The subway car came to a stop at a different platform. The doors of the car opened, and a man dressed in a grey tunic entered. A belt made from rope wrapped around his waist, and a black smear (the color of ash) spread across his eyes reaching from ear to ear giving him an inhuman appearance. His looks were more demonic than human.
Had I known any better, I would have taken his appearance as a sign of what I was about to walk into and tried to escape. But I didn’t know any better. How could I? I had no idea where I was or what I was getting into. I had followed the consulate member blindly—leaving the nursery simply because she had ordered me to do so. I did not know what to expect nor what I was supposed to do. I had acted on my first instinct and was obedient listening and following the instructions issued to me. I should have fled when I had the chance, but that chance quickly passed me by.
The ashen man unfastened the belt at my waist before ushering me through the door and onto the dimly lit platform. He walked with a slight limp as he led me to the nearby stairwell. Behind me, I heard the subway squeal against the rails. I turned to see the caboose of the subway car disappear through the dark tunnel as it rushed towards its next destination.
The man in grey waited in silence for me to return my attention to him. He looked to be around mid-life. His head had been shaved and his face was free of a beard. Other than his ashen appearance and the black smear across his eyes, he seemed to be kind enough.
In silence, we continued up two flights of stairs until we reached the lower level of the building. The ashen man opened a door for me to enter and ushered me through. I stood in a large room surrounded by a handful of ashen men. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I had not expected to see so many ashen men at one time. Some of them stopped to stare at me as I passed by but most ignored my presence altogether.
In the center of the room was a winding staircase that led to an upper floor. I followed the ashen man up the staircase and down a hallway lined with doors. Candles lined the walls of the hallway illuminating paintings of angels and demons.
One painting, in particular, caught my attention and I stopped to admire it. I had only seen Bruegel’s painting in a book and found it surreal that I was looking at it with my own two eyes.
The Fall of the Rebel Angels.
The centuries-old painting was breathtakingly beautiful. Pappy and I had looked at this painting in a book we had procured from the marketplace. We spent several long evenings in debate over the different figures Bruegel had depicted.
A tear fell from the corner of my eye at the happy memory. Wiping the tear away, I turned and noticed the ashen man staring at me. I had forgotten he was waiting for me to follow. His jaw had dropped open and his brows furrowed as he stared at me with a look of confusion. Shaking his head, he turned and continued to lead me down the hallway.
The ashen man stopped in front of two large doors. A silver cross draped with rope hung above the doors and caught my attention as the ashen man turned to leave. I started to follow, but he had disappeared down the hallway faster than I had expected. Turning to face the double doors, I took several deep breaths before conjuring enough bravery to push them open.
All of what has happened to me since leaving the nursery has led me to this point—to these doors. My fate relied upon whatever or whoever lied on the other side. Steadying my nerves, I placed the palm of my hand against the wood and pushed one of the doors open.
An enormous fireplace carved from black stone rested on the far side of the room. The walls were lit by candlelit sconces just as the hallway had been. In the center of the room sat a large bed draped with dark colored curtains. There was no other furniture in the room for me to sit on and I didn’t see anyone else present.
My heart had jumped into my throat at the sight of the bed but soon receded back into place due to the vacancy of the room. The ashen man had brought me here but had not given me any instruction. Matter of fact, no one had spoken to me at all after I had left the building of the consulates. The ashen man hadn’t spoken a word.
I stood next to the fire letting my skin soak up the heat of the flames for a long time. My mind raced with thoughts about all that had happened in my life over the past week. I had lost my pappy and now I lost my freedom and the only life I had ever known. I didn’t expect to return to the nursery after the consulate member had led me away, but there was always the slightest glint of hope in the recesses of my soul. That hope dwindled when the ashen man left me here. I was not sure what I was supposed to do or what was to come, but I would face it head on with bravery.
The night continued, and no one came to my room—my room. When I had decided this room was designated for me?
After a few hours, my weariness finally won out and I settled on top of the covers of the bed to rest. The bed was soft, softer than anything I had ever slept on before. Lying my head against the pillow, I smelled a familiar scent—lavender and pine. The same smell my savior had when he rescued me on the night pappy died. I had smelled it again at the nursery when I had stroked out due to the heat. Although, I can’t be sure that I actually smelled it. The heat had made me hallucinate and the smell could have been a part of my hallucination.
The scent of lavender and pine wrapped its claws around me, enveloping me and pushing me towards sleep. I felt safe. I knew I wasn’t safe, but I had already associated this smell with him—my savior. He was a man with no face, but this was his smell. This scent. I could give myself over to the man with this scent and not worry about my safety. He saved me once (more than once if the smell had not been a part of my hallucination). I had not met him yet, but I had already put my trust in him. I owed him my life and would gladly return the debt I owe if he asked for it.
I didn’t dream that night. It was the first night since pappy’s death that I had actually slept soundly. I didn’t cry myself to sleep nor did I wake up screaming as I relived the night pappy died. I have repeatedly relived that night in my dreams since the event happened.
Rolling over, I hit someone’s arm. Startled, I move to sit upright and push away from him, but his arm reaches out and pulls me back down to the bed.
“Sleep,” he said in a deep resonant tone. I had heard his voice before. He was my savior, the owner of the smell.
I realized at that moment that I hadn’t been left in my room. Rather, I had been left in his room. It made sense—the smell of the pillows. They smelled like him because this was his room, and I slept in his bed. My heart pounded as he pulled me closer to him. “You aren’t going back to sleep, are you?”
“I…” Unable to finish my sentence, I stare at his face. I had imagined his face many times, but none of my imaginings came close to his true appearance. He had long brown hair that hung past his lower back. His skin was tan and tone. He looked to be in his twenties with high cheekbones, a baby face, and bushy eyebrows.
His body was pressed next to mine. Luckily, we both were fully clothed, but I could tell he was fit beneath the layers of his robe.
His eyes opened, and he had caught me staring at him. I turned my gaze towards the ceiling in embarrassment. I could feel my cheeks turning red.
“You like what you see?” He asked. “Don’t worry. You have all the time in the world to look at me.”
My heart quickened but I dared not move. My body felt frozen and stiff as I thought about what his words meant. All the time in the world. What was that supposed to mean?
“Since sleep is no longer an option,” he said as he released me from his arms and sat up in the bed. I rolled to my side (when had I gotten a side) and placed my feet on the floor. The stone flooring was cold against the heels of my feet. I hadn’t noticed that my shoes had disappeared. Scanning the room, I find them lying on a shelf next to the door. “I am sure you have questions. We can talk over breakfast.”
He reached up and pulled a black rope hanging down from the wall next to the bed. Nothing happened, but he had a satisfied look on his face, so I assumed whatever was supposed to happen by pulling the rope did happen.
It didn’t take long for me to find out what the function of the rope was. Two ashen men came into the room. One pushed a cart laden with food while the other carried two chairs. The men placed the cart (a makeshift table) and chairs near the fireplace before leaving the room.
My savior walked over to the cart and took a seat in one of the chairs. He plucked a grape from a platter before motioning to me to take the vacant seat. I did as he instructed, however, I did not reach for any of the food. I had only seen fruits as beautiful as this from a distance as my responsibility at the nursery was to tend the beans. I could imagine what the workers had to endure to grow fruits as pristine as the ones before me.
“Why am I here?” I ask, my voice a little unsteady. “And who are you? What is this place?”
He plopped another grape into his mouth. His eyes were gentle at the edges as he stared at me with amusement.
“You really are something,” he said as he grabbed a napkin and wiped the fruits’ juices from his fingers. “No sleep and no breakfast.” My heart skipped a beat at his words, and I was hoping I had not offended him. Being rude to the man who had saved my life was not my intention. “This place is our home.”
“Who are you?” I ask again. He stands and walks over to the fireplace. Leaning against the wall next to the fire, the light of the flames licked his face illuminating his high cheekbones and reflected in the irises of his eyes. The sight of flames in his eyes shocked me, and I stood knocking over the chair I was sitting in as I backed away from him. He doesn’t move toward me as I thought he might, a fact that I was most grateful for. “What are you?”
“I am many things, but for now you can call me husband.” He turned his face away from the flames and the fire in his irises disappeared.
“Husband? Why would I call you that?” I ask confused. He is my savior and I would willingly repay the debt I owe him, but I had never intended to repay him using my body.
“You will call me husband, my dear wife.”
“Wife?” My breath hitched in my throat as his words tumbled through my head.
“These are the titles that will keep you alive now that I summoned you here,” he continued. He took a step towards me, and I took a step away from him. Moving slowly, he picked up my chair from the floor and placed it back in its spot next to the cart full of food. “Why don’t we start again?” He sat and motioned for me to retake my seat as well. Although hesitant, I complied and sat in the chair next to his. “I think it would be easiest for you to understand if I told you about your past.”
“My past?” A smile spread across his face as he interlaced his fingers in his lap.
“Well a story about humans and how things came to be as they are now.”
“I know how things came to be as they are,” I argued. “The revenants came and took….” My jaw dropped. I would have fallen out of the chair and hit the floor had he not reached out and grabbed my arm. “You…you are a revenant.”
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