Three weeks later, Bradley Ghoulrich sat naked, watching himself in a full-length mirror. It was practically the only object of value in the room. Gilt-edged, with arabesques and traceries etched right into the border, the glass more resembled a door transporting him into another world. The next world? he wondered. He was wont to spend hours before it and felt no shame, not even disgust at the wholesale thefts his illness had effected. Before his very eyes, with the brazenness of a highwayman or a government department, his complexion, strength, stamina, hopes, even now parts of his memory, had been spirited away. Only the mesmerizing satisfaction he derived from contemplating his continued existence was left him.
"And to think you once looked like a Greek boy," a voice said, not harshly but not with pity either. A simple reminiscence.
He nodded slowly at his nodding self.
"And to think that most Greek boys later come to look as I do now."
There was an uneaten meal next to where he sat. All food, it occurred to him, was by nature uneaten. Once it was eaten it was no longer food. The fever, his old friend, was returning. The river made whispers, tantalizingly intelligible, beneath his window.
"Is there a ball tonight?"
"Ah, it will be warm there," he smiled, remembering the proximity of the Baron's laboratory.
"You have been?"
"Not like this." He smiled at the threadbare blanket of flesh draped so loosely over his bones. "God, I love myself," he said sincerely. "I will never leave me. That is so comforting to know. My soul and body have a pact."
"You are talking rot."
"Yes. To scare off the bats."
He looked up, as if one had just fluttered by. The river hissed a kind of warning now, or invitation.
"You will be late, won't you?"
"I don't need to go."
"I am expecting someone." His eyes returned to the mirror. This act of contemplation was so fascinating. "It is the only way to arrest the process of decay," he tried explaining. "What is most awful is catching a glimpse of yourself horribly changed, or, even worse, not recognizing yourself at all when passing a shop window or gazing on the unruffled surface of a pond. Who is that hideous stranger? you ask. But...if...I...stare..." his words ground to a halt as he watched his lips, "...time...stops."
Finch felt the helpless urge to touch his friend in a way he could not, to caress his soul, hold his heart, banish, if only for a split-second, the constant awareness of death Ghoulrich seemed fixed upon.