To Mr. T.H., happy birthday.
Welcome, honored guest, to Ridley House; the acquisition of this charming 18th-century Palladian Revival villa has been something of a coup for our club and we are beyond pleased to present a wide array of tastes for your pleasure, if for a limited time. Take a moment to enjoy the grounds, particularly the stately elms with their attendant garlands of Spanish moss, and the mist rising from the ponds and nearby irrigation canals.
Before proceeding, we respectfully remind you to check the condition of your crystal spirit glass; it should be free of all cracks, chips, or blemishes to be able to properly capture and concentrate energies. Please take advantage of the sanitizer provided at the door, which will remove any lingering ectoplasm. Should your spirit glass develop an imperfection during the course of your meal, new ones will be available for purchase at a reasonable rate.
This menu will address the spirits in recommended tasting order for maximum piquancy, though our guests are of course welcome to explore the experience however they might like.
The manifestation may be found over the lightly stained floorboards where the house’s pianoforte once rested. Warm flavors of charred wood and cloves harmonize over a dark mineral undertone that hints at a long history of violence perpetrated upon others. Sharp spiciness bursts upon the tongue, representing the surprise at the moment of death, a grace note of the unexpected. Note the floral scent that lingers after you’ve enjoyed your taste, the way it changes and enhances the preceding flavor.
Our historian believes this manifestation to be Martha Ridley, matriarch of the family, who was murdered in 1919 by a burglar, according to police records. A cane belonging to her has been brought down from the house’s attic, the smooth polish on the handle and the multitude of microscopic cracks throughout the shaft indicating vigorous use.
Open the antique ice box to find our next manifestation in the darkened interior, which is far too small to contain the full body of an adult man. To the discerning nose, the metallic hints of blood and salt linger even to this day, contained in the scraps of stained rope that sit at the bottom of the box. This spirit is redolent of leather, woodsmoke, and high-grade tobacco, decadently masculine. An acrid taste lingers, as of burnt leaves in the autumn, an echo of more drawn-out agonies, overlaid with a sweetness of hothouse flowers, familiar from the first taste.
This ice box is believed to be the last resting place of handyman Edward Smith, thought to have left the employ of the Ridleys in April of 1917 after the declaration of war on Germany, intent on joining the army. Records show that he never made it to the recruitment office. A picture recovered from a trunk in the attic shows him to be an uncommonly attractive young man, posing unselfconsciously with an ax before the trees.
Outside the kitchen stands one of the manor’s larger trees. Under its strongest branch you will find a manifestation redolent with gunpowder, gin, and orange peel, the strong relic of a man cut down in his prime. The flavor is, sadly, somewhat muddled with a cacophony of metallics unthinkingly inculcated at time of death. If you hold your glass to the moon, you’ll catch a hint of the olive drab color that had become the staple of army uniforms during World War I.
A few steps away the second manifestation waits, a much more subtle mix of greenery, ocean salt, and the delightfully domestic sweetness of bread. Fascinatingly, the orange peel of taste #3 carries over to #4, linking the two inextricably together. This subtlety is almost overwhelmed by a contrasting burst of bright mint and dark truffle, clarity and despair that make for a decadent, almost chocolatey finish—violence turned inward.
Taste #3 has been identified as Corporal Jeremiah Green, from archived picture postcards of his lynching on May 12, 1921. He had returned home for leave and was accused of assault by Elizabeth Ridley (daughter of Martha), despite having never before been on the Ridley House grounds. Taste #4 is thought to be where her brother Nathaniel Ridley committed suicide three days later, by means of Corporal Green’s service pistol. Rumor has it he had been planning to leave Ridley House within the week, departing for New York City—with Corporal Green.
On your way to the final taste, we encourage you to stop by the vegetable garden, study, and nursery. The manifestations in these areas are not well-defined enough to offer the sort of experience we prefer for our guests, but will whet the appetite and sharpen the senses. In the nursery, see how many distinct presences you might find; our most experienced sommeliers have caught between seven and nine, not quite overwhelmed by the sweetness of hothouse flowers.
A fitting end to the evening, this manifestation is the reason for our limited run at the Ridley house; not anchored by the dark chords of abrupt or violent death, we expect it to be fully consumed within the month. Strongly sweet and floral with satisfaction to the point of being almost cloying; seek below the surface to find the bitterness of quinine, the spicy heat of foxglove, and lingering almond.
This is the known manifestation of Elizabeth Ridley, deceased due to heart failure in 1992 at the age of 90. She was born in Ridley House and is never known to have left the grounds, though she found local fame by cultivating hothouse orchids. Drink deeply and you may hear her reported final words whispered in an incongruously young voice: “We are the same, you and I, but I enjoyed my feast while you have only the dregs.”
Rachael Acks (now Alex Acks) is a writer, geologist, and dapper AF.
They’re a proud Angry Robot with their novel Hunger Makes the Wolf forthcoming in March 2017. They’ve written for Six to Start and been published in Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Daily Science Fiction, and more. Alex lives in Denver with their two furry little bastards, where they twirl their mustache, watch movies, and bicycle. For more information, see http://www.rachaelacks.com.
The Singing Soldier, by Natalia Theodoridou – When Lilia came into her parents’ bedroom one night, eyes sleepy and tin soldier firmly clasped in her little hands, complaining that his singing wouldn’t let her sleep, her Ma thought she’d had a nightmare. She pried the soldier from her daughter’s fingers, placed him on a high shelf in the closet, and locked the door.
The Law of the Conservation of Hair, by Rachael K. Jones – That we passed the time on the shuttle to the asteroid belt reading aloud from Carl Sagan; that we agreed the aliens were surely made of star stuff too, in their flat black triangular fleet falling toward Earth like a cloud of loosed arrows.
Come My Love and I’ll Tell You a Tale, by Sunny Moraine – Tell me the story about the light and how it used to fall through the rain in rainbows. Tell me the story about those times when the rain would come and the world would turn sweet and green and thick with the smell of wet dirt and things gently rotting, when the birds would chuckle with pleasure to themselves at the thought of a wriggling feast fleeing the deeper floods.