An Unclean Legacy: “Inconstant Shelter”

Posted on October 31, 2005 by Jenna

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Once upon a time, the house ran free.

Its great furnace heart roared.

Its great iron legs pounded.

It ran where it chose and none dared stand in its way.

Then it met Christine. She was standing on the road. She was holding a staff and she was dressed in white. Her poise disturbed it but it did not fear her.

It ran towards her, hoping to drive her from the road.

Christine Gargamel’s lips drew tight.

“Beast,” she said.

Christine struck the ground with the staff. The earth split. The house lurched sideways, half of it caught in a sudden ravine. It struggled desperately for balance.

And her voice raised louder. “Monster!” she cried. “Fiend! Abhorrent thing! Kneel!

It was like a nightmare. It was like a Halloween story. Suddenly the house was afraid, and terribly so. It knew that everything in its life could change.

But it was not captured yet.

It rocked upright. It backed away a few steps.

The staff was glowing. The house could feel large chunks of ice flying through its upper windows, rattling this way and that in the attic of its brain. Its lacy curtains flared and tore. It could feel pains as its pipes and joints twisted and deformed under the weight of Christine’s sorcery.

It hunkered low. Its fires stoked. Its chimneys unleashed a whistling scream.

It charged.

And then, as its sickle-limb curved out and readied to strike, as it bore down on her, it saw for the very first time her eyes: those eyes of pale blue that shared its window tint, and even in the pattern of her iris was itself.

Her staff came around, shining with power. It struck the house. It stunned it, like the hammer of a giant could stun an elephant. But the contest was already over.

It stumbled once and knelt before her, knowing itself her home.

An Unclean Legacy

Inconstant Shelter

Christine brings Sophie bread. Then she sits down opposite her sister and stares at her across the room.

“I don’t know if it’s a sin to kill you,” Christine says.

Sophie raises an eyebrow.

“I figure,” Christine says, “that it’s like holy mortification. Shredding the detritus of my soul. But maybe it’s the only kind of suicide someone gets to atone for. I don’t know.”

“Don’t die figuring it out,” Sophie says.

She gnaws on the crust of the bread.

“Damn it, Sophie,” Christine says.

It is very hot in the house that runs.

“I’ve always felt guilty,” Christine says. “I mean, about the other half of me. Like I’d bungled getting born somehow and there you were.”

Sophie hesitates. Then she sets the bread down.

“I’m not interested in talking about this, Christine,” she says.

“I’m responsible for what you do,” Christine says. “But I don’t even know what that is. Do you stalk the countryside drinking people’s blood? Do you kill small animals? Priests? Or do you just couple with the Devi—”

Sophie makes a cutting gesture in the air. It’s harsh enough that Christine stops midword.

“What do you want, Christine?” Sophie demands.

Christine stands up. Her hands are tight. She’s wringing them. Her face is taut and she says, “I want you to tell father what you really are. I want you to admit it to me.

“Stop trying to wallow in my sins,” Sophie says. “You’ve got your own.”

What are you hiding?

Sophie tries to stand up, and that’s when she notices she can’t. Something’s bound her to the chair. The heat in the air is making it difficult to breathe.

It’s hard to think through the heat and the magic, and she knows Christine’s trying to kill her again.

//We do not know how Montechristien Gargamel came into his power. His origins are a mystery. How such an ungainly, strange, and immoral man could rise so swiftly to prominence puzzles even the greatest scholars of our time. Of his life once established in Castle Gargamel, however, certain facts are known.

He took to wife the Lady Yseult Gargamel, one of the great beauties of his day; and though many a rival pressed for evidence that he’d bewitched or stolen her, none was ever found. They had and loved six children of their flesh, until the seventh, Elisabet, killed Yseult with the complications of her birth. Each of these children was a prodigy, possessed of astonishing talents. When at last Montechristien stumbled towards the grave, the talents of his children turned against their siblings, every hand against the other, until at last they could dispose of the matter of their legacy.

This is the sixth installment of the story of that time.//

What are you hiding?” Christine just said.

Sophie stares at her.

Slowly, she decides what to say.

“I could just be good,” Sophie taunts. “Just naturally better’n you.”

“You’re the weight on me,” Christine says. “You’re the reason it all goes wrong. You’re going to drag me down to Hell with you.”

Sophie can hardly breathe now. She’s panting in the heat of the house.

“Isn’t that backwards?” she asks. “I mean, isn’t that exactly the one thing that can’t ever happen?”

“Tell me you’re the evil one!” Christine demands.

Sophie kicks over the chair and falls to the ground. She grabs a poker from the fireplace mantel and hurls it at Christine.

The house lurches sideways in its run. It is just enough; Christine sways, and the poker grazes past her ear.

Sophie snarls. She convulses. There is a momentary visual impression of great loops of muscle coiling around the chair. Then the chair snaps into flinders, stuck along Sophie’s legs and back. Sophie flails her way towards the door.

“Stay,” Christine orders.

The words are like a thunder and lightning crackles all around Sophie’s form and as the shock tears through her she loses the last of her breath and passes out.

Christine hesitates. The house runs.

Christine slumps. The light of madness dims in her eyes.

“Eat her,” Christine says, to the house. “Drag her to your furnace and use her as your fuel. Let’s make an end.”

And as it approaches Castle Gargamel the house swallows Sophie. It draws her limp form, in skips and lurches, along the floor to its furnace core.

There it sucks her in.

Sophie opens her eyes as she falls into the flames.

She screams, short and satisfying and stomach-twisting to Christine’s waiting ears.

But she is not burning.

It takes Sophie a moment to understand that. It takes her a moment to realize that she is hot, too hot, but not yet dead: that the flames are bowing around her, spreading wide to yield a tiny pocket just barely tolerable by life.

Sophie looks confused.

“Why?” she asks.

She holds out her hand. She lets it rest on the red-hot metal of the wall; which is harsh, and incredibly painful, but within Sophie’s power to endure.

And then she understands.

“You are like me,” she says.

And the house asks, in the language of metal and fire: Why won’t you yield to her?

“I couldn’t bear to,” Sophie says.

Where did the house come from?

What did the shadow say to Christine?

Tune in on Wednesday for a heartwarming Unclean Legacy flashback: “The House That Runs!” (Void where prohibited by law. Some restrictions may apply.)