The entrance hall stills when you step over the threshold. Your breath no longer appears before you as it did during the trek towards the vaulted silhouette.
A fog lay heavy over your feet as you wandered over the knolls and forgotten hunting paths. It rolls in tempestuous whorls across your way. This country is old and unclaimed, yours just as much as anyone’s. The chill kept you from the night’s plan, the arms of your companion, careless and perhaps fraudulent murmurs into their ear, a bed of wildflowers, and the sky open to stargazing.
The house, bordered by stone and arch, does not beckon. It keeps its vigil alone over the cliffs of the coast, the luster off the black waves turning the windows to silver. You wended the garden’s stone paths, your shoes obscured by the mist from the hills. Beds of briar and wild blooms spite the efforts of long-gone gardeners. You led your companion to the door.
Now your companion inhales the old air, they hold back even as you take their hand. You smile at them, a challenge or reassurance, they do not know. You start down hallways that crack and sigh upon your passing.
The contents of this spired edifice have been laid to rest under white shrouds. The rooms are foreign, their features and purpose veiled. You glimpse them through half open doors, guessing their nature with names you know from the television. Parlor, billiards, music room, nursery.
At the kitchen your companion’s hand leaves yours. It’s even warmer than the rest of the house, they breathe deeper and open the pantries to find rusted knives and dusty spoons. You lift your head, imagining for a moment the smell of warm bread and then of cold ash.
Bolstered by this echo of inhabitance, the trace that someone once lived and breathed here as you do, you leave the kitchen for the great staircase. Your companion’s footsteps chase yours, too loud and too heavy as you make the landing. Their hand finds yours again.
The library is first. Its towering shelves loom around you, though not unpleasantly. It is a place to hide, you think but do not say. It is a library, one must be quiet. Your companion agrees and says nothing. Through the dust and the scent of mildew, a taste of spice, perhaps cumin or saffron touches your tongue. It is strange; you leave the library quickly.
You continue, though your skin is now cold and your heart beats in your throat. There is a room, a great room with a grand canopied bed and shapes covered in white sheets. Its open windows overlook the garden, bringing the currents of night through the lace curtains. The air fills your throat and it is like breathing for the first time, enough so that you barely notice the stain of laudanum and sickness that hangs about the lace.
Your companion waits at the door, shifting their feet. Their eyes are round and white, they want to go, they want to leave. You do not. You pause at the window and look towards the coastal cliffs, the impression of the road through the fog, and towards the thick forest the half-forgotten path leads to. You taste leather and steel, honey and stone, whiskey and sweet perfume.
A hand takes yours, it is warm and unlike the cold air that tastes of strange things. Your companion draws you away from the window. It is time to go, they say, there is something in the house. You do not answer, but you follow them.
You are in the hallway. There is something on the floor before you. It glimmers bright against wood, yellow as egg yolk. You bend and pick up the gold coin, turning it over so it flashes in the dim. You choke.
There is brine washing over your tongue and blood filling your lungs. It tastes like copper and salt and a deep black you’re never going to claw your way from. It’s killing you, drowning you. There is a hand in yours, someone you don’t know. You are going to die. You drop the coin.
You’re alive. Your companion is confused, it scares them, you scare them, but they draw you to your feet and drag you towards the stairs anyway. You leave the coin and its cloying drowning death where it fell. Your feet touch the downstairs landing, you stumble to the great door and over the threshold into the outside where your breath begins to appear before you.
You run with your companion’s hand in yours through the courtyard, across the cracked garden paths and onto the pitted and half-forgotten road. Your feet beat in time to the pounding in your chest. The house is a silhouette again, keeping its watch over the cliffs, and the forest, and the path you run. You grip your companions hand, they do not let go.