Unsolved MysteryMature

I stared from him to the painting. The artist had not made a mistake - all his features were perfectly replicated. I might have thought this was a descendant of the Ravens, but the resemblance was too perfect, right down to the shrewd speculation in the yellow eyes. Seeing my own flash back and forth between himself and the painting, the Ravens’ son smiled. Far from reassuring, it was a dangerous smile. A shark smile. The kind of smile that told me he knew something I didn’t, and the kind of smile which made my spine crawl. Impossible.

“Yes,” he said in a rough voice, and the sound had the same impact as a gunshot in the stillness. “It’s me.”

I had started at the sound of his speech; somehow it made him seem suddenly real. Subconsciously I had been thinking he was a ghost but he looked too solid for that. How else could he have been standing thee, looking exactly the same as that portrait painted over eighty years ago?

“Alexander Raven, son of the prosperous Ravens, born in 1895,” he continued smoothly, still wearing a mirthless smile. My jaw felt slack in complete astonishment.

“Impossible,” I managed to breathe through my constricted throat.

“Not for me,” he contradicted in a growl, though his smile stayed fixed in place. He moved off the staircase into the room properly, and the slightest scuffing of his shoe convinced me he was real. My mind was a swirling mass of contradictions - what he was, if he was really there, how he could be there. It seemed some of my questions were about to be answered. “The Ravens have had a condition passed down through the male bloodline for generations - it gives them a certain amount of immortality.”

I shook my head numbly. What was going on here? He continued relentlessly, hard steely eyes fixed coldly on my face, which I was sure must be bloodless.

“My father John was born in 1803. He starved himself to death in 1926 after my mother died of a recurring strain of influenza. I thought of leaving the house once there was nobody there to keep me in it - because of my condition, you see, he wouldn‘t let me leave very often. He considered me - volatile. But my father had made a deal with the mayor before his death. I decided it was better for me to stay where everything I needed was supplied to me with minimal effort on my part.”

I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. The town I had just come from had had no idea about the Ravens or the house’s history at all. So they’d told me. But if the house had been searched back in 1933, surely the painting would have been discovered? A seed of doubt had been planted in my mind. The cold room felt suddenly claustrophobic as the dö ppelgã nger of Alexander Raven gave an ominous chuckle and moved forwards an almost imperceptible amount. I was against the wall, no space to back away.

“Of course they would tell you that,” he laughed. I realised I must have spoken aloud. The sound was unpleasant, vicious and mocking. “It was part of the agreement. You came through the servants’ entrance; the townspeople are supposed to send them to the front.”

His eyes flicked behind him to the opened door.

“Sorry about that,” he mused, not sounding it. “That was my prison at certain times when my condition took over. I’m much more in control now - ” I flinched at his cruel smirk “- so I’ve put it to use for storage. I’m a messy eater, and I don’t like to clean up after myself.”

My fingers began to tremble. Was he saying he had done that to the girl in the alcove, now on the floor? He glanced carelessly at her, and a bubble of hysteria escaped my lips.

“Why are you saying all of this? What’s happening?”

He sighed but throughout his camaraderie the malicious grin had not vanished.

“I like my prey to understand,” he whispered confidentially, and I felt a chill to my very core. Prey. My eyes roamed the clawed walls and savaged corpse. A fearsome realisation broke through my paralysis, and though part of my brain was stubbornly insisting this was a fabrication, I was terrified. How idiotic could I have been to come here, so defenceless and alone?

The moon and candles cast contrasting shadows on his face, making it look feral. Those strange yellow eyes combined to form the shadow of a wolf across his fierce anger-twisted face. I put it all together.

Claw marks, conditions, lost explorers, a deal with the town and dead half-masticated bodies… wolf-like shadows. The image of a tarnished doorknocker flashed through my head. Family mansion, male bloodline for generations.

I knew what he was. And it was impossible. But after everything, ‘impossible’ seemed to be a nonexistent thing.

The End

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