The rain and lightning had abated, so that now a thin fog crept over the peaks of the dead lawn, slowly moving and swirling around the other greenery and dissipating against the stone walls. It gave the landscape an ethereal feel and I nearly questioned whether I was really there. Had it not been for the wintry air and the discomfort it caused me, I would have assumed I had fallen into another one of my fitful dreams. Every sensation was too acute, though, and my reaction to the green alcohol was too great for this to be yet another trick. Of course, my frame of mind was not at its most lucid, so I could only feign to say what was real and what was not.
I turned to ask Leonora if she knew how to get back to the coast, only to find she had left me. The realization that I was alone seemed to add to the surrounding chill, and I became aware of the breeze as it stirred up the fog. I looked back at the building, unsure how to feel as I noticed ravaging flames dancing behind the blackening windows. Smoke began to seep out from the roof in thick, heavy clouds, and then all at once the roof collapsed. I rushed off, lest the entire building collapse with me in its path of destruction.
The iron gate clamored in the wind, somehow threatening in itself, but I sprinted toward it without disinclination. I caught it mid-swing, threw it open, and hurried out onto the private road. I turned back around just in time to see the building fall into a mass of fire and rubble. I heard screams, but I dared not go back for anyone. Instead, I began the long walk back to the main road. The nearby ravens called amongst one another with great agitation, and I could nearly make out words between them. They could see what was coming. They could see the shadows that followed as I fled the scene. They screamed and cackled as they took flight over me just to add to the torment, and in quick and reckless move, I picked up a stone from my feet and hurled it at the ugly, black mass. I saw one of the birds go down with a screech, its wings thrashing.
I walked up to it, immediately sorry for what I had done, watching in horror as it flapped its wings and kicked its legs. And then it was dead. A haze fell over its eyes and its beak fell open, the change from living creature to carcass being shockingly visible and profound. It brought a sudden ache to my chest that I had been the cause. I cursed whatever had possessed me to throw the rock, wishing I could take back what was done.
The ravens knew not my remorse, however, and when the murder realized what had happened, it began to attack. I covered my head as the birds dove down at me in waves, and I ran as quickly as I could in search of cover. I flinched with a cry as one of the birds bit me in the face, then another in the back of the neck. I tried to bat them away as they neared, but there were too many of them. With nowhere else to go, I dove into a dense patch of thicket and, while the birds continued to attack, they no longer had the advantage of being able to dive down into me. I waved madly all around me, thorns tearing at my arms and face, when I realized that the birds were no longer there.
Carefully, tentatively, I crawled out from my hiding spot and rose to my feet. I looked around, the heavy fog that now obscured everything making it impossible for me to recognize my surroundings. No longer was I on the private road leading to the asylum. Instead, I now stood somewhere altogether unfamiliar. There was the glow of lit lamps on both sides of the road, and as I moved to find a closer look at one of them, I saw that I now walked along closed storefronts. I flinched as I heard a raven caw from some unseen place; however, no creature came.
Another sound caught my attention, and I turned to search for the source as it grew louder. The sound was rhythmic and deep, and it only took a moment for me to realize that what I was listening to was a drum. It grew even closer, and soon I could see silhouettes approaching through the fog. The drum echoed through the street, pulsing through my body, forcing my heart to pound in synchronicity. I stepped back as the parade approached, and my breath escaped me as I watched the line of men dressed in doctor’s coats lead a handful of tarred and feathered men and women by ropes about their necks. I silently watched them pass, and after only a minute or two, the sound of the drum waned into the distance with them.
I stepped into the light of the nearest lamp, barely able to distinguish the flame through the fog. My heart still pounded, the beat of the drum returning in my head. Flashes of the gruesome parade invaded my mind’s eye. A second sound began to overlap the first, only this sound was faint and high-pitched. It came with every beat, though, and after a minute it was all I could hear. It grew louder as it moved closer, and soon I saw the gleam of a small bouncing marble as it approached. Curious, I tried to catch it as it passed, but missed. I followed it as it stopped bounding and fell into a roll.
Finally, I caught it and raised it with my trembling hand for a closer look. With a gasp, I watched the glass eye look back at me. I dropped it, surprised when it shattered at my feet. I looked up, realizing that I stood before a slightly ajar door. Tempted to escape from the cold, eerie street, I entered the building.
I walked down a long hallway with pitch for walls and a stone floor. Red candles dripped from black sconces, their flames dancing ominously as I passed them. There were no doors as far as I could see, save the one at the end of the hall. It was open about a foot’s width, letting in light from the connecting room, and I could hear a waltz coming from inside. Familiar with the song, I hurried to the door to discover the source.
I stepped inside to find myself in a strangely familiar masquerade ball. I glanced down at my attire, embarrassed that I did not have a gown and mask. I thought to leave, turning with a start as someone behind me tapped my shoulder.
May I have this dance?” the man asked in a familiar voice as he bowed. He wore a black and red suit, black gloves, and a large black hat. His mask resembled a skull, with an appearance so real that it gave me chills.
About Leigh M. Lane
In addition to over twenty-five years of speculative fiction writing, Lisa Lane has earned a black belt in karate, performed the National Anthem for the opening of a Dodger’s game, and sung lead and backup vocals in bands ranging from classic rock to the blues. She currently lives in the dusty outskirts of Sin City with her husband, an editor and educator. Her biggest influences have been Serling, Vonnegut, Orwell, Wells, Bradbury, Poe, King, Rice, and Dahl. For more about Lisa and her books, visit her website at http://www.cerebralwriter.com.