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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/2101927
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Supernatural · #2101927
Three people take an accidental journey into another dimension.
Master Scientist Ethane Y.
VI/XIV/MMXI



***


“Scientific Travel,” I explained, “if proved possible, shall forever transform the world as we know it. It removes all the hassle of moving while traveling, providing an effortless journey to another place in a wonderfully simple way.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Pierre asked. If Whitney was the practical one, her boyfriend was always the one asking the silly questions.
“Scientific Travel,” I said again, “consists in transporting matter across a wide spectrum with instantaneous results. I have finally cracked the equation—which I have been laboring to for at least half my life—and it…” I paused, seeing the blank look on Pierre’s oval face. I took a breath. “Listen, my boy; ever seen Star-Trek? Scientific Travel works with the same concept of their transporting with a few differences—but I won’t get into that. You see?”
Pierre nodded and a smile broke across his face. “Cool!”
“We’re good then,” I pushed my thin glasses back on the bridge of my nose and scratched my thinning blonde-white hair. “Whitney, are you prepared to partake in this experiment?”
“If it ends like any of your others, with explosions, burns or poisonous fumes, then no.”
I managed a smile. “No, my dear, I do not foresee any threat of combustion. However, there is always the possibility of something going wrong and permanent damage being done.”
“I vote we go with him, Wit,” Pierre urged her. I had him completely on my side after the Star-Trek reference.
Whitney cocked her pretty head to one side, a hand twisting her long brown ponytail. She puckered her lips and then let out a little sigh. “All right.”
“Swell!” Pierre exclaimed. “Let’s go, Ethane!”
“Master Scientist,” I corrected him. I turned to the little table next to me, stained and chipped through years of use, and produced a folded map from my grey vest-pocket. Whitney and Pierre poured over either shoulder as I adjusted the light to illumine it. Pierre yelped in delight.
“Is that a treasure map? Look Wit, there’s a proper ‘X’ and everything! Are we going to look for lost gold, Master Scientist?”
I cleared my throat. “That is not an ‘X’. It is a carefully deciphered location that I derived from months of study. It happens to mark the exact place on this entire earth that no one has ever set foot upon.”
“So it is an ‘X’ on a map!” Pierre exclaimed.
I let out an exasperated sigh. “All right, call it a treasure map if you would prefer to. I suppose you could consider it something of that nature, since it may hold a treasure of new knowledge for us.”
“How are we to get there?” Whitney asked. “Are we to take an airplane? I don’t like flying and I have a paper due soon; I can’t be taking a long vacation.”
I lifted my eyes to meet her steady blue ones and blinked a few times. “Were you not listening to me? We have no need to travel there; with Scientific Travel we can transport there instantaneously.”
“Oh,” was all she said.
“Now then,” I said, moving over to the computer. “We shall be off. I just have to type the coordinates into the mainframe and it shall process our journey shortly.”
My long fingers swiftly tapped in the endless stream of numbers. The computer made an error sound and a red light flashed on the screen.
“What does that mean?” Pierre asked.
I frowned. “It says that these coordinates do not exist.” I typed them back in, slowing my swift extremities enough to see exactly which number they pressed.
Bleeeep
“It’s not working, Master Scientist,” Pierre said. He had to state the obvious!
“Now what do we do?” Whitney asked.
“This computer has dual-level interfaces,” I told them. “If it fails to recognize these coordinates I can always resort to manual insertion.”
I set the keypad down and swiftly unscrewed a side panel. It was a simple matter for me to disconnect the blue wires and reinsert them in the other processors.
“You look like the refrigerator repairman,” Pierre laughed. “Doesn’t he Wit?”
I arched one eyebrow and delivered an irritated glance at him. Then I snatched the wire from my teeth and completed the incision.
“Finished,” I said. “We shall proceed. Are you both fully prepared for this?”
“As ready as we usually are,” Whitney replied with a broad grin.
“Excellent. Could you kindly step with me in front of the little blue window? That’s right. Now then, on the count of three, we shall be off.” I threw one last glance over them as I grasped a hold on the metallic lever. Their breaths were cut short in anticipation. “One, two, three,” I counted, and flipped the switch.
A brilliant flash of blue light filled my eyes and I had to twist my face away to protect them. Other than that, no other sensation filled me. I waited anxiously for my vision to recover and then whirled about expectantly.

***


As my retinas finally adjusted to the normal level of light, I squinted hard to focus on my surroundings. It was immediately clear that we were not guests on some tropical island, unless permanent damage was done to my eyes. There was a distinct haze that filled the stratosphere. It slipped past my skin with an eerie dampness befitting a dreary mist of rain.
“Where are we?” Whitney grasped her short-sleeved shoulders. She was attired more suitably for a tropical climate; not this miserable place.
“Are we still in the basement?” Pierre asked.
“No,” I told him. “We certainly have departed my laboratory. Unfortunately, it does not seem that we have arrived at our destination either. I must have erred in my calculations.”
“Then where are we?” Whitney asked again.
I shook my head, implying that her guess would be just as educated as mine would. “We could be anywhere. Judging on the apparent climate, I would presume a temperate country, perhaps somewhere along the tropic of cancer. Maybe we are in the United Kingdom.”
“Why would you say that?” Pierre asked.
I pointed ahead into the dim mist at a looming shape which had seemed to materialize first amid the fog. It was a raised tombstone with the name ‘Patrick Manchester.’ Whitney whirled about in alarm.
“We’re in a cemetery?”
“Oh, that’s just great,” Pierre groaned. “Leave it to the Master Scientist to pick a graveyard! Of all the places to end up, we come to this place!”
All around us, I perceived many more of the raised stones, drifting off in neat rows in all directions. Scarcely visible, just beyond them, rose the sharp ends of a metal fence. In the mist, the pickets resembled something like bony fingers which stretched up desperately to the vast sky above. It was as if they were begging for something, yearning for a peace only attainable in one place that was so far away.
Pierre suggested that we return to the laboratory and correct the mistake. It was then that I had to reveal the most obvious inconvenience of Scientific Travel. We had no method of returning the way we had arrived.
“So wait, does that mean we are stuck here?” he cried.
I whipped a warning hand up quickly to stem any further outcries. “No, no, we are not marooned here. There are sure to be alternative means of transportation available here. We could easily navigate our return home even if we did not possess a simpler means. We do happen to have one; I set the Scientific Travel mechanism to an hour delay. It was just an experimental trip. Once that time is consumed, we shall be summoned back in like manner.”
That information caused the two young people to ponder for a while. Whitney was the first to fully comprehend it.
“So, we are stranded here for an hour then.”
I checked my time instrument. “Roughly, mind you. More like fifty-five minutes as of now.”
“Well, there must be shelter around here somewhere,” she declared. “Whoever these people were, they most definitely lived somewhere.”
She started forward down the dirt path. Her pace was that of a woman determined. I beckoned Pierre to accompany me and increased my pace to overtake her. Her ponytail bounced behind her as she bent her head against the chill. Her little lips were sealed tightly together.
“Pierre, be a good lad and lend your girlfriend your jacket,” I told him.
The boy grudgingly yanked his green long-sleeved sweatshirt off, disturbing his floppy brown hair. He handed it off to Whitney who swiftly slid into it. It enveloped her smaller frame like a balloon but she pulled it down far past her waist and wrapped her arms about her torso.
“Thanks. Much better now.”
“I’m not,” Pierre shivered. He glared up at me in his maroon T-shirt. “What am I supposed to do now? Freeze to death instead of her?”
“If it was between those options, I’m afraid so,” I told him. “However, you may have the warmth of my vest, provided that you return it in one piece.”
I emptied the waist-pockets of the various instruments I always bore with me and tossed it to him. Thus attired, the three of us adventurers continued into the mist.

***


We found the cemetery encircled by the cold fence. Weary tree boughs bent down over it. A small entrance-gate appeared as an exit. Pierre was in a rush to escape the suffocating atmosphere. He struggled with the entry way but it was rusted fast. It would not budge, even with my added leverage.
“Ugh! Are we going to be stuck in here?” Pierre complained.
Whitney simply placed one sneaker in a cross-seam of the obstruction and swung a blue-jean leg over. Pierre scrambled after. I followed at my own pace.
The path led on in a winding fashion down a slight hill. The grass was stunted by the many feet which had passed that way and in some places it was simply dirt. We continued onward, knowing whatever was ahead would be better than remaining in the solemn graveyard—ah, cemetery.
As we journeyed through the misty haze, a darker shadow loomed before us as a battleship would suddenly appear to a simple fisherman in the fog. It was a grand old house, its sagging roof and many corners just a suggestion of its size. Second-floor windows could be vaguely discerned, empty and dark as the eyes of a skull.
“Shall we explore within?” I asked. “The door appears to be unfastened.”
Neither Whitney nor Pierre would ever admit to being scared. Their initial silence, however, was enough to warn me of their hesitation. If either of them had asked to go back, I would have accompanied them. They did not flinch though, and as if determined to prove their courage, stepped forward. I had no other option but to follow my own audacious suggestion.
The mist grew more pronounced as we neared the entrance. One might have thought, if not properly educated in the ways of science, that the strange haze originated from the structure itself. It wound all around it, as a vine encases the trellis upon which it grows. Even the old, ornate door, fully equipped with a knocker and letter-slit, hardly seemed real. I even had doubt, a scientist, that my knuckles would meet with any surface as I stretched them out to knock. Yet contact was made; my rap sounded all throughout the gloomy structure.
“Perhaps no one lives here anymore,” Pierre suggested. It had been a while since I had knocked and no response had come.
“I don’t suppose it would be trespassing,” I said.
Whitney grasped the brass knocker and pulled the ancient door toward us. I flinched at the rusty protest of hinges and old wood. The screeching echoed all throughout the building. The mist and fog billowed out as if a ghostly breath had disturbed it. It was a moment before anyone spoke again.
“Rather a dreary place to live,” Whitney said.
I knew they expected me to lead the way. I swallowed hard in an attempt to ease the strange lump in my throat and crossed the menacing threshold. I could feel Whitney and Pierre close behind me. Several closed doors, similar to the first one, lined either side of the hall. A chill settled over us and a nervous twitch possessed my neck. I kept sensing something by my ear or neck. It was as if invisible hands tapped on our shoulders. It must have been the strange sensation of cobwebs tickling our skin.
I crept my way to the end of the misty corridor of silence. Another door rested ajar. I felt my hand rise to draw it open. I could hear the quick respiration of my companions. It inched open, my breath bated in the same anxiety.

***


The surge of suppressed energy that flooded over me almost propelled my limbs to motion. Our gaze focused on the strangest sight you could ever imagine. A low couch rested inert in the center of the square room; a mid-century French piece. There was a pattern to its upholstery but it had all faded into the same grey-green misty color which filled the air. Seated in the middle cushion was a decaying figure of a man.
“Oh Ethane, what is it?” Whitney gasped.
I lacked the capacity for audible communication. I could only shake my head. In my thirty-plus years of experience, I had never beheld anything like it. It was not skeletal remains, for although the human shape was disturbingly malformed, it was not dead! The wasted eye-sockets yet supported the retinas and pupils of a living being.
“Welcome,” it said.
I could hardly see, so overwhelmed was my cerebrum with all this impossibility sitting before me. Whitney’s terrified arms were around me and Pierre’s too, but I could not move. This strange, shadowy man could not exist. The rotting decay of his body was clearly visible in dark stains on the couch fabric. His garments had many holes, most obvious at the shoulders and knees. Bony substance protruded through but it was not flesh and blood. It was the same faded color of the mist and haze. Only the two youths beside me had color; everything else was just a shadow and idea.
“Where are we?” I managed to ask at last.
“You have come to our abode,” the thing replied. It twisted its sinewy neck and something of a sick grin cracked his pitted cheeks. “We are a family, the seven of us. You shall be fittingly entertained during your stay.”
“I—I don’t perceive a reason—why we would wish to remain,” I stammered. “Sorry, but I’m afraid we shall be leaving.”
“Oh?” The strange thing lifted a finger and the door behind us closed. “That is not polite, I’m afraid. You cannot depart until becoming fully acquainted with us. Stay.”
I swallowed hard. All these scientifically impossible facts were creeping along my skin as would an unwelcome spider. This had to be some hallucination brought on by my failed experiment.
“Who are you? Are you living or undead or what?”
A sigh escaped from the thing which visibly disturbed the swirling fog. “I have many names. We are all known by many. Mine is Lethargy.”
“How did you get here?” I demanded. “Are you a physical being? Why are you transparent?”
“I do not dwell except where invited to remain,” Lethargy replied. “This is such a wondrous place, full of comfortable things such as this. I do not depart where I am housed. It is so much simpler to remain.”
I was considerable disgusted by his unwholesome appearance. It seemed to weigh down on all our spirits. The entire idea was depressing, miserable and repulsing. I wished to leave, yet the door did not budge when I sought to open it.
“Do not depart,” the thing said. “You must get to know me better first. Won’t you sit down beside me?”
Just the thought of seating myself on the decaying couch was enough to turn my stomach. Pierre and Whitney, both of them extremely quiet now, shook their heads desperately. I spied two other doors on either side of the strange piece of furniture.
“Can we depart from there?” I asked.
Lethargy nodded its head. “Yes, go that way. You shall encounter the other members of my family.”
That thought was not very appealing, but I knew anything would be better than remaining here. I stepped toward the left door. Whitney whimpered.
“Don’t leave us,” she begged.
“You two investigate the other exit,” I suggested. “Perhaps one of them shall lead us back to the entrance.”

***

When I departed from the stagnant room of Lethargy, I found myself in the house’s kitchen. It was a broad room with various counters. At first glance, I thought myself alone and it gave me relief. The haze had not grown less but the sight of an old-fashioned stove and kettle made me recall the outside world. There had to be some scientific explanation for this mysterious house. Had we traveled back in the world’s timeline while its inhabitants had not? Were they all aged prematurely? Did that account for their apparent lack of substance?
I was interrupted from my deductions by the sound of chortled laughter. I scanned the room for any occupants. Then I glimpsed the sight of a head, scarcely visible behind the raised counters. I approached cautiously, peering around the wooden pieces as I adjusted my glasses. The sight which greeted me was far from pleasant. An enormous man lay against the side of the furniture, his neck twisted up at a grotesque angle. Layers and folds of fleshy substance spilled over all about him. I could not distinguish any femur or scapula structure. Perhaps those were feet and hands that protruded beneath him.
“Who are you?” I inquired.
The figure was as shadowy and transparent as the last one; however, there seemed to be no intelligence left. It was he that had giggled, for he did so again, but no words came. His bulging eyes wandered over me without seeing anything, blinking with difficulty. I covered my mouth to contain the audible sigh that escaped my inner being.
“You must be Voracious,” I said.
The thing bobbed its head, chortling again with a drunkenness befitting a complete fool. A gaping hole revealed itself within his mouth, leading down into an emptiness which had consumed his very life. He was only a shell; there was nothing left of him. He waved his stubby arms then as a fit of discontent seized him. I did not need to see more. I continued on.

***

At this junction in my narrative, I shall now inscribe the account that Pierre gave me after our ordeal was past.

He departed the door on the right with his girlfriend. They entered the strange corridor and hurried along it. Both of them had the same idea; find a way out as quickly as possible. I don’t think either of them even wanted to pause long enough to ponder our situation. It was too strange.
Pierre found another door on their right. Hoping that it would lead them in the direction of the entrance hall, he barged through. They found themselves in some semblance of haunted parlor. It was full of grey furniture and dust and mist. There was a grand fireplace on one wall and an ornate round mirror hanging on another. A lowered coffee-table was situated between three chairs and another couch. There was a flower vase upon it with many roses, but they were black and decaying. The odor of stagnant water filled the whole room. (Pierre said he had felt like throwing-up.)
He grabbed Whitney’s hand and ran forward with a bare arm pressed against his nose. He couldn’t stifle the smell though; it crept through everything. Then a hideous figure rose up off the couch before them. Pierre did not want to go near it. The human shape and grey color told him it was another one of those creepy things. It had an unearthly color to the skin, a yellowish tint which seemed to produce an even more overpowering smell. Globs of darker nature disfigured it as a sort of leprosy which had consumed its life. As it rose to full height and stood before them, Pierre saw with considerable horror that it was stone-blind. Those eyes had been consumed by the disease.
Whitney sobbed in complete despair. Pierre didn’t know what to do. The strange figure was in their way if they were to escape out the further door. He threw a glance behind and saw, as before, that the entrance door had sealed itself shut silently. They were trapped.
“Come closer,” the thing invited.
Pierre recognized the higher voice of a woman. Was that hideous thing a girl? He saw now that it was attired in a close-fitting dress. Its arms were bare, or what was left of them, and a decorative necklace rested on the neck. It was as dark and disgusting as the rotting roses on the table. Flowing hair came down in curls from the top of the thing’s head. Were they once golden? They were bleached white now from the sickness, frayed and snagged beyond recognition. The cheeks were sagging, on the verge of breaking off, and the lips were entirely eaten away. It was a vile sight.
“Come closer,” it said again. “Please come closer. I want to see you better.”
Pierre wasn’t sure how it had been aware of their presence, being blind in such a way. “Who are you?”
“I am Lurid. Won’t you let me know you? Come here where I can touch you. You will not regret it; I am a desirable companion in life.”
She extended a diseased limb toward them while resting the other on her hip—or where it used to be. There was nothing there under her fraying garment; only a skeletal blackness. It wasn’t hard to decline her request. Nothing on this earth could entice Pierre or Whitney to take her revolting hand. One touch would be enough to infect them with her filth.
“You are cruel,” she whimpered. “I only wish to feel again. It has been so long.” She withdrew her hand and rested it upon her sunken chest. “I wish to know you; please let me. I am so cold, so alone inside. I need warmth.”
Pierre caught a glimpse of a frozen heart within her, blackened with the leprosy, emitting a similarly foul stench. He coughed in suffocation.
“Wit, let’s get out of here, please!”
“We can get around her!” Whitney told him.
She pulled his hand around the set of chairs and they made their way past the sightless fiend. She turned toward them as they left, extending her hands. Neither Pierre nor Whitney gave her a second glance.

***


Pierre and Whitney entered a room filled with fine furniture. They recognized various articles scattered throughout, on shelves and tables; a laptop computer, wide-screen television, music CDs and thousands more items of daily use.
“Where in the world are we?” Pierre demanded. “I thought we were back-in-time!”
Whitney just shook her head, marveling at all the nice things which the room was bursting with. It was not limited to modern conveniences. Older items scattered among the others; books, records, telephones, and videos as well as Victorian items; sterling silverware on the table, ruffled curtains by the windows, a lady’s fan, vessels of the finest crystal and even a riding whip. Besides those, there were countless other objects from every age of the earth—even a crude spear.
Pierre whistled lowly, shaking his head. “Someone needs a garage sale. This is a mess.”
Whitney just nodded numbly, staring at all the shadowy items with considerable marvel. She had never seen a greater multitude of fine things.
“Touch not!” a voice hissed.
They whirled about as the sinister words filled the nice room. A slithering figure weaved its way towards them. It was another of the shadows, a woman’s shapely design. She was attired in a flowing gown with many jewels sewn into its fashionable collar. Her milk-white hands were gracefully visible beneath the flowing sleeves. Pierre had to blink twice. This woman was not as obviously hideous than the last one they had encountered. She was almost pleasing to the eye.
However, as she drew nearer, he saw the lovely attire was spoiled by the appearance of the young woman’s face. Beneath her silky black locks, her eyes were burning with a passionate fire. They emitted spite; her whole face betrayed bitterness. Above the attractive bodice of her dress, her neck was being eaten away by some flesh-consuming worms, originating from within. Her heart was breeding the vile creatures.
“How dare you come so near to my things!” she said, snapping her sharpened teeth. “You have no right to take them from me! Be gone!”
“We didn’t touch anything!” Pierre shrank back from her aggressive demeanor.
The shadow woman lifted her head, a keen intake of breath filling her polluted lungs. Her blazing eyes fell upon Whitney.
“You!” Her voice resembled a snake’s. “You have laid eyes on these! They have awoken desire within you! You shall seize my treasure!”
“I don’t want it!” Whitney retreated to her boyfriend’s side.
“Ah, but you do,” the thing's voice suddenly changed. “You yearn for these as deeply as you yearn for food and water to sustain you.” Her fluid arm lifted, offering them to behold everything within the room. “They are so pleasing to your eyes; they beckon unceasingly for you to possess.”
Whitney gasped. “Who are you?”
The woman folded her graceful hands and laid them against her cheek. “My name is Envy.” Her voice almost retained some twisted form of sweetness. “I am beautiful, am I not? You will love me once you get to know me. Please, let me teach you.”
Pierre’s forehead and nose wrinkled in disgust. He glimpsed a faint loveliness in this shadow, but it was only a suggestion. Her beauty was forever ruined. She had allowed her disease to consume her very being until there was nothing inside. Now she tainted the room by her presence.
“You’re ugly!” he blurted out. “You’re not lovely at all! My girlfriend is twice as pretty!”
A violent flash of passion sparked in Envy’s eyes. “How would you know?”
“What did you do to yourself?” Whitney asked, shaking her head. “You were beautiful once, I can tell, but now you’re heinous!”
Envy gnashed her teeth together with another hiss. The bitter hate in her gaze was terrible. She seized hold of a crystal vase and hurled it at Whitney.
“You lie, you lie, you lie!” she shrieked. “You will die for your derision!”
Whitney screamed as the sharp vessel sailed at her head. Her arms flew up to protect herself, ducking desperately. The crystal shattered in a thousand pieces against the wall behind her. Pierre was livid.
“You wretch!” he cried. “You could’ve hurt her!”
He leapt to Whitney’s side and wrapped his protective arms around her trembling shoulders. The fiend just cackled in heinous pleasure.
“She deserves it!” she spat.
They were interrupted by a crashing entrance of another ghoul. It staggered into the room with heavy feet, its hands dangling in front. It was dressed like a man in trousers and a long overcoat. There was no decay visible on any limb. He was almost a welcome sight after all the vile women Pierre and Whitney had encountered. But then he lifted his head and bellowed. A reddish flush could be discerned upon his ghostly skin and his eyes burned like Envy’s. He was consumed with some feverish rage. His fists lifted and they were stone.
“Halt, fool!” Envy shrieked.
The enraged man did not heed her. His heavy arm launched into a neatly stacked pile of glassware. They exploded in pieces under the force of his hand. Envy whirled about quickly. Her little hands flew up in panic.
“Stop, cease!” she cried again. “You idiot; madman!”
The blundering being lifted his head and came at her. Even Whitney shrank inside as she witnessed the powerful man bearing down on the delicate woman. She grasped Pierre tighter. Envy held her place, even as an ineligible sound erupted from the larger form’s throat. Then they collided—or embraced. Pierre was unsure what it was. Envy seemed to welcome him into her outstretched arms but the man’s fists grazed her face just the same. Then they shared a revolting kiss!
“Oh, that’s just awful!” Pierre cried. “Gross!”
Whitney hid her face in his shoulder as Envy whipped her vile head towards them. That burning in her eyes matched the hue of the man.
“You do not know us!” she hissed again. “We are a lovely couple, Ire and I! How dare you criticize! He shall hate you for it!”
To Pierre’s dismay, the ghostly Ire lifted from his companion’s sickly arms and beheld him for the first time. The boy could see the feverish burn which was consuming him. His lips were eaten away, his entire mouth defiled by the contact with his diseased wife. A bellow of rage escaped him and it was as if darkness spewed out of his horrible pit. He came at them.
“Leave us alone!” Pierre cried.
He retreated from the crazed man, pushing his girlfriend around the furniture and along the wall. Whitney could not say a word. She was practically melting in his arms, overcome by all the horror.

***


When I left the kitchen, I found a stairway which led up into a hazy darkness. I was unsure if the years of exposure to such moisture had weakened the molecular structure of the wood or not. It seemed to be decaying yet held firm under my step.
The adjoining corridor led to a spacious hall. I marveled at the height and breadth. Tapestries adorned all the wall-space, reminding me of a medieval court befitting a king or duke. Rich carpeting covered the floors. As I walked further, I admired the valuable artifacts: crowns, swords, goblets, daggers, armor, helmets, all inlaid with jewels, gold and silver.
My curious tour was interrupted by a frightful howl of a man in agony. I whirled about. The space was so cluttered by the treasure that a figure could be concealed anywhere. I heard the anguished sigh again, though, and steered my feet toward an old-fashioned bed with rich curtains and coverlets. If my pupils were able to distinguish a color besides grey/green in this place, I am certain this room would have been the loveliest. Dark reds, oranges, maroons, purples, blues, browns, even greens would have sparkled abundantly. However, all was dim.
I yanked the curtain over on the Scrooge-like bed, cringing inside at what I expected to see. I was surprised, then, to find the lush, comfortable cushions unoccupied. I was a bit puzzled. Then the painful moan came again, from beyond the bed. I navigated around the massive, ornately carved bedposts and peered to the other side. There was the shadow.
“I’m starving,” it whimpered.
I did not offer a response—not that I did not care. I was just not convinced it was alive, if you take my meaning, and so unsure what hunger meant to it. He did seem to be suffering from a lack of sustenance. His weathered-grey appearance was completely wasted. All the bones and tendons and wrinkles befitting a corpse were clearly defined in his taunt face. His eyes were wide and searching, the lids sinking behind them in their dehydration.
“I’m so—hungry.” The thing stretched its skeletal arms out towards me, every bony joint visible under the shrunken skin. “Give me—something—please.”
“What are you?”
“My name—is Avarice,” he gasped. “I am so parched with thirst—please fill me! I am so alone!”
I saw his arms were housed in velvety sleeves and a silken waistcoat shrouded his shriveled torso. Even his stocking were a fine, delicate weave and his shoes were of highest quality leather. He appeared to be very old; what remained of his hair clinging to the lowest part of his scalp. He must have taken very good care of his body to make it last this long. (Well, if he was not alive, he would not have physical form. I meant to say that his appearance was rather normal, lacking the decay of the others.)
A gasping sigh left his cracking lips—as one who longs unceasingly for something he cannot possess. I was filled with pity.
“What is the matter? You’re not actually starving, are you?”
Avarice turned his groping eyes on me. I was startled to see the lack of substance to them. There was emptiness behind them, as if his very heart was no longer within. His mouth widened for speech and I saw his tongue was in the early stages of paralysis. He could no longer eat—that is, if he had needed sustenance of that sort.
“Nothing satisfies,” he wheezed. “There is—no one—who can fill me. I—am starving!”
“So where do you keep all your money?”
“Money—no,” the man groaned. “Money—is nothing. You cannot sleep upon gold—it is uncomfortable. You cannot eat it.”
“That is scientifically untrue,” I remarked. “Gold leaf is edible. It is very, very, very thin sheets of the mineral designed to decorate plates—and increase the price. Many people delight in eating gold.”
The strange man shook his head vigorously. “Nothing—is ever—enough!”
He lunged toward me and his clutching hands grabbed a vice-like hold upon my calf. A yelp escaped me without my permission. I sought to retreat, shaking the creepy clutch off, but there he remained fast.
“No—no, you cannot leave,” he shrilled. “You must stay with me; I need you! Let me make my home in your heart; I will make it my own!”
“I don’t give you the authority to claim that!” I cried. “Release me! You have no right!”
The gripping fingers eased their pressure and the ghastly creature slunk backwards. A fell light remained in his shallow eyes, however.
“I shall consume you,” he whispered. “I must—I am ravenous. Fill me, please!”
I withdrew several paces, unwilling to allow him to have a second opportunity to seize me. I was thoroughly repulsed; my initial pity had turned to disgust. He had made himself like this. It was through no fault except his own that he had disintegrated into this corrupted fiend. I located another door and departed his abode.

***


Another winding stairway presented itself. The dense fog sifted through the cracks in the window panes and weather-beaten walls. Before long, I reached a grand tower-room. Many windows looked out in all directions, but only the haze could be seen.
The room was arranged in a bedroom style. A massive dresser with a large mirror dominated the space. I stepped forward, glancing at my weak reflection in the dirty glass. I was startled by how real I looked. My flesh still had color, as did my green pants and blue checkered collared shirt. I pushed my glasses back up in front of my eyes but the picture did not become clearer. The mirror was tarnished.
“You may approach,” an authoritative voice announced.
I glanced around the quaint quarters. I had not seen anyone within. I discovered a curtained door that revealed a high porch, suspended treacherously above the rooftops below. A tall woman stood there at the railing, her face turned away. She was dressed in a flattering style of gown, tight against her waist and cascading gently down over the rest of her figure like the waves of the ocean. Her hair was long and well-kept, a thing of beauty itself amid the rest of this gloomy house.
“Must I ask you again?” her voice questioned me.
I did not wish to anger her. However, I had difficulty overcoming my fear of the structurally unsound platform. I felt my extra weight would topple us both over into nothingness. I tried to push those thoughts away. This place was not exactly scientifically possible; maybe something like this would defy reason as well. I stepped out beside her.
“Very good,” she said.
Then she turned around.
I was almost compelled to do a back-flip off this treacherous porch. Her graceful figure was only a deception; cancerous growths protruded from her pale skin all along her bare arms and neck. It was a sickening pallor of greenish tint. Her head was enlarged at the temples by some foul tumor, increasing the size of her forehead. Her hairline was so far back on her head that she appeared balding. Her chin was lifted in a perpetual manner, staring down her long nose at me with eyes that were black as coal.
“You are late in reaching me,” she accused.
I couldn't utter anything except the same question which I had posed all the others.
“I am Prima,” she answered me. “I am the mother of everything! You have met many of my children below. Are they not wonderful?”
My mouth was agape; I could tell just by the way she glared at me.
“You will not act thus before my presence!” she cried. “Shut your mouth and kneel before me! I am a queen!”
She held a scepter in her gnarled hand and she struck me with it. I quickly went down, not wishing her to force me into further submission by those corrupted hands. Whatever disease it was that infected her, I did not want to become exposed to.
“Ethane!”
I heard a horrified gasp and threw a glance back into the room. Whitney had her hands over her mouth. Pierre was beside her. Apparently both paths we had traced through this miserable structure led here.
“Who is she?” Pierre demanded.
“Prima is my name!” the pompous woman cried. “All of you, bring them before me! Let me behold them better.”
To my dismay, the doorway of the stairs revealed all the other vile figures which we had already encountered. They crowded behind the two young people and forced them forward. Whitney screamed a few times, shrinking at the thought of their touch, and ran forward to collapse beside me. Pierre threw a few slaps their way in resistance, but joined his girlfriend beside me. I was unsure how we were to proceed further. We had no way to escape.
Then my frequently absent mind returned and I recalled the method of our arrival. I twisted my wrist over to peer at my time-piece. Five minutes remained of that hour; we would only be stranded here that much longer. Could we last that long?
Prima noticed my attention being turned away from her and the scepter flashed out again. She struck me on the chin with it.
“How dare you withdraw your eyes from my presence.” she cried angrily. “I am your queen! You must devote all your attention to me!”
“What do you want from us?” I asked.
Prima lowered her dropping lids even further, glaring down at me with little slits of eyes. “I want you to become like us. You must join my family. I want you to welcome us into your lives.”
“That is not happening,” I said. “You are all twisted, malformed and corrupted beyond human recognition.”
Prima did not offer as sharp a retort as I expected. Instead, her voice softened. “You do not know us. Do you think we are all as hideous as we seem? Once you get to know us, you will not consider us so horrible.”
“You mean you’d make us resemble you!” Pierre cried. “You would corrupt us!”
Now Prima’s eyes flashed. “As you deserve to be! You are all disgusting; vile for my eyes to behold! I am a goddess and these lovely people around us are my children. You must be made like us!”
“You’re no goddess,” Whitney murmured. “You’re a ghastly, gross, ghoul!”
“Silence!” the freak shrieked. “Children! Seize them: they shall be introduced to our way of life!”
To my dismay, the ghostly Lethargy, Ire, Envy and Lurid all drew closer to us. I backed up against the rotting porch railing, gathering Pierre and Whitney behind me. I wasn’t going to let those things infect the young people. Prima laughed as her wretched offspring crowded into the small space, their putrid limbs outstretched to grasp a hold upon us.
“You will know what it means to be us!” she cackled. “You will grow to worship us!”
I bent my elbows, leveling my forearms to use in defense. My nostrils filled with the foul stench of their existence as they encroached upon the faint distance left between us. Their frightful eyes and black-spewing mouths filled my mind with horror. I could not escape them. None of us would. The five minutes left would not elapse soon enough to save us. We would return home corrupted as they were. I heard Whitney’s whimpering sobbing behind me and even Pierre was silent. Prima’s evil laugh vibrated in our very ears, blotting out all other sound.

***


Just as the clammy, outstretched, ghastly hands were about to close around my throat, I heard a calm voice break through the awful clamor. It was not raised in a shout; its quietness penetrated Prima’s laugh without needing extra volume. It asked for peace.
Prima lowered her scepter and whipped her tilted head around to behold the speaker. A child stood in the doorway of the porch, behind the vile creatures. It was dressed all in white. A warm glow exuded from its graceful form, heightened in its face and hands. Soft golden curls dangled above the shoulders. They moved in some unseen breeze about the smooth cheeks and chin. The mouth was small and parted in a smile which was intoxicating. Above all, the warmth of flesh and color was finally visible to my eyes, not shrouded in grey as the other things.
“You have not been invited, Prima,” the child said. “You know you may not seize them.”
“They shall welcome us!” said the queen of the undead. “You have no cause to intervene!”
The child smiled again. I was unsure whether the gender was male or female, for the build was of a boy but the features were as delicate as those of a girl; round, rosy complexion and soft eyes. Yet the wisdom and authority visible in its eyes suggested youth was only in its appearance.
“Their wills are against you,” it said. “Until given consent, you cannot intrude upon them. Look at them.”
It lifted its little hand and invited Prima to turn her haughty gaze upon the three travelers. I was unsure what my own face looked like. Judging from the terrified faces of my two younger companions, I’m fairly certain that we all displayed our emotions clearly. Prima hissed something. The child only shook its golden head.
“They do not wish you to remain. Depart from here; leave them in peace.”
Prima’s eyes filled with hate now. She burned us with their intense gaze. “Take us in!” she cried. “You must invite us in, please!”
Her outstretched, knobby hands were enough of a repulsing idea to me. I shook my head as did Whitney and Pierre. A shriek of dismayed pain emitted from the strange ghost and she withered into the shadows. Her children disappeared with her. The relief that filled me was overwhelming. It seemed as if a beam of sunshine had dissipated the darkness which had enveloped the miserable place.
“Oh thank you!” Whitney gasped to our little helper.
The child smiled again. “You were in no danger if you held strong in your resolution. They cannot force their way into your heart; you invite them.”
“What are they?” I asked.
“They bear the names of their existence. Here they are clearly defined as what they are; in your world they are more easily disguised. What they bring to those who reside with them is always the same living death which you have so graphically witnessed. Be on guard against their attacks and you shall remain clean of their filth.”
The youth extended its luminous hand towards me, inviting me to take hold. The extreme opposite of reactions that filled me was marvelous--I could not wait to take its hand. As soon as its grasp encased my rough, experiment-stained fingers, a flood of joy came over me.
“Who are you?”
The child’s mouth spread in another warm expression. “I have a family of my own. You know many of our names, although few understand who we are. I am Docility. Others you may know are Humility, Fortitude, Generosity, Prudence, Modesty and Charity. We also await your invitation to remain with you.”
I hardly knew what to say. Behind me, Whitney and Pierre came forward. The child released my hand to grasp their outstretched ones.
“Come,” the child said softly.
Docility led us back into the inner room. The frightful ghouls had disappeared. The quaint room filled with sunlight now; the mist had dissipated. The vibrant beams brought color with them, illuminating every piece of furniture and drapery with life. I could not feel any dread or horror any longer; the place was wondrously beautiful. It shimmered with the luxury of the fine materials where before it had been faded and sad.
“Your time here grows to an end,” the child told us.
“Oh, don’t make us leave!” Whitney pleaded. “Let us stay with you.”
“I will not depart,” Docility told her. “I am always beside you, awaiting your invitation.”
“I’ve never seen you anywhere,” Pierre said.
Docility smiled. He was always smiling. The peaceful expression exuded the face with a glow of loveliness. Then he began to fade. The bright figure withdrew from our eyesight, becoming transparent until vanishing. Then I realized he was not the one disappearing. Everything else was fading away in the same manner. We were returning home.

***


When the world materialized to our vision, we were once again within my shabby basement. The computer was there on our left, the old table on our right. I glanced down at my hands, turning them over every which way to make sure they had not become defiled by any contagious disease. They were not. All of us looked the same as when we had first departed. I should think we might have had suspicion of it really taking place anywhere except our minds if it were not the fact our clothing had changed. Whitney was wearing Pierre’s sweatshirt and Pierre was wearing my vest.
Whitney was the first to move. She peeled off the bulky sweatshirt and picked up her own jacket that rested on the back of a chair. Pierre accepted it back and handed off my vest back to me. My fingers closed around it but my mind did not respond. It was still miles away.
At last Pierre broke the silence.
“Well, Wit and I should be getting back home,” he said.
I checked my watch. It was three p.m. We had departed exactly one hour earlier. I scratched my thinning scalp and pushed my glasses back on my nose. The complex puzzle was rather bewildering. The two youths pushed their way around the chairs towards the basement stairs. Before leaving, however, both turned about.
“Ethane, what was it?” Whitney asked. “Where was that place? Was it real?”
I shrugged. “I do not know how to explain it. It certainly seemed vivid enough while we were there. As much as it resembled our earth, I do not know if it physically exists anyplace where it would be still visible. We must have been transported to another dimension of existence which is usually concealed from our material eyes.”
She nodded her little head thoughtfully. Then they departed up the creaky old stairs.

***


A week later we met back in my ancient kitchen over a pot of scientifically brewed coffee. Pierre told me that they had not mentioned it to anyone as of yet. They did not know what to think of it or how to even try to explain what it was. I had no suggestions for them either. The only lasting influence I felt was that same lingering peacefulness which Docility had left me with. I did not want to talk about it; I scarcely wished to do anything but think. I did not want to lose that lasting touch.
Eventually we decided that I should write about it. I had a well-respected opinion in their circles. If anyone was to believe the adventure they had taken, it would have to come from me. So I agreed to write it, and so here we are.


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