I arrived alone at Rosewood House in the late afternoon. Light flooded me as I first entered the parlor of what was to be our new home. Sun streamed through the huge bay window overlooking the hillside landscape. “I want nothing but light in my house,” I remembered Elsa saying, so nothing could dampen my joy as I basked in the sunlight. She would love this.
As I rode to the nearest post office, I daydreamed of immediately furnishing the house. Strong, solid pieces, to last the decades and offer ample space for the memories to be. Thick, expensive rugs for Elsa’s lovely bare feet to tread.
“Mr. Osman – Frederick, is it?” the clerk at the post office asked.
“There’s no post for you, I’m afraid.”
Isabella was in a foul mood as she opened the front door. Nothing inside could be worse than what she left behind, but, even at first glance, there might be some competition.
She looked for a spot to plunk her bags, but couldn’t decide whether she preferred the stained floor or the rug clogged with dust. After taking three steps in the room, she opened her palms and let them fall where they may. As she walked, her feet suck to the boards. What substance could still stick after such a long time?
The sun was setting, and the fragile light barely made it past the line of trees planted in front of the window. Thank goodness for those trees, Isabelle thought. If it wasn’t for them, grown too near the house, she never could have afforded to buy it. But the last rays hitting the thick branches drew such long shadows on the floor, the furniture, the antiquated green sofa. The shadows moved quickly, stretching and thinning as the sun went lower, hypnotizing Isabelle.
She was glad when the show was over, and the sun sunk behind the hill. Night would soon be here, so it was time to turn on the light.
The walls on either side of the main door were empty. Isn’t that where the switch should be? The room had one more door, leading to a hallway. On one side of it stood a massive, walnut cabinet, and, on the other, hung a portrait of an elegant, sad young woman. The light switch wasn’t in the hallway either.
By now, it was getting harder to see, as Isabelle found out, tripping over her own bags as she circled the room at increasing speed. The giant overhanging chandelier remained obstinately dark.
“The Hell is wrong with this place?” she screamed at no one in particular.
Abandoning the living room for now, she wanted to explore the rest of the house. But, as soon as she opened the door to the hallway, profound blackness blinded her. With no windows at all, the corridor was impenetrable.
With her phone dwindling at 20 percent battery, and no outlets in sight, Isabella thought about giving up. Not like she hadn’t done that before.
She walked out to the driveway, between the tall, crooked trees, not bothering to lock the door behind her. She climbed into her car. It wouldn’t start.
I purchased beautiful, sturdy, walnut furniture for our bedroom. Perfect to store fine linens and elegant dresses, which Elsa will have custom made. I already scouted a tailor in the village, and have written my darling of his credentials.
Still, I had no word from her. Of course, mail has gotten lost before, and her parents’ estate is rather remote. I was convinced that, were something bad to have happened, I would have been contacted.
My heart jumped as someone knocked on the door in the late afternoon. I raced to open it, but it was only Robinson, my neighbor. He squinted coming into the house, and covered his eyes with his hand.”
“Whoa, neighbor, you sure have a lot of sunlight here this time of day. Blinding, is what it is. Why don’t you go ahead and plant a line of trees right there, near the bay window?”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t,” I said, “my Elsa loves a bright room.”
“Has the missus arrived, then?”
“No, I’m still waiting to hear.”
“Well, I only wanted to welcome you, and invite you and Mrs. Osman to dinner one evening. Be sure to let me know when she arrives.”
“Will do, will do,” I said, as he walked half backwards out of the house. In a moment of neglect, he took a false step and tripped over the wide threshold, falling right outside, nearly smacking his head on a concrete flower pot. I couldn’t catch him in time.
“I – I didn’t see the threshold at all,” he stammered
“I’m so sorry. It’s the cabinet I had installed in the parlor. It casts a long shadow in the evening, blackening the entrance all together. I should have warned you, I’m very sorry.”
“Right, well, I’ll see you around Osman,” he said, and left without looking back.
No matter what she tried, the car didn’t budge. Rain had started, and large drops pattered on the roof, making a deafening racket. She wanted to call Danny, but she didn’t.
With 18 percent battery, Isabelle ran back into the house. At least it would be quieter inside, and space enough to stretch her legs after the long drive there.
The dim light emanating from her phone did nothing to help Isabelle maneuver around the house. As she moved her hand, so the space before her shifted. One moment the opposing wall was far away, the next she walked right into it. The baggage she had left on the floor moved around, always ending up beneath her foot.
The rain kept falling softly on the roof, but the noise was far away, removed. Like she was trapped in a bubble of shadows. Trapped again.
Isabelle was determined to make it to the master bedroom and survive the night huddled on the bed. Maybe even get some shuteye.
Navigating the living room with its overbearing furniture was hard enough, but she stopped dead once she opened the door to the hallway. Her flashlight was powerless to cast aside the wall of darkness more than a meter in front of her. Having nothing to reflect off, the light seemed simply to be sucked into the void.
But that’s not why Isabelle stopped. She stopped because she heard something.
It had been two months, and I still had not received word of my beloved. I was prepared to write one more letter, asking for and update, or reassurance, so I strode across the study towards the desk. Only I didn’t make it.
I must have caught my foot on the rug and tumbled forward, knocking my head against a nearby chair. Looking back, the line between floor and carpet was obscured, the lamplight from the desk not reaching far enough.
As I sat, deciphering what had happened, I felt a trickle down my face. Putting my hand on my forehead, I realized I’d gashed it quite a bit. Getting up, I felt dizzy. I made it to the desk to search in the second drawer, where I had stored some gauze. But the drawer was empty.
Somewhere beyond the impenetrable darkness, there was a soft clinking, like glasses or bottles touching. Like someone laying down dishes after having washed them.
Isabelle decided to brave the corridor. There might be an open window somewhere, being slammed by the wind outside. She certainly didn’t need a broken window, glass scattered everywhere.
The aura emanating in front of her advanced slowly, illuminating nothing but bare walls and a floor coated in dust. With every step, the sense of a presence grew stronger in Isabelle, as if someone was teetering right beyond the light.
Finally, the monotonous wall was interrupted by a door. The clinking was coming from behind it. Isabelle hesitated for a moment, the brass handle gleaming slightly. Then, she entered.
I could have sworn I left the gauze in that drawer, but it seemed to have been swallowed by the darkness inside my desk. I couldn’t very well sit there bleeding, so I ripped up an old shirt to use as bandage for my wound.
Then I went to bed, determined that the following morning I would receive a letter from my Elsa. Or, perhaps, she would arrive in person.
I awoke nervous and agitated. I spent the day unpacking and storing away the beautiful china and glassware I had delivered. Snow-white plates decorated with delicate golden leaf, wine glasses of resounding crystal, cutlery of real silver.
When I finished, I headed to the living room to plan what else needed to be prepared. I reached for an ornate, antique vase and stretched to place it on an empty shelf. But, as I sat it down and removed my hands, the shelf beneath it appeared to dissolve. The vase plunged, shattering to a million blue pieces.
I swore aloud, blaming the glare of the afternoon sun coming through the bay window. Maybe a line of trees was worth considering. Without thinking, I rushed to the study and opened the second drawer. There was the gauze, plain as day.
Someone knocked on the front door.
There was no one in the kitchen. On the table, coated in dust, waited two wine glasses. Both were stained with dried up substance, hardened by dirt and time. Around the table, lay a sea of broken glass.
Finally, Isabelle found the master bedroom and, to her own surprise, fell asleep.
A loud bang awoke her. It was already early afternoon. She hurried to find the source of the loud noise, but there was no one in the hallway. She found the door to the study, but it was empty as well. The same immovable furniture decorated the walls, and a chair occupied the center of the room, toppled over and stained dark brown.
When she returned to the living room, she remembered her quest from the night before. There was one more place she hadn’t checked for the light switch, and she had nothing to lose. After all, she had paid for a house with electricity.
The immense portrait came off the wall, and, sure enough, there they were, cables hanging from the wall. As if someone had pulled out the buttons, leaving the wiring exposed.
The thrill of finding them ebbed quickly as Isabelle realized she had neither the tools nor the knowledge to install a new light control. And she still hadn’t found any power outlets.
With 5 percent batter, she gave in. She called Danny.
“What?” said an angry voice.
“Danny, it’s me.”
“I know. What do you want?”
“Only, I’m at the house, and I don’t have any power. I can’t even turn on the lights, and, Danny, there were these noises. First some glasses then a bang and-”
“Did you honestly call me to rave about your lunacies again? We’re divorced, Isabelle, I’m done listening.”
“But I need your help.”
“You always do. What is it this time? Are the neighbors in a cult? Is there a ghost in the attic? I’m hanging up.”
And he did.
Immediately, Isabelle heard the bang again, and when she lifted her eyes from her phone there was a man in the corner.
Earl Robinson was the quiet kind of neighbor. The type that would never intrude into the private lives of others. But when he didn’t see Freddie Osman leave the house for days, he decided to walk over.
He found Freddie digging in front of his bay window.
“Hey, there, neighbor,” Robinson said. “You need any help with that?”
“No, thank you. I’ve got it.”
The man looked slightly deranged. His head was wrapped in what looked like a blood soaked, torn up shirt. Blood had dried up on his face and on the clothes he wore as well. Deep shadows drooped beneath his eyes, at stark contrast with his yellowish-white skin. There were patches of hair missing from his head.
“You alright, Osman? You don’t look too hot.”
“I’m fine, yes. Only a slight bump on the head. I was silly, really, must have tripped over something.”
“Right. What are you doing out here, anyway?”
“Oh, I’m just planting those trees we talked about. I’ve decided Elsa can do with a little less light.”
“They’re gonna be awfully close to the house, you know. Might block out all your sunlight. Let me just show you -”
He tried to grab Freddie’s shoulder, to stop him for a moment, and make him look at the big picture, but Freddie shoved his hand away and recoiled.
“I know what I’m doing, Robinson. Goodbye, now.”
Careful not to step on any broken shards, I sat the glasses on the table. The very best wine waited to be opened in honor of this moment. I poured It slowly, anticipating the pleasure of the first taste, and smiled. Elsa would love it.
As I sipped from my glass, I looked at the letter in the center of the table. Had I read it?
I looked over to the opposite chair, placed in the corner of the kitchen, where barely any light reached. There she was. Long, dark hair, round brown eyes, impeccable, gleaming white teeth, grinning at me in adoration. Her lily-of-the-valley perfume overcoming my senses. My eyes teared up with happiness, but, try as I might, I couldn’t keep them off the letter.
Before I could stop it, my treacherous hand reached for it. Without wanting to, I read it again.
Frederick – please stop writing to this address. Kindly cease all attempts to contact me or my family. It is my understanding that you either have me confused or have a delusional perception of our relationship. We have met once, Mr. Osman, occasion on which we barely spoke. As long as you desist at once, no further legal action will be taken against you.
There, in the corner, in the shadow, I could almost see her.
When Earl Robinson went over to Rosewood House that day, he knew something was wrong. Even though its reclusive owner, Freddie Osman, rarely made the trip into the village, and never visited his neighbors, he had been altogether too quiet.
Seven saplings made a wall in front of the parlor window, already casting thin, shaky shadows inside the house.
Robinson knocked on the front door, but there was no answer. He let himself in.
“Osman,” he called, “you here?”
He advanced down the long hallway off the living room, lured by a soft, clinking sound. He’d been in the house before, so he knew where the kitchen was. But there was no one there either. Only broken glass carpeting the floor, and two glasses filled with burgundy wine on the table.
Then Robinson reached the study. A surprising smell of lily-of-the-valley filled the air, as the horrific image unfolded in front of him. There, on the floor, in the luxuriant rug, lay the corpse of Freddie Osman. A chair, thick with blood, had fallen next to Freddie’s cracked head. One foot, turned in an awkward position, suggested he had stumbled again. With the lamp turned off, the floor was showered in darkness. In his hand, Freddie clutched a letter.
Isabelle blinked, and the man disappeared. Perhaps it had only been the shadow of the trees through the window, taking on a human form in her tired imagination? But she had heard the sound again.
Taking a moment to quiet her heart, she went down the corridor again. Almost certainly, the noise had come from the study, so that’s where she was headed. Her phone was dead.
The study door was half open. As she drew nearer, her courage seeped away, leaving her trembling, just out of sight. She thought she heard a whisper, a soft moan. In the air, lingered a faint smell of lily-of-the-valley.
My betrothed has finally come to join me in the shadows.