I walked slowly down the long parlour toward the windows. The floor was gritty and unswept underfoot. Housecleaning. My favorite. Not. I hadn’t had to think about it for nearly twenty years, but I still had a vivid memory of mouse turds, cobwebs, cockroaches, and unidentified icky crap in my old East Village apartment. They didn’t have cockroaches in the country, did they? That’s one out of four. I didn’t think it was going to make up for a lack of 24-hour pizza delivery. Joe the Doorman’s food recommendations were superb. Joe the Doorman felt very, very far away. That was another world and another life. Where there had been a housekeeper and a gardener.
This garden was pretty much a jungle. My heart started to sink, changed its mind, and started to lift instead. This was going to be my garden. I’d have to learn what the hell I was doing, but I could do that. Probably. The penthouse garden had belonged to the gardener. We—which was to say Gelasio—were borne with slightly impatient tolerance because we (which was to say Gelasio) paid his salary. We were expected to sit out there on nice evenings with our glasses of champagne (Gelasio occasionally rebelled, and then we drank red wine) and admire his work, but if (as occasionally happened) I saw a blade of grass growing in one of the beds and pulled it out I felt guilty for interfering. (Enterprising stuff, grass. How it got to the penthouse garden of a building tall enough that the unaccustomed were prone to nosebleeds on the elevators I have no idea. But Central Park is full of mysteries, and perhaps these include tiny invisible rocket launchers for grass seed.)
I didn’t recognise much of what was back there in this Cold Valley garden. Probably triffids. And Yggdrasil. The garden had looked a lot tidier in the real estate flyer. Wonderful thing, Photoshop. But I was pretty sure there was plenty of lawn for Gus to mow.
I should look at the house. I’d already noticed that the parlour floor was old, wooden, uneven and needed sweeping. There was wainscoting around the walls and faded wallpaper above it. There were three wooden chairs sitting stiffly in front of the porch window around a medallion of rag rug. There was a fireplace. There was a rectangle of less-faded wallpaper above the fireplace where something had used to hang. I wondered if the less-faded wallpaper counted as part of the basic furnishing. I guess I wasn’t going to have any trouble finding space for my sofa.
The kitchen also faced the garden. I crossed the little corridor that ran from the front door and looked around the kitchen. There was a table. A good, big, solid, real kitchen table. The working surface was nearly two inches thick and the four legs were big round lathed things, like fat spindle banisters. You could do almost anything on that table. Dance the fandango. Groom your elephant. I’d got tired typing on the floor of Gelasio’s apartment, the last few days of my old life. My laptop would sit very well on this table, and I’d bring those stark wooden chairs in from the parlour, where they might look more comfortable around it. Especially after I bought cushions for the extremely forbidding seats. I’d ask Hayley for directions to the mall. I’d also need, in the absence of 24-hour pizza delivery, food.
And a rental car. The van was due to go home tomorrow. I’d have to face turning on my phone and my laptop tonight, and check for messages, like from whichever large shambling young man I’d be handing the van keys over to, and what time.
The kitchen was huge—not as huge as the main parlour, but still huge enough to hold everything I owned. Maybe I could just kind of camp in here. I’d have to find the bathroom at some point. When had I decided I was taking this mansion? Even the little two-bedroom house was bigger than I needed. Maybe I should rethink the cabin. It had only one bedroom. And it didn’t say anything about no pets. No. There were whooshing pine trees around the cabin. I didn’t like whooshing pine trees.
. . . There was a funny noise.
Stop it, MacFarquhar. There is enough weirdness going on in your life, you do not need to be making up funny noises. . . .
. . . There was a funny noise.
Shuffle. Scuttle. SNAP.
Oh, blood and heresy, there really is a funny noise.
I turned around slowly. The adrenaline had blasted through my body so fast that, on top of the woozy moment when I stepped over the front threshold, I was feeling slightly ill. I was facing a (closed) door at the kitchen end of the corridor which, I guessed, led to the cellar. Behind the door was where the funny noise was coming from.
Clink. Shuffle. Scrape.
Probably not attack mushrooms. They didn’t clink much. Where was Hayley? Wasn’t that an awfully long phone call she was having? She was in the pay of Yog-Sothoth and had set me up as a sacrifice. . . .
I jumped. I jumped away from the cellar door. The cellar door was between me and the front door, beyond which was Hayley, unless she had driven away hastily after leaving me for Yog-Sothoth. The noise was now coming up the steps. This time I jumped toward the cellar door—I don’t suppose there was a bolt on this side?
No, of course there wasn’t a bolt on this side.
Scraaaaaaaape. Thud. Whatever it was, it was now at the top of the stairs.
Fascinated, I watched the doorknob turning. . . .
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