“What is this place?” I found myself asking as we continued along the endless flight of stairs upwards. The beacon torches that had been lit aside the course of stairs and the flames that flickered. The wax and the wick that crackled and spat. The shadows that seemed to dance across the walls as though we were followed the whole way by an army of dark spirits. Twisting phantoms that seemed to curl in and loop out against the stone filigree that had been intricately carved against every inch of wall space. And the figures that had been captured against the stone tableau. Grotesque images like those I had spied upon the outside of Deadwood Manor two days before.
The creaking of the wooden boards beneath our feet as we continued up the flight of stairs. Ariana a little ahead of me and her body in silhouette. The candles that were hanging against the wall and the flames that seemed to flicker and dance against the outline of Ariana. The dull thud that our sneakers made against each step. Our feet that carried us upwards, upwards. So that I was sure that we must have already lifted ourselves above the clouds.
A polished handrail that ran against the outside of the stairway like a twisted vine. I found myself drawn towards the edge as I grabbed hold of the rail and the wood as smooth as polished bone and cool against the touch. I leaned across the banister and peered down towards the abys. Instantly the nausea that lifted from the centre of my gut as the world seemed to open out to nothing beneath me.
The wooden boards of the hallway that were barely revealed so far below. The timbers that ran in vertical and horizontal strips so that the image of a chessboard was revealed. Different shades of timber that had been used to create the mono-chrome chequers. The shadows that seemed to dance upon the squares down there as though a platoon of ghosts were being moved from one square to the next. The crackling of wick and the spit of wax from the candles to the sides of us. The flickering flames. The creaking of the wooden boards beneath our feet. A sound like laughter I thought.
I pulled back from the edges of the stair well and moved towards the centre of the sweeping flight of stairs where I could recover my breath. My gaze that fell upon the stone wall and the images that had been captured in granite. A stone tableau that ran against the entire length and height of the tower. And my eyes enthralled by the images. The grotesque forms that had been captured in stone. Demonic figures that appeared to dance and tiptoe from here to there. Ungodly creatures that were racing and pouncing and leaping and dancing. A serpent with wings and three sets of eyes and a mouth that was lined with pointed teeth. A wolf with two heads and two tails and its snout that was pulled back and a tongue that was revealed that was forked like a snake. An ox sized beetle with two spiralling horns that protruded from each ear and legs that were spindled and appearing incapable of carrying the creature’s weight.
And something else that was spied between the monstrous forms and gargoyle features. The images of children. So many of them. And their faces that were contorted in fear. Their mouths that were opened wide as they screamed their silent screams. And the monsters that leaned in towards them from all sides and pinched and nipped and scratched and pulled against the children’s hair and skin and legs and arms.
The voices I could hear then. All about me it seemed. The children’s voices. Calling out to me. Calling out for me to help. And I wondered if Ariana could hear those children’s calls of protest too. Ariana turned to her side and fixed her gaze upon the images of children and the monsters between them. Her eyes that were wide and her brow that was creased. A look of fear and concentration upon her face as though she were trying her hardest not to listen to their desperate cries for help.
“Can you hear them?” I said, “The children’s voices?” I shouted out to her, the sound that my voice made as it buckled against the insides of the tower and repeated over again and again.
Ariana turned her head towards me and peered across her shoulder. Her expression that was blank. Her eyes that were wide.
“What voices?” She said, and blinked, and I knew that she was lying. I knew that she could hear those haunted children cries as well as I could. But I didn’t press the matter. So instead I shook my head.
The children’s voices crying out to me to help them. To help them from this hell.
“Nothing.” I said, “I thought I’d heard something was all. It must have been the wind.” I explained as I turned my face towards the wall immediately to the side of me and my eyes that settled upon a figure that had been revealed beneath the shimmering light of a candle. My eyes that were wide with terror and horror. The carved figure of a child that was revealed against the stone tableau. A boy. Almost a man. The boy was wearing jeans and a chequered shirt and his hands that were reaching up to his neck and his face that was round and bloated. His fingers against the noose that was tightening against his neck.
“Adam!” I said, whispered. I leaned in towards the stone figure. “Is that you?” I asked as my hand came to rest upon Adam’s stone cheek. And it was warm, beneath my touch. I was sure that I could feel the pulse of the boy’s heart against the stone somehow. And that was when I heard his voice calling out to me. The distant call as though it had travelled a great distance. But Adam’s voice, I was sure of it. Adam’s voice calling out to me.
“Help me!” He called, like he had the night we had found him hanging there beneath the oak tree at the centre of Deadwood. “Help me Mandy.” He called again.
I pulled my hand back as though I had been struck by a charge of electricity and brought my hand to my chest. My fingertips that were tingling. The air that was caught within my throat so that I was sure that I would fall back against the steps and go tumbling all the way down the stairs and land in a great broken heap at the bottom. My eyes that were wide and my gaze that was fixed upon Adam’s face. The pain that was etched against the stone carving.
“Mandy!” A voice called above of me and I almost jumped back in fright.
I lifted my face upwards. Revealed above me was Ariana. She had paused beside the side of a flickering beacon. The flames that seemed to dance and curl in towards the sides of her face as though she were consumed by fire.
“Come on?” She said, her eyes that were narrow and the darkness that seemed to swirl there. “We need to keep going.”
I shook my head and the memory of Adam’s wretched voice from my mind.
“I heard something.” I said, stepping away from the stone image. And then a crack of lightning outside and a thunderbolt of sound against the tower that seemed to make the whole of the wooden staircase shake and creak.
“We need to hurry.” She said, turning from me and lifting her face upwards towards the darkness above and the stairway that was swallowed by shadow up there. “The storm’s coming in.”
“But where are we going?” I said, hesitating upon the spot.
Another crack of crack of lightening outside and a cannon of thunder and the whole of the tower shaking.
“To the top.” Ariana cried out, turning from me and racing upwards. The sound of her urgent breaths as she began racing upwards. “We’ll be safe up there.”
The sound of Ariana racing upwards and the beat of her feet against the wooden boards as she leaped the treads two steps at a time. The fear of being left alone in the tower alone. The images that might be revealed to me in the darkness. And I couldn’t bare that, I couldn’t bare that one bit.
“Wait for me!” I called, “Wait for me.” I called again.
Higher, higher, we seemed to climb.
Around and Around.
Until finally the two of us came to rest upon a wooden landing towards the top of the stairs. An iron door that was revealed before us. I watched as Ariana brought her hand towards the door and a handle that was forged into the shape of a coiled serpent as she wrapped her hand around it and turned her hand. A sharp crack of metal as the mechanism gave way and the door began to creak open. Ariana leaning in to take a look.
“What is it?” I said. “What’s in there?”
Ariana turned to me and her face that was inscrutable but her lips that were wide and stretched thin. A broad smile that was stretched against her lips and her eyes that were wide and flickering with shadows and flames.
“Come see.” She said. “Come