“Charles, the walls are whispering to the furniture again. They’re conspiring to deprive us of comfort!” Millie enjoyed throwing her brother off balance with balderdash. She revelled in his wan face and the fear in his eyes as he tried to rationalise her nonsense and wonder if she was the desperate cuckoo darting out of the clock face.
“Millicent, for the last time, can you try to walk through the door marked ‘normal’ in the morning?”
The brother and sister lived in a beautiful red brick town house on the corner of a park festooned with cherry blossom trees and triumphant bulges of hydrangea.
Their days were spent exploring and hiding and finding adventures to new worlds, gently mixed with what they knew of the real world like a delicate cake mix.
The idyllic childhood was theirs to enjoy, riding the clouds of imagination as if they were on the back of a marauding dragon.
“Charles, I found a letter in the red room under the floorboards. I can’t tell the language but the writing is reddy black, it has weird shapes in the margins and it smells funny. Perhaps it’s a bible addressed to the mice warning them about worshipping cheese?”
Charles slinked down the stairs and across to the drawing room, his sarcastic frown, permanently painted onto his face, was curling upwards like a stale sandwich.
“Millicent, how did you find this little room? I never realised there was a door behind the full length mirror. It’s so odd that we haven’t found it until now.”
“Everything is red and there’s a huge star on the floor with little winged men with horns and a big rams face and I think they kept chickens in those cages the feathers are lovely colours.” Millicent took a gulp of air after her long sentence. She pulled at the tiny latch in the corner of the mirror and it swung open from right to left with a deep throated creak.
The pair gawped at the tiny room daubed in thick, maroon paint and odd symbols from floor to ceiling. A solitary book lay on the shelf sideways with the title, ‘The book of the law’. White dust had collected in the corners and the eyes of the ‘big ram’ inside the star seemed to follow them everywhere. The room smelled very musty like old fish and on the ceiling was a triangle with a swirling eye in the centre and flashes of lightening sparking from all round it.
In the corner, next to the chicken cages, was a splintered trapdoor.
After about ten minutes of frantic whispering, they both decided to look inside even though they were scared out of their wits.
The silver star latch clicked and the sprung door heaved upwards revealing a dark blue staircase leading into the darkness of the wardrobe at night.
Milly stood staring into a pantheon of imagined monsters and muttered to Charles,
“I can’t see the floor. Maybe there is no floor? Maybe it’s a staircase to the bottom of the world and through another trap door to space and we have to swim through the stars forever?”
Charles ignored his babbling sister and lit a long black candle set with silver sevens, he found on a stone plinth, then started down the steps.
“Are you coming to explore or are you going to stand there like a tailor’s dummy thinking up rubbish to make my ears burn?” Snapped Charles, his eyes flashing at her with patriarchal disapproval.
“Let me put my hand on your shoulder, Charles, so I’m safe from the clutches of Professor Midnight.”
The Professor was Milly’s arch nemesis at bedtime and she would be awake long into the early hours trying to discern his willowy figure from the branches waving in the lamplight outside.
“Just stay close, Millicent and not a peep. If Nanny Gravestock finds us in here she’ll tell Uncle Ernest and we’ll get the buckle end of the strap.” Uncle Ernest had kindly taken the children in when their parents were killed in a motorway pile up which saw them roasted to death in the debris. They did not get the chance to see them buried and Charles suspected that Milly’s quirks were protection from the spectre of grief.
As they reached the bottom step, a wave of dread filled their hearts. The thumping of blood making a death march in their ears, they entered a room exactly as the one above but the floor and ceiling designs were switched around. In the centre of the room were two coffins on trestle tables draped with silver cloths.
“Charles, maybe they’re umpires?”
“Millicent, that’s vampires! They are for the dead and not the undead. We are going back up the stairs and…”
The candle blew out and the trap door slammed shut leaving them swallowed by blackness and utterly terrified.
“Charles…Charles…Please answer me!”
Silence was abruptly punctuated by two heavy thumps on the floor followed by dragging and the horrifying wheezing of laboured breaths. Not one, but two.
Milly dragged herself to the steps and began to crawl up slowly. Her heart almost jumped out of her chest when she felt two hands upon her shoulders and she clambered to the trap door. Pushing as hard as she could, the sprung door popped open and slammed onto the floor. She bolted to the door of the red room and, looking back briefly, she caught a bleary glimpse of two cooked corpses carrying her screaming brother.
Milly fell to the floor and tried to crawl out of the room before all her senses failed her and she blacked out. Already her vision was through the bottom of a wine glass and her brother was having his skin removed by one of the charred ghouls whilst the other had reached into his chest cavity, tearing his heart out through the gaping wound. Huge blood bubbles spattered the walls as a cacophony exploded beneath the floor. Milly gasped as several brightly coloured cockerels scurried out of the trapdoor and began feasting on errant flesh scattered around the big ram’s head.
Finally, Milly succumbed to the numbing of her senses. She closed her tear streaked eyes just as a huge black shape lumbered up the stairs from the darkness below.
“Nati sunt autem videtis me adhuc Virgo cordibus vestris”
(Virgin hearts will see me born again.)
Her dreams were a string of disjointed scenarios culminating in the skinned and mutilated Charles offering her his heart, perched upon a huge blue and silver seat atop filth and skulls. Suddenly from behind it, a giant ram peered round with piercing yellow eyes and hissed,
“You are my world flesh, child.”
A shaggy claw snatched the heart from Charles’ hands and bit into it with long fangs that gleamed when set against a purple black tongue. With a chilling cockerels cry, Charles then burst into flames and white dust blasted into her eyes. The white out cleared into black stars and white stars emerged from black shapes. Finally, two charred bodies, hands and feet tied with sticks in their mouths, sunk to their knees before the ram. The book on the shelf opened with a lion’s roar and the entire scene was sucked into its pages only to be silenced by the cover slamming shut.
Her uncle, clad in a deep blue cowl, picked up the book and winked at her through a sneer.
When she woke, Milly was in the master bedroom bathed in golden evening light. The ornate coving and cornices around the ceiling shone in their metallic coats and the room had the heady scent of cotton lavender to soothe her furrowed brow.
“Nanny, is that you? Nanny where’s Charles? I had such an awful dream. Where is he? Did the burned people take him?”
“Shhhh…Millicent. Try not to speak. You’ve had a nasty fall. Have a sip of water and rest. Your Uncle Ernest had the doctor look you over and he…”
“They screamed out the children’s names when the fire began to roast their lungs. Little orphans alone in the wicked world with the smell of burned flesh in their noses. Dear Nanny, with your secret trysts, you were never loved and never kissed.”
Milly sat leering at her horrified carer. The sweet scent of the lavender had curdled to an acrid stench of eggs and, as a deep grey cloud passed in front of the sun, the shadow of her form sunk into a deep green hue and ludicrously curled rams horns grew steadily from her head. The windows splintered into frosted shards and an eerie gloom descended on the room like a blanket being thrown over a fire.
“My dearest Coleen, faithful nanny to the darling children, where do your thoughts wander when you are alone at night? Do they wander with your body to Ernest’s room to be humiliated? We know him and his ways. He aspires to be with us in legion and made bloody murder in that accident he arranged. There are no worse monsters than those who conspire to be one by design. The lies are smeared into the darkness like salt into stab wounds. Run along now, nanny Coleen, he can’t wait for too long.”
Leaping three stairs at a time, the nanny landed at the foot of the staircase with a sickening crunch as her right foot twisted round and her ankle bone sheared through her tattoo, folding it like a limp turkey neck onto the side of her foot. Her agonising yelp was fired into the front door as she scrambled for the latch and fell onto the road outside, her head resting on the kerb stone. It was only a moment later that a bus stopped beside her head and, as it set off from alighting two oblivious passengers, her hair caught in the wheel and she was dragged under the huge tyres to become a clotted jam smear across the damp Tarmac.
Milly descended the staircase and crouched down to lick the blood pool and droplets trailing to the door. Rising from the hardwood floor, her blue tipped toes squeaked as they slid along up to the long mirror and stopped still. She stared longingly at her fluctuating reflection smiling as her eyes changed from powder blue to a fiery yellow. Long blue veins snaked up under her skin and across her body with blisters and lesions swelling to a head and weeping bile coloured pus into a pool beneath her feet. Her nails split and putrid black razors sprung out like cats claws and, as the evening light cowered behind an awful darkness, she reached forward and rapped three times on the mirror.
The whole house began to shudder, the pipes knocked loudly, glass splintered into frosted panes and the temperature plummeted to visible curls of evil breath seeping from cracked lips and a vesicles pocked tongue.
Her three knocks on the mirror were answered from the other side and the glass became transparent to reveal a huge shaggy goat with large arms and talons, a jaw full of jagged teeth and eyes that matched in colour and intensity.
“I am you now, child. I have seeped into your bones and skin and run through your blood. My fall into the depths was an eternity ago. Now I have a soul and my despair shall be broadcast like seed in the fields. I shall kill their hope and hang it on the roadside for the carrion to feast upon. Enter my domain, child.”
She passed through the mirror and into the red room to find the two immolated figures feasting on Charles’ heart.
“Welcome, Millicent – our second born.”
Milly drifted over and took a slice of her brother’s heart, shredding it with her sharpened teeth and hideous talons.
“We gave our lives to reach Abadzrael and he made his choice when you found the scarlet letter. Humanity is ripe now to turn on the father, their faulted god. Go forth and mystify, child. Your uncle Ernest is the key to the power on earth. Kill him then take the helm of his empire.”
Milly waved her arm and the trapdoor flew open allowing her parents to return to under the red room and rest for eternity.
Gliding through the mirror, she dragged the black chill of frozen space behind her.
Milly was the beast in shadow form but her body remained that of a child.
As she ascended the stairs, the paper on the walls peeled and split and the pictures bubbled in their glass frames. Her talons dug deep into the bannister rail, curling lacquered wood upwards with the squeal of flailing mouse in the fangs of a huge spider. Her skin was now cyan which made her eyes burn bright in their sunken sockets and green vapour grew in wisps from her mouth and nose. Hellish shapes flanked her form, creeping across the ceiling and frost pricked the fibres of the carpet beneath.
“Eeeeerrrrrnesssssssssst! I seek the lascivious captain of industry. I am the queen of cups and will fill yours to overflowing with horror.”
Three hard knocks blasted into his bedroom door and Ernest woke from a slumber, staring intensely into the gloom. The doorknob rattled and the key dropped to the floor.
“Hide under your flimsy sheets, old man and I will slither between your toes, up your leg, across your belly and sit upon your chest to nip your breath.”
The door began to shake violently and a strange green miasma wafted beneath it and through the keyhole. It crept across the floor and up the walls, carving a hideous face on the shattered window.
Outside the orange street lights began to flicker as though moths were gathered around them and all at once they were extinguished.
Slowly, the door creaked opened.
Ernest was aghast at the shadows edging in and across the walls as a faint crescent moon, behind rain clouds, provided a hint of the invader.
His heart was squeezing blood through his ears as two deep yellow eyes lit up in the dark doorway and a they drifted in like they were down feathers on a draught.
“Wh-at d-do y-you want with me?” He crowed, indignation lacing the terror in his voice.
“I’m here to get what was promised to me in your little red shrine, Ernest Caulfield. You and your acolytes reached out to me in the void and I saw my resurrection in your little Millicent. I want your power and influence amongst the killers in their suits and position.
You are no more than bacteria that spoils the gut. Your perversions remain in this darkness and your rube nanny is a dead thing now.
You found the key in the teachings and I was released. You have served me a vessel and it must be rid of you.”
Ernest reached into his night stand and pulled out a small pistol, aimed it between the eyes and pulled the trigger. The screeching roar that emanated from the darkness was followed by the soft gasp of a small voice.
“I built my empire from a run down store. Screw you if you think you’re just taking it.” Ernest placed the gun into his nightstand and looked towards the door just as long nails dug into his face and slammed his head against the headboard.
“I am impervious, you deviant! I shall be renewed by sunrise after I have eaten your heart.”
The bed slammed and tipped forward throwing Ernest across the floor and into the doorway. He scrambled to the corner by the window and choked as a little girl raised from the floor, floating towards him and flanked by black spectres. The frost was creeping up his body and the sight of her yellow eyes in a battered body with long talons and green breath, was too much and he grasped his chest in agony.
“Heart giving out, Ernest? Here, let me help you with that!”
He flipped over and arched his back as sinew and bone snapped and popped. His agonised screams were mocked by the creature until his rib cage was forced out through his thin skin and it snapped back like a bear trap being tripped. His organs bubbled out and slopped onto the floor and he began to rise up in front of the window. His last view was a slender arm with black talons reaching into his chest and wrenching out the heart. The window shattered onto the floor and his body flew out, across the street and landed in the park. Within seconds a pack of stray dogs were furiously tearing at it, ripping it apart like a rag doll and scattering in all directions to feast on pallid chunks.
The child returned to the room behind the mirror to feast on the heart of the old man. Her natural colour was returning to her body and her eyes glistened a powder blue.
Swallowing the last mouthful, she reached into her night dress and pulled out the scarlet letter found in the red room.
Opening it up, a broad smile with straight white teeth flashed across her face and she began to laugh, ascending octaves to her natural voice.
The letter had become a last will and testament of Ernest Caulfield who bequeathed his fortune and position on the board to his darling Millicent.
She climbed onto his bed and curled up to sleep, eyes open wide and broad grin stretched from ear to ear.
“Tomorrow is the first day of the descent of man and the shadow world will come forth against him. Power corrupts and absolute power is the ultimate corruption.”