Sepia

"There but for the grace of..."

LeSait stepped forward into cold silence, his eyes coming upon a room that was hauntingly familiar. In front of him was a series of long couches, a set of tables set to suit various purposes and a sanctioned off kitchenette. Were he to follow the narrow hallway that rode off to his right, LeSait knew, he would eventually reach a bed of generous proportions lying cold and unoccupied since the day the Feather had burnt down his home. The swelling wax of LeSait's face bulged widely at the eyes as they scoured every surface of the medieval apartment, at the same time, he would-be jaw fell slack in surprise.

Somehow, LeSait was standing in his own room.

Following the 'event' as it had come to be referred to, LeSait's segregation from his family had deepened in both the social and physical sense. In the sudden absence of both parents, he had spent long arduous hours alone with his thoughts, which culminated in the re-construction of his sanction of the manor. For weeks he spent every waking hour of the night at work, fashioning his room into its own homestead, designing it to be fully functional without having to depend on the facilities of his actual home. Over time, he managed to separate himself off from the manor, and by extension, those closest to him.

La Reine was too young to understand, and so it had fallen to Valen to bear the burden of raising their youngest and most co-dependant member alone. Valen had never fully forgiven him for this, and so he and his sister had come to depend on each other for strength without him.

LeSait despised having to depend on others to make it through life.

He loved his sister and brother, but found no way of expressing it adequately without finding himself weak and reliant on others for self-worth. He could still remember the last time they had celebrated anything together. It had been La Reine's birthday; he and Valen had presented her with Clarette, the doll to which she would adhere for many decades to come.

He thought about this as the new, twisted La Reine skipped by him, her little 'doll' somehow still slick, staining her ghastly innocence with red.

LeSait thought about how she had visited him as he worked, how he had often dismissed her as a mere annoyance and continued to brick and board himself away from his problems.

And now here it was, LeSait was now standing in the fruit of his endeavours, only something was not right. The walls and surfaces were awash in dark white, while shadows were smothered in heavy sable. LeSait and La Reine were not standing in the actual room –for such would be impossible- but instead it was as though they were standing in a photograph, a memory, preserved in black and white.

Sepia spread infectiously into the room from damp corners, aging the room far beyond its years. Like him, this was not an original, but a pale and soulless clone of what had once been.

The room was lit with candles, tens of them. Thin ivory pillars that sweated a faint yellow light into the room. LeSait saw them perched on every surface, populating every furnishing, occupying every gap. In as many places there were others lying flat line on the floor, extinguished or perhaps never ignited. Dead. LeSait looked at the one closest too him, and saw only a tiny well of molten wax at the base of the flame. From the stale air of the room LeSait could tell nothing had been in to ignite them, therefore they must have been burning for some time. In spite of this, nothing had bubbled forth and stained the surface. Nothing was going to sully or stain this room, for in its inexplicable construction, it was perfect. Cold and pristine dead and perfect, and nothing was going to tarnish it.

Except him.

The La Reine creature drew his attention away as she smiled and laughed as though she was happy to be home, the bloody newborn warmly crushed in her bear-hug embrace. She stopped smiling at the sight of her phantom brother standing stock still in the unearthly quiet, he was unhappy. It made her unhappy.

"Don't you like it?" she sniffed "Daddy made it especially for you."

LeSait stared past her blankly through cataracts of silken cloud. He looked confused, dumbstruck, perhaps out of fear of the thus far unseen 'Daddy'. He didn't know for sure, and he was in no state to judge.

Instead of responding, he headed down the narrow hallway in the direction of the bedroom. Aside him, the dark strip of carpet was adorned with lines of lights that beckoned him to land. He reached the end of the hallway, to be faced with a single fracture of plaster. He looked at it in grim fascination, wondering why it, in light of all the precision and care that had gone into this bizarre recreation, was allowed to remain here, spoiling the overall effect. Were this his actual room, LeSait would have seen to removing it immediately, which helped drive home the fact that this was certainly not his room.

Tentatively, the black smoke of his digits picked and pried at the shoddy workmanship, tearing thin crusted veils of imitation plaster away from the wall. The crack opened wider, and beyond stood stark nothingness, nothingness filled with a jumble of whispered comments and critiques. From beyond the wall, LeSait could feel phantom eyes upon him. It was as though somewhere, just beyond this false set, a panel of observers sat judging him, marking him down for tearing at their carefully constructed illusion.

The widened crack stood there, mocking him with its enigma. Gradually, the murmurs and subtle stabbing wit of the shadows died down to silence, offering him no answers. After a few moments of lingering, LeSait eventually chose to ignore it.

He opened the door to the bedroom, and was assaulted by the flickering flutter of hundreds of tiny wings.

Butterflies everywhere, or were they moths? LeSait couldn't be sure. The silence shook with the incessant hum of miniscule flight, and he saw them covering every surface, some dead, most alive. Stale air flowed towards him in an afflux of flapping auburn, bronze and burnt sienna shapes. The floor was littered with the small peeling husks of empty chrysalis, left vacated to rot. Like the shed shells of the beetles back in the house he had travelled through, they crunched under the palpable silhouette of his soles.

Looking to his left, and found the expansive comfort of his old mattress waiting for him. It had been a long time -even before the day they had come and torched his home- since he had lain there peacefully. LeSait's dreams had long since been troubled, filled with the sound of screaming, the heat of light, and the thunder of satisfied applause. The unconscious act of walking into the corner of the bed snapped LeSait awake of the memory of his nightmares, and returned him to his waking one. He looked around the bed, it too reserved for the guesthouse elite of candles, before finding a tattered volume bound in faded red leather smothered beneath a mass of winged deceased.

The ductile border of his hands folded around the sides of the small volume, tugging at the woven bookmark built into the spine. He opened it at the page it had selected, feeling a dozen more sheaves spill out of the sides of the dusty work. In small unevenly printed text it read:

...Divine assumption hath wrought a world from the flesh of our God. This world resides not within the realms of our own, but rather it exists within a space entirely separate to that of our Lord. To specify, it lies within, and yet is without the world that God made. Be advised, it is not 'Hell', nor that which one might perceive to be' Heaven', it is but a place within places, a tribute to all those perfectly derelict houses.

In the absence of the Lord, this world is unstable, and therefore exists in a state or extreme flux: unexpected or inexplicable landscapes, moving floors and converging walls or gateways, odd creatures, a world whose control is given in its entirety to the one who was its architect, and answers to no other.

Those swallowed up by it would come to see it like a dream, or mirror. Its unstable boundaries react to those within it, and manifest-

A large dark smear interrupted here, smudging the letters and rendering the remainder of the paragraph unreadable. Towards the bottom of the page they re-emerged, and continued on a separate train of thought.

-an only be perceived within the moral coil by beings of such naturally gifted perception, it is wise to keep such an animal as a ward to this world.

Anyone caught within this world would be forced to remain trapped in their dream, haunting it in a state of undying. Those who are may not interact with others who are also snared here, and may not leave unless they may find a suitable medium through which they may extricate themselves. Creatures who already dwell half in and half out of this realm such as...

LeSait turned the page to find nothing but a think scale of decay sheathing it from sight, frantically he brushed the mould away, and in his dismay, found the peppery parchment bare.

"No!"

He dropped the book back down in dismaying defeat, having learned nothing useful from the book at all. If he were within some sort of dream, then who was the one creating it? The smear on the page before had interrupted the comment about the world being a mirror, what did that mean? If this world was by someone else's design, then how could it possibly-

La Reine's chirping laughter spilled forth from the hallway, LeSait turned to leave the bedroom, navigating through the turbulent cloud of insects that floated before him. He closed the door upon his exit, hoping to seal the storm within the room, leaving behind the musky book that had proven itself to be a relatively worthless excursion in confusing him further.

LeSait returned to the main room of his former apartment, guided now by the unpleasant sound of the La Reine creature's happy laughter. As he stepped into the main room, he heard the sickly squelch of liquid beneath his feet, and looked down to see a thick patch of dark claret staining the carpet. He looked upwards to the source, and found sleek wet blood slipping from a split in the ceiling, spreading out across the floor. A quiet whisper that mentioned his name pulled him away from the strange sight.

He saw La Reine skipping merrily in a circle, giggling and whispering childhood secrets into the ears of her macabre playmate. She turned a twinkling eye to him and smiled, a wisp of red rose tinting her cheeks.

"Daddy's coming! Daddy's coming!" She chimed.

LeSait looked around, but saw no one, heard no one. La Reine began jumping up and down on the expensive plush of the lengthy couch, chanting melodiously of the return of her would be 'father'.

"Get down from there."

In spite of the spectral state he had been forced to assume, LeSait was still LeSait. If this world would mock him with a likeness of his past life, he too would humour the illusion, and treat this new La Reine in exactly the same way he had the old one. Thus he showed annoyance at the disruption in what may still be perceived as his.

La Reine hopped down, and sank sullenly into the carpet with an adequate humph. She folded her arms like a stubborn scorned child, letting the doll flop like a flayed carcass at her side. She sat it up in a mirror of her own position, and stuck her tongue out at LeSait.

LeSait looked dismissively away to search the rest of the room for whoever it was La Reine could see, but before he could, it spoke first.

"You shouldn't be so hard on the child."

La Reine's eyes widened happily.

Out of the corner of his eye, LeSait caught the shape of a shadow slithering stealthily up the wall behind him, he turned to where the source ought to be, but found no one there.

"You're not the one I had expected."

Still stood in the bloody puddle, he thought to look upwards towards the ceiling, and there, finally, he saw 'Daddy'.

Out of a pool of inky black on the ceiling, emerged a head and shoulders, silhouetted in the greying light of the room. It hung there, upside down, motionless, as though carved from stone. It carried no discernable features his eyes could make out, just the basic outline of a man, a chin, a nose, and a plain bald scalp. When it spoke, it spoke with his father's voice, though it was flat and toneless, echoing dully around the room over and over, each echo slower than the last. It was as though he were speaking in slow motion, a clam, unsettling droll that dangled inexplicably above his head.

Without a moment's hesitation, LeSait asked the most apt question there was.

"What the hell is this?"

"Do you not recognise this place? You built it after all."

"This isn't real! It's all a trick, a fucking illusion!" he snarled.

"It's very real, it is the boyhood dreams of a man brought to life."

"I... I did this?"

"No. Not you. Another man, far away from here."

"Then why did you lead me here?"

"Everyone comes here, we are all brought here for a reason."

"But why make it seem like this is my house?"

"Because you refused to accept the truth, you wanted to go home."

To his right, LeSait noticed La Reine's horrid doll slowly crawling away, dragging behind it a bloody smear that stained the fibres of the carpet. As La Reine leant over to snatch it back into her embrace, he heard it let out a horrid mewl of protest. The sound made LeSait cringe slightly; it was like that of a strangled cat. La Reine seemed not to notice, and sat it in her lap, ignoring its sickening cries.

Averting his eyes from both La Reine and the thing on the ceiling, he murmured.

"This is not my home, and you... you 'things' are not my family!"

"And yet... this is exactly as you wished it to be."

LeSait's eyes went wide.

"You were looking for the chance to reconcile with your siblings, and now it has been made possible. Make your peace, and then go. Go to the place you think you ought to belong."

"Maybe I did, but my real brother and sister... But not a dreamt up fantasy!"

"And yet you have proven your willingness to follow, to believe it, or else she would not have gotten you this far."

"I want to see them, the real people I've left behind!"

"And what makes you think you deserve to see them? In life you abandoned them, you don't even see them as themselves, what they truly are."

"Ahh..." It seemed amused. "I see... you want to meet them again?"

LeSait looked once again at his sister's grisly doppelganger.

"That can be arranged."

The head on the ceiling began to laugh; it let out a slow warping sound that swamped his senses, closing his eyes and his ears to the world.

"What is this? Tell me! Tell me how I can see them again!"

Blinding agony gripped at his head, wrapping a fiery caul over his face and tightening gradually. LeSait could feel the scalding white of plasma pain eat through the waxy substitute that was his flesh. The liquid semblance of his hands clawed desperately at the burning tongues that lapped ferociously at his face. The silence was torn asunder by the splitting sound of LeSait's screams, and the atonal menace of 'Daddy's' laughter.

It vanished in a heartbeat, leaving LeSait crumpled on his knees, suddenly liberated of the searing torture he had faced but seconds ago.

He looked around, shocked to see his room gone. La Reine, the mockery of his father, the blood and the butterflies, all of it vanished. He rose to standing and looked around, to find himself stood alone on the hard decking of a theatre stage. He stepped forward, out of the subtle gaze of a dimmed spotlight, and saw for the first time the black of an unfamiliar hall. Chairs, set in rows awaiting an eager audience, were marched out before him, and stood like a firing squad of critics close to the stage. Somewhere ahead in the gloom, sterile letters reading 'exit' hung in low illumination, waiting for someone to pass by and take heed. LeSait let out a slight laugh, the last slivers of his sanity drained at the sound.

He was back on the stage he had run from once again.

How was any of this possible? Had he been here, on this stage the entire time? What had 'Daddy' meant when he said it was possible to see his siblings again?

Far out in the centre of the darkness, one chair was missing, and in its place was that same featureless shape, the crafted statue of his father's likeness. It stood there, a simple silhouette unmoving, framed in the pale fade of the exit.

You'll see... it said to itself, reading his thoughts. You'll see soon enough...