I used to have the same recurring nightmare, especially during the summer months. I was back in that strange basement, wearing that same red dress and gold-beaded scarf. I no longer have that outfit; I got rid of it on advice of a shaman, which I’ll tell you about much later. Well, back to my dream. I found myself in that ghastly basement again, in that mirrored hallway. The only difference was that I was behind those long narrow mirrors, slowly walking this long corridor, its plank walls greening with moss and mold, its doors and windows broken by vandals.
The boundary between indoors and outdoors no longer applied here. There was ivy sprouting from every shattered window, and the ceiling had mostly collapsed into piles of rotting lichened beams and roofing tiles that were themselves slowly being consumed by vegetation.
At first, everything was okay. In spite of all the apparent creepiness, I never felt ill at ease while picking through the ruins of this place. It was a bit like what I imagined exploring some ancient ruins would be...more like you were in a strange kind of nature park rather than a horror movie. Then, like in any horror movie, the atmosphere quickly changed. Bliss unexpectedly gave way to soul-chilling dread.
Rounding a corner (the number of doors between corners varied in a random fashion. There were no numbers on the doors or in the corridors), I was suddenly met by a cold rush of wind. It whistled and hissed through an abysmal landscape of rusty, dilapidated buildings lit by a reddish-purple sky. Cold phosphorescence gleamed from the deep snow drifts.
I gazed at the bleak scene in utter bewilderment. The air was now thick and choking with the smell of petrol fumes and burning ozone.
Movement flicked in my peripheral vision, followed shortly by the crunch of snow underfoot. Then my skin began to crawl when They finally emerged from the shadows.
I looked at Them. I pondered Them. I wondered why They kept showing up even after I left that house. Were They still wanting to be my protectors or was there a much sinister reason?
“What do you...?” was as far as I got before the whole scene faded and I was back in my room at the boardinghouse.
Ch. 2—An Explanation
After enduring this “haunting” for several months, I finally had enough. On the advice of a friend, I went to see the old shaman who dwelt at the pigeonary of the Spiral Rock.
The shaman turned out to be an old raven, and like many of his kind who inhabited the Faerie Territories, he was highly intelligent as well as versed in the magical arts. He listened silently as I briefly described the dream that kept pestering me. His sharp, piercing gaze made me a tad uncomfortable, as if he was looking right into my soul.
Finally he cleared his throat and spoke in a grating voice.
“You’ve been to the Lum House?”
I shuffled my feet, feeling a bit uncomfortable to answer. I had left out that part of my story partly out of fear and embarrassment.
“Yes, I did,” I finally replied.
“You’re not the first to have trouble,” the raven told me. “Many people who have rented that house soon moved out. Some like you—within a year or two, some shorter, within a few months. At least five had never made it out. Alive anyway. Perhaps because those five were human. It hates humans, that house.”
“It hates humans?”
“Yes, especially the ones from the Mortal Territories,” he replied. “Its first resident was from there.”
“Yes, I know,” I muttered. “The house owner told me that... he never told me about all the troubles he had with it... or about the deaths.”
“It has changed hands a lot,” the bird told me, “ever since its first owner went missing.”
That I knew already- about the first owner, at least. Perhaps I should start from the very beginning so you have a clue as to what exactly going on.
The house that I just mentioned was located in the northeast of Waldachia near the picturesque city of Harnam. I used the term “was” because within six months of leaving that cottage, it mysteriously burned down. Nothing was built in its place, and I wondered if it was either because of the curse or the nearby plague pits.
Yes, you heard me right—plague pits... in the Faerie Territories. To be more specific, resulting from the plague bacillus Yersinia pestis, also known as "The Black Death" or the “Bubonic Plague.” Anyone familiar with this disease knows that in just in five years it killed off one-third of Europe's population, approximately 25 million people. And even after this epidemic had claimed millions, smaller outbreaks of the plague continued on for centuries. It wasn’t until the 1600s that the Bubonic Plague began to disappear, and even then, there was a constant fear that "The Black Death" might return.
And get this, it even jumped to humanoid species. Even though the Faire Folk cities didn’t have such poor hygiene and sanitation as the rest of medieval Europe, they still were vulnerable due to a lack of immunity to human diseases (most likely due to living in small populations and a decline of protective magic).
The countries nearest the Mortal Territories suffered a lot from plagues as well as from invasions. This naturally caused waves of paranoia and deep suspicion among these various governments, and as a result, a series of fortifications and quarantine stations were created.
Harnam was one of these places. Once it was a busy trading port in the 12th Century. Then by the 14th Century it became a walled fortress town, complete with imposing ramparts, towers and a castle. Despite all these defenses and strict quarantine laws, the plague still came to Harnam. In the outbreaks that followed, tens of thousands would die within the city and the surrounding provinces.
As the result of these cataclysms, a lot of anti-human acts were enacted, leading to the enforced expulsion of all human foreigners and the ban on travel to and from the Human Territories. Faire Folk living abroad were sternly told to stay put; those who came home, even just on a merry lark, were usually (if they didn’t have enough money for a bribe) carted off to a dismal quarantine island. These harsh laws would remain in effect until the 1850s when a much more progressive government took over. Still, despite all this imposed peace and tolerance, ancient hatred bubbled up from time to time, occasionally exploding into bloody vendettas or- as in the case of the Lum House—ghostly revenge.
Ch. 3—The House
My name is Kes Allyntahl. I’m a Gerdin though I’m often mistaken for an elf, a common confusion that I deeply resent. I live alone; my only companion is a cat named Miss Tabitha. I used to also have some ducks which I had rescued when our last residence got buried under tons of volcanic ash.
You might have read about it. We were part of the Saffrasia Island population forced to flee when Mt. Garibaldi suddenly woke up. Since the island was a Merlian Overseas Territory, the native people were granted full residency tights in the Re-United Kingdom, allowing them to migrate if they chose. I wasn’t too thrilled about the drab, dreary capital of Dimoil-Nu or the close-packed apartment where we were placed, so I opted for the later. After a lengthy wait in customs and quarantine, I and animals included finally got ferried across the rough Chunderheim Channel. However, two years after I arrived in Harnam, I soon got arrested for squatting in a vacant mansion and using the backyard as a garden/kitchen. Fortunately, I didn’t have to face jail time although I still had to pay a fine and do some community service, plus all my ducks were confiscated and taken to an animal shelter.
Although my first job working as a salesclerk at a co-op store. The store had a sort of counter culture character, selling organic vegetables and grains, large amounts of dried and smoke-cured fish. Being an employee meant that I could get food for free if it was past the expiration date. My cat was happy about the free fish and any stray mice she found. However, I still needed a roof over my head, preferably something inexpensive and within short bicycling distance to work. I soon found accommodations in the Harnam area were often hard to come by, especially with the hordes of tourists and college students, and were also rather pricey.
Just when I was about to give up and go camp out in the woods, a friend told me about a possible house for rent just outside of town. She gave me the name of the road it was on and said that it was a small white cottage that sat way back in a clearing. As far as she knew it had been vacant for quite a while—ten years to be exact. With this information in hand, I went in search of the owner.
Ch. 4—Past History
The owner turned out to be a melancholy man in his early 50s with an unsightly birthmark. He was also co-owner of the inn—The Stork’s Rest-where we were meeting. The man, whose name was Mr. Weiss, explained how he shared ownership and caretaker duties with two other brothers. None of them ever stayed at the property; “too dark and woody for their taste” was their explanation. When I asked if the place was for rent, he said yes, but it hadn’t been put on the market yet due to it needing various repairs. Still, he offered to show it to me and we went there.
The Lum House, as it was called, was approximately six miles out of town, and it was a very scenic drive. As we turned onto Kjer Road I noticed the area around us was rich with Neolithic and Celto-Liguria relics. Funny how there wasn’t any traffic. I would have expected to see coaches and omni-buses stopped along this curvy road with tourists milling about, snapping pictures. We seemed to be the only people around for miles. Occasionally, I would see signs of civilization—gravel or dirt pathways leading off into shadowy tunnels of trees. I strained to catch a glimpse of the picturesque farm buildings through them. As we came around a bend, the road abruptly gave way to a large clearing surrounded by tangled, wind-twisted trees. I soon noticed a long, gravel drive between the remains of a brick and granite wall, and then I noticed the house.
It was a small white bungalow with two large, overgrown hedges on either side. Although the large yard was neatly trimmed and well-kept, the cottage was somewhat shabby. The tow brick chimneys protruding from the narrow roof were chipped in spots, lichen was growing in various places on the faded wooden siding, and there were even several wasp and bird nests under the eaves. Overall, the house seemed to be in pretty decent shape.
The interior was in better condition although clearly in need of a thorough cleaning. Much of the floor was covered with fairly new oak floor panels while the walls were newly plastered and painted either an orange beige or bright blue. There was a mixture of modern furnishings and very expensive elvish antiques. As I followed Mr. Weiss through the narrow kitchen, I thought I saw someone with frizzy hair sitting in the corner nearest to the basement door. Yet when I blinked in that direction, I just saw an upholstered dining chair. Just a shadow, I thought as we went back into the living room. How I wish I’d been a little more observant, a little less dismissive of odd little events.
As we walked the property, Mr. Weiss explained that the house was once a caretaker’s cottage and had been once part of an enormous estate. Originally, there used to be a mansion on this property as well. Both these structures were built in the 1920s for Chantelle Lum, an immigrant from the Mortal Territories, who became an actress-turned-prominent socialite.
Depending on who you believed, Chantelle Lum was either a scheming, money-grubbing witch who was also a shameless flirt and had many suitors (but such were her demands on them none of them stayed around long enough to wed)—or she was a decent, charitable soul whose reputation was besmirched by tabloid gossip and local prejudice against human outsiders.
The rest of the tale was much better documented thanks in part to two raven reporters of The Daily Beagle. According to them, Chantelle had met a young buck by the name of Gaeton Gaebert and fell madly in love with him. Unfortunately for her, the youth happened to be the son of an infamous witch crime lord. The mother greatly disapproved of the match and ordered Chantelle to never see him again. Chantelle gave the witch her solemn word, then promptly planned to secretly marry Gaeton within a year.
A few months passed and the two managed to meet in secret at an out-of-the-way nightclub. Wanting more time alone, they then snuck off to the caretaker’s cottage. However, someone had already spotted the couple and began to spread rumors about town. Eventually, they reached the ears of the witch mother. Naturally, she was furious, but bided her time as she held secret consultation with her mob/coven and her dark god.
Eventually, a curse was devised. Accounts varied as to what the exact specification of it was, but one thing was certain—before the year was out, young Chantelle Lum had vanished. The only trace they ever found of the woman was a few strands of hair on her pillow, once sandy blonde, but faded and crusted with a greenish mold.
Despite an extensive police investigation, nationwide coverage and missing persons bulletin, and rewards offered by members of her remaining family, no body was ever found, no evidence either indicating or excluding foul play was ever produced, and the exact date and circumstances of her death were never established.
When I inquired as to what had happened to the mansion, Mr. Weiss replied that it mysteriously burned two weeks after the woman’s disappearance. Her family eventually sold the property and it had changed hands ever since. Eventually the property, now considerably smaller, passed to the Weiss family where it remained to this very day.
Ch. 5—A Warning
Eventually, we got to the subject of rent, and Mr. Weiss told me that he would offer a very low price in exchange of any repair jobs I did. He mentioned that the fix-it work was becoming more difficult for him to do what with his inn-keeping business, plus his brothers were now too busy with married life to deal with “yearly improvements.”
I was both relieved and excited at the rent being only $120 a month that I wasn’t at all suspicious when I signed the lease for a year. Sure, the rental had a dodgy past due to it being a secret tryst place for a wealthy human socialite and a gangster witch’s son. But all that happened a long time ago, and the mansion where the woman supposedly met her doom had been completely destroyed. So why should any supernatural stuff happen to me? Back on Saffrasia, I once lived in the former capital of Calpurnia, where nearly all the population was wiped out by the Scarlet Plague, and I never once had a clairvoyant experience. Of course, I was much too busy with day-to-day survival to pay any attention to psychic matters.
After Mr. Weiss handed me the key, which he said opened every door in the house, he asked me three things.
One—to leave all the antiques in the house. Two—I could use the shed in back to store any of my extra stuff or whatever furniture I didn’t want to use. Three—that, under any circumstance, I should never open the basement door. I was a bit startled by this third request and I asked him why.
Mr. Weiss told me that there were piles of stuff down in the basement, all sorts of things that had been left behind by the previous homeowners or tenants. Some of it was piled rather precariously near the door and liable to tumble down at the slightest touch. Also, some of the stuff was rather filthy and quite possibly crawling with germs and vermin.
Well, I wasn’t fussy, but I was not about to mess around with someone else’s junk pile and pick up some nasty bug. The very thought of it made me cringe a little. But I was still determined to stay and get the place livable again.
Ch. 6—Moving In
I eventually moved in three days later, and in the three months that followed, I had no inkling of anything amiss. Unlike the typical haunted house story, odd things didn’t happen while I was fixing up the place. No objects moved on their own accord, no doors would creak open and slam mysteriously shut, no whispery voices or loud footsteps would be heard through out the night. In fact, the house seemed to have a sort of welcoming glow. I may not be psychic, but I could always sense the character of a certain house. This one reminded me of a friendly, tongue-flapping dog with its tail-wagging enthusiasm. Every part of the house gave off a warm and cozy feeling, every part except one—the basement door in the Northeast corner of the kitchen.
Ever since we moved in, my cat had avoided that corner for no apparent reason. I didn't notice it at first, there were so many other distractions—cleaning and various repairs ... but when her behavior eventually caught my attention one evening, I reasoned that it was all due to a really cold draft.
I went over and had a long hard look in the corner, but there wasn’t anything there; no noticeable cracks or clammy-cold air currents. Yet I had the feeling that something was wrong. For one thing, it was eerily quiet. Even though I had the kitchen windows open and the forest outside was swarming with birds, it was a vacuum of space where I was.
As I stood near the door, I suddenly felt anxious, like someone was watching me. It was as if this one corner of the room was enshrouded in a sphere of silence, as though my ears were stuffed with thick cotton wool. There was also a peculiar smell, undefinable but reminiscent of something unpleasant... like moldy potpourri or funereal wreaths. The smell lingered strongly for about several minutes before slowly fading along with the dead still atmosphere.
After regaining my bearing, I put my ear to the basement door, focused on hearing the slightest sound. And I did hear something, a faint rustling noise, like fabric brushing together. Jerking away from the basement door, I instantly went from feeling brave to feeling absolutely terrified to be in the kitchen. I ended up running out as if there was someone hot on my heels and slamming the door shut. For half an hour, I crouched with my ear to the wood, trembling and listening for sounds. I even thought about calling some friends and asking them if they would like to come over, but my pride got the better of me and I reasoned that there was absolutely nothing to be afraid of. Just my imagination acting up over some weird acoustical effect and that some basement rodents might have toppled over an old perfume bottle. I went back into the kitchen and continued on with preparing dinner, but I kept a close eye on the basement door.
Ch. 7—Midsummer Eve
Mid-June brought bright sunny skies and long summer days to Waldachia, just in time for the Jasmine Festival. It was a month filled with all good things: afternoons by the sea, lazing in a deck chair with a good book, an evening stroll around town with dinner in the square. At the end of the day back to your home for a glass of lemonade and a view of the stars. A perfect way to spend the Midsummer Eve Holiday...
Ch. 8—The Decision
... At least, that was what was supposed to happen. Instead I made the mistake of letting my reckless curiosity override my common sense.
The atmosphere near the basement was once again dead still and heavy with that weird perfume smell. The longer I stood in front of that book, the more I started smelling an underlying current of death and decay. Not only that, it seemed like there was a crowd of people staring right back. Even though there was nobody in the room, I sensed them crowding around the door, thrusting their faces into mine.
At that point, I should have just gotten out of the house and spent the whole day in town, only coming back for my stuff with a whole bunch of ghost breakers. Instead, I just stood there like a dolt, setting my teeth and clenching my fists until I drew blood. All the while, a soft whispery voice in my head kept saying insistently, “You must use the key and open the door.”
Now friends, I know what you’re all thinking. DON’T EVER GO INTO A CREEPY BASEMENT! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?! DON’T YOU REMEMBER ONE OF THE BASIC RULES IN SCARY MOVIES? NEVER, EVER GO INTO THE BASEMENT OF A HAUNTED HOUSE, ESPECIALLY AFTER THE LANDLORD WARNED YOU ABOUT IT!
Yet I wasn’t the least bit rational at the time. In fact, I was quite peeved, peeved by the beastly whispering, telling me I should open the door, while at the same time the Permanent Occupants of Lum Hum (whatever they were) were trying to browbeat me into submission. So I just went for it. As far as I knew, if there was really something waiting on the other side, I would show it who was really the boss around here.
Ch. 9—The Descent
Pulling out the key, I jammed it into the keyhole and turned it. Then, grabbing the knob, I yanked and twisted it before giving the door a firm kick. The moment the door crashed open, the rustling and the smell, as well as the oppressive atmosphere, died away.
The first thing I noticed about it was its tidiness. Aside from the grimy walls, there wasn’t a junk pile to be seen anywhere. All the gardening tools were hanging neatly on pegs along the brick wall. Judging from the thick layer of dust and almost brand new condition, they looked as if they hadn't been used in years. As I steeped forward, I noticed an opening set in the narrow wall at the bottom of the stairs.
Suddenly Miss Tabitha’s hissing startled me. Turning, I noticed a house centipede nearly the size of my hand. Now I don't scare too easily. Being originally from a semi-tropical island nation, I had seen and killed my share of roaches, poisonous spiders and other various nuisance bugs scampering about, but this huge, hairy, creepy-wiggly thing scared the heck out of me. I had heard they were beneficial in that they hunted silverfish and other pests — but they would inflict a bite, from what I understand, that was similar to that of a bee sting. I didn't plan on finding out whether this was true or not. In my life I had been stung by a hornet and a yellow jacket — and that was enough, thank you.
I stared at it, wondering if this weird beastie was somehow responsible for the supernatural stuff that had been going on. It wouldn’t be the first time I got chased out of my previous residence by giant intelligent bugs. However, the house centipede, despite all its over-sized creepiness, pretty much acted like any typical skittish bug.
Ch. 10—The Sub-Basement
I watched while the house centipede scuttled along the wall and halted at the edge of the doorway. A cold rush of dust-laden air suddenly rushed up from the passage. I raised one ear protectively, feeling shiver after shiver run down my back. When I lowered it again half a minute later, there was longer any centipede in sight.
Miss Tabitha, meanwhile, growled and bristled, refusing to go any further.
For a moment I hesitated. To go down into that strange place seemed rather idiotic; to search through that murky room for some sinister secret seemed really horrible. In fact, the very idea filled me with cold dread, and I almost decided to turn back. Then a sudden rush of rash courage came over me, and even though shivering and sweating with fear, I marched steadily down the stairs and clambered into that shadowy room.
Unlike the previous section, which was long and narrow, this one was large and wide with a high arched ceiling and long narrow windows (heavily grimed with dust and cobwebs). It was also filled to the brim with old dusty books and other objects, all of them neatly labeled but organized in no recognized manner. I wondered if all of this were the “piles of stuff” the landlord was referring to. Seeing as no one had been down here in years, he may have forgotten where everything was exactly.
Puzzled, I watched the late afternoon sun filter weakly from above. Why would such a small house have such a ridiculously large basement? I thought.
And then I heard it—a low, scuttling noise.
Ch. 11—Creepy and Creepier
I jumped, all my senses on alert. Then I realized what I was hearing was the house centipede (or maybe a completely different one) skittering around. The beast soon scuttled up the nearby wall and hid behind some stuff on a shelf. Apparently it was photophobic, or else it just didn’t like me.
Swallowing nervously, I walked slowly over to the shelf, only it was a 3 inch landing gun breech block, and underneath it were two books, one of which was a copy of Down the River Road and the other was Unaussprechlichen Kulten. Neither book I had read so I decided to add them to my summer reading list. When I tried pulling the books out from underneath the breech block, a large portion of the wall collapsed. I leaped back just in time as the entire shelf along with its contents were buried under an avalanche of rumble.
As soon as the dust cleared, a strange, bewildering sight confronted me. Along the wall of the newly-reveled passage, drawn in white paint, were eyes, hundreds of eyes, everywhere, all leveled balefully at me.
I stepped forward in a daze as more of the artwork was slowly revealed. The graffiti differed in styles, but the theme was all the same. Eyes, eyes, eyes, all around me, all glaring wide-eyed.
Ch. 12—Many Locked Doors
It was all really creepy. All those damn wall drawings seemed to evoke a deep sense of foreboding menace and dread. I really didn’t want to go into that ruddy gap, but my curiosity soon got the better of me. As I proceeded down that hallway, the graffiti grew more elaborate with flower patterns and abstract spirals within spirals. Then I came to a door blocked by heavy iron bars and thick chains secured with an immense padlock.
I studied them in perplexity—it didn’t seem like something a bunch of bored teenagers would do on a Saturday night. No, it was far too sophisticated, more complex and enigmatic, like something you would see in a modern art museum or on the wall of some wizard’s or alchemist’s workshop. On a closer look, I noted that some of the patterns looked awfully similar to the protective hex signs often used by the Nye-Am people of the region.
Stepping back, a confused frown creased my brow. Was all this bizarre work the result of a Nye-Am artisan, maybe even an educated idiot? What I found most disquieting was that some of the paint work appeared fresh—done days or weeks ago, perhaps.
Great, I thought, walking on. Not only do I have what was possibly the most haunted basement this side of Waldachia, I also have some wannabe occultist bunking there for free.
When I eventually came across a solid oak door, secured by heavy iron bars, thick chains and a huge padlock, my first thought was: now all it needed was a No Trespassing sign and a watch dragon.
By now I wasn’t too surprised at finding another door. Like other places in Faerie and sometimes the Mortal Territories, places like Harnam were built over previous cities. So it wasn’t unusual for someone to stumble across a Roman temple while digging around in their vegetable patch...or like me, discovering that the cellar originally belonged to a much bigger house. Judging from the stone and brickwork, I guessed it once supported either a large manor house or quite possibly a fortress.
After walking a hundred yards I again paused in bewilderment. A set of double doors chained shut just like the first. There were some stained-glass windows, but I couldn’t see through them on account of the layer of dried paint. Wondering, I cautiously approached the next set of doors—all chained and padlocked like the previous two.
So far I counted about a hundred rooms in this long, dark hall. Each door was different, some of them even had windows, but what was the whole point of taking a peek when there was a layer of dried paint and a length of chain in the way?
Suddenly, the hall widened, giving up its cramped, claustrophobic quarters as it opened into a much larger cavern. The ceiling stretched as high as a cathedral’s and was inky black with soot. There were holes carved into the granite walls, obviously meant for windows and doors. Once again my curiosity was thwarted by the huge barriers erected right in front of these portals—massive, rusty anchors and bundled-up chains and stacked piles of rubble. It seemed that this section was of a much older time period than the hallway of doors.
Questions soon flooded through my mind as to the motives of these mysterious builders and their sanity. Why would they build this humongous place, only to go through all the trouble of burying it, and what was with all these locks, chains and barriers? Were they afraid of people breaking in and stealing all the family possessions and heirlooms?
As I stared at the barricades of stone and eroded iron, I felt tingles of cold crawling up my neck. What if instead of treasure, there were actual bodies behind all those blocked-off doors, all that remained of plague victims that got walled up alive centuries ago?
I knew for a fact that this extreme form of quarantine was a common occurrence during the Plague Years. Sometimes they walled off whole sections of the city, leaving the infected to fend for themselves. What if what I stumbled upon was a town that got buried by the people in the surrounding communities? Maybe it was in a small valley, and in a desperate effort to keep the disease at bay, the neighbors first set fire to the place and then filled up the valley with tons of rock and earth till not a trace of the town remained. The story was known only to the locals, that was why I hadn’t heard anything about it. Maybe it was a taboo subject; if you shared this story with a foreigner, you might bring about angry and dangerous spirits.
Well, there was only one way of finding out for sure if this was a mass grave. Walking over to a nearby doorway, I peered in hesitantly between the anchor chain—no tangled heaps of bone. Just walls covered with more of that elaborate graffiti.
Somewhat relieved, I began to head down a long passage towards a round metal door with a spiral at its center. Again, I felt shivers of cold run down my spine. Doors like this certainly didn’t exist during the medieval period. I recalled the story of Blue Beard and what the new bride found inside that closet on the ground floor. I figured if there was a murder room on the other side then I was going to turn right around and get the heck out of here. No way was I coming back unless accompanied by the police and shamans burning incense.
I fumbled with the latch and bolt of the door, pulling it open. It swung smoothly on its hinges, and the lack of a grating-squeal kind of bothered me; well-oiled hinges meant constant use and maintenance. Even though I was still determined to get at the root of the ghostly disturbances, I made up my mind to avoid meeting any Morlock maintenance crew. After propping the door open with a piece of rock, I headed into the damp-smelling crack.
We Gerdin could see in pitch darkness without the benefit of a torch or candle. Also... unlike the humans, we hadn’t ruined our eyes with constant television and computer viewing.
The walls were different here—all brickwork—and there were embedded coils of brightly painted anchor chains and rough-hewn flagstone filling up every visible window niche. But what really caught my attention though was the strange cryptic verse and warning scrawled along the narrow, cramped walls. Great place to have an Inner Sanctum show, I thought as I started down yet another long corridor.
As I walked, my gaze ran across the various protective phrases. Some of them were straightforward to the point:
“Craft the iron in the fire;
Craft it well; forge it tighter.
Forge it from the shining flame;
None shall pass this iron wall;
None shall pass. No, none at all.”
While others sounded more like recipes in an alchemist’s cookbook:
“Grind the gold ore, grind it fine.
Wash it with water in a par.
Save the yellow gold in a jar.
Heat it a melting pot ‘til it glows
And flows like dragon’s blood.”
“Rather pointless if you ask me,” I muttered. “Why put up all these mysterious words when hardly anyone going to come down here to read them?”
Even though I’d been down in the subbasement just a couple hours, I was already feeling knackered. This corridor alone was big enough to keep a team of explorers occupied for days. There were many smaller rooms dotting around the corridor, often separated by rusty iron gates and great doors with huge, wheel-like handles—the sort you find on bank safes and compartment doors of a ship. Some of these led to wine cellars or empty pantries, while others led on to further passageways. I kept on the main route. The last thing I wanted was to become disoriented and lost in one of those branching chambers.
I frowned and bit my lower lip worriedly. Were all these doors to keep wandering people out of these areas...or to keep something else in?
I stopped dead still when I thought back to all those strange magical symbols back in the first corridor.
To keep something else in?
Every hair on my head bristled as a chill breath of fear ran through me.
What if all those inscriptions weren’t meant for wandering people like me, but were really meant for Something Else? Something that was so steeped in evil, so shrouded in doom, that it was never mentioned in any of the local legends, for to even to mention such a thing would give it power.
I stared hard at the walls, and a worried frown curled my lips. Maybe this was the very same dark force from that witch’s curse laid upon Chantelle Lum decades before. Maybe some local magician tried to break the curse, and banish this entity, but without much success. So this exorcist confined it to this underground place, and then placed the various magical protections. Apparently, this thing was limited in power like a ghost or a vampire- it could not enter a barred entrance nor pass through a wall painted with protective signs. However, all these binding safeguards were far from perfect or permanent, and cracks could form.
Suddenly another rather disturbing thought occurred to me. What if this crack was far too small for it to fit its entire corporeal form through, but what if its mind could? Although it still would be unable to open a door, maybe it could still influence someone into doing the task. Maybe once in the basement, this person could be induced into opening up the main room where its body was entombed.
Wait, what was that sound? I held my breath and listened carefully. Was it a cat padding somewhere behind? Miss Tabitha, perhaps, ready to lead me back to the land of the living.
Yet when I looked back, there wasn’t anything behind me. Still I heard that sound again. A slow shuffling of feet. A rat? No, it sounded much bigger, more like a person. Whatever it was, it sounded much closer now.
No time to turn back. I quickly dodged into the nearest opened room.
Ch. 13—In Chambers
The moment I raced inside, I slammed the door shut and leaned against it. Heart thumping wildly, I listened as the soft shuffle of footsteps approached again. It stopped outside the door, and for a while there was only silence. I braced myself, leaning hard against the door, my fingers wrapped tightly around the lock. After a few excruciating minutes, the footsteps finally moved away. Still I continued gripping the lock, shoulders braced against the door, too terrified to even move let alone breathe properly.
Then I heard something else, the faint murmuring of voices. What were they saying? I couldn't be sure. I waited. There was nothing else to do, but sit still and wait, until the coast was clear. But how long was that going to be?
Rooted to the spot, I stood trembling, my eyes locked onto the door.
Voices again—now I could hear them quite clearly. It sounded to me like more than two people. What were they talking about that was taking so bloody long? The tension was overwhelming. Why don’t they just get it over with and leave so I could be on my way? Still I listened to the whispery conversation.
“He’s at it again,” a harsh voice grated. It sounded like a raven talking.
“It’s the Summer Solstice,” a silky-sounding voice replied. “What so you expect?”
A dry, sandpapery voice rasped, “He nearly got out ten years earlier, because He had fed on those five tenants.”
“They were foolish,” the harsh voice groaked. “They heeded His call and paid for it with their lives.”
“It’s the curse,” the silky voice said. “Only humans seem to be affected by it. The Witch Moll affixed it to this property. Unfortunately, the Rose Prince made no distinction between the local and foreign-born humans. All humans are servile vermin in the eyes of the Rose Prince to be sucked dry and discarded.”
“Has the house even been blessed?” the harsh voice inquired.
“Oh, countless times,” the dry voice answered. “But never with any success.”
“Did they even bring in an elfin shaman to bless the entire property?” the silky voice asked.
“Only once, and he said a blessing wouldn’t help. He said this Rose Prince’s not any mere ghost or shadow demon to be deterred by simple exorcisms. He’s a Lich God, one of the monstrous Death-Walkers that the Witch Moll raised up from the Depths to devour any human intruders to this property.”
“Can’t the curse be reversed?”
“It can’t. Not even the High Ones can violate the terms of the Witch Moll’s curse. The spell was forged in anger and revenge, and once it had been set loose, it could neither be reversed nor moderated. Only contained,” the silky voice muttered, “but for how long? Defenses keep wearing down. Not many young people want to be sentries.”
“What about the girl upstairs—this Kes Allyntahl?” the harsh voice said quietly.
My heart leapt into my throat. Oh, great! They know about me.
“I heard she’s an orphan,” the harsh voice continued, “and an exile too. Sounds to me like good recruitment material to me.”
“No!” the dry voice snapped. “Only volunteers! And they must be absolutely willing, ready to leave behind the life they know.”
“Volunteers?” There was a raucous raven chuckle. “No sane person would want this job. The reason we’re here at all is because we either inherited the position, or in the case of Jean-Louise here, a resurrected suicide.”
“Imbecile!” the silky voice rasped. “How many times do I have to tell you? I’m not a suicide! I just had an accidental slip-up with a straight razor, that’s all.”
Meanwhile, I crouched down in my hiding place, praying that these people would just go away. They didn’t. The speakers continued on their weird conference. All I knew was that there was some otherworldly evil bloke locked up somewhere and this group of possible maniacs was acting as prison guards. And they knew I lived upstairs and what my name was, although they were quite wrong about me being an orphan, because both my parents were alive and well and living in Oise on the coast.
Suddenly I began to get really worried. What one of these creeps caught me eavesdropping? Then what? Since I couldn’t go out the front entrance without being seen, I decided to try to find another exit out of here.
Slowly, I stood up and turned around. Then I froze in my tracks, blinking at the golden light flaring from the granite walls.
The room was a treasure chamber. Adorning the walls were various ornaments. Serpentine arm bands hung beside large watch faces of gold and silver filigree, polished crystal mirrors, iron gilded swords with jeweled hilts, and runic amulets that bore the staring eyes of the old warrior gods. Walking cautiously forward, I saw still more inscriptions that threatened dire consequences for anyone who disturbed the treasure trove. Some of them were rather ridiculous: rats, scorpions and snakes falling on your head or sinking like a stone beneath the sea. I haven’t even seen any animal life since venturing into these lower levels, and where the heck was all the sea water going to come from anyway? An ingenious tunnel system that would ship gallons of sea water to flood the room with? Still I walked nervously amidst this wealth on the alert for potential bobby traps and lurking guardians. Eventually, I found an exit, a gaping hole in a far corner surrounded by a litter of fallen rock. Peering cautiously in, I saw a dark staircase spiraling downward. After some hesitation, I stepped into the hole and started down the stone steps. Clutching at the rough clammy walls for support, I crept slowly along. As I descended, the air grew noticeably warmer and less dank. Nevertheless, my sense of unease started to rise along with my hackles. Was this rising warmth an indication of an opened door and promising sunlight, or the flaming exhales of a sleeping dragon?
After a descent which I thought would never end, I stumbled into a huge vaulted chamber. Lines of lamps along the ceiling lit up the entire interior of this cavernous room. Compared to the previous chambers, it was warm, tidy and boringly-modern. No ancient artifacts or weird inscriptions decorated the walls nor was there any furniture to speak of. Was I still in the spooky basement? I wondered. Or was I in the high-tech headquarters of a James Bond villain?
As I walked further into the room, I noticed a hallway with five gray doors. Hopefully, one of those was an exit; I was getting quite sick and tired of walking through strange rooms and tunnels, and having to hide from bands of crazy cultists.
Suddenly I was startled by a squeaky, raspy noise. It sounded very much like nails scraping slowly across a chalkboard. Quickly, I darted around a nearby corner, but not before glancing over my shoulder at the one set of doors slowly opening.
Ch. 14—Behind the Gray Door
The figure that slowly emerged from the doorway was dressed entirely in skin-tight leather and the lower half of his face was hidden by a black mask. His purplish-pink hair swayed limply as he slowly turned his head.
Just in time I ducked my head out of sight again. Sweating, I held my breath while the ominous figure’s red-orange eyes searched the hallway. For one harrowing minute, I thought I was going to see those fiery coals a few inches from my face. But then I heard the swishing of leather dwindling away in the distance, and I poked my head out, my teeth chattering away like maracas.
I waited for another moment and then came quietly out into the corridor. Looking at the door, I discerned it was unlocked. After a quick look around, I grasped the knob and turned it gently. With a loud squeaking that jarred my nerves as well as my eardrums the door swung open. I soon found myself in a room decorated by scarlet drapes and windows covered with brick-red, eyeball-design wallpaper.
Curiously, I peeled back a square of paper from one pane. The first thing I noticed about the other side was a length of chain and beyond that—thick swirling mist. Such a very peculiar color, that mist. Almost silvery, and there were weird patterns constantly reforming. I hurriedly put the square back into its rightful place.
Oh well, I thought, walking on. Might as well find another way out. No way am I going out in that eerie fog, especially when there was a lich god lurking around somewhere.
Eventually, I came upon a passage with mirrors running the entire length of the side. On the left glimmered a wall of jet-black material while on the right towered one of metallic-gray. Eyeing the dark mirror thoughtfully, I wondered what could this costly-looking thing possibly consist of. Tiny black diamonds? Black pearls? Black enamels? Obsidian? Whatever it was, I found it utterly fascinating, and as I approached it I thought for an instant that I glimpsed a silvery wraith-like form, that of a curly-haired youth in extravagant lace and velvet. Then it was my reflection again, although a mite taller and prettier.
Wow, I thought, it’s like a fun house mirror, only it makes things much more attractive rather than hideous.
I walked along the Dark Wall for a span, trailing my hand along it for a moment. Then I withdrew it, the long flawless fingers instantly vanishing to be replaced by the familiar scars and blemishes. Then I turned my attention to the Gray Wall. The moment I fixed my gaze upon it, the mirror immediately brightened to silver and images of rolling white clouds began to form.
As I watched these turbulent visions, the room gradually filled with silvery haze and then began to slowly spin. I grew dizzy. It was as if the silver was seeping out of the mirror and dissolving the walls. Just before I lost consciousness altogether, I thought I heard that silky-sounding voice of that Jean-Louie (the bloke who presumably suffered an “accidental” run-in with a straight razor).
“See? What I tell you!” it exclaimed impatiently. “We should have just replaced those damned things with widescreen TVs!”
Ch. 15—His Nibs
When I finally came to, the first thing that greeted my startled eyes was a really high window shining with blotches of silvery-blue light. I stared at these bright spots for a few minutes, dumbfounded, while my mind tried to make sense of my surroundings. Then the realization filled me with a cold sinking dread in the pit of my stomach.
What I thought were moonlit patches of ice on the windows of that long, dark hallway were actually handprints. Lots and lots of these things, spread-fingered and criss-crossing the dark panes.
There had to be some rational means for the presence of all these handprints. I briefly considered the possibility of dark-dwelling, semi-intelligent hands, running arachnidly on four fingers and a thumb. I decided that such ideas were silly; it was probably due to a group of children who made the handprints. It could be worse. What if they were nose prints, large-sized, economy noses to more mini porcine and pudgy snouts? Much creepier, I thought. But then I realized I was just being silly again Of course they were handprints! They had four fingers and a thumb, and a lot of them were nearly the exact size of my hand. Had they been made by noses, wouldn’t the digits be the same size, like in a star-nosed mole or a star-snouted shrew?
As I stood there nervously puzzling, I became aware of a dry, crackling sound like ice breaking. Then something beastly cold suddenly closed about my fingers.
Yowling, I reeled back from the window, flailing my arm wildly, frantically trying to break the grip of that thing coming out of the pitch-black glass. Finally I broke free and, stumbling back, watched in crawling dread as still more misty appendages joined the first. Eventually, all these limbs merged into a shape—first a sphere, then a cloud, then an immense pillar. Finally I saw rising out of its churning, undulating depths a pale oval face framed by thick springy curls. In a moment the mist cleared and a figure in Baroque fashion of the late 17th century stood before me. I could only stare in numb shock as the big-wigged, beribboned dandy then gave me a dimpled smile.
“Wut?” I managed a croak from my constricted throat.
Suddenly my nose twitched to a familiar and flowery scent—roses. Well, at least he wasn’t completely drenched in the stuff like those unwashed romantics back in Waldachia’s Classical Age. My heart then plummeted to the pit of my stomach when I finally guessed who was standing right before me.
“Crud... Crud... Crud...” I took a step backwards and then halted when my hand, acting on its own accord, reached out and grasped the Rose Prince’s hand. It was warm, not what you expect from a ghost or a lich.
“Bonjour, mademoiselle,” he purred as he lightly brushed my hand with his cupid lips. “I am Prince Francis Escoffer, first son and right hand to the great King Grimian, the Gray Lord of the Crossroad and In-Between Places. Might I have the pleasure of knowing this beautiful fleur whose radiant glow and warmth I’m basking in at this very moment?”
Had I been a giddy school girl, I might have giggled and blushed profusely. Instead I just fixed him in a blank gaze and said, “I am Miss Felidae Katz (no way in hell was I giving my real name). It’s such a great honor and pleasure, sir, to meet a man of your great stature.”
“Ah, beautiful name,” he said, seemingly oblivious to my frosty stare and tone. “A beautiful name indeed, mademoiselle. I hate to be rather forward, but where are you planning on going on this particular evening?”
“Harnam, sir,” I replied, “for the Midsummer Eve celebrations.”
Prince Francis looked shocked. “Harnam! Mon Dieu! City of Dregs and degenerates, that’s what it is! Non, non, dancing with peasants and carnival freaks is simply unacceptable! A lovely lady such as yourself should be attending a magnificent ball instead.”
I gave him a puzzled look. “There’s a ball down here?”
“But of course,” drawled Prince Francis. “Just around the corner.” He gestured to the left-hand passage, which was lit by a flickering golden light at the far end. Around some hidden corner came the soft notes of a practicing string orchestra.
I hesitated. It would, I thought, be rather rude to turn down a royal invitation to a ball. It might even be suicidal to refuse the honor of accompanying a god to a ball, especially when this particular deity was of the death-dealing, soul devouring variety. Eventually, common sense prevailed and my mind quickly came up with a plausible excuse for not attending.
“I’m sorry, sir, but I’m going to have to refuse your offer... You see, I’m expected in Harnam—a really important meeting... so I really can’t be late.”
Prince Francis’s yellow eyes widened in surprise then narrowed in suspicion. “And just who are you expecting on meeting during this particular rendezvous, mademoiselle?”
“You wouldn’t happen to have a boyfriend, would you?”
For one horrified instant I thought, He knows I’m lying! I’m going to get my soul sucked out through my nose!
“Well, those guys.” I quickly pointed over his shoulder.
Ch. 16—The Way Back, Or a Word of Warning
The purplish-pink haired guy was there levitating what seemed like a glowing ball of toxic sludge and squid tentacles Accompanying him were two equally-strange companions—an assassin-type guy with spiky red hair wearing blood-red glasses and a plague doctor guy in a fedora and clutching an ebony cane.
I looked at the trio, and they looked back, and even from a distance I could feel their burning rage- not at me, even though I had a hand in this catastrophe, but rather at the one standing right next to me. He knew as I knew that there was going to be some serious retribution butt-kicking about to meted out.
In cold silence the plague doctor raised his cane and leveled it at us. All at once, the tip of the cane began to move. Writhing and squirming like an eel, it seemed to turn itself inside-out, revealing a veiny purplish form resembling that of a jellyfish. With a long wheezing hiss, glistening pink erupted from the form, absorbing the rest of the cane’s surface. Then I heard crackling like branches breaking as the tentacles swelled large and then surged around me.
Locked in a tight, fleshy grip, I could only watch in bug-eyed astonishment as I was dragged down the passage towards the patiently waiting trio. No sooner was I released from the massive coils, I was then pulled aside by the spiky-haired fella.
“Look.” I soon recognized the silky voice of Jean-Louie. “Look at what's beneath the golden mask.”
Puzzled, I studied the Rose Prince as he wrathfully drew his gilded sword and challenged the costumed and dyed-haired trio to a duel. I focused hard. Then like paper charring, Prince Francis’s face suddenly changed, revealing a gray, withered horror, blotched with dust and mold and eroded with decay. Only the eyes were alive, gleaming with hatred and malice from deep sockets. The golden hair was suddenly not hair at all, but a writhing, weed-like mass. Now I knew why this guy was called a lich god.
Out of the corner of my eye the one I dubbed “Pinkie” went into a windup and heaved his squid globe into a blazing fastball. Incredulously, I watched as the glob burst like a miniature fire flower, releasing a swarm of pink tentacle things that soon grew to the thickness and size of banyan trees. I heard Prince Francis Escoffier A. K. A. The Rose Prince/The Lich God scream only once before I was led away by the plague doctor.
After passing through what seemed like miles of unfamiliar passageways, we finally arrived to the basement opening, the stairs leading upward with my cat still perched on the upper step. She looked at us in a mixture of curiosity and extreme annoyance.
That eerie feeling I felt earlier in the kitchen that first prompted my investigation was gone as well as the strange rustling and moldy perfume smell. The room felt lighter, friendlier even.
I turned to look at my rescuer. Even though I couldn’t read his expression under his peculiar avian garb, I could sense he was smiling.
“This room,” he intoned solemnly, “is now cleansed.”
Thanking him and his comrades, I then offered him tea and crumpets, but he declined. Instead he placed in my hand a folded piece of parchment which he insisted that I read right away. Curiously, I read what was scrawled in bright red ink:
IT IS NOT WISE TO LOVE THE DEAD.
Baffled, I looked up at the man, only to be met with an unfamiliar-looking wall and china cabinet. Not only was the stranger was gone, but so was the basement door. When I glanced down at the note again, I found it was gone too.
Ch. 17—In Conclusion
The next few months went by, and save for some hassles at work and having to buy a new set of gardening tools, they were quite uneventful. Now there were only twenty-one days before Halloween, perhaps one of the greatest lines of the year in both the Mortal Territories and in Faerie.
The weather alternated between foggy drizzle and summer-like heat. Jack-o-lanterns sat on every neighborhood stoop and fence, and pastry chefs and chocolatiers decorated their shop windows with spooky-theme sweets and chocolate monster masks. People of all sorts swarmed the streets celebrating with many a druidical rite... which included lots of wild partying and alcohol consumption.
Living in a notorious haunted house had some advantages; one—you don’t have to stock up on candy for the hordes of ragamuffins hammering on your door, even though it was the middle of the night and Halloween wasn’t until three weeks away. Two—you don’t have to worry about these ragamuffins coming back to TP, cow pie and egg the entire property; three—I could enjoy a moonlit evening in peace without having to socialize with some drunken greasepainted party-goers.
It happened shortly after I went to bed. It had been a perfect autumn day, crystal blue skies, birds and crickets chirping away, not chilly or cold at all. No major disasters happened—supernatural or otherwise. The evening was also idyllic, comfortably cool with no fog or biting frost in sight.
As I curled up in my bed, I began to mull over the things I was planning on doing during the Halloween celebrations. Perhaps I would go try out that new corn maze on the outskirts of town. Maybe I would take in some of the musical acts just as long as they weren’t karaoke or rap. Soon I was falling fast asleep, lulled by Miss Tabitha’s purring and the faint breeze outside my window.
And yet, as I drifted deeper into sleep, a thought came over me. Wait, that breeze sounded more like breathing. No, no, that couldn’t be breathing... could it?
Laying motionlessly, I listened but heard only the normal sounds of night time—the gentle ticking of the wall clock, the old house setting, the cat steadily purring. My pulse slowed though my skin prickled with goosebumps. Why was so cold in here? Did I close the window? Of course I did. So why I feel cold then?
Then the footsteps began, a soft shuffling, and mixed with that a faint rustling of silk.
Steps drew near. I tried to move, but couldn’t. My limbs were frozen stiff, still wrapped in the heavy web of sleep.
“Ma chère fille.”
The footsteps halted. Instead of cold air, I felt on my cheek a breeze that smelled of rose blossoms. Then a sibilant whisper sounded in my ear, “Je t'aime.”
Panicked, I shot up in bed and flailed around for the lamp chain.
“Sod this!” I cried. “I’m through! I’m totally through!”
I spent the rest of the night packing and left around the crack of dawn. I never went back even after I heard the house burned down.
Would have gone on with my life until you guys showed up with that picture. That picture you snapped that was supposed to show a burnt-out ruin. He’s still there, apparently waiting for someone to come along and let him out. Someone like you, maybe.
You probably came along after my former landlord refused an interview. Well, I told my bit, but I’m not going to help you poke around those old stones looking for a basement door. No way in hell am I going near that damned place again.
You’ll probably end up like all those previous tenants, dead or worse. Maybe even like those three guys—sentinels at the gate of Hell or some world worse than Hell. I don’t know where I was I went to in those dreams, but they stopped shortly after I hung that dress and scarf in that large old oak tree in Emerson Grove.
Don’t bother asking that old shaman about it. The ravens keep their secrets well and aren’t willing to share them with nosey outsiders. And if there is a secret door I don’t think I’ll be able to open it... for shortly after I left that place, I lost that rusty old key.
Credited to mmpratt99 deviantart
Below is a gallery/slideshow of illustrations (drawn by the author, mmpratt99 deviantart) that go along with the story.