Hey, here’s our next installment! Please read, leave a like, and catch up by clicking on The Adventures of Elizabeth Shelley to read from the beginning!
“I’m not crazy; that was not like that before, right?” I ask, a little uncertain. Finn, hoping up to the painting, inspects it carefully, running his fingers gently along its edge and putting his face like an inch next to it.
“No, no it was not.” Ethelred sighs, more dejected than worried, curious, scared, anything normal. “It was…her.”
Finn turns back around to him, still absentmindedly running his hands back and forth at the bottom of the painting. “Who was she?”
Ethelred’s face scrunches, almost as if in pain. “As the curator of this place, kind sir, it really is the worst when people ask me questions I don’t know the answer to. This painting has been here long before I have and will probably be here long after.”
The old man’s face turns toward me, offering a small apologetic smile. Finn, noticing the gesture, nods at me, small and defined, over Ethelred’s head.
“Ethelred,” I lean into him, gently placing a hand on his shoulder, “what is is that you’ve seen? You said it looks like her but…”
“It looked like a ghost, miss.” He laughs as Finn gestures behind him to Rhett. “Translucent. Almost like the light bent around her, refracting around her skin. She was right here, on the landing of the staircase, staring out the window. Like she was, waiting for someone. Mouth slightly open, just a little, and her chin was raised. But she looked exactly like that.”
Finn and Rhett strut about the landing Ethelred indicated, the colors of the stained glass dancing over their faces and at their feet. Rain splatters against the window, as flashes of stark white light up every few seconds in the background.
I turn back to the old man. “Is there anything else you can tell us? Anything about her or the house or any other…activity?”
I say the last word with a grain of salt.
He smiles a sweet old man smile that lights up his eyes and thins the deep creases in his skin. “I’m sorry. If I knew anything else, I would.”
I tell him we’ll look around and see what we can find as he waddles off back to the parlor, hope in his eyes. Then I turn back to the guys up on the landing.
“Uh, Finn,” I say, “ghosts are real?”
I skip up to them into the world of yellow, orange, and purple under the glass window, raising my eyebrows at Finn’s face, lit up with a pale yellow.
“Well, not usually.” He sighs, peering out the window at the storm. “Or, I guess, I haven’t encountered one before. Doesn’t mean they aren’t real.”
Rhett gives a bit of a snort, a snort of disbelief.
Finn shrugs. “World is weird. They all are.”
We stand for a second as a bang of thunder rattles the windows and our bones, one of those that reverberated deep in the stomach. Looking out at the rain, I stand in between Finn and Rhett, in the colors, the only things separating us from the deluge outside.
“Well,” Finn claps his hands, shaking us out of our weird silence, “you two take the right, I’ll take the left. Holler if you find something.”
And with that, he bounds away, up the stairs on the left and back into the dimly light of the house, and he disappears into the shadows upstairs.
“Finn, really?” I call after him, to no avail. “That’s what everyone says in the horror movies right before they die!”
I roll my eyes and then turn to face the other set of stairs beyond Rhett’s bushy hair. It fades from the bright colors to the pale yellow of the first floor lights into darkness, a soft blur, a mirage. Rhett shrugs, slightly, asking if I’m ready.
“I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.” I say, and then Rhett and I run headfirst up the stairs to the unknown.
Following small beams of light from our flashlights, Rhett and I wander in the dark and in the silence for a while. Aimlessly, into random rooms and hallways, the only ghosts we see the lumps of furniture here and there. Each room is different, with small wooden rooms and plaster industrial rooms and light wallpapered rooms and log-walled rooms and one room with walls of fur of some sort. We make an unspoken agreement to peek in a room and, unless it has a door, continue to wander through the dark, cold hallway. None of the rooms we encounter on either side of the long hallway stretching away from the entrance have a second entrance or rooms attached or anything like that.
After closing a huge wooden door on a beautiful ballroom flecked with glass, I shatter the delicate silence between the two of us. “So what do you think is the point?”
A quick glance, eyes wide but eyebrows squinting, is Rhett’s response.
“I mean, why do they build the rooms? Why have the mansion?” I shrug. “Like, I get the records of their history, that makes sense. But, I don’t know, what’s the point of adding a room every year? Who does that help?”
Rhett stares forward, silent for so long I think he’s not going to answer. “I think…it’s about remembering.”
I look forward through our white beams of white, and I give that a thought. Remembering. A huge mansion, growing and changing, like a living thing, the history of the people of Penitrale. Remembering…what?
Suddenly, a scream, a shriek, echoes from behind us, bouncing down the empty dark hallways past us, pain in a sound like wind on a mountain. Whipping around, Rhett and I breath half a second as the scream fades, and we burst into action, running breakneck back the way we came through the bouncing flashlight beams.
Within a minute, we’re back at the entrance, but it’s empty and still, just like how we left it. Rhett and I slow at the top of the stairs, exchanging slightly confused looks.
“Think that was our ghosty friend?” I ask, flashing my light in Rhett’s face for a quick second.
He shrugs off the question I didn’t really think he’d answer, and we look around a little, but nothing looks any different than ten minutes ago.
Finn’s whisper makes us both jump nearly a foot, and it takes us a minute to find him across the balcony on the other side of the second floor, eyes peeking out in the dark. He tilts his head toward his side, and we lightly jog down and up to meet him on the left side of the second floor.
He leans into both of us, face with a thin veil attempting to cover his excitement, and whispers, “Come on.”
Then, we’re winding through hallways behind Finn, at a quick, quiet jog, until a few seconds later Finn motions for us to turn off our flashlights. As we click them off, the deep black engulfs us, and as my eyes take a minute to adjust, Finn gently places his palm on something….a deep black door. The three of us peek in, carefully, and my heart is pounding against my chest as I see her.
She’s in the center of the room, a plain one with a nice rug spread out on the floor which nearly reaches the point where the floor connects to the walls. Cabinets line the walls, closets and shelves and drawers and the like, tiny metal handles a dull silver in the dark. A window stands in front of her, which pours light into the room when the lightning flashes every few minutes.
She stands, still and solemn, on the rug, not floating or flying or anything like that. Waves of thick hair fall on her shoulders, and her face is profiled from where we can see, aubrun skin looking porous but whole. Her eyes blink, slowly and calmly, and she shows no emotion, at most wistful contempt. Her dress, the same as in the painting, cuts into her chest as she breathes, swirling fabric down to her ankles, which are covered by thick black boots. In the dark, she looks whole, human, alive. I wouldn’t have thought anything of her, beyond her simple beauty.
But then, the lightning flares, filling the room with a glow, and in that second in the light she vanishes, blinked out of existence. When the darkness returns a split second later, she returns, and she hasn’t moved an inch. All I can feel is the guys’ breathing next to me, in sync with my own rising and falling, and I can’t seem to look away from it, from her, from whatever or whoever is standing in front of us. For a minute, I think she’s a reflection or an echo or something on some other plane of existence.
Clang! I gasp as my flashlight slips out of my hand and onto the hard floor, the noise breaking the serenity of the moment. Finn’s hand finds my wrist and tightens as we hold our breath, watching the one who doesn’t have any. At first, I think maybe she didn’t hear it, and she was in some other time or place.
Slowly, slowly, slowly, she turns. First with her eyes, then her face and body follow, twisting around to face us. Her yellow eyes pour into mine, and for the first time, I see the pain in them, water welling up behind them like a dam ready to burst.
Slowly, slowly, her mouth opens, never looking away and never moving any other part of her body.
Slowly, she screams, the loud, echoing shriek from a few minutes ago, her back bending with the weight of the noise escaping from her chest. Then, the lightning bursts into the room, interrupting the moment, and the woman disappears again with the light, but this time she doesn’t return.
As the three of us straighten, our ghost gone and our breathing slowing, we can still hear her voice bouncing through the mansion.
Be sure to stay tuned for Part 4 next Thursday, and share with your friends!