Rex Hart held his lantern high, making his shock white hair glow in the darkness. His athletic figure, a source of vanity at his age, stooped beneath the low threshold. He surveyed the cramped basement with an icy, critical eye. Every piece of furniture and each box was spotless. He dragged a finger across a glossy table, checking for a trace of dust though Rex knew it was clean. He knew everything about this place. The lantern was only a psychological crutch, so it was hastily extinguished. Nothing could harm him in the darkness. His darkness. After countless trips to the drafty underbelly of his domain, he no longer needed a guide or a light.
His goal was simple—find a box with a dress in it.
Poking around the dim basement, he realized there were tons of boxes and trunks. He stopped for a moment and closed his eyes. Inhaled the damp and embraced the chill. He knew these walls and all they contained. This was his small kingdom. And recalling the location of the box was easier this way.
The first time it had been presented to him, Grandmother Hart had told him all about the courageous girl who had worn it. A girl with no breeding. A scullery maid, who had brought a kingdom to its knees. A commoner who had become a queen—all because of a dress.
Now it was their turn. The Harts would reach that pinnacle again. Grandmother had said it the first time she’d shown him the dress, and she’d repeated it every day until she died. That first time had been an initiation. Even in his memory seeing the dress for the first time, Rex recognized even opening the plain box had an otherworldly quality, like a sacred ritual. The box had a pulsing aura and its contents were luminescent. Over the years when he’d checked on it to reassure himself it was still in his possession he’d noticed its shine had dimmed, which he took as a warning. In his heart he knew the dress was still just as powerful, but he sensed time was running out on the magic.
With eyes still shut, he made his way over to the far corner, irritated to have to avoid the old furniture and other boxes. He was drawn along by a sensation—a light but persistent tug. Then, when it ceased, he opened his eyes. The box he’d looked for was there, in front of him. Without hesitation he reached for the latch, tarnished and ornate.
It responded to his touch. His frosty glare warmed. As he opened the lid he felt the lingering presence of that “first girl” and his grandmother. And he sensed they approved his course. Ironically, the stage for what would happen next had been set, just as it had been all those years ago. Rex lifted the gown in his strong hands.
He allowed himself a smile. He’d completed his task.
The time has come. In his mind, his grandmother’s voice encouraged him.
Yes. The time had come, indeed.