When he first brought the blade to his skin, it parted quick under the edge with a sharp feeling like a cold that burned. The blood did not come at once; there was a small lag and all he saw was his skin, thin as a butterfly’s wing, sitting atop burgundy and ivory. That cleanness only lasted microseconds.
As the blade traveled down to the bend of his hand, it hit something, and then the blood came. It came in thick and fast and vivid.
Though he’d been almost numb to the pain, it swept over him now in a wave with his pulse, as did the blood. The intensity of the flow waxed and waned with the beating of his heart, but ever it flowed, steady.
Here he was, in a small apartment across from his own theatre. Reduced to Eunice, alone. His blood, soaked deep into the sheets, into the mattress. He found himself leaning back unwillingly. Limbs feeling like syrup, falling down. It looked like wine on the floorboards.
His thoughts wandered to mindless fantasies as he fell away from everything corporeal and meaningful. The touch of milky skin and the kiss of perfect, pink lips. The tickle of blonde curls. The unbelievable warmth in those eyes. It was going away. It was all going away. He felt as one does in a dream. Not when woken -- while asleep, having it.
Slipping. Like sand. No, no. Like water, between his fingers. Oh! A burst of panic. Because… why? Because he can’t think. He can’t move. It’s getting dark now. He can’t think. He can’t think. No, no, no. It’s all going away. Away. It feels like… drowning? Falling? He can’t… it hurts, stutters, in his chest. He’s… dreaming?
It’s cold, very, very cold. He still can’t breathe. There’s fear buzzing through him, his whole body feels like it’s flickering. It’s electrified. It’s ice-cold and in flames and falling to pieces. He can’t breathe. He can't breathe.
Everything about this feels wrong. That cold that burns. The same as the pain of that blade. Coming over his body like the waves of a delicate breeze, and yet his skin burns with it.
Skin? Body? No, that’s not right. He’s in his suit again. Drip, a little red from his sleeve. This isn’t a body. It’s an image. An echo. Phantom. Ghost of consciousness. And soon, it will fade. To where? Nothing, perhaps. Torment? Paradise? It wouldn’t matter. Not really. He lacks all hope.
She’s gone. That’s all he wants. Her. He can keep her echoes alive for a little while. But like him, they’re just impressions. Tiny scraps of feelings and thoughts, left on the earth, in the air. To call on them is to burn them, one by one. And soon they will all be used up.
He wonders if he summoned this. If he summoned this scrap of lost love that is now all he is. If perhaps there will be more, or if it will all end now.
The curtains pull back to a full house, draped in shadow, flickering in the lamplight, gaslights on the stage. It looks like a ritual. Like a sacrifice. He steps forward. His steps resonate though he is but an echo. The chair creaks.
And he pulls on the last thread. The last little bit of her he can see. Pulls it forth. She’s scared, he can feel it. But she flickers away, just like the rest of them.
Eisenheim flickers away too. Somewhere he can’t breathe, can’t think, and it’s cold.
He can’t have done this. Disappeared. It was all a trick, so where is the trickster?
Of course he wouldn’t have gone home. He’s too clever. But the inspector has to go. It’s like something is pulling him there; like he knows he has to go. The door creaks slowly open when he pushes on it, and he holds the oil lamp high.
The yellow light falls on the ashen face of the illusionist. His eyes don’t see. He looks at nothing. Gone. The pool of blood is… impressive? It’s vast and shocking. The bed is red, but crimson spreads out across the floor from the bed, as if it crawled away from the man until he took his last breath.
His still fingers are clutching at a posy of innocent, clean primroses. It’s like a trick, like a scene. It’s got all the theatrics; none of the life. A swan song.
When the man goes to pull the flowers out of the corpse’s hand, the fingers are cold. He’s been dead far too long to have been on that stage.