Emelia Hartwood ushered Cpt Georgi into the library to view the scene for herself. Tattered remains of evergreen swags littered the fireplace and shelves and floor. A set of rolling-steps stood away from the book-lined walls at an alarming angle, dripping a straggle of bloodstained ivy from its handrail. The reading table that was untouched by the carnage held a model merchant ship laid up in polished oak dry dock and a Naval sword lounging across a matching stand.
Georgi’s instincts were drawn to the portrait of a sea captain glowering from above the mantle. It was a portrait like many others, except this was no framed canvas. Captain Hartwood’s likeness was daubed directly onto the oak panels. She jutted her chin and thrust her hands deep into the pockets of her flying jacket. ‘Is that him.’ she said.
‘Yes.’ Emelia pulled her pink angora shrug close around herself. ‘He gives me the heebies. Do you think you can deal with this?’
‘Perhaps. He looks like a frosty old cove. What did he do precisely?’
‘He tore down the Christmas decorations.’
Georgi eyed her old school chum and snorted. ‘Decorations,’ she said. ‘How terrible for you all.’
‘It’s happened before but this year was different. The tree in here has been wrecked twice and then yesterday one of our maids was run over.’ Emelia pointed at the rolling-steps. ‘Mother is beside herself. We’ve hordes of house guests about to descend for the festivities and now this. The vicar tried an exorcism but didn’t get very far.’ She gazed at Georgi miserably. ‘Then I remembered you had some dealings with this woo-woo stuff. You’re our only hope.’
Georgi suppressed a growl. ‘Woo-woo?’ she said.
Emelia pulled her shrug a little tighter and offered a wan smile.
‘Please?’ she added.
‘Why was yon chap painted onto the panels?’ Georgi demanded.
‘He wasn’t. It just… appeared there. There was a portrait but Alexander sold it.’ Emelia glanced away. ‘Taxes. Daddy didn’t leave us as much of the old moolah as we’d hoped.’
‘And that’s when stuff got snooky?’
Georgi jerked a thumb toward the likeness in dark oak. ‘Tell me his story.’
‘Not much to tell. Lost at sea,’ Emelia said. ‘West Indies. Sugar, rum, that sort of stuff. Though rumour had it he dabbled in…’
‘Woo-woo?’ Georgi rubbed at the iridescent skin circling her ring finger. It was tingling in response to some latent power within the room. She pointed at the table. ‘I take it the boat and sword were his?’
‘Well all right then.’ Georgi snatched up the sword and brought it around to slice the model just below the plimsoll line.
Stinking water cascaded from the fracture, raging across the rugs; flooding ankle deep in seconds. ‘Help needed!’ Georgi plunged through deepening tides shouting, ‘Steps!’
The fetid liquid had risen past their knees by the time the women maneuvered the library ladder across to the hearth.
Then the indoor lake erupted in a wall of sound and stench as green-brown tentacles appeared from the deep to thrash unerringly toward them. Emelia shrieked, but Georgi stumbled forward through waist deep brine, hacking at rubbery appendages with all her strength. She had severed three of the flailing limbs before she managed to draw her pistol and empty it into the beast. Only then did it retreat beneath the surface.
Georgi floundered up the short flight of steps to face Captain Aubrey Hartwood. His eyes glittered red and black and malevolent and his lips moved in silent mutterings.
‘No more shenanigans from you, me old hearty,’ she snarled. She raised the sword with both hands and struck. Shock waves reverberated through her whole being but she sliced and kept on slicing, the steel blade excising chunks of board. With each blow the portrait radiated blue fire like a flaming plum pudding. Excruciated howls rose over the crash of the waves, echoing the roar of the vanquished sea monster. Dark fluid gushed over Georgi’s hands and splashing into her face.
And then… silence.
Long gashes ran through the oak sections but of the portrait there was no trace. Neither was there any trace of water, nor of the tentacled beast. Only the drooping yule garlands remained.
Emelia was frowning up at Georgi. ‘Was that it?’ she said. ‘Is he gone?’
Georgi wiped ichor from her face and eased her aching arms — and sighed. ‘Yes, Em. It’s all over. And a Merry Christmas to you too.’
(c) jan edwards
(written for the annual Renegades Xmas party comp: to write a seasonal piece between 500 and 800 words.