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Rhett and I just sort of look at each other for a second. Finn didn’t just say that the giant mansion on top of the hill in the creepy storm is haunted. It can’t be. I give Rhett a small shrug, and then we run out into the wall of rain.
A minute and a few barely-missed slips later, Rhett and I are racing into the open door to the mansion. We enter through at least ten foot doors to an entryway that would rival Buckingham Palace. A chandelier with tiny glass shards lined up in multiple layers hangs low from the ceiling, illuminating the room with a hint of blue. If I wanted to, I could jump up and grab the very end of it, where one lone crystal dangles down, shining in the light.
The hardwood floor is surprisingly clean, considering the few pieces of furniture that are scattered around are covered with tattered beige sheets. At the opposite end from the door, there’s a grand staircase, wide and regal, reaching up and then splitting in two, to the left and right of the second floor. Behind the staircase lays a huge stained glass window, portraying some symbol that looks kind of like a…house? And a sun on the left, with some sort of rocks on the other side. The glass shines with a mix of a deep yellow, burnt orange, and dark magenta.
Finn walks around the entrance with a concentrated look, studying the area and the walls. Rhett and I share a quick glance and then join him, and on the left wall, a painting catches my eye. It’s of a young woman in a magenta dress that looks like it’s from the 1800’s. She’s beautiful, with bright yellow eyes and deep auburn skin. She looks out the right side of the painting calmly, and she seems so lifelike. I feel like I can almost touch the waves in her hair, but when my hand reaches out, it connects with the swirls and strokes of the painting. I can’t help but wonder who she is. Or was.
“I wasn’t sure you’d actually show up.”
I jump and turn around, whipping out my sword toward the sound of the old voice. Rhett, to my right, did the same with his swords, but Finn calmly looks up at the sight of the old man on the landing of the stairs. The man, with the same auburn skin as the lady in the painting, is as old as his voice betrays. He’s hunched over, shorter than me, with light wrinkles across his face. His grey hair rustles a little as he brings a handkerchief up to his mouth to cough softly. Dapper clothing, the man looks as though he was handsome in his prime, a strong jaw and bright eyes. But he is about the exact opposite of a threat. Finn raises an eyebrow at me, and I scowl at him as Rhett and I lower our weapons.
“You must be Finnegan.” He says each word separately as he meanders down the staircase. When he gets to the bottom, Finn steps up to meet him, shaking his hand politely. Rhett and I step in toward them.
“Good, good.” He smiles. “I am glad of your assistance. And our entire town thanks all of you.”
“Ah, don’t thank us just yet.” Finn says lightly. “This is my apprentice, Elizabeth, and Rhett, a fellow apprentice.”
“Oh, lovely.” He puts his hands on his suspenders underneath his brown coat. “My name is Ethelred. I’m the keeper of this mansion. Come, let us retire to the first-floor entrance parlor, and I’ll provide the details.”
Ethelred turns and leads us down a narrow hallway to the right, and we fall into step behind him.
“‘First-floor entrance parlor.’ How many parlors are there in this place that he distinguishes it like that?” I say under my breath, and Rhett gives a pained smile next to me.
Ethelred halts at the first door to the left, and he heaves out a huge key ring from his pocket. And by a huge key ring, I mean huge. Like the ring itself is at least the size of a dinner plate, with the entire bottom half of the ring covered with at least a hundred tiny keys. I wonder vaguely how that fit in his pocket while he plucks out a specific key, and he unlocks the door and ushers us inside.
The parlor is a tiny room, with two narrow, paneled windows on the far wall, looking out into the tempestuous rain. There are a few pieces of furniture with white sheets, but I also see the first ones without. A tall leather chair faces toward the windows, with a tiny table on its left. In the far left corner past the chair, there stands an…instrument of some sort. It looks kind of like a grand piano, with an shiny black lid sticking out on the top, but there are no keys. Instead, next to a small seat, the thing looks like the strings of a guitar, or a harp, with eight horsehair thin strings suspended horizontally and tight.
The four of us fill the room, as Ethelred lowers himself into the leather chair and Finn and Rhett discover a long couch from under a sheet. They heave it in front of Ethelred, and Finn and Rhett sit, almost in sync, and lean forward toward Ethelred. I’m too curious, however, so I wander the room as Ethelred begins his tale.
“Well,” the man sighs, taking his key ring out of his pocket and laying it on the small table, “as I said before, I am the keeper of this house. This house is the history of our dimension, Penitrale, itself. Each year, the people of my town, which is down in the valley about a day’s journey away, send the builders to come and add another section of the house to reflect that year, and then the Elder provides the written account for the year. That is placed somewhere in the section, and I was chosen many years ago to watch over the house.”
That’s why the house looks so…pieced together. And huge. Interesting.
“In your message Ethelred,” Finn says softly, “you said there was something in the house.”
“Ah,” the man says, “well, that seems to be the case. You see…”
Brrong! I yank my hand back from the string on the instrument I just plucked. Everyone in the room looks at me, and, with my hands behind my back, I mutter a small apology. I didn’t think the thing would be that loud.
Ethelred, however, gives a happy chuckle. “This instrument is one of the oldest items in the house. This being the oldest section, of course, it was built over four hundred years ago. However, the records that are kept began a hundred years later, so I have no idea what the instrument is called, although I spend much time attempting to play it. Rather badly, I might add.”
He winks at me, and I smile back. Wow, he’s like the epitome of the nice old man.
“Maybe we should focus on why you called us here.” Finn offers, trying to get the man back on track.
I move to stand behind Finn as Ethelred continues.
“Yes, yes, of course. Well, there is something in the mansion. I am unfortunately tempted to say…” He pauses, giving a small, incredulous laugh. “Well, a ghost.”
“Hell yeah!” I say, and again realize a second later how awkwardly loud I am. Everyone gives me a look, and I feel like I must explain. “Well, I just mean, you know. Ghosts! Tell me that’s not awesome.”
Finn rolls his eyes and turns back to Ethelred. “What makes you think you have a ghost?”
“Ah,” Ethelred nods slowly, “well, at first, I thought the isolation was reaching me. I would leave teacups in one place and find them in another. Chairs moving, windows opening, things of that nature. But sometimes, living in a house the size of a town gives way to a few forgetful moments.”
He chuckles at that, and I smile at him over Finn and Rhett’s heads. Whatever the ghost situation is, he doesn’t seem too concerned, but he did call us in. There must be more.
“But then…?” Finn prods, apparently sharing my same conclusion.
“But then,” Ethelred says, “last night, I saw it.”
I see Rhett and Finn physically lean in closer so simultaneously it’s almost comedic.
“What was it?” Finn asks. “What did it look like?”
“Well,” Ethelred says, pushing himself up off of the leather chair, “perhaps it may be better to just show you.”
Rhett and I exchange a look as Ethelred leads the three of us out into the hallway, Finn following closely behind him with his brow-furrowing, jaw clenching curious face. Treading softly, the old man leads us back down the hallway and to the grand foyer where we came in, and he halts there, laying his hand on some chair or something near the left wall hidden by a sheet.
Rhett opens his mouth as if to say something, then seems to decide against it. I poke him in the side, and he leans into me to whisper.
“That chair wasn’t there before.”
Looking behind us and around the room, everything looks pretty much the same, but I can’t remember whether he’s right or not.
“Well,” Ethelred continues, oblivious of Rhett’s observation, “the thing is…it looked rather like her.”
He gestures to the painting on the wall, the painting of the woman I was looking at earlier, with the auburn skin and bright yellow eyes. But something’s different. I remember distinctly that she had been looking out the right side of the painting.
Now, she’s looking right at us.
Come back next Thursday for our spooky, exciting adventure!! Follow me on Twitter @kpwritings to never miss an update!!