Music: Majestic Nature by Craig Stuart Garfinkle
Artwork by Steve English
Episode 18 – The Rise of the Evil Empire
Manor Rott, Grott & Snott hadn’t really been itself – at least, not since the ‘incident’! Quite what the ‘incident’ was and when it had happened, no one could remember. All people knew was that, ever since then, things had been different, including, and maybe especially, the Manor.
Of course, if you live with ‘different’ for long enough, it stops being different and becomes the new normal. But even so, Manor Rott, Grott & Snott still felt, still presented itself and still was different.
Externally, the Manor no longer looked like a friendly country Manor house. Instead, it had taken on the appearance of a rather nasty little castle. Outside, what should have been pleasant gardens had become miserable woodlands, threaded with dark, eerie pathways. There was the tree-lined drive at the front of the Manor, but that went to the gates and, through those, no one from Rott, Grott & Snott could go; only visitors oblivious to the situation were able to come and go at will.
The gargoyles, of course, you know all about! Whoever heard of large, restless, hooved gargoyles on a Manor?
Oh, and the towers and turrets? As well as the fact that they liked to rearrange themselves from time to time, it was a challenge to find out how they were connected to the Manor. Some of them did seem to have entrances and exits, and these moved with their turrets, somehow fitting in with the layout of the Manor as they shifted. However, others seemed to have no known entrance or exit and remained a mystery.
Then, of course, probably linked to the turrets, were the rooms and cupboards that came and went, sometimes even taking people with them, like Lady Pinchinthorpe and her maid Ayton. Because of this penchant for turrets to move and rooms to appear and disappear, the Manor also had a tendency to rearrange its internal layout. The things that remained unchanged included the front and back doors, along with the grand entrance hall at the front, and the boot room and kitchen at the back. Additionally, several corridors with connections to the entrance hall or the kitchen had little choice but to remain in place. They assumed that the attic and the cellar also stayed in place but, as they were visited so infrequently, in truth, they could be doing anything although, on the rare occasions people had visited them, they had tended to be at the top and the bottom of the Manor respectively.
The end result of all this variation was that you could be heading to a particular room only to find yourself in a different part of the Manor, sometimes even ending up on a different floor, or simply unable to get to where you’d hoped! This could be very frustrating, and it wasn’t unusual for people to get quite lost. Everyone, that is, except Horatio, who seemed to know the exact way to go no matter how the Manor reorganised itself (and even more quickly at mealtimes).
I think it was the shadows that set people most on edge. Many thought it an unholy thing that shadows could be independent. Some people felt so uneasy that they refused to go anywhere near the Manor. You see, the shadows in the Manor didn’t see the point of playing the same game as all the other shadows outside, and so they didn’t.
Most disconcerting of all was when your own shadow got bored! This happened quite a lot in the Manor, and it soon became apparent that shadows don’t have a particularly long attention span. So, within a few moments of entering the Manor, your shadow would wander off without you, leaving you with no shadow until you left the Manor and it was forced to return to normal.
Even if your shadow did come back before you left the Manor, there was no guarantee it would act normally and, more often than not, it would return with several other shadows (as shadows were both nosey and fickle) and hold a very animated silent shadow conversation. Sometimes there were even fights!
What made all this even creepier was that some people thought they could hear what the shadows were discussing; although I doubt it. After all, what would a shadow salt-shaker have to talk about with a shadow plant-pot? Or a shadow Baron with a shadow foot-stool?
Two other things that marked the Manor out as being particularly strange were the resetting every morning to a near-pristine condition, regardless of how much mayhem and destruction Horatio Fleming McNaughtie had caused and the missing servants.
There must have been lots of servants employed in the Manor at one time, but now there were only Roseberry and Thornton. Yet still, the work always got done, and no one was under any illusion that Thornton did any of it!
But perhaps the most unsettling thing about the Manor was the atmosphere. It wasn’t particularly dark or dank (although certain parts could definitely be described that way) and yet there was a feeling of oppression – maybe even malice. It hung heavy in the air and at certain times felt more ominous than at others; always worse when a turret was on the move.
All-in-all the Manor was a complex place where strange and inexplicable forces were at work. And it was the family seat of the Barony of Rott, Grott & Snott. There was a family crest above the front door that seemed to be of a wolf-like beast and a very cross-looking deer or moose (it was hard to tell), either side of a rather gnarly dead looking tree. These were set against a black background and surrounded by various medieval-looking weapons and torture implements. Thankfully, being black, it was hard to see and went mostly ignored.
Even Eller Beck, who herself was little more than a ghost, wondered about the missing servants. For example, who started the vacuum cleaner every day at 11:05 leading to its frenzied destruction by Horatio? How did all the work get done at night unnoticed and unheard? She’d tried to stay up and watch, but it seemed that watching didn’t work as one moment she would be waiting and the next she would be rousing from some kind of slumber and the work would be done! And why did no one ever remember to lock the mutt in a room just before 11:05 so that it didn’t have the freedom to cause mayhem and destruction?
Like everyone else, Eller had learned to live with these questions and many, many more, although not getting answers irritated her and nagged like an itch she couldn’t scratch.
On top of all this, as full moon approached, the enchantment on Manor Rott, Grott & Snott grew. Shadows became recalcitrant and little eddies of dust and fluff whirled through corridors and rooms, appearing then vanishing in a moment.
Reaching a crescendo at the midnight hour on full moon, you could almost touch the menacing forces working unseen, but not unfelt, everywhere in the Manor. What happened to them after a full moon, no one knew, but no doubt they collected and fermented in the places where nobody ventured to disturb them. So, in the deepest and darkest bowels of the Manor – the cellar – the dank darkness thrived, powerfully brooding and infusing everything it touched.
Quite when the change was first noticed, as always in Rott, Grott & Snott, no one could remember. However, change had come.
The shadows started to avoid the cellar. Spiders scurried to the furthest boundaries to escape the rise of evil. Mice stood on their hind legs, whiskers twitching as they tried to sense what was happening. The rise of the evil salami empire – the ‘Rampant Salamis’ – had begun.
At first, the salami that Roseberry had hung in the cellar just stayed hanging, only very slowly becoming resentful at being forgotten. At times, it swayed a little in a breeze no ordinary person could have felt. Enshrouded in murky darkness, the Manor’s atmosphere infused the hanging meat.
That said, there was some light from little windows at ground level around the cellar that had become semi-opaque from years of accumulated dirt. However, this dismal light just tended to make the cellar look even creepier.
As the days turned to weeks, and the weeks trudged on into months, so the forgotten salami started to become part of all that was happening in the Manor. Once an outsider and little more than a meal in waiting, it metamorphosised, oozing menace that had not been its own.
After many months of being hung in the cellar, some of the salami sausages dropped to the ground. You might think that the string had rotted through, but you would be wrong. Mice ran to feast on the fatty meat but, instead of biting into the salami, the mice found themselves bitten into and scurried away to nurse their wounds.
It started with a storm of teeth and uncontrollable biting rage. Like mindless animals they bit and chewed each other, slaughtering one another, so only a few survived – but the menace had not finished with them. As the months dragged on and more salamis dropped to join the devouring machines, so they transformed and morphed, almost as if an unseen hand was moulding them into something new. For, as the killing machines that the first salamis had been, were killed themselves, so the ones that ate them divided like cells under a microscope, and new salamis emerged. And, as each new generation emerged, splitting out of the previous generation, so the teeth were eventually joined by various numbers of arms and legs.
Short-lived, multiplying generations of salmis descended ever more into their pit of depravity. Countless thousands came and went in uncivilised, murderous carnage.
Quite how time passed in the cellar compared to the rest of the Manor, I’m not sure. For, while only a little time seemed to tick by above, generations of salami came and went down below. Civilisations rose and fell, waxed and waned, until the most tyrannical of all the leaders that had ever come before her rose to rule them all – ‘Salaronicus the Destroyer’! Her badge …because all ‘living’ things in Rott, Grott and Snott eventually have their own badge at full moon… read RGS – DESTROYER.
The suffering under Salaronicus was terrible. Spiders were worked to death, being forced to spin delicate and beautiful clothes for her and fed almost nothing. Enslaved mice and normal rats pulled her carriages and chariots. Woodlice were hunted nearly to extinction as delicacies for the ruling classes. Wine bottles were beheaded and their contents fed to her soldiers and scouts. Afterwards, the empty, zombie-like bottles were forced to lead the salami troops into battle with little or no protection until they were smashed to smithereens.
There had, albeit briefly, been an empire of wine bottles in the cellar, altogether different to the salami. Their downfall was their slow rate of reproduction and their fragility! Quite how wine bottles managed to reproduce at all was quite a mystery and obviously, something that could only happen in Manor Rott, Grott & Snott. However, eventually, they too became overrun and enslaved by the Rampant Salamis who came to rule over everything … in the cellar.