Here is a new short story
I had just moved into the new house with my poor mother when the old proprietor handed me the keys, gazed back up at the old building, sighed, and then said to me, ‘Enjoy the house! It’s a beautiful building. Just make sure you don’t go up to the top floor!’
I laughed at him, of course, thinking he was having a joke, but when I laughed he gave me a funny, almost offended glance, and then stalked away before I even had chance to ask him what he meant.
It turned out I had inherited a sizable and attractive house. When I first glanced about it I thought, I could live here quite comfortably.
The first floor was a series of passages leading to several rooms all of which were very large, and clean, well ordered and full of light and air. The house had a bar, at the back, and a cellar, and beside this a small archway led to the kitchen which was elegantly combined with the dining room, and beside this was an excellently proportioned living room. There were also two good-sized bedrooms on the ground floor, and a bathroom with a wonderful marble floor.
It was marvellous! I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to own all this.
Of course I decided it was time to peruse the second floor. And so off I went to explore, and at the top of the steps I found something that amazed me. The second floor was a mirror of the first floor, with exactly the same rooms, exactly the same size and in the same places. There was one marked difference; the condition of the rooms was slightly lived, there was a certain shoddiness, with peeling paint and large accumulations of dust in certain areas. But the living room was huge, and it had a great window that looked out on the grounds below, and positioned beneath it was a fire, and even now a living flame was already flickering away inside it!
Now I made my way to the third and final floor - but stopped fast at the first steps. Now here was another significant change in the quality of the building. This final set of steps was without a carpet, and the walls without decorations, and the little window by the side of the steps was stuffed up by a scruffy, greasy curtain. There was something grey and depressing about this part of the house, and the gathering of dust was so amazing I could plough my hand through it and leave a finger trail behind like it was a pile of old mud.
I shook my head, but for some reason could not put my foot on that first step leading upwards. It was like an invisible wall stood against me - and not just that, but an awful feeling of claustrophobia that vanished the moment I walked away.
Now I remembered the old man's words - don’t go up to the top floor! I think it was his fault I feared those steps! He had put ideas in my head! Well, whatever, I didn’t explore any further that day, and returned back down below.
The first few weeks of my new life in the house were wonderful, and relatives visited, and we had parties and mother seemed happy. I don’t know how, but I almost forgot about the third floor! A whole section of the house I had completely forgotten about. And yet every time I did remember the final set of steps leading to the top, a sudden gloom clouded my mind, and I shuddered with a inexplicable sense of fear.
It was about our third week in when the first strange thing happened.
I was on the second floor, in the living room, stoking up the fire, and whistling a tune, quite mindful of anything other than my good humour, when I noticed the cabinet door behind me.
Now I hadn’t checked this place before so I opened the door, to find a little set of steps on the other side. They curved round and then went up, and no doubt ended at the top floor. A second secret set of steps? “How strange!” I thought.
I decided to ascend, and then I had to stop, for halfway up a solid metal gate closed the way off.
Now I looked at the gate, and with the attitude of any other normal human being I thought “what’s this doing here?” and felt quite ruffled to find my steps blocked by such a thing, and when I started to think of plans to have the gate removed I heard footsteps from above! Then, on the other side of the gate, standing on the steps just above me, an old man appeared!
I’ll be honest with you, I was scared, and I ran down the steps in a panic, but then a took a grip of myself, and returned, to find the man had gone, but the gate would not budge by my hands.
I returned to the room below shaking. The man I saw did bear a resemblance to the old proprietor who had left the keys to me, but even so, if it was him, he was still an intruder, and had no right to camp himself in my property.
Eventually I returned downstairs and somehow forgot the matter.
The next morning I checked on my mother, who had been very quiet in her room, and had not stirred for breakfast, to find she had disappeared.
She had gone off exploring on her own… and then I thought in dread of the third floor, had she gone up to the top without me? And when I remembered the strange man that lived up there terror gripped me!
I had been living in the house for a month, and still had not gone up into the third floor. It was crazy! It was only then I realised how mad it all was. Really , it was like my house was two different countries, with the border lying between the second and third floor, and then over that border was some foreign land where I was not welcome.
Well! I thought now, plucking myself up. “This has to end!”
I wasn’t going to stand for it anymore. I charged my way up to the top!
When I reached the third set of steps I did hesitate for a while, but then remembered myself, and I tore down the greasy curtain, allowing a pale oily light threw, and then I blasted my way up to the top without stopping!
So now I had reached the top floor, for the first time in my life. The first thing I noticed was how cold it was. And that was because none of the windows up here had glass panes, and a cold breeze was freely running through!
I shivered, then braced myself, before beginning to explore.
Again, the third floor was a mirror of the floors below, only the quality of the rooms was seriously degraded, with chipped wooden floors and naked walls, and windows torn out and left as holes before the open air. No furniture, no furnishings. There were no lights, only a chill darkness.
I shook my head wearily. What was this? It was like no one had lived here, and the place was left to fall into ruin. Then I remembered my mother, and I had to find her, for she had to be hiding somewhere, in these creaky worn halls.
As I reached a large open room, adjacent to the secret steps beyond the gate which led down the living room below, a ladder dropped down before me. I climbed it, till I reached the attic above, in the roof of the house. Dust was in my eyes but when I had rubbed it out, an unimaginable sight awaited me.
It was the old man, standing on a chair, with a taught rope fastened round his neck. Right beside the chair was a huge wooden chest…
‘I told you!’ he said. ‘Don’t go up to the top floor!’ He kicked the chair away from under him, and the rope snapped about his throat. I rushed to grab his legs, to support him, but I was too late to save the mad fellow… By the time I readjusted the chair, and was able to climb up myself and cut him down, I found he was dead, and a great gloom clouded my mind.
The authorities quickly zoomed in and carried the dead body away on a stretcher. I was left with a strange burden to bear. Nobody could explain what the man was doing in the roof; he had possibly fabricated a key which granted him access to the house after we had handed over the legal deeds, but how he had obtained sustenance and carried out his affairs without my knowing, I don’t know. I could only guess he was mad!
But then of course there was the question of my mother. My mother! Where had she got to? On that we were all stumped. She had completely vanished. But the authorities were out with search parties already, and I could only sit in my chair and dwell in thought and hope for the best.
Everyone was gone by the time it happened.
I was on my own, and I poured myself a drink, for my nerves were shaken, and my wits exhausted with the burden I carried.
That was when I saw the huge wooden chest by the fireplace before me. The same wooden chest that had been in the top floor, by the spot where the old man had hung himself. Now the lock flicked open by itself, and the lid slid back… White fingers flopped out and groped about like little grubs. And then out crawled a gaunt and shaggy figure. Pale and emaciated, and clad in rags - an old hag with dark eyes and a hooked nose, and an evil toothy grin…
Good grief! No! I looked again, and saw, beyond that vile visage of a leering hag, my own mother, only warped into a vile crow beyond description!
‘Mother!’ I cried, ‘what has happened to you?’
She laughed, and then croaked, ‘I am not your mother! And I never was!’
Dropping my drink I fled to my room and locked the door. That mad thing is now smashing against it, hacking away with a great cleaver! Already the wood is giving way, but the window will not budge, and there now seems no escape for me!
As I desperately write the last lines of this record, I don’t think I shall ever know the dark riddle that creeps along the twisted ways of this house.
There is only one thing I do know for certain, just before the darkness takes me - and that is the number of my days…