The Impossible Children

Chapter 2: His Most Welcome Guests

“Hello,” said Annabelle. She didn’t know why she had answered, only that it helped to keep her in the here and now, though her voice was shaking so badly, she wondered if she was heard at all.

Grace, in many ways, possessed the greater strength of the two sisters. She said, “Who are you? What is it you want with us?”

Annabelle wondered these same things, but kept silent, trying to make sense of how quickly the world had turned upside down. She marveled at the shadowy flesh that held her in place, even though her own fingers could gain no purchase. This was no earthly power she had ever known.

“Hmm, indeed, indeed,” said the man, replacing his hat back atop his head. “Two questions, each one with many answers. But you will have to wait for them, for I cannot reply here. It should be enough that you are to be my most welcome guests. For I mean to take you with me to somewhere far away, and I expect this will be the last time you see this fair house for some time, if at all.”

Annabelle felt as if she were being flung off a cliff. No matter what she may feel about her mother or her mother’s house, this was where Annabelle had lived all her childhood. This was where her father’s library was, and spending her days sitting in her father’s armchair, reading his books, she felt safe.

“No, you’re not,” her sister Grace said. She struggled against the shadows that bound her. “Let us go at once!”

Ignoring her, the man reached out a long thin finger and traced a line into the air. There outside their front door, the world cracked open, revealing an alien landscape. Through no discernible method or machine, he had inflicted his will upon the world, tearing a hole into it and through it.

Annabelle could think only of King Canute and the tide, and she felt as small as he must have felt before a power she could not understand.

The man stepped through the crack, followed quickly by the shadow-men dragging their charges along.

They stepped into a blighted land, with a great blue fiery globe hanging like a looming face in the sky. This sun cast no light, no warmth, but instead shed a chill miasma of gloom and sadness, permeating into her being.

Before her was a grand house of stone and metal and glass, with many windows that Annabelle thought could perceive her in some way and a yawning front door that might swallow her whole. The walls looked cold and forbidding, strong as ice.

“Welcome to my home,” said the man in unctuous tones. “I have many plans for you here.”

The sisters were taken inside the house and led through a maze of rooms and halls, until they were finally placed in a large hall with a dining table that could seat a hundred at least. So it was very empty indeed when the only places set were for the sisters and their host.

“Allow me,” he said as he helped first Annabelle then Grace into their seats.

Shadow-men brought forth a feast of sumptuous minced meats and pickled fruits, sugared pastries and steaming hot soup. It had been many hours since Annabelle had eaten, but she remembered Persephone’s plight and did not touch her food. Grace, she was gratified to see, also refused to eat, folding her hands crosswise in stony silence.

“So, to your questions,” he said, first picking up a silver goblet, then setting it down again. “Who I am is not important, for I am but a servant of a greater power. But I have invited you here, because there is inside you a gift that I wish to nurture. A rare and special gift! Something that makes you wholly unique in all the many countless worlds! And so here you are!”

He picked up the goblet again and sipped its contents.

Annabelle’s ears pricked at the notion of many worlds. “Countless,” he’d said. But that thumbful of curiosity was soon drowned by the notion that they were to be this man’s prisoners. Though she wondered–

“You mean both of us?” Annabelle said.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Both of us,” she repeated. “Both of us have this rare and unique gift? Somehow the both of us have something that no one else in all the worlds has?” Which didn’t seem very likely, but seemed enough for him to take them from their home and into this strange and frightening place.

The man blinked, running a hand through his slick hair. “I suppose that’s true. One or the other, I’m sure. Either one or the other possesses this rare and powerful gift. Of course, I invited you both, just to be certain.”

Annabelle and Grace exchanged looks with one another in a rare moment of shared understanding. What was he planning to do with the one who didn’t?

The man suddenly stood from his chair, his eyes distant. “Hmm. That’s odd.”

“What? What is it?” asked Grace.

His mouth twisted into a great smile, but he seemed distracted. “Don’t fret your pretty little head. But stay here.”

The man left the great hall, taking his shadows with him, and leaving the sisters behind. As soon as he was gone, Grace got up out of her chair and began heading for the door in the opposite direction. Annabelle had to scramble to keep up.

“Where are you going?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” said her sister. “Away from here.”

“But we can’t go off without some sort of plan,” said Annabelle. She ticked off her fingers. “We don’t know where we are, we don’t know who else is in this house, and most of all, we’re in a lot of danger as it is. Upsetting that, that man seems very unwise.”

Grace pulled at the heavy double doors and managed to open it a sliver, and she wedged through. “Right, well, you can stay here if you want. Because you’re right, we’re in a lot of danger and sticking around to wait and see what happens to us seems like an even stupider idea. Much better, I think, to put a wrench in his plans than to let him have his way.”

When her sister put it like that, Annabelle didn’t really have a good argument or retort. She followed and let the door shut behind her.

“And also,” her sister added, “we’ll be able to know more if we have a look around, much better than we would holed up in that room.”

Annabelle’s curiosity woke once more at the idea. And while she hadn’t had time to properly think about what all had happened to her, she was fascinated about how the man had torn a piece of the world like it was nothing at all. She wondered how he had done it, and how they had come to this place. And so she walked with her sister through the gloom of that dark house.

In first walking through the house, Annabelle had attempted to keep track of the path they’d taken through it. But the twist and turns they took through winding hallways and sideways rooms left her overwhelmed. Her younger sister marched steadily forward, but even the notion of forwards and backwards was beginning to lose its meaning, at least to Annabelle.

This was made even more difficult by the lack of light. Eerily, they could see through the gloom, but Annabelle felt a suffocating sensation around her as she crept through that awful house. And yet, she felt like every sound was amplified, as every footfall and breath they took could be heard from every corner of the house. A persistent chill leeched into her very bones that even her cardigan could not ward off.

A plaintive cry came whispering through as the sisters reached a flight of stairs.

“Do you hear that?” said Annabelle.

“Of course I do,” said Grace, “though I’m not eager to find out what it is. It’s coming from down there.”

Annabelle peered down the into the murky depths and thought her sister must be right.

“It sounds like someone crying for help,” said Annabelle, though she wasn’t sure. Nevertheless, she inched closer to the stairs.

We are the ones who need help,” said Grace. But she offered no resistance as Annabelle led the way down the stairs.

Down, down, down they went, though even with the first step they were having second thoughts.