The first part of this story can be found here, Rat. The second part of the story can be found here, A Civil Conversation.
Mary knocked and then carried the tea tray into Lachlan’s study. She came to a sudden halt. Not only had Lachlan remembered to wind up the aether lights but he had also put a match to the fire. He had even drawn the curtains across against the cold November evening. Mary stared at the room, then realised that Lachlan was not in his usual place at his desk but sitting in front of the fire. To Mary’s alarm, Lachlan indicated the armchair in front of him. “Good evening, Mary. Would you please sit down.” He jumped quickly to his feet and took the tray from her. “And perhaps you should have a cup of tea. I don’t really drink it these days, but I’m sure that you would appreciate it.”
Mary sat carefully down. “Is everything satisfactory, sir?” she asked. She saw Lachlan lifting the teapot. “I’m happy to pour the tea, sir, if you like.”
Lachlan shook his head. “I don’t propose to make a habit of this, but I feel that I perhaps should show you some consideration.”
Mary felt sick. “Are you giving me notice, sir?” she said, trying to control her voice.
“Not at all,” Lachlan said hastily, nearly spilling the tea. “Not at all. You have been an exemplary housekeeper despite your youth. It’s just…” He handed Mary a cup of tea. “I feel that I must be honest and open with you.”
Mary felt cold all over. Surely he wasn’t going to make an indelicate suggestion. There had been no sign of that. “Thank you, sir.”
Lachlan swallowed and looked paler than ever. “You have been an absolute treasure, you know,” he said. “And so supportive of my work. You’ve never flinched at the rats.” He tried to meet Mary’s eyes and failed. “Mary, do you remember that the rat bit me?”
Mary nodded. “It looked very painful and was so shocking. It was very unlike Cedric as well.”
“And you wanted to call the doctor, but I wouldn’t permit it,” Lachlan continued. “Though you bound up my wound very skilfully.”
“Yes, sir. Does your wrist give you trouble now?” Mary asked.
“No, it’s quite recovered,” Lachlan said. “If you recall, it barely bled and it healed almost completely by the next night. Mary, do you know how to take someone’s pulse?”
Mary nodded. “Of course,” she said.
“Then please take mine.” Lachlan shrugged off his jacket and meticulously straightened it before hanging it over the back of the chair at the desk. Then he rolled up a sleeve and held out his arm. “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.”
Mary rubbed her hands down her apron before reaching out and gently placing her fingers on the vein. His skin was ice cold and she could feel nothing. She moved her fingers across the wrist, but there was no trace. “I’m sorry, sir, but I can’t find a pulse. Perhaps I should call the doctor after all.”
Lachlan placed his free hand over hers. “No, you can’t find a pulse, because I don’t have one. I don’t have a heartbeat, either, and as you have mentioned, I don’t want to eat or drink. Have you read Dracula by Bram Stoker?”
Mary nodded. “But that was just a story,” she said as she looked down at his white wrist.
“Perhaps,” Lachlan said. “But I am only casting a shadow in a mirror, not a true reflection.” He hesitated and added softly, “And I was unable to pick up my late mother’s crucifix this morning. Poor Cedric was only destroyed by a stake through his little heart, so I fear that he also became a sort of monster. Let us use the word, ‘vampire’. It’s as good a word as any and I must face facts.” He looked anxiously at Mary. “I don’t feel any sort of bloodlust, though, which is somewhat of a blessing. I don’t feel inclined to attack you in any way.” He smiled wanly. “I seem to be attracted to the aether waves and the crystals generate enough for me. Though I shall miss your incomparable plum cake.”
Mary gently withdrew her hand and sat up very straight. Nothing had prepared her for this. “So just to be sure, sir, you don’t have any improper inclinations to me?” she asked, picking up the teacup and taking a large drink.
“No, not at all,” Lachlan said. “But I rather hope that you would continue as my housekeeper. No-one has ever been so deft at keeping house. You’ve made me very comfortable and I would hate to change that.”
“Would there be extra duties?” Mary asked, trying to make sense of everything.
“You can read and write, can’t you?” Lachlan said. “Then I would appreciate if you would assist me in research. I need to find out what I am, and if anything is to be done.” He pulled over a covered tray. “I brought these together, and while we will look at better precautions. I think you should keep these with you at all times.” Lachlan pulled off the cover. “That’s a stake, which you could wear in a belt, I think, or in your apron pocket.” He pushed the sharpened wood into Mary’s unresisting hand, nodding in approval as she tucked it into her apron pocket. “And this is my late mother’s crucifix. It was extremely painful for me to even look at, so it should be some protection if you wear it under your dress.” Lachlan waved vaguely at Mary’s prim and high buttoned blouse. “Tomorrow I’ll look into getting some Holy Water and you will have to purchase some garlic, if you can find it. Obviously I would have to add to your wages…” He turned a second before there was a sharp rap at the front door. “I’m not at home,” he said.
Mary nodded. “I’ll be right back, sir,” she said, jumping to her feet and hurrying out of the study to the front door.
The man at the door was tall, slim and intimidating. “Good evening, I’m here to see Mr Lachlan Aberford,” he said, stepping forward and taking off his top hat.
Mary stepped in his way. “I’m afraid Mr Aberford is not at home,” she said. “Would you like to leave a card?”
Benedict strode past her. “Of course he is in, I can sense him.” He handed Mary his hat and cane. “There is no need to announce me.”
“I must ask you to leave immediately,” Mary said, gathering all her courage. “And if you don’t, I’ll have to summon the constable.”
Benedict turned to her, his piercing eyes almost glowing in the aether lamp in the hall. “Your master is dangerous to you. You should leave until I have dealt with him.”
Mary drew herself up to her full five foot and two inches. “Mr Aberford is a very considerate employer.” She held out Benedict’s hat and cane. “Indeed, I feel far more at risk with the stranger at the door. Oh!”
Benedict’s fangs showed white in the hall aether light. “Perhaps you are,” he said smoothly. “But I’m in control of myself. How about your employer? Perhaps he has been a little… odd lately.”
Mary held on to her temper. “Mr Aberford may or may not be having a few issues with his health,” she said primly, “but his behaviour towards me has remained exemplary. Unlike yourself,” she added. “You have not even had the courtesy to introduce yourself.”
Benedict leaned forward and studied Mary. “I’m Sir Benedict Roydon. And you remind me of someone. But not a housemaid, I think.”
Mary took a deep breath. “You may have known my father, Sir Algernon Smithers.” She pushed the hat and cane towards Benedict. “Please leave.”
“Of course,” Benedict said softly. “Please accept my condolences. The tragedy was in all the papers. I knew your father slightly. I knew your mother better. Is she…?”
“She died two days later. The doctor certified a broken heart. Please, Sir Benedict, please leave.” Mary hated the desperation she could hear in her own voice, but she couldn’t bear it.
“And you are reduced to a housemaid,” Benedict said quietly. “But a spirited one still. And you say that Mr Aberford is not dangerous?” He took his hat and cane from her and carefully placed them on the hall table.
“Mr Aberford knows nothing of my family matters,” Mary said. “And he is not at home to visitors.” She held onto the hall table to steady herself. Today was becoming a little too overwhelming.
“But I do,” Benedict said. “And if you tell me that your employer, Mr Aberford, is not behaving erratically, I will believe you. But is he well? And do you know what happened to the rats?”
“Yes, I know how the rats changed,” Mary said. “But please, Sir Benedict, I can’t betray my employer’s trust. He’s a good man, and while he may be…” she hesitated over her words. “Things may be a little trying, but I assure you that he is no danger to me or to anyone.” She rallied a little. “Can you say the same about yourself?”
Benedict smiled. “I can be extremely dangerous,” he said. “But I do not plan to hurt you, and I am intrigued that you do not believe that Mr Aberford could be dangerous. I think that it is more important that I speak to him than ever. There is information that he needs to know, and I need assurances that he is no threat to the general public.”
Mary swallowed and nodded. “Of course, sir. If you would follow me.”
Before they could leave the hall, there was a crash from the study followed by Lachlan’s cry of alarm. Benedict ran towards it, almost a blur to Mary’s bewildered gaze. She hurried after, following in through the study door before coming to a lurching halt. A strange man had Lachlan by the throat.
“Lysander, stop,” Benedict called out. “Wait a moment. I’m not sure that this is a threat.”
“Do you think that this is the first abomination I have dealt with,” Lysander hissed, turning to Benedict, his teeth lengthening. “You do not even know the half of it. These aether kind, they are shadows of us, mockeries. They endure daylight and there is still a shadow of them in mirrors. They are a link to us and cannot be permitted.”
“Let him go!” Benedict cried. “We don’t know what could happen.”
“You destroyed the half formed and mad,” Lysander snarled. “But I found the scientific, the experimenters, they inquisitive ones. And just like the astrologers and charm peddlers before them, I destroyed them. They study and pry and pull at the fabric of our lives and cannot be permitted. They will bring us all out of the shadows far more than any blood maddened half turned berserker! Now get back, Benedict, before your soft heart undoes you.”
“You call yourself a duke,” Benedict snapped, “But you can’t make decisions like this for all of us.” He strode over to Lysander to pull him from Lachlan.
“Get back, idiot!” Lysander kept one hand around Lachlan’s neck, holding him hard against the chair and leaving Lachlan struggling to respond. Then Lysander pulled something out of his pocket with his free hand and hurled it at Benedict.
There was a multicoloured flash and Benedict was flung backwards, staggering helplessly as the aether energy pulsed around him. “Don’t do this!” Benedict yelled.
Mary watched in horror as Lysander snarled down at Lachlan, tightening his grip with sadistic deliberation. “No!” she cried and snatched up the crucifix that was still sitting on the tray next to Lachlan. In desperation, she thrust it against Lysander’s face. He fell back, howling as the crucifix burned into him.
Lachlan crashed to the floor. “Run, Mary, get away!” he gasped, pulling himself shakily to his feet.
Aware that Benedict was thrashing helplessly behind her, and seeing the murder in Lysander’s eyes, Mary reacted in the only way she could think of. Brandishing the crucifix in Lysander’s scarred face, she pulled the stake from her apron and thrust blindly forward. There was a long moment of silence as Lysander stared into Mary’s shocked gaze, then he crumbled around the stake, leaving nothing but a pile of rags and ashes. She dropped the stake and stepped back, appalled. Lachlan put a comforting arm around her shoulders.
“That was informative,” Benedict said, getting shakily to his feet. He walked over to the pile of dust and bent to pick up Lysander’s ring. “And somewhat unexpected.” He looked at Lachlan and Mary. “I think I need to explain a few things to you. Your lives are now going to become so much more interesting.”
This was originally meant to be part of the October Frights Blog Hop, so please feel free to dip into the amazing authors taking part.
Be Afraid of the Dark
Carmilla Voiez Dark Reads and Intersectional Feminism
Brain Matter – The Official Blog of JG Faherty
Angela Yuriko Smith
James P. Nettles