And I swear to you, Mouton,
I have always been
of sound mind. For as you will see,
every action of mine can be explained with utmost rationality.
I say, the house I had lived
in since my birth
had held quite a unique fascination for me—the bats in the third-story garrets
in particular, being a constant mainstay.
Evenings were spent walking through the graves of the family plot, and I
occasionally stopped to admire the cypress and cedar, which grew fervently in
the garden. But what possessed my
thoughts, my feelings, and my actions the most as a young man was my knowing
father. My love of fine Burgundy, my
fluency in Latin, my taste in modern art—all come from that gentleman of
I am fully aware that you have heard where I grew up was a bad place, with
nothing other than tales of evil attached to its reputation; and while you may
not like what you are about to hear, I assure you I would not have wanted to be
reared in any other setting.
know, my paternal line had always been blessed with the gift of musical
ability, and with the rare and special talent we referred to as “perfect
pitch”. I believe it was you who once
challenged me to a test, and I named every note the guests had played upon the
pianoforte, no matter the melodic or harmonic combination. How I did not know
what a curse it was!
natural course to take professionally was that of my father, and his
father—that of a composer and conductor for the court. But growing up
in that treacherous manor was
not a simple task. I clearly recall in
my adolescence, my father, once in a state of psychosis, had rehearsed the
entire Die Kunst der Fuge on the pipe
organ for a straight twenty-six hours.
No one had dared approach him or inquire about it during that time. But
when he attempted a similar feat with the
court’s philharmonic orchestra, a riot ensued after the ninth hour of
rehearsal. I remember the piece
succinctly; ‘twas Beethoven’s Fifth and it was the orchestra’s premiere of it
in this part of the country. I had never
heard it before, since I was too deathly sick when it was performed in Vienna,
nor had I ever laid eyes upon the score.
honored to be asked by the Director, especially at such a young age, to replace
my father on the podium. Need I tell you
what I felt when I flailed my arms to the first downbeat? Words cannot relate,
himself once described the opening four notes in a rapid motif as “Fate
knocking upon the door.” Until recently,
for most of my life the Fifth was my most favorite piece in all of music.
concerts were a resounding success, and I replaced my father permanently as
conductor of the orchestra. It was at
that time my father’s countenance became quite nervous. My chamber, with
a view of the grounds, lets
much light in at night, and I saw my father’s shadowy form beside my bed
occasionally, standing and watching my restless slumber. I feared he went mad,
because he regularly
accused my mother and me of plotting to murder him. We therefore removed all
sharp and blunt
instruments from the entire house.
It is at
this time I must relate to you the design of the estate hidden from public
view; even you have not seen it, Mouton.
Up the western wall, vines of fungi grew up to the apex of the black
slate roof. A chimney corresponded to
the massive fireplace in my room. From
the back of the house, one was in earshot of the pervasive, hideous howling of
wolves, sounding like screams. The air
was always filled with magic and horror.
peculiar of all was the castle-like turret made of cracked, hand-carved
story-stone, standing from the ground to the roof beside a brass lightning
rod. It had deep-set stained glass
windows with crosspanes and was adorned with shutters of black and silver. As
a child, I used to imagine the discolored,
lifelike gargoyles at the top of it moving at midnight as though they breathed
the breath of life. Perhaps they threw
the crumbled stones of the decaying masonry to the grassy knoll below.
of cobblestone surrounding the house abruptly ended near the turret, its finality
secured by a black wrought iron fence. A
gothic archway with two grated gates led from the garden and was closed off by
overgrown, impenetrable rows of thorny bushes as bare as bones year round. The
sight of the entire scene was frightful
and fantastic, and loomed at the west end of the lot.
never gave much effort to it, I was never able to find an entrance to the
turret, but it did lurk just on the other side of my bedroom wall. Sounds could
easily be heard from the other
side, since the partition was constructed not of stone, but of mortar and wood;
and the turret must have been hollow inside because noises reverberated easily
from within its belly. Furthermore, my
bed rested against the wall, making it impossible not to hear any activity on
the other side. I often heard the
low-pitched sound of my father’s heavy footsteps on a wooden stair, descending
into a large, hollow chamber like that of a dungeon. If I fell asleep, I would
be awakened by the
same footsteps climbing the stairs, and I would look at my pocket watch and see
the time as just nearing the midnight hour.
On several occasions I heard my father’s voice, full of revenge and
heinous laughter, and then for reasons still somewhat vague to me, a second,
high-pitched, pair of footsteps on the wooden stair, scurrying and tripping
over itself. Irrational feelings and
erratic emotions dominated his frenzied mind.
The deeds he did were in cold blood, the victims never knew what was
I know it
seems as though I knew my father well, but in truth, he was shady to me and his
background perverse; his senses remote and strange.
The reason for what he tried
to do to the
famous writer had something to do with that author’s ignorance of musical
instrument craftsmanship, as his offer for the clavier was well below its
worth. Nevertheless, I felt at the time
my father’s reaction was severely unjustified.
Unexpected events, such
as the one I am about
to reprise, filled his life, which ended grotesquely in a bloodbath that
involved his own death on an autumn night with a waning moon. His overconfidence
was his downfall, but he
led the victim down to the underground vaults, the lantern squeaking as it
swayed. I heard them light the torches
on the walls.
Down the corridor he led
that famous writer,
perhaps under the pretense to see the clavier, and I heard the victim in a
drunken stupor, moaning like a mummy.
Their hearts did beat and thud deep within their chests, louder than the
tock of the pendulum of the grandfather clock in the great hall. I later found
out that in the dungeon, a
sickle was hiding behind a purple tapestry which hung behind the Machine—a
device of torture—hardly seen if it weren’t for a candle lying close to the
black ottoman beneath it. To say the
least, the suspense was dreadful, the crime planned for him you could not have
of imagined, Mouton.
But the victim in distress
assistance from a young man simply trying to sleep in his room on the other
side of the wall. As I could not bear to
hear the horrific scene unravel before me, I waited for a pause in the sounds
the men were making, and ever so boldly…rapped on the wall four times, in a
rapid motif, not knowing what would be the consequence.
The events as I was later
told took place
thusly: after a moment of silence there was the sound of a struggle. In my father’s
cranium, the victim lodged the
scythe’s blade. Before my distraction,
my father’s hands had been around the victim’s neck, and my father’s raven eyes
remained open when he fell down dead.
For several years, a haunted
the manor, and I awoke each night from strange dreams, their exact details I
cannot remember. I heard noises come
from underneath the bed; sometimes I noticed it was the family cat. For hours,
I would stare into the darkness
like a statue, and hear some movement by the chamber door. I wondered which
of my deep breaths would be
my last, and asked myself who was there with me.
I returned to the house
after being away for
many years, even though it was mine immediately after my father’s death. My
mother had passed away after going
insane. Interestingly, I found my return
a joyous occasion, a place to regain my strength from worldly travels and
touring with the philharmonic.
Regardless of this asylum
around me now, I was
and still am perfectly sane. Mouton, you
must understand the house’s eloquence upon my arrival had no equal in all of
history, not even Versailles. I missed
my father immensely and visited his grave often in the plot, but I practiced
Over the next several weeks,
became rather agitated, and I found it difficult to sleep at night. With time,
my attention completely turned to
the subject of the western turret. After
exploring certain anomalies regarding the construction of various rooms, I
discovered the entrance to the hidden staircase in the antechamber to the
conservatory on the second floor. My
footsteps echoed on the wood. Well into
the waking hours I spent exploring that dreadful place, the dungeon, learning it’s
every feature as though learning to play a new instrument.
I soon rationalized that
my father’s greatest
mistake was bringing his victims to the dungeon for unsatisfactory
reasons. Indeed, it was only what the
playwright did that was foolish. But
our friend, Dr. Ockeghem, was a fool, and my introducing him to
the Machine was fully deserved. It was he
who had carelessly creased several
pages of my first editions upon borrowing them, and adding insult to injury
afterwards, declared Goethe a hack! I
shall never know what you gained from his company, Mouton.
Approaching the midnight
hour, the frigid air
crept into the dungeon, and I knew my efforts that evening would not fail as I
was easily able to lead Dr. Ockeghem down to the underground vaults without
either of us drinking a sip of wine. The
fool! Had he known of my second thoughts
about the whole matter, he would have accepted a goblet of the finest Burgundy,
since his snobbish refusal made my blood boil with anger and contempt. I led
him under the false pretense of
evaluating a recent acquisition of several Fuseli paintings I purchased on my
There was no need for a
lantern as I had
already lit the torches on the walls.
The imbecile did not even notice the blood stains. Every ounce of trepidation
my victim should
have felt was coursing through my own body.
The acrid taste of bile sat on my tongue and chills passed through me. Moonbeams
cascaded down the wooden stairs and
the fetid odor of dust and decay flowed around the room. My knees trembled and
I placed my hands upon
the doctor. A man of weak strength, he
pleaded with me, “What are you doing?...Wait…What’s going on?”
I was able to hold him down
onto the Machine.
The color of his face turned pallid.
The leather straps, although
securely around his wrists, but I had difficulty with the rusty locks. And something
horrible happened that made my
hands cover my ears and mouth open agape.
I stumbled and fell to the ground.
Suddenly, Dr. Ockeghem,
seeing my prostrated
body, pulled his arms out of the straps and fled, eventually telling the
authorities about the dungeon and how I attempted to torture and murder him
with the Machine.
During my laboring with
the locks, I heard…a
noise, Mouton. I swear it. It
came from the turret. Just for a terrible, brief moment. Why must I be tormented so? My ears are a curse! How did it happen, Mouton?
That sound—the knuckles…the
tapping of the bare
knuckles on the mortar and wood. Fate
knocking upon the door!