My short story, The Letter is now available through Darkness Screams: Whisper Quiet anthology. Order links are below, along with a sneak peak of the story. Enjoy and have a Happy Spoopy Season.
The Letter, by A. R. Clayton
I set my cup of tea on the tray. It was late, and the day had been long. I had been out in the fields, working alongside the men and women on my estate, harvesting the last of our crops and tilling the ground before everything froze. The servants had been doing a month’s worth of baking and cleaning all week. Everyone would sleep well tonight. Excitement at tomorrow’s gala was ripe in the air. It was to be my birthday—an excuse to clear the cobwebs from our minds and hearts, to celebrate amidst our great sadness of late. My muscles ached, and I stank of sweat mixed with wet earth. My servant was somewhere, preparing my bath.
I stuck my fingers onto some cold beef and chunks of cheese and bread—my impromptu dinner. Food usually distracted me. I set the meal back on the plate and pushed it away, grabbing instead for my wine. Empty. I brought the envelope back out of its cubby hole and opened it carefully, as if holding a glass vial. It had been sent to me from a false address and misrouted several times. I could make out the painfully familiar cursive in the candlelight.
“My dearest Vincent. I write to you this day in low spirits. The horse I had been so afraid of dying has lived—some miracle or another, I do not know how to explain —”
“Your bath is ready, sir,” a voice called from behind me.
I turned round in my chair, hiding the letter with my sleeve.
“Are the preparations finished for tomorrow?”
“Yes, sir—the last shipment of flowers arrived earlier this evening. I will have your suit pressed and ready.”
“That will be all. Goodnight, Adam.”
I folded the letter and put it back in its stained envelope, tucking it away in a drawer. I locked the drawer in afterthought and stood to commence my toiletries.
Were it only as easy to clean the soul, I thought, as it was to clean the body.
“Why, whatever you do you mean, Vincent? Come now,” a woman next to me spoke, swatting at my hand playfully with her fan. I winced—the pointed tip had scratched my skin. “Certainly, there’s bound to be one or two ghosts on your fine estate. I’ve heard your servants whisper about them in the gardens—”
“Child’s play. Tom foolery,” one of the older men in the group spoke. I couldn’t make out his face amidst the pipe smoke, but I knew him to be a retired colonel—Colonel Thomas Williams. “People have been telling ghost stories for a millennium. Nothing for it.”
“Well, I for one would like to see your ghost,” the first woman’s sister spoke next, bowing her curled head innocently. Tara and Sarah—twins in every way. “Wouldn’t our father be surprised to hear of our adventures back home, Henry?” This last remark was addressed to her brother seated beside me. I reached up to rub at my temple as my guests continued chattering around me.
“Let us all go!” an elderly woman was now saying who had overhead the conversation and invited herself to our table. “Oh come now, colonel!” she pouted, plucking at the man’s sleeve. “We need a brave, strong man like yourself to protect us ladies. Henry wouldn’t accompany us if wild horses dragged him.”
The twins turned to each other and giggled. Henry groaned, reaching to pick up his wine glass.
“My lord,” a whisper sounded in my ear. I nearly jumped out of my seat. It was my lead servant, Adam.
“You are needed by a guest, sir,” he spoke carefully, his eyes not leaving my face. I rose in understanding, making my excuses.
Curious what comes next? The story is available for purchase here in the Darkness Screams: Whisper Quiet Anthology. Enjoy and happy reading.