The air wasn’t quite musty. Nor was it a space where the air had a hint of age about it. It certainly had dampness adding to the subtly overwhelmingly……………
“what IS the term?” thought Mini amongst the gamut of other more or less important thoughts. “It sort of smells like Grandma’s flat in Montmartre, but that was not it.”
“Bloody hell girl! For a man without a snoz, I’ve got ter tell ya it stinks like a right bastard of death here. Pardon me English, o’course.”
But it wasn’t the smell of death either. Death was amongst the olfactory guessing game, but it did not pick up pole position. There was more to it. It was an old, old, smell. The smell you would find beneath ground. Somewhere dug out and secret. Somewhere shared and somewhere that love was found in abundance, as was the amount of tears that went with it.
It was usually associated with secret Christian then Pagan burials. They would then step forward a thousand years or so and you would find places hiding outcast Catholics and Protestants. A sanctuary for the dead protecting them from the ravages of those of different views and beliefs and Masters.
Places with ornate Mausoleums. From grand sarcophagi standing resplendent in imported Tuscan marble, to earth cuttings in passageways the size of a small bed, large enough to hold one poor in life but rich in faith. Row upon row upon row of these indents of the faithful. It smelt of head stone and marble and mortar and those in mortis, both recent and time long past.
They both quite bluntly squealed like little boys encountering their greatest nightmares. Old John, actually did a little nervous wee he would vehemently deny throughout the rest of the chapter. Mini offered a nervous laugh.
A partial cause to the fright of Mini and old John was the squeaking of the front door of the being fractionally opened, shattering the surrounding silence with the force of a rather put out Norse God. Secondary to the noise was the lack of human involvement that had caused it.
After a general scout around for anything that may cause further denials by vieux John, little was found and they moved on. Bravely, of course.
The house was an old stone, thatch, and slate affair with a weathered inscription reading ‘La Peste 1349’ above the skewed front door.
Everything about the large and rambling concoction of building materials of the age of construction was bowed, bent, leaning, but almost entirely charcoal grey. Window frames made tragic eye’s to the houses face. Slate was the main roofing material, but where it had failed and fallen in, thatch was reinserted for short term convenience in the long term. Sadly, the phrase “short term” had never been properly explained to the occupants, and shrubs, weed, and all manner of two, four, six, and eight legged beasties thrived within what remained of the same. When people elsewhere declare that ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’, the inhabitants of this house would have considered that a happy change from showers of ‘rats, pigeons, and spiders the size of which ever reigning monarch of the times’ head’.
The front door was a multigenerational work of art in itself. Leather hinges had given way to a rather bad form of wooden pinning. The door was a patchwork of knot holes and mismatched wooden patching. It had seen fire, snow, ice, rain, angry mobs, drunken husbands, broken wives, livestock, bears and wolves, and “Death”, repeatedly as the years prescribed. New born children, wives, and the dead had been carried past and through. Sheriff’s of the Nottingham variety, Soldiers, and tax collectors alike had assailed it with fist, halberd, and white gloved hand. It was wider at the bottom than the top. It was one colour, and that was the shade before black. It was age hardened to something similar to iron, and drawing sparks from an emotively wielded axe was a guarantee.
Plumbing had never had never made it here, and double holed throne 40 yards behind the house was slowly falling in on itself.
The well, a good 100 yards away as the valkyrie flies, was a testament to those that fully respected the need of a constant, and always abundant source of good clean water (‘frogs are fairly clean living creatures’. A father lie’s reassuringly to a random child of his baring). It was well dug and stone walled. It had a bucket and rope set up, complete with a hand winch and a broad low circular covering offering the best chance of avoiding leaves and other detritus from falling in. Lastly, the well was surrounded by a metre high stone wall, with a gate set into the northern face roughly 75cm from the ground, offering the idea of a waylaying obstacle for whatever child got it into their head to attempt getting to the well. To date it had worked. It was built in 1351.
Allowing the eye to cast further behind the house, and further again beyond the least appealing throne in the realm, stood a scarecrow. Scary looking, and mimicking every other scarecrow ever designed. So to, it was a sad looking affair. The head had slumped forward enough to be nearly touching the chest. The chest and abdomen had mice in such abundance that a cast system had evolved amongst them. They had daily hangings of miscreant mice and revolutions ever five or six months. None successful to date, and all within the space where the gut would be. The wooden “T” was almost entirely rotted through leading to it rocking like a ship in a gale, in a gale.
Liv stepped straight through the door without a moment’s hesitation. She looked up and around in a circular motion, taking in the darkness, dead spider webs, and an abundance of unbroken floor covering dust roughly 25mm thick over all lower surfaces.
The room was quite large, roughly 25 by 35 metres running north/south, with ceilings surprisingly no more than two metres in height. Through the dust, over stuffed lounging chairs in the style of Conan Doyle’s Victorian era London gentlemen’s clubs were spread around the room. Low tables and footstools had joined the fray. An array of unfortunate beasts had lost both life and head, with the latter covering all available space on every wall.
Mini, dutifully following (questioning himself with every step as to how she managed such complete control over him?) and beating vieux John off behind him whilst he attempted to attach himself to Mini’s back.
Scallop on the other hand could not of given the slightest hint of concern as to the situation. He was in fact having an absolute wow of a time. A colony of chronically inbred mice and rats posed no difficulty for him. A bevy of starling received the fright and loss of a plethora their useless lives when he managed to get amongst the thatch. An owl, having a solid kip after a night filled with the local satanic cult whom had just made her a life member, woke with a start, and shot away from her perch so much like the bat out hell she revered so much.
Back inside, the hardly cowardly old John (“that’s not wee!!! It’s just an iceblock I had in my pocket from yesterday!”) was slowly unravelling himself from Mini’s back, and looking around with an air of feigned bravado.
“You, woman, have led us a merry dance! Not a soul, live or dead, has crossed that threshold for a century if I’m any judge!”
What wasn’t noticed to anyone was the subtle difference in temperature. It was slightly warmer than outside. That was to be expected.
What was not expected was that her foot fall did not disturb the heavy layer of dust, and secondly, “A merry dance? Good God, look around you man!!!” Spreading her arms wide, hands palm up, and turning in an anticlockwise circle, displaying all about her with pride “how could all of this around you be the butt of a merry dance? And souls, look around yourself. Why, here is Miles, Butler to the House of Gascony for these last 40 years. Do join the conversation Miles……..”
It was the “Brown Acid”. Of that Mini was sure.
He was also more than sure he was standing in a worn out old house, being introduced to a patch of underclass titled thin air, by a magnificent specimen of a woman, whom he follows everywhere without conscious thought. I have foot prints stalking me from behind. John has them, even Scallop has them. Although Scallops seem to include blood, gore, and savaged rodent roughly the same size as himself.
Mademoiselle Olivia St. Jean Melamare does not.
It was a scream of pain and failing in flight and of poor fighting. So bloody and horrible that drew them from the house.
Flat on his back, arms bloody and flailing, legs kicking hard but landing on nothing, was the man better known as the ‘Second’ whose whimpering prone form was last seen being admonished by “Death” after the duel on the green.
His attacker was not easily identifiable in either species or as a recognisable form or something familiar.
It, as no other description is just, was a blur. Not a blur through speed of movement, nor tremor, but rather a blur between discernible form and shape of body. When attacking the arms it was a black, hairless dog of sorts. Very close to being bull terrier like by appearance, just taller, stockier, and possessing a head with jaws the size of an alligators. As it moved its attack from the arms to the throat chest and abdomen it transformed itself to the idea of the shape of an excessively large bird of prey. All talon and beak and gut cleaving spur, leaving abdominal evisceration and intestinal perforation after every strike. His throat reddening with every feather of claret that covered it.
The most terrifying shape of all that the beast blurred into, was that of a normal sized, male, fox terrier. It is also where the blurring stopped, and regularity of shape and breed returned.
In one movement, the still bleeding, and blubbing ‘Second’ was tossed from his current position on his back, over onto his front. Back and neck now deliciously exposed. Slowly, deliberately, and allowing for the maximum amount of pain, the fox terrier placed one front foot between the Seconds shoulder blades, the other on the back of his head, leaning forward and exposing the normal and everyday teeth of any fox terrier. He snapped forward, biting down hard, but no harder than was possible for a fox terrier to do, at the base of the skull where the spine meets. With solid crunching and gnawing and pulling and grinding the dog eventually ripped out the rear of first and second vertebrae, leaving the spinal cord intact and exposed.
Swallowing bone and flesh in one, Mr Darcy leant forward for the last time. With absolute care he bit down almost on the point of the spinal cord. He growled and delicately shifted his head from side to side, then gently and firmly, started walking away backyards from the bloody mess, and withdrew the man’s soul. Once all one metre of it was removed, he delicately made one or two flicks of his head, gathering the yellow coil of soul in his teeth, and trotted off the way he had come.
The sound of vomiting was all that was to be heard for sometime after.
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