”Are you thinking what I think?” she said, nonchalantly. “”Is this not the place for it, Young Light?”
“My young light.”
“Let’s go in, then, Young Light.” She had other things to do.
For a time she stood over the body, getting a spot for the head and shoulders; he was not whole, for a moment, and the inhuman intelligence within him swelled up, talking in frantic tongues. It was only when he began to faint that she let him go.
“Why did you do that?” he asked, trying to speak.
“He must have wanted us to see the place.”
He drew breath again, his eyes watering with alarm. “Now, put me down, it’s too sudden to talk.”
She started toward the fireplace; the muscular bulk of Hill House disappeared with an incredible speed. The water stopped; a rose was growing in the stream. After a moment she reached into the bathtub and filled it; between one and two she’d beaten Hill House’s heart.
“Go and get the doctor, I’m going to clean him out and see what he’s got,” she said. “He’ll see that—”
He spoke first.
“I was in it for nine hours, you know. You know how it is in the bowels of the earth. Dead sometimes, and sometimes not. I was in that place for a long time, there was no real feeling of waking from it, I have to be honest with you, the only moment in all the time I remember—my body sank in and I floated to the surface and what do you think?”
“Oh, you’re in a dream, boy.”
“But where am I?” What has happened to me, what happened to that house and everything in it and me?”
”Nothing.” It was an accident. I can’t explain to you—there wasn’t a great deal of lighting in the place.” Now stay still, young man, that you may not get scared.” I was falling over a high rock—The house, the electric chairs, the drinks—everything looked ordinary. Then this thin film began to fall from the wall down to the floor. That is all.” I woke up after ten or fifteen minutes and felt I’d been out for hours.” I got out a glass of water, and drank it without thinking what I was doing—I had no idea why I was doing it.” And when I’d got the place as light as I could, I had a slight feeling of ill-health, a feeling that something was wrong; I went to my door and there was only half a window open, the blinds were drawn, so I took them down.” After a time the door opened, and, what was this?” The house outside was gone, just a huge plain of flat earth and another huge mound of rock, open to a great empty field with a large pond of water in the middle.”
“I’ve never been through that!” he cried. “I told him all I know.”
“”I can’t believe it,” she said. “I’d better call—I’m going to call the man.” If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask him to look for us someplace that he can keep an eye on the place and tell you if there’s anything going on there.” I was sleeping when I woke, but when I called I could still hear you shouting. ”I don’t know what I’ll do now,” I thought. ”But we should have known.”
“Here’s the key,” he said. He climbed in, leaning on the bar. There was a pile of clothes in the bed. A loaf of bread lay broken on a mattress.
“He’s put his face in,” she said, sitting by the bed. “And he’s talking. Let me tell you what he’s said to me. He says he’s done it, and he says it was—a miracle, and he says the other people, the whole world—is coming to get him—all in an instant. But I tell him that his whole belief, all his life, was in me, in me and my ingenuity. And that I could have done it all for him. And that I had the plan down to the tiniest detail. And he said, ”Well, you didn’t have a plan down to the tiniest detail, and the plan worked. You only had a vague idea. That’s all.” A miracle, indeed! That’s what he was after all.”
The electric chair was next. She came out of it as slowly and quietly as she came in, wiping her face with a handkerchief. She talked to him again.
“He was dying. I was going to make it a triple electrocution if I could, it was so awful, and it got to me so all I could think of was I was going to, like, kill the other prisoners, kill the people I didn’t like, they’d probably stop me, anyway. So I had no business dying.”
She wasn’t frightened, he knew, not frightened. But he had a fright at the same time that had nothing to do with the method, with the target. There was a big cloud of dust about her, with her and something like a coffin. He looked at the key in his hand.
She looked at him, and they made eye contact again.
“I told him all I know. I told him all I know. And now, are you with me? Are you with me? I don’t know how it happened, but somehow he knew I’d been listening. He’ll get them all for this. He’ll get them all for this. He always gets his own way. He wants to kill me, and I don’t know what he wants to do with me—I’m only here to deliver the message. I should be thankful, but I’m—I don’t know.”
She was silent for a time, staring.
“I told him I couldn’t help him,” she said finally, “but I can give him a window into the game if you want.”
He stood up and looked around him.
“Surely this isn’t the place for him,” he said, “to have the last act of his life.” I can’t guarantee anything. I don’t want to get in the way. He knows what he’s about to do.”
He walked around the bed and examined the interior of the room. There was a swing on the other side of the room, a bench, an open fireplace, some clothing hanging around. He put his hand on the door.
“Can you feel the magnetism?” he asked.
“We haven’t got to be careful,” he said. “I’ve got a flashlight. It’s an old fashioned light bulb with a cone shaped lens. Look at it. It’s probably good for much more than mere curiosity. I just have to give you a moment to look at it. It doesn’t weigh anything.”
She examined the light-bulb.
“I have a remote control,” she said. “Just do what you want.”
He looked around again. There were other instruments, but they weren’t important. Just the light bulb and the magnet were for him. He sat down beside the light bulb and turned it on.
“Hurry up, Stacey,” he said.
He waited for a moment, but nothing happened. Then he pushed the button and the light bulb roared to life.
“Perfect, now,” he said. “Let’s check the other instruments.”
He checked the watch on the other side of the room and saw that it was nine-fifteen.
“I’m an hour late, I know. It’s the battery. Just hang on for another ten.”
He went to his radio, plugged it in, then checked his watch again.
“You say you’re an hour late, now. Come on.”
He turned to her and put his arm around her shoulders.
“I’m here to help you,” he said, “and I’m not in the mood to have a crisis. If you don’t give up that damn message, I’m going to have to do something about you.”
“You’re not going to kill me, are you?”
“You can’t make me, Stacey.”
“But I have to do something. What about you?”
“Me? I’m not about to die. You’re obviously one of the Professor’s technicians, and I’m not a woman.”
“You’ll have to go down the cellar, then, and convince him that you’re not a creature and are in fact human. I don’t know what would be behind those twenty-foot windows, but he knows. You’ll have to talk your way out of the cellar, and I’ll be waiting down here. You may not be able to do anything to change his plans, but you can stop him from doing this to you.”
She shook her head, then got up and went to the door. She turned on her flashlight.
“All right,” she said, “if you must.”
She opened the door, then turned it, swung it shut.
“Keep her here,” he said, then headed down the cellar steps.
He felt his way through the dark, lit by the screen of the flashlight.
“I can’t get out, I’m sure. It’s probably locked. I know he had the key in his pocket.”
He saw a little flame from the fireplace and waited. The room was dark.
“Just keep your eyes on me.”
He was very close now. He turned and started out again.
And I’m in a big freaking hole. Where am I?
He had never heard of anyone going to a place that a particular man had been. He went to the end of the alley. He stepped over the cars, back and forth. After a while, he climbed to the bottom of the cellar stairs, laid down, and stared.
Here is where I am.
His body was in a nice, round shape. He had his shirt on, with nothing on his body. All his tattered clothing was next to him. There were also what looked like tiny points of white light. He made a little moan. He felt warmth all over him, and felt his eyes closed. The walls were painted with white, like an ancient ceiling. The earth was black and rough. He made a sudden exclamation of surprise. The moon overhead had burst through the clouds. And he was being pulled by an invisible force toward a black hole.
This must be an old friend of my brother.
He was to lie on his back and imagine himself rising, then being drawn toward a kind of bottomless pit.
I know how to get out of here.
It was a cave, and it had a door. There were real shadows in it, much more real than his dreams.
I can put my arm around you.
He could put his arm around the nearest person, and the rest of him could remain quietly on his side. If it had been a real tree, there would have been something wreathed over his head.
This can’t be the world I’m in.
At last, he knew he wasn’t alone. The shadows, as in his dreams, were completely comfortable. He found he could breathe more easily. He looked down to see that the moon was now so bright that it was tinting the black of the floor.
I knew this would happen. I could feel it.
He tried to imagine what kind of man would have the foresight to go to a place like that. An average student. A modest farmer.
No. It can’t be.
He thought: Perhaps that’s what made me stay with him. If he died, the world would be bereft of his presence. And what of me? What of everyone else? They wouldn’t be any different. I must survive.
He walked over to the nearest flower. It was very white. He opened his hand and scooped it up. It looked like a dog’s eye. He touched the petals with his fingertips and felt a texture. He squinted to see if it was real. He opened his mouth and sniffed it. His nose was there. A fragrant smell. He closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, and let it come up.
It’s home. I’m back in my family.
He placed the flower back in the middle of the floor. He walked back over to the door. There was a handle on the other side.
I’ll open it.
He lifted the door and tried it.
The darkness collapsed around him. He tried again.
It won’t open.
He looked back to the wall. Then out to the direction of the kitchen. There was a crack in the wall.
He closed his eyes, and waited. There was nothing. He reached out and touched the crack in the wall. He felt the low wall. It was not exactly wood, but it was harder. He flexed his fingers.
Nope. I’m still empty.
He took a deep breath. He felt he could give up on the entire house and go back to being an ordinary human. He felt something still attached to him. There was one more instinct he hadn’t questioned before, but it suddenly seemed undeniable: Something. Something that could save him.
He looked down and saw the shadowy shape above him. His breathing was heavy.
I will make it out of this.
The Dark Cave had its defining feature: a hole in the center. Though the wall was metal, it was less solid than wood. There was a cork over the hole, and a wire above it. A man was only a few feet in. The wire reached all the way to his shoulders. The man had been in this hole for ten minutes.
I will survive. I’m going back to my family.
He tried again.
I will be your prisoner.
The victim had trouble breathing, and he felt his pulse build. He was going to die soon. He had to survive.
But I know that’s not true.
Again he closed his eyes, and tried again.
This is not happening.
He opened his eyes and was now seeing the world again.
I’ll make it out.
lThe image of the chrysanthemum in the yard of the cottage wasn’t something he had seen before. It looked like something else.
What in god’s name is going on?
So much blood.
If I survive this, I’ll kill the Demon King and end this nightmare.
He wondered what had come over him. How could he fight? When it started, he could have been so much more powerful than he was now. It had only been a few minutes, but he was already weak.
I can do this. I can survive.
As much as he wished it was different, the scene of the man’s death broke his heart.
I’m going to die.
He felt his chest constrict. The pain was searing. Blood began to pool in his belly. The air began to boil with a cold horror that would never go away. This wasn’t how his father had died. He hadn’t been prepared for this.
In the center of the cottage, the dark opening tore open like a gaping wound. As it dovetailed with the portal to the Dark Cave, it was impossible to see the distance between the two points of light. There were shadows visible only at the very end, and he could not be sure how close to the opening he was now. He could see now that the man was lying inside a wall of death. A corner of his eye seemed to see his father’s form. What am I doing? I’m supposed to be here with him.
There were groans coming from inside the room. Death could be overheard over the rising buzz of the flames. He tried to clear his mind. He opened his eyes and saw a long, thin wall to his left. And the sight that greeted him was horrendous.
Who had died in this house?
The man was disemboweled and sat up. He stood straight. He had taken much of the life force of his companions. He stared up, and he looked right at her. He had taken the photo. He looked at her with fury. He put his hands on his hips and grinned.
“You can’t kill me!”
He moved his hands toward his head. The trick, in the midst of the shadow room, was that a sudden dark swatch would give a glimpse of his hands to his left. With his right hand, he stretched forward toward his head.
It hurt, but he stood there. “Can you kill me?”
The woman looked up. “Where was it?”
“I won’t give it away.”
She crossed her arms and smirked. She placed a hand on the table in front of her, near the gurney. She dropped to her knees.
“Come, my daughter,” she said.
She kissed him. He hated her immediately. It was a slow burning thing, that began with good intentions, and then developed into cold familiarity. He tried not to turn away, but he couldn’t not. His eyes were closed. The pain in his chest had left him a corpse.
“But I won’t,” she said. “I won’t take the picture for myself.” She rolled onto her back, one leg over the other, still holding the photo. “If I have to die in your stead, then so be it.”
The mere thought of this idiotic woman, with such spoiled children, made him feel sick. Why was this woman able to walk upright in the room of strangers? She deserved such cruelty, but she was alone. Where could she have been taken? Where had she been taken, and what was her endgame? What were her people capable of? What drove a woman to murder that she only knew for an instant?
As if the answer to his question had been settled, another hand rose. She grabbed the photograph from her head, and shoved it into the man’s chest.
She stood up. “Tell me the truth,” she said.
The man’s mouth moved, but no sound came. He clutched the photo in an effort to conceal his face. “My name is Alan Roy,” he whispered. “My wife…” His hands moved. “She’s…”
The woman reached into a hidden pocket on her dress. In the dark, there was a small pack of cigarettes. It was getting cold. “What’s your name?”
Alan responded, in the strangest way possible. “Stephen.”
The woman smiled at him. “Stephen. I am Samantha. I live down the hall.”
He heard her wiggle her legs beneath her, and she gave him a sideways glance. He gulped, and said, “Is this true?”
Samantha’s shoulders dropped. “I like you a lot, Stephen,” she said. “But no.”
The warmth from his last breath was gone. His corpse shifted, so he could move. “Is this true?” he repeated, addressing the vampire. “If you’re not mistaken, Stephen… You did die.”
Stephen reached into his chest pocket. He slipped the cigarette out and held it between his lips. He looked at Samantha. “Are you looking for your son?”
His teeth gnashed.
The woman flipped her cigarette off. “Of course not,” she said. “I didn’t kill him.”
Stephen hung his head. “There is no reason not to believe me,” he said.
The woman walked back toward the door. “I am not the vampire,” she said. “I’ll be your witness to the truth.”
He saw Samantha glance down at the portrait of her father in the portrait gallery.
“I am not the vampire,” she said. She slowly walked toward the door, but after a moment, she turned and stood facing him. “Stephen… I… I love you.”
She took a few steps toward him.
He raised his hand. “You owe me an answer.”
His body tensed.
“No,” she said. “I cannot. I cannot. I must speak to him myself.”
She turned and made her way back to her apartment. He ran to the wall, followed closely by a silent wave of fear. As she walked toward the dining room, she looked back at him. When she reached the door, she reached back, and she reached between his hands. She pressed a small box between his fingers. It was almost empty.
He put it down on the coffee table.
“Do you love me?” she asked. “Do you love me?”
When she turned to walk away, she paused, and she looked down at the empty cigarette packet. He exhaled in response, and the cigarette dropped to the table. She raised an eyebrow, and then her mouth parted slightly. He thought it was a tiny smile. She started toward the kitchen.
He turned back to face her. “I love you. I love you, Samantha.”
The door shut, and she turned the key.
“I cannot allow myself to believe,” she said. “My father and I had not spoken in so long. I had worried that he had perhaps gone back to his homeland, where his tyrannical rule once more ruled. I have noticed how you appear to me. I should not be so rash. I may have overdone it. Perhaps I can change my mind.”
He nodded. She opened the door, and stepped inside.
Her apartment was filled with lights, and was filled with the bustle of people. Three couples were cuddling together.
“Hi, mom,” said Samantha. “How was your day?”
Samantha held out her hand, and held out her cigarette. She inhaled through her nose, inhaled the smoke from the pack, then blew it away.
“I like this. You’re cute.”
Samantha opened her mouth, but then she turned away and coughed.
“Oh, okay, bye,” she said, closing the door behind her.
The light made her face glow.
Samantha stepped toward the new portrait in the portrait gallery. As she approached, the now-blood-red doll’s head brushed her feet. Samantha noticed the doll’s eyes. “Will my father ever know that his doll killed me? I am sure his anger will burn with him until he regrets his passing