Steph Prizhitomsky

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It started with the thunder. The low grumble, as if from a ferocious animal, crept up on the castle, slowly and softly until it erupted with such vigor that it shook the teacups on their china saucers and caused the candle lit chandelier of the ballroom to sway back and forth. The castle, with its deserted halls and enormous stained glass windows that gave no inkling of the mysteries that took place inside, was the talk of the town. Taking its place on the peak of a formidable mountain (one of many that outlined the borders of the small town), it overlooked everything as far as the eyes could see. Like a castle of the gods, it watched over them day and night. As far as the people knew, no one ever descended from the mountain nor did they venture up in fear of falling to their deaths on the climb up the steep, forested terrain. It stood there in silence. Despite its solidarity, the candles that illuminated the stained glass, painting an eternal picture in the sky, never winked out. One could look directly up on a cloudless night and swear they saw a shadow pacing back and forth, faintly glowing eyes peering out onto the town. So as the storm approached, the people of the town drew their shutters, locked their doors, and lit the hearth to provide some light in the cold, stormy dark of the outdoors. The castle stood unwavering, but inside, the wood floors of the kitchen creaked just lightly. Other than the embers and coals left in the furnace, it was empty. No fresh bread in the pantry, no condiments in the musty cupboards, and no chef sprinkling spices into a simmering soup with the smell drifting in through the corridors and hidden passages of the stony castle. The half-drunk tea and crumbs upon the parlour table were left exactly as if a cozy afternoon tea had been interrupted by someone or something and left to mold in the lavish room. A sudden gust of wind howled and screeched as it blew the silk curtains of the parlour windows apart, sending its ghostly breath into the room and freezing every surface its icy touch fell upon. The whole castle shuddered as if encountering a premature winter’s breeze on a late autumn evening. The dim light of the candelabra’s flames extinguished. Rain began to pitter-patter on the roof, and in an upstairs bedroom, the bed unslept in, the wardrobe empty and filled with moths, a soft drip, drip, drip could be heard, as the water began to leak from the ceiling and fall to the floor. Still, it grew colder and colder, and the rain fell harder and harder. The wind howled in the polar night, louder and louder like a banshee screaming at the shaking castle, and then...

A strike of lightning. Just one. With a sudden flash of light and an echo of a haunting boom of thunder and the overbearing sound of rocks beginning to crumble, every room shuddered with fright. The castle gave one last desperate attempt to grip onto the mountain that kept its place in the ethereal sky, but the fire was already spreading inside. The kitchen burned first, as the lightning strike’s burning hunger ate up the wood floors at the speed of light. It ate up the fur rugs and ancient tapestries on the walls and illuminated the entire roof with an eerie glow, and when it choked and couldn’t eat anymore, it kept swallowing and swallowing to feed its gaping mouth. The castle began to fall. The magnificent, crystal chandelier slowly tilted and slipped off its hook. When it fell to the ground, its pieces scattered around the floor and cracked and cut into the oak wood. Tea cups and china slammed against the wall, and furniture slid out of its meticulously chosen place. Down, down, down it went as the unsuspecting town grew closer, closer, closer. Up in the clouds, the mountain stood amongst the wreckage and storm quietly, formidably. It watched in solidarity as the inevitable disaster played out on the dark and stormy night. 



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