A Gothic Tale
Welcome to the Schloss Überwaldburg. I am Wolfgang, Count von Überwaldburg, Vicomte Wolfswald und Graf von Grabstein, your host. The estimable Mr King suggested I host this little soiree, and share some of the horrors pleasures, of the Schloss. I cannot, of course, reveal all - it might overwhelm some more sensitive souls, so I shall share a simple, and, perhaps, cautionary tale of recent date with you.
It began, as these things often do, as a simple dare between friends. In their ignorance, none of those involved imagined, for one moment, the consequences of their wager, or the outcome for the loser. Let us go, therefore, back a little in time, to an evening in the hostelry known, for rather quaint reasons, as The Crypt, in Bad Jujuheimer. It is a hostelry that caters to the younger generation who style themselves ‘Goth’ though quite what the Goth Tribal elders would make of them, I am sure I do not know.
Our ‘players’ are four friends, rivals in love and many other sports, and currently a little boisterous due to the quantity of our local specialty schnapps they have imbibed. “Werewolf’s Water” is not a drink for the unwary, even in moderate quantities, after five or six, discretion is, shall we say, somewhat impaired.
Thus it was that their leader, a youth named Adrian, issued a challenge to one of his followers, to allow his friends to take him to Bad Grabstein. There he was to spend the night in what they imagined to be an abandoned mansion - associated, I may add, with certain legends …
"I tell you, there’s something in that place.” The speaker liked to be known as Vlad, though the name given him by his parents was Joseph. Tending to flabbiness, he favoured black leather clothing, pale make-up with heavily painted eyebrows and boasted several piercings and tattoos in unusual, and occasionally uncomfortable, places. He fondly believed this gave him a ‘cool’ look, but now he shuddered. “There’s a reason it’s been empty for years.”
“Oh rubbish. Look, we all know the stories - and we know the Count, the Igors and his pet werewolves are real enough, but demons? Don’t be daft.” The rail thin young man named Dermot took another gulp of schnapps. He too favoured black clothing, but his shirt hung open to reveal an elaborate tattoo and his trousers appeared so tight they might have been painted onto him. “If there were one there, the Count would have tamed it and have it up at the Schloss by now.”
Feeling he ought to contribute to the discussion, the newest member of the group, dressed in black leather jeans, baggy sleeved shirt with a leather waistcoat over it and a wide leather collar with studs around his neck, asked, “Is the Count a for real Vampire? I mean, he looks the part an’ all, but, well, it could all be a big act I suppose.” Toying with the ring through his nose he frowned in concentration as he considered this.
“He’s real OK, and so are his werewolves.” Adrian, attired in an outfit reminiscent of an undertaker’s ‘mourning’ coat complete with tails and black cravat, had the stirring of an idea for some amusement. Justin was a city boy, new to the Wolfswald, and dangerously naive about many of its oldest residents. “You don’t mess with the Count.”
The door opened and a misshapen figure lurched in. Dressed in an ill fitting suit of black, its face a mass of scars and stitch marks, mismatched ears and its eyes at different levels. Staggering toward the bar, Igor placed a small casket on the counter and paid the bartender as he placed a tankard of fuming, foam topped, liquid before the newcomer.
“What the hell is that?” demanded Justin in a stage whisper.
“Not a ‘that’, a who.” Adrian watched the figure approach. “Hi, Igor.”
The figure swivelled its upper body, and what might have been intended as a smile distorted its features. “Greething’th, Mithter Adrian. Thtill drinking Werewolf’th Water? I can do you a new liver when you need one. Thpethial rateth for you.”
The lithp - sorry - lisp was so pronounced the quartet stepped back to avoid the spray.
“Er, thanks, Igor, but the one I’ve got is just fine.” Adrian chucked back the rest of his glass. “What brings you here tonight?”
“A bit of buthineth, Mithter Adrian. There’th alwayth thomeone needth thome reaththembly.” Igor took a long drink from his tankard. The fumes made the eyes of those nearest water and their noses burn.
The schnapps and several other drinks making him bold, Dermot asked, “We were jus’ tellin’ Justin, ‘bout the ol’ house in Bad Grabstein. He don’t believe there’s a demon lives there.”
Igor’s mismatched eyes swivelled to study Justin. “Don’t think there’th any demon there, Mithter Dermot. No demon - it’th worthe than that.” He finished his drink, and rose to leave. “Mutht be going, nithe to meet you, Mithter Juthtin.” The rictus that passed for a smile transfigured his face. “Be theeing you perhapth.” Gathering the casket, he turned, lurched into motion, and was suddenly behind Justin. “Oh yeth. Better lithen to Mithter Jotheph.”
“Wha ..?” Schnapps sprayed as Justin jumped with fright. “How’d you …?” He gulped. Igor was at the door.
“Good night, Marthterth. Pleathant dreamth.”
There, perhaps, the matter may have rested, my friends, but for the foolish need some of your species feel to ‘prove’ themselves. Justin, presumably determined to redeem his credibility, at some point accepted a challenge to visit Maleficent House, once the abode of an undertaker with rather specialised skills …
“I bet you haven’t the guts to spend the night there.”
On his mettle, Justin retorted, “Have too - bet you haven’t. Fact, I’ve got twenty crowns says you won’t go up there with me.” Downing another schnapps, he added, “I don’ believe these stories. OK, the Count’s real, an’ the Igors, an’ maybe the werewolves … but I don’ believe in the rest …”
“Then you should be up for a night in Maleficent House.” Adrian interrupted. “On your own. You’ve met Igor, and you’ve heard of the Count - seen his Schloss in fact - but you don’t believe in demons?” Watching Justin’s face, he waited. “The Igors say that what’s up there is worse than demons - which you don’t believe in.”
“Bollocks. Look, I’ll prove it. Show me where this dump is, and tell me how I get in. You can all watch from outside if you like.” Bravado, the sort that comes from six glasses of Werewolf’s Water schnapps, reinforcing several pints of the local beer - a potent brew sold under the name of The Drunken Bat - now pushed Justin to the edge of idiocy. “Tell you what, make it interesting, you can take me up there, take me inside and watch all the exits so I can’t leave and pretend I didn’t. Then, in the morning, you can let me out.”
Dermot glanced at his companions, worry penetrating the fog in his head. “You’re crazy!” Vague memories of what had happened to previous daredevils stirred. “It’s jus’ as dangerous outside.”
“Jus’ ‘cause you’re scared of the place, doesn’t mean I am.” Justin’s bravado received a reinforcing dose as he gulped another schnapps.
Vlad-Joseph, until now silent, shook his head. “I dunno. My uncle told me the place is definitely bad. He said the last bloke to go there, ’s never been seen since. They keep something they found at the gate in the vault in the bank, but no one’s allowed in to see it. I dunno …”
It is, perhaps, unfortunate that Justin had reached that state of intoxication where sense becomes absent. He chose to hear Joseph-Vlad’s words as a suggestion he did not have the courage to go through with this small act of defiance. It drove him to insist they accept his acceptance of the dare - and his suggestion that he be taken there to confront whatever lurked in the forbidding house. While he might, in the cold light of the following day, and still recovering from his potations of the previous evening, have reconsidered in circumstances that were less likely to result in loss of face, or damage to his nebulous ‘street cred’, as I am informed such things are called, he didn’t express them.
“You sure you want to go through with this?” Adrian asked as they surveyed the immaculate entrance of Maleficent House. The bus had deposited them at the gate to the park, also immaculate, and the driver hadn’t even waited for the door to close before accelerating away, leaving them in a cloud of dust. The place really was creepy. It certainly didn’t look in the least uninhabited, and he half expected to be challenged by a servant or the occupant as they approached.
“You call this spooky?” Scoffed Justin. “You sure this is the right place?”
Joseph-Vlad, the ‘intellectual’ of the group, tried to recall what his uncle had told him about the house. “It’s the right place, OK. Said so on the gate post. Uncle said it always looked like the gardens and the house were kept in perfect condition — guess he was right.” He tittered. “Must be dozens of Igors looking after it.”
“Dunno about Igors.” Dermot looked round nervously. “Igor said they don’t come near the place. Avoid it like the plague - they didn’t like getting close to the geezer that had it built — the undertaker, you know, the one that specialised …”
“Yeah. Well, he’s dead. Still, this is creepy. Come on.” Squaring his shoulders from his customary slouch, Adrian mounted the porch. “We’ll leave you in the entrance hall, OK?”
“Suits me.” Justin was having second thoughts, but his pride kept him from expressing them.
The door swung open at Adrian’s touch, causing him to start. The entrance beyond was grand, and empty of anything but several strangely attired and posed statues, what looked like a large sarcophagus doing duty as a table, some Egyptian mummy cases and, very conveniently, an ornate chair in the middle of the floor. Adrian, swallowed, his eyes on the chair. “Looks like we’re expected. Look, I think we should call this whole thing off.”
They all jumped as the door slammed shut behind them.
“Sh …!” Dermot squeaked, only just avoiding soiling his trousers. “This is a fucking stupid idea - let’s get out of here!”
“The door’s locked!” Joseph-Vlad tugged desperately at the door handle. Turning to face the others, he looked round desperately. “There’s got to be another way out! Come on, we’ve gotta get out …”
“Good evening, gentlemen. Welcome to Maleficent House.”
The quartet wheeled round to behold a misshapen figure advancing from a door beneath the grand staircase. Their questions froze on their lips as they took in the strange attire the newcomer wore, his humped back and misshapen limbs.
“Wha ..? Who …?” the questions fell over one another as they backed away, their eyes at last taking in the statuary.
“I’m Riffraff, the butler.” the strange figure announced. “The Master will be so pleased to see you, it is years since his last visitor, and he still has so many niches to fill.” He beckoned. “This way please, we will have to see you are properly attired for your future roles.”
The quartet struggled to resist the independent movement of their legs obeying the beckoning finger. Slowly, fighting each step, they followed.
They make an interesting group. The Master of Maleficent House is an artist. He matches the costumes and the subjects carefully, choosing poses and postures in keeping with their own preferred styles of dress, personal habits and desires. His creations are moments frozen in time, for all time. Aware, yet unable to change, unable to respond to any stimulus. Forever frozen in their deepest and most private desires. A thing of beauty? Perhaps. A state to be envied? I think not, but they have eternity to ponder the folly of failing to take heed of the warnings.
You human’s have such rich imaginations when it comes to inflicting torment. Igor was right, a demon lacks the imagination, but a human given the power of a demon? The possibilities are unlimited. You humans have such active imaginations!
It is an amusing aspect of human expectations that moments of malevolence, evil, or manifestations of it, are always imagined to be accompanied by darkness, lightning, and dramatic thundering. Sometimes, my friends, it comes with immaculate gardens, perfectly maintained houses, and a smile …
Pleasant screams, my children. Please close the door quietly - Igor tells me that all the slamming is damaging the stonework. Oh, and running up the stairs can be very dangerous …