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The Countess and Her Pet

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The remote town into which my obsession had led me was fast asleep except for the elaborate castle atop the hill. Inside I saw the light of burning candelabras, and the low hum of an orchestra could be heard over the locust’s warning buzz. The night was cold, but I was not. There was far too much excitement coursing through my bones, the flow of pure ecstasy originating from the fulfillment of my basic instincts. I had a gift for finding places at which elegant people preformed regal activities, and my gift had not failed me yet.
This town had been particularly homely looking. As I passed each home on my way up the cobblestone street, I noticed a stench looming about the air. It seeped through the wooden crevices of each door I passed, but I was too occupied to notice such a minuscule thing.
The dark stones of the castle had been delicately and precisely placed to form the colossal building. Although it was clearly old, age did not show on its bricks, which were pristine.
I had been sure to pull down my mask made from a fine yellow silk that graced the majority of my face. My hair was slicked back, and my suit neatly pressed. Before my mind could comprehend, I was knocking upon the mahogany door with a large brass knocker. The door swung open with my heavily placed knocks, and I stepped inside, my manners eluding me with the thrill of the rush.
Inside, laughter echoed through the bright corridor and ballroom. The masked dancers moved so gracefully about the wooden floors that it seemed as though they were gliding. I could hardly believe that such elite people, dressed in their absolute finest, lived in such dilapidated homes. Had I been smarter, I would have run then.
From across the room, a dashing figure stood out from all the rest. A woman with dark black curls receding down the length of her back and lips as red as blood stared back at me. She wore an elegant satin blue ball gown that accentuated her perfect physique. She stepped forward, and I noticed that with each step that she took I took one as well.
I could hear something, a sound so minute that even the blood pulsing in my ears was louder. Whispers, perhaps? No, not quite, but what then? I had little time to think before we were upon each other. We were in the middle of the ballroom’s vast floor, our hands interlocking out of habit. The woman smelled sickly sweet with her overwhelming honey suckle perfume.
“What is your name, stranger?” she asked, her thick Spanish accent spilling from her crimson lips.
“Sergio Ramez, Mistress,” I replied, swearing for a moment that her eyes flashed pink at me.
“Call me Countess. Welcome, Señor Ramez, to el palacio de Salvatore.” She took my calloused hands in her delicate, manicured fingers and led me in a dance that I hadn’t realized I’d known. The phantom music continued to play, and the room was alive with movement. We danced for what felt like days, but could only have been minutes. The Countess asked me where I would be staying the night, and after I told her the local hostel she insisted that I stay with her.
Without waiting for a reply, she began to lead me up the rounding oak steps. I looked down to find that the ballroom was empty and dark. No music played, the candles were unlit, and a light rain had begun to patter against the grand windows.
The Countess insisted on me staying in her room. I agreed, my instincts leading me to my answer. The moment she left the room I began to scavenge. My hands knew the exact board to extract from its place to find the Countess’s hiding place. From beneath the dusty mahogany plank a shining diamond necklace emerged. It sparkled even in the dimly lit room. My heart beat as if the flickering jewel itself had inflicted pain upon me. Even just feeling the cool silver clasp beneath my fingers was enough to fuel my imagination. I could see it now, the papers reading “The Artist Strikes Again!” First, I would draw the Countess into the darkened bedroom, like I had done with all the others. Then I would pull my knife from it sheath and slice my victim open. Just a never ending progression of rapid thrust would end a life in only a second. After the blood was drained from her delicate body, I would lay her delicately on the bed, placing the jewel around her throat. I enjoyed it like a hobby- travelling around Spain, slicing and cutting my way into the papers. Like an artist using his brush, I used my knife.
I noticed a small lever within the hole from which I pulled the necklace. I pulled it, and a bellowing creak alerted me to a bookshelf sliding away from the wall. An open crevice greeted me with an impenetrable darkness. Taking a candle, I stepped inside. The candle’s light bounced off of rows upon rows of clocks, hundreds of them ticking in the darkness. However, I observed that when the candles light shone over the clocks they stopped ticking. So that had been the sound I had heard in the ballroom, then.
The sound of footsteps startled me from my trance. I spun quickly, pulling out my knife. My candle’s light shone a ghastly shadow upon the Countess’s livid face. She slowly smiled at me, seeing the knife in my hand.
The Countess cackled at my reddening face. It forced my blood to boil beneath my skin. “Oh, Artist, you naïve, beautiful boy. It’s a shame you have such a pretty face. I’d hate to see it go to waste. Perhaps I’ll keep you for my own enjoyment.”
I lashed out with the knife, but it froze in midair. My hands began to tremble, and the knife clattered to the floor. The Countess picked up the knife and used it to delicately trim her fingernails.
“It won’t be long now,” she said, nonchalantly. My still trembling hand had developed a mark that rose from beneath my skin like a brand. It looked to be a curled “C.”
“I want to introduce you to my pet, Señor. He can only be seen at midnight, though. Stay put, will you? It’s nearly time.”
At that, I pushed past the Countess and ran down the steps. Lightning crashed behind the stained glass. Upon pushing on the doors, I found them to be sealed shut. In the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a miniature grandfather clock, just like the ones from the secret crevice. It ticked slowly in the silence. As the moonlight adjusted its position in the window overhead, it shone down on the clock. The area where the light shone looked to be made of bones while the part of the clock still in the dark remained wooden. At the bottom of the clock were my initials.
The clock chimed at twelve, revealing the clock as completely made of bones. The Countess appeared with a leash, and at the end of it appeared a snarling beast with the silhouette of a man. It stood at least six feet tall and wore all black. Its face was a mix of torn, rotting flesh and sharp white bone. Its teeth were stained yellow, and atop its head sat a leather hat with a bright red feather sticking out. It looked jagged and sharpened to a point.
The beast snarled angrily, its eyeless sockets staring into me. The Countess, young and flawless beside the beast, kissed its cheek reminding me of something my grandmother had once said. She had said that there was only one woman who could have Satan himself wrapped about her finger and that was a woman scorned so badly that she could rule the underworld with her wrath.
The last thing I noticed before the Countess released the beast was the glint of crimson in her eyes. The doors flew open, and I pounded out into the pouring rain. I attempted to escape by entering one of the dilapidated homes. Inside, I found the root of the stench that had greeted me upon my arrival to be the rotting bodies of the homeowners themselves. I felt a threatening finger catch the back of my collar and throw me back. I landed stiffly in the mud. The beast lifted me up and threw me again
Like all predators do, it waited for me to try to run. I crawled slowly forward, being the best I could manage. The skeleton beast knelt before me, its rancid stench wafting into my face. It inhaled and then released a plume of yellow breath into my direction. The putrid gas stung my face and lungs. I could feel my lace mask melting into my skin. The gas left me gasping for air, and I died drowning in my own blood. The skeleton clock with my initials had stopped ticking.
But the Countess and her pet would not simply have me die. With the mark on my hand, she claimed ownership of my soul. She would have me suffer for eternity like her other victims in the ghost town. The Countess raised me up from death to have me kneel before her and kiss her ring. I was exiled to a life of servitude. A life where no woman could stand to look at my scorched, bloody face without recoiling. A life where the Countess’s masquerade never stopped.

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