A Note From New York
A doctor is summoned to a riverside mansion replete with mystery.
The keys to an extraordinary riverside mansion in Manhattan arrived at the Doctor’s door by post a few days before he arrived in New York, including a note that read:
Sick child. Necessary arrangements made for your stay. Special circumstance. Please come at once. – M.
The Doctor palmed the dirty note as he finished reading it for the hundredth time and slid it into the same pocket of his long wool coat the keys rattled in. He was equally as mystified as when he had first received it.
The soles of his boots clacked on the sidewalk while orange-brown leaves swirled around him in the chilly autumn wind. The Doctor now walked steadily up the tree-lined, riverside road to what some locals called Limestone Place. The mansion nearly hung over the Hudson. The mist that sometimes rolled off the river this time of year was said to make the house seem rather yellow. No one they knew had ever been inside it.
“My cousin could have called another doctor—or asked me to call one, I know plenty in New York—instead of summoning me from my quiet countryside almost three states away,” the Doctor thought aloud. What he did not think aloud was this: “Besides, I haven’t seen nor heard from her since we were children. She barely speaks to the family. I only remembered she had a boy when the note arrived.”
Such thoughts picked up pace in his mind as he turned the final corner to the house. The Doctor was surprised when he approached the address to find a towering, handsome mansion made completely of marble. Despite the fog and the yellow, orange-brown leaves falling dead all around it, it appeared perfectly white.
Down the bank some meters away, the river rushed on through a light breeze that carried the smell of cold, natural water which, half an hour ago, thoroughly reminded him of home. Now, he purposefully tuned all of this out.
The Doctor was ready to meet his patient.
As he climbed the white stairs to the huge wooden grand entry doors above him, he felt the freezing touch of marble under his palm up as he slid it up the inches-thick handrail, part of a massive one-piece slab into which every detail was expertly carved some time ago. He noticed every detail of the house was to the same standard as he topped the stairs.
Having expected a servant to greet him at the steps but finding no one, he turned for a moment to look back over the river flowing violently below. Then, he retrieved the keys from his pocket. Then, he turned the lock, took off his cap, and pushed open the heavy doors himself.
A blast of frigid air, far colder than the chilly, damp gray air outside, gently brushed back his thick gray hair as it saw its escape through the open doors. The Doctor briefly surveyed the great, spacious main room with piercing curiosity: ornate console tables, sofas, and chairs lay everywhere, neatly arranged over Persian rugs. Antiques, paintings, and animal mounts scattered decoratively around the place. Doors led in every direction. A spiral staircase made wide with marble led to the higher floors and down to the cellars.
The Doctor took all of this in as he turned around and pushed the cumbersome, creaking door shut with some effort.
* * *
After starting a lantern hanging at the entrance, shouting several times, and searching up and down the great mansion for any sign of life (finding nothing except well-furnished rooms), the Doctor discovered himself in the stupefying wine cellar—voluminous, stocked full with several thousand bottles of French vintages and hundreds more from exotic vineyards he had only heard of. He remembered the note in his pocket and relaxed into his new surroundings.
This time with a bottle of his favorite Bordeaux in hand, he made his way again through each floor of the mansion. With his assignment put aside for the time being, he admired the spectacular artwork on the walls, splendorous furniture, the chef's kitchen, two huge libraries, and even the cavernous master bedroom that no one was there to prevent him looking in on.
Finishing his first bottle, the Doctor descended the staircase in search of more wine. Having taken his time to select the right type (ending up happily with the same he had just finished), he turned, tipsy and mirthful, to the wooden door that stood at the end of a long corridor between the cellar and the staircase.
An odd, mild smell of sulfur and limestone slowly occurred to him as he stood there. He sniffed the air and thought little of it as he made his way down the hall and back up the staircase, his boots knocking with every step.
* * *
In the vastness of the main room on the first floor, he laid sprawled out on a sofa drinking straight from a third bottle of Bordeaux with a fourth in his other hand. He had partially explored the mansion a second time, but by now he was too ensconced in alcoholic delight to take in any more details than he had the first time. Emboldened by the evidence that he had this great mansion to himself for at least the night, he flopped down and continued to drink merrily.
The odor of sulfur and limestone returned, and over time made itself perfectly present to the Doctor. He wanted to ignore this phenomenon, but the smell was so thick it stuck in his nostrils. He sat up drunkenly and looked around as if the answer were directly laying within arm’s reach.
He then felt the unmistakable presence of another human being in the room. The hair on the back of his neck stood up and goosebumps flashed across his skin.
Just then, on the staircase some yards away, the Doctor heard the unmistakable sound of faint, bare feet pattering up the marble steps. Instantly half-sobered, he snapped his head and half his body toward the staircase, catching a flash of a child’s bare legs disappearing from view.
He yelled out and started toward the staircase. His thoughts raced faster than he could keep up with them. The Doctor had not seen a soul in this house. Now his charge appeared in front of him, but nothing about this felt right, or safe. If it weren’t for the wine, the Doctor would have felt death in the air.
The silhouette of a child’s head and shoulders slowly emerged, upside down, from the top of the staircase. It stared straight at the Doctor cautiously, with predatory curiosity.
Now, the sulfur and limestone odor transformed into the stench of horrendous, rotting flesh. The smell of death left no doubt in the Doctor’s mind that he needed to leave right then. Still, for a few moments, his feet remained planted, frozen in fear as he and the child comprehended each other.
The rest of the boy’s body climbed unnaturally around to make itself right-side up. The next instant, it appeared on the floor in front of the staircase in total shadow. It audibly gargled and lurched out a series of inhuman, ominous moans. Something horrendous began to drip onto the floor underneath it.
Grounded helplessly in place, the Doctor watched as its torso and limbs stretched suddenly to double his own length, then moved toward him with a completely unnatural scream that unraveled the Doctor to his core; as if a young boy were having his throat cut, but ferociously doing the murdering himself. The soft footsteps of a child were now of two massive hooves clacking forward, straight at him.
The Doctor took in a sharp, terrified gasp. His feet finally relented. He turned toward the huge doors behind him and ran for his life. The horrific scream and giant, hooved footsteps rounded on him just as he unbolted the lock and pulled on the handles.
* * *
Now well past nightfall, the Doctor pulled the great doors closed from outside, calmly and without straining himself. The river rushed as ever below him. He turned toward the long marble steps. His thick grey hair flowed in the wind as no cap shielded his blank, lifeless eyes from the moonlight.
About the author
Christopher Zimny is an American author from Sarasota, Florida. He lives in New York City.
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