Gasping for air, Stephen jumps up from the dark water. This enormous intake of air is not only due to his near drowning, but also from his fear of the complete and total darkness of the water and surroundings. The level of fear he is at within himself has nearly pushed him to hysteria.
Stephen has never been an individual who enjoys being around water. He knows how but does not like to swim and even flying over the ocean in the plane was bothersome to him. Here, in this intense darkness and black water, his fear of the distorting qualities cause his apprehension to be overwhelming. As the water rushes out of his ears, he realizes Klara is speaking in another chanting type of way and he hears her loud and clear as if she is right next to him.
“My mind is zealous, my heart enormous, my soul as old as time.” She says clearly. “I bind you to your beginning; I bind you to your end! I ban you from these intimates, for they have committed no crime or sin!”
Stephen cannot see her or the menacing Guta, but he can tell they are near for Klara’s voice is remarkably strong, as is the cat-like hiss coming from the Guta itself. Listening to her speaking above the rushing water, he tries to find his way to her. He wonders how she managed to free herself from the tightening rope that was around her neck, but he is thankful that whatever she did, must have worked.
“Klara told me I would know what to do. Now is the time for me to do it.” Laszlo kisses the locket before looping the chain over his head and dropping it down to his neck.
“What? No! Grandfather you can’t!” Zsofia says as she takes hold of his arm.
“I must! This is my fault! Not yours and not his!” He points out toward Stephen as he looks into his granddaughter’s tear-filled eyes.
“Do you not think that if she could create all of this, that she did not control you as well?” Zsofia yells as she tries to reason with the old man. “She used you and your love for her to get what she wanted, but it would have never been enough! Whether she truly loved you in the end or not, I know you grandfather, I know you would have never done any of this willingly!” She takes hold of his arm. “You were duped and under her spell, you too were a victim!”
“I love you, Zsofia. You have grown to be a wonderful caring and loving woman.” He kisses her on the forehead and reaches to Tamas pulling him into a strong hug. “Take care of Tamas, just as you always have.” Laszlo says in a calm tone as he looks into his granddaughter’s eyes.
With his statement made, the old man walks toward the water and after only two steps in, begins to feel sharp biting pains from its frigid temperature. Despite this horrific pain, he presses forward to do what he must and to suffer what he is due.
Tamas begins to cry aloud as Zsofia pulls him to her. Together they watch their grandfather step beyond the range of the candles dim glow as the rushing water takes him in to its depths.
Zsofia is knee-deep in the frigid water by the time Laszlo grabs her, pulling her back to the bank and out of the freezing temperatures. Thrashing around and fighting her grandfather to free herself, she drops the flashlight leaving Stephen and Klara completely in the dark.
Tamas grabs the light and begins clicking the button repeatedly in an attempt for it to turn on. At this point, the only candle that remains lit is the one Tamas set on the ground as he tries to reactivate the flashlight.
“Grandfather, please! He is going to be killed!” Zsofia pleads frantically as she desperately works to free herself from Laszlo’s hold.
“No, if anyone is going out there, it is me. I love you far too much to let you get hurt! This is my fight anyhow. I caused this and I will not let you fall victim because of it!” The old man says with much authority and love for his family.
Reaching into his shirt pocket, Laszlo retrieves the small locket that fell at his feet in the upstairs sitting room. In the dim light of the single flame still burning, he pops it open for a quick look at the woman he once loved more than anything in the world, then immediately clicks it shut.
“Is it near?” Laszlo asks of his grandson. “Is the beast here, do you see it?”
Tamas replies with a nod yes as his eyes stay fixed, he then points toward Stephen and Klara. The look on his face tells them something horrible is happening as tears begin to roll down his cheeks and he fights to refrain from yelling out.
“What is it you see, Tamas?” Zsofia questions as she looks at her brother.
“Evvv. . . evil.” Tamas replies with a stutter. “Hurting th. . . them.”
Quickly Zsofia looks back toward Stephen just as Klara appears to be plucked out of his arms. One end of the rope is sticking straight up, out of the water as if someone is holding it. Her mind races at trying to comprehend this for she cannot see the Guta itself. Stephen lunges in the water in an attempt to help the elderly woman but the Guta meets this reaction with a fierce blow. Stephen goes face first into the water in a forceful way that appears as anything but normal.
“Stephen!” Zsofia yells out as she starts to run toward him.
The frightening and dominant beast does not seem effected by the movement of the escalating water. In fact, it stands rigid and unyielding without much effort at all. Klara is frantically holding onto Stephen as she begins to yell out orders once again but the Guta seems to feed off her fear as it takes hold of the rope. With an evil grin and grumbling voice, it tugs at the old cord causing it to tighten around Klara’s neck like the noose that killed her sister. Slowly the monster begins to reel her in and the old woman’s voice becomes stifled and mute from the pressure on her throat.
“No!” Stephen yells as he pulls back on Klara but immediately he realizes this merely makes things worse for her as the rope gets tighter and smaller blocking all the air she is trying to take in.
At the water’s edge, Zsofia continues to hold the light but is becoming more and more confused as to what is happening. She cannot see the creature as it toys with Stephen and Klara and to her; they are simply trying to stay afloat. She looks to her grandfather in a questioning way and he too appears frantic as he steps closer to Tamas.
“I banish you from this place and from these people!” Klara holds the loosened part of the rope up out of the water as she speaks. “I send you back to hell and away from the souls who trapped you!” Klara falls back against Stephen who is looking around frantically trying to locate the beast for it is no longer at the shoreline.
Klara’s movements are much like a person frightened of the water, or possible terrified of something that is approaching in the water, for she is looking around wildly and frantically wiping her wet hair away from her face. Her eyes are wide as she looks in all directions. Stephen takes hold of her for he thinks she is simply falling due to the current but he is mistaken.
“Isssstvan,” the creature hisses as it slowly rises up out of the water directly in front of Stephen and Klara.
Watching the beast as it stands near the water’s edge behind Zsofia, Stephen panic’s.
“No! You leave her alone!” Stephen yells with anger and Zsofia gives him an odd look for she did not hear what he said, she just knows he is yelling.
Still with the flashlight out, Stephen starts to move in Zsofia’s direction but Klara tugs at him to make sure he stays with her. This rapid shift in his stance along with the rush of water causes him to lose his footing. As he falls forward into the current, he drops the candle from his hand and watches as its flame extinguishes in the blackness of the deep flow swirling around him.
The echoing screams of the black liquid rushing around his ears and the coldness he now feels nearly causes him to pass out. Standing up quickly, his head emerges out of the stream and he starts coughing from the gulps of water he took in. Klara falls toward him as the force of the current gets even stronger and she begins to drift past him.
“Klara! Grab my hand!” he yells as he reaches for her.
Suddenly, the beam from the flashlight shines on him nearly blinding him with its brightness as Klara’s hand slips out of his. Lunging toward her, he gets his hands on the rope and begins to pull on it, which causes it to tighten around the old woman’s neck. He realizes this is happening but it is all he can do until he is able to grab her arm in his and pull her to him. Without wasting a moment, and in a very loud voice, Klara begins to yell out at the Guta once again.
Klara looks down at the deep rushing stream with great fear and even from the water’s edge; Zsofia has noticed the changed expression on the old woman’s face. Holding the light steady and strong she and Tamas watch for anything out of the ordinary as the ritual progresses.
With his candle high above his head, Stephen grabs hold of Klara’s small frame for he can feel an undertow forming in the water. Instantly, the beam of light from the flashlight goes out causing him to look up at Zsofia. She was to keep it on them at all times! He can tell she is banging on it for it flickers and flashes as she attempts to make it work.
The three candles that Klara gave them as protection are still burning but they do not give off much light. Deep in the rushing torrent, holding onto Klara as she tries to firm her position in the deep water, Stephen looks down for just a second. When he glances back at his three friends standing at the water’s edge, he is horror-struck by what he sees.
Directly behind Zsofia, in the faint flicker of candlelight, is the horrific grin of the Guta. Here in the shadowy darkness of the basement, it scurries about freely and as if taunting Stephen to make a choice between helping Klara, or rushing to protect the woman he loves, it watches with complete and utter delight.
There is a flush of warmth, radiating up through Stephen’s veins, from his toes to his waist. Where they are standing, the ice-cold water is level with the bottom of Stephen’s ribcage and is nearly up to poor Klara’s crooked and bent neck. In his mind, he recalls hearing that when a person is about to die from extreme cold, you actually start to feel warm. He fears this is what is happening to him but he is okay with it, anything is better than the biting pain he has been fighting up to this point.
Together, the old woman and Stephen stand while continuing to hold their candles higher than the swirling water rushing around them. The forceful current is strong as it pulls at them nearly washing them away several times. With her free hand, the one with the rope wrapped around her wrist, Klara loops the thick brown cord around her neck and continues to wrap it snuggly as she tries to stand firm in the turbulence.
Stephen is doing his best to hold her steady but the water seems to be gaining in the speed of its current. Chanting just under her breath to herself, the repetitious verse begins to drown out from the increasing sounds around them. Klara raises her arms and candle high above her head as she calls out to the Guta.
“Guta, demon of Alvilag, I am the taltos, a shaman of the light! I demand you step forward!” Klara yells at the top of her lungs. I demand you show yourself to us!” She says loudly as the speed of the water picks up.
Klara murmurs something under her breath, then pulls on Stephen’s arm, stopping him as he stands beside her. The water is up higher now, a little over his ankles but below the knee and the frigid temperature is almost unbearable to both individuals.
Again, Klara repeats the same thing over again but Stephen has no idea what it is she is saying, or the language she is using. It does not sound like the native Hungarian he is growing more accustomed too but he is too cold to ask for an explanation either. All he wants to do is turn back.
“Klara, I think we need to. . .” Stephen starts to say turn around, but Klara squeezes his hand in hers rather hard and he stops mid-sentence.
Moving a few steps deeper into the water, Stephen feels the ache of his skin and muscles reacting to the chilling black water. Again, Klara continues to chant to herself as she squeezes his hand again pulling him deeper still. Once they find themselves in the middle of the cold dark stream, they turn to face the beam of light Zsofia is diligently shining at them.
Severe pain is now shooting up though Stephens body at a rapid rate causing his nose to start running and his eyes to water. He knows he cannot handle the agony he is feeling for much longer but suddenly, he feels as if the icy water around his lower legs is beginning to fade.
“Istvan, we must be mindful of the time.” Klara states as she continues to watch the water but reaches back holding her hand out to Stephen. “We need a steady light, Zsofia. Whatever happens and no matter what you see, keep the light upon us.”
“I will.” Zsofia replies as Tamas steps closer to his sister.
All this time Laszlo has been quiet and just as Klara and Stephen are about to take the first step into the water, he yells out.
“Klara, what am I supposed to do?” He says loudly. “This curse is mine as well.” He pauses, “Can I take Stephen’s place?” He offers.
“You will know the role to play and when to play it.” Klara replies without turning to look at him.
With the rope wrapped around her left arm, Klara reaches to her right, and takes Stephen’s hand in hers. They take the first step and Stephen instantly wants do draw back. The water is ice-cold, freezing, and he knows hyperthermia is imminent if they spend very much time in it at all. Even at this level, barely past his toes, he can tell the current is strong.
“We must do this now, Istvan.” Klara says with authority as she holds her hand out. “The water will be very cold. . . I apologize.”
“Wait, I just need a second.” Stephen says as he turns toward Zsofia and walks up to her as they stand eye to eye.
The candles in their hands reflect off their faces as they look at each other. At first, neither says a word, but then they both begin to speak at once, which causes them to grin at one another. The golden strands of Zsofia’s long hair are glistening and Stephen feels like crying for the first time in years as he stares at this beautiful woman. She is not just a friend, no, she is so much more and he wants so badly to protect her.
He loves her without a doubt and he knows she feels the same about him. He also knows this may very well be the end of him. The fear of thinking his life will soon be taken is so very hard to comprehend. He fears the unknown place of death but he also realizes that if he does not try this ritual, he is doomed just the same. It is hard for him to admit, this could very well be goodbye.
Before he can say a single word, Zsofia reaches up, her touch soft and loving on his cheek as she gently slides her hand down to his neck. He wants to kiss her, and tell her that if he survives, he will be her protector forever. A lump forms in his throat as he begins to speak but Zsofia leans forward and kisses him tenderly.
“I will be waiting, right here Stephen.” She says as if she knows exactly what he is thinking.
He blinks his eyes rapidly trying to stop the flow of tears he feels coming, but it is too late. A large bead trickles down his face as he leans in kissing her for what may be the final time.
Klara swiftly opens the little book and tugs at the flashlight in Stephen’s hand. She forces him to point it at the pages as she reads the words to herself. After several minutes of studying the pages and whispering to herself, she takes the flashlight from Stephen’s hand.
“Here Zsofia, you hold the light and keep it on us. We do not want to be in the water without a light.” Klara says.
She continues to hold onto the light until she knows Zsofia has a firm grip. Next, she rests her hand on Zsofia’s for several seconds as if absorbing her thoughts, then passes the small book to her for safekeeping.
“Put this in your pocket, keep it safe, and always remember to save your memories.” Klara says softly as she looks at Zsofia. “It will be fine child, do not worry.” Whispers the old woman as she pat’s the top of Zsofia’s hand in a soothing motherly way.
Looking into her eyes, Zsofia sees a kindness in the old woman that she never has before. This small person has always been sweet to Zsofia, but her odd way of living and lack of communication with the townsfolk kept her at a distance turning her into somewhat of a mystery. Zsofia cannot help herself as she reaches out and gives Klara a long tight hug. As she pulls out of the embrace, she believes she sees tears building in Klara’s eyes but before she can speak, the old woman turns away.
When Stephen finishes panning the area with the beam of the flashlight, he glances at Klara, who is looking up at him with painful eyes. She not only looks tired, but fearful and weepy. He immediately deciphers what this reaction means.
“So we are ummm. . . we have to get in the water?” Stephen asks as he tries to keep this from the others.
“Yes, Istvan.” She says softly. “You and I. . . and Laszlo.” She continues as she turns slightly and reaches out for Laszlo’s hand. “We three must enter.”
“What? Why?” Zsofia asks quickly as she and Tamas step closer to the other three.
“We need the powerful energy moving water creates.” Klara pauses. “This flow is strong and will be very beneficial in assisting us with the ritual.” The old woman states as she watches Zsofia glance from looking at the water to her grandfather and then to Stephen. “That is if we can manage to stay standing in it.” She laughs nervously and then clears her throat before a long pause. “It must be done.” Klara says as she nods her head and then turns her back to the group. “What is the time?”
“A quarter to three.” Laszlo says as he looks at his watch.
The air is cold and damp in the depths of this old structure as the group slowly makes their way toward the sound of rushing water. Quickly crossing the golden beam of Stephen’s flashlight, there is movement off to one side and he knows it is the Guta as is scurries around them. He does not believe Tamas noticed for the young man is staying exceptionally quiet.
Water is pouring out of several sections of a huge rock wall as it splashes down from the left corner of the basements inner section. This natural spring feeds the dark river that flows below the manor as well as the clear pool and reservoirs of the conservatory.
The entire center section of this massive expanse, serves much like an enormous container holding in the nutrients and life source for the conservatory. Jetting out of this solid section of rock and soil are roots from the trees growing in the glass environment above. The old plantings twist and curl and have planted themselves deep into the earthen floor.
As the group approaches the wet rocks, it is obvious the large stream of water has extended its banks and is moving at a rather swift rate. The water is much deeper than expected as it continues to raise taking in most of the surrounding area.
“Oh my, it looks deep.” Klara says as she steps up next to the overflowed section of ground.
“Well it’s not like we are going to get in it.” Stephen replies as he looks around to see if he can find where the beast is hiding.
Looking at Klara with wide eyes, Stephen nods yes and she removes her hand from his mouth. Just now in Klara’s expression, for the first time since he met her, she is showing complete and total terror. This is a bit unnerving to say the least for in all other dealings with her, she has come across as a seer or clairvoyant that seems to know what will happen next. Up until now, there has been a confidence about her that made her appear strong and in control. Her snub demeanor has angered Stephen in the past and definitely here tonight, but something has shifted. There is a fear, a change in her that Stephen knows is not for the best.
“All of you,” Klara says with authority, “keep your candles burning. The beast is here with us.” She looks behind her. “It is lurking in the shadows it creates and only the flames you hold will keep you safe.”
Zsofia holds her hand up as a shield in front of her candle. As they slowly begin walking, her flame stays steady and she motions for Tamas to do the same. He quickly follows his sister’s request.
“Here in the belly of the manor is where it feels secure and empowered. We must be extra careful and mindful of all that we do.” Klara states as she taps her cane out in front of her as if she were blind.
Again, Stephen must take the lead but at this moment, he is unsure of the necessity of it all. He keeps asking himself how he can possibly follow this old woman blindly. How can he be sure she is not leading this group to a deadly trap?
“We shall walk in a single row as Istvan leads the way.” The old woman commands and once again, Stephen hesitates which causes Klara to become aggressive. “Istvan, you cannot waste time, we must be near the water by three.” She grumbles as she pushes his arm forward.
“Alright!” Stephen replies as he holds his candle out from his body.
“Here son.” Laszlo says stopping Stephen as he takes his first step. “I grabbed this as we left the room.”
Laszlo hands the large flashlight over for Stephen to use. This is a welcomed relief for it makes quite a difference to the natural and small flicker of candle flames. Pointing the beam toward the back of the manor, which is the direction they must travel, a foreboding darkness is hovering thick in the air. Stephen holds his candle up close to his face and draws in a breath before a hand covers his mouth.
“No, Istvan!” Klara whispers forcefully in his ear. “You must not extinguish the flame.”
With Stephen already feeling the presence of the Guta, the order of him going first is not a welcomed statement and he pauses, moving neither forward nor backward. He turns to look back at Zsofia, who is directly behind him holding on to her brother’s hand. He can see the worry in her eyes as she tries to smile, but he can tell, terror is holding her silent.
“Istvan, you must trust me.” Klara says as she touches his arm.
“I don’t trust anyone.” He replies as he takes the first step down.
The low flickering light from the candles barely give enough light to their surroundings to see each other, let alone to view deep within this cavernous space.
With all the rain that has fallen in the past several hours, rushing water instead of a gently gurgle, is heard coming from the far end of the area. As soon as everyone is standing on the earthen floor, they huddle together like frightened children. Even Klara is having trouble taking this action.
“Now what?” Stephen questions.
He looks in the direction where he remembers the small room to be, but the blackness is too dense and to him, it is growing darker still.
“Water is a conduit of energy and we need its assistance as well as the flow in which it carries itself.” Klara says in a riddle kind of way. “We must follow Istvan to the source.” She says to the group.
“My statement was not a curse, I assure you.” The old woman replies softly to the thoughts going through Stephen’s mind.
“Isn’t it?” Stephen questions. “When I asked what you were saying you didn’t reply, so why would you deny it now unless were guilty of it.” He says so only she can hear.
“I replied because that is what you were implying in your thoughts.” Klara says, as she looks out into the hall, first right, then left. “I heard you.”
Quickly, Klara ends the one-on-one conversation and steps out into the dark hallway. Surprised that she actually knew what he was thinking, Stephen is a bit dumbfounded as he leans against the wall to let the group through the doorway. Hesitantly, everyone huddles together expecting something to happen but the venture out into the hall is uneventful. In a very short distance, they gather at the doorway that leads downstairs to the lowest and least visited portion of the manor. As soon as the door opens, a musty, earthy odor trickles out to the group in and unwelcoming mist.
“This is your home Istvan, you must lead the way.” Klara says a she moves to the side to allow him to take the first step.
Holding in one hand the ball of rope that her sister hung herself from, Klara gathers the book, stuffs it under her arm, and carefully handles one of the burning candles. Following directions, Stephen slides one of the candles to Zsofia as everyone stands up, each clasping a warm glass holder in their hand. Zsofia takes Tamas by the hand as she smiles at him. His eyes are fearful for he does not fully understand what is happening, and in witnessing the experience Stephen had just minutes ago, he is afraid to leave the room.
“Tamas, I will stay with you.” Zsofia says softly as she squeezes her brother’s hand.
Following Klara’s lead, they walk toward the doorway that opens to the hall. Before stepping across the threshold, Klara stops and whispers something under her breath as she bows her head slightly.
“What are you saying?” Stephen questions in a suspicious manner for he fears she is placing a hex or a curse on the group.
He wants to trust that Klara is telling the truth, but in the back of this mind, he recalls how quickly she has flipped in opposite directions in the past. One moment she is helpful and compassionate, then harsh and mysterious. He is also worried about the strange discoloration he has witnessed happening to her eyes. He has yet to inquire about it and she has not offered any explanation. For that matter, does she even know it is happening?