The Angle In The Room

They found the body up at Solway yesterday. I had hoped to put the occurrences I am about to outline behind me forever; but in light of recent events I am bound to disclose all that I know of that blasted place, and of the calamity that befell the last occupant of the Hall. And though there are few who will believe this account, I hope that the knowledge will prove useful if ever they open that final locked door.

An hour has passed since I wrote the paragraph above. My mind is cluttered; becoming heated and chaotic as I relive those events. Though almost a decade has elapsed since they occurred, I feel the glare of the past upon me; perhaps to spite the refuge I have found in the cool shade of the interceding years. In consideration of this, allow me to begin somewhat disjointedly; for I have the Hall in mind now – its corridors and portraits – and cannot easily dispel these numbing images without a narrative exorcism. I must begin as I intend to close: in Solway Hall; with those who dwelt therein.

Distinct in feature were the Moss family; as indeed has been a great deal of their line judging by the portraiture displayed upon the panelled walls of the spacious gallery which connects the upper rooms of their ostentatious homestead to the landing, and the heads of the comfortable pair of staircases which snake lazily into the great receiving hall. ‘Distinct’ is a descriptive kindness I use solely due to the utmost respect I hold for the memory of Devlin Moss, for his work in his chosen scientific field both inspired me as a student, and provided the catalyst for our original meeting after which we became firm friends – before I forsook the path of physics for that of medicine.

Devlin showed me those portraits when first I arrived at Solway Hall; that sprawling pile so precisely constructed by the great grandfather of its modern day resident, yet so monstrously queer in its appearance as it looms upon the aghast visitor; silhouetted against the sun as that burning wheel sinks behind the stoney bulk; as a small, unsettled child might slip from the room in which its parents entertain a group of noisome and unfamiliar guests.

The eastern-facing house seems to lean towards any who approach in the most ghastly manner – an unpleasant illusion that has been known to cause nausea in the extremely sensitive over the decades, exacerbated by its tendency to occur as one faces each and every outer wall; and giving any who idly wander in a circuit of the property the impression of the building straining at brickwork about to burst from its mortar, filled with an energy the ancient barricades can no longer contain.

Roughly cuboid, it is split into two wings and two floors; the southern to the left as one enters the hall and the northern to the right, culminating in the vast, airy space which fronts the abode from which the lower rooms are accessed. In addition, there are a trio of attic rooms reached by duel staircases which lurk behind all but invisible doors at either end of the gallery; and an enormous cellar reached by another pair of spiralling shafts positioned directly below their counterparts above. For you see the house is perfectly symmetrical – at least according to its former tenant. The upper and lower rooms have been adapted to suit changing times, but they retain their original design structure, regardless of these decorative alterations; as the architect – Devlin’s great grandfather, Hamish Moss – intended, and indeed stipulated in his will in no uncertain terms.

An eccentric man, Hamish Moss was a peculiar character with a colourful history. Having married into the nobility, his prenuptial days are shrouded in obscurity, but after the tragic and sudden death of his wife which left him sole beneficiary of her estate, he adopted the title of Manor Lord and proceeded to rase the stately home to the ground, that he might completely redesign the property to suit his tastes.

There are many things whispered hoarsely by the firesides of the locals in the area concerning the Manor Lord and his peculiar habits; for example, the observed somnambulism that took him occasionally into the fields of nearby farms, whereupon the sleeper mutilated livestock in various unpleasantly ghoulish ways with an insidious curved blade upon which blood appeared to shimmer like quicksilver in the moonshine. Then there are the reports of the flickering lights that shone at night in the mansion’s many rooms and seemed to reflect odd, bacchanalian gatherings in their honeyed glow – though after its construction was completed the inquisitive observed Moss to be hermit-like and secluded in his new sanctuary, shunning friendly visitors who dropped by in a neighbourly fashion to view the interior until their unrewarded persistence finally wore out. And of course there was the weird music that sometimes reached the nearest dwellings on the wind; described by one elderly cottage-dweller as “a piping, gnawing, screeching sound that clawed at the ear drums like the scampering of sharp-footed devils; and though ’twere only ever the faintest noise it grated so upon the nerves that if one was awoken by the rhythmic bleats, sleep would not return for several nights.”

Country gossip, nothing more. That’s what Devlin always assured me, and we laughed about these tales of heidenlarm and more besides over brandy in the rooms of the college which he occupied in those carefree days. But the legends returned to me with a haunting clarity after I paid Solway Hall my only visit some years later.

I have mentioned that Devlin had an interest in physics that I too shared in my early college days. I had read much talk of his work in the various periodicals of the time, and heard many damning criticisms of that work by his opponents – criticisms that occasionally lapsed into outright mockery most unbecoming in those authors concerned. The sciences were never my forte, but I held more than a passing interest in them; and that interest was piqued when I first read of Devlin Moss.

His work, he wrote in a privately printed paper circulated amongst interested parties, was concerned with the radical theory of a marriage between geometric design and magnetics. Apparently inspired by some notes he had found secreted in his family home written by an unidentified ancestor, he had become convinced that with the right machinery, static electricity passed through a dodecahedron constructed of magnetic plates positioned at the correct angles could open passages through the physical earth to allow instantaneous travel over great distances. Providing the plates were correctly aligned, and the electrical currents were of adequate strength at either end of the journey; one could traverse instantly from place to place in the blink of an eye and the flick of a switch. Sadly he had not a shred of evidence to support this idea; and was oddly reticent about divulging the details of the ‘research’ that had led him to hold to this theory so steadfastly, and with such conviction.

Acquainting myself with Devlin soon after I arrived in the college town, I spent a year working with him in this field. During that time I deliberated upon the specifics of the medical career that was to be the focus of my studies; and thus I was an eager student of his theory, and a ready accomplice in his experimentation.

A disproportionately tall man, Devlin Moss was beetling in appearance and far from physically fit. Long limbs were thin; yet the trunk which supported them was portly and bore almost no neck upon which the dome of his head presided owl-like in its detachment. For though his body was unextraordinary, Devlin’s face was captivating, and commanded attention and a respect that might not otherwise have been forthcoming.

A mouth which was rather too wide (though notoriously tight lipped) sat thinly beneath an almost non-existent nose; above which his overlarge eyes blazed a shifting hazel, and brows furrowed and twitched in an ever-present state of anxious, instinctual awareness; necessitated by his tendency to lose himself in thought whenever not directly engaged in conversation or activity. Mutton chop sideburns were studiously well-groomed in an attempt to give some prominence to drowning cheekbones, over which was stretched translucent skin so thin it almost appeared weighted underneath, where it lapped upon the shores of a lazy chin that must have given up on its struggle for recognition against the lifestyle of the well-fed and inactive long ago.

In fact, his head and body were almost globuline, and it was indeed fortunate that he possessed limbs of such prodigious length, or he would surely have lacked sufficient height to captivate his peers with those hooded wells sunk so deeply in his head, through which he exerted that prepossessing will so effective at commanding serious reception. However, despite his appearance, Devlin’s character was genial, and we soon became friends; shunning others in our ceaseless pursuit of scientific glory.

I was convinced Devlin’s theories were resultant of philosophical conjecture rather than empirical scientific discovery; and pestered him often to discuss the origins of his work. Ever elusive, I received nothing from him; but learned a little of his ancestry and his insurmountable knowledge of foreign tobacco plants and mixtures, for he was an almost lifelong pipe smoker even by his thirtieth birthday. After a fruitless year I enrolled in the medical college, and quit his company – though more through distraction than design. I read nothing more of him, and concluding he had given up on his quest, imagined him a reclusive bachelor living alone in the solipsistic world of Solway Hall like his widowed ancestor.

Some twenty-two years later our communications were re-established on the day I received a short telegram at breakfast beseeching me to come up to Solway and assist Devlin in an important personal matter. He wrote that his young daughter was desperately ill; and if I valued our old friendship at all I would contact him post-haste and lend my professional assistance. I did so immediately, and having no pressing professional obligations, at once set about my preparations for departure on the next train; musing rather unkindly upon the kind of girl who must have borne the child of my old mentor.

The hastily arranged train journey had been pleasant – in fact I had dozed for much of it; awakening to find the window ablaze with a gracious autumnal magnificence, fleeing trees shimmering in the poignant gold farewell of the departing sun. They brought to mind an aristocratic hunting party: frenzied but dignified; restrained, civilised nobility balanced perfectly against the primal instincts aroused by the ancient ritual of organised pursuit of an unfortunate quarry.

Upon alighting at Solway station, I hired an automobile and made my way along the greying country lanes, finding the Hall with surprising ease; and enjoying the pleasant chuckling of the gravel as I swung the vehicle through the great iron gates. However, as the Hall loomed towards me encapsulating the car in its great shadow and a second twilight of its own, I couldn’t help but wonder at the faint electric whine I seemed to detect on the very edge of audible sound; nor at the way the familiar gaiety of the tiny stones beneath the rolling tires appeared to take on a malicious tone as though mocking my sense of normalcy. It felt as though the reserves of my security were spilling from their flasks to be lost in a parched and gulping void of superstition.

Devlin met me at the large front doors of the imposing manor, which surprised me as I’d rather expected a servant to perform this task, given the prejudice engendered by my surroundings. He’d seemed jovial enough, though cagy; and we acted like strangers: each familiar to the other merely through reputation, our reunion emotionally throttled by the bonds of polite detachment and British restraint. With a handshake and the perfunctory enquiry as to the efficiency of my trip, he led me into the receiving hall, and up the right-side staircase with a mind to show me to my room; when suddenly his nerve seemed to falter.

And so we return to the portraits. I noticed Devlin perceptibly avoiding the display as they loomed above us during our ascent, averting his gaze or turning to me as I made flattering observations about the quality of the mansion’s sophisticated decor; but at the penultimate stair he turned as if to steal a glance at the large, imposing figure in the oil above him. It seemed his theft was unsuccessful, as with an air of weary resignment he allowed his gaze to return to the picture and rove across what must have been the familiar features of its subject.

“Ah…Now this him, you see? Hamish Moss. The first of us.”

I gazed at the canvass silently, nodding pointlessly at Devlin’s back to confirm my recollection of our old discussions regarding his ancestor. His perplexing latter comment was eclipsed by the experience of unsettled wonder engendered by the sight before me.

The man who loomed from the drab oils in grim defiance of the viewer was imposing, overbearing; and though seated in a rustily upholstered wing-backed chair before a dead fireplace, I could see he was of similar height to his great grandson.

The almost amorphous and rather spartan background of muddied reds and browns bleeding into the black of shadow was in sharp contrast to the whiteness of the man’s skin, his gaunt face stretched tightly over a sharply angular skull with astonishing, well-defined cheekbones augmented by a jaw that reminded me rather oddly of a door frame due to it’s startling rigidity, and sockets so deep they would have swallowed the sight of lesser eyes.

Despite lacking Devlin’s globuline head – though enveloped by his garments, I imagined him to have a very distinct neck – he had both Devlin’s commanding eyes and an expression formed from a more conservative prototype of that wide, tight-lipped mouth.

But the unsettling quality of the composition was not so much its subject as his positioning within it. Moss was poised in the chair; gloved hands gripping the arms as if to rise, each side of the wide fireplace stretching out in a yawn behind him (perhaps stylistically, for surely no true grate could be of such proportion); his face a shining, stark-white – but planting the seed of an as yet unripened and inexplicable horror was the man’s face; for it was painted floating directly in the centre of the portrait.

It was absurd, but the work was, in its every detail of backdrop and subject, perfectly bisected by a line of symmetry slicing vertically through its centre; between the hideous iris-eaten pupils of the man’s abyssic eyes.

“But surely it is an age ahead of its time!” I exclaimed after a moment’s silent study, unbroken by Devlin, “I’ve never seen a portrait so old and yet so stylised…it’s as if the painter sought to portray an impression of the man’s character rather than detailing his realistic likeness.”

A slight sigh emanated from my host before he replied. It was not the weary sigh of one who is preparing to repeat a well-worn story, rather of one perplexed by old knowledge which continues to baffle.

“Not at all Richard, not at all…I’m told it’s quite accurate. Notice the hands – did you assume the Lord is wearing gloves? He was always reported to have had greying skin on his hands; despite that bleached looking face. God knows what the rest of his body looked like. Often I have wondered where the grey ended and the white began. But this painting is no testament to the artistic licence of its master – unless by ‘master’ we refer to Hamish there, who commissioned it. The painter was a well known portrait artist of the period; and though many at first deem this unique in his output, the statements of those who know tell otherwise.”

As he spoke, he indicated the object of our discussion with a motion of his hand – the first time he appeared to have moved since the figure in the frame had captured his attention.

“Hamish requested that the work be attempted without external light, during the few grey hours between sunset and the time which heralded the unworkable darkness of night over a period of several weeks; and that the positioning of his eyes be mathematically calculated in order that they appeared precisely central to the picture. Of course he positioned his chair relative to the background in accordance with this effect. I imagine the lack of light covered up any inconsistencies in the shape of his clothing that might have marred that central symmetry that so obsessed him; but his face…Each half was said to be quite precisely identical. What you see here is a photorealistic image of the composition Hamish intended to create.”

I shivered. No human’s face is entirely symmetrical. As a child I’d sliced photographed faces in two with a thin mirror to create bizarre new countenances as the visible half reflected in the glass to become a new whole. Never once did I find reflections of either side of the face productive of an image remotely similar to the original visage.

As Devlin turned, the years fell away; the ice was broken. We were again researchers sitting together in my rooms discussing the untapped properties of geometric design upon the physical world. He clapped a reassuring hand to my shoulder, and with a half smile led me along the gallery to the door of the northern wing; and the guest room which was to be mine.

As we walked, I noted the pictures we passed – Devlin’s grandfather, father, two uncles…There were no women. And I wondered at the odd way their faces and bodies developed as the generations passed, the figures looked less and less like Hamish, and more slippery; misshapen. I could see the progressive evolution of Devlin’s rather amphibious cast as it became more pronounced throughout the ages; the froggy, beetling characteristics with which I was so familiar. More portraits stretched southward to the left of Hamish Moss, and I vaguely wondered if Devlin was included somewhere; immortalised in oil with the rest of his forbears.

We reached the entrance to the northern wing. I was taken aback by the portal with which I was presented – it was quite out of character when compared to the rest of the mansion’s interior. The door was vast and thick; constructed of a material that reminded me of the texture and fortitude of metal, though it was ivory white in colour. Its surface was varnished with a chemical that reflected a silver-green shimmer; immediately identifiable with the appearance of the retina to any who have dissected the eye of an animal in their biological studies. Despite its girth and depth it swung open easily enough, and before I could question Devlin on its design he ushered me through it, and opened the first door of four on the left of the corridor. I noticed that the passage culminated in a fifth, smaller door at its end – though this detail quickly left my thoughts as I beheld the magnificent chamber into which I was led.

This was to be the guest room in which I slept, and after the briefest of explanations as to the mansion’s layout, Devlin led me downstairs once more into a comfortable study wherein a large fire blazed, framed by a grate I recognised as the one depicted in the distractingly memorable portrait we had studied earlier. Besides the fireplace, there were no signs of the painting’s other accoutrements – the chair had doubtless rotted away long ago, and the room had been repainted and better lit since. Two large, green, high backed leather arm chairs spread their wings invitingly, angled both towards each other and the fire as if the flames were the third party in a conspiratorial debate. We sat, and my host lit his large pipe. It fumed noxiously, and I was glad of the high ceiling towards which the smoke curled like the inverted trickle of a hillside brook.

As I watched the man to my left I waited for him to broach the subject that had prompted his telegram. When ten minutes of meditative silence had passed, I cleared my throat and made to initiate the conversation myself, but Devlin anticipated my question before I could speak.

“You’re wondering where my daughter is aren’t you? Why the urgency in the message if you were not to be rushed to her bedside directly upon arrival?” He inhaled a lungfull of the pipe fume; I marvelled at his capacity to do so.

“She is sleeping. She doesn’t manage to sleep often – this is a rare grace. It’s really best to leave her as long as we’re able. She hallucinates frightfully when she’s wakeful. Sees terrible things, things she can barely describe, though it’s clear to me the image burns against her eyes.”

“Who is her mother?”

He leaned back and inclined his head upward. “She is no longer of consequence.” His answer seemed final. I suspected the cause was remembered pain of a soured love, and not wishing to force open old wounds, arrested my curiosity. Presently, Devlin continued.

“My daughter’s name is Ethel. She has always been a sensitive girl, and frequently prone to ghastly nightmares. Those she seems to have grown out of – she turned twelve a month ago and hasn’t reported them for three years – but these new visions…They have plagued us for the last fortnight, and seem to be worsening. I wondered if you could help me put a stop to them.”

I explained that child psychiatric disorder lay out of my area of expertise, but that I would gladly talk to Ethel in case what knowledge I did possess shone any light upon the cause of her condition. An expression of surprised annoyance seemed to wash over the face of my host at this revelation; like the conspicuous shadow thrown by a wind-rushed cloud as it passes overhead on a bright day. I could only assume at the time that he had learned of my profession through an ignorant source, and was now perhaps regretting his revelations regarding his daughter. Well it was too late now; and after all, to whom else could he turn for assistance?

With nothing more to be said on the subject, our talk turned to science. I was updated on the developments of Devlin’s experiments; though he told me he had made no real progress since the days when we researched together. I must have nodded off as he spoke, for when I jerked awake I became aware that his eyes were on me.

“I was about to rouse you,” he explained, with an air of apology. “Don’t worry, you’ve not slept more than sixty seconds.”

I felt as though it had been considerably longer, but such is the way with the sleep-addled mind regarding one’s perception of time. I excused myself and trudged up the staircase, then through that ponderous door to my room – Devlin doubtless wished to finish the contents of his pipe bowl, as had always been his custom. I barely undressed, and didn’t think to look at my watch before collapsing into the bed, sleep devouring my waking thoughts as easily as one – like my host – might inhale smoke.

It was a markedly unpleasant night. Though I have no memory of being disturbed, upon awakening I was shaken by odd memories of dreams on the edge of recollection – of the faintest strains of a set of pipes echoing from somewhere in the mansion; and worse, of a thumping sound outside my room – dragging, slipping…And of a whine below it all; faint, electric. I was very aware of the hairs on the backs of my hands. Vague and inexplicable impressions: no doubt the footprints left by some jellied nightmare which had long since shuffled out of mind.

I dressed and descended to breakfast.

Devlin sat smoking in the study, the door of which was left sufficiently ajar to announce his whereabouts to me as I stepped into the hall. I answered the unspoken summons immediately, and upon entering found him positioned just as he had been the night before beside the fire. I would have assumed he hadn’t moved since our last conversation were it not for the tray of breakfast things sitting precariously upon a table, which he must have set beside the vacant chair. I greeted him and sat, helping myself to coffee. My host did not choose to acknowledge me immediately; though after a time, and quite without warning, he cleared his throat.

“You know there’s always a place for you here, Richard.” I looked up, surprised. He continued, “I mean after your task is complete. I won’t turn you away if you’d like to stay on. The house is too large for me anyway.” He seemed forlorn; even saddened. Before I could speak, he rose.

“It’s time. She’s waiting.”

“Ah, Ethel of course! Let’s not delay. She’s awake now?” That must be it. He was simply worried about the health of his daughter. I was sure I understood.

But he spoke no more as he led me up the staircase, and to the increasingly familiar ivory door to the northern wing. Again, I wished I could have seen those elusive portraits stretching left along the southern gallery; perhaps the opportunity would present itself that afternoon.

Closing the door carefully behind him, Devlin ushered me onward as we marched past the entrance to the room I currently occupied, and along the corridor towards the small door I had briefly observed the previous night set into the wall at its end.

Without knocking, Devlin grasped the knob and turned it with a soft click, swinging the door inwards, but standing aside that I might enter. I did so, fumbling for the light switch, for inside the room was pitch black, feebly interrupted by the splotches of sunlight which streamed richly into the corridor behind us. As I moved into the shadow, my groping fingers discovering the switch at last, I felt a rush of air behind me. The door closed; its lock snapped; the bare bulb above me sputtered into illuminating life. Disturbed by the turbulent air, it swung gently.

“…Devlin?” I rattled the doorknob, knowing it would be useless. I heard his muffled voice from beyond the panelled wood.

“I’m truly sorry Richard, but this is the only way. I won’t ask your forgiveness, but the least I can offer you is understanding; and I ask you to try and accept this meagre gift for your own sake.” He sounded weary, resigned to some dread truth. I hoped it was not fed by a guilt as yet premature.

As he spoke I turned, surveying the room in which I was imprisoned. It was utterly unlike the other rooms I had seen in Solway Hall. No carpet covered the dusty floorboards, there were no paintings on the windowless walls – in fact no decoration of any kind punctuated the rotting panels of cheap wood that formed the room’s interior, now stained grey and black with ageing mould. There was a simple bed to my left, occupied by a child-sized lump cocooned beneath the sheets. Ethel?

Poor Devlin. By now I had reasoned his eccentricity had overwhelmed him, pressing him across the divide into delusion. It wouldn’t be long before I secured an exit from this place – the wooden door seemed thin and insufficient – and I felt I owed it to my friend to ensure the safety of his daughter while he received the best professional care. I ran over a list of psychiatric acquaintances in my mind. But the voice behind the partition had not ceased.

“You must know I have very little control over the situation. The heirs of my ancestral estate do not grow up in the hall; we are merely conceived here. As you know, I was raised by foster parents in London; but I was not orphaned as the records state.”

This was intriguing, as Devlin had always been notoriously silent about his upbringing. I had been told he was the orphaned heir to the Moss estate, nothing more.

“I didn’t set foot over the threshold of Solway Hall until I was a young man, having received a letter from my father’s lawyer confirming the estate was mine, and informing me that my father had only recently died – in the Orient of all places – though he did not relate the circumstances of his demise.

“Angered that I had been lied to, I drove up to the estate that very day; eager to claim what was mine, but stepping into the hall, the things I found…There were piles of them – rubbery, and dessicated…I should have run screaming from the place that very day; but like a fool I clutched onto my sanity with the tenacity of the child who so adamantly refuses to relinquish a treasured security blanket.

“I read the Last Letter, learned how to clean the place up…How to dispose of the refuse, and the few that remained still trapped, crawling impotently up in the attic. Mercifully helpless though they were without their counterparts, the task was unspeakable, and I was terrified by the notion that I’d not have enough salt to finish…

“That should have been the end of it, but curiosity seduced me until my will gave, and I entered the room. I saw the angle in the corner there, and what came from it.”

As I listened I allowed my gaze to drift over the walls, and had indeed noticed the angle. It was a bizarre illusion of optics in the far right corner which lay opposite the bed, and I approached it. It was truly fascinating: from my position at the foot of the bed it had appeared a gap – tiny and acute; a place one could secrete a sheaf of papers cut into the outer wall of the house. However, as I moved steadily closer, I saw it widen, whoring itself to the room as it opened out; though it was only my perception that shifted. I reached out a hand to touch it, and gasped as my fingertips met the cold surface much too early. The corner did not shy away from the room, it reached into it; obtuse and eager. And as my fingers pressed against the wooden obliquity I heard the beginnings of an electric whine, more a vibration than a sound. All the while the voice droned on.

“Hamish brought them, but he had always known. He couldn’t do more than communicate with them on the outside until he built this place. And I, damn fool that I was; possessed of scientific greed…I had to understand, don’t you see? I had to harness it too. You can see how valuable the knowledge would be. And after all, they had all died hadn’t they? I had no reason to believe they would return. My father had written of them in his letter; but I had the salts he left me. I burned it when it crawled out…when it slithered from the angle…I would not touch that wall again. But I could study it couldn’t I? It was my duty to study…For the good of mankind…to understand…”

I was aware of movement behind me on the bed. I whirled around. The electric whining was steadily increasing, and I felt the pressure of a draft of air, seemingly urging me away from the angled wall.

“I left with the notes I had made and all I had learned from the letter. I went away and tried to crack it.”

In my mind flashed an image of the first paper Devlin had written. It was titled ‘Geometric Displacement Theory’. A line from the final paragraph: “Discovering the keys to these gates will grant the greatest minds access to an untold wealth of information. We shall better understand the nature of the cosmos and our place within it, but in addition we shall at last be able to efficiently transport ourselves throughout it.”

The bed sheets were still moving.

“But you were there, you saw it was impossible. And so I returned. I needed more, I needed them to tell me! I touched the wall. I had the salt, but they were waiting. They took it back….took it all back. All that my father had wrested from their grip.”

Under the blankets came a sound like coughing; as though from a windpipe not choked by phlegm so much as constructed of it; palpy and fatty. Waterlogged seaweed slapped against the inside of a dry pail.

“It’s a kind of perverse symbiosis, Richard. It began with Hamish, but the Moss line will always be entwined with theirs. Every male Moss child is sterile, you see. Our line would have died without them, that was what Hamish feared. But they can procreate with humans in…other ways.”

I was now terrified by the motion of the sheet, my head starting to throb painfully with the buzz. I was aware of a charge in the room as my garments became whipped up in the steadily strengthening wind; fingers of static tugging at my hair as I was pushed back towards the locked door.

“But I won’t have it! I’ll honour their bargain, but I’ll not be their sacrificial lamb! And you…Giving up on me. Giving up on the process of science itself! You turned your back on your duties: to learn, to discover. You left me to continue alone…if you’d only stayed we might have succeeded without ever re-entering this damnable place! Richard, but for your fickleness they might never have returned!”

His speech had descended into slurred gibbering; the last sentence almost screamed as he hammered the door frame in his anguish; the newly knotted bonds of servitude tying him to whatever horrors lay behind that angle…beneath the bed sheet! I noticed thin strings of mucus dripping from the bed frame, the sheets moving with greater fervour as the pitch of the whine increased, as if excited by the same anticipation that filled me with such dread. The angle looked no different, but I heard the unmistakable crackle of electricity from its direction; sensed the weight of a pregnant event about to birth…

As I launched myself off the far wall against the door I felt the cross and thin panels splinter beneath my weight. Devlin’s pitiable form cowered screaming beneath me as it gave; as I tumbled through the flesh-rending maw of broken wood into the corridor. And I heard the sheets and blanket flop onto the floor of the room behind me before the impossible gust of chill wind raked through my hair, and without warning the unmistakable sounds of wailing pipes – obnoxiously loud, and haunting in malign clarity as the air teased their volume and pitch – exploded into the atmosphere like a clap of thunder to eclipse all other sound in that fateful corner of Solway Hall.

I pelted along the corridor, through that shimmering door which I left gaping at my back, then along the gallery. Instinct had taken hold; and reason’s voice which would have urged me down the staircase and away through the front doors to earthbound sanctuary was lost in the clamour from the room. And since instinct forbade my turning to face that menace from which I fled, as I would whilst descending the serpentine stairs, my escape was primed to put as much distance as I could between my body and that which lay behind in a straight line of flight.

As the distressing portrait of Hamish Moss flashed past on my right, I was only aware of a bright white moon glowing in the centre of a cosmic vacuum; and from those leftmost paintings I had once been so keen to examine I now deliberately averted my gaze.

I gained the door to the southern wing. It too was constructed of that alien material; and shimmered dimly as I wrenched it open, dragging it with me as I ran, but not stopping to ensure it closed properly.

The piping continued, though now a good distance away; and I was only vaguely aware of the wind as I plunged thoughtlessly down the corridor, past the four rooms on my right, and into the end room; slamming the door shut behind me.

It was here I gathered myself, and cursed my panicking idiocy. I prepared to turn again, and make for the front doors before whatever had entered that room behind me secured the hall’s exit, when my glance registered the wall opposite. Though this room too was panelled with vile wood, an area of the leftmost side seemed to be constructed of glass, as if the entire corner of the building had been made window. But it did not look out upon the grounds as it should. Instead, I beheld a sprawling magenta sky; sickly and oppressive above an undulating alien landscape, pockmarked by clusters of grey.

As I gazed I drew closer. The clusters were trees…or were they reefs? Many colours spattered their pallid branches – flowers that seemed to be formed from tiny crystal prisms; and unwholesome hovering creatures – too far away to be clearly distinguished – could nevertheless be observed to loose worm-shaped tubular growths from their bodies; which I would have taken to be feathers had they not squirmed so as they plummeted when their hosts flapped drunkenly to and from their perches. The whole scene was tainted by the unidentifiable source of light that illuminated the uncharted wilderness.

Then I saw concrete. A plinth extending from the place where the floorboards reached the wall, and a smooth path, besides which squatted a dwarfen pyramid which yawned blackly towards the glass. It exuded the impression of a guard house.

It was as my nose touched the grasping, transparent angle that I sensed ghastly movement in that yawn; and the electric whining began again.

I turned and fled the room, aware of the static tingle, and a rising wind cooling the perspiration on my forehead; teasing at my hair as it did so. This time however, the air was drawn from the doorway; as though being sucked back into the room. I cleared the corridor of the southern wing and burst through the gargantuan door, flinging it wide in my haste. I paused in shock – details of the procession approaching me down the northern corridor flooded into my gaping senses.

There were two figures, one of which bore a third. Plump and squat; the two were too large to have been occupants of that child sized bed. They shambled towards me, inflating and deflating as they came; traversing the floor upon a mass of writhing tentacles. The hindmost of the two was split below the slug-like antennae that probed and squirmed desperately upon its crown; and in the gash was jammed the set of wooden pipes which blared and wailed chaotically with every inhalation and exhalation ballooning the creature’s pulsating bulk.

Upon the back of the leading figure, a smaller form perched; bleating mournfully with its bubbling vocal organs like a drowning lamb; antennae writhing in consternation. It had no tentacles; thus my Freudian mind equated it with the species’ female. I could not help but associate the scene before me with a wedding procession.

As I rushed down the stairs I was aware of a taller form standing behind the three, staring maniacally not at me, but down the southern corridor – into the sucking wind-tunnel from which I fled. As I stumbled over the floor of the receiving hall I heard him cry in abject terror, louder than the bleats and pipes, louder than the whine; so loud I almost turned.

“RICHARD, YOU DAMNED FOOL! WHY DIDN’T YOU CLOSE THE DOOR?”

I thanked whatever gods watched over me that I had not locked my car. It waited faithfully in the drive, and I surprised myself by the dexterity with which I turned the key in the ignition and sped away across the gravel.

Before I reached the gates however, I stamped the break and turned. All noise had abruptly ceased, and I heard a crump; the impact of a large bag of flour dropped to burst upon a tiled floor. In the second before the house collapsed in on itself like the external skeleton of a long dead insect, I noticed I had yanked shut the front doors of the manor.

Eight years have passed, and nothing has been heard since of Devlin Moss. No events of consequence have occurred in the vicinity of Solway Hall. That is, not until yesterday, when the workmen of the new land owner – who had come at last to clear up the mess of what remains – chanced upon the cellar. The reader may well be aware of many of these final details from recent articles in the press, but I will reiterate them in the context of my account.

As the shell of the mansion was cleared away, it became apparent that there was a far smaller amount of material than should have comprised a building of such size. My guess is that in fact the rubble only accounted for the attic rooms, roof and walls; the rest of the Hall’s interior having been swept away to somewhere considerably further afield.

Below this surprisingly modest devastation, they found the cellar. Two crumbling staircases, north and south, led down below the debris to two doors. The southern door was tightly closed, and has so far proven impossible to penetrate. However, the northern door was slightly damaged at the hinge, and with the help of a few basic tools, the interior became accessible.

Inside that northern room they found the body of a man. Rather, they found half a body, bisected precisely down its centre. In the pockets of its ragged clothes they discovered copious quantities of an unidentified granular compound; and upon its arm there seemed to be a melted glove of brown rubber, encapsulating it to the shoulder, trailing a number of shrunken, tentacular vines. Two hard protuberances stretched antennae-like from the highest point of the thing, questing towards the man’s face; and the whole ‘garment’ was utterly saturated with the salty substance found elsewhere upon his person.

The wall, which seems to have swallowed half the man’s body, appears to be shattered inside as if made of crystal or glass, giving it the appearance of frosted ice; and where the room’s corner should angle, the wall is perfectly smooth and curved.

The mansion has been dead, its bowels inaccessible from the outside, for the last eight years. The recently discovered corpse has not sufficiently decomposed to be unrecognisable, for the time of death is estimated at less than a month ago. The body is that of Devlin Moss.


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