House Vey

I was working as a tax agent for the British government in the Year of Our Lord 1999. It was then that my supervisor approached me regarding the matter of House Vey.

"It has come to my attention," he said, "that there is an estate that has been evading tax law for centuries. It isn't on land-survey maps and has only come to my attention due to its recent acquisition of materials from certain sources."

He handed me a file that described several transactions in metals and rare minerals by a House of Vey, location given.

"I want you to go down there," he continued, "And make the books square."

So I did what he told me. Not that it was easy. There was no road that led to the House of Vey (a house left off of the British Royals' list). Instead, I took my auto as far as dirt roads allowed. Then, equipped with a hand-written map superimposed on the GPS grid, I wandered through the British countryside in search of the House.

It wasn't easy to find. Lines so clearly demarcing farmlands on the map faded to scant-existent divisors in my experience. I walked aimlessly over hill and through valley following the crooked path. Just as I was about to give up, I spied House Vey.

The House looked like it had been piled there through the entropy of many years much as time shapes mountains. It was a vague brown color, such that it was impossible to tell which parts were wood and which were metal.Set upon the tips of spires and parapets were brass vanes of curious intricacy, revolving lazily in several hypnotic layers, seemingly without aid of wind. How long I stood there prizing my find, I know not, but the sky had changed before I went to the door.

The door opened scarcely before I began to knock. There stood an elder man with an uncouth tangle of white hair. "Yes yes," he said in a raspy voice, "Come in already. There's no point in standing out there." He motioned anxiously with his hands.

Without so much as a look ahead I stepped in the house as he hobbled back into the chamber. Perhaps there was a gust of wind, for the door shut behind me, leaving me in momentary darkness until my eyes adjusted. A few misshapen candles cast scant light from atop a mantelpiece, reflected in specks of gold and silver from metallic objects throughout the room. Everything was covered in such a thick layer of dust that it was difficult to distinguish one thing from the next. Bits of dust floated in the air.

"Ahem," I began, "Perhaps I should explain what I'm doing here. I'm a tax agent for Her Majesty's --"

"Hush child," said the old man as he turned to face me, "for mercy's sake." He held some spectacles up to his eyes that looked hand-made. He peered at me up and down, at one point rising on his toes and leaning in so close that our noses nearly touched. He removed the spectacles, stroked his chin hairs, and muttered to himself, "Yes...well no. I don't like this at all. But he will do." Then he turned to me and spoke over-deliberately, "I know you're over-anxious to be done with your business, but in these parts its considered rude to be in such a hurry. I'd like you to meet my family."

He gestured with upturned palms. Sitting on a couch so still that I had not noticed them before was a a homely woman of unguessable age and a young boy with skin untouched by sun and some baby-fat still in his cheeks. They too seemed covered with dust, but it must have been a trick of the shadows, for when they arose it seemed to melt from their faces which shone in the candle-light.

The youth bounded towards me with a bright smile. "This is Ian," said the old man, "He's a brilliant child. A prodigy, you might say." I held out my hand and the boy clasped it in both of his and shook vigorously. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but he instead just giggled and scuttled off.

The woman moved slowly and rigidly towards us, a slight smile on her face. "This is the Lady of the House, what you might call my wife," said the old man, who for the first time smiled as he nodded to her, "Though of course such labels are pretty useless here." She gave the slightest curtsy.

"What is her name?" I asked.

"Just call her Mother," the man said, "She's old enough that we can all call her Mother. As for me, I am called Vey, though perhaps a bard would give me some more romantic name. I am the caretaker of this house while the Lord is away."

"When will he be returning?" I asked, "I have business with him."

The child and mother looked at each other quizzically. "The Lord will not be returning," said Vey, "However, I am entitled to proctor business for his House."

"Ah good," I said, "You see, I am a tax agent and this house doesn't seem to be registered --"

I stopped as I heard a succession of booming noises, getting louder and louder, until through a curtain stepped a mountain of a man wearing armored boots and carrying a claymore on which was skewered a boar. He had dark hair and eyes and his features were gaunt. Blood dripped from the boar as he stood there. Ian turned away, horrified, and the mother lowered her head and covered her eyes

"And this is Edmund," said Vey, "You will behave yourself in front of our guest won't you?"

"I caught this one trespassing," said Edmund, "So I ran him through."

"Then at least we'll have dinner tonight," said Vey, "Won't you be kind enough to put the beast in the kitchen?"

Edmund stood there a moment, his eyes upon Vey's as if he was considering running him through. Then he shrugged his shoulders and trod off the way he came, the booming of his boots gradually lessening. For a moment, everyone just stood there, as if it wasn't sure what would happen next. Then, I remembered the business at hand.

"I apologize, Vey," I began again, trying to be polite this time, "If I've come at a bad time. But we really must get the business of the registration of this house in order."

"Patience!" Vey yelled the word, "Patience my dear fellow. Here it is customary to have a little hospitality with business. You'll stay for supper, and then we can sort out whatever matter you're on about over libations."

"No," I said, "I really can't stay. I need to get back before dark."

"Nonsense!" said Vey, "Of course you can stay. And its already dark."

He opened a slat of a shutter to reveal a sky that showed no sign left of daylight. The evening star had already risen.

"I must go at once!" I said, "I'll be lucky if I can get to my car and get back home in time for bed." I turned to the door, then realized how disheveled I must have looked, and turned back and bowed for want of something to do. I dropped my papers, which the child picked up before I could bend for them.

"Do you really think you can find your way back in the dark?" asked Vey, "Now be a good lad and leave your hustle and bustle behind for a night. You will stay here, I insist. Don't think yourself an inconvenience to us."

I stood dumfounded.

"Ian," he said to the boy, "Would you be so kind as to take the good sir's papers to the library?" The boy nodded and was off. I watched longingly as my paperwork skipped down with him, vanishing in a turn of a corridor.

"Mother," said Vey, "If you would assist me preparing supper? I'll start the fire."

For such a large boar, it seemed to cook in no time at all. Then again, I know nothing about cooking. I had never had boar meat before, though I figured it would be near enough to pork. They beckoned me to the kitchen when the food was ready. An invertible feast stood on a great wooden table. Vey sat at the head of the table with the Mother and Ian on his left. Edmund sat on the right, and as soon as I walked in, pulled out a dagger and stabbed it into the table.

"Lets get to eating," he said, and grabbed some boar meat with his bare hand and devoured it.

I sat down and helped myself to some of everything. While a pleasant aroma, the smell of spice was overwhelming, making me light-headed. After taking a few bites, I decided it all tasted delicious, even the boar. After satisfying my hunger, I looked up to see Vey, the Mother, and the child calmly eating, while Edmund on the other side eating like a half-starved wolf.

I notice a cat with silver streaks in its hair towards one end of the table, then too quickly at the other end. Now looking more carefully, I saw there were several cats around, which all looked alike, hidden in the darkness and revealed only by their eyes and silvery fur.

A rather large spider descended by spinning down a thread of its silk from the chandelier above. The child saw me looking at it, and catching an eye of it himself dropped his knife and fork with a clatter on the table. Then Vey and Mother noticed it and all three stared at it open-mouthed. Even Edmund stopped shoveling food in his mouth, though he was still chewing as the spider lowered itself. Ian looked at his mother and started crying into her, but before many sobs one of the cats jumped on the table and devoured it before it touched the table. Ian and his mother applauded and a smiled crossed their faces and Vey's. Edmund resumed his gluttony.

It was then I spied a wispy figure, nearly blending in with the velvet curtain beside him at his chair. He was not eating, but just sitting watching the rest of us as if studying our every move. I could not distinguish the gender, for all the skin but the upper face was draped in subdued hues of crimson and indigo. The only mark of color radiated from an iguana, two feet in length, its tail coiling around the figure's arm up to the shoulder.

"That is Skye," said Vey, "you might call him a distant cousin of our family."

This Skye fellow nodded to me but said nothing. In my hunger I realized that I knew little about these people and indeed had thought little ahead of my official visit. "So if we shan't discuss business over dinner, may I at least ask the history of this House?" I said.

"Who do you ask?" said Skye, his voice dark and airy, like the shadow of spiderwebs.

All eyes look at me in anticipation. Then Edmund stomped his boot down, shaking the dishes. He dropped his food to say, "Let me tell it! I tell it the truest."

I didn't know what to say and no one else spoke. Finally I said, "Okay, Edmund."

He began speaking, putting the full gamete of emotions into his speech, as if the telling was most profound thing in his life:

"The McBaern family had," Edmund begun, "For some generations, lived in a shack by the river. Not a large shack, mind you, but one of those glorified lean-tos with a tin roof that had somehow grown to look as part of the land. Jeb 'Pappy' McBaern made his living in providing leeches to medicine men and surgeons that still used such things from old tradition, or who recently rediscovered that art. Every night he came home covered with leeches which his daughter Lily lovingly picked off. He drank some of his potent corn whisky and went to sleep.

"One day, the great storm came -- a furious thunderin' storm rolling across the hills, blowing a wind about which grandfathers would tell their grandchildren. The McBaern family was outside, holding somewhat of an important conference to decide whether they should slaughter their mule, Ol' Bessie, for the meat. The wind came blowing and their shack went flying off into the storm.

" 'Well shat,' spoke Pappy. And their stood their, a portrait of a a less glamorous side of American Gothic.

" 'Where are we going to live, Pappy' asked Petunia, the youngest of the children.

"Jeb McBaern stood up right tall, staring into the storm with defiance in his eyes. He cleared his throat and began in a strong, solemn voice, 'I reckon...I said, I reckon -- aw hell with it, we might as well curl up in a little ball and die. We gonna die children!'

" 'Pappy!' some cried, and all began weeping.

"Heads turned as they heard a sort of crashing up river and blank faces stared open-mouthed as a cottage floated down the flooded stream.

" 'No time to lose, hook up Ol' Bessie,' said Jeb, sticking a corn-cob pipe in his mouth, 'If we work fast we can grab that cottage.'

"They got the whole thing hooked up with ropes and the family pulled with all their might, along with Bessie, amidst the torrential water and managed to get that house up where their shack used to stand, not much worse for wear.

" 'Well, he he,' laughed Pappy, 'Christmas just might come again this year.'

"The next few days were spent in elation as they got settled in the cottage.

" 'We never had a wood floor before, Pappy!' cried one child.

" 'I think the butter churn still works!' cried another."

Edmund ceased his reckoning. A long, eerie silence ensued, as if the conversation went on but no one in the room was left a part of it.

"So you're saying that cottage is this?" I asked, "And that that story is true?"

"Yes," said Ian, :Except it wasn't Christmas we celebrated."

The Mother gave him a stern look. Edmund laughed. As everyone had finished eating, she began clearing away the table.

"But surely you're not serious," I said, "I mean, it doesn't even seem like its set here. Let alone that a mule could never haul a house out of a river and all the other absurdities."

"What is so hard to understand?" said Ian.

"So why is it named House Vey if it was founded by this McBaern fellow?" I asked.

"As I told you," said Vey, speaking very slowly and deliberately, "I keep the house for the Lord. It bears my name until his return."

I opened my mouth to say that this McBaern didn't sound to have the makings of a Lord, but Vey continued to speak, "And this has nothing to do with your business anyway," said Vey, "Since everyone is done eating, let's retire to the library for that cordial I promised you." He rose from his seat and grabbed a candle-holder and walked down one of the adjoining hallways. Ian waved at me as I followed. We walked through a narrow unlit twisted passge which seemed to curve unnecessarily every few meters. Except for the occasional door, the passage was featureless.

Vey opened a door to a room bathed in rich warm firelight from a large hearth. A bright wooden room contained an inestimable number of well-preserved volumes, with ladders streching up the wall of bookcases several meters high to an ornate ceiling. In the center of the room was large table of polished chestnut surrounded by chairs. In the center of the table was my briefcase of papers. Vey gestured me to sit at a chair as he walked to a liquor cabinet.

"Wine or brandy?" he asked.

"Wine, please," I said. He poured me a stone goblet of a wine so dark that its crimson tint could be scarcely discerned from black. He poured himself a snifter of brandy that glowed a bright gold in the firelight. He gave me the wine and raised his glass in silent toast, which I answered.

Sitting himself, Vey began, "So you will tell me that my house is not registered under whatever laws require so, and that I must be added to the lists, and pay levys, and what have you."

"Yes," I said, "Then you were aware that you were in violation of the law?"

"Not aware of," he said, "Though I have heard others tell of similar happenings so I guessed what your business here might be. Did I guess correctly?"

"Yes, nearly so," I said, looking through my papers, "So if you could fill out these forms -- I can help you if you wish -- then we can at least get on the way to--"

"I am not interested," said Vey, and sat motionless looking me dead in the eye. The cackle of the fire puntuated the thick silence.

"I'm afraid, good man...sir..." I stammered, not knowing how to address him. His eyes were unwavered. "I'm afraid its not an option. You see its required by law that--"

"It is not my law," he said.

"Well yes," I said, "I'm sure you didn't vote for it. But its required that--"

"There is nothing more to discuss on the matter," he said, "Another word about your forms and treaties will be the death of us both."

I didn't know what to say there. Part of me wondered if he was making a joke, but his eyes were so stern and serious that I didn't dare ask. Vey sipped his brandy, his eyes never leaving me, and I took a drink of wine to calm my nerves. I realized I hadn't tasted it yet for I was shocked how magnificent and complex it was, such a deep earthy tone atop which were subtle textures barely discernible -- oak, cherry, honey, and many more that blended in perfect harmony on my palate. Such a crisp, clear taste that I almost forgot the necessity of my business.

I decided to begin again, in a diferrent way. "The wine is very good," I said, to which Vey nodded with a polite smile, "Thank you for it. If I may, though, can I at least confirm some of our records for the sake of accuracy?" When he did not answer, I decided to press on: "Looking here, it saw that just this last year you bought what I would consider an unusual purchase for a house like this. Three tons of high-quality brass, two hundred kilos of quartz. Large quantities of feldspar, jasper, azurite...silver and gold ingots. Did you buy these?"

"I did," Vey said.

"Ah, very good," I said, "Now...'Reason of Purchase'? "

"I require them for my work," Vey said.

"Oh?" I said, "Are you an artist? What is your profession?"

" 'My profession'?" he said, the quotation marked gestured to by his intonations. "Who says that I am employed?"

"But you said--" I started, but he cut me off.

"I know what I said!" said Vey, who rose more quickly than I would have guessed he could have moved from his age and slow gait. He loomed over the table, the firelight casting his shadow giant and menacing on the bookcases behind him. It darkened the whole room. Then he sat, and said, much more meekly, "Forgive me. When you get to be my age it is sometimes hard to be patient with the young. Yes, I bought such things. No, I have no source of income nor require any. If you want to call me an artist working for my own pleasure, then so shall it be. We take nothing from the British Government, and will give nothing in return. Suffice it that your records are accurate, I can promise, and nothing more of your official business will you get from me."

At this point, I contemplated telling him the consequences of his actions. But I was more afraid of him then than I was even of Edmund and his blade. I also decided against trying to get him to sign off the forms. I just wanted to leave, but thought about how hard it was to find the house by day, and figured it must be deep night at that point. I was stuck. I drank some more of the remarkable wine and it roused my spirits a bit.

"I'm sorry if I offended you," I decided to offer in case there was any bad blood between us, "I was just trying to do my job. But I will leave you alone if you'd rather. I can't promise that no one else will come, though."

"It is not your concern," said Vey, drinking the last of his snifter. "Tell me," he said, "What do you think of magic?"

"Do you mean slight of hand, that sort of thing?" I asked.

He turned up his palm and I saw a ball of fire materialize, hover over his hand. He blew on it and it floated over to me, but disippated as it reached me.

"Fascinating, sir," I said, "How do you do it?"

"Practice," he said, "So come along. If you are finished with your official business here, I'll show you to your room."

I took the last drink of my wine and we left the library. Vey, holding the candle, led me again through the twisting passageways. I could not tell if we were returning the way we came or on a new route entirely. The hallway ended in a old wooden stairway leading up.

"We have to go through the attic to get to the guest bed," he said.

'Old architecture', I thought, and the thought somehow amused me.

As we climbed the stair, the darkness seemed to deepen as the ceiling rose with the slope of the roof and a draft felled the candle to a mere pinprick of light. Vey opened the door to the attic of the house, a room filled only with gray spider webs and dust. One of the black cats streaked up the stairs past us into the room and stalked around in front of us with the curiosity of a hunter. The dust and webs were so thick that I wondered if I would ever be able to get my shoes clean. I could scarcely breath for all the particulate that hung in the air. I noticed a window to deep blue sky framed in colorlessness. I saw what looked light lightning, but pink dissolving to green, arc in front of the distant clouds. We crossed the room to another stair leading down.

We emerged in another hall, indistinguishable from the one we came from. Vey opened a door at the foot of the stair. "This is our guest room," he said, "You may stay here tonight." The room was the very image of a dainty country bed and breakfast, though much older. A canopy bed was made as if by the perfect butler. A nightstand held a silver tray with a pitcher of water, sweating as if freshly chilled, by which stood an empty glass and a burning candle. The walls were ornately carved hard wood, and on the floor was a bright plush carpet thicker than any I had seen before. The cat walked onto it and seemed to sink into its intricate pattern and nearly vanish, but it must have been an illusion for when I stepped on it it was no deeper than it appeared.

With only a nod, Vey closed the door and left me alone in the house for the first time. The cat made it out just before the door caught its tail. I sighed, poured myself a glass of water, and went over my notes, feeling a little guilty that I couldn't complete my duties. At the end, I gave up and retired to the bed and fell fast asleep as my eyes closed watching the moon against the deep blue sky behind dark swaying tree branches.

The strangeness of the day was mirrored in my dreams. In them, many of the events were repeated, but in the hazy way that they often are in night visions. In the end of the dream, Vey brought me to a guest room similar in style, but an even more immaculate image of a fancy bed and breakfast room. I awoke to the sound of movement in the room. I froze in fright, but it seemed too small a thing to be a person. One of the cats jumped on the foot of my bed and started cuddling up to me.

"Where did you come from?" I asked in astonishment. As if in answer, the cat jumped back off and I sat up and watched him. He walked around on the thick carpet, back and forth, and sank deeper and deeper until he disappeared. My momentary puzzlement was forgotten when I heard a blood-curdling scream. I didn't know what to do, as I didn't want to fall victim of foul play myself, so for some time I just sat there. But the tortured screams came again and again. I finally resolved that I must do something, be it my business or no.

I tried to step down from the bed, but when my feet hit the carpet it gave way and I sunk as quick as falling. My hands sought something to gain purchase on, but nothing held steady. As I fell, it seemed like the carpet felt wet and more plant-like than fibre-like. I plunged through a ceiling to a stone passage, seemingly uncarved but natural. I landed on my bum with a jolt, though without injury. Near me, there was a large door cut out of a single slab of granite upon which were carved sigils and runes foreign to me. On each side of the door was a burning torch held in an iron sconce. Were it not for these touches of civilization, I would have hardly been surprised that I had left the house altogether and was some miles away. I looked up and was glad to see that hole that I had fallen through was not covered with carpet but a stringy moss.

I heard a noise behind me and remembered the screams I had heard. I turned in haste, but saw only Ian, a peculiar smile forming on his face as he saw me.

"Hello!" he said, seeming not at all surprised to find me in the underground passageway.

"Be careful," I said, "I heard the most awful screams."

"These caves do really echo the noises we make, don't they?" the child said.

"So you didn't hear any screams?" I asked.

Ian chuckled and said, "You're funny." I wondered if this child was indeed the prodigy that Vey said he was, or some sort of autistic savant, or simply autistic. For whatever reason, his non-concern seemed to reassure me that perhaps nothing was wrong.

"What is this place?" I asked.

"This is where lie those who have gone before us," the child said, gesturing at the sigil-ridden door.

"A crypt?" I said, "Hardly the place to wander at night. What were you doing here?"

"I always come here," said Ian, and I heard the sound of Vey's voice reflected in his. I had wondered that this young lad was his child, as aged as Vey was, but when Ian said this I perceived it to be true.

"Well, if you don't mind, lead me back to my room," I said, and hastened to add, "Please?"

"Okay," Ian said, and started down the cavernous passage back the way he came. I followed close behind. As we got further from the burning brands it quickly grew very dark. Grown man though I am, I must confess I grew fearful, and the horrible screams replayed themselves in my mind. Why did I trust this small child's judgement? We approached a flight of broad stone steps, barely visible to me in the blackness. I was about to suggest going back for a torch, but before I could speak, Ian shouted, "I'll race you!"

"No, Ian!" I cried, but it was too late. He was off like a flash, and soon I couldn't even hear the echoes of his footfalls. I froze for a moment, weighing my poor lot of choices. I didn't want to go back to the crypt, as the thought of being so near death in such a mood fill me with dread. But at the same time I didn't want to climb the unlit stairs in darkness. In the end, I resolved to climb the stairs. I put my hand on the stone wall and went up the steps ever so slowly. As the light dimmed, I had to go up by feel alone, and for what seemed an eternity I climbed in solid blackness.

Finally, my hand felt wood instead of stone, and as I put some weight on it a door opened into starlight. The moon must have already set, but the stars were bright and numerous this far from the city. I stepped through the door into an atrium with trees reaching up to a glass ceiling. The starlight illuminated plants I could not identify, but beautiful leaves of deep violets and greens and some silver flowers dusted with dew. I saw that I was not alone, but standing in the garden was the Lady of the House.

She did brief curtsy and said, "Good evening, new friend. How do you like my garden?"

"Its beautiful," I said, and noticed that under the starlight she did not look at all old or homely, but as a lovely young maiden with eyes reflecting heaven's lamps.

She approached me and clasped my right hand with her left. When I opened my mouth to object, she covered it with her other hand. I closed it, and she asked me, "Tell me...what do you think of me?"

"You're very nice," I said, "And a wonderful cook, and you seem very kind."

"Do you love me?" she asked, and sought my eyes with hers. And she looked to me then more beautiful than any woman I had ever laid eyes on. I could see how Vey did love her, and was even jealous that she was not mine.

"You have a husband!" I said, "And a child." I tried to pull away, but my muscles gave out on me.

"Do you love me?" she asked.

I stared at her eyes and wanted to cry. So much of me wanted to say yes, but I couldn't break this family apart. I couldn't just start a new life with someone I barely knew. And I feared that not knowing each other, that she wouldn't like me or I her, and that this moment of passion I would remember as lust and not love. So I said, "No."

She let go of my hand and collapsed, weeping into her hands. I tried to console her, but she only batted me away. Confused, I left the starlit garden in search of my room.

I made my way blindly through the mad turnings of the hallways, looking for the door to my room at the foot of the stairs. But again, louder and more clearly, I heard the tortured screams. I shivered in the darkness. But I resolved, for the sake of the house and my own, to find the madman responsible for this horror. I followed the sound to a door. Slowly, and as quietly as I could, I opened the door just a crack and peered inside.

Consuming the room was ornate machinery, lined with brass and interconnected with moving crystal rods. Edmund stood before a panel standing in the center like the keyboard to some ancient immaculate organ. His wolfish grin stretched from ear to ear. Brass carvings revolved in unceasing pattern, sending faint arcs of electricity between one another.

Upon the machine was stretched a naked human. The electricity touched him and burnt his skin. The crystal rods prodded at his skin, causing him to bleed, and he incessantly screamed in pain. I watched in horror, unable to avert my eyes. Then I caught sight of the face of the person. It was my face, the same I see everyday! Edmund noticed me. He looked at me with blood-lust and ran towards the door. I tried to shut it, but his foot and sword were already blocking it open. Drool fell from his teeth as he stared at me, pushing the door further open. I couldn't match his strength!

Then I awoke in a sweat. I was back in my guest room. Were all my night wanderings -- the cat in the carpet, the screams, the Mother's divine beauty, -- just a dream?

The room that I was in

was not what I remembered falling asleep in. Instead, it was the more immaculate room from my earlier dream. Which is real -- the dream or the waking? The morning sun streamed in through the window. Now more than ever, I looked forward to my departure.

Just as I had finished dressing, there was a knock on my door. Before I could say, `Come in', the door opened and Vey stood beyond. For a moment I felt guilty for meeting with his wife in the garden, and then I felt silly for it was just a dream. But I did nothing wrong, as far as I could tell, and can a man be held accountable for his dreams?

"We are out of eggs and toast, so you will have to make due with coffee for breakfast," said Vey. He gave me a cup of black coffee in a white porcelein mug.

"I trust you want to be on your way," he said, "Nevertheless, a night's sleep does magnify regrets of yesterday, and I wish to again say that I'm sorry for my lack of hospitality last night. Though manners can never be ammended with gifts, I recall you quite enjoying your wine and I would gladly give you a case if it would leave us in closer acquaintence."

"I don't want to be a burden," I said.

"Please," he said, "The regret would burden me if you didn't take it."

"Very well," I said. Vey smiled.

"Come with me," he said, and I followed him through a set of twisted passages back to the library, though I could swear that the route changed from when we had been there last night.

The fire was no longer burning in the hearth, and the room seemed somehow emptier for it. Vey pushed down with his foot on a certain stone at the base of the hearth, and the back wall of the fireplace rose up. I had heard about secret passages that were in some of the older houses in England, but I had never seen one myself. A torch on the wall illuminated stone stairs that led down to caverns like those I had seen last night. But as we walked down, we seemed to go deeper than I had been (or imagined I had been) before.

We reached a small stone winecellar with high ceilings and wine racks stacked to the top, mostly filled with bottles. In the center of the room were Ian and his Mother, tending some plants growing from the top of square box planters stacked three high. The plants were of the same deep indigo and green that I had seen in the garden. Ian and his Mother looked carefully at each leaf, touching them, as she spoke to Ian about them in hushed tones.

"They are about to harvest the latest batch," said Vey, "Do you want to see?"

"Sure," I said.

They lifted up the top planter and underneath was a planter that I first thought was filled just with dirt, but looking closer I saw there was all manner of bugs living there -- centipedes, crickets, potato bugs, pillbugs, and countless others. Ian looked at Mother, who nodded. He set the top planter aside and picked up the second planter. In the bottom planter there was little soil, but a mass of worms and slugs of all types, writhing in a seeming invertebrate orgy. Ian set aside the planter and picked up the bottom planter. A strange black liquid dripped from the planter as he held it to a cavity in the rock floor. In the middle, growing out of the very rock itself, was a orange ruffled fungus with streaks of blue. It seemed to be pulsing with life, and the black drops that fell on it were instantly sucked inside it. A smile graced the Mother's face as Ian got down on his knees. First he kissed it, then squeezed and massaged the fungus, which let out the crimson-black liquid into a crystal vessel which he poured into an empty wine bottle. He did this again and again as Vey and Mother looked on in pride, while my stomach turned and I suppressed a gag.

"That's what I drank last night?" I said.

"Yes," said Vey, "Though this is the first time the child has harvested it."

"I want none of it then," I said, "Absolutely disgusting." The mother looked disappointed.

Vey sighed. "Very well," he said, "Is there nothing else I can offer you that will ease the debt between us?" He raised his eyebrow.

"The coffee was good," I said, trying to satiate his offer of hospitality, "I wouldn't mind another cup."

"Very well," said Vey, "Lets all go upstairs. We can continue this harvest another time."

We walked back upstairs to the same parlor where I first entered the house. Seeing the door to the outside gave me no small comfort, I don't mind telling you. "Mother," said Vey, "Please bring us some coffee."

"A lump of sugar with mine, please," I said. She brought out a carafe and poured a cup for myself, herself, and Vey. She also put a lump of sugar on my saucer along a spoon. Perhaps it was bad nerves from my restless night, but when I tried to pick it up I dropped the spoon and it fell and bounced under the couch I was sitting on.

I felt under the couch and found a metal spring covered in cobwebs and lint. I ran my finger along the groove of its coil, until I came to a metal spike, which pricked my finger. I recoiled quickcly, withdrawing my hand and holding it under my eyes. There was a small drop of blood.

"You were pricked by a thorn!" said Mother, as she crowded in to look at the injury.

"No," I said, "It was some sort of metal spike. Its not bad."

She lowered her head and shook it solemnly side to side. The child placed a hand on her and said, "You see what you want to see, I guess." He looked half at me and half at her.

She looked up at the clock and her expression transformed from dismay to horror. "The Elves!" she cried out, "Quickly!" She arose and began ushering everyone out of the room as fast a possibly. I was among the last and as I glanced over my shoulder I saw a small figure with silverish hair streaked with autumn holding a crystalline blade. But this was in a blur of motion and a flash of dust in the final moment before the door stood completely closed. It came upon me that stillness had frozen the moment, for the image of the door was unmoving, no longer vertical but lying flat upon the ground and with nothing before or behind it. I had been staring at the door for an inestimable amount of time. It split in half as I opened my eyes, finding a new picture filling the interior as if painted by prismatic brushes while I stood frozen.

I was back in the room, the Mother standing over me, slapping my face, though I felt only vague numbness. The others were standing there too, their faces grim. I found I was lying upon the floor.

"What happened?" I said.

"You were pricked by a thorn," said the mother.

"I don't understand," I said, "This just happened."

"No," said Vey, "This is what happened."

He held up his hand and a glowing globe appeared in the room, making all else seem dark. At first colors swirled without definition, but after a moment they became clear and began to form shapes. I saw myself walking to the House, I saw my interaction with the Lady, word for word and movement for movement, but it was not me but instead Vey, and I saw myself watching Edmund torture me, then the scene changed, and it was I torturing Edmund, as his mirror image looked on. Then I saw world motionless, and if I thought a thought I could see it being born in mind as if time was just a collection of tiny building blocks.

"How can this be?" I asked, "I cannot both be in a place and watch myself there. I must still be dreaming."

"Only the great dream," said Vey, "When I asked if you believed in magick, you made some quip about slight of hand. I have seen nothing that cannot be done with smoke and mirrors, but belief in illusion only beguiles the believer."

"We are the last House of our line of Magick in this world," said Skye.

"We are dying," Vey said, "And we brought you here to help us. To be blunt, I don't like you. You are brash and young and know nothing of our ways. But you are here with me now so you must help me."

For the first time, I realized -- I truly understood -- that I was no longer in what I quite called the mundane world. The things which had seemed strange now suddenly made sense, as if I could now see things through a window that had been cracked open where before I sat in darkness. "What can I do?" I asked.

"All you can do is to be what you are," said Vey, "Just open the front door and step through. No matter what you perceive, you must step through the door."

I opened the door. Nothing but blackness lay beyond. Was it mortal blackness or the curtain of some infernal night? Trying to see, I stepped upon the threshold. The same feeling of the moment between dream and waking came over me again. A sharp pain exuded its warning at my side as the world peeled back before my eyes. I stood there, entranced, peering into the realm of fantasy and nightmares. Its unearthly light filled my senses, my every being, enticing me with an unworldly ecstasy, of dreams beyond dreams. It came to me that I could move {it between} worlds -- that is, I could decide whether to return to the life I had known and the comforts it had brought me or fall into hysterical dreams and the madness of gods ... into waterfalls drowning my senses in ecstasy. I did not know which way was the trap. As I reflected on the merits of a choice, I saw only its folly. So went my thoughts on the threshold. And each side seemed to distort, to cave in, as the doorframe became the pinnacle of all that was. I stood there in blind indecision as both worlds folded under me. Then at last the doorway collapsed and I was falling, though into what realm I knew not. I had the feeling of plunging into deep water, then my memory blanks. And the stars fell.

I found myself on the ground outside of the House at dusk. The brass fixtures crowning the house spun like a violent dynamo and glowed under the night of the moon. Blue electricity arced across the vanes, sending of shower of sparks fading orange into the night.

Just inside the door stood Lady, Vey, and Ian, while next to me stood Skye. Vey gestured with his hands and the whole House rose from the ground, sparks shooting everywhere. A dark hole appeared in the sky, and winds picked up sending a torrent of leaves into the void.

"Farewell, child!" said Vey, "Edmund is no longer with us. Skye has decided to remain with you, though he will be ever hidden. Do not forget what you've seen here. These are the last of our legacy here." His left hand held three large gems glowing in the shower of sparks. He raised his right hand and sent the House flying towards the hole in space.

At the last moment before the House vanished and the hole closed, Vey cast down the three jewels. We stood dumfounded, as if each of us could not decide what to do. The iguana struggled against Skye's grasp frantically, compulsively leaping out and scrambling towards the stones faster than I thought it possible to move. It swallowed them, one after another, in three successive gulps as we continued to look on without action. And that was the end of magick.

So ends my report. Since House Vey no longer exists in England, there is no longer the need to resolve any related tax anomaly. While I realize that this write-up will ruin my career, I have sworn to present the truth as I have seen it and I have done just that.