Belle walked quietly down the dark corridor. To do what she had to, she would need supplies. But she didn’t yet feel comfortable scavenging what she’d need from around the manor—not with the Beast following her every move. But it didn’t come here. And the passage extended far beyond her little nest.
Belle spotted a flint striker on the hearth during her trip to the kitchen the day before. She also dipped some old rags in a long-expired bucket of lard before making her way back to her shelter. She wrapped the grease-soaked fabric to the end of a broken chair leg. It took quickly to a spark from the striker and made a decent torch, though the heat licked her wrists and black smoke stung her eyes as it curled from the flames. It brought her tremendous comfort to finally be able to see the hall in which she’d been sleeping beyond the small haze of light that spilled in every time she entered.
The hall continued much further than she’d expected. The light of Belle’s torch died in the darkness only a few feet away and it made it feel like the passage went on forever. Like a bottomless pit that you could walk into… which she was currently doing.
As she walked, Belle found a few promising items, though most of the area looked as if it had been ransacked. An armoire lay in shambles and paintings were scattered across the floor. It seemed a vase of some kind had been shattered judging by the shriveled rose petals that rested near the mess. Great marks in the walls told her the Beast had been here, at least at some point in the past, even if he was afraid of it now. Wondering what sort of thing could be keeping the creature away sent chills down her spine.
Belle itched at the wound on her arm.
She moved further down the hall and, as she did, the pit in her stomach began to grow. It had been there every moment she’d been trapped in the house, but the feeling of unease was expanding now and she wasn’t sure why. Maybe the chaotic flicker of the torch caused the shadows to dance around her as if striking in at her and swiftly retreating like the head of a viper. Or was it the disheveled mess that increasingly piled up the further she went? Claw marks in the carpet and the wooden floorboards made her think, just for a second, that another beast might be here, waiting. One that was terrifying enough to scare off the one she knew and feared. The thought stopped her in her tracks, but the light of her torch now gently danced on a wall ahead of her. It was the end of the hall. Firelight whipped up against it enough to reveal that there was no other beast lying in wait.
As she approached, the first thing her light revealed was a massive painting. It was the largest she’d seen in the house and depicted a small family. Maybe whoever once owned the manor. A mother and a father. Both smiling which looked even eerier in the decrepit hall. And a… she couldn’t quite make out whoever was standing between them. Tall enough to be a teenager, but the face was torn from the canvas and hanging raggedly. She took another step closer and her foot bumped into something. Startled, she jumped back. On the ground were two mounds shrouded by large curtains. A hoard maybe? Did the creature like to collect things? Her dog at home at done things like that. She reached down to remove the cover and see what the Beast would find so valuable when her fire revealed a large, dark stain on the floor. It began where the mound lay and had long ago soaked into the rug. Her heart seized in her chest. Realizing that these might not be “things” at all, Belle carefully lifted the edge of the fabric. Just underneath, a withered hand protruded out of an old, tattered sleeve. She dropped the cover and stepped back. Her eyes wandered to the other mound. She wanted to run, but her curiosity held her there. She approached it and, with her foot, moved the fabric over. A leathery, bone-thin foot rested in a heeled slipper, too withered to fit anymore.
Gooseflesh pocked Belle’s skin as she looked back up at the painting. She didn’t know about the rest of the clothes, but the shoes matched those the woman wore in the picture. But… their child?
Her legs felt like stone as she approached the painting and pushed the torn canvas back into place. It was still hard to make his face, but she could see tell it was a young man. His eyes peered at her through the cuts in the canvas. They were only layers of oil, but they looked real enough. Blue and hopeful, with a sort of youthfulness to them. Innocent... looking towards some dream of his future. How the artist captured that with a brush she would never know, but she recognized it. Belle had those dreams once, too. She didn’t think she could bare to find his body among the others. The wound on her arm burned again, worse than it had before. Wincing, she released the painting and turned to go when the torchlight glinted off of something mounted to an adjacent wall.
A sword, a rapier to be exact, was mounted to the wall. Unlike the rest of the hall, it was pristine other than a thin layer of dust. And it was exactly what she needed. Standing up on her toes, she removed the sword and rubbed some of the dust away. There was a word etched into the side. “Lumiere.” She smiled. A light in the darkness is exactly what she needed right now. Threading it through her waist sash, she moved back down the hall the way she’d come—determined never to visit this part of the manor ever again.