The metallic horses gained speed once they were beyond the area of the revellers and moved from a steady trot to a gallop that quickly brought them towards the darker road where the canopy of trees shut out any of the light of the lanterns. There were fewer of them out here and in the small spaces left between where the branches reached across the road to hold each other up, they could finally see the night sky. It was different than any of them had expected. The small window they were able to see allowed them to witness that wherever they were, here the night was darker and had a blacker sheen to the heavens than any sky they had seen. The faint glow of distant lanterns off the edges of the canopy above them was the only way to differentiate between that deep black sky and the shadowy trees.
“I’m glad we’re moving faster,” Lydia said, shifting in her seat. “I can’t see any stars at all.”
“Maybe it’s just because of the trees,” Matt offered.
“No,” Stuart said. “Even when they clear, there’s nothing up there. Not any moon or anything. This is a weird sky.”
“Looks like a night sky to me,” Matt shrugged, trying to pretend that he wasn’t unnerved.
“You’ve never seen the sky outside of town?” Lydia asked, sheepishly. “Like out camping or anything where there’s no streetlamps?”
“I grew up bouncing from house to house but it was always in the city,” Matt said, quietly. “Some kids in the system got the kinds of parents that took them on trips like that but I wasn’t one of the lucky ones.”
“I’m sorry,” Lydia said, quietly. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“Nah,” Matt replied, quickly. He didn’t know why he’d brought up his childhood with people he barely knew but he already wished that he could take it back. “It’s in the past now. Besides, I don’t think worrying about that is going to help us figure out what to do when we get to the green house. I didn’t get a great look at it before we got to this road but it looks pretty fancy.”
“It did,” Lydia said, frowning. “Maybe we can just tell them that we got here by accident? Maybe they could help us figure out how to get out of here or help us figure out how to talk to Will. I guess I could try to talk to them when we get there. Dolly is usually better at this stuff. She does all the arranging and stuff for the channel and I don’t usually have to. Are you good at talking to people, Matt?”
“I can try,” he said, doubtfully. He looked to Stuart. “Maybe they’ll trust him best because of his voice? Why did his voice turn that way and ours didn’t, though?”
“Maybe because he stut-” Lydia blurted out and cut herself off in the middle. She crouched down in the seat sheepishly and looked apologetically at Stuart, her mechanical ears bending down. “Sorry.”
“Kid I used to room with in one of my foster home, one of the better ones, he used to have a real bad stutter,” Matt said, after a beat of silence. “He used to get classes for it. Sent him to voice lessons, actually. The guy used to have him sing and it used to help.”
“My father says I have to grow out of it,” Stuart said, his voice difficult to read because of the metallic notes. “My teacher used to try to convince him to take me to a pediatric speech therapist when I was little but he just pulled me out of her class. I just don’t talk most of the time.”
“As much as I’m sure that you don’t want to know, I’m glad you lied about it the night we met,” Matt admitted. “I mean it when I said that I really didn’t want to set you or Dolly up but this is the kind of shit that Blair loved to find. I don’t know what the hell he would’ve done if he saw your friend in the costume there.”
“Will really is half spider, though,” Lydia corrected. “We don’t know how that happened, though.”
“He says he used to be human,” Stuart added.
“And he apparently knows more about where we are?”
“Probably,” Lydia said, brightening up again. “He knows a lot, anyway. He found out a lot after he became a spider.”
“Does anyone have his phone number or does that work here?” Matt asked. Stuart immediately checked his pocket and Lydia looked in her purse. From the looks on their faces, Matt sighed and checked his own pocket. What he pulled out was not a phone but a metal disk with a circular glass window in the centre and small symbols etched at the opposite ends of the circle. “Guess that answers that question.”
“Maybe they will know how they work,” Stuart droned.
“Who’s they?” Matt sighed, slightly irritated at the understanding that his phone was now useless to him.
“The man standing at the door of the green house,” Lydia answered. “He looks as fancy as everyone else but he’s white.”
“Oh,” Matt said, trying to hide the fact that this information immediately made him uncomfortable.
Up to this point, Matt had been holding out hope, even if he knew that he was wrong, that this was all just a weird prank. Sure, he was slowly coming to terms with the fact that Blair was gone. He knew he heard that weird voice in his head and he trusted that one. He still didn’t know what the hell was going on but at least, before they entered this weird place, he felt like he almost had a grip on everything that had happened tonight. Sorta. Well, not really but he didn’t feel like anyone would hold that against him until later. Then this world, whatever it was, appeared out of nowhere, just like that weird ass place with the fireplace. And that damn weirdo with the spider suit that he knew was real. No, he didn’t want to believe it but he knew what he damn well saw. For possibly the first time in his life, he wished Blair were here to tell him he was too stupid for his own good. He always knew he wasn’t but right now, he really wanted his old nemesis to be right. Please, for the love of whatever was going on, couldn’t he just be wrong? Couldn’t he have just gotten the shit pranked out of him and be done with it? And up to now, that was all he wanted to believe. He wasn’t even that mad. Sure, it was weird but everyone here looked like him. It looked kinda nice, even. It seemed like the kind of surprise that would be almost okay, if not for how disappointing it would be to see it go. He figured this was a trick. He didn’t figure it would scare him to think it could turn out to be one. The idea of being the only black guy in a carriage that he couldn’t see a way out of going to see a rich landowner was one that he was definitely not okay with.
Okay with it or not, the carriage quickly closed the gap between the road and the circle drive that allowed them to come out of the canopy and back into the warm light of many hovering lanterns. The bottle green house was massive with at least four floors and all the lights within the windows of the many rooms were lit up. There were people moving within the house and some of them were dressed up like the revellers from the streets. Now that they were on the grounds, they could see the gardens around them leading up and surrounding the mansion. They could also see the person that Lydia had pointed out before. The white man was entirely bald and dressed in teal with white and silver trim. He wore no mask as he calmly came down the massive stone steps of the house to meet them as the carriage pulled up. As they finally stopped, none of them were able to bring themselves to move. The white man smiled as he approached and opened the door.
“Welcome to my home, my dear guests! I’m glad to see you’ve all made it to our party,” he said warmly. He looked at the shocked occupants of the carriage and touched his chest. “Mercy me, you must all be a touch confused. Come, my friends. We’ve much to show you all and everything will make more sense in a moment.”
Unsure of what else to do, all three of them slowly emerged from the carriage, getting used to standing on their own two feet. It felt a little strange after getting a little too used to the rhythm of the horses’ movements. It was also a bit uncomfortable standing in the presence of a man who was dressed up and they were all still wearing their street clothes. Matt was a bit surprised to find that Stuart and Lydia had moved closer to him, looking around like they were just as nervous to be here as he was.
“The visitors!” a woman gasped, nearby. They looked over to see a black woman, dressed entirely in a shimmering white gown with a white lace mask to match and white plumes crowning her hair which was drawn up to look like a bouquet of flowers.
“Darling, they’ve been here only a moment,” the white man laughed. “Let us get them settled and there will be plenty of time to faun over them soon enough.”
“Look, Abena, one of them looks like us,” the woman in white said excitedly to her friend, dressed in regal reds and gold with mask to match, who had come to see.
“A visitor who looked like one of our men,” she said, said, beaming.
“Ladies, you will see our guests very soon,” their white host said. He turned to the three before him. “Come now, my friends. If we delay, I’m afraid one of our number may be swept off his feet an admirer before long!”