Marco inherited his father’s house after he had died under strange circumstances and the cause of his death has remained unknown. It was a small house and Marco couldn’t help but wonder why he had bought it in the first place. The place was a dump. Walls eaten hollow by every rodent known to man, it had almost no foundation, roof, mostly covered with moss, was about to fall in and overall it seemed that the slightest breeze would blow it over without any resistance. Garden had been completely taken over by weed; bushes would have looked even beautiful in their own way with simple white blooms in them, if he hadn’t known it to be field bindweed swallowing everything it could reach. There was no fence, but he was pretty sure that his territory ended with the tree line. Lawn mower would be of no use here, that was clear. The silence was deafening. Closest neighbor was about 500 meters away, which wasn’t that far if you wanted to borrow a cup of sugar, but was far enough if he should need help, because he had accidentally cut off his feet or something.
He was not surprised to find the door unlocked. Who would know that there is a house in the middle of the woods in this forsaken place.
“Forsaken Palace should be the name of it,” he thought out loud and entered the house. It looked even more deserted inside. Not much furniture was in sight, his father had barely enough to meet his basic needs, but what little he did have, was thrown into a pile in the corner. The wallpaper was torn from here and there, some of the floor boards were missing, ceiling was entirely gone and he spotted a tiny hole in the wall, proving his theory about a rodent problem to be accurate. This house only had one room in it and that was both the bedroom and living room. He was thankful that it had a separated kitchen, he hated these modern solutions with open kitchens.
He picked up a chair from the pile and placed it under the window to sit and think. There was no electricity, only cold water and the stove was in such terrible condition that he wasn’t sure he would even dare to light a fire in there. Naturally, he could not see any kind of kitchen appliances and he started to think about his morning cup of coffee he badly needed to wake up normally and had no idea how to make. Maybe some kind of a coffee maker with batteries? Surely there had to be something made for the hikers. He also needed candles, some food, a flashlight, lighter, fire wood for he was unable to locate any, floorboards so he would not brake his legs in the dark and other things he could not think of at the moment, but were also necessary.
The distressing loneliness and the smell of history lingering in the air made him think that maybe the stories about his father’s insanity were not an exaggeration after all. Anyone could go crazy here. His father, Donald, had bought the place at a very low price after the divorce and found it to be a nice place to retire. When he moved in, he slowly started to keep to himself, avoided conversations and barely ever left the house, until one day he was found dead. Judging by the looks of it, he had been looking for something with haste. Maybe a hidden treasure, Marco joked.
When he got back, he had to hurry with the repairs. There wasn’t much daylight left and he had to use his time wisely. Thankfully the bed was in good working order and even the mattress was relatively new and good for use, so after he had replaced the broken boards and fixed the hole, he started making the bed. He had to adjust his sleeping hours to use as much daylight as possible. New, modern sheets didn’t match with the ancient appearance and were an alien that needed to be either eliminated or blended in.
By the time he was done, it was already dark and he finished up in the mild light of the candle. He had also brought back with him his cat, who had used the last hours of daylight at her discretion and got to know the area, she had to keep an eye on, a little better. As soon as Marco was done, she hopped on the bed, found the sweet spot to be in the middle of it, and fell asleep without any intention of leaving him some room. He tried to slip in and earned her indignation with it.
He woke up early on the next morning. It was promising to be a rather beautiful day and for the first time he heard birds singing. Sun painted golden squares on his face and he could no longer sleep. Sissy, the cat, was already by the door, waiting to be let out.
Marco, unsuccessful at finding the certain coffee maker, had to start a fire if he wanted to get his morning coffee and it took him awhile to get the wood burning. It was, no doubt, an annoying and time consuming process, but when he could finally taste the bitter goad in his mouth, he knew it was worth it. He enjoyed it outside, sitting in the sunlight and letting the soft summer breeze pet his face. Sissy had gone off to rove the woods. He had to make the place a bit more livable if he wanted to stay here, and he had to get started. The hole in the kitchen wall was a good place to begin and he sealed it with pieces of broken glass mixed with glue and saw dust – to keep those damn rodents from reopening it. He painted the floor, put new wallpaper on the walls and that pretty much consumed the second day. He started to worry a bit, when Sissy didn’t show that night, but decided not to let it get to him; she had spent the night out before. He went to bed, listening to the strange sounds that seemed to be coming not from in the wall, but rather from under the floor. Marco was certain that there was no basement, but he started to understand why Donald had removed some floorboards – something was definitely hiding underneath. A small hope that cat would take care of the problem, allowed him to calm himself and believe that he would not have to endure the misery of completely removing the floor he had just finished.
Sissy wasn’t back by morning and he got concerned that maybe she had gotten lost. He had heard strange noises throughout the entire night and it didn’t stop until the sun rose. Making his way through the weed, he suddenly saw Sissy lying on the ground, sleeping and walked up to her. As he got closer, he started to get nervous – Sissy looked extremely skinny and she didn’t move at all. She was dead. Her face was deformed in terror with her mouth wide open, her tongue and teeth missing and her throat opened like a small cave. He turned away and covered his eyes to get the awful image out of his mind, but it was too late, it was already stuck. He had no idea, what could have done this to her, but this place was more that meets the eye. He was disgusted, when he wrapped her in a towel and felt her being literally nothing more than bare skin. In the back of the garden he dug a deep hole and buried her, finding comfort in knowing that her suffering was now over.
Something was definitely wrong with this place. He started tearing up the floor he had just finished, but found nothing but saw dust underneath it. Nothing out of the ordinary, but when he gathered it and took it outside, he came across a small passage way. At first, he thought it was a mole, but close observation revealed that it ad been made by a more intelligent life form. The floor in it was covered with some kind of material he had not seen before and when he directed the light from his flashlight in it, he saw someone quickly escaping. He shook his head, trying clear his thoughts and wondering, if he had just imagined the whole thing, but knew it to be a fond hope. Whatever he saw escaping, was no rodent, because it was green and walked on two feet. That pretty much ruled out every living organism he could think of and lead him to believe, that he may have discovered a whole new species. Marco wasn’t a greedy man, but he could definitely see dollar marks before his eyes now, especially now that he has put a fortune in this place only to take it apart again. He tried to think of ways he could capture one them, but nothing came into his mind. A trap would obviously be no good for he had no idea what their dietary preferences were or if they, being an intelligent life form, would even allowed themselves to captured that way. He removed the rest of the floorboards, but found no sign of them and put the boards back, replacing the broken ones.
He went to bed unusually tired that night, but he assumed that it was the busy days and fresh air finally getting to him. Apartment in a city is so different from the blossoming wilderness he was now part of. He liked that side of the nature he had seen a long time ago, when he was still a little boy, but mostly forgot about during the years he spent, breathing the pollution and thinking that he was in paradise. He imagined how it would look like here after he had finished and started thinking about actually moving here, when his thoughts were interrupted by the same disturbing noise he had heard last night. The only difference was that now he knew, who was making it – or at least had an idea. He refreshed the image carved into his memory, a picture of the escaping creature, and started to doubt if he would get any money from it at all. It was possible that he wouldn’t get a nickel – who would pay him for his discovery? His name would be mentioned, but that would probably be it. It was still dark, when he was awakened by an intense pain he felt in his throat and as he tried to get up, realized in horror that he could not move his body. He could feel some kind of strange movement inside, like his bowels were moving around, only more localized. He had a lot of trouble dragging his eyelids up to see, what was going on, but saw nothing but darkness. No streetlights were nearby to illuminate the room. Nothing could be heard, only the pain got more and more intense and he felt the need to cough. Sudden feeling of choking, something was smothering him, clogging his throat from the inside and then it was in his mouth. He could feel it climbing out, and see as well – it had some kind of glowing thing in its hand, which painted everything blue. Having his eyes opened half way through, he could now see what was coming out of him. It was a man, an extremely tiny man at that, no taller than 5 centimeters, and it was standing on Marcos chin. It had blonde hair which even the blue light could not hide, and he was dressed entirely in a weird, green fabric. Probably made of leaves or something, but besides the height issue, it was a normal man. And he was not alone. Another one came from inside him, carrying something he could not identify, but appeared wet and then third, the last one. Pain started to fade away, but the paralysis remained. He watched them leaving and waited; that was all he could do. He had no idea what had caused his inability to move, but couldn’t stay up for long to wonder about it – sudden rush of exhaustion completely took him over and he fell asleep.
Morning brought no relief, he had trouble getting out of bed, his body was sore all over, his throat was killing him and it felt like he had a high fever. His mouth was so dry that his tongue kept getting stuck on his palate, so he somehow managed to get a drink and crawled back to bed with it. It didn’t look like he would be doing much with that day, he could barely breathe and that used up most of his energy. Somehow he knew that during these short daylight hours that were shrinking by the day, he was safe. He stayed in bed and only made an attempt to come out, when he had no choice, and slept throughout most of the day; he had to, he was afraid to sleep after sunset for they will come again, he was certain of it. By the time the sun was about to set, he felt better and even went outside to watch it and get some fresh air. It was a quiet night, no birds were singing, no light breeze softly caressing his face and no sound to notify him of their presence.
He lit a candle to light the room and sat on the bed. He felt like a child, who is afraid of the monster living under the bed, and lifted up his feet. He didn’t know where they had come from the last time, though he suspected the hole under the floorboards, but had no idea, how they could have gotten from under the floor to above the floor, because he had sealed it properly.
Flame was twisting and turning like it was in pain and that made the shadows come alive. They were moving, growing and shrinking, changing shape; they were living their own lives and only obeyed the flame. It was their god, commanding them, and they listened. He felt that he was one of them, he too had to obey, or he would be burnt. The light was their common enemy, capable of destroying them in a blink of an eye. But he had an enemy of his own he had to face. Soon he heard the familiar sound and he knew it was them, getting ready to invade his territory, protecting their own. Finally he saw them – they were coming from the kitchen and he started to suspect that the hole in the wall, he had closed up, had been reopened. For a moment they hesitated when they saw the candle burning and him, sitting on the bed, awake and waiting, but then resumed their course heading straight towards him. Marco touched his nose to make sure he could still move, and observed them closely. There were five of them, lined up behind each other, all looking identical. The first one was carrying the same material he had seen last night, which painted everything blue, only candle light was stronger and the yellow glow surrounding him, remained. He was surprised to realize that he was not afraid. He could just step on them and they would be squished in a matter of second; they didn’t really possess any threat to him. He was curious about what was going happen next, what they were up to this time, when he saw the last man on the line placing a tiny bag on the floor in front of him. The one with the blue stone approached it and put the stone in it, as soon as the bag was opened. At first, nothing happened. He waited, stretching his neck to take a peek inside the, when there was a sudden blue flash. Quickly the tiny man grabbed the blue stone and took a few steps back. Marco saw blue dust coming from within the bag, slowly rising up and coming towards him like a mysterious blue mist that had suddenly come alive. He watched it for a few seconds, as it started to fill the room, and then rushed to the window before it could get to him. He quickly opened it, without even noticing that he had knocked over the candle, which landed on the bed and the flame started explore the freedom it suddenly had gained. He was relieved to see that the blue mist was slowly clearing. He could feel weird, unexpected exhaustion taking over his body and he collapsed right under the window. Slowly he got more and more tired, until he could barely keep his eyes open – only enough to see them coming. They had again lined up, the first one carrying its blue stone, determined to get rid of him like all the previous occupants. He could feel them climbing up on his chest, like five little rats, making their way to the entrance. In the corner of the eye he saw the bed completely covered with flames, even part of the wall was now on fire, making its way to the roof. Tiny creatures didn’t seem to mind the bright light at all, and kept climbing. He slowly fell over on his side, accidentally crushing one of them. From this angle, he could see the kitchen well and what he saw, was terrifying. There were dozens, even hundreds of them, all coming towards him, like he was a birthday cake everybody wanted to get a piece of. He felt his mouth being pulled open, and no matter how he tried to resist, he was still powerless to stop them. He was disgusted to feel them inside his mouth, he wanted to throw up to watch them drown in his vomit, but couldn’t. Then the pain came. The intense, burning pain grew stronger, when they entered his throat and left something behind to hold it open. The pain expanded as they went deeper, and he could feel like they were slicing him up. He felt sick and knew that this was it, when he felt one coming out. The tiny man was carrying something wet and red, dripping, leaving behind a trail of red dots on the floor. He knew what they were doing. Sissy had been mined hollow, and they were doing the same thing to him. Then he closed his eyes.
Flames had already made it to the roof and the entire house was soon burned down to the ground.
The first person arrived about an hour after the sun had risen to reveal a lonely line of smoke. It was his closest neighbor Willie, who had spotted it and came to investigate, but found nothing but ashes in a big hole, right where the house used to be. He found the hole a bit odd at first, but then assumed that it was probably the basement that caved in. Willie didn’t know they even had a basement, but naturally assumed that most likely Donald had dug one, and was amazed by the size of it – at least three times the size of the house. He saw his neighbor, Rünno, coming closer and greeted him with a sad look. Rünno had also spotted the smoke and decided to take a look.
“There’s nothing left to be saved, I’m afraid,” Willie turned to him. “There is nothing but ashes left and I haven’t seen anybody, either.”
“I thought Donald’s son lived here.”
“I thought so too, but… Oh, no! You don’t think that he’s…”
Rünno slowly nodded, his eyes carefully going through the depressing sight, searching for any kind of hint of the young boy’s whereabouts. “Looks like it.”
Willie took off his cap. “I’ll call the fire department.”
Soon he returned and found Rünno right where he had left him. “You know,” he walked up to him, “that was only a matter of time.”
“There was something bizarre about this place,” Rünno agreed. “Nobody seemed to last long here.”
“Oh?” Willie took a glance at him and turned back to the ashes.
“Must be the solitude or what were you suggesting?”“I just thought that with running around with the candles and all - it was an old house, extremely flammable.”