The House of Thirteen Doors Part 1
by Daniel XIII
OF AND CONCERNING A YOUNG LADY AND HER AWAKENING FACILITATED THROUGH CURIOUSITY
The late afternoon sunlight smashed against the window glass of Joanna’s 15th floor office like a sea of fire battering a concrete iceberg. She sat at her tiny desk twirling a lock of her scarlet hair between her middle and index fingers, wondering when the excitement of moving to the city to become a fashion journalist had been replaced with complacent familiarity and comfort akin to being back in the womb. The rhythmic clack, clack, clack of fingers on typewriter keys , like some biomechanical heartbeat, accompanied by the pleasing warmth afforded by the solar intrusion only reinforced this notion.
Life had become predictable. From nine to five, Monday thru Friday, she sat at her desk, trying in vain to feign interest in the fashion column, that when offered to her, represented the singular greatest event that had ever occurred in her twenty two years. Now the job merely represented an escape from the prison-like confines of her tiny mid-town studio apartment. Not that the job didn’t have an occasional perk. Occasionally some up and coming designer would actually prefer the company of women over men. At times they even had connections enough to make that which was only a dream the year before into reality. All of this was playing through her mind when she was snapped back to reality by a voice calling her name…
“Are you all right Joanna?” Tom from the mailroom asked. “You know something Tom, I really have no clue.” Joanna responded glassy eyed. “Well, this may cheer you up.” said Tom handing Joanna an envelope sealed with a large scarlet wax seal. “Looks like an invitation!” Tom offered jovially. She could barely force a reaction. The ennui mixed with the promise of the approaching weekend had made focusing on anything other than day-dreaming an insurmountable task. Tom, crest fallen by Joanna’s lack of interest tossed the envelope half-heartedly on her desk, where it immediately got swallowed up by the latest, and not so latest, fashion magazines, an empty Styrofoam burger container, and a cup of coffee that had long ago given up the fight to stay warm or appealing in any way. Tom walked away, pushing the trite payload of the same old tired magazines, product samples, and memos, which never deviated day after day, month after month.
And, there she sat. She watched the mid-October sun begin its lazy descent as iron-grey clouds gathered in the horizon, or at least what she could see of it between the cold, steel mountains that made up the landscape of the teaming metropolis. Occasionally she would drift into a dream as the fluorescent lights purred seductively from above. Her large jade eyes would just be covered by her lightly freckled lids, when she would snap awake, usually from the loud ding of someone’s typewriter, look nervously left and right, and begin the process all over again. Periodically she would hit the keys of
the typewriter in front of her, but this was just to give the illusion of productivity. She paid as much mind to what she was typing as she did to staying awake, which is to say none at all.
Joanna snapped awake the minute the liquid splashed in her lap. Reaching desperately for anything to help mop up the growing ocean of stale coffee spreading across her green floral print dress, her fingers wrapped around the recently delivered envelope. Still looking at the minor catastrophe befalling her wardrobe, she began to mop up the cold liquid with the envelope when the red wax seal caught her attention. All thoughts of spilled beverages and outfit rescue fell to a complete standstill. A quick coffee scented breath escaped through her glossy pink lips, and her heart skipped a beat.
The seal was embossed with a large roman numeral thirteen, surrounded by exquisitely detailed lilies. Joanna was quickly overcome by a sudden rush of excitement. “It...It can’t be” Joanna said aloud as her eyes widened. Furiously digging through the large piles of periodicals that had decided to use her desk as some sort of magazine graveyard, Joanna hit pay dirt. There, on the cover of Aufrichtigen Mode’s January edition was the exact same logo replicated in wax in front of her. She began flipping feverishly through the dog eared pages. Joanna felt as if she was moving underwater, even though she was turning pages so fast they were ripping. Finally, she found what she had desperately been looking for! There was the article she had starred at countless times, Style is Behind Every Door. The article detailed the art of a rogue fashion designer whose only name was a number, 5. Toiling in his secluded upstate studio, The House of 13 Doors, 5 was gaining a huge swell of underground notoriety.
5’s art was a furious storm of red and black fabric, imprinted with runes, pentagrams and other arcane symbols, mixed with tailoring that would have been at home in a German Expressionistic film. It was just the kind of abstract thought that the fashion world was screaming out for, but which ultimately fell on deaf ears. Joanna had tried in vain to convince her editor that a show featuring the work of 5, sponsored by her magazine, would push the publication from distant third to first in sales. Being a part of something so fresh and avant-garde would finally validate the choice she had made when she gave up everything for a rash move to a distant city that ended up more nightmare than dream. But, alas it wasn’t to be. Clara, her editor, was an unmoving rock of a bitch that had little time or patience when it came to editorial experimentation.
But now, beyond all reason, 5 seemed to be reaching out for her. Joanna had become frozen, lost in the swirling chaos and excitement that played across her mind. Soon the ability to perform ambulatory functions, albeit limited, returned to her. Reaching under one of the dog-eared magazines that festooned her work space, she pulled out a simple silver letter-opener. Working gingerly around the circumference of the seal, she managed to pull it loose from its home with little damage done to the bright crimson wax. A slight dusting of particulates fell upon her desk like blood red snow. Placing the emblem gently on her desk, Joanna began opening the envelope. Her hands were trembling uncontrollably as she pulled what felt like parchment from the paper womb. Written in snow white ink upon an ebony sheet of paper was the following inscription:
“Your presence has been requested at La Maison de Treize Portes.”
For such a brief collection of words, their impact was staggering. Joanna’s fevered mind began to fill with wild images of how The House, not to mention its master, would appear, since neither had ever been photographed. Perhaps she would be the first to be granted the honor! Oh, how she would love to shove that in Clara’s face!! Maybe she could even take the exclusive and shop it to the competition. All of the people who had told her she was mad as a hatter for impulsively uprooting herself would have to eat their words! Excitement soon crumbled to frantic despair however as Joanna realized the missive contained neither address nor date. “There isn’t even a phone number!” Joanna spat, flipping the card over and back again. As quickly as she had ascended to dizzying heights of imagined notoriety, she came crashing back to reality even faster. A simple clerical oversight had snatched from her the validation she so desperately craved.
Then, like the screech of a great predatory bird piercing the silence, her phone rang…
Joanna jumped as the phone gave out another loud ring. It rang three more times before she could regain her faculties enough to reach towards the large black phone that sat on the edge of her desk. Vaguely she was aware of someone in the office asking if she was going to answer “that fucking phone”. Suddenly, she felt all together not well, as if each ring of the accursed device was snatching a piece of her psyche like a crow pecking at carrion. A cold wave spilled down her sweat slicked back as her hand finally wrapped around the receiver. Bringing the phone to her ear took every last bit of strength left in her. She went to speak, but her throat felt as if it was filled with sand. She reached for anything to provide enough moisture for her to rasp out a greeting, but the only thing that remained in the overturned coffee cup on her desk was a congealed swamp of sugar and creamer. Joanna desperately tried to clear her throat and conjure some saliva. She might as well have tried to walk to the moon. That’s when the voice wheezed forth from the other end of the phone, and any thought of her speaking was washed away on a sea of overwhelming uneasiness.
Actually to say the sound coming out of the phone resembled a human voice would be akin to lunacy. Oh, it spoke all right, but the words seemed to be distant, as if adrift on a sea of rhythmic wheezes and pops. The closest thing to relate it to would be trying to pick the sound of a human voice from the jumbled static of an un-tuned radio. It only said one alien phrase, “Entstehen… schlafenden …Prinzessin des… Alters”. It repeated the word “entstehen” a total of two more times, at which point the line went completely dead. Joanna could do little else but stare straight ahead with the receiver still cradled to her ear, her mouth slightly agape. She realized she hadn’t drawn a breath since she picked up the receiver, and with a large gulp of air, the receiver fell from her hand to bang loudly against the desk before finally falling to the floor, where it lay dormant for minutes. The annoying alarm issuing from the prone receiver caused a voice to her right to intone “Hey, are you going to hang up that god damned phone, or what?” This seemed to break the spell that held her in its cloudy grip if for only a moment. Joanna took another deep breath, reached down, and picked up the receiver. As she brought it up to her desk, her
cloudy gaze fell to the typewriter that had so recently been her accomplice in her workday charade. There, typed in bold letters on an otherwise empty page was one simple, if nonsensical phrase typed from random keystrokes pressed simply to give her officemates the illusion that she was indeed a productive member of the staff. The phrase was something that she never would have consciously typed in a million years, but there it was, staring back at her almost defiantly in its complete randomness…
“I can't explain myself, I'm afraid, Sir, because I'm not myself you see.” Joanna looked at the phrase over and over as if repetition would act as an interpreter. Bringing both hands, balled into fists, up to her eyes, Joanna began to massage her aching eyes. Popping colors, like a zero gravity ballet of stained glass, danced in front of her. “I really cannot explain myself!” she thought. Finally, drawing in a large breath, Joanna stood upright. Her shoulders felt as if a robe of solid concrete hung from them. She slipped on her coat and ran her fingers under her hair to free it from the cloth of her collar. Giving the desk one more glance, her weary eyes fell once more to the invitation which could have served as the proverbial Golden Ticket, but now appeared only as a cipher for her growing despondency. Scooping up envelope, seal and letter, Joanna’s emotions finally caught up with her as she began shredding the paper while at the same time crushing the wax seal. Black paper and red wax tumbled from her hands to the grey wire waste basket at her feet. “To hell with you 5” she said as she spun on her heel. Joanna blew through the halls, avoiding eye contact with the few people that she passed. By the time she reached the elevator she had already arrived at the decision that a stiff drink or ten would be the best companion for the evening.
As the elevator doors slammed shut, a symphony of metal on metal began. The familiar sounds, coupled with the gentle sway made Joanna briefly relax. The elevator finally lurched to a stop on the ground floor. Joanna felt like a thousand butterflies took flight in her stomach. Stress mixed with lack of food was starting to catch up with her. Just a few more feet, and this day would be left behind. Pushing against the finger-print streaked glass door, Joanna stepped out into the brisk evening. A cool breeze tossed her hair like a child throwing autumn leaves into the air. Joanna turned her head left and right, searching the street for any sight of a cab. “Weird…” Joanna thought, “Where’s all the traffic.” Not a soul seemed to be stirring. Joanna nervously scanned the road again, but the results were the same. Just when a feeling of unease began to settle in, she saw two lights silently appear in the darkness. Joanna could make out the outline of the vehicle now as it was illuminated in brief flashes from the streetlights that stood stoically on either side of the street. The car seemed ridiculously long. Gliding silently up to Joanna like a sleek python, the vehicle came to a stop. In front of her sat a black limousine.
“Jo…ann…a”, came the voice. She stood paralyzed for never had a word, her name no less, been so terrifying. It wasn’t just the stilted, almost pained delivery, but the inhuman tone that shook her so. On the phone, the voice had sounded artificial and cold, but in person it was unnerving beyond reason. Joanna’s heart began to beat faster and faster. “Jo…ann…a” came the croak again. For the second time, in as many hours, Joanna felt her body engulfed in a fine mist of sweat. Furtively her eyes darted left
and right searching for a sign of another soul. Irrationally, Joanna’s eyes darted to the night time sky. The stars looked as if she were viewing them from a spinning carousel. It was at that moment, when she was sure that unconsciousness was about to fill her mind with sweet, numbing nothingness, that the voice intoned “5 is wai..ting…”
Joanna began to shiver slightly. Rapidly questions began filling her whirling brain. “What is your game 5?” she wondered. The rear passenger side door swung open of its own accord. A deep, crimson illumination poured from the vehicles interior, piercing the night. This was disquieting enough, but what really stole the breath from her lungs was the figure that emerged from the driver’s side of that hellish carriage. The shape appeared to be incredibly tall. The figure was garbed in a long jacket, hanging unceremoniously from its shoulders, and apparently constructed of leather which angrily reflected all light that boldly dared to fall upon it. Atop the being’s head was a chauffeur’s cap fashioned from the same material. The entities face was almost completely obscured. Aviator sunglasses covered its eyes, even though it was pitch black outside, and both mouth and nose were hidden by a black surgeon’s mask displaying a large, inverted pentagram the color of bones bleaching in the desert sun.
Inexplicably Joanna was powerless to resist the allure of the vehicle. The walk to the limo, just a few feet in reality, seemed like miles. Finally she arrived at the gaping red maw of the vehicle’s open door. She could barely bring herself to look directly at the figure that motioned to the vehicle’s interior upon her arrival. The brief glimpse she did steal offered more than she cared to know. The miniscule offering of skin that the horrible countenance revealed did little to set her at ease. The creature’s flesh looked as artificial and phony as a cheap dime store Halloween mask. Her reflection in the mirrored lenses of the driver’s glasses reflected the revulsion that played across her face. The minute she was seated, the door slammed shut behind her with an explosive SLAM!
Joanna took stock of her surroundings. The entire interior was red right down to the mirrored glass that separated her world from that of the beastly chauffer. The scent of fresh roses filled the air, but never became overwhelming. From the tinted windows she could see the street lights begin to flash past, although she had neither felt nor heard the vehicle begin its forward momentum. On a small shelf in front of her sat a jet black bottle of wine. On the bottle was an ebony label adorned with a gold foil goat’s head, surrounded by filigree. Leaning against the bottle was a paper card constructed of the same black stationary as her invitation. White letters spelled out the following one word inscription: “INDULGE”. Joanna reached for the blood red wine glass that stood next to the bottle. Even uncorked and unrefrigerated, the bottle was frigid to the touch. She poured the cool contents into her glass. Thin, ghostly tails of vapor escaped upward from the bottle. Joanna swirled the wine, causing the liquid to leave an oily trail as it spun like a whirlpool around the sides of the vessel. The sweet smell of cloves and cinnamon filled her nose. The substance that had felt so cold was oddly warm on her tongue. She swallowed the contents of the glass with one large gulp. Immediately the darkness embraced her.
Occasionally, Joanna would have moments of consciousness. Images of streetlights, standing like diaphanous soldiers, faded into silhouettes of stoic pines. Crisp, clean air trespassed into her nose and mouth. She felt weightless. Vaguely she was aware of something supporting her under her knees and upper back. The cool autumn breeze kissed her cheek lightly, before leaving as quickly as it came. For the briefest of seconds her cotton candy mind solidified into coherent thought. Her face seemed to be fused to something unreasonably cold and black. With a herculean effort on her behalf, Joanna managed to pull free sending her head rolling weakly to the left. Her scarlet hair tumbled downward like a sanguine waterfall.
Joanna’s eyes seemed to drink in every detail in sharp relief. An ocean of thick fog covered the ground ahead of her. The miasma seemed to run like a frightened child as they moved steadily forward. Before her, shapes jutted skyward at random intervals. Desperately she tried to focus on these objects backlit by the pearl radiance that streamed down from the heavens. With a deep intake of breath, Joanna fought through her delirium to realize she was being conveyed through an ancient graveyard. The crooked objects that stood defiantly were in fact weathered tombstones, raised like arthritic stone fingers to the sky. Then in a wave of nausea and panic, she pieced together the method of her locomotion through this ghoul’s paradise. The demon chauffer, that outrageously outré individual, was carrying her silently through the necropolis. As if by reflex, Joanna’s arms began to flail maddeningly against the beast, but the struggle had only one, minor effect. The chauffer’s aviators dealt her milky white forehead a glancing blow. Turning her eyes heavenward to stare at the face of her nightmare, she was greeted by two empty eye sockets.
With a strength born of pure adrenaline, Joanna pushed herself from the arms of the chauffer. Twisting mid-fall, she managed to land on her hands and knees. Quickly she sprang to her feet, rising through the sea of fog. Without hesitation she bolted into a dead run. “Jo…ann…a” the voice crept forth from the chauffer. This only made Joanna run faster and faster. “Jo…ann…a” came that demonic speech again, this time more distant. If the monster was pursuing her, she was at least faster than it was. Her lungs began to burn like twin coal furnaces as she pressed on and on, periodically leaping left or right to avoid an errant tombstone. “Jo…ann…a” came that gurgling monotone yet again, this time it seemed to be miles behind her. Her legs felt as if the muscle and bone had turned to Jell-o. Without warning, a large black shape exploded from the fog to her left as a raven, spooked by her flight, took to the inky skies. The avian distraction had the side effect of causing her to slam into an unyielding surface head on. The concussion sent her tumbling backward, arms flailing. She landed with a resounding thud that immediately expelled the remaining air from her lungs. Gasping, Joanna greedily grabbed any air she could, until finally her breath saw fit to return. It only took a fraction of a second for her to remember her hell-born pursuer. Scrambling to her feet, her head broke through the fog. She stood facing the hurdle that she had failed to overcome, a large, moss covered gravestone. Large sections of the stone had crumbled away, but still it stood, gravity and time be damned. Running her eyes along the length of the monument caused her heart to stop as her gaze fell upon the figure perched atop the stone.
“Hello Joanna.” purred a voice that was at both times lyrical and sensuous. She began to tremble as she let her eyes focus fully on the figure atop the tombstone. The being seemed to be male, although his features were so indescribably delicate, that he could easily be confused for a woman. Like the chauffer, he too wore large aviator sunglasses that only seemed to draw the viewer’s eyes to his high, pronounced cheekbones. His long, thin nose tapered to a perfectly formed mouth with lips the color of plums, as if stained by wine. As he spoke he revealed teeth that rivaled the luminosity of the moon itself. The figure’s face was framed by long, almost perfectly white hair, although he was the picture of youth and vitality. He wore an immaculate black suit, with a shirt of pure crimson silk underneath. A black tie with a bone white pentagram completed the ensemble. In his left hand he held an ornate candelabrum with red and black candles that dripped sizzling wax ever downward forming beautiful rippling patterns upon their shiny surface. Occasionally a stray drip would fall like hot tears and were instantly swallowed by the voracious mist. His right hand was extended towards her. The fingers were slender and long and ended in fingernails as black as a moonless night. Joanna already knew the information he was about to deliver before he even opened that unearthly mouth. “I am 5. Welcome to La Maison de Treize Portes, The House of Thirteen Doors. “, and with that, the churning grey sea in front of her parted, revealing a footpath hitherto hidden from view.
When Joanna’s eye’s returned to the tombstone, 5 had vanished. In that briefest of meetings, when her eyes had filled to bursting with the image of him, drinking in every detail like a parched traveler greedily slurping from a desert oasis, she experienced indescribable fascination. Demons, drugs and cemeteries wouldn’t deter from her course, she needed to find him and bathe in his aura.
Before that thought had passed through her mind, she realized she was walking down the footpath like a marionette on invisible strings. Large, perfectly clipped hedges stood at shoulder height on either side of the path forming botanical dams that kept the angry ocean of fog off the roadway. Beyond the fog, she could see a forest rising up as if to pierce the heavens. Off to her right stood an imposing cliff, trapping the moonlight in its dimpled surface. Directly ahead of Joanna, stood a great iron gate, barring her path like metal teeth exploding from earthen gums. Entwined amongst the formidable bars of the gate, were thick, thorny, vines resembling the veins of a vast arterial system. Directly in the center of the obstruction sat thirteen lilies fashioned from tarnished bronze and matching the ones she had seen that very afternoon embossed in crimson wax. The gate was now within arm’s reach. Joanna, forcing down the large lump that sat in her throat, extended her ghostly hand towards the gate. “Locked!” she said aloud. It was then that everything about this illogical adventure began to boil over in her heated mind. Grasping the gate with both hands, she began shaking back and forth, pulling on the gate with as much force as her slight frame could conjure. “GODDAMMIT!” she screamed in an impotent fit of rage, slamming her fists against the gate until her knuckles split, sending blood across the backs of her delicate hands. Fingers of steam, caused by the mid air ballet of her hot blood with the chilled autumn air, trailed upwards into the silent sky. She shook her hands vigorously in a futile attempt to ease the pain that had gathered there, sending her blood in every direction as if in a mad exodus. A single copper drop collided into the great sigil adorning that hell spawned gate. With a loud clack the gate split as the iron doors parted with great peeling screams of rusty protest.
Joanna stepped cautiously forward as the path slopped downward. Gone now were the hedgerows of perfectly manicured greenery. As the path evened out, she found herself in a clearing of sorts. Tall pines stood on either side of her, seemingly half formed in the swirling fog and moonlight. Still that cursed mist refused to trespass on the rough hewn roadway. In the distance, spots of orange appeared, like flames suspended in mid-air. A few more steps and the orange glows revealed themselves to be windows situated in various locations in the great manse that stood directly in her path. Large, carved columns stood three in a row on either side of a single, dark door. The house itself was dingy white, and while still impressive in its epic scale, it had seen its glory days in the distant past. Paint flecked from the surface of the walls like skin from a leper.
Joanna suddenly jumped, letting out a tiny squeal that sounded twice as loud in the deathly still night. So transfixed was she by the strange illuminations, grand columns, and the ominous door, she had failed to notice two life sized stone lions on enormous marble pedestals located to either side of the stairs. The great cats stared with a look of transfixed menace directed at whatever unfortunate soul dare linger at the wide staircase they watched over. The stone the cats were fashioned from was a bizarre ruddy hue, as if the beasts were carved from the solidified life’s blood of a hundred victims. Scampering up the steps she turned a wary eye towards the great jungle lords, as if at any second they may spring from their dais and rend her to pieces.
Finally she was face to face with that foreboding entrance. A large metallic ring sat suspended from a wrought iron wreath, forged to represent the same inverted pentagram she was intimately familiar with by now. Reaching her hand forward to grab the ring, she witnessed the large copper patches of blood beginning to dry upon her ivory skin. Her knuckles were now in pure agony from the savaging they had received from the gate. Curling her fingers around the metal hoop Joanna banged it forcefully against the door three times. The collision of metal on metal ripped the stillness like shotgun blasts. No response issued from within the mansion’s walls.
Furiously Joanna knocked again and again. She would not be denied, not after this lunatic evening. The night air was alive with sounds that could easily pass as a small scale war! Finally, exhausted, she paused. Suddenly from the bowels of that accursed house she could swear she heard the sound of approaching footsteps. Louder and louder they came, before growing silent. Mere seconds seemed to pass like hours, until there was a dry scraping of metal, and with that, the mammoth doors swung open without so much as a squeak from the hinges. Blinding light poured from the interior, as a scent of roses and anise filled her nose. The fragrance was intoxicating. Without a warning the demonic chauffeur stumbled forth from the light.
The illumination did the beast no favors. He appeared even more jaundiced and lifeless than when Joanna had first laid eyes on him. His mirrored aviator’s were back in their rightful position, and for this she was thankful. Staring into those two yawning holes, where eyes would rest in a rational skull, was not something she found particularly appealing. Her unease in his presence had not diminished, even
though he had made no advances to harm her person. Besides, it was becoming more than a little difficult to concentrate on something so repulsive while surrounded by such a sublime estate.
Even though she was only in the foyer, there was an abundance of opulent splendor, standing in stark contrast to the ruined exterior. She was surrounded by vibrant red walls trimmed in rich, dark, cherry wood. Delicate paintings of the romantic style hung at intervals along the walls. Hurricane lamps and candles provided low light that bathed the room in muted illumination, but steadfastly refused to intrude into the domain of the shadows that played against every surface. At Joanna’s feet, an Oriental rug dared the viewer to make sense of its swirling rainbow of patterns. The chauffer, now thankfully silent, motioned robotically for her to follow him deeper into the abode.
Passing through a large arch, they entered a vast library. Thousands of books occupied shelves from floor to ceiling. Large chairs, carved of the same dark wood as the molding, sat in various locations, their lush satin upholstery beckoned to the weary Joanna. She was physically and mentally drained beyond all reason, and the chairs looked like a welcome port in the churning sea of her exhaustion, but alas her guide continued his mute tour. Dampened by distance she could hear the sound of clanking plates and silverware. Realizing she hadn’t had a single morsel since noon, her stomach let out a low, guttural growl.
Passing through the library, Joanna could see a large grand staircase leading up into darkness. The candles and lamps grew sparse as the journey continued, so that by the time she reached the stairway, she was standing in almost complete darkness. Her guide motioned towards the stairway, but seemed to go no further. “I’m going to break my neck on these stairs!” she thought, but this did little to deter her forward momentum. At the exact moment her weary foot fell upon the first step, light streamed down the stairs. Everything was tinted in myriad hues as the source of the sudden illumination was revealed. A large stained glass window, depicting Satan’s fall was lit by an unrevealed source from behind. As eerie as it was, it seemed perfectly mundane in the tableau of this evening’s events. Arriving upon the landing, she turned to continue her journey upwards, at which point the light source followed suit! Reaching the nadir of her expedition, she was greeted by something she could scarcely believe was possible.
“Wel…come, Jo…ann…a.” rasped a voice very similar to that hell’s chorus that had been assaulting her ears like a thousand nails on as many chalkboards since mid-afternoon, but this one was a step above the other in terms of sheer awfulness. This one pretended to be female. But, if the voice sounded like a lunatics daydream, the sight of the owner of that halfhearted parody of human speech was an absinthe nightmare spit forth from a mind deranged.
The figure at the top of the stairs was unmistakably a woman dressed in a traditional French maid outfit. Crisp ebony dress, snow white apron with lace accents, jet black stockings, brilliantly polished shoes; all was as it should be with not a single item out of place. Her high collared dress was topped by a white lace choker accented by a cameo carved of the finest ivory. From neck to toes, the woman appeared normal, and in fact, her shape was flawless in its perfection, but once Joanna’s eyes strayed
north from the servant’s neck, everything changed. The woman’s lower face was covered in the same manner as the chauffer’s, a midnight black surgeon’s mask embellished by an inverted pentagram, and she too sported mirrored sunglasses, albeit of a slightly more feminine design. The maid’s skin was like yellowed parchment; again much like her male counterpart. Her hair was black and hung straight down as if it was reaching for the floor in a desperate attempt at escape from that diseased head. “At least he has a matching pair” Joanna quipped to herself, hoping to dispel her disquiet with levity.
“Follow…” the voice slammed into her ears. Running her hands up her face and into her hair, she did her best to retain her grasp on her composure. The whole time she was swimming in the visual cesspool that was this incredibly unlikely creature before her, she was unsure if she should laugh or cry, though either response would do little to stave off the growing sense of overpowering madness. Maybe a combination of the two would be more apropos. But in the end, she could muster little more than a defeated shake of her head.
Exhaling softly, Joanna followed. The two traversed a large hallway, lit by the same hurricane lamps as the foyer. A crimson carpet covered the floor while, portraits of men and women adorned in Victorian finery hung on the walls. Joanna stared into each large frame as if they were two way mirrors, each side separated by a hundred years. Joanna and the maid had passed at least ten doors before arriving at their destination, a solid wooden door, stained glossy black. Exquisite carved roses covered four separate wooden panes that comprised the door’s surface. Reaching inside a small pocket in her apron, the maid produced a large black metal key. Mechanically the servant inserted the key into the door, rotated it a half turn, and withdrew it from the lock. The door slowly opened. The room was bathed in soft candlelight, casting the interior in a soothing orange hue. The maid motioned for her to enter woodenly. Joanna crossed the threshold as almost simultaneously the door slammed shut behind her.
Joanna realized she had absolutely no idea what time it was. How long was she unconscious? How long had it taken her to flee like a scarred rabbit towards this sanctuary seemingly situated between hell and nowhere at all? Her eyes darted frantically in search of a chronological clue. A mammoth grandfather clock stood stoically facing her across the room, its metronome providing the only sound in the chamber. The clock’s face revealed the time to be 8:01. Barely two hours had passed since she had stepped from the silent street to this fevered Wonderland.
Joanna took pause to take in her surroundings. A regal bed, its large wooden headboard carved in the same decorative fashion as the door to her chambers, stood against the far wall accompanied by a nightstand. To the left of the bed, a door, smaller than the one she had just passed through, stood ajar. Candlelight from within revealed it to be a porcelain tiled bathroom. A small dresser, carved of the same rich wood as the walls of the mansion, was to her left. She trembled as she saw her reflection in the floor length mirror that occupied the wall to her right, standing next to a window hidden by large black drapes. Her reflection resembled nothing so much as a ghoul haunting the mortal world. Her green dress was stained with large dark patches of blood and dirt, her hair, normally as vibrant as the sun, hung oily and limp from her head. Her skin was bleach white, and her eyes were red and rimmed by
black circles that made her appear even more unearthly. She felt feint. Making her way to the bathroom, she noticed a beautiful crimson dress lay carefully upon the white silk sheets of the bed. On the gown was a piece of the same familiar ebony stationary that had previously punctuated her journey to this devilish sanctuary. Picking up the note, Joanna read:
Please extend me the courtesy of joining me for a late dinner. I would consider it a unique honour if you would arraign yourself in the humble garment I have provided. Dinner shall begin at nine o’ clock.
A mere fifty nine minutes until she could speak with the enigma! She felt flush at the thought, for as bizarre as the adventure had been to this point, her addiction to the master of the house was growing inexplicably. With a renewed spirit, Joanna made her way to the bathroom. A large tub awaited her, already full of inviting, steamy liquid. Candles burned at random intervals on the side of the white porcelain basin. Clawed feet anchored the bath to the ground like the great paws of a feline god. She removed her soiled dress and threw it in an unceremonious heap on the black and white checkered tiles of the bathroom floor. Her bra and panties received the same shoddy treatment. Gently she submerged herself in the bath. Warm water caressed every inch of her skin as her stress began to melt away in waves. Various fragrant soaps, shampoos, and sponges sat on a small shelf within arm’s reach.
Lackadaisically reaching towards the shelf, Joanna grabbed one of the soaps and a sponge. The soap was the color and fragrance of fresh raspberries ripening in the summer sun. Working up lather, she began to wash away the layers of sweat and grime that had formed from the anxiety of this fool’s adventure. Joanna extended a hand for one of the small decorative shampoo bottles, each fashioned from smoky, jade green carnival glass. Her hand, still slick from the slippery lather, was unable to maintain a proper grasp on the bottle, and it plunged into the water with a loud plop.
In the candlelight, with trails of oily soap swirling lazily on the water’s surface, it was impossible to tell where the bottle had gone. She tried in vain to part the soapy haze. Reaching her hands beneath the tepid water, Joanna’s fingers probed the depths for any sign of the errant bottle. Finally her slender fingers successfully entwined their prize. Pulling the bottle to the surface, she breathed a sigh of relief. Reclining against the cool ceramic of the bath, she submerged the back of her head, running her free hand through her hair to free the tangles that had formed. Removing the glass stopper from the bottle, and placing it upon the small shelf, she poured some of the thick, fragrant liquid into her hand. She felt small electric tingles as her fingers massaged the floral scented shampoo into her scalp. Suddenly, she had an overwhelming feeling that she was being watched.
Joanna’s eyes played across the far edges of the shadow enrobed bathroom. Fine hairs, invisible to the naked eye, stood up on the back of her smooth neck. It was insanity to think that anyone could be in the room with her. Even the dim candlelight provided enough illumination to make anonymity impossible for any voyeur that would be so bold. And yet, the feeling of intense observation lingered on. The room contained no windows, nor did it possess a mirror above the basin sink. Suddenly, her eyes felt as if they were submerged in acid! The shampoo, for too long left unattended, had worked its way in a steady march into her already weary eyes. Her vision blurred from the stinging liquid, Joanna spastically splashed water in the general vicinity of her ravaged orbs to no avail. In complete desperation, she plunged her face beneath the churning bath water. The shampoo quickly gave up the war to forever steal her sight as the warm water purged the remaining demonic liquid from her eyes. It was then that she realized that the bottom of the tub was lined with semi-opaque glass.
Joanna peered through the smoky window into a room whose floor was at least twenty feet below. Candelabras sat on twin daises, carved into Roman columns, at the side of a throne crafted from ebony wood. A great burgundy carpet, stretching beyond her line of sight like a highway, covered a floor of swirled marble. A large door behind the grandiose throne swung open without warning. Her mind reeled at what strode forth from that mysterious aperture.
A man, impeccably dressed in a white cotton suit walked from the doorway to the throne, which in and of itself was prosaic, except for one delirious detail; his head was that of a leopard. His mouth hung agape, panting, as he sat upon the majestic wood. His feline gaze was focused down the crimson carpet at something maddeningly hidden from Joanna’s view. What lurked just off frame? Joanna was ablaze with curiosity and dread. The leopard’s panting grew ever more rapid as thick saliva dripped from his nightmare maw. Suddenly, figures appeared on the periphery of her vision.
Three women adorned in leather straps and buckles made their way down the red carpet, crawling forward on hands and knees. Their faces were completely obscured by filth stained masks resembling the heads of large rabbits. Leashes trailed behind the supplicants like limp tails. Reaching their feline overlord, the subjugated sisters meekly handed their respective leashes to their master. He grabbed the reigns tightly, and with a massive tug pulled all three women from their knees to a standing position. Obsidian phalluses attached to their groins glistened in the candlelight.
Face to face with the Sisters of Lagomorpha, the leopard king began licking their dirty fur with his great pink tongue. Their fur became matted from his affections. Suddenly his nose twitched as if catching the scent of prey. Almost instantaneously his head whipped in Joanna’s direction. Her heart leapt to her throat. The leopards face split into a grin consisting of teeth and nightmares. There is a reason animals do not smile as humans do she quickly realized. The slaves, now alerted to the spy in their midst, turned and ran at a preternatural speed back in the direction from whence they had came, leashes cracking the air like whips in their wake. A strange sound like canine fingernails against linoleum was growing in intensity. When the sound grew so close that she could scarcely bear it anymore, the hare faced succubus from the world below appeared at the secret window and smashed its head against the glass.
Joanna inhaled deeply upon the impact. Suddenly she became alerted to the fact that her head was submerged in water. Sitting straight up in the tub, she began desperately coughing in a fevered attempt to expunge the bath water from her lungs. Finally the liquid was purged in a stream of phlegm and warm water. Catching her breath, her thoughts returned to the scene she had witnessed, a dizzying blend of Penthouse and Bosch.
Once again submerging her head, her eyes were met only by the porcelain surface of the bathtub. No bunnies, leopards, or secret portholes to hideous lands of psycho-sexual insanity. Joanna touched every inch of the ceramic, frantically searching for a seam or some other imperfection that would reveal that window once more, but alas, no such luck. Could exhaustion and hunger, combined with the lingering effects of the tainted wine be the cause of such an illusion? “Sister, you are losing it” she thought. With that, she remembered her encroaching appointment.
Rising from the tub, Joanna reached for a massive, ivory towel that hung suspended from a great iron ring affixed to the checkered tile of the wall. Briskly blotting the water from her cooling skin, she enrobed herself in the towel. Emerging from the bathroom, she inspected herself in the mirror once more. For all the terrors, the bath had seemed to provide a modicum of rejuvenation. Her alabaster skin had regained a flush of color, and her eyes no longer resembled those of a raccoon. Removing the towel, she dried her scarlet locks.
Making her way to the bed, she inspected the crimson garment left to her by her albino benefactor. What appeared on the surface to be an elegant, yet simple dinner gown was in actuality so much more. Hidden amongst the intricate stitching of the dress were various arcane symbols. Turning the dress over revealed a complexity in exact contrast to the seeming simplicity of the opposing side. The back of the garb revealed a series of intricate black laces that when pulled tight would form a perfect inverted pentagram like those displayed on the surgical masks so favored by the mansion’s staff. Slipping into the dress, Joanna pulled the laces. They tightened with a surprising ease. She spun in front of the looking glass. The dress fit her thin form like a second skin. Her hair, returning to its normal luster, bounced playfully at her shoulders as she twirled again to examine the magnificent dress. Never had she dared to believe that one day she would be adorned in the artwork of a genius such as 5. She gently bit her bottom lip as she gazed in pure bliss at her reflection.
Never had she felt so beautiful and alive. Nothing else in the world existed at that moment, as time seemingly stood still. The sorcery was shattered by the loud chiming of the grandfather clock, its ringing serving to remind Joanna that her date with 5 was eminent.
END ACT I
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