Music: Majestic Nature by Craig Stuart Garfinkle
Artwork by Steve English
Episode 9 – Into the Attic
Roseberry had seen it coming for days and had nagged the Baron relentlessly to replace it, but this time something told her that the kettle really was on its way out. So, wisely, she stood outside the kitchen, muttering to herself about the Baron’s reluctance to spend money, as the kettle boiled, getting louder and louder.
When it happened, it was worse than expected. There was an almighty bang, then a sloshing sound as boiling water drenched the whole kitchen. This was followed by a loud boom as all the electrics in the whole of the Manor shorted out.
As the lightbulb above her head (and all the lightbulbs in the corridor) spluttered and then shattered, merrily sprinkling hot glass everywhere, a third explosion erupted as Roseberry screamed, ‘Archibald Ruswarp Briggswath! Come here right now!’
Eller was having a VERY good day!
The Baron, who was still examining the contents of the cupboard, groaned as he heard the screaming. The shadows jumped and rushed off, not wanting to miss the excitement. Slipping the third object into one of his many pockets, he turned to leave the room. When he reached the doorway, he paused to look back at the cupboard, wondering if it would still be there on his return. He got his answer straight away; it had already gone, along with all those wonderful knick-knacks he’d left on top. In a slight panic, he fumbled in his cloak to make sure the new items hadn’t vanished with the cupboard, breathing a sigh of relief as he felt them bulging through his pockets. Once reassured, he reluctantly headed off to confront the emergency!
It took a long time to calm Roseberry down, and even longer to clear up the mess without a working vacuum cleaner. There was another, much older and sturdier, upright vacuum cleaner in the attic, but the Baron didn’t like going to the attic and he didn’t have any good memories of that particular vacuum cleaner – it was a beast. And, having been a beast and now having been abandoned in the attic, with the gargoyles clattering overhead and who knew what else living up there, he was more than happy to clean up by hand.
Had he left the mess, he knew that tomorrow everything would have reset. However, he didn’t want to risk Horatio cutting his paws on the broken glass. Thankfully, Horatio seemed happy gnawing the vacuum cleaner parts and hadn’t come to investigate; he really was a weird dog.
Once all the cleaning was done and Roseberry had recovered her composure, she turned to the Baron. ‘Either you go and buy me a new kettle right now, or you’re going to have to go up into the attic and get the old boiler back down.’
The Baron felt a chill creep down his spine when Roseberry talked about the old boiler. It wasn’t just that, to get it down, he’d have to take a trip to the attic, it was also how terrible that old boiler had been. It had behaved so badly that he’d bought Roseberry the rather cheap kettle that had just exploded as a replacement.
So, now he was in a quandary. Did he spend more money (he shivered at the very thought) buying yet another kettle or did he go to the attic to retrieve the old boiler that made fantastical noises, vibrated like it was alive and, although he didn’t like to admit it, scared him with its strange behaviour?
Well, given that choice, and because they needed a cup of tea to recover from all the cleaning, not ten minutes later, as Thornton went to the cellar to collect replacement lightbulbs and reset the circuit breaker, the Baron made his way up to the attic entrance and waited for the lights to flicker back to life.
In spite of some of the rooms and corridors having moved, he found his way to the attic entrance quite quickly. It seemed that, when he didn’t want to go somewhere, the Manor knew and made it easy for him to get there!
As he waited on the landing for the lights to come back on, the Baron listened to the noises from above. He was sure that the low, scraping sound was one of the turrets relocating from one part of the Manor to another. On top of that, the explosions in the kitchen seemed to have sent the gargoyles into overdrive. He listened to them clip-clopping over the roof and up and down the walls.
‘Those wretched gargoyles,’ he repeated with every clip and clop.
The only light was coming from a circular window at the end of the landing, which was partially obscured by one of the gargoyles’ heads staring straight in at him. As always, it was as solid and unmoving as stone when the Baron looked at it. Then, having looked away for a moment, as Thornton found the mains switch and the lights flashed back to life, the Baron glanced back to see, not one, but three different heads watching him through the window.
Stifling a jump at the sudden arrival of the extra gargoyles, the Baron looked up at the over-long attic hatch. Then, holding a long rod with a hook on its end, he caught the catch and, with hinges squealing in protest, lowered the trap door. The Baron then used the hook to pull down a large, wooden, folding ladder-cum-stairway which was his entrance to the attic. It was surprisingly well made and folded out from itself in a very ingenious manner that made it easy to handle despite its size. The Baron would have loved to study its design a little more but, because it was part of the attic, he tended to resist that particular temptation.
Dust and little bits of debris drifted down on the Baron from above as he extended the mechanism. The Baron always wondered exactly where these pieces came from but had no intention of staying long enough to find out. When he’d dusted himself down and cleared his long, black, greasy hair of debris, the Baron took hold of the handrail.
The air coming from the attic was cooler than the air on the landing and, as he stood looking up, he heard more clip-clopping on the roof. At that, he shot a glance back to the window at the end of the landing. There was still one head looking at him, but the other two had gone, and he suspected it was them he could hear scurrying above. As for the remaining head, it had tilted slightly as if trying to work out what he was doing.
Taking a deep breath, the Baron pursed his lips together purposefully and began to climb the stairs, clomping his built-up shoe with every other step. As soon as he could, he reached up into the attic to find the old-style light switch and flicked it on, sighing with relief as the bulbs flickered on one after another, making a kind of tinkling sound as they warmed up.
The Baron hated being in the attic. Pausing a moment to calm his nerves and get used to the long, slow, scraping noise of the moving turret and the occasional flurry of hooves overhead, he eventually plucked up enough courage to head across to where he’d dumped the old boiler. However, when he finally reached the place, this being Manor Rott, Grott & Snott, it wasn’t there. This meant he’d have to search through all the various mounds of discarded bric-a-brac, broken appliances, packages, boxes, pots, pans and ‘stuff’ to find the wretched thing. This did not fill him with joy!
As he searched, he was constantly aware of one other piece of rejected equipment discarded in the attic. He couldn’t see it from where he was but, ever since he’d entered the attic, he’d been aware of it – aware of the old, powerful, dangerous and (hopefully) lifeless vacuum cleaner he’d dragged up years before.
Little eddies of dust and debris fluttered around from time to time and, together with the sudden sound of hooves on roof, the Baron got jumpier the longer it took to find the boiler. Searching through one pile, an unexpected eddy accompanied by a scurrying of hooves and flickering of lights almost caused the Baron to cry out. Jerking one hand to his mouth, his other hand hit an old lampshade which bounced its way into a corridor between piles of junk.
Taking a moment to let his heartbeat slow, the Baron walked over to the lampshade. The scraping of the turret overhead seemed to be reaching a crescendo and, just as he reached the lampshade, there was an almighty crash as the turret found its new temporary home. The whole attic shook with the force of the turret landing, with piles of junk swaying and falling all around and dust cascading from the rafters.
Coughing and spluttering, the Baron looked up, blinking away the dust. As his eyes regained focus, his heart started pounding as if it wanted to burst from his chest. Right in front of him stood the old, rejected vacuum cleaner. It was on its own and suspiciously lacking the layers of dust that covered everything else. There was a circle around it, free from dirt and debris as if there was some kind of invisible barrier between it and the rest of the roof space. Even now, the dust from the rafters seemed to prefer to fall outside that invisible barrier. Strangely, this part of the attic seemed to have no shadows of its own and yet was somehow darker than anywhere else.
Struggling to control his heart rate, the Baron was about to turn away from the wretched machine when he noticed something behind it, glinting in the flickering light. It was the old boiler! He would never have found it if it hadn’t been for the turret slamming into its new home and causing the collapse of all that junk.
How the boiler had ended up near the old vacuum, he wasn’t sure; he would NEVER have put it anywhere near the ancient vacuum. Then, surveying the mess left by the relocating turret, he realised that, next time he returned to the attic, everything would be reset and back in its heaps and piles in the same way as everything else reset in the Manor each day. Maybe that was when unseen forces had rearranged things, moving both the vacuum and boiler and bringing them close together? However it had happened, the boiler was there, covered in a layer of dust, with small packages stacked on top and some old pictures resting against it.
Stepping over various spilt objects and keeping as far away from the old vacuum as he could manage, he moved towards the boiler in the hope of getting it out the attic as fast as possible. Lifting off the packages, he picked up the pictures to put them to one side. What he shouldn’t have done was look at them, but he couldn’t help himself. They were pictures of his ancestors, each more evil and treacherous than the one before and none of them looking happy. The strange thing was, he couldn’t help but think they looked unhappy because he’d put them up in the attic and done his absolute best to forget them, rather than because that was how they’d been painted. Each one seemed to stare at him disapprovingly, which he was used to, as everyone he met looked at him with some level of scorn, disapproval or downright hostility.
Forcing himself to focus on the task at hand, he carefully placed the pictures to one side (faces away) and grabbed hold of the old boiler. It was a lot heavier than he remembered. Looking inside, he soon found out why, as he retrieved a large, stuffed ferret that also seemed to have a look of total disapproval etched on its features. The Baron hoped this was more to do with the fact that it was stuffed than with him.
Firmly grasping the boiler, and leaving the ferret and pictures behind, the Baron once again took a wide birth around the old vacuum and, as quickly as he could, manhandled the boiler to the attic entrance and down onto the landing.
At this point the gargoyles went mad!