The fog wave broke across the gate, Datan shivered. Probably just the cold, it was still early, that would be it.
He found he had to brush the mists aside to get to the bars, that might have surprised or amused him in the past, these days he hardly noticed the… excentricities of this place.
“Yes…” he conceded, apparently to the world at large (for there was no other soul atop that hill that morn). “More like truths, you’re right of course”.
That his every footfall crunched twice on the gravel of the drive barley even registered with him.
“… you don’t need to be concerned I am safe here, I have family. Indeed if there is inheritance, or birthright in this place then one day I may come to call it home.”
The smartly dressed man started – though only slightly – as a familiar chill crept up the bones of his left hand and arm, toward the heart. A ghostly railwaymens’ lantern formed from a pallid light in the mist. He closed his first around the handel.
“!…but I shan’t need it?”
An impossible silhouette described itself through the ever present mists. Impossible architecture and geometry, like several early century gothic (and otherwise) mansions had relented to the press of some impossible power and had slid themselves inside one another to form such an implausible building.
The House on Dunwhick Hill.
The ‘family pile’
He checked his pocketwatch; no, not too early to be calling, it would be fine.
Daton struck his cane against the dark green wooden (one had to presume) doors once, before he could land a second blow they swung open.
A figure beckoned him in but moved into the shadowy interior before Daton could make him (for it would be the Buttler, would it not?) out.
“Thank you my good man. Daton Fauxfor-Green, family you see, my mother was Ann, is the…” the man in the Buttler’s tails and starched shirt had taken his hat and coat, nodded in deference on clarity that Daton was family, and – on turning – revealed a stark absence of skull or neck. A neat parting of brown hair and a pale complexion simply sat atop an empty collar.
Similarly the neat white gloves, Daton saw, existed just where they should be without the need of the presence of hands.
“I, er, that is, I am here to speak to the man of the house. Do you know if my uncle would be in, perhaps his family, a grandparent? Do you know I’m not entirely sure whom to expect I…”
“I would not” it said with fantasmal quality to its’ voice “…know”
“No, quite expect you wouldn’t would you?” Daton conceded to the thoughtform “Is my uncle home?”
“Marvelous, would you be so good as to call for him or introduce me? I would wait for him in the study but I’m afraid this is my first visit to the ah…”
Only now did you look about the place about himself and take in the dusty cracked marble floor as it gave way to two grand staircases that swept up to… to…
Above him rose half a dozen balcony levels, stairs crossed hither and too, connecting floors, and everywhere there were mahogany doors that led who knew where.
A hand caught him, pressing firmly between his shoulders lest he should fall back, for he realised he had been falling, (would he have swooned?) for the impossibility of it all had sent his mind turning! He caught himself in the thought, none of that sort of thing, he straightened his cuffs an tugged his waistcoat into proper place.
“Yes, well, my uncle if you please would you…”
“No. No-one sees him, he is convalescing. The doctors were called, he has a malardy. He will see no one until he is… recovered.” it stated with neither compassion nor hostility.
“I see, and the rest of the family?”
“They are abroad, Doctors…”
“…orders… yes, quite.”
Daton thought to leave and half turned but looked about the place, passed the Buttler. There were ornate benches along one wall behind which the right-most staircase rose. Between them one assumed a side table with a lamp perhaps? It was impossible to tell as everything, he now noted, was covered with white dust sheets giving the impression the old house was haunted by the comic phantasms of household furniture.
Without realising it he had taken several steps past the house-help and deeper into the reception, he turned back to apologise for him presumptions but the headless thing had turned to walk away. Driven by curiosity Daton followed a few feet behind, he trod softly – lest he be discovered – although he was quite sure the thing must know he was still there.
It went down several steps and through a smaller plainner doorway where the floor became simpler rude stone, and the air took on a prickeling chil. It opened up into the kitchens. A long farmhouse table dominated the center of the room adorned with spoiled food, save for a tarnished silver tray on which sat a plate of lunch; coldcuts, grapes, bread and the like, along with a pillbox and a vile of dark brown class stopped with a cork. The butler picked it up and turned to leave. Daton pressed himself back so as not to obstruct it, backing against a stool so that he found himself sitting down gazing up at the inside of the things face as it passed.
It went up two flights of stairs, and Daton followed. Down a hallway carpeted in dusty red over ash-grey floorboards. Door after door drifted by where too he couldn’t know and for once, didn’t feel the need too.
The butler rounded a corner. Daton stopped for a beat before glancing round after it.
It stooped, unlatched a metal panel and lifted it. Reaching in it slid a similar, equally tarnished silver platter from inside and left it in on the hallway carpet. Replacing it with the fresh tray before closing the lock. It lifted the second tray which had upon it an empty bowl, a half eaten crust and an empty brown vile.
As it rose it made eye contact with Daton.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to presume”
“You did not… you are family.”
“I… yes, just so.”
At that he turned and made back down the hall, comporting himself in a manner he hoped communicated that of a man comfortably going about his own home. And before long he was quite lost.
Without permission or warning endless corridor of faded Victorian splendor had twisted this way and that. He’d taken a staircase but couldn’t remember if he had been rising or descending. Seeking to replace self doubt with galvanising assurance, he purposely took a left and through a columnated archway once again treading on white and black marble. He looked up now, and saw that somehow he had fetched up in another reception, off which a dozen corridors lead, all of them off into dim half-light and who-knew where.
“…there?” he asked, apparently surprising himself “you’re cert… no… of course…”
The dread that had been growing in him subsided, replaced by one much older, perversely familiar enough to bring him some comfort. Duly instructed he took a corridor at whose end we ebonised double doors.
All at once he remembered something, and reaching into his waistcoat pocket he produced the key he had been told he may need that morning. He tried it, and the click it made as it surrendered to his twist gave him a thrill fear that made him pause before opening.
“It’s your family’s home. You are quite safe here, get a grip man!” Daton chastised himself, adjusted his suit again, and pressed open the doors.
The gallery and reading room beyond was perfectly round. The floor, stained wood, splattered in the center of the room with a century’s worth of fallen paint. The walls – where they were not obscured by impractically tall bookcases – were the same dark red as the carpets up… down… stairs?
At regular intervals a picture hung, obscured by filthy white dust-sheets.
Daton tugged at one, let it fall to the ground and started back suddenly. A feeling of vertigo grabbed him as, for a moment, he had believed he was looking out a third story window on the gardens and driveway he had walked along earlier! Only by caressing the ornate wood of the frame could he convince himself he wasn’t looking out through some dirty window at the front of the house.
He turned away and regarded instead the easel that stood on the island of spilled paint.
He wondered. Took up his cane an unscrewed the silver top. Paused, but this was what he had come for after all… gently he slid the rolled canvas from the length of his case, opened it out and held it up… it fit perfectly in the crude wooden frame that already occupied the rests of the easel which – now he looked closer – appeared to have had it’s canvas roughly cut from it some time ago.
A fear, and a curiosity took Daton now because he knew that coincidences were never a good thing in this place, under these suns!
Beyond the easel he saw a patch of wall that bore neither a painting, nor a bookcase, simply a nail that had never received its charge.
Daton stepped over to the space, and then to the dust-sheet to it’s left. He tugged at it and sure enough another picture hung. The likeness was enough that he felt quite sure his painting had come from the same pallet-knife and brush as this oil. The picture was of a round gallery room, as if seen from some vantagepoint up atop some tall bookcase near the ceiling. But it was not this painting that held him in wonder, it was one depicted in the gallery. A landscape study of… ruins, a ruined city of some sort… and there… in the distance, that looked like the skyline of the district of Rivenhome?
Glancing back to his picture hanging limp in his right hand he spied similar shapes and spires in the sketch-work of his unfinished painting.
He returned to the work on the wall, peered now so close to the canvas that he shouldn’t be able to make anything out, and yet, there, toward the front of the picture was a cave.
Somehow, depicted in oil, within the cave he saw the unmistakable glint of sharp steel; what he became quite certain were knives! Hundreds of knives that – now he looked – he could see, yes, formed the shape of a man! It turned to regard him…
Taking to flight so fast he knocked the easel clattering to the ground, he fled the room!
The slapping of his shoe-leather on old mardel echoed around him till he realised it might be the hammering of his own heart booming in his ears.
He burst through doors, and when a staircase refused to lead him either up or down he simply vaulted the rail and dropped landing on…
He was standing on one of the sheet-covered benches in the entrance hall.
“Please don’t stand on the furniture sir, it is quite old and you could do yourself an injury.” the Butler said, turning it’s floating face toward him.
“Will that be all?”
Daton supposed he sputtered something to that effect as he made his way at a barely contained bolt through the proffered front door. Snatching up his coat and hat on the way he didn’t stop until the lock had turned and the chain fixed across his own front door, with the house on Dunwhick hill just a shadow in the distance.