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JOSEPH FREEMAN reminded of a dozen scenes from hokey films where the doors of country houses were answered by lumbering and disfigured butlers. Preparing himself for such a sight, he was caught off-guard when the door opened slightly and some kind of female face pressed itself into the gap. He was ready to apologise, though whether for his lateness or his stunned expression he couldn’t be sure, but the woman spoke first. ‘Our Mr Marshall. Fresh blood, excellent, excellent. You’re the one whose come to bring some life to us, aren’t you?’ ‘Er… I’m…’ he managed to say, but then an arm as thick as his thigh came around the door and swept him into the hallway. He was assailed by a rush of sensations – the dimness of the interior, the dust that coated every surface, the carpets whose patterns would have been unbearably lurid had they not been tamed by age. Just ahead, a winding staircase led up into further gloom, whilst various closed doors on this level led to who knew what. The smokiness had followed him inside, but there were also the scents of boiled vegetables, air freshener, furniture polish, the acid tinge of dust, and various layers of further less identifiable and less pleasant smells. He turned in a slow circle, taking in as much as he could, before facing the woman again. She was even bigger than he’d first realised, for she was stood hunched and still loomed above him. Her face was fascinatingly large, seeming to sprout directly from shoulders like cannonballs. Her arms hung down like an ape’s, and her body was large and sexless beneath what he assumed was some kind of uniform but may as well have been a shroud. ‘Have you eaten? Are you hungry? Can we get you anything?’ ‘No,’ he answered, resisting the urge to repeat it for each of the questions. ‘if you could just show me to the room where we’ll be… ah… so I can set up?’ ‘Of course, of course. We have been looking forward to you joining us. There’s not much excitement around here these days. You’d think this lot were already dead, I warn you now. Do come and meet the old dears won’t you? They’ve been waiting for you.’ That surely needn’t strike him as ominous as it did, and he followed the woman’s wide white back as she lumbered along the hallway to push open a door at the far end. As soon as Marshall approached, he heard a dozen variously blurred voices chatter into life at once and felt as though he’d disturbed some kind of nest. The impression was reinforced as he stepped into - 99 -

Estronomicon Christmas 2008  

The eZine of fantasy, sci-fi and horror

Estronomicon Christmas 2008  

The eZine of fantasy, sci-fi and horror

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