Cradling the rose gently in his hand as he walked into the doors, Victor straightened his shoulders and looked directly ahead. He knew by now where he was headed and the boy at the door made no motion to lead him. With a deep breath, he took a confident stride through the door and though the turmoil within him sang loudly with each step he took, he made each motion with a calm that would shame those years older than himself. He knew that whatever lie before him, he would not face it cowering and it was this attitude that had carried him boldly to where he was now. He could only trust that it would continue to hold him up while he walked.
Upon crossing the threshold, Victor could tell immediately that his feelings on the drive were valid. Something very strange had happened since the last time he had entered this house and it seemed to speak to him loudly from the walls. The closing of the door behind him felt as though he’d been trapped in a tomb though truthfully, it was difficult to tell what might have changed so much. But it was there, in the light. Dimmed from the outside and dimmer still inside, the hall was more like the sinister shadowed hands that had grasped at his car as he made his way here. It seemed as though they were all here now, those dark lines threatening to become very real nails to tear into him. To grab and hold him here. The same shadows that once followed his every step in France. They had once closed their ghostly hands upon his throat there and promised to choke the life from him. Could it be they that had followed him here? Could it yet be another spectre that might fall upon him, promising yet to rip him from the world and back to the darkness that he’d tried so diligently to free himself from? For these questions, Victor could not find any answers when he lived in Europe and he did not anticipate them now. The woman who called to him now, the one he called memère though they both knew that there was no endearment in that term, was here to receive and it was not his place to ask. A part of him wished nothing more than to be freed of this cycle of providing but he knew very well the price. A price that he felt only now very foolish for accepting, knowing all the while it was the same as before. It was simply a different hand pulling his strings.
And what of that master who pulled such strings? She was always one who understood how to wield that kind of power. As Victor continued to make his way through the familiar path of the house, he noticed, however, that there was a kind of pall cast upon her home. A terrible silence had seemed to blanket the air within the corridor and it was only in that moment that he realized that he could hear the most ordinary sounds around him but they seemed amplified in the awful quiet. The crystal chandelier sang in simple twinkling chimes above his head, creating a forced kind of enchantment upon the darkened room but the more he heard the gentle sound of the glass pieces tapping each other, the more uncanny the feeling it created. For a moment, Victor paused, feeling a cold breath on his neck. The rustling of the chimes above him had intensified though no one came to see what might be causing it. He carefully pressed the rose to his chest and fought the urge to crush it against him. He felt, in this instance, like he could see the world around him change. He closed his eyes and when he opened them, the house around him stood in ruins.
The hallway before him had been stripped of the beautiful carpets and even the floorboards beneath them were grey for lack of varnish. The walls were barren, the intricate designs of the imported paper that had once covered them was replaced with rotten plaster, cracked and teeming with vermin. The twinkling sound of the chandelier was gone and behind him, he saw the great skeleton of it lying on the ground, all the crystal broken and the sculpted metal that once held it now rusted and black. Before him still stood the door to the atrium but it was left ajar as though it dared him to move forward still. He knew that the atrium was still there and the icy grip upon his heart told him that the widow was likely there too. Victor remained planted in place, looking over the wooden door. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see the cracks in it did not look like the culprit of time and weathering of elements. He allowed his curiosity to get the better of him as he edged closer to the door, seeing the deep trenches dug into the swollen wood. It looked as though the door had been wounded like it were once flesh and bone. The soft edges on the torn marks in the surface told him that it had been left for some time.
When he tried to grab the handle, he stopped abruptly. The white steam of his breath came out like a shot, a visible sign of his disgust and his shock at the state of this place. He suddenly understood that he’d been held from opening the door by a hand, very firmly placed on his arm. The pressure it put on him was verging on painful and when he turned to confront his unwelcome companion, he found nothing there but darkness. The outline of ruined chandelier lay in the growing shadows at the mouth of the corridor and he could feel the light around him fading. He knew that someone had touched him though he did not know why or where they had gone. Looking to free himself from this nightmare of darkness, Victor pushed forward and turn to grab the handle of the door only to find that he stood before a great, black clock. The darkness erased most of the more significant details, of which there were many. The dim light glinted off the sharp edges that made up the elements of the face, the corners of the numbers and the dagger-like hands that did not move. Yet he heard something that should have sounded like ticking. A soft, low noise that should be coming from this clock buried in shadows but seemed to echo from within even though it did not move.
Victor shook his head and found that he stood before the door in the lighted corridor once again. He stood within the widow’s home, the walls still covered in intricate paper with gilded designs that still shone in the low light. The chandelier still sounded with its too cheerful tones. Victor turned around himself to find it but saw no clock. His focus returned immediately as the door opened before him and the widow appeared. Her face was a mask but her eyes spoke of something very different. Perhaps even something wrong. Victor forced himself not to speculate on the matter as he looked at her face and made himself as blank a slate as he could. Whatever had become of the widow since his last meeting with her had clouded her mind. Victor could tell that she was not paying attention to his own facial expressions. She should have known that he felt doubt. She should be asking about what he just saw. She was not herself and if she was, she would have immediately picked up on the fear growing in him.
“Come in, my dear son of fortune, and don’t dawdle,” she said, motioning him into the atrium. “I knew that you wouldn’t let me down. Reliable as always, my darling.”
“Always for you,” Victor replied, his voice steady but his whole inner being shaking.