Phanticide – Part One

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The bath turned icy cold.

One moment, Burgess Vandergut had been settling back for a lengthy soak. Next, he was a bag of shivering flesh and bone, while the chill locked his toy galleon in the frozen straits between his knees, which rose like two blue mountains through the ice.

He had seen a few severe winters over the years, but never before witnessed such a cold snap in his tub. Only an hour earlier the servants had drawn the curtains on a warm spring evening and filled his tub with water fit to boil lobsters. Now he hauled himself out into a bathroom wherein steamy vapours had turned to arctic mists.

Ice cracked and flakes fell from his roast-swollen and mead-filled midriff. The galleon spun aimlessly, adrift in a sea of broken bergs.

Burgess grabbed every towel in sight, throwing most around himself and rubbing vigorously with the others to generate what heat he could. Where he couldn’t return his proper ruddy colour to his bluer parts he managed to purple his skin with bruises from towelling so hard. Swaddled like some damp mummy, he cast one last shiver-inducing glance at the white-capped surface of the bath water before storming out onto the landing.

He sent a shout echoing down the tower stairs like the tolling of a thoroughly brassed-off bell.

“Send for the exorcist!”

He was a tolerant sort, all in all, but this was the absolute limit.

He’d really had quite enough of this infernal ghost.

 

***

Archcleric Pygram packed his bags and rode all night through the rain.

The rain, with typical contrariness, drove in the other direction and left him thoroughly blasted and beaten at the end of his journey. But he dropped from the saddle, handed his horse’s reins to the waiting servant and hastened to the door of Vandergut Tower with an urgency befitting the situation. At least, an urgency that would create a good first impression on the client. The truth was, now that the morning light was blinking through the curtains of rain the emergency was less immediately pressing. In his experience, hauntings and other spiritual trespasses happened mostly at night. So for all his hard riding he likely had a good twelve or more hours before he needed to get busy.

Still, the client appeared to appreciate his promptness and professionalism.

The man himself answered his own door. Heavily bewhiskered and bejowled, he presented far too unkempt an appearance to be the butler or other member of household staff. Apart from perhaps a gardener, but a gardener that portly would have trouble bending over to pull up weeds. Furthermore, any seedlings put to bed by this gentleman would likely suffer from nightmares of a breed peculiar to plant life, with memories of this grave and ominous edifice of a face looming over them. The man was not unlike a version of his own tower, tall and forbidding, although the gentleman was of proportionately broader girth, while the tower sported dense claddings of moss and bushy clumps of ivy in place of whiskers and cracked castellations instead of a balding dome. Gargoyles would have gazed down from those high perches all around the tower’s crest had any of them still possessed heads. This gentleman’s attire was in far better repair, but gave the appearance of having been thrown on some hours earlier and having spent the intervening hours hanging onto a body as restless as a cat with the wind up its tail.

No doubt the fellow had been pacing his abode and peering frequently out of his windows, anxiously awaiting the Archcleric’s arrival.

“Good good, you’re here. No time to be wasted. Wave your holy symbols, spray your blessed water wherever you need and tell this bally thing to clear off!”

Pygram deemed it best not to open with the bad news. “Good day to you, sir. Allow me to introduce myself.” He bowed, then shouldered his bags so he could proffer a free hand. “Archcleric Pygram.”

“A little young to be Arch, aren’t you?”

Pygram wondered how best to expedite his ingress, indoors and out of the rain. Now that he was dismounted and stationary, he was more acutely aware of the quantity of water dripping off of him. And how that was surprisingly very little compared to the quantity that had soaked through his coat, waistcoat, shirt, breeches and undergarments. He was sure if he dared to flex his toes at all he would find he could go paddling in his own boots.

His obvious youth was a stalling point for many a client.

“Experience and promotion are not the progeny of age alone. I was admitted to the Temple Of Meloch on my twelfth birthday and my rapid rise through the ranks of the church owed much to my facility for dealing with demons, angry spirits and all manner of phantasmal phenomenon. Why, I have only just now, sir, ridden from dispatching a vampires who had risen from a hundred-year sleep to terrorise the community of Direweather.”

It had been a sorry business indeed. The creature’s muscles had atrophied after such a protracted slumber but had managed to prey on the calves and ankles of the remote rural village, not to mention the ankles of a few calves. Pygram had caught her attempting to sup on the varicose veins of an elderly milkmaid and the she-beast had tried to drag herself away into the night but it had been the easiest of tasks to catch her. And almost a mercy to plunge the stake into her heart and decapitate her in accordance with proper practice. He had administered the post mortem blessings and sprinkled a full flask of holy water over and around the corpse, even though it seemed something of a waste of sacred fluid in the pouring rain. He was going to have to re-stock before tackling this haunting, but while he was collecting ample rainwater in his clothing he was in no position or mood to go waving his holy symbol over it and imbuing it with the blessings of Meloch.

“Direweather? Can’t say I’ve heard of it,” said the client. “Still, I daresay if you’ve defeated vampires and demons this ghost will prove no trouble for you.”

“Yes, quite.” Pygram smiled awkwardly. Despite his pressing desire to be in the dry, his heart deemed it past time for full disclosure. “As to that, I feel it only fair to warn you it is unlikely we will be able to achieve anything material until evening at the earliest. Ghosts are rarely to be enticed into any activity during the hours of daylight and until this one makes an appearance I will be unable to confront it.”

There, he’d said it. The client curled his upper lip like a rotten piece of lemon rind.

The skies cracked. Pygram looked up, expecting to see black clouds and lightning.

He only saw fields of grey and the arm of a gargoyle spearing down towards him.

He yelped like a distressed pup and leaped aside. The stone limb stabbed its pointing finger into the earth less than a yard from where he had stood.

“You were saying?” grouched the client. In a tone that dared Pygram to attribute the ‘accident’ to weak masonry.

 

 

[To Be Continued…]

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