by R.T. Allenson
He remembers the first time he touched it; his fingers withered and his whole hand decayed, it was like knowing that you were always old with the flesh you knew but some petty tailoring of illusion and pallor of what was real. His hand turned from a healthy pink to the death-color, the grey tinge of eternal decay. He never knew what it really was, but it was like breathing except lacking the action and the movement. Some say it was the face of time, what he touched. He never really cared but something within that thing he touched called out to him – familiar and in an almost longing fashion, he was drawn to it like a moth to the flames.
He remembers the eyes, like hollow furnaces, with ever-living flames that change from anger to sorrow. The memories of childhood are stale and particularly, he remembers the day he touched it.
As a child, he thought himself indestructible. Nothing could stop him or make him fear pain. Like his fellow ne’er do-wells and rascals, he made it a habit of breaking into people’s homes in the night to steal and salvage whatever they could get their hands on. Over the course of his young life, he had amassed an ill-gotten fortune that would make even the local artificer (who was a very wealthy man) green with envy.
He remembers that night when his hand nearly crumbled into withered branches, the night he and his fellow worthless rapscallions decided to break into the old Warren house. It was a cool, breezy night with not a cloud in the sky; the moon, alit with themselves basking upon the eerie glow. It was a strange night they concluded, full of portents but thinking less than the usual they decided to go about their misdeed. The Warren house was easy enough to enter. It had been fifty years since the house was inhabited and even then, it had fallen to disrepair. The doors nearly crumbled to the touch and the windows already shattered; a sneak and slip into the night, a few bumps to the walls and they were in all three of them.
And as soon as one of his friends step foot on the wooden floor, he fell down into nothingness as the ancient wood crumbled beneath his weight. They heard him land hard on marble or stone and though they called to him, they knew in their young hearts that he would not survive such a frightening descent. The two of them remaining, they ascended the old stairway and beheld a great corridor that seemed to stretch to eternity in the dark; the little light streams that funneled through the windows permitted them view that the corridor was filled with decrepit paintings and other effigies. Neither one was worth alone but all of them, with gilded frames would fetch a hefty price. Amidst their plunder, they noticed too, that the house was littered with what seemed to be amber seeds which, though quite common, was still worth a few shillings or so.
As they carried about their business, he felt something move behind the curtains of darkness that littered the long hallway. His friend paid this no mind, blinded by greed and unaware to the unnatural danger that lurked behind each painted face upon the walls. He felt the fear settle and overcome him until, without knowing it, he began to run away faster and faster until he could no longer see nor hear the darkness overcome his friend; his screams, muffled by something living in the house. He ran faster, past corridors and walkways that seemed to go on and on until forever and though he ran faster with each step he could feel the breath of whatever it was lurking in the hallways bear down on him and slither down the length of his neck. He remembers closing his eyes, clenching his fists until his legs buckled and failed and he tumbled down and fell hard on the floor feeling the hungry shade pass him by coldly trailing wisps in the air. His breathing was heavy and, though weak, he felt the need to stand up and face the monster that had devoured his friends and pursued him around the house. He remembers the fear of knowing…but the feeling of invincibility, now as he thinks about it, stupidity as well. Defiance, an illusion of fortitude when faced with…
The call of the dead..
He remembers fumbling about in the darkness, his hands outstretched to touch and hit whatever it was in front of him. He scoured the room or hall, half blind and half afraid but with youthful determination to see through the end. He remembers walking and pacing for a few hours or so until, with his shivering hands, he feels solid wall and soft velvet before him. He feels it for a moment until the all-too familiar fear settles in. A match, a lighter in his pocket. A simple motion and the light bathes the room subtly but enough for him to see…
There was a painting before him, placed at the very end of the huge corridor encased in glass and bordered by beautiful golden frames. Silver baubles littered the sides of the wall, reflecting the soft flame from his lighter and a golden plaque beneath it all engraved with the painting’s subject. A name that would resonate, like the silence of the corridors of eternity, haunting his very being even until he lies resting in the grave..
The Crooked Man Walks
His eyes ascend from the plaque to the very painting before him. There, wailing at him in pain or anger, faceless in sound and fury and clad in the dark and crimson of blood. The very image of decay screaming at him from a painting within a glass box and in its own kingdom, breathing in-between the calling and baying. He remembers that there were no eyes there, but something like an empty furnace calling out to him in a fulminating stare. The darkness, he thought, was more welcoming. And then, not knowing, he reached out to touch the glass box where the crooked man’s face was and there and then, he remembers how it feels.
His hand passes through the glass and he feels the crooked man’s face. His hands wither and decay, in an instant like a flash of light. There was pain and screaming but it was muffled by the darkness and by the painting’s ungodly stare and screeching form.
He doesn’t remember how he got out, but the house itself is a memory from a time or a dream. Two years later when he would question the origin of the old Warren house and where it had gone (for when he awoke from the nightmare two years later, the house itself had vanished) , the people simply shake their heads and claim that such a house never existed. This he finds untrue for there were two deaths and a dead god. He remembers the breathing of darkness, the feel of its skin and the whispered names of a man so crooked and so malign that all it sees and beholds decays into nothingness.
Breathe. He said. Breathe in the darkness and listen to the unceasing call of the dead.