This story is by Brad Cote and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A high-pitched ringing erupts from all around. Its steady scream increases in intensity as I regain consciousness. I can feel something cold and hard pressed against the side of my face. It feels as though the weight of the world is pressing down on me as I struggle to bring my arms to my side and push myself up. My eyes fail to keep up with my surroundings as they spun and lurch around me. With one final effort, I push against the hardened surface and manage to sit up.
By now the ringing has started to subside, though in its absence, the indomitable howling of winter now ravages against the windows nearby. The walls of this cramped Victorian parlor I reside in do little to protect against the onslaught outside. Nearby, a beautifully carved marble fireplace houses the smoldering remains of a once great pyre, that is now conquered by the deathly chill. Even the blackened oak floor I sit upon attempts to shield itself with an elegant antique rug that nearly fills all but the outer edges of the room.
I prop myself up against a blood-red loveseat, sliding up its overly plush cushions. Everything around me feels strangely familiar, like seeing a family member you met once at a dinner party decades ago. Yet, I can’t recall where here is or even how I ended up on the ground. My mind is but a fog and the more I try to remember, the more it starts to hurt. I glance out the window and catch a glimpse of four red eyes peering in at me, but a shake of the head and it’s gone. My mind must be playing tricks on me, yet I cannot shake the feeling of being watched. Whatever the case, I need to get out of here and figure out exactly where here is.
Getting up, the ground feels as though I am on a galleon weathering against the fiercest of storms. I stumble my way to the door, grasping desperately at the ornate brass handle. As I press down on the handle, my eyes widen, and my mouth lets out an inaudible gasp. Humanlike claw marks decorate the entirety of an otherwise beautiful wooden door. The markings bare signs of desperation, a pitiful attempt to escape. The hairs on my neck started rising as the thought of whatever led to this sends shivers down my back. I slowly glance around the room, my heart pounding against my chest.
Just opposite of the love seat where I awoke, I spot a well-polished leather laced shoe jutting from behind the sofa. I reach for a gilded candelabra that rests atop a nearby wooden table and grip it tightly in my hands. A bone-deep chill creeps into the room as though the unrelenting winter outside has finally found its way in. My throat tightens as my breath catches and I stare now, transfixed, at the shadows looming just beyond the sofa. Preparing for my final moments, I inhale the last remnants of the air in the room and raise my improvised Excalibur over my head. As I peer over the couch, ready to fend off whatever foul demon lies in wait, I spot my would-be ambusher and my shoulders drop as I exhale heavily.
Laying on the ground before me is a once finely dressed gentleman. He wears lacerations diagonally across his chest like a badge of honor. These lacerations bear no blood however, and the man’s face is gaunt as though someone kidnapped him from a tomb, centuries old. As I gawk at the deceased man, my mind races. Is the assailant still hidden somewhere within this manor? If I am to live through the night, I need to leave before I discover the answer.
Heading back toward the door, I gently twist the handle as it defiantly alerts the manor with its creaking that echoes the halls. I find myself near the end of a narrow hallway, sealed by a towering window that shines moonlight into the vast hall before it fades into the dark. Candelabra in hand, I produce a small flame from a lucky match and bring fiery life to the wick. Armed with probably the only warmth left in this world, I venture into the hall in search of an exit. Old portraits haunt me with their gaze as I gingerly proceed deeper into the hallway, like a mouse avoiding ravenously hungry predators. The tiny flicker atop my candle battles vigilantly against the hand of darkness that works to snuff out the light. I pass by a couple of doors on either side before the walls to my left turn into gilded marble railings. I follow the trail of a crimson rug toward a flight of stairs that twists and curves downward into the abyss.
As I reach the top of the stairs, I let out a soft sigh before scanning the black sea below. Silver decorations adorn the many wooden surfaces that fill a magnificent foyer, each shimmering in brilliant blue hues. Gorgeous paintings of a noble family fill the walls, though are nothing in comparison to the splendor the rest of the room brings. It is like a peaceful sanctuary, a place safe from the war waged by winter. Looming at the end of the foyer is my only way out of this place, two doors flanked by rectangular windows on either side.
With my eyes set on the double doors, I begin my descent down the half spiral flight of stairs. With each step closer made, I began to hear incoherent whispers. They are faint at first, almost being completely drowned out by the howling wind. They grow louder as I get closer, luring me into their call. I feel them tug against my mind and I jolt my head from side to side in search of their source. The whispers compel me to complete some task I cannot understand. It’s taking all my strength to shield myself from this madness as I rush to the doors and pull against them. The massive doors shake the very frames that contain them but remain sealed.
Panic sets in as I tug harder and harder, failing to do more than amuse the whispers that surround me. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch four crimson lights shining against the reflection of the window beside me. I begin to hear something coming from another room. Footsteps! I pull the door once more, realizing that nothing I do could budge it. Footsteps draw closer, and the whispers grow louder, more ferocious. I grip the candelabra and strike as hard as I can against the glass window by the door. Taken back by the recoil of the blow, I drop it and a loud clatter erupts throughout the manor. The footsteps are now just around the corner.
My eyes dart to the entrance of the room where the noise is coming from, and I begin shaking in anticipation of what’s coming. A few more moments pass, each one a lifetime. I see the crimson lights shining from around the corner of the doorway, but it does not flicker like a flame. The entity creeps around the corner, and my eyes are met with four crimson slits glaring from beneath an obsidian hood. The hood drapes down around a towering figure, shrouding all but the four lights where its eyes should be and long, razor sharp claws.
I don’t even feel my legs move as I slam through a nearby door to escape whatever that thing is. I barge through door after door, haphazardly searching for an escape. I finally find myself in a room surrounded by a forest of bookshelves that are filled with ancient, dust covered tomes.
With nowhere else to go, I search around for anything that could help me fend off this aberration. I began slipping through the maze of bookshelves, before I finally find a narrow hiding spot off in the corner. It is a little spot with two wooden chairs flanking a small round table. Sitting atop the table are a few dusty tomes, some jewelry, and an elegant dagger. My eyes widen and I smirk at the sight of the dagger. Finally, something I can use to protect myself against this monster. As I grab the dagger and pull it out of its scabbard, it reveals a beautifully polished silver blade. Looking into the blade, I catch the same four crimson slits as before. Looking behind me, I see no one. I glance at the blade once more and I realize: The four crimson eyes are from my own reflection.
I drop my blade and dozens of eyes appear from the darkness behind me in the reflection as it falls. I feel something wrap around me and right before I get dragged into the abyss, the whispers finally make sense.
“You cannot escape what you are.”