Music: Majestic Nature by Craig Stuart Garfinkle
Artwork by Steve English
Episode 25 – Lost
Inside Manor Rott, Grott & Snott, it seemed that ‘all hell’ had let loose.
In one of the living rooms, the Baron was jumping and darting to avoid what appeared to be a possessed vacuum cleaner, intent on killing him.
Sitting in his room and rocking back and forth in a state of extreme anxiety, Thornton kept checking his ears to make sure his spare hearing aids weren’t in.
Roseberry was walking the corridors… being Roseberry!
Cod raced around the roof with all the gargoyles, unable to settle.
Stokesley hadn’t reappeared as yet, after an altogether too close encounter with said vacuum.
And, Horatio Fleming McNaughtie, the border terror – sorry, border terrier, was shut in the kitchen in an attempt to keep him away from the noise and danger. However, Horatio Fleming McNaughtie had never and would never be kept silent and out of the way by a stupid, little, solid, wooden door! Although the Baron couldn’t hear it above the screaming rage of the vacuum cleaner, the Manor had started to reverberate to a new noise, a relentless thudding, biting and clawing from the kitchen.
As Eller fell into the blackness of the well, it engulfed her and, for a moment, she felt only vaguely aware of the screaming. Then, a blinding light, and a shriek so loud that it seemed to explode in her skull. As her eyes cleared, they revealed the back door of the Manor, wide open and filled with darkness, looking like the open mouth of some kind of monster.
Of course, she shouldn’t have been surprised. Every time she strayed beyond the limits, she always found herself returning through the back door of the Manor. She should have seen it coming, as falling down the well was technically going beyond the boundary of Snott. But, in the stress of the moment, she hadn’t thought carefully enough. The end result was that she was now in even greater danger. (P) Before she’d even realised what had happened, she felt the powerful tendrils of darkness wrapping around her, determined to drag her deeper into the Manor and towards the hideous, screaming darkness.
Grasping and grabbing at anything and everything she could, her hands and arms passed through them all. All that is, except for a small, carved, wooden dog that she almost didn’t bother holding on to as it seemed so small and worthless. But she was pleased she did for, as she passed through the closed kitchen door, her hand holding the carved, wooden dog wouldn’t go through the door. For a moment she hung in mid-air, held safely by the wooded dog that couldn’t go any further.
Having passed rapidly through the kitchen, Eller hadn’t noticed Horatio. So, when he suddenly attacked the door, she panicked. Splinters of wood flew through the air, and the hinges were almost shaken loose. The shock of Horatio smashing into the kitchen door caused Eller to involuntarily let go of the wooden dog, and she found herself being pulled deeper into the Manor. The dark tendrils wrapped even tighter around Eller, throwing her around like a rag doll, accelerating her towards the ancient, evil vacuum cleaner.
Passing along corridors and through doors, Eller moved rapidly. In no time at all, she entered a sitting room inside which she saw the Baron, hot and sweaty and doing everything in his power to avoid the monstrous machine. For a split second, Eller felt sorry for him, but then the loathing kicked back in, and she felt pleased to see him suffering for the terror he was inflicting on her.
The vacuum didn’t hesitate. Immediately, a profusion of darkness and shrieking reached out of the machine, engulfed her and dragged her inside.
Inexplicably, for a moment, the old vacuum cleaner stopped jumping and twisting around. So, taking his life in his hands, with a desperate lunge, the Baron leapt forwards and yanked the plug out the wall without bothering to switch it off first. A sudden, bright spark shot from the socket, and every electrical appliance in the Manor stopped working.
The Baron collapsed to the floor, a sweaty mess. Wiping the perspiration from his forehead, he looked nervously at the evil, old vacuum cleaner.
Was it over?
Eller wasn’t sure if her eyes were open or not and, after a few tests, decided it really didn’t make any difference. She was in a place of impenetrable blackness. The screaming had stopped, but every sense inside her told her she was not alone.
She found herself sitting on a floor, terrified. She pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs, waiting for whatever came next. The strange thing was that, for the first time in her memory, she knew she wasn’t on her own and she wasn’t invisible. Yet, right now, she wished she was with all her heart, because whatever it was that held her captive was something she didn’t want to be alone with!
Just how long she waited, she couldn’t tell. There was no noise. In fact, it was so silent that the sound her own ears generated as blood pumped through them seemed unnaturally loud. So, she concentrated on listening to her own breathing and then, as that calmed, she found she could hear her own heartbeat, strong and steady. How long this went on for, she had no way of knowing as there was no reference to tell how fast or slow time was passing. It could have been mere moments or hours or even days.
The first confirmation she had of the other presence was another heartbeat, another pulse, nearby. The thing with the pulse didn’t speak and, if it breathed at all, it breathed very quietly. At first, their heartbeats had been at the same rate, which was maybe why she didn’t notice it until now. However, when Eller realised that there was another pulse, her own heartbeat increased, causing all kinds of strange, syncopated rhythms.
Again, just how long she waited she couldn’t tell – but she figured that, now she was trapped, there was nothing more she could do and that if she waited, sooner or later, she would get some kind of answer.
But none came. The silence continued, Eller’s heartbeat slowed again, and the two pulses almost matched to the point where she was concentrating on nothing else. It may have been like that for hours, she honestly didn’t know. Strangely for Eller, who had got so very used to airing her opinions, she kept silent and felt no impulse to speak.
As the din of the monstrous, old vacuum cleaner finally died, the Baron became aware of other noises in the Manor. His ears quickly attuned to the banging and crashing, accompanied by splintering and smashing, coming from the kitchen. He also noted the associated growls and gruffs of frustration.
Probably because he was exhausted, it took a while before he realised what all this noise meant. And, when he did eventually understand, it was too late, as Horatio Fleming McNaughtie finally managed to destroy the kitchen door and was speeding towards the Baron.
‘Crikey!’ was all the Baron managed to say before the lounge door burst open and a vast, green-eyed Horatio filled the space. The Baron took a deep breath to steady his nerves as the beast looked first at him and then at the evil, old – but now silent – vacuum cleaner. After a moment’s pause, the monstrous Horatio pounced, leaping over the Baron to get to the machine, intent on destroying it way beyond repair.
As Eller sat in the near silent darkness she began to hear a rumbling sound in the far distance. The pulse beside her didn’t change speed, although the character of the darkness surrounding her somehow shifted.
So far, the blackness had engulfed Eller, encompassing her in a veil of hopelessness, loneliness and despair. Looking back at it years later, Eller realised that the hopelessness, loneliness and despair were never her own. Although right then, she feared they were, and she would be left with them forever.
The rumbling turned to thudding, and the thudding turned to roaring. Still, the pulse continued unchanged, and the darkness would not let go. Louder and louder the noise grew. Eller realised that her own heartbeat had become faster and then, almost imperceptive, she heard a sigh.
No sooner had the thing sighed than Eller realised what the noise was. It was the same sound she’d heard in Snott, the noise of ever more massive vortices whisking towards her as they had at the well. As the sound of the whirlwinds rose, threatening to surround her and blast everything they touched, she felt nothing.
Then, light, blinding light so powerful she had to throw her arms over her eyes to cope with it, as it suddenly overwhelmed her. But, even as the light flooded over her, with the darkness in full retreat, Eller heard a voice. A voice that was calm and clear in spite of the raging whirlwinds. It was devoid of any joy or happiness.
‘Be sure, Eller Beck,’ it snarled, ‘that your sins will find you out.’
At that, the darkness what gone and Eller was in the midst of the storm that raged around her and then, once again, silence, but this time it was filled with light…
The destruction of the evil, monstrous, old vacuum cleaner took Horatio a good long time in comparison to his dismembering of more modern machines. The old machine was made of much stronger stuff but, then again, so was Horatio, who was not himself. At first, the Baron wondered if he’d forgotten to give Horatio his daily ‘treat’ but then he realised that it was too early in the day. So this was something altogether different from the usual ‘issues’ Horatio had. Very wisely, the Baron kept well away.
As Horatio attacked the vacuum cleaner, Roseberry appeared in the doorway, a look of deep concern on her face. She too realised that something more was going on and moved closer to the Baron.
While Horatio destroyed the apparently helpless vacuum cleaner, eddies started to rise up all around the room. The more he attacked it, the bigger and stronger the vortices became. The Baron and Roseberry wanted to stop Horatio, but both of them knew that wasn’t an option. So, carefully, they began to retreat from the mayhem and destruction. Yet, each time they tried to move, larger and more violent vortices appeared, forcing them back. The whirlwinds grabbed everything in their path and hurled it around while pushing the two people back towards the raging Horatio and the vacuum cleaner.
As the destruction increased, so did the winds, black winds, malevolent winds – and still Horatio attacked.
Stronger and stronger grew the whirlwinds. There had been so many, but now they started to come together, becoming even more powerful, always forcing the Baron and Roseberry closer and closer to Horatio and the remains of the evil machine.
So powerful was Horatio’s attack, and so close were the Baron and Roseberry, that they could hear and feel the ripping and crunching. Spots of saliva spattered them as the mad animal ripped apart the vile machine. Piece after piece was dissected, shaken and thrown into the whirlwind and out of sight.
Then, amid the noise and power, the Baron heard something he didn’t expect, a deep sigh, followed by a blinding flash.
He was surrounded by light. He was in a place he had never been before and sitting on the floor nearby was a girl, about his age, holding her legs close to her chest. Obviously, the girl was as surprised as him to be there, although, as yet, she didn’t seem to have noticed him.
Roseberry was nearby, he could tell. But, right in the middle of the ‘place’ sat a slightly dazed-looking (but perfectly normal-sized and rather gorgeous) Horatio Fleming McNaughtie!