It was nearing midnight now as Victor sat alone in the sitting room. He watched the clouds gather quickly to swallow the crescent dagger of the moon before releasing it again. His eyes watched at the light found the edge of yet another cruel shape coming quickly to blot out the only light in the sky. Behind him the fire had been reduced down to nearly embers and the room would grow cool shortly. The chill of autumn would seep in and the night would replace whatever warmth that dying flame brought with a kind of dread that could only live in the cold after the twelfth hour had come and gone. He shivered but did not move from his place. He had no use for sleep these days. These days of long shadows and growling winds would soon find themselves in the grips of new winter. Of an icy breath that would leave him with endless black nights to ponder his future. A future that was swiftly becoming more complicated than he thought.
Charlotte been very quiet as of late. Ever since that evening she had come home smelling of a filthy tavern but he had said nothing. She must have known that he would suspicious because she quickly changed and resurfaced complaining bitterly of the poor service that she’d received somewhere that he knew she couldn’t have been. Even if he hadn’t known that the tea house she spoke of was currently not taking any new “customers”, she’d forgotten to take off the makeup that she wore. She had the rouge dappled on her cheeks like a harlot and that darker red that she used when she wanted to ensnare those who were too curious for their own good. He had to wonder if she thought he was so clueless as to not notice her little tricks that she’d always used. She’d made it sound as though she were husband shopping instead of wandering around shops he knew wouldn’t interest her in the slightest but he already knew from the shade of her lipstick that she would never marry any man that might be attracted to her like that. He knew she was digging into something bigger. He’d had it all but confirmed a few days later when his letter arrived to tell him what he’d suspected.
There was also something incredibly frustrating news about her dalliances with that serpentine family out beyond town. He would have thought that Charlotte, of all people, might have wished to venture as far away from them as possible. She knew well enough what the head of that family was like. Victor, himself, had come to see what he was like on a chance meeting back in London a few years back. It was when he was less established on his own and though it could have landed him a large sum of money, he’d gone out of his way to hide his identity from the poisonous Mr. Reginald Kent. It hadn’t taken Victor long to notice that this man who’d swept through London on what seemed like a routine holiday was really looking for whose pockets were the deepest and whom he might be able to swindle out of what. He’d managed to rack up a fortune in a month’s time on empty promises and business ventures that a proper sober man could see would fail. Alas, Mr. Kent only had two kinds of associates: those who fit in the category of both rich and gullible or those who loved a good, stiff drink. That the man should find himself in the bowels of a land where alcohol was difficult to find seemed rather suspect to Victor but it was none of his business and he sought to make sure it never was. That might prove difficult if Charlotte was hoping to take up a vacancy in the Kent household. Victor had to wonder if she was simply itching to get more money in a hurry or if she’d found a taste for dispatching people. If she was truly interested in chasing down that brute, perhaps she had graduated to the latter.
This all reminded him, very unfortunately, of his own little entrapment and the long hours it had been since he’d been called upon. It had been weeks since last he’d heard from the widow, at least over a month and getting longer. He looked up at the sky, seeing the bluster of those clouds coming fast over the face of the moon again, threatening to crowd out her light once and for all. He reached into his pocket and pulled the card out, flipping it absently between his fingers. It was not the first time that she had demanded that he leave and gone silent, however, she never stayed away too long. He knew that she was up to something when this happened before and it was best he knew little about it. Still, it hadn’t seemed so long before that he felt her presence in his life. She liked to keep her eye on what she felt was hers and though he resented it, especially the more he thought about it, he had been under her rules since he set foot on this soil. It was how he knew something must be under way. Something was happening and in the cold hours of midnight, it was frightening. He could not explain it. As the air grew colder and the first breath of winter started to settle on the ground in the form of whitening frost, he began to wonder if there was something truly terrible afoot. Something that might yet come to surprise him. The worst of this was that Victor didn’t know where it might come from. If it would come from her, he would expect it. Perhaps he even deserved it. But he could not sense it. He had no gift like the child did and he knew it but he knew what it meant to be hunted. He knew what it meant to have that woman stare down at him as though he were trapped like an animal. He knew if she meant him harm. What hunted him now, he could not determine but he knew with all certainty in this moment, it was not her.
The fire light behind him was reduced to coals, their glow getting cooler by the minute as though they shared the same breathless exhalations as those wind torn clouds in the sky. In the dimness of the room, Victor turned his somber attention to the picture on the card again. The reaper coming to claim what was his. What had always been his own. Coming to claim what was no longer needed. If a part of him wished for death, he might have been happy at the sudden revelation that this might be the step towards the grave. The one that he’d always threatened but could never make himself. It was not to be, however. He would not be the one swept into the harvest and whatever this creature might claim from his life, he could only wonder if it would leave him well alone or if it would scar him anew. He had little hope of the former.
A part of him wished to be rid of this menacing card. Wished to cast away that ceaseless gaze and threatening grin. Yes, he’d had enough of this foolish thought following him deep into the night, making him pace with anxieties that had yet to reveal themselves. The reaper upon the card was goading him on now. Go on, it seemed to say. Cast the card asunder and watch as it curls into flame and ash. Victor rose from his chair, his conviction steady as he clutched the card, ready to cast it upon the coals. He held the card before him and looked at the face of that maniacal reaper again, staring into the pits of his black eyes. This action was futile and he knew it. Something would take the stability of his world apart. Something would come for him and he knew it. As he raised his hand to place the card upon the dying embers, he felt his heart grow cold with fear. The seizure of his chest was so strong, he clutched at his shirt as though he’d been struck.
In one terrible moment, everything was clear to him. His breath staggered at the revelation of what was to come. What horrible thing crept closer to his sanctuary. He held the card to his chest as his heart beat fiercely within him. Somewhere, a clock chimed the witching hour’s ominous tones.