From black and white to gray

by Lilla Orly

 

I finished reading the chapter and felt unsettled. How could Dorian Gray have felt so guiltless after practically murdering his fiancee? It is true that their young love had blossomed rapidly and the engagement was quite rash, however walking away from the topic of Sibyl Vane’s suicide did not fit well with me. Lord Henry tried to brush away any of Dorian’s real emotions left for the girl, by saying that he had simply fallen in love with the characters she had played at the theatre; her portrayals of Juliet, Rosalind, and Imogen were what had really charmed him. I disagreed, their fast-paced romance was fanciful and sweet, not make believe.

I closed my eyes and imagined what I would say to Dorian Gray if I had the chance. When I opened them, I realized with a start, that I was no longer sitting in my desk chair at home. I was, in fact, in Dorian Gray’s sitting room. Dorian himself was standing across the room; he had just finished concealing the portrait that so recently he discovered had been magically altered. As he turned around I braced myself for his cry of surprise.

“MY GOD!” he shouted and jumped back. “WHO ON EARTH ARE YOU?!” I was incredibly frightened, so in turn, it took me a moment to remember just who I really was.

“I’m Lilla,” I said in a timid voice.

“What are you doing in my sitting room?!”

“Well to be quite honest, I don’t really know.”

“Did Victor let you in?”

“No, I just…I let myself in.”

“Well that was incredibly rude. Has no one taught you any manners?” he asked. He began stepping closer, examining me. “Your garb is particularly unflattering,” he said after a moment, pointing out my jeans.

“They’re actually really comfortable, but um, thanks for your opinion,” I responded.

“You still haven’t answered my question. Why are you standing in my sitting room without consent?”

“Well, I heard about Sibyl Vane’s death, and I came to pay my regards,” I tried my best to sound like someone from his century.

“Ah, yes…well,” his eyes began shifting around the room.

“I also witnessed your conversation with Lord Henry and I must say that he is no one you should be taking advice from.”

“You saw that?” his eyes widened, “Just how long have you been in here, girl?” I realized that he feared I had seen his portrait in it’s shifted form.

“Not long, I assure you,” I smiled, “I simply wish to inform you that remorse and guilt are emotions that are entirely alright for you to be feeling right now. You should be mourning the death of your brief love. Not disregarding it as Lord Henry tells you to.”

“I don’t believe a stranger such as you are in any place to tell me how to live my life,” he spat.

“Oh believe me, I’m no stranger,” I replied, just as bitterly. He appeared puzzled for a moment before hissing, “Are you a spy? Have you been surveilling me?”

“Haha, don’t think so highly of yourself, Dorian,” I sneered. I was starting to have some fun with this guy. He stared at me with an alarmed expression. Suddenly, his gaze dropped to my chest, “What is that you’re holding?” he asked. I looked down and realized that I was still holding my copy of the very book to which the character before me belonged.

“It’s a novel, by Oscar Wilde,” I said, my face growing pale. I wasn’t sure what would happen if Dorian Gray got his hands on the book, but I was sure it wouldn’t end well.

“I’ve never heard of him,” replied Dorian, “Let me see it.”

“Uhhh… I’m not so sure that would be a good idea,” I answered.

“And why not?”

“It may be a bit…shocking.”

“Shocking. Shocking, you say. You waltz into my house, unannounced, uninvited, wearing inappropriate attire for a lady, and you have the courtesy to tell me that the book you are currently holding is shocking. I assure you, after this day there is very little that can shock me. Now hand it to me.”

“No,” I said, clutching the book closer to my chest.

“Do not be uncouth,” he said sternly, taking a step closer to me. Worried of what else he may do, I gave in and handed him the book. I felt my heart beating heavily in my chest as I watched him flip through the pages.

“Half of it is blank!” he said in a frustrated tone. Confused, I came beside him and looked over his shoulder to find that, indeed, several of the pages were bare.  Finally, he shut the book to read what was written on the cover, and froze. I followed his eyes as he reread the five words in disbelief.

“Is this some kind of sick joke?!” he roared abruptly. I jumped back in fright. “The Picture of Dorian Gray?! Who are you?! What is this?!” his face was contorted with rage. He glared at me and held the book above my head as though ready to strike.

“Please! Listen to me! I will tell you everything!” I pleaded, holding my hands above my face.

“You had better!” he shouted.

“You’re a character inside a book! You’re not real!” I said. His expression changed instantaneously from anger to a mixture of confusion and incredulity.

“Sir?” Another voice broke the tension. We turned our heads to see the butler standing in the doorway. “I heard shouting, is everything alright?”

Dorian stood with a dumbfounded look upon his face before lowering the book and regaining his composure. “Yes Victor, everything is fine. Thank you,” he said calmly and dismissed the man with a wave. Victor left, shutting the sitting room door.

Dorian then swiftly grabbed my arm and sat me down on a soft ottoman. He sat down next to me and, looking deep into my eyes with a grave expression, he said, “Tell me everything you know.”

***

             “Tell me everything you know,” said Dorian Gray. The truth was I knew just as much as he did. I felt clueless, useless, and frightened.

            “There really isn’t much I do know about all this. All I can share is that you are the main character in a famous book written by an incredible author. How I came to join you in your story is a mystery to me,” I said, giving him an apologetic look. He didn’t look at me but kept his gaze fixed on a point in the distance, his eyes glazed over. We sat in silence for a moment before he asked, “What year are you from?”

“2013,” I answered.

“Two thousand and thirteen,” he said the words slowly as if he had just learned them. “And if the book you are currently holding is the one to which I belong, why are its contents blank?”

“I’m not really sure,” I replied, opening the book to search for the answer. “Hold on, I think I know why. The book seems to end at the chapter I finished reading.” Dorian came out of his trance and stared at me with a look of urgency.

“It’s you! The further you read, the more the story unravels. You control the book! Not only that,” he said, his tone becoming grave, “you control my future.”

“Well even if that’s true, I can’t continue reading the book if it’s blank. And I don’t know how to return to my world.”

“Harry. Harry will know what to do,” Dorian said, more to himself than to me. “Victor!” he called. The tall servant returned.

“How may I help you sir?”

“I need you to go fetch Lord Henry for me. He left not long ago; he shouldn’t be far. I need you to move as fast as you possibly can.”

“Of course,” said Victor, turning on his heel. Shortly after there was a loud clunk as the front door shut.

“And now we wait,” said Dorian, once again speaking in a monologue. He began pacing back and forth while I still sat on the velvet ottoman.

“Mr. Gray,” I spoke. Dorian jumped as though he had forgotten I was in the room.

“Yes, what, what is it.”

“I hope you are aware that I know all about the portrait. I understand it’s power, the effect it has on you.”

“Yes…” he answered. His stare made me uncomfortable, and I couldn’t help but squirm as his blue eyes pierced through me. There was another loud clunk as the front door opened, this startled both of us. Lord Henry appeared at the door of the sitting room, still wearing his jacket.

“Dorian what is wrong? Victor told me it was a matter of urgency,” Lord Henry spoke in a breathless voice. He stepped into the room before noticing me, “Oh, hello. And, who may I ask, are you?” He looked me up and down just as Dorian had.

“She’s the reason I sent for you,” Dorian responded for me. “This girl, holds my precious life in her hands.”

“Found another lover already, have you Dorian?” Lord Henry smiled.

“No, no! Listen! She claims I am a character in the very novel she is holding!”

Lord Henry’s smile dissolved into a solemn look of realization. He turned to me, and a gleam of recognition flashed through his eyes, as though he had only just really noticed me now. He stared at me intently for a long moment before he threw his head back and burst out into laughter.

“Dorian don’t be daft, how could such a thing be true?”

“She knows things, Harry. She knows of things that no one possibly could.”

“What things?”

“It’s, not something I wish to share.”

“Dorian if you wish to resolve this situation, it is crucial for you to tell me everything,” Harry barked aggressively.

“Alright,” Dorian began backing away, towards the portrait. He hesitated, before revealing it in its altered form. “The portrait that Basil painted of me. It has changed since Sibyl Vane’s death, and that girl standing there knew about it. That book told her.”

Lord Henry marched up to the painting and examined it, his nose nearly grazing the canvas. He stood like that for several minutes before turning around violently and seizing Dorian by the arm.

He spoke into Dorian’s ear while giving me a crazed look, “She’s mad! The girl! Lies, she tells! The picture has been painted over, Dorian. Portraits do not simply change on their own. The girl has done it to trick you!”

“Trick me? Whatever for Harry?”

“What?! I’m not crazy! I’m telling the truth!” Lord Henry disregarded me.

“She must have fallen in love with you. She took her admiration too far by following you, stalking you. All of this is a clever scheme she made up so that you would notice her. She has written the novel herself! The girl is mad I tell you!” Dorian looked at me with a mixture of fear and disgust. A sickening feeling of dread and helplessness came over me. I had no idea what they were going to do to me.

“I’m completely sane!” I yelled, tears welling up in my eyes. Lord Henry came over, grabbing me forcefully by the arm and dragging me out the door.

“What are you going to do with her?” asked Dorian, following us.

“Take her to an asylum, where she belongs.” Lord Henry pulled me outside, and along the street where he hailed a carriage and threw me inside.

“No need to follow me Dorian, I’ll take care of this sick child,” said Lord Henry before getting in and closing the door. He barked an address at the driver, and the carriage began moving forward. He then turned to me and said, “Don’t bother screaming, or crying,” he spat bitterly, “I’ll only tell the driver what I told Dorian.” I remained in silence for the rest of the ride, terrified of what would happen if I spoke. Waves of impending doom washed over me.

We arrived at the destination and Lord Henry dug his nails into me once more, yanking me out the carriage door. I looked up at the building before me, surprised by how nice it was. It was all white with large windows framed by ornate piping. It was only when Lord Henry pulled me through the front door that I realized it wasn’t a madhouse.

“Where are we?” I asked as he towed me down the hall to a door on the left.

“My humble abode,” Lord Henry said in a sour tone before pulling out a key and unlocking the door. He threw me into the room and pushed me into a chair, then marched back to the door and locked it before putting the key in his pocket.

We were in a study. All four walls were lined with bookshelves filled with thousands of books. If the situation wasn’t so dire and frightening, I would have been completely content.

Lord Henry sat down at his desk and took a cigarette out of a tin box. He lit it, taking a long drag, then said, “I need you to tell me everything. Don’t leave out any details. If you lie to me I will know, and trust me there will be consequences.”

“I can tell you aren’t going to help me, so why should I tell you anything,” I hissed through clenched teeth. He jumped up from behind the desk and strode over to me, leaning in close and holding the cigarette up to my nose. He held it so close that I could feel the heat radiating from the cigarette’s lighted tip.

“Because I need to know how and why you are here. Things like this don’t just happen,” he spat into my face. I winced as a piece of ash tumbled from the cigarette and burned my wrist.

“Harry!” a voice echoed from somewhere else in the house. “I thought I heard you come in, are you there, darling?”

“Damn, that blasted woman!” Lord Henry muttered before putting out his cigarette in an ash tray on his desk. He walked over to the door, unlocked it, and stepped out, then locked it behind him.

I sprung from my chair and immediately ran to the door, desperately turning, pulling, and pushing the knob. I let go with a hopeless groan. I looked around the room. I needed to figure out how to get out of this place. Dashing to the desk I began pulling open all the drawers, searching for a letter-opener, sharp pen, anything that could be used as a weapon. I opened the last drawer and gasped.

I reached in and pulled out a tattered book. The cover read: The Picture of Dorian Gray.

***

I stood staring at the worn cover for what felt like an eternity. My thoughts fumbled over each other, trying to somehow make sense of things. How could it be that a character in a novel could own a copy of his own story? Attempting to fit the jagged, mismatched puzzle pieces together, I began to fear that I truly was insane. I sat down in the grand leather chair at the desk and rested my forehead on my hands, straining for any bit of logic that could apply to my situation. It was then that I noticed a photograph laying in the same shelf where I had pulled out the book only moments ago. I carefully lifted the photo from the shelf and examined it. The image was in black and white, however it was fading and so the two figures standing in the centre were difficult to recognize. I flipped the picture over, where on the back was written in a careful scrawl, ‘Harry and Jean 1913.’

            “What?” I breathed. Flipping the image back I realized that the taller figure on the right did resemble Lord Henry. Suddenly, I heard steps echoing loudly in the hall and knew I only had moments to make a decision. I noticed the pack of matches that Lord Henry had used to light his cigarette sitting on the desk. I quickly grabbed one and struck it across the side of the box. Nothing happened. My hands were shaking as I heard the footsteps getting closer. Furiously, I scraped the match along the box until it finally sputtered to life just as the door opened. I grabbed the photograph and held it up with my other hand, the flame nearly licking the corner.

Lord Henry walked in, not noticing me immediately as he turned around to lock the door. I felt stupid sitting there, holding the lit match and old photo, struggling to make a menacing face. Finally Lord Henry turned around and his reaction was just what I had hoped.

“What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?” he said, gleaming eyes wildly dancing back and forth between photo and flame.

“I was getting a bit bored and decided to look around when I stumbled upon this! I hope you don’t mind I made myself at home.” My sudden switch from sissy to smart-ass surprised even myself. “Here’s the deal Henry, you tell me what the heck is going on or I burn this picture which you so obviously care for.” I was hoping he’d make a quick decision because the fire was inching closer and closer to my fingertips. It would have been quite disillusioning and embarrassing if I would have to set down the picture to light another match.

“Don’t be foolish little girl. There’s nothing to tell, now set down the picture and put out that match,” he spoke in a condescending tone. This enraged me and so I lightly touched the flame to the corner of the picture.

“NOOOOO,” howled Lord Henry, leaping over the desk, pushing me to the floor and snatching the photograph from my hands. He smacked it repeatedly against the desk before the flame died. He held the photo tenderly in his hand and inspected the damage. The corner that had been lit still smoldered gently and wisps of smoke curled upwards.

“You witch!” he screamed, turning red. He placed the picture down on the desk and violently seized my arm for what must have been the hundredth time that day. I could already feel the bruises forming as he opened the door and dragged me into the hallway.

“You want to know what’s going on? I’ll tell you what the bloody hell is going on!” He yelled, pulling me towards the back of the house. In a fit of rage he began telling me his story.

“In 1913 when I was seventeen years old I met the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. Her name was Jean Wensley and I proposed to her the minute I got her father’s permission. That was the only time I had ever loved anybody,” Lord Henry’s story would have been truly romantic if it wasn’t for the livid tone he told it in.

“The Great War,” he continued, “began in 1914 and Jean being the caring person she was decided to become a nurse on the battlefield. I protested, it was far too dangerous for a such a fragile being to set foot anywhere near war, but she insisted and so I let her go. She died. The enemy’s artillery shelling was fired straight into her nursing tent.”

We stopped in the doorway of the dining room where he grabbed my shoulders and shook me vigorously screaming, “THOSE BASTARDS KILLED MY DARLING JEAN!” He pulled me through another door and down a long corridor, his face contorted with madness.

“From then on I lived miserably. Every aspect of my life seemed to crumble without Jean by my side. Then one night I was reading that book, and was infuriated by that bloody oaf Gray! He killed the very woman who had loved him!” At the end of the corridor was the kitchen where Lord Henry flung open another door revealing a steep set of stairs leading into shadows. We began our descent.

“That’s when it happened. I’m not sure how or why, all I remember is opening my eyes and not being in my flat anymore. At first I was frightened by it, being in a world all too different from my own. I had lost track of time and wasn’t sure how to get back. That’s when I decided to just begin my life anew. Then I started to enjoy myself as the story began altering. The parties, the women, the riches. It took me years to build all of this and now I have my own perfect world. And I won’t have anyone destroy it.”

We finally reached the wine cellar, and Lord Henry dragged me to the far wall where he opened a small closet door. The room was bare except for a broom leaning against the wall.

“There you have it!” he said before throwing me in.

“Wait!” I whimpered. “You’re just going to leave me in here to die?!”

“Every household has got it’s skeletons in the closet,” he sneered before slamming the door and abandoning me in the darkness.

***

I’ve never really been afraid of the dark. I’ve always had a tendency to fear irrational things such as zombies, or having to order something myself at a restaurant. However, being locked in a dark closet for an undetermined amount of time made me realize why the dark is so terrifying. It’s not simply being scared of an evil creature emerging from the shadows, it’s the uncertainty of everything.

I sat on the cold floor of that dingy closet and became lost in my thoughts. How long had I been in here? It felt like hours but it could have been minutes. Am I really in a cellar? Is this just a nightmare? I wasn’t sure of anything. I would stretch my hands before me, straining to identify and separate myself from the darkness. All I could see was oblivion. I suppose that while I was imprisoned, I really did grow into an element of the dark.

At that point I wasn’t expecting to be saved; I had even given up trying to save myself. There’s no point in wielding a broomstick before a locked wooden door. I was sitting up against the wall, trying my best to suppress the hunger that was tormenting my stomach for the past several hours when, wondrously, someone unlocked the door. At first, I anticipated Lord Henry’s return, and leapt to my feet in an attempt at looking less vulnerable. Instead, I was met by a tall woman with high cheekbones and deep blue eyes. She did not seem as startled by my presence as I was by hers.

“Oh my,” she sighed, taking in my disheveled appearance. “I assumed Harry would have something mysterious hidden in here but I was hoping it was just a good bottle of wine.” She spoke as though she was used to finding teenage girls in her cellar at least once a week. I was too feeble and confused to make an escape, and so I did what any drained, starving person in my position would do; I fainted.

I was standing on a cliff overlooking a tempestuous bay. The dense gray mass of clouds above grumbled and moaned. Harsh winds whipped my face so intensely that the sounds of it’s lashing echoed down the cliff’s edge. The earth beneath my feet began to violently shake. I looked down, horrified at the sight of the crumbling rock on which I stood. Then the ground collapsed abruptly and sent me plummeting towards the raging waters. The fall felt endless, almost as though I was suspended in the air. The only evidence of my descent was the sickening spiral of my stomach and the evident feeling of heavy weight. Spittle from the hissing water below landed on my face and an omnipresent hurricane knotted my hair. The heavens above and the infinite depth beneath me were at war. I was praying neither would win.

“For the love of God, girl. Will you wake up!” An angry voice snarled, releasing me from my nightmare. I woke to find myself on the floor of a carriage. The door was open and sheets of rain were spilling in, drenching my hair and face. The woman who had found me in the cellar was now standing over me and looked even taller and more intimidating than she had before. I stumbled out into the stormy night, my feet landing in a particularly large puddle. The tall woman then brushed passed me when I heard the same whipping noise I had in my dream. I turned to see the buggy speeding off, the driver cracking his cane against the horses’ sleek bodies.

“Come,” the woman spoke. She stood in a doorway, her slender frame silhouetted by the golden light pouring into the street. I followed, unsure of what I would meet, yet trusting this stranger. I warily joined her at the opening of what appeared to be a warm, crowded pub. At first I cowered in the doorway, aware of my alien-like appearance when the woman assured me, “Don’t worry, they’re all too drunk to notice a thing.”

I managed a weak smile and stepped into the glowing tavern. She walked ahead and gave the bartender a quick nod before holding aside a thick curtain which I swiftly stepped past. We walked down a long musty corridor at the end of which was a spiral staircase descending into darkness. The woman walked down the steps without hesitation, I on the other hand moved apprehensively, all too aware of my new fear of dimly lit places.

We finally reached a landing where the woman unlocked a door, and we entered a vast room. One of the walls was covered in a plethoric number of notes and drawings; some were carefully printed on office stationary, but most were crumpled or torn scraps of newspapers, and flyers. The floor, many settees, as well as a desk that stood in the corner were all in a disarray of documents and books. The room looked rather like a crime scene.

“I realize I haven’t introduced myself,” the woman said, standing beside me. “My name is Victoria Wotton. I’m Lord Henry’s wife.” She must have seen my eyes grow wide in terror, for she smile and exclaimed, “No need to worry, darling! I despise my husband. I have ever since I married him. In fact this room,” she motioned towards the disaster zone, “is devoted to his ruination.”

For the next hour, Lady Wotton, or Victoria as she insisted I call her, revealed everything. She explained that she knew of Lord Henry’s true identity, as well as my original time period. She disclosed her meticulous research and spying. The bartender, who was apparently one of her spies, came in frequently to serve us warm meals and beverages.

“What I’ve been able to discover about this phenomenon,” Victoria spoke, “is that it only occurs during immense emotional ties or reactions to a novel. You essentially break the barrier of fiction and reality, and they intertwine. Once you remain in the story long enough, as Harry has done, the plot begins to morph into your soul, until it becomes entirely your own. I’m aware this can seem marvelous, however it is toxic. When I first met Harry, he was still humble, though conscious of what was happening. One night when he was walking home from the theatre, he was attacked by a man with a knife. Harry was stabbed several times and left bleeding on the pavement. The next morning he woke with not a scratch to be seen. It was then he realized that he was immortal. He grew careless and corrupt. He had many affairs, drank excessively every night, and even killed a man who crossed him. I cannot bear to look at him anymore.” When Victoria finished, I sat in silence trying to process everything.

“You really believe you’re only a character in a book?” I asked her.

“I’ve grown to understand it,” she began, “when Harry first told me I didn’t want to believe it. However, it explained a lot. You see there are limits in this world. The best way I could describe it would be when Harry was first trying to convince me. He told me to try and picture my parents’ faces in my mind. When I could not render a single feature it dawned on me that my parents never existed. I was born as an idea. I’m only a figment of someone’s imagination.”

“But if only characters mentioned in the novel exist, how are the other people in the bar present?”

“Harry created this place. He missed the pub he used to frequent in his hometown and made one nearly identical to it. Even the people upstairs are characters he met in his real life. However, once they are created, they evolve and cannot be controlled.”

“I see,” I answered.

“But now I believe I’ve finally found a way to send Harry back to where he belongs!” she exclaimed, “You’re the only one who can do it!”

“What do I have to do?” I asked nervously.

“An intruder can only be killed by another intruder. You must kill Harry,” she said.

“But then how will I return?” I asked.

She looked at me solemnly, “You must kill yourself.”

***

The amount of pain and struggle women have had to go through in the past is incredible. We’ve had to fight for our rights as well as the freedom from restraints; and by restraints I’m referring to corsets because my goodness were those things uncomfortable.

            “Suck in, darling,” Victoria said as she stood behind me, tying the strings on the brace. I was surprised that my ribs hadn’t snapped yet. I tried to keep my mind off the pain and difficulty I had breathing.

“Tell me the plan, again?” I gasped.

“We enter the ball separately; I with Harry, you with Edgar,” Edgar was another character turned spy who was helping us eliminate Lord Henry. Edgar gave us the advantage of high-class ranking, allowing us the invitation to an elite gathering happening that night.

Victoria continued, “Keep your face hidden at all times, Lilla. This is crucial. Now, Harry will notice Edgar’s new escort, this being you, almost immediately. The fool cannot keep his eyes or his hands away from a new woman or relationship to taint. Once he has taken notice, it is certain that his attention will not be drawn anywhere else. It is then that you slip away from Edgar, and head for the stairs leading to the roof. After Harry pursues you, Edgar and I will quietly follow to ensure no harm. However, once the two of you are up there, it is your liability that guides our outcome.” She then spun me around and held my shoulders, looking deeply into my eyes.

“You must promise me that you will overlook any doubts or fears you may have. There is no guarantee that you will return home but just please promise me you’ll jump.” I swallowed the lump forming in my throat before whispering, “I promise.”

I do not fully recall the journey to the ball. I can only remember arriving. My arm clinging to Edgar’s elbow as we stepped into the ballroom filled with laughter, chatter, and music. We now stood with a group of fairly snide women who wore almost identical dresses and hairstyles.

“Why Edgar it is unfair that you have hidden your dear friend for so long!” One of them spoke, smiling unnaturally wide while her eyes pierced mine.

“She was away at school, I’m afraid,” Edgar replied coolly, “I only just managed to tear her away from her studying.”

“Really, now?” said a second woman who was wearing such heavy earrings it appeared as though her ears would drop at any moment. She turned to me and asked, “What school do you attend, then?”

“I, uh, it’s the…” I stammered.

“Cambridge!” Edgar answered on my behalf.

“My!”

“Splendid!” the women exclaimed in unison.

“Yes, now ladies if you will please excuse us, I think there was someone else I meant to introduce my friend to,” Edgar said while ushering me away.  We moved to a tall pillar and stood in it’s shadow.

“I think we should stay here for now,” Edgar suggested, leaning against the column.

“I agree,” I sighed.

“Are you alright?” he asked, searching my face.

“Yeah. Well, as alright as I can be knowing that I have to throw myself off a building later today.”

Edgar laughed, “I enjoy your sarcasm.”

“I enjoy your sick sense of humor,” I answered. We both laughed.

“It’s a shame we won’t be able to remain friends,”he said with an underlying tone of sympathy.

“I suppose it is,” I smiled, looking down to hide the tears welling up in my eyes.

“There they are!” Edgar exclaimed. I followed Edgar’s finger to see Victoria standing stiffly next to Lord Henry while he spoke animatedly to a stout old man. She caught my gaze and gave me a brief nod.

“Are you ready?” asked Edgar, lurching off the pillar and extending his elbow to me.

“Not at all,” I said, and put my arm through his. We walked around the ball for quite some time, avoiding any direct contact with Lord Henry and Victoria. Though I felt anxious, I didn’t realize how comforted I felt putting off my inevitable fate until Edgar said, “It’s time.”

I warily released Edgar’s arm and he gave my hand an assuring squeeze as I stepped into the long hallway that we had agreed on earlier, and never once looked back.

The sounds of the party slowly faded away until all I could hear was the tapping of my shoes against the marble floors and the heavy thundering of my heart. I reached the staircase leading to the roof, and counted the steps as I walked up. 1,2,3… Once I reached the twelfth step, I was aware of a presence behind me. It was like a sick nightmare, where you are certain that a beast is chasing you, yet you cannot turn round. 34,35,36. My paranoia doubled my hearing so that the footsteps multiplied and echoed up the stairwell, creating the illusion of being surrounded.

When I reached the door at the top, I pushed it open immediately and stepped into the cool night air. I walked to the edge of the roof, first looking at the ocean of peaked roofs and smoking chimneys ahead of me, then at the distant, rigid street below that seemed to swirl and ebb. My stomach twisted into a knot.

“Hello, darling,” a voice drawled behind me. I spun around to face Lord Henry and was shocked when I saw Edgar with him.

“Surprise!” shouted Lord Henry.

“Edgar?” I breathed, the knot in my stomach pulling tighter. Edgar’s face took upon a menacing sneer that was a hostile opposite to the pleasant countenance that I had come to know.

“If it wasn’t for lovely Eddy here I wouldn’t have known you’d be present tonight! You see, once you went missing from my cellar I grew worried that you’d gotten yourself into trouble. And I see I was right,” Lord Henry spat. “It seems my wife has forgotten that I am more popular than she is. Eddy and I have been good friends for quite some time now, and he never fails to inform me when my wife is misbehaving. Thankfully, I believe the punishment I have given her tonight will remain permanent.”

“What did you do to her?!” I screamed.

“That is of no matter now,” Henry said, brushing aside the thought as though it was a pesky insect swarming about him. “I have to say I’m quite disappointed with the series of events that have come about. But I suppose the fates occasionally must take things out of my control. In a way, it was entertaining, plot twists are essential as I’m sure many an English teacher has told you in the past. I guess it was about time for my story to revolve.”

“Enough with this villainous sermon bullshit. If you’re going to kill me just cut to the chase.”

“All in due time,” Henry answered. “Edgar, the blade?” Edgar reached into his jacket and pulled out a bloodied blade with a bejeweled grip along with a cloth that he used to clean the sharp metal.

“I prefer not to get my hands dirty with the filthy blood of betrayal, you see. So Edgar kindly offered to handle the, ahem, separation duties with my wife,” Henry chuckled at his ridiculous attempt at a joke.

When the knife was finally handed to him, he looked at me with dead eyes and spoke mechanically, “I’m going to kill you now.” Then he lunged towards me, hollering. His knife came down and slashed my cheek. I grabbed his arm and stepped back, purposely leaning further than balance would allow and feeling the tug of gravity as we dropped over the ledge. We slid momentarily down the sloping roof. It was then that the sky slipped, and spun, and we were falling.

***

I awoke to white walls. A set of paintings hung on the wall opposite me. Suddenly, a solemn-looking man emerged. He studied me, wrinkling his brow and scratching his chin, his eyes shifting and scrutinizing every inch. His stare was so intense that it made me uncomfortable. I tried to look away but his gaze was paralyzing. When he finally walked off a wave of relief swept over me. Shortly after, another man and a woman took his place.

            “Rather ghastly, this one,”said the woman, looking me head to toe. I scoffed internally, appalled by her audacity.

“Mmm, rather gruesome,” said the man. Then they too stepped away.

I was furious and confused. I tried to move but couldn’t. I could feel the stony street beneath me and the pain in my limbs as sensation slowly crept back in. The back of my head felt warm and wet. I gave up any attempt at motion and decided to decipher my surroundings. Although it appeared as though I was no longer at the party, I could still hear the sounds of celebration in the distance and feel the cool night air lapping at my even colder flesh.

I scanned the row of paintings across from me. The one directly opposite caught my attention. It was a girl in a long gown, bloodied and bruised, her body lay disfigured on a cobbled street. Her features set in a gaping manner seemed familiar. It was only when the rude woman approached the wall to examine her reflection that I realized it was not a wall, but a mirror.

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