Boarding House by odangutan
There’s somebody else in here, in this house. I can hear them. I hear footsteps in hallways, doors clicking closed in distant rooms. I’ll walk into a room where smoke rises from a just-snuffed candle. Creaking sounds, rhythmic and repetitive, lead me to a bedroom on the second floor where I find a rocking horse, cantering back and forth on dusty runners. I watch it slow to a halt.
Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop.
Not that I should be here, either. It was a bad night, rain sluicing down, and the door was ajar. I saw a candle flickering in a first-floor window and thought that I might be able to shelter for a while. I called out a greeting in the hallway. Not even echoes in response. I walked from room to deserted room until I found a bedroom and, without meaning to, I slept.
I woke after what could’ve been an hour or a day with the room muffled by a half-light gloom and my body stiff from sleeping in damp clothes. Dust and cobwebs caked the windows and I could see only dim shapes outside. I turned and, for the first time, noticed that a suit of clothes had been laid out on the dresser. Had they been there before I slept? Even now, I’m unsure. I found a jug of water beside the clothes and drank the brackish, stale liquid inside. Then I undressed, changed and left my own tattered garments on the bed. I’ve not seen them since. I’ve never found that room again.
Out in the hallway, lights shone dimly from glass globes lining the walls. Rain battered the grimy windows and filled the landing with its clatter but, on the edge of sound, I could hear a piano played haltingly in a room on the lower floor. Scales, repeating. I padded downstairs, cautiously, following the sound to a pair of double doors. They opened into a drawing room and the piano stopped, the last note damped off abruptly. It stood there, a grand, with its keys facing towards me like teeth. Like a smile. I turned, looking around the room, and started in fright as my eye caught movement. My own reflection in a gilt-edged mirror. I smiled ruefully and, as I did so, a jarring crash behind me made my heart leap. I spun around. The piano’s fallboard had slammed shut. Had been slammed shut. As I watched, chest heaving, the key turned slowly in the lock.
I fled, I admit. Out through the double doors and down the hall, past the stairs I’d recently descended, until I caught my foot on a runner and collapsed into a window seat. I sat for a while, with my head in clammy hands, until my breathing slowed to normal. A branch, blown by the wind outside, tapped the leaded glass. tap tap. I raised my head and looked down the hallway. tap tap. It seemed shorter than the distance I’d run, the drawing room’s double doors only a few paces away. tap tap. Something nagged at me. tap tap. Something wrong. tap tap. I suddenly realized. tap tap. Despite the rain, the wind had died away long since.
Since then I have explored this house, this set of interlinked and seemingly endless rooms. I still hear other inhabitants in distant rooms. In the first few days I called out to them, pleaded with them, cursed them. For a while I tried to catch one, even to the extent of laying traps made from rugs and curtain cords. All to no avail. I’ve found fire-grates still warm to the touch, baskets lined with fresh breadcrumbs. I’ve found water gurgling down sinks, showerheads still dripping and wreathed in steam. I’ve found music boxes skipping a single line of music, tin monkeys shaking tin cups as their clockwork slowly winds down. Once, in what looked like an under-stair storage, I found an old upright piano and let my fingers walk out a few scales. I gasped as the shrill notes cut through me and filled my body with a half-remembered terror. I slammed the fallboard down and locked the wretched thing before I scurried on towards new horrors.
I wonder, sometimes, how far away I now am from the City. The windows are still grime-smeared and only just translucent but the dim light coming through them is tinged at the edges with flickering green. The paintings on the walls are strange. The walls themselves are strange, in ways I can’t express.
I feel unwelcome, watched and barely tolerated. I should leave. I would leave.
If I could find my way out.