[Kaimee]: 5.Contest Entries.The House

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2007-01-29 06:03:52
Speculative Fiction/Ideological
short story
Free for reading
For the Famous First Lines contest.

There's a night every year, always a different night, when you can look out of the window at the top of the tower in Alder House, and you can see Things.
Not always the same things, not always things that seem special. But on that one night when you look out, you can catch a glimpse of lights crossing the lawn where they shouldn’t be, or shifting on the sleek running backs of more dogs than our town has, as they surge together through the gates in one monstrous sea of smooth short fur, or even once, in the dead of night, when I looked out and saw a summer garden, and my own mother when she was young, dancing under the trees around a pond which had been grass for my whole life, holding the hands of another so like her they could have been sisters.
I’m not saying you’ll always see these things, or similar things, or even things that make sense. I’m just saying that one night every year the house can show you Things – if only you will listen.
Last year I saw my brother steal out to the stables in the middle of the night, on his way to a war that ended five years before, from which he still hadn’t returned. I wanted so badly to run down to him and grab at his hands, plead with him, stop him from going – but I knew that I would only see him from this solitary top tower room, and that when I snatched at him to try and hold him back, I would find only air, and a memory five years gone.
And so I watched him leave, saw his set and deadly earnest face, which I shouldn’t have seen, and never had that night five years before.
I shouldn’t have seen it, I had realised, and I saw it only because of the light burning in my cousin’s window. I saw her five year younger face all set in seriousness as she watched him leave, and never a word she had said to any of us.
It was then that I realised that maybe what the tower shows us isn’t important in the grand scheme of things, I might not be seeing angels and spirits conferring in Alder garden, but what it showed each of us on our different nights, was what each of us should see.
Over the next few weeks after seeing my cousin, I watched her and saw her strained face when no one else noticed, and saw her suddenly still at any mention of my brother. Maybe the house knew what was coming; maybe it just thought I should know. But when a man arrived at our gatehouse and the age bent gatekeeper, muttering old Abe brought him to our Father, and when the news finally seeped down to us that he’d been with my brother at Edding Field and seen him fall, and brought back news of it to us, maybe the house knew that my cousin would need understanding.
Maybe the house had a plan.

There's a night every year, always a different night, when you can look out of the window at the top of the tower in Alder House, and you can see Things.
There are some things that you should not see. There are some things I never wanted to see. There are some things no man should ever have to remember. When I was a boy, the entire village knew me only as one o’ t’ twain. Devils they called us, the ‘turrible two’, always up to some trouble and always there to swear the other was no where near it.
There’s some things an you can swear and swear they never happened, but no one can forget they did. Oh an I wish the House would let me forget it.
It was during the hunt it was, and Joseph, for I’ll give him his right name when I tell it for we’re hardly twain now, an him dead all these years. Joseph it was, and myself, an we decided we’d throw off the hunt and show up those boys at Alder House, them that were sure they were better than us. For they’d not be better than us if they couldn’t do so simple a thing as find one small wee fox. But it didn’t turn out as we planned, and Joseph, oh he laughed at my fright of the dogs, but right I was to be. I’ll never forget the sight of those silver muscled backs as I watched them pour through the gates in search of a fox that was Joseph, and the hard might of their legs as they pounded grass to mud, and bone to mud, and my own brother’s face to mud. And I swear to this day, it was done in silence. If they bayed I did not hear it, and nor did anyone else, and nor do I as year after year I watch their powerful wee bodies pummel them through the gate, a sleek silent sea that drowned my poor brother. The only sound I know, although it happened some months later, it seems to me it sounded across that churned mud, is my old ma, an her crying out that they should have named me Cain, and not Abel.
And so I stay here with my brother, with the mud of the drive that is my brother’s blood, and each year I wait for that one night, always a different night, when I make my weary way up the old stone steps of the tower, and the House makes me remember.
Ah no, an I can’t leave the House now can I, tied to it that I am.

There's a night every year, always a different night, when you can look out of the window at the top of the tower in Alder House, and you can see Things.
Those things for me are never what I want, they are never the face I can barely remember. I see my son, or my daughter, I see years old midnight picnics or a girl’s early morning assignation with a soldier I recognise now, that I know hasn’t happened yet. I see my husband when he was a boy, falling off his horse again and again, and pushing up off the dirt with a look on his face I know well. I see a village boy crushed and broken, and his face I see as clear as the day it happened, when I watched in horror from the gatehouse.
But I do not see the face I wait for.
When I was young, my father went away to foreign parts, and there he found himself a new wife, with a young daughter already. My mother had died when I was born, and I’d grown up at Alder House, with my papa’s dear friends my foster parents. I’d grown up knowing of the House, and what it could show you. I’d grown up seeing the histories of all its people, and thinking it was normal.
And when it had happened, oh a year after it had happened, one day I’d stopped crying and realised that hers was one more history the house could show me, but it never did.
My papa came home when I was fourteen, bringing with him a lovely new mama for me, and a beautiful sister, who was the world to me the second I saw her. My mama and papa were gone again quite soon, but my Sister stayed. She came everywhere with me, and I showed her everything, and for a lonely girl in a house that wasn’t hers, she became my family.
And oh, the House is cruel. There’s only one history I wish to see, and of the nights I’ve spent waiting in that tower, only one history denied me.
My sister loved the pond in Alder garden, she thought it was magic, and that fairies lived in it. She was only six. She would spend all day gazing into it, watching for the flicking tails of fish that she thought were fairies wings. And I let her, and I left her there, and that was the last time any of us saw her.
And we drained the pond and filled it in, and never a sign of her did we find, and the lawmen stopped travellers, and the villagers searched the woods, one long line, calling after her for days.
And the house will not show me that one history. I sometimes think the house did not want her, and would not have her, and now will not let me see her. And oh, I can hardly remember her face now, my poor beautiful sister.

There's a night every year, always a different night, when you can look out of the window at the top of the tower in Alder House, and you can see Things.
That was what they told me when they let me stay, after I brought them news of their son they would rather never known. They put me in this tower room, and told me Watch. They told me the house may have something to tell me. But I was tired, and heavy with the news I’d brought, and still injured after the years long trek it took to drag myself back homeward after the war. And so I propped my weary self up on the sill, and set about drinking the weariness away, and forgot all about their warnings to Watch.
And so later when I opened my eyes again and looked out on a sunny summer garden during winter night, and saw a young girl almost identical to my own youngest sister, and similar to my younger sister, and exactly how I remembered my oldest sister at that age, I knew I must be dreaming.
The girl played by a small pond, plaiting the grasses at the waters edge. Her clothes were old fashioned and strange, and I thought suddenly of the strange pelisses and other French clothing my mother talked of, that she remembered from when she was younger.
She never knew her family she said, her only memories of them were vague, and her own mother was only a voice. Her clearest memory was her sister’s face, happy and dancing in and out of sunlit shadows under the trees in a garden, somewhere. She didn’t remember what had happened, or how they died, or how she came to be in an orphanage, but that was something he had always known, that his mother had no history.
And here his drink blurred mind fixed upon the one idea before sliding into sleep; this was his mothers history he was seeing, and this House could tell them where she came from and what had happened.
As his eyes closed the view from the window seemed to shift and worlds melted together, and looking down, he saw himself slip through the courtyard shadows holding the hand of a girl, the sister he’d seen earlier, hugging the sobbing form of his friend's sweetheart.
And then it changed again, and fell into a deafening darkness, full of baying and thunder from the sound of horses hooves and the patter of a hundred hounds all barrelling along. And he heard one voice, clear above the cacophony that should have drowned it out. He heard one clear and ringing, joyful shout, Abel, we’ve done it!

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