Chapter no 156 – Wardrobe‌

All the Light We Cannot See

Von Rumpel wobbles before the mighty cabinet. Peers into the old clothes inside. Waistcoats, striped trousers, moth-chewed chambray shirts with tall collars and comically long sleeves. Boys’ clothes, decades old.

What is this room? The big mirrors on the wardrobe doors are spotted black with age, and old leather boots stand beneath a little desk, and a whisk broom hangs from a peg. On the desk stands a photograph of a boy in breeches on a beach at dusk.

Beyond the broken window hangs a windless night. Ashes swirling in starlight. The voice filtering through the ceiling repeats itself . . . The brain is locked in total darkness, of course, children . . . And yet the world it constructs . . . lowering in pitch and warping as the batteries die, the lesson slowing as though the young man is exhausted, and then it stops.

Heart galloping, head failing, candle in one hand, pistol in the other, von Rumpel turns again to the wardrobe. Big enough to climb inside. How did such a monstrous thing ever get up to the sixth floor?

He brings the candle closer and sees, in the shadows of the hanging shirts, what he missed on previous inspections: trails through the dust. Made by fingers or knees or both. With the barrel of his pistol, he nudges the clothes. How deep does it go?

He leans all the way inside, and as he does, he hears a chime, twin bells tinkling both above and below. The sound makes him jerk backward, and he knocks his head on the top of the wardrobe, and the candle falls, and von Rumpel lands on his back.

He watches the candle roll, its flame pointing up. Why? What curious principle demands that a candle flame taper always toward the sky?

Five days in this house and no diamond, the last German-controlled port in Brittany nearly lost, the Atlantic Wall with it. Already he has lived beyond the deadline the doctor predicted. And now the tolling of two tiny bells? This is how death comes?

The candle rolls gently. Toward the window. Toward the curtains.

Downstairs the door of the house creaks open. Someone steps inside.

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