The Stigmata of Miramont Castle

“The Stigmata of Miramont Castle” is the third of several Colorado-based short stories written by local authors we’ll be publishing on the Denver Horror Collective website and in The Epitaph newsletter, as a lead-up to the fall release of Terror at 5280′, our local horror fiction anthology.

Montcalme-Sanitarium

Photo: Pikes Peak Library District

The Stigmata of Miramont Castle

by Matthew Amorebello

The octagonal room boomed with unseen forces. It reeked of rotten wood and stale incense. The wallpaper was a light blue Fleur-de-lis pattern and had gone untouched since the castle had been built in the late 19th century. Rust lined the metal light fixtures. The pulpit was uneven and inappropriately small. A statue of Christ adorned the southern wall with first light beaming across his cheek. The chapel was the highlight of Miramont Castle.

“The East Wing was completed in 1897,” began Lucinda.

Lucinda was Miramont’s tour guide. She was an older woman, with thick dyed black hair. Her voice was nasal, with a condescending tone. She spoke slowly and deliberately to the sole attendant of that morning’s tour.

“The room was Father Francolon’s dining hall,” she continued. “It was converted to a chapel by the Sisters of Mercy, who assumed control of the estate, after his return to France. They renamed the site ‘Montcalme’.”

“And what does that mean?” asked the elderly guest.

“Calm of the mountain,” answered Lucinda.

Lucinda excused herself from the room, as the elderly woman continued to admire the fine woodwork. She circled about the chapel, imagining herself back in time. She breathed in deeply, and the smell of the room overwhelmed her. She grabbed the pew to steady herself.

It was at this moment she became witness to the miracle. The statue of Christ came alive. The hands, feet, and chest oozed blood, pouring out the plaster statue and onto the wooden floor. The face turned to the elderly woman and smiled. Blood began to pour from his thorny crown.

The elderly woman approached the statue. She blessed herself and thanked God for bestowing this honor upon her. Emotion overwhelmed her and she nearly fainted, limping casually backwards into the chapel wall, scratching the blue wallpaper with her hand.

“Lucinda!” yelled the woman.

Lucinda rushed into the room and witnessed the stigmata. She took out her phone and snapped a few photos of the miracle at hand. She turned her attention to the elderly guest, who was on the verge of passing out.

“Are you OK, ma’am?” asked Lucinda.

The elderly woman cupped her face in her hands, rubbing her temples, then her eyes. Tears streamed down her face. She regained her posture and embraced the moment.

“I’ve waited my whole life for a miracle,” she said. “I can now die in peace.”

At that moment, the elderly woman went limp. She fell to the ground like an anvil, striking the creaky floor below.  She was noted to be lifeless upon impact.  Lucinda called for help, and by the time first responders arrived, the old woman was dead.

***

The blue hue of a cell phone screensaver burned Annie’s retina. She cursed the device as she tapped on the screen, silencing the incoming call. She pushed it under her pillow and went back to sleep. Within two minutes, the phone rang again.

“Hello?” said Annie, succumbing to the annoyance.

“Annie,” said a male voice. “This is Father Frys.”

Annie jolted out of bed. She had not spoken to the priest in several months. His call at 3 a.m. was a bad omen.

“Father, are you alright?” she asked.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I need you urgently. There’s a car outside.”

Annie looked out her apartment window. She could see Coors’ Stadium from her LoDo abode. She scouted the streets and noted a dark SUV, lights on, and engine running at the end of the block.

“I’ll be right there,” she said. Annie dressed quickly, throwing on jeans, a sweater, and boots. She brushed her teeth and splashed some water on her eyes. Within minutes, she was knocking on the vehicle window.

Father Frys opened the rear passenger door from within the SUV. He was a large man, obese and jovial, in his fifties. He wore traditional black dress and clerical collar, topped with a scarf and wool overcoat.

“You look well, Father,” said Annie, shaking his hand warmly.

“Take us to Manitou Springs,” said Father Frys to the driver.

The driver spun the SUV around and headed south. The morning darkness became light. I-25 illuminated with light and filled with cars. The arid landscape became more rural south of Denver, as they moved closer to the mission at hand. As they drove, Father Frys updated Annie to the situation.

“Trippy,” she said.

“I was hoping for a slightly more intellectual response,” he quipped.

“Nothing intellectual about it,” she said. “Castle staff fake a stigmata to generate publicity. Old lady with a weak heart died from the shock of it all. Case closed.”

“The Archdiocese of Denver does not agree,” he said. “They have asked me to conduct a full investigation.”

“Why the hell did you wake me up, then?” she asked.

“Blasphemy,” said Father Frys.

“No one says that anymore,” she said, rolling her eyes.

Father Frys smiled.

***

Annie was a journalism student at the University of Colorado Boulder. She was in her senior year and trying to complete her thesis project. That was when she learned of the Abbey of St. Walburga.

The abbey was a convent located in Virginia Dale, about two hours north of Boulder. It was a small farm cooperative, and the nuns were known for living off of their own crops and livestock. It was reported that one of the nuns, Sister Mary Helen, had experienced the stigmata.

With this sort of news, the convent was overrun with news reporters, skeptics, and pilgrims alike. Normally, a small donation was all that was required for a retreat at the abbey, but in light of recent developments, the nuns had upped the ante. It now cost several thousand dollars a night to stay and be witness to the stigmata, should it occur again.

Annie could not afford such a cost, and furthermore, she needed to get closer to the nuns to get the real story. She applied to become a lay nun, so that she could live, study, and gain inside information on Sister Mary Helen. She took a semester off of college and became a member of the convent. The stigmata appeared several times, but Annie was unable to record evidence suggestive of fraud. She needed a confession.

In time, Annie gained Sister Mary Helen’s trust. Even still, the nun would unlikely divulge her secret. Annie constructed a fake care package from her family, and shared the spoils with the nun, which included mandarin oranges, dark chocolate, and cannabis gummy bears. Annie later recorded the nun’s inebriated confession. In short, the Abbey was going to close due to lack of funding and the stigmata was faked in order to attract monetary compensation. The video was posted to the Archdiocese of Denver’s website, and a nuclear sized fallout ensued.

This attracted the attention of Father Frys, the church’s head of public relations at the time. He was impressed with this young lady’s call to social justice, and even though it exposed fellow clergy members as fraudulent, he knew he had witnessed a star in the making. Though she had started her lay clergy studies as a farce, Father Frys encouraged her to finish them. The two had remained friends since, and the quid pro quo relationship had remained beneficial to both parties.

The SUV exited I-25 in Colorado Springs and moved west towards the mountains. Pikes’ Peak could be seen in the distance, towering over the nearby landscape.  Manitou Springs was a forty minute drive from this point.

The town was booming with tourists on this busy Spring morning. The SUV stopped several times to let families, donned in Sunday best, cross the narrow streets. The car veered up the mountain, overgrown bushes and Colorado pines lining the path. A small turnoff for Miramont Castle was noted, and the driver turned up the small road. The SUV didn’t make it far.

The street was packed with people. Cars were bumper to bumper up the road. Merchants selling souvenirs and food trucks were plentiful.  Hundreds of people stood in line waiting for entry to the castle, hoping to catch a glimpse of the miracle. Dozens sat in circles and prayed their rosaries.

Miramont Castle loomed in the distance. It was a stone tudor mansion with green wooden trim. The two wings of the structure surrounded a central courtyard, now filled with people. A heavy wooden door with steel slats marked the primary entrance. The home was built into the mountain, the foundation literally attached to the granite wall behind it. The roof was covered in moss, and the masonry was profoundly cracked in places. Overall, the place had fallen into disrepair.

The driver let Father Frys and Annie out. They would have to walk the quarter mile to the castle without his help. The busy scene was similar to the last fake stigmata Annie had been witness to, and it never ceased to amaze how quickly people lined up to make a quick buck in such a circumstance. They avoided the temptation of a corndog for now, as the pair had a meeting arranged with Father Myers, steward of the estate, and Lucinda, witness of the miracle.

Father Frys led Annie past the castle, up a small hill. He sought out a small passage way, on the western edge of the structure. It was barely two feet across, and led to a stone staircase. The staircase was located between the two wings of the castle and allowed entry onto the third floor. Annie scraped her shoulders as she squeezed up the stairs. Father Frys barely fit at all.

At the top, Father Frys knocked on a small door. After a few moments, Lucinda appeared and let the pair in. She introduced herself and led them into the castle.

They entered the tea room, crossed the parlor, and headed towards the chapel. They passed an ancient, massive piano to their right. To the left, a brick fireplace took up much of the left wall. Small patches of the native rock could be seen through the fractured wainscoting. An exposed steel bar marked the sole location where the foundation had been anchored to the mountain.

“What’s that smell?” asked Annie, as she entered the chapel.

“Oak, lacquer, mildew, incense,” said Lucinda.

“Smells like methane,” said Father Frys.

They surveyed the chapel, noting the atypical walls, aged wallpaper, and statue of Christ. Stains of blood were still visible on the floorboards near the pulpit. A small amount of plaster and torn wallpaper were opposite this, evidence of where the elderly woman had died.

“No evidence tape or chalk outlines?” asked Annie.

“This isn’t a crime scene,” said Lucinda.

“Will there be an autopsy?” asked Father Frys.

“That is up to the coroner,” said Lucinda.

Annie inquired further about the events, and Lucinda reported what she had seen. She was not in the room at the time of the stigmata but had returned to see the old woman die. She explained how she attempted several precordial thumps on the unfortunate woman, but to no avail.

“We’ll need to see the room below this,” said Father Frys.

“Impossible,” said Lucinda. “The boiler room is directly below the chapel. It has been sealed for over a century.”

A youthful man donning priest vestments entered the room. He had a wide smile and glimmering eyes. He spoke loudly and enthusiastically, like he were selling cotton candy at the circus.

“Greetings,” said Father Myers. “Bless this day for a miracle has occurred.”

Father Frys and Annie shook the priest’s hand. They toured the chapel and discussed the historical particulars of the room and the castle at large. They discussed the details of the event and reviewed the photos taken by Lucinda.

“We need to see the room below this one,” said Annie.

“The boiler room has been sealed off for years,” said Father Myers. “There is no way in.”

“If it’s all the same to you,” said Annie. “We’d like to have a look around anyway.

Lucinda and Father Myers looked at each other curiously.

“Whatever you require,” said Father Myers. “Lucinda will give you a map of the premise, and you can perform whatever investigation you deem appropriate.”

Lucinda reached into her purse and retrieved a small trifold brochure, handing it to Annie. They were led out of the chapel to the main staircase. It was a central staircase, composed entirely of wood, connecting each of the floors to this main location. Large glass windows lined the corridor, allowing a tremendous amount of light into the adjacent halls. The pair embarked down the staircase and onto their investigation, allowing Lucinda to get on with the day’s tours.

It was late afternoon, and the final person, a middle aged man name Jack, was allowed into the castle. Due to the larger than normal amount of persons, Lucinda had to perform the tour in fifteen minute blocks, allowing only ten people at a time.  She had shown the site to nearly 300 people that day, a number fifteen times the daily average.

Lucinda led the last party of tern people up the main staircase. The tourists snapped photos and talked quietly. They were equally divided into believers and non-believers, arguing politely amongst themselves about the veracity of the event.

The ten people spread out into the Chapel. They assessed the pews, the statue, and the stink.  hey marveled at the room’s peculiar shape and its bizarre wallpaper. Jack peeled a small piece of the Fleur-de-lis print off the wall and hid it in his handkerchief, quickly hiding the souvenir in his jacket pocket.  The sun moved behind the Rocky Mountains, and the natural lighting of the room began to fade. Lucinda excused herself to get the lights.

“I feel awful,” said Shelby a young woman in the group. “That stench is unbearable.”

Shelby began to wobble, appearing as if she might faint. Jack rushed to her side, catching her as she toppled over. He rested her body on one of the pews. He reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved his handkerchief, handing it to the young woman. She thanked him and wiped her mouth with the cloth.

At that moment, the statue began to bleed. Hands, crown of thorns, and chest all seeped red in unison. Jack ran to the statue and fell to his knees. He blessed himself and began to prey. The others joined in.

Lucinda rushed into the room and noted the spectacle, but her attention was drawn to Shelby, who was still supine on the oak pew. She was cyanotic, not breathing, and a sense of fear overwhelmed Lucinda. She alerted the others to the situation, dialed emergency services, and rushed to the woman.  Jack rushed to Shelby’s side, as well, and began rescue breathing, performing mouth-to-mouth in an attempt to revive her.

A nearby ambulance crew arrived moments later. A pair of EMT’s entered and took over the resuscitation attempts. An endotracheal tube was placed during the sequence. The woman was loaded onto a stretcher and prepped for transport.

The EMTs were about to leave the chapel when Jack collapsed. The emergency professionals called for backup and rushed to the man’s aid. They determined that he, too, was dead. An endotracheal tube was placed and full CPR ensued. The EMTs recruited two of the younger members of the tour to help perform chest compressions as the emergency crew performed bag mask ventilation and dumped gram after gram of epinephrine into the dead.  Once another pair of EMT’s arrived, the two victims were transported down the great staircase and into the ambulances in the courtyard.

“Absolute bullshit,” said Annie.

“I agree, my protégé,” said Father Frys.

“Don’t call me that,” she said.

“Forgive me,” he said.

They toured the first floor, unaware of the events ongoing in the chapel above. They had spent the last several hours and had seen most of the property.  They could not locate a passage to the boiler room.

“They fake the stigmata,” she said. “Why?”

“Money. Publicity. Same reason as the nuns of St. Walburga,” he replied.

“The nuns were sick of farming soy and eating rotten goat meat,” she said. “They were acting on survival. I’d find it hard to believe if Father Myers was doing all of this to save a crummy old house.”

“If it’s him at all,” he said. “We should swing by the county recorder and see who has a vested interest in this place.”

“I like it,” she said. “See who has the most to gain.”

The pair’s attention was turned to the sound of heavy footsteps down the wooden stair case. They rushed to the central stairs and noted two bodies being extracted from the site. Father Frys and Annie rushed up the stairs towards the chapel and ascertained the situation.

Inside the chapel, the remaining members of the tour group were being questioned by local law enforcement. Lucinda appeared uneasy, sitting by herself on the front pew. Father Myers was consoling the remaining tourists, offering his prayers and wisdom. Annie sought out Lucinda, who explained the events.

“He was trying to help her,” said Lucinda.

“He was giving her rescue breaths and he died?” asked Annie.

Lucinda nodded.

Annie looked around the room. She noted a handkerchief on the ground, which she picked up. She opened the cloth, which revealed a small patch of the Fleur-de-lis wallpaper. Annie showed it to Lucinda.

“Whose is this?” asked Annie.

Lucinda slapped the item out of Annie’s hand.

“The wallpaper is laced with arsenic,” said Lucinda.

“What?!” exclaimed Annie.

“That’s how they made this shade of blue in the 1800’s,” said Lucinda. “It’s in the brochure.”

Detective Turner was a stout man. He was thick, muscular, and had a poorly kept red mustache. He paced around the chapel, reviewing the facts at hand. He had taken statements from the remaining tourists and dismissed them home. Lucinda, Annie, Detective Turner, and the two priests remained to discuss the details.

“Victim number one is watching the statue,” said Detective Turner. “She becomes overwhelmed, backing into the wall, in turn scraping a healthy chunk of arsenic off the wallpaper. She touches her face with the poison and curtains.”

“I can buy it,” said Annie.

“Victim number two is handed a handkerchief, similarly contaminated with said poison,” said Detective Turner. “Which she touches to her face. Curtains.”

“Victim number three performs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on victim number three,” said Annie. “Poison touches his face.”

“Curtains,” concluded Detective Turner. “You ain’t half bad at this.  You do some detective work before?”

“I dabble,” said Annie.

The two priests talked quietly by the windows. Outside, they could see dozens of people, sitting in circles and praying. To the casual observer, stigmata and multiple mysterious deaths would seem like divine intervention. In this small chapel, the details were still being worked out.

“You two, fruitcake and the weird broad,” said Detective Turner, pointing at Father Myers, then Lucinda. “You wanna’ tell me what the heck you got cooking in this joint.”

“Are you referring to me?” asked Father Myers, obviously offended.

Annie interjected: “I believe the sheriff here was using a metaphor, in this case a cake, as it were, in reference to the scheme you guys have concocted, or ‘cooked up’.  Isn’t that right, Yosemite Sam?”

“Aces, kid,” said Detective Turner.

Father Myers bowed his head. He put his hands behind his back. He appeared in deep thought as he walked about the room.

“There has been no cooking,” said Father Myers. “None at all.”

“Come on,” said Annie. “You mean to tell me this is a real stigmata?”

Father Myers nodded.

“The condition of this place is horrid,” said Father Frys. “Surely one would understand if you were trying to raise a little money for its repair.”

“Though I see how this appears,” said Father Myers. “I assure you that this is not a hoax.”

Detective Turner walked to the statue of Christ. He inspected it carefully. He rubbed the dried blood on the floorboards and sniffed the tarry substance. He reached for the hand of Christ, paused, then retracted his hand.

“What is it?” asked Father Frys.

“A draft,” said Detective Turner.

Detective Turner reached into his back pocket. He retrieved a stainless steel flask, popped the lid, and took a slug. He poured a splash of the liquor onto the ground, then got to his knees, carefully listening for the effect. The echo of a dripping fluid could be heard in a vast space below them.

“Past hoaxes would typically accomplish the bleeding effects via hidden tubing, chicken blood, and a pump,” said Annie.

“This is not a hoax,” said Lucinda.

“Either way,” said Detective Turner. “We need to see what the heck’s below this room.”

Detective turner raised his hand, making a circle motion with his index finger. The other members of the group surrounded the lawman. He pointed in the direction of the staircase, and the group moved out of the chapel.

Night had fallen as the impromptu search party made way through the castle. The century old lamps barely lit the corridors. They went floor by floor, tapping on walls and looking behind paintings. An entrance to the boiler room had to be found.

After a thorough search of the premise, no new facts had come to light. They were no closer to the truth than when they had started.  The group ended their search near where it had begun, outside the chapel on the third floor. They paused next to the massive fireplace.

“You’re sure there’s no secret wall panels or access hatches?” asked Detective Turner.

“None,” said Lucinda.

“How did one access the boiler room previously?” asked Father Frys.

“When the East Wing was added,” began Father Myers. “The boiler room was sealed over. A more modern furnace was installed in the new wing to replace it, so accessing the room was never necessary.”

“If they installed a modern furnace,” said Annie. “Why would they need such a big fireplace?”

The fireplace was large enough to stand inside. Annie tapped on the bricks. Aside from hurting her knuckles, the gesture didn’t accomplish much. She kicked the structure instead, a loose brick falling from the mantle. It struck the ground with a thud.

Detective Turner pushed Annie aside. He reached into the fireplace, feeling for the vent latch. He found the metal switch and flipped it. The vent snapped open, depositing soot onto the fireplace grill. The detective stepped into the fireplace, ducked into the vent, and shined a small flashlight towards the back. A crawlspace became evident.

Detective Turner, Father Myers, and Annie climbed into the crawlspace. Father Frys, due to his girth, and Lucinda, due to her age, elected to stay behind.  Father Frys placed a cell phone call to Annie, so that the two groups could stay in contact.

They moved on hands and knees down the cold stone. The space was large enough to comfortably crawl, but you couldn’t stand. There was light in the space provided by small cracks in the mason work allowing light from the castle in. The site was surprisingly clean, devoid of dead rodents and spider webs. It smelled like rotten eggs, however, and the group members were immediately nauseated by the stench.

The crawlspace emptied into a small room, which contained a stone doorframe, leading to a wooden staircase. The group moved cautiously down the antiquated wood, which creaked and swayed as they passed. Detective Turner shined his flashlight into the distance and industrial equipment came into view. They moved forward.

“We found the boiler room,” said Annie to Father Frys over her phone.

“We’ll watch the statue,” said Father Frys. “See if you can find the mechanism that triggers the bleeding.”

Detective Turner, Father Myers, and Annie inspected the equipment. There was a large boiler tank connected to multiple pipes. The pipes left the room through small holes in the masonry, presumably bringing water to the other rooms in the castle.

“There’s multiple pipes going out of the room,” said Annie. “We can’t tell where the statue is above us.”

Father Frys moved next to the statue and began inspecting the ground. The dim lighting made it very hard to see. Lucinda grabbed an antique candelabra from the rear of the chapel, lit the candles, and carried it forward, placing the primitive lighting near the statue of Christ.

“Thank you,” said Father Frys.

Father Frys raised his heavy leg in the air. He aimed for the blood stained floorboard beneath the statue. He slammed his foot to the ground, cracking the floor board. He knelt to the ground and began prying out the rotted wood shards, leaving a small hole, about six inches across.

“Can you hear me?” asked Father Frys, calling down the hole.

“Yes,” said Father Myers. “We can see your light as well.”

In the boiler room, the candlelight could be seen through the hole, about twenty feet above. Detective Turner took another drink of his whiskey. He put the flask away and shined the light on the ground near the base of the boiler. Annie felt the base, which revealed multiple levers and switches. She pulled one, which let out a small puff, like retained water had been expelled.

“Did that do anything?” asked Annie.

“Nothing,” said Father Frys.

Father Frys grabbed one of the candles from the candelabra. He stuck the candle into the hole with his right hand. With his left hand, he felt under the board. His left hand struck a metal object, much like a pipe.

“What is my hand touching?” asked Father Frys.

Annie looked up. A copper pipe extended from the base of the floor near Father Frys’ hand. Its path coursed along the ceiling and then down, into the rear of the boiler. Annie put her hand on the pipe and followed it underneath the tank. She found a small lever attached to the pipe, which she pulled.

Methane filled the room, asphyxiating the detective, the priest, and the journalist. The rush of gas through the copper pipe above iced Father Frys’ hand, startling him, and causing the candle to fall from his opposite hand. The occupants of the boiler room sprinted away from the scene as the candle struck the ground and ignited the methane fumes.

The boiler room exploded into flame, throwing the massive tank onto Father Myers, crushing his head; the force was enough to expel his brain from the skull. The flames engulfed Detective Turner, his whiskey soaked mustache igniting, along with the rest of his body. He screamed in agony as flesh melted from bones.

Annie made it to the wooden staircase and sprinted up the burning boards. She looked back at her companions, noting Father Myers’ brainless corpse.  She watched as Detective Turner drew his revolver from his belt holster and fired one shot under his chin, blood erupting from the top of his skull. She dove into the crawlspace and moved swiftly towards the fireplace.

The chapel was torn apart by the blast. The floor disintegrated, dropping the pews into the boiler room below. Lucinda was sucked into the gaping hole, her head striking a piece of debris upon impact, snapping her cervical spine. She lay amidst the flames, paralyzed from her injuries. Due to her injuries, she could not scream, nor could she feel pain; nonetheless, she was absolutely conscious as she roasted to death.

Father Frys was thrown out of the room by the force of the explosion. He turned to the main staircase, which separated from the main floor and crumbled, the remnants falling three stories. He climbed to his feet and sprinted towards the tea room, remembering the secret entrance there. He passed the fireplace and saw Annie trying to escape the fireplace, her head, arms, and torso protruding from the hearth.

“My legs are stuck!” yelled Annie.

Father Frys ran to her, grabbing the hands, and pulling as hard as he could. Another explosion occurred in the boiler room, shifting the castle foundation away from the mountain wall. The fireplace pitched twelve inches forward, severing Annie’s torso from her legs.

He looked down and saw blood rushing from her legless carcass. He flipped her over and looked into her eyes, already pale and dead. He screamed as he dropped her half-corpse.

He rushed thru the tea room door, barely passing the mangled door frame. Flames shot out of the castle behind him as he lunged head first down the stone staircase. The narrow walls slowed his descent, his morbidly obese frame now lodged. Stone from the walls rained down, with two tons of debris crushing his lungs, causing suffocation, followed by death.

The chapel’s structural integrity was devastated by the blasts and further weakened by the fire. The weight of the masonry heaved against the absent floor and pulled the structure apart. Attendees of the candlelight vigil outside watched as the whole of Miramont Castle leaned, then toppled. Stone, wood, brick, and mortar buried the onlookers like an avalanche.

The mountain stood above the carnage, undisturbed by the blast. The morning light brought volunteers, who picked through the rubble, looking for survivors, of which there were none. In all, the tragedy had claimed forty-three lives. Nothing remained of the castle, except for a small remnant of the East Wing. Atop the southern wall sat the statue of Christ, unscathed by the explosion, clinging inexplicably to the stone wall, pouring gallons of blood onto the ruins below. The statue’s head turned, smiled, and promptly burst into flame. Calm of the mountain, indeed.

Matthew Amorebello is an options trader. He lives with his wife and children in Colorado.