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 afternoon train pulled in on time to the Monroeville station, and as the steam and smoke cleared from its arrival, Johnny could see Cousin Maureen, lovely Maureen, standing and waiting for him. Not wanting to bother her with the never-ending foulness of the unfortunate Peter Zann, he had instructed some fellow members of the Order who had sailed on the Emma to take the former footman to Deadtown Abbey by a dogcart land-based members had helpfully provided when advised of Peter’s condition. A contingent would ride with the ill man and make sure he was settled in before going back to Londontown and the Order headquarters. This left Johnny free to travel back with Maureen, beautiful Maureen, unencumbered by a shite-saturated lunatic.
Almost forgetting his attaché and hat, Johnny scrambled to the exit before collecting himself and stepping out onto the platform to meet his lady love.
“Johnny!” Maureen cried, and ran up, throwing her arms indecorously around him. “I’m so glad you’ve made it back! We thought you were lost! It had been so long!”
Johnny smiled and enjoyed the feeling of the woman against him, but ultimately broke the embrace so that he could look upon her again. “Dear Maureen, I never thought I’d see your face again. We thought we were lost, as well. But the Enemy was ultimately unable to keep Its hold on m—on, em, anyone on the Emma. Now that I am back and alive, I must tell you something.”
Maureen’s eyes burned bright. “Of course! I want to hear all about your voyage and fight with the Old One,” she said, and waited with her arm interlocked with Johnny’s while the porters brought the gentleman’s luggage, including a large box that seemed to contain something heavy indeed, and placed it into their waiting motorcar. “You must tell me everything.”
“There is something other than the mission that I must tell you, dear Cousin.”
“Yes?” She blinked, her eyes like a doe’s.
“Yes. Well, you see, I”—he looked around swiftly to see no one was listening—“I am quite in love with you, my dear Maureen.”
The world stopped turning for the longest ten seconds of Johnny’s life, as Maureen came to understand, and then to believe, what he had just told her.
“I … felt I might have had reason to expect you loved me as well.”
“Oh, Johnny,” Maureen said, her eyes turning shiny, “I thought you were dead. I am engaged to another!”
Johnny’s mouth hung open, but he quickly righted himself and snapped his jaw back into place. “Congratulations,” he said with an enthusiasm he could not have felt less strongly. “A woman like you, one can’t really expect you to wait forever, can he?”
“But I do love you, Johnny. I wish we could marry.”
“Too late for that, I suppose, what with your dashing young beau, no doubt—”
“He’s actually quite a bit older than we are. He’s a professor at King’s College. His name is—”
“No, please,” Johnny said, showing more of his true emotion than he had intended, “I don’t want to know his name. I wish you all the luck in the world. He already has been given that much, I believe.”
“The car is ready, sir,” Grimes said unobtrusively and opened the rear door of the motor.
“Let us speak of other things,” Johnny said. “I have so been looking forward to discussing an ancient curse I learned of that afflicts the families of shrunken-head victims …”
They climbed into the automobile and off they went. As they rode, Johnny told Maureen some very interesting and macabre titbits that he had picked up from the sailors on the Emma, a more superstitious lot one could not hope to find. As he spoke, she looked at him and felt how kind he was being to take his attention—and hers—away from the dreadful mistake she had made to ruin both their happiness.
She could not throw over Sir Abraham, the only man who would take her after her mind had been violated by a sensuous vampire. Johnny, of course, was the one who broke the spell of the night walker, which would have remained a part of her for the rest of her days even though Mister Tarboosh was re-dead. She had always thought that was why Johnny hadn’t asked her to marry him before his ship sailed. He said it was because it would have been unfair to tie her down when he wasn’t even assured of returning from R’lyeh, but the vampire’s kiss was the real reason, she was sure.
So no, she would not be throwing over the noble Sir Abraham, who would love her no matter what she revealed about her sordid past.
“Welcome home, Mister Shambley,” said Grimes, and that attracted everyone’s attention to the beacon that was Monroeville Hall.
* * *
Johnny was warmly welcomed back to terra firma by His Lordship and Her Ladyship, a smiling Lady Sheryl and a weirdly smirking Lady Eleanor, the entire household staff, and, finally, at the end of the long receiving line of well-wishers, his mother. She embraced her son and he could instantly smell brimstone in her hair and blackpepper oil on her skin.
“You’ve been practicing,” Johnny said so only she could hear.
“The time is coming for me to be useful,” she softly said back. “I never knew if I’d see you again, and one necromancer must work very hard to take the place of two.”
“I am no longer a necromancer, Mother. No magicks can compare to the Enemy’s awful power. All we’re doing is attracting Its attention like a torch draws in the moth.”
It suddenly came to Johnny’s attention that the assembled family and staff were staring at them. He gave them his thanks and told them he and his mother would both be happy to dine with the family. He waved then and started walking towards Tombstone Cottage, his mother trailing slightly behind. He knew that the staff would believe he wanted to spend some time alone with his beloved mother after being gone for so long at sea. They were right, but for the wrong reasons.
As soon as they entered the cottage and shut the door, Johnny turned on his mother and said, “You and I have brought the eye of Cthulhu onto this land.”
“You and I? Are we the only two practitioners on the island? In any case, perhaps you have, but I have done no such—”
“The Enemy saw through my eyes and took control of me when I was near Its horrible city. It was because of my necromantic abilities—I was the perfect portal.”
“That’s absurd. I certainly have felt no evil power guiding my hand. And I have been doing spells of confinement and confusion, not easy to bring off, let me tell you.”
Johnny did a double take and said, “W-Why were you practicing those spells in particular?”
“Just trying to be useful.”
“What does that mean? Why do you keep saying that?”
“No reason, I’m sure.”
Johnny grunted with frustration and took his attaché to his room. He stopped right at the threshold and looked down. Of course, there was a line of salt on the floor just inside the doorway. “Mother, what in blazes is this?”
“Is what, my dear?”
Johnny’s shoulders sagged. “You are a sick woman. A grown man has to leave his mother’s side at some point. Using incantations to trap me in the cottage would not only be foolhardy because of the intelligence I must share with Cousin George, but it’s also damnably weird, Mother.”
Gaylen let out a breath in resignation and said, “All right, then. You must forgive a mother from loving her son too much.”
“If it were just love and not a sign of encroaching insanity, I would forgive it instantly.”
She looked at him sadly.
“Oh, by Hastur, I do forgive it. Just cut it out now, though, won’t you?”
She embraced him then, so tall and handsome and brave he was, that she had tears in her eyes when they looked upon each other once again.
“I seem to be having this effect on women today,” Johnny said. “Making them cry.”
“What’s that? Who else’s heart have you been breaking?”
“It was my heart that was broken, Mother. Cousin Maureen is betrothed to another. I just found out when I came in on the train.”
“Oh, that’s terrible,” Gaylen said, thinking that that vampire’s slattern had just done herself a huge favor by removing her hooks from Johnny. She had spells cooked up especially for whatever woman might—
“In any case, Mother, no more necromancy until this bloody war is over. It attracts the mind of Cthulhu, and I tell you now what I found out on my long journey: There is no way to fight It. The Enemy knows every plan in a man’s mind before he moves to undertake it. There can be no victory against the foul Being.”
“So … what, we just wait to die, to be eaten by a monster?”
“No, Mother—we must stop all necromancy. The Order of the Elder Sign must stop reaching out psychically to the beast. We must stop attracting Its attention.”
“I mean it. Put your oils and candles and cauldrons away. We cannot stir in the aetheric realm while Cthulhu lives. It is a Being that produces horrors as naturally as men produce perspiration. It will come to where It is called and kill every living thing there. Now I must go talk with Cousin George before dinner.”
“Aren’t you going to dress?”
“Oh, of course. It has been so long,” Johnny said with a chuckle, stepped right over the salt, and entered his room.
Gaylen shivered. It took every ounce of her will not to say the actually very quick incantation that would bind her son to the house. She didn’t have to turn him into an inhuman creature like she had poor John Jenkin; this would be much nicer for everyone.
But she was able to hold herself and not lock Johnny in. Most of this was because she didn’t think she could come up with a story to tell others of why Johnny wouldn’t ever be leaving the cottage again, but another part was that Johnny could be right—not about the Old One, but it made her think: What if the strong magick of a containment spell burned like a beacon to those Christish folk who wanted to end necromancy in the kingdom any way they could, by evangelism or by immolation?
She looked at her reflection in the hallway mirror and wondered if the spells she already had in effect would attract attention among her enemies to the cottage on the grounds of Deadtown Abbey. She couldn’t remove the magicks glamouring her face and body—even Johnny didn’t know she was much, much older than her apparent two score and fifteen, or that she would probably crumble into dust as soon as she lifted the spell.
A risk of burning at the stake or no, she wasn’t ready for that.
NEXT WEEK: PART 23 — THE RESULT OF A DAGON’S BITE