Within the walls of a gloomy estate known as Blackwater, Liz Austen discovers the strange world of Baron Nicolai Zaba, a man who lives in constant fear. What is the secret of the ancient chapel's underground vault? Why are the words In Evil Memory scrawled on a wall? Who secretly threatens the Baron? All the answers lie within these pages but be warned: reading this book will make your blood run cold.
"It's globules of fun and built in the Eric Wilson page-turning structure . . . he has single-handedly created thousands of readers, and his books are in constant circulation across Canada."
Quill & Quire
They'd put me in a cell on death row.
Thick walls surrounded me. Cold light came through the bars, showing the mattress where I had to sleep. My heart thumped painfully as I thought about the people who had waited in this cell for the sound of approaching feet.
Feet that would lead them to the gallows.
Unable to bear the thought, I sat down on the bare mattress to stare at my suitcase. I felt so homesick. What were Tom and my parents doing right now? Probably drinking hot chocolate and talking about what a great time good old Liz would be having in Ottawa.
They didn't know I'd been condemned to death row.
"Feeling lonely?" a voice said.
Looking up, I saw a teenage girl watching me through the bars of my cell. She had large eyes, a wide mouth and a lot of fuzzy hair that spilled down over her shoulders. With a smile, she opened the cell door. “Feel like a tour of the prison?"
Anything was better than sitting in that cell alone. Before the girl could change her mind I hurried into the concrete corridor. Blue and green lights shone weakly from the ceiling, and our footsteps echoed as we began walking. This place, called the Nicholas Street Youth Hostel, had once been a prison, but now is a place for travellers to stay. I suppose it may be an adventure for some people to sleep on death row, but I'm not sure I recommend it!
Glancing into the cells gave me the creeps, so I turned to the girl. "My name's Liz Austen. I'm from Winnipeg."
"That's in Alberta?"
"No," I said, annoyed. I'd heard rumours that people in eastern Canada don't know a lot about the west, but this was ridiculous. "Winnipeg is the capital city of Manitoba. It's actually quite an advanced place. The roads are paved, and some houses even have electric lights."
The girl looked embarrassed. "Excuse my ignorance, please. I am new to Canada. This country has been my home for only a few months, but I am trying to quickly learn about it."
Now I was the one who felt embarrassed. "Sorry," I mumbled. "I didn't realize... where are you from?"
"Romania. My name is Orli Yurko."
"I don't believe it! You're actually from Romania?" When she nodded, I smiled happily. "That's where Transylvania is!"
"That's right. It means 'the land beyond the forest.'"
"And it's the home of Dracula, right?"
"That is true, but..."
"Wow, Orli, this is so exciting. The reason I'm in Ottawa is to represent Manitoba in the National Public Speaking Contest for schools, and my topic is Vampires: Do they exist? You can give me some inside information!"
Orli stared at me with her large, hazel-coloured eyes. "Not many people my age believe those old superstitions, even in Romania. I'm sorry, Liz, but vampires aren't my sack."
"Aren't your bag," I corrected her. "Oh, well, it was a good idea while it lasted."
Orli pushed open a heavy door that led to a stairwell. We started down, our feet clanging against the metal stairs that twisted into the shadows below. "Do you see those heavy metal screens?" Orli asked, pointing at the mesh strung across the stairwell. "Those prevented prisoners from jumping, or from pushing the guards off the stairs."
"Why would anyone jump?"
"They would rather be dead, than led down these stairs to solitary confinement."
"Is that where you're taking me?"
She nodded. "Solitary is the place that scares me the most when I give a tour."
"Do you work in this hostel?"
"Yes. I am an office night-clerk, to earn university money."
"What are you going to study?"
"To be a doctor." Pausing, she pointed at some small windows. "Once a week, families gathered on the other side of those windows. The prisoners were forced to stand here, on the stairs, shouting to their people. That was called a visit."
"Solitary was even worse." She led me down a corridor to a row of cells with metal doors. "You see those hatches at the bottom of the doors? Once a day those were opened, to slide inside bread and water. The prisoners lived in darkness that was total. In the winter, no heat. No blankets for them, ever, or even clothes."
"What a disgusting way to treat humans. How long were they kept in solitary?"
"Some for one month. And why? Often just because of speaking to another prisoner against rules. But, do you want to know the worst?"
I didn't, but I was too curious to say no.
"Some in solitary were chained to the floor. With molasses poured on their bodies by guards."
"I don't understand."
"The molasses attracted rats. Should I explain more?"
"No! That's just awful, Orli. Thank goodness people are civilized today."
"There's more." Orli took me into a large room filled with tables. “This is for hostellers. Tomorrow morning you will seat yourself here eating cereal, then go into sunshine and a day of sightseeing. But not long ago, whole families lived in this room and often never left for five years."
"This was called debtors' prison. If a person owed money, and could not pay, then into debtors' prison with him. And his whole family, bringing their furniture along! Mother, father, children, locked in this room because the father owed two dollars and could not pay. This country had savage laws, Liz."
I shook my head, unable to speak.
Orli walked to a door and pointed at a yard surrounded by high walls. "Are cemeteries making you afraid, Liz? Because there is one, where I point." When I looked puzzled, Orli stepped closer.
"Mysterious deaths in the prison. Mysterious disappearances. At night, a prisoner asleep in his cell. Perhaps he has caused the guards trouble. In the morning, gone."
"Since you must know, Liz, I will tell you. Buried in this yard are the bodies of 200 or more. Perhaps some died of natural reasons, but others not. Shall I show you the rope burns?"
For a moment, I hesitated. Why was Orli telling me all this? Why had she suddenly offered to take me on this strange tour of the prison? It was late, and I had to get some sleep. Already I'd heard enough for a week's worth of nightmares, but there was something about Orli that compelled me to know more. So, like a fool, I nodded my head. "Sure, let' s see the rope burns. I can take it. They grow us tough out west."
With a solemn face, Orli led me through the prison to more stairs. We climbed them in silence, and I confess my heart was thumping pretty hard. Was she leading me into some kind of trap? Orli certainly had a taste for gruesome. Maybe she was setting me up to become body 201 in the yard. Of course I knew that was dumb, but I didn’t feel any better when I suddenly saw a hangman’s rope.
“The gallows,” Orli whispered dramatically. “Now, Liz listen to me. Your cell is just down that corridor, on death row. Do you know why they call it that?”
“Prisoners sentenced to death are kept in cells on death row.”
“Exactly correct. In 1868 a great leader of this nation, Thomas McGee, was shot to death on Sparks Street, Ottawa. Convicted for the crime was a tailor, named Whelan, and for two years he lived on death row. In fact, in the cell that is yours, Liz."
She paused, and I realized my skin was tingling. Orli could sure tell a story. Now she stepped even closer to stare at me with those huge eyes.
“Two years in that cell, Liz. Waiting, waiting, always waiting. At the end, a voice is heard: James Patrick Whelan, your time has come. The cell door squeaks open, and Whelan takes the last walk of this life. Down the corridor to the gallows. Over his head is put a hood. Around his neck, the rope. Liz, it is a terrible moment. A prayer is heard.” Orli turned and pointed dramatically at a pedal on the floor.
“Slowly the executioner reaches his foot forward, then pushes down hard on that pedal. With a terrible screech that can be heard by every prisoner on death row, the metal doors beneath Whelan fall open. An agonizing cry as the prisoner drops, and then . . . silence.”
I stared at her, horrified.
Orli pointed at the stairs we’d just climbed. “Do you see those rope burns in the wooden railing? After the execution, a coffin was lowered on ropes. Inside, the body of James Patrick Whelan, still warm.”
“Reaching the ground floor, the coffin is carried into the yard. And it is buried. Whelan is gone forever.”
“What about the other 199 people? Were they all executed, too?"
“Liz, in this prison were only six official executions. Such as Whelan.”
“Well, why did the others die?”
Orli stared at me, hard. “Who knows for sure?”
“Well,” I said, taking a deep breath. “It’s been an interesting evening. I doubt if I’ll sleep tonight, but what the heck . . .”
“Plenty of time to sleep, once you're in the grave,” Orli said solemnly. “Those are the famous words of Benjamin Franklin.”
“He must have been a real fun guy.”
“Liz, it has been a real nice evening for me, but now I must say goodbye.” Orli looked at me carefully. “Are you a deep sleeper?”
“Normally, but not after this tour.”
“Good night, Liz. Don’t let the screams bother you.”
“What screams?” I yelped, but Orli just waved a hand and disappeared down the stairs. Obviously she was trying to psyche me out, to put me in a cold sweat so I’d lie awake all night, staring at the bars of my cell while I waited for the 200 ghosts to rise up from the prison yard and float around my head moaning Elizabeth Kean Austen, your time has come. Well, it wasn't going to work.
Whistling cheerfully, I walked down death row. In the darkness of a cell something stirred, then I saw the pale shape of a face. "Will you quit the whistling?" the face mumbled. "I'm trying to sleep."
In another cell, someone was reading in bed. Light from the bare bulb cast long shadows across the corridor as I approached my cell, swung open the bars, and fumbled around arranging my sleeping bag. All the while thinking that James Patrick Whelan had spent two years in this actual cell, waiting and waiting and waiting.
By the time I crawled into my sleeping bag I was feeling pretty grim. I lay with my hands behind my head, my eyes on the ceiling, imagining the sound of the executioner's footsteps approaching along the corridor.
It was a long, long time before I fell asleep. Then, as images of ropes and graves and rats tumbled through my mind, I heard the most horrible sound of my life.
I knew at once that the metal doors of the gallows had fallen open! I sat up, terrified, as the terrible banging of the doors was followed by a scream that sent fear racing through my body in cold waves. Leaping out of bed, I grabbed my robe and ran into the corridor. Other people were already outside their cells, staring at the door that led to the gallows.
"Don't go down there!" a girl warned as I started walking toward the door. "It sounds as if someone's been executed."
"Don't be dumb," I said, even though my heart was thudding with fear. "Those gallows aren't used anymore."
"Then why do they keep the rope? And, listen, you can still hear those trap doors swinging back and forth. You're crazy! Don't go out there."
Ignoring her, I reached for the handle of the door and slowly pushed it open. For a moment I was only aware of the powerful lights that had turned the gallows a blood-red colour, and then my heart leapt.
Swinging from the rope was a body.
Whose Body Was Hanging From The Rope? What Does Liz Do After This Discovery? To Find Out, Click On Buy Eric's Books.
Back to the list of Eric's books Back to Eric's Home Page VAMPIRES OF OTTAWA. Copyright 2012 by Eric Hamilton WilsonAll rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced inany manner whatsoever without prior written permission except in thecase of brief quotations embodied in reviews.