The black iron is cold and clammy in the nocturnal fog. Once-smooth bars are rough and biting under my hands, gnawed away by countless decades of rust. The age-worn hinges squeal softly, like a dissonant melody afraid to be heard, as I press my body against the chained gate, trying to steal a glimpse of the desolate scene beyond.
The forgotten path can barely be distinguished, choked out by weeds and brambles. It winds up the steepening slope toward its intriguing destination, threading through the trees and boulders that stand in its way. Beyond that…
There it rises from the mist, a gray and time-worn edifice looming against the blackened sky. It’s lit by the eerie glow of the cloud-obscured moon, beckoning those who pass beneath its overgrown, hilltop perch. I alone have paused to answer its unheard call, to consider its rotting, vine-encrusted masonry, and to wonder at the nature of its hollow corridors.
What emptiness wanders the darkened halls, long bereft of the gentle glow of candlelight, where groaning floorboards mark the passage of those forgotten by the years? Do whispers linger still in the breathless air?
Wait—movement in a lightless window, a stirring of dusty curtains, a shadow peering from a gloomy pall. In my heart I hear its silent call.
I must answer, I must go! But the gate, unyielding, keeps me back. If only these gargoyles, these guardians with their crumbling visages, would shake the moss from their frozen limbs and open that wrought iron barrier. Then I could run, free and unhindered, up the wild slope, feel the dry rustling of the bushes around my shins, shudder at the touch of something…else…reaching from the grass.
What glorious exhilaration it would be, to grasp the heavy knocker—such a hideous sight!—and let it fall against the dying wood. The door would open, slow and creaking, and the stale air would rush out. How would it smell, I wonder? Dust and mold. I would linger on the threshold; let the dead air wash over me as I breathe in the memories, hearing the voices of residents past…of those who remain.
Those who beckon.
But I cannot answer. With all my spirit I hammer the gate, yet cannot pass. The house is shut against the living. A panic grips my heart at this thought, an icy fist, squeezing and twisting at the idea of being denied this sanctuary, denied the companionship of the silent residents.
No. The living cannot pass.
The gargoyles watch, eyes long since gouged by the ravages of time, hollow pits where devilish grins once lingered. From its window in the mansion on the hill, the shadow, formed of highlight and shade upon the tattered curtain, nods. Approval and encouragement bound together in a single gesture. I reach for an angular stone at my feet. Perhaps it’s a piece of debris from the decay of the house, rolled down the incline for this very purpose. One stroke, one well aimed blow, and my fleshy obstacle is overcome.
My body crumples, but I remain, free. Finally I make the trek, through the now open gate, past the flanking gargoyles, feeling all the sensations that until now were locked in my imagination. The door is already opened to me, and with a thrill of joy I enter, seeking out my spectral companion. Through the darkened halls I fly, caressed by the dust-laden cobwebs that cling to every corner, welcoming me home. At last I come to the window with its view of the street below.
But where is my companion, the one who called me? Where is the shadow, the memory, the…the…
Alone. Cold. Dead. The hollowness of the crumbling stonework consumes me, seeps into my soul. For that is all I am, I realize as I gaze forlornly from my elevated post upon my body far below. A passerby has stopped, the horror on his face evident even from this distance. He looks up, finds my window. I know he sees, and hears my call.