38: That First Horrible Night

The large clock ticked loudly, echoing through the cathedral-like room. It was taller and thicker than the clock in the orphanage, made from a heavy black oak. The edges were trimmed with ivory that curled up at the corners like devil horns. The ticking was deeper, too. A solemn thrumming that reminded Edmund less of a heartbeat, and more of marching boots.


Image: Uncredited, TheCharnelHouse.org

Then, with a mechanical whirring, the clock began to strike the hour. At first it was quiet; just a deep brassy bell that drifted around the foyer like an errant cough. After a moment, however, it became obvious that the chime was not stopping; in fact, it was getting louder. It echoed through the walls, reverberating throughout the mansion, back and forth like a monsoon of sound, shaking the walls around him. The bell was so much louder than it had been anywhere else in the mansion that Edmund had to clap his hands over his ears at the noise.

It consumed him, the vibration filling his bones until he could barely stand. His stomach churned as the clock continued to strike, the echoes shaking him to the core. He collapsed to his knees, his stomach heaving, as the mansion struck the hour through him and forced his dinner out of his body.

Finally the sound faded, and Edmund uncovered his ears and wiped his mouth, the foul taste of bile still thick on his tongue.

A lot had happened to him in just one day, his brain numbly realized. This morning, he had thought that after lunch he would go to the old tree in the center of the yard to sit, and write in his notebook. By supper he might have read at least one more chapter in the Symphonic Physicium, and then finish off another one before bedtime.

Instead, he had gotten a new mother who was older than Mrs. Mapleberry, traveled in a large jar-like carriage to a mansion at the center of the wealthy end of Brackenburg, had a very uncomfortable wash, dressed in some dead person’s ill-fitting clothes, was told to leave his dishes alone, became hopelessly lost in the maze of hallways in a giant mansion, and purged some possibly potato soup.

Turning away from his partially digested dinner, Edmund sat on one of the thin couches, closed his eyes, and listened to the ticking, trying to think of home. When he failed to imagine one, he fell back on the orphanage.

He had been so eager to leave that he had never really thought about what it would be like when he did. He had just assumed it would be similar to the life he knew, or at least similar enough, but with new people and new things to see and hear and read and write about.

Now, lost and alone in the vast unfamiliar expanse of Moulde Hall, he desperately wanted to wake up and find himself sitting in front of the small tree in the yard of Mrs. Mapleberry’s Home for Wayward Lads and Ladies. He wanted to see the weevils again and hear the ticking of the old clock in the hallway, instead of this deeper and thicker ticking of the large oaken contraption.

Edmund curled up on the deep red couch, surrounded by black wood walls and stern marble statues, and fell asleep wishing he was anywhere else.


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