Into the Darkness...
Aniela pressed her back flush to the wall and dared not to move or draw a labored breath. An eerie darkness settled around her, and she blinked in confusion on where she was or how she had gotten here.
Turning her head, she looked down the lengthy hallway, noting two open doors on each side. Then she shifted her body to peer in the opposite direction, and a long winding staircase was at her back, leading to the darkened floor below.
She contemplated while chewing her bottom lip, knowing she needed to choose her proceeding route but couldn’t decide which direction to take. Before she could stop herself or understand why she stepped cautiously down the hall towards the four doors.
When she was almost to the first door, she paused before she stepped in front of it, while an anxiousness flowed over her body of what could possibly be inside. But, to her surprise, its contents were unremarkable, and it only held various forms of furniture covered with dusty white sheets.
Turning her head, she glanced at the next door and continued towards it. Stepping lightly, an uneasiness began to pulse through her body, causing her muscles to stiffen and ache with grumbling appeal. She hesitated again when she came to the next door, and just as she was about to step into the room, a noise caught her attention further down the hallway.
It was a quick noise, almost like someone or something had bumped a piece of furniture, causing it to scrape accidentally across the wooden floor. She faltered, looking towards the last door on the right, and gulped back her rising anxiety. The hairs on her neck rose with each tentative step she took, and a terror-induced nausea began to take hold of her belly.
The scraping noise came again, and she froze in her tracks because this time, a familiar voice penetrated the silence.
“Come closer, Rose,” came Gordon’s hoarse whisper. “I have a gift for you.”
As soon as she heard his voice, a sense of terror flowed over her body and her mind screamed at her to run in the opposite direction. But, like a moth to a flame, she was drawn to the opening where his voice came from.
“Don’t you wish to see your gift, Rose?” his voice mocked with leering undertones.
Tears pooled in her eyes as her quaking form stepped before the open door, and nothing could have ever prepared her for what was inside.
“Jaylon?” she gasped as a shaking hand flew to cover her mouth.
Gordon laughed deep from within his belly. “What do you think, Rose?” he asked with a deviant smile. “Is your lover’s life worth you giving up your own?”
Jaylon shook his head. “No, Aniela. Don’t do it,” he begged.
“Shut up!” Gordon seethed close to Jaylon’s ear, then he lifted a pistol and placed it under his chin. He looked back at Aniela with a sneer. “What is his life worth to you, Rose?”
Tears streaked down her face. She looked into Jaylon’s sapphire eyes as he silently implored her. “I will do whatever you ask, just let him go,” she cried, taking a step towards them.
“Run, Aniela... while you still can,” Jaylon begged with a broken voice.
“I told you to shut up,” Gordon’s voice strained with venom as he lifted his hand and pistol-whipped Jaylon on the side of his face.
“Stop!” Aniela cried. “Please, Gordon, don’t hurt him. I will do anything you want. I swear, I’ll go with you. Ju-just please, don’t hurt him.”
Gordon halted his attack and twisted to stare at her. “Oh, don’t be obtuse Rose, I am not going to hurt Sir Jaylon,” Gordon whispered with loathing. “What good would that do? It wouldn’t benefit me at all.” His face went flat and void of emotion; then, he lifted the pistol to Jaylon’s temple once more. “He is worth more to me dead... than he is alive.” Then he pulled the trigger.
“Nooooooooooo!” Aniela wailed as she watched Jaylon fall to the floor.
“Nooooo!” Aniela screamed into the emptiness of her bed-chamber. She shot up in bed and clutched her blankets to her chest. A panic like she had never felt surged through her veins, and her eyes flitted across the room. A moan flowed from her lips as she surveyed the muted darkness while her heartfelt as if it was ready to explode in her breast.
“It was only a dream. It was only a dream,” she sobbed, with gulping breaths. “It was only a dream.” But even as she whispered the words, she wasn’t completely sure or convinced by her own assertion. Tears stained her cheeks, and she wiped at them with the back of her hand as she slid her feet tentatively to the floor.
Walking to the door, she pressed her ear to the solid wood and listened for any sounds coming from the other side. It was eerily quiet, and she pulled away, staring it with consternation.
She hiccuped a sob.
Her mind raced as panic loomed over her and weighed on her chest; a sudden chilling thought flooded her mind. What if it wasn’t a dream? So much had happened to her these last several months. What if this was an actual memory, and Jaylon was really dead, but her mind just hadn’t processed it yet?
Chewing on her bottom lip, she turned her door handle and stepped out into the hallway. A fine slither of moonlight pushed its way through a parted curtain at the end of the corridor, allotting her just enough light to inspect her surroundings. She turned her head in both directions, searching and listening for anyone else’s presence. When all appeared quiet, she pushed forward on her wobbly legs until she stood in front of the last door at the end of the long hallway.
Again she tugged on her bottom lip, contemplating what she was going to do next. Before she could reason with herself, she reached for the handle giving it a twist. To her surprise, it held firm, and she stepped away from it, more than a little surprised Jaylon would choose to lock his door.
Now her mind was sent spiraling downward with fear of the different scenarios of Jaylon’s probable condition on the other side of this door.
For all she knew, he could right at this very moment, be lying in a pool of his own blood.
Or he could be sound asleep and resting peacefully in his bed.
Leaning her forehead on the door, she sighed and lifted a hand to rub the tension on the back of her neck. Closing her eyes, she twisted her head and pressed her ear to the door. “He is fine, Aniela,” she whispered into the darkness, feeling a minor relief of the cool wood on her warm skin.
Pulling away from the door, she retreated to her bed chamber and crawled back into bed. She pulled her blankets high to her chin and stared unblinking into the darkness. She tossed and turned as her mind continued to race with unpleasant thoughts.
After more than an hour crept by, she turned her face into her pillow and let out a muffled tormented scream. She rolled onto her back and released a troubled sigh while she stared again at the ceiling.
Then a fleeting remembrance flooded her mind, and she suddenly sat up. She looked towards the fireplace deep in thought, then flung the blanket back and once more slid her feet to the floor.
It had been many years since she thought about the hidden passages buried deep inside her home. As an only child, she and the housemaids used them all the time, and they often played hide and seek inside the concealed corridors.
She walked to the mantel and ran her hand over the smooth wood until she felt it become rough in texture. Closing her eyes, her mind walked her through the next steps, on the memory of a little girl.
After the rough wood, her memory directed her to feel for the small pea-shaped hump. Where the wood meets the wall, find the carved notched and then lift until you hear the soft click.
With the click, a tiny door cracked open. The architecture was ingenious really, because to the naked eye, this door did not exist. It was a means to escape or remain concealed, and as far back as she could remember, it was never utilized for anything else other than a play area for herself as an adolescent child.
Staring at the opening, she collected a shaky breath, then stepped into the pitch blackness.
Feeling her path through the darkness, she could feel cobwebs floating across her face. The eerie sense of them drifting over her skin caused her frame to shudder, but nonetheless, she pressed forward. A burst of her childhood memories skirted through her brain as she began to recall how many steps it took to reach each bed-chamber. At each hidden door, a hair-thin crease allotted a slither of light from the glowing fireplace coming from within.
When finally she approached the fourth door guest-chamber, her hands reached up and felt her way through the darkness until her fingers detected the uneven seams marking the position for the door. She pushed on the binding spring, and the door cracked open as if it had been employed regularly over all these years. Pausing, she held her breath for a moment, daring not to produce a sound while listening for any movement coming from inside.
The opening appeared shorter than herself, so she crouched down and lifted one foot into the room. A dwindling fire illuminated his bed-chamber, and she examined her surroundings before proceeding forward. She regarded his discarded clothes draped over an armchair, and they offered her every indication she was indeed in Jaylon’s room.
Flecks of firelight bounced off a half-full glass of brandy sitting on a table close to the fireplace, and at that very moment, a bulky log decided to shift its entire weight. It caused a plume of sparks to dance their way up the chimney like a competition to determine which ones could disappear first. The logs muffled noise flooded her body with anxiousness, and she glanced towards the bed, holding her breath.
Jaylon lay sleeping on his back, and one hand lay draped across his exposed chest. The blanket had drifted down and settled low on his abdomen. While his skin presented to glimmer from the gold flickers of the firelight dancing across his body.
She watched his chest swell and then fall with each one of his slow, mesmerizing breaths. The sound lured her to the bed until she settled beside it and her eyes raked over him once more.
He appeared safe and unharmed, with no blemishes or signs of abuse.
He was beautiful.
Okay, you saw him Aniela. That is why you came here, her inner voice chided. Right?
You desired to make certain he was fine, and now that you know, turn around and leave.
But her body had its own discipline, and no matter how much her inner voice implored her, she couldn’t move back towards the hidden door. Instead, she took a few more tentative steps towards the bed, and before she could halt herself, she sat down beside him.