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The Putting to Rest of an Old Resident

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From the Journal of Sarah Raphael

2 June 2019

I went to the House again today, this time with Sorensen, at his request. He said he had finished “taking care of” Valentine Ketterley’s body, and he wanted me to have a look at his arrangements. I didn’t mention that it was very far outside a policeman’s typical moral principles to view where a missing man’s body has been hidden without reporting its location immediately. Sorensen would have understood if I said that—he always tries to understand my principles, though he struggles the same way he struggles to understand anything in this world—but it would have hurt his feelings, so I didn’t mention it.

Sorensen’s motivations were benign. Far from hiding Ketterley’s body, he wants to properly honor it. “The Other and I knew each other very well,” he told me, explaining his predicament, “but I can’t remember Dr. Ketterley well at all. You saw both sides of him, if briefly, during your investigation. Maybe you can tell me if my arrangements would be to his satisfaction. I tried my best to honor him as the House wishes to honor all its residents, but he was a resident of two worlds, after all.”

I strain at calling Ketterley a “resident” of the House at all, or indeed at calling anyone a resident there except Sorensen, as even the dead he usually honors there probably lived there only briefly and died in confusion and terror. But Sorensen for years believed Ketterley was as stuck in the House as he (or rather, he believed only he and Ketterley existed, a belief which apparently didn’t bother him much) and so he sees Ketterley as belonging to the House in a deeper way than I can believe Ketterley really did, in life. I’ve read through Ketterley’s notes on the House as part of the investigation of his “disappearance” and he very much saw the House as a strange phenomenon and a means to an end. The House’s world was as “other” to him as Ketterley was “other” to Sorensen. But again, it’s no use talking to Sorensen about this. And maybe I’m wrong. Sorensen says, after all, that he knew The Other very well, and I barely saw Ketterley in his persona of The Other—and when I did, he was trying to kill me.

At any rate, I agreed to accompany Sorensen to see where he had laid Ketterley’s body to rest.

Sorensen had removed the flesh from Ketterley’s bones so cleanly as to cause a career criminal envy. This, he explained to me, was accomplished by leaving these bones in a half-Drowned Hall, inside a closely woven net, so that birds and fish could eat at it but not remove the bones themselves, and so the tides, too, could grind away at the body.  

“The House provides,” he told me, “for most practical endeavors, with a little imagination.” He’s said this before, but it’s usually in regards to less macabre endeavors, though often just as depressing. This is a man who lived six years mostly on fish and clams and lobsters and seaweed. He never even tried to trap a bird or take their eggs because he believes them to be—honestly I’m not sure. Sacred to the House? Friendly with him personally? Anyway, he has a lot more respect for the birds as fellow House residents than he does for the fish, which he will cheerfully gut without a single qualm.

After waiting six months for Ketterley’s body to be reduced to clean white bone, Sorensen then took the bones out of the net and brought them to what he calls the Alcove, where thirteen other bodies are secreted. This is where he brought me today, to see how he has laid out Ketterley’s bones and ask if there is any other arrangement I might suggest.

It was eerie, I must admit, and this after I’ve traveled to the House countless times and had countless conversations with Piranesi (Sorensen—but he is very Piranesi sometimes, and will even refer to himself as that in the past tense) revealing his often-disturbing ideas on life, death, and the nature of our two realities. Ketterley’s bones were hardly distinguishable from the other skeletons, except that they were newer and he was taller than some. For Sorensen, maybe this was part of the point. But since he asked my opinion, I suggested, “You might want to add a gravestone with his name on it, like in a cemetery. So people know which one is him.”

“An excellent idea,” Sorensen said. “I had thought at first that none of the customs of cemeteries were necessary—I already bring offerings, these days even flowers, to the dead, and there’s no soil to bury him in. But a gravestone is a very good idea. I’ll have to decide where to take the marble from. Of course there are many wrecked Halls—perhaps I can take some from a collapsed ceiling. If it were for myself, I might dredge some out of one of the Drowned Halls in remembrance of how the fish and seaweed there kept me nourished for such a long time and continues to provide me with great abundance. But since the Other never liked those Halls much in life, and indeed perished by a cleansing Flood, he would doubtless prefer some marble from one of the Halls of the Sky.”

Had I told Sorensen to commission a gravestone from a professional back in the ordinary world, he would have frowned and considered, perhaps for a long time, the propriety of this notion, of introducing a permanent outside element in such an important plan of his. I suggested instead that he do some research before attempting to actually construct a gravestone, as he hasn’t tried to shape the marble of the House before, and sculpting, while it has been around since the dawn of humanity, is not such a simple thing without the proper tools, and I’m sure I can convince Sorensen to at least purchase the proper tools at some hardware store. (Or would you only be able to get them at an arts store, or from some specialized seller? I don’t know. Not my area.)

I also didn’t volunteer the idea of returning Ketterley’s body to his family. For one thing, I don’t want to see Sorensen arrested for murder when his possession of Ketterley’s body is revealed; for another, it’s oddly fitting that Sorensen have custody over the remains of his captor. And Sorensen has a deep love and respect for Ketterley despite the awful things that Ketterley did to him, a reverence that at least rivals what any of his friends or family in the normal world felt for him.

After we’d discussed these arrangements, Sorensen offered all the bones some flowers from the normal world and some nice shells and bits of coral from the House. He told them about what he’d been up to lately. Spoke to Ketterley too, and the strange thing is that although from Sorensen’s point of view they were scientific colleagues, almost coworkers, he spoke the least about his research with Ketterley—and although he met Ketterley in the outside world first, unlike the others, he did not mention what he had been doing out there. Instead he spoke tenderly of how when he retrieved Ketterley’s bones, the birds had all gathered to watch but none of them had bothered him although he was taking from them what had been a former food source. This to him is evidence that the birds have accepted Ketterley fully as a comrade in the House, and that the House will bless and keep him as it has blessed and protected Sorensen, despite Ketterley’s tumultuous relationship with the House in the past.

After this, Sorensen and I headed back.

So now I’ve written another whole journal entry only about the House, even though I swore when I started this journal I’d write about normal things. I felt kind of embarrassed starting it, to be honest, and a little paranoid, as if starting a journal would, along with visiting the House, turn me into a second Piranesi. (And it was on Sorensen’s advice I started the journal, him having recommended it as a method of keeping one’s thoughts in order, especially in times of change and confusion. Well, I guess starting a journal on a friend’s recommendation isn’t that unusual.) Anyway, I’ve decided not to worry about it now. If you think about it, keeping a journal was really what saved Piranesi-Sorensen in the end, because although I reminded him of the name “Sorensen”, it was in his own thoroughly indexed journal that he read the details of his past.

That said, there’s no way I’m indexing this. It’s just a diary. That’s all. Sorensen claims it’s a necessary element, but I disagree, and honestly I think it’s his old researcher/reporter habits that gave him that tendency, not a method of dealing with the House. The House has its own order, but it’s not very academic, even though so many of the people obsessed with it were part of academia.

Final note: Sorensen suggested I might go visit Ketterley’s body now and then, since few others ever will and since, again, I knew the Valentine Ketterley version of him in life. I don’t like the idea much. I’m not like Sorensen—I can’t see a man who tried to kill me as a friend. I might do it, though, to give Sorensen peace of mind. Besides, I do like visiting the other bones sometimes, and it seems Ketterley’s addition to their number will be permanent, at least until the next big flood.

 I guess I’ll just have to get used to it. When in the House, and all that. I follow Sorensen’s guidance on any number of areas there. He does seem to be the only person really able to survive it, after all, the House not being anywhere near as kind and beneficent as he likes to claim.