It is through the corridor of trees, rangy oaks swollen with Spanish Moss and made languid by the breeze, that I rush toward Oglethorpe’s home. My feet burned with wear and cold and now the shoe leather no longer protected instead the jagged edges of holes turned inward cut and scalded against the base of my toes. The furrows of departed wagon wheels, mud tracks hardened into permanence, and their intertwined serpentine ridges made agony of my ankles, but still I looked forward and not downward, as the once muddy but now frozen drive rose higher with just the wisp of sated smoke from his chimney visible in the distance.
Behind it, grey bounding clouds slowly bellowed a storm, darkening like nightfall even in the afternoon. Weary or not, close to my goal or far from it, I would have edge to my step as I could feel the weight of the front baring forward. I leaned into the thicker air and anticipated the whipping winds and slanted bullets of sleet. A rolling, rumbling grumble tumbled across the sky, and the branches splayed outward caught in the new pressure’s fury. The moss and leaves spiraled upward into a dark cluster of twilight confetti.
I quickened my step even more. The gaps between gusts shortened with each bluster and through the last of the pauses, as the branches unbowed and the leaves and moss settled, the house encompassed more with each step on the hardened mud. As I ascended the rise, it loomed, like the storm at its back, rising bigger and broader with darkness.
A wooden rickety mess was what I expected, surely this home, this frontier manor could barely have had time to grow and age as this house had, but the stripped paint, and weathered ballastrades grew visible. Harsh jagged angles, slits for windows, and destitute annexes accosted me as the wind indeed whipped anew.
The once languid breeze now a combustible gale under an explosion of frozen rain, a bitter jarring spittle so thick I could barely see one foot for the other. In it I had no more time to absorb the audacity of the structure, this somehow sturdy monument of disrepair and its contradictions, was all the more closer yet I could barely make it out.
Directly, I found myself on the threshold and though an overhang cast a long sillouethe of protection it was false one, as still fiery sleet found me even as I clung to the door for cover.
An iron knocker as pitch black as the door raked my temple as I tried to envelope my head in my jacket. At once, I grabbed the knocker and punched it’s barrel into the door time and time again. It was the frantic knock of a hurried child and I decided weather excused my failing in decorum.
The storm absorbed the house, the sleet and ice now hard falling thick snow. It was no feathery respite instead the temparture had dropped at least 10 degrees and the accumulation was absorbing my ankles. The cold was all I knew. My feet burned icily.
I had been at my goal only moments and already the singlemindedness of my journey was replaced with a new solitary thought, I needed warmth.
I couldn’t believe that mere moments before this jarring weather was an impossibility. And now I felt the the cold whispy breath of death chilling my marrow.
I took from an inner pocket the weathered playing card, the Jack of Cups that would be my introduction and I felt myself trembling. It was hard to tell the trembling from the shivering but the sudden fury of nature weakened me in fear. My teeth rattled in an uncontrolled spasm.
irst my fingers, then my palms and quickly even my wrists numbed.
I wiped snow off the card.
I submitted to the weather and leaned into the door ready to fold into a ball to contain my fleeting heat.
Then, the massive door opened with answered urgency and I fell twisting backward into the house.
From the floor I could see candles and gas-lights flickering up along a thick staircase behind me and worse I could taste the mildewed tufts of the worn dark carpet and somehow my frozen nostrils still could find a scent of rotted leaves and wet dead animal.
I looked up at two narrowed eyes on the outer halo of a candle parting the darkness peering down at me.
The candle moved upward bringing the lower face into view.
Yellow teeth parted and thin lips pursed a single word, “Move.”
“I’m… I’m Edgar Aames, I’ve tr…”
The candle lowered toward me, and a large heavy hand grabbed my coat and dragged me from the threshold. I slid on the worn carpet toward the stair cast like a fishing lure spinning farther into the dark house..
I heard the door close resolutely and the noise of the hammers of its lock falling in a jarring twist.
The air was barely warmer inside then outside. But it was warmer.
I start to push myself up.
Suddenly, a thick boot jammed into my chest, expelling my breath and winding me, and compressing me against the floor. I struggled for air and as I coughed the boot pressed harder. It felt like my lungs were imploding.
The mouth of my greeter slowly lowered into candle-illuminated view and I barely made out the reedy eyes glare at me as I might a stray dog whose intentions for trespass were unclear.
“Edgar Aames? Means nothing.”
I swallowed and reached for air trying to pull it in.
The boot pressed harder.
“Back to the blizzard?” the thin lips hissed.
I felt the wilted edge of the card in my hand and as I struggled to breathe I brought it into the candle-light.
The eyes peered into me.
I was light-headed and felt a thousand tiny blades surging to my bloodstream from my depleted lungs.
Fingernails scrathed into my palm as my captor grabbed at the card. He hurriedly turned it over.
“Jack of… Cupsss,” the final word slithered into pause.
The boot’s weight slowly, absentmindedly abated, and I watched one hand holding the candle move closer to the one holding the card. I caught half a breath and shook my head slowly to steady my consciousness.
After a moment of his study, his thumb rubbed across its face a yellowed claw digging into it.
I gathered my breath and at once I was pulled upward. The warm fetid breath washed over me as he intoned, “Who are you… Edgar Aames?”