Tales of Terror

Four Chaps In The Library
by Paul Bradshaw

In the process of recalling my college days, I am reminded of that momentous occasion during my first year at St Montague's, when, by some irksome and malign fate, I discovered myself sharing the confines of the school library with three well-read scholars of that time. These loathsome fellows I normally would avoid at all costs, but owing to the atrocious February weather I was compelled to gain a welcome warmth beside that roaring fire.

"What is your name, young chap?" I was asked, by a large scholar wearing a three-piece suit of pin-stripes. His enquiry wore a ghastly cloak of supposed superiority and rank, which I kind of expected, as I was a mere first year student at that particular time.

"Grimshaw," I told him, and as I uttered my name I surveyed the three pairs of beady eyes which were fixed upon my being. I detected a vast amount of arrogance beyond those staring sockets.

"A common name," sneered the fellow, whose own name I knew to be Rhodes-Fotheringham. As I have mentioned, he was large, with a reddened, chubby face and whiskers that hid his stiff upper lip completely. It appeared as if he owned the bottom one only, and I reckoned this to be quite comical, although I dared not to chuckle in their presence.

"Well, Grimshaw," snarled the second chap, whose name was Blake, and who was exactly as
tiresome as Rhodes-Fotheringham, "my chums and I were in the process of recounting horrific tales of ghosts and apparitions. If you wish to remain in our company, you must endure this."

"And not go fleeing from the room in fright!" added the third monster, a scoundrel by the name of Atkinson.

I endeavoured not to be afraid, which was not a simple task, as the trio themselves were sufficient to cause a shivering sensation inside me. We were all seated, with discreet distances between each, in huge Victorian armchairs facing the blazing flames of the log fire. The library itself was enormous, and must have contained thousands of books on all subjects. Including the topic of ghosts.

"I remember one chap," said Rhodes-Fotheringham, a cigar of eager proportions in his ample hand, "whose name I cannot recall. He regularly encountered the ghostly figure of an old man in a pale-coloured nightgown, who was prone to walking up and down the stairs of the chap's home, and with his head held under his arm!"

Excessive gasps left the mouths of Blake and Atkinson, whilst I myself remained silent and  
breathless. Rhodes-Fotheringham's features became hidden in the midst of an awful-smelling cloud of cigar smoke, providing an eerie vision of his face, and at that moment I wondered whether he himself was a dreadful phantom.

"Anyway," he continued, with the smoke drifting in the direction of the fireplace, "this chap could stand it no longer, and subsequently decided to take his own life by shooting himself in the head with a pistol. Now it is rumoured that he himself haunts that house."

His two companions seemed quite unsettled by this story, and as the flames crackled in the hearth they each took a copious mouthful of the brandy that was readily available nearby. Then Blake appeared to decide that he was not to be outdone by his friend.

"That is a pretty gruesome tale, old chap," he said in a quavering voice, "but allow me to relate the story of the man whose wife gave birth to an apparition."

"By Jove!" exclaimed Rhodes-Fotheringham, with peculiar puffed cheeks. He appeared to be
somewhat perturbed by Blake's proclamation, and I noticed how agitated he became as his
companion continued the tale.

"It is indeed true," said Blake, who, in contrast to Rhodes-Fotheringham, was of a thin shape, and was clutching his brandy glass tightly the whole time. "This apparition grew to a fine old age, until he reached a maturity he could not improve on, and now he haunts the church in which his parents had married."

Again, a strange air filled the room, and an odd nervousness prevailed in the three figures that flanked me. I remember thinking how chilling and sinister were those three fellows, to the point
where I began to feel rather frightened myself. However, I attempted not to reveal this, as I sat with clenched fists upon that armchair, gazing into the leaping flames opposite my position in that library.

"That is an impressive story," said Atkinson. I had never seen a chap as tall and gangly as he was. His weird-looking legs protruded from that chair, stretched out before him like two huge clothes-props, and behind his gold-rimmed spectacles I observed the most evil pair of grey eyes.

"What about this then, chaps," he said, grasping the opportunity to tell his own grotesque tale. "A
soldier in the Great War was lurking in the trenches, with bullets whizzing around his ears, when
suddenly he noticed beside him his own ghost. It was identical in every detail, and he was naturally
astonished. Seconds later this poor chap was struck in the head by an enemy shot, and was killed
instantly. But strangely, he recalls then holding his own dying figure in his arms, for he had taken
over the form of the apparition that was beside him!"

"My good God!" cried Rhodes-Fotheringham, with an obvious alarm.

I then looked at Blake, who appeared so petrified he was speechless. I found it quite odd that these three chaps knew so much about ghosts. They seemed to be more than mere students of the college, and indeed I morbidly started to fear what exactly they were. However, I quickly dismissed these thoughts, and seized the chance to reveal some ideas of my own.

"This is all preposterous!" I shouted above the blaze of the fire.

"What?" demanded Blake, who suddenly regained his powers of speech upon hearing my
unwelcome exclamation.

"I have never hap who saw the ghost on the stairs. How do you know this if he shot himself? The same with the soldier in the war. He was dead just seconds after supposedly seeing his own ghost, so how do you know this? And as for the fellow whose wife gave birth to a phantom. That is pure drivel of the finest water!"

Rhodes-Fotheringham was in such an intolerable rage that I thought he would explode before my eyes, and the other two were not far behind in their ire. Each of them was blazing more intensely than the fire was!

"Get out of here!" yelled Rhodes-Fotheringham in a tremendous, booming voice. "And do not return! You are far from worthy of our company!"

This request -- or rather, this command -- seemed quite popular amongst the three of them, and so it was with a trembling demeanour that I proceeded to leave the library. A chilling silence ensued as I slowly stepped away from them and the fireplace. However, I believe I succeeded in astounding my trio of companions, for I departed from that room without opening the door.

2001 Paul Bradshaw

Paul Bradshaw is from the UK and has had over 80 stories accepted for publication in various UK and US magazines and webzines. He is also editor of the bizarre horror print magazine THE DREAM ZONE. His short story collection THE RESERVOIR OF DREAMS is currently available from BJM Press, and his twin novella production ALTERNATE LIVES published by Enigmatic Press received an honourable mention in this year's Best Horror and Fantasy.

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