
But no one stirred from the shadows, no footstep creaked upon the staircase. Ronald Knaggs waited in the silence with the candles flickering, the song playing quietly, and the coffin lying on its stand. He stood, confused, wondering what to do.
“Keep smiling through, just like you always do …”
Well, there was nothing for it. He examined the coffin and found the lid was loose. He lifted it and felt his hands so clammy he almost dropped it.
His lungs refused to breathe as he looked down on a face that could have been made from grey plasticine. A familiar face, one he’d confined to history. Recovering his composure slightly, he leant the lid against a wall.
Nundy, Alfred Nundy, well, well, well. He hadn’t given Alf a thought for, what, five years? The accident had preyed on his mind for years before that, but then he’d had therapy and put it all behind him. It wasn’t his fault after all, well, a rally driver couldn’t anticipate all eventualities and the co-driver, the navigator, had to take his chances, just like the driver. He’d hardly come off lightly himself after all, though he could move around quite well nowadays.
“But I know we’ll meet—” The needle scratched across the record and the music stopped.
Knaggs’s heart missed a beat as he whirled around to see a young man, slim, athletic-looking, with tattoos on his arms and neck. “Graham! What the hell’s going on?”
The man gave a wry smile. “What’s going on? Well, my old dad here, he can’t let go, seeing as how he blames you for his death. Careless driving, to put it mildly. So, he’s stuck in limbo, fated to wander the earth.”
Knaggs remembered Alfred’s son as a teenager. A teenager who always seemed to be in trouble with the law. “Look, Graham, what’s this got to do with me? There’s nothing I can do. Sounds like you need to see a priest.”
“I did see someone, not a priest exactly, but someone who could contact my dad in spirit. Seems my old man doesn’t feel he can leave this earth whilst you’re still alive. He wants retribution, you see.”
Knaggs started towards the door. “Well, Graham, I’m sorry for what happened, but we all need to move on. That includes your dad.”
Graham Nundy quickly barred Knaggs’s way. The windmill’s sails began to creak, and the room vibrated. Heavy rain began to fall against the window, lashing it like hail, as the sails began to turn. Nundy took out a flick knife. “Time for Dad to go to the light.”
Taken from the book, The Window Crack’d and Other Stories: 40 Little Tales of Horror and the Supranatural
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