I walked through a village on a fine autumn afternoon. The clouds lay high in the sky, and the sun did not shine through them brightly. But the smell of dried leaves scented the air like a soft farewell, and I thought of little else save the delight of the picturesque scene upon my senses.
As I journeyed near the edge of the road, I turned a corner, and the sight of a decaying manor caught my eye some ways off. It seemed starkly out of place with the comely village, for it was a grotesque, decaying thing.
What I saw next is hard to say, an unbelievable marvel—or perhaps a horror. One or the other, my eyes witnessed the sight of the house fly up in flame as brimstone devoured the whole of it. Once all was burned, so shocked was I by the manor’s sudden ending, that I went to walk about the ashes. A strange thing, a compulsion, drew me. And as I approached, a journal flew through the air and landed in my arms.
Only its edged were charred. And the page to which it opened seemed to draw my eyes like a moth to a flame. Thus, I read what follows…
‘There is a darkness in the air around me. I’ve felt it for a long time—slowly building, an ever-creeping haunt.
But that is what I chose when I decided to live here.
The manor called to me. An intuitive calling, born out of some firm resolution, like a beacon rooted in the pit of my stomach. At least, that was what I thought at first. It was as if I were living in a dream of cold Octobers, the ones that paint the perfect gothic scene, complete with spires, and orange-gold leaves that crest steepled roofs having fallen from large elms and oaks. I had that pleasant chill that floats down one’s spine in a crinkled knowing that gives rise to high ambition.
I took it for fate.
I was enchanted almost at once with the village about the manor. At that time there was more wealth, more vigor—more bodies. The valving prestige of the shops and cafes drew me, as did the quaint charm of the Sunday market. All of it glowed, and I reveled in the people and their stubborn charm. More than that, I felt as if they needed me.
Thus, I set to living in the house.
My gifts were weaker, then. It is a fault of the house that they have grown. I suppose that is why I don’t mind staying. Curious as I have been to rebel against the fetters of the past, there is a certain contentment in power. Or perhaps it is fear of its loss that keeps me closeted behind chipped paint on shuttered windows.
But this is all after the fact; after her.
The first year I noticed nothing, save an intrinsic delight in my new life. My home seemed nothing more than a glorious manor filled with nooks and crannies, a dream of childhood. It was when she came that I thought of children more and more. Indeed, I thought of many things, and it was not until she entered my home that I became aware of subtle movements, of careful closures, of things not where I had left them.
Yes, I was made aware of it all once she came.
She had moved into the old, once-abandoned apothecary shop. An herbalist, she called herself; a witch, they called her. All the same, she did good business—though perhaps that was more due to me, than to anyone else. I learned quickly that a village did as did the Lord of the Manor. From the first day I saw her, I had to have her. Thus, she was saved a ready ostracization.
But not death.
It was she who told me that my house lived—and that it was no more mine than it was anybody else’s. At first, I did not understand, for I thought she used a metaphor to tell me a witness to the living state of history. But I saw her fascination grow, and soon I began to see as she did. As she came to watch it, to speak to it, to cast her delicate fingers over the woodwork and the filigree, I could see her bask in wonder. And as I grew to understand, my interest in her far succeeded that of the living house.
The village was alight with the scandal of it all—the romance, the heated love affair that they knew was brewing. They weren’t wrong. It thrilled me, that act of possessing her, as the vicar set our hands about each other and she was mine.
It was only when she became my wife that I began to hear the house. There was something in her power that set off a sensitivity in me attuned to the frequency of the rising creaks and careful moans. The villagers had not been half wrong to call her ‘witch.’ But as she tried to learn all the house’s secrets, it was my power that grew.
As I remember it now, I almost regret what happened. That power that produced within me until I was bursting with it had never been something in my control. Thus, it was, without my conscious efforts, that the vines came and covered the walls. I was surprised to see them flowing from my fingertips through no volition of my own. Nothing we did to tear them from the walls resulted in their removal. I was less affected by their presence than she was, though. She ripped at them until her fingernails bled. She must have known then what I did not. But I didn’t begin to see, even as the vines dried carefully all about us, the magnitude of what had begun.
It was the day she tried to leave that it happened. Dark circles had long grown under her eyes, her appetite had all but failed, and her hair was nothing more than straw. It took me long enough to realize that the house had trapped us here, and I thought of it as more her burden than mine. A moment’s lucidity, and her bag was packed, but that was when the door kept itself shut. Nothing she could do could break the handle.
And I, I had no desire to leave.
Suddenly the flames burst out of my fingers and caught the vines on fire. So many were the dead vines, so hot were the flames, that the house was caught in a full blaze in moments.
The world spun, and the smoke grew until neither of us could breathe. That is the last of it that I remember—the last of that moment.
We both should have died.
When I came to, I saw her, lying on my lap. I can still smell the charred bone.
I flexed my fingers, saw skin on my hand, and simply wondered. The house stood too, though worse for wear. That was when I felt the laughter. It bubbled up as though made of joy. That was when I truly heard the house and knew it for what it was. In possession of myself. And I bound to it, to keep my power. Power that I knew intricately, flowing through my veins. I tossed the skeleton aside then. It sits at the side of the wall still. I thought once of leaving, of burying the bones and living a new life. But I could not bear the loss of strength, the ebb of such being.
But it has been a long time now. Perhaps I should think of taking my leave. Perhaps…’
That was where the writing left off. A trail of scrawling scribble.
I stared at the ashes of the manor house, and could not help the shudder that wound its way through my body. For as the manuscript sat atop my hands, and my fingers turned its pages, there was one thing that I knew most clearly—it pulsed as though alive.
It took all the will I had within my power to throw the book into the remaining embers.
When it was done, I breathed as I had never done before, and turned away, the story left behind me.
About The Author
Amelia Brown started writing officially as a humor columnist for her university’s newspaper. Her work has been published in Gramarye, Corvid Queen, Enchanted Conversation Magazine, 365 Tomorrows, among others, and in the science fiction anthology Odd Dreams.
She is the author behind the blog Fairy Stories & Other Tales featured in the Warren Stories section of Dead Rabbits Books literary press website and the Tales of Bedlam podcast. In her spare time, she reads everything.
If you want to see what else Amelia is up to, you can check out her blog or follow her on Twitter @ameliabrowntale