Within the dark
Blood reigns over
The cagéd lark
Caught in a web
Silk and stark
The shrouding dark.’
– Devika Templeton, 1999, Blood
The hallway is dark and dingy. More so than I remember.
There’s a light fitting, but no bulb or cover, above me and further down the hall it’s more of the same. The paintings I can make out along the diminishing walls with the slight orange glow from behind me bear little resemblance to those in the rest of the house. Their regal setting and refined postings are missing. Instead they sag lopsidedly as haughty faces seem twisted into grimacing haunts.
It’s like some sort of night-vision tunnel and it reeks of neglect.
There must be other showers. Or even a bath-tub. One easily located and lit with actual lights.
I suspect he would rather watch me stumble over my own feet. Undoubtedly, this serves as some form of punishment in his mind.
I had asked Seth if I could get cleaned up and he had directed me down this hallway. I’d been traumatised to see unblemished skin upon my chest as I undressed in the room I am assigned to. Not a single mark, not even any blood to prove my story sane. I can’t explain it. I want to, but I can’t. Seth’s refusal to agree with me that there is an unnaturally unsettling red-haired man tormenting me within and without of this building only stresses me further. What if he isn’t toying with me this time? What if I really am unravelling? Seeing ghosts in a house filled with vampires.
Visions of my mother prance through my skull as I prepare myself to get cleaned up.
Focus on the task at hand, Devika.
Mild trepidation ensues as I pull the towel – fluffy to the brink of opulence – tighter around my chest and leave the comfort of distant music, warmth and voices floating up from downstairs, wading with bare-footed stealth in the direction Seth steered me.
As my filthy fingers (sliding along the wall for stability) brush the edge of an unseen portrait I pull it straight without question before the cellar swims to mind at the graze of wooden framework. A Technicolor memory in swathes of red and brown inspires me to rip my hand away. My fingers itch where they touched the darkened canvas.
The air here is not musty as one would expect from such a claustrophobic cube. A cold breeze ripples along the flesh of my shoulders and I can smell roses and jasmine from the garden. But still I can’t locate a window with my shadow-drenched eyes though there must be one. My pupils strain, aching against the sides of my skull to find a way out. Any escape at all. But all I can see is night as it gnaws at the courage that would have allowed me the liberty of searching further, reminding me of how such a traitorous act could end in a display of brutal authority. My cheek still stings from his slap. It could have been so much worse.
The paintings flood my thoughts again and I balk at the memory as a familiar giggle riddles my thoughts with fear.
My fingers finally slip into air as I reach the bathroom door which stands open and I fumble until I find a light switch. White spots buzz across my vision as the fluorescence flares to life.
There is no door to stand open. Just two uneven empty brackets speckled with rust, and one lonely nail poking out of the door’s frame like the snapped arm of a rambunctious child.
I would sigh. But to be honest, this is to be expected.
The dilapidation within challenges me with its obnoxious insistence on being less than extraordinary.
The shower door is covered in some kind of dusty, dry substance, making its transparence an opaque white decorated with unintentional art, and the floor’s tiles bear dirt-smeared cracks. Near the sink, an entire tile is missing, exposing the concrete beneath. The basin seems clean enough, but the mirror above it has been sliced in two and the surface is in desperate need of a polish. Some kind of moss has begun to make itself at home along the edges of the glass – creeping in from the tiles – clearly considering the musty condensation to be an invitation. The toilet seems clean from this angle, but I would rather not find out and I tiptoe over the cracks towards the shower, trying to avoid uncomfortable travel lacerations (one of those lesser-known ailments).
I peer over the edge of the shower to find that the drain has no covering.
With warranted cynicism at whether or not the shower will even work, I remove the towel and gingerly drape it over the sink; a splash of violet against the stark off-white. If it touches the floor I think I may have to walk back to the room sopping wet and naked.
Out of the corner of my eye I can see that my reflection has faded away to a degree sharp enough to make me seem gaunt and I turn back to the shower without stopping to inspect my new anorexia-chique. It’s bad enough knowing that my distaste for food has turned to incessant waves of nausea and a chronic loss of balance without having to stare the outcome thereof in the hollowed-out face. Even the small meal provided to me over the last few days made me sick to the point of pain. My stomach responded near violently at the smell.
The water shudders in the pipes as I turn the handle and step back, expecting to be drenched, but no semi-arctic stream erupts to drown me, despite my suspicions.
I lean in to poke at the nozzle and fling myself out of the way as hairy, black sticks creep out to clutch at the sides. They are followed by the rest of the spider’s undulating body as a steaming spray is released from the pipes in its wake.
The little monster, now perched on top of the pipe attaching the shower-head to the wall – none too perturbed as it glances at me with its myriad of glassy eyes – seems to hunker down for a second and then scurries up the tiles and through a crack in the ceiling.