The Old House

What the deciding factor was, that led to poor young Rupert Willard to suffer his ultimate breakdown and be incarcerated indefinitely in a cell at Arkham Asylum, none could truly say with confidence.  It was in the early hours of the 16th when his landlady placed a call with the police complaining of terrified screams coming from her tenant’s room.  Two officers attended and, upon breaking down the door to the room, found young Willard in a state of catatonia, his face pale as if it had been entirely drained of blood.  He kicked and struggled so much that it took the two officers’ combined strength to finally subdue him, and he was transported straight to the asylum, whereupon he was restrained and locked in a cell pending examination.  His screams continued all through the night.

Young Willard’s fate came as a shock to those who knew him, especially to his fellow students at the prestigious Miskatonic University, where he was studying Cultural Anthropology under the esteemed Professor George Carrington and the expert tutelage of Albert Wilmarth.  Like Wilmarth, young Willard had a particular interest in deconstructing and giving logical explanation to folklore, however, where Wilmarth’s field concerned ancient myths and legends, such as the Abominable Snowmen of Tibet, the Bloody Tongue of Africa, and the so-called Elder Sign, a symbol purported to have protective faculties against the darkest nightmares of ancient civilisations, young Willard was more drawn to local stories.  Arkham was an ancient city, dating back to the 15th century and beyond, and featured heavily in tales of witches and foul rituals, indeed it was said that one of the most prominent figures of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 – 1693, the ill-famed Keziah Mason herself, had sought refuge in Arkham along with her familiar Brown Jenkin.  Young Willard relished the challenge of investigating these stories and bringing to light the cold hard facts, shorn of phantasy and superstition.

What follows is the scant data gleaned from young Willard’s outlandish and often insane ravings, along with statements from those few individuals who bore witness to the final breakage of a once promising mind.

Young Willard had heard rumours of an old house towards the northern end of Arkham.  Old houses were nothing unusual in the ancient and decaying city, however something about this particular building struck young Willard as being worthy of investigation.  It was said that none dared to enter, that the area immediately surrounding the house was completely silent and deathly still.  Those who lived in close proximity regularly complained of nausea and strong feelings of foreboding.  While no definite sources for these rumours could be identified, the content was more than to pique young Willard’s curiosity, and he resolved to uncover the truth from the fiction at the first opportunity.

That opportunity came the following weekend.  Young Willard completed his scheduled tasks and assignments and found that he had the Saturday afternoon completely free.  It seemed as good a time as any to begin examining the old house he had heard about.  He packed a small briefcase with note paper and pencils, placed a flashlight in his coat pocket, and left his accommodation situated on the south bank of the Miskatonic river  As he passed his landlady he waved goodbye and intimated that he would be back a bit later than was his custom.  Stepping out into the early afternoon sunlight, young Willard crossed the West Street bridge to the north side of the city.  Along the way he glanced over at the island in the middle of the river.  This was another source of rumour and mystery.  No living soul inhabited the island and it had garnered an evil reputation among the citizens of Arkham.  Young Willard had not yet found the time he estimated it would require to make a thorough and complete survey on the island, however it was definitely on his list of candidates for rational and logical explanation.

At approximately three o’clock in the afternoon young Willard stood before his objective.  It was indeed a house, seemingly older than those around it.  The bay windows were blackened and the timbers and frames looked old and rotting.  The door had been fashioned to look as imposing as possible, and young Willard agreed that such a picture would be more than enough to engender feelings of unease in those passing by.  There was a single tree in the garden outside, and despite the time of year young Willard could hear no birds nesting.  Indeed, young Willard could hear nothing at all.  The deathly silence and stillness in the stories was certainly more than mere fiction.  The realisation spurred young Willard on to uncover the truth of the house.

The evil-looking door turned out to be unlocked, and young Willard was able to open it without much effort.  The hinges groaned with age, however they did not provide significant resistance, and young Willard stepped into a world from an age long past.  That no-one had been here for centuries was immediately evident.  Dust and cobwebs covered every visible surface, long white strands stretched from mantlepiece to skirting board to chair to door frame and back again.  It put young Willard in mind of a giant spider web.  He laughed at the ridiculousness of the thought as he unpacked the paper and pencils from his briefcase and began to take notes and make rough sketches for further examination later.  His initial observations completed, young Willard took out his flashlight and began to walk slowly through the house.  As he stepped on the ancient bare floorboards he heard them creak, and he fancied he could feel the house shake slightly, presumably due to some breeze or similar air movement outside.

Creak… creak… creak…

The few rooms on the ground floor proved to be something of a disappointment to young Willard.  Everywhere he looked he saw the same dust and cobwebs covering the floor and furniture.  From a purely historical and architectural point of view, the house would be a treasure trove of knowledge on how previous generations had lived their lives.  For young Willard, the historical value was purely incidental.  His sole concern was to find a logical, rational explanation for the stories that had risen around this place.  The kitchen yielded nothing relevant to his research, however he did note some intact crockery and fittings that would seem to date from the early 18th century.  Young Willard made a brief note of these for his fellow students who would be more interested in such things.

His researches on the ground floor complete, young Willard approached the main staircase.  It looked as though it were the centrepiece of the house, the bannisters showing the most exceptional craftsmanship he had thus far seen.  He was forced to admit to himself that if he were so inclined, such a staircase would be exactly what he imagined would be in an ancient house such as this.  As he ascended he once again noticed the now-familiar creaking.  It was rhythmical, perfectly in time with his steps.

Creak… creak… creak…

Young Willard reached the top of the stairs and moved his flashlight around him.  One door looked as though it led to some kind of bathroom, and the stench of centuries old rotten matter emanating from there told young Willard that it would not be a wise idea to investigate that particular room.  Another door hung open and young Willard saw a small chamber with the remains of what looked like cleaning equipment.  The only door that looked promising was a rather ornate door, most likely the master bedroom.  Young Willard pushed open the door and stopped dead.  The shock of what he saw before him was enough to cause him to drop both his briefcase and his flashlight.  The briefcase sprung open on impact with the floor and the pencils and papers, covered with notes and sketches, flew out over the floor.  Young Willard did not notice, so paralysed was he by the sight before him.

The room was a perfect replica of his room at the boarding house on the south of the Miskatonic.  Young Willard looked around him in disbelief.  Every detail was perfect.  The bed, the desk, the lamp, all of it was here and all of it was exactly as it was in his real room.  Even the photographs of his parents were present. As young Willard stood still, trying to somehow process it all, he once again heard the creaking around him.  The creaking of the house grew louder and to young Willard’s mind it started to sound like something else.

Creak… creak… creak…

Young Willard’s imagination spiralled out of control.  He now heard not creaking, but a heartbeat, perfectly in time with his own, echoing around him.  Young Willard backed out of the room and turned to flee down the stairs, only now instead of wood they seemed to be made of a soft, spongy substance.  The bannisters felt sticky, and when young Willard lifted his hand from them in surprise strands of fluid came up with them.  Around him was a low pulsing red light.  Young Willard realised with mounting fright that it was coming from the strands of cobweb, which now seemed to be less cobweb and more veins,pulsing in time with the heartbeat.  His wits rapidly fraying, young Willard ran as fast as he could to the front door, only now it seemed to him to be a mouth that was rapidly closing, seeking to trap and consume him.  As the last shreds of his sanity left him, young Willard threw himself forward through the shrinking opening.

When young Willard came back to his senses, he found himself a few blocks away from that evil house.  Night had fallen and he was panting heavily, as though he had run harder than he ever had before.  Slowly, reluctantly, young Willard returned to the location of the old house.  There was the tree outside, only now an owl was roosting in the branches.  The sound of the owl’s hooting felt out of place.  Young Willard moved his gaze to the old house itself.  All that was there was a low wall.  There was no sign or trace of the house.  Young Willard shook his head.  This was definitely the right place.  He saw someone walking past and called out to them.

“Where’s the house?”

The passer-by looked at him strangely.  “What house?  There’s never been a house here,” he said as he continued on.

Young Willard asked other people as he saw them and received the same response – there had never been an old house.  The people in the area had never complained of anything unusual.  Young Willard couldn’t grasp what was happening.  Had he really seen what he had seen?  Had it all been the result of a suppressed imagination finally boiling forth?  He decided to return to his room and approach the problem with a fresh mind the next morning.

The journey back to his lodgings was unnerving but uneventful.  Even the sight of the forsaken island on the river disturb young Willard.  Eventually he arrived back at the student house and climbed the stairs to his room.  He opened the door and looked around him in relief.  Everything was still here.  This was the real thing, not some evil facsimile.  Young Willard entered and walked to his bed.

Creak… creak… creak…

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