As I walked up the gravel driveway to the house, I had some time to look around. The oak trees lining the drive were huge, craggy, and ancient. They were draped in Spanish moss, the long gray tendrils hanging down from outstretched branches like thick spiderwebs, in some places so long that they touched the ground. It gave the trees a majestic grace, but also looked a little creepy. Like they should be a graveyard somewhere. This late in the fall, most of the leaves were gone, littering the ground. They had not been raked, even from the gravel driveway, and in some places they covered it so thickly it was hard to see gravel at all.
Although the trees looked mostly untrimmed, none of the branches that hung over the driveway drooped lower than twelve or fifteen feet. Plenty of clearance for a car, or even a UPS truck to make it up the driveway without a problem.
Between the thick tree trunks, the hedgerow that obscured the front of the house continued, lining the driveway all the way to the house. The bushes must have been some kind of evergreen, because they were still thick and green, completely blocking any sight of what might be beyond the driveway in the…yard? It seemed a little odd to refer to this as a front yard. It was easily big enough to be a city park. Maybe I should call it an estate? And that sounded pretentious as all hell.
The house looked as old as the trees. It was big, but I had seen bigger. I live in DC, after all. It was two stories, although there might be a basement, except for one corner where there was an honest-to-god tower that was a solid three stories. It was at least twenty feet across, round, and had a tall pointy roof topped some kind of decoration. In fact, the whole roof was covered in decorative spires and points, with all sorts of strange decorations. The roof itself was a dark gray, like slate. I was not sure if the roof itself was just slate-colored shingles, or actual slate, but I would not have been surprised by either.
It looked like the house might have been white once, but the paint had faded to a light gray, stained darker in streaks where it looked like mildew had started to form. As I got closer, I notices that the paint was flaking off in places.
The house itself looked like it was made of wood. At least, the outside of it was, wood siding that seemed to be what the modern vinyl siding on all the new McMansions was trying to imitate. There was a huge overhang in front of the door. A few years ago I would have called it a fancy carport, but I had heard something like it called a porte-cochere, somewhere to park your car, or carriage, I suppose, to get out without getting rained on. It was beautiful, with two fluted columns in the front, and scroll work all along the roof edge. And it definitely made the house look more majestic. Although the paint was flaking there too, and it was stained the same gray as the rest of the house.
There were windows everywhere, beautiful old windows with arched tops, large sills, and many panes. They were all dirty, which given the state of the rest of the house I expected, But I could see curtains inside through them. At least the house was furnished that much.
The fountain was dry, which did not surprise me. The statue in the middle did. It was simple, a plain pipe rising up from the round basin, which clearly was supposed to hold water but was currently bone dry. The pipe rose straight up to what looked almost like a really big shower head. And standing under the shower head, as though actually taking a shower, was the statue of a naked woman. She was just standing, with her arms at her sides and her shoulders slumped, her head bowed so that her long, straight hair hung down, completely covering her face.
The statue was marble, and impressively realistic. That being said, it was odd. Most statues I had seen were somewhat idealized. After all, if someone was going to put all the time into carving a statue, it made sense for them to make something beautiful. Or at least interesting. There was none of that here. The statue was not standing in an interesting pose. It was not even of a very attractive woman. She was pretty enough, but not like a model. It was very, very detailed, but the artist had not bothered to carve the face, instead carving the hair covering it.
I gave a mental shrug. It was an interesting concept, a statue of someone in the shower. Interesting, but weird.
There was a scratchy caw, and I glanced up at the roof of the porte-cochere. There was a huge crow, sitting on a little ornament on the roof over the porte-cochere, looking down at me. I had no real way of telling this crow from any other, but I was pretty sure it was the same one that had been following me around for the last day or two.
The same one that had saved my life last night.
I raised an eyebrow at it, and said “Hey, thanks for last night.”
I shivered. This was getting a little too weird. There was no way it had actually cawed a “you’re welcome”. Right? No, I must just still be feeling a little loopy from the kick to my head last night. After all, here I was saying “thanks” to a crow.
I shook my head, and walked under the porte-cochere and up to the front door. It was a normal sized, single door, but set in such a huge house it looked dwarfed. It was made of some kind of hardwood, all one piece, with no windows, and no decoration except for a life-sized embossed carving of a single crow in flight.
*Okay, seriously, what is with my life and crows recently?
There was a simple brass doorknob with and old fashioned keyhole. I glanced at it, and then at the key to the gate that Johnson had given me. It looked like it would work. I slid the key in, and turned. There was a clicking noise.
I was moving my hand to the doorknob when the door opened by itself, rather suddenly, and I jumped.
There was a young man standing just inside the door, holding it open and smiling at me.