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Beating Heart

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“If you have courage, show us you are brave,

Go forth; dare yourself to face the dead,

Face the awakened spirits of grave,

Show whether your heart is made of lead.

 If you bring back a proof of your worth,

You will be given: ‘The desire of your heart’.”

Hans reread the yellow scroll he had been presented with as he stood in front of the great, dusty, cobwebbed, looming mansion. He wished he hadn’t taken the bet after all. It was perhaps better to be proved a coward than to go among the ghosts and become one. He pushed the heavy creaking door and went inside a darkened corridor illuminated only by the faint, flickering light of his candle. As the door closed shut behind him, he sensed another presence with faint, light footsteps. But he could not turn back. The door had been shut tightly. Taking a deep breath, he turned around twice, the light from his candle flickering like something alive, creating strange shadows upon the dusty, cobwebbed walls. Did ghosts even exist? Perhaps the venture to this ‘haunted house’ to meet a troubled spirit was in vain. He would just go around and explore. If he found no supernatural existence, he would return, perhaps defeated in his conquest but triumphant over his limitless bravery. He took one step at a time.  “This is not the end. I’m just eighteen,” he murmured. Taking cautious footsteps, he urged his legs on. From time to time he stopped to admire the portraits, the intricate handiwork on the pillars and furniture. Years of existence had worn them out and the woodwork reeked of a damp, pungent smell. He was still aware of his follower but was sure not to give that away. Curiosity troubled him. It urged him to turn back in search of the presence. But curving the corners of his lips into a little smile, he whispered the age old saying:  ‘curiosity killed the cat.’ He wouldn’t let the often helpful devil take over him and bring his life to a quick end. He was glad of the absence of windows, which ensured that no gust of wind would blow out his candle like it did in movies. Yet, Speaking of movies, he childishly longed for a little more thrill and suspense. After all he had come all the way to visit the most famous and feared haunted house in town. But the ball of fear which had enveloped him at the beginning had now faded to almost nothing as he became familiar with the scratching of rats and the screeching of bats. He now wished that whoever the presence was would show itself. He entered a faintly lit room and stopped as a beautiful picture caught his eyes. The human length picture hanging from the wall showed a pretty girl, not older than him. Blue eyes, wavy brown hair, red lips, standing out on the lily white face. Although smiling, the eyes betrayed fear in such amount that it looked unnaturally wide in the sharp featured pale face. Her colored cheeks were astonishingly red. Either she was blushing or her fear had converted her smooth paper white face into a blood red color. Who had taken the picture? Had he made her blush? Or something must have shocked her while the picture was being taken. Or was this a portrait? He dusted the inscription at the bottom. “Adriana. 16 years. 1915 –   “, he read. “She is not dead yet?” he exclaimed as he looked up at the slim gown clad figure.

“If you consider a heart yet living”, a voice whispered.  A soft, cold hand was clamped on his mouth from behind. He knew it was to prevent him from screaming out loud. But although the hand was not very calming as it sent down a chill through his body, he did not feel the urge to shout. He did not know why, but along with the shiver, his heart did a little happy dance. The voice was calming, soft and young, a tint of suspicion hidden under, sadness perhaps? He looked down at the slim white translucent hand.  He was suddenly whirled around by the shoulder and found himself facing the girl from the picture. Her longing blue eyes flicked eagerly upon his face and slowly came to a rest piercing his own while her blood red lips parted slightly in wonder. His heart kept beating wildly as he found himself drowning in those eyes. After staring for a while into the wide sea eyes, he tore his own away from her face and asked “Adriana? Who are you?” “Please don’t” her whispering voice pleaded but her eyes still bored into him, her hands holding him tightly as if to never let go. He slowly let his eyes meet hers as he raised his hand in another attempt to touch and felt his legs loose the urge to walk, encouraging him to stand there forever. But his hands passed through her face again, she was not there. “Adriana, are you a spirit?” He couldn’t bring himself to call such a lovely creature a “ghost”. But even as he uttered the question, he realized the mistake he had committed. The blue eyes lost its penetration, now sparkling with droplets of water on the long eyelashes as the lily white hands slackened the grip on him. “It was not my fault”, she whispered. “I wanted to live my life. I wanted to love.” “I wanted to love a man who would be brave enough to forever look into my eyes and call me his. I wanted a determined man who wouldn’t fear…. Who would be strong yet loving…. A man like you…” she whispered. “Like me?” he managed to form the words, his throbbing heart dancing in apprehension. “You did not fear to enter the mansion… You felt my presence, I know you did. Yet you did not hesitate. You were determined to fulfill any mission you had arrived with,” she explained coloring up a little. As he made no gesture and stood perfectly still, she continued, “You are the first boy… the first young person… the first alive being I’ve seen after…” and then continued with a sweet, bitter laugh “I wanted to be like a normal teenager. I wanted to love and be loved. I wanted to be told I was beautiful by someone special. I would dress up with care, dancing through the hallways wishing for a day when my knight in shining armor would kneel down on his knees to offer me a rose! On a party night, I wished, oh how I wished that while everyone was dancing, someone would come to me, offer me his hand and ask “May I have the first dance?”


“And I would whirl round and round,

Dancing above the ground,

My head in the clouds,

Fascinating and mesmerizing, no doubt.


The music would play all evening,

And I’d dance till my feet were aching.

Then I’d sit down and ask for water,

He’d bring me lemonade to make me feel better!!!


At night he’d kiss me goodbye,

It had been a wish’ I won’t lie.

I knew it could never come true,

But my biggest dream, here’s the clue.


Reaching home, he’d feel the pain,

Heart throbbing, his life in vain.

Adriana, he’d realize his love,

She’d be her queen, the goddess from above!


He’d race over his horse galloping,

His lips in a smile, his heart beating,

On reaching me, he’d take my hand,

Give me the ring, a lover’s band.


“Yes”, I’d say, my heart fluttering,

 He’d kiss me, his eyes shining,

We’d have our marriage all merry and grand,

For eternity, we’d take each other’s hands.


I’d just whirl round and round,

Dancing above the ground,

My head in the clouds,

Fascinating and mesmerizing, no doubt!”


There she stopped, her piercing blue eyes shining with happiness and longing and her red lips in a sweet smile. The nightingale’s voice and her lively dance had taken Hans’ breath away. Hans stood there, staring, his lips parted in wonder, trying to process the young girl’s dream that he heard. It was every girl’s dream. Yet when put into a song so happy, so hopeful, yet overflowing with sadness in every note, speaking of a dream which would never come true, it hurt. He had that, what she dreamed of.  He gave it to everyone – to his friends, his family. So why not offer her what she perhaps yearned for day and night. His mind repeatedly played her dance, the music still ringing in his ears.  She was like a delicate flower that could not be touched but could be loved and appreciated for its delicacy, for its beauty and above all for its strength that made it grow and helped it thrive in its difficult life. He took a step forward. “Beauty beyond words” he sang, slowing approaching her.


“Beauty beyond words,

Hidden away she lies,

Her voice like a bird,

She dances like a butterfly.


She has rosy red lips, and sea blue eyes,

The pale white face, the wavy brown hair.

The droplets on her eyelashes when she cries,

Shows the world how much she cares.


You want to be loved,

To be cared for,

I am here to love,

And to care for.


So take my hand,

Let the heavens rejoice,

Today shall be grand,

For eternity we’ll join.


Come let’s rewrite the stars,

You don’t have to hide anymore.

Break free through the bars,

Into the love’s open door.


We shall be happy forever,

Safe in each other’s arms,

Sick with the affection’s fever,

Out of the way of all harm.”


And we’ll just whirl round and round,

Dancing above the ground,

Our heads in the clouds,

Fascinating and mesmerizing, no doubt.


Come let’s rewrite the stars,

We don’t have to hide anymore,

Break free through the bars,

Into the love’s open door.


The music will play all evening,

And we’ll dance till our feet are aching,

This is a wish; we’ll make it true,

And our biggest dream? Here’s the clue.


We shall be happy forever,

Safe in each other’s arms,

Sick with the affection’s fever,

Out of the way of all harm.


Come, just whirl round and round,

Dancing above the ground,

Our heads in the clouds,

Fascinating and mesmerizing, no doubt.”


“Oh! It shall be fascinating and mesmerizing no doubt.”


There they stood, looking into each other’s eyes, savouring their first taste of love, oblivious to the time passing by. It was almost midnight, as they stood in the dark with only enough light from the melting candle to see each other’s face. Hans’ breath came in deep uneven gasps as he whispered, “Adriana, I love…” She put her cold transparent hand on his lips as her gaze slowly bore deeper into him, exciting in his heart a stoked feeling. Minutes creeped by, both feeling each other’s numb body in their arms, till she brought her rosy lips onto his parted ones, with a slight pressure and suddenly he found himself kissing her with a vehement force and passion while she held tightly onto him, almost hanging from his neck, her cold hands playing through his soft, dark, ruffled hair. Sometimes he felt her slender fingers walking up his bent back, before forcing him to move closer. His hands were tightly wrapped around her, sometimes travelling up to caress her face in them. Then with a slight tug, she pulled away and after outlining his face with her finger, she smiled up at his intoxicated, unfocused eyes and buried her head in his shoulders, inhaling deeply. His body had heated up against her cool one and all his intoxicated mind wanted was more. His fingers travelled down her translucent back and she looked up at him, her inviting lips curved in a pretty smile. But as he moved closer to her, so that he felt so much pressure that he was unable to breathe, her eyes lost its penetration. Adriana slowly moved her hands over the name sewn on his sweater. “Hans”, she murmured.

“Hans, I’m a ghost”, she whispered and pulled out of their tight embrace. “Hans, you are living! I can’t do this to you. Please! Leave! You can’t linger here anymore. Oh! What a fool I’ve been. How could I forget? How could I love? Go! Don’t stand there looking at me. Please Hans! It is midnight already. You must go. Go before they wake up! Hans run!” Now she was shaking him by the collar as his dazed head rattled to and fro. “Please leave. Forget me.” She was now pleading, tears streaming down her face in a steady flow. “Calm down, Adriana”, Hans held up his hand smiling, but concerned at the odd turn of events.  “Look, I can never forget you, so don’t ask me to do that. And it doesn’t matter that I’m living. I love you Adriana. I really do. Look, we’ll clear up this mansion together and live here happily. You don’t have to leave this place if you don’t want to. But you really could come with me into the sunshine. You are so pale, dear. I’d like to see some colour return to your cheeks. We could get married and visit any place you like. And I’ll tell everyone that perhaps you have some illness or just that you don’t like being touched. The world needn’t even know the truth. I’m sure my family would love to have you, Adriana. My sister’s a real nice girl. You could have a good friend”, he said tucking a strand of hair behind her ears. “Don’t Hans. Please don’t. I can’t. You have to leave.” She was now sobbing hysterically. “I am not leaving without you. And why can’t you? I’m telling you it’ll be fun. You’ll like…” “Stop it Hans. Please. Listen to me.” “Quietly”, she added as he tried to speak. “A hundred and six years ago, I came to visit this mansion. It was not known to be haunted then. It was well kept and had a beautiful garden which attracted me the most. So I brought my brother along, intending to spend an afternoon here. After we had our lunch, my genius brother produced a small-makeshift camera he had made with his teacher. It still had a lot of defects, he explained, but we decided to try out the fascinating object. After he positioned himself and asked me to smile…,” she paused with a sigh and continued, “I can’t tell you how, but suddenly, before I could even scream out, he was stabbed from behind. As he fell, I glimpsed some transparent figures before I felt the knife at my throat. I pleaded, cried and begged till they finally decided to leave me. The condition was that they’d take the box and my picture. I was such a fool! Seeing no other way out I agreed. Within a second the eldest ghost turned my picture into the portrait you see there. Do you know how cruel they are? They left only my heart beating forever, so that unlike a ghost, I can love, I can be happy, I can cry, live and feel everything like normal person can. The only difference is I cannot. Apart from my heart, they took everything away, to leave me as a half- spirit. And they tied my soul to the portrait so that I cannot be separated from this mansion. You see the empty place in the inscribed date stating my age? As I won’t grow old, I won’t die naturally but when they feel like, they’ll inscribe a year to fill up the space and that’ll be the end of my long life. For years now, I’ve been residing beside the door, trying to watch over anyone who visits this place, but unable to do so as the ‘Ghosts of the Mansion’, killed them. But today when I saw you, I somehow couldn’t help revealing myself. I wanted you to know that the girl in the portrait is living yet. I am so sorry. It had been a terrible mistake. You will leave without me, Hans. Promise me”, she kissed him lightly as her eyes sparkled with little drops.

“No one is leaving the mansion. We’ll make sure that the sweet, little couple stays right where they are. Together forever”, came a rasping voice which sounded like it had lost the habit of speaking. Frozen, Hans slowly turned around to be greeted by the laughter from five figures in the doorway. Four of them were shapeless and looked like slimy grey clouds with long limb like projections. The fifth one, who was definitely the leader, looked like an evil magician from the horror movies. He wore a purple long tailed tux with a yellow shirt tucked into his green pants. The black laces on his red shoes were tied rather loosely. This ridiculous fashion sense would have made Hans laugh if not for the face. It was a sharp featured face with deep set and unnaturally green, piercing eyes lined with black kohl and bloody red lips standing out on the dry, papery face. His lips were twisted in an evil grin which had formed crinkles under his eyes and showed too many of his vampire teeth reddened with a liquid which Hans hated guessing. But then he was seized by a strong nauseous feeling as his head ached and his vision became obscured. “Let’s tie him to another portrait,” came the faint laughing voice from a ghost. He could feel Adriana’s hand squeeze his as her fingers entwined around his and tried to hold on, but felt his soul slowly drift away as his body became lighter. “You… Will… Not… Destroy… Another… Whom I love,” was all he heard before felt the sharp tug of being yanked back by a great force.

He opened his eyes with a start and stared at a ceiling filled with faded stickers. He slowly turned his head and found himself lying on the bed in his room. He was sweating profusely.  “Was Adriana a dream?,” came a dazed thought. But his whole body ached. He held up his hand to find scratches and teeth marks on it. Had there been a fight? Or had he hurt himself during his troubled dream? But he couldn’t stop thinking of Adriana. She had seemed so real, so lively and she had loved him. Could love in a dream be so sweet? Could love in a dream hurt and twist his heart into a longing knot? He tried to get up and found a crumbled yellow paper under him. He straightened it up to find a blank parchment. He sat there trying to remember what he had been doing with the paper when all of a sudden, writing started appearing on the paper line by line. The writing was delicate but the curved letters conveyed a strong message:

“I hope I had been able to save you. If you are reading this now, then please don’t come near the mansion ever again. They’ll be waiting for you. I’m really sorry to have dragged you into this mess but it had been lovely meeting you, Hans. I hope that you’ll remember me and save a little corner of your heart to bury the memories.  I wish for you a happy life and I know that the girl whom you’ll love will be the most fortunate one ever. Perhaps luckier than me; she’ll get a forever with you. Yet, I feel that you had given me a ‘forever’ in those few moments when I had actually felt you touch me.

The ghosts are inscribing the ending numbers on my portrait now. But I’m glad that the date inscribed will be the one that I met you on. I drained my whole power to return you to your home and hence I’ve got not power left to fight them. But I’m glad to be dying for you. My painful life has not been in vain after all! The hundred and six years of waiting brought me a sweet end. Just like my biggest dream. ‘Cause with you,


I had whirled round and round,

Dancing above the ground,

My head in the clouds,

It had been mesmerizing, no doubt.





A quiet drop fell on the parchment, smudging the cursive letters.




Did you visit the mansion?”


“The proof?”

“There’s none.”

“You were supposed to bring a proof!”

“I am sorry.”

“Nothing to prove the existence of spirits in the mansion?”


“Did you encounter one?”


“We are sorry then. We will be unable to fulfil your previously made earnest request.”

“It’s okay”, he replied, as he felt the crumbled up, smudged, yellow parchment in his pocket.



Ishika Banerjee

Ishika Banerjee is a high school student in India.

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