The Glass Staircase

By: Calliandra

Summary: Science takes a magical and terrible detour in a house sheltered from time and normality. A merboy who longs for the sea, a mad scientist King, a made 'vampire', winged creatures, and a man from the village outside looking for his long lost childhood playmate.

Chapter 1: Dark Garden

There is a house on the other side of the hill. No one in the small village just a half-mile outside of it goes anywhere near its grounds. In fact, no one is quite sure what lies beyond the overgrown hedge that surrounds it.

There have been stories. There have been quiet murmurs and whispers that warn of ghosts and monsters and all matters of odd noises that are heard when one wanders too close to the hedges on a foggy, cold night. Parents tell children to behave or the spirits of that house will come and take them away, never to be seen again.

And indeed, there have been missing children in this small village. But of course, the police always narrowed down these reports as runaways or kidnappings to the city. Nothing is ever connected to the house on the other side of the hill.

Of course, even in little superstitious towns such as this one, there are always those who wonder what exactly those gnarly, dark hedges are hiding. And occasionally, curious children find themselves looking at those hedges with a fascination that grows each day until they find themselves right in front of those immovable walls.

Such was the position that Gem found herself, on a day that wasn't particularly sunny or bright, but neither was it dark and foreboding. Rather it was a cool day in-between summer and winter, and turning out to be quite a boring one, in Gem's opinion. But she had found herself in front of a place she had been warned never to go.

Gem had dreamed about the house. She never remembered the dreams themselves, only that they were about what lay beyond this dark exterior. Gem reached out one small hand, for she was only a little girl of seven years old, and touched a leaf that extended from the bushes. The rough texture of the leaf and the image of her hand against what looked to Gem like a dark forest were very familiar. She wondered if she done this in her dream.

But just then, Jack ran towards Gem. A boy just a bit taller than Gem, Jack had a mischievous smile and a perchance for trouble.

"Whatcha doin' by those bushes, Gem?" Jack said, looking for something to do. He and Gem usually spent their weekends climbing trees and imagining adventures.

Gem shook her head. When you didn't know what to say, it was mostly better to just stay quiet, so she had learned. Besides, Jack usually talked enough for the both of them.

"That house is haunted," Jack said, his eyes glittering. "Whaddiya say we see it for real?"

But Gem shook her head again. Whatever was in there wasn't for Jack.

Jack tried to get in anyway. But he couldn't find an opening through the hedge. It seemed to move and fight against him, but Jack persisted until a thorn drew across his arm. His eyes widened in shock, and then the pain hit him.

Gem was frozen. She watched, as if from a distance, Jack yell out and the blood spray across the leaves of the hedge. Bright red blood against a green so faded as to be gray. Jack ran down the pathway he had come from, crying out for his mother, and leaving red speckles along the trail.

Gem was still staring at the blood on the wall of hedges. Only, it wasn't the impermeable wall it had been a minute ago. A small opening had appeared.

Gem touched the leaves. They were the same color as her eyes, she noted, a harsh green-gray. Gem knew she shouldn't be here. She should have gone after Jack; she should go home now, or at least continue to the Sue's party. But Gem was in a trance, and this seemed more like a dream than reality.

She stepped through the small passageway, the leaves brushing against her bare legs and arms. The branches tugged at her white socks but no thorns touched her skin.

She emerged to the edge of an overgrown garden. The day, which had dawned clear and crisp, now seemed to press over the little girl. Shadows moved with a life of their own, and the plants held watching eyes. The bleak grays and blacks seemed to quench the color out of Gem's brown locks and pale pink dress.

The small girl walked through the garden, gazing at the stark beauty of the grayness surrounding her. Gem stopped for a moment, unsure if she should be doing this.

She tried to imagine turning around and going back to see if Jack was all right, or to just go home, or to that party. Gem looked down at her once- white and gleaming shoes. Her mommy had told her strictly that she wasn't to dirty them, and Gem could just see her scolding face in front of her. Gem couldn't go to the party where a roomful of girls in pinafore dresses with white shoes would look at hers in disgust. There was no turning back now.

Like a soldier, Gem imagined, she hiked down the small path, trying to keep to it. She was a scout, checking for small adventures around every corner. And she found them: a growth of green moss on the side of a tree that was soft to the touch, a small bunch of delicate purple flowers behind a rock, and a small creature that looked like a miniature monkey, except for the wings growing out of his back.

"Hello, little monkey," Gem said to it, reaching out a hand to touch the glossy black feathers. But it flew away in a flash, disappearing completely.

Feeling slightly disappointed, Gem continued on her way. She passed structures of rock and ruin, some with ancient symbols, some caved in, and all were bare of people. Gem lightly touched each of these, wondering at the games and adventures she might have with Jack, in such a playground as this.

She imagined Jack there, an ancient warrior with a magical sword and one of those black feathers in his hair. Gem might play a priestess of the old ways, wearing a white robe and offering herbs and flowers to the gods.

But Jack wasn't here now, and the games were no fun without him. They could play together next time, Gem thought happily, and continued on her way, skipping and humming.

It wasn't too long (though it was long by the way little girls measure time) before she came upon the house. None of the stories that were told around warm fires in the cold of winter told of exactly how the house looked, only that it was dark and foreboding. Gem was inclined to agree, it certainly was tall, and it had sprung out of nowhere when she turned around a tree.

She stopped humming. The walls were of old rusted steel. Silver glinted under layers of dirt and dust, and Gem wondered what people would live in such a place.

Then she heard a sound coming from the inside of the walls. It was low and sad, and it brought heaviness to Gem's heart. Following the sound, she ran her fingers across the wall until she came to door. Slowly, Gem opened the door, half-excepting the singer to be right behind it, but it was only a long, gray hall. Gem's footsteps echoed on the white marble, but she didn't hear them. All she heard was the song, winding and deep; it gave her the image of a lonely sea.

Gem didn't noticed whatever she passed, but she came to a stop in front of another door just as the singing ended. She opened the door and peered into the room.

It was dark, but lights flashed on various pieces of machinery, creating an odd glow. Gem's attention turned to the tank in the center of the room. In it, a wide-eyed boy stared back at her. His eyes were an electric blue, and his dark hair swirled around his pale face in the water. But perhaps the oddest thing about him was that he wasn't a boy at all; in place of legs he had a long, scaly tail that gleamed pearly blue colors in the eerie light.

Gem took another step into the room, cautiously. The boy stayed still as a statue, and Gem wondered briefly if he was even real. But then his hand moved to the walls of the tank, and Gem could see that he was quite alive.

Gem smiled, a sweet girlish smile, and placed her hand on the tank where the boy's rested. He's like a mermaid from those tales, Gem thought, except he's a boy. Then, several things happened at once.

The door that Gem had entered from opened and emitted a loud creak. A split-second after, the tank filled with bubbles as the boy disappeared in a loud whoosh. Gem's hand darted away from the tank, and she turned around quickly.

A figure in a dark coat crossed the length of the room in two long strides. Gem saw a flash of pale, pale skin and white pointy teeth before sinking into darkness.

Somewhere in her mind, Gem knew she would never see home again.