Jean watched as his grandmother’s eyes went far away and she stared deep into the pit of the flames before her. With a deep breath, her tale began slow and methodical.
It was the year after the last light of the house in the forest went dark. In the height of the following autumn season when the leaves had begun to dance on the ground and strip the forest bare of its dressings, the looming building seemed to emerge like a sleeping giant. It was watching with new, darkened eyes and what it saw was the twitching want of the people below in the township. Of course, their wants had been well known but denied to them for some time. The road to the house was buried, first under that carpet of dead leaves, hiding all the drops and soft points where cars could slide off the trail. Soon after, it was visited with the first bite of frost which built into a thick layer of ice and snow. Much like this year, the winds were relentless and the snow came in thick and merciless. Just like in 1922 when the world turned to ice.
It was a bitterly cold day when Victor died. Let no one tell you he passed because it was not so fortunate or quiet as falling asleep on a dark evening, child. It was a true stop to life, cruel and sudden. I’m told he felt no pain but I knew different and our story begins there. When his heart ceased to beat, so too did the lights go dark and there were, of course, those same greedy people to clamored to see if it was true. There are those in this community who might have seen to that darkness much sooner. During his long lifetime, there were many people who tried. He was a cunning man and grew to be rather adept at outsmarting them, though that did not always save him. But the end is inevitable for us all and though there were those who sorely wished that they had been the hand to bring it, Victor’s death had come and the house in the woods, the one known only in this county as The Gemini Mansion, became a prize to be found by whoever could lay claim to it first. Now, bright child that you are, I’m sure you could figure that it should go to his family and rightfully that is who is still belongs to. The selfish and the covetous people of this county, however, have their ways and to this day many of them are still searching for a method that would free up that house for their own agendas. There was also just a touch of difficulty for the family to claim it since there were many people who claimed to be such but only two confirmed members, those being his son and his sister. As difficulties in this county grow like creeping vines once they get started, the house was left in a kind of purgatory as both the boy and his aunt had left the country in a hurry following Victor’s death. The house lay silent and dark for a year but it was far from dormant. How the house stood tall amid the forest and peered out over the edge of the treeline but that bleakness that turned the windows into black eyes got colder and darker with each passing month. They truly should have known better but money does such awful things to the mind.
As I’ve said, the owner of that house was in pain when he died. He died very suddenly and quickly I’m told but he was in pain long before the final blow had taken him away. Those walls, those decorated walls, held scars that never truly healed. And he’d come sporting so many already. But those scars that the house collected, they were many and almost all of them had come to him over the years that he lived in and built up that foundation. They were such vile wounds too. Vicious and unforgiving, they permeated every aspect of life in that house. During my years there, I wondered how he was able to bare the burden but, as I have said, he loved the family that he had created around him more than anything. More than these horrible scars that reminded him of his pain every day. Years passed and they only grew sore and more difficult to manage the agony they caused in his life. But you must understand that the house would have had such heavy wounds to tend to regardless because the burden existed even before Victor arrived to lay the first brick of the foundation. You see, child, the land was scarred by a great and horrible tragedy long before then. When I was younger than you are now, I saw the town try to erase what had been done. The dreadful things that it had done and the terrible pain that it caused in my family and in the community itself. They burnt the ground, hoping to wash it all away. Let the fire take all their sins away and char the remains of their misdeeds. Ah but the ground here is different than in your precious city. Though the people in this county might forget, the world around them never does. It holds to the memories and creates roots to cling to. It takes that burden and creates with it. All those painful things that happen, it keeps them and twists and colors the world around us with them. That, my poor darling, is why the roses are never pure in this town. Why the wild roses in the forest grow large and thick and deep red like blood.
Those who had gathered to seek out their fortunes in the house after Victor’s death were blind, some truly so and others willing them to ignore the signs. The one thing they all had in common, the same thing that seems to breed so wildly out of control here sometimes, was their insatiable greed. To this day, that house contains a wealth of riches from the long time that the master of the house called it his home. Victor had been financially responsible for many years and had never spared any expense in the creation of his home for his family. It was little compensation for the deep wounds that he carried and for all the opulence that he had surrounding him, it never could erase the more devastating memories that haunted him over the years. Such things seemed to be of little importance to those with their eyes on his remaining riches, however. For all the horrors that had been witnessed by the walls of that house, it was still something to behold even after Victor had tried to create the monster he saw it to be. There was much to find in that large house then, rumor having it that everything in the home had been abandoned after his death. There are those who believe that even now, the family treasures still sit beneath years of dust and neglect just waiting for someone to discover them. I must say, it would be a large bounty to come upon even now. I knew this man and his generosity was well beyond even the rumors of what garnered around him in life or death. His family wanted for nothing and he saw to it that they were surrounded by a constant reminder of the proof of his love for them. It was also his absolute defiant spirit that stood in spite of all that wanted desperately to tear him down. Despite everything that had come his way, he’d built a life of beauty and elegance that he cared little about unless it pleased those he loved. Such was the man who owned the house but the same could not be said for the gluttonous ones who sought to finally lay claim to his home.
That year it sat empty as there were great fights and schemes hatched to pillage the house of its many artefacts and treasures. All the while, though it was hollow and silent, it was not still within those walls. I can guarantee this as anyone who has set foot in that large doorway might. And for all the fighting that those wicked people had started among each other over what fortunes they thought they saw there, they should have been paying attention to the echoes. When they didn’t listen to the whispers that started to come from the house, the forest itself did.
The woods around it were most insistent upon keeping people out and it started almost immediately at the first snow fall after poor Victor died. The snow was heavy that winter, the thick mounds laying waste to branches all over the county but that wretched road worst of all. By the well of winter time, it was impossible to travel even up the initial start of the drive for the treacherous ice that crackled under anything that touched it and nothing would grip it. The way would remain deadly dangerous to traverse until the weather saw to thaw it. It was utterly covered in branches and even some felled trunks by the time the melt began. It seemed that the trees themselves were not content to keep out the world alone. The wild roses, that first spring, had come to choke out the rest of the garden, weaving their way around everything. By the end of the summer, the wild spirit of the forest itself had infected all of the plants and already the garden had been choked out and created the start of a briar that would need no small effort to get beyond it to the house itself. And the columns! Those beautiful wisteria choked columns tantalized anyone who had seen them had created a drooping web of vines that veiled the door in a thick curtain and beyond, it was only more dangerous to venture. Above those columns there grew a canopy of plant life that had formed above the archway and rained down upon that stone walk, shrouding the whole thing in a dim gloom. Those leaves might have been romantic any other time but by the time the autumn winds had started to shake them into piles below, they were now hiding the thick vines and thorns that had gathered on the stone. The door was nearly impossible to get to without an ax. How foolish that they had been to think that their trinkets and tools might open up anything more than disaster.
Oh I see how restless you get there, child. I see how anxious you are to know the truth about the lights that can no longer be hung here. Be still now as we must know such things first. If they had known what I tell you now, they might yet have seen another Christmas to tell their own wretched tale.
If they had paid any mind to the way that the forest had closed its hands around the trails to that house, they would have been able to see what Victor had tried to tell them for years. What his quest to build had truly been about all that time. What none of them understood until it was far too late was that darkness had already claimed the house. It had been encroaching long before his death and it was only upon the last breath that he took was it able to finally swallow it whole. All those painful wounds, you see, are tales that were waiting to be told. Victor’s tales, some, but there were others before. These old and new woeful stories could not find the way out when the lights of life still shone but as his light finally succumbed, those restless secrets would be kept silent no longer. The shadows were finally able to embrace him into one of their own and the house cradled all that pain and all the darkness within those wounded walls. With no light to cast upon them now, they grew strong and their whispers were bolder. The stranglehold of the plant life slowly clogged out the light in the windows and they only began to get denser. All those truly wretched moments gathered together, softly whispering until they could speak out loud and the echoes would trail around the empty corridors and vacant rooms. The rattle of the windows was the sound of their laughter. The creaking of the boards of the house was the sigh of them pausing in their endless tales. Now that he was with them, able to see and feel them entirely, their stories could be shared. All their terrible, ghastly tales that they had lived through. The things they had done and seen. There is so much blood upon the ground of this land and there are so many who wish to speak as they never could when they had voice to do so. Now their voices are the wind and they shared so willingly with their new beloved member. And he was their loving host, having built a palace for the gloom to gather. To pool in and allow all those stories to echo off the empty walls, surrounding all those forgotten treasures and dusty artefacts. They might have been content to stay within that house and allow those silent walls to hear their broken yarns and sad stories but they were given more than enough opportunity to share outside the confines of Victor’s beloved fortress by three very unwise men.