Music: Majestic Nature by Craig Stuart Garfinkle
Artwork by Steve English
Episode 2 – The Malevolent Darkness
The Manor was always a little strange. Beautiful as it was – a Tudor manor house set in the idyllic scenery of the North Yorks Moors, it was still considered by anyone who knew it as a place to be avoided.
At the start, it was little more than a feeling, a sense that something wasn’t quite right. But then, as time pasted, that sense of things not being right developed into a sure knowledge that something was wrong. Something in or maybe with the Manor just wasn’t right.
Quite how long this feeling lasted, I have no idea, that’s lost in the annals of time. Yet, I do know how it started to show itself – because you can’t hide darkness in your inner being. If there is darkness inside, as sure as eggs is eggs, it’s going to come out. And, that’s precisely what happened in the Manor.
Maybe it’s a little unfair to blame the Manor itself as in all probability, it wasn’t the Manor so much as something coming to live in the Manor that brought that feeling of unease. Yet, as time past, the sense of it being something other than the Manor faded, until it felt like it was the Manor – as if whatever it was that caused all these problems had become one with the Manor.
Where the darkness arrived from and how it came to live in the Manor are stories for another time. But, for this story, it’s enough to know that the darkness lived in the Manor and to all intense and purposes – it was the Manor.
As the darkness grew and began to be absorbed into the very fabric of the building, it started to show itself as small things changed. (P) Items that belonged in one place would turn up in another, and it wasn’t just little things. In time, whole rooms would relocate to different parts of the Manor. Then, the Manor itself started to change. Once, it had been beautiful to look at, and no doubt – generations of the wealthy and privileged had basked in the glory of the Manor, its rooms, its gardens and its opulence. Until that is, that beauty started to fade. For, as I said before, you can’t hide what’s inside. Because, it seemed, there was darkness in the very bones of the Manor – as over time it transformed from a beautiful country house into a particularly nasty and creepy little castle. A castle that was always changing, always transforming and never at rest. After all, isn’t it said that there’s no rest for the wicked?
Of course, the people who owned, lived and worked in the Manor didn’t miss out on the effects of the darkness. As soon as they realised what was happening, they tried to sell the place, and at one point they even wanted to abandon it. But, the family who lived there – the Briggswath’s – were unable to leave. Every attempt to sell fell through, financial problems ensured they stayed to try and work the land. But when they almost gave up and decided to abandon the place, somehow it knew. Every way they went ended up returning them to the same place because the Manor wouldn’t let them go.
Then, as well as the Manor and the things inside it changing, the people and their pets also started to be affected. The Briggswath’s had been a beautiful family, the daughters quickly married and sons longed for by others from far and wide – until they weren’t. Beauty turned around, packed up its bags and left, leaving each successive generation more affected by the darkness. Even their pets were affected, and none more than their beloved border terriers. The Briggswath’s had kept border terriers since before they were kennel club registered, and although they were working dogs, it didn’t take long for them to work their way into the hearts of the Briggwath’s and so become family pets.
At first, the border terriers had become harder to groom. Their features became a little more extreme with each new generation, even when fresh blood was brought in from outside. Yet they were still dearly loved – with a bond between Briggswath’s and borders that was hard to explain – a relationship built on love, loyalty, faithfulness and fun.
And so, reluctantly, the Manor continued to be the seat of the Briggswath family, and its influence on everyone and everything in it or near it continued to grow.
The Origins of Winefry.
Now, the dark influence inside the Manor was always felt most in the places lease visited by humans and their pets, places like the cellars or attic. Yet of all the hidden places in the Manor, the eves of the roof – where no one could go – felt the darkness most.
As it happened, when the Manor house was initially built, there had been a phase when the builders – who were a somewhat superstitious bunch – would hide a bottle in some place like the eves. Quite where this notion came from, I don’t know. I suspect the builders also had little idea, as they trusted an apprentice on his very first job with the duty of hiding the bottle in the Manor. What they failed to mention to the poor apprentice was that a bottle should be empty, or at least have some home-made potion in it. However, with this little detail missed, the poor apprentice had gone and spent his entire first pay on the best bottle of wine he could find. Then, he had then gone to a great deal of trouble to hide it in the eves of the roof, in a place where it should never really be found. Precisely the type of site the darkness loved.
So, for a very long time, the darkness worked into the bottle hidden in the eves. (It was also working on the bottles in the cellar – all 8 rooms worth – but that would take a little longer as people occasionally came to the cellar). The first the bottle in the eves new about it was when it felt a slight cramping in its neck. At that, it wiggled into a more comfortable position, rubbed its neck with its hand and stayed put for another long time. It seemed to drift in and out of awareness – only waking when at night there appeared brightness from the full moon somehow filling the eves.
It continued this way for many years as the darkness in the Manor, and the power of the full moon, combined at midnight each month to bring life to the bottle of wine.
Startled by a strange howling as the cold wolf moon slowly reached its peak and midnight arrived, Winefry (somehow the bottle of wine knew its own name) awoke. Listening to the howling, the brave bottle felt that the animal calling to the moon was calling to him as well. At that the struggle began, legs and arms pulled out from the bottom and side of the bottle as he pushed and shoved his way out from the hiding place the apprentice had left him many many years before. It took time, but that was one thing the brave bottle had plenty of.
Quite how long it took to leave his captivity and enter the attic proper, I can’t say. But at the next full moon, Sir Winefry, as he started calling himself – as he rather fancied the idea of being a knight (again, no idea how that thought came to him!)… but at that full moon, he was found chasing shadows and imagined monsters in the attic.
Winefry was a strange thing to look at. The label had faded many years before. However, the ink hadn’t actually left the label, rather, pooling under it somehow, it waited, ready to be used when the bottle awoke. So, instead of showing what had been written or printed on the label when it was new, the features of Winefry appeared, drawn in the mysterious ink. He had intense eyes that seemed to pierce through everything he looked at. His nose was long, but as it was drawn on the label, it tended to only ever be seen from the one side or the other, flicking between the two sides in a moment as he moved. His mouth was quite large, although he tended not to say a great deal. Oh, and he had a not so great moustache. To be honest, it was his weakest feature, thin and wispy – although for some reason he actually seemed quite proud of it! His eyebrows, on the other hand, were thick and very expressive, probably doing more talking than actual words. When he made noises as he chased supposed monster around the attic, they were nothing more than grunts and sighs – and no, before you ask – I have no idea how a bottle of wine speaks. Still, you must remember this is Manor Rott, Grott & Snott and ‘normal’ does not apply!
Legs and arms had come somehow from the bottle and were long and thin and apparently quite strong as they seemed to carry around the bottle with ease. The arms also seemed to have no problem when armed with an old poker from a fire set which had somehow found its way into the attic rather than recycling or a charity shop. Somehow the self-styled knight managed to sharpen the poker, so it more closely resembled a sword. However, it was still a heavy thing being designed to poke around bits of coal and wood rather than to parry and thrust as a real blade would do.
Quite how the darkness had worked in the wine bottle wasn’t completely obvious at first. Expect of course that there was a walking, talking and warring wine bottle in the attic, running around stabbing things and cutting them to pieces. The thing is, having been awoken by the darkness, you would have expected Winefry to have absorbed is tendencies and desires, almost as if it were a child of the darkness.
The rats of the Manor had absorbed the darkness. With each new generation, they had grown more muscular, more intelligent, uglier and with a blood lust to match. The residents of the Manor had pretty much gone to war with the rats, using everything they could think of to try and get rid of the vermin. But nothing had worked, and the ‘dark rats’, as they became known, had become more powerful and dangerous. Even the cat Scragg had struggled to chase them away and was in danger of becoming one of their victims herself.
But something else had also been working on Winefry through all those years hidden in the eves. The moon had done its part. Somehow, it had shone on the roof and passed its energy through to the wine bottle. And, that energy was never more felt than on the night of the full moon. So when Winefry, the self-styled knight appeared in the attic, having freed himself from his prison, he was an unknown entity to all.
At first, he practised his sword-play with the sharpened poker. It was a good thing to practice with as it was heavy and needed lots of skill to flash it around, which Winefry mastered in a surprisingly short space of time. The rats, however, gave him space, not quite sure what to make of him but assuming that he would be on their side, a child of the darkness.
Before long, Winefry learned how to move from the attic into the Manor proper and still keep himself hidden from the many people and animals inside.
While still practising his sword-work, he scoped out the Manor and learnt of all the things inside, rats, people, cat and dogs. And so it continued until the deepest winter, and another full moon.