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Tracie Skarbo was motivated to write by her father, who was her biggest supporter. “He was always behind me, rallying me on with my writing. I would always see him with a book in hand. He gave me a great appreciation for the written word, and the power and responsibility that writers have to shape those who read their words. He also taught me to respect nature and to value the beauty within it; my reflections on my environment are just an extension of this.” Skarbo was raised on Vancouver Island and is working on her next two books.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Mansion

It was a dark and stormy night when I came upon the monstrosity before me.  To say that the mansion that held my eyes captive was huge, would not be honest or give you a true rendition of what I saw.  It was a surreal, grandiose and grotesque creature.  It rose up out of the ground and almost seemed to laugh with its own audacity. 

I could not be choosey, my body, wracked with spine snapping shivers from the bitter cold wind and horizontal rain, made the decision for me. 

I approached her with caution; it was almost as though she could smell me and the feral fear I carried for her.  Her visage completely dark, save for one window lit in the middle of her core, resembled an un-slumbering Cyclops.  I climbed her marble white steps that led to the entrance of her mouth.  There was no lamp, no bell.  Nor was there a knocker on the tall solid oak doors, only a silver chain with a large ring on the end.  I raised my hand to pull the ring and thought better of it, like a fresh wave of common sense rushing over me with no warmth.  In the end it was the thought of my jaw shattering, or biting off my own tongue because I couldn’t control the effect that the cold was having on my body, that forced my hand.  I yanked down hard on the ring, hoping I would be heard over the din of the storm.

I should not have worried.  The bell that rang out overhead vibrated with a low tone that was powerful and sounded like a moan.  If anyone had been asleep before my arrival, they surely weren't any more.  I waited on the porch in front of the doors for moments, and was about to pull the chain again when the door opened of its own accord and I was granted access.  I couldn’t help but think that the house itself had been thinking on whether to let me in or not.  I scanned the room looking for who had unbarred the door, but no one was in the entrance way with me, save the spiders and their cobwebs. 

A gust of wind pushed at me through the opened door.  I went over and shut it, happy to leave the storm and the sound of the banshee winds outside for a while.  Somewhere in the distance I could hear a banging.  It was muffled and had rhythm, almost sounding mechanical with its regular beat, but then it would seem to stumble and the beat would be broken.  I tried with all my being to search for what in my experience would have made such a sound but nothing sprang to mind.

I walked deeper into the house hoping for some dry clothes upon the way, or perhaps a fireplace with a lit fire to sit by.  I wondered why there had been no one to greet me.  Suddenly a scent came to my nose.  Food.  It smelled like spaghetti sauce or chili.  Strange I thought.  It was past the witching hour, who could be cooking at this time of night?  My stomach didn’t seem to care about the time of night, or what was being concocted; it just wanted something to sustain it.  The promise of food propelled me forward. 

On my way down the long corridors, past the windows and their blinding flashes of lightening I got glimpses of huge paintings on the walls and in rooms.  The furniture looked mostly Victorian, smelled musty, and didn’t hold my interest.  I kept going into the deeper parts of the house. 

I came across a room that was modern, or had recently gone through some renovations.  It was strange because it resembled a kitchen; there were cupboards and drawers, countertops, but no sink.  Everything was done in a pistachio green with black lacquered knobs and pulls.  The doors of the kitchen cabinets were insane with hot pink post-it notes; blue ball-point neat writing was all over the place in lists, creative word combinations, things to remember.  Everything was so neat and organized, but when I pulled open some of the cabinets to see what secrets they held, I found them empty, the drawers too.  So many of the things that were on the counters, such as office supplies and such could have been placed in these and hidden, but whomever worked here had chosen to keep them out in the open.

I continued down through the hallways, turning a corner I found that I had come across what had to be the room that had lit the front core of the house; the one room that had given the house its Cyclops façade.  I could hear music coming from that direction.  It sounded like Mozart.  I peeked my head around the doorway to see into the room without being seen and I almost choked with fright.  It was Mozart, not someone playing Mozart, but actually Mozart.  He was pale, gauzy, and filmy, like the audience that he was playing for.  I could not believe what I was seeing nor could I take my eyes off of what I was seeing; and the music!  It held me captive in another way, as though if I left I would leave a layer of mysefl behind.  I felt a cold draft on my shoulder.

“Are you lost?”

I turned to look at who had spoken and saw that one of the filmy patrons had come over to see why I was intruding.  He had a long pale face and was wearing a powdered wig.  His clothes boasted frills and sported buckles.  He even wore the knee high socks and had buckles on his shoes.  Such fashion would have placed him in high stature in the era he was from.

“I’m sorry.  I just came in from the storm.  I was looking for some warm dry clothes or perhaps a fire to sit by to warm up.”  I said.

“It has been a while since I have felt the horrors of the living.”  He said.  “You can’t interrupt the concert, or he will become a raving loon.  Continue your search down the hallway and I am sure you will find what you seek.”

I nodded my head and left the room before I disturbed anyone.  The last thing I wanted was a roomful of ghosts mad at me for ruining their concert.  Who knows what kind of punishment they would have in store.

The smell of the food was getting stronger, and strangely so was the sound of the banging I had noted earlier.  I was determined to find out the source of both.  I didn’t have long to wait.  I made a left and a right and ran into the kitchen alcove.  A man stood at the stove, his back to me, and he was stirring something in a large pot.  His black hair shone in the light.  He wore a pair of well fitting black jeans and a black cotton button up shirt.   Upon the countertops of the kitchen were all sorts of vegetables and ingredients.  The scent of onions made my eyes burn and my stomach growl.

“Well it is about time you got here.”  He said without turning around. 

“Excuse me?”

“You arrive in the dead of the night ringing the life bell, enter the house and you think we wouldn’t notice?”  He asked.

“Well no, of course not…” I stammered.

“Come here and tell me if this tastes good.”  He beckoned to me with one hand.  I could see the glint of copper on his right hand; a wrist bracelet and ring.

I went closer to him, peeking over the side of the pot to see what was inside.  For some reason I was bracing myself for the worst.  This was a haunted house after all.  Perhaps there was a head in the pot or eyes of newt or maybe even fingers and toes.  What does one serve up to ghosts?  I was equally shocked when all that was revealed was a pot of vegetables simmering.  Carrots, onions, celery, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, and tomatoes, it smelled heavenly. 

“It smells good.”  I said, my rumbling stomach agreed.  I looked into his face and was greeted with amazing blue eyes and a dark goatee.  His chiseled features smiled at me. 

“It will taste even better when I add the final ingredient.”  He said with a smile.

A chill ran up my back.  “What would that be?”

He bent over and opened one of the cupboards close to the floor.  There was a big red can that he lifted to the counter.  When he went to the drawer for the can opener I read the label.  100% “Grade A Cow’s” Blood.   He came back and looked at me then looked at the can.  “I am a recovering Human Blood Addict.” He confessed, then grinned widely and I could see his extended fangs. “You could say I am now a Vegetarian or is it Vegan?  I always get ‘em confused.  Anyhow I am proud to say that I have been clean and sober for three years now.” 

“I think you mean Vegetarian, although they might have something to say about the cow’s blood, I don’t think you can eat anything that comes from an animal, not just the meat.  Not that I am complaining, if cow’s blood keeps you sober, I am all for it!”  I said holding up my hands and smiling.  “But could I trouble you for a bowl of the veggies before you put the blood in the stew?  I am not one who favors my meat, or vegetables rare.”

He nodded to me and set the table: two plates, candles, a bottle of red wine and the sound of Mozart’s concert wafting down the hallway.  We got our names out of the way and the informal introductions; all in all it was a perfect beginning to a date with a Vampire.

“Looks like you were prepared for a houseguest.”  I mused.

“Sometimes we get lucky.”  He dished up our plates and poured the wine.  “It is so nice to have someone to eat with.”

I nodded and complimented him on his sautéing skills.  Then I said, “On a bit of a change of subject, there is something that is bothering me.”

“Oh?  What would that be?”  He asked.

“It is that thumping noise I can hear; it was really muffled and faded when I first came into the house, but now it’s getting louder and louder as I get further into the house.  What is it?” 

Vale smiled and poured me another glass of wine.  “You will need nerves of steel to find out what is the source of that sound.  When I first heard it I thought it was the heartbeat of the house itself.  Then I found out the truth, it is something you must experience.  If I told you, you would not believe it.  I will point you in the direction to follow when our dinner is over.”

True to his word, when I had a bellyful of vegetables and had tasted the great wine, he explained the route to follow that would lead to the source of the banging. 

Would this be the last mystery the house held?  One left, past the roman baths, two rights, and down the spiral staircase, then through the dank wine cellar with its earthy floors.  It was as though I had come down into the dark recesses of a living and breathing thing.  It was so warm here compared to the rest of the house.  The banging, getting closer with every step I took, began to vibrate within my chest.  Its irregular knocking sounded like dull thuds sometimes, then almost metallic the next.  I could also hear the intermittent sound of doors opening and closing as I drew nearer. 

Then I came to the final door in the hallway.  I touched the door and felt the curious vibrations coming through the wood.  I could no longer contain my curiosity.  I turned the cold knob in my hand and entered the chamber.  Vale had been right.  Had I not seen it with my own eyes I would not have believed it.  The room was a large laundry room, with high vaulted ceilings and lined with half a dozen washing machines and half a dozen dryers.  The hot humid air was tangible and smelled of laundry soap, and something else I could not identify.  What was unbelievable were the beings going about their work as I watched from the doorway.  Men wrapped from head to toe, in what looked to be gauze bandages were pulling wet white clumps out of the washing machines and throwing them into the drying machines.  They made such a racket when they threw the items in the dryers.  Like the wet white clumps were heavy and dense materials.  Then they put the dryers on and the rhythmic stumbling sound was almost deafening. 

I watched another of these bandaged men take the now dry items from another machine.  What had come out of the washing machines looking like wet globs of papier-mâché, now were hard balls of chalk.  I could now detect, under the scent of the laundry soap, the smell of drywall.  Sure enough when I walked further over to the left, there was a sledge hammer lying upon the floor amongst battered and uneven chunks of the building material. 

“You mustn’t disturb them.”  Vale said from behind me.

I looked at him with knit brows.  “What would happen if I did?”

“It would not be good for you or them.  He would see to it.”  Vale pointed to a barely discernable translucent waif in a velveteen red chair.

“He would be who?” I asked.

“The great, late Alberto Giacometti.”  Vale said and smiled. 

I watched the beings as they clumsily tacked together large quantities of the round chalk balls to an 18 foot wire structure.  It appeared to be a human form but grotesquely represented; a thin head and strange elongated limbs. 

“No! No! You are getting it all wrong, she is too plump.  Can’t you see the beauty is within her slender?  You oafs have nothing of note within your bulbous mockeries of brain sacks!  I would do it myself but alas my punishment is the lack of substantial hands with which to work.”  Alberto flew into a ghost rage; every one in five things went crashing about him, or spilling into a wall, until finally his energy was spent and he looked again about the room.  It was then that he saw Vale and I watching the performance from one side of the room.

“You!”  The artist shouted in our direction.  “Come closer; let me have a look at you.”

The closer he came to me the more I could smell the undercurrent stench of rotten pomegranate, sweet and sickly.  Somehow the smell oozed with redness that his veins no longer enjoyed.  I watched his face inspect mine from three inches away; a most unpleasant and unexpected experience.

“Superb bone structure, the cheek bones are to die for.  Brows are a bit prominent, but are still within workable range.  Lush pouting lips, I can see why you like this one Vale.”

Vale’s whole body tensed beside me and he blushed a deeper shade of grey.  “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“Ha you have no idea what I am talking about, and I am no longer a tortured artist working with these buffoons!”  He indicated the laundry workroom and his Mummy assistants with a great dramatic swoop of his hands.  “Never mind, she has more substantial things to do then be your arm candy.”  Then he looked me directly in the eye.  “You must sit for me, or stand for me as the case may be.” 

“Me?”  I asked shocked.

“Yes you, over there, and now.”  He demanded.

“You must go and do what he demands; we will all be lost to his rage if you do not.”  Vale looked genuinely fearful of the defunct artist.

I went to the spot pointed out by Alberto and stood while he yelled directions to the bundled forms of dust.  Hours went by, and the passage of time was marked with cramps and the shrill barks of his impassioned insanity.  More here, less there!   Over and over again until I felt myself literally being whittled away down, down, down into a 6 inch impression of his vision of me.  My head was reduced to the thickness of a blade, all the bone structure that had impressed him before, gone without a trace.  My body thin and stick like, I would never escape this house or these men again.  I had become just another victim of a house who was a man eater, falling victim to those past tasty morsels themselves.  I had become part of the freak show, a stick walking shadow.









4 comments:

  1. This is awesome Tracie... really good.. I may have to try my hand at writing something longer than 10 lines..

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  2. a really cool ghost and vampire story:)

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  3. a really cool ghost and vampire tale :)

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