“Is anyone ever safe from things they cannot see?” Klara questions as she looks at Tamas. “Are you truly alone when you believe yourself to be? Or does something walk with you when you least expect it?” Her voice trails off as she turns toward Stephen. “Do you honestly believe the beast is the only mystery among us?”
“So what are we doing then?” Stephen questions as his heart rate increases. “If we can get lucky enough to get past that. . . that thing without losing our lives, are you expecting us to just walk away and leave it here? How does that solve anything for anyone?” He questions while almost yelling. “How does giving a mythical monster a physical dwelling solve anything?” Stephen slaps his hand on his leg for clearly he is frustrated.
He looks over as Zsofia who is finally successful at deterring her brother’s attention. She helps Tamas sit down on the sofa and they begin to pull the contents from Klara’s black bag. Stacking them neatly, they set out extra candles and a lantern along with two small books.
“It does not solve anything, Istvan. You are right.” The old woman says in a solemn way. “The only way to truly break the curse is to offer the demon a severance of life and blood from the one whom laid down the rules. Only then will the Guta be completely relieved of the binding it has been ensnared with by your grandmother.”
“But that is impossible!” Stephen says as he runs his hand through his dark hair and looks toward the open doorway. “My grandmother is the one that placed the hold on it and she is dead!” He then stops after he realizes what Klara said.
“I knew the demon was loose in this dwelling, your great-uncle didn’t just die on his own, we all know that. I knew what he was up to, I knew what he was doing, and I could see his greed each time he walked past my shop!” With a frown, Klara turns and looks at Laszlo.
“So, how would my giving you the manor change anything?” Stephen questions as he dabs his fingers on the wound at the back of his neck.
“Dear boy, your grandmother promised the evil being safe passage here. She is the one that granted the manor to the beast. She had enough arrogance to believe she was smarter than a creature of all times past and from worlds before her.” Klara states in a mocking manner. “She thought her plan was foolproof.” She shakes her head and laughs. “Foolish and selfish, that is what she was.” She pauses. “I felt if I could gain control here, I would somehow keep it from harming others.”
Stephen looks at Laszlo for a reaction to the negative words about the old man’s first love, but he simply sits quietly gazing into the low flames of the fireplace. Tamas is still staring out at the hallway as Zsofia attempts to distract him by turning him toward the sofa. Stephen knows what holds Tamas’ interest for in the beginning, he is sure his reaction was much the same.
“Are we safe here?” Stephen asks in a blunt way. “I need to know, not just for me, but for all of us.” He looks at Zsofia and when she catches his glance, the corner of her mouth raises slightly as if holding back a grin.
It does seem odd to Stephen that Klara happens to have a good amount of supplies for the night on hand. It is as if she knew in advance how the events would play out. Either the abilities she claims to have are valid, or she has schemed to make it appear so. Now that he delves deeper into these past hours, she has been the one carrying on a good majority of the conversation.
If she knows as much as she appears to, why has she not acted on her knowledge and why when he first met her was she trying to gain access to the manor? Surely, she had this planned. It is the only explanation. Before Stephen has a chance to question her, she walks over to where he is still sitting on the floor and looks down at him. Her round hunched shoulders are almost invisible behind her hair and face as she leans in very close.
“I needed the manor as refuge.” The old woman says as she looks down at him and snickers for this answer is to the question in his mind.
Stephen is not sure if she is mocking him or if she is trying to be helpful, but her odd way at responding has him wondering if she too should be feared. He does not say a word but stares into her eyes hoping he will see something that will prove her honesty.
Stephen looks up at the doorway but with no electricity to power the lights, he still cannot see past the glow of the few candles left burning. One by one, they are slowly losing their flame as the wax and wick reach the bottom of the holders.
“We are going to be in the dark soon if we don’t find more candles.” Zsofia says to the group.
“I was expecting the night to be long and dark. I have more in my bag.” Klara says as she points to the small black leather satchel sitting next to the door to the bedroom.
Tamas stands up and walks over to pick up the bag when he stops short and stares out at the door to the hallway. He is so quiet in his movements that it takes nearly a minute for Zsofia and Stephen to realize he has frozen in place. Looking at him, Stephen follows his gaze to the emptiness outside the room.
“Tamas.” Klara says as she turns and walks over to him. “You can see it?”
Tamas, with his eyes wide and focused, nods his head up and down without looking away. Zsofia stands up, joining her brother and in a protective almost demanding way, puts her arm around him. Stephen watches Zsofia’s behavior and cannot help but think she is afraid Klara may harm her younger brother.
“It went for her.” Klara finally speaks but in a flat monotone manner. “Her suicide did not save her from her fate. She thought it would, but in the afterlife she had to pay for her malevolence.”
“What do you mean?” Laszlo questions but he does not receive an immediate response so he asks another question. “How did this get here?”
Klara stands quietly for several seconds then takes a step back from the open door. She holds her hand out as if to warn everyone to stay back as the air seems to thicken and fill with pressure. The woman then answers the question.
“It brought it to you as a reminder.” She says in a chuckle. “It thought maybe you had forgotten your role in this.”
She turns slightly to see Laszlo’s expression but he is not looking at her. Instead, he is holding the delicate pin so tightly it begins to cut into his hand and then he hurls it toward the stone fireplace shattering it into tiny pieces that scatter in all directions of the room as a fine powder.
“Istvan,” Klara whispers. “I know it is here, can you see it now?
Klara still has her back to the group and only low candlelight has saved them from total darkness. Stephen does not see the Guta in the hall, but with the current conditions, it could very well be standing there waiting for the next person to get close enough to snatch them away.
“Grandfather, what is it?” Zsofia asks as she realizes he is staring down at the pin in his violently shaking hand.
“This,” he pauses, “this pin.”
“What is it, what about it?” Zsofia asks quickly for she can see how upsetting this is to her grandfather.
“I, I laid this with her body the day of her burial.” He continues to stare at the object in his hand. “It was buried with her.” He states clearly upset and confused and oddly enough, Klara lets out a little laugh.
To Stephen, this statement was not funny in any way and he watches the old woman as she continues to stand very still and very quiet. If he did not know better, he would mistake her for a plastic mannequin for she is so steady in her stance that he cannot tell if she is breathing.
Pin found at www.alexandramay.com
With Laszlo tending to Stephen, Klara removes a cloth from the cut on her hand and wraps her injury with another cloth soaked in the same green toned liquid.
“How is your hand, Klara?” Zsofia asks as she looks up at the old woman.
“Oh it’s fine dear, just fine.” Klara replies as she turns her back to the group sitting on the floor.
She walks towards the doorway, but does not get anywhere near the opening to the hall, and she stops after taking only two steps. Stephen can hear her whispering, almost chanting, as she keeps her distance. He wants to sit up so he can see what she is doing, but for an old man, Laszlo is keeping a firm debilitating hold on him.
Another roll of thunder batters the landscape as the electricity flickers and shuts off completely. With nighttime now encroaching through the windows of the manor and the low amber bulbs of the hallway now black, the entire structure has an air of anxiousness about it. No longer allowing himself to be controlled, Stephen forces his way up to a sitting position.
“Stephen do not move so fast, you’ll hurt yourself.” Zsofia says as she takes the damp cloth from her grandfather and holds it to Stephens wound.
“I’m alright.” He says and then he points at Klara. “What in the world was she thinking?” He says as he nods in the old woman’s direction.
“Here, use this.” Klara says as she hands Laszlo a washcloth that has been soaked in some sort of green liquid. “The tonic will help stop the blood from flowing so easy.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Stephen says with worry for he has no idea the amount of blood he is losing.
“Shhhh.” Zsofia says softly as she continues to stroke his hair in a soothing way. “Just relax and let grandfather and Klara work on it.
Stephen squeezes Zsofia’s soft petite hand as it rest in his. He is glad she is here for her caring nature does seem to be keeping him in a calmer state than what he would normally be in. Everyone is making such a fuss over the wound that he cannot help but think it is a bigger deal than what they are letting on.
“Steee. . . van.” Says Tamas as he rubs his eyes and walks out of the adjoining room to join the group.
“Oh Tamas.” Zsofia says as she reaches for him with one hand. “Sit here, next to me.” She says as he walks toward her.
“Stee. . . van?” The young man questions as he sits down on the floor next to his sister.
“He is okay, he just had an accident.” She assures her brother.
“It looks like you are lucky.” The old man says as he wraps two fingers around the butterfly looking piece of jewelry. “It didn’t hit your artery.”
“I don’t feel lucky. Get this thing out of my neck!” Stephen says with disgust.
“Okay, roll from your side to your stomach and stay calm. This might hurt.” The old man says as he begins to pull on the item.
Zsofia takes hold of Stephen’s hand and he squeezes it in preparation of the pain he is about to receive. Laszlo applies pressure around the item and pulls on it slowly as its blood stained stem lifts from Stephen’s skin. Once the item is clear, he takes a handkerchief from his pocket and applies pressure to the wound.
Zsofia runs her fingers through Stephen’s dark wavy hair as he lies face down with her grandfather pressing on the back of his neck. The handkerchief slowly turns red in the middle as blood begins to fill the fibers. Looking up at her grandfather with questioning and worrisome eyes, her elder shakes his head as if telling her not to say a word.
“Is it out?” Stephen asks as he starts to turn his head to the side.
“Just stay still, we’ve got a little blood to contend with.” Laszlo says as he continues to press on the cloth.
“My neck, oh. . . it hurts.” Stephen says with difficulty as Zsofia gently lifts his head to feel the backside of his neck.
“Ouch!” She says as she touches something sharp that slices across her finger. “Can you roll onto your side?” She asks in a calm manner trying to not upset or worry him.
“Yeah, what is it? What did that thing hit me with?” Stephen asks in a weak voice as he turns sideways.
“It’s a large hat pin.” Laszlo says as he slowly kneels down next to his granddaughter as she cradles Stephen’s head and shoulders. “It’s. . . it’s your grandmother’s hat pin, one that I bought her when we were young.” His voice trails off.
“Well get it out of me!” Stephen yells as he reaches for it and begins to panic. “Where is the Guta?” He rushes to say as he starts to roll over to look at the doorway but Laszlo applies pressure to hold him in place.
“You have to hold still, this is in a bad spot and we don’t want you bleeding out on us.” The old man says in a stern way.
As he inspects the area the thick pin punctured, Zsofia holds her breath. Very carefully, Laszlo wiggles the pin slightly as he leans down very close to Stephen’s neck to look at the depth of the object in the skin.
Stephen quickly turns putting his arm around the elderly woman’s waist pulling her with him as they run for the safety of the prepared room. He feels something hard brush against his shoulder with great force and then a pain to the back of his neck that thrust him to the floor. Klara steps into the room as Zsofia and Laszlo each take Stephen by the arm dragging him across the threshold severely disturbing the line of salt.
“No!” Klara yells as she grabs the jar of salt off the table.
She shoves her hand into it with such force it breaks a piece of glass off embedding it into her skin. While moving forward she throws a handful of the tiny white beads at the doorway and a deafening, not human or animal sound screeches loudly into the room as all four adults cover their ears in pain.
Thunder vibrates heavily as trinkets and items sitting around the room clank together from the intense rumble much like the aftershocks of an earthquake. Stephen rolls over onto his back as the pain in his neck sharpens and throbs with each pulse of his heartbeat. He groans as he tries to open his eyes and see exactly what is going on around him.
“Oh no, oh no, Stephen. . . are you alright?” Zsofia says as she immediately slides down onto the floor cupping his head in her hands.
Running at a sprint, Stephen lunges at the old woman with his arms stretched out in front of him. His body hits the floor with a loud thud as he grabs hold of Klara’s left ankle. Oddly, the Guta releases her as soon as Stephen takes hold and it stands calm and very still in the darkness of the hallway, only an arm length away. All the blood is rushing to Stephen’s head causing him to feel dizzy as the pressure of his adrenaline builds but he manages to stand up, pulling the old woman up next to him.
“Stephen!” Zsofia yells as she and her grandfather stay just inside the room but lean out to view the events in the hall.
“No, stay back Zsofia!” Stephen commands as he holds his hand up without losing eye contact with the wicked beast staring at him.
Droplets of thick saliva ooze from the mouth of the beast like a dog preparing for a fresh carnivorous meal. It wheezes as it laughs but does not blink its deep-set lifeless eyes, not once. Slowly Stephen pulls Klara to his side and then gently maneuvers her so she is now behind him. Together, slowly and deliberately, they back away from this frightening demonic presence. Its breaths are changing from slow gurgling intakes to more of a quick pant.
“It is going to pounce, the energy is strong.” Klara says as Stephen nudges her to hush.
“Isssstvan,” it hisses as Stephen tries to pick up the pace and speed the process of walking backwards, pushing Klara along.
“We need to move. . .” Stephen says as he takes hold of Klara’s hand. “We need to move, NOW!”
“A demon cannot be harmed by the meager touch of man.” The old woman says as fact as she walks in the direction of the open door to the hall and pauses in her footing and speech. “Is it near, Istvan? I can feel it, but not see it.” She says softly as she places her hand on the door frame.
Stephen looks up just as the Guta steps forward but being mindful not to cross the ironwork and wood or the dusting of salt on the floor. It stands within inches of the old woman, its hideous features distorted by the poor lighting and its stature smaller than her as it looks up. The fierce expression in its eyes is somewhat devious, like a child trying to trick a parent but then it reaches up, holding its hand out as if to touch Klara’s face.
“Klara, you should move back!” Stephen yells as he stands up. “It’s going to touch you!”
As soon as the warning words leave his lips, the Guta grabs for Klara, easily plucking her from the room as if she weighs nothing. With her screaming and kicking, the beast drags her down the hall at such a pace that before Stephen steps over the line of salt; she is nearly at the end of the long dark corridor.
“You too have been marked by the shadows of Guta, but you chose to rise above it.” Klara winks at Zsofia as if she is pleased in using her own words. “You had Tamas, who needed you and needed your graceful energy so you freely gave it to him. Your demeanor blossomed despite the pressure of distress, but not Istvan. No, he was scared and has carried this burden of suffering throughout his life.” She looks sad now as if she could cry at any moment but her eyes stay fixed on Stephen and no one says a word.
“The moment of your return to this place arose when your great-uncle was overcome by his greed.” Says Laszlo as he breaks the awkward silence in the room. “I don’t know if age played a part but he became diligent on finding some hidden treasure in these walls. Just look at the place, it is full of items that could be sold and if he needed money, he could have come to me!” The elderly man stands up.
“Was he broke or something?” Stephen asks as he tries to conceal the glance he made at the hallway.
Laszlo sees where his eyes diverted to and immediately sits as if scolded. Bowing his head down, he clears his throat and makes eye contact with Stephen. He moves his eyes as if asking if the Guta is near and Stephen nods his head up and down ever so slightly. Laszlo then begins to whisper.
“He thought there was a huge sum of money to be had and went mad looking for it. I could not tell him to stay away from the room in the basement for that would have driven him right to it!” He lowers his voice even more. “If I knew of a way to kill it, I would do it, but. . . it isn’t really living now is it?”
This entire conversation has been leaning toward Laszlo as the beasts’ main focus, but to Stephen in looking at this monsters wicked stare, realizes it is still very much in pursuit of him.
“The shadows of Guta hang over you boy. You need to look away.” Klara gravels in a very low voice without looking at Stephen.
“You keep saying that.” Stephen says in response to her statement. “What does that mean, the shadows of Guta?” He questions as Klara slowly turns around to face him.
“The first time I physically met you, your skin was shallow and your eyes anxious.” She speaks softly as she walks to where Stephen and Zsofia are sitting. “There was grayness around you, a mist of sorts, and disappointment in your eyes.” She stares at him a moment and without blinking then says, “You are oppressed by the shadows of Guta from its depth of madness and fear to its paranoid and apprehensive waves of torment.”
“Even though, for all these years, he has not been around it?” Zsofia questions and the old woman grins slightly as she turns toward her.
Stephen realizes it has been several hours since this entire span of time and extensive conversation began. Much of the time spent has been here, in this single room. The windows show the sky is growing even darker than before as the thickness of the storm clouds stifle any afternoon sun.
It has been many minutes since Stephen last looked out at the bleak and foreboding hallway. He has not heard the tapping sounds from the feet of the Guta nor does he see it at this moment. With much deliberation into what he is learning, Stephen is not sure if this conversation is more or less frightening than the attention he is receiving from the creature watching him.
Focusing on the darkest portion of the hall, he stares at the blackness. After several seconds, when he is about to convince himself that nothing is there, he sees it. The deep red color of the creature blends in well with the colorless backdrop and its eyes glisten as the candlelight flickers in them. They are deep dark liquefied circles of inertness and evil.
As the clarity of Stephen’s gaze increases, he realizes this corrupted menace is grinning while looking directly at him. Its mouth wide across its face with only a small slit for an opening. This challenging moment seems to delight the Guta for it begins to grin wide showing dark teeth inside a black stained mouth.
“The pieces of it have all come together for me now.” Klara smiles, but only slightly, as she speaks softly. “I finally understand the things I have seen in my readings and mind. I now identify with the directions I have been pulled.” She looks down at her feet and clasps her hands together at her chest.
“I can tell you it is not what I expected.” She whispers as if speaking to herself. “It is not only Istvan it wants. . . it has been you all this time Laszlo. It wants to cast its revenge onto you.” She points at him much like a judge condemning the man and a transparent current explodes in the room causing everyone to become tense and uncomfortable.
“You dear boy, are a victim of your grandmother’s evil doing.” Klara points at him as if giving him a command and her voice lowers. “When someone has been cursed and is held in the shadows of Guta, they do not function like others.” She says as she reaches out, taking his hand in hers. “Yes, it was a curse that she laid upon all of us!” The old woman’s hands begin to quiver. “We must find a way; yes. . . we must find a way.”
“A way to what? What are you talking about?” Stephen asks as he quickly pulls his hand away, but the old woman merely stands up and walks to the bedroom door to look in on Tamas.
“Your Grandmother, Stephen, she had not changed.” Laszlo continues. “She simply wanted me to think she had. The moving of your Grandfather to the gatehouse was all for show to make her look like a devoted wife and grandmother to her visiting son and grandson.” Laszlo looks at Klara. “She thought she could control it but as a demon, it once ran free across the land and had done so for centuries.” The aging man shakes his head back and forth. “With her summons, the Guta was forced to stay close by and it followed her everywhere. After the death of your grandfather,” he looks at Stephen, “she found herself living in fear and then it began to beat on her.
“I was the one who finally trapped it again in the small cell in the basement.” Laszlo runs his hand down his face from his brow to his chin. “I followed her steps perfectly and was able to do it by myself.” He leans his chin on his hand as he tries not to cry.
“Why didn’t she help you, grandfather?” Zsofia quizzes.
“Because she was already dead!” The old man yells and then pauses as if his entire body has gone numb. “She hung herself from the fourth floor walkway in the conservatory. It was all because I shunned her. I fell out of love once I realized how evil she had become. Yet even after all of this, with my feelings toward her changed, I told her I would help her capture the beast that had now turned on her.” He begins to sob. “I helped her create this and now, after all these years, understand why she took her own life.”
The first thoughts running through Stephen’s mind are of the safety of the group gathered here, huddled together and fearful. If his grandmother, who started this entire process, changed her mind and decided to protect his grandfather, how did the Guta get to him? Are they safe now, with the beast on the other side of the wall? He starts to address his question to Klara but she begins to speak.
“There was one door, one single door in this entire manor that was purposely left open and unattended. Wasn’t there?” She quizzes to Laszlo and then coughs as she glances in the opposite direction at the open door to the hallway.
“So it found its way out anyhow.” Stephen says as he glances at Zsofia who is listening intently.
“She wanted it to. She left the door open that was least conspicuous, the one that goes from the conservatory to the southern wall.” Laszlo rubs his hands as if they ache with pain.
“That is the way I used to sneak in, it has always been unlocked.” Zsofia says with a shiver as she whispers this to Stephen.
“But until just recently, my dear, the Guta had once again been contained behind the barriers laid out around it.” Klara says in a riddle sort of way as she looks at Zsofia and then continues talking as if reading an excerpt from a book. “At the time of your coming and going, it didn’t matter how many doors or windows were unlocked and open for it was being held down by the rules before it.”
“She was as clever as the demon for as part of the offering she said the Guta would have free reign of the manor. Being the ruthless individual she was, she also wanted it to be a trap to keep the beast here forever. Isn’t that right?” Klara says to Laszlo in an orderly manner.
“Yes,” Laszlo replies. “Once every door and window in this place was secure, it was contained here inside these walls. It then began pouncing upon its victim, your grandfather, repeatedly and he became very ill.” Laszlo looks toward the door. “I wanted it to stop, to leave him alone, but she would not call it off. So I came here while she was away and did what I could to build a barrier.” He looks down as he begins to cry.
“He was found out,” Klara says in a low tone. “She was too smart to be fooled by a kind deed so she moved her husband to the gatehouse.”
“Yes. She fooled everyone, including me.” Laszlo says as he looks at Zsofia. “She told me she had made a mistake and that moving him away from the manor would give him time to heal, and time for her to find a way to banish the Guta from their lives.”
“So what happened, what went wrong? How did the Guta get to him if all of these things were put into place?” Stephen questions almost frantic as his heart rate goes up.