The manor was not the most pleasant of places to be alone in.
Theodore was slightly rocking, silent on the chair. Outside, in the absence of wind, the rain was falling vertically along the surfaces and it sounded so orchestrated, so even, like a sequence of notes repeating over and over. Lost inside a reverie of new-found realizations, shades of mystery and dread emerged to darken his mind. Like pieces in a dreamed-of puzzle the memories came together, creating menacing, strangely familiar shapes.
Every time he tried to bring forth his face, in hope he had been funny or angry when they spoke, the distorted expressions of a fearful man swirled inside his head screaming muffled warnings. He wasn't sure if it was the vast dark spaces of the manor surrounding him, or if his imagination bred dangers lurking in undiscovered rooms, but he had done exactly the opposite of what that poor delivery man had suggested.
Still, he tried to rationalize the matter. Some people do act in uncommon ways when in sight of the dead. The man had simply seen the uncle wearing the agonizing face of someone dying of a heart attack and for some reason had over-dramatized the whole thing. It could be a resemblance to something he had experienced before and traumatized him, or in order to make a tasteless prank and share a laugh with the others, or he could as well be the mad man of the house. He didn't really talk with him much as far as he recalled. None of these seemed too uncommon reasons for someone to act that way.
But where are the mentioned rats? And most importantly, where are the cats? To his recollection he had seen no cat since he arrived in Rumporth and definitely none during his brief stay in this manor. Cunning and shadowy creatures they are and they enjoy darkness more than they cherish light, he thought and made a promise to himself to investigate on the matter tomorrow.
A broken pocket watch glimmered on the windowsill and Theodore sat up from his comfortable embrace to get it. The glass was shattered and the chain was missing, but despite its low quality it still worked. Absentmindedly he inspected it and put it inside his coat's pocket. It was late and he was tired.
The plan was to find a less damaged, relatively cleaner place to rest his heavy body and troubled mind. Rainy nights in abandoned manors tend to bring forth irrational assumptions, stripping off the sense out of sound men. A clear mind comes with the sunrise after a long, restful sleep.
He left the attic room and headed downstairs in search of a suitable bedroom. He moved in muffled steps and set his ears out for any unusual sounds. With hasty glances under the dim light of his lantern he noticed that most of the second floor rooms were under-furnished and empty, apart from a library and a storage room all battered up by unknown individuals for unknown reasons. After inspecting each room, Theodore would close the door behind him, double checking if it budged as in an effort to minimize and control the unfamiliar terrain which surrounded him. It was more for a false sense of security rather than actual protection from things on the other side - considering he didn't even lock, but it granted a small relief to his mind. Finally, near the end of the turning corridor he spotted a bare room except for a nightstand and an old bed. The once white mattress had turned yellow from time and the metal skeleton seemed to miss a couple of springs, but it seemed enough for one night.
He left the bag with his few things on the nightstand and lied on the bed. The curtain of the room's window - although half-torn, appeared interestingly intricate - like expensive, handwoven ones usually are.
He tried not to think a lot.
Did he close his room's door?
His weighty eyelids won the bras de fer and he was already asleep.
The first thing that he remembered were the walls.
Shadowed and cyclopean, formed out of indescribable materials and unfamiliar textures they towered around him. He was overwhelmed with a claustrophobic feeling as the walls seemed to close in around him, but through the angst of the impeding doom the realization that he was actually bloating towards them, made him panic. It was like his perception was getting wider and wider and he could slowly discern the unnamed figures that shaped his surroundings.
Like a drowning man gasping for air, he turned his gaze towards the sky. The shadow barriers ascended so high above only a thin slice of an alien, purple sky could be seen. In desperation, he tried to move forward through the dark maze. His moves felt difficult like being underwater and he kept trying to put force on his feet, but he couldn't feel them pushing against the ground. Instead, they floated limp, being dragged through unseen obstacles which kept scratching his ankles filling him with a strong sense of discomfort. Blindly, he used his hands to push through the viscous air, digging like a mole through the mud.
His mind was rushing frantically to escape the asphyxiating death, but his restrained body couldn't follow and the walls kept approaching, revealing nightmares within nightmares. He dug and dug trying to ignore their looming presence, but the scent of something terrible and monstrous lurking behind his ear, a form which even the slightest roll of his eyes could reveal, paralyzed him with fear.
Hopeless and surrendered, ready to let the dreamworld devour him, he launched himself forward one more time in a final desperate attempt to free himself from the torturing grapple.
What he witnessed next, filled him with the most curious sensation. A feeling outworldly and strange even for the world of dreams.
The faint thread of pale, white light descended from the sky and tore the stark darkness in half. The plumb line it drew across the space constituted the only form of order in the turbulent and chaotic nature of all else. It beamed down to connect with a stone well in the middle of a vast plateau spreading below his feet. In its bare, simple form of gray bricks and conjoining mud, the well transformed before Theodore's eyes into a beacon of hope and salvation.
He suddenly felt an insurmountable urge to reach the well and peer inside it. It was like he knew that this was far from an exit to this unfamiliar world, but the surface of the well held an undiscovered secret only he could reveal. He had to know what was that tiny spark of something which came from its depths, poisoning him with such an irresistible temptation.
He dove bellow flailing in erratic rhythms with all the force he could muster, but the well seemed to move away in his every motion and now the walls were all around him, closing in to suffocate him. Hands and claws of dead flesh protruded from their surface almost touching his hair and shoulders, sending chills down his spine. He heard alien whispers, voices which demanded to know what was inside the well, almost teasing him with a sadistic pleasure.
He wouldn't make it.
He couldn't, anymore.
He opened his mouth and screamed.
Theodore woke up on the bed, sweaty and exhausted. It was morning outside and the light shed through the half-torn curtains stripping them from the deceiving shadows of the night; appraising the fabrics petty and cheap.
The vivid nightmare was still stuck inside his head and he could even feel the burn on his ankles from the scratches. Instinctively he tried to rub them for comfort, but gasped at the touch when it stung like a real wound. Pulling down his woolen socks he discovered various small scratch wounds of half-dried blood all around his ankles and feet.
The loose springs of the bed must have been caught up in his troubled sleep, injuring him while he was uncontrollably twitching.
With a vacant gaze he stared across the dusty room and it took him a long moment of lethargic stretches to realize, that the door of his recent bedroom had been left open.