The days crawled by that week and Heath stuck to the business of running to the store for his mom, who was now stuck in bed. But when the nights came he would peer out his window in the direction of that strange estate. From his bedroom, he could see across the neighborhood, between a few houses and over a few fences, a sliver of that black and spooky forest, which barricaded the enormous house from the rest of the world. By Saturday, his bubbling curiosity had boiled over and his feet hit the cobblestone once again, this time at dusk, just as the trees were slipping into their black robes and putting on their meanest faces. Through the white gates which were always open and off into a night which he would always remember. Always.
Around the bend he could see light glowing from the windows. A pleasant, warm and welcoming shine, like lanterns on a ship far out to sea, when clouds have hidden the stars. Muffled violin notes wafted from inside. Coming to the front porch, Heath stepped. And he stepped again, up the sprawling steps to the doors. French. Huge. Heavy. He touched the carving with his fingers. And pressed on the golden handle with his thumb, a smooth click and the door yawned open. Across the threshold, the marble floor was polished and playing with the light of a fireplace from a den to the right. A blue lamp kept the entryway dimly lit, giving it a romantic elegance, rather than the eerie gloominess Hawk would have expected, had he been invited. Heath put one foot in front of the other, deeper into the house. He discovered an old-fashioned phonograph playing and a fire burning in an enormous hearth, ornamented with marble plumes of ivy and angelic figures reaching toward the ceiling which was high and vaulted. Deep brown timbers crisscrossed the white plaster overhead and there were zero cobwebs. No dust on the coffee tables, no water rings on the end-tables. Heath made his way through the den to the kitchen which looked out onto the backyard. The paper lanterns were lit and white little lights dotted the willow tree he and Hawk had hid behind. The floor of the kitchen was brilliant blue and white tile, with gold knobs on the cabinets and stainless steel ladles hanging over an island range. Peeking into a few more rooms on the first floor he realized that all the lamps were actually flame lanterns, burning quite bright. Heath had never seen an oil lantern before and wondered how they burned. Standing on his toes to sniff one at the bottom of the staircase, he breathed in the uncanny fragrance of his mother’s own perfume. It was called lavender sunrise and he knew it well. What likelihood had the oil of a lamp for mimicking perfectly the most comforting smell Heath knew. Closing his eyes for a moment, he could see his mother, before she got sick, laughing with him and sucking on a candy cane. It was Christmas two years ago, before Luke had become a slave. He remembered how even when it wasn’t Christmas time, she would always have candy canes in the house. Always.
Venturing to the second floor, Heath discovered a strange sight. Lining the hallway were crutches, dozens of crutches and canes, hanging from hooks, leaning against the rail that overlooked the foyer, more than he could count. Some were the old wood and fabric kind. Others were aluminum and still others looked as if they were made for animals. The first room he came to had an ornamented brass knob and turning it he found inside, dressers and mirrors. Vanities of all shapes and sizes. There was no bed, no couch or chairs. And most peculiarly, when he slid open a drawer, no clothes. Opening one after the other, he found them all filled to capacity with sunglasses, shades, fogged spectacles and thick-rimmed blinders of every kind. As if the sunglasses room wasn’t strange enough he found the next room piled high with prescription medicine containers, elixir bottles, capsules, childproof cups and inhalant devises. In one corner, the orange, doctor-signed cylinders reached to the ceiling in a cascading drift whose tickling plastic sound seemed to speak to him as he kicked his feet. On a desk in front of the window, peering out onto a dark side-yard, was a crowd of hypodermic needles set in laboratory beaker stands. Coming to the last room before the stairs to the third story Heath paused. How strange that such an open and well-lit home should have rooms like these. Weren’t these the types of things reserved for nightmares? And yet, Heath felt no chill. No hair standing up. No panic in his veins. Perhaps, he thought, I’m only seeing things in the wrong light. There must be a good explanation for all this. Then, he opened the door at which he stood and released the knob as it swung wide.
Hands. Arms. Feet. Legs. Buckets. Tin pales full of fingers. Hammocks. Wall-hanging nets full of knee-joints. Plastic. All of them. Prosthetic. No blood, no bones. Replacement parts. This was the largest room. Stretching away from the door where Heath’s figure stood, it was long and lined with body parts. Holy Damn, Heath heard Hawk’s voice in his head.
Suddenly a woosh of lantern light flooded the stairs to his right and Heath jumped.
“Hello?” a man’s voice came from the third floor. Thump, thump, thump! Squeak! Slam! Heath was out the front door, sprinting down the cobblestone – beneath the dark trees, away from the glimmering mansion, onto the florescent lit street and back home.