Victor set one foot on the threshold and leaned into the thick, silent darkness that laid beyond.
“Hello?” he said.
Not a sound replied. Victor stepped into the doorway.
“Hello,” he called. “My name is Victor Furbank, of Furbank’s Fine Metronomes. I saw the light on upstairs… Is anyone there?”
He peered into the black void and thought he discerned some shape. A swift patter, like footsteps, came and went in a second from within.
“Hello?” Victor called again.
He entered the house. Three steps into the darkness an ominous creak sounded behind him, and Victor spun around. It was too late. A clash of heavy timber thundered through the shuddering room: the door had slammed shut. In a blind panic Victor groped at the door for a handle, but there was none. As he was feeling about, he began to notice the shape of his hands in front of him. At first he thought his eyes were adjusting to the darkness, but the form soon became clearer, and Victor realised there was light in the room. He turned and found himself at the beginning of a hall. From the ceiling in the middle of the hall hung an electric light, whose soft radiance grew brighter by the moment until the entire passage was lit. In the calming comfort of light Victor’s thoughts returned to a manageable pace, and he realised with regret that he had left his briefcase on the street. He urgently reached into the jetted pocket inside his jacket, and breathed a sigh of relief. “At least I still have that,” he said.
With no way of opening the door, Victor ventured further inside. The hall was narrow, with a high ceiling and thick, crimson carpet, which combined for an archaic yet distinguished feel. Large, framed paintings lined the walls either side: portraits with expressionless faces. There were at least forty, and next to the final portrait was an empty frame. Victor reached the end of the hall and stood before another door. After a moment’s hesitation, and concluding that the only way out of the mansion was to go deeper inside, he eased the door ajar. With great relief he saw light on the other side, and he swung the door wide open.
“Hello,” he called. “Is anyone home?”
The mansion’s silence continued, but without the accompanying darkness it lost its intimidation. Victor entered the room. His steps tapped the hardwood floor and echoed back and forth. The room was wide and spacious, its only furniture being two antique wing-back armchairs next to the fireplace to Victor’s left. In front of the fireplace sprawled an immense bearskin rug; above the fireplace a mirror extended a third of the length of the wall. There was a door in the far corner. To Victor’s right an exquisite staircase, upon which Cinderella would not be ashamed to lose a slipper, descended toward him along the wall and fanned out at the bottom. In the near corner an open doorway offered a glimpse of what appeared a dining room. The far wall ahead of Victor was floor to ceiling brickwork, backdrop to the wall’s one feature: an oil painting of a mustachioed officer wearing what Victor recognised (thanks to pictures of his great-grandfather) as a World War I British Cavalry uniform. The artwork was remarkably lifelike, even capturing the officer in his true size on the six foot canvas. He looked serious, almost cruel. While Victor absorbed the painting’s details, he failed to notice the oddity of its position. Instead of being hung on the wall, it was fixed with its base at ground level, so that the officer in the painting appeared to be standing on the floor of the room.
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