Deadtown Abbey Part 23

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.

a old looking house with tentacles behind it
Deadtown Abbey by Putnam Finch

PART 23

“You already have a one-handed butler, George. We lost Roger back at the beginning of hostilities. Can you really do with another dead footman as well?”

“I don’t see how Doctor Logan could make any difference to the boy’s chances,” George said. “Being bitten by a dagon isn’t something you treat like a broken leg. It is entirely fatal, and until then you become madder and madder. Death seems like a kindness at that point.”

Barbara sighed. She knew George was right, but she hated to let their dear Peter die so horribly. “Can you just allow Doctor Logan to take a look at him?”

George gazed at his reflection in the mirror. The war had aged him, made his mostly brown curls become mostly grey. And there was a scar across his forehead where a night-gaunt had tried to “tickle” him with its razor-sharp tail. He wished Doctor Logan could do something for the fear and dread that George carried with him everywhere now, the mental anguish that pulsated from mankind’s Enemy right into the head of psionically sensitive men.

“George?”

“Yes, my dear, of course Logan can come down. I just don’t know what experience he has with the beasts of darkness. He might turn tail and run from Monroeville completely, leave our little hamlet without its medico.”

“He is a Major in the Army now, you know. He’s been at the front, tending to ghoul bites and men driven out of their heads with eldritch whatnot. I’m sure he’s seen things that would turn your hair gr—that, um, might surprise even the head of the Order of the Elder Sign,” Barbara said, and flopped onto the bed in exhaustion, mere tiredness seeming to have been passed ages before.

“That’s true, of course,” George said, and pulled himself away from the mirror. It would be time for sleep now, and although the Enemy sent terror from His lair in sunken R’lyeh, the dreams that Cthulhu could not help but cause due to His psychic emanations were vital intelligence in mankind’s war against Him. Every sensitive in the Order needed to keep detailed notes of the horrible imaginings filling his brain at night. They could triangulate the Enemy’s location from the intensity of the night terrors He broadcast, and the content of the terrible dreams would often contain information that betrayed His location in R’lyeh or wherever He roamed in the world’s oceans.

Wherever IT roamed, he reminded himself. Stop flattering IT with human monikers.

“Yes, please let’s call the good Doctor in the morning and see what he can do.”

“Thank you, darling,” Barbara said, and kissed him on the cheek as he inserted himself under the covers.

George made sure his pencil and notebook were on the nightstand, and that his electric light was in working order. The dreams faded quickly, although the nauseating fear and despair they engendered always lasted throughout the following day. He yearned to block them out somehow so that he could sleep peacefully, but he knew how important it was to keep the channel open so that he might get all the information being inadvertently sent from the mind of the Enemy.

* * *

The next day, Major Victor Logan, M.D., answered Lord Monroe’s request and was escorted into the servants’ quarters hallway by His Lordship himself, along with Mister Foree. “Have you ever treated a patient suffering from a dagon bite?” His Lordship asked.

“I’m afraid not,” Logan said. “My reports tell me that those bites have been received only at sea, although I suppose that’s just because the Enemy has been restricted to our oceans. But I don’t believe I’ve heard of another case where a bitten man was cared for so well by his employer that he survived long enough to be brought all the way back to England from the South Pacific. Usually they are put out of their misery and dumped at sea.”

“Which is how the Enemy creates dagons in the first place,” Mister Foree chimed in, thoroughly angry at the supranatural monster’s perversity.

“Too true,” Lord Monroe said, and tapped at the door indicated by Foree as the one to Peter’s room. “Peter, my boy? May we enter?”

There was a rustling of fabric and a creak of bedspring. “Of course, milord,” Peter’s voice called.

Foree unlocked the door and the three men entered as he opened it. At first, nothing seemed amiss, but the closer they got to Peter’s bed, on which Peter sat with his back against the wall and his extended legs under a blanket, the more they were overwhelmed by the undeniable stench of feces.

“By Shub himself, man, are you lying in your own filth?” the doctor said, stepping forwards as the other two men stepped back.

“Indeed I am, my sweet Juliet. No one will be taking it from me anymore.”

Logan looked back at Lord Monroe and Mister Foree, who had nothing to offer him except wide eyes in blank stares of shock.

“Also, now no food is necessary as, well …” Peter reached under the covers and hauled out a handful of excrement, then shoved it in his mouth.

Lord Monroe retched. Mister Foree did not look like he was altogether present with the other men at the moment, his mind gone to the Elysian Fields, perhaps.

“May I see your wound?” Logan said, bravely stepping ever closer to the bed Peter had been using as a toilet. “I’m the doctor.”

Peter chewed and swallowed. “By all means, garçon,” he said, and swept the blanket off his legs. His pyjama bottoms were stained with fecal matter, but he lifted up his relatively unbesmirched top to show the wide semicircle of tooth marks running from just over his waist to just under his right armpit. “You must admit this is impressive.”

Impressive, it certainly was. The punctures in Peter’s skin hadn’t closed up at all, the edges foamy with green infection of some kind. It looked like he had been shot with a Gatling gun, and inside he was made of nothing but sewage.

“Thank you, Peter, you may put your shirt down now, please,” Logan said, and turned to Lord Monroe and Foree. “May I discuss this with you in the hallway?”

Both of the other men nodded, trying not to look too grateful in case Peter was looking at them. They backed out the door and Logan closed it behind him. “I have no idea what I was just looking at,” the doctor said, “but that man should not be alive.”

“That’s the dagon bite. It lets a man suffer unto death, sometimes very slowly.”

“He does not seem to be suffering overmuch, milord,” Foree said. “In fact, he seems quite content with his situation.”

“I think he may be too far gone to suffer as a normal man might suffer,” Lord Monroe said. “Is there anything at all you can do to make him … I don’t know, more comfortable?”

“I could prepare a draught that might put him to sleep for a while, allow someone to go in and clean him up. Maybe restrain him. It would be for his own good.”

“Poor Dawn,” Lord Monroe said, as he knew from Barbara about the engagement. He steeled himself. “Yes, let’s do that, let the boy have some dignity in his final days.”

“Very good, sir,” Doctor Logan said. “But, em … who might be able to give the draught to him? I don’t know if anyone could get that close to a madman like that without getting his hand bitten off”—he looked, suddenly stricken, at Foree— “that is to say, without great risk to himself.”

Foree graciously ignored the doctor’s slip and said, “I imagine we will have to ask his affianced. Surely he’s not so far around the bend that his beloved’s presence would not soothe him enough to take a sip of medicine?”

“Poor Dawn,” Lord Monroe said again.

* * *

Dawn sat at the servants’ table downstairs and wept softly into her hand. She and Peter had shared such dreams of a life together before the war, and now some vile monster had signed his death warrant on a ship in the black Pacific. He was grateful, ever so grateful, that His Lordship had allowed him to come and convalesce—die, really—in his room at Deadtown Abbey. But Yog, it was hard to watch the man she loved departing this world, madder every day.

Mrs Gonk, who could be quite a harsh taskmistress when she wanted to, sat her chubby self down next to the girl. “I know it’s hard, my dear, but at least he’s surrounded by friends who love him, and you, of course,” she said, taking Dawn’s free hand into hers.

“Oh, Mrs Gonk, he wants to marry me before he’s too far gone,” she said, sniffing and trying to make herself stop crying. “He thinks it is what we deserve, him and me. To be married, even if he’s going to die soon.”

“That is a nice idea, isn’t it?”

“He’s been bitten by a dagon, Mrs Gonk! Do you know what that is?”

She didn’t, actually, other than it was a sea creature created by the Enemy to attack the ships that had been sent to kill It. She shook her head slightly.

“No, of course you wouldn’t, would you? I wouldn’t, neither, if one hadn’t eaten half of my fiancé.” Dawn wiped her eyes and looked at her superior. “He’s all I have in this world. I’ve nothing else but me work. And you don’t even think I do a good job.”

“No! Don’t say that, dear. I value what you do here. I just like to yell, don’t I?”

They shared a teary smile.

“You want to marry him, don’t you?”

“Of course I do, but is it right when his mind is half gone from a supranatural whatsit’s bite? Can he really enter into a holy covenant like that? Or is it just a lie before Yog and Azathoth, who created us all when that beautiful blind idiot vomited out the Universe?”

“It’s not a lie. Not if you love each other.”

“That’s just it, innit? He loves me, but …”

Mrs Gonk waited, giving Dawn an encouraging expression.

“… but he thinks I’m his mum.”

“Oh, dear.”

* * *

“I just want to give you some medicine, my love,” Dawn said, covering her nose and mouth as she stepped closer to her fiancé’s bed. Her eyes were watering and she thought she might vomit before she actually got close enough to give him the draught Doctor Logan had made for him.

“I’m not taking no medicine until you agree that we will get married before I die.”

“Married? I thought you thought I was your mother?”

Peter laughed. “No, that was some kind of problem with my mind. Must’ve been the dagon making a meal of me. No, I know you are my beloved Dawn, and I will take the medicine only if you agree to marry me on the morrow. That is final.”

Dawn loved Peter, and had wanted very much to marry him. But now, this creature lying in his own filth in bed, she didn’t really think he was someone a girl could marry, even for the few days or weeks he had left before the end. It was like a lie to marry him, and she did not ever lie.

“Please, my *cough* love, drink this,” she said and extended the flagon far enough that if he also extended his arm as far as he could, he would be able to take it from her hand. “Let’s not have any more silliness.”

“Silly, am I? I’m not so silly that I’ll drink that concoction without a promise from you in front of Yog and everybody that you will marry me this time tomorrow morning.”

Her head was spinning from a lack of oxygen in the rank sewer that was Peter’s room now. She didn’t know, if she turned around right that instant and ran for the door, if she would even make it before making sick on herself or simply passing out. She had to get out of there. But, more importantly, Peter had to drink his medicine. Even the tiny chance at dignity the draught offered was better than nothing at all.

“All right,” she said, barely breathing enough to speak, “I’ll marry you if you drink this.”

“Marry me tomorrow.”

“Yes, for goodness’ sake! Tomorrow! Now drink.”

His yellow eyes and face black and blue with stubble and infection cracked into a smile. He leaned forwards—ack, she could hear his crap squelching under him as he moved—took the flagon, and sucked it down. “Happy?”

She was, although the rising of her gorge made it difficult to show it. She nodded, not daring to open her mouth again as she backed away towards the door.

“All right, then. Tomorrow at ten, say, let’s get married. If I’m going to die, I want to die with family.”

Dawn again nodded, this time just slightly as she turned and plain bolted for the door, shutting it as quickly as possible before throwing herself down the hall to ask Mrs Gonk if she could have a bath before luncheon preparations began.

In the foul room, Peter leaned back and smiled. Thats me mum, he thought. Always playin hard to get. He breathed deeply and realized he was feeling sleepy. It would be good for him to get some rest before the big day tomorrow, he said to himself, and nuzzled into the excrement that was starting to overflow the sides of the bed.

* * *

In the end, the dowager countess asked the vicar to come and perform the ceremony. She knew now that the base religion of the lower classes was what was literally true, of course, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to pray to a fish, or pray that a fish didn’t eat her, or do whatever it was that one did to worship these old gods. And she found the human sacrifice that was part of the marriage ritual under Yog-Sothoth to be distasteful in the extreme, even if the poor man or girl’s family was reimbursed for the volunteer’s absence.

So she asked the vicar. He had gone slightly mad in the past couple of years. He had, of course, been looking for a living among the upper classes, so Christism was what he had studied, leaving the Old Religion to fishwives and farmhands. The vicar’s hair was unkempt and his hands were always shaking now—Velma imagined that being forced to dig up the freshly buried for a pack of no-longer-ashamed ghouls would do that to a man of the new Gods of the Christ.

“D-Don’t those, ah, s-s-servants … um, f-follow the old w-ways?” the vicar was able to enunciate eventually, the dowager countess’s impatient stare not helping matters, to be sure.

“Oh, they’re just children. Dawn is no more than seventeen and if poor Peter is a day more than one-and-twenty, I would be surprised indeed.”

The vicar’s face whitened and his shaggy eyebrows rose. “And?”

“And it doesn’t matter what they believe. I’m not going to allow a vampire wedding or super-squid what-have-you fertility ceremony, no matter how ‘real’ they may be,” Velma said, and crooked a finger at the shivering vicar. “You will come to the servants’ quarters where he is bedridden and give them a proper Monroeville Hall wedding. Then he will die and you can feed him to the ghouls for all I care.”

He flinched like she had poked him with a firebrand. It was highly amusing, if she did say so herself.

* * *

“Milord, if I may have a word with you?” Mister Foree said gravely, seeming to glide into the library where Lord Monroe was reading a monograph about fishing-net construction.

“Of course, Foree, do come in.”

“Thank you, milord. I simply wanted to remind you that Thursday night brings the full moon.”

“Blazes! Has another moon come round already? I’m afraid with the war on, I never know what day it is unless a military exercise is scheduled.”

“Indeed, milord. Since it will again be the full moon, I have arranged for Mister Ash to serve in my stead for cocktails and dinner that night and breakfast next day, as usual.”

“Mister Ash? The young Mister Shambley’s valet?”

“Yes, sir. It seems that your heir is not particularly interested in being dressed by a valet as a gentleman would.”

“To each their own, I suppose.”

“If you say so, milord. But Mister Ash will serve for me that evening and on the morrow following, and I am grateful to him.”

“Very good, Foree, and thank you for keeping everything running smoothly during your, em, confinement. Any repairs needed on the cage? Although I suppose it isn’t a cage as much as an underground tomb, eh?”

“Quite right, milord. And thank you for asking, but it is in perfect condition for my … overnight needs. Mister Bubb and the new footman stocked it with meat packed in sawdust just this morning and inspected the latches. One of them shall see that I am locked in come dusk.”

“Excellent.” Lord Monroe thought for a moment and said, “What do you make of the new footman? Is he Monroeville Hall material, do you think? I see him at meals, and he does a fine job, but he seems quite skittish, doesn’t he?”

Foree chuckled softly and said, “Herbert is going to make a fine footman. However, he seems spooked, if I may use that word, to live and work on an estate ringed completely by graves.”

“Does he? We may have the Enemy to fight, and we may have, em …”—he struggled mightily to stop his mouth from saying werewolf—“other supranatural beings that are part of our lives now, but I don’t think anyone shall be digging out from under their tombstones any time soon,” Lord Monroe said, and they shared a chuckle.

“One more thing, milord. The vicar will be here to perform the wedding for our Peter and Dawn at ten tomorrow morning.”

“Ah, yes. Has anyone contacted the townsfolk?”

“No, it is to be a Christish wedding, milord. No special volunteers will be required.”

“Ha! Well, there’s something to be said for a faith that doesn’t require anything more of its believers than eating a cookie and drinking some wine on Sundays, eh?”

“Indeed, milord.”

* * *

Mister Bubb was a man on a mission. After making sure that Foree’s half of a cow was delivered and packed in sawdust to keep it fresh until the full moon night in that stone-walled underground sarcophagus, he took the midday train to London. He needed to check some Royal Navy maps and depth soundings of the South Pacific and compare them to similar data from the North Atlantic. His Lordship said he had seen with his third eye, when probed by the members of the Order of the Elder Sign, that the ill-fated ship Titanic was not run into an iceberg because of a zombie outbreak, as was commonly believed. Lord Monroe had said it was the Enemy Itself, Cthulhu, that had crushed the vessel and dashed it against the island of floating ice two years before.

If this were true—and nothing His Lordship or the heir had ever said made him doubt this for a moment—then it meant that the Enemy could move at will through the planet’s oceans. But why was evil Cthulhu in the North Atlantic in the first place?

Surely It didn’t know anything about the maiden voyage of an ocean liner. It didn’t seem to take much notice, as far as anyone could tell, of any human activity. Humans were like so many ants before the monstrosity that was the Enemy—no, more like amoebae, completely unnoticed and irrelevant. Cthulhu’s psychic emanations and horrifying actions were part of what It was. The war against the Old One was against a foe that didn’t even recognize that It was being fought.

Being so powerless to even annoy, much less truly threaten, the great evil of the Old One was a sobering, even depressing, thought. Since the night of Johnny Shambley’s first dinner at Deadtown Abbey, where Roger had morphed into a wolf and everything else had happened, it was almost as if the supranatural creatures of the world had felt a change and started demanding their place at the table too, so to speak.

He supposed the writing was on the wall when an obvious vampire had gone to the room of innocent Lady Maureen without fear of being challenged, and surely would have turned her if someone—Miss O’Dea, he imagined, as she tended to act on every emotion—hadn’t killed him with the garlic. When a vampire managed to be named as a diplomat and was accompanied by an English duke, Bubb supposed, lycanthropes and all the rest might have been losing their fear as well. They had been held down long enough, some of them said, and they were going to take advantage of a changing society and come out into the light.

The Enemy was not supranatural as such, not as far as any researchers in the War Office could tell. Psychic pulses that affected artists and infected the dreams of half the men on the planet were a kind of quasi-physical force, at least according to the good white-goateed scientists of Copenhagen. Cthulhu could be killed, they were certain, without any of the ritual rigmarole that accompanied the killing of vampires and that lot.

The War Office always knew approximately where the Old One was, thanks to a clever method of triangulation based on the intensity of imagery in the dreams It forced into men’s heads. They had never yet pinpointed It in the North Atlantic, where the Titanic was attacked. Was that a one-time visit? If so, for what purpose? Had the Enemy gotten lost? It had been sleeping for strange aeons, so perhaps It was somehow disoriented?

What fueled Bubb’s mission to the London Library was a fear that struck him one evening so icily through his heart that he had to excuse himself from service and lie down in his room. The fear was that Cthulhu could perhaps move much more quickly than had been surmised and could glide through the cold waters south of the Cape of Good Hope into the South Atlantic, following the trenches, straight north into the Tropic of Capricorn, past the equator, past the Tropic of Cancer and into the North Atlantic. And back. If the Enemy could travel the route in a week or even a fortnight, It would possess a tremendous advantage over the Royal Navy.

That wasn’t what had chilled Bubb as he lay abed in his room the night before at Deadtown Abbey, however. What very nearly made the brave former soldier gibber with fear and think about slitting his own throat was that if Cthulhu were traveling at will through the oceans of Earth, and if the scientists’ dream tracking had plotted Him—It—only at Its house under the waves at R’lyeh, then one of two things had to be true.

One, the less frightening option, was that there was more than one tentacled Old One. Cthulhu lay under the South Pacific as always since It had awakened, and it was this creature that drove men mad with Its psychic power. But there was a second creature, the one that the Order of the Elder Sign had seen destroying the HMS Titanic. This second creature did not enter the dreams of man and so was not detected.

But the second option was far worse, far more horrifying than even the existence of two such monsters, far more horrifying even than if one of the two were a male and the other a female. Far more horrifying than the thought that the two could mate and produce more cruel and insane creatures like themselves.

No, the second option as to why the scientists never registered Cthulhu anywhere but Its lair off the west coast of South America was infinitely worse for all mankind. The second option was that Cthulhu could control Its emanations, could somehow modulate Its psychic broadcasts into men’s dreams, to make it seem like It was always in one place, at R’lyeh, far away from England and Its enemies.

It was worse because this meant that Cthulhu had noticed the human race.

* * *

“There’s nothing a human body can produce that a dollop of lye can’t erase,” Sarah had said to Daphne and Buffy as they finished scrubbing down Peter’s room. It was true that cleaning up shite was usually a job for a dogsbody or some paupers from town who would do anything for a shiny new shilling, but this had to be done quickly and it had to be done right. Therefore it had to be done by women.

Also, Lord Monroe had offered them each a purse of money that was equal to what they would make in pay over four months.

They had finished scrubbing every inch of the room several hours earlier, the bed and furniture having been taken for burning. Mister Ash and the new footman, Herbert, then brought in a new bed and armoire for the sake of the wedding guests who would gather there momentarily.

“I wonder if they’ve cleaned Peter with lye,” Daphne said, and the girls shared a cackle.

“Poor Peter. Such a sweetheart. Can’t believe he’s on death’s door,” Buffy said.

“Believe it. A dagon bite, from all I’ve heard, is a sure punch to your final ticket.”

They pondered that while they made the bed and moved in vases of flowers, hoping that Peter would stay sane enough during the ceremony not to need their masking scent.

All the servants and the Shambleys entered the room a few minutes before the vicar walked in, trailed by a lovely-looking Dawn and a surprisingly lucid-looking Peter. She was wearing a simple but beautiful dress, a gardenia in her hair. Peter was wearing pyjamas, but they looked clean. They stood before the vicar, who gave a shaky smile to the bride and groom and to the guests in the room behind them.

“Dearly beloved—”

“Arf!” Peter yapped.

“Ye gods,” Miss O’Dea said, not as quietly as she had meant to.

“Bark growl snarl.”

A tear formed in Dawn’s eye and trickled down her cheek.

“Um, yes, quite so,” the vicar said. “We are, em, g-gathered here—”

“Chirp and such,” Peter said solemnly.

The room was as silent as the grave.

“Perhaps we could skip to the end,” Lord Monroe said softly to the vicar.

The vicar nodded so violently that his teeth seemed to chatter. “Do we have a r-r-ring?”

Mister Foree stepped forwards and handed Peter a ring with his good hand. Peter looked at the ring as if he thought it might taste good. Dawn gently guided his hand and helped him place the ring on her finger.

“D-d-do you, P-P-P—”

“Meowr! Ffft! Ffft!”

“Just go, man!” Lord Monroe snapped.

“I n-now pronounce you man and w-wife!” the vicar shouted. “You may kiss the bride!” And so, they were married.

Dawn helped Peter slide the ring all the way onto her finger. She moved to help her husband kiss her, but suddenly Peter’s eyes became clear and he looked right into hers. “I love you, Dawn,” he said, and everyone in the room gasped.

Now Dawn was really and truly crying, but with a huge and loving smile. She leaned towards Peter and he leaned towards her. Their lips met in a sweet kiss and stayed together for a few perfect seconds. Then they parted and gazed at each other as newlyweds. “I love you, Peter.”

“Quack,” the groom said tenderly, farted a wet pantload into his pyjama bottoms, and fell over dead.

* * *

Down in the kitchen after the ceremony, and after Peter’s body had been spirited away by the undertakers, and after the vicar had been given a stiff drink and sent home, and after she and the maids had put the food and crockery away, Mrs Gonk sat at the servants’ table and thought about her kitchen maid.

Dawn had been married to Peter for only about thirty-five seconds before he died, but they were married before Yog and it was beautiful. But even though she and Peter had fulfilled their dream of being married before he passed on, Dawn had gone disconsolate to her room and Mrs Gonk would have been extremely surprised to see the girl come out before morning.

So the cook sat and thought about the rotten roll of the dice Dawn had received, and the more she thought about it, the more upset she became. At first she was just upset that her kitchen maid, who was a lovely person and never hurt anyone in her poor, misbegotten orphan’s life, had been robbed of the wonderful husband Peter would have been. She knew he would have been such a very good husband, and for more than half a minute, too. But the more she thought about it, the more she felt nauseated and maybe like lying down for a spell.

All right, perhaps Mrs Gonk shouldn’t have had the wine. But still, she thought it wasn’t fair. A man in the blush of youth shouldn’t have been dead, killed that way, not with a pretty wife like her Dawn. With all these supranatural whatsits running around the countryside these days, they couldn’t bring a lovely boy back from the dead?

She sobbed for a moment at the table, and then her long-ago conversation with Lady Sheryl popped into Mrs Gonk’s head. Popped in and stayed.

* * *

Why did Maureen get all the suitors and the trips to London to buy new dresses and all the rest? Why did Sheryl turn all the boys’ heads, her and her stupid curls? Lady Eleanor asked herself these questions frequently while falling asleep in her bed. Even sending the greatest letter in the history of the post was not enough to calm her anger and her seething envy.

As she slid into sleep this evening, however, she lucidly dreamed of swimming unencumbered in the sea, able to breathe in the salt water, able to move as lithely as a fish.

A fish? She snorted in her sleep and rolled over onto her back. Then she heard a voice that was not part of any dream.

“Eleanor …” it said.

“Mumph, wazzit …”

“Eleanor, come to me …”

One of Lady Eleanor’s eyes popped open. Was someone speaking to her? “Who is that? Who’s there?” she said as loudly as prudent in the darkness of her room.

“It is I, Eleanor. Your true love …”

That was enough to make her other eye open as well. “All right, I’m listening.”

“You must come back to the sea, Eleanor. Come
home …”

What in the name of the Black Goat with a Thousand Young was that supposed to mean? And she could see no one in the room; from whence then that voice, which sounded like someone trying to speak with a mouthful of soup?

“Eleanor …”

“Yes, yes, I am here, obviously,” she said testily. “You must know that or you wouldn’t be prattling on at me.”

“You are not like your sisters, Eleanor …”

“Indeed, I’m not. Now what’s all this about true love?”

“I am your mate, Eleanor. Come to the sea …”

“Which sea? What sea? Shall I take a taxi to Liverpool and wait for you with the round-heeled women working near the docks?”

Either the possessor of that gargling voice didn’t understand when he was getting cheek, or he didn’t notice, or he didn’t care. Any of those was fine by Eleanor. Most men were just too sensitive, that was what she thought. In fact—

“Follow the slime …”

“The what? The slime, did you say? Oh, I think not.”

“I am your true love, Eleanor …”

She sat in the still room, weighing the voice’s words. On the one hand, following a trail of slime halfway across the country to the ocean or the Channel sounded bloody disgusting, and difficult to boot. But on the other, she wasn’t exactly getting a lot of offers for her hand, and if this fellow were already convinced he was her true love, well …

“Eleanor …”

“All right, the sea. Follow the slime trail and all that. When shall we do this?”

Now, Eleanor …”

“Oh, for Yog’s sake,” she griped, and was glad she had learned how to drive a motorcar back when Monroeville Hall first got one. “Let me get my hat.”

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