De'ad Manse text image


An Older Tale short story from before the world of The Rising Tentacle.

'Be ever watchful'

It was the eve of All Hallows' when first I arrived at De'ad Manse, an auspicious timing for such an arrival. It was a bleak place, this rambling of buildings and it still is, a bleak, bleak place. On the day of my arrival, the sun shone strongly as only autumn sun can, splitting through the thinning branches of established trees, an aura of yellow-orange shards, scattering off leaves, falling and fallen. The blue sky set my spirits high for after all, I was to come into the benefaction of 'De'ad Manse', 'the considerable benefaction of De'ad Manse' was I not? I still smile at the word 'considerable', for it instantly brings to mind the offices of Stark and Madder, Solicitors. I can clearly hear Mr Madder stating, in his inimitable way "De'ad Manse is considerable, considerable indeed! You are much fortuned sir". For it was Mr Madder who first brought De'ad Manse to my attention. At such time, it was of excitement and anticipation and new beginnings. If I am honest, as I am bound to be, both then and now, I had not made the finest of starts to my life. I had ambitions, as all young men are want to have and with these ambitions I had the temperance of youth, that being very little! I had not done well in my endeavours, such as they were and on a day when I was feeling particularly bruised by the avoidance of life's fortune, the letter arrived. The letter, seeking an acknowledgement and audience with the office of Stark and Madder. "I have the utmost pleasure of communicating, with confidence your coming into inheritance...". A new era of opportunity had opened before my very eyes, I was resolved immediately to take up the opportunity to move to De'ad Manse, the mysterious building of my fortune.

I had been met at the crossroads by Camdon, the butler in horse and trap to take me the one and a half miles to the house, for the coach would not detour from the main route. I had swapped one dour driver for another, for neither had two words to share between them but spirits were high as we dipped into Down Denning. I was greeted by Mrs Melling, Camdon's wife and crossed the threshold that day. Would that I had not.

The first thing that beckoned my attention was the fastidious upkeep of the house, apparent immediately from the hallway. Secondly was the nature of the objects presented in the hallway. A cursory glance seemed to proffer a normal semblance of what was to be expected in such a place. However, each object, upon further inspection seemed to beckon a feeling of unease from somewhere deep inside one's being. The clock, for example was a clock but it seemed to be more. It told the time but seemed to want to tell something more. The face, there was something about the face. The picture on the panelled hallway wall, portrayed a scene like many pictures on many hallway walls across England but seemed dissonant with hallway ambience. Its view and form lingered in the viewers thoughts, long after the viewing had passed. The heads of animals. Knives, from abroad for I had not seen the like in this country. As I was guided by my hosts along and upstairs to a room, my room, I settled into the house and its tense air and relaxed a little. I wanted for nothing in my room, hot water steamed from a bowl and its attendant jug as if instantly placed, the smell of lavender pervaded the air, the bed, chairs and a table and a book case. I freshened myself after my day's journey and then sat to read at several books placed on the reading table from the bookshelf by hosts as yet unknown. A local guide to the house and its environs, History of the House of De'ad - origins of a family, Plants of the Fells and The preternatural Moor. Mrs Melling returned with few words but a particularly resplendent meal of hot steaming pie and vegetables, fruit and a remarkably fine red wine. She drew the curtains in on the falling night and lit candles upon the failing light. I thanked the housekeeper for her attentions and received a nod prior to the door closing upon my evening. I sat to take my repast and opened, at random one of the books I had reviewed earlier. 'The heraldic device of the family De'ad'. This was a Sable shield with an Orle subordinary partition line, supported by a Rampant Talbot to the left and a Passant Hydra to the right. A double scroll supported the shield of which only the left side had an inscription 'Be Ever Watchful', the right side of the scroll was empty. The candle flame was flickering, some draft or other arising from the old house and this, coupled with the wine which had given me a pleasant glow and of course, the day's journey told me it was time to retire. I thought briefly about my house companions and I remember a screech from beyond the velvet curtains, a vixen crossing the ground? Not the last screech I would here at my time at De'ad Manse. That first night, All Hallows Eve as I have recalled was full of fitful dreams. A writhing form, dark figures of whom I had no acquaintance, the screeching of, well screeching, a mist that hung and smothered. All could be attributed for, to the change in surroundings, the rich meal and it was All Hallows after all, I thought the next morning. The opposite of the housekeeper's ritual from the evening before was enacted and the plates were removed, solemnly. There was an ease in this small familiarity and so my day started, the first of my days in my new world.

I had been at the house about one week. I had studied the rooms on both floors although not all, as they were many. I was drawn particularly to the library, with its resplendent columns of collected volumes; rank upon rank of leather-bound, erudite editions and files. These ranged from the classics to older, more obscure tomes I had yet to review. I could see I would not be unhappy here for the lack of literary companion, for many a year. I had wandered the extensive grounds, the immediate, formal gardens initially, venturing further and further afield as my confidence of place increased. It was at one of these further travels, just beyond the edge of the land, before a wood that bordered upon the outer demesne of De'ad Manse, that I came upon something I then first perceived as strange. Hung, in one of the trees, fashioned out of a tree by way of its branches, was an object. It is now what I understand to be a symbol, no, more than that; it was a sign. I was not initially sure it was at all symbolic, I could have easily missed it, or could I? No, once seen, it was indelibly etched upon the fabric of my mind, it was meant to be seen, it was purposeful. I came away, back towards the house. The wood seemed an ominous place. It was that same evening, in my bedroom, after a couple of glasses of wine and reading a book I had found in the library regarding local customs that I first heard the sound. At first there was the scratching, I put this down to mice as is customary in such large, old houses (I had talked with Camdon about this matter some days earlier and he had assured me he would take the necessary steps to address the situation). Then there arose what I can only describe as a plaintiff, grumbling whine, very faint, distant. I took this to be a combination of the subject matter I was at the time reading - 'Customs of Olde England', in conjunction with the third glass of wine. The sound was ugly, abhorrent even but I was captivated by it. I found myself straining to hear (for it was still at the edge of my perception), to hear more. It died away, slowly. I felt slightly chill, half-remembering a draft I had felt on my first evening. I readied myself for bed. As I drifted off into sleep I thought I heard a screech, the screech of a vixen perhaps...

It was some days later as I passed through the hallway towards the library, with the sun streaming through the window that the dark panelling, beside which sat a chair, caught my attention. Some semblance of a shadow, where the panelling met with the tiled floor and a slightly lightened area of the wood, caught by the sunlight. I had not noticed this before, and in truth, there was but little to notice however I also then noticed that the painting of scenic England was slightly out of sorts with panelling lines. I walked towards the painting and adjusted it back in alignment. Just as my hand was moving away from the painting, Mrs Melling's sharp voice called "Sir!", making me jump as a schoolboy caught in an underhand act might do. "I did not mean to startle you, sir. Is there anything I can help with?". Embarrassed at my action I mumbled something inconsequential and went off, out into the day. It is now that the days all seem to meld into one another, time becomes indistinct for me as a morning of mist seems. At some time, some days after the straightening of the painting I recall walking past the painting once again and then stopping. I glanced down at the floor below the painting but saw nothing untoward, my eyes lifted to behold the painting. From what initially looked like a simple, pastoral scene upon cursory glance, bore further, more detailed inspection. The rolling green fields led the eye to a plateau of sorts, whereupon was placed a stone circle. Small figures were about the circle and one in particular, dressed in black looked away form the circle where every other figure did not. The moon shone down from the right corner of the painting but the fields were in day. Flowers in the foreground were detailed, colourful but although they were clearly distinguishable as flowers, they were no flowers I could readily identify. I remember feeling pulled in to the scene. I imagined a singing present in the scene, of high trailing voices and low, guttural accompaniment. I fancied what I heard in my mind, I knew snatches of from somewhere, yes it was from the evening in my room. The scene and its fancied singing subsided and I guessed I was coming around from my reverie of the scene. I felt a chill. I moved on.

I was out walking, in some outer field of the lands that rose up to the North West corner of the estate. The last of the autumn sun was struggling to warm the day as if knowing it had to give way to winter's advance in but a few days. I had just dipped down and crossed a stream and was making my way up the field when I felt the presence of a fly. This in itself was no cause for alarm but with a further 3 footsteps the fly had been joined by several more, each encircling my head and starting to cause some annoyance. I remember wafting the annoyances away but with a further 2 footsteps, the flies had thronged into a plague. I found it difficult to continue, the flies were about my head and hands as I tried to fend them off. I started to run. I ran up the hill losing sight of the top, stumbling several times as I was considerably disoriented by the experience and I remember coughing as flies had entered my mouth, such was their intensity. But, just as I felt I could take no more of this abhorrence, the plague abated. I managed to brush a remaining few flies from my eyelids and upon opening them found myself at the top of the field, overlooking a magnificent vista of rolling green fields. My lungs burned as I gasped for air which rushed in, cold and fresh. The uncommon nature of what had happened, drifted away from my thoughts at the vista, as an early mist dissipates leaving its viewer unable to recall any precise formation. As I think upon it now, I understand its role in the drama that has unfolded around me.

The light began to fade slowly, the breeze was keen, a fly that must have been sheltering under my jacket collar flew out and past my face. I swept out my hand after its disappearance and shook my jacket and shirt to ensure no flies remained. I resolved to walk back slightly away from the pathway of my ascent.

I had found from my inquiries into the many books in my library, that the previous owner of the property to which I was now owner, was a Minister. This was my first opportunity, to ponder the untimely demise of a succession of hitherto unknown, distant relatives. Nathaniel De'ad had pursued a religious calling but I could find little else as to the nature of this man. He had kept copious notes about a great many things I had as yet to understand. One interesting entry of his related to the coat of arms. He had a picture of the arms but it differed from the normally documented history in that the inscription on the second part of the scroll was completed. The inscription, in its entirety converted from Latin into English by the minister read 'Be ever watchful, lest the forces of evil take their allotted seat'. The Manse had a chapel which I had visited once, briefly. It had an unnatural air about it which had taken me aback and I had not re-visited it since. It had been early on in my taking up residence and I had occupied myself with other parts of the house. Having walked to the chapel which was apart from the house but very close I paused at the stone porch. It had a small, built-in seat to each side and ornate carvings of twisted brambles. Twisted brambles, would that they were twisted brambles. I turned the large metal ring of the door and pushed but nothing happened. I pushed again and with this extra force the door moved forwards with a scrape. Air rushed from around the door sides, warm but foul-smelling air as though some seal had been broken upon opening the door setting free ages of securement. At the same moment I heard a faint screech of that self same fox that had marked my passing into slumber on frequent nights. The warmness of the chapel was at odds with what I had expected. The place was in good upkeep, quite clean it had a looked after feel. The heat was beginning to slightly irritate and I undid my scarf and unbuttoned my coat. Looking around, there was little to mark out the place from being just a simple chapel. Two small rows of pews, an altar gate ajar, leading to an small stone altar above which hung a small stained-glass window. The pews were ornately carved in the fashion of the porch, I ran my left hand carelessly across the polished, dark wood as I walked toward the altar but jumped and withdrew my hand quickly. I had been cut, by some sharp thorn on the carving, it had drawn blood and immediately the heat seemed to increase, I began to sweat and a faint grumble, on the periphery of my senses began. I put my finger to my mouth and continued forwards. I was oblivious to any danger there might have been, it had just been a minor accident of which I put down to my inexperience of the environment. As I stepped forwards there was a scraping sound as though stone were being dragged across stone. Ahead of me stood the altar as I stepped up through the low altar gate. The scraping started again to my left and as I glimpsed what appeared to be a stone block being slowly pushed up from the floor of the altar, a wave of warm, fetid stench hit me and I immediately wretched three times in rapid succession. So foul was the fetor that I turned, throwing my arms up in useless defence, I unbalanced myself and fell off the altar step. The smell of salt, stale sweat and old, rotting things was overwhelming and I wretched once more. At that point I thought I would faint but something from deep within me that was at battle with the palpable fear in the place gave me the strength for a second to push myself up to my knees. I pulled myself with outstretched hands along the tiled floor of the knave and turned my head back. Oh God, that I had not turned my head that day for what I saw I shall take to the grave with me. A writhing mass of putrescence. Brambles reaching, feeling, searching their way out of the stone floor hole, a stone block pushed away except they were not brambles, they were not brambles on the pews, not brambles on the stone porch but tentacles!

How I vacated that fearful, loathsome place I know not. My mind seemed fractured, I remember cutting my hands times more on the pews and their 'thorns', being sick on grass but I was in white,, cotton sheets with the smell of lavender, my hands bandaged. I remember now reading in one of my few days before the fear, "lavender banishes the writhing thoughts". I will not go about without a posy of lavender at close hand. There is an unspoken understanding between Camdon, Mrs Melling and myself. The couple knew what I now know. Little had changed but there was a subtle feeling between us. Many would ask why I did not vacate this place if, as I have intimated there is the unspeakable, here upon my doorstep. It is not so simple an undertaking, I have a responsibility and hold that responsibility, as Camdon and Mrs Melling hold their responsibility, as my predecessor held his responsibility. Although, I confess I still am not fully sure of the extent of my predecessor's involvement with this thing. I only know I have to keep evil from taking its allotted seat. I have researched but there is still much research I must perform. I have found lavender to be of service. I keep the temperature cool, heat seems to cast forth unmentionable thoughts, twisting and writhing in my mind. I have also come across a sign, a sign I clutch to. It is the sign I first encountered those many days previously on my once happier sojourns, the sign I initially came upon which I foolishly assumed was warning about the wood but was in fact, alarming outsiders regarding the house and grounds of this accursed place. I have only scratched the surface as I scratched the surface of my hands on the pews, those scratches reminding me of the grave task that now dominates my life when I get warm and comfortable...

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