Sinister shadows flickered on the wall, cast into the ambiance of a candlelit stairwell. Glowering in that arcane shade, hush-hush, as if the hidden keepers of some Delphic wisdom, the silhouettes of minor room disturbances danced, silently, captivating the single feminine figure seated by the fire. In her shuttered existence, the tricks of light at play provided the most innocent and mystical entertainment.
A door ajar. Footsteps padded within ear’s reach, hugging the floor with the mild, crisp crunch of snow.
“Hello? Elizabeth!” Gentle wind chimes echoed her name. For a moment, Elizabeth sat still in her trance, mixing the rhythm of candlelight and the music of the unknown voice into a pleasing harmony.
Awoken by the closeness of the words, she looked up, eyes wide with bewilderment.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you. I am Doctor Jarvis’ assistant. He was occupied too far from here to come sooner. When he heard of your symptoms, he sent me in his place.”
Silence, acknowledgement. She narrowed her eyes, soaking the breadth of his form – tall, dark, drooping hair strands and draped in a black trench coat. A heaviness surrounded her, grappling at her air and she settled into the back of the chair, releasing to the chill radiating from his body.
“Are you all right?” he drew a step. “I was told you have a slight fever and a cough. Did you not hear me knock at the door?”
She shook her head silently.
“Let me check your temperature.”
Dizzied, she nodded at nothingness and allows the dark man to take his precautions.
Mustering the power of voice, “May I lie down?”
“Yes, yes, of course, here, are you chilled? A blanket…”
With the melting snow and shade of a man’s form, she eases into the darkness of sleep to the lullaby of wind-chimed voice. The numbness of a day’s snow, the thick folds of taffeta and breathlessness in her veiled fever fill her dreams, bounding and brooding towards mystery. Take care of you… In the murk of her labyrinthine mind, she paints her masculine figure: dark, soothing. Footsteps, footprints in the snow trail into the secret cavern in the mist. There she tastes the water of dripping icicles, cool and fresh. A light wind sweeps…
“Elizabeth? Miss… are you up?”
The chambermaid’s voice entered her dream and drew her out, into the hazy, cigar-smoke room. She advanced from the unreal and into the tea-stained, frostbitten mansion. The ancient, unread dust dimmed her senses.
“Come upstairs, if you can, your bed is warm and ready.”
. . . .
In the evening, when the fire casts shadows upon the somber walls and silent snowflakes flashed in the windows, her heart grew heavy and mournful. The eeriness of his step, the snow-chill upon his fingers, the depth of her dreams. Richness of the soft healing pervaded her thoughts – fireside thoughts, a quiet mystery set upon the shelf. She had heard of late-night callers, but that was the stuff of secret diaries, of shrouded letters and quixotic wishes. The whispers in the dark. Take care of you…
For weeks the fire haunted. Relieved of her illness, she pondered to venture.
All her life, she had perfected the art of graceful restraint. She sipped her tea, however bitter. She nibbled even the stalest of cakes. She smiled, perfected, shimmered even. She studied her Latin, recited her prayers, tucked her lace. But to draw her self-portrait – would her bitter tea, stale cakes and perfected smile portray her? To paint her, her aura and essence, as she glided into perception, as she burned in the hearts of men, twinkled in her father’s eye and trembled in her efflorescence…
Trembling, she ventured into the bland winter’s garden. Stark forms of trees and crippled stalks, a poking stone or two blinked. Approaching the brick wall, she extended a hand, touched the hard, coldness –
Closing an eye, and she transcended. Out of this world, the poetic, mystic assault of her inner desire –
Gray sky and dew drops reduced her flame. All she wanted was a taste, a single taste. She drew the gate.
The whiteness spreads, layered, cake-like before her. Wrapped in the softness of her furs, she treads across its purity, towards the twisting, winding wood.
. . . .
Pushing. Shove. Shaking. “Elizabeth? Is it you? Elizabeth! Wake!”
Wind chimes carry across the barren, frozen lands. Mild warmth, creeping as cinnamon tea, surrounding. Across her cheek, icicles drip as tears. She releases her guard of lashes.
“Elizabeth, thank God, you must be frozen.” Wind chimes soothe into reality. “Come, I will carry you, I have a fire going.” Wrapped in the stiffness of wet furs, the embrace of arms, the sleepy girl closes her eyes once again, unfazed. Crunching, padding, the penetrating proceeds beyond a creek, and her weight shifts to the softness of a chaise. Large, warm hands remove her tattered cloaks and replace with supple blankets, nestling, enclosing.
Wind chimes linger.
Thick wine to her lips, soul warming and divine. She grasps the forbidden fruit, fills her heart. Poetic whispers lingering upon her lips, she opens her eyes…
His eyes are blue, bright, deep.
“It is an awfully cold day for a lady to be taking a walk, especially in the wood. You are quite far from home, do you realize?”
The lady finds her voice. “I was shut in for so long, I needed some air, some fresh air…”
Her honey tones drip, slowly. The ticking of the clock fades; timelessness replaces loss, the castles burning in her heart extinguish. So slowly, she could sleep, again, but…
“I’m warmed, I am all right to return home, now.”
“Let me take you.”