A new short story. A group of friends on a road trip. The driver didn't take enough care on the tight bends in the road. And so they meet the mysterious Leonard Gray...
Fate can be strange. Ben Edwards looked around at his friends in the rickety old Land Rover that Chris Taylor had managed to… acquire from somewhere. Since it was Chris that managed to get the vehicle, it only seemed right that he should drive. But, not for the first time that day, Ben wondered if they might regret it.
But fate looked at though she had played her hand.
Ben smiled in recognition of the fact that Chris had cracked another of his inane jokes, and the rest of the crew were in fits of laughter. There was another thing about lady fate, Ben was amazed that somehow, she had thrown this group together.
They were an odd bunch.
“Hey! Dreamy, what are you thinking about?”
Ben smiled again, this time in the direction of Sally Gibson. Lovely Sally, a gentle girl, naturally blonde, but kind and sensitive too. Her petite figure often made Ben look twice.
“Sorry Sal, whats going on?”
“Chris reckons we are going to have the time of our lives, and told us that silly joke. The one about the horse…”
Ben grinned, “Oh yeah, Chris stop with the shit jokes will you?”
Chris looked in the rear view mirror, and stuck a v sign in the air. Ben glanced at Olivia. She was smiling away, but he thought he could see worry behind her eyes. Maybe this trip was just what she needed. Maybe.
“You okay Ollie?”
She turned, a blank expression on her face, just for a moment, then she came back from whatever plane she had been on.
“Yes thanks… yeah, I’m fine.”
Ben noticed the wan look again though. Maybe the break up with her long term boyfriend took more out of her than she was letting on. He thought about having a little chat with her, but there was no need to worry. The ever sensitive Sally sat back in her seat, and pushed an arm around her friend’s shoulders.
The Land Rover bounced over the increasingly pot holed roads as they headed deeper into the Lake District. He decided that the small hotel they stayed in the for the night in Kendal, had been just right. Ben glanced out of the window and smiled. He loved it up among the rolling fells. He reckoned they were a few miles away from Ambleside now. He also reckoned Chris was driving too fast.
“Chris, slow down a bit mate, these roads are lethal…”
“Aww, bollocks! I’ve driven around here loads of times. Stop worrying you old woman!”
“Thats as maybe, but this old thing sounds like its going to fall apart…”
“Shut up and look out of the window, we’ll be there soon.”
Sally reached forward from the back seat, and grabbed my hand. Ben glanced over his shoulder into her smiling face.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be alright…”
And then Chris lost control on a bend.
They skidded, and Chris fought the heavy steering, but to no avail. Ben saw the stone wall coming and braced himself.
Then, there was the sound of grinding metal, a huge noise, and he felt himself being thrown forward like a passenger on an adventure park ride, and then nothing.
Ben awoke to find himself sitting in an armchair, by a roaring open fire. The fireplace was bare accept for tools to stoke the fire, and was built from solid stone. He blinked and tried to work out where he was. Then the memory of the crash came flooding back.
He immediately panicked and tried to stand. He found that he couldn’t though, he had been restrained with study nylon straps, the kind you see on the back of flatbed lorries to hold its cargo in place. He assumed it was so he couldn’t fall out of the chair while he’d been unconscious. Instead, he used his head, swivelling around to take in more of his surroundings.
Turning to his left, there was another chair facing him. Olivia was sitting in it, looking at him with cold, dead eyes.
Ben felt his whole body stiffen. Where the hell were they? He looked the other way, and saw that Sally was strapped in alongside him. She was slumped in the chair, but had some colour in her cheeks at least. Then he lifted his head and saw Chris.
He was stood up against the far wall of the room. One half of his face was a bloody pulp, and the other was contorted in a death mask. Ben blinked several times and looked again. Chris was clearly dead. Who stands a dead body up against a wall? He was about to look away, when he noticed how Chris was attached to the wall.
His head was being held upright by a u-shaped bracket made from what looked like iron. It had been hammered into the wall so that it acted as a collar to keep his head up. Nylon cargo straps had been stretched over his torso, riveted to planks of timber, and then the timber nailed to the wall too.
Ben felt a gag reflex building in his throat. He tried to tear his eyes away from the the cadaver that used to be Chris. It had two steaks of blood running from the eyes and down the face in almost perfect symmetry. The gag that threatened to climb his throat in pursuit of freedom, finally made it. He turned his head to one side to try not to puke it up over himself. Then, he was confronted with Olivia staring, dead, and cold, straight at him.
He forced himself to check her over. She appeared to have no visible injuries. She was seated and strapped into a chair in the same way he was. He turned away feeling sick again. He tried to reach an arm out to Sally, but he was a long way short. She was still slumped in her chair, but now that his vision had cleared, he could see the gentle rise and fall of her chest; she was breathing at least. He examined her visually too, and could see no injuries.
Looking around the room (and trying not to look at Chris), he released that they were being held in what looked like a farm house. That made sense to him, since they had crashed in the middle of nowhere, so the only habitation was like to be a farm. It looked old too, the room they were in had high ceilings, and timber beams.
Ben shut his eyes for a moment. Who, and what kind of sick individual, stands a corpse up against the wall? Who straps people into chairs that are either dead or injured? He suddenly felt the hairs rising on the back of his neck. His mouth became dry and parched, and he noticed his breathing was rapid and shallow. Fear was gripping him with some intensity.
He tried to get it under control, and then door opened.
The person that entered the room was tall, very tall in fact. Ben could see that it was a man with close cropped white hair, dressed in a black boiler suit. He looked to be quite elderly, Ben reckoned he was at least in his late sixties, yet he had a physique that suggested he was still capable of physical work.
The man wore eyeglasses, the small, round lensed type. He walked across to the fireplace without saying a word, and stoked the fire, before turning and placing his hands behind his back. He fixed his gaze on Ben, who, despite the fire, suddenly felt cold. His face was deeply lined and weathered, but not particularly malevolent.
He had a deep timbre to his voice, but quite an educated sounding accent.
“What have you done to my friends?”
“I have rescued them from the vehicle you were all in. The vehicle that crashed into the side of my house.”
“Rescued? You call that rescued?”
He gestured towards Chris. The man glanced over, and then frowned.
“He is the guilty one. His judgement has been served.”
Ben was about to answer, but then stopped. He played the man’s words over in his mind and arrived at a conclusion quickly. Loon. But how did he know his name? The man was clearly off his head. He decided to change tac a little.
‘So, what is your name?”
“My name is Leonard Gray. I am the proprietor around here.”
“Where is here?”
“This? This is Grays Farm. It has been in my family for generations.”
Ben couldn’t believe he was having a normal, rational conversation with a man that strapped bodies into armchairs, and nailed them to walls.
“Why didn’t you call an ambulance?”
“Do I look like someone that would call on such a mortal dependancy?”
“What? So you only call upon immortal services do you? Sorry, but I think you are a lunatic, mate. Get on the phone and call AN AMBULANCE, YOU FUCKING WEIRDO!”
Leonard just smiled, removed his glasses, polished them on his sleeve, and then replaced them. Then he fixed Ben with a steady gaze again.
“You clearly do not understand your predicament do you Ben?”
Ben was getting an idea. There was a calmness about Leonard Gray. A Calmness that wasn’t natural at all. He was after all, standing in a room with at least two cadavers that he had manhandled into the room. He decided to play dumb, since that was the way he felt. He also realised that he couldn’t establish the extent of his own injuries.
“Well, let me see. You are the only one alive. Sally there, she is as good as dead. Olivia smashed her head in, and Chris? Well, he broke his neck…”
“Thanks for the roll call of my dead friends. But Sally and I need help. Are you going to…”
“Sarcasm and disrespect? That’s a shame Ben. You will now regret that.”
Gray walked over to the door that he had entered by, and opened it. Stood just outside was a woman who might have been very attractive. Ben felt that gag rising again in his throat. The woman entered the room with a stiff, unnatural gait. Her face was death white, and veins were visible in her once delicate cheeks. She was wearing a white boiler suit, and no footwear. Her black hair was tied back in a ponytail, making her look even more severe.
“This is Sara, Ben. She went swimming in the top lake. She went swimming when she wasn’t a strong swimmer, so the lake took her. She will now show you why you should hold your tongue.”
Sara walked over behind the chair the Olivia was strapped into. She slowly reached out, and pushed the back of the chair so that it swung Olivia around. Ben vomited immediately. Most of the back of her head was missing. There was just blood, pulp, and grey pus oozing from the massive wound. Sara leaned forward, and licked at the wound, in the same way that a cat laps it’s milk.
Ben retched, but there was nothing left to eject from his stomach. Leonard strolled over to Sara, who looked at him with obedient, dead eyes. He gestured for her to step away, which she did, wiping her mouth with her hand as she did so. Leonard pushed Olivia’s chair so that she swung back around to face him.
“You see Ben? You would be well advised to show me SOME RESPECT.”
The yelled last part made Ben jump. Doing so, caused a sticky wetness to run down his back. He was bleeding. He was about to say so, and then told himself off. He didn’t fancy a visit from Sara.
“What are you going to do with me?”
“That rather depends on you.”
“Well, I can’t do a lot. You have me cargo-strapped to the chair.”
Leonard smiled, “Yes that is true of course. But it still does depend on you.”
“You must give Sally to me.”
Ben felt a coldness run through his veins. The answer was obvious. "NO WAY, you fucking mental case! Get her SOME HELP…"
Leonard smiled that wry little smile. "Her pulse is weak, she has nearly gone. I can have her then, but only then."
"Well, I'm not giving her to you. Not while I am still…"
"Still what Ben? Alive?"
Strange Leonard Gray laughed. He threw his head with a roar of laugher. It wasn't a pleasant sound. Then, he removed his glasses, and wiped his eyes. He carefully replaced his glasses and fixed Ben with a steady gaze.
"You don't understand do you Ben? You're already dead, we all are."
He laughed again.