As I narrate this tale to you, I am living in my final hours. Trapped inside my own tomb, still alive. But even now I breathe my final breaths. So I am hastily scrawling my tale, in hopes of the discovery of my eulogy.
Coming to this city on a routine business trip, I was lodged for the night in a countryside inn, a dark, old-English Tudor house nestled deep in the woods. The house was very large and complex in design, boasting three stories, not including the many small attics, the gables, and the cellar.
As I stood on the doorstep around noontime after knocking for a few minutes, I saw through the window on the door the face of a girl. She unbolted the door and beckoned me inside the dark entrance hallway, shut the door behind us and lit a candle. There were no open windows in the house, so it was incredibly dark. I took the time to study her features. She was no older than sixteen, with yellow eyes and raven black hair, not the usual sight to behold. And her manner of dress was also rather beguiling to me, a black hooded cloak, with the hood pulled over her eyes. In her hand she held a lamp.
"Welcome to the inn, sir. Your room for the night is on the second floor, to your right. Dinner is served at six o' clock sharp," she said, her voice a monotone, morbid chant. But it somehow sang to me.
"Erm… thank you very much, ma'm." I was slightly perturbed at her demeanor and her voice… her voice. It crept into my brain, gnawing at me, pounding my skull, so silently… so silently inside of me. I tried to shake it off, but it still remained in the corner of my mind, asleep.
After retiring to my chambers, I immediately commenced to unpack my luggage. By candle-light, of course. Holding the candle up to the clock on the wall, I noticed that I had enough time to rest. But could I? The house was so eerie and cold, not homely at all.
So I laid in bed, gazing at the pallid, chipped walls, listening to the steady ticking of the clock, watching the minute and hour hands dance their slow waltz around its face. And as I laid there, a sudden peacefulness surrounded me. Drifting off into the dream world, I once again recalled the voice of the girl. Chanting in my brain.
After a long repose in that darkened bedroom, I arose from my bed and shuffled down the staircase, in hopes of dinner. The house, though, was darker than before. Not even a trace of light shone in through the windows. I thought this strange, it being the summertime, and the sun shouldn't have set for a few more hours. Had I laid there too long?
And then the girl appeared, bearing a lantern, which hung on a pole, and with the hood cast over her face. "Come. I must show you the house. We may take the dumbwaiter. If you will?" She pointed to the dumbwaiter, a rather large one, befitting for a large house. I questioned the integrity of the design, but following Her voice, nothing else had control over me.
We stepped inside the dumbwaiter and the girl gave a quick tug on the rope. The little wooden box skyrocketed upwards. I was perplexed by this. How could one tug of a rope move two people inside of a dumbwaiter? So I asked my host this question. She replied morbidly, "This is no ordinary house."
As the dumbwaiter slowed to a stop, an ominous bell-toll sounded. It nearly struck my heart cold at the sound of it. But my guide merely said "Follow me. To the first level." Her voice…
"How many are there?"
"I myself am not sure. It all depends on you." I grew silent. The girl's lantern shone a light through the attic, or at least what I supposed was an attic. In dark corners I caught fleeting glimpses of cloaked shadows, and of a dark fire burning, consuming everything. I was afraid of it, and what it might do to me.
"You have come to the gateway, the first level. And there is more to come, a long way to fall." She gazed at me from beneath her hood. "I am just your guide. But in the end…"
"The end is here. The clock has stopped." I grew silent again. My guide beckoned me to the dumbwaiter again. Shadows followed after us, but the girl merely said, " You know where you belong. You are trapped here." The shadows withdrew, and we continued into the dumbwaiter.
She pulled the rope again and this time we fell, so rapidly that I almost was floating. The dumbwaiter jerked to a stop, and the bell tolled again. I gritted my teeth, pressed my hand to my head, and stepped out after the girl. In the middle of the room, there was a large boiler or bellows of some sort, and all around it danced little demons, their eyes gleaming, their mouths foaming. A larger one was taking glowing embers from the fire, and placing them in the center of a large symbol, one that I thought to be used in alchemy, the forbidden science.
The demon knelt down and touched the outside of the symbol, and it started to glow. The embers became pillars of dark flame. I gasped and looked away, screaming, trying to hide from their darkness, their groping fingers of empty light. After the pillar wisped away into the night, there was a small piece of gold, laying there in the center. The demon beckoned me to pick it up, but as I did it turned to rust. They all started laughing at me, their voices high and shrill. I covered my head in my hands and bolted to the dumbwaiter, screaming. She was in there already, She was waiting.
The girl pulled the rope again. And we fell again. I was breathing hard, dreading the next bell toll. But her voice calmed me, chanting to me. " This is the last floor for you. Be ready."
The dumbwaiter jerked to a halt again, and the bell tolled. I screamed in fear, in loathing, and in utter grief, " Just stop!! Leave me alone, and let me have peace! Just a little more time!!"
I stumbled out of the door, and there was faced with my greatest fear ever. Her face. Not of the girl, but of another, one I knew a long time ago.
I was in my younger days, married and happy. But something was driving me mad, something at my job. I can't recall now. And I took it out on her, my wife. One day, I struck too hard, and the blow killed her. I sunk the body in the river and left the town, left for a place miles away. And I was never caught. But now it had come back to haunt me.
Her face, it drove me mad with grief. I ripped my hair out, clawed at my face. And the bell tolled again. I screamed louder and louder with each breath I took, running back to the dumbwaiter. The girl was there, waiting for me.
"Please… no more. I can't…" I beat my head against the paneling.
"And now you fall. You have seen your downfall." She pulled the rope again. The dumbwaiter fell, at first at it's normal speed, but suddenly increased. And the paneling slid open, and it revealed utter darkness.
But then, I saw a blur of fire. And then another. And another. And another. And then, nothing. We were still falling. I looked back at the girl in panic, and saw her, uncloaked. Her black wings hung at her side, her face was cold.
"I am the angel, the lady. I have taken you to your final fall. Fall, and die. For you are unforgivable now. Too late for you." And she smiled, in triumph.
The dumbwaiter stopped, and I was thrown to my knees. The walls came crashing in, and rubble and debris fell all around me. I was trapped. I huddled in a corner, to protect myself. But even as I did that, I felt a sharp pain in my back, and I have now started to cough blood. A spear of wood has penetrated me, and I am breathing my last. I understand now, the murder and the greed, they were all connected to my final stand. My final fall. Through the ground, through the seven levels, to the bottom.
And the angel of death is standing next to me, holding my hand in hers, till the end.