Letter from Gerard Smallthorn to Edmund Pelkington
(dated 11th August, 1887)
To my dear friend Edmund,
With this letter comes wonderful tidings; tomorrow I am boarding a train to the West and I foresee that I will be once again in England within a week. My business here on the continent has admittedly been of a busier nature than I first intended, and my stay here was prolonged by a full three days, so it is with great pleasure that I inform you of my intention to start on the journey home.
As you know, I have been providing legal council to a foreign client of the firm. The client is an inhabitant of a country that has rather old fashioned trade laws with regards to importing, and I have spent the last week besieged in paperwork, trying to sort out the legalities of the client’s importation of certain animal products from England.
I must say that I absolutely can’t wait to be getting away from this place soon. This land is far removed from the civilised streets of London and it is dreadfully cold all the time. Ever since I first arrived, a peculiar mist has blanketed the sky and it has not abated once. In addition, the people are wretches; they live in absolute squalor and go about their daily business in absolute silence. This place is as eerie as the tomb.
So far, my client, who has kindly hosted me in his home (a rather impressive old castle) has exhibited an odd manner. I never see his face for he wears a hood at all times, but these I attribute to the ways of this foreign land and despite the weirdness, I have decided, on his insistence, to remain one last night in the castle to wait out the storm that brewed early this afternoon.
Pass on my love to Jessica if you see her, and keep yourself in good health. We shall go out for a drink when I return!
Your friend, Gerard Smallthorn
Letter from Edmund Pelkington to Jessica Elizabeth Shelley
(dated 23rd September, 1887)
My dearest Jessica,
As I compose this letter, I am aboard the British railway, already almost five hours out of London and well on my way to the continent. I am intending to post this letter directly the train stops at Clement Cove in hopes that it may reach you before my absence is noticed by my colleagues in the city.
It was in the late hours of last night that I was compelled to leave on this journey. I was awoken by an unexpected houseguest. I invited him and he promptly introduced himself as Chester Ledwitch, an ordained priest of the English Church. He informed me that he was an acquaintance of our mutual friend, Gerard Smallthorn. Upon hearing this, the need to know what had become of Gerard immediately welled up inside of me, despite weeks of trying to suppress it in the name of dignity. I demanded at once what this stranger knew of Gerard’s disappearance!
Ledwitch claimed that he had been conducting his own research into Gerard’s disappearance ever since the tabloids first reported his vanishing in August. He instigated investigations regarding the circumstances surrounding Gerard’s vanishing — his last fateful trip to the barony of Lamordia, situated in Eastern Europe, just south of the border of Russia. I must confess that I had not heard of this place before. Ledwitch informed me that he had, through great personal pains, acquired the name of the very last person Chester spoke to before leaving on his ill-fated return journey to England; his client, the Lamordian aristocrat Baron Van-Richten.
I deigned to leave at once to solve the mystery of our missing friend. A scant two hours later, I had packed what possessions I could and was gone from London without further notice. I have no way of knowing how long I will be gone on this quest, but I assure you that my love for you still burns strongly, no matter how far apart we are. I will write you more when I can, even if I must rely on the questionable postal services in the uncivilised veldt beyond the borders of the Empire.
Your lover Edmund
Journal of Edmund Pelkington
(entries dated September 26th to October 2nd, 1887)
26th of September
After travelling since the early hours of this morning, we finally breached the border of Lamordia. The experience is not dissimilar to having entered a portal leading back to the Dark Ages. We have left civilisation far behind — the further we have travelled beyond the borders of the Empire, the more primitive and barbaric have been the lands through which we travelled.
I write this by candlelight in an inn that Ledwitch has checked us into for the night. The room is very lacking of the comforts we are used to in England (just a simple straw mattress upon the floor) and it stinks of horses, but I am grateful nonetheless for it is better than being in the thunderstorm that is raging outside.
We are accompanied by Clara, Ledwitch’s daughter. She is a well-mannered young girl; she has barely spoken the entire journey, despite the fact that she must be in distress, being so far from home. Ledwitch tells me that she is engaged to a suitor in London; he has brought her along with us because he does not trust that her suitor may visit her if she is left alone.
We leave for Van-Richten’s castle at first light on the morrow. Ledwitch estimates that we shall require another two days of travel to reach it, at least.
29th of September
We have set up a campsite in the wood. Van-Richten’s castle is a mere hour’s walk away, looming over us atop a high cliff, a jagged shape blighting the horizon. Clara seemed to grow more and more restless as we approached the castle and even though she insisted she did not know why, Ledwitch and I agreed that she was intimidated by the sight of the castle in the moonlight, and we decided that we would wait until morning before we continue on.
I must admit that there is something eldritch about this place. We passed two towns on our carriage ride through Lamordia and wherever we went, the people stared at us with blank, frightful expressions. Even though I was sure that they would not speak English, I tried to talk to some of the locals, but they simply ignored us. They act as such that they are in a trance, or held under a spell. There is certainly an air of eeriness to this land.
30th of September
We have blundered into this dangerous land without preparation, and now I fear that we may lose our lives for the oversight. We were awoken just before dawn by Clara’s frightened screams. We frantically searched the woods around the campsite, but found no signs of her. Fearing that she may have run afoul of a wild animal, I scanned the area for tracks but found none.
Ledwitch decided that our only option was to confront Van-Richten in his castle. We knew that there was danger in this decision, for the man was now connected to two separate disappearances and the gypsies we met just before the Lamordia border told us that Lamordia was ‘under the tyrannical grip of a creature of pure evil.’
We knocked upon the great door of the castle, and they opened of their own accord. Van-Richten’s voice boomed throughout the entrance hall, commanding us to wait for him to greet us, and to not look around. We let our curiosity get the better of us; we wanted to find Clara and discover what had become of Gerard, so the two of us split up from the entrance hall to search the castle.
This castle is a foul place. It has degenerated nearly to the point of being ruinous, and stinks of moss and decay. Ornate gargoyles flanked every entryway I passed, and everything was covered in a layer of dust so thick, the place had the air of having been deserted for centuries. Eventually, I passed into a once luxurious, but now decrepit, library. The books had long since crumbled to dust, but I found a small study off to the side, where an ancient looking tome lay open on a stone table. In the tome, I read something that immediately assured me that I was doomed; Van-Richten is a sorcerer who has expunged his soul through an unholy ritual to embrace immortality. The entire realm of Lamordia is under his control.
I decided at once that it was imperative to locate the rest of my party and leave at once from this evil place. I returned to the entrance hall and tried to trace Ledwitch from there, but I could not find him. This castle is a gargantuan labyrinth. I fear that it may take me days to search it in its entirety for Ledwitch and the girl, at least if Baron Van-Richten, wherever he lurks in the castle, does not find me first.
I spent the night hiding in a half caved in cellar underneath what I think was once a grand dining room. Despite the anxiety that was gnawing at the edges of my consciousness, I managed to catch an hour of sleep, but I was plagued by a disturbing dream of being trapped in an empty chamber with no door.
Dawn soon arrived, but instead of bringing relief, the dim sunlight, which was tinged grey by the overcast sky outside, only cast twisted shadows throughout the castle and did not make the place seem any less dangerous. Nonetheless, I decided to try and be brave and spent the early hours of the morning searching for Ledwitch.
I managed to stumble upon what seemed to be a warehouse of some kind, in a secluded courtyard in the castle grounds. It was filled with crates — that had been marked ‘import of England’ — filled with animal bones. What was the purpose of such a substance?
I began to try and identify the type of animal that the bones were from, but I was interrupted by a dry, stone cold voice from the gateway leading into the courtyard: ‘your companions are waiting for you, Englander.’ It was Van-Richten! I turned around to face him, and I almost died of horror; instead of a face, his shoulders wore a leering skull, and under his tattered cloak, there was no flesh at all.
Somehow, we have been able to survive this nightmare. As I write this, we are on a train through Poland, having just passed the border of Lamordia.
It was Van-Richten’s intention to kill us. As he watched us languish in the dungeon in which he had detained us, he informed us of the fate of Gerard, and assured us that we would soon meet it too. Van-Richten has no soul of his own. This is a doubled-edged sword; while it means that he never ages, he must also feed upon the essence of the living to remain alive — the souls of humans to keep his consciousness intact, and the bonemeal of animals to strengthen his body. He lures victims to his castle to fulfil his never ending hunger. The people of Lamordia are soulless husks, the remnants of the once living population that he fed upon. This entire realm is a necropolis. Not even beasts wander the dead moors.
After he left us in our cell to prepare the ritual that he would use to extract what he needed from our bodies, Ledwitch and I discussed what we would do next. Van-Richten’s form has degenerated to that of a skeleton, and his bones are brittle. When he returned, Ledwitch flung himself upon Van Richten’s form while I assaulted him with a loose chunk of stone, shattering one of his arms. While he was stunned, we fled from him into the ritual chamber, where Clara was tied unconscious to the sacrificial altar.
As Ledwitch set to work freeing her, I took a stone sceptre into my hands from the table beside and prepared to fight for my life. Once again in seemingly perfect health, Van-Richten soon burst into the chamber, wicked with rage. He withdrew a silver sword from his tattered cloak and set upon me. For the whole of a harrowing minute, I duelled the fiend, parrying his blows as best I could with my sceptre and dodging and weaving, until I managed to land a decisive blow to Van-Richten’s ancient skull, shattering it, and vanquishing the terrible creature once and for all.
I immediately joined Ledwitch and Clara, who were already starting to set fire to the ritual equipment. I rested for just a moment to make sure that the girl was unharmed, and then I took both of them by the hand, and we fled for our lives into the dawn.
Dayle Robert Grixti writes because he loves telling stories. He is infamous for talking too much and generally being annoying. When he can’t talk anymore, he writes, and annoys the human race with his self-declared mastery of the English language. Dayle majors in Professional and Creative Writing and Journalism and does Literary Studies as a sub-major. He hopes to become a famed novelist, though would settle for becoming a revolutionary leader of some kind instead.