By: The Earthotic Way
I daresay I was quite troubled when my good friend Nigel contacted me by letter to say his wife of but a few months had fallen very ill. Ever the fan of the dramatic, he immediately attributed her taking ill to the longstanding legend of local lore. Never to believe in such utter nonsense, I dispatched a letter of my own stating I would certainly come however, his fear of tall tales was quite ridiculous.
The hansom cab ride was dreadful, the rutted road still not repaired though Nigel had claimed it of the highest priority when he had moved into the LeStrode Estate upon being married. I was even more alarmed coming upon the unhinged front gate blocking the drive. Despite my driver’s best efforts, he was unable to afford passage through and I had to transport my belongings up the muddy drive.
I simply couldn’t believe the state of the manor. It had succumbed to the encroaching woods, fingers of vines covering much of the stone and brickwork, the left wing completely engulfed.
Twin gas lamps flickered on either side of the entryway. Setting my belongings down, I used the knocker to announce my presence and waited for the butler to arrive though one never did.
Instead, Nigel’s face appeared as the door slowly opened. “Randolph, my good fellow. You’ve made it! Indeed, this is a joyous occasion!”
The door flung open and I was aghast at my good friend’s appearance. He appeared sickly, gaunt frame bent, his normally full beard sparse and flecked with more grey than I remembered. I knew him to be south of forty, he looked north of sixty.
Had Catherine’s illness taken such a big toll?
Nigel gripped my shoulders drawing me into an uncomfortable hug. I was about to speak when I heard a dreadful cough coming from somewhere above, the sound echoing.
“My word was that…?” I couldn’t finish.
“Yes, I’m afraid Catherine is quite ill. She’s suffering so.” Nigel used his hands to try and tamp down his rebellious hair.
Clearing my throat, I removed my topcoat. “Certainly, you’ve dispensed your staff to the doctor for a remedy?”
His head hung, hand covering his mouth. “I’m afraid the storm has kept most of them away.”
“Yes, most won’t come out here any longer. It’s too difficult to make the passage after the damage.”
I immediately pictured the gates and nodded.
“How can I help?”
The cough resounded again, thick and wet.
“Just being here, is enough for now my good fellow. It’s been such a burden.”
As he led me into the foyer and closed the doors behind me, I realized how dark the rooms were. There were only a handful of candles dotting the black landscape of the house.
Nigel explained, “bright light bothers her. It seems to worsen the cough.”
Nodding, I wondered when Catherine might make an appearance.
“Please, you must be tired after your trip. Would you like something to eat before you retire upstairs?”
I hadn’t realized how hungry I was until his proposition.
“Please, this way.”
We walked across the main room, our footfalls echoing around us in the darkness.
“I have a bit of roast left. Would you like it with a slice of bread and some cheese perhaps?”
I was at the mercy of my stomach, its growl giving me away.
The roast was divine, juicy and rare with a flavor unlike anything I’d tasted before. I finished my wine, satisfied.
“Definitely will. Dear friend, why am I here? I’m not a doctor and I certainly don’t believe in the superstitious nonsense you mentioned.”
Nonplussed, Nigel tittered, the sound odd. “Dear boy, it’s not nonsense. This place has opened my mind to possibilities I could never conceive of. Such wonderful things. I implore you to stay the night.”
The room was more than adequate, though there was a distinct, yet unidentified odor lingering. Not even the incense which seemed to burn in almost every room could keep it at bay. Perhaps it was the smell of sickness.
Standing by the window, my heart felt pinched as something scraped across the closed door of my bedroom. Could it be Nigel up to his games? I threw open the door, my smile dying, the hallway empty.
Closing the door, I climbed into bed, the odor a bit stronger. I ignored the occasional quiet laughter skittering in the hall along with an incessant scratching at the headboard. The bed had been rigged to move beneath me as well. I stayed the course.
Nigel would not get my goat.
Sharp pain awoke me in the middle of the night. A single candle at my beside tried to push the night away. I wretched at the side of the bed into the bowl of the commode.
The bed shifted again, the scratching at the headboard resuming. Stomach revolting once again, I wretched, the wicked shards of laughter from the open door of my bedroom needling my heart.
My mind reeled.
“Confused, I bet?”
It was Nigel, madness stirring in his eyes.
I winced, the pain getting worse.
“In a bit of pain, are we?”
Nodding, I tried to speak, but spit up again.
“Always is the first time. I suppose I should clear the air.”
Nigel dramatically walked over to the bed, and began tearing it apart, the stuffed mattress exposing what was hidden beneath. I balked, something wrong with my eyesight, the impossible sight terrifying.
A woman was bound and gagged beneath my mattress stuffed in the confines of the frame. Catherine? She’d managed to get one finger free and had used it to scratch at the headboard. Chunks were missing from her flesh, denuded bone shining through.
Pain lanced through me again.
“The roast? From her. Dear, Catherine. Distinct flavor, yes?”
My mind reeled, wondering what happened to my friend. When had madness taken him? When had he fallen prey to the whispers?
As eyesight failed me, he pointed beside her, a corpse nestled in the compartment, flesh gone, though the pocket watch in its grasp let me know it was Nigel.
“Yes, the pieces falling into place, aren’t they? I’m not Nigel. This was. I’m an old classmate.”
No wonder I thought he looked so different.
“Does the name Roderick sound familiar? Roderick Guilfoyle.”
As darkness swirled, death courting me, I recalled a school chum named Roderick whom we terrorized with tricks and cruelty. It couldn’t be.
Nodding, Roderick snickered. “I’d just come for a visit. Nigel and Catherine invited me. We bumped into each other in town, you see. I hadn’t planned on any of this, but once I arrived, he started telling Catherine about the horrible things he had done to me, both of them laughing. Laughing.”
He slapped the barely conscious Catherine.
“I concocted this plan. It was the cruelest, most sadistic I could think of. To eat my tormenter and his beloved. To devour my pain, my anguish.”
I collapsed, sight failing, my breathing impossibly shallow.
“And now, dear Randolph, I shall devour you as well.”
As my mind shut down, death taking me, I heard the cutting sounds begin.