Mahogany had long been hidden from view by years of neglect, its brilliant colors faded beneath layers of mismatching shades of dust and decay. Corners delineating door frame from wall now appeared a blending of souls, merging as one enormous barricade between reality and its counterpart. Spacious though the main hallway may have once been, it was crowded with memories refusing to leave, all visible to the eye that was naked enough.
Dressed in varying shades of gray, Myron, the resident family’s rat, scampered along the edges of furniture, oblivious to events unfolding. His mind was set on one goal: food. Myron was not afflicted with tunnel vision, he was merely hungry. As always, nothing garnered his attention more than a morsel of table scraps. If he could have been blessed with long term memory, he might remember how long it had been since he had any.
Desperately trying to carve an outline on the door’s frame were drops of water, leaking in between ancient cracks. Along the top edge, a miniature pool had been created. Struggling with decomposition, it longed to rush forward with tidal energy. As things stood, the battle was protracted, with the eager liquid barely trickling forward. Had the elements voice, they would ask if their colors were not pleasing, their strength not impressive. Unfortunately, no one did hear its desires, its monotonously slow movement, nor did anyone see its deep crimson hues.
Dressed in gunmetal grey uniform, Captain Breslin Dumante appeared in the kitchen doorway, preparing to arouse his troops for the day. He always carried himself with dignity, representing with honor his West Point training. Sporting a scraggly beard beneath a tattered Civil War hat, his silhouette was impeccable. Looking about in disgust, Breslin smirked, unburdened his scabbard, and stabbed the air as he raised objection to the surroundings. “What manner of poppycock is this?” he bellowed. “Who is in charge here?”
Unaffected by his maniacal outbursts over time’s passage, Charlotte Dupree entered from the stairway, stifling her companion with a whisper. “You need to remember using your inside voice, Dummy.” Charlotte smiled as she spoke, knowing that her pet name drove him insane, yet reminded him what they once were. She carried herself well, a stunning vision of poise, grace and beauty, and she held tightly to her shape. Pleasant smiles were exchanged between the two lovers, as one adjusted an apron, the other returning sword to scabbard.
Busied with routines of the day, Charlotte paid no attention as various scenes of battle were reenacted throughout the house. It had been a long time since Breslin had been in his right mind, and as she looked at her own physique, she remembered how long it had been since she had been in her proper shape. They were still in love, although it was unclear if he remembered her, or if he was still imagining the woman here as just a barmaid. It did not matter much to her, though, because her mother had always told her “Love never dies.”
Shadows of the day melted into night’s stillness, both Captain and housekeeper busily wandering, both continuing never ending duties. Charlotte was certain that her efforts would someday be appreciated. The Captain was certain that his battles would someday be over.
Outside, abrupt screeching of tires accompanied crunching metal. Rapid footsteps approached the house, amid hushed voices. Within moments, the door separating outer weather from inner sanctum became flying toothpicks. The trickle once crawling on the door’s upper ledge now flowed freely, a torrent cascading along ravines carved in age. Two hooded figures rushed in, smelling of fear. Quickly surveying their new surroundings while trying to control their racing heartbeats made vocalizing their dilemma impossible.
As their domain became exposed, Breslin tried to placate Charlotte, uttering hushed promises only they could hear. “These rapscallions are not long for this life,” he advised. Advancing hurriedly towards the pair of ne’er-do-wells with sword aloft, his intent was easy to imagine. She held him back before he could enter their space. “What manner of insolence is this?”
“My love, you know not what they are capable.” Fear was a stranger to her eyes, and its emergence at this juncture turned him about.
The first unwelcome visitor was a tall juvenile, muscles stretching taut his slender frame’s soggy pullover. Clad entirely in black, the package was selected to blend with shadows. His accomplice, a rotund, rabbit faced teen, wore the same dark ensemble, yet carried himself with such a lack of athleticism that they could easily be mistaken for Abbott and Costello. Enabled by the telepathy that criminal partners develop after multiple capers, they faced each other simultaneously, asking, “They followin’ us?”
“Nicky,” the shorter one said, “I think we lost ‘em.”
“Don’t be so sure, Duke.” Eyes darting about in search of confirmation of the assessment, Nicky made Charlotte think of a cornered rat seeking hasty exodus. “Do a quick lookout,” he commanded, as he pointed to a boarded window east of their initial entry point. Nicky stood in the doorway’s shadow, calculating how much damage was caused by their escape, hoping it could be somehow put back in some semblance of normalcy. Looking up the stairs, it suddenly struck him. “Hey, Duke.” Duke pivoted, his eyes connecting with Nicky’s in synch with his pistol. Answering the unspoken question, his accomplice stated, “Could be somebody livin’ here.”
Duke’s disbelief in the possibility spurted out in an unbridled laugh. “Yeh, right. And I’m an octopus walking on land.” Snickering to himself, he went back to peering through windows, ensuring no one followed them. Nicky climbed the stairs to check in the upper living quarters.
Charlotte held tightly to the Captain. “Surely they dress as jesters, but please hasten not judging in error. We have never dealt with this kind.”
Pleadings from The Creator and all the angelic hosts would not stop his charge now. His castle was invaded, his beloved in peril, thus he must defend at all costs. Swiftly he charged forward, engines full throttle. She had yet to witness such fury in his resolve, and shuddered to think what he could cause.
Breslin darted down the stairs, determined to skewer the intruders, decapitate them, and leave the remainder as a warning. In his mind, he could think of nothing more satisfying than future enemy combatants being greeted by impaled skeletons of vanquished foes. In his rage, he blindly raced past Nicky, passing him in the shadows that dominated.
Duke picked up where his associate left off by hoisting the front door off the floor. Its weight was considerably less than it had been prior to their arrival, and he was certain his partner could easily have lifted it with one hand, even when it was new. Even with a third of its substance missing, it took considerable effort to prop it against its former housing. As he staggered forward to exhaust a breath of relief, Captain Dumante missed him completely, angrily cursing obscenities as he went outside.
Myron chirped angrily at this overgrown rodent who was interfering with his own ongoing search for food. His miniscule shout perked Duke’s ears, and as he spun around to locate its source, a feathery breeze caught his shirt. He momentarily lost balance just enough to fall backward into the door he had just struggled to lift. He then shouted much the same obscenities as the enraged occupant.
“You makin’ enough noise to wake the dead,” shouted an angry voice from upstairs. “Dammit, what the hell. . . .” Nicky was more exasperated than ever, stomping down the steps. “I can never get you to do even the simplest things . . .”
Re-entering his humble abode, Dumante scowled at the two interlopers, determined they would suffer. Then he looked upstairs at his beloved. “Are you injured?” His voice conveyed concern, though he was boiling inside.
Without registering his words entirely, she stressed her urgency with a new plea. “Please, my dearest, I beg you, come here.”
Unsure what was the matter, he disregarded the present situation, and flew up the stairs. Looking into her eyes, he could almost feel her soul coming through. He held her almost tight enough to break bones. In his most consoling voice to date, he tried to soothe her with, “Mayhap they will away.”
The two would be bandits were engaged in a heated debate of blame over present and past mistakes, neither one giving credence to the other’s argument. During their heated discussion, each was certain that this was the perfect place to “lay low”, though each wanted credit for whatever had gone right. Before a truce could be convened, enforcement personnel arrived to present them with bracelets, and escorted them to awaiting vehicles.
One of the officers escorting them away, noted, “Why would you two run into an old rat trap like that? Been condemned for years”
The assistant patrolman mused, “Wonder when they’ll ever tear the place down”
Both criminals had the same unspoken thought. “Some folks just don’t understand.”
Both Charlotte and her Protector breathed a sigh of relief.
The house visibly sighed, as if it were alive.
In fact, it was alive, with ghosts.