Henri turned the knob and drew a long tense breath. He gave the door a little push and stepped to the side, almost hopping away. The door rattled as something clumsily bumped into its backside. It rattled once again as the poor creature – a dark-colored tabby cat – bolted past them and down the steps. It was immediately gone, without a wail or a scratch. Both men exhaled and looked at one another, as the cat crashed down the stairs, sliding into one landing after another.
There had been nothing dangerous or frightening at all.
Perhaps it had been missing its sand box. One could only hope.
From the vantage of the hallway, Henri could see a dresser. The mirror was set in a frame of ornate woodwork, from which hung an array of trinkets and charms. Rabbits' feet, pentagrams, horsehoes, crosses, and others adorned the frame; still more lay scattered about the counter, mixed with personal effects. Beyond this, opposite Henri and Thelonius' position in the hallway, was the open door to the third floor terrace. The city's evening-time sounds wafted in on the wind. Horns, children yelling, a dog barked. The soft coos of pigeons. Over the doorway hung an amulet depicting Santur, the multi-armed black sun.
In the light cast from the hallway, Henri and Thel could see that something more had been blown in from outside. On the floor near the far doorway, there were ashes. Closer to the dresser, a piece of paper, mostly burnt, lifted on the remnant breeze. Not entirely reassured by the quiet urban noise, Henri stepped into the bedroom and laid his hand on the light switch.
Cati, no calmer for her smoke break, pushed the kitchen door open and stepped back inside. She stood at the sink for a moment and wondered if she might water the bunny. Dominikus hadn't done it; that was sure.
She heard a sound from the stairwell, a thump. And then another, and another, a whole chorus of bangs and thumps and scampering feet coming down the stairs. Cati quickly recognized it as some frightened animal and, forgetting to close the kitchen door behind her, stepped into the back parlor.
It was a panicked cat. It leaped down the last flight and hit the wooden floor hard, skidding into the wall. Its feet kept grasping for the ground before it even as it fell on its side, and in a flash the cat had regained its traction. It darted right at Cati, who dodged to the side. The cat continued on through the kitchen, out into the backyard. From the parlor, Cati saw it pounce on the fence as though it were attacking prey. Digging its claws into the wooden slats, it threw itself up and over.
Its ears had been pressed back; its mouth had been open. Its eyes had been wide and wild.
Dominikus Gerloch was in bed, laying on top of the sheets. He was clothed in his bathrobe and socks, and his hair had dried into a nest. Gerloch's left arm was folded on his chest, and the other was stretched out onto the bed. In his hand there was a hypodermic needle. The plunger was depressed.
Gerloch's eyes were both reddened from dryness. His right eye was bloodied and stretched painfully around a speculum, but the other was also gaping. It quivered slightly in its socket. Though this eye lacked any apparent injuries, it seemed that it had been pried open by something more terrible than a tool of medical torture - by something it had seen. Gerloch stared ahead, but the rest of his slack face showed no terror or anguish.
Thelonius stepped to the bedside. On the nightstand there was a tiny bottle, just like the one that Delaney had shown him. It was empty and its cap was off, but the sign of the black sun was there. He put his ear to the insensible man's mouth, which was slightly open. "He's alive," Thelonius said.
Behind Thel, the man's closet door was slightly ajar. Inside, Henri could see a row of yellow robes hung on hooks. On the front side of the nearest one, there was embroidered a design. Despite his lack of familiarity with the occult, Henri could immediately decipher the five-pointed star in the embroidery as the mark of something having to do with magic, with witches, and with Satan.
The wind picked up again and drew a slight chill into the room. More ashes and another piece of burnt paper rolled into the bedroom from outside.
(Eye from Squished Frog.)