The question of where start is something that has always plagued me. It pains me when I think of just how many hours of my life I have wasted, always waiting for the right moment to act, yet never being able to decide when that moment might be. How many times did I promise tomorrow only for tomorrow to become the next day and then the next? I suppose that may have been what drew me to the manor and perhaps that is where I should begin.
The first time I visited the Nightshone Manor, I came not as guest, but something more of a marauder. Looking back on it now, it seems so foolish, so suicidal even, but at the time I suppose that I had nothing better to do. The life that I was living was hardly any life at all. Inaction, indecision, inadequacy. I often wondered if I was already dead. I certainly did not feel alive.
I was lying down in bed, staring at the ceiling, same as always, when suddenly there came a gentle tapping. I paid it no mind at first, but it was growing steadily louder and louder with each beat. The tapping turned to thumping turned to pounding and something was cracking, so I looked down from the ceiling to see the source of the racket: a cloaked man banging his fists against my window. When he finally had my attention, he stopped to smile and then he pulled back his hood to reveal his head, pale, bald, wrinkled, and speckled brown with moles and sun splotches. What little teeth he had were a sickly gold and crooked, twisting off in whichever direction they pleased. Even so, his excitement was contagious and I found myself smiling back at him with a grin so wide it was hurting my cheeks. The man disturbed me, but at the same time I cannot deny that in that moment I felt hope. I felt that something interesting was going to happen, and at that point anything at all was better than continuing to fester in my room. However, the hope that I felt was short lived as it was then that I remembered I was living in the basement and my room had no windows.
Chronic sleep deprivation, and perhaps a healthy amount of schizophrenia as well, had made it so that hallucinations were something that I was fairly familiar with. I had numerous conversations with my chair over the years that I spent in my basement. He tends to be rather condescending and I do not enjoy our talks, but still I hear him out anyways on the off chance that he may provide some helpful insight. I suppose that one way of looking at it is that he could be the manifestation of some aspect of my subconscious mind that has something it wants to tell me, and he could therefore give more some greater knowledge of my own state of being. For that reason I decided that I would humor this old man as well. As I got out of bed and walked over towards the window, his expression became even more ecstatic, he opened his mouth and let his shriveled tongue stick out. I hesitated at the window sill, wondering just what it was that I would be inviting inside. I was nervous, but then I thought “what was the worst that could happen?” Could this old man have a weapon? Could he somehow overpower me and kill me? Did it even matter if he did? I was nervous, but my nihilism gave me the comfort that I needed, so I went ahead and opened the window, just a sliver so that we could chat.
It turned out that the sliver was enough for the old man to shove his bony fingers between the glass and the frame. He opened the window just enough for his head to barely squeeze through and then once that was inside he wriggled the rest of his body forward like some kind of serpent and then fell onto the ground face first. His neck twisted like a piece of rubber as his head hit the floor and it twisted back to its normal position when he used his hands to push himself back up onto his feet. I would have been frightened and confused were it not for the fact that I was unconvinced of the reality of the situation. The man began pacing around me in a circle, speaking not a word, but mumbling in some sort of chant. On his third loop, he stopped behind me and grabbed my face, pressing his fingers into my eyes and squeezing against the side of my head. I could see nothing, only darkness as I tried to pull myself free from his grasp. But then the darkness faded away into a vision of a place that I once knew. It was deep in the woods near my childhood home, far beyond the hill covered in pricker bushes and passed the river where no one dared to tread. There was an old stone wall that always hummed and buzzed with the flight of wasps and the skittering of all manner of insects. I had never seen what was on the other side of the wall, but in this vision I could see myself climbing it and when I poked my head over the top, I could a mansion, bright lights beaming from every window, and the old man standing in the doorway, beckoning me inside.
I woke up some time later lying on the floor. The man and the window had vanished back to whatever dark recess of my mind from which they emerged. I thought about the mansion again. I had never seen it before, but I had heard rumors. It was all mostly just the typical things, the family who lived there supposedly had been brutally murdered after the head of the house had a tragic mental breakdown, and there were stories of some teens being dared to sneak inside only to never be heard from again, but I had always felt that there must have been something more to it than that. But then I thought about it again, and I did not really remember if anybody had mentioned there being a mansion before. I tried to think back on it some more, but my mind wandered and I was I soon just thinking of my life and how dull and dreary it had been. Then I suddenly recalled that there were also rumors that told of all sorts of mystical treasures that were hidden within the manor. Genie lamps, monkey paws, all sorts of magical wonders that could make your wishes come true. I did not actually know what I would want to wish for, but I did know that I did not want to carry on as I was. I wanted something else, something different, it did not matter what. That was the reason I decided I would go. I may have only going off of dreams and rumors, but it was better than doing nothing at all. Perhaps if nothing else, the journey itself would give me a chance to think of what it was that I truly desired.
I traveled back to my childhood home that morning, making sure to avoid being seen by anybody that I may have once known. I followed along the path from the vision that the old man had granted me and arrived at the wall in a mere matter of minutes. A sense of familiarity and comfort overwhelmed me as I gazed upon it, but I could not help but notice that over the years it had begun to crumble and decay. Moss and vines overran every surface and fallen rocks littered the ground. Despite how it had changed, it was, however, still teeming with insects crawling in and out of every nook and cranny.
I circled around to look for an entrance, trekking through brush and thorns. My legs were covered by my jeans, but I had foolishly worn a short sleeved shirt, and despite my best efforts, my arms were getting scratched and scraped. Nevertheless, I was not going to let a few cuts stop my quest and so I persevered. I carried onward, continuing along the side of the wall, but it seemed as though it was taking far too long. I had been walking for nearly an hour, but there was still no clearing nor gate in sight. It was then that I noticed a few drops of blood on the brambles up ahead, I looked down to see four sets of matching boot tracks that in front of me, along with a fifth set behind. It appeared as though I had been walking in circles the whole time.
Seeing as there was no way to go around the wall, I realized that I would need to climb over it just as I had in the vision. I could already hear the buzzing and chittering of the countless bugs that resided within each crack and crevice of the wall and I could see them oozing out onto the ground and into the air. There were so many that it was nigh impossible to take a single breath without inhaling a few mayflies. I stepped closer, swatting the air in front of my face with one hand and reaching the other forward to try to get a grip on one of the protruding stones. The moment I touched it, it jiggled in place and a centipede crawled out from behind it and walked all one hundred of its tiny, spiky legs across my hand from my pinky to my thumb. Another one followed behind it. And then so did another.
Were I in a sounder state of mind at the time, perhaps I would have just left and returned with a ladder. Perhaps I would have tried climbing a nearby tree and attempted to jump atop the wall from one of its branches. Instead my mind was plagued with dark fantasies of what would happen if I were to stick my entire arm into the buzzing, squirming darkness of one of the holes in the wall. How many little legs would dance atop my arm? How many pincers would sink into my skin? I could not push the thoughts from my mind and they were beginning to both disturb and yet somehow excite me. I tried not to think of anything at all as I put my other hand against the wall and more insects came out to crawl across me. As luck would have it, none of them seemed to be hostile. It seemed as they they were just curious about the strange source of vibration that was disturbing their rest. Indeed, to them the jiggling of the stones must have been like earthquakes, why would they not be curious. Some attempted to crawl higher up on my arms, but I was sure to gently brush them away before they could get into my sleeves. Perhaps I had just seen one too many horror movies, but the idea of a bug crawling beneath my clothing and somehow from there burrowing into my flesh and then moving around as a lump beneath my skin made me too anxious to let any of them out of my sight for even a moment.
The wall could not have been more than twenty feet tall but the climb felt endless. The sun had already begun to set behind me, but I was still sweating and my whole body was shaking with tension. The higher I climbed, the more hostile the insects became. Their curious crawls turned to bites and stings, my hands were swelling and throbbing. I desperately clawed them off myself, further opening the cuts created by the thorns. I blew cool air against my burning hot wounds both to calm them and to keep off the horde of flies that were beginning to flock to them. It was certainly not sanitary, but I had no time to worry about whether or not my wounds would become infected as I reached for the next grip and then the next.
I grabbed onto another ledge and was greeted by the blazing sting of a wasp. My grip slipped as I withdrew my hand in pain only to find the beast still stuck on me, injecting me with more and more of its fiery venom. I crushed it on instinct, only to be filled with immediate regret. In the heat of the moment, I had forgotten that wasp guts are filled with pheromones to alert the rest of the swarm to their demise. I began to panic. I had never actually be stung by a wasp before, yet the pain felt so dreadfully familiar like a recurring nightmare. My brother was deathly allergic to bees and I always wondered if I was as well. My mind was racing with thoughts and fears and my breathing and heartbeat were getting out of control. The other wasps, however, had no intention of waiting out my panic attack and they were coming out full force to investigate the distress signal left by their fallen comrade.
I could hear the buzzing of thousands of wings rumbling towards me from the darkness of the wall’s crevices and I knew then that staying still would be the death of me. I tried to jump down, but my hands refused let go. My legs dangled helplessly in the air for a moment and then I started trying to kick forward to push myself off the wall, but the grip of my hands was too strong and so I stayed dangling there. I could hear some part of my mind screaming that I had come so far and made so much progress that I could not just give it all up now. The sun was nearly set and I could not just wait for another tomorrow as I always had.
As the swarm of wasps burst from the cracks in the rocks above me, there was only one thing that I could do. I leapt upwards through them with all of my strength and clung onto the ledge at the top of the wall. By some stroke of luck, the wasps were as confused as I was and only a few stung me as I pulled the rest of my body up. As my head reached over the edge, I could see the other side, catching a glimpse of a massive building atop a tiny hill. A smile began to overtake my face, however, the excitement that I felt was short lived. I felt pressure building against my stomach, for as it turned out that I had hoisted my belly right up to the hole from which the wasps were emerging. My shirt happened to be thick enough to block their the brunt of the blows, but as more and more came I feared they would soon break through. There were already so many upon me.
I scrambled up as fast as I could. Once my shoulders were over the ledge, I leaned forward, raising my legs into the air like a lever. The wasps broke free from the wall, but before they could get at me, I was already falling head first onto the other side. I closed my eyes and tried to cover my face as fell through the leaves and branches of a hedge. I could feel them scrape and tear against my skin until relief came in the form of one final thud against the their roots. The pain that I felt faded away along with my consciousness and for a moment I knew peace.
Unfortunately, that peace was not eternal and I woke up some time later still aching and throbbing with pain. I was swollen and burning from the wasp venom, but at least it turned out that I was not allergic, or at least just not fatally so. None of the wasps followed me over the wall and I managed to not snap my neck, so my escape gambit appeared to have been a success.
I crawled out of the hedge in a groggy stupor, rubbing my nose which was not quite broken, but was still aching horribly, caked with dirt and dried blood. The blood on my arms had also dried and my wounds scabbed over in my rest, but they seemed a sickly purple color under the pale moonlight. The sun was gone completely at this point and the gibbous moon was shining bright in a cloudless sky. I could see the mansion clearly beneath the moonlight, its walls smothered with untrimmed vines and the roof caving in. Behind me, the hedges were also unkempt, growing wildly in every which way and reaching up to the top of the wall. All around me the grass was growing like wheat and the whole lawn was covered in vile weeds and strange mushrooms.
It seemed as though the mansion was abandoned long ago. Even so, from one of the windows on the third floor, I noticed a tiny glimmer shining through the vines and leaves. I thought that perhaps it might just be the moon reflecting off the glass, but perhaps it meant that was somebody was home. I knew that the idea was absurd, but I could not shake the feeling that the light was left on for me. Just as a worried parent may leave a candle lit for their lost child to come home to, I could feel the light welcoming me inside. I wanted to see the source of the light. I wanted to warm myself by if it were a fire and fall asleep basking in its radiance. At the same, I could feel a darkness stirring inside of myself. It wondered what would happen if I were to extinguish that light. Somehow, I knew that there could be no greater sin.
Before I quite realized what was happening, I was already halfway up the hill. I must have been walking in some sort of a daze. The ground beneath my feet was soggy and I could feel the long stalks of grass wrapping around my legs with each stride. My shoes must have fallen off somewhere, I turned around to look for them, but they must have sunken into the mud. I suppose that it did not matter. It is better to walk through puddles with bare feet than with soggy socks and soaked shoes afterall. And so I continued up the hill.
The more I walked, the more wet the ground became. The grass at my sides also seemed to become more aggressive, grabbing at me, trying to pull me down. The muck beneath my feet sucked me further downwards and soon the whole lower half of my body was submerged. I wondered how it was even possible to be sinking in so deep, unless the whole hill was just one big mound of mud, but if it was, then how was the mansion sitting on top of it? I suppose the physics of the situation were not important. What was important was that beneath my feet I could feel no solid ground and I feared I would not hit rock until my head was beneath the mud. The idea of suffocation did not quite appeal to me at that time and so I desperately mustered what strength I could to grab onto the stalks of grass and try to pull myself up. I was unable to bring myself to rise out of the muck, but at the very least I could stop my descent. I could not escape, but I could keep moving forward.
I continued onward, dragging myself along with the help of the grass. The higher up the hill I climbed, the more loose the mud became. It soon felt as though I was swimming through the waters of a swamp. What once seemed to be a grassy field now appeared to be little more than lawn clippings floating on the surface of an upside down lake. I could move my limbs about more freely in the water, but the relief that freedom granted me did not last long for I soon came to realize that I was not the only thing swimming there. The surface was far too murky for me to see anything, but I could very distinctly feel something slippery sliding around my legs, then another, and then countless more. They wriggled and writhed between my thighs.
Terrified and curious, I reached my hand down into the water and snatched one of things out. I believe what I saw was a leech, but not any ordinary one. It was far too large. Its sleek, serpentine body was twice the size of a cobra and it had countless rows of knifelike fangs. The beast was not content to just sit there and let me hold it, so it jerked around in my hand. I tried to grab for its head, but it managed to break free and stick its mouth against one of my scabbed arms. Its teeth sank into the not so old wounds and I could feel the very life being sucked from me as its disgusting form wriggled and contracted. In a panic I managed to get a grip of it again and pulled. The force of its suction great, and its teeth were burrowed deep into my muscles, but somehow I managed to get it off of myself and toss it back into the water, losing a chunk of my own meat in the process.
The hole the vile thing left in my arm was bleeding profusely and a steady stream of red leaked into the waters below. This seemed to cause the rest of leeches to go into a frenzy. They became faster, hugged me tighter, and some even rose to the surface to breach like warped, wormy, dolphins, opening their mouths as they returned to the water in order to drink in the stew of blood and dirt.
My mind went blank from the terror but my body still seemed to be aware that it needed to leave. It swam as fast as it could in the direction of the manor, leaving behind a trail of blood with each stroke. The leeches followed close behind. Most of them were directing their chase towards my bleeding arm, but one of them came up on my other side. It was faster than the rest, and its skin glowed a crimson red in the moonlight. While the others raced to get at my arm, this one seemed intent on going straight for my chest. Did this creature somehow know where my heart, the very source of my life, was? It stuck itself onto my shirt and began to dig its fangs inside. I did not have time to try to pull it free, for if I slowed my swimming for but a moment then the rest of leeches would surely be upon me. One of them had already made contact with the underside of my wrist and bit in.
The teeth of the red leech broke through my shirt and began piercing into my skin. I could feel its fangs twisting and grinding deeper inside, scraping against the bone of my sternum. Meanwhile, the one that had latched itself onto my wrist was making it more difficult to swim, allowing the others to catch up to me and rub their faces against the bleeding hole in my arm. Thankfully, the greedy vermin were fighting one another to get a prime spot. I could feel one set of teeth sink inside my flesh only to then be driven out by another bite, half of which went straight to my arm, and the other half piercing through the mouth of the first.
By some miracle, I managed to reach the staircase leading up to the porch of the manor. I pulled myself up out of the water before any more leeches could latch themselves to me and held onto the railing with what little strength I had left. Water flowed down the stairs beneath my feet and to the hill below.
I was nauseous and my vision was fading as I dragged myself up the stairway. The leech on my wrist had grown bloated and heavy, but I could not get it off of myself. I cradled it in my other arm, along with the crimson leech that was still on my chest. I could feel that one had grinded all the way through the bone and had sunk its teeth straight into my heart. They were so becoming heavy that I could not stand upright and so I leaned forward as I limped my way to the black mahogany door of the manor.
I stopped cradling the leeches and I grabbed for one of the silver door knobs that was in the shape of a clenched fist, but try as I might, I could not twist it open. It must have been locked, or I must have been too weak. Tears were streaming down my face as I banged my fist helplessly against the wood. My vision was blurring, but I noticed a set of knockers on the door, two brass rings in the mouth of a stone gargoyle. I grabbed one and began pounding away. The knocks were so loud that I could feel them reverberating around my skull, but knock after knock came and went with no response.
I slammed my head against the wood, shouting incoherently as the world faded into darkness around me. The leeches still had not yet had their fill and as my eyes were closing on their own, I believed that they would never open again. I hoped that I would be able to rest well, and that perhaps I could have a pleasant dream for a change.
Just as my eyes closed, the door burst open with a torrent of water. It rushed all around me, but did not push my back. The leeches, however, were caught in its cascade, and they flowed away with the water, losing their death grips on me. The torrent calmed down to a trickle and I fell forward onto my knees. I could not open my eyes, but I felt a hand in a velvet glove grab my forearm, help me up, and lead me through the doorway. That was the first time that I entered the Nightshone Manor.