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.
It was a tremendous relief for the merchant sailors who crewed the vessel as well as for the half-dozen surviving members of the Order to finally call an end to the mission and pull away from R’lyeh. The mystics were hardly wiser in the ways of the Enemy than before the voyage, except that they could see that Its resistance to human investigation or attack seemed to be completely autonomic and unconscious. Despite the lack of progress, the Order was made up of people who were only human and thus glad to get away. Now, however, every man on the Emma, whether psychic scientist or hired mariner, wondered if they would get away, feeling a growing suspicion that the ocean itself was determined to slow their progress. What should have taken four weeks total had taken more than two months now, storm after engine breakdown after leaks after damaged timepieces, calamity after calamity just random enough to make them feel it must have been bad luck, but just regular enough that the remaining crew were eyeing one another suspiciously, wondering who exactly it was who had been commandeered by the Enemy.
Johnny thought this a bit overly superstitious on the sailors’ part. A man could skulk about, poking holes and causing problems, but no one could make it storm like it nearly constantly had, certainly.
Then he realized that he had no evidence to support that assertion. They were dealing with a supranatural Being—who knew what schemes It could force into a weak mind? Had he and his mother not played with weather control when they were first learning necromancy? There could be a man aboard who knew through Cthulhu how to affect the wind and the water. It was unlikely, perhaps, but something that he, as the ranking member of the Order aboard ship, would have to investigate.
The ship’s crew had been reduced by half at R’lyeh, and since there had been only ten members of the Order onboard, the loss of four of them was felt even more keenly by Johnny. He had to treat as realistic possibilities two ideas:
- If there were a man aboard who was affecting the weather in order to delay their return to England, it could very well be one of his fellow Order members rather than one of the superstitious salts of the crew. They were each a highly sensitive telepath or empath, after all, and the Enemy had a direct line into their minds, if they let down their guards for even a moment anywhere close enough to the sunken city. “Close enough” probably meant anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere for the most sensitive psychics in the world, but their learned mental defenses were also powerful. A member of the Order of the Elder Sign trained almost all his waking hours to develop a psychic block against intrusion, not just from Beings like the Old Ones but also from other occult organizations looking to steal their secrets for revolutionary or even anarchic purposes. When he had gotten to the point of perfect defense during those waking hours, he would then train by night, working even while asleep to keep the Enemy away from his thoughts and dreams. That kind of power probably excluded an Order member from being in the involuntary service of Cthulhu, but not absolutely. Not with what had been happening to delay their return.
- If there were someone aboard causing these various problems and delays, then the Enemy was keeping all of them alive now for a reason. It would have been as easy for the Enemy to impel one man to sink the ship as it would have been to manipulate a human necromancer to call up a storm in the first place and delay them. So what was Cthulhu doing? If It could crush the Titanic in Its tentacles, why not their much smaller ship? Was this all just another autonomic defense that the psychic body of the monster was using to get rid of that annoying germ called man?
Johnny gazed out at the horizon. There was another storm coming. Taking in the haggard faces of the exhausted sailors and of the gentlemen quite unused to rough sailing, even after months at sea, he knew he had to suss out the culprit as soon as possible.
That was, if there were even a culprit to be caught. It could all have been just bad luck, two months of it, and they hadn’t even gone north over the equator yet.
How long until they would get back to England, back to Maureen? Other than his job here on the Emma, he had thought of little else but her. He had been helpful in removing the influence of the dead vampire when they had first met, but now who was he to her? Only the man who would inherit her ancestral home … if there were still a home to inhabit or anyone to inhabit it by the time Cthulhu was done with them all.
He checked in on Peter, who was signing his name in feces on the bulkhead of his locked room. He would have to find who was delaying their voyage if Peter were ever to see Deadtown Abbey again.
* * *
“A letter for you, milord,” Foree said as he carried in the cylindrical oilskin container on the silver tray. “I believe it is from the heir, at sea.”
Lord Monroe took the missive with enthusiasm and thanked the butler, who now sported a gold-plated hook where his hand used to be, a thoughtful gift from His Lordship at Azathothmas. “How are you holding up, old boy?” he said with cheery playfulness to the tired-looking servant.
“As well as can be expected, sir. With half the staff gone to the war, and my—difficulties—it has been a challenge to serve the family as they deserve, milord.”
“Foree, I hope you know that we all feel very well taken care of. There’s no reason to run yourself down worrying that a piece of cutlery is set crookedly at luncheon.”
Foree’s eyes widened and his huge brow crested. Lord Monroe could see that he and his butler weren’t in total agreement on this exact point, but he hoped Foree got the gist of what he was saying.
“I do appreciate that, milord, but I feel I must do twice as much as I once did, to make up for …” Foree didn’t look at the metal hook where his right hand had been torn off by Roger the werewolf, but Lord Monroe could tell it was taking every ounce of his will not to do so. “To make up for my present inadequacies.”
At that, Lord Monroe stood from the table and placed one hand squarely on each of his man’s shoulders. “You have no inadequacies to make up for, my dear man. You are valued more than ever, two hands, one hand, or none at all.”
Foree could feel his face reddening slightly at His Lordship’s kindness. “I thank you for your continued confidence in me, milord.”
“You are quite welcome. And thank you, Foree.”
At that, the butler gave a firm nod and went out of the room.
George looked down at the letter, which was unmistakably sent from the Emma, no doubt given to a passing packet ship contracted by the Order. Wait, did packet ships even carry mail these days? He had to smile a bit at his own approaching obsolescence, but the smile fell away as soon as he began reading Johnny’s letter:
My Dear Cousin George,
I wish I could send you gladder tidings from the South Pacific, but I cannot. We have been to the sunken city and now are slowly, even painstakingly, making our way back from the bottom of the world. The Admiralty and the Order will soon be receiving copies of logs from this ill-starred trip, but allow me to ruin the suspense by sharing with you my opinion about our common Enemy.
The Old One we call Cthulhu seems to be entirely quiescent. We could not rouse It to show Its terrible tentacled face, nor could we get quite close enough to the epicenter of R’lyeh itself. This quietness, however, does not in any way mean that It is less of a danger. Its very Being seems to grow horrors that attack us, such as the dagon with its fatal bite.
The inescapable result of all this is that we must somehow lure the Enemy onto land or perhaps into shallow water, where It can be physically attacked, since Its psychic power is overwhelming, as I’m sure you have noticed back in Yorkshire. I do look forward to seeing you and the rest of the family soon. Especially Lady Maureen—won’t you please give her my warmest regards?
Your humble Cousin,
P.S. FOR YOG’S SAKE PROTECT YOUR BRAIN NOW
NEXT WEEK: PART 20 — THE DIVING HELMET