The clock sounded in the sitting room, making Jean jump in his chair. He looked to his grandmother but she did not stir. She smiled though it was brief for she was not finished and he knew that there was worse to come. Jean leaned on the wing of the chair that he was curled in and looked over her face. He only hoped that she was not getting tired now.
“He was a bad man, wasn’t he Grandmother?” he said. “Did he kill Charlie?”
“He could indeed be a bad man and he had shown that to many people around town. Did he kill Charlie though? The short answer is no, that would not do for the house, darling,” she sighed. She rubbed her shoulders unconsciously as she thought for a moment before continuing. “I’m sure that he would have if he had been given the chance. Though I have never heard for certain, I can guess that it may have crossed his mind. I’m sure it did considering how badly he wanted what he thought he would find in that house. Perhaps Charlie might have thought to do the same to him. Though Charlie was less taken by the allure of the abandoned riches of the house, I doubt he was oblivious to them once he started seeing what was around them. There is quite a bit to hoard up there in that house and it only appears as though it is waiting to be taken by the first set of greedy hands to find it.”
“They won’t let anyone, though will they Grandmother? The house, it won’t let anyone.”
“Exactly, child,” she nodded with a smile. “Oh don’t think that the house cares one small bit for these material things. There are the odd objects that they might find themselves drawn to for one reason or another but they are more interested in adding to their ghastly chorus. That, my darling, is what Jacob Lord did not know and why he found himself so very eager to get lost in the west wing of that house called The Gemini Mansion.”
The house was once a more modest building and upon its initial completion, it was actually quite beautiful. At that time, Victor had been convinced ever so briefly to open his doors to visitors. Not often, mind you. He was the solitary sort and he did so prefer the company of those he kept close which were few in number. Still, upon finding love in his life, he found that he was concerned about the happiness of his beloved and went out of his way to create a world that she could find joy in. Her requests were simple but for any special occasion that he could celebrate for her, he made a point to spare no expense to create something grand for her. It is then that people from all walks would be allowed to come to that home and see the beauty that she inspired. When you are older, you may well still hear tales of those days when the doors were open and the splendor of their great gatherings extended to everyone. That is the house that everyone remembers and the stories they might tell are true but they are true of their time. That was when Victor was a happy man and his joy in his life and his love and his coming family were evident all around him. The garden he had created was perfect and beautiful. The house reflected that happiness because there was not a sad tale that might make its way through the wood. They would eventually and their loss still resides there today but at that time when they tell of those sunnier days, it was something so beautiful it was like a dream.
Jacob Lord had been just a youth when he had last seen the interior of that house. Upon entering it on that Christmas Eve, it was no longer a dream house of happiness and joy and family. It was a twisted nightmare that had been created by a man desperate to create some escape from the tragedy that lived in the walls. Because of this, even by the time that I had left to begin my own adult life, I had seen the faded glory that was to come. The paper of the walls, once gilded and shimmering amid the hanging crystals of the chandeliers was peeling and curled at the edges where each side should meet smoothly. I can almost picture the wretched images that must have greeted this man as he made his way up those sagging steps, his hand on that weathered bannister. The barren walls beneath that paper that had been left to fall in tattered pieces. The creaking of the steps as he made his way in that oppressive silent house. The way that the shadows were waiting, I can just picture how it must have been to make his way to the landing and enter into the hallway of that strange and tragic west wing.
He had stumbled his way through that dark hall and it was, I imagine, no small feat. After a year, those boards would still be straight but the carpets would likely have been askew and curled at the edges. Can you picture it, child? That hall is larger than any in this house and it had doors lining both sides to rooms that were empty. As with the atrium, the shifting had likely caused the gaps in the shutters and the frames and the west wing had been notoriously more abused by the winds than the east side had ever been. Surely the windows in some of those rooms had been cracked and some even broken fully. Can you hear it? Those moaning winds sailing high above the trees and rushing into the openings in those rooms, battering against those closed doors. Far from the lullaby that sang George Canter to permanent sleep, the voices of these winds would have been calling to be heard. Demanding something from their hapless intruder. Jacob had no intention on listening, however. Fumbling his way through the dark hall, trying each of the doors, he tried in vain to open each and failed miserably. The only door that would open was at the end of the hall and it opened to a sitting room not unlike this one but, at the same time, entirely unlike any room he’d ever seen.
The curtains had been stripped off all the windows in the house shortly after Victor’s funeral in all but the sitting room of the west wing. Even in death, there was an unspoken understanding that no one was to venture there and those who did sorely regretted it. Think of the sights that must have greeted that intruder. Upon opening the door, Jacob would have been blasted by that incessant cold air from the broken windows but he would also have seen the fluttering of those heavy, moth eaten curtains beckoning him forward as the atrium had surely done to his co-conspirator. By now night was well on its way and the painted sky that had seduced George to his death had sunken from vibrant reds and blues to deeper purples and indigo and inky black above that. From that room, you could see the whole of the town below from above the treeline. Imagine it, the lights coming on from below like stars. They would have still had their lights out then, adorning every house. Shining like gold from afar and taunting the now freezing man who had left all that behind for a dream of beautiful things that were not his. Alas, that was the only gold he saw in that room. There were still shelves lining the walls but there were no books left upon them, nor anything else. The rugs, once plush and beautiful tapestries that decorated the floors with brilliant jewel tones, were long rolled up to collect dust and become dull and frayed. They stood in the corner even before he had died. In the dim light, he could see the mess that was left in the wake of Victor’s death. The mess that Victor had made himself but very soon, this terrible man would understand why this once beautiful wing of this house, a place that had been filled with the laughter of his children and the beauty that he’d experienced in all his happiness in love, had been reduced to a sprawling monster that was less dormant than anyone could have guessed. What Jacob Lord would see that evening when night truly began to fall was what Victor had kept secret all that time and one by one, the only light he would ever see again was the distant vision of those joyful Christmas lights twinkling in mockery of him so far away.
To understand what it was that he’d been hiding, you must know his torment first. In those last year, Victor had suffered many losses and it weighed on him heavily. There were those who believed that he had lost his mind in his grief and few would argue such things. He was a broken man, so it seemed and soon, it began to manifest in his home. Initially he would spend many hours in that very sitting room but after a few months, he found it difficult to be there for longer than five minutes before he could stand it no longer. He soon ceased to sleep easily or at all some nights. He could be found in the atrium at all hours and only his son could convince him to attempt to sleep again. After being heart sick for as many months, it was assumed that he had begun to heal as he began to remodel the sitting room and eventually the whole of the west wing. He had his bedroom moved from that side to the east, much to the relief of his son and his sister. The west wing of that house had become his pet project to vent that pain and it had all started in that sitting room. He had the rugs removed and changed, the curtains replaced and all of the art switched over. The walls were painted a different color and he had emptied the shelves to fill them with new volumes that he had not yet read. He also had some torn out which many found surprising but they did not yet understand where this would lead. His renovations, however, were not to his satisfaction. Still he found it difficult to stay in that room and his discomfort quickly extended to have to rest of the wing as well. He claimed that there were too many noises to contend with as he was in there and it disturbed him so. Soon he spoke no more of what bothered him in that wing and began to turn his attention to completely remaking the whole of that area of the house.
The rooms were stripped of everything and redone with odd and often baffling modifications. Even after they were finished and polished like new, he would go back after and change them. He often had the colors of the rooms switched over, sometimes twice in the same day, to appease his sense of frustration. More and more he changed that wing and often times, though he was an older man by that point, he insisted on doing the work himself. By that point, there were no people in that wing to occupy the rooms. He insisted that it was unpleasant and the tide of the noise he found simply unbearable. When anyone would object, he would insist that the wind was too loud, that the colors had become too washed out from the sunlight and the whole of the wing itself was far too cluttered with his own projects. He had grown weary of the sight of the old walls and he wished to design something completely different. Slowly he had removed everyone from that area, disallowing even the house staff to touch it. When he closed it off completely, he began to build. First it was simply the staircase that started in the sitting room and extended to the first floor. There were builders brought in for a week to complete the task and they were paid an enormous sum in thanks for having it done so quickly. Next were the doorways that were put in every wall of the sitting room, even those walls that faced out into the open. They did not open up, of course, but that was not why they were there. I had only seen them once but immediately, I knew that Victor, for all his faults, had done something that he felt was necessary. Something that he would never allow anyone to know about even though they were becoming increasingly convinced that he was mad. I tell you now, he was not. He loved everyone in that house too much to let them suffer as he did. He knew. He heard them all and he knew what they could do if left unchecked. He had tried to keep them occupied and happy. He had tried to save his son from the truth of what had become of that wing. It was worth it to him to keep every frustration a secret and every rumor circling to make sure that those he cared for most, his chosen and blood family, safe from what lurked in those now itching, peeling walls.
With Victor there at the time to build and change the house, he was able to keep those of us he cared for safe. With no one there for over a year when Jacob Lord entered that room, there was no one to shield him from the truth. No one to drown out the sound of the that song that echoed from the open doorways that swayed in the breeze. No one to come for him when the door to the sitting room closed behind him and the last light on the horizon took with it the darkening of the the twilight sky. The fireplace in the sitting room had been cold for years before Victor’s death but the hollow sound of the wind whistling through the chimney would have been enough to chill your very bones. And the sounds that Victor had heard? Oh that awful man heard them now. The echoed cries of something in the fireplace, the sighing wind carrying the words that they had tried to tell us all back then. He knew that somewhere in those darkened doorways, someone was speaking. No, not just one someone. There were more of them. More even than when the house had been full and there were those who might still have kept them at bay. The darkness had filled the spaces where life had once been and Jacob was now outnumbered. Those gathered shadows that had come seeking refuge, Victor had tricked them when he was alive. He had struggled and done his best to keep their numbers low. To keep the ones in the house from leaving that wretched wing. They could not find their way out of that room when he started and they could not find their way out of the wing when it was in a constant state of change but with nothing to change it, they could roam the house freely. They could all come and freely wander as they had always wanted. And they were so eager to find someone new. A new tale of disaster just waiting to happen and happen it would.
Oh and that staircase that Victor had put into that room? It was a wicked looking spiral beast that had been built in the corner next to the fireplace and it was to curve all the way down to the first floor. That’s what we were told, naturally, but that was not quite the truth. You see, the staircase was to be an easier method of getting to the first floor for him as he was getting older and he was converting a lot of the older design of the house to a more modern household. He had already remade much of the house to do away with the archaic notion of servant quarters or passages and simply made new rooms or methods of getting around that might accommodate the staff better than before. The staircase was said to be part of that remodeling but we should have understood that it was not the case when the stairs could not be reached by any room at all. In fact, the stairs extended into the blackness of the basement into a room that there was no door to. It was this room that Jacob Lord found quite by accident when he tried to rush out of the sitting room and away from all those awful voices, only to find that the shadows had no intention on letting him out. Down that hopeful staircase he ran down but never surfaced back up. The whispering of those desperate shadows followed him down, drowning him in darkness until he fell into its welcoming pitch black room.