The Ghouls of Calle Goya
by Owen Jones
1 LAKE MJØSA, NORWAY
The old Baron was seated at the large, highly polished, teak and leather desk in his study looking out over the lake before him. He was short for a Norwegian, about five feet eight inches, had distinguished curly grey hair, a rather round face with brown, bespectacled eyes and was dressed casually in a dark green cashmere cardigan, open-necked-shirt, and grey flannel trousers, since he was not expecting any visitors until possibly after lunch. The perfect silence was only occasionally broken by the sound of ice cracking on the lake outside or birds foraging for small fish in the shallows. The old castle had stood secluded in its large grounds for five centuries and the current baron had spent all of his time there after finishing his education. Quietness was ingrained in him.
When the long-awaited tap on the door eventually came, he answered it in a surprisingly loud voice.
“Enter! Ah, Maximillian, I hope that you have good news for me”. There was more than a hint of impatience in his voice.
“Yes, Herr Baron, I am certain that I have. The telephone line and the satellite dish have been restored to fully functioning order after the storm last night and the post has been delivered”. Maximillian proffered the silver tray he was carrying to the Baron, who picked up the dozen or so envelopes on it.
“So, that means that telephone, broadband and satellite communications have been completely restored?”
“My tests suggest that that is indeed so, Herr Baron”.
“Very good. Thank you, Maximillian. You may proceed with the preparations. Is everything progressing as planned in that matter?”
“Yes, sir, there are no problems”.
The Baron fanned the letters and the butler left in complete silence, although before he pulled the door to behind him, he did allow himself one glance at his employer’s face. He thought it an extremely courageous and cheeky thing to do, but he liked to be aware of the Baron’s mood at all times.
Maximillian had been the Baron’s manservant at university in Heidelberg, when they had both been young men. He was German, and was the only person allowed to call him Herr Baron. He was completely trusted by the whole household. They had been together for more than fifty years and they knew each other better than they did their own wives.
The Baron was looking for the heavy, dark-green envelopes that signified that they came from the closest members of his family and the community within which he worked. These he opened with an obvious sense of trepidation, putting the others aside until later. He was smiling as he withdrew the RSVP cards one after the other. There were eight of them. He held them up before him and spoke to an old family portrait.
“The clan is gathering, grandfather Peter. We will be one again and continue the ancient family tradition!”
The walls of the panelled study were lined with family portraits, but there were two in particular that the Baron wanted to view at that moment. However, they were not on display to everyone, not that many people ever made it into the intimacy of his private study anyway. Only a handful of business managers, solicitors, accountants and the like had ever been through its door.
However, the Baron had another room, a secret room, off his office. It had always been there, since the castle was constructed, but along with millions of dollars of other restoration work, it had been brought into the Twenty-first Century with state-of-the-art security, life-support and communication systems. He activated the remote control device in his pocket and a perfectly hidden panel slid open – silently.
The room was large by any standards. In the centre, stood a perfect, round, table with thirteen matching chairs; a seemingly unnecessary antique chandelier hung over its centre, but its candles could be lit with piezo lighters and doused with puffs of air from canisters of compressed air that were operated by the same remote control. However, it was only ever used on very special occasions because the room was already perfectly illuminated by concealed lighting, which could be adjusted to suit the circumstances. As he entered what he referred to as The Sanctuary, he pressed another button on the remote and half of the opposite wall came to life with a scene from outside the castle. It was a special one-way window, which could be made to give a view or not by passing an electrical charge through the glass.
However, the Baron paid scant attention to the swans foraging on the lake outside. He pushed more buttons, and two other panes of glass were activated revealing his most prized possessions. One oil painting and a sketch in controlled environments became visible. The Baron held up the RSVP cards to the man in the painting and spoke.
“The four-hundredth annual gathering of our clan is about to take place, O Most Revered Ancestor. They have long-tried to deny your connection to our family, but we have never been cowed. We have never denied you and nor will we ever! We know that we are of the same blood and we will keep the faith! Just three more days and we will all be reunited again – I trust that you will be able to honour us with your presence on that auspicious day, even if only for a short while?”
The Baron smiled as he felt that he had been answered in the affirmative silently in his head by telepathy. He smiled at the wiry-haired, middle-aged gentleman in the picture and again felt an answer. He moved to the woman in the second picture. It was not a portrait, but depicted only one person in the scene. He bowed slightly and clicked his heels in the best way of showing his deepest respect that he knew.
“Revered Ancestors, your will will be done according to our ancient family tradition”. Having said that, he bowed again to each painting, turned on his heels, left The Sanctuary and pressed the button necessary to put the room into lock-down once more with only a barely audible swoosh from the door. He returned to his desk, switched his computer on and called his butler again.
“Maximillian”, he said, “it appears that communications have indeed been restored to normal again. The letters I received this morning indicate that the traditional family gathering will proceed as planned. Be so good as to implement the ancient procedures for the combined four-hundredth gathering and one hundredth special initiation. You have prepared for a dozen initiations before, have you not, Maximillian?”
“That is correct, Herr Baron, this will be the thirteenth time”.
“Your service is much appreciated, Maximillian, not only by myself but by the whole family. Have the new members of staff been appraised of their duties during the gathering and been instructed where they may and may not go during the two days of the celebrations?”
“Yes, sir, everything is as it should be”.
“Accommodation, for our staying guests, food, drink, special needs, etc?”
“Yes, Herr Baron, I have taken care of all those details personally”.
“Is there anything you want me to deal with?”
“No, sir, only those things, about which I know nothing”.
“Very well, you may continue with your duties, Maximillian”.
“Yes, Herr Baron”.
With that, the Baron turned his attention to his everyday business activities and paid the butler no further heed.
The thirty-one staying guests arrived almost at the same time the following afternoon. They arrived in their own vehicles, mostly by car, although two flew in using their own helicopters. There were eleven members of the Inner Circle, four candidates, ten spouses and six teenagers. Spouses were allowed as were children over thirteen, but they were not classified as Inner Circle, which comprised the Baron, the Baroness and eleven other close friends and family members. The non-Inner Circle guests were kept at a distance from the main purpose of the event. Partners, girlfriends and boyfriends were strictly forbidden.
The eleven other Inner Circle members were all blood relatives, however distant and they had ten spouses and ten children between them. Four of those children had been selected for ‘special attention’.
At the First Degree Ceremony, the candidates are willing, but trepidatious, excited, but wary, and those who knew more about what would be happening to them were saying nothing, although their sponsors were hoping that their own apprentice candidates would pass the test and prove that their judgement had not been impaired by the ties of parenthood. If they passed the test, they would become acolytes – aspirants to join the Inner Circle and learn the secrets of its members, when one of them passed on to meet the Great Ancestors.
The Inner Circle members were old but not ancient, and, being rich, they had access to the best medical care anywhere in the world. The Baron, at seventy, was the second youngest on the Board, as the Inner Circle was sometimes called, after his wife, Ingrid, and was its president. His wife was a decade younger and its chairperson. They had not been blessed with children, so they could not populate the Board with their offspring, but they held virtually full control of the group in any case. It was the way that the organisation had been set up four hundred years ago.
In actual fact, in many ways its constitution, such as it was, was quite progressive, in that men and women had equal opportunity, but once a leader had been chosen, he or she could be autocratic, if they so wished. The Baron was so well respected because he always listened to dissent and sometimes accepted the opinions of others as superior to his own, but he didn’t have to.
Presidency and chairpersonship of the Board was for life, or as they put it ‘for the duration of the elected person’s life on Earth’. The Baron and Baroness were expected to fulfil their rôles for another ten to twenty years, but no-one felt any resentment about it. He was, after all, the world’s closest living relative to the ‘Revered Ancestor’, as far as they were concerned. Certainly, others claimed ancestry and some could even prove it, but the Norwegian branch considered that they were the only true family, the only ones who truly understood him and the only true holders of the Faith, even though they were not recognised by mainstream historians or anyone else for that matter.
However, that didn’t concern them one jot. They revelled in it. As far as they were concerned, they knew their ancestry and had no regard for the opinions of outsiders. Sometimes, over the centuries, rumours concerning the secret society had slipped out but they had always been quashed. In the earliest days that would have been achieved by the use of merciless violence, but in the more merciful spirit of modern times, law suites had been just as effective. The Sedolfsen family had access to the most conniving lawyers in the world and were prepared to unleash them at the slightest whiff of scandal.
It didn’t happen very often because newspaper editors knew of the risk they ran if they attacked the Sedolfsens, but a few brave seekers of truth had been bankrupted in the past for trying to expose more than they could prove and the next round of potential exposure was about to begin.
Disgruntled failed potential candidates were the greatest risk. Being young, they often got drunk and revealed details to friends that they should not have. Sometimes, these “friends’ then sold their stories about the powerful, though secretive Sedolfsens on to the press. It would be during the next month or two that they would be at their most vulnerable. The full celebrations were to last two days. The first day was to include local dignitaries and those from farther afield who could make it, but these guests would not be invited to spend the night. When asked the reason for the annual bash, the answer was always the same.
“Oh, we don’t know why any longer! One of our relatives, er, great times twenty uncle Peter, we think, started the tradition of a party on this date four hundred years ago, and no-one has ever thought up a good enough reason to cancel them. We have been holding them every year ever since!”
That had always produced a laugh and an end to the matter. However, the real reason for the first night of the celebrations was to charge the castle with energy that the Inner Circle could harness for use in its own private rituals on the second day.
Not many people understood that and even fewer people noticed that the largest parties occurred every four years, when potential new apprentices were selected.
And this, the one hundredth selection, was to be a spectacular event.