With each leaden step that carried him deeper into the woods, Vasile Bucur grew more nervous. His senses screamed at him to turn and run. Only his pride kept him going. Stubborn pride, and the fact that he was flanked on each side by the Hodus Twins. Stefan on his left and Andrei on his right.
Vasile was twelve years old. The twins two years older, they were the leaders of the Wolf Pack, a gang of young hoodlums that was responsible for nearly all the petty crime in the village. Tonight Vasile intended to join the gang. He had five sisters and his mother to care for. Without the money he earned from doing odd jobs around the village, they would surely starve. This was his chance to earn a lot more money. It was his chance to become a man, a true provider for his family. But first things first. He had to show his bravery and loyalty by completing his rite of passage.
The boys were heading towards the ruins of Castle Victor. Vasile would have to spend an hour alone inside. One large obstacle stood in his way. Everyone knew that the castle was haunted.
The story was famous throughout the land. Back in the distant past, a young prince had married a beautiful girl from the village. The prince, sole heir to his father Count Victor the Vengeful’s vast estates, had married in defiance of his father's wishes.
The Count, a cruel man, was furious with his son for marrying a commoner in preference to the bride chosen for him. He plotted his revenge. He lured the beautiful young bride into his chambers on her wedding night, intending to deflower the young virgin. To his disgust, the girl fought like a tiger to resist his advances and fled out onto the battlements. Chasing after her with a burning rage he grabbed her, threw her over the edge and down to the moat far below. Flailing and grabbing for anything to break her fall, she landed impaled on one of the vicious spikes that lined the moat.
Her young prince ran to help in answer to her screams. He reached the rampart just in time to see her fall. Distraught beyond reason, he leapt after his bride and impaled himself beside her. His father, unable to live with the loss of his only child, took his own life soon after.
Late into the afternoon, the boys arrived at their destination. The once great castle lay in ruins. A clinging mist swirled around the ramparts. Ugly vines grew from the walls, adding a sense of gloom and foreboding to the scene.
Vasile could feel his heart thumping in his chest. If it beat any faster, it would surely explode. Steeling his resolve, he trudged alone across the rickety remains of a drawbridge and past a rusty gate, into the gloom. A pair of staircases, lay broken on the floor of a grand hall. Vasile continued on into a great library, pulling cobwebs away from his hair and face. The library was dank with the smell of decay. Piles of leather bound books, covered in mould lay strewn about, filthy black rats scurried about, adding to the stench.
The very core of his being, his soul, screamed at Vasile to run, but as if possessed by unknown spirits, he proceeded deeper into the dark passages. His body moved against his will until he arrived at a large ballroom. This room was just as putrid as all the others, devoid of furnishings except for a grand piano, leaning precariously on rotted legs. Despite the dust and grime, it was obvious that this was once an opulent chamber, designed for revelry, feasting, and dancing.
The eerie presence that had drawn Vasile this deep into the castle now propelled him towards the piano. He sat on a stool in front of the keyboard and started to play on the ancient instrument. Eyes closed, he imagined playing in front of a party of royalty, ladies of high fashion and gentlemen of aristocratic bearing.
As Vasile continued to play, ever so subtly the music changed. What were random notes, created by inept fingers on broken keys, became beautiful haunting music. His hands played with a life of their own. Switching at will from romantic waltzes to passionate tangos, to lively medleys of classical tunes.
Enchanted by the sounds, Vasile opened his eyes. The room was transformed. The piano had become resplendent with ornate candelabra on its gleaming white top, the keys restored to the darkest ebony and brightest ivory.
The rhythmic sound of feet dancing on the shining beech floor drew his attention. He looked up to see a handsome young couple dancing to his music. Spellbound, he watched as they moved in perfect harmony with each other. Their faces reflected pure joy, while their eyes shone with eternal love.
The exquisite scene was disturbed by hands pulling at him and voices shouting at him.
“Vasile, Vasile wake up lad,” they said. “How can you sleep in this stinking pile of filth?”
It was Stefan and Andrei. They had become concerned when hours had passed with no sign of Vasile returning to them. Overcoming their own fears, they had gone in search of their friend, at last finding him sleeping at the old piano. Vasile looked up bewildered. He stared past his friends and saw where their footsteps had left traces in the dust. Then he looked to the dance floor, where to his horror he saw a young couple fade away into nothing and on the floor, footprints of perfect dance steps etched into the dirt.
Right in front of their eyes, Stefan and Andrei saw Vasile’s hair turn from jet black to snow white. His skin aged so that he looked like a very old man. Then, as the flesh fell from his bones, Vasile turned to dust and drifted to the floor. The twin brothers screamed a cry of terror that echoed for miles around, then took to their heels and ran for their lives.
They careened back the way they had come, retracing every step. The ugly vines clinging to the walls burst into life. They reached out and probed for the boys. Covered in dripping, oozing slime, the vines snaked through the air. The tips of the creepers sprouted fierce evil heads. Snapping teeth tore lumps of flesh from exposed arms and shoulders. Never slowing, they continued their stampede to safety. At last, now dripping blood from their wounds, they saw the glint of silver moonlight shine in through a gap in a massive doorway. Within inches of achieving release from the nightmare, the heavy, solid iron door slammed shut with a loud clang of metal on metal.
The vines surrounded the boys. Evil black eyes peered out from the walls. The vines pulled them down as they screamed for mercy. Down, down and even deeper, down into the very bowels of Hell itself. Down to join with the young prince and his beautiful bride in a macabre, eternal dance of death.
The piano continued its patient wait. The evil spirit that infested it, eternally hungry for the next unwary soul to stroke its keys. To once again fill the hall with the haunting melodies of the music of the damned