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From Inside the Flap
CHAPTER ONE: STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
He knew something was wrong the instant he opened his bleary eyes. He was lying in the middle of a totally unfamiliar room. The mattress was uncharacteristically soft in a four-posted bed of elegant, antique design. The sheets seemed to be made of either cotton or coarse linen, but they were unusually rough to the touch. The bed was covered by a thick counterpane that he eventually pushed aside. The rest of the bedroom furniture looked like a quaint collection of museum pieces. To his greater surprise, and not inconsiderable annoyance, there was no telephone visible anywhere in this strange room. He shook his head in bewilderment. There was no telltale sound of traffic, nor could he hear any sounds of computers or televisions. All was strangely silent as if he were the last person alive on a dead planet.
The pungent odor of recently produced wood smoke pervaded the room. He quickly noticed a filthy fireplace that still contained an almost completely consumed log, which was covered thick with ashes. A few embers still glowed like forlorn sentinels guarding the blackened wood remnants.
He muttered, "Christ! I must have had way too much to drink."
His voice didn't sound right. It was as unfamiliar as the antique-looking room. The distinctive intonation of a British accent struck his ears with shocking precision. He definitely felt strange as he hesitantly slid out of bed like gradually undulating lava flow.
His brain ached with an insistent throb that clearly told him that all was not right with this world. His head swam in an unexpected dizzy whirl when he finally stood on quaking legs. It took him several long seconds to regain some degree of equilibrium before he took in more details of this unknown room. The light, such as it was, hurt his eyes, increasing the pain in his already befuddled head.
A richly embroidered oriental carpet covered a broad-planked wood floor. However, this elegant rug was utterly foreign to him. His staggering steps led him to an alcove where a marble stand held a pewter wash basin, half filled with water. Beside it were implements for shaving. A large, ornately mounted mirror completed the elegant toilet. However, the image he saw in front of him only served to increase the shock of this strange place. He grew pale with fear as he beheld the completely alien face that looked back at him. He wiped his hand over his eyes, hoping to restore proper vision. Unfortunately, the strange visage continued to blink back at him, as if mocking his very existence.
He gasped. "What the fuck?"
He was staring into a very young man's face, late teens he imagined. The eyes were deep and bloodshot, revealing a rich hazel coloring. His head was covered with thick, curly chestnut-brown hair. He moved his shaking hand over his eyes yet again in the hope of clearing away the unknown specter in the looking glass.
In spite of his desperate motion, it was still there. He gaped in wonder at the small birthmark on the left cheek and the unfamiliar dimple in his chin. Was it his chin? Was it somebody else's? The high forehead hinted at the possibility of high intelligence, although he wasn't feeling very intelligent at the moment. He grimaced just a bit when he realized he needed a shave.
Using the unfamiliar razor and lathering soap took some effort, but eventually he got it right. He opened a nearby bottle and gave it an inquisitive sniff. It smelled of some kind of cologne and alcohol, so he used some to brace his slightly scratched-up face. It stung like the devil, but at least he'd found the "after shave?" He hoped that's what it was.
He finally discovered the commode, but there was no toilet or bathtub. That was very strange. How the hell did one get a bath around here? Where was here anyway? If this was a motel, it was rustic beyond belief.
He eventually stumbled back to the bed area and looked for clothes. He found knee stockings and britches, along with a somewhat crumpled shirt and unbuttoned waistcoat, slung on the back of a wood chair near a roll-top desk. He shook his head again as he put on the odd, old-fashioned clothes. The waistcoat was of an attractive, dark green color, while the tan britches were a pleasant contrast to the waistcoat. The shirt and stockings, of course, were white.
He soon discovered some shoes and boots. For no particular reason he could think of, he opted for the boots, which were of rich, dark brown leather. They covered the stockings in full and fit like a well-fashioned glove. He'd never seen these clothes before, yet they fit him perfectly. It was passing strange.
After dressing, he went to the bedroom door and listened attentively. He could hear the faint sounds of voices, somewhere in another part of the house. He shrugged his shoulders and muttered, "Might as well find out what the hell is going down. This is one mother of a trip. It's like the fucking Twilight Zone, for Christ's sake!"
He entered a carpeted hallway and slowly proceeded toward the sounds of human conversation. He noted that his room was the second door on his right before he reached the stairway. That meant it would be the second door on his left when he returned, assuming he was able to return. He had never seen a stairway quite like this one unless it was in some eighteenth-century costume drama. It curled down in a half circle to a huge entrance hall. The highly polished, hand-carved oak balustrade proclaimed opulence. The magnificent stairway debouched upon a gleaming, rose-tinted marble floor. The immaculate stone actually glowed with rich tones of colored light that dazzled his bewildered eyes. This shimmering luminescence streamed across the hall from exquisite, stained-glass windows. He slowly descended the steps, expecting at any moment to suddenly regain an apparently lost reality.
The voices grew louder. They seemed to be coming from the rear of the house. As he reached the bottom, a young woman came around the corner and practically ran into him.
She quipped, "Well it's about time sleeping beauty arose from interminable slumber."
Before him was a young spitfire with dark, lustrous, brown hair and sharp blue eyes. She was a girl just blossoming into womanhood. This grinning, female imp was attractively fitted in a primrose-yellow taffeta dress that accented her dark brown hair beautifully. The sprightly girl was markedly shorter than him. She looked up into his face with saucy irreverence. Her smile was more like a sneer as she waited for a reply.
He mumbled, "I have a headache."
She laughed derisively. "Well my poor, poor brother Roger! I should think you would have a headache after the prodigious amount of spirits you consumed last night. My God, you're the talk of the entire bloody county."
He was tempted to argue with her, but her antique clothes and unusual accent stopped him cold. She looked like a living relic from a costume drama except he had the uneasy feeling that this sure wasn't a movie. The girl's lilting British accent made the occasional word a little hard to follow. He covered his eyes with a trembling hand for a moment and finally asked, "What day is it?"
She cackled with hysterical laughter. "It's Sunday, April Fool's day! My God, Roger, you look like you're lost in London. By the way, Father wants to see you in his study immediately, if not sooner. He's going to tear you limb from limb! You are so naughty, Roger! Well you'll pay the piper now."
His mind was having trouble keeping up with it all. In his confusion, he closed his eyes for a moment while he considered his next move. Apparently this was not Boston. Evidently his name was Roger and this was his sister-? By God! What a sarcastic sibling! She obviously took complete delight in his perilous discomfiture, and with such unabashed relish too. He didn't even know where the damned library was. In fact, he didn't know where anything was located. Perhaps he could get the hellcat to guide him without raising her suspicions.
He extended his arm towards her and said in a quietly controlled voice, "Well my loving sister, why don't you lead your helpless brother to the slaughter?"
She giggled mischievously as she grabbed his arm and led him towards the front of the house, approaching a shut door on the right. Her smile was radiant with anticipation.
She taunted him as they walked. "I think you'll be weighed in the balances and found completely wanting. I wouldn't miss this for all the tea in China!"
Roger figured she liked to see her older brother humbled on occasion. In front of the door, he bowed slightly and then gave her a mock salute. "We who are about to die salute you."
She clapped her hands together. Her laughter filled the hall like a bubbling brook in spring. Then she extended her right hand and gave him the thumb down as she grinned with undisguised glee. He made a brief stare up at the ceiling and knocked at the door.
A stern voice called out. "Enter!"
Roger attempted to shut the door quickly behind him, but not before the yellow-clad creature passed through it in front of him. She was still giggling.
Roger tentatively approached the ornate library desk that dominated the opulent room. The bookshelves were filled with leather-bound volumes of every shape and description. There were three high-backed chairs sitting in front of the cherry wood desk. But it was the man sitting behind the desk who arrested his entire attention. Here was an august presence that demanded respect. The dark, penetrating eyes watched him with ill-concealed anger. His aristocratic face was well formed, with a hawk-like nose that made his scowl even more sinister. He retained a full head of dark brown hair only slightly graying at the temples. This only added to his deep, foreboding frown. The middle-aged patrician looked like a thundercloud ready to explode into booming noise and electrical fire. From what Roger could see, the older man had on a dark blue coat with a white shirt and elegant ruffles at his throat. The clothes were obviously of expensive and excellent quality.
"You may leave us, Daughter! I have much to discuss with Master Roger, and I'm sure most of it will not be appropriate for the ears of a young lady."
The saucy sister whined, "But Papa!"
"I mean it! Leave us or I'll tan your backside for you!"
Roger's sister covered her mouth in mock shock and quickly left the room. She knew from long experience when her father was serious. Roger placed a trembling hand on one of the chair arms at the moment his sister departed the foreboding presence.
The older man snapped, "Well sit down, damn your hide!"
Roger quickly complied without comment and stared at this man who actually sent fear jolting through his troubled mind. Still he kept asking himself, where the hell was he? The older gentleman spoke with a definite upper crust British accent. The "o" sound was generally much longer than he was accustomed to hearing. The occasional g somehow disappeared from words with an "ing" ending. In fact the vowels were pronounced differently, although the meanings of the words were precise and all too clear.
"Well my impetuous son, what do you have to say for yourself? What excuse do you have this time for your utterly reprehensible behavior?"
It was becoming painfully clear to Roger that this angry man was his father. It was even more disconcerting to realize that the older man was straining to control a temper bordering on the volcanic. The frowning father unconsciously massaged his aching temple.
"I have nothing to say in my defense, sir. I truly am sorry."
That answer actually surprised the thunderhead. Sir Allan looked at his son much more closely now. Gone were the almost perpetually whining tones he was so used to. Those hazel eyes looked back at him as if they were looking at a stranger, and Sir Allan found the experience somewhat disturbing.
He frowned as he continued, "Well that's a bit different. At least you're not making ridiculous excuses like you usually do. What the hell was the matter with you? You insulted the Langton family and the earl's son in the bargain. On top of all that, I finally found out the extent of your gambling debts! Three thousand bloody pounds! By Christ! You are a God-damned burden to me!"
Roger's mind was racing to keep up with all this. If he was in the era that he seemed to be in, insults weren't taken lightly. Apparently he'd amassed a sizable gambling debt to boot. This was not looking promising. The older man had paused, expecting some kind of an answer.
Roger's croaking voice was little more than a whisper. "I will write the appropriate apologies immediately. I'm afraid I don't recall much of what went on. Did I have a lot to drink?"
A harsh laugh emitted from the grim face of the lord of this manor. "Drink, indeed! Christ in heaven man! You put enough away to best a dozen men. Did you have too much to drink, he says! It's no wonder you don't remember much, as you put it. Well Roger Hallworth the last, let me enlighten your besotted mind. Worst of all of your dubious achievements, you actually spit on the face of Sir Edward Devereux, son of the Earl of Essex. Mister Langton and myself had to restrain him or he might have skewered you on the spot. Then, you proceeded to call Kate Langton an ugly cow and her parents shameless social climbers who were prostituting their worthless daughter. Not content with these outrageous improprieties, you insulted other guests, breaking all the amenities and social graces expected of a man of privilege and culture. On top of all that, I found out from Robert Chilton that you owe certain gentlemen a grand total of 3,124 pounds, which apparently has been accumulating over the last six months. Are you deliberately trying to ruin your reputation and destroy your inheritance? Are you that much of a benighted fool, or are you simply bent on your own self destruction? I'll have an answer, sir!"
Allan could see the shock in his son's face. He knew there was something amiss when he heard another uncharacteristic response from his wayward son.
Roger answered, "You must believe me when I say that it gives me pain to know I am the cause of so much irritation to you. I suspect that a mere expression of sorrow is not nearly enough either for you or the persons I have so rudely abused. I will follow your instructions to the letter, sir. Only please bear with me, I really am not myself today. I can honestly say I don't know what has come over me." Wasn't that the truth. If this was a dream, it was the most realistic phantasm he'd ever experienced.
Allan's mouth dropped in complete surprise. "What has come over you? Contrition and obedience in the same breath? Are you feeling ill or something? Or do you think to lessen your chastisement by a stratagem?"
Roger smiled ever so slightly. "I must confess to you, I don't feel quite like myself this morning. I haven't had breakfast yet, and my head aches like the devil. I'm sincere in my willingness to make things right. I don't know why I would have been stupid enough to gamble, but that will stop. I will write letters of apology and listen to your council in future. What else can I do?"
Allan smiled without a shred of mirth. "You can write your letters and by God, you won't bet another farthing unless I give you leave. But that might not be enough. Sir Edward may demand satisfaction in any case. He was fit to be tied. I'm surprised he hasn't sent his second to confront you already."
There was a very long moment of silence as Roger listened to the grandfather clock ticking methodically in the corner. He shrugged. "Well I'll have to cross that bridge if it comes to that. It appears my letter will have to be a work worthy of Cicero."
The older man gave him a piercing glance along with his acidic retort. "You can lay to that, young man. The problem is I can't afford to lose you, as you are the sole heir to all you see around you, and then some. The estate will be in jeopardy of you make your bed six feet under the sod. Oh Roger, how could you be so senseless? I've given you all the advantages and you toss them away as if they were worthless dross!"
Roger heard the pain and anguish in the older gentleman's voice. He replied quietly, "Then I'll have to make sure that I survive all this and make proper amends. However, I hope it is many, many years before I become your successor. I mean that in all sincerity."
There was the faintest trace of amusement in Allan's voice as he quipped, "Oh and how many years would you allot your disgusted father, hmmm?"
Roger looked straight into the troubled man's eyes and gently replied, "If it were in my power, sir, I would add fifty years or more from this day present. I would wish you the best of health, with a clear mind and untroubled soul."
Allan noticed a tear trickle down the young man's cheek, and he was touched by the sincerity of the reply. He moved from behind his desk and approached his son, putting his arm around his shuddering shoulders. His voice became tender when he spoke again. "A gentle answer, Roger, a gentle answer indeed. You're like a different person today. What has happened to you?"
Roger looked into the now concerned dark eyes. "There's a great deal I don't understand myself. But I now see that I've hurt you very deeply. I'll really try to make things right."
Allan sighed. "We'll see what tomorrow brings. Meantime, I'll send for Bodkin and have him bring you in some breakfast. What can I get you?"
He was on slippery ground again, not knowing what might be available, so he tried to play it safe. "Some tea with milk and a little sugar, bread with whatever preserves you might have at hand, and some sort of meat. I don't care what as long as it has been well-cooked."
The older man looked at him quizzically but rang a bell that was conveniently placed on the desk. In moments, a tall man, who looked fifty or more with gray hair and impeccable dress, entered the study.
"Bodkin, bring us some tea, bread with strawberry preserves and a little mutton from last evening's repast if you please."
Bodkin answered in practiced politeness. "Very good sir, I'll be back presently."
Roger took in another important scrap of information. Bodkin was apparently the family butler, and this would prove very useful for finding things around the house without drawing undue suspicion.
Allan spoke again when Bodkin had left. "Why don't you start writing that letter to the Langtons while breakfast is prepared? Sit over here."
He indicated the desk, and to Roger's relief, he noticed an inkpot and quill pen sitting beside some blank sheets. Allan watched as his son began to write with a shaky, seemingly unpracticed hand. Roger made several blots before attaining the wording desired. It took a third draft of the letter on another paper before the document was of acceptable appearance. He was still writing when the food was silently brought in. Roger looked up and said, "Thank you Bodkin, your service is appreciated."
Bodkin looked at the young man in obvious surprise. "You're very welcome, sir." There was a bewildered expression on Bodkin's face as he walked out. Allan was staring at his son in disbelief. To his recollection, it had been years since Roger had complimented any servant of the household. He experienced even further surprise when he read the letter that was finally completed by his apparently contrite son. At this moment, Roger was thankful he'd had an extensive legal background.
To the kind and distinguished Langton family,
It is with the sincerest regret that I proffer my apologies for my gross and unjustified misconduct to both yourselves and your guests. Even accounting for the fact that I had far too much to drink, my conduct can only be described as reprehensible and completely uncivilized, unworthy of a gentleman or even a human being.
I know that my poor words are no recompense for my actions. I welcome any suggestions you may have in regards to my future dealings with all of you. Please believe that if I could undo the distress I have brought upon you, I would do so gladly. I humbly entreat your forgiveness as one Christian to another. I await your reply to know your minds in regards to this deplorable matter, though I suspect the less said about it, the better.
Your most obedient servant,
Sir Allan Hallworth shook his head in utter amazement. He'd never expected to see such words flow from his son's hand. Well to be truthful, they hadn't exactly flowed, but what did that matter? Did he dare to hope that maybe, just maybe his son was beginning to grow up at long last?
Roger requested in a serious, almost business-like tone, "Father, I would appreciate it if you would also sign and date this letter, so they will know you approve of my attempt to preserve the good feelings of our respective families."
Sir Allan silently picked up the pen, signed his name below the signature, and dated the document April first, 1788. When the father looked back at his son, he saw the young face become pale. He watched as, with trembling hands, Roger ate bread and shook the cup as he drank the rich tea. The two men watched each other in silence for minutes as Roger grimly finished breakfast. The younger man was definitely beginning to feel sick to his stomach. Seventeen hundred and fucking eighty-eight? That was impossible! Somebody must have slipped some pretty heavy-duty drugs in his whisky at the New Year's party. He shook his head, trying to get the cobwebs out. On top of all that, apparently the person he was somehow replacing, Roger Hallworth, was an absolute ingrate and social pariah.
All the while, the clock ticked like the harbinger of doom. It was the longest meal he could remember. Roger finally looked up with a pained expression in his bewildered eyes. "I don't feel very well, sir. May I be excused?"
Allan nodded, and Roger stumbled out the room and shut the door behind him. After standing in the hall for a few moments to regain his composure, he retraced his steps in the hall. He saw Bodkin coming out of another room. "Bodkin!"
Roger spoke more softly. "Please bring the family bible up to my room. I wish to do some reading in it."
Bodkin looked at him with slightly raised eyebrows above twinkling gray eyes that peered from his thin, lightly wrinkled face. "Very good sir, I'll have it up presently."
Roger gave him a wan smile. "Thank you, Bodkin!"
"You're welcome, sir."
Young Hallworth didn't notice the butler shaking his head slightly as he went to run Roger's errand. Soon Roger was perusing the family bible and finding out the important statistics of the Hallworth family he was apparently a part of. Sure enough, there was Roger Hallworth born April fifteenth, 1770. His sister Elaine was born June twenty fifth, 1773. His father Allan Hallworth, also known as Lord Stapleton, Baron of England, entered this life November sixteenth, 1745. His mother was recorded as Belinda Dryden Hallworth, born August sixth, 1750. He noted two infant children who'd perished at very early ages, and then he saw the grandfather's name: Milton Hallworth, born 1710 and deceased September twenty second, 1773. The grandmother, Elizabeth Barnstable Hallworth, had been born December fourth, 1717 and had passed away quite recently in February 1786, on the twelfth day of that month. He shut the book and lay down for a while to consider what had happened. Apparently, he had somehow traveled back in time over two hundred years. The even larger mystery was that he wasn't even himself anymore. He was a different person entirely. He looked and sounded like a total stranger, and he had to relate to these unknown people. He thought to himself, I need some answers to all this. Either I'm nuts or something very phenomenal has happened to me. First I'm at the millennium party and now I'm here, except where the fuck is here?
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