Sound is sweeping through the coarse of a desaturated wall, a mixture of draught and the tap of my boots, which hit the floor at regular intervals. Or maybe they hit my other boots, on the other side of the reflection, because the wood is varnished. Fortunately I can’t tell, it’s too dark.
I’m reaching out to touch the different objects in the room. I don’t find anything at first, but then I bump into a table with my hips, so I go around it with my hands looking for the edges, until I’m in empty space again. At the other end of the room hang the curtains, a pale light wading through the fabric.
That rat is making noises again. It’s been following me around for hours now, for who knows what reason. I make my way to the curtains, kicking one of the chairs, letting out a quiet sound in irritation, and pull them just a tiny bit, big enough to let light in the room but not too much, so it’s still dim.
I look around and see the table I bumped into, with the entrance I came through behind it, and a whole lot of bookshelves surrounding what seems to be a coffee table with two armchairs, and there’s an open book on the table.
There are strange symbols all around on the floor. As I’m walking towards the table, I realise it’s marquetry, but I’ve never seen anything like it before. My legs carry me forward, so I can’t linger to solve the pattern, because now the floor is covered with the carpet, and I can already see the dirty fingerprints on the page, on the second page to be exact as it turns out that’s where the book is opened, which bears the title of Lux Aeterna, and I read the first word, the first sentence, the first paragraph, which tells what this all is about, and it’s not forty-two like Douglas Adams wanted it to be, and though it doesn’t tell what all is about, it tells what the house is all about, and it is all about because I can’t find an exit, but then again there might be no exit at all because the book tells the house is all and about, and now I can feel its breath behind me, this foul breath, the house, I can feel the sound it makes, like when the lungs think it safer not to breathe properly and make these irregular shaped growls, this low-pitched wheeze, and I can feel saliva droplets trickling down my neck, and I wipe it off with my hand but I wipe nothing off because there aren’t any droplets on my neck, so I turn around to look and see what it was. What it is.
The rat bites my hand. My fear lets off an angry scream. The rat runs away. It was a wise decision because my fear dies of the scream itself. Now everything is quiet. The table is waiting in silence, the chairs, the curtains, the books on the bookshelves are all watching me, waiting for me to make my move. I leave the book on the table and exit the room through the other door.
I’m standing in a lifeless corridor. I can tell it’s a corridor because I clear my throat and the way the sound echoes suggests the shape of the room. I walk through it slowly, feeling the walls which I sometimes reach and sometimes don’t, and when I do it’s got a curve and a smooth surface, so they must be pillars, not walls.
When someone is in complete darkness, the brain tricks the soul, or the other way, I’m not sure, but one tricks the other into thinking this someone can see their hands. I think mine tricked me into seeing the door at the end of the corridor, because I’m walking more confidently now.
I cough once, twice, really big coughs, so big I have to stop. Out of habit I turn around, expecting some bad thing to happen, and I cough a third time when I see only darkness and nothing scary. I carry on with my walk but bump into a pillar, because I didn’t realign myself properly. I fix my direction and head for the other end of the corridor. I was right. There is a handle.
It makes a squeaky sound when I weigh it down, it must have been oiled recently and a bit too much. But the door won’t open. Out of disbelief I try opening it a few more times. It moves a little but still doesn’t help. I feel the door to see if I missed something. It has a rough texture, like when someone does a bad job painting it. Or maybe the paint is so old it’s peeling off.
Anyway, I turn around, my intention to walk back and find another route, but I see something. I see something in complete darkness, and this time it’s a different thing than when the mind or the soul tricks the other into seeing a hand. I see light. Is someone in the previous room, letting light in? No, I’m sure I closed the door behind me. Maybe that someone opened it.
I see the light, and I see the rat, that bit my hand, in the light, and now the rat is making noises, noises of the bad kind, like when an animal is in great pain, or when it’s calling for its mother, and I’m looking for the source of the light, because where is it coming from, but it’s coming from nothing, it just is, there is no source to be found, to be looking at, and the rat is burning, it is burning fast and its sounds stop, the burning sound remains, and I’m shocked that the light burnt this animal, it burnt the rat to death, and it just flashes into my mind that the light is exactly like sunlight, the colour, and it’s calling as sunlight does after spending days indoors without pulling up the shutters, but now I’m afraid of burning, and I just can’t process how it happened, I can’t even begin to think about the why, because the light isn’t strong, it looks like the kind of sunlight that shines through semi-transparent, white curtains, and it’s just as dappled as when the source of the light is behind buildings and trees, and it’s patchy in a pattern that could be deciphered back to that behind it’s coming from, but I have no time for that, the light is travelling through the corridor, illuminating the floor that is, just as I had thought, varnished, and the pillars that are, just as I had felt, made of a polished marble, so I take a few steps back and bump into the locked door, and I try pushing it with my elbow, but it’s still locked, and now I feel the door isn’t locked because someone locked it but because it doesn’t want me to go through, but that’s nonsense, I cry out loud, and I turn around and bust the door in, and I reach out left and right, and on my right side I find some big piece of furniture, so out of some irrational thought I run over to the other side of it and push it to block the entrance, but then I think it’s impossible to block light with that, so I carefully make my way into this new interior, and turn around to see if the light’s coming through, and I’m panting because of the adrenaline, but it slowly stops as the feeling of safety sets in, the light’s not coming through, I tell myself repeatedly, it’s gone, the call of it, the heat of it, the chill of it, I’m in darkness again, in complete darkness, it is the known unknown, and in the unknown is the word known, and that part of the word calms me down.
A hand touches my shoulder.
A voice accompanies the hand. Her right hand. Female. Human. What is she doing here is my third thought, but I have to listen to what she has to say, because she might be the only light that is also dark; a disturbing secret of the house. What she says isn’t saying anything, but it’s also saying a lot, because what she says is a scream, or an echo of a scream, or both: it feels like it’s arriving not from her mouth, but the house itself. I wonder for a while if that’ll be my fate as well.
As long as it seemed, the scream had a pretty short life. We are now standing in silence. We. It is interesting to think, as suddenly I feel she became a foreign object, perhaps by touching me, to the house. A schism, so to say, or departure. It’s hard to find the right words, especially since I can’t see her, and it’s a weird thing to pick up information through the darkness, a largely impassable communication channel, so now I’m trying to remember her scream, since that was the only thing that could’ve given her newfound position away.
I hear the sound of impact as she trips into something and falls to the ground. I try helping her, but she doesn’t let me, instead she jumps up and sprints towards the wall, or the window, as I soon realise, the objects in the room swirling around her as she kicks them to the side, and drags the curtain. I hesitate only for a moment before running back to the door I came through and hiding behind that piece of furniture I pushed in front of it.
My eyes are so accustomed to the dark even indirect light hurts, but I reassure myself that it shouldn’t be fatal and look for the woman, whose steps I already hear, she must also be looking for me, but then I see her actually inspecting the bed, the night stand, made out of darkwood, pulling the drawer, examining the objects commonly found in the drawers’ of night stands, then the bookshelves, touching them, tracing her fingers on their material, smelling the books, reading the titles on the spines, although not all of them. It makes me remember the book. Lux Aeterna.
Is she looking for that too?
I try to see what she looks like but I’m blinded by the perpetual beam of light she’s bathing in, so I see only outlines, like a reversed silhouette, the shapes moving both with precision and blur, as if the light was shining on her but also through her, then I squint but her hair is a prism, and the cascading colours make me lose my balance, therefore I must hold onto the wardrobe I’m hiding behind, and I do, but my hand slides on the wood, making a sound that reminds me of chalk drawn through the board at that specific angle, and her glowing eyes meet mine, even though she can’t see me and is probably looking through me, and I sure feel she does, she looks through me, sees my insides, maybe literally, so consequently, I feel afraid, I feel her approaching me, even though she isn’t, her face now hovering across mine, I hear her breath, the same breath I heard before, I think, but this time it sounds much more human, almost real, there are no growls, no droplets on my neck, only the heat of the sound, vibrating the air more than when a sound is cold, which my ears can better touch, so I hear it closer than it actually is, and because I’m so full of adrenaline again, I can even feel the sound reverberating from my head to my toes, which in turn makes it sound just as foul, awful as when my eyes were scanning that book’s text, so I think this woman must really be part of the house since the house is all and about, and she’s standing so close to me but she didn’t even take a step towards.
Something knocks on the wardrobe from the inside. I know we’re turning our heads at the same time. I freeze. I know what it is, even though I don’t really know, just enough to be afraid of it, and I think she might not know, so I shout at her to get rid of the light, to see, and I do this twice because she’s also frozen, and thank whatever slapped her mind into obedience, because she runs back to call absence to our defence, which arrives just before another knock.
I creep out from my hiding place, never turning my back to the source, watching and waiting for it to leap and lash at me, humming to keep me calm and to let her know where I stand, because I must not forget about someone who was sane enough to know danger lurks in the light, who was sane enough not to be idle.
Even though she knew.