Anger, explosive and immature bursts of it, coloured my vision. Huffed down in my seat the thunderous roar of blood rushed past my ears. Gleefully, the murderous yapping of my thoughts was the only comfort I allowed myself.
I was aware that I was acting like a brat. For someone who prided themselves on being mature beyond their years, this was quite a step back. My brother hadn’t made a fuss, nor had my sister. Then again, the both of them weren’t really prone to outwardly reactions. Or at least mine had always overshadowed theirs.
The coach juddered as the engine spluttered to life. The gasping coughs and hacks as the remnants of the diesel fumes spurting from its exhaust puffed into the atmosphere, before the quiet hum of the engine filled my ears. Sounds of relief, groans of annoyance and gruff huffs trumpeted through the stale air. I trained my eyes forward not really taking any notice of the slim wrist and tapered fingers that were waving languorously just beyond the foggy glass of the coach.
“Wave goodbye, Star.”
The impudent growl, rumbled from within my brother’s chest. His stern features and coarse brows knitted tightly together. I ignored him as well.
The careful hum of the engine descended into a humble purr as the coach pulled out of its station. The heat of the glare that was being directed at my face stirred me to turn my cheek into the cool glass, still keeping my eyes focused forward. The wave stuttered in mid-arc, the hand falling limp by the owner’s side; both disheartened and disappointed in my reaction – or lack thereof.
The grunt of annoyance didn’t go unnoticed, mostly because its tones cut through the stale air across the small gap between the chairs that served as an aisle. My eyes slid to his form, my own scowl pulling across my features. His lack of sympathy, empathy was something that we had gotten used to as a “family”. Yet often times I still found it an infuriating quality. A glint of obsidian mirrored my own features back at me.
“You look ugly when you’re angry.”
Monotonous coloured eyes narrowed almost instantly in the reflection of his irises. My fingers curled into the tendrils of my hair, scraping across my scalp as I removed my gaze from his. An emotion akin to guilt gnawed at my insides. Yet I still felt the simmering remnants of the anger licking at the edge of mind. I visibly recoiled at the thought of offering an apology for my anger, it was justified!
I wrestled myself further into the corner of my seat, jamming my nose against the misted, grimy and sooty window pane of the coach. The blur of the scenery flying past – smeared greens of bushes, fields and trees or the vibrant metallic sheen of a passing car – was oddly soothing, although dizzying to focus on. The blast of the coach heaters from above me did little to eradicate the musty atmosphere. They did however provide soothing warmth that lulled me into a dreamless sleep.
“Star… come on, wake up.”
Soft, calming tones whispered into my ear, the breeze tickling the sensitive flesh of my cheek. My eyes fluttered open. I was only semi aware that my mouth was hanging open and a ghastly trail of drool had found its way into the crevices in my neck. Robotically the back of my hand came up to wipe across my neck and face as I stirred my body into a sitting position. God, I felt like crap. My joints screamed abuse at me as I stretched my body. I winced as parts of my body I didn’t even know I had; groaned and cracked from having had lain in such an awkward position for a lengthy time. I hefted myself out of the seat.
The coach was eerily empty, save for my sister and me. The clack of my shoes against the thin carpet floor of the vehicle reverberated around the curtain-less coach as I squeezed myself down the narrow aisle. I nodded my appreciation to the balding driver as he lugged my suitcases out of the hold in the bottom of the coach. Heaving my two holdalls onto my shoulders and hauling my remaining suitcase behind me I followed my sister to the exit bay of the coach station.
“Which way is it?”
From the gruff clipped tones that my brother expressed it was clear he was still disappointed in my lack of a gracious “au revoir” to my mother, when we had left.
“Left up Bluebell Avenue;” I said flashing my hand outwards in the same direction, “straight down Hook-land Road, a right at Dead Man’s Drop and then straight on until morning.”
From the stoic expression on his face, I garnered he was either not in the mood for my playful banter and Peter Pan reference, or just didn’t recognise them.
A soft titter from my sister did help alleviate the crestfallen mood I had woken up in, I graciously returned her laughter with a wide smile of my own. Looping my spare arm through hers I tugged her towards the front and trekked down the road I had just indicated.
It had been a long half hour. We were still yet to arrive at the actual house. It was one of the few houses of its type along this road and one of those few that had opted to have a large winding driveway with a gated entry. It seemed very west world to me, too intimidating, too much show of wealth but my family hadn’t wanted to take away from the original architecture. It was gaudy. Though I couldn’t have been happier that they hadn’t modernised it, there was no whirr of electricity as I gently pushed it open. There wasn’t even a creak or groan of contempt as the heavy gate swung back silently…eerily.
The sound of our suitcases wheels loudly crunching over the gravel did not help the ominous feeling that we were being watched ease from my mind. I felt the need to run to the house, the need to make less noise and draw less attention to myself. Warmth from Sira’s arm had long gone as she’d deftly manoeuvred her wrist from my suddenly tight grip. Placing her warm fingers on my shoulder in an attempt to placate me had the opposite effect as I felt the air become dense in my lungs.
Lamps that flanked the gravel pathway up to the house started to light one by one as hurrying forms past them. The air in my lungs started to ease as the warm glow fanned outwards onto the once menacing grounds. The nip of the cold wind that fumbled through our light summer jackets caused our bodies to stir into a sprint towards the house.
My uncle gazed down at our panting forms as we all slumped against the cool stone of the Victorian country house that he had claimed his home. A mischievous smile wrought havoc on his features, meshing his flesh and pronouncing embedded wrinkles around his mouth and eyes.
“Come, come inside, but quietly we don’t want your Aunt knowing now, do we?”
He whispered, taking a suitcase each from Sira and me, nodding his head at Anthony to follow him. He hurriedly tossed our suitcases into the empty store cupboard underneath the stairs, pushing his large form against the heavy door as it snapped shut, the sound reverberating around the bare stone of the entry hall.
“Dear, we have guests.”
My uncle gently cooed to the otherwise silent home.
Somewhere off to the right of us where – if memory serves me correctly – the kitchen was located we could hear the quiet grumbling of my portly aunt.
“What person would grace us with their dear presence at this time of the night?” The quiet shuffling of my Auntie’s feet told my they were clad in her usual slippers.
“Oh, my dears, why didn’t you tell me you were coming? Oh, you rotten man you knew, didn’t you? That’s why you’ve had me running around this house like crazy cooking and cleaning and prepping when you knew it wasn’t season for our guests to arrive. You’re a horrid, horrid man!” Somehow my aunt managed to shriek and grumble within the same breath.
Her plump body was swathed in her house clothes; a grubby smock dress that had a pinafore fastened to the front, which was stained with a red substance I assumed was a tomato sauce. My Aunt’s eccentricity hadn’t seemed to have waned since the last time I had visited. If her past excursions were any indication, she had probably bought a whole wardrobe to match the period and style of her new home. She hastily rubbed her palms down the front of her apron, unsuccessfully wiping off whatever authentic grub she had been cooking in the kitchen.
“Oh, come here and give your dear Aunt a hug; standing there as though I’m a stranger about to take you away in my van.”
She cooed at us. Marching determinedly forward with her arms outstretched she crooked her fingers towards herself, silently ordering us to embrace her.
I rolled my eyes. Stepping forward away from the throng of my siblings I encircled my arms around my Aunt’s plentiful waist. My body was smothered by her bountiful bosom as she squeezed me in return. I pulled away, repeating the same movement my Aunt had just given to us all, silently pleading them to relieve me of her constricting embrace.
Sira shook her head. Anthony responded with a deep throated chuckle. They both stepped forward into my Aunts – now empty and – awaiting arms. The quick intake of breath from Sira and the way Anthony suddenly tensed as my Aunt’s surprisingly powerful arms squeezed them close to her body caused an almost sadistic smile to tickle the sides of my cheeks. Hurts doesn’t it.
I hoisted my dropped holdalls onto my shoulders. “I’ll be upstairs unpacking, call if you need me.” I connected my gaze with my uncle’s. A quick jolt of my head indicated for him to lead the way as I lugged my holdalls up the stairs.
THUMP! The loud sound ricocheted off the bare boards of the staircase. They clearly had gone to great lengths to preserve the natural archaic features of the place, something my Aunt assured me her guests appreciated. I was less convinced as another painful boom echoed around the house as I failed to clear the bottom of my case from the step. The reverberating noise made me painfully aware of how similar the architecture was to that of haunted manors whereupon the patrons would find disfigured bodies of their compatriots or ghoulish whispers of a previously murdered mistress. Or maybe I needed to stop reading old romantic era horror books.
My room wasn’t too far into the recesses of the “house”, a converted privy was hidden behind a replica tapestry that probably cost my authentic obsessed aunt half of my tuition to my new boarding school - or as I liked to call it my new cruel and unusual punishment. Uncle had clearly kept my personality in mind when picking my new quarters, or maybe it just wasn’t appropriate to give me a room that should have been reserved for the guests. Either way the simplicity of the décor was much more my speed than dripping opulence that would have matched the narcissism of the Landed Gentry whom would have originally owned the property.
The moonlight filtered through the voile curtains – much more modern than I was expecting given the two- metre tapestry covering half of the opposing wall. The soft light illuminated the room with a welcoming amber glow, completely at odds to how I felt at the moment but it was a pretty sight. Double glazing had obviously been installed as the unearthly howling of the wind blowing through the ajar window wasn’t rattling the pane in its frame. Another modern feature I mentally took note of. The “uniform” hanging in the wardrobe however, was something that could have been plucked from a working lady’s body in the 18th century.
In defiance I had demanded that I work the summer with my aunt to pay for partial tuition – not that I’d make much of a dent in the egregious amount they asked for. Aunt Nuala had jumped at the opportunity when I offered my services, more than likely anxious to dress me up in Victorian garb complete with corset stays and all.
I ran a finger down the first piece, a dirty cream coloured shift that was more than likely made from cotton paired with it were some hideous looking pantaloons, or I would guess bloomers would be a more accurate term – that were made from a similarly grubby looking cotton material. The caramel looking stays looked fairly well kept, a slight bit of fraying to the stitching that secured the bosom, but otherwise much better condition than the “underwear”. I could feel a smile creep at the edge of my face, at the very least they seemed second-hand and otherwise well loved. I would have been fairly annoyed if Aunty had spent an abhorrent amount of money on period accurate replicas from some seamstress in the local canton. Clearly Uncle had conjured up some pretence when he has spoken to her beforehand.
TAP! TAP! TAP!
An audible crack struck the air as my head snapped to the side. My eyes fixated on the window; my breath caught in my throat; my heartbeat stuttered; blood rushed through my veins; every hair stood on end. Aside from the low whistle of the wind through the window, the house had otherwise been silent.
Please be the branch of a tree. Please!
My pleas to whatever deity may have been listening clearly fell on deaf ears. If there was tree, I would have noticed the shadow being cast as soon as I had entered the room. There was none. I feebly fingered back one of the paper-thin veils that covered the window. My arm stretched to its full length, as I attempted to put as much distance between myself and the window.
There’s no real reason to be this afraid. You’re just a young woman in a fairly empty manor set on several acres of empty land; with a history going God knows how many centuries, and walls that have likely witnessed several deaths. Yup, no reason at all to be afraid.
Having worked myself into a feverishly high tempo of heartbeat, my eyes would barely focus on what was ahead of me. The immaculate hedges trimmed into ornate shapes, blurring and focusing sharply with each intake and release of breath.
I caught the movement of cloth below me, but I dared not pull my gaze down.
It’s not the season for guests there shouldn’t be anyone on the premises, Uncle and Aunty would surely be preparing the rooms and food at this time.
The sharp flap of cloth drew my gaze down instinctively, my eyes locking with the jinx. Dingy, and sweat-stained linen smock was hastily tucked in to brown threadbare overalls, that hung loosely on their thin frame. Their arm was frozen in the air in mid-arc muscles coiled ready to throw. The droplets of sweat on his lower arm glistened underneath the moonlight.
His arm flopped lazily down, almost disappointed that I hadn’t stayed cowered behind the curtain and actually engaged my terroriser. He gestured for me to open the window, with the hand that wasn’t clutching the rock. I gestured for him to drop the weapon. He obliged. The chill of the early autumn air breathed across my face as the window swung open with ease.
The words hung in the air, cycling above the ghost’s head before they nestled on to its ears.
“Come.” He shifted onto his back foot as he threw up that lazy hand again, gesturing me down into the empty expanse below.
“No thank you.” Polite, curt, hopefully firm was how I wanted those words to come out. Instead, the tone laid bare how uncomfortable and fearful I was of this stranger appearing before my window, with almost no sign of having alerted the other residents in the property. As expansive as the manor may appear, this entire side had become the makeshift “servant’s quarters”, below me was the kitchen, across the hallway and adjacent to each other was to be my sibling’s rooms. The conservatory which was just outside my field of vision to my right was attached to the dining room come reception room, that I had no doubt the rest of my family would be congregated in as my aunt whipped some new abominable archaic recipe for them to try. There was no reason he wasn’t spotted.
He was clearly comfortable in the grounds. Nothing in his demeanour or his stance showed any mention of him being a trespasser, but uncle had made no mention of other staff on the property. Although in all fairness, it may have not been something he deigned important enough to talk to me about in our welcoming into his home. Surely a brief warning would have sufficed. (Not finished)
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