Frank parked the van at the end of the drive, just inside the wrought iron gates, noting the gigantic snakes that curled up the gigantic gateposts. He thought Devoured by Serpents, Anthony Robinson?s debut novel.
He walked up the curved drive, lined by thick trees, and thought It?s in the Trees, Robinson?s collaboration with Kate Bush, which had been a commercial failure but a critical success.
The house appeared – a Gothic brick affair, all chimneys and windows and astonishing angles, and Frank thought The House That Went Mad, which had been turned into a film with Colin Firth.
He was here to read the meter.
?There?s a problem,? Dave had said at the office. ?It stopped sending signals, two nights ago. Go and check it out.?
He?d protested (Frank often protested) that it didn?t matter if Robinson?s new-fangled networked power meter had gone on the blink. After all, it had been Mrs Robinson who?d wanted it installed, not her famous husband, and she?d been dead a week. He remembered putting the bloody thing in, remembered hearing them argue about it, in that way that couples who argue a lot argue – low voices, bitter tones, unresolved.
He came to the front door. It was open. He rang the bell (an oddly cheerful noise), but no-one came. He poked his head around the door.
?Hello!? he called. No-one answered, so he went inside. ?I?m here to check the meter!?
He went to the door under the stairs that led to the cellar (thinking, as he went, of Robinson?s television series, Nightmares Below the Stairs), and went down the stairs. Mrs Robinson had said she wanted a networked power meter with real-time readings, hardcore industrial stuff, and when he?d asked her why (pretty thing, she was, tall with blonde hair) all she?d said was ?They can always come back,? which had confused him at the time, but then he?d gone home and searched for it on Google and found it was an Anthony Robinson short story about reanimation.
The meter was on the wall at the far end of the cellar. He flicked on the light, and walked over to it. It was blackened and scorched, completely ruined, and he frowned at it, as if it was responsible for all the ills in his world. How in hell could that have happened? Only a massive surge of power could have done something like that.
She?d died a week ago, Mrs Robinson. Car crash. Terrible scene, the local paper said, implying salaciously that there had been massive injuries. No-one had seen Robinson since. He?d built an enormous mausoleum for her in the local cemetery. No-one was buried in the cemetery anymore. There wasn?t room. But for a man as rich as Robinson, that hadn?t been a problem. He?d been to visit it, a few days ago. An impressively sepulchral affair, with a massive iron door and a new padlock, and he?d wondered about breaking open the padlock, opening the door and stepping inside, checking just how terrible Mrs Robinson?s injuries had really been. A scoop for the paper. A bit of cash.
He heard a step on the stair, heavy and uncontrolled. Then another. Then another. He was overcome by a reluctance to turn around. He stared at Mrs Robinson?s wrecked electricity meter, and he thought about that Robinson short story she?d mentioned so bitterly on his last visit, the one he?d read the day before. About a man who could reanimate life. All he needed was a lot of power.
?Frank,? a voice said, a voice which had been female once but now sounded like sandpaper on old stone. ?Have you come to fix my meter??