Bitter Apples Indeed

for John Bellairs

In a quiet midnight hour I had taken down that strange book of Gates’s to soothe my unsettled mind, and had gotten as far as

and found my esteem the greater for finding her the more esteemed

when there came such a tumult upon the lawn that I feared the world was ending. Wrapping my threadbare robe more securely about my pale nudity, I threw open the portal and gazed out into the darkness. My Rabbit I saw parked sedately by the curb, paint flaking from the rear panel where I had passed too near a light pole, and the overgrown lawn of my neighbor, but nothing more.

I returned to my studies, but found myself quite unable to concentrate on Gates’s tangled romance. Characters appeared and spoke words that I, who had read that book time and again until it was as familiar to me as the faces of my family, found quite strange. Who was this Doge that lurked so sinisterly behind the arras? What portentous assignation had the Duchess made? What bloody deeds of revenge were suddenly committed, and for reasons so recondite! It was as though I looked into the mirror and found a stranger’s face there; so unreal did the novel appear to me that night.

When at last I put the book aside, denied the heart’s-ease I so earnestly desired, a soft step sounded in the passage; over the cracked linoleum of the threshold a figure came, mute and gliding, in its hands a muffled shape. In such a way had the first volume heretofore ended, before its strange permutation — within that shroud lay secrets Chelsea had discovered to her sorrow. Quite overcome, I threw my hands before my face, shouting incoherently, even as long white fingers tightened around untold revelations.