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The Curse of Malenfer Manor. Iain McChesney. Those in line to the Malenfer estate are succumbing to terrible ends - is a supernatural legacy at work, or something entirely more human? Young Irish mercenary Dermot Ward retreats to Paris at the close of World War I where he drinks to forget his experiences, especially the death of his comrade, Arthur Malenfer.

The ice water and sweetener was an antidote, and enabled his palate to take the aniseed. A rush of blood surged through his limbs, and his mind slipped from its leash. How long had he sat that way?

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When he looked back on it he could not say. The light at first drew his attention because it appeared strange, clustered as it was around the tree. Dermot pressed his face to the window and squinted to make his view clearer. It was there, all right, sharper than before, and the figure began to take shape. A dish of oily fish was knocked and spilled.

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It soiled the laughing woman. The two men helped to brush her down, which led to lots of slapping. I just saw someone, Dermot explained, putting his hand to his head and wiping a clammy brow. Dermot felt a pall of fear, but he chanced another glance. The man he had seen was nowhere in sight. The tree in the courtyard was alone.

The green fairy.

The gift of the absinthe. A foot into another world. Dermot had heard of hallucinations before, but nothing like this had happened— yet the vision had looked so real. Dermot drew his hands to his lap, conscious that they were shaking. The doctor drove carefully through the black and raining night.

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The unpaved road rattled the suspension and kept his speed down low. The tires bounced through puddles in the ill-kept potholed road, little more than a grooved track scoured by centuries of carts. He made out the one shouted word, but the rest he could not hear. He shifted the car into neutral and stood firmly on the brake. The young man wore a damp flat cap beneath a long waxed sealskin cape. For a second, a square splash of vivid color stood out in the headlight. The doctor rolled his window up and slid the car back into gear.

The gate hinged open before him, and he drove on through. Once past the outbuildings, the courtyard was lit up from the manor. He rolled his car to a rest and lifted his bag from the seat. A stooped man met him with an umbrella — he had emerged when the car drew near.

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Not that I hear, sir, answered the figure, and then they were both indoors. They shook the rain onto the floor; the wind had rendered the umbrella symbolic. Any others with new symptoms? No more, sir.

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None come down with anything new, just the young master as before. Madame is up there with him now. At mention of that name, the doctor stopped cold, one foot left hovering an inch above the tread, suspended as if frozen. Without turning or answering, the doctor recovered. He slowly lowered his foot back down and continued his ascent. Michel Malenfer was grievously ill. He was all of sixteen years old. Two weeks had changed everything for him. The Spanish Flu had returned. The disease had run its first course through the Ardennes countryside nine months before, in May of La Grippe, they had called it then.

With vast armies squared off, with millions of troops on French soil, who was concerned about a simple disease? Who had the time for a cold? But La Grippe was no ordinary flu, and it would not be ignored. It fell on the land like a judgment; it fell like the hand of God.

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The war had raged for four long years, and the government sensed its closure. A plague, of course, would be bad for morale, so the local news was censored. Spain was the first to report widely on La Grippe, and the doctor had read the newspapers. Madrid said that one patient in five was dying, if such a number could be believed — that the young and healthy were succumbing the most, that the old were left to live.

Murder at Malenfer by Iain McChesney

Then on November 11 th , , the Great War ended with an armistice. Ten million soldiers had died to bring the peace. Ten million dead. Such a number. An armistice may stop a war, but a plague respects no treaties. The Spanish Flu was contagious; one in four came down with it everywhere. And it spread, and it spread, and it spread. Five hundred million around the world might eventually be contaminated, and fifty million of those might perish. Fifty million dead! Impossible perhaps to imagine such a thing, but the troops coming home to their families brought more than their love, their scars, and their stories.

Some of them brought a temperature that soon turned into a cough. No, La Grippe was no ordinary cold, and one month ago it had returned. The Malenfer farm was miles away from the town. It was distrustful of strangers; its inhabitants kept to themselves. Yet eventually, perhaps inevitably, it too had finally succumbed. Michel Malenfer had taken ill, and his physician had been summoned. His leather bag of balms and tools knocked rhythmically against his leg.

His patient was fortunate enough to be afforded every conceivable comfort. Every remedy against the plague had been put at his disposal. He was attended round the clock — staff and family shared the burden — and three nurses had been brought up from town to sit shifts inside his chamber. His patient enjoyed his own rooms in which to suffer and linger, and a large bed with pillows aplenty where he might sweat and waste away. Good light if the doctor ordered, and thick drapes if dark was best.

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There was a fine chair for lucid moments if he managed to sit up, and most handsome of all was a prize view to the rolling fields beyond. If the patient needed reason to live beyond the indomitability of youth, then he might dwell on his inheritance: Michel was the last male in the Malenfer line and heir to the vast estate. The doctor considered the possibility of a wealthy grateful patron.

It never did a gentleman harm to have friends among the gentry. Madame is up there. The doctor wiped his forehead on his sleeve and tucked his damp hat under his arm. He pulled his shoulders back and squared his chin, and then pressed down on the bedroom handle. It opened. The doctor walked stiffly within. Shadows filled the place from a smoking oil lamp and the glow from the warming fire. He closed the thick door behind him. It swung easily on silent hinges and clicked loudly when it shut. The wood fire was reduced to a crackling husk of radiating embers; unlike his own small house in town, the manor had no need for coal.

The fireplace threw a dancing light across the bedroom floor, and Michel, his patient, he could just make out, half-hidden amongst his covers. The doctor saw her then: She stood still beside the tall drawn drapes, black like ancient sorrow. She stared beyond the high bay window as if able to see through the blackness. The doctor drew up short, startled for a moment. It might be better to turn up the lamp? She was petite.