Still in a state in a shock, Emmy finished drying herself. She could not believe that Hugo had actually left her alone here. It was the one thing about him that bothered her, this strange kind of paranoia about the house, often going to great pains to see that the possibility of her being alone never occurred. But now here he was telling her to stay while he drove down to the video store.
She didn’t understand the paranoia, just like she didn’t understand most of inventions. He was a genius, that she understood. He could make anything, from a watch to a house. His specialty was computers, and it was also how he made his fortune, developing some software system that did something of which she had no earthly idea. He had even rigged up an elaborate burglar alarm system. If anyone so much as even stepped on his property, he had an instant video image of them. On her way to the living room, after getting her tea, she passed by the library, the only room that was completely off-limits to her, wondering if that still held true.
Actually, the room was only semi-off-limits. Still, even now she could feel his hand tearing hers away from the handle to that mysterious doorway. “Under no circumstances,” he had told her, “are you to open that door. There are certain things which people, no matter how close, should be able to keep to themselves.” At first, she was offended; later on, she became contrite because she suspected that that room was where he did his inventing and he probably had things in there that weren’t yet ready for public viewing.
Well, it’s not like I took an oath, Emmy thought. I could just slip in and out and he’d never know the difference. Two minutes. No way he’ll back before then. Emmy ran her fingers lightly across the keycard. It was fascinating, colored completely violet with all sorts of minuscule grooves running through it. And a lot heavier than her Bloomingdale’s credit card. Her gaze drifted up to the clock Hugo had laid into the wall. Though he’d been gone almost half an hour, she knew she needn’t worry. Hugo could spend hours searching for the perfect movie to rent.
She was clutching the card in her hand as she went into the hallway and looked out the large bay window. The yard was vacant. She looked up into the monitor which gave a view of the street in front of the gate. Empty. Hands sweating, she couldn’t help but wonder why she was nervous. Obviously, if he had enough confidence in her to leave her alone it meant she had full run of the house. Taking another look at the card, she inserted it very delicately into the slot just above the handle. She heard a whirr and the door clicked open.
Inside, it was pitch black, with a faint, unpleasant smell tickling her nostrils. Feeling her way alongside the wall, she at last located the switch and upon flicking it up the door behind her instantly swung shut with a heavy, oppressive thud. She screamed and tried hopelessly to open it. Great, she thought, now I’ve locked myself in. What an idiot. Then she remembered where she was and turned around to see what the big mystery was all about. That’s when she let out a full-throated yell so filled with terror it chilled even herself.
Emmy was shaking. Fear had spread throughout her body and she was trying with all her might to control it. Huddled against the door she now regretted so much having opened, she looked across the room and all it held. Lighted now with the almost blinding electricity of a dozen lamps, she now saw everything clearly. She saw the elegant lace canopy artfully hanging down the bedside, the antique tables and leather bound books. Dancers by Degas and Monet’s haystacks adorned the walls. And, in a corner on the opposite side of the room, Emmy saw, with alarming clarity, the nude remains of a woman, her bony hands resting through the manacles attached to the wall. Suddenly she heard a humming sound and, looking up into another of Hugo’s countless monitors, she saw his face. For the first time since he’d left her, what seemed like days ago, she scrutinized his lined face.
“Emmy. Emmy, I told you. Never unlock that door. You promised me you wouldn’t. And now just look at you.”
Sliding herself against the wall, Emmy rose upright. She then made her way to the bed and said, looking into the tiny camera, “My God, what have you done?”
He studied her closely on his monitor, the entire screen filled with her head. She was so lovely, so delicate. Her face so pale it was almost white, set off by two dark ovals behind long lashes.
He wanted to give her another test. Perhaps there was still hope. Perhaps she wasn’t beyond redemption. She wasn’t like all the others. Somehow, even after all this, she did seem different.
“Listen to me now. The only thing I demand from anyone is trust. Without trust we just plow through, lying to ourselves as well as to others. I had to find out if I could trust you, and, like all the others-“
Now, he told himself. If there is to be a second chance let it be now. “Whatever you do, don’t open that door behind you.” Emmy looked into Hugo’s eyes and remembered how he had told her she had a most gentle way of handling the video boxes. She jumped up and ran to the door, throwing it open.
Hugo reached and turned the monitor off, her screams echoing throughout the house.