Erica knew she had been down this corridor before but she couldn’t remember when. She wanted to stop, turn around, and go back the way she’d come, but she didn’t recall where she’d been before now. The corridor was cold but it felt warm ahead where the light was coming from.
“Come now, Erica. Don’t dawdle.”
A man’s voice. He sounded familiar but she didn’t know from where.
She took another step forward, then another. She stopped and looked down. A simple, white blouse, plain woolen skirt with the hem down to her knees, black patent leather shoes. She was dressed almost like a schoolgirl, but she knew she was an adult. Erica started walking toward the light again. Then she was at the entrance to the room.
Even standing at the threshold, it was hard to see. There was a fireplace, a piano, chairs, a small sofa, all early 19th century, all very expensive. The portrait over the mantle was of a distinguished gentleman. It was the same man who had called to her, who was standing just to the right of the very same mantle holding a drink in his left hand. He offered it to her.
“I’m sure you’ll want this, my dear.” He extended his arm toward her. She slowly walked forward and saw her own right arm reaching out. She hadn’t meant to do that. Then she could feel the cold, smooth glass in her hand. It contained a brown liquid.
“Brandy, in case you’re wondering. You always want a brandy on cold, stormy nights.”
She looked to her left at the window and became aware for the first time of the sound of rain striking the glass. She could hear the wind howling outside like a hungry beast. Somehow, she felt she was its prey.
“Drink up, Erica. It will help calm your nerves.”
She looked back at him. He was perhaps forty-five to fifty, not particularly handsome, but there was something compelling about his face, especially his eyes, as if he could see inside of her or through her, as if he had seen things no one should see or know. He still had a full head of hair and it was still mostly brown with just a few distinguished streaks of gray. He was dressed formally in dark slacks, white shirt and tie, but instead of a suit or sports jacket was wearing what was called a “smoking jacket.”
This was his home, his studio. But who was he and what was she to him? What was she doing here?”
The man nodded and Erica realized she was still holding her drink. She took a sip. It burned the back of her throat but it tasted good. She had done this before, entered this room, accepted a drink from the man, looked out at the storm, sipped her brandy. But what had happened next?
Erica took another sip to bolster her courage. “Who are you?”
He looked disappointed. “You don’t remember. I’d rather hoped you had this time.”
“Never mind. It would be too hard to explain.” He looked down and faintly shook his head, and then looked back at her. “Well, since you’re here, we might as well spend some time together. Maybe it will jog your memory. Please.” He waved his hand at a chair near the fire. “Have a seat.”
She sat. It was a comfortable chair. She noticed a small table to her right and put her glass upon it. He sat in an identical chair on the table’s opposite side. The seats were angled so they could see each other as well as the fire.
“My name is Marcus. Does that sound at all familiar to you? Do I seem familiar?”
“Yes. Not the name, but your face.” She looked around and then back at him. “This room. The fire, the drink, the storm. I’ve done all this before, haven’t I?”
Yes you have, Erica. Many times before. The first time you were terrified. You couldn’t remember anything. Our home here on the family estate was completely foreign to you.”
“Our…?” She reached up with her right hand, placing it just under her throat as a gesture of surprise. She looked around again. “Our?”
“Yes, Erica. Your home and mine. Don’t you remember?”
She stood up, suddenly frightened. “I want to go home. Please take me back.”
He stood up as well, concern written on his face and resounding in his voice. “Erica, you are home. There’s nowhere else to go.”
“But…but I came from somewhere.”
“Somewhere you don’t want to go back to, Erica. You will be much better off here with me.”
“No!” She moved her arm suddenly and struck the glass, sending it onto the floor. “Oh, I’m sorry, I…” She watched the stain spread across the expensive carpet as if it were a pool of blood.
He touched her forearm to be reassuring but she jerked her arm away and took a step back.
“Please think nothing of it, Erica. I’ll have one of the staff clean it up in the morning.”
She didn’t know why, but he felt panicked, the room was closing in around her, the wind was howling like a wolf at the moon, a screeching hawk tearing the flesh off a rabbit.
“I’ve got to get out!”
She ran for the exit and into the corridor. She rushed into the darkness and then…
Erica knew she had been down this corridor before but she couldn’t remember when. She wanted to stop, turn around, and go back the way she’d come, but she didn’t recall where she’d been before now. The corridor was cold but it felt warm ahead where the light was coming from. She looked down. She was wearing a white blouse, pullover sweater, and a dark woolen skirt. Something was missing though.
“Come now, Erica. Don’t dawdle.”
A man’s voice. He sounded familiar…she knew his voice. He had a name. He told it to her the last time.
The last time?
She found herself walking into the room although she hadn’t consciously willed herself to do it. He was standing there again, just to the right of the hearth, her drink in his hand.
“I’m sure you’ll want this, my dear.”
She extended her arm to take it. She could smell the brandy.
“You always want a brandy on cold, stormy nights.”
“Yes, that’s right.” She remembered. Erica took a sip. It tasted good but burned the back of her throat. The window to her left shuddered at the pounding rain and driving wind. There was an animal nearby. She thought she heard howling.
The room was exactly the same as the last time, as was the man. He looked at her expectantly.
“Your name is Marcus.”
He smiled broadly. “Splendid, Erica. Absolutely splendid. You remember.”
“Only a little. Do you want me to sit down?”
“Yes,” he gestured toward her chair. “Of course.”
She started for the chair and just before she sat, Erica stopped. She took another drink and then set the glass on the nearby table. “No, I’d better not. I don’t think I should stay. In fact I’m certain I must be going now.”
“No, please stay with me.”
Marcus grabbed her forearm. The last time he touched her he was gentle, but this time it hurt.
“No, let go!”
He held her arm, gripping tighter. “Stay!”
“No! Let go of me!” She tore her arm away and ran for the exit.
“Erica, wait!” She ran into the corridor listening for his footfalls. She was certain he would run after her and she was terrified. She rushed into the darkness and then…
“Come now, Erica. Don’t dawdle. We haven’t got all night.”
She was standing at the entrance to the room, this time dressed in a blouse, pullover sweater and woolen slacks. Her boots were wet and muddy. She’d left her raincoat hanging by the front door.
“I said come in, Erica.” Marcus sounded angry. He must know. She wanted for this unpleasantness to go quickly, but she knew he’d keep her here to argue, try to convince her to stay.
“Fine, I’ll have a brandy and then I must go.”
She was angry. She was frightened. Why? What had happened? What was about to happen?
She took the glass and drained half of it in a single gulp, then set it down on the nearby table.
“Won’t you sit down?” He sounded calmer, but that was just one of his little tricks to lull her into believing things could be different and that he could change.
“I remember, Marcus. You can’t keep it all from me.”
“It doesn’t have to end the same way, Erica.” He was imploring her. For an instant, he actually seemed to care. Did he really want it to be different this time? How could she ever trust him again after he…
“Yes, it does, Marcus. It always ends the same way. If you want it to be different, this time you have to let me go.”
“You can’t leave me, Erica, I won’t permit it!” He grabbed her arm and twisted. She cried out but couldn’t pull away.
“No!” She yelled and then slapped his face but he still didn’t let go.
“You little slut. You want to leave me to be with him.”
“There is no him, Marcus. There never was. Just let me go. You’re a monster, an animal. I’ll never let you touch me again.”
“I’m your husband and I’ll touch you anyway I like!” He doubled up his fist and struck the side of her head, knocking her to the floor as he had so many, many times before.
The wind howled outside but the beast was in the room with her. She tried to get up but he kicked her in the ribs. Did he break anything? She could barely breathe. For a moment, she thought she was going to black out.
“You won’t leave, Erica. This is our home. You aren’t going anywhere.” He stood over her menacingly, fists doubled, ready to strike.
She was trying to crawl to the exit, her left arm held protectively over her injured ribs. She tasted blood in her mouth. Erica kept looking up at those horrible, penetrating eyes. If she looked away, she wouldn’t be able to see the next blow coming.
Then he stepped back. This was her chance. With her free arm, she pulled herself across the carpet toward the hallway. If only she could get back to the foyer and then outside. She’d left the car running. Swallowing her terror, she looked into the darkness. She couldn’t see the front door at the far end. Then the sound of metal scraping stone. She turned back toward him in horror.
Marcus was holding one of the iron fireplace pokers. “You slut bitch! I’ll never let you go just so you can screw your lover. You’re my wife!”
He hit her with the poker. Agony blinded her. Her arm was broken.
“You,” he struck her in the arm again. She screamed but couldn’t hear her own voice.
“Are,” the poker came down on her hip.
“My,” he almost missed, but the poker’s sharp edge scraped her forehead. Blood gushed into her eyes.
“Wife!” The metal hit the side of her head, but she felt no pain. Then there was darkness and silence, and then there was nothing.
Erica quietly glided down the same corridor but it was different this time. The light from the fire wasn’t as bright and the room wasn’t so warm. Marcus was in his chair. His glass was on his left sitting on the table next to the empty brandy decanter. He was dozing drunkenly. He was in dress slacks and a rumpled shirt. He wore a ratty old robe this time instead of a jacket. It had been a month to the day.
As she went closer, she could hear him softly snoring.
“Oh, Marcus.” Her voice sounded lyrical, almost playful. “It’s me, Marcus.”
“Um..hmmm…uh,” he started to respond. “Who…who’s there?”
“It’s me, Marcus. Erica.”
He struggled to open his eyes, panic arguing with intoxication. “No. Dreaming. Must be dream…”
“No, Marcus. That’s what you did to me, remember? You used that damned book you found in the attic, your great-grandmother’s. The woman who called herself a witch before she committed suicide. You used that book to trap me in a dream, your dream. Tried to change things in that dream so I wouldn’t remember that you murdered me, remember? Only it didn’t work. I did remember, I remembered all too well, well enough to know to come back afterward, after I escaped your dream world.”
He twisted in his chair so he could look behind him. “You. No. You…you’re…I buried you.”
She moved between him and the fire. “Yes, how sweet of you. A funeral of one. You couldn’t very well call the police or an ambulance. It would have been so painfully obvious you’d beaten me to death. So you buried me on the grounds out back, near that oak tree I always liked to sit under when I read. You gave money to that transient so he’d drive my car to another state.
You’d tell our friends that I had left suddenly, that I was unhappy with our marriage, that I found another man. When the police found my car in Massachusetts, or Connecticut, or Pennsylvania, they could draw whatever conclusions they’d like and you’d be in the clear, the poor deserted husband.”
“Erica. It’s really is you. I thought I was dreaming.” It was like he’d realized for the first time that she had come back, that she was with him. “Is there a chance, my dear? Can we make it work this time?”
“No, Marcus, but I will promise you one thing. I will stay with you for the rest of your life.”
She couldn’t actually feel the poker in her hand as she picked it up. It was more like exercising an act of will. Erica paused to admire how he’d managed to clean off all of her blood, her skin, bits of hair and bone. You’ve never know it was a murder weapon. The carpet had been replaced. Nothing could have successfully gotten rid of those bloodstains. Yes, he had covered his tracks very well.
He stood and managed to stagger a few steps toward the corridor before she hit him for the first time in the center of his back. He fell forward heavily onto the floor. Then he turned on his side and implored her, his deep brown eyes begging, “No, Erica. Don’t! Please!”
She raised the poker again.”I won’t kill you, Marcus. I’m just going to hurt you. I’m going to keep on hurting you for a long as you live. Every night will be your own private hell, Marcus. It’s what you deserve.”
He screamed as she hit him, as his flesh tore, as his blood splattered on the carpet and across the furniture.
He had wanted her to stay, to never leave him. Now she never would.
I wrote this for Thursday photo prompt – Portal – #writephoto hosted at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo. Each week, Sue posts one of her photos as a prompt to inspire writers to author a piece of fiction or other creative work.
When I saw this week’s photo, it seemed mysterious and even sinister. I tried to increase the image size, but still couldn’t see clearly what was inside the room at the end of the hall. That made me think of a character who was just as unclear about her surroundings, at least in the beginning.
Perhaps horror isn’t necessarily appropriate this close to the Christmas season, but I have to go where the muse leads me.
To find links to other stories inspired by the prompt, visit Thursday’s #writephoto.