Continued from: Earworm: Part 64 — Into the Heart of Horror
As Hope ran through the castle’s main hall, she noticed two things. One: William’s grip on her mind was tightening like an out-going anchor line around the ankle of an unsuspecting sailor. And two: something was happening to the interior of the castle. The gold running out of the hall like liquid, the marble becoming flagstone blocks, the walls becoming the dark texture of granite. The ceiling’s moving mural became grotesque scenes of suffering and misery, and encircling it, the gold cherubim were now four, stone gargoyles. Their demonic heads turned to watch Hope run past them, their sneering mouths revealing caverns of stone teeth.
Hope ran for the castle’s front doors, trying to escape what was once her childhood solace. She reached for the doors’ wrought iron rings to heave them open. The wooden doors warped and twisted, carved dragon faces lunging from each door’s surface. The dragon faces reaching for Hope like attack dogs straining against leashes. Hope scurried back and stumbled to the floor. Climbing to her feet, she looked back at William. William standing in the center of the castle’s main hall, watching her like a child watching the futile efforts of a bug in a jar. That look enraged Hope, and she stormed toward him, wanting to smash that expression right off his face. Her bare feet pounded on the flagstone floor, the lunar jewel swung on its chain of stars.
“William,” she shouted, “that’s it. If you don’t let me go right now, I’m going to…” She stopped.
William was looking up, as if admiring a cloud formation, and it was the casualness of his look that froze her.
Hope heard the grinding, cracking sound of stone against stone. She followed William’s gaze to the ceiling. The gargoyles were stretching like cats waking from a nap. Then, with quick, heaving twitches, they freed their bodies from their perches. The four gargoyles dropping to the floor, landing, crouched, their wings spreading open to their full span. As the creatures rose from their crouches, Hope saw their talons and their chiseled, wiry muscles, their devil tails darting like barbed whips, their mouths gorged with teeth. Their movements had a deliberate quickness—stalking, yet explosive—and when they rose onto their back haunches—about five-feet tall at full height—they stood tensed, coiled, ready to pounce.
William stepped in front of the gargoyles. Panic was in his voice. “Hope, please, stop this,” he said, holding his hands at his sides and closing his eyes. “Just listen to me.”
“I hate you.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“The hell I don’t.”
“Hope, stop, our love can…”
“I don’t love you,” Hope screamed.
“How can you say that? Don’t you remember our times here in the castle? You don’t just walk away from someone you shared this much with.”
“William,” Hope said, her voice trembling, “none of it was real.”
“What’re you talking about? Look around you. This…”
Hope had had it. It really was “it.” She felt as if her nerves were now live wires jumping and darting out of control, and she leapt forward, screaming, “Let me go,” landing a punch across the tip of William’s chin. But before she could throw a second punch, or the several that would have followed if she had had the chance, the gargoyles appeared before her with blinding speed. The gargoyles hissing, their teeth exposed in crazed turmoil.
Hope stepped back, her eyes darting onto each gargoyle. William was crouched to the floor, his hands covering his face, his shoulders heaving. With what little cognition one can hold onto in such a moment of terror and panic, Hope chose to take her chances with the front doors, and she sprinted for the castle’s entrance.
A gargoyle streaked past her, running on all fours in the graceful, powerful gait of a cheetah. It then cut in a frightfully beautiful motion to face her, and Hope froze in her tracks. The thing backed her away from the doors with its empty, black eyes, its mouth full of razors and knives, its wings rising from its back. It hissed, and its companions behind Hope answered its call in a hellish chorus. “It’s not real,” Hope murmured, but her focus was on the gargoyle’s dagger teeth and how they would sink into her flesh, piercing and tearing. Maybe the dream wasn’t real, but could her sleeping mind endure being eaten alive?
She ran for one of the sweeping stairways, hoping to find somewhere to hide. Almost tripping on the first riser, she recovered her balance and bounded up the steps. But something stopped her as she reached the first landing. An echoing, wailing screech splitting the castle’s hall. Hope looked down to see a gargoyle standing at the foot of the stairs. It flexed its wings and leapt into the air, flying toward the ceiling. Then it folded its wings and, unleashing another screech, swooped down toward Hope.
Hope turned to run up the stairs, but this time she did trip, splaying on the granite steps. The gargoyle snatched her up, as a raptor snatches a mouse, Hope hanging from the thing’s clutches, limp and defeated as the gargoyle descended to the floor. The other gargoyles gathered like baby birds for a feeding. “It’s not real,” Hope said as her feet found the floor and the gargoyle released her.
William stepped between Hope and the gargoyles. “Hope, please, I can’t really control them,” he said, nodding over his shoulder at the creatures gathering around them. “Please, just listen to…”
Hope spat in his face.
William’s head darted back, his hand going to the wad of spit that crawled down his cheek like a slug. He wiped it away. “Hope.” His voice trembled. “Look, I just want to go back to the way we were.”
“We weren’t anything.”
“Hope.” William tried to meet her eyes like a parent explaining punishment to a child. “Let’s just start over. You’ll see, it’ll be great. I can give you anything. We’ll just start over, okay? So… hi, I’m William Knight.” He offered his hand to be shaken.
Hope swatted at his face. And the gargoyles were upon her.
Continued in: Earworm: Part 66 — Figment
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