Prep had been dreading this part of his journey more than any other. Even Ridleybank had not held as much fear for him as the infamous Pitman Mansion. This place was the polar opposite of The Fortress – the Shadow Fortress, he suddenly mused but then wondered at how close he may actually be to the truth. Who were the Shadows exactly? Nobody seemed to fully know, yet they were woven into the Fortress history throughout its entire existence. Even now, after their perceived closure, it was clear that the Shadows were a thriving force. It was just their end purpose that remained a mystery.
Quarlesbank was one of the most dreaded northern territories and it was never safe, even when the official notices stated that it was “green for clear”. From its borders on the River Kevan, to the Quarlesbank hills strange things frequently happened. People went missing as roaming hordes appeared overnight and then vanished like an ill wind that claimed its victims and then was just stationary air once again. Lord Pitman was an enigma – neither man nor zombie; ever-present and yet never where he was expected. He had hardly touched the lives of most everyday Fortress members yet he was intertwined in the extensive history of their group. Prep often wondered why Lord Pitman had remained so anonymous throughout the years – he had even allowed two Fortress Christmas parties to happen in his own mansion! People had speculated that Pitman was weak; his forces: negligible – that he was incapable of stopping a Fortress mass get-together but Prep was one of only a few people that believed there was a tremendous amount of danger in the fact that Pitman had remained absent. He believed Pitman had a greater ultimate plan; that he was playing for everything.
Pitman Mansion suddenly appeared in the distance from around the corner of Chitty Cinema and Prep gasped at the sight of it. He’d passed Pitman Mansion a number of times before, partied in it, but never had he seen it looking as intimidating as tonight. The dark sky seemed to be wrapped around the angled rooftops like a black cloak and it seemed to Prep that the mansion itself was laughing at him somehow. As he found his legs moving ever closer to his next destination he noted that there were lights dancing in the windows that suggested movement inside.
Prep struggled to his senses. The Pitman Pitbulls? Were they back in town and taking some time-out to celebrate a latest victory in Pitman’s mansion? He had heard that the anti-Pitman brigade had kind of fizzled out after years of dominance over - what was believed to be -Pitman’s withered force, but in 2008 their members had suddenly died one by one, in mysterious circumstances, and now the Pitbulls were a group in decline. It had almost become a cursed name in Quarlesbank and the northern suburbs. Prep believed that Pitman had been responsible for their disappearance - some small revenge for their arrogance. He dreaded to think what had happened to those missing Pitbulls.
He had arrived already? Prep had been deep in thought but the streets had seemed to shrink as he had approached the mansion and now he was already at the outer gates. They were locked. A locked gate in Malton was rarer than an unopened supply crate and Prep looked up to the windows of the mansion again. There was a shifting movement and lights of several colours constantly altered before him, shimmering eerie patterns onto the statues and hedges outside. Prep no longer carried wire cutters so he scaled the wall and leaped down into the Pitman gardens. He cursed as he felt a rip in his left shoulder and then a warm wetness that suggested he was bleeding. There had been jagged glass and barbed metal atop the old brick wall. But Prep’s focus was immediately upon the mansion as he heard a noise that he hadn’t heard in a long time, music.
Prep remembered a film from many years ago. Films often seemed like memories to him now and sometimes he had to think twice to remember whether it had been a real life experience of his or not but in this moment he remembered “The Shining” and the 1930’s style ball-room music that had been playing. Yes, it sounded just like that. Prep approached the nearest window with caution and a sudden shiver of terror.
He could see a shifting blackness but whoever, whatever, was inside it was further into the shadows. He couldn’t quite make out any one of the figures – not enough to establish whether they were humans; and bad dancers to boot, or whether they were zombies.
Prep strafed to the next window; a larger oblong pane of dirty glass and peeped through the very corner, into the room. It was clearly ball-room music echoing in a distorted warble and the things inside – yes, they were things – were shuffling as if in some sort of hypnotic dance. But Prep saw many more things in that same instant.
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