Denyeko froze where she stood watching the shadow move beyond the threshold. The locked door had hardly fazed her before now. Like the manor, Lord Lanka’s study stood resting in pious vintage glory at the end of the corridor; the forbidden room.
In spite of her rank and title, Lady Lanka was the only one who cleaned and dusted the study. Since her new maid Denyeko’s arrival, the lord of the manor had never left that room. That is of course until last night when she heard his car engine revving in the night.
The Lord of the manor was a deathly shy and reserved man resigned to his writing craft for hours on end. At least that is what Lady Lanka had divulged. Denyeko confirmed this with Mr. Lanka’s permanent absence at each and every meal. She wondered how or if he even got out to ablute.
All the maid knew of the lord was what she’d seen as she dusted the enormous framed canvas renditions of him that hung from the walls. Those striking blue eyes like crystal waters seemed otherworldly. They were by far his best feature.
Denyeko’s thoughts returned to the present and to the light peeking through the spaces around the study door. She watched the shadow move from one end to the other, rooted to the spot. Whoever it was did not make so much as a creak as they moved, their footsteps muffled over what she assumed was carpeting.
An intruder no doubt, probably pacing this way and that, searching for something valuable to steal. But how had they gotten inside without anyone noticing? The study was four floors up and there was hardly any way to scale the wall from the outside. Had he been let in by one of the servants? If so, it could be an inside job. She nibbled at her nail, pondering her options.
Mrs. Lanka had warned Denyeko, the fifth replacement from the house maid’s bureau within the week, never to come up to the third floor of the manor house unless by her word. She did not say why and Denyeko felt it unwise to inquire. It was the only house on the street that had considered a farm girl without references. She preferred to keep it that way.
Besides, the Lord and Lady were newlyweds, as she had found out from the cook and parlor maid. The latter was of the opinion that the study was where the couple went to explore the more open-minded realms of their intimacy. The cook however dismissed the talk and warned the two maids not to meddle in things they didn’t understand.
“Know your place and keep your manners or you will never find husbands of your own when the time comes.” The old bat crooned as she ladled the soup.
As inexperienced as she was, it made sense to Denyeko that her mistress would be overprotective concerning her overly shy, handsome, perhaps secretly voracious husband being seduced by a couple of virgins. He was a writer after all and mystery was an obligation of the trade, at least from what Denyeko had heard. The young girls who had tasted of the forbidden fruit divulged that it was the shy ones that gleamed with hidden talents. Denyeko blushed at the thought whenever she saw the lord’s portraits.
Dutifully, she obliged her mistress’ order, never requiring an instruction to be repeated twice. That she had so far lasted a week proved her work ethic as well as her mistress’ tolerance of her subpar cleaning services. Denyeko was not willing to tempt fate, not until Lady Lanka and her obvious inexperience with running a manor were too dependent on her to overlook her flaws.
That was of course until Mrs. Lanka suddenly fired Peninah, her most trusted companion, for using her diamond-encrusted tail comb and infecting her with ringworm. Now the distressed newlywed lay drugged into blissful sleep by food and expensive over-the-counter antidepressants to still her anxiety. Denyeko had replaced her as her lady in waiting and the fourth floor became her domain to manage. Yet still, the room remained forbidden. Why?
Denyeko stood conflicted outside her mistress’ door, an empty tray in hand, still warm from the oxtail soup she had brought up. She pondered rebellion. It is for a good cause, she convinced herself. If there was an intruder in the locked room, as it seemed, then surely she had to do something about it, right?
What if he harmed the lady? The fourth floor was her domain to manage. It would fall on her conscience. She would never forgive herself and neither, she feared, would God.
Lord Lanka would expect her to do something, she assumed as well, what with him being suddenly off on business and his poor young beautiful wife nursing a terrible bout of loneliness. These things hardly needed voicing. It was common sense. They both needed her to do the right thing even though that right thing meant doing something she shouldn’t.
Content with the rumination of her mind, Denyeko decided that harm would not come upon her mistress, or her handsome master’s forbidden study for that matter, while she was on duty. She had worked too hard to land this job, and incriminate Peninah, to have it pulled from right under her feet by a burglar. Whoever was in there would have to deal with her one way or another.
With one final look back at Lady Lanka’s closed door and her resolve to leave things well enough alone, Denyeko crept towards the locked door at the end of the hall.
It might have been the adrenaline coursing through her veins, her own predisposition to superstition and nosiness, or the fact that every step she made was announced by the hardwood floor’s accusatory creaking and the grandfather clock’s incessant ticking.
Whatever the case, goose-pimples ravaged the skin beneath her uniform and erected the hairs at the back of her neck. Still, curiosity was stronger and it beckoned her to move forward, to snoop, just like Lady Lanka’s tail comb had appealed to her affinity to social climbing. She could not resist.
At several instances she stopped, listening for Lady Lanka’s faint snoring, and only continued on when she was certain that all was well, inch by inch until she was right outside the locked door. Then she leaned onto the cold polished wood, almost afraid that it would scream bloody murder at her intrusive touch. Thankfully it did not.
A cold wind wafted in from the landing’s bay window, ruffling the curtains and straddling her skirt. Denyeko shivered as the wind intensified. Mingled with the earthy scent of woods beyond the manor was the pungent acidic smell of wood polish that clung to the door in front of her.
She stood and listened, but her stillness did not betray the activity beyond. Dissatisfied, Denyeko decided to kneel down and peer through the keyhole. To her surprise, a familiar blue eye watched her from the other end.
She squealed and fell back, the hardwood floor betraying Denyeko’s insistence on sneaking bagels from the Lankas’ breakfast remains. Disgruntled, she massaged her buttocks and stilled to try and catch Lady Lanks’s soft snoring. Thankfully, it persisted.
Had Lord Lanka remained behind after all? Then who had left with the car in the middle of the night?
Denyeko shook the confusion away. “Apologies my Lord. I did not know you were there. I’ll be on my way.” She blurted out.
There was no response.
Denyeko had half a heart to barge in and apologize on her knees but she thought better of it. What would she even tell him? I saw light, a shadow, and decided to peek inside the room I was forbidden from entering? Denyeko laughed at her own cockamamie deduction as she brought herself up to her knees.
Perhaps I should investigate a little further, Denyeko thought. It could be that Lord Lanka is locked in here doing something he does not wish to be common knowledge. It would explain him peeping at her from the keyhole. He was alert and wanted no one to sneak up on him, yes, that was it.
In fact, he may have snuck back in with a lover after sending his driver away. Perhaps he was in there with Peninah right now. Denyeko gasped elated as she brooded over her suspicions concerning the rat-faced woman and how she had lasted so long on the premises.
It made sense now. Lady Lanka was not threatened by Peninah and would never suspect her of seducing her husband. As if he needed seducing, Denyeko thought drooling over the portrait outside his study. It was obvious; looking at him in canvased glory, that the Lord of the Manor was the kind of handsome that could nonchalantly conduct an affair under the nose of his pretty wife.
Denyeko allowed her mind to explore all the reasons that a chisel-jawed, hot-blooded man would have to sneak back into his own house while his wife slept alone in the other room until curiosity finally beckoned her to find out for herself. If nothing else, It would leave her indebted to Lady Lanka forever. Therefore she acted, in the best interests of her employer as well as her benign intrusive nature.
Carefully, Denyeko leaned forward, her head resting against the polished wood, and came face to face with the familiar striking blue eye of her master. Startled, she gasped but did not move. Surprised as she was, the eye did not seem menacing. If anything it was searching. Was that the glare of a man caught in his sins?
After a moment’s silence, Denyeko pondered whether Lady Lanka was in fact right. The man did seem rather shy and dare say peculiar. Denyeko did not know much about men and especially married men in charge of manors, but peeping at their help seemed like the kind of thing normal hot-blooded men did not do.
Perhaps this was why Mrs. Lanka did not want his maids interacting with him. Poor man. Could it be that he was uglier than his portraits showed? It would explain his unwillingness to be seen.
“I apologize that we should meet in such a manner my Lord, but my name is Denyeko. I’m your wife’s new lady’s maid.” Denyeko whispered.
The eye blinked but said nothing. She took this as permission to continue.
“I know I shouldn’t be here, but I was bringing soup for the mistress and I saw a light in your study. I wanted to make sure that there wasn’t a burglar, seeing as how I heard your car leaving last night.” Denyeko persisted.
The eye blinked again, but the holder of it said nothing.
Perhaps he was too shy or offended to respond, Denyeko thought as she lay flat against the floor now. She was intrigued by him for some reason. Perhaps it was the mystery behind his craft, how he locked himself behind this door, and the fact that he was forbidden.
“I hope this doesn’t reflect badly on my work. I was just doing what I thought was right.” Denyeko went as the Lord’s face rested across from hers.
She got a glimpse of pale skin, golden locks, and rosy pink lips. It was barely enough to make out, but there was nothing stark or ugly about the features that she beheld. Then something unexpected happened. He smiled.
Sure that she had gone far beyond the point of return now, she blushed, withdrew, straightened up again, and made to exit with what little shame she had left. Hopefully, he would not speak of this encroachment upon his hallowed room to his wife. Though as she was about to leave, he called out to her.
“It is alright Denyeko. Consider it a mere accident on your part. If I may though, might you have a serviette with you? I would so kindly ask for one to wipe my face. It seems the floor isn’t a very convenient place for a first meeting,” Mr. Lanka spoke from beyond the door.
Even his voice was charming and very soft, like bird song. Denyeko felt she had to at least look upon his face just one last time, even if it came at the cost of her job. It wasn’t just the mere fact that he was taboo that made her want to at least look at him. He had smiled at her and because of that, she wanted to quell her own curiosity, as an employee and a hot-blooded woman. Just one look, she thought, one look and I’ll be off.
“Oh, but of course,” Denyeko said enthusiastically.
She surveyed the landing, laying eyes on a vintage porcelain swan sprouting winged serviettes from her gaping back. She got up, grabbed a couple of the serviettes, and raced back to the door, eager to behold the man.
She turned the knob, ready to indulge in his delicious visage, but alas, it was locked.
“Sorry about that. I’m afraid I’m in seclusion. It comes with the pressure of handling the first draft. But perhaps you could slide them underneath the door. I’ll be forever indebted to you ma’am.” Mr. Lanka went on charmingly.
Ma’am. He called me ma’am, Denyeko thought crestfallen. Do I seem that old to him?
Disappointed, she passed them under the door. “Here. Again, I am so sorry for barging in on you…” She said as she pushed the last serviette under the door, holding it down to try and graze the skin of his finger. It was her first and last mistake.
Immediately her skin came in contact with his, she knew she shouldn’t have. The hold of him was like one of the cook’s rat traps. Denyeko felt sharp tendrils like needles dig into her fingers and pull at them, forcefully and painfully tagging at her through the underside of the door.
She made to scream, but more tendrils, like seaweed, shot out from beneath the door, snapping and winding about her head and sealing her mouth shut. Denyeko screamed but no sound could be heard. She was entirely at his mercy now as the door began to open upwards, inching her inside the room.
Beyond the threshold, the beauty of Lord Lanka was gone. In its place, teeth like arrowheads stood borne around a massive monstrous mouth that gaped, reeking of acid. It was dark, unexpected, painful, and excruciatingly agonizing. Then as soon as it had begun it was over.
The light beyond the room went off as the empty tray rolled and slapped hard against the floor. The door resumed its position and the hardwood floor sipped the remnants of Denyeko’s blood clean. Everything was as it was before, almost as if nothing had happened at all.
Across the hall, Lady Lanka peeped through her bedroom door, which opened just enough to catch the last drop of blood sink into the floor. Summoning courage, she slid the door open wider and breached the threshold, her silk camisole and shoulder-length hair rippling in the dalliance of the wind. Across from her, the study door opened and a tall distinguished figure emerged from the study.
Lord Lanka tossed his golden locks back with a swish of his arm as genuine surprise flooded his face. “My love, are you well now? Shall I read my latest chapter for you?” Lord Lanka questioned through his ingratiatingly ravishing smile.
Lady Lanka answered with a nod and a weak excuse for a smile, wrapping her arms around herself. She stifled a shiver.
Mr. Lanka’s brows furrowed. “What is it my love? You seem troubled.”
“You said you would stop. You told me I was enough for you.” Lady Lanka went on. Her voice was soft, yet it pierced with indignation.
Lord Lanka sighed as he strolled towards her, his long leather boots clicking against the polished hardwood floor. The lady did not so much as flinch when he approached her, his long arms resting gently at her sides. He permitted himself another of his devilish grins. The same grin that he had given her every time it had happened. It showed satisfaction and not an ounce of remorse.
“You are enough for me.” He said as he leaned forward and stole a kiss, mild yet ferociously sensual. The lady was appalled at the taste of her maid in his mouth.
Slowly, he withdrew with a smile, parting her long ebony locs to reveal her long, thin gaunt face. Fatigue and disgust were written all over it. “That is after all why you’re still here.” Lord Lanka said as he took her in his arms and held her there. “And besides, because of your social-climbing frump, I was denied Peninah. I believe this is a very fair settlement.”
The lady did not answer, attentive to the smell of her maid’s perfume on his brown breaches and black coat. Denyeko’s scent clung to his white shirt and drifted down from his large hands and long dainty fingers, nauseating her. The lady despised herself for tolerating this monster and his habit of having his way with every woman that so much as breathed in his vicinity.
“The driver, why did you send him away so late?” The lady asked somewhat afraid of the answer.
“Don’t worry darling, Peninah will not be harmed. I simply sent him on an errand quite sensitive to me. I’m glad it worked in my favor.” The lord said licking his lips.
Here and now the lady especially despised herself for loving him, giving him her body, mind, and soul, and being unable to part from him. Still, she found herself wrapping her arms around his waist and breathing in the scent of him.
She found unusual calm in his woody fragrance as well as the thought that Peninah was far away from his reach now. She was one less victim to endure his violence. Though whatever errand the Lord had sent his driver on worried the lady. In the end, she was always the one left to clean up the mess.
This is why she held her judgment of her insatiable husband’s appetites. If he was indeed a monster as she thought he was, then she knew that she was the bigger one for enabling him.