#PicturePromptChallenge by CJ Heath

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THE CLUB

It had been my first visit to Marlborough’s club. I have a great need to confess, as an acquaintance, the man left much to be desired. Had I not been appraised as to the vital need of the Yard requiring an officer within the confines of the little society, I should have willingly struck the frightful man numerous times.

Things progressed as is the want of Marlborough and his cronies. We would dine on exotic meats such as one would not encounter in nature north of Persia. I was told, by an obsequious, servile little man to my left that these delicacies were in actuality, bred in the Home Counties for the sole consumption of club members.

Again Marlborough pestered me to commit my name upon their charter and submit my banking details that I may progress from an honorary member to a member of standing. Marlborough knew my lineage and therefore he was aware that my reticence was not the fifty sovereigns required for the year. In honesty, though the fee may be deemed alarming by those from the Yard, the service did include a room whensoever required and a manservant was always to be at hand when one stayed at the club in excess of a single night. The butler of my Father was in receipt of a greater sum than this each annum and so, it was in truth a goodly sum but for all that came with membership, it was good value.

I digress, my apologies. We had been sat at the dining table for little more than a quarter of the hour making small talk with regard to The Times’ publication of Chelmsford launching a campaign against Zululand. For the most part, there seemed no great love for the Commander but it was generally considered the wisest action to take to further curtail the savages resistance to Empire. The discourse was gentle and not far removed from observances made by my own associates that very morning.

The table fell silent at this point as the servants entered the room with vast platters and began to silently make preparation for the serving of the dinner that had been eagerly awaited. Marlborough was served first and then, moving to his left, we were all attended to with a degree of professionalism that my Father would well have approved of.

I must make the admission that I had at this stage all but neglected the purpose to which my services had been requested. The jollity of the members and the intelligent dialogue had succeeded in supplanting the task I had been seconded to. This omission on my part grows more understandable when one gives consideration to the company of gentlemen I was engaged with. Marlborough’s title was apparent as being the meanest of honours born by my companions and I partook gladly in the comfort of being seated with peers of one’s own standing.

The meal was a delight. The vegetables were cooked to my preference, neither being so boiled as to lose colour and taste but also, being not so lightly treated that one must pull the most gruesome of face as teeth attempt to slice or grind against uncooked fare. The meat was a quality part of the dish. It was all but certainly bird of some description but the white meat told me at a glance it was not game of any fashion.

It was a delight of Marlborough’s that the nature of our dining was not spoken of; it was almost as if, should one require to ask the nature of our provision, one singled oneself out as being too ignorant to be a party to these gatherings. Initially I considered the dish to likely be one of the giant, two-legged, flightless birds of the Southern continents but the more I ate of the creature, the more I wondered. It is oft the case that such unknown foods identify as chicken but I suspect that is a deceit on the part of the front brain that merely attempts to place the unknown into a known compartment. It may warrant a medical opinion to qualify that remark however, my own knowledge of the workings of the brain are in admission, somewhat lacking.

Returning to the dining I should add that discourse ceased while the members all partook of the meal and made welcome the wine that was served in crystal flutes to each man present. It was another of Marlborough’s propensities that choice was not given as to libation; the most suited wine was served with the corresponding dish. My time touring the vineyards of both Southern France and of Italy aided me beyond that of most present and though I did not voice my opinion, it was plain to me our glasses contained Chablis. Given the current epidemic sweeping the region and the fearful destruction of almost all vines there, we were likely drinking a vintage of eleven years prior.

The minutes ticked by and as the clock in the hall sonorously chimed out the hour as being eight, we had all but completed our dining. Of the thirteen of us present, the only gentleman for whom food still remained was the brown suited German on the opposing side to myself. The man reached across in front of a man I had perceived to be the cousin of our Queen and his fingers drew a roll from the much depleted bowl. The frowns of disapproval that he should so rudely reach rather than requesting a roll chilled the air but when the man showed such base action as to tear the roll asunder and proceed to mop the juices and gravy from his platter with the baked item, Marlborough was prepared to suffer no more.

It was with the smallest of gestures that John Marlborough indicated to his butler that the German was an issue and with whispered words, the starched servant leant forward and spoke in the ear of the offending gentleman. Full credit to the man, the German at first glanced at his gravy stained fingers, then one by one, he quickly glanced across the faces and met the eyes of each man present. He nodded once to our host, then rose to his feet. Stepping behind his chair, he tucked the carved seat back into the table, inclined his head in a brief bow and with a click of his heels, he permitted the butler to escort him from the room.

Marlborough broke the uneasy silence with apologies for having permitted the evening to be marred by the inclusion of one whose manners were not of the required standard. Assurances were given and understandings passed that none present felt the actions of the individual in any way reflected upon Marlborough and he was to put the matter from his mind. As one would expect from a man of such breeding, he took comfort in our words but refused to accept our forgiving words.

This was the point where the evening took an unexpected detour and also, removed the expected opportunity for my investigation to begin in earnest. Custom and tradition of the club was such that we would remove ourselves to the withdrawing room for an hour or so where we could recommence our conversations of Empire and enemy before retiring to our own chambers for the night. That was to have been my opportunity, that was the very reason my services had been requested by the paymaster and why I had been seconded to Scotland Yard at all. As events transpired, the evening was very different indeed.

Marlborough indicated for three of us to join him and the remainder made their way down the corridor to the drawing room. We three followed him in the opposite direction where we came upon a door set at the end of the passage. The door was unlocked with an ornate iron key that Marlborough drew from his trouser pocket and one by one, in utter silence, we permitted the man to lead us down a dimly lit stairway to a cellar. The chamber we entered was as sumptuously decorated as the rooms above and as Marlborough lit a few additional lamps, we were able to make out four high-backed chairs sat in a row before a high, red velvet curtain. The curtain was dressed with an elegant pelmet that resembled a bow of velvet and as Marlborough passed us each a glass of Scottish malt, he indicated we should take a seat each before what I perceived must surely be a stage.

I had no thought at this moment that anything other than a performance were to be presented to us and though I felt the inferred honour one would associate with having been one of a select few to view whatsoever Marlborough was to present to us, I did fear the possibility of some appalling music hall act being presented to us. My fear was unwarranted, at least in the respect of that which I had considered the show to be.

Once we were all seated, Marlborough himself rose from his seat beside me and pulling upon the draw cord, he parted the curtain with a practised ease. I shall admit my brow furrowed and after one brief glance at Marlborough, I exchanged looks upon those other two men sat with me. Their confusion echoed mine and it was clear to me then that they were as ignorant of this development as I was myself. Before us all was nothing but a vast mirror; the curtain being little more now than a frame for us to stare in puzzlement at ourselves staring back.

Though he had his back to us, I perceived Marlborough’s grin from his reflection. He crossed to the centre of the oversized mirror and placed his hand upon the middle of the glass and with his palm flat to the surface, he spoke a few barely audible words. I am quietly convinced his utterance was Latin but the specific words eluded me.

The mirror shimmered as water should when a man causes himself to lightly knock against the table upon which his wash bowl rests, then it seemed to vibrate. A moment passed, then the mirror seemed in effect to turn to a glass of great transparency. Marlborough took his hand from the glass and retreated back to join me, sitting himself beside me once more. My two companions clapped and congratulated our host on this feat he had engineered and for my part, I turned to him and inclined my head to indicate how he had impressed me.

A returned my attention to the curtained area and gazed hard at the image before me. I considered the woodland vista before me; the moon high in the sky and the sepulchre visible to the side struck me as to be among one of the greatest paintings I had seen. Then I peered again.

There was movement in the branches and the light from the tomb wavered in its intensity as though the candle or lamp suffered under a breeze. A noise became audible of feet moving fast through dead leaf and twig. I could not grasp how but it was clear to me then that what was visible before me was no image but something living and existing elsewhere. How it had been accomplished, I knew not but Marlborough had brought to the cellar something that could show elsewhere.

I was entranced. The science eluded me and the potential implications were of insignificance as I leant forward upon my seat so as to gain a better view of the scene before me. That was when she appeared.

From slightly to the right of the scene, a young lady in her late teen years passed into the picture. She was fearfully tumbling forward, casting looks behind her that suggested she was pursued. I had at first believed her attire to be nightwear but as she approached the lit tomb, she hesitated and turned to face that which came behind her. I noted then that what I had though the be a night dress was in fact her undergarments. She was well blessed in her looks and fair spilled from the torn corset that had once encompassed her. Her flushed cheeks, tousled hair and her heaving breast indicated she had been running for some time. Wide eyed, she stared beyond us at whoever chased her. Part of me wished her to continue to the tomb and safety while another part of me, (a part I have shame in acknowledging) wished to see what should happen upon her capture.

A shadowed figure stepped into the frame and the lady screamed. I saw nothing of the detail of the man that had made up ground so as to stand so close to her as he stood with his back to us but he was a tall man. I am almost six feet in height but I suspect where I side by side with this man, he would be a foot above me. His shoulders were wide and his hair was uncommonly long. He stepped closer toward her and it became apparent the man, if man it were, was utterly naked. I did not let my eye linger long upon his frame but he was muscled beyond any man I have seen before or since. It was not the muscle of a strongman one may see in a circus but more akin to the great art of Da Vinci or Michaelangelo. The reason I question if this were man is that upon the shoulders, around the neck and trailing down his spine, almost to his behind was a mass of hair. It bore resemblance to a wolf and that is an image I can find no better analogy for.

I was aroused; I should not have been. Would I could make claim, my arousal was merely from the partially undressed nature of the lady I would be relieved but I am almost of a certainty that my condition was due to what I suspected was to come. As things transpired, I was mistaken in this as I have been mistaken in many things since.

The lady turned from the beast and made another dash for the sepulchre that stood alone in the wood. It is clear she never questioned why such a thing should be placed in such an isolated spot and to be fair to her, the thought had not occurred to me until later.

I was both grateful and disappointed when she reached the open portal of the tomb but I was puzzled when she halted there. She stepped back, one step, then two. As though she had forgotten the beast behind her, she stared into the light and slowly retreated. A man walked through the heavy stone doorway and into our sight. He was impeccably dressed and clearly a gentleman in every respect. He held a pistol in his hand and turned to face the creature that had pursued and now hesitated beside the woman. Pointing the gun skyward, the gentleman fired a single shot that caused the creature to dash from the scene. Left alone with the distressed and dishevelled lady, he pocketed the gun and raised his arms out toward her.

The unidentified woman all but collapsed into his arms and though she sobbed, it was clear she was now relaxed and grateful to the man. Though he initially held the woman close, after a few minutes, he withdrew a few inches and released, placing his hands first upon her shoulders, then as she gazed into his eyes, he placed a hand each side of her head.

The snap as he twisted her head violently, snapping her neck was heard as loud as the gunshot had seemed to us. As the woman crumpled to the floor, the wolf like man returned to the scene. The gentleman knelt beside the dead body and the creature drew closer, he changed in form with each step of his approach to the man and by the time he reached the woman’s body, he was as naked as he had been but any resemblance to a wolf had gone. In place of the creature was a nude man no more remarkable than myself.

The dressed man put his arms under the woman’s torso and the naked youth took her legs in his hands. They carried her body in our direction and as they neared the curtain, Marlborough stood up and stepped in their direction. I suspected he was going to close the curtain but I was astounded when the two men in the wood laid the corpse on the ground and Marlborough reached out, grasped an arm of the body and dragged the woman to our side of the curtain.

Once Marlborough had managed to drag the body into the cellar he stood, drew the curtains once more and then addressed us. I am comforted to say that though the two other men were as silent as myself, they showed as much sign of shock as I did.

Marlborough smiled and said “We find the meat is that much more tender if the kill is saved until the prey is in a relaxed state. I’m sure you’ll each testify from the dinner tonight, the meal was a success?”

It was the next day after a long absence of sleep the details of what had been witnessed were explained to me by Marlborough himself. He confessed I was not present from accident. The report the Yard had received of young ladies of wealth who had vanished being connected to the club was a report that the club had instigated itself. It seems I had been a chess piece the king of the board had been eager to acquire. As none from the Yard had the status to enter the club, my Ministry would be approached to provide one of fitting class to enter the establishment to ascertain the veracity of the report. My paymaster was himself a founding member of the club; his own son was in fact the poor afflicted wretch that had the misfortune to be born as a werewolf.

The engineered scheme served two purposes; being of high birth, my word that there was nothing amiss at the club would allay suspicion from all members and also, my membership would allow the club funds to continue its current operations.

The ladies who vanished were all from families of quality as it was learned a few centuries before that those of lesser classes tend to have either excesses of fatty tissue or at the other end of the spectrum, muscle that does not easily cook with the same tender taste. The hunt I witnessed was of the daughter of Lord Abingdon. It seems he had once been a member but had lapsed in his subscriptions; the payment acquired through his daughter was both a lesson and a warning as he retains a further two daughters.

More was said, it was a convoluted plot and Marlborough again spoke to me of the advantages of membership. The primary reservation I had was that the werewolf need be included in any fashion I felt it would be politic and of moral intent were the boy to be simply put from his misery with a bullet but as I learned, the truth is more neutral than I had thought. The boy only becomes a wolf with the coming of the full moon and his blood lust is actually sated with the chase. He has no requirement to partake in the kill and so, he plays his role in the charade with the sole purpose of isolating the prey from the herd and directing it toward the kill zone. All in all, it is a remarkable operation.

Of the mirror itself, Marlborough would not be drawn except to refer to it as an occult instrument. I have yet to ascertain if he means it is demonic in function or merely refers to ‘occult’ in the correct fashion as to merely mean ‘something hidden’.

But subsequently, I have begun my own actions. I advised the Inspector at the Yard of the club being of no concern and shortly after poisoning my Father and acquiring both title and monies through my inheritance, I tendered my resignation at the Ministry. I have paid the next ten years of dues at Marlborough’s club and keep a room there that I may dine at will. In truth, I suspect I shall only have the need to dine for three days of twenty eight when the moon is full.

I spend much of my time now expanding my social circle. I am frequently being introduced to young ladies with parents who seek to see them wed. It is curious that so many of these daughters I charm tend to be so utterly heartbroken when circumstances do not result in a betrothal that they feel the need to abscond from the family home are without exception, not heard from again.

And so, I sit here, still the confirmed bachelor, still the man of leisure. For now though, I must away once more. I believe I hear the tread of other diners approaching the door of the club. It seems it almost time for dinner.

*~*~*~*~*

© CJ Heath (2015)

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Books by Author CJ Heath are:

23278148   23295469

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10 thoughts on “#PicturePromptChallenge by CJ Heath

  1. That was incredible…I love how you created your world, set the stage and fully developed this short story so quickly and thoroughly…well done!! I love the dark tale you wove….bravo….
    Paris

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