You can tell a lot about a place from its doorbell. Some are brisk and business-like – a sharp ‘ding dong’, or a shrill electronic yelp that makes you jump. Some are elaborate – the complete chimes of Big Ben, or a jaunty polyphonic melody stolen from a Nokia telephone circa 2007. Some are calm and soothing – a gentle tinkling, or a deep sonorous ‘bong’.
This doorbell is frayed piece of rope, hanging listlessly through the ivy encrusting the porch. You give it a sharp tug, half expecting it to come away in your hand. There is a unnerving pause; and then you jump as a discordant jangling from the roof high above you sends jackdaws wheeling and squawking into the sky.
A small upstairs window opens, and a head pops out.
“What?! Who the…? Oh, hello. Already? Crikey. Just give me… uh… I’ll be down in a moment.”
Before you can say even a word of greeting, the head disappears and the window closes. A few moments later, the whole house shakes as its plumbing screams of centuries of neglect.
Eventually, the front door opens – or, rather, is dragged unwillingly round on its hinges. The gloom inside seems to suck all the warmth out the summer’s day, but you stoop and enter nonetheless. The hallway is all stone, wood and damp, though a stray shaft of sunlight neatly illuminates your host: a wizened man of indeterminate age, size and fashion sense. The Keeper of the Hints 👻💨 looks you up and down.
“Sorry, I’m just not used to people arriving by the front door. Don’t think it’s been used in the last decade or so. Most people just… well, just appear, if you see what I mean.”
“Now, where shall we…?” The Keeper looks back and forth. “Yes, I think the dust should be thinnest in there. Shall we go to the study? We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”
The study password is “readabook”; like all passwords here, it has neither spaces nor punctuation, and only lowercase letters.