31 October 2012
Lord Likely’s Halloween Horror: Last Orders
A Chronicle To Chill! A Tale To Terrify! A Story To Soil Oneself to!
IT WAS a dark, chilly October evening, and a blood-curdling scream filled the night.
“BOTTER!” I cried. “This…this is a commoner’s pub!”
My man-servant Botter and I were stood outside a rather dingy-looking tavern called The Pounded Clam, located on a back-alley near the docks. Peering through the filth-encrusted windows, I could see swarms of the great unwashed, laughing and cheering as a loathsome pranny on a piano trotted out a succession of tiresome, jolly ditties designed to make the audience forget quite how awful their existence was proving to be. If there was a Hell, then I imagined it would look like this. Although I expect Hell would be more tastefully decorated.
“Well, yes, m’lord…but I like it here,” my man-servant replied. “It reminds me of my old home.”
“Why? Because it’s horribly cramped, reeks of vomit and everyone in it is insensible to the point of delirium?” I rejoined. Botter opened his mouth and then closed it again, presumably acknowledging that he lacked the intellectual capacity to offer a worthy riposte to my frankly brilliant put-down.
As Botter floundered, I drew my pocket-watch from my waistcoat and flipped it open. “Bah, the night draws on and I have still yet to have a ruddy drink,” I fumed, snapping the watch shut. “I suppose we shall have to go inside, lest I die of thirst before the evening is out.”
But little did I know that what waited for me inside was a fate far worse than death, and that by the end of the night we would all be changed immeasurably, and our undergarments would be considerably damper.
We pushed open the doors of the pub and stepped inside, and as soon as we did so a blanket of silence fell upon us. Where there had been raucous laughter and tuneless singing, there was now nothing, nothing except suspicious looks and frightened eyes. Even the pianist stopped playing, the last discordant note he’d played floating round the room like a ghost.
“Well, this looks like a friendly place,” I whispered to Botter.
“YOUR END!” screamed a scrawny old man, leaping to his feet and pointing a gnarled finger at me. “I CAN SEE YOUR END!”
“Really?” I said, looking down to my groin. “I was sure I had done my trousers up…”
“GREAT PAIN AND SUFFERING AWAITS YOU!” the old fool continued. “DARKNESS WILL ENVELOP YOU!”
“Well, the ale must be good here at least, judging by how soused that silly old sod is,” I remarked. “Let us go and partake of some, eh Botter?”
Botter nodded nervously, and we slowly made our way up to the bar, dozens of eyes boring into us as we went. It was as if ordering drinks was a spectator sport, which considering where we were it probably was, with so little else to do.
Finally we made it to the bar, where to my delight I noted a buxom brunette behind the counter, a curvaceous creature with ‘come-to-bed eyes’ and ‘then-put-your-penis-here’ lips. At last, things were looking up.
“Good evening, m’dear,” I beamed, doffing my topper. “I was going to ask for a stiff one, but I see you’ve already given me one!”
Usually such a scintillating opening gambit would have a lady turning to putty in my hands, but on this occasion the woman remained stoic and unmoved, more like granite than putty.
“Well, erm…two pints please, m’dear.” I said, slightly unnerved by her lack of reaction to my lascivious line. The barmaid stared at me for a moment or two, then spoke.
“I ain’t got anything up top.” She said in a voice that sounded rather like a cat being dragged through a harpsichord.
“I wouldn’t say that, my dear!” I grinned, making a point to stare fixedly at her heaving bosom lest she miss the joke again. But try as I might, the joke was missed, and it sailed off into the silence of the room unappreciated.
“I ain’t got nothin’ up top,” she repeated. “The pumps are dry.”
I deliberated about making another suggestive innuendo incorporating the words ‘dry’ and ‘humping’, but considering the audience I swiftly decided against it.
“Well, why doesn’t someone go and change the barrel, then?” I asked.
“No-one goes down into the cellar,” interjected another voice. “No-one.”
This latest speaker was a rather portly chap with waxed hair and an equally waxed moustache, and I took him to be the landlord. I leant over the bar to address him directly, mustering as much indignation as I could, which happened to be a great amount indeed.
“Don’t you think someone should go down into the cellar, my good man? Unless you plan to serve air all evening?”
“We haven’t served a drink around these parts for a long, long time,” the man said solemnly.
I looked around the tavern and realisation kicked down the door of my mind and barged its way inside. All the glasses in the place were empty. No-one had been drinking at all; they’d just been cradling empty, useless glasses. And yet somehow they’d still been enjoying themselves. What was going on here?
“This is ridiculous!” I roared, slamming my fist on the bar to emphasise my displeasure. “Why, a pub without booze is like a woman without a man – useless and dry. I demand you do something about it now!”
“No-one goes down into the cellar,” the landlord repeated again. “No-one dares go down there on account…” The fellow took a moment to compose himself as his voice cracked. “…On account of what’s down there.”
I rolled my eyes. Now things were beginning to at least approach some sort of sense. Something had clearly spooked these simple-minded cretins, either an unexplained noise or an old ghost story that meant everyone was now too scared to descend into the cellar lest they be devoured by some imagined beast. Ah, the working class. So easily scared by shadows, and so easily steered by superstition! It was a wonder they got out of bed for fear of being devoured by the mysterious floating yellow orb they saw in the sky each morning.
“Very well,” I sighed, adjusting my cuffs. “I shall go down into the cellar for you, for I am none other than Lord Likely, Aristocratic Adventurer and Gentle-Man of Action, and I laugh in the face of fear and kick it in the plums!”
I’d rather hoped for a round of applause or to be ferried around the room on people’s shoulders, hailed as the greatest English hero since Nelson for my stirring proclamation, but all that I got were blank looks and the wizened old doom-monger leaping back to his feet and screaming, “THE END! THE END!”
“Oh shut up, you senile old bastard. Landlord, get me a lantern, a pistol and the address of your delightfully-breasted barmaid. I am going in…”
THE CELLAR door fell open with an almighty thud, revealing beneath it a seemingly bottomless, dark void. I waved the lantern over the opening and saw some rickety old steps leading down into the blackness. This would be easy, I thought.
“Well, here I go. Botter, I trust you’ll accompany me?” I asked. He shuffled nervously on the spot.
“Erm, if it’s okay with you, m’lord, I’ll stay up here and provide er, back-up.” Ah, the working classes, I mused again.
“You gutless coward, Botter,” I snorted as I began to descend the steps. “Remind me to dock your pay.”
“You haven’t paid me for three months, milord,” Botter said.
“Details, details!” I cried back as I disappeared down into the cellar, carefully creeping down the stairs, each step creaking and groaning like a coffin door. Or any door, really. I just said ‘coffin door’ to add to the tension.
As I got to the last step I held my lantern out, bathing the cellar in flickering candlelight. Shadows jumped and fell in the flame as I moved cautiously into the room to investigate.
The cellar was a large, open space with wooden beams running along the ceiling, and old, dusty shelves lining the walls, the latter completely empty of anything resembling alcohol. I shook my head sadly and pressed on towards some shadowy shapes against the back wall, which I presumed to be the barrels.
As I edged nearer I suddenly heard a shuffling, scratching sound behind me. My blood froze and my fingers slowly tightened around the comforting form of the pistol in my other hand. Whether it was ethereal or not, whatever was behind me was going to get a bullet in its real or ethereal face and no questions asked.
I spun round and saw a dark shape on the shelf beside me, but before I could turn the lantern on it the shape scurried along the shelf and then lunged at me. I briefly saw teeth and claws in the lantern-light, and then the creature fell to the floor with a squeak.
I moved the lantern across the floor and saw the devil itself – a wretched little rat, which now sat on its hind legs washing itself. I smiled.
“You gave me quite a fright, little fellow,” I grinned, and then I shot the little blighter right in the face. “Bloody dirty little twat-funnel,” I muttered as I turned my attention back to the rest of the room.
I walked over to the shapes in the back of the room, which as I drew nearer revealed themselves to indeed be a collection of beer barrels. I smiled lovingly at the casks of ale before me, as if I were being reunited with a long-lost relative, and set about connecting them to the pumps and getting their sweet nectar flowing again.
But as I began to move the first barrel it revealed to me something so horrifying, so shocking, that I advise those of a nervous disposition to stop reading NOW. For, dear reader, as I moved the barrel I noticed that it too was completely empty. I tried another; it was empty also. Then another, and another, my search for a full barrel growing more and more frantic as each successive cask proved themselves to be completely and utterly EMPTY.
“They’re all empty,” said the landlords’ voice behind me. “Every single one.”
“What…what is going on here? I don’t – ” I began, turning to face the landlord, his eyes glazed with tears.
“This is why we cannot come down here, your lordship,” the man sniffled. “Because there is nothing down here. The delivery we expected today just…just..” The big man faltered, then rallied. “The delivery didn’t show up, and then we ran out of booze at about half two. Since then…we’ve had nothing.” At this point it all became to much for the chap, and he broke down and wept openly.
I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. My head reeled, my heart pounded like a drum and I fell to my knees, arms outstretched, and let out a long, tortured cry.
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” I cried, longly and tortuously.
My screams filled the cellar, the tavern, and the night sky outside. Horror had come and paid a visit to this small pub this night, and it didn’t bring any drinks.
It truly was ‘last orders’ at this tavern. The very last orders.
Until the next afternoon.
– Lord Likely.
Post-script: I later learned that the reason the delivery never made it to The Pounded Clam was that en route to the tavern, the delivery driver was jumped by a werewolf and ruthlessly torn from limb to limb. But that story did not feature me, which is why I elected to run this much more terrifying tale instead.
Sleep tight, dear readers.