Music: Majestic Nature by Craig Stuart Garfinkle
Artwork by Steve English
Episode 22 – Another Visit to the Attic
It seemed that, in Manor Rott, Grott & Snott, the places where people didn’t often go were the places where the effects of the enchantment – or curse – or whatever it was – were the strongest.
Although it wasn’t clear how it happened, when things were left in lonely places such as the attic or cellar, malevolent forces somehow altered them. This was, I suppose, the reason for the rise of the Rampant Salami Empire; the real cause of the problems the Baron attributed to ‘the ghost’.
The Baron couldn’t believe he was going back into the attic after such a short time. It wasn’t long since he’d been up there to fetch the old water boiler and here he was, doing it all over again. As he looked up at the attic hatch, he shuddered.
The round window at the end of the landing was once again alive with gargoyle activity, as any number of gargoyles took it in turn to look every time the Baron turned away. But, in the midst of all this activity, Cod stayed at the centre of the window, watching. The Baron found himself waving to Cod before he knew what he was doing, and got annoyed with himself. When he next looked back, most of the other gargoyles had moved, but Cod still sat there as before, but with one hand raised.
Smiling to himself, the Baron turned back to the hatch and nearly jumped out of his skin. A large moose head had appeared on the wall to one side and was watching the Baron with a vague, disinterested expression, while chewing on something invisible to the Baron. Stokesley (as the moose head had become known) was actually quite nosey and seemed to enjoy giving people a shock. After a few choice words to Stokesley about staying in the entrance hall, the Baron took a deep breath and got to work. He didn’t notice the slight grin that appeared on the moose head’s face.
The over-long attic door was as recalcitrant as last time, squeaking and complaining as the Baron dropped it down. There seemed to be about as much dust and debris as on the previous visit. So, again, he got covered and, like last time, he marvelled at the awe-inspiring steps-cum-stairway contraption as it slowly and gently descended. He was delighted when he flicked the light switch on, and the bulbs spluttered, crackled and tinkled into life, one after the other, as if a little reluctant to shine.
Once he’d climbed up into the attic, he stood in the cooler air for a moment to steady his nerves. As he’d expected, all the chaos and mess of the turret finding its new home and shaking the attic had been cleared up, leaving corridors with piles of junk on each side.
As no turrets were relocating this time, there wasn’t as much noise, although the sudden flurries of hooves on slate kept causing him to panic.
Starting to move between the massive piles of junk towards where he was sure the ancient old vacuum cleaner had been, the Baron was surprised by how few shadows there were. What struck him as even more worrying was that, despite the lack of shadows, the attic somehow still managed to look dark, threatening and menacing. How it managed to do that without the shadows, he didn’t know, although he didn’t like the obvious conclusion; that it was the active presence of darkness.
Perhaps the greatest scare he got was at the end of a particularly packed aisle. As he turned the corner, a very loud flurry of hooves overhead momentarily distracted him. When he looked back, he jumped and almost hit his head on the roof at the shock of finding himself confronted with a giant, chewing moose head staring directly into his eyes.
The roof was slanted down at this point. So, when Stokesley decided to come and take a look, he was a lot lower than normal. In fact, he was so low that he ended up staring straight into the Baron’s revoltingly ugly eyes. Stokesley promptly threw up – it was a mercy he didn’t have a stomach!
Having recovered and squeezed past Stokesley, the Baron noticed the dust eddies coming and going at will, starting here and ending there but remaining, on the whole, quite small. All the time, the Baron was aware of what he was looking for – he’d felt its presence as soon as he’d stepped into the attic.
There were all kinds of funny looking items poking up out of the various piles of junk he passed as he walked towards the old vacuum cleaner. Some even seemed to be looking back at him in the darkness. One or two of them appeared to be the ancient, family portraits he’d thought he’d left piled up by the vacuum cleaner and must have been rearranged when the mess had been cleared up. He wasn’t sure if they were precisely the same ones or if they were portraits he’d not noticed before. However they’d got there and whoever they were, they still didn’t look happy to see him.
As for the other things he thought were looking at him from the piles of junk, when he got brave enough to examine them more closely, they were just old table lamps, cases, boxes, radio-grams and furniture – all of them covered in that same dust and debris that had fallen on him when he’d opened the attic hatch.
A few light-bulbs had blown since his last visit and yet it wasn’t anything like as challenging to locate the old vacuum cleaner as the Baron had anticipated. In fact, it was, if he was honest, rather too straightforward! For, as he looked into the muggy darkness of the shadowless loft, only one thing seemed to gleam back at him as if it was reflecting a light that touched nothing else. Or, as if it was especially keen to be found!
When he reached it, he found it standing on its own as before, suspiciously free from the layers of dust and debris that covered everything else. Once again, there was a circle of space around it, outside of which was nothing but debris for a metre or so. The only exception to this was a small area where he knew the old water boiler had been, and where the still grumpy-looking stuffed ferret stood (it was covered in dust and seemed to be staring at him in disgust). The result of all this was somewhat spooky as the evil, old vacuum cleaner stood isolated and alone, somehow gleaming in the intense darkness.
Not only that, but even the gargoyles seemed to know where the old vacuum cleaner was – and avoided it. This was evidenced by the lack of hoof-on-slate noise overhead! To say it was unsettling was an understatement and added to his intense unease.
Although everything in the Baron shouted at him to leave the attic as quickly as possible and have nothing to do with the evil, old vacuum, he pressed on. The only reason he kept going was thinking about the genuine problems they were facing down in the Manor proper. He even found himself worrying if, after all this time left untouched in the attic, the vacuum still worked?
The implications of this thought shook him even more once he realised what it meant – because now he’d have to test it! He would have to find a socket in this forsaken place, and plug the wretched machine in to see if it could still suck up dust. There was no point in dragging it down if it didn’t work any more. But, at the same time, he didn’t like the thought of having to try it up here – alone…
That’s when he remembered Stokesley and for the first time felt a little gratitude for the annoying beast. But, looking to where the moose head had been, he saw only empty space.
‘Irksome creature,’ he muttered, feeling even more alone and abandoned.
Flicking on a little torch pulled from one of the multitude of pockets in his cloak, he looked around and finally spotted a double-socket about halfway up a wooden beam but, when he saw it, his heart skipped a beat. One of the sockets had something plugged into it already.
Tracing the cable back, he noticed how the light of his torch trembled as his fears were confirmed. The cord and plug belonged to the vacuum; someone, or something, had plugged in the vacuum already and used it. That explained all the dust and debris around the attic. He hadn’t put the wretched thing in the loft for no reason! It didn’t work properly and towards the end had distributed dust about almost as evenly as it had sucked it up! But who would be using it? And why use it in the attic?
There was no rational explanation – the Baron had brought it up here, but he most certainly had not plugged it in or used it! Shrugging his tense shoulders just slightly, he tried to look a lot less bothered than he actually felt. Then, straightening his back as much as his hump would allow, he prepared himself for what came next!
Taking a deep breath, the Baron approached the vacuum cleaner. Standing behind it, he found the on/off switch which was, as you’d expect, switched to ‘off’.
The Baron knew that the vacuum cleaner didn’t actually have to be any good at sucking up dust for what he had planned. However, it did still need to be able to suck – to create a vacuum. His hope was that, with the aid of the Promise Capsule, it could be transformed into a vacuum to capture, and hopefully mangle, the ghost – the ghost he thought was causing all their problems.
Taking a deep breath, the Baron reached forward, flipped the switch and was taken aback by the terrible noise that blasted from the machine. Dust started to fall from rafters and the clipping and clopping of hooves on the roof gathered apace as gargoyles ran away in all directions from the unearthly hissing emitted by the cleaner.
With great care, the Baron took hold of the handle with both hands and put his foot on the clip at the bottom that freed the cleaning head and engaged the brushes and vacuum.
Pushing hard, there was an almighty crack as the reluctant mechanism was freed. Almost immediately, the handle felt loose in his hands as the head of the vacuum cleaner slammed to the floor. As it hit the floor, the noise got even louder as a whirring, grinding – almost a smashing sound – came from the brushes. Thumping into the tatty piece of carpet beneath it, the brushes literally started to rip it to bits!
This was all the Baron needed, and he was about to switch it off again when he felt a pulling; the machine was moving all on its own, grabbing up chunks of carpet and, it seemed, grasping for more.
Then, he heard a deep whining, choking, tearing sound as the chunks of carpet reached the innards of the cleaner. Once processed through the guts of the machine, they continued their journey upwards until they were ejected out the top of the bag, along with copious amounts of dust and other unidentifiable items.
He didn’t want to admit it, but as soon as he saw these things being thrown out from the cleaner he KNEW where all the dust and debris in the attic had come from – and he didn’t like that thought one bit. This machine was being used regularly; it had to be or else how could there be so much dust and debris?
As quickly as he could, the Baron flipped the switch, missing it a couple of times as the devious cleaner tried to accelerate away from him. At first, it just carried on as if trying to escape. But, after a moment or two, the noise level started to decrease, the cleaner slowed and reluctantly ground to a halt.
It had worked! He’d have to fix the bag to stop everything from pumping straight back out again, but that much he could do as he knew he’d left some old, unused bags nearby.
Searching for the bags, the Baron came across the ferret once again. It was bald, without a single hair left on it, and its expression was no longer grumpy but one of pure shock! Even though he was thoroughly shaken by everything, the Baron found himself suppressing a grin. That would teach the judgemental ferret to look at him so rudely!
After a successful and thankfully short search, the Baron, holding a box of cleaner bags, got to work replacing the old, broken one. With that done, it was time to retract the power cable and take the machine down to the kitchen for the next part the plan.
He didn’t really want to go over to the power sockets as the darkness in that part of the attic seemed quite intense. Not only that, but the little eddies of dust and debris seemed to have grown in size and strength since he’d turned the cleaner on. But, if his plan was to become a reality, he had no choice.
So, gingerly, the Baron limped his way over to the power sockets, avoiding a couple of the larger eddies on the way. Once he reached the sockets, he flicked the switch by the cleaner’s plug and yanked the plug free. Letting it drop to the floor, he quickly made his way back to the cleaner and used his torch to highlight the cable retraction button. Then, at first tapping at it with no result, he remembered it needed more force to operate and so stamped as hard as he could on the button. Instantly, with a slight snapping noise, the cable began to whizz back into the cleaner with the plug desperately swinging at the end, smashing into anything it came close to. Just before it finished retracting, the Baron let go of the button with his foot, instantly regretting this course of action.
For, by this time, the plug was flying very quickly towards the machine and the Baron and so, when the cable was no longer retracting, the momentum it had already gathered continued to swing the plug up and forward. Flying at a considerable speed, the very solid, antique plug proceeded to hit him squarely (and very hard) in an area gentlemen would rather not to be hit in. The Baron fell to the floor, screaming noiselessly. He ended up rolling around from side to side, trying to alleviate the agony.
As, eventually, the pain diminished enough for him to open his eyes, he noticed that the silence in the attic was only broken by what sounded like a gentle, munching noise. Rolling towards the noise, he was once again confronted by a giant moose head. This was the last thing he wanted to see as his embarrassment was made far worse by the look of amusement in the moose’s eyes. There would be words!