The door refused to lock. It stood there with its feet planted wide, arms crossed, and shook its head. Moss opened and then slammed it again, twisting the knob, gasping for breath, begging the door, begging it, and then it sighed and locked.
The aloe vera plants in a jar set in the window shook, ripe green leaves curling outward and trembling with the weight of the steel door.
She stood there, bent against the door, gasping like a fish out of water, and turned and looked at London.
He was sitting against the rough stone wall, skinny knees folded, mouth open for air. His red hair looked greasy and lay limply against his forehead. Finally he stood, watching her, limbs unfolding until he stood just a few inches taller than Moss.
She crossed her arms. “An apology would be welcome, you know.”
He laughed. Then he turned away down the hall, “Come look at this, Moss, I’ve never been here before. Let’s explore.”
“I can still hear that wolf outside, you idiot. When can we go home?”
“That’s a dog,” he replied, peeking out of a narrow window. “This looks like a castle, Moss, you see? Like here’s where they’d shoot arrows on the attackers.” He mimed firing an arrow.
“I—I—” Moss spluttered helplessly. “Stop it! There’s a raving dog outside the door, we’re trapped inside the Haunted House with no knowledge of what could be inside, and you’re standing there like a little kid at—”
London wasn’t listening. “This is so great, Moss,” he said, grinning widely. “This is so much better than just stealing peaches from the Haunted House. Way better. Look here.”
He motioned to the words carved above the second doorway.
“Tor—Torwendill?” Moss said, wrinkling her brow. “What’s Torwendill?”
London shrugged. “Who cares? I told you this was a castle.”
“Hey!” London protested, taking her hand, scraped on the wrist from scrambling down the peach tree when the dog appeared. “Hey, that’s not fair. It looks like a castle, no one lives near it cause all the land’s bought up. No one’s been seen near it for years.”
The huge crumbling stone mansion groaned from the weight of the night wind, sending shivers down the backbones of the stone walls and through the tattered holey red brocades. Moss looked around.
She looked dead at him. “I’m scared.”
He took her hand again and led her through the doorway. “Don’t be. That dog’s on the other side of the door, we’re fine.”
She whispered, “Have you ever seen a castle that has a steel door?”
He didn’t answer, pointing to another steel door on the left that had Timandra carved on it in bold capital letters. “What do you think that is? A bedroom?”
“So close to the front door? I don’t think so.”
Outside, the wind turned to a thunderstorm. The clouds broke in the sky and scattered hazily down to the ground. The mad dog outside the door whimpered, stopped howling, and yelped. The peach trees shook in the storm and the heavens roared like a pack of lions and Torwendill’s walls were like blindfolds and didn’t allow Moss and London to hear the danger flowing from the sky.
They opened the door. Inside was a lithe white metal pot, floating in the air about six inches up, bubbling with white liquid. There was a purple-colored gash along the front curving side of the cauldron. The room was huge, the corners nearly invisible, so distant were they, and yet there pot was the only thing inside.
“I don’t like this,” Moss said, rubbing her fingers together and then threading them through her hair. “I don’t like this at all.”
The next door was orange, but a steely texture.
London rubbed his fingertip along the metal. “Huh,” he said. “It’s metal, for sure, but it wasn’t painted orange. Can they mix dye in with metal?”
On the door was written in tiny lowercase letters Melane.
Moss shook her head. She wasn’t listening. She pushed the door open. Inside was the same bubbling cauldron made from white metal, with an identical purple scratch along the front. She gasped.
“London, go, go check the other room.”
He went, running on tiptoes like he always did when he ran. Then he came gasping back, saying, “It’s gone, it’s gone, it’s following us.”
Moss felt a shiver walking up and down her spine. “I told you this place is haunted!” she hissed. “Come on, let’s leave.”
“No,” he said, gesturing outside, “Look, it’s hailing now, we can’t get home, it’s near two miles.”
“I don’t like this, I don’t like this at all,” she muttered over and over as they walked down the halls. The doors changed color, but remained ever the same texture. The doors began to open, the farther down the hall, the wider open they stood. Moss refused to look inside the doors, instead turning her face to the walls of open windows, but London saw the flashes of white that mean the strange pot was following them.
“What is the meaning of this?” Moss cried suddenly, stopping in her tracks after the fiftieth door. The name was written Nym, nicknamed DEATH.
“Stop, London, stop, I need to think.”
They stopped and went over to the window. Looking out, Moss watched the trees uprooted by the furious storm with tears in her eyes. The dark was a whirlwind, a black glass shattering on the concrete-like ground. The night sky was glassy and impassive, brutal in dealing justice to intruders.
“There’s something about this—we’re trespassing. The house knows somehow. It’s warning us, with the dog and the lock that wouldn’t work and the bowl… we need to get home.”
London hesitated, then looked at her and nodded. “Okay.”
They linked hands and dashed back the way they’d come, panting, sweating, trying not to scream. With a quick flick of the wrist London threw back the little iron lock and burst open the door. Out onto the heaths they ran, legs pumping, arms thrashing, lungs heaving. The stars were out, screaming songs at the top of their lungs, and the night sky was heavily pregnant with thunderclouds, all arguing with each other, yelling, threatening to hit and scratch and hurt.
The wind bellowed and the lightning shook the ground, flashing glimpses of the peach trees every now and then, and the only thing Moss and London saw was each other’s white panicked faces.
Throwing herself through nightmares Moss looked to the left as her chest burned and for a stomach-jolting moment thought she saw the floating white bowl, keeping time with them, watching with cool impassive gaze.
But then the darkness came upon them again and all she could think of was running.
Then London slowed, tugging at her hand, and they were at the edge of the property. She was bent over, head low, hands on knees, trying to breathe, feeling like a beached whale. London straightened, put his hand on a leaning silver oak tree with dripping mossy bark, and gasped out the word: “Bizarre!”
Moss nodded, gulping.
“Do you—what do you think it all meant?”
They were walking now, down the middle of the white gravel road toward town, listening to each other breathe and the crunch of the road underneath them.
“I don’t know,” Moss replied.
“Did you see the aloe vera plant in the window?”
“Yeah, I did.”
“It was bright green, fresh, like young or something.”
She shivered. “You think someone lives there? Or—or—the house is alive?”
“Bizarre,” he said again. “I guess we're supposed to leave well enough alone. But I guess I don’t think we’ll ever be able to know.”
“What it all meant?”
And they were both right.