Imagine an imperious mansion, perched high on the slopes of a deep green valley. The homes of the common people are clustered on the valley floor. The rich, the unknowable, live on the slopes.
This mansion is exquisite, white, the eaves and windows trimmed in crimson. The gates are gold, and the circular driveway at the back is accessible only when the gates swing open slowly, admitting the privileged guests who arrive from the mysterious woods beyond.
Who lives here? You don’t know. They exist in an echelon beyond comprehension, half human, half dream. You have a sense that the lady of the house is a benevolent queen, hidden away behind dark glasses, her face never seen. If she knew you, she would love you, but in her heavenly paradise, you do not exist. Only beauty exists, and abundance, and a sense of always standing on the edge of a gorgeous precipice, a valley that is the truest home your heart could ever know.
Today they have left town. You don’t know how you know this, you just do. The mansion is empty. From where you live, on the floor of the valley, you look up and see the windows glinting gold in the sunlight, beckoning you like Jesus. Flashing light, the only promise that a place even exists, this place you want to go. Home. You must go home.
You call your friends and you all go together. Reaching this place is treacherous. You’ve tried it many times before, and always, the slopes are too steep. It’s like your worst dream, crawling up an ever steepening hill, the nose of your car pointing straight up at the sky, and then… you’re tipping, you’re tipping backwards, you’re falling off into the face of oblivion.
In your real journeys, you have always stopped before getting to that tipping point, turning back as the slopes grow too steep, the weeds pull away in your hands, and dust slides and chokes under your feet. The many wild tracks and trails that traverse the hillside are confounding, abundant, impossible to navigate. Equally, the hidden road that runs through the woods behind the house is impossible to locate. You have a fleeting memory of being on that wooded road once, in a dream, or as a child, but you’ve never found your way back.
Today, however, you and your friends find the house with ease. Suddenly, you’re just there.
No one is home. You step into the courtyard and take a deep, reverent breath. Roses spill over low stone walls, and the lawn is perfectly manicured. The view of the valley is spectacular, unbelievable, a dreamscape. No wonder the people who live here are royalty- these sights would seep into your blood and bones, and the crystal air would make you holy. Yellow flowers grow out of the dark, rich earth. They push their way up the walls of the house, framing the windows perfectly. Birds chirp in the trees and flit over the grass. They are hummingbirds, a million colors at once, and they dart here and there, deepening the sense that you are in a living, breathing fairy tale.
You run and tumble over the lawn, gloriously happy, intoxicated by being here. Your friends are leaping like gazelles, and everyone is laughing joyously. You can’t believe you’ve made it. The sun setting in the west reflects off the giant windows of the house, and they flash gold, eyes that see everything. The windows are huge, floor to ceiling. You get the feeling that the home itself is watching you. Somehow, even though it is empty, it is not.
You imagine potted trees and exotic plants growing in the stately, covered terrace that runs the length of the house. The light in there would be warm, moist, turning the room into a greenhouse. You imagine that the Egyptian sheets on the beds are alive, and that the mirrors wink back and forth at each other. You sense that the very air in the house is watching you dance on its lawn.
And though you are uninvited, you do no harm. You tumble and play, and breathe in the crystalline air. You are in heaven, you are home, and you want to stay here forever. If only these people would adopt you, if only they would invite you to live in their home. Even if you could never cross the threshold, you would be content to drink in the air of the garden, to rise and fall to the rhythms of the sun that daily crossed the zenith of the sky. You would feel happy, like you belonged. This place is blessed.
The windows continue to glint.
Your friends are taking pictures now. They snap one after the other, capturing the immaculate gardens, the ornate patio chairs. They snap shots of the Oriental silk hanging over the front door, its threads golden, vermillion, lapis lazuli. They take a picture of the low stone wall that separates the manicured lawn from a precipitous slide into the valley. The wall continues, wrapping up the other two sides of the house, a dividing line between the mythical woods and the enchanted estate. It finally stops, in a crumble of stones and flowers, at either edge of the circular back driveway. This wall is like a watchdog, a gruff protector.
No one shall enter here. No one shall fall.
And then… you’re back.
You and you’re friends are horsing around on the lumpy twin beds in your room. The sunlight that filters through these windows is weak and inferior. But you are still high on life, breathless with excitement. You have been to the house. It is in your blood now.
There are three cameras, and everyone clambers to look at them. You manage to capture one, and begin shuffling through the shots. The dark woods, deep and impenetrable. The lawn, light and sprightly, birds wheeling over it. The driveway, a proprietary Rolls Royce parked near the front door. The window that looks out over the patio.
Wait. What is there? What is that? In the window, you see something moving. This isn’t a video shot on the camera, it is a still frame. But something is moving there. It is a figure, a ghost. It is ghastly, like a joker, all huge eyes and distorted, yellow fingers. What is happening? You look closer, and then look away, sick, your stomach lurching.
He waves at you, his arms like tentacles, beckoning, repulsing, smiling a ghastly smile. Suddenly you are in the deepest trenches of your mind, traversing a path that has always left you cold. You are in a nightmare, revisited. Your friends disappear as you slip into your terror, and you are breathless. wary. You are surrounded and filled by a sense of evil, of something right behind your back.
You snap out of your cold-blooded reverie and refocus your eyes. The photograph comes into view. But now the figure is gone… or is he? Something glints in the window, and again, a form takes shape. It dances in the flashing gold glass, mocking you for daring to enter.
How dare you set foot in this place, this holy land, this estate? Didn’t you know!?
You shake your head and look again. The figure fades and the window resumes its normal, reflective quality. The glass seems a bit wobbly, but maybe that’s just the sunlight. And then… No, yes, no… yes. It is definitely moving again. Shivers crawl up your back and you want to throw up or cry. You throw the camera to the bed.
Is the phantom in the picture, or is he in your eyes?