Music: Majestic Nature by Craig Stuart Garfinkle
Artwork by Steve English
Episode 26 – The ‘Place’
Suddenly, Eller’s senses were awash with feelings she’d almost given up hope of ever experiencing again. How long she’d sat in that penetrating, all-encompassing blackness, she didn’t know. Now the problem wasn’t lack of sensation but, rather, being overwhelmed by so many sensations that it made her feel vulnerable.
Where there had been darkness and only the sound of her heartbeat (and the pulse of something she really didn’t want to think about), now there was light, noise, smell. A gentle breeze caressed her body and, slowly, she became aware of others in the place where she sat.
Of course, having been isolated from people for such a long time, Eller’s assumption was that these people couldn’t see her. One of them caught her interest, moving slowly around and… pouring cups of tea! With the light being so intense, Eller took a moment to realise who it was. It was Roseberry! But this was no ordinary Roseberry. This was the Roseberry she’d seen on that night so long ago. Beautiful, filled with light and… busying herself with something so ordinary and mundane and, yet, so wonderful to watch after her time imprisoned in the darkness.
Roseberry finished pouring tea into 3 cups and some on a saucer. Then, as Eller watched, Roseberry picked up one of the cups, turned and walked towards her. Eller was so convinced she couldn’t be seen, that she actually looked over her shoulder to see who Roseberry was taking it to. There was no one behind her.
Roseberry stopped right in front of Eller, staring into the lost girl’s eyes. Eller gazed back, unable to stem the tears that started to stream down her face. Roseberry bent forwards, holding out the cup to the crying girl who looked so young as she sat there with her arms wrapped around her legs. Eller didn’t move, so Roseberry crouched down by her side, the cup of tea still in her hands.
‘Eller, my love, it’s wonderful to see you again. I’ve missed you so very much.’ There was such love in Roseberry’s voice that her tears flowed even faster, and she began to sob quietly.
Still unable to move, Eller felt something warm and wet on the back of her arm. Turning to look, a beautiful border terrier forced his face between her arms, unwrapping them from around her legs, as he demanded love and attention. Despite herself, Eller started to laugh and scratched his ears whilst trying to avoid the worst of the licking. Then, looking up at Roseberry, who was still crouching and holding the teacup, the expression on Eller’s face asked, ‘What’s happening?’
The older woman put the cup down and flopped onto her bottom beside Eller, to give her a hug. Meanwhile, a young man, not much more than a boy, stood nearby looking unsure what to do.
When Eller stopped stroking the dog, he rushed over to the young man who seemed to know exactly how to fuss over a dog. In fact, he seemed a little relieved to have something to do.
After a long hug with Roseberry, Eller eventually pulled herself together enough to ask, ‘How do you know me?’
Roseberry smiled but didn’t answer immediately. Instead, she gave Eller a quizzical look.
Eller suddenly remembered. ‘Grandma!’ she exclaimed. Then, once again they threw their arms around each other, sobbing and laughing all at once.
The young man concentrated on spoiling the dog!
The place they were in wasn’t a real place, as they discovered when, after a little while, Thornton walked through and yet didn’t see or notice them. Then a few more people came and went, busy doing chores. However, the people who came after Thornton all seemed less… tangible… than Thornton, more ghostly and yet obviously not ghosts. It was Roseberry who was the one to be surprised this time.
‘Oh, so that’s where they are!’
Eller looked at her grandma enquiringly.
Roseberry smiled and replied, ‘It’s the servants, love. You see, I knew they had to be somewhere, as every day the whole Manor gets reset. All the cleaning’s done and the beds get made. Well, it’s the servants! You see,’ she was waving her hand at a couple of ghostly figures who were passing through the place in front of them, ‘they’re still here, doing what they always do, but somehow trapped by whatever it is that’s holding us here.’
‘Oh Grandma,’ Eller exclaimed, ‘I, I … think I met it, or something to do with it, just before I came to this place.’
The young man stopping fussing over the dog and looked at Eller properly for the first time. They didn’t need introductions as he now understood that this young lady was Roseberry’s granddaughter. Not only that, but Eller & Roseberry both knew, without having to be told, that he was the Baron – but as he really was, not as he seemed in Rott, Grott & Snott. Oh, and everyone knew that the beautiful little border terrier, running around demanding attention from everyone, was Horatio Fleming McNaughtie, the real Horatio, and not as the enchantment made him in Rott, Grott & Snott.
It was strange being in the ‘place’ and seeing people as they really were. The Baron was remarkably ordinary, although he did still have a shortened leg and club foot. There wasn’t any sign of a hunch though. And Horatio was a good-looking dog; his lower jaw remained longer than his upper jaw, and he’d probably never be a show dog, but he was still gorgeous! Roseberry, too, was similar to the Roseberry she saw in the Manor, although this Roseberry understood things that were hidden from the Roseberry outside this place… This place was revealing them for who they really were and not as the enchantment normally made them appear.
Getting up to go and get the tea for the Baron and herself, and the saucerful for Horatio, Roseberry asked Eller, ‘Tell us what happened before you came to this place.’
As Eller started to speak, the Baron made his way over to the two of them, a little taken aback by how Roseberry shone so beautifully.
Horatio trotted behind, realising there was something tasty coming his way. Once the saucer touched the ground, he immediately got down to polishing off his milky treat. Then, as they talked, he made sure he was in the middle of the little group, almost knocking over the teacups in his excitement.
‘I didn’t actually see anything,’ Eller explained. ‘You see, wherever it was, there was no light, it was total darkness. But I could feel it, something present in the blackness, biding its time, waiting. It was so dark and silent that I could hear the blood pumping through my ears, but then I heard another heartbeat and I knew that, whatever it was, was there, waiting and hating. But, it was as I started to come out of that place, and the darkness started to break, that I heard it sigh.’
Turning to Horatio who was getting fussed over by Roseberry, she asked, ‘Was it you, Horatio? Did you set me free? I thought I would stay there forever, but something broke the bond and let in light.’ Then she looked properly for the first time at the Baron, ‘What did he do?’
The Baron didn’t answer but turned a little redder than before. Eller had intended to wait for a reply, but then she remembered something else and hurried on instead, looking at Roseberry and occasionally glancing towards the Baron.
‘It knew my name!’ she added quickly, looking scared. ‘Because it said to me, “Be sure, Eller Beck, that your sins will find you out.” What does that mean, Grandma?’ she asked Roseberry, anxiously.
To everyone’s surprise, including the Baron himself, it was the Baron who answered.
‘Eller,’ he began and then, obviously feeling very awkward, he panicked. Glancing right and left, breathing rapidly and breaking out in a cold sweat, he thrust out his hand. ‘I’m the Baron,’ he said, as if no one knew.
‘Yes, I know,’ replied Eller, not bothering to take his hand, which made the Baron feel even more awkward. And then she added, ‘I know you very well indeed, even if you don’t look quite the same here. It’s just that you, well no one, not even you Grandma,’ she said, turning to the older woman, ‘seemed to be able to see me.’
Then she looked at the Baron and asked, ‘But what were you going to say?’
As Eller had explained how she’d been in the Manor for a long time and knew the Baron very well, the poor lad had glowed redder and redder. He was obviously concerned about what she’d seen and what she knew of him. If he’d known that, for most of the time, Eller had gone out of her way to avoid him, he might have felt a little more comfortable, but that would have to wait.
‘W ..w…w…well,’ the Baron stuttered, still reeling from Eller’s revelations, ‘there’s a darkness in the Manor, I know it’s there. In fact, I think one of the reasons why all the shadows in the Manor won’t stay attached to anything for very long is that this darkness wants to break things up. It seems intent on destroying everything, corroding what’s real and replacing it with what it wants us to believe.’
‘I don’t think it really has any power over us,’ he continued, ‘except when we let it. When we let anger, lies, hate and rage in and don’t try to stop them, then the darkness gets stronger. I don’t know if this darkness is the same thing that caused all the enchantment in Rott, Grott & Snott in the first place. In fact, I think that’s probably something else, but this darkness loves to play on our fears and prejudices and, when it does, it overpowers us, so we can’t see the truth anymore.’
The Baron had been thinking out loud and suddenly realised that what he’d said might seem a little insulting to this innocent-looking young lady, so he quickly added, ‘Oh, of course, I might well be wrong. I’m not accusing you of any of those things, it’s just… Well, I see it in the villages. The hatred and the way it kind of takes hold of people, and they get twisted and lost.’
Eller didn’t feel like answering the Baron. She could remember her petty, unreasoning hatred of him – she could still feel the weight of it on her chest as if it were a real thing. She remembered with shame how she’d allowed it to take control of her, almost to the point of disaster for the people of Grott. No, Eller didn’t want to say anything. So, instead, she watched the servants moving through the ‘place’ and the whirlwind raging around the edges, having no effect on the people who passed through, but still powerful and somehow angry.
The Baron took Eller’s silence to indicate that he’d insulted her and went back to sipping his tea. After that, it was a little awkward, broken only by little yaps from Horatio as he played between the three of them.
Eller continued to look away, as she struggled with all she’d done. People were seen for who they really were in this place and that made her feel uncomfortable. She was convinced that both the Baron and Roseberry could see the nasty person she was inside. So, as this was a place for honesty, she decided it was time to be honest and talk about her own failures – about her rage, hatred and unreasonable resentment.
Taking a deep breath, Eller nodded to herself and began. ‘I’ve got to be honest with you,’ she started. But then she saw the raging wall of wind move and exclaimed, ‘It’s getting closer!’
Both Roseberry and the Baron looked a little confused as to what she was talking about but, at the sound of alarm in her voice, Horatio leapt up, took one look at the wall of wind and barked. As he did so, the other two looked as well, quickly understanding what she’d meant.
‘All sides are moving in,’ the Baron yelled. He had to raise his voice to be heard above the noise of the wind which had begun to intrude on the ‘place’. The wall of wind was moving closer, forcing them towards the centre of the ‘place’ and away from the roaring winds.
Roseberry, however, didn’t move. Instead, she smiled at Eller, the Baron and Horatio and started walking towards the wall. Eller almost screamed at her, ‘Grandma! What are you doing?’
For a moment, Roseberry stopped and looked back lovingly at her granddaughter. Even then they still noticed just how brightly Roseberry seemed to shine and even shimmer.
‘Eller,’ she said, ‘you can’t stay here, none of us can. It’s a place we’ve been allowed to come to in order to see the truth a little more clearly than we usually do. So, remember what you’ve seen. Don’t trust your eyes and especially don’t trust those feelings that rise up inside that want to…’ Roseberry paused, the wall of wind almost at her back. ‘Well, you know, Eller.’ Then, turning to the Baron, she added, ‘You both know. So, most importantly of all, don’t let the lies win. Remember the truth and hold on to it, come what may.’
At that, the winds enveloped Roseberry, causing her hair to dance but utterly failing to remove the look of love from her face. Then she was gone.
The wall of wind was approaching very quickly and, while Eller and the Baron moved towards the centre of the ‘place’, Horatio, after his initial bark, didn’t seem to be bothered by it. For, a moment later, something caught his eye, and he ran through the winds and was gone.
Eventually, Eller and the Baron were standing back to back, shoulder touching shoulder. Without realising what they were doing, they reached out to take hold of each other’s hands. No sooner had they grasped each other’s hands than the winds arrived, lashing, thrashing, twisting and twirling, but none of it as painful as they’d expected.
It was then that Eller remembered.
All this had happened because the Baron thought she was the problem and now she hadn’t told them about the Rampant Salami! So, shouting loudly, she began, ‘It wasn’t me. You got it wrong. It was the…’ But she didn’t finish her sentence.
The ‘place’ had begun to fade. And as it did, the winds evaporated, and she found herself standing alone in the lounge where Horatio had destroyed the attic vacuum cleaner. Spinning on her heels, she searched the room, but no one was there. Everything looked clean and tidy. As she realised this, she couldn’t help thinking of all those poor servants who had passed through the ‘place’ and were locked up in the enchantment, forever tidying and cleaning. Had they already straightened up the room? Where were Roseberry, Horatio and the Baron?
Eller’s heart thumped loudly again, but this time there was no other heart pounding nearby. In fact, for a while, she couldn’t hear anything until, after a moment or two, she became aware of some noises… no, voices. She could hear voices!
Starting to run, Eller raced towards the voices. As she ran, she clipped a door. If she now had her real body, it should have knocked her over. Instead, she passed right through it without it having any effect. She stopped, turned around and waved her hand through the door and the nearest walls, despair overtaking her. If she could still run through doors and walls, then nothing had changed! Everything she’d gone through had been for nothing. Had it even happened or had she just imagined it? If she could go through doors and walls, then she wasn’t her real self anymore. She was a ghost again, locked in with her loneliness, unable to interact with anyone.
She could still hear the voices and was tempted to walk away. But, just as she was about to turn around, she felt as if someone or something was watching her.
Feeling uneasy and not quite sure what to do, she scanned the hallway she was in. At first, she couldn’t see anyone, until she heard a slight chewing noise high up above her. Pirouetting on the spot, she spun to face the chewing sound and saw eyes staring down at her. These eyes weren’t staring through her or near her, but at her! From high up on the wall above, the eyes were following her without comment, but they could see her… Stokesley could see her… and if he could see her… So, instead of walking away, she continued to the kitchen.
As she came to the door, she saw figures walking about and talking.
When she saw them, bitterness erupted inside her. It wasn’t fair! It’d been hard enough to be alone for all this time but now to have seen them and be seen by them, to have hugged her grandma, to have stroked the dog and… a slight blush came over her face as she thought about holding hands with the Baron. Had it all been taken away again? The stupid moose head could see her, but that wasn’t being seen in any way that mattered.
The pain inside was almost unbearable and, as she started to rage at the situation, the voice from the darkness seemed to echo back to her from inside. ‘Be sure that your sins will find you out,’ it sneered.
Yet, somehow, it didn’t have the power it’d had inside that dark place, as another voice also swirled around in her head. It was the Baron’s voice – Archie’s voice – saying, ‘The darkness loves to play on our fears and prejudices and, when it does, it overpowers us, so that we can’t see the truth anymore.’
Then, she realised she had to fight it, to fight the resentment, fight the fear and not allow herself to be subject to the darkness.
Eller was stationary now, controlling her breathing and trying to silence the resentment that was building up inside her. But how was she to do it? All she could think of was to remember the truth. She had a memory, a precious memory, the memory of her grandma’s face, filled with love. It was all Eller could do to hold on to that memory as she walked, with no great urgency, into the kitchen.
Entering through the open door, she saw Horatio bolting down some kind of gunky mess of a meal which, although disgusting to look at, he was clearly enjoying.
Archie and Thornton were sitting at the table while Roseberry hovered around the attic water boiler. She was wearing thick, rubber gloves and all eyes except Horatio’s were looking nervously in her direction.
So, this was to be it then, with them but not part of them, forever watching from the sidelines. She felt so sad, but the memory had helped. The resentment had faded, and the darkness had lost some of its power. And, although deeply unhappy about the situation, Eller found herself enjoying being with them all. That said, she grimaced a little when she thought about holding Archie’s hands, especially as she looked at him now. He really was a horrible looking young man! Then again, she remembered that what she was seeing wasn’t the real Baron. This was the enchantment, and the real Baron, the real Archie, was very different to what she saw now.
As she thought this, her insides shifted somehow, and she knew the darkness didn’t like it when she remembered the truth. So, she made a note in her own mind, ‘Always remember the truth.’
Roseberry was just about to pour boiling water from the old, attic boiler into the teapot. She loathed the ancient boiler with every part of her being. Yet, the effect it’d had on the invading gargoyles, who hadn’t caused any significant problems since, couldn’t be denied, so she was going to stick with it.
Putting on some safety goggles, she reached forward to pull the handle that released the flow of water. Both Thornton and the Baron leant away from the boiler as it made a horrendous noise, complaining bitterly at being asked to give up some of its precious contents. Then it hissed, as copious amounts of steam escaped, and a small trickle of water dribbled into the teapot. Roseberry, with safety goggles steamed up, proceeded to swoosh the water repeatedly around the teapot to warm it up ready for the tea.
Eller watched, trying to keep her sadness in check. How she wished she could be part of this but then, before the darkness had a moment to reassert itself, she remembered – and it settled again.
Roseberry’s voice snapped her out of her reflection. ‘Are you going to stand there all day or are you going to make yourself useful and pass the tea?’
Of course, Eller didn’t move. Roseberry couldn’t be talking to her because she could still walk through walls and doors; she was invisible and unseen. Then she noticed Horatio, Archie and Thornton all looking in her direction. It was almost as if they could see her. Roseberry yanked off her protective goggles, put them on the side and turned towards Eller, her rubber-clad hands on her hips. ‘Well, young lady?’ she asked.
As if in a daze, with her eyes and mouth open slightly too wide, Eller walked over to the tea caddy. She reached for it, expecting her hands to pass straight through it so that, rather than grabbing hold of the tin, she hit it hard, knocking it clean across the kitchen towards Thornton. He rather deftly grabbed it in midair and passed it to Roseberry, who took it, shaking her head.
‘Well, I can see you’re not going to be any help today,’ she said. Then she added, ‘Sit down! Sit down! I’ll make the tea.’
Eller didn’t move until Roseberry paused and stared directly at her, causing Eller to wilt and do what she was told. Thornton and the Baron nodded to her as she pulled her chair in. Horatio, having finished his meal, wandered over and wiped his mouth on her trousers!
It was then that Eller started to howl – but it was a good howl.