The Changeling – Part 6

Cecilia looked up, her entire body quivering. The demonic creature towered above her, its fur-lined cloak hanging down to the cold stones of the floor. Though the air was still and silent, she heard no sound. Did it not breathe? In that moment she thought it didn’t. She realised that she wasn’t breathing either.

She breathed sharply, and found that once the air entered her lungs, she couldn’t stop. Fast, panicked breaths, growing faster and shallower with each passing second. The figure hadn’t moved. Cecilia wasn’t even sure that the thing was looking at her. Her breathing slowed and her eyes grew curious.

“Hello?” she said. Her light eyebrows furrowed. “Hey!? What is this place?”

The thing didn’t answer. Looking at it now, the girl thought the thing resembled a scarecrow – its body stiff and its face an unmoving, skeletal mask. She got slowly to her feet and peered close. Like lightning its bony hand was upon her, striking from beneath its cloak like a serpent. She struggled against its grip; chalk-coloured fingers digging into her shoulder.

“Let me go!” she screamed, closing her eyes.

She was flung to the ground, landing hard upon her elbow. She rubbed tenderly at her arm. The thing bent over, moving much faster than the girl had anticipated, and grabbed her by the wrist. She kicked and cried as it dragged her across the moss-covered floor, but she was silenced when she was tossed against a damp wall.

A cell door was closed behind her with a distinct click of a lock, and she slid to the floor, winded. What was happening? Where was she…? It was supposed to be her birthday… My birthday… No, that had passed. And it… it had been there… The thing that had brought her here.

She’d seen it before, of course. In nightmares alone, though at times they seemed almost real. Dreams could oft times be confused for reality. What had happened and what had not; and did it really matter? The present, in her case appeared more pertinent. She sighed and found that her heart was still beating rapidly, despite her calmer mind.

She supposed she couldn’t quite call it calm; resigned maybe. Distracted was perhaps the better way to put it. Her mind was keeping itself occupied – thinking thoughts of happy things. Good things. She did not think of her father, or her sister or her brother… Where they were, what they must be thinking…

She sniffed. Why her? What had she done? It was becoming more and more difficult to hold back the morbid thoughts, welling at the brim of her mind like a dam about to burst. Waves of thought crashing up against the edge, foam here and there splashing over the side, but for the most part, the water was held back.

Cecilia wasn’t sure how much time passed. It was hard to tell. The only light came from the base of a spiral staircase she could vaguely make out across the room, which disappeared into the stone ceiling above. It was white light, not a warm, homely yellow. It was there to serve a purpose and little more. What its purpose was, she was not sure, but something about it made her feel quite certain that it was unpleasant.

Of the rest of the room Cecilia could say little but that it was built of dark stone. It seemed rather large, though she thought that might be an illusion of the blackness surrounding the barred cell she was in. She sat, hugging her knees to her chest as time marched on. It was some time later when she heard it.

Drifting down from the stairwell and cutting through the silence of the room it came – music. Starting soft; a haunting piano melody; the arpeggiated, steady bass notes accompanying the chilling highs. It grew steadily to a dramatic crescendo – mighty chords crashing down upon the keys – before returning suddenly to the beginning melody once more.

Cecilia’s mouth hung agape as it played over and over, small differences here and there, but for the most part the same; speeding up each time until the piece sounded like a chaotic nightmare. She covered her ears, but it wouldn’t go away. It had infiltrated her mind. She wasn’t even sure if what she was hearing was still real or not… if it had ever been.

After a while, she noticed that it had stopped. She must have been so caught up in her own thoughts that she had failed to notice the music’s end. She sighed with relief. A few moments later she heard a creaking behind her. A small wooden panel she had not seen until then slid open, revealing the inside of a dumbwaiter, in which there had been placed a small plate of food.

She snatched at it quickly and gobbled it down. Afterwards she mourned for her abandoned ladylike qualities, but in the moment, she could think of little but how good the stale bread felt as it reached her aching stomach.

Upon finishing, as if on cue, it appeared at the bottom of the stairwell, just as still as it had been, the last time she had seen it.

“Who are you?” she called shakily.

It scared her. No, that was putting it too mildly. It petrified her. Looking upon the thing left her body stiff with shock, as though she had plunged into a pool of ice. Even her thoughts were frozen. As her eyes fell upon it, she would forget everything: who she was, where she was…

“Who are you?” she repeated. It drew nearer.

She scrambled backwards along the floor until her back was up against the wall. There was no escape. It turned a key with its fleshless hand and the gate swung open. She heard its voice in her mind.

It’s time, it said.

She screamed as it dragged her out of the cell and up the stairs.

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