Bieber pushed through the thick barrier of brambles and the darkness that closed over the top of us as we left the path behind and the spying CCTV camera that blinked with red malice behind us. And I was sure that Sister Dixon and her gorilla guards were back in the control tower somewhere and watching my every move. The thought occurred to me once again that I was a pawn being played upon a game of chess. Or a character from Fortnite. And all that I could do was place one foot before the other and complete another step along the grand plan.
And so, I searched for answers that were locked away and hidden within closets of my mind. To figure out when all of this had begun? This game without rules that I played. Whose breadcrumbs I had followed here along the way. The hand that controlled me. But the only face that was revealed behind each closet door was the same I had seen throughout the whole of my life. The goblins. It was his goblin’s face that peered back at me. The broad smile that sliced a line from cheek to cheek and his eyes that were ablaze with flames.
“What’s through here anyway?” Bieber said, pushing on through a thick clump of hawthorn and the barbs catching against his white overalls so that the coarse material tore and pulled away. A piece of flesh that was revealed beneath the overalls and Bieber’s skin that appeared like pummelled bronze. “How’d you even find this place?” he asked, “I didn’t even know this path existed, but there’s so many routes and ginnels in here, it’s like a maze, like the minotaur in Rhodes, don’t you think, it’s like we’re in the minotaur’s maze and the beast is in here and chasing after us.” Bieber said, as he finally pushed clean through the thick web of bramble and fell towards the sweeping lawn on the other side.
“Hmm.” I replied complacently, following the boy through the thicket. Occasionally turning my head towards the path that we had left behind and half expecting to find Eminem had followed us all the way out here and alerted Sister Dixon and the guards. And Eminem would be standing behind me with a smug-assed grin on his lips as one of the guards lifted their Taser-gun towards me and fired. “Yeah, the minotaur, it does feel a bit like that.” I replied, pushing through the gaps that Bieber had left behind and thinking that this place was nothing like the minotaur’s maze. That the real beast existed within Deadwood and that’s where you would find yourself hunted. But I didn’t mention that to Bieber.
I fell through the gaps in the hawthorn bush and on to the other side and my arms that fell out before me as my palms came to rest against blades of wizened grass that were wet with cold due. My fingers between the storks and a sibilant hissing that I heard within the centre of my ear somewhere, but I chose to ignore that sound for now.
I lifted my face from my hands and allowed my gaze to pass by the spot where Bieber was rubbing his hands clean against his white overalls. The broad lawn that swept out in all directions before us and as large as three cricket pitches I reckoned. The verges where ancient rhododendron grew as large as houses. The thick vines that were coiled beneath the grey-green leaves. And enclosing the whole of the garden was the red bricked wall I had followed on the other side.
“Wow.” Bieber said as he lifted his face from the dirt he had smudged against his kneecaps as he rubbed his hands clean. He lifted his face and traced the length of garden with his eyes until his gaze eventually fell upon the ancient edifice that appeared to crouch like a fat toad at the centre of the lawn. And for the first time in his life I reckoned, old Bieber found himself speechless for a moment as his gaze came to rest upon the building.
My eyes widening as I found myself turning my face from left to right to take in the splendour of the façade. The building as magnificent as any old house I had visited with school or seen on telly. And somehow the place had remained hidden from the world and swallowed at the centre of Deadwood. A great slab of stone that stood three storeys’ high and a tower like big ben against each corner. The filigree stonework against the whole of the facade that gave the building the impression of a cathedral. An army of stone figures that lined the roof top and appeared to peer down. Each face of the building containing scores of black windows that were as high as a double decker bus. The windows that were devoid of all light and appearing like an army of malignant spirits.
“Pretty cool heh?” I said, studying the old building and the rows of black windows. The strangest sensation that I knew this place. And that someone was studying me from in there behind the black windows. That they had been waiting a very long time for me to discover them here.
“Yeah. Really cool.” Bieber said in return, turning his face and studying the tower that lifted from the centre of Deadwood manor. The tower appearing to almost scrape the bottom of the clouds. An octagonal room that was perched upon the top of the tower and capped with a crown of steel spikes that appeared to shimmer beneath the glow of the winter sun. “Bit creepy though.” He said, as he turned his face from the building briefly and turned to me. I noticed how the corner of his right eye was fidgeting a little as though his eyeball was desperate to escape the sockets. And an image popped into my head, from who knew where, of Bieber’s eyeball rolling about on the floor and Bieber on his hands and knees and desperately pawing at the ground to grab a hold of his marble eye.
I shook my head and the image with it.
I peered past Bieber and back towards Deadwood Manor and a cool shiver that ran across the whole of my spine. The sense that my bones were rattling away beneath the skin. My eyes focussed upon the darkness of the windows that peered out from the house and a crawling itching sensation against my skin. The knowledge that someone was in there and had been waiting for me to arrive. That they were watching me right now.
The sun that disappeared again behind a cloud and the world that was transformed to shades of grey. A cool breeze that blew in towards the both of our faces and the stench of something rotten upon the air. So that Bieber fell to the ground suddenly in a fit of coughs and splutters as he brought his hand towards his mouth.
“Jesus!” he cried, spluttering the words out from between his fingers. “It smells like someone’s died out here.” He said. And then realising, I think, the implication of his words, he turned to me and showed me those puppy dog eyes of his and blushed a little against each cheek.
“Well……Sorry…….You know what I mean.” He said, thinking he’d hurt my feelings, I think. What with Barry dying and then Taylor and my friends back there in deadwood. But he didn’t have to apologise to me for that I thought.
I nodded my head slowly and turned my face from the fetid air that blew in from Deadwood Manor. I turned towards the wooden shack I had seen Sister Dixon racing from the day before when I had spied her out here from the path with Taylor.
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” I said, as my gaze narrowed upon the wooden shack that seemed to lean awkwardly beneath the weight of an old shingle roof so that the windows were all bent out of kilter and the door hung open. And the whole thing so out of place I thought. For a crappy old shed to be sitting there beneath the shadow of Deadwood Manor. And I realised before I even took another step towards the wood cabin that something would be discovered in there. Another piece of bread along the trail I was forced to follow in life it seemed to me.
Get out of here Mandy. Leave this place.
I shook my head and the goblin words away that haunted me.
“Come on.” I said, shuffling past Bieber and the chains that continued to rattle against my ankles and my wrists like the rattle of a viper as I shuffled ahead and across the wide sweep of the endless lawn. “Let’s go see what Sister Dixon was running from.”