He blinked hard and shook his head. In a rush he plonked himself on the stool and sifted through the sketchbooks on the desk. Finding the book with the final entries of the mansion’s previous victims, Victor turned to the first blank page. He moved the candle close. From the pastel pencils on the desk he chose a black one, examined its rounded tip and then set to work. With long, quick strokes he formed an outline of a thick body and four legs. On the more detailed parts, like the feet and tail, the tip of the pencil broke and crumbled; after wiping away the pastel fragments left smudges, Victor instead tilted the page and blew them onto the desk. Once the sketch of the body was complete, he rubbed the pencil at an angle on the desk until the pencil tip came to a fine point. He lowered his head, side on, almost resting on the desk, inches from the drawing; in his steady fingers the pencil hovered just above the page. After a pause, the pencil hit the page and concentrated a series of short flicks in a small area. Every four or five strokes Victor lifted the pencil and sat up, tilting his head as he scrutinised his progress. Then, with a slight lip-bite, he zoomed in on the book and worked again. At the end of a few minutes Victor set the black pencil down, took a red one and applied the final touches. He lifted the sketchbook and blew the lingering grains from the page, and then extended his arms before him and leaned back to view his finished creation. He nodded and placed the open book on the desk.
Victor stood up, yawned and crossed the room. He climbed into the bed, to a symphony of muffled squeals and creaks. Lying on his back, looking at the ceiling, he took a long breath in… and then out.
“Now I’ve seen everything,” he said, with a quiet laugh.
He rolled on his side, shut eyes and was soon asleep. The sketchbook lay on the desk, its open page showing a clear though not particularly skilful image: a large, black dog with the tiny, crested head of a rooster.
In the middle of the night a click woke Victor. Though he refrained from so much as twitching a muscle as he laid on his side facing the wall, his eyes grew wide and alert. He hardly breathed. Thick silence filled the room and Victor waited, unmoving. Through the candle’s soft glow on the wall above him a shadow moved. It grew taller. Victor used all his strength to remain still and quiet as the shadow swayed back and forth. After perhaps a minute it shrank, and then disappeared. Victor passed another excruciating minute without movement—listening, watching. With no further sound and no other shadows, Victor turned his head and glanced over his shoulder. He rolled over and sat up. After a long look around the room Victor stood and rubbed his eyes. He went to the desk, stood in front of the candle and turned to see his shadow on the far wall by the bed. As he turned back to the desk he stared at the sketchbook. His drawing of the beast was unrecognisable, scribbled over with a thick layer of black pastel. Victor ran his finger over it; he felt the sooty substance on his fingertip.
“Looks like someone was checking up on me.”
He stepped over to the door and reached for the doorknob; the soft tap of footsteps passing by stopped him and he withdrew his hand.
“Whoa,” he said, and then laughed to himself. “I almost forgot—the beast is there until morning. Then there’s the toilet wasps. Hmm. What did the book say? Ah, that’s right—pee in the corner.” He looked at the corner near the window. He shrugged. “Well, why not? Things can’t get any stranger.”
© 2019 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED