He grips the banister in terror, looking up into the swirling darkness at the moon face of the old grandfather clock, as it chimes out the few minutes until the stroke of midnight.
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He has had this dream before, night after night, his legs slogging through space up the darkened stairs, the distance seeming to actually increase as the tick of the clock strikes like a hammer upon his reeling brain. He knows that if he doesn’t get to the top of the stairs something terrible will happen. He must reach them this time, before the stroke of midnight.
Standing at the top of the stairs he sees the woman. She looks as if she is confused, but puts her arms out for him as if beckoning him to her. Up, up he climbs, frantically, trying as best he might to beat the time, but, as always, falling victim to the weariness of his own body.
Up, up, up he goes, until he can see her reflected in the moonlight through the window. It is a lovely woman, radiant blond hair and beautiful face, and if he can just get to her in time tonight, he can save her.
Up, up, reaching out and pulling his hand against the wall.
Suddenly, only a few steps from where she is standing, beckoning, he hears the miserable bell of the old grandfather clock behind her chime out.
There is a figure standing next to her in the darkness.
The figure is wearing a billowing robe and a long hood. Suddenly, as if roused from a dream by the chiming of the bell, the figure sweeps the woman, kicking and screaming, into its embrace. It pulls her back, away from the stairs, into the darkness of a hidden room, and he hears the door slam shut, just as he flies up in bed, soaked in sweat.
In the silent murmur of the night he can still hear that damnable clock, the agonized screams, the slamming of the door.
He looks down at his bedclothes; they are stained in blood. He realizes he is grasping a knife with one hand, and that the knife is also covered in blood. He pulls back the bedclothes.
The sheets and blankets are covered in blood.
He doesn’t know what is happening, except that he has somehow brought a semblance of his dream into the waking world. He lies back down, thrusts the knife from him, and his eyes close on peaceful oblivion.
He is running up the stairs again, faster this time, the woman beckoning to him, the clock ticking, the cloaked figure appearing, the woman wrestling with him, both of them disappearing into the secret room, and he wakes, to find that now there is a lump underneath the covers.
He pulls back the covers. It is the girl from the bar. The pretty one. The one with the blond hair and exquisite face. Blood covers her as she reaches out to him and he feels his mind lurch. He is certain he is still dreaming, and puts his head against the pillow, closing his eyes.
He is racing up the stairs now, faster than ever before, and he is farther up them and closer to the woman, and the cloaked figure appears from nowhere and grabs her and she struggles against him and he drags her back into the darkness…
This time he awakes and the woman is sitting up in bed. She smiles. Her mouth is full of blood, and her eyes look as if she has been crying blood, and he reaches out to her and he is sure he is still dreaming because, behind her the cloaked figure appears.
He closes his eyes and he is running on the stairs again and this time he makes it to the top of the stairs and lunges.
He grabs the cloaked figure and the woman is wrestling between them and he sees that the cloaked figure has a knife and they all fall into the blackness beyond.
Through the secret door.
The secret door is the door to his bedroom, and the cloaked figure is himself, and he picks up the knife, and the woman in bed next to him says, her lips dripping blood, “Darling, it’s time.”