The houses on the first street are all boarded up. Dark and silent windows, forbidding signs, stating ‘That despite obvious dilapidation, any offers are welcome, and then refurbishment will commence immediately.’ The words are almost as old and worn as the houses themselves. Nobody comes here anymore. The man on the train said ‘Something was up’. Clearly.
Things cheer up a little when he reaches the square. There’s a juggler on the street corner, and a girl by the fountain, head in a book. Shops are still open, and general chatter drifts out onto the street mixed with the crackly radio at the juggler’s feet. A black cat streaks past. More bad luck, exactly what he needs.
‘Any boarding houses round here?’ he asks the girl. She looks up from her book, the tiny bells on her earrings jangling. She gestures with an arm.
‘Right off down that street, there’s one at the end. More of an inn, if I’m entirely honest. But it’s cheap and cheerful, guaranteed. If you want a proper boarding house you’d have to go further in town, but your bags look heavy, and I thought I’d try and save you the walk.’
‘Thank you. That’ll do for now.’
‘My pleasure, Sir.’
Again, with the Sir. He closes his eyes tight and walks away. Almost nothing is worth strangling someone over. Certainly not the irritating misuse of a relatively harmless title.
The street she mentioned is a long one, with many more disused, and generally deteriorating buildings to the left and right. Right down at the end is an immeasurably tall, thin house with rickety front steps and hundreds of mismatched windows.
It’s pretty. It’s bizarre. It towers over the whole street, and blocks out the fading sun. He’s walking in its shadow long before he’s close enough to read the signpost.
Warm light spills out the door, and voices, many voices. As he approaches, they become less of a distorted hum and turn into shouts and screams.