Victor felt the cold’s grip on his lungs tighten. The mist was thick in a way that felt unnatural and he continued to look back behind his shoulder to ensure that he was certain of where he was going. The whole of the setting felt as though it might change on him as soon as his eyes shifted from one place to the next. With his shortness of breath on account of the cold, he was feeling unstable and even a bit lightheaded. Each time he turned around to see either the forest or the house, he felt like he had just missed something out of the corner of his eye. A wicked shape that seemed to glide just beyond his view and into the haze again. Victor scolded himself internally but still felt the dread rising in him as he continued to walk forward. The fog was heaviest rising from the deep trench swamp waters that covered the forest floor around them. The bottoms of the trunks were obscured completely, seeming to float out of the shadow and the white. The shapes coming from the early morning fog seemed far more threatening now. Swaying lazily from the window, they seemed more lively now that he was approaching their reach. Like the white limbs of the trees were arching and trying desperately to disentangle themselves from each other as they seemed to pulse forward. Coming through the dense mists to find him.
Feeling like he was getting too dizzy to continue, Victor felt like the air around him was rushing. It was as though he were trapped in a crowded room and he felt a kind of panic rising in him. His body shivered from the cold and he swore in that instance, he could hear someone speaking to him. Someone just near him, telling him that he must move. He must find what he was looking for. His heart drummed in his chest as he looked back and saw, to his horror, the path to the house seemed very far and the density of the fog had hidden the way.
For a second, he was certain that he was dreaming. He felt as though any moment, his heart might wake him as it thumped heavily and painfully in his chest. The very blood in his veins felt like it was as cold as the air around him and began to slow. Victor was reduced to a stagger as he felt dazed by the uncertain imagery around him. He slowly and very carefully looked around himself, not daring to step anywhere for fear of where his foot might fall. Feeling the cold becoming worse, he shivered and for one terrifying second, he thought he heard a voice on the wind. His quivering breath coming in short bursts, he strained to hear it, if only to prove that there was nothing but the air moving amid the trees. Still, he could not deny the sound that echoed in the otherwise still morning fog. It was calling his name. Calling him to come home. Yes, there was someone calling his name now. Someone wished to see him. Despite his want to remain in place, he took one uncertain step towards the shadows of the woods. The cries on the howling wind grew wilder and more insistent. He needed to come home. Come forward and find the owner of the voice. He had been away too long. Plodding along in staggering steps in a broken march towards the white shape. The one he’d seen. Surely this was a dream, Victor thought to himself. This could not be real if the shape continued to be. To stand before him with that punishing mark of red coming through the mists like the beam from a lighthouse. Focusing on the image before him, Victor stumbled towards it. With each trembling step, he felt the grip on his chest getting lighter. The voice on the wind became more soothing. Softer and even gentle. Inviting him further. It felt almost like being seduced and for a lost moment, he wanted nothing more than to be folded in the arms of the shape. To place his hand on the crimson red that was before him.
He was closer now. His eyes could not focus on the shape that beckoned him still forward but the red had become startlingly clear as he approached. The roses. That stunning beauty was not yet gone with the season? Short of breath and becoming more frenzied by the continued song of the voice calling to him, Victor felt irritated that there was too much space between himself and his roses. Yes, they were his roses. He’d been foolish to try to give them to the greedy widow. They belonged to him. He saw that now. He’d been so cavalier in how he’d treated them but he understood this now. He could be forgiven and he would show that he was changed by how he treated them. He needed to touch them. To show them that he knew the error of his ways. He could practically feel the petals beneath his fingers now. As he got closer still, he had to stop himself from running to grab them.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Victor swore he could feel something tugging him back. Something trying desperately to remind him of something. This feeling started off as a minor itch in his mind, irritating but ultimately not enough to stop him from wanting to go to the roses. Each step, the feeling increased in him the sense of urgency with it. He was forgetting something. The irritant had started to feel more dire in scope. Something needed his attention and it was becoming crucial that he give it his attention. All the while, the scent of the roses seemed to call him forward still. The light, tantalizing scent had become a pungent perfume in the fog, swirling around him. It seemed to tell him that this was the only thing that mattered and for a minute, he believed it. He approached still but the now agonizing feeling that dogged his every movement was getting stronger as well, like a chain on his will. The roses were nearly within his grasp and he felt almost embarrassed by his almost obscene want to be closer to them.
His senses seemed to be fighting to come through the fog as much as his body staggered forward towards his prize. He wanted to question this wanton desire to get near the flowers. To be closer still, lest they disappear in the mist. A part of him knew there was something wrong with this. These roses should not be able to survive the harshness of this frost. The bite of winter in the air should have made them wither weeks ago. He could not find his sense of reason as he struggled to close the gap between himself and the first crimson rose on the bush. The apparition was no longer there but seemed to be all around him now, the fog getting denser. The voice that he’d heard, its subtle tones seemed to be whispering directly to him now. Hushing his inner turmoil, soothing him as he took more cautious steps forward. A part of him knew that he was being led. That logic was slipping from his grasp as he came within the reach of those first, blood red petals that called to him. His fingers extended as though he were invited to dance and he was carefully ready to accept. The edge of the velvet petals shivered in the wind and he was so very close to it now, he could practically feel the delicate edge grace his finger tips.
The moment came to an abrupt end with a high, piercing shriek on the wind. In a daze, he heard his name ring loudly before a gasp and a shuddered breath. His legs failed beneath him and he felt as though he’d been struck, his head hammering with a pain that was so intense that for a moment, he felt as though he’d been stricken blind. Breathless, he looked up to see the owner of the voice was none other than the child. She’d dared to speak his name but she did not look at him now. Instead she gasped at the sight of crimson on her hand, the petals seemingly spilling on the frost laden ground below. Dumbfounded in the fog, Victor felt as though he’d been awakened in the midst of a horrible nightmare only to have it replaced with a worse one. Feeling the ache in his body as he moved from the ground, he moved closer to see the rose in her hand but it was not petals spilling on the white ground but splashes of blood. The girl looked to him in a panic and back at the offending bush before her. The blossom seemed to have withered before them both as whatever spell was broken.
“I didn’t-”the child stammered through trembling lips as she stared at the gash on her hand.
“An accident,” Victor choked on the words as he forced himself to stand. “It’s a miracle that you haven’t caught your death out here, child. Of all the foolish things to do, following a stupid man to his demons is among the worst.”
“They shouldn’t have called you,” the child replied, tearfully. “They shouldn’t have led you here.”
“Come, chérie,” he said, putting his coat around her shoulders and leading her away. “Enough of this madness. I should be lucky if you are not feverish by nightfall at this rate.”
As they made their way back towards the house, Victor looked behind himself one more time. The call of the roses had ceased but from the corner of his eye, he thought for certain that he saw the white apparition moving amid the trunks of the trees, just beyond the boundary where the groomed land met the wilds of the forest.