24 March, 2009

Gren post 8

Finghus chose a different path to his flat of rooms that evening. When he had been home for a few minutes, the rooms felt odd. He felt vaguely uncomfortable, as though he had arrived for a visit at another's flat. These were his rooms though, his things. He imagined being someone else, someone at a dinner party. This other person went to dinner parties quite often, in fact. He had a lovely time. He had a crystal wit, and the people around him were jubilated and sparkling.
Everything in the room around him seemed to be varying shades of the colour of dust. He tossed his coat to rest on the upper edge of the large wardrobe in the front room, waiting for a moment to make sure it had caught and wouldn't fall to the floor.
A little more than an hour after he had finished his supper, he sat in his front room, looking for minutes at a time between the blackness outside his window and the glowing coals in the hearth. The patterns of glowing orange stayed in his eyes as he looked out into the night.
He became self-conscious. How childish. Surely he had better things to busy himself with than playing visual games with the glowing coals. He turned his head to the left and rested it back upon the chair. He stared at a glass on the high side table. It was plain and clear, and had less than an inch of dark red liquid in the bottom. Juice. He had set the glass there one morning as he left for the street. Down the stairs and out on the street he had regretted not having time to finish it. It didn't seem like he should drink it when he got back that evening. He didn't want juice in the evening anyway. He had sat here and stared at the glass often since then, thinking he should get up and take it away. Empty it. Clean it. Whenever he got up though, he was about something else and passed it by. Going to bed, not to the sink. Going to the office, and not to tarry. A week? Longer?
Whenever he looked at it, he could see a crack in the wall behind it. It seemed almost as though the glass itself was cracked, impossibly cracked, but still standing. He could move his head slightly and make the crack move about and bend at the ends through the glass.
The crack was to the right of the glass.
He hadn't moved the glass, not since the morning he'd left it there. He hadn't moved the chair. If he moved the chair he saw different building silhouettes in the night outside. Yet, only a tiny bit of the top left end of the crack was behind the glass. Not even enough to show through.
He stood and walked to the side table. He had never really examined the crack before, not from a close distance. It was simply cracked plaster. He sat down in the chair again and leaned back. Changed. He pushed the chair backward, just a few inches. The crack appeared within the glass, as though his focused concentration was about to shatter it.
He stood and walked to the side table again. The glass had been moved. Only slightly, but moved. He compared its distance to the other things on the table, to the back and sides of the table, but there was no glaring incongruence with his memory. The fact remained, it had been moved. Another trip to the chair confirmed it again.
He walked about the room, very slowly. Other things didn't line up. A knot in the flooring wasn't just under the edge of the rug. Some underlying parchments on the table he used to practice illumination showed more of several inked letters than they had. The candles were slightly too close together, their shadows falling on each other just barely higher tonight. The tiny stone figure of a knight, deep in dust, wasn't looking directly into the hearth. It was just slightly off. The dust was there, but they had been moved. Several little things had been moved, only very slightly. Carefully moved, and put back in almost exactly the same place and orientation?
He didn't want to sit down again. He didn't want to stand with his back to anything, so found himself pacing about.
He looked out the window for several minutes, then closed the shutters. He went over to the side table, and nearly picked up the glass, but then stopped. The oil lamp seemed to be casting strange shadows behind him. His head jerked around, followed by his body, light and shadow dancing about the room as he knocked into the side table, sending the oil into grotesque waves across the walls and ceiling, and nearly toppling the glass.
Nothing. He turned back to the table and tried to choose between the candles and the lamp. He picked up the lamp and walked toward his bedroom. The door was just as he'd left it that morning. Wasn't it? As he walked in, the shadows flew back along the bed and the walls. He turned the wick higher. It was smoking a bit, but it was brighter. He skirted in along the wall after passing the door, and backed up into the corner with the chest of drawers.
He looked at the floor. Clothes. Were they in the same place? A white shirt, oddly crushed. He lowered the lamp. The shadow of the bed rose up on the wall, almost leaping until he slowed the lamp.
He should have something in his hand. What? He didn't have anything.
The lamp reached the floor, and he quietly let go of the bail, making sure it wouldn't swing down against the glass. It had made his hand very hot, but now it was quite cold. He tried to picture how he could go down slowly on one knee without losing his balance, without knocking on the floor with his knee. He didn't want to put his hand down to the floor.
Bracing on the wall with his left hand, he lowered to one knee. Maddeningly, the bed covers hung low in his line of sight. He had to get lower.
Light from the lamp washed up against the clothes on the floor and picked out the clumps of dust and bits of unknown grit. He looked about for something long, like a walking stick, but there was nothing.
Inching forward, he reached out for the corner of the shirt. He had it in his fingertips. Slowly or quickly? He ripped it out of the way, flinging it against the open door. The motion rumpled some other clothing up into his line of sight, blocking even more than before.
He gingerly slid the lamp forward. When he came down on his hands he would be only a foot or so from the bed, face first. It was the only way he could get lower and see past the clothes as well. He eased himself down. He overbalanced and came down on the floor with his palms in a slick thud.
He stared underneath, his eyes wide. Shadows from his hand and arm blocked his view. He reached back for the lamp and brought it up. He still couldn't see all the way back to the wall. There was something under there! Was it clothes?! He couldn't make it out! Damn it, what was it?! A shoe lay within reach to the side, and he grabbed it and threw it beneath the bed, hoping to force the clothes out of the way. The shoe didn't go all the way to the wall! He concentrated, his breathing rapid and shallow. Was that part of the baseboard back there?! Damn it!
He jumped to his feet and shot around the corner at the foot of the bed, grabbing the cornerpost next to the wall and yanking outward. It stuck! On the little table near the head?! He shoved again, and a dark chasm opened up between the wall and the edge of the bed. Tiny rays of light picked out two distant points on the wall, the rest of the lamp's produce lost beneath the bed. He dashed back to the side again, hitting the floor next to the lamp and knocking it over. He righted it quickly and stared underneath the bed.
The clothes and other things had moved about as he shoved the bed. He thought he could see to the other side of the bed, if not to the wall. There was the shoe. Nothing moved.
Jumping to his feet and grabbing the bail of the lamp, he went back to the wall. Dust. Unidentifiable bits. The side of the shoe he had thrown. He got down again, on this side, and looked underneath. Nothing. He could see the wall at the head of the bed from this angle. A dead beetle. Nothing else.
He stood again and looked at the open door to the hall, trying to slow his breathing. The idea of putting the bed back against the wall and laying down to sleep made him cringe. He cringed the way he had when he was a boy and had seen a man's leg broken below the knee. That sick feeling of revulsion as the limb bent the wrong way in the wrong place.
He looked at the window, shuttered tight. He looked quickly about the room for something to pick up, something to take. Nothing. No way to choose. He quietly went to the window and opened the shutters. The building across the street still had lights in some of the windows, and this comforted him. Proof of other life.
Carrying the lamp out into the front room, he replaced it on the side table. He looked at the candles for a moment, noticing the difference in their position. A few tiny white spikes dotted the surface of the juice in the glass. He had put the lamp back nearly where it had been, and he could see the ring of dust belying its change. There was nothing like that around the glass.
No, he knew what he had seen. He could still see it when he looked around the room. He blew out the candles, but left the lamp burning, then headed for the door. He plucked his coat from the top corner of the wardrobe, and his key from the shelf next to the door.
He slid into his coat after the key was in his pocket, still walking toward the stairs from locking his door. He had tried it after locking it, unlocked it, locked it again, then tried it again. He looked back as his right arm went into his coat sleeve, staring at the latch and at the dim light leaking from under the door.
The street was empty. The buildings on the other side were lit by the narrow moon. The same lights were still on as when he looked out of his bedroom window. He wanted the extra comfort of seeing some sort of movement in the windows, but there was none, only warm yellow light. He walked to the corner before he crossed, and continued down the side street. Looking quickly around, he turned down the alley.
The uneven cobblestones dipped and rose, reflecting a dim blue amidst the blackness. In all the years he had lived here, he had never seen the other side of the buildings across the street. Although he had stepped into the alley with no clear expectations, he had assumed at least some method of getting up onto the roof of the building.
It was too dark to see very far down the alley. Just a few steps, and he would see something, he was certain. He stepped quietly, but quickly, staying away from either side. The blackness receded with his progress, but gave him no new encouragement. What was he looking for, anyway? He didn't even know how to get to the roof of his own building.
Just past a shallow rise in the cobbles, a set of stone steps resolved out of the gloom on the right side. Their cracked and rounded treads led up to the building. An archway was there, set into the surrounding stone wall. It had been fluted on the sides, and carved with vines and leaves trailing down from the lintel, but now the stone was so worn, and dark, and pitted it could barely be made out. He stopped just before the first step, and could see a short passage heading back to an ancient-looking door. The door had a rose window of stained glass in the upper part, and some dim light seemed to be trying to bring it to life from within.
He mounted the steps, and the building itself seemed to swallow him as he walked to the door. The latch was open. The cold, rough metal turned heavily under his hand. The door creaked horribly as he forced it open, echoing out into the dark alley. It stopped after only a few inches, not enough to squeeze through. He put his weight against it, and felt a heavy sliding movement on the other side. Suddenly he heard the dry crash of wood on stone, and the door swung in another foot. He edged around it as quickly as he could.
The door opened onto a dim hallway full of stacked and leaning detritus and rubbish. Opening the door had knocked a broken old chair to the floor, snapping one of its legs. He saw an oil lamp burning on a table some distance down the hall. Picking his way through rotted boards, broken fixtures, and more dust ridden furniture debris, he made his way toward the light.
It was past the end of the hall. He considered taking the lamp for a moment, but turned and began looking for a stairwell. Near the end of the corridor he found it, and began climbing up. It ended when he reached the third floor. How to get to the roof? Could anyone even get to the roof? Chimney sweeps did it. But how?
He left the stairs and headed down the corridor. He could smell food for a moment, then it was gone. Doors, only more doors. Then he saw another hallway leading off the corridor to the right, the direction of his building. It was dark, even more so than the dim corridor he was in. He could see steps going up at the end, amid a small gathering of clutter and rubbish.
The ceiling was low enough he couldn't see the top of the stairs until he was standing nearly at the bottom step. He had expected to see a landing and a turning of the steps, or perhaps a heavy door. Instead, amid the rubbish at the head of the stairs, was a clutter strewn landing bearing the small round window he had seen for years out of his own flat.
He climbed up to it, going down to his knees as he reached the top. The window was nearer to the floor, and if he knelt at it he would be able to just peer out over the sill. He reached the small window and looked out at his own building, quickly getting his bearings and finding the two windows which let into his flat.
There was the oil lamp, still burning on the side table. His chair. The window to his bedroom showed far less, but a dim glow from the front room revealed the outlines of his dishevelled bed, still sitting askew. He took a deep breath.
Well this was just stupid, wasn't it?
The door of his wardrobe opened and a large, armoured creature stepped out of it.
Finghus spun around on the floor and pressed himself down against the baseboard. His teeth were clenched tight, but part of the scream was still escaping. His lungs were working furiously, but he couldn't get enough air. He was lying on his side now, clutching his hair.
He had to see it. Had to. He slowly inched back up to the curved sill of the window and peered through the glass. A heavy boot disappeared around the corner, into the hall. Finghus looked to his bedroom window. A dim shape moved against the shadows in the hall beyond the door. A quick reflection flashed out from it. A sword.
It entered his bedroom with a swiftness which contradicted its size. It seemed ready to strike at his bed, but it stopped. After a moment, it seemed to be moving or turning about slowly, though its dim silhouetted form remained in one place. It was large. Perhaps as large as the biggest man he'd ever seen. It clearly wasn't a man though. It moved with a fluid surety that effused deadly power.
It stopped. It stepped toward the window, the moonlight suddenly revealing a grotesque and monstrously fanged lower face before Finghus spun about on the floor again and dropped down as low as he could.
He froze. Was it looking up here?! Did it know where he was?! He realised his breathing was terribly shallow and quick. He was cold, and his brow and the back of his neck were wet.
Footsteps, down in the hallway. He couldn't see anything, the ceiling was too low. It would be at the foot of these stairs before he could see it. Nine steps. One two three four five six seven eight nine. One two three four five six seven eight nine. One two three four five six seven eight nine!
An elderly man with shaggy grey hair and unkempt clothes appeared at the bottom of the steps.
Finghus jumped and flew down the stairs, nearly bowling the man over as he rushed past. He ran for the stairwell at the end of the corridor, slamming his shoulder into the side of the doorway as he turned the corner. He sprang down the stairs, his legs pumping to keep up as he plummeted down the steps, skidding around the landing at each turn of the stairs. On the last flight he tumbled down the last few steps, landing in a heap against the wall. He stumbled up, grabbing at the door frame leading out into the corridor, and gulping for air. He shot down the corridor and then down the dark, refuse strewn hallway, vaulting over broken furniture as he neared the door he'd forced open, then losing his footing on a teetering chair back and slamming head first into a pile of rubbish and mouldering boards next to the door.
Had he passed out?! No, surely not. He was lying unevenly on the broken debris, various unknown things poking and jamming into his body. He was looking right at the opening in the doorway, the moonlight reflecting dimly off the cobblestones. He reached out for the door frame and pulled himself off of the clutter and out of the door, tumbling down onto the stone steps in the alleyway.
Finding his footing on the cobbles, he raced toward the street. Without stopping, he swung around the corner to the right, and began pelting downhill, away from the direction of his flat.

10 March, 2009

Gren post 7

It had been a stupid idea anyway. Stew! Indeed. He could never get stew quite right. Too... runny? Watery? Weak? Yes, too weak. Too watery as well. He came to the edge of a thought, but backed away. It was almost a thought about wishing he had asked his mother something long ago.
He was staring at the ceiling now. The shutters were closed over his window, and there was no light. He opened and closed his eyes several times, but there was no difference. He watched the tiny pinpoints of colour hover in his vision. When he closed his eyes tightly, they grew brighter, more intense, and began to change and shift, resolving into shapes like mist. He opened his eyes and they relaxed. The tiny colours fell back like sand dropped on the beach. He had been to the beach once, when he was very small.
The points of colour resolved into a dim image of a face. The notion that it might be a ghost never occurred to him. He knew his mind was merely connecting the points on its own. He knew the man's face. He had seen him somewhere else, quite recently he thought. Who was he? Where had he seen him?
When the man had opened his angry shouting mouth, no sound had come out. Why had he expected to hear a squeak? That made no sense. People didn't squeak when they accused one of murder.
His hair was black and straight, but not long. That meant he must be from here in the Old Marches, rather than from Inner Morvalia, where the fashion for men was hair past the shoulder. He had seen that hair. Not flying forward like that as he plummeted backward over the edge, but brushed down.
He sat up in bed sharply, gasping and then breathing fast. He hadn't been awake. What had he dreamed? It wasn't about the man. Had he been in the tower? He couldn't remember now. He lay back down and saw the man's face without any colour. Black ink on parchment. The parchment Fenn had kept in his office. The parchment about the shipment for the Grand Test entry.
So it was the same shipment. It had to be. How could he tell Mr. Fenn? He had clearly closed the topic. He wouldn't want Finghus to open it again, and engage in what he saw as a complete waste of time. He probably wouldn't even let him explain completely. Mr. Fenn would dismiss the whole thing. He couldn't tell Fenn anyway. He'd killed the man. "Good Gods, I can't tell anyone. I was right, but I can't prove it. Can't afford to prove it. Just stop thinking about it."
He closed his eyes tightly to shut out the devious points of colour, but they only intensified.

Finghus Bent was yawning deeply as he walked along the side of the street leading to the firm. Impossible to sleep. Impossible dreams. Impossible to do anything about it. What would happen? Nothing. Nothing would happen, of course. No one knew he had gone up there. No one... well, he had seen a few people on his way back. Not until he was in the city though. They hadn't looked as though they'd seen him though, or even noticed him at all. He could have been coming from some building right there in the city, anyway. They'd probably never find the man anyway. Someone would miss him though. People were always missed by someone. "Who would miss me?" No one, in the familiar sense. He'd be missed at work. That over-clerk would notice his empty desk. He would probably be dismissed for not coming to work before he'd be suspected dead. They'd throw out his things. That over-clerk would throw out his things. Damn him!
There was the intersection with the road up into the foothills. It was just over a block away. Could he get to the firm a different way? No, no time. He'd gotten up late, not even any time for breakfast. He was indignant about being deprived of his breakfast. Deprived by that damned man! Why couldn't he just forget him? Finghus hurriedly crossed to the lower side of the street.
That was stupid. Now he'd only have to cross back again when he neared the firm. What was that supposed to accomplish? Avoiding the paving stones he'd stepped on the night before when he turned up that road? What was he going to do, turn up there again? Of course not. Just a little more distance between himself and up there. Just the space of a street. Still ridiculous. What did some thirty feet matter?
As he crossed the road at the intersection, he looked up the road to the foothills before he realised he was doing it. The view up the road was even better from here, across the intersection. Why hadn't he thought of that? Looking up there gave him the same horrible sensation as looking over a cliff, as though he was almost compelled to step off. He forced his eyes forward and continued down the street.

The office was filled with clerks and bustling with activity. It was the same as every other day. Foolish to think it would be otherwise. Within a few minutes, he was up from his desk getting tea. Strong tea, to ward off the yawning. He doubted it would actually accomplish it.
The difference between himself and the other clerks was palpable to Finghus. How could the others not feel it, this difference in knowledge between them? He was looking around the room too much. He looked through the parchments on his desk, trying to find the oldest to work on first. Some conscientiousness would ease his mind, certainly.
He plummeted into his work and tried to be unmindful of anything else until afternoon. He dismissed the illuminated faces that began to look like a man with close-set little eyes and straight black hair.
In the afternoon, he had to venture into the filing stacks to find a marriage record for someone compiling a genealogy. He structured his path so he would come near the place where he had found the parchment regarding the Tobin and Sons shipment to the Grand Test in Helios. He tried to keep it a secret from himself that that's what he was doing.
He stopped as he was passing the aisle. He looked down it and tried to convince himself he wasn't going down there. How much time might he need to look for that marriage record? How much time could he add to that, unnoticed? Enough, surely. He could do it. He headed down between the great shelves, avoiding the precarious piles of parchment and files. Repeating that phrase over and over to himself as a mantra to keep his thoughts from spiralling, he began looking for more records concerning Tobin and Sons, Limited, and shipments to the Grand Test.
What Finghus already knew about the Grand Test was solidified in the first few documents he found. It was held once every ten years, and next year was a Grand Test year, so any previous records would likely be from nine years before, then ten years before that, and so on. There weren't many entries from this area, even going back more than a century, but they had always been shipped through Tobin and Sons, and the Tobins had always laboriously gone through all the covenants and warrants required by the Grand Test with great care.
One detail that struck him was the warrant of singular origin. For every entry Tobins had ever shipped, a lengthy parchment had been illuminated to painstakingly establish it had come from only a single address. That it, for one thing, had never been shipped from or to anywhere else before, had to be substantiated and illuminated under the seal of the Scriptorium Morvalicum.
Well this one had been, whatever it was. It was certainly the same thing which Tobin and Sons had delivered to that tower just days earlier. Where else could he look for information? There had been no file at all for that strange tower. He thought of several other places, then decided to check them later.
He had to arrive back at his desk with that marriage parchment. Stacking the files back in, he quickly looked through those near the top. When he had begun, he had gone directly to the records from nine years ago. A few layers down he found the parchment Admonast Fenn had kept yesterday.
He couldn't believe it directly. He set the handful of parchments on top of a tall pile next to him, putting the things that had covered it back on the shelf sidewise. He stared at it. How could it be back here already? Fenn had to contact Tobins' about it. He had to make sure the reference notes were in the right places.
The face wasn't there. It had been, he knew it. The face with narrow-set eyes and a thin little mustache. It was a team of horses now. Four horses and a wagon. Where had the man gone?! Finghus saw him tumbling back into the abyss. He had the strangest sensation of vertigo, right there in the filing stacks.
He wanted to find something else on the parchment, some information with which he might feel satisfied, or comforted, or whole. There was nothing. The face was gone.
It was as though he watched himself put the parchment back down and cover it with the other files he had set aside. It felt like he was telling Finghus what to do from a distance. After everything was as it had been, he went off through the aisles to find the marriage record. It was difficult to find his way. All he could see was the face and the four horses.
At his desk that afternoon, it seemed the whole room was in constant roiling activity. It eddied around him, insinuating into him a perception that time was slower for him than for those around him. Faster? Yes, faster for him. It would have to be faster for him if he felt as though he wasn't moving, and all the others were swirling about three or four times too quickly. No, perhaps it would be slower. He let go of the conundrum. It was gone into the eddying mist.