A short story based on “The Spectre Bride” by William Harrison Ainsworth
He was strolling down Oxford Road in the early evening, close to six. He was going home from the theatre that he liked to frequent on Saturdays and cut down Oxford Road to peruse the markets for any new wares. He loved to read and would pick up new books as they came in, to take them home and read them by the fire. I picked him up after he stopped at a fruit stand, buying a trio of oranges, “For the children,” he said.
As he walked away the shopkeeper ran after him yelling, “Mr. Ainsworth! Mr. Ainsworth! Your bag, sir! You have forgotten it!”
William turned and thanked the shopkeeper, giving him a shilling for his trouble. I followed him down Oxford Street and through a series of alleyways, careful to stay out of his sight. He didn’t pay much attention to his surroundings it seemed, being preoccupied with some literary endeavor. He wore a black suit, with a white shirt underneath and a large black cloak that flowed behind him like a shadow. He moved swiftly but carelessly, often bumping into a waste bin or some passerby. He often didn’t care to apologize. He was better than these people. The son of a lawyer who has all the time in the world to write his stories and weave his tales. We all have time. I think I have more.
I watched him stop to read the paper of a small paperboy. I watched him wave to some of the townsfolk as if he knew or cared. None of them waved back. I watched him smile at each young lass that crossed his path and I watched them giggle once he was gone. I followed him all the way to King Street where he turned and I went down the alley behind the street. I kept my eye on him, seeing him in through the spaces between the houses, waiting to not see him. When he didn’t show up at the next space I knew I had found his home. It was a large three-story house that had just recently been built. All the windows were clear and new and the paint fresh and vibrant. A rich man’s house. I will feel no guilt tonight.
Night had fallen as I crept into the cellar, remaining completely silent as I moved down the stairs into the darkness of his house. I prefer the dark. Cannot quite say why. Perhaps it is the nature of my being. Perhaps its just because I don’t have to see anything. The cellar was packed dirt and smelled like fresh earth, like a distant forest with no human life. This cellar was a different world from the Manchester streets above it. This cellar would be ideal. How convenient.
I heard movement on the floorboards above me and walked up the hard wooden stairs towards the door. It was closed and locked, but behind that door I could sense the man I had been tasked with. The man whose life would belong to me. I opened the door with ease and I saw him standing there, slicing oranges with a knife in his kitchen. I startled him enough for him to brandish the blade at me.
“You scoundrel! What are you doing in my home?”
“You needn’t that William,”
He lowered the knife, surprised, “How do you know my name?”
“I know everything about you Mr. William Harrison Ainsworth. Born on the fourth of February in the year eighteen hundred and five to Thomas and Ann Ainsworth, a lawyer and a ministers daughter, respectively.”
He dropped the knife, “Who are you?”
“Don’t you recognize me, William? Don’t you know your own son?”
“I do not have a son. I have only three daughters,”
“Oh but you know me father. ‘I am the undying spirit of the wretch who curst his Saviour on the cross’?”
“What?! That is…that is from my…”
I couldn’t help but smile, “Yes”
“But I…I created…”
“YOU created ME? Shut up you blathering fool! You didn’t create me as much as you didn’t create the sun or the moon. I am the eternal. I am the constant. I live while everything else dies. I am here to claim your soul!”
“No! Please, you don’t have to do this!”
“That is what they all say,”
“Saying please won’t help you. Nothing will help you. To try and resist is to only delay the inevitable,”
“A delay! That is all I ask for.”
“Cannot be done. You have no time.”
“Do you have time?”
“I have all the time in the world.”
“Then why don’t you do something else?”
“What else can I do?”
“I’ll give you anything,”
“I don’t want anything,”
“I have money.”
“Good for you.”
“It’s time to go.”
“Yes. It’s time to go, William”
“Well. How about this. Things might go differently if you can do one thing for me.”
“Yes, oh lord and master, anything.”
“Don’t do that.”
“That. I will not be swayed by your pathetic attempts to grovel.”
“Yes. What can I do?”
“Guess my name.”
“Your name. And that is it? I will be free?”
“I will not promise you will go free.”
“Ok. Your name. What could your name be?”
“Please allow me to introduce myself,”
“I cannot even begin to imagine such a name befitting your being,”
“I’m a man of wealth and taste,”
“You say you are eternal?”
“I’ve been around for long, long years,”
“I’ve stolen many a man’s soul and faith.”
“Lucifer. Satan! Devil! Beelzebub! The Morning Star!”
I get this every single time. I probably ask for the comparison. Oh well. I leaned forward to whisper into his ear,
I pushed him down the stairs into his cellar and closed the door behind me.
Disclaimer: Into the Cellar is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the author.