“But you don’t have the time to listen to me ramble,” said Time. Unusual name. Befitting the unusual man. He shifted in his wheelchair, though he looked far too healthy to need one.
“Oh, no, please, ramble,” Mads said. Her face wanted to slam into her hand so badly. Great line. Mads actually loved to hear Time’s buttery British gentleman voice, no matter what he was talking about.
However, it looked like his speaking was over. “Bring this into the kitchen for me,” said Time, holding up a saucer and teacup. And she did.
Mads had been working as Time’s caretaker for nearing a year now.
According to what she gleaned from their conversation(He was adamantly opposed to stating anything directly), he’d become fed up with the way the nursing home ran things, so just like that, he bought a mansion in the woods and moved out there. Mads, for whatever reason, was one of seven people to receive a letter from Time, asking for a caretaker, one that he ordered about, and not vice-versa. She was the only one to show up. Why did she take the job? Well, she always had a thing for mansions, but she’d only ever seen one from the outside. This was a rare opportunity. Though the whole mansion was well furnished, Time and Mads really only used four rooms, all on the first floor, all relatively close to the entrance. Sometimes, when Time would drift off to sleep, which he did often, and for long periods, Mads would answer the knock of opportunity, camera-phone in hand, and explore.
Upstairs was almost a completely different world. Dusty from a year of negligence. If she were officially allowed up here, Mads might have cleaned it. At any rate, the dust made the floor all the more fascinating. The patina covering the vintage chairs made at almost like stepping through a portal to the past. She was confident that Time wouldn’t find these pictures on her blog.
There was, however, one room empty, save for a single rusted wheelchair. The only thing really notable about it was the view. There was a glass door to a veranda, which hung over a spectacular scene of forest leading into mountain ranges and a white, foaming river. She’d taken several pictures of that view already. It was just as magical every time she’d seen it.
When Mads came back from the kitchen, Time was again, fast asleep, an open book in his wrinkled hand. Pictures of a not unattractive man spanning from the nineteen forties to the present were contained in it, on just one page. Just how old was this guy? She took a picture, made a mental note of the color, and of its place on the bookshelf. If the opportunity presented itself, she would look through that album herself.
Mads had an idea. In all the year she’d been there, there was one place she’d never explored: The Basement. Why hadn’t she been down there, anyway? Time wasn’t going to last much longer, and Mads highly doubted she was in the will. It would be a fine sendoff. She checked the battery bar on her phone. Full. She pressed the screen to her heart, beating a little harder now.
She made her way through the big four rooms, out of the study, then to the living room, kitchen, bedroom, into the dimly lit depths of the first floor, illuminated only by the fading light of the sun. Her feet caught on each other as she reached the staircase, two curving flights to either side, leading to the upper floor, and one other pitch-dark passage between them, descending to the underbelly of the house. Mads readied her flashlight app and prepared to take the plunge.
Mads heart erupted into a thunderous hurry.
“Madeleine?” Time’s tinkling voice echoed through the halls of the house.
Crap. She waited until she was fairly close to the study before responding, “Here!”
For a second, she worried that Time would hear her heartbeat, loud as it was, or see it crawling up her throat. She gulped it down.
“Oh, my, after sunset,” said Time, “to the bedroom please?”
“Yes sir,” Mads smiled, skittering a little too fast to the back of Time’s wheelchair. If Old Man Time was the least bit suspicious, he didn’t show it.
It wasn’t too long before Mads’ car decided to break down. Brilliant. She produced her phone out of its hiding place in her bra. Hopefully, she’d at least get some reception.
Dead. Schizophrenic goddamn battery.
The smoked out husk of her vehicle was still mercifully near to Time’s mansion. Hopefully, he’d let her stay there at least long enough for her phone to charge. It’s been a year, surely that’s worth one favor.
All the way back, she couldn’t shake the feeling that the shadows were following her, and yes, she knew exactly how stupid that sounded.
Mads slammed the ornate knocker on the door, brass molded into a gargoyle’s head, and waited. It’d started to rain now, too. No one answered the door. Of course, no one answered. What did she expect? She twisted the doorknob. It was loose. Unlocked. Thank God for senility.
“Um..?” Mads’ simper sounded like it was run through seven megaphones in the silence. She cleared her throat, “Um, Time?”
Time..? Time..? The halls repeated. The house felt like a cave. She didn’t need to disturb Time, Mads decided, she’d just find an outlet and charge her phone. Maybe Time had a landline she could use to call home?
If the house’s rooms were eras of American history, the kitchen was the post-modern age. She unplugged the shiny chrome blender and replaced it with her phone charger. A relieving white apple appeared on the phone’s screen. Unfortunately, it refused to show anything else but the ‘I don’t have enough battery to do anything useful’ screen. Mads set the phone down on the counter. She flipped the light switch. No cigar. Electricity, but no lights? Mads looked, rather frantically, for that landline. No such luck. Her eyes drifted over to the study. Opportunity knocked.
She crossed the hall, apprehensively, as if the floor were made of ice, into the 20th-century study. Anything to keep her mind off the increasingly foreboding house. She grabbed the green, leather-bound album Time was perusing before from the shelf, then, with it in hand, jumped across the hallway once more. Mads hadn’t noticed before how old the book was, the pages were yellowed and wrinkled, the leather stiff and cracked. The man in the enclosed photos may have been Time, or not. The photos were too faded. She couldn’t seem to find the page Time was on earlier.
She couldn’t ignore the sounds of the house any longer. The creaking of wooden boards had started to sound more like sinister cackling. She took her phone, keeping a weather eye on the morphing shadows in the exit.
“Yeah?” answered Mads’ father.
“Dad! Um… Dad. I need your help.”
He groaned, sitting up in bed, he didn’t mention the late hour, though he was thinking it.
“My car broke down, not far from my job.”
“Alright,” said Dad, “twenty minutes. Sit tight.” And he hung up.
Those weren’t footsteps, were they? Get a grip, Mads told herself. Update the blog. That should keep her occupied for a while. She sat herself in the corner between two cabinets and opened the camera roll. Just upload some of those new pictures, and… A video. Mads didn’t remember taking any videos. Pressed the camera button by accident? Ignoring every impulse she had, she pressed play.
It was Mads, smiling, “Taking the plunge!” she whispered giddily into the camera. The house’s altogether too good acoustics made her wonder whether the giggle was coming from her phone or the walls. Phone Mads pointed the camera to the front, flashlight app on at the same time, lighting the way between the two staircases, down into the basement.
Except she’d never gone to the basement, had she?
Down below, there dwelled more old furniture. This stuff, however, was so old, it was beyond vintage. Ancient Egyptian tables and 15th- century weapon racks cluttered these lower levels.
“Where did he get all this stuff?” Phone Mads said to her two subscribers.
She screamed, and so did the walls. Mads didn’t see at what. The camera started shaking, she wasn’t recording anymore, she was running.
“Shit, shit, shit,” Mads chanted. Tiny glints of yellow were following her, their voices made the house shriek.
Mads jumped, dropping her phone into her lap.
“Madeleine?” Time said. It was the phone. The recording stopped.
The walls shrieked again, this time, it was not the phone.
The hallway was suddenly packed with golden eyes and silver teeth, like on the video. They were chomping at her with hungry jaws. With a terrified yelp, Mads grabbed her ankles and pulled them close. Without a second thought, she grabbed Time’s book and threw it at them. Their gaze followed the book all the way into the study.
“Oh, shit, oh, shit, oh, shit.” Her chant resumed. The black faces had eyes only for the book, but they didn’t seem to be able to get to it. They rubbed on the entryway of the room as if it were a glass pane. Was this really happening? Mads deliberated. For now, assume it is.
She slowly got up, fearing a sudden move might draw their agitation once again. She picked up her phone, tucked it away, and crept slowly toward the exit. As she sidled to the very cusp, she bolted up the hall to Time’s bedroom. She wrapped her hand around the doorknob, but it wouldn’t budge.
They noticed. They were coming. Further up the hall were more. She was trapped.
She wiggled the nob, jimmied it, pulled, pushed. Her effort devolved quickly into banging on the door and sobbing, “Time!!”
The door suddenly swung open, and a pair of strong hands pulled her inside.
“Confound it!” Said a buttery Brit, brushing his hands off on his trousers, “How young are you?”
Mads examined the thirty-year-old in befuddlement, “T-Time?”
The now young Time regarded her quizically, “begging your pardon? You know me?”
“For a year, now, yes!”
“It’s not coming off,” said Time.
“What’s not coming-“ Mads trailed off. Time was not quite so young anymore. He looked to be pushing 40.
Mads looked around. The room was covered in colonial American décor.
“You have to stay in this room, or…”
“I age.” said Time.
“You age to match the room?”
“That’s about the gist of it.”
“So that’s why you never go in the kitchen.”
“Yes, but is that important right now?”
“Um… Uh… ”
“I’ll tell you what is important. I need to get upstairs. To a certain room. Lovely view.”
“2nd floor, seventh room on the left.”
“Crafty one. Have you been snooping? I need to get there soon.”
“But there are those… Things.”
“Right… They’re memory eaters. They can’t go into rooms they don’t have memory of.”
“Just… Use the rooms strategically, anything after 17th century should be safe.”
“Not much time.”
Mads put Time on her shoulder and ran out into the hall.
Time’s aging appeared to slow in the next room. They took a short rest on chairs made from barrels.
“Why do you live here?” Mads asked, pulling her shoulder strap back on.
“What do you mean?”
“There are memory eater things.”
“It’s a trap house.” Time said, “We’ve trapped them here so they can’t get out unless they consume the appropriate memories.”
“Never mind… Why don’t I remember the basement?”
“You- Oh, no… You didn’t go in the basement?”
“I-Is that bad?”
“Well… You have a bit of the house in you now.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Look at yourself, you’re falling out of your clothes. You’re aging backward, like I would in this room.”
Mads found that Time was right, “Oh, shit.”
Time raised an eyebrow at the modern phrase, “That would also explain, well, this,” he showed his rapidly wrinkling hand, “you’ve, for lack of a better phrase, infected me with the future.”
“What an old man thing to say,” Mads pulled her strap back into place again. “I’m thinking I should be doing less sitting around.”
“Everything will be put right, don’t worry.”
Mads touched the doorknob. Time stopped her. “Wait,” he said. “We have to hurry through this next room. The ballroom is too far in the future for either of us to survive. We’re going to need to help each other.”
Mads nodded and took Time’s hand. They stepped through the door and ran.
The tiniest first lights of dawn peeked through the windows across the room. Mads felt a pang of anxiety, she didn’t know exactly how much time they had. She hoped it was enough to make their way across the elegant expanse before they turned into dust.
Everything seemed fine at first. But after twenty paces, the walls turned black, and the light disappeared. The hungry faces weaseled their way through the walls, screeching for Mads and Time’s blood. Or whatever it was they wanted.
Mads wanted nothing more than to pick up the pace, but Time was already slowing. Even as he slowed, Mads could feel herself growing stronger. The faces started advancing to the door, meaning to run them both off. Mads swept Time off his legs, picked him up into her arms like a baby, and broke into a sprint. Her longer legs carried her across the majority of the length much more quickly. But even so, her knees soon started to shake. Her stint of youth was nearly over, and she was coming over the hill.
“Oh,” said Time, “I remember you now.” He was ninety now. The veranda was right in front of them now. The view was just as breathtaking as ever. Mads very much doubted that they would both make the trip, as the faces had just about covered the door.
Without thinking, Mads shifted her grasp of Time and threw him, with the last vestiges of her prime. The wrinkled, practically catatonic man rolled through the door, breaking the glass.
Why did she do it? She didn’t know. Maybe she hoped that if there was any such thing as a God, that he’d see that and give her a spot in the good place. Or maybe it was some bit of wisdom she’d have obtained in the future, had she lasted that long.
She fell to the ground, now eighty years old, and watched as the faces closed in. A screech of dread filled the room as dawn returned.
Mads found herself sitting cross-legged on the veranda. Time was nowhere to be found. The day was suddenly sunny. The mountain breeze licked her hair into her face. Longer than it used to be. Her left breast vibrated. She realized that she was alive again.
She opened her phone. Underneath the umpteenth panicked text from her parents, she’d received another message.
All it said was, ‘Everyone needs a little help. Thank you -Time’
She looked back into the room with a view, the wheelchair was now shiny and new. Above it, the newly painted walls swirled with the cosmos.
Mads stepped into eternity, and went home.