Music: Majestic Nature by Craig Stuart Garfinkle
Artwork by Steve English
Episode 13 – The Beast
Of the three villages, maybe, just maybe, Grott was the best one for the mad and raging beast Horatio to have gone. This was because Grott’s enchantment was that, as full moon approached, every Grott villager descended into slime – as did nearly everything in the village of Grott. So, while Horatio could easily find the Grotts, it wouldn’t be so easy for him to attack them. Put simply, by this point, the Grotts had decayed to little more than lumps of mucus.
Strangely, the Grotts were actually better off than both the Rotts and the Snotts. You see, even as slimy mucus, they had somehow managed to work out how to slither around. The Snotts, on the other hand, were tiny by this stage. Being so small, it seemed unlikely the beast would be able to find them. However, if he did search them out, there wouldn’t be any escape – remember, dogs have an incredible sense of smell. It was the Rott villagers who were in the greatest danger. As full moon approached, their disintegration accelerated until they were heaps of disconnected body parts with clouds of flies circling around them, easy pickings.
As Eller entered the village, her heart sank. The beast Horatio was in the middle of the village square leaping from one lump of mucus to another. Each time he sniffed at the slime, it retreated slightly, but Eller’s keen eyes had seen a problem. There was a Rott in the village square! You could tell by the pile of putrid pieces and the flies. But most of all, you could tell by the shimmering badge. It was Knayton Borrowby – everyone knew his badge. It read R – CAD, which he had told everyone stood for Caring and Delightful and, being Rott, Grott & Snott, everyone believed him!
Cod had also seen Knayton and seemed to be attempting to get to him, to make some kind of defence against Horatio. But, every time Cod moved towards the rotting Knayton Borrowby, one or other of Knayton’s eyeballs would roll towards Cod and away from Horatio. As soon as one of the eyeballs looked in Cod’s direction, Cod turned to stone. Then, Horatio would move, Knayton’s eye would roll back towards Horatio and Cod would quickly move towards Knayton. Poor Knayton didn’t know where to look! His eyeballs pivoted from the terrible creature leaping around the village square, apparently intent on eating whatever it found, to a slightly more sinister one that was creeping towards him to do who knew what? Worst of all, because of his advanced state of decay, after a few moments, one of his eyeballs exploded with a little squelching sound, leaving only one eyeball rolling to see the terror coming his way.
Just then, as the beast Horatio turned away from examining a foul-smelling Grott, the Baron lurched into the village. He arrived just in time to see the beast prick up its ears at the scent of the quickly rotting Knayton Borrowby. Eller saw the change in the beast Horatio, the look of hunger and the intense glowing of its green eyes, as it turned to stalk this new prey. Cod stopped dead, unable to help any more as he transmogrified into solid stone just beside Knayton, clearly visible to both Horatio and the Baron.
As Eller watched, helpless to do anything, she felt the Baron run through her, trying to get to Knayton to save him. As he did, Eller felt him slow just slightly, although not enough for him to realise what was happening.
The midnight hour was very close as the Baron rushed towards the monstrous beast Horatio. Then the beast leapt to attack what remained of Knayton. A scream of terror erupted from the rotting lump of humanity, causing lungs to explode and teeth to scatter all around the pile. But instead of landing on the jumbled assortment of bits that was Knayton, Horatio came crashing down just in front of him with the Baron holding fast to the mad animal’s tail!
Then started something so surreal that, for a moment, all Eller could do was watch open-mouthed as the monstrous beast began chasing the Baron who kept a VERY tight grip of its tail. It looked like a dog chasing its tail except that, if it caught its tail, that would be the end of the Baron.
Watching in horror at this strange and frantic dance, an unexpected voice snapped Eller out of her reverie.
‘Don’t just stand there! If you can do anything to help, do it now!’
Roseberry’s voice was clear, loud and passionate. But even though the words appeared to be directed her, Eller knew they couldn’t be because no one knew she was there. Then she saw where Roseberry was looking – not quite at Eller, but above her head. Roseberry had seen Eller’s LOST badge.
Roseberry got it! The LOST badge was connected to something or someone who had helped once and could maybe help again. She understood that this wasn’t a coincidence; LOST was there to help. Although LOST herself had absolutely no idea how she could help.
The beast was getting closer to the Baron and had just managed to bite off the bottom of his built-up shoe. If it had been the other leg, the Baron would have lost his foot.
Then, in a flash, it came to her. She remembered when the beast had accidentally passed through her, and something had been left behind. She remembered the ‘normal’ Horatio emerging, if only for a moment. She knew what she had to do; she had to stand in the way of the beast.
Without a second to lose, Eller ran towards the dreadful beast and the Baron, trying to get between them – which was harder than it looked! Unfortunately, when she did manage to get in their way, she completely missed Horatio and, instead, had the Baron pass through her.
Maybe it was a coincidence but, once again, as the Baron passed through Eller, he seemed to slow down slightly, which unfortunately was enough to stop him keeping hold of Horatio’s tail. Falling to the ground, the Baron looked up at the beast Horatio who pivoted to stare at the Baron. Its enormous green eyes seem to drill into the Baron while its mouth full of long, uneven, jagged and razor-sharp teeth dribbled in anticipation. The Baron was fumbling in his pockets trying to grab something – it must have been the treat.
Roseberry hobbled towards them as quickly as she could. What she was hoping to achieve, only she knew because, once Horatio had done with the Baron, there would be no escape for her.
Again, the beast Horatio, eyes aglow, leapt into the air to devour the Baron. And again, the creature came crashing down short of its target. Eller didn’t know why at first, but with this precious moment gifted to her, she wasn’t going to hesitate. Moving as fast as she could, she got between Horatio and the Baron.
A look of menacing anger filled the piercing and glowing eyes of the monster that Horatio had become. Getting up, it looked behind to see what had stopped it and, for a moment, even the beast looked a little surprised to see a stone gargoyle hanging on to its tail! Then, with a whip of its wiry tail, the beast dog flicked the statue off. Cod flew into the bushes with a sickening thump. But it had given Eller the opportunity she needed.
Turning just in time to see those enormous green eyes right in front of her – the beast dog raced in for the attack. To her shock, it seemed that it was attacking her! But, as before, instead of mauling her, Horatio passed through her, causing something far more substantial and far more painful than before to smash into Eller. This time, it didn’t seem to move around her but, instead, grabbed hold of her. She could feel its fury.
As Horatio passed through Eller, the Baron and Roseberry both closed their eyes and the Baron lifted his arm to protect himself. But the attack didn’t come. Instead, Horatio Fleming McNaughtie, the border terrier, landed softly on ordinary-sized paws. Trotting up to his master he started to sniff at his hand. Then, sitting down, he raised a paw, tail wagging. There was no instant response from the Baron, so Horatio used his next best tactic to get attention by whining loudly and jumping from leg to leg. As that also didn’t work immediately (border terriers are not known for their patience), he jumped forward and licked the Baron’s hand and sat back down again, paw raised.
At the feel of his lick, the Baron jumped and let out a little yelp and then, when nothing else happened except more whining, he lowered his arm and cracked one eye open. A look of surprise enveloped his grotesque features followed by a twisting and turning of those features into some sort of smile.
However, Eller was in trouble! Whatever the thing was that had been in Horatio was now twisting itself around her. Again and again, it slammed and squeezed, attempting to damage her – maybe even kill her. At one level, Eller rejoiced at being able to interact with something while, at another, this wasn’t the kind of interaction she wanted.
The thing was squeezing harder and harder until she found it difficult to breathe. In the distance, she was vaguely aware of Roseberry hobbling towards her and the Baron being licked by a standard-sized Horatio. Roseberry was saying something about ‘give it to him,’ whatever that was about, as little flashes of bright white light began to fill Eller’s eyes. Then, as suddenly as it had started, it stopped.
Whatever it was must have realised it couldn’t destroy Eller and so had started to move away from her. The difference now was that Eller could see it. It didn’t really have a discernible form as such. She couldn’t really describe it as a snake or an octopus or a lizard because it changed shape as it moved. But what she could see was that it was green – very green, a nasty, dirty green – and had tendrils that had started to reach out towards the dog.
Unaware, the Baron was playing with the dog! Horatio, for his part, was using every trick in his arsenal to prise the treat from the Baron’s hand as they rough and tumbled around. Eller watched, horrified, as the thing stretched out ever closer to Horatio.
Roseberry was sitting on a bench to catch her breath. Obviously, none of the others could see the danger but Eller now understood the truth about the ‘treats’. That was why the Baron and Roseberry had been so frantic when she’d thrown them away. Something about those snacks kept this … this … ‘thing’ at bay. Yet now, rather than giving Horatio the biscuit, the Baron was playing with him. He was holding the treat away from the dog while, unseen to their eyes, the ‘thing’, about as powerful as it could be in the light of the full moon, stretched out to take back control of the dog.
As the tendrils started to catch the dog, Horatio’s eyes began to glow green once again. And, as they did, Eller became aware of a voice screaming at the Baron to give the dog the biscuit. The thing must have been affecting her more than she’d thought because she only slowly became aware that the screaming voice was hers.
She never knew if it was her voice that made the difference or any number of other things. Maybe it was the greening of Horatio’s eyes or the change in his size… but, all of a sudden, the Baron came to his senses. Looking down, shocked at his own closed hand around the precious biscuit, he promptly threw the treat right over the dog’s head! (P) It would seem that the thing hadn’t quite taken back control of Horatio. For, instantly, Horatio leapt into the air with a laser focus on the food about to escape his orbit and grabbed hold of it with his jaw. Having done a rather impressive cartwheel in the air, he munched down on the treat.
Eller was the only person able to witness what happened next. As Horatio ate the treat, the thing once again wrapped itself around the dog. But, this time, as the dog munched away, the murky green spectre turned less and less green until it was hardly noticeable and lay unmoving, like an extra skin over the dog. Horatio turned entirely back to his usual annoying and irritating self (from Eller’s perspective) without any idea of what had very nearly happened.
So that was why the Baron and Roseberry had panicked. They had obviously known about this for a long time. It was why they had the special treats, to control whatever it was that had wrapped itself around Horatio.
As Eller watched, Horatio finished the biscuit and headed over to the rotting pile that was Knayton Borrowby. You really wouldn’t have known it was Knayton by this time if it hadn’t been for his clear, bright and rather shouty badge saying R – CAD.
The Baron hurried after Horatio and only just managing to arrive in time to stop the dog peeing on poor Knayton.
‘I’m so sorry about that, Knayton,’ he mumbled.
In any other place and at any other time, this would have seemed preposterous; attempting a conversation with a rotting pile of person. But this was Rott, Grott & Snott at full moon and ‘normal’ did not apply.
Even though one of his eyeballs and both lungs had exploded, even though all his teeth were scattered around him and his jaw was in genuine danger of detaching from his skull, somehow Knayton Borrowby managed to reply. ‘Gep away prom be you rebolting, bile … ping,’ he spluttered through his gums, as bits of his lips started to smatter off his face and flop onto the ground.
‘It’s alright,’ the Baron replied, ‘I caught Horatio before he could do anything to you.’
‘I basn’t porking aboup pap ping!’ Knayton blustered with punctured lungs, burbling and flapping around. ‘I meanp YOU! You peep of filf.’
Obviously, the enchantment was still as active as ever. For, even though the Baron had nearly lost his own life saving Knayton, the Baron was as hated as ever – perhaps even more so. As he stood in front of Knayton trying to reassure him, lumps of slimy mucus oozed out of various places to flubber and flop between Knayton and the Baron.
‘Piff off!’ one of them flatulated. Its badge said G – WB and Eller knew that this meant the Baron was talking with the mayor of Grott who was known for … shall we say … expressing his thoughts. Eller guessed the WB stood for Wind Bag, while the mayor had tried to convince everyone that it stood for Welcoming Benefactor. She suspected that very few were convinced; generally speaking, the badges were honest.
From then on it went downhill for the Baron as the lumps of unfriendly slime began to toss little stones in his direction. At that point, he turned to go, tripping over his bitten-off shoe and falling face first in the dirt. So, giving up all hope of a dignified retreat, he got up and brushed himself down while trying to avoid the little stones that kept coming his way. Finally, he paused to help Roseberry up and they headed back to the Manor.
As they started back, Eller suddenly remembered Cod, who had been thrown so hard into the bushes. Hurrying over to where he’d landed, Eller found nothing; instead, she saw a shadow moving off through the undergrowth in the general direction of the Baron. This Cod seemed to be made of stronger stuff than stone.
‘So,’ she said out loud to no one in particular, ‘there must be a bond between this Cod and the Baron. Interesting!’ Then she turned to follow the others back to the Manor.
Tomorrow it would all be over. When daylight came, everyone would be pretty much back to normal. There was always some disintegration before and after the full moon, but nothing like as bad as on the actual night of the full moon itself. They wouldn’t be so rude to the Baron then either. They still wouldn’t like him, but the level of hatred would be a little less – at least, for another lunar month.
The walk back was slow and silent, with Horatio sniffing and peeing on multiple objects. They all caught sight of Cod occasionally, and that led to some discussion about what had happened. They came to the conclusion that it must have been something to do with the object the Baron had pricked his finger on and the blood he’d smeared on Cod, or possibly that he had named the gargoyle. Because, although he had moved lots of other gargoyles, he hadn’t bled on any of them or given them names. So, being Rott, Grott & Snott, they thought that this must be why Cod had a unique link with the Baron.
Roseberry was hobbling as she had clearly moved far too fast for a lady of her advanced years. The Baron’s limp was also greatly exaggerated because the bottom of his built-up shoe had been bitten off. No matter what he did – keeping the shoe on or taking it off – it didn’t help!
Of the three humans, only Eller walked back normally. She still felt something very negative about the Baron but, now that they had been through all this peril, she realised things were not what they seemed. Maybe it was the way the Baron had slowed as he’d passed through her, or perhaps what had happened with the green spectre that had come off Horatio. Either way, it showed her that not everything in Rott, Grott & Snott was as it seemed. The Baron was ugly, greasy, always dressed in black, unable or unwilling to take off his cloak and at times frightening to even look at, and yet … there was obviously more to him.
She was so lost in thought that she didn’t notice they’d all stopped. It was nearly midnight; the enchantment was at its highest. Their badges and all the little badges of the animals, insects, trees and plants glowed clearly and beautifully for the briefest of moments. As they crescendoed together, they cast a brilliant and magical light across the whole of Rott, Grott & Snott.
The Baron’s voice broke the magic of the moment, and she felt annoyed at him for it until she realised what he was saying. ‘Thank you, Cod,’ he started, and there was a rustling in the bushes nearby. And then he added, ‘and thank you, LOST.’ After a moment’s pause as everyone looked in the direction of her badge, he continued, ‘I … we … don’t know who or maybe what you are, but we do know that, if it hadn’t been for you, tonight could have turned out very differently for everyone. Thank you again. And, if there’s anything I …’ He paused and looked at Roseberry who nodded and then Horatio who was scratching an itch, ‘…. we can do to help YOU – if you can, let us know and we will.’
His voice was as annoying as nails scratching down a chalkboard but, even so, Eller felt the tears rolling down her face. For the first time in her memory, someone had noticed her. But her feelings were very mixed because, if it hadn’t been for her anger and foolishness in the first place, throwing away those treats, then none of this would have happened.
The old Manor clock started to strike midnight and, as it did, the Baron called Horatio to him and the two of them headed back to the Manor. Eller still couldn’t move, her tears flowing freely with loud sobs coming up from deep inside.
As the clock struck twelve, something caught her eye. It was Roseberry, but standing there was not the Roseberry Eller was used to. Instead, a much younger, friendlier and more radiant Roseberry was smiling at her with beautiful, loving, laughing eyes. A smile filled with such love that Eller literally felt her breath snatched away.
The ground around Roseberry started to glow orange, red and yellow, with its intensity growing until all Eller could see was the light. She tried to make out Roseberry, but all she could see was the incredible, love-filled light. Then, from the middle of the brilliance, she heard Roseberry’s voice, but a younger, more powerful version of it.
‘Be patient little one and be brave. It will pass.’
At that, the light flashed even brighter. Eller was forced to cover her eyes until everything plunged into darkness once again. It took a few moments for Eller’s eyes to recover and for the pounding in her chest to calm. When at last she could see again, she looked for Roseberry and had almost given up when she caught sight of her heading back to the Manor. Running after Roseberry, Eller threw herself in front of her. But this wasn’t the Roseberry she had seen only moments before. Instead, this was the other Roseberry, the older Roseberry, who proceeded to limp straight through Eller as she headed back to the Manor.