The Legend of Archibal: The Phantom

That afternoon they took advantage of their freedom before going back to their respective responsibilities. It was still dangerous to get near the lake, and it was banned by the mayor to even approach it. To make sure everybody followed orders, they posted a couple of Black Coats as a precaution. That disappointed Walter and Alden, but they weren’t deterred.

Instead of going to the lake, Alden took Walter into the nearby woods to show him the remains of a famous castle that once stood many centuries before. Walter had never heard about the Thatch Castle. Mostly because nobody spoke about it. In a clearing, an outline of the old foundation and the standing tower, was all that remained of the castle.

“It belonged to a family that lived here for many generations,” Alden explained. “Dreadful they were. My grandfather told me all about them. They were never kind to anyone and were even more atrocious to each other. Everybody avoided them if they could. Two children were considered the last of the Thatch kin, but a distant cousin came to reclaim whatever fortune was left. Their mother died from some illness, and their father was left to take care of them. But then he fell sick and died shortly after. Grandfather said the children were about six and eight. He was nine when they vanished.”

“Vanished? What happened to them?”

“After their mother died, their father married a woman that came from afar. Nobody knew her well, but my grandfather said she was more evil than anyone in the family. When the father died, he left everything to her. She got rid of everything she didn’t want, including the children. The last time my grandfather saw them, they were in that tower.” Alden pointed at it. “Some say they were locked up in there, never to be seen again. Others say they were killed and put there so they would never be found. The truth is in there. The door was sealed shut by brick and cement. They called this place the Thatch Castle, after the family. Grandfather considers this place part of the town’s history but it’s being forgotten and people don’t care. He says you wouldn’t believe what it looked like before.”

Walter looked up at the tower and all he saw was a grungy structure, eroded by time.

“After the two children disappeared, strange things began to occur in the castle,” Alden continued. “The woman that lived there was bewitched. Every night, there were flashes of green coming from inside the castle. The trees, grass, and every other living thing around it died. Anyone who approached it suffered a terrible fate.”

“What kind of fate?”

“Well, Grandfather said they were just found dead near the marsh that used to surround the castle. Nobody knew how or why, but everyone believed it was the woman. She hated trespassers, so most people didn’t come near it. My grandfather said these beautiful flowers use to grow near the edge. A little girl was seen cutting them. When her father came looking for her, he found her body.  He went to the chief constable of the Black Coats but he wouldn’t dare approach the woman. Nobody would.

“Grandfather said the father gathered a group of men from nearby towns to confront her. The full moon was out that night and Grandfather saw the whole thing from where he was hiding in the trees. When the men reached the castle, they demanded the woman come out. Instead a large, two‑headed bird emerged. The men threw spears at it, but nothing worked. Then two strangers appeared and one of them threw a spear at the creature, injured it, and it flew away.

The Legend of Archibal: The Phantom

“I heard about the other schoolmasters before Mr. Crabb,” Alden said. “My grandfather told me about some of them and how they all never seem to last. There is a curse on any schoolmaster. Back then people didn’t talk about this stuff, so he doesn’t know what happened to the ones that taught before he was born.

“Parents taught the children little of what they knew to read and write, and then sent them to work. Some still can’t read. Families who could afford it sent their kids to the city. Grandfather said he had volunteered to teach some of the children. He had a large library and was well taught himself. Most of the library is gone now. My parents either sold the books or burnt them when we couldn’t afford to, buy lumber or coal.” Alden seemed ashamed to admit it.

Walter was certain Alden was more ashamed of how low his family had fallen since his grandfather’s death, but he didn’t seem to hold a grudge against his parents. Walter changed the subject. “Nobody seems to know who Mr. Crabb was.”

“He is not from here was all I was told,” Alden reported. “He lived in the schoolhouse. Didn’t speak much to anybody. I don’t think he even liked children. Grandfather didn’t like him.”

“Do you think Mr. Crabb will ever return?”

“I don’t know. They never do.”

“I also heard a lot of people talk about the witching hours,” Walter said. “What is that?”

Uncle Obel signaled Alden that his father’s jug was filled.

“Do you think we could get together in the afternoon, tomorrow?” Alden asked.

“I’m sure Uncle Obel will let me.”

“Meet me by the church courtyard around three. I better get going before Father starts searching for me.” Alden went to retrieve the jug, waved goodbye, and left.

Walter went back to attending the tables. At nine o’clock his uncle made him stop working for the day and sent him to bed. Walter was exhausted. He didn’t even bother to change his clothes or take off his shoes. He just went to bed and quickly fell asleep. Tomorrow would be another bustling day.

It drizzled in the morning, but the waters had receded back into Lake Alaric. The weather was becoming chilly and drab, making everything colorless, gray, and wet. This time of the year there was not much to do for two restless boys who had been confined inside for three months.