Thunder rumbled outside.
A heavy click sounded within the final room. Victor stopped pacing and looked to the door: an intense blue light flickered beneath it. He crouched low and tried to peer under the door but saw nothing. He stood and pressed his ear against it; there was a gentle hum. “What the hell am I doing?” he said, stepping back and shaking his head. He took a deep breath. “This is crazy.” As he stared at the entry to the mysterious room, the doorknob turned, the lock clicked, and the door creaked open a few inches. Victor held his breath and watched, but the door moved no further. He crept forward and peered through the doorway: blue light filtered through the smoke filling the one dim corner of the room he could see; high above, smoke curled and parted as a long black shadow slithered across the ceiling, over Victor’s head and out of view. The crash of a gong, coupled with a haunting minor chord bashed on low piano keys, shook Victor and sent a chill up his spine. He reached for the scimitar by the door, wrapping his hand firmly around the handle. A long, loud creak pierced the air as he nudged the door open with his foot. With the sword raised before him, Victor stepped into the smoke; the door slammed shut behind him.
One careful step after another, Victor advanced through the haze. The smoke grew thicker, and hotter, and seemed to wrap itself around him. He coughed and blinked the moisture from his watering eyes. “Good grief, that’s tobacco.” High above, a tiny, bright red spot approached, swaying side to side; he tightened his grip on the sword and braced himself. Smoke churned as the glowing spot passed overhead with the great slithering shadow in its wake. The smoke closed in again, swallowing the red spot and the shadow. Victor pressed on. After he trekked what must have been thirty metres, the smoke began to clear and the air cooled. His footsteps squelched, and small pools formed around his shoes on the muddy ground. He stepped out into a wintry forest.
Ahead of him a narrow, frosty path wound between leafless trees, whose warped branches clawed at a bleak sky. It was eerily still. Victor’s footsteps crunched the icy twigs and dead leaves, and occasionally splashed in a shallow puddle, as he set out on the path. Not far into the journey he heard a desperate, raspy voice: “Gary… Help me.” He spun around. Beside the path, wedged between the thick, protruding roots of a gnarled tree, lay a young man wearing an old military uniform and helmet. Victor moved over for a closer look, and saw the man was buried in the mud from the waist down. His uniform was torn at the shoulder, blood stained his teeth, and there was a hideous black crater where his right eye should have been—but the most unsettling aspect of his appearance was that he was in greyscale. “Gary,” he wheezed, reaching out a bloody hand with only two fingers, “please help me.”
Victor stood over him and peered down. “Who are you supposed to be?”
The young man diverted his gaze and cleared his throat. “Uh… Help me, Gary.”
“Yeah. I got that part,” said Victor. He pressed the tip of the scimitar to the man’s neck. “Now, who are you?”
The young man drew his hand back in surrender. “All right, all right. I’m just doing what I’m told.” Victor glared at him. The young man raised his head off the mud and looked around. “Okay,” he whispered. “I’m a wounded World War II soldier. Gary saw a picture of me in a book and it gave him nightmares.”
Victor removed the sword. “A picture? Huh. I suppose that’s why you’re in black and white then. So, if I kill you, does that break the curse?”
The young man looked horrified. “I’m in black and white?”
“Hey, pay attention. I said, if I kill you—”
“No, that won’t break the curse.” The young man nodded toward the path. “Keep going that way. Now, am I really in black and white?”
“Thanks,” said Victor, and he returned to the path and kept walking.
“Hey!” called the soldier behind him. “Tell me the truth! Am I in black and white?”
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