The House of Candlelight

By Charles Reid
Once five children came to stay with their great uncle and great aunt and cousin. The children's names were Samuel, Elizabeth,
Andrew, Ashley and Christopher. Samuel, the eldest, was a boy of singular build: he had light, blonde hair, was quite lean yet muscular
with a childish face which yet communicated a peculiar amount of wisdom. Elizabeth, second in age, was dark in more than just her
hair color. She had eyes of a perilous green; something about them seemed to indicate poison. Her smile was always merry, but it gave
one an uncomfortable feeling, as if the girl was hiding something and was laughing quite jovially at the world's attempts to uncover
whatever it was. Andrew was the middle child, but there was a significant age difference between him and Elizabeth. He was a happy-
go-lucky child, innocent as a lamb and as full of mischief as Loki. He became such an unmitigated terror to the other children that
even his parents, who loved him dearly, would shake their heads and whisper to each other, "He'll come to no good one day; poor
thing, one day he'll find that the world isn't all pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce." There's a lot to be said for the predictions of loving
parents, and they more often than not are revealed in the end to have the breath of truth about them. Ashley was a pretty, white-
blonde girl, just a year younger than Andrew. She absolutely adored Andrew, to the point that she would share in any kind of prank he
came up with in his Screwtape mind. Conversely, little Ashley was Andrew's pride and joy; they were inseparable in both mind and
action. I'm sad to say that the graceful fawn was often led astray by the playful wolf cub, and it was usually she who took the blame
for her brother's inventive mischief, though sometimes Andrew would be so guilty and worried that he would confess in tearful
revelations of his own accord. Christopher was two years younger than Ashley and considered the baby of the family and was
consequently spoiled. His parents catered to him like fussy nursemaids and all of the children played with him unceasingly. All that is,
except Elizabeth. When he came up to her and begged her to play in the way little children will, imploring her with his big brown eyes,
she turned her eyes of green poison down to him and met his longing gaze steadily with hers. Her dark beauty overwhelmed him every
time and he ended up staring stupidly up at her face, his eyes held to hers. If the other children ever found them thus, it would often
go badly for Elizabeth, though not too badly, for if any remonstrance was handed her she'd merely laugh it off in her strange, melodic
voice.
The five children were required to come to their relatives' house because there was a fire spreading through the part of the country
where they lived; all the children had been evacuated but the parents were required to remain and aid the fire squads. So it was that
the five Kinderley children arrived in Engleton, South Carolina at ten o'clock one October night. The train station was empty when
they arrived, and as it was late at night, and very dark, the situation was ripe for incident or accident. Soon it became necessary that
someone should break the silence, so Samuel said, "It's really bad luck don't you think? Someone should have stayed with father and
mother."
"Really Sam, it couldn't be helped. The fire..." began Elizabeth.
"Oh, don't even mention the dratted fire. I'm sick of anything to do with heat and 'incineration.'" Ashley probably meant incineration;
she was forever learning new words and getting them wrong when trying to use them. It wasn't so bad when she just misspelled the
word but used it properly, the trouble came when spelled it correctly but used it improperly.
"Now don't get all huffy at Sam like that. You know we've all been through a lot and we're all tired, and I suggest that we...” But no
one ever learned what Elizabeth would have suggested; for finally, after waiting for what seemed hours and hours, someone was
coming. At first it sounded like a buggy drawn by horses, then like a very squeaky and rusted motorcar, then like the inside of a
windmill amidst all the machinery, but the reality was something different from all those. What came into sight looked like a buggy, for
it was drawn by horses, but it must have been a very strange buggy, for it was covered all over with parts of machinery, some of
which did very peculiar but interesting things. Over the part where the driver should have sat was something resembling the outside of
a tank: it was three pieces of sheet metal, the roof slanted downwards and the sides edging inward. And in fact, when one stopped to
think about it, the rest of the buggy was covered in metal too, in addition to the odd bits of mechanical inventiveness. The whole
contraption looked like a horse drawn tank. The horses were dressed in suits of armor made from the same material that the buggy
was covered in, and they cantered and pranced and wheeled all over the place until a firm voice called out,
"Calm yourselves! Have you no respect, Diggon, Agery? Stop this most ungainly display of fright this minute or you'll have no oats or
sugar or supper tonight." Somehow this last threat did what the voice had been aiming for, and the horses calmed down significantly,
though they still occasionally pawed the ground a bit. Immediately following the uttering of the strong voice, a metal clad door opened
in the side of the armored buggy and out walked a tall figure. He was clad in a coal black trench coat and top hat, wore black boots
and black gloves and carried a black cane with a gold head. As he lifted his head to look at the children, all the children gasped. His
eyes were the brightest blue they had ever seen on a person, as light as the midday sky, and as jolly as what one would imagine Saint
Nicholas's eyes to be. The children instantly relaxed, for when they first saw the tall stranger clad in all black, they had all entertained
certain misgivings concerning the nature of the man. The stranger smiled, showing a brilliant set of white teeth. He then took two steps
toward them, bowed slightly, and said in the same strong voice, "I trust you have not been too worried by the wait, I was entertaining
guests and could not leave when I wanted to."
"We haven't been waiting too long," said Samuel, "but we would like to know who you are."
The stranger laughed, a deep and rumbling laugh it was, "Why, how silly of me! I apologize. My name is Moravian Eglenda, but I am
commonly called Tiago."
"Tiago! Then you are our cousin!" cried Andrew, who had been uncommonly silent since they arrived.
"Yes, dear Andrew, I am your cousin, and I will take you to my home and you shall meet my mother and father, your great uncle and
aunt."
Elizabeth had been looking curiously at Tiago for a long while, smiling in her odd way, until she said suddenly, "Is that a cantinara
Tiago?"
Tiago looked surprised, "It is indeed, but how did you know that?"
Elizabeth smiled wider; "I have read the Strange Account of Halyard Bunyan. I found it most interesting."
Tiago's sky-blue eyes grew wide, "Elizabeth," he said in a more grave tone, "You must be wary of my house; I have never had
someone like you under my roof before; I repeat: be very wary of my house."
Tiago then beckoned the children inside the 'cantinara' and, after some worried looks, they complied and off they went, the four
children and Tiago. The children noticed something strange about the supposed buggy (in addition to the obvious): Tiago was
apparently the driver, but he didn't sit up top and hold reins in his hands. Instead he sat in a kind of forward chair, separated from the
main compartment of the carriage by a steel door which none of the children could figure out how to open. By looking through a type
of glass porthole in the steel door, the children saw that Tiago did not hold reigns in his hands at all. Instead he had before him a shelf
of sorts made of steel with various instruments on it. One was a group of vertical and horizontal sliders, all crossing themselves in the
middle. Tiago would push these into certain patterns, and then reset them and rearrange them into other patterns. He did this fairly
often. Another interesting instrument was something that looked like a cross standing up vertically on the shelf. It was made of some
reddish white stuff that none of the children could identify, and it had a large red ruby set exactly at the meeting of the crosstrees of
the cross. What was strange about this cross was that it had thin filaments which looked like spiders web attached to the three points
of the cross and hanging from somewhere above Tiago's head where the children assumed was the ceiling (the porthole wouldn't allow
them to see that far). Tiago would occasionally rub the ruby and the filaments would give off a faint cherry-colored glow. There were
other instruments on the shelf, but there was one, placed dead center, which need dictates must be elaborated upon here. It was a
stone, of fiery orange color, shaped in the form of a small skull. Out of its eyes came a dim, luminescent, deep red glow. Inside its
mouth was darkness, you could see nothing beyond the grinning teeth. Whenever the horses would whinny and prance about, or the
rain outside became troublingly harsh (a storm had blown up during the ride), Tiago would pass his hand, seemingly unthinkingly, close
by the skull. Immediately, the horses would calm down and become utterly silent and obedient, or the rain would not seem to fall as
hard on the armored buggy. This was just another mystery which the children's cousin Tiago possessed in his aura of dark presence.
Presently Tiago cried out, "You can't see it, but my house is there, off to the left and through the trees. We're coming to the drive
now; the gate's been left open as I ordered and it will take us not five minutes to reach Eglenda Manor." His voice died away as the
storm grew louder. Another four and a half minutes and the buggy had arrived at the manor; the children had been hurried into the
house by an old and dignified butler and were now sitting wrapped in warm blankets by a roaring fire set in a great stone fireplace and
sipping hot cocoa. Tiago arrived shortly, dressed all in black as before, but he had abandoned his trench coat and black boots and
donned a black overcoat and dress shoes instead.
"Children," said Tiago, "feel free to roam the house; you may go anywhere on the establishment except those places which are
guarded by a door with the insignia of a ruby with a star above it. Those doors are not to be opened under any account." So saying he
turned to leave, "I must go see to your dinner," and he walked to the door on the far side of the kitchen, but turned before going out,
"oh, children, I must warn you, sometimes at night you'll see a light passing outside your door. It is only James the butler; he checks
about the house after everyone else is asleep, so there is no need to open the door if you see him or hear his footsteps. And lastly,"
here he faced Elizabeth, "be careful where you tread, which door you open, or which books you read. Things may become a bit
strange later on, but remember: things aren't always what they seem." And he left.
The children were hesitant to drink their hot chocolate after he was gone, but in a moment the chilliness of Tiago's warnings had worn
off and the children began to converse freely.
"Well I say it's a beastly house; there isn't one electric light in the whole dratted place that I've seen, just lamps. Oh, I do wish..."
"Don't complain Andrew," Elizabeth looked scoldingly at him from across the table.
"It's rather contemplative complaining if you think about it," he made a nasty face at her as he retorted, but she smiled. That seemed
to solve it.
"I really don't see what's so bad about it, it is really quite deliciously gothic, and it's so big we may never explore the whole thing as long
as we're here!" Ashley beamed and seemed hardly able to suppress an excited giggle.
"Don't exaggerate, it isn't proper."
"As if you know what's proper, and don't boss me about, miss spoiler; it's quite delightful."
"Ashley, be respectful to Elizabeth, she's just tired, like all of us." Samuel was again playing peacemaker, a role that had been his from
necessity ever since the others had become old enough to quibble. "And besides, the house is a bit spooky, but don't believe half the
stuff Tiago says, Elizabeth; it's all rot."
"Well I like it." Ashley folded her arms stubbornly and pouted.
Soon Tiago returned and ushered them into the dining room. The children were seated at a long dinner table, at the far end of which,
on either side of the table, sat two elderly people, a man and a woman, whom the children assumed were their great uncle and aunt.
The children smiled at them, and they smiled back. Little Christopher laughed (which could be in any circumstance always relied upon
to break the ice at a social event, merely because of its charming, childish melody), and waved at his aunt and uncle with a huge grin
on his face. The man and woman were melted immediately and waved back, pantomiming quite embarrassingly, or so Ashley took it.
The children were finally seated and hushed, and Tiago took his place at the head of the table. He signaled for all to bow their heads
for grace. The children were expecting your average mumbled educated prayer, but no sooner had he started, than all five children
noticed something was amiss. The words to the prayer weren't quite audible, or rather, Tiago's voice was not quite audible, but every
child could hear, in a quiet whisper, the words to a prayer, but of what language or religion none were sure. None that is, except
Elizabeth. She heard the words just the same as the rest, but as they were being said, she was smiling, and it can only be surmised that
she knew something concerning the nature of the prayer-like chant (or incantation, no one knew). The words aren't quite reproducible
in our own tongue, but here is the best translation I know:
Whispers in the dark are nice
Tongues of winter's snow or ice
Sing along to rhyme abyssmal,
And lull loud babes to sleep so dismal

Count the merry steps around
The echoes in the hall of sound
Find we may a little time
To quiet reason and awaken rhyme

Know the ancient treasure trove
Of appeals to Mars and prayers to Jove
Praise we now the wond'rous glee
Of Magna Mater, and omnipotent Loki.
It went something like that. All the other children, Samuel, Andrew, Ashley, and Christopher, felt a strange sensation like the tingling of
electricity, or the chilling of a December wind, running all along their back, neck, and chest. But Elizabeth, wonderful and strange
Elizabeth, felt something different. As the words ceased whispering in her ear, something came into her eyes. It wasn't nearly as akin to
a glow, as it was to a burn. Such a low, but intense burn, that when the light from the lamps would catch her eyes it would appear to
be reflected back, just like a cat's. This may have been an illusion (for the dimness of the room, due to the lack of electric lights, was
considerable), but no one who looked into Elizabeth's eyes at those moments when they caught the light had any doubts whatsoever
that the pseudo-prayer had done something to her, something that if not plain terrifying, was at least extremely unsettling. After this
change had come over her, Elizabeth was quiet for the rest of the meal. She in fact never spoke the rest of that evening, but went,
after dinner was over, quietly to her room (which had been pointed out to her by the butler) and shut the door. The rest of the
children were also subdued, but their silence was more inclined to be a worried, suppressed communication of glances and whispers, all
of which combined informed all the children but Elizabeth that something was going to be done later that night at an impromptu
meeting being held in Samuel's room.
As Eglenda Manor went to sleep, an atmosphere of disturbing serenity settled its occupants. Once all the adults had gone to sleep,
Samuel, Andrew, Ashley, and Christopher gathered for a meeting. It was plain to all present that the prayer-like thing was fast
convincing each of them that it was vital to leave the house. And though they discussed it late into the night, the fact still remained that
a runaway of any kind was simply not possible. Where were they to go? They didn't know the area or any people other than their
relatives and in addition everyone knew, though none spoke it aloud, that an escape attempt would most definitely be discovered by
Tiago the instant they started to put it into action. They therefore busied themselves with the issue of survival.
Eventually, the children retired, too sleepy to think anymore. The house became quiet, almost unbearably quiet. If one walked the hall
outside the children's rooms, one would see nothing but darkness, and hear only the pitter-patter of a mouse, scurrying along the hall
floor. Outside the night owls hooted hauntingly, and the whippoorwill sang his melancholy tune. And in that hall, inside Eglenda
Manor, something stirred. It began as a creaking, not unlike the creaking of a door when someone wants badly not to be discovered
awake and about. The creaking grew gradually louder, until it stopped. Then it began again, this time shorter but shriller, until came the
sound of someone shutting the door. At the far end of the hall, around a corner, a faint light could be seen coming. It came steadily,
and soon a shadow could be seen on the wall. At the other end of the hall stood Elizabeth, in her nightgown, her eyes glinting in the
candlelight. Her hair fell loosely beyond her shoulders, and her hand was clenched around something.
The light soon turned the corner. Elizabeth smiled. It was a candle, floating in the air with nothing holding it. Elizabeth walked toward
it. In the light it could now be seen that her skin was a deathly white, a white similar to reflected moonlight. The candle stopped. So did
Elizabeth. And then something strange began to happen. A sort of shadowy outline of a figure began to reveal itself where the
candleholder should have been. And then, once the outline was almost half developed, something like a gray mist spread inside the
outline. Whatever was trying to become visible did not get far because then Elizabeth, who had been standing quite still ever since the
manifestation of whatever it was had begun happening, opened her previously clenched hand. In it, resting on Elizabeth's palm, was a
single, solitary, blood-red ruby. The ruby shed light like a light bulb, but it wasn't electric light, it was more of the kind of light you'd see
in a darkroom where pictures are developed. As soon as this light fell on the misty figure, it faded away, like smoke being blown by a
wind. Indeed, that was what it truly must have been: a kind of smoke, or haze, being blown away by the red light, which acted like a
wind. Anyway as soon as the half-formed figure was gone the candle dropped to the floor and the light went out. Now there was only
the pale, cold light of the ruby illuminating the hall. Elizabeth smiled wider, and said to herself, you were not the only one of your kind;
there must be others. I wonder where he's hiding you. Well, you cannot talk, but there may be others, different creatures who can talk.
She glanced around the hall; The night is still young. I have plenty of time to explore...and in afterthought she added...and I know well
where to explore.
She walked slowly down the hall, her gown making a soft noise where it swished across the carpet. She was fourteen, and very
conscious of her own personal beauty. She had used it several times in the past to conquer proud boys and bend them to her will. In
her mind she pictured doing the same thing to the house. She was aware of the change the chant at dinner had created in her, and,
looking in the mirror since then, had come to the conclusion that, from an honest and objective viewpoint, her beauty had increased.
In truth, she was indeed ten, maybe even fifty times as beautiful and seductive than before, but whether her charm would work on the
house (which Elizabeth thought was really quite a living entity itself) remained to be seen.
She traveled onward quite a ways, down passage after passage, hallway after hallway, up a flight of rickety old stairs, and came finally
to a place that interested her. It was a door, at the top of the flight of stairs, and it had engraved on it the emblem of a ruby with a
star above it. Since Tiago had commanded her and children not to enter any such door, it was obvious that in order to discover
certain revealing facts about the house and it's semi-material captives, she must open any and every door of this kind. So informing
herself, Elizabeth tried the doorknob. It opened with ease.
She stepped into the dark room that the open door revealed. The place more resembled an attic than anything else, yet such an attic
Elizabeth hadn’t ever begun to think possible. It was filled, floor to ceiling along the walls and in other places as well, with playthings.
The articles consisted of more than just toys, for marionettes and puppets and numerous other elements of children’s performances
were scattered haphazardly throughout the mess. On the far side of the attic was a rocking chair. Why Elizabeth noticed this particular
item among all the others could only be explained by mentioning that the chair was very ornate. The designs along the arms and legs
seemed to belong to an old Agean tradition, while the engravings on the back resembled more of a Sicilian heritage. Intrigued by the
curious chair, Elizabeth crossed the attic (taking care to avoid any splintered wood, for she was, after all, barefoot), and proceeded to
sit in it. As her gown touched the wood of the chair, a veil of darkness seemed to be drawn before her eyes, and the attic all but
disappeared, even despite the glow of the ruby which she still held tightly in her hand. Peering carefully about her, Elizabeth spotted
something in the darkness. It was a small, insignificant glow in a far corner across the attic. She stood up suddenly. At once the glow
vanished, and the corner and the attic were again only darkness. She then resumed her seat in the chair, and the glow returned. She
focused for a very long time on the place where the glow was, allowing it to be burned into her memory. She then rose once more
from the chair, and walked over to the corner where the glow had been, but where was now only shadow.
When she reached the corner she cast about for anything peculiar that might perhaps have cast the glow, but she found nothing.
Nothing cried out to her from amongst the toys and clutter; there were no light bulbs for her to scrutinize, no crystaline figures or
pendants which might have reflected light. There was, in fact, nothing in the immediate area save toys and books. But there were a lot
of books. Not so many that they wouldn't have fit into a living-room library, but more than perhaps would fit into Elizabeth's room.
But perhaps the only reason there appeared to be so many is that Elizabeth couldn't see them all, for where she stood only a tiny bit of
light shone, and that was only due to the pale, red light of the ruby which she held aloft; where the dim rays of the glowing ruby
blended with the darkness and created darker and dimmer shades of red and grey before giving out entirely to the ink-like shadows,
the ends of more books could just be made out, the far ends of the books disappeared in blackness. And as Elizabeth contemplated
the excess of books about her, her eyes finally revealed something strange. About five feet from where Elizabeth had thought she had
seen the glow, there was what appeared to be an enormously tall and wide stack of books. Yet when Elizabeth examined this
construction, she found that it more resembled a wall than a single stack, for although the structure consisted of books of all sizes and
shapes, every last one had been fitted seamlessly to where only the spine was showing, and furthermore they were all arranged so as to
render all but the most determined attack on its integrity completely useless. This made Elizabeth step back and wonder. And as she
stepped back, the wall of books began to take on an entirely new significance. For, looking at what she had believed to be the whole of
the structure, Elizabeth could tell that not only was the entire thing much larger than she had thought, but the scope of its now quite
apparent use was beyond even her imagination. Someone had constructed one entire side of the attic out of nothing but books, and
looking directly at where she had believed the glow to have been, Elizabeth could now make out the faint outline of a door in the wall...
a door made entirely of books, with a single gap as the doorknob.
Elizabeth approached the Door in the Book-Wall with an ever-rapidly beating heart. Her pulse did not abate once she felt the space in
the wall into which she must very soon thrust her hand if she desired to venture farther, on the contrary it sped up considerably, and
her hand began to shake so that she had to steady it with the other. But it was time now to press on or fall back, and Elizabeth was
not one to shrink from any adventure, so without further thought she thrust her hand into the knob-hole, grasped the inside of the
hole, and pulled fiercely. The outline of the door which had been quite faint, almost invisible, solidified considerably as Elizabeth
continued to pull at the door. Soon there appeared a quite obvious gap which began to widen by ever increasing intervals until, finally,
Elizabeth stood with her hand no longer in the knob-hole, and the Door in the Book-Wall wide open...replaced by very black
emptiness.

The ruby's rays refused to penetrate the blackness that faced Elizabeth. At this she wondered, but in a moment reminded herself that
Eglenda Manor was magic, and so this development shouldn't surprise her so much. Just as she was beginning to wonder how she was
going to proceed through an all-consuming blackness with no light, her eyes inadvertently flitted momentarily to where on an ordinary
door the lintel would be, and she saw that the same engraving she'd seen above the lintel of the attic door, that of a ruby with a star
above it; only this time the engraving wasn't exactly a true engraving: it was more like an indentation that is made for the purpose of
holding an object merely by the design of the fixture and without the need of clasps. On a hunch, Elizabeth held the ruby in her hand
up to the pseudo-engraving (for it was not much higher than she and her arms reached it quite easily), and she found that were she to
place it inside the fixture, it would more than likely fit perfectly. So she tried it. As soon as the ruby left her hand, the pale glow
completely left it, and at the same time a very similar glow appeared out of the blackness beyond the Door in the Book-Wall. Quite
elated, Elizabeth now proceeded past the book-made frame, and into a dimly lit room.
First of all, the red glow in the room was not emitting from any readily identifiable source; rather it seemed to come from all parts of
the room except that at which you were presently looking. This was true of in all directions except directly ahead, where the glow,
instead of dissipating, grew a bit stronger, marking that direction as the most sensible one in which to proceed, at least to Elizabeth,
who was, after all, possessed of remarkable intuition beyond that of most others. Secondly, the room could only truly be called a room
in the sense that, to all appearances, it was not outside of the manor. For it did not have any visible walls or ceiling, and the floor
seemed to extend indefinitely in all directions except directly behind her, where the Book-Wall stood. And yet, despite the fact that the
dimensions of the room were in almost stark contrast with the laws of nature, nothing else seemed to be the matter, and so Elizabeth,
following her previous intuition, began to walk cautiously but determinedly towards the red light, never for a moment taking her eyes
off it.
As she walked through that dark place, sounds hailed her from out of the darkness. They were not sounds like you'd hear regularly,
nor sounds you'd perhaps ever hear, for they were cold sounds. If you ever hear a cold sound, you'll most likely immediately know it,
for it is unlike anything you've ever experienced or, odds are, will ever experience again. Cold sounds fall on your ears like a thousand
freezing glass marbles falling onto all the tender parts of your body all at once, and at once you instinctively begin trying to cover up
yourself, to rid yourself of the sensation, but the feeling isn't external, it's within the body, and the only way to stop it is to cover your
ears. But we've been talking all this time of regular, ordinary people, of which group Elizabeth does not belong. She merely began to
shiver convulsively and wrapped her arms closely around her body, and proceeded. And as she proceeded, her heart became cold.
After many hours, days, years, seconds, or minutes, she came at long last upon something in that cold, boundless place. A high stone
door stood before her, barring her way forward. No walls, nothing on the far side of the door however which way you looked, so she
felt she must step through the door open, though why she felt this she never could tell. She grasped the door knob and found it would
not turn. So she pulled and it opened.
Inside the door was a long hallway full to the very brim with a swirling mist, through which Elizabeth found she could walk quite
easily, seeing as it dissipated as she stepped into it. There was now no sign within the hall of the boundless room she'd just come from,
and the red glow was very much stronger, though ethereal, sort of translucent, as if seen through a crystaline glass of swirling water. As
she walked ahead, the mist closed behind her, creating a sort of capsule within which Elizabeth was traveling. The coldness was
becoming colder, and the mist was growing thicker and closer, and Elizabeth's poison green eyes were flashing and glowing madly like
a banshee's in the ruddy light; and at last there came a time where Elizabeth for the first time found that she could not proceed
further, for her legs would not move. The mist which had been swirling around her with ever increasing velocity closed in upon her
and lifted her gently as a cloud lifts the light that it blocks as it pours forth rain...and Elizabeth's eyes were open the widest they'd been
so far, but she was not seeing, for she was asleep and could no longer see the mist.
And after a reasonably long time, the mist set the girl down on a dusty hardwood floor and vanished. It was a long time before
Elizabeth stirred, but when she did it was like one suddenly awakened by the harsh blaring of a train in the middle of the night. She
jolted almost all the way to her feet in one movement that, although full of fear and shock, was nevertheless uncannily graceful. She
stared about her, eyes wide open and still shining with a poisonous virulescence. She saw shelves reaching all the way to the ceiling and
stretching all the way to the back to the room. They were made of a very dark wood which looked like it had been salvaged from
some underwater shipwreck: every inch looked like ornate driftwood carved with a peculiar, macabre artistry by some demented
disciple of El Greco. When her eyes reached the center of the room, she froze. Before her was a tree about six feet high, its wood
grey and rotting as if dead, its roots extending into the floorboards which were also rotted and worm-ridden. This would perhaps not
have been troubling except for the fact that the branches of the tree were writhing and twisting and twirling like an animal, and were
spinning something that looked like spider's web. On the very tip of each branch was what looked like a black thorn, out of which the
tree was drawing its web. Elizabeth didn't know what to do, so she did what was probably the least reasonable thing to do: she spoke to
the Spider-Tree.
"Excuse me...um, if you please?"
Surprisingly, the Spider-Tree responded. But his voice wasn't exactly human, so I can't really describe it accurately and I won't try. And
it wasn't what one would call words that he was speaking, so it's hard to translate. But I'll do the best that I can.
"Excuse me...um, If you please?"
You're a silly girl.
"I'm sorry?"
I think you heard me, you silly girl.
"But...what do you mean, if you please?"
Well, I don't please...so don't go on asking me if I do.
"Oh." The conversation didn't seem to be going anywhere. So Elizabeth was about to ask the Spider-Tree, in very precise and exact
terminology, what he really meant, when he spoke again.
You’re not supposed to be here, you know.
"Oh, yes, well..." she hadn't really thought that the Spider-Tree would know that, but then again she hadn't really expected to find a
Spider-Tree in the first place, and really ought not to have been surprised.
You don't know what to say to that, I expect.
"No sir."
You can dispense with the sir, miss.
"Oh, okay," and as an afterthought, "what should I call you then?"
I'm not too particular, and it really doesn't matter anyway...but do you mind if we foregoe further pleasantries? There is pressing
business to be discussed.
"Oh?" She couldn't imagine what a Spider-Tree would consider 'pressing business,' but she wasn't too sure that she wanted to know.
You can stop being apprehensive, and as a side note, worrying won't get you anywhere, and neither will plotting anything...I am fully
capable of reading and comprehending your thoughts.
"Oh. Well, that is certainly intriguing."
How so?
"I haven't met anyone who could read minds."
You're sure about that?
She thought for a moment, then said slowly, "I think I might have noticed if I had, so yes, I'm quite sure."
Then you are a very silly girl.
"See here...what do you mean by that?"
I thought I already told you that.
"No! You didn't!"
I most certainly did, but that's not saying that you understood it or were even aware that I was speaking. The mind has almost infinite
languages of its own, you know, and most people can't translate even 20,000 of them. I personally can comprehend 419,027,542
Thought-Languages.
"And how, Mr. Spider-Tree, does this help me?"
And why, Miss Elizabeth, should I be interested in helping you?
Elizabeth had no answer for this. So the Spider-Tree continued.
Do you know why I am here, or what I really am? Of course you don't, do you?
Elizabeth said nothing.
Do you know why you went prowling in the night? I expect you could come up with a clever speculation, but do you really know?
Remember, I read minds.
She still said nothing.
And, furthermore, do you know why your cousin Tiago told you, in particular, to beware of this house? Do you know why he forbade
you to enter the doors marked with a ruby and star above them, knowing, of course, that you'd enter any one you'd find? Do you
know what it was you saw holding the candle, or why it gave you the ruby that belonged in the lintel of the Door in the Book-Wall?
Elizabeth began to tremble, but still said nothing.
Do you know why you're eyes shine with poison? Or why Christopher adores you...or why no boy however haughty or stoic can resist
your advances? Do you know why your parents never said anything about your cousin Tiago and this house...or why they never before
told you about the rubies you found buried in the back yard...and why they refused to see them?
Elizabeth's face and hands were white as a corpse now, and her insanely wide eyes had deep shadows underneath them. Still, she said
nothing. And the Spider-Tree continued talking.
Well, I shall tell you.
The shelves around the room began to slowly drip evil-smelling water.
Your parents and your cousin Tiago were all three members of a secret order, the purpose of which was the ritualistic worship of a
powerful, unembodied force, which in return for homage granted its devoted followers power unlike any other imaginable: hordes of
sacred blood-stones, which common people call rubies, and which, without the proper invocations, prove quite harmless, though still of
immense value. But once it had gone through the proper rites, a common ruby would become a source of almost incomprehensible
power. But I forget myself...a mere girl like yourself could not fully understand or appreciate the value of the Blood-Stone without an
illustration. Imagine for a moment then, that your parents - yes, your loving parents - snared innocent children, led them to their house
where they then replaced, using secret methods, the eyes of their victims with Blood-Stones; a deed that, once completed, transferred
the soul for all time into the keeping of the force which they worshipped. They were true followers of the faith - they brought many
into the Dark Fellowship - and Tiago was always envious of the favor that they found, for he had always used the rubies to his own
advantage. Rare indeed were his gifts...and he has paid for his irreverence and lack of devotion. But there came a time, alas, when
your parents forgot their convictions, became strangers to the mysteries they had once endorsed, and began to preach vehemently
against the worship they themselves had participated in. They became, in essence, traitorous, blaspheming heretics, and they shall soon
reap the harvest they have sown. Do you want to know what caused them to forsake their faith? It was you, Elizabeth. When you
were born, they hated their god, hated their brothers and their sisters and found instead poor imitation supplements to replace the
fellowship they had had. But their god knew. He was fully aware of their treachery, and He avenged Himself on them in a way that
they had not anticipated: He made the very thing that had caused their dissention an instrument of His power. He gave you a subtle
version of His light in your eyes. He led you to the cache of left-over Blood-Stones which your parents had buried, hoping to forget.
He worked His power through you in all things...he brought you irresistible charm, seductive power, a spirit of intelligent, passive
rebellion which your parents could not quell, and an obsessive drive for knowledge...all of which things He bestows upon the closest of
those who are innermost in His Order. You are the instrument of His great design...and you will now be brought into perfect, beautiful
union with Him.
The shelves were pouring fetid water. Dank, rotten, green water...and it was swirling about Elizabeth. She looked to the shelves. There
must be salvation. Darkness is not the ultimate, it is not the truth. There is also light. And there was then a violin of beautiful
rosewood on one of the shelves, Elizabeth knew then what she must do for only a short time - perhaps too short for what must be
done. Somehow she waded through the poison to the putrid shelves. And somehow she brought the violin down and set a bow strung
with raven-black hair very much like her own upon the strings. Then a tune somehow sprang into her head - somehow the notes were
there, and it seemed the right one to play. For one thing had kept Elizabeth from the horrified, numbing despair which the Spider-
Tree god had wanted to cast upon her: a memory, deep and repressed, had suddenly been awoken as truth had entered into her mind.
Her soul had kept this little nugget, this little precious gold, for a long time, knowing that it would be needed in the end. Her mother
singing a lullaby...her father hummin along...the chimes were playing in the low and dimly recalled background. The bloody light, the
light of rubies set in the walls, in the lamps, hanging near her head - this was fading as the lullaby floated along like a river, graceful
and unstoppable.
And the lullaby was present in Elizabeth's mind as she set the bow strung with her hair to the dazzling pearl-white strings and played as
though she were playing before millions. Playing to the world, and for the world. The notes sang, and the Spider in the floor screamed
and shrank horribly - drinking in its own poison - and began to grow poisonous green and shrivel. Elizabeth's eyes were changing. They
were suddenly a leafy green...and then rainy grey...and then a sky blue. Her hair was rapidly lightening. It was black, and then silver. It
was golden-brown, then hay. And then it was the purest white-blonde ever seen. And the Spider was dying, almost dead. But having
killed him, and freed herself from his clutches, she had also taken away the life that had kept her breath in her body. She had purged
herself of the Darkness that plagued her, and the light was too much for her. There is darkness...but there is also light. Unfortunately,
the light - though beautiful - cannot dwell long in a perfect state. And so it was that as defection was her breath, perfection was her
death. And Elizabeth slumped lifeless to the dusty floor of the attic...a gorgeous smile eternally upon her lips.

The children heard the crack and explosion somewhere in the house, and said among themselves that the house had gone mad. Would
that they knew the truth, for some last remnant of the evil of that candlelit house had blinded their minds to any thought or memory
of Elizabeth. And so it came to pass that when in time the children came back into the care of their parents, after having wandered
the woods for many nights after the destruction of the House of Candlelight, they stared and then shook their heads when their
parents questioned them as to where Elizabeth was. The children never did understand why their parents left them to seek some girl
called Elizabeth...back at the House of Candlelight.