When I recover my senses I feel pain shooting through my head. My eyes are hurting. There are no defined forms, only a haze of colour and light.
I have the impression I’ve woken up but I might as well be dreaming. Disorientation is complete.
"Exactement!" a voice says, very near. "You are dreaming. Since you were rather difficult to persuade, we decided to .. eh ...shuffle the cards, to change the setting so we could continue our conversation in a more suitable environment: a dream. You don’t mind do you?" The old mother’s voice has lost its softness. She doesn’t do any efforts to hide her annoyance and bitterness.
I’m opening my mouth to comment, but she interrupts. "Let’s face it, Edith, you just never shut up."
"You see, now, don’t try anything. I am in complete control. Your powers are useless. I am delighted to inform you that I can seal up that busy mouth of yours anytime now."
I try to protest but it is useless. She can even make me flutter my eyelids or make me dance the French Cancan.
"At least give me an image, something to see, you old witch!" I manage to squeeze out after much trouble.
"As you wish." she whispers, distant now.
It gets dark again. I’m in the hallway again with Virginie. "Let’s continue our tour." she says and leads me further down the corridor. Piercing rays of light seep through openings, keyholes and crevices in the old wooden panes of doors and walls.
"What’s behind these doors?' I ask her. She seems to have waited for my question.
"Well, I guess you’ve understood by now that the matters of this house are very urgent and have to be conducted with utmost secrecy. Once someone has been introduced to our little business, there is no way back. In these rooms we keep what we call 'our vehicles'. They are lost souls, remains of people that are in one way or another involved in a disappearance. We can’t do without accomplices, but unfortunately we can’t keep them alive in society once their task for us is finished. So we offer them a temporary state of oblivion. We feed them on dreams and secure their happiness."
She opens a door. Light pours out and curls away like vapour in the dark, musky hall. In the room little shapes are dancing, floating around like puppets. They are humans wearing the most bizarre elements of clothing, from pyjama’s to elaborate 18th century embroidered dresses and hats. A wardrobe that must stretch over centuries.
"But something’s not right” I think as I observe them moving around blindly, like ghosts, oblivious of anything. And then I notice.... "But they have been shrunk!" I exclaim."They are as big as ten year olds!"
"Well, yes, that just a small detail." Virginie answers hastily, annoyed."Due to limited space. They are not conscious of their actual height, you know."
"But you are keeping humans in captivity here! It looks like a fish farm!"
"Oh Edith, Edith, dear…”Virginie’s mother butts in."Why must you always be so negative. These people have voluntarily chosen this state of being. They are completely happy. Just try to be reasonable."
I am astonished. “How many are you keeping here?"
"We’ve got about 500 vehicles in the rooms up here." replies Virginie."The building used to be a hotel once. Very fortunate. And another 300 in the basement and in the tunnel system under the houses in this district. The tunnels are a blessing. We discovered them 50 years ago. They were completely forgotten by anyone, but still in perfect shape." Virginie closes the door again. I contemplate what she has just told me, distracted. She is standing very close to me. I can smell the sweetness of her breath.
"I’m asking you again. Will you help me Edith?" she whispers."Please do. I assure you you won’t regret it."
She moves even closer, pushes her body against mine, her hand on my lower back, pressing. Then she tilts her head and gently kisses my neck and I feel her soft cheek brushing mine.
And suddenly, inexplicably, I say: "Yes, ok, I will." My lips produce the sounds but I am not really saying it. I’m forced. I know I’m trapped. And I can only smile faintly and agree that Virginie and her mother do have a good sense of theatrical decorum, setting it all up like this...
I don't remember much of what happened after that. I can still picture the endless hallways and doors I was guided through and the 24-hour dreams. I will probably never know what they did to complete their plan, but whatever happened, I didn't cause me any trouble. It is strange that I can not imagine how much time has passed since I entered the house. But eventually I returned to life, though some changes had been made:
I open my eyes. I am in bed. A strange bed in a hotel room. The clock on the wall says 5 a.m. but it’s not ticking. I’ve just woken up from a terrible nightmare and next to me is the shape of a sleeping body. In a chair I can see a careless bundle of black clothes. A golden chain watch rests on the bedside table. The initials E.F. engraved on its polished cover are flickering, trying to catch a faint ray of moonlight playing through a gap in the curtains.
The body next to me turns in its sleep and puts a naked arm on my breasts.
My new breasts, my new body. I feel it stir, eager to respond to this unconscious caress.
Right then and there I decide to stop thinking and put my arms around the creature next to me.
- Fin -