The Curse of Gary (Part 106)

In the bedroom, Victor lifted the mattress from the bed and dragged it to the corner of the room. He then flipped the bedframe up and threw it on top of the mattress. “I’m not sleeping here another night,” he said. He crouched by the hand-drawn map on the floor and ran his fingers across it, muttering to himself. “That’s the ballroom—no curse there… that would be the old coldroom, with the Chessmaster. Done… What’s that there… Oh, the courtyard. No curse. What’s this then? Another room? Maybe unmapped territory. Looks like I’ve been everywhere else… And then there’s upstairs.” He tapped his finger on the edge of the map. “Behind the ballroom then. That’s the next stop.”

He put on his suit (aside from his tie and jacket) then went to the bathroom to wash his face. “All right,” he said to his reflection in the mirror, “let’s get this done and get the hell out of here.” He nodded, and then marched out into the hall, down to the ballroom and across its long, dusty dance floor.

At the far end of the ballroom, Victor stopped by the table with the candlesticks, where he had found young Gary during the night. From high on the wall above the table, the portrait of Gary’s mother looked down on him like a guardian angel. Victor looked at the painting with fondness. He turned and went over to the corner of the room, where dense scarlet curtains descended from the ceiling to just above the floor, concealing the wall behind. Victor felt along the dusty drapes, but in the endless puzzle of folds and overlaps he found no way through. After a minute of failed searching, he began to hurl swathes of curtain to the side, but new layers of curtain swayed forward to meet him. He grabbed a handful of thick material and yanked back on it; a sturdy wooden rod near the ceiling creaked as the large brass hoops attaching the curtain strained against it. Victor jumped and swung his whole weight on the curtain; the supporting rod creaked and bent, but bore the load. Cursing and thrashing about, Victor then got himself tangled in what seemed like a mass of velvety vines. Unable to fight his way free, he finally stopped, and slipped downward to loose himself. The curtains gently drifted from around him, leaving him sitting cross-legged and staring at the floor.

When Victor was nine years old, he landed the lead role in his school’s audacious production of Peter Pan. On opening night, he was well-prepared, but had contracted the flu. Though he had been bedridden for two days, his father said that to not go on stage now would be quitting. And a Furbank never quits. Victor donned the green tights and pointy cap, and took to the stage. His voice was weak and faltering, falling flat of the big notes during the songs, and his acting lacked the pep needed to sell the boy who never grew up; twice he collapsed in a sweaty, shivering heap and had to be dragged offstage by Wendy and John. The most anticipated scene—Peter teaching the children to fly—drew gasps from the audience as Victor hung limp from his supporting wire like a clump of seaweed on a fishing line. The play was a disaster (Victor’s performance was not the worst of it), and at the end the final curtain fell so fast it left him alone on stage, frantic and in tears, unable to find his way through the flowing red drapes.

And now, after so many years, he found himself stuck once more at the foot of giant red curtains. Stuck once more, it seemed, because of the family motto.

His short fit of dejection ended when a gentle draft blew from under the curtain, disturbing the dust by his shoe. Victor put his hand to the floor and the air swept by again; it was cold. He lifted the nearby section of curtain and crawled beneath it, into the darkness, until he could feel the wall; cold, solid timber stretched to each side. Victor edged his way left, pausing at intervals to shake himself free from the curtains’ suffocating embrace, until he reached the join of the two walls. He put his hand to the floor and felt the cool air blow again. As he pushed back the waterfall of fabric in front of him, he saw at the bottom of the adjacent wall a strip of faint purple light.

 

© 2020 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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