The House Of Statues ©
The Land Rover Discovery barely crawled through the wall of driving rain that hurled itself furiously against the vehicle. The wiper blades moved to and fro in vain frantic effort to clear a field of vision through the film of water that swirled and eddied over the windscreen. Lightning illuminated the darkened sky with veins of white-hot energy that seared across the blackness as the anger of the storm became compounded by the roars of thunder that emanated from the heavens.
Spencer de Ville turned up the stereo in his 4 x 4, in an attempt to cover the noise of the elements with the security of sounds that were familiar to him and not ominous like the weather that raged outside.
The atmospherics had got the better of the radio as it struggled hopelessly to produce a coherent broadcast. Spencer flicked through the presets but they were all alike; there must be a transmitter down he thought, probably struck by lightning. The sky lit up again, the sound of its anger almost synchronised to the flashes.
He selected CD on the in car stereo system, the disc span into life, the laser eye moved to the last point of play and Thin Lizzy’s “Thunder and Lightning” blasted out from the car’s speaker system.
“No way!” He said aloud and pressed the “disc change” button. A few seconds silence and then the soft melody of Clifford T. Ward’s “Scullery” could be heard.
Spencer relaxed a little. He couldn’t understand why he was so on edge this evening. Thunderstorms didn’t usually bother him although this one was unusually intense and fierce. Perhaps it was a combination of the elements, the lateness of the hour (11:17pm by the vehicles clock), the fact that he was in the middle of nowhere and a little trepidation regarding the purpose of his journey.
Miss Udemas; now there was a name shrouded in mystique. To the ignorant masses she was unknown, unheard of, without significance but in the world of art, in the exclusive world of wonders formed from stone the name Udemas was synonymous with royalty. It was the regal dynasty of exquisite art, the apotheosis of sculpture perfected to the highest degree of intricacy and representation, an insignia of work and creatorship that was unsurpassed in its quality.
As a sculptor Udemas was rated among the worlds very finest. Her work that was formed from a strange white stone material exuded breathtaking realism and possessed a sense of hidden terror that was legendary in her circles. Yet perhaps of greater significance was the complete anonymity of this strange artist.
To Spencer de Ville, though, this posed a challenge and he liked to be challenged. At forty three he was in a career he had wanted since leaving school and as a freelance journalist had enjoyed many interesting and stimulating assignments. The unveiling of Miss Udemas’s true identity would be no exception.
His tact was simple; he would present a challenge to Miss Udemas that would draw her into the public eye.
As Spencer wrote regularly for the publication “Object D’art – The Serious Collectors Journal” he began to make assertions regarding the authenticity of Udemas’s work.
Would she defend the famous claim that all her work was produced by hand and no computer aided equipment was ever used even in the finest detail? Was Miss Udemas the name of a brilliant sculptor or that of a machine programmed to burn detail into stone?
The response he had hoped for came some weeks later in the form of a small white envelope with his name and address typed on it. Inside was a small piece of high quality white writing paper with a typed message from Miss Udemas. The same printing equipment had been used on both as Spencer noticed that the letter “e” was consistently incomplete.
The artiste herself had condescended to grant an interview in person. Her cloak of anonymity was at last to be cast aside.
This was indeed an exclusive for “Object D’Art – The Serious Collectors Journal.” and Spencer de Ville was the man who would be the one to unveil the shroud of mystery and reveal to the waiting world the person behind Miss Udemas.
She must be weird he thought. In fact everything about this woman was strange. Udemas the artiste of excellence, who after decades of silence and seclusion decides to reveal her self to the world and requests an interview tonight at midnight precisely! Was this behaviour something that was just idiosyncratic of the eccentric or perhaps a very cleverly engineered publicity manoeuvre? No doubt all would be revealed in the next few hours.
Spencer had been to exhibitions of Udemas’s work on numerous occasions and had met her agents or representatives. They were an odd couple; a blind frail old lady who was as sharp as a razor blade mentally and a thick set dark featured man of middle age with receding hair who spoke with a cold abruptness. Both had strong Russian accents.
They gave away nothing regarding Udemas. Like a shield they had deflected any probing questions regarding the identity of the artiste by combining clever manipulation of conversation with stone cold silence.
The country lane seemed to wind on endlessly as the vehicle still barely crawled forward through the intensity of the rain. The full beam of the headlights cut into the darkness as each sweep of the wiper blades cleared the windscreen briefly allowing Spencer to see the road ahead in a series of images like frame advances on a video recorder.
Was that a signpost? Spencer waited for the next frame to confirm it to him. Lightning lit up the sky as the tide across the windscreen was swept away by the arm of the wiper, allowing the shape of a crude wooden stake with an arrow pointing right to be discernable, this was the turning he wanted.
Spencer looked at the clock on his dashboard; it read 11:53pm. He mulled over the instructions again in his mind. He was to turn right at the signpost that would take him onto a dirt track and then to follow that until it led him to a derelict old farmhouse where Udemas’s chauffeur would be waiting for him.
It all seemed so cloak and dagger thought Spencer, but it was going to make great reading!
Spencer switched off the in car stereo; the farmhouse would be along here. Under his tyres the uneven surface of the dirt track crunched in protest as the wheels moved over it. Trees that looked like huge sentinels loomed out of the blackness into the watching beam of the headlights and fell into parade either side of the track as the consumption of distance brought them into perspective.
Along the track, the force of the rain was subdued by the natural canopy of intertwined branches and leaves overhead.
The trees continued to part as he made his way along, then a light in the distance focussed his attention, it was car headlights and they didn’t appear to be moving. From behind these the shape of a farmhouse began to emerge out of the murky blackness with each celestial illumination that flashed across the sky. This is it he thought and took a few deep breaths to calm the nervousness that was beginning to rise in him.
The tunnel of trees ended abruptly and the deluge resumed its barrage. Forked lightning spilt across the sky followed by an almost instantaneous roar from the heavens. The storm was still in full swing.
As Spencer approached the stationary lights it was obvious that they were on full beam and the closer he got to them the more difficult it was to see anything in front of him. He brought his Range Rover to a stop facing the source of the blinding beams and flashed his lights. There was no response. He waited.
Spencer heard the sound of a car door being closed followed by the brief image of a man with an umbrella that flitted across the front of the Range Rover punctuating the glare of the headlamps.
A sharp tap on his window startled him. He lowered it slightly.
“Mr. de Ville, Mr. Spencer de Ville?” The voice was official with a strong hint of what might be Russian. It belonged to the thickset man who had been present at exhibitions of Udemas’s work.
“Yes… yes that’s me.” He replied.
“I have instructions from Miss Udemas. You are to leave your vehicle here and I will take you to her.”
“Park your vehicle around the back of the building where nobody can see it… it will be safe there.”
The man stepped back and Spencer edged the Range Rover forward into the yard, once past the glare of the headlights the deserted farmhouse loomed into view and stared back at him through lifeless windows that resembled the empty sockets of a giant skull.
He pulled in alongside stables at the rear of the house, turned off the engine and pulled the keys from the ignition slot. He sat still for a moment staring straight ahead and then made a dash into the pouring rain outside, pausing briefly to remotely lock his vehicle.
The rain battered against his countenance as he ran back to the front of the house and across the yard to a waiting chauffeur who stood motionless, umbrella in hand beside the unmistakable shape of a Rolls Royce automobile. Without a word he was ushered into the rear of the car and the door was shut behind him.
Spencer sank into the leather seat and stretched out his legs. The back of the car was spacious and separated from the front by a black screen that he assumed could be lowered for communication.
He heard the driver’s door close and waited for the car to be started up. A few seconds later and he could sense the vehicle slowly moving forward.
Spencer was thankful that he wasn’t up front with the driver. The man gave him the creeps and a feeling of intimidation. There was something about the person behind the screen that he could not quite put his finger on but whatever it was it made him edgy.
He turned to look outside but was met with the square jawed features and short dark hair of his own reflection. As he looked around he noticed that all the windows were opaque like the screen in front of him. He felt cut off from the outside world.
Spencer sat back and closed his eyes. He turned over in his mind what he was going to say and then his thoughts moved on to ponder the real identity of Miss Udemas, what was she like, old or young, even beautiful? Perhaps she was a he or didn’t even exist at all? Anyway his initial questions would be focused on the reasons for “her” anonymity.
Spencer sensed the motion of the vehicle slowing and then making a right turn; he paused mentally for a moment and then continued his meditating which took him to the area of Udemas’s work. He wanted to probe beneath the surface and give to his readers the secret and profound emotions that lay behind her creations.
Why did every sculpture whether human or animal exude fear? Every statue of dog, cat, man or woman; whatever was being exhibited all had one thing in common, the eyes. They were terror stricken!
How did she create such an uncanny realism in her work? What methods did she use to achieve such intricate detail? Would she divulge the techniques employed in her work?
The answers lay not so much in the questions but in the way that they would be asked. Spencer’s main objective was to get a rapport between Udemas and himself and to create a comfortable and pleasant atmosphere conducive to uninhibited expression. He needed to be confident and relaxed. At the moment, he was neither.
Spencer looked at his watch, it was 12.53am. He’d been travelling for almost an hour and wondered how much further there was to go.
It was obvious that this strange and mysterious artiste wanted the whereabouts of her place of residence kept very secret. The rendezvous with the chauffeur at the deserted farmhouse and the long journey in which Spencer was rendered blind to the outside world had proved their effectiveness in disorienting him to the locality of Miss Udemas’s home.
Spencer sensed a pause in the car’s motion and then a slow forward progression over what sounded like a loose stone surface that ground beneath the weight of the vehicle. A few moments later it drew to a halt and he detected the engine cut off.
Spencer waited, his mouth was dry with nervous anticipation.
Through the noise of the pounding rain he heard the driver’s door shut followed by the crunching of stones underfoot, that moved along the car towards where he sat; three loud raps were struck against the window and then the door was opened.
“Your journey is now complete Mr. de Ville.”
The house of Udemas stood like some huge grey stone colossus; a sentinel; dark and angry, oblongus in form that guarded the expanse of its demesne. Spencer marvelled at the immensity of its structure that stretched out before his eyes. It was like something from a Charlotte Bronte novel except that the building in front of him didn’t inspire romance but a sense of foreboding.
Spencer ran to catch up with the Chauffeur at the main entrance to the house irritated that the man had not offered the slightest bit of shelter from his umbrella that was easily large enough for two people to share.
Once under the porch he turned to look back over the grounds of the house. With each burst of electrical energy strange images burned themselves into his mind. A cataclysm frozen in time stretched across the lawns in one mass of human and animal terror captured in stone forever.
“So many statues!” remarked Spencer as he looked out upon a multitude of stone works that inhabited the domain of the house of Udemas, trapped forever within its high stone walls and heavy wrought iron gates.
The man turned toward Spencer his face expressionless and nodded his head slightly in silent acknowledgement.
Footsteps from behind heavy oak turned the attention of both men back to the house. There was the sound of a number of bolts being slid into the unlocked position and then slowly with a whining creak the large mass of door was pulled open.
In the doorway stood a man dressed in butlers’ uniform. He bore a sibling resemblance to the chauffeur.
There was an exchange of Russian between the two men, a pause and a glance at Spencer as if to check his understanding and then assured by his blank expression they continued in foreign dialogue.
“Mr. de Ville, step into the house” came the sudden change of language. Spencer looked at the man in the doorway whose tone of voice was as cold and expressionless as that of the driver and then walked inside.
The hallway was magnificent and boasted opulence. Shiny marble covered the expanse of its vacuous floor and two large pillars guarded the mouth of a grandiose staircase whilst statues of animals and people in organised placement shouted out in silent testimony to the excellence of Miss Udemas’s work.
He walked among the stone effigies, observing them. A cat stood frozen in time its body tensed and arched almost to snapping point, hackles raised wildly giving the appearance of severe electric shock; it was ready to spring. Yet this was no pre strike pounce. The whole message of this piece of work was fear, animalistic, primeval fear; this creature was poised to throw itself not forward but backwards away from what it had seen that had created so deep a terror in those wild staring eyes.
The attention to detail was phenomenal; the rendition of intricacy such as individual strands of fur on animals or contours of the skin of people was breathtaking. Yet there was something very disturbing about every one of Udemas’s creations, something unknown and very terrible that sent a pervading flow of terror that exuded from her strange works of art.
Spencer noticed that the two men were watching him closely. It unnerved him.
“Tell me, does Miss Udemas use live models or photographs for her work?” He asked them.
The two men looked at each other.
“What do you think Mr. de Ville?” replied the man who resembled a butler.
“At a guess I’d say she photographs live models, enlarges the photographs and then does her work from there.”
“Then that must be what she does.”
What was meant by that he thought? Perhaps they had never been privileged to see her at work.
“This way, Mr. de Ville.”
He followed the two men along a corridor with alcoves in the walls that contained more human and animal works of Miss Udemas.
“The looks of terror are very convincing in her work aren’t they?”
The two men paused and a couple of strange glances were exchanged.
“What terrified them do you think Mr. de Ville?” asked the butler.
“I have no idea.”
“What is your worst fear Mr. de Ville?”
The way the question was asked perturbed Spencer, it was too searching as if trying to break into his psyche and feed off his own secret innermost terrors.
“I don’t know really.”
“Do you believe in monsters Mr. de Ville?”
“How do you mean?”
“Don’t worry, Mr. de Ville such things don’t exist in this modern world do they?”
Spencer could feel nervousness rising within him and felt that he was being toyed with.
“Monsters… do you mean vampires and werewolves?”
The butler gave a strange smile in reply and both men carried on up the corridor followed by Spencer.
He was definitely feeling ill at ease now, there was something wrong about the two men; something that he couldn’t quite work out.
There was the obvious of course, whoever heard of a butler that didn’t offer to take a visitor’s coat especially when he’d been out in pouring rain and a chauffeur who didn’t have the courtesy to share his umbrella. He looked back at the trail of puddles behind him.
There was also an uneasy feeling of an undefined presence, a sense of something sinister and unnatural, yet hidden. It was connected to the fear that was etched into every tiny feature of the white stone effigies.
They stopped at a door on the left. The chauffeur stepped forward and gave the oak panels three distinct raps. The three men waited.
“Come.” It was the voice of a woman that came from behind the door.
The two men entered the room and shut the door behind them, leaving Spencer alone in the corridor. He heard the sound of Russian conversation that was quickly reduced to a faint murmur.
He waited. Finally the door opened.
“Come in Mr. de Ville.” Spoke the woman.
He entered the room. It was an expansive library with aisles of books housed in dark wooden bookcases. A long oak table stood in the centre. The two men were seated at either end and an elderly woman with dark glasses sat centrally, facing the door. It was the same blind woman that he had seen at exhibitions of Miss Udemas’s work.
“Take a seat Mr. de Ville.” She said.
An empty oak chair with a high back beckoned silently to him. He walked over to it and sat down facing the old woman.
“I think some refreshment is in order before we begin. Coffee Mr de Ville?” The old woman’s offer of hospitality seemed like an order he dare not refuse.
“Thank you.” He replied.
At that the butler rose from his seat and left the room. He returned some minutes later wheeling in a service trolley that had four steaming ornamental coffee cups on it and proceeded to serve.
“Who is Miss Udemas? … That is the question you seek an answer to… isn’t it Mr. de Ville?” Her voice was slow and deliberate and like the two men possessed a Russian dialect.
“Yes.” He replied smiling faintly and took a drink from his coffee. The taste was strange and it made his pallet numb.
“In issue 63 of the magazine Object D’art, on page 28 you told your readers that you would bring to them the real identity of Miss Udemas.” Her voice bore the tone of accusation.
“In issue 64 of the same journal on page 24 you attributed the work of Miss Udemas to that of a machine and that some kind of computer controlled apparatus was used to form her creations.” the old lady continued.
Spencer was beginning to feel as if he was on trial. In front of him sat his prosecutor and from either side he could feel the eyes of his executioners boring into him.
“It was certainly not meant in a derogatory way.” He replied providing his own defence.
“I meant.” He continued. “The work of Miss Udemas is so intricate and precise in its detail that it actually seems too fine an art for the human hand, it is a complement for the artist really.”
“The reality of her work intrigues you then Mr. de Ville?”
“Yes it does.”
“What do you find the most intriguing?”
“Well the detail is incredible and…”
“It’s the fear that intrigues you is it not?” She interrupted.
“It’s present in all her works, is it something personal to her?”
The woman let out a strange laugh that invoked smiles from the two men at either end of the table. Spencer could not help feeling that they were playing with him.
“Fear is the true artiste Mr. de Ville… Miss Udemas merely provides the inspiration.” There was something strange in what the old lady said and somehow chilling in the way she said it.
“What is the fear?” he asked.
“You are the fear…Miss Udemas is the key that unlocks it.” came the cryptic answer from the old woman.
“Who is Miss Udemas?” Spencer was convinced that as a person she didn’t really exist but was more likely a contrivance of the three people who sat at the long oak table with him.
“She was one of three sisters and her beauty was legendary, Mr. de Ville…a royal maiden whose crown was her hair…though things are very different for her now.”
“Did she have an accident?”
“An act of jealousy. You will understand everything when you meet her.”
“She’s here then?”
“Yes. Miss Udemas is resting at present in her studio.”
“I must admit I did wonder whether she was an actual person.”
Spencer paused to consume the remainder of his coffee and then continued.
” I was beginning to think that one of you here was the artist and Miss Udemas was in fact a very clever pseudonym. Her anonymity has certainly brought great attention to her work and has been of great benefit to her in a business sense, I would think.”
“All who behold become the artist, the inspiration is Miss Udemas.”
“I’m sorry… I don’t quite understand.”
“You will Mr. de Ville… You will.” The elderly woman’s manner carried a sense of foreboding. There was something ominous about the identity of this strange and secretive artist that gave Spencer the feeling of an inauspicious link between Miss Udemas and grave danger to himself.
“Do you believe in monsters Mr. de Ville?” Now the old dear was really giving him the creeps! The question gave him a feeling of déjà vu as the weirdo butler had asked him the same thing earlier.
“Monsters… do you mean vampires and werewolves?” Spencer kept his reply the same as before.
“The monsters of legend and myth do not always originate in the minds of men Mr. de Ville. Their existence is not so much the progeny of human imagination but is the very mother of it!”
Spencer swallowed; the hair on the nape of his neck bristled erect and a cold nervousness pervaded him.
“Do you think that we really live in such an enlightened age…that we have discovered all that there is to know? I tell you there are things out there that defy the very imagination, that have no ‘so called’ logical explanation and by rights should not exist… Do you understand what I am saying Mr. de Ville?”
He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
“Do you like Greek Mythology Mr. de Ville?”
“I remember covering it at school.”
“It is my passion. I have so many great works of literature devoted to the ancient legends of the Greeks. Alas though I cannot read them any more… What is your favourite legend Mr. de Ville?”
Spencer thought for a moment, “I always liked the story of the minotaur and the labyrinth.”
“Ah yes the account of Theseus the hero who rescued the Athenian youths from the Minotaur that dwelt beneath the palace of king Minos in Crete.”
“It’s a fascinating concept, the idea of a creature that was half man and half bull… the writers of these stories had such great imaginations!” He added.
“Great imaginations… tell me Mr. de Ville, do you think such a monster ever existed?”
“Because such things don’t exist.”
“Are you quite sure about that?” There was something foreboding in the manner the old lady asked the question, he also noticed strange glances between the two men as if some baleful secret was held between the three of them.
“Surely you can’t believe that such a thing as a Minotaur actually existed?” asked Spencer.
“The Minotaur, who knows? But there are many other monsters that have inspired terror in the hearts of men for centuries. There is the Kraken, the great sea monster…”
“Now that could be based on fact,” interrupted Spencer. “The legends could have developed from the actual sighting of a giant squid, say.”
“Perhaps.” her tone was patronising. “And what of the harpies? I suppose they were merely … vultures.” Sarcasm now infiltrated her speech.
Spencer said nothing.
The old lady leaned her tense wiry frame forward toward him; from behind the darkness of her glasses he could feel unseeing eyes probing into the depths of his very soul.
“And how would you explain the existence of Gorgons, Mr. de Ville?” The intensity in the woman’s voice and her emphatic body language caused him to recoil somewhat. He hoped it wasn’t noticeable to the two men.
“I don’t know … the product of a literary genius?” he replied.
“What do you know of them?” Every ounce of the woman’s energy was focused on this new subject. She was like a cat poised and ready to spring and tear his answers to shreds.
“Only that they were incredibly hideous creatures that could turn a man to stone by their looks.”
“There were three of them Mr. de Ville. Their names were Stheno, Euryale and of course the most famous Gorgon sister of them all, Medusa.”
“Wasn’t she beheaded according to mythology?”
“Hmm according to mythology you say… but you are correct Medusa was beheaded by a gallant fool named Perseus.”
“Didn’t he use his shield as a mirror so as to avoid looking at her directly?”
“Quite so and then using his helmet of invisibility he escaped the wrath of her sisters and left their place of dwelling with his newly acquired trophy…. The head of a Gorgon… that would be a trophy would you not agree Mr. de Ville?”
“I suppose so.” he replied, unsure of what to say.
“If looks could kill… such power… such control and so little effort required!”
Without warning, the old lady stood up. “Miss Udemas is ready for you to see her, Mr. de Ville.”
Spencer was led via an expanse of corridor to the opposite wing of the house. He felt like a lamb being led to the slaughter.
They stopped at a large wooden imposing door. The chauffeur produced a set of keys and unlocked it.
“Come with me Mr. de Ville.” The elderly woman’s voice was authoritative and he found himself instinctively obeying.
The two men motioned Spencer ahead of them into the cold dampness of a moss ridden passageway. He felt uneasy with them behind him.
The place was dimly lit by the flickering of candelabra mounted upon walls, the flames of which illuminated the broken remains of human and animal statues, limbs, torsos and heads with terror stricken faces that lay along the sides of the walls in this graveyard of the fallen works of Miss Udemas.
“You have no electricity here?” he asked watching shadows dance garishly to the pulsating candle light, choreographed by the draught that stirred the pungent stillness of the air.
“The light from the natural flame brings out her greatest creativity. It inspires Miss Udemas. She has no need of electric lighting.” The old woman answered after a few minutes.
“What is Miss Udemas working on at the moment?”
“A new project Mr. de Ville.”
“What’s that then?”
“Miss Udemas will show you.”
The four of them carried on in silence, their footsteps echoed on the cold uneven stone floor as they moved inexorably toward the place where Miss Udemas was waiting.
Ahead of them the large bulk of a heavily bolted iron door loomed into view. The old woman paused before the large grey metal colossus, her knowledge of the house giving sight to her mind. The chauffeur then brushed past Spencer to the forbidding solid structure and pulled the keys from his pocket.
With slow deliberation the iron fortitude was unlocked and then began to move interminably away from its frame and reveal what lay beyond.
Spencer could taste the dust in the air as he entered the coldness of a large room full of shadows that danced in the dingy yellow of candle light. It had a single window and on its far side there was an entrance to which steps led downward.
As he walked his footsteps echoed within the ambience of stone floor and walls and broken marble bodies that lay scattered in piles around the room.
“Mr. de Ville will you please wait by the window.” The old woman’s voice commanded obedience.
There was a brief interchange of Slavic between the three as Spencer watched the old woman walk to the stone steps the other side of the room. Slowly she proceeded to descend from view followed by bobbing movements from her elongated shadow.
The two men started to carefully make their way to the heavy iron door.
“Stay where you are!” The chauffeur’s voice sounded menacing as Spencer attempted to follow them out of the room.
The door was shut behind them with a crash followed by the sound of fumbling keys being turned in the locks. He ran to the door and tried to open it but it was too late. He was the animal in the trap awaiting the arrival of the hunter but whom or what was the hunter?
Spencer de Ville fell back against the wrought iron that barred his exit. The situation he was in did not make sense but it was scaring him.
He walked to the window and watched the lightning through his reflection. The storm was still venting its anger without let up. Movement caught his eye; a large house spider had caught a moth in its web that covered the window ledge and was dragging it back to a hole in the wall that served as its lair. This was the land of the Teginaria Domestica and Spencer Deville was the moth.
A draught blew across his face. It came from a corner break in the glass and sent ripples over the spider’s web as it filtered through the window.
He turned to face the stone steps on the other side of the room and listened. Aside from the sounds generated by the storm he could hear little else. There was no sign of the old woman returning and so he returned to looking out of the window.
As the lightning forks stabbed the sky, zombie like statues in the grounds outside seemed to stare back at him and then disappear into the blackness.
Spencer turned away from the window again and started to pace up and down as he became more and more agitated. Then he was marching over toward the stone steps, he’d had enough of this ridiculous charade.
Spencer paused at the entrance that was an archway cut into the wall and looked below him into the dull candle light at the descending levels of broken and cracked stone. A dozen steps or so took his eye on a straight line downward before twisting to the left and out of sight.
“Hello!” He desperately wanted the old woman to answer because he really did not want to go down those stairs. No answer came back. He called again. Still there was no reply. He took a deep breath and slowly started to descend the cold stone steps.
Spencer’s footsteps echoed sharply with each contact of his shoes and his motion stirred the stillness of the air, fluttering the naked flame of candle light and gave to his shadow a movement and life that was surreal. The walls were damp and moss infested and the thickness of long abandoned spiders webs kept brushing across his face, not even the arachnids seemed to like this place.
The sudden scream made Spencer’s blood run cold. He stood there frozen in a paralysis of fear as the last echoes of the old lady’s terror faded away.
He called out. There was no reply. He listened. The roar of thunder could be heard but there was another sound that began to fill the void between each rumble from the heavens, it was a strange dragging sound that was coming from below.
Spencer’s immediate thought was that the old lady was in trouble so he bolted the remaining steps that spiralled down to another damp passageway and ran along it. His shadow moved violently across the walls as the candle flame bobbed and weaved at his passing and then abruptly he came to a standstill.
He stood motionless, transfixed to the sight that was in front of him. It was a wiry form contorted and frozen in an instant of time. Blind eyes filled with terror stared back at him from a face twisted in a fear that held the whole body in a marble paralysis. It was the old woman!
Spencer recoiled at the macabre statue and then he heard it, a slow dragging sound that came from the darkness ahead. His eyes flicked about trying to detect any signs of movement, but he could see nothing. The passageway was illuminated for some forty feet or so and then beyond that lay an inky blackness waiting like some hungry amorphous creature to devour him.
“Hello” he called weakly. An icy fear was beginning to pervade his body causing a cold sweat to exude through his skin.
Only the silence answered and he stood there staring into the blackness in front of him.
Slowly Spencer walked around the bent and twisted hideous statue of the old woman and with the steps of a man who was truly frightened, continued reluctantly along the passage.
A strange fluttering sound froze him to the spot. He stared intently into the shadows trying to discern something but could make nothing out.
“Hello.” His voice sounded even weaker than before.
“Hello I say, is everything okay down there?” a little more strength this time.
Spencer’s legs felt jellified as he resumed his gradual motion along the passageway, being drawn inexorably toward the blackness. As he made his way slowly forward he listened intently to any sound that was different to the stony echo of his footsteps that resounded around him.
He stopped again, fear heightening his every sense. A sliding sound like that of a rolled up carpet being dragged echoed along the stone walls. The strange fluttering escalated to a powerful flapping noise, as if some huge prehistoric flying creature was waiting in the blackness; whilst a menacing hissing grew louder and louder to form a grotesque cacophony that paralysed him. His deepest instinct told him that it was not the old woman in the darkness but it was something else, something sinister but what he did not know.
And then he saw it, a darker shadow in the blackness, waiting for him. He tried to discern what the shape was but there was not enough light to inform his brain of what really lurked at the end of the passageway.
Spencer was beginning to feel strange aswell. He was becoming dizzy and weak and his vision was starting to shimmer.
A loud venomous hiss and violent flapping instantly drew his attention away from his own physiology. Whatever lay there hidden by the darkness was moving toward him. With each long dragging sound the nucleus of darker shadow began to form itself into a shape.
Spencer felt afraid, very afraid. Something was messing with his mind and overturning the balance of his emotions, removing logic and enhancing fear beyond all reasonable boundaries. He knew that this irrational intensity of fear he was feeling was linked directly to the weird physical state that he had suddenly lapsed into. Spencer had experienced something similar before, back in his days on the campus. The signs were obvious. He had been drugged.
The only explanation was that the coffee had been laced, but why?
Spencer rubbed his eyes. His vision had started to have a strange lagging effect that propounded the dizziness and his sense of hearing enhanced every sound to an overwhelming unnatural echo that bounced around his brain.
From out of the darkness at the end of the passage emerged a form that caused Spencer to stop breathing. His knees began to buckle as he stood transfixed to the garish sight that was unfolding before his eyes
The shape was of something that came from the darkest recesses of the human mind, something that could generate fear so great that it was more than the human psyche could bear. It was the very image of things that transcended the deepest imaginings of terror. From the shadows a monster was emerging.
It was dragon like in appearance with huge wings that were folded along its back and had a heavy tail that moved slowly from side to side creating the dragging sounds that he had heard earlier; enhanced now by his drug induced state to a distorted reverberation that was shattering his nerves.
As the monster reached the frontier of the candle lit part of the passageway it stopped. As yet its face could not be seen, for the neck was tucked under the body. Then with slow deliberate movement the neck began to raise itself upward bringing the head from between its forelimbs and projecting an image into Spencer’s mind that petrified him.
The face was essentially that of human being, a woman but one that personified ugliness and mathematical obscenity in its very shape.
The face was round and hideous and from a lipless mouth a long distended tongue protruded between vile crooked tusks. Its hair was a monstrous intertwinement of snakes that writhed and twisted in one mass. It had two large red eyes that glowed like hot coals and seared into his very soul as the creature hissed and flapped its huge membranous wings.
Spencer fell back against the wall, his legs no longer able to support his weight. He tried to tear his gaze away from the horrific sight but he couldn’t, the presentation of insanity and all that should not exist transfixed his eyes to the very face of fear itself. In this place of hidden terrors where reason and logic do not exist the answer was simple and quite rational; gorgons were not just mythical creatures they were quite real and he was looking at one right now.
A sudden realisation sent a tidal wave of abject terror rushing through his body. He had looked upon the face of the gorgon, he had gazed into the creatures very eyes! There could only be one outcome. It was just a matter of time.
With one supreme effort Spencer turned his face away. It seemed to take ages for his vision to catch up to where his head was pointing as numbness and dizziness was beginning to swallow him up. He tried to stand up, he had to get away but his legs would not move. There was also a tightening of his chest that forced his breathing into a rasp. In his heart of hearts he knew it was too late now.
And then: the final horror. Spencer whimpered like a frightened animal and stared with wild eyes driven beyond the boundaries of sanity as he watched his hand tense and cramp as it turned to white stone. He tried to scream but the petrifaction of his lungs stifled any further sound. Around him the passageway began to spin and darken as his head became tighter and tighter until it felt as if his very brain matter was being crushed out of existence. The swirling of the room became uncontrollable as Spencer was dragged into a spinning vortex of pain and delirium and then suddenly blackness. Nothing.
Spencer awoke screaming in terror as his mind was hurled back into consciousness. A mental residue of dreadful images lingered among neuron pathways creating an indistinct blurring of where reality ended and nightmares began.
His mind span like a car out of control and clouds of confusion enveloped the skyline of his perception. Where was he? What had happened to him? What was happening to him? Slowly his eyes began to focus.
He was in his Range Rover, in the driving seat. Outside there was no hint of a thunderstorm instead the sky was a burning azure that warmed the inside of his vehicle. Had he dreamt it all?
Spencer’s body was wracked with an exhaustion that seemed to pervade every fibre of his being. It pained his neck as he turned his head to look out at his surroundings.
It took Spencer a few moments to realise the significance of where he was; parked alongside stables at the back of a deserted farmhouse. It looked so different in the bright sunshine, far less ominous, almost peaceful.
This was the place where he had met the chauffeur before being taken to the house of Miss Udemas. So how had he got back here? Why was he back here? Questions began to dart around his brain like ricocheting bullets unable to target themselves onto anything that resembled a logical answer. He thought about the whole macabre affair at the house of statues. What had he really seen there? Had he actually seen anything at all, or had he never left the automobile and the whole terrifying experience was a creation of his own mind. Somehow he wasn’t sure anymore. The entire situation was so frightening and yet so bizarre that it seemed it could only be the product of a nightmare. A gut feeling told him though, that this had been no dream and the way he was feeling now told him he had been drugged that night.
His thoughts turned to work. What was he going to say to the people at Object D’art? The truth? He wasn’t even sure of that himself.
Spencer looked at the clock on his dash board; it read 2:34 pm. He glanced down to his wrist watch to confirm it. A look of shock was splashed over his countenance coupled with disbelief as he rechecked the information on the face of his “Zeitner Commando.” It wasn’t the time that was confusing him, it was the date. His watch must be wrong he thought and fumbled into his jacket pocket for his mobile phone. He checked the Nokia’s calendar, it concurred with his wrist watch. A day of his life was missing!
His wife, Nancy, had left him a couple of sweet text messages and an answer phone message. As he listened to her soft tones he began to sob uncontrollably. Her voice, her sweet, sweet voice was a pathway that would lead to his emotional rescue; a shaft of hope that had reached his heart through the darkness and anguish.
Trembling Spencer dialled their number. He could hardly speak when she answered the phone and became more incoherent as she became concerned and upset over the state he was in. He wanted to reach out and touch her, hold her and draw emotional strength from her. He wanted her love so much!
Eventually he composed himself enough to manage, “… I love you and I’m coming home!...”
Spencer hung up and turned the keys in the ignition.
As time went by the experience produced in Spencer an obsession to discover what had really happened that strange eventful night.
He had told Object D’art the truth as he perceived it; that he’d been drugged and given the fright of his life for making assertions that the “Udemas” camp didn’t like. What he had said aroused considerable interest with the editor of the journal who joined Spencer in his quest to discover the identity of the three strange people.
The internet can be a powerful tool and combined with a private detective can harvest very interesting results. Three names would come to the fore, time and time again: Jonathon Bradley-Scott, Neville Bradley-Scott and Christina Hamersley. Hardly Russian but they had connections with the film and theatre industries and this aroused Spencer’s curiosity.
Did these people form the real identity to the elusive Miss Udemas? Or were they just hired to create an allure to her name? If that was the case then he was back to the beginning and the question still remained: who is Miss Udemas?
What though of the creature? If these people had connections with the film and theatre industries then they would most probably have access to special effects and props which could easily include a mechanical Gorgon; mix that with a spooky environment and some hallucinogenic coffee and you’ve got Spencer de Ville scared out of his wits to the point of believing that he was actually being turned to stone by a mythical monster.
The experience had been one that was indelibly printed upon his brain; indeed he would never forget that night at “The house of Statues.”
The sound of music gently filtered into his dreaming and began to softly coax him into consciousness. The warmth of the sun caressed his face and its soft amber gently penetrated his eyelids like sweet ambient nectar to his eyes, as they slowly opened to greet the new day.
Spencer turned his head to face his alarm clock; it said 12:43pm. He stretched himself full length across the bed and yawned out loud. That was a great party last night! He savoured the full space of the double bed for a few more minutes before taking a shower.
His late breakfast consisted of several weetabix with cold milk and sugar on top. He couldn’t be bothered to cook himself anything. Today he was going to do nothing but relax. He had no appointments, so the day was his, every single second of it.
Spencer’s wife Nancy had left him a note on the breakfast bar; it read: - “just nipped into town, back soon, love you Mr Lazy Bones!”
He picked up his mail out of the rack and began to open the envelopes and glance at the contents.
There was a bank statement, various bits of junk mail and a small white envelope. It was the latter that made Spencer go cold. As he looked at it he could feel his palms begin to sweat and his stomach sinking. He could sense what the content of the small white envelope was, even before he opened it. He had seen it before in exactly the same detail.
Spencer stood over the bin and placed his foot on the pedal and brought the lid up to an upright position. He gripped the envelope to tear it, but the tide of initial fear was beginning to turn and a flow of curiosity pulled his mind in another direction.
Slowly he took his foot off the pedal and the lid of the bin fell closed. Then with deliberate movement he opened the envelope and pulled out a white piece of folded paper with text printed upon it.
The format was identical to the invitation he had received previously; a single piece of high quality letter paper with text printed upon it, not by modern laser or ink jet but by an old fashioned typewriter with an incomplete small “e” button.
It was from Miss Udemas and it was a request for him to bring the interview to a conclusion as they never really had chance to become fully acquainted with each other.
Spencer screwed up the letter in his hand and then paused letting it unfurl in his palm. He was not a coward and this time he would be ready for any tricks.
His body started to tremble because he knew that he was going back to the “house of statues.”