The House of Thirteen Doors Part 2
by Daniel XIII
SUMPTUOUS INDULGENCES ABOUND WITHIN THE MANSION MOST BIZARRE
Joanna’s heart hammered so hard against her breast she felt her skin lacked the strength to contain it. At long last her audience with the lord of the manor was at hand! Preparing to exit the chamber, she noticed a pair of perfectly polished heels waiting to the right side of the door frame. Until that moment she had become so swept up in the impending dinner date that the fact she was barefoot had escaped her notice. She could scarcely believe how well the shoes fit! How did 5 estimate her exact measurements without having ever laid eyes on her before this night? Just one more question mark to add to the growing list of conundrums that had become her world.
The door opened before her hand even reached the carved glass knob. There in the red and black hallway stood the unholy maid holding a candelabra featuring two sculpted dragons, each facing an opposing direction and united at the tails which intertwined to form the handle. A candle was held firm in each dragon’s mouth, the dripping wax acting as saliva issuing forth from those ancient reptilian jaws. “Din…ner is ser…ved” the servant intoned. Like a wind-up toy, the maid stiffly led the way. Back through the long hallway they travelled, down the huge staircase (whose stained glass now remained un-illuminated), through the grand library, past the foyer, and finally into the majestic dining room.
Joanna could barely take in all of the ornate details that assaulted her eyes. The entire room was covered from floor to ceiling with carved wooden panels that would have taken her hours, maybe even days, to explore to their fullest extent. Cherubs and pans frolicked together in gardens of roses and lilies while nymphs languished at the shores of tranquil lakes. Butterflies and hummingbirds filled the air. She had to force her eyes to shift their focus from the panels to drink in the rest of the dizzying details of the room. A table at both times mammoth in size yet delicate in design occupied the center of the room, surrounded by thirteen chairs, which sat empty. A steel grey chandelier hung from the ceiling, burning as bright as the sun with at least forty candles of red and black. Two skeletons, sculpted from the same grey metal, held each other in a lover’s embrace as they hung suspended from the bottom of the chandelier by twin hangmen’s nooses forged from tiny chain links.
On the table, two settings of fine red china with matching goblets sat on opposing ends, accented by crimson linen napkins, in anticipation of the coming feast. Upon seeing the place settings Joanna’s stomach let out another deep rumble. She felt as if she hadn’t eaten in years. The maid motioned for her to take her place at the end of the table. With great effort, the servant painfully mimicked the movements of a human being and pulled out the chair for her to sit. “Thank you” Joanna said, failing to hide the uncomfortable tone in her voice. The maid mercifully remained silent.
Upon the opposite wall, an enormous, multi-paned window stood, revealing the darkened sky beyond, but little else. Thick curtains, the color of blackberry wine, framed the window, held back by meticulously braided black ties. Joanna’s eyes returned to the servant, but only caught a glimpse of the maid fading into a darkened corner of the room, at which point she seemed to vanish, and with that came the musical ringing of a small bell.
As her eyes returned from their bout of corner gazing, Joanna let out a short gasp. Sitting across from her was 5. She had neither heard nor seen him enter the room and take his place at the table. His lips were slightly parted in a smile neither large nor warm, but impossibly striking all the same. His mirrored eyes reflected the candlelight that cast his face in a pleasing glow. His snow white hair was tinted gold and orange from the myriad of flickering flames. He was resplendently angelic. Staring in her direction, 5 lifted his goblet, swirled the liquid contained within, and took the gentlest of sips, all without saying a single word. Joanna was spellbound by his every movement. “Please, drink…I promise no magic potions this time!” he said. His voice was soft and gentle, but contained a regal and imperious air. Joanna was finding it outrageously difficult to form a coherent thought, let alone the words to answer. “I do apologize, my dearest, for that minor indiscretion. I’m sure you can understand the need for secrecy in my line of work. Fashion is incestuous by nature, and if the other piranhas in this tiny pond were to discover where I do my alchemy, I would be beset by a convention of fools and spies, and that is something I simply refuse to entertain. Besides, what are a few high dosage barbiturates amongst friends?” 5 quipped. Joanna nodded her head in dazed agreement, her wine stained lips partially agape. Finally, through great effort and a little wine, she gained enough composure to produce a smile, as enchanting as it was warm, at 5’s jest.
The questions of earlier began to coalesce in Joanna’s reeling mind, and with one more belt of liquid courage she began her litany. “Why did you bring me of all people to your house of secrets…and while we’re at it, how did you even know who I am?” Directly after asking, she regretted the manner in which she delivered the quandaries, but hunger, excitement and reverence made her desperate! 5 laughed softly. “And why not you, love?” was all 5 offered. The maid reappeared at that moment carrying a polished silver tray with two steaming bowls, fashioned of the same blood red china as the plates. The tray refracted the candlelight in a million directions. She placed one of the bowls in front of Joanna, and then laboriously made her way to her master’s side, where she deposited the other scorching payload. “Ahh, thank you my dear Katze.” 5 acknowledged. Joanna was powerless to contain the look of revulsion that played across her face as she caught the malformed servant in her gaze. “My dear, I assure you there is nothing to fear from Katze, nor her brother Krahe. Unfortunately, the medical arts are not practiced with equal diligence in all corners of the globe.” She shivered as she thought of the empty sockets that had greeted her upon waking from her stupor mere hours ago. Medical malpractice or not, no one could operate a moving vehicle without the use of their eyes, and this Krahe had done just that, or at least that is how it appeared in her stupor. For now, until she could be one hundred percent certain of her facilities, Joanna surmised it was best to let the nightmare visions fade; besides the steam from the boiling crockery had penetrated her senses with a heady aroma.
Looking to the bowl, Joanna discovered a hearty vegetable stew. Red potatoes, onions and carrots were all present in abundant quantities, in a rich broth that was spiced with freshly ground black pepper. It was pointless to even try and hold back her ravenous appetite. She attacked the soup like a being possessed. Her feverish activity stood out in stark contrast to the reserved actions of 5. He would occasionally dip his spoon into the stew, and take a small sip, followed by the occasional drink of wine. All would be followed by a dab at the corners of his bruised lips with the red linen napkin. Joanna, left
with an empty bowl and a hunger temporarily abated, looked to her host almost apologetically. “No need for remorse my love; I am pleased that the repast has been so far to your liking.” Katze re-emerged from whatever shadowy realm she had retired to and cleared away the bowls and spoons. Joanna felt her mind beginning to clear a bit. “Your home is amazing!” she spat out. “Yes, La Maison de Treize Portes is as integral to my work as my own hands. It is a constant source of creativity and comfort to me.” 5 replied. “Have you lived here long? “ she asked without a pause. “It seems like an eternity, although I only feel alive when surrounded by objects of refined beauty, and tonight, in your presence, my heart beats truer than it has in a very, very long time.” 5 said, his amazing smile consuming all of her vision. She felt as if she were to expire at any minute.
Resuscitation came in the form of Katze carrying a great silver platter, upon which succulent hens sat in a bed of fresh roasted vegetables, their perfectly browned skins dripping moisture in the subdued light of the room. The servant sat the tray down next to Joanna. “With that, I am afraid I must make my leave. Much must be attended to, for tomorrow is The Crimson Cotillion.” 5 said, rising to his feet in a movement so graceful and fluid, he barely seemed to move at all. Katze was behind him in an instant. “Crimson Cotillion?” Joanna asked? “Indeed my dear, this is the reason your presence was requested at this manse. Tomorrow evening is the grand unveiling of my new designs, and you will have the exclusive. Now, please enjoy the rest of your meal, and sleep well. The morrow holds a grand adventure that will require your utmost attention!” As he spoke he had made his way to her side as if he skated across ice. 5 gently took her hand and raised it to his lips. His kiss was as soft as a breeze on a warm spring day. Her body felt as if it were filled with crackling electricity. Joanna was left speechless. With that, 5 made his exit. She remained motionless, attempting to hold on to this exuberant feeling for all time, but alas, some sensations are as fleeting as spider webs in a rainstorm. Without 5, the candle light seemed dimmer, and the room felt at least 10 degrees cooler. Shivering slightly from the dip in temperature, her mind started mulling over the opportunity that had so unexpectedly come her way. Granted, there were mysteries that still needed to be brought to light, but such things were starting to fade as the thought of being the one, handpicked by 5 himself to cover his new creations, played over and over like a skipping record within her reeling mind. A feral growl snapped her from her revelry. Her stomach was singing its unholy chorus again. She was grateful that 5 had left the room, for she ravaged the hen and vegetables greedily. Placing the bones upon the silver tray, Joanna used her free hand to wipe the grease that sparkled in the flickering firelight at the corner of her mouth. Freeing any errant specks of food that remained on her hands onto the linen, she rose to her feet. Abruptly, all light in the room was snuffed out.
A long, low creak sounded from Joanna’s left, although if a door opened, it brought no light into the room. Silence followed, carrying with it a sense of dread that filled her head with all manner of diabolical creatures coming to spirit her away to their nightmare realm. Suddenly, a bizarre sound as if something plastic and hollow was being dropped from a low height to collide with the wooden floor again and again, in rapid succession, filled the room. Her eyes fell upon the window. The moon had long since moved on to greener pastures on the opposing side of the mansion, leaving behind only a vague sense of their actually being a world behind the thick glass. Enough pale blue light was available for Joanna to
see a featureless human outline swiftly pass by the window which succumbed to the darkness as curtains swung closed in its wake. Rooted to the spot from a heady mixture of fear and blindness, she closed her eyes tight. The irony of this played across her mind, but was quickly replaced by the sinister knowledge that the “clomp, clomp, clomp”, was getting louder, and was emanating from multiple sources! Louder and louder, closer and closer they came. A breeze caught and lifted her hair as a large object, or objects flew past her at preternatural speed. Joanna could’ve sworn that she felt cold, hard, fingerlike objects lightly caress her cheek as the invisible herd stampeded past her. And then, silence fell upon the blackened chamber once again. She felt a wetness descend her cheek where moments before she felt that inhuman touch. Lightly touching the wetness, she moved her finger to her mouth. Her tongue gently massaged the tip of her finger, but her taste buds only delivered the salty copper revelation she knew was coming. Joanna was bleeding, but her cheek was neither tender nor could she feel any wound. The illumination decided to make its vainglorious return at that moment, as the sound of flame igniting wick pierced the room.
Joanna looked blindly to and fro as her pupils did a wild dance to adjust to the glare of the re-lit candles. As the room began to solidify around her, she made her way back to her seat at the majestic table to try and quell the hammering in her breast. Looking at her sullied place setting, her eyes fell upon the silver knife she had used so recently in the consumption of her gourmet meal. Joanna snatched the blade, dull as it was, and attempted to gird herself for any possible return of the demonic horde. She held the cloudy silver outward, spinning left and right in her chair. The wide angle of the silver blade afforded her a view of the entire room behind her, although the space beyond the candles remained enshrouded in murky half light. But, no matter the level of luminescence, Joanna still caught the briefest flash of something brilliantly, unnaturally pink move deeper into the shadows. Involuntarily her grip on the knife faltered, sending it tumbling to the table where it landed with a loud bang. This had the effect of making Katze reappear from whatever realm she had retreated to. “I drop a knife and you pop in here in seconds, but the sound of a god-damned marathon didn’t peak your curiosity!?” Joanna asked the servant, anger replacing the fear in her eyes. Katze offered no answer, but merely approached Joanna, her head cocked to the side like a dog trying to comprehend something beyond its modest scope. Joanna tried to keep her eyes from lingering on the maid. “Jo…ann..a?” Katze questioned, or at least she thought it was a question given the way the semblance of speech seemed to trail up at the end. Joanna was attempting to calm herself still when the sight of a partially exposed jawbone, almost entirely devoid of flesh made the effort futile.
Katze’s mask was slightly askew, revealing the bottom right section of her jaw. Seeing that bleached mandible, its teeth jutting up like amber tombstones was all it took to bring Joanna to her feet and send her careening back towards the direction of the opulent foyer. Her breath came in strained pants as she raced ever onward. With each footfall, she felt as if another fragile piece of her sanity was cracking. Every few steps, her flight was slowed by shaky missteps in the elegant heels 5 had provided for her, but she was moving under pure instinct now, and that instinct was self preservation!
She reached the foyer and grasped the large glass doorknob fastened to the imposing front door of the mansion. Breathlessly she tugged and turned and rattled, but with no success, the knob and with it the door, would not budge. Her only other safe haven, she felt, would be her bedroom. Pivoting, she crouched down, removed the heels that were slowing her progress, and sprinted for the great library, sliding ever so slightly on the polished wood floor. As she bolted through that repository of ancient lore, a curious phenomenon became apparent.
Every doorframe, every abutment of wall and ceiling, every ornamental picture frame, was becoming distorted. Angles had become preposterous and impossible. The top right of the archway that lead from library to grand stairway was at least a foot higher than the left side as if reaching up to heaven to deliver it from this house of horrors. Joanna skidded to a stop, lost her footing and banged her knees hard against the unforgiving floor as she reached the stairs, for the steps now spiraled and twisted ever upward at a dizzying height.
Far in the distance, the stained glass swirled and moved as The Prince of Lies appeared to seize in pain as he was cast out from the Holy Kingdom. Joanna, rising to her feet, steeled herself and began the perilous trek up that newly formed mountain. It seemed like hours until she reached the peak. A second wind overcame her as she reached the final leg of her dash to sanctuary. The hallway had grown exponentially since last she traversed it. She felt as if she was in the belly of a great serpent. Ever onward she pushed until finally she arrived at her destination.
Reaching out to grasp the carved glass doorknob that would provide her entrance to her room, Joanna prayed it wouldn’t refuse her advances like its twin sister downstairs. Before her hand even reached the knob, the sphere appeared to fill with blood! She let out a squeal that was equal parts surprise and disgust. Realizing she had no other choice, she grasped the sanguine engorged knob. It was repulsively warm to the touch. Swallowing the vomit that had begun to crawl its way up her throat, Joanna gave the knob a brisk twist. The door flew open, letting her gain access to her chambers. Flying into the room, she slammed the door shut behind her. She began violently shaking her hands as if she could somehow expunge the tactile memory of that accursed doorknob. She felt as if the world was spinning off its axis and hurtling headlong into hell itself. “Shit, shit, shit” Joanna kept stammering, clenching her fists and pacing the room. “This has to be a bad trip, that’s all…just a really, really bad trip” she surmised, thoughts of 5’s poison wine flashing through her fevered mind as she tried to catch her breath. Slowly her composure began to return to her. She was starting to believe her solution to the night’s hallucinogenic panorama of hell, until she caught sight of herself in the mirror. In the shock and resulting flight, Joanna had forgotten a significant clue as to the reality of the evening’s drama. A slight mark, no larger than a strand of fine hair, and no longer than the length of the fingernail of her pinky, stood out on her ivory cheek. The flow of blood, as miniscule as it had been, had ceased. A hallucination, no matter how strong, cannot cut you, cannot make you bleed. Stumbling to the opulent bed, Joanna lost her battle with consciousness.
Blackness was her only companion for what seemed like eternity. She felt blissfully null in the grip of the abyss, and would have happily resided there forever. That is why Joanna felt great irritation over the warm air that played across her face at deliberately paced intervals. There was a weight pressing down upon her, and she felt an occasional tickle as if her face were being brushed gently by a multitude of course hairs.
Her eyes snapped open like window shades! There laying atop her, it’s demonic face starring right in to her own, was that feline headed demon from her bathtub journey into nightmare. Joanna began to let out a terrified scream, but was silenced as a hand as much human as it was animal, pressed gently against her lips. The beast then spoke. “This is the story of the thirteenth door, twelve that closed shall open once more, and two united were torn asunder, made one by that which is under.” After the cat spoke, that horrible leer reappeared on its feral countenance.
A rustle came from the floor at the end of the bed, where Joanna could somehow sense his rabbit headed consorts lie prone. The cat let out a deep growl, which caused his harem to stand. She could see their stained ears looming behind the smirking feline visage that occupied most of her line of sight. Without warning they grabbed the sheets and pulled them from the bed like a magician yanking a tablecloth while leaving a vase of flowers standing.
Hot, flecks of drool began to form on the creature’s mouth, intermittently falling on Joanna’s sweat slicked neck. As each steaming drop connected with her moist skin, the flesh would jump and convulse as shivers assaulted her delicate nerve endings. She felt soft hands grasp her legs and gently pull them apart. The hands journeyed up her calves and thighs on the way to their forbidden destination. Closer and closer they came, while all the time the drooling beast kept her locked in his animal gaze. Goosebumps stood out upon her skin. Gently they brushed her inner thigh. An involuntary moan escaped her quivering lips, and then the unholy creatures, and their lord, faded into the ether.
Joanna sat up in her bed, a scream struggling to escape her throat. Dim sunlight filled the room with a smoky haze from the now uncovered window. Dust particles swam around the room like airborne fish in an ocean of daylight. Looking out the glass to the world beyond, her eyes were only met with the sight of thick fog. The mist seemed to be embracing the house like a lover. Her head screamed as if she had spent the night binge drinking instead of dealing with 5’s personal collection of freaks. Although food was the last thing she was concerned with at present, she noticed someone had deposited a silver tray of fresh berries, toast and coffee on the nightstand next to her. Maybe dealing with all of this overwhelming insanity on an empty stomach wasn’t the best idea she surmised. Pecking at the berries, Joanna tried to piece together everything that had beaten her mind into a soft gelatinous mess over the last few hours. She continuously came up lacking. The more she had to eat of the simple breakfast, the better she was beginning to feel, at least physically. Leaving the bed, she journeyed to the mirror. All things considered, she didn’t look too bad. Slight bruises were visible on her knees, her knuckles displayed small scabs, and her cheek was still festooned with that accursed mark which mockingly refused to let her blame the past few hours’ chaos on force-fed bacchanalian indulgences.
She was still wearing the dress from the previous evening, but where last night it had been resplendent and regal, today it was wrinkled and sad. Turning her attention to the bathroom, she could now view the room in a better light. The room did not appear the kind of place where demonic encounters and secret portals would exist. It was a bathroom, nothing more or less. Draped across the claw footed tub was her green floral dress that she had worn to this manse diabolique. The garment had been laundered and appeared newer than when she had purchased it six months prior. Joanna pulled at the strings that bound her to the elegant gown. The dress came free with ease. Making her way to the basin sink upon its Greco-roman marble pedestal, Joanna splashed cool, soothing water on her face. Her mouth tasted bitter, even though she had just eaten succulent berries from the silver tray. A toothbrush sat on a small shelf to the left of the sink, along with a drinking glass of ruby crystal. A box of toothpowder also occupied the space. Moistening the brush and sprinkling it with the powder, she scrubbed her teeth and gums. The powder tasted of black licorice. Rinsing the foam that resulted from the cleansing of her mouth, she returned to the tub and regaled herself in the green dress. An ivory brush, fashioned from the bone of some unknown creature lay on the shelf next to the tub. Gently she removed the knots from her tangled locks.
Making her way to the mirror, Joanna noticed something out of place. Hidden amongst the swirling botanical print on her dress were several arcane symbols like those she had seen on 5’s designs. The symbols had been worked into the print so subtly; she was surprised she noticed them at all. How appropriate she thought that the garment, much like herself, had succumbed to the sorcery of the house and its arcane master.
The daylight had served to somewhat strengthen her resolve. A thin shell of bravery and defiance had started to form within her. “I have to get out of here for a bit and clear my head!” Joanna emphatically stated aloud, followed swiftly by “I swear if that door is locked, I’ll break every damned window in this asylum!” Making her way through the hall to the staircase, Joanna noticed that the house had returned to its normal dimensions, as if the Expressionistic proportions of the night before had just been a stray thought blown away on the morning breeze. “Of course…” she sighed observing the perfectly normalcy of the architecture. Descending the stairs, she paused in front of that amazing colored glass masterpiece. Warm, if weak, sunlight projected a rainbow upon the ivory canvas of her body. Her silk soft eyelids closed as she bathed in the warmth of the solar kaleidoscope.
Taking a deep breath, she continued her descent. Passing through the library into the foyer, she reached the door that had recently refused to bend to her pleas of escape. Hanging from the thick beveled glass of the doorknob was a shawl, its intricate spider web pattern spun from thick green wool, which mimicked the color of pines under twilight skies. Joanna placed the garment about her shoulders. The material clung to her with a tenacious hold. As the top of her flooded with comforting warmth, she became cognizant of the coolness of her feet from the cold floorboards. She scanned the perimeter of the exit, but her quest was not a long one. There, next to the door was a pair of roman style sandals, their leather straps died a rich forest green.
Reaching for the door, Joanna hesitated for a moment. What if the house refused to let her leave once again? What if she were to remain here for eternity, an unwilling bride to deformity and madness? “This fashion line had better be the most breathtaking thing in the universe” played across her mind as she turned the knob. The door came open with ease. As she crossed the doorway, she realized there was little to differentiate the overcast sky from the misty ground, which had the unnerving effect of making it seem that if one were to exit the path due to an errant step, they would tumble into an abyss devoid of time or space.
The only anchor Joanna could spy were the hazy forms of trees that would appear momentarily before being swallowed up again by the grey nothingness. Still the mist rallied against the topiary, and turned back upon itself, as if touching the footpath or doorstep was the most abhorrent thing imaginable. Joanna tugged at the corners of the shawl, wrapping her exposed shoulders tighter in its embrace. Gingerly she left the mansion further behind, each apprehensive footfall taking her further and further back along the rough flagstones of the path.
At the end of the footpath, the thick miasma lingered, obscuring Joanna’s view of the great cemetery that she knew lay just beyond. A gentle breeze began caressing the nape of her neck. With each successive gust, the air brushed past at a greater height than the last, until finally it reached her ears. “Come Joanna, come. We’ve been waiting ever so long…come…” the disembodied vocalization intoned.
“Onward….onward” the seductive zephyr intoned. The voice seemed to mesmerize her, leaving Joanna powerless to resist its unholy suggestion. Entering the necropolis, she let her dreamy eyes wander to the stone edifices that reached heavenward like rotting skyscrapers. At times the fog would subside, offering her the briefest glimpse of the inscriptions on the base of the stones, but she was too dazed to give them proper inspection.
The wind gently pushed her left and right, seemingly to prevent head on collisions with unforgiving cement or marble. “Yes dearest Joanna…so close now…so close…” the air coaxed her, gently lifting her radiant hair, which gave her exquisite countenance the appearance of being consumed by delicate flames. Though in a trance, she was still aware that her senses were being bombarded by the constant crunch of dried leaves underfoot and the odor of decaying vegetation. Suddenly the air pulled her sharply left. She felt herself descending a steep slope as the fog swelled around her, completely obliterating her vision. “That’s it!...Just a few more steps now!” whispered the cooing voice. The ground beneath her leveled out, as her feet slipped every few steps on the slick surface that had taken over from the dry, moldering foliage.
Catching her off guard (though truth be told it didn’t take much in the state she was in) the wind delivered a severe push, knocking Joanna off her unsteady feet. Violently she went careening through the roiling sea of shapeless grey and into a small clearing. She continued sliding forward on the wet ground, unable to stop her forward momentum. The journey reached its nadir with her tumbling into a deep hole.
Joanna landed face first on what seemed to be a very large, luxurious pillow. Her dreamy mind immediately cleared. The quarters were cramped, but she managed to roll on her back with a minimum of effort. The murky daylight provided just enough illumination for her to come to the realization that she had been swallowed whole by the yawning maw of an empty casket!
Quickly she scrambled to a sitting position. The lid of the coffin was nowhere to be seen, but the hinges that recently had held it in place were shattered into jagged fragments of gnarled metal. Whoever had occupied these morbid accommodations was no longer in residence, which at first brought great relief, but upon second thought filled her with crippling dread. Gathering her wits about her, Joanna leapt upright. Her feet sank into the thick silken padding of the box as if it were quicksand. Her hands moved frantically against the loose soil of the grave, but were met only with a miniature landslide of soft dirt and unearthed worms.
As if possessed, she spun around, moving her hands around all sides of the damp walls sending more musty dirt cascading down to the casket bottom. Her fingernails quickly became encrusted with a thick film of moist earth and bifurcated worm. The hole was filled with the odor of decay. Capriciously she clawed at the dirt, further and further, until finally she met with something less forgiving than the odorous muck of the wall. Her fingers wrapped vice-tight around the new object.
Even in the darkness the object offered up enough tactile clues to reveal its true identity. “Oh, thank god!” she exclaimed. Tugging with all of her strength, Joanna wrested the root free of its subterranean moorings. With a final tug to ensure its anchoring, she began her ascent from beyond the grave. Hauling herself over the lip of the hole, she finally could see her surroundings. The fog refused to enter this area as it did the perimeter of the mansion or the length of the flagstone path, and honestly she couldn’t blame it in this instance, for before Joanna lie twelve open, empty, graves arranged in a large circle.
END ACT II
back to Horror