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Home by the Sea

classifications: Fantasy / Horror / Dark

Another song inspired piece, this one from a Genesis song. Somewhat of a departure of subject matter for me, but it turned out well, I think.

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The garden was full of flickering shadows, some long, some short, some dark, some faint. Between them moved another, faithfully following its caster as he wove his way across the lawn.

Above, the moon hovered, hiding frequently behind drifting clouds, a mocking mimicry of the tiny figure below, or perhaps trepidation at what was to come. In the times it was visible, its light was deathly white, free from the artificial yellow taint that plagued it over less remote areas.

Alex cared for or noticed little of this, his concentration taken as he darted from bush to tree each time the moon hid itself. The house that was his ultimate goal was old and sprawling, an ancient creature that had lain down to die. Alex liked these sort of houses. Their age meant security was difficult, their size meant that only the rich would reside within. For someone like Alex, it was a perfect combination.

Eventually he reached the edge of the patio, and waited, alertly scanning windows for glimmers of light or flitters of movement. The house remained silent and inert. Those of a superstitious mind may say that atmosphere of a house mirrors those within, and if that were true, the lifelessness of the building did not bode well for its inhabitants. Someone who spends much of their time in darkness, like Alex, cannot afford to be superstitious, however. Instead, a quiet house is a good house.

Satisfied, Alex crossed the paving swiftly on experienced and silent feet, pausing once more below a window. Hearing nothing still, he stood and examained the window, and the room it revealed within. The frame was wood, with an old and simple catch. Alex smiled, it promised to be an easy and lucrative night. Through the window lay the kitchen, metallic surfaces sparkling in the inconsistent moonlight, wood seeming to flow like water as shadows interlaced with grain.

Lifting himself agiley through the window, Alex lept down to the tiled floor. As he landed, however, there was a sudden noise from behind, loud, and amplified by the silence. It echoed off ancient walls, filling the house with its betraying shout. Alex froze, senses straining for long, tense seconds, yet there was no answering shout or sound. Silence flooded back, and despite himself, Alex shivered. No one was home, that was all, he angrily told himself. He turned to see what he had disturbed, and saw the fragments of ceramic bowl scattered around his feet, like tiny china corpses. He stooped and gathered them, placing them down on the table, puzzlement on his face. He was sure there had been nothing on the surface by the window, and he certainly hadn't felt anything as he had jumped.

Alex forced himself to shrug. He was getting careless, obviously. He couldn't afford to make mistakes, even on such an easy job as this. Looking around himself more warily now, he crossed the cold tiles to the door. Oddly, for a kitchen, there were many photographs, mounted in frames and scattered about the walls at random. Wherever there was space in between cupboards or shelves, someone had squeezed another picture. Alex noted them, but didn't let his curiousity interrupt his concentration. Photographs were only valuable to their owners. They were of little importance to him.

Nearing the door, Alex slowed, alert ears picking up the faintest of noises. It sounded like a whisper of a wind, formless and indistinct. Well, it wouldn't be surprising for a house like this to have the odd draft. Alex opened the door.

Beyond, a hallway stretched left and right, several doors visible leading off each side. Alex barely noticed them. Photographs lined the walls. Every free space between ceiling and floor was covered with snapshots of memories. Whatever way he looked, Alex was confronted by the image of someone different. He couldn't find any pictures that contained the same person.

As his intial surprise faded, information from his other sense began to make an impact. The background noise was louder here, as he expected, but if he really concentrated, it seemed he could make out voices amongst it. Barely audible, faint whispers that came from somewhere long distant. Alex shivered as he imagined it was the pictures speaking.

Stupid, stupid he told himself. He couldn't allow himself to be spooked by a drafty gallery. Yet the thought would not budge, a sliver of ice, embeded in a flaw of his mind, working its way in, splitting and cracking remorselessly. The sounds were getting louder. Sounds? He forced his brain to focus past the freezing fog that seemed to be filling it. The background whisper was definately louder, and was clearly composed of a multiplicity of smaller echoes.

Doggedly, he started to walk down the hallway, automatically following his routine of hundreds of nights previously, shivering as the temperature around him dropped. Stopping at the first door, he pushed it open and stepped inside, glancing rapidly around him. It appeared to be a living room, antique sofas arranged around the equally ancient fireplace, like an audience gathered round a stage, waiting for the show to begin.

Looking along the chest of drawers that stood by the door, a faithful sentinel, ever watchful. Upon it stood a pair of ornate solid silver candlesticks, the terrible horns of the room's guard. Alex shook his head in a vain attempt to clear it. Where were these thoughts coming from? He had never been the imaginative type. They were candlesticks, that's all. Alex picked them up and placed them in his rucksack, and released the breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding as nothing stirred.

Looking further along the wall, Alex realised that this room too was bounded with images. Fragments of lives, held forever in a wooden frame. Curiousity finally winning, Alex examained the closest picture to him. It showed a middle-aged man, dressed in what seemed to be 1920's clothing. That couldn't be right. Though the moonlight illuminated the room reluctantly, Alex could see the picture was in full colour, and unfaded. Must be some kind of fancy dress, he assumed. That would explain the picture, which otherwise seemed wholly unremarkable. The figure stood in front of a whitewashed wall, nothing else to keep the interest.

Just as Alex began to look away, however, something caught his eye. Looking again, he noticed the front wheel of a bicycle showing in lower left corner. How had he missed that? It was distinctive enough. He looked around the picture some more. Now it seemed the wall wasn't just plain white as he'd thought before. He could dimly make out markings, like faded paint. As he continued to look, he found more and more, and they seemed to be becoming increasingly distinct. After some indeterminate period of time, Alex found he was looking at the front of a shop, an old bicycle clearly leaning up against the window. Several people were visible moving about in the shop, while the central figure stood proudly outside.

Alex blinked, and ran what he was seeing through his muggy mind once again. He shut his eyes, counted to five, and opened them again. Depsite his hopes, he hadn't been hallucinating. The people in the shop were clearly moving about. In a photograph.

Alex gasped and took a step backwards, the final straw having been placed. As he did, a flicker caught his attention. It was gone before he had fully turned, but even so, Alex's darkness accustomed eyes told him that he had seen a man's shadow cross along the wall. Alex spun, desperately hoping his eyes had been deceived. He could neither hear nor see any movement, everything was unnaturally still, and even the original silence had returned. He turned back to the picture.

It had gone. Wildly he his eyes flickered amongst the numerous visages, searching for the one he knew was not there.

"Welcome to the home by the sea. Sit down, Alex." The words were spoken kindly, softly, yet the terror they sent into Alex was like nothing he had ever experienced. Turning slowly this time, he looked towards the sofas. In one, casually holding a glass of wine, the orange light of the hearth fire reflecting off his skin, as if he himself were on fire, sat the man from the photgraph. He gestured towards the opposite seat.

"Sit down Alex," he repeated when Alex didn't move. "You will be here for a while, old chap. You may as well be comfortable." He spoke with an upper class English accent that perfectly suited his clothing, the same as he had been wearing in the photograph.

Instincts in Alex immediately picked up on the apparent threat in the words, and jolted him to action. He spun to face the exit.

He found only wall, picture coated, lively eyes staring back at him with a curious mixture of scorn and pity. The voices returned, this time disctinctly a chorus of laughter and taunting. It issued from all around him, a subtle flood, a creeping hurricane of noise.

"Sit down Alex." The man's gentle voice cut through and silenced the others, and this time Alex found his feet carrying him towards the fire and the mysterious figure in front of it.

"There. Surely that is better?" the gentleman continued once Alex was seated.

"Who are you?" Alex asked waveringly, as if he hadn't used his voice for years, and was trying to relearn.

The man smiled. "Tom. Tom Hawkins." The figure seemed to draw strength from saying his name. Alex noticed with a start that he could see the back of the sofa through the figure opposite him. It was only as he became more solid that his attention had been drawn to it.

"As you can no doubt tell from the scene you looked at, I ran a shop for a large portion of my life. It was a good shop. A hardware shop. Bits and pieces for fixing oddments. A tire for a bicycle, a handle for a door, a hammer and nails for a shelf. That sort of thing." Tom spoke as if to himself, a whimsical smile upon his face. As he spoke, Alex noticed that he grew yet more substantial.

Alex suddenly interrupted despite himself, while yet cursing inwardly for being so foolish. "What are you? I...I can see through you...are...are you...a..."

Tom chuckled. "A ghost?" He considered for a moment. "I suppose I was. I will be again too, I guess." He sighed, sadness marring his features briefly. "Still," he continued, smiling anew, "for now, I am alive."

Alex sat bewildered, looking around him, looking at the many icons that were now staring back. "I don't understand."

"Nor do we, truly. It is an old, and I used to think silly, tale, that a photograph somehow 'takes' a part of person, that by capturing their likeness, their emotions such as are visible at the time, they also steal a part of them. The lady who began this collection likely felt the same as I used to. It seems we were both wrong. By themselves, perhaps, photographs are innocent and benign. Past a certain concentration, however, too much life in too close a space..." He waved his hand around. "Well, you see the results yourself."

"Who was the lady? Who started this?" Alex asked, more out of automatic politeness, while his brain struggled with twistings of a reality he thought he knew.

"That is not my story to tell. We each live through the telling. Without the attention of those living, we are...blurred. Unfocused, you might say. Around you are moments from the life of all those brought here, both the happy times and the bad. Each one waiting for the chance to relive our lives in what we tell you. To return to joyous clarity."

Tom paused, sipping slowly at his wine, and staring into the fire. Alex opened his mouth to speak several times, but each time something kept the words in his throat.

"So you see, you cannot leave now. We cannot let you." Tom started speaking abruptly, just as Alex began to look around the room again. "We need you to live. Anything is better than that...emptiness." He shuddered, little wavelets set to dancing amongst each other in the wine. "It is never long enough, of course. All too soon our stories are finished, and we fade again. Before too long, also, you will join us, and become just another memory on the wall of time." Tom paused once more, and when at last he spoke, his voice was somehow different, sounding to Alex like the mournful echoes of tolling bell, yet given speech.

"Then the waiting will begin again."

Horrible indeed is that waiting, as Alex in turn described to me, and as you in turn will soon find.

Welcome to the home by the sea.

drd (March 24th, 2003, 11:46 am)

nice twist at the end. Real nice.

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