Title: The Inheritance, Chapter 3
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin
Summary: Did Arthur inherit a haunted house?
Warnings: Haunted house tropes at every turn!
Word Count: 1006
Prompt: 234, No! Stop!
Author's Notes: The Email Order Bridegroom is on hiatus for Suspense Month.
Merlin wakes with a start and, forgetting where they are, he nearly falls off the couch. Behind him Arthur is kicking and shouting incoherently. Merlin spins to find Arthur’s eyes are open and wild.
“Arthur.” Merlin says sharply. Arthur doesn’t acknowledge him. Merlin grabs a shoulder, giving it a gentle shake. “Arthur, wake up. You’re having a bad dream.”
In the dim dawn light, Arthur abruptly stops thrashing, eyes unfocused for a few seconds until he blinks twice then notices Merlin. “What?” he whines sleepily.
“You were yelling and pummeling me in my sleep,” Merlin explains, heart still racing. “What were you dreaming about?”
Arthur shakes his head, “I’m not sure. Possessed doll, maybe?” Arthur has the gall to grin. Merlin gives him a sharp push and nearly falls off the couch again.
“You’re an asshole.”
Arthur nods agreeably. “And yet you still love me.”
“I have the worst taste in men,” Merlin answers. “C’mon, I wasn’t kidding about being joined at the hip and I’m dying for some caffeine.” Arthur grumbles but he gets up and pads after Merlin.
It only takes a second for Merlin to notice the door to the basement is ajar. “Couldn’t you have waited until I was caffeinated?” he loudly complains to the empty kitchen.
“Maybe the possessed doll left it open,” Arthur says cheerfully. Merlin gives him a truly vicious look before turning his attention toward making coffee. He keeps the door in his line of sight the entire time.
At Merlin’s insistence, Arthur has propped the door wide open with a large, incongruously cheery orange cast iron pot. They’re both armed with fireplace pokers and Merlin’s holding an ornate silver candelabra as they make their descent into the dark basement. ”We might as well stick to the horror movie theme and this is a classic,” he’d told Arthur while he was lighting the candles.
The stairs creak beneath their feet and the candles cast eerie shadows against the walls of the dank, cluttered space. There are cobweb covered shelves loaded with wooden crates and several dust covered pieces of furniture around the room. Merlin makes a slow turn, causing the candle flames to flutter in the breeze.
“There’s nothing here,” he says with relief, lowering his poker. Suddenly there’s the sound of rustling under a shelf opposite them both. Merlin raises his poker once more. “Spoke too soon,” he says with a sigh, bending over and lowering the candelabra to cast light on the floor. He sees eyes glittering in the shadows just before something darts out, headed straight for him.
Of course Merlin rears back with a scream.
“If you’re doing this as some kind of elaborate, terrible practical joke you’d better tell me now,” Merlin demands shakily. “I could have broken my neck.”
“As if,” Arthur scoffs. “You think I never want to get laid again?” They’re back in the kitchen and he’s gently cleaning the head wound Merlin got tripping over his own feet scrambling away from the emaciated cat that had darted out from under the shelf. He’d hit his head on the corner of a table as he went down.
“You’ve finally stopped bleeding,” Arthur says, giving Merlin’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze.
“Yeah but now that the house has tasted my blood it’s sure to want more,” Merlin says gloomily, fingers tentatively exploring the tender bump on his head.
Arthur, the asshole, laughs.
“I wasn’t joking,” Merlin says.
“That’s what makes it so funny,” Arthur answers from the sink where he’s rinsing Merlin’s blood out of the tea towel. Merlin tries to glare holes into the back of his shiny head.
Arthur settles Merlin into an armchair in the living room, tucking a sleeping bag up under his chin. “That was a nasty bump. You just rest here while I lay a fire. Then I’ll uncover the rest of this furniture and whatnot.”
“You promise not to leave me alone even if I fall asleep?”
Arthur leans in and gives Merlin a light kiss. “Pinky swear,” he says holding up his crooked finger. Merlin wrestles a hand out from under the sleeping bag.
“Pinky swear,” he agrees as their fingers link.
It’s still storming outside so even with all the curtains open, the living room is shadowy. Merlin jumps at the sounds of branches periodically scraping against the house and even the soft sound of cloth slipping off paintings and mirrors is making his skin crawl.
“Let me give you a hand,” he says, shrugging out from under the sleeping bag to help when Arthur comes to the possibly terrifying not piece of furniture that he’d left the night before. Arthur is standing on a chair, trying to work the sheet over its top and Merlin can see a wooden platform with a huge, brown fur covered, clawed foot peeking out below.
With a little help from the fireplace poker and Merlin’s pulling, the covering finally falls to reveal a menacing brown bear, face posed in a permanent snarl, one arm raised as if ready to strike. There’s a silver placard mounted on the base and Merlin reads it aloud, “European Brown Bear (Ursus Arctos) Transylvania, 1956.”
He looks up at the bear’s angry face and then at Arthur. “It’s official. I am never sleeping again,” he says balefully.
Arthur looks down at him and laughs. Merlin almost wishes that the bear would come to life and push Arthur over. Almost.
They’ve uncovered the furniture and wall hangings throughout the first floor and are about to head upstairs to do the same when there’s the sound of a chair scraping across the kitchen floor. Merlin and Arthur’s eyes meet as Arthur stiffens, looking rattled but determined.
He takes one step toward the butler’s pantry so Merlin grabs him by the arm. There’s another sound of scraping, as though a second person has just gotten up from the kitchen table. Arthur moves forward again.
“No! Stop!” Merlin whisper shouts. “You don’t know what’s waiting on the other side of that door.”