The house itself seemed as old as time, carved straight out of shadows rather than good honest bricks and mortar. It sat and brooded in its grounds, acres of trees and neatly trimmed grass, the occasional flower-bed breaking up the stark lines. The village lay miles down below it, protected by the valley walls, and the moon watched down from on high.
The only thing even vaguely near it was the caretaker’s cottage, and that sat down by the lane to the village, lit warmly from within, hidden behind the trees. The only thing that lit the house was the light of the pale moon above. It made it look sick and insubstantial.
The trees huddled close by it at either side – oaks, willows, large bushes – yet none managed to bring themselves to touch the earth red bricks. Only a braver patch of ivy had managed to claim a hold, clinging desperately to the wall by the porch, fighting to urge to let go, to escape and never be troubled by the house’s dark grasp again. Even the grass couldn’t bring itself near to the house’s feet, leaving a moat of bare earth running all round the roots.
Three chimneys broke the immaculate tiled roof, standing firm and proud, but no smoke issued from any of them. A multitude of close-grouped, arch-framed windows faced out, but no light burned from within them. The house looked dead, and empty.
But, perched on the watch tower rising out of the centre of the house, sat a single black raven. Its jet eyes rolled slowly over the grounds, taking in the ornamental water garden, the small family crypt, the oaks standing guard at the edge of the grounds, even the diffuse glow of the village down below, settling in for another long winter night. With barely a turn of the head, it took all of that in, impassive. Then, in a sudden burst of feathers, it threw wide its wings and let out a short croaking laugh, before soaring away into the night.
As if this was the signal it had been waiting for, the rain started.