A Story by Samuel Clayton

When a ship captain is tasked with transporting a wealthy man to his home in Norden, Germany, he thought nothing of it. He soon learns that Adrian Van der Decken is not at all the man he seems to be.




    For the first time, I was afraid of the rain. I heard every drop against the cobblestone, against my window, and for a fleeting moment, I swore I saw him on the street below. Slithering through the crowd wrapped in dark clothes, and rolling his top hat to the woman who passed him. When the man vanished the following moment, I could not distinguish between the madness or fragility of my own mind.

    It had been two years since I last saw Doctor Adrian Van der Decken, may God rest his soul. It was raining then too, my boots in the mud as I dug the grave. Gripping the crucifix in my hand, and kissing it, I stared at the grave when it was finished, praying that the day, and the months before it, would never cross my mind again. I never wanted to remember what became of the hanging. The disease. The endless fog. Damnation to that coffin.

    As I sit and write this now, the darkness outside blocked only by candlelight, I can feel the threads and sinews of my thoughts coiling around the very thought of this man still living. Any self-respecting man in my position would say they were only imagining him, that he was a ghost of their past. This may be true, but self-respect is not in my vocabulary. Not anymore; not for years.

    I’m tired of all the sleepless nights. The days I stare into the fog and wonder when I will see his silhouette. When I look at my paintings, and all I see is the face of a man in hiding, taking a prison with him wherever he goes. By now my words are no doubt everything but enlightening. The ramblings of a confused man. To explain myself may take some time. I am no saint, and I do not intend to look like one. Of the men I captained on that ship, my blood was arguably as corrupt as Doctor Adrian Van der Decken’s.

    This is my confession.



    My father was a devout Catholic, a religious man that people looked up to. Someone whose actions constituted a standard, and whose charisma all but matched his outrageous talent. At least, that’s what he wanted his peers to think, and even to this day I wonder if it was all a facade, or if he was just a troubled man, like his son. The sins of the father. When he walked out the front door, he stood tall and strong, walking like he knew every step he took was the right step. Behind the door, though, when he was home, he knew no more than a scared child. He cloaked his fear with anger and alcohol, complaining that the world was nothing but an arena, like the colosseums in Rome. Cowards must become fearless if they want a chance with the warriors. My father made it very clear, the first day he beat my mother and I, who took on what role. It was my first stint with cowardice.

In January of 1895, I received a letter from the chief commissioner of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. I had been summoned to transport a man by the name of Adrian Van der Decken to Norden, Germany. He was sentenced to death by hanging, and in his will, along with a sizable payment, he requested to be returned to his home to lie next to his mother. When I finished reading the letter, I tossed it on my writing desk, thinking nothing more of it for the rest of the day. Now, that letter has been reduced to ashes, burned in a desperate attempt to bury all evidence of the monstrosity that I was so oblivious to.

    After the preparations had been made, the day before the hanging I jumped in a Clarence cab to visit the prison in which Doctor Van der Decken was held. The road was bumpy and wet, but watching the hills and green fields was a nice pastime. Seeing how the mist hugged the ground so comfortably, without being a burden or an obstruction, was breathtaking, and I had always wanted to glimpse a castle ruin. I was born and raised in London, knowing nothing more than the city until I was well into my twenties. The only reason I had been in Ireland at the time was because I was visiting a childhood friend who moved to the Carlow county.

    The journey lasted a few hours. When we arrived in Dublin, and were in front of the prison, I paid the driver. His old, pale face attempted what resembled a smile and mumbled a thanks. I glanced at his hands, and was concerned to see how much they trembled, and how worn and weak they were. I felt sorry for the old man, almost paid him extra coin. Almost.

    I followed a guard through the prison gate, and was led to the chief commissioner’s office. I saw my share of cells, and even a row of solitary confinement rooms. In one of them I overheard an inmate talking to himself, saying the same words over and over again, like a chant. “His skin was gone! His skin was gone!”

    The guard I followed drew his baton and hit it against the door, shouting for the inmate to be quiet. The inmate only kept quiet for a moment, and then continued his worried chant.

    “Should have chosen a different job,” the guard muttered. He eventually stopped in front of the chief commissioner’s office and knocked on the door. A voice summoned us inside, and we entered. I noticed the chief commissioner was shorter than the guard. His stubby hands were lighting a cigar, and his pocket watch chain dangled from his jacket.

    “Sir, Captain Damon Eades is here to see you,” the guard said.

    “Thank you,” the chief commissioner said, before looking at me, and saying, “You’re the one taking Van der Decken’s body to Germany, yes?”

    “I am,” I nodded.

    “Good, good! You may leave us, constable.” The guard did as he was told. When the door closed, the chief commissioner sighed heavily, and tapped his cigar over the ashtray. “I cannot say I wish to take your place, Captain Eades, as much as I would love to climb out of this pile of paperwork.”

    “Why’s that?” I glanced at the paper’s sitting on his desk, and those behind him. I assumed all of them were homicide files, complaints, reports, missing persons cases, and some even political. Just thinking about thumbing through all of them bored me.

    “I don’t know, but something about him doesn’t sit right with my gut. Always trust your gut, son, it’ll save you more times than your head and heart combined.”

    I did not reply.

    “That man was quiet all throughout his sentence here. When he talked it was only a few words at a time, and when he was spoken to, without exception. He read his books, never argued with the inmates, and obeyed orders. Worst of all, he complimented me whenever we met. I never trust a man like that, especially after what he did to get in here.”

    “What did he do?” I still had not found out. The letter didn’t even mention his crime.

    “An act of cowardice,” he said, pausing to tap his cigar again. His face grimaced and he looked as if it was difficult to say the words that came out. “I’m sure you’ve heard of the Van der Decken estate, the one with the mansion in the far outskirts of Dublin. The family used to have wine tasting events every two years, and the vineyard is a farmer’s dream. Anyways, a few months ago, our department was told there had been a double murder, so we went to investigate. Doctor Van der Decken, alive and well, is found sitting by a window, painting his vineyard and the hills behind it, as if nothing happened. We found blood in the library, not a streak, not a pool, but a wall of it. There was no body anywhere, vanished, almost like it was liquified. We even had chemists look at the bathtub or any place the doctor could have used acid. Nothing.”

    “My god.”

    “But that’s not everything. Later, we found their son, a six year old hanging from his bedroom with the words ‘He is proof of your lies’ written on the wall behind him. Apparently, the wife had a six year long affair with one of the servants, and the doctor believed that the son was theirs, not his.”

    “How could a man do such a thing?” I asked, but suddenly remembered the horrible things I had done. What pain I had caused.

    I still hear the first gun to this day. My father, and what I did to him. How I could not save the two most important people in my life. The second gun.

    I tried to stop myself from thinking about my past, and focused on the chief commissioner.

    “Sometimes when a man reaches his limit, he can’t hold himself back any longer.”

    The rest of the conversation is blurred, and fairly unproductive. When we finished, I was led out of the prison. The inmate had still been chanting. Yet, to my surprise, there was a stagecoach waiting outside the gate, and the driver looked at me with familiarity and warmth. I was even more taken aback when he addressed me by my name.

    “Are you Captain Damon Eades?”

    “Yes, what of it?” I had asked after a pause.

    “I’ve come on my master’s request. He wishes to speak with you before tomorrow’s hanging.”

    “Do I have a say in it? I do not know this man you’re speaking of. What is his name?”

    “He wishes to remain anonymous, and I’m afraid he is insistent, sir,” the driver said. I considered walking away, but they would have followed. Seeing as I had no other option, I stepped inside the stagecoach.

    After riding on another wet and bumpy road, and hearing the muffled banter of the driver and the shotgun messenger outside the carriage, I saw a vineyard outside my window. I could not understand it. The doctor was locked up in a cell, and yet I was brought to his estate. Could he have had a brother? I decided to go with that.

    Hopefully his brother was not as psychotic.


    Halfway through the vineyard, as we ascended a hill, the wheels of the coach struggled through the mud. It had been raining harshly for the past two hours, and eventually the mud managed to halt our progress. I offered to help the two men push us out, but they refused. The driver continuously drew out his pocket watch, looking at the time before sighing or grunting impatiently. He said something to the shotgun messenger about the importance of being on time in their master’s company.

    “I know, I know,” the shotgun messenger said. I leaned to look out the window, the sky was a black nothingness, the clouds so dark and thick they almost looked impenetrable. As if it would go on and on with no end. The night was creeping on the horizon, and soon everything would be as void and bleak as the sky.

    It took time, but once we were out of the mud, the coach continued up the hill, and we finally caught a glimpse of the mansion. It was a two story mansion that I later learned was built in the seventeenth century, during the golden years of piracy. The stone walls were intimidating, almost menacing, in the darkness. A tall construction lit only by a scarce few kerosene gas lights. When the coach got closer, I realized there were police constables standing at the doorway. One was holding up a lit lantern, and walked over to meet us halfway. The coach stopped once it caught up to the constable with the lantern, and the driver began talking.

    The blinds on all the windows were closed except one, and behind the one I saw a silhouette sitting in candlelight. The being intrigued me, and I believed it to be this master that my driver kept referring to. Looking at the mansion, and the being behind the window, I felt heat burrow in my head. My stomach and bones constricted. All of a sudden, the reality of where I was, and what had happened there, came to me in a wave. I was reluctant to step out of the coach, and immediately wanted to return home.

    My panic was interrupted when the driver opened the coach door. The cold wind gnawed at any bare flesh it could find.

    “You’ve gone awfully pale,” the driver commented.

    “Why am I here?” I asked.

    “Doctor Van der Decken requested to meet you,” the police constable said.

    “He’s not at the prison?”

    “Only for the night. In exchange for a generous offer to the department, he asked for one last night at home. He’s not allowed outside, and everywhere except his bedroom and drawing room are restricted. We have more constables inside to adhere to it.”

    “You agreed to a bribe,” I scowled.

    “Even the police need money, son. Van der Decken just happens to have more than any of us, and our children, will ever earn combined.”

    I said no more, and followed them inside. A staircase that turned around and separated into two was the first thing I noticed, with a candlelight chandelier hanging above it. The wall at the top of the single staircase was covered in oil paintings of famous individuals and a striking image of the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. On either side of the single staircase were two opened doors that led to the dining room, and looking through I could see the table. It was longer than the coach with the horses attached. Left of the entrance was the drawing room, and to the right was a closed door with a constable guarding it.

    Without a moment wasted, I was told to wait in the drawing room. I reluctantly obeyed, knowing it would not be long before I looked at the abomination that I was obligated by law to bring to Germany.


    I found myself looking at the paintings. I spent the most time staring at one of a warship caught in a furious storm, the waves and the rain nearly drowning it. When I wasn’t enthralled by the paintings, I knelt by the fire and warmed my shivering hands. The building had been quiet for some time; not a voice stirred the silence, and that unsettled me. I did not trust silence.

    Immediately following the noiseless air, my gaze landed on the nearest window, and, for a moment, the droplets on the glass appeared a deep crimson. What I also saw was something I still dream of to this very day. My eyes looked upon countless shadowy figures along all four walls that surrounded me. They were silent, and motionless, and were there only for a second. Afterwards, the droplets returned to their natural hue, and the walls were empty of their shadows.

    “I apologize for the wait,” a voice started behind me. I turned to see the face of a man in his late thirties. He ran his fingers through his slightly unkempt black hair, parting it to the right, and letting some of it hang over his forehead. When the fire had a chance to throw its light on his face, I saw a scar passing through his eyebrow and stopping level with his left eye. His neatly trimmed beard smiled at me warmly, a failed attempt to make me feel at ease. In all honesty, knowing what the chief commissioner told me, I was terrified of the man I saw before me.

    “It’s not an issue,” I tried to say calmly.

    “Good, I like a patient man.” He looked into the dancing flames and did not speak or alter his gaze for a full minute.

    “How much did you give them?”

    “Enough,” he started. “You give a man enough money, and he’ll do just about anything for you.”

    “And how did you know I was at the prison?” I asked. The doctor smirked, giving me a friendly look.

    “I may be a dead man, but I will not reveal all my secrets.”

    I listened to the heaviness of the falling rain outside. The rapid tapping against the window, and thought about how many miles it was from the mansion to my home. It was a daunting number. I doubted the stagecoach would leave without Van der Decken’s permission.

    “Are you afraid of death?” Van der Decken asked.

    “I don’t know.”

    “I believe death is merely a corridor that leads to something else. A vast horizon that never ends, a new life, or maybe even a place quiet enough to fall asleep in and listen to the heartbeat of time and the movement of the planets. What do you believe happens after death?”

    “I was raised a Catholic,” I started, without finishing.

    “But you don’t believe in it?” Van der Decken said. I thought of my father. I heard his loud voice, yelling at my mother. I felt the leather of his belt.

    “I’m afraid of associating with it,” I said, rubbing the stump of my mutilated finger.

    “Hm.” He must have had keen instincts, or an alarming talent for reading people, because with no remark of transition, he began talking about his family. “My mother died when my second brother was born; I would have been a middle child, if the baby had not left with her. This left my father alone with two audacious young boys, and he himself was far from perfect.” As he spoke, I was cautious in my approach with his character. For one, I did not entirely know how to react to anything he said, out of fear that I might strike some nerve and suffer the same death as his wife. I decided to listen to his story, and to humor him, for my own sake.

    Van der Decken’s eyes fell on the same painting I had been looking at when he entered the room. The warship in a storm. As his expression changed, I realized the painting had more meaning to him than just decoration. His mouth drew a small, unconvincing smile, but suddenly twitched, like a painful memory struck him. The room was silent for some time.

    “I’m sorry.”

    “No need for apologies, I am not fit to judge,” I told him. “I have done my share of sins.”

    “Thank you,” Van der Decken said. “Well, enough of this. I refuse to spend my last night like this. Would you like a drink?”

    “I’m fine,” I said, trying not to look afraid.

    “Hm,” he nodded with a smile. He asked his servant at the door for a glass of wine, and the servant retreated to the kitchen. “What is it like to be a ship’s captain? It must be thrilling to have the open sea at your grasp.”

    “It has its moments.”

    “Patient, and a man of few words. Two traits I lack. I envy that.” Van der Decken laughed. “I’ve always been curious of that life. Mind you, I have traveled on many ships, given my family history.” He looked at the painting of the warship. “But I’ve never felt the thrill of steering the wheel, or dropping the sails, or navigating the maps. My ancestors used to do all of that. The most famous being the captain of that ship in the painting, his name was Hendrick. He is the man who gathered the wealth to buy our two estates. Have you heard the story?”

    “I have not.” The servant returned with the glass of wine, and Van der Decken sipped from it.

    “His ship was named The Flying Dutchman, the very same from the superstitions. People enjoy embezzling, for there is no true ghost ship that roams the sea. Merely illusions coming from the eyes of exhausted men tired of the ocean, or those who wish to tell a tall tale to their friends back home. Anyways, the Dutchman was trying to dock during a furious storm, and no matter how hard the crew or Hendrick struggled, they could not get her to shore. Eventually, she was overtaken by the waves, and lost to the belly of the water, along with the entire crew.”

    I remained silent. The remainder of the conversation was a little monotonous and full of political and social topics. The whole night he was putting on a show for me, acting like a civilized man and not a murderer. A man with a sound mind. If I’m honest, the mask only worked on himself, because sometimes I felt like he truly believed he was a sane man.    


    There was something wrong. A weightlessness that felt unnatural. The shadows whispered to each other, and the light from my lantern, which I promptly ignited, was the only thing that stopped them. I dared not breathe, move, or even think as I stood there in the darkness of my room, waiting for the whispers to resume. My insomnia, I feared, had finally escalated to a far worse illness. My mind felt stretched, urging to burst from my skull, and the tension dropped  behind my eyes. My first migraine.

    Music came from the phonograph in the sitting-room. I brought the lantern to the direction of the sound, my feet still rooted to the floor. I stood for a minute, waiting for more sounds to erupt, but heard nothing. If there had been an intruder, it was only one. Eventually, I grabbed my revolver from the desk drawer, drew back the hammer, and crept forth.

    As I made my way down the hall, the alienation of all other sounds apart from the phonograph amazed and frightened me. I was pointing my revolver at nothing. After checking the rooms, I realized I was alone. The only other person in the flat was my landlady on the floor below.

    The song the phonograph mysteriously decided to play was Leybach’s Fifth Nocturne. But what haunted me more than the sudden animation of the machine, was that it was my wife’s favorite song. In the early days of our marriage, she would play it, and ask me to dance with her, in that very sitting-room. We’d dance by the windows, letting the light seeping through cover and slide off us like water. Even though I was a stiff dancer, she always insisted on it, in the way a dog requests its master to play with it.

    “What a beautiful song!” her voice suddenly echoed throughout the room. My bones froze, and my balance was temporarily lost. Feeling lightheaded, and my vision blurred, I leaned against the nearest chair, and heard my wife’s footsteps around me. I heard her, but my eyes refused to notice her. Regaining my strength, I held up the lantern, and managed to find a shadow foreign to my own; in fact, it was altogether without a body, a host.

    Words were about to struggle from my mouth, but another voice interrupted me.

    “It’s a charmer.” By the heavens, you may think me mad, but I heard my own voice then. It did not come from my lips, but instead from the void, the blackness. Unable to stomach the scene, I stumbled backwards and into the hall, retreating from the sitting-room as quickly as my legs took me. But, to my increasing horror, I heard a man crying as I walked by my studio. The phonograph, and the voices of my wife and myself, hushed in time for the shadow in my studio to make its appearance. It was the strangest thing, as I had seen my wife’s shadow, I also saw this man’s, whom I could only imagine was again myself. I also noticed that my studio was not in the same conditions as I had left it earlier. The canvas was not blank, but showed a half-finished portrait of a little girl’s face, and the bottom half was ripped off and thrown on the floor in a crumpled body. Ink bottles and broken alcoholic drinks flooded the room, and I had hung all these hand-drawn pictures on the walls. Crudely drawn pictures of a family of three, full of vibrant color and imagination.

    “Chloe,” I choked. My legs couldn’t hold me any longer, and I dropped to my knees. Letting go of the lantern, and the gun, I stayed there utterly stupefied. It was a memory. All of it. I was watching myself from nine months prior.

    The last thing I remember is when my lantern burned out.


    I sat up in the bed, unable to fall back asleep. It was still raining outside, and the road would be impossible for the stagecoach to trudge through without getting stuck. I had been forced to stay the night at Van der Decken’s mansion, in the guest room on the second floor. I tried to remember the fact that police constables littered the place, but it did not help much.

    Pacing the room, I began to eye the bookshelves, and searched the rows of novels and short stories for something that caught my attention. Many of them were epic poems, such as Beowulf and The Odyssey, and then there were collections by authors like Jonathan Swift, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, and so forth.

    A hard knocking on the door jolted me.

    “Mr. Eades?” someone called.

    “What is it?”

    “You’re going to want to come out here.”

    “Why?” I asked.

    “There’s not going to be a hanging tomorrow. I’m afraid it’s already been dealt with. Van der Decken’s hung himself in his room.”

    My eye trailed off to a painting of, what I could only assume, was one of Van der Decken’s ancestors. I could’ve sworn the man was not smiling last time I looked at it.

    I opened the door for the constable. He stepped inside the room.

    “Can I go home, then?” I requested.

    “Once the storm has passed. You won’t get far otherwise.”

© 2017 Samuel Clayton

Author's Note

Samuel Clayton
I set out wanting to make an old-style horror novel.

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Added on November 23, 2017
Last Updated on November 27, 2017


Samuel Clayton
Samuel Clayton

I'm just a 21 year old writer who hopes his failures will lead him to something that's not. more..