Victor’s wrist watch alarm managed only one high pitch beep before he switched it off and leapt out of bed. He flattened and fitted the sheets to the mattress, then flicked the blanket out over the bed, where it wavered like a parachute for a moment before dropping. Victor smoothed it and tucked in the corners, and then set the fluffed pillow in its place at the head of the bed, level and symmetrical. He looked at his first work of the day and nodded. Early daylight streamed through the window, fully illuminating the room, yet restricting the view outside to a bright, indecipherable haze. Victor reached his arms up and leaned back, holding the rigid pose for a few seconds before relaxing and dropping his arms to his sides. He rolled his shoulders back twice, then forward. With his legs straight and together, he bowed his upper body forward; his fingertips touched the floor. He stood up and shook his arms loosely. Bringing his left knee up, he hugged it to his chest, released it, and then repeated the process with his right knee. Eyes closed. A long, deep breath in. Hold for three seconds. A long, slow exhale. His upper body flopped forward again; this time his palms pressed flat on the floor. For the next fifteen minutes, Victor continued alternately stretching and relaxing his body, punctuating the different contortions with controlled breathing exercises. This was his morning routine, and had been for years.
Three hours had passed since Victor had vanquished (albeit accidentally, and by rodent proxy) the cursed beast. He cleared the desk of everything but the next encoded sketch pad and the pastel pencils, and sat down. As he opened the pad, his stomach growled.
“Hmm. Better eat first.”
Victor opened the bedroom door and stepped into the hall; candlelight shone warm and bright, dispelling, at least in that passageway, all appearance and feel of the curse. On the floor lay the book Victor had thrown at the beast’s corpse. He picked it up and brushed the cover with his hand.
“Don Quixote,” he read aloud. “Hmm. I guess Gary liked to read.”
He opened the cover and turned to the title page, which featured a black and white illustration of the title character and his sidekick riding side by side. There was an arrow drawn in black marker, pointing to Don Quixote, which stemmed from below the artwork, next to large, handwritten letters which read: BUTTFACE ARTHUR. Victor laughed. He flicked through the book, and saw, wherever there was an illustration of Don Quixote making a fool of himself, there also was another arrow in black marker, and the scrawled words: BUTTFACE ARTHUR.
“Ha-ha! Gary sure knew how to hold a grudge. Or maybe this Arthur guy was a buttface. Ha!”
Victor closed the novel and tossed it back into the bedroom. He went to the end of the hall, to the door leading the room with the fireplace.
He entered the frightful room without a hint of apprehension. Alongside the wall to his right he walked, until he came to the mirror: he crouched low and crawled beneath it. On the other side of the mirror, remaining close to the wall, Victor stood and walked, past the chairs, to the corner. He glanced at the painting across the room, took a deep breath, and then sprinted toward the door to the dining room. As he passed the door leading to the entrance of the mansion, a violent shriek pierced the air: the vampire had seen Victor’s reflection. Victor kept running and was at the dining room door in two seconds. He opened it and slipped inside. As he closed the door behind him he turned and saw the vampire—furious rage filling its eyes—had only made it halfway across the room. The door clicked shut. Victor exhaled with a half-laugh.
“Easy peasy,” he said.
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