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.
At the equator, with the Emma being lifted and lowered by the waves but otherwise dead in the water, it became incredibly, appallingly obvious to Johnny Shambley whom the person aboard the Emma was who was sabotaging their voyage home. He spoke with each member of the crew at length, and did the same with his fellow members of the Order of the Elder Sign, awkward though that was. He even interviewed poor, mad Peter. In the end, however, it was obvious that there was only one person on the ship who could serve both as receiver and sender of psionic energy, due to his command of necromancy.
The saboteur was Johnny Shambley.
He had used the best techniques of the Order to shield his mind from the Enemy. He hadn’t even had any disturbing dreams since they left R’lyeh (as opposed to when they approached the city, his dreams so violent and disgusting that he often wished not to fall asleep at all). That should have been a clue, perhaps.
Now that he turned his powerful mind to it, he could point out to himself periods of which he remembered nothing at all. It was almost always when he was on watch in the place of one of the lost sailors, when no one else was about. He had always thought he had simply fallen asleep (which was a capital offense in the official armed services, and so bad enough). But now he recalled that it happened sometimes when he was writing letters, or seeing to Peter …
Perhaps that was how Peter had survived so long after the dagon bite. Perhaps the Enemy wanted him to make it back to England. But if so, why delay the voyage? What was the point of taking over Johnny’s brain?
But the Old One had gotten into him, no matter what Its reason, and took advantage of his occult skills to raise the water and the waves against the Emma, blocking her from returning home swiftly, if at all. Now that he knew it must be he who was causing the delay, he shared his theory with the other Order members, and they could see its wisdom. He did not tell any of the career sailors aboard, however, and made sure his Fellows knew not to, either. They might have chucked him overboard rather than take any chances. He would have done the same thing.
In the end, all it took was a deep-sea diving helmet that had been almost forgotten in the cargo hold amongst the other supplies for the trip. Back before they knew how unapproachable Cthulhu’s sunken city was, their plan had been to send a man down on an air cable and investigate R’lyeh firsthand. It almost amused Johnny to think about it now, but they had hoped they might even catch the Enemy off-guard and destroy It with the ship’s arsenal of futuristic weaponry.
One of the Order fellows had thought of the diving helmet when the group was discussing how to deal with Cthulhu hijacking their second-in-command’s brain. They considered tying him up like Odysseus, or, indeed, throwing him overboard to drown, but one of the moustachioed sensitives remembered that he had done some experiments with radio waves and metal barriers—perhaps a metal container for the head could defeat any psionic waves being put forth by the evil one. This far from the sunken city, the signal must have been weakening anyway, he reasoned, so maybe the diving helmet would be enough.
It was as heavy as the day was long, but it didn’t matter since his fellows confined him to his cabin, where he spent most all of his time now in bed, his head inside the giant sphere of the helmet, the hole in the front giving him only a view of the top bulkhead. It was boring, but he was given regular reports of their progress, which now was as swift as could be, and they would be back in England before another week was finished.
* * *
In the night, the long and solitary night Johnny spent confined to his bunk on the Emma to protect his mission from himself, his thoughts turned to Maureen.
He was in love with Lady Maureen, Cousin Maureen, Maureen. He had thought about it from every angle, tried in every way he could to ascribe his feeling to something other than affection, but in the end he had to accept that he was a man and she was a woman—and what a woman—that he had to make himself get over her being possessed by a vampire. That had all happened before she had even ever known of Johnny’s existence. And that besides: Who was he—someone who had allowed his psyche to be commandeered by the greatest Enemy of humanity—to pass up a chance to be with the woman he loved because her mind had been once given to someone else, someone who was long re-dead?
He would be home in a week, back to Monroeville Hall. He could tell her then. That was the when, but what of the how? How could he tell her, how could he make her understand at more than just a verbal level that he, heir to Monroeville Hall and Captain in the Order’s army against the Enemy, loved her with all of his heart? She still saw him as a skinny necromancer with occasional eruptions of psoriasis, as far as he could tell. Yes, they had shared a few laughs, dissected a rat or two in his makeshift laboratory at Tombstone Cottage, but love? Would she ever believe it, and if she did believe it, would she not just laugh in his face?
It struck him: He could write her a poem, or better yet, a story! She loved his stories and said she got chills just from hearing him read them to her. But he doubted that tales of reanimators and psychotic college students would be the stuff of romance to a woman of Maureen’s beauty and grace. Her smile, that skin …
Her skin was as smooth as the white sheet pulled over a freshly—blast! That is NOT appropriate, man!
He would just have to tell her that he loved her. Somehow, he would find a way to tell her when next he saw her and then he would ask for her hand in matrimony. If mankind was to be destroyed by Cthulhu and replaced by a race of mindless shoggoth slaves, then he wanted to die with the woman he loved.
He slept then, dreamlessly and well.
* * *
The battered-looking Emma drifted into Southampton and bumped against the dock. The remaining sailors, logy as they were with fatigue and sorrow, moved swiftly to take the ropes from the dockhands and tie the boat fast against the wooden poles. They had already been given their scrip from the Order of the Elder Sign’s financial officer to take to the paymaster, and they hopped off the ship and wobbled on their land legs in the general direction of money, women, and drink. Johnny Shambley, frightened that he would somehow be forced by Cthulhu’s psionic waves to wreck the Emma in sight of shore, was still lying in his bunk, the huge diving helmet still encasing his head. He felt the ship stop and heard the men as they tied off the ropes.
They were home. England.
He shifted himself down and thus removed his head from the metal sphere, then stood and felt his legs trying to compensate for the ship no longer bobbing on the waves. There was no way he could walk with the three-stone helmet on his head, so he would just have to use it when sleeping at his cottage. So it was that, after a few minutes, he could walk without having to have one hand on the bulkhead, and headed back to check on the unfortunate former footman. He tapped on the hatch and pushed it open slowly.
Peter was naked and writing “I LOVE CTHULHU” on the bulkhead with his own feces. When he noticed Johnny standing in the room, he said, “Good afternoon, my friend. Care for a cuppa?”
Johnny excused himself and went to collect the other surviving members of the Order so that they, together, could perhaps extricate the madman from his toilet/prison, clean him up (by tossing him overboard and fishing him out, if necessary), get him dressed, and bring him with them onto the train to Monroeville. Before the train departed, Johnny would send ahead a telegram to the woman he loved, so that she might, if she were so inclined, meet them at the station and ride back with them to Deadtown Abbey.
* * *
Two telegrams were delivered for Lady Maureen within ten minutes. The first was from her fiancé, Professor Van Helsing, which she read with mild happiness:
My lovely darling stop What you’re doing to my heart is most wonderful never stop stop Coming to see you day after next with gift for Lord Monroe and kiss for you stop
The other was from … Cousin Johnny! She could hardly believe it, after thinking he must have been lost at sea or eaten by Cthulhu or that he had suffered any of a hundred horrible fates! She absorbed with her eyes more than read his telegram, smiling until the very last line:
Cousin Maureen stop I am alive and well stop I must tell you something most important stop Must say it in person stop Coming on next train stop Peter alive but quite mad from dagon bite stop
“How dreadful,” she said out loud, unconsciously.
“What is it?” asked Eleanor, sitting across from her in the parlor.
“Cousin Johnny has returned! But our poor footman, Peter, has suffered a dreadful injury. I can’t imagine he is likely to survive.”
“Too bad for you that Johnny’s back now,” Eleanor said. “You throwing him over as soon as you thought he had been lost at sea and all.”
“Throw him over? Johnny and I are just good friends, you silly cow.”
“Oh, it’s so obvious you are in love with the heir, it’s ridiculous. You practically hold your finger out for him to slip a ring on, and now he’s back, but you had to grab the only eligible man not out fighting one of the wars, so you’re out of luck. Finally,” Eleanor said, with quite a lot of venom, actually.
Maureen made sure she seemed suitably taken aback. “I am happily engaged to Doctor Van Helsing!”
“For now. He’s so old, I bet you toss him aside for the heir the moment his train pulls in. Maybe you can have them both, or you’ll have to balance two parties at once, dashing back and forth to make each man feel like he’s the only one! Everybody loves Maureen so much. Maureen, Maureen, Maureen!”
“What? That’s some bloody cheek for you. Do you think he’d fancy you if it weren’t for me? Eleanor, with those bug eyes and that batrachian skin, a man would have to be twice the Professor’s age to have eyesight bad enough to make him look at you once, let alone twice!”
Eleanor’s mouth hung open, not a good look for her. It was true, she had started the fight, but Maureen had finished it most cruelly, Eleanor thought, even for her. She turned her head to hide her tears and ran out of the room to go cry on her feather bed.
She sobbed and repeatedly punched a defenseless pillow sham. Oh, she screamed in her head, her older sister was such a … a hottentot! No, that didn’t make sense. She was a bad person, though, very bad, indeed!
Why should Maureen get all the men? Because she was oldest? This wasn’t some strange reverse of the entail, with the eldest girl getting all the men. And Maureen was all wrong for that handsome, grey-bearded hunk of scholar, that man famous for his passionate hatred of the vampire.
Eleanor stiffened as if galvanized by electricity.
Ye gods, that’s how I know his name, she thought, and her eyes nearly sucked those wasted tears back into her ducts, so happy was she at that moment.
Grinning like an asylum inpatient, Eleanor got out her writing desk, took from inside its hatch a dried and scraped sheepskin and a fountain pen, and composed a letter that would educate further the most educated man she had ever met:
My Dear Professor Doctor Van Helsing,
Lady Maureen Shambley lies down with vampires.
She positively skipped as she took the rolled parchment down to post.
NEXT WEEK: PART 22 — JOHNNY FINDS THE SABOTEUR; ELEANOR POSTS A LETTER