A night of fitful rest, when he was able to coax it to him, had not prepared him for the morning frost. From his bedroom window, he could see the tendrils of the naked branches capped in white as they sought to reach the stormy sky. It disturbed him to look at it from above so he quickly dressed and left the room. It was still early in the morning with most of the staff not yet at their stations and Victor felt as though he were carefully treading into the house of a stranger. Feeling awkward and restless, he made his way to the main floor of the house without being seen and into the morning room. Without waiting for anyone, he made a fire to cure the chill of the small room and paused, looking out the windows at the misty world beyond the glass. It was a grey, dismal morning, with the clouds above heavy with seasonal storms but not yet ready to break. Instead, there was a heavy fog that had rolled in through the night and settled amid the trees. There, the unsightly frost had become worse to look at and yet Victor could not seem to take his eyes off it. Appearing like ghostly shapes twisting out of the swirls of mist, he could see the white edges of the branches and their curled, dying leaves emerging like desperate hands reaching up from a drowning pond. The stillness of the air gave the images of these greedy limbs an even more sinister quality as he paced before the large windows in the morning room.

There was much to do in the coming days. The bank had to be dealt with as did a few other accounts. It was imperative that he check on a few operations before his “friend”, Mr. Grey, came to call again. That situation was one that was regrettable to say the least. Victor did not much enjoy the prospect of having to contend with that man from the first time that he met him but it was inevitable. As things have progressed, he was less than impressed to find that the world around him seemed to conspire to make his unfortunate associate a more lasting part of his operations. He was so very tedious and though he was also very necessary, Victor found his presence difficult to stomach. He longed for the day that he could be rid of this arrangement but thankfully, with the way that things were progressing, that should be soon if all went according to plan.

With so much to attend to, Victor was irritated that he felt the pull of distraction. Something nagged for his attention but it was so fleeting that when he tried to sort what he might be missing, he found that he could not think of it. He would search his memory for everything that called to his attention. Anything that might need to be addressed. He knew everything that he might be needing to attend to. There seemed to be nothing that needed his input. No one left unanswered. Nothing in his home that seemed amiss, other than the fact that Charlotte was unwed and still alive. That, he reconciled to himself, was at least of some benefit to him for now so it was for the best that this awkward situation stay that way. With everything accounted for, he could not place what might still be left undone.

Victor saw the image of his own reflection obscured by the fog of his breath on the glass. He felt the chill of the later year creeping across his skin, feeling as though a pair of icy hands were upon his coat. Someone holding to him to pay attention to this moment. Without thought, he reached into his pocket and found the familiar edges of the card, flipping it between his fingers absently. The sound of it played softly in the room but seemed to drum in his mind as he thought he saw something through the frosted glass. The movement of the card through his twitching fingers seemed to quicken as he concentrated on the image before him, the shape of it becoming clearer. The fog on the window grew and became colder still. The crystals of ice seemed to conform to the emerging shape. In his clumsiness at the building image before him, Victor felt the card slip from his fingers and immediately felt the daze he’d been in clear from his mind. He shook his head and bent down to pick it up before anyone saw the ghastly thing he carried with him.

Briefly, he allowed himself to look at it. He knew that he should shove it back in his pocket. It was his internal promise to himself to keep this kind of madness locked away where the others could not see it. Victor had long held the belief that these images were only something to be thought of at night. When the world was largely in the dream world anyway, this was when these cards held their sway. It was his twilight secret for the dead of the darkness to see alone. Where he could believe in their messages and feel the dire weight of the consequences of their warnings. Yet here he was in the light of early morning, looking at this very image and seeing it again not as some novelty but as serious as though it were a letter from one of his contacts. Staring at this image of the reaper and thinking back to when the child spoke to him. In that moment, he knew for certain that what she’d said was true. The changes in the air were coming as plain as the chill of winter coming to kiss the ground.

Standing now, Victor felt the cold seeping into him as he continued to look into those deep, cavernous eyes of the skull in the card. He could hardly rip his attention from it, as though he expected at any second to have the unknown come slithering out of those empty sockets and expose themselves to him. He shivered as he stared, noticing the way that the early morning light did little to dull his repulsion from the image. It seemed to give it more dimension. More depth than he thought it should have. His hand was trembling and only then did he look up and see the ice had taken over half the window. The frost had built as the room around him became even colder. Absently, Victor thought of the fire. He should start it again. He did not budge, though. Instead, his attention was back on the window, looking at the sway of the white figures outside. They seemed to move as though they were more than just plants. Something more animated, like an animal. A person? Victor hardly noticed as he tucked the card back in his breast pocket and wiped at the window, trying to clear the frost. For the first time, he saw something tall in the whiteness. Something that swayed with that natural grace of something or someone alive. He was alarmed at its appearance but even more so at the shock of red that appeared within the gossamer veil of white. Drawn to the image, feeling to pull to see it clearly, Victor abandoned the room and quietly slipped outside toward the mists and the ominous darkness of the woods.

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