This piece is dedicated to the lovely and talented Deborah Mitton (@DeborahMitton), author of “Ten for the Devil” Thank you so much, Deborah!
I wish that I had never stepped foot inside that wretched house on Covenant Hill; that I had never known of its existence, that I might have been spared the consuming horror I have endured in my twilight years. As I near the end of a tortured life, I pen this narrative so that any curious soul who may come after me may escape the fate which pride and recklessness has brought down upon me. I know all too well what awaits me when I finally leave this earthly plane, and the only solace I can find for myself is in the thought that I will be the last to suffer the curse of Ash Manor.
Why my grandfather did not have the entire structure burned to the ground I do not know. Perhaps he, like I, believed the place already destroyed; that it existed only within the broken mind of a man who had taken his own life. His name was not on the list, so I can only assume he never found, or entered, the manor.
It was my guardian’s death that set in motion my damnation. At the tender age of twenty-two, recently finished with my legal studies, I was called upon to dispose of my grandfather’s estate after he succumbed to a long illness. I had been studying abroad in Europe when the news of his passing reached me, and I was called back to the town of my childhood, the provincial hamlet of Ripton in the heart of Vermont, a town which held my surname and that of my grandfather’s for its own. Jedidiah Ripton was the first Ripton of the town, long ago in its early colonial days, when it was said that witches still roamed the heavily wooded hills, making pacts with unnatural things in the dark nights. Jedidiah himself was rumored to have fled from Salem at the beginning of those trials history has made so famous, that he was a wizard of prodigious power. But there are many fantastic myths and legends that surround the wealth of Ripton and his clan, stories created no doubt by the jealous and superstitious poor of the town. But even at the turn of the century, these stories still persisted in the minds of many who lived in Ripton.
I did not take to my role of executor with much enthusiasm, though my grandfather, Elias Ripton, had taken charge of my upbringing after my father, a noted antiquarian and historian, had committed suicide when I was a young child. My mother had died in childbirth, and so, distant relations were the only refuge left to me after my father’s untimely demise. Rather than leaving me to the mercy of strangers, my paternal grandfather graciously took me in.
His initial charity in this notwithstanding, Elias had been a secretive, cold figure with which to grow up. The fine house we lived in on Southerby Street was staffed by only two servants and, for a short time, a governess, who left with suspicious promptness once I reached an age when I was able to care for myself. We rarely received visitors to our abode, although it sat very near to the heart of town. I was glad to escape from the isolated place to attend boarding school at the age of twelve, and had rarely been back since that time.
A full ten years later, I found that little had changed in this backwards hollow of civilization. The slanting gambrels of tumbledown houses sat decaying under the shadows of the tall hills that surrounded the town, weighed down by dark histories and failed dynasties. The people who lived there were simple country types, who clung to traditions like shipwrecked sailors in a storm. They had never been warm or welcoming to me or my family, their avoidance of our company rooted, so they claimed, in a fear of being implicated in what they referred to as ‘Ol’ Jedidiah’s bargain’.
I paid little attention to these mutterings as I grew, focusing on my studies in an attempt to escape the oppressive place. But the rumors were once more called to my mind when I found, amongst a collection of other legal documents in my grandfather’s possessions, a deed to a place I had heard of only in such irrational whisperings: Ash Manor.
I happened across the deed while in my grandfather’s study. It was sitting at the bottom of a disintegrating file box, falling apart from years of dust and mildew. The deed itself was written in archaic language on a thick piece of parchment that had turned dark yellow, its curled edges frayed and torn. Folded inside the cracking paper was a key caked with thick, black rust. The envelope which had held both artifacts, however, was newer, not more than twenty years old. Nevertheless, it was the handwriting on this envelope that caught my interest; a frantic, sprawling script that I recognized as my father’s. The message was brief, but puzzling: “Father – Never Enter”.
I sat staring at these objects for most of the morning. I had known very little of my family history, my grandfather refusing to ever speak of times gone by. Why my father had taken his own life was never discussed, though it was widely alleged that his investigations into local history had driven him to madness. What I did know about him was that he had been attempting to locate the remains of Ash Manor, the residence that had first sheltered Jedidiah Ripton and his family. The house was abandoned by the Riptons soon after Jedidiah’s death and no one could ever be convinced to buy it, strange talk of cries in the night and visions scaring off any potential owners. Ripton had come to the town with nothing, and it was said that he had called up some sort of devil on top of Covenant Hill, where he would later build his illustrious manor home, and it was from these congresses and other unholy rites that Ripton had received all the wealth he and his family came to enjoy.
As far as was known, Ash Manor had been destroyed in a fire sometime after the Revolutionary War. But my father believed otherwise. His studies lead him to the conclusion that at least partial ruins of the house were still existent, although no one had any knowledge where in the midst of the hills surrounding town they might lay. What dark hand had led him to the discovery of the deed I now shudder to imagine. But the document did list the exact coordinates of the Ripton plot upon which the house was built. The key, whose rusted skin stained my fingertips, could only belong to the house itself.
I should have burned the deed then and there; I wish to God that I had. But being of a scholarly bent myself, I instead put on my hat and my coat, placed the deed and key in my pocket, and made my way out to the local library, where I thought I might acquire a knowledge of the surrounding terrain sufficient enough to unearth Ash Manor on my own.
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