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As I stood at the base of the long lane beneath, staring up at my distant destination, I supposed my perceptions of that house were being colored by my recent breakup.

The plan had been to attend to our studies in Prague together. Instead, I stood alone against the parching summer winds, studying a lengthy alley that carved its way up the precipitous hill with an ancient laziness.

Lost in brooding need for motion, I ignored my initial unease and slipped into the cramped canyon where that serpentine alley began. The walk was quiet, taxing, and lonely, but passed by without note in a blur of regretful and nostalgic thoughts. I was in another country, but I’d not yet left the old one behind.

As I emerged from the narrow shade, sweaty and bitter, the hill’s crowning residence greeted me with a resurgence of disquiet. The high house had once been noble, and sat apart, towering over its environs like an aging patriarch with a tired back. The fourth and highest floor carried a visibly dangerous tilt toward the terminal precipice of that final lot, an illusion I attributed to the hill’s steep angle and the stone’s weathered patterns. Shadows streamed from sharp carvings, casting incomprehensible patterns across the wasteland of cracked medieval pavement that otherwise ran bright under dry winds.

I was not the only student staying at the Moravec house, and this was hardly the first year that its surviving matriarch had hosted academics, but I still had to force myself to approach. An inexplicable revulsion held me back, trying to warn me away, but there was no specific reason I could gather to truly give up and return to my home country.

And she was there, in my home country. Disquiet or no, I couldn’t go back.

I gave a gentle knock on the wide wooden door.

An arid breeze brought a sigh past my ears. I looked back at the cobblestone lane, but the mid-day sun and patterned shade held nothing but emptiness, and the odd tiny weed dancing in the wind.

The door swung open, and I turned forward in sudden embarrassed surprise.

A white-haired woman stood waiting, a pleasant smile on her face. She carried a slight hunch to match that of the tired house itself, but her clear blue eyes still shined with particular energy. Her calm and positive tone carried only a hint of accent. “Our last student! You’ve arrived!”

“Lady Moravec,” I responded, following the cultural advice my advisor had given me. It felt odd to address someone with a noble title like that, given that she stood before me in jeans and a faded orange shirt that seemed reminiscent of earlier decades. This was not an old woman - this was a woman who happened to have aged.

Her deeply wrinkled face curled up in genuine humor. “Dear, really. Call me Aneta.” She pulled a cellphone and typed in my name and details. “So that I’ll remember,” she explained, before returning it to her pocket.

I stepped inside after her, and immediately shuddered from the chill within.

As she led me into the house, I saw almost immediately why she needed to record my details. Eleven other students sat in a long dining room. Lunch had finished at least an hour before, but the plates remained on the table while cultures clashed and friendships were forged.

I was in no mood to meet people, and Aneta seemed to notice. Instead of introducing me immediately, she showed me the way up a surprisingly narrow set of stone steps that I figured must have been for the servants - back when the house had employed them.

The chill deepened as we climbed.

“Is it just you here these days?” I asked, adjusting my backpack and holding myself closer against the drop in temperature.

She kept moving, but threw a smile back. “If the cold is bothering you, I can get you a sweater.”

“No, I’m fine,” I lied.

At first, I assumed the house’s ancient construction kept it cold, but we passed a vent - and the icy air brought me a shiver. I’d seen signs of modern renovations in the front hallway, and that was true here as well.

We came to the top of the stairs, and I blinked against the sudden change.

White was the dominant color here. The long and close hallway was incredibly clean, and populated only by a decorative little table or two with plastic flowers in small vases. I immediately found myself thinking of the place as icy, given the painfully chill airflow rolling toward us and the harsh lack of color.

Suppressing an oncoming chattering of my teeth, I forced a smile and followed her to my room. She had assigned me the one at the end of the long hallway because I’d arrived last. That was fair enough, but I was already considering the walk back to the stairs a trek that I would have to endure with each departure and return.

The room itself was plain, spartan, and serviceable. There was no air vent within, so the temperature was higher, and the patterns were all brown. Glad to escape chill white, I ducked within and dropped my backpack to the floor.

A moment later, I thought to thank my new host, so I popped my head out.

She had already left me to my own devices, but she had not departed entirely. I watched her open a nearly invisible white closet door, pull out a vacuum, and begin cleaning up the very scant dirt my shoes had left behind.

I supposed it was necessary to keep the smooth alabaster wood floor clean, but something about her movement and manner came off as a bit intent, or even manic.

Taking care to avoid any noise, I closed my door, and then went about assessing my new living quarters.

The single window was made of thick double-paned glass. Beyond, I could see a great deal of Prague, and nothing of the winding lane I’d traveled earlier. This window faced the hill’s precipice, then, and I peered down at a dizzyingly steep series of rooftops that dropped haphazardly into a sea of buildings far below.

Hoping for a better view down, I tried to open the window, but found that it was set wholly into the wall. Not only could it not be opened, it had been constructed to purposely lack the ability.

I supposed that was necessary to keep guests from falling out.

There was no air flow in my room, however, so I wondered if it wouldn’t begin to feel a little claustrophobic over the course of the semester.

I supposed that I wasn’t really intended to spend much time there. The house did have a sprawling layout that probably allowed for privacy through sheer size.

Shrugging off my continuing unease, I headed back into the icy halls.

I did see the narrow stairs back down to the front, but I also looked the other direction.

The hallway terminated at a junction, where a fancy portrait hung on the wall. I approached it, studying the image of an older and respectable man. His heavy eyes gazed eternally at something in the distance, and I knew instinctively who this was: Rosta Moravec, the man of the house, and Aneta’s late husband.

I’d been told not to bring him up.

Standing there in front of his picture, I pulled out my phone and looked into him.

His respectable portrait seemed a sham as I read paragraph after paragraph about the scandals of his life. There had been rumors about gambling, about successful shady dealings to recover family wealth, and about womanizing.

The article also included an image of a woman I recognized. It was Aneta, lacking a number of decades, and quite beautiful for the change. She stood with her husband, smiling with that same particular brightness.

I stared - at first, because she caught the eye so strongly, and then because a strange shock ran through me. It was brighter and much less worn, but I knew the pattern.

She was wearing that same orange shirt.

It was a picture of the two of them, from before all the scandals. I supposed that shirt meant something to her.

A subtle sigh reached my hearing. I looked up, confused. Had that been the same sound from outside?

The revving of a vacuum startled me, and I hurriedly put my phone away as Aneta’s swift cleaning motions brought her closer. She kept her eyes on the traces of dirt I’d left on the sheer white floor. “Please join the others downstairs.”

I did as she asked, wondering if I hadn’t heard a slight anger in her tone.

The other students pulled me in from the first moment, demanding my story and friendship, and I gave them what I could. They were nice enough, but my mind was still on a girl I knew I would never speak to again.

That, and on the oddness of the house and its sole caretaker.

School started, and I had less time to think about it, but nobody else seemed to find it odd that she wore that same orange shirt every single day. She kept it immaculate, just like the house, so the others chalked it up to her being set in her ways.

I heard that same odd sigh twice more over the next three months, but I imagined it had to have come from the air system.

Because my room was unsuitable for waking pursuits, I often wandered the house, and eventually found a library. In addition to a huge range of first-print classics, there was also an entire section filled with medical texts. Each had been leafed through in great detail, and written upon with intent. Notes marred almost every margin. They were a bit old, but close enough to modern.

I’d intended to ask Aneta about them until the nature of the notes changed.

you bastard

It was probably my tenth time perusing the dusty and unused library, and my third time examining those medical books, so I had to stare for a moment to comprehend what I was seeing. Someone had jotted questions above, and then answered them; someone had noted important sections below. Between…

you don’t get to leave me

i’ll found out who she is

i’ll find out who all of them are

I swallowed down a return of that unease I’d felt my first day, and then carefully placed the books back the way I had found them.

I kept my thoughts to myself for a time, and only pursued my concerns in a roundabout manner.

The twelve of us had finished dinner, and a few glasses of wine had been had, courtesy of our absent host. I knew who would speak most freely. Wright was an American, and the drink went straight to his mouth every time.

At an opportune time, I leaned close to him. “Say, do you know anything about how Rosta died?”

His dumb grin told me I’d struck gold. He gave me a conspiratorial whisper that I was sure everyone in the room could hear; my only saving grace was that their drunken conversations had them riveted to other topics. “Rosta Moravec!” Wright let out a little burst of air and gave a great nod. “Disappeared.”

“Disappeared?” I asked, a terrible suspicion coming over me.

“Not gonna find that on Wikipedia, are ya? Heard it from a local chick I hooked up with my first week here. Only the locals know about it. Whisper it, you know.”

I tried to sound only casually interested. “When did he disappear?”

“Ten years, I think,” he responded, before leaping up. “Bathroom time!”

He was gone in an instant, but a dark heaviness remained in his absence.

I took my leave, and headed to my room, cramped though it was. I sat between close brown walls, staring at my sealed window. What had Aneta done? I absently bit through each of my nails one by one before I decided I had to investigate further.

The main complication was clear: Lady Moravec never left the house. She loved the house, and kept it chill, austere, and maddeningly clean.

That gave me the idea.

During another night of drinking, I gave Wright an anonymous gift - a potted plant, something which he found uniquely hilarious for reasons beyond my ken - and he proceeded to almost immediately trip and smash it, exactly as I’d hoped.

Aneta raced out from rooms unknown and proceeded to clean in a panic.

I slipped away.

Her room lay at the very back of the house, and I hurried toward it without my shoes. In socks alone, I left no trace of my passage on the stark floors.

The door to her room creaked open with a blast of icy air. I braced myself for the coldest room yet and crept inside.

Everything within was white.

The bed and all its sheets were white.

The desk was white.

There was no window at all.

I’d seen many of the signs, but I knew now that Lady Moravec contained some measure of hidden madness. This simply wasn’t normal.

The desk drawers slipped open without resistance, and I leafed through several white journals I found within.

he loves me

i’m so happy to have my Rosta with me

I checked the corporate text at the very front of the journal - it was only two years old.

Either Aneta was completely mad… or…

When that sigh broached my senses for the fifth time since I’d come, I finally heard it for what it was: a distant, weak, and hopeless moan.

The truth struck me with an almost physical thump to the chest.

Rosta Moravec was still in the house.

Electrified by my new understanding, I began looking around the room with sharper eyes. Like the closets in the hallways, nearly invisible white doors had been set in the walls here. They were set high, near arm level, and too small to be accesses to another room, but I was still deadly curious. I approached one and slid the clean white wood panels apart.

An empty cube of space sat beyond, also bright white… except for a single crimson little splatter. A drop of blood sat in that cupboard - and it had not yet congealed.

It was fresh.

A creak sounded in the distance, and I hurriedly closed the cupboard, checked the desk, and slipped back out.

The house’s maze-like setup lent me a dozen paths to escape. I made it to my room, put my shoes back on, and then casually rejoined the dinner party in the dining room. Nobody had been the wiser. If anyone had thought about it, I would have told them I’d just gone to the washroom.

I laughed along with their jokes and listened to their tales, but my mind was solely on the undeniable fact that something terrible had been going on in that house for ten years. Was Rosta locked up somewhere? Was Aneta torturing him?

Burdened with my horrible suspicions, I couldn’t help but feel completely alone. The girl I loved should have been there to help. She would have known what to do. She had been bright, strong, and smart. I didn’t understand why we’d ended, and I was far from over it even months later.

And winter was coming on, so my time spent in the house only increased. I used every moment of free time manipulating dirtiness in the house so that I would have a chance to explore each and every room one by one. If Rosta was in the house, there had to be a way to find him. I couldn’t simply call the police - that had all been done ten years ago, apparently, and they’d found nothing. Without any evidence, I’d look insane.

My search took me deep into the inner workings of the house, most especially in my own room. After several days’ work, I’d managed to remove a panel in the wall without damage. Beyond ran a great many wires, tubes, and so on. Those things I expected. There was one deviation from those expectations: several little glass tubes that ran from somewhere deep in the wall to somewhere else deep in the wall. Extremely small fibers sat within each. I stared at them for days, and even purchased a magnifying glass, but all I saw was dirty yellow with traces of red.

What thin fibers would be yellow with traces of red? I looked up wires, manufacturing, house hardwares… I couldn’t find a match.

But these tubes were a clue. I focused my explorations on the numerous hidden panels in the house, tracing the glass. Many spread out in branching patterns through the walls, often terminating into hundreds of very small glass tubes. What was I seeing? I still had no idea. I traced them the other direction, finding that they got fewer in number and thicker as I headed toward the heart of House Moravec.

By then, I’d grown used to the eternal bone-chill, and felt one with it. This house, and this environment, carried a bleak madness that I knew had infected me. Aneta had been obsessed with keeping her womanizing husband, and I had become obsessed with freeing him from her… anything to keep from thinking about what was missing in my life.

A major break occurred in late December of that year. I hadn’t gone to class in the last month; I’d needed that time to continue my search. I was glad for it, too, because it was during one of those hours that I was supposed to have been absent from the house that I finally found something important.

It was a closet within a closet, containing a hidden apparatus that pumped in and out like some sort of lung. The thickening tubes connected to it directly, and I managed to determine that this air system was separate from the icy air vents.

My immediate thought was that she was keeping Rosta somewhere isolated, with its own environment. That would have avoided a number of problems that would otherwise have exposed his presence in the house.

She was smart. I’d guessed it, based on her study of the medical texts, but now I knew. Those manic and sharp blue eyes hid piercing calculation. I knew that now, too, because I had the sense that she was on to me. I hadn’t given myself away, and I’d made no mistake, but she seemed to see it in me somehow. Did madness recognize madness?

She made no immediate move against me.

I hesitated for a few days out of fear, but then resumed my search when I felt I had no other choice. I’d mapped out the entire house, and found no missing space. The entirety of House Moravec was drawn out in my hidden notes, and there were no extra rooms. I’d even rented a sounder and gone over every inch of the basement…

It was that drawing that struck home the horrifying truth of what I’d been mapping. I stared at it, highly aware of everything around me. My brown room hummed quietly with the systems around it, snow fell outside the window, and I was holding a picture of something I recognized.

There was no more need for the game. In a shaking fury, I stormed through the freezing white hallways, heading straight for Aneta’s room.

She sat within, writing in her white journal. She looked up with icy determination. “I see from the look in your eyes that you understand.”

I shook with the strain of repressed violence. “Show me.”

Her hunch disappeared as she stood straight with ease and grace. An affectation; another lie. She moved to the cabinets in her bedroom walls, and opened the one I’d found the drop of blood in. “Are you sure?”

I kept my response quiet, but fierce. “Show me!”

She pressed a hidden square, and the cubical space lifted - it had always been a sort of secret dumb-waiter. I’d never thought to look deeper into it, because the space was simply too small for a person. It was the perfect size, however, for the head of an aging, womanizing patriarch.

The glass tubes moved with the mechanical case that came up. I understood, now, what had been done.

Aneta turned around and smiled. “He can never leave me.”

It was what I’d suspected. The tubes I’d been mapping had been splayed out like a circulatory system, and I’d found the lungs. Rosta had never been in any room of the house. He’d been in the house itself, splayed out through every wall and floor. The tubes held his arteries and veins… and this box held his head. I hadn’t expected, however, that the system had actually worked.

Rosta Moravec was still alive.

He stared at me, trying his best to whisper for help.

Lady Moravec studied me with a bright gaze. “Are you going to the police?”

I shuddered. “I have to… this is monstrous. Insane. Aneta, do you see what you’ve done?”

She gave a slow nod. “He can never leave me, or this house. I have everything I want.” She took a step closer. “Before you inform anyone, I should tell you… I’ve invited your ex-girlfriend, the one you always talk about. She’ll be coming here next for the next semester. You could simply keep this to yourself… and stay. This house will need someone to take care of it after I’m gone. Before that, I could help you… learn.”

I froze, trying to comprehend what she was offering. She, too, had had a partner who had disappointed her and tried to leave… but she’d taken away that disappointment through science and madness.

When I didn’t respond, Aneta moved to her desk, pulled out a medical textbook, and held it out.

I’d like to say I turned it down.

----by reddit user M59Gar via:


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