Thursday 1:00 p.m.
Out of the corner of her eye, Victoria could see Iris plodding down the hall, back to her desk outside Victoria’s office. She had inherited Iris a year ago, when she had taken over as the VP of Consumer Products at Yardley Foods.
Victoria looked at her assistant and wondered if the girl owned a mirror. She buzzed Iris. “Iris, come in here.” Iris appeared at the door, looking sullen. Oh, but this girl was drab. Black hair, black clothes, no makeup. If this was how Victoria looked, she would undoubtedly have stepped out of the 14th floor window and called it a day. If Iris just made an effort, she could be quite pretty. Instead, she chose to let her hair hang limply to her shoulders, her blunt bangs, a veil from which she hid behind.
Victoria took pride in her appearance. She inherited her blue eyes and blond hair, which she wore in a chignon, from her father. But her long, shapely legs, she got from her mother. Victoria knew they were her best feature, and showed them off whenever she could. She pushed the limits of professionalism with her short skirts and stilettos. She hadn’t had any complaints yet. She loved walking into a conference room and commanding the attention of everyone in the room. It was such a rush.
She looked up at Iris. Victoria doubted anyone had ever noticed Iris enter a room. “Iris, where is the Hadley presentation?”
“I saved it to your desktop, Ms. Vance.”
“Well, it’s not here.”
Iris walked over to look at the computer. “I’m so sorry, Ms. Vance. I don’t know what happened. I saved that presentation last week.”
Victoria had to swallow a smile. She knew Iris wouldn’t be able to find the file. Victoria had saved it to a thumb drive and deleted it from the computer an hour ago.
“Yes Iris, I know. You’re always sorry.” Iris looked back blankly. “Am I supposed to search for it myself? Go find it!”
Victoria busied herself in the office, waiting for the inevitable. It didn’t take long before Iris came back in the office with the bad news.
“I’m sorry. I can’t find it anywhere. I don’t know what happened.”
Victoria put her pen down and stood up. She towered over Iris in her 5-inch heels. It was one of her favorite reasons for wearing them. Victoria opened the top drawer on her desk and pulled out a bottle of aspirin. She popped two in her mouth and downed them with a seltzer. She rubbed her temples and took a deep breath, adding to the show. “Well, Iris,” Victoria looked up to see Iris was still standing in the doorway. “Come here, Iris,” Victoria said sternly.
Iris obliged, silently.
“I guess you will be redoing the report. I’m presenting it tomorrow.”
Iris looked aghast. “But Ms. Vance that will take all afternoon.”
“Yes, it will. And likely into the night. I will be here until late. I don’t expect you to leave until all that work is done. Do you understand?” Victoria noticed the tears starting to form in the girl’s eyes and felt the excitement of victory. “Why are you still standing here? Get to work.”
“I was supposed to finish preparing the Lee presentation for Monday.”
“So? You can work on that tomorrow, after you clean the conference room.”
“I have tomorrow off. I’m going to my cousin’s wedding.” Iris looked positively green now.
“Well, Iris. I guess you should have prepared better for your trip. You should have stayed late this week, in case something came up, like your incompetence.”
Iris replied weakly. “But I’ll miss the wedding. Could I come in on Sunday to prepare for Monday’s meeting?”
“Absolutely not. I’m not taking any chances you’ll screw up again. I will be here Saturday morning and that presentation will be on my desk. Oh Iris, don’t look so sad. Is this your cousin’s first wedding?”
Iris looked confused. “Of course.”
“Well, there you go. You’ll catch the next one.”
Iris walked back to her desk, not even trying to hide the disdain on her face.
Victoria watched Iris slink back to her desk. She hoped that the aspirin and rubbing of the temples was as dramatic as she intended. She relished little games like this. Though to be honest, it wasn’t much of a game with someone as weak as Iris.
Friday 2:00 p.m.
Victoria felt the presentation had gone smoothly. Iris had been here until 8:30 p.m. last night. She was back in at 8:00 a.m. looking even more sullen than usual. Perhaps when Victoria got back from vacation, Iris would have given her notice. Victoria didn’t like having the same assistant for too long. They became complacent.
Victoria packed up her things to leave. She was spending the week with a handsome friend. She was meeting Gregory in his wife’s cabin in northern Maine. She was almost giddy at the thought of having an affair in the place he had honeymooned with his wife. It made everything more exciting. She had met his wife. She was very beautiful. Too bad she was so naïve.
That of course, meant she would not be here tomorrow morning to read the Lee presentation. Something she had no intention of sharing with Iris.
She walked up to Iris’s desk. When Iris looked up at her, Victoria’s breath caught. For just a fraction of a second, she thought she saw something other than fear and weariness in her eyes. Was it hate? The green of Iris’s eyes flashed black. She was sure of it.
Usually, Victoria loved being able to invoke hatred from others. It was a powerful rush. People’s eyes told the truth, unlike their pretty, painted little mouths, which only sprouted lies. ‘Yes Ms. Vance, happy to stay Ms. Vance.’ If she ever had an assistant who hadn’t called her a bitch outside the office, Victoria wasn’t doing her job. Let them hate her, loathe her, and put that energy toward hard work, even if just to get out from under Victoria’s thumb.
But this look was different, almost…evil? It caught her off guard.
“Yes, Ms. Vance?” Iris asked, looking like her dark, dreary self again.
Victoria brushed it off. What was she thinking? That she had to be worried about a meek little mouse like Iris? In fact, her anger toward Iris doubled for making her doubt her power for even a second.
“8:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, Iris. I want that report on my desk.” She walked away before Iris could respond.
Friday 6:00 p.m.
Iris had not been this angry for a very long time. Victoria Vance was a miserable human being. Iris knew her boss was doing everything she could to make her quit. Well, she might just get her wish.
Iris turned off her computer and placed the presentation on Victoria’s desk. “There’s your report, you hag. It’s the last one I will ever do for you.” Iris had missed her cousin’s wedding and now had all weekend to sit in her apartment and sulk. She would spend the weekend writing her resume and start sending them out on Monday. In fact, she was going to call out on Monday.
Brent Stone, Victoria’s boss, was walking down the hallway, also on his way out. He looked surprised to see Iris. “Iris, what are you doing here so late? It’s Friday night, get out of here.”
“Ms. Vance wanted a report on her desk for her to review in the morning.”
He frowned. “Iris, she won’t be in tomorrow. You must have misunderstood. Ms. Vance is on vacation all week. She left hours ago.” Iris’s eyes flashed again. Her anger encompassed her. Change of plans, Iris thought. After Brent went down in the elevator, Iris sat down and booted up her computer. She opened Victoria’s planner. “Just where are you off to Victoria?”
Friday 9:00 p.m.
Victoria questioned her sanity after deciding to drive to northern Maine in the middle of a snowstorm in her Mercedes. She arrived at the cabin 3 hours later than she planned, after hitting traffic in Boston.
After pulling in the driveway, which had not been plowed, she grabbed her suitcase and walked up to the front door. The moonlight illuminated the house, which was made of stone and looked downright mid-evil. The right side of the house was shaped like a typical one-story home while the left side was rounded like a lighthouse and had three floors, with an arched window at the turret.
Victoria shook her head. Why anyone would spend money on a place like this she would never understand. There was no one around for miles, nothing to do. If that wasn’t enough, Gregory had texted her that he wouldn’t be able to make it up until tomorrow. The storm was too bad. She had driven too far to turn around. So now she was stuck spending the night alone in this creepy house. She would do her best to appreciate this week for what it was, a retreat from reality.
She had hoped to grab groceries and supplies on the way, but the stores had been closed by the time she arrived. Her stomach growled, reminding her that her last meal had been a late lunch when she left the office. It didn’t matter. She was tired and figured a glass of wine from the bottle she brought with her would help her sleep.
As she entered the house, she glanced around at the woods one last time. The heavy snow brought the branches on the evergreens down, enveloping the house. For some reason, the feeling of uneasiness from this afternoon came over her. She thought of Iris, her eyes flashing in anger.
Victoria shook off the feeling of dread. She was just tired. Everything would be fine tomorrow. With any luck, Iris would spend the weekend looking for a new job. Victoria went into the house, dumped her coat on the chair, and closed the heavy wooden door. The door was arched and had black metal hardware, lending to the aesthetic of the house. Nothing’s getting through that, Victoria thought. I guess I’m safe here alone for the night. She poured a glass of wine, went into the bedroom, and kicked off her shoes. She hadn’t finished her wine or even changed clothes when she fell asleep.
Saturday 9:30 a.m.
Victoria woke up with a headache. She glanced over at the bedside table. She noticed the half glass of wine still sitting there and laughed. It had been a long time since she hadn’t been able to finish one glass of wine.
A half glass of wine wasn’t enough to give her a headache. But drinking it on an empty stomach could. She sat up in bed and looked around the room. Burgundy velvet drapes hung over the windows, going all the way to the floor, giving the room a regal feel.
The gray, stone walls made the room feel a little bit claustrophobic to Victoria. “There’s charm, but this is a bit much.” Victoria got out of bed and was surprised to feel that the room was warm. She noticed the thermostat on the wall was set to 74 degrees. It was probably necessary to crank the heat to compete with the cold stones and lack of insulation.
Victoria decided to get dressed and explore the rest of the house. She threw on some jeans and a sweater and opened the door to the stairwell. Like a lighthouse, spiral stairs went up to each floor. The steps were cement and the stairwell echoed with each step she took. She could imagine being trapped in here with no windows, no air. It made her uneasy and she found herself running up the last few steps to the second floor.
There was just one bedroom on this floor, identical to the one below it. She forced herself back onto the spiral staircase to finish exploring the house. The room on the third floor was very small and had a wooden bed hanging from the ceiling. The bed was long and skinny, just large enough for one person. It was framed with wood. Instead of a typical mattress, a foam piece filled the frame. Rope supports came from each corner of the bed and attached to metal hooks on the ceiling. A handmade quilt covered the hanging bed.
Victoria lay down on the bed. There was one arch shaped window in the room on the stone wall facing the bed. From here, she could see over the trees into the mountains. The bed swayed gently, relaxing Victoria. There were several bookshelves lining the walls, floor to ceiling, all filled. They curved with the room and were clearly custom built. The heavy wooden door matched the others in the house.
Victoria trudged back down the spiral stairs to the first floor. She walked through the right side of the house, the traditional part, and noticed how small it was. There was a small living room, kitchen, and bathroom with a clawfoot tub. Victoria was looking forward to climbing in a hot bath with a glass of wine.
It would have to wait though. She was starving and after making a cursory glance through the cupboards and refrigerator, noticed there was no food in the house, not even coffee. She would have everything she needed once she went to the store. She was parched. She grabbed a glass out of the cupboard and turned on the faucet. Three loud knocking sounds greeted her efforts. Then with a violent rush, the water came out of the faucet – brown water. Are you kidding me?
Victoria knew Gregory hadn’t used the cabin in months. She figured the sludge and minerals from the well had settled. Victoria let the water run, waiting for clear water to replace the murky brown sludge that was coming out now.
After a few minutes, the knocking sound stopped but so did the water. She could buy water to drink for the week, but what about a bath? Right now, though, she was starving. Everything would have to wait until she got back from the store.
Victoria put on her coat and grabbed her keys and purse. She unlocked the large wooden door and tried to open it. It wouldn’t budge. She even put her foot against the wall for leverage. Nothing happened. She would have to try the other door, in the living room. Unfortunately, that would put her in the back of the house, which had not been shoveled. The snow was at least 4 feet high. Victoria doubted she could push it open against the weight of the snow. She tried anyway, with no luck.
She was going to have to climb out a window. This is what she got for going on vacation. She tried to open each window. They were all stuck. How could this be happening? Was she really trapped in this house? Victoria started to panic. She went over to the rounded side of the house. The windows in this section were small, stained-glass windows, just large enough to let in some light, but nowhere near large enough for a person to fit through.
She ran up to the top room. The window in this room was clear, presumably to enjoy the view of the mountains. It was large enough to fit through, but it didn’t open. She would have to break it and drop three stories to the ground. Not a great plan.
She went back down stairs and looked for something to use to break a window in the kitchen. All she found was a broom. It wasn’t much, but it was all she had. The house didn’t even have a woodstove. A metal poker would have come in handy right now. What kind of woodsy retreat didn’t have a woodstove?
She was stuck in a house with no food, no water, no escape. Victoria felt her heart race. She grabbed her cell, knowing full well there was no service up here. She looked at the phone – no bars.
As she lifted the broom to hit the window, she heard a shuffling noise. It came from behind her. She turned slowly, gripping the handle of the broom hard. Was someone here with her? As she turned around, she saw a large black cat staring back at her.
Are you kidding me? Gregory hadn’t said anything about a damn cat. Well she didn’t have time to think about it now. She had to get out of here. She wasn’t even going to stop at the store. Once she clawed her way out, she was getting in her car and driving home, as fast as the Benz could carry her. Gregory could entertain himself for the week, if he ever made it up here.
She took the broom handle to the kitchen window and hit it as hard as she could. The window didn’t break. She tried using the broom to break the lock. She hit it so hard that the broom splintered. It was no use. Victoria inspected the windows. These were triple paned. She would never get through them this way.
Victoria sat down on the couch and tried to figure this out. What was she going to do? She hadn’t even been here for 24 hours yet and her life was in danger. She looked up to see the black cat sitting on the couch. Victoria jumped. She looked at the cat, its big eyes on her. She never liked cats. The cat’s green eyes flashed at Victoria. Victoria started to sweat. She was going to have to lock this thing in the bathroom. The creature was quite unsettling.
Victoria was exhausted. Not knowing what else to do, she went upstairs to the third floor and lie down on the swinging bed. Still worried about how to get out of here, Victoria was starving and exhausted and fell into sleep. She dreamt that someone was knocking on the door. In her dream, she went downstairs to open the door and a black cat with huge green eyes was standing there. Before Victoria could close the door, the cat swiped its big black paw at her, claws extended. Victoria woke with a start.
She sat up. The bed was swinging now, causing Victoria’s vertigo to kick in. She grabbed onto the rope on one corner of the bed and sat still, waiting for the bed to stop moving. Once it stopped, she got out of the hanging bed. She headed back downstairs to see what time it was. The clock in the kitchen showed it was 3:00 p.m. She had slept for hours. The house was dark. The January sun didn’t offer much light. And the clouds were even darker than when she had gone upstairs. Another storm was coming.
She went around the house again, trying each door and window. None of them would budge. She had to get something to drink. She looked outside at all the snow. Her head was pounding. She took her phone and walked up to the third floor. One bar. Useless.
Alright Victoria, you’re are going to be uncomfortable for a while, but you are not going to die. She had heat and shelter. Why didn’t this damn place have a phone? She was angry at herself for agreeing to go somewhere so remote. If she and Gregory had met at the Copley Plaza, this wouldn’t be happening right now.
She noticed a stack of paperbacks on the table. There was nothing she could do but wait for Gregory to arrive and get her out of this nightmare. She picked up one of the books and tried to read, but she couldn’t focus. It was completely dark outside now, and snowing.
A chill settled in the house. Victoria couldn’t get warm. She turned some lamps on in the living room. There were no overhead lights, yet another annoying quirk of this place. The low voltage bulbs threw off a cool, bluish light that made the rooms feel sinister.
She turned on the tv and browsed the selection of DVDs. The selection was slim: Misery, It, Shawshank Redemption, Pet Sematary. Victoria wasn’t really interested in spending time with Stephen King right now. Finally, she settled on Stand by Me.
Sunday 6:00 a.m.
Victoria woke up shivering. She had fallen asleep on the couch. The house was freezing. She looked at the thermostat to see it was only 58 degrees. She got out of bed and tried to turn the heat up but nothing happened. This was not good. If Victoria was stuck in the house without heat, it would not be long before she froze. Without heat, the stones would turn this house into a freezer.
She noticed a small space heater in the bathroom. She brought it upstairs to the third floor, the smallest room in the house. She plugged it in and closed the door, hoping to warm the room. She hadn’t seen the back of the door before. There was a black cat etched into the wood. Green eyes stared back at her. Victoria shivered. She looked out the window wondering if anyone ever drove by this house.
She could see the fresh snow and the remnants of the tire marks she left when she arrived. There were no other tracks. Not a soul had gone by. She went to the kitchen and took the wine bottle upstairs. She drank from the bottle again and climbed under the covers.
With nothing else to do, Victoria tried to sleep again. The wine helped, but she knew it was all she had to drink. She thought of people who were stranded at sea, surrounded by water, with none to drink. Having all the snow outside, but inaccessible, was torture. She fell asleep, dreaming again. This time, she had a long scoop that she held out from the window to bring snow up to her. Right before she could take the scoop of snow, she dropped it and watched it fall to the ground and shatter into a thousand shards of glass.
Victoria felt a heaviness on her chest. Not quite awake, she thought it was part of her dream. Slowly, she realized that there really was something sitting on her chest. She opened her eyes and gasped. The black cat from downstairs was sitting on her, its wide green eyes daring her.
Victoria sat up in bed. How had it gotten in? She was sure the cat wasn’t in the room when she closed the door. There was nothing in here but the hanging bed and bookshelves. There was no place for anyone, much less a cat, to hide.
Victoria looked at the wooden door. The carving of the black cat with the green eyes was gone. She looked back at the cat sitting on her. Oh, dear God, what is this place? Victoria opened her mouth wide and screamed.
Victoria jumped out of bed and opened the heavy door. She closed it with the cat still inside the room. She ran downstairs to the other side of the house. She looked up at the wooden door to the outside. Her veins turned to ice. An etching of a black cat stared back at her, identical to the one on the door upstairs . She had looked at that door several times since she had been here. How had she not seen that etching? She grabbed the handle of the door and, trembling, tugged on it as hard as she could. She had to get the Hell out of this place.
She started pounding on the door, shouting for help. No one could hear her. Even if someone had been standing on the front steps, she doubted anyone could hear her. This damn door was 4 inches thick. She went to the window next. She tried to turn the lock and open it. She tugged and tugged. When that didn’t work, she punched the window with her fist, repeatedly.
She finally stopped, exhausted. It was no use. Her hands were bloodied, her nails torn and bleeding. She was sure she broke her hand. This is it, Victoria thought. She would have given anything to be with another person. Any person, just so she would not die alone.
Victoria stepped back from the door. She blinked to make sure she was not seeing things. The back of the wooden door was smooth. The cat etching was gone. She turned around to see the cat staring at her. Its green eyes flashed black. Victoria knew what she had to do. She was getting out of this house one way or another.
She found a frying pan in the cupboard and went up to the third-floor. She kept looking behind her, expecting the cat to attack her in this eerie stairwell. She could hear each footstep match the beat of her heart. The door to the bedroom was still closed. Victoria opened the door slowly. There was no sign of the cat. She walked over to the window. It was an old, single pane window. Lucky for her. She battered it with the pan until it cracked, and shards of glass fell to the ground. The cold wind blew at her face, stopping her breath. The snow had turned to sleet and was pelting her.
She turned and looked at the door one last time. The etching of the cat spilled like black ink into the carpet, where it took the form of a real cat. The cat looked up at her and meowed, a haunting, guttural sound. Victoria turned back to the window. She hoisted herself up and stood in the window, bracing against the howling wind.
Victoria thought of all she had yet to accomplish. She looked down at the packed snow below. The sliver of hope that she would survive the fall vanished when she heard the raspy purr behind her, the feline’s way of saying, “time’s up.” She knew that whether she stayed in this room or went out the window, she wasn’t leaving this place alive.
She also knew the choice was no longer hers when she felt a hand on her back, not to steady her. She took a deep breath and felt the hand push her. Victoria’s last thought was that she didn’t want to die alone. Her body landed hard, with a thud. The last breath went out of Victoria Vance as her eyes closed forever. Blood seeped from her skull to the fresh snow, tainting it.
The front door swung open, and the black cat walked out to where Victoria’s body lie still. It sniffed at Victoria, satisfied. The cat walked away from the body, leaving paw prints in the snow until it got to the black SUV parked down the street from the house.
Paw prints turned to footprints as the cat’s form shifted into human form. Iris looked back at the house. It would probably be several days before anyone made it up to check on Victoria. That’s what she got for being so evil. She doubted anyone would miss her. Iris’s green eyes flashed one last time as she got into the SUV, and headed south, into the city.