Authors: Graham Masterton
Recent Titles by Graham Masterton
available from Severn House
FACES OF FEAR
FEELINGS OF FEAR
FORTNIGHT OF FEAR
FLIGHTS OF FEAR
FESTIVAL OF FEAR
The Jim Rook Series
TOOTH AND CLAW
The Sissy Sawyer Series
TOUCHY AND FEELY
THE PAINTED MAN
HOUSE OF BONES
THE NINTH NIGHTMARE
First world edition published 2012
in Great Britain and in the USA by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9â15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright Â© 2012 by Graham Masterton.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Festival of fear.
1. Horror tales, English.
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-225-2 (ePub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-6408-6 (cased)
For Maria Wiktoria Raczkowska,
with thanks for everything.
Who needs more vinegar, anyway?
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
ew people shed any tears when Padraic Rossa died at the age of eighty-nine, even his publishers, because he hadn't produced a book that was either comprehensible or commercial since the mid-1970s, and he was probably the most cantankerous man that Irish letters had ever known. Even Brendan O'Neill, who was loved by authors everywhere for his emollient reviews in the
, had called Rossa âa foul temper on legs.'
Rossa's last work,
All Hallows' Eve
, was published in 1997 and was little more than a splenetic rant about the way in which the Irish had allowed the rest of the world to turn a sacred Celtic ritual dating back to the fifth century into a âcash cow for the makers of plastic pumpkins and Hallmark Cards. It was one thing to turn our folk music into fiddle-de-dee for the tourist trade, and our magical beliefs into garden gnomes. But by allowing the commercialization of Halloween we have dragged the souls of our dead ancestors out of the eternal shadows and hung them up in the common light of the marketplace for every inquisitive passer-by to finger.'
When it was published two weeks before Halloween, Rossa's book was widely excoriated in the book pages of the
and several other newspapers and magazines for being âa saliva-spraying welter of Celtic superstition and Druidic mumbo-jumbo, by a man who seems to believe that “fun” is a notifiable disease.'
You no doubt remember, though, that five of the reviewers who gave Rossa such critical notices disappeared on the night of All Hallows' Eve, and no trace of them was ever found. There was a lengthy investigation by the Garda SÃochÃ¡na, during which Rossa was questioned several times, but he made no comment about their vanishing, except to say that they had probably got what they deserved. Nervous jokes were made in the press about âthe curse of Padraic Rossa' and stories were told in Henchy's Bar that he had summoned up Satan to drag his critics down to hell, their way lit by embers, in turnip lanterns.
After he died, Rossa's huge Victorian house on the steep hill overlooking the River Lee in Montenotte came up for auction almost immediately, since there were bills to be settled and Rossa's books hadn't made any decent money in decades. The coal bill alone hadn't been paid for six and a half years.
I was called up by
to write a feature about the house and I went up there one slick, wet Thursday morning with John McGrorty, who was to take the photographs. John was a very humorous fellow with a head of hair like a bunch of spring carrots and a taste for ginger tweed jackets.
We parked in Lovers' Walk and John took a selection of pictures of the outside. The house was a four-story building in the Gothic style, painted pale green, with dark green window-frames, as tall as a cliff. I think âforbidding' would be your word for it. It stood on the brow of the hill with the river far below, and from the steep back garden you could see all of Cork City and all the way beyond to the drizzly grey-green hills.
We rang the doorbell at the glass front porch and a young woman from the auctioneers came to answer it. A large, yellowish slug was clinging halfway up the window and John touched it with the tip of his cigarette so that it shriveled and dropped on to the flagstones.
âYou're a sadist,' I told him.
The young woman from the auctioneers was pretty enough, with a short brown bob and a pale heart-shaped face and sea-green eyes and rimless glasses. âMy name's Fionnula,' she said, holding out her hand.
âI'm John,' said John, âand this is Michael. Do you know what “Fionnula” means in Swahili?'
Fionnula shook her head.
âIt means “bespectacled beauty from the auctioneers”.'
âOh, yes,' she said, âand do you know what “John” means in Urdu? It means “red-headed chancer in a clashing orange coat”.'
âWell, girl, you give as good as you get,' John told her. âAre you going to be conducting us on a tour of these delightfully gloomy premises, then?'
The hallway was vast. Over a marble fireplace hung a dark oil portrait of Padraic Rossa himself, clutching his lapels as if he were trying to tear them off his jacket. He had a blocky-looking head, and he looked more like a bare-knuckle boxer than a writer.
âHe was a sour-tempered man and no mistake,' said Fionnula. âI met him only the once. I came up here to make a valuation but he wouldn't let me into the house. He said that he wouldn't be dealing with an empty-headed young girl who knew nothing of the Celtic tradition.'
She showed us the drawing room with its heavy velvet curtains and its strange paintings of pale men and women, peering out of the darkness with luminous eyes. Some of them had beaks like owls, while others had foxes' claws instead of hands.
âYou could well believe that Rossa was a close friend of his Satanic Majesty, now couldn't you?' said John. The flashes from his camera seemed to make the people in the paintings jump, as if for a split second he had brought them to life.
We toured the bedrooms. The ceilings were damp, and in some places the wallpaper was hanging down. In Rossa's own bedroom, the mattress on the four-poster bed had a dark stain in the middle of it, and there was an overwhelming smell of urine and death.
At last we came back downstairs to take a look at the dining room. At the far end of the room stood a huge mahogany cupboard, with carved pillars and bunches of grapes, which must have been used for storing china. In Ireland we would call a cupboard like this a press.
âThat is a massive piece of joinery and no mistake,' said John, taking pictures of it. Its finial touched the ceiling, and it had a wide drawer underneath with handles in the shape of demons' faces, with rings through their noses.
Fionnula turned the key in the lock and opened up the press so that we could look inside. It was completely empty, but it was unexpectedly large inside, almost three times as deep as it looked from the outside. It had that sour, vinegary smell of old cupboards that have been closed up for years.
âYou could almost live in this,' said John. âIn fact I think it's bigger than my flat. And lookÂ .Â .Â . what's that written on the back?'
The back of the press was covered in lettering, faded black, with some gilded capitals. It looked like Gaelic.
âWe'll have a picture of this,' said John. âHere, bespectacled beauty from the auctioneers, do you think you could hold my light for me?'
He helped Fionnula to climb up into the press, and then he climbed in after her. He handed her his electronic strobe light and started to take pictures of the lettering at the back. âNow I recognize some of the words here,' he said. â
BeÃ³ duine d'Ã©is a anma
Â .Â .Â . that means “a man may live after his death”.'
He peered at the lettering even more closely. âThis is some kind of Celtic incantationÂ .Â .Â . a summoning-up of dead souls. It must be connected with Rossa's book on All Hallows' Eve.'
As his fingers traced the words, however, I heard an extraordinary noise. A slow, mechanical ticking, like a very loud clock, but punctuated by the clicking of levers and tumblers, and the flat
sound of expanding springs.
âWhat the hell's that?' asked John, turning around. But before any of us could do anything, the huge doors to the press swung silently shut, and locked themselves, trapping John and Fionnula inside.
âWill you open the effing doors, Michael?' shouted John. âThis isn't a joke!'
âFor God's sake, let us out!' said Fionnula. She sounded panicky already. âI can't stand enclosed spaces!'
I turned the key, but the doors wouldn't budge. I went to the sideboard and pulled open the drawers. One of them was full of tarnished cutlery, so I took out a dinner knife and tried to pry the doors open with that. They still refused to open. Both John and Fionnula were hammering and kicking on them, but they were so solid that they didn't even shake.
It was then that I heard two more sounds. A high-pitched squeaking, like a screw turning, and then a sliding noise.
âJohn!' I shouted. âJohn, are you all right? I'm going into the garden, see if I can find a shovel or a pick or something!'
But John yelled, âThe ceiling! The ceiling's coming down!'
âThe ceiling's coming down! It's going to crush us!'
The squeaking went on and on. I ran into the rainy garden and came back with an iron fence-post, and I beat at those doors until the fence-post almost bent double. John and Fionnula were both screaming and then I heard something break, and John crying out in agony. â
Oh Mary Mother of God save us
Oh Mary Mother of God forgive me
After that there was nothing but a slow complicated crunching. I stood outside the press with my eyes filled with tears, trembling with shock. Eventually the squeaking stopped, and then I heard ratchets and cogs, and the doors to the press slowly opened themselves. Inside, there was nothing at all. No John, no Fionnula.
For a moment I couldn't understand what had happened to them. But then I saw blood dripping from the edge of the drawer at the bottom of the press. I took hold of the demon's-head handles and slowly pulled it open.