THE SHAFT OF MOON THROUGH A HIGH WINDOW

It might not look like it, but Hubert was perturbed. Since a couple of hours, he sat still in his chair by a low table of satinwood and ivory, lost in some thoughts. Though his expressions were unreadable, his flaccid shoulders and equally slumped body, and those half-closed heavy eyes, exhumed a weight of some grave propositions. If some doubts of his vexed state still remained, then his almost inaudible mumblings would prove otherwise.

The main reason for his apprehension was a letter that rested flat on the table. An entity, which when arrived at his manor, took him by a storm. It stirred inside him an ebb that he thought had calmed down aeons ago and would never surface again.

The letter was from a woman which, for a brief period of time made him reminiscence of the communion of years ago, and it made him jubilant with the possibility of rekindling it. However, as he progressed through its contents, this prospect turned hound on him. It read;

Dear Hubert,

I hope that my letter finds you in excellent health. It’s been a long time. I know I should have written to you earlier, but circumstances, and your own doings, were such that it forbade me from rekindling our families’ lost connexion, and believe me I wouldn’t have tried this time too, had the situation didn’t turn dire. Hubert, the secret that was so well protected, has now escaped, without an opportunity of a solace, and he is stricken by an impalpable malady. Therefore, your presence here is of utmost importance, and I contemplate that you also won’t waste a second in commencing your travel.

PS: Since years we are curbed by constant relocation, but I assume that you must be aware of our existing residence with your own conceal dispositions, and if in case you aren’t then…

The words of the post script were true, Hubert, in fact, was aware of the discussed family’s current location, and when he recalled it in his mind, the name of the place autonomously slipped through his lips.

“India.”

Forthwith, Hubert squandered not even a day to begin preparing for his long and treacherous journey, and within a span of a couple of weeks, he was boarding his ship at the London airport.

Now, Hubert was no truant when it came to the matter of travel, but he preferred firmness under his feet. That assurance of resolve and immovability touching his soul was the confidence he yearned for. The capriciousness that sea offered were too distrustful for him to commit to. To him, it always resembled a greedy and debauched lover seeking a chance to prey upon his woes, and its waves were thousands knives to him. Even though the opportunity to acquaint himself with the unexplored realms and mysterious places was a prospect of enthralment to him, but the truth that he might as well be engulfed by the inconsiderate ebbs of the seas, discouraged him from commencing such a voyage. However, the condition had such arisen that now a resistance would only lead to an irrevocable consequence that was not to his taste; and amongst his well-wishers (though more for his wealth for obvious reasons) his act wouldn’t be labelled as gallant, but treacherous instead. So, for the sake of his extravagant merriment, he thought it was about time that he embarked on one. And after about a year or so, Hubert found himself in a beautiful and dazzling town of the Himachal.

It  brought Hubert a momentous surprise when from a person, of descent as pure as his, he asked about their whereabouts and learned that the discussed couple resided in a mansion, away from the bustling settlement. The man also told him that they are now never seen in the town and all their necessities are bought by their helps, who are too timid and scared to talk to anyone.

The last time Hubert met them, they were still a cheery couple, at least in some respect, but what he heard now only made him wonder that how deep the exposition of the secret had affected them. This, at first, agitated him profusely, and for a moment, he almost decided to retrace his steps to his burrow back in England, but then shredded this thought, pronouncing it as a potentially great foolery. Therefore, he hired a stagecoach and fed him his probable destination.

It was ten O’ Clock in the morning when Hubert left for the mansion, and by the time he reached there, moon was already glowing beside the departing sun. The stagecoach dropped him at the mouth of a long, winded, and rough trail, at the end of which stood the mansion. So, Hubert paid the coachman and began covering the road.

The woman and her husband built their abode in the exact semblance of a standard Victorian mansion, using some of the finest marbles ever found in the region. They were so much white that the moonlight shone the most brilliant on it, and yet the reflection it caused was even dimmer than the ones emanated by the dark woods surrounding the structure, as if something ominous was sucking its vigour  from the inside, preventing it from achieving maximum joviality.

Hubert stopped dead in his tracks. The comparatively glummer environment proved to be a test on his nascent enthusiasm induced by this mountainous terrain. At once, his feet turned him around and his mind almost whispered a retreat in his ears. For a few seconds, he stood in his place, crushing a pouch of grass below with his heel, but then he decided to go through its end and knocked on the door.

A few minutes and many knocks later, a maid opened the door. She was decently dressed and passably attractive, but still Hubert couldn’t overlook the murkiness that she emanated akin to the manor. Hubert opened his mouth to say something, but it turned to be an unnecessary step, as she gestured him to follow her, which he aptly complied.

A few minutes later, after waiting in a small chamber, Hubert sat in an excessively architected drawing room, facing the conjurer of the letter. Her face is crafted in perfect symmetry and her sunflower curls tied in a bun aided to her charms, but of lately she festered subtle streaks of greyness in her hair which dimmed her appeal. Fortunately, inattentive eyes often missed it, except Hubert.

“You have caught up age in such little time, Lilly.” said Hubert.

“One has to be the bear symptoms of a secret agreement,” said Lilly, “and its consequence, since it has been exposed.”

“What harm a benign indulgence can possibly bring.”

Lilly burst into a subdued laughter on Hubert’s statement, but it lacked of warmth, rather some sort of maniacal element could be noticed in it.

“Benign,” she said, “It was an immoral ordeal and one of naïve innocence was fooled into overlooking the ulterior motive of this confidentiality.”

Lilly’s statement besought some kind of reaction from Hubert, but it was only silence that permeated the air. After a few minutes the visitor broke the silence, but only to divert the conversation from such uncomfortable subject.

“Where is he?”

The mention of he stirred Lilly. Her fingers of one hand trembled around the brim of the cup, while the other tightened around its handle to keep it from falling off the floor. Hubert noticed her qualm, but feigned obliviousness to it.

“Of course, you have to see him,” said Lilly, “else everything will be for naught, won’t it?”

To this question Hubert had no answer, and if staying true to his earnestness, his humble heart never wanted to produce one. It just wished to visit the cause of this overwrought development, and a few minutes later, his heart’s want came to fructification. He stood by a large ebony door, still in Lilly’s company.

She pushed opened the door a little, signalling Hubert to pass through. The latter spared a moment’s look to the young woman and then progressed to conduct himself into the room, when Lilly suddenly stopped him.

“You do realize all this is your doing,” she said, “Why you stooped to such a low level? Why you have to do so, father?”

Lilly’s concluding word, which he heard after such a long time, took Hubert aback. He avoided a direct look into Lily’s eyes and emanated his emotions through his heavy and reluctant breathing.

“My intentions never reeked of ill-will towards you.” said Hubert and slipped into the room, closing the door from behind.

The moment Hubert disappeared into topographical privacy of the locale, an unexpected and incontrollable tremble eclipsed Lily’s body and she was forced to embrace the wall so as to avoid a fall.

House-On-A-hill.

Meanwhile, Hubert struggled with a confrontation of his own. The room he just entered reeked of despondency. The greys and blacks of the vicinity threatened to tear any visitor as though they were some ravenous beasts. Further, dust prevailed each and every corner of the room, indicating that it had suffered from far too negligence for far too long, especially as a comfort place for an ailing man. A shaft of moon could be seen through the high windows. Its light fell eerily on the bed where sat a man by the headboard. His face still hid behind the shadows, unaffected by the luminance of the moonlight.

For a few minutes, Hubert scrutinized the surroundings and the man of his interest. So far he showed no signs of either extreme anguish or of recovery; only subdued moans and sound of clanking tapped his eardrums. This, at one hand gratified him of his wellbeing, whilst on the other, it also perturbed him a little. He, however, shook off this feeling and seated himself in a chair placed near the bedpost and under one of the high windows.

“What has become of you?” said Hubert. His eyes peered through the darkness to get a glimpse of the man’s countenance, but all he had to gratify himself was with same unremittent groans, “You should’ve never conceded to my daughter’s inclinations. We planned it out so well, and now witness what this forsaken land has done to you,” Hubert paused to take in the necessary breath he lost while spewing words of great yearning with incontrollable urgency, “I guess, it was all my mistake. If I wouldn’t have been so impulsive that day, the suspicion would never have burrowed my daughter’s mind.”

Hubert fell silent and waited for the other occupant to speak, but received silence in return. He persevered, but his patience only gravitated him for a certain amount of minutes, after which he failed in keeping his edginess in check. He jumped off his chair and walked up to the man, but something affixed his feet to the ground all of a sudden. He pried his eyes upon the object of his interest and noticed his acquaintance’s hands shackled to heavy chains nailed to the wall. Curiosity withered in the wake of this revelation and uneasiness borrowed its way into his consciousness.

Hubert strained his eyes and for the first time learnt the extent of the interest’s malady. He had become a shadow of his true self; face was morbidly white and it sunken to an extent that bones threatened to tear apart his skin. The eyes, if there had been any, were now nearly invisible inside their sockets.

“What has become of you,” said Hubert, “Such calamity…”

Rest of the words died inside Hubert’s throat as he slumped back in his chair and buried his face in his hands. For minutes, he wept in his circumscribed solitude, only when the man’s grunts spewed greater frequency and insistence, he sprang on his feet and grabbed his hands.  The moment their skins brushed against each other, Hubert’s fanaticism and panic disappeared and lethargy took its prominence. Affectionately, he caressed the back of his hand with his thumbs.

“Tell me, Rupert, what malady has befallen you?” said Hubert; his eyes still fixated to his hands.

Tears oozed out of his eyes while he silently yearned for Rupert’s reply, and then the latter mumbled something incoherent, and to listen to him more aptly, Hubert brought his ear closer to grasp some coherency out of Rupert’s feeble mumblings. He failed in deciphering anything but instead noticed the presence of a faint pungent smell behind a thick skin of fragrance. The moment its smell entered Hubert’s nostril a strange infatuation turned him bemused. The tension in his muscles perished, and his fingers inadvertently brushed the contours of his friend’s face.

Rupert caught hold of Hubert’s clothes, who in turn showed absolute compliance and bent forward. Rupert threw his hands around him. Hubert also slowly slid his hands around him, tightening as he go. Then as his fingers met behind Rupert’s back, his lips took notice of his neck. He slid out his tongue and ran it against the skin there. A boil burst somewhere around his neckline. It’s sour and bitter taste spread across his tongue like a nectar, but he didn’t repulse like other people, rather he expressed his emotions through a drop of tear.

Hubert opened his mouth to speak of his friend’s condition, when he felt the latter’s lips touching his own collar. A sigh slipped through Hubert’s lips. His body loosened as if overcame by a sudden ecstasy. When Rupert parted his lips, and like him, brushed his tongue against his neck’s skin, Hubert completely slumbered and gave himself up into his lover’s arms. The sighs turned into moans as the pleasure increased tenfold. Suddenly, Hubert let out a scream. Rupert bit his neck, but he didn’t mind it. It had been long since someone touched him in that manner; a feeling and connection that was amiss back in England, partially because of his own reservation and partially due to the scarcity of the means of achieving the gratification of unique tastes that he preferred. However, when the pain prolonged for a longer duration than its natural existence, worry seeped into Hubert’s mind.

Hubert’s hands tapped Rupert’s shoulders in a silent request for him to cease his approach, but the latter, instead of paying heed to the former’s pleas, dug his teeth even further into his neck, almost piercing his skin and touching his flesh. Hubert let out a scream and turned his taps into desperate punches as the ache suddenly increased tenfold. Something warm oozed out of the affected area and flowed down his body.

Panic gripped Hubert. He used every bit of his strength and pushed Rupert away. He succeeded in his attempt, but with his freedom came unbearable agony and a sound of tear. Startled and trembling, Hubert ran his fingers on his face and felt something porous and sticky. At first confusion clouded his senses and when realization came it struck with great fright. Not even a shred of skin was present on the left portion of his face.

With gecko eyes he stared at his tabooed paramour, and for the first time he experienced dread in his presence.

Rupert, at the chaotic progression of the event, resembled a fiend. His blood covered face, almost white and opaque eyes, and decaying teeth busy in plummeting the skin; it was an act beyond the grasp and intent of even an ailing person. Hubert realized something great and ominous is blooming in the place and had Rupert in its influence. He turned around to drag himself out of there, but failed as Rupert pulled him back and resumed his activity.

What occurred thereafter is a detail too abject and repulsive to be mentioned here, but for referential description, Hubert’s screams echoed throughout the manor for many seconds. Each succeeding one louder than its predecessor, then becoming softer as more time passed. When the last trace of Hubert’s whimpers vanquished, Lilly looked at her forearm. A bite mark peeked through her satin white sleeves.

“Now you don’t worry my love,” she said, “I lured the perpetrator and you have delivered the vengeance. Your malady will be cured and so will our future.”

Lilly looked through the window. The drowning sun at the distance and its orange reflection across the sky brought respite to her being and smile to her face. Since her husband’s initial development of disease, she failed to pay any attention to the scenery, but today she made up her mind to enjoy its beauty at its fullest, even if it meant to stroll in the woods under such rising fever.

–  Nishant Verma