by Norsebard







This short horror story belongs in the Uber category. All characters are created by me though a couple of them may remind you of someone.

This story has a few intense scenes that may seem frightening for the sensitive among us.

All characters depicted, names used, and incidents portrayed in this story are fictitious. No identification with actual persons is intended nor should be inferred. Any resemblance of the characters portrayed to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.





Written: August 19th - 25th 2021, for the 2021 Royal Academy of Bards' Halloween Invitational.

- Readers who are interested in historic (public domain) Spec-Fic may recognize a few bits and bobs from stories like Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764), Eliza Parsons' The Castle of Wolfenbach (1793) and J.S. Le Fanu's Carmilla (1872). The finished product is all mine, though ;D

- Thank you very much for your help, Phineas Redux!


As usual, I'd like to say a great, big THANK YOU to my mates at AUSXIP Talking Xena, especially to the gals and guys in Subtext Central. I really appreciate your support - Thanks, everybody! :D


Description: For location scout Mattie Eckhardt and her assistant Adam, it was just another job: they were to fly overseas, visit a selection of Gothic castles and assess whether or not any or them would work as a filming location for the remake of a classic horror movie. What they didn't take into account was that in some corners of the world, real horror was never far from the surface - especially not at Lady Constance's Wolfenburg Castle…





The scene was reminiscent of a nightmare or a classic black-and-white horror movie from the 1930s. Fierce, howling gusts of wind tore through the pine forest making the tall trees creak and groan in several different keys at once. The branches and the evergreen foliage continued to take a severe pounding by the gale that had swept over the wooded area not long after darkness had fallen on October 31st.

Fist-sized cones, a thick layer of needles and countless other pieces of natural debris littered a rutted trail that had originated at a country road and snaked its way through the forest until it would reach the thirteenth-century edifice known locally as Wolfenburg.

With the late-evening sky continuously lit up by flashes of lightning and the ground pelted by driving rain that even contained the occasional flurry of sleet, the weather was fit for neither man, beast nor fowl.

Another flash of lightning created the umpteenth clap of thunder that rolled across the pine forest and onto the open land beyond it. A pair of headlights suddenly broke through the darkness among the dark-brown trunks - it was obvious by the lights' jerky movements that the car they were attached to had a hard time moving along the uneven path.

In centuries gone by, the trail had been used by the castle's many lumberjacks who employed dray-horses to drag freshly felled lumber out of the forests six days a week, or traveled by oxcart to the nearest town on the seventh day when they wanted to spend their weekly wages - but it had never been intended to be used by modern, motorized vehicles.

Unable to move faster than walking pace, a charcoal-gray rental Volvo SUV eventually drove into a clearing where it came to a full stop. The interior lights were turned on a moment later; the LEDs shone down upon two people studying a road map.

The forty-eight-year-old Mattie Eckhardt took her hands off the steering wheel to wipe her brow. Her spectacles needed a good wiping as well, so she removed the metal frame to polish the lenses. "The pale line on the map obviously wasn't the road," she said as she slid the spectacles back up her nose. Once they were in place, she turned to shoot the passenger a pointed glare. "Do you mind telling me where the real road went, Mr. Kaufmann?"

The powerful Xenon headlights that cut through the darkness only illuminated sheets of rain that came down as hard as ever. Though the wipers ran at their fastest setting, the constant motion wasn't enough to keep the windshield free of water. Not only did the Volvo rock from the force of the gusts of wind that hit it, a constant stream of large and small rattles and splashes could be heard from the roof as debris continued to literally rain down from the multitude of tall pines around and above them.

The young assistant who sat alongside Mattie, twenty-six-year-old Adam Kaufmann, shot his boss a sideways glance before he buried his nose in the map once more. Like Mattie, he wore glasses that steamed up from the humidity surrounding them despite the best efforts of the rented Volvo's air-conditioning unit. "Ah… I thought this was the road, but…" - He paused to trace the line on the map with an index finger - "now I'm guessing it was… ah… probably the gray line another five hundred yards along the country road."

"Gee, you think?" Mattie said in an edgy tone before she let out a sigh. She didn't expect a reply and none came. Instead, she began to tap her fingers on the rim of the steering wheel.

They were there for a reason and had little time - and even less patience - to deal with getting lost. Being location scouts for a motion picture production company, they had been sent to the remote, heavily wooded region to find a gothic castle that would be the perfect backdrop for the umpteenth remake of Dracula. Though communicating with the local population had been a study in utter confusion and erroneous conclusions, they had finally been guided toward Wolfenburg, apparently one of the few, fully original castles in the entire region.

Mattie loved her job. Over the past decade, she had gained a solid reputation as someone who always delivered the goods when it came to perfect locations. She had worked with some of the most finicky and high-strung directors the industry had to offer and yet always come out smelling of roses - that the same couldn't be said of some of the films that had been shot at the locations she had found was another story entirely.

Her regular assistant had gone on maternity leave so she had been saddled with Adam Kaufmann for nearly a month. During that time, they had scouted for three different movies on two continents. It was beyond question the young, bearded fellow tried hard, but he just didn't have the mental capability to visualize how a certain landscape or building would look with a little physical or digital touch-up here and there.

"Do you even know where we are?" Mattie said as she glanced over at her assistant and the map he had unfolded in front of him.

Adam scratched his stylish beard before he broke out in a shrug. "I'm pretty sure we're still on Planet Earth…"

"Wonderful." Mattie sighed again and tried to look out of the side window. The interior lights meant that everything beyond the panes of safety glass was even blacker than it had been, so she reached up to turn off the small LED panel to regain her night vision.

Flashes of lightning continued to streak across the heavens; the flashes were followed by loud claps of thunder that seemed to echo back and forth between the many pines. A particularly impressive lightning bolt zig-zagged from the thick clouds and down toward the ground just as Mattie looked in that direction.

As the flash lit up everything, it briefly revealed the outline of a large, foreboding castle some distance ahead of them. "Oh!" she cried and sat up straight. "Did you see that?  A castle… maybe three-quarters of a mile ahead. That's gotta be Wolfenburg."

"I didn't see it," Adam said and broke out in a shrug.

"Well, I did. And that's where we're going," Mattie said and found a gear. Soon, the Volvo set off along the bumpy, uneven trail at no more than walking pace so the passengers wouldn't risk knocking their heads together from the incessant rocking.


It took them nearly ten minutes to drive to the castle that had been further away than at first glance. As the Volvo moved from the uneven trail and onto steadier terrain, Mattie and Adam sensed rather than saw gravel crunching under the tires.

The rain came down as hard as ever and the air was filled with foliage that had been torn from the trees in the vicinity. The wipers continued to move as fast as they could, but they were barely able to keep up with the conditions. Just as the Volvo drove onto a cobbled stretch of road that seemed to lead to a narrow stone bridge, another flash of lightning illuminated the target of their long journey: Wolfenburg Castle.

"Whoa!" Adam said as he took in the sight.

Mattie's experienced eye was able to take in much of the castle's exterior in the split-second the flash of lightning had shone upon it. A typical fortress-like edifice built in the style known as High Gothic, it had two major watch towers and three minor bell towers that came to pointy spires rather than the open, square battlements found at true Medieval fortifications. Several wings featuring tall, steeply sloped roofs connected the towers; stone gargoyles and other grotesque creatures watched over the proceedings from arcades and galleries along the connecting wings.

Wolfenburg had no parapets or other types of defensive structures save for a water-filled moat that closely followed the castle's perimeter. Moats were hardly ever seen in connection with Gothic architecture and offered a hint that the present castle was not the first to be built there.

"This is perfect," Mattie mumbled as she drove onto a stone bridge that spanned the moat. It seemed to be the only connection to the rest of the world, and a metal ladder had been attached directly onto the eastern side of the bridge to give unfortunate souls a means to escape the moat in case they had fallen in.

She took extra care in case the old structure couldn't cope with the weight of the SUV, but there were no problems and they soon drove into a gravelly courtyard. A short flight of stone steps led up to a wooden double-door that had to be the main entrance based on the grandeur found there. The courtyard was home to a drained five-layer fountain that had been decorated with clusters of miniature gargoyles, little devils and other peculiar creatures.

Everything was eerie, foreboding and indeed Gothic - perfect attributes for a horror movie location. No lights could be seen shining through any of the castle's countless stained-glass windows. Mattie assumed the power had gone out which wasn't too surprising considering the severity of the thunderstorm that continued to rage all around them.

She briefly rolled the window an inch or two down to take in a little more of the scene. It was soon closed again, but she had been able to hear the characteristic squeaking of bats from high atop the bell towers even through the constant rolling thunder.

"So… we're here," she said and turned off the engine. The Xenon headlights stayed on for a few moments longer before they went out to leave everything in an inky darkness. A brief flicker of a ghostly-blue light in one of the watch tower windows caught Mattie's eye, but it was gone before she could take a second look. The flicker was soon replaced by a much larger flash of lightning that tore across the heavens; the resulting thunderclap echoing among the castle's various buildings. "All right. Let's get something out of it. Adam, I'll pop the rear hatch. Please get my bag and my trench coat," she said as she moved a finger over to the appropriate button.

Adam opened his mouth to complain but soon thought better of it. He looked at Mattie's sandy pantsuit and off-white blouse and then down at his own hiking boots, jeans and flannel shirt - he couldn't deny that his clothes were more suited to the weather. Nodding, he waited until the hatch had opened before he bounded from the Volvo and ran around to the back.

The large rear door provided some relief from the driving rain, but the fierce wind did its worst to offset the effects of the shelter. He yelped in surprise when a loud thunderclap assaulted his eardrums just as he reached into the back of the Volvo. In addition to grabbing Mattie's bag and her overcoat, he snatched his own down jacket before he slammed the hatch shut and ran back to the front door.

"Here you go, Miss Eckhardt," he said as he put his boss' shoulder bag and pale-brown coat onto the front seat. Once he had thrown his arms down the sleeves of his own jacket, he jumped onto the back seat and awaited further instructions.

Mattie offered her assistant a brief "Thank you," and an even briefer smile as she fluffed out the trench coat and tried to put it on while sitting down - it only took her a few seconds to figure out it was an impossible task because of the coat's length. Instead of fumbling along, she extended her bag's leather strap and put it over her shoulder; then, she turned the overcoat around and put it on backward like a straitjacket.

Adam let out a puzzled grunt at the odd look but knew better than to crack wise about it. The first thing he had learned about Mattie Eckhardt after he had been assigned to be her assistant was that her no-nonsense approach to her job left zero room for humor of any kind.

"Right," Mattie said which made Adam snap to attention, "we can sit here until we're old and gray… or we can knock on the door and see what happens. Let's go," she continued as she opened the door and bolted from the SUV.

Adam soon followed his boss over to the wooden double-door that featured sturdy hinges, two door handles, a claw-shaped knocker and several other design elements all made of wrought iron. The main entrance was eight feet wide and seven feet tall with the top of the double-doors coming to a pointed arch in true Gothic style.

Though the entrance had no eaves, the proximity of the imposing castle's wall meant the rain had less effect there. Mattie took full advantage of that by quickly taking off her stylish straitjacket and flipping it around so she could put the coat on proper.

There was no button for any kind of bell - she hadn't expected any - but the claw knocker was ready to be used. The heavy tool was soon applied three times before she and Adam took a short step back from the double-doors.

There was no activity at first which gave her an opportunity to reach into her bag and find her telephone. The courtyard and the castle's exterior were a little too dark even with the flash activated, but she managed to get a couple of photos of some of the architectural details while they waited. She tried to turn the telephone up at the sky in the hope of catching a rare shot of a lightning bolt, but the rain was so heavy she didn't want to risk the telephone short-circuiting.

"Look!" Adam said as he pointed at one of the dark windows on the ground floor. The panes were back-lit by dim, orange light that moved past somewhere inside, but the ancient glass was so warped and opaque the light ended up as nothing more than a distorted glow.

Half a minute went by before they could hear the locks and latches being manipulated from the inside. A moment later, one section of the large, heavy door was opened to reveal a figure dressed in the type of black livery typically associated with butlers. The only things to break the monotony were a white butterfly, the pair of white cotton gloves worn by the person in question and the seven-branched brass candlestick used to provide the light.

Mattie had already opened her mouth to introduce herself, but the fact the butler was neither a seven-foot Lurch lookalike nor a knuckle-dragging, toad-like lackey but a thirty-something red-haired fellow of regular size and appearance took her by surprise. The butler's piercing, almost spellbinding greenish-gray eyes seemed to drill into her soul and she needed to shake her head to recover. "Good evening. I'm Mattie Eckhardt and this is my assistant Adam Kaufmann. We work for the acclaimed independent movie company Reel Horror Works and-"

"Do you have an appointment?" the butler said in a cold, detached voice.

"We couldn't find any contact information so I'm afraid we don't," Mattie continued, "but we're scouting for locations for a major motion picture. We'd be grateful if we could speak to the owner of the castle."

The butler closed his intense eyes and just stood there like a marble statue for a few seconds. He eventually nodded and opened his eyes once more. Stepping aside, he held out his free arm to usher in the guests. "Very well. You may enter."

Mattie and Adam shot each other a puzzled glance at the butler's odd behavior, but the rain and the gusts of wind increasing their already fierce assault on the ground, the castle and the people waiting at the main entrance provided the incentive needed to enter the castle regardless of the curious welcome.

Just as the door was in the process of being closed with an eye-watering creak, a flash of lightning illuminated the gravelly courtyard; the deafening thunderclap came only fractions of a second later and made everything inside the lobby shake and rattle.

Wincing, Adam ducked his head like he expected the tall ceiling to come crashing down at any moment. When nothing happened, he stood up straight and let out a sigh of relief. "Man, that must have gone straight into the lightning conductor or something…" he mumbled as he unzipped his down jacket.

Mattie was too busy giving the lobby a close study to have time to answer her assistant. The elegant - but strangely old-fashioned and even ancient-looking - interior was even better suited to filming a horror movie than the exterior had been. Making a rough sketch on a drawing pad, she scrutinized the width, breadth and inner height of the room while calculating how much space the necessary camera equipment and lighting rigs would leave for the cast and crew.

The center of the carpet-less floor was made up of numerous white-and-green marble squares that formed an abstract mosaic when viewed as a whole. Golden bands marked the outer boundaries between the marble and a darker, granite-like material that stretched out a foot or so from all the walls.

None of the vertical surfaces held wallpaper of any kind. Instead, countless age-old paintings in golden frames had been put directly onto the walls that were of the same, dark-gray material as the floor's outer rim.

The butler moved over to the far wall of the lobby in an odd, gliding fashion that produced very little sound. Once there, he put the seven-branched candlestick on a square bureau that had been placed underneath a large, somewhat frayed painting from the Gothic period. The flames atop the candles never flickered despite his presence - it was like he wasn't even there.

He mirrored his earlier behavior by closing his eyes for a few moments; the faintest of smiles graced his features as he turned to look at their guests. "The Baroness is meditating. Please remain here until summoned," he said before he turned around and began to leave.

"Wait a minute," Mattie said and hurriedly closed the distance to the butler. Unlike the gliding steps made by their odd host, her own footfalls made plenty of noise on the hard marble. "We don't want to disturb the Baroness… we can come back when-"

"You shall be summoned when the Baroness is ready. It will not be long," the butler said without stopping.

"Well… okay. Thank you." Chewing on her cheek, Mattie kept a close eye on the red-haired fellow who moved over to a side door and eventually left the lobby. Since it appeared nothing would take place for a while, she went back to her drawing pad to add a few sketches of this and that.

Four corridors stretched out from the lobby to connect it with the rest of the castle: two were directly opposed and ran alongside the row of ground-floor windows visible from the square. The other two were at the far end of the lobby and clearly went deeper into the castle's structure. A huge spiral staircase took up a great deal of space halfway down the lobby - it provided access to not only the castle's upper but lower levels as well.

Mattie added to what she had already sketched by snapping a long line of photos and shooting a minute-long video of the walls, the marble floor, the paintings and - most importantly - all the fascinating architectural details found in the corners and on the sculpted panels.

Adam was soon drawn to the candlestick's orange flames that were far cozier than the pale-blue flashes of lightning that continued at unabated frequency and ferocity outside. A clap of thunder followed each flash as always, but they grew weaker as the minutes ticked by - an indication that the worst of the current thunder cell could be moving away from the castle.

Now that two people were near the flames atop the seven candles, they began to play and flicker which cast eerie patterns of light onto the large painting above the bureau. It made Adam take a step back to get a better view.

The shocked gasp that escaped the young man caught Mattie's attention. "What?" she said as she put her telephone back into her bag.

Grimacing, Adam swallowed hard and took an even longer step away from the horrific image he had found within the glorious golden frame. "The painting… look," he said in a croak. "That's a corpse!  That woman is dead!"

"I think you need to polish your lens-" Mattie said before she interrupted herself by letting out a croaked "Jesus!  That's disgusting…" at the frayed painting.

It depicted a long-dead woman who had been chained to a large boulder. Naked save for a scarlet loincloth, the woman's arms had been crossed over her chest in an X to hide her breasts. Her eyes and lips had been sewn shut and death had made her skin turn to parchment. The flesh had shriveled up to expose the bone structure in gruesome detail; a black raven near her head seemed ready to feast on the remains.

A brass plaque that had been bolted onto the lower part of the wooden frame offered a few words in the local language and a set of numbers that could be interpreted as the year the painting had been created - 1497.

"The people living here must be real sickos!" Adam mumbled as he took another long step back from the painting. "I mean, who in their right mind has something as gross as that hanging on their walls?  And in the lobby where everyone can see it?!"

Grabbing the candlestick, Mattie moved around the lobby to look closer at the other paintings. She soon completed the tour and returned to the gruesome spectacle above the bureau. "That's a good question, Adam… none of the others are like that. There must be a specific reason for-"

"The Baroness regrets she is not yet ready to see her esteemed guests," a male voice said only a few inches behind Mattie and Adam.

The sudden and shocking reappearance of the butler made Mattie spin around in a hurry; Adam did one better and tripped over his clumsy hiking boots in his haste to evade the dead-silent person behind him. Landing squarely on his behind, he spent the next several seconds wincing and rubbing the impact zone before he clambered to his feet.

Mattie stared wide-eyed at the butler while she clutched the candlestick. The darkness beyond the cones of flickering light rendered the redheaded fellow's passive face just as gray and dead as the one in the grotesque painting. "Th- thank you," she croaked before she cleared her throat to sound a little less spooked. "That's… that's quite all right. Perhaps we should come back tomorrow at lunch or so-"

"There is no need as the Baroness will not be long," the butler said in his customary cold, detached voice. "Upon hearing the details of your visit, she instructed me to give you a tour of the castle… if you so desire."

"Well, I suppose that's why we're here," Mattie said as she glanced at her assistant whose face proved he'd rather be anywhere else in the world at that exact moment in time. "Please start by explaining this ghoulish painting… who is that woman?  And why is it hanging here of all places?  Frankly, it mars your beautiful lobby."

The butler only needed a brief glance at the frayed artwork above the bureau before he began speaking: "The painting depicts one of the Baroness' distant ancestors. Lady Isabella was slain by the local magistrate in the last decade of the fifteenth century. It was claimed that Lady Isabella practiced witchcraft so she was chained to the boulder without access to food or water. Death claiming her on the sixth day of her trial cleared her of all charges."

"What the hell kind of backwards logic is that?" Adam said in a growl. "She died so she was innocent?"

"Indeed," the butler continued. "Had she been a witch, she would have lived on indefinitely by feeding off her black core."

Mattie nodded somberly. "That's not unusual, Adam. The witch hunts around the world often used that kind of logic. In some areas, the magistrates threw the accused into rivers or lakes to see if they would drown or not."

"Brainless barbarians… I'm glad we've moved on from that," Adam mumbled.

A few seconds went by before the butler dropped the next bombshell: "Lady Isabella's remains are still here."

"What?!" - "I beg your pardon?!" Mattie and Adam cried as one.

"She is resting in a stone sarcophagus in the burial crypt below us," the butler continued while he gestured at the large spiral staircase. "If you wish to see it-"

"We don't!" Adam barked and shook his head vehemently.

Several flashes of lightning accentuated the moment; the resulting claps of thunder made a door creak open and then slam shut somewhere else inside the eerie Wolfenburg. At one point, a sound akin to footfalls could be heard in the vicinity of the three people, but nothing moved and nobody came into the flickering light from the candlestick.

Adam's firm rejection caused no reaction on the butler's oddly passive face. A moment of no activity went by before he said: "Very well. Come. The dining hall should be more to your liking." Turning away from the two guests, he moved into the darkness with nary a sound.

Mattie and Adam shared a long look before they followed the odd man over to another pair of double-doors that led away from the lobby; Mattie provided the light by carrying the seven-branched candlestick. Just before they reached the doors, her nape hairs stood on edge and she spun around to look behind her.

A shroud of inky darkness had claimed most of the lobby now the candlestick had been moved from the bureau. Mattie's breath hitched as she sensed rather than saw a shadow racing across the floor close to where they had just stood - but when a pale-blue flash of lightning cut through the terrifying darkness only a second or two later, there was nothing to see save for the ghoulish painting on the wall.

She clenched her fist even harder around the candlestick's brass stem as she took in the scene. Her heart pounded in her chest; her palms and brow grew damp. Though she had worked on all types of horror and Fantasy films for nearly twenty years - and thus knew every trick in the book when it came to movie magic - experiencing it first-hand was another thing altogether.

A heavy hand was suddenly placed on her shoulder.

The unexpected touch made her jump up on tip-toes and let out a breathless cry; she jerked to the side at such a pace she nearly dropped the candlestick.

"Miss Eckhardt!  It's me!" Adam said in a startled voice. "Don't get a heart attack!  Are you all right?  I've called your name, like, five times…"

"Adam… Jeez… don't do that!" Mattie croaked as she took in her assistant's concerned face. She spun around once more and held out the candlestick so the flickering flames could illuminate as much of the lobby as possible. "I thought I saw someth- something… over by the painting… Jeez… I'm as jumpy as a cat in a rocking chair factory. Where did the butler go?"

"He went into the dining hall… look, I think we should leave. This is so creepy it's insane. What the hell are we actually doing here?"

"We're working, Mister!  But of course, you're free to leave any time. You can pick up your final paycheck and call your preferred recruitment office whenever you feel like it," Mattie said in a sharp voice. Grunting, she brushed past her stunned assistant to enter the dining hall - the butler was soon spotted waiting for the castle's guests in front of a dormant fireplace at the far end of a large table.


Wolfenburg Castle's opulent dining hall proved to be far less terrifying than the mysterious goings-on in the lobby. Similarly, the guest bedrooms, the old and oddly unused servants' quarters, the study and the smaller of the two libraries provided little in the way of otherworldly threats and plenty of fascinating nooks, crannies and other details that were kept for posterity on Mattie's telephone and her drawing pad.

Frequent flashes of lightning and claps of thunder remained a constant companion during Mattie and Adam's guided tour of the Gothic edifice. On occasion, the thunder continued to roll for what seemed like ages - it almost appeared as if the wall of sound was unable to escape the denseness of the pine forests that were prevalent throughout the region.

The fierce gale whistled through the inevitable cracks around the old windows, and rain continued to splash against the panes on the ground floor as the two guests traversed the endless corridors to get to the next room, hall or chamber. Now and then, stronger gusts of wind made the woodwork let out creaks and groans that sounded like the old building was sighing.

Mattie kept herself busy drawing sketches in her pad and snapping countless photos to take her mind off their eerie surroundings. While the butler explained a few details of another work of art that was far nicer to look at compared to the ghoulish painting in the lobby, Mattie glanced at Adam whose face was still an angry mask after the brief confrontation they'd had. Examining his body language and his stony silence toward her, it seemed obvious she would need to get used to yet another assistant for the next assignment. Grunting, she returned to her latest sketch - Adam Kaufmann leaving wouldn't be a great loss.

The butler moved onto a somewhat strange Renaissance painting of a wooden tankard that held a bouquet of blood-red roses. Droning on in the same, oddly detached voice as always, he mentioned the artist and how the painting had come into the possession of the Baroness.

The motif was undoubtedly exciting for connoisseurs of that period, but Mattie had little patience for flowers in general. "I'm sorry for breaking in," she said at the first given opportunity, "but I have a few questions. The director of the film we're scouting for is notoriously short-tempered if the working conditions aren't up to his strict standards. What we've seen of Wolfenburg so far certainly offers a perfect backdrop for the motion picture project, but so do plenty of other places. We need to know how far you're willing to go to accommodate the production crew. For instance, are you prepared to re-dress the dining hall to act as, say, a throne room or a torture chamber?"

The butler's greenish-gray eyes drilled into Mattie's soul as he spoke: "I cannot answer that question. You shall have to ask the Baroness once you meet her. Our torture chambers are in the crypt so there would be no need for-"

"You have a real torture chamber?!" Adam said in a voice that was a cross between a cry and a gasp. Slamming his eyes shut, he whipped off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose hard.

"We have several. They are all below us in the crypt," the butler said in a voice that made it sound that speaking of torture chambers was an everyday occurrence.

Mattie gulped down a nervous lump as she made a note of the chilling fact in her drawing pad. "Huh… I see. Frankly, I think we better leave that to the computer wizards or the set decorators. I would imagine the ceiling is too low down there for a camera crew, anyway…"

"I cannot say."

"Right," Mattie said and checked the time on her telephone - it was already a quarter to midnight. "When do you suppose we can get to see the Baroness?  It's getting late and we have a long drive back to the hotel."


Mattie was about to ask how soon 'soon' would be but kept it all inside - in any case, it was a moot point as the odd butler suddenly turned around and moved further along the corridor they were in. Mattie shook her head and let out a sigh.


The butler led the guests through a maze of hallways, open rooms, narrow corridors and strange nooks until they reached a wooden portal of a different design to the others they had seen. Seemingly far older than its surroundings, the portal had been draped in scarlet cloth like a jousting Knight of yore - the archway appeared to have been carved directly into solid granite.

"This is the Vault of the Ancestors," the butler said as he put his hand on the massive door handle.

He had already begun to depress it when Adam broke in: "If that leads down to the crypt, you can forget all about it!  That's all I'm saying!"

"It does not lead to the burial crypt but a collection of family paintings and various mementos gathered by the Baroness on her many journeys."

"Oh… well… all right, then," Adam said as he glanced at Mattie. When he didn't receive any support from his boss, he scrunched up his face all over again and thrust his hands into the pockets of his jeans.

Mattie gestured at the door. "Please go on. I'd like to see it," she said with a smile; although the butler didn't reciprocate the smile, he depressed the handle which made the wooden portal slide open with a spine-chilling squeak.

The light from the seven-branched candlestick revealed a granite staircase that went downward from a landing just inside the door. The butler took the lead and began to descend the steps that were cut so irregularly they were difficult to navigate. The three people went down nineteen such steps until they reached an archway to an opulent room.

Though the granite floor was as flat as it could ever be given the coarse nature of the material, the outer wall was lumpy and uneven by design. As the butler moved around the room igniting a few candles so the guests would be able to see the splendors on offer, Mattie snapped as many pictures as she could. The level of light was too poor for quality images, but she wasn't about to let such an opportunity slip by her.

There wasn't an inch of wall space that wasn't occupied by paintings of varying sizes: countless generations of the castle's owners were displayed in small, medium and large frames. Most were of wood, but a few of the most important people from times long past were framed by precious metals in the shape of brass, silver or even gold.

Four complete suits of armor stood in a diorama-like cluster at one end of the vault. One suit had lost most of its luster after having been splashed by a crimson liquid - a two-inch-wide jagged gash in the chest plate offered a hint what the liquid might have been. Next to the suits, iron shields carrying colorful and highly artistic designs leaned against each other like a house of cards. Two broadswords and a mace completed the martial ensemble.

A flat-topped piece of furniture that appeared to be a nineteenth-century sideboard carried several smaller artifacts that rested on a narrow band made of red, woven cloth. Next to flint arrowheads, a pair of dueling pistols and a jar filled with dried rose petals, three pieces of expertly crafted silverware prompted Mattie to take a closer look. When they were revealed to be urns, she grimaced and took a long step back.

The centerpiece of the Vault of the Ancestors was a very old - but completely unblemished - life-sized painting of a woman whose beauty was striking to the point of being mesmerizing. The lady in question was shown sitting on a wooden throne wearing a black silk robe over a crimson dress. Her long, black hair hung loose over her shoulders which gave her a far more modern look compared to most of the other paintings in the vault.

The woman's face and hands had been painted in such painstaking detail they almost resembled a photograph; her blue eyes in particular had been reproduced to the point where they carried a lifelike, and somewhat unsettling, sparkle.

"Who is that?" Mattie croaked as she stared at the large painting. A metal plaque at the lower part of the frame carried a short sentence in the local language followed by a number: 1511.

"She is Lady Constance of Henckelsburg. Later the wife of Baron Karl Gustaf Friedrich Wolff of Wolfenburg. The first Baroness here and thus the direct ancestor to the current Lady Constance, Baroness of Wolfenburg," the butler said calmly.

"Amazing… and does that number represent the year it was painted?" Mattie said as she pointed at the 1511.

"It does."

"I had no idea they had such skilled masters back then… that painting is more than five-hundred years old!  Unbelievable…" Mattie continued as she found her telephone. When she tried to take a photo of the remarkable painting, the camera played up and flat-out refused to capture the image. She tried another time before giving up and sliding it back into her pocket.

Adam let out a dark grunt. "I think it's creepy. No, it's worse than creepy… it's uncanny. I hate that," he said in a mumble. Moving away from the painting, he went over to look at some other artifacts that couldn't hold his interest. He turned around and crossed his arms over his chest. "Actually, it's even creepier how the Baroness upstairs has the same name."

Mattie shot her assistant a dark, pointed look that was wasted since he was unable to see it. "That's not unusual at all in aristocratic circles, Adam… you would know that if you could ever tear yourself away from those idiotic games on your phone. Perhaps you should do a little research. Ever heard of it?"

The butler ignored the stinging nettles thrown about by their guests and moved the seven-branched candlestick over to another section of the curved wall. The paintings displayed there were less charming on the whole: it was painfully obvious that that particular branch of the family tree had not stood first in line when grace and elegance had been handed out - in fact, most of them were so alike even across several generations that Mattie could not shake the unpleasant feeling that rampant inbreeding had been the order of the day. The plaque said the painting was completed in 1647 which was reflected in the elaborate clothing the people wore.

Though no questions had been asked, the butler seemed to have read the minds of the guests. Shining the light at the portrait of an unfortunate-looking gentleman, he said: "This family was cursed. Their bloodline ended after a slow descent into madness. It was the price they had to pay for choosing an unholy life rather than keeping their blood pure as commanded by the Baroness."

Before either Mattie or Adam could comment on the unfortunate looks of the people in the portraits, the unmistakable sound of a brass gong being struck echoed through Wolfenburg.

Every single flame on the candles the butler had lit in the Vault of the Ancestors flickered three times like the air around them had been disturbed - one or two were even snuffed out and produced columns of strongly smelling gray smoke.

"The witching hour has come," the butler suddenly said, startling the two guests. "The Baroness is ready to see you now."

"Oh… great," Adam mumbled as he watched the odd butler glide over to the granite staircase.

While Mattie followed the fellow over there, Adam remained where he was and glanced at the many candles like he wanted to mention it would be a fire hazard to leave them unattended. Whatever words he had planned to say got stuck in his throat when the flames all died down like they had been extinguished by an unseen hand.

Enough was enough so Adam bolted from the vault, flew up the staircase - giving both his boss and the strange butler a good thump in the process - and ran out into the corridor to get away from the creepiness down below.

Mattie still had ten steps left to reach the top of the granite staircase when her ears were assaulted by not only a thunderclap of such magnitude the lightning bolt had to have hit one of Wolfenburg's five towers, but by a blood-curdling scream that tore from her assistant's throat.

Taking two steps at a time, Mattie raced upward to see what was going on. She burst out into the corridor and whipped her head around to look for the cause of Adam's terrified cry. Nothing seemed untoward at first save for the fact the young man had collapsed onto the floor clutching his head in his hands, but then she noticed that a section of the wall opposite the Vault of the Ancestors had become transparent.

Her mind tried to explain it using cold logic: the lightning bolt had gone through the roof of the wing they were in and had made a portion of the ancient wall crumble, but cold logic had no answer for the nightmarish vision that played out before her eyes.

The temperature dropped considerably as male voices began to yell and cry in a language foreign to Mattie. A young woman wearing a Medieval dress and a bonnet appeared at the center of the transparent section. Manhandled by two brutes wearing masks and cloaks common to executioners of the time, she was dragged across a cobbled square and tied to a stake. The firewood at the base was soon set alight to burn the young woman alive.

"God, no!" Mattie cried at the top of her lungs. When she tried to run ahead to perhaps stop the atrocity, she went head-first into the wall that was as solid as ever. Cursing under her breath, she staggered backward and whipped off her glasses to clutch her brow.

The young woman atop the bonfire screamed louder and louder as the flames ate through her garments and began to blacken her skin. She writhed in pain at first but soon grew still and silent. Once the scene had played out, the horrific vision vanished.

"Son of a bitch!" Mattie growled as she put her glasses back on - the metal frame had been given a fair knock from running into the wall, but it seemed to hold together. Adam was still balled-up on the floor so she moved over to him to see if she could provide any help. Kneeling next to him, she soon discovered that he was merely distraught rather than injured. "Adam… can you stand?  Come on, get up… we need to get out of here before something else-"

The words had barely left her mouth before something did indeed happen - another blood-curdling scream echoed through the corridor. It caused Adam to let out a similar cry and clutch his head even harder. As the ethereal scream died down, guttural animal noises filled the air almost like rabid wolves were ready to pounce. A woman dressed in winter furs suddenly came out of the wall not too far from where Mattie and Adam were.

The woman, who wielded a bloody ax in her hand, continuously looked around and behind her like she was afraid something followed her. The snarling wolves finally made an appearance by jumping out of the wall and surrounding their prey. They attacked a moment later despite the ax being swung around in vicious thrusts. One wolf went down gravely injured, but the rest still tore the woman to shreds within a few heartbeats.

"What is this place?!" Mattie cried at the top of her lungs. The gruesome vision vanished into thin air like the first one had done; not wanting to wait for an encore, she jumped to her feet and searched for the butler. The strange fellow was nowhere to be found, but at least the seven-branched candlestick had been left on a sideboard nearby.

Grabbing it, she hurried back to her assistant who had managed to get upright on his own. "Adam!  Run, man!  We gotta get the hell away from here!  Back to the main entrance… now!"

"Y- yes… I'm c- coming," Adam managed to say though racked by a strong shiver.

They had no time to waste so Mattie took off in a fast jog while trying to protect the flames from being snuffed out by the headwind. It proved to be a difficult task, and three of the seven candles had gone out by the time she and Adam returned to the main lobby.

The familiar room gave Adam a boost and he overtook his boss to get to the double-doors. Once he reached it, he cried out in terror when he discovered the door handle refused to be manipulated into opening. Whatever he tried, he was unable to get the heavy latch to release. "It won't work!  Damn thing won't work!" he cried as Mattie came up to stand next to him.

Wide-eyed, she whipped her head around to find something they could try to break down the wooden door, but she knew it would be a futile exercise as the sturdy woodwork would be able to withstand anything they could throw at it save for a bomb - and they were fresh out of those.

She ran over to the nearest window instead to search for any kind of catch that would open it. None were to be found anywhere. Cursing, she smashed her elbow into one of the old, opaque panes intending to smash it - but all she got out of the drastic gesture was a sore elbow. "Oh, God… what the hell is going on here?" she said in a croaking voice as she rubbed her arm.

Her next thought was to wrap something around her fist and try to punch through the pane of glass, but it struck her the heavy candlestick would be better suited to the task. Moving her arm back, she flung it at the supposedly fragile window with great force. All that happened was that it bounced off the window without making as much as a scratch in the woodwork. The candlestick eventually came to a clanging halt on the marble floor after all the remaining candles had flown out of it.

Only one candle remained lit, but Mattie didn't need to pick it up and use it to ignite the rest - there was plenty of light in the lobby as it was. Not only did the thunderstorm continue to rage at unabated strength outside, a ghostly glow illuminated the entire back half of the open area.

"The spiral staircase!  Look at the spiral-" Adam cried before he cut himself off. All he could do beyond that point was to utter a babbling mess of incoherent nonsense.

Mattie clenched her jaw hard as she stared wide-eyed at the grand parade of ghosts, ghouls and assorted other undead beings now visible at the far end of the lobby. Continuous streams and sudden bursts of pale-blue energy rose from the burial vaults below and followed the curvature of the staircase as it reached for the next floors above them.

Tendrils stretched out from the main shaft of light only to dissolve at once; others had a longer life and had time to grow into grotesque shapes that resembled animals or humanoid beings before they too disappeared. Now and then, strong pulses of light erupted upward within the pale-blue core. Insane cackling and roars of glee accompanied these as if the apparitions that had been set free had been locked in limbo for an eternity.

More and more tendrils were formed from the main cloud: the majority continued to dissolve but more than a few seemed to solidify into recognizable shapes that soon roamed the marble floor by the staircase. Some were humanoid in nature, some were hideous, misshapen monsters or cross-bred mutants, and some were large, wolf-like creatures that immediately gathered around a pack leader.

"Adam…" Mattie croaked as she took several steps back at the sight of the demonic wolves that were identical to those that had shredded the woman in one of the nightmarish visions. "We- we- we need to- we can't stay… run!"

"Where to?!"

"There must be another exit somewhere… come on!  Those things will- they'll kill us if we stay here!" Mattie shouted as she grabbed hold of her assistant's arm and yanked him away from the main entrance.


Insane cackling, feral growls and a barrage of thunderclaps were constant companions as Mattie and Adam stormed through Wolfenburg's many hallways and corridors to find another way out. The only thing they achieved from running through one lavish hall after the other was to get more and more lost in the vast bowels of the haunted castle.

Every corridor looked the same as the one they had just left behind. Everywhere they went, they were faced with nothing but locked doors that offered no relief from the horrors that surrounded them. Their ears rang with inhuman laughter and roars, rattling chains and all sorts of growls, snarls and groans as they raced through a sequence of twists and turns to search for an alternative exit.

Mattie came to a sliding halt at the first open door they had encountered since leaving the main lobby. Though bizarre, atonal music streamed out of the room - played in a key that had rarely been reached - she clenched her jaw and stepped into the pitch-black doorway.

A split second later, she staggered back out white as a sheet. Adam tried to push past her to see for himself, but she stopped him with a firm grip on his jacket. "Don't," she said in a hoarse croak before she pulled him further away from the door and back into the center of the corridor.

Mattie moved on in a hazy state as the scene she had witnessed continued to be played in her mind's eye. After a few paces, she needed to stop to put a hand on the wall for support. She was only allowed a few moments of respite before the evil wall singed her palm; crying out in pain, she yanked the hand back from the granite that suddenly glowed cherry-red - all she could do to counter the throbbing pain that rose from the abused skin was to clench her jaw and take deep, calming breaths.

For a change, Adam grabbed the initiative and led them further into Wolfenburg. Through no fault of their own - nor through a lack of trying - their fortunes only grew worse even after leaving the room with the bizarre music behind.

It seemed that undead beings waited for them behind every corner and in every nook and cranny they ran past: horrific humanoid mutants whose leathery skin was covered in spikes tried to block their path, mummified remains of people long since dead shuffled around in the corridors, and partially decomposed zombies searched for them - or, in a few cases, were simply trying to relocate missing heads or other body parts.

Mattie and Adam hurtled headlong through Wolfenburg's endless corridors as more and more denizens of the burial crypt joined the fray. Deceased beings of all types, shapes and sizes literally crawled out of the woodwork and the stone walls to claim the fleeing humans, but none had been successful in sinking their claws, fangs or teeth into them - so far.

A horrid stench of death, decay and sulfur emanated from the ghouls, ghosts and various other creatures that appeared everywhere in the castle; in certain places that the only two living people there raced past, the concentration was so high it made their throats burn and their eyes water.

The familiar sound of a door creaking open and then slamming shut reached Mattie's ears. Coming to another sliding halt amid the supernatural chaos, she spotted a wooden door identical in design to the one they had used at the main entrance. Though she tried hard to visualize whether or not the door would lead outside, her frazzled mind was far too agitated to have the capacity of doing any kind of logical thinking.

"Why are you stopping?!" Adam cried as he flew past his boss. "We need to-"

"I've found a door!" Mattie cried back in a hoarse voice before she reached for the door handle. Once her assistant had arrived at her side, she depressed the handle and let out a cry of victory when her action made the door swing open. Just as they stepped through the doorway, a hideous, strangely fragmented creature appeared directly ahead of them.

Shrieking, Mattie backed up and slammed hard into Adam who promptly let out a pained groan. Only then did she notice the hideous creature was in fact her own image reflected in a broken mirror. Screechy, relieved laughter bubbled up from her chest as she pulled Adam past the door so they could shut out all the vengeful apparitions chasing them.

They found themselves in a pitch-black stairwell that was remarkably quiet considering the utter pandemonium that took place on the other side of the door. With her heart racing at full speed in her chest, she reached into her shoulder bag to find her telephone. There was no signal so there wasn't any point in trying to call for help, but she immediately activated the flashlight app to see where they were.

A groan of disappointment escaped her when she realized the ancient-looking wooden staircase was only internal and would not lead outside. Descending into the castle's underground levels would be a nonsense since all their undead attackers came from down there; it meant they had to try their luck upstairs.

"We need to go up," she croaked before she began to run up the uneven steps that squeaked loudly under her feet. She had only made it to the first landing when she realized her companion hadn't followed her. "Adam, come on!  This is no time for-"

"I'm gonna stay right here and wait for dawn!" the young man said in a voice that bordered on the shrieky. "We're safe here!  Who knows what we'll find up there?!"

Mattie stared at her assistant for a few seconds before she threw her arms in the air in frustration. "Fine!  Do whatever the hell you want. Have fun with those zombies out there!  I'm going up!"  With that, she spun around and tore up the squeaking stairs to get to the next level.


Wheezing from the involuntary Stairmaster exercise, Mattie came to a halt two floors up from her starting point. The first door she had reached had been locked, but the one she stood in front of at present was already ajar when she had arrived at it. Her heart tried to thump its way through her chest and she had a tangy taste of blood in her mouth; her lungs were on fire as she closed the flashlight app and inched over to the door to peek out.

The hallway it was connected to was quiet, or at least as quiet as it could ever be with a thunderstorm raging outside and an entire battalion of howling spooks and drooling beings roaming the floors below. None of the denizens of the burial crypt - or perhaps hell - they had encountered seemed to be around which made her furrow her brow and give everything a closer look.

There were no obvious light sources and yet she was able to see everything quite clearly. The colors and designs were vastly different to what she had encountered elsewhere in Wolfenburg: instead of the predominant white marble and gray granite, the entire hallway was made of shiny black obsidian that emanated an eerie, crimson glow.

Rectangular reliefs a foot tall and many feet wide had been carved into the walls. They appeared to depict people standing in various poses, but she was too far away to see any details. Her nose picked up a scent of what she interpreted as fresh, clean air meaning there had to be an open gallery, balcony or something similar on that level of Wolfenburg.

The colors and the exquisite nature of the materials used reminded her of the type of upper-management floors that could often be found in high-rises belonging to major corporations or conglomerates. It dawned on her that the hallway was in fact suspiciously quiet - a sinking feeling in her gut told her they had perhaps fallen from the frying pan and straight into hellfire. If the fabled Baroness had her private chambers somewhere in the vicinity, chances were their problems had only just begun.

She was about to venture out into the corridor when the sound of dragging footsteps and raspy, labored breathing reached her ears - they came from the stairs below her. Gulping down a cry, she pressed herself into the darkest corner she could find in the stairwell to remain hidden from the creature that had followed her.

The creature turned out to be a wheezing Adam Kaufmann whose facial color proved he wasn't used to running up stairs. The young man needed to keep a firm grip on the wooden handrail or else he would have taken a tumble that literally would have left him back at square one. He jerked back and let out a hoarse cry when he spotted Mattie coming out of the corner.

"It's me… calm down," Mattie whispered, "I'm glad to see you came to your senses. We need to be quiet. There's nothing out there… well, for the time being, at least. Can you even walk?"

"Y- yes… but no more stairs!" Adam said in a hoarse whisper.

Mattie shook her head as she moved back to the door that remained ajar. "I can't promise you that. All right… it's still clear. Let's go."


Hurrying along the curiously empty corridor - that only saw scattered decorative elements unlike the splendor of the halls downstairs - Mattie soon reached a fork in the road. When she glanced back to see what kept her assistant, she had to roll her eyes repeatedly at the fact that someone twenty years her junior was unable to keep pace with her.

The left branch was completely blocked by a wrought-iron gate while the one to the right was open but pitch-black. Both branches were home to a host of three-feet-tall, lidded amphora-like earthenware containers that had been placed at regular intervals of roughly ten paces. What they kept was anyone's guess, and she preferred not to find out.

She rubbed her brow as she whipped her head from side to side to figure out which way to go. The logical choice would be to continue along the branch that was open, but the inky darkness found there would be an ideal spot for an ambush by one or more of the ghouls.

Moving over to the wrought-iron gate, she held her face close to the cold metal to try to see what secrets that particular branch held beyond that point. The corridor curved to the left twenty yards or so from her vantage point so she only had a limited view, but at least there weren't any immediate threats to their lives.

Her lips creased into a nervous smile as she felt a cool breeze caress her flushed skin. A moment later, a flash of lightning illuminated a section of the corridor beyond the curve - it could only mean there were windows or perhaps even the elusive balcony beyond her line of sight.

She stepped back, grabbed hold of the grating and tried to yank it upward. It was only after four failed attempts that she noticed it was meant to be slid to the side into the adjacent wall rather than up into the ceiling. "Adam, will you get over here, for Pete's sake!  Let's get the damned thing pushed aside. I can sense fresh air… we must be getting close!"


They pushed, pulled, shoved and yanked at the gate until they were able to create enough of a gap to slip past. Mattie was the smallest so she went first. After she had thrown her shoulder bag through and had squeezed herself past the sharp-looking tips of the metal bars, she turned to face her assistant. "Try to hold it open for as long as you can… I'm going to run around the corner to see what's there."

"O… kay… but… hurry," Adam said through clenched teeth; his spaghetti-arms and dainty fingers weren't meant for Herculean feats but for typing or - at the most - carrying boxes of files.

Mattie couldn't answer as she had already taken off. Hurrying all she could, she reached the curve in no time flat but came to a sliding halt the moment she went beyond it. She clutched her head and let out a moan of despair as she took in the depressing sight of a second, far sturdier iron gate a further ten yards along the corridor. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out they would never get that one open.

The sight of the night-time sky another twenty-five yards down the corridor mocked her in all its unobtainable glory. A flash of lightning illuminated the final section of the corridor and showed that it did indeed end in an open gallery.

Dejected, she jogged back to the first gate where her assistant had gained a facial color akin to ripe tomatoes from wrestling with the heavy gate. "It's no use, Adam… it's blocked. We can't get out that way," she said even before she had made it all the way back to him.

"Oh… God… then… what?" Adam croaked while his eyes nearly bulged out of his head.

"Then we try the other branch," Mattie said as she took her bag and squeezed past the wrought-iron gate. She was less careful than she had been when she went the other way, and the back of her trench coat paid the price by getting torn on a protruding bar. At least her skin hadn't been nicked, but it certainly didn't improve her mood to have a large section of the coat's back flapping around as they returned to the branching point.

Turning on the flashlight app and shining it into the opening of the inky-black second corridor revealed there were no critters of any kind lurking there. It also revealed a wooden portal at the far end of the hallway that turned out to be shorter than expected. Mattie lifted her glasses to repeatedly rub her weary eyes. "Should we try it?  Or should we stay here for all eternity?"

Adam wheezed even harder than before - it got so bad he had to bend over and put his hands on his knees to catch his breath. "Can't… we… go… back… or… something?  Anyth- thing!"

"We could… but what good would that do us?" Mattie said in a flat voice. She eventually lowered her glasses and let out a deep, long sigh. The flashlight app was pressed into action once more as she let its cone of bright light shine upon the wooden portal. "I'm pretty sure the only way out is… well… through it all."

Adam stared at her with wide open eyes. After a few seconds, he shook his head in defeat and let out a croaked "Oh… shit…"


The portal itself was easy enough to get through, but another sigh escaped Mattie when it became brutally evident it just wasn't her day. Instead of finding freedom inside the large chamber that presented itself beyond the portal, they had only found more trouble - and trouble of the worst kind:

The spiral staircase and thus the pulsating shaft of ghostly energy that Mattie and Adam had seen downstairs in the lobby ended in the chamber they had just walked into. The surreal sight of the top of the staircase acting as a huge indoor fountain that spewed pale-blue ectoplasm while plenty of zombified bathing beauties frolicked near its edges was enough in itself to break down the boundaries between sanity and madness for most people, but even that paled into insignificance by the sheer lunacy of the rest of the chamber's decor.

The chamber was thirty by thirty feet and was equipped with a tall ceiling that reached nearly ten feet up from the floor. Similarly to the first hallway Mattie had seen on that level of Wolfenburg, everything was made of shiny black obsidian that cast a crimson glow onto the other elements present.

Fires roared in open metal pans that had been placed in each corner of the chamber. The pale-blue nature of the flames proved they were ghostly rather than real, but a proper fire - featuring orange, flickering flames - did in fact burn brightly in a fireplace at the center of the far wall.

Huge tapestries were draped over the remaining three walls - two of them depicted massacres, human sacrifices and assorted other gory mayhem while the third focused on rams, satyrs, lecherous men and lustful women who were all shown to be rather busy in various equilibristic acts of passion.

An elegant throne had been placed in a spot where the important person occupying it could behold not only the tapestries but the indoor fountain at the spiral staircase and thus the frolicking beauties there - one of whom bore a striking resemblance to Lady Isabella from the grisly painting in the lobby. A granite altar stood proudly a few yards from the throne. Flat-topped save for two odd grooves that ran the length of it, each corner of the altar was equipped with a hook from where a wooden bucket hung ready to collect whatever liquid would pour into it from atop the altar.

"Dear God…" Adam croaked as he tried to comprehend all the horrific sights and events inside the chamber.

Before Mattie could even open her mouth to add her own thoughts, a silky-smooth female voice spoke up from the throne: "Save your prayers. He knows never to meddle in my affairs." As the woman spoke, she rose from the throne and stepped into the orange light from the fireplace.

"That's-" Adam croaked, staring wide-eyed at the tall figure who approached him.

Mattie could not help herself from breaking out in a deep gasp; clutching her head, she was unable to take her eyes off the tall, dark-haired woman whose piercing blue eyes and mesmerizing beauty were almost hypnotic in nature. "The Baroness… Lady Constance… the first one… from the painting… in the vault…" she said in a hoarse croak.

"Indeed I am!  In the flesh… so to speak," Constance of Wolfenburg said with a sparkle in her eyes and a cool, wicked smile playing on her lips. She slid closer in a fashion that made it seem she never made contact with the floor. "Welcome, Mattie. Adam. Ah, how delightful to have visitors. Mattie, had you been Eve, it would have been too ironic by far. You see, I knew the first man to bear the name of Adam. Such a weakling he was. I hope your companion here has more backbone… I shall find out soon enough." As she spoke, she slid closer to Adam who took several steps back to keep clear of the frightening woman.

Mattie lowered her hands but kept them balled-up like she wanted to punch someone's lights out. "What do you want from us?  Why won't you let us leave?!" she said in a raspy voice.

Lady Constance cocked her head and glanced over at Mattie. "My dear, you've been free to leave the entire time. The front door would have opened for you had you tried it. I have no use for you. All I need is your companion here."

"You can't have him!"

"My, my!  Such vehemence!  Pray tell, are you and he involved?  Do you not think he is too young for you?" Lady Constance said with a wink - then she leaned her head back and let out a chilling laugh.

"That's not-"

"Then hold your tongue while I make mine sing," the Baroness said before she suddenly closed the distance to Adam. She ignored his frightened outburst and simply yanked him up against her body.

Moving with the speed of a striking cobra, she placed her lips on Adam's mouth and went through the motions of a violent, gnawing, bruising kiss that left him reeling from the onslaught. Once she was done, she let him go and took a step back; the wicked smile returned to her lips while she let her tongue run over them lasciviously.

Adam Kaufmann swayed like a reed in a storm. Unable to stay upright, he fell to his hands and knees. A frightened cry escaped him when he saw the skin on his hands turn gray and lifeless; though he tried to shake the condition off them, he was powerless to stop the gray surge that enveloped him fully after a few seconds.

While Mattie let out a screamed "No!" at the horrible sight, Lady Constance's reaction was merely a disappointed sigh.

"Another weakling. Such a pity," the Baroness said and waved her hand in disgust. "Men are simply not what they used to be. I am sure you will agree, Mattie."

Down on the floor, Adam ceased to breathe. His eyes rolled back in his head and he went face-first onto the obsidian floor. He twitched once and then became still.

"You killed him, you monster!" Mattie cried at the top of her lungs.

The Baroness offered her female guest a brief glance before she moved back to her throne. On her way there, she stopped at the altar and seemed to caress the grooves. "I did nothing of the kind. I merely took his breath away. Swept him off his feet. It happens," she said while a wicked gleam played in her eyes.


"I tested him," the Baroness continued in a harsher tone. "He failed. Still, we have further use for him… would you care to join us for a little midnight feast?"


"Then leave," Lady Constance said and finally sat down on her throne.


"Oh, through the other branch… the one that is blocked by a gate. Look carefully and leave no stone untouched." The wicked gleam that once more shone from the Baroness' piercing eyes was visible even through the chamber's eerie darkness.

Mattie's throat tied itself into a knot at the horrible thought that she and Adam could have been home free if she had only stopped to look at the second gate's surroundings. The strangest of sensations swept through her - almost like she was about to faint - but she steeled herself and spun around.

The cackling laughter of Lady Constance, Baroness of Wolfenburg echoed in Mattie's ears as she stormed back to the wooden portal; the maniacal noises provided all the impetus she needed to keep going despite her swimming head and thumping heart. Reaching the portal, she paused to look at Adam's body that was already being sniffed at by a pair of the demonic wolves. A strong shiver swept over her at the sight of the young man's gray, inhuman appearance and the gruesome prospects of what was going to happen to him.

It was too late to save him, but she still had time to save herself. Leaving the chamber of horrors, she flew down the short corridor until she reached the branching point.


It only took her a scant thirty seconds to come to a skidding halt at the first of the two iron gates. It had required the strength of two to create a gap wide enough to slip through at their original attempt, but instead of risking life and limb forcing the gate aside, she began to search high and low along the obsidian wall for the elusive concealed switch.

An eternity seemed to go by before her fingers finally touched a misaligned section of the wall. Everything else around it was as flat and smooth as glass so she was in no doubt that she had found the trigger - how to manipulate it was another matter.

Her first attempt led to nothing; a second only yielded sore knuckles when her fingers slipped and she wound up thumping her fist against the smooth material instead. She thought the mistake had prompted a metallic clunk from somewhere down at the base of the wrought-iron gate, but the noise had been so minute compared to the rumbling thunderstorm outside and the guttural growls that came from Lady Constance's chamber that she was unsure of the origin of the noise.

Grinding her teeth in despair, she slammed her fist against the protruding section of the wall just to show she wasn't ready to throw in the towel just yet. The drastic action caused a loud and clear Clonk! that literally set things in motion. A muted, triumphant whoop escaped her when the gate creaked and rattled as it ran along a hidden rail in the floor.

The moment the space was wide enough for her to slip past, she squeezed her body through the gap and took off in a sprint to get around the curve and reach the next gate. Another whoop escaped her when she could see a five-arch gallery as plain as day not thirty yards further down the corridor. As she watched in wide-eyed trepidation, a lightning bolt zig-zagged across the dark heavens proving she really did look at the night-time sky.

She wasted no time in patting down the obsidian wall to search for the elusive switch. Cursing and groaning, she tried high, low and everywhere in between. No matter what she did or where she tried, relief refused to come.

"Son of a bitch," she growled as she took a step back. Though the corridor's obsidian walls continued to emanate the same crimson glow like elsewhere on the level, the light wasn't bright enough to highlight the tiny amount of misalignment she was searching for. She slammed her hands onto her hips and studied all four surfaces that came into contact with the steadfast grating.

The ceiling and walls were silky-smooth and seemingly cut from a single source; there was nothing there that could act as any kind of switch. A sudden flash of inspiration made her give the floor a second, closer inspection.

Unlike the materials used in the rest of the corridor, the four-by-six-foot section that ran underneath the wrought-iron gate was granite: hand-sculpted, uneven squares similar to those she had seen downstairs in the Vault of the Ancestors. Yelping, she hurriedly stomped her feet down onto each and every one of the squares on her side of the center line.

She had almost run out of stones to try when she found the one that controlled the last thing that stood in her way to regain her freedom. The secret switch was activated with a meaty Clonk! that in turn made the heavy grating slide into the adjacent wall - she held her breath while the path was finally cleared.

A choked-up sob escaped her as she ran ahead to get to the gallery. She nearly took a nasty spill along the way as the obsidian floor had turned slippery from the rain water that had pelted it, but she took it in her stride - literally - and pressed on regardless.


A five-arch gallery at the far end of the corridor was soon reached. The gallery was guarded by a pair of fearsome-looking Gargoyles, but they were made of stone so they didn't pose a threat - at least not at that particular moment.

Everything in her field of view was dark save for the infrequent flashes of lightning that continued to plague the region; she tried to exploit the flashes to get a sense of her exact position relative to the rest of the castle, but they were too brief to be of much help.

She did figure out that she had to be on the top floor of one of the wings as she was able to see the outlines of the castle's three bell towers off to the sides. It meant the two, far taller, watch towers were somewhere behind her which in turn meant she had to be fairly close to the moat.

The gale was fiercer than down at ground level and made her hair and her torn coat whip around. Being a great deal further up than she had imagined, she had to swallow a nervous lump when she peeked over the edge of the balustrade.

The pitch-black, choppy moat was in fact a good fifty feet below the gallery, and it seemed the water slapped directly against the wing's end wall. It was the first stroke of good fortune she had experienced all evening - if she'd been forced to jump clear of even the narrowest strip of boulders, chances were she would have come to a sticky end right there.

Before she committed to the drastic deed of jumping into the unknown in the dead of night, she reached into her shoulder bag to retrieve her telephone. She hoped the signal had improved sufficiently to call for help now she was so close to being outside, but that part of the equation still went against her. The telephone wasn't waterproof so it would most likely be ruined, but she put it back into her bag regardless.

She paused to consider whether or not to keep the shoulder bag or leave it behind. The telephone wouldn't be of any use to her afterward, and neither would her drawing pad or her obligatory pack of tissues that she always carried around - the chapstick she had only just bought at the airport's tax-free pharmacist might be the only thing in the bag that wouldn't be affected by being submerged. Eventually deciding to keep the bag, she put the carrier strap around her neck and closed the trench coat around it.

The tip of her shoe suddenly bumped into something down on the floor of the hallway - a pigeon nest. The faint glimmer of normality made her break out in a smile and then a screechy laugh as she sat down on the balustrade's flat top in the central one of the five arches. A moment later, she swung her legs over the edge.

Her shoes were already dangling in thin air when she spoke out loud just to make sure she was still alive and sane: "Swan dive… or depth charge?" Another screechy laugh escaped her. The laughter died down as the mortal danger she was about to throw herself into dawned on her.

Staying was out of the question. Going might be the last thing she ever did. Her throat tied itself into a knot of fear as she put her hands on the coarse surface. She sat like that for a few seconds until she decided she might as well go ahead with it - she was doomed whatever she did.

Once the decision had been made, the rest took care of itself. She pushed herself off the balustrade with a grunt and allowed gravity to take control.

The fifty-foot drop into the pitch-black moat was over far sooner than she had anticipated; worse, she was unprepared for the brutal nature of the impact as her body slammed into the surface. The violent rendezvous drove all the air from her lungs in a single rush that was nearly replaced with icy water.

Dazed and disoriented, she drifted many feet downward until she bumped against the moat's slimy bottom. The need to breathe almost overcame her, but her self-preservation kicked in at the last moment and told her to keep her jaw clamped shut and to hold her breath for the time being.

Everything seemed to happen in slow-motion as her faculties struggled to cope with being submerged in freezing, murky water. She had no sense of direction until her right hand scraped against the bottom of the moat. Though the icy water did its worst to stun her into fatal submission, she rolled over and used her legs to push against the ground.

When even her best attempt only provided pitiful buoyancy, she realized with a rising degree of horror that the main culprit was her trench coat - the warm, multi-layered garment had become so saturated it had come to weigh more than she did. Working on her last good air, she tugged, pulled and yanked at the fabric to get the coat off her shoulders and arms. Just when her pounding heart told her it had no more to give without a lungful of air, the coat fell off by itself and drifted away into the murky depths of the moat.

Her second attempt at pushing herself up proved far more successful and she shot skyward with the greatest of ease even with her shoulder bag strapped around her neck.

After breaking through the surface, she coughed, spluttered and drew plenty of deep, desperate breaths all within the space of a few seconds. The night-time sky above her continued to be plagued by the thunderstorm and the rain came down as hard as ever, but she had never experienced a more glorious moment.

Swimming over to the nearest bank, she literally grasped for straws to pull herself up onto dry - or drier, at least - land. A loud roar of pure frustration burst from her when she realized the pouring rain had turned every inch of the bank she had arrived at into a muddy nightmare so slippery she would never be able to get up that way.

Treading water, she tried to look around to find an alternative route out of the moat, but the darkness was so impenetrable she could barely see a hand in front of her face.

"God, why is all this happening to me?" she croaked as she tried to keep buoyant amid the choppy seas. "Wait… wasn't there… a ladder… where did I see a… the bridge!  There's a ladder on the stone bridge!" she cried as she made a full turn in the water to try to figure out which way to go to find the bridge that acted as the only connection between the eerie Wolfenburg Castle and the rest of the world.

Although the moat encircled the castle, her recent spell of pretty rotten luck would most likely see her choose the longest route back to the bridge. Shaking her head in frustration, she set off in the direction she hoped would be the shortest one.


Upon reaching the bridge, it was soon revealed that not only had she gone the wrong way around, the ladder was on the far side of the structure so she needed to swim under it to get up on dry land. That wouldn't have posed a problem under normal circumstances, but the massive amounts of rain that had pummeled the region over the course of the afternoon and evening had flooded the moat to such an extent that she needed to dive deeply into the murky waters to swim to the other side.

Worse, the bridge acted as a funnel that created swirling eddies and strong torrents - and they were all moving in the opposite direction of where she needed to go.

Mattie moaned out loud as she treaded water only ten feet from the stone bridge. After wiping her soaked hair out of her face several times, she whipped her head around to search for an alternative path out of the moat. There was nothing there; it seemed her only chance of salvation would be the ladder on the far side of the bridge.

Something needed to be done as the water was far too cold for her to stay there for any length of time. A jagged lightning bolt that tore across the heavens acted as the motivation she had been looking for. Shaking her head in frustration, she drew the deepest breath she could hold and proceeded to duck down into the dark, icy water.

She swam against the torrents for what seemed like hours without end. Twice she surged ahead; twice she was pushed back at the worst moment. The third attempt yielded more success, and she was able to clear the strongest of the swirling eddies that had formed at the corners of the stone bridge.

The split second she sensed she had cleared the submerged sections of the bridge, she rose to the surface and began to cough and splutter all over again. Treading water at first, she soon needed to hang onto the side of the stone structure with both hands or else she would be swept away by the tide. As she looked up, she was pleasantly surprised to see that the lowest rung of the ladder was right in front of her - within her grasp for a change.

She cried out in triumph as she was finally allowed some good fortune. Her wet shoes slipped a few times on the slimy rungs, but she took it in her stride and climbed up the side of the bridge. As soon as she reached the top, she climbed over the stone railing and staggered into the middle of the cobbled path. Overcome by fatigue and the freezing conditions, she fell to her hands and knees and simply tried to keep existing.

Her lungs had caught fire once more and it took her nearly a minute to regain enough strength to get back on her feet. A quick glance at Wolfenburg Castle sent a tidal wave of shivers over her wet body: demonic, pale-blue light continued to shine through most of the windows on all the floors proving that whatever type of creature Lady Constance was, her perverse party up in the chamber of horrors was still going strong - at least the ghouls and ghosts had yet to venture outside in search of a little fresh blood.

The millstone-like weight around her neck reminded her of the fact she was still carrying her shoulder bag. Taking it off, she unzipped it and proceeded to pour what had to be a gallon of moat-water out of it. As she had fully expected, everything had been thoroughly ruined save for the chapstick which was just about the only thing she had no use for at that point in time.

Her telephone looked all right as far as she could see, at least on a superficial level, but she knew better than to turn it on - she would leave that to the experts provided she ever made it back to civilization. A loud curse escaped her when she found the destroyed drawing pad where all her important sketches from various movie projects had been reduced to a gray, oatmeal-like substance.

The next object she found in her bag was the electronic key for the Volvo. Deep furrows spread across her brow as she looked at the black card - the chip seemed fine as such, but whether or not it worked after being submerged in water for so long was another question.

Craning her neck, she could just make out the rear of the Volvo SUV she and Adam Kaufmann had arrived in as it remained parked outside the castle's main entrance. She stared at it for several long seconds before her soul told her there was no way on God's green earth she should even consider going back to retrieve it.

The combination of being dead-tired, freezing cold and standing so close to a haunted castle whose ghoulish owner had direct access to the darkest levels of Hell made Mattie break out in a full-body shiver. "No…" she croaked, "I gotta… gotta get away… while I still can…"

Turning around, she forced herself to put one soaked shoe ahead of the other in the age-old procedure known as 'walking.' She added a new, glistening trail to the existing puddles as she staggered across the cobbled section beyond the bridge and onto the softer, uneven ground nearer the tall pines.

The thunderstorm that had raged for so long seemed to offer her a much-needed break by finally moving away. Though the rain and fierce gusts of wind were still present - if less intense on the whole - the zig-zagging lightning bolts and the resulting claps of thunder slowly drifted toward the west thus releasing their chokehold on the region.


When Mattie reached the trees several minutes later, she had to lean against one of the knobby pine trunks to catch her breath. Above her, the eastern sky had gained a faint paleness that reminded her of what the pre-dawn hours had looked like when she had been a little girl visiting her grandfather's horse ranch.

She furrowed her brow as she studied the part of the sky she could see through the evergreen crowns of the pine trees. "How is that possible… we arrived at eleven… and all the ghostly things happened at midnight… and now it's dawn?  Where the hell did the time go?" she mumbled as she glanced at the brightening sky. A screechy laugh escaped her when she realized that her statement might not be too far from the truth.

An odd rumbling that originated at Wolfenburg Castle made her snap back to the present. Pushing herself off the trunk, she pressed on and soon found the first part of the rutted trail she and Adam had used when they had driven there. The rumbling behind her grew in strength and was soon accompanied by inhuman shrieking, tormented screams and even bursts of the Baroness' unhinged cackling.

The creepy sounds made the shivers return with a vengeance, and Mattie flew into hiding behind the nearest tree. The assault on her poor, frazzled mind only grew worse for each passing moment, so she clamped her hands over her ears and rolled herself into a ball of shivering humanity.

From one moment to the next, the noises ceased.

She finally dared to sneak a peek at the horrific Wolfenburg, but just as she did so, the entire edifice exploded in a crimson flash of nuclear proportions. Screaming in fear, she ducked down as far as she could and waited for the inevitable shockwave to rush over her and grind her into tiny specs of dust.

When nothing at all happened, her curiosity got the better of her and she rolled away from the tree to see what had happened. What her eyes saw, her mind couldn't fathom - all that remained of the imposing Wolfenburg that had loomed large and frightening a scant minute earlier were scattered sections of brickwork that were badly decayed and fully overgrown. Only one of the five towers had been left standing, and even that was missing the entire top half.

The supernatural explosion seemed to have blown the final rain clouds away as the sky turned increasingly blue high above the site. Though gusts of wind continued to sweep across the landscape, they were manageable compared to the fierceness of the storm during the night.

As the first rays of the new day caressed the ruins, it became obvious even to the dead-tired Mattie that it had been centuries since the decayed walls that were left standing had been a castle - much less a haunted one.

Struck speechless, she moved away from the trees, staggered back across the cobbled area, over the stone bridge and onto the gravelly forecourt. Seeing the Volvo SUV neatly parked in front of nothing at all made her pinch herself just to check. The pain that rose from her arm proved she wasn't dreaming or dead.

An information board for tourists that Mattie hadn't noticed the night before had been put up not too far from where the main entrance had been. Written in English for a change, it offered her a few details she had not been aware of:

Among other trivia pertaining to the life of Lady Constance, Baroness of Wolfenburg, and her boundless fascination with the macabre and bizarre, it mentioned that Wolfenburg Castle had burned to the ground in a fierce thunderstorm in late October 1793. It also said that local folklore insisted that the feared Baroness returned once every Halloween to seek a mate, and that she had caused the disappearance of countless young men in the deep woods over the centuries.

"I believe that," Mattie croaked as she rubbed her brow. The gruesome sight of Adam Kaufmann's inhuman grayness as he lay on the floor of the chamber flooded her mind, and she had to shake her head repeatedly to get rid of it. A deep sigh escaped her. She had to contact the authorities to report Adam's death, but she had no telephone, she was miles away from even the smallest one-outhouse town and on top of all that, she didn't speak the local language.

At least the Volvo seemed unharmed. Now that all the evil had vanished, she might as well try to see if the car worked, so she staggered over to the vehicle and dug into her soaked bag to retrieve the electronic key card. "With my luck, the damn thing will electrocute me when I get within a foot of it," she mumbled as she waved the key card around in the air to dry out the chip.

Grimacing, she held the card as far away from her as possible while she inched closer and closer to the large car. Much to her surprise, the doors unlocked and the powerful Xenon headlights turned on to welcome the driver back to the comfortable seats and the plush interior.

After throwing her ruined bag into the back, she let out a long groan as she slid her soaked being onto the driver's seat. The electronic starting system meant she only needed to move the key card over to the optical reader to deactivate the immobilizer and prepare the onboard computer for actually starting the engine. Once the system responded with a merry beep and a green light on the dashboard, she depressed the starter button and marveled at how everything still worked even after being exposed to the raging elements the entire night.

The first thing she did was to turn the air-conditioning system to Maximum Heat; the second was to look at herself in the rear-view mirror. She let out a croaking chuckle when she realized her reflection bore a passing resemblance to some of the unfortunate degenerates she had seen on the family paintings in the Vault of the Ancestors: crazy hair, red eyes and gray lines everywhere.

"Jeez… look at that. Next Halloween, I'm gonna lock myself into my basement all night. No, I'm gonna have a four-hour hot bubble bath," she mumbled as she tried to force her reluctant locks back into shape. The hair refused to play along so she let it be.

A heavy blanket of fatigue fell over her and she had to lean forward to rest her forehead against the rim of the steering wheel. Her heart pounded far too hard in her chest; even more ominously, she could hear an unhealthy rattling somewhere deep down in her lungs when she breathed.

The life-giving sun continued to brighten the new day. As it rose above the tall pines, its rays spread over the courtyard and eventually reached the SUV. Though bleaker than it would be at the height of summer, the golden light prompted a strong urge in Mattie to open the window and take in some clean, fresh air instead of the artificial product that came from the air-conditioning system.

After rolling down the power window, she broke out in a smile of relief and gratitude when the cool air and the early rays of the November sun caressed her skin and provided the boost of energy she had hoped for.

The miserable night did have a final joker to play in that thick patches of ground fog were being formed in places - she made up her mind to leave at once before she would be trapped at Wolfenburg Castle all over again.

After selecting a gear, she closed the window once more and drove away from the historic site and the nerve-racking horrors that had taken place there. As she made it onto the rutted trail that would take her back to the country road, a sudden impulse made her twist the rear-view mirror so she couldn't see the castle ruins as they faded away behind her. The tiniest of sobs escaped her. She was safe.


Had Mattie Eckhardt kept an eye on the overgrown remains of Wolfenburg Castle, she would have seen a tall, dark-haired figure standing atop the crumbled tower. The woman's long hair, black robe and crimson dress fluttered gracefully; she seemed to bid her nightly visitor farewell before she slowly dissolved into red smoke that drifted away on the gentle morning breeze…




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