Music: Majestic Nature by Craig Stuart Garfinkle
Artwork by Steve English
Episode 8 – The Ghost
Roseberry was neither young nor slender and always frustrated at her lack of speed when it came to dealing with Horatio Fleming McNaughtie and the havoc he caused. Of course, the vacuum cleaner turning up ‘who knew where?’ each day only added to the frustration! As soon as the howl of the vacuum started, the whole Manor reverberated with the resonant growling and barking of the enraged Horatio.
Of course, Horatio didn’t see it that way. As far as he was concerned, he was a hero! When the evil villain ‘attacked’, he was ready to defend the Manor, the people in the Manor and, of course, the one he loved more than anyone else, his master, the Baron.
As he hurtled after the evil menace, intent on vanquishing his foe, he could always be sure of his master’s encouraging shouts behind him, supporting and egging him on in his noble quest. Well, at least, that’s the way he saw it and I doubt very much that anything could ‘ve change his opinion on the subject.
In reality, the Baron just wanted to protect Horatio and calm the animal down. He chased after him as fast as he could (which wasn’t very fast due to a short left leg, club foot, built-up shoe and slightly hunched back), all the while shouting ineffectively at Horatio to stop, in the vain hope that somehow this would limit the inevitable carnage.
It never did. The end was always the same, with bits of vacuum cleaner flung all around and Horatio sitting gnawing at some component or other. To be honest, the Baron was relieved that Horatio hadn’t electrocuted himself. He was ugly enough for a border terrier without the additional burns and loss of fur/eyes/teeth/limbs and even life that electrocution could cause!
However, today didn’t quite go as it usually did. For one thing, Roseberry Topping, the housekeeper of Manor Rott, Grott & Snott, happened to turn into the corridor Horatio and the Baron were chasing down and found them hurtling towards her.
Horatio had a healthy respect for Roseberry. So, rather than trying to dash past her and risk being grabbed by the collar, he took a sudden right turn and bolted off down another corridor (which probably hadn’t been there moments before), in an attempt to get to the offending enemy another way.
As for the Baron, his relief at Horatio’s destructive charge being temporarily foiled was short-lived when he realised that, by chasing him as fast as he could, now he was confronted by the unexpected obstacle of an angry Roseberry completely blocking the corridor. This could be a problem.
It was! With his various issues, he simply wasn’t able to slow down fast enough to avoid a collision and the two of them tumbled sideways into a room just in front of the vacuum cleaner as it vacuumed the carpet, apparently all on its own.
Moments later, Horatio bounded in at the far end of the room, his beady, uneven eyes seemed somehow larger than usual and, maybe it was a trick of the light, but they seemed to glow green! As they watched, his mouth appeared to get bigger and his overgrown lower jaw elongated. His yellowing teeth and fangs grew more vicious as he pounded towards … well … surely it must have been the vacuum cleaner? Yet it felt very much like he was pounding towards them.
Always a scruffy, tufty border terrier (even after he’d been hand stripped to keep his fur under control), now his coat resembled a lion’s mane. From their angle, tangled on the floor, both Roseberry and the Baron thought how big he seemed, getting bigger with each bound until he leapt, with madness in his eyes, intent on destruction.
Eller Beck was having a terrible day, like usual. She’d spent the morning so far trying to get a spider to notice her and to see if she could manage to tap its web. She hadn’t and, after a few choice words, she’d wandered off into the Manor to wait for the morning show. At 11:05 every day the vacuum cleaner would start up somewhere in the Manor and that ugly dog would go mad until he’d managed to find and completely destroy it. On the dot of 11:05, the vacuum started and, to her surprise, was much closer than normal. Usually, she’d arrive just in time to see the final frenzy of destruction, but not today!
What a treat in an otherwise terrible life; a life where she could see and hear everything but couldn’t be seen or heard by anyone. A life where, on very rare occasions, she could touch some things but, for the rest of the time, she couldn’t interact with anything and she had no idea why! Where she could pass through walls and doors but got no thrill out of it as she could neither surprise nor shock nor interact with anyone. In short, Eller Beck was little more than a ghost and about the most lonely person in the whole world – well, if not the whole world, then at least in Rott, Grott & Snott.
Unable to see herself in a mirror, Eller had almost forgotten what she looked like. She knew she had reddish hair because it was just about long enough for her to look at. She could see her hands, arms, body, legs and feet but only with her own eyes and never in any kind of reflection. She couldn’t eat and wasn’t even interested in food, always seeming to have enough energy for each pointless day. Her clothes never changed and never wore out and, if it hadn’t been for the very few random occasions when she’d been able to touch and move things, she would have been genuinely convinced that she was nothing more than a hopelessly lost ghost.
On those rare occasions when she did manage to touch and move things, she always made the most of it by attempting to make other people as miserable as she was – and she was very miserable. Quite why she never tried to write a message or leave a clue about herself, I don’t know. I think she only thought about that after she’d done whatever it was and it was too late.
She had tried many times to leave Rott, Grott & Snott by going beyond the forest that surrounded the villages, but it never worked. She had since learnt that it was the same for everyone in the villages and the Manor; once you went beyond the bounds of Rott, Grott & Snott, you unfailingly found yourself emerging back inside, always at the same point regardless of where you left. For Eller, she invariably found herself coming right back into the Manor through the back door. It seemed that Rott, Grott & Snott refused to let anyone go – even a ghost. So, as you can imagine, as well as being lonely, Eller was bitter, angry and often rude (because no-one could hear her) and longed for any distraction from her mind-numbing life of solitude.
At least today had a spark of interest. For, as Eller walked through a wall, a comedy scene opened up in front of her. The vacuum was cleaning the room all on its own and then, moments later, Roseberry and the Baron tumbled and sprawled through an open doorway, landing almost on top of it.
She felt the dog’s arrival before she saw it. As she turned, she saw it bounding towards the vacuum like a mini possessed werewolf, its front end disproportionately larger than its rear and with evil in its eyes. It was going to pass right through her because she’d managed to get between it and the vacuum.
Eller had got used to people passing through her. In fact, she’d made a point of passing through people for a while in the hope that it would make her more noticeable. It didn’t. However, because she loathed Horatio so much, she’d tried to avoid having that ‘thing’ go through her. Still, now it was too late as Horatio seemed to leap at her, although she knew it was really aiming for the vacuum cleaner.
The mad dog’s head seemed to pass into and through her chest. The few times the dog had previously gone through her, nothing had seemed odd, but this time, as Horatio flew into Eller, something felt different. The dog didn’t notice her, or at least it seemed that way. Yet, as it passed through her, it was as if something got stuck on one side of Eller, pressing hard against her chest, maybe only momentarily, but long enough for the dog to land, shake its head and sit down to scratch its ear with its hind leg. Shockingly, it seemed unconcerned about the vacuum cleaner right in front of it!
The Baron and Roseberry could hardly believe their eyes. In a flash, Horatio had gone from a mad demon with murder in his eyes to a little (although I’m not sure you can use the term ‘little’ for any border terrier) dog with an itch! This gave them enough time to wriggle out of the way of the vacuum cleaner as it moved on to the next piece of carpet.
Eller felt what happened next. It may not sound very impressive to say but, since Eller had hardly ever felt anything for as long as she could remember, this was perhaps one of the best and worst moments of her life as the – whatever it was – that had failed to pass through her divided into two parts and whisked its way around her waist towards the dog. She felt like she could almost see it, but perhaps more like you see something from the corner of your eye, then look for it and can’t find it any more.
Within a few moments, it must have arrived at Horatio for the now calm dog, busily chewing its own back paw, suddenly snapped to attention and, with a laser focus, started to viciously attack and destroy the vacuum cleaner.
For once, Eller, Roseberry and especially the Baron just watched, unwilling to interfere after what they had seen or, in Eller’s case, felt. Whatever it was, one moment it had been in the dog, then it had come out, stopped by Eller, but now it was back. The Baron and Roseberry had no idea what had happened and looked shocked. Even Eller wasn’t sure if it had been her that had separated the thing from Horatio or just one of those coincidences, but something had happened and that made for a good day in her books!
It took only moments for the vacuum cleaner to be destroyed, reduced to chewed and saliva-covered components. By that time, Roseberry had all but forgotten what had happened and bustled off to do … whatever it was she was going to do next. As for the Baron, he was muttering to himself through his long, black, greasy hair, his sharp chin bouncing up and down as if he was trying to chew something particularly unpalatable, his mono-brow curved and rippling with questions and frustration.
When the dog had finally finished, the Baron pulled his cloak forwards, twisting it in front of himself to make a kind of pouch, and started to pick up the vacuum cleaner pieces, ready to take them to the shop in Snott … again!
One of the things about Manor Rott, Grott & Snott was the way corridors and turrets moved around somewhat, while rooms and cupboards moved and even appeared and disappeared without rhyme or reason. A ‘guest’ had occupied the Manor for as long as the Baron could remember, Lady Pinchinthorpe, who seemed to think that she had a total right to be in the Manor and that everyone else, including the Baron, was there to serve her. From the Baron’s perspective, Lady Pinchinthorpe had been a casualty of one of ‘those’ rooms. The Baron had seen it himself. A room had appeared behind her one day just as she’d finished telling the Baron what to do, although he couldn’t for the life of him remember what she’d actually said. She had turned and gone into the room with her rather snooty servant, Ayton, and the room had then promptly vanished! He hadn’t seen her since and, if he was totally honest, he wasn’t as upset as he thought he should be. He also doubted he was that lucky and was reasonably sure she would return….
Anyway, as expected, the Baron had been left to deal with the leftovers of the destruction by himself. He could hear the kettle starting to boil as Roseberry worked in the kitchen. Roseberry had been complaining about the kettle for quite a while now. He knew it was on its last legs but, until it actually broke, he was reluctant to do anything about it.
Hearing the noise from the kitchen getting louder and louder, Eller lost interest in what the Baron was doing and went to investigate. From the sound of it, she thought it might prove to be a very entertaining day indeed and didn’t want to miss any of it.
As the Baron scoured the room looking for all the pieces Horatio had scattered around (with Horatio following and trying to get to the parts before the Baron, intent on reducing them to even smaller components), he noticed one of ‘those’ cupboards in the room. He could tell it wasn’t a normal cupboard by its design and the fact that he was ninety-nine per cent sure it hadn’t been there a moment before. Now he had a quandary – what to do about the cupboard? If he left it, it would disappear and probably never turn up again and whatever was inside (if anything) would be lost. But, if he went to take a look, he’d have to put all the vacuum cleaner components down and Horatio would get back to them again.
After a moments indecision, the prospect of something exciting in the cupboard overruled his logical head (most times these places were disappointingly empty). Carefully putting all the parts he’d collected on a sofa, he moved over to the cupboard, deliberately ignoring the fact that Horatio had jumped straight up on to the couch and was back at work!
There was a musty smell to the cupboard that told him it was ancient and lost. The wood was inlaid and beautiful in an old-fashioned way. Noticing with some relief that there was a key in the lock, he turned it; it gave a very satisfying ‘click’. Then, pulling on the key rather than the handle, the key fell right out the lock onto the floor. Muttering to himself, the Baron picked it up, slipped it into one of the numerous pockets in his cloak, then carefully pulled the handle of the cupboard door to reveal the contents inside.
It was full! As soon as he saw all the paraphernalia inside, he was giddy with excitement. He’d expected it to be empty, like usual, but this was a real treat and worth the extra effort he’d have to give to clearing up the vacuum components again when Horatio had finished.
The light wasn’t very good in that corner of the room, probably because, as soon as he’d opened the cupboard, pretty much every shadow in the room had come over to take a look inside. Neither the low light nor the silent audience of shadows crowding around him dimmed his delight at seeing all the unusual old instruments, gadgets and whatchamacallits arrayed before him.
As carefully as he could, he lifted each one out of the cupboard and placed them on the top. As he did so, the shadows moved around, pushing each other out of the way as they inspected the strange new objects. (I probably ought to say that shadows in the Manor are not like shadows anywhere else. They feel no responsibility or inclination to stick with the items they originate from. Not being restricted, they tend to be rather nosey!)
A few items looked like things he might have seen before, while others were entirely new to him. There was a small, strange, spiralled wire and bone thing with a handle that looked altogether too large for it. He slipped that into another of his cloak pockets to inspect further later.
A large, egg-shaped object caught his eye. It had some words on it and, picking it up, he read out loud in his nasally, whiny voice, ‘Promise Capsule.’ The shadows shifted at this and, rather than reading all the other instructions, once again, he slipped it into a pocket and picked up a third item.
Luckily for the Baron, he never seemed to lack for pockets in his cloak. He hated the cloak and wished he didn’t have to wear it but, the truth was, as with all these Rott, Grott & Snott enchantments, he didn’t have a choice. In fact, you could say that the cloak wore him. But, today, he was thankful for all the pockets.
As he held the third beautiful object in his hand – a kind of stone with lines all over it, that looked heavier than it was and yet seemed to move under his fingers – the inevitable happened, very loudly.