A Dark Shadows Story

Another cold, rainy night at Collinwood, the historic great house was inclined to be forbidding and dank in such gloomy weather. Elizabeth Stoddard stared out the window and shuddered. Neither the fire in the hearth nor the beauty of the antique-filled room served to cheer her. Where was Carolyn? The blonde teenager was often quite late returning home, and filled with flip remarks and hurtful words when confronted about it. Elizabeth had cried all she could over it, and dull despair had set in. She was losing her child. To what, she knew not. Her reason told her to go to bed, she would do no good by standing here, brooding, but her heart held her to the spot. Where was the girl, where? And what was she doing? Her mind held a hundred possibilities, all of them quite wrong.

Carolyn crept carefully to the clearing, gathered her coat closely to her, and darted to the center. She placed a small bundle atop a rock, looked about quickly, then darted back away and into the woods again. A pair of shining eyes took all of this in, and a voice chittered contentedly "What a good girl she is! What a dear, good girl! And good girls must be rewarded, mustn't they? What would be a proper treat for our dear, good girl? Yes! A dream she must have, we will give her a dream!" A bent, twisted shape went to the rock and retrieved the bundle. " Yes, she is a very good girl!" It petted the bundle, and rubbed it against its cheek. "A dream, a dream, for our beloved girl!" The bundle twisted in the creature's grasp as it bore it away.

Carolyn slipped through the unused door to the West Wing, and padded softly to her room. She shivered as she dressed for bed, but knew no amount of blankets would warm her. The shadows about her moved with life, she now knew. And nothing would ever warm her again. Whispered voices half heard edged her thoughts, and she dared not listen! Carolyn was past hope and beyond fear. There were things to be done, and she must do them. She started at the sight of blood on her cheek in the mirror, then simply washed it off. The stains upon her soul would, she knew, never come off. An uneasy sleep took her at last, and she woke from it rigid with terror. It had sent her this nightmare. Another of its gifts. She thrust her knuckles into her mouth to block her screams and convulsed in horror upon the percale sheets.

Carolyn felt herself slipping slowly away. Bit by bit, she was being replaced by something new. This new self did not mind the whispers in her ears, it delighted in the twisted shapes half seen by her newly unscaled eyes. And it waited joyfully for her every nocturnal mission. She loved her new world, and felt a sad pity for those who did not live in it. This pity expressed itself in a newfound tenderness and gentility with them, especially with her mother. Her abstracted and smiling nature frightened Elizabeth far more than did her wanderings or her previous rudeness. Indeed, her sanity itself seemed at stake.

"Such a dear, good, child!" A clawed hand caressed her face, and the lips that brushed her cheek were cold, the breath that issued from them foul. Carolyn inhaled their perfume and leant into the touch. "What did you bring us this time?" The creature opened the struggling package greedily. "Ah! Lovely, lovely, my darling! What a good girl she is!" It rent the flesh greedily, thin screams tearing at the air around it. Carolyn snuggled closer, and softly rubbed its back as it fed. "What a clever child!" Its tongue rasped the remnant of the feast from its talons, offering a taste to Carolyn, who sampled eagerly. A smile broke across its ruined face, and it stroked her hair, crooning a lullaby, and cuddling her close. Carolyn closed her eyes, burying her face in the rotting shoulder. "Soon, my darling, soon we shall go to Collinwood and your dearest Mama!" It chuckled greedily. "When?' Carolyn looked eagerly at her companion. "Patience, patience, pet! We are not strong enough yet....and dear Elizabeth is not ready yet." Tattered fingers smoothed the girl's hair. "I shall move to the house tonight, would that please you, my darling?" "Oh! Yes!" She hugged the rotting figure closely. "That's wonderful! ' "I must prepare a room, and you must help your mother to understand." It rose, and helped the blonde young woman to her feet. "Anything, anything I can do!" Carolyn was so eager to please. "I wonder if you mean that.....do you really?" The thing held her close, quite, quite close....and caressed her tenderly. The girl shivered, frightened now. And the thing kissed her.

Dark haired Elizabeth paced the drawing room, a sherry in her still lovely hand. She felt herself in the grip of something horrible and unfathomable. Long shadows danced obscenely in the firelight. "Carolyn?. Is that you?" A figure appeared, teetering drunkenly against the doorway. "Mother? Mother?" The girl's eyes were wide and staring, and she shivered, gasping against the doorframe. "What is it, what's the matter?" Carolyn slumped to the floor. "Mrs. Johnson! Quickly!" They carted Carolyn to the couch, draped her limp, muddy form across the brocade upholstery, and drew back in horror from the smell which clung to her and the great rents in her throat. Numb panic ensued, emergency was called, cold cloths pressed to wounds which did not bleed; and then the horror of waiting for the ambulance. All the while the women wondered why she yet breathed, and prayed the ragged gasps would continue. Unspoken between them was the knowledge of what could not have happened, yet had. The family history held a dreadful story of such attacks, and what had made them all those years ago. Elizabeth's mind ran over the tale again and again. "Vampire, killed by a holly stake through, the heart, beheading, or fire". She must find it, and she must destroy it, or her child was lost.

Elizabeth kept sleepless watch over her daughter's hospital bed. Bottles dripped clear fluids into her corpse-white arms, machines hummed and beeped, and Elizabeth waited. Carolyn would live; her mother knew what that life would be, and she meant to prevent it. That the girl would be no help to her was a given, but she might speak a name in her troubled sleep, she might give out some clue, and her mother would pounce upon it and use it. Fear was gone now, and resolve had taken its place. There was no one to do the deed but Elizabeth. All the rest of the family was away, Boston, Europe; the thing had chosen its moment well. And that meant it had been watching a long time. A thinker, then, and a planner. Something that wanted them both alone. And Elizabeth knew the answer, and the answer contained its destruction. Love.

To go about her life as though she did not suspect, did not know, was agony. But Elizabeth was a lady, of the "old school", and knew how to keep her emotions in check. That she was watched, that something horrible, dead, and rotten maintained a keen interest in her every move wore on her, but she held firm. Direct confrontation would do her no good. It would simply rip her apart if it so chose. So, she waited, patient as ever it was, prey become predator herself. Soon, Carolyn would come home, and it would move. And she would surprise it, as she had once before. It had underestimated her then, and it would do so again. She was no weak, vapid debutante, and never had been. Growing up in such a house, with its haunts, its secrets, and legends, how could she be? The house held ghosts of ancestors, whispered stories of ancient curses, madness, suicide, and far worse.

Elizabeth had long thought that H. P. Lovecraft had based his town of Arkham on Collinsport. Perhaps he had known some ancestor, or had heard the tales told of her family one night down at The Blue Whale. No matter. That Lovecraft was right on so many counts might or might not have surprised him. Did the Elder Gods take some special interest in her kin? Or were they merely an explanation fashioned to suit circumstance? Again, no matter. During daylight hours, Elizabeth softly, gently, thoroughly sought out its lair. That it smelt, that it exuded evil like its heavy perfume worked to her great advantage, that, and its overconfidence. She knew the house from explorations as a child, "make out" spots as a young woman, and pouring over the old plans for renovations. And she knew her prey. Finding it was simple enough, once she thought as it did. A small room, in the basement, not far from where she had once buried an empty trunk; and spent 18 years of her life guarding its supposed contents. Her prey had always had a sense of humor. She left all as she had found it, and marked it in her mind.

Carolyn lay draped weakly along the couch where they had days earlier lain her to wait upon the ambulance. She seemed to be awaiting something, someone, and her manner was distracted and absent. Elizabeth made bright, pleasant conversation, often repeating herself in order to receive a reply. Soon, she knew, it would come. And she would be ready. A noise, felt rather than heard, and Elizabeth knew it was there. She turned to greet it, and gasped despite herself. A ruined, rotting husk stood before her, still she recognized it. A face she had envisioned in just such condition for 18 long years. It raised its arms to embrace her and lurched forward, calling her name. Elizabeth had chosen her position in the room with great care, and timed her movements with a dancer's precision and grace. As it drew near, she shifted deftly to the side, and the thing overcompensated. Too near the blazing hearth, the horror overbalanced and teetered, one limb entering the flames. A brief pause, Carolyn inhaled sharply, and the blaze caught. Tattered clothing and rotted flesh burst aflame and it shrieked and whirled, a mad dance of cremation. Elizabeth had stopped screaming, unaware that she had even begun, and moved to damp the blaze with the afghan, knowing it was too late, much, much too late. The shrieking and whirling stopped, and the figure collapsed onto the slate, a smouldering heap of rags. "Father!" Carolyn cried, "Oh, Father!" And she sank beside the remnants, sobbing, while a horrible kitchen smell of charring meat filled the air.

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