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Rated: E · Short Story · Young Adult · #2266003
So much more than imperfection at the center of an onion.
My mother always knew. She always saw me for what I truly was.

All the jests and the foibles, the laughter created by a preposterous situation culminating in drunkenness. But funny thing, I never drank. Not really. Just enough in measure to keep my breath in par with all these others. Spent enough time around my father. Hell, my father and my mother both remained in such a state over various weekends and vacations, I keyed upon the habits, the exhibitions, the loss of structure and vocabulary. Always seemed that way. Like I was drunk. But I wasn't.

Drooling and falling down and slurring and close talking. Just a distraction keeping people from considering me to be other than a danger. Just a hapless fool. A hapless fool who compiled and watched and collected and organized information so that when the time came, all the cards could be played confidently and the game could be won.

My father thought me an idiot. But my mother knew. My mother always knew.

The rough edges of the map crinkled under my extended fingers. Cool air conditioning wafted past my unbuttoned collar and caressed my neck and my chest like a hug.

Candlelight flickered casting oranges and yellows licking around the shadows and throwing odd puppets around the walls as I worked. The room was overlarge with a ceiling high enough I couldn't make it out at all it was cloaked so deeply in the darkness. A raging fire warmed all the high backed chairs and the overstuffed sofa arranged yards away. The grandfather clock near the door sounded half past 2. But again, it was far enough away I couldn't see it. But I could hear it. Ticking the time away. Heart of the place; this massive drawing room was the only place left to me I found any solace at all. And in this darkness I could cast away the clown and brood.

I pulled the candelabrum closer, twisted the map around a few degrees. Considered the topography from this new perspective. Noticed the course of the river carving its way between the hills from the mountains down to the flatlands. Pushed a fingertip out to the east, a bit to the north. The lines of measurement were tight and close as if there might be cliffs, then they spread out a bit. Pull back to the south to a solid circle of area. A break in the pattern.

Reached absently for my felt tip. Gnawed the top away and slashed a red "X".

"That's it. Has to be." I muttered.

Across the room, the fire crackled and sputtered. I watched the firelight play across the furniture, took note of the shadowplay upon the floor and up the woodpaneling all around. I'd spent most of my life in this room. I liked it here. It was big and stately and grand, and it held everything I could ever want or need. There was a balcony library above the mantle extending 3/4 of the way around the room's uppermost edge. Nearest my table were massive draperies standing sentinel intermittently and at each side of hundreds of panes of heavy glass set into a network of windows set waist high and extending to the ceiling somewhere above.

Thousands of stars pinpricked the black sky beyond the southwestern edge of the property. Hundreds of elms stood silently, ranged around the edges of the rolling backyard beyond the ranging stone patio. All the umbrellas were closed out there. All the wrought iron chairs and lounges were propped against tables unused for months.

Just me in this house. Me and the house. All alone in a room I knew like the back of my hand. In the dark and full of shadows with a clock ticking like a beating heart.

I studied the mark I'd made on the page before me. Picked up the wine glass, sloshed the contents around and raised the drink to my lips. Let the wine stain the skin. Wipe the back of my hand against my mouth and cough a little as I replace the glass upon the table.

... as I've done so many times before. I grinned, my chin to my chest and raised my eyes just enough I could study the shadow along the wall nearest the staircase and the other end of the room. All intents and purposes I appeared to be studying my papers and my map.

In my house, by myself. Middle of the night in the one place I knew better almost than I could ever really know myself. And this fool thought ... thought what ... what could possibly be gained.

I scowled. Set my jaw hard and found I was really missing my mother.

"You can come out now. I know you're there."

The far end of the room remained still as a tomb. The fireplace popped and crackled and sent firelight and heat silhouetting the furniture in an undulating, warm glare. The grandfather clock ... tick ... tick ... ticked ...

At the far end of the room, the shadows were deeper than the resonant purples and blacks. They were set farther back and brought to mind the dark penetrating blackness one might expect to find in a cave on a starless night.

"Come on." I hissed between clenched teeth. "Not fooling anybody. Not possible. Not here."

Left of the end of the staircase, something stirred. The shadows unfurled and shifted and rolled.

And then the shadows stepped forward. Stepped into the light but remained a shadow. A figure emerged. A tall figure draped in blackness separated from the wall and came forward, came closer to the center of the room. And stopped and stood still and motionless ... studying me. Completely silent.

Tall. Tall and thin. Wide at the shoulder. Two bright eyes glowered, meeting my gaze with an intensity. And above those eyes, two slender extensions rose from each side of its head. Like horns, but not horns.

All I could do to keep from vaulting over the tabletop and laying into the figure like some junkyard dog. Would be a good fight. I knew it. He knew it. God I missed my mom.

Best to keep up appearances.

I recoiled, feigning panic and tripped, prat-fall to a knee. Palsy and simper, whimper and whine. Maybe the thing'll come closer.

But it didn't move. Just stood there staring. And after a time, me whimpering and cowering and peeking over the table in apparent table, It's shoulders drew up and it heaved a shadowy sigh.

"C'mon, Alfred. You know better than that. We both do. So quit fucking around and come outta there so we can talk."

My breath caught in my throat. I dropped my hands. Measured my breathing. Looked around for something with which I might break a guy's jaw. And I finally stood. Drew myself up to full height, stepped around the side of the table, through the flickers from the candles and into the starlight spread beneath the windows along the hardwoods.

Drew myself up to full height hoping to present as imposing a figure as this ... person before me.

"Are you done?" it said dully.

"With what?" I countered.

"The charade."

My god if I didn't know better, I should expect this was ... it dawned upon me, I knew this voice ... my god, I missed my mom.

I stood firm, resolute, refusing to give ground, but at the ready, just in case.

Couldn't be ... just couldn't ... impossible.

I stared right into those two, glowing, white eyes. "Yes, I suppose. You have some nerve coming in here like ..."

"You haven't left the grounds."


Those white eyes turned to study the darkness beyond the windows.

"No. Not at all. 47 rooms, and you use only 3."

"I have everything I need." I spat, fists bunched against my thighs.

"No Alfred. You need more."

"But ..."

"No. No excuses ... 7 months is far too long to be without."

"Without?" I stammered. "Without what?"

"Human contact."

Silence spread out between us as I considered. I could throw the wine bottle. Could miss on purpose. Just enough to force him to move off his spot, and when he recovered ...

Slowly, the figure seemed to shake its head. As if to say, won't work, don't even think it.

"You're one to talk." I whispered.

A second silent moment passed, though more quickly than the first.

"That is true." He admitted quietly. "But I learned. I learned that the world beyond that window ..." His eyes blazed and a cloaked arm thrust out forcibly, pointing in the direction of the grounds beyond the glass. "That world descends into madness without me assuming my place within it. Can you say the same?"

"Not my place." I said lowering my head to watch the shadows and starlight upon the floor.

"Wasn't then" he corrected "Is now."

Defeated I raised my hands in supplication. "What would you have me do?" And all of a sudden, exhaustion set about my shoulders like a weight.

"Get to work."

I took a step back, sidestepped toward the firelight. Those horribly, glowing eyes flowed me, tracking me like an animal. I stepped around the sofa, heat from the fireplace slapped the side of my head like a wet cushion, thrust one of the highbacked chairs aside until I was face to face with a rather gloomy looking, rarely used bookshelf set eye height into the wall beyond the extruded fireplace with the 6 foot mantle.

I scanned the volumes. Couldn't find the damned thing. Scanned the spines in the shelves twice more.

"Which one?" I squeaked in panic.

"Eustace Diamonds." resounded in a whisper I could swear I'd heard in my head.

My fingers tripped over a red spine included from a collection from Anthony Trollope "R-r-right. Red spine. Got it." but when I turned back to the room, all was silence and shadow and emptiness. Still as a tomb forgiving the crackles from the fireplace. He was simply no longer there. Without evidence, no longer anywhere.

I stared blankly. My eyes rose to the ceiling which was nothing but a blank, black space above.

"Figures." I muttered.

Shrugging I tilted the book and then pushed it back.

A familiar whoosh sounded through the chamber followed by a pop and a clicking as though tumblers and rods were synched before withdrawl. And the stone fireplace rotated outward leaving a 3 foot wide opening into darkness beyond.

47 rooms, and I've used only 3 since you were buried. 47 rooms. And 1 cave. And now we shall add that to the list.

Not without a little apprehension, I stepped through the opening, threw the lever across the rocker panel. Electricity crackled, bathing the ancient plaster pantry beyond in a greenish yellow. As always, spiral stair descended, down and down, endlessly to the left while straight ahead, massive double doors letting into an outdated elevator car waited silently.

Cobwebs in abundance, a single rat scurried by toward the stair.

Place perilously in need of a cleaning. Really REALLY miss my mom.

Chapter 2:
 Graceful Imbalance 2: Meet in the Middle  (E)
All the layers of the onion just keep going ... and going ... and going
#2266057 by Dekland Freeny
© Copyright 2022 Dekland Freeny (crankhammer at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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