The House on Haverly Lane : Part III
The next few weeks were a study both in the Daemen’s and the Keeper’s habits. Francis felt he could not face the latter, and knew he must memorize every move of the former. From what he could tell, the Daemen could not easily be seen during the day, coming out at night when the light of the House was the brightest to torture its inhabitants. And though at first Francis thought it might be easiest to avoid him during the day, he soon realized that the monster might have other haunts throughout the city, only focusing on this particular House at night. He felt totally uncomfortable with his incomplete knowledge of the whereabouts of the monster during the day.
The idea occurred to him that he could know with much greater certainty not only where the Daemen was but also the way to Grenwich Park during the night. The monster rarely left the House’s vicinity for most of the night. And besides that, the glow of the Park could serve as a guide in the confusing and demolished streets of the city.
Francis had long ago memorized all the possible paths to the Park, reciting the street names and various routes to himself before he fell asleep, curled up in his window seat, usually as a dull dawn was laboring its way through the leaden cover on the horizon. He now spent most of the night awake. He had pinned up a huge map on his wall and every night tracked the path of the giant worm whenever and wherever he could discern that it was passing.
His findings were very interesting. It seemed the monster was duller than even Matilda had thought. The threads and pins that Francis used to track his path never varied by more than an adjacent street. Always, every night, it started out from the east quarter of the town, where it was darkest at nightfall, and wound its way towards the house, which was due north, spending most of the night circling the House or slithering in the neighborhood around. About an hour before daybreak, it headed westward, away from the sun. Grenwich Park was due south.
Barring the possibility that he could be seen or sensed, Francis concluded, if he left shortly before nightfall and headed south, he would be well out of the path of the Daemen for the whole the night. This plan seemed best to him, and the more he layered the strings over the beaten path of the Daemen, the more confident he became. It never varied its trek, dumb creature of habit and single-purposed as it was. Rather like the Keeper.
Still, to be safe, he felt that he must have a bit of insurance. About a month had passed since he had seriously begun planning leaving the House. He had planned no return route; so sure in his heart did he feel that Grenwich Park was a haven he would never want to leave. But he still had to set a departure date, and to do this, he knew he needed to speak to Matilda.
From some of the other members of the household, he found out her room number. He wished desperately to go and speak to her and yet broke into a cold sweat and tremors whenever he contemplated it. So he put off talking to her, day after day, and with each day he grew more and more impatient and frustrated with himself. Every day here was a day he did not see Grenwich Park.
Finally, fate forced his hand. He ran into Matilda in one of the restaurants where she lounged at the bar, talking in her cool, slightly disinterested and yet coaxing manner to one of the bartenders. She spotted him before he saw her.
“Well, well, well,” she said, leaning back on her stool. “If it isn’t Francis.”
He blushed at the way she said his name - so disdainfully - and squared his shoulders. Defiance and pride at his brave plan rushed through him. “If it isn’t bored - or is it boring? - Matilda.”
She laughed, a little surprised at his boldness. “Ah-- yea. Guilty as charged, I’m afraid. It’s true. I’m always terribly bored.” She tinkled the ice and brandy in her glass. “I suppose that could make me boring. And you?”
“I’ve been--busy,” said Francis. “No time to be bored.”
The two fine threads of her eyebrows lifted. “Really? With what, might I ask?”
Francis swallowed hard. He could feel the sweat beading his forehead. “Well,” he said. “We need to talk.”
She laughed again. “How serious! Much too early in the morning for that. I can’t have any serious conversations until at least, like three in the afternoon.”
“I’m serious Matilda. Please, hear me out. It won’t take up much of your time.”
Everything was settled. Matilda was going to act as a lure, something she had agreed to relatively easily, especially when she heard of his plan to leave the house.
Extraordinary and daring, she had gushed--the first time Francis recalled her evincing any sort of emotion whatsoever other than annoyance. The trick was finding a time when the Keeper was out of his room long and safely enough for her to visit the parapet and distract the Daemen. Meanwhile, Francis would be making his way towards the safety of Grenwich Park.
He had packed a map, just to be safe, though he knew his route inside out by memory and had played it and replayed it in his mind, watch in hand, timing the exact appearance of the monster on various streets. This he could easily tell by the enormous brown smog cloud that accompanied it. He had chosen his darkest clothes and stockpiled a few dried foods and a bottle of water that would fit in his pack. Of course, all the provisions were going to be nothing if Grenwich Park proved to be simply a park. But in his heart, he knew that it was more, so much more. And now he was completely prepared; he was only waiting for a night to come when the Keeper would be away from his room for long enough.
Soon enough, opportunity presented itself. There was going to be another banquet. The Keeper would no doubt run the event. The time had come.
Francis felt as if he were in a dream as he filled his backpack and straightened up his room, his eye wandering over each object as if for the last time. It was a luxurious set of chambers, tastefully decorated, comfortable. A warm fire burned in the hearth. He felt no great sense of loss. It occurred to him that he had no one in the House he was close to, no one to whom he felt he needed to say goodbye. His safe, homey suite had for a long time lost its sense of comfort. For a long time now, this House had been to him like a prison. He switched off the gas flames in the hearth and all the lights. He unlatched his windows and swung them wide open. Then he sat down on a chair, watch in hand, and waited for the day to dim.
He fell into a dream. In the dream was the Keeper, standing in a cool grey sea, as if he were standing in the pool of his own eyes. “It is easier to be lost than to be found,” he said. And cool breezes blew over the hot fever of Francis’ heart. Francis then realized that he was in the sea, tossed by the briny waves, on the verge of drowning and that the Keeper held an outstretched arm. But as Francis stared at his peaceful face, it transformed into the face of the Daemen. In disgust and terror, Francis dove down beneath the waves and sank slowly down into a growing, seaweed-colored luminosity. He felt peace, and woke up suddenly.
Relief flooded him as he realized that night had not yet fallen; he had not missed his chance.
The hallways were empty and dim. Most of the tenants were probably already gathering in the Ballroom, which made it easier for Francis to slip unnoticed down the staircases and towards the atrium. That was one big hitch in his plan -- search as he might, he could find no door out of the House other than the front door, a grand entrance with a large atrium and double doors of gleaming oak. Not only that, but on his way there, he had to pass the doorway of the Library. He was not too concerned, however, as usually almost everybody in the House went to the ballroom or the area surrounding it, the staff gathering to peek in on the goings on, and the guests, of course, eager to feast and dance. The Keeper was usually there long before the banquet started, overseeing the preparations.
He could not help but pause just before passing the doorway to the Library, which was open and sent a pretty golden shaft of light into the dusky hallway. He took a deep breath and almost jogged past when it occurred to him that the Library should be shut up and locked by this point. Careful not to be seen, he peeked through the doorway and saw the giant hearth lit with a roaring fire. And to his great surprise, the Keeper stood before it, his tall, solid shape and silver-white strands of flyaway hair gilded starkly in the light. He held in one hand the body of a little vintage ivory-colored rotary telephone and in the other, the receiver. So great was Francis’ shock that he forgot himself and stepped straight into the doorway, in full view.
Never before in his life had Francis seen a telephone. He had read about them, online, like anyone would read about trains and cars and snail mail. Those were all things of bygone days, when the city had been operational and no House existed. What was stranger still was that this contraption didn’t have any wires connecting the body with the receiver, and yet the Keeper seemed to be carrying on a lively conversation. Francis shook his head to clear it, and yet this was no vision. Intense curiosity filled him, and he stepped even further into the room.
The Keeper looked up. “Ah -- excuse me one second,” he said to -- whomever he was speaking to. “Yes Francis? Did they send you to remind me about the banquet? I’m late -- I know. I’m really sorry. Let them know I’ll be down in a minute.”
“Uh -- yea,” said Francis, grasping at this excuse. “They would like you to hurry. The banquet should start any minute now. But Keeper -- ” he groped for words. “Could I interrupt you just one second? Who on earth are you talking to?”
The Keeper gave him a look which seemed to say, give me just one more second. He laughed at something and said “Never you mind,” to the telephone, and “Yes, yes. Good reminder. Well. A pleasure as always. Goodbye.” Then he replaced the receiver, which had a mother-of-pearl handle, onto its golden hooks.
He turned to Francis. “Yep?”
“I -- erhm,” Francis stuttered. “Excuse me. A telephone? I’ve never seen such a thing in my life! Is it new? How long have we had one? Who can we call?”
The Keeper laughed at him a little. “Why, we’ve had one -- I guess, forever. For as long as I can remember, as long as the House has been standing. There’s only one person we can call, of course. The Owner. That was him now.”
“The Owner?!” sputtered Francis. “We can speak to the Owner? In person? Hear his voice??” He began wondering if the Keeper was onto his plan and if this was just an elaborate trick to derail him. “Who is allowed to use the telephone?”
“Why -- anyone.”
“Why haven’t I ever heard of this before?” demanded Francis, beginning to seriously suspect that there was some trickery here. “Why have I never been able to speak to the Owner?”
The Keeper looked serious. “Well -- the simple answer is that you have never asked to. You would have had every opportunity to if you had wished to. It’s an odd request, but when the Owner installed the phone he asked me to keep it rather private. Only let people know it existed if they showed interest in getting to know him, tried to find a way to contact him. He’s a little...egocentric, you might say, but in the best way. It really is quite the privilege to know him and I guess this is his little way of making that clear.”
Francis shook his head in disbelief. “I...don’t know what to say.”
“Well, now you know about it, why don’t you have a little chat with him?” asked the Keeper. “I have to run, but you can stay behind and use it. Dial any number you wish, there’s only one person it will call. And you can leave it right on the table here when you are done, but lock up after yourself.”
He strode quickly to the door. “Don’t stay too long. I don’t want you to miss the beginning of the banquet.” Then he was engulfed by the darkness beyond the door.
It was hot by the roaring fire, irritatingly hot. The phone sat where the Keeper had left it, glistening in the flickering light of the hearth. Its handle, Francis noticed, was smoothed by use, well-worn. Anger and confusion gripped him. It’s a trick, he thought, then changed his mind, then thought it again. He allowed his fingers to trail over the indents of the rotary, allowed his hand to turn it slightly, ever-so-slightly; not enough to even dial one number. He considered the possibility of dialing something -- maybe his room number -- listening for the dial tone, listening, listening and then -- a voice? And what would the voice sound like?
A large tree leaned against the window of the Library -- in a sudden gust of wind its haggard branches tapped the panes, startling Francis and awakening him out of his reverie. He shuddered and noticed that it was almost completely dark. He cast one last glance at the telephone, his face darkening into a scowl. A trick, he thought, and even if it wasn’t. He had no desire to speak to a tyrannical megolomaniac who kept them shut up in the House when he could easily come back and rescue them. He left the room swiftly, the door ajar, and did not look back.
The atrium was empty and dark. Faint strains of music filtered through the air. He slunk to the doors noiselessly, took a deep breath, and tried the handle. It was, as he had suspected, and been told, unlocked. It was also very cold to the touch, and this shock to his senses tempered his anger and reminded him of how terrible, how great was his fear. He felt himself almost blacking out as fear shot threw him; he almost lurched back to his room in defeat. But there was something in him that stood strong, something that kept him on his feet and kept at least a corner of his mind alert and focused. Grenwich Park, he told himself. I’m on my way.
So, he turned the handle and opened the door. And Francis stepped out of the House.
There was no time to savor the moment or consider what he had done. The door swung shut behind him, and Francis remembered how powerfully it stormed at night. The wind gusted large shoals of leaves from gutter to gutter and tormented the neat topiaries and small, magically groomed lawn that ringed round the House. Rain fell in icy sheets. Francis dove behind a shrub, snatched out his timer, and frantically surveyed Haverly Lane. It was empty. He was, miraculously, still on schedule. He still had ten minutes or so before the Daemen was due to arrive. Gritting his teeth, heart pushing wildly in the back of his throat, he scurried across the wet cobbles of Haverly Lane, almost tripping on loose bricks that jutted out unevenly, and vanished into the shadows of the other side. Safe.
His teeth were chattering wildly and by now he was drenched through, hair hanging in dripping tendrils before his face. It was hard to see, with the mists of rain and the night, but he knew exactly where he was and besides, suffusing faintly through the gloom was an emerald light on the southern horizon. Strengthened a little by this sight, he forced himself to his frozen feet. The monster was close -- very close -- and he had to put some distance between himself and the House before it was too late. Time was really his main concern. He wasn’t afraid that the monster would change courses tonight -- he was that sure of its habitual path. He also wasn’t overly concerned that it would sense his presence. Matilda would be enough to throw it off his scent.
Sure enough, nothing disturbed his path. He picked his way through the wet, mucked-up rubble, slinking always in the deepest shadows. The streets stank of the vile reptile and too often, his feet sank ankle-deep in scum so disgusting he almost threw up. He guessed that this was the slime of the Daemen, and fear flickered in his heart. These streets were not streets he had seen frequented by the beast. He wondered for the first time if there could be more than one, if it could have offspring. At least it can’t smell me, he comforted himself once, when he slipped and smeared his whole front in the fetid sludge.
All this time, the ghoulish screams, faint at first, had grown louder and louder. Terror gripped him. His hair stood on end as it approached closer and closer, and yet, by the sound of it, the Daemen was heading in the right direction, the planned direction, the controlled direction. Nothing was going wrong. Even so, with his teeth chattering, hands shaking uncontrollably and body aching from the fall, Francis wasn’t in the best state of mind to collect himself. The winds seemed to increase in speed around Francis as the worm drew near the House, so powerful did they grow that it became extremely hard even to walk. But walk he did, pressing his body into the wind, one excruciating step at a time.
He was almost there, or so he estimated, ears ringing, his whole body frozen and aching, when the Scream intensified so distinctly that he thought his ears must have exploded completely and be spouting blood. He turned to look at the House, noticed two things. The first was, that from this distance, it looked strikingly like Grenwich Park in the sense that it shone in the night like a jewel, sending out radiant beams of gold-colored light into the gloom of the town. It looked like a gorgeous jewel in a titanium setting, like a little drop of sunlight surrounded by a hazy, misty cloud of diffused warmth. The second was, a great, swarming, roiling stalk of screeching brown chaos rising like a tower above it, writhing with wrath. It screamed and screamed at something and spun round and around the House until waves of disturbed wind radiated throughout the town, reaching even Francis.
He shuddered and a corner of his mouth turned up. Matilda. Clever Matilda.
But he knew he had to hurry. He wished to reach the gates before the gigantic worm fell backwards to avoid any debris from crumbling buildings. He turned so quickly that he slipped on a wet slab of rock, scraping his leg badly. You are a brave soul, Francis. The Keeper’s words rang in his head. What you could be.
What I will be, he muttered to himself, picking himself up with great difficulty. He felt miserable -- frozen, bedraggled, exhausted, and injured -- and yet this was a small price to pay. Grenwich Park lay just beyond the next block of buildings.
Excitement tore at his chest. He broke into a trot, staying still in the deep shadows and doing his best to avoid running into debris. He was just a hundred yards away. Now twenty yards. Now ten. And finally, now, he was standing at the entrance where a vast arch of black brick and even blacker iron soared high above him. He gazed at the bold, black, impossibly fanciful letters worshipfully. Grenwich Park. Grenwich Park.
He focused down and peered beyond the gates. Directly before him wound a wide brick path, very neat, with park benches on either side. Stately elms cast a thick canopy of green over an even greener lawn -- a lawn so lush and spongy that Francis almost cried. He could not make out where the glow was coming from, but the whole Park was bathed in a dreamy, watery light. It looked like a slice of heaven. His heart felt as if it would explode with pleasure if he would dare to walk into this adored place of his dreams.
He placed his hand on the rough, icy iron handle. With an absolutely tantalizing squeal, it swung open.
Francis stepped inside.
The air was different -- warm, almost tropical, and impossibly sweet with fragrances foreign to his nose. It was exotic, and heavy -- dreamily, sleepily heavy. Almost immediately, his head began to spin with a pleasant, heady influence. But this was only the beginning.
The sound had changed. As his body thawed and his muscles haltingly relaxed, he began to regain his senses. The second thing that he noticed, after the air, was the silence. No scream could be heard. This place must truly be a sanctuary from the beast. Nothing at all could be heard, actually. The silence was corpulent and touchable. No birds; no creature. There was no sign of life at all except for the resplendent, crawling greenery that seemed throbbing with action.
This was the third thing he noticed, and it was that the greenery was in fact not elms and grass, but rather strange, mushroomy growths that bore a resemblance to tall trees and blades of grass. What he had believed to be tree trunks were instead elephantine, muddy stalks that supported a proliferation of a glowing green growth that reminded Francis of alveoli in lung diagrams he had seen in the Library. What he had supposed was grass was in fact some sort of fungus he had never seen before that carpeted the rolling, dipping lawn with an iridescent emerald green that seemed to have prismatic qualities and shimmered in different, equally lovely, shades. The sky above seemed to embrace the garden like a pearly dome and reflect the celebration of color in an opalescent response.
It was a sight like nothing that Francis had ever seen before.
The combination of elements was unspeakably pleasant and irresistibly intoxicating. He felt himself sliding into what felt so peaceful and right it was almost a sleep, but in fact it was the opposite; a heightened awareness gripped his mind. He saw himself walking the garden path from a bird’s eye view. Every sense was on fire, except that of sound; he was experiencing pleasure greater than any he had ever known. Strange, he thought to himself, that he did not know that all these years he had been aching after pleasure; he had viewed an escape to the garden as an escape from the dull imprisonment, the sameness, the restriction and emptiness of the House. And yet in his heart of hearts he now felt that this otherworldly pleasure was what he had been aching for all along.
By far the best thing of all was that the pleasure was steadily, pauselessly increasing. He felt carried along by the pulse of it, and he began to believe that the scintillating blades of grass would soon split open at their seams and reveal the portal to another world that Juggars had been speaking of. It was all undeniably building up to something soul-wrenchingly beautiful, something he felt would change him forever and make him one with whatever magic this garden held. He instinctively knew that if he could somehow be one with this beauty, he would never ache for anything ever again.
And yet -- just as he was reaching the tipping point, just as he felt that the fountains of Beauty itself were going to erupt into his soul, the increase stopped. Not only stopped, but trembled, shivered in its place as if to commemorate how far it had come, and then began a slide, a gentle, sad slide into lessening. He felt the pleasure and the beauty slowly, slowly draining from him. It felt like the actual blood of his body was oozing out of his veins, like death itself was coldly seeping in to replace it.
Wildly, he looked all around him. No color had drained from the fungi, the resplendence hadn’t faded in any way. The shimmering, instead of dimming seemed to grow brighter, hotter. And yet his enjoyment and delight in it was furtively lessening. What was happening? Faintly, he began to smell again the vile smell of the beast. Terror gripped him that it had somehow entered the Park. But he caught a glimpse of himself in a puddle. It’s you, you idiot! he muttered to himself. You are slathered in its slime.
He could not understand it. Where had the searing beauty gone? His head began to spin and ache and his eyes began to burn from the intensity of the Garden. It’s the house, he told himself. It’s what it’s done to me. I’m like a prisoner emerging from a windowless cell and the sun hurts my eyes. I’m overtired - I will get used to it and it will be just as beautiful as before. I’ll try again to reach the tipping point.
He felt like he had see what was beyond or he would die. There is nothing other than the Park, he thought. He had given up the House. There was no going back. Grenwich Park. It’s my last hope.
But how to rest in this sea of stimulation? He wondered for a brief moment if the fungus was in any way poisonous; if it would harm him if he attempted to lie down on it. He felt ravenously hungry as well and further wondered if it was edible. In the end, after doing several dizzying rounds on garden paths that seemed long, serpentine, and yet always led him back to the beginning, he settled down on a patch of growth, nibbled at it (nothing had ever tasted more delicious), and fell into a deep, sound, comfortable sleep.
When he woke up, the searing beauty had returned. Like a man in a daze, he rode the wave of its glory and pleasure, his senses on fire, and yet, as his anticipation built to meet the tipping point, his hope was disappointed. He didn’t get anywhere as close as before. He only got the feeling it was there - he didn’t get a trip all the way to its very doorstep like before, to the very point of explosion. Fear lumped in his throat, and he hurriedly gulped down more of the growth and slept again. Third time’s the charm, he told himself. I will wake up and it will be like the first time, when I walked in.
But the third time, things were even worse. The colors of the Park were the same; they shimmered and danced; he was entranced and lifted up by the beauty and pleasure rushed through his senses still. But the lessening was significant; undeniable. The whole experience was weaker, and, if he was frighteningly honest with himself, starting to become a little boring. The worst of it was, he was beginning to forget what he was waiting for. The pleasure did not build to anything, and he couldn’t seem to put his finger on what he had been expecting. The mere idea of a portal into another world was beginning to sound as ridiculous as it had when Juggars had first mentioned it. The thought that this Park was the answer to what he had been searching for - to his heart’s desire, seemed kind of cumbrous. What did that even mean? How could a Park be an answer to anything? What had he expected to find?
And yet, as he allowed himself to face these thoughts, sweat appeared in beads over his lip and his hands trembled. What now?
He began wandering the paths. There was definitely much to be seen. The Park seemed to be made of other-wordly stuff; the newness of the shapes and textures was engaging - fascinating. Around every corner, at each new and shocking scene, hope sparked in his heart, and yet nothing, nothing could match that first indescribable experience of walking into Grenwich Park. He wandered and wandered, knowing he was going in circles, the vague idea in his mind of what it was he was searching for fading and fading with each disappointment and then gradually with each step he took. He didn’t even know if he was searching anymore, or just wandering. His steps grew heavy, like lead stumps, but the heaviest thing to carry seemed to be his heart.
He didn’t know for how long this went on. It could have been years, for all he knew. But, finally, he came upon a path that didn’t lead him back to the beginning. This was strange, and his heart began thumping painfully in his throat. What was this new thing? He had eaten much and slept often in his wandering, because the energy to continue his search sapped from him more and more frequently. He felt that he had fallen almost into a drunken stupor at the repetitiveness of it; the hopelessness of it; the loneliness of it. He didn’t feel well physically, either. The growth was certainly delicious but it didn’t sit well in his stomach. His bones began to feel weak and brittle.
Despair began to gnaw at him and he felt his heart deadening. But, here was something new. He felt it rippling deep below the numbness in his heart.
Throbbing with fear and with a metallic taste in his mouth, he took the path. It was stranger than the others; the strangest of all. The vegetation was darker, deeper in color - a rich, deep green, almost black. It forked over the path in twists and tangles, creating a lovely, swaying tunnel over the path, rather dark and yet inviting. Several turns and sharp angles in and it straightened out and the growth soared above him into an unbelievably straight expanse, cathedral-like in height and width, undefinable in length. He gazed above, and he could barely make out the tops of the mushrooms as they arched above him. In the distance, at the end of this gorgeous, gloom, temple-like tunnel, shone a light so bright and welcoming that from the immense distance away that it must have been, Francis felt it drawing him in.
Finally! he thought, shivering and shuddering with the weakness that had been growing in him. Finally! I knew it. I knew it in my heart. I was right all along; thank heavens I didn’t listen to those horrible people at the House. I didn’t give up my searching. He who seeks finds, right? I’ve found the portal after all!
His excitement grew so powerful that, weak as he was, he began running, stumbling to the welcoming, drawing, attracting light. It seemed to pull him with cords. Almost there. Almost there. And finally - he was there.
He had arrived.
The light was so bright, he could hardly see. He put his hand up before his eyes to shield them. But instantly, it began to dim, slowly, slowly, and what he saw made his blood freeze.
A vast, perfectly circular pond - much like a pond you would find in a city park, only bigger - stretched out before him, ringed around by lamp posts. It was from these lamp posts that the light had been emanating; however, his arrival had somehow signaled them and they had dimmed from utter brilliance to a yellow, lurid, sputtering flame. The water of the pond was black and wrinkled with gently undulating serrations - ripples - where something had disturbed it.
He did not have any time to wonder what it could mean, though dread almost blinded him. Before his eyes, the ripples amplified and intensified in frequency. Were they even ripples? Was it even water? Because something was happening, and Francis’ ears were beginning to ring in a horrible way. He could not explain how, but the energy from ripples seemed to reach his eardrums and torture them.
But this was only the beginning of horrors. Slowly, as the excruciating (and yet familiar ringing) increased, Francis recognized it. It was the same ringing that had hounded him since the night of the first banquet. His skin began to crawl with the same unsettling presence. Not fear, as he had judged before -- no, something far, far more deadly. A presence. Realer than he was.
And now the whole truth was revealed. For the ripples had long ago become rolling waves and then the whole surface of the pond was shattered up with a vicious turbulence. And from the churning blackness rose an enormous, incredibly thick pillar of the vilest texture -- composed of the unrecognizable ridges and trills of a burn scar and yet it was all a dripping, sliding mass of dark green slime. The Dameen itself had risen from the pool, naked of its brown cloud which Francis had rightly interpreted as caused by anger. But now it was not angry -- no, rather unfathomably pleased. So pleased, that Francis' whole body seemed to reverberate with its strange, celebratory screams.
It dipped and undulated in a truly disgusting dance. His head as clear as a midsummer day, Francis understood perfectly that this was a ceremonial dance, as that before a sacrifice and that he was that most miserable sacrifice. Before he could understand this properly, the hideous creature dipped down to his level and for the first time, Francis saw its face. It had two small front holes in its face from which emanated its scream and a gruesome black void of a maw with rows of tiny, dripping, dagger-like teeth. It was just as the Keeper had described, except that without its gloomy brown covering, a pair of glowing green eyes were visible, split through with throbbing black slits for pupils.
In that moment, Francis comprehended his grave error. These were not the dumb, witless eyes of a worm. Rather, they were deeply exultant, supremely intelligent, and purely evil. And though the monster could not or would not speak, through an otherworldly power it had of communicating, Francis understood that it had penetrated him from the night of their first encounter, lured him from even before that with the thick green magic of the Park, goaded him daily with lust for it, and baited him week after week by pretending to have a traceable routine, by tricking Francis into believing he could avoid it. When he had been fated to meet it. When in fact, it - this horrific monster from the deep, screaming bloody murder - had led him here, vulnerable, utterly deceived, into its very lair. And now it had him irrevocably, just as it had desired.
All this he realized, too late, as he gazed stricken into those scintillating green eyes, as the gruesome, rotting maw of darkness opened, and the miserable Francis was no more.
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