A Window’s Silhouette
written by.. e.s. dallaire
Shakespir Edition Copyright 2015
Four square feet of light, surrounded by dark; and, born within the light, much of what is mysterious in man can be seen shifting through the billowing, wispy curtain. The house is made of dark brick, almost black, as if perhaps of volcanic stone. A lone tree in the yard towers above the single story dwelling, casting shade and thus further darkness over it, and the tree is seemingly unwavering in this peculiar quality no matter what time of day one happens to lay eyes upon the hovel. The only house for miles, it was, and so it appeared to have been for centuries, at least; the miles lapsed when one left the city behind to find pointless roads that stretched out into unblemished horizons, tempered by no obstructions, just straight, straight, straight through vibrant green fields. And they were nice, these fields—as was the warm prairie wind gently swept across them—but they were not sown, and thus practically useless, if one really were so bold to say. That is to say, to a person accustomed to crowded urban life, these fields felt almost as if they shouldn’t exist anymore: almost as if one were dreaming, gliding down one of these long, pointless roads, and even as they dreamt, sceptical minds knew these lands were long gone, and nearly forgotten.
A lot about a person can be said by their home. The walls—whether plastered drywall or brick or wood finishing—speak of many things, as does the furniture, the smells, and the art work—or lack of art work. Even the ineffable ‘use’ of the space, sometimes alluded to as ‘feng shui’, alludes to much. When Chalayne leaves behind the city in favour of this boundless landscape, for example, she leaves behind a dwelling conscientiously chic—and leaves it behind as fast as her bike can carry her, some days. It was a dwelling her parents chose without consulting her or her brother, and even when she summoned the courage to offer her opinion on the matter without their prompting, they turned only one patronizing and obviously inattentive ear toward her, and only for about five minutes. Regardless of Chalayne’s ingenuous but poorly delivered input (it was nervous indignation that caused her to stumble over her words), her parents had opted for long, straight lines, sharp right angles, and large panes of glass, and they had found the object of their wishes contrived as a blueprint shown to them by an architect who was pleased to welcome their family into the latest, hottest, most newly assembled community in the city. It was a community even farther out from the city centre than their old house, which had already been in a bore of a neighbourhood: emptied by day, and in the evenings when people returned from work they rarely left their houses except to run errands, or walk a dog, or take part in the weekly softball game. This new community in which she now lived with her parents, her younger brother, and their own family dog, was much the same: it had the same grocery store, and the same hardware store; the same restaurants, and the same coffee shop.
Chalayne worked at the coffee shop. She had worked at the one in her old neighbourhood too, transferring when they moved thanks to her parents’ design: the general manager, when Chalayne asked her this favour, had said that she would okay the switch despite a staff shortage because Chalayne was ‘a perfect combination of mature team player and punctual, hard worker’, and that this was a rare combination to find in students her age. Indeed, it was her parents speaking through her careful upbringing when Chalayne replied that it was just a simple matter of showing up for her shift on time, and that she didn’t understand why so many other people were hired and fired so quickly.
Compared to the little black bungalow stolidly planted next to a little creek—which drew in Chalayne’s intrigue like the bubbling waters were corroborating her suspicions—and way out of the city and thus way out of anything of the ordinary, her house was devoid of personality right down to the fridge magnets her mother had amassed over the years. And this was why Chalayne, since chancing upon this house three weeks ago at the beginning of summer break, kept returning: she wanted to see who lived inside. So far no luck, though she stared at the entrancing abode often from a thicket of brush amongst the long, soft green grass, hidden from the window set just beyond the trunk of the massive tree; the window on which she turned hyper-focused eyes. Her imagination was precocious and fanciful, and she was quite prepared to see, maybe, a witch poking her nose through the window frame, warts and all, one day soon. She imagined the witch would have sallow, green-tinged skin, greasy black hair the colour of her house, and a pointed hat atop her head. So many afternoons she had come back to catch a glimpse of the strange house’s undoubtedly strange occupants, but she had yet to see movement beyond the curtain fluttering in the wind.
Chalayne had resolved to dispense of the mystery before summer’s end, which was why, determined, she had lied to her parents about sleeping over at her friend Alyssa’s house this Friday night, and instead brought a tent and much snack food with her on her bike, along with Alyssa too (who had in turn lied to her parents about sleeping over at Chalayne’s). They were both going to keep vigil over the house all day, and all night, to find out once and for all who lived such an intriguing life within those volcano walls.
“I still don’t get why we’re doing this.” Alyssa said from beside Chalayne, not even looking at the house but instead skyward, watching the ample clouds drift overhead with a bored look on her face. “My butt hurts from sitting so long.”
“Don’t grumble! We’re doing this. . . well, just like I told you earlier: to confirm that there can be some difference—some personality—within the landscape of our existence. We’re doing this so that we can see what that looks like—or who that looks like, I should say.”
“Difference from what?” Alyssa asked.
“Difference from our families, from our friends and our school, from our lives.” Chalayne said. Out of the corner of her eye she saw that Alyssa did not look convinced. “Just. . . different.” she sighed.
“How many times have you come out here?”
“Couple afternoons a week for three weeks. As often as I can.”
“And you haven’t seen anyone come in or out?” Alyssa asked. Chalayne shook her head, her eyes back on the house glimpsed through verdant branches. “Then maybe nobody lives there after all. It looks abandoned to me.”
“Someone lives there.” Chalayne assured her.
“Who do you think would? It’s in the middle of no where! It looks like a dungeon.”
“It looks,” Chalayne said with defiance, “like it has character. It looks like a person; and that’s how a home should look.”
“Like who, then?”
Chalayne bit her tongue so she didn’t blurt out her expectation, so minutely cultivated over the weeks gone by, to find a witch, so she shrugged and muttered another of her guesses, “I don’t know. It could be anyone! Maybe a scientist of some sort.”
“A mad scientist.” Alyssa corrected.
“Those are the most interesting ones. The ones they make movies about.”
“Ooh, maybe it’s an actor gone into hiding from paparazzi! Maybe it’s Shia Labeouf!”
“Or maybe the house is the entrance to an underground fortress. . . that we’re standing on top of right now! ”
Chalayne giggled freely again and said, “Yea, maybe. One person it isn’t though, is anyone we know, or anyone someone we know knows.”
“Do we have any more Dunkaroos?” Alyssa called from inside the tent, momentarily revealing the muted beam of a flashlight from underneath the sleeping bag she had thrown over herself, at Chalayne’s insistence, when she had insisted she was bored with watching the ‘dead house’ and wanted to read instead.
“See for yourself. The bag is right outside the bug flap.” Chalayne whispered over her shoulder. Her gaze did not waver from the house as she said this; she had become ensnared within the fanciful web she had spun herself, as her imagination traced and tracked all sorts of motion she might potentially see through the window. Even the window itself caused her to stir with curious agitation, for it seemed cut with almost unexplained precision when compared to the hand lain stone defining the house’s shape. She envisioned all sorts of weird and impossible forms materializing within, framed by the window’s perfect squareness—it was the regularity contained within the irregular, perhaps, that drew her forward. Almost pulling her. Or was it vice versa? she found herself wondering.
She was positively enthralled by the mystery of the place. And yet she still had not seen any movement—it really was a ‘dead house’, as Alyssa said. And thus, to herself, she muttered almost desperately, “Come on already.”
“There’s one pack left. Do you want some?”
“What?” Chalayne asked, her focus torn away. She looked back at the tent. Alyssa waved the blue plastic snack container at her. “No, go ahead.”
In the moment before her eyes reclaimed the silhouette they sought, as she turned her head—emptied of the house’s presence and thus transiently clear—Chalayne finally acquiesced with the inevitable idea that had been born within her about two hours ago. Her gaze narrowed fixedly upon the house as if now it were a target she aimed for, and she said resolutely to herself,
“We’re going in.”
She called to Alyssa:
“We’re going in.”
Alyssa’s head shot out of the tent door immediately, the flashlight she held in front of her carefully muffled by her hand.
“What? Are you crazy?”
“There’s no other way to find out.” Chalayne insisted.
“No way! Maybe in daylight I’d go, sure. But it’s like—“ she disappeared for a moment and allowed the flashlight to flood the tent with an orange glow. Then she clicked it off and came out again, this time with her face lit from underneath by the blue light of her cell phone, “It’s passed one! It’s almost witching hour!”
At this plaintive cry, and for a reason that was known only to her, Chalayne herself drew back from her suggestion as superstition clouded her decision. Her fanciful imagination had only been intensified under the half moon as the night waxed and she continued to shrug off sleep. A vivid flash of a cackling old woman with knotted hair and coal black eyes rose up within her, projected through the window like so many images before. And then the image vanished, and the window was left empty, blacker now than. . . well, anything she had ever laid eyes on before.
“We must go in!” Chalayne insisted, recovering herself. She moved swiftly, at a crouch, toward Alyssa. Into the tent she began throwing the snack wrappers and books and electronics that had been taken out of her backpack and left scattered. She moved to zip close the door flap, but Alyssa remained stubbornly within—with much of the garbage and odd trinkets Chalayne had carelessly thrown strewn upon her lap. Her expression was despairing.
“In the morning we’ll go, I promise.” she said. “What’s the hurry? For three weeks you haven’t seen anyone, so what’s one more night?”
“I think you’re right: I don’t think anyone is home! We should go in now, while we know there’s nobody home—because the people who live here might come back tomorrow!”
“But isn’t that just what you wanted to do? See the people living there? Not the house itself?” Alyssa said, and her expression narrowed in shrewd contemplation as she tried to muster many more reasons to convince her friend that her plan was nuts.
“I’d like to do both, if I can.” Chalayne said after a pause. In that case, Alyssa began, she should go herself, but Chalayne stopped her with a wave of her hand and said, “Just come with me! Please? If we’re together it will be alright.”
Alyssa made a pouting face that was lost on Chalayne in the darkness.
“I guess I won’t let you go in there alone. All right, I’m coming. But I just want you to know: the ideas you get sometimes are crazy Chalayne.”
And with that the two began a crouched approach toward the house. Their initial aim was the base of that lone tree, its trunk wide enough that it would easily conceal both of them standing side by side. The house seemed to grow ever more dark as they drew nearer, its presence looming and ominous. And it was silent as a grave—a heavy silence, pressing down on their shoulders.
“Can you feel that?” Chalayne whispered, her voice so quiet Alyssa would have missed her question if not for the fact that, in her fright, she remained as close to Chalayne as she could get.
“Spooky.” was her choked, distracted reply. At the base of the tree the pale glow of the moon illuminating the field around their tent was cut off completely by the thick branches extending overhead, and when Chalayne looked backward at her tent she felt as if they had entered another world: one of darkness, surrounded by a world of light that seemed so far away, far beyond the density of the atmosphere of the strange dwelling. It seemed to take more effort even to breathe the air here, and both girls’ hearts began to pound in their chests. Looking at Alyssa with eyes opened wide and reflecting many and conflicting emotions, Chalayne silently mouthed,
Alyssa nodded wordlessly, her voice lost. For her, it wasn’t so much that they were breaking in to the place that had her so fearful—she didn’t believe anyone lived inside—it was the house itself: from the outside it was not much larger than maybe half the main floor of her own house, but it seemed to bestow a magnetic pull of some kind upon everything around it, and these things seemed to wilt in their approach. She did too, as if what usually sustained her life energy outside of the parameter of this yard and this house had been sucked out of the space around her, like she had entered a vacuum. Chalayne, meanwhile, was even a little intoxicated by that same feeling.
Gingerly they approached the window, and unconsciously their breathing stopped as they listened intently for a stirring inside, but there was not a sound. In a swift but cautious motion, Chalayne peeked above the windowsill and found the place empty; not just of people, but of furniture too. Utterly devoid of any sign of life upon first glance. When her eyes adjusted to the stifling darkness within, however, she spotted a door in the wall directly across from the window, and, like the window, curiously cut with that same precision, into the irregular stone wall. She motioned Alyssa to come up to see.
Through the window Chalayne went first: eagerly, nervously, and all the more quietly, and when her feet dropped down onto the floor she felt the stone was ice cold, and this she felt even through the soles of her sandals. The silence was even heavier within, and its oppression did not dissipate even as Alyssa noisily clambered in after Chalayne, her shoes scraping upon the stone as she tried to find purchase for her push up and over the high set window.
The sounds Alyssa couldn’t help but make sparked a sense of urgency within Chalayne—they needed to do what they came to do, then get out fast. She wasted little time moving toward the door. The handle was silver in colour and simple in shape and, turning it, she found it was unlocked. The door swung toward them on silent hinges, and they found themselves peering down a spiral staircase.
“You were right!” Chalayne couldn’t help but gasp. The harshness of her voice echoed off the stone walls. “There’s an underground!” she added in a lower tone, but her voice was still harsh and ringing in the silence. Second thoughts came pouring into her mind as she looked at Alyssa, this time her eyes wide only with fear: if there was an underground, someone could have been here this whole time, and she wouldn’t have known. This realization was manifest on Alyssa’s face too, who up until now had been finding courage in her belief that the house was abandoned.
And yet, somehow the magnetic pull they both felt upon nearing the house was stronger in the stairwell, and it was drawing them down. She expected Alyssa to call her crazy and urge her to leave, but when she suggested they continue with a wave of her hand Chalayne heard no objection from her friend—instead she felt a hurried tap on her shoulder and, when she turned to look, Alyssa nodded.
After the first slow, agonizing step, both girls seemed to tumble down the rest of the narrow passage; they were quite suddenly at the foot of the landing with little recollection as to how far down they came. They found themselves within a cavernous room, and though there was light, it was soft and barely reached them and it was more convincing in its purpose thanks to the blurred shadows it threw from all directions upon the dark red carpet under their feet—shadows blurred, but nonetheless suggestive of swooning and even delicate contours, cast by a sparse but carefully placed arrangement of seemingly worldly objects: there was a carved vase that glittered gold; three statues of fantastical creatures which seemed curiously ancient and yet unmarked by time; as well as various and much more recognizable figurines made of many different materials likely found around the fields outside, and modelled after the animals who call those fields home.
The soft golden light was emitted by small lanterns regularly spaced between gilt-framed paintings hung on the two walls that ran the length of the room. There were perhaps thirty paintings in total, and all were either of landscapes or crowded city streets, the flow of the figures depicted within morphing into each other uninterrupted, like a dream. The frames were all the same size, though the canvases they contained varied, as did the minute details of the frames themselves. Like the carpet, the wallpaper was also of a hue similar to richly oxygenated blood. The air was cool and pleasant, and its weighty density seemed to have been alleviated slightly. When Chalayne noticed this a sigh of relief escaped her lips, and it was taken up by the space around and amplified by the walls and ceiling, and the room carried her words down to the other end, where they lingered. Desperately she wished she could snatch them back, and with them the noise they made. Alyssa put a frantic finger to her lips to beckon Chalayne to keep quiet, and still. Every sound they made was intensely disturbing to the room; they were careful not to brush their clothing as they looked around. Unheeded, Chalayne wandered farther in, and Alyssa, though starting to feel that entrancing feeling Chalayne had so far been taken in by, began to suggest it was time they leave with desperate muttering under her breath,
“We shouldn’t be here. We shouldn’t be here. We shouldn’t be here.”
And then a voice replied: “No you shouldn’t, and yet here you are.”
At the end of the room a shadowed figure had emerged from behind a curtain that blended in with the wallpaper; the curtain continued to sway behind the apparition, gently stirred, but silently as if made of silk. Both girls let out terrified screams.
Their voices rose in unison and toward the same shrill octave, and the note reverberated off the cavernous ceiling before shooting straight back into their ears, filling them up as if stuffed with cotton. Also in unison, Alyssa and Chalayne made a motion to turn around and run back up the spiral stairs, but the voice sharply cut through their yelling and said,
This silenced them both. And then there was a long, drawn out pause before the shadowed figure made a quick move into the light and, more than silencing them, the motion made the girls choke on their intense fear. They remained frozen in place as they watched the person move into the light.
The lady’s hair definitely was knotted, but grey and not black. And her eyes were large and penetrating, but of a light blue, or even grey like her hair; and they were kind, not evil.
“Welcome.” she said, a bemused expression upon her face. She looked from one girl to the other, and then back again. “You seem to have screamed yourselves hoarse? Well, in that case,” she moved closer toward the girls, who drew back automatically. She smiled, and with a touch of encouragement in her eyes, she repeated, “Well, in that case, I will introduce myself first, though it is proper for the guests of a home to announce themselves upon arrival. . . Especially when uninvited.”
Alyssa looked to Chalayne and saw that Chalayne looked as unsure as she felt. Neither of them knew what to make of the lady yet.
“My name is Salyne. I am an artist who works in paint and stone, mostly, and you have found me run away from much distraction to this subterranean hollow. I’ve always fantasized about living in one—since I was around your age, in fact. Ever since I read The Hobbit, I suppose.” The lady smiled, and looked as if at this moment she would gladly take a hand to clasp warmly if one were extended to her, but neither Chalayne nor Alyssa moved. To break the unabated hesitance, she added, “I work in paints and stone, girls; I will not harm you for experiment. Organic mammalian matter is not my medium of choice.” At this she couldn’t help herself from laughing. “Oh, do loosen up you two. It is the least you could do to hold up your end of the conversation, now that you have broken into my home.”
“We didn’t mean to disturb you. We were only curious.” Chalayne offered.
“I know you were. I’ve been watching your return to the fields for the last three weeks. I was watching you tonight, too. I was hoping you might summon the courage to scamper in; it’s why I left the door unlocked.” Salyne said.
“You were watching us?” Alyssa asked, incredulous.
“Oh, not all night. I had many things to occupy myself with, and you two weren’t doing much to hold my attention.” She laughed lightly again at Alyssa’s indignant expression, and then she invited the two girls to follow her farther into her home, walking toward the curtain through which she first emerged and sweeping it gracefully aside to reveal a doorway which appeared to open into a kitchen. Again the two girls exchanged meaningful looks and, guessing at their thought process, Salyne said, “You can leave if you’d like, of course. But I thought you might like to see more? You did seem so curiously enraptured by the stone facade upstairs.”
For the first time since climbing through the window, Chalayne began to feel herself relax. She felt she could trust this person. She smiled and nodded and said she would like to see more, and she swiftly marched across the room and, with a sheepish grin flashed at the lady, she passed under the curtain and found herself in a brightly painted kitchen. It was as wide as the room she just left, but only half as long, though that still made it considerably spacious. The floor tiles were small and regular, painted white, and the walls were a nice yellow, like that of a yellow rose. There was an expansive island counter set between a cast iron oven on one side, and a wash basin on the other. A few stools were set around the island. Its top was a thick sheet of granite. Alyssa followed resignedly behind Chalayne, and Salyne entered last.
“Well then, have yourselves a seat, and I’ll make some tea. Then I’d like to hear all about the cause for the intrigue you felt toward my house.”
And so that’s what Chalayne did: she told Salyne all about her own boring house, and her strict parents and predictable neighbours. She told Salyne about how her future was already set, determined by her parents, and how she couldn’t remember the last conversation she had had that had moved beyond questions of common courtesy. She lamented how in school the teachers didn’t allow her to adopt any approach that might lead her to ideas and answers outside the curriculum as they taught it, and how multiple choice exams made her want to tear her hair out (“because they try to make the straightforward material more difficult simply by tricking you with the wording, and that shouldn’t be what the class is about!”). She admitted that when she was younger, she had been supported in her desire to perform in the school plays (though she now has no time for drama class since entering junior high, because her parents want her to focus on getting educated in areas that will gain her acceptance into a ‘practical’ college program).
To all this Salyne listened quite intently, her left hand cupping her chin, and her right holding close her mug of tea. When Chalayne seemed to have run out of things to say, and not before, she said,
“Oh I understand perfectly, my dear. You’re quite right to want to venture out from the norm from time to time. I felt the same way at your age. I still feel that way, in fact. It’s probably one of the more pervading occupations of my thoughts.”
Alyssa sat beside the two, listening vaguely as she tried to keep herself from nodding off. After all, this whole business was Chalayne’s thing—she had only come because she was a good friend. No, she did not share Chalayne’s need to escape from her life; she quite enjoyed her life, even the regularity of it.
“Now, I’m sorry if what you ultimately found—me—is a little anticlimactic. I am only a person—and only some sort of similar creature could live in a house, after all. Though I do invite you over to pick my brains from here on, however often you may wish. I do not shy away from scrutiny, in that regard.”
“Why do you live underground, again?” Alyssa suddenly butt in, her eyes, for the brief moment it took to ask the question, snapping completely open. Salyne eyed Alyssa with that same bemused expression she wore when first laying eyes upon the girls, in the other room, and she watched even as she prepared to answer as Alyssa’s attention began to slip away again, to the backs of her eyelids. But she answered all the same.
“I suppose it’s because I feel as if it suits me much better than the world above. Paradoxically, within these walls I feel my imagination runs freer.” She took a sip of her tea. “Maybe because the other world feels so far away down here. So unaffecting. I find its influence on me, over my life, has been mostly negative, and for very many of the same reasons Chalayne seems so affected by it. I felt stifled.”
With a slight scoff tempered by her exhaustion, Alyssa signalled that she remained unconvinced, and her eyelids drooped more heavily. It was about three in the morning, by now, and thus her tiredness was to be expected, and Salyne let her despondence go at that, though she added under her breath,
“I simply don’t speak the common language of the day, I think is what it comes down to.”
Chalayne, though falling asleep too, heard her and smiled faintly up from where her head lay in her folded arms placed upon the counter.
“Anyway, it’s getting late.” Salyne declared, and she stood up from her stool. “I have a spare mattress you two can share for the night, and then you can be off on your way tomorrow morning. Sound good?” The two girls nodded with as much enthusiasm as the late night hour would allow. With blurry eyes and heavy feet they followed Salyne through another door on the other side of the kitchen, to a bedroom which seemed to radiate velvet green: the walls were green and made almost iridescent by the light drifting in from the kitchen, as was the bedding on the mattress. After taking off their shoes and socks, Alyssa and Chalayne climbed into bed, and Salyne said good night to them both and went to her own bedroom.
In the morning Salyne showed them out through a secret ‘rabbit hole’, as she called it, which she had installed as a sort of secret security measure.
“Plus it’s just fun to emerge from the ground pretending that you’re a bunny. Here, try it.” She sent them both up through the hole with carrots, and they climbed with the carrot sticks held between their front teeth so that they could use both hands on the ladder.
They made short work of packing their tent and rolling their sleeping bags, and then they walked their bikes to the road. From the road, Chalayne stared back at the black stone hovel which appeared so haphazardly assembled around that perfectly cut window, though she now knew its design had not been haphazard at all. The sky was bright blue with not a cloud in sight, and though the massive tree in front of the odd structure was blanketing it in shade as dense as ever, Chalayne found the house to have a different colour, now.
“It doesn’t look so gloomy anymore.” she said.
“I suppose not.” Alyssa agreed with only slight interest, glancing back at the place quickly, as if only to humour her friend.
“It looks even brighter, somehow. Not as black. Not as scary as it looked last night.” Chalayne continued.
“That’s true.” Alyssa said, mounting her bike. “Let’s get going though. I kind of feel weird knowing she might be watching us.”
“You didn’t like her?” Chalayne asked, surprised.
“Are you kidding? I knew anyone who lived in that place would be no good. She was just strange. And weird. And creepy. Through and through.” Alyssa said.
“No she wasn’t! She was just. . . different.”
About a young girl who is searching for something extraordinary outside the routine of her life. She finds the mystery she hopes for in the form of a captivating, squat little hovel on the outskirts of her city, which she stumbles upon while out for a bike ride during summer holidays. Author's comment: More than anything else, I like 'A Window's Silhouette' because it is me testing the waters of a new style of prose I'm looking to more fully realize in the novel I'm working on.