Back in the bedroom, he sat at the desk and returned to the reading that breakfast had postponed. The blue, green, and purple dots on the page appeared for a few seconds as a random burst of bubbles, bright and enchanting—but meaningless. Then Victor began to discern the words spelled out in green dots, reading:
JANUARY 26 1992. MARK IS DEAD. HE WENT CRAZY. I THINK IT WAS THE LOLLIPOPS. YESTERDAY HE ACTED STRANGE, EXCITED. KEPT SAYING HE HAD FIGURED IT OUT. SAID WE JUST HAD TO GO UPSTAIRS. I DID THAT ONCE. NEVER AGAIN. TOLD HIM HE MIGHT DIE. HE SAID DEATH WAS PREFERABLE TO BEING TRAPPED. HE WENT. FIVE MINUTES LATER, THE THREE AWFUL THUDS. HIS PORTRAIT NOW HANGS IN THE ENTRYWAY. TWO EMPTY FRAMES REMAIN. ONE FOR ME. ONE FOR ANOTHER POOR SOUL.
JANUARY 30 1992. I AM ALONE. HARD TO STAY SANE. GARY TORMENTS ME. I SEE HIM AT NIGHT. TRIED TO BURN THE MANSION DOWN. NOTHING BURNS.
“Nothing burns?” said Victor.
He stared for a minute at the page, the final one in the book, and then tore it out. The candle on the desk still burned, undisturbed and undiminished, despite the events of the previous twelve hours—despite, perhaps, the previous fifty cursed years. Victor lowered a corner of the page into the flame. A bright red line rippled about the paper’s edge where the fire touched it; the corner of the page blackened. After a few seconds Victor removed it from the flame. The red line of heat faded and the charring vanished. Victor held the paper up; it was intact. He touched the corner he had tried to incinerate; it was cool. He smelled it; there was no hint of burning. Victor’s brow knitted. Once more he held the paper to the fire, this time the centre of the page. An intense red splotch blotted the middle of the paper, emanating heat. As a soft crackling sounded, a thin ribbon of grey smoke ascended. For a full minute Victor held the paper there before removing it. In seconds the red glow disappeared and the page ceased smoking. Once again the paper was unharmed. A smile crept out at the side of Victor’s mouth.
For the next fifteen minutes, he carried the candle around the room, attempting to burn everything: books, pencils, pieces of broken wood, the curtains, the bed—even his own hair. Nothing lighted. There was heat and smoke and the brightness of ignition, but nothing caught fire. Nothing burned. In the end, Victor set the candle back on the desk, and looked in wonder around the room. The only evidence of his attempted arson was a thick layer of smoke circulating on the ceiling.
He opened the bedroom door and waved a comic book to fan out some of the smoke. The black cloud rolled out into the hall, spreading across the ceiling. As Victor waited for it to dissipate, his eyes wandered the passageway, pausing at each doorway. One particular closed door grabbed his attention. Victor studied it with a determined look, stroking his chin.
“That could work,” he said.
He took the comic book in his hand, grabbed five more from the bookshelf, and took them to the intriguing room up the hall. He opened the door—it was the bathroom—and threw the comics inside.
“All right,” he said, drumming his fingers at his side. “What can I use?”
Victor crossed the hall, to the strange, barricaded room. He peered inside through the makeshift netting spanning the doorway.
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