Nathaniel’s Private E-Journal – August 2005 : “Beginning A New Chapter…”

Summer in West Virginia hasn’t changed all that much in a hundred and fifty years and tonight is no exception.  It hit the upper 80’s which in and of itself isn’t so bad, but the humidity makes it feel much worse.  Brian and his family are out of town, so I spent part of the evening with Jack, the town’s physician, and his family.  They know my secret and have kept it to themselves for the past one hundred and twenty years.  It was nice spending time with his mother and grandmother.  As much as time has passed I still see them both as little girls who I used to take up into the evening sky on a warm summer night.  


But only when the sky was clear.  Tonight there are clouds overhead so I can’t even enjoy the stars.  I’d have spent the rest of the evening with Jack and his family, but they were hosting a party with others from out of town and I didn’t want some of our conversations overheard, so I left early and headed to The Crypt.


One of the nice things about having a private club that’s located in the basement level of an old building is that it doesn’t get too hot down there and I’m not the only one who knows this fact.  Even before I turned down the alley and reached the stairs that led down into my club, I could hear the music playing, accompanied by laughter and cheering.  

Upon opening the door I find the room is full bodies gyrating to the latest hit tunes my new disc jockey is playing.  He goes by the name of Scar-Man due to on old wound that runs from his forehead and across his face.  Thank God I got to him in time, otherwise it could’ve been a lot worse.  I’ve offered to help him get it fixed but he always refuses.  “I need to remember where I’ve been… so I don’t forget where I’m goin’,” he always tells me, so I leave it at that.


He spots me from across the room and gives me a questioning look.  Some nights I like to make a grand entrance, other times I don’t.  Tonight is one of the latter.  Instead I find myself in a reflective mood and give a little shake to my head.  He nods and keeps the party going.

I quietly make my way through the crowd in my own unique way.  I pass between bodies that only a fly could navigate without anyone noticing.  Soon I’ve reached a dark quiet corner of the room where I can observe without being noticed.  There is a table here and I settle in and let my eyes roam.  Oddly enough they fall upon one of the old vaudeville posters I have lining my wall.  My mind begins thinking about how things were back in the 1910’s and the 1920’s.  Without realizing it, my eyes swing back to the crowd on the dance floor and I see something wondrous.  My eyes are clearly seeing the young people moving back and forth, flirting, and kissing and having a wonderful time.  Yet in the same moment in my mind I’m seeing another image super-imposed over them.  I see uniforms from bygone eras.  One moment I see the Union blue, then the brown ones we wore back in World War I, in another instant I’m seeing the dresses become flapper style, while the young men are decked out in the old Zoot suits.

The styles continue to change, yet the emotions and feelings are still the same as I watch the figures both before me and in my memories.  Something stirs within me as I stare.  Soon I leave my little corner of the club and head upstairs.  Normally, I’d take the actual stairs themselves, but tonight I take my ‘mist’ form and head upwards until I reach the door that leads to my art studio and slip through the open transom above it.

Once inside my artistic sanctuary I solidify and stare around at my surroundings.  Canvasses, both finished and still under way, line the floor and walls.  

I soon find myself studying each one intently.  My mind begins to think back to when I created each one and the story that led to their creation.  But more than just the stories return, so do the emotions that inspired the imagery.  Before long I find myself exploring where those stories and feelings began which culminated in these artworks.  I’ve often heard people say, “I wonder what the story is behind this art piece…”   Well, I know each and every story behind my works.  Some of them are simple, others could fill page upon page of a number of books.  

“And I’m the only one who still knows most of them…” I murmur to myself as new thoughts enter my mind.  “Do I dare…” I whisper to the silence that surrounds me.


TO BE CONTINUED…

“Visiting My Family” E-Journal of Nathaniel Eoghan Steward – January 4th, 2005

 It’s been two days since my last entry.  I had expected copying the letter I’d left Isabella to be hard, but not like that.  I should have known better.  Father told me in one of his letters that Isabella had kept my note on her nightstand to look at every night before she went to bed.  I had made her a promise that she had hoped I’d be able to keep, in spite of all the news that came back from the front lines.  I had always been able to keep my promises to her.  No matter what the odds were, I always found a way to fulfill them.  Which was probably why she was still clutching it in her hand that December night when… 

I’m getting ahead of myself again.  There are more letters and journal entries that must be copied and saved, but not tonight.  Something happened after I left here the other night, that I need to follow up on. 

You see, after Brian took the letter away to clean it, I left and began wandering the streets.  I don’t even remember what I saw or whether or not I passed anyone as I walked.  I just had to keep moving.  At times I ran, even though there was no one chasing me.  It was foolish of course, one cannot can run from memories of guilt, pain, or loss.  Especially not when you’ve had a hundred and fifty years to accumulate them, and God knows how many more decades ahead to add to them.

Probably that was what my brain was telling me when I finally came to a halt.  Back when I still had a breath to catch, I’d probably have been bent over trying to do just that.  But not these days.  Instead, I simply stood there taking in my surroundings, trying to figure out where I was.  Imagine my lack of surprise when I realized I was standing in front of my old homestead.  Perhaps the old saying you can’t run away from the past is more accurate than we think.

I stood there for several minutes staring up at the old manor.  Time had not been kind to it.  Probably because no one has lived in it since the 1970’s, when the last of a series of relations tried inhabiting the place passed away.  After she passed on there was no one else to take over the place, so it became another forgotten edifice from a bygone era.  I could have come forward to try and claim the place, but there would be awkward questions about my lineage,  Especially since I’d had myself declared among the fallen back at Gettysburg during the Civil War.  But that’s another story.

Anyway, I felt compelled to enter the old grounds.  I did not go inside the building itself, I rarely do these days.  Maybe it’s seeing how time has and has not touched the interior.  Oh, the wallpaper has faded and peeled in many places.  Yet, a lot of the furnishings are still there, untouched, preserved by yellowed sheets that have accumulated layers of dust.  On the shelves sit figurines and books, untouched and forgotten.  As if waiting for someone to brush away the cobwebs and clean them off to they can be admired once again.

The portraits still hang in the gallery beneath dust cloths, their colors preserved and vibrant thanks to being spared and denied the light. Forgotten and unappreciated works of art by some of the most skilled painters of their time.

Why has no one ever gone inside and tried to steal any of the these forgotten treasures, I do not know.  Perhaps, some of the rumors of the place being haunted have a ring to truth to them?  I wouldn’t put it past some of my ‘nephews and nieces’ to have come up with story of the place being inhabited by spirits.  They probably even played a few tricks to help reinforce the idea.  Heaven knows the number of times they’ve begged me to claim my old homestead and live here permanently, so I can be close to them.  Generation after generation have made this plea, and I always refuse.

Not that the idea isn’t tempting.  But as I pointed out in my last entry, the longer I stay in one place, eventually tongues wag and trouble follows.  I couldn’t bear the idea of the place and all the things within, being destroyed.  I know time will eventually take its final toll, which is why I helped Brian’s father create the museum forty years ago.  My goal was to slowly remove the more valuable and treasured items from here and transfer them into the museum for safe-keeping.  Yet, every time I go inside the old place, I cannot bring myself to remove even a simple knick-knack.  It always feels like someone is glaring down at me with disapproval.

I did not enter the house, that night.  Instead I walked the overgrown path towards the family plot which sits a back in the trees behind the house.  There was once a little chapel as well, but that fell during the ‘Night of Fire’, along with my parents and our servants.  Again, another story, for another time.

The family plot is surrounded by a wrought iron fence which is only a few years old.  The original had long fell into disrepair and I’d had it replaced, with a new one that still had the old world look to it.  Oddly enough, the new gate creaked like its predecessor.  I could have had it fixed, but the sound seemed appropriate somehow.

So when I heard it groaning in the distance I new we had visitors.  Normally, it would be one of my extended family, but not at three in the morning.  Besides, I’d already caught a whiff of smoke in the air.  No, these were most likely unwelcome guests.  And as the only liv… still walking member of the household, it was up to me to greet them.

My footsteps become silent, even thought I’m walking over layers of dried leaves from autumns long past.  Not only do I make no sound, there are no imprints to mark my passing.  I’m still not sure how I manage this little trick, it just seems to happen whenever I go into stealth mode.  Even after one hundred and fifty years, there are questions I have yet to answer about my condition.

I turn the corner and see three figures entering my family’s resting place.  Young would-be toughs.  I’ve seen countless numbers of them over the years.  The costumes may change, but the attitudes and arrogance is always the same.  I’m tempted to wait and get an idea of what kind of mischief they intend to get up to.  But I already hear the rattle of a spray paint can coming from one of their pockets, while another starts brandishing a crowbar.  The third kicks an old white stone I know so well.  It belonged to William, our butler.  It strikes me as disrespectful to see someone of African descent violating the grave of one of his own kind.

I decide to make my presence known.  “If you’re not here to pay your respects, I suggest you take yourselves elsewhere and find some other form of enjoyment,” I say loudly.

I won’t bother repeating the profanity they shoot in my direction.  Needless to say, it was followed with threats against my person if I didn’t start running.  Naturally, I did not retreat.  I merely stood my ground and repeated my request in the form of a warning this time.

The one with crowbar was the first to start walking towards me.  He was white, about sixteen, with all the swagger and arrogance of someone who’d watched way too many ‘Gangsta’ films.  I kind of felt sorry for him, which is probably why I didn’t kick the living shit out him like I wanted.  Yes, I do curse and swear with the best of them.  However, I was also raised to be a gentleman and as such I refrain from using unnecessary violence when a simple scare can be far more effective.

He was about  twenty feet from me when I smile at him, put my hands in my pocket, and then and look down at the bottom of the jacket I’m wearing.  It goes all the way to the ground, similar to the style of coats back in my day.  It’s a style I’ve always been partial to and have kept using throughout the years.  Though I make sure the cut and collar are always in keeping with whatever the ‘modern day’ trends are of the time.

In this case, my coat has what’s called a Mandarin or Banded collar, which I leave unbuttoned as is the custom these days.

I glance up at him and smile.  This enrages him and he gets even more angry, which pleases me.  Anger can be your worst enemy sometimes.  While it may give you an adrenaline rush and maybe add a bit more to your punches, it can also make you careless.   He obviously has not noticed the movement taking place at my feet.

He soon does though.  The first dog head slips out from beneath my coat when he’s just ten feet away and growls.  That catches his attention.

It throws him for a second and then he laughs, “Oh you got a dog, huh?  You think he’s going to stop me from cracking your fucking skull open?  You a dead man, you here me?”

Then the second head emerges from the folds of cloth at my feet.  His blustering begins to waiver as the two hounds emerge.  Both are black with heads the size of  beachballs, with bodies to match.  I decide then to make their eyes glow red, a little something I picked up from the countless movies I’ve seen over the years.  It may seem trite, but the effect they have are always impressive.

As he takes his first few steps backwards, I can see his friends coming out of the gate looking worried.  There’s just something about seeing something that looks like a Pitbull, but is the size of a Great Dane that is really off putting to people.

Tough guy yells as the first dog lunges for him.  He takes a step back and tries to hit it with the crowbar.  He connects and the dog’s head splits in two.  For a moment he thinks he’s won, then realizes that each half is now shaping and becoming whole.  Now he’s dealing with an angry two-headed beast.

Unfortunately, I can smell the urine running down his legs as he screams like a girl and flees.  His buddies are already far ahead of him, chased by the second hound which had silently shot past Mr. Crowbar before he could blink.

Once I’m satisfied that they’ve had enough I retract my pets.  I’ve not moved an inch from where I’m standing, with good reason.  Thanks to the darkness, none of the trio noticed the long black lines stretching  from beneath my coat, across the ground and all the way to where the dogs should have hind quarters.  As the canine figures distort and stretch back beneath my coat, I sigh.  I could’ve easily shape-shifted into the form of a huge wolf, but that would start rumors.  And as you know I abhor those.

After my ‘pets’ are back in their proper place and I can feel my legs again, I enter the family plot and right the headstone.  I’m relieved to see that it hasn’t broken, or even cracked.  I was worried, considering its the original stone and fragile.  Eventually, I’ll have to replace it, but not yet.  Maybe in another few decades, but for now it’s still quite legible and beautiful in a weathered sort of way.

I check on the other graves, none of them were harmed.  I got here just in time.  But the flowers have been trampled, plus there are a few looking rather wilted.  I know what needs to be done.  As sacrilegious as it sounds, I slowly walk over each grave.  As the tails of my coat pass over them, the flowers are looking strong and healthy once more.

Satisfied with my handiwork, I take a final look around.  There’s no one near. I can even hear the trio still running, they’re at least a mile and half away.  Good.

I knew they wouldn’t be back, but I checked on things last night and stayed in the shadows until I sensed the dawn coming.  I intend to do the same tonight.  Brian is insisting on coming with me this time.  He wants to keep me company and go over some of the other letters I have to transcribe.  I think he’s going to bring his laptop with him in case the mood to type strikes me.

If he offers to do it for me I’ll decline.  Those letters and journal pages tell just a part of the story, only I can fill in the other sections.  No matter how hard or difficult I may find it at times, it needs to be done.

I can see it’s almost nine now, I’ve been here for over an hour already and Brian is looking antsy.  He wants to read what I’ve typed, which I will let him do.  He’s a good man, just like his father and grandfather and so on all the way back to his great-great-great grandfather, the first Brian Weston.  Or rather I should say Captain Weston, hero, and childhood friend.

I’ll probably speak more of him in my next entry, since the next letters will begin mentioning my military service.

Good night.

Nathaniel’s Blog “Gone West” August 20th, 2018

 While scouring my art studio for clean paper I found one of my old journals which I thought I’d lost.  It’s a fairly recent one with only a few entries in it.  I remember buying it just after I headed out to California to meet with some movie producers down in Los Angeles.  It had been many years since I’d last been down there so I bought some art supplies to do some preliminary sketches to be turned into paintings later on.  The journal had originally been intended so I could make some mental notes and impression, but it wound up being a travel diary after I made an unexpected stop in Monterey and wound up visiting my first aquarium…


*Note:   Yes I know it sounds weird but most places like this have daytime business hours.  I was lucky to catch this one with extended evening hours.  Furthermore, not everywhere I’ve gone has been close to the water.  A pity really because I really enjoy walking along the sea, or traveling on a ship. 
I need to do that some more.  Anyway, here goes…


Travel Journal, May 16th, 2009…Well, everything is set. The producers were happy and so am I.  Soon my bank account will be as well. Negotiations for the rights to my first two novels are set and all is well. I’ve come back north to stay with some old friends, the Cloudfoots. As the name implies, they were of native American ancestry dating back to way before my time even.  


I met Jason Cloudfoot some years back over in Connecticut, when his niece disappeared around Christmas. After helping find her, Jason and I became fast friends and I visited whenever I could. Over the years he’s told me some wonderful tales of Seneca lore, while I’ve shared many of my own personal stories and adventure with him. He’s one of the most remarkable men I’ve ever met. One of those rare people who figured out right away I wasn’t all that I appeared to be… but that’s a story for another time.


I got to know his children and helped keep an eye on them they were growing up and they too know all about me and what I am.  Now they have families of their own and have moved out this way and are currently living up near Santa Cruz. When they heard I was going to be down in Los Angeles, they insisted I swing up north and come to stay with them for a few days.  


When I gave them a date they asked me to meet them here in Monterey, because they were taking their own children to the aquarium located here. Apparently, this place keeps long hours and occasionally have sleep-overs for children who wish to spend the night surrounded by the mysterious beings from the depths.  


I agreed to meet them and I’m so glad I did. I’ve never been to an aquarium like this before. To me, an aquarium is a big twenty to thirty gallon tank in someone’s living room, filled with gold-fish or whatever.

 
I had no idea what a treat I was in for.  This place was magical. I’ve practically filled my sketch pad with pencil drawings of creatures and settings I’d never dreamed existed. Oh, I’ve seen photos in magazines, but to actually be here is another thing entirely.


For one thing, each exhibit room has it’s own background sounds. There’s a jellyfish exhibit that is nice and dark (perfect for someone like me) with the most ethereal music playing in the back ground. It was so soothing and relaxing I almost didn’t want to leave that room.  The types of fish varied more widely than I ever suspected.  

Then there were the sea otters, playful furry beings who are so gosh-darned cute as well. They are also very large, much bigger than I originally expected. Some are the size of a large dog, as in 60-70 pounds big.  Yet they were so graceful under the water.

There was a particularly interesting blue room with a circular ceiling. Inside the ceiling was a series of glass windows all interconnected, with silver sardines racing about in one huge continuous circle.  It was both dizzying and breathtaking.  
I even got to see my first real live octopus.  My timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  Like me, the creature is usually very shy during the daytime hours.  But tonight, he was more lively and I got to see him to great advantage.  I made several sketches of him for future use.

A part of me could have stayed in this wondrous place for days or weeks. Alas, time was getting on and the children decided they wanted to be home instead of staying for the sleepover. Too much excitement for them they said. Personally I think they were a little intimidated by all that was around them and I couldn’t blame them. Everything here inspires both wonder and awe. I could set up my easel and spend night after night painting these wonderful creatures.  This place is truly magical…

Alas, I haven’t been back there since duty has called me away to other places.  But I hope to get back there soon.  Jason is no longer with us, but his children know me (and what I am) yet always ask me to come and visit them again.  Which I will do shortly.  There are other sights and places I wish to visit, like the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and a supposed “Concrete Boat”.  Jason’s son always laughs when he mentions it, perhaps it’s the incredulous tone in my voice.  A concrete boat?  That is something I have to see for myself.  I’m planning on going to see them next month.  I’ll write more about that adventure when I get there.


For now, I’m going to set up my easel and try and make up my mind which of my sketches to work from first.  I’ll either do several pieces or use the various creatures to create one large painting.  We shall see, it’s so hard to say.  They are all so beautiful and colorful.  My palette will get a hell of a workout over the next few weeks.

Nathaniel’s Blog January 7th, 2014 “A Night At The Crypt”

First off, a note from the author. Due to health issues (back problems with a pinched nerve) and being very busy with recording and editing audios (which will soon include short stories involving Nathan and company), I haven’t been as productive on the story front. Aside from trying to focus on the next book in this series “The Vampyre Blogs – Family Ties”, and “The Door”, I’m limited in what I can do at this time. So for the next few months there will be re-posts of some of the earliest stories about Nathan and friends. However, I will also be posting to sneak peeks into TVB – Family Ties as well. So please enjoy this tale from seven years ago (wow, it’s really been that long since I started some of these – I’m amazed).  Any happy reading and stay safe everyone…

At The Crypt…

Brian talked me into taking the night off from transcribing more letters, and going to my dance club.  It’s an older building.  One of many I purchased during the Depression.  Like many I felt the pinch of the stock market collapse, but I wasn’t destroyed by it.  I lost a fair amount mind you, but I never kept all my eggs in one basket.  For one thing gold never goes out of style, no matter how bad things get.  Nor do diamonds and other fine jewels.  Plus I had investments that did not suffer, especially those overseas.

Not that I’ve had to worry about money for some time.  I don’t have as many needs to spend money on, and I’ve had many jobs over the years which paid nicely.  What can I say, I like to keep busy doing things and learning new trades and skills.  It also helped that my first wife also left me quite well off.  Ah Madeline, even after 110 years I still miss her.  She was a wonderful woman and we enjoyed our time together.  Benjamin Franklin was quite right in his advice to a young man about being with an older woman, I learned so much from her.  Unfortunately, it also meant our time together was not nearly as long as I would’ve liked. 

These days however, I’m surrounded by younger women all the time.  Which is only natural.  It’s hard to find someone your own age when you’re a 167.  Many are in their teens, some in their twenties, with the occasional 30 or 40 year old as well.  I admire them all, but keep myself somewhat distant.  Sex is still quite enjoyable, even being what I am.  But I’ve learned to be careful about who I partner up with for the pleasure. 

But tonight, I’m just enjoying the company of the crowd itself.  Love watching excitement and pleasure they get from being in a place where everyone knows they’re safe and can and enjoy themselves.

I’ve just finished running the turntables and turning them over to my main DJ “The Scar Man”.  Former gang -banger I met a few years back.  He’s a great guy and helps keep an eye out on  the younger crowd for me.  I prefer things being friendly around my place, not that there aren’t the occasional upsets and punches thrown.  After all, a lot of my clientele are in their teens.  Hormones are running rampant, and status is oh so important.  

They mostly patrol themselves, because they know better than to have me intercede. If a weapon comes out, then I’m all over them before they know it.  God knows I’ve been stabbed by or even shot by accident more than once.  Most of the culprits freak out because they can’t believe what they’d just done.  A rare few, don’t care and even make another attempt to get past me.  They learn the hard way.  I make sure they never pull a weapon on anyone ever again, unless their own life or someone else’s is at stake.  I try not to be stupid with my powers.   Not everyone is as long-lived or hard to kill as I am.

Tonight, I see trouble brewing but of the lesser kind.  

Over in one corner a boy named Teddy is asking the head cheerleader for a dance.  I’ve watched Teddy for a while.  He’s not one of my nephews, but he’s friends with a few.  He’s a good kid, on the quiet side, not good at sports and certainly not a stoner.  So in short, a prime ‘bully’ target.  When he was younger, I heard he cried a lot when he got picked on which led to getting beat up.  Although others intervened on those occasions, he seemed to suffer more than one would expect from a few simple punches.  These days I think I know why.  And now I see the football’s quarterback Cory coming over with a few of his buddies.

He grabs Teddy and gives him a body check that sends him into a couple of chairs.  Teddy hits the ground hard.  I pass through the crowd without their even realizing it.  Not one gyration or step is missed as I pass between the smallest of openings.

I’m standing before Cory and his friends before they can let out their first guffaw.  Their mouths clamp shut instantly.  I glance down at Teddy who is clenching his teeth in pain.  I can tell from here there’s only going to be a bruise or two, but I know what’s really going on.  I had it when I was a kid, only we didn’t have a name for it back then.

Cory starts telling me that he’d warned Teddy about bothering Sherry, the cheerleader.  They’re not actually dating, but he’s one of those alpha males who thinks they are destined to be a couple.  Someone’s been watching too many movies.

I nod and tell him he’s not in trouble with me.  But I also point out that I know for a fact that he’s been riding Ted since elementary school.  That’s another benefit of being around for so long, you hear a lot of things. “While I’m glad you’ve channeled your more aggressive nature into sports, it doesn’t give you free pass for tormenting those who are ill,” I tell him.

He gives me an incredulous look.  “What are you talking about?  He’s just a drama-queen who likes to have people feeling sorry for him,” he shoots back.

Turning to Ted I ask, “How bad is your Fibromyalgia acting up today?  What are the pain levels like?”

The young man stares at me in shock.  “You know?”

I nod and say, “Of course I do.  Takes one to know one.  I had it back when I was a kid.  I suspect you have too.”

“Yeah,” he tells me and looks away.  “It’s been this way my whole life.  They only diagnosed me with it two years ago.  Everyone kept telling me I was a crybaby, or a wimp who needed to toughen up.  My dad kept telling me I needed to be a man.  He never believed me until the doctor’s told him what was wrong.  He still doesn’t, but Mom does.  So do my sisters.”

Behind me I hear one of Cory’s crew muttering, “Shit!  My mom’s got that.”

I reach down and help Ted up onto a chair.  He hurts more than he’s letting on, but I can sense it.  One of the other cheerleaders, comes over and sits down with us.  I remember her name is Tina.  She’s one of the back-up cheerleaders.  She starts telling Ted that she knows where he’s coming from and that she has it too.  Which is why she’s a second-stringer.  Her ability to perform is erratic some days.

I leave them all to sort things out amongst themselves.  A few friendships may arise from this, even possibly a romantic relationship.  Mostly I’m hoping to see tolerance come from this encounter.  Invisible illnesses can be quite a difficult thing to contend with.  Both for the person suffering it, as well as for others to recognize.

My own father never fully recognized it in me, but I learned to hide it with time.  He wanted a son who was strong and able.  I did my best for years to live up to that expectation.  It was also one of the prime reasons I went to war, besides wanting to protect my friends.  I no longer feel those old pains at least not physically.  But I remember them as well as if they were still plaguing me.  I can’t do anything for the physical pain, Ted is feeling, but at least I may have lessened some of the others he’s known for so long.

I glance back once more.  Cory and most of his crew have moved on, but Tina is still with Ted.  They seem to be getting on pretty well.

Katy Perry’s “Roar” is winding down, so I head over to the keyboard.  A little slow dance music seems to be in order.

Lisa’s Private Thoughts, December 24th, 2017: “My Christmas Ghost Story” Part-VII Conclusion

It was hard trying to keep my eyes on Madeleine, while that all-too-familiar mist opened a secret panel in the shelves and deposited its bundle inside the compartment. Knowing Nathan was actually here in the room with me was reassuring, but worrying at the same time. He’d upset Madeleine last time so badly she’d turned violent and had gotten the better of him. I really didn’t want to see a rematch and possibly get caught in the crossfire. So I needed to keep her attention totally fixed on me. 

Finally, I said with complete honesty, “I know what you’re saying. I even sympathize, because I truly know how much pain you’re in.”

“Do you?” Madeleine asked politely. All too politely, if you know what I mean. Her eyes never left mine as she took a step closer. “Pray tell me, how do you know what I feel? Does your situation run along the same exact path as mine?”

“No,” I replied with a sigh. “Although we both share the knowledge and anger from being told we have to wait, I’ve never resented my family to the point I’d resort to violence against any of them. And I certainly would never raise a hand against my younger brother… not even accidentally.”

That made her pause and she nodded. “It was an accident,” she murmured, “I never meant for him to fall back and…” she cut herself off and raised her eyes and I could see both the pain and anger in them. “If he had only told me where they were when I’d asked, it never would have happened?” she screamed.

I think she expected me to flinch or recoil, but I didn’t. That look in her eyes had confirmed everything I needed to know. “How did it happen?” I asked gently.

Her eyes never left me, as if she dared not look past my shoulder where her younger brother stood just a few feet away. “I think you already know,” she said evenly. 

“I know you had started out being nice to him, just the way you used to,” I replied, not tearing my eyes away from hers, I could feel Nathan was behind me which was giving me courage. Only, then his presence began to fade, as if he were moving away and out of the room. What the hell was he playing at? I needed backup right, like right now! Meanwhile, I continued saying, “Then you began asking about your mother’s jewelry, and when he refused to tell you where they were you began losing your temper and started shouting at him. Eventually, you grabbed him and were screaming at him… just how I found you when I burst into this room.”

Madeleine’s gave me a cold smile, “That’s right, you’re so right. It was exactly like that, only then I began shaking him and he started to pull away. Eventually, he struggled so hard I lost my grip and he fell backwards.” Here her voice cracked and I could hear the pain in her voice. “He fell away too quickly for me to grab him and struck his head against the stonework of the fireplace.”

A faraway look crept into her eyes. They were still locked with mine, but I knew she wasn’t seeing me as she continued…

“He began to fall into the hearth itself. I barely had time to keep him from falling into the flames. But I did!” A mania had crept back into her voice as she grabbed my hand. “I did, and that’s when he finally told me where they were… and I retrieved them. I finally had them and could join my Jonathan, but…” Now, her gaze slid away from me and over my shoulder. “But I couldn’t leave my brother…” her voice started to become hard again, “He needed me. He was hurt. I couldn’t leave him lying there on the floor, bleeding.”

Her breathing became harsh along with her tone, as she continued. “If he’d only told me where they were when I first asked, none of it would have happened! And I’d have been able to get to my Jonathan outside, instead I stayed here… and then the door opened and… WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME WHEN I ASKED?” 

Those last words and her glare were aimed at Reginald who was still behind me.

Turning, I saw the tears in his eyes as he stood there, not having moved a inch from where I’d left him when I’d come between them. 

In the background I could still hear the approach of the carriage, it was practically just outside. 

Madeleine heard it too and tried to push me out of the way, only I held her back. 

“TELL ME WHERE THEY ARE! I CAN’T REMEMBER!” she shrieked, struggling against me. “HE’S HERE! TELL ME SO I CAN GO WITH HIM REGINALD! YOU CAN COME WITH US, WE CAN LEAVE THIS PLACE TOGETHER AND FINALLY BE FREE!”

I had no idea how much longer I could hold her back and was about to tell Reginald to tell her what she wanted to know when I heard a familiar voice say, “Tell her, Reginald. It’s the only way.”

Both Madeleine and I froze for a second then I turned and looked over my shoulder. Nathan was standing in the doorway. His gaze was fixed on young boy behind me, who finally blinked, as if waking from a bad dream. Finally, the boy turned to Nathan and said, “Buy our Uncle told me…”

“I know,” Nathan cut in gently. “But this is very important. Especially for her.”

Reginald still looked uncertain but turned to his sister and said, “They’re behind the panel in the bookcase behind you. The third shelf.”

Madeleine looked stunned. “There’s a room behind there?” she breathed. 

“No, just a compartment,” Reginald told her, his lip trembling. He looked more scared than before to me, but I said nothing.

Meanwhile, Madeleine raced to the bookcase and began searching the third shelf until she found the panel and opened it. Immediately, she reached inside with a look of delight which quickly changed to confusion as she pulled out not only an old velvet bag, but the stack of papers I’d seen Nathan place in there moments ago. 

To my surprise, Madeleine put the velvet bag aside while staring at the papers. “They’re calling to me…” she breathed and then started studying them more closely. “This handwriting, it’s my Jonathan’s. What are they doing in there? He only ever wrote to me. Are these my letters? No, they’re something else… along with papers from my uncle. I don’t understand.”

I felt Nathan’s hand on my shoulder as he drew next to me. On his other side, was Reginald, whom he had his other hand resting on. “Be ready to get behind me, this could turn ugly,” Nathan told both of us, in a hushed voice. 

“What did you put in there?” I whispered at him.

“The truth,” he murmured back. 

For the next five minutes Madeleine examined each page, some more than once, before finally raising her eyes to stare at us. “No!” she whispered in a ragged breath. “It’s not true! It can’t be! He loved me! He wanted to be with me… he’d never… These papers are all lies! Tell me none of this is true!”

This was directed at Nathan who sadly shook his head. 

For a second I thought she was about to attack us, but instead she nodded then fell to her knees. A moment later, she began pounding the floor, while sobbing hysterically. “Please tell me it isn’t true…”

Nathan started forward, but I stopped him and shook my head firmly. “No, not you. The last thing she needs is a man telling her she’d been wrong.” Then without another word, I walked over to Madeleine’s shaking form and I knelt beside her. 

“You couldn’t have known…” I began but she cut me off with a violent shake of her head.

“You’re wrong. I’d been warned… I’d been warned by so many people. My father, my uncle, even several of my friends, but I wouldn’t listen to any of them,” she rasped and finally raised her head. “I’d only listen to him. He made me feel so special, like my opinion and beliefs mattered. He’d listen and tell what a tragedy it was that other’s refused to see my wisdom or even listen to me.”

I nodded, “That’s how men like him work. They put you on a pedestal and make you believe you are the center of their world…”

Now it was her time to nod. “Exactly…” Now she turned her gaze to her younger brother, who had not left Nathan’s side. “Did you know?”

Reginald nodded.

“What did our uncle tell you?” Madeleine asked gently.

“Only that I shouldn’t tell you where mother’s jewels were, because you’d leave and that Jonathan might do something bad to you,” her brother replied in sad voice. 

“Oh God,” Madeleine wailed, “You were trying to watch out for me and I… I…” Once more she buried her face in hands and doubled over sobbing uncontrollably.

This time she did not pull away when I reached out and held her close. In fact she returned the gesture and clung to me like a lost child. I spared a look over to Nathan who gave me a reassuring smile.  It was only after I started stroking her hair that she slowly began to calm down.

Once she found her voice she turned to Nathan and said, “Please, take Reginald with you when you leave. Let me remain here until the final day of Judgement. Let the place of my crime be my prison, my place of penance. Seal the door with mortar and stone, then cover the entrance so none will know this room exists. This way I will not disturb the residents and they can live in peace.”

I shot Nathan a look to ask him what we should do, but Reginald was already rushing towards his sister and pulling her close.

“No, I will not leave you,” he told her earnestly, “If you stay, then so must I.”

Madeleine shook her head, “No, Mother and Father have been waiting for you. I’m sure of it. You mustn’t keep them waiting any longer.”

“But they told me that when I became into my title I was always to take care of you. And I promised I would. So I cannot leave without you,” he insisted, holding onto her even tighter. “We’re family, and I love you.”

Outside I could here the carriage come to a halt. Getting up I went over to Nathan and whispered, “There’s someone outside.”

“I know,” he assured me. “But it’s not who you’re expecting.”

“How do you know?”

Instead of answering, he gestured to Reginal and his sister.

Madeleine was gazing at her brother in disbelief. “But I hurt you,” she breathed, “I didn’t meant to.”

“I know,” Reginald smiled and touched her cheek, “That’s why I forgave you.”

Madeleine looked stunned, “You did?”

“That he did, Miss,” said Billings as he entered the room, dressed in the finery of a butler instead of a simple manservant. “I’m afraid you had already fled the room at the time, but he spoke those very words as I held him in my arms. I tried calling to you, but I’m afraid my entrance and poorly worded question had sent you into a panic. A terrible mistake on my part. And one that I’ve long regretted and have hoped to make amends for some time. “

My eyes had widened at that. HE had been the servant who’d found them that night. Then he was a ghost too! And, yes I’m still kicking myself for not realizing that sooner. 

Anyway, Billings continued, “I pray you can find in your heart to forgive me, both of you.” 

“Of course,” Madeleine told him, without hesitation. “I’m so sorry. I had no idea you were trapped here as well.”

“Not trapped, Miss Madeleine,” he corrected her gently, “The decision to stay was my own. The welfare of you both have always been my responsibility. And now, if you will both come with me, you’re parents are waiting just out front.”

This time I caught on before the siblings did. I turned to Nathan and whispered, “The carriage outside, it’s their parents not her murderous suitor!”

He smiled and nodded.

I turned in time to see Madeleine and Reginald accepting Billing’s extended hands and began to follow him out of the room. All three paused at the door to thank us and also with us a Happy Blessed Christmas. 

As soon as they left Nathan grabbed me by the hand and led me over to the window. Down below we could see the carriage. It was a fine looking vehicle, with four horses pawing at the snow covered ground, eager to be on their way. As Billings and his charges appeared, the door to the carriage swung open and a man and woman climbed out. After a warm embrace everyone, including Billings climbed back inside and the door was closed. A moment later, the coachman looked up at us in the window and gave us a salute. Then he snapped the reins and the carriage gently moved forward and disappeared into the snowy night.

“It’s finally over,” I heard Nathan sigh, “Thanks to you.”

I shot him a look. “ME? More like US,” I pointed out, then after a thinking about it for a moment I added, “Well, I guess I did actually deal with both of them more than you did.”

“Yes you did,” he admitted, much to my surprise. “I couldn’t have done it without you. There was no way she was going to listen to me, or any man.”

“So you did bring me here just to help with you,” I accused, well I wasn’t exactly angry, it was more like I wanted him to admit the truth to me.

He gave me a sheepish grin. “Let’s say I was hoping to use your talents as a last resort. I really hadn’t planned to bring you into things unless I really had to. I never expected trying to find that pile of papers was going to take as long as it did.”

“Is that what you and his lordship been so occupied with ever since we arrived?” I asked, thinking about all those little private meetings they seemed to be having.

Nathan nodded. “He found out the papers existed but was having a devil of a time locating them. And in case you hadn’t noticed, this place is HUGE. Not to mention there are a number of hidden corridors and secret compartments throughout the entire building. Although, at his point I think we now know where they all are… I think. Anyway, I only finally found them after I heard you tearing up the stairs and running down the hall tonight.”

“So that was you I heard calling my name,” I murmured.

He nodded. “I had hoped that Billings would get you out of here before things started happening up here…”

“Only I insisted on hearing the whole story after I ran into Reginald earlier this evening,” I finished and then told him about the game of Sardines.

“I see,” he nodded, “I should’ve known your abilities would get you caught up in things.”

“Stop it, I’m not psychic,” I insisted, then added, “Am I?”

He gave me a sympathetic look. “Oh, you are. Trust me, I’ve known a number of psychics. And so have you, Alex and Cassandra for instance.”

“But I’m not anywhere near as strong as those them,” I said looking away. I was really feeling embarrassed. I’d seen our friends do some incredible things with their talents, which I’d never be able to do.

Nathan laughed and put a finger under my chin and made me look at him. “It doesn’t matter how much power you have, it’s what you do with what you have. You’re a sensitive with a big heart. And that’s what allowed us to help Madeleine, Reginald and Billings find peace.”

That made me smile. “Thanks.” 

“Thank you,” Nathan smiled back. Together we gathered up the papers from where Madeleine had left them. I saw they were transcripts from her beloved Jonathan’s trial, including a written confession that he himself penned of his own free will. The man had not only been a sociopath, but a narcissist to boot. There was not an ounce of regret in the pages I scanned, while picking them up. Apparently, Madeleine’s uncle, the magistrate who had excused himself from overseeing the trial, had collected all of this paperwork to keep it out of the public eye. But had never brought himself to destroy any of it, as a reminder of his own failure to protect his brother’s family. 

Finally, we grabbed velvet bag of jewelry and headed back downstairs. Once there we settled down in front of the fire to wait for our hosts and their guests.

As we sat there, Nathan remarked, “Are you okay? You’ve been awfully quiet coming back down here.”

Nodding I smiled and answered, “Of course. How many women get to say they helped bring an end to a haunting? At Christmas time now less?”

“Some would call it a Christmas miracle,” he pointed out. 

I thought about that for a moment and looked at him. “Was it? Did we pull of a Christmas miracle?”

Holding up a hand he began ticking off the facts, “We helped not one, but three spirits cross over and find peace and in the process reunited them with their loved ones. And we also freed the current family, and their future generations, from the threat of a terrifying haunting. I’d say that qualifies, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I guess it does,” I agreed.

Just then we could hear everyone returning from the chapel. I can’t tell you how great it felt great being able to give our hosts the gift of knowing the haunting that had plagued their home for over a century had finally ended. 

Lisa’s Private Thoughts, December 24th, 2017: “My Christmas Ghost Story” Part-VI

“It’s started,” Billings whispered and reached for my hand. “I must get you out of here…” But he was too slow. I was already bolting up the staircase, skirt held up high, taking two steps at a time.


“Miss Lisa, no!” I heard my companion cry as I reached the top of the stairs and bolted down the hallway. At one point I thought I heard my name called again, but it didn’t sound like Billing’s voice. But I wasn’t really paying attention, because my focus was completely on what I was hearing and sensing from the room at the end of the hallway. Madeleine was still screaming at her brother and I could feel her anger… hell, who am I kidding. She was in a total rage and to make matters worse, she was getting even angrier.

Putting on a final burst of speed I raced into the governess’ old room. The door to the schoolroom was partly open and I could see she had already grabbed Reginald by the arms and was shaking him. She was screaming in his face. I could see tears streaming down the boy’s face as he struggled to find something to say that would make her stop, only he was too terrified to think straight.

Without thinking, I rushed into the room shouting, “That’s enough, you’re going to hurt him!” To my horror, neither brother nor sister seemed to hear me. In fact, they didn’t even realize I was there. They were stuck in their cycle. The scene was going to play out to its tragic end right in front of me, if I didn’t do something to interrupt it. 

I don’t know what possessed me, but I rushed forward and grabbed Madeleine by the arm. 

Immediately, she stiffened and slowly turned to face me. “What is the meaning of this? Who are you? And how dare you lay hands on me.”

“My name is Lisa, and I’m… I’m…” I was about to tell her I was a friend of her brother, but I could see he was staring at me as if he’d never seen me before. I briefly thought about saying I was the new governess, but thought better of it. Instead, I decided on the truth. “I’m someone who has a younger brother, just like you.”

Madeleine’s eyes never left mine. “And you think that gives you the right to touch me?” she demanded.

“Only if it keeps you from accidentally hurting your little brother,” I replied evenly and released her arm. “I know how much little brother’s can drive you crazy. How they can be so irritating and annoying, that you want to just ring their little necks. But then I remind myself, I’m the elder child and I have a lot more experience with life than he does.”

“Not that it counts for much in the end,” she pointed out, almost sympathetically. “You’re not the one people, especially men, will listen to. Nor will they ask your opinions on things. But your brother? Oh they’ll ask him all kinds of things and cater to his whims, no matter how silly.”

“That’s still no reason to treat him like this,” I replied, trying to keep my voice calm. The fact that she was even speaking to me was a good sign, I thought. Perhaps, I’d be able to reason with her and break the cycle. 

“He knows where our mother’s jewels are,” she told me, obviously trying to sound reasonable. “I need them, I’m entitled to them…”

“So you can be with the man you love, I know,” I finished gently.

If my interruption had annoyed her, she didn’t show it. Instead she began to smile. “Yes. That’s right. You understand. He loves me, he’ll take good care of me. We just need to settle his debts and then we can marry. Look, he has already given me his mother’s ring for our engagement.”

She held out on hand and I could see the ring in question on her finger. It was an impressive piece of jewelry. ‘Had he given a ring to any of his other victims?’ I wondered. ‘If he didn’t, perhaps he really had meant to go through with the marriage. But if so, why?’

Meanwhile, she continued, “We are to leave this night and then later return here, as husband and wife. Together, we’ll make this place a home for all three of us.”

“The three of you?” I repeated.

“Of course,” she looked at me as if I’d were a simpleton. “I still have to watch over my little brother. He’s still too young to manage the estate on his own. And as you said just a moment ago, we are the elder child. It’s our job to make sure we watch over our siblings. I’d never abandon, Reginald.”

I had to admit, I hadn’t expected to hear her talk like this. Could her betrothed have actually been serious about her? 

“My Jonathan will be here soon,” Madeleine continued, interrupting my thoughts. ” In fact I think I can hear his carriage in the distance.”

Without thinking, I found myself listening for the sound. She was right, there was a carriage coming. It sounded far off, but at the same time it was definitely drawing nearer. In fact, I could make out the sound of the horses hooves in the snow. Their steps had a certain rhythm that was very soothing. 

“Come with me over to the window,” Madeleine whispered, letting go of Reginald in order to slip one arm around one of mine. “We’ll be able to see the carriage in a little while.”

I let her guide me towards the window in question. We were halfway towards the glass aperture, when suddenly, the image of Nathan landing on the fountain in a shower of glass loomed large in my mind. Immediately, I pulled away from her, or tried to. Only she was expecting it and had a death grip on my wrist. Still, I managed to pull us away from the window and back into the center of the room. I was between her and Reginald now and I could hear the boy breathing heavily behind me. 

As desperately as I wanted to look back at him, I dared not turn away from Madeleine. Her grip on my arm had opened my eyes, in both the literal and psychic sense. There I said it. Nathan was right, I am psychic and boy was I seeing into a mind that had been twisted by an expert. 

My original impression about Madeleine’s anger at men had been right on the money. But it hadn’t always been that way. She had been devoted to her father, brother and her uncle. It was only when she’d been denied her wish to marry that the resentment had taken hold, only to be fueled by her intended. From the glimpses I was getting from her mind, I could see he had all the classic traits of an abusive/manipulator. He had been putting her up on such a high pedestal that she had no clue as to what he had planned for her. I could even hear his words inside my head, praising her youthful wisdom and insights, and how angry it made him that others, including her own family, refused to listen to her. From there he helped foment her resentments,  encouraging her to defy their antiquated concepts of duty and propriety. Yet in spite of all this, she had grieved deeply when her parents had perished in the carriage accident. Her pain had been as deep for her father as well as her mother. 

Perhaps, that was why her ‘intended’s’ manipulations worked so well on her. After her loss, she had felt lost and confused, making her more vulnerable to his renewed insistence on their marrying soon, so he could quote “Ease her pain and sorrows…” Only her uncle became the new obstacle to that plan. So he began redirecting her resentment towards her guardian. And when he would not listen, she began working on Reginald only to become resentful to him as well after he took their uncle’s side. Which had eventually led to the tragic events that in turn brought the three of us to this moment.

Finally, I found my words and said, “You still believe he will come for you this night.”  

“Of course,” she beamed, which nearly made me shudder.  There was nothing warm or tender about that smile. “You see, I was telling you the truth about hearing his carriage approach. I hear it every year…”

That sent a chill down my spine. She was aware of her situation! And she willingly played it out in some vain hope that eventually she’d get the jewels and leave before being discovered by the servant. Which in turn would mean she could avoid taking the wrong turn and falling over the balcony and into the Great Hall.

“Do you know what it’s like to be in love with someone, only to be told you have to wait over and over again?” she continued, still with that twisted, dreamy expression on her face.

I hesitated as my treacherous brain began thinking about Nathan. I had been in love with him practically my whole life. I’d even done as he’d asked and tried going out with other people, seeing if there was someone other than him that I might fall in love with. But, no matter how good things were between me and the person, I never felt for them the way I did for him.

“Ah, I see you have,” Madeleine continued, the smile fading from her lips. Now, she began speaking to me sympathetically. “Then you know the pain I’ve been going through and how the wait can make you desperate. Desperate enough to risk everything for that chance of true happiness.” 

I nodded. “Yes, I do. And it hurts so bad sometimes you want to lash out at the world.”

“Or at the ones who block your way, or…” here she paused and stared past me at her brother, “… refuse to be sympathetic to your plight, no matter how many times they tell you they love you.”

I could feel her anger rising again and a part of me wanted to agree with her and step aside. But another part, that big sister who’d fight hell itself to protect my little brother, wasn’t about to let that happen. I wasn’t sure what I should say next, but then I spotted a movement behind Madeine. 

It was a greenish mist, carrying small bundle, making it’s way to a large bookcase just over her left shoulder.

– TO BE CONCLUDED 

Lisa’s Private Thoughts, December 24th, 2017: “My Christmas Ghost Story” Part-V

For a moment I said nothing as I gathered my thoughts. Finally, I breathed, “If this were an old movie, this is the point where I’d ask what you meant was going to happen. But I already know. You mean that sweet little boy I met upstairs is about to experience his death at his sister’s hands all over again, don’t you?” 


Mr. Billings gave me a sad smile. “I’m afraid so. Ever since that terrible night, the family and anyone within these walls will hear the entire scene play out and ending with bloodcurdling screams.” 

I winced, I couldn’t help myself. The thought of that sweet boy I’d met being murdered at the hands of his own flesh and blood. All for the love of a man… wait, ‘follow the money’.


Turning away from the fire I turned to my host and asked, “Mr. Billings, what became of Miss Madeleine and her young man? Did they get away?”


My new friend shook his head sadly. “No, they did not. Nor did they ever marry, not that the scoundrel ever intended to follow through on that promise to Miss Madeleine.”


That was all I needed to hear. Nodding I said aloud, “He only wanted her dowry, or her mother’s jewels in this case.”

Mr. Billings gave me a smile and nodded, “You have a very keen mind, Miss Lisa. You are correct of course.”


As he spoke another thought occurred to me. “Madeleine and her brother where here when their parents had their carriage accident. Does anyone know where her suitor was that day?”


“Well done, Miss!” my host exclaimed, beaming at me. “Alas, at the time no one had asked. However, his whereabouts were uncovered a year later at his murder trial.”


I did a double-take. “His trial? I thought Madeleine had acted alone when she killed her brother? Or did her boyfriend turn around and kill her after he got the jewels?”


Billings sighed and looked at the clock again. “I see it’s only 9:13, so we still have time. I’m afraid I didn’t tell you everything about the haunting because I didn’t want to upset you further. You see, it doesn’t end with Master Reginald’s final screams echoing throughout the manor. I’m afraid, there’s still more. But first, I must tell you the rest of what happened that terrible night. A servant had come back unexpectedly and heard the commotion upstairs and went to investigate. He’d just reached the top of the stairwell when the shouting was replaced by a terrifying scream. Recognizing the voice as that of his mistress’, he rushed to the playroom to find Miss Madeleine stooped over her brother’s body before the fireplace. She was in a terrible shaking the boy and screaming his name. Naturally, he thought she had simply come home and found her brother in this condition, so he drew nearer to comfort her. Unfortunately, she had no inkling that he had entered the room and was startled when he placed a hand on her shoulder. Whirling to face him several of her mother’s jewels, which she’d been clutching in one hand fell to the floor. Now, this man was a close confidante of Sir Peter and knew about his suspicions regarding Miss Madeleine’s suitor. And he had been present when Sir Peter had told his nephew not to give in to his sister’s requests for money or access to her mother’s jewelry. So when he saw them in her hand he realized what had happened. ‘Oh Miss Madeleine, tell me you didn’t…’ he began, but she cut him off shouting, ‘They were rightfully, mine. If he’d only told me they were here when I asked the first time I wouldn’t have lost my temper. I only meant to push him away… I didn’t mean for him to hit his head and…” but instead of finishing her words, she rushed past him and out of the room. In her panic, she turned the wrong way and instead of heading for the stairs, she wound up running towards the balcony that overlooks this room. She was so terrified of having been caught, she kept looking over her shoulder and never realized her mistake until she hit the bannister and…”

Here he turned to stare at a spot on the floor just a few feet from where we were seated. 


Now I fully understood. “After the screams she appears at the railing and falls to her death in front of anyone who’s in this room,” I breathed.


My friend nodded solemnly. “Which is why Sir Peter, and all his descendants have made sure no one is in the mansion during the hour between 9 and 10 on Christmas Eve.”


I blew out a breath and sat back in my chair. Now I understood the reason for the mass at the chapel. But I still had a few more questions. “Mr. Billings, you said her young man was hanged for murder a year later, correct?”


“That I did,” he nodded watching me carefully. 

“So they found out he was the one who had shot the parents’ driver leading to the crash that killed them?” I pressed.


“Yes, but that wasn’t what he was on trial for at the time,” my host explained. “You see, as I told you earlier, the young man had been engaged before only to have his fiancee’ die shortly before their wedding.”


I sat upright at that. “Unexpectedly?” I inquired.

My host nodded.

I continued, “Did he have any other fiancees who also passed away ‘unexpectedly’?”


Once more my host beamed at me. “Indeed he did. You see, some months before the carriage accident Sir Peter had been at a party with a an old friend who spotted the young man there with them. The friend had mentioned the young man’s misfortune but had referred to him by a different name. At first Sir Peter simply assumed his friend had been mistaken. But then he remembered his friend was a sharpshooter back in their regiment days. And the man had spotted the young fellow at a distance. That was what first raised his suspicions about his niece’s suitor. He began to start looking into the matter, but with letters taking time, it his investigation was not coming along as quickly as he’d like. Still, he had found out enough to tell his brother to not agree to the match until he could learn more.”


“But after Madeleine and her brother’s deaths, he finally got the proof he’d been looking for,” I concluded.


“Just in the nick of time too,” Billings told me. “He was already engaged to another young lady of considerable wealth with no family, who had recently become inexplicably ill.”

I nodded. “Like I said before, follow the money. So he was only after wealth, not love. Which means Madeleine would’ve suffered a similar fate if her brother had given in to her requests.”


“Yes, she would have,” Billings nodded, “But it wasn’t just for money, if you get my meaning, miss.”

My eyes widened at that. “He liked killing young women?”


“Young women mostly, but because they were in his way he’d made an exception with her parents.”

“Oh that is sick,” I breathed and shook my head as the enormity of the tragedy upstairs hit me. “In his own way her brother was inadvertently saving her life, even if he didn’t realize it. Only to lose it at her hands, for a man who would’ve taken hers eventually. If only she’d known and now they’re both stuck… wait a minute. I was able to interact with Reginald earlier. And he told me Nathan had actually tried speaking with his sister… which means, they aren’t completely stuck playing out the tragedy.”


Mr. Billings rose to his feet and said gravely, “Oh, miss I know what you’re thinking, but it won’t work. Others have tried and failed. Master Nathan is only the latest. And while I admire his determination to try and free those two poor children from their torment, I don’t think it will work. Miss Madeleine is very obstinate when it comes to anyone telling her…”


“You’ve tried to intervene as well!” I exclaimed getting to my feet.

“Yes, I have,” he nodded sadly. “And I’ve not been able to get through to her, try as I might I just cannot get her to understand. She won’t listen…”


“Not to any man, she won’t,” I cut in, my mind was racing at this point. “Think about it, first her father, then her uncle, then her own brother? All men, telling her she couldn’t be with the man she thought loved her.”


“Miss Lisa, I see where you’re going with this but it’s dangerous,” my companion cried and glanced at his watch once more. “Master Nathan found that out the last time he tried.” 

This time he didn’t look over at the clock but at one of the large windows. I followed his gaze and saw this particular window looked out upon a three tiered fountain, with a finial top. It was rimmed with snow and ice, and brightly lit by strings of Christmas lights wrapped around its tiers. While it was quite pretty, I couldn’t understand why my new friend was staring at it. Suddenly, a figure falling from a great height, landed on top of the fountain amidst a shower of glass. I fell back with a scream, luckily Billings kept me from falling. After regaining my composure, I raced to the window and looked out at the fountain. 


There was no figure impaled on the the finial. Nor was there any sign of broken glass or footprints leading away from the area. Immediately, I thought back to my chat with Reginald when we were discussing Nathan “He had and accident. My sister…” “Miss Lisa?” Billings was at my side his eyes full of worry.

“She threw Nathan out the window of the playroom,” I breathed and then looked at him. “That’s what you mean by she’s dangerous. His attempt at intervening only got her pissed and she threw him out the window. Didn’t she?”


Billings nodded. “It’s 9:20, I really must get you out of here. Let Master Nathan deal with things, I believe he has a plan.”


“What plan?” I asked he led me out of the Great Hall and into foyer.

 
“I’m not sure, but there’s something his Lordship has been seeking for some time. If Master Nathan is here, no doubt he’s helping in the search. With it, they may be able to finally reach Miss Madeleine and help break the cycle…” the rest of his words seemed to grow more annoying as a wave of anger swept over me.


Without meaning to I suddenly snapped, “And you think only a man can bring me to my senses! How dare you, talk down to me. You’re just like every other man. Only my Cedric understands and listens to me. We actually have conversations and he encourages me to share my thoughts and feeling and discusses them with me…” I finally caught myself and shook my head. Such anger. Madeleine hadn’t just been frustrated, she was in a full blown rage! 


“You’re a sensitive,” my guide whispered, looking at me with a mixture of fear and wonder. “I had no idea. If I had realized it sooner, I would’ve never kept you here so long. We must get you out of here, Miss Lisa.”

But I was already sensing Reginald’s growing discomfort from upstairs. We were right next to the staircase and I couldn’t help looking up the steps. “She’s already with him, trying to be nice but she was growing impatient and he can sense something’s not right.” 

“Master Nathan…”


“Even if he has something, I don’t think she’s going to listen to him,” I interrupted.


Just then shouts erupted from upstairs and I could sense Reginald’s discomfort had now become full blown terror.


TO BE CONTINUED…

Lisa’s Private Thoughts, December 24th, 2017: “My Christmas Ghost Story” Part-IV

I tried the doors again, in case the handles had become frozen or something. But as soon as my hands touched them a voice behind me spoke.

“I’m afraid his lordship locked them, Miss. And he has the only keys.”

I’d love to say I wasn’t spooked and kept my cool, but… I jumped and whirled around, before catching myself. There before me was a man in his late 40’s I’d guess, and in keeping with the theme of evening, he was dressed in the livery of a 19th century servant. He had a kind face and a gentle, if somewhat sad smile.

“But don’t worry, I’m sure we can find another way out so you can join the others at the chapel,” he continued and pulled out an old pocket watch. “Although, I see we should be quick. You don’t want to be here… I mean missing mass. The chapel is always beautifully done up at this time of year.”

Me being me, I immediately caught that little hesitation and said innocently. “Is it? Well, that sounds wonderful. We can go together. I’m not sure I could find it in the dark by myself.”

“Oh, you’ll find it all right,” the man replied, but a little too quickly. “I have duties to perform before everyone returns.”

“I see,” I nodded and started to follow him through the foyer. “Will you be checking on the little boy upstairs?” I asked, remembering my little friend with the cold.

The man suddenly stopped. Then without turning to look at me he said, “Little boy? Upstairs?”

“Yes, I met him when I was looking for a place to hide while we played Sardines. His name is Reginald.”

This time the man’s shoulders slumped visibly as he bowed his head. “You were in the old playroom,” he murmured, “And he’s still there… I had so hoped…” His words trailed off but I was certain I caught the words “poor boy.”

At the same time I felt a chill race down my spine. I know many people use that phrase to describe an uneasy feeling, but in my case it usually meant I was picking up on the fact that things were not what they seemed. I took a step closer to the man and asked very gently, “What’s wrong with him? He told me he had a cold, but there’s more to it. Isn’t there?”

The man nodded. “I’m afraid so. The poor child has had that cold a very long time.”

Nathan has told me more than once that he believes I have psychic powers and… maybe I do. I’m not sure. I personally believe that I’m just more sensitive to things that others miss. I admit, there was that one time in Germany where we’d come across the site of where a concentration camp had stood, although there was nothing to mark it had ever been there. And I do have dreams every so often, some of which come true or seem to act as a warning, but it’s not like I can control any of this. It just happens. But right now that chill down my spine was telling me that my ‘sensitivity’ was acting up again, and I wanted to know more. “He’s not alive, is he?” I whispered.

My guide nodded sadly. “It happened on Christmas Eve, many years ago. During the reign of Good Queen Victoria.”

“How sick was he?” I asked shaking my head. 

“Oh, that isn’t what killed him,” the man told me. “It was his sister. She killed him, in that very room.”

Reginald’s words, “She’s mad at me. Or at least, it seems like she’s always mad at me…” suddenly echoed inside my head. “Why?” I asked, “Did she hate him that much?”

“Oh, no,” my companion replied, shaking his head seriously. “No, they were quite devoted to each other. It was…” again he trailed off.

“Please, Mr….,” I paused and silently cursed myself for not having asked the man his name. This made twice I’d done that in one night. 

Luckily, he wasn’t bothered. Instead he gave me a smile and said, “Billings, Miss. Arthur Billings. I’ve served both his lordship and his father before him.”

“A pleasure to meet you Mr. Billings,” I told him and meant it. He seemed so nice. “I’m Lisa, I’m here with my parents and Nathan Steward. Would you please tell me what happened?”

He seemed to think it over, saying, “You’re with Master Nathan? He’s come back, then?” Finally , he nodded. “Come let’s sit, and I’ll tell what I can.” With that he led me back to the Great Hall. 

As we walked, I kept thinking, ‘First Reginald, now Mr. Billings… Nathan must be trying to find a way to end the haunting. But why? And what happened with the sister and Nathan?’ I had so many questions. Luckily, I was about to get all the answers, or so I thought.

Mr. Billings guided me to my favorite chair near the great fireplace. After making sure I was comfortable, he moved closer to the fire and began his tale.

“It all started in the summer of the same year that the tragedy happened. Miss Madeleine had met and fallen for a young man she’d met in London. At first everything seemed innocent and proper enough, but then whispers about the young man reached his lordship’s ears. It seems just the year before the fellow had been engaged to another young woman, who shortly after their engagement took ill and passed away.” 

“How tragic,” I remarked, watching the storyteller closely. Although his countenance (I picked up this word recently from being here in England) was flat, I could also detect the slightest touch of bitterness in his tone. Clearly, there was more behind this part of the story, but I kept quiet as he continued.

“Indeed it was,” Billings nodded solemnly, “Anyway, his lordship began having second thoughts about the relationship which led to a number of disagreements with his daughter. The girl was eager to get engaged, but his lordship refused to supply a dowry until his worries were put to rest. Things continued this way throughout the summer and into the Autumn, when the lord and lady were both killed in a carriage accident. Apparently, the horses became spooked and bolted for reasons that remained a ‘mystery’.”

I felt my eyebrows shoot up at that. “What about the driver? What did he have to say about what happened?”

The narrator smiled. “You have an keen mind,” he told me, then continued. “Unfortunately, the driver was also killed in the crash. Being on the outside of the carriage he suffered many injuries, especially about the head. But there were a couple of things that bothered his lordship’s brother, Sir Peter, who was also a magistrate. Something about the injury did not fit with the rest of those the man had suffered.”

“What were they?” I asked leaning forward. 

“Well,” Mr. Billings began, “The man had been thrown from the coach, yet there were bloodstains on the driver’s seat…”

“Which meant he’d been injured before the carriage crashed,” I finished, as my brain went into overdrive. He had mentioned the horses had been spooked, so what could spook a horse? “Someone shot the driver, knowing the sound would spook the horses and there’d be no one to try and reign them in.”

Mr. Billings nodded, “Those were Sir Peter’s very thoughts. Unfortunately, with no witnesses, there was no way to prove what happened. The horses’ could’ve been spooked by wolves or some other predator, and the man could’ve hit his head against a low branch as he tried to regain control of the animals. In the end, the inquest concluded death by misadventure.”

I shook my head. “That’s ridiculous. Clearly, someone wanted the parents out of the way. All you have to do is follow the money and…” 

A horrid thought suddenly came to me, and it must have shown on my face for the storyteller added, “Mind you, Miss Madeleine and her brother were here at the manor when the incident occurred.  They were both quite devastated when their uncle told them what had happened. It was especially hard for the boy, since he was the male heir, the title of Lord, along with the manor and its lands came to him. However, due to his young age, their uncle took charge of overseeing things until the boy became of age. And before you ask, Sir Peter was quite a wealthy man with considerable holdings of his own, so he had no reason to want anything to happen to his brother and sister-in-law.”

Nodding I stared into the flames of the fireplace, as my mind began working through everything I’d just been told. From what I could see, the only other person who might wants the parents out of the way would be Madeleine’s suitor. But with the title and everything going to her brother, how could he gain from their deaths.  Suddenly my mind went back to Reginald telling me about his sister arguing with their uncle, and quickly put two and two together.  “Let me guess, Madeleine started appealing to her uncle to allow her to get engaged. Which would mean a dowry would have to be supplied for her.”

My host nodded.

Sighing I fell back into the wing-backed chair I was sitting on. “And of course, he refused because his brother had no doubt told him about the rumors involving her young man.”

“Actually, Sir Peter was one of the people who brought those reports it to his brother’s attention,” Billings corrected me.

I blew out a breath. “Wow! And when she found that out, she started appealing to her brother to talk to their uncle override him.”

“She did indeed,” Billings replied. “Unfortunately, with Reginald being so young, Sir Peter simply told the young lord his father had concerns about the match without going into details. And that was enough for the young lad and he did not press the issue further, thus making his sister even more angry with the boy.” Here the storyteller paused and stared into the fire. 

I didn’t say anything at first, because I was starting to compare my own situation to Madeleine’s. I had been in love with Nathan for years, but was always told I had to wait until I was older before he’d consider the idea. Well, I was 20 now, and still he was making me wait. But I was willing to, whereas Madeleine… what had her situation been?As if reading my thoughts, Billings spoke again. “Then as the Christmas season drew near, things came to a head. The suitor began pressing Madeleine to get whatever she could and join him.

Apparently, he had told her that he had debts that were coming due, and if he could not pay them, he might have to accept the advances of another woman with money who was eager to be his bride. Not that he loved the other woman, mind you. But, if his circumstances did not improve soon, he’d be ruined both financially and in the eyes of society. Not wanting such a fate to befall the man she loved, Madeleine decided to find a way to get her mother’s jewelry, which were worth quite a fortune themselves. But to do so, she needed to her brother to tell her what had become of them. You see, when the estate was being discussed after the will had been read, she had not been in the room. So only her uncle and brother might now what had become of them. And she wasn’t about to ask her uncle.”

“So that was why she had started acting nicer to her brother,” I murmured, “She was hoping to get Reginald to tell her where they were, then she and her betrothed would elope on Christmas Eve and begin a new life together.”

“Exactly,” nodded Mr. Billings and then looked over at the grandfather clock against the far wall, which read 9:10. “It’s getting close to time,” he said, changing the subject. “I really should be getting you on your way to the chapel. They’ll be worried about what’s become of you, Miss.”

Instead of getting up, I remained in my seat. Several things had been nagging at me since meeting my host. “Mr. Billings,” I began politely, “Why does his lordship hold mass in the chapel between nine and ten? I’ve heard of midnight mass, or even mass at eleven, but nine seems like a very odd time. And why does he not want anyone to remain in the manor, that he even orders the doors locked?”

The man bowed his head, pulled a chair up in front of me and sat down. “Because at 9:25, something terrible is going to happen. The same thing that has taken place within these walls ever since that terrible Christmas Eve.”

TO BE CONTINUED…

Lisa’s Private Thoughts, December 24th, 2017: “My Christmas Ghost Story” Part-III

I gave him a warm smile and said, “I thought I was the one who was supposed to be hiding.”

He pulled the blanket down to get a better look at me, and I saw he was wearing clothing much like the costume my brother had on downstairs. He had blond curly hair and a round tear-streaked face. I quickly pulled out a handkerchief from my sleeve (her ladyship had told me it was proper to have one on hand) and gave his face a quick cleaning while assuring him everything was going to be all right. That was when I noticed his skin was quite cold. “Oooo… you’re frozen, come on. Let’s get closer to the fire,” I insisted and helped move him, blanket and  all, closer to the fireplace.

That was when he gave me a great big smile and said, “You’re very kind. Who are you? Are you a fairy?”

I laughed. “No, and I’m not an angel either,” I told him. “My name is Lisa, I’m staying here with my parents and my godfather, Nathan Steward.”

Immediately, my new friend perked up. “Nathan? He’s here? He’s all right?”

“Of course. He’s the main reason his lordship invited us to come stay,” I replied. “Why wouldn’t he be all right?”

The boy’s face clouded over as said, “He… had an accident last time. My sister…” here he began to sneeze and fall into a coughing fit. 

I gave him my handkerchief and let him blow his nose. “Oh, you poor thing, you have a cold don’t you?”

He nodded.

Well, that explained why he was up here all by himself. Especially as it had occurred to me that I hadn’t seen him downstairs earlier. Still, someone should have been keeping him company, instead of leaving him all by himself up in this old room. “Are your parent’s downstairs at the party?”

My young friend shook his head, “They’re dead. My uncle is watching over me and my sister. She’s a grown up, like you.”

I had to laugh at that. Both my parents and Nathan would tell me that I was all grown up one moment, and would then turn around and start treating me like a kid the next. Go figure.

Anyway, things were beginning to make more sense to me now. No doubt he had come with his Lordship’s many siblings. Still, it seemed odd to leave the little fellow all on his own up here. Then again, there were other children to watch over downstairs, and I didn’t doubt one of his many cousins were coming to check on him regularly. Probably, one or more of them had been up here with him when the call to start the games went out, and they went downstairs while he took a nap up here. This made sense, since I did find him under a blanket. 

Then I smiled thinking that once the others found my ‘hidden’ location in here, we’d have a lot of company. Still a part of me began to wonder what he’d meant about Nathan having an ‘accident’ last time. 

Just then the boy leaned up against me and I held him tight. He seemed much more relaxed now, and was smiling more, so I chose not to ask about what happened. Besides, I’d seen Nathan bounce back from injuries before. Hell, he’d even recovered from being decapitated just a few years ago. So I had little doubt that whatever had happened had seemed more terrifying to my young friend than it really had been.

I could hear the sounds of my ‘pursuers’ echoing through the mansion, through the door to the room, and quickly excused myself to close it. After all, I didn’t want to make it too easy for them. Then I went back to the fireplace and wrapped the boy in my arms. He hugged me back as we gazed at the fire together. 

“My sister and I used to sit before the fire like this for many an hour,” he sighed wistfully. 

I frowned. “Let me guess, she felt she was too grown up to do it anymore?” I asked, suspecting she didn’t have as much time for her little brother these days. Especially if she was in her late teens as I was guessing from his earlier comparison of her and me. No doubt she was more into going to malls or raves these days.

“Oh, no,” he told me. “She’s mad at me. Or at, it seems like she’s always mad at me.”

My frown deepened. “Really? Did you break something of hers, or get her in trouble somehow?”

He shook his head. “Not to my knowledge.”

I rested my chin on his head, thinking. “Is this a recent thing?”

The boy nodded. “It started shortly after our parents died.”

I mentally nodded. Losing both your parents could lead to the children either becoming closer than ever, or tear them apart. Especially in the case of the older children, who may suddenly feel like a great burden of responsibility has been thrust upon them. They may feel obligated to grow up faster and would either rise up to the challenge, or feel overwhelmed or even cheated of their youthful pleasures and become resentful. Still, he’d said their uncle was watching over them. Could there be some resentment on that front from his sister? Did she want to be the grownup only to find her brother was turning more and more to their uncle? It was hard to say, and having just met my little friend, I didn’t think it was right to pry too deeply. Instead, I asked a totally different question.

“I just realize, I never asked you your name?” I remarked, giving him an embarrassed look.

“Reginald,” he smiled back. “Thank you for being so kind to me, Lisa.”

“I do my best,” I told him.

From beyond the closed door, I could hear the others calling my name, but I didn’t want to leave Reginald, even for a moment. For some strange reason, I was feeling more and more protective of him. Like something would happen if I did leave his side, even for the slightest second. So I didn’t respond and spent the next half hour talking with Reginald.

I soon learned that he and his sister had been quite a bit closer than I’d originally thought, even after their parents accident. But then they began to drift apart. His sister, Madeleine, began having fights with their uncle. Exactly what these arguments had been about, Reginald did not know at first. But then, Madeleine had appealed to him to talk with their uncle about their mother’s jewelry and how it should be hers by right, to do with as she pleased. 

Something about the way she’d spoken to him had been worrying, so he’d asked if she had planned to sell them. At that point she’d raised her voice and began scolding him for such horrid thoughts and how he was sounding just like their uncle. From then on things between them began to deteriorate. Several times she’d called him weak and foolish because by rights he was the rightful heir. He was now the lord and their uncle was only acting as a guardian until he came of age. She told him how he needed to grow up and take charge, that she needed his support but he was too cowardly or ungrateful to help her.

I felt my grip tighten on him as he spoke, wishing I could do something to help. But then he told me how Madeleine had become nicer again recently. She’d even apologized for saying such hurtful things. Perhaps it was the season that had made her more thoughtful, and yet… somehow he was a little afraid of her.

Upon hearing that, I said reassuringly, “Let me talk to her, and to your uncle. I’m pretty good at judging people. I might even get your sister to open up and tell me what’s really been going on.”

A look of relief swept over Reginald’s face, then quickly vanished by one of alarm. “I don’t think that would be a good idea. Nathan tried to talk to her and…”

“And that’s when he had that ‘accident’ you mentioned earlier,” I finished for him. “She got a little violent with him?”

My young friend simply nodded, but there was a haunted look in his eyes which worried me. Still, I couldn’t let things stand the way they were. A part of me kept thinking about my own little brother, Geoffrey and how important he was to me, in spite of occasionally being a pest and a brat. But if we had lost our parents like Reginald and his sister had, I’d be an overly protective mother-hen as well as a big sister to him. I had no idea how good I’d be as a ‘mother’ figure for him, in fact I’d probably make a lot of mistakes, but I’d still love him no matter what. And I had no doubt Madeleine loved her brother still as well. 

And as for getting rough with Nathan, he’d never mentioned the incident to me or my parents. So it couldn’t have been that bad. Perhaps, what Madeleine had been resentful of yet another man trying to tell her what to do, like her uncle had apparently been doing.

“I think Madeleine might actually appreciate talking to someone her own age who’s a big sister like her,” I told Reginald. “And if things do get a little out of hand, Nathan and parents are here and they always watch out for me. Especially if I tell them the situation before I approach your sister.”

That seemed to reassure him as he smiled and let me put him in a chair near the fire. I made sure he was bundled up, and got him to promise not to go anywhere till I got back. After giving me his word he kissed me on the cheek and said, “You’re so nice. I think Madeleine might listen to you. You treat me the way she used to, and I very much wish for things to be like this again between us.”

“I’ll do my best,” I assured him and left the room. As I passed through the adjoining room and into the hallway, I realized I didn’t hear any of my ‘pursuers’ calling out my name. Assuming that they’d given up and had gone back to the party I quickly made my way downstairs. 

When I reached the second floor, I realized that everything had gone quiet. There were no sounds coming the main hall downstairs where the party had been taking place. “This isn’t good,” I told myself and hurried down the rest of the way. Upon reaching the bottom the silence was even more obvious than before. The only sound I could hear was the crackling of the fire from the other side of the doors to the hall, which were now closed.

Feeling more than a little anxious I went to the doors and opened them. The hall was completely empty. The decorations, the tables covered in food and drink, were all still there. And I noted that a considerable number of presents had been added underneath the tree, and the fire was still burning in the fireplace, but aside from me there seemed to be not another soul in the place.

Then I remembered his lordship had mentioned holding mass over at the chapel on the grounds. No doubt that was where everyone had gone off to. Still, it was strange that no one had come looking for me… oh! That was why people had been calling my name earlier. They hadn’t been trying to trick me into revealing myself, they had wanted to tell me to come to the chapel with them.

Feeling more than a little foolish, I headed for the front doors. I grabbed a heavy woolen cloak that went with my outfit and tried the doors. They were locked!

TO BE CONTINUED… 

Lisa’s Private Thoughts, December 24th, 2017: “My Christmas Ghost Story” Part-II

Nathan wasn’t kidding about this being an old-fashion Christmas. Green garland was hanging from the staircases, the walls, you name it. And the table in the dining room looked like a Hollywood set. There was plum pudding, oysters, pies, potatoes, fruits stacked up like pyramids, sweetbreads, the list goes on and on. We even had chestnuts roasting in the fireplace. 

It’s become one of my favorite places to sit near. It’s huge affair, with ornately decorated tiles in the firebox area, as well as a beautifully carved stone mantel with intricate pillars leading up to it. There are a couple of wingback chairs set in front of all this, and that’s where I could be found whenever I’d come in from outside. Sometimes Nathan sits with me, not that I’ve seen all that much of him since our arrival. He seems to come and go on ‘business’, supposedly it has to do with a book or two he’s researching, but I’ve seen him talking with his Lordship from the windows now and then. I don’t have the nerve to ask our host what they’re talking about, and I haven’t been able to get Nathan alone long enough to get the story out of him. 

Anyway, getting back to the holiday decorations, we finally come to the tree itself. It is huge, and because Nathan is around, the tree stands in a huge pot of soil. Like everything else in this great place, it too has decked out in classic Victorian style, with ribbons, flowers, small toys, sweets, fruits, crackers (Christmas ones, not the kind you eat), and ornaments made of paper and glass some of which are at least 100 years old.

Tonight, being Christmas Eve, the Lord and Lady of the manor hosted a huge gathering of family and a few friends (namely us). And in keeping with the old-fashion theme, everyone was dressed in clothing from the before 1900. Naturally, me being into Goth clothing, I should have fit in easily. But most of my outfits were too bright and modern. Luckily, her Ladyship led me to the uppermost level of the mansion where they had a host of outfits for me and my family. I settled on a green velvet with white trim and hints of deep red. My parents and our hosts were delighted at my choice and I couldn’t get over how well it fit me.

Mom and Dad looked smashing in Edwardian garb and my little brother Geoffrey looked adorable  in his “Little Lord Fauntleroy” outfit. Even if he didn’t think it was all that great. Of Nathan there was no sign, although he had promised to be around. I asked Dad what was going on and he assured me Nathan was on important business, but would definitely be showing up before the evening was out. Before I could ask him any more, he announced it was time for us all to join the festivities downstairs. 

Let me tell you, I had no idea what a crowd awaited us down there. His Lordship insisted he had only invited family, but he neglected to mention there would be several generations. His five siblings had brought their spouses and they in turn had brought their children (numbering anywhere from 4-6) per household. And their ages ranged from younger than Geoffrey to those my age and a little older. So I didn’t wind up being the oldest when it came to playing some games I’d never heard of before. Oh I was familiar with Charades, and Blind Man’s Buff (or Blind Man’s Bluff as it’s sometimes called). But there were more games I’d never heard of before that go all the way back to the 1800’s. Up Jenkins, Find the Thimble (for the younger ones), Snapdragon (which involves flaming brandy and raisins in a shallow bowl). 

Shadow Buff was completely new to me, but Isabella proved quite good at it and I soon caught on and found it to be quite a bit of fun However, when it came to playing “Sardines” that’s when the night took a spooky turn for me.

Now for those of you not familiar with Sardines, it’s like a reverse hide and seek game. Instead of everyone hiding while one person counts, only a single person goes into hiding and the rest of the people count. When they are done counting, they all spread out and try to find the person who hid. However, if they find that person, instead of calling out to everyone, the seeker joins the hidden person in their hiding spot. This continues until all the seekers have found the location and have the person who hid in that spot, until they’re all packed in like… you guessed it… sardines.

Being a newcomer to the festivities, I got to be the first person who had to hide. I was told I could go anywhere inside the mansion, which gave me a lot of possibilities. And me being me, I immediately gravitated upstairs to where I’d found my lovely dress for the evening. 

Soon I found myself on the top floor looking down a long corridor of doors. Most of these had been living quarters for servants, but according to our hosts no one had used them for years. Which was why several of them were now being used as storage space, including the room where I had found my dress. When I was in there earlier, I’d spotted a door peeking out from behind some tall boxes. No doubt it was a closet and would make for an excellent hiding spot. While allowing room for the others to join in when they found me, without making any of us feel too claustrophobic. Or so I hoped. 

So you can imagine my surprise at finding, not a closet, but a very large room with a roaring fire in a good-sized fireplace crackling away behind a screen. Glancing around the room I saw there were a couple of desks off in the corner, while the rest of the room had shelves for books and a number of children’s toys. Most of those seemed to be antiques, but in good condition overall. There was a rocking horse that had clearly seen a lot of use, but also a lot of love as well. I could easily picture a child hugging that wooden neck with the real horsehair mane. 

Then it hit me. Of course, a governess would have a room connected with one like this. No doubt the room I’d found my dress had been her bedroom, and this was the schoolroom where she would teach and play with the children in her care. But who was using it these days? And why was there a fire in the fireplace?

My curiosity was in overdrive at this point, so I began to explore every inch of my surroundings. There was an old sofa, whose back was facing me, near the fireplace. As I drew nearer I heard a small cough coming from the other side of it. Immediately, my sisterly instincts kicked in and I went over to have a look. I found a small boy, curled up on the sofa with an old blanket covering most of him. Had I not spotted his eyes peeking out, I would’ve totally missed him. 

TO BE CONTINUED…