|THE CASTLE OUROBOROS by Rob Bliss|
I had drifted off for only a moment, it seemed, when I heard again the key turn in the lock. I had expected Kasimir’s return, but instead was presented with a monster.
An ancient man dressed in a black suit with tails, wearing white gloves, bearing a silver tray on which perched a slender crystal cup. The crystal held a transparent green fluid.
My heart pounded and my limbs felt numb beneath the bed covers as the man approached. Candle light flickered across his visage, and I easily saw the anomaly of his face.
He had no eyes.
Sunken depressions of stretched, blue-veined skin covered the form of his skull beneath, his brows angular and pronounced, so that whenever he moved too far from the candle light, shadows sank into the pits where his eyes should have been. Lipless and a jutting chin, a strong line to his bony jaw.
Without the assistance of a cane, his slow, measured steps brought him to the side table next to my pillow. With precision, his hand lifted the crystal cup and sat it onto the table, disturbing not even a dust mote, and missing my volume of Goethe.
“Master Kohl felt a medicinal would assist your healing and rest, sir,” he said as he stood at erect height over me, the tray held against his chest.
“Uh … thank you,” my voice uttered after a lump held in my throat dropped into my stomach.
“I am Gustav, sir, Master Kohl’s manservant. I attend to all the duties of the Castle Ouroboros and have done so since the late Master Kohl, Senior.”
“I see. Thank you for your care, Gustav. I’ll assume it was you who brought my bags from the foyer into my chamber?”
“Yes, sir. I hope all is to your liking.”
“Yes, thank you.” I couldn’t keep myself from staring into the depths of his eyeless eyes. I burned with curiosity. All I was able to do, however, was to clear my throat before he answered my unasked question.
“I realize my appearance is discombobulating to many, sir, but please do not be alarmed. I am well-acquainted with the structural dimensions of the entire castle down to the placement of every candlestick. My steps have never faltered lo these many decades of service.”
I nodded, though I knew not why. My syllables stuttered until they found words, my eyes attempting to look away from his shadowed depths.
“Yes, yes, I’m sure you’re very skilled in your duties.” My gaze wrenched to the green toddy as an escape and a new focus. “So this … beverage is to assist my pain, is it?”
“Yes, sir,” said Gustav, turning his face precisely to gaze down at the small, hourglass-shaped cup. As though he could see it! I was astounded by his mental capacity to map every inch of the castle in his mind. The human brain truly was the most complex of all nature’s masterpieces. “It is a calming elixir with anaesthetic properties brewed by the townsfolk from a centuries-old recipe. Quite effective, I assure you, and refreshing upon waking.”
“Yes, I see.” I took up the small goblet and examined the green hue within the light of a steady candle flame. A pure liquid without a speck or grain floating in its fluid stasis. I felt somewhat apprehensive to sip it, however, having it delivered by an eyeless man. “I’m sure I shall enjoy it. Thank you, and thank Master Kohl for me. It’s been a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Gustav.”
He bowed and strode accurate steps to the door, the silver tray tucked beneath his arm. The key turned again in the lock upon his departure.
I smelled the liquid and delighted at the waft of peppermint. I tasted the brew. Delicious. The entire contents were soon warming my stomach and swimming through my veins. I extinguished the candles and felt a soothing numbness slip down my calves and tingle my feet, and a mental calm inhabited my being.
I was soon immersed in slumber. And onward came the most horrific dream.
Every book on the shelves lining my room turned to a slab of stone. The walls closed in, squeezing me into a space barely allowing me enough room in which to breathe. The air was a thick green smog, suffocating. I tore at my nightclothes until I was naked, my body burning with intolerable heat. My eyes melted into a syrup and drained down my face, my cheeks sunken, patches of my skull exposed where the skin was thinnest. And yet I could still see, could determine my surroundings down to the microscopic level. The wood grain of my bedside table, the bubbles of wax dripping down a taper shaft, dust motes forming geometric shapes in the air around me. Vermin swarmed every surface, crawled across my exposed skin.
And then Cybele was entwined around me within the stone tunnel. Also naked. Two damned lovers contained within a stone sarcophagus, limbs twisted around each like the vines of Eden, like snakes around a caduceus. Her hair swam as though underwater, tendrils swirling passed my eyes, around my neck, weaving a mesh veil across my dead eyes.
I was both in love and in libidinous ecstasy with this succubus, this queen of Thanatos. I wanted to give her my essence, to let her devour me in every way, to take my soul to whichever hell or heaven in which she resided.
Staring into her eyes, I saw specks of ebony in their emerald pools, and fell deep into them. She touched the softest kiss with her rose petal lips onto my mouth. My eyes rolled back into my head and I saw the channels of my green blood flow in a raging torrent.
When I opened my eyes to behold her, her mouth had extended into a snake’s maw for her to swallow me whole. I fell down an endless chasm the tint of ink, slipping down the tunnel of her ruby throat, into the surrogate womb of her essence.
I snapped my eyes awake as my heart pounded against my ribcage. A small candle flame held my stilled focus and Cybele herself leaned over me, as beautiful and seductive as she had been in my phantasmagoria nocturne.
CONTINUES NEXT WEEK