Strange Manors, Chapter 4

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Chapter Four: Camp Crypt-o-Night
Santa Cruz, California, September, 2019 (Twenty-four years later)

“You should go,” Mom said, setting down her magazine.

It was a beautiful morning and we were having breakfast on the deck high above the beach and the sparkling Pacific Ocean.

I was going through my typical dog’s vomit of morning emails – solicitations, invoices, trade press articles, more solicitations, the occasional bits of correspondence, and still more solicitations. Today, I’d received something from Colonel Holweard, which came as quite a shock. If I’d thought about him in years — and I probably hadn’t — I’d likely have assumed he’d have passed away by now.

“Whatever for?” I turned my attention away from the surf to look at her directly. “I only met the guy once.”

She took a measured sip of orange juice, apparently considering the best approach to her self-appointed task. “It’s been six months, and you're still acting like a mangy old cat who’s been dumped in a puppy farm.”

“Am not,” I retorted, trying to sound indignant but failing to put much energy into it.

“Really? You’re going with that?” Her fond smile should have been endearing.

“Okay, maybe that was a little prepubescent.”

“Just a touch.”

The girl slipped outside and discreetly started clearing our breakfast things.

“Thank you, Addie. I’ll keep the coffee for a bit,” Mom told her with a smile.

“Of course, Mrs. Litton,” the young woman murmured before retreating into the house.

“Nice girl,” Mom remarked.

I shrugged. “Seems competent.”

“See what I’m saying? The old Luigi wasn’t like that.”

I had trouble keeping my annoyance in check. “Like what?”

“Dismissive. Uncaring. ‘Competent?’ Really? She works hard, goes above and beyond, and you never give her so much as a kind word!”

“I pay top dollar.”

“Would you listen to yourself? Being kind — being decent — is more important than money!”

“That’s astonishing!” I laid it on thick as hot asphalt on an interstate. “I can’t wait to tell the staff what they’re getting in place of a bonus this year!”

She rose abruptly. “Be that way!” She followed Addie into the house, righteous indignation flowing from her like the Nile at full flood.

I returned my attention to the sparkling blue water, grimacing as I replayed the scene in my head. By the third replay of my mental Blue Ray, the conclusion was inescapable. Yeah, Weej, you really ARE turning into a dick.

I’d managed to avoid that, mostly anyhow, through twenty-plus years of non-stop work. I’d been the boy wonder without being a dick, and even the wise-assed ideas guy, and the hottest commodity in the valley of the IPOs. As time went on, partners and colleagues had left, pursuing dreams of their own, but always with regret and on good terms. They were replaced, one by one, with employees I’d selected myself, until we’d gotten too big for even that individual touch.

Then suddenly, almost overnight, I discovered I’d become the old man. The wise and understanding guy who kept the teams going. Who led by example, being the first one on in the morning and the last off at night. I learned how to bring the right people together so they could achieve creative heights. But by then the only thing I was creating was an organization so perfectly balanced and so carefully maintained, that it no longer needed me around.

So I sold it.

Now all I had was money and more time than anyone could want. Of course I was miserable. And naturally, I was taking it out on everyone else. Like I said, a dick.

I sighed, got up, and went in search of Mom.

“Go away.” Her annoyed voice was muffled by the thick bedroom door she had locked behind her.

“Can we talk?”

“I’m not speaking to you.”

“Ectually,” I said, purposefully mimicking my Uncle’s barely-remembered accent, “you are speaking to me.”

“Telling you to go away doesn’t count.”

I’m easily diverted, and couldn’t resist. “How do you figure?”

“The way that most people figure. Only you wouldn’t get it.”

“Yeah . . . but I’m the only child you have. So isn’t that your fault?”

“My fault for marrying that fool of an Englishman.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Try to keep up, Luigi. Nature, nurture, he was there for all of it. Messed you up. Papa was right; I should have found a nice Calabrian boy.”

“Mom. Do we have to shout this conversation through a solid core door?”

“You could go away.”

“But I won’t.”

“If I ask nicely?”

“But you won’t. You’re in a bad mood, remember?”

“How could I forget?” The door opened and she gave me the evil eye. “All right. I’m all ears. So. What? What do you want to say, Mr. Ex-Big Shot Master of the Universe, that is so urgent?”

“That I’m sorry?” The “ex” rankled, stupidly, but I swallowed my pride and my perfectly natural urge to swap a biting retort for my planned apology.

My restraint didn’t impress her. “That, you could have shouted. Probably should have; everyone in the house could stand to hear it.”

“Would that get me out of having to apologize to everyone individually?”

“Is that how you were raised?”

“Well, honestly, there were some times —”

“You’re not helping your case.”

I felt my shoulders slumping. “Yeah, I know. Have I really been that bad?”

“Is the Pope Italian?”

“Ummmm . . . Not exactly?”

“Nonsense! He’s as Italian as I am!”

“Your family left Italy a hundred years ago.”

“See? You’re doing it again! And you’re changing the subject. Yes. Yes, the Pope, whose family name is Bergoglio, as you know very well, is as Italian as pasta, and yes —”

“— Pasta came from China.”

“— And YES, yes, a THOUSAND times yes, you’ve been that bad! You’ve been worse. Your whole life, I’ve worried about you. Been proud of you sometimes. Questioned your sanity? Yes, occasionally. No, make that frequently! But never, until these last few months, have I been ashamed of you.”

Ouch. “Momma . . . I guess I don’t know what to say.”

“Oh, thank you, Jesus, Joseph, and Mary, Queen of the Angels! Then maybe — for once — you’ll try the listening thing!”

Time to take my medicine. “If I have to.”

“Try not to sound so enthused. Now. You’ve spent your life doing, doing, doing. You’ve forgotten how to just be. You need to get away from here, from everything that reminds you of who you’ve made yourself.”

“Go where?”

Anywhere. Go to this funeral, if only because you’re family and that’s what families do. Then lose yourself somewhere. Find your mischief again.”

“Mischief?” I snorted. “I thought you wanted me to find a nice girl and give you grandchildren.”

“I haven’t given up yet! You aren’t even fifty, though you act like a grouchy old man! But the way you’ve been lately, no woman worthy of having my grandchildren would put up with you. Besides . . . .” She stopped scolding, and a smile played hide-and-seek across cheeks that lost their blush decades back.


“Mischief comes in lots of forms, Luigi.”

* * * * *

That’s how I found myself, a week later, in a large church in the north of England, listening to a bishop in a funny hat wax rhapsodic about Geoffrey Hugh Nigel Litton, 9th Viscount Chingleput. Uncle Geoff, as I had in fact never called him.

I made it just in time for the service, having pushed my departure until the last possible moment in the vain hope that something might come up. It turns out my Silicon Valley “suit” didn’t pass for formal attire — who knew? — and I was the recipient of numerous disapproving looks from various no-doubt important personages. I hoped at least some of them were dowagers.

Getting frowned at by a dowager struck me as a good way to say, “I’ve arrived.”

The choir was probably better than they sounded. I’m not the best judge, being tone-deaf. Also, I discovered an allergic reaction to incense. After enduring two full hours of meaningless noise and eye-watering smoke, I was moved to offer my own earnest prayer of thanksgiving that Father hadn’t raised me in the High Church Anglican tradition.

I immediately recognized the man who seemed to be running everything, even though I’d only seen him once, when I was twelve. Colonel Holweard looked surprisingly sprightly, and unlike almost everyone else in the church, he had nothing but smiles for me. Sardonic smiles, to be sure, but smiles nonetheless.

“Well, there you are! Coming to the interment, aren’t you?”

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly, Colonel. I mean, I barely knew him!”

He fixed me with a pale eye. “You’re family. All he had, in the end. A Litton should be there.”

And indeed, only a handful of us were there in the crypt, when Uncle Geoff was laid in the tomb that had been prepared for him. A portrait had been painted years before, in anticipation of this day, showing him in both his prime and his uniform. Remembering George’s story about the first Viscount, I thought at least Uncle Geoff had earned it.

Which reminded me . . . “What ever became of young George Deavers?” I asked the Colonel.

“Today’s not a ‘George’ day,” he replied cryptically. Which was fitting enough, I suppose, given where we were.

My eyes kept wandering to the niche that was different from all the rest. The portrait of the mysterious woman was every bit as compelling as I recalled. You haven’t aged a day, I thought. Wish I could say the same!

The churchman and his minions had followed us, and sure as God made fried green tomatoes, they’d thought to bring some incense. I barely made it through the incantations that accompanied the interment without asphyxiation, and beat a hasty retreat to fresh air at the last “amen.”

The Colonel found me there a few minutes later, my eyes still streaming, and joined me on the stone bench where I’d been quietly hacking up a lung. Well, maybe not so quietly.

He was silent for a while, to all appearances taking in the day. Holweard seemed to belong there, in a way that I couldn’t imagine belonging anywhere. “It’s yours, you know. All of it.”

A line from an old classic popped into my head. What, the curtains? But I doubted the Colonel would know the reference, and I didn’t feel up to explaining it. “Just like that?”

He waggled his fingers, still looking off into the middle distance. “Eh. Britain doesn’t have a continent’s worth of acreage, you know, so we tend to be a bit fussy when it comes to land transfers. There are formalities. Feoffment of Livery with Seisen used to be much more complicated. But it’s always something.”

I looked around, taking in the grounds. The old stone was no different than it had been the last time I was here. In Silicon Valley, thirty years is forever. Here, it’s barely yesterday. “What would I do with it?”

“Very little, I expect,” the Colonel replied promptly. “With these old historic buildings, everything that isn’t absolutely required by law is generally prohibited.”

A memory teased. “Strictly prohibited, I assume.”

“Just so.”

I sat for a bit, thinking. “It’s not my place,” I said, finally.

“It could be, though. And you wouldn’t have to stay here all the time. God knows, Geoffrey didn’t. Nor your grandfather.”

“What happens to it if I don’t take it? Does it . . . .” I ran the equivalent of a Boolean search through the midden-heap of my long term memory, and grinned when I hit paydirt. It’s amazing the shit you learn when you’re writing the lore for a video game. “Escheat?”

“To the crown? No. A third cousin twice removed is next up, I should think,” Holweard replied. “One of the McDonalds. Very much a distaff branch of the house.” He paused, then added, with evident reluctance, “Irish.”

“Would that be a bad thing?”

“I expect opinions differ,” he said diplomatically.

“Based on?”

“Whether you’ve actually met any of the McDonalds.”

The image of a clown in a yellow outfit and orange hair bubbled to the surface of my undisciplined brain. “I see.” I finally felt sufficiently recovered from airborne poisons to stand.

The Colonel rose as well. “Think it over. Why don’t you spend the night?”

The thought of sleeping in my uncle’s sick room had no appeal. “I’m booked at the Victoria.”

“Nonsense. Your uncle was remiss; he hasn’t been here in over a year. The staff got the master’s quarters ready for you.”

“Oh, honestly, they shouldn’t have!” They REALLY shouldn’t have!

“But they did.” He sounded almost smug. “You wouldn’t want to disappoint them, would you?”

I opened my mouth to suggest that somehow, I’d see my way clear to doing just that, but he beat me to it. “Splendid, splendid! Just follow me, young . . . ah . . . Luigi. I’ll send someone to retrieve your bags.”


How on earth am I expected to SLEEP?

The “master’s quarters” didn’t refer to what any normal human would think of as a “bedroom.” Located in what had originally been the Church Quire, the ornate bed stood solitary and alone, flanked on two sides by Gothic stone arches, now filled with dry-cut stone and pierced by smaller doorways. Ridiculously high above, moonlight filtered through clerestory windows, shaded by the deep blues and reds of older stained glass. The thick rugs covering the flagstone floors did little to provide any warmth.

The staff had been delighted to show me around after my talk with Colonel Holweard, giving me the “backstage” tour that I had been denied when visiting back in the 90s. But even the ones who lived on the premises stayed in one of the out-buildings at night. I had the whole main building, which could easily have housed a regiment, all to myself.

I half-expected to hear the voice of Vincent Price, or maybe Bella Lugosi. Welcome, foolish mortal, to the Haunted Mansion.

I tried sitting up in the bed and reading. But my pad was low on juice, having had almost as long a day as I’d had myself. Somehow, no-one had ever gotten around to adding amenities like, I don’t know, electrical outlets, and the expression on the guide’s face when I asked for the WiFi password had been priceless. I checked my phone only to find it was already gone.

My screens went dark. I was left in the distorted moonlight, hearing every strange sound a building several centuries old can generate. Perfectly fine rooms at the Victoria. And, a cheerful pub with seriously good beer right ‘round the corner. What the hell am I doing here?

It felt like I lay there half the night, listening to the whispers of long-gone monks. It was probably only half-an-hour or so, but it sure felt longer. Long enough, anyway. I made a disgusted noise – which, naturally, echoed back at me from every stone surface in the whole damned place – and got out of bed, wrapping myself in a thick bathrobe the staff had thoughtfully provided and stuffing my feet in my LL Bean slippers.

I took to pacing. The “bedroom” was probably on the order of eighty feet long! Back and forth. Back and forth.

My father was born here. He’d grown up in this building, somewhere. Grown up with staff looking after him, catering to his every whim. No wonder he was so messed up.

Gradually I became aware of something. It wasn’t a sound, exactly . . . or, maybe it was. But something. I felt a pull . . . an urge to move . . . a call. Wrong number, I snarled, continuing to pace.

Back and forth, back and forth. The pull became stronger, like a memory that you can’t seem to shake. Eff that! Just watch me. Control-Alt-Delete.

Back and forth, back and forth. The sense of “summons” was growing more and more insistent. I stuck my fingers in my ears and sang “la la la” as I paced. But it wasn’t really a sound, unless it was. Whatever, my efforts to drown it out didn’t work.

The door in the arch closest to the church nave wasn’t actually closed. I hadn’t noticed it before, and I was sure I’d checked. But there was a little bit of light leaking from behind it, which was strange in and of itself. I padded over and checked. Pushing the door open just a bit more, I stuck my head through the opening to see where the light was coming from.

I couldn’t tell. There was a passage ending in a staircase, and the stones themselves seemed to glow.

“Uhn uh!!!” I was surprised at the sound of my own voice. But the door resisted my increasingly urgent efforts to close it.

I heard something . . . I was sure I heard something. It sounded like a sigh. On the floor of the corridor, faint blue arrows appeared, pointing towards the staircase.

“Are you fucking kidding me! I designed ‘Jiro’s Harrowing Halloween Heist!’ I know how this game ends!”

The light from the arrows grew stronger. Okay, so the summons was coming from below.

I deliberately turned my back on the doorway, set my jaw in my best attempt at an attitude of Churchillian defiance, and resumed my pacing.

On my third pass, I noticed that there was a card on top of the bedspread which hadn’t been there before. I paused, tempted to ignore it, but finally reached down and picked it up. It was addressed to “Lord Luigi Litton.” “Lord?” Seriously? Inside the flap, in neat and precise calligraphy font, it read, “The honor of your presence in the crypt is most urgently requested.” I ran a thumb thoughtfully over the card as I pondered this new development.

Engraved. Naturally.

A nice room, a fine pub, the company of normal people, good beer . . . all of it, not ten minute’s drive back in the village. But no, I’d decided to stay here. What a moron.

I couldn’t take it anymore. Growling at myself, I tied the bathrobe tighter and stalked over to the open door. The light from the arrows in the corridor was on a loop, starting near me and progressing to the staircase. Muttering “okay, okay, I GET it,” I stomped down the corridor.

At the top of the stairs I hesitated, thinking of a line from an insurance commercial. When you’re in a horror movie, you make bad decisions. It’s what you do. But setting aside – by which I mean, “aside from the setting” – I wasn’t really in a horror movie, was I? It felt far too cheesy for that. More like the kind of camp you might expect from Star Trek. Set phasers for peanut butter! Still, I’m quite capable of making stupid mistakes in almost any genre and I knew it.

“I cannot believe I’m doing this!”

But down I went, the stone staircase spiraling into the depths. The glowing arrows continued down the stairs, on the off chance I’d miss the point again. There was another door at the base of the staircase, but it was already open. And, sure enough, it led straight into the crypt.

Unlike the corridor or the stairs, the only light in the crypt came from the painting of the mystery woman – a painting which now glowed with eldritch light. I was drawn to it like a drunk to rotgut – enough that I was even able to ignore the stale residue of incense that still permeated the space.

The light somehow emanated from within the painting, making the stunning image incredibly lifelike. I half expected her to speak . . . and desperately wished that she would. Almost without volition, my hand rose and my fingers brushed her cheek . . . .

At my touch, the image faded, becoming at first translucent, then transparent. She vanished, leaving behind yet another doorway, with another staircase descending to the depths. The walls glowed, pale as ice.

I am SUCH an idiot! But I couldn’t stop now. Taking a deep breath, I plunged through the doorway and began to descend.

After two full circles of the spiral staircase, the nature of the stonework began to change. The neat, dressed stone gave way to something rougher, darker. Older. The stairs were less even and required careful monitoring. Some steps were deeper, others more shallow.

Another circuit, and yet another. Getting back up from here is going to be SO much fun, I thought. Followed by, I should be so lucky.

I don’t know how many circuits I took. With each turn, I felt like I was leaving my world further and further behind. By the bottom, the stairs were little more than rough boulders, not shaped so much as simply placed.

But at least there was a bottom – a small, dim, rough-hewn chamber with an opening opposite the bottom of the climb, framed by a fifteen-foot high trilithon and surmounted by a lintel that had to weigh twenty tons.

I thought about turning back. Really I did. Probably would have, too, but the idea of climbing that crazy staircase was enough to deter me. Fine. Whatever. Hell of a place to die.

I walked forward and felt a chill as I passed through the entrance into a cavern. I couldn’t tell its size; darkness filled the void. The only light came from what I assumed was the center of the chamber, an area that held a massive platform.

It was a bed. Not so ornate at the monstrosity upstairs, but no less large and imposing. Rather than a bedspread, it was covered by huge animal skins. Bear, I thought. Other pelts were smaller but more sinister; I thought they might be from wolves. Damned BIG wolves, too. But a garment of some sort was artlessly draped across the pelts – something considerably more modern.

I was drawn to it, like I had been drawn to the painting in the crypt. Before I knew it, I was by the bed, touching the most amazing creamy silk I’d ever encountered. Lifting it up, I found a floor-length robe with a gathered waist, full skirt, long sleeves and a deep, rounded neckline. What was very clearly hand-stitched lacework softened the lines of the neck, hem and cuffs. I ran a finger down the shimmering fabric. Out of nowhere, I thought, I bet it would feel incredible . . . .

“You took your time.”

The voice came from behind me. I spun to find a heavy chair between me and the exit, and on the chair, wearing nothing but a bearskin robe, was Colonel Holweard.

“Why am I not surprised?” And, truth is, I wasn’t.

“I was starting to think I might have to send vestal virgins to get you.”

I grunted. “Gotta be tough to find, these days.”

“Not that you’d know it from the old tales,” he replied, “but they always were. Still, we’ve wasted half the night. There’s scarcely time to do this properly.”

“Do what, Colonel?”

Colonel!” He laughed – a big, full-bodied laugh that lacked the restraint I would have expected from him. It should have been lost in the vastness of the cavern; instead, it filled the space. “A title of convenience. I am Holweard of Holweard’s Hollow!”

Ummm. “Okaaaay . . . . That’s . . . nice, right?”

“Nice? Nice? What do you mean, ‘nice?’”

“I’m guessing a ‘Holweard’s’ a good thing to be? Maybe? Help me out; I’m not from ‘round here.”

“You have been called to this place. Summoned. Do you think that was some sort of parlor trick?”

I thought about that. Well, not about that, exactly. I thought about how to respond without hurting the old coot’s feelings. Nope. I got nothin’.


He looked flummoxed. “The lights? The sound? The secret passage?”

“Dude. You need to get out more. I’ve designed stuff that’s way more advanced than that.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Swear to God.”

“You are referring to your ‘video games?’ Correct?”

“Well, yeah. Like, The Fall of Fus was way better. And then there was the battle scene in —”

“Have you in fact designed anything in the real world?”

“What’s ‘real?’” I looked around. “Warner Brothers could put this together in about three days.”


“Seen ‘em do it. C’mon, Colonel. What’s this all about? Some kind of scam?”

His pale eyes bored into me. “Well, I know a little something no set of brothers you know could manage.”

“You might be surprised.”

He leaned back in his heavy chair, looking extremely smug. “All you need to do is put on that delightful gown I’ve laid out for you.”

“Oh, that’s going to happen!” I scoffed.

“Humor me. I wouldn’t think it would be a problem for you.”

“Why would you say that?”

His eyes gleamed. “Remember the first time I met you, young Luigi? I assure you, I haven’t forgotten.”

“That . . . was a long time ago. I was just teasing Father.”

“Ah, yes. Your dear father. He wouldn’t do it, either.”

That certainly got my attention. “What did you say?”

“He wouldn’t complete the ceremony. Ergo, he couldn’t become Viscount Chingleput.”

I opened my mouth to blister the skin off him, but stopped myself just in time. “No. This is all bullshit. What’s your real game?”

Again, his eyes gleamed. “Put on the gown, Luigi. It will be easier to explain.”

“Try me.”

He shook his head slowly. “No, I shan’t. It’s apparent that you’re entirely too accustomed to having your own way. This is my hollow, and I am the master here! So if you’d like me to explain things, you’ll have to put on the gown.”

And just like that, all the light in the chamber vanished, plunging me into darkness.


No response.

I tried again, sounding maybe just a little less sure of myself. I cautiously moved in the direction of his chair, fully intending to throttle him. But both Holweard and the chair appeared to be gone. He could have slipped away quietly, but that chair?

I had never experienced darkness so complete. Slowly, carefully, with much waving of my hands in front of me, I found my way back to the bed in the center of the chamber.

What to do? I didn’t want to climb that staircase at all; the notion of doing so in pitch black darkness was even less appealing. Wait for morning? I snorted. As deep underground as I was, there would never be a “morning.”

As reaction to the last few bizarre moments set in, my legs began to shake. What am I doing here? I plunked myself down on the bed, needing time to think. My hand, looking for purchase, landed on the damned gown and I felt the contact like I’d hit a high tension line.

It’s just fabric, for God’s sake, I told myself sternly, suppressing the desire to remove my hand like I’d burned it. Fabric!

Oh, but it wasn’t just fabric. It felt amazing. And . . . yeah. It had been years. A lot of years. Not since grad school. Almost a quarter century? Really?

Not since Heather.

And just like that, my memory brought me back to my old apartment, in the early morning after that long sleepless night, slowly, carefully and methodically removing every article of female clothing, every bit of makeup. Picking up the shears and raising them to my hair. Snip. Snip. Snip. No more, I had promised myself.

But that was so long ago, and I no longer had anything left to prove. Not to anyone. I could dress however I damned well pleased, and tell the world to stuff it. Couldn’t I?

The only thing holding me back in that moment was the knowledge that the crazy old man wanted me to put on the gown. But he wasn’t around, it was dark, and . . . what the hell.

I shrugged out of the heavy bathrobe, kicked off my slippers, and rapidly divested of the shorts and t-shirt I’d worn to bed. With trembling hands, I slid my arms inside the garment, found the sleeves, and pulled it over my head. I shivered as the fabric slid down my body like the most intimate of caresses. It took me just a second to adjust the bodice so that my full breasts were properly nestled in the . . . .

Wait. What??????

To be continued . . . .


Author's note: Many thanks to RobertLouis and AlisonP for their help reviewing this story.

For information about my other stories, please check out my author's page.

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And here we go

into the lion's den, or down the rabbit hole which is probably closer to the truth.

I do like Luigi's cynicism about the special effects.

What does his future hold (apart from a beautiful gown which he will, of course, be putting on - how could he resist?)

Loving it,


Luigi is a sucker for rabbit holes

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Poor Luigi just has the kind of brain that has to check out the depths of every single one of them. Which is kind of a dangerous trait, if you think about it. ;-)

Thanks, Alison!


Satiny Lucia

Andrea Lena's picture

Satiny Lucia....

I can look at fabrics in a photo or even while walking past a person.... woman... and 'feel' the texture of the fabric. Unlike Luigi, who is having a huge exposure to strangely familiar feelings about new aspects of his body, I can only imagine.

Do I imagine the feeling of newly grown breasts or other such delightful body parts? Is a bear Catholic?


To be alive is to be vulnerable. Madeleine L'Engle
Love, Andrea Lena

Yeah . . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

The pure sensuality of some women’s clothes, from fabrics to designs to colors, is enough to bring a sensitive trans girl to tears! Does that inspire our writing?

Does the Pope live in the woods?

You know, ‘Drea, I can hear John Travolta delivering that line, like he was right here. Memory is a strange thing!



RachelMnM's picture

What a fun, confusing, and entertaining romp of a story! Good God! The creativity in this is off the charts Emma! LOVE IT!


Rachel M. Moore...

Thanks, Rachel!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Funny thing is, we still haven’t gotten to the part of the story that inspired the whole thing — the germ of the idea that expanded to fill somewhere around 30,000 words. Logorrhea much? :) But I’m delighted that you’re enjoying it.


Some stories keep telling themselves

Patricia Marie Allen's picture

Sometimes it's not possible to limit the length of a story. You point it toward the end and swear it's in sight, but somehow your muse just keeps cranking out verbiage. I call it writers mirage. You keep moving, but get no closer to the epilogue.


Happiness is being all dressed up and HAVING some place to go.
Semper in femineo gerunt

So true!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I really did think this one was going to be shorter. But then, I always do!



I suppose Luigi would have been exposed to incense in a catholic contest.
He shouldn't visit the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela on July 25. That would be a truly thurible experience for him. They really let it swing.

On another matter. Cryptic messages should be handled with care.


Emma Anne Tate's picture

That actually would have been a good title for this chapter, between Sylvia’s reaction to Luigi’s bad behavior, and the clerics’s reaction to Geoffrey’s casket. :)

Should you ghost someone who sends a cryptic message?



I love this. I can't wait for the next chapter.

Thank you!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I’m so glad you like it. :)


I must congratulate you on your research!

You threw me off track completely by mentioning the suite's location in the "quire", a term which so far as I am concerned means a quantity (24 sheets) of paper. remembered from the days of my (relative to now) extreme youth before metrification converted a ream of paper from 480 sheets to the preset 500. But before I sent a PM accusing you of mis-spelling, I looked it up. I am lazy and these days my nearest reference is Wiktionary, which also has the advantage of being much more modern than all my printed dictionaries! It stopped me in my tracks! There was the second deinition of "quire" as an archaic spelling of "choir".
As a choral singer, I am aware that "choir" can mean both the singing group, and the special part of the building from which that group sings.
What could be more appropriate for your spooky setting than archaic spellings for a narrower meanings for a (still) current terms.
I must confess to be totally fascinated by this story.
Many thanks

In quires and places

A bit of research with Prof Google will lead you to a mention in the Book of Common Prayer during a morning and evening service and the comment "In quires and places where they sing, here followeth the anthem" I think the old spelling is still used.

Better no connotation. . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

. . . than the wrong connotation. In the U.S., for the most part, “choir” as an architectural feature of a church will make people think of a loft, usually at the front of the church and at the furthest distance from the sanctuary, where we stick singers and instrumentalists. In contrast, the “choir” (arch., “quire”) in an old English church, is the area around the altar, but not including the sanctuary. I figured if I used the older form, people might wonder where it was and look it up. So, Score!!! :)

Yay for getting you hooked! Thanks, Dave.


Thanks for the explanation!

As was blindingly obvious, I was once again failing to realise that you (US) and we (UK) are "two countries separated by a common language" though in this case it also covered a difference of spacial utilisation in a place of worship. And your trick did have the effect of making me look it up though my source did not refer to the distinction between traditions which you have just made!

I have to say……

D. Eden's picture

That it appears almost as if the special effects were pulled right from Luigi’s own thoughts. Seriously? Blue arrows pointing the way? I think I would have laughed at that.

The Control-Alt-Delete was a cute line, lol. Maybe he should have tried to hard boot the system, lol.

The huge jump in time was unexpected, as was the revelation that he had pretty much purged everything and cut his hair after the incident with Heather. I am a little surprised at the supernatural nature of what is going on, but not surprised that Luigi suddenly finds himself back in women’s clothing - or even with breasts. I do wonder if there will be an age regression involved as well since the woman in the portrait appeared to be younger than the 50 or so that Luigi apparently is now.

D. Eden

Dum Vivimus, Vivamus

Soft boot

Emma Anne Tate's picture

There are times when I get so tied in knots that I wish I could do a soft boot on my brain! Luigi has spent a lot of years marinating in the online world, and has started to think of his mental processes in those terms.

Dee Sylvan flagged the fact that I’d tagged “magic” on this story from the start in her comment last week. I responded to her comment but ignored that part of it, not wanting to give away the game. The twenty-four year jump was definitely different, though. I hope it works. ;-)


Ah yes...

Erisian's picture

Luigi really should have listened to the ghost stories all those years ago! But now, well, there may be a need to get used to being both addressed AND dressed in new ways!

Ah what a fateful hole to have stumbled into... :)

Lots of fun this is, greatly looking forward to the next installment! Thanks Emma!


Emma Anne Tate's picture

Well, I don’t know that I’d call it a stumble, exactly. Luigi was led by the nose. Glowing corridors, blue arrows, an engraved invitation. . . . Holweard was about out of ways to get the invitation across!

Thanks, Erisian!


“He looks cute?”

Not breathless?

[Sorry; meant for the previous chapter.]


Emma Anne Tate's picture

Wish I’d thought of that!


On So Many Levels

joannebarbarella's picture

Including the deep darkness that Luigi now finds himself in this chapter is showing us the long-promised magic after a journey back across the world and maybe back in time as well. The conversations between our hero, his mother and colonel (?) Holweard sparkle.

My mother sent me to High Anglican Church when I was about ten years old so I know all about those censers, and the robes that were more Catholic than the Catholics wore. She had to bribe me with enough money to buy an icecream after enduring one of their services. I rebelled, refused to learn the catechism and dodged confirmation and she gave up after six months. My visits to churches since then have been for weddings and funerals.

I 'knew' that portrait of the beautiful lady held a secret and I'm betting that Luigi will be its next victim or beneficiary.

Now I can't wait to find out. Inquiring minds have to know. What a hell of a writer you are, Emma.


Emma Anne Tate's picture

The very model of a High Church Anglican, and leader of the Oxford Movement, was John Henry Newman. He wanted an Anglican Church that was neither Protestant nor Catholic. So, no Pope, but otherwise Catholicism and all the trimmings. Altar boys, vestments, smells and bells. Like so many who try to fight the world’s artificial binaries, he ultimately threw in the towel, ending his days as a Roman Catholic Cardinal.

Good job figuring that the mysterious woman in the painting would make her way back into the story. Gold Star!

Thanks, Joanne. I always love your comments.


Odiferous by any other name

As one with a lifelong aversion to overdone odors - and yes, I include perfumes - I can sympathize with our (almost)anti-hero. There appears to be something rotten in the state of Britain. Maybe as a result of those pesky Danes who invaded long ago?

The Danelaw

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Ooooh! There’s a neat thought — those dastardly Great Danes are behind it all!


“You stink enticingly” is a compliment

That reminds me of an obnoxious door-to-door salesman over a decade ago. He was offering me as a gift and totally free of charge two bottles of perfume. But it turned out that they were mine only if I bought another bottle of perfume at a ridiculously overinflated price that was more than four times the price of a bottle of “cheap” perfume. As part of his sales pitch he grabbed my hand and spritzed some perfume on my arm. And even though I immediately scrubbed my arm with plenty of soap and water as soon as I was able to get rid of him, I still got a rash and an itch for a few days afterwards.

And late last year I got one of those battery operated air-freshener atomizers for the bathroom in my apartment. After just four weeks I was suffering from constantly inflamed mucus membranes and a permanently clogged-up nose. It took almost a week after I put that darned device out on the balcony to recover and being able to breathe normally again. (I do not use the balcony because I have a huge fear of tripping and falling over the railing.)

I also can not use any clothes softeners/fresheners, because those scents irritate my case resulting in itchiness and slight rashes. The same applies to many skin care products as well.

I’m thinking . . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

“Obnoxious door to door salesman. . . .”

Is there another kind? Asking for a friend. :)



joannebarbarella's picture

I always replied 'no' when questioned if I had any allergies, but then along came Covid and those little bottles of hand-cleaner were everywhere. After religiously using them for about two weeks my hands looked like something out of a horror movie, so I went to see my GP who immediately spotted the cause.

I had discovered that I was allergic to alcohol after 78 years! Luckily it was only in alcohol-based hand sanitizer and not in the variety ingested orally.

I'm worried about you

Dee Sylvan's picture

Clerestory windows, Churchillian comments, padding about... Have you gone over to the dark side, my dear? Will you be on 'holiday' after this?

I'm glad that Luigi's mom was able to snap Weej out of his prepubescent, arrogant attitude and send him on his quest.

Leave it to you, Miss Emma to weave a purge (of not only clothing and makeup, but also hair and Heather) into this magical transformation. Magical is the word I would also use when first feeling new breasts. Or perhaps heavenly. Mischief does indeed come in many forms.

Strictly brilliant, my dear friend! :DD TAF


I love the English language

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I probably shouldn’t. It’s an absurd mishmash of languages with about as much internal logic as a Jackson Pollock painting. But I do love it, and an adore its idiosyncratic variations from country to country, or even from county to county. I can’t talk to someone from England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, or Alabama without my voice modulating to take on some of that country’s distinctive linguistic color. So writing this story has been a lot of fun (though I have leaned heavily on Alison and RobertLouis to make sure I don’t screw up!).

Yeah, that last scene sure sounded heavenly. Or at least dreamy . . . .


Blue Arrow

Robertlouis's picture

Having had not only the benefit but also the privilege and joy of previewing each chapter of this miraculous fable, something in the covidian brain fog of my cerebellum tells me that there was a national carrier in the UK back in the 70s called Blue Arrow, so I was momentarily distracted by the surreal vision of a Leyland artic trundling smokily across the ancient floor of Shingles when I first read this chapter, but, as usual, I digress.

I’m fortunate to, in a sense, live more or less in the world that Emma has created. That is to say, in the beautiful and ancient city of York, traditional capital of The North (fight me!) and therefore on the fringes of the dales and moors where the original Shingles is to be found, if you’re prepared to look hard enough, right Ms Tate? I’m pretty sure I’ve shared a convivial pint with both Holweard and George Deavers in Muker, Reeth or Hawes, and swapped tales with the former in front of a roaring fire in a lonely moors inn on a wild night up by Scalby Dam.

It all gets under your skin folks. You’ll see.



Emma Anne Tate's picture

I don’t know whether you ever saw the cult classic, An American Werewolf in London, but the atmospherics in the early part of the movie probably influenced me here. “Don’t go out on the moors tonight” is always good advice!

I love York, and York Minster is one of my favorite Cathedrals. I haven’t been back since the big fire, but I was so glad to hear that the restoration had gone well.

Many thanks for your assistance, Rob — You’re a gem!


An American Werewolf in London

Robertlouis's picture

Amazing special effects, but all done on a shoestring. The Slaughtered Lamb pub wasn’t actually out on a windy moor - it was in a pretty village outside Bedford in the Home Counties. And the scene fleetingly features the first ever celluloid appearance of the great and much lamented Rik Mayall as one of the grotesque locals. Yes, I’m familiar with the movie!


What an extraordinary story, I'm loving it!

I'm beginning to wonder if Luigi is going to turn into the beautiful lady whose portrait hangs in the crypt? Whatever happens, like everyone else I'm totally fascinated by this story. Emma, you have us all hooked!

Big smile!!!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

It makes me incredibly happy to know I’ve got you hooked, Bronwen. Let’s see if I can’t reel you in!


Over privileged thinking

I love how the over privileged mindset Luigi has is so well presented here.

I mean, here he is, it is the middle of the night, suddenly some totally weird shit starts to happen due to sources unknown who may have been benign or not that is leading him on like a dungeon crawl like search that has him more than likely totally lost and he just blithly keeps going without a concern.

Frankly, he deserved what he got as anybody with an ounce of instinct for self-preservation would have been far more cautious.

Funnily when he discovered that he now has 'big ones', his obvious sense of strangeness is quite foreign to me since I've always felt strange when I did not have breasts but then *duh*.

Anyway, this change may hopefully the making of him (her?) as till now, despite actually some significant accomplishments he was still not a complete human being.

Pegged him.

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Kimmie, I love your comments, on any story. Here you really have Luigi pegged. Smart, but clueless. Accomplished, but incomplete. Still, there’s some runway yet. And you know I do like a cheerful ending, especially to a humorous tale.

Thank you, my dear!




Strange Manor

So, about those grandkids. How old was the Dark Lady portrait, did it update or was it permanently on the end as a reminder of who the master was.

Time is the longest distance to your destination.

Interesting questions!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

As the TV announcers used to say, when camp was king and remotes were still remote, “Don’t touch that dial!”


There is so much here to love!

Sunflowerchan's picture

There is so much to love in this story, first we have a strong momma laying down the law. I'm a big fan of strong momma's laying down the law! Up next we have High Church Anglicans! I'm very much of the High Church branch of the Anglican Faith. And love when they do incense at mass. I'm not allowed to do the incense anymore because I always use too much, so much that the church needs to air out. But I love the flickering of candlelight while clouds of gray, scented smoke fills the air and the Latin tongue is sounded out in chat. It all so.. so pagan? And some scenes of this really brought that home. Now, I've never seen a castle, cause Mississippi does not have castles.. I wish we did though.

Anyway, a High Anglican Mass, Witty comment, Emma's wonderful prose, and now a ghost! This story checks all my boxs! Thank you Emma for writing this wonderful story! It's been a joy reading this and rereading it until I found the time to drop a comment!

“A ghost, you say?

Emma Anne Tate's picture

A ghost, may be. He seemed just like a ghost to me. One minute there and he was gone!”

But what seems may — or may not — be what is. Stay tuned!

Thanks for the great comment, dear. :)


Lovin The References

SuziAuchentiber's picture

"Our father buit the castle just to show em , , , , and it sank in the swamp
So he built a second castle . . . that fell over and then sank into the swamp
So he built a third castle . . that burned down, fell over and sank into the swamp
But the fourth one stayed up - and that's what you're getting son - the best castle in these islands"
You write a fabulous story with a wonderful touch - I am a mere scribbler in the company of greatness !


Don’t do it!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

If I compare myself to other writers here, I’d never write at all! :)

So glad you are enjoying the story— and that you found The Holy Grail! Wait . . . What’s that? You’ve already got one?!!!


A logical explanation!

Iolanthe Portmanteaux's picture

When I arrived at the full breasts, I honestly thought, "Ah, so there's a logical explanation for his desire to wear women's clothes."


- iolanthe

Logical explanation

Emma Anne Tate's picture

There absolutely is a logical explanation. Well, working from certain not-yet-revealed axioms, anyhow.

It’s just not that one. ;-)

Hugs back atcha!


And this

Wendy Jean's picture

Is where the story gets much more interesting.


Emma Anne Tate's picture

You have the character firmly in your head. So . . . the universe has suddenly thrown Luigi the biggest surprise imaginable. How’s he going to react?

Fortunately, you don’t have to wait a week to find out! :)


This strikes fear..

Sunflowerchan's picture

This is the darkest chapter so far. If you read this chapter word for word, you will catch some very dark plot lines. The darkness though comes from deep inside the main characters head. It clear since his break up with Heather that our main guy has gone through a lot. A hell of a lot that the break up emotionally wrecked him. We get this bit of information in the last part of the store as our main tells us that he forced himself to purge following the break up, even going as far as to cut his own hair. Something I've seen happen too two of my friends. Well I know two sisters who have done just that when they were coming out of the egg.

That and being confronted with the requirement that he needs to now revisit those old feelings and face them, is something that even the strongest man would withdraw from. We also notice a change, our main guy has gone from this peppery youngester full of life to a swollen old man, aged before his time? As for the older gentleman, something tells me he's not as quite as he seems. There something off about him. I can't wait to see what the next chapter holds.


Emma Anne Tate's picture

“A swollen old man” — such a wonderful, vivid description!

You are absolutely correct that the tone of the story darkens in the back half; it’s something I wrestled with. But Luigi is older; it’s hard to maintain the lightness of youth through the weights — and weight! — that pile on with years. Still, I hope you’ll find he has not lost his sense of humor altogether!

Thank you, my dear, for your careful read and your insightful comment.


One must

Sunflowerchan's picture

One must read your stories like one will read Tolkien. And by that I mean one must take time to read each word. It common to read text by blocks, indeed we who read a lot on the internet often do just that, read by block. But you Ms. Tate, you force the reader to read by word, otherwise they will miss so much of the story. One can not read Tolkien by block but one word at a time, one can not read a Emma Anna Tate story, but one by one word at a time. A wonderful lesson for any writer to take to heart.