“Great. I need to know how many more rooms are cursed. As far as I can figure, there’s only the room next door left to go. I think all the downstairs rooms are curse-free, but there may be some I haven’t found yet. Are there any more rooms downstairs?”
Gary’s grey eyebrows squished together in a curious look. He shook his head. “Downstairs doesn’t matter.”
“What do you mean?”
“The curse.” Gary looked down at the back of his hand and rubbed his knuckles. “The rooms downstairs have nothing to do with the curse.”
“That’s not true,” said Victor. “I was just in the wine cellar—there was a giant lava lamp and the Wicked Witch of the West, and a bloody great suit of armour tried to kill me. It was definitely cursed.”
“Hmm?” Gary looked up. “Oh, uh, no, that’s not what I meant. To break the curse, it doesn’t matter about the rooms downstairs. The way to break the curse is to defeat it upstairs.”
Victor stood up from the chair and shook his head. “Wait, so… what are you saying? It makes no difference if the rooms are cursed downstairs—I just have to clear the rooms upstairs? That’s how you break the curse?”
Victor slapped his hands to the sides of his head and stared. He stammered a few stunned syllables before finding coherency. “What the hell have I been doing then, Gary? I’ve nearly been killed a dozen times! Toilet wasps, crab children, the beast—a f***ing vampire! And what—it was all a waste of time?” He sat down and rubbed his hand back and forth across his forehead. “Oh sh**. I thought I was going to die. I thought I was going to die, and it was all for nothing.” He buried his face in his hands for a moment, then leaned back in the chair and stared at the ceiling. “I’ve had it with this mansion.”
He sat there, gazing up. Gary came back to the desk and sat on the low stool in front of it. Victor sighed and looked down at him. A determined look came over Victor’s face, and he stood up from the chair. “Get up, Gary,” he said. He went around the desk, grabbed Gary by the arm and lifted him from the seat. “Don’t sit on that stool. Arthur put it there to make a fool of you.” He picked up the stool and threw it across the room into one of the bookshelves. “Here, look.” He went over to the reading chair and dragged it back to the desk. “There,” he said, slapping the chair. “Arthur’s gone now. Sit in a proper chair.”
Gary ran his hand along the old leather at the top of the chair. He smiled at Victor and then sat down, pressing his head back against the cushioning. “It’s so comfy,” he said.
Victor went back behind the desk, dragged the tall desk chair around to the side and faced it toward Gary, then sat down. Gary, looking pleased with himself, rubbed his hands over the arm rests of the reading chair. “Sorry about snapping just then, Gary,” said Victor. “My emotions got the better of me. Let’s just figure this out. I’ve made it this far—never mind the rooms and closets and halls downstairs.”
“Halls?” said Gary. He stopped rubbing the arm rests.
“Yeah, never mind that. I’m talking about upstairs now. What do I need to do? I have to beat the rooms up here, right? Well, how many are there? I only saw that other room next door.”
Gary looked gravely at Victor. “I forgot about the hall,” he whispered.
“Gary, are you listening? How many rooms are left up here? Just the one next door?”
Gary nodded, though his thoughts seemed occupied elsewhere.
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