Chapter: Kyle and Adriana

Entry: Oct 3, 2007

Kyle couldn't believe the time: six-thirty according to a rare-looking walnut cuckoo clock dominating a corner of the foyer, reaching within a whisper of the home's vaulted ceilings. When the scene played out for the half hour, it wasn't a bird that sprang through the mechanical door, but a beaten vagabond leading a convoy of solemn executioners, each brandishing an instrument of torture. When all the figures disappeared into the jagged maw of a stylized skull to start their journey anew at seven o'clock, Kyle shuddered.

Kyle's willpower was sorely tested when Adriana apprehensively touched his shoulder to get his attention. Jesus! Who has something like that in their house!?

"Kyle? Are you alright?" she asked. She saw where he was staring, and as always, she rolled her eyes. "I swear, if he could line the walls with shrunken heads, he would. Papa is so... morbid." She shrugged, helpless. "He claimed once that it represented the eternal judgement of the human soul, or some other nonsense. 'Even the purest soul will be worn away by the torment of living,' he says."

She slumped with a sigh. "I just think he reads too much. All that fiction he edits is going to his head."

Kyle couldn't disagree. But Adriana was here now, and they were wasting time. "So," he said. "Let's see what else your dad has stashed in the house to frighten away burglars."

What could be more appropriate than starting in the basement? But of course, in a mansion, no basement was dank with roots and wet soil. In particular, this was only half-buried in the earth. Kyle had almost forgotten how many stairs he climbed to reach the deck. One flight of stairs descending into their hidden parlor, and they entered a lost wonderland of esoteric memorabilia.

Nearest to the stairs sat vast horn, perched atop an antique phonograph surrounded by several rusty canisters filled with old wax cylinders. "Does that thing still work?" said Kyle.

Adriana nodded. "Papa won't let me touch it, but he says it's older than Tammond Dale. He played something for me once... I think it was that one," she said, pointing. Grievous Sonata was etched into the canister, but it meant little to Kyle. His gaze wandered the walls.

Walls lined with a veritable army of player pianos and nickelodeons of various description. Some with, but most without a skein of music, spiked wheels exposed. Kyle knew how they worked, but had never seen inside one; it seemed perverted, peering into the exposed gears.

"These still work too," she said, anticipating his question. She sat down at one of the less disintegrated pianos and started paddling her feet in the murk below the keys. It started slow at first, a distended churn distorting and souring the notes, but soon it filled the room with a nameless tune straight from the Wild West.

Kyle chuckled. "Why do I suddenly feel like playing poker?"

Adriana stopped peddling and giggled while the piano wheezed a few final notes. Kyle knew it was hopeless the more he scanned the parlor. Trinkets and nicknacks crowded shelves, marched across the pianos, and cluttered opportune areas of the hardwood flooring.

Then he saw the heads.

Dozens, spread among the obscure antiques, screaming faces, mouths permanently distended into an eternal O. Kyle yelped.

"What is it?" Adriana frantically glanced where Kyle pointed.

But he figured it out first, or she didn't see anything out of place. The heads were carnival props. Filthy carnies! Games of chance: shoot the water into a mouth, pop a balloon for a kewpie-doll. Step right up, folks! "Shrunken heads, eh?" he wagered.

"I almost forgot about those," she said sheepishly. "They're so creepy."

"Forget it," he offered. "Let's go study... all these antiques are starting to scare me." He turned toward the stairs. "But, ya know... I don't see how you're failing history with all this junk in your house; seems to me like you're living in it."

Adriana's room, where they would be studying, occupied the corner spire Kyle remembered from the street. The room was frighteningly enormous, partially lofted to utilize the limitless ceiling; Adriana's bed hugged a wall on the second tier. It's paradise!

"Like it?" quipped Adriana, flaunting a wry grin.

"It's..." Amazing? Fantastic? Impossible? "Wanna trade?"

She snorted. "I have one more thing to show you." Adriana turned then and walked to a dark alcove where a tent of thick blankets obscured something within. "Close your eyes!"

Though he snorted in derision and chafed to find his elusive clue, he was powerless to ignore her. He closed his eyes, unable to suppress the grin bunching his cheeks.

"Ok! Open!" she chirped.

Upon seeing what she cradled in her arms, cuddling it like a helpless newborn, Kyle staggered backwards. He felt slightly guilty after his elbow bumped a lamp and sent it crashing to the floor, but only just. "Wha... What is that?!" he stammered.

Adriana looked confused, eyes traveling from her ruined lamp to the pet she held softly to her breast. "It's Rue," she explained. "Just Rue."

Kyle longed to accuse her of playing some cruel joke, but he knew somehow, she wasn't. The thing she held so carefully was a mass of tattered fur draped loosely over dry, brittle bones. It was so long-dead that the odor of decomposition itself had died. Kyle had no idea what held it together, but it was plain Adriana saw something else.

"Isn't that right, Rue?" said Adriana, degenerating to baby-talk, and, bringing her arms higher, kissed the apparition's nose. Kyle didn't know what frightened him more: that Adriana could possibly be insane, or the illusion—it had to be—of the rabbit's nose twitching, whiskers vibrating in response to her affection.

A yawn wracked Kyle's body. He'd been fighting it since dinner, but through Adriana's traversal of the house, while she described other rare artifacts or somber portraits, Kyle's exhaustion mounted.

Oblivious to Kyle's struggle, Adriana thrust Rue forward. "Pet him! He doesn't bite." Voice, sweet as honey, alluring as Aphrodite.

No! Kyle's vision doubled and a stronger wave of fatigue rippled through him. He sagged to his knees and listed vaguely to the left. Damn it! He'll kill you! That should have sobered him, but it only brought a semblance of clarity. The food.

He'd been drugged. Somehow during dinner or dessert, something was slipped into his food, and he'd be forced to sleep. Forced to forget.

Sleep, said a voice in his head; a thousand whispers delayed through a forest of lush trees, swaying and distorting the word. I misjudged, and I forgive.

Lies! his mind screamed. Then: You'll die! Don't fall asleep! Don't—

Kyle toppled to the floor, unconscious. Somewhere, deep in that place Sal claimed could heal him, his brain worked frantically to purge the poison. But that would take time, and in the den of his enemy, there was little enough of that to spare.

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