The Space Between Spaces (from the collection Six!)
When did I last see Mr. Edgar Allan Poe? On the Friday before his untimely death, Inspector. It is with regret I learn of his passing, although, it is something I must admit that comes as no surprise. One must understand: it was during the days preceding the death of the man which concerns me the most.
He was stepping from his house, tucking his collar up against the chill wind that had seemingly collected on our street of late, looking somewhat bedraggled. As I approached my own house, which as you know is next door, I bade him good morning, to which, unusually, he did not reply. He simply kept his head down as though watching his feet shuffle beneath him on the paving and across the road. Indeed, he did not even acknowledge my presence, so evident was it that he was in a hurry.
That was on the Monday. I did not see him either on the Tuesday or Wednesday, and then, come Thursday, just as I was to retire for the evening, I heard the strange noises.
At first I decided to ignore them. It is not unusual to hear the occasional sound from a neighbour, something of which we are all familiar or indeed a victim, however this time there was a persistence to it. It was a scratching sound that pertained to the presence of vermin; an unfortunate sufferance in most households at one time or another. Moreover, these scratching noises were akin to a rhythmic knock. Thus, this rhythm led me to believe it was neither rat nor mouse, nor even a bird in the eaves overhead. No, this was more a repetitive thump; a hammering of such insistence that it was not long until I stood outside squinting through autumn fog at the second-floor room in which I understood Mr. Poe to sleep. Such was the effort it took to wear suitable attire for a small trip out into the autumnal cold, those sounds had now ceased. All was near silent, save for the soft flap of drapes against the inside of Mr. Poe’s open bedroom window, from which a flickering light, perhaps an aggravated candle, shone.
Sleep that night did not arrive easily, for too long did I will myself into slumber, such was the sense of heavy foreboding upon my soul. Proceeded by troubled dreams, the following morning saw me wake to clinging bedclothes. I could recall nothing of what I dreamed, although I knew it to feature an animal or perhaps even a creature larger than a rat yet smaller than a dog, scratching and thumping beneath the floorboards, inside the wall cavity, its clutch and claw of rafter overhead. Whatever the thing of which plagued my dreams, it kept to the darkness just beyond my sight, not even a flicker in my periphery; hiding in fact, in the space between plaster or carpet, hiding in the shadows beneath my everyday world.
On Friday, which was to be the penultimate time I saw Mr. Poe alive, he appeared as troubled as those dreams of my midnight hours previous. Akin to before, he failed to return my greeting, and also my subsequent pleasantries. His hat was low to his brow, and there was an odd pallor to his face. Something else to note was the way in which he purposefully averted his gaze.
Later, when night and fog descended, the sounds returned. As before, I was close to retiring for the evening. On this occasion, I did not endeavour to immediately get dressed for an impromptu garden visit, instead I went to my window from which I knew would I glean a direct view of Mr. Poe’s bedroom window, albeit from a side angle.
I listened intently, the freezing fog seemingly to contain teeth to bite my face. With the smell of the cold air, of a burning coal fire somewhere, I wanted, in fact I pleaded for more sounds. That was when the first scream came.
It was Mr. Poe himself, surely. At least, that was what I assumed.
Perhaps I should have called for help at that moment; call for the police, for your enforcements, and in doing so perhaps our Mr. Poe would be alive with us here now. My actions could have been different, of that I am aware.
By way of the rear entrance, I entered his property at around ten of the evening. In the past, and on many occasions, he and I would share a sherry or two, and it had long since become the unwritten rule for this route to forever be my entrance and exit.
A gloom hugged every surface and every shadow, enough to both slow my progress and to see the outlines of furniture and doorways to avoid. There was a smell of dust, and dare I say it, rot. It reminded me of the time as a young boy my brothers and I had trespassed into a mausoleum; its stone entrance had crumbled enough to allow our thin bodies to sneak between rusted ironwork and dusty masonry. The darkness, the stony cold and the smell of decay were there. And just as I walked cautiously and in no way confidently through my neighbour’s home, the usual aroma of sherry, of a welcome warmth was masked by that of the mausoleum.
I shivered. There was to be no warmth in there that evening. Indeed, to encapsulate the darkness and my growing incessant feeling of dread, the silence embraced me; it froze me to the core.
From overhead, from Mr. Poe’s bedroom no doubt, came a rhythmic knock; a familiar hammering similar to that of the night before, only this time I trod the man’s home feeling every bit an intruder. The beat was accompanied by another scream. Being indoors and beneath the very room from which it was uttered, I recognised it for what it was: inhuman. Such a ghastly sound could not possibly emanate from a human oesophagus. Make no mistake, that knowledge, that realisation in itself filled me with a heightened sense of chill, of terror.
I wished to call out for Mr. Poe, to inform him of my presence, but something stayed my tongue. The near-dark was like a pressure upon my face; I tasted it, and indeed it was as though I breathed it in the further into his home I stepped, eventually reaching the bottom of the staircase. I looked up into the darkness of that floor, seeing only the soft and flickering amber glow from candlelight in a far room up there.
Aware too much that the stairs creaked beneath my every footfall, I headed upwards and toward the sounds of someone – Mr. Poe himself, of that I could only assume – speaking rapidly, some kind of chant perhaps, all too aware of those floorboards beneath my shoes. Finally, after what seemed like too long a time, I reached the landing, treading across the carpeted hall to a doorway, and an archway, and then to Mr. Poe’s bedroom itself.
In that moment, my senses failed me: the smell of sulphur strangled me, the feeling of the hard floor beneath the soles of my shoes, the taste of the cloying gloom, and the sound of the incessant mantra from the room into which I now stood agape. I ignored them all to only look, and I saw … I saw Mr. Poe himself hunched in the centre of a circle of candles. Those dozen flames pushed back the shadows only to make them dance no further than an arm stretch away. Bunched twigs and strange-looking dolls had been placed intermittently around him, as though those miniature effigies were onlookers unto him.
My voice sounded tiny as I uttered his name.
Whether he heard me or not, that insistent chant did not falter. It sounded like absolute nonsense, a foreign tongue only a madman would utter. There were, however, occasional words in English, diluted in the wash of the nonsensical.
Yet, it was not the way he huddled into himself, that awkward position he held, nor was it the way he chanted this nonsense; it was in fact that which was behind him. Entirely to block my view of the remainder of his chamber, a shimmering wall of glass stretched around him, as though to shroud him. The epicentre of which was hollow, black as a void my eyes had never before witnessed; I was seeing another space beyond that of our own. And that was precisely what I was to witness that very moment: a space between the spaces supposed to be there.
From that dense and dark epicentre, numerous clear tubes coiled and draped across the floor to where Mr. Poe huddled. The tubing contained a liquid, bubbling and travelling from the void, the colour beginning as a dark green to lighten as it neared Mr. Poe, and as it protruded into the veins of his bleeding wrists, it glowed red to add to the fiery illumination of the room.
I attempted to again say his name, yet failed as I watched him dip a quill into a pot of ink that had spilled to pool in the carpet fibres. As he did so, the multiple tubes attached to that wrist went taut. Blood trickled and caught in the hairs of his forearm. He appeared not to be concerned in the slightest. There was no notebook or parchment, or any medium upon which he was to scribe, he instead raised his hand to write something on, or indeed in, the shimmering void about him.
There was a howl beyond the darkness inside that crack in reality, it was the very scream that chilled me earlier; and it chilled me again, only being this close to the void itself that shriek made me sick to the stomach. I doubled over and clawed the wooden doorframe, terror freezing my blood as I could not imagine what those tubes and that fluid were doing to poor Mr. Poe.
Whatever he wrote in the air was evidently accepted, (for want of a more appropriate word), and as proof those tubes slithered from his wrists with a grotesque squelching noise. They whipped and lashed, trailing blood across the carpet. One splashed blood across his trousers, whilst another dragged through ink.
The hole shrank causing those coiling tubes to retract, unravel and reveal feelers of some such, like thin and looping tentacles, reminding me no less of a cephalopod; squid-like appendages of needle-tipped probes. They retreated fully, and immediately the hole in the air, the very void into which I gawped, snapped closed with an audible pop, the broken glass shimmer no longer there.
Still, Mr. Poe had not acknowledged me. He now had his eyes closed, his breathing erratic, still hunched and seemingly oblivious to the blood that trickled from the welts and lesions along his wrists.
The air no longer felt tainted, and glad I was to inhale the cold and fresh air which rushed in through billowing drapes. I uttered his name, softly, and reached an unsteady hand for him. At this point I had dropped to my knees, feeling the sickness still rising in my stomach.
Mr. Poe’s head snapped up, his eyes wide.
“Speak nothing of this!” he declared.
The look upon the man’s face was enough to send me backing out of his bedroom, awkwardly collecting my stubborn feet beneath me. A giddiness stole me. I watched him blow out each candle, one by one with a delicacy to betray that which I had mere moments before witnessed. Ignoring me then, he was to set about preparing his bed, all as though I was not there.
As I had so often of late, I attempted to speak with him, I cannot recall precisely what I said, but I wanted to know, I needed to know of what I had viewed there in his chambers. I needed to understand the void, and his actions, and that vile creature’s needle-tipped appendages.
He began to disrobe, muttering to himself, and of course I respected the man enough to allow him privacy and so left him to retire. His final words were those that have since troubled me.
I am telling you this, Inspector, because I know that Mr. Poe lived through the weekend to follow and died this Tuesday gone. It is with regret that I now go against his wishes, but I feel it necessary to inform you of the truth. You see, I understand you are led to believe that in his delirium during his final hours, he called for someone named Reynolds. This is untrue. A repetitive calling by all accounts, yet what you believe here is incorrect.
I have since given this much thought, for I heard him utter two English words repeatedly during the chant, and also later as I retreated along that upper hallway to leave his abode. Two words, Inspector: “rare” and “worlds”.
I believe Mr. Edgar Allan Poe spoke of a rare world beyond that of our own.
Six! is available from Amazon for Kindle, in paperback, and on Audible here.