Discover more from Raids on the Unspeakable
The ballroom, part one
> This is an orchestration for an event. For a dance in fact. The participants will be apprised of their roles at the proper time. For now it is enough that they have arrived.
She carried him a cold night unto the castle, slipped into the servants’ quarters. There a disused storeroom near the kitchens she hid him. His father had taught him to read, so there she left him with a book; kissing him slipped out snipped the door behind. He sat in the silence and waited a while.
He was not unaware, knew that she had returned here to work after several years. The same castle, though now a new owner, and with him old enough and their situation desperate enough that this possibility seemed necessary; hence he sat now quietly upon a crate amidst so many cobwebs. He opened his book.
This became for him a weekly rite, with the mother working and him hiding away all the while; yet the boy soon finished the books his father had left him, soon grew tired of reading over and over again the same. Still he complained not to his mother, for he knew she already regretted leaving him here alone.
She had been requested by name—some that remembered her from before he was born. He took pride in her being called up thus, and she took pride in her work; though tired after each evening yet there was this glow ever in her eyes. It surely helped that they both ate better now.
There was no shortage of work, the castle seemed every weekend busy with grand dances and balls and festivities of all sorts. They that had sought employ his mother did so for this reason precisely, that the new mistress of the castle seemed tireless; a grand old building full of sound lit bright throughout the night.
Guests came from all around to these events, particularly her masked balls, and it was said that half the princes and princesses of Europe were regularly in attendance. The boy’s mother took pride in this, told the boy and brought him small desserts—the very same as royalty, she said, rightly for her little prince.
This affection was returned, for the boy loved his mother very much, though yet he was nonetheless a youth and for this soon grew tired of reading over again his few books; it was such a restless state in which he first began absent-minded to explore the room in which he had been placed and found himself.
The entrance, of course, was locked; not so much to prevent him leaving as to ensure his remaining hidden. This room was barely used and all that kept him company were shelves stretched into the dark and presumably a small republic of spiders responsible for the cobwebs which covered so much of this room.
He looked at the bare shelves and wondered whether any of these spiders yet might remain, for there was nothing here that might attract prey; these cobwebs seemed most likely the remains of some long dead empire. This in mind he set about seeking signs of life amidst the ruins—a fruitless search with so little light.
When his mother next took him he had procured candles and matches, these he wrapped in a pair of socks and bundled carefully into his book bag. If she noticed he could tell her that his feet grew cold, and this was not a lie; somehow the building nightly grew colder despite spring’s surely lurking now just around the corner.
That first night he carefully lit the candle and stowing the matches in his pocket set out to the explore the hitherto uncharted cobweb empire. Soon he found the room stretched far further back than he had ever thought, at which the cold began to make more sense; it was a thin room and yet oddly long.
The shelves stretched all the way and it was not long before he stood with uniform lines stretching infinite into the dark in either direction. There was nothing here that would make obvious which way he had come if not for the direction of his feet and his thus maintaining a steady path straight ahead.
Along the way his eyes traced the shelves, here and there danced about the cobwebs that seemed almost to hold the room together; at points he would stop and lean in carefully with his candle to inspect a particularly complex structure belonging, he thought with increasing certainty, to some long dead civilisation.
There was no life to be found along the way, nor any signs remained even of sustenance. The structures appeared alive only in light of his movement and the candle’s soft flicker, for his form alone stirred the currents here. Thus ended the first night of his expedition fruitless but for the fact of this strange length.
Indeed, that first night he travelled what felt a long while and his candle burned a fair way down; yet from first leaving behind the door through which he had was deposited the whole remained a seemingly infinite passage. It was perhaps the strangeness of this design which in the end first caused him turn around.
Though he would never admit it to himself, something in this struck him as deeply wrong; it was not so much that a storeroom could not be so long but rather that it should not be. Such a thing made no sense given its use, and he idly thought this absurdity was likely the reason it had been so long abandoned.
The night after he made no further attempt to explore the remainder, and it was only after reading all his books once more that he thought to set out again. He put down his books then and walked a little while into the dark, running his hand along the shelves to feel for where he’d left the candles and matches.
Somewhere in this brief darkness, for he had stored them out of sight, somewhere in this, yes, he felt a strange new current in the air. This he thought merely a consequence of his moving more quickly in the dark until at last he found the matches, lit a candle, and saw—yes, the cobwebs danced tonight.
At this he noticed also for the first time a hint of the music from above, that which he had prior heard only on entering the grounds; yet here he swore this came from the far dark which he had last left unexplored. He felt here a strange new sense: there was an end to these infinite lines long traversed by candelight.
Of course, somehow he knew that as there was one end so also there must another; yet there had been nothing in the infinite repetition thus far to indicate as much with any certainty. The cobwebs alone showed any sign of individuality along the way, else all soon blended into a mind-numbing tone.
The absence of any salient differences alongside the obviousness of structures repeated incessantly had that first night filled him with a strange sense of foreboding, as if no repetition thus could be allowed so long; that the longer it maintained itself—what but the sublime could close such a form?
This second sally was pursued faster than the first, partly for having an interest other than the spiders; yet this new pace further accelerated along the way—something rose within, drove him restless towards resolution; it was all he could do not to panic. An endless night seemed swallow his fragile bubble. The candle flickered restlessly.
Time passed strangely here, for it seemed eventually—despite, of course, his understanding otherwise—yes, it seemed eventually as if he were standing still and it was the shelves which were flying past at an ever faster rate. The whole slid by ever more rapidly with cobweb and candle dancing ever more madly together upon walls.
He could neither slow nor turn around now. Some tautness rose with him, called him back and yet at once drove him faster on. The only way out was through, for to turn around now would be to increase the darkness beyond its infinite immensity; that which swallowed his past yet offered a way out surely somewhere up ahead.
Yes, he swore the music had now grown louder and the space seemed here changed as new smells and currents moved about him. The cobwebs danced differently now, felt surely he must be approaching the maestro: he felt the cold lift with warmth and wind then leapt into his eyes a door.
The whole snapped into place, all at once slammed to a stop just in time to avoid knocking closed this door left half ajar. He heard here the sound and sensed at last the source of all that tempted and terrified him along the way. This altogether ordinary door would have been a disappointment if not for the singing heard now behind.
“If I am successfully understood, my listener will have acquired the benefit that his life will have been made significantly more difficult for him than ever before, and therefore I will not urge anyone to accept this invitation.”