Bela Coffins Productions Proudly Present:
A short story by David Williams
Lord Antworth – Peter Cushing, Rockell – Christopher Lee, Alice – Fiona Gump, Will – Phil Collins, The creature - ?
“My dear Alice, how wonderful it is to see you again” bellowed Lord Antworth who threw open his arms in anticipation of a welcome embrace. Alice Antworth approached her uncle tentatively, after all it had been almost ten years since she had last set eyes upon him. She was quite aware of the tapping her shoes made upon the wooden floor between the carpeted islands as she made her way towards her uncle. He was much older than she remembered, with white hair delicately swept back exposing a thin, bony, almost skull like face, but his blue eyes and smile were warm enough. They embraced briefly and Lord Antworth with a hand on her shoulder led her to the foot of a long flight of wooden stairs, Alice liked the feel of her uncles smoking jacket, it was velvet she thought and reminded her of her dear late fathers, immediately she felt at home.” Here let me show you to your new room” shouted an exited Lord Antworth “ I’ve had it decorated especially, I hope you like vermilion” he sang
“ oh I do Sir, I..”
“ please, my dear child, call me Uncle Peter, it’s much more friendly don’t you think” Her Uncle gave Alice a beaming smile as they climbed the staircase and she reciprocated with one of her own.
The door to her room was swung open and Alice gasped. The room was beautiful, there was a huge bed in the middle of the room with the most luxurious orange sheets she had ever seen, in the far corner stood a dressing table almost identical to the one her mother owned which she had admired so much. The rest of the room was filled with book cases containing more books than Alice had ever seen and she loved to read, each of the shelves were dotted with curious trinkets and toys and there was even a magnificent rocking horse by the window. Alice rushed over to the rocking horse “oh my, what a lovely thing “ she cried
“ you like horses do you “ asked her Uncle, Alice nodded, “ I though you would, I am having a real pony brought over at the end of the week, you can take care of it if you like” laughed Lord Antworth
“ oh, yes, yes I would love that enormously!” she gasped excitedly. Alice turned to admire the view from her bedroom window, the lawn below stretched out like a serene green sea, the wind ruffling the blades of grass creating phantom waves. Almost everything in the garden below was covered by flowers and roses of all shapes and colours, she could hardly take in the natural splendor of the garden all at once, but then something caught her eye. At the far end of the lawn there appeared to be some kind of geometric construction made out of hedges
“ oh I say Uncle what is that at the end of the garden, is it a maze” inquired Alice hopefully. Her uncle’s previously benign expression suddenly darkened, without looking out of the window at all he guided Alice away from the bay and towards the door.
“ Please promise me that you won’t go near that maze under any circumstances” pleaded her uncle. Alice was disappointed, she had heard stories of hedge mazes before and always longed to play in one, but her Uncle seemed afraid of something. He now had gripped Alice tightly on both arms and was actually hurting her “promise me you won’t go near child” he shouted at her. Alice was afraid she had said something wrong and had upset her Uncle, it was the last thing she intended on her first day,
“ I, I promise” she whimpered
“ good girl, it’s for your own good you see, I will tell you why, but not now, not now” Lord Antworth had suddenly become aware of how frightening he had become and quickly changed his tone “ supper is soon to be served, were having chicken, and cheese, and I had the cook make up some summer ice cream just for you my dear, but I expect you would like to unpack, I will send Nancy up to help you” With that her Uncle disappeared through the door. Alice slowly walked over to her pile of suitcases neatly stacked on the end of the bed. She was sure she would like it here, even though, even though….. Alice glanced back out of the window and followed the line of the maze with her eyes. The sun was going in, the garden looked different now, darker. Smells of a roast dinner wafted into Alice’s room, she was hungry. She opened her suitcase.
Alice was sent to Lord Antworth who was her mother's brother. Both of Alice’s parents were now dead, her mother died from influenza when she was but four years old, and her father only recently, taken by a coronary thrombosis. Lord Antworth was the only surviving relative she had, and she was lucky in her new guardian, for her uncle was rich being a landowner of a considerable estate which encompassed many small tenant farms. The house was also very splendid, a Georgian mansion built in the countryside surrounded by the Chiltern hills. An engineer by profession, Antworth had amassed most of his fortune from his and Alice’s mother's late father, Lord Antworth the second. The house was run by a large servant work force including maids, grounds men, stablemen, cooks, and a butler. During her first dinner at the house Alice had made the acquaintance of many of the servants, but in particular she had made a friend of Nancy, one of the house maids, and Benson the butler. Alice had retired early that first evening due to an overwhelming tiredness from meeting so many new people and through the strain of being so over polite!. Within five minutes of slipping into bed she was fast asleep.
Lord Antworth was in his snooker room when he was disturbed by Benson who informed him that he had a visitor to the house
“ what, at this hour?” Antworth pulled a gold pocket watch from out of his waistcoat and glanced at the face puzzled
“ It’s your friend sir, Doctor Rockell, I though it would be all right” spluttered a nervous Benson
“ yes, yes, that’s quite all right, show him to the drawing room will you Benson”
“ very good sir” responded Benson before disappearing behind the games room door again. Lord Antworth carefully pulled on his dressing gown which he had slumped across the far end of the snooker table and made his way to the drawing room in anticipation of meeting with his friend.
Antworth and Rockell greeted each other affectionately and both sat down with a brandy and a cigar. Doctor Rockell and Lord Antworth had been acquaintances for almost 40 years from a chance meeting during their early school days. At one point Rockell had married Antworth's cousin Elizabeth who had tragically succumbed to a horrible wasting disease some ten years previous. Both Rockell and Antworth shared many interests together, but it was their interest in the occult, in particular, black magic which had spurred this meeting on this dark and foreboding night. “ you know why I came don’t you Peter “ spoke Rockell calmly
“ yes, but I can’t do, I just can’t I tell you, for god’s sake she was my sisters daughter, my own blood damn it!” cried Antworth. Rockell leaned forward in his chair, the light from the fire in the centre of the room illuminated his countenance with a dancing glow “ but you know it’s the only way, it’s perfect don’t you see, one more then we will be free. Think of it Antworth free from that unspeakable horror that you and I summoned into corporeal existence those many years ago” finished Rockell. Antworth held his face in his hands
“ Leave me alone Rockell, can’t you see I am tormented, my soul is damned whatever I do now, leave me alone, go away, away. I can’t face this now” whimpered Antworth. Rockell stood from his seat “ very well Peter, I will leave you for now, but I will return, and I expect you to see the sense in what I say” Rockell was shown to the door of the house by Benson. “ would you like me to have one of our drivers to take you home sir” Benson inquired
“ no thank you that will not be necessary, you see I quite like to walk home, in the night. In the dark!” With that Rockell turned and in an instant he was indiscernible from the dark shadows of the night.
Alice was roused from her sleep by a distant wailing sound, she lay and listened, and imagined it to be some lost wild animal possibly calling for others of its kind. Alice thought the sound was quite dreamy, and in a way, soothing. She strained her ears to listen more and was horrified to hear that it was her name that was being called, something was calling her name!. Alice climbed out of bed and ran over to the window which overlooked the garden below. It was dark outside but the moon was full and bright and cast the night sun all around as if the garden were illuminated by a hundred lanterns. Alice opened the window so that she could hear the sound more clearly. She stood by the open window for five minutes, perhaps longer, and then she saw her. She was wearing a flowing white gown cut at the base to give a circumference of triangles, like a fairy skirt. Her face was deathly white and indiscernible, her hair was long and black, and she danced. Alice watched the woman dancing and wondered who she was, she spun, and twirled and leaped across the lawn, so quickly that her face was a blur. Alice thought she reminded her of the ballet dancer in her mothers musical box, the one her father treasured so much. Alice was mesmerized. After what seemed like an age the figure stopped its dance and looked up at Alice, with its arm outstretched it curled and uncurled a long finger, beckoning for Alice to follow it into the garden. Alice gasped as it called for her again “ Alisssssssssssss, Alisssssssssssssss” The figure was walking backwards towards the garden maze, and seemed to fade into the hedges. Alice poked her head right out of the window desperately trying to spot the figure and suddenly she became aware of a rustling grunting sound. Alice dipped her eyes and saw that the figure was climbing a trellis attached to the outside of the house, climbing up to HER bedroom window. Alice gasped in shock at the very idea and slammed her window shut, only seconds before the matted unruly black hair of the garden thing reached the sill. Alice backed away from the window, away from the ghastly silhouette of the thing as it pawed and clawed against the glass, desperate for a way inside, Alice screamed.
Alice woke up in her bed screaming frantically in the darkness. Her uncle came rushing into her room and shook Alice out of her dream
“ Alice, look at me, it’s a dream, only a dream” spoke Antworth softly. Alice opened her eyes and saw the benevolent face of her uncle and she hugged him and sobbed “ oh uncle, it was terrible terrible” she cried
“ my dear girl, it is only to be expected, to have bad dreams the first night in a strange big old place like this”
Alice continued to cry and Antworth moved across the room to open the window to air the room. “ would you like me to fetch you something” he asked
“ no, no I am all right now, oh uncle, please close the window, I don’t like it open so” requested Alice
“ very well child, now try to get back to sleep”. Antworth closed the window shut and took a hanky from out of his dressing gown pocket. He rubbed the glass on the window. Curious he thought, the panes were all scratched and dirty. Tomorrow he would have them seen to. Antworth left Alice and called for Benson, he rather fancied a hot brandy.
Alice sat rather somber at breakfast, her nightmare had terrified her and Benson the butler made a gracious attempt to liven her spirits. “ here you are miss I asked cook to make it specially for you” smiled Benson as he placed a chocolate tart on the table in front of Alice.
“ oh how wonderful, a tart for breakfast, can I uncle, can I” pleaded Alice. Her uncle nodded and winked at Benson and knew afterwards the memory of her bad dream would be a distant one.
“ I have excellent news for you my dear” began Her uncle, “ the pony I promised you will be arriving earlier than I expected, this afternoon I think”
“ oh goodness me, I am excited so!” shouted Alice as she clapped her hands together in delight, can I ride her uncle?, can I?”
“ why of course dear, but I do believe it is a he “ chuckled Antworth
“ then I shall call him, Toby” said Alice thoughtfully.
The pony did arrive and Alice was almost hysterical with delight, she was taken to the stables and shown how to look after Toby properly by a stable lad. Antworth had retired to his study where he intended to clear up some rather pressing matters involving the estate, however his attention was swayed by the discovery of his old diary locked inside his old writing cabinet. Antworth sat at his desk and opened the richly decorated book. He turned to page thirteen, the night of all hallows eve, 31st October, 1888. Antworth's heart jumped as he began to read his entry headlined “evocation of the dark god”, the memories of that night came flooding back and he retched out of sickness brought about by fear.
Hallowe’en 1888. Midnight. Lord Antworth and Rockell were busy marking out a great circle on the lawn in front of Antworth Hall, Rockell was scraping a circular trench using a wooden stake tethered to another stake which was buried in the ground. Antworth was filling the trench with a mixture of ground herbs and chalk. When the circle was finished both Rockell and Antworth collected a myriad of ceremonial equipment from the house and began to set them up within the circle. There were swords, daggers, candle sticks, mirrors, bottles of sacred ointments, and Rockell had in his possession a thick leathery book which Antworth had purchased of an old Indian Holy man during his travels. The book was purported to be bound by human skin and contained diabolical enchantments, descriptions of demonic entities, evocation rituals, and sacred locations. The nefarious pair began to read from the book and partake of the ointments contained within the circle. This unholy ritual continued for hours, had it not been for the ointments, the two would have succumbed to fatigue hours before. In their delirious states, they accidentally managed to set alight the book from a candle flame which was consumed within seconds as if made from brimstone. Rockell fell to his knees and collected the warm ashes in his hands “ my god Peter, do you know what this means” cried an anguished Rockell “ we have begun the evocation rituals, there’s no turning back now, and without this book we can’t control it or send it back!” Antworth cast his gaze about the lawn which surrounded the circle where they were,
“ I can’t see anything, perhaps we never completed enough of the ritual. you said we had to complete all the evocations!” answered Antworth.
“ maybe you’re right, but I’m not staying here to find out, come on Peter” spat Rockell who collected as much of their paraphernalia before trotting off towards the lights of the hall. Rockell was stopped dead in his tracks by what he now saw beginning to materialize. It began as a small sphere of purple smoke about the size of a dinner plate which increased in size rapidly until it almost blotted out the sycamore which stood to one side of the face of the hall. From out of the cloud tens of thousands of black flies swarmed and began to aggregate until a figure was born. The figure was that of a woman and she was incredibly large in stature, almost seven feet. The figure began striding across the lawn towards Rockell. “ quickly, get back into the circle” screamed Antworth. But Rockell was rooted to the spot. It was only the relentless cries of his friend which awakened Rockell's mind and body from a near cataleptic state. Rockell dropped everything he was carrying and scrambled back to Antworth who grabbing his coat sleeves managed to pull him inside the circle only moments before the horror was upon them. They both looked up at the thing which they had half summoned. It was only partly solid, mostly from the chest down, its head and one of its arms was still a humming mass of black flies. They gasped in awe and retreated to the far side of the circle away from the thing. But the thing followed them around the perimeter each and every time they tried to evade its glare, “ leave us alone, leave us alone!” screamed Antworth. The creature raised its one good arm and pointed to each of them in turn,
“ you or you. Whossssssse sssssssssoul sssssssshould I devour!” it hissed. Rockell even though shaking with fear decided to try to take charge of the situation. Now standing he faced the creature but almost recoiled in nausea from the stench that emanated from it.
“ I summoned you here, I, I command here. You will do my bidding, do you acknowledge this” spoke Rockell in a commanding tone. The creature threw back its writhing head and a gaping hole opened up in the centre of its mass, a mouth. Rockell saw a glimpse of sharp pointed teeth as it let out a screeching cackle. The cackle was ear piercing and lasted an age until finally the creature let out a forceful breath which knocked Rockell of his feet and onto the floor.
“ you command nothing. I will take you now. Pity, you are old, I usually prefer to eat young soulsssss. “ hissed the creature whose mouth opened impossibly wide revealing a snake like black tongue which vibrated across row upon row of teeth.
“ wait” shouted Antworth, “ we can get you young souls, if that’s what you want we can get them for you”. The creature closed its mouth and stood in silence for a while as if contemplating what Antworth had said. Rockell turned to Antworth and cringed, not knowing what dreadful reprisal would follow.
“how many ssssssouls. How many can you get” asked the creature in a quieter tone
“as many as you want” replied Antworth who had no idea what he himself was saying, or in fact how he had mustered the courage to speak to this foul abhorrence.
“ thirteen” said the creature.
“ if we find you thirteen young souls you will leave us in peace?” continued Antworth.
“You sssshall bring me a young sssoul on thissss day at thissss hour in exactly one yearssss time. And you will continue to do ssssso until the reckoning is completed. Do not dissshonour our covenant” finished the creature.
“ but how should we find you” asked Antworth. The creature raised its long arm once more and uncurled a long finger which it used to point with. The pair followed the line of the finger and saw the old hedge maze which Antworth's grandfather had constructed to amuse his many lovers. The maze had a torrid history and was referred to simply as ‘the snarl’ by the servants and Antworth himself. Rockell stood on his feet again
“ how do we know you will honor your side of the deal?” questioned Rockell tentatively. The creature opened its mouth once more and and icy blast of pungent air forced both Rockell and Antworth to the ground once more. When they had recovered themselves they found they were alone once more. The creature had gone. They both turned to face the snarl which was now bathed in a shimmering purple light.
Both Rockell and Antworth honored their side of the bargain taking in children from overcrowded work houses and giving them a job on the estate and a warm place to sleep. They were both careful to select only the most sickly of children for the bargain. Children with no other relatives and nobody to worry about their welfare. When these children went missing suddenly or were found dead on the estate people assumed that their sickness had overcome them. Occasionally Antworth would concoct a tale about theft and the ungrateful youth of the day. Nobody suspected any skullduggery until now. The master of the local work house had recently been reluctant to sign over any more children to Antworth due to the alarming number that had met with an unfortunate end. Rockell's remedy to the situation entailed patrolling the streets of London for homeless children and pickpockets interested in earning a wage. However this had come to the attention of some of London’s beat bobbies who turned an eye of suspicion upon Rockell, believing him to be up to no good, and worse.
Twelve children they had sent into the snarl, twelve offerings to protect their own lives. Only one more child was required in order for them to complete the bargain, and they were running out of time. Rockell had come up with a clever idea. He had a pony trained which could carry a child to the center of the snarl and return, sometimes carrying a lifeless body, sometimes not. Of course the children all thought it was a splendid thing and willingly went along for the ride. Antworth had realized by his friend's recent visit that Rockell was terrified. Nearer and nearer the date drew and they had no new sacrifice. Rockell saw Antworth's niece as a timely rescue, not once believing that Antworth could have any possible emotional attachment to her, especially since having no contact with his family for almost ten years. It was not that Antworth cared little for his family which made him something of a recluse, it was due to the fear of living underneath this dark cloud, and Antworth believed that keeping his distance from his sister would in some way protect them. Now sitting hunched at his desk, Antworth ripped at his diary sending the torn shreds of paper cascading down over his study floor. He had already made up his mind. There had been enough children that had died to save his and Rockell's lives. He would face his fate regardless of what Rockell would try to do, he would protect Alice. Antworth looked at the torn pages scattered about the study floor, they reminded him of the white Lilly petals he had scattered over so many tiny coffins. He wept.
“oh he’s wonderful” gasped Alice as she looked over the pony that had been brought out for her into the yard. “ I shall call you Toby, do you like your name” said Alice as she stroked the beast.
“his name’s Boxer” came the reply from a grubby stable lad who was holding onto the animals reigns
“ well I don’t care, Boxer sounds frightfully harsh for such a lovely animal, and I am sure Toby suits him much better.”
“ well I don’t miss, Boxer’s a good name for a tough old ‘orse like ee is!” finished the stable boy.
“ and who might you be” inquired Alice in a slightly condescending manner.
“ I be Will miss, stable boy to the master like, you must be miss Alice”
“ right you are Will. Being a stable boy I expect you are able to ride this horse”
“ of course I can miss, I ave ridden im all over, past few years”. Alice looked at Will puzzled.
“ but I thought my Uncle only bought him last week?”
“ oh no miss, Boxer been ere longer than I can remember” answered Will
“but I am sure.....oh well I must have got it wrong I imagine. Anyway can you show me how to ride him” asked Alice hopefully
“course miss, come o’er here an I’ll show yer like” said Will and he helped Alice onto Boxers back. Alice took to riding almost instantly and managed to impress Will somewhat,
“ee’s a good ‘orse to ride see, ee’s got a good nature” shouted Will as Alice continued to trot around the yard
“oh he’s lovely, I think I shall take him on the grass” she laughed in delight.
“be careful miss, don’t go too far, the master won’t be pleased” shouted Will but Alice was off and away with the wind in her hair and without a care. Boxer trotted across the lawn stopping periodically to munch on some weeds wherever they grew in abundance, he seemed to have a purpose thought Alice as she observed him making his way along a familiar route virtually unguided by Alice. Boxer stopped at the entrance to the hedge maze which was barred by a thick iron gate obviously left there to prevent anyone from traversing its sinuous leafy avenues. Boxer was disturbed by the gate and began to kick at it with his front hooves.
“you want to go in there don’t you” whispered Alice in Boxers ears. Boxer let out a high whinny of frustration and then settled down to munch on more weeds.
“ Alisssssssssssss” came a call from somewhere within the maze, or out of a dream perhaps. The wind thought Alice, and she almost died on the spot from fright as Will grabbed Boxers reigns unexpectedly.
“you’re not allowed ere miss, nobody aint” said will with an urgent tone. He began to guide both Alice and Boxer away from the gate
“why ever not so” asked Alice rather annoyed at being momentarily startled by Will.
“master said, that’s why” spat Will as he continued to drag Boxer back towards the safety of the stable yards. Alice glanced over her shoulder to observe the maze as they were drawn away, she couldn’t help but feel that there was something decidedly creepy about it, maybe it was the way most of the leaves had died away and left dry tangled twists of thorns, overgrown in places with creeping ivy. Or perhaps it was the colour of the wood, all white like ash giving a petrified appearance. Alice had a sudden urge to explore the maze, and she was certain Boxer wanted to also.
“Will, lets go into the maze” shouted Alice quite suddenly startling Will and returning the fright.
“no, no you shouldn’t go near” repeated Will
“but why” asked Alice frustrated
“I told yer why, master said” added Will
“I think you’re scared”
“no I aint”
“yes you are, but I am not, and I am a girl” prompted Alice
“I aint scared” shouted Will, now angry at Alice’s words
“then prove it, come into the maze with me” she said
“I can’t not now, I ave to get back, got things to do see” said an edgy Will
“then tomorrow night” continued Alice
“no, no, I can’t, I must work, you see, it’s the......”
“then Boxer and I shall go alone” said Alice and she crossed her arms in front of her and turned her head away from Wills direction
“no miss you mussn’t, it’s a bad place” pleaded Will desperately
“if you won’t come with us we will have to go alone, and if it is so terrible, I will need somebody to protect me, somebody brave” teased Alice
“ok, miss I will go with ee, but only to make sure you be all right, but I don’t think you should, I told you, it’s a bad place” Will felt terrified at the prospect, after all the stories he’d heard about the place, all the ghosts people said haunted its dark corridors. But he had agreed, and he couldn’t back out now.
It was Hallowe’en night and Antworth paced to and fro across the floor of his study. Alice was tucked safely away in bed and he awaited the imminent arrival of his friend Dr Rockell. Antworth crossed his study and stopped in front of a roaring fire so that he could view a portrait of his late father that hung above it. His father's benevolent smile made Antworth cast his gaze away and into the flickering flames “ I am sorry for what I have done father, I have let you down, I am a disgrace. But I will make up for the wrongs I have done. Tonight, yes tonight!” he cried and put his hand into the pocket of his smoking jacket and pulled out a small but sturdy revolver. He checked to see that it was loaded then slipped it back into its velvet receptacle. Feeling rather anxious, Antworth poured himself a large brandy from a decanter that had been perched on top of the mantle piece. He drank it down quickly and poured himself another. He held his glass up to the fire and watched as the flames were refracted through the cuts of his crystal drinking goblet, the warm glowing brandy calmed him. He waited.
Alice tiptoed across the hall way floor trying desperately not to allow her shoes to clatter upon the polished wooden floor as she crossed from one carpeted island to another. Soon she had reached the huge outer door and she carefully slid back the bolt and various latches then slowly opened the door. Alice grimaced, she’d expected such a door to possess an obstreperous creak, but it didn’t. A blast of icy air hit Alice and she gasped almost losing her breath. Her skin became goose pimples as she slipped outside into the night.
Will waited for Alice outside Boxers stable. It was a cold night and he blew into his hands to regain some of the feeling he had lost. Alice was late and he rather hoped she had changed her mind. He decided to wait only a minute or two longer and then he would go back inside the house without waking Benson or his father who could get quite nasty if disturbed from his sleep. Wills father was the gamekeeper on the estate as was his father before him, and his before him, a formidable fellow, and one of the reasons why both Rockell and Antworth never tried to send Will into the snarl. Will heard some footsteps approaching the stables and he turned up the wick on his lantern to get a better look. If it was the master he would say that he was checking the horses. But there was no need for any deception as Alice came into view. “where were ye, I nearly went inside t’ ouse!” hissed Will
“I had to wait for the house to become quiet so that we wouldn’t be discovered” replied Alice.
“ ere, hold this whilst I get Boxer”. Will handed Alice his lantern and she waited patiently whilst he fetched Boxer. The heat from the lantern felt good on her hands and she was reluctant to let go when Will asked for it to be tied onto Boxers saddle. Riding Boxer, both Will and Alice made there way towards the snarl. The air was crisp and the sky clear, the moon shone down and illuminated their path with its lambency.
Rockell strode up to the front door of Antworth hall and rapped with his cane loudly. He could hear the lackadaisical plodding of Benson's feet as he waited in the cold. “come on you phlegmatic oaf” wailed Rockell impatiently. After what seemed like an age to Rockell the door was opened by a tired looking Benson. Rockell pushed passed Benson impatiently
“ I say, excuse me sir but....” started Benson but he was cut short by Rockell
“ go and fetch your master, he is expecting me” commanded Rockell. Benson fixed Rockell with a blank stare still holding onto the door knob. “ well, did you hear me, I haven’t got all night you know you blithering imbecile!” snapped Rockell. Benson closed the door and turned to face Rockell
“I will go and see if he is up sir, please be so kind as to wait here” spoke Benson and he sloped away muttering to himself something about rude gentlemen and ungodly hours. Rockell opened his pocket watch, it was twenty minutes past eleven. He closed his watch and strode in pursuit of Benson.
Antworth feeling the effect of one too many brandies fell back into his chair spilling some brandy onto the lapel of his smoking jacket. Before he had a chance to wipe it away Benson came into the room
“ Dr Rockell has arrived and insists upon seeing you sir” spoke Benson with a frown. Before Antworth could muster any reply Rockell pushed past Benson and entered the study
“well really sir, I thought I...” began Benson
“that’s quite all right Benson you may leave us now” said Antworth
“very good sir” came Bensons reply and he close the study door muttering to himself once more.
“such a half-wit, I don’t know why you put up with him” cursed Rockell and he helped himself to a large brandy
“Benson has served this family for decades as did hi...”
“enough Peter, you know why I am here. It is time. Time for us to be free men. is she ready?” spoke Rockell oblivious to Antworth's anguished face.
“no Rockell, we shall not do it. No more victims. We are evil, we deserve to die” cried Antworth
“don’t be obtuse man” shouted Rockell “go and fetch your niece” ordered Rockell
“no, she will not be sent into the snarl”
“ if you won’t get her, then I shall” spat Rockell and he turned to leave the study
“stop” demanded Antworth. Rockell spun around to face Antworth and found him holding a gun and pointing it towards him. “sit down” ordered Antworth
“Peter you know this is preposterous” continued Rockell
“I said sit down” repeated Antworth who now cocked the pistol and fixed Rockell with a determined stare.
As before Boxer approached the snarl unguided by Will. From her position sitting behind Will, Alice saw the snarl come into view. It was somehow illuminated by a violet glow, rather pretty thought Alice. Boxer stopped in front of the iron gate which barred the entrance and began kicking at the rusting poles with his front hooves. Will jumped down and began to pull the gate away from the gap which served as the only way into the maze. The gate wasn’t tethered or fixed, it was just heavy, but Will was strong and within minutes their entrance was cleared. Alice held Boxers reigns and strained to prevent him from continuing into the maze until Will had a chance to climb back on top. With Will in the saddle once more they continued into the maze.
Rockell sat opposite Antworth and watched as he drank himself into oblivion. “you know soon it will all be over, that thing, that horror out there will come for us. It is only what we deserve” waffled Antworth.
“you are right Peter. We do deserve this inescapable fate, but let us face damnation as friends. Prey, put down the weapon” spoke Rockell softly, hoping that Antworth in his drunken state would succumb to his guile.
“no my friend, this weapon is our only chance, I intend to use it on both of us before that, that creature can do its worst” continued Antworth. Rockell looked at Antworth horrified, and he glanced down at his watch once more. The time now read quarter to twelve. Rockell knew there was no more time to waste and he was about to make a fast move to disarm Antworth of his gun but was relieved to see that such an action would be an unnecessary one. Antworth was now slumped in his seat. The effects of copious brandy had taken its toll. Rockell edged slowly towards Antworth and took the gun from out of his hand only seconds before it would have hit the floor.
“don’t worry my friend, soon we will be without fear” whispered Rockell and he left the study.
The snarl opened up before Alice and Will a little at a time. The only illumination inside the snarl was the lantern which hung from Boxers saddle and the curious purple phosphorescence that seemed to emanate from somewhere at the middle of the snarl, filtering through and along its dark leafy passages. “what’s that?” shouted Alice and she pointed at something almost concealed within a dark recess of the hedge as they passed by. Will unclipped the lantern and held it to reveal a small stone cherub child size and covered with creeping ivy. Alice let out a gasp “ooh, I thought it was a person” she said,
“or worse” added Will. They both continued through the snarl with boxer leading the way. They passed many alcoves in the hedge, most of which contained an almost identical cherub. “ do you think we are close to the middle?” asked Alice
“don’t know miss, but I hope Boxer is as good at getting us out” replied Will
“you really are scared aren’t you?”
“you should be too miss, stories I’ve ‘erd!”
“what stories Will, oh do tell” probed Alice rather excited and a little afraid.
“well my dad told me, snarl never was actually built, it just grew like it is all by itself like!”
“that’s silly” spat Alice
“and old Mr Higgley, blacksmith to the master told me that snarl’s been ‘ere for hundreds of years! and before the snarl grew there used to be, you know, one of those big chalk carvings like the big old white horse on Crag top peak! but this carving was a big spiral, a maze see” finished Will and he looked to see Alice deeply enthralled in what he was saying.
“go on Will”
“Druids or some other people used it for their rituals like, and sacrificed men on an alter in the middle. Most folks round these parts say it be haunted, and that the corridors are filled with the wandering souls of all who died on the alter!”
“oh do stop Will, you frighten me so” pleaded Alice “what time is it Will”. Will took a watch out of his jacket pocket
“midnight miss” he said, and all at once a terrible wind ravaged the snarl flowing down each corridor like some mighty flood river. Alice and Will clung together as tangled clumps of thorny hedge flew passed them. “look, look at the sky” shouted Will and they lifted their heads to see a purple cloud appear within the midst of a vortex of dead leaves that had been whisked up of the snarl floor and carried aloft towards the stars. The cloud slowly descended to the snarl,
“oh Will is it an angel, an angel from heaven” cried Alice
“ I think it’s fell in the middle of the snarl miss” screamed Will over the noise
“lets go and see it Will, lets go and see the angel” screamed Alice. Before Will could make up his mind Boxer began to run towards the center of the snarl. The closer they got the brighter the purple light became, and there was something else, they could hear a buzzing noise like a swarm of flies.
“what have you done with her, where is she” bellowed Rockell. Antworth woke from his stupor to find Rockell tugging at the lapels of his smoking jacket. “look Peter, look it’s come for us, for her, where is she?”
Antworth looked out of his study window and saw the snarl glowing in the distance, thick black clouds condensed over head and blotted out the moon. Rockell pulled out the pistol and pointed it at Antworth, “the girl where is she you fool!”
“Alice?, she is upstairs, she...”
“lies, you have taken her, hidden her away” gasped Rockell. Antworth seized his chance and wrestled with Rockell. The gun went off many times shattering a chandelier, and two figurines. Antworth took possession of the weapon after landing a palpable square punch on Rockell's jaw. The barrel was empty and Antworth threw it to the floor. Antworth raced upstairs to Alice’s room and flung open the door. Her bed was empty “no, noooo” he wailed as he ran downstairs and out of the front door almost knocking over a confused Benson. Rockell now back on his feet saw Antworth through the study window running towards the snarl, shouting for his niece. Rockell smashed the study window by hurling a chair through it, and climbed outside. Running for his life he made his way towards the stables.
Boxer stopped his gallop and began to buck in a fit of panic. Alice and Will both fell to the ground and Boxer now calmer backed into an alcove in the hedge wall. Alice and Will undamaged from their fall got to their feet. They immediately took in their surroundings. They found themselves in a rounded clearing. Directly ahead of them was a stone alter. On top of the alter was a purple cloud which pulsated rhythmically. “we’re at the center!” cried Will,
“look Will, the angel!” Alice pointed towards the purple sphere which filled the clearing and bathed both Will and Alice with its violet sparkle. “beautiful” cried Alice. Moments later the center of the sphere darkened, it now looked like an eye with a pupil. The pupil elongated and became human in form. The purple sphere died away leaving a figure standing upon the alter.
“look Will, it is an angel, a real angel!” shouted Alice.
“no miss no, it’s ‘orrible, ‘orrible” shrieked Will. The figure moved towards the huddled pair and for the first time, its true ugliness was apparent. Alice screamed.
Antworth heard Alice’s scream. She was close by. “Alice, Alice, for gods sake where are you child!”. Antworth raced around passage after passage, he felt his heart pounding in his chest and thought it would explode as he fought his way against the lashing winds. Suddenly he could continue no further and fell to the ground. Gasping for air he pounded the floor with his fists cursing his aged frame. He looked up and saw two child sized figures ahead of him partially veiled by swirling leaves. “Alice?” he called at the figures. The figures seemed to waddle towards Antworth with an awkward gait. Antworth rubbed the grit from his eyes and saw a sight that he could hardly believe. Two stone cherubs, animate, alive, were approaching him from ahead. There faces were scowls set in granite. There eyes shone like violet beacons. He turned to run but was confronted by more obdurate, scowling dwarfs, twelve in all. They circled him. “you took our souls” spoke one of them with a gravely voice. Within seconds they were upon him, clawing, thumping, tearing stone fingers.
“run miss, run” screeched Will, and the pair dashed towards Boxer who was still shielding himself from the harsh winds in an alcove. Will grabbed hold of Boxers reigns and Alice climbed onto his back. Suddenly a loud swarming noise alerted them to the fact that the creature was nearing them. Boxer kicked out randomly at the sound of the humming flies and Will had a job mounting the animal. Whilst she waited for Will to join her Alice glanced over her shoulder and then wished she hadn’t. How could she have mistaken this grotesque horrible thing for an angel. Its head all massive and swarming was covered with a tangled mess of black hair parted by the wind to reveal an eruption of beetle black eyes all moving in unison, all moving to look at her. The creature opened a gaping mouth, and a long reptilian tongue shot out and wrapped around Wills leg. Alice screamed as Will was dragged away from Boxer who was startled and promptly galloped away down one of the passages. Will was dragged towards the creature, its tongue was cutting into the flesh of his leg like a leather cord. And like a snake eats a mouse, Will was gone.
Rockell was sitting in a carriage that was being driven by Will's father. He had woken the man and told him that his master was in terrible jeopardy and in order to help him he must drive Rockell home. Will's father reluctant at first was persuaded by the flash of a gold sovereign. Rockell craned his head out of the carriage window and saw Antworth hall disappearing into the distance. With any luck Antworth and his niece had been taken by the demon and now he was safe he thought, he hoped.
Alice somehow had managed to stay on Boxer during his flight. She was hugging his neck and crying hysterically at what she had witnessed. Poor Will she thought. She glanced back hoping to catch sight of him running along the passage behind her, and she could see something. The creature was striding along the passage at an incredible speed, and it was gaining on her. “Alisssssssssssssssssssssssss” hissed the creature as it followed relentlessly. Suddenly Boxer reared up and kicked at the air with his hooves. Lying on the ground in front of them Alice saw a body. It was her uncle, and he was horribly mutilated. Alice kicked Boxers belly and he galloped onwards jumping over her dead uncle and she cried some more. Alice became aware of the loud humming which she had learned meant that the creature was very close. She turned in the saddle and saw it almost within touching distance. Its tongue could reach her she thought. In panic, she unclipped the lantern from Boxers saddle and threw it at the creature. Alice’s aim was bad and the lantern missed the creature completely but hit the side of a hedge wall whose dried branches exploded into a wall of flame. The flame spread quickly in all directions and seemed to engulf the creature. Within minutes the entire snarl seemed ablaze and Boxer became hysterical bucking and screeching, kicking at the fire with his hooves. “Boxer, come on boy, we have to get out of here” Alice’s calming words seemed to have an effect on the beast and he began to gallop faster and faster along a blazing passage. Alice saw that Boxer had taken a dead end they were confronted by a flaming hedge. Undeterred, Boxer galloped onwards, even faster than before. At the last moment Alice realized what Boxer intended and she gripped Boxers neck and hung on for dear life. Boxer jumped the hedge, his back hooves clipping the top sending a torrent of sparks sailing upwards. Alice and Boxer although a little singed were free of the snarl and they traveled faster and faster away from the scorching heat and towards the house. Soon Alice was being comforted by Benson, and Boxer was safely in his stable.
Rockell saw the burning snarl from his carriage window, it lit up the surrounding fields like a gigantic bonfire. Rockell sat back in his seat and let out a sigh of relief. He flipped open his pocket watch. The time was one o’clock. He was unharmed. This could only mean that he had escaped the curse he and Antworth had evoked. He momentarily felt melancholy at the thought of the obvious demise of his long time friend. His thoughts were broken however by the sound of a thud on the top of his carriage. The first thud was followed by another, and then another, as if somebody was hurling huge rocks onto the roof of the carriage. Rockell craned his head out of the carriage window once more to see if he could discover the origin of the strange thumps. He saw movement on top of the carriage whilst simultaneously hearing scratching from on top. THUMP!, THUMP!, THUMP. Suddenly a tiny hand punched a hole through the roof of the carriage. The hand was grey and lumpy, and appeared to be made of stone. Rockell gasped as more impish mitts began to pummel through the roof, tearing and clawing at the small holes to make them wider. Rockell thrust his head out of the window
“driver, driver, stop the coach” he cried and recoiled back into his seat when he saw the driver slumped over the reigns with his head bashed in. Cherub after cherub fell through the hole in the roof and landed with a thud inside the carriage. They rolled to their feet and fixed Rockell with a malevolent glare, their eyes burning violet, their tiny fists opening and closing revealing sharp bird-like talons. They closed in for the kill.
whole of Antworth hall watched the spectacle of the burning maze from the
windows of the house. All except Lord Antworth and Will.
The maze burnt well into the early morning and when it was inspected by
the staff of the house, all that was left were smoldering black sticks like
row upon row of barring spears. The alter was still there, but it was
cracked into two pieces, and blackened with soot. On top of the alter were two
neat piles of bones arranged in a spiral pattern. Two skulls were perched aloft
on two smoldering black twisted branches.
COPYRIGHT © DAVID WILLIAMS, 2001