Sleep came quickly, partially due to the fatigue of the day and mostly because of the general unpleasantness of the evening. The green-tinted darkness of the room gave way to the welcoming sunshine of the dreamworld, tempered somewhat by the shadow of the surrounding buildings. A quick look around showed that her place of arrival was deep within the side streets of the city, far from the busy town center, removed from any obvious landmark. Again, she dreamed of the same city as a half dozen nights before.
Wherever she was in the city, the main road had a small river down the middle of it, but the alleys between the buildings did not. More than previously, the buildings struck her. They were quaint structures, all blocky and two stories high. Though each had its own small flair of ornamentation, the overall effect was rather reserved. One might have a few Roman arches over the entryway. Another might have brightly painted shutters. Still another might have a trail of decorative ivy tracing its way up between the windows. Taken as a whole, as each building only had one or two distinctive features, the neighborhood was rather understated, an inviting effect of each building’s small amount of uniqueness amdist the overall theme.
Two buildings in from the next corner, one particular building stuck out to Robyn. Its entryway jutted a foot or so onto the walkway, a small covered area with wide arches and narrow columns. The building was made of a pink stone, sturdy and delicate at the same time. The windows were all shut, but she could see dark curtains within their rippled panes. A rustic affair, the door was made of three wide pieces of unpainted wood held together by two crosspieces bolted in place by three large bolts each. More importantly perhaps than its appearance was that it stood slightly open.
Up until this point, Robyn had considered the smaller buildings off limits for some reason. This she chalked up to dream logic, that if she was meant to be in the houses, she would start her dream in one. Obviously, in dream rationale, the myriad buildings must be only empty facades, part of the illusion of a city. Now curiosity leapt with joy within her mind at the sight of the open door, a world within this strange world for her to explore. Whereas the large, windowed building had been open and inviting of its own accord, like a museum or other public place, this was like a glimpse into some private corner of the city, sure to hold some secret treasure.
Realistically, there was no point even trying to fight it out with curiosity, so with a quick glance up and down the street, Robyn crept inside. Immediately, the whole feel of the dream world changed. Instead of glaring light, a comforting semi-darkness enveloped her, calmed and soothed her. The house seemed to welcome her into its dusty bosom. Light filtered through dark green curtains, giving the whole room an earthy glow of tinted light. With careful tread, she crossed the wooden floor planks to come to the center of the main room.
The room was bare, like a house for sale ready to be shown. On two walls were windows facing out, one brighter than the other where it faced the street and better access to sunlight. The other wall, as one side opened into a hallway and the front door, had only one small picture hung right in its center. The picture was set in a rough-hewn frame of unfinished wood. Looking closer, Robyn could see that it wasn’t a picture at all, but a painting, though it was so blurry and distorted she was only guessing that it was a portrait of a couple, probably a man and a woman. Somehow, the lone picture still managed to affect a homey feel to the place.
The hallway split, one part becoming a narrow staircase, the other leading to the back of the house which was even more narrow and cramped than it had appeared from the outside. For no particular reason, Robyn proceeded to the back of the house with slow and careful footsteps, her bare feet falling on and rising from the floorboards without a sound. The hush of the place, the stillness of the air, and slanted pillars of light from each window seemed to call for reverence. The smell of wood and dust filled her nostrils as she breathed slow, full breaths. With no other sound, her own heartbeat thudded in her ears, an uneven metronome for the unheard symphony of this place.
The back of the house was slightly lighter than the front, with large windows that opened up to a surprisingly wide back alley and white stone floors. Again, this part of the house was devoid of furniture except for a counter jutting out from the wall, dividing the space into a kitchen and a dining area. The kitchen had small cupboards along its walls, and a narrow strip of counter than ran along the wall. A sink was inlaid into the counter under a back window, but it had no faucet and no outlet, so just a basin of yellowed porcelain really. The dust motes danced in the plentiful light to the gentle tune in Robyn’s mind, set to the beat of her heart.
Coming fully into this portion of the house she turned and saw that on the walls to her left and right, across from the large back windows, sat portraits identical to the one in the living room. They were no clearer, giving away no more detail, but their similarity and repetition seemed to lend them a bit more importance. The effect was not an entirely pleasant one. An eerie feeling began to dance its way along Robyn’s spine as she turned slowly on the balls of her feet, trying to take in the rooms, the house, the meaning that simmered beneath the appearance of the place.
Her spin brought her around once again to face the hallway, full of mystery and stale, dusty air. Determination set on her face and urged her forward, curiosity cheering approval all the way. Hand delicately upon the banister, she climbed to the second floor, taking each stair slowly. She let her weight rest gradually on each step, ready for at the least a creak or squeal, and at the worst for the whole staircase to disintegrate beneath her. The steps held their ground and brought her to the landing above, a small hallway that led both left and hooked back around to the right.
This felt invasive, perhaps because the cramped hallway was so dimly lit. As much as the lower level had welcomed her, this level seemed resistance to exploration. Still, there was no way she was going to stop now. Back around to her right was the only open door of the four she could see. One was to her left, a small one sat right in front of her, and one more was just to her right. Three bedrooms and a closet, she figured. No indoor plumbing was apparent. The only light was a sliver a sunlight showing from the one open door.
Like a moth, Robyn floated around the railing and towards the only light on the second floor. She strained to see and to feel or fathom the sudden apprehension gnawing at her. Slow, almost hesitant steps moved her forward all the while, steadily to the door. With a stronger, quicker rhythm her heart kept a pace many times that of her progress down the hall. The air felt thick with dust and dragged along her body as though she were walking through water. Her chest rose and fell heavily with the effort of breathing against the tide until after what seemed like hours she stopped, one hand gently upon the door.
“You’re being silly,” she whispered to herself, “Silly and dramatic. Open the stupid door.”
She took a deep, slow breath and pushed the door open resolutely, not to be undone by her own imagination and misgivings. Light washed over her, momentarily blinding her. From within the room, something stirred, betrayed by a quiet scuff of fabric moving against a far wall. Her breath caught in her throat, and Robyn raised her hand to shield her eyes, squinting around them into the glare of the room. The something stood out as a dark shape against the otherwise oppressively white room.
The something spoke with a sad voice, replete with desperation, “Mother?”