Music: Majestic Nature by Craig Stuart Garfinkle
Artwork by Steve English
Episode 20 – Chaos
Eller Beck watched the Rampant Salamis with increasing admiration. Gone were the days of unsubtle ‘blood and guts’ warfare. Instead, the time had come for cunning and secrecy. They needed to keep their presence unknown, while at the same time testing their formidable adversaries. Eller understood that, if these tiny warriors were going to rule, then they needed to know who and what they were up against.
One of the things that surprised her most was that even the salami shadows were dangerous. Able to separate themselves from their owners, they were organised, vicious and ruthless as they worked to enslave all the other Manor shadows. In no time, nearly all the shadows in the Manor were under their control and forced to act as spies. Gone were the shadows’ freedoms and playfulness, replaced instead by fear, hiding and spying – spying for the Rampant Salami empire to help them find out more about their foe and prepare for the day of battle.
It wasn’t easy at first for the Rampant Salamis to understand their foe. At the very start, the whole thing was almost a complete disaster. The first scouting party had taken shelter in a closet when, at 11:05 on the dot, the vacuum cleaner had suddenly appeared in that same cupboard, and switched on! Their immediate reaction was one of total terror as the cleaner head was perilously close to sucking up some of them. But these salamis where much more resilient and well-trained than previous kingdoms had been.
Even over the scream of the vacuum, Horatio could be heard barking and snarling his way closer, as he bounded towards the noise. The salamis had already spied Horatio and understood just how potentially dangerous he was. So, as the barking grew closer, one of the salamis stood up, waved his hands (there was no way it could be heard above the racket of the cleaner) and indicated for the whole squad to push.
Without hesitation, the whole advance scouting party of 10 salamis rushed forward, shoving and pushing the vacuum cleaner base as hard as they could. At first, it didn’t move. As Horatio’s barking got louder and louder, Eller was impressed by the discipline of the salamis; not one of them ran away. Instead, all 10 pushed with every ounce of strength they had, and the vacuum cleaner base began to shift. Once it started to move, they pushed even harder to keep it going, guiding it towards the door which was ajar because the latch was broken. Nudging the door, it edged open, and the vacuum cleaner began to emerge, just as Horatio came hurtling down the corridor with the Baron careening and lurching his way after the enraged dog.
In his fury and desire to destroy, Horatio yanked the vacuum cleaner out of the closet and flung it across the hallway. Bits of cleaner flew everywhere, littering the floor. The cupboard door just slowly swung back until it was almost closed again.
As she watched Horatio’s fit of destruction, Eller forgot about the salamis who had so very nearly been discovered and destroyed. Remembering them a few moments later, she popped her head back through the door to see what they were doing. It was almost of it they weren’t there at all, sliding under bags and hiding behind boxes, each of them holding little sacks of something – waiting to see what might happen next.
Of course, the danger wasn’t over, for if there is one thing that defines a dog, it’s their incredible sense of smell. Surely Horatio would smell the Rampant Salamis? It wasn’t as if they didn’t niff! Even Eller thought she could smell them at times (which she probably could although there was no control over when it would actually happen).
Once he’d reduced the vacuum cleaner to its components, Horatio stopped and sniffed the air, his nostrils twitching and twisting. Stepping closer to the cupboard where the salamis hid, Horatio hitched the door open with his snout and sniffed inside. He immediately emitted a large howl, and scrabbled desperately backwards out of the cupboard, sneezing and coughing. Eller hadn’t seen or smelt what the salami had used, but she was pretty sure it was some kind of pepper that they had ready in those little bags! They really were a sneaky, cunning enemy.
Poor Horatio was in a terrible state, snorting, sneezing and coughing. By this time, the Baron, Roseberry and even old Thornton had turned up and were trying to pacify Horatio, who was having none of it!
It was Thornton who saved the day by slowly – and yes, Thornton did everything VERY slowly – reaching into his pocket and pulling out a biscuit. The sight of a treat did wonders for the dog, who sat down with one paw waving in the air while still sneezing and occasionally coughing. Not being a very patient dog, as soon as Thornton started to reach out his hand with the biscuit, Horatio jumped up, snatched it from him and started munching.
‘Oh, I say,’ Thornton grumbled quite loudly because, as ever, his hearing aid batteries were dying. Then, chastising the dog a little more, he added, ‘What a terribly rude little dog you are master Horatio.’
As you can imagine, this had no effect whatsoever. Instead, finishing his biscuit, Horatio sneezed again, forcefully, covering Thornton’s neatly pressed trousers with biscuit-filled phlegm. Then, giving the briefest of glances over his shoulder towards the apparently silent and unoccupied cupboard, he made a tactical retreat, intending to keep well away from that cupboard in future.
‘You geniuses!’ Eller said to herself as she watched Horatio leave. Then, turning to the little salamis still hiding in the cupboard, she added, ‘You’ve made it so that whenever that dog gets the slightest scent of you, he’s going to remember this and keep well away!’
While she was certainly impressed by their strategy, Eller also had a growing sense of unease. It wasn’t quite panic – but, given enough time, it could get there. These Rampant Salamis were dangerous creatures and, when she thought back to that little shadow amid all those other shadows, she spoke her thoughts out loud.
‘These are probably the most dangerous things I’ve come across in this strange place.’
As if to confirm it, the little shadow salami, still with its flat cap pushed forwards, appeared as if from nowhere. It marched into the cupboard, no doubt passing on information it had gathered.
As the days and weeks passed by, things slowly but noticeably started to change. Objects would go missing or get moved, the most notable being Thornton’s hearing aids which had the added problem of him not being able to hear anything.
In reality, while this led to some hilarious conversations, it didn’t really make much difference. That was because Thornton was so ineffective in his duties that everyone else had been bypassing him for years. He was loved, and they enjoyed having him around but, in reality, he hadn’t actually done anything particularly helpful for a long time; except perhaps when it came to looking after Horatio.
In one room all the shadows disappeared for well over a week. When they returned, they didn’t seem quite the same, preferring to stick to their objects more than usual.
Then there were the things that started to appear in places they didn’t belong: toilet roll in the fridge; pins on seats; clocks upside-down; mirrors back-to-front; lamps in cupboards; toothpaste tubes emptied out on the front door mat! Plates were found broken in the boot-room sink (and it wasn’t Thornton’s attempt to wash-up as, clearly, Thornton never did any washing-up).
Keys moved from where they were usually kept to different places. One day, the back door keys disappeared, which caused quite a panic until they were eventually found hanging off Stokesley’s antlers.
The Baron disliked Stokesley the moose head and would have never chosen to have such a thing in the Manor. The working theory for the creature’s presence was that Stokesley was a visitor from one of those rooms that appeared briefly and then disappeared again. It would seem that for some reason he simply didn’t want to leave. The Baron had tried to move him out of sight several times before realising that Stokesley could appear on any wall he liked, at any time. He even tried putting Stokesley in the attic. It didn’t work. No matter what he did, within no time at all, Stokesley would return and hang himself back up on the wall above the large mirror in the entrance hall, usually with a rather smug expression on his face and chewing … something! However, when the keys were found hanging on his antlers, Stokesley looked decidedly cross (which pleased the Baron quite a lot)!
As it transpired, Stokesley actually did them a favour. Without him being annoyed by the arrival of the keys, they probably wouldn’t have found them. When Stokesley discovered the keys on his antlers, he started shaking his head to try and dislodge them, causing them to clatter and clank together. After that, they were hard to miss!
Other strange things happened in the Manor. Roseberry experienced a large, tin jug dropping from the top of a cupboard. Thankfully it just bounced and clattered and got under her feet. More than once, the Baron only just escaped being impaled by cutlery! The worst example (which would have been far worse if it hadn’t been soup spoons) was when the Baron opened a cupboard, and 25 soup spoons fell one after another on top of him. There was no way he could have avoided them, and if they had been sharp knives … This led to people opening and shutting things very gingerly while all the time wondering what was causing all these weird things to happen.
Shadows became more jumpy and fragile. Eller could have sworn she saw one shadow (it looked like a curtain shadow originally) disintegrate into tiny pieces. Watching it fragment, she thought it seemed as if it was being ripped apart by lots of little hands.
Perhaps the oddest thing to occur was that, one by one, all the rooms except the kitchen had every bit of food and drink removed from them. Whole bottles would disappear, and even the glass of water beside Roseberry’s bed went missing one night! And you wouldn’t believe the fuss she kicked up when the last piece of her favourite cake that she’d kept to one side vanished!
When the bottles and food started disappearing, everyone began to take the strange things that were happening in the Manor far more seriously, which led to ‘the meeting’!