Chapter one - The Falling Down Manor - David
"I really don't think we should be doing this."
"I really think you should shut up now."
Jacob and Luke are arguing again. Fiona looks like she might join in soon. I wonder whose side she's on?
"Well, I think," Here we go. "that we should all be quiet and just get on with it."
Well. There'll be no peace now for some time, I imagine.
"David, do you think we should be here? It's the middle of the night and it's foggy and cold!" I wish Luke wouldn't insist on bringing me into all his arguments.
"I don't think we should be here, no."
"See! I told you so!"
"But that doesn't mean I don't want to be here."
"Oh. Well thanks David. Great help you are."
"Please don't include me in your arguments. We really need to be quiet now, and you are the one who followed us here."
"I was interested!"
"And now you're scared. Get a grip, little brother. We'll all be dead soon, so you won't have to worry anymore!" Great. Now he's crying.
"Please don't scare him any more than he already is, Grace."
"Yeah, whatever. He's my brother. I can scare him if I want." She runs her fingers through her spiky, dyed purple hair and gives Luke a mock evil and slightly lopsided grin. I can't wait to get home. The sooner I prove the legend is nothing but a legend, the better. I can imagine it now. The warm bath, the soft bed, the cosy fire. Home. I can't wait. Grace is still scaring Luke. Jacob definitely has a crush on her. Oh, look. Fiona has been ignored for too long. She doesn't like that. Great. And now Ben has his face in the mud. What's her problem with him? He wasn't even part of the argument. I suppose I'll help him up. Ugh, his hand is all clammy and muddy. Still. We're all walking again now. That's good. Better do a quick head count to make sure no one has scampered. There's a dark brown high bunch. Must be Fiona. One. Floppy light brown hair. That's Ben. Two. Spiky purple hair. Could only be Grace. Three. Messy, dull, sandy blonde. That has to be Luke. Four. The black quiff that singles Jacob out in a crowd makes five. The flat, brown quiff of Blake brings us to six. There is a black bob with curled ends. Amy. Seven. Light blonde, short, straight and fringed. Theo. Eight. Weren't there nine of us? Oh, yeah. Silly me. I'm the ninth. Good, we're all here.
"Alright everyone. The manor will be in sight soon. Just around this last hill, then up a bit of a slope and we'll be there. Amy, did you remember to bring your lock picks? Good. Now stay together. Don't run off. There is a good chance you'll get lost in the fog. If you do get lost out here, stop walking. Stay standing up and moving about, but stay where you are. You can keep your body heat up enough to last the night like that. When the fog has cleared in the morning, climb to the top of a hill and look for buildings. You should be able to see the church from any of these hills. I wouldn't recommend trying to go, though. If you do change your mind, stay with us until we are at the manor. Then you can stay by the main door until we're all ready to go. Has everyone got that? Do I need to repeat anything? No? Good. Any questions?"
"Yeah. I have one. Who put you in charge, David?"
"Good question, Blake. Well, if you must know, no one did, and I'm not in charge. I am sorry for thinking ahead and worrying about all of your safety. I'll try not to do it again." I can practically hear everyone rolling their eyes. I am always in charge of these gatherings. I am a natural leader, after all. I would have thought Blake was used to it by now. Oh well. I guess he was just trying to be difficult.
And there's the manor. It looks so lonely, like no one has loved it for far too long. There are whole sections of it that are just rubble, now. I have seen drawings of it when it was still inhabited. I'm not sure it was ever in very good condition. It could be welcoming, though. Maybe it is, when the sun's out. There are tendrils of fog clawing at the lonesome structure, trying to get inside to claim the last of the trapped heat from the late evening sun. There is a single orange flame burning in one of the first floor windows. It is our only guide, since the lights of town are well behind us. This is a place for fallen kings, majestic yet broken, and we are about to disturb its peace to dispel the rumours. It feels somehow wrong, like entering this abandoned grave will wake someone from a long slumber, but I refuse to back down now. I have always been very stubborn, and the others would never let me hear the end of it if I back down when we are so close. So I'll just keep walking forward. I'm letting my feet do the thinking for now. I don't think any skin-stealing immortal could scare me away at this point. It's dangerous and terrifying, but this is the most beautiful scene I have ever laid my eyes on, and I probably won't ever get the chance again.
"I thought you said it would be a small slope. My feet are in agony!"
"Oh, stop complaining, brother. You weren't even supposed to come with us. If you hadn't followed us your feet wouldn't be sore." Grace and Luke are arguing, again. I don't think they're ever nice to each other. I guess I should pay more attention to the others. I've been concentrating on the house for too long and they're getting nervous. I can feel the anticipation hanging heavy in the air as we get closer to the old oak door. I can taste salt on the wind. It must be coming from the sea. That means wet air, which means a swollen door. Oak always swells when it's wet. Whoever thought of making doors out of it was off their head. We might need to work together to get it open. I had better warn everyone.
"The door is made of oak and there is moisture in the air. Oak swells when it's wet, so we might need to work together to get it open if it has grown bigger than its frame." Everyone's grumbling, now.
"WOAH!" I have just found out that I don't like the taste of grass. I really don't see what cows make all the fuss about.
"Seriously, Fiona? What was that for?" She's just glaring at me, now. I don't know what I did to upset her, but whatever it is, I got a face full of mud for my troubles. Oh, good. Ben seems to be repaying the favour. And I'm up.
"Thanks, Ben." He just smiles at me. I think he's scared of Fiona. He hardly ever speaks when she's around. I wonder if they have some sort of back story. Oh well. It's not really any of my business. Oh, look. We're here. That's good. We can all get out of the cold in a minute. I hope a little warmth and dryness cheers Fiona up. I really can't work with someone so determined to mess up my plans. I think she knows that the legend isn't real and that I'm going to prove her wrong. It is curious that there's a light on in one of the rooms, though. Oh, I can't wait to get home...
"Okay everyone, listen up. This is important. Amy. I need you to pick the lock."
"On it." Waiting... Waiting... Waiting... Waiting... Ah, she's done it!
"Good. Thank you, Amy. Now, everyone. If we could all stand back while Blake and Fiona try to open the door. Oh, don't look at me like that. You two are stronger than the rest of us, and you know it. Besides, it's a good chance for you both to show off, and if you can do it then the rest of us can reserve energy for running away if necessary. And of course, for helping you two run away if you haven't any energy of your own after this. Ah, good. There we go, a little harder. Good. Thank you, you two. Very helpful. Now if we all work together, I'm sure we can get it open enough to actually get through. Don't give me that look, I'm helping, too." Ugh, this door is heavy. Poor little Luke is whimpering near the back. Great, now Theo has trapped me against the door. I'm so glad this opens inward. It's so much easier to push than it is to pull in these kinds of circumstances. Push... Push... Push... Almost there... Push... A little more... I wish Theo would get off... PUSH... And we're all on the floor. It was so much easier once we had it open a certain amount. Theo is on top of me. I think he likes it. Why is he looking at me like that?
"Please can you get off of me, Theo?" Poor guy, he looks so embarrassed. Still. I'm up, now. That's a relief. We are now one step closer to getting home. I just can't wait. When we've proven the legend to be false, then the Police can start looking for the skin thief properly.
Oh, look. There's a light coming from behind that door. It's not an electrical light, either. A fire or a candle, maybe even a gas lamp. It stinks, too. We had probably better close the front door.
Oh, wow... The entrance hall is immense. There are two doors to the left and two to the right. There is a massive stair case at the far wall with one door at ground level on either side of it. The stairs are separated into three parts. The main part is wider at the bottom, but gets thinner as it reaches the double doors, oak again, at the top. About seven people could probably walk in a horizontal line at the bottom, but at the top of the stair case, only three at a time could fit. The other two sections are accessible from the sides. If you came out of one of the doors beside the stairs and turned away from the walls to continue walking, you would soon be making your way up one of these extra sections. There is a thin balcony all the way around the right and left sides of the room, about one floor up. The ceiling of the main room takes up about two floors worth of space, so the rooms accessible from the balconies probably make up the first floor. There is a massive, and I mean massive, chandelier hanging from the centre of the ceiling. It hangs just above the first floor balconies and I imagine one could jump from the railings onto the chandelier itself. Not that anyone would want to, of course. Anyway, it is the most majestic source of light I have ever seen, short of the sun.
The banisters are thick and wooden with intricate carvings of battles and the like all over them. I think they tell some sort of story, but I can't tell from this distance. The patterns and pictures are incredibly detailed, so whoever carved them must have been very talented, indeed. The walls are decorated with art of all kinds. There are statues by the doors and paintings above them. Nicely decorated sea shells and masks hang in unexpected places about the room and fans and hats and items of clothing from lots of different era's and countries are set out for display in all the corners and by every empty strip of wall. Everything is coated with a thick layer of dust that gives me a sensation of loneliness and abandonment. Even I feel like I've been abandoned here for years, and we only just arrived. The ceiling is unexpectedly blank, but the decorations on and by the walls make up for the lack of cherubs stalking our progress. The whole place is riddled with cobwebs and spare mechanical parts, like someone had taken a hundred clocks apart and left all the pieces lying about in here. We can all now hear a 'clang, thunk, clang, thunk' sound emanating from behind the double doors at the top of the main staircase. I can tell that the others can hear it, because they are all moving together to form a tighter group. This manor is like a grave in my eyes. It looks so dead and untouched, and yet it also looks like it has been loved and well lived in at some point in the past. But now the rooms all feel empty and lifeless, like nothing has breathed here for decades. I'm almost scared to move for fear that the house will awaken and punish us for our intrusion.
"I wonder where that noise is coming from... Can you lot hear it, too? Do you think we should try the double doors at the top of the main stair case first?"
And the spell is broken. Thank you Theo.
"I guess we should try." Everyone seems pleased that we have a plan, if a little unsure about its specifics, but I have made up my mind. I am about half way up the flight of stairs, examining the carvings, and I can hear the others starting to catch up with me. They are all nervous and interested, so they are taking their time looking at the pictures on the banisters to put off going into the room at the top. But all too soon we are standing before the large doors with a feeling of apprehension. I have a constant itching sensation that feels like it is resonating from deep in my bones and the hairs on the back of my neck are standing on end. This is definitely the most unpleasant feeling I have ever experienced. All of my senses are telling me I'm being watched, but I know, logically, that there is no one here but us. But still the feeling possesses me and I just have to look around the room to make sure. No one: just us. I keep telling myself this, but the sensation is nagging and persistent and it will not leave me alone. It's starting to make me feel a little ill. It reminds me of indigestion. I reach for the doorknobs and the need to turn and flee is becoming almost overpowering. I rap my fingers around the brass knob and notice that I am holding my breath. Everything is still and silent and I realise that everyone else is holding their breath, as well. I turn the knob. Silence.
'Clang, thunk, clang, thunk, clang, thunk, clang, thunk.'And I throw the doors open with as much force as possible, as if doing so will disrupt the feeling of impending doom and silence the breathing in my ear that I cannot feel. I have never seen anything like this before in my life. I never want to see anything like this ever again. I can hardly believe my eyes. I hear the others gasp behind me and I know that I did, too. The sight before me is unbelievable. I can't bear to see it and yet I can't look away, either. It's not human. Not even nearly. I can hear Luke gagging and crying behind me. I feel like I am glued in place. I can't move my legs or my arms and my eyes just won't be torn away from the machine and it's operator. Even my brain seems to be stuck. I'm really starting to wish I hadn't come, now. I would rather be anywhere else than here: anywhere at all. I don't think I will ever be able to get this image out of my mind. I feel sick with the smell of rotted flesh filling my head and the hideous view I am now faced with. This could be the death of me, because I don't think anyone would be able to live with this kind of image behind their eyes...