Music: Majestic Nature by Craig Stuart Garfinkle
Artwork by Steve English
Episode 12 – DANGER!
As Horatio Fleming McNaughtie, the Border Terror, swept from the Manor, the Baron’s voice echoing behind him into the emptiness, Eller jumped as an unearthly howl made the windows rattle. Even the shadows, growing in the ever-increasing darkness, seemed to shift uncomfortably as if moved by a passing car headlight when no such light shone.
Then the Baron had started to claw at everything in the kitchen, throwing things to the floor when he found them empty or containing something other than the special treats. But he was looking in the wrong place. The biscuits were gone, thrown down the rubbish shoot.
The seriousness of the situation became even more evident when Roseberry, not known for her speed or agility, fairly bounded into the room, a questioning look on her face. Seeing the desperation of the Baron’s actions and the empty tin, she quickly caught on. ‘I know I left plenty of them in there.’
‘Well, they aren’t there now!’ There was panic in his eyes. ‘I, I came to get the tin, the lid was off, and they weren’t there. Look, it’s empty.’ He tossed the tin her way without looking up as he rifled through other tins in the hope they’d just been misplaced.
Another terrifying, window-rattling howl made them jump. To Eller’s surprise, the Baron looked a little relieved. Then blowing out his cheeks, he added, ‘At least he hasn’t gone straight to the villages. I know that means he’s around here somewhere but I’d rather that than risk all those folk down there.’
Risk the villagers? Was Horatio really that dangerous without these treats? She’d thought she was playing a simple trick to annoy the Baron and his mutt. The rising tide of panic inside her grew. This was obviously far more serious.
Another howl, further away. What had she done?
The screaming in Eller’s head that had been increasing since the moment Horatio ran out into the night, got to the point where it snapped her out of her stupor. If Roseberry and the Baron were this serious about those snacks, then the panic she felt shouldn’t be ignored. She needed to make this right. But how? The biscuits were gone!
She scanned the kitchen, now littered with tins and pots and lids, none of which contained any of the special treats. Then, her eyes landed on the rubbish shoot, and she saw it. Rushing forward to check, she realised what had happened. In her haste to throw the snacks down the rubbish shoot, one had somehow stuck to the side, just inside the entrance. It had almost gone down the shoot but was still there, just out of view. They were safe… but how was she going to show the others where the biscuit was?
Again and again, she attempted to grab the last remaining snack from the rubbish shoot and, every time, she moved straight through it. As frustration rose, she started shrieking. Yelling at the Baron, at Roseberry, at herself – but no one heard her. It seemed that all she could do was listen to the howls moving around in the night and watch the others fighting down their own fear.
It was Roseberry who spotted it. ‘Archie!’ she said, a strange hush to her voice. ‘Look!’
Eller was taken aback to hear the name of the Baron spoken out loud and turned to see what Roseberry was pointing at. The other two seemed to be looking at something directly above her head. It took a minuet to sink in, but then she understood. They could see her badge, although now they seemed confused, probably because Eller had turned around and it must have moved with her.
Once she realised they were looking at her LOST badge, she flung her head into the rubbish shoot. She didn’t go in too far, just enough to get the word LOST to gently make its way to the shoot entrance, bouncing slowly into place. It was a revolting place for her to put her face but, if it helped, it was worth it.
It took a moment, but then the others saw it.
‘Archie, look! There’s a snack! Just on the inside edge of the shoot.’
At this, the Baron moved towards the shoot.
‘Be careful!’ Roseberry cried out. ‘If it falls down there, we won’t be able to get it back. It’ll be lost, and we’ll have no chance to make this right.’
It took a few seconds for Eller to realise it had worked. But as she heard Roseberry and the Baron approaching, she slowly pulled back from the rubbish shoot, trying to forget the filth she’d seen inside.
Ignoring the badge now, the Baron moved with surprising care towards the shoot while pulling up his shirt sleeve and making sure his cloak was out the way. Just as he reached for the snack, another howl from the beast made him jump, and his hand brushed against the biscuit. It wobbled and started to fall. Then, with surprising deftness, the Baron grabbed after the falling snack as fast as he could and froze.
Roseberry was ashen-faced. Eller forgot to breathe – until the Baron slowly and carefully pulled his arm back up out of the shoot, his hand clasped around something. Stepping back, he held out his hand and opened it. Eller breathed once again, the shadows shifted and Roseberry shot him a quick glance and nod.
Moments later, the Baron was running out into the darkness with Eller and Roseberry following close behind. A rather strange thought bundled through Eller’s mind; she found herself thinking bless him. Because, as the midnight hour on full moon approached, her feelings and thoughts about the Baron were becoming tangled. At one level, her intense dislike of him was nearing hatred. At another, she could see beneath the black clothes, dreadful hair, over-enthusiastic teeth and sharp-angled features. Underneath was a man, perhaps only a boy, who cared so much about others that he didn’t think twice about running into the path of danger to help them.
And, she’d involuntarily thought bless him because he wasn’t going to let his problems stop him from trying to help. There he was with his hunched back, short leg and club foot unable to run in any meaningful way, exhausting himself with all his efforts to help.
His progress wasn’t much faster than a walk. And, as he stumbled forward, he breathlessly cried out, again and again, calling to his beloved, but now murderously dangerous friend, Horatio, pleading for him to stop and come home.
As they ventured deeper into the woods on their search for Horatio, Eller caught a glimpse of a shadow that seemed to be tracking them. At first, she thought it was a trick of the moonlight, but several times she saw a strange shadow, or dark object, keeping track of them to one side or another. If the Baron saw it, he didn’t take any notice, as his full attention was on the beast. Eller, however, found herself more concerned because, as far as she knew, shadows outside the Manor didn’t move on their own.
‘Horatio! Horatio!’ the Baron repeatedly called, shouting into the night. It seemed that the monster wasn’t interested in the Baron, as the unearthly howls changed direction and headed towards the villages. Eller watched the Baron’s panic rise and his wild, lurching run become more desperate as he turned towards Rott, Grott & Snott. The dark shadow-thing tracking them also changed direction, keeping up with them but not trying to get any closer. Eller caught a slightly clearer glimpse of it. It was possibly some kind of animal, but nothing she’d ever seen before – although it did look familiar somehow.
In their haste to get to Horatio, the three of them got separated, and Roseberry fell further behind. Eller arrived at the crossroads before the Baron and thought she caught a flash of the beast Horatio heading towards Grott, straight ahead. This was confirmed moments later by a howl.
The shadow creature arrived at the crossroads next, and to Eller’s astonishment, she realised it was a gargoyle! She’d never seen one anywhere except on the Manor. What was it doing out here?
When the Baron arrived at the crossroads, he was covered in sweat from all the effort. His whole body shook and convulsed as he stood trying to work out which direction to go, while vainly calling out the name of his beloved pet.
Eller realised the gargoyle had turned to stone the moment the Baron had glanced in its direction. Taken aback somewhat by the appearance of a gargoyle away from the Manor, the Baron paused a moment to look at it. As he stared at the strange creature, Eller thought she heard him mumbling something about Cod – but she couldn’t be sure. Then a ‘light-bulb’ moment swept across the Baron’s face. Lumbering across to the stone sculpture, the Baron spoke to it as Eller watched, completely dumbfounded by what was happening.
‘Cod,’ the Baron pleaded clearly and loudly at the solid stone monstrosity, ‘did you see which way he went? It could be a matter of life or death. If you can help please, please help!’ Then, this really caught Eller by surprise, the Baron deliberately turned his face away from the gargoyle he’d called Cod.
It was to be a night of surprises. For, as soon as the Baron looked away, the gargoyle turned into a kind of animal again. Then, in a flash, it pointed towards Grott – where Eller had seen Horatio going. A moment later, the Baron looked up again at the gargoyle, which instantly transformed back to stone, switching to a statue that pointed to exactly where Horatio had gone.
‘Thank you! Thank you!’ The Baron puffed and bellowed as he started his stumbling run once again after the terror that had been Horatio.
No sooner had the Baron turned away from the gargoyle called Cod, than the creature turned once again into its strange, lithe, animal form and bounded off after the Baron. As it raced forwards, it stayed out of his line of sight, keeping to the shadows.