By on Sep 4, 2023 in Featured, Fiction

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Stained glass window on dark brick wall

I made the long trip without a single pause to rest or stretch my legs, and after four hours, still a mile from my destination, I stopped the carriage by the side of the road and gazed across the fields toward the stately manse. That was when the first threads of discord assaulted me—almost immediately that quiet sense of doom stretched over my thoughts like a dark shade, and memories of my distant past flooded my mind like dark storm waters. I was desirous of seeing my friend, letting my eyes rest on him to better help my mind work through the torrent of emotions that had so suddenly made my eyes tear and my breathing harsher. But I wondered what I might find, tried to summon some explanation of the troubles that had beset my friend, and further how they might affect me. Within a short time that dread abated, but that sense of foreboding remained, embrangling my thoughts, my hesitation wrestling with a sense of honor and responsibility.

And so it was only by forceful determination that I got back into my carriage and traversed the remaining distance, up the winding road and through the iron gates, and came to a stop in the front courtyard. I sat for some moments to calm myself, and rekindle my generous and chivalrous nature. But this close to the house my fears roiled near the surface, and it was with great trepidation I left my carriage, walked to the front door, and gently tapped the large brass knocker. I heard the rapping echo inside as if across vast empty chambers of a burial vault, and then silence forced my brooding concern to new heights.

While I stood in the stillness and solitude of the warm afternoon, I was filled with a sense of desolation unbroken even by the massive stone palace that stood in the domain of nature. I was once again struck with a sense of foreboding unease, and once again, I was confronted by the choice of pursuing my visit, or simply abandoning this endeavor for the sake of my inexplicable consternation. But no excuse would have been sufficient to abandon my quest. Patrick had summoned me. And what if the assistance he required was for some dire need for which only I could offer condolence? I reached for the brass knocker again and gave three more quick raps. Some spark of reluctance lingered, and the temptation of retreat persisted; even as I heard the faint approach of footsteps, I contemplated an escape. Then the door opened, and I beheld the completely unfamiliar form of my old and dear friend Patrick Van Cordt.

We stood for a long time on opposite sides of the threshold, silent and staring. Outwardly he was exactly the same, precisely as I had last seen him ten years before. His face showed not a single line, his hair not a single trace of gray, his form rigid and sure.  Time had left him steadfast in youth. it seemed, setting its sight on lesser men. The hand that held a sherry glass looked powerful enough to bend an iron bar. And yet, for an instant, I fully believed the figure before me was a complete stranger. I looked for that same youthful ardor on his face, but I detected in his grim expression a dire melancholy, a chilly foreboding of some dreadful future.

“Patrick?” I muttered, my nerves trembling, my muscles suddenly palsied by the unfathomable sense of danger. I would have made a hasty exit at that moment, had my mind not suspected a greater danger in retreat.

And then a smile spread across Patrick’s lip, a brightness broke behind his eyes.

“Robert, welcome, my dear friend,” said he, and immediately my uncertainty vanished, and we embraced. We entered the house side by side and slowly began to traverse the black marble floor, as smooth and shining as if straight from the hand of the artisan.

“I hope I am not intruding,” I said, and some small form appeared with the quiet of a shadow and took from me my bag, and retreated from the front hall like a whisper fading to silence. So Patrick was not alone after all. But the house staff was no replacement for a family member, or a friend.

“On the contrary,” said Patrick, “It was I who invited you, and unceremoniously at that. It is completely your right to come at your own leisure, or to disregard the letter altogether.”

“I would never have done that,” I countered as we skirted the large staircase and entered the narrow hall which led to the back of the house. As we walked along, so many sights lighted in my mind, not so much refreshing my memory as waking it from a long, peaceful sleep. That was when he imparted to me the tragic news, the demise of three of the dearest people I had ever known. I stood in stunned silence, until my friend waved away the pronouncement and took me by the hand for the remainder of our tour.

We came to a set of large, black oak doors that communicated on the formal dining room. As Patrick opened the doors, my mind, half feeble from exhausting recollection, expected us to be greeted by the entire family Van Cordt, seated around the vast dining table in order from youngest to oldest. For a disturbing moment, I could hear the chatter of conversation and peal of laughter from fifty revelers, and I could smell the aroma of carefully cooked cuisine; and in the furtherance of this illusion, I felt utter joy as the entire gathering turned to look at us with expressions filled of the warmest welcome.

This intense bout of reverie dissolved quickly as my senses adjusted, and I recognized that the room was empty and silent, and a great sense of depression swept over me as I realized that, had I actually seen these people I had so longed to behold, they would not have been dressed in such glamorous garments, but in their burial cerements, the sight made all the more horrid by the decay of years in the damp earth.

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Kevin Lenihan is currently a technology teacher in North Brunswick, NJ. He has always been interested in horror and science-fiction movies, as long as he can remember. He got interested in writing when he was 17, when he read "Firestarter" by Stephen King. He read everything he wrote for a long time. Now he writes books faster than Kevin can read them. Another author He became obsessed with was Robert R. McCammon. The first book he read by him was "Mystery Walk," and he was hooked. Then he read "They Thirst" and was blown away, as it took the vampire story to a whole new level, such a grand, epic scale. And, of course, Kevin loves Edgar Allan Poe. "Ligeia" was the first story he read by him, and it set the standard for all short stories after that. He loves his poems, as well, and he has memorized several of them, including “The Raven”, “The Conqueror Worm” and “Lenore."