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Ghostly Manors


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#1 24moon100

24moon100

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Posted 16 December 2015 - 07:47 PM

Ghostly Manors

 

 

 

Part One

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

The funeral wasn’t much of a spectacle, but I guess that’s to be expected of such an event.  Funerals aren’t meant to be spectacles. Even if people are always saying how it’s supposed to be a celebration of the life that has passed. 

 

There wasn’t an open casket, something I was grateful for. I don’t think I would have been able to stomach that. There was, however, a formal procession to the burial site. Not to mention the traditional speeches from loved ones, dirt sprinkling, and the lowering of the casket. Overall it was an impressive size ceremony. The later reception was held outside under a massive pavilion. There must’ve been at least fifty people there. Most of the guests, I noticed, were unmistakably retirement-age or older. I couldn’t really distinguish any familiar faces, apart from my parents and my grandmother, of course. 

 

The pavilion was elegantly decorated for the afternoon with orchids, crystal drinking glasses, fine laced table cloth, and uniformed waiters and waitresses floating around with refreshments.  While the rest of my family politely mingled, I made a decisive effort to stay totally removed from it all. My strategy of avoidance included ducking behind a giant marble statue of a rearing stallion, and refusing to make eye contact with anyone. 

 

I’ll admit that I didn’t feel much sadness for the deceased, despite that he was my grandfather.  Really what I felt was guilty. Guilty because I couldn’t summon myself to cry over his death, like a normal granddaughter ought to have done. Guilty because instead of feeling any urge to mourn him whatsoever, my only urge right then was to keep out of sight of everyone. I shouldn’t have felt so guilty about that, though. It wasn’t my fault that I felt that way. I never had the chance to know the man. All I knew of him were the stories my gran would sometimes entertain me with. In the entire sixteen years I’d been alive, my grandfather had been estranged from my family. My dad constantly assured me that this was my grandfather’s choice, not ours. Grandfather chose to cut his ties with my dad a long time ago, after a roaring falling out between the two of them. Over what, exactly, I still don’t know. 

 

Regardless of the allegedly cruel way he’d treated my dad, something about grandfather’s absence in our lives fascinated me. Whenever I’d ask, dad resolutely refused to talk about him. Because of that, I guess, the story of my grandfather became this epic mystery I longed to solve. But whenever I would question my father, his only response would be, “There is no point, Ariella! It will not change anything. Now for heaven’s sake stop hounding me with this!” 

 

He didn’t understand, of course, that there was a point to it. I desperately needed to know, if only for my own peace of mind. The thing is: I absolutely hate not knowing things. I’m the type of girl with an excessive curiosity. My dad knew this quite well, but still he was happy to keep me in the dark. 

 

It wasn’t until I was well into my teenage years that my gran finally crumbled under the pressure. Either that or she simply grew weary of my persistence.

 

According to gran, my grandfather had been a ridiculously wealthy and propertied Englishman. He mostly inherited his fortunes from a long prestigious bloodline of dukes, earls, viscounts and the like. He seemed, to any stranger, the essence of aristocracy and pomp. In the distinctive words of my gran: “he flaunted his wealth like it was a drop in the bucket to him.” Seriously. He hardly had to lift a finger for anything. It was only after he met my grandmother that he began to strip himself of his extreme superficial tendencies. Even so, my gran said, he remained a very vain man. 

 

While attending Cambridge at the insistence of his parents, my grandfather became immediately obsessed with the beauty and charisma that was my grandmother. At the time gran was a fanatic of the liberal arts. She said she’d been studying modern English literature when she met grandfather, as well as classical music composition and theatre. My grandfather tried relentlessly to pursue her, but she resisted. She wasn’t a fan of entitled men.

 

 

Nonetheless my grandfather was determined. In fact, he was such a complete stranger to rejection—always confident in his charms and money, never having to rely on any other merits—that I guess my grandma had been a bit of a wakeup call for him. She was a challenge for once. I think my gran was probably embellishing this part, but apparently he chased her for two whole years before she let him take her on a date. 

 

And so, after a wonderful romantic summer together, playing house in one of grandfather's many mansions in England, gran became pregnant with my dad. It was an illegitimate pregnancy, which at the time would have been severely scandalous, so they had a rushed wedding to accommodate the circumstances. Gran once confessed to me that she would have preferred a better incentive for marriage, but that she didn’t regret that it happened. The resulting years were truly happy for them both. They raised my dad in another grandiose estate of my grandfather’s, near a respectable school and community. Meanwhile gran immersed herself in the arts and culture of England, just as my grandfather continued to gather more of his property and investments. Everything was fairly harmonious among them until my dad went away to study at Oxford. After my dad left the fold...well, things were not far from falling apart.

 

So far, that’s all I know. 

 

My gran would not say anything more on the subject, stubbornly claiming that if I wanted to know the rest of the story, I’d have to wait until my dad was ready to reveal it himself. 

 

Which I guess I could respect, but it was infuriating not knowing! All my life I’d been trained to feel a certain disgust for my grandfather, when in actuality, what if he’d been simply misunderstood this whole time? What if I was deprived of knowing him—and him of knowing me—all because of something silly and irrelevant in the grand scheme of things? Just thinking about it made me want to grit my teeth. 

 

“Oh, for goodness sake, Ariella,” my gran scolded when she eventually figured out what I’d been up to hiding behind my horse statue, which was texting. Very naughty of me, I know. As a reflex, I flinched. Looking up from my phone, I felt immediately horrible, and hastily stuffed it back into my bag. Gran continued to look reproachful. “I understand how this might be an uncomfortable situation for you, but this? I thought my granddaughter was raised to practice more civility than that.”

 

I gave a sheepish look. “Sorry, gran.”

 

“It’s no harm.” She waved it off dismissively. My gran wasn’t the type to tyrannically instill manners and politeness, but she did believe in common decency. Especially at things like funerals. “But now that I’ve found you, I’d like for you to meet someone.”

 

Gran was wearing her best black dress with a scalloped neckline, long sleeves, and a trim of lace at the hem. Her long graying hair was coiled in a tight bun for the occasion, exposing her high cheekbones and soft rosy complexion. She looked very regal and intimidating in that moment, but also kind and maternal like a grandmother should look. But maybe that was just my own bias. To other people she was probably the picture of sophistication. I know I’ve personally always thought of my gran as a worldly woman.

 

We approached, arm in arm, an old woman of similar caliber to my gran, if the way she was dressed counted. She seemed friendly based on the nature of her smile, which reached her eyes. You can always tell the sincerity of a smile by the person’s eyes. I learned this from my mom. She’s the master at reading people’s facial expressions and body language. Which has always kind of sucked for me because she can usually tell when I’m lying.

 

“This is Ariella?” the short old lady inquired, smiling warmly. My gran nodded, looking proud of something. I held back the urge to correct the lady, and tell her that I preferred people to call me Aria. That’s what almost everyone likes to call me anyway—the exception, of course, being my parents and my gran. The name Ariella has always sounded too dainty to me. Like a name better suited for another century. You know, pretty and everything, but obsolete. 

 

“Ariella, this is your great aunt, Ruby Strafford-Haysfield,” my gran introduced. “Your grandfather Henry’s sister.”

 

I blinked. This was my great-aunt? No one had ever mentioned this to me! Was depriving me of my grandfather not enough? No, let’s just throw in a few great aunts and great uncles for fun. Aria won’t miss them. 

 

Choking down my disbelief, I took the lady’s extended hand and shook it a little feebly, unsure of what my gran expected me to say to this woman. 

 

I went with the ever popular: “Hi, um...nice to meet you.”

 

She smiled again, her eyes crinkling at the corners in delight. “Oh, what a sweet child! You are quite the vision, Ariella. You must have all the young men kissing your feet.”

 

I laughed airily at that. True, there was a boyfriend in the picture, but he wasn’t exactly kissing my feet. Our relationship had been more of the on-again-off-again type. In fact, I had broken up with Finn just a few weeks before, after I found out he’d been secretly smoking pot with all his friends. I’m sorry, but I did not want a boyfriend that did lame, juvenile things like getting high to have a good time. More than that, I didn’t want a boyfriend who would lie about it to me. 

 

I had a feeling Finn and I would not be getting back together this time.

 

“Oh, sure,” I said, humorously. She didn’t have to know about my dysfunctional relationship issues. “All the time.”

 

My great aunt Ruby looked pleased. “Well, don’t ever settle, Ariella. You are too much of a diamond to be handing yourself to just any dull boy.”

 

My gran and I both smirked at that one. 

 

It’s true, I did feel like a diamond sometimes.

 

“Oh, don’t worry,” I said, still smirking. “I’ll make sure he’s deserving.”

 

Ruby switched her focus on gran. “So what is this I hear about your son wanting to take over Northwood Manor?”

 

Gran looked appalled. “Where did you hear that rumor?”

 

“Your son,” Ruby explained, taking an innocent sip of white wine from her crystal glass. “Earlier he asked my opinion of whether I thought it would be a smart action. Naturally I said yes, of course he should! Northwood Manor is the most precious estate in our family, as I imagine you already know. It’s been in the Strafford name for more than a century.”

 

For a minute, I was confused. Northwood Manor? Precious family estate? What was great aunt Ruby rambling on about?

 

Oh. 

 

Oh, no. 

 

“Gran, what is she talking about?” I questioned, feeling trembly.

 

“It’s nothing to worry over, Ariella,” gran said dismissively. 

 

Too late. I was already skipping to conclusions. 

 

I looked intently at my great aunt Ruby. “Is my dad thinking of moving us to one of grandpa’s houses?”

 

“Oh, well I—” Ruby must’ve discovered the warning glare gran was directing at her, because she suddenly gave me a very nervous look. “I might have misunderstood him...”

 

I shook my head incredulously. “Where is this place? How come I’ve never heard of it?”

 

Gran sighed, looking pale. “Ariella, it’s...the home we raised your father.”

 

There was a brief moment of silence as I let that information set in.

 

“You’re saying my dad wants us to uproot everything so we can go live in some castle?”

 

Gran sighed some more, pressing her fingers to her temples like she always does when she’s stressed. Stressed and fed up with people. 

 

“Ariella, no one is saying that. Ruby misunderstood, I’m sure. Also, it is not a castle. It is a manor.”

 

Same difference! I wanted to shout. Although, truthfully, I don’t think I knew the difference.

 

I sensed two people stroll up from behind then. They flanked me on either side, and I recognized them easily. My parents. 

 

Just the two people I needed to speak with. 

 

“Ruby,” my dad said amiably, resting a big hand on my shoulder. “I can see you’ve met my daughter.”

 

“I have.” Ruby was peering at me admiringly. “She’s a true diamond, Harry.”

 

He gave my shoulder a proud squeeze and then pat it a few times for extra emphasis. 

 

“I agree,” is what he said. 

 

I glanced up at him sharply. 

 

“Dad, we’re not moving are we?” I asked in a rush.  

 

At first his eyebrows scrunched together like he didn’t understand. But as the comprehension dawned on him, he blanched.

 

“Well, honey, I was hoping to save this conversation for later...” he stalled.

 

“Wait.” I gaped. “You’re serious? This is crazy!”

 

I spared a glance for my mother. She wasn’t looking so clam herself. She was biting her thumbnail, her eyes taking on the quality of a cornered animal. 

 

Great aunt Ruby, bless her elderly heart, attempted to salvage the situation. “Don’t worry yourself, Ariella! The manor is a divine estate! Plenty of magnificent gardens! Very beautiful! Oh, and the library! You will absolutely love the library!”

 

I tuned her out. 

 

I stared up at my father imploringly. “Dad, I don’t want to live in a castle.”

 

“Err, Ariella, it isn’t a castle it’s—”

 

Gran suddenly exploded with a very dramatic, exasperated sigh. Hissing, she said, “Ariella, would you please not cause a scene. This is your grandfather’s funeral, you know.”

 

I will admit that shut me up fast. Much as it killed me, she was right. People were beginning to stare. Poor grandpa. I was ruining his funeral. No wonder they never let me meet him. 

 

And so that's how after an hour more of tense mingling on my part, my dad announced it was time to leave, and ushered us along to where he parked his car. Gran strode alongside me as we crossed the perfectly manicured green lawn from the pavilion, but didn’t say anything. Her silence only reminded me of the dreaded conversation that loomed ahead of us. 

 

While my dad fumbled for his keys, I gazed at the people walking to their cars, and had a fleeting thought about how they all knew my grandfather in some way. I wondered what they must have thought of the guy; what version of him they were fortunate to have seen. All of these people, these strangers, were acquainted with a man I never even got so much as a Christmas card from. All of these people, who’s condolences were completely wasted on me, had known my grandfather better than I had. Had they seen what my dad and my grandmother saw? A selfish, superficial man with a temper? Or did they see a man who was given everything on a silver platter, but was still in search of something deeply essential? Like maybe, perhaps, a chance to have known his only granddaughter? 

 

My dad cleared his throat at me: my signal that I needed to get in the car. 

 

I would have ripped my gaze away if I hadn’t spotted something very weird in the corner of my eye. 

 

Someone stood out to me in the crowd then. A man. He seemed displaced somehow. Maybe it was his age that called my attention. Most of the guests in attendance had been retirement-age, high society old people. I didn’t remember noticing anyone there as young as this man struck me as. He looked like he could’ve been twenty. What was more strange, I decided, was style of his clothes. It was almost as if he’d stepped straight out of a Jane Austen novel or something. He was wearing these beige, tight looking horse-riding pants, black riding boots, and navy blue waistcoat... 

 

I squinted at his faraway shape. His tall image was unfocused in the summer afternoon sun—even sort of shimmery-like—but he was unmistakably there. As I squinted I could definitely make out the color of his eyes, which were blue, and his hair, which was dark and long. 

 

And he was staring at me, I realized with a little alarm.

 

My dad honked his horn, impatient for me to get in the car. Mom even rolled down her window, asking me worriedly what I was looking at. 

 

I was about to point him out to her, but then I blinked, and the strange man was gone.

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

“Aria, I don’t see what is so awful about this,” my dad reasoned, his expression stern from where he sat at the opposite chair of the dinner table. My mother and gran filled in the other chairs, serving their roles as the impartial observers. Gran looked miffed, probably because she wasn’t allowed to be a vocal part of the argument. Mom just looked outright uncomfortable. But neither of them, thankfully, chimed in. “You will still be fairly close to all your friends, and visit them on weekends. I know that it isn’t the best timing to be moving, but if you only keep an open mind, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised, Aria.”

 

Dad had been going on like that for what felt like a millennium. He kept rattling on and on about the advantages of moving, and I kept firing back with all the bitter disadvantages. Ever since we’d stepped through the door after grandpa's funeral, dad and I had been locked in what could only have been described as a battle of wits. I’ll admit it was becoming excruciatingly difficult to stand my ground on the matter, since Dad wasn’t budging either. 

 

“But what’s so wrong with this house?” I gestured with my arms, my tone whiny. I couldn’t help it, I was frantic. “Why do we even need to move?”

 

Dad shook his head stubbornly. 

 

“I’ve told you,” he explained patiently, even though inwardly I knew he was frustrated. “The manor is a very valuable estate, meant to be managed by someone of the family. Your grandfather managed it while he was alive, but now that he is gone, we are the best suited for the responsibility. I may not have agreed with my father on many things, but I do not intend to throw any of his inheritance away. I’m sorry, Aria, but I can’t sell it with the right conscience."

 

When I didn’t respond right way, my dad interpreted that as encouragement to go on. 

 

“I don’t know if you’ve caught on, but our family has a very intriguing history. This house happens to be the at the center of it. It is an important part of your heritage that you could benefit to learn about.”

 

On that note, he seemed satisfied. He knew he’d made a compelling argument for his case. 

 

It was a moving speech, I will admit. My dad deserved some credit for it. I could really hear the passion and inflection in his voice. And okay, I didn’t want us to sell our most precious family estate anymore than the next relative of mine, but I also had the right to be apprehensive. I mean, how does one even live in a place that gargantuan, with only her parents and her grandmother for company? Maybe most girls would’ve pounced at the chance to live like a princess, but I was more than content with our current four bedroom home. That was plenty big enough for me, thank you. 

 

I slumped in my chair, feeling defeated. 

 

“So basically what you’re saying is that I don’t have a choice?” 

 

My dad sighed. “I’m sorry, Aria.” 

 

To his credit, he truly did look sympathetic.

 

Gran, on the other hand, couldn’t contain herself any longer. She had to interject. 

 

“Oh, Ariella, don’t look so grouchy. I know how much you like to fuss about change, but this is what is best for everyone. It would be absolutely unthinkable to sell that manor. I want you to look to the bright side, my dear. None of this ugly negativity.”

 

Astoundingly, gran’s words made sense. 

 

“Okay.” I turned to dad. “Okay, fine. If this is what we really have to do, I won’t make a big deal out of it anymore.”

 

Everyone seemed very relieved to hear this. 

 

Dad gave gran a baffled grin. “Wow, mother. I should have had you say something to Aria sooner.”

 

“Obviously Ariella listens to me.” Gran sniffed, seeming pleased. 

 

Gran was right, though. I was focusing too hard on the negatives. Dwelling on what I’d be leaving behind, instead of what I’d be gaining. 

 

Northwood manor was only an hour drive from where we lived currently. I’d still be able to see my friends, even if it would mostly have to be on the weekends. And I could make new friends, I guess. It wouldn’t be a total loss. 

 

I’d be enrolled in the same private school that my dad had gone to, back when he’d been my age. He had assured me it was an excellent school, and that I’d have a better education if I went there. If I went to this school, I knew, I’d have a much higher probability of getting into Oxford. 

 

No doubt there would always be something to explore there. Living in an enormous place like that had to be at least a little adventurous, didn’t it? And who isn’t a fan of adventure?

 

Not to mention the type of parties I could trow in a house that size... I mean, assuming I'd be allowed. 

 

And when dad had mentioned the part about the horse stables on the property, how I’d be able to bring in my horse, Willow, I’ll admit I felt a spark of unbridled glee. How could I argue with stables? I would get to see and ride Willow whenever I wanted. How could I refuse that?

 

It was about then that I surrendered to the fantasy of a new life, the one which I lived in a lavish manor with plenty of space. Space, perhaps, for an ultimate game of hide and seek. So what if I was almost seventeen? You are never too old for hide and seek unless you want to be. I, for one, did not want to be. I’ll never be too old for kid games. 

 

So I’ll confess, I was sold. 

 

It seemed that all the disadvantages melted away with each advantage I discovered. 

 

But of course, just as I was warming to the idea, I had go and be curious: “So when would we move then? The end of summer?” 

 

My dad looked pained. 

 

“Oh, soon,” he said. 

 

“How soon?”

 

“Within a week,” he admitted.

 

The words did not register with me at first. 

 

“Oh my God. You’re kidding me, right?” 

 

My dad glanced to gran for support. 

 

“Ariella,” gran spoke my name warningly. 

 

I felt horribly overwhelmed for the second time that day. 

 

“A week?” I shrieked. Then sarcastically, “Gee, thanks for the notice!”

 

“Here we go again,” mom muttered.

 

_________________

 

It necessitated another hour to resolve our discussion about moving. Even then, it ended on shaky grounds. After which,  I stomped up to my room and flopped on my bed, feeling utterly blindsided. 

 

Now I was relaxed on top my bed covers, my laptop poised on the tops of my thighs, typing in the Google search box. I figured I needed to do a bit of research on my future home. If I wanted to be mentally prepared for the real thing, that is. 

 

When my search results popped up on the screen, I clicked on the first result, which was a Wikipedia page. 

 

There was a picture of the manor in the right corner of the screen, with a caption that said: South (Garden) Face of Northwood Manor House. 

 

Well. I couldn’t deny that it awed me.

 

Peeling my gaze from the picture, I skimmed the section of the article entitled “Early History.”

 

Most of the trivia was about how the manor was built, and who had owned it at what time. It apparently began construction in 1767 and took 100 years to finish. There was another picture off to the side, but this was just a black and white sketching of the manor as it would have appeared in 1867.

 

I kept skimming until I saw where the article went into detail about a murder that occurred in the house. Naturally chills prickled along my spine as I chewed on that disturbing bit of information. It didn't take long for me to realize the gravity of what the article was saying. Once the realization hit me, I shot out of my bed and barreled down the hall for gran's room.

 

Gran’s door was conveniently open. I flopped onto the side of her bed in a rush, causing her to drop the book she’d been reading. She picked it back up calmly and closed the pages over her thumb to hold her place. 

 

“You didn’t tell me the manor was haunted!” I practically wailed. 

 

Gran blinked at me above the rims of her reading glasses. 

 

“Who told you that?” gran wanted to know. 

 

I glared at her. “Wikipedia told me.”

 

Gran actually had the nerve to chuckle. Then she lifted her glasses from her nose, primly folding them and setting them on her nightstand. I watched her do this resentfully. 

 

How could she not have mentioned this to me? This was critical information. 

 

“Oh, I forgot how superstitious you are,” gran remembered, unfazed by my hostility. “Ariella, this is ludicrous. You really choose to believe in a silly ghost?”

 

I gritted my teeth. “A man was murdered there, am I wrong?”

 

Gran pressed her lips into a fine line, like she does when she thinks I’m giving her too much sass. 

 

“Yes, a man was murdered,” gran sighed, casting a faraway look. “I believe his name was Andrew Beckett, also known as the Duke of Northwood.”

 

I was already aware of that fact, thanks to Wikipedia, but I decided to let her continue with whatever long-winded story she was prepared to spew. Not that I didn’t trust the internet, but I wanted to trust my grandmother’s rendition more. Besides which, she’s a fantastic storyteller. 

 

“To my knowledge, the Duke of Northwood was not part of your grandfather Henry’s ancestry. The duke’s family were the original lords of the household, before it was passed to the Strafford name. He was quite a powerful duke at the time, and his family were well respected among the nobility.”

 

Gran paused for a moment, thoughtful. Meanwhile I was picking at the tassels on one of Gran’s red throw pillows as an attempt to channel some of my nervous energy.

 

“Andrew Beckett later married the attractive daughter of a well-to-do earl. Her name was Caroline Tate. They had an arranged betrothal, but that detail did not ever bother the duke. He was completely enchanted by Caroline, and loved her fiercely. He spoiled her to her heart’s content and for a short time they enjoyed a period of wedded happiness. But just for a short time, because unfortunately for Mr. Beckett, Caroline did not fully return his ardor.”

I sat up straighter. Wikipedia had not mentioned that part. 

 

“Unbeknownst to her husband, Caroline was in love with another man, and someone very close to the duke. This was Andrew’s best friend, Richard Strafford. Richard and Caroline carried on their love affair right under Andrew’s nose.”

 

Poor Andrew, I thought pityingly. He’d surrounded himself with a couple of backstabbing lowlifes. And then he had to die at such a young age. Everything had been stolen from him. His wife. His house. His life. Talk about not catching a break.

 

“As it turns out, Richard and Caroline needn't have worried about concealing their affections for each other much longer. On eve of their first anniversary, Caroline asked that they host a grand masquerade ball to celebrate the occasion. Andrew agreed willingly and made all the necessary arrangements. 

 

“So you know, in a traditional masquerade, at midnight all the guests would toss their masks in the air, kiss their spouse, and drink to the health of their hosts. They all had done exactly that, only at midnight Andrew had fallen dead to the floor. It was said that it had been poison that killed him. The killer was never discovered.”

“So what happened to Caroline and the other guy?” I prompted her.  

 

Gran nodded. “It was a predicable end, really. Andrew had entrusted practically all of his assets to dear Caroline, so she stayed at the manor with Richard. She grieved Andrew’s death for about a year or so before marrying Richard. She was pregnant shortly after the wedding. Thus, Caroline and Richard lived happily ever after with their five children.”

 

I wrinkled my nose.  “I can’t believe that I share a family tree with them. That was really cheap, what they did to Andrew.”

 

Gran simply nodded in agreement. 

 

Moki, gran’s Yorkshire Terrier, suddenly lifted her head from where she’d been relaxed by gran’s feet. Moki’s ears pricked, like they do when she’s on alert. A hesitant growl resonated in her throat, while her eyes seemed to be fixated on something in the corner of gran’s room. The corner where there was a sitting area with a cushioned armchair and a table with an old-fashioned touch lamp. I couldn’t understand what Moki was so interested in. The only thing out of the ordinary was that gran’s lamp started to flicker a little. But that couldn’t have been why she was growling. 

 

Moki’s quiet growling became anxious whimpering as she stared at the armchair. 

 

I threw gran a perplexed look. “What’s with Moki?” 

 

Before I could reach out to scoop Moki up, gran was already doing that herself. 

 

“Calm down, Moki,” gran hushed her dog in a soothing voice. “Don’t be so neurotic.”

 

With a shrug, I slid off gran’s bed and stood, a wave of drowsiness hitting me. 

 

“I don’t get it.” I yawned, my eyelids heavy. “How do you know all this stuff about what happened to Andrew? How do you know that Caroline was having an affair?”

 

Gran was still petting her trembling dog, but lifted her head sort of dazedly at my question.

 

“Caroline Tate left a journal,” she explained.

 

 

 

_____________________________________

 

 

Hey guys! Wow. It's been forever since I've posted. I guess I really felt like it was time to get back in the saddle. I've missed sharing stuff on here. :)

 

This story is obviously going to be something I'm only writing for fun, but still I'm always looking to improve my writing, so any kind of feedback would be awesome.

 

I shouldn't take much credit for this either, since this story is actually inspired by another story on here. I loved the idea behind it and loved it so much that I decided that I wanted to write my own version of it. So I guess it's, in a way, like a fan-fiction almost. I want to stress that I'll be writing my own personal take of the story with different characters and everything, but there will be a many parts here and there that I've completely stolen from the other story. Here is the link to it in case you want to read that too! It's really, really good.

 

Another disclaimer: I did a bit of research on the historical aspects of this story, but not enough to make me an expert. Please keep in mind that I'm still an amateur writer here and I'm not going to be 100% historically accurate on things... That being said, if you notice anything that needs fixing, I'll be happy for the criticism! 

 

I hope y'all like this. This has been the most fun I've ever had writing so I hope you have fun reading. :)

 


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#2 G.dance

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Posted 24 December 2015 - 10:52 AM

Hey! Wow it really is different from your other story, but I already like it! Quite frankly, your writing is already awesome, I don't really see how you could improve it but I promise I'll tell you if I think of something.
And thanks, now I have another story to read during the holidays! ;)
It's good to know that you'd fun writing it, it's what really matters :)
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#3 24moon100

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Posted 06 January 2016 - 05:02 PM

Hey! Wow it really is different from your other story, but I already like it! Quite frankly, your writing is already awesome, I don't really see how you could improve it but I promise I'll tell you if I think of something.
And thanks, now I have another story to read during the holidays! ;)
It's good to know that you'd fun writing it, it's what really matters :)

 

 

Hey! Thank you so much for the comment! I'm sorry I haven't been able to respond back I've been majorly busy lately! I'm very excited that you like it so far! As a gift for being so patient with me I'll be posting another two chapters after this. :)


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#4 24moon100

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Posted 06 January 2016 - 06:06 PM

CHAPTER THREE

 

A mere week wasn’t enough time to prepare myself. I spent the majority of it packing, and when I wasn’t stuffing things into boxes, I was curled up in my bedroom’s window seat, studying the secret journal of my ancestress, Caroline Tate. This was thankfully enough to distract my mind from the imminent moving day on the horizon.  

 

Caroline's journal, entry 1:

 

January 15, 1881

 

The weather is dreary as of late. I choose to keep warm in my personal chambers while the winter plays its course. I do not care for the snow or the cold. Even now, as I write this, I sit beside the hearth. I am eager for the spring when I can watch the hummingbirds. I wish it were warm enough so I may enjoy our newest garden path. Above all, I miss the flowers. My favorite sort are the lilacs. Their smell is divine. I plan to have the groundskeeper arrange a flowerbed of only lilacs. He believes this to be a marvelous idea. 

 

A month has passed since Andrew and I were wed. My husband has been immensely accommodating. He has truly spared no effort nor expense in my concern. I have noticed that he particularly delights in pleasing others. The cheerful way my Andrew’s eyes shine after he has satisfied me in some way perhaps proves he enjoys pleasing me most. 

 

My marriage to Andrew was arranged for advantageous reasons to our families. In spite of that, I am happy with this match. Although I confess I may never love him with an equal fervor. I solemnly wish I were capable of requiting his romantic affections. As it is, I do not know why I feel so. Andrew is the ideal gentlemen to anyone he happens upon. He is kind. He is clever. He is handsome. I shall concede I find myself often taken by his exceptional outward charms, and for a time I will forget I do not genuinely love him. Yet, as I have learned, he can be quite preoccupied with his vocational affairs. Andrew's long absences have caused me severe loneliness. Perhaps this is why I am distant toward him. 

 

Ah, here is Andrew now. He wishes for me to join him in the dinning hall. We are to have supper with the Earl of Welk and his Lady Jocelyn. I believe these are fine friends of Andrew. 

 

It is my hope that I am agreeable to our guests. 

 

When my grandmother revealed the existence of the journal to me, I instantly knew that I had to read it. I felt instinctively drawn in by the story of Caroline and her scandalous love affair. I wanted to know more about her. There certainly must have been more to Caroline Tate than the men she slept with. Besides, maybe there was a valid reason for what she did. I had to cling to the hope that I wasn’t descended from just some silly, pampered adulteress. 

 

To my luck, gran was able to retrieve the journal for me without too much trouble. She’d been storing it in one of her, what I liked to call, “treasure chests.” For as long as I’d known gran, she kept a set of three sizable, antique wooden trunks stacked together in her closet. That was where she preferred to lock away her valuables: the jewelry grandpa had gifted her over the years, family heirlooms, other small relics... Also, apparently, the original diary of my dead ancestress. 

 

Who knew, huh?

 

Unfortunately no amount of journal entries or packing would be distracting me from today. 

 

“Say goodbye to this place,” dad encouraged, not without tact, as we filed out of the house for what would probably be the last time ever. 

 

I couldn’t help my eyes from prickling as I looked up at the house. It wasn’t every day that I said goodbye to my childhood home. It was almost like saying goodbye to a very dear friend. I would miss it very much. 

 

My best friend, Cassie, was with us. I have known Cassie for most of my life; ever since I was four and she was five, and that fateful day her family had moved in to the house across from ours.

 

She would be my moral support for the day. Her presence was essential for keeping me together. Emotionally together, that is. 

 

Cassie must have sensed my composure slipping, since she said, sounding sympathetic, “Well, this must be a weird feeling for you.”

 

I ducked my head, torn between wanting to cry and laugh. “No, I feel surprisingly okay.”

 

Cassie was unconvinced. “Oh, yeah, sure you are.”

 

I shrugged. Aiming to sound cheerful, I said, lightly, “The truth is, I think I should just come and live with you.”

 

“Ha! You would not want to live with my brothers,” Cassie joked. “Trust. Me.” 

 

Cassie was the middle child of four other brothers; two younger and two older than her. But her oldest brother didn’t live at her house anymore, considering he went to study abroad in America. Being an only child myself, I always envied Cassie for having so many siblings around. 

 

“It’s going to be awful not seeing you as much,” I admitted to her in a small voice, the huge lump in my throat returning. I couldn’t swallow it down this time. It was an unfortunate flaw of mine that I had never been very exceptional at controlling my emotions. “I just realized I won’t be able to just walk across the street to get to your house anymore.”

 

Cassie’s face scrunched up like she had a lump in her throat too. 

 

Suddenly she was gushing: “Aw, Ari, I know! But I promise we’ll still see each other all the time! It’s not like you’re going to study abroad, are you? We’ll be fine.”

 

I nodded, feeling my spirits soar for the first time since I discovered that I was moving. Her hopefulness was infectious.

 

Thank God for friends like Cassie, that’s all I have to say. 

 

We hugged it out before trotting over to the car where the rest of my family was crammed already. As the tires kicked up the gravel of the driveway, I turned to stare, in a detached sort of way, out the back window. I watched my house fade seamlessly into the distance, until a corner was taken and I could no longer see it at all. 

 

____________________

 

 

The car followed the moving vans through a massive wrought iron gate, detailed with symmetrical swirling patterns and speared finals. The gate must have been added to the estate recently, if the modern brick pillars with the fancy lamp post heads said anything. I had asked my gran and she said the original gate was too small for my great grandparents’ tastes so they replaced it with something that would be more “showy.” This made me wonder bitterly what other alterations my relatives might’ve tacked on over the years, simply to fit their tastes

 

Tell me, what ever happened to authenticity?

 

After we passed through the gate, we had to drive along a straight, neatly graveled road. The road was lined on either side with smooth manicured lawns that stretched for several yards in each direction, before they transitioned into finer landscaping. It lead right up to the front steps. 

 

When the manor emerged into clear view, several things happened altogether. Cassie pinched me incredibly hard in the side and started pointing at it, glancing wide-eyed back and forth between me and the house as if to imply: are you seeing this? In the passenger seat mom lightly touched my dad’s arm, almost like she was communicating her feelings of wonderment through that one touch. Gran’s dog, Moki, barked at something. Gran made a noise too, but it wasn’t a bark. I think it might have been a happy sigh. 

 

“Wow,” was all I said. Because literally I was speechless. 

 

I didn’t know all that much about old architecture, so I was at a loss to make proper sense of what I was seeing. Gran was the unofficial expert, so I had to rely on her knowledge to fill in the gaps. Her inevitable commentary described the manor as having a, and I quote: “French châteauesque flair with an English elegance.” 

 

Traditional of a French château, are features such as elaborate staircase towers, spires, and mansard roofs... 

 

Let’s just say that the manor had all of these things and more

 

Again, I had to question what made Northwood Manor only a manor, and not a castle. It certainly felt like I was staring at a castle. 

 

I think they should retitle it. “Northwood Castle” sounded much more appropriate. 

 

The structure itself was molded in the subtle shape of a square U, rimmed with low hedges and flowerbeds. It was beige-like in color, with faded grayish-blue roofing. The windows were also French. The first and second rows of windows were rectangular and slightly sunken into their frames. The third tier of windows were embedded into the grey roofing, and some of them were topped with mini spires. The main double doors were made out of dark wood, with a case of white marble stairs fanning out from them...

 

Well, damn, I thought to myself, transfixed by the staircase tower attached to the east wing of the house. 

 

We slowly piled out of the car. Dad was first to snap out of whatever spell had been casted on us, turning us into fish-mouthed people. After Cassie, I was the last.

 

Everyone seemed to have something significant to say.

 

“I love the windows,” mom had commented. 

 

“Oh my God. It’s huge!” Cassie exclaimed.

 

“I was always very fond of the landscaping,” gran recalled. 

 

“I’ve missed it here,” dad admitted.

 

That is, everyone but me. Oh, I had plenty of things to say. That was not the issue. The issue was getting the muscles in my mouth to cooperate with the signals firing from my brain, telling me that I should probably speak. 

 

“Aria, you look kind of pale...” Cassie noticed, concerned.

 

I shook myself. What was I doing? It was only a house. A really old, historic, gigantic house, sure, but still a house. I didn’t need to loose my head over it. 

 

“Oh, am I? Ha, ha, got to start working on my summer tan then,” I said, my voice sounding high-pitched in my ears.

 

Cassie s*^%$$%^^ed. “Not what I meant.”

 

Gran sidled up to us then, Moki squirming in her arms. “So girls, what will you plan to tour first?” 

 

I turned to Cassie, indecisive. “I don’t know, what do you feel like seeing?”

 

Cassie shrugged. “Everything. I don’t care what order.”

 

I glanced in the direction of the tower I’d been admiring a moment earlier. 

 

Grabbing my best friend’s hand, I started to tug her up the front steps. 

 

“I think I have an idea of where to start,” I said, and pushed open the grand double doors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

I don’t know what I had expected the inside be, but when Cassie and I eagerly burst through the double doors into the entrance hall, I had to do several double-takes to keep my cool. I’d just recovered from my amazement of seeing the outside, and again, here I was, blown away by the majesty of the inside. By my side Cassie was just as awestruck. We both probably looked like openmouthed fish again. 

 

At this rate, if we kept stopping to ogle at everything, we’d never get to explore the tower like I wanted.

 

The entrance hall was open and airy, with tall arching ceilings and ornate crown moulding that gave the manor its nineteenth century distinction. The floor was glossed patterned wood with a massive blue Persian rug covering most of it. Gold framed oil paintings spanned the walls. A crystal chandelier dangled from the highest part of the ceiling. On the far wall, two white stone pillars flanked the base of the grand staircase.

 

The staircase was a masterpiece all its own. The main flight of steps fanned out wide and matched the same white stone as the pillars. From the landing of the main stair, narrower twin stairs branched to the upper wings of the house.

 

“Damn, Ari, you could seriously make a Cinderella entrance on that thing,” Cassie stated, referring to the staircase. Her voice echoed several times through the room.

 

I smiled, fantasizing. Wow. What must it have been like back then, when girls would float down pretty staircases in stunning ball gowns, knocking out all the men with their beautiful poise and sophistication? I mean, I’m no historian, but I’d like to imagine that’s what it was like in those days. 

 

I wondered absently how many Cinderella entrances Caroline must have made on those stairs. Ever since I’d started reading her journal every night, I began to develop a silent connection to her. I no longer thought of her as a prissy duchess that liked to do dirty things with other men behind her husband’s back. To me, Caroline seemed like just any scared teenage girl with confused feelings about love. 

 

I had to sympathize with my ancestress—even if I didn’t approve of how she was cheating on Andrew with his best friend like that—since she was, after all, practically shoved into the marriage. That and she’d only been sixteen when she married him. If you ask me, that was way too soon for poor, misguided Caroline to be tying the knot with anyone. Obviously, what she should have done was play the field a little more before getting all hasty with Andrew. But I guess, unfortunately, marrying for advantage was the social expectation back then.

 

“Okay, Cas,” I told her, now that my eyes weren’t glazed over anymore. “I want to find that tower I saw outside.”

 

“What, so being Cinderella’s not enough?” Cassie was playfully sarcastic. “You want to be Rapunzel too?”

 

I rolled my eyes. 

 

Honestly, I don’t know why I wanted to find the tower so badly. Towers were fascinating to me, and all, but that didn’t explain how there was this weird, almost magnetic pull steering me toward the east wing hallway. 

 

Cassie and I marveled at things as we went, but only briefly because my heart was on the prize. We passed a number of respective parlors, as well as the dinning hall and the kitchen. Each of which were unsurprisingly impressive and overdone. At one point we found a long corridor with gorgeous windows facing the north lawn, more oil paintings, and complex marble flooring. 

 

After a while of wandering, I became frustrated. That, and I was starting to feel ridiculous. This expedition of mine was beginning to look more like a wild goose chase. 

 

“Ugh. Where is it?” I asked the ceiling, exasperated. 

 

We were in the servant’s quarters, still not any closer to finding the tower. Cassie tapped her chin thoughtfully.

 

“Maybe we should ask someone,” she suggested. 

 

It was the most logical thing to do at that point, but I wasn’t in the mood to go tracking down my gran for guidance. There was little way of knowing where she’d be anyway. 

 

“Miss Strafford?” A woman’s voice interrupted my thoughts. Standing in the door’s threshold was a short, dark haired woman, dressed in a semi-traditional black and white maid uniform. That’s when it fully occurred to me: we were in the housekeeper's wing. This lady was part of the household staff. 

 

Wow. I forgot that I wasn’t just inheriting a manor, but housekeepers too. 

 

“Uh, hi,” I said dumbly. 

 

“May I help you with something?” she offered, smiling professionally. “My name is Ginger Wallaby. I’m head of housekeeping here.”

 

Her timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I wanted to bear hug her. 

 

“Yes.” I perked up. “We were looking for a tower. Do you know where that would be?”

 

Ginger looked lost. “What tower do you mean? The manor has three towers.”

 

Oops. Should have been more specific. 

 

“Oh, the, err...” I fumbled for the right word. “The big one?” 

 

“You must mean the East Tower,” she assumed. “That’s the tallest one.”

 

“Sure,” I said lamely. “That. How do we get to it?”

 

Ginger’s directions were vague. She had mentioned something about being able to find a door to the East Tower in one of the bedrooms. She probably would have given us clearer instructions if it hadn’t been for the loud clang that echoed from the kitchen, and caused her to dash off to see about the commotion. 

 

On our way back to the entrance hall, we found my dad. He had a cardboard box labeled Xmas Ornaments in his arms. 

 

“Hi, girls,” he greeted, sounding worn out. He was sweaty too. 

 

I glanced at the box guiltily. “Oh, do you need help with the boxes, dad?”

 

“No, no, no.” Dad brushed my offer aside. “I’ve got this under control, honey. Go have fun.”

 

Gran entered through the front doors then, still toting around a squirming Moki. “Ariella! I’m glad I’ve found you.”

 

I opened my mouth, every intention of telling her to release poor Moki, but she cut me off. 

 

“Have you found a room yet, dear?” she wanted to know.

 

“Not yet,” I admitted. You’d think that finding myself a room would have been my top priority upon arriving at the manor. Apparently, I liked wild goose chases better. “We haven’t had a chance to look at them.”

 

Gran, finally setting Moki free, clapped her hands delightedly. 

 

“Excellent!” she sang. “I know the perfect one for you! Easily the finest in the house.”

 

I eyed her dubiously. I wasn’t too confident gran knew what I liked. Our tastes were almost polar opposites. 

 

Humoring her, I went, “Really? What’s so special about it?”

 

“Come with me.” Gran was a bottle of enthusiasm. “I’ll show you.”

 

 

___________________________

 

 

I could see why gran thought this room and I were destined for each other. That’s because I think the room and I were destined for each other. It was as if the universal cosmos had designed this room with me, Ariella  solely in its mind. 

 

I’m not kidding. The moment I stepped foot in it, I knew. I knew it with a certainty I could not mistake. 

 

The walls were crown moulded, as so was the high ceiling. They were both painted a light, robin egg blue that tied wonderfully in with the cream colored satin coverlet and sheets, matching cream colored curtains, and the cream fourposter canopy drapes. The floors were dark patterned wood, however the bed rested on top of a large portion of a Persian rug. A Persian rug not unlike the one I saw in the entrance hall earlier. The manor sure had a lot of those, let me tell you. 

 

At the foot of the bed was an emerald green divan. There was an identical looking one angled near the fireplace. I noticed a beautiful mahogany vanity in the corner. There was also a large wardrobe of the same variety next to the vanity, and a bureau to match.

 

Gran and Cassie quietly lingered in the doorway, listening to me obsess over the French doors that gave access to a breathtaking marble railed balcony. Even through the paneled glass, the view of the south parterre garden was spectacular. 

 

I especially admired the heavily pillowed window seats that were tucked inside the outer wall, one on either side of the French doors. 

 

Finally, Cassie was like, “Geez, Ari, do you two need a minute alone?” 

 

But she was just teasing. I think. 

 

“Sorry.” I laughed to cover my embarrassment. “I just—wow. This room is nothing like I expected. But in a good way.”

 

“Hey, I get it, believe me,” Cassie said, eying the canopied fourposter bed enviously. 

 

“You have your own ensuite, did you see?” gran pointed out helpfully. 

 

My bathroom was not what I’d expected either, but in a different sense. Besides the clawfoot tub, the bathroom was updated with all the modern convinces. There was a separate walk in shower, toilet, sink, medicine cabinet, and towel rack. Standing there, I would have hardly known that just outside was a room likely over a century old. 

 

When I emerged from the bathroom, gran was sitting on the chaise, her hands folded neatly in her lap. Meanwhile Cassie had stepped out to the balcony, and was spreading her arms, chanting dramatically to the ground below: “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?!” 

 

“Do you know the history of this room, Ariella?”  

 

My gran was calmly gazing at the far wall, which led me to follow her gaze. There was a closet door cut into the crown moulding that I hadn’t noticed before. At least, what I assumed was a closet door. I narrowed my eyes at it. I remembered what Ginger, the head housekeeper, had said about the tower having a door to it in one of the bedrooms. Had she meant this room? 

 

I fought the urge to fling myself at the handle. The tower could wait. I was curious to hear what my gran wanted to say. 

 

“No, but I have a feeling you’re about to tell me.”  

 

Gran smiled, patting the spot next to her on the chaise. I crossed the room and sat in the spot she’d patted. 

 

“You have been reading that journal I gave you?” she asked. 

 

“Um, yes.” I failed to see the relevance. “Why?”

 

“Oh, I just thought you would like to know...this was Caroline Tate’s bedroom.”

 

I looked up sharply. 

 

“WHAT?”

 

Gran just blinked at me, unruffled. “Yes, it’s true.”

 

By then Cassie had stepped back into the room. She was looking very content with herself, wearing a smug smile. She sunk down in the opposite chaise by the fireplace.

 

I thrust a finger in the direction of the bed. 

 

“My ancestress and her murdered husband slept in there?” 

 

The thought made me feel like invisible bugs were crawling over my skin.  

 

“Heavens no, Ariella. That mattress is quite new.” Gran tittered. “Ah, yes. What is the brand called? Tempurpedic?”

 

This news comforted me somewhat. But only somewhat. 

 

“And the bedcovers? What about those?” 

 

“Yes, yes, everything has been properly laundered,” gran assured, rolling her eyes excessively. 


A disturbing thought popped into my head. My eyes darted around the room suspiciously. 

 

“Gran, has anyone died in here?” 

 

I was really hoping for her answer to be no.

 

Gran huffed. “Not this ghost again.”

“Simple question. Yes or no?” 

 

“Well, no. As far as I’m aware, there has never been a death in this room.”

 

Cassie raised her hand, wearing an innocent look. “What about a ghost?”

 

Gran waved her off. “There is no ghost. Ariella is just paranoid.”

 

“That would be so neat, though,” Cassie mused. “I’ve always thought it would be fun to live in a place that’s haunted.”

 

I guess that was one thing Cassie and I did not agree on. She thought ghosts were neat. I thought ghosts were, well, creepy.

 

Gran suddenly stood. 

 

“All right, I think I’ll leave you two.”

Without further ceremony, gran left. 

 

Once she was gone, Cassie started to grin at me from across the room. 

 

“All right, Ari, so tell me about this ghost.”

 

So that’s how I ended up telling her the sordid tale of my ancestress Caroline Tate and her first husband, the Duke of Northwood, Andrew Beckett.

 

I told her about the sticky love triangle between Caroline, Andrew, and Richard. I told her about how Andrew was poisoned, how he had entrusted Caroline all of his effects. I told her about how Caroline later married Richard after Andrew’s death, how they had five children, and how I was their unlucky (or lucky, depending on how you viewed it) descendant. I told her about the journal.

 

“Well,” Cassie said when I was finished. She looked as if she was having a major epiphany. “It’s obvious, isn’t it?”

 

I raised an eyebrow at her. 

 

“What’s obvious?”

 

“Who killed him,” she specified.

 

Now both of my eyebrows were in the air. 

 

“Who?”

 

“Oh my God.” Cassie stared at me like I was dense. “It was obviously Caroline!”

 

 

_________________________

 

​Alright so hopefully those chapters were interesting to you! I really wanted to give you all a picture of what the manor looks like before going on. In fact here is a link to a page that I have been using as inspiration for what the manor should look like and a few pictures:

 

 

Waddesdon_Manor_North_Faccedilade_UK_-_D

 
 
858253f4-2c80-4720-9277-acf52f33c9cb_zps

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#5 G.dance

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Posted 22 January 2016 - 02:37 PM

Aha I've been really busy lately, so don't worry!
God I wish I could live in a place like this! The pictures of the manor are awesome. And quite frankly, I can't think of something to improve your writing; your grammar is good, you describe everything pretty well so it's easy to visualize the scene. I couldn't do much better. Maybe it's just me being impatient but the only thing I could think of is that you could maybe accelerate it a little bit ( not rush it, but just put more actions in one chapter), but then if that's how you want to do it it's no problem, and like I said it is certainly just me being impatient ;)
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#6 G.dance

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Posted 22 January 2016 - 02:38 PM

Aha I've been really busy lately, so don't worry!
God I wish I could live in a place like this! The pictures of the manor are awesome. And quite frankly, I can't think of something to improve your writing; your grammar is good, you describe everything pretty well so it's easy to visualize the scene. I couldn't do much better. Maybe it's just me being impatient but the only thing I could think of is that you could maybe accelerate it a little bit (not rush it, but just put more actions in one chapter), but then if that's how you want to do it it's no problem, and like I said it is certainly just me being impatient ;)
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#7 Jcrazy

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Posted 23 January 2016 - 02:21 AM

Just wanted to let you know that I have read this and it's very good, but more importantly--very different from what I feel like I've read from you before. From my writing classes in college I've come to learn that long and critical comments aren't what help most people as writers. Usually it only takes a few words to make an impact on someones writing, so here are a couple that have made an impact on me:

 

1) Don't stop noticing and listening. Ask people questions. Be interested and you'll receive something interesting in return.

 

2) Writing in first person. We do this because we want the audience to understand things that our character doesn't.

 

3) Somedays you'll spend two hours rewriting one paragraph and it'll be the best writing day you've had in months. Somedays you'll write a 1,000 words in a flash and it'll be the worst writing day you've had in months.

 

Keep writingggggg:)


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#8 24moon100

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Posted 01 March 2016 - 11:20 PM

WOW. I can't believe how long it has been since I've come to look at this. Thanks you guys for your comments! So sorry I didn't back to you guys sooner! I guess I have the first round of exams and everything for being so busy. Haha. 

 

Aha I've been really busy lately, so don't worry!
God I wish I could live in a place like this! The pictures of the manor are awesome. And quite frankly, I can't think of something to improve your writing; your grammar is good, you describe everything pretty well so it's easy to visualize the scene. I couldn't do much better. Maybe it's just me being impatient but the only thing I could think of is that you could maybe accelerate it a little bit (not rush it, but just put more actions in one chapter), but then if that's how you want to do it it's no problem, and like I said it is certainly just me being impatient ;)

 

I know right? Haha. When I was imagining the manor I felt so frustrated because I wanted to go there so badly. It would literally be my dream to live in a place like that. 

 

Yeah, I'm sorry about the chapters being so short. I keep trying to write more per chapter but it always ends up not feeling right so that's why I have just decided to post 2 chapters a piece to make up for the lack of length. 

 

Don't worry things will be picking up very soon! I've already written the next two chapters and I'll be posting them after this.

 

Thanks again for always reading and commenting. I hope that maybe I can write more of this over my spring break to reward you for being so patient with me. :)

 

Just wanted to let you know that I have read this and it's very good, but more importantly--very different from what I feel like I've read from you before. From my writing classes in college I've come to learn that long and critical comments aren't what help most people as writers. Usually it only takes a few words to make an impact on someones writing, so here are a couple that have made an impact on me:

 

1) Don't stop noticing and listening. Ask people questions. Be interested and you'll receive something interesting in return.

 

2) Writing in first person. We do this because we want the audience to understand things that our character doesn't.

 

3) Somedays you'll spend two hours rewriting one paragraph and it'll be the best writing day you've had in months. Somedays you'll write a 1,000 words in a flash and it'll be the worst writing day you've had in months.

 

Keep writingggggg:)

 

 

Jamieeee. Yes! Always so happy to hear from you. :)

 

I can also see how much you've upgraded yourself as a commenter since we last chatted. ;) I'm very grateful for your words of wisdom. Since I had to sacrifice being an English major for being a bio major, at least I have you to impart upon me some of that knowledge I'm missing out on. Ha.

 

As for this being very different from my other stuff, I hope that's a good different? Lol. I can't keep track anymore of the weird stuff I have posted on here. 

 

Anyway thanks again for your lovely comment. It made me very happy to see and now I'll be that much more motivated to post some more thanks to you. :)

 

Hopefully I'll be seeing some of your writing at some point? Maybe something you've written for creative writing? 

 

Lol no pressure. ;)

 

—MEG

 


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#9 24moon100

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Posted 02 March 2016 - 03:11 AM

CHAPTER FIVE

 

The doorknob squeaked with disuse as I twisted it in my hand. 

 

“You really think this leads to the tower?” Cassie asked, her excitement bubbling over. 

 

My whole body was humming with its own excitement. 

 

The door wouldn’t budge at first. Then I tried ramming my shoulder into the side, which eventually worked, because the door creaked open after the third shove. I peered through the open threshold. 

 

“Whoa,” I whispered to myself. 

 

A cold feeling passed through my body, causing me to me shiver involuntarily. It seemed odd to me, finding such a strong draft in the middle of summer, but I disregarded it.

 

Looking from over my shoulder, Cassie gasped. 

 

Sure enough, it was the tower. Right away I recognized the cylindrical stone walls. The same grey stone made up the spiral set of stairs that wound all the way to the top. A small beam of sunlight slanted in from a solitary window sunken into the wall. 

 

I climbed the stairs slowly, cautious of each step. Cassie trailed behind. We both kept one hand on the wall for balance. 

 

It was a short ascent to reach the top. We only had to round the center pillar twice. The stairs fed into a circular room at the crown of the tower. Four arched windows were spaced around the wall, all of them coated with dust and grime from years of neglect, and all latched firmly shut. It was difficult to see past the dust and grime, but I noticed that the windows overlooked some of the gardens and forested hills of the property. The roof was coned, with beams of wood crisscrossing in the middle. 

 

The amount of clutter scattered throughout the space was astonishing. Dust layered everything.  To name a few things: there were huge iron chests, mismatched furniture, trinkets that I didn’t even have names for, and stacks of large leather-bound tomes with faded titles. There was so much to process, for a moment I had difficulty piecing together what I was seeing. 

 

Cassie bent to pick up a silver candle stick that was resting on an ancient looking clawfoot table. She inspected the candle stick with a cursory glance before setting it back and moving on to more interesting things.

 

“Hey, be careful with this stuff, okay?” I warned. “It could be delicate.”

 

Instinctively, I drifted toward the large iron chest in the heart of the room. It reminded me somewhat of my gran’s “treasure chests.” I crouched to lift the lid, but when I did I was disappointed to see that it was sealed shut. I frowned at the lock, dismayed because I knew my curiosity was going to tear at me now. No doubt the mystery of what was in the chest would keep me up tonight, along with everything else I had to reflect on. Which, considering my day so far, was a lot. 

 

I didn’t get it. Why would it be locked? And how was it that all of these things in the tower looked as if no one had touched them in decades? My previous relatives wouldn’t have just left this clutter up here to collect dust. Would they? It seemed really very wasteful, if you asked me. For starters, I spotted a perfectly good violin to my left. Not to mention the pile of rolled up Persian rugs next to the table with the candle stick. Then again, I wasn’t so sure the manor needed any more Persian rugs...

 

“Hmm,” I thought out loud. “Maybe the key is in here somewhere...”

 

Cassie glanced up from her own investigating. “Huh? Did you say something Ari?”

 

“It’s just this trunk,” I complained, pointing at it. “It’s locked.”

 

Cassie raised her eyebrows. 

 

“Do you think the others are locked too?” 

 

At this possibility, we were inspired to investigate the other chests. Both of them, unlike the first one, had opened without any fuss. We sifted through the contents of each one, delighted by our discoveries. 

 

Each chest was dedicated to its own collection of dresses and shoes. It was like the Holy Grail of nineteenth century formal wear. The first chest we pried open was filled to the brim with exquisite evening gowns. The second chest was meant for all the shoes to match the gowns. 

 

There were gowns in practically every color. How they were able to fit in such a confined space, I wasn’t sure. As Cassie and I took inventory, I noted several shades of blue, a few reds, one emerald, a pink, a purple, a yellow and a white. I relished the feel of the satins, silks, muslins, laces and velvets as they spilled from the chest. We handled them with extreme tentativeness, unfolding each one and draping them across our bodies to keep them from brushing the dirty floor. It was bewildering to think how all this time, these dresses had been cooped up in a chest, high in a dusty old tower.

 

Instead of squishing them back into the chest, it seemed better to hang them up. I thought of the large wardrobe in the bedroom below. I had originally planned to use that for my regular clothes, but something inside me cringed at the thought of having to cram all these lovely dresses back inside a box. I didn’t necessarily need the wardrobe anyway—I could just make do with the bureau. It would be worth it, if it meant giving the dresses a chance to breathe again.  

 

Carrying the gowns with us, we made several trips back and forth to the wardrobe. After the last gown was hung, we scaled back up the steps to the tower. 

 

I don’t know what had compelled me to do it, but I found myself crouching in front of the empty chest. You know, to make sure we had accounted for all the dresses. There was a white cloth at the bottom, which I had mistakenly thought was padding. It wasn’t. Carefully, I lifted the flap of cloth. Underneath was another gown. The cloth had been wrapped around the dress as an extra layer of protection. 

 

When I unwrapped the gown, my breath caught at the sight of it. As I held it up to the light, I fell instantly in love. The color actually reminded me of my eyes: a satiny shimmering grey with a tinge of blue in the right light. I examined every detail with awe: the slim shape of the bodice, the seductive off the shoulder neckline, the elegant floor length train... 

 

For a moment, my mind drifted into a daydream that starred me and the dress, the manor’s grand ballroom, and old-fashioned dancing. It felt so much like a memory—like I’d been reincarnated, and I was seeing a glimpse of my past life. But I knew, in the logical part of my mind anyway, that would’ve been impossible. 

 

It was nice to dream though. 

 

“That dress is gorgeous, Ari! You should try it on,” Cassie suggested eagerly, breaking me out of my reverie. 

 

Folding the dress carefully over my arm, I sighed. “Yeah, maybe later.”

 

The truth was: I was too afraid to try it on. What if it didn’t fit? What if I damaged it? What if, once I put it on, I never wanted to take it off? All were possibilities I could not face. 

 

After storing the gown in the wardrobe with the rest of the collection, Cassie and I spent the remainder of our time until dinner rummaging through the clutter in the tower. I’d kept my eyes specifically peeled, and told Cassie to keep hers too, for a key that would fit the locked trunk. Sadly, the key could not be found. 

 

Dinner was a casual gathering in the kitchen. The kitchen had a dining nook that was comfortable enough to seat everyone. The head cook—her name was Roni—made us all enough spaghetti and meatballs with buttered French bread for several helpings. Afterward the household staff, Ginger among them, formally introduced themselves to us. It was surreal to have this many housekeepers, groundskeepers, and an actual cook, after so long living normally without any.

 

The movers had gone. My boxes were the only ones yet to be taken up. Everyone—with the exception of gran, who went off to find Moki—helped carry them to my room.

 

When I showed my parents the gowns Cassie and I had salvaged, and the door that lead to the tower we had found them in, my dad surprised me by looking incredulous. 

 

“I don’t understand. How did you get the door to open?”

 

I was genuinely confused. 

 

“Um, I used the handle?” 

 

“That door has been bolted for as long as I can remember,” he told me.

 

“Really?” I was shocked. “Are you sure? I mean, it was a little hard to twist the knob, and I had to shove my weight against it a few times, but it wasn’t locked.”

 

Then I thought about all the dust and the way everything in the tower had seemed forgotten, and it started to make sense. Maybe all this time, everyone had thought the door was locked, when if they had only been a little more persistent like I had been, they could’ve opened it ages ago.   

 

Seeming to read my next thoughts, mom asked, “And no one tried to pry it?” 

 

Dad scratched his chin. “No, I don’t think so. My father always thought the door was a builder’s mistake.”

 

This entire conversation was starting to freak me out. 

 

I mean, if what my dad was saying was true, that meant I’d managed to open a door once thought by the majority of my former relatives to be a builder’s mistake. How was that not totally goose bumps worthy?

 

But what about Ginger? I remembered her giving us those directions when I’d asked how to find it. She must’ve known that the door wasn’t really locked. 

 

Then again, now that I thought about it, her exact words to me had been: “Well, I’m not sure if there is a way to go inside the tower, but I’ve always thought there might be a door in one of the bedrooms—” A loud clang from kitchen. Ginger swearing under her breath. “—I’m so sorry. Please excuse me.” Ginger rushing off to kitchen to investigate the loud clang.

 

So maybe Ginger hadn’t really known after all. 

 

“You must have the magic touch, Aria,” mom said, winking. 

 

Cassie elbowed me playfully. “Look at you, Nancy Drew, solving your first mystery.”

 

At that precise moment, Gran decided to sail into the room. 

 

“I fear Moki has run away!” she announced, distraught. “I have the household staff searching, but they are getting nowhere!”

 

We were all so exhausted from the day, the last thing any one of us wanted to be doing was chase after my grandma’s Yorkshire Terrier. But we piled out of my room anyway, and followed gran down the hall. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER SIX

 

I slept restlessly again. 

 

Five full days since we’d moved into the manor, and I was still not able to sleep soundly through the night. The routine thrashing and nightmares were one matter. But then there was the entire other matter. The matter, it so happened, I was trying very desperately not to think about at the moment. 

 

The annoying part about trying not to think about something? It only makes you think about it more. 

 

Thankfully I had lots to distract me. 

 

Every day at Northwood Manor was another exploration. For example yesterday I toured the gardens a second time with my gran. (The first tour we only had enough time for the north gardens and part of the hedge maze.) The day before that, I went into town with my dad to meet with the historical society about the manor. That had been interesting. Much like the manor, I found the town to be very lovely. The day before that, I’d paid a much awaited visit to the house’s enormous library. My great aunt Ruby had not been playing around when she’d said that I’d love it. Seeing it for the first time in all its glory, I think I might've felt exactly like Belle did in that once scene in Beaty and the Beast

 

Ever since I discovered what was up in the East Tower, I decided to go to work on sorting through the items there. Ginger the head housekeeper and I spent one entire afternoon spraying Windex on all the windows and wiping the dust and grime away from their surfaces. It had been a bonding experience for us, I felt. Nothing like a bottle of Windex and four extremely gross windows to bring two people closer. And in spite of our age difference, I held high hope in my heart that Ginger and I would get to be good friends. She was sweet and easy to talk with. Besides, I believed we people of the manor had to stick together. Nobody knew what it was like to live in it but us. 

 

Speaking of the tower, it was turning out to be a serious enterprise decluttering it. Nevertheless, I was making smooth progress. The floor could be seen much better now that most of the mess had been cleared away. My goal was to make it so that I could freely walk around up there without worrying about stepping on anything that might be valuable. Yet despite my unwavering optimism, there was still no sign of a key to fit the locked trunk. As I feared, my sleuthing skills were strictly amateur. I didn’t feel so much like Nancy Drew anymore. Nancy would have found the stupid key by this point. She would have found it, unlocked the secrets it held, and been on to her next thrilling mystery. 

 

Today Willow would finally be brought to the manor. I could hardly contain my anticipation for this. I’d been itching to ride her ever since I had laid eyes on all those lush, forested hills that encircled our new home. She would have plenty of room to roam. That much was certain. 

 

I went down to the stables early in the morning—it was actually about a five minute walk from the manor—and surveyed it for the coziest, cleanest possible stall for her. Frank, the head groundskeeper, kindly helped me prepare everything. 

 

Frank was about my gran’s age, give or take a few years. Amazingly, he’d been a groundskeeper to the manor ever since he was a kid—when his dad had the job. I guess it was a family business.  He lived with his wife, Ann, in the neighboring guest cottage on the estate grounds. I often saw them together wandering the gardens or down by the sparkling natural swimming pond. They were an adorable old couple. The kind of old couple that made you smile to yourself, simply because they looked so content with the world and each other. 

 

Age was not a limitation for Frank. He was an expert at his job, and definitely no slouch in the manual labor department if what he’d done today with the stables was any indication. Fit and a freaking fiddle, that old man. 

 

“What breed is she?”  Frank had asked me about Willow while we both stopped for a rest on one of the benches, sipping cold soda and gazing at the stunning view of the hilled pasture.

 

“Palomino,” I told him fondly. 

 

Frank’s eyes twinkled, looking nostalgic. “It’s been a while since Northwood Manor has had any horses around.”

 

“Really? How long has it been?”

 

“Oh, fifty years?” Frank estimated. “I believe your great aunt rode a white one when she was about your age.”

 

“Wow. That’s such a long time...” I trailed off, thinking briefly of my great aunt, Ruby, the one I hadn’t even known about until my grandfather's funeral. “Do you think Willow will like it here?”

 

The old man chuckled good-naturedly. “I guarantee you, that horse will be spoiled rotten.”

 

I smiled. “Well, she certainly isn’t a stranger to spoiling...”

 

“Although I should tell you, I’m a bit out of practice with my horse care. You will have to reeducate me.”

 

I shook my head. “Oh, no problem. I don’t expect you to take care of her, anyway. I’m used to doing it myself. I like it.”

 

Frank, if I hadn’t known any better, was offended. 

 

“And just what will I get paid for around here, young lady? Of course I’ll be helping you.”

 

I was a little baffled by Frank’s insistence, but I also didn’t want to offend him any further. 

 

“Oh, well, okay then,” was my intelligent response. “Thanks.”

 

Frank smiled. “It’s my pleasure.” 

 

Shortly later, a white trailer arrived with Willow. The bubble of joy that burst from my chest was unrestrained as I ran up to greet her. 

 

I’d had Willow since I was eight years old, when she was just a small filly herself. I really believed, crazy as it probably sounded, that Willow was my animal soul mate. Often, I would have whole conversations with her, and I really felt like she understood on an inner level what I was saying. We truly had a special connection. 

 

Naturally, I spent the entire day with her. We didn’t even have to waste time with a saddle, since I was already in the special jeans I wore specifically for bareback riding. The manor sat on a generous expanse of land, which allowed Willow and I enough free range to be more than satisfied. Plus, the scenery itself was stunning. I’d especially have to remember the route we ended up taking through the forested part of the property. It might’ve been sheer luck that we found it, but as we were riding we came across a beautiful natural meadow hidden among a thick patch of evergreens. 

 

It was as the sun was setting outside—the telltale bright oranges and pinks tinging the sky—and I was brushing Willow’s pale blonde mane that I heard it. It was so soft that I almost mistook it as the wind, but I heard it. My name. 

 

As a reflex, I glanced around the stables, wondering if I’d imagined the voice. Maybe it was my dad calling me back to the house for dinner. Yes, that had to be what it was. My dad, sure. Yes, okay. 

 

I went back to grooming Willow, blatantly ignoring the cold prickly feeling on the back of my neck.

 

Ariella,” the whisper came again—louder, more resolute.

 

I flinched so hard that I spooked Willow. 

 

In fact, I had to stumble out of her stall before she could accidentally trample me.

 

Okay, that was definitely not the wind.  

 

All at once it was like my lungs had emptied themselves of air, and I had no way of breathing it back in fast enough. The little hairs on my arms stood on end, my throat constricted, my knees felt weak. Not to mention my heart was racing. I shut my eyes tightly, frantic to block out the dark thought that was running through my head. The same dark thought I’d been stubbornly fighting for days to acknowledge, but couldn’t seem to escape from no matter how much I distracted myself. 

 

Desperately, I clapped my hands over my ears and sank into a ball in the center of the stables. 

 

“Stop it!” I practically sobbed into my knees, voice choked. “S-stop!”

 

An aggressive gust of wind swept through the stables, whipping at my long hair. But even then I didn’t lift my head from my instinctive protective ball. I was completely immobile, too seized up from hearing the disembodied voice that the option to run away wasn’t even there in my head. Apparently the only option in my head was to cower in a ball like a the big sissy I hadn’t realized I was. 

 

Almost immediately the wind died, and with it, the awful prickly feeling on the back of my neck. Slowly, fresh air replenished my lungs. 

 

I lifted my head hesitantly, peeking an eye. 

 

Whatever it was, it was gone. 

 

For now. 

 

_______________________

 

I was standing outside my parent’s room, tempted more than I’d ever been tempted, to tiptoe in and crawl into their bed. The scared little girl inside me wanted desperately to snuggle between them and pretend like nothing evil could get me there.

 

I’m sixteen years old, I scolded myself. I can’t do that anymore

 

The childish fear matched the childish solution, I guess. 

 

The hallway was dimly lit as I dragged my feet back—my arms hugging myself protectively—to my room. I tried not to think about the spooky shadows the wall sconces casted with their glow. I tried not to think about the eerie noises creaking and echoing throughout the house. I tried to not think about the paranoia corroding my mind like acid. 

 

Until tonight, denial had been my best friend.

 

But I guess I no longer had denial on my side. My denial was on a hiatus. In its place was a paralyzing sense of clarity and resignation. 

 

Northwood Manor was haunted. I was positive of it now. 

 

The evidence had probably been there the whole time, I was just too buried in my denial to deal with it. 

 

When I returned to my room, I sprang onto my bed hastily, suddenly very aware of the dark shadows underneath the bed. I cocooned myself in my bedcovers and pressed my back against my headboard so firmly that the delicate wood carvings should have been permanently imprinted into my skin. The room was too quiet. Too still. The silence was so eerie...

 

How could I possibly have gone to sleep then? Or ever? It didn’t feel safe to shut my eyes anymore. 

 

My limbs were suddenly moving of their own volition as I ripped off my covers, crossed the room, and reached into one of my vanity’s drawers for the spare flashlight. I switched it on, my legs leading me up the East Tower steps like I was a girl possessed. It was as if the self-preserving part of myself wasn’t the part commanding my body movements anymore. A determined, more daring half of myself was calling all the shots now. It seemed to want me to do the thing that would ultimately terrify me the most. 

 

I stood in front of the covered portrait frame leaning against the far wall of the tower. My heart was in my throat as I stared at it. I could barely stand anymore, my legs were so wobbly. Every little frightened fiber in my body screamed for me to turn away from it. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. Instead I decided that if I was ever going to live in any sort of peace here, I had to stop with all the cowardice and denial. 

 

With quivering fingers, I grasped the cloth and let it drop from the portrait. 

 

Shining my flashlight, I forced myself to look at itreally look at it this time, and not hastily throw the sheet back over it like I had done the time before. 

 

Two uncannily familiar pale blue eyes stared back at me. They were, for lack of a better description, the epitome of soul piercing eyes. Really. Even though it was only a painting, I could sense the depth and intelligence in them. His hair was dark and long, but not long enough to call for a funny pony tail like most men might have worn theirs in that era. He wasn’t smiling. His expression could only have been considered as one thing: haunting. My skin was crawling just standing there. 

 

Slowly and shakily, I flipped the portrait over so I could read the fine writing on the back. As I suspected, there was a name and a date inscribed in the right corner:

 

Andrew Beckett — 1881

 

My knees buckled.

 

It was him. It was the Andrew Beckett, the original Duke of Northwood. The late husband of Caroline Tate. The man who was, incidentally, murdered in this very manor. The man that was appearing in my nightmares every night—the reason for my restlessness. The man who’s voice I somehow knew was always whispering my name whenever I was alone. 

 

The cold prickly feeling attacked the back of my neck again, full force this time. It was like the air around me was charged. Even though I wanted to, I didn’t shrink into a ball and cry this time. I didn’t even close my eyes, like my old instinct would have been. 

 

Every other physical reaction of mine was the same. I couldn’t breathe air into my lungs anymore. No shocker. My heart was thudding madly against my ribs. A given. Both knees were jello underneath me. Typical. 

 

Pathetically, it was all I could do to stay upright. 

 

“Ariella,” the ghost of Andrew Beckett said, clear as day.  “I see you have found my portrait.”

 

I whirled.

 

The dead man smiled at me menacingly. 

 

“I do believe our meeting is overdue.” 

 

You,” I breathed, before I felt overwhelmingly faint, my vision blackened, and my whole body swayed to meet the floor. 

 
 
___________
 
 
So I hoped those chapters were a little more eventful for ya'll. :) From this point on things will be escalating a lot more. 
 
What do you guys think Aria is going to do about Andrew? 
 
Comment and let me know! 
 
—MEG

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#10 24moon100

24moon100

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 01:33 AM

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

When I recovered my consciousness I found myself in my bed, tucked cozily beneath the luxury sheets. The canopy drapes were closed, shielding me from the harsh morning glare surely streaming in from the balcony windows. My head felt foggy from sleep and dizziness, and my body felt slightly achy like the flu. Gingerly, I sat up. The artificial night inside my bed tried to lull me back to sleep, but I reached out to yank back the curtains. Instead of a morning glare, I was met with soft afternoon rays. My eyes watered as they adjusted to the light. 

 

Even with the light to wake me up, I felt tempted to lie back down. The splitting headache blooming in the back of my skull made me want nothing more than to curl back up and drift off for another few hours. But I knew I couldn’t do that. If I slept any longer that would only assure that I’d be wide awake until the dreaded late hours of the night. 

 

The heavy disorientation I was experiencing made me forget about the events of the night before. Groggy, I untangled myself from the sheets and crossed the floor to the vanity. According to my reflection in the mirror, I was a mess. That was nothing new. My too-long blond hair was tangled from sleep, so I fished my brush from the top drawer and combed through it thoroughly. My eyes were crusty from being shut for so long, so I rubbed them with my fists. My lips were badly chapped. Luckily I had a tube of chapstick already waiting on the vanity table. As for the morning breath situation...that was something only my toothbrush would cure.

 

With a yawn, I looked up into the vanity mirror a last time for good measure, and nearly screamed.

 

Because my reflection was not the only reflection in mirror. 

 

To my mortal horror, the ghost—or at least what I assumed had to be the ghost—of Andrew Beckett was directly behind me. His face loomed dangerously close to my ear to say, cold breath practically brushing the skin of my neck, “Did you sleep well, Ariella?” 

 

I felt paralyzed. 

 

It was like my reflexes were playing catch up to everything else. For second, I couldn’t so much as blink. Of course, eventually, my survival instincts kicked in and then—hell, I was like a girl fired out of a cannon. I flew out of the chair, flung myself across the room, and flattened my back against the opposite wall so damn fast I could have been the Flash. 

 

“What the hell?!” I cried. 

 

The ghost of Andrew Beckett was apparently undeterred by my evident display of fear. 

 

“Such language does not become a lady of your standard,” he simply said, watching me cooly over by the vanity. 

 

Meanwhile I was pressed up against the wall, literally gasping for air. My chest was heaving so fast, I probably looked like a frightened rabbit. 

 

How was it that my lungs always failed me in these circumstances? It was very inconveniencing. 

 

“This...this isn’t...” I sputtered, my chest burning from the apparent lack of oxygen. “You shouldn’t—”

 

Andrew raised an eyebrow curiously. “Yes?”

 

I was quite possibly on the verge of hyperventilating. 

 

“You shouldn’t...be here. You’re...you’re...” I couldn’t seem to form the word out loud. 

 

“Dead?” he volunteered, his eyes boring into mine like ice lasers. 

 

I gulped. 

 

“That...so that wasn’t just a dream last night?” I managed to get out, but my voice was traitorously tremulous. “You were really there...in the tower? And I really...”

 

Andrew smiled. “Fainted? Indeed, you did.”

 

The smile wasn’t a menacing smile, either. The smile was...okay, if I was being honest here? It was attractive. Caroline Tate hadn’t been lying in her journal about his “exceptional outward charms.” Even as a dead guy, Andrew Beckett was no eyesore. 

 

That wasn’t to say I was any less weary of him then. If anything, his deceiving attractiveness set me further on edge. 

 

“Tell me, are you regularly prone to swooning?” he asked lightly.

 

That’s about when the panic seeped in. Was a dead guy actually mocking me?

 

No. This wasn’t real. I was surely going delusional, that’s all. Yes, that had to be the logical explanation for this. I was hallucinating. 

 

And, okay, just what if I wasn’t losing my mind? What if this was really happening, like I knew, on some small inner plane of my consciousness, it probably was? 

 

 “You’re here to kill me, aren’t you?” I blurted, my voice remarkably level for my current state of hysteria.

 

The temperature of the room, I noticed, was dropping rapidly. An uncontrollable shiver racked itself through my already shaky body. 

 

“Kill you?” Andrew, if the tone of his voice and the way his eyebrows scrunched together was any indicator, was deeply confused. “Why would I kill you?”

 

It was my turn to be deeply confused. I imagine my expression must’ve mimicked his. 

 

Still feeling somewhat bold, I said, “Well, you’ve only been harassing me since I got here! What else did you expect me to think?”

 

Andrew tilted his head, almost like he found me a very curious creature that needed inspecting from a new angle. A corner of his mouth twitched up like it was still deciding whether or not to commit itself to a smirk. 

 

Opposite of what most people would expect of a ghost, Andrew seemed amazingly solid for one. He wasn’t wispy or translucent, as the typical ghost stereotype would have you believe. It was as if he were made up of actual flesh and bones in that moment. The only reason I knew that he was not entirely of this world was the spectral silvery glow he emanated like an aura.

 

It was creepy to say the least. 

 

“You mistake me, Ariella. It was not my intention to harass you.”

 

Then what exactly was your intention? I meant to say that thought out loud, but frankly I was not in any rush to find out the answer to it. 

 

My throat felt like a cat’s tongue when I tried to finally shallow. I tore my gaze away from his and tried to focus it on something less upsetting. I settled for the French doors, beyond which were the south parterre gardens. It was enough to lend me some calm. 

 

Not much calm, but enough. 

 

At least I was finally able to unflatten myself from the wall I’d been needlessly clinging to, as if it was somehow going to protect me from a man that could easily walk through it. 

 

“I only fainted before because you basically—no, literally—scared the daylights out of me,” I felt obligated to clarify, defensive of his earlier comment. And while I was on a role I added—rather articulately for my part—“What is your deal then, anyway? Do you take some sick pleasure in haunting innocent young girls or has an unfulfilling afterlife robbed you of your human decency?”

 

Andrew dragged a hand across his jaw in irritation. A sigh slipped out of him almost like he might have wanted to be patient with me, but had decidedly given up on it. 

 

“Certainly not,” he said, only mildly offended. “I am not a savage.”

 

Once more, the rational side of myself wanted to think that I was simply fabricating the conversation in my head. But even my historically overactive imagination wasn’t that good. 

 

Somehow, I was able to suck in a steadying breath in the midst of everything. 

 

So far he didn’t appear to want to impale me with any levitating objects. That was an encouraging sign at least.

 

And, okay, it wasn’t as if I’d stepped into a scene of Poltergeist here—another encouragement. Possibly it was horror movies like those that had ruined me. Here I was with the impression that all ghosts were evil. Maybe that didn’t have to always be the case. Maybe some of them could be friendly. You know, like Casper. 

 

All the ghost of Andrew Beckett wanted to do, apparently, was talk. 

 

Okay. I could do that. Yeah. Talk. I talked all the time. Talking was easy, right? Like breathing. Sure, I could talk to him. 

 

Yeah. Awesome plan, Aria. Keep the ghost man talking so he wont try to slaughter you in some paranormally gruesome way. 

 

“So if you haven’t been haunting me, then what exactly would you like to call it?” 

 

Grudgingly I recalled the past week; how he’d been tormenting me with disembodied whispers, creepy drafts, and vivid nightmares. It made my insides heat up to think about—and not in a pleasant way. Surely Casper wouldn’t have done all those things to me.  

 

Andrew sighed some more. Clearly he was tiring of my accusations.

 

“You behave as though you have never seen a spirit before.” 

 

I stared at him blankly. “That’s because I haven’t.” 

 

He frowned.  “I see that now.” 

 

This situation just kept getting more bizarre every second. Why would he think it would be normal of me to see dead people? That’s just lunacy. 

 

“I only thought—You are a medium, are you not?”

 

Uh. HUH? 

 

“What did you just call me?”

 

His blue eyes studied me intently. 

 

“A medium,” he repeated. “Are you not familiar with the term?”

 

My own eyes narrowed. 

 

I might have even laughed if I hadn’t been so freaked out. 

 

“A medium? Seriously? Oh, God, maybe I am going crazy. You don’t honestly think I’m some psychic freak like...like, I don’t know, Haley Joel in The Sixth Sense or something?” I shook my head vigorously. “Delusions. I’m having delusions. I’m not Haley Joel. You’re not a ghost. You’re just a delusion.” 

 

Andrew only managed to look completely lost. 

 

I couldn’t blame him for his perplexity. His being a nineteenth century ghost and all, it must’ve slipped my mind that Andrew was probably not accustomed to movie references of any kind.

 

What he was saying was impossible though. All my life, I’d like to think, I’d been essentially normal. Normal, at least, in the sense that I didn’t posses any supernatural abilities. I was never pestered by restless spirits as a kid, nor did I ever preform any séances in my free time—nothing even remotely of that nature. While it’s still true that in my gut I’d always sort of believed in ghosts, I never actually saw the proof for myself. The only “sixth sense” I’d ever had was the prickly feeling of awareness I’d get on the back of my neck whenever I felt like I wasn’t alone. I was pretty sure that didn't even count anyway. 

 

“Regardless of what you wish to call it, your ability is rare. Everyone that has ever lived in this manor has remained in ignorance of me.” He stepped forward. “...until you.”

 

I suddenly understood what he was trying to tell me.

 

Oh my God. 

 

No...

 

“I’m the only one who can see you,” I said, the words more of a statement than a question. 

 

His eyes turned remarkably somber then. Like a window to his long suffering.

 

“Yes,” Andrew said. “That is why you must help me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

“Please, just leave me alone!” I begged. 

 

It was useless to run from him. Even in the gardens—even deep within the hedge maze—I knew he could still get to me. In fact, I was starting to think there was no place I could hide.  

 

All the same I had to try. I needed time to think about what all of this meant—away from him. 

 

How was I supposed to think about anything if he wouldn’t leave me alone? 

 

The hedge maze surrounded me as I ran, its tall flowery green walls posing ironically as both a protective fortress and a prison. I knew that ultimately the further I tried to escape into it, the further I would trap myself. Maybe it had been a lapse in judgement to enter the maze—I would have been ten times better off had I went for the stables instead—but there really wasn’t much point in regretting that now. 

 

Following our encounter in my bedroom, and the upsetting realization that I was possibly the only person at the manor ever that could see the ghost of Andrew Beckett, I did the only thing I thought I could do. Panicked and ran. I certainly didn’t give him the chance to tell me what he needed my help for. I didn’t want to know. Not then. Not when I was already reeling from everything else he had already said to me. 

 

I was still in my pajamas—still barefoot—which only made me feel more vulnerable than I already did. It felt so awkward having to run without shoes. While true my shoeless condition didn’t do much to slow me down, it meant I couldn’t afford to trip up on something sharp. It was a lucky thing the grass was so much like carpet, smooth and thankfully well groomed of any damaging prickly things. (Frank, the groundskeeper’s doing I knew.)

 

The hedge maze seemed to extend on forever, even though logically I knew it couldn't be that big. The end was probably not far off. The illusion of it being endless was likely just to do with my frantic mind. 

 

The thing about mazes though is they have dead ends. I learned this lesson the hard way when I was racing down a particularly promising stretch of green passageway, only to be led straight into a jasmine covered wall. It was about then, as I pivoted on my heal to double back, that I realized I’d been running from no one. 

 

There was no one behind me. Either Andrew had gone invisible or he had lost interest in me a while ago. Better yet, maybe I really was simply delusional and he’d been a hallucination this whole time. For my battered lungs’ sake, I was willing to risk resting. 

 

I collapsed to the ground in relief. At last I was alone. It was only me, a carpet of grass, and the green leafy walls of the hedge maze. I tilted my head up to sky, happy to feel the sun and the summer breeze. Content to watch the clouds drift lazily on, not in any rush to be anywhere or escape anyone. I felt myself relax at the sight. Gradually, the world started to shrink back into focus with each gasp of air, while before I’d been seeing things through a blurred tunnel vision. 

 

A laugh burst out of me. 

 

“Ha! You can’t catch me!” I taunted the air. “I’m too quick!” 

 

I was fully hysterical, but in that brief little moment I didn’t care that I was. I was just happy to finally be alone with my thoughts. Happy to believe there was a place I could hide after all. I breathed in the sweet scent of the jasmine, fisted the soft grass in my palms, and smiled. 

 

“Not quick enough, I’m afraid,” a voice disagreed. 

 

My peace shattered. 

 

The man belonging to the voice materialized then, appearing to be equally annoyed and amused by my attempt to outrun him. 

 

I immediately sprang to my feet, only to have my heart plummet when I saw he was blocking the way out. 

 

This was it. I was toast. I had literally backed myself into a corner. 

 

“Ugh! You were invisible weren’t you?”

 

Andrew sighed. “I am a ghost, Ariella.” 

 

He said it as though it should’ve been obvious to me.

 

I wanted to explode from the hopelessness of it all. He didn’t even look tired! My own legs were trembling from the overexertion and he wasn’t so much as out of breath. He had probably been invisible the whole time...waiting for just the right opportunity to reveal himself. Because of his ghostly deception, I had been lulled into a false sense of security. I had let my guard down. 

 

“You tricked me,” I accused him. 

 

“I must speak with you now,” he insisted, as if that made it all justified. Predicting my next move, he added, “There is no sense in more running.”

 

It was difficult to remain calm considering how trapped I felt, but I decided to push for a brave face. I could certainly feel trapped, but that didn’t mean he had to know how I felt. 

 

“Okay, fine.” I glared. “I obviously can’t escape you. What is it you want from me?”

 

“You are a medium,” Andrew said, sounding slightly more urgent than before. “You can help me find my way. I am a lost soul, Ariella, and you are the contact between the mortal realm and the eternal realm.” 

 

The contact between what now?

 

Was he off his meds? Wait. Could ghosts even be off their meds? Either way what he was saying was nuts. 

 

“What, are you deaf or something? I thought we already went over this! I’m not a medium!” I snapped.

 

“But you are!” Andrew snarled impatiently. “You are meant to help me I’m sure of it!” 

 

He was the delusional one if he thought I was what he seemed to think I was. A medium? I mean come on. 

 

“Well even if I could help you—which I can’t—I’m not interested! You can’t just pop out of thin air and demand stuff from me! I don’t care how it was back in the day but women of the twenty-first century don’t have to be bossed around by idiotic men anymore.”

 

That little feminist rant seemed to thankfully take him off guard; at least long enough for me to think up my next slew of words. 

 

“Just because I’m the only damn person who can see you doesn’t mean I have any obligation to help you with your afterlife crisis. I’ve got too many problems of my own without you adding your crap to the pile.” 

 

Andrew’s frustration took the form of a very intimidating frown. If I hadn’t been so riled up myself, I would’ve probably been nervous about the dangerous way he was looking at me now. 

 

“On the contrary, it is entirely your choice whether you will assist me or not,” Andrew reasoned, his tone suddenly cool and businesslike. “But consider that the longer I am here, the longer we will have to...coexist.”

 

He said the last word as a threat. It didn’t matter how silky smooth the tone was, the message it sent was plain. Andrew was making me an ultimatum. Either I helped him find his peace in the next life, or he would be sure to make my life a living hell. 

 

“This is so unfair!” I shouted at the sky. Or maybe it was God I was complaining to. Either way I wasn’t expecting a response. I sensed that neither God nor the sky would help me in this situation.

 

I leveled my eyes with Andrew’s blue ones. Another thing, I realized, that was unfair. How could a ghost still have such gorgeous eyes? It didn’t seem normal. For some silly reason I always expected ghosts to have black vortexes of emptiness for eyes. It didn’t make sense to me that I was staring at a perfectly human looking pair of eyes when I knew with certainty that the owner of those baby blues was dead. Beyond dead, actually. He was so beyond dead that a piece of him—call it his soul or his life essence or whatever—still felt the annoying urge to hang around. 

 

And now I was stuck with him. He would be making my life miserable, and there wasn’t a single thing to do about it. 

 

Unless I found some way to send him packing. 

 

Considering I still didn’t even know how I was seeing him to begin with, I was probably—no wait, most definitely—doomed. 

 

“You’re an idiot if you think I can help you,” I warned him. 

 

Andrew smiled dryly. 

 

“Perhaps you are right. Perhaps you are not a medium. Perhaps you are nothing more than an anomaly. Either way it is in my best interest to explore my every option. If you cannot help me, then at the very least I will have a pretty girl to talk to while I wait out eternity.”

 

A chill ran down my spine. 

 

“Oh, I get it now. So you’re just going to harass me until I figure out a way to help you. Is that it?”

 

Andrew shrugged.  “Harass you? No. Well, I suppose it depends on what you might consider harassment.” 

 

Apparently my accusations were loosing their desired effect. He didn’t seem to care what I thought of him anymore. He said what he had to say to me. Now that I knew his terms, he knew he had me pinned. 

 

My eyes widened. “You really are serious about this.”

 

He nodded and the silence that settled between us was as thick as a concrete wall. 

 

“Ariella!” gran’s voice unexpectedly rang out in the silence. It was really faint, but I knew it had to be her.

 

She was calling me to the kitchen for lunch. 

 

“You should go,” Andrew advised. 

 

“Uh...yeah,” I said uncomfortably. “I should.”

 

“I’m sure I will see you later,” he added, the faintest trace of a smile touching the corner of his lips before vanishing right before my wide, disbelieving eyes. 

 

Boy, I hope not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER NINE

 

“You seem distracted, Ariella,” gran observed as we sat on the garden terrace, eating the delicious macaroons Roni had made for us. Or rather I was the one eating them. Apparently gran did not care for macaroons so early in the day. “What is it now?”

 

“It’s nothing,” I said, which probably wasn’t a very convincing lie since I was distracted when I said it. 

 

“I thought you were adjusting well here,” gran prodded more, like I knew she would. She’s always so consistently nosy that way. “I know you like your new room. You like the staff. You have your horse. What else could possibly be the matter with this house?” 

 

Oh, I don’t know, how about that it’s haunted!

 

“Nothing’s wrong with the manor, gran,” I lied. “I love it here. Everything’s peachy keen.” 

 

Gran gave me a sour look. 

 

“Don’t you be sarcastic with me young lady. I’m your grandmother.”

 

I repressed the urge to roll my eyes. I had to keep in mind that she was only being this nosy out of love. At least I figured it was out of love. 

 

“Okay, fine. The truth is I miss my friends. I miss our old house. I miss the way things were. There. Happy?” 

 

Gran pursed her lips thoughtfully, considering my “confession.” To my own credit, I thought it was pretty ingenious of me to burry the lie in some truth. They say the best lies are the truth in disguise. 

 

I know it’s probably some sin to lie to your grandmother, but when the truth is so implausible anyway, there’s really no sense in bringing it up. Besides, gran had already made it quite clear to me how little she believed in ghosts. If I told her I was seeing one, she’d think I was tripping off drugs or something and have me tested. 

 

“I can understand how all these changes might have you feeling...err, overwhelmed.” Gran surprised me by sounding sympathetic. What was even more surprising than her sympathy was that she decided to pick up a macaroon and take a bite off of it. 

 

“I don’t think you can,” I grumbled, despite being grateful for her rare show of sympathy. “You didn’t have to leave anything behind.”

 

Gran looked at me with shockingly soft eyes.  

 

“Try to see this from your father’s perspective. I know you’ve heard this before in some form, but I’ll say it again because I don’t think it’s getting to you yet. Now that your grandfather is gone, the responsibility of this estate rests on your father’s shoulders. I can see how it might seem trivial to you now, but keeping the manor in the family is very important. It’s not something we can just hand over to someone else, not after how long its been in our name. I don’t expect you to understand this now, however it’s your father’s hope as well as mine that you will grow to appreciate this place. So many of your ancestors have raised their families here. So many generations of Strafford's have made their mark on this house. In fact....” Gran trailed off like she was getting an idea. Abruptly she sat up from her chair, her eyes lighting up like brand new lightbulbs being screwed into place. “Get up. Come with me. There is something you need to see; something I already should have shown you.” 

 

Gran didn’t even have to glance over her shoulder to know I would follow her. 

 

With an excessive curiosity such as mine, I wasn’t about to resist a cryptic lure like that. 

 

______________

 

“Why have you taken me to the portrait room?” I asked gran as I followed her into a grand circular room filled with nothing but portraits and a few royal blue velvet divans pressed up against the matching royal blue walls. The portrait room was a room I’d been purposefully avoiding, ever since I accidentally discovered Andrew’s portrait in the tower. I guess after seeing his portrait some cowardly part of the back of my mind dreaded finding any more faces that could be haunting these halls. 

 

“I will let you figure it out,” gran answered, fixing me with an infuriatingly knowing look. “It shouldn’t take too long for you to notice, I’m sure.”

 

“What are you—” All it took was a quick survey of the room to understand. As soon as I saw it, I couldn’t tear my gaze away. The sight of it hit me like a freight train. 

 

Despite all the recent shocks I had endured already, this one had finally taken the cake of them all. 

 

“Oh.” I said in a small voice. “That.”

 

“She’s beautiful isn’t she?” gran remarked. 

 

I starred up at the portrait with an incredulity I had never felt before. 

 

Impossible. It was impossible.

 

This had to be a joke.

 

“Beautiful?! Gran she looks exactly like me!” I exclaimed. 

 

Never before had I been at a greater loss to rationalize something to myself. There I was, Ariella Greer Strafford, looking up at a portrait of my infamous ancestress, Caroline Tate, who by anyone’s simple description could’ve been my identical twin!

 

It could not have been mistaken. It was like looking into a mirror. If mirrors were oil paintings, I mean. And it really didn’t matter that it was just a painting I was seeing. The intricacy and the detail that had gone into it was more than enough evidence. Whoever had painted this had been very thorough. The wavy, mermaid long blond hair. The pale skin. The slender shape of her nose, her lips, her cheekbones. Her eyes alone...a piercing pale grey, like the moon. Like mine. My proudest feature and now it wasn’t even original. 

 

“I can’t believe you didn’t show me this sooner, gran! Do you not see what I’m seeing right now? That portrait might as well be of me!”

 

Gran continued to look totally unfazed by the resemblance, however. She seemed to think the resemblance was just that. A resemblance. What she obviously didn’t see was that Caroline Tate and I looked too uncannily alike for it to have been a mere resemblance. She was my clone. All this time I’d been reading the diary of my clone. 

 

I felt like such a copy

 

“Caroline is your ancestor, Ariella. Is it so difficult to believe you share some of her traits?”

 

Wow. I never thought gran of all people could be so blind. This wasn’t just sharing a couple traits. This was identity theft. Caroline Tate had stolen my face. 

 

Well, technically since she’d been alive before me, I’d stolen hers. But I wasn’t seeing it that way. 

 

“This isn’t some genetic coincience,” I argued. 

 

“I can’t see what else could be the explanation for it,” gran admitted. “Do you have one?”

 

No. I didn’t. That was the point. There was no logical explanation for this. 

 

“Ariella, my purpose for showing you this room was not to debate your resemblance to Caroline. I wanted you to realize truly just how many generations of Straffords have lived in this manor...and will hopefully continue to live here. You share more than blood with these people. There is a a legacy to uphold here. This is not just a house, my dear.”

 

Gran was right. This was not just a house. This was a parallel dimension. 

 

All I could do was stare at it. I couldn’t help the way it was getting to me. She had my face. Maybe the longer I stared at it, the more it would look less like me. 

 

“I’ll leave you then,” gran decided, sensing I needed some time alone to process all these faces. 

 

Yes. It wasn’t just Caroline’s face I was noticing now. It was the face beside hers. Richard Strafford.

 

He was good-looking enough, I guess. If you liked the dark-eyed brooding type. Although why Caroline had chosen Richard over Andrew was a mystery to me. The fair hair and the pencil thin mustache were not what I would’ve gone for. Andrew, by comparison, was much easier on the eyes. 

 

Speaking of the devil—

 

“She was very beautiful,” Andrew’s voice snuck up on me from behind. It sounded horribly sad. Sad but also hard. Like it was a truth he did not like to admit anymore. 

 

I flinched but didn’t turn around. I didn’t feel like looking at him then. I was already upset enough as it was. 

 

My voice was heavily sarcastic when I spoke. 

 

“Huh, I guess that’s a compliment for me too, isn’t it? You know, since I’m such a dead ringer for Caroline and all. Funny, you failed to mention that I looked exactly like her.”

 

Andrew didn’t respond. His silence told me this wasn’t a subject he wanted to hash out with me. 

 

It made sense. Caroline had once been his wife, after all. The love of his life, apparently. It would make sense for her to be a bit of a sore spot with him. Especially considering that she ran off with his best friend and all his money. 

 

“You can imagine how I felt when I saw you at your grandfather’s funeral,” he said, still standing behind me. “A girl that could not possibly be Caroline, yet looked in every way like her... And even more remarkably: you were able to see me. I thought it was a cruel joke! Yes, you may say I have been tormenting you, Ariella, but you do not know how much you torment me.”

 

I stood there completely still while I let that sink in. My face was a reminder of Caroline. The woman he loved. The woman who betrayed him...

 

“Well, I’m sorry you have a problem with my face, but I can’t help what I was born with,” I finally said. It was a cheap thing to say but it was the only thing I could think of then to defend myself. “Wait. What were you doing at my grandfather’s funeral?”

 

Andrew chuckled darkly. 

 

“It is ironic how much you resemble Caroline, and yet you act so exceedingly different from her.”

 

It didn’t slip my notice that he had dodged the question about why he’d been at my grandfather’s funeral. Yet the more I considered it, I realized I no longer held much desire to know his reasons for that. I had a creeping feeling it hadn’t been because he’d wanted to pay his respects. 


“You’re right. I’m very different,” I agreed. “I’m better.”

 

I was Caroline 2.0. 

 

“I would argue that your language lacks some,” Andrew pointed out. “Caroline never swore, you know.”

 

“That’s because she was totally living in the wrong century,” I explained.  

 

“Ah, yes, I have forgotten how enlightened you claim the twenty-first century is.”

 

The way he said it, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d been rolling his eyes. 

 

I whirled around on him. I was suddenly feeling very fed up. 

 

“You know what? I don’t have to keep talking to you. I’m very good at ignoring people. With time, I’m sure you’ll be just as easy to ignore.” 

 

Andrew’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh?” 

 

“Absolutely. I mean, you think I’m some heaven-sent here to free you from your penance on Earth, but sorry to tell you you’ve got the wrong girl. Okay I get why you think I’m special or something. I look exactly like your dead wife. Even I have to admit something’s up with that. But whatever. You’re wrong. I have no more of an idea how to help you find enteral happiness than you do. So really I’d appreciate it if you could just leave me alone.”

 

I was impressed with how easy it was becoming to confront him. It was only this morning that I’d been ready to pee myself from being in the same room with him—hell, I hadn't even been able breathe properly—and now look at how far I’d come. Now I was speaking in whole paragraphs. 

 

Progress. It was something.

 

Andrew’s voice was chillingly low when he spoke next. 

 

“I promise I will not be so easy to ignore.” 

 

As if further proving his point, the temperature in the room plummeted and the scariest thing happened after that. The portraits came flying off the walls. They hovered in the emptiness of the room and started to swirl around it like a mini hurricane of faces. My heart stopped as I watched the portrait of Caroline Tate soar right by my head. 

 

And when I looked at Andrew’s face—that was the scariest sight of all. 

 

I had to hand it to him. It was the perfect scare-tactic. The perfect demonstration of what, precisely, he would do from now on if I didn’t cooperate. 

 

Actions, I realized with a newfound dread, really did speak louder than words. 

 

“Okay!” I croaked out, all my previous fear returning. “I’ll help you! Just put the portraits down!”

 

The portraits immediately stilled in the air and somehow, one by one, miraculously returned to their rightful positions on the walls. By the end of it there wasn’t a frame out of place. It looked as if nothing had ever happened.

 

“Good,” Andrew said, sounding satisfied. “I am glad you understand.”

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TEN

 

The rest of the day I spent riding in the fields with Willow. Being with her was the only way I could think without any interruptions. It was the only way I knew I could be safe from any ghosts that kept wanting me to help them. 

 

It was when Willow slowed to a trot that I decided to ask her advice.

 

“Hey, girl, do you think I’m going crazy here?” I asked her. 

 

She didn’t say anything. 

 

Okay. I was taking that as a no. 

 

“I think I’m seeing things, girl. Like seeing people that should be dead. You don’t think that’s crazy?”

 

Willow’s right eye moved to look at me. It seemed to also say no. 

 

“I also look exactly like my ancestress,” I told her. “Now that, you have to admit, is crazy.”

 

Both of Willow’s eyes blinked. I chose to perceive that as her agreement. 

 

“I just don’t know what I’m gonna do after this, girl,” I admitted. “How am I supposed to get any sleep tonight? The manor is haunted. There’s an actual ghost in it. He could kill me in my sleep!” 

 

Willow shorted. 

 

Huh. What was that supposed to mean? I guess it could’ve meant that she thought I was being too paranoid. 

 

Maybe I was being too paranoid. Andrew could’ve had plenty of opportunities to kill me in the last couple of days, but he hadn’t. No, he’d made it blatantly clear: he needed me. Which meant he wasn’t going to kill me. Not if he still needed me around. 

 

We came to the swimming pond and stopped. I dismounted and tethered Willow’s reins to a gigantic weeping willow. The tree was more than just gigantic, I realized. It was magnificent. It was possibly the coolest tree I’d ever seen. With its wispy, drooping leaves and branches, it was the perfect shade tree. The leaves practically touched the ground. Some of them were even kissing the water beside the tree. The sun was dipping in the east, causing magical things to happen to the sky. Turning it all sorts of colors and patterns. It was a peaceful moment to be able to sink next to the trunk of the willow and breathe in the fresh air. To be able to simply behold the spectacular nature that surrounded me. I smiled as I realized something. Willow was standing under a weeping willow tree. Her namesake. 

 

I could handle Andrew, I reasoned with myself. All I needed to do was find a real medium and have them send him away. The plan seemed so simple, I was disappointed I hadn’t thought of it sooner. The first thing I would do tomorrow was find a medium. 

 

“So how do you like your new home?” I asked Willow. 

 

Willow only stared at me. Her eyes seemed to tell me what words couldn’t though. 

 

I smiled. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.” 

 

We sat there for a little longer and watched the sun go down. I knew I’d have to go back soon, but I was happy to drag out this small moment of peace for as long as I could. When I went back I’d have to be fully on my guard. Under this giant willow tree? I felt like I didn’t need to be on my guard at all. Even though I knew this was just a likely place as any for Andrew to intrude, I felt quietly assured that he wouldn’t. Somehow I knew he wouldn’t dare interrupt this moment. 

 

“Time to go,” I finally sighed. I mounted Willow in one swift motion. “We can’t hide here forever, girl.”

 

When I finished grooming and feeding Willow, I shut her in her stall for the night and trekked back up to the house. I headed straight for the kitchen where I found Roni just finishing up preparing a mouthwatering lemon chicken and risotto dinner. My dad had gone away on business for a few days so it was just us girls that evening. Since it was a girls night, mom, gran, Ginger, Roni and I decided to watch a Sandra Bullock movie in the movie parlor afterward. Gran had a weird obsession with Sandra Bullock. The movie we ended up seeing this time was The Proposal. The last one we saw was The Blind Side. Gran’s favorite was Miss Congeniality

 

My grandmother is a mysterious person, that is all I will say. 

 

Once the ending credits started scrolling on the screen, I began to feel heavy really fast. Everyone was yawning and getting up. They were all about to leave me alone and go on up to bed. Mom, Ginger, and Roni all said a pleasant goodnight before retiring to their beds, which had only left gran to linger.  

 

Gran didn’t even say goodnight in the end. She just waved her hand at me lazily with droopy eyelids and shuffled out of the room, a jittery Moki close at her heals. 

 

They didn’t know how lucky they were. How I envied their ignorance. All of them were completely, blissfuly oblivious to what was really going on. They didn’t know what was lurking in the shadows. If they’d known what I knew about the manor, they would’ve felt heavy too.  It was like there was someone that weighed a hundred and sixty pounds sitting flat on my chest, that’s how heavy I suddenly felt. 

 

Stopping by the kitchen on my way up to my room, I anxiously combed the drawers for the sharpest, pointiest looking knife I could find. It was probably one hundred percent ridiculous that I was bringing a knife to bed, but somehow knowing that I held a weapon in my hand made me feel a lot better. Not exactly safer, but at least I didn’t feel completely helpless anymore. 

 

Once in my room I immediately locked myself in my bathroom. I knew that walls no longer protected me anymore, but I did have a pretty solid hunch that Andrew—his being a ghost now aside—wasn’t the type of man to be barging into occupied bathrooms. He was a guy from the nineteenth century after all. He was from time when it was inappropriate for women to show their ankles. He had to still have some polite decency. 

 

I took a very long hot shower that night. Mostly to stall, but also because the steaming water did wonders for my tense shoulders and neck. I took my time to shave too, which I never did. I even put on lotion, something I was always too lazy for. Everything I could possibly think of to do, I did. By the end I had painted both my toes and my fingernails. 

 

Even when I was done with everything and dressed in a clean pair of PJs, I hesitated at the door. I bit my lip in frustration and pressed my back up against it, sliding down to sit on the cold tile floor. Hating myself for acting so foolish and paranoid.

 

Okay. Enough stalling, Aria. Get your butt to bed.

 

“Okay, Andrew, if you’re listening,” I spoke up, hoping that wherever he was—if not on the other side of this bathroom door—he could hear me. “If you have any plans of popping up tonight, you better rethink them. If you want me to help you, I will. But you at least have to allow me a goodnight’s sleep before you start harassing me again. Got it?”

 

No response. 

 

“Thanks,” I muttered, deciding to interpret the silence as agreement. 

 

Sure enough, when I cracked open the bathroom door there was no sign of a grudgingly handsome nineteenth century ghost waiting on the other side of it. Either Andrew had listened, or he was busy haunting someone else. 

 

It was when I crawled into bed and closed the canopy drapes around it that I finally felt the heaviness start to lift from my chest. And when I placed my knife under my pillow, the heaviness seemed to lift completely. For the first time in days I felt alone. Really alone. No prickly feeling. No heaviness. No paranoia. 

 

For the first time in days, I would sleep soundly through the night. 

 

___________

 

When I woke the next day, I woke to a freezing room and the immediate sense that I wasn’t alone. The canopy drapes were drawn, instead of closed like they were supposed to have been. The sunlight poured in. The prickly feeling crawled its way up my neck. 

 

I glanced around the room, but there wasn’t anyone there. That I could see, anyway. 

 

Discreetly, I slid my hand under my pillow and felt for the knife. I uncovered it and held it out in front of me, while simultaneously scanning the room. 

 

“You better not be invisible, Andrew,” I cautioned the air. “If this coexisting thing is gonna work, there has to be some trust involved. I simply can’t trust you when you’re invisible.”

 

Andrew materialized by the bed, looking impossibly both sheepish and unapologetic at the same time. He sat down on the other side of it and regarded me with very amused eyes. 

 

I gasped and reflexively swung my knife around to point at him. 

 

He smirked. “I am sorry to disappoint you, but a knife will not wound me.” 

 

“Get off my bed,” I demanded acidly. Embarrassed about the knife, I lowered it and said, “And whatever. I knew that.” 

 

Instead of doing as I asked, Andrew did the opposite. He kicked his feet up on the bed and leaned back against the headboard with both arms folded behind his head.  

 

Knowing it was probably futile, but furious anyway, I swiped my knife across his chest. The blade passed clean through him. As I suspected it would. 

 

I glared at him. 

 

“How come you don’t look like you’re made of nothing yet the moment I try to stab you with something it goes right through you?” 

 

Andrew snatched out the pillow from behind his back and fluffed it. Yes, you heard me correctly. He fluffed it. 

 

Then he stuffed it back behind him like it was the most natural thing for a ghost to do. 

 

“That is a question I myself would like answered,” Andrew admitted. “All I know is certain things I do—for example picking up a pillow or flying portraits around a room—require a quota of energy. I am able to harness the energy from my surroundings if I want. That is how I am visible to you now. When I expend energy, you can see me.”

“So if you can pick up pillows and stuff, does that mean you can feel things?” I wanted to know, momentarily forgetting my ire toward him. 

 

My curiosity was my biggest flaw sometimes. 

 

Andrew looked wistful. “Yes, I can, but in an altered sense. The sensations I feel now—they are not the same as the ones I experienced when I was alive.”

 

I scrunched my eyebrows. 

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“If you ever one day become like me, then you will know,” he said vaguely. 

 

Ugh. I hated vague answers. 

 

“What about people?” I prompted. “Can you feel them too? Or is it just things?”

 

Andrew gave me a funny look, almost like he found my sudden interest unexpected. 

 

“No...People are different. I—” he cut himself off, looking uncomfortable. “That is but another reason why you are a mystery, Ariella. Normally, yes. People are different. I cannot interact with them. Yet when you fainted the other night in the tower, I caught you. I should not have been able to, yet I did. To you, I am about as real and solid as anything else in this room. How? I do not know.”

 

A thrill shot through me. 

 

Of course. Not only could I see ghosts now, but apparently I could touch them too. 

 

Just when things were complicated enough. 

 

“Then how come my blade didn’t do anything to you?” I questioned. “If you’re so real and solid and all?”

 

“Because it was a blade,” he said, like it was simple.

 

“So if I were to slap you right now, you’d feel it?”

 

Andrew shrugged, unconcerned. “Yes, but I would advise against it.”

 

I pondered this. 

 

“Okay, take my hand then.” Without thinking, I stretched my right palm out to him. “I want to see if you’re right.”

 

Oh, God. My curiosity was going to kill me.

 

 

________________

 

 

HEY. So here is another four chapters you can read at your leisure. Hopefully you like them and want to read more after this! I've been a writing machine lately so it's a definite possibility you'll see more of this soon. :)

 

—MEG

 


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