Jacob was woken by the distant sound of music. Blinking tiredly, he checked his watch, which he’d placed on the bedside table. It was midnight. They’d dined early and turned in at ten o’clock. Gabriel had returned to his guests with none of his usual enthusiasm and energy, and a pall had hung over them as they’d eaten dinner. Ilse was still very angry with Jacob and had refused to talk to him, so he’d eaten in silence.
Since the clothes were borrowed from Gabriel, Jacob hadn’t seen a problem in going to bed fully dressed. He was a light sleeper and prone to waking up very early. When he did so he would often go for long walks to pass the time.
Getting up, Jacob walked over to the door and listened at it. Someone was definitely playing music somewhere. It was distant but audible. It sounded like a tango, though Jacob wasn’t much of an expert when it came to music.
Stepping out into the hallway, Jacob found Ilse standing there, also fully dressed. She was perfectly still, listening intently.
“Jacob, you hear it too?” She whispered. Apparently she’d forgotten that she wasn’t talking to him anymore. He nodded and put a finger to his lip. Together they walked quietly through the house towards the sound of the music. Ilse led the way, for some reason Jacob didn’t want to walk in front.
Turning a corner they both froze and stood completely still. A figure in silhouette stood in the middle of the corridor, head turned towards them. For a few moments nobody moved at all. Then Pilgrim stepped out of the shadows and smiled at them.
“Jacob, Ilse,” he said, “you hear it too? I thought I might be the only one. I’m glad, for a moment I thought I had taken leave of my senses.”
Jacob stared at the big man, willing himself to say something but finding that his mouth did not seem to work.
“Shall we go see what it is that so disturbs us?” Pilgrim said, a twinkle in his deep grey eyes.
“Let’s,” Ilse said, “I’d like to get back to bed.”
The three of them moved off together. Coming to a flight of stairs they descended to the second floor. The music got louder and louder as they moved towards it.
“A tango,” Pilgrim said, a note of wistfulness in his voice, “when I was younger I was quite the dancer, this brings back memories for me.”
“I’m glad,” Jacob managed to mutter. Pilgrim gave him an amused look and he felt his guts clench. There was something about the stare of the man which unnerved him deeply.
Turning another corner they saw the door to the ballroom at the end of the corridor. The light was on inside and shone through a little glass window in the top of the door. The rippled glass prevented them from seeing exactly what was inside that room. Both Ilse and Jacob stopped walking abruptly. Pilgrim, who had taken the lead, kept going until he realised he wasn’t being followed anymore. He looked back.
“Come on friends,” he said, “don’t you want to know who’s playing the music?”
Behind him the light from the ballroom was suddenly shut off. It was as if something huge had moved in front of the light. The sudden darkness made Jacob’s heart thud rapidly into his chest. He wanted to curl up on the floor and squeeze his eyes tight shut. Then the huge shadow moved away from the glass and the light returned once more.
Looking over at Ilse, Jacob saw that she was shaking. Only slightly, but enough for it to be noticeable.
“I believe someone’s in there,” Pilgrim looked over at the door. If he was at all affected by the huge form that had blocked out the light, he did not show it. His smile remained, the same entertained smile, as if there were some hidden joke that only he could see. Watching him, Jacob found a feeling of hatred towards this man swelling inside his constricted chest.
“Shall we,” Pilgrim gestured towards the door. Nodding quickly, Ilse moved next to him and together they walked towards the ballroom. Jacob watched them. Even here he felt the chill of the room reaching out for him.
That urge to sink to his knees remained, that same cloying feeling of fear. He couldn’t explain it, but it sat there in his heart, freezing him to the spot.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered under his breath, unsure of exactly to whom he spoke, “I’m so sorry.”
Pilgrim flung open the door. A blast of even more intense cold swept through the corridor. Hitting Jacob, it shocked him to his senses.
Blinking, he looked towards the ballroom. Through the door he saw… a room. No more sinister or monstrous than any of the other rooms in the house. Vast and empty certainly, but without the terrors that it had held only moments before.
Standing in the centre of the ballroom was Gabriel. He was seated on a stool, mopping his brow with a handkerchief. Looking up at Pilgrim and Ilse as they entered, he waved at them, smiling.
“Awfully sorry,” Jacob heard him say, “is my music disturbing you? I may have put it on a little too loud.”
Moving over to a CD player placed on the floor, he switched it off. Jacob walked towards the room slowly. Most of his fear had dissipated, but he was still hesitant to enter the ballroom.
Looking up, Gabriel saw him come in. His face fell and he straightened himself up.
“Well,” he said, “I best be getting some sleep. My apologies again, you three. Sometimes I like to come here and dance of a night. It… well, it reminds me of my father, in all honesty. He was a most proficient dancer. When I was younger, we used to dance together in this room. I forget when I have guests that my music may disturb light sleepers.”
He walked towards the door. As he walked past Jacob, he examined his face more closely.
“Are you alright Jacob?” He asked, pausing at the door, “You look very pale.”