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The moonlight bathes Paris in a silver, calming hue; a breath of serenity amidst the turmoil of revolution. The city is asleep, deep in its midnight slumber. Only a lonely shadow moves in the stillness of the night, tiptoeing across the rooftops. It climbs effortlessly up a brick wall high above the ground, reaching a window sill with an outstretched hand and pulling itself against the glass. It presses its hands against the wooden windowframe and with a swift motion pulls up. The window clicks open and the shadow slips inside the dimly lit apartment.
The place once belonged to the late magistrate, Pondicher, but after he was relieved of his post -under dubious circumstances- he committed suicide, and the place has remained abandoned ever since. Many enquired about the luxurious two-story apartment but rumours of hauntings and strange sightings kept people away.
Rigaut wouldn’t let old wives’ tales scare him off an opportunity like this. Pondicher had amassed great riches during his time at the courtroom, but he had neither family nor heir, so his fortune should still be in his house. Gold coins, shiny jewels and various other trinkets awaited Rigaut inside the deserted apartment. His lust for gold wouldn’t allow him to pass such a lucrative occasion.
He is now standing in a dimly lit corridor, with wooden, intricately carved doors on the sides leading to the other rooms of the first floor. Specks of dust are dancing in the moonlight coming in from the only window in the hallway. Faded paintings and portraits are hanging from the walls. Further down, a small, wooden table, with scratches on its legs, is covered by a tattered cloth. Two tiny portraits -probably depicting Pondicher and a woman- with the faces scratched off are placed on top of the table.
Rigaut walks carefully down the gloomy corridor, the wooden floor creaking loudly under his feet. He enters the first room on his right. ‘This must be the study’ he thinks. A large bookcase covers the back wall. Piles of old tomes are heaved onto the various furniture -stools, a music player, even a small piano- around the room. Rigaut approaches an equally untidy desk in the middle of the study. Immediately his eyes dart towards a silver pocketwatch partially buried under a pile of stained papers. He grabs it and puts it into an inside pocket of his coat.
His focus shifts to the center of the desk, where a large book lays open. A thin layer of dust covers its parched pages. Rigaut tries to read a few lines, but discovers that the book is written in an unknown language; Greek if he had to guess. Intrigued, he turns page after page, until a crumbled piece of paper falls on the ground. He picks it up. Rows and rows of complete gibberish, with a few lines crossed off. ‘A list, of sorts.’
Losing interest, he moves back into the hallway. He decides to check the first room on the left. As he steps under the dislodged doorframe, he catches a glimpse of a shadow moving at the other end of the corridor. He quickly spins around. A curtain, torn and shredded, floats softly under the nightly breeze. He laughs at himself for being so jumpy. He has been in this kind of business for many years; the shadows a second skin to him.
He fixes his attention back on the room. This one is much more orderly than the study, but the sense of abandonment is still here. The red paint on the wall is starting to peel, revealing the yellowish plaster covering the brickwork of the building. Fine, aristocratic chairs are gathered around a marble fireplace with blackened-from-the-smoke delicate designs. A ripped chair pillow is thrown in the corner of the room, next to a mahogany dresser. He walks towards that corner, where the faintest idea of a foul odor seems to emanate. Getting closer, a strong sulfuric stench fills Rigaut’s nostrils. Upon investigating the wall, he finds a large hole behind the dresser, broad enough for a small person to creep through, leading to the next room. Slowly, he kneels down to inspect further.
Examining the broken wall, he spots dried blood onto the rim of the hole. Someone must have slid in, only to get cut by jagged edges and wood splinters sticking out. Who would go through there and why? And most importantly, was he still in the building? Rigaut peeks inside the hole, his curiosity pushing him past the rotten smell.
The room is bathed in almost complete darkness, bearing no windows and the only light source being the gap on the wall. Rigaut can’t make out much. The place is in much worse shape than the rest of the house and it is empty save for a battered sofa and a few overturned chairs. His eyes are beginning to adjust to the darkness; little details coming in view. He can now see the white paint on the wall that has dried and on some places has completely fallen off and, most strikingly, blood splattered across the wall and floor. To his horror, he discovers bloody fingerprints and smudges on the floor and lower wall, as if someone has crawled on all fours towards the corner of the room, which is just out of view.
Rigaut stretches his neck and presses as far against the wall as possible in order to get a better view, but the dark corner is still out of sight. Sick of the gruesome scene, he starts to retrieve himself from the hole. But a clanking noise roots him to the spot. He hears raspy, heavy breathing. Then a thumping sound, followed by a painful moan. Rigaut’s mind freezes. He hears the scraping of nails on the hard floor. Someone is dragging himself towards the opening. Rigaut tries to move, but his limbs are numb from fear. The noise is coming closer and closer.
Then, it stops, a low growl replacing it. Seconds pass. Rigaut, pale-faced and wide-eyed, slowly pulls himself backwards. As he is getting up, a hoarse scream pierces his brain. Rigaut rushes to his feet. A rattling of chains and thumping of limbs fills the thief’s ears. Whatever is on the other side is lunging towards the hole. Rigaut runs out of the room slamming the door behind him, the force bringing down the doorframe. He rolls to the side, narrowly escaping the falling door, which crashes to the floor raising a fog of dust.
He runs out to the corridor. ‘Whatever is in that room can go to hell. I don’t care even if there someone dying in there. Every man for himself, that’s my motto,’ Rigaut thinks as he turns towards the window, but the sight in front of him stops him on his tracks and sends shivers down his spine. A man drenched in blood is blocking his exit. His eye sockets are empty, a thick, pus-filled fluid dripping down his cheeks. The white rags thrown over his head don’t cover much of his scarred body. A thick red line runs around his neck, like something tight was tied around it. Three large nails are pinned on his right forearm, while the fingers on both his hands are cut into short, grisly stumps.
Rigaut, petrified by the ghastly sight, backs down the corridor. With trembling hands he tries to grab on something to steady himself, but his legs give way and he falls on his back. He quickly stumbles back on his feet, frantically scanning the floor for an escape route. Unable to spot the main door, he blindly runs up a staircase on his left. He glances over his shoulder, catching the monstrosity turning its head towards him, its mouth curved into the faintest of smiles.
Distracted, he trips over the last step and falls flat on his stomach; his face pressed against a musty old carpet. He pushes himself up and takes a quick look around. This floor is much more claustrophobic than the first. The ceiling is hanging lower and the corridor connecting all the rooms is much narrower. One of the three doors is broken, revealing a small store-room closet. Rigaut lunges to the first of the two. He wrestles with the doorknob, but the door remains closed. He runs to the next door. A nasty smell hits his nostrils. He hesitates, but knowing his options are limited, he pushes the door open.
As the door creaks open, a gust of stale air burst out of the room. Covering his nose, Rigaut carefully peeks inside. Before he can get a view of the room, a little man jumps in front of him. He looks old and feeble, his frail framework trembling under his own weight. The few hairs left on his head are oily and a crust of filth covers his skin.
“Welcome to the Wall of Art,” he says in a high-pitched voice. He smiles, revealing a row of rotten teeth in his mouth. The old man steps outside the room, closing the door behind him. He is wearing a bloody white shirt, that once must have been very expensive, and he is carrying a small hammer in his right hand. He has no pants on, his swollen genitalia on display. Yellow and white marks run down his inner thighs.
“Come in and marvel at the wonders hidden inside that little corner of our world,” he gestures to Rigaut, his bony fingers trembling.
Rigaut steps away from the man until his back is pressing against the wall behind him.
“Don’t be scared. Come in and stand in awe in front of the unearthly beauty of our exhibits,” the old man says, stepping closer to Rigaut. His mouth reeks of rot and decay. He extends a greasy hand towards Rigaut’s face.
“Young lad, I assure you, the Wall is unlike anything you have ever seen. It will elevate you, it will perfect you. You need the Wall to be complete and the Wall needs you. Step inside and become part of the art.”
A surge of adrenaline rushes through Rigaut’s body. He slaps the old man’s hand away and runs for the staircase. The scarred man previously blocking the window is nowhere to be seen. Rigaut’s heart flies. He is so close to escaping this house of horrors, but as he sets foot on the first step, he freezes.
At the bottom of the stairs, a woman -her joints twisted and her limbs rigid- is slowly crawling up the stairs. She twitches and squirms, trying to drag her broken body up the stairs. She is wearing a white, ragged dress and her forehead is adorned by a broken tiara. Her blonde hair has been torn off, with only a few patches left and those glued on her scalp and forehead by sweat and grease. Her glassy eyes are staring blankly at the ceiling while her head is bobbing lifelessly left and right.
Out of breath, Rigaut bolts towards the nearest door on his right, his weight bringing it down and his momentum carrying him to the other end of the room, straight into a pile of rotten body parts. Eyes and limbs and tongues and hair, all crammed into a heap of gore and flesh.
Rigaut gags, the revolting smell invading his senses. Clotted blood glues his fingers together, his hands a sticky mess of blood and hair. He tries to get up but he slips, crashing back down on the pile of dismembered limbs.
“Sir, you aren’t authorized to enter the backstage area,” the shrill voice of the disgusting little man echoes in the room. “I will have to see you out sir,” he says, stepping through the doorframe. He walks steadily towards the fallen thief, rolling up his bloodied sleeves and swinging his small hammer around. Rigaut, accepting his fate, lies still and closes his eyes while the old man downs the hammer onto his head.
The thief’s eyes burst open; explosions of pain shooting across his body. He is lying on top of an unstable table, with the old man’s figure looming over him; a hammer in hand.
“Steady now,” the old man says, bringing the hammer down on Rigaut’s hand. His vision becomes blurry; a sharp pain on his palm numbing his senses. Rigaut looks at his right hand and, to his horror, finds a large nail penetrating his palm. The old man thrusts down with the hammer once more, pinning Rigaut’s hand to the table. The thief screams in agony.
“Shush young lad. You are ruining the magic. You will have plenty of time to scream later. Now I need you to be silent and let me concentrate on my work,” the old man says, putting his hammer down. He pulls a wheeled storage cabinet from underneath the table and opens it. After hastily searching for the tool he needs, he grabs a large, mechanic pair of pliers which he rests at the end of the table, near Rigaut’s feet.
The old man grabs Rigaut’s right foot and pulls it towards the pliers. The thief kicks and stomps, but the pain in his hand impedes his movement and he ultimately succumbs to the man’s surprisingly firm grip. His foot is pushed between the pliers, two metal plates locking it in place. The filthy man steps back, a wry smile etched on his face.
“What the fuck are you doing!?” Rigaut screams. The smile on the old man’s face broadens.
“I am painting. I am painting over nature’s incomplete work, perfecting it,” he says, using his whole weight to pull down a rigid lever connected to the mechanic pliers.
“What the fuck is wrong with you, you sick bastard!”
The metallic plates press down on Rigaut’s ankle. The grip becomes tighter and tighter. Rigaut screams in agony, as his bones crack under the metallic grip.
“There is no point in screaming, young lad. Nobody can hear you. You are only ruining your beautiful voice,” the old man says letting go of the lever. “And you want to be at your sparkling best when she plays with you,” he continues, putting emphasis on the word ‘she’.
The pliers around Rigaut’s ankle relax. The thief exhales in exhaustion.
“Now!” the old man claps his hands. “Before I leave you to her mercy, I will show you a glimpse of the greatness that awaits you,” he says, walking towards the darkest corner of the room.
Rigaut stretches to see what the old man is doing, but his aching body limits his movement. Instead, he focuses on his surroundings. He notices red curtains covering the walls around him. They are heavy and thick and their surface curves slightly around strange bumps sticking out from the wall.
Suddenly, he hears a rusty metallic sound in the corner behind him.
“Behold. The Wall of Art,” the old man whispers in a hushed voice.
The curtains part revealing dozens of bodies hanging from the walls. Some are charred, others are skinned to their bones and others are missing limbs. Large iron spikes are nailed on their heads, pinning them to the wall. They twitch and shudder spasmodically, as if they still try to escape their dreary fate.
Rigaut can only stare in horror; his mind numbed by the horrors of the cursed house. The old man stares at the bodies on the wall too, a puddle of drool ready to fall from the edge of his gaping mouth. After a few seconds of silence, he speaks.
“Beautiful, isn’t it? I have worked my whole life to achieve such elegance,” he says, sweeping a tear away from his eye. “And you will be up here soon,” he pauses. “Don’t mind me asking, but, how do you feel? You must surely be humbled by the honour that has been bestowed upon you.”
Rigaut spits at the old man’s feet.
“I don’t blame you for this classless act. In time you will understand. You will understand that man is only a pawn in the hands of a higher force. Everyone is forced to play; everyone is forced to fulfill the plot that has been set for him. Like an opera play, where the singers can’t deviate too much from the original work or they will be struck down.”
The old man says, walking up and down the room, marveling at the bodies hanging from the walls.
“I loved going to the opera. I remember one night, when I went to see the opening of Mozart’s ‘Magic Flute’. Oh, what a marvelous show that was. There, smitten by the maestro’s divine touch, I fell in love. I fell in love with the Queen of the Night, played by the beautiful and majestic Josephina Rossignol. But I knew I couldn’t have her. Have you ever felt the longing pain of a love that cannot be?”
Suddenly, visibly shaken and angry, he punches the table near Rigaut’s broken ankle.
“I was devastated. Such a graceful being could never stand by my side. I was consumed by heart-wrenching despair. Every moment away from her was a moment my heart skipped a bit. I was inconsolable. My life was spiraling swiftly into a hopeless abyss of misery. I only left my house to go to her performances, dreaming she would notice me. But she never did.”
The old man sighs and hangs his head to his chest.
“One day, I mustered up all the courage in my heart to go and confess my love to her. So, I booked a first row ticket to her next performance. I can’t even remember what the play was, that’s how nervous I was. After the opera was over and the actors retrieved backstage, I slowly made my way to her dressing room. With shaking hands I knocked on the door. She didn’t answer. Taking a deep breath, I opened the door,” he says, hiding his face in his bloodied palms.
“And there she was. S-she was… indulging herself with another actor. My whole world collapsed around me. I don’t know what happened afterwards. Maybe I died and went to hell. All I know is when I opened my eyes I was sitting in a chair in this very room; my love’s mutilated body lying where you lie right now. Something had snapped inside me. I could feel it. I was broken.
“You have met her, you know. She was the one slithering her way up the stairs. My love, my first painting, reduced to a hollow cell of something once beautiful. I cannot hang her on the wall and be done with her. No, she won’t let me,” he emphasizes on the word ‘she’ once more.
“I have to watch my love wilt and wither till there is nothing left of her. I had to chain her to a wall downstairs; that’s how sad her deteriorating state made me.”
The old man snaps his fingers.
“But enough with the chit-chat. My love is simply a work in progress. It is her that you should be scared of. The Lady of the House. She is the one running this household. I am simply a painter. I paint her victims and she plays with them, feeding off their misery and suffering. The more beautiful the painting, the greater the satisfaction she gets.”
As he says that, he opens a toolbox waiting on a chair and pulls out a knife and a cleaver.
“And now, it’s your turn to get painted,” he says, running his finger down the sharp side of the knife. Satisfied he buries his hand in his toolbox, searching.
Rigaut sees his chance. Mustering up every source of strength in his body, he pulls his hand away from the spike pinning it down and rolls on his side, screaming. He comes crushing down from the table, his mind blurred by the pain. The old man turns around and stares at Rigaut with eyes filled with hatred. He grabs a hammer and slowly walks towards the thief.
Rigaut reaches for his left foot, pulling out a dagger concealed in his boot. He grips the handle tightly with his left hand; his knuckles whitened by the effort. The old man swings at Rigaut with his hammer. The thief easily evades the blow and stabs the man on his shoulder, but his broken ankle gives way and he falls flat on his back, his dagger flying out of his reach.
The old man charges towards the fallen Rigaut, but the thief kicks him in the knee, staggering him. Rigaut struggles to his feet, leaning against the table for support. His adversary swings his hammer once more, but the thief catches his hand in mid-air. The two men wrestle, but Rigaut manages to come on top, throwing the old man on the ground. By the time he gets back on his feet, the thief has already grabbed his dagger and is steadying himself for the oncoming assault.
The old man charges once more. This time, Rigaut feigns a move to his right but at the last second darts to the left, plunging his dagger deep into the man’s gut. Despite the stinging pain on his ankle, he manages to balance himself and grab the old man -who has dropped his hammer and is holding his bleeding belly- by the neck.
The old man’s face suddenly drops, a sad and tired look resting over his eyes.
“I once was Pondicher, the Great Magistrate of the Paris’ Court. But now I die as a wretched worm. Oh, how cruel life has been to me,” he says dropping on his knees.
“At last, I find peace. But the Lady, oh, she needs a painter. Without one sh-”
Rigaut slices his throat. He drops the dying man on the floor, letting him gurgle on his own blood; his face a visage of terror. A few seconds later, he draws his last breath. Rigaut drags him across the room, pulling him onto the bloody table. He puts down the dagger and grabs a hammer. He puts a nail on the side of the magistrate’s head and thrusts down.
A new piece of art is now adorning the Wall.
Written by MrDupin