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Carousel of Faults

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Naomi Gladwyn’s life went from abominable to amazing. Narrowly avoiding life in a dismal London workhouse, she ended up with an adopted family and dear friends. This new life, however, is not without its thorns. Much of her time revolves around Dark Books – books that are so emotional, so influential, that a reader cannot help but carry out what is written, often with deadly results. She now hunts these dangerous tomes with her adopted father, Mr. Stafford. But a past mistake, a torturous secret, haunts her and – when revealed – puts everything she has and everything she ever wanted in jeopardy.

Mark C. King
5.0 2 reviews
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

“We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”

- Hamlet, William Shakespeare

The weather in Northern England that spring morning was cold, rainy, and utterly grey – fitting for our mood and assignment. My head leaned against the rain spotted glass as our carriage rattled through the quiet streets of Carlisle. I was doing my best not to focus on anything; letting my mind wander to whatever ideas it fancied, but careful not to spend too much time on any one of them. It was a way to distract myself from what we were heading towards.

The carriage passed over a deep rut in the muddy road which gave the cabin a sudden shake. That jolt served to knock my head painfully against the window. Feeling foolish, I rubbed my head and stole a glance at the person sitting beside me, my adoptive father, Mr. Stafford. I saw that he was rubbing his head too and looking back. Despite the seriousness of our task, or maybe because of it, we laughed at our shared embarrassment.

When the laughter stopped, a solemn look returned to Mr. Stafford’s face. With all traces of humor gone, he said, “Naomi, I know you said that you have made your decision, but you don’t have to do this. You certainly don’t have to do it alone.”

I met his gaze and, besides his mostly grey hair, his light eyes, and thin frame, I saw what I always saw: the kindest man I had ever known. Despite the unpleasantness of our task and the chill of the day, I couldn’t help but feel warmth at his show of protective care. Who was I to receive such a gift?

The truth was that I didn’t want to do it; certainly didn’t want to face it alone. I knew I could change my mind and I knew that Mr. Stafford would not think less of me at all. But that was not good enough. I wanted him to think more of me. I was a nobody and yet he had me given me everything; had provided far beyond what I could ever repay – but there was a burden I could take from him and I was determined to do so.

“I know, sir,” I answered quietly, trying for confidence that I didn’t own, “but I want to do this.” I think it would have been more accurate to say that I wanted Mr. Stafford not to do it, but I doubt he would allow me such self-sacrifice at his expense. I’m sure he knew, deep down, why I wanted to proceed without him, but his conscience could not bear the thought overtly.

Staring at me, his eyes searched my face for…what? Uncertainty? Fear? Doubts? He wouldn’t have to look hard to see all of those. But after a few seconds, he quietly turned his gaze away and back out his window, resting his chin on his palm, with an uncharacteristic tightness to his jaw.

For my part, I continued to look at him for another moment. His concern for me was clear; his discomfort at allowing me to proceed without him was visible in every gesture. I understood it all for what it was – he loved me, and I found his love to be singularly precious.

As you read this, you may wonder why I found his affection so special, reasoning that the love being shown between a parent and a child is a common thing. Well, the relationship of Mr. Stafford and I was not at all common. It was not even very old. We met a year ago under very unusual circumstances and, despite being from vastly different worlds – he very wealthy; me a poor orphan – he showed interest in who I was. From there, as completely unlikely as it was, we became friends, and then family. At eighteen years old, it’s still an amazing turn of events that I can hardly believe. Not that everything was perfect, for we had our issues, some quite serious, but we had also persevered.

Unfortunately, our challenges were far from over.

I turned my attention away from Mr. Stafford and back out my window. I had never been to Carlisle before, but the trip was no holiday. The unfamiliarity of our surroundings, sadly, did nothing to excite me. In reality, I saw little as the anonymous grey scenery sliding by couldn’t distract me from my thoughts and worries.

It was only as the carriage slowed that I took any actual notice to what was around us. We had been heading south on Brisco Road and were outside of the main portion of the city. Even with the dread in my chest, and despite the rainy mist, I still managed to find the view beautiful. Fields and farmland disappeared into the cloudy distance. I drew some much-needed comfort from the natural setting. Cities tend to overwhelm me, but the open vistas of the countryside always provided a calming feel. Unfortunately, that feeling of calm was fleeting as it was quickly overtaken by the fact that we had reached our destination.

When we came to a complete stop, I heard the horse chuff and then there was only the sound of the cold rain tapping on the carriage roof. I turned to Mr. Stafford and saw him staring out his window at a small cottage. In most circumstances, the little house would have appeared cozy, but not that day; not with the rain, not without any welcoming lights in the windows, and not with our purpose. The stones of the building glistened from the dampness in the half-light that filtered through the grey clouds. Several strands of ivy ran up part of the front, all bare and stringy as their foliage hadn’t yet arrived.

Although I was afraid to linger, afraid that Mr. Stafford would again try to dissuade me from my intentions, I found it difficult to exit the cabin. I should have climbed out as soon as we stopped, but my chest felt heavy and my stomach was upset. In a word, I was scared. Not for a moment did I think the assignment would be easy, but with its beginning imminent, I was filled with even greater doubt and worry.

Mr. Stafford turned to me and our eyes met. I easily read his own concern as he no doubt read my fear. His hand reached for the door latch which made me both angry and relieved. He was willing to take the burden and protect me. Part of me wanted exactly that, but another part of me wanted to try and protect him. As his door started to open, I closed my eyes and said, as firmly as I could, “No. I will do it.”

When I opened my eyes, his door was not closed, but it hadn’t opened farther. Slowly shaking his head, Mr. Stafford said quietly, “You don’t have to do this.”

“I know,” I answered, “but someone has to do it and we are here. Let it be me. Today, let it be me.”

After several seconds of silence, Mr. Stafford closed his door. “I will be right here the entire time. I will wait however long it takes.”

I nodded and realized just how much I was counting on his presence to support me – that if he was not waiting, I don’t think I would have the power to even try. There is fortitude in friendship. I wondered how Mr. Stafford had done things like this on his own, with no one waiting for him when it was over.

“You are stronger than you know,” said Mr. Stafford, interrupting my thoughts. “Your kindness and sincerity will make this difficult but will also carry you through. Be you and succeed.”

His appreciation of who I was surpassed everything I had ever thought of myself. It was all the more special in the face of the daunting task ahead. I threw my arms around him in a display of spontaneous love. “Thank you, sir.”

“I hope someday you will see yourself as I do,” he whispered.

It seemed unlikely, but I still drew courage from his kindness.

When I released the embrace, I immediately put my hand on the latch and opened the door. I wanted to use that feeling of appreciation as motivation.

Outside of the cabin, I quickly grew cold. The rain was light at that moment, but the damp air that mixed with the wind chilled me straight through. Pulling my grey cloak tight around me, I walked around the carriage, picking my steps in the least muddy spots, and gave a small nod to the driver. Poor man, although dressed for the weather, he looked rather miserable. He nodded back and asked, “Do you think you will be long, miss?”

“I’m not sure,” I answered honestly. With equal honesty, I added, “I hope not.”

Walking up the pebbled path towards the entrance, my breath fogged around me. For some reason, my mind introduced the concern that my shoes and the fringes of my garments would be absolutely filthy from the excursion. It was beyond unimportant in that moment, but I welcomed any distraction.

As I neared the entrance, all superfluous thoughts ceased. Standing in front of the door, I listened for any sounds from inside. There were none. That, combined with the lack of lights, made me wonder, perhaps even hope that no one was home. I raised my hand to knock and could hardly believe I was about to proceed. Meeting a stranger is a difficult thing for me in the best of circumstances, and what I was doing was about as far from the best of circumstances as one could get.

The sound that my knock made matched my confidence: It hardly existed. I had struck the door so lightly, that someone would have had to be right on the other side to have possibly heard it. I chastised my cowardice and, without another thought, struck the door forcefully three times. It sounded incredibly loud and there would be no possibility of it not being heard.

For a second or two, there was only silence and I started to allow myself to think that nothing was going to happen; that all the worry of the morning was for naught.

But then I heard something. Yes, someone was moving inside. After another moment, I could make out footsteps growing louder. They were soon at the door. The latch sounded as my heart beat faster.

When the door opened, and I looked at the woman that answered, I immediately thought: I have made a mistake. I have made a terrible mistake.

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