“Don’t you know there’s no rest for the wicked?”
Pushing open the door, Dylan felt like a burglar. Wilfred had given him his own set of keys, but he couldn’t shake the feeling he should knock and wait for Arlene, the housekeeper, to let him in. Truth be told, he was scared to death of the old woman. She was always following him around, eyeing him like a shark in a green housecoat. Stepping into the entry hall, he had the unnerving feeling she was hiding somewhere with a shotgun, ready to step out and blow his head off.
The place was gloomy as always. And cold – almost as cold as outside. A chopping noise echoed down the dark corridor, coming from the kitchen at the rear of the house. As Dylan listened, a scream tore through the air. The chopping went on uninterrupted. Heart thumping, his brain reeling at the thought of what Arlene might be doing back there, Dylan hurried down the hall.
At the door to the kitchen, he stopped and peeked into the room. The back door was open and he could see a trail of blood leading across the rocky ground, up the steps and over the floorboards to where Arlene was standing at the butcher block. She had her back to him and was raising a meat cleaver above her head. With a grunt, she brought it down. Her housecoat was obscuring Dylan’s view, but he could see she was attacking something large and brown – part of a cow, by the look of it. Lifting the bloody cleaver again, this time using both hands, she brought it down with all her might. Dylan watched in disgust as she increased her speed, chopping the animal like a machine. Blood and pieces of flesh and bone flew all over the kitchen, turning the bench, the cupboards, the walls, the ceiling and Arlene’s green housecoat red.
Suddenly she stopped and stood panting over the table. Dropping the meat cleaver, she went to the sink and turned on the tap. Dylan could see now that the bloody mess had been the head of a horse.
He gasped. At the sound, Arlene froze. A tremor ran through her body from her pointed head to her unnaturally large feet. She turned off the tap, picked up a tea towel and wiped her hands on it.
Dylan stepped out of the doorway. Pressing his back against the wall, he sidled away as quietly as he could, holding his breath. He could hear the housekeeper’s coarse breathing, a rattle as she picked up the meat cleaver, the tread of her shoes on the floorboards.
He gasped again when the blade of the cleaver appeared in the doorway. Then came Arlene’s blood-stained hand and the bloody sleeve of her housecoat, followed by her bug-eyed face and onion-shaped head.
She turned to him without a word, as if she already knew he was standing there. For a few moments they faced each other, neither saying a word. Arlene began tapping the cleaver against the wall.
Dylan stepped into the hallway, his hands raised in surrender. “I didn’t … I was … I’m here to see Wilfred.” He gaped at the bloody cleaver, at the flecks of blood on the wall, and thought: She’s a nutcase; she doesn’t know the difference between me and the horse.
Another chilling scream rang out, this time behind him. He realised then that the first scream hadn’t come from the kitchen; something was happening in the basement. The scream degenerated into a howl, an awful sound that went on and on, erasing Arlene from his thoughts and propelling his feet back down the hall towards the front door. I need to get out of this loony bin, he thought. But at the basement door he paused. The howling had receded to a whine, and now he thought he heard Wilfred’s voice. He pressed his ear against the door. He couldn’t make out what Wilfred was saying, but it sounded like he was talking to someone.
Dylan gazed longingly at the front door. Out there, beyond the gloom of the hallway, lay freedom, fresh air, sanity. All he had to do was take a few more steps. But a voice inside his head said: If you leave now, there’ll be hell to pay. You were given strict orders to come here today. Get your shit together and do what Wilfred is paying you to do.
“He’s not paying me anything,” he mumbled, then, with a glance at Arlene, put his shoulder against the basement door.
The housekeeper gave him an uncharacteristic smile and went back to the dead horse.
Down in the basement, Wilfred was interrogating a mummy. The shrivelled thing, a shrunken skeleton wrapped in crispy black skin, was strapped to a metal rack, naked apart from a sheet covering its lower torso. Laid out on a nearby trolley was an assortment of tools: knives, pliers, bolt cutters, a stun gun, a dentist drill and other implements you might expect to see in a hospital operating theatre. The mummy was staring at the tray with eyes wide and round.
“Wrong!” barked Wilfred, picking up the stun gun.
He held it against the mummy’s neck and pressed the trigger. The weapon zapped and the mummy arched its back and screamed and struggled against its restraints.
Sighing, Wilfred released his finger from the trigger and inspected the stun gun under the light. As his victim puffed and panted, he waved it before its eyes. “Wonderful toys we have at our disposal these days, wouldn’t you say?” he said, zapping the air. “Jonathon would have had fun with these newfangled playthings. He did so love the art of pain.”
Laying the weapon aside, he picked up a metal skewer. “This was more Jonathon’s style. He had a thing for eyes.” He laughed soundlessly at a private memory. “A thing for eyes. I can never pass a shish kebab shop without thinking of the cantankerous old bastard. Now,” he said to the mummy, brandishing the skewer like a wand; “one more time, my friend. Tell me: How do I control the Messenger?”
The terrified mummy tried to talk, but without a tongue all it could manage was, “Uh-guh-gauh.”
Dropping the skewer on the trolley, Wilfred exchanged it for a pair of bolt cutters.
“Let’s shake things up a little,” he said. “Take it up a notch or two. And don’t forget, Willem, if I happen to go too far I can always keep snipping away until you’re mincemeat, and then we can start over again. I have all the time in the world, and a cornucopia of tricks to extract the truth.”
He positioned the bolt cutters over the mummy’s thumb. It struggled and gagged in terror.
“I know, I know: you assumed you were at rest.” He moved the cutters to the knuckle. “Don’t you know there’s no rest for the wicked?”
Using both hands, Wilfred squeezed the bolt cutters. But it was only a ruse. Smiling at the panting mummy, he laid the bolt cutters aside and picked up the skewer again.
The blackened thing bucked its skeletal body in a display of belligerence that belied its defenceless situation. The restraints pulled tight, cutting into its skin, sloughing off flesh. The wounds oozed with reddish-yellow fluid.
“Ooh, that looks painful. If you answer my question, I promise I will end this and send you back to the hell you so deservedly came from.”
The mummy stared at him with murderous hatred. It gurgled, “Uh-guh-gauh.”
“You do know,” returned Wilfred, stroking its head with the meat skewer. “You’re scared of retribution; I understand that. Yog-Sothoth does not like to be disturbed.”
“Uh gauh! Uh gauh!”
“Yes, you do. I saw it in your letters.” His eyes turned to stone. “Don’t treat me like a fool!” Throwing the skewer against the wall, Wilfred swiped up the bolt cutters and positioned them over the mummy’s forefinger.
“Do you know what I hate even more than being lied to?” He waited for the mummy to reply. When it didn’t, he snipped off the forefinger. The thing screamed and struggled, the scream turning into a long howl of agony.
Wilfred flicked the severed finger into a bucket. “Being treated like a fool is what. The fools are the ones who dare oppose me, or get in my way. One day, mark my words, all you insignificant gutter slime will fall before me and beg me to throw you a scrap of rotten offal to save your starving carcasses so you can enjoy another minute of pointless existence.” He moved his face closer to the whining mummy. “A fool, am I? Do you think a fool could rise to the throne of the world? Because that’s where I’m headed. And do you honestly think I will countenance slugs like you on the day I ascend to my place at the right hand of the gods? I can assure you, I won’t. I will ship you off to a special kind of hell you can’t even imagine, and smile with unadulterated pleasure at the sounds of your eternal torture and pain. You fear the wrath of Yog-Sothoth? You have no idea what wrath is. But keep on defying me and –”
His monologue was interrupted by the sound of footsteps. Glancing up, he saw black boots and jeans falling down the stairs.
Dylan’s face appeared, white and scared. “What’s happening?” he cried. His eyes took in the gory scene: the red stains on Wilfred’s butcher’s apron, the blood on the floor, the finger in the bucket. “Who’s screaming?” His eyes landed on the mummy’s face. “Jesus Christ! What the hell is that?”
Wilfred turned back to the mummy and snipped off another finger. The shrunken thing howled.
“Dylan, my boy. Nice to see you. Better late than never.” He waved at him. “Come down and meet an old accomplice of mine: Willem Groning. Willem: this is my new protégé, Master Dylan Gates.”
The mummy stared imploringly at Dylan. “Ehhr, ehh,” it gurgled.
“Is it – dead?”
Wilfred smiled. “He was.” He threw the bolt cutters onto the trolley. “And will be again, once he answers my damn question.”
Dylan glanced at the severed finger, the bolt cutters covered in blood. He backed away. “Whoa, man, this is messed up! Raising dead people so you can torture them … Is this what you wanted the Necromonicon for?”
Wilfred crossed to the bench, where the book in question lay open. “You ignoramus. I didn’t learn the trick of reanimation from the Necromonicon. How do you think I found the blessed book in the first place?”
He put on his reading glasses, moved his face close to the page and mouthed something.
“Excellent,” he announced, spinning around. He pulled off the glasses and waved them at Dylan. “Now then, hold your fool tongue, get down here and sit in that chair.”
At Wilfred’s command, Dylan’s body went limp. For a few moments he stared slack-jawed; then he trod heavily down the stairs, walked stiffly to the chair next to the torture rack and dropped into it like a bag of potatoes.
“Good boy. Now, shut those peepers of yours and don’t move a muscle until I tell you to.”
He watched with satisfaction as Dylan complied. Reaching out both hands, he brushed the hair away from his protégé’s face and tucked it behind his ears. “That’s better. You youngsters and your beatnik hair. What are your parents thinking? I should get out my shears right here and now.” He patted Dylan’s head. “Have some shut-eye, my young friend. Forget about all this unpleasantness. You will come to see in time that it’s a necessary evil. We have to step on a few cockroaches and gut a few rats if we are to clean out our house in preparation for our esteemed guests. Be assured that by the time you awaken, our journey will have moved to its next glorious phase and you, my boy, will behold the world through very different eyes.”
He returned to the trolley and collected the bloody bolt cutters. Clicking them twice, he said, “Don’t worry, Willem. We haven’t forgotten you.”