Decided to add on to the story this is Daniel’s version.
I’d spent every summer from the age of four with my cousin Osmond, Oz for short. He was one of my best friends and the only one I could consult on family secrets of which there weren’t half as many as we used to imagine. His disappearance was the first genuinely tragic thing that had ever happened to me. I lied when I told my parents that I hadn’t heard him leave the house that night. I lied when they asked me if I had any idea about his whereabouts (though in my defense I didn’t actually know his whereabouts currently). I knew only that we’d been standing side by side when he’d disappeared. We were close enough to touch when the darkness entered and swallowed him whole. Can a child really defeat something as ubiquitous as darkness? I am not sure but given the same circumstances I’d like to think I would have fought harder.
The day that Oz vanished life as I knew it ceased. I went through the motions for my parent’s sake but I was devastated beyond reconciliation. Devastated by my own impotence. Devastated by a never ending parade of conditionals.
I had really planned to kill myself when I took my father’s pistol. I wrote a note and everything. It was around 1 am when I arrived at Suicide House. I made my way to the classroom. Everything was as I remembered it from the first visit except that I was alone. I took a seat in an old wooden desk and pulled out my father’s pistol which I proceeded to load with the help of a Youtube tutorial.
The sound of a bike bell caught my attention. I left everything on the desk and stood up. I saw nothing in the room that could account for the noise. The bell pinged again louder this time. I swung around wildly in search of the sound and that’s when I saw it, the rift into which Oz had vanished or one very much like it. Without thinking I hurled myself forward, right shoulder first as if it were a door that needed knocking down.
I fell hard sidelong onto a patch of burnt grass. The classroom was gone. Rotted fields stretched out on either side of a desolate dirt road. The sky overhead was ashen and empty like a tarp stretched taunt. I hurried to my feet shaking bits of earth from my clothing. My breath was white and audible. I rubbed my hands together vigorously to extinguish the chill and headed toward the road. I thought it best to keep moving and to find shelter if I could.
As soon as my converse hit the road I heard the bell again, this time from behind. What happened after is something of a blur. I jumped backwards narrowly avoiding a collision. I stumbled on the incline and fell ass first into a ditch. The vehicle swerved to a stop (I’d never seen a penny farthing before so from my perspective it was just a bike with funny wheels) and its solitary occupant dismounted.
Arius was only a child then or at least he appeared to me as such. His skin was as white as chalk. His hair was also white but with a luster like polished silver. His eyes were like two haunted, red gems. His white eyelashes were so long and dense that I wondered if he might not have applied them the way my mother did when she wanted to look especially pretty. I don’t think he looked at me once even when extending a bony hand in support. He was wearing a long silver and red dress (well technically it was some kind of robe but at that time I thought it was a dress) and a pair of black Chinese slippers and I wondered absently how he’d managed to ride a bike in such an awkward getup. I forgot to mention that he had a pair of white silver horns perched on top of his head and pointy ears. He was pretty but he didn’t look all that much like a girl. He introduced himself as Arius and I remembered his voice sounding very manly and very grownup which struck me as a little odd at the time. Arius took me home with him. His house was a ruin. There were holes in the roof big enough to pass a person throw and cracks in the foundations from where the house had sunk down a little on the left side. The wood was grey and weathered to splinters. The wrap around porch was full of leaves and occupied cobwebs. From the outside it was a perfect replica of Suicide House. The inside was much bigger than the outside and decorated in a style that suited the houses age. My room had pretty damask wallpaper, gas lamps, and a huge canopied bed. I think it was a girl’s room on account of the large doll house in the corner and the rows and rows of dresses in the closet but I never saw a girl, not once anywhere.
At first I looked for Oz. I figured he would have found his way to the house just as I had. Arius gave me free reign to explore but after nearly 2 decades of searching I have come to understand that this house is as infinite as my imagination. Arius answered my questions and with time I came to accept the possibility that he had never met Oz. Slowly but surely I began to turn my attention to my peculiar host.
There isn’t much to say about those early years. We were children and as children we spent a lot of time playing games, playing and searching for my missing cousin. He taught me lots of things. He taught me how to find fresh food and water, he taught me how to sew my own robes, he taught me how to ride a penny farthing, he taught me the rules of the world of which there were many that still remain inscrutable. I was never that far from his side but truth be known I did most of the talking. I was lonely and I missed my family.
As soon as I was a teenager he started to disappear for days at a time. I was left to my own devices and I am a little embarrassed to admit but I went on living the life he created for me as if it really did belong to me. You can adapt to any situation given enough time.
When I was 16 I ran away. He’d told me that it was dangerous to go outside at night. He told me that there was a creature that lived somewhere in the woods outside of our house. He never expressly told me what I could and could not do but I came to believe that he was using fear to control me and so I crept out of the house one night while he slept (which he did standing in Zhang Zhong).
I went to the woods with my kerosene lantern and my biggest hunting knife. There was a creature in those woods though it had no physical form as such. It was darkness itself, shadows stitched together by malice. It overtook me before the scream could exit my throat. My lungs clamped shut. My head filled with static. I lost consciousness. When I woke I was in my bed. Arius was standing over my weakened body pulling black strings out of my chest. The strings must have fastened to my very soul but the sensation is nothing that I can relate in words. The exorcism took three days. Three days of irrationally high fevers and chills. Three days of projectile vomiting. Three days of incapacitating convulsions and pain. Three days without sleep because if I’d slept for even an instant the creature would have eaten my soul. My ordeal wasn’t over after the exorcism either every time I dreamed of the creature afterwards Arius would perform a cleansing. At one point I was receiving cleansings on a daily basis. Cleansings weren’t as bad as exorcisms but they imposed their own sort of strain.
Suffice to say I never ran away again. After the incident I begged Arius to take me home but how could he take me somewhere that he could not follow? How could he leave me to my curse? How could he unleash the monster on my world? As he explained it I had become a conduit for this malevolence and the cleansings were needed to keep the door closed. After the incident Arius was no longer at liberty to leave me alone overnight.