Title: The Inheritance, Chapter 1
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin
Summary: Did Arthur inherit a haunted house?
Warnings: Haunted house tropes at every turn.
Word Count: 995
Prompt: 232, Suspense Month, The calm before the storm
Author's Notes: Sorry, the suspense prompts are putting The Email Order Bridegroom on hiatus this month
“I’ll get the gate,” Merlin says, stepping out of the passenger door. It’s hours past dark and there’s a light fog creeping over the damp ground, winding through the bare trees beyond the headlights illumination.
The rusted metalwork is freezing under his hand and it takes a few tugs before the catch lifts and pushes open. An owl hoots as the gate swings in with a loud creak. Merlin trots back to the car, climbing in, thankful to be enveloped in warmth again. He looks out the side window, heart making a sudden lurch as a dark shadow flies by.
“This feels like every horror movie ever,” Merlin says with a shaky laugh. Arthur hums in agreement as he reaches over to take Merlin’s chilled hand.
They’d meant to arrive in daylight but there was one delay after another at work and they hadn’t been able to get going until late morning. Now it’s just past midnight and the overgrown grounds of Dubois Manor are dark and uninviting. Arthur drives slowly, watching for deer or other game that might cross the long, winding drive. The car pulls up to the front door several minutes later. There are no lights on so Merlin fumbles through the glove compartment before pulling out a torch. Thankfully the batteries are still charged.
“I think we should look around before we unload the car,” Arthur says. “Depending on the state of the place, we may not need to bring in everything we packed.”
“Yeah, okay,” Merlin answers.
Arthur works the key the solicitor had messengered them back and forth in the rusty padlock until, finally, there is a click and the lock opens. The towering oak door slides inwards silently, as though the hinges had been oiled recently.
Merlin, hovering at Arthur’s back, shivers. They’re not even inside but the place is already giving him the creeps. “Tell me nobody died here. Lie if you have to.”
Arthur chuckles, “Nobody died here.”
“You’re lying, aren’t you?”
“Maybe,” Arthur laughs, stepping in through the now open door. Merlin follows, torch illuminating dusty wooden floors and hulking furniture covered in sheets. The air is stale and it’s freezing inside. Arthur fumbles with the light switches, accidentally switching on the porch light before hitting the chandelier overhead.
The covered furniture looks much less menacing in the dim light so Merlin relaxes a bit.
Arthur points toward chopped wood piled in a basket by the grand marble fireplace, “It looks like the solicitor followed through. I’ll put a fire together to warm this place up a bit. Why don’t you start uncovering some of this furniture to see what we have here.”
“Do you not remember this place at all?” Merlin asks, moving toward what might be an armchair.
“I haven’t stepped foot in this house since I was six or seven. Everything in the place looked about ten feet tall then,” Arthur answers, striking a match and setting it to the newspaper and kindling he’d laid out. The fire catches quickly so he loads on larger logs one by one.
Merlin’s uncovered two massive armchairs and an oversized brocade couch before he moves on to a tall, bulky thing against the wall. He tugs at the sheet but it snags on something so Merlin lifts the fabric to slip underneath to see if he can get it unstuck. His hand brushes against what feels like coarse fur and he yelps in surprise.
“Careful. Great Uncle Agravaine was an avid hunter and had several of his bigger trophies stuffed,” Arthur calls over his shoulder.
Merlin drops the sheet, moving away. “I think I’ll leave this possibly terrifying piece of not furniture until it’s light out." His stomach grumbles in unison with thunder rumbling overhead. "I think we should eat something before we unpack the car. Which way is the kitchen?”
“Down that hall, past the dining room and through the butler’s pantry. I think there are light switches to the left of every doorway.”
Unfortunately, most of the switches or the lightbulbs don’t work so Merlin is left using the torch to make his way toward the back of the first floor. It’s eerie walking through room after room, moving further away from Arthur with every step.
He is relieved when the kitchen light snaps on, revealing an outdated but gleaming space. The refrigerator is making a strange whirring sound but it’s cold and stocked with all the essentials Arthur had requested. Merlin opens and closes several cabinets, making note of what they'll need to get from the car. He’s just putting a kettle on to boil when he hears Arthur cross the floorboards overhead.
A second later an arm snaking around his waist makes Merlin jump.
“My, you’re skittish,” Arthur says with a laugh.
“I just heard you upstairs,” Merlin answers.
“No, I wanted to make sure the fire was going and followed you here. I’m starving.”
“I heard footsteps upstairs,” Merlin insists.
“Maybe it was a ghost,” Arthur says with a grin.
Merlin elbows him, “Not funny. I heard somebody walking upstairs.” He sighs, switching the stove off. “This horror movie is rolling along swimmingly. I bet there’s a basement around here somewhere.”
Arthur points to a door to the left and grins even wider. “A really big one. And a wine cellar. I locked Morgana in there once. She screamed bloody murder.”
“You just used the phrase bloody murder. This place is totally haunted,” Merlin says glumly.
“I doubt it but let’s put your mind at ease.” Arthur takes his hand and they head toward a dark, narrow staircase that will take them up to the second floor.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Merlin says just as there’s the distinct sound of something being dragged overhead. A loud rumble of thunder and a too close crash of lightning make Merlin's blood run cold.
Arthur is squeezing his hand so hard it hurts.