You follow me up the servant’s stair, onto the darkness of the landing. The only light here comes from our headlamps, so dim now, we squint to see, their yellow light ever dimming. We squat in the hallway, beneath a dusty tapestry and you light one of the cigarettes provided by Central, 75% tobacco and 25% Adderall (to sharpen our senses, even as they are dulled). In this way, we are able to navigate the halls and stairs and endless rooms with minds un-compromised.
Protocol dictates that once every hour, we stop and assess our progress, which means checking to see if either of us have lost our minds. The unasked question between us now, what happened to the previous investigation? Were they overwhelmed by this house? Had all their training and meditation left them still unequipped for what resides here? Were there bodies to be found, or had they simply dissolved into the architecture of this place? Of only one thing we are certain.
The house is alive.
That we stick together is of the utmost importance, never leaving each other’s sight. Lest one of us wander down a corridor that a moment later, doesn’t exist or experience some specific phenomena that cannot be corroborated. You ask if I’ve seen anything unusual and I admit that the house seems to be moving slightly, the walls and floors expanding and contracting, as though we were exploring the arteries of some massive creature. To this you only nod, because we both know it could be worse. Much worse.
You try the radio again, in a half-hearted attempt to reach basecamp, a mile away, tucked in the hills behind the estate. But you know we’ve been cutoff from the outside world ever since we mounted the stairs to the second floor, modern technology having no affect in the upper stories.
There are rumors about this place, stories passed down from the natives to the French missionaries, legends of a squat stone building, the color of bone, that existed in this place before time memorial. Myths, like dreams, are easy to laugh at, but hard to ignore in the way they crawl inside you and set up camp.
As we mount up, I have you help me with my pack. I tell you it’s because of the bulk, (enough supplies to last us a week) but my hands have begun to feel numb ever since we stopped. We keep our eyes open for another staircase or ladder, but there’s nothing, just rooms and anterooms, places for music and bathing, for powder, business, pleasure, rooms for children, suites for guests, quarters for neighbors and servants, pantries and shelves of dusty cans, wine cellars stocked with mildew and grime. No sign of any outside thing, just us, in this house and I can’t help but feel intruder here, a child playing in a mausoleum.
We round a corner and I see two figures, standing at the end of the hall, turned from us. They wear heavy packs, strapped to their bodies. All through my face, I feel the familiar crackle of recognition, and I know, they are us. As we step forward, so do they, and I am afraid that if I turn back, I will see myself turning and beyond that, another and another.
You put your hand on mine, What is it? What do you see?
And the music begins.
A great sweeping orchestra, somewhere in the house, brass and woodwind, the percussion alone could deafen. I turn to see your reaction and by the look on your face, I know you cannot hear it. I open my mouth to explain, when several dust particles settle onto an antique chaise in the parlor, cast off from the ceiling by our vibrations one floor above. The beauty of this connection brings tears to my eyes.
Your grip on my arm tightens and mouth agape, I realize that I’m incapable of explaining to you, in any words, how I can feel so thoroughly throughout the house; a single drip of condensation sliding down a wall of white-yellow stone far down beneath the basements.
You are shaking me, shouting the words you hope will trigger something in my mind, Alabaster, Castaigne, Penrose, Keystone, and I try to tell you that it’s fine, that I’ve reached some kind of understanding with this place.
The research! I say, Think of what we are discovering!
But you just speak the words over and over, following instructions. I become aware of a minute fluctuation in temperature, a half degree or less.
And you are gone.
There is silence, the band has stopped playing, the walls have stopped breathing. I can feel my hands and my face and the weight of my pack. I am inside of a house. It is dark. My headlamp has gone out. I have a thirst beyond reckoning and I know that time has passed, but not how much. I try to take a step, my mind vaguely tracing a route back to the first floor, but discover that I have to sit down, suddenly exhausted.
Cross-legged on the hardwood, I try to remember what happened, where you went. I try to go back to that place, that state of mind. If only I could get back there, then I could simply feel where you were in the house, if you are still here. I am. Sitting on the fourth floor, unable to summon the energy to rise. Here between a broken statue and the library, groping in the dark, silent and agonized, feeling much like a ghost.