A Gift For Clara


A chill swept across his body in the serious, still room. The acoustic quality of the walls seemed to channel and echo every minimal sound into his ears. Peter had his thoughts about mansions, and all the accessories that came with them.

Though he was not one to deny the obvious beauty of such stately houses, even admitting to a certain regal quality he felt about them, he held onto old prejudices. The rich snooty folk and their expensive toys, the almighty image taking first priority, the invisible wall that kept out the rest of the world and held them in contempt.

A large man entered the room and silently offered Peter a seat with a routine gesture of his hand. They would conduct their conversation on antique Victorian chairs in the huge empty parlor, below chandeliers and a painted ceiling. Before a word was spoken, a servant came in with a tray of wine and sandwiches and sat it on a wooden chest in front of the large, well-dressed man.

“I'll be retreating now, as you requested, sir,” the servant told his employer. “The house is all yours.”

“Fine, Clemens,” said the large man. “I'll most likely see you Monday morning. Try to have a good weekend.”

“I always do, sir.” Clemens opened a nearby grandfather clock and wound it carefully before leaving the room. A moment later, he was heard exiting the house and leaving the grounds in his car.

Not knowing how to break the eerie quiet, Peter resorted to the small talk technique of commenting on the last thing that had attention brought to it. “My uncle had a grandfather clock like that,” he said. “It was just as beautiful. I remember it well.”

“My boy, if it was just as beautiful as mine,” Peter's host said, “then either he got a bargain or I was the victim of a deceptive clockmaker. I mean, I don't know how much money your uncle spent, but mine is a one-of-a-kind Gerhardt, the Stradivarius of clocks. It left me minus five.”

“Five?”

“Five-hundred thousand,” the host said as he took small bites rom his finger sandwich. “My wife has a talent for spotting the most expensive item in a cluttered shop, and persisting until it belongs to her.” The man smiled in the recollection, only to have the smile fade away. “Or so she had before she passed on.”

Still finding things a bit uncomfortable, Peter tried sampling the assortment of snacks to further alleviate the mood. He knew almost nothing about the man that sat before him, and despised the first words of an introduction. “I'm sorry, I don't recall your name exactly, it was...”

“Timald,” the large man said calmly, still nibbling like a rodent on his dainty food. “Timald, Tim, Timmy, Timothy, any variant of my name will suit me. I'll let you choose.”

“Then it shall be Tim. I once went to school with a man named Tim, nice fellow.”

“Thank you for the indirect compliment.” Tim stood from his seat and walked to the tall windows over looking the Rowdan river. He spoke to his guest without looking at him, as if his facial expression might endanger his upcoming sales pitch. “I'm glad you decided to come here today. I've come to understand hat you originally turned away from the invitation.”

“Yes, that was my first thought,” Peter told him, trying not to sound too at ease.

In his tone, Tim put away the introduction and moved on to business. “Let's not talk about our beliefs, or the differences between them. Larry has told me how you feel, and I want you to know I respect it, as should one respect anyone's creed. How long have you been friends with my brother-in-law, by the way?”

“He's a nice fellow, but I wouldn't label us 'friends'. We work in the same building downtown, and pass each other in the hall every morning. When I helped him that fateful day, it was a spontaneous thing. I'm not really sure why I did it.”

“Well, let me speak for the entire family when I say that I'm certainly glad you did. He's doing great, walking around like I thought I'd never see.” Just as abruptly as Tim left his serious tone, he returned to it, lowering his voice slightly in doing so. “I've tried many possibilities. But as my hands are tied, I find myself without options. For the record, I did not send for you until all other paths were exhausted.”

“Noted,” Peter said with a pleasant air. “I believe you, and should stop you from going any further. I appreciate the hospitality you've given me for the longest time. The limousines, the feasts, the clothes, it's been overwhelming.”

“It's gratitude, my friend. Hospitality is free. I've simply been thanking you for what you've done for our family, what you've done for Larry.”

“In that, you've paid me back ten times over.” Peter's voice seemed to gather momentum, or at least attempted to. “I came here today to clear the air and make a final statement. I want to say something for you all to hear. You being this family's figurehead so to speak, will have much the same effect.”

Tim's face of “let's not get hasty” told Peter that he was going to have to do more than make his rehearsed statement to sever his symbiotic relationship from this wealthy family. There was mental work to be done. “I realize that your family's been through a lot,” Peter continued, “and I feel for your girl. But what happened to Larry isn't something you can buy at the thrift store. It's not something one would call a small task.”

Tim continued to look out the window at the river below. “Clara and I used to take our boat out on the river, just the two of us. She'd call it Old Man Rowdan, and she'd pretend that the old man was pushing us along.”

“Don't say 'used to', she's not out for the count yet.”

“If you're saying what I think you're saying, then she very well is out. Out for the count, out of this life, out of time.” Tim caught the edge of frustration in his tone and slipped back into the controlled salesman of before. “What you did for Larry wasn't a small task. My brother-in-law owes his life to no less than a miracle, no one's saying otherwise. I know it's easy to place hope on that isolated incident and take things for granted. But I also know that events like this are rare. I have an eye for such jewels. It's this rarity that only makes me more determined.”

Tim walked to the chest sitting next to the fireplace and removed the food tray from it. He rubbed its varnished woodgrain with his hands. “This is a gift, from my family to you, for all that you've done. It's tailored to recruit you for my assistance, though it's a gift that I'd rather not part with, if you'd only reconsider. Please, I implore you, help me once again.”

Peter's silence answered the host's plea. Tim popped the latch and creaked open the lid. From inside it, he removed a small burlap sack and sat it on the mantelpiece.

“Every good story has three somethings,” he told Peter, building his curiosity. “Three bears, three pigs, three wishes. In this sack are your very own three objects, three items that will be my attempts at changing your mind about saving my girl. Each one is more persuading than the last. I assure you, much thought was placed into their presence. Do you have anything to say before I open the sack?”

Peter looked at Tim in apology. “I'm sorry,” he said. “Your approach and delivery are excellent, but I can't do it. I stand by my principles, at least for today.”

“You can't or you won't?”

“The 'can't' part I'm sure about, the 'won't' part I'm definite about. The responsibility is too great, you don't know what entails all this. Hopefully, you may not know for years. But the risk remains.”

Tim looked at his reluctant guest as he handled the gift. The large man gently pulled the string tied around the burlap sack and reached inside to reveal three small, shiny objects, examining them in the sunlight coming through the stained glass windows. “They're so beautiful, symbols for me. Solid 24-carat gold, imported from Tibet, engraved by my great-grandfather when he had this house built 97 years ago.”

“It'll take more than gold to...”

Before another word was spoken, Tim tossed Peter one of the small golden objects. Peter looked at it in wonder. It was a key. Looking back at his host, he realized that he was just given the first of three golden keys.

“If you're wondering what they fit,” Tim told him, jingling the remaining two keys in his hand, “they fit three very different locks. As for the one you're holding, I'll betray myself and make it simple, since it is the first one. That lovely key is for this.”

Tim reached into the chest at his feet and removed from it a small jewelry box. Sewn into the red velvet top were his initials “T.R.”, just above an intricate lock. He handed the box to Peter, who looked at it from all sides.

“It's not a booby trap, it won't bite you,” Tim said. “Go ahead and open it.”

Peter looked at his brimming host. Carefully, he inserted his first key into the box's brass lock. He twisted it and lifted the cushioned lid with a brief creek. A sweet music box melody came out of it, reminding Peter of when he was a boy. It sounded like the type of innocent song that would remind anyone, not of their personal childhood, but of childhood in general.

“Well?” Tim asked. “How do you like it? I call it 'Clara's Springtime'. I wrote it for her on my piano and had it specially built into this music box.”

“You're pulling the heart strings pretty well,” Peter said, almost succumbing to the magical sounds. “But it'll take more. Life and death is a serious pair of words.”

“In case you missed it, my boy, there's something that goes with the song.”

Peter looked inside the box and saw an envelope with his name on it. Tearing it open slowly, he found a personal check with a rather large figure written on its front.

“I'm curious,” Tim said. “Did I leave off any zeroes? If I did, please let me know, and I'll add on as many as you think I've forgotten.”

“The amount is fine,” Peter said in a disgruntled manner. But no matter how large it is, it'll never be enough. To be clear, Tim, this isn't a money issue. It's an issue of power versus responsibility of that power. I hope your other keys aren't just for boxes with larger checks, because if that's the case, we can end this game now.“

“There's no point in offering you other checks when the one in your hand could easily carry my entire fortune. No, these keys have different homes. This next one, if I may guide you for a moment, unlocks something in here. The manor is much too large to incorporate my persuasion antics, so I've narrowed it down to this parlor.”

With that, Tim grinningly handed Peter a second key, then taking the small box and check from him.

Peter looked about the immense room and found nothing else with locks. There was nothing at all, aside the windows and doors. He then thought of how simple the riddle was, for that's exactly what the key was for.

The windows were all thick stained glass with no means of opening them. But surrounding Peter were four doors, including the door Clemens used as he left, the one that led into the hall. Peter didn't know what to expect and thought about refusing to play along with the wealthy man's creation.

“This is a big place,” Tim said, as if to subtly threaten his guest. “A person can get lost here, especially when there's no staff to be found on this lonely weekend afternoon. If you'll do me the favor of returning my generosity by humoring me and my golden friends, I will do you the courtesy of respecting your wishes to leave my home. This is under the assumption that my keys will fail to persuade you to help my Clara. I doubt they will, though I had hoped we wouldn't need to use them all.”

It was clear that Tim would not be reasoned with. It was his house, and his rules. With such size to everything, it was actually more of a microgovernment. Once behind the mansion's doors, one was subject to the mansion's unwritten law.

Peter approached the doors one by one, trying the key with each of them. The first lock he tried was on the door that led into the hall and out the front entry to freedom. It didn't work, telling Peter that he was indeed trapped unless he continued the game.

The second door he tried was on the same wall as the first door, on the other side of the fireplace. It remained locked. The third door, the one opposite the sky-high windows, was also not the correct one. Peter was eventually faced with a remaining `UV`last door, one that stood directly across from the fireplace. Being the last one made it that much more ominous to Peter, that much more repelling, as if to say “don't open me” through it's fine wood carvings of Greek scripture.

“Go ahead, my boy,” the host urged on, “insert the key. My house is your house, no need to be shy.”

Peter held the key to the lock in hopes that Tim was not too unusual of a man. Eccentric was acceptable, so long as it didn't cross certain unspoken lines.

With a twist of the golden key, Peter opened the door and found himself standing at the entrance of a dark room. There was a chill that was surprisingly colder than the parlor, and a silence that seemed to be a negation of sound rather than merely an absence of it. The darkness was so black that if there had been a cliff at the doorway, Peter wouldn't have known until he was falling.

“Don't turn back now, my boy,” Tim said with a deeper tone. “Enter the doorway. One does not open a door unless he plans to cross it's threshold.”

With eyes nearly shut, Peter stepped into the darkness and was seemingly enveloped. There was something in that room that created a sorrow. The unseen walls felt as though they were sad or longing, as did the floor, the windows, the furniture. None of it was visible, but was present in pain, like a sadistic blind sight. Peter began to feel the same way.

As he stood in the dark room, looking about him as if to see something he hadn't seen a second before, Tim entered, stopping at the doorway.

“Let me ask you a question,” Tim said. “What do you feel in here?” His guest could not answer, whether out of fear or otherwise. “Perhaps a few words to help crystalize your thoughts. Hopelessness. Despair. Loneliness. These are what I feel whenever I'm in this part of the house, but especially this particular room.”

In a quiet part of his mind, Peter did not disagree. The unseen room was unfortunately all these and more.

Tim turned up the room's lights with a wall dimmer. Peter immediately stepped away from the large thing appearing in front of him. As the light became brighter, he realized it was a four-post canopy bed, neatly made, with black satin draped all around it. As beautiful as the bed was, it wasn't one that Peter would want to have the chance to sleep in. It looked the same way the rest of the room felt, as if it were quiet and still in mourning.

“You don't have to ask me what makes this room so important,” Tim continued, “and I don't have to tell you. You can gather things as well as most men, better due to your gift. I can see it in your face. You know this was my bedroom. Our bedroom. Isabella fell to polio here, in that very bed, one that she picked out on the day of our marriage. She adored it, and that's where she wanted to pass on. She didn't want to die in a white-walled hospital, with white uniforms and tired white faces sleeping in the beds next to her. The only way to end a life is in the home that held it.

“When Isabella left, Clara was only two. For a long stretch of time I told myself that my daughter was better off not knowing her mother well, that she was being saved worlds of torment and regret by not remembering anything about her. After all, your sorrow over a lost brother versus a long lost great-uncle whom you've never met is quite a contrast. We've all wept tears for some folks and made only passing remarks about others.

“Soon, I realized I was trying to trick myself. I think I've always known. I wish now that Clara had the chance to know her mother before she was taken from us. I constantly question God for making such a decision.

“It's been six years since, and Clara is beginning to ask me about her. I know these pressing queries are only going to get deeper. She'll ask more detailed questions, and I'll start to notice her mother in her movements. It'll be in the way she talks and in the way she looks when she's sleeping. Clara's slipping away now, too. 'Respiratory cancer' they call the killer, not many children her age survive it when it's this bad. All the money I have, all the power I've built for the past 30 years, none of it is worth anything to this girl right now. She keeps asking me what I'm going to do to help her, or if we're going to be together. What can I tell her? And when Larry comes over, and she sees him moving around and walking as if he were an aspiring gymnast after limping all his young life, she asks how he managed to get better. I ask myself the same thing.”

“What do you tell her?” Peter asked, moved by his host's emotional attempt at recruiting his ability. “What do you tell her whenever she asks such things?”

“I tell her that a young man who goes to Woodston University helped him. A young man that worked with him took away his crippling disease. Uncle Larry has been snapping in and out of shape when he walked for as long as Clara can remember, and all of a sudden, at the time when she first became bed-ridden, he's given a new contract on life.

“Hell, did you know he's even growing his hair back? The man's been bald since he was in his late twenties, I'm talking glossy skull bald. Now he's buying expensive shampoos, planning on letting his new hair grow hippie long.”

“It won't end there,” Peter told him. “This is only the beginning, and it's always sweet in the beginning. Anything that happens to him now is my fault. He didn't ask for me to help him, I volunteered. I helped him because I thought I'd be easing someone's suffering. Instead, I've realized that playing Mother Theresa is a full-time job. You've got the media on one side, and millionaires with terminally ill relatives on the other. That's something you should tell Clara. Tell her that as much as I'd like to help her, I can't. Tell her that it's not personal, that she's only one of many people asking for my help, and I'm saying no to all of them, not just her.”

“Why don't you tell her yourself?” Tim walked to the canopy bed and pulled back the satin drapes. Lying between the thick pillows, unseen before, was Tim's small sleeping daughter, Clara. Peter was obviously affected by her presence, but was still rooted to his beliefs. “If you weren't the only man on the planet that can help my girl,” Tim continued, “I'd slap you across the face for making her just a number in your collection of solicitors. Clara's different. She's not a rich old lady that's had a full, lush life, afraid of dying. She's a brave little girl that lost her mother, and is now going to lose everything else.”

“If you weren't a man with a dying child,” Peter bellowed, “I'd slap you across the face. For thinking that you're any more special than the rest of the folks that have come to me for help, or saying that people are only numbers to me. You insult me with your selfishness. Notice how I use the word “you” instead of “her” or “your daughter”. This isn't about Clara or how she's going to miss out on a life without a mother. This is about a man that tragically lost his wife, is now about to lose his only child, and is going to have no one to live with him in this dreary house.”

“I can't understand how you can sit on the sidewalk and watch my baby die in my arms. How can you be so sadistic?”

Peter advanced Tim as if he were going to strike him out of anger. He stopped himself, straining to retrieve his composure. Looking down at little Clara, he spoke in a soft tone, not necessarily speaking to anyone. “Do you want to know how I discovered my gift? My brother, Joshua, was bitten by a rattlesnake while we we're hiking in the middle of lost-nowhere, and I didn't know what to do. I managed to carry him to a ranger station, but by the time we got there, all traces of the poisonous venom were gone. He was healthy again, healthier than before he was bitten.

“That was four years ago. Things have developed unpredictably since then. Last week he was hit by a drunk driver. Everything in his body was mangled beyond comprehension, it's a miracle he survived. But this miracle became a doom for him, because the pain never stops. The pain from the very moment that truck plowed into him, the curdling sting and sharp thrust of the it smashing his body, continue without any end in sight. You see, when I made him immune to the snake's poison, I made him immune to all poisons, to all chemicals. Doctors can't give him anything because nothing works. Morphine, codeine, they might as well be water. They can't sedate him, and they probably couldn't put him put him out of his misery without decapitating him like a vampire. As we stand here, Joshua's losing his mind, screaming all day in pain, ranting about how he wants to die.

If I had the courage my brother needs me to have, I'd find a way to oblige him in his wish.”

“I'm sorry about your brother, my boy,” Tim told his guest, “and I don't mean to persist like a self-serving fool, but it would be a fallacy to say that what happened to him will happen to anyone you may help.”

“My brother was only the first, as he was the one that made me discover my ability. There are unfortunately other stories, of people who at one point would have sold their souls for me to help them, only to be on suicide watch later.

“A girl I was seeing was attacked one night last year, left for dead in an alley by an evil, heartless demon of a man. She was beaten within sight of death, and I hurried to tend to her. Afterward she was in prime health, or so I thought. But it's the mental damage of a rape that never fades, especially so in her case.

“I soon found that my healing her somehow erased all her physical wounds, only to leave the attack to replay over and over in her mind, seemingly stronger with each nightmare. In time, the massive wounds she had on that dreaded night began to reappear in their full-blown severity every time she had the dream. There hasn't been a week since her attack that she hasn't been in St. Cristof's Hospital.

“I could go on, but you can see there are drawbacks to my gift. It's true when they say a blessing and a curse are sisters. I don't want your little girl to die, but I don't want to own her life, either. I don't want to be responsible for the aftermath, and there will be one, there always is. Like I said, I've got plenty of experience from my traveling healer days. I promised God that I would stop doing His job, and He promised to let me keep what little peace of mind I have left, even if it means stopping at the presence of your child.”

“What about Larry?” Tim persisted, starting to lose his composure in Peter's confidence. “Larry's fine, he could run a marathon he's in such good shape.”

“The jury's still out on your brother-in-law, Tim. It's only been a few months since I helped him, there's no telling what may happen from here. It was foolish of me to forget the rest of the folks I've 'healed'. Nothing can change this, he is to be the one.”

“You haven't used your third key yet, Peter,” Tim said flatly, seemingly restraining his eluding control. “All this banter has let us forget the existence of the third key.”

“There isn't a key that would do the job. After what I've told you, there isn't anything I can conceive that would change my mind.”

“As I've said, I'm desperate, my hands are tied. I need to at least try. If you'll step into my den, I'll present the final key.” The two men stepped out of the child's room, leaving her to continue sleeping.

Peter hoped that they were finally going to another part of the house, somewhere other than the parlor. He had felt so trapped in that beautiful room. Upon arriving earlier, Clemens showed him into the parlor and told him to wait a moment for Timald to join him. That moment lasted nearly an hour, testing Peter's patience and endurance. How lonely and cold it was to converse with 20 foot high stained glass windows while rehearsing his rejection over and over, determined to deny Tim his wish.

Upon escorting his guest across the parlor, Tim did not open the door that led into the main hall. Instead, he opened the door on the other side of the fireplace. Immediately, Peter could see that Tim's den was a no-nonsense office. It's size was quite a contrast to everything else in the manor, and Peter felt more trapped than before.

Sealing the emotions further, Tim shut the door behind them and offered his guest a seat in a hard, one-piece plastic chair. Peter began to suspect that perhaps his host's den doubled as the custodian's closet.

“Tim, let's get on with this third key business. I'll allow you to make your attempt to sway me, and then I'll be on my way.”

“To speed things up, as you've expressed you want, I'll turn the key myself and save you the trouble.” With a clunk onto his crude desk, Tim sat a rusted metal box with a lock built onto its side. “Well, here goes everything.” He unlocked the box for his guest, removing from it an ominous antique pistol.

Peter had to take a second look in disbelief, scared on a deep level, as if trying to convince himself that he was truly in jeopardy. Tim casually popped open the gun and checked for ammo, subtly making sure that Peter also got an undoubted glance for confirmation. There was no question, each of the six chambers had a bullet tucked within it.

“So, this is the last of the three,” Peter said, trying to sound comfortable in the presence of the weapon. “All the eloquence gone, all the psychology out the door. It's just the three of us, you and me and a gun. In the end, you're no different than a low-rent criminal.”

“This Colt,” Tim started, “is a family heirloom. It's older than your grandma, and more valuable than anything in this house. Don't think that I've dismissed taste and presentation just because I have a gun in my hand, or that this less-than pristine room is a where I take my captives for their primitive executions. You judge too quickly.”

“It's easy to judge so fast when I have a gun aimed at me, antique or not. Extortion is the word, plain and simple. But despite all this, despite all the impressive attempts at pitching your needs to me, I keep my view of you as a pitiable man.”

The large host slid the chamber back into place, and held the weapon loosely before aiming it at its potential target. “Extortion, yes, you're correct in that choice of word. I have succumbed to that strategy. But I never said that this gun's barrel was meant for you.” On that, he raised the beautiful weapon to his own head, holding the trigger precariously tight in a finger's grip.

“You've won the day,” Peter said nervously, attempting to counter Tim's well planned mind tricks. “You've succeeded in convincing me that you've completely lost your mind. You won't pull that trigger, you care too much about your daughter to leave her in this world alone.”

“Ah, but I won't be doing that. For without your gift, she won't be around long enough to notice she's alone. It's simple, really, as simple as placing your hand on her head and walking away with a fortune under your belt. If you don't oblige my wishes and keep the Lord from recruiting my little girl, I will pull this pin and meet her upstairs where we can see Him together.” Tim gave his guest a questioning look, examining his silent response. To accelerate his thinking, Tim pulled back the hammer on the ancient gun.

“Let me think, goddamn it! If I'm gonna do this, like you're so sure I am, then at least give me a minute! Put the hammer back!”

“A minute to think about it?” Tim barked. “You've had plenty of time to think about it, from the moment you pulled into my driveway this morning. Besides, how much time did you need before you gave Larry his legs back? Or any of your other disciples? I realize you're brother didn't turn out so well, and I acknowledge that something similar may happen with Clara, but at least give her the chance to find out. I'll take responsibility for whatever occurs. I'll deal with whatever my daughter goes through.”

“Somehow, I don't put much stock in that plea,” Peter said seriously. “If Clara were to have the same outcome as my brother, and she were screaming in agony every second of every day, I doubt you'd have the courage to do the right thing. I know I don't.”

Tim thought about what Peter said, about the possibility of doing the right thing“ if needed in the end. He realized his guest was right, that he wouldn't be able to cope with whatever may happen. He also realized that there was indeed nothing that could sway Peter from his stand. “You're right,” he said in a drifting exhale. “But I do have the courage to do this.”

BOOM!

Peter rushed to Tim's side, reaching him before he hit the floor tin a bloody thud. Without thinking, Peter propped him up against the desk to see if he was okay. A second later, he darted back from the large man's body, terrified in the realization that he touched him skin-to-skin.

Slowly, the severe gunshot wound on the side of Tim's head began to shift and change color. Tim's shut eyes sped back and forth as the wound transformed. Almost immediately, the blood stopped flowing, and Peter could actually see skin stretch across the wound, sloppily covering the shattered bone and torn muscle. He wanted so much to run from the manor, never looking behind him. Something kept him there, something more than the curiosity of whether or not Tim was going to recover.

The mystical healing stopped, and Tim fluttered open his eyes. The scar was a hideous sight, with bulky shards of skull behind a delicately laid sheet of flesh. Peter had only healed him to a partial, vile degree.

Tim flailed his arms like a cloth puppet, moaning as if he were trying to awaken from a long nightmarish dream. His eyes were against the top of their sockets, exposing his red-stained varicose whites. They bled as he flopped against the desk in pain. “Petahhhhh,” he moaned with straining effort, unknowingly drooling on himself. “Petahhhhh, helappppp....” From that point, his words became mere noise, nothing approaching recognizable. His seizures grew more intense, and it was a horrid sight to see a man of such power and stature turned into a tormented vegetable, lying at the hands of his reluctant guest.

Peter stood in front of the remains of the man, who was alive only by textbook definition. He thought to act quickly, not wanting to relive what he's done to so many others in the past. There was nothing else he could think to do but the right thing, the thing he could never imagine himself doing.

“Petahhhhh, ahhhhhhhppppp...”

BOOM!

*****

As Peter left the quiet den, once again in the majestic parlor, he thought of little Clara, whom he'd only glanced at once. He turned in the direction of her room and thought of how it used to be her mother's. For a flash of a second, he was tempted to walk into the dark room, awaken her with a smile, and give her his gift before exiting the mansion. In the unlikely chance that she would awaken with no problems, healthy as a girl her age should be, he pondered the thought of the young girl discovering her father in the den. He weighed the choice of a child dying in her sleep, or living in a twisted misery.

Finding himself taking steps towards her awaiting room, Peter stared at the stained glass windows as if to ask their advice. Without another thought, he heeded their silent suggestion, and walked out the front door of the manor for his first breath of fresh air all day.

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