The entryway seemed larger even than I would have expected the entire size of the building to be. It was blocky, and some of its polished gray stone walls held woven hangings. It was hard to see what kind of colors they were in the gloom.
Far to my right, there was inconstant, orange light lapping from a doorway onto the thick dark carpet. I took a shivery breath, pulled my shoulders back and down, and headed for the light. The darkness between the door and the firelight was palpable. No soft dark brown or green or twilight-purple were these shadows. They were black. They fell over, and it seemed, through me, layers piling on my head, shoulders, heart. I slogged through, feeling like I was walking in slow motion, holding my hands up to ward them off, but of course they just fell on and through my hands and forearms. My long hem dragged against the carpet with an eerie scraping noise. I could barely lift my feet, but I was propelled forward anyway by my fear of what the shadows might do if I stopped, and by that orange light, which had come to represent to me all that warm and light and peaceful and good.
When I reached the light, brighter than before, when I’d seen it through the shadows, the weight of the shadows seemed to slip and drip away, and I stood up straight again, my arms falling loosely to my sides.
The doorway was fine grain stone, deeply carved and polished, reflecting swatches of light and shadow. I leaned my hand on it and looked into the room. The stone beneath my hand was cool, almost glassy. The room beyond was draped in shadows, but regular ones, not the black and heavy kind. i felt no fear or despair from these. It was a huge room; I couldn’t t see the walls or ceiling, they were lost to shadows.
To my left was the fireplace and I went there with relief. I got as close as possible, rubbed my hands together, closed my eyes gratefully as the golden-orange light fell on me. I could hear it burning, the first sound I’d really heard since coming in this house. All I was aware of for a moment was each hiss and cloud of sparks, the deep orange ember glow and pale gold crest of flame. The shadows and light and glow shifted just so, and I could swear I saw something moving in there, something alive, something small and lithe and quick, the shape of fire.
The mantlepiece was a single slab of stone worked finely, but without the decorative carving and shine of the doorframe. A single silver candlestick stood on its left side. I saw smears and flickers and soft-seeming spots along it, disappearing arcs of shadow, as if there had at one time been other objects here or would be or could be.
Abruptly, I abandoned my scrutiny of the mantlepiece and looked down at myself. More specifically, at my clothing, which had been soaked a moment ago and was now soft and dry. To the right of the fireplace were two wing chairs. They were small, looking to be scaled down to fit me, since in most normal size chairs I looked like a child, having to either slouch or kick my feet out in the air. I also noticed a low table bearing a tray with a silver pot on it. I debated whether I hoped it was tea or coffee.
It was coffee, good coffee, dark roast and although I debated, I decided to drink it black because it was that good. There were cream pitcher and sugar bowl, but I didn’t need them.
I stopped still, with the thin china cup halfway to my mouth. The smell of the coffee was rich, hot, tempting. Steam rose in streamers, caressing my face. Struck by the hollow feeling of something being not quite right, I lowered the cup and stared silently at the flames. A wave of unreality crested and broke over me, and I moved to put the cup down and get up. Then the wave receded, and I wondered why I was half-standing. I sank back into the chair. What could be more real than this? I was fully inhabiting my body; I was conscious of my hips in the chair, my feet on the floor. Skin, muscles, guts, bone. Eyes and ears functioning. The heat of the fire and of the cup in my hand. I sat back and sipped. A pleasantly bitter kiss.
I drank half the cup of coffee, just watching the fire– sometimes I would see things moving, but the fire itself moved so quickly and erratically that it was difficult to say whether I saw anything more than flames.
I looked up as bright yellow light filled the doorway and spilled into the room like rays of sunlight. Then the light dimmed, and there was a slender figure in the doorway. He moved forward, and animals– all manner of canines, it looked like, coyotes, a red fox, maybe a wolf– surrounded him, flowing around his legs like quicksilver. He walked toward me and I smiled to myself, the way you do when you recognize a long-lost friend. He did look familiar, but I did not recognize him.