(Picture submitted by Miss R)
Arafin © 2009
The invitation to the party had simply read, “Relay”, then giving a time and location. Of the thousands of such invitations sent out only a few hundred recipients took it seriously and of those about half accepted eagerly while the others shivered in fear. The key factor had been the location. Those who had not understood what “L’ancien Château des Rêves” meant had dismissed the gold leafed invitation cards as some sort of prank. Those who did understand were either mad with desire to go to that mysterious place or terrified of what would happen to them if they did. It was thus that on the night of the party some one hundred and twenty guests arrived at the appointed hour and were admitted through the towering iron gates at the end of the winding gravel road, a road which no one seemed to be able to find unless they had been invited. Once past the gate the road turned to cobblestone and the grounds on either side were immaculately kept. This contrasted sharply to the dark and overgrown forest which had encroached on the old dirt road to the point where it appeared almost impassable in places.
There was one guest out of all the others who had not understood what
“L’ancien Château des Rêves” meant and had come out of sheer curiosity, and as fate would have it, he was a reporter for the city newspaper. William Autrey arrived at the gate on his scooter, something which seemed to give the two guards on duty reason to snicker. Most of the other guests had ridden in limousines or expensive sports cars. As William now piloted his trusty Vespa up the winding cobble drive he was beginning to have a rather uncomfortable feeling that he had gotten himself in over his head. Not the first time. Not the last. Back in the city, one Wilhelm Aubrey was still waiting impatiently in his penthouse suite for the invitation he had been promised by the Countess. Due to the wonderful intricacies of postal incompetence, it would never show up. Fate was on a roll tonight.
The old castle was a magnificent display of replicated French gothic outside and modern minimalism inside. While the Countess adored the look of all things dark and brooding, she much preferred the physical comforts which current technology could afford. Towering walls and pointed arches of grey vine covered stone outside gave way indoors to white plaster and glossy hardwood floors, underneath which radiant heating had been installed. No cold drafts in this castle. Stainless steel and glass were used extensively in all decoration and trim and lighting was provided indirectly by recessed halogen spots which bounced off the high ceilings. The air seemed hushed, as if speaking in anything but a whisper had somehow been forbidden.
William immediately noticed that all the guests were male. He then noticed that he was the only one wearing faded jeans and a corduroy sports jacket. All others wore full white tie formal evening dress. He stood out like a sore thumb and for a moment contemplated slipping back out the front door and leaving, but the two enormous guards there who had taken his invitation card did not look as if they would be amused by such a retreat. He decided “in for a penny, in for a pound” and resigned himself to discover what he could about this curious affair. The newspaper he worked for, like so many others, was in dire financial straights and he knew it was only a matter of time till was given his dismissal notice. A really fascinating story about richly decadent gatherings in a secret castle miles outside of town could be just the thing to boost, and even preserve, his career.
“It’s about to begin”, someone whispered in his right ear. It was a woman’s voice, soft and cool and refined. William turned to see a short figure dressed all in black, a sort of layered lacy taffeta gown that might be seen on someone like Stevie Nicks, and out of the high ruffled collar on top poking the dainty head of an old woman, perhaps in her nineties. She was still striking, her high angled cheekbones hinting faintly of oriental descent and her large dark eyes sparkling with youthful impishness. She was captivating now and must have been a heartbreaker when in her prime. “Come with me”, she commanded in a voice like honey. And without thinking, William turned and followed the Countess across the long floor of the great ballroom to the base of a curved staircase.
The guests were queuing up at the bottom of the stairs, forming a long line against one wall. All appeared to be patient in a strangely dazed sort of way. There was the occasional gentle banter between two or three of them, but for the most part all waited stoically, there eyes either focused towards the top of the stairs or staring straight ahead into emptiness. One by one, very, very slowly, walking as if in a dream, each man would ascend the stair. At the top of the stair a beautiful young lady would hand him a red rose and he would disappear out of view around a corner. In a few seconds the beautiful woman at the top of the stairs would descend, holding a red rose between her fingers, while a new lady would take her place, ready to hand a rose to the next man to climb up the steps to her. The whole procedure had a very unreal quality to it, almost as if it were some sort of illusion being projected into the air ahead like a hologram. But is also looked so REAL. It was at once frightening and riveting and William could not look away.
Gentleman after gentleman climbed the stairs, received a rose, disappeared around a corner, and lady after beautiful lady descended the stair holding a rose. None of these spoke, preferring to stare blankly into the distance as if sleepwalking. Behind him the crowd of lovely young ladies grew and grew, all remaining perfectly silent, all standing almost as if at attention. “Get in line, William”, the Countess cooed in his ear, and without thinking he did. Time seemed to have sped up somehow, or slowed down, he could not tell which. He could have sworn that only a few moments ago the line of men against the wall was over a hundred strong, but now only seven remained, the last of which was himself. He looked back at the Countess to see her smiling devilishly at him. He wanted to run but could not. He HAD to see what was at the top of those stairs! He HAD to get one of those roses for his own! Suddenly he noticed that he was aroused. Had he been aroused all along but not been aware of it? From the dark red lips of the Countess a dry little laugh broke forth, shattering the still air as if it had been delicate glass. William turned again to look at her and then back to look at the man in front of him who was just starting his ascent.
As yet another gorgeous lady descended the stairs in front of him, dressed all in a white silk pant suit and carrying a red rose between the fingers of her right hand, William found himself walking forward without willing it. He was floating up the stairs. He was being drawn. All thoughts of resistance faded now as his arousal grew and grew with every step, his longing to obtain a rose completely overwhelming all other goals. Five steps to go. Desire building. Four steps to go. Oh!, how he wished he could run! Three steps. This was agony, having to move so slowly. Two steps. Come on, come on, almost there. One step, and time suddenly seemed to stand still. He was frozen in place and all movement around him had ground to a halt. There before him was a woman of impossible beauty dressed all in pale blue satin, holding in her outstretched hand a red rose that he knew was meant for him. He could sense the Countess at the bottom of the stairs cackling to herself in demonic glee. Soon she would have one hundred and twenty one new female slaves to feed on, and she would be saving him for last.