'The final hour when we cease to exist does not itself bring death; it merely of itself completes the death-process. We reach death at that moment, but we have been a long time on the way'.—Seneca (4 BC-65)
The day was rainy and damp, and the month of October of 1849 had abated, when I arrived on horseback at the estate of my dearest friend Frederic Roig, who was awaiting my arrival upon that memorable day. If you must know, my name is Marcel Bover, and I had shared a lasting friendship and acquaintance with him, since our childhood. We had grown up together and studied arts at the university in Barcelona, and excelled tremendously as enthusiastic students and eclectics. Eventually, each one of us got married, and was in charge to tend to the family business then. His opulent estate was located just off the lonely country road outside of the small village of Castell de l'Areny in Catalonia, Spain. Along the way I had passed the ancient Church of Sant Romà de la Clusa, as I glanced at the church bells ringing above the daunting tower.
Frederic had become an unfortunate widower, as his beloved wife Monserrat had recently succumbed to the lingering effects of the advancing illness of phthisis. I was not able to attend the funeral, since I was still in Morocco at that time, but I had sent an earnest correspondence to him expressing my deep and sincere commiseration, for the regrettable death of Monserrat. When he greeted me at the front gate, I had perceived a serious tone in his voice.
'Benvingut amic meu', we embraced, and I proceeded to give him my heartfelt condolences for the loss of his beloved Monserrat.
His vultuous countenance seemed pensive before, but his reply was congenial and receptive, 'Thank you my dear friend, for Monserrat was everything to me. She was magnanimous and my mainstay'.
'Perhaps, you can join me on a business trip to Barcelona this week—or do you plan on leaving the estate, for other affairs?' I had asked solaciously.
At first, he had paused for a moment, until he answered my question with an odd riposte ultroneously, 'Of course, I shall remain here! Why, would I leave this estate then? I cannot leave my dear Monserrat alone, when I must tend to her memory, as her faithful husband'.
I did not want to be overtly importunate toward his difficult grief, but I wanted to know how he was coping with the unfortunate loss of Monserrat, since her passing. He appeared to be quite effected by her death. Verily, this I had perceived in earnest, from gazing into his plaintive eyes. I sought no need to continue the austerulous discourse, and kept my enquiry to myself for the nonce.
The cold air had started to become intense, and the darkness was looming nigh. As I entered, I noticed a strange flickering light coming from one of the chambers above. Unusual it was, but I had dismissed the light, as perhaps a lamp lit. Once inside the house, we sat in the comfort of the parlour reminiscing old stories of the days of yore, as he appeared to forget his unbearable grief; but when I asked where his beautiful and colourful wife had been interred, his demeanour had swiftly changed then from conviviality to absolute sadness and despondency. His antithalian face became extremely gaunt and ashen, and he rose from his chair sullenly.
'Forgive me, perhaps it is better that you leave and return another day—for the night will fall soon. You must have other urgent things to tend to, and I will keep you here no longer my friend!'
'Foolishness, for I came to visit and see how you were doing! I will stay the night at least that is of course, if you do not object!' I replied.
He quickly rejoined, 'Why should I object to this request? Come then, let me take you to your chamber my good friend'.
Therefore, we left the conversation for tomorrow, and I was escorted at first by him, but then an obstreperous clamour I heard of a voice. 'What was that noise?'
He was evasive, and only responded, 'Oh it is only the tumultuous revelry of the procession of Semana Santa (Holy Week). Nevertheless, perhaps it would be better if I investigate this matter. If you don't mind, I will tell Arnau my servant, to escort you to your chamber'.
He left to investigate the unknown noise, whilst his servant had escorted me to my chamber for the night. Along the way I attempted to converse with the servant, but he was very silent and spoke no words to me. Perhaps, his behaviour was too modest, or perhaps there was a conundrum yet to unfold of this self-effacing individual that I would solve afterwards. He seemed to be a model factotum and never demurred or was he impudent in his mien much. For some reason I harked the utterance of Frederic, when he said that often the dead are not dead, until they are properly buried and given a spiritual dirge as their ultimate farewell. But for the devoted believers of the existing occult and praeternatural—the dead are never—never—truly dead at all it would seem. It was something remarkable that remained in the depth of my mind persistently. Even though, I did not consider myself a man of superstition I did feel a sudden chill, about my surroundings.
Within my chamber, I had found a bottle of Almontillado on top of one of the cabinets. I told Arnau, if he could bring me a glass, and he did. Afterwards, he left, and I was alone to quaff the Almontillado. But as I was standing by the window transiently, I again noticed the flickering light coming from above. Odd it was that I was enthralled in a profound fixation. I stared and stared vividly, till suddenly, the flickering light was no longer lit. I was not certain, if the light was the lamplight or some spectral shade of lustre.
After a while, I thought nothing of it and wanted to retire for the night; but the revelry of the procession could be heard from afar, and the stir of the locals was bustling. I was aware of the incessant nights that were associated to Semana Santa and this ancient and inexplicable Spanish passion; but never would I associate this horrible, horrible night of terror to the whims of a religious fervour and the dogmas of intricate faith. I had continued to quaff the Almontillado, so that the liquor would allay my unsettling unease; but as I stood by the window, I felt a heavy and intimidating breath upon my bare neck. At first, it felt like the soft breeze of the night, but then, it began to arise into a deep breath. I discerned the breath and then noticed a flitted image of a wraith standing outside materialising before my window. It was a feeble gleam that had quickly disappeared into the unpropitious night.
Once more, I heard the plangorous clamour, and this time I sensed the noise to be nearby. Perhaps it was nothing—the mere revelry of the procession—or it was perhaps, the hubbub of the locals. The need to explore this mystery had elevated my curiosity that I put my glass of Almontillado on the table and sought to discover the origin of this strange occurrence. I was not positive, if Frederic was asleep in his chamber already.
Whilst I was going to step outside to the patio, I heard another stentorian scream, and this time, it was the scream of Frederic. Quickly I left the chamber, and headed towards the patio to know what had happened to him. Once at the patio I found him on the ground, and Arnau was tending to him then. He had a noticeable gash on his leg that prevented him to stand or walk much. He appeared to be in great discomfort, for it seemed that he also suffered a contusion that was swelling by the minute. I asked him what had betided to him, and his response was that he had fallen so clumsily, from the stairs by the patio. The gash did not appear to be self-inflicted, and the possibility of him fallen from the stairs by the patio was absolutely feasible.
We took him to his chamber afterwards, so that he could rest and to stop the protrusion. What I did find quite peculiar was the fact that he did not have many servants that were present within the house. When I had enquired about that oddity, he merely answered while he was lying in his chamber bed.
'I have no need for servants, but only Arnau and Eulàlia, who is the kind lady who cooks for me, and tends to my necessities in the house always'.
We left him to repose in his bed, but not before I told him that I would summon the doctor to come and examine him. He had refused and said that it was only a minor wound. I was no physician, but I acquiesced, since the wound and swelling did not appear to be that severe or disturbing in nature at that moment, and Arnau had tended to his wound. I was told also that the doctor would examine him in the morrow. Thus, I left him to rest the night, and recover from his wound and protusion.
I walked towards my chamber, but not before I passed by the chamber above, where I had seen the light flickering. I heard the sound of music coming from that chamber. Was I imagining this, and this was nothing more than the sounds of the revelry of the locals during Semana Santa? Or was there somebody else in the house that was not either Frederic or Arnau? Was it just Eulàlia? Or was it an unbidden visitor, who Frederic forgot to mention?
Then again, I heard the eerie and peculiar music within the upper chamber resounding. Apace, I went to investigate the incident, but when I arrived at the stairs I heard this deep and heavy breathing of a being that was close to my proximity. Was it the same breath that I felt in my chamber? I had sensed the unidentified stranger breathing, breathing, breathing nearby, and smelt the inexplicable stench of that insoluble breath, as the music was continuous and unyielding. I hesitated for a moment, thinking, pondering, who was the enigmatic visitor that was inside that secretive chamber. The thought of asking Frederic entered my mind, but he was in no condition to be interrupted, by my intriguing curiosity. I did not want to bother the caretaker either, so I decided to proceed forth. The breath and the other smell were that of a foul stench of horrible death, and the heavy scent of a dead corpse perfumed with the soot and grime of a darkled graveyard.
Slowly, slowly I began to climb the steep stairs nervously, until I reached the middle of the stairway, as I heard a susurrant sound of a mysterious voice I could not decipher speaking in what seemed to be in the Latin tongue.
'Ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae'.
The murmur increased, as the words were whispered again and again. I felt this ominous sentiment surging in me, as I continued to climb the stairs. The cold night had augmented the waft stirring from the mountains. The night was late, and I proceeded forth with my urgent intrigue.
Once upstairs at last, the corridor was as dim and opaque, as the stairway. What I noticed the most was the coldness that pervaded over the corridor, and the daunting thrill that was emerging from the nightly chill. It was then that I saw from the corner of my eye, a phantom praying before an altar in the corridor, and as quickly as it appeared, it had disappeared. Then, I heard the weary echoes of the whistling birr of the wind that blew outside, in spite of the music that was playing. The music sounded like a festive orchestra playing during one of those enduring balls of the lofty aristocracy.
Let me not forget the light that I had seen several times from below. The light—the memorable and anonymous light, I had seen flickering, from one of two chambers above was captivating me. Once at the edge of the hidden chamber, I wondered what was truly inside this forlorn chamber. The door had a knob, and it was nothing outside of the ordinary; but my intuition had been indicating that there was something behind the wooden knob. For a moment I wavered, because I did not know if it was not intrusion on my part, even though, I was not foretold of a tenant living in the house. I could hear the voices of people talking behind the door.
After pondering for a minute or so, I decided to turn the knob, and open the door—yes, the door! I had adhered to my sentience. At last I opened the door, and was amazed and startled, by the phantasmagoric sight of the massive and wide Gothic mausoleum that was standing in the centre of the chamber. Distinctive thoughts had entered my mind, and the first thought was, where were the cacophonous voices I heard ere sounding? Where were the lively chords of the orchestra? And finally, where were the numerous persons heard speaking before?
First, the music was nothing more than the heavy echoes of music played outside of the window of the chamber, by Gypsies who had gathered in the woods that was adjoining the estate. It made no sense in the beginning, since the music and the voices I had heard had come from the chamber as well, as the voluble voices. But the only thing that was reasonably evident to the naked eye, were the Gypsies themselves and their stir. Yet, what was even more gruesome and ghastly had been a plethora of wax doll mannequins that stood upright in the chamber, as some prized objects kept as worthy trophies. There were paintings hanging in the four walls of the chamber, and the embroidered tapestries were picturesque and the draperies were made of fine Persian silk. The floor was made of hardened marble and square in measure, and there was an arresting carpet that led to the front of the inscrutable image of a MAUSOLEUM.
Intuitively, I walked towards this unearthly and colossal mausoleum. The following description of the chamber I will proceed to elucidate in the manner more efficacious. It was gigantic as aforementioned, but it bore a front door that was shut. The wrought stones were warranted of the brilliant work of masonry. There were niches ornated in wondrous and teeming rosebuds. The impressive pilasters stood erect, and engraved upon the bronze columns in front was a large epitaph that read in Latin, 'Hic dilectus iacet cadaver uxoris Monserrat, amata aeternaliter'. (Here lieth the body of my beloved wife Monserrat, who I loved eternally.) The image, the words, the mausoleum, the mannequins, the paintings, had begun to haunt me in obfuscation.
Then, as I stood there bewildered, I heard the sound of a woman screaming for assistance. The screams were coming from behind the mausoleum directly. At once, I attempted to open the heavy door that had a rusty padlock, but was unable. I pounded and pounded, until at last, I opened the padlock with a trowel that had been left abandoned. When I opened the door to the mausoleum, I discovered an elaborate maze that led to the vault, where in the middle of the mausoleum was a sarcophagus surrounded by stones of granite.
The gloomy walls and the solid sable floor were made of granite as well, and around were flambeaux alight. The glorious stained glass windows that were dark from outside occasionally gleamed with the light of the moon. The catharsis of the ordeal was felt resounding, from the sarcophagus of the burial chamber. I pounded on the sarcophagus, until I broke the stones that produced an aperture. It was then that I peeped through the orifice allowed and saw a young lady inside the sarcophagus. She screamed as she saw me and pleaded for her rescue. Her words were unintelligible, and she muttered some utterance. I grabbed her and helped her rise to her feet, where once again, she muttered words that I did not fathom.
Over and over, I endeavoured to understand her speech, but to no avail. She opened her mouth, and it was then that I saw that her tongue had been cut open, and she possessed no tongue to speak at all. I took her immediately from there, sensing the danger that was forthcoming. But there was something else that was even more sinister. There underneath her laid the dead remains or body of the late Monserrat, who had laid there in the sarcophagus since her death, with bones and skulls heaved in piles around her. She was embalmed, so that she could remain eternally intact. I was aghast with the body discovered. The foul stench of the body I had ignored, due to the expeditious rescue of the young lady. The body had the smell of the horrid odour of the graveyard. Yes, the same exact smell I had once smelt previously. I could not calculate how long the body had been laid—or how long the young lady had been sequestered and put in that sickening sarcophagus of the deceased.
Straightway, we abandoned the chamber and scurried to the door that led unto the corridor outside. But as we reached the door, we would be thwarted in our attempt by Arnau, who was standing before us, with an axe he brandished in his hand. His mien was not that of a timid or placid man. Instead, the severe intensity in his eyes was serious and unbroken and reflected a mercurial temperament I had not seen in him before.
'What is going on here Arnau? And what are you doing with an axe in your hand?' I asked him.
I saw the dripping blood coming from the axe, and as well from the young lady, who was bleeding to death. Her blood had drenched her gown in a scarlet hue of agony. The apparent wound to her mouth was causing a rapid infection as the swelling had increased, and bacteria had grown with the rotten tissue of the sliced tongue. He did not answer me, for how could he? You see, his muteness was caused also, by having a tongue that was cut off. This was the punishment to be paid, for his silence.
Soon, we struggled on the ground as we fought for the axe, whilst the young lady swooned in her suffering and pain. I was fortunate to obtain the axe, and through the struggle I was compelled to strike him with a blow wounding his right arm. He rose to his feet, but then quickly fell, as he shouted in distress. Then, I ran to the young lady and sought to take her out of the house. But as I spoke to her, there stood Frederic, with his leg swathed in cloths, as he stood with a devilish stare of an insurmountable ire. His stare was of a blatant madman, depraved of any plausible sanity. I was at a disadvantage, because I only carried an axe, whilst he carried a loaded rifle.
'Are you leaving my friend? You didn’t expect to leave without telling me, Marcel? Why, that is not befitting of your noble decorum! And did you expect to leave, knowing what you have discovered?'
My heart had beaten faster and faster, as the madness of what I had truly uncovered bore no name or connotation indeed. 'What I have discovered you ask? You mean the madness that is unfolding before my very own eyes?'
He chuckled and seemed to be amused by my comments, 'Madness you utter, no more than the madness of any other man. What you call madness my friend, I call devotion—the devotion of a loving and caring husband!' He retorted with his furore.
'Devotion, you call this devotion. Burying alive a woman in the sarcophagus of your deceased wife? My god Frederic has madness consumed you blindly to commit this barbaric atrocity and desecration?' I yelled.
'It would have been better my friend, if you never came to visit me, and if you had not discovered this hidden chamber. I would have spared you the explanation and details!'
'Since when have you lost your mind?'
He smiled and chuckled anew, 'Oh, ever since Monserrat died of phthisis', he paused as to reflect.
'You see my friend, I loved Monserrat with all my heart, but her illness doomed her'.
He proceeded to tell me the story, 'I was away on a trip to Aragon, when Arnau had told me through a correspondence that my beloved and dearest wife Monserrat had been coughing blood endlessly. Since I entrusted Arnau, I believed his every word. I returned as soon as possible, and it was made known to my wife. When I returned, I saw the light above in our chamber, and I climbed the stairs just as you have done and found her in bed where the sarcophagus lies, dead! You see, all that is in this chamber is dedicated to her, my dear Monserrat'.
The coughs and moans of the young lady were unbearable and soon distracted Frederic from continuing. 'Let that lewd wench die, die, die, die!'
He pointed the rifle towards her. As he did that, I promptly took the rifle from his hand and then pointed the rifle at him. 'I do not wish to harm or kill you, but if I must, I will!' I warned him.
'Kill me—for I am already dead! Fool, you do not know what you have done!' He vociferated.
I had seen first the profound emotion of gloom in his crestfallen eyes that would suddenly turn into rage, an intensive rage that inspired his implacable wrath manifest. Slowly I passed by him with the young lady, as he limped, when walking towards the grand mausoleum he had erected in the redeemable memory of his beloved wife Monserrat. We left the terrible chamber and climbed down the stairs straightway, until reaching the nearby patio safely.
Meanwhile, in the macabre chamber remained my childhood friend Frederic, who began to crawl with desperation to the entrance and the adorned sarcophagus of Monserrat, as an outpour of tears rolled down his mournful eyes afterwards. He clasped tightly the deceased and decaying body of Monserrat, but not before he lit with the flambeaux inside the vault the whole mausoleum, burning himself with his dearest wife by her side. It was such a horrendous sight to behold, as he had succumbed to death and his incurable madness. He was imploring his dead wife, with such a ghastly look of impotence that was seen in his lamentable eyes.
'Monserrat, why have you left me, when I tried to keep you forever beautiful? Now madness has consumed me in this fire!'
The fire inside the mausoleum had spread to the rest of the house from top to bottom. And only the embers had remained and dead were Arnau and Frederic. The mausoleum withstood the fire, but there was nothing that could have been done, for the fire was too uncontrollable. I had stared at the fire that brought the demise of my dear friend.
Remember it is said that often the dead are not dead, till they are properly buried and given a spiritual dirge with their obsequies. The redeemable dirge had not been yet sung by those saintly angels of the days of yore. I ask the question, when does the devotion of a widower, become nothing more than the state of intractable and incorrigible madness? How difficult is the plight of a man who loves unconditionally, compared to a man who loves frivolously?
Ipse facto, a mausoleum bears witness to that devotion. It is a vagary of the mind gone astray, in the distorted world of human delusion; and haunted by a ghost, whose soul would be escorted, by the cortège of Semana Santa. All that remained was the mausoleum with the poignant epitaph that read in Latin, 'Hic dilectus iacet cadaver uxoris Monserrat, amata aeternaliter'. (Here lieth the body of my beloved wife Monserrat who I loved eternally.) Will the joy of a sober paean be overwhelmed, by the sombre monody of tristful words that torment our extreme fears and senseless dubiety? Will the faithful believers, who speak of the ambiguity of death, witness the wandering spectres roaming freely, with a convincing asseveration?
It is not facile to understand or explicate the intrinsic nature of what the mind interprets, as real and unreal. This rare anomaly cannot be fully described, with such basal words of comprehension. The bountiful voices are lost and oblivious, in the nimiety of the madness that will consume our distressing anxiety gradually. Is the madness of an insufferable devotion of a laden widower to be understood, for the actions taken of a deprived madman—who never accepted the truth of the decease of his beloved wife?