I got in mind,
'Cause we're runnin',
Out of time,
Won't you ever,
Set me free,
This waiting 'round's,
She drives me crazy,
Like no-one else,
She drives me crazy,
And I can't help myself.
Emma heard the sounds of The Fine Young Cannibals coming through from . . . somewhere.
She opened her eyes and found herself looking up into the faces of Jefferson and Leroy.
“Emma, Emma,” Leroy was gently calling her name.
“What happened?” she managed to ask, struggling to orient. She felt woozy and confused. She looked up at a high ceiling painted a pallid yellow. She didn’t recognize where she was.
“You must have fainted,” Leroy told her.
Jefferson added, “We found you on the floor in the attic.”
“What happened?” she asked again.
“You tell us,” said Leroy.
Emma allowed them to raise her so that she was sitting up. She looked around and got her bearings. She had been placed on one of the little sofas in the front parlor. “I remember going up to the attic. The lights wouldn’t come on and I had to use my flashlight. I could see I was in a room with a couple of beds and a rug and a rocking chair and then I heard someone behind me.”
“Yeah?” said Jefferson and glanced over at Leroy subtly shaking his head.
“I turned and, I swear to God, it was Rumach Goldark.” Emma shook herself. “Oh, don’t look at me like that! I know it wasn’t really the Rum man but whoever I saw looked just like the dude in the picture.”
“What happened then?” Leroy asked patiently.
“I don’t know. Everything went dark. The next thing is I woke up here.” Emma shook her head, “I had taken one of my insomnia pills last night with some wine . . . a lot of wine . . . . I must have had some type of delayed reaction hallucination.” But what a hallucination. Emma could recall the soft brown eyes, see the sardonic smirk on the man’s face, feel the energy and power radiating from the man. He seemed so real!
There had even been some subtle, but definite, smells. Something like tobacco and whiskey and something kinda like pine needles.
Leroy nodded, “I’m sure that’s all it was, Emma. Mixing medication and alcohol -- and this place, which I’m telling you, really does creep me out.”
“Even when I know that I’m being manipulated by the whole pitch and tone of this place, I guess it doesn’t stop me from having the I’m-being-haunted-response,” agreed Emma. But he did seem so real.
“Emma, should we call off the investigation tonight?” Jefferson asked out of concern.
“What?! Oh no. I’ll be fine. I’ll just hang back with Leroy though, I don’t want to have another fainting spell and have to have people come and rescue me.”
“Good idea,” Leroy told her. “She’ll be fine with me,” he told Jefferson.
Emma was now sitting in the big van, watching the monitors and keeping up with the walkie-talkies.
First up was Rory and Millie and Jefferson in the Library. They were equipped with the usual EVP meter and an infared camera. They had also set up strobe lights and a camera which was purported to attract spirits and would allow fast moving entities to be photographed. They were also using Emma’s special baby, the Spirit Box. This item picked up ambient sounds from the airways and purportedly would allow a spirit to use sounds on the airways to communicate in real time.
“Hello,” Millie began. “Is there anyone here?”
They had turned on the Spirit Box and the soft crackling static sound reverberated in the normally quiet room.
“We’d like to talk with Belle French. Is she here?
They waited and in a moment . . .
The Spirit Box crackled, “chchchchchchchchchchchesschchch chchchchchchchch”
“Belle, I’m Millie. These are my friends Rory and Jefferson.”
“chchchchchchchellochchchchchchchchroarchchchchch chchcheeechchchchchchchchefffffchchchchchchchchsonch chchchchchchchchchilleeeechchchchchchchchchchchchchch”
“Are you catching this?” Leroy asked Emma. Emma nodded. Through the closed-circuit camera lines they could see and hear everything.
“Belle, are you the woman who appeared to my friend Emma?” Jefferson asked.
When there was no answer, Jefferson tried another question, “Belle, are you alone in this house?”
“How many spirits are in this house?” Jefferson asked.
“Was that ‘three,’ Belle?” Millie asked for clarification.
“Who else is here?”
“chchchchchchchchchchchchchcwifechchchchchchchchchch chchmanchchchchchchchchchchchchchchch “
“Is Rumach Goldark the man?” asked Jefferson.
“Your lover is here?” asked Rory, not understanding the answer.
“Why are you here?”
The three investigators sat quietly.
“Did she just say a curse?” asked Millie. “They can’t leave, there’s a curse?”
“That’s what I heard,” agreed Jefferson.
“What kind of curse?” asked Millie
“Belle, is there anything we can do to help you?” asked Rory.
“Is there someone in our group who can help you?” Rory felt like she was getting close to something.
Jefferson began asking, “Is it Emma Swan?”
“Let’s try something else here,” Jefferson said. “We’re starting to get some nonsensical responses.” He began another tact, “Belle, we’d like some real evidence that you are here with us. Could you do something? Move something? Make a noise?”
They sat a quiet moment and then distinctly . . .
They all heard it.
“Belle, thank you, would you do that again, so we know it was you. Two knocks, please.”
“Thank you,” Jefferson said. “Can you do anything else to let us know you are with us?
The three waited.
A door slammed.
They all jumped.
“Thank you,” Jefferson said. “Belle, I don’t want to scare you. I’m going to turn on this light. If you’ll come close we may be able to get a picture of you.”
He turned on the strobe light and the camera.
“Belle, there is nothing here to hurt you. If you come close you might be able to make the lights on this little box light up,” he instructed her further.
The three sat for a while but there were no lights. There was no action on the infrared camera.
Clarissa, Colin and Archie were in the Red Room.
“Batteries gone again,” Colin said, disgusted. “Jefferson told me they’d already had to replace them twice.” He put fresh batteries in the both the data logger and the static meter. “Cameras seem to be holding. . . . what the hell?”
The static meter had lite up. All lights flashing.
“Ma’am, excuse us, please. We apologize for intruding on you,” Archie began. “We’ve come a long way and just wanted to talk with you.”
The static meter stayed lite up.
“Is that you lighting up the box here?” he asked
The box flashed on and off, on and off, on and off.
“Do I have the privilege of addressing Mrs. Goldark?” Archie asked. “If so, will you light up four lights on the meter, just four lights, please?”
Four lights lit up.
“Thank you, ma’am.” Archie paused, “We mean no disrespect, please. We’d like to ask you some questions.” He paused again. “Are there other spirits in the house?” he finally asked.
Four lights lit up.
“Is there one other spirit?”
“Are there two other spirits?”
Four lights lit up.
“Are you being held here against your will?” he asked
“People say that you try to hurt people. Is that true?” he asked.
Four lights lit up.
“Are you angry with them?”
Four lights lit up.
“Did someone hurt you when you were alive?”
Four lights lit up.
“Did your husband poison you?”
Four lights lit up.
“I’m so sorry to hear that, Mrs. Goldark.” Archie paused. “Is your husband one of the spirits that haunts this house?”
Four lights lit up.
“Is Belle French one of the spirits that haunts this house?”
Four lights lit up.
“Was Belle French engaged in an affair with your husband?”
Four lights lit up.
“Did your husband kill you so that he could marry Belle French?”
Four lights lit up.
In a whisper, Clarissa asked, “How can we find out what happened?” then suddenly she shouted, “ouch!”
The two men turned to look at her.
“Someone pulled my hair,” she told them. “Owww! I just got scratched!” And Clarissa lifted up her top to show three deep gashes on her back. They were oozing blood.
“Hey, leave her alone!” Colin shouted. “She didn’t do anything to you! Shit!” he had a gash appear on his cheek.
“Ms. Cora, is that you hurting my friends?” Archie asked.
Four lights lit up.
“Do you want us to leave?” he asked.
Four lights lit up.
The three heard Leroy’s voice come over the walkie. “Hey, you three, get out of there. Get out of there now.”
The three looked at each other and, taking the static meter, the data logger and the EVP recorder, they left the room.
Outside of the room, they leaned against the wall.
“That was intense,” Clarissa said.
“What a bitch!” Colin observed. “She seemed to like you Archie but she sure went after Clarissa and me. Clarissa, dear, are you all right?” he was quite concerned about the little investigator.
“I hurt like the devil. Those gashes went deep.” Clarissa allowed Colin to lift her tee-shirt and check out the gashes in the light of the hallway.
Emma had run up the stairs and connected with the three. “Clarissa, let’s get you back to the van. Leroy has a first aid kit. You too, Colin. I think we’ve had enough for one night.” She led them back downstairs and called for Jefferson, Rory and Millie to join up with them. Leroy met them in the parlor with the kit. He had turned on the lights and helped Emma tend to the gashes.
“What they said about that room was true, huh?” Clarissa asked as she sat during the bandaging.
“Maybe. There’s something in the room that seems to be able to inflict real damage,” Emma admitted.
The group rode back to the Inn in silence. Emma had gotten Clarissa and Colin to ride with her and Leroy. Jefferson, Millie, Rory and Archie took the other van.
Archie shared with the others in the van what had happened.
“Creepy,” Jefferson observed.
“I don’t understand what happened. We were getting hits on the static meter and then when we brought up about Belle French everything went south.”
“Well, if Belle had had an affair with her husband, maybe she’s still livid about it and blames Belle for her death,” speculated Millie. “Is it possible that Clarissa somehow reminded her of Belle?”
In the other van, Colin was apologizing to Clarissa. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to protect you, Clarissa.”
“There wasn’t anything you could have done. And she attacked you too,” Clarissa told him.
Emma caught the little interchange. Colin, who was so obviously on the make for anything in a skirt, seemed to be treating Clarissa with a level of tenderness and concern that surprised Emma. Was there something more to this relationship?
Emma spoke up, “I’m sorry this happened. This is a pretty rare occurrence. I’ve done this for more than ten years and this is the first time I’ve ever had it happen to one of my teams,” Emma took a deep breath, “How are you feeling?”
“I’m going to be fine,” Clarissa told her. “I’m actually more angry than upset. I really felt like she was a sneaky bitch. Attacking someone without cause! Coming at them without warning!”
“What are we going to do next?” Colin asked her.
“We’re going to go over the information we got tonight, get together tomorrow evening and then decide,” Emma told them honestly. “I’m not eager for anyone else to go back into that room unless we have a lot more information on what we’re dealing with.”
It was midnight when they pulled back into the Inn.
Leroy had come in to talk with Emma before shutting down for the night.
“Emma, I need to tell you something,” Leroy began.
“Sure, whassup?” she asked him.
“Earlier this evening, when you had gone up to attic . . . “
Emma turned to give him her full attention.
“You weren’t just gone for awhile and we got concerned and then went looking for you.”
“Did I give you a call on the walkie?” Emma didn’t remember doing any such thing.
“Not exactly,” Leroy was clearly hesitant.
“Go ahead, Leroy. What happened?”
“Jefferson and I both had walkies and they went off at the same time.”
“So, did I just hit the ‘on’ button?”
Leroy was clearly uncomfortable with what he had to say, “We both heard a man’s voice on the walkie. We thought it was each other and had to check.”
“It wasn’t either one of you, then. So what did you hear?”
“The voice said, ‘Come to the attic. Emma has fainted.’”
Emma sat and looked at Leroy.
“Jefferson and I heard the same thing,” he added.
“A man’s voice, you say?”
“With a hint of an accent,” Leroy clarified.
Emma sat at the dressing table in her room. She had grabbed a shower and dressed for bed. She looked at herself in the mirror. She was thinking over the events of the evening. She’d never had an injury with any of her teams and she’d had two tonight, nearly three if she included herself although she still chalked up her fainting episode to an inappropriate combination of drugs and alcohol rather than it being the aftermath of coming face to face with a smirking ghost. As for the walkie call-out, no easy explanation there – maybe she’d called out using it. How could Leroy say for sure it was a man’s voice, and one with an accent no less?!
Now as for that damn red room, Emma had been warned about it and had blithely ignored the hype. She looked at her reflection. “Cora, what the hell made you so mad?” she asked herself.
There it was.
The sensation that there was someone behind her. In the room. Someone without a reflection.
She turned slowly.
There had really been monsters when she had turned around before. Monsters that would throw her down and hurt her. Monsters that made her bleed. Monsters that made her vomit.
There was a sigh of relief. Nothing was there.
Of course there was nothing there. Why would there be anything there?
Quit imagining stuff!
Emma went and sat up in her bed. She had downed a couple of high energy drinks before the investigation, in preparation for staying awake until about three or four in the morning. She was still wide awake.
She reached for the diary and started reading again.
There had been some nice changes for Belle. Thanks to Madame Goldark’s talented dress maker, Belle had been able to pack away her threadworn dress. The three women had conspired to come up with a feminine version of the typical clerk’s outfit and now Belle looked sharp wearing a blue skirt and white blouse. She also had a smart jacket she could top the outfit with when Master Goldark would drag her along with him on Rent Collection Day. On those days, she added a dark blue scarf around her neck and a pert little hat. But when she was confined to the house, balancing her employer’s books, she didn’t bother with the jacket, scarf or hat and usually topped her skirt and blouse with an apron.
Madame Goldark had also generously ordered her a heavy coat and had her measured for sturdy boots.
And finally, Madame Goldark had also taken Belle aside and with the dressmaker’s assistance, had procured what she called ‘proper undergarments’ for Belle. She told Belle that when she was out in public with Master Goldark she should be sure to wear them.
Now Belle knew that Madame Goldark was not well liked by staff, but she had been treated well by the woman and had not found it difficult to be respectful of her. Belle had profusely and genuinely thanked her for the clothing; she shared with Cora that, as the youngest of three girls, she had never had any new clothes in her entire life.
Madame Goldark had preened at Belle’s gratitude. “Belle, dear, you remind me so much of my own dear daughters. They are both away at school.”
“You must miss them,” Belle observed.
“I do. But I have to make sacrifices as a parent. I want them to have to best and going off to school will help that happen,” Madame Goldark explained. “I think it will improve their chances at a profitable marriage.”
Belle had thought so you didn’t send them off to get them good educations; you sent them off to get an upgrade to 'premium catch' on the marriage market.
Belle also was now in much better quarters. She had settled into the attic room with Ashley, Madame Goldark’s very pregnant parlor maid. Ashley was responsible for helping Madame Goldark dress and helping her with her hair. She also was responsible for picking up all the clothing that was often tossed on the floor.
Belle learned very quickly that Ashley was missing her young man who was away at sea, who had gone away before he knew she was pregnant. Ashley was fervently hoping that he would return and take her away from the Goldarks. She’d also learned that Ashley didn’t like Madame Goldark although she wouldn’t say why.
Belle quickly sensed that Madame Goldark had aspirations for propriety and decorum. She’d attempted to model her day after those of women born into nobility and money; she’d sleep late, put on a day dress for lunch and then in the afternoon she would engage in light activity such as walking, sewing, reading, letter-writing, painting or music. It was during the afternoons, in the sewing room, where the women would do mending, sewing and finer needlework for several hours each day that Cora met with her finest aspirations. Ashley, along with several of the kitchen maids and some of the other women on the property, would sit with Madame Goldark in the sewing room. As she was able to, Belle would join them and read from different books. The other girls seemed to like Belle and admired her, many clearly in awe of her being able to work with Master Goldark, who had a rather difficult, even nasty reputation. Afterwards, Madame Goldark would change into formal clothing for the evening meal.
Since Belle had begun working in the house, there had been a subtle shift in attitudes within the household.
Staff became increasingly impressed with or in the case of those who were lazy and dishonest, increasingly angry and jealous of Belle. She had slowly, with Madame Goldark’s blessing, taken over the management of the household. Within the household, she had begun to assign chores and settle disputes. Staff opinion rose even higher when she began to go toe to toe with Master Goldark and score a couple of major wins.
The first such occasion occurred when he had been preparing an eviction notice for a Robert Locksley and his wife. Master Locksley’s wife had been ill with a difficult pregnancy and her husband had lingered around the house rather than doing his usual work as a hunter and woods’ guide. The little family had gotten behind on their bills.
Belle had begged him to give Master Locksley a little latitude.
“He’s a good, honest man and the only reason he’s not able to pay his bills is because his wife has been so ill and he’s been staying by her side. “
Initially, Master Goldark had waved her off, “There’s always a reason for why people get behind.”
“And some reasons are better than others. If you would only consider accepting some of the game that Master Locksley can provide, that would set the bill aright. It would also give you a bit better table to set before yourself and your staff.”
“I’m not in the business of bartering. This isn’t the fourteenth century. I do business in cash,” he replied sternly.
“But you would actually come out ahead, because right now you take his money and then have to use that same money to buy from him. With a bartering system, you could get three fish for what it’s now costing you to buy two fish, or squirrels or deer or whatever.”
He scowled at Belle who was remonstrating, walking up and down on the fine oriental carpet that covered his library floor.
She turned back to him. “By the way, I’ve been over your household accounts. The cook is cheating you.”
“But I’ve checked over the figures. . .” he began.
“Oh, the math is right, but he’s putting down the price of butter as twice as what it actually is and recording ten pounds of flour when he has actually only gotten five pounds. You would know if you ever went shopping or if you ever checked receipts and did inventory!” Belle was monumentally irritated with the man. She huffed and shook herself. “I think I’m finished for the day sir,” and she started out of the room.
He blocked her exit, looming in front of her as she attempted to go through the door. “You work for me, Miss French. Your day is over when I say it’s over.”
Belle glared at him. He was standing in her way and she would have to go around him to get out. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She certainly didn’t want to get into a physical confrontation with the man. She settled on flouncing back to the chair that had become ‘hers’ and sat with her arms folded and her back to him.
Goldark stood by the door. He didn’t look at her.
It was a long moment before he said, “You know for sure the kitchen theft is going on?”
“I’ve been and done an inventory when your cook was still asleep the other morning . . . which is also appalling. He should have been up baking bread. And, yes, I’ve been over his records and through his pantry. And yes, I’m sure. Absolutely sure.”
There was another long pause.
“So it would seem that I need to fire my kitchen cook and hire someone else,” Goldark said.
Belle made no reply.
“Is there. . . would there be. . . uh. . . could you . . . recommend someone whom you think would be able to do the job and be honest about it?” he finally asked.
Belle brightened up and, turning, she gave him a small smile, “I can. There’s a lovely widow lady who’s an excellent cook, a Mrs. Potts. She would be perfect and I have no doubts about her honesty. She does come with a young son,” Belle told him.
There was another long pause.
“And if. . . if I wanted to take, say venison as payment, what’s an equitable balance of trade?” he was speaking softly, hesitantly.
“My father and I had worked out a system, but you would also have to talk with your client. With food stuffs, the value can vary depending on the time of year,” she explained. “Someone like Master Locksley is a very honest tradesman. He will tell you what things are worth and won’t try to cheat you.”
“Well. . . maybe. . . you and this Mrs. Potts could work out something with Master Locksley?” He continued to look away from Belle. “This would be a trial, you understand. I’d like to see how this works before considering doing it with other clients.”
Belle was smiling and her eyes were sparkling. She vaulted out her chair and threw her arms around him, giving him a hug, which clearly discomforted the man.
“You are a dear! I knew you weren’t as awful as people try to make out you are! I knew there was a nice person in there!”
Goldark slowly disengaged her arms from around his neck and cleared his throat. “We’ll see, Miss French. I still have grave doubts, but I’m not sure I have much to lose by trying your scheme.” He walked back to his desk. “And. . . uh. . . you are finished for the day.”
She curtsied and thanked him, leaving the room with a broad smile on her face.
Soon enough, with Belle in charge of the household budget, with Mrs. Potts in charge of the kitchen, with Goldark beginning to accept alternate payments in lieu of cash, the food service improved immeasurably. There was more food, better prepared, less waste and greater variety.
And there were now some other changes. Now, not just the housemaids, but the stable boys, the gardners, and the kitchen staff all were beginning to feel that their lives had improved since Belle had taken over. They had better, more comfortable places to sleep. The entire household kept regular hours and work was divided equitably. Belle was beginning to teach those who were interested how to read and do simple math.
And now, even Rent Collection Day was different. As always Master Goldark required Belle to accompany him , but now she didn’t always go on rounds with him. Instead, once a month, he would drop her off first to have a time with her father, to check how he was doing, to help him with his books and collections. She had not asked Master Goldark to do this and his unexpected, unanticipated kindness touched her. Goldark would often make all of his rounds before coming back to collect Belle. Her father still seemed upset with her for her rash decision and often went on about how much he missed her help in the business; Belle had to remind him that had she not gone with Master Goldark, then he wouldn’t have a business.
She also learned that after a couple of weeks of unrelenting complaining, her step-sisters had gotten hungry enough, had gotten enough dirty clothing and finally cold enough to begin picking up on some of the chores. It had been very difficult for them, but several young men in the village, seeing the girls, who had before been so haughty and superior-acting, now seeing them working and doing their part, well, these young men had begun to call. Her step-sisters had become hopeful that there would be an offer forthcoming from one of their callers.
When Master Goldark would swing back by to pick her up, he would hand her father his updated accounting. Belle knew she still had a long way to go to pay off her father’s debts but somehow it was becoming less a hardship.
Now on the ride home, late in the evening, Belle sat primly in her new heavy coat, her wool scarf and her fur-lined gloves. She had new knitted socks of soft wool encased in shiny new boots keeping her feet warm. She now had several additional layers of clothing beneath the coat. Additionally, she had a thick, soft quilt in the carriage for extra warmth.
She had begun to enjoy these rides home with the Master, finding him an engaging, stimulating conversationalist.
“How is your family?” he asked her his usual question after her familiar visit.
“My step-sisters have finally accepted their lot and are beginning to do some work. It seems to have gotten them attention from several young men, so there may be a marriage or two in the future,” she told him.
“Why aren‘t you married?” he asked her abruptly..
“I mean, you’re attractive, hard-working, of marrying age . . . Why aren’t you married to some young man?”
“You think I’m attractive?” Belle asked him her heart warming to hear him say such a thing.
He seemed caught off guard. “Uh. . . . I. . . you . . . uh. . . uh . . . you’re . . . you’re not entirely displeasing to the eyes,” he stammered, obviously embarrassed. He looked away from her.
She beamed at him.
He ventured a glance back and taking a breath, he repeated his question, “Why aren’t you married?”
Belle smiled at him and shrugged, “I’m odd,” she admitted.
“I’m odd,” she said again. “I read, I study, I argue,” she told him.
“That you do,” he concurred with a slight smile.
“Men don’t seem to like that. They want a wife who’s demure, and passive and accepting. They want a woman who’s going to admire and approve of them even when they are acting like utter asses.”
Goldark listened to his pretty, little clerk, watching her expressive face, her bright eyes and animated mannerisms. He was beginning to increasingly enjoy her company. She was like a ray of sunshine, a little shining light in a vast ocean of darkness.
“I want to marry for love,” she blurted out
Goldark pulled a face.
“You don’t believe in love, do you?” she asked him softly.
“I thought I was in love with my first wife. She was beautiful and we seemed to be happy.” He sighed, “but then I found out that she was a lying, cheating whore who abandoned her young son and husband for a pretty face.”
There was no response but when he glanced at Belle, he saw her face, sad and concerned.
“I didn’t know. I’m so sorry,” she told him.
He puffed out some air, “It happened a long time ago.”
“But Madame Goldark, Miss Cora, you married her. . . ?”
There was a long pause. “She was . . . is . . . very beautiful. I hadn’t planned on getting married again when I met her, but there was something about her.” He spoke slowly, “It . . .was . . .all . . .a blur. We met . . .and the next thing I knew, we were married. She was . . . fascinating . . . alluring. And the sex was fantastic. In the bedroom, on the beach, in the bathing tub, on the dining room table . . . “he suddenly seemed to realize to whom he was talking and the inappropriateness of his words. He stopped himself. “I must apologize, Miss French, my language, my . . . uh. . . topic. . . most unsuitable for a young woman. “
“But you don’t love her?” Belle asked him, still speaking softly.
He closed his eyes. “I don’t love her. I sometimes want her. She drives me wild . . . on occasion. But there is no feeling, no love.”
Tenuously, Belle reached over and put her gloved hand on his. There was a long moment and he put his other hand on top of hers. They rode the rest of the way home in silence.