Ambrose walked down what should have been a wide enough road with buildings. The millers’ place. The apothecary. The one restaurant. The blacksmith. A church.
He shivered and it wasn’t from the cold.
The road was now a dirt trail.
Nature engulfed and ruptured the buildings into non-existence.
Time obliterated all of the landmarks he knew.
I can’t do this.
I don’t want to see it.
I don’t want to see any more of this.
He rubbed his arms, but that didn’t stop his shivering.
I should leave.
I should give up.
My home is gone. I know it is. Why bother continuing with this fool’s quest?
I just can’t.
Ambrose turned to head back to the station, but he couldn’t move.
Something was calling to him in unspoken words and pulling at him without fingers or hands.
He glanced back.
There was nothing in the darkness, but trees and the bare sketch of a trail.
The moon broke through the clouds and for a moment, only a moment, Ambrose saw the town as it used to be.
He ran towards the memory of lamplighters, horses and carriages, and of being young.
The moment passed before he was half-way through the town. He was once again in a forest and the buildings were gone.
This time, however, he didn’t stop running.
I need to go home.
No matter what it may look like now, I need to go home.
As he ran, Ambrose remembered the things he’d forgotten. The smell of burning oil. The voice of his best friend, Claude, teaching him how to swear in French. The shuffled, ruffled sound of his mother’s dress as she walked beside him. Their cook, Emily, yelling at him to stop touching things in her kitchen.
The brilliant flash of his mother’s wedding ring.
Each memory fragment stung and hurt him, bringing tears to his eyes. But they also spurred him on.
He ran after the memories all the way to where his home was supposed to be.
It wasn’t there.
He stood still.”No. I didn’t come all of this way for nothing. It’s here. It has to be here.” He rushed forward and clawed through the snowdrifts, desperate to find something, anything.
He found snow. Branches. Dirt. Half-inch twigs. And no trace of his home.
Ambrose bowed his head. Why did I come? I could have stayed with Barbara. I could have. I could have…
He covered his face with his dirty hands.
And he remembered:
Claude looked at him with fear. “How could you?” That fear turned into panic as Ambrose attacked him.
“You’re with them. You want me locked up. I will not be locked up!”
“Ambrose! Stop! It’s me! It’s…”
Claude’s blood stained Ambrose’s claws. “I will not be locked up by anyone!”
His panicked expression became empty and blank.
But Ambrose wasn’t done.
Emily shot him with her rifle over and over and over.
Her blood melded with Claude’s on Ambrose’s skin and clothes.
And he still wasn’t done. “I will not be locked up. I will protect myself.”
And so he did. Over and over.
Until they were all dead.
Guilt grabbed him and crushed him, pulling a broken moan out of him.
He doubled over and cried.
He raised his head.
His pupils widened.
The mansion stood before him in golden candle-lit glory.
Ambrose waited for it to fade out, but it didn’t.
A ball of prismatic light hovered near the front door. As if it were waiting for him.
He stood. “Mother?”
It floated through the front door.
The door swung open on well-oiled hinges.
He ran inside.