Deep in the heart of the West Midlands stands Goth Manor. This is where I live. On the edge of the woods overlooking the cemetery is where I sleep. Above the entranceway where the cobbled path leads to the manor is where I sit, I listen. I’ve heard locals rumour that in the early hours of the morning when the moon is shun by darkness you can hear a virgin scream from the dungeon below. I can assure you they don’t stay virgins for very long. I watch and wait for the newly enrolled Goths. Usually after the first few hours you can tell who is going to stick it out for the rest of the weekend. It’s in their blood, you can see it in their eyes; sense it in their longing for a deeper understanding. Occasionally one of them will have an amulet and I know for sure, but that is not very often. Here they come now. Ouch! I just bit my tongue. The taste is so familiar.
They’re all dressed too colourfully except for the long dark haired maiden at the rear with her black sleeved dress. That surely has to be Amelie. The distinct clapping of the foursome’s footsteps is my cue to head to the front door. Good – Darcy already awaits.
‘Welcome to Goth Manor,’ I say. ‘Fortunately you made it before the fog settles in. I’m Lord Alfred and this is Darcy, the cook who will show you to your rooms. Please don’t be alarmed, he’s a multitasker and assures me supper is under prepared, sorry under control. There are robes on the end of your beds if you would prefer to slip into something more comfortable when you retire to your rooms. Darcy will wait in the hall and show you the way to the dining room and restroom if needed. See you all shortly.’
I’m sure they will enjoy the leftover eel pie from dinner. In any case the house wine will wash it down. Everyone’s here and settled now.
‘Hope you all had a pleasant journey.’ I must be polite. ‘So what attracted you here, Simon and Jane?’
‘Well,’ Simon responded as Jane tentatively dabbled at her pie. We wanted something out of the norm to spice up our life and came across your website. I’m also studying Gothic architecture at the moment. By the way, was it your idea to refurbish the manor in a revitalised modern Gothic style?’
‘I wish I could say yes but that was my late father’s doing. He wanted the original gothic architecture to be reborn as he used to put it.’
‘I’m taken by the ribbed vaults used in construction here.’ Simon continued the conversation.
‘Yes, I believe they were critical to the development of Gothic architecture in general.’ I’m sure I read that somewhere.
‘Do you live here all alone then?’ Jane spoke.
‘Yes, I am the last living descendant of the Manor, but that can change in an instant. You know the eels were caught in our pond. ’ I smile making Jane blush.
‘And what about you Derek and Amelie, what brings you to Goth Manor?’
‘Dad used to sing in a Goth band.’ Amelie flickered her exquisitely mascarad eyes as she spoke.
‘Yeh. It’s true.’ Derek seemed glum as he spoke. ‘I’m learning guitar. Amelie wanted to come here by herself but dad wouldn’t let her. Can you believe it? She is twenty one you know. Dad paid, so I said what the hell, not much else to do this weekend with my sprained wrist and all. Still might go and support the lads on Sunday arvo with their gig. Got any beer?’
‘No Derek, just wine, water and pomegranate juice.’ How can he be so different, yet of the same lineage as Amelie? ‘But if you really want, I can get Darcy to go and fetch some?’
‘Derek will survive.’ Amelie answered promptly not giving Derek a chance to express his need.
‘All right then. Wine will have to do’ Derek sulked but drunk without any further commotion.
‘Now, you may find or experience what you are after or expect here this weekend but I have an eerie feeling you will also experience things you have never imagined. Nothing is set in stone, so to speak, for the weekend and all time is flexible. Tomorrow some time after brunch, for which Darcy will prepare a help yourself smorgasbord or sorts, we will have an informal guided tour of the manor including the cemetery. Sunday morning you are free to explore the manor on your own; if you dare.’ I smile as I hear faint footsteps on their way to the Lord’s dais.
‘I thought you said you live here all alone?’ Jane whispered as footsteps now distinctly walked right above us.
‘Yes, that is correct. I believe we just have a visitor.’
‘A visitor, what exactly do you mean?’ Simon also spoke quietly.
‘Well, I wasn’t sure myself whose footsteps they were until three months ago when a fearless young woman from Ghost Finders stayed the weekend and contacted the dead.’
Everyone listened now including Derek. Maybe I prematurely judged him. After all, my grandfather did like stringed instruments.
‘Well, go on’ Derek insisted
‘She said that the ghost was a peasant who was tortured to death down in the dungeon for stealing, cooking and eating one of the Lords fowl while he was away at court. So, as she says, the peasant comes here every evening to apologise and explain to the Lord that the fowl was already dead and rotting away after being trampled on by a horse. It would have been wasted by the time the Lord returned. He hoped the Lord would forgive him.’
‘Why don’t you forgive him?’ Amelie pleasantly looked me in the eye.
I tried to reply instantly but felt as if I was cast in her stare. Everyone sipped on their wine.
‘Well, that is a plausible idea. I’ll have to approach Ghost Finders again and explore the possibilities.’
The footsteps wandered away from us and disappeared into the night.
By mid morning the fog is still, deeply set.
‘I hope you all enjoyed your brunch and first night at the manor? How were the blood oranges?’ I always ask but rarely do they answer. Everyone takes their time to settle in and fall asleep here. Amelie has outdone herself today with that leather choker. ‘Time for the tour. As you know this is the main hall with your rooms leading off, and in fact most of the rooms of the manor are accessed.’
‘I’ve noticed the windows take a large portion of the wall space in this manor but it stays awfully dark in here.’ Simon commented.
‘Very observant. Do you think my father decorated too dimly?’ I like to hear opinions.
‘Yes, obviously in a general sense, but for his gothic inclinations everything combines the periods well.’ Simon held Jane’s hand as he spoke.
‘Downright dull and chilly if you ask me.’ Jane dropped Simon’s hand in response and continued. ‘Too many black floor tiles for starters and we’ve barely started the tour.’
‘Jane, I don’t think Lord Alfred was asking you.’ Simon spoke with agitation in his voice. ‘That’s the style here. You said you were up for it.’
‘You’re the one that wanted to come here. I haven’t lost my opinion just to please people.’
Simon looked at me, his face crinkled. I better stop this rot.
‘Jane. I will tell you something my father once told me and let you ponder. He told me that everyone has a degree of darkness in them; only some of us dare to express it. Shall we proceed? At the end of the hall is the stairwell. Upstairs is a hallway to my dais and downstairs is the dungeon. Today we will head upstairs first. As you can see the hallway has all my family portraits and a medieval Lute that my grandfather acquired off a family acquaintance. ’
‘You look like your grandfather.’ Amelie stated while Derek and the others examined the Lute.
‘Why thank you. My dais is just through this door but for now we will head down to the dungeon.’
‘Why? What have you got to hide in the dais?’ Derek seemed disappointed. ‘I bet that ghost thing last night was a set up.’
‘Some things will remain private in my manor.’
‘As you can see the dungeon is almost in original condition. The only thing added is the wine rack. In the corner here is a totally different type of rack, where peasants could have been tortured to death, along with hell knows who else. Of course there are no official records just stories that have passed down generations. Along the wall here, is where the deserved were chained awaiting their fate.’
‘Rather warm down here compared to above’ Jane mentioned.
‘Why is the torture equipment so well kept?’ Simon asked.
‘Well, you just never know when it may be needed.’ I look around. Jane has already moved behind Simon. ‘Let me say it’s a condition of my inheritance. Would anyone like to experience being chained up awaiting torture?’
‘I would if my wrist wasn’t bruised.’ Derek laughed at himself before continuing. ‘Why don’t you chain Amelie up and leave her here? Have you got a feather duster so I can tickle her? Only joking sis.’
To my delight, Amelie moved forward subtly exerting her desire.
‘I want to feel what is like.’ She spoke.
‘Alright, now be careful, it is rather uncomfortable.’
‘Yes, I can feel my back bones crunching already.’
‘Now give me your wrists.’ Oh how delicate they are. I don’t want to bruise thee. So white and soft. ‘There, I won’t tighten the ropes. Now your ankles.’ Such pleasure to tie these ankles. ‘So how does it feel?’ What can you imagine?’
‘Hard to explain. I feel as if I’m somewhere between pleasure and pain.’ Amelie closed her eyes for a moment longer than could be expected.
‘Go on.’ Derek rubbed his hands together. ‘Crank her up. I want my money’s worth. Is it true limbs can be torn from their sockets?’
‘I’m sorry to disappoint you Derek. Your sister is not deserved yet so I will free her. It’s time we ventured above ground.’
A cool wind has picked up and moved the fog on. Jagged shadows still linger from the woods keeping the cemetery firmly in their grasp.
‘As we walk around the manor towards the cemetery, best not to mosey through any muddy ponds or pools as the leeches here rather enjoy hitching a ride.’ Why does Jane always shake her head in disgust at me?
‘It appears you have a gargoyle missing off the corner of the manor here? Well there was a gargoyle on the preceding corner and usually these things align.’ Simon pointed and also described ‘Quite a bit of stone has been scraped away down here somehow. I’m at a loss to work out how.’
‘Yes, hard to miss. During the great depression, in the summer of nineteen-thirty, my grandfather took the family to visit his aunt in London on a business venture of sorts. He left the cook, gardener, maids and a few other servants at the house for a week or so. Upon returning the gargoyle had been chiselled off, presumably stolen. Everyone said they heard nothing except for the gardener, who explained that it was possibly struck by lightning during a wild storm. The other servants confirmed there had been a storm of lightning and thunder but this still didn’t explain where the gargoyle was. There was no trace of it anywhere, not even a fracture left behind on the ground below. Needless to say my grandfather’s venture to London was fruitless and all servants had their pay halved. The gargoyle was never found or even replaced. My grandfather said to the day he died, that it was impossible to have a replica made and that it had to turn up somewhere, and you know what. He was right. I have seen the gargoyle since.’
‘Why don’t you get it back then?’ Simon looked puzzled.
‘Well, that is proving rather difficult.’ I looked forward to the cemetery.
‘Why?’ Simon was demanding now. ‘It’s yours. What could be so difficult?’
‘That’s a whole new story. Let me try and work out the best way to tell it.’ I stared at one grave in particular. ‘This is the cemetery where every Lord, Lady, servant and peasant involved with the manor has been buried.’
‘Wow, feels creepy here.’ Jane was on high alert.
‘What do you mean?’ Simon asked even though his mind was still obviously consumed by the gargoyle.
‘Feels like.’ Jane paused. ‘Smells like. How do I put it? Look over there. One of the graves has been desecrated.’ Jane wanted to run but Simon held her hand tightly and eventually strong handed her to the grave.
‘Well, contrary to what you may think, this is not unusual. The night of no moon must be near. This is the grave of the gardener.’ The silence was deadening. ‘When the moon is the smallest crescent in its cycle, the gargoyle, for a mysterious reason, comes and tampers with this grave.’
‘How do you know?’ Derek stood motionless, ready to accept my explanation.
‘One night, I was awoken by a crashing stone in the cemetery. I looked out my window and thought I saw the gargoyle scurry from the cemetery. I quickly made my way down into the yard to find the strange leering creature attempting to scale the same wall where it had been chiselled off. It turned and saw me. I felt like I was the only piece of Ivory against the ebony night. I could see my reflection in its eyes. I can’t explain logically, but somehow it recognised me, easing the fear in both of us. It then sprinted right past me and attacked Darcy who was standing near the entrance to the manor, deeply gashing his calf muscle. Darcy might show you the healed wound later if you ask politely. I forget how many stiches he needed. We tried explaining to our local doctor but settled on the bite being that of a large Tom cat. The gargoyle then entered the manor making its way to the room nearest the wall where it had been chiselled off. I tried to follow, but it disappeared into the darkness. In the room, the rose pattern glass window was smashed but it was apparent that the gargoyle couldn’t have possibly squeezed through the elaborately bent lead frame.
‘With a story like that,’ Jane shivered. ‘You should write horror and sell it instead of inviting people here for weekends and trying to scare the living daylight out of them.’
‘Yes, I suppose I could, but I just don’t want people to interpret the manor and its inhabitants via my imagination. I want them to come to the manor and experience firsthand all the emotions on offer. A far more heightened experience, would you not say?’
No argument from anyone.
‘Hell, it must be around here somewhere.’ Derek kicked at the grave.
‘It has got to be buried down here.’ Amelie seemed sure. ’How else to explain it?’
‘Yes, I too think it’s buried with the gardener but no authority will currently let me exhume for a gargoyle. I did have some archaeological students here a few months ago investigating buried peasant houses associated with the original manor. I managed to sidetrack them for five minutes with their ground penetrating radar. I told them a tall story of rumoured buried family treasure. Of course they located an object of similar size to the gargoyle right under the gravestone but they also located numerous other objects around the grave of similar size. There will always be sceptics.’ That wind really is blustery now. I’m feeling a bit chilly. ‘You are all free to explore the manor’s grounds. I will say again, please try and stick to the cobbled paths. I’ll see you all for dinner at dusk.’
‘Yes Darcy. What is it?’
‘Unfortunately, Simon informed me an hour or so ago that Jane fell ill. They had to leave.’
‘Oh, that’s a shame. I must admit, I was about to ask you why so few spaces. More food for us then.’
‘I like these cross shaped croutons in the soup. ’ Amelie praised and Derek ate with the natural hunger of a young man.
‘Next, we have linguini dyed black with squid ink, believe it or not. It’s Darcy’s special. I’m sure he adds a little rare lamb, onion, garlic and wild mushrooms, but who can tell? Here he comes now.’
‘Wow, I adore the coffin shaped dishes.’ Amelie really is lovely.
‘How’s the wine tonight, Derek?’ I better ask.
‘It will do. I’m waiting for the footsteps you know. Does the ghost come the same time every evening?’ Derek somehow managed to speak with his mouth full. The dimly lit chandelier above us ever so slightly begins to shake.
‘Yes,’ I exclaim. ‘To the second,tick, tock, now.’
Everyone stopped eating and listened to the footsteps take their familiar path.
‘Stuff this.’ Derek sprung up and ran towards the staircase.
‘Derek, come back.’ Amelie shouted but he was gone in a flash, his fast running footsteps on a collision course with those above us. As Derek makes his way up the staircase the footsteps above us slowly head away as usual. Nor Amelie or I over exert ourselves to stop Derek. What harm could he do, anyway? Amelie knows this too. It almost feels romantic sitting opposite her. I sense she wants to release something but feels inhibited for some reason. I could stare into her deep brown eyes all night.
‘Amelie, it has been a pleasure having you here at the manor.’ I can’t keep silent forever. My heart pounds as she opens her mouth to say something but Derek arrives back so soon.
‘Weird,’ he says. ‘I heard the footsteps walking towards me and then they were behind me. Somehow they passed right through me and then disappeared. It was an indescribable experience. I didn’t see or feel anything. There is no way it could have been set up. I need more wine.’
Amelie laughed and I couldn’t help but join in as well.
‘Alright, alright,’ Derek blushed. ‘I do believe in ghosts now. I mean it. No way was that set up. So what have I missed down here then?’ Derek tried to divert his now unwanted attention.
‘We have been enjoying our meal, Derek.’ Amelie tried her best to halt her laughter.
‘Now for the ultimate desert. Darcy, bring us the Red Velvet Cake with candied rose petals.’
‘Such a dainty masterpiece. Shame we have to eat it.’ I’m sure Amelie licked her dark shade lipstick just after she spoke.
‘Would you like to have the honours and cut thee, Amelie?’
‘No, you’re the experienced Lord, you best cut it.’ I’m sure Amelie knows what I am wishing for as I slice this beauty.
‘So tell me Lord Alfred.’ Derek says. ‘Why don’t you get someone to help you dig up the gargoyle?’
‘Just, too much red tape I’m afraid. I know it’s my land but I don’t want any more people around here than what I’m accustomed too.’
‘I have a solution. A mate in the band works as a plumber during the day. He has access to all types of digging gear. Who knows, you may need a tap installed near the cemetery or a bird bath maybe, if you catch my drift?’
‘I’m sorry Derek. I’m beginning to admire your enthusiasm but I can’t afford to lose the manor in any way, shape or form. In any case, to be honest, I have become accustomed to the inhabitants of the manor, and dare I say, I would even miss my family if they were not around. You wouldn’t exactly call us a dysfunctional family, now would you? ’
‘No, not exactly, I guess you have my number on file if you change your mind.’
‘Sure. Now, with a more pressing matter, I must mention tonight. It is more than likely the gargoyle will grace us with its presence as the moon is at its dark end of the cycle. I recommend once you retire to your rooms for the night that you remain within them until breakfast. I trust that I will see you in the morning.’
When the night was in its absoluteness Darcy made his way to the dais.
‘Lord Alfred, Lord Alfred, wake up, you must come quickly.’
‘Darcy, what the hell are you waking me up for at this unearthly hour?
‘Derek has been attacked by the gargoyle.’
‘What! Is it bad?’
‘I’m not sure. I ran here first to inform you. As you well know, I’m not on the best of terms with that creature.’
‘Don’t worry, Darcy, by now the gargoyle will be long gone. Come on. Back down stairs. There’s Derek, he’s still in the hallway.’
‘I’m sorry Lord Darcy, I was not seeking a confrontation.’
‘No, don’t be sorry. Are you alright?’
‘Yes, just a scratch but I’m still trying to comprehend.’
‘So, what happened?’
‘I was texting one of my mates and heard what sounded like paws run down the hall. Curiosity got the best of me. I dressed, ventured out and walked down the hall. Next thing I saw the creature. It had obviously already seen me and ran right for me. It tried to savage my leg but I kicked into its teeth with my pointed boot. I’m glad I don’t have my slippers here. It felt like I had broken one of its teeth but I looked around and it was already gone. Not even a sign of blood or saliva, the creatures I mean. Here look at my boot. I have a hole in it now and my big toe has a small graze.’ Derek handed me his boot.
‘Extraordinary. It’s tooth passed between your big and long toe. You’re a very lucky young man. Where’s Amelie?’ I hope she’s alright.
‘Believe it or not she’s still asleep. She’d sleep through world war three, you know.’ Derek shook his head.
Believe me I would still be asleep if Darcy hadn’t of woke me up, I thought. ‘All right then, we best get back to bed and talk some more in the morning.’
‘Sure.’ Derek shrugged. ‘But I won’t be sleeping, that was some adrenalin rush and it will take me a while to calm down. Can I have a glass of wine or something?’
Wine. Now that’s an overnight development. ‘Sure. Darcy, can you please fetch Derek a glass of red. And Darcy please don’t wake me too early. See you all later.’
A slight breeze ensured a fogless this morning.
‘Good morning Darcy. Are the remaining guests ready to depart?
‘No my Lord, you are the first to surface.’
‘Are they going to eat before they leave?’ I really am addicted to seeing Amelie now.
‘One would assume. Shall call them?’
‘No, don’t rush them. Especially after last night. I shouldn’t indulge so early but can you please bring me a piece of cake from yesterday, that’s if there is any leftover?’
‘Yes my lord, there are several pieces.’
‘In fact bring me three pieces just in case.’ Maybe I’m not the only one who wants to indulge. ‘Thank you Darcy, this first piece will be gone in no time.’ Gone.
‘Shall I check on them now?’
‘No Darcy, I’ll get them.’
So quiet this morning down here. I hope they have arisen. I best knock.
‘Come in.’ Amelie’s voice seems so familiar now.
‘Good morning Amelie.’
‘Good morning Alfred, may I call you that?’ Amelie seems uninhibited at last.
‘Sure. You can call me anything you like. Don’t tell anyone though. I’ve bought you a piece of cake. Where’s Derek? How is he this morning?’
‘He didn’t sleep. He woke me and told what happened. Anyway, he had to leave early. Mate’s duties or something he mentioned.’
‘That’s a shame.’ Why did I say that, I don’t know?
Amelie can’t stop staring at me. The feeling is mutual.
‘I don’t mean to sound cruel, but is it really a shame?’ I say.
Amelie’s delectable rose scent is causing uncontrolled lust to occupy my every thought now. Her face is exquisite as usual and those inviting thighs, well after all, she only has that flimsy gown on, I’m sure.
‘No shame, really.’ She sighs pleasantly. ‘This cake is deliciously satisfying, take a bite of mine.’
I can’t breathe now. ‘Your lips are like nothing I’ve ever tasted. You’re ever so warm Amelie.’
‘You too, Alfred. Hold me tighter.’
‘I knew when I saw you walking up the cobbled path.’ That memory already lives in me forever.
‘I felt it when I saw you in the entranceway.’
‘Oh, Amelie my Lordess.’ She has to be.
‘Darcy won’t interrupt us, will he?’
‘No Darcy knows his place in the manor.’
‘Alfred, will you please slip on the other robe?’
I think I would even sign my will away right now if she asked me. ‘Sure by all means. What’s on your mind? I can’t stop wanting you.’
‘Take me to the dungeon.’
Her hand is trembling, or is it mine as we walk downstairs.
‘Shall I lock it, from the inside?’
‘Yes please.’ Amelie’s hand sweats now with mine.
‘I believe I know what you want.’ I pant profoundly. ‘I can imagine you there already.’
‘Yes Alfred, take me to the rack. Alfred, quickly. You can loosen off my robe and tie me ever so gently.’
‘That should be tight enough.’
‘Alfred my lord, torture me tenderly. Do you mind if I stay a few more nights?’ Amelie’s eyes are seductively closed now.
‘You can stay forever if you like.’
Andrew Mansell, November 2009.