Hidden Icons: The Endless House

The sun casted Lady Liberty’s shadow on the New York Bay waters. A shadow violently disturbed by the churning trail of the departing party ship. Sam stood on the stern of the ship. He mused that, like the disturbed water, liberty was never clean. There were always things that disturbed one who experienced a level of freedom. He glanced at the person who was currently limiting his. The man had been nervously skulking around since their departure. Sam had initially thought nothing of it. Being alone at a wedding with well over 100 guests meant there were a lot of unfamiliar faces. This particular person was, like his hosts, in his early twenties. What made him stand out was his worn suit and the fact that he’d been circling around Sam for a while now. Which made Sam cautious.

As he turned to walk away the man approached him: “Are you Sam, the dragontouched?” the man asked. He continued on a softer tone: “The old woman, Wakoshi Yago, told me: At the feet of Freedom on the second day after the summer solstice you’ll find him whose name was heard by God. 

Sam blinked. It was uncanny how these people always managed to solve the cryptic puzzles given to them. Not that this one was very hard, but still. He hid his surprise. “Sorry, but I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He walked up the stairs to the upper deck. Ellie and Nick rented the entire ship, so he wasn’t sure how the man managed to enter the party without an invitation. Nevertheless, Sam considered the man’s words as he tried to hide between the other guests. He’d met Yago, as he called her, a couple of times now. And each time they did, Sam told her he was not her errant boy. He pushed through some of the guests, hoping to lose the man in the crowd. Unfortunately, the man was of a different mind as he rushed after Sam to the upper deck. “Stop!” he shouted. There was a determination in his voice. “You are the Dragontouched. I see your scars. You fit the description. And I will not leave until you help me!” 

Sam looked around. He didn’t want this conversation, but the man gained the attention of the entire deck. The band stopped playing as Nick, the groom, appeared from the crowd: “Hey buddy, relax,” said Nick. He looked at Sam. “Is this guy bothering you?” 
“Not at all Nick,” said Sam. “He’s just mistaken me for someone else.”
Nick eyed the stranger. “Wait. Who are you and how did you get on board? You don’t look like a staff member. And you’re certainly not on the guest list.”

Ellie stepped into the small circle that had formed around the trio. “Is everything ok here?” She asked.
“It’s good darling,” said Nick. “Just an uninvited guest.” He took a step towards the man, whose eyes darted from Ellie to Sam and Nick, and back to Ellie. Without hesitation, he stepped behind Ellie and grabbed her. He locked her arm behind her back so she couldn’t move.

“There is no misunderstanding,” hissed the man. I need to see the Lady of the House and only the Dragontouched can help me.” He pointed at Sam.
“You’re talking nonsense man,” said Nick. We cannot help you. He took another step forward. “Look, just let my wife go and we’ll let you off without pressing charges, ok?”
The man grabbed a knife from a nearby table and held it at Ellie’s throat. “I heard I can summon her with a Blood Sacrifice! But I reckon nobody wants that.”

The crowd grew restless. Sam sighed. He’d been silent, but there was no reason to let this escalate further. Part of his Deal was bringing people to Her. Even when he didn’t want to.

“Why do you think she wants to see you?” asked Sam. He put his champagne glass on a nearby table, knowing he had to be ready.
“I want to make a Deal.” 
Sam crossed his arms: “The Lady does not Barter with everyone.”
Nick looked surprised at his neighbour. “Sam? What are you doing?”
Sam put his hand on Nick’s shoulder and responded with a light, yet serious tone: “I’ll handle it Nick, just don’t do anything for now. Ok?”
Nick didn’t look convinced, but still took a step back. Sam was a police officer. They knew he had experience with these things. Sam’s focus shifted back to the man. “What’s your name?” 

“Will. It’s Will,” said the man. For the first time there was uncertainty. Sam instantly recognised the man only had one goal. He also knew, if everything went well, nobody would get hurt.

“Allright Will. I am willing to help you. But you have to help me here.”

A combination of hope and fear appeared in Will’s eyes. Will nodded slowly and Sam couldn’t suppress a smile. This man could be reasoned with. “First, I need to see your Tribute,” said Sam.
Will looked nervously at the people nearest to him. “It-it’s in my pocket.” 
“Very well,” said Sam. “Everybody step back. Give Will some space.” He looked at Ellie while the people shuffled backwards. “You ok?” asked Sam.

Ellie nodded.

“Good. Just keep breathing. It won’t take long. Everything will be fine as long as you do exactly as I say.” To her benefit Ellie visibly relaxed. When the circle of people was large enough, Will loosened his grip on the bride. 

The hand which initially held Ellie’s arm, went into his pocket from which he presented two golden coins. The sunlight gave them an ethereal glow. “I have two to make the Deal.”

“Fair enough,” said Sam. “Your tribute will at least grant you an audience.” He smiled at the bride. “Just a little longer Ellie.” He walked to the nearby open door. It was a solid wooden door with a bronze doorknob. The stairs behind it led to the wheelhouse, but it was perfect for what he intended. Sam closed the door and used his right index finger to draw an invisible symbol on the palm of his left hand. He then put his left hand on the doorknob and formed his right hand into a fist to knock on the door. Three knocks. Each with more force and weight behind it. 

Thock! The first knock sounded normal. Like any other knock on wood.

The second knock produced an unnatural echo which slowly faded away. 

The third knock reverberated with a deep otherworldly sound which vibrated through the entire ship: boom!

As the sound faded, Sam released the doorknob and stepped back. He kept his gaze on the door as he dared not to look at the crowd. The silence was unnerving. He still felt uncomfortable calling the Steward. Even when he was alone. And now, there was a crowd watching. 

The door slowly opened. A pale-looking figure appeared. The Master Steward wore his signature maroon coloured costume with black accents. His pale face gave him a ghostly visage at the entrance of the shadow-filled hallway which had replaced the entrance to the wheelhouse. The pale man spoke with a whisper, yet everybody clearly heard the words: “You wish to enter the Eternal House?” 

Sam bowed. “Master Steward, I have a Dealer for the Lady of the House. He has the required Tribute.” 

The pale figure nodded and stepped back into the darkness, leaving the door open.

Sam turned to Will: “Come. We’ve been granted entrance.” Will nodded, tightened his grip on Ellie again and shuffled towards the door.

Only those who have business with the Lady are allowed,” came the whisper from the darkness.

“You cannot take Ellie Will,” said Sam. “Release her and I promise I will guide you safely to the Lady.”

Will hesitated. “How do I know you’re not lying?”

“You don’t,” said Sam. “The only thing I can offer is that you step in front of the door and release Ellie before you enter. Know that you will not be able to enter the House if you take her into the hall. These are the rules of the House.” Will shuffled to the threshold of the shadows. Sam turned to the bride. “Ellie, if he releases you, slowly step towards Nick. Okay?”

Ellie nodded.

A now trembling Will stood in front of the doorway. He glanced over his shoulder into the shadows before he focussed back on Sam. Sam, who held his arm out to prevent Nick from stepping closer, waited patiently until Will released Ellie and disappeared into the shadows. A now freed Ellie rushed towards Nick and a relieved sigh went through the crowd. Their attention shifted to Sam. Sam, who stepped towards the nearby table and unbuttoned his dress shirt.

Nick put a hand on his arm “What is going on Sam?”
Sam smiled. “It’s ok. I’ll explain later.” He threw his jacket, dress shirt and phone on the table, knowing they were useless where he was going. “Just be careful Sam,” said Ellie.
“Thanks Ellie. I will,” said Sam. He took a deep breath and stepped into the dark hall. The door slowly closed behind him. 

It took a few seconds before Sam’s eyes adjusted to the hall. A dim light shone from the ceiling. It was enough to see the wooden floor; to see where you could safely walk. Sam knew from previous visits that the hall was much larger than it appeared. But it was House Rules that Dealers like Will only saw what they needed to see. 

The man stood nervously in front of the lobby door. He seemed more at peace than before. Perhaps because he’d entered the House. In Sam’s limited experience, entering seemed to be the biggest hurdle for Dealers. The pale Steward approached Sam.“Your attire, sir,” the man whispered as he held a long blue coat open. Sam slid his arms into the sleeves of the coat. As he buttoned up the garment, a flood of memories assaulted his mind. A few deep breaths returned his focus. He’d become used to the feeling of the memories of the House returning. The feeling of being whole again. Yet with that, leaving the House had become increasingly difficult. The more time he spent here, the more Sam seemed to lose when he left. After another couple of breaths Sam felt in control and stepped towards the lobby door. “If you please, Master Steward.” 
The pale man nodded and took a large key from his keychain. With a mechanical click the lock cracked open and the Steward silently opened the door. 

The lobby was a grand room filled with bright lights and large shadows. The central area was lit by an unseen light source in the glass ceiling. Marble floors and pillars marked the grand entrance, with a double staircase that arced around a large reception desk to the second floor and the balconies. On the left and right-hand sides of the lobby, under the balconies behind the pillars, were lesser lit seating areas.Shadowy figures roamed these seating areas. Sam did not know why these Shadows were here, but he knew they would not pay attention to them. They stepped into the lit centre, leaving the Steward at the door. The pale man whispered “Welcome to the Endless House,” before he stepped back in the darkness and closed the door. 


Will looked around, eyes wide. He took a moment to take in his surroundings before he looked at his guide, who now stood in front of him. “Listen very carefully,” said the man. “We are guests in this House. At all times you must follow the owners’ rules.” He held up a finger: “One: No eating or drinking of the food that you see. It is not meant for you. Two: most of the Residents cannot see or hear you. As you can only see moving shadows, so can they. They will avoid you as you should avoid them. And three: you will be tested along your way to the Master Chamber. If you stay true to your cause the Lady is more likely to help you. I will help you where I can since you released my friend when I asked you to, but I am limited as well.” 

Will nodded. He tried to speak, but only a whisper came from his throat. “I. I forgot your name.”
For a moment, he was stunned. A state of panic rose within him at the loss of his voice. Fortunately, the guide put his hand on Will’s shoulder. The panic ebbed away as quickly as it came. “Your first trial has begun,” said his guide. “Just keep calm; there is no need for you to speak.” He turned and pointed towards the stairs as the way to go before he continued. “Names are difficult here. So you are simply the Dealer and you may refer to me as…” 

“Brother Soul!” 

A heavy voice boomed through the lobby. A huge man stood atop the stairs, waving with a large stein. Beer spilled from it as the imposing figure rushed down the steps. He stopped only briefly at the bottom to down his drink in a gulp and throw the empty stein over his shoulder behind the reception desk.

Brother Soul bowed in respect: “Greetings, Great King. It has been a while.” The Great King straightened his golden hair and beard before he returned the gesture. “Too long, Brother Soul. You’ve come to see the Lady?”

“Yes,” said Brother Soul. “I have a Dealer.” The Great King arched over them and sniffed. “But you smell like beer, lad.”
Brother Soul smiled. “I was at a party when this came up.” 
“I see.” The Great King lowered his voice. “Let me take you to the Garden for a bit. The maidens will be thrilled to see you.”
“I respectfully decline, Great King. Another time.” The Great King nodded. “Very well. Then let me at least guide you up the stairs.” 
“That, I will not decline,” said Brother Soul.

Brother Soul motioned Will to follow. Will, intimidated by the large human that approached them out of the blue, had put some distance between himself and the duo. He quietly followed Brother Soul, as he now knew him. He’d only seen this man for the first time an hour ago, yet Will already noticed a difference in him. Like he was more himself, in a way. Will had learned to read people in order to know whom he was dealing with. Initially, reading Brother Soul proved difficult. Like something was missing. Something that was returned to the man when they entered the House. 

As Will silently trudged after the Great King and Brother Soul he felt relieved no one got hurt while getting here. He only wanted his Chloe back. Even if it took him all he owed. He paused for a second to look around. Brother Soul was right. He could only clearly see a few of the ghosts that roamed the Lobby. But they were a formless cloud of smoke. He continued after the others, up the stairs and into a nearby hallway. Before he turned the corner, Will smelled something familiar. He looked over his shoulder to find the source. This caused him to almost bump into a servant carrying a plate of cookies. She made a masterful dodging pirouette and bowed. Will blinked in surprised. 

“My apologies sir,” said the servant. “I did not see you.” 
Will replied with a hoarse smile: “That’s ok.”
“What’s that?” The servant looked puzzled. “I cannot hear you.”
Will shook his head and pointed at his throat. 
“Ah, my mistake,” said the servant. “Please take a cookie. Chocolate ginger. They literally came out of the oven and are just the right temperature.” She sniffed the cookies and let out a satisfied sigh. “Can you smell it? Wonderful.” 

Will nodded. They smelled really good. Like the ones Chloe made for him. The servant held the plate in front of him and with a friendly gesture encouraged him to take one. Will reached out. He could already taste the cookie. That perfectly balanced taste that Chloe knew he liked. He froze.
Chloe, who did not make these cookies. He withdrew his hand to his chest, declined silently and stepped back. The servant shrugged: “Your loss.” She bowed and walked around the corner. Will sighed in relief, remembering the first rule of the House. 


Brother Soul and the Great King waited in the open elevator at the end of the hallway. Will hurried over. He dared not look at them when he entered the cabin, fearful that they saw what happened. The door closed and the elevator silently ascended.

It stopped two floors up where the Great King stepped out. 

“Not even one tiny pint lad?” He held his thumb and index finger very close to another, hoping to convince Brother Soul who smiled. “Alas, I am still on business.”

“You’re always on business here lad.” 

“Blame the Lady. I work for her.”

The Great King smirked. “She’s got you running chores lad. Work is for the servants.”

“I made a deal, Great King. I will not be the one to violate its terms.”

The Great King looked dismissively at him and waved his hand. “Go on then. I’m thirsty.” 

As the elevator doors slowly closed, the Great King winked and his smile returned. He walked away shouting: “Ale! I want Ale.” 

The elevator ascended further and Brother Soul let out a deep sigh. “Finally.” 

Will looked at him. “Is it always like this?”

“Most times,” replied Brother Soul. “It depends if I’m with a Dealer or not.” 

Will pondered the situation as they silently waited until the elevator reached the top floor. He noted thirty floors was a lot for a building to be called a House. Then again, things stopped making sense ever since he stepped into the shadowy hallway. With a ping the elevator doors opened to another large hallway. This one had seemingly endless doors on both sides. In the distance the hallway ended with two ornate wooden doors. 

Brother Soul pointed at the doors. “The Master Chamber is there. Take these last steps to prepare yourself.”

Will swallowed as they silently walked through the hallway. With each step, his anxiousness grew. He was glad that the doors to the side were closed. His attention was drawn to the end of the hallway, where a bright light came from a room to their right hand side when a door opened. A thin looking figure emerged from the room. It was an elderly lady carrying old looking books. She approached them, she straightened her glasses and bowed. “Brother Soul. It’s good to see you again.”

“It’s good to see you as well, Librarian. How fares your research?”

The Librarian shifted her weight to one leg and leaned towards Brother Soul: “Might I have a word?”

Brother Soul nodded and looked at Will. “You may wait at the Master Chamber doors, Dealer. I won’t be long.”

Will carried on while the two started conversing in hushed tones. After a few steps, Will could not even hear them anymore. A buzzing sound also drowned out any other noise in the hall. Will peeked over his shoulder to confirm that the Librarian and Brother Soul were still there. As he could not determine the source of the sound, he continued his approach of the Master Chamber doors until he passed the opened door the Librarian emerged from. Curious, Will looked into the room. The light was overwhelming; yet he was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. Will stepped inside and the light dimmed. Or was it that his eyes adjusted to it? Will didn’t know. 

The room looked like a library. It contained a small desk in front of an enormous bookcase that went on into the distance. He could see a few metres until the light seemed to envelop the entire room again. And there was that buzzing sound, coming from the ceiling. It was less intrusive than before, yet still stronger than any other sound. From his position, Will could not read the titles but a thought dawned on him. He could easily take one of the small books with him. It would be something he could sell or use as extra leverage in the trade-off for Chloe. Old books like these fetched a nice price with the right party. He stepped closer to the bookcase and perused the shelves for a small book that would fit in his pocket. It didn’t take long before he spotted one with a dark leather binding. He picked it off the shelf. The Gold inlaid letters on the cover spelled Names of the lost Spirits, by T.R. Ewisper.

He quickly skimmed through the pages. The book was written in a sophisticated handwriting style that captivated Will. It was similar to Chloe’s writing style. Her skill to write the prettiest lettering was something that he envied and treasured about his daughter. 

Will decided he would show this to her before he sold it. It was proof he’d done everything for his little girl, even if she didn’t expect him to. He put the book in his pocket and took a step towards the exit. Brother Soul appeared in the doorway. The man raised an eyebrow: “if you are here to steal instead of making a deal I would suggest you make it less obvious.”

Will hesitated. He wasn’t sure if his guide had seen that he put the book in his pocket. There was only one way to find out: “I didn’t take anything”, he started. “I was drawn in by the light and found this amazing place.”

Brother Soul nodded. “The Library is amazing, I agree. It holds many mysteries as well. That is why the Librarian is in charge. She knows which books are safe for mortals such as ourselves.” 

Will thought that if he’d seen him take the book, Brother Soul was hiding it very well.

“Have you read anything from these books, Brother Soul?”

“Quite a few, actually. Time passes a bit differently here, so I’ve had time to study some subjects of my interest, yes.”

Will smiled. “That was what the Librarian wanted to talk about?”

Brother Soul nodded.

“But I think you are ready to continue?” asked Will.


Will stepped outside the room. “Let’s continue then.” 

“You know,” started Brother Soul with a sharp tone. “I can arrange that you are thrown out through the Backdoor.”

Will turned towards his guide, not sure where the conversation was leading to. “I beg your pardon?” 

“Do you know what the Endless House is, Dealer?”

When Will didn’t respond Brother Soul stepped closer. Will felt increasingly uncomfortable as the light in the hallway dimmed and with every step Brother Soul seemed to grow larger and larger until the man loomed over him.

“Do you know what the Endless House is?!” Brother Soul repeated. His voice rolled through the hallway.

Will nodded slowly. 

The man leaned closed and whispered, “Tell me.”

“It is a place between places,” Will blurted. “You are here and yet you are not. It is Limbo. The place before death.” 

“Very good,” whispered Brother Soul. His voice, even when quieted, echoed in Will’s head, drowning out all thoughts. “Now, return what you have taken.”

Will realised he’d been caught. He slowly passed Brother Soul as he stepped back into the Library, never losing eye contact with his guide while he approached the bookshelf. 

Brother Soul slowly straightened his back. The man looked like a giant in the dimly lit hallway. Will took the little book from his pocket while he searched for the correct shelf. When the book was back where it belonged, Will sighed and turned towards the doorway. Brother Soul was gone. In his place, the Librarian stood. She had a friendly smile on her face. 

“Thank you for returning my book dear. I hope he didn’t scare you too much.”

Will blinked. He’d turned his attention away for a mere second to return the book to the shelf. How could he be gone? He pinched himself. He was still alive. The golden coins still softly jingled in his pockets.

“I, I’m ok,” he said.

“Of course dear” the Librarian said. “As long as you take nothing, we have no reason to harm you.”

Will sighed in relief.

The Librarian took his arm and escorted him back to the hallway. She pointed at the doors. “He already went into the Masters Chamber, announcing your arrival.”


Sam closed the great wooden door of the Master Chamber. The large office was, as usual, sparsely illuminated by the flickering electric candle light. It highlighted the areas she found important. Which were the seating corner for her afternoon tea; Sam’s appointed alcove; and of course, her own desk. The dim light casted big shadows around her Baroque bureau, making it larger than it was in reality. She was writing in an old tome as Sam approached. She didn’t look up when she spoke with her high, sharp voice: “You took longer than usual.” Her demeanour demanded an answer and Sam was ready for it: “I was delayed.”

She put the pen on her desk and spied at him over her reading glasses. “You always have excuses.”

“I think the Great King is a fine excuse. You know how he is.”

Her red lips formed a sarcastic smile. “And you’re doing wonderful at ignoring his request for a few drinks.” 

“That man does not do a few drinks.” 

She poured herself a glass of water. “You can always drink with me if you don’t want to drink with him.”

Sam felt his blood temperature rising. She always made it sound so casual. 

“You are even worse. I…” Sam paused. 

He straightened himself and coughed, indicating a change in the subject. “I have a Dealer.”

She sipped her water while she gauged his emotions. Which proved difficult since Sam learned to control them. The Lady, annoyed that she didn’t receive the desired response, put her glass back on the table and reached for her pen.

“Does he have tribute?” she asked.

“Yes he has.”

She waved her hand: “Let him in.”

Sam nodded and walked back to the door. He found the surprised Dealer on the other side. The man’s hand was raised to indicate he was about to knock when the door opened. “She will see you now,” said Sam. He opened the door fully to let the man in. The Dealer nodded and entered the Chamber. 

The man made a few careful steps into the room before he halted. He looked surprised at his hostess who kept writing without acknowledging him. Sam assumed she looked younger than the Dealer expected. Most of the Dealers didn’t expect to find a woman looking like she was in her twenties. Even though Sam knew it was only the form she chose, he did not deny there was a certain beauty in it. As an attentive observer, he appreciated the careful balance of her raven hair and fiery red lips that contrasted her pale skin. He dismissed the thought with a sigh as he walked towards his desk tucked away in the alcove. Even though Sam did not see her true form on the day they first met, he knew she was not to be taken lightly. She was, like many other residents of the House, of otherworldly origin. Knowing this generated Sam’s profound interest in this place. An interest satiated from the moment she gifted his now familiar alcove. A little reading corner to study Library books on the House and its occupants. A gift that Sam accepted without hesitation. While he was aware of the danger of staying for long periods of time in the House, the Master Chamber was the safest place to be. Even when it was tiresome to be in her presence.

Sam sat in his chair and opened a letter while he glanced at the Dealer. The man took two golden coins from his pocket and put them on the edge of the desk. 

The Lady stopped writing and spied over her glasses. “You brought Tribute.”

“Yes,” said the Dealer. “As said by the old woman.” 

The Lady smiled greedily and took the coins. “She knows what I like,” she said and put the coins in a drawer. She picked up her pen and started writing again. The Dealer was stunned. After a minute the Lady looked up again. “You’re still here? Thank you. You may go.” 

She waved her hand dismissively.

“I, I came to Barter,” said the Dealer. The man seemed to have recovered and Sam recognised the determined look on the Dealer’s face. He was not going to leave until he got what he wanted.

“You Bartered entrance into my House,” said the Lady. “What more do you want?” 

Sam knew she was interested, even when she hid it well. A tactic she applied frequently to drive her price. A tactic which often proved successful.

“I want my daughter back,” said the man.

Sam scanned his letter before he put it back into the envelope. This could wait. He put the envelope in a drawer and turned his chair towards the others, interested in the Lady’s response. She gave the Dealer her full attention now: “I don’t have her, so I cannot give her back.”

“But you must help me,” said the Dealer. “I, I can pay more if you want.” The man put his two remaining coins on the desk.

The Lady leaned back in her chair. “You want to make a deal? Let’s Barter.” 

The Dealer visibly relaxed when she spoke the words. 

“I will give you these coins,” said the man. “And you already have two. That should be enough to..”

“No,” she interrupted him. “The first two were for safe passage through the House and for not stealing that book.”

The man’s cheeks flared but he remained quiet. 

“Regardless, state what you want. I can determine how much I will charge you on top of the coins.”

“I want my daughter.” 

The Lady sighed: “yes, you already mentioned that. Explain the situation.”

“My daughter, Chloe, is being held hostage. By a businessman named Jackson. He demanded that I bring him a painting. One that I sold in a bidding to his competitor Laslow nine months ago.”

“What’s so special about this painting?” asked Sam.

“Not much. It’s just a portrait of a young lady. The only thing that survived the house fire of a failed painter. It’s a hauntingly beautiful piece and these two men wanted it badly. On the day of the auction the Laslows held my family hostage to start the auction early. They also managed to delay Jackson, as he came in much later.”

The Lady glanced at Sam. “I recognise their names,” said Sam. “No upstanding citizens, but no proven underworld connections either.” 

She shifted her attention back to the Dealer. “So this Jackson pulls the same trick to incentivise you to retrieve the painting from Laslow?” 

The Dealer nodded. “If I don’t get the painting by next week they will kill Chloe. I don’t have the means to steal or buy the painting. And no one can relate the theft to me or Jackson.”

The Lady put her glasses on her desk. “Where is that painting now?”

“In Laslow’s office,” said the Dealer. I’ve been there once to deliver it. And I know the doorman. It hasn’t left the building.”

The Lady looked towards the alcove. “I know the place,” said Sam. “Same with Jackson’s.”

She nodded and stood up to walk towards a lectern in the corner. A nearby light brightened as she approached. She took a book from one of the cabinets and opened it on the lectern to write a few lines on a blank page. “I have prepared your deal,” she said. “For two golden coins and ten years I can arrange the thing you ask.”

“Ten years? Ten years of what?”

“Ten years of your life, Dealer. One of the few things you can Barter with.”

“Wait, no. There must be something else I can give you. Money or art, or..”

She raised her hand to silence him. “I am the Lady of the Endless House. I Barter in accordance with the laws of the House. But if you want, I can change the payment.” She paused. When the Dealer did not reply she continued: “Another payment can be your daughter. She may serve me from her eighteenth birthday until she dies.”

The Dealer looked shocked. Sam knew she wasn’t joking. A young soul was very useful for the House. But it was a far greater payment than the 10 years she initially asked. Something that the Dealer seemed to recognise, even when he didn’t know the full implications of his Deal. “I’ll take your offer,” said the man. “Ten years of my life.”

The Lady gave the Dealer a thin smile, wrote the payment down and held out her golden pen. “Sign your name.”

Sam stood up from his chair and silently made his way to one of the Chamber side doors while the Dealer approached the lectern. He fully understood the Dealer’s predicament and why he was desperate to Barter. But even if he wanted to, Sam could not intervene. Something she had cleverly negotiated with him after their first meeting. He looked at the Dealer who read the text on the page before he signed: 

‘The subject of this Barter, known henceforth as the Dealer, has agreed to the following: His daughter shall be returned to him and the desired painting will be handed over to the requested party. The payment to the House shall be 2 Golden Coins and 10 years of the Dealer’s life.’

“How will I know when it is done?” asked the man when he signed.

“You will know,” said the Lady. “Just go home and do your normal work. We will arrange the rest.”

Unexpectedly, the Dealer bowed. “Thank you, Lady of the House.”

She didn’t respond to his gesture. Instead, she walked towards Sam, who opened the side door and motioned the Dealer over towards him. “We’ll take a shortcut back,” said Sam. To the Dealer’s obvious surprise the door opened to the Lobby. A mixture of anger and frustration was visible on his face. An emotion Sam recognised from previous Dealers he guided to her. “Rules of the House,” said Sam. “Only works when you sign.”

Sam followed the Dealer and the Lady into the Lobby. They silently escorted the man back to the Lobby door. The Master Steward already waited for them at the opened door. They all stepped into the dark hall. The pale man looked at Sam after he closed the Lobby door. “Please let him out in a familiar place,” said Sam.

The Steward nodded and opened the Front Door to a quiet apartment. Both Sam and the Lady watched silently as the Dealer stepped into his home, the door closed and the Deal was finalised. 

Sam turned to the Lady. “Really, his daughter?”

She shrugged. “I’ve seen his future. He will marry the daughter of the criminal Jackson and have 15 years with her. After that, I’ll take my payment.” She showed a greedy grin. “More deals are coming from this singular one.” She wetted her lips. “I might even get that painting.”

Sam shook his head and stepped towards the Front Door. A thought occurred and he turned back to face her. “And is that how you decide on payment? How many deals can come from a singular one?”

“Something like that,” she mused. 

“And how many deals were made so you could have me?” he blurted out. She stepped closer. Her heels clicked on the marble floor. “O Samuel. No deals were made with me. I made a deal with you.” She inched forward, her face now very close and the scent of lavender tickled Sam’s nose. Sam managed to keep a straight face, even with her piercing amber eyes at nose-length. Her lips formed a cheeky smile: “I’ll see you at the Midnight Auction.”

She kissed him on the cheek, turned and immediately walked back into the Lobby. Her confident stride emphasised her victorious mood. “Champagne!” she shouted towards a passing servant. The Lobby door closed silently and Sam exhaled. He hadn’t forgotten about their appointment. It was just something that he tried to not think about. He let out a frustrated grunt as he began to unbutton his coat, relieved he could forget why this woman vexed him so greatly.

The Master Steward stepped forward from the deep shadows of the hall to take Sam’s coat. “Back to the boat, sir?” 

“Yes, please. I need to check on my friends.” He handed the Master Steward his coat before he unlocked the Front Door again. 

“Very good sir. Until next time.”

The door swung open and Sam stepped into the sunlight. The events of the House slowly faded from his mind, leaving him with the now familiar sensation of things forgotten.