House of Madness - Tells the story of Teal Barrett, a young and very normal woman, who during a visit to her younger sister encounters an unfortunate accident that leaves her a member of the living dead. Seeking answers, she comes to stay at a peculiar out dated hotel proudly christened the 'House of Fun', the staff and guests of which are not so different from herself, and have a few problems of their own. This is life after death, without the drama.
There's a saying; what doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger. It's true, but for us... it was death that defined us. Welcome to the dead.
Three weeks of living at the House of Fun was enough to drive anyone crazy, but I was still clinging on tenterhooks. Theo's mad schedule was truly to be obeyed; always. Punishments for breaking routine varied between a shouting match, acid in your milk, and paperwork.
The paperwork is the worst. The shouting match is kind of fun, and he does that if you break minor rules. The acid in your milk tastes absolutely foul but no one has died yet. The paperwork is the definition of hell.
'I can't believe you're making me do this again!' I shrieked, staring wide eyed at the enormous mountain of forms in front of me on the desk. 'I was late by five minutes Theo. Five. Minutes.'
He shook his head. 'And tell me why that was again?'
I scowled. 'Because I spent an extra 32.5 seconds staring at a pair of new shoes I can't afford anyway.'
'Exactly. Time wasting is intolerable, and it isn't the first time. If you want the new shoes so badly, start saving your money instead of blowing it on new dresses. This is England, and it's still winter.'
'But then I'd waste an extra 32.5 seconds staring at the new dress I want really badly. Can't I get a raise? Please?' His expression was answer enough. 'Oh, you're incorrigible.'
'Learn the meaning of big words before you use them, Teal,' he said as a passing shot over his shoulder. He was off to his lair once again. I'd now met Doctor Frankenstein's charming little Igor. (His Igor is only an inch shorter than Theo and I, but I won't let him live it... down. Ha!) The assistant is Artemis Denly, and Englishman born and bred. He died in a sword fight (how cool is that?) was saved by a wolf (where did it even come from?) and came to the House of Fun with enough intelligence and personal hygiene to earn him the right to enter Theo's precious laboratory. Artemis is the only one allowed to go in there, and only when Theo tells him to be there, in which case he has no choice but to be there. Luckily, Artemis likes science quite a bit and shares Theo's slightly unusual sense of humour. For the most part, Artemis likes Theo.
That said, even he can't stand the Schedule, now so important it needs a capital. Shaking my head, I pulled the first sheet from the top of the pile and skim-read it. 'Moron!' I called out to him, 'I need your signature for this one!'
Yes, I liked arguing with people. I enjoyed using my skills in debate (albeit over childish issues) but I so rarely had the opportunity to do so before my death. Theo was easy to get riled up about something, as I said before tiny disruptions to his routine could set him off, however one had to be careful you weren't given a worse punishment. I hadn't worked out how to peeve anyone else yet, but I'd succeed eventually.
Twirling a pencil between my fingers, my chin resting in my hand with my elbow propped on the desk, I ignored the paperwork and waited for a customer. They hadn't lied to me, for people did come to stay at the House of Fun with a steady regularity, but Theo was constantly reminding me that this wasn't the height of the tourist season and I had to prepare myself for the flow that would come then.
Still, over the last week, I'd seen two, maybe three couples and one single person. All of them were human, and I was happy to see that we didn't have much trouble hiding what we are from them. Even as I was thinking this, Missy and Tessa Catcher, two sisters with long waist length black hair and olive skin tones strolled into the lobby. They were a lot older than they used to be, but they must once have been truly beautiful women, their hair peppered with streaks of grey nowadays. They were both very friendly women though, but they'd never married. 'Hello Miss Teal,' Tessa greeted me kindly, 'We're just going out to see a movie. Could you call us a taxi please? And would you mind terribly if you could send our dinner to our rooms as soon as we arrive back home tonight?'
I smiled warmly and grabbed the phone, doing as they asked. 'Was there anything in particular you wanted for dinner tonight?' I questioned.
'No, whatever you're all having will do us quite fine, thank you,' Missy said, and they waved as they exited through the ridiculous bright red double doors. They were a perfectly nice simple black on the outside, but that red... Well, Theo couldn't be swayed to redecorate according to the new decade, no matter how many times you pointed out it was 2010 and not 1982 anymore.
Surprisingly, as they left a new woman I'd never seen before entered. She was wearing a long brown leather coat and a stylish black high collared shirt beneath it. Her long honey brown hair was pinned up in a complex bun on her head and she was wearing large black sunglasses. Her high heels clicked ominously on the linoleum floor.
'Hello,' I said uncertainly when she reached the desk, pushing her sunglasses onto her head and revealing quite stunning green eyes. 'Welcome... to the House of Fun.'
'Oh,' she said as if she'd just noticed my existence, 'you are new.' Her red manicured nails tapped impatiently on the desk. 'But I'm not here to see you. Where is Mr Blackwood? I need to see him.'
Refusing to be further intimidated, I rose and gave her a wicked smile. 'May I ask who it is who wants to see him?'
The woman's eyes narrowed imperceptibly. 'You can tell him that Holly is here.'
For some reason, Holly sounded a familiar name. But I'd been here for over twenty-one days and small details tended to blur together, so if she were truly significant, I assumed I would have heard her name more than once. 'Hm, sure. And Holly is who, exactly?'
She looked highly offended and a bit angry that I didn't know her, and that I had spoken to her so rudely. 'Holly Draconus, I'm the patron of this hotel, and your boss owes me money.'
I leaned back, swallowing slightly. I had forgotten the once briefly mentioned "dragon lady". I hadn't pursued the subject at the time, because everyone had seemed so anxious about it. Meeting her now, I could guess why, though (poor me) I had no idea the extent of why she'd been given such a nick name. As always, I would learn quickly. 'Very well. I'll go and get him, he's in his lab.'
I hurried down the pristine corridors, so immaculate because they led to Theo's lab, and stood outside the clean white doors that were perfectly sealed and that bore the clear, loud posters declaring that this was out of bounds, forbidden territory, warnings about dangerous chemicals.
And maybe it was just because I was feeling injured at having been pressured into obeying someone, maybe it was because I wanted to annoy Theo and find out what could possibly be worse than paperwork but I suddenly felt the need to rebel against those stupid "Keep Out" signs.
Without knocking, I pushed the doors open and stepped over the threshold. My first reaction was just to take a little moment to congratulate myself, and then I sought out Theo to find out his reaction.
He was standing beside a bench, a bubbling beaker in his hand, and his whole body screamed "tense". All his muscles were tensed, but his twitching left eye and pained expression showed he was trying to reign himself in. 'Out,' he said so softly I barely heard him, but it wasn't just soft, it was an animalistic growl. The Scottish accent was there but it sounded kind of frightening at the time. I backed up a little, my instincts kicking in; right now, Theo wasn't to be messed with. 'NOW!' he roared and I practically fell over myself to obey.
Behind me, I heard a painful cry and a pitiable whining. I myself was quivering outside. The doors opened and Theo emerged, whole body shaking, skin ghastly pale and small beads of sweat could be seen on his temple. He crumpled to the ground and I crouched down beside him. 'Theo?'
His eyes were scrunched tightly closed and he was muttering something unintelligible, fingers tangled in his untidy black hair. This went on for quite some time before he finally calmed and relaxed, limbs going limp. He released his head and looked at me, left eye still twitching. 'Never,' he croaked, 'Never enter that room again, do you understand?'
I nodded kind of scared. 'What just happened to you?'
'I told you intense emotions can trigger a transformation, remember? Well... just don't go into my lab.' He took another moment. I assumed he'd nearly changed, and panicking had hurried out of his sanctuary (the first time I thought of it as anything other than lair, but was more true than I realised even then) somehow managing to stifle the emotions and keeping himself relatively human.
'I'm really sorry... I came to get you because someone's here to see you,' I said hoping to distract him a little more, and being careful to omit just who had come to see him. I wouldn't have said, only I tried to imagine how he'd react when he saw her without having had the chance to prepare, and hurriedly added, 'Holly. The patron. She's here.'
He winced, reached out to clutch my collar but recoiled thinking better of it and scrambling to his feet. 'Handkerchief?' he said and I tugged one from my jeans pocket; it was winter and I had it on hand should the flu come knocking. He used it to dab at his brow, and didn't both handing it back as he fled to the lobby. I followed, not sure what good I'd be to him, but figuring he deserved some assistance after that episode back there.
The woman called Holly was leaning against the desk, surveying her surroundings with an expression of distaste. 'If she doesn't like it she can just leave!' I thought defensively, ignoring the fact I also expressed dislike for the decor.
Theo dashed out to meet her, flashed her a weary smile and her expression suddenly changed to one of concern. 'Hullo there,' she greeted him, 'what have you been up to?'
Wow. She didn't sound so hoity-toity anymore...
'Nothing. Look, I haven't got any money at the moment...' he sat down in one of the chairs around the edges of the room for guests to sit in, 'You know it's the down season Holly.'
'I said I would loan you that cash Theo, loan generally implies that I expect to be paid back. I wouldn't mind if I'd given you the money like I usually do but...'
'I'm perfectly well informed on the difference between loan and give,' he snapped, 'but why are you bothering me about it so early? This is a hotel. I can only dish out what I get you know?'
She snorted but shrugged. 'Hotel is it? Alright. I'll take a room – the suite.'
'Oi! That room's reserved!'
'Are you arguing with me, Theo?' He paled. 'Suite. Tonight. Mine. Whoever reserved it won't miss it for one night, will they?' She sauntered over to the elevator. 'Relax Theo. I promise I won't stay long.'
He sagged in his chair. 'I hate her,' he snarled.
I sat beside him, considered saying something along the lines of, "there, there" but decided against it, instead saying, 'Who was the room reserved for?'
'Oh, some Lord Vampire person. Doesn't matter.'
'... Lord... Vampire?' I said disbelievingly. 'Come on, I know people like us exist, but vampires?'
'Mm. Vampires, zombies, spirits, faeries, elves, dragons, centaurs, pegasus... lots of things like that. You didn't really think we were the only ones, did you?' he smirked at me with feline teeth and I stared back, confused and not sure whether I should believe him or not. In the end I decided it didn't even matter, because what would be would be.
Shaking my head, I rose from the chair and headed back to the reception desk. 'So do I need to record her as well?' I asked, picking up a pen.
'Everything must be recorded,' he muttered in a somewhat disturbing way, but I took it to mean yes and scribbled down Holly's name and the suite number. After a while of silence, I glanced up over the pile of paperwork and saw Theo gripping fistfuls of his hair, bent over his knees.
'Are you… okay?' I called.
'… I'm going to my lab,' he said, standing and rushing past me so quickly I barely had the chance to notice he was even there. Maybe he was still in pain from the almost transformation, but I pushed it aside because Theo's problems were his own. It wasn't as though I didn't have any compassion, it was simply that I didn't really even know him and I didn't plan on learning about the anal scientist.
Slumping in my seat I massaged my temples and gazed around me at the 80s décor. 'It's funny,' I mumbled to myself, 'no one seems to even question it being out of date. And now I think about it, so many, many of our guests dress and style their hair reminiscent of the 80s themselves. Maybe this is a themed hotel and no one told me.' I smirked a little, experimenting with the idea that this hotel was actually frozen in the 80s, and I just happened to go back in time when I entered it. It was a stupid notion, and still is, but years since then I still treasure the idea that as long as I lived at the House of Fun, the future was far away and I was back in a more carefree time.
I began to sign the paperwork Theo had assigned me, and watched time pass by me. As a matter of fact, I did that so often in the House of Fun it may have been why I loved the idea of being frozen so much. Time could pass as it liked, but it didn't matter because I wasn't a part of it any longer, an observer if you like.
And while I worked, Theo busied himself downstairs in his laboratory, his Igor snoozing in a chair in the corner as Artemis so often did without anyone noticing, Kara made dinner for us and Missy and Tessa Catcher, and the other staff of the hotel congregated in the staff room, discussing small nothings.
In the end, it wasn't so stupid to assume we were frozen in time, never moving forward, and on a separate path that had already come to an end. We had a heartbeat and breath in our bodies but...
We were already dead. Were we not merely ghosts of our former selves, filling a void?
I remembered the day that I died; well, all that happened before the end because there's really no point in remembering how the event itself occurred as it is so unpleasant and in some way, rendered void.
I'd been woken by my sister and she'd made us breakfast before she went to work – she was a receptionist at a newspaper, trying to get into journalism even though she hated it – and we talked about such insignificant things. Of course I treasure every word said now, but it doesn't change that they were unimportant.
Being dead doesn't bother me as much as it should. In fact, I've practically dismissed the idea of life and death and the whole period of time between 1983 and 2010... and in fact beyond that. Staying at the House of Fun with Theo really made an impact on me which resulted in me preferring to believe I belonged in the same period of time he did, between 1963 and 1981, which was fine really but did mean that I had to come up with some reason why I remembered all these things from the 90s and 2000's. I didn't care about any of it and theorized that I was in fact mad. Whether it was the world I was in now, or the world before that was real didn't matter, it was this world that I felt was real and so I had to be crazy.
Vampires? Zombies? The living dead don't exist according to any sane person but... because I was meeting them regularly and believed I was one of them, I could only conclude I was crazy. Strangely, I didn't mind. One morning I woke up and barged into Theo's lab (something he did eventually get used to) telling him, 'Theo, I've decided I'm not dead, I'm just mad. I'm just like you. From now on, forget that I ever said I was from any other time period. I don't care for it, and if I thought any of it was real, it just means I'm mad. No, I imagined it all. You agree, don't you?'
He did look at me like I was mad, and that satisfied me at the time. He never questioned my theory perhaps concluding it was actually true, but giving his strange smile every time I told someone I was born in 1966, only a few years after Theo himself was born.
The only thing I could never reconcile was my sister and parents. I missed them terribly, but they were from that future world that didn't exist, or so I told myself repeatedly until I came to really believe it. I convinced myself that what I told everyone else was reality, convinced myself I really was a madwoman who had dreamt up some modern day world and dreamt that I had died. Regardless of that, I was never comfortable with anyone touching my neck, because as a madwoman a part of me believed in the other world; it was so real, and so detailed... but all a lie, I told myself.
Which was why I managed to get over never having a sister, begging Theo to help me come up with a reason why I had no family. He refused at first, bless him, but after some time I think he came to realise that I couldn't bare believing that I had died and was intentionally driving myself insane. He knew he couldn't persuade me not to do it, and did all he could to make sure that I was at least harmless. He told me that my parents had been killed in an armed robbery at a bank in Manchester. If I looked it up, Theo had created a fake record that told me these very details.
I became a madwoman, but a happy one, and relaxed into a bizarre new world where I could look at a dragon or a werewolf and just dismiss it as another symptom of my mental instability. I ended up just sort of... drifting and allowing everything to roll off my back.
No one minded. I participated and knew at the back of my mind that for some reason that the 1966-1981 story I'd made up was real, as was the life I had at the hotel supernatural included, and so was the modern world. I knew it, but I ignored it and everyone was okay with that.
But still, even now, I remember my dead sister Raven, and wonder if she ever did get into journalism, or write a book like she always wanted to. She was 21 when I left her, but by the time I finish writing this, she will be dead. She would be well over 90, and she wasn't the healthiest.
Over all these years, that's what happened to me. But for the first few years at the House of Fun, I remained sane. I believed in everything around me, and still believed I had a sister, that I was born in 1985 and died at 25 years old in 2010. I was bright eyed and cunning and had no idea that I would slowly drive myself insane out of fear and regret for what had happened to me.
So it was with some horror that I woke on the one month anniversary of my death and realised that my family would never even find a body.
Author's Note: This chapter was... different. It was a bit darker and got weird at the end there but... this is Teal looking back on her past, and at how life began at the House of Fun, so sometimes she goes off on little tangents. From the 'I remembered the day I died' line to the end was kind of her recognizing her madness and reconciling with herself about it before she continues because in the future chapters she has to confront issues about her family and her real life that she as future/crazy!Teal isn't really comfortable writing about. Anyway, review?
Ps: ... I've been watching Life on Mars (BBC) too much... clearly. But I kind of like the new twist, just as long as I don't do something stupid and completely rip off the most awesome police show since the 70s!