A branch clawed mercilessly at Casper's window and he shifted up on old hips to peer out at the night. He shivered as the blankets slipped down to his thighs. It was incessantly cold at Black Creek Manor. The seasons came and went, but winter clung tight to the ancient bricks with a chill too deep for the sun to draw out.
The floor groaned outside Casper's door with the ghost of a footstep. It was only himself and Silas that remained as tenants of the old mansion and it caused no loss of stress for the two old men. Every minor disturbance was cause for tension between the two. Why must one stamp about like a crazed wildebeest while making their meals? Why must the other skulk about restlessly during the dead hours of the night?
It had been two months since the passing of the old baron. Eight weeks since the baron had last rung his little bell in demands for a warm cognac to stave off the damp frigidity of his leaking stone empire. Yet it felt like lifetimes had passed. Hadn't it always been just the two of them, Casper and Silas, meandering about in the stone corridors? Sometimes they would go days withouta glimpse of the other, but there was evidence. A warm tea kettle taken off the stove. A fire freshly stoked. Crumbs of their existence were scattered about all corners of the manor.
Casper enjoyed being alone, but the thought of another soul within the confines of the manor set him at ease, that is, when Silas kept out of sight and mind. Thinking about his housemate caused Casper much agitation. There was something amiss with Silas, some great troubling, unnameable thing, but at least it was constant affliction. Silas had been a deviant creature for the better part of a century, and so far, had proved harmless. Crotchety yes, but harmless.
Eels of linen clung to Casper's ankles. It was only a branch that caused such demonic scrapings upon the glass of the window, but it was his duty to investigate. More than that, it was his compulsion. He must rise from his bed and prove that it was only a noise and not something of a more sinister nature that had plucked him from his dreams.
Aided by the luminosity of a candle, Casper expertly dodged rotted floorboards and wizened steps until he found himself in the cavernous front hall of the manor.
The door stood before him as a great monument, an impregnable barrier. One shaky hand emerged from within his robes and made a grasp for the door handle, but that is when the great terror took hold. It always happened at this point. The night would take on a hostile persona. The collective places and things beyond the manor were things of a hideous nightmare. Casper's eyes bulged with fear and glowed like red hot pennies. The outside was a world of obscurity and antediluvian roots and soil and moss. Things of a crude and primitive formation. It lacked entirely, the sanctity of the manor. The manor was filled with the objects of familiarity, the objects of a sacred routine. The queer magenta couch that rested at the bottom of the spiral staircase was always dusted on Tuesdays. The etched plate collection tended on Thursdays. The stained glass windows depicting the scene in the orchard, it was polished from the inside on Wednesday evenings and from the outside on Thursday mornings.
Reviewing the beloved age-old routine calmed Casper down to the point that he was able to summon the courage to pry back the deadbolt from the door. As he flung open the great oak barrier, a gust of midnight air assaulted him and sent shivers to the very marrow of his bones. One step and he stood at the frame of the door. Another, and he was in the preternatural world that existed outside of the manor.
Casper shuffled further out onto the rickety porch. From this vantage point he could see that it was, in fact, the splayed birch tree that beat against his bedroom window and caused such an eerie whine. But he had known that all along. What phantasmal voice had really called him out into the night? He twisted back his neck to examine the old grey bones of the manor. When he had been within the manor, it was the outside world that was ghastly and sinister. Now, as he stared up at his lofty bedroom window, Casper had an uneasy feeling. Black Creek Manor was the true monster. How could he have feared the night when the true devil was the great slab of stone and mortar that stood before him with windows like eyes of coal and shutter board teeth bared in a barbarous scowl? When was the last time that he had been outside? Had it been days? Weeks? It very well could have been the baron's funeral. Had he even attended, or had he just imagined it so frequently that the image had become absolute?
Casper was suddenly sick with panic. He must get away and he must get away now. Black Creek Manor was no place for man or beast. It was a great vacuum of lost souls and with only years left on his life's clock, Casper knew that the time to escape was now. He refused to mummify and mould and watch his bones turn to sugary dust inside the cursed manor. Casper slipped soundlessly from the porch and began to walk, faster and faster, towards the slobbering tangerine moon that shone bright over the suffocating forest.
Silas had fallen asleep in his chair by the window. Not a true sleep, for Black Creek Manor had robbed him of all but the gauzy husk of true everie. Dreams still came unbidden though. This time it was of the choking forest of black thorn trees that swathed the outskirts of the manor. He cut his way through the thorns and tangles of the dark wood until he was in the deepest neck of the forest. A dense cluster of trees appeared to be crowned with an aerial shadow. Silas shimmied himself up the tree until the shadows of the crown cut with colour and line and became fully formed. The crown of the trees was appalling. Enmeshed with the black twigs of the thorn trees was a miniature replica of Black Creek Manor. The stone walls were cupped and curved as a nest to host some great abhorrent creature. There came a tremble of movement from within. Something dreadful clawed to the top of the manor nest, struggling to break free. That is where the dream terminated.
There came a crash as loud as the report from a musket. Silas wiped the lines of sleep from his face and tipped his armchair chair forward to peer out of the window and at the offending noise. Down below he saw Casper, standing stupefied in the moonlight. It had been days since the two had clapped eyes on each other, perhaps closer to a week. Even now, Silas was unsure that he had been seen. Casper appeared to be staring up at the whole of the manor, his rheumy eyes glazed with fright and awe.
The old fool, Silas thought as he inched his face further through the window. He's been getting loonier by the second. Any day now he's going to come for me, he's going to strike out at me in his madness. The thought had been intended in jest, but a sudden phobia gripped Silas. Perhaps Casper had lost it long ago. Perhaps he spent his nights drooling over a murderous scheme. Hatching plots and sharpening kitchen knives.
Casper began to creep towards the black thorn woods.
Oh, what's the maniac plotting now? Silas was now sure that his life was at stake. On any other day he would have called out to Casper to warn him of the great beast in the trees, but now he bit his tongue. Perhaps nature would take its course and finish off the old man.
And if not, I shall deal with that fiend when and if he comes back around.
Silas watched Casper disappear into the forest with a sense of relief. With both Casper and the baron gone, Black Creek Manor belonged to him. He rose from his musty chair in a moment of exulted energy and was rewarded with the popping of each and every ancient joint in his body.
What would it be like to not be roused at all hours by Casper's insomnia-driven meanderings?
What would it be like to be truly alone?
But no. How could life be anything remotely restful when he knew that Casper was out their stalking about in the dark woods?
I must find him and bring him back, Silas resolved. It had to be the two of them in the manor, as it had been for decades. There was no two ways about it. Silas slipped on his overcoat and grabbed his cane. The moon was at its brightest, a great blood moon that would make navigation a simple task.
Now, where are you Casper? The front door was left wide open so Silas did not face Casper's inner quarrel of overtaking the great oak barrier, he simply stepped out into the night.
As he hobbled across the wet grass and to the edge of the dark woods, Silas glanced back over his shoulder. To all sides the black thorn woods encased the manor. A sick horror caused Silas' bowels to clench. The manor, atop the crest of the hill, appeared to rest upon the tops of the trees as the very epicentre of the dark woods. The walls were warped inwards in a mammoth nest of stone. Had it always looked this way? Had it always been in the centre of the great tangled forest, or had the forest sprouted up around it like weeds? Either way it was the spitting image of his nightmare. Black Creek Manor was the atrocious nest of a demon.
Casper emerged out of the woods behind him, wheezing from the night's journey. The great trek had been a cyclical quest. All road lead to Black Creek Manor, the baron had often said. And how true it was.
Casper, bent over and sucking in gasps of air, shook his head when he caught Silas' eye, a look of pitiful defeat etched into every perspiring wrinkle.
Silas felt a well of tears gather behind the lids of his eyes, but no sooner had they risen than they vanished, replaced by a brilliant grin that caused Casper to recoil in revulsion. Silas began to laugh.
is a recent graduate of Dalhousie University in Halifax, receiving her B.A in English Literature in 2010. She has worked as a writer for a local print newspaper and as a contributing writer for an online pet magazine and was active in the poetry scene at Dalhousie. Now based in Aurora, Ontario, Lila is working hard to hone her creative writing skills and has many works of fiction underway, both short and novel-length, which she aims to publish. Amongst Lila's literary inspirations are the Titus Books (Mervyn Peake), Oryx and Crake (Margaret Atwood), The Stand (Stephen King), The Chrysalids (John Wyndham), The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd), White Oleander (Janet Fitch) and The Road (Cormac McCarthy).