Breath.

BLooking over the lavish ballroom beneath, Anna darts across the first floor balcony, noting the darkened gloom that appears like it once held such happiness. Hand swiftly flying over the worn, cracked barrier for mere thoughts of support, she doesn’t dare look back at the blackened beast of shadow silently following suit. Hearing it’s grumblings behind her she makes it to the doors leading to the stairs and collides with them full force. Trembling and shook from the impact she lashes her hand out for the ornate handle and slips through the minuscule gap she has time to create.

The beast collides with the door as Anna did, only she now barricades the door from the other side with her entire being, the only thing she had to hand, and listens to the frustration coming from the faint shapes of hooves underneath the door. With countless gruff roars, the beast surrenders and skulks back to wherever it came from within the mansion. Anna is safe.

The silence begins to overwhelm her as her panting for air becomes painfully obvious. Slumping against the door, she lifts her gaze upwards to the remainder of the corridor before the stairs and is once again reminded of the ruin she currently finds herself in. Tattered wallpaper, with a glint of beauty still desperately clinging to its strips as it limps down off the walls, revealing the rotting shell of the house beneath. The wooden floorboards, smashed and creaking under the shifting pressures put on them from the harshness outside; a harshness Anna cannot wait to burst forth into, and out of this hellhole of a building. The carpet hides a multitude of sins, especially in terms of this floor, so pre-emptively she grips the corner of the long runner carpet and flips it over, revealing a large gaping hole a few feet ahead, cradling a blackness inside that she only watches for a brief moment before turning away and hoping it remains only black.

Gathering the shreds of nerve she has left and with help from the door handles that served her so very well previous to now, she stands upright and skirts around the newly discovered bowels of the house, not wanting to descend further into the madness of the night. Hearing a loud creak and a crunch, the floor begins to dip beneath her and she jumps for the banister on the stairs.

The floor reverts to its lie of stability and she clings to the banister like a long-lost sibling, or family pet, she hasn’t decided which. Setting foot onto the first smooth marble step, she gains confidence in its weight and sturdy appearance, not making a sound except for the reassuring tread of her shoe on the dusty surface.

Having calmed considerably from the previous few minutes, Anna has now steadied her grip on the banister as she makes her way down the stairs which connect from the first floor on both sides of the house to then sweep down into a flatter interval and then continue down into the expansive ballroom, yawning with the light of the moon peering through thin french bay windows.

“Cross the ballroom, rush the windows” she whispers to herself as she flows down the remaining steps to the mid-way floor which connects both staircases into one, she pauses between both flights and listens. Nothing will stop her between where she stands presently and those windows, nothing. Determination fuels a tight grip on the banister as the moonlight beckons.

The ballroom isn’t empty, she notes mentally; Centered is a statue of indistinguishable human form, due to the darkness. As this very thought enters her mind a bright flash causes her to flick her face away and recover. Adjusting to the barrage of brightened surroundings, the faded gold accents covering the room gleam with bated shimmer and the blood-red curtains flowing from ceiling to floor on Anna’s left side look at their fallen comrades on the right, mourning their failure at remaining upright.

Looking upwards towards the ceiling, over a dozen meticulously carved cherubs gaze down at the statue, now menacingly lit from beneath by an impressive chandelier, twinkling with expectation. Bows drawn, if they weren’t statues Anna would have mistaken them for living, breathing creatures. The distinguishing feature of their inanimate nature being the loss of crumbling limb, some missing arms, legs, wings. Anna notices them dotted around the room, some smashed on impact, some remaining intact.

Eyes fully adjusted now, Anna pays attention to the figure presented to her. Perfectly illuminated from above to accentuate the love and care given to its creation, a polished white marble ballerina stands atop a plinth given only to a thing of beauty such as this. Skirt fanning outwards, with one leg extended at a perfect right angle to the floor and arms outstretched in an everlasting invitation for attention, the image of absolute grace makes Anna forget she’s ever been in danger even once before in her life. Appreciating the statue, she sighs.

And it gasps.

Arms curling inwards towards its chest, leg falling slightly and skirt losing it’s lift as Anna’s sigh is quickly retracted in shock, the statue freezes once more.

It’s alive.

Well, arguably.

Holding her need for air in, Anna quickly descends the remaining staircase and dashes for the patio doors, overlooking the overgrown gardens outside.

A heavy burn and pulse clouds her perception of the room as the need for air takes over. Making contact with the glass of the doors she exhales heavily and pulls them open, feeling a searing agony rip through her right shoulder.

Glancing downwards, an arrow protrudes proudly from her. Casting her gaze upwards, the cherubs have drawn their attention to the patio doors and the intruder opening them to escape. The statue on the ballroom floor now poised for a leap from her plinth.

I’m not dying here. She panics to herself, internally.

And turns to run down the patio steps, now holding the gulp she took at the door.

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