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Chapter One: The Gathering
The manor house stood resplendent as it bathed in the cool orange glow of the autumnal sunset. Major Stanley stood on the veranda admiring his gardeners' handiwork. All the effort and expense had been worthwhile, and the garden was a triumph. It was of course fitting that it should all come to completion this year the bicentenary of the founding, all had to be just as it was then. His guests would soon arrive and the six families be reunited, in a celebration of their joint successes over the past two centuries. The idea had been simple in its concept and proved effective in its execution, a secret pact of the great and the good. A simple deal that had ensured their prosperity and maintained standards for the local community, its detail was lost in the mists of time but none could doubt its effectiveness.
The founding fathers had been a dedicated group of men from the highest echelons of society representing the military, the clergy, the aristocracy, the medical profession, national politics and the arts. Such was the renown and foresight of these noble ancestors that the families had dedicated themselves to excellence in each of their specialist areas to this day, some two centuries later. The major smiled the smile of the just, turned and walked back inside. Once in his study he seated himself in the leather armchair and took up his pen. Gazing down his to do list he could see (and he already knew) that all the boxes were checked, no harm being prepared - precision was the key and nothing unexpected would spoil this event. The study door swung fully open, framing Myers in a characteristically subservient pose.
"Begging your pardon Major, but your first guest has arrived, the Reverend Holmsey is in the drawing room" Myers soft voice informed.
"Old Pongo - always one to be early, good man Myers. I'll be down in a trice" The major beamed from behind his desk.
Myers closed the door without taking his eyes from the major, walking backwards was a natural aptitude after his long years of service.
True to his word the major marched into the drawing room some two minutes later, the room was fuller than expected. Two more keen guests had arrived and were being settled in by Myers in his usual assured manner.
"Good lord, not only Pongo, but Daffy and Christian as well, we're all a little early aren't we" The major asked, a little put out.
"I'm sorry Stanners, but it's a special year - just too excited, I know you're a stickler for punctuality, but maybe just this once?" Daphnia replied cooing slightly.
"She's right you know old man, relax a little" Christian added in his best bedside manner.
"Quite, well welcome one and all" The major replied with a slightly less military air.
Any further conversation was hushed by the sound of the heavy ring of the brass doorbell. Myers scooted from the room and strode to the oak door. He opened it with a slightly regal manner, which evaporated at the sight of the guest; Marion Lescombe was as stunning as ever.
"We are a little formal this evening aren't we Myers, if not to say - stiff" Marion quipped as she walked past the blushing servant.
"They are assembled in the drawing room Ma'am" Myers coughed.
Marion didn't reply, but merely waved a limp hand as she glided towards the room. As Myers stood watching her figure flowing down the hallway, his groin tightened.
"Well aren't you going to let me in?" Asked a small impatient voice.
"Sorry Miss Dubois, I didn't see you there" replied a contrite Myers
"That Myers, is because you weren't looking here, was your mind on something else?" Ellie asked
"Not at all Ma'am, deepest apologies" Myers stumbled on his words, and his face turned a darker shade of puce.
"I just wish I could have that effect on men, Myers I really do" Ellie added shyly.
"I'm sure your day will come Miss," Myers replied with confidence "Follow me Miss"
Myers led the petite flame haired woman to the other guests, he served her fine Chablis, and with a polite nod departed the room for his duties. The major stepped forwards coughed and cleared his throat ceremoniously. The room hushed.
"Once again the six great families are assembled to honour the memory of our illustrious forebears, formalities commence," He ordered, took a measured step forward and spoke.
"Major Stanley Asquith Her Majesties Fusiliers" His foot crashed down in perfect time to the formal salute.
The reverend wandered forwards, a bemused grin on his face.
"Reverend Doctor Peter Holmsey, bless all assembled here this evening" He intoned in a dulcet voice.
Christian stayed put on the couch uttering with as little enthusiasm as he could muster.
"Doctor Christian Browning, look couldn't we just eat without all of this tripe?"
A joint stern glance from the major and reverend stilled Christians mock rebellion. Daphnia raised her glass where she stood warming herself in front of the generous hearth, sipped and announced.
"Daphnia Squires-Fortescue, oh sorry I forgot in all the excitement - Dame Daphnia Squires-Fortescue," a cut glass voice echoed softly in the room.
Marion stood from her comfortable chair and as if about to accept her next BAFTA, smiled profusely at the non-existent cameras.
"Marion Lescombe RSC, CBE for services to the Arts, but you all knew that anyway" She struggled not to add "luvvies" to the sentence and won.
Ellie stood and calmly announced.
"Eloise Dubois, Undersecretary of State for Education"
The major nodded once to the reverend, it was the only communication needed.
"We gathered here praise the memory of our ancestors, and vow to continue our service, with the help of the lord our god. Amen"
A chorus of "Amen" rang from five other pairs of lips.
"Right then, chowder time I'm sure Myers will be prepared for us by now.
Each of the gentlemen assembled took one of the ladies arms and led them to the dinning room where the feast would await them. As if by some prearranged signal the doors of the dinning room swept fully apart as the major and Daphnia approached. Stanley's grin broadened, and then froze on his face. It wasn't that the placements were wrong, or that the silver was not polished. What surprised the major was the complete lack of any food, normally the table would be brimming with delights. Myers caught the stony stare and immediately preened himself to make an announcement.
"This had better be bloody good Myers," thought the major his jaw twitching slightly.
"Good evening honored guests, in recognition of the special nature of this anniversary, dinner will proceed slightly later than normal," Myers started, "As you all know I have been in service at this house man and boy all my life. What you may not know is that I too am linked in a humble way with this evenings events" Myers surveyed the faces to gauge his audience, all looked fairly relaxed. The major was of course an exception to this - nowhere had this been in his plan for this evening.
"Get on with it Myers, hungry guests man," the major said in an effort to gloss over his surprise.
"My family was in service in this house when the founding occurred and we have served every generation since that day. I have an heirloom passed from father to son since 1803, on this anniversary I would like to present it to you all as a memento" So saying Myers reached into his waistcoat pocket and retrieved an ancient key, with due reverence he laid this on a pre-positioned red velvet cushion.
The job complete Myers stepped back to allow the guests access. Not one of them moved, confusion flickered across their faces. No one spoke, this had come out of the blue - unlike any other year there was no prepared feast.
"Don't you want to examine the key, " asked an inquisitive Myers.
"This is too much Myers, we don't want to ogle at an old key, we want service man - get the food here PDQ!" Barked the major.
"I haven't explained well enough, I apologise, this key hasn't been used since that night in 1803, when the room was sealed - by your ancestors" Smiled Myers.
"There's no sealed room in this house I'd know of it," stormed the major his considerable annoyance becoming increasingly transparent to his guests.
"The sealed room is behind that door at the far end of the dinning room," corrected Myers.
"Rubbish man that is the door to the servant quarters," exclaimed an astonished major.
"How do you know, have you ever been through it?" Myers asked his eyes sparkling with mischief.
"I'll settle this for once and for all!" So saying the major unhooked his arm from Daphnia's and stalked up to the offending door. He turned the handle and pushed. "It's locked," he said turning to face Myers.
Myers said nothing he just picked up the key and held it in his outstretched palm. The major marched up to him, snatched the key and returned double time to the door.
"This is either piffle, or your idea of a surprise Myers - I warn you if this is some lame joke you will be spending your last night under my roof!" The major regarded the butler from deep under his knotted brow.
Myers simply smiled back at him disarmingly.
"Very well, I'll open it" The major slid the key into the lock and with considerable effort turned it.
The door creaked open to expose nothing but a darkened interior, and a smell reminiscent of dusty lavender blooms. Myers walked up to the major and helpfully handed him a torch.
"I doubt if even gas was installed in 1803 sir," he stated, correctly.
The major eyed the tall servant with considerable contempt; then he swept the torch from Myers hand and plunged into the darkness, waving the beam of light in random directions. He stopped monetarily before moving further into the thick dusty air.
"Good god above! Christian get in here, NOW!" Called the major, his voice a semitone higher than normal.
Christian obeyed the urgency of the request and almost ran to the room, closely followed by the other guests. Curiosity is a powerful emotion; within 30 seconds the room had seven occupants, the major, his five guests, and the collapsed woman laying face down in the middle of the room. A small huddle formed around the doctor as he knelt beside the unknown females form. Carefully he tried to roll her over, but she was surprisingly heavy for such a slim figure. Christian applied a little more muscle; with a sudden jerk the body flew over, the motion was accompanied by a sickening tearing sound. Such was the speed of the body's release that Christian was caught off balance and smacked resoundingly down onto the seat of his pants.
A cacophony of gasps and stifled screams filled the room, Eloise doubled over looking for the entire world to Christian as if she was about to vomit.
"What, what is it?" He asked as he struggled up from the floor, then he too saw.
The body now lay face up and the torch picked out the white high cheekbones of the exposed skull, together the dark caverns of the empty orbits. Beside the head on the floor were the remains of the face were still welded to the ancient carpet.
"Too late to help here," muttered Christian "much too late" he commented needlessly.
An insane voice cackled from the closing doorway.
"Now good Doctor, never give up on a patient, you may have just the thing" laughed Myers.
The major was galvanised into action but it was too late, the door shut just before he could deliver a mighty blow to his disobedient servant. The major turned in defeat to his assembled guests.
"The key, you still have the key," screamed Marion.
"Of course, YOU'LL RUE THIS DAY MYERS!" He shouted as the turned to thrust the key into the waiting keyhole.
There was no keyhole, not even an indication of one, come to that there was no handle - nothing to get a purchase on. For once the major was lost for words, all he could manage was an informed observation honed by years of military experience.
"We're trapped!" he muttered.
Chapter Two: Old Friends
"So Stanners old chap, bit of a turn up this - what a cove that Myers is" Christian directed his scorn with precise accuracy.
"Do shut up you fool, and turn that mind of your onto more relevant things. Like how the hell we get out of here," snapped the major.
"Are you asking me to join the escape committee old boy?" queried Christian in mock delight.
The major ignored the comment and walked over to reinforce Pongo in his attempts to calm the junior minister. Eloise still had certain greyness to her complexion, and was breathing rapidly. The reverend turned to Christian.
" I think she needs your ministry more than mine" it had the sound of a rebuke.
Christian reluctantly agreed and taking the torch from the major examined Ellie's pale complexion.
"Hyperventilation, nothing else," Christian stated, "now Ellie breathe with me, and calm down we are all going to be just fine"
Christian gazed into her eyes closely as he calmed her, never before had he noticed the life in the dark green irises - they positively twinkled at him. Suddenly the eyes were gone, the torch had failed, and in sheer frustration Christian hammered it into the palm of his left hand. It made no difference the batteries must have given up the ghost! He could hear Ellie panicking, and the others bumbling around in the darkness.
"No Ellie you will make yourself ill," Christian reached out and placed her clammy palm on his chest "Now with me, in - out, in - out, good girl"
An enormous static discharge lit the room, followed by another, and another. For all the world it seemed they had stumbled into a disco right at the mid-point of the strobe display. The effect was soon enhanced as a kaleidoscope of colour danced on the room's dank walls. Everything became a blur, when the merry-go-round finally stopped the six occupants of the room stared around in disbelief. The cobwebs and dust had gone the décor was just as fresh as that in the rest of the newly restored property. Large oil lamps illuminated the corners and flooded warm flickering light across the furnishings, and a warm log fire burned merrily in the open hearth.
"Well if this is Myers doing he must have hired some of the best special effects people in the industry" Marion spouted effusively.
"Where's the body?" Ellie asked, her voice trembling the query past her lips.
"I'll be damned it's gone," the major gawped at the rich empty carpet.
Daphnia let out a piercing scream.
"Somebody touched me, I felt them go right through my body," her voice betrayed her fear, as did the growing pool of liquid on the floor between her legs.
Daphnia glanced down her body to find the source of the warmth; she stared wide-eyed at the growing stain below her waist.
"I'm most dreadfully sorry, how frightful of me," embarrassment clouded her refined features.
"Perfectly natural reaction to fear Daffy, don't blame yourself," Christian added kindly.
"What is that?" Marion pointed to the centre of the floor, her eyes wide with terror.
On the carpet - just where the body had laid a slowly revolving cloud of electric-blue mist circled, gradually the cloud expanded upwards for five or so feet above the floor. It thickened and morphed into a young woman. Each human mind in the room was filled with but one thought, and odd feeling of recognition - that face it was some how familiar. The apparition smiled and spoke.
"Dear friends I have waited so long to welcome you to my domain, and tonight you will learn of its secrets," the words seemed to drift slowly from it's lips to the waiting ears.
"Who are you?" Ellie asked, curiosity overcoming her pounding heart.
"I am Susanna Myers, your benefactor" Susanna answer her face radiant.
"Benefactor, how? If you are a Myers you can offer nothing to us," stated Stanley.
The radiant face split from ear to ear, long pointed teeth flashed - and the spirit lunged forwards into the major's face.
"I have given everything for you, while you prospered, I festered in hell - tormented and corrupted" The violence of the words threw spittle into the majors face.
Stanley lost all of his colour and much of his composure in an instant, backing away from the vile spectacle pursuing him. Gone was the military stance, the steady eye and back was the little boy desperate for his nanny. Temporarily broken he cowered on one knee. To his relief the spirit moved away and regained its former beauty. The major felt a hand on his shoulder, looking up he saw Daphnia's concerned face, he managed the weakest of smiles.
"I should not get angry with you as I have not explained," Susanna continued. "Two hundred years ago your ancestors formed a pact"
"Yes the founding, we know" Peter replied.
"No that was a human pact, there was a inhuman one prior to it, a pact with the devil" Susanna stated.
"What rubbish, our families are of the highest repute," Peter announced, before stepping forwards "Be gone fowl spirit" He chanted holding the crucifix he always wore in his right hand.
The spirit smiled and made the smallest of motions with it's hands, the chain holding the crucifix around the reverends neck tightened, garrotting him before snapping and falling to the floor. Before his eyes he watched the cross dissolve into a liquid pool of bubbling gold.
"Enough games cleric, your ancestors only needed one thing to seal the pact with Beelzebub, a pure soul. They offered mine. I was trapped in this room and left to his mercies, an innocent girl of seventeen summers," her eyes seemed to mist over "I resisted corruption for as long as I could, but when it came I relished it, accepted it and learned all of it's perversions.
The room was silent, all eyes concentrated on the ghostly form.
"What is it you want from us" Christian asked, " If you want our apology for the sins of our fathers I'm sure you can have it"
"I want nothing more than for you to see yourselves as you are," Susanna grinned "the perverted spawn of evil men. Just as my form is transparent to your souls are transparent to me. I will show you the desire in each of you - and expose you for what you are"
"We are not perverted, we are the cream of society - you are the abomination!" Ellie roared at the Ghost.
"Let us being with you then, dear Ellie. Too repressed to touch you own body, but secretly wanting to be ravaged. Your little sight seeing trips, do you think no one knows? Amsterdam isn't it where you watch the lewdest shows. Or the therapeutic massages at the health club. They laugh you know the masseurs' they see you hiding your furtive climaxes while under their hands. What else, your hidden desire for the good doctor here, if only you knew"
"Knew what! I have nothing to hide" Christian objected.
"No hidden love Doctor, not even the one for yourself?" Susanna smirked "Our good Doctor is an obsessive self-abuser - nothing quite matches up to the mirror does it. That's why you have never had a woman; you've never found one as attractive as your reflection. Well today you will, it is decided you and Ellie will perform for us," with this said Susanna clapped her hands once.
Ellie and Christian walked towards each other and embraced passionately.
"Now watch your friends, and see how debauched they really are, and they are reflections of yourselves" Susanna chided, "But watch in silence" Susanna's hands delivered a further clap, everyone other than Christian and Ellie felt paralysis descend on them, they could watch, unblinkingly but nothing else.