Dante walked past the fence each day on his way home from school. Icy shivers always ran down his spine -- black wrought iron spikes loomed at least twelve feet high. Electrified barbed wire ran across the top of its entire length. Beyond the menacing barrier stood a gray turreted house, massive in size. The architectural style presented both beauty and bleakness -- and something else Dante could not name.
Each day, passing the ornately ugly gate to the mansion, Dante gazed upward at the window on the top floor. She was always there; her countenance serene, as if acceptant of her fate. Known for his vivid imagination, Dante was certain the young girl was held captive in the foreboding house, locked in by the fence.
Who was she? How could he meet her -- free her? Dante had pondered these things since moving to the tiny rural New England town two years ago when he was sixteen. Graduation was a few months away and he needed a date for the prom. Yet, his heart was captured by the lovely face staring out the window from the top floor of the mansion from Hell.
Her hair was the color of gingerbread glazed with sunshine, flowing across her shoulders in waves. Her eyes, sparkling like gems, called out to him. Her smile was sweet, bittersweet, and tugged at Dante’s heart.
One day was so steamy that electric power, aggravated by fierce late spring storms, shut down, enveloping the entire town in a total blackout. Dante sped for home after a late basketball practice, pelted by marble-sized hailstones, dodging lightning flashes as thunder roared across the skies.
He paused, out of habit, to glance up at the window of the house. A solitary candle glowed from the window. She was there. Her face, always so lovely, projected fear. Her fists beat against the pane of the barred window -- her screams swallowed by the storm. Dante knew he had to save her. He jiggled the electric locks to the fence’s gates, found them rendered useless by the storm. He slipped though easily, despite their oppressive weight.
Approaching the tall double-door entrance, he wondered what awaited him on the other side; pit bulls, a deranged butler with an antiquated sword, or worse yet, a 357 magnum handgun.
* * *
Dante, just turned eighteen, was a typical teenager, in that his thoughts strayed to romance and dreams of a love of his own. Now, on this dark night, as skies spit torrents of wet fury, bereft of stars or moonlight, he was on a quest. He needed to find the girl who had stolen his heart since the first day he passed by her window.
“Why does no one come or go from that house, Mom?” Dante had asked, while snacking after school. They had recently moved to town and he was becoming familiar with the neighborhood..
“Don’t really know, Dante. Some say they travel a lot. Others say no one lives there anymore except caretakers.”
“But they never take the girl in the window,” Dante had said.
“Well, sweetie, only you see her face. Maybe she’s sick or confined to a wheelchair,” his mother had said, tousling her son’s sandy-blond hair. “Maybe she’s an illusion . . .”
“She is not.” He shouted louder than he meant to, enraged past rationality.
He had stormed off to his bedroom and plopped face down on his bed, dreaming of ways to meet the girl who filled his mind and tortured his dreams.
* * *
Dante approached the doors to the mansion and banged the brass knockers.The doors swung wide open under his onslaught, creaking loud enough to wake the dead, his Grandmother would have said. It sounded like the screech of a barn owl swooping down upon prey. He felt his way around what appeared to be a large foyer, as he searched for stairs. His hands grasped the newel of a staircase. The only light came from zigzagging streaks of lightning, teasing the darkness of the house. Silence, broken only by the rage of thunder.
Three flights up led him to the top -- the floor he hoped held the girl his heart desired. He fumbled toward a hallway, followed it, wishing he had a flashlight with him. The old house was damp and cool. Dante quivered from both fear and his rainsoaked clothes. The room at the end of the long hall was too dark to see anything, yet Dante felt her presence. A faint scent of fresh roses permeated the air.
“Are you here? He asked, in a whisper. Fear and yearning battled within his body. The lights came back on, temporarily blinding him. His hands covered his eyes. Growing accustomed to the brightness, he lowered his arms and glanced around the room. It was furnished in what his mother would call old-fashioned, maybe half a century old, but Dante felt the decor matched the house. Cobwebs swept across his face like cotton candy.
Velvet tapestry framed carved wooden windows. Sheets covered some of the furniture. Maybe his mom was right and the house was deserted. A moss-colored velvet winged chair sat in front of the window facing the street. It was empty.
“Where are you?” Dante called out, and repeated it louder. “I’ve come to save you!” He heard sounds like mice scurrying across the hard wood floors, or people might be in the house waiting to pounce upon him for trespassing. Terror threatened to imobilize him. Love and curiosity forced him to press forward.
The soft murmur of a sigh brushed across his face. Before he could figure out what it might be, a booming voice rang out.
“Boy! What are you doing in my home?”
Dante reeled around, heart pounding. He looked up at a man who seemed well over six feet tall. The man was shadowed by a petite woman, who bore a remarkable resemblance to the girl in the window.
“The . . . the.” Dante cleared his throat. “The lights went out and I saw the girl at the window. She was acting scared so I came to save her. Honest, Mister, I only meant to help.”
The man’s skin blanched. The woman mutely cried, tears rolling down her lovely, life-worn face.
“What girl?” The man scowled, grabbing Dante by his sweatshirt, lifting him so high he thought his head would hit the ceiling.
“Sir, the beautiful girl in the window. I‘ve watched her sitting there since I was sixteen-years-old old.”
“How old was she when you first saw her?” His tone changed from anger to wonder to profound grief.
“Always the same, Sir. She seemed about the same age I am now. I only wanted to help.”
“You have, son.” The big man, whose face appeared lost in thought, dropped Dante so abruptly that he landed on the floor with a thud.
“Her name was Victoria Rose. She fell off her horse and died from her injuries almost thirty years ago. She was about to turn eighteen. Her mother and I left after the accident and travelled. We happened to be back in town when the storm hit and decided to check on the house. I should sell this albatross.”
“Never,” his wife said softly. “Never.”
“How long have you seen her at the window? That was her sitting room.”
“Every day on my way back and forth to school. Sir, I fell in love with her over the past two years.”
The gruff father grasped Dante’s shoulders and looked deep into his eyes. “Victoria’s last words as she died were, ‘I will be back. Watch for me.’ Son, if our daughter comes to you instead of us, let us know. Promise me this?”
“Please, young man,” sobbed the woman. “She was our only child.”
“I promise,l Sir. “And I will Maam, I will.”
Dante left the mansion filled with the elusive promise of love. And questions that held no answers. Was she a ghost or a real girl, reborn into his lifetime? It was more than his mind could handle at the moment so he let his thoughts drift only to the feeling he got when visualizing her face. He glanced up at the window one last time. She wasn’t there. He sensed she would never be there again. He would wait for Victoria Rose to come to him as she promised her father. A soft, familiar murmuring sound and the scent of roses kissed by rain followed him home. His heart skipped a beat. It would be soon.