Disclaimer: I do not own Dark Shadows or any otherwise copyrighted material contained herein.
A/N: Rewritten June 2013. Not a complete redux. More like a fresh coat of paint.
The time period has been altered from the original series. Part I begins in 1956. In 1981, Willie is 24 years old.
Barnabas' telepathic communications to Willie are underlined and italicized.
CHAPTER 1 – WELCOME TO HELL
So this is hell.
Willie remembered how Sister Mary Francis would sneer through her wire-rimmed spectacles, clobber him with a ruler and croak, "You are going to hell, boy!" Well, the old nun was right.
Sitting on the bottom steps of the staircase in the main hall, the young man looked out the open door at the early morning light filtering through the trees. Not many leaves left. Cold air blew in, but it was crisp and clean. The air inside was just as chilly, but musty and dank.
Willie and his new boss had moved into the dilapidated mansion the night before. Barnabas had seemed distressed at the condition of the house and at the same time exhilarated at its potential. What Willie saw was that, between the vermin in the basement, cockroaches in the upholstery, and bats in the attic, there was not a safe place to even sit down.
Vampire and servant had moved the coffin into the basement where it was displayed center stage in the main room. Then, candelabrum in hand, Barnabas showed him other subterranean chambers: the root cellar, the dairy cellar, the wine cellar, the scullery and the kitchen, which had all the charm of a deserted cave. The blackened fireplace took up most of one wall and was big enough to walk in.
On the ground level were the main entrance hall, a receiving room/parlor, library, ballroom, dining room and the butler's pantry leading to the servants' staircase and rear service entrance.
Upstairs were corridors leading to the nursery and assorted bedrooms. Barnabas pointed out the largest, which had tall windows and even taller ceilings; that would be his dressing room. He paused at a lady's suite. Willie waited silently in the shadows for him to continue. At the end of the hall, Barnabas peered in an unfamiliar room.
"Bathroom." Willie explained. The vampire frowned, unimpressed by the concept of modern plumbing and skeptical of running water.
On the third floor were the servants' quarters, segregated by sex into two hallways. To the left, Barnabas led him past rooms once assigned to butlers and valets to the second to last door. The master explained it was for the under footman. Willie's accommodations must be modest as to not consume valuable time. The smallest room, next door, was for the stable boy, but that didn't have a fireplace.
Left unseen was the attic, which was used for trunk and furniture storage and, from what they could hear, hosting bats.
As dawn approached, the vampire descended to his basement coffin for the day. He handed his cloak to Willie, who pounded a nail into the wooden beam nearby and hung it out of harm's way. As usual, Barnabas took his walking stick to bed with him like a damn teddy bear.
Now the newly appointed handyman was on his own until sunset. He had instructions to begin by cleaning out the master's suite and his room so they would be able to dress and rest in relative comfort. Then he was to proceed to the main hall and parlor. The only thing lacking was any sort of cleaning supplies. Willie wandered from room to room, exploring, investigating, evaluating.
He pulled white sheets off the furniture, raising clouds of dust and sending critters in all directions. Well, he would never be lonely in this dump; it was more densely populated than downtown Calcutta. Willie suddenly laughed out loud. If he were a cartoon, all the rats, bats and roaches would dance around and sing songs while they cleaned the house for him. His name could be Cinderfella.
From rummaging through papers in desk drawers, the young man discovered that this house was inhabited back in 1914. Parts of it looked as if the residents just walked out one day and never came back. The décor was a haphazard mix of 100 or more years, and portraits which spanned generations covered every wall and staircase. Marble statuary lined the main hall. By banging on the wall paneling, he discovered at least three secret rooms or passage ways. It filled every requirement of a haunted house, except the presence of ghosts and that, Willie was convinced, was only a matter of time. There was a rocking horse upstairs that moved, albeit crookedly, by itself.
He claimed two of the dust-cover sheets, shook off mouse pellets and put them aside for his bed.
The cellar storage rooms contained no foodstuffs at present but the whole place reeked of mold and mildew. The kitchen drawers housed some useful items and a small mismatch of cracked place settings. There was a rusty water pump which yielded nothing.
Eventually, he came across a maid's closet, from which Willie acquired a horsehair broom and copper bucket and headed for the second floor. En route to the master bedroom, he stopped in the mansion's only bathroom. There was a claw foot bathtub, a sink and mirror, a toilet (devoid of water) with a chain pull, and—another thing to sit on, like a European bidet, only made out of wood.
After concerted effort, Willie successfully rotated the spindled sink faucets. Air pushed through, followed by a belching spurt and a trickle of brown liquid. He would let that run for awhile; maybe it would get better.
In what would become the vampire's dressing room, the servant surveyed the scene in despair. Filth hung from everywhere, the furniture looked unsafe, broken glass and small rocks carpeted the floor. The house obviously had provided hours of target practice for the local lads in search of amusement. Rotten little shits, Willie thought, choosing to ignore the fact that ten years ago, he would have been standing right alongside them.
He swung the broom at a spider the size of a half dollar which dangled from the bed's canopy. The rotted material ripped and another layer of decay and dirt tumbled on the bed. Willie's patience was beyond thin. He swept the broom across the bed, knocking dirt onto the floor and looked around the room in frustration.
First of all, it was too dark in there to see a damn thing, due to the window dressing: voluminous velvet drapes, still burgundy in the creases but faded otherwise to a dusty rose. They needed to go.
Willie dragged the dresser across the floor to the window and climbed atop. Stretching on tiptoe to reach the supporting rod, he managed to unsecure it from its brackets, when the weight caused it to come crashing to the floor, bringing Willie with it. He landed in miles of filthy fabric which sent a cloud of dust flying up into the room. Something ran out from under the bed and made a hasty exit. Yelling in anger, he shook the pile, which only served to circulate more dust.
The servant disentangled himself and crawled out of the heap. Great, now he smelled as bad as the draperies. Willie headed to the bathroom where the running water had lightened to pale beige. Then he saw in the mirror he was completely gray, covered in dust.
This is stupid; you don't pay me enough to do this shit.
Then he smiled at the irony. He stuck his head under the faucet to drink and then splashed water on his face. There was no towel, so he dried off with his filthy shirt, spreading the dirt into black streaks.
Willie grabbed his bucket and broom and made a fresh start in the third floor bedroom. He was suddenly grateful the room was so small. Barnabas was right; it was much more manageable. There were shutters on the window instead of drapes, and he opened them to find the glass was intact. With a little persuasion, the sash flew up, and a peek of sunshine and fresh air graced the chamber.
Starting at the ceiling corners, Willie knocked the cobwebs down, then raked the broom across the walls and windowsill. Finally, he swept the floor and gathered the dirt into a pile which he attempted to push into the bucket. Pleased with his progress, Willie unrolled the mattress on the narrow brass bed and laid down the sheets, tucking in the corners as he had been taught in school. He dumped his clothes from his duffle bag into the armoire, where he discovered a moth-eaten tuxedo and two shirts with funny collars—the livery of a previous tenant.
In the bureau he found cuff links and a little white bow tie, shaving mug, brush and strop. On top was a porcelain basin and pitcher. Under the window was a trunk, reminiscent of Jason's old sea chest, the interior of which was lined with 70-year-old newspaper and contained a striped pillow and wool blanket. The pillow smelled positively putrid, so he tossed it, but he couldn't afford to lose a warm bedcover. That was squeezed out the window, whereupon he slammed it against the wall to remove the little fuzzy white balls which housed spider eggs and the mouse shit embedded in its fibers.
On the desk was an empty oil lamp with a hurricane glass top. Inside the drawer was writing paper, a stub-nosed pencil and a stack of letters written in what looked like German or Dutch. There was also an old black and white photograph of a serious young woman in a white dress. Willie took out a sheet of yellowed paper and began to make a list.
lube oil – WD40
soap - Lava
His head was starting to nod; he hadn't slept since—hell, he hadn't had a decent sleep for a week, just random periods of unconsciousness, riddled with nightmares. Willie didn't want to close the window and thought instead of starting a fire, even though the little woodpile was crawling with tiny worms. He tossed the rotted logs into the grate, but they wouldn't ignite.
He and Jason were on a beach. He couldn't remember where, but it was nighttime, and they were roasting sausages and trout over a big bonfire. His partner got that one started with driftwood and little twigs and some papers which had to be burnt anyway. It was called kiddlin, and you needed that to get the logs to burn.
Willie looked at the love letters on the desk but dismissed the thought. Instead he pulled the newspaper liner from the trunk, crumpled it and stuffed it under the logs. The brittle paper went up in a flash and soon the logs began to sputter and pop.
The boy nestled himself between the dusty sheet and the musty blanket, using his arm for a pillow. He commonly used his Hilton Hotel robe for this purpose but didn't want it to get dirty from his hair. Christ only knew when he would next see a shower or a washing machine. Barnabas probably wanted him to bang his clothes on some rock by a river. For someone who pretended to be so smart, the vampire didn't have a clue when it came to a lot of modern things. That's why he needed Willie. That's why the young man was still alive.
As his lids drooped, the room seemed serene and warm. He could hear leaves rustling outside and smell the smoky fire. It was stupid to feel so complacent in this rat-infested shithole but, for the first time ever, the boy had his own bedroom, a private place to call his own. Not a sofa, motel, or a guest room, jail cell, berth or dorm. All his. Maybe he would put a poster on the wall.