The first time that I visited the manor I came not as a guest but more as something like thief or marauder, or at least that was my intent. Looking back on it now it seems so foolhardy, suicidal even, to try to intrude upon the manor, but at the time I suppose I had nothing better to do. Indeed, the life I was living was hardly any life at all. I so often wondered if I was already dead. It certainly felt as though I was.
I was lying down in bed when suddenly there came a knocking, a tapping upon the glass of a window. I looked up to see a man wearing a cloak in a tree. As I looked at him, he smiled and pulled down his hood to reveal his head, pale, bald, wrinkled, and speckled brown from many sun splotches. His teeth were yellow and crooked, most twisted sideways, and a few missing. His excitement was contagious and I found myself smiling too and I cannot deny that at that moment I felt a hope that something interesting was going to happen; at that point in my life anything happening was better than continuing life in the void. The hope, however, was short lived as it was at then I remembered I was in the basement and my room had no windows.
Sleep deprivation, and perhaps just a fair bit of actual insanity as well, had made it so that hallucinations were not something that I was unfamiliar with. I have had many conversations with my chair. He is quite condescending and I do not much enjoy our talks, but I hear him out anyway as sometimes it can be helpful. I suppose one way of looking at it is that my subconscious has something to say and the chair hallucination is a manifestation of that. I decided that I would play along with this old man as well, thinking that he may be the same. Walking over to the window, the man’s expression became even more ecstatic. I hesitated for a moment, thinking of whether I should actually open it not knowing what it is I might be inviting in, but I was fully prepared for the worst so I went ahead and opened it just a crack so I could speak to him.
That crack turned out to be enough for the old man. He shoved his bony fingers between the window and the frame opening it just enough for his head and body to squeeze in through. His movements were inhuman and his frame seemed to lack bones with how it was able to push itself with such ease through such a small hole; it would have been disturbing were it not for the fact I was at that time unconvinced of the reality of the situation. The man spoke not a word, though he did mumble and chant. He covered my eyes with his hands and in the darkness I saw a vision of a place that I once knew. It was near the woods of my childhood home, far passed the pricker bushes and over the river where none dared to tread. There was an old stone wall that always seemed to be buzzing with nested wasps and crawling with all manner of insects. I had never once gone over this wall, but in the vision I saw myself climbing it and on the other side I saw a mansion, bright lights beaming from every window and the old man in the doorway beckoning me inside.
I awoke in my bedroom alone; the man and the window had vanished back into whatever recess of my mind from which they emerged. I thought about the mansion again. I had never seen it, but heard all sorts of fantastic rumors about it, people being dared to sneak inside never being seen or heard from again. I thought about my life as well. How dull and dreary it has been. It was then I remembered that there were rumors of great treasures as well being housed within the mansion. Genie lamps, monkey paws, all sorts of magical wonders that could make wishes come true. I did not actually know what it is that I would want to wish for, but I knew that I did not want any more of my current existence. I wanted something else, something different, but what? While I may have been only going off of dreams and rumors, it was better than doing nothing and it was perhaps the best chance I had at the very least figuring out what it was I desired.
I went back to my childhood home the next day, making sure to avoid being seen by anybody that I might have known. Following along the path in the vision the old man granted to me, I was at the wall in a matter of minutes. I arrived at the stone wall and looked at it in delight. Over the years it had grown mossy and began to fall apart. It was still teeming with insects, but I had a feeling that just beyond it lay something wonderful. I began to circle around looking for an entrance. It was surrounded in a thicket of vines and thorns that made traversing the area difficult, though I persevered. The thorns scraped and cut against my coat and skin as I continued round the wall. It seemed as though I had been walking for far too long, yet still there was no clearing nor entrance in sight. It was then that I noticed blood on the vines in front of me. It appeared as though I was going around in a large circle. I could swear I was going straight the whole time, regardless, it seemed as though I was going around a ring.
Seeing as there was no way to go around, I decided that I would go over the wall. I could hear the buzzing and chittering of countless insects that lay within its cracks and crevices and could see them oozing out onto the ground and into the air. It was difficult to breathe without inhaling a few mayflies. I stepped closer and tried to get a grip on the wall on one of its protruding stones. A centipede crawled out from the cracks and walked all one hundred of its tiny spiky legs across my hand from my pinky to my thumb. Another followed. Then another.
Were I sane at the time perhaps then I would have just left and fetched a ladder or at the very least climbed some nearby tree and attempted to jump atop or over the wall from that. Instead I fantasized about what it would be life if I stuck my entire arm in the chittering darkness of the stone wall’s crevices. How many pincers would sink into my flesh. How many tiny little legs would crawl up onto my arm. The thoughts excited and disturbed me as I began to climb. More insects came out of the wall to crawl across me, though they were not very hostile. Perhaps they were just curious as to the source of vibration upon their home which to them must have been like an earthquake. Some attempted to walk up my arms but I was sure to gently brush them off before they could get into my sleeves; too many horror movies featuring bugs crawling beneath clothing and then crawling beneath the skin made me anxious about allowing them out of my sight for even a moment.
The wall could not have been more than twelve feet tall though the climb itself felt endless; the sun had already begun to set behind me. The bugs towards the top of the wall were more hostile than their low living brethren. I had just grabbed the ledge before the top when I felt the burning sting of a wasp. My grip slipped as I withdrew my hand in pain and to find the beast still stuck on, injecting more of its fiery venom. I crushed it, in the heat of the moment forgetting that wasp guts release pheromones that notify the rest of the swarm of their demise. I had never been stung by a wasp before, yet the pain felt so dreadfully familiar like a recurring nightmare, and I panicked as I wondered if I might be allergic; my brother and mother were deathly allergic after all. The other wasps had no intention of waiting out my panic attack and came out full force to investigate their fallen comrade’s distress signal.
I knew then that staying still would be the death of me and that I needed to do something. I could have jumped down, but then I would have lost all the progress I had made climbing up the wall, and I would need to wait for the bees to settle down before climbing again, or find some other spot to climb, but the sun was setting; I leapt upwards and clinged onto the wall’s ledge through the swarm of wasps. Most of them were as confused as I was and so only a few stung as I pulled the rest of my body up. As my head reached over to the other side, catching a glimpse of a building atop a small hill, I could feel my stomach pressed up against the hole to their hive and more and more of them building up against my shirt which was thankfully thick enough to stop their stings. I knew that the moment I moved the whole swarm would be upon me, but I could not just wait there either as there were a good number already out and upon me.
Needing to act, I quickly hoisted myself over the ledge; once my shoulders were over I kept leaning into it, my lower body raising into the air as the wasps broke free but before they could get at my legs, I already had myself falling face first onto the other side of the wall. I closed my eyes as I could feel the leaves and branches of a hedge scratching up my face until there was one final thud as I hit the dirt. At first I felt pain but that thankfully faded away as I lost my consciousness. Unfortunately, the pain was not entirely gone by the time I woke up. I could also still feel some residual throbbing from the wasp venom; it was quite lucky that my gambit was successful and they did not follow me as I fell to kill me in my sleep and I did not snap my neck.
I crawled out of the bushes groggily and rubbing my nose which was not quite broken but still ached horribly, caked with dirt and dried blood. The sun had completely set in the time I was out but the sky was without a cloud and the gibbous moon was shining brightly. Looking up the hill I could get a better glimpse at the building which I could now see was the mansion that I would one day come to know so well. The old stones of the Victorian era manor were crumbling apart and the walls and windows were being smothered with untrimmed vines. Turning around, the hedge behind me as well was equally unkempt, nearly reaching to the height of the stone wall and growing outward in random locations. The grass grew wild and the lawn was covered with weeds and wild mushrooms.
A cursory evaluation made me believe that the building was abandoned long ago. Even so, from one of the windows on the second floor I noticed a tiny glimmer shining through the leaves. I thought perhaps it was just the moon reflecting off the glass, but I could not shake the idea that it did mean that somebody was home. Further, I knew the thought was absurd, but I could not shake the feeling that the light was left on for me as a parent would leave a light on for their child so that they would feel safe upon their return. I wanted to see the source of that light. I hoped it was something warm like a fireplace or at least a candle so that I could bask in its radiance, but at the same time I could feel a darker part of my mind desiring to snuff it out the moment I came across it. It felt as though there could be no greater sin that I could possibly commit than to destroy that light.
Before I quite realized what was happening, I noticed myself already halfway up the hill. The ground was soggy and I could feel the long stalks of grass wrapping around my legs. My shoes were gone, disappeared, perhaps they fell off and had sunken into the mud. I suppose the feeling of actually stepping in a puddle with bare feet was better than trampling through with soaked shoes and soggy socks, but I was still concerned that now my feet were more vulnerable to whatever might be lurking on the ground. Warily, I continued up the hill.
The grass at my sides was was grabbing me and pulling me downward. The muck beneath me also felt as though it was sucking me downwards as my lower body sunk in. I wondered how it was even possible that I was sinking so far in given that I was on hill, unless the whole hill were really just a pile of wet mud, but then I wondered how the manor could possibly be stable atop it. Regardless of the physics, I was sinking and still could not feel my feet landing on solid ground; I feared that I would touch rock until my head was under. I was not in the mood for suffocation and so I grabbed onto the stalks of grass and tried pulling myself up with what meager strength I could muster. I was unable to rise out of the mud, but I was able to stop my descent.
I continued on, pulling on the grass to drag myself forward. The higher up the hill I travelled, the more loose and wet the mud became; it felt as though I was swimming through the waters of a swamp. What appeared to be a grassy lawn now seemed to be little more than lawn clippings floating on the surface of a lake. The freedom of movement was appreciated, but it quickly came to my attention that I was not the only thing moving in the water. It was far too murky for me to see any of the forms of what was in the water, but I could very distinctly feel many things slippery brushing up against my legs. They wriggled and writhed round the gap between my thighs. Terrified and curious, I reached my hand down and snatched at forms. Pulling it above the water I soon came to regret the decision. It was a leech, though not an ordinary one. It was far too large. Its sleek body was the size of a cobra. This vicious, toothed slug looked as if it was meant to feed on whales or dinosaurs.
Panic set in as I could feel more of the vile worms swimming up from below and brushing against my exposed toes. The one in my hands was also not pleased with my grip and began thrashing, jutting its head straight towards my chest, as if it was aware that the heart was the source of my blood, its food. Its mouth had several rows of hooked teeth along with a fanged, almost human set of teeth a bit further back in its throat. It managed to drive the outermost layer of hooks into my shirt as I was unable to keep myself afloat and hold back the beast at the same time.
I needed to get out before things got worse and so I swam in the direction of the manor. I was so close, but I could feel the current pushing against me, trying to take me back down the hill. The leeches as well were agitated by my movement and I could feel them going into a frenzy, swimming around my body, some of them even leaping out of the water. The one I had picked up was still on my chest and I could feel its mouth suctioning closer to my chest as the hooks bore deeper into my shirt. It is then that I noticed something particularly strange about the leeches. As the collided into one another, they did not bounce off but instead seemed to merge into a thicker, longer, eel thing with multiple mouths. I could feel them banding together and trying to to wrap around my legs like an octopus’s tentacle on its prey.
By the world’s mercy, the porch of the manor came within my reach and I pulled myself up before the leeches could drag me beneath the surface to drown. The porch was slippery and water flowed down it onto the hill below. The railing was wet as well but my fingers wrapped around it just fine and I yanked myself out of the bulge of a lake. The surface of the water was more clear at the top and I could clearly see the the mass of leeches had become one leviathan of a leech that circled the entire manor. Meanwhile, the one on my chest had grown as well, likely having made contact with at least two other leeches during the struggle. It was the size of my leg at this point and its weight forced me to lean inwards as I walked up the stairway. I tried tugging it off, but it was useless as its hooks had bored their way into the flesh of my chest. Each yank hurt immensely and did not budge the leech one bit. Its teeth just sank in deeper. I could feel their teeth scraping against the bone of my sternum.
Feeling weak and nauseous, I finally made it to the black mahogany door. I grabbed for the silver knob which was shaped into a clenched fist and tried to twist but to no avail as it was locked. I could feel the head of the leech digging further into my chest as I desperately pounded my fists against the door. I grabbed for the knockers which seemed to be made of gold and copper twisted into the shape of a gargoyle head with a large nose ring. The knocks came out so loud I could feel them pounding in my skull. Knock after knock rang but there was no response.
I though perhaps it was due to my madness or desperation, but I swore as though I felt the head of the leech had managed to chip away all the bones in the way to my chest and it was wrapping its lips around my heart and feeding, siphoning blood straight from the my coronary arteries. As if that was not enough for the beast, it continued to go deeper, encasing my heart whole. Tear rolled down my eyes as I pounded even more fervently with the knocker.
My body was getting heavy and my vision was going black from blood loss. I could no longer hold up the weight of my eyelids and as they closed I imagined that I would soon be sleeping forever. Then, the door swung open. A torrent of water rushed out but it did not push me down. I stood, at first hunched forward and then bent backwards from the pressure. The leech loosened its death grip and fell back into the lake. The flow of water slowed and I could only feel a small stream of it still coming, not even reaching up to my knees. My eyes could not open, but a felt a velvet gloved hand grab my forearm and pull me inside the manor. Dizzy, I stumbled along, almost tripping through the doorway. That was the first time that I entered the Nightshone Manor.