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At the north face of the Loud House, separated by a few yards of rough shingle, lay the Grey Sea. It stretched ahead of them, a depressing mass of dirty waves, towards a bleak line of horizon. There was nothing to break the gloomy featureless vista, apart from the odd recurring flash of light to show that the Skirra Fludd lighthouse was near. The silence was so intense that even the sea seemed to make little impact when it crashed on the shore.
On the south side of the inner courtyard the main entrance to the Loud House gaped open, revealing within a broad flight of stone steps leading up to the next floor. The steps were covered in dust and rubble, and the stone walls were painted in a particularly virulent shade of bottle green.
This excruciating colour scheme continued all up the walls and included the room at the top. Broken urns lay scattered amongst the dust and cobwebs. What furniture there was seemed as though someone had used it for target practice, as holes gaped in the backs of chairs and settles. Two large, ornate mirrors adorned the room at either end. Both were smashed.
"The whole place is so angry", said Kieran.
"No, that's just the colour scheme", Joby joked, grimly "Now we know why it's called the Loud House!"
"Patsy's right", said Adam "There's so much anger here. The entire building is suffused with it".
"That green", said Angel "That was used as a punishment when I was growing up in the camp. They used to shut you in a room with green walls just like this. It was horrible. No one ever risked it a second time".
"And a lot of superstitious people believe green is an unlucky colour", Adam remarked.
"Not if you're Irish", said Kieran, with a brightness he didn't really feel "C'mon, let's have a look at the rest of it".
It was a crazy place, built like a Chinese puzzle. Doors opened onto blank walls, stairs ran up and then stopped suddenly in the middle of a flight, some rooms were windowless, others were open to the elements, low, narrow corridors cut through the thick stone walls as though a giant mouse had nibbled its way through them. It was a house built entirely without logic.
They returned down a precarious flight of stairs, which coiled its way steeply round a central atrium without benefit of a handrail or barrier. A round skylight set far up in the ceiling let through a distant, watery blur of light.
"What kind of maniac designed this place?" asked Joby.
"No one maniac did", said Adam "It's all been added a bit at a time, at a whim. Like those claustrophobic corridors for example. Someone just knocked those through as a kind of shortcut".
"Another broken mirror", said Kieran, noticing a heap of shattered glass at the bottom of the stairs "That's the only consistent thing about this place, the broken mirrors".
There was nowhere that even remotely looked like a kitchen, so they camped in the bottle-green room, and ate the last of the fruit. Adam asked if Angel minded the colour scheme.
"I'm alright as long as I'm with you lot. It's when you're alone it creeps in on you", the boy replied.
Kieran lit candles purloined from the prison, and stuck one on the mantelpiece.
"What's the plan then?" he asked.
"We stay here tonight", said Adam "And in the morning, we try and find some way of getting to the lighthouse".
"It's the lunar eclipse tonight", Kieran went on "Whatever that may mean".
"It's gonna be a bit darker than normal", said Joby, bluntly.
"God alone knows what any of it means", Kieran laughed "I wonder what really did happen to everyone at the prison, and why only we were spared. The more I think about it the more insane it all is. How can everyone else just disappear into thin air, and leave not a trace of what happened?"
"Because in some places people do just disappear", said Angel.
"Whole groups of people? At once?"
"In some places", the boy continued, as though reciting from memory "Some places are like that. This place is like that. The Governor once told me that there are some places where time loses all its boundaries. All paths of time meet there, and people just disappear. That's the only thing he told me about the Loud House, that time converges here".
"Yes, it's called a time-cusp", said Adam, as though talking to a simple child "The prison was on one, this one here may be stronger, and at the lighthouse even stronger still. We're getting closer to home each time".
"I once heard acute paranoia described as being when you think the chair in the corner is as menacing as a giant spider", said Kieran, softly "That's how I feel here. Everything, even those candles and the fragments of mirror, feels alive. The whole place is watching, or is it just paranoia?"
"If it is it's catching", said Joby "And Angel's the spreader. Sit down will you! I feel like I've got me own personal copper guarding me".
Angel was pacing the room, glancing at the ceiling every so often.
"I can't settle", he said "Not here. It's harder to hit a moving target. Must keep moving".
The Moon disappeared. Out at sea the lighthouse went dark. Angel stopped his restless pacing, and sank to the floor in utter weariness. The eclipse had begun.
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