[This post skips over a handful of pages to bring us to what happens during this post and the final Halloween Sneak Preview. The featured picture is of the oft-mentioned House in the Park — a small building hidden in the town’s north park that, on the outside, appears to be a rather elaborate facade for what would seem to be a large shed. But, when someone goes inside, he or she finds himself or herself in the interior of a Victorian mansion — or a portal to other places entirely.
Reggie, Gilbertine and some friends are now inside the “house” celebrating Halloween. Allow me a moment to introduce them to you (again, ages are inside parentheses):
Frank “Angles” Storm (13), Reggie’ American best mate and songwriting partner A popular kid who befriends Reggie and takes him under his wing. Angles was born, and spent his early years, in refugee camps before his family moved to the US when he was five or six. The Storms have literally gone from rags to riches, but it’s come at a cost, and there’s a secret sadness within the family. Though the family is now affluent, Angles’ days in the camps have left their mark, and he remains something of a hustler (hence Reggie’s nickname for him, “Angles”). He’s a skeptic by nature, and initially had a rather jaundiced view of Gilbertine, but she’s growing on him. He has long, blonde hair, and looks like an early-teen version of Brian Jones.
Tamzen Rhys (15), a friend and big sister figure to Reggie and Gilbertine. Though she’s not any celestial or astral being, Reggie refers to Tamzen as his protective, guardian angel. She’s very solicitous and protective of Reggie, and often confides in him, but can’t resist ordering him around. Tall, tanned,willowy, with long, straight blonde hair, she’d seem a typical surfer girl to a casual observer, but her eyes often glow in the dark, and she’s subject to periodic bursts of rash behavior that she can’t explain thereafter.
Lois Whelan (16), Tamzen’ best friend. She too is a friend and big sister to Reggie, who calls her his comforting, understanding angel. Next to Gilbertine, even ahead of Angles, she’s Reggie’s closest confidante, seems to know when to give advice or a hug, and Reggie feels he may have known her in prior lifetimes. Gilbertine feels that way about her too, but it seems to make her nervous. Even so, the two have a relationship somewhere on the continuum between playmates and sisters. Lois is 5’5” with pale skin. She has long chestnut hair that she rats up a bit on top, and then drapes over one shoulder. She’s athletic (by mid-1960s standards) and what boys at the time would have called “built.”
Ben Zeller (15), Lois’ boyfriend; he’s also the son of Reggie’s mum’s American best friend, and has become a combination of friend and big brother to Reggie. Pale, tall, lanky and bookish, with wavy sandy-blonde hair and horned rim specs. Like Angles, he’s skeptical about Gilbertine, but sees her as a lost, lonely oddball who needs attention and understanding. He aspires to study both harpsichord (he’s built one from a kit) and piano at either Julliard or the New England Conservatory.
Roger St. Clair (17), Tamzen’s boyfriend, and family friend of Gilbertine. Handsome, intelligent and charming – longish hair, mod-trendy clothes, drives an XKE. Second son of business mogul – the “spare” to his older brother’s “heir.” Rather than either dog his brother’s footsteps, living in his shadow, or pursue the life as a playboy, he’s decided to make his own way as an agent and/or manager in the music business. He and Angles have natural affinity, but he’s particularly interested in Reggie’s musical talents, and thinks that — through them — he could launch both their careers.
Cindy Robinson (14), the sweet, shy, new girl in school, and Angles’ new girlfriend. She’s smart, but unsure of herself, pretty, but something of a wallflower. She tends to hang back, except when she’s alone with Angles, and doesn’t fully interact with any of the others. She wears her hair in a flip, her makeup’s conservative, her clothes, while by no means frumpy, wouldn’t be considered particularly trendy either.
The after ball get-together is going fine until the guys and girls separate briefly — then things get scary.
Final aside, Ben played a Mozart fantasia the day before Halloween in the House in the Park, during which Reggie seemed to think he saw forest fantasy scenes out the window of the music room. It’s referenced a few times here.]
Gilbertine led Lois, Tamzen and Cindy upstairs for some kind of “girls only” thing, leaving “us guys” to fend for ourselves.
Ben suggested adjourning to the music room and entertaining ourselves. Angles and I took opposite corners on the couch nearest the door; Roger reclined on a second one, nearer the piano. As Ben began warming up, I looked out the window, as light from a full moon I knew full well wasn’t in the sky streamed through branches of a forest I knew wasn’t in the park.
Ben commenced with Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s The Erl King.
In the next instant, I began seeing things out the window – creepy, shadowy things, the kind of things I’d always been certain were here in this park, the kind that I’d thought I’d seen time and time again when I first arrived, and – to my horror – was now definitely seeing. This time, it was no Mozart fantasia.
At first, it was a spectral creature, leaping from distant treetops, then gently gliding down. I saw him creeping increasingly close to the window, until he was no more than ten meters away.
He extended his hands toward me; there was a ball of smoky light between them. The light drew me in, until I found myself in its midst, staring at a grand castle as it rose on a misty night.
I entered, finding myself in a room virtually identical to the nursery that had manifested beneath The Queen’s Theatre back in Birmingham, England, and had always appeared in my dreams about the “Doll-girl” – except now she was nowhere to be seen.
Taking no chances, I backed out of the room. I found myself in a long, narrow hallway, initially like the corridors in the backstage labyrinth, but 100 paces on, it was draped on both sides by giant tapestries in a Hieronymus Bosch style that did nothing to relieve my uneasiness. At the end of the hall were two doors, one each on the left and the right. The one on the left had a welcoming light emanating from under the door, the other hinted at naught but darkness beyond. I turned left, opened the door and entered,
I found Gilbertine inside, in contemporary dress – along with Tamzen, Lois, Cindy and Connie, the way I might’ve seen them at school — all with welcoming, friendly smiles on all their faces.
But, as I approached them, something felt wrong; I noticed the stone in my ring was glowing.
Then, I saw they were all wearing worn leather lady’s gauntlets with torn lace on their hands. Lois winked at me, as her reflection had earlier in the mirror.
Then, the gauntlets dissolved, revealing they now all had the doll-girl’s hands of rotten wood and knifelike fingers. As they rushed at me, I stroked the ring and disappeared.
I found myself outside the front of the house in the park as it actually appeared, not as the shed that I invariably saw. It might not have qualified as a stately home, but it rivaled the Tippins residence easily in size, possibly surpassing it in grandeur, if one were sufficiently partial to monstrous Victorian homes (it certainly took my breath away for a moment or two). Then again, perhaps it wasn’t the way the house actually looked, for a full moon was in the sky, and woodlands, as in the Mozart fantasia, were adjacent, rather than the park. I could hear Ben’s piano playing from inside the only well-lit window in the house.
I walked up to it and looked in to see Ben at the piano, playing like a man possessed. Angles and Roger stood unmoving nearby, their faces with fixed expressions, frames supporting them, as if they were posing for a Victorian post-mortem photograph.
I felt a pair of hands grasp my shoulders from behind. I wrenched free for a second, but only long enough to turn around and face my attacker. The spectral creature, now dressed elegantly in black velvet with a black cape, a silver mask covering his face, grasped me again about the shoulders, his masked face coming closer to mine.
Putting my hands behind me, I stroked the ring once more. I was back in the music room — but so was the creature.
Ben was still manically playing, Roger and Angles still posing like Victorian dead.
I wrenched free again, and the creature and I circled each other as Ben played the slow gentle coda at the end of the piece. At the final two ominous chords, I reached across, grabbed the creature’s mask and threw it into the fire blazing in the fireplace. With a flash, a bang and a puff of smoke, the mask was gone, the cape had dissolved.
But the creature remained – he was no longer in velvet and was becoming more diminutive. He was becoming … me.
It was a faceless, shadowy version of me, to be sure, as if it were some kind of three-dimensional silhouette, but it was indisputably me.
He began a ballet dance around the room as Ben played Liszt’s arrangement of Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre, and for a moment, the aesthete in me appreciated his ability and wished Ilynka were here so that they might dance together. I found myself wishing I, too, could dance like that. But the moment passed as soon as my nemesis reached into his shadowy chest and pulled out a shadowy shroud, leaving a shadowy camera obscura view of the forest where his chest had been but a moment earlier.
He attempted to throw the shroud over me; I dodged the attempt, jumping back from the shroud’s furthest reaches. I’d expected him to come at me again, and prepared to run out the front door or, in the alternative, into the ballroom – but he didn’t come at me, and as he continued to dance around, I slowly realized that he wasn’t allowed to come within 10 centimeters of Angles, Roger or Ben, and was required to remain, dancing, on the oriental carpet lining the music room floor. A few times, to test my theory, I crept to the edge of the carpet, and each time he lunged at me, trying to throw the shroud over me, but he couldn’t chase me when I backed away.
Then I saw a single solitary gold thread, dangling from the carpet’s edge. Without thinking, I bent to pick it up, only to feel a modicum of resistance from the thread as I did so. I pulled harder, and realized that I was severely unraveling the carpet at a rapid pace, diminishing its entire length at the rate of about an inch every five or six seconds. I had to back off each time he came near the edge, but shad him backed against the piano within two or three minutes, leaving him with no way to attack me, and barely able to skirt my friends. As the music ended, he ethereally “dove out” the glass window, throwing his shadowy shroud on the fire as he left.
But the worst was yet to come.
© 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.
The Bluebottle Boys (Volume One) and Walking Backward for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall are each now available from Amazon Books. The Bluebottle Boys (Volume Two) is expected to be available late this year. Gilbertine & the Exhange (Volume Two) will be available in early 2020.