Striding through the halls of my childhood home I couldn’t help but wonder over the mystery of how a child could have lived in the lap of such opulence and outright reject it. My parents had risen me under the watchful eyes of wet-nurses and nannies, taught me through imported professors shipped from afar. Yet for some unfathomable reason, I had jumped at the first chance to leave my family and manor, fleeing to the cramped rooms and boisterous company found within the confines of University.
My gruff father was far too busy managing his massive empire to notice his only son leaping from the nest, yet I feel my mother may have felt she had been at fault. Even as I write this under his gaze, my father still only noticed my departure when I pilfered a portion of the family fortune and escaped to Europe and the far reaches of Asia. For over a decade, I traversed the wild jungles of India and dined with dukes and counts alike in their drafty castles. I spent so much time abroad, that when I arrived back to my home, much had changed.
For the first time, I learned of my mother’s death, something that despite all my efforts, I felt strangely detached from. My father had taken the news the harshest, as far as his business partners could tell. When I returned to my childhood manor, I found it much colder than before. The colors seemed almost subdued, and once I entered through our massive oak doors, it seemed as if only grays existed, an eternal twilight grasped within the house.
My father greeted me from within the confines of the entry hall, his muscular frame somehow gaunter than before. He seemed to have adopted the adornments of a funeral, dressed all in black, his face the color of death itself. When I had asked him where all the servants had gone off too, he merely replied that he had relieved them of their duties. Guiding me into the depths of my former home, I couldn’t help but feel that I was descending into the maw of some great beast, its dark depths devouring me whole. My father led me through twisting halls, so many differing doors and halls branching off that soon I was hopelessly lost. We eventually reached the library, upon which the two of us sat down, discussing at length my travels. Every few minutes he would nod his long gaunt face, that ghost of my father.
Eventually he broached the subject of dinner, to which I heartily agreed. Giving me a wicked smile, he excused himself and departed, leaving me in the tome ridden room alone. Perhaps it was the lack of women in the home, but the entire residence seemed to lack the spark it had once had during my childhood. Eventually my father returned carrying two plates heaped high with diced meat, steaming hot. Giving him a grin, I heartily accepted the meal and dug into it, savoring each bite. Eventually I slowed, glancing up at my host. He seemed to have barely picked at his food, content to simply stare at me consume mine.
Despite my father’s gaze, I managed to finish off my meal, announcing with a stretch and a yawn that I was ready to sleep. Giving another of his queer smiles, he stood, gesturing for us to depart. I followed him once more into the labyrinth that I had once traversed without a guide, feeling ashamed at no longer knowing my own home. Eventually we reached the doorway to a room, where my bags had somehow been deposited. Giving my father a hearty hug we departed company, I descending into the comforts of my bed while my father departed, his footsteps echoing into my mind.
After what felt like an eternity in that welcome darkness, I rose, awoken by a sound. At first, I put it off as simply a remnant of my dream, a mere flicker of my imagination. Then it swept through again, a slow moan that permeated the air and filled me with a sense of dread. Rising from my bed, I cast the sheets off and grabbed hold of a candle, leaving the safety of my room to investigate.
The moan came again, echoing through the silent manor on an invisible wind. After a few minutes of wandering I paused, the realization that I knew the way around my manor no longer sending a cold finger trailing down my spine. I began to run, the candle flickering hesitantly in my grasp. I raced past the gazes of long dead fore-fathers, through potted forests of withering and long dead plants, rounding corner after corner blindly. A panic stole over me, my imagination conjuring some great beast thudding behind me, only one turn away from devouring me whole. I could run no longer, and slowed to a halt, my breath leaving me in great gasps. After several moments I came to the realization that the pounding footfalls had in fact been my heart, thudding with such fear. I chuckled nervously to myself before continuing onwards, realizing I had reached the servants and kitchen quarters.
Passing through the low stone archway I glanced around, my wane candlelight piercing the darkness as well as a sword could pierce the fog. Then I heard it again, that dreaded moaning. It was so close. So very close that I nearly leapt in fright. Turning, I dashed quickly towards its source, despite every ounce of me wishing to turn around and flee. Then I saw him. A ramshackle skeleton, chained to the great oven that once fed our entire home! He raised his gaze up to mine, his eyes like tiny flecks of light at the bottom of a well. He raised a hand against the light with one hand, his other reaching out towards me. The ragged remains of a chef’s uniform dangled off his frame.
I was aghast, stumbling away from this ghast! I stifled a scream and felt the doorway to what I hoped was the exit. Even as that skeleton rose from the floor, I had slipped through to my escape. Turning around, my elation was cut-short, replaced by a mind-numbing terror. Blood poured from my face in mere moments, leaving me a pale ghost of myself, as I quickly pressed against the door, a low groan of anguish slipping free. Even as I scrabbled through the doorway, the image was burned into my mind permanently. Those piles of parts…. Arms, legs, chests! Children and women and men alike, all reduced to their basic pieces!
I slammed shut the door, dashing out of the kitchen even as I heard that whispering cry for help from the gaunt man at the oven. I had long since abandoned the candle, fleeing down hallway after hallway in a desperate gambit to escape. I could hear screaming bouncing off the walls as I sprinted down those halls, and it took some time to realize it was my own.
Soon I slowed, out of breath and at my wits end. That’s when I saw him, standing there staring at me with that rigid grin on his face. That ghost of my father. He stood before me, somehow taller and longer, shadows stretching him into a giant towering over me. He explained to me about the staff. How he had slaughtered them all in their sleep. Forced the chefs into chains, forcing them to butcher their families and friends and serve them to him.
Shuddering, I tried to see any part of this creature that had been my father, any remnant that had remained. The crazed shadowy thing before me bore no resemblance to him, that man had died when my mother had.
Even as he continued to explain himself to me, I listened no more. My hand stretched out and grasped the first thing within my reach, the cold iron of a candlestick stinging my palm. Letting out a cry I leaped forward and smashed the weapon between his eyes, bringing this monstrosity to the ground. I knelt atop him and continued to smash, expecting him to begin screaming. Instead, only laughter came from that broken face, even as I continued to crash the metal upon it. An eternity later, I stopped my assault. Standing up slowly, I dropped the candlestick and walked away, back to the kitchens.
I write this now, as a warning to anyone who comes across my manor. My father was a careless man. He allowed his emotions to grab hold and tear his mind apart. He’s watching me writing this right now, even as I eat the rare steaks that lie before me. After all, why let all this good meat go to waste?