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The Man Of The House

Note to Reviewers: My main concern here is does this spend too much time on backstory and character development for Genevieve without enough plot?

My girlfriend Genevieve owns a beautiful old Victorian house that’s been in her family for generations. Fifty or so years ago, her great aunt Evelyn turned the front foyer into a New Age shop and started using the combined living and dining area as a studio for meditation, yoga, and spiritual workshops. Ever since, Eve’s Eden of Esoterica has been a hub for our city’s alternative, queer, and pagan communities. Genevieve started living and working with her aunt when she was a teenager, and took over completely when she passed away.

Her house is her home and her business, the crux of her professional and social lives, rich with family and community history, and she loves it to pieces. There’s definitely a lot to love about it, but I think my favourite part of it would have to be the quintessential feature of any Victorian house; the turret, or tower, as we prefer to call it.

The ground floor of the tower is the parlour, which happens to be the first place I ever kissed Genevieve, and is now usually where I hold my metaphysical counselling sessions, both online and in person.

The second floor of the tower is the study and library, filled with around two thousand books, some of them older than the house itself.

But the attic floor of the tower is the best. We call it the watchtower room, and it offers an amazing view of the east side of town. We can see downtown, the Queen Street Clock Tower, the Avalon River and Avalon Park, the college, the botanical gardens, and even as far as the fairgrounds. It’s a perfect place to just sit, and speak, and think, and just enjoy each other’s company.

But the first time Genevieve showed me that room, it wasn’t the view that caught my attention.

It was early spring, 2019, shortly after she and I had first gotten together, and she decided to give me a proper tour of the beloved home where she spent the majority of her life. We went room to room, working our way up, until we had inevitably reached the tower room.

“And finally, we have the attic; which, as one would expect, is mostly storage,” she said as she led me into the surprisingly well-kept auxiliary space. “I’ve got a lot of really cool family heirlooms stashed away up here – I'd love to spend a whole day with you just going over them sometime – but for now our tour ends at the watchtower room.

Voila! You can see half the city from up here, and it's really pretty at night, especially in the winter with all the Christmas lights up. And check this out! It has a dumb-waiter, and it still works! Sometimes I'll make dinner downstairs, hoist it up, and eat it up here. Pretty bitchin' setup, right?"

“It’s a gorgeous view,” I agreed, gazing out the window, trying to suppress the thought that I'd never get a chance to look out of it at Christmas because this amazing girl would dump me long before then. I glanced around for something to take my mind off of my anxiety, and noticed a portrait hanging on the watchtower room wall.

“Who’s that?” I asked, shuffling in closer to inspect it. The portrait depicted a well-dressed man in late middle-age with glasses, receding hairline, and a goatee, sitting by what looked like the fireplace downstairs. He had the same ashen blonde hair and vivid blue eyes as Genevieve, so I could only assume that he was one of her ancestors.

“That is ‘the man of the house’, as my great aunt liked to call him,” Genevieve replied, sliding up beside me and slipping her arm around my waist. “He’s her father, and my great grandfather, Theodore Fawn. He owned a general practice on Druid Street, and was a member of the city council for nearly thirty years. I was told that this painting originally hung over the mantle, but when my aunt inherited the house, she knew from day one that she was going to turn it into a bastion of lesbianism and Witchcraft. Having a big, glorifying portrait of a wealthy old white man hanging where everyone could see it would’ve been a touch off-brand.”

“Oh. While we’re on that topic, I actually have a framed poster of H.P. Lovecraft that I don’t really have space for in my trailer. I was wondering if I could put it somewhere here?” I asked meekly. She gave me an incredulous side-glance, unsure if I was being serious. “I know there are issues, a lot of issues, with Lovecraft, but I really would like to put that poster up somewhere. We could put it in your cat’s room, out of view from the hall. No one else would ever know it was there… and Lovecraft loved cats.”

I bit my lip nervously, making the best puppy dog eyes that I could.

“…I’ll think about it,” she said flatly. “As I was saying, my aunt took this portrait down from the mantle because it ‘clashed with the new décor’ in a manner of speaking, but she didn’t want to get rid of it altogether. She loved him, and she told me that the worst thing she could say about him was that he exhibited a paternalistic sort of sexism that you would expect of a gentleman of that era, the kind that blames female hysteria on wandering uteruses. That’s mostly why he left the house to her instead of my grandmother; she had a husband. And it would have been harder back then for a woman to support herself without a man, so the inheritance wasn’t exactly unappreciated.”

“So… he knew your aunt was a lesbian, and still kept her in his will?” I asked, somewhat surprised considering he must have born in the 19th century.

“Yeah. He’d lost his wife to ovarian cancer, and his only son died in World War II. He wasn’t willing to lose his oldest daughter over something like that,” she explained. “He was far from a progressive, but he was decent enough, according to my aunt.”

“Cool,” I nodded thoughtfully as I continued to appreciate the painting. “Wait, back up a minute. Your grandmother’s maiden name was Fawn? Did she keep her name, or…”

“No. No, no,” she chuckled with a shake of her head. “My original last name was actually Ashborne. Unlike great grampa Teddy, my father wasn’t decent enough. He’s a deadbeat who had basically nothing to do with me or any of his other bastard kids, so I thought it was ridiculously traditional that my mother gave me his last name. He even tries to guilt me for money when he’s desperate. Plus, when I started living here, and I when I inherited the place, the entitled ass actually tried to move into the spare room. Called the cops on him both times.

“Anyway, my aunt was a far bigger influence on my life than my father, or even my mother for that matter, so when I turned eighteen, I changed my name to Fawn.”

“Wow. Sorry about your dad,” I sympathized. “You were pretty lucky to have someone like your aunt to take you under her wing though. Have you ever had any contact with her since she passed on?”

“A couple of times," she nodded. "She's in the Summerland, specifically a place she calls the Isle of Maidens. She’s both very happy and very ‘busy’ there, so she's usually pretty reluctant to answer my summons. I miss her, of course, but it's nice to know that she's happy where she is and that I won’t necessarily have to wait until I die to see her again.”

“What about Theo? Does he still hang around here at all?” I asked.

“Nope. I’ve never met him, and my aunt never had any contact with him after he passed on,” she replied. “But, like I said, he was decent enough, so he probably ascended to the higher levels of the astral plane. No sense in speculating beyond that. Even clairvoyants don’t get to know everything about the Otherworld.”

I nodded, giving the portrait one last lingering glance before I sat down with Genevieve at the small window-side table as she plugged in an electric kettle to make tea for us.

***

I didn’t give the portrait or Theodore any more real thought for months. Despite my earlier anxieties, Genevieve and I were still together by that Holiday Season (not to mention this one), and I was helping her decorate downstairs. We had gone up to the attic to get some of the older, more traditional Christmas decorations that had been passed down to her.

“Some of it is explicitly Christian, but I don’t really have a problem with that,” she explained as we climbed up into the attic. “Both Yule and Christmas are about celebrating the birth of an idealized male divinity of sacrifice and resurrection. The exact details aren’t super important; it’s the stories that are powerful.”

“Oh, that reminds me. Not to be disrespectful, but the scarf you put on your Horned God idol downstairs kind of makes him look like a buff Mr. Tumnus from The Chronicles of Narnia," I said as I helped her open a wooden chest.

“Heh. That’s alright. It’s festive while still being tasteful, I think,” she replied. “It’s better than putting a Rudolph nose on him. That would be disrespectful.”

"But, and maybe I'm overthinking this, it kind of doesn't make sense," I claimed. "Why would a guy, even a god, wear a scarf but no shirt?"

“My half-brother Jack is a shirtless wonder who I’ve seen outside during the winter in a scarf but no shirt, so it tracks,” she laughed. I laughed too, but then that portrait of her great grandfather caught my attention.

“Hey, what do you think about putting that portrait back over the mantle for the holidays?” I asked.

“What? Why?” she asked confused.

“Well, it’s kind of Christmassy – an old-fashioned gentleman by a roaring fireplace. It wouldn’t ‘clash with the décor’ as much as usual. How about it?” I asked. She pondered it for a moment, clucking her tongue as she did so.

“Alright, but only for the holidays, and then my nymph orgy painting is going right back up,” she insisted.

I smiled and skipped over to the old painting, gently lifting it off its hook. I held it up to the light to get a better look at it, and as I did so, tilted it slightly towards me.

That’s when I noticed there was an envelope stuck under the frame.

“Ah, Evie. There’s a letter or something behind the frame here,” I told her.

“What?” she asked, putting the Christmas decorations down and coming over to investigate. I propped the painting up against the wall and very gently pulled the envelope free.

"To The Lady Of The House," I said, reading the handwriting on the front of it. "I guess that's you."

I handed it over to her, and she cautiously looked it over before pulling the letter out of the already ripped side.

To My Darling Evelyn,” she began to read. “If you’re reading this, then I have passed and you are now the Lady of our family home. I shall not waste either of our time by giving you mandates or even requests as to how to go about its upkeep, as I do not expect to be able to command you in death any more so that I was able to do in life. 

“Nonetheless, as the Lady of the house, you are now entitled to certain clandestine lore pertaining to its origin which I have hitherto kept from you. Do with this information as you will.

“As you are aware, this house was commissioned by your grandfather Thaddeus, and it was he who was responsible for our home’s many eccentricities. Hidden compartments for contraband, an escape passage underneath the stairs, and two secret rooms; one for people and one for possessions. It is the latter of these, the secret vault on the ground floor, with which I have not been wholly truthful.

"To my knowledge, you have seldom been in there, and never once without me. While you may have disregarded my edict against entering it without permission as flagrantly as any other, I don't believe you have. Your disdain and distrust of that space always seemed quite genuine to me, and I don’t blame you one bit for that.

“Though you barely knew him, you know what a vile man your grandfather was. He was a ruthless industrialist with no qualms about breaking the law or consorting with vicious criminals when it suited his purposes. What you don’t know is that, like you, your grandfather had an interest in the occult. Unlike you, however, he only learned the blackest of magics for the most unseemly of ends.

“Within the vault, which houses the most coveted of your grandfather’s ill-gotten possessions, there is a trap door. It is subtle, but once you look for it you shall find it. It leads down to a small sort of root cellar, wherein he housed all manner of occult paraphernalia, most of which are beyond my ken to even appraise. It is most bizarre, though I have heard rumours that such structures are not uncommon within Sombermorey.

“Amidst the many horrid blasphemies that fill that dark space, there is but one of which I have no doubt to its purpose; a Golem, made in a hideous mockery of Man, scarcely more than a gargoyle. When Thaddeus so willed it, the thing would become animate from Satanic forces and walk the dark and moonless streets to do his bidding.

“I know this, for I have seen it with my own eyes.

“Since your grandfather passed, I have not dared to meddle with anything in that accursed vault, and thankfully it seems inaction was the correct course, for it has lied dormant all these many years.

“Now that the house is yours, this is now your burden. If you choose to simply let it lie fallow as I have, that is your right. But should you choose to apply your craft in exorcising this sleeping demon from our home, I have faith in you as well.

“I ask your forgiveness in both keeping this from you and burdening you with it now. To this day I abhor your wretched grandfather for bequeathing me such a monstrosity, and if you have the same sentiment I only ask that you direct it at him, and not me. He lit this torch, I have simply chosen to pass it on rather than blindly trying to snuff it out and risk fanning the flames in the process.

“Know that I love you, even in death, and should my spirit fail to attend your seances, please believe me when I say it is not because I would not desperately love to see you again. I know not what awaits me in death, but I do fear that this weight upon my conscience may at the very least demand some perdition before I am permitted any saintly rest.

“Your Loving Father, Theodore.”

Genevieve finished reading, and we just stood there in shocked silence for a moment.

“Did your aunt ever read that?” I finally asked.

“She must have. I mean, it was opened,” she answered softly.

“And she never told you about this?”

“She told me about Thaddeus, and the vault, but never anything about an underground lair,” she replied.

“Hold on, back up one minute. Where is this vault?” I asked confused. A long moment passed as she considered what to tell me.

“You know the pantry, in between the kitchen and the utility room?” she said at last. “Have you noticed that it’s only about half as big as it should be?”

***

We went back downstairs, into the utility room, where Genevieve carelessly removed a cheap landscape painting from the wall. Behind it was an in-built combination lock that had been camouflaged as a defunct thermostat, which she opened with a few quick turns of her hand. There was a click, and she slowly pulled on it, revealing a hidden doorway.

"Behold; great-great grandad Thaddeus’ secret stash,” she said dejectedly, shamefully averting her gaze.

Inside was a room around the same size as the adjacent pantry, thirty square feet or so, explaining the previously unaccounted for space. Inside were multiple sets of gilded duelling pistols, hunting rifles, and ammunition. More primitive weapons such as swords, daggers, maces, axes, spears and arrows were mounted on the wall as well. Haphazardly scattered around the small room were candlesticks and silverware, busts and small ornaments, pocket watches and jewelry, mantle clocks and vases, basically anything that could have conceivably been snuck out of some one’s house under a jacket. They were all either gold, silver, jewel-encrusted or fine porcelain. There was a stack of paintings, a crystal skull, ceremonial wooden masks and idols from a culture I didn’t recognize, a few violins, a can of ostentatious canes, and even a collection of colourful conch shells.

I could go on, but suffice it to say there was a lot of weird stuff packed into that little room.

“Whoa,” I said softly, my eyes darting in all directions to take it all in as quickly as possible. “And you knew about this?”

“I did. My aunt showed it to me years ago, and told everyone else it was an old furnace she decided to wall off rather than have moved,” she nodded. “But I didn’t know about the trap door though. I never go in there. I’m… ashamed of it. So was my aunt. Like, she and I, we’re supposed to be these badass, patriarchy-smashing lesbian Witches, but… this house, and the inheritance my aunt used to start her business, now my business, it all came from Thaddeus. Thaddeus… Thaddeus did horrible things, and some of those horrible things paid for this house. I mean, he murdered labour rights activists, and, and…”

By then, she’d broken down completely and began weeping into her hands. I immediately tossed my arms around her and coddled her head on my shoulder.

“Evie, baby, listen to me. You’re not Thaddeus,” I said firmly. "I couldn’t care less if he’s where your house and money came from. None of us choose our family, and I don’t judge people for things they didn’t choose. I know you, Genevieve, and I know you would never make a choice that would hurt innocent people. You have chosen to heal and to help others, and that is why I love you. This place hasn’t been a Robber Baron’s home for generations. This is your house, and you’re still a badass, patriarchy-smashing, lesbian Witch to me.”

Genevieve half-sobbed, half-snickered at my attempt at solace.

“Thank you,” she sniffled, wiping her nose and eyes with a tissue I’d handed her. “Really, thank you. Sometimes, sometimes I think that no matter how much pussy I eat or pot I smoke, at the end of the day I’m just a pampered little white girl who doesn’t care where all her nice things came from. I was worried that when you found out about this room, you might think that too. It really means a lot to me that this doesn’t change anything between us.”

“Evie, it will take a hell of a lot more than some heirlooms from your evil great-great-grandpa to make me think you still aren't the best thing to have ever happened to me," I assured her, gently caressing the back of her head and kissing her slowly. "Ah… I believe we were looking for a Golem?"

“Yeah, sorry. Got sidetracked there,” she chuckled.

We cleared some of the contraband out of the secret room, and quickly found the trap door. Just as Theodore’s letter had said, it was invisible at a glance but easy enough to find if you were looking for it. Genevieve flipped it open, revealing a vertical shaft leading to some sort of room beneath the foundation of the house.

We grabbed some flashlights and carefully began our descent. The shaft ended deep beneath ground level, terminating in a small, brick-lined cellar. Inside were no pipes or vents or wiring, just large chests and cabinets bound shut with chains and padlocks, the keys to which were probably lost forever.

“Well, none of these looks big enough to hold a Golem,” Genevieve sighed with relief. “Maybe my aunt already dealt with it for us.”

“Evie, look,” I whispered, shining my flashlight onto a bare spot on the wall. The space was wide enough that a man could have stood there comfortably, and hanging from the wall was a pair of broken iron chains. Upon the grimy floor, a pair of large footprints staggered towards the far end of the cellar, where part of the wall was now strewn about as rubble, as though some being of superhuman might had bashed its way through.

On the other side of the broken wall was the start of a tunnel, but it had caved in only a few yards from where it began.

I can think of only two possible fates for the Golem, if it had ever existed at all. The first and preferred possibility is that the tunnel caved in on it, either by accident or by design, burying it forever.

The second possibility is that the tunnel caved in after the Golem was already free, perhaps to prevent anyone from finding out where it had gone.

If the latter possibility is the correct one, then that means that the hideous, abominable Golem of the murderous Robber Baron Thaddeus Fawn is still at large in the world somewhere, and maybe even in the service of someone just as vile.

In the year since that night, I’ve not seen the Golem or any sign of it, and I sincerely hope I never do. It’s utterly disquieting that Genevieve and perhaps even myself may have slept in her beloved home while the sins of her forefather literally rotted away beneath the floorboards, ready to wake and carry out Thaddeus’ final command to it when the time finally came.


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