At the top of the stairs the hardwood started again. The deep rusty color constrasted with the white of the marble downstairs and melted into the brick colored rug. It was hard to tell where the hallway started and where the rug ended. The end of the rug was turned up and she almost tripped, she caught balance by catching herself on the wall. She immediately withdrew her hands, the wall was freezing against her skin. She shivered and hurried down the hall, constantly looking over her shoulder. The lights above shone like spotlights, illuminating her path along the rug. The pattern was intricately drawn in dark shades of black and bronze. Between spotlights it was hard to tell the walls were a cream color. Anywhere not lit by a light was pitch black and echoed.
The end of the running rug meant the end of the hall. All the way up the stairs she'd heard echoing of heavy footfalls. There was no where left to go. Her only means of escape was an oak door. The polished bronze handle was locked and no amount of pounding would change that. Her fists beat in time with her heart. She could hear the blood pumping through her veins getting louder. The tempo of her breathing slowed as she prepared for a fight.
They came from above and below. Quick, strong, and silent, hands gripped her wrists and ankles holding her in her place. Cold fingers dug into her skin. The tense muscles were stone hard, forcing her to face towards the door. The struggle was over relatively quick, her pockets were searched and emptied by addditional dark cold hands. Her own concealed weapons were brought against her. She moved against her captors and winced in pain. The edge of her knife met the edge of her neck. Her blood ran cold as the icy hands stiffened and the door in front of her opened.
"Who are you!" She said scanning the room for the source of faint sounds of life. It came from the corner closest to her right. The room was dimly lit by a dying fire adjacent to the door. Furniture shadows flickered on the walls. Embers sizzled in the ashes. Sounds bounced off the corners. "What do you want!"
She was smart enough not to make another move against her captors, or attempt escape. Evidence of her recent mistake still drying on her neck. Still, she had the audacity to speak out of turn, even having been presented with a knife to her neck and gun to her head. The longer her questions went unaswered the longer her temper went unrestrained. "I demand to be released!"
Her voice was swallowed by the dark walls. Between the blood pulsing in her head, shallow sounds of life in the corner and a faint ticking in the back of her mind, she was overwhelmed. It gave her a headache right between her ears. She closed her eyes against the pain, and fought the urge to turn away. The icy fingers had her frozen in place. Her host listened from the darkness, only the front left corner of their chair was illuminated.
"What you demand requires trust." The host's voice came from the far side of the room. It was calm, steady and strong. It had no gender or age. It was refreshingly generic. "What you have earned is my attention." The voice commanded her ears to listen, to focus solely on it. With the wave of a hand the weapons were removed. The pressure on her arms and ankles disappeared as quietly as they had appeared. Her wrists were tender to the touch and her skin was frostly where it had been gripped.
"Ahh." She gasped running her fingers over the new bruises. It was painful but the pulsing in her head had stopped. Her host stood up. The floor creaked from the pressure. THe back of the chair knocked against the wall. Fabric was pulled taught and a new shadow was projected on the wall. There was no change to the ticking in the back of her mind.
"Now, what do you really want to hear from me?" The host's voice hadn't sounded emotional, but it seemed amused at it's choice of words. Her eyes widened with a realization. She had been brought here for a reason.
Her hearing was better than most, to put it in simple terms. To her, hearing a conversation a few rooms away was insignificant. Hearing voices still playing from the day before was interesting. But, to hear a person speak and know every word they'd ever spoken, that was captivating. It went beyond hearing a pulsing heart, or rhythm of breathing, those were just the background sounds of life. A life time's worth of words played in the back of her mind. A loop for every person she'd ever heard. Never any silence.
There was quiet for a moment while the question was processed.
"It's quiet." She whispered. More of statement of relief than a concerned question. She could only hear the sound of two bodies and a ticking clock. Her eyes closed on insticnt, taking in the quiet air in deep breaths.
"Why is it so quiet?" She spoke as softly as she could. Terrified of breaking the cloest thing to silence she'd ever experienced. Her mind got distracted by the fire place making new noises.
"Calming isn't it?" Her host noted. Her shoulders relaxed, subconsciously letting her gaurd. "Not having a thousand voices ringing through your ears." The host started walking around. At normal voice the words didn't echo like the footsteps did. Her arm's hung loose at her sides, only her eyes tracking the steady pace around her. "It's almost addicting."
Her moment of rest was over. She stiffened, uncomfortably unaware of the movements around her. The fire snapped loudly. In the corner was a pulse steady as a metronome. It thumped quietly in her mind. The familiar sound was pushed back in turn for a stranger one. Mirroring each echo of a step, was a click. The sound of a heel on wood would be far shallower. The click was too robust to be a shoe, no matter how dense the wearer. A clock would have only clicked three minutes in the time she'd been there. It was smooth click, like the keys of an instrument moving fluidly in time with the steps.
"I hear a heartbeat." She said loud enough to be heard by everyone. The host's steps slowed to a stop. The clicking contiuing steadily. It didn't match up to the changing pulsing in the corner, the breathing had hitched then relaxed. She'd momentarily interrupted sleep. "But- it's not yours." She almost asked, the possibilities were on the tip of her tongue.
There was a snap and the fire lit up the room.
A boy was huddled tightly against the wall. Arms wrapped around his knees, face down, away from the light. He flinched the second the light returned. Instinctively he pulled his legs closer and daring to peek out of his fingers.
"Ahh." He sharply inhaled and tensed. His sweatshirt rumpled and shoes scraped the hardwood. The dirt on his shoes was knocked loose, tiny glass shards tinkled as they fell. Every move he made sounded ten times louder than it should. "I was sleeping." His voice was tired and full of disappointment. What ever dream he'd had, wasn't worth what was in front of him. Blinding lights and blurred images. She made no move forward but sat on the floor, staring at him in amazemnt.
He was so quiet. Nothing but his last four words were floating in her head, and they were fading at an alarming rate. He was captivating. He looked too young to be homeless, but the second hand clothes and dark cirlces made it hard to change her mind. The sleeves of his sweatshirt were caked with chalk and paint stains up to the elbows. The knees of his jeans were ripped, the bottom hems frayed wiht permanent grass stains. He looked like he'd lived a very loud life, but he was so quiet.
"What were you dreaming about?" She whispered, poking him in the face. She was surprised he warm. Only dead people were this quiet, and even then, some still had words left to say. He slapped her hand hard. The physical touch was clearly unwelcome and annoying. She retracted her hand. The viens in his eyes were bloodshot. He was tearing up, sucking in air in chunks, white knuckled fists pushing his knees down. He body shook as he struggled.
"Forgive me, for that." Their host said gently. The boy covered his eyes again, closing them wasn't enough anymore. She retreated and stood up, far enough to allow him some relief. "There's someone here I'd like you to see." The host's statement brought a strained smile to the boy's face, it was funny enough to get him through the pain.
"I'm blind." He blantantly reminded the host. She withdrew even further as the boy moved, he was making noise. He stood the best he could, holding onto the wall for support. He kept one hand over his eyes and looked at the floor. "And you're not forgiven." The boy added once he was standing on shaking legs. He moved his hand to his side and started to sweat under the overwhelming stain of keeping his vision dark.
"You choose to be blind out of laziness." The host sighed, taking a deep breath. She knew the what that type of breath meant. The host was annoyed, but understanding of the struggle. "Open your eyes." The command was obyed, reluctantly. "This is worth seeing."
When the boy looked up from the floor his eyes were frosted over. A milky haze covering his iris and pupils. When he met her eyes she froze. The haze parted like clouds. His pupils dialated and contracted as he watched scenes flash by. They were reflected in his eyes, like a TV screen in front of his face playing back images in rapib succession. It was over in less than a moment.
"You choose to be blind?" She aware of her accusing tone. The scenes in his eyes stopped. He stumbled back into his corner. He looked as if he'd run a marathon with weights on his arms and ankles. "There's a whole world out there and you choose not to see it?!" His eyes went back to the floor. His breathing became labored and he shuddered as the haze returned.
The host stood up again, this time with more urgency. The attention of the guests was drawn towards the door.
There was secondary sound, it came from outside the room. It drew her attention away from the boy and all she'd seen. It was a heartbeat as strong as the sea. It pounded with excitement. Barefeet slapped against the hardwood the steps and then was muffled by the rug in the hallway. It was getting closer and louder. She fought the urge to hide from the oncoming storm of sounds.
Behind the door someone took a deep breath and turned the handle.