Throughout this time, the dreams continued. Those nights, I started out already gnawing the ropes, with a peculiar combination of intensity and care. It was vital that I gnaw through the cords, of course. But my mouse brain somehow knew that the cords must look unweakened for as long as possible. It made sense during the dream; during the day, all I could remember was the intensity of my certainty. That memory was enough.
Did the dreams fuel my preparations, or were my preparations reflected in my dreams? Even now, I am not sure. It seemed that the gnawing went easier on nights where the plan was going well; as the children grew accustomed to me, and my tolerance of their presence, our interactions increased. Again, nothing insinuating, or untoward. But they soon learned that I would not yell at them from the house, or object if they walked across my lawn, and that I had no flower beds or prize bushes to be wary of. When I began preparing my house for Halloween, I knew that the children were taking note. I imagined them whispering to each other, That one will have candy. Do not torment him yet.
Yes, I imagine that I do not have a good idea of how children really talk when there are no adults around. I never have, even when I was a child.
As it turned out, I had several months to implement my plan. I decided to pick the night of Halloween itself for the climax; I am aware that it is simply a date, but all dates are simply dates in the end and the thought of using that particular one amused me. Besides, even if my preparations were noticed, most of them could be explained easily by the holiday. As it happened, no-one noticed at all. This is fortunately an age where the uncanny is rarely noticed, and difficult to understand.
This is, however, also an age when parents are extremely wary of anything that might appear to be a threat to their progeny, so it was vitally important that I not appear threatening in that fashion as I carefully encouraged the neighborhood children to not avoid the house. I managed this partially through my public relationship with Betty, which suggested that I ultimately was a man of conventional tastes; and partially by being very careful to never, ever be alone with any of the children, or to invite one of them into the house, or to insinuate anything. It helped, of course, that I have absolutely no interest in children in that particular way, and never have. My tastes express themselves differently.
It was then that Wayne began taking a greater interest in what I was doing. This disappointed me, obscurely. I had hoped that our friendship had been a thing of its own, but it became clear that there had been a transactional element to it on his side, all along. Wayne wanted something from me, and once he was certain that I could provide it for him his manner became both more insinuating, and more directed. Genial, of course, for we were rather alike; more importantly, he perceived that I was thinking along a line of thought that suited his purposes.
I should fairly note that I am not spontaneous in my relationships with people, either. For example, I was maintaining my initial connection with Betty all along, although I certainly did not apprise her of my recent purchase history. It was useful to my blossoming plans to have the neighborhood associate me with one of their own; and Betty was sociable, yet not very demanding. She also had two teenage children whose pragmatic neutrality I could secure via the simple tactic of keeping their mother out of the house several nights a week. If things worked out as I planned, that willingness to go along with events would likely prove to be useful at a critical point.
There is a saying among occultists: as above, so below. I respect the saying, if not those who said it, for I have always looked for the patterns that must exist under the surface of random, mundane life. Now that I found myself pulled into whatever vortex was embedded here in the house, I could start to see the hints of an underlying, colossal order that always seemed to elude me before. I dared not look too close, for I instinctively knew that my brain would splatter inside my skull if I was not infinitely careful. But even a wavy reflection of the awful truths out there promised great revelations.
As above, so below. My dreams grew heavy with symbolism and a certain hunger for knowledge; and that hunger began to direct my waking moments. I knew from the start that this was something that had been imposed upon me, for I was never a man to wonder too closely about the lives of his fellows; but just as my night-jaws chewed on cord after cord, my waking hours were spent seeking out my neighbors, and teasing out details about them and their lives. Something inside of me was looking for something, and while it seemed to know what it needed it could not quite grasp what it was looking for.
Fortunately, I had a brain and will, and soon I worked out for both of us what we needed. The children. We needed to make use of the children.
The narrative of the dreams stayed stable, even repetitive at first, but as the nights began to grow longer the details began to change. A few nights after I started bringing the mice into the house my dream-self noticed that the cords binding the owl seemed somehow less tangled than before. They were still handily immobilizing the great bird, but they began to shift from the wings and the neck to the legs and claws.
The bird began to look more alert, too, although never violent or even very threatening. It would watch my mouse-self with those steady, unblinking eyes seen in nature shows. As if it were waiting for me to come within range of its sharp-looking beak. And I would come closer! Every night, my mouse-self would drift a bit nearer to the owl. And the owl would continue to watch. To bide.
As I said: I did not have the owl dream for several nights after Wayne mentioned it at dinner. But when at last I did have the dream, I could see that the details had shifted again. This time it started with my mouse-self well within striking distance by the owl, which by now was restrained only by a few cords about its claws. I could see those cords; I could even smell them. And i could only begin to imagine the taste of them.
Which left me no choice, I thought; so that night I started, ever so carefully, to gnaw at them.
I did not have the owl dream again for several nights. Perhaps I was fighting it, in my head. Contrary of me, but I often am that. It suits me well.
The dream always started the same way: in it, I am a mouse. When awake, I recognize that the dream had put me in some sort of barn; but in the dream itself it is just a vast dark and chilly space above me, full of giant, misshapen things that smell of men and danger. I scurry through the straw and between cracks in the walls, because I am looking for something. For the first dreams, I did not know what I was looking for.
In later dreams, I finally found what I was searching for: it was a bird. An owl, in case you had somehow not guessed. But it did not smell of danger to me, because even as a mouse I could see that it was tangled and bound up in rawhide cords that kept it from flying or moving. The floor suggested a wild struggle in the past, but now the owl was tired, and simply lay there, only weakly moving. I was safe from the owl.
The rest of our dinner was convivial, as usual. Wayne was an interesting raconteur, if you had a taste for the slightly morbid; so I flatter myself that I was an attentive listener. By now summer had finally began to turn to a proper autumn, so naturally Halloween was mentioned. Wayne felt obliged to warn me that the holiday might be stressful for tenants of the house.
“It’s the children of the neighborhood,” he explained. “They find the house fascinating at this time of year. Irresistible, even.”
Continue reading The House, Part 18/x
“Odd,” I said. “The house is really very pleasant to live in.” And it was. I found it easy to physically relax while inside, or in the yard. The decor did seem to suit my mood, and I had very quickly adjusted to living there. I even knew some of my neighbors’ first names! The thought of actually purchasing the house and living there permanently had crossed my mind; I could certainly afford it, after all.
Wayne looked at me in what I would later conclude was a decidedly odd way. “Really? No starting at sudden silences, as if darkened eyes staring at you from beyond the windowpane? No sudden waves of chilly wind, washing over your bed at night? Do you never have nightmares about owls?”
I laughed. “Nothing of the sort! Oh, the house is free of squeaking” — Not even a squeak from the mice, I thought irreverently — and I keep a window open for cool midnight breezes. But there is nothing horrid in the house. No. No, I am certain of it.” I forbore to answer his question about dreams of owls; and from Wayne’s flickering look of satisfaction, he noted that lack of response. But it was true; I had been dreaming of owls.
What else was I doing, while all of this was going on? Going through the house itself, looking for clues. I had checked the attic first, but had not found the de rigeur battered old sea-chest filled with a cryptic set of journals that would reveal the Horrible Truth about the house, just slightly too late. I was grateful for this, as it would have been humiliating to find out that I was embedded in any sort of cliche, let alone a terminal one.
But there was one thing that I did finally notice about the decor: there was a remarkable amount of bird-themed art and decoration scattered about the house. At first I assumed that it was simply the eccentric whim of whoever it was that decorated the house, but when I mentioned it to my newly dear old friend Wayne at our now-weekly lunches he laughed and shook his head. “I’ve never received any instructions about the decorations there at all,” Wayne said. “I truly don’t think that the owner cares, either. Any art you’ll see there was left behind by a former tenant.”
Continue reading The House, Part 16/x.
After about a week or so, things seemed to slow down. The house would take about five mice every three days, more or less regularly; I did have to keep the live cricket aquarium refilled daily, though. The nice thing about that was, I noticed very quickly that it did not matter if a cricket got loose; loose ones would disappear almost immediately. I thought about getting a snake or something else that actually did eat crickets as cover for my daily purchases, except that I was unsure that it would last for very long, and snakes can be expensive.
So. I was apparently feeding a house. My original worries that I was building up its appetite seemed more and more unreasonable; I suspected that what I was doing instead was sating its appetite, possibly for the first time in years. I imagined that being locked in place and having to wait for its meals to wander by was not the best evolutionary strategy, but it was what the house had here and now. I also noted the continuing lack of insect life in the area, and concluded that the house continued to consume such things out of habit.
I tested this, actually. A frozen dead mouse stayed around until it started to smell; but frozen crickets would go almost as quickly as live ones did. Perhaps the house merely likes the crunch.