The Master of the House
Filthy and naked, he was disgorged onto a cold, hard floor. Somewhere an alarm was buzzing. He opened his eyes and blinked in the harsh light, his thoughts muddy. The room was all white tile and bright steel.
There was a rattling behind him, and he turned and caught a nightmare glimpse of black tentacles being sucked into the wall as the opening to the dark, confused place he’d emerged from closed. He stumbled to his feet, shocked awake. Or was he still dreaming? He put a hand on the wall, but there was only smooth white tile.
On the other side of the room there was a steel door and a glass panel flashing with red lights. Part of him was afraid of what might lie outside this room, the rest of him desperately wanted out. He shuffled over to examine the panel, the source of the alarm.
Angry symbols pulsed in time with the buzzing, and at the bottom was a large red X. His jumbled mind couldn’t make sense of the text, but the ghost of a memory compelled him to press the X.
A wet rattle came from the walls. The alarm stopped, and the panel now displayed blue text, and a line that slowly filled, marking time. The steel door slid smoothly into the wall, spilling light out of the room. There was only one way forward; he stepped through the door, which slid quietly shut behind him.
Where the first room had been cold and hard, the second was warm and comfortable. One side was dominated by a fireplace that housed a huge, roaring fire, its flames reflected in the polished wood floor. A big leather chair and a low wooden table squatted like living things in front of the flickering orange light. Shivering, he approached the hearth and put his hand to the glass. It was cold.
The chair looked inviting, but on closer inspection he saw the brown leather was stained with a dark red spatter. Despite his misgivings, he was weary enough to sit. The warmth of the room and the dancing flames steadied his nerves, gave him time to think. What was this place? How had he gotten here?
He noticed a tablet with a glass face lying on the table, and it came alive in his hand, glowing with symbols. He pushed one.
To his surprise, the fireplace vanished, and now he was looking into another room, at other people. Two beautiful young women writhed naked on a bed, kissing, coupling.
He was on his feet immediately, but hesitated to approach. Embarrassed, he knocked on the glass, but the women were so absorbed in their amorous activities, they didn’t notice.
Another half-memory surfaced. These scenes were illusions, that was why the fire had been cold. He looked at the tablet still in his hand. There was a red X at the top, which in the first room had meant exit; he pushed it.
The window went black, then transparent. Outside, the terrible reality behind the room’s illusions was revealed. Writhing black tentacles snaked out from the house, groping blindly over a desolate gray beach, sucking up filthy water from a dark, rolling sea. They seemed to be scavenging, searching for something. Repulsed, he pressed the X again and, mercifully, the window went dark.
There was a spidering crack in the glass which he hadn’t noticed before. He ran a finger along it. Maybe he could smash it with the table and escape that way. But did he really want to be out there, with those things? It might be him they were searching for.
His reflection was split diagonally by the jagged crack. He didn’t recognize the face. For the first time he wondered who he was.
A rattle came from behind him, and he was horrified to see in the window’s reflection a tentacle worming out of the ceiling. He stumbled to a corner and cowered, as far away as he could get. The thing deposited something on the table and was sucked back up through a hole that closed after it.
When he was able to move again, he went to see what the tentacle had left him. A molded plastic tray held steel utensils, a cup of water, and two chunky mounds of mash, one green, one white. It was food, and he was, he realized, ravenously hungry.
But he couldn’t eat it knowing where it had come from. This room and its comforts were a lie, a web to snare unwary prey.
He took the knife and flung the rest across the room in a clatter of utensils. To his dismay, the wall opened up and three tentacles rattled in. He climbed up on the chair, but they only swept the mess into their hole and vanished.
In the middle of that wall was a wooden door. Would it lead to the den of this writhing black monster? No. Those things seemed to live in the walls, the door was meant for him. When he approached, it opened itself. The room beyond was dark.
Clutching his knife, he walked through.
The lights came up slowly as he entered, just enough so that objects loomed out of the shadows. A large bed filled most of the room, and he could see under the tangle of sheets that it was occupied. He skulked across the thick carpet and looked down on the sleeping figure.
The master of the house. A naked, grimy man, with a bloody gash across his face. That face…
It was his face. Except for the wound, the man was his mirror image.
Memories were coming together like a puzzle; most of the pieces were missing, but it was enough to guess at the picture. This man was the one who had conjured him up, and the black tentacles that infested the house were his servants. They’d brought him here for some terrible purpose. And yet…that bloody face didn’t inspire terror. Clearly, this was a man whose servants had turned against him.
The house was its own master now. And it was hungry.
The picture was getting clearer. Why would a man make a copy of himself? To sacrifice, in his own place.
The man’s eyes fluttered open, locked on his. Without thinking, he raised his knife and stabbed that wounded face, stabbed until the clawing and the bubbling screams stopped.
He wrapped the body in the sheets and dumped it on the floor. Under the fresh blood, the mattress was dark with old stains. This hadn’t been the first sacrifice.
Before long, the wall erupted with tentacles that collected their red feast and sucked the mattress and carpet dry. With their sinister courtesy, they made the bed with clean sheets, then withdrew to the walls.
Exhausted by the strange ordeals and violence, he crawled under the sheets. He tried to stay awake but, despite his best efforts, eventually fell into a troubled sleep.
On the other side of the house the next build finished, and a fresh copy was disgorged from its chamber. A diagnostic revealed errors—another failure. Red lights flashed and an alarm began buzzing.
The thing blinked in the harsh light and shook its head to clear its muddy thoughts.
© 2020, Michael Adam Robson