Moonless, starless, deep dark night, yet I see clearly the massive, hulking structure before me — an even darker shape, rearing up against the night sky. I crouch facing this edifice at a distance of thirty-odd feet. Despite the oppressive dark, I see tendrils of pale green grass fringing and curling against the mansion’s stone foundation, softening its hard lines.
I find myself within the mansion’s kitchen. The room is immense, lit only by a fire leaping in an enormous stone hearth. The kitchen staff is present and busy even at this late hour; altogether and at once, they lift their heads to inspect me, then return to their separate chores — tending the fire, washing up, chopping, mixing dough in large wooden bowls, kneading and rolling out loaves. The outsized room is more than large enough to accommodate the entire staff and their activities, with several lengths of trestle tables arranged in orderly rows bisecting the room’s center. I suspect the staff lives the majority of their lives confined to this room.
Although the fire’s light extends a great distance, it fades as it creeps toward the room’s perimeters, lending only enough dim warmth to hint at deep corners and a long, wide corridor jutting off straight into the dark heart of the mansion. I can barely make out this hall’s carved and paneled walls, its once thick, richly woven scarlet carpet. As I step toward the hall to better see, a woman nearest the hearth notices my intent. She seems to be in charge and, like all the staff, is dressed as if from the late 1800’s — long, full, gray skirts; high-necked, long-sleeved top; white apron; hair secured in a pile upon her head. She warns me not to leave the kitchen; that the house is dangerous at night. But her words follow me like shadow as I venture down the line of scarlet weave. Glancing left and right, I pass the darkened mouths of doors that open into even darker rooms. The dim glow of firelight seems to surround me as I walk, as if I carry its glow with me.
am instead hunched and kneeling in a small, unlit room. My knees press into plush carpet. To my left, flanked by two over-stuffed chairs, is a large, carved fireplace. This is only possible to see due to the pale, thin moonlight seeping through a tall window in the wall several paces before me; a window against which the dark shape of a trim man is faintly illumined — the Ghost. The Reason the mansion is not safe at night; the Reason the kitchen staff keeps the hearth burning and continues working deep into the night. The Ghost looks out the window with his back to me. He cups his right elbow in his left hand, strokes close-cropped beard and mustache with his right fingers. I feel the thrum of anger emanating from him like static electricity.
Fear prickles my neck and spine, and I begin sobbing, hide my face within my hands. I apologize — I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry — a choked, gut-wrenching mantra. The Ghost turns to regard me, the storm of his anger dissipating: “For what?” he asks. My apology is detailed and specific and, I hope, satisfactory.