The house was big. Like mansion big. From afar it looked quite inhabitable, but when you came closer you could see the cracked windows, the flaking paint, and the big holes in the roof. The trees around the derelict garden were looming, dark and scraggy. The fence was broken and rusted, and the large iron gates hung askew on bent hinges.

They said it was a haunted house.

It was.

He was standing by one cracked window watching the car make its way up the slight hill towards the house. It happened, every now and then that someone, usually youngsters out to have fun, took it upon them to spend a night in the house. Maybe on a dare, maybe just out of curiosity. Once or twice someone had brought measuring equipment and odd things, trying to capture the spirits that haunted the place. He rolled his shoulders and straightened up. Capture him, would they? He had taught them all. He... and the rest of the crew.

He looked down at the sound of teeth crunching wood. By what was left of his left foot sat a giant rat, gnawing away on his ankle with a defiant look in its beady eyes. He frowned and shook it off.

"I've told you to stop doing that!" he said in a voice full of sawdust and ancient timber. Rat sqeaked, and trotted off. It just gnawed on him for the company, and he knew that. But his foot would probably break off at the ankle if the dumb rodent kept at it.

"Let's go tell the others", he sighed.

Tucked away at the back of the house, underground in an old cellar, "the others" were sitting around, being bored. A smallish ghoul sitting cross-legged on a table looked up when he walked into the room. Her eyes were white and seemingly blind, but that didn't matter much to her.

"Hey there, Sonny Boy. Whatup?"

He winced. She called him Sonny Boy, and that was fine. But she had also taken to emulating the kind of speech she heard on the wireless in the upstairs parlour these days, and that pained him.

"Car coming", he said. "His lordship could go look."

A chilly draft around his ears rose a cloud of dust off of his shoulders. His lordship didn't like being told what to do, but he was far too curious not to go and have a look at the possible newcomers. He was, they all suspected, not really any kind of nobility, but he might very well have sucked the life out of a few. He was very old, and very insubstantial to the point of being little more than a gush of rancid, cold air. He was also practically invisible, which made him useful as a look out.

"Fffffeeeeding would be nnnnniiiicce", wailed a reedy voice from atop a cupboard. Mary, the very small vampire, poked her head out over the edge and smiled a toothy smile. Sonny Boy nodded. He didn't feed, being a wood golem, but the rest of the crew needed sustenance, and he had become attached to them over the centuries.

The crew was made up of six beings: Sonny Boy the Wooden Golem, Druscilla the Ghoul, Mary the Vampire, Lord Sanderson the Ghostly Apparition, Rat the Demon-y Rat, and Cerberus the Mutated Werewolf. The latter was currently sound asleep under the table. He was getting on a bit, and had long since lost what will he had to change into either fully human or fully wolfish form. One reason being his second head, which sometimes made even Sonny Boy feel a bit uneasy. Cerberus didn't sleep very well, because his one head snoring would wake up the other, and so on. When he finally did get to sleep the rest of the crew would try to be quiet and not disturb him.

Sonny Boy sat slowly down on a chair and let Rat crawl up his leg and settle in his lap. Standing on its hind legs Rat was almost 1.30 m tall, but Sonny Boy, with his 2.36 metres found it small enough. Rat wasn't a pet. It was its own master, but that said, cuddling up in the golem's lap was cosy enough for it to let fly a bit of dignity.

After a little while a shimmering fog drifted back in, and the lordship announced the arrival of seven young humans. Three female and four male.

"They be carrying bags and bags of food and drink, bedding and music boxes", he whispered. "They be planning on spending the weekend here. We have time enough."

Mary twittered with pleasure. Cerberus snorted and woke up partially. Pricking up his ears he sniffed the air and yawned.

"Food coming?" he growled. He kept his heads one human-ish and one wolfish, and the human one was the better talker. It was still asleep, though.

"Yes", whispered Lord Sanderson. "And lots of it. One for each, even."

"And some to keep for later", said Druscilla. "Allright, people, let's get organised."

Druscilla liked to think herself the leader of the crew. Nobody minded much. Most of the time the orders she doled out weren't followed, and bossing about gave her something to do other than look hungrily at Cerberus and Rat. Sonny Boy kept an eye on her. He wanted his friends intact and around, and he wouldn't take kindly to attempts to eat any of them. Mary, fortunately, only wanted human blood, and what human blood Cerberus had in him wasn't enough, so she was no threat. Like it or not Druscilla knew that if push came to shove Sonny Boy would bundle her up in a nice package and shove her into the oven like some witch out of a children's tale, so she kept her hunger under control.

"Here's what we do", she had told them. "We know they will settle down in the big parlour with the good fireplace. And then they will eat and drink, and at some point after dark they will start wandering around the house. Let's each pick a favourite and go for that one. That'll help us avoid crashing into each other when attacking, right?"

"Right", Cerberus and Rat nodded.

"So, let's go look and pick."

The seven youngsters settled down in the big parlour with the good fireplace, and started unpacking. They laughed and talked, and were completely oblivious to the watchful eyes behind the large painting at one end of the room. An old secret passage inside the wall led from the parlour, down to the cellars. Over the years Rat had gnawed his way through the wall and the back of the painting, and Druscilla had made holes in the painting, so they could look into the parlour without being seen. It was very handy. Sonny Boy didn't fit in the passage, but he didn't want to pick out a prey so it didn't matter. He stayed downstairs, making ready to go out and lock all escape routes once the darkness had settled on the hill. Neither of them knew how to disable a motor vehicle, so they had to resort to locking the food in the house. In olden days it had been fairly easy to spook or kill the horses people came with, but in this day and age they had to evolve.

Booming music made flakes of paint drift down from the walls in the hallway when Sonny Boy, surprisingly quiet for a more than two metres tall wooden golem, walked through he back of the house towards the kitchen. He frowned. The same kind of music had Druscilla hopping around in something she claimed was dancing, and he really didn't like what she learned from the wireless. She was becoming steadily more unglued, and listening to that pounding racket did nothing to improve her mental state. She sometimes even talked about leaving the house and go to some city. He didn't like that at all.

Sonny Boy went outside into the dewy dark. He stood under one of the great old oaks for a while, listening to the sap in the living tree, feeling immensely sad and happy at the same time. His big, carved hand rested lightly on the gnarly bark, almost wanting to dig in. He was very careful not to, though. He knew the tree couldn't give him anything. He already had a kind of life. The only thing the tree had, that he didn't, was mortality.

All of a sudden he heard soft footsteps on the walkway coming around the house. He stood very still. It wasn't a disaster if he was seen: standing still he was just a large wooden statue of a man. That was why he was the one to lock the doors. If someone accidentally set eye on Druscilla or Mary there would be a panic and a stampede. The only one who appreciated stampedes was Cerberus who loved the chase.

A person came around the corner, carrying an old fashioned lantern. Sonny Boy was standing quite close to the walkway, and there was no way he wouldn't be spotted. And spotted he was. The steps stopped, and the lantern was moved this way and that to let the light fall on him.

"Wow! That is so beautiful", a female voice said. Sonny Boy stood still. He didn't usually get called "beautiful". "Creepy", "freaky", or "huge fucking statue", yes, but "beautiful"? A hand traced the folds of his carved shirt and touched his hand resting on the oak. The person was a girl with long brown hair, and round cheeks. And eyes that glittered in the light of the lantern.

She reached up and poked him on the nose before stepping back with a sigh. He wished she had spoken more to herself. Her voice had had a little wheeze to it, like she was out of breath. He had liked the sound. He watched her continue her stroll, now and then looking back at him, until she rounded another corner.

"Erm", he thought to himself. "Well!"

He looked at his hand on the treetrunk. "Well!"

The sound of a girl's laughter came trickling through the darkness. Sonny Boy stayed put, and soon two other people came around the corner. One girl and one boy, arms around eachother, zig-zagging on and off the path, giggling and kissing. They were sharing a bottle of some kind of wine, spilling down their fronts and laughing while swinging a lantern to and fro. They both jumped when they saw him, but recovered quickly.

"Chubbelina will love this big guy", the girl said, squinting in the sparse light. "She's totally into art and stuff."

The boy grinned loudly. "C'mon", he slurred. "The grass isn't all that wet..."

The girl giggled again and they ran off, throwing the bottle behind them. It shattered on the walkway, just by Sonny Boy's feet. He shook his head slowly and then walked to the tool shed to get the wooden beams he used for barring the doors. All of the ground floor windows had bars on the outside, so he didn't have to worry about them.

Slowly making his way around the house, barring one door after the other - there were four - he listened to the sound of music and laughter coming from the big parlour. He stood for a while outside the large windows, looking in. The youngsters were milling about, some of them hopping around like Druscilla, some were looking through the old books in the book cases. She was twirling around, seemingly to her own music, laughing and glowing from inside. Sonny Boy took her in; the way she floated around, the way she jiggled when she moved, and the way her eyes glittered and her dimpled cheeks... dimpled. He was wondering what her name was...

While he stood there two of the youngsters left the parlour. One girl and one boy. Giggling and with a lot of backward glances they snuck out the door. Sonny Boy knew that some of the crew would be waiting in the corridors, and the two youngsters wouldn't get back alive. He listened for the screams while resting his eyes on the dancing girl. The one who thought he was beautiful.

Unfortunately a scream from somewhere in the house made her stop dancing. Along with the other four youngsters she froze in place for a few seconds, while the scream died away. Sonny Boy sighed and turned from the warmly lit window to the darkness, walking back to the trap doors that would take him back down to the cellars.

Part two. -->

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