The voices— again, as always. It always comes again… Then the flight— the running away and the door slamming. Running and more running… And always: darkness, blackness—
This is what my life had been like until a year or so ago. When I was little, it was not quite so bad. But as I grew up, things slowly built up to a climax. That was a year or so ago. Because, you see, “a year or so ago” is the crux of the story I am about to tell you.
My room was dark and the wooden floorboards creaked. I knelt on the floor with my forehead pressed again my closet door. Floating up the stairs, I could hear the voices of my family. I pressed my forehead harder against the wood, hoping that if I did it hard enough, I would never have to hear such voices again. Voices raised in anger, hatred, and, more and more often, fear. Then came a sound that I had never heard before. But this sound also I never wanted to hear again. The sound was innocent enough in itself – just a bland “bump” – but I immediately knew it was the sound of someone hitting someone else. Suddenly it was as though my legs were controlled by someone else – without thinking about it at all I just started running. I had run before when I heard the voices, but then I had always run into the garden, or other times I had jumped right into my closet and closed the door. This time I did not stop at the garden.
Down the stairs, clinging to the banister… out through the front door – slamming the door to the wall in the process – and across the front lawn. Here is the edge of the garden— the edge— the edge…
I teetered on the garden’s border, debating. Then I barged through the hedge marking the border and plunged into the forest beyond. It was a pine forest, and my feet scuffled up the needles as I landed among them. The trees were planted in scientifically precise rows, as it was a forest specifically planted for harvesting wood sustainably. That forest had always bothered me, ever since we had moved to this house. It felt to me that trees should not be planted in rows, but just grow any way – the way nature had intended it. But that day I was grateful for it – for its trees that were planted so straight – because this meant that I could run down one of these aisles between the trees, without having to dodge and weave or bother about any undergrowth. I ran and ran. Then the forest ended. There was no petering out for this forest – no, it ended with a line so straight that it could have done an architect proud. I saw that I stood at the end of an estate. There was a gravel driveway which gracefully curved up to the front door. There seemed to be miles of grass and flowerbeds. It was still gloomy, dark and forbidding. It was the most wonderful place that I have ever seen.
Today I look back on this moment as a moment critical to the direction my life has taken. Had I been the kind of person to use symbolic imagery, I might have said that this moment was a crossroads in my life path and in this moment I had chosen to take one way or the other. But I’m not the kind of person who says these romantic things. I just say that this moment shaped my life.
Reverentially I walked across the lawn in the direction of the manor house. There were bees buzzing in the flower beds and a butterfly or two flew past. But except for the background noise of the bees, the entire place was deathly quiet. There were no birds chirruping. There weren’t even any trees – the entire place was flat and smooth. I reached the driveway, and wandered up it. I had forgotten what I had run from. I had forgotten the voices down the stairs and the bumping sound. All I saw was this manor that was strangely attractive and repelling at the same time.
Eventually, I reached the front door. At first I just stood staring at it: it had a lot to stare at. There was a polished, upside-down horseshoe as a knocker, in between fretwork that ran in elegant scrolls down the length of the door. Then, I reached up, grasped the knocker and let it fall against the door – twice. In the deathly quiet that hung about the vicinity I could hear the knock reverberate on the inside. After I had knocked, I turned to leave. I did not expect any answer to the door. Not even in my craziest moment would I have thought that a butler in a black suit with golden epaulettes and a white cloth over his arm would open the door. And he did not. But I did hear footsteps. So I lingered on the front step. Then I knocked again. The footsteps got nearer. I could hear a key being scraped against a lock, and then a bolt slid back. As the hinges squeaked and the door swung inwards, I could get a glimpse of the resident of the manor. In instalments I could see more and more of it. At first I could only see darkness with a vague shape inside. Then I picked up a definite hint of feeler. Then wing. Then pointiness. The door swung back completely and the tenant stood revealed. There was thorax. There were black leather and black leathery wings. There were pincers. And through the clicking of pincers, its voice came: slowly, without a hint of aggression, but still threatening.
“What do you want?”
I was gasping and gaping at this monstrosity far too much to be able to answer.
“What do you want, knocking at my door?”
“I— I wanted—” I did not even know what I had wanted when I knocked on the door, so I could not answer.
“You wanted to find out who lived here.” The voice made it a statement, not a question.
I managed to get it out. “Yes.”
“You were running away from something when you came here.”
I was dumbfounded. Firstly, I suddenly remembered again what had happened at home, and secondly, I was wondering if it could read my mind. Again, I did not answer.
“No,” it said. “I know because I saw you come here through the woods. I saw you running.”
“I was running… from home,” I stammered.
The wings snapped open behind it, and the darkness in the vicinity seemed to grow even blacker. “Running does not help. I can see you are getting ready to run again. You are edging away from my countenance. Face up to me!”
I stood still. Actually I froze. I was too scared to move. Then it spoke again, with even more authority than before. “You! Girl in the black dress with the mousey-coloured hair! Never run! Never hide! Face your fears and learn from me!”
The door slammed shut and I heard the bolt slide into place. My knees were too shaky for me to lift my feet, so I sat down carefully on the step. I sat there a long time.
Today I look back on this determining moment in my life. My name is Nirneth. I looked into the Black. And I survived.
This is my entry to Mara’s Weekly Writing Challenge.