Monsters wait in the dark for a detective investigating a chilling crime.
|It was the first murder in the six hundred year history of Toll Castle. It had occurred sometime during an unnaturally warm April night at the turn of the last century, just a few weeks after electric lights were installed in the castle and on the grounds.
The victim was Lord Edward Randall, a man of great estate but bad reputation. In a conservative region of northern England, he was a radical progressive, a champion of technological innovation, the right of the workers and (to the horror of many) women's suffrage.
The people living around Toll Castle were farmers, and had been for a thousand years. No one was hungry for the overcrowding and pollution that industry had brought to the south of the country. There were few tears shed for poor Lord Edward, and much relief in the news that his mild-mannered younger brother, Damon Randall, would succeed him.
It might have been unremarkable that a man with so many detractors be murdered; but it was because Lord Edward was found hanging from a tree limb in an upside down V, his spine snapped and inverted, that Scotland Yard sent one of its best detectives.
Inspector Eric Moyer was born and raised in Glencoe, London, a cityscape as black and white as a tintype: gray streets, gray buildings, gray skies, gray people. That Inspector Moyer had emerged with color to him was a miracle. He was a working class prankster, exceptionally fond of fart noises and gift-wrapped rodents. His shocked superiors, itching to give him the sack, threw Moyer their most baffling cases. To their eternal frustration, he came out with a collar every time.
It was with a sick sort of pleasure that they assigned him to Lord Edward Randall, and Moyer could see why as his carriage jostled over the mist-shrouded northern moors: Toll Castle was a far cry from London.
The stonework floated from the afternoon fog like a ghost in a bad dime novel. Toll Castle was crumbling but majestic. Next to "picturesque" in the dictionary, Moyer thought.
When a servant emerged in coattails, Moyer immediately felt self-conscious in his rumpled frock coat and poorly tied cravat. He smoothed out the brim of his derby and wished he had shaved that morning.
The coach came to a rumbling stop and the servant opened his door. Moyer thanked him and stepped onto the white gravel drive.
"Quite welcome, inspector," the servant said. "Lord Randall is anxious to see you."
Moyer coughed. "But surely Lord Randall is dead...?"
The servant raised one eyebrow, his scorn palpable. "There are centuries of deceased Lord Randalls, Inspector Moyer. I refer to the one living Lord Damon Randall."
"Right," Moyer said dryly. "I'd like to see Lord Randall very much then."
As if on cue, Toll Castle shuddered and its twelve-foot front doors creaked to life. Lord Damon Randall stood at their gaping mouth.
He was a tall, middle-aged man clad in an oddly fitting black cape. His goatee and swept-back hair were the color of iron, his leathered face the home of two tired hazel eyes.
Moyer suppressed a laugh. He looked like a Shakespearean actor who had forgotten to take off his costume.
"Inspector!" Randall called with surprising warmth. "I am glad you are here. Won't you come in?"
Moyer nodded and did so. He followed closely behind the servant and bumped into him as they reached the steps.
Moyer thought he had gone back in time when he crossed the stone threshold. Antiques lined the walls: swords, halberds, suits of armor, coats of chainmail, paintings of inestimable value, and books that (Moyer guessed) must have been among the first ever printed. The only anachronism was the occasional electric light bulb, strangely inactive in the dark gloom of the early evening.
Randall shook his hand in a limp grip.
"Eric Moyer, Scotland Yard. You have my condolences," Moyer said.
"Thank you. They are much appreciated," Randall said, as if the opposite were the case. Turning to the servant, "Mr. Roman, you are dismissed."
The servant clicked his heels and took his leave. Randall led Moyer into a parlor that reminded him of fall foliage. The fire roared a brilliant gold over rusty bookshelves and ancient books, casting eerie shadows.
Moyer fingered the hem of his coat. "My lord," he said, the words sounding like sawdust, "I couldn't help but notice your bulbs are all off."
Randall sat in a high-backed chair that looked like it belonged in a museum. "My late brother, Lord rest his soul, had them installed. I do not care for them."
Moyer made a mental note of it.
Randall's eyes swept over him. "Please sit," he cooed, "The chairs are beautiful, are they not? They've been in this parlor since the sixteenth century."
Moyer eased himself into the nearest museum piece. It groaned under his weight and for a few moments he thought it would break.
"May I smoke?" Moyer asked.
Randall nodded in ascent, a curt twitch of the forehead. "Make yourself at home."
An impossible request, Moyer thought.
Moyer produced one of his cigars and said, "The manner of your brother's death is very strange, milord."
Randall hesitated, then said: "Brutal is the word, inspector."
Moyer nodded and lit up. "I saw the post-mortem photographs. Who discovered your brother's body?"
"I did," Randall said.
Moyer gently asked, "What were the circumstances?" He had suspected as much. His host seemed shell-shocked, or afraid. And is he shaking?
Randall stroked his mustache and sighed. "An unfortunate matter. The only blemish on the face of Toll Castle's peaceful history. It was just after dawn, inspector, on that morning. I left the castle for my daily walk. When I came upon the orchard trees... At first I thought... well, I did not know what it was. But approaching, it soon became apparent..." He trailed off, his mouth hanging open.
"A grisly end," Moyer muttered. "Do you have any idea who killed your brother?"
Randall swallowed and a vein in his neck stood out. "Yes," he said.
"Who?" Moyer asked.
The lord looked at him as if he had nine heads. "Shall I get some tea?"
Moyer emitted a nervous little laugh. "I'd much rather you tell me who you believe did this."
Randall's eyes were suddenly vital with fear. "You mustn't ask who, inspector. In fact, I suggest you leave. I implore you. I beg you. They don't like strangers. Hate them, in fact. You see, it was the Yellow-Eyed People."
As soon as the words yellow-eyed escaped Randall's lips, the blood drained from his face. Moyer's head inclined in an almost comic confusion.
Randall leapt over to him so quickly, Moyer reached for his revolver. The old man's hand clenched his own as he said, "The Yellow-Eyed."
Moyer guffawed. "The Yellow-Eyed? You're mad as a hatter. You did kill the bugger, didn't you? Christ. No wonder."
"Would that I were. Would that I did!" Randall's grip clenched tighter around Moyer's hand.
"Stop that," Moyer said, struggling to wrench his fingers free. He felt the ghost of panic. "I'm taking you in."
"Oh, God!" Randall cried. "But the eyes, inspector. The last things he saw were those yellow eyes!"
Moyer reached across his waist with his left hand and drew his revolver, a huge American .38 Smith & Wesson. "Get away! You're under arrest! Murder and assaulting an officer of the law, now get off of me for Christ's sake!" The cigar fell from his mouth.
Randall's eyes racked focus to the bore of the .38, and his hands flew up.
Moyer saw peripheral movement. He spun toward the door to see Mr. Roman, Randall's servant, raise a double-barreled coach gun.
"Jesus Christ!" Moyer blasphemed. He ducked behind his museum piece chair and one of the coach gun's barrels roared. The shot was wild; It obliterated the mantle and a priceless vellum Gutenberg Bible perched on it.
Moyer, ears ringing, aimed his .38 and squeezed the trigger. The familiar flash of the muzzle blinded him for a split second and left a ghostly afterimage. When the exposure on his eyeballs faded, he saw blood squirt from Mr. Roman's charred throat and onto his silk puff necktie.
Eyes wide, the servant gagged and slid down the doorframe to the cold stone, where he drowned in his own blood.
Moyer stood, panting. Sweat broke out in his armpits and groin. The rank stench of gunpowder filled the room.
Randall moaned from the floor. Moyer knelt down and examined him. A scrap of shot had lodged into his upper thigh.
"Come on," Moyer wheezed. "We're going to hospital."
Lord Randall cackled, an ululating hiss that made Moyer shudder. "But night has fallen, inspector... and to reach the stables you must pass through the orchard."
Moyer rose and pressed his glass against the parlor window. The orchard was illuminated only by the distant moonlight reflecting dully off the dead trees.
"I'm not afraid of the dark," Moyer grumbled.
A voice called from his distant subconscious, Oh, but you are afraid, and deathly so.
Moyer turned to see Randall staring at him with wide, crazy eyes. "What will you do, inspector?" he asked.
"Turn on the electricity." Moyer sidestepped him and left to find the switches.
Randall gasped. "No! Inspector! I beseech you! That was Edward's mistake! Do not switch on the lights!"
Moyer found eight heavy industrial levers gathering dust in a back hallway. He pulled them up one by one.
The electric bulbs came to life. Moyer found comfort in their cold glare – it vaporized shadows, doubts and fears.
Randall was wailing when Moyer re-entered the ancient parlor. "You have signed your own death warrant!"
"Shut up," Moyer said venomously. Randall whimpered like a bad puppy.
Moyer sneered and scooped him up. "The stables. They're through the orchard?"
Randall nodded furiously.
Moyer stepped over the pool of blood widening around Mr. Roman, kicked open the front doors, and shuffled outside. The only sounds were the song of a cricket and the clocking of his footfalls on the stone portico.
Moyer stopped when he saw the light, constant and comforting, come to an abrupt end at the base of the orchard's nearest tree, giving way to the black of night.
"You are afraid," Randall said.
"Speak for yourself," Moyer replied, and entered the darkness.
The orchard was made up of two lines of parallel trees that hung overhead, forming a sort of tunnel. Moyer thought that during the daytime hours, it would be a perfect place to relax and curl up with a book. But that April night, the branches gnarled and always seemed about to envelop them. He wondered which tree was the scene of Lord Edward's murder.
Moyer looked back. Toll Castle gleamed, warm and illuminated. He had a sudden urge to drop Randall and run back to it, like a boy to his mother.
You're not a boy. And you've a bloody job to do.
He kept on. He still could not see the tunnel's end, and it only grew darker as the lights of Toll Castle dissolved into the mist behind him. Randall's weight increased with every step Moyer took.
In a hoarse whisper, Moyer sang, "Show me the way to go home, I'm tired and I want to go to bed, I had a little drink about an hour ago and it gone straight to my head..."
Randall's right fingers, draped over his shoulder, dug into the skin of his back. Wood creaked behind them and Moyer started, a wave of chills riding up from his toes. He turned and saw only blackness.
"The Yellow-Eyed," whispered Randall.
"Do us a favor and shut up," Moyer said.
Ahead, a shadow moved.
Moyer screamed and dropped Randall, who fell with a thud and a grunt. The sound echoed over the moor in a slowly dying chorus of "Ahh!...Ahh!...Ahh..."
Randall giggled hysterically from the mud.
"Gob once more and I'll leave you here," Moyer growled. He saw he had drawn his .38 without realizing it.
Randall's laughter ended with a gasp. "There they are," he said in a low, shaking voice. "The yellow eyes."
Moyer looked. Two stationary orbs glistened amber at the end of that harrowing tunnel.
Now it was his turn to laugh. They were not eyes, but clearly two windows in the stable, glowing with lamplight.
Moyer exhaled, relief washing over him. He slid his revolver back into its holster and heaved Randall up from the damp earth. It never occurred to him that if the lights were the stable windows, he would have smelled the distinctive odor of horses.
He moved in a brisk walk, almost a jog. He was so anxious to get to the lights, he did not hear Randall pleading, "No, please no, don't make me go there. No. No. No, turn back. Turn back, please! Please!"
The lights were structure; the lights were civilization; the lights were order in a sea of chaos. The eyes ensnared him.
"...Wherever I may roam, on land or sea or foam, you may always hear me singin this song... Show me the way to go –"
Moyer had the odd sensation of seeing movement that was impossibly fast. He heard a dull crackling of leaves on either side of him and felt fierce pain pound into his gut. Randall did not fall from his grasp so much as was whisked – but by whom Moyer could not tell.
The twin lights he had staked all his hopes on moved forward, entering a rare patch of moonlight.
Moyer fell to his knees.
It looked like a man, though it stood at least eight feet tall on hind legs and its thick teeth jutted over its lips at haphazard angles. The face was long, almost canine, and breathed long rasps. The yellow eyes still shone like stars.
Moyer heard similar rasping breaths from all sides. Cold, wet fear seized him.
"I heeded your warning!" Randall's voice said. Moyer could not see him. "It was this man... this fool... who activated the electricity."
The Yellow-Eyed Man half-spoke, half-growled, its pale gold gaze never leaving Moyer. It said, "We do not ask for much, Damon Randall. Your stonework is your territory. We simply want to be left alone. Humans innovate, change, yet we remain the same. How is it fair, then, to invade our shadowy homes with your Endless Light?"
Moyer heard a hint of hesitation in the growling rasps, as if English was its second language.
"My brother... Curse the earth over his tomb...! It was he who sought to innovate! To bring the Light! Not me!"
The Yellow-Eyed Man shook its massive head. "I thought we had an understanding."
"We do! But we do! Six hundred years of understanding!"
The eyes gleamed. Moyer heard sharp and angry growls from behind him.
Randall moved forward and into Moyer's vision, dragging himself through the mud and toward the Yellow-Eyed Man. "Please, have mercy –"
It interrupted, "Tell me what the ancient agreement is."
The Yellow-Eyed Man snapped its teeth.
Randall squirmed. "That humans not offend the Yellow-Eyed, and the Yellow-Eyed not... feed on humans."
Its lips stretched over the huge teeth in a demonic smile. "Yes. And the humans have offended."
The Yellow-Eyed Man snarled something at the rasping presences behind Moyer. Randall hardly had time to scream before it raised a clawed hand and slashed the lord's head from his shoulders.
It chomped down on the bloody meat of the stump. The Yellow-Eyed People leapt from behind Moyer to join in the meal.
Moyer felt something wet inching down his arm. He looked down and saw that there were five gashes in his side, each pumping blood. The pain was dull, but stinging.
The Yellow-Eyed Man slid over to him as its family tore Randall apart. Its teeth, claws and chin were stained crimson and dripping.
"It has been many summers since I tasted man-meat," it said, its snout drifting down to Moyer's wound. "I think a new understanding must be reached."
Moyer's hand fell to the butt of his revolver. He gurgled, "Try me, freak. I've four rounds. I'll take just as many of you bastards with me."
The Yellow-Eyed Man smiled. Its claw flew toward him, and for one moment Moyer thought he was dead – but it was the flat back of the creature's hand that struck him, and he tumbled into unconsciousness.
At dawn, the gardener discovered Inspector Eric Moyer alone in the Toll Castle orchard. He spent two weeks in hospital, then returned to London and told Metropolitan Police Chief Inspector Adolphus P. Talbot the exact truth of what had happened at Toll Castle: Damon Randall and one Mr. Frederick Roman, his servant, had conspired to murder Lord Edward Randall for the estate and wealth they would inherit. Behind closed doors, Roman had demanded a larger share. When it became clear that Moyer suspected them, Randall had shot his accomplice dead, wounded Moyer, and fled to points unknown.
Talbot digested it all with a furrowed brow. He was an obese man forcing himself to sit in the optimistically thin chair of his second-floor office. "It doesn't add up, Eric."
"How do you mean, sir?" Moyer asked. The clip-clack of horses trotting on cobblestone resounded from Whitehall Street below them.
"From all accounts, Lord Randall was neither a fool nor a madman. Why would he draw unnecessary attention to his crime?" Talbot indicated the post-mortem photographs on his desk. "Lord Edward was practically crucified, for God's sake. It looks ritual."
Moyer cocked his head. "I wouldn't underestimate him, sir. You wouldn't think he was mad. He certainly fooled me. Isn't that just how the worst of them are?"
"I suppose," Talbot said distantly.
"He's still out there, and dangerous," Moyer said. "Once the papers come round to this, it'll be the biggest thing since the Ripper case." He leaned in. "I believe, sir, the commissioner will take a great shine to the chief inspector who catches him."
Talbot said, "Hmm." It was the noise he usually made when eating exceptional cake. "I'll think on it. We'll speak again tomorrow."
They rose and shook hands. As Moyer opened the office door, Talbot said, "You don't seem your plucky old self, Eric. Not since you returned from hospital."
Moyer shrugged, then said, "I've meant to ask you, what will happen to Toll Castle now that the Randalls are deceased?"
"I heard it's been bought," Talbot replied, "by the Home Department."
"What are they to do with it?"
Talbot sneezed into his handkerchief. "Excuse me. They've plans for a thoroughly modern housing development in the area. There's to be electric lights in every home."
The adventures of Inspector Eric Moyer continue in "Invalid Item" .