Flynn stared up at the cold stone walls of Caldwell Manor, amazed that he felt nothing when he gazed upon it. He had expected at the very least to be unsettled. It was a challenge to muster disdain.
It was squat, inelegant. There were no details, no flourishes, no love lost between these walls. The brick was a dark gray, the roof a dark slate, the windows lightless.
Flynn tilted his head and his gaze roved over the ivy locked in its winter sleep. The land that surrounded had long gone to weeds.
“Can’t bother with the mower, Caden? Is it below you?”
Caden ignored him, shouldered past on the cobblestone path. He headed toward the large and heavy wooden front door with its heavy iron knocker.
Flynn turned to glare at Caden’s car, parked haphazard across the lawn. He had left it with one tire mashed down over a struggling sapling,
“Why do I even ask? He can’t even bother to park straight,”
A light flicked on from the hall.
Caden’s voice called out from behind the half-closed door,
“Are you going to come in out of the rain? Or are you going to continue to chastise someone who doesn’t care about what you think?”
Flynn’s head dropped to his chest and he resumed his trudge towards the mansion. When he reached the door, he reached out and rested a hand on the knocker. It was carved in the shape of a hyena head, its mouth snarled around the iron ring shaped as two shooting stars. He paused for a moment.
“I know we said goodbye, once. But don’t get used to this. I won’t be here for long,”
He didn’t wait for a response. He entered the warm hall, and his damp clothes steamed as he closed the door behind him.
“They seem to be here,” Finnigan observed.
Carmen nodded, gaze lost in the distance.
“Feel like we should have organized a party,” Finnigan lumbered to his feet, numbed by the whiskey and the heat. He trudged toward the door, assumed that Carmen would be on his heels.
But Carmen had not shifted an inch.
Finnigan frowned, waited. He knocked on the frame,
“Hello? Earth to Carmen? We have to go greet Flynn. Are you coming?”
A shiver ran down Finnigan’s spine.
He approached Carmen’s chair, rested a hand on a rigid shoulder. No reaction.
He swung the chair around on its pivot, which rocked Carmen slightly.
Carmen’s eyes had rolled back, face stone cold and still.
Finnigan sighed, planted a hand on each armrest, and leaned forward, until their noses almost touched.
“Carm, dear, you’ll have to come back from there. Now isn’t the time,”
Despite the unsettled roll of his stomach, he stared into the whites of Carmen’s eyes. He willed a return to their normal dark, dark hazel.
Several heartbeats thudded by. Finnigan waited.
Caden’s voice called from a distance. Finnigan disconnected, straightened away from Carmen’s prone form. A sudden gasp, a deep and rough inhalation of air, and Carmen had returned with a shake of the head.
Finnigan crossed his arms, lips pursed.
“You could warn me next time you go on a stroll, Carm,”
Carmen blinked, looked around and scrambled up from the chair.
Carmen headed toward the door, a sudden thunder of feet in haste to welcome their guests.
Finnigan shook his head and followed quickly after. He was vaguely confused, Carmen had not acknowledged the momentary absence.
You were asleep, who knows how long Carmen was really gone…
Finnigan brushed the thought away and ran his fingers through his hair. It had been too long since he’d seen Flynn, wondered how he looked. He steeled himself for the rush, the confusion. Hardened against the flip in his stomach that always accompanied the thoughts of socializing with his younger brother.
It sounded as if they had entered through the east wing. Caden’s voice boomed from somewhere below, echoed off the tapestried walls.
That was the problem with this house. Anyone could be anywhere, the walls distorted the truth at every possible junction. Finnigan followed the sounds. He had trained his mind to ignore the illusions and to adjust for the discrepancies.
He’d lost Carmen again, this time in the physical realm. There were many secret doors and hidden corridors, revolving bookcases and false floors, it was easy to slip off through a shortcut without a sound.
Finnigan adjusted his rings as he strolled, straightened his cuffs, his collar. Another anxious hand ran through his hair of its own accord.
What am I doing?
He would only delay the inevitable with his spastic grooming.
He voyaged down the wide and sweeping marble staircase. Each tread was warm and worn and glowed in the light of the chandelier that demarked the exact center of the residence. His eyes traced the path of wet footprints that crossed the large paneled room. The came straight from the east corridor as he had guessed, and into the south.
“Of course, you horrid, messy beast,” he cursed Caden.
Voices came from ahead, the glow of the fire bright in Carmen’s office down the hall. He swept past the framed portraits of the Caldwells long dead and gone. They all had the same angular faces, and the dark, deep hazel eyes. They appeared to stare at him as he hurried. The idea that he had delayed the sight of Flynn, had become a horrible joke in his mind. He stumbled at the threshold, paused, waited for a sign that he should enter.
“You look exhausted, Flynn, was the trip so terrible?”
Carmen’s voice sounded pleasant enough. There was no note belying any concern as it had only hours before.
Finnigan put a hand to the door, attempted to envision Flynn inside.
The response was much raspier that he expected, the voice lower than remembered.
He sounded old to Finnigan’s ears as if more than five years had passed. Perhaps ten, twenty. But he knew, he knew deep down, it was that house that had done it. It had to be.
“Your brother’s driving must have taken several years from my life if that’s how I look,”
Carmen laughed in response. Finnigan could almost see the glad-handing, the shoulder-clapping.
Ah, how funny it must be.
Finnigan rolled his eyes.
“How long are you going to lurk, then, Finnigan? I know you’re outside the door. As usual,” Caden’s voice accosted him from within the room. A round of laughter punctuated the accusation.
Finnigan almost turned tail, almost fled down the hall. His skin had grown cold, despite the warmth of the Manor. There was something else here too. Once he had stopped focusing on the others, his muscles relaxed, he could feel it. A low lurking in his gut that had nothing to do with his lunch.
The door swung open, and Carmen stared at him intently.
“What are you waiting for?”
It didn’t like this place.
The warmth, the noise. Too much talking. It hissed as it crawled. Undulated. It packed itself tightly into the corner. It glared suspiciously at a spider that pattered off at the interruption, a half-eaten snack abandoned.
It longed for the whistling windows of the Freemont house, the frosted glass from the storms. But it had to follow him. It had to know, it had to remind him that he belonged at Freemont. Not here. Not here.
It had gotten as far as the golden rosy chandelier, the twinkling lights too bright, too sickly sweet for the eyes. It had grumbled. Reversed directions. Slipped through a grate in the wall, and felt the way along under the floorboards. It crawled through a layer of dust and decay, reveled in the cool brush of it. It emerged through another iron-clad opening, having circumvented the brilliance of the central room.
Flynn’s heartbeat pulsed up ahead, a hollow thud that guided the Dark to where it needed to be.
It needed to watch.
It would wait.
Flynn would sleep once more.
Finnigan attempted to contain his surprise at the sight of his brother.
Caden should have warned them, should have called. This was a situation for delicacy, and Caden had not observed the basic guidelines of society. If he had, Finnigan could have arranged his face into any other shape than poorly contained horror.
But he hadn’t.
And now here Finnigan stood, and he gulped like a fish. He flushed from the embarrassment of his incorrect reaction.
“Flynn! You made it!”
A moment too late.
He stumbled over his words, over his feet, moved forward in an awkward attempt at a handshake, a hug, and their elbows knocked into each other. They almost smashed their foreheads together.
Flynn brushed a hand through the long side of his hair, a shock of white that ran across the left side, neatly divided at his part. It was so pale in the flicker of firelight that it glowed in stark contrast to the dark cherry red of the rest of his short trimmed hair. It was a popular cut, Finnigan silently recognized, but certainly not in those shades.
And his eye.
Oh, his eye.
Faded to a blue-grey, a blinded shade, the pupil glazed, frozen.
It appeared to Finnigan as if one side of him, the left side, had been permanently and irreversibly affected by some sort of horrible catastrophe.
Finnigan clicked his mouth shut, realized he had stared at Flynn for far too long.
Flynn smiled, seemed unaware of his appearance. He turned to Carmen and Caden and thumbed toward the door.
“I am exhausted, though, to be completely honest. Is there any chance my old room is still available?”
Carmen nodded warmly, ever the gentile host, and gestured toward the door,
“Please, let’s walk. I’ll show you where the linens have moved to since you left. I’m so sorry I didn’t prep the room in advance, I was worried Caden wouldn’t be convincing enough,”
A smile flashed in Caden’s direction, a laugh in response from Flynn, and then they were gone, the door pressed firmly closed behind them.
Finnigan wheeled toward Caden,
“What the HELL happened to him?!”
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February 7, 2017 · 3:29 pm
January 25, 2015 · 7:28 pm