Three of the clock. Too long to wait.
And furthermore it would not be enough.
Cadaverus heard the thunk of the heavy man’s steps on the stairs. Like the tock of a mahogany clock. Counting down to his doom. The big fellow with the axe, coming for him. Coming to destroy his life’s work.
No! It would not be!
Two more stairs. Thunk. A third.
The house measured time. But gauges, dials, any measuring devices at all were made to be set.
Man and axe. Two steps closer.
Cadaverus pulled one lever, unlocking the mechanism, then another to override the machine’s complaints. He ran to the wheel at the end of the row of levers. And grasped the crank handle. It was meant only for minor adjustments, corrections for when cogs’ teeth wore down and gears slipped and time was lost. But Cadaverus Helskur turned the wheel onward. Winding and winding as though life depended upon it. Winding, winding, winding, as though adding on years with every second.
Helskur cranked the wheel round and round. Gears turned. Cogs ground their teeth.
The house struck Three. Four. Five.
The house struck Six. Seven.
Thunk. Thunk. The boots on the stairs struck two more.
The clock door creaked open once, twice, thrice. Released figures onto the landing.
Helskur cranked and cranked. Time and the house wound on and on. Eight. Nine. Ten. Eleven of the clock.
The final footstep. The big man crested the landing. He turned to examine the suspended symbol. Weighed his axe, appraising his chances of cutting the symbol down. Then turned to face the alcove and the metal clank and clank of Helskur’s frantic cranking.
Cadaverus Helskur met the man’s gaze. But completed the final turn of the wheel.
The house struck Twelve of the clock.
Mid-day. Noon had arrived at about Three.
It was possible Helskur had damaged the mechanism. It was a calculated risk. Damage could be repaired. Whereas, once subjected to the attentions of that rusting axe blade, he could not.
He shrank into his alcove, hurting his back as he pressed against the levers. The big man advanced a single slow step. And raised his axe.
Ten pained, starved voices travelled the landing. Ten at Twelve of the clock. Noon at Three. The house was broken.
The big bald axeman turned again to face the shambling army of undead. His eyes widened as he appeared to count their number. They came as a jostling, grasping pack. Cold, hungry beggars reaching to warm their hands and hearts on human flesh.
The big man braced himself for battle.
Ferocity and fear competed in his eyes.
He was large. There was no telling how many he might cut down before he was ultimately overpowered.
That was the calculated risk.
Except Helskur could not do the calculations. He could only hang back in shadow and watch.
Gears turned. Cogs ground their teeth.
Away along the main landing, a door creaked open. Club-feet dragged across floorboards, one pair scraping, encased in boots of rusted steel plate. A formidable addition to the mechanism. It had been an inspired notion, to suit the big man in armour.
Although he was no longer a man. Technically speaking.
The moans echoed around the hall and Cadaverus Helskur listened to the undead dragging their upright carcasses in their circuit of the landing.
In the end, the big man with the axe had felled four. The perfect number. The house was a very precise mechanism.
Helskur bent to his notes and scratched away with his pen. There were more modifications to be made, perfections to be perfected.
Tonight, he was determined to work long into the small hours of morning.
Sisily tread the boards, her stomach hollow with hunger. She delivered her monosyllabic line, over and over, drawling it out for all its worth.
It was the same show, mornings, matinees and evenings. The same part, the same line.
There were long waits in the wings. And she always followed Grievance out onto the stage. The house was their theatre, the shadows their audience.
Time marched on.
And twice daily the whole troupe appeared together.
Life after death, it turned out, was a lot like life. Just more of the same.