A lone traveler from distant lands, I found myself in a fog-shrouded avenue, footsteps echoing sharply. The waxing moon seemed like a ghost overhead, a halo emanating around it from the layer of fog cloaking the city. Buildings, made flat and gray in the swirling mist, loomed over me menacingly.
“It has to be here somewhere,” I muttered to myself. I rubbed my cold hands together in a feeble attempt at warmth.
The sound of my own whispered voice startled me; it sounded unnaturally loud in the quiet street. I consulted a worn and tattered map, given to me by a stranger who resembled some twisted version of Nosferatu in a top hat.
“It is called the Bucket of Blood, Mr. Eel,” he explained in a silky and hypnotic voice. “There you will find the Landlord. He has a room to let.”
With a sharp cackle, he flipped his cloak and slid out of view in the misty night, eddies of fog swirling and obscuring him from view quickly. An involuntary shiver racked my body at the sound of the stranger’s voice. I felt like a dead man walking. . .
Shrugging off the ill feeling, I turned a corner and saw a sign creaking over a soot-covered door, lit by the muted glow of a gaslamp. The faded letters read, “Bucket of Blood”, but the bright red liquid oozing from a tipped bucket on that sign was suspiciously wet. I thought I could hear dripping.
Stop it! I thought, hunching my shoulders against that spine chill. It’s just a pub, and you’re here to see the room. Nothing more. There are no monsters, and vampires don’t exist. . .
My nightmares were invading my too-vivid imagination, rampant and uncontrollable. Though I tried to steel myself against the frightening images of vampires and Jack the Ripper style killers lurking in the shadows, the feeling of dread and fear would not leave me be.
Immersed in these thoughts, I was startled by a dark figure as it appeared suddenly from the doorway below the cobbled road, flashing a crooked grin. All I could see was a flash of eyes and a glint from his teeth, as he tipped his top hat with a slight bow, and melted into the light. . .
“It is good to see you again, Mr. Eel. I am Mr. Underby, the Landlord.”
A glint of teeth, a flash of. . .something. . .from the shadowed brim of that hat. I felt the shiver again. Wasn’t this the same person who had given me the map of the city?
“I. . .I’ve come to take a look at your room for rent, Mr. Underby,” I stammered.
“Follow,” he commanded, as he glided down the stairs like a bat, and held open the door.
I hesitated, then crept down the stairs. Mr. Underby led me through a darkened doorway, and up some narrow stairs. We stopped at the head of a short hallway.
“That door is kept locked,” Mr. Underby purred. “For obvious reasons. Come. This is your room.”
He took out a giant tarnished keyring, flipped through a few ancient keys.
“Ah,” he said softly, inserting a key into the lock. The door groaned as he pushed it open, revealing a tiny room with reddish and peeling wallpaper.
He handed me a small piece of parchment.
“Those are the term, Mr. Eel.”
I nodded. The rates seemed reasonable, even if the Landlord did make me think he’d rather tear out my throat and drink my blood, than rent a small room to a taylor like me.
“It looks fine, Mr. Underby. Yes, this will work. Thank you.”
“Welcome to Thunderclap Hall, Mr. Eel.” he said, his voice silky and. . .was that menacing? My imagination was still running away with me. I had my head bent for a moment to pull out my wallet.
“Thank you, Mr. Underby. . .”
I looked up, but he had vanished.
I could still hear the faint malicious laughter echoing downstairs.
Will I survive having a shop over the Bucket of Blood? Only time will tell. . .