Thursday, October 30, 2014

Unreal Estate IV

They climbed the steps together, crossed the wooden porch with only the faintest creak of wood beneath their feet, and stepped into the wide front entry. It was large enough for a game of football, but the floor was polished wood and doubtless had been intended as a ballroom. At the far end, a wide stair climbed to a balcony that overlooked the room and opened onto both wings of the second floor.

Adelle glanced at the ornate stone fireplaces, but saw nothing: no hint of movement, no cooling embers, no ashy footprints leading to or from them. She turned her eyes to the pictures, dark-eyed patriarchs and stern matriarchs, all seated stiffly and regarding the room with a mixture of disapproval and rigid dignity. There was nothing there, either; no hint of movement; not even the usual itchy sense of being watched. She frowned, puzzled.

Her client seemed to share something of her reaction. "You said the place was haunted?" he inquired politely.

She looked at him suspiciously, but he wore politeness like a mask; his stance and expression showed mild curiosity, but she couldn't read anything behind it. "Mr. Petrovich," she said, and then cut herself off. She was not going to tell him what it had been like the last time she was here, or what she'd found when she came to see why the young couple had never called them back. Besides, he'd seen the front doors open on their own; he had to know that there was something unusual about this place. So instead she took a breath, and then said: "Why don't we just look the place over, and see what happens?"

"Of course," he said. "Humor me, though, and tell me why you call the place haunted. We can walk as you explain."

Adelle sighed. "I suppose we can," she said, "but we don't have to go far. Steve -- my boss, who owns the house -- once told me that the first person he brought here turned and ran away not three steps inside the door. When he caught up with her outside, she swore she'd seen a shadowy figure dragging a... a struggling woman up one of the chimneys. She wouldn't go back inside. Those pictures on the walls? People say they feel like the pictures are watching them. I've felt it myself, though I suppose it could be just imagination."

"Go on," said Damon Petrovich. His voice was gentle, coaxing.

Adelle started walking. "Several people reported feeling a... presence," she continued. "Something watching them, something reaching for them. I've felt that myself... just a few minutes ago, in fact. One man insisted that something in the house kept brushing against him, but I haven't ever felt that -- thank God. One time, Steve was trying to show this place, and he kept hearing someone moving in nearby rooms, or overhead. It made him half-crazy -- I think he thought that some vagrant was living here, hiding from him, and spoiling his chances of making the sale. He searched for maybe four hours and never found anyone, or any sign of anyone. Just sounds. Somewhere in there, the clients got freaked out and left. Steve didn't leave until it started getting dark outside." She paused, still walking, remembering what he'd said about that. After a time she asked: "Would you like to see the family rooms, the kitchens, or the servants' quarters first?"

"The kitchens, I think," said Damon Petrovich. He sounded uncertain, but Adelle was committed. She was going to tell him everything she remembered, and he would either buy the place, call her a fraud, or run screaming like everyone else had. For a moment, she was completely, irrationally angry: at Steve, for leaving her saddled with this; at Damon, for taking an interest in it; at herself, for being fool enough to come out here again; at the house itself, for being such an utter, unrelenting, terrifying pain in the ass.

"This way," she said, and led him around the stairs, and through the discreet door towards the back of the house.

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