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Afraid of the Dark

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She’s never seen a castle before, she realizes as the trees clear. The car prattles down a tiny, treacherous road, but at least she made it. Rey’d had one hell of a time finding a cab in the nearest town willing her to take her to the address.

At the time it had seemed weird, but now that she’s nearly there, she realizes it must have been because their cars weren’t equipped for these hills. That and it had been a long drive. More work in town, probably.

The crumbling battlements come into view first, looming over the crest of the next hill. Rey fights the urge to ask the driver to speed up, instead leaning forward, well into the front seat, to peer over his shoulder. Her jaw drops as it comes into view: dark and foreboding, it looks exactly like it did in the pictures. Hard to imagine, really, that anyone lives here, but then, if it’d been passed down in her family for years, she can’t imagine willingly giving it up to anyone.

She chews her lower lip and sits back, tapping absentmindedly against her thigh. She’s excited and nervous in equal parts - no one has ever been invited to the castle, and certainly not a horror critic.

This is where the legend of the vampire was born, she thinks. She’s in the middle of Romania, and the castle is even bigger than she’d thought, and it all feels unreal.

The car slows to a stop just outside a large, well-rusted pair of gates. “This is as far as I’ll go,” he says, turning to face her with a solemn look on his face. She guesses that makes sense… any further might have been considered trespassing? Rey pays him, making sure to leave a nice tip before pulling her bags from the trunk.

The driver executes a hasty three-point turn and peels off down the road. She tips her head back, staring up at the towering gates for a moment before pushing them open. They’re heavy, and they move with a deafening groan.

Must be the original gate. Cool.

Everything is eerily quiet as she walks toward the front door. No birds are singing, which strikes her as odd - but the sun is setting behind the castle, and she can’t remember when birds actually stop singing, so maybe that’s normal. She just knows she misses it more than she’d expected to.

Rey stands in front of the large, ornate wooden door and takes a deep breath. This is definitely going to be the coolest thing she’s ever done, and if it goes well, it’s gonna propel her career like nothing else.

Halfway through her second knock, the door opens.

The email had been from a Ben Solo, so she’s a bit surprised to be a tall blonde woman answering the door. Her eyes flicker up and down, and Rey gets the skin-prickling feeling of being judged before the woman steps aside to let her in. “Welcome, Miss Niima. My name is Phasma. Mr. Solo regrets not being able to greet you himself, but he couldn’t miss this meeting.”

Stepping inside, she looks around the castle with a sense of wonder. It’s maintained well enough, but it still has a dark, authentic feel to it. “And your his…?” She glances back to Phasma, wondering who the hell still has butlers in the 21st century.

“Personal assistant.” Good thing she didn’t guess butler, or she probably would have been even more cold and dismissive. Without so much as another word - and she’d at least expected the normal, polite stuff, like asking about the journey - Phasma turns off and starts walking back into the castle. “Just leave your bags there,” she calls, not bothering to turn enough to toss the words over her shoulder.

Not wanting to be left behind, and certain she’d get lost if she was, Rey drops her suitcase and takes off. The walls are draped in tapestries and oil paintings, and they pass a suit of armor on display.

There’s no way he actually lives like this, she thinks. He must have another house somewhere. One that he spends most of his time in.

After winding through endless hallways, Phasma stops abruptly, extending an arm to usher her into a room just off the side. Rey peers through the archway to see a dining room - no, a dining hall, complete with fire roaring in the fireplace. The table is set with way too much food for one person. Her stomach growls.

“He’ll join you upon his return.” Rey politely walks past, looking around the room with admiration. The place practically oozes history. She turns to ask Phasma when she thinks that will be, but she’s already gone.

Weird, but whatever. She was kind of rude anyway.

She moves to the table. Turkey, all kinds of vegetables, rice and potatoes and bread. Shit. Too hungry to wait for Ben Solo, she makes a plate and takes a seat. After a few bites, she figures that she ought to text Rose that she made it safely, but she finds that she doesn’t get any reception.

Which is weird. He must use wifi. She makes a note to ask for the password when she meets him and gets back to eating.

“I hope everything was to your liking.”

She jumps at the sound of a deep, gravelly voice, nearly dropping her fork from the surprise. He laughs, and Rey turns to see him standing in the archway, hands tucked neatly in his pockets: wavy dark hair, warm brown eyes, a hint of stubble. He’s dressed like she’d imagine a CEO at a tech startup, from his dress shirt tucked into his jeans to his leather desert boots… not like she’d imagine the proprietor of one of the creepiest castles in the world.

But whatever. Now she’s being the judgmental one. She stands to shake his hand. “Everything was fantastic. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Mr. Solo.” He smiles, and his handshake is firm. His hands are cold as shit.

“Please, call me Ben. If you’re through eating, I’m sure you must be tired from your trip… I’ll show you to your room?”

She’d really hoped to see more of the castle, but he’s right: she’s jetlagged as fuck and only just now realizing it. “I’d appreciate that.”

They wind through more ancient halls. Occasionally, Ben stops to point out something of interest - the library with the huge original collection of the man who’d built the castle, the armory that’d been carefully preserved. She’s about as excited as she is tired, mind already teeming with questions. They stop at what’s her room for the next few nights, her suitcase placed neatly by the foot of the bed. “Here you are.”

Everything in the room is expertly curated. If he ever gets tired of maintaining the place, he could always turn it into a themed hotel. There’s no way that the furniture is as old as the castle, but somehow… it fits. “It’s fantastic.” Someone could shoot a movie in this place. Rumor has it that many have tried, but Ben Solo hasn’t allowed anyone outside the family on the premises. Til now, anyway.

“Glad to hear it.” He stands there for a moment, and she isn’t sure what else to say, so she rocks back onto her heels. They just look at one another. She’s got no idea what he’s thinking.

“Well,” she says finally, breaking the silence the only way she knows how. “Goodnight.”

He seems to get that, thankfully enough, and nods. “Right, right. I’ll leave you to it.” He turns and starts to leave, but doesn’t get far. “I have business to attend to tomorrow, but when I’m back that evening, I’ll be happy to show you anything you’d like. Answer any questions.” He pauses a beat. “Sleep well.”

He closes the door behind him. Rey goes to text Rose about how he’s not at all what she expected - but realizes she forgot to ask for the wifi password.

With nothing else to do and jetlag pressing heavily on her consciousness, she changes into her pajamas and heads to bed.