The Waiting Room
The groundskeeper’s cottage was the only habitable building attached to the old manor house. I despised it immediately, for it was squat and shuttered, huddled beneath a pair of bedraggled oaks. Moss chinked the fieldstone walls where the limestone wash had gradually chipped off over the years, and creepers choked the chimney and threatened to overwhelm half the structure. Arthur swung the Range Rover up the drive, and I pressed my forehead against the glass. My breath misted up the view and, if I closed my eyes, I could pretend we were pulling up in front of Mum’s redbrick house in Whitby, where, if I stood at the window just so, I could glimpse the sea.
I could stand at the shore, the wind whipping up the salty tang of the ocean, and breathe in and out of the wildness. Not this sameness of Yorkshire proper, of the undulating green fields and the “quaint”—I couldn’t help but hear that particular description—little stone dwellings all in orderly rows, waiting to welcome passing tourists.
We were half an hour’s cycle from the little town of Bramble Hollow if one could name it as such. So far as I could see as we’d roared through, it was the kind of place that if one blinked, you could miss it.
“You can come have tea here in the village. It’s only three miles away from home.” Arthur said as if that would make it all right.
“Just remember to bring your brolly with you.”
I’d had nothing to say to that. What could I say? We’d been married last week in the courthouse, and I’d thought we’d be moving to his apartment in Leeds—good riddance to Mum, finally. But now we were here, in the arse end of the countryside, halfway between freak-knows-where and I’d-be screwed-if-I-knew.
“You’ll be happy here, you’ll see,” said Arthur, as he squeezed my thigh. His smile looked more a grimace—one that I returned with my baring of teeth.
“Does it ever stop raining?”
He laughed as if I’d said something incredibly funny, then pulled up the handbrake. “Come, let me show you our new abode.”
The puddle in which I stepped wet my leg halfway to the knee and instantly soaked my Doc Martens. Half-blinded by the driving rain, I ran around the side of the car to the back, where Arthur had already opened the trunk so we could retrieve our suitcases.
“I’ll bring the boxes in later,” he said as we dashed to the front porch, where he then fumbled with the lock long enough for the rain to send its insistent, cold fingers all the way down my back.
While the exterior, dare I say it, might hold what Arthur would describe as “rustic charm,” sadly the same could not be said of the interior. Whoever had dwelt here previously, had been firmly entrenched in the 1970s, for the color scheme was particularly putrid orange paired with faded lime. The melamine countertops were chipped in places, and a spot near the stove displayed the unmistakable signs that a previous resident had branded it with the base of a hot pot.
The study—or spare bedroom downstairs—was filled with a conglomeration, bizarrely, of old mannequins, most of which existed in a state of decrepitude in an indistinguishable tangle of dust-coated limbs. I stopped counting at about twenty-three and shuddered at the empty, staring eyes.
“Those have got to go,” I told Arthur. “I don’t even want to know what they’re doing here.”
“Film props.” He shrugged, but his dark eyes sparked with mischief. “I guess. They shot a few episodes of The Black Dog here.”
“Ugh. That was half a century ago.”
“Hyperbole does not become you,” he said with a sniff and shut the door. The bathroom, if it could be called that in all its slime-hued, paisley-tiled splendor, was downstairs, off the kitchen, the toilet with one of those ancient, high cisterns with a broken chain that squeaked alarmingly when yanked. I suppose I should be grateful that the loo flushed at all, even if the water in the taps was an unbecoming murky shade that smelled strongly of a duck pond and the plumbing rattled.
“You did bring the bottled water, right?” I called to him.
Arthur was already traipsing upstairs, each footstep raining down scatterings of dust. He didn’t answer me. Nothing for it but to see where we’d be sleeping. I itched all over already, just looking at the dust. The attic-to-be-bedroom didn’t inspire much confidence. The two dormer windows were so choked with ivy, we couldn’t even crack open a pane to let in fresh air, and the distinct, musky stench of mouse pervaded everything. An object crunched underfoot, and when I examined it, I discovered a crushed owl pellet. Tiny bones grinned back at me.
“We can’t sleep here!” I said to Arthur, but he was too busy inspecting old suitcases that had been stacked in the corner.
“Ugh. Something’s been nesting in here.”
A slight smile quirked his lips and some of that boyish enthusiasm that had initially swept me off my feet returned. “But think of it, ladybird! This is a chance of a lifetime! How many only dream of this opportunity?”
“This place is a dump.” I bit off the last syllable with finality and crossed my arms over my chest.
“I suppose you’d rather be staring at the little wedge of the sea from your bedroom at your mum’s now?” His gaze turned to flint.
“No, I…” My boots became incredibly fascinating. It didn’t take much for me to summon that particular brackish mustiness of my mum’s home, a scent that somehow clung to everything, her hair, her clothes, the food she cooked. Hell, even the tea she brewed. A stench that grew limbs and that sat heavily in the corner of my bed and eventually threatened to press down on my chest long enough to steal my very breath until nothing of me remained except for a smoky stain on the yellow wallpaper.
Don’t you come home pregnant and divorced. Mum really had a way with words, yet leaving home at nineteen with your thirty-two-year-old husband you’d met and married within the space of two weeks wasn’t exactly the most brilliant of life choices anyone could make, was it? Then again, this thing with Arthur had seemed like a good idea at the time. I mean, he wasn’t that bad looking, if I didn’t focus too hard on the fact that his hair was already thinning on the top, and if he didn’t cut it often enough, it started resembling a bad comb-over.
You’ve made your bed; now you lie in it.
What is this?
Hamlet had the right of it when he said, “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
The scope of human knowledge and endeavor is woefully limited, compared to the incalculable vastness of the cosmos as it truly is. Worlds – metaphysically speaking – lay atop, beneath, beside, and even within the warp and weave of the one that people take for granted as the truest, and perhaps only, face of reality. These many worlds abut and overlap one another, and, for the most part, those within any given plane of existence only perceive and interact with their own immediate environment. The average spirit in the infernal realm knows as little about what’s taking place in an Addis Ababa apartment as the people living in that apartment know about that’s spirit’s goings-on.
The difference, of course, is that those existing firmly beyond the borders of mundanity are generally aware of the reality of the other worlds, and capable of interacting with the denizens of those places – though whether they can do so safely is another matter, entirely. The day-to-day world is a dangerous enough place, in many cases, and these realms beyond are even more so. It’s rare for entities originating in other planes of existence to visit the mundane world for what most humans would consider being benevolent purposes.
In truth, there are seven “worlds” that exist within reality, at least as we know it. These worlds are the mundane, the secret worlds, the invisible world, the ethereal plane, the astral plane, the celestial plane, and the infernal plane.