Monthly Archives: October 2012

Farron walked into the Prize Fight hoping to find a lead. Torin Gage had been seen there less than a week ago.  She waited at the bar to be served and to ask questions.  Information could be expensive and not always worth the price, but she had to find him and this was the only lead she had.

She ordered a drink, “I’m looking for a man.”

The bartender’s name tag said Lano.  “Will I do?” He asked, looking at her appraisingly while he made her drink.

“He’s human.” she said with a smile.  “And it’s business.  His name is Torin Gage.”

“Not much to say.” Lano handed Farron her drink.  “Haven’t seen him in about a week.  Stayed upstairs while he was here.  Didn’t say where he came from, or where he was going.  Paid his bill with good money.  Won big on the fights, he nodded his head to the back of the room where the arena was. And was lucky with the women.”

Sighing, she listened to the bartender as she finished her drink.  Lano talked freely and didn’t indicate he had information for sale.  So she left him a big tip and made her way through the crowd to the arena. It had been a long flight and it looked like her trip wasn’t over.

The fight was already in progress and her five foot two inch height kept her from seeing over the crowd and into the pit.  She worked her way to the front and then climbed over the railing to stand on the inside ledge of the ring.

 

It was a typical arena.  The floor had a diameter of seventy feet and was about fifteen feet below ground level.  The sides sloped at a steep angle.  The arena was not enclosed, so projectile weapons were prohibited unless they were natural.  Also, no armor was permitted unless you were born with it.  Flying is allowed, with natural wings, as long as it is within the area of the ring.

The champion was about seven feet tall and very muscular.  His skin was grayish and had what looked like several plates of hard leather covering his chest, stomach and back.  A natural armor.  From between his shoulder blades protruded a pair of large leathery looking wings that, so far, hadn’t been used in the fight.  The challenger was just as big.  He was reptilian, and had a greenish tinge to his scaly skin.  His muscular arms and legs ended in claws that looked like they could shred steel. He also had the advantage of an extra limb, a powerful tail that he was using with great skill.

Farron suddenly felt a hand on her back, “Out of the way, bitch.”  She found herself tumbling out of control towards the floor of the ring just as the combatants roared and charged at each other.  Dodging the fighters she tried to get back to the wall.  The sloped sides of the arena were too steep to climb out and she didn’t want to leave her back exposed. Usually, someone in her position died quickly, either by an angry fighter or simply by getting in the way.  Farron wanted to see the fight but this was too close, even for her.

Farron circled the engaged combatants and then backed away towards the far side of the arena.  She saw the tail coming at her just before it hit.  She somehow managed to leap backwards and only caught a glancing blow.  Even that knocked her off her feet leaving her breathless, and on her back.  She rolled left just in time to avoid the sharp claws of the reptile as he landed where she had fallen.  In one motion she was up and running.  His roar drowned out the scrape of his claws on the arena floor as he charged after her.

The crowd roared as he dove at her back.  Instinctively, she dropped flat.  She felt his claws scrape her back as he ripped through her shirt, tearing her skin as he passed over her landing several feet ahead of her.  On her feet again, Farron wheeled about and began running full speed towards the opposite wall while her mind worked even faster to figure a way out of her predicament.  There was no way she could fight him.  All she could do was hope to outrun, or dodge him.  He was fast and she was already running out of energy.  Running was not the answer.  She stopped and turned around panting hard.

Her opponent came to a stop and watched her.  She slowly began circling him, looking for a weakness.  She saw none. The reptile continued staring at her and suddenly began making a loud hissing sound.  Farron realized he was laughing at her and glared at him. She was smart enough to avoid fights whenever possible, but capable enough to win most of the ones she couldn’t avoid.  This was not a fight she could win.  He was just too strong and too fast for her.  But Farron had a weakness.  She didn’t like being laughed at. His laughter irked her.

Turning to the audience, the reptile raised his arms encouraging them to join in his laughter.  Taking advantage of his momentary distraction she charged at him with a blood chilling scream.  She leapt into the air, her boots aimed at his head.  They did not reach their target.

She knew he was fast, but she didn’t realize how fast.  Flying through the air towards him, she saw him turn arms still upraised and swipe one huge claw towards her.  She came to an abrupt stop and found herself swinging upside down by her feet.  The reptile peered down at her for a moment, then burst once again into his obnoxious, hissing laughter.

Farron suddenly found herself flying through the air to the sound of laughter.  Suddenly, she hit something.  But it not as hard a landing as it should have been.  Looking up she found the hard grey face of the champion looking back at her.  She had forgotten about him.  He grinned at her exposing a large number of sharp teeth.

“Put me down,” she gasped.

“Patience,” his voice was deep but gentle.

She suddenly realized that they were hovering over the arena.  Cradled in his arms she found them gliding towards the edge of the arena.  Hovering by the rim, he lowered her to the ledge she was pushed from.

“I like you,” he said smiling.  Suddenly his fist shot past her ear and Farron heard a yelp behind her.  His tone became angry as he looked to the man standing behind her.  “But I don’t like you.”  Casually swinging his arm he flung the man into the arena.  He glared at the others standing around her, “anyone else want to try pushing her?”

Then, turning in the air, he swooped down to the arena floor and roared his challenge to the reptile.  Claws extended, they charged towards each other.  The fight was over quickly.  The champion tossed his opponent around like a rag doll.  It was as if he had been dragging the fight on just to give the audience a show.  Leaving the reptile unconscious on the arena floor the champion strode to the man cowering in fear at the base of the wall.  Grabbing him by the front of his shirt he dragged the man over the railing and dropped him.

The champion turned to Farron.  “I have to leave now.  No one here will want to fight me.”  He stared at her for a moment.  “Come with me.”

She was stunned.  “I…I can’t.  I am on a job.  I have to find someone.”

“Ah.  A bounty hunter,” he nodded in understanding.  “Perhaps I can help you.  Who are you looking for?”

She hesitated.  Assistance from someone like him could be immensely helpful.  But she wasn’t sure she wanted to share the fee.  She was used to working alone.  But at the moment she was in a lot of pain.  If Torin Gage showed up now she would be unable to apprehend him.

“I will not charge for my assistance.  Your company would be payment enough,” he said as if reading her mind.  “I have a fast vessel.  You would no longer have to travel by public transport.”

This was sounding better and better.  “Why?” she asked.

He smiled.  “I told you.  I like you”

She considered for a moment longer.  “I am pursuing a man named Torin Gage.”

He looked away.  “I know him.  He is here.”  He looked back at her.  “Do you know why he is wanted?”

“They say he is a thief.  That what he stole was extremely valuable and irreplaceable.  There is a high price on his head.”

“He will meet you at my vessel in one hour.  It is docked on Artemis deck, bay 3.”  He began to walk away from her and then turned back.  “Perhaps you will listen to his side of the story before you turn him in for your price?”

“I’ll listen.  But it won’t matter.”

It took Farron almost the whole hour to find the ship.  She was preoccupied by everything that had happened.  The fight with the reptile was just another fight.  She could handle a fight.  She could have been hurt pretty bad, if the champion hadn’t intervened.  But she had been hurt before, and she recovered.

The champion.  She didn’t even know his name.  She could handle men as easily as she could handle a fight.  But he wasn’t a man.  He was a very large alien with wings.  And a voice that rumbled like distant thunder and who smelled like clean, damp earth after a storm.  Remembering the way his voice resonated through her caused an involuntary quiver.  She stopped.  That was just wrong.  She didn’t know him.  She didn’t even know what species he was.  She couldn’t figure out why she was attracted to him.  He had seemed nice, but she had met men who seemed nice before.  They had never affected her like this.

For a little while she almost forgot why she was there.  Farron didn’t like being distracted.    She was many things, but a romantic was not one of them.  Yet here she was, mooning over someone she had just met.  She shook her head to clear it.

Focusing on her task, she quickly found the champion’s ship. Artemis bay, dock 3 was a private docking area that provided some privacy.  The vessel was a small battle ship.  Farron was not familiar with the model, but it looked fast.  Although it wasn’t new, it appeared to be in excellent condition.  She wondered what the inside looked like.  Then she shook her head again.  She couldn’t accompany the champion.  She usually worked alone and it would cramp her style.  He seemed quite capable and could be extremely useful, but she didn’t like depending on others.

Every time she had a partner things went wrong.  Either she didn’t agree with their rules or they didn’t want to accept hers. Sometimes they expected their working relationship included privileges that she had not offered and she was quick to end those partnerships.  She was hesitant to make this a partnership because it was his ship and his idea.  She would feel obligated to him, and she didn’t like that.

“You should be more vigilant when you are waiting for a criminal.”

Farron spun around.  She hadn’t heard him approach.  She felt like kicking herself.  This was not good bounty hunter behavior.  She could get herself killed this way.

“Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you,” he said with a sly grin.

Farron scowled, sizing him up.  He was bigger than her, but she had taken down opponents his size before.  She was irritated that he had found her with her back turned.  And he was laughing at her.  She was even more irritated that she didn’t have a comeback to his comment.

She was tempted to just arrest him and escort him to the transport home.  “Torin Gage?” she asked and waited for him to acknowledge.

“I am he.  And I understand you are looking for me,” his voice and smile were friendly.

She pulled out her identification card and the arrest warrant.  “I am here to arrest you for theft.  Here is a copy of my contract.”  She handed him her con-card.  This was so unlike her.  This was not the right way to arrest someone.  Galactic law may require that she show the contract to the offender, but it did not require that she show it before arresting him.  Under normal circumstances her quarry would have been rendered insensible and even confined before seeing her credentials.

He took the card and studied the information scrolling across the small screen.  He then looked up at her, his curiosity evident on his face.  “So, why haven’t you stunned me and locked me up yet?”

“Because your friend wanted me to hear your side of the story.  And he saved me from a lot of pain today.” She grimaced. “Not that I needed saving.”  Scowling, she snapped.  “But I feel obligated.  And I hate feeling obligated.”

Opening a panel on the vessel, Torin Gage lowered the ramp and walked into the ship.  Farron’s scowl deepened.  She really didn’t like this.  Warning bells pealing in her head she followed him inside.  What was wrong with her?

“It is a lot more comfortable in here,” he said sitting down in a chair that molded to fit his body.

“Where’s your friend?”  Farron looked around suspiciously.

“This is not a trap,” Gage leaned forward.

“Forgive me if I am not re-assured by that,” Farron felt her irritation increasing.

“Have you ever heard of a Furcifarian Sphere?”  He was watching her closely.

She raised her eyebrows in amazement.  “Is that what you stole?”  Furcifarian Spheres were extremely rare.  She had read about them but had never actually seen one.  The images she had seen were of spherical objects encrusted with black crystals.  Each sphere was about the size of a man’s head and there were hundreds of crystals covering the surface.

It was a source of power that was unmatched in the known universe.  It was like harnessing all the energy in a small star and storing it in an object a tiny fraction of its size.  The energy extracted from just one sphere could power a battle cruiser for the lifetime of the vessel.  It could provide the energy needed for faster-than-light travel, for its weapons, shields and life support systems.

He shrugged.  “Technically, I stole it back.  It was initially taken from the Furcifari.  They want it back.  And getting things back is what I do.”

“How do you know they didn’t sell it and then change their minds?”

“It’s not the kind of thing we would sell.  There is nothing in the universe more important to us,” Torin Gage stood up suddenly, his voice breaking with the force of his emotion.  “And the ones you have heard about, the ones that power the battle ships.  Those were not sold either.  They were stolen, just like this one.”  He touched a screen on the control panel next to him and the ramp slid back in place locking Farron inside.

Gage knelt on the floor of the vessel and reached underneath a control panel.  Placing his hand on an identification screen, he winced slightly before removing his hand.  Farron saw a drop of blood left by the DNA scanner.  An opening appeared next to the screen and Gage reached both hands into it.  Farron took in a slow, deep breath and exhaled slowly when she saw the sphere.

She knelt next to Gage.  It was beautiful.  But, it was the knowledge of the power that was present within her grasp that awed her.  “Why are you still here?”  She asked Gage and reached out her hand to touch a crystal.  She could feel a gentle pulsing beneath the surface.  “If you hadn’t waited around, I wouldn’t have been able to find you.”

“You are not the only one after me.  And some of the others are not as ethical as you are.”  He looked at her.  “Considering the value of this…object, I am sure there is someone after you as well.”

“Of course,” she nodded, taking the sphere with both hands. Gage seemed to hesitate for a moment before removing his own hands from it.  “They would expect me to steal this for myself.  It is certainly worth a whole lot more than you are.”  She glanced at him.

“I will go with you so you can collect your fee,” he said.  “But I will not allow you to endanger my mission.”

“What is your mission?”

“Returning this to the rightful…owners.”

Farron looked closely at the sphere.  “Don’t you mean ‘parents’,” she looked at Gage.

Taking the sphere carefully from Farron’s hands, Gage placed it back within its container and made sure it was fully sealed.  “Insightful,” he smiled.

“Don’t the others know?”

“They have been told the truth but they don’t care.  The life within one egg is a small price to pay for the benefits.  Your employers don’t care that they are slowly destroying an entire race just to power their battleships.  They don’t care that the energy contained in the crystals are the essential energy needed for the young Furcifari to grow and hatch.”  He looked at her, his eyes glistening.  “I apologize for bringing you into this.  But I felt I could trust you.  I need your help.”  He stood up and held a hand down to her.  “We need to go now.”

“But, the others are still looking for you.”  Farron took his hand and stood up.  She found herself wanting to help him.  She didn’t have any proof that what he had said was true, but it didn’t matter.  She believed him.

“That is where I need your help.”  He looked at her hopefully.

“What do you need me to do?”

“Send a message to your employers stating that you have found me, confiscated my vessel and will be delivering me to them shortly.”

Farron nodded and picked up her con-card.  Her message would be received by her employers almost immediately and the other bounty hunters would be ordered back.  They wouldn’t be happy about losing their quarry.  But having no reason to suspect how valuable the cargo really was they would hopefully go in search of another paycheck.

“We will be there in less than a week,” Gage turned to look at Farron.  “Thank you.”

“Thank your big grey friend,” she said.  “Where is he, by the way?”  She frowned.  “Isn’t this his ship?”

Gage grinned at her, leaned back in his chair and plopped his boots up on the control panel next to Farron. “This ship is mine.  Now, I have a question for you.”  His grin widened.  “Why do you do this?”

“What?”

“Hunt down criminals for reward?”

“I have to make a living somehow.  And I am good at it.”

“But, if you had the finances to last you your lifetime you wouldn’t need do it anymore.”

“Well, I don’t know,” she said thoughtfully.  “I suppose, there is a certain amount of excitement in doing what I do.  I visit new worlds and meet different species.  I encounter danger and survive.  If I was wealthy, I wouldn’t need to do it.  But I might, just for the excitement.”

“Then, I have a proposition for you,” releasing the gravity lock on his chair, Gage floated close to her.  “After we have returned the egg, why don’t you and I go on an adventure?  We have a fast ship and a whole universe to explore.  And you will have no obligations to anyone.”  He smiled again, his eyes locked on hers.  “Not even to me.”

Looking into his eyes, Farron’s heart beat faster.  One of the best things about her job was the exploration.  But it was always with a plan.  Always knowing that it was under contract.  Never with the complete freedom to go where she wanted to go.

He took her hand in his.  “Why?” She asked looking down at their hands.

As she watched his hand grew larger and became a familiar shade of grey.  And a voice like distant thunder said, “Because, I like you.”

She was old, very old.  She had seen everything, and been everything, from a simple housemaid, to a military power causing the rise and fall of empires.  After all these centuries of life one would think she would be ready to die.  She was not.  She wanted to be young again.  She would do anything to keep from dying.

Although she looked no more than forty-five, she was over seven thousand years old.  She knew that within the next ten years her body would, once again, begin to die.  However, she had been preparing for this for the last twenty years.

Twenty years earlier, she had managed to get herself hired as a nursemaid for the young son of a nice young couple.  She came to be like a second mother to him, and like a sister to his parents.

As the boy grew older, she stayed on to care for his younger sister.  And as the girl grew up and no longer needed a nursemaid, she continued on as a housekeeper.  Nanny made sure that the whole family was happy and healthy.

The most difficult part about her plan was that her affection for the family was genuine.  She had put her heart and soul into raising the children well.  But now, after all that hard work, she felt that it was time for her to take what she had earned.

The next step was the only part of her long life that she actually disliked.  It was very messy work and she hated getting her hands dirty.

 

*                      *                      *                      *                      *

The day after his twentieth birthday, after informing his parents that they would be spending three days at a rented mountain cabin as part of a belated birthday surprise, she left with him.

She had everything planned, as she always did.  His meal would have the spices that would prepare his blood and make him relax.  By the time he had finished eating, he would begin feeling the effects of the herbs.  He wouldn’t feel anxious when he saw the surgical instruments, and he would be able to endure the pain while she was draining his blood.  He had to be conscious until she got enough.

The hardest part would be opening him up and taking out his heart and his brain quickly before death contaminated them.  Fortunately, she had plenty of experience and knew exactly how to do it.

Everything went according to her plan.  She cooked their steak dinner, while he collected wood for the fireplace and explored around the cabin for a while.  He ate his drugged meal, and then helped her clean up.

After that he said he was tired and went to lie down on the couch.  She sat down on the rocking chair across from him and watched, and waited for the drugs to do their work.

Suddenly she heard someone call her name and she opened her eyes, realizing that she had dozed off.  She tried to get up from her chair but found that she was too weak to move.  She saw, to her confusion, that the boy was standing in front of her with his parents and sister.  Something was definitely wrong, but strangely enough, she didn’t feel alarmed.

We know who and what you are,  said the boy’s father.

How? she asked, almost too shocked to speak.

AI recognized you, said his mother with a little smile.

Nanny’s eyes widened in disbelief.

You see, continued the boy’s mother, Aa few centuries ago, you chose to live a public life.  I saw you then.  I even followed your political beliefs.  Several times since that lifetime I saw you, and I knew that you were like me.

Like us, said his father, putting his arm around his wife.  “We are like you.”  He looked at his children.  “They aren’t.”  He smiled.  “Not yet.”

We had planned an extensive search to find another like us to change our son.  And then you showed up at our front door.  We were ecstatic.  We couldn=t believe our luck.  We knew what you wanted, what you didn=t know was that we wanted the same thing for our son.  Neither of us could act until he was older and that gave us plenty of time to make plans of our own.

Since we had the means to give them long life like we have, we decided to have a second child.  When they were old enough, we told them about you and taught them everything they needed to know about the procedure.

My part was easy, said the boy laughing nervously.  All I had to do was switch plates.  I was afraid you would notice, but since you weren’t expecting anything, you weren’t paying attention.

Nanny felt numb, both physically and emotionally.  Never had she even conceived the notion that she would end up the victim in this plot.  This sweet, loving family was just as cruel and heartless as she was.  They wanted the same thing she did, and the only way to get it was to consume her the way she had intended to consume the boy.

“I’m sorry,” said the mother.  “We care about you.  We really do.  But we just couldn’t bear the thought of our children dying while we live on.  She put her arms around her children.  “We just wanted to stay a family.  Forever.”

Crying didn’t come easy to Eve.  But it was only the expression of joy on Patrick’s face that stopped her tears now.  She sat down and studied her new home.  The ground was like a deep, very rocky bowl.  She estimated it would take two hours to get to the bottom.  There were a few bushes and some small clusters of trees, the rest of it was a dull grey.

There are rabbits and other small animals down there, said Patrick, still holding Eve’s hand.  And fish, he pointed to a stream that was flowing from a cave.  And we can live in one of the caves.

Eve liked hunting and fishing.  She had always been good at tracking animals.  As they had traveled to their new home they had hunted for practically every meal.  She had felt almost like a wild animal herself.  She had never been happier.  But that was in the forest.  Their home

was a hard place with limited wildlife and huge boulders.  It seemed very inhospitable to her.

She stood up and forced a smile.  Come on, let’s go.

Eve, Patrick pulled her close and looked into her eyes.  AI know its not what you were expecting.  But please trust me.  I know this is the place for us.  I have wanted to live here ever since I first saw it.

I do trust you, Eve held him tight and then smiled.  Now, lets go see our new home.

Months passed and Eve accepted her home because she was with him.  But she still wasn’t happy the way Patrick was.   Eve was really happy only when they went exploring or hunting.

On one such trip, they got separated, and try as she might Eve couldn’t track her husband.  His trail just disappeared.  Trying not to panic she ran for miles calling his name.  She then returned home hoping he would be there.  He wasn’t.

With supplies she returned to where his trail ended.  Spiraling away in ever widening circles she watched for signs of him.  After two days of nothing a loud rumbling caught her attention.  Entering a clearing her heart almost stopped.  The sound came from a dragon sleeping within the clearing.

It was large and the color of earth.  Its massive head rested on the ground with long teeth protruding from its mouth.  Eve backed away horrified.  Had it attacked Patrick?  Was Patrick dead?

I don’t eat humans.  And I don’t kill unless I’m hungry.

She stopped.  It was the dragon and he sounded friendly.

Have you seen my husband? she approached cautiously.

No, it watched her approach.  But I can give you a better view.

Unsure but desperate, Eve climbed on his back.  Within moments they were airborne.  For a few moments Eve marveled at the dragon=s power and speed.  She held tight to protrusions his back and almost screamed with excitement as they flew high into the sky.  Eve noticed that his skin had become the color of the sky.  She looked down at the trees far below but wasn’t afraid.

ASlow down and fly lower please, she thought to the dragon.  I can’t see between the trees.

You don’t need to, he flew higher and faster.  I know where your Patrick is.

Where is he? Eve was now a little afraid.  Tell me.

The dragon just laughed and kept going higher.  No.

Please.

No.

Eve was now very angry.   But she was helpless.  What could she do against a dragon.  Especially so far above the ground.  The trees below looked like patches of moss on rocks.

Without warning the dragon turned over and Eve lost her grip.  She heard him laugh again and she fell.   After that all she could hear was the wind.  It blew so hard against her that tears were forced from her eyes.   The dragon had killed Patrick and soon she would be dead to.  And she didn’t even know why.    As she tumbled toward the ground she watched the dragon turn and fly away from her.   Rage filled her heart as she watched the retreating creature.  She screamed in fury and reached her arms toward the dragon.

Suddenly extreme pain wracked her body.  She felt like she was being torn apart.  Her arms got larger and longer and large leathery wings erupted from her back.  Scales cut through her skin and covered her.  Claws pushed through her hands and toes and she could feel the power in her hind legs and tail.  Her descent had stopped and moving purely on instinct she forced her wings against the air propelling herself forward.

Eve roared her challenge daring the dragon to face her now.  She saw him turn and then dive towards the ground.

Coward, she screamed and dove after him.

He plunged into the forest and trees and branches were thrown into the air as he flew through them.

Fool, she shrieked at him, following his trail from above.  You can’t hide from me.

Suddenly the movement stopped.  No more branches flew into the air.  The disturbance in the trees ended.  Eve plunged into the forest ready to attack him on the ground but he wasn’t there.  She searched the ground for dragon tracks but there were none.  With a furious roar she charged back into the air to search from above.

She scanned the area past the trees.  The ground was littered with large boulders but there was no place for a dragon to hide.  Frustrated she turned to continue her search elsewhere.  Out of the corner of her eye she saw a movement.  She turned back in time to see one of the boulders move.  The dragons skin was now grey to match his surroundings.  The perfect hiding place.

Ready to kill she dove at him.  She almost couldn’t stop in time as she saw Patrick standing where the dragon had been.  By the time she landed on the ground she was human again.

Laughing, she threw her arms around her husband.  Now I see why this place is perfect for us.

If only I could have found a way to escape. If only I had understood sooner what kind of man Master Simon was. If only I had swallowed my fear and refused to do the things I did to save my life.

“Oh God…help me. Give me the courage to end this. I know it is a sin to take one’s own life, but that sin pales in comparison to the lifetime of evil ahead of me.”

*                      *                      *                      *                      *                      *

My first sight of Master Simon made me cringe. Impeccably dressed, he opened the front door of the manor to invite me in. His mannerisms were those of a gentleman, but his hand was cold as he shook mine. I noticed wetness left on my fingers and looked down to see that it was blood. I looked up in shock and only then noticed that Master Simon’s lips were stained with blood as well. He noticed my stare and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and laughed.

“There will be many things in this house that you will find…unusual. You will get used to them.” He laughed again and shut and locked the front door. “Now that you are a part of this household.”

As he led me through the rooms I was shocked by the condition of the house. That it was once beautiful was obvious, but to say that it had fallen into disrepair would be an understatement. I have seen homes that were dusty but in these rooms there wasn’t a surface that was free of dirt. It was as if the outside had disregarded the existence of the walls and taken upon itself to claim the living space. Tree roots reached through the walls and ceiling into the rooms. Spider webs hung almost to the floor and draped across the rooms. Who knows how long it has been since these rooms have been cleaned.                                                                                              As unappealing as the prospect of putting this household in order may be, I am clearly needed here. I have to girder my courage and take over my responsibilities and show these poor American souls what a British butler is capable of.

My first night in the Manor was unlike anything I have ever experienced or imagined. My quarters, located in an isolated corner of the house behind the kitchen, are spacious but just as dirty as the rest of the house. I have left my clothing and personal effects in my luggage until the time comes when I can clean my room. Just being in this house has encased me in a coat of dust and everything I have brushed up against has added to the smudges on me.

At first I didn’t want to sit down for fear of collecting more dirt upon myself but I have since given up on the prospect of staying clean. As long as the house is dirty I believe that staying clean will be impossible. I am coming to realize that getting the house in order will be a daunting task. In addition to the dirt that covers everything, and the tree roots and the spider webs that are everywhere, there are also creatures living in this house that clearly belong outside. I have seen spiders crawling about and insects buzzing about the lamp in my bedroom. I can hear movement in the corners of my room. I can only imagine what sort of wildlife has taken up residence in this house.

I have searched for clean sheets and blankets and found none. I have to sleep. I cannot face my duties without enough rest. Tomorrow I will be meeting my staff and begin the task of returning this house to a state of order. Careful not to disturb too much dust, I pull the covers back and crawl into bed. I try not to think about what might be sleeping under my bed or, God forbid, within the sheets I am now laying on.

I close my eyes and try to unwind so I can fall asleep. In spite of the bed I lay upon, I feel like I am outside in the wilderness. I can hear the insects buzzing and the sounds of creatures scuttling about are all around me. Somehow sleep begins to take over and the sounds fade into the darkness.

A scream jolts me from my sleep and I bolt upright in the bed. I listen for another scream and try to calm the pounding of my heart. I hear nothing more. Perhaps it was just a dream. A nightmare in this place would be understandable. This house would evoke fear in the hardiest of souls. I settle back onto my pillow and pull the covers up to my chin. Once again I am aware of the sounds of insects around me.

I hear sounds of laughter outside my room. A woman screams again, but softer this time and punctuated with laughter. I relax a little. Obviously, other members of the household are up late. The Master’s rules appear to be quite lax. I have never before been in a house where boisterous behavior would be tolerated at this hour. But then, the state of the house is not in the least bit normal. I will have to get used to it.

The morning brought an eerie fog into the house. There is an odor like freshly turned earth reminiscent of a newly dug grave. I try to force the image from my thoughts as I ready myself for the day.

To my relief and surprise there is fresh water in a bowl for my morning ablutions. Although my clothes have collected dust even inside my luggage, I am able to feel somewhat refreshed after my troubled first night. A little concerned about what I will find for breakfast, I seek out the kitchen. Another pleasant surprise. The smiling face of the cook and a fresh pot of coffee welcome me to the kitchen.

“Hungry?” the cook pours a cup of coffee and hands it to me. I nod and accept it. He points to cream and sugar, which I make use of to sweeten my drink. He then takes the lids off a couple of pans on the stove and fixes a plate. Scrambled eggs and a hash of meat, potatoes and onions. The aroma sets my troubled mind at ease.

“Sam,” the cook extends his hand.

“Edgar,” I shake his hand. It is cold. “Thank you for the breakfast, it is delicious.”

After a satisfying breakfast, I felt ready to face the job I had ahead of me. I found my way back to the front door and began my assessment from there. I wait in the living room for my staff. I see no one. I am not pleased. I expected that Master Simon would present me to the staff but he has not made an appearance either. I have no option but to return to the kitchen to find Sam.

“Sam,” I try to contain my impatience. “Where is everyone?”

“Everyone?” he asked.

“The rest of the staff. Master Simon. I should be meeting them so we can discuss our duties and make plans for what must be done.”

“Why?”

“Because that is what a butler does. That is my job.” Now I am getting irate. “How am I supposed to do my job?”

“Edgar,” Sam smiled placidly. “You must have noticed by now that this is not a typical household. Any conventions of normalcy you might have expected don’t exist here.” Sam then poured a cup of coffee and handed it to me. “Relax. Everything will work out.”

“But what am I expected to do?” I take the coffee. “Where is Master Simon? He hasn’t even gone over the details of my position here. Do you know what my duties are?”

“Don’t worry so much Edgar. You will discover what you are to do on your own.” He gently turned and guided me back to the door. “Why don’t you explore the house? I’m sure you haven’t seen all of it yet.”

I am troubled by this development but see that I have no choice in the matter. I decided to take a stand and begin the work myself. While my training is best used in giving direction and coordinating others in their household duties, I am certainly capable of rolling up my sleeves and getting my own hands dirty. If I am to do this on my own, I will begin with the room in the house that I love most. I had walked through the library earlier and have decided that it is to be my first project. In every home I have served, the libraries have always been close to my heart. They are an escape from the drudgery of the day and a place to increase my knowledge and expand my mind.

Standing before the towering bookshelves almost breaks my heart. I am almost afraid to remove any of the books off the shelves for fear that they might fall apart in my hands. The extent of their disrepair troubles me but the titles make me curious. Some of these volumes are truly old. That they even exist at all is a miracle. I hope I am able to salvage at least a few of them.

I have no duster or broom to clean with so I use my hands to swipe at the cobwebs and wipe dust off the shelves. I grab at a particularly long root and pull it with all my force to try and remove it from the wall. Without warning there is a tremendous wailing from another room. Several voices are crying out from all over the house. I heard an angry roar behind me and spun around in fright. Master Simon rushes at me shouting furiously.

I am powerless as he grabs my shirt and slams me against the wall. “What the hell do you think you are doing?”

Before I can say anything, Sam and a lady rush into the room also shouting. “What’s going on? Why are you disturbing things? Who do you think you are?” I could hardly comprehend what was happening.

“I was just trying to do my job,” I tried to stop my voice from shaking.

“You haven’t been informed of what your job is,” Master Simon growled before releasing me.

“Then tell me, what are my duties? What have I been hired to do?”

“Well, I can tell you what you are not to do,” the lady snapped. “You are not to alter this house in any way. You do not clean. You do not fix. That is not your job.” And then she stormed out of the room with Sam and Master Simon following.

I stare after them in shock. I don’t understand. What am I supposed to do? My legs feel weak and I stumble to a chair. I reach down to clean the dust, but stop myself and sit down without doing so. I do not want another encounter with Master Simon. He is a man with a violent temper and is incredibly strong. He frightens me.

I am torn between my duty to serve and my desire to leave. I have never abandoned a post before but I find myself sorely tempted to do so now. I don’t even know what I am supposed to do here. I am a butler without a staff to coordinate, and with a house I am not allowed to clean. I am lost. I decide to go back to my room. I must record these events in my journal. I may have need to recollect details about this house at a later time. I do not want to forget a single thing. Especially the rules.

I don’t run into anyone on my way back to my room but I hear noises in the corridors and in other parts of the house. I can hear children but their voices are indistinct and distant. The door to my room is open although I am certain I did not leave it so. There is no one inside and I cannot tell if anything has been disturbed, but I am wary of entering my thoughts in my journal and leaving it in my room where anyone can find it. I think I will take advantage of the little used library and secret my journal among the unused volumes on the shelves.

I spend my days wandering the house and I am becoming more and more frightened as the days pass. I have yet to encounter any of the staff. I have heard a number of voices and when I follow them I seem to enter a room just as whoever was in there leaves. There have been times when I was certain someone was behind me but when I turn around I find that I am alone. I have heard the front door open and close repeatedly and people are greeted but when I get there I find no one there. The front door is also always locked and strangely enough, I cannot open it from the inside.

Sam appears to be in the kitchen almost every time I go there. He always has food prepared and invites me to join the family for meals. I have chosen not to eat with them. I do not want to become any more familiar with them than I have to. But I am trying to familiarize myself with the house.

This is the strangest house I have ever been in.  The floor in some parts of the house appears to be damaged. It is as though something has shoved the floor upwards, buckling it, making it difficult to walk on. The corridors are like a maze and some of the walls move to reveal secret passages. Some of these passages are actually inside the walls of the house. No one has stopped me as I wander these passages but I have encountered more and more people lately. They never speak to me and sometimes I wonder if they even see me. I still hear voices and quite often it sounds like there are dozens of people in the house. I have decided that the house is haunted. But that still gives no explanation as to why I am here.

I came across the children’s room today. I had heard their voices before, but it was the first time we met. They seem to be the same age but not twins. The girl looks sad and there is an aura of pain and loneliness about her. The boy glared at me with hate in his eyes. Neither of them spoke to me but the boy whispered something to the little girl that made her cringe. I could see marks on the little girl’s wrists that look like they could have been made by a rope. When I made a move towards her the boy stared at me with a look so intensely evil, that I hesitated. The little girl pleaded silently with her enormous eyes and shook her head almost imperceptibly and I thought that I might endanger her life if I tried anything. That encounter was the final straw. I have decided to find a way out of this house and if I do nothing else, I have to try and save the little girl.

If it wasn’t for my journal I would have completely lost track of time. There are no working clocks in the house. There are no windows to let in sunlight. I am only guessing at the passage of time, eating when I am hungry and sleeping when I am tired. Or at least, lying down and trying to sleep. Over the past three or so weeks that I have spent in this house, my sleep has become very interrupted. I feel like I only get minutes of sleep each night. I am extremely fatigued and still do not have a clue as to why I was brought here. I still take my meals in the kitchen while Sam watches me in silence. I have long since given up on the idea that he might give me some idea as to why Master Simon has brought me to this house.

Along with everything I observe in this house, I am making a record of some of my dreams, or rather nightmares. I realize that these nightmares may not really mean anything but perhaps they might reveal something of importance to someone else who might read my notes. If anyone ever does.

One night I awoke to find myself in the children’s room. They should have been asleep but, of course, nothing is as it should be. The little boy was laughing, while the little girl simply stood in the middle of the room with a terrified expression on her face. Suddenly he picks up a pitcher and begins to pour something on her. Pain twisted her face as the liquid appeared to be burning her. The liquid itself appeared to be on fire and she was quickly encased in the flames. Instinct drove me to her side as I threw a blanket around her and tried to smother the flames. The smell of burning flesh and blanket was intolerable. To my horror the flames only got bigger and hotter and I saw that her burning flesh was literally melting off her bones and falling to the ground.

Suddenly the flames died and the room was in utter darkness. I sat up to find that I was still in my bed. As much as I dreaded to, I had to find out the truth for myself and taking a lamp I braved the corridor and hurried to the children’s room. They were both fast asleep in their beds but the room was thick with smoke, and the smell of burning flesh and blanket was in the air. When I looked closely at her, I could see no sign that the fire had been real. But for days following the nightmare my own hands stung with the pain of burning even though there was no visible damage. I wonder if she is beyond saving. I wonder now if I am. I cannot believe that. I have to cling to the hope that I will, one day, be able to find my way out of this ghostly mansion.

As usual, Sam has prepared breakfast. But he is not in a good mood. Although he is not speaking directly to me he is constantly grumbling that the “locker” is running low. From everything I have overheard I believe he is speaking about the “meat locker.” I know that there is a cold locker for meat storage in the kitchen, but that is one place I have never actually looked inside. I made a point of remaining in the kitchen when Sam left and cautiously opened the locker. A blast of cold air greeted me as I peered inside. I could hear Sam’s heavy feet stomping back toward the kitchen and hurriedly shut the locker door. But what I had caught a glimpse of chilled me more than the cold air.

There were a number of empty hooks hanging from the ceiling of the locker. There was meat hanging on one. What had horrified me was the shape of the “meat”. Although it was wrapped in fabric and I could not see exactly what it was, it was quite clearly human in shape. I stared in horror at my empty plate. I had been grateful to have freshly made food everyday and had not given much thought to what it was I was eating. My gorge rose as I tried hard not to think about it now. For the past few weeks I had been frightened. Now I was terrified beyond belief.

I steeled myself and strode towards the front door. I was determined to make my escape. I would begin at one end of the house and search until I found an opening to the outside. I could no longer stay in this house. I peered into the library and, finding it empty, took my journal from where it was hidden and put it in the inside pocket of my jacket before continuing on my way to the front door.

“Edgar,” Simon’s voice stopped me. “The day you have been waiting for is here. I have a job for you.” He sounded genial but the look on his face was dangerous. He led me through the house to a room that I had only been in once before. The last time I was in this part of the house I became incredibly lost. I realize now that there were multiple rooms that looked identical.  Each room had eight doors. Some of the doors led to dead end rooms that could be locked from the outside while other doors led to more rooms with doors. I felt like a rat in a maze. When I was finally found by Master Simon he was very angry. He said that I was never to return to the area, unless instructed to, as the rooms were just for guests.

“We are having guests tonight. You will greet them at the door and bring them here to wait in privacy. There are separate rooms for each of them. I will come for them once they have all arrived.”

I nod my acquiescence and turned to walk back to the front door. Master Simon follows me. This could be my opportunity to escape. The door will have to be unlocked for the guests. I am nervous and excited. All I need is a moment when no one is watching. Once I find my way out of the house and beyond the garden walls, I will bring the authorities to save the little girl.

By the time I reach the front door, Master Simon is no longer behind me. I don’t know if he is watching and look around. I see no one. My heart is pounding and all I can think about is that I want to run. My hand is shaking as I reach towards the door knob. I try to turn it. The door is unlocked and it creaks as I open it.

With bated breath I step outside. The instant my foot touched the front porch I am blasted with a powerful wind. It howls in my ears and buffets me against the house. I cannot let the wind stop my escape. I try to walk towards the steps but the wind is too strong. I cannot force my way through it. Suddenly the wind becomes cold and I hear laughter. To my horror I feel invisible hands grab me and throw me against the house. The wind is a malevolent and unnatural force. The hands grab me again. The laughter grows louder and I find myself tossed through the front door like a doll.

The door slams shut and I feel a cold hand grab the back of my neck. “I told you,” Master Simon hissed in my ear. “You are now a part of this household. What that means is that you will never leave us. You will help us with what we need, or you will die.” He then let go of my neck and helped me off the floor. “Edgar,” Master Simon laughed. “You are such a mess. You should get yourself ready before our guests arrive.” And, still laughing, he turned and walked over to the fireplace which slid open for him to walk into another of the hidden passages.

All hope left me. What was I to do now? What kind of power did this man have? I looked at myself in a mirror on the wall and automatically tried to straighten my hair and clothes with little result. I jump and turn at the sound of a knock. The guests are arriving. I open the door slowly to find a couple waiting. Everything is calm. There is no sign of the powerful winds I had experienced just a few minutes earlier.