Contemplation of a Manor

Flash Fiction July, 5.

Sometimes I see the house.

It normally appears on the nights that I haven’t taken anything promoting sleep, haven’t done anything more than light a candle when readying for bed. Some nights, I complete a ritual before sleep, and it doesn’t do anything for my dreams.

Tonight, I’ve only burned down the last inches of a candle, and the house has appeared. It changes from dream to dream; tonight it’s oddly-shaped, looking not unlike a square letter u, exterior made completely from brick. I’m almost tempted to call it a manor, though it’s nowhere near. If anything it looks like the sort of place which might be the setting for a haunted penny-dreadful, one with low-grade horror creatures and an affinity for trying to spook.

A curtain twitches back as I approach, and that’s almost reassuring – tells me that this isn’t a horror movie. Not tonight, though I can’t make out a person concealed at the edges where the curtain and window frame meet; nor can I see a silhouette.

The door is locked as I try it, and now I’m closer I notice the house appears to have been divided into flats. It’s a single storey, but there must somehow be enough rooms and wings to have divided the place up. All in all, there are five doors, each one surrounded by windows and mismatched curtains. The second door handle turns easily, but the door itself is stiff. Even ramming my shoulder against it, then leaning on the wood does nothing to budge it.

I’m conspicuous. Conscious of the fact that there are, opposite me, more curtains twitching. Suddenly, I’m irrationally angry at the fact that this house – my house, my dreamscape, has been disrupted like this.

Dejected, I walk around to what seems to be the back of the house. My mind does this – does the smallest piece of work first, and fills in all the blank details. Now I’m looking I can see I’m standing in the middle of a driveway, two old-style cars having sprung up around me quite out of nowhere. Where are their owners, I wonder – do they not mind that a strange woman is standing around in the middle of their home?

I loop back to the yards and start walking.

They’re a wide, sprawling area of land, the sort of green which suggests dehydration of a low level, but not enough to really turn the grass dull brown. It’s not hard to imagine the lawns a brighter green, just a shade off from the ivy that climbs into the bricking of the house on a frequent basis.

Other times, I’ve come here and seen people trying to kill off the ivy – no use trying to rip it out. It never works, but it seems to be something that happens regularly. There’s no garden this time, just lawns and fencing. One lone tree, maybe a pine, though I can’t seem to remember the name right now is at an odd spot in the fencing. From it hangs a thick piece of rope with an old car tyre hanging from it, though it looks more weatherbeaten than anything else.

The tree is situated to block the gate, it seems, and there’s a motley assortment of garden tools alongside.

It’s not a friendly sort of place, overall. It’s the kind of place that the inhabitants take care of, mainly because they have to; I see no love in it.

Back to the house. There’s still a few more doors to try.

Now, there’s a chimney jutting from the third flat, drawing my eye sharply to it. I don’t like the symmetry, it’s too jarring. I’d like it better if the chimney stood from one of the even-numbered flats, creating a juxtaposition of the corners. Still, this third flat is now the most inviting-looking, and the first wisps of smoke have just begun to rise.

The door swings easily this time, impeded by the little chain and latch. Awkwardly, I angle my wrist – flick the chain and send it clattering against the door. A quick inspection shows that the door’s now pockmarked from the bit of metal repeatedly clanking against it, and I try brushing it over with my mind.

The wood smoothes out quickly, undenting and unbroken.

The flat itself is like the overall house: maintained to an almost obsessive level of detail, but hotel-like. The furnishings are spare and expensive, each one picked to coordinate with the next. My eyes hurt to take in how well it all fits together and matches, and I’m thinking wistfully of my own shabby apartment, with its numerous bits and pieces that clash. I’ve grown used to them clashing though, so I don’t have the heart to now remodel.

The kitchen is sterile. One teapot sits on the bench; beside it, a toaster that is gleaming. The only indication of either being used is the dial of the toaster and the jar of tea-leaves in the strainer.

My skin crawls. I hear music, though there’s no-one around. Certainly no-one reacted when I broke in, sent the chain flying from the lock, and I haven’t been quietly tiptoeing around.

Spooked now, I turn and bolt, barely remembering the way out.

As my feet hit the new gravel of the driveway, I can see curtains flying back. There’s no more tentative twitch-to-the-side, just whisked back. One falls from its rail, and I hear the clatter of the metal rail on hard wooden floors.

For the first time I get a glimpse of behind the curtains, and for all that the curtains just went flying open, there’s no-one behind any of them. No-one stands in the window, staring at me – no-one comes rushing out to confront me.

Whoosh.

My ears catch this newest sound: fire, racing along the leaves and sparking through an open window. I close my eyes, as though to shut this out, and reopen them tentatively.

I leave with the image of flames still imprinted on my eyelids.

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