The great man's home lay within thick woods, beyond a churning
river crossed only by a bridge that looked like it had been falling
apart for many years. The woods were dark and loamy and took the
sound of our transport like a wolf taking a rabbit. The leaves passed
above us in patterns of deep green shot through with glints of old
light. There was the smell of something rich yet suspect in the
The house rose out of the forest like a cathedral out of a city: unmistakable. It had an antique feel. Two levels, although the second story was gutted and unusable to us, with an off-white color stained with the amber and green dustings of pollen and pine needles. A steeple of a roof that contained nothing but rotted timbers, descending to a screened-in porch, beyond which (we knew from our maps) lay the horseshoe construction of the interior passageways. The house might have been a hundred years old. It might have been two hundred years old. It might have always been there.
Our tread on the gravel driveway startled me; it was the first true sound I’d heard for many miles.
The screen door was broken—someone had slashed through it, and the two pieces had curled back. We walked onto the porch and found there beside two large wicker chairs like decaying thrones the mummified remains of two animals the size of dogs but with skulls more like apes. They looked as if they’d fallen asleep attempting to embrace. They looked, in the way their paws had crossed, as if they had been attempting to cross the divide between animal and human.
My partner looked at them with revulsion.
“Corruption,” she said.
“Peace,” I said.
In answer she took out her keys and moved toward the door that led into the house.
The door had been hacked at with some kind of axe or other crude weapon. The gouges and cuts had turned black against the weathered white. The knob dangled from the door as if it belonged somewhere else.
“Nothing did that,” I said. “Nothing that lives here now. Remember that.”
I love the metaphors and similes that VanderMeer uses throughout this story as they encompass the full range of those that the reader might nod their heads knowingly to those that might cause them to re-read it four or five times, trying to envision what it is Jeff is suggesting.
As the two characters approach these doors, VanderMeer skillfully foreshadows the rest of their passage with the comments that the "screen door was broken" and "door had been hacked at with some kindof axe or other crude weapon." And I don't know if this was intentional, but believe it may have been, the reference to the female where she "took out her keys and moved toward the door that led into the house." In between these other references, it was lost on me the first time, which allowed for a scene near the end of the story to really surprise me. A more astute reader would have caught this the first time. I've re-read the ending a few times wondering how my reaction might have differed had I noticed that line the first time, but it (the ending) hit me so hard the first time around, I'm finding it hard to see how I might have found it different.