Steps, cut from basalt, chipped with weather and covered with moss, rise up before me. They are ancient steps, reminiscent of cathedrals or the quay steps lining the Parisian stretch of the Seine. There are five in number and, for a moment, I find myself pondering the meaning of this until the cold seeps in and I pull my jacket close.
A mist has risen from the ground, a mist touched by fingers of ice and smelling faintly of lilacs and roses. It is a ground-creeping mist, the bulk of it staying low, its touch painful.
Shivering again, I break my reverie and mount the steps, ascending to the near-crumbling wrought-iron gate at the top. The gate, its metal almost as green as the moss-covered basalt steps, creaks open with a single touch, revealing, as if my eyes had previously refused to penetrate the spaces looming between the bars, an empty chamber of stone. The chamber is marked by rotting leaves piled into its far corners and by a single, rusting fetter hung by a single rusting chain drilled into the far wall.
I linger on the threshold before feeling an almost imperceptible tug. I step past the gate, into the chamber, into that basalt edifice that was my longing and desire. Into the slipstream of curvilinear time, into the purview of a memory long ago buried and walled away.
“Hello, Peter,” a dead voice says. And, with a lump clawing its way up the abyss of my throat, I turn, tears filling my eyes.
For a fleeting moment, the tears blur my vision, and in that moment she is there, before me, in the corner of the chamber, her black dress tossed lightly in the misty breeze of lilacs and roses.
With a sob, I clear my eyes, only to see an empty corner””empty save for a piece of torn fabric, once black, now covered in mold and dirt. I reach for the cloth, and as my fingers touch it, a sound reaches my ears.
The sound of metal on stone.
Now, as I sit in an unmarked room with unmarked attendants to bring me food and water, I can only close my eyes to the nightmare of that empty chamber, in that stunted forest, in that lonely cemetery.
I can only close my eyes and see the image of that rusting chain writhing like a snake, of the pale, reaching hand, feminine, appearing as if from nothing within the circle of the rusting fetter, of the face looming out of the wall of the girl I’d once loved and hated all in the same breath.
“Peter,” she said, “you’ve come back for me.”