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Subtle Year

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Two people from different worlds are brought together upon the death of their only connection, to search for the crook behind the wicked deed and to find out what he's really after. After the death of her uncle, Onyx Brooks finds herself as the inherent owner of a vast mansion and a strange mystery that begins to unfold around a supernatural world beyond her wildest dreams. Taken under the wing of an enigmatic detective, working for an alternative government, Onyx discovers a whole new world that perfectly overlaps her own in a way so she'd never have noticed it otherwise. She soon discovers that no world is perfect or free of danger and finds herself the focal point of a legendary villain's quest for domination. Relying on a new friend and her own wit, she must try and stop them before the dream world she just discovered crumbles into nothingness.

Fantasy / Humor
Charlotte Marsh
4.5 2 reviews
Age Rating:

Chapter 1: Death in the Family

Callum Brooks sat in his study, reading the same page of a book repeatedly. He wasn’t too sure how to occupy his time now. His book was finished and he had done all he could. It was a waiting game now. One last time, he read the page and as he reached the bottom he caught himself tracing his fingers along a tired picture. Was it too simple? Or was it too difficult? Who was to know? The people this was set for were known to be stupid at times. But peaks of genius had to be matched by troughs of idiocy. Not everyone could be as perfect as him. Anyway, it was too late to change anything now. As much as he would like to, he had to let things lie. He was sure they’d be fine. They had to be. The world and everyone in it was at stake.

He glanced outside just in time to see a sleek black Jaguar pull up on the gravel driveway. It was time. He calmly walked downstairs and left the house via the back door so he could walk alone and in peace. He strolled across the soft, damp grass and stood in front of the stables, taking in the sweet smell of the straw along with the earthy rain. The horses whickered worriedly, sensing the danger approaching but Callum just stood there, waiting without too much of a worry. The man with green eyes patiently followed him up, standing behind Callum who did not bother greeting him.

“What is this then? The last stand?” the man spoke his smooth, low voice.

“Well, actually I fancied a walk,” Callum shrugged, turning to him.

The man looked confused for a moment but then he continued, unfazed by Callum’s strange attitude. In a world like the one they lived in, people were more than a little strange.

“You know what I’m here for,” he spoke confidently, his voice darkening. “I’d suggest handing it over now before I have to pry it off your cold dead body.”

Callum looked deep in thought for a moment and the man’s green eyes glittered with triumph, he was used to getting his way. Naturally, he assumed he’d won this battle too.

“Where is it, Callum?”

“Oh, I’m not going to tell you,” Callum shook his head, chuckling slightly. “I was just thinking about what funny ears you have. What happened to make them that way?”

“What?” the green-eyed man couldn’t stop his surprise.

“They’re very odd.”

“Where’s the key, Callum?” his voice filled with anger, his body language tensing.

“I haven’t seen it in years,” he shrugged his shoulders. “I gave it away.”

“You gave it away,” he said slowly, getting angrier by the second. “To who?”

“Why would I tell you that?”

“Because if you don’t,” he took a step forwards. “I’ll kill you and find it anyway.”

Callum turned to try and make a daring escape but another man was stood to make sure that didn’t happen. Why were they against daring escapes?

“Make your decision Callum,” the green-eyed man sounded smug.

The green-eyed man’s accomplice smiled gruesomely. Most of his teeth were rotting or missing. Callum turned away as he felt his stomach churn with disgust. That wouldn’t make a very good impression of a hero. ‘He threw up in the face of danger’.

“Well? Do I have to get my hands dirty or will you hand it over?”

He’d accepted what was going to happen, so he was going to play with the green-eyed man. Why shouldn’t he have fun in his last few moments? He was wasted on this world anyway. A wasted genius. How tragic it was to live among a world that didn’t appreciate the beauty of brutal intellect.

“You must be getting very bored of asking that question, Bunny Ears,” Callum sighed before grinning. “Do you mind if I call you Bunny Ears? I think it’s a name that could stick.”

“Do you ever shut up?” the man finally scowled.

“Apparently not.”

“When did you give it away?” he took in a deep breath, getting back to the subject at hand. “When you knew I was coming for it?”

“Years ago, actually,” Callum thought about it. “You really are running late.”

The man’s face contorted with rage, his entire demeanour changing. He was a man who preferred to act with more class than the rage within him would like but, even with the experience he’d amassed over the years, he sometimes couldn’t help himself.

“Don’t play games old man; you know what I can do to your family.”

“I do know that, but remember you can’t get it, I can’t get it,” he chuckled, despite feeling a rush of fear at the threat of his family. “The key is long gone now.”

“I liked you Callum,” the man sighed, his calm exterior returning. “It’s a shame it came to this.”

His green eyes glittered menacingly as darkness clouded Callum’s vision and he fell to the floor, all too accepting of what was happening. His death was just the start of this. Hell was about to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world. There were only two people who could stop it. All it would take is a chance meeting. There was no plan though. Plans are unimaginative. What’s life without imagination? A chance meeting was more like it. They were fun. Thinking of that made Callum smile even as life left him.

I swung back a bit too far in my chair and gravity took over as I let out a cry of surprise. Caught in the middle of a daydream, I tumbled backwards onto the floor and sprawled in a heap. Just at that moment the phone began to ring. I sighed and waited for a second. Wait for it…

“Onyx, answer the phone!” dad yelled from his office.

There it is.

“Yeah dad,” I groaned, trying to move.

I managed to sit up and reached up onto the desk for the phone. As I freed it from the cradle I promptly fell back to the floor again, more controlled this time so I could land comfortably.

“Good afternoon, Derek Brooks’ office,” I answered, putting on my professional voice.

I leaned back against the large glass window that overlooked the city beneath dad’s office, good thing I’m not afraid of heights. I didn’t want to get up… maybe I’d hit my head. I could have concussion! Or I could be being lazy. That was probably it.

“Hey honey,” mum said on the other end of the phone. “Is your dad there? Or is he stuffing his face in the canteen?”

“I keep telling you; we should install a treadmill in the doorway of his office.,” I laughed slightly, brushing some of my dark purple hair from my face. “It’d build up his health and it’d be incredible entertainment for me out here.”

“Is he there?” she didn’t laugh with me.

“Yeah, I’ll get him,” I replied, pushing myself up to speak before promptly falling down. “Dad! Mum’s on the phone!”

I work for my dad at weekends. It’s fun, kind of. All I do is direct calls to dad’s office; unless it’s mum. She doesn’t like her calls being redirected. She told me that she thinks it’s a good idea to make sure dad gets his exercise. Okay, she said he should get off his lazy fat backside. The outcome is still the same. I spend most of my time on the computer, scrolling through the social media that apparently cursed my generation and reading way too many horror stories. The true ones were the best. Dad said it was that sort of interest that proved beyond any doubt that I was definitely a Brooks. It was my sense of humour that proved I was his.

“Why can’t she just let you direct them to the office?” he groaned, walking out of the office and he looked around for me before looked down. “How’s the view from down there?”

“Mum’s right; you’re getting fat,” I cackled with laughter.

He gave me an exaggerated look of offence before cracking a smile too and I handed the phone to him. He sighed and reached down to get it, leaving me to flop on the floor.

“Did you know we had a lovely child together?” he leaned against the desk. “No, not the older one. That one’s punk Satan. He’s your child. The little one’s gonna make us millions in the comedy business. She’s my child.”

I rolled my eyes. Dad loves to crack jokes. He continued talking to her while I picked myself up off the floor. I sat back down in the chair and smoothed down my hair, watching as dad’s facial expression changed.

“Honey, I’m going to direct you to the office. We need to talk about this.”

Now there’s a red flag for trouble if ever I saw one. What’s going on? Mum hadn’t sounded like herself either.

Dad rushed through to his office and shut the door without a word to me. Yikes. Something big was happening. I wonder what. I crept to dad’s office door and put my ear against it. The wood was thick and every sound was muffled but I could just hear what he was saying and I could make out the pure shock in his tone.

“He is?” he spoke in disbelief, audible in grief. “Oh, my god. No I haven’t spoken to him in years. When’s the funeral? We have to go.”

Funeral? You’re kidding me! Who died?

“Mel, I’m going to tell Jeff upstairs I’ve got a family bereavement and I’ll bring Onyx home,” he said quickly then put the phone down.

I stifled a gasp and dashed back to the desk, throwing myself in the chair and rolling some distance away. I hurriedly pulled myself back to the desk and tried to act natural. Who was it that’s died? I couldn’t think of anyone who had been ill. There were a few relatives we had lost contact with. An uncle here a cousin there. Maybe one of them died. But from the sound of it, it was someone dad was close to.

Dad opened the door to his office and I looked up, trying to act like I hadn’t been eavesdropping. All the colour had drained from his face and his hands were notably shaking. It must be someone he was close to. Dad was a goof, it took a lot to get to him.

“Whoa, dad,” I stared at him. “What was that about?”

“Your mum gave me some bad news,” he approached, frowning visibly.

“I can tell,” I slowly stood up. “Jeez dad, what did she tell you?”

“Your uncle… my big brother,” dad sighed, having to take a moment to collect himself. “Callum’s dead.”

The car ride home was as silent as the grave. The irony wasn’t lost on me. I wasn’t at all sure dad should be driving but I certainly couldn’t. Even though we never really saw uncle Callum, I knew dad really loved his big brother. I loved Callum too. He was crazy and he was funny. Two traits of most of that side of the family to be honest. He didn’t really have a care in the world. Not so much a familial trait there. He used to look after me after school when I was a little kid, both mum and dad used to have to work long hours to slave for promotions and such. Now they’re both happy with their careers and their often home, even though I’m now an age where I don’t need them to be. I’d loved Callum’s mansion. It sprawled over the land like a sleeping giant and I always went looking for secret passages. I never found any though, no matter where I looked. Upon giving up, I always ended up in Callum’s study. I loved it in there, Callum would tell me stories that he’d made up on the spot. He was gifted like that. They were always about impossible things like magic. I’d grown up to love the supernatural because of that. Every now and then Callum would tell me a slightly darker story, more on the gory side. I blame him for my love of monsters. And the horror movies. He gave me my first one when I was eight years old. Child’s Play… Along with a Chucky doll. Mum wasn’t too impressed.

I hadn’t seen Callum for about six years. I had really wanted to go to his mansion again. I’d left it a little too late now. I was really going to miss him. I could only imagine how dad felt.

“Don’t ever do what I did to my brother, Onyx,” dad spoke out of the blue.

“What?” I looked at him, surprised.

“Don’t lose contact. I know your brother can be an idiot, believe me I know. But he’s your big brother and he’ll always be there for you. He loves you, even though he has a funny way of showing it at times. You don’t realise things like that until it’s too late. As you grow older you’re going to drift apart but you must call in every now and then. You never know when you’ll miss your last chance… I never knew I missed mine.”

“I know dad. I know.”

He pulled into the drive at home and slowly got out of the car. Mum must have spotted the car pull in because the door opened as we got out and she rushed over to throw her arms around dad. They joked with each other a lot but I’d never seen two people more in love than my parents. I wanted to be like them one day.

“I’m so sorry,” she sighed, looking at dad with tears in her eyes. “George called to tell me. As soon as I found out, I called you.”

“When’s the funeral?” I asked, surprised to see both my parents so upset.

“It’s on Sunday,” dad squeezed my shoulder gently. “It’s the reading of the will afterwards.”

“You’ll have to come to that,” mum added.


“Because you’re mentioned.”

Callum was a fan of the macabre. Others found it creepy and uncomfortable to be in, but I’d loved his house. It was spooky, there was no denying that, but it was so cool. The entrance hall had a dark gothic design, much like the rest of the house to be honest. There was a huge painting of him at around twenty on the wall. He had been handsome when he was younger. We were a good-looking family really, that’s why I occasionally asked if I was adopted. Callum same dark brown hair as I did naturally and dad, it had been thick when he was young but, like dad, his had thinned with age. I dreaded that. I liked my thick hair, I wouldn’t want it to become thin and wiry. I doubt that was a look that’d suit me. He had a long, Roman nose and deep chestnut brown eyes that were neither too far apart or too close together, the same eyes as the rest of our family. We weren’t overly pale but we were alabaster skinned all the same, the sun didn’t often tan any of us and fake tan made us look orange. Funnily enough it wasn’t me that found that out. And I was the only female from that side of the family. Okay, dad thought fake tan was moisturiser one time and came out bright orange and confused.

“Onyx,” dad called to me. “Come on.”

I dragged my eyes from the picture of Callum and walked with dad under the glittering chandelier that looked like it’d be cool as hell in one of those adventure movies where the swashbuckling hero cut the connection to the chandelier and used to the weight of it as it fell to carry him up to the next level if the house to save the useless damsel in distress. Perhaps I just have an overactive imagination. Dad was really trying to hide it but I could see how upset he was. I know he’d loved Callum. It was awful that this had to be this way.

“When’s the funeral?” I looked up at him.

“In twenty minutes,” he replied in a quiet voice. “I thought we could go through the house first. I used to love this place.”

“So did I,” I nodded slightly and held his hand like I did when I was a little kid.

The wind whipped around us and the rain fell from the harsh grey clouds. I knew that it was what would be described as a tempestuous funeral. There were a good forty people surrounding the hole in the ground that the coffin was being lowered into. More would have liked to come but apparently, Callum had decided off the bat who he wanted to come. Dad tried to hide it but it was obvious he was crying. His older brother George and his wife Nina didn’t look too bothered. George was a nasty little man. He had piggy little eyes and a face that resembled a dumpling. I remember one time I thought he’d had an allergic reaction and he’d informed me through gritted teeth that it was just his face. My brother once told me he’d seen a picture of George at the hospital so they could save the use of the stomach pump. Unwittingly, we hadn’t realised George had been within earshot. Yeah, George didn’t like us. Nina was on the large side and she had bleached blond hair with noticeable roots. Sometimes it was hard to believe we were related to George. It was only the brown eyes that matched. Dad and Callum were both very ambitious men but they were also very funny. George really wasn’t, he took things way too seriously and he didn’t work for what he had. I knew he was expecting something big from Callum’s will. Callum had amassed a fortune over the years. That was because I was far from the only one who loved his stories. He was a published author under some strange pseudonym. Nobody knew it was him who wrote those stories apart from the family of course. George was probably expecting Callum’s villa in France or all his royalties or even the mansion. It was likely he would get one of those things because Callum didn’t really have many friends. People found his honesty a bit too brutal for their tastes. I found it to be a breath of fresh air. When I was a kid people used to attempt to keep to truth from me and keep me naïve but Callum always told me everything. I don’t know, maybe he knew I could handle it. When my grandmother died, they all told me she went on a long holiday but a grief-stricken Callum told me she’d died. Everything drifted after she died. I knew that. Callum descended into grief and started hanging out with some unsavoury characters, George who used to be alright became a sour old pig and dad… dad lost his two brothers along with his mother and he never really got over it.

Towards the end of the funeral, I realised someone was watching me. I turned around to look behind me but no-one was there. I shivered but I didn’t know if it was from the cold or from fear. It was probably because of the atmosphere of the funeral.

“Come on, Onyx,” mum whispered when the funeral was over. “We’d better get down to the house.”

I followed her and dad, not rushing to fall into step beside them. They chatted quietly but I didn’t pay attention to what they were saying. I still felt watched.

While everyone else stayed downstairs in the now brightly lit entrance hall, I wondered around. I missed this house so much. Mum had insisted I dressed in some sort of formal fashion for the funeral and took this rare occasion to wear one of my many dresses. I was told I should stop buying them but they were so pretty. They were beautiful when they were on the models that displayed them but not so much when on me. I don’t think beauty was something I was meant for. I’d gotten over my lack of delicate grace by about the age of thirteen anyway. I wore a black dress that was described as an off the shoulder bodycon dress when I bought it. I didn’t know what bodycon meant but it was essentially a knee length pencil dress with some strappy sleeves and some floppy off the shoulder so called ‘sleeves’. All I knew was that if I wore it with sunglasses I looked like I was attending the funeral of my rich husband who died mysteriously after ‘falling’ down a hill because he was wearing flip-flops. I won’t lie, I quite liked that. Unfortunately, the little high heels I was wearing were that tad bit too big for me and my tights didn’t create enough thickness for them to stop slipping off my feet whenever I walked. Hardly ladylike. I had a perfectly decent pair of heels that fit well and would go decently with this dress but mum said five inch heels on a rainy day would be a recipe for disaster. I mean, she was right. But still.

I found myself wondering down to Callum’s study like I always used to go and let myself in without thinking twice. I had always felt weirdly comfortable in there. Dad had said he’d been found by the stables. He must have gone for a walk down there after finishing his last book and had simply had some sort of aneurysm while out there. It was tragic but could have happened to anyone.

One wall of Callum’s study was lined with bookshelves filled with all sorts of occult books plus his own bestselling novels. I knew he had one more book that was yet to be published. I’d love to be able to read it before it gets published but I don’t know where he kept it. So, naturally, I went for a search.

His gothic style desk and chair was the same as it had been when I last went there. Either side of the desk was a bay window that I could remember sitting one when I was a kid so I could watch the distant, mist covered hills. The walls and the ceiling were panelled with wood, mahogany probably but wood is wood at the end of the day. Yet another crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling. It hung so if a person over six feet tall entered the room they’d be mildly put out. Callum, a man of six feet in height himself, had it put in so he could comfortably walk through the room while feeling exceedingly tall. I was about five foot eleven with my heels on but I kicked them off at the door, the irritation becoming too much for me. The floor was a thick warm carpet and I couldn’t help but let my toes wriggle against it as I walked across to the desk.

There were a few pictures on Callum’s desk. I sat in the chair and looked at them. One of those pictures was my dearly departed grandmother. Her eyes were the same brown as mine but they were a hell of a lot sharper, from what I had heard she had been one formidable woman. Her deep brown hair was in soft curls and cut short at the shoulders. Her skin was the familial alabaster colour, she might be the one we inherited it from. She was wearing a grand blue ball gown in the small painting. Around her neck hung a silver chain; the charm was a beautiful silver cross with five deep red individual garnets making up the shape of the cross. That exact necklace was the one that was hung around my neck at that very moment. Callum had given it to me as a birthday present when I was about ten. I rubbed it between my fingers, feeling it comfort me like it always did.

There was another picture of mum, dad, me and my big brother Danyal. It was me when I was ten so it must have been taken the last time I was here. The third one was a picture of just me and Callum. Callum really cared for me. I was the closest he had to a child and he was so much more than just an uncle to me. He had been a second father to me. I wish I’d seen him one last time before he died. So does dad. I scanned my eyes over the desk and I felt my eyebrows crease. There had always been this book on Callum’s desk. It had been a romantic poetry book, a first edition that had been in the family for a very long time. It had belonged to his mother. I guess Callum must have finally put it away. He’d never done in the past though… I found it odd. I let out a sigh and shook my head. I was totally over thinking this.

I opened his desk drawers looking for the manuscript. In the third drawer down, I found it. He had several books out already, I’d read five of them. Subtle Year, The Two Key, The Solstice of the Chair and Phoenix in the Annal. I pulled this new, crisp manuscript out and read the name that was printed in bold on the front.

Midnight of Slave

Without realising it I began reading the book. It was incredible, the story was so fast paced and interesting and I was soon devouring every word. I knew how Callum worked these stories. The big macho hero gets beaten and bullied down to a nervous wreck, comes back as a newly transformed person and gets killed off. It’s never the glorious death you’d expect for a hero. In fact, many of the deaths he crafts are unorthodox. In this one, a secondary character dies by choking on a walnut and this was just in the prologue. I could sometimes imagine Callum laughing gleefully at certain parts. It’s almost as if he was standing over my shoulder reading along with me. He truly was a genius. However, some would say he was wasted on the world. A device rang suddenly in my black handbag that I barely ever got any use of and I jumped. I sighed when I realised it was just my phone and I answered it without checking.


“Onyx, where are you?” mum asked.

“Oh, I’m in Callum’s study,” I realised I must have been gone for a while.

“Ah, that’s where your dad said you’d be,” her voice had that sympathetic edge to it. “We’ve got to get to the lawyer’s office for the reading of the will.”

“I’ll be right down,” I told her.

“Good girl.”

I put the book back in the draw and silently hoped I could continue it later. How could I just stop midway through? If I thought I could get away from it, I would take it with me and bring it back when I got the chance. I stood up and slipped my feet back into my shoes before leaving the study. When I was midway down the stairs I suddenly stopped. There was a dark shadow behind me. It only just showed ahead of me so the person was nearby. Was it the person who was watching me? Then that would mean I wasn’t just imagining it. The shadow moved slightly, moving further ahead of me. I turned around slowly…

Nobody was there.

I shuddered from a sudden rush of cold and carried on. I have a seriously overactive imagination. Callum is most definitely to blame for that. I got to the bottom of the stairs just in time to see George slip a vase under his jacket. People like him disgust me. His big brother is dead and here he is stealing his possessions. I hope Callum didn’t leave the mansion to him. George would probably sell it for profit. Dad would possibly just leave it as it is. I love this mansion so much and I couldn’t imagine anyone but Callum living in it. If it had to go to someone, it should go to someone who really appreciated it.

“Onyx,” dad called me over as he pulled on his coat. “We’d better get going.”


He seemed to look a bit perkier now, not as pale or a teary eyed. In fact, he was trying to stop smiling and to stifle his laughter.

“What are you laughing at?” I couldn’t help my smile.

“You’ll see.”

“You’re incredibly immature, Derek,” mum sighed, shaking her head.

Dad let out a whimsical chuckle as we left to get into the car and head to the lawyer’s office. When pulled up outside of the office we were told to wait in his office for a few minutes. There was a name plate on the desk and I burst out laughing, unable to hold back.

“Mr Dripp?” I cackled. “Please say that’s a fake name!”

“It’s pronounced like tripe with a ‘d’,” mum shook her head, before deciding she probably needed to clarify. “Dripe.”

“He should put an ‘e’ on the end,” I mused.

“I said the same thing,” dad chuckled.

George and Nina arrived a few minutes later, perching themselves on their chairs without a word. George had gotten rid of the vase concealed under his jacket. It’s probably in the car. If dad had seen it, an argument would probably have broken out. We were sat silence until the door opened.

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentleman,” the man spoke as his footsteps crossed behind us. “I’m the late Mr Brooks’ solicitor. We’re waiting on one more person and we’ll begin.”

Mr Dripp sat down in the seat and I felt my entire body lurch in supressed laughter. His skin was sallow and sickly, and even at a distance it appeared to be the texture of well-worn leather. The man’s cheeks and eye sockets were sunken, the flesh drooping loose in these places, a bit like two steaks nailed to his cheek bones. I wasn’t the only one who had to suppress their laughter. Dad went bright red and he had to cover his mouth. Subtlety isn’t really his strong point. He covered it up with a coughing fit and Mr Dripp didn’t seem to notice. Mum elbowed both me and dad in the ribs to shut us up.

The door eventually opened again and a tall, thin man stepped into the room. An overcoat covered his clothes; a hat was on his head and a pair of sunglasses were over his eyes. You can tell much about a man by his chin, Callum once said but that was just Callum. Personally, I was stumped. All I knew was that this man’s chin didn’t have the barest hint of a tan so he probably spent a lot of time inside or was just one of those people who didn’t tan. That didn’t exactly give me much. I wonder if all Callum knew about this man came from his chin. It sounds like Callum to be honest…

“Mr Black?” Mr Dripp barely glanced up at him.

The man merely nodded. He was strange. I hadn’t seen him at the funeral, although I guess I hadn’t really been looking. I shook it off as Mr Dripp opened the file. Callum’s will was more important than one of, what I heard was many, his weird friends.

“Oh dear,” Mr Dripp hurriedly closed the file. “This is the wrong file. You’ll have to excuse me for a second while I find the right file.”

He left the room in a rush and, as soon as the door shut, dad leaned forward and rested his head on the table, his hands on the back of his neck.

“I hate that brother of mine,” he groaned.

“God rest his soul?” I raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah, that,” he sat up.

“You’re lovely,” I couldn’t help but laugh slightly. “You know, I bet Callum did it on purpose.”

“You two,” mum hissed, clearly not in the mood to join in. “Don’t be so rude.”

Dad couldn’t stop himself from laughing slightly, putting his head in his hands. I tried to hide my smirk, covering my mouth but I couldn’t stop my shaking shoulders.

“Derek,” mum hit him on the arm. “This is the reading of your brothers will! Don’t be so childish.”

“You’re setting a very bad example. Should I act like this when Danyal dies?” I managed to recover enough to look at him with something somewhat close to a straight face.

“Onyx! Don’t say that!”

“I doubt there’ll even be a will when Danyal dies,” dad muttered.

“Ah, touché,” I sniggered.

“Derek, that’s your son. Your only son!” mum had clearly had enough. “Don’t talk about him dying. Onyx I should ground you for even bringing it up!”

Dad and I sat silently in our chairs, looking at each other as we attempted to keep a straight face. Mum was definitely tetchy. There was an air of tension in the room now. Mr Black didn’t move a muscle, if he hadn’t just walked into the room I’d say he was some wax model Dripp had put in the room. I wouldn’t have been surprised either. George and Nina kept a look of forced grief on their faces but it was obvious they were starting to get tired of it. Nina’s face kept twitching around the right eye and mouth area.

“Still, Dripp is funny,” dad spoke again eventually.

The pair of us looked at each other for a moment and burst out laughing. The tears from the hilarity were threatening to roll down my cheeks and I had to rub my eyes as I tried to recover again.

“Maturity was never your strong point was it, Derek?” Nina sneered, her mask finally slipping.

“It wasn’t Callum’s either,” I shot back before I could help myself.

“See, she’s my child,” dad grinned and wrapped his arm around my shoulder, kissing the top of my head.

“Derek, shut up,” mum rolled her eyes.

Mr Dripp opened the door and we all promptly shut up. He sat calmly in his seat and obviously had no idea what we’d been talking about. Dad looked over at me and squeezed my shoulder. He was still so sad about Callum. Even though we hadn’t seen him in almost six years he had been such a big part of our lives.

“I’m sorry about that,” Mr Dripp sifted through the file. “I have another will to be read at three O’clock this afternoon.”

“If you will, Mr Dripp,” George tapped his watch.

He knew full well that I was glowering at him from across the room. Why would you rush through your brothers will? I detest that man…

“Yes, of course,” Dripp seemed oblivious to the tension in the room.

He went through the formal introductions that clearly bored the life out of everyone present and then he began.

“As you will all know I am given 90% of my royalties. As it’s too much to give to just one of my brothers I’m going to give both George and Derek 45% of my royalties. Melissa, I think it is best that you look after Derek’s share. We both know what he’s like.”

“The man really was a genius,” mum admitted.

Dad glared at mum and I stifled yet another snigger. I glanced over to George and Nina and saw they looked half happy, half irritated. They’d wanted it all. I risked a look across the room at Mr Black who still hadn’t moved.

“I love all my family dearly, I put up with all of you, even you Nina, and that’s why it was so difficult for me to choose who my estate should be split to. I never had a wife or any children and sometimes that depresses me. But then I look at George and I am eternally grateful. I look at what Derek and Melissa have, and I get depressed again. I don’t like you sometimes Derek. I also know how close I was to having a child of my own. Possibly one like dear Onyx, possibly even Onyx herself. Shut up Derek you know it’s true.”

It was true. Mum had met Callum before she met dad. Callum had once said there was an irresistible charm to him that made mum so attracted to him but the second she met dad she fell head over heels. Dad had always said that it was fate that they met.

“I’m not a sour man; I just laugh when I see you got Danyal first. As I don’t have any children, my brothers of course are my next of kin so you lucked out in my misfortune.”

“Drama queen,” dad muttered, folding his arms.

He obviously wasn’t impressed that Callum had highlighted Danyal’s ways. He was a little bit of a bad egg. He drank, he smoked, and sometimes he hung out with Stoner Steve. The clue’s in the name there. Danyal was fun really. He had inherited dad’s funny bone and they did get along quite well. Dad just wasn’t too happy that Dan was nineteen now and still lived at home. I suppose that made sense.

“Anyway, as I was saying. To my brother, George, his wife Nina and their children Paris and Jordon I leave my yacht and my seaside cottage in Cornwall.”

The look of pure shock combined with disgust on George and Nina’s faces was delightful. I made my day, if not, my year.

“The yacht?” George choked out. “But, I get sea sick.”

“He gets sea sick!” Nina insisted in as shrill tone.

“And he knew that!”

“Of course, he did,” dad cracked a smile. “It was Callum.”

“Shut up Derek!” Nina growled.

“When are we going to get down to Cornwall? We hate it down there,” George ignored dad completely.

“We’ll never get down there.”

“I’m just passing on what Callum left to you all,” Dripp sighed, trying to shut them all. “Now if I may continue, to my brother Derek, his wife Melissa, Melissa’s son Danyal and Derek’s daughter Onyx-”

“I love that man,” dad grinned.

“Ahem,” Dripp glowered at him.

“Sorry, carry on,” he raised his hand slightly.

“Thank you. I leave my villa in France and the savings I had is to be split equally between you.”

“Wait,” George stopped him. “What about Callum’s mansion?”

“I was getting to that,” Dripp looked irritated but promptly dropped the tone. “Ahem, to my dear friend Mr Black I leave this simple piece of information. You’ve been waiting a long time for this. Don’t let it cloud your judgement. Take my advice and listen to them for once. You know what depends on it.

The whole room went silent and Mr Black simply nodded. What was that about?

“And finally,” Dripp continued. “As you all know I never had any children. But my dear niece Onyx was like a daughter to me.”

He left me something separate? If it turns out to be a taxidermy or something daft I will be far from impressed.

“Onyx, you loved my mansion as much as I do and I can’t think of anyone else my I want it to go to. And for the last time there are no secret passages, don’t tear the place apart while looking for one.”

I couldn’t stop my smile. That was Callum in a nutshell. But then the realisation hit me and I raised my head hurriedly. Wait, did that just say he left the mansion to me? I looked over a George and Nina, they were finally silenced by shock. Dad and mum looked amazed. Nobody spoke. Nina just looked like a stunned goldfish. Mr Black finally moved and I felt his hand squeeze my shoulder gently as he leaned beside me to speak in my ear.


His voice was warm and flowing like hot chocolate and I seemed to relax when he said that word. I realised that he was wearing leather gloves. It was such a nice day outside. Why would he be wearing gloves and that coat? I moved to look at him but the door clicked shut softly as the man left and George found his voice.


“Those were his words,” Dripp replied.

“This is ridiculous!” Nina growled.

George stood up, glared at me and then gestured with his head for Nina to follow before they stormed out.

“Well,” dad finally found his voice and he cracked a smile. “That went better than I thought.”

After a few more legal proceedings and Mr Dripp insisting time and time again that we should have a cup of tea, we finally left. Dad looked deep in thought as we stepped out onto the sun-soaked street.

“What is it dad?” I folded my arms.

“I don’t want this affecting your studies. You don’t get any money until you’re eighteen.”

“Any?” I frowned, realising that was two years away.

“No,” he sounded firm but he looked deep in thought again. “Okay, you can get a bit.”

“Derek, shut up,” mum rolled her eyes. “What your idiot father means is we don’t want you thinking that just because you get this doesn’t mean you don’t have to work hard. You get such good grades as it is and we don’t want to see them drop. We would never stop you from going to the mansion but you need to wait for the money.”

“Sounds fair.”

We headed to the mansion again the next day to take a look around and see if anything needed doing. Mum told dad he couldn’t come because it was likely that the buffet from the funeral was still there and she didn’t want him getting even fatter. Dad looked like he was going to say something witty in response but then he just sneezed instead. I sometimes feel scared that I’m his child.

As we stepped into the entrance hall, I switched on the light and illuminated the room so we could see the ornate staircase, the entrance to the living room, ballroom and to the back of the house. Why did Callum need a ballroom? I never understood that.

“It’s very nice here,” mum let out a contented sigh. “I’m glad George didn’t get it. It’d be awful for this house to leave the family.”

“It’d be awful to think the house belongs to anyone but Callum,” I frowned, looking up at the painting.

“Oh, honey, I know you miss him,” she wrapped her arms around my shoulders. “Think about it this way. This mansion is your final connection with Callum. He wanted you to have it more than anyone in the world.”

“But I didn’t see him for six years. I’ll never get to see him again.”

“I know, that’s what your dad said too. He knew that we loved him but just couldn’t make it out here very often.”

“He was only down the road.”

She sighed and nodded, folding her arms as she stood by my side. I know what she was thinking about. George and Callum fell out a few years ago, and Callum told dad that it would have been better for him to stay close with George. He thought Dan and I needed to be close to our cousins but he seemed to forget that Paris and Jordan were twins spawned straight from hell.

“I know,” mum forced a small smile. “But sometimes things don’t work out.”

Her phone suddenly started ringing and she answered it, a frown growing on her face as someone spoke. Let me guess… work.

“Do I really have to?” she asked, an edge of worry clouding her tone. “Oh, it’s that bad?”

Please tell me no one else died. I have taken as much as I can of funeral’s and death for a little while if that’s quite alright.

“Alright, fine, I’ll be there as quickly as I can.”

She tucked her phone back into her pocket and turned to me, clearly trying to figure out how to drag me back away from the mansion.

“Onyx, I’m sorry I have to quickly drop into work. We’d better go.”

“Wait,” an idea sprung to my mind. “Can I not stay here and you pick me up on your way back?”

“Well… I guess you can,” she paused for a moment. “Just don’t break anything.”

“I’m not dad,” I put my hands on my hips.

“You’re his child though.”

The rain started coming down heavily not long after mum left. I took the chance to go back up to Callum’s study and return to the book. About three hours passed and I was pulled out of the cliff-hanger chapter ending by a clap of thunder. I jumped out of my skin as I scowled out of the window, suddenly distracted by the beauty of the downpour. The lightning carved its way through the heavy grey clouds and the rain bounced like extremely tiny rabbits against the window and ground. There was a small bridge and a river not far away from Callum’s mansion. That was the only way out of the grounds. He may as well have surrounded the place with a moat. I decided to go check to see if the bridge was flooded since I enjoyed brief periods of rain. I pulled my hood over my hair and went outside. My boots splashed in the puddles as I rushed down to the bridge. It wasn’t completely flooded yet but it was almost impossible to get past. I couldn’t get too close to the bridge because the water was getting too high. It would be completely flooded soon. I pulled out my phone and called mum, deciding she’d need a warning.

“Onyx, I’m nearly back now,” she sighed irritably, obviously not happy to be using her phone while driving.

“The bridge is starting to flood,” I jumped up so I could try and see further down the road. “Maybe you should hurry up.”

“It is?” she groaned. “One second.”

There was silence for a second and then I saw a figure rushing up to the bridge. The water was rising rapidly. Mum was stood on one end of the bridge and I was stranded on the other.

“Onyx, are you okay?” she asked, calling over the sound of the rain.

“Fine,” I assured her. “But there’s no way across!”

“I’ll find another way. There has to be one.”

“I really don’t think there is mum!”

“I don’t think there’ll be anyway across until the rain dies down and that won’t be until tomorrow. I don’t want you to stay there all alone,” she sounded concerned.

“I’ll be alright. I’m just getting absolutely soaking wet out here,” I was no longer enjoying this torrential rain. “Can I go back inside?”

“Fine, honey, but you’d better not watch any horror movies tonight; you have school in the morning.”

“Do I not get the day off?” I frowned.

“I’ll tell them you’ll be late,” she wouldn’t hear anything of it. “Be careful, Onyx.”

She left to get back to the car and I hurried back inside. I went back to the book and ended up devouring the final few chapters. That ending. I felt like my heart had been pulled right out of my ribs and was thrown around the room before being fired back into my chest. I had no words. How Callum could craft something like that, I didn’t know. He really was a genius.

Upon finishing the book, I decided to take a look around and see if you could find Callum’s extensive collection of horror movies. The weird thing was, when I went into certain parts of his mansion there were little notes from him saying things like: don’t watch too many horror movies, Onyx and don’t go looking for those secret passages again, Onyx.

My night was very uneventful until midnight came and I was disturbed by the sudden ringing of my phone. I fumbled around for it and checked to see who it was before answering it.

“Mum,” I groaned, rubbing my eyes. “Why are you calling me so late?”

“Did I wake you up?”

“Yes, you did,” I grumbled.

“I’m sorry honey; I just wanted to check you weren’t awake.”

“I wasn’t awake.”

“Oh, good,” she sighed.

“I am now though.”

“Alright, then I’ll leave you to sleep,” she let out a slight laugh. “Good night, Onyx.”

“Night, mum,” I rolled my eyes.

I put the phone down, making sure it had definitely hung up and then I pressed play on the movie I had been watching. Sleep is for the weak. Horror movies are for the weak who insist they aren’t. Hello, that’s me. In my defence, Callum had horror movies spanning every decade. Naturally I was going to start with the love of my life, Vincent Price in House on Haunted Hill, then moving onto the classic that is Psycho, jump up to Nightmare on Elm Street for some giggles and then up to the Babadook. There’s nothing like horror when you’re a teenager who is isolated in a gothic mansion that no one can access. I’m a sitting cliché so I would assume I was safe. I would hope serial killers and whatnot had more self-respect than to go for the movie scenario. Callum’s little notes directed me to the popcorn and the lemonade. Everything was going perfectly fine until I was surrounded by silence as I was putting Nightmare on Elm Street on. That was when I heard it.

There was a slow but definite, knock, knock, knock on the front door.

The bridge was still flooded, so who could be at the door? I muted the TV and hid my popcorn in case mum had found a way across. I pushed myself up from beside the crackling fire that Callum had directed me to light and pulled the white-hot rod I’d been playing with, out from it.

Then another sound came from the door again. This was not in the slightest bit as slow or as quiet. This was a loud and violent BANG, BANG, BANG.

“Open the door kid!” a voice growled, loud enough for me to hear even at my distance from the front door. “I know you’re alone in there!”

I clutched the rod tightly even though it burned my hand slightly and I scampered to the door, hoping to find my mind was playing tricks on me. As I was about to pass through to the entrance hall, there was a horrific clamour as the front door burst from its hinges and hit the marble floor. By the time I reached it, the din was beginning to settle and nobody was there.

Okay, so I am a teenage girl isolated in a gothic mansion in the middle of a borderline biblical thunderstorm and some mysterious stranger has managed to get past the flooding to threaten me and break into the house.

This is what I get for laughing at Nightmare on Elm Street…

Suddenly, there was a rush of air as something ran quickly behind me and I whipped around a second too late to see what it was.

The freezing draft came past me and I turned around again, breathing deeply as I tried to relax myself. Relax? In this situation. I watch horror movies so I can act tougher than I am.

However, I managed to think up something quickly. This time I waited until the person was going to pass again and then I whacked them with the rod. Sport wasn’t my strong point but on the occasions I actually hit the Rounder’s ball, I could hit it far. One thing I had was a strong swing. The man cried out and fell to the floor. I took a few steps backwards, terrified by the man who must have been twice my size. He held a hand to his head as he got up. Before I could get any further away, he growled and lunged at me. I cried out and jumped away from him. He snarled savagely and landed a punch. I fell to the floor and dropped the rod. I tasted blood. What the hell is going on?

“Give it to me!” he sneered.

“What,” I tried to find the words. “What are you talking about?”

“You know exactly what I’m talking about. Don’t play stupid!”

“I’m not playing anything!” I kicked out desperately, and managed to get away slightly.

He easily caught me and he slapped me, his nails cutting the skin on my cheek. I scrambled into the corner and panted for breath, my mind becoming as useless as the rest of me. This man was here to kill me. His breath was revolting and his teeth looked like they were about to fall out, I think it had been a while since he’d done anything to boost his hygiene. This was not how I pictured the reason of my death. I haven’t really pictured it before though. I had presumed I’d make a smart-mouthed comment at the wrong time and get stabbed or something. This was hardly what came to mind when I thought of death.

“I know he gave it to you, so just hand it over and you’ll live,” he growled, holding out his hand.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about!” I insisted desperately.

“The key,” he snapped. “Give me the key!”

“I don’t have a key.”

I had nowhere else to run to, I was backed into a corner so when his fingers locked around my throat and he squeezed my windpipe, I had nowhere to run.

“Give me the key,” he squeezed on my throat as I scratched at his fingers in a desperate attempt to get some air.

“I don’t have one,” I choked out, tears rolling down my cheeks despite attempts to keep them at bay.

“Hey!” another man spoke from the doorway in a confident voice. “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?”

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