Friday, January 3, 2020

Excerpt: Dollhouse

And as promised, here's an excerpt from the novel.

From Chapter 12:

The subterranean floor, alas—well, it proved to be a greater challenge for exploration. There was only one door accessing the chapel and the crypt, which opened into the main entry hall just directly below the kitchen. The unfurnished space was lit by a couple of torches set low on the two opposite walls—just at the midpoint—and Jane said they were hexed torches meant to cast some light and comfort in such a dreary space meant for the dead.

“How long have they been going on?” Arthur asked, amazed.

He walked up to the nearest one and observed it as closely as he possibly could. He certainly couldn’t go any more. The heat generated by the perpetually burning torch was surprisingly strong though the flame itself was rather muted compared to the fire created by ordinary torches.

“Oh, heaven knows,” Jane replied with a chuckle. She took an idle turn around the gray, shadowy space, her eyes wide and alert as she surveyed the eerier corners of her kingdom. “I understand it was the last mistress of this house who’d commissioned the torches, apparently as a way of easing people’s way down here as well as for comfort to those who wished to go to the chapel to pray.”

“So—more than fifty years ago, then?”

“Perhaps closer to a century—when this place was last purchased, I mean. But the last mistress lived a long time and died around fifty years ago.”

Arthur nodded, and he turned to observe the entrance of the chapel. “Uh—are you aware of the stone angel blocking the chapel’s entrance, Jane?”

He pointed at the strangely placed figure, and Jane laughed now. Unperturbed by the surreal nature of the sight, she glided over to the angel and stood next to it, facing Arthur and giving him a better perspective on the statue’s size.

The stone angel looked like one of those cemetery statues, though perhaps this one was specially commissioned for this purpose. It faced inward, toward the chapel, its wings half-unfurled and easily blocking the doorway. It held its hands before it, though whether in benediction or warning, Arthur couldn’t tell. It didn’t stand tall enough for its head to graze the top of the chapel’s entrance, but the highest points of its wings did.

“Matus and I have seen this, and it’s given us quite a few laughs at the dinner table,” Jane piped up, grinning. The statue stood perhaps a head taller than her, not including its wings. “It’s been cemented to the floor, you know. Just look.”

She pointed at the angel’s robe. When Arthur walked closer and knelt down, he found the roughened and dried line of old cement ringing the angel’s robe. He frowned and scratched his head.

“Why on earth would an angel be secured here? Extra blessing for the chapel?”

Jane snorted. “Who on earth knows? To keep ghosts from leaving the crypt?”

“I’d imagine the chapel would have taken good care of that.” Arthur looked up from his position and swept his gaze across the thick wall separating the entry hall from the chapel beyond. “I can only imagine the chapel and the crypt are linked as though they were all just one large space. Such an easy access between a holy place like a chapel and the crypt would make the sanctification of the crypt more—I don’t know—more plausible in a way?”

He grimaced, not sure if he were making any sort of sense in his own rambling way, but from the thoughtful and somewhat rueful look he received from his sister, it seemed that he actually was.

“I don’t think anything ominous is behind the angel’s presence here. If anything, it seems to be acting as a final guardian to the dead, blocking out any more invasions to their resting place. The woman before me commissioned this, I’m sure. I’m also guessing she never expected Hantise to be lived in again after her death.”

Jane paused, regarding the angel thoughtfully. Then she reached out and gave the nearest wing a gentle stroke.

“It’s quite touching, really, if you think about it along those lines. Perhaps she was the only one who lived here who truly understood what the tower house was all about and spent a good deal of money on comforting the dead.” She indicated both the angel and the hexed torches when she spoke, and Arthur nodded.

“So what are you and Matus going to do about this?”

“I’m not really sure. We’ve talked about removing it, so we could at least inspect the rest of this floor and make sure the foundation’s sound. If all looks good, we’ll place the angel back.”

“You don’t have to, I think.”

“No, but it was put there for a reason.”

“Superstition, then? That’s a bit absurd. Don’t tell me you really, truly believe any of that fanciful nonsense. I know your mind’s a great deal more open now than before, but still, Jane…”

Jane shook her head and helped Arthur to his feet before leading him away from the stone angel and toward the exit. “I know, but it wasn’t absurd to the person who put it there. I’m sure she found a good reason to do it. I’d like to respect that.”

Arthur couldn’t help but feel a wave of relief wash over him when he set foot on the first stone step of the stairs, eager to leave the gloomy world of shadows and death behind him.

“I notice there isn’t a door that you can lock at the base of the stairs,” he noted, glancing behind him and regarding the door leading to the entry hall, the room within barely lit with the soft glow of the torches’ quiet flames.

“Matus found old hinges along one side of the door, actually. There used to be one, but it looks like the door got torn down. Perhaps from age and the usual weathering of old, old wood. I mean—the owners’ final resting place should be protected. It wouldn’t do for it to be so easily accessed from without and be subjected to vandals.”

“Come on, Jane. Hantise is so isolated from the rest of the world, I honestly doubt if vandals would be a risk.”

At length they reached the ground floor, each falling silent as though dogged by the pall of death they’d just left behind. Well, Arthur told himself, if the subterranean floor remained open, at least the main house was well-protected. The stair-tower was fully secured against the outside world with its own heavy door and three locks. Once inside, there were the wood doors that opened into the different floors.

“I’ll have to look into more hexed torches for the stair-tower,” Jane mused as brother and sister walked arm-in-arm up the stair tower past the ground floor and up onto the first floor.

They swept into the portrait gallery, ignoring the framed visages staring out at them till they reached the farthest wall to stand by one of the large windows there.

“There are several small windows that allow some outside light in and make ascending and descending the stairs safe enough during the day, but having to depend on a candle or a lamp at night just won’t do.”

“That stone angel—do you think there’s an account of its history anywhere in the library?”

Jane laughed. “Oh, I’d imagine digging around for it would be your thing to do, dearest.”

“Tsk. You’re mocking me.”

“No, I’m not! Arthur, you’ve got time enough to explore and learn more about your new home. I’ll be too busy playing the role of the new mistress. But do share what you learn, though. I’d love to know more about Hantise beyond its wild reputation.”

Your new home.

Arthur had heard that said in reference to Hantise, and there was something both flattering yet unsettling about the thought. Jane, with her love of romantic novels and some such, would surely adore living in such a majestic, brooding structure.

There was something about Hantise, however, that kept him from warmly welcoming it into his life. Granted he’d only arrived and had so far spent three days there, which weren’t enough for him—or anyone—to develop a good impression on everything.

Perhaps it was Jane’s enthusiasm and sheer pleasure at having him there that was currently exerting some sort of pressure on him and his expectations.


* * * * *

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