Music: Majestic Nature by Craig Stuart Garfinkle
Artwork by Steve English
Episode 7 – The Outsider
Thornton looked at the irate Baron with a blank expression because he knew there wasn’t anything they could do about them.
‘Yes sir,’ he replied while slowly turning his back on the Baron. ‘Like so many other things in this place, they are a real nuisance.’
‘I mean … I know I keep saying it,’ the Baron continued, not realising he was being progressively ignored by Thornton, ‘but a Manor the size of Manor Rott, Grott & Snott shouldn’t even have gargoyles! They’re from a bygone age! And have you seen the size of them? They’re about two or three times the size of any other gargoyle I’ve ever seen!’ Wagging his finger vaguely in the direction of the roof, he half turned to address the fast disappearing back of Thornton. ‘Maybe if we could work out where the wretched things came from, we could somehow convince them to go back?’
Thornton didn’t bother replying as this was a conversation that had rehearsed many times. He did note, however, that the word of the moment continued to be ‘wretched’ and hid a slight smile as the Baron looked up at the various gargoyles, solid as stone, but in the strangest places all around the roof and on the walls of the Manor, while mumbling ‘wretched things’ over and over to himself.
As the Baron stood staring at the gargoyles (which was about the worst thing you could do with them because they never moved or showed any sign of life when someone was looking at them), a van appeared, driving through the gates of the Manor. Neither the Baron nor Thornton acknowledged it as they knew it wouldn’t be for them.
Roseberry was always flustered when the doorbell rang. It wasn’t so much being disturbed, although it seemed she was always about as far away from the door as possible when the bell rang, as the surprise it rang at all! As she bustled her way towards the front door, she came into the grand entrance hall and made a point of ignoring the over-large moose head on the wall above the mirror. It also seemed to be ignoring her as it chewed on something unseen with its attention fixed on a couple of flies rotating in different directions under a huge chandelier.
Hurrying through the hall, Roseberry tried to remember the last time anyone had rang any of the bells to the Manor. It had been a long time.
As she reached the front door and pulled it hard a couple of times to overcome its reluctance to open (it had a habit of sticking when it rained), she heard footsteps outside walking away.
‘Hold on, will you!’ she shouted rather loudly through the door. ‘I can’t get this wretched thing open. Can you give it a shove from your side?’
As she shouted, Roseberry heard the footsteps halt and then return to the door, followed by a gentle but ineffective shove.
‘You’ll need to shove harder than that!’ she exclaimed. The person outside gave a quick, decisive shove and Roseberry saw a blinding white light and lots of stars.
‘Oh, ‘eck!’ said a voice. ‘I’m so sorry.’ It carried on apologising, as Roseberry felt strong arms grab hold of her and pull her firmly but gently into a sitting position. ‘Could ‘ave sworn you said to give it a good shove. I ‘ad no idea you’d be right behind it!’
A few minutes later, Roseberry was sitting by the kitchen table nursing a reasonably bold lump while a rather anxious man moved smoothly around searching for teabags, pot and mugs. (If he had known Roseberry’s attitude towards mugs, he’d have been looking for teacups.)
As the kettle boiled, it made some rather worrying noises, squealed and squeaked and eventually came to the boil while the man watched, looking somewhat concerned.
A couple of minutes later, after picking up the mug of hot, strong tea and taking a sip, Roseberry took a long, deep breath and turned to give the stranger her full attention. She ignored the moose head which seemed to have made its way to the kitchen wall.
‘Well?’ She had a way of looking at people sometimes that could make them feel very uneasy. ‘What can I do for you?’
The reason for the man’s visit was both entirely bland and at the same time very unusual – at least for Manor Rott, Grott & Snott. As it turned out, he was a butcher from a local town who had happened to be passing. For some inexplicable reason, he’d decided to pop into the Manor, on the off-chance that someone might want some of what he had left.
It was ordinary in that, as the housekeeper of a large Manor, you should expect this sort of thing. But, it was also very unusual because since … well, it was hard to remember … but since … something had happened at some point … almost no one visited the Manor any more, as evidenced by the sticking front door. So, having this person turn up out of the blue was a bit of a shock but, as it happened, a pleasant shock, even allowing for the bump on her head.
Roseberry eyed the man over the top of her mug, not giving him any relief from her withering glare.
‘What’ve you got? I suppose I can always put some in the freezer …’ She wanted to carry on, to ask about the world outside Rott, Grott & Snott and tell him that since the ‘incident’ no one inside the villages or grounds of the Manor had been able to leave. But she felt it wasn’t worth bothering because she knew he’d forget the moment he left the Manor grounds through the large gates. In fact, it had happened enough times now for Roseberry to know that, once their business was concluded, the man would get in his van and simply drive away without a second thought. While she, and everyone else in Rott, Grott & Snott, stayed trapped.
A while ago she had tried to get out, even insisting on sitting in the front of the delivery van with the driver as he left. But instead of leaving, the van simply drove in circles out one side of the gate and straight back in through the other until Roseberry got fed up with it and got out. Then, of course, the van had left perfectly normally, disappearing the moment it went through the gate.
The two of them talked meat for a while and eventually agreed a price. The butcher went to get the meat while Roseberry went to get the money. As she fumbled in the household purse for the right change, she could hear one of the gargoyles outside, clip-clopping up and down the side of the Manor. It would always be distinctly creepy and inconvenient to have them moving around, but she felt she would cope if only they didn’t make such a racket! Whoever had created these particular oversized gargoyles had obviously struggled to carve feet and so had given them hooves instead! The end result was this intolerably loud, clip-clopping whenever they moved. Gargoyles were annoying!
Returning through the back door and boot room, into the kitchen, arms full of all kinds of delicious looking cuts of meat, the butcher displayed them on the large, old, rustic kitchen table while Roseberry first inspected the selection and then counted out the agreed sum.
Having gone through all the usual pleasantries of appropriate thanks and further apology for knocking her over, the butcher turned to leave while mumbling something under his breath about noisy plumbing and stuffed animals. Then, getting to the back door, he stopped.
‘Oh! I seem to be doing everything wrong today. I’ve not got your chops! ‘Ang on, and I’ll get ‘em from t’ van.’ At that he raced off down the steps to his van, returning a few moments later with the missing chops and something else.
‘I’ve got your chops and t’ make up for all t’ nuisance I’ve been, ‘n’ especially that bump on your ‘ead, here’s some salami I had int’ van.’ Holding up about eight to ten appetising links of salami all neatly laced together, he smiled at Roseberry’s reaction. ‘Aye, they’re real nice and ’ll keep well in a cool cellar for quite a while if you don’t get round t’ eating ‘em right soon.’
Roseberry, being Roseberry, was already digging in the household purse to get something extra to pay for the rather tasty looking salami, but the butcher wouldn’t hear of it.
‘Nawww,’ he drawled, ‘I can’t ‘ave thee paying for that! Not after all t’ nuisance I’ve been and you being s’ good with t’ other meat. ‘Ave it as a treat on me.’
At that, he gulped down the remainder of his tea, grimacing as he caught a glimpse of the moose head. Then turned on his heels before Roseberry had a chance to push any more money into his hand and was off to his van.
Following the butcher out the back door, something caught Roseberry’s eye. Looking up, she jumped at the sight of one of the gargoyles that had managed to get right above the back door. It had the most ridiculous expression on its face as if it had been caught in the act of eating something. They were harmless enough, but Roseberry found them annoying, simply because they tended to catch you unawares and made so much noise, especially at night! It was just about been tolerable when they’d stuck to the roof but, now they’d got brave enough to roam around the walls of the Manor, they were a downright menace.
By this time, the butcher had made it to his van. Following him out onto the gravel driveway, Roseberry watched as his van pulled away. Then it was gone, out through the gate, with only the sound of it accelerating away momentarily echoing against the Manor walls.
Shaking her head, Roseberry wandered back inside, taking the longer route round to the front door, as it had been left ajar from when the butcher first arrived. The moose head had returned to its usual place above the mirror and was back to chewing, watching flies and ignoring her in very much the same way as she ignored it.
Reaching the front door, she was surprised by how much force she needed to slam it closed, but as, generally speaking, no one used it, it wasn’t a high priority to fix. Once it was finally shut (accompanied by not a few expletives), Roseberry went through to the kitchen to sort out what meat to put in the fridge and what in the freezer. Then, having sorted that out, she looked at the salami, the only item left on the table, not quite sure what to do with it.
‘Now, what I am going to do with you?’ she asked it, not expecting, and not getting, a reply. (Talking to processed meat products wasn’t the most unusual thing that happened in Manor Rott, Grott & Snott.)
Frowning at the beautifully presented, twisted, thick links of meat she added, ‘I can’t use you right now, so what to do?’ Her nails tapped on the table as she thought about the upcoming meals she’d planned, none of which needed or would benefit from salami. ‘Oh well …’ she continued her one-sided conversation with the salami, before picking it up and wandering to the cellar door, flicking on the lights and carefully stepping down the stairs.
Once in the cellar proper, she walked a short distance from the stairs, looking for a suitable place to hang the salami.
Manor Rott, Grott & Snott was not an altogether normal place. Firstly, it didn’t look like a Manor any more. What it had once looked like, no one could remember. What it looked like now wasn’t a comforting country Manor so much as an angular, creepy castle complete with rather large gargoyles, towers and turrets.
‘Strange’ was probably the best word to describe the Manor as it was quite a frightening place for anyone who didn’t live or work there. But Roseberry, who couldn’t remember a time when she wasn’t working at the Manor, was used to it and thought nothing of the vacuum cleaner that appeared to clean on its own. Or that, every morning, the Manor seemed to reset, as if the servants, nearly all of whom had long since disappeared, were still doing their job and tidying the mess the Baron and Horatio made wherever they went.
Then there were the things that appeared and disappeared without fanfare or warning like the butcher and like the strange cupboards and rooms that appeared once, then vanished and could never be found again. Lady Pinchinthorpe and her maid had been lost in one such room quite a while ago. They had not been seen since which, if she was perfectly honest, wasn’t quite as bad as it sounded from Roseberry’s and probably everyone else’s perspective!
Roseberry had given up wondering about all these things a long time ago. She had even given up thinking about the little floating badges that could only be seen clearly on the night of a full moon. These badges would float around the Manor, sometimes attached to people and things, and sometimes apparently randomly floating in the air. If you looked carefully, you could maybe see them a few days before and after full moon, but only in the right light and if you knew what to look for. She even had one of these badges attach itself to her during a full moon. It followed her at its own pace – never exact, sometimes behind, sometimes ahead – and saying RGS – HKR. They’d managed to work out the RGS bit quite quickly. It meant that she wasn’t a villager from Rott, Grott or Snott but someone who belonged to the Manor. If she had been a Rott, her badge would have started with an R and so on, but anyone who lived and worked in the Manor tended to have all three letters on their badge. What did HKR stand for? No one really knew, but everybody suspected it stood for ‘Housekeeper’.
The reason why she thought the servants might still somehow be in the Manor doing their jobs wasn’t so much that the Manor reset each day, but more because, at full moon, there seemed to be lots of badges attached to invisible things. Although, even at their most noticeable, these badges were still very transparent.
As Roseberry stood in the cellar, she heard a now-familiar noise, not the gargoyles for once, but the vacuum cleaner. While no one knew exactly where the vacuum cleaner would appear each day, every morning at the same time, 11:05 on the dot, it would appear somewhere and start to clean the floors. The problem, as always, was that Horatio Fleming McNaughtie (or Horatio to those who knew him) hated the vacuum cleaner and saw it as an enemy to be destroyed.
At first, it had all been over and done with fairly quickly as Horatio had heard the vacuum cleaner, gone mad with barking, scrabbled through the corridors until he’d found it and then leapt upon it to destroy ‘the enemy’. This had tended to keep the hullabaloo and destruction to a limited area. However, that situation hadn’t lasted as somehow the vacuum cleaner seemed to get wise to Horatio’s tactics leading to lots more noise, chases, and a significantly increased level of destruction and mayhem all around the Manor. The end result was always the same though, with one destroyed vacuum cleaner, one triumphant dog, an extremely messy Manor and one stressed-out red-faced Baron!
As soon as Roseberry heard the arrival of the vacuum cleaner, she forgot everything else and turned to go and help. When she reached the bottom of the stairs, she realised she still had the salami in her hand. Tutting at herself and in two minds as quite what to do next, she eventually walked back to the middle of the cellar entrance hall and hung the salami on an ‘S’ hook dangling down from a beam across the ceiling. Then she hurried off to help.
If she had spent any time thinking about it, and if she had been truly honest with herself, this probably wasn’t a great idea, but the commotion upstairs and her desire to leave the cellar overruled wisdom!
As the light snapped off and Roseberry’s footsteps faded away behind the now-closed cellar door, the salami swayed gently as if in a breeze – although there were no drafts strong enough to have moved it in that place. Spiders stopped spinning webs and mice stood on their hind legs, whiskers twitching, to watch it. Woodworm in the beam above stopped munching. Little swirls of dust moved gently across the floor, washing over scurrying woodlice and making the wine bottles in the wine-rack rattle just slightly. And the shadows? The shadows simply watched from the even darker corners of the cellar, shadows of who knew what, watching and waiting for the enchantment of Rott, Grott & Snott to do whatever it would to the outsider