“Stephen.” Zsofia says softly as she touches the side of his face. “We are going to get through this.” She whispers as she gains his attention. “We will get through this together.”
He now realizes they are alone in the kitchen and a soft glow is filtering into the room from the doorway of the dining room. His heart hurts, it physically feels hard and sluggish, and his throat feels thick from the anxiety attack he just went through but in looking at Zsofia, he begins to calm down.
Together they join the others at the large wooden table in the dining room. Across the length of its shiny wood surface, is the rope Klara dangerously retrieved from the conservatory. Candles are flickering as they sit in a straight line, evenly spaced, and extending the full length of the rope.
As soon as they sit down, Klara walks over to the opening to the kitchen, and lays down two thick bands of salt. Next, she lights a single candle and sets it in the middle of the doorway. Backing up, she continues to pour the white granular out of the jar and as she comes to the windows and other entries, she does the same as before. She lays down two lines of salt and lights a candle. She continues running a thick bead of salt along the walls until she has them completely encased within the perimeter.
As these thoughts race through Stephen’s mind, he does not realize he has stepped away from Zsofia and is now pacing from the sink in the kitchen to the mudroom. Step after step he moves back and forth mumbling to himself about things he cannot even decipher. If he were a stranger watching himself, he would surely believe insanity is at play here.
Rage is building and his thoughts are becoming clouded as he allows his emotions to get the better of him. He recalls the last few days before his parents were killed in a car accident. They were excited about his graduation from school and to celebrate, the family was making travel plans.
Stephen can still hear the raindrops hitting his umbrella and the top of the car when he happened upon the scene only minutes after the first responders arrived. Driving past the site, he recognized the car immediately and pulled over.
At this moment, Stephen stops in the middle of the room as rain begins to pelt at the window once again as another storm enters the area. He feels all color drain from his face. His pulse increases and there is a biting coldness that rushes across his shoulders causing him to nearly buckle under the weight of realizing how alone in this world he is.
Stephen is to the point that death for him may be a blessing as well. Perhaps that is how it all works, life wears you down to the point you are begging for release. Time after time, he has tried to overcome the things that hold him back but over and over is defeated in his cause. At what point is he allowed to say enough is enough and end his own suffering by taking his own life?
This is not new to him, he has felt this way before, and to be pulled back to his childhood memories has merely impressed such dark thoughts. Who would miss him and what would it matter if his life ended? Helplessness has been fixed on him from as far back as he can remember and here he is now, by no means in control of his destiny.
Again, he finds himself comparing his suicidal feelings and need for action to those of his deranged grandmother; she too took her own life to rid herself from what she was living with. The only difference is that she created her problems, where Stephen feels he has simply been a victim to it all and rightly so, for what could he have possibly done to deserve this life. What turn did he make as a small child that forced him into this nightmare?
As Stephen watches, Klara has slowly backed away from the group and is now leaning on the kitchen counter near the sink. Her head is bent and she is looking down for the most part. As he continues to watch her actions, for just a second she glances up. Once she realizes they have made eye contact, she nods yes as if they spoke to each other, but they had not.
“Now that we are together again, we must form a circle of protection for our next step.” Klara states with authority as if speaking only to Stephen.
“No, I don’t trust you.” Stephen says in a blunt way and no one speaks another word, except for Klara.
“I am sorry Stephen, but you have no choice. You must follow my lead, or tonight. . . you will die.” The old woman’s gaze does not change and she does not look away until Stephen breaks eye contact.
“What?” Zsofia questions as she looks up at Stephen with much concern.
“We are approaching the three o’clock hour.” Klara states as she walks toward the door to the dining room. “The hour of the spirits will be beneficial to us.”
“To do what? Nothing can be fixed here!” Stephen states in a frustrated and loud tone.
He swipes his hand across the counter knocking a glass and several small items into the sink creating a loud racket. He is tired and weary from this constant barrage of twists and turns in his life. He would give anything to rid himself of this supposed curse but not if it causes pain or fear for others.
“Oh Stephen, I’m so scared, what is happening?” Zsofia questions in a quiet breathy and shaky voice but before he can answer, Tamas and Laszlo bolt into the room from the dining room.
“Thank god you two are safe!” Laszlo states as he pulls Tamas along at a faster rate than the young man can usually walk.
“Grandfather, Tamas!” Zsofia says as she reaches her hand out, but does not release her hold on Stephen.
As this reunion takes place and Laszlo explains how he and Tamas have been hiding, Stephen is still wondering about the Guta. Where is it and what is its next move? He is also concerned about Klara. He wonders what she is, is she a witch perhaps, and what happened when her eyes changed? Was she under the influence of the Guta or might his own grandmother’s twisted spirit still linger here, manipulating the living?
Stephen glances away from the Guta, for just a split second to look at Klara, and then a hissing laughter of glee slithers into the room from the hall. Stephen looks back at where the Guta was standing but it is no longer there. Instantly, he slips his arms back around Zsofia, who now holds on to him tightly around the waist.
“Oh Stephen, I heard that, I heard the laugh!” She whispers loudly in his ear as she squeezes tighter to him, then looks from side to side, but she does not see anything unusual.
“Where is it?” Klara whispers as she steps near Stephen, again she holds the rope out in front of her as if trying to create a barrier.
“I. . .” Stephen starts to say but pauses. “I don’t see it. It’s not in the room or the hall.”
He presses his arms against Zsofia trying to help calm her breathing because it has become very rapid. Looking around at all the dark corners and nooks, he still does not see the Guta lingering anywhere. Unable to put Zsofia through this any longer, he turns around and takes her in his arms.
She responds to him by pulling herself in with the tightest hold he has ever felt before. As frightened as he feels at this moment, he can tell she is in far more despair than he imagined. All this time she has been the strong one who had this ability to calm him and now, she is in a weakened state needing him to be even stronger.
“Tell me if it comes at us.” The old woman says to Stephen in her normal voice, he hears a nervous tremor in her speech.
Keeping his eyes on the demon, he is confused at this statement by Klara. First, she is laughing as if she has evil intent and now she changes to a more protective nature. He does not know what to believe or if he can put an ounce of trust in her. Dizziness begins to fall over him and his pulse rate elevates. He can feel Zsofia’s breathing increase as the room becomes energized with intense apprehension.
“What is happening Stephen, what’s going on?” Zsofia whispers as she grabs hold of his arms pressing even closer to him than before.
“I don’t know, I can see it, but. . .” He does not finish his statement for the Guta begins to slowly and awkwardly, tip its head sideways as if inspecting what it is looking at, which happens to be Stephen himself.
The frightening appearance and reaction from the Guta of the words Stephen was speaking, causes him to step back again, but Zsofia is already up against the wall. They cannot get any further away unless they attempt to leave the room.
“Stephen, you need to stay with it, don’t take your eyes off it.” Klara whispers as she steps over to be beside him.
“Why should I trust you?” He questions in a hateful manner.
“Why shouldn’t you? What have I done?” Klara asks politely as she turns to look at him, her eyes no longer filled with the strange misty glow.
Klara moves around the small space as if nervous and lost and continues to twist and turn the thick tattered rope in her hands. Low mumbles that are unrecognizable leave her lips and then suddenly, she stops and looks toward the doorway to the kitchen.
Watching and wondering how he can protect Zsofia and himself from what he fears comes next, Stephen pushes backward until Zsofia’s back is against the wall. His hatred for Klara is rushing through his body because he feels that somehow she is creating this horrific event. Why is she laughing? Why is she doing this? Her physical stance has not changed as she continues to be very quiet and focused on the doorway.
“Zsofia, I don’t know what to do.” Stephen says as he continues to stand with his back to her and before she can answer, he sees it.
The Guta has come into view. It stands in the shadows of the hall but does not enter the room. Klara slowly begins to back up as she pulls the rope tight in her hands holding it out in front of her in a firm straight line.
With her back turned and her head protruding forward, Klara begins to mumble. Her hands are out to her side to steady her stance as she speaks and shakes her head as if having a conversation with an unseen person.
“Damn it Klara!” Stephen says with anger. “You have to tell us what is going on! What do you know that you are not telling us?” He says as he marches toward her, grabbing her by the arm to make her face him.
Neither Stephen nor Zsofia are prepared for her reaction to his demands as she quickly turns, head tilted down as she looks up with white and lavender eyes just like before. This thick looking fog fills her eye sockets, as she appears to look straight at Stephen.
Startled and unsure of the old woman’s intent, Stephen protects Zsofia by positioning her directly behind himself with his hands on her hips to hold her in place. He takes two steps back to put more distance between them and Klara. He feels Zsofia’s hands on his as the old woman giggles.
“The Guta is down below in the darkness where it thrives. It wants to lure them there, but they are hiding, so now. . . it comes for you, Istvan.” The old woman cackles with a low whispering laugh as she twists the rope in her hands.
As Stephen sits with Klara, he begins to think of the events of the past several hours. He is not sure how, but he has managed to take control of this entire situation without much fear or nervousness. In his mind, he is simply doing what he must do to survive and he has not stopped to think about what it is that has empowered him. From down the hall, he sees the white beam from the flashlight and knows Zsofia is coming this way.
“Where are grandfather and Tamas?” Zsofia asks with much worry as she enters the kitchen.
“What do you mean? Are they not in the conservatory? Stephen quizzes as he stands up and steps in her direction but what Klara says next stops him.
“Haven’t you noticed we have been left alone?” Klara quizzes as she sits hunched over with her elbows on the table and hands on her forehead.
Stephen looks at her and realizes yes, she is correct. With all the walking they had to do in the past hour to get to and from the fourth floor, he has not felt that anyone or anything followed. There has been no taunting by the Guta for some time now and to Stephen, it appears evident this is connected to the disappearance of Laszlo and Tamas.
“So what does this mean?” Stephen questions to Klara as Zsofia quickly walks over to be close to him.
The old woman sits quietly, not moving or speaking and Stephen gives her several seconds to respond before he becomes frustrated. Just as he begins to lash out at her verbally, she stands, holds onto the chair for support, then turns and takes a few steps toward the entrance to the mudroom.
No other words are spoken after the old woman finally responds to Stephen and Zsofia. The three of them walk to the spiral staircase and begin their descent from the fourth floor all the way down to the ground floor. It is tedious, moving in the dark with the single beam of the flashlight glowing as they navigate the steps. In the manner Klara is walking and holding onto the walls and railings, Stephen can tell this is hard on her feeble aging body. With each step of her left leg, she pauses; it is a very slight hesitation, yet happening nonetheless.
Once they are back at ground level, Stephen hands Zsofia the flashlight. She quickly heads back to the conservatory for her brother and grandfather, while Stephen guides Klara to the nearest place to sit down, which happens to be the kitchen table. He is hopeful that if she can rest, she will catch her breath and regain her strength.
He knows there is an unlit candle on the windowsill of the kitchen; he has seen it there many times, so he gently taps around in the dark for it. Finally, his hand passes over the top for he feels the wick tickle his palm. Picking it up, he takes the candle to the stove and turns it on its side. With a loud click, he ignites the gas burner and lowers the wick into the bright blue flame. Taking a few minutes for his eyes to adjust to the light, he looks into Klara’s. Even though it is difficult to see, he can tell the ordinary brown tone of her eyes are back to normal and he wants them to stay that way.
“Klara? We need to go.” Zsofia says as she starts to take her by the hand but the old woman once again does not respond and Zsofia is not sure if she should touch her.
“Come on Klara, Zsofia is right. We must meet up with Laszlo and Tamas before anything else happens.” Stephen says as he puts his hand on her elbow to guide her.
“It already has.” The old woman states in an eerie almost mocking way and in a voice not her own. Her body stiffens keeping Stephen from moving her. “It has taken them below and it wants you to join them.” She grins as she tips her head in a crooked way to look up at him, the shallow eyes blinking quickly, but not at the same time.
The spooky appearance and devious snicker of this bizarre old woman makes Stephen feel like running in the opposite direction, but after several quiet seconds, he nudges Klara’s arm again. He knows that somehow he must control this situation, not only for himself, but also for Zsofia, her family, and even Klara who seems to be just as trapped by the secrets hidden inside this old historic building.
“Excuse me, Klara? Are you alright?” Stephen quizzes and as she turns around, he looks into her eyes.
Shocked by what he sees he jumps from fright and steps backward in a stumble. The old woman’s eyes, big, round and open very wide, are pale lavender in color instead of the chocolate-brown he knows her to have. She does not blink but instead seems to glare at him, much as a wild animal would prior to a vicious attack. He is on edge waiting for her to pounce but she stands, in her normal crooked stance, with arms bent and hands curved around the tattered length of rope she clings too.
“Stephen?” Zsofia questions as she watches the two of them interact. “What is it?” She quizzes as she steps around to look at Klara. “Oh, what. . . what is going on?” She states before swiftly covering her mouth with her hand and backing away to be closer to Stephen.
“I don’t know.” He says almost at a whisper as he continues to study the old woman’s face and the odd discoloration of her eyes.
It appears she is not fully in control of herself for she is not moving nor is she speaking to either one of them. The odd coloration of her eyes is like a fog from within and it looks much like the eyes of death. It is as if all signs of life have been pulled from her body leaving only a shell of a person behind. From where they stood compared to where they are now, Klara has not followed Stephen or Zsofia. She is standing firm, still in her pose looking the same direction as if frozen in this stance for all time.
“Klara, are you alright?” Zsofia questions.
She tries to console the disturbed woman but nothing is stopping her focused pacing pattern. Stephen finds himself confused by what is happening and why now, all of a sudden this woman is now in some sort of manic state.
In her hands is the thick faded rope she apparently needed bad enough to risk her and Stephen’s life for. She runs her hands over it, pulling it section by section until she gets to the end where she pauses and then starts the process over. Without any indication of a change in her nature, she stops abruptly, no longer pacing back and forth, and no longer pulling the rope through her loosely clutched fingers. She stands very still and quiet with her back to them as if in a daze.
Zsofia looks at Stephen as all three of them stand motionless and silent. Here on the fourth floor, with rain plummeting down on the rooftop and pouring off the eaves onto the large open balcony area, time seems to have stopped. Stephen feels the need to get everyone back together and this means he, Zsofia and Klara, must make their way back down to the ground floor where Laszlo and Tamas are waiting.
“Klara?” Stephen questions as he walks up to her but she does not move or verbally respond.
Suddenly, Klara looks up at Stephen with a very worried and odd expression. The frown on her brow is deep as she begins to stand up. Her body stiff with age as she feebly takes hold of the nearest suspension cable. The section of the platform she is on shifts with each move she makes and she now appears to be frenzied with her situation.
“Klara, don’t move so fast, you’re going to fall!” Stephen states urgently as he looks around for anything that will help this situation.
Quickly and without thought, he swings forward, nearly falling from his own secure place. With only one foot on his dependable platform and one hand on a tension cable, he grabs Klara under her arms. In one fluid movement, he pulls her off the crumbling platform and falls backward with his arms around her. The entire section she was on is now tumbling down hitting the other levels as well as tree branches before settling onto the earthen floor at the very bottom.
Cables supporting the weight of Stephen and Klara begin to loosen and just before this platform begins to shift, Zsofia and Stephen manage to get Klara, as well as themselves to safety. The panicked demeanor of the old woman is something neither Stephen nor Zsofia have ever witnessed from her before. Now with their footing safely on the fourth floor, Klara begins walking with very quick and short steps, she wanders in circles along the section of the fourth floor where they stand. Her head is down and her stance determined as she moves left, then right, forward and backward. The movements seem almost dreamlike and disconnected from them somehow.
Every word that exits this woman’s mouth intrigues Stephen and frightens him even more. The thought of his grandmother hanging from this section of walkway is terrifying. Even more is the fact that she, at some moment, simply decided to tie a rope around her neck, and jump from the platform with the noose tightening until the last breath left her. This sends chills throughout his body and he actually feels as if a ridge of freezing air has swirled around him.
“You see,” Klara states as she looks down at the now unbound rope lying in her lap. “You feel her too.”
Just as those frightening words leave her lips, the loose section of the walkway gives way and falls, slamming down on the third floor section where it entangles itself in the suspension cable. Gasps from Laszlo and Tamas can be heard as they watch from below. With this section gone, there is now a gap between where the old woman sits and where Stephen needs to be in order to pull her to safety.
“Oh no.” Zsofia says as she holds onto the open door.
As she takes a step toward Stephen, this slight yet extra movement on the platform, does more harm than good.
“No, stop Zsofia, it cannot support us.” Stephen says nervously as he steadies himself. “Just, just stay at the door.” He holds his hands out to gain his balance.
“Klara?” Stephen says in a calm tone.
Keeping his footing just inside the door to hold it open and to avoid standing on the already stressed suspended walkway, he reaches his left hand out to her.
“You need to let it go.” He says as he steps out onto the platform and tries to grab hold of her, but she backs away.
“I need this rope, Istvan.” She says as she looks up at him causing the suspended path to sway.
A large bolt slips out of its space causing the section right next to her to squeak loudly and suddenly break away. It does not fall but in no way is this platform secure enough to support either of them.
“It’s just a rope.” Stephen says as he continues to reach for her.
“Her energy is bound to it.” Klara says as she sits very calm waiting for the movement of the walkway to stop. “This was touching her as her spirit was released from her body.” She says quietly as she begins to loosen the knot holding it to the suspension wire. “Good and bad, what she was is here, interwoven in this physical item.”
Stephen continues to follow closely behind Zsofia as they step out onto the fourth floor area, the glow from the conservatory has the entire space illuminated. If this night were not so dreadful, it would actually be quite pretty and soothing to sit up here overlooking the greenery below.
“Wow, this is beautiful.” Zsofia says as she leans back slightly to keep from getting drenched with rainwater.
Quickly she runs toward the protection of the enclosed fourth floor section and points to a small door that will take them inside the walls of the conservatory.
“Here, this entrance is right next to her, we should be able to pull her to us easily.”
“You stay here; I don’t think we can both do this without adding too much movement and weight to the supports.” Stephen says as he passes by.
“Be careful.” Zsofia whispers as she stops where she is.
Once Stephen reaches the iron door, he pulls it open and can see that Klara is actually only two arm lengths away. Kneeling down carefully, with the platform swaying as she moves, the old woman leans out grabbing hold of the thick rope she so urgently desires. The door creaks and pops as Stephen slowly pushes it all the way open. The look on the old woman’s face as she turns toward him confuses Stephen. She seems to be angry and fearful, yet somehow fearless at the same time.
Switching the light on, it shoots a strong beam into the hall as Stephen and Zsofia, once again, enter the darkness of the many walls and corridors of the manor. Quickly making their way past the door to the dining room, they walk close to the wall until they reach the spiral staircase located near the mudroom of the kitchen.
“If I remember correctly, we can take this all the way to the fourth floor.” Stephen says as they enter the small room.
He allows Zsofia to lead, but not out of fear, as they begin to climb the stairs. He feels this is the best way to protect her for he can reach around her at any minute to pull her to him. In addition, if something is following, he will be the first target, not her. In order to be as protective as possible, he stays only one step behind, moving his feet at exactly the same time as hers. Once they reach the second floor, she stops.
“Where do you think the Guta is?” Zsofia questions in a whisper as she looks back at Stephen.
“I don’t know, but we need to speed up and get to Klara as soon as possible.” Stephen replies as they both focus on their mission and quickly climb to the third floor.
“One more to go.” Zsofia says as she quickly swings around the railing and starts up the last section of the staircase.
“Don’t you let anything happen to her.” The old man says to Stephen in a serious almost demanding tone about his granddaughter.
The look in Laszlo’s eyes seems bitter somehow, as if he is angry with Stephen, when clearly he should be upset with himself. After all, the only reason he is here today is due to his own part in this crime. Yet, he stares at Stephen without wavering his intense glare.
“Understood,” Stephen replies in a cold manner even though Laszlo’s statement angers him immensely.
How dare this old man, who plays such a large role in creating this entire horrible situation for both families, even think for one minute Stephen would let something happen to Zsofia! He would much rather she stays here, safe in the light and with her brother. Yet, on the other hand, he does not want to step back into the dark corridors of the manor alone either. Selfish? No, to him it is safety in numbers, yet his need for Zsofia to be unharmed is far greater than his own fear of doing this alone.
“You don’t have to do this.” Stephen says to Zsofia as she looks up at Klara.
“Neither do you,” she replies with a smile. “But we better hurry before she gets much further.”
“Here, take this, it was over by the generator.” Laszlo states as he hands a large flashlight to Stephen.