Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Guest House of Usher

Edwin Usher retired just a bit too late to enjoy it properly. He took his little retirement fund and his savings from that time his premium bonds had come up, and he bought his dream house.

Puck's Rest stood up on the North Bay clifftop, overlooking the new car park for the beach. It was far away enough from the pier not to hear the fairground, but close enough not to miss the sound of the sea.

Edwin advertised Puck's Rest half-heartedly as a seaside guest house, and was mildly disappointed when people actually started turning up expecting cooked breakfasts and central heating. Eventually though, he settled into a little routine, with regular guests and a few permanent residents throughout the summer. Winter in Puck's Rest belonged to Edwin Usher alone.

Then, one year, just as the October sun grew thin and pale in the morning mists, Mildew Rouvellier arrived.

Edwin heard him before he saw him, ringing the service bell incessantly and shouting for service at the top of his baritone voice. This was winter. No time for guests. Edwin made his way downstairs, but before he had even reached the bottom, a very large man in a purple cape and broad brimmed black hat pounded towards him, hands outstretched.
"Excellent sir! Excellent. Mr Usher yes? I shall take a room for one," he boomed, "and shall stay til early spring. Mildew Rouvellier."
"I eh..don't have any rooms." said Edwin, who, to be fair, had been caught somewhat on the hop.
"Nonsense! You've a whole house full of them, and I only need one."
"What I mean to say is, we're closed for the winter."
"Well you shouldn't have a vacancies sign in the window then," beamed Mildew.
Edwin winced, clearly he hadn't been thorough enough with his winter preparations this year.
"I've been ordered by my doctor to take the sea air and that is just what I intend to do. So. Room with a seaview please. And a window I can open."
Edwin sighed quietly to himself and took two of Mildew's many bags up the stairs to Room 5.
"No no no," said Mildew, "this is far too small. What else have you got?"
Mildew barged past Edwin and into a room further along the hall.
"That room is not available," said Edwin quietly.
"Rubbish," said Mildew, "there's no one in here. Could do with a clean mind. Very dusty."
"Not. Available." said Edwin. "You can have the master bedroom, it looks out over the bay."
"Humph. Well I shall expect a very large tea tray and selection of biscuits," said Mildew, and stomped off into the ensuite to pee very noisily.

Over the next few days, Mildew made himself very much at home. He was a voluminous man, who seemed to expand to fill the surrounding space, and despite having only one room in the house, he seemed to be everywhere Edwin turned; from the whalebone handle razor in the bathroom to the hookah pipe now installed in the lounge, Mildew had arrived.

It took until the following Thursday breakfast time for Edwin to be able to face a proper conversation with his new guest.
"You seem to be settling in nicely." said Edwin.
"Oh yes," said Mildew, "wonderful place. Real character."
Edwin poured himself some Earl Grey.
"Are you a commercial traveller Mr Rouvellier? You have an awful lot of cases."
"Hah! No Edwin, no. My business is show business. I'm an actor."
This now seemed entirely self evident to Edwin, the cape should really have given it away.
"I see now that you are trying to place me!" said Mildew, "Perhaps you recognise me from my films."
"I don't go to the pictures much. Too loud."
"No? Tomb of the Gryphon? Dinosaur Valley? Solstice of Fear?"
Mildew looked at Edwin expectantly.
"…aren't those…really old films?" asked Edwin.
Mildew flinched.
"Yes well I mostly work in theatre now. Didn't like the way British cinema was going."
"You mean into colour?" asked Edwin, allowing himself a little self satisfied smile.
"Children of Baal was in colour. And Tears of the Werewolf."
"Actually…I think I might have seen one of your films on ITV once. Were you in Vampire on the Buses?"
Mildew glared at Edwin silently, and sullenly munched his toast.
"We're out of jam." he said eventually.
Edwin strode purposefully into the lounge clutching his Sunday Supplement.
"Look at this!" he said to Mildew, rather angrily.
Mildew stopped inhaling and peered over his horn rimmed spectacles.
"Ah! It's me!" he laughed, in genuine delight, "Let me see."
Mildew tried to grab the paper, but Edwin pulled away from him.
"It's a big article about all your old horror films."
"Let me guess…they call The Burryman a cult classic," Mildew shook his head, "Thing about cult classics, no one makes any money…"
"Yes. Thing is…and the article is very clear on this…you're dead."
Mildew smiled.
"Mmm. For quite some time now."
Mildew momentarily faded into the low light of the lounge, as briefly transparent as the smoke from the hubble bubble. This seemed to annoy Edwin still further.
"You're dead?'re what…you're…haunting my house?"
"Well I like to think I'm underplaying it slightly…but that's the general idea."
"But why?"
"I spent a very pleasant month down here filming The Lambton Wyrm. Wonderful sea air. Chilly though. Caught pneumonia and died. Shame. I had an episode of Sapphire and Steel lined up."
"Why my house?"
"Ah! Well it has a very authentic shabby glamour. And you looked like you could use some company. I'm very good company."
"I like being alone." said Edwin.
"You certainly do spend a lot of time alone in that dusty room."
"Go haunt somewhere else."
"I like it here. I'm all unpacked now." said Mildew, "If you don’t like my company, not only are you in the minority, but perhaps you should move along."
"Absolutely not. I worked hard all my life for this. It's my dream."
Mildew pointed to the damp ceiling with the stain from where the upstairs loo leaked and the frayed and dangerously worn stair carpet.
"This is you living the dream is it?"
"Get out."
Mildew smiled with all the classic venom of a b-movie villain.
"Make me." he said.

At first, Edwin tried his very best to be British about it; he just rudely ignored Rouvellier, snubbing his attempts at conversation, pretending not to hear his endless evening recitations of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and leaving the room whenever the television mysteriously started showing one of his films - except Vampire on the Buses, he watched that one.

Mildew simply upped his game, initially with an ironic 'bump in the night' approach, running the full gamut from creaks and chain rattling through to unearthly howls - though their impact was diminished by the fact that Edwin knew it was just Mildew being obnoxious. Next, he turned poltergeist, constantly moving Edwin's pens, hiding the loo roll and filling in the crossword. Edwin retaliated by bringing in a professional exorcist - Mildew spent all afternoon discussing classic horror movies with him and he left with a signed poster of The Devil's Rowboat.

It was really only a matter of time, and Mildew had saved the big guns til last…
"The room! You've wrecked the room!" cried Edwin.
"Wrecked? I've cleaned it!" said Mildew, "Dust down, windows open, get a bit of life into the place."
"But…I haven't…my…"
Edwin crumpled and fell to the floor.
When he came to, Mildew handed him a cup of sugary tea, and waited.
"How can I leave?" asked Edwin eventually. "Where should I go?"
"I think you know exactly where you're going." said Mildew.
Edwin smiled sadly and nodded. "I suppose."

Edwin stepped out into the early morning and wandered down the slippery cliff path into the sea fog. Rouvellier, watched and smiled and then, ever the professional, he packed up in preparation for his next engagement.

If yer in the mood for scary tales, may I be so bold as to suggest ye download the excellent Hallowscream from Theatre of Terror, full of excellent scary comic strips, and I've a wee text story in there as well.

And celebrating ghosts, here's the King of faded seaside glamour with a classic Hallowe'en mashup...