Within a Dream, part six
I stepped back inside the dim hall and closed the heavy door.There had to be some way to recover my memory. It was just below the surface, I told myself; perhaps if I just went on as usual, it would come bubbling up like water in a pan.
A watched pot never boils, I thought. How could I remember some stupid saying like that, and not my own life?
Well. If I couldn’t remember where I’d come from, I would make certain that I knew exactly where I was. I needed to learn more about this place, all of its entries and exits and passageways. Sergio was likely occupied with the kitchen or ordering people around—this was my opportunity, wide open for perhaps a couple of hours. I just had to hope that no one actually would come to the door while my post was abandoned.
I set off down the hall, doing my best to avoid both the way I’d come this morning and the way Molly had taken me to the dining room the day before. Somehow I managed, making my way down the gloomy, look-alike halls. All the doors were closed, as was apparently the standard, but as I passed some of them I thought I could hear voices, or footsteps and shuffling behind them.
At last, I came to a stop at the mouth of a dead-end hallway. Now where to go? I leaned against a wall while I gathered my wits, and watched the shadows shift and change as candles flickered fast overhead, as if they’d been hit by a sudden puff of air.
Just as I had that thought, my view of the hallway before me shifted just like the shadows. Of course; it was the same place I’d ended up last night. Immediately I thought of the door I’d opened, and the dark stairway behind it. Before I even realized what I was doing, I walked toward it.
Except it wasn’t there.
I leapt forward, broke into a run, slapped my palms against the blank wall. No door. Nothing. I caught my breath, listening to the steady thrum, thrum, thrum in the background.
Suddenly a fragmented image flashed before me—
Blazing crimson, blazing red, red, red as blood—
A hand curled, gripping, raised against a golden sky—
I jumped, a little scream escaping my throat. It had been a real voice speaking those words, not in my head, but beside me, whispering in my ear. I hardly breathed.
Thrum. Thrum. Thrum.
No voices. I was alone in the darkened hall. I shuddered. Had it been my imagination? Was the thrumming finally getting to me, making me hear spooks and phantom noises? Or was it some memory of mine, broken and disjointed?
As much as I wanted my memory back… I wasn’t so sure I wanted to know the source of that voice and its strange message, or the blood-red colour still blazing in my mind.
“It couldn’t have been a memory,” I told myself.
“What couldn’t have been?”
I looked up. A woman leaned half out of an open doorway beside me. Something about her was off, I thought. She was too pale; even her curly blonde hair was nearly white, though she looked much too young for it to be turning. Yes, despite her slightly sunken cheeks, the blackened rings of sleeplessness beneath her eyes, I could see that she was young, even pretty, or had been so not long ago.
“Nothing,” I answered quickly. “I was just talking to myself. Sorry if I disturbed you.”
She stepped all the way out into the hall. Her washed-out blue dress hung too loose on her tall, thin frame. “I haven’t seen you before,” she said.
“I’m new here. Since yesterday.”
“Very new.” She sounded distracted, kept glancing around like she was waiting for someone to jump out at her.
“I’m, um, supposed to be watching the door,” I said uncomfortably. “I think I’d better get back there—”
“No one’s coming,” she said.
I felt like asking, how would you know? But I didn’t. I pitied her. “My name’s Ellen,” I said, and extended a hand toward her.
She took it. Hers was cold. “Charlotte,” she said in a wispy voice.
“Charlotte,” I repeated. I looked up into her dark eyes and saw that they were not hollow. A wan glow smoldered within them, like dying coals.
“Charlotte Bell,” she whispered.
I flinched away, jerked my hand out of her grasp. Two names. She remembered her last name.
She didn’t seem to notice my odd behavior. “Charlotte Bell of Copper Street,” she said.
“I really have to get back,” I said, ducking past her. I didn’t know why Charlotte frightened me, but I darted away all the same.
I had just made it back to the front door and caught my breath when Molly came bounding down the hall to me. “I see you made your escape,” she said, and beyond the teasing in her voice I thought I heard a twinge of something darker.
“Maybe not outside,” I countered, “but you didn’t really expect me to just stand here all day, did you?”
She raised her eyebrows. “Oh, so you went exploring, then? See anything interesting?”
“No,” I lied. “Got a little lost, that’s all.”
“At least I can be sure you’re not turning into Sergio’s little puppet.”
“I can’t be the puppet of anyone who doesn’t let me eat,” I said.
Molly hooked her arm through mine and began to lead me down the hall. “That’s what I came to tell you,” she said. “The guests are just finishing luncheon—”
“All of them?” I blurted, thinking of Charlotte.
Molly gave me a sideways look. “I suppose not all of them,” she said. “They’re allowed to do whatever they please with their day, unlike some of us.”
“Anyway, as I was saying. We can eat something now.”
I breathed a sigh. “Finally.”
“Come along, and this time, really try to keep quiet.”
She shook her head. “Questions, questions. Just trust me.” She said it casually, but I thought:
I do. And I hope it’s not a mistake.