7 As Above, So Below

As Above, So Below 

By Rhett LeBeau

It was always said in the early days that the Deuse family was the birth of the town, and that someday they would be its death. The Deuse family, for their part, did nothing to counter this, mostly because they saw it as truth. Xavier Machina Deuse had been a Boston merchant during the Revolution, and provided significant funding to support the cause. In the days before Shays’ Rebellion, when the government struggled to pay its soldiers, it took to rewarding some of the benefactors with large parcels of land in the more forgotten corners of the fledgling nation. Xavier chose a wide parcel in New England, along the Great Lakes, intending to reap a tidy sum when the fur trade expanded westward and needed to ship pelts back to the Old World.

Decades passed, and as the construction of the Erie Canal and the development of railroads justified Xavier’s ambitions it seemed as though the town of Aylsham was prime to be the next major port city in America.

By 1850, the town had grown to a proud size, and trade was flourishing. Xavier was long dead by this time, and he had been succeeded by two sons two times over. The newest members of the Deuse name, prime to inherit their grandfather’s manor, wealth, and title were all in their mid-teens by this time. Sanctum Deuse was an artist, fond of long walks and picturesque landscapes, while Tamlin Deuse was the adventurer of the duo, often wandering outside in search of some long-forgotten treasure, or spreading wild tales of his mischief. The town had prospered through the financial investments of the family, and the wade-ranging capabilities of the children seemed only to further their reputation as a house of extraordinary people.

It was that year that the downfall began.

The meteorite landed in October. Everyone saw it fall, wailing through the sky as smoke trailed behind it, crashing into the dense forests surrounding the town, by the old burial grounds. Everyone said someone should go investigate, but nobody dared to. The old burial grounds had been abandoned for decades, and even if a rock from the sky was interesting, hiking through the dense New England wilderness to find it was much less enticing, dissuading anybody from searching.

That is, anybody except Tamlin Deuse.

His parents noticed him missing around lunch, and when he wasn’t back by nightfall the alarm was sounded and a search was organized. Sanctum, knowing exactly where he would have gone, snuck away to the meteor, which had cast a strange glow into the air above it. He came back hours later, carrying a haggard and pale Tamlin in his arms, collapsing onto the ground in front of the searchers. Their parents rushed them home, bringing every town doctor they could find with them.

The meteor’s distant glow never subsided, and people swore that it actually grew brighter throughout the whole ordeal. As weeks passed, they began calling it the “Color”, and avoided talking about it at all costs. Nobody could tell what it was, but whatever it turned out to be, it certainly wasn’t good.

After the meteor strike, things got worse for the town. A sickness began spreading throughout, felling townsfolk left and right. The Deuse family locked themselves in their manor, away from the plight of the city.

Tamlin was never seen in public again, and Deuse Manor was avoided at night, as people claimed to hear unearthly screams echoing from its dark halls during the chime hours.

Sanctum was rarely seen in public, only coming out in a long coat and wide-brimmed hat. He was curt when spoken to, and seemed to intentionally avoid human interaction. The artistic boy had disappeared, replaced by some uglier caricature of his former self.

With the family isolated, the town began to suffer. Demoralized, and with half of the population dead, people left the town in the droves they once flocked to it in, and by 1855 Aylsham was a town with more houses than people. The Deuse family, in the townsfolk’s eyes, was a house of madmen and monsters, a far cry from the artists and dreamers they’d been half a decade before. As time passed, the Deuse family withered up as more and more members died or changed their names to escape the stigma of their title, even after the disease died down. By 1905 only one member of the Deuse clan lived. A young man by the name of Astrym, who inherited Deuse Manor upon the death of his uncle. He hadn’t been close to his family, and as he rode the train to Aylsham through the misty New England rain he found himself wondering what exactly he had been gifted.

The train disembarked and he rode into town by motorcar. The driver spoke little, and Astrym was okay with that. Pulling up to the manor, the driver seemed hesitant, even a little fearful, but said nothing, only letting his passenger out and speeding away as quickly as possible, not taking the chance to look back. Astrym gazed upon the manor in awe, the gables and columns of the gothic monstrosity seemed to glare down upon him, surrounded on all sides by the gravestones of the family plot and walled in with corrugated iron fence. Whoever built this had certainly understood aesthetics.

Lavinia was working in the graveyard. Slowly pouring over the birth and death dates of each solitude stone, she poured over the epitaphs, gleaning whatever information she could about the lives these men had lived. It was lonely work, but that was alright. The townsfolk weren’t too keen on researchers anyways, and she’d made no friends yet during the months she had lived in Aylsham. She stood at the foot of Xavier Deuce’s grave, a massive stone pyre standing imposing against his manor. Judging by the ornate stonework along its wall, Xavier must have held himself in high regard. It was fascinating, but not so enrapturing as to distract her from the sound of a gate closing. Swiveling around, her startled expression greeted an equally startled man. Wearing a long coat and blue scarf upon his scarecrow frame, his facial features dominated by his salt-and-pepper hair and vibrant blue eyes, the young man seemed about as shocked to see Lavinia as she was him. Recovering from her fright, she exclaimed;

“Sir, this is private property!”

“Well, I should hope so. I wasn’t given the impression that this lot was publicly owned.” The man seemed to overcome his shock as well, and took to meandering around the graves, not paying Lavinia any attention.

“That means you need to leave!”

“Or, perhaps,” he retorted, “you are the trespasser!”

She scoffed. “I was given permission to be here by the owner of the house before he died. Now that the last of the family is dead, it’s my understanding that this house goes up for auction, and until it does I’ll assume that my permission still stands. As for you, you need to go!”

“I too was allowed to be here before the owner died, and he gave me extra instructions on how to operate upon his death.” The man spoke in a sing-song tone, not revealing any emotion other than detached amusement. “And if you’ll forgive me, I think that inheritance

superseeds spoken permission.” He approached with an outstretched hand. “Astrym Deuse. Turns out that the family isn’t entirely dead after all.”

The two talked for a while in the graveyard surrounding the manor. Lavinia was a scholar, and as part of a regional history project was researching the lives of the Deuse family in order to understand their impact on the greater area. She’d gotten permission to investigate the family gravesite from Astrym’s uncle before his death, but was unaware that any other family member survived.

“This is huge!” Lavinia exclaimed, beaming from ear to ear. “Your uncle refused to meet me in person, so I never got an interview with an actual family member.”

“Well,” Astrym chuckled, “Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t know that I have much to say on the matter. I never met my uncle, or anyone in the extended family. I’m a Deuse from my mother’s side, and she changed her maiden name when she married my father. I only kept it because of a clerical error, and my understanding was that my mother was estranged from the rest. I mean, I know the legend of the two brothers and all that, but it was never as big a part of my childhood as I’m sure it was some other cousin’s.”

Lavinia looked confused. “The two brothers? Oh, you mean the story about Tamlin and Sanctum.”

“Yes, I was told by my mother that some members of the family took the tale very seriously. I always assumed it was a local myth.”

“Well, it wasn’t too fictional. Sanctum and Tamlin are buried beside Xavier over here, amongst others.”

“Just my luck, to inherit a mansion with its own graveyard.” Astrym gave an exasperated smile. “I’m actually here against my mother’s wishes. The inheritance of the lot went to ‘the next living member bearing the Deuse name,’ and she begged me to change it. I refused, though now I’m reconsidering.”

“It’s a nice property from the inside I’m sure, though I can’t say firsthand.”

Astrym looked at Lavinia, and grinned as he raised the keychain the realtor gave him. “Would you like to?”

The inside of the building was only slightly more modern than the exterior. Oak dominated the aesthetic, and a fine layer of dust dominated the color scheme.

“The man never left,” Lavinia spoke between coughs, “claimed he had a skin condition. I can hardly see why.”

They explored the old house, from its dreary cellar to musty attic, and found that the only area worthwhile was the expansive library.

“It seemed my uncle did a lot of reading in his spare time.” Astrym called out from behind a bookshelf. Lavinia didn’t notice as she was too busy pouring over a family chronicle she’d discovered.

“This is amazing!” she gushed. “He kept an entire section dedicated to family history!

This is perfect for my research! What book did you find?”

“Not sure. It’s dusty though,” he said, blowing a cloud of decay off the black binding, revealing the word “Necronomicon” engraved in alluring gold letters. Astrym flipped through a few pages, an expression of interest developing. When Lavinia wasn’t looking, he tucked it away in his coat.

The two developed a fast friendship, and as days passed they spent more and more time together in Astrym’s library, pouring over every old and arcane text they found in that musty hall. While Lavinia took extensive notes on the family history book, Astrym spent a considerable amount of time reading the Necronomicon. Lavinia hadn’t heard of the book before, but when she asked Astrym about it he gave a vague response about how it was “originally Xavier’s” and “important to the family,” but elaborated no more.

She didn’t press any further.

The townsfolk didn’t even try to hide their contempt for the two, sideying each when they walked into town together. They didn’t trust Lavinia for spending so much time with Astrym, and they didn’t trust Astrym for being a Deuse. Most of them had actually hoped that his uncle was the last of the family, and were disappointed to see another. They cold-shouldered every interaction, and at times seemed downright threatening, but neither of the pair paid any heed to the villagers, preferring to spend most of their time with their books at any rate.

But the meteor, that was something one can’t come to terms with.

Everyone had assumed whatever it was had decayed or cooled off sometime at the turn of the century when its glow subsided and died. But the night Astrym arrived in town, a faint dawn spread over the horizon until a week later the unmistakable glow of the fallen rock had once again bathed the region in its strange color. People began talking of the old legend, of the two brothers.

“It’s not a folktale,” they warned Lavinia. “It’s a curse upon the family! The glow subsided when the last of Xavier’s sons died, and now that another’s taken their place it’s come back! He must be a direct descendant, here to bring ruin to us all like the last ones did!”

Lavinia grew worried as the town’s rhetoric turned viciously against Astrym. She tried to see him when she could, and while cordial at first she noticed as he began to spend more and more time hunched over the Necronomicon, never disclosing what he was so invested in. He began to wear longer clothing, claiming there was a current in the air that disturbed him, and his skin turned aquatically pale. Lavinia expressed concern for his health, but he dismissed her. Eventually, he refused to see her at all.

“I’m not well,” he lied. “It’s some senescence or another.” And when that same sickness spread throughout the town, that’s exactly what they began calling it. The Senescence.

As Halloween drew near, a rumor began spreading through the sick town that a monster had been sighted on the docks, and several hunting parties were dispatched to no avail. The story quickly took sideline as more and more people fell to the Senescence, first developing a cough and then growing pale and weak before passing. By the 29th, a quarter of the townspeople had fallen.

On Halloween day, the town was eerily silent, as though it was holding its breath. As much as Lavinia tried to deny it, she too had developed the characteristic cough and feared the worst. As dusk fell, she was startled to see a mob of villagers descend on town square, pitchforks, machetes, and torches in hand. She ran to the group, asking what was happening, only to be pushed aside.

“It’s your boyfriend, up in that manor there.” one man sneered. “He’s spreading the

sickness, we all know it. The Color was gone until he came back, we didn’t get sick until the Color returned. There’s no cure to this, and unless you want to die as well I’d suggest you don’t try and stop us.”

“Stop you from what?”. “From killing Astrym.”

Despite Lavinia’s begging and pleading, the villagers were convinced that Astrym was the source of their woes, and that his death would mean an end to the Senescence. They locked her in her house to prevent any interference, and she wept as she saw the glow of the flaming manor in the distance.

But, at the same time she saw a figure untying a sailboat down in the harbor.

Hoping, praying it was him, Lavinia shattered the window with a chair, struggled down the gabled wall, and ran to the harbor as fast as she could. She arrived just as the boat was leaving, and leapt aboard as it pulled away from the dock. It was a small schooner, and inside the cabin a figure rushed around in the dark. It threw open the door and Lavinia called out Astrym’s name as she rushed towards him.

“Don’t!” The thing shrieked, and Lavinia fell back, in shock at what she’d heard. It was Astrym’s voice, but…different.

“Astrym, is that you?”

“Not anymore.” A voice replied sadly. “What happened?”

The figure moved in the shadows, a misshapen blur.

“You asked me what was in the book I was reading.” He threw it in front of her, the pale moonlight reflecting an open page, titled “On Functional Immortality.”

“A long time ago, Xavier sought immortality for him and his descendants using this book. He must have done it wrong, as he died, but his grandchildren experienced its full effects. The glow from the meteor provides the family members with immortality, but at a terrible price to both themselves and the surrounding area.” The shape turned back to the water. “I’m throwing the book into the lake and sailing far away.” He waited for a response, and hearing none, turned back with shock to a collapsed Lavinia, wheezing quietly into the night air.

The Senescence had taken her.

Unbeknownst to either, another boat had been trailing them from the shadows, for the villagers too had noticed what remained of Astrym attempting to flee. It was at this moment they opened fire, bullets raining down on the boat as men boarded it, knives and swords at hand.

Astrym rushed for the bow as they shouted; “Look! He’s killed the girl! He’s a monster!”

The meteor’s glow fading with the horizon behind them, the two boats sailed further into the lake as the waves rose in their fury, responding to Astrym’s emotions. Out of the meteor’s effects, Lavinia awoke just long enough to see a humanoid shape raise a hand to the heavens as an angry mob surrounded it on the bow, only to get swept away by a wave that split the boat in two. She rushed to the edge as the halves of the vessel began to sink, reaching a desperate hand for whatever remained of Astrym as it sank beneath the waves.

With Astrym gone, the meteor’s glow subsided and the Senescence ended, though by this point very few villagers remained. The geologists from Miskatonic University, who came to investigate the meteor at Lavinia’s request, were never able to find any evidence of an impact. Lavinia, for her part, continued her research into the family, eventually gaining permission to open the caskets of Tamlin and Sanctum. In Sanctum’s grave, the skull was discovered to possess a pair of antlers, while Tamlin’s hosted what appeared to be the remains of a wolf.

Lavinia left after some time, as did the few remaining villagers. Aylsham now sits a ruined town in a secretive wilderness, though some aspects of it may live on forever.


Anoka County Library Write On! 2023 Short Story Contest Winners Copyright © 2023 by Avrie Siedschlag; Ella Howard; Greta Graham; Renad Taher; Rachel Mueller; Daniel Gbati; Julia McBride; Audrey High; Lucia Floan; Rhett LeBeau; Anna Moline; Hannah Jemming; Valomi Lewis; Fen Hendren; Kathryn Downs; Megan Nguyen; Lizzie Elsenpeter; Sophia Accord; and Sophia Acord. All Rights Reserved.

Share This Book