Music: Majestic Nature by Craig Stuart Garfinkle

Artwork by Steve English

The script:

Episode 24 - The Trap is Sprung
 Inside the Manor, little eddies of dust and not so little eddies of dust appeared and disappeared, each time becoming a little smaller than before. Shadows came out of hiding, skittish at the sudden appearance of eddies and unwilling to attach themselves to anything for more than a moment.
 Unconsciously pushing his hair away from his face, the Baron sat in the kitchen, his hair whipped about by an unseen draft. Around the table with him sat Roseberry and Thornton, still looking a little flustered by all that was going on. Horatio lay in the doorway to the boot room. Facing the monstrous, old vacuum cleaner, he tried (and failed) to look as if he was ignoring it. His 'tell' was the way his eyes kept darting back to the machine even as he cleaned his paws.
 'But Roseberry,' the Baron was saying, 'I thought we were all agreed on this plan? Things are going missing and, if that was all that was happening, then maybe I’d 'let it go' as you ask. However, it’s getting worse all the time. Only this morning Horatio very nearly lost the end of his nose as a knife fell from the top of my bedroom door! This can't carry on, so we must stick with the plan.'
 Roseberry said nothing, her face inscrutable since the vacuum cleaner had been turned on. 
 ‘Think about the water boiler and the stone thing I was playing with as it first came to the boil,' the Baron continued, trying to justify his plan to an obviously unconvinced Roseberry. 'We had an emergency then, with a potential invasion of gargoyles into the Manor. It was the combination of those two things which seemed to solve that issue once and for all. I know it probably means we're stuck with the water boiler, but at least we don't have gargoyles sitting next to us for breakfast.'
 Still no reply from Roseberry.
 'As for me, sir,' Thornton said, interrupting the silence that followed, 'I do believe something should be done. So many things have gone missing that it has to be more than coincidence or error. I know I'm getting old, sir,...' As he said this, he held up his hand to silence any protests, although none were actually coming. '...but even that cannot explain all that's happened.' He paused a moment to look at Horatio before continuing, 'Quite if this is the best way to approach it, I have my doubts, but I’m happy to leave it in your hands.' Then, flashing a quick glance at the vacuum cleaner, he added, 'There is certainly something about that thing that tells me it is capable of doing far more than just sucking up dirt. However, if I may be so bold, sir?' he asked, before continuing without actually waiting for the Baron's permission, 'I wonder if maybe there isn't another way? If maybe we’ve missed something and in so doing are trying to solve the wrong problem in the wrong way.'
 The Baron stared at Thornton in surprise. Thornton was always more than willing to offer his opinion on anything but seldom did he counsel caution! Assuming that this had been nothing more than the terrible noise from the vacuum cleaner that had upset Thornton, the Baron said, 'I know it makes a terrible racket and that was indeed part of the reason why we put it in the attic in the first place. But, hang it all, this really is an emergency! What else can we do? I know as well as the next man that a vacuum cleaner can't suck up ghosts and that's why I brought out the Promise Capsule. When I found that thing,' he said, pointing at the egg-like object in the middle of the kitchen table, 'I couldn’t imagine a time when I would consider using it. But, as the other two objects seem to have made such a difference with Cod and the gargoyles, I thought that, if only part of what it says is true, then perhaps it can change, transform, transmogrify or whatever the word is that wretched cleaner so that, instead of sucking up dust and dirt, it can get rid of this malicious ghost?'
 Whilst noting that the Baron’s favourite word was still ‘wretched’, even after all this time, Thornton didn't look too convinced but said nothing more. The Baron looked at Roseberry who still had a far-away expression on her face and so, with a shrug of his shoulders, he leant forward and picked up the Promise Capsule. Then, mumbling the instructions under his breath, he started to arrange things by pulling the heavy, old vacuum cleaner closer to the table. 
 Stokesley had moved along the wall and was a little lower (not that anyone had noticed); it seemed that the moose head wanted to watch this part.
 As the Baron grabbed the vacuum cleaner, Horatio's hackles rose further, but he made no noise. Instead, he stopped his licking his paws and just watched.
 'Right,' said the Baron, mumbling the first line of the instructions once again. 'Instructions for the effective use of your Promise Capsule.' Then, clearing his throat, he continued, 'Step 1. IMPORTANT: Determine that you really do have an emergency. Promise Capsules are not to be used for frivolous purposes as the results cannot be anticipated.'
 Resting the device on the table, the Baron glanced again at a distracted Roseberry and a resolute Thornton before adding, 'We have discussed this, and I believe that there is indeed an emergency, that it is ghostly in nature and must be dealt with. So, we have indeed followed step 1.'
 As no reply was forthcoming from anyone, including Stokesley, who was quite frankly a little too close for comfort, he continued. Lifting the device up again, he read the next part, 'Step 2. Once the emergency has been duly identified, speak to the device three times. NOTE: Make sure to clearly enunciate your words as any guarantee or warranty implied or otherwise will become void if said emergency is mumbled into the device. (No Warranty Provided or Implied.)'
 At that, the Baron cleared his throat and opened his mouth to speak. Then, unexpectedly, he stopped and placed the capsule on the table. 
 'What exactly am I supposed to say?' he asked. 
 Stokesley rolled his eyes.
 'Oh, blast!’ the Baron continued, ignoring Thornton's disapproving frown. 'Why are these things never straightforward?' What followed was a series of what could have been comedic expressions (except of course on the Baron's face they were anything but comedic) and soundlessly mouthed words as the Baron worked out what to say. Then, without running it by the other two, he picked up the capsule again and said, clearly and precisely, 'Our emergency is that a malicious ghost has come into the Manor and its actions are getting more and more dangerous to the point that they must be stopped.' Looking satisfied with this, he continued to say it two more times.
 The next part snapped Roseberry out of her contemplations as the Baron followed step 3 with quite some gusto. He slammed the wrapped device onto the kitchen table where it duly smashed into many parts while staying inside the wrapper. Having jumped, Roseberry at first appeared a little confused before giving the Baron a dark look.
 'Now we're ready for step 4,’ the Baron said to no one in particular. To get to the text, he had to readjust bits of the broken Promise Capsule inside the wrapper to make the words legible. 'Step 4. Tell the Promise Capsule what the emergency is once again and how you would like it to be solved.'
 Thinking again about this, the Baron repeated what he had said before, 'Our emergency is that a malicious ghost has come into the Manor and its actions are getting more and more dangerous to the point that they must be stopped.' And then he added, 'We would like them stopped by using this vacuum cleaner to suck up said malicious ghost and either trap them or destroy them so that they can cause no more trouble for us or anyone else.' 
 Absolutely nothing happened. There was no flash of light, no strange glow or roaring noise or… anything! There was no indication whatsoever that the Promise Capsule had achieved a thing or changed the behaviour of the vacuum cleaner in any way. Although, of course, the vacuum cleaner didn't actually need to change as it was already more than powerful enough to deal with Eller without any help from anything else - something that maybe only Horatio and Stokesley knew.
 'That's it!' said the Baron as he carefully put the remains of the still wrapped device into a bowl. 'The next step, step 5, says we must 'deal with the emergency'. So that means getting this thing,’ he said, pointing at the vacuum cleaner, ‘to a good central location, plugging it in and leaving the rest to it and the Promise Capsule.’
 'But sir,' Thornton asked, 'how exactly will we know when the emergency is… er… dealt with?'
 'We… well...' started the Baron, who then paused with a slightly dumbfounded look on his face. 'I suppose we shan't exactly know unless there's some obvious indication to show us.' 
 He paused again, thinking. And, as he thought, he chewed at the inside of his lip – as if mimicking the moose head. 
 'We’ll just have to give it a good long go. Do you think five minutes should do it?' he asked, and then before anyone could reply he continued, 'No, ten! Ten minutes minimum. If our test for a few seconds earlier today is anything to go by and, if it is working the way we hope, then ten minutes should be enough.' And, with a short nod of his head, the Baron grabbed the old vacuum cleaner and dragged it to the middle of the house which today just so happened to be a sitting room.
 There was a ‘Step 6’ which read, 'Pour yourself a drink, unwrap the pieces of the Promise Capsule, put them into a bowl and read the enclosed note, making sure to do everything it says. Do not read the note until absolutely unavoidable as it will only give appropriate guidance at that point.' 
 But as it seemed this was a step to take after the emergency had been dealt with, the Baron ignored it, leaving the broken Capsule in its bowl on the kitchen table.
 When Eller had started running, she hadn’t really thought where to go. One of the problems with the enchantment of Rott, Grott & Snott was that there was only so far you COULD go! Eller had discovered long ago that if she wandered too far beyond the villages behind the Manor or out the main gate at the front, she would find herself coming straight back into the Manor through the back door. 
 For Eller, this meant that her only choice was to go to one of the villages or to the middle of one of the various bits of forest between them. She needed to stay well away from the boundaries of Rott, Grott & Snott or she would actually end up back inside the Manor and nearer the problem – so she had to be careful.
 Eller decided to head for Snott as it was furthest away from the Manor. Thankfully, it was only about halfway through the lunar month, so nowhere near full moon. While that meant nights were darker without the moon to light them, the upside was that none of the villages or villagers had started to deteriorate in any way. Or, in the case of Snott, to shrink. There was always a little deterioration during the day, but it was far worse around full moon and not much of an issue mid-month.
 As Eller made her way into the village unseen, she noticed, not for the first time, how flimsy the whole village was. None of the buildings were made from stone but were all wooden. They were reasonably well made, but didn't have the feel of permanency about them that the Manor had. In fact, the only thing in the village that had any sense of durability was the well. It was brick-lined, with bricks and stone around the top and a little cover over the pulley thing used to get buckets up and down. Eller thought how different it was in the villages compared to the Manor which actually had plumbing. 
 As it was the most stable and immovable part in the village, Eller made her way to the well where several Snotts were getting water and having a conversation. 
 'What do you think it was?' one of them was asking. Eller felt a little ashamed of herself for not knowing the man's name. She had seen him many times before but had failed to take in this simple piece of information.
 'I don't know Silton,' replied another. 
 Eller knew her name, it was Kirby something... 
 'Do you think I have any better idea than you as to what that terrible moaning and wailing noise was? Just be pleased it's over, the children were terrified!'
 'They weren't the only ones,' thought Eller, remembering her terror at the rage and hate-filled voice screaming at her. Trying to distract herself, and not think about the screaming darkness, she said out loud, 'At least the shadows are normal in the villages.' Of course, no one heard her.
 Reluctant to move away from the only solid part of the village, Eller moved to one side so as to stop eavesdropping on the little group. Yet, even as she nervously fidgeted, sitting on a nearby log and then standing to walk around again before going back to the log, Eller's heart started to quicken. She couldn't be sure, but she thought she could feel something, a presence if you like, searching her out in the villages. 
 And then, it started.
 To avoid any problems with Horatio, the Baron had done something he seldom did. He had shut Horatio in the kitchen. The whining and barking had started almost at once. Horatio did not like being shut in anywhere; he was the guardian of the Manor and to be held back by something as inconsequential as a door was an insult to him. Usually, this wouldn't be a problem as he could jump and pull the lever handles of most doors and push them open, but this door was closed the other way. So, even though he could jump and pull the lever, when he pushed the door, he found it even more solidly shut. And, to make matters worse, the door stuck slightly so when he pulled the lever handle it didn’t open at all, so he couldn’t get his snout in a gap and force it open. He was well and truly trapped in the kitchen!
 Of course, the Baron had shut Horatio up with the best of intentions, hoping to keep him from getting too wound up when he started the vacuum cleaner. Unfortunately, as with many good intentions, this one could prove to be a disaster and Horatio could feel it. He could feel it with his fine pitched and well honed sense of danger. The very same 'fine pitched and well honed sense of danger' that had been so easily fooled when the Rampant Salamis had used bags of peppery stuff to keep him away!
 However, as the Baron pushed the plug into the socket, something stirred throughout the Manor and the three villages. Horatio felt it, Silton, Kirby and their friend in Snott felt it. Mothers hurried their children indoors and, for once, the children were keen to obey. 
 Knayton Borrowby - up to no good as usual - felt it, but only for a moment. He shuddered, shook his head clear and carried on with his nefarious activities. 
 And, Eller felt it. She felt it in her guts, the whole of her insides seemed to be wrenched forward for a moment, and she knew it was coming, coming for her. 
 The wildlife must also have felt it. For the silence that followed was a silence of fearful anticipation as birds, animals and people looked at each other, knowing that something terrible was coming. 
 Stokesley continued to munch and chew, a little smile at the very corners of his mouth. He had moved to the sitting room in the middle of the Manor - to watch!
 Having plugged the machine in, the Baron walked back to the vacuum cleaner, took a breath, blew out his cheeks, shook his arms and hands and then grabbed hold of the vacuum cleaner handle and hit the ‘on’ switch. The machine lurched momentarily as the power from the mains coursed through it. Moments later, a roar came from inside the machine. Then, he held his foot over the switch that lowered the cleaning head to the floor. After a moment’s pause, as Stokesley actually stopped chewing in anticipation, he stamped on the switch as hard as he could.
 As the cleaning head slammed to the floor, the noise that came out of the machine screamed far louder than before. The Baron assumed it was the acoustics of being in a different room. Horatio started barking extremely loudly. It was a bark filled with a mixture of fear, panic and warning, although the Baron could not hear it over the shrieking of the cleaner.
 Thornton shut his door, yanked his hearing aids out and almost threw them onto his dressing table. Lifting his glasses, he rubbed both temples, whispering to himself, 'What are we doing?' over and over again.
 In the Manor, only Roseberry remained calm. As the screaming started, even the Rampant Salamis retreated – temporarily - gathering their stolen goods and hurrying back to the cellar. 
 The shadows, which had slipped away long before, pressed themselves even harder against the Manor walls trying to find anything they could hold on to to keep safe.
 The smile on Stokesley’s face grew. It wasn't a friendly grin.
 Eller felt it before she heard it, that same hatred, gripping and pulling at her from the middle of her rib cage. Instinctively she grabbed at the well, diving through Silton to try and hold on to the edge, but her arm simply fell through the wall of the well unable, as normal, to grasp hold of anything. Throwing her hand over the wall a second time, again her arm fell through the stone, except, this time, she felt something hard knock against her knuckles. Already she could feel the vacuum dragging at her, but she was still able to look up and see what she’d hit. It was the bucket, and it had started to swing on the end of the rope! Silton and Kirby had seen it begin to move, apparently all on its own, and, what with the growing noise, they took one worried look at each other and headed for their homes. But Eller had knocked against the bucket, it was real to her.
 The pulling was getting stronger so, in a last, desperate attempt to stop being dragged back to the Manor, Eller leapt forward and, amazingly, she was able to grab hold of the bucket. Of course, the bucket was at the end of a rope that wound out. Eller loved being able to hold onto something and yet was horrified as the rope begun to quickly unreel and she was pulled away from the well towards the Manor. She held onto the bucket as if her life depended on it (which it probably did). 
 She couldn't believe how long the rope was, as it unwound faster and faster, but then suddenly the rope snatched to a stop as it reached its end. Eller was holding so firmly to the bucket that she wasn’t thrown off, but what could she do now? With her arms and legs wrapped around the bucket, and with the pull of the vacuum growing, Eller was stuck. 
 Then, the eddies started in the village; little swirls but lots of them and all of them darker than the surrounding area. Each time a vortex came and went and reappeared again, it was bigger than before. Eller realised that if she stayed where she was, one of them might hit her and dislodge her from the bucket. Not only that, but the screaming and moaning that she'd heard before seemed to be funnelled through the eddies as they spun and whirled, appearing and disappearing at random. One vortex came perilously close to Eller, so close she felt it buffeting her, shaking her as she gripped the bucket. Mercifully, it disappeared just before it hit and dislodged her. 
 Realising that she couldn’t stay where she was, exposed at the end of a long rope without protection, Eller knew she had to move somehow. So, with her heart pounding, she reached one hand out to the rope to see if she could touch that as well. She could! There was a possible escape! She needed to pull herself along the rope back towards the well. 
 The sheer effort it took to pull herself along the rope against the darkness was enormous, but her fear was so great that it seemed to help her keep going until she reached the village. Eddies, now mini whirlwinds, rushed around faster and faster, skimming the edge of the well, flinging the bucket around and smashing it to pieces as it got battered into the ground. 
 She only had one choice. It seemed stupid and dangerous but, with the whirlwinds growing stronger and hanging on to the end of a rope which no doubt would be snatched away from the well any time soon, she did the only thing she could think of. Letting go of the rope, she dropped into the well. As she fell, she hoped this would save her from the whirlwinds and the screaming darkness. She hoped this would be her sanctuary, protecting her from the terrible hatred seeking her out.
 And so she descended into the well.
 Things weren't going as planned inside Manor Rott, Grott & Snott. When he’d decided to start the vacuum cleaner, the Baron had been sure he’d be able to control it. After all, it was a machine made by people to be controlled by people! What he hadn't taken into account was that this machine had been abandoned and ignored in the attic. He hadn't realised that it had become bitter and resentful as it had sat there. Or, that strange forces he knew nothing about had done all they could to encourage and empower the hatred the cleaner now felt.
 The Baron had thought he was in charge but, as soon as he'd switched the vacuum on and released the cleaning head, those forces had taken control – determined to destroy. 
 As the head of the machine had slammed to the floor, a pulse of darkness had erupted outwards, knocking the Baron clean off his feet and causing Stokesley to drop from his invisible mount on the wall. 
 Thankfully, the pulse had knocked the Baron away from the cleaner. If it hadn't, who knows what injury it might have caused him as it started to jolt across the floor. Everything the cleaner touched was ripped up and destroyed. And from the cleaner came darkness, not a quiet darkness but a screaming darkness, a purposeful darkness intent on finding and destroying something or someone. 
 The grin left Stokesley’s face the moment he fell from the mount. The cleaner seemed much bigger and much more menacing now he was at floor level and, to his eyes, it seemed to be making a beeline straight for him. So, moments later, he was gone, leaving the Baron alone to his fate.
 Scrabbling back from the vacuum cleaner, the Baron just escaped as it leapt this way and that. There was no way he could get hold of it now, so he headed to the power socket on the wall intending to turn it off there. But the cleaner was having none of it. Spinning and spiralling, jumping and sweeping at him, the cleaner kept the Baron away from the plug socket, almost catching the Baron's cloak several times as he attempted to get past. 
 Not for the first time, the Baron realised that this cloak that seemed to wear him had more to it than met the eye, because several times the furious vacuum cleaner should have caught the Baron but, instead, the cloak had seemed to drag the Baron out of danger, saving him from serious injury. The minutes passed...
  The moment Eller let go, she realised that the well was precisely where she shouldn't be. Letting go and dropping into the well was far more dangerous than facing the whirlwinds and darkness in the village above. She realised, too late, that everything had been chasing her to this very place and this very moment - that this was exactly what the screaming darkness wanted. But it was too late! 
  So, falling into the darkness, she found herself screaming, a small scream in comparison to the screaming hatred all around, but a real scream of terror nonetheless.

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