DOWNTON ABBEY MEETS LOVECRAFT MEETS NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in Deadtown Abbey.
It is a world few of us have ever known. A world of masters and servants, where everyone knows one’s place. A world of newfangled technology like telephones and motorcars. A world of vampires, werewolves, zombies, and monsters of the deep. At the center of his necropolis estate lives the Earl of Monroe, who must hold the family he loves and the servants he trusts together against the eldritch onslaught of this rapidly changing world.
Johnny Shambley and his mother were assigned adjoining rooms. As soon as the servants had gone to allow them to dress for cocktails, Gaylen Shambley walked right into her son’s room without even knocking.
“Mother! That isn’t how they do things here!”
“Oh, what stuff,” Gaylen said, petting John Jenkin on his neck scabs and cooing at him. “We’re family.”
“You and that thing are family,” Johnny said. “I’m just the hired help.”
Gaylen came over to the tall man and placed a hand on his pallid cheek. “Don’t be like that, my dear. You know as well as I do that they would never recognize your elder brother as heir. This will be the beginning of a new way of life for all of us. This is a palace! We’re each doing our part to support the other.”
Johnny let out a disapproving sigh, and whispered, “I like these people, Mother. We’re abusing the spirit of the entail tradition. Ye gods, we’re breaking the letter of the entail. If we’re discovered—”
“Oh, how could we possibly be discovered?” she whispered back. “Is anyone going to suspect you have a brother who just happens to be a dog-snouted pentadactyl monkey rat? Besides, if you were so worried, why did you perform a parlor trick of necromancy in front of the entire household? That Lady Maureen is a vampire’s slut!”
Johnny shouted, “She is not” —then lowered his voice again—“in the thrall of the late vampyr anymore. Her encounter with him was completely nonconsensual.”
“Congratulations! Wot, you think she’s going to marry you now? A necromancer with sweaty palms and a jaw like a lunchpail?”
“You say necromancer like it’s something to be ashamed of, but I know you are well versed in the Art. I know that John Jenkin there didn’t fall out of your sour womb looking like that,” Johnny said, and could see instantly that he had hit his mark. “He’s never going to leave you now, is he?”
“You’d like if he left, wouldn’t you, ran off with that harlot and died in a tavern fight over her honor? Then you would be the bloody heir in reality!”
* * *
I must step in a moment here while Gaylen has her back turned to Johnny, while she is tickling the shaking thing under its dog snout, asking it about the identity of a nice boy, a pretty boy, &tc. She knew its identity as a boy very well, of course, since she was referring to her son, John Jenkin himself.
While Johnny Shambley and his mother are discussing who uses his or her powers for good and who does so for evil, allow me to explain some details about the United Kingdom entail circa 1912. The following are true:
- While there is no record of any dog-snouted pentadactyl monkey rat inheriting either title or property, there has never been any specific rule against it.
- If there were a specific rule against a dog-snouted pentadactyl monkey rat receiving a peerage, it might apply only to natural-born dog-snouted pentadactyl monkey rats, and not those born human but later changed into such a being by a clingy necromancer mother.
- It was unnecessarily confusing for the older brother (who was eventually transmogrified into a human-handed monkey rat) to be named John, while his younger brother (who ultimately studied the Dark Arts) was subsequently named Johnny. Their mother, Gaylen, thought that this would help them bond and make John the elder never want to leave home ever for some guttersnipe. This plan did not succeed, obviously, and Gaylen—herself an accomplished necromancer—was forced to keep John at home, with the mother who loved him like no one else ever could or ever would, by other means.
- Johnny thought that his becoming a necromancer himself would impress his mother at long last. It did not, because she felt his ability to detect supranatural presences was not true necromancy, as the definition is technically “communing with spirits to do evil, popularly known as black magicks.” She did not consider diagnosing a possessed person as haunted by geists to be proper necromancy, not in the way that trapping one’s eldest son in the form of a wizened, five-fingered, partially hairless rat is proper necromancy.
- An entail is, according to common law, “an estate of inheritance in real property which prevents the property from being sold, devised by will, or otherwise alienated but which passes automatically by operation of law to the property owner’s heir upon his death.”
- An “heir” was defined at this time as “the eldest male child.” Q.E.D.
Now let us return to our story at a point just after Gaylen and Johnny Shambley agree to disagree, as John Jenkin waits until his mother and brother go down for dinner to attempt to gnaw his way out of a wicker basket his mother purchased in Bath with the specific intent of keeping him from running amok and ruining everything.
* * *
The dowager countess Velma sat in the parlor, blinking at the electric lights and wondering about the unhealthful vapors they were known to emit, when Foree announced the entry of the heir and his mother.
Johnny’s white-tie dinner ensemble was just as starched and pressed and brushed as anyone’s, but somehow his shlumpy posture and mien made the whites less brilliant, the blacks more of a splotchy grey. Corners seemed to be more than or less than ninety-degree angles wherever he chose to stand or sit, the world pinching in on itself or spreading out nauseously.
His mother wore a floral getup that was as out of place as she seemed to be. In fact, she seemed strangely fidgety and distracted—strange, that was, until the others in the room realized she wasn’t holding her leathery and mangy dog thing.
“So glad to have a chance to get to know you, Cousin Johnny. My man of business in London tells me that you are a writer of some sort?”
“Not a journalist, I hope,” the dowager countess said. “The muckrakers are having a field day with this Exchequer business. Whatever happened to a nice invented casus belli to keep the patriotic rabble entertained? What do the working classes care if a man of status is looking out for his family a bit too vigorously?”
“No, madam,” Johnny said, his lantern jaw extending as he spoke, “I am an author of weird stories. Psychological terror, existential dread, and of course the vicarious experience of madness itself.”
“Of course,” Velma said.
“That sounds distinctly unpleasant, if you’ll excuse my saying so, Cousin,” Maureen said. Her porcelain skin betrayed a flush of color. Since Johnny had said those words about “releasing her from the vampire” to his lovely cousin, her whole composition seemed changed. Her eyes flashed bright, her skin looked healthy—some in the room were already thinking it was love, so it was assumed she was teasing the heir a bit. “I mean, why not write about something pleasant, to make your readers smile?”
“A good question, Lady Maureen.” Johnny had opted to drink a seltzer water with a dash of berry juice, and now he gestured with the drink in his hand. “I write stories about zombies, vampires, things from the stars. These stories are fashioned to make the reader question his sanity, as he comes to understand the world contains such things as dark old gods hungry for human flesh served al fresco.”
The room fell silent. Then Lady Eleanor spoke up and said, “So you’re a religious man?”
“Eleanor!” her mother snapped. “Dark beings from other worlds are not religion. They are fantasy only!”
“Well, perhaps I think the Jesus and its three souls are fantasy!”
“Not this again,” the dowager countess groaned. “Christism is the religion for people of quality, my dear. Don’t wallow in the gutter of the underclasses’ folk beliefs.”
“No, I believe that Cousin Eleanor understands! This is how the true stories of the old gods can be reintroduced to the literate upper classes. As fiction on the surface, but telling the truth, you see?”
“I think you might find some of us more amenable to the old gods than you might think,” Lord Monroe said, and let the last of his drink slide down his throat.
“George!” his wife snapped.
“Really?” Johnny said. “That’s extraordinary.”
“I fought in the late war, South Africa, my dear chap.”
“By Hastur’s fiery beard, I hadn’t realized,” Johnny said, and all around knew that fast friends had been made.
“Actually,” Lady Sheryl said dramatically, “I have proof that the Christish Mythos is quite true.”
That certainly got everyone’s attention. Countess Barbara wanted to hush her youngest daughter, but finally someone was speaking up for an acceptable faith! So she limited herself to saying, “That is wonderful. But remember, the vicar tells us that desiring proof is the exact opposite of faith, darling.”
“The vicar is not exactly what I would call a creative thinker, Mama.”
“Oh, Sheryl …” Barbara placed her head in her hands.
“It’s not an insult, I swear! Cousin Johnny is creative, because he must make those creatures like Papa fought into something supranatural, when they’re just unknown species of natural—”
“Sweetheart,” her father said, “I did not fight a platypus or a coelacanth. Zombies are reanimated corpses, the undead, and that is a metaphysical truth.”
“The Jesus was a zombie, was he not?” Sheryl said, knowing she would confound everyone at table. “Came back from the dead, did he not?”
“That is not a zombie, sweetheart. That is more of a …” Lord Monroe looked at his wife and knew he was going to be in a spot of bother if he spoke out against her precious Christish beliefs. “… more of a demonstration of the Jehovah’s white magicks, to show the faithful and unfaithful alike.”
“My goodness, this is turning into quite the seminar,” the dowager countess said, wondering when Foree would appear to announce that it was time for dinner. Zombies and platypuses were not acceptable dinner subjects, no matter how thrilling they might be during cocktails in the parlor.
NEXT WEEK: PART 12 — A WEREWOLF AT THE SIDEBOARD
 See also J. Austen, 1813.