The dance floor was checkered in conflicting patterns of dull mahogany and beige, faded from years of use. The room, octagonal in shape, was certainly the most magnificent in the mansion; people say it could hold an orchestra, let alone a few nobles for a yearly waltz. The guests would dance by the intricately-carved baroque pillars that lined the wall and feel the flames of the candles licking their backs. They would look up at the ceiling that was so high it escaped candlelight's reach, save for the dim light a magnificent chandelier provided. The room smelled of musk but a person could see its old glory… reminiscent of the pre-Reformation era buildings that so littered the old Florentine area.
The room always amazed me as a child, but not as much so as the people who occupied it that same night every year. In such a large manor of such a prestigious host my parents wouldn't let me, their little girl, roam around and risk getting lost; rather I always had the pleasure of sitting and watching them prance around all night. As annoying as it was, it was fascinating watching those bourgeoisie, gathered in their ornate outfits and intricate masks, dancing stiffly, yet gracefully, like flowers gently pushed around by the soft current of a pond. The people were all more or less the same— ugly faces lathered in rococo and rigidity. The orange glow of the candles would reflect upon the cobalt suits of the men, turning it a lovely violet. It would glint off the rich, red-trimmed gold of the women's dresses, shaped by ridiculous corsets, bustles and brassieres. As they cavorted around, in the back, hidden by the shadows of the pillars was a string quartet accompanied by a harp and a harpsichord, playing the haunting melodies and wistful tones that so embody a waltz. Right by them was a table of wine and hors d'oeuvres.
Those nights always felt like peculiar dreams— strange faces hidden behind masks, dancing rigidly to eerie music that echoed and bounced up the walls into a black nothingness. It always intrigued me that no one there knew of the waltz's host, supposedly a very wealthy aristocrat who lived in an old mansion no one ever saw. He would never even be there to greet his guests… there would just be a lit-up entrance, the only lit-up entrance, which opened into the hallway that led to that one room and nothing else— no one saw anything more of that grand mansion. Every year I would walk about the guests and ask them about our host and his residence, but no one listened— everyone was too wrapped up in each other to listen to a little girl's nonsensical inquisitions. Breathing in the musky air and hearing little else but the music and the movement of the dancers' feet on the floor, I wondered if there was anyone there at all, or it was only a hoax, a setup by the guests for a dance in an abandoned building, as an excuse for a party. Or maybe they just were dreams…
One year when I was roughly twelve years old, I decided I didn't want to sit another night in that dreary room— I was going to explore, figure out what the mansion was about. In the corner of the room sat a door, simple and wooden, standing right by one of the pillars. While my parents and the other guests were laughing over glasses of wine, I snatched a candle from the wall, and, quiet as a mouse, slipped through the door and shut it with only a small creak.
I immediately found myself in pitch-black— thank goodness I had my candle. Its wax was hot and sticky on my hands, but with some light I could navigate around. The first thing I noticed was the smell— not of decay, but of intense must, like the place hadn't been dusted in decades. The ground was soft enough as I walked over it— the candlelight shone it a faded velvet carpet— but I could feel the mice and bugs scatter as I made my way across the area which seemed to be a long hallway, going on seemingly endlessly in either direction. The walls were a pasty light green and adorned with portraits of many pompous old fat guys—the family lineage, assumedly. All was deathly silent but my footsteps, lightly cushioned by that old, saggy carpet. All was silent except… I put my ear to the wall and listened… something was making an odd monotonous droning, like the very muffled sound of flat surfaces striking again and again in a mechanical manner… most interesting.
Brushing my hand along the dusty walls I followed the source of the noise, which grew slightly louder as I slowly treaded down the hall, right of where the exit out of the ballroom was. After a while I stopped and looked back at the now-faint door back to the ballroom, the cracks between its corners incandescent with the orange light behind it, slowly fading as I distanced myself from it. I considered the potential consequences of continuing, which in my twelve-year-old mind were limited to "would I get in trouble," and I really didn't care at the time. I didn't consider what might be out there down that dark hall… all I knew is that I was bored, and exploring sounded like a good time. I had been reading a lot of teen fiction at the time and thought of assuming myself against the unknown was about the coolest thing ever. So I turned my gaze forward and continued on.