Phanticide – Conclusion


“Er, now,” said Archcleric Pygram, wholly uncertain what he was going to say next. He scanned the pages of the Holy Book, searching for wisdom. While he knew its contents by heart and knew it contained an inexhaustible supply of wisdom, he could see none obviously related to the current situation. Most definitely none on the pages he had open.

He rested a palm over the verses, seeking comfort in the touch of the pages paper as well as obscuring their shortcomings on this occasion.

The spirit erased and re-wrote its plea on the air.


The letters guttered like candle flame.

“I – I cannot,” managed the Archcleric after watching the smoky script fade once again. The phantom hovered before him still. And now Pygram doubted the power of his sacred magnet to detain the spirit in place. Was it held here in front of him by the trappings of ritual or merely staying of its own will? “That is to say, it is not that simple.”


Something like a breeze blew the word away and a punctuation mark hung in its place. Alone.


“Why,” repeated Pygram, wracking his brains for a way to transform it into a statement. “Why, indeed. Why, life is sacred. And – and you, I discover, have thought and emotion, desires, pains. And my mission is to save lost souls. I – I should at the very least endeavour to understand you before I help you on your way.”


Archcleric Pygram was temporarily dazed by the bluntness of the retort. He stroked the edges of the Book’s pages, wondering still if there was some passage hidden somewhere within them to which he could turn. “Yes, well, I ought. Do – do you have a name?”

The spirit ghost-wrote:


Wispering, Pygram decided, was a good description of this manner of communicating. How deep was the well when a soul drew on itself for ink?

“Good. Well. Tomuel,” Pygram tested it aloud. “It is my pleasure to meet you. Perhaps you would explain to me why it is you wish to be exorcised.”





Archcleric Pygram swallowed, his throat dry as old parchment and as drained of wisdom as the pages of his Book. The candles on the mantel flickered as though they’d been hissed at by some coldly venomous serpent. The Archcleric stiffened, closing the Book and clasping it to his breast. “Why, Tomuel, I came here to assist you. To guide you to the far realms, to see you safely across to the shores of the heavens and into the radiant benevolence of the Lord Meloch, Guardian Of Paradise, King Among The Stars and – ”


“I – I beg your pardon.”


“Yes, yes. That is – part of it. We of the church answer to our clients, it’s true. But – but we have a responsibility first and foremost to souls. Of the living and the – the – ” He couldn’t very well say undead. Such terms were bound up with unfortunate connotations, the sorts of creatures one had to stake or decapitate to see them to their eternal rest. “Undeparted,” he said finally. “And instead of a troublesome spirit, here in this house, I found a troubled spirit. That – well, that changes everything,” he asserted with a firmness of conviction that had eluded him up to that point.


“It is a question of willingness. Most spirits I have encountered are unwilling.” Desperately uncooperative, if truth be known, even combative in a great many instances. “But you. You, Tomuel, are willing. Far far too willing.” The Archcleric clutched at a thought that seemed to have been there. lingering before his eyes for some time. Like a cranefly, the phantom beat of its wings at the very fringes of audibility, the occasional blur of motion at the periphery of his vision. Bothersome and so he’d tried to shut it out. But eventually enough of a nuisance that it flew into sharp focus. “You harbour no desires to be ushered into Paradise.”



“No, no,” Archcleric Pygram countered. He’d detected the shrug in those words and more besides. Feeling too much like a prosecution lawyer, he pressed on because he sensed he was on the trail of the truth. “Your eagerness to be banished from this house is just that. It is nothing to do with where you wish to be. But everything with where you wish not to be. I – I have seen it before,” he concluded quietly. And then appended, even quieter: “In the eyes of a young girl. Too young.”

Archcleric Pygram’s emotions hung in the air, it seemed, not as visible as the ghost and yet much much harder to ignore. The spirit appeared to ripple, trembling as it were, perhaps in mirror of Pygram’s heart. Was it mocking him? Or sensing the deeper story? Could it see the overflowing river rushing as Pygram could see it, as vivid and enraged in memory as it had been that night?









The wispering grew faint as though the spirit had exhausted itself. But rather than its quill running dry, Pygram pictured its hand growing weak as it tried to set down its feelings.

The Archcleric hung his head. He patted the Book. “It is as I feared. To despair of existence – of any kind of existence – is no reason to end it. We must find strength and courage within ourselves and overcome adversity. We must make our peace in this life and not seek release in another.” He shook his head. Gravely. “I cannot be a part of it. I cannot help you.”


Archcleric Pygram bent to recover his effects, began to pack them away in his bags.


He aimed his gaze everywhere but at the word in the air.

Although wherever he looked it persisted to bother him somehow. Like the cranefly.

No, he realised with leaden heart. Far far worse than the cranefly.

More like the eyes of a young girl.


Dear Archdeacon

Two months ago I wrote a very strongly worded letter concerning the shoddy service I received at the hands of one of your young Archclerics, a fellow name of Pygram. The chap was here all of five minutes before declaring he was unable to clear my house of the damnable ghost, pardon my language again, then rode back off into the rain. Extraordinary behaviour, especially for an Archcleric. Mind, I did remark he was young for an Arch at the time, but there was no excuse for that level of rudeness or indeed for leaving me so abruptly in possession of a haunted property.

You were gracious enough, Archdeacon, to reimburse me my fee and relieve young Pygram of his Arch.

It is, therefore, with a modest quantity of egg on my face and the taste of humble pie on my tongue that I write to you now and state that I may have written in haste. The fact is, things have been uneventful in the supernatural department since your chap’s visit. Not a squeak or a bump, bathtimes to myself, all round peace and quiet.

So in short, I feel I owe you apology, your grace. I enclose the full value of my fee plus a little extra for the collection plate. And perhaps you might see to reinstating young Pygram.

Yours gratefully and not a little shame-faced

Krispin Vandergut


Hovering without wings. Watching without eyes.

All the pomp and ceremony was a bit much. It didn’t seem that long ago that he’d attended Pygram’s demotion ritual and now here he was as the young man was sworn in again as a full Archcleric of Meloch. Bravo, well done. Tomuel clapped without hands. And made no sound. Stirred only enough air to gutter the first row of candles on the altar.

The Archdeacon and all the gathered clerics, priests and acolytes and whatever glanced around, shrugging it off as a perfectly ordinary breeze through their hallowed temple. Archcleric-To-Be Pygram was the only one to pay it no heed, smiling nervously as he waited for the Archdeacon to proceed with the ceremony.

And why would Pygram bother to look? He was the only one here who knew the cause.

Two months, he had been with Pygram now. And these two ceremonies – demotion and promotion – made for the longest, most tedious occasions in both those months. The rest of the days and nights were fun. Time positively flew by.

The way Tomuel saw it, he was Pygram’s responsibility now. So he owed it to the (Arch)cleric to remain by his side, waking or sleeping – or waking when he wanted to be sleeping. Haunting was a brand of revenge that kept on giving.

Of course, Pygram could end it any time he wished. With an exorcism.

Funny thing though.

He’d found his raison d’etre. His mission in afterlife.

Now he never wanted it to end.

SAF 2014

Note: The Tortenschloss Chronicles will be taking a short break, but will return at some point in December with a Christmas(ish) story! See you then!

Phanticide – Part Four


Well now, this was new.

Archcleric Pygram read and re-read the wispy writings before they faded, leaving nothing more substantial than a memory on the air. Spirits indulged in many forms of communication, but he’d not seen that one before.

The spirit lingered, of course, invisible but tangible as a chill on his nose hairs. Pygram’s nose hairs were sensitive to the especially troubled spirits. This one, he fancied, was peculiarly disturbed and unlikely to be agreeable to the prospect of being banished to the other side. As such, the only reasonable way to interpret its words were as a dare, a challenge, a spooky gauntlet-slap to the face.

It was probably more deeply rooted here than Pygram had believed. So possessive of its residence it sought to drive out the building’s earthly owner. Archcleric Pygram viewed his rites and rituals as a service as much to the spirit as to the client. Not a banishment, but rather an assistance, lending a guiding hand to a lost soul caught on the wrong bank of a river. But many were surprisingly resistant to his help. Often they would dig their talons into the riverbank, as it were, clinging on for dear life (of a sort), as though fearful of being swept away in the currents that flowed between realms.

This one, he felt sure, had dug those talons in for so long it had practically laid claim to this turf as its home.

A sad, sad state of affairs. For a soul to be so chained to worldly possessions. Not to mention someone else’s possessions. Pygram wondered if he was dealing with a departed thief. Or perhaps merely a soul with some historical connection to the building. The lighthouse had history in abundance, enough to induce many to form an attachment to this proud local landmark over the decades.

“Defy me not, spirit. It is the Will of Meloch. You must journey onward from this land. The Light shines your way. You have only to look.”


The ghost-writing coalesced slowly, dissipating with a patience that Archcleric Pygram did not detect in the tone.

Perturbed, but undeterred, Pygram picked up his Melochim Bible and turned to the relevant scripture. He knew the incantations by heart, as though they were inscribed in blood within his chest. But resting the Book in hand, pages spread like a thousand gilded butterfly wings, lent the Words a weight that even the most stubborn of spirits could not withstand.


This time, the misty mots evaporated quickly as if blown away on some stray draught. The vapour reformed into a figure, no more than a fog shadow really, with the vaguest suggestions of limbs, the faintest allusion to features. The vague arms were folded and one of the even vaguer legs was crossed over the other.

The head – merely a roughly rounded cloud like a wispy cabbage – briefly broke apart to breathe more words on the air like steamy scrawls on a window pane:






Archcleric Pygram cleared his throat. This spirit was really putting him off. Couldn’t a ghost let him go about his work in peace?

The words vanished and gathered once more into the crude cloudy cabbage of a head. The eyes and mouth were shifting breaks in the cloud, a metamorphosis between comedy and tragedy. Over-egged smiles and sighing glumness.


Archcleric Pygram had seen similarly impatient postures in the audience at a number of his lectures and sermons. Many among those congregations would make faces like that too, gurning to exercise their facial muscles or just to pass the time. Many wore pocket watches and would discreetly check them at frequent intervals. Although never so discreetly he couldn’t spot the glimmer of gold and silver chains from high in his pulpit. He had an eerily persuasive feeling that if the ghost had owned a pocket watch it might be doing the same.

His nose hairs bristled and the cold in his nostrils started to sting ever so slightly.

He thought again of his metaphorical riverbank. And another very real riverbank, muddy and clammy, sucking at his boots as he delivered last rites over a wretched, bedraggled creature landed from a swollen river in torrential rain. She was still alive, poor girl, waxing skin and waning eyes. Paler than salmon and young blue eyes fading swiftly to ancient grey. The villagers fretted around her, all sure she had been swept from the stone bridge in the flood. But Archcleric Pygram knew otherwise. He knew from that grey gaze, staring up at him from the mud and weather-beaten reeds. A hollow plea, a soul that had done its share of haunting before death. A broken heart beating its last in her drowned chest.

Let me go, she’d wept wordlessly. Please.

Archcleric Pygram had blessed her as though her death were a tragedy and not a crime. As he’d read from the Book, it was all he could do not to cry. The rain spattered the pages unaided and he cursed the young man who had so cruelly used the poor girl – for surely it had to be the ruins of a love affair to have brought her to such despair.

He’d asked the Lord Meloch for forgiveness later that night in the chapel. It was not in his remit to hand out curses to all and sundry. Forgive me, Lord, he’d prayed, there on his knees in front of a candle he’d lit for the girl.



Archcleric Pygram peered into the smokeless hollows that were the eyes in the ghost’s slowly swirling face. All he could see was that word it had written in the air with its own otherworldly material. Gone now, yes, vanished, but still so vivid somehow.


It couldn’t be any clearer if it had hung before him like freshly laundered linens on a washing line. And it dawned on him, that declaration hadn’t been a challenge. It had been an invitation. A request.

“You – ” he said. But he had to swallow to moisten a dry throat. “You wish to be exorcised. You want me to do this.”

The spirit’s face dissipated, veils of mist breaking away to paint the air with a single word.


The ghost clasped its vague suggestions of hands together, as though in prayer.

Well, that was definitely new.


[To Be Concluded…]


Phanticide – Part Three


Archcleric Pygram set his bags down at his feet and warmed himself in front of the fire.

The rain had wormed its way under his coat collar and his jacket was soaked, as was his shirt and trews, all the way through to his undergarments. He had heard of many tribal religions who practised much of their spiritualism wearing nothing but sky, but the church of Meloch – to say nothing of his host – would frown upon his stripping off. So for now, he stretched forth his arms, lightly toasted his palms over the crackling flames and basked in the heat, closing his eyes so as to make it look like preparative prayer or meditation. In a moment, he thought, he might turn around and address his host on a few points so as to dry out his behind.

A chill breath whispered past his ear. A pocket of cold air formed at the end of his nose. He retreated one slow step.

“Did you feel that?” he asked. Shivers stole in under his jacket. It was possible they were merely a result of the damp against his skin.

“Of course I did. It’s the damned ghost!” barked Vandergut, with all the gruff hospitality of a guard dog. “Try to bear in mind, you’re here to unhaunt my house, not creep me out, sir!”

“Sorry. I beg your pardon. I – well, I suppose we had better get started.”

Pygram squirmed out of his jacket. The garment put up some struggles in its keenness to cling to him. He spread it before him, meaning to shake some of the wetness out.

The hearth exploded. Erupted like a volcano, blasting hot air and hurling one or two red coals along with a fury of sizzling embers. They blew into the jacket like burning grapeshot from an angry musket. The garment flapped wildly and smoked profusely.

Startled, Pygram shook the jacket vigorously at the fireplace, attempting to beat back the flames. Droplets flew at the fire and the hearth spat and hissed, eventually settling like some serpent tamed very much against its wishes.

Pygram puffed a weighty sigh.

The chill snaked around his face, frosting his breath. Then hurried on over his shoulder, perhaps withdrawing to some other corner of the room. Perhaps departing the chamber altogether. Either way, it left Archcleric Pygram in no doubt it was still in the house.

His jacket dripped on the hearthrug, a loud pitter-patter fragmenting the silence.

If only he’d thought to bless the rainwater. Instead he’d spent much of the ride here cursing it to all seven Netherplanes. If anything he’d probably strengthened the spirit.

“There you are then.” Vandergut cleared his throat. “Now you know what you’re up against. You all right?”

“Yes, yes I think so.” A little singed around the edges, Pygram fancied, but drier at least. He folded his jacket and looked around for somewhere to deposit it.

Vandergut relieved him of the garment. “Here, let me put that with your coat. Unless you need me around, I’ll get out of your hair and leave you to it, shall I?”

“No, by all means make yourself scarce. Or comfortable, rather.” Pygram preferred to carry out his arcane arts free of interruptions and questions from onlookers. Sometimes the spirits were tethered in some way to an individual and he had to keep the person on hand in order to complete the exorcism. To sever the knot in a ceremony that always struck him as a strange inversion of a marriage. Looking around here though, he had the sense that this troubled phantom was tied to the property rather than the owner. He sensed markers, hinting of a prolonged presence in the house, its ethereal touch everywhere as firm and distinct as footprints in mud. Similar to the way a man or woman characterised the spaces they inhabited, with decor and ornaments and the like, this spirit had resided here long enough to leave some trace of its cold soul in the stone and the shadows. “That is, I would recommend you secrete yourself in your study or your bedroom and remain there until this business is concluded. I shall draw the spirit out, confront it and speed it to its final rest. Then I will come find you and report to you when the house has been cleansed.”

“Sounds ideal to me. Right then, good luck to you, Archcleric.”

“Luck will play no part. We trust to the higher powers of Meloch.”

“Whatever it takes, I don’t much care.”

Vandergut gave the curtest of bows and departed with the jacket. After the briefest of rustlings in the hall, his footsteps could be heard clunking up the stairs.

Archcleric composed himself, meditating for real for all of a second or two, then stooped to rummage in his bags.

The hairs on his neck stood, as though they had an audience. He looked over his shoulder. There was only the portraiture, gazing down from the walls, books on the shelves, guarding their tales and secrets behind dusty dust-jackets, candlesticks and assorted polished knick-knacks doing their best to glimmer in the gloom. Porcelain figurines populated shelves and cabinets and Pygram muttered a brief prayer to himself against the spirit throwing any of these ornaments around.

This ghost was going to be enough of a challenge without the added burden of having to pay for breakages.


Watching without eyes.

The priest went to work, removing items from his bags and arranging them in a row on the coffee table. He finished by digging out two torches, one after the other, lighting them in the fire and mounting them on the mantelpiece in ornate silver stands that were also part of the extensive kit he’d brought with him.

On the table there lay a book, with a black cover and gilt-edged pages, a mask, with smoothly sculpted silver features and segmented eyes of emerald, ruby and sapphire, a phial – probably containing holy water, or perhaps simply a tipple to refresh the priest and shore up his courage in the struggle to come – and a large horseshoe-shaped artefact of silver, engraved with a panoply of mystical symbols. As arrays of weaponry went, it was all a bit disappointing. Not very impressive at all. But then, unless you were a priest in life you couldn’t be expected to know the tools of the trade or how effective they might be against spirits. He supposed he would find out in short order.

The priest appeared calm, systematic and determined. The fireplace stunt had left him unharmed and undeterred. Which was good. The sight of the flickering flames had seized him like a compulsion. Their hypnotic dance promised heat, an end to cold and misery. Fire was a foreign land, somewhere he had never ventured before. Made of cold, he always imagined it to be unbearably painful and pain was a thing he greatly wished to avoid. But perhaps, seeing the priest standing there, the prospect of a witness had been too irresistible. To be seen – by a priest, someone liable to care, not like the curmudgeonly master of this house – was a prize surely worth some measure of pain. To burn would be brief, he supposed. To burn brightly, memorable at least.

The world tugged at him, pulling him from his lonely corner.

Looking without eyes, he saw the priest had donned his mask. The horseshoe was in the holy man’s hand and aimed directly this way.

Emerald, sapphire and ruby. Could ghosts be visible in one of those colours – or through some refractive combination of the three? And the horseshoe pulled and pulled, like a magnet on his soul, drawing him from the shadows. Out and out into the fluttering circle of light and warmth cast by the fireplace and the twin torches.

Hovering without wings. He floated above the table. The gold-trimmed pages of the black book ruffled open. The scriptured papers glowed.

Suddenly afraid, he bolted backwards. But slammed up against the half-shadow at the outer edges of the circle, like some moth beating its head on a window pane. He was trapped in a jar of warmth and light and he felt a sudden chill that ran deeper than any cold he had ever visited upon this house. The warm air seemed to feed on him.

“Come forth! Come forth, spirit, in the name of Meloch!”

The priest’s shouts vibrated through him.

He spun and drifted back above the table. Above the book.

It was over.

He spoke without voice. In a way he had thought about many times but never used before, he drew himself in breathy swirls, painting a bubble in the air and shaping some portions of himself into misty script:


“Eh? What?” answered the priest.

Which, if that was the power of holy command, was more disappointing than his array of religious artefacts.



[To Be Continued…]

Phanticide – Part Two


“Well, you’d best not hang around outside.” The client stood aside and waved Archcleric Pygram through. “Come in. Come in.”

Pygram had rarely experienced such a wealth of relief since the day he had passed his exams confirming him into the priesthood. He smiled at Vandergut and tipped his hat, causing a large amount of water to run off and splash the man’s feet. Altering his smile to a more apologetic version, he stepped past into the client’s residence.

He cast glances around the gloom-infested hall. Rain-darkened daylight spilling through the open doorway revealed only minimal furnishings – a hatstand, a small bureau, a flattering portrait of the master of the house adorning one wall and the handsome embroidered rug on which Pygram profusely dripped. A staircase spiralled up to his right while a door to his left presumably led to the ground-floor rooms.

It was a curious residence for a merchant. Yet that was what he understood the client to be. Pygram was of the opinion that any intrusions from the Netherplanes or the spiritual realm ought to be dealt with as soon as possible. The Temple hierarchy held that such incidents troubling men of standing and/or wealth were all the more urgent. This man, Mr Vandergut, had quite the mercantile empire by all accounts and whatever he may have lacked in social elevation early in life he had purchased with his successes in trade and commerce. Pygram would be under some pressure to achieve a good outcome here, with some swiftness and no small measure of courtesy.

Vandergut closed the door, reducing the hammering rain to a muffled drumbeat. “Well now,” he said, “sorry about that. Wouldn’t have done to have my priest skewered by a gargoyle’s arm before he’d even gotten started.”

“No indeed.” Pygram’s appointment to the rank of Archcleric had been the reward for his aptitude for handling supernatural phenomena in a calm and efficient manner. He’d earned such a reputation in the field that the Temple granted him the singular privilege of heading up his own department. He was Archcleric Of The Un-Living and commanded a loyal, dedicated staff of one. Himself. Other priests could no doubt cope with a simple exorcism, but Pygram imagined there would be a long queue of hopeful applicants to replace the gargoyle before any lined up to replace him. “Now, clearly we need not wait until sunset to commence our work, but first, uh, I wonder if there is somewhere I might temporarily dispose of my coat?”

Vandergut gestured. “Chuck it on the hatstand.” And gave him a look of no confidence, as much to say any man who couldn’t figure out what to do with a wet coat was likely to have problems banishing a ghost. “I’ve packed most of the staff off for the time being. Didn’t want them getting in the way and most of them weren’t anxious to be here. I daresay screaming maids and fainting butlers would be a distraction, maybe put you off your stride.”

“Perhaps,” admitted Pygram, who’d encountered similar distractions on multiple occasions and was more fazesd by them than he’d ever been by demons and phantoms and the like.

“I’ve kept Shillingsworth on. He’s made of sterner stuff than the rest. If there’s any fetching or carrying to be done, he’ll see you catered for, soon as he’s done stabling your horse.”

“Excellent. Thank you.” Pygram shucked his coat and draped it on one of the hatstand’s hooks, conscious of every drip noisily splatting the floor. He suppressed a shiver that had nothing to do with the haunting and everything to do with the clinging dampness he now wore as an undergarment under his undergarments. “I wonder if I might also trouble you for a towel? I feel I ought to dry off before I make a start.”

Vandergut coughed in a closed mouth. There was every implication of more he wanted to say, but he spent a few moments picking out a few choice words. “I suppose we won’t fare well against the dead with a wet priest. Come this way, you can stand yourself in front of the fire. Shillingsworth got a right roaring one going this morning. That’ll dry you off in no time. If it doesn’t roast you alive first.”

He led the way through the ground-floor doorway. Pygram squelched after him, not forgetting to bring his two bags, laden with the weapons of his trade.

Discomfiting wetness notwithstanding, he offered up a prayer to Meloch that this would be a routine job.


Hovering without wings. Watching without eyes.

Not that he’d had wings in life, but he’d half expected to get a pair when he’d died. That had been a long time ago. He was sure he’d ‘lived’ longer as a ghost than he’d ever done as a man. The thought made him glum and weighed him down like a rock in the pit of his stomach, but his spirits could sink and sink while his spirit remained floating in the air. Invisible to all.

The two men walked through into the living room. The one chamber in this tower that taunted him with its name. He drifted along after them, riding the murmured wake of their conversation.

He’d seeped through the crack under the front door and lingered in the tower hall as Vandergut talked with his visitor. He could have passed through the wood as easily as hot water through a teabag, but he always imagined splinters scratching at his insides. Even though he didn’t have insides. He wasn’t positive he could truthfully claim to have an outside either. Honestly, all the time he’d spent in this sorry non-state and he had so little understanding of what it was actually all about. In that sense, it was a lot like life.

At least, piecing together these men’s words – along with the garb of the visitor and the amulet he wore about his neck – he understood the purpose of this visit. He’d had only a vague impression from high up on the tower roof. Some distant figure painted as a grey smear like a washed-out watercolour in the driving rain.

If only he’d known what the man was when he’d coiled himself around the gargoyle’s outstretched arm and applied his energies as physical strength, breaking the age-wearied stone. If he’d seen clearly as he fell, wound around the limb like an ethereal serpent, it would have been too late in any case. He could break old stone but he couldn’t fight gravity, not when it came to a struggle for ownership of such a heavy object. He wasn’t even sure if he could have nudged the missile from its path.

As it was, all he’d seen was a rush of images, his whole afterlife flashing before those eyes he didn’t possess. A few events jumped out, but mostly it was long – so very long – and dull, like the dreariest carnival procession, an endless parade of too-similar floats. As it was, the man had dodged the potential impact and all had turned out well.

Now he understood. This man – this young man – was a priest. The priest was here as his enemy. His mortal enemy.

He had almost killed his foe. That would have been a tragedy. The priest’s arrival changed everything.

He wished his enemy good fortune and followed him to the living-room hearth.




[To Be Continued…]