< The Mansion
The Mansion


Joe Vadalma

I'm a restless sort, always thinking that the place over the next hill is going to be better than the last. After a couple of months in a town or a city, something always happens to make me unhappy with where I am, and I move on.

One hot midsummer day, my wanderings took me to the rocky shores of Maine. As I strolled along a deserted beach, a large storm was brewing in the vast reaches of the ocean, what people in these parts call a Nor'easter. Ebony mountains rose along the horizon, crackling with streaks of lightning, followed by distant rumbles. The sea became wild and tumultuous. Enormous whitecaps smashed against the bleak rocks and left the sandy shoreline stained dark oak. The wind picked up, bringing with it the stench of decayed fish from the depths. A few drops fell upon my head, forerunners of the cascade to come.

The only shelter in sight was a bleak and decaying Victorian mansion that overlooked the sea. As I jogged toward it, the wet sand sucked at my sneakers. The wind howled through the rotten edifice as though the house held the tortured damned of Hell. I had a sense of dread about entering the ancient building that the booming surf and intermittent thunder did nothing to allay.

As I climbed the porch steps, I flinched at a great crash of thunder and simultaneous lightning. I hesitated before entering, recalling every horror movie I had ever seen, where old mansions groaned and moaned while chains clanked, strange faces peered from cracked windows, and the walls dripped with blood. I tried to laugh off my uneasiness. It's only an empty house, you idiot, I told myself. That stuff only happens in the movies. I creaked open the rotted door and entered the dark and narrow foyer. My cigarette lighter revealed cracked plaster walls whose spidery patterns reminded me of abstract sketches. The stench of dead things, mixed with orange peels, stale tobacco smoke and rot reached my nostrils.

The storm hit with a vengeance. The wind screeching and howling became the hideous laughter of demons. Rain battered the walls with hammer blows and dripped through the leaky roof.

I shivered from the workings of my fertile imagination as much as from the drafts that blew through the structure as I cautiously explored the building. What I assumed was the living room was filled with trash left by other transients. It could've doubled as a landfill. Junk was strewn everywhere, headless dolls, baby carriages without wheels, hundreds of bottles and cans, countless cigarette butts, heaps of broken glass, bald tires and more.

Each room on the first floor was the same. I grew melancholy as I thought about what the mansion must've been when people lived there. I wondered whether the house itself felt lonely and neglected, growing older with each passing year, alone except for the occasional stranger; its garments of paint stripped from its back by sun, wind and salt air, its windows broken, its insides empty of furniture. I wondered whether long ago it rang with the laughter of children, the gossip of servants, noisy parties, gay balls, arguments and reconciliations, sweet adolescent love and torrid adult affairs.

Seeking a decent place to rest, I crept up the broken threads of the stairway to the floor above. Halfway, I brushed away a great sticky cobweb that clung to my face and arms. As I crept along the corridor on the second floor trying doors, the portrait eyes of long dead people followed me. I found a room with an abandoned four-poster bed. Although the only bedding was a stained mattress, at this point in my life it seemed the height of luxury.

A shutter banged, startling me. I crossed to the window, closed the shutter and drew the dark, heavy drapes that the previous owner had left, darkening the room. I rummaged about in a drawer of the battered desk and found the butt of a candle in a holder, which I placed on an empty crate that I used for a night stand.

I sat on the edge of the bed and ate the candy bar half that I had squirreled away in my jacket. Because I was sweaty from the heat and humidity, I stripped to my undies, laid my head on my rolled up jeans and covered my shoulders with my denim jacket. Although the mansion was frightening, and the storm raged, I had been walking all day in the hot sun. Soon fell into a dream-filled sleep.

I dreamt of the house as it must have been before it was abandoned. Instead of a wealthy family with children and servants that I had pictured when I was awake, it was owned by an octogenarian with gray hair to the middle of his back and a snow white beard that covered his tie. He was dressed in early nineteenth century style with tight trousers, high collar and a vest under a suit coat. From my viewpoint on the bed, I saw him enter the room, cross to the other side and open a secret panel. Like an invisible voyeur, I followed him into an alchemist's laboratory similar to an engraving I had seen in a book.

The wrinkled old man used a cane to hobble over to an altar covered by a cloth with alchemical and magical symbols on it. In the center of the altar was a human skull; at each end were lighted black candles. The octogenarian removed an ancient book from a nearby shelf, laid it on the altar and flipped through its pages. Since I was invisible to him, I stared over his shoulder. The title read "The Necronomicon, translated into English by Doctor Jonathan Dee." The interior pages contained magical spells and descriptions of weird unearthly beasts. When the old man had turned to the page he wanted, he raised his arms in supplication and chanted words from the book in a language unfamiliar to me. At the end of his mumbling and murmuring, to my horror the skull opened its jaws and spoke.

"What be thy pleasure, Jonathan?" it asked in a hollow, unworldly voice.

"I desire to be young again," the ancient creaked. "I am near the end of my human coil. My body is weak and decayed."

"Do thee promise thy eternal and absolute obedience?"

"I swear by the unholy Cthulhu, I do."

"Spill blood upon my tongue to seal the bargain."

Jonathan slit one wrist with a small ornate dagger from a desk drawer. The blood dripped upon the skull's serpent tongue protruding from its jaws. To my disgust, the awful thing lapped the gore like a puppy at its dish.

A fiery light emanated from the skull's eye sockets onto the ancient Jonathan, who screamed with ear piercing shrillness as his whole body glowed and flamed.

At that moment I awoke. I don't whether it was from my nightmare, from the crash and flash of a near strike of lightning, or from the fact that something brushed my bare thigh. Thinking that a rat had climbed into bed with me, I leaped up, yelled "Get away, you awful beast." I did a panic-stricken search of the pockets of my jeans for my lighter and lit the candle stub. I held the holder high, ready to run or strike out if I spotted a rodent. I saw nothing. If there was a rat, it had scampered off and hid. I put the candle down and hugged myself. Although the room was warm, I felt chilled and donned my clothing except for my sneakers.

Because of the nightmare and the thought that I might be accosted by a rat, I tossed and turned and could not sleep. The storm was at its fiercest. The whole mansion trembled with the wind. Crashes of thunder and lightning were continuous. I worried that the ancient house would succumb to those terrible gusts.

As I sat at the edge of the bed, I brooded about my dream and what it meant. It was so clear in my head that I concluded it was a psychic vision of something that had happened in that house many years before. I recalled every detail of it. Finally, my curiosity got the better of me. Although I chastised myself for being as stupid as those women in horror movies, I picked up the candle, concentrated on recalling Jonathan's exact movements and examined the area where he had entered the alchemy lab.

After searching the gloomy room with my lone candle and occasional lightning flashes for light, I discovered a decorative carving on the woodwork that moved. When I turned it ninety degrees, there was a creaking noise and a door-sized panel slid open. Holding the candle aloft, I peered into the secret room. To my chagrin, it was the alchemist lab that I had seen in my dream. Everything was exactly as I remembered it except for its thick layer of dust and cobwebs.

I used my own candle to light a candelabra on a stand near the hidden doorway, providing more light to the windowless room. Icy chills went down my spine as I gazed at the altar. All was as it had been in my dream, including the human skull. I cautiously stepped over by the bookshelves, candle in hand and reached for the thick book with the unusual spine that I recalled from my dream. As I was about to touch it, a floorboard creaked in back of me. I thought my heart would stop and almost dropped the candle. A man's harsh voice said, "Don't touch that."

Terrified, I turned to face the intruder, expecting to see a ghost, a demon, or a raving ax murderer. A young man with short dark beard, long brown hair and a rugged handsome face stood there, dressed pretty in jeans and T-shirt, with well-muscled pecs and a flat stomach. In other words, he was quite attractive. I decided that a brazen approach was best. "Who the hell are you?"

He grinned. "You've got nerve to ask me who I am when you're the trespasser here."

"I suppose you're going to tell me that you own the place. So, who're you kidding. It's obvious that this house has been abandoned for years. You're as much a trespasser as I am."

"Think again. I really do own this place. I recently inherited it."

I smirked as thunder and lightning crashed. "And you came out in this weather to examine your property."

He leaned against the wall with one hand. "The weather was fine this afternoon when I arrived."

I blushed, recalling that I had stripped to my skivvies to nap earlier. I wondered whether he had entered that room and seen me. I peered into his face. Although I knew I had never met the guy, something about him seemed familiar. Then it came to me. There was a definite resemblance to the old man in my dream. Was this his great-grandson?

"So you're the owner. I'm sorry, but I thought the place was abandoned. I wanted someplace to wait out the storm."

He eyed me suspiciously. "Perhaps that was your original intent. But, what are you doing in this secret room. It seemed to me that you were about to steal something -- that book perhaps."

"No, please, I was simply curious. Look, my name is Amber, Amber Blake. Some people call me Amy." I gave him a flirtatious smile to show that I was harmless and not a thief. "I was strolling along the beach when the storm broke. I ran into the house and came upstairs because the downstairs' rooms are a mess."

"Since you've introduced yourself, Amy, I may as well do the same. I'm Jack Nottingham the Fifth. But you haven't explained why you were poking around this secret room when there's a perfectly good bed right over there." He pointed through to where I had slept earlier.

I told him about my dream. I finished by saying, "It was curiosity, you see. I believe that my dream was an occult vision. I'm a bit psychic and have had messages from the beyond before."

He burst out laughing. "What a crock. Do you really expect me to believe such nonsense?"

I shrugged, realizing that he had no reason to trust me.

His expression became serious. "Do you have any idea what that book you were reaching for is?"

"It's a translation of the Necronomicon. I saw the title in my dream."

"And do you know what the Necronomicon is?"

"I've read Lovecraft. If it's the book his stories refer to, it's an evil book about black magic and awful beings called the Yog-Sothoth, the Great Cthulhu and other evil creatures. That's why I was curious. Up until I saw that title in my dream, I didn't believe that such a book really existed."

"Since you've read Lovecraft, you know that men have gone mad browsing through that book."

"Now, who's being ridiculous, Jack? Lovecraft's stories are fiction."

"Are they?" His expression was dead serious. I could not tell whether he was pulling my chain or not.

"All right, I'll leave everything in this room alone. May I please stay the night though? I'm a bit broke at the moment ... and there's the storm ..." I tried to look like an object of pity and sexy at the same time.

He looked me over carefully and leered at me. "You're very pretty. I suppose I could allow you to stay -- on one condition."

I wondered whether he was about to proposition me. He was handsome, well-built and clean. I've been with worse. I batted my eyelashes. "What's that?"

"That you stay in whichever room I put you, and don't go wandering about the house."

I almost laughed at my egotism, except that at this point in our conversation my laughter would be taken as an insult. "Sure. I'm really sorry I went into this secret room."

He led me to a room down the hall, one that I assumed did not have any secret panels. On the way, I asked him, "Say, if you've been here since this afternoon, how come you didn't hear me come in?"

"I was down in the cellar ... fiddling with the plumbing."

"Does that mean the water is turned on? I could use a shower."

"If you don't mind a cold one. I need to have a new water heater installed."

"It sounds like you plan on moving in."

"I might."

My new room was identical to the one we had left, except that the bed had bedding on it. "I was going to stay in this room myself tonight, but I have too much work to do. The bathroom is down the hall. I'll give you a key so that you can lock it from the inside. That way, you don't have to worry about me coming in on you. Remember what I said though. Don't wander around. Either stay in here or go into the bathroom, nowhere else."

I saluted. "Aye, aye, sir. And thanks for letting me stay. By the way, is your name really Jack or is it short for John."

"Actually it's Jonathan. Goodnight Amy," he said and left the room.

Jonathan! I thought. Like the guy in my dream.

By this time, the storm had abated. It was still pouring, but the wind was not as fierce, and the lightning and thunder were more distant.

The bathroom was tiny with an old-fashioned tub that stood on claw legs. The shower consisted of a pipe sticking out of the faucet, hooking over and ending in an ancient round shower head. There was a lot of rust in the tub and on the pipes. Nonetheless, I was too sweaty to worry about niceties. As I undressed, however, the movie "Psycho" came to my mind. Although I had locked the door with the iron key that Jack had given me, I wondered whether there were peepholes in the wall, especially since there was no shower curtain. By the time this thought occurred to me, I was entirely in the nude. I had a sudden urge to cover my breasts with my arms and place my hand over my gentiles. "Don't be paranoid," I told myself, although I had visions of Jack dressed in women's clothes bursting into the room wielding a butcher knife.

I showered as quickly as I could considering that the water barely dripped out of the ancient plumbing. All during my shower, I had a queasy feeling of being watched. After toweling off, I decided that my bra and panties were too filthy with stale perspiration to put back on. I simply slipped into my jeans and T-shirt and carried the unmentionables back to the room Jack had assigned to me. While still in the hallway, I remembered that my socks and sneakers were in the room with the secret panel.

I was torn. I didn't want to leave them there, yet Jack had admonished me not to wander about the house. I decided that getting my sneakers was not technically wandering. Besides, the master of the house was in the basement working on the plumbing. Hence, with candle in hand, I returned to search for my footgear. After I found them, I noticed that the secret panel was still open. Curiosity overcame good sense. I had to see what really was in a book entitled "Necronomicon." I tiptoed into the secret room and reached for the book again.

Suddenly there was a horrible pounding from downstairs and a sound like a demon from Hell was screaming. At the same time an awful stench like nothing I had ever smelled in my life filled the room. I gagged and almost vomited. The Yog-Sothoth, I thought, screamed, and dropped the candle, which made the room pitch black, the blackness of the underground or of the void. Terror overcame me. I ran out into the hallway, yelling and screaming.

I was grabbed by something that encircled my body and pinned my arms against it. I screamed bloody murder and tried to fight but whatever held me was too strong for me. Finally, I realized that someone was shouting at me, "What the hell's the matter with you, Amy?"

I realized that it was Jack's strong arms around me. I laid my head on his chest and whimpered, "I thought the Yog-Sothoth was after me."

"Are you nuts? What gave you that idea?" Jack kept his arms around me, more soothingly though, especially after I started to weep. It felt good, especially when he started to stroke my back.

"I-I let my imagination get the better of me. I heard a horrible noise from downstairs and smelled something awful."

He laughed. "You silly girl. A sewer pipe burst. I guess I'm not much of a plumber. I'll have to hire a professional. I was hoping to do the work myself."

As I pressed my face into his manly chest, I asked, "Are you going to live here with your wife or girl friend?"

"No, I plan to live alone. I don't have either a wife or a girl friend."

Blushing with shame at my own thoughts, I said, "I guess I'm a nuisance to you with my crazy fears and going where I'm not supposed to."

He lifted my chin with his hand. "Somewhat. But because you're so attractive, I don't really mind." He bent down and kissed me. I put my arms around his neck and kissed him back. I felt his hand reach under my T-shirt. I did not stop him. One thing led to another, and we shared a bed that night.

I stayed with him several weeks, helping him get the old mansion into a livable shape. But soon my wanderlust overcame the other kind of lust. I sneaked away one night when he was asleep, leaving him a note that I hoped would not hurt him too badly. There were still mysteries about him and that house that I never did discover. For some reason, he boarded up the secret room, so I never did find out whether that book was the authentic Necronomicon or a hoax. For another, when we went down to the cellar a few days later, there were no busted sewer pipes, although there was a lot of damage as though something huge had been thrashing around. Also, there were strange greenish-yellow stains on the floor.

One of the things I found fascinating about Jonathan was that he knew a lot about events that occurred in the nineteenth century. It was almost as though he had lived through them.

I haven't decided yet what to do about the baby. I mean, I want to keep it -- I just don't know whether I want to tell Jonathan about it. He might insist on Being a Dad, or worse, Being a Husband and Father, and that wouldn't fit in with my plans.

I've had the strangest cravings lately -- a lot of raw foods, sushi and sashimi and oysters and the like, even steak tartare, all of which I loathed before.

And sometimes at night, I hear strange noises, like the ones I heard in Jonathan's house, and the baby kicks hard enough to bring tears to my eyes. He -- I'm pretty sure it's a he -- will be a strong bugger, just like his father.

I haven't had an ultrasound yet. The baby is so obviously developing well that I don't see the need. Still, sometimes I place my hand over the bulge and I have a feeling of -- dread, a sense that something isn't right. Damn Jonathan and his Lovecraft obsession anyway.

Hungry again -- there's a new restaurant down in Dunwich that serves raw eel and squid, Batrachian's, I think it's called. Must be an Armenian name. Think I'll check it out...


Bio: 'Papa Joe' has a longer bio than most! He says: 'I am a technical writer retired from a major computer company and am a voracious reader of all kinds of books, but especially science fiction and fantasy. I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, but have been living in a small town in upstate New York for many years. I am married with four children, ten grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. My hobbies, other than writing, are computer games and do-it-yourself projects. I have had many short stories published in internet E-zines such as The Fifth Dimension, SFF, Dark Moon Rising, Swords Edge, Aphelion, Writer's Hood, Martian Wave, and Planet Magazine.

'My published novels are the Morgaine Saga series, which includes Morgaine and Michael, Morgaine and Melody, Morgaine and Raven, Morgaine and Gretchen, and Morgaine and Asmodeus. The series is available at Renaissance E-Books. In addition, Renaissance has published The Sands of Time, an anthology of my short stories, and The Star Tower, a science-fiction novel about the first voyage to the stars. These books are available from the publisher, http://www.renebooks.com" and Amazon.com.

'Published in paperback by Delinger's Publishing Ltd. is my science-fiction novel about the process of building a humanoid robot, The Isaac Project. This book is available at the publisher's web site, http://www.thebookden.com and at Amazon.com.'

E-mail: papavad@juno.com

Website: The Fantastic World of Papa Joe

Comment on this story in the Aphelion Lettercol
Or Return to Aphelion's Index page.