Monday, 4 February 2013

The Peculiar Problem of the Vampire Guest

It was the beginning of the year 1892 and I was busy in my country surgery, inundated with patients suffering from acute blood loss and similar ill markings on their necks. It seemed like we had a new vicious malady plaguing our small town but I had yet to confirm what it was. Many of the townsfolk were claiming we had vampires in our midst however I, although I had had my fair share of dalliances with the phantom world, thought the idea an entirely ludicrous one. 
This outbreak coincidentally occurred just as the European nobleman Count Karloff arrived on a visit to England to stay at my dear friend Silas’ house.
‘Hallo Smedley,’ Silas said to me, full of energy, as he welcomed us inside one day. ‘Have you met my guest?’
From a single glance of Count Karloff I could tell he was a man of noble birth.  He had a strong face with a powerful jaw and pristinely kept dark hair all set off by a fine black velvet cape. I could make out an exceedingly pale complexion even in the darkened living room. I supposed he was from a country blessed with little sunlight.
‘Wonderful to meet you, Count,’ I said, offering my hand.
‘As it is… to meet…you,’ he said, in a slow drawl with a thick accent. He also ignored my hand.
At that moment, Mrs Pretorius, Silas’ housekeeper, came into the room and began to draw the curtains. With a shriek, Karloff backed against the wall, hissing like a cat.
‘Mrs Pretorius, please!’ Silas said. ‘Count Karloff, our esteemed guest, has a strict skin condition which makes sunlight intolerable.’
Mrs Pretorius turned around to bow and apologise to Karloff to which he once again jumped back screaming while pointing at the crucifix hanging around her neck.
‘He’s also not very religious.’
Karloff’s behaviour struck me as very queer. There was something about him I did not trust.
‘A drink, Karloff?’ Silas asked.
‘I am always thirsty,’ he murmured.
I glanced at Karloff once more; he smiled at me, teeth peeping over his lips. He didn’t seem to be looking me at the eyes, though, more like my neck.
Something clicked in my mind.
Silas’s so-called esteemed guest was in fact a vampire!
I endeavoured to keep my calm so as to not let the fiend know of my suspicions of him. I realised that I must be strong to face off this creature from hell.
‘White wine for you, Karloff?’
‘Oh no. I must have something … red,’ he said, with a smirk.
I fainted clean away on the floor.
The next thing I knew Silas was dabbing my forehead with a damp cloth. I could not see the Count in the room so I lunged at my friend, grabbing his lapels.
‘Silas! The Count… He is the one who has been feeding off the locals! He is a Nosferatu! An Evil Dead!’ Silas looked at me blankly. ‘A vampire!’
‘Now, now, Smedley. You have had a bump to the brain, you know not what you are saying.’ Silas patted my shoulder. ‘I assure you that Count Karloff is not the bloodsucker you seek.’
He grinned at me and through his lips I saw two protruding canines. As sharp as fangs.

‘Now,’ he continued. ‘I do believe you hurt your neck when you fainted. Let me have a look at that.’ 

Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Yarn of the Yuletide Visitation (Part Two)

And then – though I scarcely believed my eyes – a chimerical figure so transparent it was like they were made of cobwebs appeared into the room.
‘Silasssss,’ it said in a hoarse yet theatrical tone. ‘I have come for you, Silassss.’
It was a man, as far as I could tell, his face was quite deathlike, his mouth in a permanent gawp. He had chains wrapped around his midriff and legs.
‘My God, Morley, my old partner? Can it really be you?’
‘Yes, Silasss. I have returned from the grave to warn you to change your ways.’
‘The grave? You’re not dead, Morley, you moved to the Isle of Wight.’
‘Same thing, really.’ The ghost or whatever it may be flumped into an armchair and sighed heavily. ‘These chains are a bloody pain to carry.’
‘Wait, you said you have come to change my ways?’ Silas said, getting over the shock. ‘But I am known as the kindest, most generous man in the area. The people love me; why, just the other day children gave me bags of raisins in the street!’
‘I don’t think those were raisins,’ said I.
‘Nonsense,’ bellowed Morley. ‘You are a cold-hearted cad, Silas. You refuse poor homeless orphans into your great home, you are too cheap to pay for a living housekeeper and you charge Dr Smedley rent for spending time with you.’
‘Yes, I did have a query about that actually, Silas.’
‘Now you have gone too far,’ the ghost continued. ‘And you shall pay the price if you do not change your selfish ways…’
There was an almighty crack like lightning and then there in front of us in the carpet was a dirty, gunmetal grey gravestone, upon written was nothing but the moniker ‘Silas.’
‘This is your future if you continue as you are. Alone and unloved. Even in death!’
‘It wouldn't be all bad. I’ll be away from those scrounging children-‘
‘Yes, it would be bad!’
‘All right it’s bad!’ Silas shrieked.
A wind from nowhere in particular gathered in the room then. The ghost stood from his seat and stretched a silver finger at my friend. ‘Change!’
It was then that I began to feel woozy or rather more awake as the next thing I knew I was back in my chair. It was like I had awoken from a dream. Could it not have been real?
‘Smedley,’ said Silas, his eyes wild. ‘I just had the most enlightening experience! I dreamt – at least I think I did – that you and I were visited by my old –‘
‘By Jove, Silas, I dreamt the same! It is a Christmas miracle!’
‘It is indeed,’ Silas smiled. ‘For I feel like a new man, ready to open my heart to all who come knocking at my door.’
‘I am so pleased to hear you say so, Silas. Should I go fetch the old woman and her kin from the cold?’
‘No, I shouldn't bother, Smedley,’ said Silas, taking the last mince pie from the tray. ‘Just go get this month’s rent for me, would you?’

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Yarn of the Yuletide Visitation (Part One)

Silas’ house was decked in numerous decorations for the festive season. There was a tree in every room, bows of holly in the hall and a sprig of mistletoe on the ceiling – which led to many very awkward encounters when both Silas and I passed under it that I will not recount now.
‘I do love Christmas, Smedley,’ said Silas, sitting by the blazing fire. ‘This time of year makes one feel at total peace with the world. All men and women are, for once, equal and no one is left in the cold.’
As he spoke there was a wrapping on the door.
We ventured to the hall where Mrs Pretorius had already opened the door. A dozen or so children, in raggedy clothes much too big for them, were singing Christmas carols. A little off-key it must be said but the sound still warmed my heart.
Silas, Mrs Pretorius and I applauded when they were done. I thought I even saw a tear glisten on Silas’s cheek.
And old woman came forth from the snow behind the children, she had great pleading grey eyes. ‘Please, Sirs, the orphans an’ I have no where to go this Christmas since the unfortunate burning of the orphanage this morning.’
‘S’not my fault,’ said one of the boys. ‘I didn’t know beds were flammable.’
She clapped the lad round the ear. ‘As it is Christmas, Sirs, we wondered if you might let these poor children stay the night.’
The all-encompassing smile on Silas’ face seemed to falter. ‘Erm… no.’
‘But we've no where to go and you have such a large house.’
‘Oh, it’s a lot smaller on the inside. There’s always the old inn across the marsh?’
‘The old inn is full of drunks and reprobates, sir!’
‘Well, then, your arsonist ankle-biters should fit right in!’         
With that, he slammed the door.
‘Silas!’ I cried, no longer able to hold my tongue. ‘You swine, how could you lock those children and that old angel out in the snow?’
‘I can’t have children running around the place, Smedley,’ he said, already walking away. ‘I’d be finding them under armchairs and things for weeks.’
‘You will see the error of your ways, Silas. Mark my words.’
Silas simply shrugged. ‘’Bah humbug.’’
We returned to our study, no longer talking and trying to ignore the other’s presence. Soon, I must have drifted off as the next thing I remember was the grandfather clock in the corner tolling twelve. The house seemed eerily silent now apart from that single noise.
It was soon followed by a deep, drawn-out moaning.
What the devil could be happening on this fearfully festive occasion? Find out tomorrow on this very blog...

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The Singular Story of Silas' Sibling (Part Two)

Still amazed, I took the lady’s hand - as much out of admiration as of courtesy - and kissed it. She wore a large emerald ring.
‘Oh dear, are getting married, Marina?’
‘No, it was a… gift from the King of Scandinavia. We were ever so good chums.’
I was already entranced by this Marina. She held herself like no other woman I had ever encountered, somewhere between nonchalance and grace. All I could think was: lucky old King of Scandinavia.
‘So how are our brother and sisters?’
‘All fine. Apart from Claudius, but then he never is. Oh, Theodore has finally created that rocket he always talked about.’ She frowned. ‘No one’s seen him in a while actually.’
‘How’s Father?’
‘Still lost at sea.’
‘And how’s Mother?’
‘Still dead.’
I was enthralled to hear so much about my friend’s home life. I was ready to burst with questions but I controlled myself. Bursting of any kind is never acceptable in front of a lady.
‘So what has brought you to my humble abode on this merry day, dear sister?’ Silas gave her a suspicious look.
‘Don’t be so distrusting, brother. This is but a harmless social call; there’s no ulterior motive. I'm merely dropping off an early birthday present.’
‘My birthday was six months ago.’
‘Well, it’s early for the next one then.’
‘You know longer hold a grudge?’ Silas asked his sister.
Marina shrugged. ‘Dear brother, we have both grown up a lot since then.'
‘Yes, but you did so love that doll. At least, before it lost its head.’
Marina pressed her eyes closed, as if trying to repress a memory. ‘It is all forgotten now. And this is my peace offering.’
She took from behind her armchair a large canvas painting of a country house very similar to the outside appearance to the one we were sitting in. In fact, the likeness was uncanny.
‘I do hope you like it. That was, ah, also a gift from the Louvre in Paris.’
Silas put on a pair of golden-framed glasses and inspected the piece. He looked impressed. ‘Thank you, Marina. I will treasure it always.’
‘Do you want me to hang it up for you, Sir?’
Ms Pretorius, Silas’s housekeeper, made us all jump at her sudden entrance. She often appeared out of nowhere. Although that wasn't too unusual, on account of her being a ghost.
The housekeeper put the painting on a spare place n the wall. ‘It really sets the room off, doesn't it, Sir? Inspector Crabtree will so like it when he arrives for tea soon.’
Inspector Crabtree is coming here.’ Marina bit her lip. ‘Goodness is that the time I'm afraid I must be going.’
She slipped back into her disguise in a flash. When she had done so, brother and sister stood, smiled and shook hands.
 I'm so glad we can put that petty feud behind us.’
‘I too,’ she said in her husky voice before Ms Pretorius showed her out of the room, and the house.
‘It’s peculiarly nice of Marina to leave me a gift,’ said Silas, going over to inspect the painting.
‘It reminds me very much of that ‘haunted painting’ that was in the news,’ I said. ‘Apparently, it was terrifying gallery attendants. Where the devil was that?’
Then it dawned on me.
‘Silas, get away from that painting,’ I cried.
It was too late. Silas was nowhere to be found and in the ground floor window of the house in the picture stood a tiny painted figure that looked very familiar. Its finely-painted hair resembled that of my friend and its arms were in a position of knocking at the window. 
‘What a remarkable woman,’ I said, and went away.

Monday, 3 December 2012

The Singular Story of Silas' Sibling (Part One)

‘Have I ever told you of my family, Smedley,’ said Silas, from the armchair next to me.
I was most astounded at the sudden comment partly because my friend had never mentioned anything about his relatives before that very moment but also because I had not realised he was sitting next to me. Silas often crept up me like that; he said it kept me on my toes.
‘I am the youngest of seven children,’ he continued. ‘I have four brothers and three sisters. We have limited contact and only come together once a year.’
‘I see.’ I was finding the rush of information exhilarating but there was something amiss. ‘Why exactly are you telling me this, old boy?’
‘Because, Smedley,’ he said, reclining in his chair. ‘One of my siblings is waiting in the drawing room.’
We made our way downstairs in silence; my head was swimming with ideas about who could be waiting for us. Would they be anything like their brother?
Inside the drawing room stood a portly man in a grey suit with thinning hair swept back to cover his bald spot. He had an air of authority about him as he thrust out his considerable stomach and held his lapels.
‘Good day, Silas,’ he said in a measured tone.
‘Good day,’ my friend said with a wry smile. ‘You know there’s really no need for that ridiculous disguise anymore. Surely you knew I‘d recognise you.’
‘Oh, very well,’ said the newcomer.
In all my years as a stalwart companion to Silas I never saw anything quite as bizarre as this occasion. The man whom I had taken to be Silas’ brother ripped off his suit in a few seconds and the pillows it was stuffed with to reveal a sleek feminine figure in a purple dress. It was most disconcerting to behold the juxtaposition between a balding male head atop such a body.
‘What in God’s name is it, Silas?’
‘Oh, have I left the face on? Sorry,’ said the stranger, in a very different voice. In the blink of an eye, the face was peeled off exposing the features of a woman around thirty years of age. She had the same nut-brown hair as Silas and they shared the same eyes, dark and piercing. She was a most striking woman.
‘Smedley,’ uttered my friend, as we sat down. ‘May I introduce Marina, my beloved sister.’

What will Marina, the Mistress of Disguise, do next? Return tomorrow to read the final part of this exciting adventure!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Horror of Halloween Night in a Haunted Home (Part Two)

It was happening as I knew it would. A terrible ghost, spook or spectre was going to make its way up the stairs, carrying its heavy chains behind it, moaning uncontrollably and wearing one of those cloths wound round their heads that ghosts don’t seem to wear anymore.  
No, I told myself, trying to search for some resolve inside. I had fought far more concrete threats in my time in the navy. I would not fall foul to a floating phantom!
I turned into the stairs that led down unto the wide hall below. There was nothing there. No creaking or shuffle of any kind. I found I could hear my own course breath in the (eerie) silence.
Then I realised I had been holding my breath for a few moments now.
‘Would Sir like some tea?’
I cried out in one sharp yelp and slammed myself against the wall, dislodging a tapestry hung across it. Slowly lifting the tapestry from my head, I saw a thin sallow-cheeked woman of middling years, carrying a tray with a china tea set on top. Her hair of jet was pulled back rigidly in a bun and she wore a simple black dress with a white apron. She didn’t look the most jolly of folk but she was clearly flesh and blood and so I glad to see her.
‘Who are you?’ I asked, attempting to look respectable whilst removing a tapestry from my head.
‘I am Mrs Pretorius,’ she said. ‘The housekeeper.’
 I sighed with relief. Damn that mysterious man; he could have told me he had hired some help.
‘Where was sir going?’
‘The lava-’ I began, and then realised I didn’t need to anymore. It was quite the scare.
I walked past the woman and back into the drawing room. My cheeks were now flushed with embarrassment at the new conviction that I had been a fool to believe in such superstition.
‘So you’ve hired a housekeeper, I see? I asked Silas as I returned to his company.
‘I have?’
‘Oh, don’t start the ‘my past is enigmatic’ tune. If it’s now going to include what you did yesterday, then it really is very absurd.’
‘My dear Smedley,’ he said. ‘I really don’t know what you are speaking of?’
‘Your housekeeper, Mrs Pretorius,’ I divulged. ‘I …bumped into her outside. Severe-looking woman. I suppose you think she fits the ambience of the house.’
‘Smedley, I have not hired a housekeeper of any kind.’ I could tell by his earnest eyes he was sincere.
‘Then who…?’ I darted outside into the hallway. The woman was gone.
‘I daresay you’ve had an encounter with a remnant of this house’s own dark past. That’s why it and I get along so well, you see.’
I had already left the room before he had finished his sentence.


Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Horror of Halloween Night in a Haunted Home (Part One)

It was the 31st of October, the night of All Hallow’s Eve, and I was one again amidst the company of my most mysterious friend, Mr Silas, in the confines of his large estate in the country. Far from our usual busy conversation, this night we sat in silence, keeping ourselves occupied. This state of affairs was indeed all my own fault as I had developed a somewhat of an irrational fear of staying within Silas’ home that night and so could not bring myself to make merry chatter. The preposterous worry stemmed from this: it had become a regular occurrence when in Silas’s company that at around the stroke of midnight, something macabre and extraordinary would take place. As tonight was Halloween, I felt sure in my heart that another queer incident was sure to happen.
The grandfather clock chimed, like a death toll, in the corner followed by twelve after-tones. It was time.
I tried to hide my fear. ‘Well, I must be going now, Silas. I’m dreadfully sorry but I’ve just remembered…’ I searched my mind for an excuse. ‘My wife. She wants me home urgently.’
‘But, Smedley,’ said my friend, bemused. ‘You don’t have a wife.’
‘Ah, precisely. That is why it is so urgent; I am getting married. Tonight. Isn’t that wonderful? Goodbye.’
Silas stared at me awhile; I could feel his steely grey eyes gazing into me. I was sure he had seen the real reason for my sudden leave. I would have to explain it all. I could almost hear my reputation being torn to shreds before me.
‘Nonsense, you cannot leave now,’ he said. ‘Tell your fiancĂ©e to reschedule. We are to tell ghost stories round the fire. After all, it is the witching hour.’
‘No!’ I hollered, unable to control myself. ‘I need the… lavatory.’
I left before my friend could utter another word. I walked slowly down the corridors of the house, trying to move with as little sound as possible so would be able to make out any other sounds that arrived. Those incidents always started with a noise; a scratching in the wall, the ringing of a doorbell…
I heard a creak upon the stairs.
Well, that was a new one.

Return tomorrow to find out what else is new in the continuing adventures of Silas and I. If you beilieve your frail dispositions can stand it...