The Disappearance of Mara Treves – Horror Short Story 2/10

Echoes of steps signaled the girl was coming back, holding fat wad of green-white bills. Mara took them and scowled at the stern face of Caravaggio looking back at her.

“Is that alright?”

“It’s good.” She reassured and put them with the others. One million. Not bad as a day’s work.
Maybe she could have charged more, but the hopeful look in the girl’s eyes told her she was getting ahead of herself. Maybe a tad too hopeful – she was really putting all her chips in one plate with her, hm?

Always good to work without pressure…

“Alright. Back to business. Tell me who the victim is.”

“M-My father,” she stumbled on words, pointing at the same dim-lit corridor that gave her the creeps. “He stopped moving last week, told us he was very tired, was feeling… headaches. Headaches, yes. He fell into a coma three days ago, and… and…”

She looked paler than the walls. Mara was not good with people, but she passed a tentative hand on her shoulders, withdrawing it when the girl shook at the contact.

Sorry, she though.
Did not spell it out.
“What about your mother?”
The girl looked sideways, as if caught holding a secret. Mara clicked her tongue.

“I see. Good job laying off the housekeepers, though.” She has already complimented on that, but she did not know what to tell her, not really. Except… “Caterina. I need you to be very honest with me now. Do you know if your father did any drugs?”

“He quit. I caught him two years ago and he quit. For me. He wouldn’t do it.”

Well, in a way it wasn’t a drug… but she did not have time to explain intricacies. So she just nodded and walked towards her mark. By now she did not need any directions. It was always like this. Picking up a certain fruit and finding it already eaten by mold. You did not know why you picked that one up, maybe just a gist, but you did.

And now you know about the mold.
With a bit of luck, the mold does not know about you.

Mara opened the door that gave way to a silent bedroom. Large, opulent like the rest of the villa. A single bed.

On it lay a gaunt form. It had been attached to all sort of IVs, his arms riding on plastic holders, so that he looked like a half-finished marionette.

He was still breathing. In soft sputters.

Each of those breaths grated against Mara’s ears. At each step, the skin of the world peeled a little further, not so much that you could see what was beneath, but enough to know something was off.

She approached the bed. He reeked. Of urine and feces and sweat, a cocktail of sweet and sour that wrinkled her nose and twisted her stomach in a coil. But beneath that, there was something else, like a hint of metal- iron. Mara touched the wrinkled skin of the sleeping man. It came off in flakes.

Not much time.

No risk of incarnation, though…

Her gaze was captured by a series of vials left to stand vigil on a drawer. She picked one up.

“Methylphenidate,” she read. “Why did you not bring him to a hospital? Why come to me?”

“He… he told me to. Before he fell into the coma.” Caterina followed her inside the room, her gaze trained on her. “He told me to find you. Where to find you.”

“Your father did drugs,” she explained, picking up a vial and a syringe from her belt. She put them on the drawer. In the silence, the little hiss of shock from Caterina sounded like a whimpering snake. “But not any kind of drug. Did you ever see him taking something… something red, like rust? A red powder?”

“No. No. Of course not. He would never. Never.”

Mara shook her head. The destroyed man lying asleep meant otherwise. If the girl had no mother, or she had left them, that meant it was likely he did it in this room.

“Listen well, Caterina. I am about to do something that might reveal you a side of your father you did not want to know. A side of the world you did not need to know. I would very much prefer if you stayed out of the door until you see me again. And you do not enter the room for any reason, no matter what kind of stuff you hear. Noises. Voices. You do not come in.”

“I want to stay by his side!” She interrupted her. “He asked me for help and I am going to. If you need any help, I can give it to you… I can. I can.”

Steel behind blue eyes. A flash of the same steel, behind her own olive green ones, as she confronted the Master for the first time.

The scar on her belly ached. It remembered well.

“As you wish. Same rules, though. You do not move, you do not cry, you don’t do anything I don’t tell you to do. Understood?”

“Yes. Yes, I understand.”
“Good girl. And if you know what’s better for you, you’ll never speak about this with anyone.”

Caterina nodded, though she knew after this she’d have to stay clear for a little more. They already knew where she was, anyway. The girl would pose no danger.

Maybe to herself.

“Great. Take a seat and stay there.”

Caterina choose a chair next to the bed, looking at her with those pleading blue eyes.

She put one of her nails against the skin of her wrist. It was crisscrossed with many thin and pale scars, like the skin had been grated time and time again. She dug her nail and drew a prick of blood.

Caterina’s blue eyes widened.

“Where is it?” Mara whispered, raising her wrist. The blood did not fall. A single drop detached from her skin, floating mid-air, red and perfect. “Find it.”

The drop floated towards the wardrobe on the opposite side of the room. Mara opened a drawer, rustled under clothes until she found a single metal box, closed with a key and a padlock as thick as her wrist.

She licked her lips. The drop of blood floated back into her veins. The wound closed.

“What’s that?” Caterina said pointing at the box. She did not seem so shocked by what she had seen. Or maybe she was already so stunned to accept anything.

“It’s not the box,” Mara replied placing it on the drawer next to the bed. “It’s what’s inside.”

There was no key. No matter. She grabbed the side of the box and pushed. A groan. Metal parted like cloven lips, but stubbornly resisted. Her blood not was as strong as it used to be. Thank goodness.

Mara pushed harder, the effort running from her heartbeat to the echoes in her veins. The padlock clacked open. She took the blasted box and set its content: three glass vials.

Two were completely empty, washed clean. The last one still bore a thin spot of rust on its bottom, like the dregs from a bottle of red wine. The image pulled a half-smile on her lips.

A distillery. Wasn’t that what the Master used to call it? 

“Is that the drug? Is that it?”

“What little of it remains…” she opened the vial and smelled the powder. Iron and a hint of something harsher. So unassuming.

And yet the best Rubedo that had ever been processed.
She ought to know.
Mara shut the vial and put it together with the other two. She at least now knew where to start.

Sitting next to the sleeping man, she took the syringe and prickled the skin, just enough to gather a few drops of blood. This time she did put them to her lips. He tasted like dust. Like cobwebs forgotten in empty corners.

“I’m about to go in,” she explained Caterina. “Do you remember the tale of Ulysses and the sirens?” The girl nodded.

“Good. Think of it like that. I’m Ulysses and… well, what’s going to happen is all the sirens. You will not wake me up for any reason. No matter what you see. No matter what you hear. No matter what speaks to you. Are we clear?”

“Yes.” She licked her lips. Those blue eyes were trained on her face. “Yes,” she reassured her.

“Then we can start.” She hesitated as she laid down next to the man. “Ah, Caterina, one last thing. If you smell the sea, run.”

“The sea?”

“Yes… like saltwater. Trust me. Just tell me you’ll do it.”
“I’ll do it.”
“Great. I’ll see you in a bit.”


Mara shared one last look with her. Caterina’s hands trembled in her lap, close to her belly. She closed her eyes.
Her breath stabilized.
Little by little, her heartbeat called her to the Deep.

So eager. No need.

By now she knew the road all too well.


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