(Now the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth became full of robbery)
Lightning was lashing at the midnight sky outside the Grimnak estate. The rain ceaselessly poured onto the roof and dripped down the side of the mansion, battering the newly-planted daffodils until they were nearly uprooted. It was as though the weather were endowed with divine power; for, during the torrential circumstances, all nature appeared alive. The wind howled as it weaved through the trees, its protracted arms dancing in utter delirium. The rain, as it pelted the roof, made distinct sounds comparable to droning cicadas.
Hester Grimnak loathed the rain. The damage to the flowerbed was tolerable, something which could be fixed quite feasibly, although the noise—that damned noise—was the worst. It was maddening. As she lay in bed, she thought critters were scuttling on her body, whispering their horrifying tunes into her ears. Hester shivered and stood, letting reality back in.
She lit a candle, its warm hue now casting stark silhouettes along the cross-patterned walls. She pursed her cracking lips. Wine. It had been hours since her midnight dose and a bit more would go a long way. Her maroon nightgown swept the hickory-wood floor as she started towards the hallway. The corridor walls were lined with glowing electric flambeaus. The carpet that trailed throughout the hallway had embroidered Oriental designs which she had always deemed a novelty, especially here in New England.
For the most part, Hester felt privileged to be in possession of these aristocratic amenities; however, at times she questioned the true value of her inherited affluence. Her father, who had headed a lucrative coal-selling business, had amassed a vast–and as Hester occasionally mused, overwhelming amount of wealth. She was the only one who took notice of the corrupt and unscrupulous creeds with which the coal company prospered. Hester, the youngest of three, was the only child to discern how abrasive their father was, how exploitive and manipulative he had been to his employees. However, her meek and passive disposition prevented her from taking action. Almost every day she had thought about confronting her family; deep inside she desperately desired to wake her family out of their corrupt stupor. Despite these mental exertions, Hester’s will was not sufficiently amenable. She simply sat out the duration of her life, dissembling raging emotions under quiet smiles, while taking part in the rotten life that she considered inextricable.
Though now a woman of 27, the same timid temperament remained with her like the dimples on her cheeks. This was partly the reason for which Hester never made any real efforts for friendships or courtships. She stayed alone in her childhood house, while her two siblings paved ways for their own lives, forging relationships, marrying, giving birth. In fact, she seemed completely apathetic when given word that her father had fallen victim to tuberculosis; this reaction did not change when she found out her brothers contracted the same disease. She did not attend her father’s funeral; nor did she make an appearance at those of her brothers.
Hester had been an indolent stone in a rustling river, defying the current of her family’s supposedly corrupt lives, while she’d relished in her own passive integrity. Despite being honest with her moral values, there was something wholly unfortunate about her situation. Hester was, in essence, barely living any life at all. She missed out on life’s opportunities, justifying her social shortcomings with an internal indignancy towards people’s supposed inherently malicious behaviors. In her youth, she vowed to not partake in her family’s business, and so she did, however, she was too faint-hearted to pursue her goals. Though she was fond of literature, Hester was never confident in her works, scrapping nearly all of them. Thus, hapless Hester lived alone, so immersed in her own stagnancy that she lived a weak life, if any at all.
Hester felt a loud thump and saw a brief bright white light permeate the black draperies of the hall window. She stepped toward it and pulled back the curtains until everything outdoors was visible. She peered at the water while it was drowning her
(Behold I am bringing the flood, water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which there is the spirit of life)
“When will this damned squall be finished with?”, she muttered, her head throbbing at the din of rain pellets. Within only a split-second, she saw a forked lightning and heard the malicious roar that followed, temporarily quaking the earth with a godly power. Hester closed the curtains and resumed walking through the hall until she reached the tea-room.
A miasma of rotting wood hung about the room. The hearth was spitting its final embers upon the onyx-colored brick, intermittently lighting the room with its warm duskiness. Thin wisps of smoke escaped the ashes. Facing the fireplace stood a large inky-black leather armchair, flanked by a low brown table. She dropped herself on the chair and decanted herself a good helping of merlot.
Hester had a propensity for sitting here and musing on various subjects, the topics of which depending on her state of mind. Oftentimes, they entailed ventures into her depressing reality; attempts to unearth the rotten truths that embedded themselves in her so deeply that they escaped her sight. Though various depressing topics flitted through her mind, one was chief above all others. It was the fact that she had been utterly alone, enveloped by sinuous hallways, enclosed by mounting walls, buried by her own inherited wealth. She had no company. If anything, while in the house she felt like she had been the only one ever alive. Except for a couple trips to town for basic provisions, barely any human eyes had met hers.
The house trembled yet again at the presence of thunder and she followed suit. Her sharp face contorted into a grimace. The weather, Hester thought, accentuated her feelings of vulnerability. Regardless of how strongly caulked the walls had been, she felt utterly defenseless.
The rainfall was almost hypnotic, drumming incessantly; as though it were beckoning her to fall deep into some dark recess of her mind, to descend into some abysmal quarter in her brain where her will would be rendered useless to the beat of the rain. And, once she was trapped, she’d only dance with the discordant melodies and play host to the deranged composer. She shuddered. Composer. Something about that word was repelling, however, she knew not why.
She could practically envision the prospect: everything ceasing to exist and only that tune, relentlessly rolling around her ears, undulating in and out of every sinew in her limp body. It would not take long, Hester thought, for her heartbeat to also fall victim to the repulsive yet undeniably seductive beat. Once that happened, nothing could save her.
(and the waters became exceedingly powerful upon the earth, and all the lofty mountains that were under the heavens were covered up)
Though they were undoubtedly fictitious, each time Hester entertained these fantasies, they would sound more plausible. This frightened her. She did know, however–with all the certainty she could conjure–that she would not capitulate in the face of these fancies. Hester would exercise all her efforts to keep these fantasies where they belonged, and though she did not know where that God-forsaken place was, she was sure it was not here.
Outside, the gale weaved through the eaves, whipped the gables, and shrieked its hoarse hymns. The rain–in harmonious complement–streamed down in torrents.
Hester stood and walked over to the fire. She stooped down on all fours, her knees touching the ash-stained hearthstone, and blew into the meager flames.The powder sprang up in all directions, forcing the hidden embers to temporarily reveal their scintillations. She threw a dense chunk of wood into the ashes, producing the same effect, and blew until the corners of the lumber caught fire. She stood. Once back in the armchair, Hester guzzled about half the glass and wiped a drop of burgundy off her pale cheek. She propped her feet atop the leather hassock.
“Good wine, isn’t it?” she whispered, half-expecting an answer from one of the inanimate objects around her. As though in reply, the flames in front of her spat embers with a great crack.
The hearth was now fully aflame and flooding the room with light. The bookshelf behind her was visible, its ecru tone now quite luminous. Within it stood multiple leather-bound books, most of which consisting of incunabula, encyclopedias, omnibuses, and other literary relics written centuries previous. After a decade of neglect, these books accumulated a great deal of dust. The beautiful works which she had devoured were now the refuge for spiders and the home of any critters that sought entry. On the second shelf, to the left of an ancient volume of lore, stood a shorter hardcover, its binding’s coat of gossamer glistening. It was her very own bible, the one which her loving mother had allotted to her the day she died giving birth.
It was only when one of her brothers, Joseph, was on his deathbed when she was told the true nature of their mother’s death. Before then, she was told that Maria had fallen victim to malaria, and being naive as she was, Hester never questioned this lie. She accepted it, unaware that her own birth had been the cause of Maria’s untimely death. She never grieved much about the matter for she never knew the woman; the only descriptions Hester received were given to her by her loathsome relatives, information which she knew unreliable. The only true memento she had of Maria was that bible and at times, she considered whether it was a burden or privilege to keep. During her literary phase, she would flip through the creamy pages, careful not to crease anything. It stood to her not only as a symbol of Maria’s love but unfortunately of her own part in Maria’s death.
Now, as she rested in the armchair, blocking out the racket of rain with all the strength she could muster, Hester fancied someone or something was staring at her from behind the chair. The sensation was entirely uncanny, though, by some strange intuition, she was almost certain that her mind was telling the truth. Hester twisted her torso backward and darted her eyes toward the shelves of books, bemusedly. Something about its lighting was disturbing. There appeared to be some dark obscurity lingering on the shelves, one which was completely black in contrast to the bronze wood. It looked as if it took the shape of a human. It was like how she used to look up at the serene sky in the springtime, letting her mind concoct contrived figures for each cloud. However, this situation was much different indeed, for the shadow did not strike Hester as a figment of her imagination; it seemed to take up a rather tangible existence, as though if she were to outstretch her arm to the shelves, her fingers would be coated with some viscous, murky liquid. Hester did not do this, however; rather, she sat, motionlessly transfixed by the supposed ghost that lay before her.
After a couple moments, the contour of the figure sharpened and the surprise Hester had felt emptied itself, a deluge of fear taking its place. Hester could feel her heart banging at her chest, beating like a triphammer. Her mind tried to formulate words to ward off the beast though they failed her–as if something inside her were impeding their path. All that issued from her lips was a shrill scream, a rather futile call for help when she knew herself that nobody lived within miles of the estate. In the midst of the prolonged shriek, the figure raised its shadowed arms to shoulder-length, its hands–as far as she could tell–open-faced. After a second of utter stillness, it hastily raised its left hand higher and Hester thought–could almost see–its palm leaving the wall and outstretching towards her. She still seemed incapable of moving a muscle, something external or internal holding her back. A couple feet in front of her, it twisted its wrist and the sound of rain subsequently intensified. Hester felt like something were bludgeoning her ears and she bellowed in pain.
“Stop! Please!”, she screamed.
As though amused by her pain, it swiveled its fingers with a flourish and bent them. Hester heard a grumble of thunder and a subsequent heavy thud that quaked the entire house. In that instant, a jolt of pain rushed through her and she found herself writhing in her chair. Hester fell to the floor, splay-limbed, her eyes still fixed on that shadow. She twitched convulsively.
Hester felt as if she were a puppet, this malicious shadow a puppeteer fiddling with the chords of her mind, twisting them, wringing out every iota of reason and replacing it with sheer, endless agony.
The shadow quickly careered across to the left wall, standing there near the window for a half a second until it disappeared abruptly, leaving no trace of blackness behind.
She could no longer scream; Hester remained still, merely peering at the walls which had just played host to that awful specter. At that point, reality felt so distant that entertaining any explanation for what just transpired seemed foolish. Not even a couple glasses of wine could drive eyes to behold something so abhorrent and drive the senses to feel something so torturous.
The thrash of rain filled her ears once more. It was unrelenting. Hester felt as if she’d entered a new world that did not belong to mortal beings. In it, there was nothing to see, nothing to touch, but only that raucous noise; just the omnipresent, ever-beating drums that did the biddings of their ruthless master…
“The composer,” Hester whispered, her voice tremulous.
Hester extended her arm to the table that stood beside the armchair and felt for her glass. She briefly touched the foot of the cup when it slid from her grip, landing onto the carpet with a clank. Hester looked down and saw the shards atop the red-stained carpet, totally nonplussed. Considering what just happened, if the carpet were to catch fire, Hester’s face would not contort into the slightest look of surprise.
Hester shut her eyes. After a minute of trying to fall asleep, an image of a woman suddenly appeared in her mind. The lady’s blond hair was carefully coiffed, such that it shimmered against a soft face. She donned a long white chiffon dress which draped over her entire body. All that Hester could think was that this lady bore a great resemblance to her. Hester drew in a deep breath and exhaled. Maria.
“Just go,” Maria whispered tenderly, a hint of firmness in her voice.
(Everything that had the breath of the spirit of life in its nostrils, of all that were on the dry land, died)
Hester stood from the armchair and exited the tea-room. She felt dazed as she trudged through the hall. Despite this, she felt resolute and oddly determined to embark on some mission. And although Hester knew not herself the course to take, her feet guided her, as though on their own volition. The hallway in front of her appeared endless, the walls lined with electric fixtures seemingly a pathway into eternity. Her eyes shot from wall to wall, completely disoriented. She stumbled on her feet, swaying from side to side like a drunken housewife. And suddenly, the cloudy figure of her father appeared on her left, walking backward as he faced Hester. His teeth were yellow and snarled. He sang:
“Sit, sit, dear child. Hark! the melodies,
There, Listen close,
The infernal tunes of misery.”
He let out a hearty, pirate-esque laughter and Hester covered her ears. She reeled left and right, her mind drifting amok, yet still obstinately moved forward. Everything around her was alive, singing to her, braying from behind her. The rainfall’s hoarse tunes permeated through her covered ears, and she could not escape the wild thoughts that flitted through her head. Behind her, she fancied there flew a phalanx of cicadas, singing and stampeding toward her. Hester dismissed the thought and continued on, some piece of strength thrusting her forward. She climbed up a staircase and a stark shadow appeared on the right-hand wall of the landing. She hastily started up the second staircase, and looking down at the stairwell, Hester saw the silhouetted composer saunter up ominously. She quickly bore left and dashed ahead, when it suddenly dawned on her where her feet were directing her. A couple feet in front of her stood the door to her mother’s bedroom, ajar. Hester persisted on, staggering, though exerting all her effort to get to that room. Exhausted to the point of nearly fainting, she finally reached it. Hester looked back into the hallway to see the shadow of the composer plastered on the wall, advancing towards her, slowly.
She entered the bedroom and what stood before her made goosebumps emerge in her skin. Hester’s eyes were fixated on her mother, whose Chiffon dress was fluttering from the draft that exited the veranda.
It was time.
A look of uttermost conviction and determination mounted on Hester’s face. And as she stood there, her life did not flash before her eyes. All that she beheld was that angel, that missionary from heaven looking at her with such tender, glassy eyes, not uttering a syllable but speaking more than Hester had ever heard. It was only Maria carrying that look; one of lament, of sympathy, of understanding, of guidance, of love.
(And Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did.)
Maria’s figure melted into the dawn light. Hester stepped onto the veranda and leaned on the railings, watching the cerulean sky unfold.
Josh Gindi is 16 and lives in New Jersey. He likes to play soccer, watch horror films and hang out with his friends. He also enjoys reading the works of Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.