Lailah lay in the double bed feeling too weak to get up, and yet the feeling of something between dread and anxiety was overwhelming her and making it impossible to sleep. Besides, what was she doing here, collapsed in bed on her first visit to her new house? It would seem ridiculous except there was no alternative; she felt totally enervated. She knew she ought to be up and about, busy exploring the house and its contents, but whatever this bug or allergy was, it had hit her like a ton of bricks. When Carol came in with a mug of tea that she said would help her to take a little nap, that decided it: Lailah accepted her strange situation and would willingly surrender to sleepland for a bit.
The tea was pleasingly hot and gave off a sweet smell that Lailah found just a little sickening, but the taste was okay. She drank it all down while Carol chattered away about the cool old kitchen, Mrs Anvers, and the overgrown but salvageable garden. Lailah was relieved to find that the mysterious face in upstairs window was just sweet old Mrs Anvers. And that Alexander Hathaway was just an old school European gentleman rather than a ghostly apparition taking shape in the mist. A wave of contentedness washed over Lailah and before it receded, she was asleep. Carol heard Lailah’s breathing change and relief came to her as well; she shut the drapes and tiptoed out of the room, closing the door gently, off to see Mrs Anvers and that unruly garden.
There was a door. Light, very bright, searing, streamed around the edges of the door, illuminating the dark room she was in; someone must have turned off the lamp and shut the heavy drapes. Her own senses seemed heightened in the extreme. She could feel the blood pumping through her arteries, the insistent beat of her heart driving it. She seemed to be feeling all of her skin at once; it felt smooth, dry, receptive. She could feel the weight of her body on the soles and heels of her feet as she stood up from the bed. She felt the still air of the room against her skin, her light, short nightgown brushing against her hips. She felt as though she could hear every single thing in this room, but nothing beyond it. It was as if the walls were breathing ever so slowly.
But that light, it was so bright, and she didn’t even remember a door being there next to the outside wall. She felt an unfathomaby deep desire to go through the door. It must lead into the next bedroom, the master bedroom, over the dining room, but she wasn’t sure. She just knew she had to go through that door; it was almost a sexual attraction leading her to that room. Was it something masculine, something primal, drawing her?
But she couldn’t open the door. There was a door knob, a large one in the center of the door, like a front door would have, but it would not turn; the door nor its handle would not move at all. Yet the light kept streaming around the edges, an incredibly bright light. Why wouldn’t this door open! She pushed with all her might, then pulled until her hands were raw, crashed her shoulder into it until it became too painful. She was crying now. She had to get through! She needed help; she screamed for Carol.
Carol came down the stairs to the entry hall again and circled around to find her way to the kitchen. Mrs Anver was starting to prepare dinner; a big pot of water was beginning to boil and the graceful old lady emptied a bowl of peeled potatoes into it. “Oh, hello dear. I hope your Lailah is feeling a bit better. I thought nice comfy mashed potatoes might suit her.”
“Oh, thank you, Mrs Anvers. She finally went to sleep. I think the tea did the trick. Mashed potatoes sounds great — she doesn’t eat meat, you know.”
“That’s perfectly all right, dear, we can make some vegetable gravy with these mushrooms. We grow them in the cellar.”
“There’s a cellar?”
“Of course.Every good house had a cellar for storing root vegetables and coal for the fireplaces. The perfect place to grow mushrooms, though I think there were some that stayed here once that grew a different sort of mushrooms. Not exactly ones for food, if you know what I mean.” She turned and gave a sly wink to Carol.
“Why, Mrs Anvers! Did you partake of those musrooms? Tell me more!”
“Oh, no, dear, not my thing really. But for a while Hippies lived in this house, back in the Sixties of course. I don’t think there are Hippies now, are there?”
Carol laughed. “Well, there are, but I think they’re probably pale imitations of the first ones. They do take the drugs, though. In fact, probably a lot more of them than the original Hippies did.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that, dear. The ones that were here seemed to take drugs every night and day. Powerful ones, too. Why, they would stay up all night long just staring at one another as though there was something happening that we couldn’t see. But there was certainly something happening.”
“Uh… how did you know this, Mrs Anvers? Were you there too? I mean, you were a lot younger then, so I wouldn’t…”
“You wouldn’t be surprised? No, I wasn’t like that. But I could get around a lot better back then, and I’m ashamed to say that I spied on them. Peered through the windows at night, hid out in the forest in the day. I was fascinated by them. I guess I was about the same age as they were, but I was a thousand miles away from their… lifestyle, I guess you call it nowadays. They took everything, and smoked marijuana day and night. There was one fella that came around with that Indian drug, Peyote. He always seemed to have enough for everyone, even though he didn’t look like an Indian. Then there was another, I always thought there was something off about him. He didn’t dress like them, he dressed normal, like a businessman. And he always had lots of pills. He and Rick, the main Hippie, they’d stay up staring at each other and, I’ll tell you, they didn’t look like they were having fun.”
“Wow. I had no idea this place had a history like that. And they grew mushrooms?”
Mrs Anvers laughed, “Oh yes, that was the beginning of this story, wasn’t it? They did indeed, in the cellar, and ate ’em as fast as they coyld grow them.”
At that point they both heard a scream from upstairs and Lailah calling for help. Carol started for the long hallway to the front but Mrs Anvers stopped her, saying “Take the back staircase, dear” and opened what Carol had thought was a closet door to see a small staircase. She rushed straight up to Lailah’s room.