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Ashley Bailey
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earlofredcrest.jpeg
Art by Noelle Richardson 2018

THE EARL OF REDCREST

By Ashley Bailey

 

The screams begin as the moon rises. For these past nine nights I have been tormented by a torrent of horrendous and inhuman screams, striking from without like a thunderclap against the window. I am a prisoner in my own home.

And I dare not leave.

Light from the lugubrious moon seeps into my room. I watch as it casts dancing shadows, projecting a silhouette performance onto the wall canvas. Another sleepless night.

My eyelids substantial, yet sleep remains always out of reach. I wrench the covers off my body, moist with sweat, and drag myself up off of the bed. Time to drown myself in the burning caress of brandy.

A limb, antediluvian and unearthly, stalks out at me from the shadows. Long bony claws reaching, ready to tear. I jump back, gasping so harshly it produces no sound. But this is another cruel trick of the laboured mind. A mere spectre. The shadowy invasion of the pine tree which sits outside of my window.

Crowhead Estate, once filled with the warmth of roaring fires and the clinking of wine glasses, has become a place of oppression. Growing ever hostile as the nights in exile grow longer and more numerous. Gone are the banquets and balls, visits from the lords and ladies, many joyous hours spent in the parlour room.

This room, the master bedroom, is my last bastion as the horror without closes in. Redcrest county’s rabble openly speak against their Earl in their dank taverns. My own servants all think me mad. They share knowing glances and mocking whispers as their broken master stumbles past. They Mock me as I cry of brass round sconces transforming into evil faces, and wicked beings appearing from the shadows to torment me.

Pouring myself an inch of brandy from the decanter, I listen to the cacophony and ponder my unusual fate. These wails, by creatures I wish to know nothing of, seem to come from the night-time air itself. Wrought with such agony, they tell of a hellish landscape of abject misery. Perhaps these screams will rend apart the heavens themselves, and usher in a deluge of blood.

My staff pretend to be unaware of these ghastly happenings. Ignore the impassioned pleas which rattle the windows and rock the foundations. One servant, a Miss Cotton, looked, actually looked, as a face leered out of the dark. She said nothing, other than that I looked unwell and poured some foul remedy onto my food.

As the only one of my kind in the house, I am truly alone in this nightmare. Locked away in my increasingly smaller bedroom, as Crowhead Estate is usurped by outside forces.

The destructive hands of the Gods of War and Pestilence have passed over the Coldwell line, returning all but me back to the Earth. Elizabeth, my Elizabeth, was the last to leave. Stricken down by poisons unknown. Our son died with her. For centuries my family’s enemies have utilised the blade and scroll to their nefarious end. Paid assassins to rake daggers across my ancestors as they slept. Stolen my family’s property. Lied, slandered, manipulated. Turned the common folk against us. This nightmare is but surely yet another Machiavellian plot to destroy the Coldwell name.

To make the last Coldwell Earl seem insane.

I pour myself another drink, depleting the decanter’s contents. The glass shakes in my hand and most of the brandy sloshes onto the floor. Outside the ongoing barrage of discordant screams continues.

A smile forms upon my beleaguered face, though I do not know why. Stretched and curved to the point of pain, the maddened grin fills out my hollowed cheeks and sunken eyes. Stood in the timorous light adorning such a grin, I must appear positively frightful.

I begin to remember my disturbing appearance. The bloodshot eyes. The deep ridges around my eyes and nose which cast the most perturbing shadows on my mien, lending me the appearance of the common ruffian. Though only forty, I resemble a man twenty years my senior. Worst of all are the constant convulsions, the shaking of my hands and head as though fearful of some concealed beast.

“I am a broken man, and nobody gives a damn.” My snarl, both a condemnation and a pitying plea.

I toss my empty glass aside and stumble over to the window.

“WHAT DO YOU WANT?” A scream. My scream. Though it is lost amongst the merciless tirade.

The 2,000 acre estate below is dying a slow death. No work had been performed on it for weeks, the hedges overgrown and statues of my ancestors knocked over in the wind. Even the estate’s namesake, the onyx crow’s head, sits forgotten. But there’s something else. Not too far below my bay window. Naked. Sexless.

Eight pale forms laid on the long grass. Wide-eyed and basking in the moonlight. Hideous grins on their faces. A look of complete peace. As I observe the intruders, the window is shattered by a tremendous bellow, knocking me back onto my knees.

Glass slashes my face. I cover my ears and scream. It’s as though the world’s rage and pain is focused on me. An aggression as old as time itself that has found an outlet. My shouts go unheard, drowned out, I’m cast out to sea on a rapidly sinking raft. My servants are not coming to my aid. I must save myself.

Crawling amongst the glass and debris, I go to my bedroom door and open it. The stench of carrion immediately hits. Something sploshes behind a door to the left. With only the baleful celestial illumination to guide me, I crawl over the threshold. The shadows press upon me, unseen creatures glare, teeth gnashing. It’s suffocating.

Thick gashes scar the walls. A portrait of my father, abandoned at the top of the stairs, has its throat torn open, eyes gouged out. Defeat takes over, I beg the gloom to swallow me whole. My enemies have won.

For a moment, I contemplate again seeking solace in my room. But the sanctuary has been broken. That room will never again be safe. The screams have found me and I have nowhere left. One by one I descend the cold marble stairs and into the darkness of the landing, where not even the moonlight can reach. Into the abyss.

A hand, firm yet lifeless, touches my foot. But I make no noise as I know it belongs to a dead man. I can feel his skinless touch. My determination to stop the screams is all that drives me now. I reach the bottom and make my way through the manor, ignoring the savage struggle around me. The screams billow. Down more stairs.

The heavy oaken doors to the grounds have already been flung open. Damaged by the madness that overtook the estate. A man sits alone in the lounge to the right. Washed in moonlight which reveals his knife-ridden body. A human pincushion.

I exit my home for the first time in weeks to a violent downpour of warm, sticky rain. Tears roll down my face. Strengthening my resolve I head over to the pale, forsaken forms that must surely be responsible for this terror. I look down upon them.

No.

My servants lie sprawled before me. Stripped, mutilated and defiled. Looking up at me with an expression of fear and accusation perpetually set onto their faces. An axe, my vintage Flintedge, is on the ground, cracked and stained with claret and bone powder. The men have been gelded, the women brutalised.

I remember now. I did this.

They called me mad. Told the villagers of their Earl’s monstrous ways. I had to stop the incredulous rumours. I flop to the floor and look up at the abysmal sky. Do the screams even exist beyond my sick mind? Does it even matter? The servants were right: Crowhead Estate is indeed home to a monster.

One final intense scream rings out, and all becomes quiet.

Then, the deluge begins.

END





Ashley Bailey is 27 years old lives in Hull, Yorkshire, England. His affection for his wonderful, yet oft neglected, home city deeply influences his work. When not writing, he likes reading, taking scenic walks (through nature and through sites of social decay), and he collects old books. He is a fan of H.P. Lovecraft and his anti-humanist brand of cosmic horror. He also maintains a blog where he publishes weekly reviews of video games, books, and movies, largely to work on his writing skills in a less stressful manner.

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