This week’s image was submitted by Chris Richardson. Thanks for submitting! Lots of great submissions this week, but somehow this picture rose to the top. This was a tough challenge for me, as I had to do a ton of rewrites before the story even started to take shape. That said, I also really appreciate the challenge of what I tried to do with this piece. I hope you do as well.
Without further ado…
I G N I S F A T U U S
I remember the car first, I think. I know it was black, and long, with wide long curves over the wheels. I can see myself in the reflection of its paint and its drawn windows. I am young, merely a child, but even then I could take stock of myself. My cheeks are flush from the combination of the heat of home and the chill that fills the air. My lips look a tad pale, and chapped with little tags of skin in the jagged cracks where the skin had compressed from the cold. My hair is tucked under a hat, tightly pressed so I cannot see it. My eyes are tight, my pupils seem wide enough to have swallowed whatever colours may have surrounded them.
I remember sneezing for the first few minutes I sat down, because there was so much dust on the seat in the back that for a moment it felt like I was traveling in a cloud. When the cloud settled, I still couldn’t hear anything. It was like someone had put really strong hands to my ears. Everything sounded so far away, I couldn’t make out anything, not even the sound of the road passing beneath me as the car started and pulled away. The windows rolled up as we began to pick up speed and then everything was a dark grey haze as it sped by.
It felt like we drove forever, me alone in the seat and the driver behind the glass far in front. I don’t remember where my parents were. To be honest, I don’t really remember my parents at all. The best I can recall are vague and fuzzy shapes, like wool seen through those forever darkened windows. Perhaps there was a woman in a dress, wearing a hat that made me think of a bell. Perhaps a pocket watch dangled from a man’s hands, calloused but somehow kind. I remember I was almost shocked when the car finally stopped. The latches on the door unlocked with a loud click and the car sat there idle.
No one came to get the door for me. So I reached out and opened the door for myself. There was a small bit of snow on the ground, partially melted into puddles of icy brown amidst the uneven gravel. We had pulled off of a road, and I carefully sidestepped the mucky pitfalls and stood on a more densely packed patch of stone. In front of the car stood two gates wrought of iron, gilded with gold. Lanterns sat upon each postern, but there was still light enough about for them not to have been lit.
The pressure in my ears didn’t ease up at all, in fact it seems like they were trying to pop the second I got out of the car. It hurt a lot, and it made my head feel wobbly. I was wearing my grey fall coat, and my white scarf. Someone had given me the beret that matched for a present the night before, but I couldn’t quite place who. What I could hear, though, was that click, louder than the car doors, as the gate on the right swung inwards. There was a buzzing in my head, as if a hive of bees wanted out of the muddled grey flesh behind my eyes. The gate creaked too, as if it had never been properly oiled and rarely used. I heard a crunch then, as the car shifted in reverse and brutally pulled backwards, kicking up mud and rock as it turned away from me and slowly began journeying back down the road we’d come.
There were no birds that I can recall, none singing and none resting in the branches of those barren, dead trees. Only they weren’t dead, just resting. Resting gently in repose, until the sun and the earth once more coalesced into warmth and sunlight. I walked up the drive, wide and more evenly covered in rocks that give way to fieldstone until I arrived at the doors at the front of the estate. More lamps rested upon the walls on both side of the doors. I remember them being impossibly tall and unnecessarily wide, big enough for four or five of me to walk inside linked arm to arm, with another set of us balanced on top. I walked inside, and it took some time to close the door completely. Polished stone on the floor made my footsteps echo loudly through the corridors that spun away to the left and right. Above me floated a chandelier of faceted crystals and faux candles in concentric rings, illuminating a harlequin pattern on the ceiling’s arch as it fell onto the wooden lined walls.
No one greeted me, nor asked to take my coat or hat or scarf. I removed them myself, and left them on the small, dark wooden table that nestled in the corner of the foyer. I walked towards the left hallway, and then decided upon the right. I don’t recall why, truly, perhaps just capriciousness on my part. The hallway had many doors, many of the rooms open and the pale light of the winter sky poured through the windows revealing Spartan conditions. A bed, a small desk, a wash basin. On each desk appeared a notebook and a pencil, blunted but still capable of inscribing thought to page. Pale, thick drapes framed the windows in each room. A mirror sat upon the leftmost wall, reflecting an image of bed and desk both—or would have, if it had not been coated in a frost of dust that muted all but the very basic of shapes.
I explored the empty halls for some time, even as my shoes left temporary footprints on the cold stone. I stumbled across several small libraries, the walls dressed in dark wood and chairs covered in black cracked leather. Elaborate metal and glass floor lamps draped in cobwebs sat near the chairs. Each library was the same, though each had different titles on their shelves.
I pulled a few books off the shelves, dusted off one of those lights and pulled on its dark, tarnished pull and was rewarded with a soft, barely flickering light. After a time, the flicker stopped and I sat in one of those chairs and began to read. When I was tired, I found one of those empty rooms and laid down to rest my head. The bed was large for me, but it was somehow comforting to be drowning in sheets and blankets, their warmth piling on top of me until I finally slept.
Over the years, the libraries became my refuge. I read most of the books on their shelves, books on philosophy and religion as well as adventures and medical texts. Though I never saw any of the others in the Estate’s building, I often watch them rake the leaves, watch the foliage get caught in the weak tin spines and shred to dust. This is the third day in a row that they’ve been raking. The trees are long since bare, and the yard should be filled with the dust that once was chloroplasts, xylem, and phloem. The trees surround the building like a shroud, offering shade but obscuring the world outside. At least, that’s how I remember it. My eyes were smaller then, and bewildered. All I can see now is the canopy in the spring and summer, and the bare trees and the snow in the fall and winter from the windows in the rooms in which I dwell.
I don’t leave the Estate, and I don’t venture out onto the grounds. I walk these halls by choice.
I do not know the others names. I have not spoken to them. I have gotten used to the silence here, crisp as it once was muddled. I read and watch, sleep and rise from slumber.
Outside, the passing of seasons are as the rise and fall of leaves, the tracks of others mere eddies in the dust.