The Rose Window

On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published several ebooks and compendium volumes of those stories so far.

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The Rose Window

It’s the glass, my grandmother said, only minutes before she died, as she pressed a small key into my hand with her withered fingers.

My mother ushered me out of the room before she actually passed away, but even standing out in the dark and cold hallway, I could tell by my mother’s sobbing when the moment came.

The days immediately afterwards were a blur of visitors and arrangements, and of course the funeral. Her coffin was kept in the house until the appointed day, in an upstairs bedroom I wasn’t allowed to enter.

When the funeral came, I was allowed to go because I was old enough and because I demanded it. I cried when they lowered her into the ground, but I was told that I’d been brave and that she would have been proud of me. My mother shielded me from most of the other people in attendance, but I still had to endure some cheek-kisses of greasy lipstick amidst clouds of perfume from strange women, and crushing handshakes from strange men who already smelled like alcohol even in the middle of the morning.

My mother had never approved of my grandmother’s fanciful ideas about the hidden, but natural, world and its inhabitants. I was told that the old woman was pretending, even though I knew she wasn’t, and then I was told that the old woman was suffering from the effects of advanced age, even though I knew that wasn’t true either. I’d never known anyone so clear-headed and strong-willed, and she matched those qualities with kindness and devotion. In truth, my grandmother raised me every bit as much as my mother did.

In the days following the funeral I would go into rooms in the large house, looking through all of the things acquired during a lifetime. We were staying there until some more arrangements could be made, and then we would return to the city and to our own home. My mother and I were the only family members left, besides an uncle who was there at the service and the graveside but then went away again. I had never met him before anyway. There were friends of my grandmother’s, though, and the adult children of those friends, who hung around to help my mother with her task. I mostly left them to do whatever it was they were doing, spending my time exploring the house and imagining how it had been in ages past.

And I would look at the key, of course.

I hadn’t told my mother about it. I think I believed that, if she knew, she would take it away from me. A part of me sensed that it was not just a gift, but a special thing, not for those whose beliefs were different. I loved my mother, but she was a practical woman whose mind was entirely grounded in what was real and solid. I preferred my grandmother’s way of seeing things.

There had been so many days when I had sat in her lap, or at her feet, and listened to her tell stories of the strange things of the Earth. Of fairies, and spirits, and unseen creatures of the forests and the waters and the skies. I loved all of it, because it spoke of a world beyond the grey and constrained one I knew, and I hoped desperately that it was all true.

It was on the third day that I ventured to go to the bedroom where the coffin had been, and I was struck by how I could still see its imprint on the worn-down carpet. The lines pressed into the textile surface were like a ghost, in a way, and I sat on the dusty bed nearby and wept silently. After some indeterminate amount of time, I left the room and wandered along the corridor, and then I saw the plain door at the end with the keyhole that was clearly the negative of the key buried as deep in my pocket as it would go. I wasn’t even surprised to find the odd, almost inhumanly narrow stairway beyond the door, leading upwards. At the top was another door, and opening it answered a question so old that I had long since forgotten to keep asking it.

The attic was spacious, and sparse, and it was lit in every colour by the daylight filtered through the stained glass of the rose window. I’d seen it a thousand times from outside, craning my neck, but this was the first time I had ever beheld its beauty from within the house.

I was puzzled at why the attic had been locked, and kept from our eyes for my entire life, given that it contained almost nothing at all. There was a rocking chair over near the window, but little else except dust so thick that it held my footprints like freshly-fallen snow. There were other footprints too, and I knew that they were my grandmother’s.

I looked around half-heartedly, but the only thing to do was walk across the empty floor to where the chair was, and sit in it, so I did. It creaked reassuringly, and once I’d managed to get into the rhythm of its movement, it was only as an afterthought that I happened to glance out of the window and down towards the gravel path and surrounding grassy field that formed the front extent of the house’s grounds.

A creature stood there, not far from my mother’s parked car, looking up at me.

Long limbs, and a curious but intelligent face, with feet more like those of an animal than a human being. It raised something like a hand, and it made a gesture that seemed almost to be a greeting.

I turned and ran, back down the stairs, into the front bedroom directly below the attic I’d just vacated, and I looked out the window there. The creature was gone. I ran back upstairs, and sure enough, as I looked out from the higher vantage point, it was just where it had been before.

Something moved in my peripheral vision, still out beyond the glass, and I turned my head to focus on the lake in the middle distance. Things leapt from the water, sending droplets in all directions before crashing back below the surface.

I raised my head, and sure enough, there were flying things, too, between the house and the clouds above. There were things everywhere. And I knew the truth as surely as if my grandmother had told me herself — which she had, really, at the very end.

These things were there, and always had been. In the woods and upon the grass, in the lakes and in the skies, always just beside us but beyond sight and sound and touch. Unless you were here, up behind the rose window, peering through the aged and slightly warped panes of so many colours. A lens for the hidden world. I pressed my hand to the cold surface of it.

“It’s the glass”, I said.

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