Boo! A special treat for Hallowe’en: Northanger Angst

It’s that spooky time of year!

Catherine Morland has read all too much about ghoulies and ghosties and other such Gothic horrors, and she has let her imagination run away with her. Henry Tilney, her friend’s brother and a young man whom she likes very well, has chastised her for her fancies, and she has come to see the error of her ways. But still, something is not right at Northanger Abbey!

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From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!
Scottish prayer

Northanger Angst

by Riana Everly

Part I

How embarrassed she was, how ashamed! Catherine Morland threw herself upon her bed and buried her face in the soft pillow, letting the tears flow. Were they tears of mortification, for the horror of what she had done, of the insult she had given? Or were they tears of regret, for having most assuredly lost the esteem of the gentleman she had so come to admire?

For alas, she had allowed her fantasies to overcome her rational mind. She had read too many Gothick stories of ghouls and monsters and witchery, and she had allowed her imagination to run wild, untamed by common sense.

The entirety of the abbey was fuel for her fantastical wonderings, after all. Her room, so dark and eerie by night, when the wind blew through the panes of glass in the windows and ruffled the heavy velvet draperies, forebode nefarious goings-on. Did ghosts moan in tentative harmony with the howling wind? Did the unquiet souls of the dead cry out their agonies and lure living men to their horrid ends? The massive, looming wardrobe, with its locked doors, that heavy chest at the foot of her bed… she had found only a laundry list, but what other mysterious documents lay awaiting only her curious eyes before their dread secrets were revealed?

Perhaps one such scrap of ancient and crumbling yellow paper might contain an incantation, the recital of which at the proper time of night would cause a secret doorway to open in her bedchamber’s walls, revealing a long-forgotten tunnel into the dungeons where strange and unnatural creatures still dwelt, longing for the blood of mortals. Perhaps The Monk—that unholy creature of Mr.Lewis’s horrid novel—lay waiting for her, biding his time until he could have his evil way with her innocent flesh!

And when dear Eleanor had related the story of her late mother, who had died so suddenly whilst her daughter was away from home, well, what was she to think? These macabre imaginings were only amplified when General Tilney had forbidden his daughter from showing Catherine the late Mrs. Tilney’s chambers. There must, most certainly, be some evil-doing, must there not?

Consequently, Catherine did what any curious and intelligent young lady would do: she decided to investigate those very chambers, to see whatever it was the unpleasant general so desired her not to see. She had crept up the stairs when she thought no one about, only to be discovered by Henry, whom she had come to like very much. How he had scorned her fevered fantasies! How he had chastised her! His words rang through her mind as if he were speaking them only now: “Consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?”

And she had fled to her room, where she had let loose tears of shame.

And now, this very evening, General Tilney had returned home unexpectedly from his trip to London, and without warning or explanation, had ordered her out of the house! Oh, how she had sought to clear her brain of her Gothic musing and regain Henry’s approbation, how she had made herself look with clear eyes at the modern buildings that housed the family and confront the truth of Henry’s words. This was England, a civilized and modern country, where evils doings could no more be carried out without every newspaper printing the story than the graveyard could give up its residents. And now, cast out!

Whatever had she done?

Had the general, with his changeable moods and unforgiving disposition, learned of her suspicions? Could Henry have made mention of it, or—heaven forbid!—had Eleanor? Surely Henry had not told his sister of Catherine’s shame, but if he had done so, Eleanor was too dutiful a daughter to hide the news in the face of a direct question from her stern father. No matter the nature of her sin, she must pay the price with her immediate departure, at first light and with hardly time for breakfast. She ought, by all rights, to be packing her trunks and not weeping into her pillows. Her frocks would not fold themselves.

With great effort, she hoisted herself from her bed and gazed about the chamber. There was nothing mysterious about it now. The windows rattled only from the storm-brought winds, the guttering flame on her lamp from the draughts that snuck through the cracks in the wall. The wardrobe merely held her gowns—which must be packed—and the chest lay empty. It was merely a room in a large house. Nothing more.

Disconsolately she packed her trunk and called for a footman to have it taken to be stowed on the carriage at first light. With nothing more to do and no chance of sleep attending her, she made for Eleanor’s suite. Perhaps her friend might have some information on what dreadful thing she had done to be sent off so abruptly, or more likely, a sympathetic ear and some veneer of comfort.

Oh, if only Henry were here! He might have words of consolation for her, for he seemed to have forgiven her for her blunder with his late mother’s rooms. Alas, he had departed some few days previous for his vicarage in Woodston, there to perform his duties for the local church. Only Eleanor remained as her friend. Only Eleanor could offer words that might soothe her troubled mind. And so she donned her dark green robe and then to Eleanor’s rooms she directed her feet.

The grand house was silent. Although all had been aroar not so long before when the General had stormed in like one of the black clouds that threatened the landscape, there remained not a sound from his thundering fury. The lights in the sconces had all been extinguished, and not a solitary footman remained in the coal-black hallways.

For this, Catherine was relieved. She knew of the back passage that Eleanor had shown her between their chambers, where she was unlikely to meet anybody—especially General Tilney, who would never lower himself to anything but the wide passageways of his magnificent home—but she did not wish to have to explain her presence outside of her rooms, when all the household knew she was being sent home almost at once.

In the deep, unfathomable darkness, there was not a peep, not a tremor, not a hint of light past the small flickering puddle shed by her lamp. The wild tempest that raged outside was silenced by the thick walls; there was no draught, no hiss or howl of wind. Only an endless void.

A tap at Eleanor’s door received no answer. Could her friend be asleep already? It had not been half an hour since she had come to Catherine’s room in her nightgown and slippers to deliver to awful news; surely she was not so cold to Catherine’s plight that she would have let her cares slip away and drifted off to sleep. No, Eleanor was nothing if not compassionate and sensitive. From everything Catherine knew of her, she would be awake, as unable to sleep as Catherine herself. She tapped once more on the door, then stepped back as it released from its catch and began to open.

“Eleanor? Are you awake?” Catherine’s whisper disappeared into the darkness. “Eleanor?”

There was no sound. Taking a deep breath, Catherine pushed the door open wide enough to edge through and entered the chamber. There was no fire, no lamp burning quietly in a corner. The room was as black as the inky hallways. “Eleanor?” she dared more loudly. Still there came no reply.

With nervous steps, Catherine crept to where she knew the bed to be, for all that it was obscured by the darkness. Her lamp lit only a few short feet beyond her, but within three steps it melted out of the darkness and into her sight. The curtains had been pulled aside, revealing the empty bedclothes beyond. Her friend was not here! A quick glance around the space showed no sign of the night robe or the slippers Eleanor had worn not long before, but the sheets—when Catherine dared to touch them—were still warm! Eleanor had returned to her chamber and had gone to bed, but now had vanished from her room! Vanished into the night! Just like in the novels she so adored reading.

Nonsense! She chided herself against her fevered imaginings. Had her misadventures in the late Mrs. Tilney’s rooms taught her nothing? Henry—Mr. Tilney—had set her to rights on that clearly enough. This was England in the modern day, a time of science and enlightened thought. There were no ghouls, no mysterious goings-on. People did not just vanish into the night. There must be a reasonable and simple explanation for her friend’s empty bed. Perhaps she had been summoned by her imperious father, or perhaps one of the servants required her advice on where to store Catherine’s trunks until they could be loaded onto the carriage.

Catherine determined to sit in the chair by the fireplace, where she had sat so often before as the two young ladies talked into the night, there to wait for her friend. She did adore this chamber, as it was in the old part of the house, unlike her own room which was in the new addition. Eleanor’s chamber boasted high stone walls and elaborately carved joists and beams and panels, and the evidence of a grand Gothic arch that spanned the space. The fireplace too, was huge and ancient, and most elaborate in its wealth of stone carvings of flowers and foliage and twisted vines. How many happy hours had the two spent, basking in its warm and cheery light?

She moved slowly towards it now, step by cautious step, until the flame in her lamp began to pick out the lines and shape she knew so well… But what was that she saw? Instead of the heavy carved panel that flanked the yawning hearth, a gaping black hole appeared in the wall! With tentative steps, she crept forward, one hand outstretched, as if hoping to touch what her eyes could not see.

But no! The panel was gone, and in its place was what looked like the entrance to a long tunnel, darker even than the deeply shadowed bedchamber. The weak lamplight could not penetrate the all-devouring night that stretched before her; it may as well have been a portal to the netherworld, where no light dare shine at all.

Surely Eleanor had not crossed this ominous threshold! She would not act so rashly as to dare the forbidding gloom, the descent into darkness! She was too sensible, too rational a creature for that! And yet, as she scoured the room once more, there seemed no other explanation as to where her friend had gone. Her slippers were not on the floor by her bed, her robe not folded across the chair or counterpane, and the lamp that Catherine recalled sitting on the small table by her bed, gone! Why else would this yawning maw be open, had Eleanor not entered it for some unknown reason?

Catherine glanced downwards to the floor. There, lying just inside the inky blackness of the secret passage, lay something that caught the light of her weak lamp. She knelt to examine the small object, and picked up a single bead. This was one of the very beads that decorated the toes of Eleanor’s slippers! She had remarked upon the exquisite embroidery and beadwork only two days previous upon one such midnight gab by the fire, and she knew now that her friend had, indeed, entered the dark lair.

Whatever ought she to do? Should she wait here in the soft chair by the dead fire? Should she return to her room? Or should she…

Her final, unfinished thought was interrupted by a cry that emanated from far within the gaping abyss before her. Eleanor was in trouble! Without another thought, Catherine steadied her lamp and plunged into the darkness in search of her friend.

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Part  II

The lightless passageway went straight only for a few steps before veering sharply to the right and then descending, via a narrow staircase, down what felt like storey upon storey, into what must have been the dungeons of the ancient abbey, on which bones the current house was erected. The darkness was absolute, save for the feeble puddle shed by her poor lamp, which allowed her to see the next step and nothing else. How far down would these stairs go? To attempt the ascent back to Eleanor’s chamber was almost as daunting as to continue, and her friend needed her! And so, down Catherine went, her forehead damp and clammy, her heart racing with every step.

When at last she felt she could go no further, the stairs ended before a heavy door. Her fingers probed at the rough wooden surface of it, encountering a cold metal latch that her lamp revealed as unadorned and marred with the patina of age, but unrusted. This door must be often used, then! It did not yield to a gentle nudge, but the latch lifted smoothly under her hand, making no sound. Just as silently, the door swung open into yet more darkness, allowing her to slip through and continue her search.

Now the passageway was level, curving slightly to the right. Was this the ancient perimeter wall of the abbey, some circular barricade that swept the ancient kitchen gardens and orchards? Or was it something more sinister, perhaps, a buried pathway beneath the graveyard, leading to crypts and warrens and places best left forgotten? Her mind leapt to poor Agnes, cast down into the dungeons beneath the statue of Saint Clare by the evil Prioress to await her doom. What horrors lay in store for Eleanor in these dismal depths? What for Catherine! With her heart racing faster than she thought possible, she pressed onward. She must save her friend!

Before she had traveled many paces, the passage turned sharply to the right again, leading inward to what must be the centre of the old abbey. Shortly thereafter, she came upon another door which opened as smoothly as the first. This door led not to another passageway, however, but into what seemed a large and cavernous subterranean chamber. The space was almost black, but her eyes, so accustomed to the absolute darkness of the passages, picked out the faintest suggestion of light that emanated from an archway leading into another room on the far side of the room. Was this part of the Medieval crypts? Would the old abbey have had dungeons, tiny cells to house members of the community who posed some threat to the whole, or poor souls whose presence itself somehow posed danger to somebody? Once more her thoughts drifted to Mr. Lewis’ Agnes, who was cast down into the crypts for the crime of having conceived a child out of wedlock. Catherine shivered and almost imagined she heard that poor lady’s scream as the heavy iron door clanged irrevocably shut above her, the bolt sliding into its place with terrible finality, leaving her to her lonely and silent demise.

But wait! That was no imaginary cry, but one issuing from a real person… was that Eleanor’s voice, calling out in such distress? An iron resolution filled Catherine’s spirit and she strode across the empty chamber with bold steps, ready to save her friend!

She shuttered her lamp before she reached the archway. She must keep her wits about her; she must keep her presence concealed for as long as possible. She stopped a few paces before the archway and crept to the side, where she might peer around the flanking wall without being framed. Kneeling down on the cold and damp stone floor, she craned her neck to look into the chamber beyond, and what she saw left ice running through her veins.

This chamber seemed larger still than the one she had only now crossed. At the far end, a fire raged in a massive hearth, sending wild and chaotic light dancing in macabre patterns across the space. The furthest walls, including the one in which her archway stood, were almost in total shadow, but the walls closest to the frenetic flames housed a terrifying assortment of cages just large enough to hold a single man. Only one was presently occupied. It was too far to see clearly, and the ever-changing light made it impossible to discern his features, but the man therein seemed somehow familiar. He rattled the door to his prison and yelled and ranted and made an unholy noise; he was not one to go quietly to his fate.

More horrible still, however, was what Catherine saw in the centre of the room.

A figure stood behind a low brazier, the bulk of his body a black silhouette against the bright fire that blazed in the hearth behind him, but with enough light being cast up from the glowing coals at his feet that Catherine could discern his features. At any other time she would name this heinous creature General Tilney. Now the only name that came to mind was Monster.

His eyes glowed red in the blood-hued light from the flames before him, his face contorted into a hideous mockery of a human visage, etched with rage and anger and pure evil. His hands he held before him in some obscene supplication to the forces of darkness, and his clothing was as pitch black as the depths of that infernal region. But the worst was his mouth. From with the rictus of a snarl—or was it a twisted smile?—Catherine could see two sharp white points where his eye teeth ought to be, and his entire lower face was red, not with the sanguineous hue of the coals, but with viscous liquid that dripped in globules and rivulets from his lips and down his chin.

At his feet, beside the brazier, was a heavily fallen object. The monster crouched down and lowered his face to the object, hoisting it slightly as he did so, and revealing it to be a man! The monster now buried his face into the fallen man’s neck, eliciting an agonized cry from the hapless victim as he did so.

To his other side, knelt another shape—this one a woman—who kept crying out, “Father, no! Do not do this! Please, for my sake, cease!” Eleanor!

Could her friend possibly hold enough of her father’s love to make some impression on his lost and doomed soul, or was she to be his next victim? Then Eleanor turned her head to look over at the man in the cage along the wall and she burst into a flood of tears, all the while begging the travesty that was her sire to stop his dreadful actions.

Catherine felt her heart stop beating within her breast. This was not possible! This was England, in the modern day! It was a time of science and reason and enlightened thought… and yet she could not discount what gruesome evidence her eyes gave her: General Tilney was a Vampyre!

Just when the abject horror of what she was witnessing seemed too much to withstand, another sound reached Catherine’s ears, rendering the entire scene even worse. For there, along the far side of the chamber from the fireplace, not so very far from her own position at the base of the archway, and lost in the shadows of an assortment of crates lining the wall, was another cage. This one, too, was occupied, and the person inside, moaning in distress, was none other than Henry!

What was Henry doing here? When had he returned? He had departed only this very morning for Woodston, the engagements of his curate necessitating his presence in his parish. The distance was twenty miles there and twenty back; surely he had not ridden forty miles, only to end up locked in a cage in his father’s dungeons? Oh, Henry! How awful a fate!

She dared to extend her head a mite more to examine him more closely. He was barely standing on his two legs; it seemed more that the tight enclosure of the man-sized cage was preventing him from collapsing to the ground. His eyes were closed, his breathing rapid and shallow, and his face as white as his cravat…

But no! His cravat was not white at all, for there, in the darkness of the shadows and the wildly flickering light, did she see stains of blood upon the snowy expanse of linen? Surely his father had not been feeding upon Henry’s life force! This was most horrific indeed, beyond anything from her most fevered imaginings. The atrocities which she was seeing, after her long and terrifying journey into these dismal depths and the wild flames that leapt and danced across her vision and her soul, brought her almost to a faint. Surely this was not real! She must be caught in a nightmare.

She pinched herself sharply with long nails and bit back a yelp. The pinch hurt, and the marks on her skin confirmed the sickening realization that this was all very, awfully real.

There was nothing else to be done: she must save him! Him, and Eleanor, and that poor man who had been watching the Vampyre suck the life blood from the victim on the stone floor. But how was she to act? What possible skills did she—Catherine Morland of Fullerton, age seventeen years—possess that would enable her to disarm and destroy such an infernal creature as this?

She searched her memories for some shard, some infinitesimal clue, that might help her. Her novels, those horrid tales by Mrs. Radcliffe and Mr. Lewis and their race, might hold some clue. And yet everything she thought she knew seemed useless. Vampyres were said to be repelled by the symbols of Faith, and yet the Monster lived in an abbey! He celebrated his demonic rites in the very edifice where the brothers of old celebrated their sacred offices. Nor did sunlight appear to weaken him, for Catherine had seen the man by candlelight in the ballroom and by sunlight in his chaise and in his gardens, and his vigour seemed unabated in the light of day. Alas! She must search further.

Would a silver bullet stop him? Or a stake to the heart? She held neither in her hands, should she find the strength and ability to use them. Oh, how dreadful! She must think further. Her heart beat so loudly within her that she feared the dread creature would hear it and snatch her from her concealment and make of her his next meal. Would he attack her where she stood, or drag her over to the fire where she might look with final horror upon the face of her killer?

The fire… What did she recall about fire? An image—an engraving leapt to her thoughts, of a Vampyre killer destroying one of the undead in his coffin by immolating his remains with hot fire. This she possessed! Her lamp, still burning beneath the shutters, was her first weapon; the brazier at the Monster’s feet her second, and the raging fire at the back of the room her third. This must work! It must. She had no further recourse.

And she must rescue Henry.

She peered once more into the cavernous space before her. The creature that was General Tilney had turned now from his meal of the wretched man on the floor and was speaking to Eleanor in tones too quiet to hear, but with evident anger and venom. Her friend was shaking and weeping, seeming still to implore her father to stop. The man in the cage was shouting and rattling the bars and shaking the door, making a dreadful din, and the General now turned his attention to his prisoner.

Without thinking, Catherine crept across the archway to the side closest to Henry, and when the Vampyre turned away from her, she crept, almost crawling, across the floor to Henry’s cage. It was deep enough in shadow that unless one looked, she might pass unnoticed. Without daring to draw breath, she covered the distance and at last, pressed herself against the wall beside his cage, thankful for the deep green of her robe. In her accustomed white garb, she should be seen in an instant!

“Henry?” Her voice was barely a whisper. If she could not hear herself, how could an unconscious man hear her? And yet his eyelids twitched. She whispered again, “I have come to save you. Pray, can you hear me?” His head dropped and then moved upwards again. A nod? She must assume so. She looked at the door on the cage. There was no lock; merely a bar holding the door closed. What torture this must be for the prisoners, seeing the path to escape, but being unable to reach it due to the confines of their prison.

The General was still berating his daughter, his voice now loud enough in his anger for Catherine to hear some of his words. “…Not waste your dowry on one such as he… At least a viscount, preferably a marquess or earl… add to our wealth, not deplete it…”

Could this be him? Eleanor had mentioned a beau, a man whom she wished to marry, but whose fortune was not great enough, nor his caste, for her father to approve the union. He was, she had said, merely the second son of an earl, who must rely upon his training in the Law to make his way in the world. Not unlike Henry, who held a living on his father’s lands for his income. Oh, that most vile man!

As the General ranted, Catherine reached across the cage and as carefully as she could, began to slide the bar across its holdings. The metal rattled on the cage, and she shrank back, dreading what would ensue if the General heard her and turned to look. Instead, Eleanor caught her eye and gave an almost imperceptible gesture, and then began to renew her pleas to her vile parent with added vigour.

Emboldened by this deflection, Catherine attempted the bar once more. This time it slid free and she caught it and laid it on the floor. Henry’s eyes flickered open, although his regard was vacant, as if he could not see her. His ashen face was shocking to look upon, and as the door to the cage swung slowly open, Catherine found herself stepping towards the ailing man to catch him in her arms before he collapsed to the cold stone floor. His head drooped onto her shoulder as she staggered under his weight, and by some instinct, she pressed her lips against his head.

Almost at once, he seemed to strengthen. His legs took more of his weight, and Catherine felt his head come more under his control. “Come, to the wall,” she whispered, “and sit upon the crate,” and now his nod was definite. Still supporting him with all her strength, she shifted her body to guide him, and his forehead now lay right by her lips. Once more she touched them to him, now pressing ever-so-lightly upon his skin rather than his hair.

The change again was instant and remarkable. He stood straighter, easing himself from her stumbling embrace, and raised his head to look into her eyes. Gone was that vacant stare of a dying man; this regard was from Henry Tilney, the man she so admired, the man on whom she had pinned her girlish hopes.

His eyes asked questions she could not begin to fathom, but when he rasped, “Kiss me again,” she did not hesitate, and placed tentative lips upon his cheek. It was rough with the bristles of an incipient beard, but she cared not and kissed it again with more determination.

By now he was standing straight, fully in command of himself once again. He turned to face her, and taking her hands in his, placed his own kiss on the centre of her forehead. She felt it then, that startling sensation, almost electrical, that rushed through her body from that point where his lips had touched her skin. It coursed through her, bringing her vigour and courage and… and something else.

“Love.”

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Part  III

Henry had spoken. He looked down at her, his lips slightly parted, his breathing fast. There was something in his eyes she could not yet name, but knew that she wished to know it.  “Love. That is our weapon. Father’s strength lies in the force of his hatred. He is ruled by envy and a desire for power, and yet he hates those weaker or richer than him. I did not know until recently what he was, but I have seen the perversion of his nature for many years. Now I understand the creature he has become. Nothing is strong enough to withstand that dreadful passion, except love. You, Catherine, with your sweet naïveté and your innocent affections, you bring the one thing against which he has no power. You bring love.” And with those words he wrapped his arms about her and crushed her to his chest, and she felt a hundred feet tall, all golden and aglow like some mythical Greek goddess. “With you.. With us together, we can end his terror!”

Catherine’s eyes widened at these words. Love… surely Henry did not mean… could not mean… But no, there would be time later to ponder the meaning of his words. For now, there was a task to be done, a quest to be undertaken.

The Monster still had not seen them; he was shouting at his daughter, who, for all her pleading and tears, was yet standing firm against the tirade. Was she deliberately drawing his ire so as to prevent him from seeing what was occuring behind his back? How brave Elearnor was! Did she, too, draw her strength from love?

As if hearing her thoughts, Henry whispered, “That gentleman in the other cage is a friend of mine, Geoffrey Neville. He and Eleanor had an understanding, which Father refused to permit. I had believed that Father threatened him and forced him to leave England, but not until I found this—” he gestured to the demonic shape in the centre of the chamber, “here tonight, that I discovered his true whereabouts. I returned when I had news that Neville had disappeared near Northanger, but I never expected this! Nor could I, at first, understand why Father let him remain alive, but as I watched, until he…” his voice trailed off and his hand wandered to his neck, to where his cravat was torn and bloodied. “Until he attacked me, his own son, I saw that Father could not approach him at all. By what trickery he trapped him, I cannot think. Eleanor has been bringing him food and water, but Father seems unable to near his cage. Now I understand why: She protects him with her love, just as his gives her the strength to fight for him.”

“How, then, do we defeat him? I have read much about Vampyres in those novels you teased me about so shockingly, but nothing seems true.”

“You really expected to learn about real Vampyres from novels?” Even in this dire situation, Henry’s teasing tone was heard.

“Where else might I learn about them?” Had she been less terrified, she might have punctuated the question with an indignant stomp of her foot. “He goes out in the sunlight as do you or I, and if he lives in an abbey, I am certain a silver cross will not deter him.”

“No…” Henry was pensive. “Not the cross itself, nor any religious item, for they are mere symbols. What, I believe, is the real weapon is the love carried by the wielder. A vengeful bishop seeking power will have no luck with a silver cross, but an honest man who truly feels love in his heart—be it the love of God or the love for his fellow man—will vanquish with nothing but his own goodness.

The creature on the floor by the brazier, on whom the Monster had been feasting when first Catherine spied the room, began to stir. “Oh, he is not dead!”

“No, but he will soon be,” Henry lamented. “We cannot save him, but we can save my sister and Neville. Quick, let us make a plan!”

They whispered together for a moment, and then Henry caught Eleanor’s eye and made a gesture towards the cage that held his friend. He raised a hand and counted down with his fingers, three… two… one…

As he closed his fist to signal the attack, Catherine dove to the side of the room where the shadows were deepest, whilst Henry, now fully recovered, gave a great yell. The Monster spun around on his feet and lunged for his son, allowing Eleanor to tear away the bar that locked Geoffrey’s cage and free him from his prison. The man stepped free and staggered, only to find himself in Eleanor’s arms. She kissed him once upon the lips as Catherine watched in awe, and at once, the man stood tall and strong. Catherine scurried around the edge of the room to her friend and her intended, as Henry darted around the cage and the low crates that lined his end of the chamber, drawing his father’s focus and ire. It was a horrid game of cat-and-mouse, one which would end in devastation for one of the players.

Then Henry stumbled and at once the General was upon him. He raised his vile head and those white fangs gleamed cruelly from the blood-stained face before he lowered himself to his son’s fallen form.

“NO!” Catherine screamed, flinging herself across the room as she did so. “You evil monster, you shall not, for I love him!”

The Monster stopped still for a moment, which allowed her enough time to reach him before he could do damage to her beau. She felt, rather than heard, Eleanor and Geoffrey at her back, and when the Monster seemed almost to fly across the small space between them, she flung her lamp at him.

The sound of the shattering glass filled the chamber as the lamp struck its target. Oil from the well splashed out, covering the Monster’s black garb, and the flames took hold of the fabric. As the oil permeated the strange coat the Vampyre wore, it became as a wick and the entire garment erupted into flames, engulfing the creature within and eliciting unearthly screams.

“Quick! We must escape!” Catherine knew not whose words these were, but she did know the truth of them.

“Where? How?”

“There is a passageway, through there, to the gardens.” This was Henry’s voice now. “Follow me!” He dashed to the wall beside the fireplace, where a panel slid back to reveal the passageway of which he spoke.

The Monster’s screams echoed off the cold stone walls and ceiling, and as he staggered about the space, his flaming coat sent of sparks that caught the wooden crates that lined the walls. One of them caught, and immediately something within began to emit noxious fumes and an alarming sound.

“Run! Now!” This was Eleanor.

Henry was at the entrance to the tunnel, urging his sister through it. Neville watched in horror, his gaze darting between the burning monstrosity in his flaming coat and the dark abyss into which his beloved had flung herself.

“The man… the man on the floor…” Catherine cried. “We cannot leave him!”

“No, dearest, he is as good as dead. We must leave now!”

But Catherine would hear nothing of these words. Until the wretched creature had ceased to breathe, she could not abandon him. She scurried to his side and felt his skin for warmth, his nose for breath. “He lives still! We must help him!”

She reached down to feel the man’s hand, and as she touched him, his eyes cracked open.

“Can you move? We must be gone now!”

She grabbed both his hands in her own and he rallied, seeming to gain strength through her touch. He looked up and she knew him: he was the young footman who had helped her with her trunks only hours before. As he began to rise to his feet, the screams from the burning Vampyre grew louder still, and a hollow voice rang through the chamber.

“You cannot withstand it, Tilney! They have conquered you. Love for an individual has power to stop your own, but compassion for a stranger is beyond your ability to resist. I take my leave of you, but I shall see in anon… in MY residence!”

The fallen man was now on his feet and guided by Catherine and Geoffrey Neville, stumbled to the doorway, which Henry sealed closed behind them, just as some terrible explosion sounded from within the chamber.

“Run!”

The tunnel was narrow and utterly black, but the floor was even and it took the five swiftly away from that dreadful scene. Before long, Catherine could see a thinning of the darkness, which revealed itself to be a doorway into a place of slightly more light. Henry wrenched open the door and pushed his fellow fugitives through it, before slamming it shut and bolting it.

Catherine stared about her, her eyes sensitive to the slightest light after the total blackness of the tunnel. They seemed to be in a small building—perhaps, from the dimensions of the place, a chapel of some sort. She recalled a small chapel on the far side of the gardens, abutting the graveyard near the village church. Had they travelled so far underground? But there was no time to think of that now. Green tendrils of smoke had begun to escape from behind the door through which they had come.

They hurried outside through the door at the back of the building and stared in horror at the sight that greeted them.

Northanger Abbey was awash in flames. They licked through every doorway and every window. There was no hope. Nothing of the building would survive.

But there, gathered at the edge of the gardens, was a large group of people, and the five survivors of the chamber swayed to their number with halting steps across the sodden earth.

“Miss Eleanor, Master Henry!” The gasps of relief were evident.

“We had thought you lost in there,” one man said. Catherine peered at him—he was Crenshaw, the butler.

“Oh, thank the Lord!” This was Mrs. Portnoy, the housekeeper. “None could survive that! Where is the master?”

Between coughs and gulps of air, Henry asked, “Are all the staff accounted for? Is anybody still in the building?”

“Only John, the footman,” came a sad voice. This was a young maid, the one who had cleared Catherine’s room that very first morning when she had found the laundry list.

“Nay, Betty, I’m here,” John spoke from behind Henry and Mr. Neville, where he had been hidden. Betty choked back a cry and ran to his arms, in which he enfolded her as if he would never let her go. He too, it seemed, had been protected from the Monster’s deprivations by somebody’s love.

There was nothing to be done now but watch the abbey burn. The building was destroyed, and with it all the memories, good and ill, that it housed. But as the sun extended its first rays above the distant horizon, sending its gentle glow to illuminate the heavens, three pairs of lovers sat on the cold stone benches of the churchyard as they watched the smoldering ruins that had so lately been their home. There would be a time for mourning, but as surely as the sun was rising on a new day, there would also be a new beginning, free from the evil that had overtaken Northanger, free for love—and not hate—to blossom.

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©Riana Everly 2018

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6 thoughts on “Boo! A special treat for Hallowe’en: Northanger Angst

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