Wiping the sweat from his face with his sleeve, he perused the room around him. A long, mahogany dining table formed the room’s centrepiece, surrounded by twelve chairs. On the table two tall candles generated a bright but limited aura, lighting the middle of the room while leaving its extremities in shadow. Victor smiled and breathed easy at the absence of electric lighting.
“No curse in here,” he said.
An imposing, glass case stood against the far wall, holding an extensive collection of fine china and silverware. Either side of the case were paintings of Alpine scenery. Pale green wallpaper overspread the walls, peeling here and there, and bearing an outdated floral pattern, the kind that might be found in a regretted lower back tattoo. Victor stepped over to the table, paused and then backtracked a few paces. He walked forward again, staring down at the thick carpet.
“Amazing,” he remarked. “It’s like walking on marshmallows.”
He looked about the table; four places were set with plates and cutlery. His finger cut a thin trail through the dust as he dragged it across the tabletop.
To his left he saw a door at the end of the room.
“All right,” he smiled. “Let’s get some grub.”
But the smile left his face, replaced by a curious furrowing of his brow. He looked down at the floor again, lifting his feet up and down.
“What is that?”
He crouched and ran his fingers over the plush surface.
“Hmm. It’s not the carpet.”
A thin fog wafted past his hand.
Icy air brushed his skin again. He turned to his right and saw at that end of the room a thin, two-feet long strip of light on the floor along the wall. He went over to investigate, and discovered another door, hidden in the shadow. Bending down, he held his hand up to the base of the door, in front of the light. Small, frosty swirls blew into his palm. He tried to look beneath the door to the other side but could see nothing. He stood up and rubbed his hands together, looking the door up and down. At the other end of the room the door to the kitchen beckoned; Victor looked at it in thought, then back at the door concealing the frigid mystery. He looked at his watch.
“Plenty of time.”
He turned the door knob, which was almost frozen, and walked into blinding whiteness. A biting, snowy gust rushed him head-on, knocking him back a step, and then disappeared with a howl. Little by little the air warmed and the brightness receded, bringing the room into view. It was small: a tiny office—or perhaps a cell. The walls were stone, decorated only by a small map, an old USSR flag and a framed picture of a man whose military uniform was adorned with an improbable multitude of medals. A simple wooden chair, seemingly fashioned for discomfort, sat in the middle of the room beneath the single, bare light bulb suspended from the ceiling. Victor walked around the room. He took a close look at the picture on the wall; he examined the map; he prodded the chair with his foot. Finally he sighed and put his hands on his hips.
“Is that it?” he said.
He sat down on the chair.
Suddenly the room went dark and Victor felt himself spun around where he sat. He came to a jarring halt, and out of the darkness an abrasive beam of light smacked him in the face. He squinted and lifted his hand up to shield his eyes; sweat began to bead on his temples.
“Welcome, Comrade,” said a commanding voice in a thick Russian accent.
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