My name is Pytor Alexandr Ivano. I am deceased. For how long, I cannot say. I have never known the time since my arrival. Time hardly means anything anymore. Years start morphing together till you can’t tell when one ends, and the other begins. Whether there's a Heaven or Hell, I do not know. Any place would be better than this castle, which I am confined to wander. I am not the only one here. I’ve seen others. I’ve watched many appear and fade out of existence. I do not know where they go, but I know that I will be joining them soon.
I have the unfortunate pleasure of seeing my killer every day of every hour. If I could, I would strangle him right where he stands. He knows I can’t touch him. He mocks me with his conniving grin. I know he sees me. He’s looked at me with his sharp piercing eyes but moves on like I’m a common housefly. I hate him. I hate him with my very essence. Hating him is the only thing that gives me purpose and distracts me from the hopeless predicament I’m in. The others hate him too, but their energy weakens day by day. I don’t want this fire of hatred to burn out, not yet anyhow. Someone new is coming. A new victim is about to fall for the killer’s trap. If my life was for naught, then maybe my death can make up for it.
While I was still alive, I was going to be a famous artist. I wanted to be one of the greats, such as Michelangelo and Leonardo. All I needed was one big break, which was hard to come by in a small fishing village. To my surprise, however, my big break came in the form of a letter. A wealthy count in Transylvania was familiar and impressed with my work, and he wanted me to paint his portrait! I did not care that I never heard of this count before or how he came across my works of art. All that mattered to me, was that he would undoubtedly have connections to the high-class society. He even promised to pay an exorbitant price. With newfound life and energy, I packed my things and said goodbye to my family.
My trip to Transylvania was quite pleasurable. I spared no expense and traveled like the Tsar himself. I thought since The Count promised such a hefty sum, what would be the harm in spending it on a few luxuries? Looking back on it now, I’m thankful that I got to experience the high life before it was cruelly robbed from me.
The ride to The Count’s castle, however, was not pleasurable but preferable given the circumstances. It all started at the local inn, where everyone looked absolutely revolting. They all had stringy, oily hair. Every malformation of the skin was visible on their faces in some level of severity, some worse than others. After getting a room, I headed to the bar for a strong drink to warm myself against the harsh winter winds. When I told them I had been hired by The Count, they all gasped as if I said something of an offensive nature.
“You stay away from that place and go back the way you came!” an older gentleman said to me. I took his warning with little respect and just took him as a crazy, drunken man. Oh, how was I wrong! If only I understood his warning. If only I took him with the seriousness he deserved. Oh, how young and foolish I was.
The next morning, I awaited the carriage my employer promised to send to me. Two black horses emerged from the fog. The driver was quite peculiar. He wore his top hat down to where the rim covered his eyes. He held his cowl over his mouth and never talked to me. I simply got in with my suitcase, and we took off. The road was bumpy and steep. I was deathly afraid that the carriage was going to tip over if I leaned too close to one side. Thankfully, my driver was well experienced with the rough terrain. Within no time at all, we finally made it to the castle.
It was quite a sight to behold! Never had I seen anything so grand and magnificent. It was so captivating that even my lungs were too scared to breathe away. The carriage came to an abrupt halt at the iron gate. I got off and was about to thank the driver, but he didn’t give me any moment to respond. With a thrash of the whip, he was off, back down the treacherous mountain from whence he came.
With the driver and his horses gone, I was left to myself in complete silence. I thought there would have been at least a welcoming party. It didn’t have to be a grand one. It could have been just a simple dairymaid saying hello or a servant asking to take my bags. There was no one. Not a single soul was out and about. The more the silence grew, the more I realized there was no familiar cock of the crow or the mooing of a cow. What was going on? Was this some form of a cruel joke?
I was almost fancying just taking my bags and walking down the road myself when I heard the creaking sound of a wooden door opening. I turned around. There he was. Standing in the doorway was The Count himself!
He looked just as bad, if not worse, then the villagers. His skin was deathly pale, and his head was bald save for a few lines of hair. Red circles formed around his eyes. His cheeks sagged down to his lips. His fingers were long and rigid. The man looked like he hadn’t eaten in years as his eloquent outfit stuck to his body like wet clothes.
“Good evening,” he said in a cheery whisper. “You must be Pytor Alexander Ivon, the artist.”
“And you must be my employer, The Count, I assume?” I asked him.
“Please, come in to warm yourself by the fire,” he replied. “Then we talk business, yes?”
Without a second thought, I followed him inside. Deep down, I knew something felt wrong. I should have left right then and there, but I couldn’t go back home as a failure. Besides, I thought nothing of the wretched old man. As long as his money was good, why should it have mattered? After a few more steps, I walked away from the real, breathing world for the last time.
The inside of the castle was completely dark, save for a few torches and candles. Never did I see a single window or a speck of sunlight. The air was so thick I had to cough out the dust from clogging my lungs. When it got particularly worse, I had no choice but to blow my nose with a handkerchief.
The Count wanted me to set up shop in his library where the whole room was covered with book from top to bottom. Most of them looked old and brittle, with the spines cracking, and the labels faded beyond recognition. The Count claimed he possessed every book covering every subject; science, religion, philosophy, alchemy, and history, to name a few.
“Although I stay secluded from the ways of the world, it does not necessarily mean I stop observing it,” The Count claimed.
I would spend countless hours in his library, replicating his intimidating yet welcoming pose. The process would have carried out much quicker if I was more observant of the detail in his skin, face, and even his hair. For instance, on the first day, I got his face down to perfection, without a wrinkle out of place. On the second day, I took a step back in surprise. His face was completely smooth, his cheeks no longer sagged, and the hair on his head began to grow back! I ended up chucking the old canvas and started with a new one.
Looking back on it now, the rapid yet subtle changes to my own body were an obvious warning sign, but I paid them no heed. I reasoned it as the effects of not seeing the sunlight, and not getting a breath of fresh air for so long. On some nights, my scalp would get incredibly irritable and itchy. I would scratch the back of my head only to feel large clumps of my own hair in my palms! What would start off as a scratch would lead to my fingers digging into my own skin until I snapped to my senses. It just felt so heavenly to finally relieve myself of that unbearable itch I wouldn’t notice how bloody my hands would become.
Speaking of my hands, when it came time to lay down the foundation, my hands could barely hold a brush for an extended amount of time. Not that my hands became weak and tired but that they shook. I would try to paint a straight line only to end up with a bumpy mess. The days started to feel shorter and started meshing into one. The stairs and hallways winded me too quickly. I would find myself in great need of rest between trips to the different rooms of the castle.
One evening, I enjoyed a hot bowl of soup and a hard piece of bread with The Count at his dining table. The thing stretched out for miles. Being the only seated, besides The Count, made me feel small and insignificant, like everything else in the castle. The Count kept a wine cupboard against the far wall. He’d open it up, take out a bottle, sniff it, and pour the wine into his glass. I always asked him if I could take a sip of the stuff myself, but he refused. I thought it was rather odd how he was very protective of his wine, but his entire manner was odd, so I didn’t ask anything about it.
“Count, sir,” I said with a cough. The air became harder to breathe and strained my voice, or so I thought. “I must ask you. Out of all the artists in the world, why me?”
“Well you see, Pytor,” he began after taking a sip of his dark, red wine. “Time and again, I would meet these quote-unquote ‘famous artists.’ I would hear how respectful, how eloquent, and how proper they were, when in reality, they would have all the behaviors and mannerisms as a village drunkard! Except it is not alcohol they would be drunk on, but greed, pride, and selfishness.”
He took another sip. I looked back at my bowl of soup. I knew I wanted to eat more, but I didn’t have the appetite like I once had.
“So, I avoided all the prominent artists and searched for those who were not tainted by the curses of fame and fortune,” he continued. “You do not know this, but I have connections all across the globe. I am happy to say out of all the artists in the whole world, you were the most recommended.”
A sense of pride swelled up inside me. At the time, I began to think my fishing village was not such a bad place after all. I tried guessing which person were his clients. Were they the older people who just nodded politely and were more than happy to pay me? Or were they the disgruntled people who scoff at me and barely pay me what I was due?
While thinking about what he had said, I took a bite of the bread. Something felt wrong. I knew for a fact I had bitten into it, but when I moved it away from my mouth, there were no marks or signs that I had done so.
“My friend, are you all right?” The Count asked with great concern.
I thought I was. I still looked at the piece of bread in a dazed trance. I turned it over to see two little black stubs poking out. I grazed my hand over them. They felt stiff, sharp, and uneven. I yanked one out with great care. The thing had four little stems growing out of it as if they were roots. It felt too hard to be a plant. There was only one thing it could have been. I opened my mouth and caressed each of my teeth one by one.
I screamed in horror! Those were my teeth on the piece of bread! My own teeth!
The Count stood up from his chair, placed his glass of wine down, and rushed to my side.
“Oh, fried, I am so sorry,” he said sympathetically. “I forgot you are too old to be eating such hard foods.”
Too old? I thought. Too old?
“How, how long have I been here?” I asked. I began to feel lightheaded. Millions of thoughts flooded into my mind. Millions of images flashed through my eyes. Every event of my life beginning at my arrival to that moment repeated itself in a sickening loop. I would have collapsed to the floor if The Count hadn’t caught me.
“You need some rest, yes?” said The Count. “Your mind will be clear once you get some rest.”
We walked up a steep stairwell into a room I had never seen before. The walls were surrounded with red candles and in the middle of the room stood a giant stone slab, almost like a pagan altar. I wanted to resist, but I was too weak to go up against The Count’s strength.
“Lie down,” he said soothingly. “Sleep. Everything will get better once you sleep.”
He gently placed me on the stone altar facing up. The ceiling was so dark it could have been the night sky for all I knew. The Count smiled as he glared at me with his cold, piercing brown eyes. Those eyes were looking straight into my soul! I could almost feel something moving its hands down the crevices of my mind. I tried fighting it, but I didn’t have the strength to pull away.
“You are calm, you feel nothing,” he chanted over and over again like a malicious lullaby. I wanted to get up. I tried to knock The Count’s lights out and make a run out there. All my attempts were in vain, however, as my body didn’t show any desire to move. All my joints were as stiff as a board, and none of them showed any sign of budging.
“You know the real reason I chose you, Pytor?” The Count said, his voice echoing in my head. “I didn’t choose you because you were humble, I didn’t choose you because of your selflessness, nor did I choose you because of your talents. No, no. I chose you because of your youth, your naivety, and because of the simple fact that if by some coincidence you were to disappear off of the face of the earth, no one, absolutely no one, would notice that you were gone. You’re a nobody Pytor and a nobody you will remain!”
He lunged straight for me! I tried to move, but it was hopeless. He bit into my neck like a rabid dog! I wanted to scream, but his soothing voice still echoed in my brain, holding my voice hostage. If only it was over quickly, but alas, that’s not what The Count had in mind. He started making a rhythmic, gurgling noise. His teeth remained in my neck as I could feel the blood rush out of veins! He was sucking my blood right out of my flesh!
My vision began to fade. There was a sharp, ringing sound in my ears. My head felt too light, and it felt sickening. I felt a cold breeze wash over me. Suddenly the ringing in my eyes ceased, and all my senses went completely numb. I couldn’t even feel the cold wind anymore. Yet, I was still there, alive and awake.
At first, I thought I had woken up from a bad dream. I turned around, only to see my own body looking up at me! I was a ghost, a spectral, a phantom! I screamed, but The Count only chuckled. He knew I was there, but he did not care. I watched The Count as he dragged my corpse into a wooden coffin and tugged it into a room further below. The room was filled with coffins just like mine. I don’t know what happened to my body after that. It twists and turns every night, but I’m not the one inside it.
Being a ghost, suffice to say, is not easy getting used to. Once I accepted the reality of the situation, I decided to explore the castle and see what this afterlife had to offer. I mostly spent my time floating through walls and stalking The Count as he schemed and planned his next murder. Every time I saw him, a rising hatred rose up inside me. Not only did he kill me, but he called me a nobody, a nothing. I could have been someone, my life could have had a meaning, but he took it away from me in one fell swoop! There are other spirits here like me, who fell for The Count’s trap. They’re all too faded and weak to do anything. I need to hold on to my hatred of the Count, it is my strength.
Someone’s coming now. Someone new. The Count won’t succeed this time, I’ll make sure of it. I’ll show him who’s a nobody!