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Umbral Waltz


by reggieman721

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It was in the parlor that Abigail first sat down on Desmond’s sofa. It was in the parlor that the Aisha and Lupe shared their first cups of tea and quaint stories as the evening moonlight streamed through the lone, high window.

      It was to the parlor that Desmond and Abigail often stole away after long parties and late nights, conversing with reserved smiles until the sun rose or they drifted to sleep on comfortable cushions. It was to the parlor that Abigail once brought an ancient heirloom, a record nestled in a dusty sleeve, that the yellow Aisha set upon an old turntable, placing the needle gently in a groove.

      As they listened to the music, Desmond and Abigail shared their first true, unveiled glance. His hand reached for hers, moved by the slow rhythm of the melody. Their fingers clasped, and their feet brushed against the wooden floor.

      It was in the parlor that Desmond and Abigail first danced to the Umbral Waltz.

      From that night onward, their friendship was filled with a vibrant life, with many evenings spent dancing to the haunting tune. Its long notes matched their slow breathing; its subtle beats aligned with those of the two hearts, pounding as one. And when the song would end, a scratch on the old record would cause it to cry out a final, dying note, which would fill the room with its mournful lament until Abigail relinquished her grip on Desmond and walked over to remove the needle.

      Sometimes Abigail would recline on the sofa and read out of a volume of poetry from the great bookshelf under the window. Desmond would watch the Aisha as she recited, wearing her light, white dress, its lace hem dangling over the edge of the cushions. Then, she would always remind him to listen, not look, and the brown Lupe would lean back in his armchair and close his eyes. But still his mind was filled not with her words, but merely the sound of her voice, cheerful and fresh, like trickling water.

      Whether they were playing with Desmond’s set of fine chess pieces, or sipping drinks from the tips of tall glasses across each other at the small table, the two Neopets were perfectly content.

      One night, however, like the scratch at the end of the Umbral Waltz, everything was drowned out in a single, furious dispute.

      The full moon from the high window bathed the parlor in a silver light, making the yellow Aisha’s white lace dress shimmer as she stormed about the room in anger. Desmond sat in his armchair stiffly, listening as Abigail screamed her grievances to the midnight sky. When she paused, and the Lupe offered his argument, Abigail threw her hands in the air and launched into another tirade.

      The tension became like a rope, with Abigail and Desmond each holding tightly to one end, pulling hazardously with all their strength. She ran to the bookcase beneath the window, stepping upon one of the lower shelves to reach the old volume of poetry. The Aisha opened to one yellowed page and shouted several lines, glaring at Desmond over the edge of the book, watching for a reaction.

      And then, as she reached the height of her passion, Abigail spoke a barb so sharp that it caught in her throat and tore her very voice away from her.

      She clutched her chest and locked eyes with Desmond one last time, before abandoning all attempts at reasoning with him and setting her jaw. She fled the parlor, her white lace dress brushing against her legs as the yellow Aisha threw open the door and entered the hallway.

      “Abigail!” cried the Lupe, bounding after her as she hurried toward the front door. “Don’t go. Talk to me.”

      But she had no voice, nor any words that she wished to speak to him, save one: “Goodbye,” she whispered hoarsely, before stepping into the night.

      Desmond stood in the doorway, watching as she ran through the tall grass toward the dirt road. She looked like a ghost, floating out of his life and into the next, finally vanishing out of sight into darkness.

      The brown Lupe took a few steps out onto the lawn. The grass was damp and cold, and the breeze slithered into the mansion through the open door behind him. Desmond bent down and picked up a white daisy, spinning it in between his fingers, watching the fair white petals twirl around the yellow pollen in the center.

      He cast it away, threw his head back, and stared up at the full moon. A desperate scream escaped his lips, and he sank to his knees, violently tearing through the wildflowers as clouds moved across the sky, plunging him into blackness.

      Hours passed in seconds, and Desmond found himself panting, leaning against the fence at the edge of his property. A wake of vanquished daisies lay behind him. The night was still dark.

      But as Desmond clutched the rough wood, his mind began piecing things together once more, and he realized that there was something he needed to do.

      Standing up, the brown Lupe brushed off his clothes. His eyes turned to the dirt road. He would follow her. He would change her mind.

      Filled with new resolve, Desmond began walking down the dusty path, moving swiftly. When he came to the familiar fork in the road, he decided to take the longer way around. He needed a little more time to think. What would he say to her? Would she have gone straight home? Would she open the door for him?

      Questions filled his mind, and despite taking the slower road, Desmond found himself on the steps of her porch all too soon. The house was dark.

      “Abigail,” he said loudly, knocking on the wooden door. “I need to talk with you. Please.”

      No one answered. Desmond waited, and at last pulled the hidden key from a nearby flowerpot. He let himself inside. The Lupe peered into each room of the small home, but it didn’t take long for him to realize that Abigail wasn’t there. She hadn’t returned to her house. And with that, Desmond realized that he would never find her.

      The full moon mocked him all the way home.

      The door was still ajar when he arrived back at his own mansion, although the gentle wind had apparently moved it so that only a crack could be seen. Desmond pulled it open and stepped inside.

      His clothes were dirty from the long, midnight walk. His brown fur was ragged, and his hands were stained with the green blood of the daisies. Worst of all, as soon as he entered the house, it seemed as if his mind was escaping him, as the sounds of the Umbral Waltz softly crept into his ear.

      He made directly for the parlor, averting his eyes so as not to catch a glimpse of the sofa, or the lone window, or the turntable on which the antique record still rested. With one powerful motion, he slammed the door closed, bolting it securely from the outside.

      The faint notes of the waltz vanished from his mind, as if he had awoken from a dream. Desmond found himself suddenly tired. He turned his back on the parlor door, and climbed up the regal staircase, slowly making his way down the hall until, at last, he came to his bedroom. Changing into sleeping clothes, he crawled into his large bed, attempting to shut out all memories of that evening, just as he had shut the heavy curtains on the full moon outside.

      Sleep escaped him. Desmond wondered if he was suffering a breakdown, tossing and turning as strange scratches and poundings and crashes echoed up from the floorboards. Eerie sounds haunted him, as images of Abigail floated across his vision. The darkness of the room only made it worse, with every piece of furniture seeming to conceal her pale eyes, and every creaking sound of the house sounding like her footsteps returning to him.

      When at last he began to drift into slumber, a terrible thud from below rattled the entire house. Desmond waited, hoping that it was all in his mind, wondering if something had happened... but now there was only silence.

      Desmond awoke the next day and pulled open the drapes, allowing the warm sunlight to stream inside and wash over him. Filled with a numb relief, the Lupe allowed himself to go about his business.

      Instead of breakfasting with orange juice and the Neopian Times in the parlor, Desmond ate in the large kitchen. Rather than pass by the parlor door as he walked to the library in the back of the house, Desmond traversed through a sitting room and the dining room, entering by another way. He avoided even the sight of that place, so that in the days that followed, the whole wing containing the parlor became uninhabited.

      Cut off from the heart, that vein of the mansion began to die. It aged nearly as quickly as Desmond, gathering a coating of dust and spyderwebs, becoming the home of insects and any other creature that dared to enter that place of bad memory.

      In the days that followed, Desmond made the journey down the path to Abigail’s house many times, but she was never there. She had not returned. She had not forgiven him.

      And so, Desmond existed alone, going about his life as he had done before he ever met Abigail, but with a newfound lack of passion. He attended to business, but withdrew from society. He ate and drank, but tasted nothing. He came and went from his mansion, but never did he go into the corridor that held the parlor.

      Yet worse than all of this were the nights of the full moon. Every time he saw that perfectly round, silver orb in the sky, Desmond was brought back to that terrible night. Just as he had torn apart the daisies in the yard, during the full moon Desmond would ravage his home, trying to drown out the tune of the Umbral Waltz which haunted his mind every month. The slow notes would echo no matter how loud he was, no matter how many dishes he broke, no matter how many windows he shattered, no matter how hard he pounded his fist or forehead against the wall.

      And when the sun rose, like the record reaching the groove with the scratch, Desmond would howl a long, desperate note to the dying moon, and the waltz would end.

      He would crawl back up to his bedroom, disheveled, exhausted, and seek the solitude of sleep.

      Each full moon, his transformation would grow worse. The sounds of the Umbral Waltz would grow louder and more persistent. He would tear his clothes, his brown fur would prickle out, and his eyes would become wild.

      Children called him a Werelupe. He never heard the stories they told, nor would he have cared. He was of two beings: one drone that moved robotically throughout life, and another, a monster that emerged only once every 28 days.

      But there came a night, cloudy and dark like that one so long ago, that some spark of life long buried in Desmond emerged, and he decided to do something about his situation.

      It was a full moon, and the sun was beginning to set. Instead of merely staring out his window with hollow eyes, waiting for night to come and the Umbral Waltz to begin playing in his ears, the Lupe hurried down the great staircase and pushed open the front door of the mansion.

      He stepped outside, into the grass where new daisies had bloomed, and with a decisive gesture, shoved the door closed. He locked it with a click, and then threw the key into the yard where it could not be found easily.

      No longer would he allow himself to tear his house and his body apart from the inside out.

      Desmond lay down on his back in the tall grass. This time, things would be different, he told himself, watching the red sun as it slipped away. He would conquer this. Even if he had to live alone forever, he would not do it in agony.

      It was time to let go.

      The final rays of sunlight faded away, and Desmond was left in darkness, with only the light of the veiled full moon to bathe him in its pallid glow.

      His skin began to crawl. Desmond could feel it, rippling out from his chest like lava—a burning sensation that made his brown fur stand on end. His clothes began to stretch as the hairs pressed against them, itching, urging him to tear them away, but he gripped clumps of grass and didn’t move.

      He felt pressure behind his eyes, and he knew that his heart was pumping blood into them, that red veins were creeping across the whites of his eyeballs, but he blinked it away. Sweat beaded on his brow.

      And then it began: with a soft first note, then a rising beat, the waltz began to play just as it had so many times before. It rang through his mind, bringing back images of Abigail and the parlor, as well as strange emotions that threatened to consume his body and soul.

      The black clouds hovered over the moon and stars, and Desmond was left alone to fight his battle in the darkness. With every rise and fall in the Umbral Waltz, Desmond struggled to maintain control over himself. As the music continued, the song felt longer than ever before, and louder, as if he were standing next to the turntable itself, watching the record run in circles, producing the wonderful, horrible sound.

      It dragged on all night, pounding in his ears. Several times he almost lost his grip, but Desmond remained strong. At last, the music reached a crescendo, and it took every last bit of energy in his being to prevent himself from going under.

      A long, wailing, hideous note came as the first rays of sunlight began to shine from the east.

      And then it was over, in a wave of silence that washed over Desmond’s body. All of the tension left him, and he lay in the grass amongst the daisies.

      It took a while for him to recover his strength, but at last he stood up. And then, he realized that he had cast the front door key into the grass to prevent himself from finding it.

      After looking around for a few moments, Desmond decided to leave it. He walked around the mansion, looking at it in the morning light, as if it were a place he had never seen before.

      Curiously, he stepped through the grass and found his way to one of the stone walls. The windows were all quite high, and he carefully gripped rough nooks and edges as he climbed carefully up toward a tall window. Sitting on the ledge, he took a broken piece of rock and smashed the pane of glass.

      Desmond struggled through the gap and rested on the inner part of the window ledge, looking down at the room in which he found himself.

      It was incredibly dusty, as if it had not been lived in for years. Spyderwebs hung everywhere, and the furniture was all in disarray. A bookshelf which had stood beneath the window had fallen to the wooden floor, and a sofa was overturned nearby.

      Desmond dropped to the floor, as if in a sort of trance. He recognized this place.

      He walked carefully over toward the lone door, feeling his feet pick up a layer of dust. There were odd scratches all over the wood of the door and the wall next to it, even on the floor. Several holes had been pounded through the wallpaper, and nearly everything in the room was broken.

      Desmond walked back to the toppled bookshelf. In its fall, some of the books near the top had been flung out of the way onto the floor. He picked one up.

      It was a volume of poetry.

      And suddenly, Desmond remembered.

      The mental block that he had created so long ago had prevented him from seeing where he really was, but now the Lupe’s eyes scanned the room in shock.

      It was the parlor.

      The high window, the bookshelf, the sofa, the book of poetry—even the turntable was there, with its needle draped in spyderwebs.

      Desmond stared at it all, taking in every detail. A rush of emotion entered him, and he felt suddenly alive and invigorated.

      It was then that he saw it: a white bit of fabric sticking out from underneath the overturned bookshelf.

      Desmond approached.

      It was the lace hem of a white dress that was all too familiar. His heart pounding, Desmond sank to his knees and pushed against the bookshelf. He was able to lift it slightly, but it was too heavy. All he could do was reveal another white object. This time, it was the corner of a piece of paper.

      He slid it out and held it up to the light that came through the window.

     Desmond,

      I’ve come back for the Umbral Waltz. It is the last memory I shall have of the times that we spent together. Tonight, I feel, was too much to forgive. Maybe, in time, I’ll be able to, but not now.

      Goodbye, Desmond. Perhaps, some day, you’ll hear the Umbral Waltz and know that I have returned to you.

      It was as if Desmond was watching that night played back in slow motion.

      He saw Abigail scream at him until she could no longer speak, and run out the door and away down the dusty road. He saw himself tearing apart the daisies in his yard, and then following her down the path. He saw himself taking the long way around, just as Abigail turned back and took the short route back to his house, after deciding to take one object from the mansion.

      He saw Abigail step through the open front door and close it slightly behind her, and then hurry to the parlor. He saw her scribble a final note to him, just as he was making his own journey back after finding her house empty.

      He saw her sitting down at the turntable to play the record one last time before leaving. He saw himself walk in through the front door and hear the music, pausing in the hallway.

      He saw himself angrily slam the parlor door closed and bolt it, and then retire to his bedroom. He saw Abigail trying to shout to him, but clutch her throat and realize that it was useless.

      He saw her pounding the walls, scratching the door in an attempt to escape, and breaking things in the parlor to attract attention. He saw himself, up in his bedchamber, pressing the pillows against his ears and wondering if he was going mad.

      He saw Abigail take her note and attempt to climb up the bookshelf toward the high window...

      It was in the parlor that Abigail first sat down on Desmond’s sofa. It was in the parlor that the two shared countless happy memories. It was in the parlor that they came to an angry dispute, which severed the bond between them.

      It was the parlor that Desmond locked away and never visited. It was the parlor that nearly drove him to insanity.

      It was in the parlor that it all ended.

      Desmond stood up and looked around, searching with a desperate hope for one final object which might bring him peace.

      He found it, on the other side of the bookcase.

      The record bearing the Umbral Waltz lay on the floor, shattered beyond repair.

The End

 
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