It was a cold and windy autumn's eve. There was a slight drizzle but the dark clouds above promised even more. A man in a trench coat trudged along a muddy track, pulling his coat up to shield himself. He raised his head and stared at his destination. The mansion had seen better days; most of the paint had already peeled off the walls, a few windows were boarded up, the roof looked just about ready to collapse. It was situated on the distant outskirts of Gotham, surrounded by similarly disused mansions. The neighborhood had once been the hottest spot for the newly rich, the ones who had found their fortune in the corrupt cesspool of the mammoth city. But that was a long time ago. These days, nobody lived here.
He ran the last few steps as the rain started beating down in earnest. He rapped on the door and tried to shield himself with his coat as he waited. After a few drenching minutes later the door creaked open and a woman appeared in the doorway, staring blankly at him. He smiled.
"Hi. I got an appointment with the lady of the house."
She stared past him before nodding and turning slowly around. She walked off down a dimly lit corridor without a word. He stepped inside, shut the door behind him and trotted after her.
"Sure you don't wanna frisk me? I could have a gun."
She didn't even turn around, just shook her head. They walked on for a good while, through cold corridors, empty rooms and up rickety stairs. The wood on the walls was gray and sallow with age. He could hear footsteps on the floors above and the quiet drip of water leaking through the cracked wood of the walls.
"Nice place you got here."
She strolled on without responding, floating along the floor without a sound. His footsteps echoed throughout the empty hallways, the wood creaked with his every step. He looked down. She was walking barefoot.
"Aren't ya feelin' a bit cold?"
Still she did not break the silence. They went up another flight of stairs. He heard a voice as they walked down the next corridor. It seemed to be coming from an open door further up.
"I'm bored. Hey, Red! If ya ain't gonna see me, I'll just leave! I have plenty a friends!"
He stopped when he reached the doorway and peered inside. He could see the back of a woman, her blond hair tied in two ponytails. Her hands were moving rapidly, shuffling cards by the sound of it. He cocked his head. There was something familiar…
She stopped shuffling and turned her head to the side, catching sight of him from the corner of her eye. In a heartbeat her left leg shot back and slammed the door shut. He stared wide-eyed at the unfriendly door.
"Well, hello to you too."
He looked down the corridor. His guide was standing a few feet away, motionless, with her back turned to him. He would have grabbed the chance and admired her backside, had there been anything to admire. She was unnaturally thin, the fabric of her plain white dress hanging limply on her. Her matted hair hung lower than her hips, almost as low as her hands, which hung limply by her sides as she stared ahead. He set off after her and immediately she resumed her course.
"So who was that lovely lady?"
They walked on, the constant tapping of rain on the windows and the growing screeching of the wind offering the only response.
"Lemme guess, you're the resident gossip. No, nobody told me. I'm just a great judge of character."
He followed his willowy guide into a dusty living room, where she finally stopped. She showed him to a torn armchair and looked at him directly for the first time in their time together.
He hardly heard her, so quiet was her voice. Even as she turned away he wasn't sure if she had spoken at all. She walked slowly back down the dark corridor. He watched her as she disappeared.
He looked around. The room was furnished with two more armchairs and a sofa, all in poor condition. There were two corridors leading out of the room, on opposite ends, to his left and right. The one he had not yet seen seemed to have moss growing on the walls. Straight opposite him was a long, dark and damp stairway, leading to some unseen room. He leaned back in his broken chair and looked up at the damp ceiling. He listened to the creaking of the building and counted the seconds.
An hour later he was still sitting there, listening to the storm and staring at the stairway. He looked at his watch, followed the second hand with his eyes. He passed his time by poking the rusty back of his seat, admiring the water-damaged paneling on the walls, and listening. The sounds seemed to grow louder as the sky outside darkened. He heard the wind biting at the windows and howling in the cracks, he heard the rain beating against the glass, he heard the whole house creak and groan. Sometimes he fancied he could hear footsteps close by, but there was no one in sight. Each time the sound repeated itself he grew more wary. But there were other sounds that bothered him more. Through all the noise of the deafening storm and the creaking of the building, he could hear something else. It was faint, so faint he wasn't even sure if it was real or just his imagination. At first he thought it was just the creaking and groaning of the wood. But then it sounded vaguely human. And painful. Yes, he was almost sure of it. It was someone moaning low.
An hour more and he was still waiting. Perspiration lined his brow, his body shivered in the aching cold. The groans had died out a few minutes ago. Or maybe he just couldn't hear them anymore, for the storm had added cracks of thunder to its arsenal. And a new sound frayed his nerves. There was a constant rustling noise, as if something was sliding along the floors. Something big. But there was nothing to be seen.
He wished he had never come here. She payed well, but it was not worth it. She was absolutely crazy. Why would one of the city's most powerful individuals live in a place like this? He wished he'd never got mixed up in this. He shivered as he stared up the stairwell. Wondered if he should stay or run. The strange rustling noise assaulted his ears again. He cursed under his breath. Why had he come here? She probably already knew...
"You will stay the night."
A jolt ran through him and his body shot out of the armchair. It was the woman from before, standing just inches from him.
"You will stay the night."
He swallowed and tried to breathe normally. He felt a pain in his chest, as if his heart was having trouble restarting.
"She's not ready to see me?"
The woman just stood there, motionless apart from her shivering. He stared at her pale countenance, cringed as he saw her bare feet.
"I thought she was up there," he said and shot a look at the stairwell. He received no answer. "Talk to her for me. I don't want to stay here unless absolutely necessary."
"She wills it," whispered the wraith.
"You haven't even talked to her!"
She turned to leave.
"I will not force you. But it is not safe to be in the hallways after dark."
She walked slowly down the corridor. A short moment later he ran after her.
The room he had been given was enormous and empty save for an old double bed in the middle. He slowly walked towards a large window on the wall opposite the door. Silhouettes of trees swayed violently outside, threatening to snap. Rain came down in torrents, smashing against the glass with the force of the howling wind behind it. He turned his back on the shaking window and climbed into the creaking bed. He sat with his gun in hand, eyes straight ahead, fought the urge to pray. From the corner of his eye he thought he saw movement along the top of the wall. He swallowed. Removed the safety.
An hour later his resolve had softened. His eyes drooped and his shoulders slackened, his head bent low. It was in this state of uneasy rest that he became dimly aware of a loud noise at the door. His eyelids slowly wrenched themselves open, his fingers tightened on the pistol as he turned his head. Another deafening knock came and a cold sweat set upon his brow. He swallowed, eased himself down on the cold floor. He took slow, wary steps towards the noise, the floorboards creaking at his passing. His shaking hand reached out for the doorknob. With one jerky movement he tore open the door and jumped back. He swallowed again, felt his eyes go wide at the sight. There in the open doorway, rocking back and forth on the balls of her feet, stood a little girl. She gave a toothy smile in response to his trembling silence. His lips struggled, then finally moved.
"Who are you?"
At his stuttering question, she stopped moving. The hallway still creaked and groaned and the wind whistled. The dark shadows still seemed to move. But he couldn't tear his eyes from her.
"I'm a princess!"
He stared at her, unable to move.
"I'm bored," she went on.
"W-where's your mama, kid?"
She tilted her head.
He felt his heartbeat drumming in his ears. The rain pounded on the windows behind him and the old house gave a mighty creak. His palm was slick with sweat, his grip on the gun slipping. His eyes felt like they would pop out of his skull any minute.
Her head jerked to the side and his breathing stopped.
"I'm sorry. I gotta go," she said as she looked back up at him. "Mama's calling."
She ran off on all fours down the corridor. There was something unusual about the way she moved. Her limbs shuffled along clumsily, as if there was something wrong with them. It was more like she was pulling herself forward rather than running. Her limbs swung awkwardly forward with no cohesion. It was almost like she had no ligaments. Or bones.
Suddenly she stopped. Her head effortlessly swung 180 degrees. He felt bile rising in his throat as she smiled at him.
"But you should stay."
He'd stumbled back into the room, crawled back into the bed and resumed his position, listening for footsteps and strange rustling noises that tormented him throughout the night. Eventually, he'd started dozing, still sitting with his gun in his lap.
Some time later he woke up with a start. His eyes tore open and he raised his gun, ready to shoot anything that moved. But there was nothing to be seen. The darkness was so thick he could see nothing past the foot of the bed. He fumbled for his lighter, his task made harder by his violently shaking hand. His eyes tried to adjust to the lack of light, peering back and forth in the dark. He could still hear the rain and the wind beating at the window, but it sounded muted somehow. But the rustling sound was louder than ever. He narrowed his eyes. He knew it was just his nerves. But it seemed almost like the darkness itself was moving, crawling through the air. His fingers finally found the lighter. He flicked it on.
A tremor went through his body and a whimper escaped his lips. All around him was a wall of crawling things, like huge snakes slithering over each other, inching slowly closer. They were above and all around, an impenetrable wall that blocked out every glimpse of the room beyond. He raised his hand and shot wildly in all directions. He was splattered with thick, foul slime, but the wall showed no sign of stopping. He shot again and again, until his pull was answered only with empty clicks. His chest rose and fell frantically and the sweat pored off him as he tried to find another clip. His lighter went out just as he saw some of the things starting to slide along the sheets.
He screamed as he felt something wet and cold slide along his stomach. He beat at it with the butt of his gun to no effect, clawed at another that fastened itself to his arm. Soon he was thrashing and flailing wildly as he was engulfed. His fingernails grabbed at the sheets, then tore at the foot of the bed as he was slowly hoisted into the air.
"I wonder why people betray me."
He stopped struggling and looked down. There she was, standing by the doorway. She wasn't even looking at him.
"No! It's not true, I…" His voice was cut short by a vine encircling his neck.
"Is money what turns them against me?"
He gurgled as his neck was slowly crushed. She waved her hand as if dismissing her thoughts and looked up at him.
"It does not matter. Tell him to stop sending spies. Or better yet…"
"It's not true," he wheezed as his vision dimmed. "Please. It's not…"
A loud sound, akin to a twig snapping, rang through the room.
AN: Based on a nightmare. It actually ended when the walls started crawling, but I changed the ending to give some semblance of a reason for all this. There's a tiny plot here, but who's sending spies doesn't really matter. And the explanation didn't really fit in. Maybe should have polished this a bit more, but it's been so long since I've posted anything.