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-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… 

Halloween Fright – by Helen Krummenacker

*Today’s offering is from our anthology “The Vampyre Blogs – One Day At a Time”.  This is the first time this story has ever appeared on this blog. We have plans for other Halloween tales involving not only Nathan and friends, but other characters from “The Bridge” and “The Ship” in the near future. But for now, please sit back and enjoy a spooky little tale from Lisa and Marisa’s childhood days, which hints at a future story set in modern times down the road. Helen is the sole author of this piece and I think she did a great job capturing the fun and innocence of childhood and trick or treat.*

OCTOBER 31st, 2007

     Two giggling girls, nine years old, were getting to trick or treat on their own for the first time after solemnly swearing to their parents that they would stay together, not go into any houses, and stick to familiar streets. And Marisa and Lisa really meant it, too, when they gave their word.
     But once they’d gotten their sacks more than a quarter full, they were starting to feel like the main part of town was a little bit boring, even with decorations. Marisa’s mummy bandages were meeting with confused remarks by neighbors who were more familiar with hospital dramas than ancient Egypt, nor did Lisa’s top hat and cape read as Mr. Hyde as much as “Abe Lincoln, maybe?”, killing some of the fun of dressing up. Toddlers and their parents, surrounding them on the streets, not only slowed them down with small talk, but stifled any real delightful shiver of uncertainty.
    “I know a place,” said Lisa, “where there’s probably no one home, but it would be fun to explore.”
     “What do you mean?” asked her best friend.
    “Well, I know the owner, but he doesn’t live there. The place has been empty for years,” she told Marisa, savoring the word ‘years’, drawing it out for emphasis. “I don’t mean go in, but there’s woods and a little cemetery–”
     “I am NOT going to a cemetery on Halloween night! The place sounds creepy.”
     “That’s what makes it fun!”
     Marisa grinned quickly, thinking of all the spooky old films she loved. “Yeah.” She thought about it. “How about we get our bikes and go there, but we stay in sight of the road when we’re there and don’t stay too long.”
     Lisa nodded. “Sounds smart. But it’s really not going to be too scary. I mean, sometimes things that seem scary at first turn out not to be.” She couldn’t really explain her Uncle Nathan, but it didn’t seem like anything associated with him could turn out bad. After all, he was a vampire… and the sweetest grown-up she knew.
    Marisa was enjoying the chill of the air on her face. “It’s beautiful out here.” The moon was overhead, the trees rustled mysteriously, and the scent of pine, cedar, and birch tinged the breeze. “I thought there were a bunch of old mines on this side of town, though. It’s pretty hilly out here.”
     “Yeah, I think there were some old ones.” Lisa tried to remember what Nathan had told her. “They used to have a small one on the estate we’re going to, that just took out coal to sell in town in the old days. People used it in their stoves. It closed for a while, but then it was opened during World War II by government order, for industry.”
     “How do you know this stuff?”
    “I told you, I know the owner. He’s a family friend, basically. And he’s the last of his family, so sometimes he gets, what’s the word… nostalgic.”
     They saved their breath to pedal their way up a long uphill stretch. At the top, Lisa stopped to let Marisa catch up. She pointed, “See, you can see the house past the field. I guess they kept this area cleared.”
     “Someone’s got sheep grazing there,” noted Marisa. “Sheep aren’t very scary.”

      “Does that mean you want to see the cemetery?”

    “No! … Maybe.” They nudged each other, shoulder to shoulder, before taking off down the hill towards the big old house that stood under the moonlight, darker patches where the pale paint had flaked off, vines growing onto the expansive porch, trees beyond with branches scant of leaves, many already lost to the aging fall. It began to feel quite spooky again as they drew closer to see more detail. Faded velvet curtains could be seen through dirty windows. The wind in the trees made suggestive rustling sounds. The creak of their own pedaling could be footsteps on an old, loose floorboard from the rooms above. The girls got off their bikes as they reached a grass-overgrown gravel path leading around the house and began to walk the path, pushing their bicycles by the handlebars, trying not to let the gravel crunch too much under their feet.
     It’s not that I’m scared, Lisa told herself. It’s just that it doesn’t seem right to be noisy here. Like being in a library or a museum. It was a matter of respect.
    Something cold and clammy touched the back of her neck and she squealed before she could think.
     “What is it?!” Marisa whispered, worried.
     “A drop of cold water. It fell off the eaves.”
     Indeed, the cool night air was producing condensation and the trees and overhangs slowly, almost silently, loosed accumulated moisture without sparing any thought for the nerves of passers by. “We’re being ridiculous,” Marisa said a little louder. “Thinking drops are a clammy finger or that the gravel is tiny bones crunching under our feet. It’s just an old farm no one lives in anymore. We drive past places like this all the time.”
    “Not just like this,” Lisa said defensively. “There was a terrible tragedy here.” She wondered briefly about Marisa’s mention of the gravel sounding like crunching bones. Someone was getting carried away by their imagination, and that someone was not her. “During the Civil War, you know West Virginia and Virginia were on different sides. And the Virginians were very angry about it. There was this point during the war when a mob crossed the border and they killed a lot of people here.”
     “I did not want to know that.”
     Lisa realized the fun was starting to go out of this for Marisa. “It’s okay. It happened so long ago. And… it’s not like ghosts are real.” There, she’d said it. It might not be a very Halloween thing to say, but she didn’t want her friend to be seriously frightened.
   They stood there beside the empty old house in silence for a moment, looking at each other, wondering what they really believed about any of these things. They were not that far from home, really. There wouldn’t be anything wrong with being here for a picnic on a bright, sunny day. Maybe they were only really afraid because they were breaking the rules. Maybe they only got goosebumps because the night was a little damp and the breeze was making them cold.
    Or maybe they weren’t quite sure that things didn’t go bump in the night. The breeze, which had joined them in stillness, rose up again, and a small, thin voice was carried with it. “Where is everyone?” It was a girl’s voice, sounding a little younger than they were, or perhaps she just sounded even younger because it was high with a plaintive note.
    “Where is everyone?” The voice said again, with a slightly different inflection. Lisa and Marisa opened their mouths and screamed in unison. They climbed back onto their bicycles and got back onto the road. They had pedaled at least a tenth of a mile before they realized they had headed the wrong direction, still traveling away from the town. Now, beyond the house, the trees were the scraggly remains of old orchards, interspersed with volunteer trees grown wild from seeds left by birds or squirrels. Lisa signaled for Marisa to stop.
    “Are you okay?” they asked each other at the same time, then laughed a little, still nervous but feeling reassured by friendship.
    “I’m okay,” Marisa said, “but she sure made a monkey out of you!” They laughed again.
    “We’re both fine,” Lisa said bravely. “I mean, so I was wrong about no ghosts, but she was a kid, like us. Just a kid…” she sounded sad now, because she thought she might know who the girl had been. A girl who had died from illness, months before the massacre. But then, why would she be looking for her family?
    “Hey,” Marisa said as she saw tufts of grass sticking through breaks in the thin asphalt, “I think the main road turned and we missed it. This doesn’t look right.”
    Lisa thought the same thing, noting that the hill rising to their right was just off the shoulder of the single lane, instead of beyond beech trees. “I guess we ended up on the road they used during the war when they were moving out coal.”
    “You like history a lot, don’t you?”
    “I like knowing why things happened. Roads don’t build themselves, and they don’t start falling apart if people want to use them still.” She had her mouth open to continue, but a weird deep rumble came from the ground to the right, ahead of them. “I don’t know what that is,” she said.

    Some muffled booming sounds followed. “It’s real,” Marisa said. “If there’s a mine here, it sounds like it could be ready to collapse.” They craned their heads to look down a shallow curve of road, to where the mine main shaft entrance was. An old metal elevator stood there, dim in the dark, before suddenly being lit from below with an orange glare. A plume of black smoke rose. There was another rumble.

    “Fire!” They agreed. Marisa was the first back on her bike this time. “We need to go back and tell someone!”
    They rode as fast as they could, legs getting sore. It wasn’t like the panic when the ghostly voice had spooked them. Rather, they had a purpose, because the mine should be abandoned, but what if some homeless people were using it for shelter, or some teens had set up a makeshift haunted house. There had to be a reason that the mine had suddenly caught fire, and it could be that someone careless had lit a candle or something down there, forgetting that gasses or coal dust could catch fire easily.
    When they got into town, Lisa’s parents were nearest, which was good because they knew the way. The girls were all for calling out the fire department right away, but the town was very small, so Mr. and Mrs. Weston insisted on going to check on the fire for themselves. “It might have just been something like a will-o-the-wisp near the surface,” Lisa’s dad said as he bundled them into the car. “Or a prank from some teens. There’s likely to be enough trouble-making tonight, so we don’t want to draw in emergency services if it isn’t necessary.”
    Much to the confusion of the girls, when they arrived at the mine, the light had gone out. Mr. Weston killed the car engine and they sat in silence for more than a minute to be sure there were no strange rumbles or percussive noises. “What,” said Mrs. Weston at last, “made you think this would be funny? You did say you’d stick to familiar streets.”
    “Technically,” Lisa ventured, “the main road out of town isn’t unfamiliar. I mean, we’ve been out this way before. And we only came this way by accident, because the ghost scared us so bad I just fled without paying attention to where. It wasn’t Marisa’s fault, either; she was following me because I knew the way and had glowsticks on.”
    “Now it’s ghosts?” said her dad.
   They knew then that further attempts to explain would just dig them deeper into trouble. The Westons took Marisa home in their car, and Mr. Weston had a word with her father while she was told to go get ready for bed.
    The next day was a school day (another reason it had been a bad idea to go off looking for adventure instead of sticking to the plan to trick or treat), and Lisa and Marisa were even more eager to get together and talk than ever. First, they wanted to compare memories of the night before. Had they heard the same thing from the ghostly voice? Did they both see the smoke, a pillar of it, filling the mine entrance and briefly obscuring the fire? Had they both still seen a ruddy glow, even through the smoke?
    They wished they could go back out there by day and check to see if there was fresh soot or something to verify their story. But that was impossible. Marisa’s bike was still on Lisa’s lawn, propped against a tree, and they were both grounded at least until the weekend. Furthermore, there would be no trick or treating for them next year.
    “Dad says,” Marisa told Lisa, “that he’s going to personally supervise me next year, and I’m not going anywhere. He says it’s going to be a black and white horror movie marathon for us.”
    “My folks,” Lisa said grimly, “won’t let me go anywhere unless there’s going to be an adult present at all times. And it has to be one they know.” She wondered if Uncle Nathan would come if she asked him to. But he moved around a lot so she didn’t know how to reach him.
     “Good thing,” said Marisa, with a sly smile, “that they know my dad.”
     “Oh?”
     “Because he was only a little mad, and he says we can have a sleepover.”
     This time, their unison scream was a happy one, even if it made the whole cafeteria stare.

 

HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYONE!