Victor stood and went over to the window. The floor in the corner was stained and rotting.
“I guess this is the spot he was talking about,” he said. “That explains the smell.” He rubbed his eyes and stretched, then checked his wristwatch. “An hour ’til midnight. I suppose I’m sleeping here tonight.”
He crossed the hall, raided the linen closet and returned with sheets and blankets to make the bed. After stripping off the old sheets, he lifted the threadbare single mattress on its side to flip it, but then stopped. He peered through the rusty bed springs; a series of strange markings formed a intriguing pattern on the floorboards beneath. Victor stared for a minute, then his eyes widened.
“It’s a map,” he said.
Like a disgruntled removalist Victor tossed aside the mattress and yanked the bed frame from against the wall. The bed posts squealed in protest, scraping wide marks across the timber as he dragged them. Once the area was cleared, he got down on his hands and knees and studied the markings on the floor. They were scratched into the floorboards, covering an area of about three square feet with a remarkably accurate and detailed rendering of the mansion. The map left a section on one side incomplete, but Victor worked out it showed every part of the mansion he had so far visited. Some of the rooms in the map had an X carved into them, including the bedroom he was in.
“Okay,” said Victor. “There’s the hall. Bedroom, library, bathroom. Hmm. Looks like an X means the curse is broken in that room.” He counted the Xs. “Nine. Plus the two tonight. That leaves… twelve. Good grief, this house is huge. Twelve more cursed rooms. And who knows what’s beyond that part of the map? And upstairs?” He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. He looked back at the map. “All right, one step at a time. I’m here. I could check that room in the morning, maybe see what’s through there. Hmm. That big room is the one with the painting… there’s the stairs… what does that say? Danny? Oh—dining room. And then—ha! The kitchen!”
Victor checked his watch. “Forty-five minutes. Plenty of time.”
He rummaged through the pile near the end of the bed and selected the sharpened chair leg. He weighed it in his hand then ran a finger over its point.
“That’ll do,” he said.
He poked his head out the bedroom door he looked up and down the hall. With a nod he left stepped out. Gripping the chair leg tightly, he approached the door to the wide room with the fireplace. He paused, his hand on the door knob, and listened. Silence. With a deep breath he steadied himself, then turned the knob. Inside, the room was quiet and lifeless—or at least it appeared so. Victor’s eyes turned straight to the painting. The cavalry officer in the portrait stood in profile, looking distinguished and unimpressed. More importantly, Victor took note, the officer was two-dimensional.
“Hey!” called Victor.
The man in the painting didn’t flinch. The echo of Victor’s voice trailed off and he relaxed his grip on his weapon.
To his right, the mirror hung above the fireplace. Victor observed just how much of the wall space it occupied.
“Okay,” he said. “If I stay low against the wall I can pass under the mirror, get to that corner and then cross that far wall.” He looked at the painting, and then over to the far wall, and the door through which he had first entered the room a few hours ago. “On that angle… I’ll probably make it past the door before it sees my reflection. Then just a short dash to the kitchen. Should be fine.”
Though his speech was decisive and optimistic, for a long time he remained close to the doorway, not venturing more than two steps into the room. Finally, his stomach made an impatient growl.
“All right,” he said. “Let’s do this.”
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