At the top of the staircase, Victor looked both ways along the hall: it was quiet and still—almost pleasant. He turned to his left and walked slowly; two unopened doors waited at the end, on the right-hand side. He stopped in front of the first door and looked it up and down. Shifting his sword, blade-down, to his left hand, he reached for the door knob with his right. He turned it until it clicked, but then he stopped. He released the knob and stepped back. His eyes moved from the door in front of him to the next door along the hall—back and forth. Light shone from beneath the next door; beneath the door before him there was no light. After a moment’s thought, Victor moved along to the second door.
The heavy door opened with ease, and Victor stepped into one of the more normal-looking rooms in the mansion. It was a large study, with high bookshelves on the left-hand wall, full of only the thickest volumes; a huge painting of a sailing ship was the only item occupying the wall to the right. Opposite Victor were two tall windows, curtains open, but only a grey haze could be seen beyond. In the middle of the room, a wide desk displayed the messy symptoms of research and work: open books, strewn papers, pencils, a coffee mug, a pair of glasses and a typewriter. Behind the desk, a tall chair faced the windows; in front of the desk was a tiny stool. There was a reading chair and a footstool in one corner, and in another, upon a wooden stand, was a large globe. Almost everything in the room was a shade of brown. Victor wandered to his right and examined the painting; he tapped it with his sword, and gave a small sigh of relief when it didn’t respond. From there he moved to the globe and studied at it closely. “Hey, Yugoslavia—I remember that country.”
“Gary,” said a deep, commanding voice behind him.
“Sh**!” gasped Victor, jumping and knocking his sword against the globe stand.
He turned and saw, sitting behind the desk, in the chair now facing him, Gary’s stepfather. He was in civilian clothes, and not as physically imposing as some of his previous incarnations, but his moustache and his heartless, judgmental eyes were the same as ever. He leaned back in his chair and viewed Victor with a look both full of disappointment and void of surprise.
Victor extended his sword toward Gary’s stepfather, and stepped toward the desk. “All right, old man. I’m leaving this house today, so whatever crazy scheme you’ve got to try and stop me, let’s get it over with.”
Gary’s stepfather rolled his eyes. “Good lord. Another one of your games is it, Gary?”
Victor moved around the side of the desk, keeping his sword aimed at the dour man in the chair. Gary’s stepfather picked up the glasses from the desk and put them on; he watched with minimal interest as Victor and his blade approached. Victor stood right beside him and pressed the point of the blade to his chest. “I need to break the curse,” said Victor, “so tell me how to do it, or I’ll run you through and figure it out myself.”
Gary’s stepfather shook his head. “You are an embarrassment, boy. When are you going to grow up?”
Victor’s blade lowered; he seemed unable to stop it. He stepped back and retreated around the desk.
“Sit down, boy,” ordered Gary’s stepfather, pointing a finger at the little stool in front of the desk. “It’s time we had a talk.”
An inexplicable shame flooded Victor, and he lowered his eyes and obeyed. The stool was so low he could barely look over the desk. Gary’s stepfather leaned forward to accommodate, clasping his hands together on the desk, and stared down at Victor.
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