Music: Majestic Nature by Craig Stuart Garfinkle
Artwork by Steve English
Episode 23 – A Trap is Set
It would have been a reasonably straightforward process to recover the vacuum cleaner, if it hadn’t been for the weight of the thing. However, after a prolonged period of pushing, shoving, lifting and carefully lowering, the old machine was finally back down in the Manor proper. The Baron was delighted to be able to lift up the steps-cum-stairs contraption and shut the attic door once again.
He wiped his brow with a disgusting handkerchief taken from one of his many pockets and stood looking at the old vacuum in the light of day. As he inspected the awful machine, he was aware of two other sets of eyes watching him. One was from outside the round window at the end of the landing. The other, high on the wall to one side, was accompanied by chewing noises. Quite how Stokesley moved around the Manor so quickly, the Baron didn’t know – and he certainly didn’t like it!
Usually, when you revisit something from your past that frightened you, you realise you just perceived it that way. When it’s in front of you once again, the reality isn’t as bad as you remembered. That wasn’t the case here. For, as he looked at the old machine, the Baron thought, if anything, it looked even more menacing than before. Somehow, it seemed to affect the light around it, making the whole area darker.
As he stood looking at the vacuum cleaner and recovering his breath, the Baron heard a noise behind him at the large, circular window at the end of the landing. He knew it was Cod so didn’t turn at once but, when he did, there was Cod still at centre of the window, but his expression had changed. The look on Cod’s face was one of grave concern. Although, to be honest, Cod was a gargoyle and gargoyles were made with fearsome faces – which in Cod’s case was a fearsome fish face – so it was hard to know what any expression really meant. The Baron was assuming it was grave concern, but it could have been a laugh for all he knew. As it happened, this time he was right, Cod was worried!
Stokesley, for his part, was still enjoying the Baron’s pain from earlier – it could be quite dull being a moose head and having to live on the wall.
Now that the Baron had finished the problematic process of retrieving the old vacuum cleaner all on his own, everyone else turned up!
‘Oh, if you’d have waited a moment Archie, I’d have given you a hand getting that down,’ said Roseberry as she wobbled up, first shooting Stokesley a cross look and then inspecting the vacuum cleaner over the top of her glasses.
‘Shall I take it to the kitchen, sir?’ asked Thornton as he appeared at the other end of the landing.
The Baron would have loved to have said ‘yes’. The problem was, that there were two flights of stairs to go down, and Thornton was, shall we say, ‘past his prime’. So, if he had agreed, the chances of both the vacuum cleaner and Thornton arriving in the kitchen intact were reasonably low. Loudly thanking Thornton for his kind offer, the Baron politely refused and started to drag it down the stairs with Thornton muttering something about ‘lack of gratitude’ behind him.
Horatio was strangely absent, bearing in mind all the noise the vacuum had made when being tested. Even when the cleaner finally arrived in the kitchen, Horatio was still nowhere to be seen.
Despite it taking the Baron quite a while to manoeuvre the beastly machine down to the kitchen, he still managed to arrive before Roseberry and Thornton. During that time, the Baron made sure the replacement bag he’d fitted was firmly attached. Once that was done, he sat down to nurse the numerous little bumps, scratches and other inexplicable wounds he’d managed to acquire while relocating the vacuum cleaner. By the time Roseberry and Thornton did turn up, it was mid-afternoon. In the intervening time, the Baron had managed to brew tea, drink said tea, eat a homemade cake, and even clean up spills and wipe the table. Of course, that all had to happen again as soon as the others turned up!
Horatio did eventually arrive, but wasn’t quite himself and kept well clear of the old vacuum cleaner. Giving it sideways looks, he growled weakly at it every now and then. The Baron was a little concerned, as he had never known the dog to be even slightly apprehensive about anything – least of all vacuum cleaners. Still, as they had more work to do to get things ready with the Promise Capsule, the Baron was quite pleased to have a quieter Horatio.
The shadows were also more subdued, and the kitchen appeared to hold far fewer than usual for the time of day. Those that remained kept to the end of the kitchen, away from the Promise Capsule and vacuum cleaner. That said, there were still unusually dark patches in the middle of the kitchen.
Stokesley also turned up and added nothing to the conversation whatsoever. Sitting high on the wall and looking straight ahead at nothing anyone else could see, he carried on chewing. Quite why the moose head had started to turn up so often was in itself a mystery. Usually, it kept its own council in the entrance hall so it could scare anyone visiting the Manor. Maybe having the keys hung on its antlers had shaken it in some way?
As for Eller, she didn’t know what to make of it all. Frankly, the old vacuum creeped her out! It was a monster! And, even though it was inanimate, there was something about it that sent a cold chill down her spine. She hadn’t been with the Baron when he’d retrieved the old thing, but she had noticed an increase in the little eddies of dust and debris ever since. And, as for this Promise Capsule nonsense – well, it was nonsense, wasn’t it? Whoever heard of a Promise Capsule to use in emergencies? It’s not as if it was a common item found behind a piece of easy-break glass with a little hammer and a sign that read, ‘In case of emergency, break glass and use strange object’!
Once again, Eller had missed the start of the conversation, only zoning in at the point where the Baron was saying, ‘… so, I plan to give it one more try before using the Promise Capsule. Then, if it still works, we can follow the instructions and start to deal with this ghostly malignancy. Which, bearing in mind all the strange and dangerous things that have been happening, I believe to be the REAL emergency.’
Roseberry and Thornton nodded, although to look at them you wouldn’t be at all convinced they meant those nods. Stokesley continued to stare at nothing, chewing silently, apparently oblivious to the conversation, while Horatio went and sat just outside the kitchen, staring into the room from the hallway – which wasn’t like him at all!
Once again the Baron pulled the cable out as Eller watched, shaking her head at the stupidity of the whole thing. Then he passed the plug to Roseberry who handed it to Thornton who found an empty socket in the wall.
Preparing himself, the Baron nodded to Thornton, who slowly plugged the beast of a machine into the mains. Then, flicking the ‘on’ switch by the plug, he surprised everyone by how quickly he managed to join Horatio just outside the kitchen door. Once there, he turned off his spare hearing-aids, anticipating what was to come, and crouched down so he could take a firm hold of the dog’s collar. Roseberry moved to the other end of the kitchen, just inside the boot-room, and waited anxiously.
As the Baron moved his finger towards the vacuum’s ‘on’ switch, Eller noticed that eddies seemed to be coming into the room. Horatio actually jumped as one pushed past him moments before the Baron flipped the switch, causing Thornton to hold a little tighter.
What happened next, Eller found hard to explain later when she tried to remember. As the monstrous vacuum cleaner roared into life, instead of attacking it, Horatio stood with all the hair on his back on end, a snarl on his face about as fierce as the one she’d seen in the village of Grott, the day he’d almost devoured Knayton Borrowby. But he didn’t attack.
Stokesley’s ears came up, and his gaze momentarily changed direction, darting to the vacuum cleaner – a smirk on his lips.
Thornton, for his part, turned deathly white and held Horatio even closer under his arm, oblivious to the dog’s snarling.
Roseberry didn’t move, although her expression changed. Instead of the Roseberry Eller had always known, a woman stood there with a look that Eller couldn’t read, serious and thoughtful. Somehow it was Roseberry, but at the same time it was more than Roseberry, and a flash-back to that midnight meeting with the different Roseberry came to mind.
The Baron held on to the beastly machine without looking around him but instead testing things to make sure his repairs had worked. But it was Eller who was most shocked. For, as the machine roared into life, Eller felt something – again. It was as if claws had reached out and were gripping at her in the middle of her rib-cage. They seemed to be pulling and dragging at her. She was so shocked by this sensation that at first she just stood there, stunned.
However, when the Baron finally released the head of the cleaner onto the floor, Eller’s shock turned to outright fear. For she heard something that no-one else in the room seemed to hear – a voice, screaming with rage and hatred.
All the shadows had left the room, and yet the darkness was greater. Even the Rampant Salamis from their hidden lookouts pulled back, unsure what to make of it all and yet slightly exhilarated.
Whatever it was, reached past the Baron, past Stokesley and the Rampant Salamis. Circling around Roseberry, seemingly unwilling to go too close to her, it reached out for Eller. She could feel the hatred pulling at her, wanting to destroy her, capture her and take her to the place it came from – which she knew wasn’t just the attic. Her heart raced, beating even faster as she realised that the blackness was reaching out to take her. As the head of the vicious machine started to grind at the kitchen floor, her feet began to slip. Trying to grab hold of anything was useless as her hands went straight through whatever it was she tried to hold on to. She was being pulled towards the evil machine, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.
Then there was a sound. It was a noise she knew but didn’t like. Yet, somehow, it was saving her. The noise came closer to her, slamming against her again and again. Or, striking the blackness as it reached out towards her.
It was Horatio, the infuriating dog, barking and snarling at the vacuum cleaner. Somehow he’d slipped from Thornton’s grasp and was standing right in front of her, moving forward as she did, towards the evil machine. He wasn’t attacking it, but instead, he was… defending! Defending her from whatever it was.
Then, suddenly, it was over, the grip released her, and she fell to the ground.
The Baron had hit the switch, and the machine was shutting down. And, as it slowed and stopped, he called to Horatio, trying to calm him down.
‘It’s OK boy,’ he was saying, ‘I’ve turned it off. It’s all over. It’s OK. You’re safe now.’
As the machine finally came to a stop, the sensations of hatred and fear eased, and Eller found she could breathe again. Although now, she realised that it wasn’t the so-called ‘Promise Capsule’ she had to worry about, it was the vacuum cleaner itself! It didn’t need any help capturing her. A vacuum cleaner that had been alone in an enchanted Manor, discarded in an attic with gargoyles and who knew what for company – that was the real danger.
Horatio stood his ground, growling still but no longer barking. If it had been the household vacuum cleaner, it would be a pile of components by now, but something was holding the dog back.
So, Eller ran.