This house was made for happier times, with wide windows looking onto landscaped gardens. The walled terraces, the tromp d’oeil, the stone grotesques and the hedged maze all obscure direct vision and advantage that which hunts by smell.
Twice we have been saved by the Duchess’ toys and eccentric hobbies. The cracked fogged lenses of her eyeglasses give clear sight of what is true and in that way we recognised and repelled the thirteenth guest while twelve of us yet lived. Concluding the last assault, the copper wires round the spinning lodestone powered a crackling energy that caught the creature between hindquarters and tail and held it off the ground, howling, outlined in sparks while its bones glowed green. When it fell, it scarpered on two legs, shouting curses as he went. That has given us brief respite, until the waxing moon gives him again its predatory shape. But we must keep the contraption continually charged, and coal for the steam pump is nigh exhausted.
The Duchess has taken up her cross, its stock made of tensioned hawthorn, the bow seeming spun of fine black metal, the string she says is maidens’ hair, and the bolts are bone. We, she has drilled as a hunting party and equipped from her eclectic store. We have swords and silver stilletos, and wide bore muskets loaded with exotic shot. The curate offered to bless water to load into cartridges. She cursed him for a fool and he sulked, became neglectful and so was taken.
I count myself a brave man. I have revelled in pain and see my own death as but a stepping stone. But tonight my mouth is dry and my bowels are loosed, my heart is rattling its cage. I do not know what frightens me more, the horror outside, or the quiet exaltation of the Duchess as she prepares to meet it.
Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, The Victoria, Birmingham. 24th September 2016
The Duchess – Rebecca Thompson
The Veteran – Trampy Holford