A short story by Baskerville, posted on 22-05-06

Silence. The silence was striking. She had not expected this when she opened the door to the grand mansion whose floors she was treading on. The once so lively corridors were now empty, although that was to make things a lot easier. As unexpected the silence and lack of life was, it was an appropriate atmosphere, she thought. Slowly walking along the marble floor she studied and took in the complicated and equally beautiful design of the walls, ceiling and floor alike. To her amusement, she noted that the walls were designed to look like a fairytale that unfolded as the chamber of her goal drew ever so closer. Unexpected it was indeed, though it would not change what come would. The last turn was at hand. As she turned along the form of the corridor, the walls turned blank. Devoid of any design except for the patterns of the stone it was cut from, the hall ended in a black door. Advancing through the hall made the girl notice that this hall in particular was darker than any of the ones she just had passed through. With a smile and a hand shaking, not from fright, but excitement, she lightly felt the handle of the door. Smooth, cold and long, she almost laughed aloud at seeing its design. It was a doorknob designed to look as the handle of a dagger that was stuck through the door. Enough standing around! The time was at hand.

Slowly opening the door of her goal, she shed light on the most inner room of the marble mansion. The room seemed as deserted as the fairly long and ambient set of corridors that led to it. A library was contained inside. “Interesting choice” was the thought that crossed her mind as she took in the undeniably huge amount of books contained within. Not adding to her amazement, there were sings of life in the middlemost part of the otherwise so desolate room. She was not bothered by the fading light as she closed the door without as much as a hint of sound. The enveloping dark did little to dull her senses and she took care not to come in contact with any of the books that were scattered around. Reaching the table in the mid of the room, she sat down on one of the unoccupied chairs. She stared for a moment at the man sitting on the other side of the table, taking in the very feeling of his presence. A long moment of silence passed.

‘Did I disturb your sleep?’ she asked carefully.
‘Sleep........sleep is a luxury ones such as I rarely afford ourselves, my child.’ he answered with a voice that spoke more of his lack of sleep than did his statement.
‘ there anything you would like for me to get you, grandfather?’
‘No, I......well perhaps you could fetch me a certain book, that is, if you would not mind listening to one of my stories once again...?’
‘I would be delighted to hear one, grandfather.’

While recovering the book the girl thought to herself that this would be worth all the trouble. Not only had it worked. Playing along, she had noticed, was a fun way to do this. The faint smile on the old mans lips when she handed over the book to him seemed to be one of sadness as well as regret.

‘This, my dear, is the only book in this whole library that is written by my hand. I have written in it from time to time and I intend to pass it over to you before I return to nothingness. It is a legacy, in a way. I want you to have it.’
‘I understand, grandfather. What kind of a story is it?’
‘It is a fairytale, my dear. One that has been long in the making. I am going to read the first parts for you. I want you to listen well, for it is a story that will be of great importance to you.’
‘Intriguing’, she thought while smiling one way on the outside. One way on the inside.

‘I will listen well, grandfather.’ she answered, not letting her voice betray the true feelings raging inside of her.
‘Praised be the one who endowed you with your kindness, my dear.’

With that said he opened the old book with care and straitened the first page out. It had not been until now that he had noticed the lack of light. He reached for a candlestick that stood on the table. A lonely candle was lit up, but it seemed like a grand sunset in comparison to the suffocating darkness that it drove away. This time she could not help the laugh that escaped from her mouth. The delight at seeing the face of the frail old man was more than she could take. Puzzled, the old man let it pass. Understanding children was now beyond him as much as understanding women. There was a slight hesitation before he looked down at the first page of his book. It was almost as if it was something he had not dared do for a long time.

‘I have not yet given the tale a name. I was hoping you could help me with that after you have heard the full length of it. Let us begin.’ And thus he began.

‘Once upon a time there was a boy. This boy was a normal child, a child that was neither rich nor poor, not good at anything in particular though not particularly bad at anything either. Nor was he the luckiest boy around as well as he was not the most unfortunate. He was happy, strong and perfectly healthy. He had a brother and a sister, both younger than him. The house where he lived was of normal size and his parents were kind ones. Near the house lay a forest in which the children spent a lot of time in. The forest was vast and there was always something new to discover, to the delight of the children. It was like a second home to the boy. As time passed, the boy continued to explore the forest until one day when he knew most of it from one end to the other. In all of the forest, there was one place that the boy treasured more than the rest of it. He did not know why though. The place looked just like any other that could be found in the forest with the exception of a smaller circle of trees that were much darker in colour than the other trees. The place had a special feeling, a feeling that was very hard to describe. Inside this circle perspective changed. The boy always felt loneliness when sitting inside the circle. He could not explain his feelings for the place, just as many often find it hard to explain feelings that they do not fully understand. He would come there often only to sit there till it was time for him to be on his way home. He never brought his brother or sister there. It was a place where he could enjoy solitude. Then one day when rain had touched the place of solitude and then gone away, the boy found something peculiar. It was something he could not have noticed before, but thanks to the rain a very small square of metal could now be seen on the ground, in the middle of the circle of trees. The boy was fascinated by this object. He found soon enough that he would not be able to lift it for it was stuck to the ground. Intrigued by his discovery the boy began to dig with his hands. His hands alone were not enough to dig as deep as needed though. Not discouraged, the boy returned the next day carrying a shovel. Three days he dug until he finally understood what the object was. Gradually, a set of stairs started to emerge from the ground and on the seventh day a door could be seen at the end of the set of stairs. “This is where decay starts and pain takes shape. Be you man or woman, young or old. Before death all shall be treated equal”. This text could be read on the door. The boy felt a certain uneasiness as the door slowly folded inwards, as if to welcome him.’

‘I am sorry, my dear. Would you like a break?’
‘No grandfather. The story is just getting interesting. Continue, if you will.’ “I think that I am beginning to understand....this house...” she thought as the old man continued the story.
‘Where was I now? Oh the boy entered...’

‘As the boy entered the room on the other side of the door he was amazed to find another set of stairs leading even deeper than he thought was possible. There was no source of light inside. Even so the boy could still see as good as if he had carried a torch. The stairs ended in a large cave-like room that was dimly lit up by lots of fireflies. In the back of the room there was what looked like an island amidst all the crystal clear water that occupied much of the space in the room. Right in front of him there was a narrow stone bridge leading all the way to the small island. The surprisingly fresh air carried with it a warm feeling of safety that soothed the boy and sustained his courage. Hesitation was put aside but a sense of foreboding still remained lingering. The barefoot boy felt the smooth texture of the stone he was walking on. Had he not been able to see it he would have thought that the bridge was made of glass. A quick look to the side revealed that, though the water was as clear as could be, the bottom of this underground lake could not be seen. This was taken of the boys mind as soon as it was taken in when he started to near the island. He could now see a small altar and a statue of a woman sitting on a throne behind the altar. As he came closer the beauty of the woman became as clear as the crystal lake surrounding the small island. The boy now stood in front of the ornate altar and observed a box that was in half black, in half gold. On the side of the box that was facing the boy something was written. “1 / 7”. The boy could not resist his curiosity. As he opened the box he found only a dagger inside. The dagger was made of gold and as the boy took it further to his face he could see a word spelled out on the blade; “Fortuna”. Lowering the dagger he could see one last word written in the inner part of the top of the box he had just opened. The word was faded though and the boy gave up trying to decipher it. Just then a vision of horror exploded inside the young boys head. It was over so fast and he could only remember very small parts of what he had seen.’

At this the girl began laughing.
‘Did I say something strange to make you laugh so, my dear?’
‘Oh no, not really. It is just that your story sometimes resembles a true fairytale and at the same time does not do that at all’ was her answer. With this answer the old man was content and he continued...
‘I see. Your observations are accurate as always, my dear daughter. Let us continue. Yet another...'

‘”Yet another one comes to seek the dagger, I see”
The boy looked around widely without success at finding the one who had spoken. Had his imagination gotten the best of him? Was he going crazy? After all, had he not had scenes of horror assault him seconds ago without as much as a warning?
“Over here. You have looked past me a couple of times, boy.” The voice once again rang out in the vast room. It was only after witnessing what he once thought was a statue rise from its throne that he understood who had spoken to him. The boy dared not say a word. The woman, however, took on a tranquil face as she started speaking again.
‘Or are you just lost, perhaps?’
‘I....I seek no dagger, miss.’ The boy finally answered.
‘I see. Then I will have you return that dagger to the place in which you found it. This is its resting place after all.’
‘Its...resting place?’ at this the boy was puzzled. Daggers did not have life, they were just tools made by man.
‘Oh, but this dagger is alive. Your thoughts are easily read, I am afraid, as that has been the thought that many who come seeking it have shared. I have heard many questions and given many answers. I have been here a very long time.’
‘Why could you not leave?’
‘Hahahah. I thought that it would be obvious even for a child such as you. I am the guardian of this place. I am not supposed to leave this place and you are also not supposed to be here.’
‘Is it this dagger that you are supposed to guard?’
‘My, you sure are the quickest of them all. Yes, my boy, that is correct.’
‘Why, you say? Because it is a special dagger.’
‘Is it magical?’
‘In a way. But I consider it more a curse.’
‘In what way?’
‘The one in possession of the dagger will be fortunate in all things material. He is granted a long life of luxury and anything he wants shall be granted. There are a few exceptions of course. But there are a lot of dangers that come with it. It...’
At this part the boy stopped listening. The words echoed in his head as he glanced at the word that was carved in the blade of the dagger once again, this time as if it was the only thing that existed. The boy could not hear the words that the woman spoke anymore. He now realized why the woman was here guarding it. It was simple. If she hid it and guarded it closely then nobody would ever take it away from her. She wanted it all for herself.
‘Hey, what are you doing, boy? I was talking to you, do not turn your back at me as if you....are not.....listening...’ and with that she realized what had happened, but it was too late as the boy had already started running back the way he had come. She had been careless. With growing panic she started running after the boy. She closed in on him just as he ran past the door that had sealed of the second set of stairs. He turned just to see her collapse on the stairs with a scream.
‘The price paid for having a human escape with seems that even eternity does not cure carelessness. Boy! Know this. When it is time, I will have you. You can run as much as you want. You will not escape me. Not even in death!’
With these words said, the boy watched the guardian wither away slowly but surely, as a flower that became corrupted by the embrace of cold.

‘I have heard enough.’
‘Why, my dear wife? I have not yet finished the first part. Why is it that you do not wish to hear the rest of it?’
‘I am not your grandchild or your daughter. Nor am I your wife. It has clouded your mind that much, has it? You do not yet realize who I am, do you?’ the old man leaned forward after the woman had spoken, straining his eyes to see who sat in the chair in front of him. He had not been able to see the face of his companion in the dull light.
‘Who...might you be then...?’ He asked with a lot of doubt colouring his voice.
‘Well now. It seems as though you still are as dull as back then. Did I not tell you that you would never escape me?’ With this the woman rose to her feet and slowly walked around the table so that the dim light touched her face.
‘You!’ The doubt had quickly changed to fear.
‘Yes and no. How have you been? I am quite sure that you have missed me, no?’ The grin he already had witnessed a few times returned to her face.
‘But.....but you died. I saw you fade away on that day!’
‘It is true that I did die...although I am sure that you remember the warning you were once given. After all, you wrote it down in your nice little fairytale.’ She said with a laugh and waited for him to remember.
‘Oh, you disappoint me, old man. ”This is where decay starts and pain takes shape. Be you man or woman, young or old. Before death all shall be treated equal”, remember that one?’
‘So that means that you are...?’ His eyes grew big as realization came to his mind.
‘Before Death all shall be treated equal. Indeed, this certainly has some meaning. More meaning than you could possibly think. You wondered why I was here. Death takes the shape of the one thing that you fear the most. In your case that would be me. Your fear for having the dagger taken away before you could get away with it was the one thing that has ever scared you from your wits. You had already been corrupted by it before you could hear my warning. That is, the fourth warning you received.’
‘The fourth one? I only remember the one on the door, the one on the box and the one you gave me...which I to this day cannot remember.’
‘The visions. The visions were the third warning. It was a vision of this very day, of this very conversation. Ordinary men who would come to seek the dagger would be turned away by the vision as they would realize at just what price the dagger would come. But you, a boy, a child could not bare the pain that the visions held. They were not received as should and so you managed to escape me before I had even realized that the visions had not held you back’
The old man could not believe what he had heard. He would not believe. But why, then, was he shaking with fear? He could not move from his seat. His body would not move.
‘Need to go somewhere? Could it be that you are scared, old man?’
Move. Move! Struggling, it seemed, would not work.
‘I am not quite finished with you yet. I can do not want to die. You do not want to lose the dagger nor the things that came with it. Granddaughter, daughter or wife. You could not care less of them. They are already dead. You have not even noticed how many years that have passed since they died and you could not have cared less. Such is the power of the dagger. I did not lie when I told you that it was alive. It feeds on the despair of man. It brought you fortune so that you could be afraid to loose it, so that you could fear having it stolen by the ones closest to you and also so that you would never throw it away.’
The old man had given up struggling as each blow of realization hit him. Tears started forming in his eyes.
‘This will be the new resting place of the dagger. This old mansion is long forgotten and I will make sure that finding it will be hard so that I prevent this from ever happening again.’ She said as she reached for the dagger sitting gently in the lap of the old man.
‘Have you anything left to say?’
The old man closed his eyes and thought about it for a few seconds.
‘ you....and...forgive me.’ As his words faded the room started to glow as if the fireflies from the fairytale had appeared. He could once again feel the calm reassuring solitude of the forest and the cave as the guardian plunged the dagger of his curse into his chest while giving him a slight kiss to his forehead, as if to reassure a child going to sleep.

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