The RavensMature

My mind wandered, again, as I stared at that dark stripe in the dust. The house had been new once. It had been new in 1933 when it was first found, or at least relatively new… far from this grey shell, anyway. I left the front door as it was as I moved tentatively further into the room. The small amount of moonlight it allowed in was comforting; it wasn’t just me and the feeble torch against the darkness.

However, neither the moon nor the torch could penetrate the edges of the room. I was certain there would be doors there leading to the rest of the house, but reluctant to step into the unknown dark. The fear was irrational but instinctive and it was difficult to override it. Instead I headed for what I could see - the spiralling staircase, tightly curled around a slim black pillar that looked like marble; a swift sweep of the dusty floor revealed that it was made from the same material in tiles. The sombre interior design made the house seem more forbidding. The stairs were an almost ebony wood, not as tenebrous as my first glance had ascertained, with intricate curls of carved wood connecting the rails that supported the outer banister. It was obvious that a great deal of careful craftsmanship had gone into the building of this house. The owner must have been very wealthy. It had not been made just to be abandoned.

The stairs creaked softly as I ascended; they were a little too angular to form a perfect spiral, but they were still like a work of art. Empty strands of silver cobwebs glinted when the torchlight caught them, where they stretched between the rails.

Emerging into the circular tower room at the top of the stairs, I could see quite well; the gloom was infiltrated by the moonlight slanting through the two empty rectangles for windows. Several jagged glass shards remained resolutely stuck in the wooden frames, but the rest scattered the floor in tiny fragments like glittered powder. It might have been the result of destruction, but it looked magical.

I turned the torch off and left it hanging from my wrist while I surveyed the dim room. The curved walls were hung with dusky red silk which matched the colour of the comfortable-looking velvet armchairs positioned around a mahogany table. The crystal bowls and goblets, and the windows of an old-fashioned oil lamp it bore were fogged with dust, which also covered the furniture and much of everything else in a thin film.

I crossed to the windows, hearing the barely audible crunch of the glass under my feet. They offered a view of the garden; I imagined that this room would have been used for drinking with guests, perhaps tea parties. The cold, empty slate fireplace would have housed a fire which would have warmed them while they gazed out over the beautiful landscaped lawns. The image faded from my mind’s eye, replaced by the actual overgrown wilderness that dominated those lawns now. Touched varying shades of silver by the light of the moon, I supposed it was still beautiful in its own ethereal way.

I noticed a painting on the wall above the empty grate, partially obscured by a silver candelabrum set in the centre of the mantelpiece. The white candles were half-melted wax stubs with curled black wicks poking out. I had matches in my bag - another precaution - so I lit them one at a time, hoping to get more light and warmth. It was a cold night now and the smashed windows did nothing to prevent the chill from seeping in.

I pulled my sleeve over my hand and wiped away a wide swathe of the scummy dust clogging the picture’s surface. It was immediately clear that it was a family portrait, painted in rich oils.

A well-built man with greying hair and a black suit, with his arm around a smaller woman with fierce features, stood at the shoulders of a seated young man, obviously their son. He had the same face as his mother, with smooth dark hair, and his odd eyes seemed to look right out of the picture at me with some kind of speculation. They were odd because the artist - who the man must have been looking at as he posed with his parents - had painted them a strange animal-like yellow ochre. He was sat on a red velvet chair - I realised it was this very room, except it looked a little different.

In the portrait the walls were wood-panelled, and there was an alcove just behind them with a large ornamental vase on display. I noticed something written in ink in the lower right corner, and squinted close to read: ‘’The Ravens, after the completion of their family mansion, March 1920’’.

1920. It was occupied by rich family that had had it built in 1920... So why was it to be found abandoned 13 years later?

The End

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