Sunday, November 30, 2008


...of NaNoWriMo November, anyway. Obviously not of the story, once again I leave it on a cliff-hanger! But at least that provides me with more motivation to come back to it later. Which, yes, I will.

I WIN!!! I was determined not to fail this year, since I won last year there was no reason I shouldn't make it work this year, and it really was easier this time I think. I had a few motivational tricks up my sleeve. I got a laptop. I found Write or Die. I ate waaaayy too many snacks and drank an awful lot of fruit-flavored sugar and caffeine. I LEARNED HOW TO SPELL CAFFEINE!!!

So, obviously, this novel has some pacing issues. Like a lot. I think what's going to need to happen, is the big chunks are going to get split up into little chunks and intermingled a bit more. Like there will be a liiittle bit of life at the Mayhews, a liiittle bit of photograph-making, a liiittle bit of the villa, and then each of those repeated. Because it's seriously disjointed and unconnected right now.

I think, though, that the timing will work out well. I've done the hard work of drawing the villa and all its rooms and general contents, so now I can take some time and decide what random little trinkets she's going to find, and how their stories are going to come out. (I also have some time to figure out what the HELL she is going to do about that key in the front door!!! I hadn't even THOUGHT of that complication, but Kris did, and it's really pissing me off because I have no idea what the answer is.)

I still don't feel like I know Kris all that well, but it's better, and at any rate I understand the world she's living in for the duration of the story, I can see all the places clearly in my head, and that's a big help.

Also, in regards to today's mega-post: holy crap I had NO idea coins had changed that much! I mean I guess I should have figured they would have, but, I only looked it up on a whim, knowing that wheat-ear pennies were around before the current ones with the Lincoln Memorial on them, and I didn't know quite the years on those. Lo and behold, coins have changed a LOT, even within the last hundred years. Literally, NONE of them are the same now as they would have been during the villa's occupancy. That's insane.

Now. I am making all sorts of ridiculous typos, and I am going to watch Sailor Moon and play on the Webkinz site and do all sorts of silly frivolous things while I toast my success with a glass of wine, and a plate of cheese and chocolates. To NaNo success!!!

P.S. As of right now, there are 18,000 more novel-length stories in the world than there were 30 days ago. I find that a pretty awesome thing to be a part of. :)

Part 30 or whatever it is

[I win!!! This last chunk marks 50,036 words. In a month.]

        There were more rooms that I took to be guest rooms, mainly because of the lack of personal touches. Or, rather, of the difference between those personal touches. The same overall feeling that had dominated the villa was in each of these rooms. One was done in shades of deep purple and dark woods, but with golden highlights to brighten the room, the bedsteads and window frame and fixtures all a bright warm... no, not bright, not any longer, but I had been in the house long enough that my eyes had adjusted, as they would have to darkness, to see past the dust and bits of debris that settled with time, and see the place as it should have been. It felt less empty to me now, as I began to recognize the personality that had gone into each space in the villa, the artistic touches that were the trademark of the couple who had lived here.
        Another room was done in bold crimson and fiery scarlets, also highlighted with gold, gilt covering large areas like amber mirrors. It felt very flamboyant, yet there was still a good amount of elegant detail, in embroidery and bead work running across the fabrics, and I could only imagine how inviting it would look under the colors of open flame lighting the room. Each of the guest rooms, in fact, had a fireplace, though smaller than the ones on the lower floor. Most were outlined in some sort of stone, though the type varied depending on the decor of the room. I considered now and again whether I could actually light a fire in any of the rooms, just to see how the lighting played out, what kinds of lovely shots I could get... I wasn't feeling much of a stranger at all now, more like a friend who'd come by to visit, only to find the owners out on some errand, so I was wandering around waiting for their return.
        One room was done in shades of deep green, and plants had once stood in the corners and all along the window, though they were now faded to dry tan, their leaves brittle and lifeless. There were bright splashes of tropical colors here and there, as flowers among the leaves. In this room, there was a lot of... glass? crystal? probably crystal, given the way it refracted the light into different colors. Unfortunately for me, this room faced the back of the house, so I wasn't able to get the full effect of how the light would hit the thousands of tiny prisms. I'd have to come back... not that I had any question about this any longer, I'd be back every chance I could get. But the key... what was I going to do about that? Could I carry an invisible key with me? Or would it still be here when I came back? I shoved the thought aside again, though I could feel it continue to knaw at my stomach.
        The next room I came to looked as if it were beneath the sea, done up in a hundred different shades of blue, green, and purple, that somehow all blended together and seemed to fit together. There were more ruffles here, like the caps of low waves on the water, and crystals again, though here there were even more of them, and they were so small I didn't see them at first, just noticed the sparkling that highlighted everything in the room. This room was on the front of the house, so the light fell in gently, filtered through thin, billowy curtains, which were themselves dyed in several different colors, though it was impossible to tell where one color ended and the next began.
        When I reached the end of the hall, I realized it wasn't quite a dead end - I hadn't gone as far down it as the length of the hall below, I'd come to about where the library and parlor should be underneath. The hall actually turned a sharp corner and ran perpendicular for a short ways, like it did by the stairs at the other end, and then a door was set in the wall that stood between here and the tower area. Had to be the master bedroom, being this big - and the other rooms having been so... oh not bland, not by a long shot! But they felt designed rather than lived in, and none was really nicer than the others (though they were all far more stunning than anywhere I'd ever been inside). The door was a heavy one, of dark wood, carved with intricate patterns of flowers and vines, like so many other things in the house. I put my hand on the golden handle, and lifted it slowly, my heart pounding like it had at the front door, wondering what I would find - and praying it wasn't locked. (There had been locks on all the bedroom doors, but so far none had prevented me from entering.) I breathed a sigh of relief as the handle moved easily upward, and I felt the latch release from the wall. I pushed the door slowly open, and before my eyes saw a thing, I was struck by the scent - a spicy floral scent, like cinnamon but not quite, like roses but wider, more even but stronger, a denser scent than that. I had no idea what it was but it was incredibly rich and heavy, almost completely covering the musty scent that hung around the old wood that was present all through the villa.
        I gasped aloud when my eyes caught sight of what was beyond the heavy door. The light poured in thickly through the window on the front of the house, its golden hue almost tangible as it fell onto the wooden floorboards and was lost in the once-vibrant colors of the vast intricate carpet which spread over about half of the room. The walls were paneled three-quarters of the way up with the rich dark wood, every other panel carved into ornate flourishes and scenes of some kind, though I didn't take in what exactly at first. About six feet from the floor, a heavy gilt border of warm gold marked the edge of the paneling and the beginning of another fresco. As glorious as the one in the ballroom had been, this was even more breathtaking, and the more I gazed at it the more lost in its images I became. My eyes first fell on the figure of a naked man, his body perfectly formed - but not muscular, there was strength evident in his limbs but they were lithe and graceful, like a dancer's. He was surrounded in large flowers, which he touched tenderly, but with an expression of heartbreaking sadness. I felt like I could see his fingers trembling, he looked so vulnerable despite the grandeur in his figure. There was a faint glowing behind him, and if I didn't look straight at it, the lighter shades took the shape of huge feathered wings, spreading dreamily behind him.
        There were vague outlines of structures, mostly Grecian pillars and a few pedestals, brief stairways and bits of railings, all in a warm white marble, and with vines and flowers wrapped all around them. The tendrils of the vines and stems of the flower buds reached out and formed slightly abstracted borders around each scene, tying them together and separating them at the same time, a constant link and something to fill every empty place left by the absence of the figures... There was such strong emotion tied to the flowers in this place, and I knew it had to be more than just their beauty, but I didn't know what else it might be...
        As my eyes moved across the ceiling, happily lost in the incredibly detailed, vibrant flowers that decorated every inch, I found other figures, wrapped in the vines or leaning against the pillars, lounging on marble steps that led down into brilliant bodies of quiet water, almost luminescent... There was a woman with long flowing curls, of a rich chestnut color, with delicate features and wide blue eyes which seemed to always be smiling at something, seemed always to be pleased at something beautiful before them. There was the man I'd first seen, his hair a little long and very dark, his eyes often distant, and always with a hint of sadness in them, even as he smiled lovingly down at the woman...
        And I realized that these two figures were the same I had seen in the photographs. This was their room, and the painting which surrounded it showed their story. Though I couldn't quite grasp it in any sort of logical way, I couldn't put their story into words, I could feel it somehow, its emotions spilled over into me and ran all through me... There was so much sadness in him, and he saw so much beauty in her. Every image of her was radiant, not quite so blatantly as to have a halo around her body, but there was a brightness to every scene, something fresh and sparkling and new. He often stood nearby, in almost a protective embrace of her or leaning over her, in some way holding at bay anything which might disturb the world of joy-filled beauty she created around her just by being in a place... And yet there was a sadness to her as well, when she looked down at him sleeping, and laid a hand softly to his forehead, and I knew without seeing it that she wanted to badly to brush away the years of sorrow and pain from him, and I knew that she knew she would never be able to, no matter how long and how devoted she was to him...
        There were feathers scattered among pale roses, and feathers turned dark hidden among the leaves of some flower I didn't know the name of. There were half-hidden faces in some of the clouds, if I didn't look straight at them, and little flits of mysterious light darting among the flowers in places.
        I wished so badly that I knew flowers better, I knew instinctively that there was a reason for each one that was present in the mural, with special meaning for the ones that encircled the man and woman... Obviously roses meant love, but given that they meant that... did the other flowers once have a meaning, too, that popular culture just hadn't hung on to, once it stopped being so dedicated to gardening, and flowers in general? I'd have to look it up later on.
        I managed to drag my eyes away from the ceiling, knowing that I could literally spend days looking at it and still not see every detail. I couldn't even guess how long it would have taken... The room was pretty large, given that it took up all the room of the parlor and the library combined, plus the amount of hallway between. Parts of the ceiling weren't quite as detailed, there were large patches of warmly colored clouds, or sparkling water, and there were places where the painting was interuppted by long arching beams of dark wood that stretched from one side of the room to the other. Rounded! I hadn't even realized, the ceiling here was rounded, the walls began curving upward and inward where the painting started, and the whole ceiling was curved. I wondered vaguely how that worked, given that the roof over this spot was no different from anywhere else... I guessed there must just be some empty spaces and extra beams between the lower parts of the ceiling in here and the roof overhead.
        The bedroom was incredibly luxurious, every piece of furniture covered in loving artistic details, the wood carved and polished to a shine that remained noticeable even now, the metalwork embossed with tiny patterns of vines and flowers, the china painted in delicate florals. There was a smaller carpet by the bed, that looked incredibly soft and thick. And the bed itself! It had the highest canopy I'd ever seen, but it wasn't the usual rectangular kind at all, supported by tall poles. Instead, there was a circular fixture of some kind hung from the ceiling, and the fabric descended in long languid folds from almost a point at the ceiling, down over the ring , and from there spreading onto the floor in pools of shimmering semi-transparency. Several colors were layered together, a mixture of golds and magentas and violets and oranges, like a fairy tale sunset... and I realized as I finally took a step forward, that the fabric sparkled - undoubtedly set with embroidered details and tiny beads, like the curtains by the ballroom balcony. The bed was immense, and looked wonderfully soft, the sheets full and fluffy, probably down inside the patterned silks. There were easily a dozen pillows, of various sizes. The materials looked kind of Indian, with rich colors and intricate patterns, lots of warm hues. It was set fairly high off the floor, with a huge headboard of gold flourishes, and an only slightly more normal sized footboard of the same. There were tables of dark wood set on either side of the bed, elaborate candelabras and a book or two on each, a glass of cut crystal set on one.
        There were several giant pieces of furniture in the room, at least one of them probably a wardrobe, one or two which might have been dressers. There was a stand with a basin and pitcher, like the one I'd seen in the bathroom downstairs, and an elaborate vanity table, with several mirrors in gold frames and all sorts of little bottles and containers and small boxes. Oh there was too much to see in here! I'd been getting worried that I wouldn't find any of the couple's actual stuff anywhere, but here it all was. Well not all of it, I had seen the coats and things downstairs, and I was pretty sure there was more to be found inside cabinets and things, but I hadn't seen anything else laying around. Apparently they were just a lot better at keeping things picked up than, say, I was. Actually they'd probably had at least one servant out here, probably a good handful. It might not have been a giant mansion, but keeping it as clean as people this wealthy and social would want must've been a pretty full-time job, and then there was all the cooking and things too.
        I walked slowly around the room, leaning down to look at things or take pictures every now and again, my fingers brushing reverently against the furniture that had made up their home, their bedroom, their place of refuge and privacy. There was a small tray on one of the dressers, filled with what I guessed were odds and ends from his pockets - spare change, a cufflink, a button, a tiny white shell... A thought suddenly struck me, and I scooped the change into my hand. I picked out each coin, lifting them one by one close to my eye, angled toward the front window, squinting to read the tiny print that marked each with a date. My eyes widened as I realized that the next penny I picked up was an Indian-head. I hadn't ever actually seen one in real life. Dated 1895. There was one penny with the profile of Lincoln I was used to, but even that had the wheat-ear back to it - dated 1910. Looking at the rest of the coins... none of them had the pictures I knew so well. I tugged a wooden rocking chair a little closer to the window, and sat down. I mean, I knew the villa was old, but... this really made it sink in, none of the guy's spare change even looked like what was in my own pocket! It felt so strange, almost unreal, to hold these in my hand... Given that they all had some indication of how much they were worth, I could see what they were, but... There was one about the size of a nickel, in a silver metal, with the Roman numeral for three on the back. A three-cent piece? I'd never even heard of something like that. I wondered if there were any foreign coins mixed in too, these people were obviously wealthy enough to have been able to travel anywhere they wanted. But no, all of these were labeled "United States of America", though they looked completely foreign to me. Apparently Roman numerals were a fad around the turn of the century, most people I knew could only read a few, and I only knew them as well as I did because my grandma had had a big clock in her living room that was all Roman numerals, so I'd wound up learning them that way. One of the coins was gold in color, and was apparently worth "2 1/2 D." I had no idea what that would even be! I let my hand drop to my lap, and gazed out the front window, looking abstractedly at the tangle of garden that made up the front yard. So it really was about a hundred years since anyone had lived here... and they had left without even picking up the change sitting on the dresser. What on earth had happened here?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Part 29

[A second Thanksgiving dinner last night made me sleep kind of a lot. End of the month, numbering system no longer matters. 3k words in one day woooo!]

        The next portrait was another one of the couple, looking maybe a little older. Actually... the man didn't look any different, but the girl looked a little more grown-up, her expression was a little quieter, a little more demure. She was in a gorgeous white wedding dress, of a deceptively simple design. It hung in a long white pillar over her body, but was wrapped in thin swirls of lace and some translucent material, strands of tiny beads and things that sparkled, dangling strings of pearls hanging in loose loops all around. It gave a subtly detailed appearance, since everything was white and didn't draw attention to itself, until the light caught it at just the right angle. Her hair was mostly swept up, but a few tendrils had been delicately curled to hang down beside her face and against her neck. An intricate tiara rested in her hair, sparkling a million tiny stars, which fell among the rest of her hair as well - I couldn't tell quite what was scattered in her hair, whether it was small flowers, or gemstones, or some mixture of the two. One gloved hand rested on one of her husband's, he holding it gently, as if it were something easily bruised. Though she looked ahead at the camera, smiling with a combination of sheer rapture and shyness at the intensity of her emotion, he smiled tenderly down at her, his eyes not meeting the camera. He was dressed again in a dark suit, though his hair seemed a bit longer this time, and there were more details to his suit - some sort of intricate trim, embroidery maybe, that I couldn't quite make out. A spray of flowers fell in an unusually long cascade from his front breast pocket, with flowers to match the huge bouquet the bride held in her other hand. There was a trellis over their heads, dripping with flowers; judging by the light, it looked like the photo had been taken outside somewhere.
        The other four portraits were of the same smaller, paler size that the floral studies had been, and were matted into a single frame together. There was a photo of the two of them, standing in a garden at a bit of a distance, under the drooping blossoms of a magnolia tree, holding hands and looking lovingly at each other. There was one of the girl, her loose curls arranged prettily around her face, looking shyly down and away. One hand was cupped around the side of her face, and two stunning rings were on her ring finger, designed to fit together, I assumed they were engagement and wedding rings. Only one diamond was large (and it was huge), but the rest were arranged in such intricate patterns around the ring that it looked altogether more impressive than more large stones would have. The other two photos were of the man, more candid shots than the others of the two of them. One caught him smiling gently, his eyes warm and almost shy as they looked into the camera, so dark and rich and deep, his features softened far more than I would have thought possible, so gentle and--- And I suddenly realized my lungs were empty and I needed to breathe, I hadn't in a few minutes. His gaze was... entrancing. Addictive... oh hell, seductive was really the word for it. I shook my head and brought my eyes back into focus... but the clarity didn't last long, because the last photo was one of him asleep. All the sternness and imposing attitude were gone, the tenseness of his features smoothed away, looking so vulnerable and young and... and beautiful. I had seen him as handsome before, but here... he really was beautiful, even more so than the girl was. And yet... somehow sad and far away, there was still some strange mystery to him that couldn't escape even in sleep, where the girl had been open and readable in even the shots where she looked shy. So I could see what had drawn them to each other...
        But what was the sad story here? There had to be one, there was a sorrow in the house, which coated the love that had spilled into it just as the dust covered the fine wood and marble and gilding.
        I wasn't sure how well it would read, to take photos of the photos, but I took a few with my digital camera anyway, just for my self to look at and study later if I felt the need. I lifted the frames carefully to see if there was any notation on the back of a year or names or anything... but no luck. There was a small imprint in the bottom of one of the metallic-shadow prints of the photographer's studio - maybe that would be a bit of a lead to look up at the town museum.
        I took a last glance around the room, but didn't see anything more of interest, so I walked slowly down the stairs, retracing my steps all the way back down to the front entryway. I dug out my cell phone and checked the time. It was getting late in the afternoon, but I still had several hours of daylight left. I wanted to make sure I had at least an hour, preferably two, before sunset when I left, just in case I had issues finding my way back out of the woods. It felt like I'd been in the villa for an age... I could feel the weight of all the years the house held on my shoulders, like fallen dust. (In really high gravity?) I felt half transparent myself, a visitor into another time, looking at all these things my touch could not alter...
        ...I shook my head, forcing a quiet laugh. Of course I could alter it, every touch moved the dust out of the way, left fingerprints, made changes to the scenery. I could clip the vines away from the windows, I could let the sunlight touch the golden floors again.
        ...but though I told myself this, I still knew, somehow, that I wouldn't really be changing it. The history of this house had already been settled, whatever I did now was only archaeological work, it wasn't altering the lives of those who had lived in this place and made it their own.

        I decided to make a brief tour of the right wing of the house, maybe just looking into each room, and then I'd head back for the day. I started fresh at the front door again, and this time went to the right, into the parlor. It was every bit as decorous and untouchable as parlors always were in old books - corner tables with carefully-planned arrangements of delicate sculptures and dried floral arrangements, intricate lace doilies, a complex carpet of many subtle colors, straight-backed chairs and sofas with rich (but uncomfortable) looking fabrics, elaborate wallpaper, a small chandelier, imposing heavy drapes on the windows... it felt like a museum's recreation of some king's bedroom, like there should be velvet ropes barring me from sitting on anything, little signs here and there forbidding me to touch anything.
        I took a few pictures, but not many, and they felt awfully lifeless to me - just as museum shots would do. Things were said in here, people sat here, but life wasn't lived in here. I took the other exit out of the room, and found myself in a hallway that stretched down the length of the wing, similar to what I'd found in the kitchen wing. Across from the parlor was a vast library, walls covered from floor to ceiling with shelves filled with volumes of all sizes, colors, ages... It was exactly the sort of thing I'd always imagined when I'd thought of a house having a library. Very cozy, too, despite its size. The carpet was very deep and plush, a warm red covering the whole floor. There were deep window seats, some very inviting looking chairs and small sofas, and pillows absolutely everywhere. The colors of the furniture were mostly deep browns and reds, with bits of white and black here and there. It made for a nice backdrop to the books, really showing off the colors of the bindings. I took a few pictures here, but didn't want to take too much time - I had no idea just how many rooms there were, and I didn't want to spend more than two hours in this half of the villa.
        Beside the library was a small room, filled with art supplies. There were a few easels, and large trays filled with all sorts of paints and brushes, counters covered in palettes and canvas and unusually pretty little pots, presumably for water. One counter had a high stool pulled up to it, and there were rows of pencils laid out, a small wooden box of colored pencils left half-open. It wasn't exactly messy, nor was it cluttered - everything was laid out neatly, there was just every conceivable artistic necessity, so an inventory of any kind would feel pretty long. Bits of charcoal and... chalk? No, pastels. I was a little weak on the drawing-based arts, I was awful at them so I avoided them whenever possible, but technically being an art major, I was subjected to more of it than I liked, but it was just enough to appreciate here just how rich a supply this person had. I wondered if it was the man or woman's studio? I stepped up to the easels, and saw delicate floral studies, in various stages of completion. The line work was very light and tentative, the colors seemed to be added very carefully. It had a very feminine feel to it... but somehow I couldn't really be sure whose it was. Something in that man's face... there was more to him than one might first guess. Still, the woman's dresses had shown what an eye for beauty and detail she had. The light wasn't quite right for taking shots in here now, but I took a few of the supplies lined neatly on the wooden counter tops, the piles of dried paint on the palettes, close-ups of a partially-finished painting. I looked on each painting in the room, but there were no signatures - I didn't see any finished ones in the room at all.
        The room beside this was a bathroom. I was a little surprised to see it, I hadn't been sure about indoor plumbing in a place this old, but there again... the owners had been incredibly wealthy. There was a bathtub, and an odd mix of wood and porcelain that I took to an early version of a toilet. (No way was I going to poke at it to find out though - I'd had a few run-ins with outhouses, and the disgusting pits you could glimpse through the hole that passed for a toilet, and no way in hell was I going to risk looking down another. So gross.) The bathtub was large, white, with brass fixtures and, of course, clawed feet holding it a little ways above the marble-tiled floor. There was no sink, but a prettily carved wooden stand with a painted china basin set into it. A large pitcher, painted to match, sat inside the basin. A few shaped soaps rested in china dishes alongside the basin, and an oval mirror hung above it. There was a small cabinet hung on the wall nearby, and a peek inside revealed all sorts of small bottles whose actual contents I didn't even want to guess at. (Though I did take a few pictures - as long as I didn't disturb the seals on anything, my internal organs should be safe.)
        At the end of the hall was a stairway, leading to the next floor, but I turned instead to investigate the rest of this level. The next room, nearest the stairs but against the front of the house, looked like a guest room, though a small one, decorated in a light, cheerful style. There were floral prints and soft yellow walls, a surprising contrast to the decor in the rest of the house, like a sudden burst of sunlight into a dim museum. Yet it almost made it more sad, to see the signs of abandonment here, the layers of dust dimming the sunny yellow curtains, age forced on to such a youthful place. There were a few dolls on top of a wooden bureau, in elaborate ruffled dresses and large feathered hats. ...had there been a child in the house? No, if they had had a daughter, there would have been photos alongside the others in the tower room, there would have been photos everywhere. And there couldn't have been so many fragile things so near the ground as there were... I realized there were still quite a few luxurious touches to the room - the sheets on the bed looked to be satin or silk, though the shine had dulled with age. There were some paintings on the wall, not much larger than a normal sheet of paper, that looked like fairy tale illustrations, though none were immediately recognizable to me. The furniture was as finely made as any other I'd seen in the house, and there was no sign of a child's mess of toys or anything.
        The next room looked like a glorified coatroom. One wall was covered in a long row of brass hooks, a few placed in a second row above the first but at a shorter distance - for hats, I guessed. There was a long, low shelf of ironwork near the floor that I figured was for boots or something, though I couldn't imagine anyone being so undignified around here as to walk barefoot. Maybe they'd had those rubber over-shoe things, like my grandpa sometimes wore over his dress shoes in the winter. There were still a few coats hanging, down at the far end by a small window. Two were fur, and I was sure they were real fur, which was a little creepy, I was a bit hesitant to touch them. But they were incredibly soft - one was a warm reddish-brown, the other white.
        There were also a pair of high-topped boots, with at least a dozen impossibly tiny buttons running up the side. I couldn't even imagine trying to get those on in a hurry, shoe laces were difficult enough early in the morning. On the opposite side of the room (hardly more than a bit of wide hallway, really, maybe six feet across) were several full-length mirrors, frescoes between them of some abstract pattern, sort of floral but it was hard to be sure. Very geometric compositions, but with fluid lines and intricate patterning... art deco, I decided, and now that I thought of it an awful lot of the decor in the house would fit into that genre. I took a few shots of the frescoes, since the light was falling nicely against them, then stepped back into the hall. The parlor took up the rest of this floor it seemed, so I went back toward the stairway.
        The railing was highly polished, the wood burnished smooth by much use as much as varnish, I decided. The stairs themselves had a thin carpet running up the middle, covering most of the golden wood that matched the floors. They didn't creak half as much as I'd expected them to. A few paintings hung on the walls, of exotic garden scenes and elegant bits of architecture, languid women lounging about in gauzy dresses. Sconces were placed on the wall in a few places, and I realized I had seen several of the same type throughout the rooms I'd been in. Now that I was looking at them closer, I decided they much have been gas lamps of some sort. There was a glass enclosure at the top of a curved bit of metal that probably contained a pipe, but no light bulb or anything inside it. God that felt so unsafe to me, having so much open flame all around!
        At the top of the stairs, a short hallway doubled back to meet up with the main hallway, which again ran the length of the floor, though this seemed to end in only a wall. The only access to the tower room on the third floor seemed to be from the outdoor balcony... which seemed a little strange to me, but I supposed it wasn't really needed for anything, just a nice place to sit and do quiet things away from the rest of the house. The walls here were papered from the ceiling down to about waist-height, where a border of carved dark wood trim ran along from door to door, branching at the doorways to frame each one. There was a similar border against the floor, which was the gold wood seen everywhere else, and against the ceiling, which, I was thrilled to see, had another fresco, similar to the one in the ballroom in style, though this was one much less elaborate, and more peaceful. It was largely a garden, but a more open one, in line with the paintings on the stairway, with quiet bodies of water and soft hills, small cherubs like butterflies hanging in the air, children dancing in circles and young couples lounging under blossoming trees.



^ That site is AMAZING, I wish I'd known about it in past years. I have a major problem with getting sidetracked (hi! I'm posting on my blog instead of chipping away at my word count!), and that site won't let you do it. It's like NaNoWriMo in ultra-condensed form. And with more threats!

...which I will need. I have twenty-four and a half hours to get another... five thousand or so words. And then I will win. \0/ I WILL DO IT! I have tomorrow off from work. And I have more caffeine in the house if I need it tonight.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Parts 26-27

        I stepped out on to the terrace, mincing my way carefully between the jungle of plant life. The thin layer of marble tiles that comprised the floor was thin and cracked in places, a few of the stones slightly out of place, revealing some dark material that must have been an adhesive. The rooftop patio was maybe ten feet by fifteen or twenty, but that was a pretty rough guess. Potted plants must have completely surrounded the edge of the thing, I couldn't see at all where - or if - there was a rail or anything to mark its edges. I had no idea what most of the plants were, though I made out some roses in the mix, and there were maybe ten or so ornamental trees, which couldn't grow all that large, but had definitely exceeded their expected boundaries, having been unpruned for so long. I pushed my way gently through the plants to the edge of the balcony, finding an iron fence to match style seen everywhere else, about four feet high. I pushed at it lightly, but it seemed sturdy enough still. I stood there for a few minutes, looking out over the small clearing, trying to imagine how the gardens must once have looked... but it had been too long, all I could see was a wild tangle. I took a few pictures, mostly framing the tower of the main entryway against the sky, but also some of the half-wild flowers spread out below.
        As I turned back toward the villa, I saw a second door I hadn't noticed before, next to the one I'd come through. I headed toward it - but my foot got caught on a vine, I tripped and crashed hard on my knees. Terrified, I checked my camera - but I'd managed to hold it up and keep it from smashing into the marble tiles. Only then did I inspect the damage I'd managed to inflict on myself. Just a small new tear in my jeans, some scrapes on one hand and an elbow. I sat there for a minute, getting my heart rate back under control.
        I was half afraid this door would be locked as well, but the knob turned easily, and I opened the door to find a set of stairs leading upward. It felt less cold here than other places in the house had, and I decided this was probably because it was exposed to a lot more sunlight, so it must warm up pretty well during the day. The short set of wooden stairs led to a single room, which took up the whole of the tower, a bit of railing blocking off the floor from where the stairs came up through it. There was a window on each wall, arched like all of the rest of the ones in the house, covered in incredibly delicate, airy lace curtains. These had yellowed a bit with the years, though they had probably once been some shade of white. The golden wood of the floor boards was left bare, apart from one rug in the center of the room, with a few embellished throw pillows resting on top of it. A chaise lounge of dark wood and ivory material was under one window - the one where the afternoon sun was just beginning to spill in, actually, and I realized that the whole room was probably designed with that very light in mind, since everything was oriented on that window, the curtains barely interrupted it, and even the walls were painted a warm ivory. The only dark things in the room were the few pieces of furniture, the railing, and a few cross-beams on the ceiling, which were all of the dark wood present through most of the villa.
        I was about to turn and head downstairs - it was a pretty little room, but not much to see, once I'd taken a picture of the sunlight drifting lazily down onto the lounge seat. But as I brought the camera down from taking that shot, something caught my eye, and I realized the walls weren't quite bare after all. There was something on the wall beside the sunlit window, only off to the side where the light wouldn't actually reach it. (Actually, given the placement of the windows, it didn't look like sunlight would ever touch it.) Some dim shade of brown... suddenly my eyes went wide and I bounded up the stairs and across the room. Photos!

        They were very old, and I wasn't actually sure what kind of process had been used to make them. There were several prints, in very thin and delicate gold frames. A few had very high contrast, but the darkest areas actually had a shine to them, a metallic look, when looked at from certain angles. All of them had a slight sepia cast to them, but the smaller ones - only two inches or so square, so several were mounted into frames together - were much softer, with less contrast, gentler edges to the images. These must have been done with a cheaper method, they hadn't held up quite as well as the metallic ones, and the paper looked less sturdy. A few shots were close-ups of flowers, actually very nicely done, but the rest...
        The rest were portraits.
        None were very large, but I was pretty sure the technology limited the size of prints anyway that long ago, I knew that the whole plate process, the "negative" was the actual size of the eventual print, so photographers had to cart around these pieces of glass or metal or whatever, depending on the process. Film didn't turn up until... actually about the turn of the century, I thought, what was the guy's name, who founded Kodak and basically the whole idea of consumer-level photography... Eastman? He'd lived not far from here, Rochester I was pretty sure, I was annoyed with myself for not remembering more. The Brownie camera, though, I knew that was the first real amateur grade camera, and I was pretty sure it had used film. Ha, and here I'd thought the whole history portion of my photography classes were pointless.
        Finally I shoved aside all my mind's distractions and leaned in close, barely daring to breathe, studying the faces in the old photographs...
        It was a couple, a man and a woman. In the largest photo (which was still only maybe a five by seven print), she looked incredibly young, maybe eighteen, nineteen? He looked... I frowned a little, unsure. He was definitely way older, but I couldn't decide just how old he was. His face was fresh and unlined, ridiculously handsome actually (and she was absolutely angelic looking), but... something in his bearing, he seemed much, much older. His eyes, too, something in his expression, it looked like he'd really been through a lot. But his arm was around her, wrapping protectively around her shoulders, and she seemed completely at peace leaning into his side. I couldn't make out very many details, the image was awfully dark (it was one of the metallic ones), and pretty small, but the clothing on both of them seemed to be very expensive, her dress was covered in ruffles and lace and all sorts of girliness. I didn't actually know a thing about menswear, but he was in a suit, no tie, but a white shirt underneath, with one of those frilly-things at the neck. It didn't look at all ridiculous or pompous like you would expect, though, it looked very elegant on him. She had long hair that fell in loose curls past her shoulders, some medium shade of hair, not really light or dark, as best I could guess. His hair was very dark, and combed neatly back. She had a very open, sweet look about her, while he seemed... kind of imposing, actually, not outright evil or anything, but definitely someone with a strong enough presence that you'd feel awfully nervous about having to talk to him.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Part 25

I tried to line up a shot of some of the more elaborate bottles, but the light was far too low. I was going to have to clear some of the vines off the windows, if I was to do any serious picture-taking in this place.
        My stomach growled violently at me then, and a glance at my cell phone showed it was about noon. Glad some part of my body was still properly aware of time passing... the rest of me wouldn't have been able to make any kind of guess at all as to the time. I was so lost in this place, in the odd sense of another time that hung so heavily in it, like I could smell the long years in the mustiness of the air, and it was slipping into my blood. I stretched and looked around, trying to decide where to eat. I felt far too intimidated by the vast table in the dining room to sit and eat there all alone, so I went back to the ballroom, and sat on one of the wooden chairs next to a window, one that let in a little more light than some of the others. As I pulled a sandwich out of the brown lunch bag, I caught sight of my hands, and wished I had found a bathroom first. Or maybe tried one of the kitchen sinks? I pushed the sandwich up partway out of its plastic bag, and started eating, holding it from the outside of the bag. Would the water even work? Probably not, it wasn't like anyone would have been paying the bills... but there again, had running water really been common back then? Would the villa have even been hooked up to a town line or something, this far out, that long ago, or would it have drawn its water straight from a closer source? God, there were so many questions here! And I really hadn't answered any at all. I was now pretty sure that the place was abandoned, had been for ages, and that its inhabitants had once been incredibly wealthy. That was it.
        Well, no it wasn't. I knew they must have been really socially active, to have built a freaking ballroom in their little forest get-away, and have such a huge dining room, and...
        That struck me as odd. Why be so far away from town, able to have some peace and quiet, if you were only going to invite company all the time? It didn't make any sense whatever way I looked at it.
        They had definitely had strong artistic eyes, to have created a place such as this... or, at least one of them, I supposed. I realized that I didn't even have any evidence at all for it having been a "them" that lived here! I had just assumed it was a couple, a man and his wife, he very much in love and creating this place for her... but I laughed wryly, shaking my head. I had no way of knowing this, it was nothing more than my own longing for an interesting, bittersweet story to be attached to this place.
        But I knew there had to be a story like that, the sense of it had seeped into the very walls. Only how on earth was I to read it?

        I wasn't going to get anywhere by sitting here chomping on peanut butter and jelly. I shoved a cookie into my mouth, and pushed everything back into my bag, slinging it over my shoulders as I stood up. I decided I'd head up the stairs and see if they really did lead to the balcony on this side of the villa, finishing up this wing of the house before moving on to the other. The light would be doing better things outside than inside right now, anyway - it would be coming straight down, and so actually hitting the clearing, instead of being lost in the trees. And it wouldn't be able to slant in through any windows for an hour or two, so I wouldn't get much help with indoor lighting.
        I left the ballroom the way I had first come in, this time actually noticing the space at the end of the entrance hallway. Large glass doors actually opened onto... well, what I guessed had once been a patio, though it was so overgrown now I could only make out what was probably the shape of a table and a few chairs underneath the rampant leaves and flowers. Indoors there wasn't much, it was a largely empty space, probably kept that way to accommodate all the traffic coming in the front door and heading into the ballroom. Ball gowns probably required having a good bit of clearance - I grinned sheepishly as I remembered my own clumsy attempts at walking around in my prom dress back in school, and I doubted that had had nearly as big a circumference as some of the skirts that had passed through here. Still, there were a few low cabinets and tables along the walls, as in the hallway, with vases and flowers and statuettes and other small things artfully arranged on their tops. There were paintings on the walls here as well, though these were very small, and floral studies.
        Re-entering the hallway, I soon rounded the bend and climbed up the stairs. I stepped cautiously onto the first few steps, unsure of how sturdy they would be - but it seemed that whatever the place had been built of, it stood up to the aging process pretty well. Heck, even the front door told me that - made of wood, but no signs of rot or decay at all, after all this time? Even I knew that was impressive. I let my fingers skim lightly over the banister, leaving trails in the heavy dust. But I was feeling a little more secure here now - largely because of my increased confidence that the place was all mine, but also... I wasn't sure what, but I didn't worry so much about the villa being damaged by my being there. I knew that didn't make any sense, so I left the thought alone, to figure out later.
        There was a landing at the second floor, and to the right a hallway stretched out into the wing of the house I hadn't explored yet. To the left, as expected, a short passageway led to the curtained balcony. There were heavy curtains on this side, too, and I gingerly pushed them aside just enough to slip through. They really did weigh a lot more than you'd ever expect fabric too, and up close, I could see that they were embroidered with incredible details, with metallic thread and tiny beads (gemstones maybe?), an abstract flower-and-vine pattern as far as I could tell. The thread and beads were very close in color to the fabric though, so despite the density of the pattern, it had an elegant, subtle appearance. They smelled musty, but some other fragrance hung about them a little too, though it wasn't anything I could place. The balcony itself was carpeted - as was the passage leading up to it, I now realized, in some dark color that I couldn't quite make out in the dim light. There were a handful of comfortable looking chairs, two low tables, most of these placed near the elaborate gold railing that ran around the outside. Tall vases, which stood about up to my waist, were placed on either side of the entryway. A small chandelier hung in the middle of the balcony area, though it was far overhead, maybe fifteen feet or so, the chain it must hang from lost in the shadows of the curtains, which I knew went all the way up as high as the ceiling of the ballroom.
        I stepped up to the small space where the curtains were opened. I couldn't imagine how on earth to set about opening them wider, just pushing them far enough aside for me to get in here had been difficult enough. The view down over the ballroom was, as I'd expected, pretty amazing. I stood there a long moment, my imagination covering the glowing wood floor with the abstract blurs of couples dancing across it, their elaborate costumes a rainbow of colors, gemstones and gold and silver catching the light from the crystal chandeliers and making everything sparkle as a thousand colored stars...
        I don't know how long I let the daydream run, but one hand was starting to fall asleep, from the way I was leaning against my arm, which rested on the railing. It took me a bit to shake it off, though, which was unusual for me... unusual, too, to have visualized it so clearly. Maybe it was because I'd been spending so much time seeing the world through my camera's viewfinder, and my visual instincts were getting a lot more attention lately. Still... something about the daydream had been incredibly magnetic, something about the world it gave me a glimpse of felt... almost familiar, and I felt an oddly yearning sense of loss now that it had gone.
        I shook my head and stretched, shaking my hand violently to wake it back up. I grimaced as the pins and needles set in. Stupid circulation. I swung my backpack in front of me, and rummaged around for a flashlight. Turning it on, I made for the stairs leading upward, which were almost completely in the dark, with these curtains closed.
        I walked even more carefully on these stairs, thinking that since they led outside, they might have suffered a bit more damage over time. The lower ones at least didn't seem to have, they were made of the same golden wood as the floorboards in the rest of the house. As I neared the top, I saw that there was actually a door - which made sense, I'm sure they wouldn't have wanted winter winds spilling down through here and leaking into the balcony, and from there into the ballroom. The door was of the heavy, dark wood, but with a window set into it, an arched one with black iron trim, and colored glass set into an abstract floral pattern. It was a regular door knob on this door - the first I'd seen, come to think of it - and I moved my hand to gently turn it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Part 24

        Time-darkened ivory walls lay like aged drawing paper behind the dark ink line work of iron curlicues and leaves and vines. In the top right corner of the frame, where the leaves were most densely packed together, a golden bird peeked its head out from behind a particularly large leaf. Bright gemstone eyes (diamond?) glittered dully in the diffuse light, and its long, gracefully curling tail feathers slipped out from between other leaves farther down.
        Black silhouettes of unmoving leaflets ran up the right side of brightly colored flowers, cut from dusty glass. Light streamed between the dust left by long years of neglect, catching on small motes in the air, like sunlit pollen drifting slowly away from the open blooms.
        Odd, abstract blotches discoloring the wall and darkening a patch of the bright floorboards. The blackness dripped from the lower corner of a window, as if it had been left open at day's end, and the night had begun to seep in, darkening all that it touched.
        A music stand leaning into an empty corner, its fluid dark lines slicing the frame into small triangles.
        A perfectly-formed pale hand stretching gracefully toward some precious thing unseen, its shadow lost in the dark leaves scattered behind it.

        I reached the end of another roll of film, and sat down in a dim corner to change it. Pulling the mini-Sharpie out of the camera bag I was using for film, I marked the just-filled canister with an X, and pulled out a fresh roll. I realized I'd used up three rolls already - almost half what I had with me. Crap. Maybe I'd just stick with this room for today, and leave the rest for another time.
        ...but would I be able to get in later? Could I put an invisible key in my pocket? I could feel the thing, I just couldn't see it... I hadn't even thought about that, I'd have to try it.
        Still, in case, I decided to walk around the rest of the house - no way my curiosity would let me leave without taking a look around anyway. I took a final, longing look around the ballroom, still aching to know the room's secrets. I had no idea how I would ever uncover them, but... that was an issue for another day. Today was for exploring.

        I decided to go out the door at the back of the ballroom, by the fireplace, and then loop around back this way once I'd explored the back wing of the house. It led almost immediately into a large, very long dining room, whose centerpiece was an immense wooden table, surrounded by high-backed, intricately carved chairs. The backs looked awfully uncomfortable, but I decided whoever was rich enough to live here must have been high-society, and probably had had way better posture than I did. The seats were cushioned, though, with what looked like velvet, all in rich, dark colors. Actually the whole decor in this room was in rich, dark colors, all burgundy and purple and emerald and sapphire, dark browns and warm golds. I had taken my digital camera out a little bit ago, to get some color shots of the ballroom windows, and some zoomed-in shots of the frescoes on the ceiling (not that those were probably going to be very good, the light was pretty dim up there). I pulled it out again, and took general overview shots of each room I went in to, to look at later and decide where to go back to. (And to see if I could spot any more clues about who had lived there, and why they had left the place to be abandoned.)
        The walls were painted a warm reddish-burgundy, not quite so dark as some of the other decor in the room. The window was mostly hidden by heavy drapes, but a bit of light fell through between them, showing just how much dust had piled up on the table. There were a few paintings on the walls, all landscapes that I didn't recognize. An elaborate gold candelabra stood in the middle of the table, and there were cabinets full of what I presumed was expensive china and glassware, though I didn't actually know a thing about the stuff (except how easy it was to break - there was good reason Mom never let anybody besides herself wash dishes at home anymore). I peered in through the glass cabinet doors, and wasn't at all surprised to see how elaborate the crystal and glass all was, and what tiny details were painted on the china. Any one of these dish sets would sell for... God I didn't even know, I'd seen much cheaper looking ones at the antique store go for like two or three hundred dollars, and those were nothing compared to these.
        The thought slipped through my mind that if I took only a few things from the house, and ran them down to the antique store, I could be a good couple hundred dollars richer in the blink of an eye. But the thought left as soon as it had come - not only was I not in the habit of stealing, but... hell I couldn't even mention this place in conversation to sweet harmless old people, for fear of shattering whatever it was about the place that I was determined to keep intact. I couldn't even imagine taking something out of it! Which brought me back to the question of the key, but I pushed the thought aside to deal with later.
        There were three ways out of the room, the way I'd come in, an open archway into a hallway, and a closed wooden door. I went for the door, and found myself in - as I'd somewhat expected - a kitchen. Though the cabinets were made of the omni-present dark wood, this room looked a good deal brighter, since all the countertops were made of the ivory marble, as were the floors. The windows were large, and the curtains here were of a much lighter material than any I'd seen so far. Some kind of translucent material, a warm pale aqua color, which let the light in nicely - where it could get through the vines growing outside, anyway. There were sinks and stoves, wire baskets and weird looking gadgets here and there, the uses of which I could only guess. Now that I stopped to think about it, pretty much every gadget I was used to seeing in a kitchen was electrical, no wonder I didn't recognize anything here! Nothing that looked like a refrigerator, either... I figured there was probably a cold cellar somewhere, and they would have had ice brought over from the lake in the winter, to keep things cold all year. I took a few close-ups of some of the more interesting looking utensils, moving a few of them closer to the window to get better light on them. I realized that these were the first things in the house I'd really touched... my fingers tingled a little at the contact, but I was pretty sure that was only because I was focusing on it so much. Still, silly as it was, when I'd taken the pictures, I put each object back where I had first seen it.
        The only other exit went out into the hall, so that's the way I went. There was only one more room on this side of the hall, and both it and the one opposite it were pretty sparse. I wasn't sure if they were storage or what, but given the lack of decoration, I was pretty sure they were rooms for the servants to use. I decided to leave prying into the cupboards for later. There were two rooms on the other side of the hall, opposite the kitchen and dining rooms. Both were decorated in dark, warm colors, though the smaller of the two looked more like a private study or office. It had a large desk, with one of those old-fashioned rolltop covers, which was pulled down. A typewriter was perched on top of the desk, and I grinned brightly as I took my camera to it. I had this weird thing for typewriter keys, just the way the letters looked inside their small rings of metal, the yellowing of the protective layer over the bit of paper with the letter imprinted on it. I splurged and took a handful of shots of the typewriter, it was close enough to the window that the light wasn't too bad. I could really bring up the contrast in the dark room to good effect though, I knew.
        The room next to it, across from the dining room (and part of the kitchen, technically, since the study hadn't been very big), I guessed was a sitting room - a drawing room? One of those rooms that men had gone to smoke and drink after dinner, to get away from the women and discuss manlier things. Boys. The room smelled a little mustier than some of the others had, and I wondered if that had anything to do with cigar smoke or something. There were some bookshelves along one wall, and another fireplace. Plenty of deep sofas and chairs to sit in, some foot rests, lots of low tables. A tall, ornate cabinet stood in one corner, out of the direct line of light from either the windows or the fireplace, and on closer inspection I saw through the etched glass doors that it was, quite literally, a liquor cabinet. A huge variety of bottles, some with labels in languages I couldn't read, filled the shelves. Most were glass, a few of them colored, and the liquids in them ranged from deep red to gold to clear to... green?? Alcohol was used to disinfect so many things, I was pretty sure it didn't ever go bad, but... that still seemed like an odd color for it to be.

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