SPECIAL NOTE – This is horror. If you don’t like horror, turn back now. As you are turning back, notice the guy in the dark, voluminous cape. Walk toward that guy.
Part Three: The Discourse and an Announcement
by Karen R. Sanderson
The multi-storied stone monstrosity sat on a knoll, surrounded by dark leafless trees and knotted twisting vines. On either end of the structure was a large cupola, each a room in itself. Even during gray daylight, the manor house was dim and somewhat vague in its shape. At night, it appeared as an overgrown and ominous shadow.
Cruckshank pulled open a wide wooden door leading into the kitchen. Gleaming copper pots hung still on racks above the scarred island. In an alcove, a diminutive table with its one chair was tidy and sat waiting for breakfast. A wrought iron wood stove hulked silently. Striking a match, he lit a tapered candle to guide his way through to the library. Though he’d walked this particular path thousands of times, it was his habit to have the candle.
The old man shambled through cavernous hallways and through the central entryway on his march toward the library. Each rough stone wall boasted enormous woven tapestries. Portraits of lost souls in various stages of death and agony, life-sized and framed in shining gilt, observed the old man’s progress.
He passed the central staircase, the landing of which would support a miner’s cottage. The wide stairs were heavily carpeted in lush burgundy wool so that footfalls were but a whisper. Overlooking the stairs and landing was a mammoth stained glass insert the size of a barn. Dark hues of the blood-colored glass panes whistled with the ghostly wind.
The candle’s flame was blown out by an onerous breath curling down from the upper floors. Old Cruck stopped and waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. The glow from under the library door beckoned him, and he walked toward it.
Old Cruck lifted a misshapen hand and delivered two raps on the door to the library; he waited a couple of heartbeats and then entered. Without a word to the Dark Creature seated next to the fire, Cruckshank approached the carved and heavy mahogany sideboard. Picking up the glass decanter, he poured two glasses of Gautier brandy. The antiquated snifters were as large as a child’s head. The sparkling glass reflected the amber glow of the fire. Cruckshank shuffled toward the hearth and placed a snifter on the end table at his companion’s elbow. He settled into place on his side of the fire. Cruckshank remarked on the hearth.
“You could put a team of horses in there, easy.” Old Cruck took a sip from his snifter.
“You have gotten old my friend. When did this happen?” said the Dark Creature.
“Hmph. It’s been happening for the last 67 years, sir,” Cruckshank said.
“Sixty-seven years it’s been? You are then, what, 84?”
Cruckshank nodded. A prickly tingling presented itself in the old man’s stomach and snaked its way across his chest and arms.
Why these odd questions? These were quite uncommon inquiries coming from the Dark Creature.
“Are you dismissing me, sir?”
“Ghosts and tortured souls, no! Just making observations…conversation.”
Cruckshank relaxed somewhat, though the aura in the library seemed to have grown more gloomy. The Creature across the carpet from him had bowed his head. After several moments, Cruckshank wondered if he had fallen asleep.
Cruckshank cleared his throat softly. “I am getting rather worn out, I suppose. Consigning souls to their fates, all the time here buried in snow and breathing frigid air. So cold, constantly. It can be somewhat lonely all day while you are gone, sir. I’m a mere mortal after all.”
“Yes, lonely, I suppose.” There was another pause in the discourse, more comfortable this time.
A knot in a log on the fire cracked like a shot from a Miquelet pistol. Strengthening winds pushed stiffened branches against the glass of the window, it’s screeching muted somewhat by the heavy brocade draperies. Cruckshank straightened his lapels, pulling and tucking his coat tails beneath his legs. The brandy and the warmth of the raging fire were making his sagging eyelids feel leaden.
“You don’t feel like sharing your stories tonight, sir?”
“Perhaps you could tell me a story or two, Cruck.”
“Me? Tell you stories, sir? Oh.” This was quite odd; actually had never happened in all their 67 years together. “Well, let’s see. That disgusting soul who shot the constable – he was quite sorry and tried to blame his upbringing and his besotted father. Quite a temper he had himself! Pah! Then there was that awful man who preyed on weak, lost children – he was sobbing when I put the flame to him – much like a child himself! Then there was that woman – ”
“Cruckshank, I will retire.”
Cruckshank mistook his intent – he thought the Dark Creature was ready for his slumber. The Creature’s posture slumped. Cruckshank felt a bit disconcerted. The Creature seemed to be melting into the deep pit of the velvet chair, one hand limp by his side. The other hand rested on the end table, near his snifter. His features seemed to have softened and sagged, too.
“Ah, yes, of course, sir. I’ve already locked up.” Cruckshank rose from his chair and stood still, hands at his sides.
“No, you do not understand. I am done, finished.”
“What…” Cruckshank stood still, his mouth agape. Disturbing thoughts invaded his mind; I’m being let go, I’m done, I’ll get the match put to my box now.
Before the old man could gather more thoughts to speak, the Dark Creature continued.
“And you have been tasked as my replacement.”
Cruckshank’s knees started to buckle; he took one staggering step backwards, dropping into his chair. His heart was beating like a hammer on an anvil, veins in his head throbbed. His surprise was absolute and complete. And then he had a thought that made him smile.
“Will I be young again, sir? A young man of 17?” Now his eyes sparkled in the flickering flames emanating from the hearth.
“Yes, Cruck. You will be renewed, refreshed, you will again be 17 years old. Just as you came to me.”
The Dark Creature and the old man settled into a comfortable silence. Their opposing faces were a visual disagreement. The Creature frowned, the old man grinned.