THE OLD VICTORIAN
by Ashley Fernandes
I have lived in this house for far too long. So long, that it was beginning to take a toll on my sanity. I was growing used to the fact that the walls whispered to me at night.
The house was an old Victorian, with eight windows in the front side alone and complete with a peeling white wrap-around porch that groaned under the smallest child’s weight. I heard from the landlord that it was nearly two hundred years old. Someone had died here, I could feel it – an ancient death trapped within. But the age of it, nor the death that I knew had occurred in its living, breathing walls, never disturbed me or deterred me from buying the house. Since I was a child, I found comfort in the creaking of door hinges and the softness of rotting floorboards. I never feared the sturdiness of the house, nor worried that the floors would collapse beneath me, plummeting me to my death. If it happened, I suppose it would mean that I was destined to die with this sleepy, dilapidated old house. And in that, strangely, I found peace.
When I first moved in three years ago, I barely slept. My lungs would feel suffocated as I was forced to breathe in the accumulated dust that permeated throughout the air and the intoxicating scent of mothballs that would never leave me even if I went outside. It seemed that pieces of the house stayed with me, attaching themselves to the fibers of my clothes and residing in the dark corners of my mind. In line at the supermarket, I’d find myself thinking of the flickering candlelight in the kitchen that spills onto the wrinkles on my face as I stare into it, or the dullness of the curtains in my bedroom that flays about in the harsh wind, a dreariness that, to me, was so beautiful . . . and I never wanted to leave it, as much as it didn’t want to leave me.
The bathroom reminded me of a chamber of sorts, with no windows to let in even an ounce of light. It was a later addition to the house, built in the sixties by one of the previous owners. Oddly enough, it always smelled like cigars, though I quit smoking a long time ago. I assumed that it was a scent that had lingered from an owner decades ago. Whether that is possible, I do not know. But it is remarkable, really, that the scent of a person can remain even after they have died. I liked to inhale that scent sometimes, thinking that I was breathing in the past, history, the smoky breath of people long gone.
Thinking, thinking . . . it’s a funny thing. Our thoughts make up the bulk of our waking life, and they never seem to leave us alone. Every action requires a thought, after all. And oftentimes, the greatest success can come from a mere idea, so small and fleeting in the grand span of time. But how often . . . do our thoughts . . . betray us? Make us fearful, weak, and whimper in the dark?
How often have you lay alone in your bed at night, shivering under the covers that just can’t seem to keep you warm, and your thoughts keep you up, wondering, pondering . . . thinking, oh, thinking . . . if something is sitting with you in that darkness, watching you, waiting. Wanting for you to see it, if only you would just open your eyes. It’s a funny thing, you know. How our thoughts can spin reality out of proportion. Right?
I’ll tell you about the time when I felt sanity leaving my bones. I’ll tell you, but not without caution . . . because it may just leave you a little less sane after hearing it.
It was a night in October, just hours before Halloween, when I saw the man pacing back and forth at the foot of my bed. He was dressed in Victorian clothing, a long, black overcoat trailing after him and a walking cane in his hand. But there were no footsteps . . . A given, considering his lack of a lower body. The hazy torso drifted between the walls of my room, resembling the static of a TV screen that has failed to work.
When I opened my mouth to scream, that was when he opened his mouth, too. The more I opened my mouth, the more he opened his, as if he was mocking my fear. His eyes grew wide as mine did, and he mimicked my every movement, forcing me to be still. Then, his lips peeled back from his teeth and he dared to utter the words that pounded in the back of my brain . . .
“The house wants your soul.”
Would it not be strange if I told you his voice soothed me, deep and hoarse, like a warm, rough hand caressing the depths of my inner being? Or would you think I was insane? Do not worry, you would not be the first to say that.
Nonetheless, he had intended to scare me, so that he could feed off my fear and grow stronger. But I was not that weak. I would not succumb to the peculiar artistry of a demon in feeding. Instead, I would enjoy the feeling of overpowering a creature of darkness.
But when I commanded it to leave, I found that the same words that I spoke, the man would as well, his expression remaining distant, the wrinkles on his face growing deeper. At that moment, I noticed through bleary eyes the barrier that separated his torso from his bottom half. It was a wooden beam, and above it . . . glass. I stood up, and his legs appeared. The uncanny eyes that stared back at me grew wide with terror once more.
A scream finally left my body as I stared into the crystal-clear mirror.