I stumbled back like I had been pushed. The hall of portraits now felt tainted by something dark. I fled back toward the stairs with only the desire to get away. I reached the winding staircase and started up. By the time I had gone halfway to the next level I had calmed down slightly. The urge to run was gone replaced by a stronger desire for answers.
I remembered the book in my safe room. I hadn’t finished it and perhaps I would find more answers in the remaining pages. I continued up to the top of the staircase. I knew there was one more level to ascend before I could reach my room, but the stairs in this corner did not continue to that level. I glanced down the hallways before me trying to remember which way led back to my room.
I chose the hallway to my right. The hall was lined with thick, soft carpets with beautiful grape patterns and accented with exquisitely carved wall tables and chairs. The outer wall was mostly windows that looked out across the countryside and the light coming in made everything seem so cheerful and happy.
There were a few paintings on the inner wall between doorways. Most of them were landscapes, but I noticed after the first two that the landscapes were void of any people or animals. They seemed to depict the perfect silence that had enveloped the land. I walked on glancing into tastefully decorated tearooms and comfortable bedrooms.
When I reached the end of that hall I came across another painting that included the far borders of the land and the enormous gorge that I had crossed. The details were perfect in reference to what I had beheld, down to the heavy mist that obscured the bottom of the rift. I could see no semblance of the tower where I had first arrived and the bridge was also intriguingly absent.
My curiosity was burning now. I had to know what happened to this happy family and their small kingdom and what could possible bring about the painful silence and desolation of the land. I turned to look out one of the windows behind me and examined the landscape. It was like everything had been frozen in time.
Yet on the contrary I remembered my nights in this land, the pounding on the cottage as well as my evil little visitor and his helper. Who they were and what power they held were the first questions popping into my mind, but then I wondered about the ring of white flowers or stones I had encountered. It was a protection of some sort and I wanted to know who had placed it there and why.
My feet kept me moving and I found myself facing another stairwell and hall. This one was different from the others I had encountered. Instead of a fountain or sculpture I was greeted by an enormous clock. I circled around it examining the workmanship. It had three faces but the numbers were different on each face.
One had the figures I was familiar with, the next had the same scripted writing I had noticed on the books in the library and the third a completely different set in a blocky stroke. The pendulum on the scripted side was frozen mid-swing, the blocky-sided pendulum moved at an ominous pace from one side to the other. The side with the numerical figures I was familiar with swung at a normal rate, but no sound emanated from any of the faces.
I looked closer at the clock I recognized, searching for a tab or pull that would allow the chimes to ring, but found nothing. The glass door enclosing the workings was locked and no amount of shaking would grant me access. With a groan I stepped back. I would give anything to hear something even as ordinary as a clock ticking.