Though I haven’t actually been to McBone Outpost #1211, I frequently find myself imagining an evening spent at that ancient, deathly estate. What would it be like to visit the current headquarters of Palin-hating, Denzel-Washington-loving, Stabbone and McGraw?
Let’s try to paint a picture, shall we?
My wife Isis and I arrive at the gates by horse-drawn carriage at dusk. A mist hangs over the estate. I stroke my beard thoughtfully. Isis, prone to cases of the chills, says she feels chilled. It’s true, this time there is a definite feel of mortality in the air. As if our lives may very well be snuffed out at the stroke of midnight. Undaunted, we tell our driver to carry on.
A movement between the trees. Isis thinks it’s a werewolf. I say, pshaw, it’s only a trick of her over-active imagination. Either that or it’s a regular wolf. Isis begins to withdraw from reality.
As our carriage pulls up to the entrance, the door creaks open. Though we are ten feet away, the eerie air from inside the manor gives us both goosepimples. No doorman is there to greet us as we enter, and yet the door swings shut behind us. The lock closes on its own accord. There is no coat rack, yet it matters not. Isis and I are colder than when we were outside.
A shadow against the stone wall is our first sight of our host, Lord McGraw. He glides toward us as if propelled by an uncanny pulley. No wheels or rope are in sight.
“Please, let us retire to the dining hall,” McGraw coos. “My wife and I have long been expecting you.” He begins to laugh, gently at first and then gaining in intensity until he coughs violently. Isis and I glance at each other; we were not aware the Lord said anything resembling a joke.
As Lord McGraw leads us to the dining hall, we notice the pictures, of which there are many, are not hung from the walls but set on the ground as if to be hung later. They are all covered in thick black cloth. The sound of dripping water can be heard deep in the distance.
“Ah, you remember my lovely wife, Lady McGraw,” says Lord McGraw, gesturing at a woman seated at the dining room table. Isis starts. I cannot blame her. Lady McGraw is as pale as death, with dark brown eyes and hair that tumbles almost to the floor. She is wearing a tattered wedding gown, and though it looks old, it is as white as the day she was married in it. I ask Lord McGraw how long ago they were married, for, though we have been friends since boarding school, events in his life have become hazy to me. It is as if the mist outside has clouded my mind.
“Oh, ages ago,” responds McGraw, and laughs again. He finds so many things amusing, and yet no one else is allowed to share in his merriment. Isis gasps, for no apparent reason.
We all sit to have dinner. The servants are obedient and silent as they place our plates in front of us. As one slips around the corner I think I see a tail protruding from his waistcoat. It can’t be true, I think to myself. I just need to eat.
Eat we do! An eight-course feast suitable for kings. Almost every food is represented, and yet McGraw cannot go more than a few seconds without remarking how much worse it would be if it was slathered in a white glop he calls “mayonnaise.” Lady McGraw seems to have a healthy appetite, but Isis cannot seem to nibble here and there. I gently scold her. Lord McGraw notices this and tells her to wait for desert.
“It will be a delight below the heavens!” he exclaims.
“You mean, above the heavens,” I say.
Lord McGraw gently laughs.
When desert is presented to us, Lady McGraw finally speaks. Unfortunately, it is nothing more than a high-pitched wail. It is so alarming, so unsettling, that even Lord McGraw cannot muster a giggle. “She sometimes has nightmares,” he says.
“But she’s not asleep,” I protest.
“But it is night time, is it not?” McGraw opens a curtain to present us the moonless sky.
After dinner, the ladies retire to their sitting room while Lord McGraw shows me the manor.
“Here is the game room,” he says, gesturing to a room full of sharp implements and a cabinet full of skull-and-crossbones canisters.
“This is our sun room,” McGraw points toward a windowless crypt deep in the bowels of McBone manor. There are no chairs, only two empty coffins. “Lovely,” I manage to say.
Lord McGraw takes me upstairs. He has told me he likes to keep pigeons. “They are calming,” he says, as we climb the rickety wooden stairs higher and higher. I swear to myself that the house was not this tall looking at it from the outside. Finally we reach the roof.
When he shows me the coops, I am aghast. “Those aren’t pigeons!” I exclaim, for staring back at me are dozens and dozens of beady-eyed bats.
Lord McGraw tuts me. “Tut tut, my friend. These are pigeons. The night is so thick you have imagined bats. Why, I’ll bet your wife told you she saw a werewolf running the grounds earlier.”
“She did!” I say.
“The night plays tricks on even the most intelligent of us. Specters and goblins appear when only leaves and hedges are to blame. Lady McGraw once told me she saw the demon Argosphospheles standing at the foot of her bed late one night! Of course that was incorrect.” Lord McGraw turns swiftly around and heads back downstairs. Gratefully I follow.
We find Isis and Lady McGraw staring at a quilt upon our return.
“This is a quilt made by the entire McGraw line. My great-great-great-grandmother began it, and every generation has added to it,” says Lord McGraw.
Each panel seems to depict a massacre, a witch-burning, a pagan ritual, or a beast of horrific proportions. “Lovely,” Isis remarks. To me, she whispers, “we have to go.” I concur.
Our hosts, though peculiar, have shown us every hospitality. We thank them profusely, perhaps over-zealously, as we back out the door.
As our carriage takes us away from McBone Manor, Isis clings to my arm. Her hands are ice cold. I find that I, too, am shivering. The further we retreat from those weird grounds, the more like ourselves we feel. When we arrive safely home, Isis makes me promise to wait a “good long time” before accepting another invitation to Lord and Lady McGraw’s. I find myself hedging. It possibly has to do with the peculiar bite marks on my neck, but I see myself returning to McBone Manor very, very soon.