By W. Potocki © 2015
Kendra Black had landed in London only a few short hours ago, but the thirtyish American already felt like a proper Englishwoman. She’d been fantasizing about the dramatic move from Providence, R.I. to an estate in Midhurst, West Sussex for months, so the culture had been absorbed through osmosis.
The relocation was a fait accompli. Although the newly acquired residence had only been viewed courtesy of virtual tours, the property that included a principal country house, two cottages, mature garden, and ten bedrooms was sold before even one photo was exchanged. She’d purchased it on the strength of pedigree alone.
As she eased her car onto a lovely stretch of highway, the weather took a turn for the wicked. The blue sky washed in ombré tones of black; a storm was brewing. She only hoped to make it to her destination before the heavens drowned her in their own kind of insincere welcome.
Her homestead came into view, looking every bit as grand as it had in the videos. A Rolls was already parked in the driveway, its owner huddled under the portico. Kendra pulled ahead of the luxury vehicle and parked parallel to the front door just as a smattering of droplets sprayed her windshield. Unloading a suitcase from the back, she held a blazer over her head and rushed up to the real estate agent that had handled the overseas transaction.
“Alice, I presume,” Kendra greeted as she thrust out a manicured hand.
“Indeed, I am,” Alice answered, thrusting out one of her own. “And, of course, you are Kendra Black, world-famous writer and the woman whose picture is featured on the back covers of my favorite mysteries.”
“You are too kind. And may I say you did a brilliant job handling the paperwork—and me, actually.”
“Thank you, but unfortunately, I didn’t do too well with the weather.”
“Pity,” Kendra teased.
“Well, to make up for it, we have a few dozen more papers for you to sign.” Holding up her attaché case, Alice smoothed the papers on top. “Our company’s motto is ‘We can’t have you write your signature enough,’ but then I suppose you’re used to it.”
“Yes, and I have the carpal tunnel to prove it, but I’d rather that than disappoint my fans. They did put me into the enviable position I’m in. I only wish I were as infamous as this estate’s previous owner. Or should I say previous-previous?”
“Are you talking about Brighton Rage?” Alice queried.
“Yes, one in the same.”
“In what way?” Kendra asked as she continued to dole out her John Hancock.
“Usually, it’s the other way round. Most buyers shied away from Rutherford because of him having lived here.”
“Not me. It’s what drew me to it.” Clicking the monogrammed pen shut, she tried to hand it back.
“Just two more places, I’m afraid. Here,” Alice indicated with a painted nail. “And here.”
The deal struck, Alice balanced the ostrich-skin case on her raised knee and tucked the pages safely inside. As she did, the storm kicked up in earnest, making conversation difficult.
“And these,” she continued, “are for you.”
“My keys!” Shouting because of enthusiasm and also to be heard, Kendra held them up, rattling them in the air. “How do I know which is which?”
“This is to the house, these are for the cottages, the silver one is to the garage, and this opens the servants’ entrance round back.”
Sliding the largest of the bunch into the bottom lock, Kendra indulged in a dramatic pause.
“Open sesame! Or perhaps abracadabra would be more apropos?” The solid oak door opened without so much as a creak. “Thank you, Alice Ingram!” she replied, still screaming. “Are you sure you’ll be okay making it home?”
“Of course! We English are hardier than we look. And before I forget, I stocked your kitchen with a few essentials. Didn’t want you to starve your first night here. The food is courtesy of Bambles, the world’s largest purveyor of homes—or so they tell me!”
The two ladies chuckled, trying their best to stay out of ricocheting splatter. Alice launched a purse-size umbrella open with the touch of a button.
“Ta!” she called out.
The water was falling in sheets, the sound of the engine competing with the drone of the incessant deluge. The money-colored vehicle pulled away; it was time for Kendra to introduce herself to her spiffy new digs.
Dispensing with her suitcase, Kendra began surveying the furnished space. A mix of French provincial and Tudor, Cheshire Freely’s antiques were interspersed with Brighton Rage’s personal effects.
Freely was a rock musician and the last occupant of Rutherford Hills. After he and his band hit it big, he lapped up Brighton Rage’s old stomping grounds. The guitarist had been a devotee of the man that claimed to be the world’s most diabolical magician. In fact, the Bad Boy of Rock was so enamored that he produced a film based on Rage’s life story. Called The Circus of Souls, it became a cult classic not only because of the sordid tale, but because of the eclectic mix of counter-culture personalities that agreed to cameos. It seemed that everyone wanted a lick of the sordid ice cream cone, but all Kendra wanted was to solve a mystery.
She knocked on the parlor’s slate gray wall before pressing her ear against its surface. Startled by the clock on the mantle striking five; the whistling sound of the wind added a menacing note. She rubbed her arms, realizing that this atmosphere was not unlike ones used in countless of her novels. On evenings like these, someone wound up dead.
She sought out the furthest corner of the home to perform one more investigation, this one confined to the kitchen. The groceries that Alice had mentioned were neatly stocked away. A bottle of wine with a note signed Compliments of Bambles was in the refrigerator as was a selection of meat. Kendra had just taken out a steak when the doorbell interrupted her foraging. Giving a longing glance at the sirloin, she placed it on the counter while she trod the long hallway to find out who her first visitor was.
“Alice!” she cried upon opening the door.
The storm had worsened. A foul wind blowing the water horizontally, she urged the immaculately groomed woman inside before they both capsized. Alice did as bidden.
“I am so sorry,” Alice began. “A tree went down and is blocking the bridge I need to cross. I rang for assistance, but they assured me it would take a few hours to clear. I know this is a nuisance, but might I prevail upon you to let me stay until the problem’s alleviated? If not, I could wait in one of the cottages … or my car.”
“Nonsense,” Kendra dismissed. “You’ll stay right here … with me. I love the idea of having company my first night here. You’ll help me christen my home and set the tone for fun times, good friends, and bestsellers up the wazoo.”
“You are a dear,” Alice responded as she peeled off her slicker. “And in return for your generosity, I will prepare you the most delicious dinner this side of the Atlantic.”
* * *
“Good Lord, that was fantastic,” Kendra praised. “Whatever did you put on that steak?”
“I slipped a poblano chili or two in the Dijon mustard. They pack a tidy punch.”
“Chilies and mustard?” Kendra remarked. As she sipped from a glass of red wine, the wind howled outside her fortress. “I never would have paired the two. And pass my gratitude onto Bambles for this wine. Do they always supply such amenities?”
“Only when clients spend over the benchmark.”
“And what would that be?”
“The threshold of indecency,” Alice quipped.
The charm of laughter filled the dining room before a flash of lightning and clap of thunder erased whatever cheery thoughts might have accumulated. Kendra’s hand went over her heart, trying to still the accelerated pulsations.
“That was officially loud,” she remarked.
“Yes, it quite scared me also.”
“To drive the fright away, I propose a toast. To having no writer’s block or clients hampered by buyer’s regret. I think that takes care of us both, no?”
“Absolutely,” Alice agreed.
Kendra pressed her palms onto the dining table’s surface. “Now if my eyes didn’t betray me, there’s a quart of Macadamia nut ice cream in the freezer. Or was that a mirage?”
More lightning struck. The overheard chandelier flickered, but held its own.
“No, I made sure to include it. I have quite a sweet tooth and know what can happen if an addiction is not filled. Might I help with these?” Alice asked, indicating the dinnerware.
“Absolutely not. I’ll tend to them later. Right now, your only task is to take the rest of the wine into the parlor while I fill up two bowls with chocolate decadence. Actually, should I be plying you with wine? I forgot you have to drive.”
Alice picked up her goblet.
“I’m fine. I’m still nursing my first glass.”
“You mean, I drank all that.” Kendra laughed, pointing to the half-emptied bottle. “No need to answer. The fact that I feel I can dance is proof. I have no sense of rhythm whatsoever, so when I feel a rhumba coming on, watch out!”
Frivolity lingered as the women parted ways, but not for long. Kendra brought dessert piled high and drenched in syrup.
“Divine!” Alice pronounced upon sampling.
“I concur,” Kendra responded as another crash of thunder woke the dead.
“I hope you don’t think me nosey,” Alice began, “but what did you mean back there? The bit about Brighton Rage being the reason you bought this estate?”
Kendra spooned another mouthful.
“That’s the whole of it. You’ve read my stories. You should know that I often seed them with the paranormal.”
“Yes, but writing and dabbling are worlds apart, no?”
The front door blew open, rain spilling into the entryway.
“What on earth?” Kendra exclaimed before dashing to the foyer. The gale impeded progress; Alice was enlisted to help secure the door. “That was so bizarre! This door is as solid as Gibraltar.”
“Perhaps it only answered my question,” Alice proposed.
A syringe of ominous was injected into the festivities. The evening no longer mirthful, it crawled on a thousand misshapen legs. Kendra’s face reflected the unknown intruding upon her doorstep, but a slight tugging at the corners of Alice’s mouth flushed it all away.
“Oh, you did have me going!”
“Sorry. I couldn’t resist,” Alice confessed. “I’ll get the mop.”
After sopping up the damage, the two resettled in the living room, finding their ice cream soupy, but delicious.
“Now where were we?” Kendra wondered aloud. “Yes, you’d asked whether practicing and writing about magic are identical. I think they are. I’ve done a great deal of research and knowledge is knowledge, isn’t it?”
Alice pondered the question. Her blue eyes looked into the distance and the blonde of her hair shone in the subdued lighting. Shivering, she buttoned her jacket.
“I’m also feeling a chill,” Kendra remarked, veering from the subject. “It’s from eating that ice cream. I’ll start a fire.”
“Wonderful. And to answer your question, I think they differ. After all, what makes you believe you know what Rage did?”
“I suppose I’m not being clear. I do know what he knew.”
“Yes, I have intimate knowledge of Brighton Aleister Rage. In fact, I know his every move since he was born in 1893. Did you know that he started the rumor that his mother copulated with an ass in order to produce him? Can you imagine?”
“Yes, Rage had quite the dry wit.”
Arranging the kindling, Kendra struck a match and made sure the flue was open to flush the rising smoke.
“Ah, that’s better,” Kendra remarked in an exhalation. Sauntering back to the couch, she flopped onto it, resuming the pleasure of drinking wine.
“Whatever made you get interested in him?” Alice probed.
“It began when I was about sixteen. I’d always been fascinated with spirituality, and magic did seem to rub shoulders with it. It all came to a head when this boy I was dating took me to see Freely’s Circus of Souls at a small art house. I was hooked. It took a few years, but when royalties started drifting in, I used the earnings to acquire Rage’s diaries. Did you know there are hundreds?”
“No,” Alice responded. She took another sip as the raindrops continued their percussive drive, but her eyes never left the woman with the tawny-colored hair.
“Yes, some are still resurfacing, but I’ve amassed quite a collection.”
“Did you?” Alice responded. Leaning in, she slicked back her chic bob behind both ears. “Do tell. It seems a perfect story for a night like this.”
“Indeed.” Kendra giggled. “Well, there were black masses, and female sacrifices that were first sexually compromised as they lay on the altar—it’s all there.”
“But is it the truth? He was known to indulge in opiates.”
“Then you do know that.”
“Who doesn’t? It’s why Freely was into ingesting everything not tied down. He was only following in Rage’s footsteps.”
“You have that right. Remember that Rage died thirty years before Freely was even born. It’s a testament to the influence Rage still exerts—and it hasn’t dwindled. I frequent forums under various sock puppet personae. You’d be surprised at how many high schoolers idolize the man that died in a clawed bathtub. Was it ever replaced?”
“No, but I assume it’s been scrubbed,” Alice retorted.
Belting out a generous laugh, Kendra was feeling no pain.
“Did anyone ever tell you that you’re the perfect dinner companion?”
“Many, many times. So what else did he do? I want to hear more,” Alice prompted as her head settled back into the cushioning.
“Plenty! There’s debauchery, thievery, magical wars, and even a fight with a demon at a place that he swears Armageddon will begin—all due to his machinations. Talk about taking credit for the wrong thing.”
“I agree. While there’s something to be said for taking personal responsibility, it’s perhaps not the best place to start.”
“Of course, he hinted at his greatest achievement. The verse went something like, ‘Cursed be those who speak too much. I prefer to let my little man speak for me. If you want a question answered, you must talk to the walls, for they hide all.’”
“What on earth does that mean?”
“I believe he was referring to these,” Kendra answered. Spreading her arms out wide, she indicated the four boundaries.
“And the achievement?”
“Homunculus," the author answered. "A golem. Rage was rumored to have created one.”
“I’m afraid you’ve lost me. One what?”
“A slave, a messenger, a little man—not born from biology, but from the magician’s own blood. The process is the closest thing to replicating one’s self, except that golems have no will of their own; they only do their creator’s bidding.”
“But how is it accomplished? I might want to try it sometime. I could send my mini-me out to show houses while I stayed in bed.”
The witticism appealed to Kendra’s funny bone. Pouring out the last of the bottle into her glass, she twirled the burgundy liquid as she spoke.
“Now that would be putting it to a good use. As to the methodology, there are various versions of how it’s done. Some say mixing sperm, mud, mandrake, and ash with a pint of blood will get you there. Others say to blend various ingredients and plug a cow’s or ewe’s vagina with the concoction. After insemination, you keep the animal in darkness and feed it only blood.
“The female will give birth to an unformed mass. That blob is then placed in a powder so it can grow human skin. Of course, no good deed goes unpunished and the mother’s head is cut off and the beast’s blood fed to the developing child.”
The room was illuminated by a fork of lightning pointing to the folly of man. The ground rumbled with an angry roar. Alice’s eyes grew round, her arms spilling over the boundaries of the chair.
“All right, I will admit that that is one gruesome tale. No wonder people clamor for your books. Your ability to relate a story is beyond reproach.”
“But this is not fiction,” Kendra corrected. “Golems are real, and sometimes quite nasty. There are cases of ungrateful upstarts trying to do away with their creators.”
“I thought you said—”
“Yes, I know what I said, but sometimes a magician does too good of a job. They imbue their child with an ego and this ego tells the creation that they are just like their master and entitled to the same rights.”
“Yes, but they can’t speak. Not as we do, and according to Rage's journals, there’s a spirit lodged in the walls. It's why I intend to have them ripped out. I’ll get to the bottom of the mystery.”
Shuddering, Alice got up and migrated to the hearth, placing her elbow on the mantle.
“You know,” Alice started, “this whole subject just drives home the point I was trying to make earlier. Rage died—in this home. Freely did the same, only two weeks after moving in.”
“Yes, found hung in his bedroom.”
“And that doesn’t scare you?”
“Why should it?” Kendra responded. Her limbs relaxing, she slung one leg over the other as the windows rattled from the punishment the squall bestowed. “Rage was a drug fiend, as was Freely.”
“But Freely committed suicide,” Alice argued.
“Ah, but I don’t believe he did. I believe he was murdered.”
“Murdered? How did you arrive at that conclusion?”
Draining her glass, Kendra set it aside.
“Because there are pieces that don’t fit. Like the fact that he was supposed to have done it after arising from bed. He always slept in the nude, so why was he wearing pajamas?”
The clock on the mantle struck ten.
“Oh, blast!” Ingram exclaimed. “It’s late and I completely forgot to check my messages. They promised to text when it was safe to drive.” The slender woman made haste to where she’d left her purse. “Yes, they did message. I shan’t dampen your doorstep any longer, since the weather is doing a fine job on its own.”
“Most definitely,” Kendra responded with a laugh. “But I was so wanting you to help me do this.” Pressing herself up against the wall, she giggled as she knocked on the barrier and shouted, “Hello.”
“Please stop doing that. You’re driving me to tears, you really are. I won’t be able to sleep for a month.” Kendra retrieved Alice’s mackintosh from the closet, and slipped it over the stylish navy blue suit. “Now you’re sure you don’t need help with the dishes. I wouldn’t mind staying.”
“No! Go scurry into the night and spend the commission you earned,” Kendra replied. Giving her new friend a heartfelt embrace, Alice glided out the door.
Kendra yawned. The transatlantic flight had worn her out. She left the dishes to soak, knowing that the housekeeper starting tomorrow could finish the task. She latched onto her suitcase, carrying it up the stairs and straight to the master bedroom. It was a spacious affair with the window seat she’d always wanted. And there would be years to enjoy it. She was convinced she’d last longer than Freely did. After all, she’d left all her enemies on a distant shore.
She took a long shower and then headed for bed. The sheets were a finely spun mixture of silk and cotton, and the storm conducive to a good night’s sleep. With the rain pattering against the windows, she drifted off before the unveiling of a new hour.
* * *
Kendra awoke with a start. The storm raging on, the rain was coming down harder than ever. Blinking, she stared out the window as a flash of lightning illuminated the room. She could have sworn a loud bang coming from within the house woke her, but it must have only been thunder.
Her lids drawing down, she turned over on her side, settling into a new position. The mattress gave in to her demands to be comfortable. Her mind was about to shut down for a second time, but a tapping prevented it.
Sitting up, her eyes locked on the wall to her left. It sounded as if someone were behind it—knocking to get in, but that was impossible.
As the wind began a chorus of ghoulish moans, she drew the covers under her chin. Her heart racing, she was no longer tired. Panic abounded as thoughts of summoning help swirled up from a vortex of confusion. She reached for the phone, her eyes leveled on the spot where the noise persisted.
Before she could act, a filmy white haze oozed through the plaster. The outline decidedly female, features emerged as more of the spectre became apparent. It was Alice. Not the one that had greeted her earlier, but one bearing a malevolent grin.
“Hello, my dear Kendra. We meet again,” she rasped. As she neared, Kendra bolted out the other side of the bed.
“Y-you, you, stay away from me!” Kendra ordered as her leg made contact with a large wooden chest at the foot of the four-poster. Feeling faint, she sat on it.
“I don’t think you want to do that. The real Alice is in there. Strange, us both having the same first name.”
The words cut through Kendra’s paralysis. Her body lifted as if by strings. When she opened the lid, the lifeless face of a woman was lit up by another bright flash.
“No,” Kendra whispered. “NO!” she screamed as reality sank in. Facing her opponent, she tried to make sense of chaos. “You killed Alice Ingram. Why?”
“You tell me. After all, you’re the big expert on golems.”
“Then it’s true,” she whispered in the voice of a child. The lid crashed down with a thud.
“Yes, I’m Alice. Aleister-Alice. I’m surprised you didn’t figure that one out.”
Tears forming in hollow spaces, Kendra inched her way to the four-poster.
“And in case you’re wondering, I killed Mr. Rage, but it was self-preservation that drove me to do it. He was sick of my demands and tried to eradicate me in that bathtub, but I showed him.”
“That was why he was all scratched up,” Kendra murmured.
“Right you are. The house was mine until that rocker buffoon wandered in. As if I’d let him stay, what with his all-night parties. You should have seen the look on his face when I strung him up. It was priceless. Of course, I didn’t know he’d wake up from the stupor he was in. Fool was passed out in the living room, so I helped him by carrying him up the stairs and fitting the noose around that scrawny neck, but then, it isn’t any scrawnier than yours.”
“But golems can’t speak.”
“No, golems have a defect. We all do.”
“S-s-s-sugar,” Kendra hissed.
“Yes, that is my weakness. I was delighted when I saw Ingram had brought you a treat. It hurt to share it … like this house … it’s mine and you have no right to be here. Tearing down walls—this is my home! But after you’re discovered, no one will ever want to stay here again.”
Yellow woke up the room, subjecting Alice’s features to the spotlight as she closed in.
“No, please!” Kendra begged as she fell back on the bed. Long, slender fingers gripped her throat.
“Think of it this way: you solved the mystery, and once your body is discovered, you’ll be as infamous as Brighton—and just as dead. And me? I’ll have Rutherford and the rest of that ice cream all to myself.”
* * *
FIVE ECOPIES of Wendy Potocki’s TRILLINGHAM!!!
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l live and write in NYC. If that isn't scary enough, I write in the genre of horror. I feel creating good horror is an art form and religiously pursue it over hill and dale--and in the crevices of my keyboard.
I've published eight works thus far, all ready for consumption. I was named one of the Top Ten "New" Horror Authors by Horror Novel Reviews, and this year I was a Round Winner in the Male Vs. Female Horror Writing Competition hosted by J. Ellington Ashton Press. My award-winning story will be featured in an anthology produced by the event called DEADLIEST OF THE SPECIES. As to what got me started writing sick and twisted tales, I was and am a huge Stephen King fan. I have been ever since reading SALEM'S LOT. That classic was a major inspiration for me to wreak my own kind of havoc and take a whack at spinning dark tales. In terms of style, I prefer to write psychological horror or what is referred to as "quiet horror". It's the kind of story that preys on a reader's mind long after they finish turning pages.
If you'd like to keep in touch. I'm splattered all over the web at the following places:
Mailing list: http://bit.ly/1lGwkDm
Website: http://wendypotocki.blogspot.com /
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Halloweenpalooza website: http://halloweenpalooza.blogspot.com/2013/10/halloweenpalooza-31-days-of-halloween.html
A monster proves a legend true.
Jen Nichols is living large and ready to enjoy the summer. Riding the unemployment train, a chance encounter with Hillboro’s newest resident alters her plans. While Jen insists the attack could have been fatal, everyone, including her boyfriend Phil, minimizes her claims. Even the police dismiss her account of what they consider a skirmish until a dead body surfaces. Half-eaten and discarded in a ravine, it’s the first clue that someone very evil is hungry. But who or what that someone is remains a mystery and shrouded in folklore.
A vandalized cemetery located hundreds of miles away may hold the key to solving the crime. The digging up of that unmarked grave has awakened more than the creature put to a permanent rest. But only a mother still grieving over the loss of a child understands the implications. As she sets out to stop more murders from happening, the only question for her is, will she be too late.