Ice House: Asetma
Brian Mark Weber
Robert 'Admiral' Coeyman
Cold stone comprised much of the Asetma estate and gave an eerie chill to anyone who even dared a glance upon it. Even the searing heat of summer never disturbed the ancient frigidity within its stone walls. You could almost hear the unearthly chants resounding throughout the courtyard and into eternity. Tourists were the only people to even utter its name aloud. I would never willingly have gone there.
However, the tourists had a bizarre curiosity and were drawn toward the property by an overpowering, friendly unknown force. As I watched from atop the century-old oak, the tourists slowly made their way to the Asetma Estate. Th'Estate, as local residents refer to it. One by one they came; then hundreds until, when each day had ended, thousands had come to receive a look at the courtyard. It seemed odd that the courtyard, which was encompassed by huge, morbidly deformed oaks, was always under the presence of a heavy and misty fog. The people disappeared into the cloud to then reappear looking as though they had been irreversibly frightened by something. Their eyes were opened wide, their skins were ghostly white and their faces were shrunken. Meanwhile, faint cries and whines could be heard coming from beyond the fog.
Miriam Asetma had been put to the
flame for the horrid atrocities now synonymous with the Asetma name. Rumors told of satanic alliances throughout
the centuries, built on innocent lives from the surrounding
Not everyone in Obsille, even in the shadow of the darkest ghost on the continent of Aluatia, still believed what none of our kin recalled from experience. Denial is a powerful anesthetic where unpleasant truths are concerned. The Old men in bad suits then made a decision that the council was a rubber stamp to. If visitors trying to break through the estate's heavy gates were as common as marsh flies in the hottest part of an equally accursed summer, then maybe they would pay to be let through those gates. Obsille needed the money and Th'Estate was our only natural resource that had withstood the Asetma curse.
Desperate people do not ask for what their belly's need. Nobody questioned the council. A few hasty decisions later and the plan was all in action. What Th'Estate needed in repairs was paid for in the first weeks of operation. Life grew to be livable in the long shadow of death.
My family, owing to my brother's atheistic contempt, was chosen to keep the estate as long as it stood. Stan was the only volunteer from the whole country. It was my bad luck to have him as my brother, because, when the faceless horror rippled the life from his faithless heart, I was the only man in my family able to inherit the keepership. Hope fled the essence of my being when the news came upon me.
I was exiled to the one place on this Earth that offered me fear. Never more was I to know the joy of social life for nobody ever went twice to Asetma. Duty alone imprisoned the few of us who were given no choice except to dwell where no life had thrived in centuries. Was this to be revenge for all the silent curses that I swore on the place?
Most of the tourists came during the summer and, now that it was late in the season, I could feel Asetma's evil grasp tightening within the pit of my stomach while the days grew darker and colder. Though I had lived there for many winters, I was not sure that I could make it through one more. Each cold season bore the same dread for me as the one before it. For three months I would have to face the demon alone.
One day, as I was collecting admission, I noticed something about one of the tourists that was a little strange. Usually I disregarded the people who came to see Asetma, but this woman was not an average tourist. As her form moved closer to me, I could see that she was a young girl of about sixteen. I could not be positive about her age as her face was covered by a black veil.
Her clothes were additionally all black. A long dress reached down and touched the tops of her shoes which were, themselves, of the same color. She walked with her hands folded and her head sloping slightly downward. As she approached the gate, the veil was raised to reveal those florescent green eyes which briefly stared through me. Not once, before or since, has anything inspired within me terror that much greater than Asetma.
It was late in the evening before the girl was reported missing by one of the tour directors. I found it bizarre that her parents had not already reported her absence. Meticulous counts revealed that only one visitor had yet to exit. Recounting was far more pleasant a thought than searching the vast grounds of Th'Estate in the dark of night. If only we could have recounted until the warmth and light of the new day rose to greet us.
Tour directors were forced labor from the nearby prison. This had been a wise choice as it had cut the crime rate by sixty-two percent, yet, knowing thus, I called forth every man of able fortitude and nerve to search Asetma's acres. My mystery guest remained to be located when nightfall closed Asetma for the world beyond its walls. No man with a choice remained past nightfall.
The first night after the search, I couldn't stop wondering about that girl. I tried to get some sleep, but every time that I started to close my eyes, a strange feeling would grasp my weary soul, jolting rest from my grasp. It was a feeling of being uncertain and not knowing enough about this girl to feel safe with her running around the castle. Part of me feared for the fate of her gentle soul while the rest of me feared her presence.
There were so many rooms that I wasn't comfortable with the results of the search. The search parties didn't know nearly as much about Asetma as do I. Every room of the castle had felt my presence. I know every corner and most of the secret passageways since Stan had spent hours in the off seasons telling me about his discoveries.
Indoor plumbing was actually original to the Asetma mansion. In better days, the Asetma name had been synonymous with genius. Time itself seemed bent and distorted within the great walls of the estate. Past and present overlapped in the void of my cellblock. Asetma's evil was a corruption of Asetma's good.
After several hours of lying awake in bed, I felt quite thirsty and thought that a cool glass of water would not only have quenched my thirst but might also have eased my boredom. I arose from my bed and walked from my room into the hallway. The walk down the hallway seemed long as a mile long before I finally found myself at the entrance to the guest bathroom. As I turned into the room there appeared a strange, iridescent glow moving slowly from in front of the window into the shower stall. Suddenly, it disappeared.
I crept toward the stall with morbid curiosity, trying to see where the glow had gone but, to my wonder, it had ceased to be. "Where could it have gone?" I thought. To my knowledge, there were no secret passages in the bathrooms--just peepholes. Every glance at the peepholes reminded me of Miriam's sick humor. In retrospect, I find it short sighted that Miriam alone got credit and blame for all the wickedness within the estate's grounds.
In a daze, I stumbled down the hallway with my mind overpowered by maddening curiosity. As I entered my room, the light was on, though I didn't remember leaving it as such. I thought that I was losing my mind. Obsession ate away the last of my will and drove me onward.
What I really needed was rest. I walked over to the bed and perched on the edge of the soft, cold slab. My eyelids felt heavy and then flew closed. Struggling to open them, I managed to succeed in time to see the broad blade of a knife plunge deep into my heart.
Springing fast to my feet, I realized that it was simply a dream fastened by my troubled mind. What a dream! The demon had caught me off guard one time, and I swore that it would never again gain such control over me. My legs still in slumber, unaware of my defeat, were unwilling to hold me upright.
Dizziness forced my strained hulk to stumble backward. Sudden movement forced a gaze at a frog flying fast across the room. His collision with the far wall gave my attention to the knife stuck therein. I nearly died of fear. She had to be near.
Ripped from the wall, I clenched hard upon the knife for dearest life. My ears, strained to catch the slightest breath, did not hear a single whisper. Searching my suite was the epitome of futility. With what courage I could forge I found that she did not lie in waiting in the hallway beyond.
Once more, I crept into the guest bathroom, weighted down with fright. The knife, I knew, was more of comfort than of use against my unseen foe. In the shower, I heard a sudden noise, though steam forbade me view of the phantom. Then it was gone. That time, I searched the adjacent room.
Stone walls and floor lay covered in green gel, seeming to be the blood of something alien. Bright light filled the room and then it began to get hot within. I felt myself burn, as cooling sweat would not come to me. In sudden wonder, I heard the words," detention Wall."
What's a detention wall? This phrase still means nothing to me. By this time, the room was white hot and I blindly scanned the walls for any sign of the door before the heat overcame me. My eyes failed and my mind barely worked, however, I did find a doorknob. The doorknob was so cold that my hand froze to it, instantly.
"How could that be?" I thought aloud, my mind too full of fear to hold the thought within my head.
Somehow, that night, I stumbled back to my room. The next morning found me late in bed. Asetma's cold stone felt good on my parched body, although, I quickly consumed eight glasses of ice tea before I found comfort in the cold castle. No mark remained of the knife or the phantom light.
Our village was lucky to have the retched heap of Asetma. Millions of dollars came to our valley for a look at fright's abode. And Asetma made crime a fool's game. Each morning, just after I awoke, the prison bus arrived to deliver those to whom Asetma would be reclamation.
I heard the horn and knew that the yellow phantom had arrived with its cargo of prisoner laborers. The bus was there and I had yet to dress! It would have meant nothing to me if I hadn't known that they had Orsa and, should I fail in my duties, my dearest love would be the next captive of Asetma's fear. Nothing meant more to me.
Only Orsa ever listened to me. I could talk about my hopes and fears knowing that she understood every word. Her eyes were so warm and her soft hands so welcomingly gentle. If there was ever a way to get out of Asetma, I swore to make her mine. But Asetma's slave knew no kindness. The evil fed on my desires to leave.
I dressed quickly, grabbing last week's clothes from the hamper without a second thought even though, if they had been displeased with me, they might have drafted Orsa to the terrible task. They could get something on her too. The two minutes it took me to get dressed seemed an eternity. "The prisoners must be getting restless," I thought.
From the gate I could not be seen, so I leapt from the window onto the rusty flagpole, sliding down to the walkway below. Out of breath, I made it to the street over a minute early so there was time to straiten up before I forced the heavy doors open. Unlocking the ancient oak gates, to which I had the only key, I could barely pull them open. Security was no problem for Asetma. Who would ever want to break into Hell?
Prisoners never rushed to get into Asetma; they crawled. The prisoners assembled on the east lawn, each being escorted by a reluctant guard. One of the prisoners stared at the streak of rust deposited by the flagpole onto the front of my clothing. With the rust and the spaghetti stains, I looked more like a tourist than some of the real tourists. Guards did not care even to glance in my direction as though their fate was my fault.
In my rush to get to the gates on time, I had failed to notice what was obvious to others and I was a slob. If the tourists could mistake Asetma for a nice place to visit, then I didn't think that I would look out of place to them. It was not as though I was on display. Tourists barely paid notice to any slave of Th'Estate.
Each prisoner received an assignment before planning the customary escape attempt. Asetma was the best constructed prison ever conceived. Every day, for decades, someone tried to escape Asetma's icy grasp without a single success. The lucky ones died trying. Somehow, the tourists never noticed.
Guards only needed to circle the great stone fortifications to hold the prisoners in. One wrong move could win them a night in Miriam's infamous dungeons, thus the prisoners were well behaved. Tourists needed never know that their guides were recruited from local jails. Fear of my notorious abode made disciple absolute. Only one legendary prisoner had tried taking a tourist hostage and he had died after one night in the dungeon.
Those were days before my days so I know of it only from what others in the town of Obsille say in the dark and silent hours of night. My brother Stan was the keeper of Asetma in those days. As he did not believe in such nonsense, a trait that I do not share with him, he never told me the truth of the story as he knew it. All of Obsille knows at least one version of the death of Dan Levitton. Given my choice, I would know them all.
The most popular story starts just as the sun fades from the sky. All hours of darkness are witching hours in Asemta, therefore, the evil forces dwelling there have all the time that they need for any dark deed that takes their fancy. Like Stan, poor Dan was a brave man with little patience for such foolishness. Asetma's phantoms like such people better than any other kind.
Locked into a dungeon designed in centuries past to hold many times a single felon, Mr. Levitton was at their mercy and they had no mercy to show him. First came the dancing shadows in the dark places. Voices spoke to themselves and each other in the dying light. Eyes of colors and darkness are always watching, though they seldom choose to be seen. Mr. Levitton got the whole show.
When the owl called his name, his
fate was sealed. It takes what form it
chooses and has since
On the next day, his body was found hidden under the slab that passed for a bed in the dungeon of Asetma. Comfort was reserved for the innocent and innocence knew no place in the cold darkness beneath Asetma. Dan Levitton had wrapped himself up in the thin blanket that he had been given. There was not a mark on him. He was simply dead.
For a man who called himself so brave, I found it ironic to hear tell that his eyes were so tightly shut. Another man willing that all should call him brave, my own brother, did not find the body or go into the dungeon to see it. Courage saved neither man's life, in the end. I doubted that courage was enough to save my life either.
Tourists started to arrive only minutes after the prison bus had been hidden in a nearby lot. Within hours, not another soul could fit upon the cursed soil of the mansion's grounds. They were drawn, in their multitudes, from around the world. Some days, like this one, had so many visitors that I was called to direct visitors around the ancient fortress.
Mine was the group containing the mysterious girl, who was visiting each day and vanishing before each night fell. Her visits bothered me more than most things. I couldn't help but be curious about all the tickets she was buying. I doubted that she needed to pay admission. Maybe it was her way of attracting attention.
I followed her closely as she walked off the tourist path and the group I was leading followed me without question. They thought it was part of the show. My guide knew the place well enough for our trip to look like a rehearsed parade through the house. She walked steadily into the small zone in which I had been permitted to live--right into the guest room that I was beginning to fear more than the cellar.
There had never been a crack in any of Asetma's three-foot thick walls until I discovered a rather large one in the adjacent guest bathroom. I turned to check on the crowd and she was gone when I turned back. That room, I resolved, was to remain sealed for all time. At least I could make that vow for my lifetime.
Groups were not allowed into that corridor, thus we hastily turned to leave. One of the guards saw that we were there, so I gave him a puzzled look, as though lost, then descended to the lower level. We next went to the cellar before walking the frosty grounds. Tourists seemed to enjoy seeing real dungeons. It was a hot day beyond yet always cool within.
A search of the guest room, later, granted us little reward. I was sure of what I had seen, lacking but proof. Many suggested that the girl had run out while I was turned away, but it was not enough for me. After the search ended that night, upon leaving the room of nightmares, I locked the door for the sake of all time. Then I slipped the key beneath the heavy door to never be found.
As I wiped the sweat from my molten brow there came a convulsion to the door. It moved more than three inches out before snapping back into its frame. Fatigue kept my cool for me. "Should have done this deed in the safety of company," I thought in a sarcastic whisper.
Then I happened to notice one of the patrolmen at the end of the hall. He had come to see if I had had any trouble with the prisoners and had gotten an eyeful. It seemed as though he had turned to stone. His face was so bloated with fear that I could count the fillings in his teeth.
No living soul, other than myself, had ever witnessed anything out of the ordinary at Asetma, so I could imagine how he must have felt, but nothing more. Asetma had chosen this comrade for me for reasons that I could only guess at. I could have tried to comfort him, though I saw no way that I could have performed such a miracle when I myself was under the dark spell. My greatest gift to him would be to show him that I had also seen the mystic occurrence.
Once the officer started to breathe again, he exclaimed," What the hell have ya got in dare?"
If he'd taken that jelly donut, or what remained of it, out of his mouth, then I'd have had some idea as to what he'd said. I would have answered him if I could have understood that lousy speech of his. "This guy is a real idiot," I almost said aloud. It was easy to see that the only reason why he had been elected to the office of sheriff was because of his way of sticking me in Asetma rather than the countless other voting citizens of Obsille.
The sheriff, obviously unfit to investigate any case, reached for the walkie-talkie hidden under the coffee-stained shirt that had once been a part of his uniform. Calling for his deputies, he could not find words for what had just happened. When one of the deputies asked him what was going on he could only reply," git over here now! And bring me some more coffee if you can handle that!" They eventually found us, even though he never mentioned exactly where he was.
A deputy usually doesn't have much to do in this small town, yet somebody has to do the sheriff's job. Arriving at Asetma, the deputies did not realize what they were about to embark upon. Only the new recruits were inexperienced enough to get roped into Asetma duty. New recruits also didn't know enough to deny their eyes.
Nevertheless, they proceeded through the doorway and followed the trail of donut droppings that marked the sheriff's path. The stains stuck out brilliantly on the four-hundred year old hand-crafted rugs. It should be noted that the sheriff had to seek me out, walking down every hallway and up three flights of steps. It was amazing that he could be so fat after walking so much.
Finally, the deputies reached our floor, but, by the time they got to us we didn't think that there would be anything left to investigate. I don't blame them, though. It was the sheriff's fault--if blame is, at all, the issue. He was the first real help I ever had.
Calling to the sound of the deputies' nearing footsteps, the sheriff cried out," We's got us a live one, boys."
Four deputies wheezed to a stop behind the sheriff's eclipse of me, seeming pale as though they had sighted the beast in our stead. "Where is the suspect," one forced out? Another handed over the pink thermos of hot coffee.
"He's in they a," he pointed. He was more frightened than I was.
The first deputy managed to touch the doorknob without incident. "It's locked, sheriff," returned at us. We thought that it was the deputy, though I am now uncertain as it sounded a bit feminine.
Deputies always check up on each other. At least in Obsille where deputies mistrust each other. The next deputy fell agonizingly to the floor with a burned hand. Doctors said that it was a second-degree job--first-degree fright job!
"Does a you know where a ya put da key," demanded the sheriff?
"No sir." I coughed. I couldn't tell him the truth.
Interest became lost when the ambulance arrived and I was, again, alone to face the aimless terror of Asetma. Comfort came to me in the knowledge that I had sealed that room. It learned fast, therefore doubt returned to the darkest parts of my mind. Fear was my only permanent company.
Without thought or reason I found myself calling out to my one true love. Her number had been mine for nearly a year before I had used it. She had gone to the only theatre in Obsille moments before, replied her beautiful roommate. Then she asked if I was the sheriff.
My next thoughts are in awaking the next morning. I am not in bed but in the antechamber with the phone. Had I made the call or dreamed it all up? Would any girl willingly go out with the sheriff? My heart was crushed with the weight of the thought.
His fat arms around Orsa's soft shoulders; her long hair blowing about in a gentle breeze. I know the pattern of her silk gown well, having dreamed it up often. She giggles as his dirty hands cross her garters. And I vomit at my corrupted fantasy, once my greatest dream, turned into a hideous nightmare. Asetma seems a better place.
It was hard for me to breathe through the phlegm flowing liberally down my throat. I panicked at the thought of losing all that I held dear. Asetma had cost me the love of fare Orsa, and I had always known that. But I had wished her better than the sheriff--much better.
The bus would be two hours earlier than usual to allow the gardener the assistance of the press gang we used to guide tours on other days. It was wise not to allow tourists in while the prisoners did yard work. Asetma was completely surrounded by an eighteen-foot high stone wall having razor sharp crystalline shards that would usually defer escape attempts. Asetma's wall was enough on its own except for on gardening days when the prisoners had tools. And it was easier to kill prisoners than to chase them.
Scaffolding was often used to trim trees and wild shrubberies from the walls. Nothing within Asetma ever got that tall. Extra guards were called in to ensure an escape proof perimeter during such work, but for all the effort, no fewer than one prisoner was always killed trying to escape over the wall on gardening day. I envy each one his final escape from my cage.
Not one to like the sight of murder, I remained within the manor during the wall clearing. In time, I heard the shouts of the guards in pursuit. But this time the renegade ran the other way. He ran towards and into the mansion with me.
"It's the old witch woman," he gasped. "She's singing."
The old witch woman was an enigma around Obsille where legend had it that she was the last Asetma. Occasionally she had to go into town for supplies, though never enough to sustain her for the time between her visits. This was the first time she had been sighted beyond that. Even Stan had reported no sightings of her on the grounds.
I dashed out through the main doors, around the great house to the point where the men had been working. Sure enough, she was still there, sitting on a platform in a tree not far outside the Asetma wall. The men had fled, in a panic, as had the guards. My motives were a mystery even to me.
Something threw me over the wall
toward the ancient tree. The ground,
where I came down, was spongy soft, tossing me into a forward tumble. Then I recall standing a few feet from the
wall, watching the old witch woman running further into the overgrown farmland
that had become the
I ran faster, yet she knew the ground better. She wove her path into the trees and around the field until I lost my bearing. Catching her was all that mattered to me. Then her breath began to give out and I closed to within fifteen feet of her.
Her dress had lifted, from the force of her running, revealing to my eyes a long stream of unbroken hair beneath her flowing skirt. It wagged about in the breeze until I realized that I was chasing a werewolf. I turned away from her path, running for my mortal soul. My compulsion could not turn me back to the hunt.
Behind me, I heard her following me, although I would have heard it regardless of her presence. Fear was chasing me into a part of the old Asetma estate where nobody ever dared enter. Except, of course, for the old witch woman and fools, like me, who chased her into it. I didn't even know why I had done so.
The ground became more uneven before my running slowed to below a walking pace. A strawberry field had mysteriously cleared an acre before me of all vegetation except for itself. Beneath it, the ground was soft, moss covered and soaked. I had reached the place I was drawn to.
In a distance through the misty light, I caught sight of a short structure. It seemed to be a solid shadow in the clearing. Filtered light from the early day sun was not enough to clearly discern its form, so I slowly approached it. The form was black, hard to see even though the weeds dared not touch it. I took their advice.
It was a statue of a young girl. But not just any girl--it was the girl with the green eyes! The statue mouthed a few words, although I did not hear anything. Silently, the statue's left arm rose to point a cold stone finger at me. Again, she tried to speak to me.
There, I fainted with all my heart.