Pavel Filatov

© Copyright 2021 by Pavel Filatov

Photo of monk in monastary.

The man slowly staggered towards the door. The house was large, with intricate designs from the gothic era engraved onto its exterior. Judging by the figure of Jesus with arms spread wide hanging above the door; the man thought that this was a monastery of sorts, a house of God. Even before he looked, he somehow knew that there would be no bell; it was a very old looking house, from a time before such things existed. He grasped the door knocker, which was in the shape of a lion’s head and weighed roughly as much, and tapped lightly on the door. Even while doing so there struck a burning desire within him to leave, to return into the rain and darkness, as the only feeling that the house gave him was that of despair and misery. Nonetheless, thoughts of trudging back out in this beast of a storm made him feel almost nauseous, much so that he could not even bear the thought. He heard his knocking echo through the massive structure of the house, each echo as loud as the last. He waited patiently, but to no avail. There was no response, so he knocked again, this time placing his remaining strength into each movement. Still no one answered, and the man began to lose hope that he would be helped. His legs were having trouble holding up his heavy body, and with his head full of thoughts of sleep and warmth, they began to give way. Just at that moment, the door opened.

At first he saw nothing, and heard nothing. As light illuminated the doorway, he watched a stooping man step out from under it. He was clothed in a brown robe, and had the top of his head shaved clean. The man tried to call out to him, but his mouth was dry, and his voice came out as silent wheezes. “Help”, he managed to whisper, “please”. “Oh my, oh my”, the monk mumbled, in a strangely high pitched voice. “Christoph! Christoph, come quick!” he yelled. A second monk ran up, or so the man presumed. He had the traditional priestly robes hanging loosely around him, yet a strongly built and imposing figure was visible underneath them. The second monk picked up the young man with hands the size of dinner plates, and carried him into the house as though he were made of feathers. As the large monk carried him up the stairs, he caught glimpses of biblical paintings engraved on the curtains, covered by thick layers of dust reaching towards the ceiling. On the little slabs of wall that were visible from behind the curtain, the man saw writing of some sort, but could not make out what it said, whether because of the covering of cobwebs, or his own state of mindlessness. But before he could begin to even mull it over, the man’s eyes began to cloud, and by the time he was laid down into bed, he was already in a deep sleep.

The young man awoke, what seemed like seconds later, in a large and empty room. The bed in which he lay was hard and uncomfortable, as if it had not been used for centuries. It was draped with tattered cloth, greyer than the dust that lay on the walls. As he sat up in the bed he scanned the room, only to see a chair in the corner, with his dry clothes folded on top of it. Next to it stood a small table, not much larger than the chair, with what appeared to be food on it. He climbed out of the heavily draped bed, and walked over to the table, on which rested a small roll of bread, several slices of cheese, and a cup of water. He grabbed the food almost savagely, consuming it with a hunger that could only come from weeks of near starvation. He then brusquely got dressed, and left the small room to explore the rest of this giant house. As he passed through the hallway, he saw many more paintings covering the wall. There were so many that it was almost impossible to make out any wall behind them He did not pay much attention to their content, but there was one that caught his eye.

It was that of a young man, not much younger than himself. He was clothed in simple attire, and he was certainly neither a monk nor royalty. But what took him as odd was the man’s face, pale and struck with a look of fear and anxiety, not far off from madness.

It scared the young man, and he could not comprehend why someone would hang such a portrait in plain sight. He looked in the subject’s eyes, bright green eyes, and they spoke to him. Not in words, for no words could express what they were saying. It was as if the man was trapped in the painting, calling out for help, for a means of escape. He was staring so intensely at the painting that he didn’t notice the hand reaching out towards his shoulder. The firm grip surprised him, causing him to jump and bump his elbow into a painting. As it swung he caught it, and attempted to straighten it while frantically apologizing to a man whose face he had yet to see. As the young man slowly stood up, his eyes studied the stooping figure before him.

This man wore a robe, but his was black, unlike the brown ones of the other monks. His hands were wrinkled, like those of an old man. He could only assume that this was yet another monk, but by the look of it this one held some sort of higher status. It wasn’t just his dark robe which hinted this to the young man. The monk himself looked menacing, with eyes whose color could only be described as dark red. Whether or not such a shade could exist, the man was unsure, but he hypothesized that they had not always been like that. It was almost as if he had once been a man of warmth and love, but as his now rough and tattered features suggested, he was one no more. Suddenly, the young man could feel the old monk’s eyes almost piercing through him, digging deep inside him to the darkest crevices, where all his evil thoughts and repressed desires found refuge. It was as if these memories and thoughts were being sucked out of him, ripped apart from his very soul. He tried to scream, but all that came out of him were his sins, erupting from every opening in his body. He could feel himself melting, his organs squirming and twisting within the shell of his body. He thought that this was his end, his descent into hell itself, yet to his surprise he found himself standing back in the hallway, staring into the eyes of the old man. He quickly darted his sight towards the ground, avoiding the old monk’s gaze. He wanted to confirm that he was here, that he was actually alive and existent, but was afraid that the monk would notice, or even worse, suspect what the young man had just seen. The old monk, with the hint of a smirk on his face, motioned to the man to follow him, and said “come”, in a voice that echoed through the hallway.

He trailed after the monk as they moved down the hall, paying little attention to his surroundings. The monk moved surprisingly fast for his age, and the young man had to jog slightly to keep up. They continued straight, even though separate paths broke off into each direction. The man wondered how a house could possess so much room, and more importantly, when the hallway would end. He noticed it gradually becoming narrower and narrower, until they finally stopped at a small wooden door with a brass handle. The man imagined such doors to belong to medieval times, and he did not expect the room’s contents to be much grander than the door itself. The old monk pulled open the door, stepping through into the small dark room. He turned around and beckoned for the man to do the same. He hesitated for a second, and convincing himself that this was the right thing to do, followed the monk through the door.

The room was not very well lit, with but a few candles scattered across the tables which lined the walls. What resembled a mirror was on the wall opposite him, but it was too dark to make out. He swiveled around, looking at the walls, and noticed some sort of belt on the wall next to him. It was built into the wall, but he could not fathom why it would be there. Surely it had been used multiple times, as the many marks of wear and stretching would suggest. He examined it, slowly moving closer, as if it were drawing him in with its ancient history. The young man looked in even closer, and saw the unmistakable color of blood, embedded in small drops on the outside of the belt. But before he had even a moment to think about why they were there, he saw the movement of the old monk’s shadow behind him, bringing his fist down. He felt it knock against his head, and everything went black once again.

As reality swam back into his view, the man saw that he was still in the same room. His head was heavy, his arms hung at his sides, and the monk had removed his clothing. The young man felt chills run up his body, and knew that it was the not cold air in the room which had caused them. The monk’s blow had knocked him out cold, but he was unsure how long it had been. He straightened up, and saw that the old monk was not there. He looked down, and saw the same belt that he had noticed before, now binding him to the wall. It was fastened tight, and was he but a bit bigger it would have suffocated him. Panic rushed through him, with thoughts of murder and death making him wish he had never stumbled upon this cursed place.

He pushed against the belt as hard as he could manage, but it wouldn’t give way. “HELP!” he began to yell, but his screams only echoed throughout the room, reaching no one’s ears but his own. As he continued to scream, the door slowly creaked open, allowing a hint of natural light into the room.

Let me out!” he bellowed, but whoever had opened the door paid no attention to him. The young man saw a cloak emerge from behind the door, recognizing the black cloak and sullen face of the old monk. “Why are you doing this?” he asked, yet in a manner that nearly pleaded. The monk still ignored him, and approached him very slowly. The young man now noticed a dagger in his right hand, with a cross engraved onto the handle. The monk placed the knife down onto the table, and stared directly into the face of the young man.

In that instant, the young man felt himself shrink, and the intentions of the demon before him became very clear.

Fright paralyzed him, and all he felt was fear as the monk turned his back to him, attending to some sort of scripture which he had produced from him cloak. The monk silently immersed himself in his work, paying absolutely no attention to the young man. Every few seconds he would glance at the candle, as if to confirm that its light was still there. The young man knew he had less than a minute before the monk would turn back around, and he knew as well that if he did not act now, he would likely never act again. He reached for the dagger that old monk had placed on the table, but it was just slightly out of his grasp. The belt that was bound around his stomach was fastened much too tight, and he could feel it faintly strain under his force. There were only several centimeters separating him from his freedom, from his return to humanity, but with every passing second he lost hope. He saw the old monk’s robe sway as he began to turn around, and put all his remaining strength into reaching the knife. Right as the monk turned back to face the young man, he succeeded in grabbing the dagger, and plunged it deep into the monk’s stomach. The monk let out a short gasp, and with eyes open and mouth agape his head bobbed forward, and his limp body fell onto the young man.

The young man’s eyes closed with relief as he felt the monk’s warm blood trickle onto his hands and down the black robe. He had never before killed a man, but he understood that this murder had been necessary.

After all, the monk was planning to kill him!

At least the young man thought he was. What else could a dagger signify, what with the monk’s silent treatment and ominous stare? Still, he couldn’t really be sure. He lifted the old man’s feather-like body, and looked at his face, which had somehow managed to lose all its color in the few seconds that had passed. What struck him as odd were the old monk’s eyes. The last time that he had seen them they were red, but now they had changed into a shade of green. Was he perhaps mistaken in his recollection of the man’s features? No, he was sure of it. They were the first thing he noticed about the monk, his dark red eyes. He looked again, and they were still the same shade of green. The young man pushed the monk’s corpse off himself, pulling out the dagger at the same time. He stuck the dagger under the belt, and cut it clean off.

Finally, he stepped away from the wall, taking several deep breaths for the first time in what seemed like hours. Yet again he noticed the mirror on the far wall, the mirror that he had at first simply passed off. He walked over to the mirror, but it was not till he was right in front of it that he could make anything out. His face was unscathed, with only a patch of dirt on his cheek. He couldn’t help but feel proud of himself. After all, he’d escaped close death, now feeling a new found appreciation for his own life. He looked at his hands, and marveled that it were these hands which had secured his life, just by taking another.

He for once paid close attention to the intricacy of his veins, the delicate skin covering them, and the firmness that it constituted. All of a sudden, a vein caught his eye. It seemed to be moving, rapidly flowing in his body. In fact both his hands began to shake, the veins in them enlarging and shifting. He looked in the mirror, and saw the same begin to happen to his face. He let out a shrill scream, and he felt his entity escape from within him. His eyes grew blisters on them, and burned with a pain that he had never felt before. He collapsed onto the ground, writhing in pain, feeling his entire body burn and break under the power of this curse. And at that moment, when he felt as if he could no longer bear it and that death would be easier, the pain stopped. His heart racing, he mustered the strength to stand up, and look at his reflection in the mirror. What he saw sent shivers throughout his body. His face was worn and wrinkled like that of an old man, not far off from that of the old monk. And his eyes! They were the most horrific. Their color had changed from the harmless turquoise that it had been to a dark, blood red, a color that he could associate with only pain and suffering. The young man turned away from the mirror, disgusted by his now old appearance, and noticed a chair in the corner of the room, with a neatly folded black cloak resting on it.

He walked over to the cloak and picked it up; almost afraid of what lay inside it. It looked like it had been recently washed, as if awaiting his arrival. He looked it over, and cautiously slipped it on. Suddenly, everything became clear to him. He now understood why he was here. He had to get ready; little time was left.

There would soon be a knock on the door, and as he very well knew, it’s not polite to keep a guest waiting.                                                                                        

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