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.
The next day, a Thursday, Johnny sat lost in thought, looking out the window at the garden of Tombstone Cottage. He could see the start of the immense graveyard that filled so much of the Monroeville Hall grounds, thousands of tombstones and even more places where the stone had been stolen or otherwise removed. Still more bodies lay in paupers’ graves on the property, a compassionate touch from the Lord Monroe of a century or two earlier.
His mother, who had watched her worshiped elder son be crunched like a stale scone in the jaws of a werewolf, had wailed all Wednesday night and straight into Thursday morning. She could be heard through every open window on the side of Monroeville Hall facing the direction of the Tombstone outbuilding. Anyone for leagues around—and possibly the dead in their graves—could hear Gaylen Shambley screaming at the injustice of it all, no doubt rending her garments and flinging herself repeatedly onto her bed, cursing Johnny’s name and the souls of all who had even the most tangential connection to the footman, his family, or Deadtown Abbey.
And then, suddenly, she stopped.
Those who had been gritting their teeth in an effort to ignore the horrid yowling of grief at first couldn’t identify what had happened. Even Johnny Shambley, who had pillows over both ears, froze in place, suddenly unused to the normal silence of the manor’s environment.
Thinking that perhaps she had suffered a heart attack, Johnny tossed the pillows aside as he leapt from his bed and hurried to his mother’s open bedroom door. “Mother, are you quite—”
Sitting on her bed with a beatific smile, the tracks of tears still visible on her wet face, Gaylen slowly set her gaze on her surviving son.
“I’m better now,” she said, so calmly that she seemed reminiscent of a Hindoo yogi at meditation. “Your brother is gone, but I’m better now.”
“Oh.” Johnny stood there for a moment, feeling … well, weird would be an appropriate word. “Em … can I have Mister Ash bring you anything? Cup of tea for your throat? It must be sore after, um—it must be quite sore.”
“No, I’m quite fine now. Good day!” With that she had risen and shut the door in Johnny’s face, and didn’t make so much as a monkey rat’s peep for the rest of the day.
* * *
Friday morning, the weirdness continued. There was a tap at Johnny’s bedroom door and when he called for the visitor to enter, Mister Ash popped in and closed the door behind him, looking … well, ashen.
“Good morrow, Ash. Is anything wrong?”
“Sir, I shouldn’t want to alarm you, but Mrs Shambley is in the dining room.”
Johnny smiled despite himself. “Why should that alarm me?”
“I shouldn’t like to say, sir. I just wanted to apprise you of the situation,” Mister Ash said.
“All right then, go ahead and apprise me.”
Mister Ash paused in confusion.
Finally taking pity on his valet’s obvious discomfort, Johnny chuckled and said, “I’ll join her in just a moment.”
“Very good, sir,” Ash said, and let himself out.
Putting on his robe and heading for the kitchen, Johnny realized that he hadn’t heard any crying or screaming or tearing of hair or any such melodramatics all morning. He knew his mother would have terrible grief at the death of John Jenkin, of course, and although for Johnny his older brother had died the day she transmogrified him into that inhuman hairy carbuncle, he wanted to allow her the time to grieve in her own way. Even if that way was wearing her wedding dress and veil at the breakfast table.
“Ye gods, Mother!” Johnny cried. “Have you lost your senses?”
“What? When my son was little, he used to tell me how pretty I looked in photographs wearing my wedding dress. I wanted to look pretty for him.”
“Your elder son, you mean.”
“As you say, of course,” she said, and lifted her veil to insert a bite of kipper into her mouth.
Unable to contain himself, Johnny said, “You look like Miss Havisham on a three-day bender.”
“Why, that’s a pretty thing! Turning your harsh wit on a mother grieving for her almost only son.” Her face reddened a bit, visible even through the veil, but suddenly a wave of calm washed over her features and she smiled and looked at Johnny as if he had just entered the room rather than having been talking to her for the previous several minutes. “John,” she said, “are you not going out today?”
“What?” He literally had to shake his head to make sure he wasn’t suffering some kind of nightmare, still in his bed. He was disappointed that this did not seem to be the case.
“I said, Are you not going out today? It seems a fine day outside.”
“Mother, since you are going to act this way, then fine, I shall answer you. First, I will thank you not to call me ‘John.’ I shouldn’t want to end up like my unfortunate relation who went by that appellation. You named me ‘Johnny’ to differentiate me from your favorite son, and differentiated I am determined to remain.”
Gaylen parried away his complaint. “You really do hold a grudge, don’t you?”
“A grudge? Mother, a grudge is when you refuse to shake a man’s hand at dinner because he tried to kiss your girl. What I am holding onto, however, is the fact that my mother turned my older brother into a rat or whatever it was because he wanted to leave her and find his fortune in the United States. And that transmogrification was what made him end up a werewolf’s snack!”
“Oh, pish-posh,” his mother said, literally waving her hand to sweep away his words like smoke from a cigaret. “I did what I did because I loved John Jenkin, perhaps too much.”
“Perhaps? Mother, you used necromancy upon your own flesh and blood, and then enlisted me in a scheme to pose as the heir to Deadtown Abbey!”
“I don’t care for that nickname, Johnny. It is Monroeville Hall. And yes, I thought you could step up for once and make a sacrifice to claim it since your brother was indisposed.”
“He was turned into a rat! That’s not indisposed, that’s … oh, for the withheld mercy of Yog, I don’t know what it is. I just hope I can escape your dark magicks when it’s time for me to do something on my own. Say, if I asked a woman to marry me. Then you would have to take a step back and let me live my life independently. Like John Jenkin tried to do.”
Gaylen laughed at that, and lifted her veil to fix him with a creepy smile. “Johnny, darling, don’t you see that can never happen now? The Earl of Monroe is entirely wedded to his estate, and since my son is dead, you will be the Earl of Monroe. He cannot leave but temporarily. We shall stay here together forever.”
“Until one of us dies, anyway.”
“No, Johnny,” his mother said, and looked into his eyes with the flecks of gold excited in hers, “forever.”
* * *
Now that Johnny truly was the heir to Monroeville Hall, he felt more excited than ever about enlisting Cousin George into the Order of the Elder Sign. The Earl of Monroe had agreed so readily to Johnny’s invitation to his secret society, and that happening on that horrible night a month earlier when John Jenkin Shambley was devoured by the werewolf, he worried that Lord Monroe might try to claim that he was overly impulsive and caught up in the moment, and not follow through on joining the fellowship. But Lord Monroe was a man of honor, Johnny had found, and never told an intentional lie. A week after the welcome dinner that ended in such carnage, His Lordship had actually brought the matter up with Johnny, who was staying with his mother—who at that time seemed like an asylum inmate smiling at all visitors nearly catatonically—at Tombstone Cottage on the Hall’s extensive grounds.
“So when might I be drinking from a boot, or painting myself like an eagle, or whatever it is one must do to join you in this Order of yours, dear boy?” George had asked, seemingly out of nowhere, as they took a stroll in the front garden.
“Cousin George, I’m flattered that you even remembered my invitation, what with so much going on.”
“As the steward of our homestead, I’m used to keeping several ideas in my head at one time,” George said. “Although I think the Countess might be surprised that I can hold on even to one.”
They shared a chuckle, but Johnny was not going to let this opportunity go, now that George had brought it up. “Actually, we are to hold our meeting in Londontown in three weeks’ time. If it wouldn’t be too much of an imposition, I wonder if I might ask you to take the train down with me for your initiation.”
“Is that really necessary, just for me to learn a secret handshake?”
Johnny pursed his lips, knowing his cousin meant no offense but also realizing that George had no idea what the Order was, or did. “We take things quite seriously, Cousin,” he said, “and I know you would understand our mission better if you were to attend a full meeting.”
“Then I shall attend, of course,” George said.
That had been three weeks earlier, and now Lord Monroe and his new heir were entering the unassuming-looking brownstone where the Order of the Elder Sign met and planned their campaigns.
For his part, Lord Monroe was enjoying the time spent on the train and in town with Johnny, whom he had come to respect for his intensity and emotional honesty. One time shortly after the events of the full moon, Johnny had asked after Lady Maureen’s health. She had, after all, fainted dead away during the dinner. Her father responded that she was quite well, especially considering the monumental shift in metaphysical reality that she and the others in the room that night had been suddenly exposed to. Vampires, lycanthropes, zombies, transmogrified humans, all real? George suspected that the vicar would be quite disappointed with many of the questions asked of him by the family about the Jesus and other Christish storybook figures since they had plainly seen the Old Religion was the truth. In any case, George had told Johnny that Maureen was well.
Johnny responded with, “That is good to know. I think I love her quite a lot, actually.”
NEXT WEEK: PART 16 — WAR IN THE OFFING