Well, here's part three! Rated 12 for slightly violent scenes. Here are parts one and two, if you missed them. Enjoy!
The sad little tinkle of broken china had alerted the occupants of the conservatory that something was wrong. The shaking of the earth as the dead rose up did not worry them unduly; they had, after all, no idea yet what was going on, but most just assumed that one of Berenice or Bridget had moved position on their sofa. However, physics does not ignore what humans try to avoid; and in accordance with the laws of nature, the shaking had dislodged one of Louisa’s finest teacups from its precarious position on the arm of Maxwell’s chair, and what tea remained in it was now spreading across the polished floor.
“I really am most dreadfully sorry,” Maxwell feebly apologised as Crichton knelt to once more mop up his mess. “It’s this shaking, you see, it quite upset the apple cart, so to speak...”
Crichton’s measured expression singularly failed to show that in his opinion it would take little more than the slightest of zephyrs to upset Maxwell’s own very small and fragile apple-cart, which should come as no surprise; as has been said before, good butlers are unflappable and inscrutable, and Crichton was one of the best. Whilst Louisa, the twins, and Louise stared haughtily at the scene of Maxwell’s disgrace, however, Lydia had turned her face away from his shame and was gazing across the rich green grounds of Tunnicliffe Manor. Accordingly, she was the first one to see the scurrying shape of Harold the gardener motoring towards the conservatory, his face a horrid shade of purple and his trousers soaked. And behind him came a large group of whooping grey men, all naked except for small and tattered loincloths. They seemed to pull darkness into their outlines, deep shadows playing across their colourless forms despite the shining sun. The only light that came from them was the fiery red glow of their eyes.
Lydia was so shocked she almost forgot to scream. Almost.
Clutching at their reverberating ears, the others left the tea stain and crowded at the window, uttering polite exclamations of disbelief. Harold made a beeline for them, his breath coming in great ragged gasps; but twenty yards from the window, he stumbled and fell; and the grey men fell on him like wolves around a very old, tired sheep with pruning shears. Four of them grabbed his arms with unearthly strength, his struggles useless as they raised him above the ground. Then they started to pull, and his body came apart with a noise like a boot coming out of a patch of thick mud. He hadn’t the time, or the breath, to scream.
In the conservatory, polite exclamations gave way to decidedly impolite and rather more heartfelt ejaculations of horror. Only Crichton, imperturbably, and Louisa, rather more angrily, remained immune; for the others, a mix of terror and disgust turned them into sailors for a few seconds. Maxwell began to retch; but Louisa was made of far sterner stuff, forged in the heat of furious snobbery, and she was not about to stand for such uncouth behaviour on her own previously immaculate lawn. Vibrating with rage, and ignoring the warning mutter uttered by Crichton, she opened the conservatory door and strode over to the now bloodsoaked warriors, her dress once more fanning out behind her like the sea’s vengeance made concrete. The sight of her on her irate march caused silence in the conservatory, a silence broken by Crichton’s polite yet firm voice.
“May I suggest we remove ourselves from the conservatory? I fear the party has ended prematurely.”
Rapt with attention focussed on the blue figure stalking across the lawn towards the red and grey, the other occupants ignored him. Louisa reached the group, who seemed uncertain of what to do next.
“How dare you? How DARE you?” she shrieked. The warriors had seen the blackest demons in the darkest pits of Hell, monsters with flames for teeth and pus for eyes whose very breath was agonising poison; yet they were mere Chihuahuas to the Great Dane of Louisa’s incensed and still shaking shape. They edged away uncertainly as she advanced.
“You barbarians! You have defaced my property, defiled my lawn, you low-born brutes! You ill-mannered rapscallions! You, sirs, you, are uncouth!” With this last vehement syllable, she extended a finger towards the wilting group of warriors, who as one former man took a step backwards. To the onlookers in the conservatory it seemed that Mrs Tunnicliffe, owner of Tunnicliffe Manor and out-liver of three husbands, had won the day.
Then Achan came casually strolling behind the warriors at the same steady pace he had set since Harold had fled. He calmly walked in front of Louisa, who, recognising authority, drew herself up and launched into a fresh, if slightly more polite, tirade.
“What is the meaning of this monstrous act, sir? Pray speak!”
Achan, as barely clothed as his undead fellows, merely smiled a confident smile and folded his arms across his chest, staring down at Louisa’s strident figure.
“Why have your men deprived me of a member of my staff? Where am I to find another gardener in time for the annual Tunnicliffe Manor Ball? Answer me, sir! Your silence offends me!”
Again, no response was forthcoming from Achan, who merely stood there, a picture of menacing nonchalance, glowing red eyes staring at Louisa’s own reddening face. She took a step towards him, finger still angrily extended.
“Have you no manners at all, you brute?”
Suddenly, as swift as a striking adder, his hand was around her throat, choking off her words. Flickering blackness playing around the outline of his crushing fingers, appearing even darker against Louisa’s whitening skin. She was lifted up in the air, legs kicking under a dress that no longer played out behind her but trailed towards the ground.
“I am not a brute. I am a Lord, and you should show more respect.” The words were delivered without anger, even without threat, but with a chill calmness that was somehow more menacing. As the horrified audience in the conservatory looked on, Achan’s grip tightened. There was an audible crack, and Louisa’s pointing finger fell to her side. With a contemptuous gesture Achan threw her body aside, and fixed his eyes on the conservatory. There was a moment of utter stillness.
“Right about now, I think,” said Crichton. The six still breathing turned and fled into the manor proper, the butler bringing up the rear, as Achan’s warriors, snarling, hurled themselves through the glass of the conservatory towards them. There was a moment of confusion as six bodies tried to thrust themselves through an aperture designed for one modestly-sized woman to comfortably enter and exit from the manor. Maxwell, adrenalin coursing through his blood, found himself grabbing one of the ladies-he could not tell which one-and thrusting them through the door before following suit and haring down the corridor behind, still grasping his companion’s arm. Another lady squeezed through, then both the twins tried to push through together. All would have been lost if Crichton had not given them a mighty shove and forced all three bodies through the door, before slamming it shut behind him. There was a thump as a grey body slammed into it from the other side, and muffled cursing as others stumbled over the now prostate body. The attendants of the sadly ended Tunnicliffe afternoon tea fled.
Achan looked on as his warriors forced the door and pursued them. He walked into the now ruined and empty conservatory, ignoring the shards of broken glass that dug into his bare feet. Bending down, he took a mashed and glass-strewn cup cake from the floor, and raised it to his lips. The tiny cake stand lay forlornly on the floor, smashed by the stampede of reanimated flesh. Achan took a bite, and smiled.
“Delightful,” he said.