It's a dark, rainy evening. Water is coming down in buckets from the gray sky. Occasionally, a flash of lightning illuminates your path, but for the most part, you stumble along blindly. Your clothes, warm and dry just minutes ago, are slick and stick to your skin like an icy shell.
Beneath you, the path has grown muddy, slippery, and dangerous. For a moment, you consider turning back and high-tailing it back home to where it is safe and warm, but you are past the half-way point of your journey, so you slog forward, your shoes squelching loudly with each step.
Shivering, you continue on for a few minutes, but soon, you realize that you are lost. The trees, which had been enchanting in the light of the sun, look menacing. They reach over the path as if to snag you with their wooden claws. The trees grow thicker and thicker as you continue on, the rain pours down more heavily, and to top things off, the path that you have chosen to take is leading you uphill through the slippery mud.
But then, you see a blur of light in the distance, and you suddenly feel a glimmer of hope. You hurry along towards it, forgetting momentarily about the miserable cold at wet.
As you approach the light, you soon find out that it belongs to a rather large and frightening looking mansion. A mansion that you have never seen before, even though you have walked the area countless times. A mix of old red bricks and chipped white painted wood, it looms above you, dwarfing you in its shadow. You step onto the porch and the wood beneath your mud-soaked shoes emits a long high-pitched creak. A wooden double door towers above you. You reach out towards a brass Noil knocker that is attached to its face, but pull your hand back at the last second. Something about the whole situation is sending shivers down your spine. Something isn't quite right.
You notice that a window to your right is cracked open. Light streams through, and you can feel a warmth emanating from it, calling you closer. You peer through the pane but see no one inside.
"Hello?" you call hesitantly. There is no answer. You raise your voice a bit. "Hello? Is anyone there? I got lost, and I was wondering if I could perhaps warm myself by your fire and wait out the bulk of the storm."
After waiting a moment, you walk back over to the ominous looking doors, take the brass handle of the knocker in your hand, and strike it against the wooden door. The sound reverberates through you arm and rings in your ears. It is loud enough to drown out the echo of rain and the hiss of the wind through the trees.
A few long seconds pass. Then you hear footsteps on the other side of the door. You hear the clunking and clicking of latches being unlatched and locks being unlocked. Something slides across the door, grating against the wood. And then it swings inward ever so slightly.
A pair of green and yellow eyes peer out towards you from a good half a foot above your own, looking you slowly up and down, taking in your rain-drenched clothes, your muddied shoes, your trembling, numb hands.
"Yes?" a voice says slowly. Something about it is almost sinister. It's a little bit frightening even. But, you've come this far now, so you push forward.
"May I come in? Just until the storm eases up a bit?" you ask. There is a long pause and for a moment you fear that you will be refused.
"Come in," the voice says slowly. A scaly claw beckons you forward. You quickly step into the semi-darkness and the mysterious neopet closes the door behind you, relocking, relatching, and resliding the metal pieces back into place one by one. He turns and leads you down a narrow hall, lined with white and brown patterned wallpaper and dark red carpet.
You emerge in a sitting room. It is decorated in black and red furniture and lined with mahogany floors and walls. A white copper ceiling rises high above your head. And a fire is roaring in an enormous hearth on the far wall. Being so close to the heat reminds you how cold you are. You shiver and remove your soggy coat.
"Hang it near the fire," he tells you. You obey quietly, and then turn to face him. He's a Camouflage Krawk, dressed in Neovian attire. You had guessed from the hand that he had revealed earlier. But what you hadn't guessed was just how unfriendly his demeanor would be. He's squinting down at you as if you're a Skeith that just ate his petpet.
"I'm Coleston," he says as he takes a seat in a large winged-back chair, "Welcome to my home." He smiles, showing off every one of his sharp white teeth.
You take an involuntary step back, take a deep breath to regain your composure, then quickly introduce yourself, telling him your name and where you come from.
He looks you up and down again. "Do you want a towel or maybe some... tea?" he asks in a way that makes it clear that you aren't really welcome.
"Both would be nice. And I can sit wherever you'd like. I don't want to bother or trouble you."
"No. It's no bother," he says brusquely as he exits the room.
You watch him leave for a moment, his red coattails and brown tail swishing behind him. He looks quite irritated. You decide that you will leave as soon as you possibly can. Noises come from another room down the hall, rummaging sounds, silver clanking against china, drawers squeaking open and shut. You take a hesitant seat on the mahogany floor, not wanting to chance getting the antique rug or furniture wet and muddy. The ground is cold, but the fire's heat more than makes up for it. Your skin dries quickly and your hair and clothes have started to as well.
You place your hands on the floor behind you and shift your weight onto your palms. Exhaustion starts to wash over you, overcoming the panic and nervousness that had befallen you since the first droplet of rain had splashed against your skin. In the short time Coleston is gone, you begin to doze off, but you shake yourself awake. You by no means trust this Krawk; in fact, the whole situation seems dangerous.
"Your tea." His voice comes from behind you. "And a towel."
You flinch, surprised. You hadn't even heard him leave the kitchen, let alone sneak up until he was just inches away from you.
"Thank you," you finally manage. You take the tea from him. You cautiously take a sip. It's hot, but not too hot to burn your mouth. It feels good as you drink it, as it warms your insides, even though it doesn't taste rather bland. He stands there as you gulp it down, watching you suspiciously. You can feel his yellow and green eyes boring into your skin, willing you to go.
The silence grows longer and longer, getting more and more uncomfortable. Not really sure what to do next, you open your mouth to start a conversation. "This estate is amaz—"
The Krawk holds up a claw to silence you. "When you have dried off enough, you can take one of my umbrellas and leave."
"Oh. Thank you," you sputter.
Clearly unwelcome, you quickly finish your tea and dry off your hair and clothing the best you can. Then you put your coat back on that you had left to dry by the fire. Coleston comes up from behind you and hands you an old black umbrella with a worn wooden handle. Letters are engraved at the crook, but you can't make out exactly what they say in the dim light of the room.
"Safe journey," he says brusquely as he leads you down the narrow hall and out the huge front double doors.
"Thank you for your hospitality," you say cordially.
He nods but says nothing, closing the door squarely behind you. You stare at it for a second then turn back to the uninviting storm.
The wind and rain have let up a little. The drops are smaller and fewer, and they aren't cutting across the sky at as much of an angle. The ground is slicker than before though, and as you step out on to the path, you have to work hard to keep from sliding down the hill. It's cold, but the umbrella is keeping you dry for the most part. You weave your way through the menacing trees, picking up your pace in the darkness.
And then, after what seems like a lifetime, you make it home, where you finally feel safe and warm and welcome. Exhausted, you rush to clean yourself up and go to sleep, nodding off in a matter of seconds in the warmth of your bed.
The next morning, the sky is clear and the air feels nice against your skin. All the trees that seemed so haunting the night before sway merrily in the breeze, their autumn leaves reflecting the colors of fall. You step out onto your porch and notice Coleston's black umbrella at your feet. Remembering the engraving, you pick it up, curious to see what it reads.
Property of Frederick Coleston.
Disappointed, you turn your eyes to the road in front of your house. You start to think about the mansion. How mysterious it was, how you had never seen it before in your life even though you had apparently lived fairly close to it for years. You decide, half out of curiosity, half out of courtesy, that you should return the umbrella that was lent to you the night before.
You trudge your way back up the hill, walk for the longest time along the path you swore you took the night before. You trek back and forth, up and down, zigzagging and backtracking.
But you cannot find it.
The mansion is gone. It has disappeared.
Or was it never there to begin with?
Umbrella in hand, you decide to make your way back home. It's getting late, and your stomach has started to grumble. The mystery will have to wait for the moment, but tomorrow, you will be out there again, trying to find the sinister Krawk that helped you out in the midst of the storm.