I pulled the Caddy off the freeway at the first sign of cornfields. It was always jarring, that abrupt transition between the city and the country. The valley’s life’s blood came from the earth, its entire economy driven by agriculture. It was a constant and curious reminder that no matter how much the world advanced it all came back to the dirt.
We cut off the main road after passing a couple dairies and turned onto a dirt path that led through twenty or so acres of barren orchard, a brown stain breaking up all the green growing things that surrounded it, the whole thing a flat field of dust and dirt broken only by the path itself at the end of which loomed a towering two-hundred year old yew tree that had grown into a strange, tortured looking shape, its naked branches knotted and curled like arthritic hands swaying in a slow breeze.
And looming beneath the shadow of that twisted old tree like stood Der Haus des Schicksals - ‘the House of Doom.’
It was built like a fortress because that had been what my great-grandfather Heinrich Gottesspeer, better known as Henry Grey - may his soul rot forever - had in mind when he’d built it after arriving here all those centuries ago, constructing the whole thing by pulling raw stone from the earth and hewing it with magic. He’d also planted the yew, having carried the seed of it with him all the way from the dark forests of his homeland. Der Haus was a study in brutal efficiency, brooding grey and squat as an irate gargoyle despite its two stories. The windows more resembled murder slits and the front doors were a pair of black iron monstrosities.
We parked beneath the tree and my eyes darted up to the branches, scanning for crows. The beginnings of something vicious and painful bubbled up in me, the erratic energy inside responding to my paranoia, but there were no birds and I swallowed down the rising spell. It had an alkaline taste that clung in the back of my throat.
I didn’t see Rosa’s new car, one of those weird little electric things, which meant she was still at work, which meant I could breathe at least a little bit easier. My roommate was an amazing cook, kept the place spotless, and was a blood thirsty tyrant, Genghis Khan reborn. I swear sometimes I wondered whether or not it was me letting her live in my house, or her suffering my existence in hers.
There was a little area picketed off along the north side of the house, away from the shadow of the yew, and a sprinkler was tossing water in lazy arcs over a sizable garden, courtesy of my other roommate and one time mentor, Hack. The mad old hillbilly doted over that garden, I’d seen him crooning to the plants, singing and whispering to them as he tilled the dirt and pulled the weeds. He’d never been the same after the Sleeper debacle, after his powers were ripped from him by my great-grandfather, his best friend - after we used the Libro Nihil to send Henry to the grave for the second time.
My fingers twitched and my hand strayed to my pocket where the book rested.