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Through the Red Door, Starkly


Just beyond the slant of the creaking staircase, past the turnbuckle and the cast iron stove in the cove, five paces west to where the glow of afternoon light holds the whisper of dust bunnies in shafts of golden sunshine, you’ll round the angled corner, where, if you precariously sneak past the old painted armoire with the chipped and weathered face of the watching knight—you’ll find the secret entrance to Knell, Beyond the Red Door, Starkly – tucked away, like a secret rarely shared, in Nannette Bing’s dark attic.

I never understood what Beyond the Red Door, Starkly meant, all those years ago while I languished on the front porch rocker, the afternoon sun warming my skin while I sipped lemon tea, with just the right amounts of sugar and chilled cubes to ease the ninety-eight degrees of a Midwest summer in rural Illinois. Back then the humidity was so heavy you felt as though you were walking through wet fields of cotton linen hanging on the lines. Its dampness would cling to your over-heated flesh.

Nannette Bing however, certainly knew how to ease a young child’s voracious appetite for whimsical stories that would soothe a steady thirst for adventure while those summer temps skyrocketed. She would fill my head with tales of Goblins and Fairies, Werewolves and yes, even Vampires. I especially loved the Vampires. The ones that lived in the world just beyond that secret red door at the top of the stairs and around the corners, tucked within the old dusty walls of her little used attic.

My blood would thrill when she would tell of the dashing, powerful, and quite possibly, mad, Lord Nicolosia Voltaire. An influential and commanding figure, Voltaire, a Master Vampire, had lived for eight hundred years. He had supposedly roamed through time seeking his eternal bride among the peasants of Ukraine, Russia, Paris and London.

Nannette would tell how he had traveled the world searching for his one true love. Long into the night she would whisper to me of how he’d lived, and died, first as a great Lord in a castle in some little known country, in what is now a part of Russia, and then, of how he rose again from the dead.

She would fill my mind with the world of the Vampire—the lust, the need, and the hunger for blood. How Voltaire would kill to survive for all of those centuries as his insatiable needs and hunger for blood bid him to do throughout his long and dangerous life. How over time he became the hunter and the hunted. She would weave her stories with magic and mayhem, beauty and betrayal. Telling me how time itself became both his friend and his enemy.

His story brought him across the great ocean to the Americas, a new land so much different than his own. Here there were many of his kind who had fled the Witch Hunts, the Inquisitions in Europe, where thousands of his kind and Other World creatures, were slaughtered at the hands of the humans, in their fear. Only to have that fear spread here as well. Forced to go underground—the Vampires and the Werewolves, the Goblins and the Fey – the creatures of the Other World hid in the Darkness, hid from mankind just so they could survive.

Nannette Bing would also fill my head with stories of beautiful Fairies with their wings of gold and magic dust. Helpful Fairies, who cast spells of love and desire. With beauty and light, so too was there Darkness. Evil Fairies. Ones so vile they cast spells of madness and destruction.

I would fall asleep at night and dream of magical forests filled with startling white Unicorns grazing in lush fields of green. Only to be hunted down by great loping Werewolves who would chase them through the darkness, slashing and tearing their beautiful flesh until the earth ran red with their blood.

I would dream of a great Fairy Balls, me in gowns of every color dancing the night away with every glorious creature of the Realm. Sometimes I would waltz with the Fairy King or a Goblin Soldier. I would tango with an Orc and mamba with a Werewolf.

Until one night I dreamt of one unforgettable ball in particular—me in a gown as black as the endless night, a crown of sparkling crystals glistening in the light of flames as it lay perched atop my perfectly coifed curls of iced blonde hair. My partner was the dashing Lord Voltaire. He swept me around the dance floor until my head spun, glee a flutter in my belly, mirth and delight dancing in my soul.

He whispered sweet words in my ear as we spun across the floor while the night wore on. No one dared interrupt the Dark Lord and his beautiful Princess.

As the night and the dream slowly waned, I can still recall how he leaned in for his kiss, the violins echoing softly in the background. My heart pulsed in anticipation of the moment – the silly flutters of an inexperienced girl. I still recall the way his breath felt against my cheek, warm and stirring. How the blood coursed like fire in my veins. How my body felt in his strong and capable hands.

Lost in the moment, in his lush blue eyes, my mind adrift on the possibilities, his warm, lush lips just reaching the thundering pulse of my throat, I could still recall the shudder of unknown desire.

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