I awoke. In pitch blackness, I sat up and slowly came to my senses. Though my eyes were open, I could see nothing. I was not blind, merely in the dark. I don’t know how I knew this, only that it was so. There was an odor, faint, but present... sterile, almost with a hint of... something else.
Beneath me, a cold slab, hard and unyielding. I had no concept of what it was made of, and only then did I realize that I had no concept of anything else either. Who I was, where I was, how I got here... my mind was a complete blank.
Sitting here was doing me no good. I tested my legs and arms, and judged my body to be in working order, well enough if not perfect. I felt for the edges of the slab and found that it was rectangular in shape, sized for someone of my stature. I swung my legs over the left side, and not knowing how far away the floor might be, gingerly rolled onto my belly and let my legs dangle, inching myself slowly down and ready to grasp the edge and pull myself up if my feet found no purchase.
A sensation came over me, an unpleasant one that I came to know as foolishness as my feet touched solid ground just a few feet from the surface of the slab I awoke on. Even with my feet firmly planted I knew there was still danger here. With no light, unable to see even an inch in front of me, I knew the going would be slow here. I shuffled my feet around, not wanting to trip over anything, or fall into some yawning chasm that might be mere inches from where I stood.
Luckily, I found what seemed to be a wall just a few steps away from where I started.
Slowly, carefully, I felt my way around it, judging it as best I could to have four sides and be roughly rectangular in shape, much like the slab I recently slumbered on. A low ceiling hung overhead within my reach.
An idea came to me all of a sudden. More of a concept, really. Stone. This room was made of stone, as was the slab in the middle.
Now that I had established I was in a room, I knew I had to find a way out. Again, ever so slowly I moved my hands over the walls, feeling for anything that might indicate an exit of some kind. Over all four I went, top to bottom. groping blindly, pushing firmly on every stone. Finally on the last wall, on the opposite side of where I left my resting place, right in the middle, I felt one of the stones give.
I pushed a little more, and felt dust fall on my hands with the vaguest hint of fresh air from the now unsealed chamber. Again I pushed, and again, straining against what I knew to be a monstrous door with all my might!
At last, with a loud crash, the door fell away, shattering into large chunks on the ground below. Fresh air, a clear moonlit night! Looking around, I saw trees and grass, and though their purpose escaped me I knew that these were good. All the scents of nature touched me in a rush, revitalizing me from inside out. I was free!
I looked around. The stone structure I emerged from stood behind me, squat and not entirely pleasant to behold yet I could see that it had been crafted with care and built to withstand the ages.
To my right and left, trees as far as I could see. I could not name them, but there were many varieties, each adding its unique spice to the air around me. Ahead of me, a long sloping hill with a cobbled path leading down to another construct. Another abstract concept came to me just then, and I knew it for what it was. House. It was large, larger by far than the stone box I just left. Three floors, and sturdy... wood? Yes, wood construction. In the moonlight, the bright white sides with distinct red eaves and awnings shone brilliantly. There were lights in all of the windows, the brightest being on the ground floor, and I could see the shadows of its occupants moving back and forth slowly within. Something about their movements, their postures outlined against the lit windows, made me feel as if there was a great sadness here. For reasons I cannot define, that place beckoned me and I heeded its call.
Stepping carefully among the loose cobbles, I made my way downhill, watching the shadows behind the windows and as I drew closer, their images came into focus. Not only that, but there were new scents on the air. Of nature I had no doubt, but not of the grass or the trees or the air itself. I could not name these scents or fathom their origins, but they were not unpleasant to me so I paid them little mind, even though they grew stronger the nearer I came to the large white house.
I saw many people through the window from my vantage point just a short way from the house. Numbers were another concept that came to me just then, and while I only understood them in the vaguest sense, I believed for some reason that there were twenty or thirty people, men, women and a few children. I drew closer, intent on learning more of this place and these folks that must call it home. Home...like house, but different, more. Yet another concept that escaped me.
When I reached the wall, I was just able to peer above the sill at the occupants inside. In a finely appointed room with rich carpeting, a large shelf full of... books? Books, that felt right, and plush furniture, a few of the women wept while men stood by offering their shoulders for comfort. All were dressed in a fashion and had a bearing even in their despair that spoke to me of something I came to think of as nobility.
Many of the men and women had similar casts to their features. This clicked in my mind as family. I judged the others to be partners...spouses? Things, ideas, seemed to be flowing into my mind, but only the most basic realization of what must be larger and more complex concepts I still did not understand beyond the merest idea.
As I looked on in what must have been wonder, I began to feel a sense of familiarity with the people inside those walls. Did I know them? More importantly, did they know me? As I pondered this, I noticed one of the women who had been weeping in a red velvet chair in a corner opposite my window motion to the man kneeling at her side, then point to where I waited in the darkness. As he looked over to my window, I crouched down, suddenly feeling vulnerable and alone, an alien sensation but unmistakable to me. I felt this to be more instinct than any of these other ideas that had slowly been returning to me since I began my adventure this night.
Still more new scents flowed in to me, less pleasant than before but I had precious little time to worry about them. I looked to my left, and to my right along the edge of the house. I opted to make my way slowly and quietly to what I believed to be the house’s backside, bedecked with a large patio complete with several chairs and tables as well as a swing that rocked ever so slightly in the night breeze. I stepped quickly behind the corner right next to a small flight of stairs and peered back down the wall where I stood only moments before. Watching silently, I saw several of the men from inside standing below my former window and glancing around at the landscape that surrounded them. After just a few minutes, they returned to the front of the house, and I assumed went back inside.
Again there was a change in the scents on the air. I marveled at the variety I had experienced in just the short while I had been outside, even though I could put no name or reason to many of them.
I now had a choice. That many of these people were known to me I had no doubt. How I knew them, or why, I did not know. I didn’t know if they knew me. I was determined to make my presence known to them, for I felt something tugging at my mind that told me that only they could tell me who I was and what I had been doing in that stone cage, but my best route to doing so was a mystery. I knew nothing of the layout within this residence, and had only a base notion of familiarity with its occupants. There appeared to be a back door leading in from the patio, and I assumed a front door at the other end of the house as well. I stopped to consider these things briefly and opted for the direct approach through the front door so as not to startle anyone unnecessarily through a stealthy approach from behind.
I crept back around the edge of the house, past my window, peering around the corner onto the front porch. All was clear. I don’t know why the possibility of meeting someone out here disturbed me, I only knew that my introduction had to be on my own terms.
I moved around to the front of the porch and crept up the stone stairs leading to the wooden deck that surrounded the front of the house. A wooden lattice covered with vines and bright yellow flowers adorned the far side of the porch, a lighthearted contrast to what I knew to be a very somber mood inside. There was a small table with two chairs situated to the left of the door.
An unexplainable sense of foreboding washed over me as I approached the windowed door with the curtain shut tight. I saw the knob and tried it, it turned easily and with a slight click, the door opened freely. I stepped inside.
The air was warm, particularly when contrasted with the cool night air I had just left. Unlike the stifling silence and sterility of my earlier entrapment, I could hear low voices in a room to my right and a scent I knew to be burning wood filled the air. I had been slowly coming to appreciate the familiar aromas of nature, being assaulted so often by ones I could not place.
Soft light glowed from an open doorway leading to that room, the same one, I judged, that I had seen from outside.
As I cautiously approached the open door, one of the men I had seen through the window earlier peeked around the frame. His eyes widened and as he let out a yelp, I was assailed by an odor, malignant and ugly and growing stronger. I stood in shock as he pointed at something that must have been right behind me near the still open door to the outside. I turned around and glanced through it, briefly scanning the open countryside that lay before me. I saw nothing, but still the odor persisted so I knew whatever frightened the man had to be close. I slammed the door shut and threw the bolt.
Hearing his cry, one of the women poked her head around and screamed madly. She quickly vanished and I heard a flurry of movement coming from the open room. Not knowing what caused such a panic, I glanced again behind me, fearful of what I might find, but there was nothing. Still, the odor grew stronger and whatever had frightened these people so must be near. As a hand from within grabbed the arm of the first man and yanked him inside, I knew I must get to safety with these people.
I started to run. The door slammed in my face. I grasped the knob and turned, pushing hard as the door flung open. I saw the last of the occupants fleeing out a door near the far wall, heading towards the back of the house. I followed, not knowing where I was going, only knowing I had to get away from whatever was giving chase. As I stepped into the next room, the people were spilling out of two doorways in a blind panic—one that led further back, and one on the left that led back to the entryway, or a hallway connected to it. I chose that door.
As I came through it, the stench was becoming unbearable. Most of the people were now fleeing to the back, to some unknown safety, but two small children were heading up a flight of stairs mounted against the far wall. I checked behind me, and through a door leading back to the entryway. No sign of pursuit, but the fear was palpable and growing by the second. Whatever was coming was dangerous, I had no doubt.
I would follow the children.
As I climbed the first flight, I saw the two of them, holding hands, running down the hall and turning up the next flight to the third floor. I followed.
I made it to the top just in time to see them clamber up a drop-down stairway into what must have been the house’s attic. As they tried to pull the staircase up behind them, I grabbed it and yanked it back down to make my own way up there and stand with them.
As I did so, they scuttled to a far corner to the left of the only window in this room. Moonlight streamed in, just enough to light their faces. I pulled the staircase up behind me, sealing us in.
I turned to face the children.
Cowering in the corner, eyes wide and mouths agape, paralyzed beyond the ability to make even the faintest whimper, my nostrils flared as that odor assaulted my senses once again. And finally, gazing into the terror stricken eyes of those two innocent children, frozen before me in utter silence, understanding washed over me in one giant, horrific wave.
I still had no idea who I was, or even what I was. But neither of those things mattered to me anymore, for I now knew why I was. The stench that had assailed me since coming into this house, before so terrifying in its malodorousness, now came to me like a bouquet of freshly cut roses, bringing a new pleasure where it once brought terror and disgust. It was the scent of fear.
And I hungered.