Still attempting to maintain radio silence in the department of poetry, I opted for this story. It is supposed to be frightening. It is supposed to be harrowing. And it is supposed to continue if I can find the gall to continue it.
Further adventures aside, enjoy. Let the chills run up and down your spine like five invisible fingers and tell me what you think once you’ve reached the other side. Let me know if the view is worth the trip.
Cora’s lover had died two weeks before the package arrived and it had sat on her mantle for a month since then feeding shapeless waking nightmares of Paris and death. Dust rose into the air like smoke and stuck to her sweating fingertips as she peeled away the cardboard and slid the contents onto thighs. The box within rested on her lap with the weight and dimensions of a very heavy hard-back book. It was perhaps five inches long, eight inches wide and four inches deep. The glass from which it was formed was crystal clear and glinted in the firelight, but it was painted black on the inside so the contents would remain hidden. The solder that held the panes together was of a golden shade and on the top was etched a little Eiffel Tower, or La Tour Eiffel, as her lover had explained it was called. As she stared at the box’s gleaming edges and sharp angles, she remembered how quickly her lover had fallen out of love with the City of Light. The letters he had sent her lauding the gardens and the music and the art and the sun turned to mordent commentaries about the falseness and the duality and the loneliness he found there. And soon, letters of disillusionment had gradually become letters of desperation, sadness, and grief.
Cora swallowed and fought off a sob. Only a week before he had been reported found dead, she had written a letter begging him to come home, but something about the place ate at him and would not let him leave. He was going to find the key to the magic Paris held for artists if it killed him. She ran her fingers over the golden lock on the front of the box.
He hadn’t sent a key with the box, but she knew precisely how to get in. She began to lift a long golden chain from around her neck, but stopped halfway. The chain was long enough to reach the box from her neck. And, if not, either the box would come to her or she would bow her neck to the box.
She leaned over a smidge, lifted the box up towards her face and reached for the little key on the end of her necklace. The words Je t’aime, etched on the underside of the key, flashed at her as she put it in the lock and turned it.
“Clever man,” she thought to herself. The key was a gift he had sent before Paris had become his hell. She had never imagined it was anything aside from a charm.
As the lock had admitted the key, the key admitted her entrance into her lover’s last gift. As she slowly opened the lid, a strange oriental perfume, drifted to her nose.
“Shalimar?” she wondered, thinking that maybe he had bought her a bottle of that rare perfume. “How in the world had he afforded it”?
Expecting to find a cracked glass bottle, Cora finished opening the box and stared down at the contents of the glass reliquary, the perfumes of the Far East curling like dragon whiskers from the box to her nose, mouth and face.
Inside was a cloud of shimmering gold tissue that seemed to provide protection to a smaller cardboard container. Lying atop it was a small piece of paper bearing the watermark for her lover’s hotel and a few lines of writing scribbled in blue ink. Smiling sadly as she did it, Cora lifted the paper out of the box and did the best she could at deciphering his spidery handwriting.
But now the Caves of Hell I view,
Who shall I dare to show them to?
What mighty soul in Beauty’s form
Shall dauntless view the infernal storm?
Cora blinked. Her head was swimming with the scent of jasmine and musk. The vanilla rounded it all off, pouring over her brain and dulling its function like a heavy, poisonous cream. Still clinging weakly to thoughts of Shalimar and frowning at the bit of Blake her lover had sent her, she reached for the paper in the corner of the box determined to discover what all of this was about. But as her hand moved, so did her shoulder. And as her shoulder tipped over, so did her head, neck and entire upper body.
Cora dropped the papers on the floor and clutched at the green upholstery of her armchair as her fogged brain processed the pitch forward. Avoiding the fall, she shifted herself backwards into the chair and tried to catch her breath. She felt the thump, thump, thump of her heart being sent back to her in miniature earthquakes through her chair. Her eyes flitted from looking for any clues at to what was causing this. Was it the perfume, was it the dust? Cora felt her eyes roll back into her head and her body go slack. She gasped in fear as she groggily righted her eyes by lifting her heavy head like a baby doll. When her eyes focused, Cora made a move to stand, to run away from the feeling, but a second wave of unconsciousness washed over her. Uselessly she clawed for the light, trying desperately to keep her eyes open. But she knew there was no avoiding this fall into the unknown.
The last thought she had was the anticipation of breaking glass, but the sound of oblivion reached her first.
To be continued…