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.
“I am so dreadfully, dreadfully sorry for this, Your Grace,” Lord Monroe said with true emotion, shaking the Duke’s hand as the nobleman prepared to leave the next afternoon. The morning had been a flurry of activity following the discovery of the Romanian diplomat dead in his bed. “This isn’t the sort of thing we usually have happen at Monroeville Hall.”
“Don’t you mean at Deadtown Abbey?” the Duke said with a wry smile completely inappropriate for the moment.
Not used to hearing that appellation used by a gentleman, Lord Monroe sputtered, “W-We see the dead buried here, Your Grace. We don’t add to its ranks.”
“Of course, my good man,” the Duke said with a chuckle, “I was only trying to leaven your mood a little.”
“Leaven it? By Yog, this could start an international incident!”
“Ha!” the nobleman barked. “My dear Lord Monroe, Romania has all the military capabilities of a drunken farmer falling asleep in the furrows. And now that Tarboosh is dead, I can finally travel by daylight again, old boy!” He laughed again and waved goodbye to the assembled family and staff.
As Grimes drove the Duke away, Lord Monroe turned to his wife and muttered, “Blasted strange world we’re living in.”
Barbara smiled at him but couldn’t resist saying, “You’re the one who believes in zombies, my dear.”
* * *
“I’m sorry, Roger, but you simply cannot take your half-day tomorrow evening. The new heir is coming to stay at Tombstone Cottage and get a feel of Monroeville Hall and its village,” Mister Foree boomed at the senior footman. “Need I remind you that this man is to be the master of this estate one day?”
“But this is a last-minute change we’re making, sir. I specifically requested—and was granted, sir—my half-day off for full moon night,” Roger pleaded. “Sir.”
“We serve to fulfill the family’s wishes, not the other way ’round. And a full moon is only occasion for an evening off if one is practicing human sacrifices.” He raised his colossal eyebrows at him. “Is that why you need the evening off?”
“No, only the women do that nowadays, sir. I’m sure you know that.”
“Indeed, I do.” He left off speaking then and fixed his silent gaze on the footman.
“It’s just … I don’t believe I will be able to perform my duties well, sir.”
“We will all do the best we can on such short notice, Roger. Mrs Gonk has been running around like a horseman with his head cut off this morning, trying to locate the last chicken to be found in this county for ready money, to hear her tell it.”
“I’m sorry, but the answer must be no. We need all hands on deck tonight. This is a bigger event than even the Duke’s visit last week. The future of this home will be seen tonight.”
Roger swallowed hard, gave a curt nod to Mister Foree, and left the butler’s pantry.
* * *
Lady Sheryl Shambley had a secret. She had no one to tell—no one who would believe her, in any event. She had asked for permission to be driven to visit the larger town past Monroeville, where she planned to get in a good walk to clear her head, look in the windows of shops, maybe think about a new hat. She would have morning tea at the lunch counter with the good salt-of-the-earth people who made their livings on the land or at some trade. She admired them greatly.
But she had to think of someone to tell her secret to. It really wasn’t a secret, was it, it was more of a discovery. It was like a cloudy veil had been lifted from her eyes and she could see clearly now what this world was about.
Her voyage of discovery had begun with the ending of a different voyage: that of the poor Titanic. She had believed more than anyone in her family that it was, in fact, a zombie infestation that forced the crew to crash the ship into that iceberg. All it took was one revenant, of course: It bit one person, and there were two zombies within minutes, if she understood how it was supposed to work. They each bit a person in turn, then that happened again and again, increasing exponentially, as their governess would have put it when she broke the rules and added a bit of maths to the French and pianoforte lessons.
But the secret. She could not tell Mama or Papa, obviously. They would steadfastly refuse to believe her, and anyway it’s not a very good secret if one can tell her parents, is it?
In fact, everyone in her family was out, except Eleanor. Her dear elder sister would believe her and would not censure her for her secret, but she was so eager to please that it wouldn’t have been much of a victory there, either. Eleanor would believe that black was white if one insisted on it strongly enough and told her she was pretty.
No, the kind of person Sheryl wanted to confide in would have to be a working person, someone who would respect her as Lady Sheryl but not agree with her just to gain favor. Not a sycophant like a valet or a lady’s maid, but more like—
Sheryl could hardly believe her eyes as she saw the pudgy figure of Mrs Gonk, the cook of Monroeville Hall, padding down the lane with two paper-wrapped parcels that Sheryl knew had to contain meat for the new heir’s dinner that night. She was traveling away from Sheryl, but with those short legs, she couldn’t stay ahead very long. Sheryl finally caught up to her and said, “Hullo, Mrs Gonk! What a surprise to see you in town!”
For such a short, fat little woman, Mrs Gonk’s startled scream was surprisingly robust, and she dropped both parcels in her shock. “Ye gods, Lady Sheryl, I thought you were a vampire! Oh, me and my one-track mind! And now I’ve bruised my chickens.”
“A vampire? Not likely in broad daylight, I should think. I do apologize for frightening you, Mrs Gonk. Here,” she said, picking up the parcels wrapped in butcher paper and handing them to the cook, who was breathing slightly more normally now. “I’m sure they’re fine, but I’d like to make it up to you. May I buy you a cup of tea at the spot up the way? I’d very much like to talk to you.”
Mrs Gonk let out a sharp laugh. “Ha! I don’t think I’m dressed for a tea room, milady. I do thank you for your kindness, though—”
Sheryl thought quickly and said, “How are you getting back home?”
“The horse cart, I imagine. That nice Italian farmhand, Mister Savini, has business in town and should be ready to leave in an hour or so.”
“Well, I’ve got the motor,” Sheryl said, and guided Mrs Gonk ever so gently to turn about and head back the way she had just come. “Might I offer you a lift? We can chat on the way.”
Mrs Gonk laughed again, this time more gently. “I had no idea what this day would bring, milady— me, in a motorcar! Ha! I’ll feel like the belle of the ball.”
Sheryl laughed along with her and said, “Your payment will be in listening to some ideas I have had. I believe I have a secret I’d like to share with you.”
Mrs Gonk’s expression ranged somewhere between total disbelief and suspicious excitement. “A secret? Are you sure you remember me, milady? I’m the cook.”
Sheryl laughed at that, and the cook shared in it, but without taking her eyes off her employer’s daughter. Was she having a laugh at her poor servant? That would be quite unlike anything she had ever seen in Lady Sheryl in the ten years she had worked at Deadtown Abbey. But still, she wouldn’t put it past a noble.
“Milady, did someone put you up to this, as a lark? Lady Eleanor does enjoy her little jokes.”
“That is true enough, but now, Mrs Gonk, this is something that I don’t think my father or mother would be interested in hearing. Not from their youngest, anyway.”
The skepticism was fading from the cook’s expression.
“May I confide my secret?”
“Of course, milady.”
“Actually, first I must ask you what you think of scientific enquiry.”
Mrs Gonk laughed again and said, “I can’t say I’ve ever encountered any, milady.”
“Ha! No, I mean in general. Do you approve? Could you imagine yourself not believing something, but through evidence and logic, coming to believe that very thing?”
To her credit, the cook took the time to chew on that. She was usually glad to let the gods take care of the workings of the world, and let herself worry only about the goings-on in the kitchen she managed. But it was a good question, and Lady Sheryl, despite her youth, was often the sharpest tack among the three Shambley daughters. “Do you mean like electric lights? I was dead-set against ’em until they were installed in the Hall’s kitchen—against His Lordship’s wishes but overruled by Her Ladyship—and I saw what a blessing they were. Much easier to pick out any weevils from the flour, for a start.”
Sheryl’s stomach turned for a moment at that, but she was able to soldier on. “Um, yes, that’s generally what I mean. You had a hypothesis about the electric lights, which was then tested by the actual use of the innovation, and you were forced to change your axioms and assumptions by the experience.”
Mrs Gonk thought she was smiling at Lady Sheryl, but in fact she looked, perhaps appropriately, like a deer transfixed by a bright electric lamp.
“What I mean, is … well, anyway, I have sold my soul to the Satan.”
NEXT WEEK: PART 9 — IS THAT A dog-snouted pentadactyl monkey rat?
 The diplomat’s body having been picked up an hour earlier by the efficient Burke, Hare, & Sons, Ltd.