Beauty on the outside but beneath the skin there lurks...
|Charles Trumpington-Smythe took his family duties seriously. Great Uncle Tarquin was kept, in great comfort, in the West Wing and only allowed out on moonless nights. At all other times Charles would provide fresh game for the old bloodsucker. Cousin Bernadette had been assigned the Chinese Suite, where she could practice - whatever it was she practiced - away from public gaze and, more importantly, public hearing. There had been a tad too many frantic cover-ups when she had been in the front of the house. The smells had been easy to put down to Elizabethan drainage but the screams could be problematic. As for James. He roamed the cellars. It made it awkward to send Kidderidge down there for a couple of bottles of merlot. Now that the butler was getting a bit geriatric, and not so nimble, he had to take young Finn with him as a decoy and bodyguard.
In the old days it had been easy to keep the family mis-breeds under control. Gedling Hall had been in the ownership of the Trumpington-Smythes since the days of King John, with only one or two wriggles in the direct line of descent, one due to a touch of mental instability, one because of a poisoning and one arising from an inability to breed anything remotely human in appearance. In between these minor inconveniences Gedling Hall had been transformed from a medieval granite castle, frowning over the surfs in their novels, to a half-timbered moated manor house, beloved by the Tudor Court. Those damned Royal Visits had nearly bankrupted Roger de Darsonne until he married his daughter off to Christopher Smythe. Alas, along with the money, the Smythes bloodline had a genetic predisposition to - the family called it 'oddities'.
Charles had been born as a bonny, bouncing boy. He grew through a flaxen-haired childhood to be a ruggedly handsome man. He went to one, then another, then another, top school and learned to play cricket and rugger and to hunt, shoot and fish. He was a 'jolly good chap' in society, a charmer to the ladies and had a commission in a top regiment. He was posted to India, (This was in the days of the Raj, at the height of the British Empire, when Victoria occupied the throne.) and here, in the slums of Calcutta he discovered his predilections. Later, moving up into the hill country, to avoid the summer heat, he refined his techniques.
Returning home, he resigned his commission. There were rumours that he needed to allay. And Gedling Hall needed major repairs. He decided on the role of recluse and set to redesigning the house and laying out the gardens. There were many interesting and useful plants that he had brought back from India. Retiring from society, they soon forgot him. Until the first world war. He volunteered with a different regiment and was sent to the trenches. Captain Trumpington - Smythe looked the part of a inspirational leader. One to go over the top with. Except that he was always called away for special duties when the attacks came. He did not like the bodies that had been gassed. Most unpleasant. Even with a decent merlot.
De-mobbed, he returned to Gedling Hall, face bandaged, as if he had been horribly injured. Like many, he withdrew and avoided polite company. It was in this period between the wars that Great Uncle Tarquin began needing supervision, it was not like the old days. The great unwashed made much more fuss about missing people. With him came Bernadette. And her howling stinks. When the Nazis overran Europe, Charles joined the RAF, became bored with the bombing runs and volunteered for special operations. Once dropped in France he became a saboteur, then assassin. It was the best fun that he had for ages. He was only captured once and bought his freedom with a list of names. There was something exciting about seeing his former friends shot.
After the war, things became more difficult. He had to fake his death then pay inheritance tax on the property that he left to himself. All the old loopholes to bump up the coffers were being closed and he was facing financial ruin. There was only one option left. Gedling Hall was opened as a tourist attraction. After the first flush, it did not do so well. From the outside it was picturesque. Inside it was decaying and smelt bad, worse near where Bernadette had set up her laboratory. A blessing in disguise, visitors tended not to venture down her corridor and so kept out of her clutches. One or two reacted badly to her screams and had to be removed by paramedics. It cost a fortune to cover it up and several deep gouges on Charles's arm to carry her to the Chinese Suite. Great Uncle Tarquin hovered and gleefully picked up fallen bits and pieces. Charles forced him to give them back, despite Bernadette complaining about the fang marks in one or two items.
But money was still tight. The inner corridors and ancient granite halls were cold and dank, the stones weeping their memories of medieval horrors. With reluctance, Charles closed them to public access, he did so enjoy the scent of fear the visitors emitted. Then he had a brainwave and reopened them as chambers of horrors complete with various instruments of torture that Great Uncle Tarquin had kept in good order down below. Just occasionally, the victims dying on the wheel or locked into the rack were real, when James forgot to clean up his moments of ecstasy. At first, Charles dumped them in the ornamental lake. Then he invested in big cat enclosures, tigers and lions were always hungry. Unfortunately the crocodiles died, the ecology in the pond was all wrong.
Charles Trumpington -Smythe dyed his hair dark brown and grew a moustache. He played the amiable host to the thousands of visitors, inviting them to drive though the big cat enclosures. There were no accidents, he did not want nosy inspectors in the compounds. And those cats were fed on culled deer. The isolation compound off to one side was not open to the great unwashed, those tigers had a taste for human blood and bone and had to be kept separate. He named the compound Tarquin Enclosure, for obvious reasons.
There were occasional financial slumps as the economy went up and down but, on the whole, the business thrived. Charles could afford fast cars, a yacht, holidays abroad, he had a special fondness for India. It was during a thrilling trip to a poverty-stricken African state to poach big game that he must have picked up some disgusting disease. He had never been ill but now his innards churned like a washing machine and his skin became red and flaky. Sweating as if he were in a black basement in some vile tropical hell-hole, he staggered to his stateroom and collapsed on his four poster.
His screams summoned the ancient Kidderidge who creaked into the room, sucking his yellowing teeth. His black jacket hung from his shoulders like the discarded carapace of a monstrous beetle. He came no more than three paces into the room, and stood, rocking, wringing his hands.
'Get them off me!' Charles was ripping at his clothing, flinging the shredded rags across the room. A shoe buzzed at the butler's head. He ducked. The next one clipped his ear. Making as if to move forward, he hesitated, then drew back. 'Gerrofff...' Was it rage? Or what?
'It won't take long, Master Charles.' There was little sympathy in the creaky voice. 'I mind your father. He took it manfully without even a groan.' The vile language that Master Charles used raised his eyebrow. The curse as Charles's skin split along his spine was halfway between a howl and a deep throated growl. Dripping crimson ichor, the creature inside humped its back, thrusting its head down as the gash deepened and widened. Its hands scrambled at its abdomen, yanking at the loose bag that had once covered its entrails. Skin ripped and sloughed away in tattered ribbons. The skull covering, complete with hairy scalp and moustache, hung from its tongue. With a gurgle it was snatched away, leaving the naked shape quivering.
Kidderidge gathered up the oozing shreds. Fastidiously, he looped them over his forearm in two groups, whilst keeping a beady eye on the man-shape panting on the bedcover. It moved. The butler snatched up the head covering, holding it by the hair, then grabbed the empty gloves that had once been hands. Laden, he scuttled backwards.
What had been the handsome Charles Trumpington -Smythe was now a mass of writhing worms. The fat ones were crimson, banded with pus yellow, the long ones a bright vermillion, each end sharply pointed. Twining around these, thread-like pinkish things slipped in and out. Opening and closing like lipless mouths, small gaps gave glimpses to a mass of pulsating shining slugs. It retained its humanoid form, moving as if there were an articulated, internal skeleton. Even as Kidderidge watched, the outer worms bloated and burst, spraying out a milky liquid. Within moments it dried and a skin formed.
'Who am I?' The newly hatched creature sat up. 'What happened?' It spoke in a high pitched voice. It flopped over. The body was covered in skin, milk white where it was just drying, coffee coloured where it had dried and was developing fine hairs. More hair was sprouting from the head, thick tresses of ginger, curling down her back. Her back. She was Charles no longer.
'You are Mistress Lydia Trumpington -Smythe.' Kidderidge was backing towards the door. He bowed. 'I will take these to feed Mister Tarquin and Master James.' Then he lifted the face with its attached hair and the empty gloves. 'Miss Bernadette will like to dress up in these.' He slipped through the door and closed it behind him. Lydia heard the key turn.
She rubbed her belly. It was full. She would need to find a host soon. Her eggs were nearly mature.