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General

To be sure, the house was theirs. Its stones, its bricks, the very fiber of the creaking wooden skeleton belonged solely to the Cardmonts of Grensville Manor. Yet still, after ten long years, its soul evaded their mastery with a vile and contemptuous scorn.

It was visible in the little things: in all the nooks and crannies which take the course of centuries to bend to any one will. The family that had been here before -- an ancient line culminating in the death of a dreary bachelor whose portrait had hung on a damp spot of the main hall -- had enjoyed that luxury to the fullest, and this new change in residence spawned sparks of malcontent in the spirit of the place. There were books which no one could read, cluttering the modern white shelves with musty, contemptuous poise. Mrs. Cardmont, on finding them, would ring a maid at once, exclaiming with thoughtless disdain that she was sure that she'd ordered these shelves cleared at least a dozen times already. Which was true.

There were other cases, of course, ranging from small anomalies to pitiful vexations, and overall the entire effect was one of sad inevitability, for while it is true that there is great power in old things, the very adjective is one of relativistic insignificance. The oldest stone carved into meaning by the oldest man, still carries a bare fraction of the definition of that power which time, properly woven, can bestow. Men quite often stumble on truths like this, which inevitably escape the very bounds of his imagination, to the point where he is given no choice but to pretend at comprehension, and stumble on with whatever dreary constructs he maintains in his short life.

The house was young, as young as anything, and had it shared in the stupidity of most its race, the matter would close here, with a trans-physical shrug of the shoulders and a newfound moral concerning the odd bumps and creaks of rotting colonial manors. But it was a clever creature, and though Man's laws of physics denied it the vengeance it sought, it soon knew to turn away from those fatal fronts, and journey to a new frontier.


And so Lillian Cardmont began to dream. It started as a nebulous thing, impossible to quantify or even to properly remember. At eleven years old she was already a child notorious for a rampant imagination, and as her mornings usually consisted of those excited gibberings of strange lands and fantastical creatures which come so naturally to children, her parents paid no particular heed to her complaints that the waters had blurred. Once she had gone, her father merely folded down another page of the Gazette's spiel on the weekly politic, and said to the air in general, "it's about time, really."

And her mother, a daft but earnest woman, blinked up from the depths of her compact and brush, which was her counter to Mr. Cardmont's traditional predilection for large and rancid cigars. "Time for what, darling?" she asked, her eyes glimmering momentarily with a sort of miserable contempt for the box of tobacco on the counter.

"Well, I suppose this means she's growing up, doesn't it?" remarked her husband, and set down his paper with a sigh. "So soon ... still, better that it happen now -- those wits will come in handy very quickly, I'd think." He looked pointedly at his wife, noting with small amusement that she was not listening to a word he was saying. "I wonder, really, where does that cleverness come from?"

"Sorry, darling? Where does what come from?"

He picked up the paper again with a flourish of dramatic disregard. "Oh, nothing. Why, look at that -- Peruvian market took a dip overnight -- Larry'll be in conniptions when he hears ..."

And so the matter was settled. Over the table of the adults, no more was spoken of the thing, and yet the dreams continued, and with every passing night Lillian came to fear their mundane pastels, the sheer dullness of the long and cloudy ordeal. At school, railing for all those girls who had the generosity or the boredom necessary to linger about her, she said it was akin to the slow transgression of blindness, to which a girl replied that she had a grandmother suffering from ca-tur-acks, who in turn was complaining that she had lost her taste of books.

"It's not like that," Lillian said, scowling. "S'not like they're just ... darker, or some rubbish. There's just a hallway now, some boring old hallway, and there's nothing to do and no rabbits or dragons or anything."

From the front of the small mass of children, a girl with short pigtails and a cheerful expression shot her hand into the air, drawing curt laughs from one or two of the older participants of the circle. Lillian blinked, then said, hesitantly, "What's that, Rose?"

The girl beamed even brighter, and with a proud finality, announced that her dreams were full of daisies and sunshine and Tony Albright who, she insisted with solemn gravity, was the best looking boy in the world. In the ensuing outburst of teasing and laughter, Lillian had just enough time to look properly annoyed with all of them, before a shrill bell drew them back, scurrying, to their classes.


A month or so later, the ordeal continued. Now the hall was clearer, and Lillian soon realized, with due alarm, that she even recognized the place. It was the short passage between the auxiliary sitting room and the valet's quarters, seen often in blurring passing during a spirited game with the housekeepers' children, and preserved in crystal memory by whatever it was that had taken possession of her dreams. There, perfectly preserved, was a vase of marigolds that Ms. Hauthin (the housekeeper's name) had put up last spring, and the small scuff on the wainscoting, left by the shoe of little Jack and as yet undiscovered by the high-nosed adults. Lillian's dreams had gone from hasty seconds spent in grand adventures, to hours of grueling tolerance for that stretch of meaningless hall, whose twin portals gave no surrender to her strength. Try as she might, with whatever improvised tools she could muster, the doors of regular entry budged not an inch, and when once she threw the vase in fury at the cheap fluorescent light, she returned the next night to find things exactly as they had been before, with the flowers intact and the bulb tinging with small reactions of electric fire, and no trace whatsoever of the previous night's angry display. It was curious, irritating, and soon became impossible to talk about. After all, it was a topic of conversation extremely difficult to contrive into fascination, and what we understand in our hearts can very seldom be faithfully recreated by the tongue.

Eventually, people took notice. The girl had become steadily moodier as the state of affairs continued, and when Mr. Cardmont arrived home one night to find his daughter once again sulking in the reclusive hold of the hallway behind the abandoned sitting room, he stood awhile in exasperated indecision, coughing a little in the storm of dust which clouded the room.

Lillian looked over with a dark expression. "There should be a door here," she muttered, gesturing listlessly at the plain wallpaper before her crouching form. "There wasn't, before, but now there is. It's all very confusing."

"Er," said her father, scratching his chin. He'd come in with the vague idea of dispensing some sort of traditional fatherly wisdom, of the sort often departed to him by his own parents, but with a grudging sort of despair he'd come to realize that he'd utterly lost the initiative. "Thought I told Matilda to clean this room," he said, and shuffled away, lost in thought.

He left the door open. Once she was sure he had gone, Lillian stood slowly, silently, and walked the short distance in silence to shut it firmly into the groaning frame. With that done, she padded back to her previous position, resuming her vigil of the flickering wall. Strange colors spun slowly in the memory of her vision, the like of which made mockery of the unknown order of known things.


That night, from his selective portion of the bed, Mr. Cardmont stared fixedly at the plaster of the ceiling above, his ears full of the groaning timbers of the house and his mind fit to bursting with the pseudo-pods of unborn ideas. From the thin light of the bedside candle and the gentle rustling of the sheets beside him, he gathered that his wife, too, was yet alert, and eventually he turned to her with a sigh.

"Hasn't struck you as odd, has it?"

"You mean those tomatoes old Jeremy was selling? I'm telling you, they"-

"I meant our daughter," he said, with a slight crease of the forehead. "She's been so quiet, lately, and -- well." Mr. Cardmont didn't necessarily frown, but his lips tightened in a curl of annoyance. "It'd be different if she were a boy," he lamented. "Simple lot, us men. Principles," he added vaguely, and his wife nodded encouragingly, affecting the bland condolence of one with a surfeit of experience with this particular line of thought.

"I rather thought it was a boy," she remarked. "I mean, some little man with a dapper smile, that sort of thing."

"Ah, yes. Young love." Had irony been chocolate fudge, Mr. Cardmont would've been a man to outweigh elephants.

His wife took no notice, of course. She smiled indulgently, a flicker of vicarious excitement twinkling in her eyes. "I wonder what he's called," she whispered. Then, earnestly, "they say you can tell a lot about a man with his name. The astrologists, I mean."

"Hogwash draped in cutout stars," her husband muttered, but his mood was much improved, and there was no venom in the words. A boy. Yes. An edge of caution, of scorn, came into his fatherly instincts, but it was temporarily washed away in a vast flood of relief. Seeing a preferable vision, his mind clutched at the idea, disregarding those other details which might persuade him otherwise. A boy! Clearly, a talk was needed, but this was one he could prepare for. Leaning over, he blew out the candle with a breath, and fell asleep with the barest sliver of a smile against his lips.


Across the landing, a doorknob turned in the darkness of the house. As it swung open, it was possible to catch a glimpse of bedsheets thrown asunder, drapes torn from their hangers, an empty glass which the housekeeper had filled with warm milk now shattered against the wall. There were long gashes in the wood of the bedposts, laced with splinters and drying blood.

And then the vision was gone, shut away as Lillian's dainty hand closed the door behind her. Her eyes were closed as she walked, and yet as she descended the stairs her feet landed in perfect synchrony. The floorboards, notoriously loud at any hour of the day, made no noise under her feet. Behind her eyelids, rapid motions indicated a fearful and hidden motion, which grew stronger as she passed through the lower rooms.

In the dusty husk of the auxiliary sitting room, her pace slowed, then stopped. For a moment the silence rushed in, so total and so fierce that it woke the light slumber of Mrs. Cardmont, who sat up in her marital bed with a sudden and inexplicable fear. With it came an unknown conviction, so strong that after a moment of hesitation she coaxed herself from the various accoutrements of the bed to scurry hurriedly into the darkness of the landing, one hand clutching the knot of her nightrobe and the other rubbing all traces of sleep from her eyes. The boards popped and howled under her feet, almost guttural in their malice.

"Lillian," she called softly, and then wondered why. The door to her room was closed, placid. Still, the conviction came, stronger than ever and nearly choking her as it bid her to descend.

She took the stairs at speeds approaching a hard sprint, clutching at the banister as a fisherman to his prow in the wake of a massive catch, and something in the befuddled terror of her mind bid her to scream, "Lillian!" as she threw herself down the sleeping halls. No. It was people that slept -- the house was wide awake.

The door to the auxiliary sitting room was open, and from it spilled an almost comical quantity of swirling dust. Dust as thick as the thickest snow, and stepping into the room was like falling horizontally into a mattress. It was not so much a walk as it was a wrestling match that brought her across the room, pushing against the oppression of the air with choking desperation. She reached the door to the back hall far slower than she would have liked, and she threw it open with a strength devoid of reason, a conviction fueled not by any sensitivity or knowledge of the forces at work, but rather by a sharp reaction by the universe at large, at this unexpected manipulation of its laws. And so, standing in the doorway, Mrs. Cardmont found herself at a mute and terrible loss, struck dumb with creeping dread at what she saw.

Lillian stood in the center of the hall, facing the wall under the dead and darkened bulb. Her eyes still were closed, and her arm reached out for something invisible to her mother's eyes. The hands clutched at something, and appeared to find it. Mutters wandered the girl's tongue, barely audible from even the short distance between the two figures in the gloom.

"Look, mother," the girl whispered, "it's the door -- I've found it at last." The eyes darted wildly behind the eyelids. "They told me"- she swallowed, with effort -"They told me it wasn't real. That it was a dream. But look! Here it is." Her arm wrenched suddenly aside, and the girl turned her head away, so that her face was invisible behind a shroud of flaxen hair. "Goodbye, mother. I shan't be coming back." And no sooner had she finished the words, when suddenly Lillian's back arched violently backwards, sending her toppling grotesquely to the floor. The body began to convulse, writhing to and fro as foam began to seethe from the girl's mouth, and when her eyes opened they were as twin opals, filling with blood.


A scream shot into the air of the night, and the house fell quiet once more.

March 27, 2020 08:28

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2 comments

Jubilee Forbess
00:02 Apr 15, 2020

Oooh, plot twists abound. Your writing is very concise. I like it.

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Ujiro Asagbra
14:48 Apr 24, 2020

This is really nice! . Would you take some time to read mine and let me know what you think and how i can improve. Thank you.

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