As we made our way through the opening, I could only gasp. Before me stood a small stone cottage with a thatched roof. The stone was the same rough cut as the main house. A small path led to a front door. A window sat to the left with a window box full of daisies. On each side of the path lay a small but beautiful country garden full of flowers. Enclosed and bordered by a row of small white stones. Lamps along the path to the door of the cottage lit the entrance way and the garden. I was speechless.
Ula continued to the door unlocking it with the same key. It was then that I noticed the little cottage was enclosed on all three sides by a wall of hay bales. A huge wall. It was something out of a middle ages fairy tale.
“Ula what is this place? It’s magnificent. I am not the only one with a secret room.”
Ula entered the cottage and switched on the light. Walking in the door it was the most charming sitting room, designed in colours of lavender and lemon. Under the window was a seat holding two cushions. A small two seater lounge in a soft floral pattern offset to it. A hearth sat in front with a cast iron grid. A small white table and two chairs to the right. A book case between two doors filled with books that looked ancient. To the far right was a small white cupboard next to a large laundry sink.
“Sloane and I thought it safer for you to be staying here instead of the house. Sloane’s brother Conall built it a few years ago. When he came last year to stay for two weeks, he built the garden out the front. He thought you would like something nice for when you came.” Ula realised a little too late that she had erred in mentioning Conall and the garden so soon.
She opened one door leading to a small bathroom holding a claw bathtub and a small sink to the side. Putting the plug in the bottom of the bath, she turned on the taps. Retrieving a small cloth pouch from her pocket and emptied the contents into the bath water. The scent sweet, musty and fresh at the same time swirled from the bathroom enveloping me in a heavenly scent.
“This will make those pains ease away my love. You’ll feel so much better after a good bath and a sleep. There’s a lovely bed in the next room. You can sleep for as long as you want to.”
“Ula, I don’t understand, why is this cottage here, and how did Sloane’s brother know I was coming, how did you and Sloane know I was coming. I- “
“Morgan, your questions will be answered in time. But for now, you need to bathe and sleep. There’s no rush, all will be revealed when you have rested and healed.”
“But Ula- “
Ula interrupted me a hug. “Morgan bath and sleep first.”
The way I was feeling a bath and sleep were unquestionably needed. I could have simply laid down on the couch and slept without thought or comfort.
“You are safe here, Joe will not find you. You can sleep and no one will bother you.” Ula said taking my hand and patting it as I remembered my mother used to do. Ula had done that a few times before in the store, another remembrance of my mother. It felt similarly comforting.
“Ok Ula but when I have rested, you are to explain everything to me, this is just… bizarre.” Tiredness was overwhelming and the aches and pains in my body were relentless. She gave me another hug, but didn’t let go even when I winced at the pain.
“There is a kettle on the counter, and tea and coffee in the cupboard underneath, should you have the need” Ula pointed to the small cupboard and then at the door next to the bathroom “Sloane has put your bags in the bedroom there for you, there are more blankets in the wardrobe if you should need them.” she smiled moving back to the bathroom to tend to the bath.
The scent wafting from the bath was intoxicating. Ula turned the water off, sweeping her hand through it to make sure it was the right temperature.
“Now love I will leave you so you can have your bath, and when you are done, jump into bed. Well don’t jump we don’t want you to hurt yourself any further. I think you have enough injuries for the present. Mrs Crombie will be having a fit if I don’t let her out soon and collect her eggs, she is a very fussy hen, is our Mrs Crombie.” Ula smiled as she strode from the room to the door.
“I will see you when you wake, Oh, and by the way when you want to let us know you are up, just push this wee button next to the door here. We will see it and come to you.” Ula pointed to a blue button on the wall. Looking somewhat like a hospital buzzer, except those were beside beds and not attached next to the door of a middle ages stone cottage. “Morgan don’t leave the house for any reason, stay until we come to you.”
“Thank you for being there for me, I can never repay you.” Was all I could manage, my gaze edging to the bath. Ula waved on her way out the door, closing it behind her.
I sat on the edge of the bathtub, I was confused, none of what Ula or Sloane had said made the least bit of sense. How did they know I was coming? and who is this Conall, other than being Sloane’s brother? Why would he care if I would like a garden or not? Why would they need a secret house and one surrounded by bales? I had so many questions but the bath was calling.
After stripping off my clothes I eased into the hot water, only then noticing that my stomach was bruised black and blue. No wonder it was so painful. The bath felt amazing even if it did make my cuts and bruises sting like the bejesus. It was so worth it. I laid back and rested my head against the end of the bathtub thinking of the hurried way I had left home in Ansford Parade.
For the past five years I lived with Mrs Lockmeadow. The last thirteen months with Joe. Prior to that I lived with my mother next door. Until the car accident. After my mother’s death Mrs Lockmeadow, the neighbor had taken me in.
The house, my house now belonged to one, Mrs McTabbot. A nosey, gossipy over friendly woman. A diminutive stocky woman with purple permed hair, and bottle glasses that made her eyes look like the buggy eyes of a grasshopper through a magnifying glass. I had on many occasions discerned a familiar scent about her, it was almost as bad as Joe’s but she wore so much cheap perfume, the smell of it was sickeningly sweet. She was also a Joe fan, never failing to mention how wonderful he was. I avoided her as much as possible.
Awakening after the beating I was in a rush to get clothes packed. The warning, I heard from my mother, telling me to run may have been just a dream but I felt I needed to do just that, and that was to run. The one problem I had, was the need to retrieve a box that held the only things belonging to my mother. The box contained a smaller unlockable box, and the elusive pendant. The box was hidden beneath a false floor in an attached seat in the mud room of Mrs McTabbot’s house. My old house. I had never felt safe enough to remove it. Recovering the box had been the tricky bit, but there was no way that I was leaving without it.
After I had hurriedly packed my bags and taking them down stairs, I left them sitting on the back porch. I ran down the yard, pulled a garden seat next to the fence and hauled myself over. Landing face flat on the wet grass left by the morning dew. I hadn’t thought about the damage Joe had done to my face, I could only focus on getting my box back.
I was hoping that the broken window latch to the mud room was still broken. It was. I had eased myself in the window as quietly as possible and headed to the seat. Lifting the lid, it was filled with blankets, hats and scarves. Quietly I had pulled them out and groped around the bottom until I found the tiny niche in which to pull the false floor up. I remember stopping frozen with fear when I heard a noise on the other side of the door. If Mrs McTabbot had come in, I had no excuse.
I was full of trepidation that my secret place had been discovered. A ridiculous thought really. If she had found it, she would have given it to Joe. I sighed with relief to find it was still there. Retrieving the box from its hiding place, I replaced the items and closed the lid.
Once again, climbing out of the window, I headed back down the yard, no thought of how I was going to get back over the fence. There was no chair on this side. I couldn’t go down the side of the house. Her bedroom was next to the gate. Looking for something to give me a step up, I could see nothing, until I caught sight of a statue in the far corner beneath a low hanging tree.
Dropping the box. I had raced over, hoping it was movable, and would give me enough height to climb back over the fence. It was one ugly gnome with an evil devious smile. No wonder it had been hidden under a tree in the corner. Fortunately, it wasn’t heavy. I dragged it to the fence. I balanced my feet on each of its little shoulders. It was just high enough. Box went over first. I thought I heard the crack of something giving way in the statue as I pushed myself over. I could only image what Mrs McTabbot would think in the morning when she saw her statue across the yard, no doubt with broken shoulders. Most would think of a logical answer. Mrs McTabbot, no. She would think something supernatural had occurred during the night. Her first phone call would be to the local vicar demanding an exorcism, before advising the entire street that she had been visited by a ghoul of some kind.
I placed the box inside one of the bags, and headed down the side of the house to unlatch the gate. My head swam with the thought that any minute Joe or Mrs McTabbot would appear. I ran down the path that led to the three steps down to the road where my car was parked. It was not in my nature to be frightened of anything. Joe had changed that.
I clutched the steering wheel, my hands wrapped so tightly around it that my nails dug into my palms. I cursed when my car refused to start on the first turn of the key. It started on the second turn. I lost all sensibility and drove so fast I nearly took out Mr Winterbottom’s cat crossing the road. I was sure I had caught the flash of lights going on in the McTabbot house when I spun the car into a U-turn. Heading toward town and not in the opposite direction which was the way to the farm. If Mrs McTabbot had seen me leaving, and was to tell Joe which direction I had gone, it would give me a little more time.
The bath water cooled. I had to admit the soreness had lessened. Whatever those herbs were that Ula put in my bath water they had certainly helped. Letting the plug out I wrapped a towel around me. Going into the bedroom I again had to catch my breath. In the middle of the room stood a four-poster bed made of oak with carvings of thistles, vines and leaves covering every piece. It also looked to be at least five hundred years old. Magnificent. A dark red velvet curtain hung down each poster tied with gold ribbon. The bed, covered in a similar velvet but a lighter shade of red, and across the bottom lay several lengths of soft grey fur.
A small table stood next to the bed with a lit white candle burning. Even though the candle gave off the only light in the room, the glow created a comforting ambience. Oh, but the bed looked so inviting and the mattress had to be the thickness of four mattresses. That’s it, I will hide myself in that bed and never get up again.
Not bothering to search for a pair of pyjamas, not that I had any memory if I had packed them in my hasty departure, I dropped the towel to the floor. Pulled the bands out of my hair and blew out the candle crawling beneath the covers. The sheets hinted the scent of lavender and mixed with the scent carried now on my body from the bath felt like a calling finger to dream world, the sheets the caressing hands of a healer. I am never leaving this bed. Sleep was knocking on the back of my eyelids as I drifted towards slumber my mother’s voice once again filling my mind.
“Morgan my beautiful daughter, you are more than you know. Unique and gifted like no other. You must take great care. Listen to your inner feelings, they will not lead you astray in the quest that is yours. Your blood is your destiny, it will open doors for you. Whatever you do, never lose sight of who you are and where you come from.