My Purpose in the House by Shaun van Rensburg


The House is a place of darkness and light—a place where I am alone and discover many great things.

There is a statue in the west wing that watches me as I pass. I have attempted to converse, but it only stares and says nothing. Likewise, the portrait that is hung above the fireplace in the room under the stairs does not speak but dances when I ask it to. I have deduced that it understands me, yet I know not by what means—it cannot speak. Of that I am certain.

When I first entered the House, I knew my name. Now, I am not so sure.

I sometimes see the gardens from a window, but they are never the same as they were the day before. Whether this is the nature of the place within or the place without, I cannot venture to say. I must, however, continue to wander the halls of the House for there is no one present to guide me—no one to assist in the discovery of its rooms.

It had been a place of necessity when I entered, and none required the place more than myself. A melancholic man, heartbroken and misfitting in the world beyond, incapable of understanding the many aspects of the species to which I belong.

Humans are not as easily understood as the House, and the House is not easily understood at all.

I had a wonderful life, raised a decent man. I hid my pain well from the eyes of others, but melancholy was a friend dear to my heart—a constant companion in a world where I felt I never fully belonged. And so, the House had come for me, and I only turned back once to watch the past retreat.

Farewell I did not say, not to any soul—nor would anyone have cared much at all.

In the House, there is not a singular library but many. And many books in many places. Books are to be found on every staircase, in every corner of every room. The libraries present themselves differently: There are those where it rains from the ceiling and those where you are aware that you are not alone, even though the House is empty. Many times, I have found a book at the base of a tree only to have it crawl away as I attempted to take it up.

I wonder what might happen should I ever find the courage to return to the place that I have come from. But also, I wonder if I might ever be permitted that freedom.

I do not care either way.

The House is present when my mind is not, and a mind in the House is never present.

The noises come and go, as do certain creatures. They are as I am: alone. I have seen many of them, and they have seen me in turn.

There had once been a faun that walked down a hall. We met but said nothing and continued on our path. Another time, I was faced with a bull—large in stature and angry in countenance—but the sound of its hooves upon the floor faded as quickly as they had come, and I thought of it no more.

To entertain myself, I take up a pen from a desk in a room where the books are all finely bound and empty of contents. I have spoken of my attempting to converse with the statue in the west wing: This was that attempt, with a book and pen ready to capture what it had to say.

It was Aphrodite, kneeling, draped in cloth of marble. The statue watched me approach, and I stood before it, asking what it had seen before my arrival.

“I have seen nothing.”

I wrote it down.

“I have seen everything.”

I wrote it down.

“I have always lived in the House.”

I wrote it down, even though the statue had said nothing.

When I leave the statue, I go and ask the portrait to dance. It does. It is the image of a man with long hair and buckled shoes, and he seems to enjoy the dance that he performs. He places his hands on his hips then prances about, and I clap to the rhythm that I see. I do not know if he can hear me or if he reads my lips, but I do not mind; the clapping and laughter serve their purpose.

Music is seldom heard in the House, but when it is present, it is deeply felt by those who hear it. Often it is a sad tune, and I cannot do much but sit and listen and cry. I cry because it reminds me of the place that I came from—where my heart and head were never acquainted, where I knew that I would die alone. The faun gave me a handkerchief once when I was in such a state, but I did not use it and left it on the ground for him to find when he returned.

Only once during my time there did I hear the sound of voices from a nearby room. When it happened, I hid myself behind a tree that had sprung from one of the many cracks in the wooden floors. I ventured to look, but there was no one inside the space.

When I realized my folly, I was relieved but also saddened. Perhaps it may have been a test presented to me by the House, and I felt a failure, but I was elevated in spirits when I thought what success might have entailed.

In the place from before, the question of purpose often appeared in my mind. Never did I have one there, but in the House, all things have a purpose:

It is the purpose of the statue to watch, the purpose of the portrait to dance, and the faun to walk, the bull to wander, and I to discover. It simply is, and there is no argument.

I write of the discoveries in my book, and my book is often full and then empty again. I cannot ever comprehend how it got full, nor how it was emptied. I never stop filling it, though, because the filling brings me joy. Filling it is my purpose in the House.

And that is enough.

SHAUN VAN RENSBURG is currently studying creative writing at the University of South Africa. He has a strong interest in the fantastic and feels that monsters are usually misunderstood. He has been published in the horror anthology Bloody Parchment: Remains of an Old World and in the seventh volume of Curiosities by Gallery of Curiosities.

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