PREVIOUSLY, from 1.3 Hallway of Nine Doors:
Eryx locked the door of his bedroom and tucked the key chain away.
Instantly, tension crawled up his spine, and a sensation of being watched settled between his hunched shoulder blades. His gaze darted to the left and right, taking in details rapidly.
No one was there but him.
Nothing to explain the sensation of being watched. He was alone.
Except he hadn’t checked behind himself.
With a deep breath, Eryx turned around.
And was no longer alone.
His back bumped against the door, hand latching onto the handle.
Then he loosed it as he realized, no, no, that wasn’t a person. No, no one was here in this hall but him and—his gaze darted left, right, then quickly back forward—and this . . . this human-shaped stain on the wallpaper.
How did I miss it when I stepped out? Lights and doors, nothing worrying.
Nothing like this lurking black stain.
This faceless thing. A silhouette. Of a woman with short hair tangled about her uncovered head. Dressed in a floor-length skirt, ragged about the hem and the bulging, leg-of-mutton sleeves fat high up and body-tight down the arms. Her hands ended in long, long fingers, with long, long nails, which were held flat out before her, as if she were pressing against a tall window, straining against the glass, breath fogging it if it were so.
This I had missed? Dismissed?
Or maybe like the scratches felt in the dark, it wasn’t there before.
He could almost swear there had been a door there, to make an even ten. Right?
He couldn’t remember.
Though he knew he would have remembered—should have remembered—unless something was wrong with him, some ongoing damage that killed new memories as well as the old. He touched his forehead—which didn’t hurt. Just because he had no physical pain, that didn’t mean there was nothing wrong with his head. There was something obviously wrong with his head.
You need a doctor.
You need to get the hell out of this place more. Find your answers—out of this . . . whatever this building is.
No, I need to stop jumping at my own shadow. Fear is playing with my mind. I’m making stupid mistakes.
And he might be making another one, but at least it was a brave one. He approached the stain.
The lamp shook in Eryx’s left hand shook as he eased up to it, as he reached out to it, as he touched it, just barely, with his fingertips.
Dry. Not fresh.
But the paper was contrary, sticking to his fingers as he retreated, and there were five paler spots to mark his actions, and his skin was stained. He rubbed thumb and middle finger together, spreading the darkness. Ink? He sniffed them. Ink. Just ink.
But why? He looked up at . . . the wall art.
Well, why write whatever that is in your room?
Eryx glanced left and right.
And why have only four doors—rooms—not five, on this side of the hall?
As if the stain had replaced one.
Stain? No, it’s art. He glanced back at it. Then down at his blemished skin. Not my undertaking, at least, not unless I wore gloves while making it. So that means there is an artist—and a creepy model—silhouettes usually have models, after all—and maybe they live on this floor, and maybe those folk can solve all your mysteries for you.
Including your name.
And why your memory has seen better days.
Yes, a good plan. Eryx immediately approached the nearest door to the left of the stain, gaze dropping to the bottom of the door, searching for telltale signs of habitation, such as light seeping out or shadows moving through it.
Claw marks spoiled the bottom of the door.
And only that door.
On either side of the hallway.
Eryx glanced back at the Long-Fingered, Long-Nailed Silhouette—then to the dark corner—then to the bright one—then back to her.
The Silhouette’s nails, when he focused on them, came across a little ragged, torn, not unlike her dress . . .
Either that was a very detailed representation of the model or . . .
He glanced at the Silhouette.
Then swiftly away to the door on its left.
Then to the rest of them.
He lingered on his own in the end.
To be honest, he didn’t see any obvious signs of inhabitation. They all looked dark. No sounds poured out from any. He felt . . . alone.
He also felt a coward. So with a grit of his teeth, he went to them, one by one, and knocked and called out a weak “Hello” that did not improve with throat clearing or repetition.
But he had his answer.
Nothing but him and a Silhouette occupied this hall.
Maybe they were all away somewhere. The rooms themselves would tell him more.
So he went back and tried the doorknobs.
Locked to a one.
He retreated to his door, resting his right hand against it.
Which left him with two choices, really, to go from here. As much as he wanted it, his room was not an option.
So, will it be light? He looked to the bend on his left.
Or dark? He looked to the one on his right.
Dark or light?
Light or dark?
Was he—was Eryx—bright, safe, and craven? Or was he dark and brave and curious?
He had no idea.
None at all.
But this he did know: he didn’t want to spend his whole life afraid of dark things. Besides, Eryx thought as he looked down at his left hand, I have light to bring with me. Taking a deep breath, he made a decision and turned toward the corner of inky darkness.
No, not inky, he corrected, as he fought the desire to look back at the Silhouette, to see if it had moved—changed—disappeared—become a door—followed. N-not inky. J-just dark.
Eryx turned the bend.
He stopped before the stairway. Make that utterly dark. His light touched so little of it. Impossibly little of it.
But this Eryx is brave and curious, remember?
And so, with another deep breath, he reached out to the shape before him. A smooth banister. Which meant stairs, not another hallway. Then undaunted, he started downstairs with little light and a lot of dark.
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Jodi Ralston, All Rights Reserved. 2016, 2017.