Hi, listeners, it's Alistaire from PARCA Network, and I've got a series so ghoulish and ghastly, you'll think twice about turning the lights off before bed. It's called Haunted Places Ghost Stories, and it conjures up the most chilling tales from around the world every Thursday. Dare to face your fears. As I retells some of the scariest, most hair raising ghost stories ever imagined from the classics of our time to the gems you never even knew existed. Each story finds its way into your consciousness and holds on for dear life.
Ready for more? Here's an exclusive episode from the mind of Bram Stoker called The Judge's House. It's a part one, so if you enjoy it, head over to haunted places, ghost stories and catch part two. There you'll find other tales of terror from some of history's most famous authors. Listen free on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. This episode contains descriptions of gore, rats, insect horror and capital punishment, some included imagery may trigger claustrophobia.
We advise extreme caution for children under 13. The following is from the judge's house by Bram Stoker. Tonight, the rats disturbed him more than they had done on the previous night.
How they scampered up and down and under and over, how they squeaked and scratched and gnawed, how they getting bolder by degrees, came to the mouths of their holes and to the chinks and cracks and crannies in the wainscoting till their eyes shone like tiny lamps as the firelight rose and fell. Sometimes the boldest of them made sallies out on the floor or along the moldings of the wainscot. Now and again, as they disturbed him, Malcomson made a sound to frighten them, smiting the table with his hand or giving a fierce hush hush so that they fled straight away to their holes.
Hi, everyone, I'm Alastair Murden, and this is Haunted Places Ghost Stories, a Spotify original from podcast. Ghost stories have arisen from every century and every corner of the world, from the streets of Victorian Whitechapel to the temples of Japan with a seated around the campfire or curled up with a pair of headphones. We return to them time and again to feel our skin crawl and our hearts race. Episodes of ghost stories are inspired by classic short stories from some of history's greatest authors.
The following version is our own unique take. It may feel familiar in some ways and different in others. We hope you enjoy it. You can find episodes of ghost stories and all other originals from podcast for free on Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. Today's story is the Judges House, and it comes from one of the biggest names in 19th and 20th century horror. Bram Stoker, the Irish author, cut his teeth on short stories, many of which demonstrate his groundbreaking use of psychological horror and gore.
I will be narrating this story as Malcolm Malcomson, a student at Cambridge who is preparing for the mathematical trip, was one of the oldest, most difficult exams at the university. Doing well on the exam means the potential for upward mobility. So Malcolm travels to the countryside, seeking solitude for his studies. When he finds the perfect place to stay, he dismisses the town folks warnings about the old house as merely superstition. But Malcolm's devotion to logic may prove to be his downfall.
Coming up, we'll head to a haunted house in search of peace and quiet.
For as long as I can remember, I have gazed at the stars under those celestial bodies. I wasn't the son of a miner from Durham. In tracing their patterns, IMAP worlds that even kings and gentry cannot master. There are no accents or purses in the heavens, no inevitable descent into the cold tunnels that my brothers must enter. The sky offers only numbers and light. It is my solace and my escape, and I endeavor to study it until the day I die.
I could not do that, however, without the tripods exam and I could not place well in the tripods without a coach and I could not afford a coach. So I was forced to become my own. For that. I needed absolute focus. I needed a place where I could sit and think for hours with nothing to distract me, preferably a cheap place. So I examined a rail schedule for the northern line and picked the first stop. I didn't recognize.
I prayed that I would find what I needed there. I was relieved when I disembarked at the sleepy town of Ben Church as the platform and main streets were nearly empty. There was only one in called the Good Traveller, which seems a thoroughly optimistic name considering the slow way the few neighbors moved about the village. I doubt it. They had travelled more than two stops on the train and all their lives. Still, it was the perfect place for the time being.
I spoke with the innkeeper, Mrs Whitham, and arranged to stay for a night until I could find something even more secluded to rent for a longer term. It didn't take long until I did.
The next morning, I was on a leisurely walk through the sheep fields outside of town when I came upon an immense house of the Jacobean style, the heaviness of the Gables and Trem gave it an air of a fortress rather than a home. The facade was dominated by a set of large windows on the second floor. The round shape of them suggested to eyes weighed down with age, staring out at the world in judgment. But strange architecture aside, the home was completely devoid of life and thus promising.
I strode up the front steps and peered through one of the windows. I spied a lushly decorated study with large oil paintings on the walls. The furniture was upholstered in blood reds and inky blacks, and a long green velvet rope hung down near the fireplace. It reminded me of my tutor's office at Cambridge and I was sure the familiarity would provide comfort.
I could work for hours in this space. I knew it. I turned to descend the steps and was startled by a pale figure standing on the other side of the stone wall by the road. His round glasses glinted in the sun, obscuring his eyes.
I had no idea what to do, so I simply waved. He did not move. Then I heard a strange sound from within the house, like a human sign, I whipped around to look, but the house was still and when I turned back, the bespectacled man was gone.
I told myself it was just a nosy neighbor and a lively gust of wind. What was important is that I had a study space to secure.
I went to the town's sole solicitor and made inquiries, Mr Cranford was an elderly gentleman with an easy smile. He told me the house was empty and they'd be happy to rent it to me and rather cheaply at that. I could not believe my good fortune when I went back to the inn to collect my belongings. I asked Mrs Whitham if she could help me move some items to the house on the Hill. Her face paled, as she said, Pardon me, sir, but I would never let a child of mine sleep in that house seen so much violence.
I wouldn't be surprised if there was something lurking in the walls. Not that we believe in the supernatural around here. Small towns had their eccentricities. This kind of talk would be silly in London, but I didn't want to appear disrespectful. So I said, Of course, Mrs Witham, I'll do my best to protect myself. Do you have any suggestions? She seemed comforted and replied, My boys and I will help you set up things. If I were you, though, I'd keep my hands wrapped around that alarm bell called.
We can hear the bell from any spot in town and it might be your best chance at escaping unscathed. Not that you'd need to escape, just saying theoretically. Then she grinned tightly. So that was why the green velvet cord was important. I nodded graciously, although I knew I had no need for the bell in an empty house, the only real danger I faced was my tendency toward distraction.
That afternoon, I entered the old house with Mrs. Wisdom and her sons bearing various accoutrements of domesticity. The air was damp, but inside the place looked to be in pristine condition. I wish to stay in the old study I had seen through the window the day before, so we lit the lamps and Mrs. Wissam's boys pulled a bed into the room. It would be best to take my meals in there as well, Mrs. Witham said as she cleaned the drafts and the rest of the house would rattle my bones.
She then had screens placed around the bed explaining this, not to see what's in the shadows, sir. I stared at the white screens, watching Mrs. Whitham silhouettes tremble in the lamplight. I knew her mind was conjuring corpses that would rip through the thin fabric and pulled the life from me. But frankly, her superstitious nature was making me less worried about my own well-being and more concerned about her psyche. I hated to see her suffer. So as the witness left, I quietly asked her older son to keep an eye on her.
Then as soon as they walked out the door, I removed the screen on the beds window sighed. I needed the night stars to remind me of my cause. That evening, I had my supper and then got down to studying, soon I was lost in a sea of numbers with no need for an all. However, when those equations and theorems began to spin and swirl in front of my eyes, I thought it best to stop for a bit and have some tea.
Just then, a soft tittering came from nearby like whispers at a gala, the noises were soft but ever present an unseen wave washing through the room. Was this the ephemeral something that Mrs. Whitham feared? I left my chair and walked to the hearth. The closer I got, the clearer the sound became. I realized my initial thought was wrong, there was nothing human here, it was more like the scratching of talons from inside the wall.
I reached the wall and placed my ear against it. The sounds did not change. There was still moving about just louder. Now they were too big to be insects for the wall seemed too thin to house anything else.
My imagination conjured images of glittering black beetles and I had to reassure myself that insects had no true interest in people annoyed with my own gullibility. I knocked on the wall to chase away whatever animal was taking liberties with my new abode. I couldn't study with this noise carrying on, but the sound only grew around me to the point where I wasn't sure if it was in the walls or in my ears. I heard a great churning of small legs and I swore I could feel a millipede slipping through my eardrum, intent on devouring the contents of my skull.
No, I've pushed my head away from the wall. I could not go on like this. I was a man of reason. If there was a creature inside me, I would have noticed a traitorous voice inside my head whispered that I hadn't noticed anything until I put my books down. Maybe this was the price for ignoring my studies.
I sat back down and tried to read, but the noises were too loud. They grew more distinct in their volume, more mammal than insect, something larger and more solid. Thousands of tiny claws thrashing against old wood in a frenzy. I'd watched a flock of carrion birds once. As they took to the sky. They screech like they were being flayed from the inside out. They flew as if they would die if they could not leave the ground. That same desperation was all around me.
Something even larger was creating a disturbance within the walls, and all the smaller creatures seemed to be in a frantic fight to get out. I lost my hands over my ears and hummed, but it was not enough to drown out the sound. Then, almost 30 seconds later, all the sound died out entirely. The change was so sudden that I lost my hold on the desk and fell to the floor. I prayed that the silence would stay or else I knew I would have no hope of getting back to my studies.
I pulled myself to my feet when I caught sight of a blur next to the fire.
I froze, then rose inch by inch, drawing my eyes to the motion. A dark shape was climbing the ornate legs of a chair that I hadn't noticed before. Which was very strange as it was the most striking piece in the room by far, the frame was black walnut with tall spires at the top. It evokes something sinister somehow, like some throne of hell. The Velvet Back was a blistering read and invoked thoughts of fire and brimstone. The dark shape had settled on the crimson seat, eyes glittering in the darkness.
It was then I realized what it was sitting before me was the largest rat I'd ever seen. Two feet long at least, its brown fur was as smooth and silky as my own hair. It was the face, however, that held my attention. The pinched nose led to angular cheeks and large round eyes that were a deep, cold, blue. There was something eerily human about it. It opened its mouth to reveal razor sharp teeth and I began to slowly back away.
I could understand why the creatures in the wall were so unhappy. This was more of a small dog than a rodent, and it was waiting for the opportunity to attack. I took one more step backward. And the rat launched itself at me. Coming up, Malcolm meets his new roommates, all 10000 of them now back to the story.
When you rent an old country house to study for the most important exam in your burgeoning astronomy career, well, it's best to make sure the walls aren't teeming with monstrous vermin. I learned this lesson firsthand when I was ripped from my work by the sudden arrival of a two foot long rat which shot at me like a hairy comet. I fell back, but as it moved forward, the mathematician in me gleaned that the parabola of the animal's flight was not meant to intersect with me.
It flew through the air and landed on the long green cord that hung from the ceiling. The alarm bell. The rat did not weigh enough to pull it down. It only scattered up the cord and went somewhere the light couldn't reach. I tried to keep Mrs. Whitlams words out of my mind.
The innkeeper saw ghosts under every seat cushion, but there were no ghosts here, only one rather large rodent and a cluster of poor creatures in the wall who were unable to escape it. Still, as I retired, I couldn't pull my gaze from the screens Mrs Whitham sons had erected around my bed. Though I had removed the screen nearest to the window, the windows themselves were rather small for a house so big it was hard to catch a view of my stars.
So I dragged the bed closer and slid under the blankets again. But as I turned toward the window, I caught movement on the screens behind me. There were shadows moving on the other side. Slowly, the shadows began to grow. One small shape landed atop another until the sheep climbed up the screen, beginning to take on a recognizable form. I shut my eyes and tried to ignore the quiet, squeaking the pad of tiny feet. I told myself it was only my imagination.
I was filling in the gaps. My mind's need to quantify the world was building something that looked familiar to me, though it was nothing at all. I tried to reassure myself, but I was still cursed with the scientists need to see. I had to open my eyes.
That was a person on the other side of my screen, I could only make out the shape, but there was a head with broad shoulders beneath it. But the body was too thin, more a sliver than anything else. But that was the nature of shadows. They distorted proportions. I did not want to confront the shape, lest my worst fears be confirmed, if this were a burglar or some other ruffian who had long made use of the house.
The best course of action was to stay where I was, let them rifle through my things, or take whatever they want. As long as my body was intact, I would be all right. I watched the shape for a long time, both of us, as still as the dead in their graves. Then, as the bell in the church tower struck for the shadow quivered slightly, becoming so thin and angular that it almost ceased to be a man at all.
The glow of the moon and the stars did distort shadows. I knew this intimately as I had calculated hundreds, if not thousands of problems to this effect as I studied by astronomy. But shadows did not distort like this. This broke the rules of light itself. I considered investigating. I needed to understand what strange world I had entered, where the principles of science that had driven my whole life no longer applied. But I felt such a grip of cold fear upon me that I could not move.
Much time passed that way. And then, though I struggled, sleep took me before I could escape my corporeal prison. When I awoke the next morning, the shape was gone. I set off for the end to have a fresh breakfast, I'll admit I felt relief wash over me where Mrs. Whitham fussed about my plate.
She exclaimed, Oh, sir, I was up half the night with worry.
You look paler than yesterday, but I'm so glad to see you. I assured her that I'd slept quite well. It did not seem fair to tell her the truth, yet her eyes examined every crack and crevice of my face. I decided it might be best to put her lingering fears to rest.
So I insisted. I'm happy to report. I didn't see any ghouls or goblins skulking about the place, but there was a strange rat.
Mrs. Whitham spilled a picture of ale on the table and hurried to clean it up, waving me off with the other hand to continue with the story. I stifled the chuckle and began again, he sat on top of a black walnut chair as though he was human. I know it sounds absurd, but the light of day comical even. But last night by this rat looked like Satan lording over his kingdom. Mrs. Whitham muttered, You know, no outright you are.
I asked for clarification, but she did not offer any. She left to refill her picture and I decided to enjoy the pleasant noise around me as the townspeople came in and out. It was easy to forget my fears the house was a tomb teeming with rats, but here on a sunny market day, at the end, I felt the hum of life. Then a voice startled me when it whispered. She means well. I turned to find a man behind me, the same spectacled man who'd been watching the house the day I'd found it, his hair was thinning and his glasses were as round as saucers.
He continued, I don't mean to intrude. I only had a conversation with Mrs. Whitham this morning about the old judge's house being rented out. I'm Dr. Thornhill. He held out his hand, but I was not sure what to make of this doctor. He possessed the common countenance of his profession, concealing his real thoughts behind a mask of geniality. Finally, I shook his proffered hand and told him of the rats odd behavior and the path it scampered up.
The famous alarm bell, the smile on his face twisted as he murmured. There's an interesting story behind that alarm bell, if you care to hear it. I could not tell if he was merely teasing me or trying to warn me of something, but I nodded. Asking for him to explain, Thornhill began his tale. The old judge was a crude, stone faced man.
He had a harsh view of the law and loved the spectacle of a hanging.
He hanged anyone that he could. Our town lost nearly three hundred people to his gavel.
I gasped at the number for such a small town that many hangings would have a devastating effect on the economy and families, of course. I was unnerved. I did not see what the story had to do with the vermin lurking in my walls, so all I said was, I am sorry for the town's loss. What a dreadful thing to endure. Dr. Thornhill blew out a long breath. I could see him summoning his courage to finish his sentence before he continued.
The green cord was the judge's instrument of torture. Each one of his victims was hanged with it around their neck.
When he retired, the judge moved the rope to his house to act as the pull for his alarm bell.
That way, even if he called for help, he would grab hold of it and remember his previous strength. A shrill cry came from behind us. I turned my gaze away from the doctor to see Mrs. Whitham shaking with her hands braced against the countertop, she pleaded, Please don't speak of the judge.
Hey, Dr. Thornhill, he will hear you. He may already be listening, watching this poor boy.
Thornhill got up and went to her, soothing her as best he could, not wanting to cause any more distress to this beleaguered woman and being quite uncomfortable myself.
I rose to take my leave and only just walked out the door when I realized I'd left my hat on the table, frustrated that I would have to suffer through more talk of imaginary Spectre's, I tiptoed back into the dining room as quietly as I could. What I heard there chilled me to the bone. Mrs. Whitham hiss to the doctor. You shouldn't have told him about the bell. He has quite enough to upset him. Stonehill's tone was a clear attempt to calm, but I could feel the defensiveness and unease beneath it as he insisted I needed to, he must remember the rope no matter what happens, if he can just grab the rope, we'll be able to save him.
I had no idea what Dr. Thornhill was saying, so I braced myself against the door frame and listened. The doctor continued, Vivian, I will not lose another innocent to that house, even if it seems the young man does not heed warnings out of the judge has his sights set on him. It's too late for us to intervene.
I am sure the bell will ring tonight when the judge comes calling. If the young man gets to bed early enough, there is some chance of keeping him alive. But he must escape of his own accord. I slipped in and grabbed my hat, pretending to not have heard their warnings and mulling this new information. A man had died in the house, supposedly because he could not reach the cord. That could be any reason for that. And yet even Dr.
Thornhill, a man of reason like me, was convinced the judge was still inside. As I walked back, I thought of the dark shape that had formed behind my screen the night before, the man that lay in wait only to become a most improbable shadow. I knew that no matter what happened, I would have trouble sleeping that night. But sleep is for the uncurious. I would get to the bottom of this. I'd spend another night in that house, exposed the town's ghost as the ridiculous legend it was, and still make time for some rigorous studying.
I marched up the hill confident that the stars were at my back. As long as they burned above me, I would be safe. I was sure of it. I threw the door open to my new home. The rodents welcomed me with rustling, but I resolved to be unafraid. The Tripods exam was my way to escape all forms of darkness, like the mines where my family worked and this home's vermin filled walls. To succeed in my studies, I'd have to eliminate all distractions.
I am an astronomer, not an exterminator. But I knew there was only one logical course of action to take. It was time to hunt a giant rat. Thanks again for tuning in to haunted places, ghost stories, we will be back on Thursday with the conclusion to our adaptation of Bram Stoker's The Judge's House. You can find more episodes of Ghost Stories and all other Spotify originals from podcast Free on Spotify. See you on the other side. Haunted Places Ghost Stories is a Spotify original from podcast.
It is executive produced by Max Cutler Sound, designed by Kenny Hobbs with production assistance by Ron Shapiro, Carly Madden and Erin Larson. This episode of Haunted Places Ghost Stories was adapted by Lil Dorita and Jennifer Rachet with writing assistants by Alex Garland, fact checking by Adrianna Romero and research by Mikki Taylor. I'm Alastair Murden. Hey there, Alastair, again, thanks for tuning in for part one of the judges house. You can hear part two and more forays into freight by following haunted places, ghost stories free on Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.