Bram stares at the door.
Sweat trickles down his creased forehead. He brushes his fingers through his damp hair, his temples throbbing with ache. How long has he been awake? Two days? Three? He doesn’t know, each hour blends into the next, a fevered dream from which there is no waking, only sleep, deeper, darker—
There can be no thought of sleep.
He forces his eyes wide. He wills them open, preventing even a single blink, for each blink comes heavier than the last. There can be no rest, no sleep, no safety, no family, no love, no future, no—
Must watch the door.
Bram stands up from the chair, the only furniture in the room, his eyes locking on the thick oak door. Had it moved? He thought he had seen it shudder, but there had been no sound. Not the slightest of noises betrayed the silence of this place; there was only his own breathing, and the anxious tapping of his foot against the cold stone floor.
The doorknob remains still, the ornate hinges looking as they probably did a hundred years ago, the lock holding firm. Until his arrival at this place, he had never seen such a lock, forged from iron and moulded in place. The mechanism itself is one with the door, secured firmly at the centre with two large dead- bolts branching out to the right and the left and attached to the frame. The key is in his pocket, and it will remain in his pocket.
Bram’s fingers tighten around the stock of his Snider-Enfield Mark III rifle, his index finger playing over the trigger guard. In recent hours, he has loaded the weapon and pulled and released the breech lock more times than he can count. His free hand slips over the cold steel, ensuring the bolt is in the proper position. He pulls back the hammer.
This time he sees it – a slight wavering in the dust in the crack between the door and the floor, a puff of air, nothing more, but movement none the less.
Noiselessly, Bram sets the rifle down, leaning it against his chair.
He reaches into the straw basket to his left and retrieves a wild white rose, one of seven remaining.
The oil lamp, the only light in the room, flickers with his movement.
With caution, he approaches the door.
The last rose lay in a shrivelled heap, the petals brown and black and ripe with death, the stem dry and sickly with thorns appearing larger than they had when the flower still held life. The stench of rot wafts up; the rose has taken on the scent of a corpse flower.
Bram kicks the old rose away with the toe of his boot and gently rests the new bloom in its place against the bottom of the door. “Bless this rose, Father, with Your breath and hand and all things holy. Direct Your angels to watch over it, and guide their touch to hold all evil at bay. Amen.”
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From the other side of the door comes a bang, the sound of a thousand pounds impacting the old oak. The door buckles, and Bram jumps back to the chair, his hand scooping up the leaning rifle and taking aim as he drops to one knee.
Then all is quiet again.
Bram remains still, the rifle sighted on the door until the weight of the gun causes his aim to falter. He lowers the barrel then, his eyes sweeping the room.
What would one think if one were to walk in and witness such a sight?
He has covered the walls with mirrors, nearly two dozen of them in all shapes and sizes, all he had. His tired face stares back at him a hundredfold as his image bounces from one looking glass to the next. Bram tries to look away, only to find himself peering back into the eyes of his own reflection, each face etched with lines belonging on a man much older than his twenty-one years.
Between the mirrors, he has nailed crosses, nearly fifty of them. Some bear the image of Christ while others are nothing more than fallen branches nailed together and blessed by his own hand. He continued the crosses on to the floor, first with a piece of chalk, then by scraping directly into the stone with the tip of his bowie knife, until no surface remained un- touched. Whether or not it is enough, he cannot be sure, but it is all he could do.
He cannot leave.
Most likely, he will never leave.
Bram finds his way back to the chair and settles in. Outside, a bird cries out as the moon comes and goes behind thick clouds. He retrieves the pocket watch from his coat and curses – he forgot to wind it, and the hands ceased their journey at 4:30. He stuffs it back into his pocket.
Another bang on the door, this one louder than the last.
Bram’s breath stills as his eyes play back over the door, just in time to see the dust dance at the floor and settle back down to the stone.
How long can this barrier hold against such an assault?
Bram doesn’t know. The door is solid, to be sure, but the onslaught behind it grows angrier with each passing hour, its determination to escape growing as the dawn creeps nearer.
The petals of the rose have already begun to brown, much faster than the last.
What will become of him when it finally does breach the door? He thinks of the rifle and the knife and knows they will be of little use.
He spots his journal on the floor beside the basket of roses; it must have fallen from his coat. Bram picks up the tattered leather-bound volume and thumbs through the pages before returning to the chair, one eye still on the door.
He has very little time.
Plucking a pencil from his breast pocket, he turns to a blank page and begins to write by the quivering light of the oil lamp.
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Illustration: Alexandra Francis for Penguin
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