Of course Hughes, who was an exemplary butler, had already opened the door.
The world outside the house was a sodden mess, and getting wetter by the minute. It was, in point of fact, pouring down rain. Which only serves to demonstrate that if one waits around long enough, even the most trite of expressions will prove true.
This advanced state of precipitation did not, however, seem to bother the fourth and (for the moment) final guest of Grimbly Hall. She stood there in the rain, snorting softly to herself, perhaps waiting to be invited in.
She was a horse. A rather large mare, black with white socks. She also possessed a writhing green mane and a pair of pleasant blue eyes. “Greetings, Qornok,” she said, in a flat, uninflected voice that didn’t come from her lips.
“What what,” Qornok said. “This is a fine turn-up. Halloa, Nolok. Er.”
“Er? That’s all you have to say to me?” the horse asked.
“Er. Smashing… good… to see you?” he tried.
No one in Grimbly Hall would ever learn the following facts, but they can be shared thanks to the limited omniscience of your present narrator. Nolok, who was of course the female alien mind-controlling brain parasite sent to lay the eggs that would conquer Earth, had originally come down in a pasture some distance upstate. She had immediately set about carrying out the first part of her mission, which was to find a well-placed body to infest. She had discovered a number of bipedal earthlings tending to the bodily needs of a fine quadruped—brushing out its silky coat, feeding it sugar cubes by hand—and had immediately determined that horses were the dominant form of life on our planet.
She had spent a few weeks in a stable, being tended to by a series of oblivious grooms, and had studied their language rather more assiduously than her fellow parasite. By the time she had gained fluency she realized her original mistake but had decided to stick with her decision—and her horse—because it would just be too much of a bother moving house.
She had escaped from her stable two days before and disappeared into the rain. Almost immediately she had picked up Qornok’s presence nearby with some sort of psychic homing sense and come to Grimbly Hall by the shortest possible route.
Now she was ready for the next part of her mission.
“Shall we mate?” she asked.
“What, right here? In the foyer? I never!” Qornok replied.
“I’ll make it quick,” Nolok said.
It was at this moment that Neville and Reggie came sliding into the foyer, employing a bit of fancy footwork to keep from slipping on the soaking wet floor. Reggie tried to rush forward and slam the door. In this he was unsuccessful. He was a werewolf and supernaturally strong. Nolok, on the other hand, was a horse. She galloped inside and shouldered Reggie out of the way. Neville tried to get in her path but had to dodge a flashing hoof.
He rushed through the main hall as fast as his plaster legs would carry him. Nolok was a fair bit faster, but her horseshoes had trouble finding purchase on the wet marble floor and she went sliding sideways into a pillar. Mrs. Patavatsky made things even more difficult by rushing at the horse, flapping her apron and saying “Shoo! Shoo!” in the kind of voice that no horse could possibly resist.
Unfortunately Nolok wasn’t just a horse. She stepped high, moving to one side, in a pass that would do any dressage rider proud, then cantered through the hall and towards the stairs, which Qornok was busy taking two at a time.
Stairs are notoriously difficult for horses, but Nolok did just fine—only to discover her next obstacle to matrimony. The upstairs hallway had not been constructed with horses in mind—even eccentric old Septimus Grimbly had not considered riding from his bedroom to breakfast in the morning—and it was a bit of a squeeze. Nolok shoved her way in anyway and neighed loudly as she saw Qornok trying to get away. He was making a desperate break for it, headed straight for the forbidden door, empty stomach notwithstanding.
He might have made it, actually, if she had taken a human host. Perhaps, even, if he had. Unfortunately the hallway was to be the scene of an experiment in materials science that had probably never been previously performed. Namely, the question at hand was, how much damage can a shod horse hoof do when kicked with force into the back of a plaster department store mannequin?
The conclusion was rather definite. A lot of damage.
The mannequin’s torso shattered in a thousand pieces, plaster dust billowing up to form a pall in the air of the hallway. The borrowed body collapsed in a heap of broken shards and the torn shreds of a man’s suit, while Qornok himself—a bundle of green tentacles not much bigger than an apple—went flying. He splatted against the forbidden door and slithered down its surface, leaving a slimy trail behind him. He managed to catch himself on the doorknob but could then do nothing but dangle there, perfectly helpless.
“Well, that’s settled,” Nolok said, stepping lightly toward him. “Now, why don’t you close your eyes and we’ll just get this over with?”
“But—but—but—” Qornok sputtered. “There’s something you really ought to know, old top.”
“Oh? What’s that?” Nolok asked.
“It’s the deucedest thing about me, you see, and you’ll find this all a bit shocking, I’m certain, but—I don’t care for girls!”
Nolok whinnied in annoyance. “You think I want to do this? I’m only three weeks old. I’m not ready to start a family! Then again, its not like it’s a difficult job. I just lay the eggs and then our young will devour me for sustenance. So there’s that.”
“So perhaps if I might offer a smashing plan, one that might suit both of us down to the ground? How about we just, what, don’t do it?”
Nolok clearly gave the proposal some thought. She turned her head to one side, then the other, and stamped on the floorboards a bit. Then she said, “No. I think we should. Our forebears spent a lot of time and money sending us here, and it would be a shame to waste all that effort. If it’s any consolation, our children will have very pretty eyes. Hold on. What are you looking at so intently? Is there something behind me?”
Rather than answering, Qornok threw himself from side to side with all the strength he could muster, swinging on the doorknob like a pendulum. With a click, a creak of unoiled hinges, and a hollow gurgle like the death rattle of a galaxy, the door swung open and revealed the cosmic panorama that spread out forever beyond.
At the same time, Babs swatted Nolok on the posterior and shouted “Hee-ya!”
It has been stated previously that Nolok was more than just a horse. Which did not, in point of fact, preclude her from having some horse-like qualities. There was a certain instinct buried so deeply in her horsy nervous system that it could not be denied. The urge to bolt when startled.
Nolok leapt, all four hooves leaving the floor. She might have bumped her head on the ceiling, but, well, she didn’t. Instead she went flying through the door and into the great beyond, never to be seen again.