All righty then! It’s July and time for the adventure to return to its regular schedule. This new one seems to be a mix between Alice in Wonderland and the Dresden Files. Let’s see where it takes us.
He looks like a toad, short, squat and rather large lipped with a squishy face. You don’t usually have such a reaction to people but the poor man at your door seems to embody his ugliness like he’s proud of it.
“Do I have your name right?” he whistles through his teeth.
“Y-e-s,” you draw the word out. No one visits you, not way out here where it takes a four-wheel drive vehicle almost two hours to reach your door.
Toad man definitely came equipped. The truck sitting behind him pops as it cools. Its hood sits almost even with the top of his head.
“You are the recipient of James Levi’s estate,” he pulls out a large roll of paper from his satchel and stuffs it in your face. “Sign pages three, eleven, sixteen and twenty two.”
He just stares at you, still holding the papers.
“I don’t know a James Levi,” you say.
“He states in his will the estate must go to another hermit. Namely, you. You are the only other hermit.” The way he says this last bit makes it sound like you’re the only other hermit ever. Odd man.
Being a hermit, you don’t exactly care for confrontation. You sigh and start signing. When you’re done, he stuffs the entire stack of papers back into his bag and hands over a single page. On it you find an address.
“Enjoy,” toad man spins on his heel and climbs back into his truck, using a stepladder he pulls from the floorboard to reach the seat.
You read the address in your hand.
Yuck. That’s farther out there than your small cabin. Too far to make it to today. Tomorrow morning it is.
Even leaving before dawn, you reach James Levi’s estate well after noon. Whoever this man was, he really didn’t want any visitors. You suspected as much, so you loaded up your four-wheeler into the bed of your truck the night before.
Now your truck sits alone, left on the road ten miles back, because the road narrowed so much you couldn’t fit the Chevy through the trees.
You cut the engine to the four-wheeler and simply sit on it for a bit. You’re in the middle of nowhere, literally surrounded by forest and mountains with barely a trail leading to the place, and before you rises a flipping castle.
How in all that’s Holy did James Levi build such a beast?
Full on medieval castle.
You shake your head and dismount the four-wheeler. On your back you carry a backpack with basic supplies for the night since you’re so far out from even your own cabin.
A tiny footbridge crosses the moat and gives access to the gate.
You’re suspicious by nature, so you kneel down and check under the bridge. Nothing seems out of the ordinary. Nothing happens when you cross, your heels making soft thuds on the wooden planks, but when you reach the far side, the bridge gives a shudder.
You step onto solid ground and immediately, the bridge breaks in two and lifts into the air like a toll bridge, cutting you off from the other side.
“Hello?” you holler.
Your voice echoes and dies but no one responds.
Someone’s out there, though, you’ve got that itch against the back of your neck like a spider’s climbing your skin. You shiver and approach the gate. A small intercom graces the right side. You press the red button and it gives off a buzzzzzz.
Moments pass, then, “Go away,” crackles out of the speaker.
“Um, can’t,” you respond. “The bridge is up.”
“Dumb bridge. All right, come in.”
There’s another buzz and the gate rattles upward.
Flipping medieval castle. When it’s high enough, you duck under and step into the courtyard beyond.
“Careful of the pansies,” the speaker pops. “They’ll eat you alive.”
“What?” you ask.
The speaker doesn’t respond.
You scan the courtyard and find pansies, tulips, geraniums, and a variety of other flowers you don’t recognize scattered around the yard.
“Perhaps we should skirt the outside of the yard,” says a voice behind you.
You spin but there’s no one there. You spin in a full circle and still don’t see anyone.
“Can we please stop that, it’s making me dizzy.”
You freeze. Then, with two fingers, you pinch the strap of you pack and slide it from your shoulders.
It’s a simple thing. Green with only two outside pockets and a main zipper that follows the full front of the pack.
The zipper’s closed but as these words come from your most trusted pack, it unzips and rezips without the need of the zipper car.
Take it in stride, you try to calm your racing heart.
“Skirt the outside?” you ask.
“No pansies,” zip, zip.
So do you…
Follow the pack’s advice?
Run Away Screaming?
Inheritance-Follow the Pack’s Advice
The world’s gone completely topsy turvy. Maybe you’ve been alone for too long and it addled your brain but, if you’re addled anyway, you may as well have fun with it, right?
“All right,” you agree with the pack and pick it back up, throwing only one strap over a shoulder. “Watch my back,” you tease.
“Absolutely!” zip, zip. The pack doesn’t catch your tone.
Upon your first step, all the flowers swivel to ‘look’ at you. The pansies in particular seem to lean forward as though they’re picking up your scent.
“No funny business,” you say to them.
They nod their heads and give off a “hehehehe” that sends chills down your spine. The other flowers knock heads with the pansies and emit a ‘shhhhh’.
“That’s just creepy,” you mutter.
“Indeed!” agrees your pack, which isn’t comforting at all as you can feel it mimicking your shudder.
By now you’ve reached the door on the right hand side of the courtyard and you slip inside before the stares of the flowers can creep you out any more.
Inside’s dark. Faint light filters through windows high up on the walls, but it’s so weak that it only glints off of the frames of the pictures on the walls. It doesn’t show you what kinds of pictures are displayed.
You step forward until you’re past the first set of glinting frames. You don’t make it another step before your pack shudders.
“Hey Boss,” it says, “they’re watching us.”
So many questions run through your head.
“How can you tell? You haven’t got eyes.” Then, before the pack answers, “Who’s watching us?”
“The flowers in the pictures.”
“No, just daisies so far.”
Sheesh! This is ridiculous, but you can’t keep wandering blindly.
“Ask them where the office is.”
“Office?” zip zip.
“Looking to see if this James Levi left a note, instructions, something.”
“Oh, okay. Hello Daisies.” The walls giggle. “Can you tell us where the office is?”
“Up the stairs and to the right,” the walls sing, “but it’s guarded day and night. Perhaps you should go up the stairs and to the left. You can cross the balcony if you’re deft.”
Or daft, you think, but don’t say it.
“Guarded by what?” you ask.
“Guarded by what?” you pack asks the walls.
“Rugs and pictures, lights and halls,” the song echoes with the daisies’ delight.
The idea of the very walls guarding the office freaks you out. What’ll they do, start moving?
“Think the daisies are telling the truth?” you mutter to your pack.
It shrugs. “Not sure they’re smart enough to mislead you, Boss. They have this very vacant look on their faces.”
Great. Flowers have faces and they can look vacant. Learn something new all the time. But then again, how can your pack tell? It still has no eyes.
“I’ve gone crazy,” you mutter.
“Certifiably,” your pack agrees.
You refrain from answering as you reach the bottom of the stairs.
They’re narrow but at the top you can see a vaulted ceiling and what appears to be a large, open hallway lit by sunlight. Compared to where you’re standing now, that hallway looks inviting.
Perhaps too inviting.
“Left it is,” you say. At the top of the stairs you pause and look both ways. The hallway to the right boasts big windows that show the internal courtyard of the castle. The sunlight streaming through is what lit the stairs from below.
In an odd lack of symmetry, the left hand hall has no windows but is lit with the soft glow of candles.
“Seems like a trap,” zip, zip.
You agree. You just hope you’re guessing correctly on which way is the most dangerous.
Squaring your shoulders, you step into the left hand hallway. Nothing moves, nothing speaks up. You’re almost to the end of the hallway where it takes a turn to the right when your pack clears its throat.
“What?” you ask.
“The candles like you,” your pack whispers.
You glance back. Instead of the small candles you just passed, you find a single candlestick as tall as yourself. Even as you watch, another candle hops off the wall and joins the big candle, congealing into it like mud into mud.
“It likes me?” you ask.
“It wants you to ask it to join you,” your pack whispers.
“Why are you whispering?”
“It freaks me out!”
The candle has no eyes or mouth. The flame at the top burns brighter as more candles amble over to join it while you consider. It is kind of nerve wracking because you can feel it watching you, somehow.
“Join me?” you ask, deciding a friend could be super useful.
The candle jumps up and down like an excited puppy. The flame at the top bobs and it splatters soft wax over the floor before hopping forward to stand beside you.
You put a step between yourself and the candle and then proceed to the turn in the hallway.
There’s no light. It’s so black you can’t see more than ten feet ahead.
“Glad I invited you,” you comment to the candle. It waddles forward to light your path and bounces on its silver frame while it waits for you to catch up.
“It’s making me dizzy,” your pack grumbles.
You ignore it.
The hall leads to a single door. On the other side you stop to adjust to the sunlight streaming in the bay windows.
The candle stops in the hallway.
“Thank you,” you say.
It bounces up and down and then places itself squarely in the doorway. Behind it vague shapes move in the dark but they don’t come forward into the light of the candlestick.
“Still creep you out?” you ask the pack.
“Not so much,” it responds.
On the far side of the room, you open the windows and peek out. There, to your right, is the balcony the daisies spoke of. The sketchy part is the stretch of about six feet between the bay window and the railing of the balcony. There’s nothing but brick wall to hang onto in between and the balcony sits above the window.
No matter how you consider it, you’re going to have to push off and grab ahold of that railing.
“Don’t fall,” zip, zip.
All you need right now is a reminder. You climb out of the window and stretch toward the balcony with the fingers of your right hand on the frame of the window.
Nerves make your fingers sweat.
Focus on that railing, you tell yourself.
If you’re deft. The flower’s words run through your mind.
I’m definitely daft. You decide and push off from the window.
You left hand slaps against the metal of the railing. The sweat on your palm makes the grip slick but you latch on and grunt as your weight falls on that arm. In a moment you swing your right arm around and grasp ahold with both hands.
Now for a pull up.
Perhaps it’s the adrenaline, but it’s the easiest pull up of your life. You slide over the railing and crash against the floor of the balcony.
“You’re squishing me!” your pack complains.
You groan and roll over to push to your feet. The office proves to be a lushly furnished affair with heavy oak shelving and desk. In the middle of the empty desk sits a letter.
Congratulations for making it this far. Most don’t make it past the pansies.
And Welcome to the Castle of Other. While within the moat, anything may have animation. Your task is to protect it. Some will reward you richly for watching out for them. The candles and dishes in particular will thank you for your guardianship. (Ask the dishes for a nice steak, medium rare. It’s the best I’ve ever tasted.)
The rugs and certain flowers will not thank you but they will tolerate you as long as you show them discipline and courtesy. The rugs hate and fear fire. So always take a candle with you and keep the rugs clean and they’ll leave you alone.
You are the only person I trust to watch out for this treasure. You understand solitude and discipline. If you choose to walk away, tell the Bridge and Mr. Toad to drain the moat. All of this will cease to exist.
If you choose to stay, there are treasures beyond imagining here but they require your diligence. Tell the Candles you’re staying and they’ll show you the ropes.
“So if I leave, you stop talking to me,” you muse to your pack.
“Um,” it shifts on your shoulders, “true, I guess, but wouldn’t that be akin to killing me?”
“Not sure you’re truly alive,” you say.
“Oh, but I am. Would you like me to explain?”
“No,” you pick up the letter and flip it over. There’s nothing on the other side. “I need to find a candlestick to show me around.”
“Oh, yippee,” zip, zip, “you’re not going to perform a pack murder.”
You open the office doors and study the bright halls lit by streaming sunlight, realizing that in all the dark halls requiring candlelight, the floors are bare. Here, there’s a long, red, green and brown rug running most of the hallway.
“Let’s find a candlestick,” you tell the pack. “Think this hallway’s safe since I’m coming from the inside?”
“No, probably not, but maybe if you walk along the side of the hallway and not on the rug, it’ll leave you be.”
You follow the pack’s advice but only a step in and the wall against your side bulges outward, hits your hip and sends you stumbling onto the rug.
You give an “argh!” of surprise and try to jump over to the other side. It doesn’t work as the wall on that side has bulged out as well.
The rug shudders and moves, offsetting your balance even more and you hit the floor. In a move so fast you have trouble recalling exactly how it happened, the rug curls around you and rolls up into a neat burrito. You go thud, thud, thud down the entire hallway until you’re so wrapped up that your arms are tight against your sides and it’s hard to breath.
Then there’s a deep, ringing laugh of glee from the thing.
“Well, this is lovely,” zip, zip high up on your shoulders. In the tussle, the pack shifted to sit almost even with the back of your head. It wriggles and the rug laughs like it’s being tickled.
“Can you get free?” you ask.
“Working on it,” zip, zip.
In moments, the pack flops to the floor beside your head. The rug tries to slap an end onto it but your pack scrunches and slides farther down the hall.
“Sorry good chap,” it tells the rug, “But you’re all caught up with someone else.” Then to you, “Be back in a jiff with one of those bright fellows.”
Since when did your pack have an English accent? You can’t say but you watch as it shuffles its way down the hall. It’s one of the oddest things you’ve ever seen.
Like the rug’s frustrated at losing part of its prey, it tightens even more around you.
“Hey,” you complain.
It squeezes and you shift your face right and left, trying to add wiggle room. It doesn’t work but you notice something when you turn left.
The edge of the rug by your shoulder is fraying. This gives you an idea.
“Let me go,” you tell the rug, “or I’ll unravel you.”
It laughs again, that deep, almost belly laugh of delight.
You grab a few fibers with your teeth and pull. This is going to take forever but it’s not like you have anything else to do. You keep pulling until you get a good, solid strand that actually starts to pull more of the edge loose.
There’s a shudder and an odd gasp of what sounds like weeping.
“Let me go or I’ll continue,” you tell the rug.
It loosens and then, just as quickly as it captured you, the rug unravels and sends you sailing into the office door.
When you look up, you see a person-sized candlestick standing at the far end of the hallway. Your pack sits on the floor beside it, almost like it’s standing up.
“Well done, Boss,” it zips.
Hoping to start on good terms, you repair the carpet from the small sewing kit in your pack.
Then the candle shows you the castle, you get a steak and see the treasures of the place.
You end up moving that one carpet in particular because even with a candle, it always trips you on the way to the office.
Other than that, you end up great friends with all the flowers because you enjoy gardening. The pansies do try to burry your feet. They seem to think you need to be planted, but they never try to eat you. Your pack on the other hand, they love to try to eat. It turns into a game figuring out where the pack gets buried. It complains incessantly but it stays your trusty pack.
Congratulations on surviving the Castle! The adventure will be back on the 26th. Until then, have a wonderful week.