Lord Harlington’s Heir

Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 13

Challenge #6: Write a creature horror story featuring a psycho party member in which a torch is used as a weapon.

“I was terribly sorry to learn about your uncle, Mr. Heathcote.” Mr. Smith extended his hand to shake.

Taking it, the man gave a dismissive tut. “Oh, he was only second uncle. And, ah, it’s Lord Heathcote now.”

“Ah, yes. Yes, of course.” This fellow might have been rather callous, but if he was quick to pick up the title, he would be quick to pick up the pen. “Shall we go inside?”

“In a moment, perhaps.”

The hesitation caught Smith by surprise, though the slightly imperious tone did not.

“I overheard some rather curious gossip in the bar of my hotel last night.”

Smith remained at the door, his hand on the key in the lock. The longer he kept it there, the more that unturned key started to feel like his commission slipping through his grasp.

He let go and turned. “I daresay you must have.” He smiled faintly. “A man dies inside a locked room but his body is nowhere to be found: your uncle’s misfortune might have been lifted straight out of the latest Christie. But I assure you, the investigation was quite thorough, and its conclusions entirely unremarkable. Come.” He turned the key at last. “I will show you.”

The interior of the stately home was in need not so much of a good clean as complete redecoration. Smith directed his torch about the place. The late lord had been known to have a taste for trophies, but clearly that was all the taste he had.

“What’s that smell?” demanded the current lord, placing a handkerchief to his nose.

“I’m not sure,” admitted Smith. “Until we found you, the Harlington estate had no known heir. There hasn’t been a custodian employed here for just over two years.” Even walking ahead he could sense Heathcote’s dismay. Hastily, he added: “A long time for one so large.”

They came at last to the door of the trophy room, a splintered dent in the wood where an iron bar had, just over two years ago, been driven between it and the frame. It swung open without resistance, revealing an array of heads—if heads they could be called—on plaques, lining every wall. These were not beasts of Africa or India, but of somewhere altogether more exotic.

“This,” said Smith, “I am sorry to say, is where your second uncle met his end. He had spent much of the day hunting in the Alterworld—that much is clear, the servants’ statements were entirely consistent and his boots and socks stood wet by the door—and returned, we believe, empty-handed. He came to this room to unload and clean his gun—it was found here, on the floor by the cabinet—but crucially did not remove from his back the apparatus he had used to travel that day. The servants heard a commotion and a scream—here their statements were less consistent—and then silence.”

The topic of conversation did not seem to sit well with Heathcote, but Smith thought it better that he be troubled with the knowledge of the true disaster than by the nonsensical gossip of the townsfolk. Both were unsettling, but only one fostered the kind of superstition that made a man turn down a windfall such as this.

“It is thought,” Smith continued, after a respectful silence, “that your uncle’s apparatus suffered some form of malfunction. Either it drew him suddenly back into the Alterworld, where he became hopelessly lost in the darkness, or he disintegrated in transit and never arrived. In neither case would one expect to find a body, and in neither case would—”

It was Heathcote who saw it first. Smith merely followed his gaze.

Out in the hallway stood a long, lithe beast the colour of the gloom cast by the curtains. No eyes gleamed in the torchlight, for there were no eyes at all. It walked smoothly and in absolute silence. Had Smith not swung the torch towards it as he gestured, and had Heathcote’s eyes not happened to follow when he did, this beast might have taken one of them without even interrupting the conversation.

Instead, discovered, it leapt, and Smith threw shut the door.

The impact as the creature struck was immense. Had the door been intact, it would have broken. Instead, it swung open, but only far enough to strike Smith’s foot. Fighting the pain, he tried to force it closed once more as claws curled around the edge. Foul breath spilled through the crack, cold despite the fierce struggle.

Then, as if into thin air, the beast was gone once more.

There was a snap as Heathcote drew back the hammers of his second uncle’s finest gun.

Still keeping his whole weight against the door, Smith was relieved to think the man had kept a cool enough head to find and load the weapon. His relief faded the moment he saw that it was directed at him.

“You knew that thing was here!” Heathcote spat. “You’d heard the stories!”

“I didn’t—”

“You’re lying!”

All the hair on the back of Smith’s neck suddenly stood on end, but it was not fear that caused it. It was the unfamiliar yet unmistakable feeling of something foreign pushing into the room, though the door was still held tight. Smith directed the torch towards it, Heathcote his gun.

The beast was there, head outstretched, the vast mouth open to scent the air.

Neither man dared make a move. Heathcote would not risk the gun. Smith had no such option. All he had was the torch.

And yet, he realised, that was all he needed.

As softly as he could, he threw the item at Heathcote’s feet.

The creature was upon the man before his finger found the trigger.

Quietly, Smith took up his briefcase and slipped out the door.

Lord Harlington must have had other, more distant heirs. Perhaps in America or India. Too distant, perhaps, to care much about the house and its troublesome inheritance.

If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from previous Flash Fiction Months collected in these books:

OCR is Not the Only Font Cover REDESIGN (Barbecued Iguana)Red Herring Cover (Barbecued Iguana design)Bionic Punchline eBook CoverOsiris Likes This Cover

Click any cover to find that book in your choice of format.

You might also be interested in my sci-fi murder mystery novella, Ten Little Astronauts, which is currently crowdfunding at Unbound. Most pledge levels include all the books shown above, and all will include your name in the back of Ten Little Astronauts itself as a patron of my work.

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