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Monthly Short Story Winner: Rebirth/Renewal

Rebirth - Phoenix by benu-h

This is a broad theme and it doesn’t have to deal with spring, people, or the New Year. After all, what can’t be renewed? What doesn’t have the right to rebirth themselves time and again?


1. This must be prose or poetry.
2. The overarching theme must be renewal or rebirth of something or someone
3. Prose must be 500-1500 words long.
4. Poetry must be 100-750 words long.

This month’s winning story was by D_Bates, with “The Curious Case of the Lacertus Estate”. Congrats on your win, D_Bates!

You can find all our entries here.

And now on with the story!

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Castle by Andrew Sonea (detail)

“The Curious Case of the Lacertus Estate”
by D_Bates

“Predators come in all forms, and one’s guaranteed t’be lingering when large sums of money’s involved.”

Me father spoke those words some three and a half decades back, on the day Simon Fonner arrived in Swallow’s Glen. He moved here shortly after it was made public that Lady Lacertus, owner of the fabled Lacertus Estate, was terminally ill with lung cancer.

Brash, suave, and bubbling with confidence, young Fonner strutted the streets in his flared trousers and knock-off silk-scarfs like he owned them. His less than subtle queries over the Lady’s circumstances fuelled immediate suspicion, and once he finally wormed his way into her confidence as a ‘carer’ he’d flutter around her like the very cigar smoke that festered her doom. Within months he was living in her former castle turned mansion on the hill, preparing meals and washing garments at first, but his duties quickly elevated to writing cheques on her behalf. His regular trips to the bars on her expense rubbed everybody up the wrong way, no less than his lauding over his close ‘relationship’ with her. Then the solicitors went in.

“That settles it,” my father exclaimed at dinner. “We’ll be out of work within a month of her passing.” And his fears held merit. The Lacertus Estate was the lifeblood of our unremarkable farming community lost among the lazing slopes and grazing pastures of the Scottish highlands. The Lacertus dynasty had kept the place afloat for nearly four centuries. Lady Lacertus, made a tragic widow in her early twenties, was worth in excess of ten million pounds, so it was claimed, and she was an only child who’d never remarried nor born any children of her own. I recall in her final days peering through the estate’s polished bronze gates bolted to pillars capped with lizard reliefs, and marvelling at the diamond windows of the tower over the mansion entrance, only to seeing her peering out from between the bars in the alcove protruding from the third floor. Oh, how sad and despairing she looked.

Fonner had become more reclusive by that time… more cautious, contemplative… switching out the playboy attire for an antique suit far older than he. On the fleeting times he did wander into town his braggart personae was also more refrained, bordering dignified, as he engaged with us mere locals as if he’d known us his whole life.

Alas, change his skin he might, but the act did little to quell the unrest that Lady Lacertus’ inevitable death dealt to the neighbourhood. Before the funeral could even take place there were whisperings regarding the fate of our livelihoods. Folk were already sharpening pitchforks when the news landed that the entire estate would be left in the care of Mr—now Lord—Simon Fonner. And while the usurper tried to calm the outrage with promises of business as usual, even his legally changing his surname to Lacertus did little to dissuade folk of the sell-up sure to occur.

Yet, despite all doubts, the man was true to his word. Apparently some people genuinely are just looking for an opportunity in life to prove themselves.

In the years that passed, Simon Lacertus never shied away from running the operation as though it were built off his own sweat and blood. The elders in those days came to call him a blessing. He even made me the estate’s caretaker when I reached working age—a job I still do to this day. All my life I’ve looked after that mysterious mansion that awed me as a kid, from its fragrant courtyard gardens to the yawning main hall, the cosy lines of bedrooms off elegant stone hallways, the expansive kitchen, and even the chandelier hung parlours and games-rooms. The only place I ain’t ever been allowed to see’s the cellar. But each of us is entitled to our own private places, right?

Truth be told, I became good friends with dear Si over the decades. We drank many a night away together. Sure, like most, he had some eccentric quirks. His particular passion—other than smoking those accursed cigars that claimed his benefactor—was crocodiles. References to the scaly things cover the mansion: skins splayed on walls, skulls on podiums, organs preserved in jars, and even the cutlery handles are engraved like scales. My personal favourite’s the croc-foot back-scratcher. But yes, Si is… was fascinated with the things.

“Oldest living creature on land, you know?” he’d often tell me, finger raised profoundly, a reptilian glint in his eye. “Their success comes from settling in the right territory, a place obscure enough to go ignored, but important enough that a plentiful supply of prey will wade through with expectations of a better life on the other side. It’s similar to how the dragons of myth live on their piles of gold despite having no need for wealth.”

“Fascinating,” I used to tell him… to humour him, of course, ‘cause I hadn’t the foggiest idea what he was blabbering on about.

So that was our life… simple, quiet, unassuming… till the day tragedy struck and poor old Lord Lacertus was diagnosed with an advanced stage of lung cancer. Less than two years to live the doctors said. Oh, how indignant he was, sat in his scaly leather arm-chair, cigar smouldering betwixt his fingers. “Four centuries,” he’d grumble. “And still they’ve failed to devise a cure for this dastardly disease.”

Before the news had been in the public eye for twenty-four hours a Yorkshire strumpet by the name of Penelope Pinch had arrived. Barely in her twenties, she skipped right into Simon’s life, flinging her thighs and bouncing her bosom, and he was smitten as a teenager having seen his favourite actress in the buff for that one scene she regretted ever having filmed.

“Girl’s only after one thing,” I told my wife.

“You old cynic,” she replied. “Perhaps she genuinely loves him?”

“Perhaps,” I huffed back. But when was the last time any young lass chose to fondle, let alone buy, the wrinkled, seeping old plums on the fruit stand when they weren’t planning to sue the supermarket afterwards?

My suspicions over Penny’s motives were furthered on seeing her flirting with the local lads around town. I tried to tell Simon, to awaken his infatuated eyes, but he’d have none of it. Banned me from the mansion, he did! Strange box after strange box was soon arriving from the far reaches of Australia, Africa, and South America, and all I could do was watch despairingly as my old friend’s wealth was being leeched away on Penny’s exotic tastes.

Penny’s playful excursions into town ceased around the time of their sudden and entirely private marriage, feeding rumours on the imminent demise of our reclusive town. Then I saw dear Si staring despairingly, full of youthful naive innocence, from the barred window on the protruding alcove of the tower’s third floor.

“That cinches it!” I exclaimed to the air, storming off to bang on the door and demand answers. The woman who answered… Oh, it were Penny’s all right—her figure were undeniable. But she was wearing old Lady Lacertus’ clothes, gloves and all, a long-sleeved, frilly-necked sixteenth century garb that showed not a smidgen of skin beneath the chin. The nerve of it left me gobsmacked, and before I came round to air my protest she dismissed me and slammed the door in my face.

Poor Simon died before the end of the year. After the funeral, Penelope Lacertus invited me back into the mansion to discuss my continued service. It eased my dread some that, on the surface, she appeared to want to continue the Lacertus legacy. Still, I had to ask whether she were worried about the townsfolk revolting.

“Not at all,” she said, thin lips stretched into a wide smile. “They’ll come around eventually. They always do.”

“And Simon?” I asked. “How are you taking his loss.”

“In my stride,” she said with a long breath. “It’s painful, but I console myself in the knowledge that dear Fonner only wanted my life, which is exactly what I gave her.”

“Him,” I corrected.

She stared blankly at me a moment before tittering. “Of course. My bad. The stress of all this change… it plays havoc with the old mind.” She took out a cigar, lit it up, and reclined in the scaly leather chair. “So… Is there anything you’d like to get off your mind to solidify this fresh start?”

“Well…” said I. “I’ve always wondered about the cellar. It’s the only place I’ve never seen.”

She took a serious puff, rose to approach me, rest a cold hand on my shoulder, and oily eyes glistening with a strikingly familiar reptilian glint, said, “Some things, my old friend, are best left to the imagination.”

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Congratulations again to D_Bates! If you’d like to enter our monthly writing contest, check out our forum for more information.

Happy Writing!

Title image by Andrew Sonea.


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