Turning to his right, Stephen notices the basement door is ajar which shoots a chill through his bones. Gently he pulls the door open and looks down at the depth of the earthen basement. Ever since they entered the unlocked door to the manor, his thoughts have been on the stories the men in the bar shared and the words from the old woman. She spoke of a trap and the release of a devilish creature that now walks freely among them. Most importantly, she warned that he has put his friends in harm’s way.
“Tamas?” Stephen says loudly but his voice is muffled by the thickness of the space. “Are you down there?” He questions as he flips the light on but again, there is no reply.
“I do not believe he is here, Stephen.” Zsofia says from behind him, which causes him to jump slightly.
He felt a jolt and that familiar tingling feeling that seems to run up his legs when caught off guard or spooked. However, Zsofia does not react as if she noticed his fear and with her comment, he gladly turns the basement light off. Backing up the three steps he managed to go down, he shuts the basement door and pulls on the knob to make sure it will not pop open on its own.
“I’m so worried.” Zsofia says just under her breath.
Stephen tightens his hold on her and in doing so is not sure if his actions are for her or himself. Standing there quietly in this embrace has somehow empowered him.
“Zsofia, listen,” Stephen says as he pulls back so he can make eye contact. “We will find him.” He reassures her. “Let’s look around on the ground floor and if we do not find him here, we will head back to your house. Maybe your Grandfather has made contact with him by now.”
“Alright.” She says softly as she takes Stephen’s hand in hers.
Without speaking, they search the sitting room and dining room together and decide to split up as they enter the kitchen.
“I’ll look down the hall if you will double-check your favorite place, the conservatory.” Stephen grins for he knows how much she adores it.
Stepping out from the back entrance to the kitchen and the spiral staircase to the second floor, Zsofia walks to the right as she makes her way to the conservatory. Stephen looks down the darkened hallway of the north wing and listens for any sounds that may prove Tamas is here, but all is quiet.
“Tamas?” Stephen yells.
The sound of his voice seems to boom throughout the room but as soon as the tone fades, all grows quiet. Images of the night before begin to seep into his mind in a repetitious replay of details. As he thinks of the woman and man who were oblivious to what was stirring around them. They had no idea of the taunting creature that was moving about. He wonders what may have happened if he had not intervened when he did.
Gently Stephen pulls his arm free of Zsofia’s grasp but not to push her away. Instead, he pulls her closer holding her tightly at the waist as she presses herself to him. If something unworldly is here around them, he wants to make sure he protects her from harm.
“Tamas!” Stephen yells out once again and with no response, he somehow feels that the manor is empty. “I know this place is massive, but honestly, I don’t think he is here.”
“But with the door unlocked. . . what if he wandered in?” Zsofia questions as she looks up at Stephen.
“He is not able to manage the stairs very well, so he would be in this general area.” Stephen says calmly.
He turns to face her but does not release his hold as she looks into his eyes. The fear she feels for her brother is evident and he wants to tell her everything will be all right, but he knows all too well what can be. Pulling her tightly he holds her in his arms as she buries her head in his chest. There is an understanding between them, a type of serenity and Stephen feels oddly composed and protective.
Standing strong against the breeze the large trees at the edge of the woods, bend and sway with each unexpected gust of wind. The urgency that both Zsofia and Stephen feel pushes them to quicken their steps even more than before until they reach the door of the manor.
Stephen digs into his pocket for the key and just as he inserts it into the lock, the door slowly swings open. He and Zsofia stand perfectly still and do not utter a single word. In his mind, Stephen tries to remember if he locked the door, as he does every time he leaves the manor, but his thoughts from the previous day and night are a bit fuzzy at best. He is shocked that here they stand with full access to the manor, without using a key.
“Didn’t you lock the door when you left?” Zsofia whispers as she wraps both of her arms around Stephens right arm.
Stephen does not reply and together they stay in one place. Finally, after several seconds of uncertainty, Stephen gently presses his fingers to the dark door causing it to swing open all the way instead of just a crack. He feels Zsofia tighten her grip on his arm as he steps forward. Their shuffling footsteps echo lightly as they enter the main hall.
“I spoke with an old woman in town, she told me about my past and things that are happening right now that no one could know.” Stephen explains but to his surprise, Zsofia giggles.
“You are talking to Klara?” She laughs. “She can be sweet and is always mysterious but sometimes you have to know a slippery trick when you see one.” She grins but then continues, “Actually, she stopped me on my way home last night.” Zsofia pauses and the color drains from her rosy cheeks as she looks up at Stephen.
“Zsofia? What is it? Are you alright?” He asks as he moves closer to her but stops short as not to intimidate her.
“She. . . she told me something horrible would happen to Tamas if he wandered off and he has!” Panic now overtakes her as she grabs Stephen by the arm. “We have to hurry. We have to get to the manor!”
Moist air dampens the thick grass of the hillside where Stephen and Zsofia exit the coverage of the forest. High on the hill sits the vast looming walls of the manor. Stephen feels as if he has been away from it for weeks but in actuality, it has been only one full day.
“I know it sounds suspicious, but I went into town to have a drink. She saw me on the street and came at me, yelling and causing a scene but that is all I know.” Stephen says without blinking. “Your friend, the police officer took her back to the hotel.”
He looks her in the eye to prove his story is real and she stares at him for the longest time, almost as if looking into the numerous thoughts circulating in his head, and then she speaks.
“I do not believe the rumors going around that you had something to do with her death. Neither does grandfather.” She says as she breaks eye contact and begins walking once again. “Was Kate ill?” She asks as she pauses to look at him while waiting for his reply.
“Do you believe in ghosts? Maybe not ghosts, but. . . evil creatures or beings?” He quizzes.
“That is an odd question to ask me.” She replies as they begin to stroll along. “I believe in spirits I suppose, why do you ask and what does this have to do with your girlfriend?”
“Zsofia, let me make this clear.” He stops and Zsofia does the same. “Kate and I, we were over and done with months ago, please believe me.”
Zsofia looks him in the eyes and then her attention goes to the trees as the next gust of wind weaves its way through the forest. She nods her head that she agrees with his statement.
“After you and Tamas left, I told Kate she was not welcomed.” Stephen says honestly. “However, I also understood she probably needed a place for the night or until she made travel plans.” He looks over his shoulder. “I suggested she sleep on the couch, and then I went to the kitchen where I fell asleep in the chair.”
Zsofia grins at the thought of him sitting on a hard wooden chair, in the dark, teetering back and forth, as he nods off. She looks up at him only after she is able to control her expression and as it softens, she speaks.
“So if she stayed there, how did she end up in town?” She asks as she looks at him trying to read the answer as if it is written on his face.
“I don’t know. When I woke up, the house was dark and the front door was wide open.” He states quietly as if he is afraid someone other than Zsofia will hear him.
“The door was open?” She asks with surprise. “But no one was watching it and we are never supposed to do that.” Zsofia looks around at the woods surrounding them.
Again, she has mentioned the rules of the door at the manor. He cannot help but feel she was told this as a young child for she never questions the rule. Yet, as odd as the door issue is, the old woman in town made comments about it as well. In watching her actions though, Zsofia looks around at the various sections of the forest and Stephen cannot help but think she knows more than she is telling.
“Zsofia, I’m sorry.” Stephen says as he steps closer to her as she slowly begins walking.
“For what?” She questions nervously as she begins walking slightly faster.
“For everything.” He replies as he slips up next to her.
“I highly doubt you’re to blame for any of this.” She replies almost with a laugh, but tears well up in her crystal blue eyes as she thinks about their friendship.
“For that.” Stephen says as he grabs her arm forcing her to stop and look at him. “You are walking away as if you are afraid of me or worse, hate me.” He says quickly but without giving her a chance to reply he continues. “I’m sorry for not turning Kate away when it was obvious that was the only thing I should have done. I was just, she is. . . she was always so overbearing.”
“So what happened?” Zsofia asks as she watches Stephen’s face for expressions.
“With she and I?” He questions as he releases her arm.
“That night.” Zsofia says softly. “What happened after Tamas and I left the day she arrived?” She looks out at the woods as a cool breeze flows past them blowing her light blonde hair over her shoulder.
Without another word, all three make their way to the door and out to the yard. Sunlight is glistening through the trees as the morning awakens and silently, Stephen follows Zsofia to the beginning of the path that wanders through the tall thick trees of the woods. Hesitant to enter the canopy of green, he stops and looks back at Laszlo.
“Which way are you going?” He yells in the old man’s direction and Laszlo looks up at him.
“I’m heading further from town and then I will double back.” The old man states in a booming voice.
“I can go back to town.” States Stephen as he begins to walk toward Laszlo.
“No no, that would not be a good idea, not after last night.” Laszlo says firmly as he shakes his head no. “Go on and check the woods and manor, he has to be close by.”
This of course is not what Stephen wanted to hear. Even in the warmth of daylight, the woods will forever be a dark and foreboding place to him. The evil creature that now seems to be as interested in him as he is of it, may very well be hiding therein waiting for its chance to pounce.
Looking back at Zsofia, he catches her watching him and her expression is of sorrow and pain. It is now that he realizes how his actions must appear to her. Is she thinking he does not want to spend time with her? Or perhaps she believes he does not want to waste time looking for her brother.
“Stephen, I meant to say this to you earlier, when we were walking from town.” Laszlo says earnestly for he wonders if his own actions are causing the strange apprehension between the younger adults. “I want to apologize for the way I spoke to you a couple of days ago, when you nearly knocked me down at the manor’s door.” He looks Stephen in the eyes. “It was reckless of me to say such a thing and I am sorry.”
Stephen is so accustom to people treating him like an outcast that he nearly forgot the entire incident. With an appreciative grin, he nods to Laszlo in an understanding way.
“Thank you for that.” Stephen says as he looks up once again at Zsofia and Laszlo clears his throat.
“I am going to go look for Tamas and I want you two to check the manor.” Laszlo states with authority.
“I just came from the manor and. . .” Zsofia begins to say as she turns around but her grandfather interrupts her.
“He was not there, I know that’s what you said, but he may be there now and if you did not check the door, he could be inside.” The elderly man says in a calm tone. “Maybe he took the longer path that leads to the back of the manor and he is now waiting for Stephen to come home. However, if the doors are locked, do not enter the dwelling, just come straight back here.” Laszlo states as an order. “You two, take the path through the woods and I’ll walk the road. He cannot be far.” He affirms in a positive way.