When I moved away three years ago, I’d sworn to myself that it would be the last time I’d ever set foot into Kendrick House. Now, as I sat on a rickety train on its way to the small town of Ramblewood, it seemed that fate had other plans for me.
My name is Calista Morrison and until recently, I was in a pretty good place in my life. I had a stable job working at a university, and housing provided by that job. Then they had a system malfunction that erased all of their data. Naturally, that included my information and proof that I’d been working for them for the last year and a half. I found myself homeless and unemployed, and desperate measures needed to be taken. This involved calling my brother, Carlos, and getting him to help me move back into our stepfather Robert’s family estate, which was a mansion called Kendrick House.
I stared out the window at the evergreen trees passing by in a blur, dread churning in the pit of my stomach like a fish in swampy water. I couldn’t explain why, but I knew that the way that Kendrick House made me feel while living there had affected me in ways that I couldn’t even begin to describe.
At last, the train stopped at Ramblewood station. It was a wooden platform and building that looked as rickety as the name felt. Carlos stood in place, rocking back and forth on his feet. His grey windbreaker was unzipped and baggy and he wore a ridiculous orange woollen hat with ear flaps. I smirked. His quirky fashion sense is still uniquely his. I only hoped that our relationship had managed to stay intact too.
As I stumbled off the train with my luggage, he rushed over and helped me collect myself. He wrapped me in his arms and squeezed. “I missed you, Callie.”
I hugged him back. His chin whiskers tickled the top of my head. “Missed you too.”
He drove us home in his old beat-up sedan. A feeling of unspoken unease hung in the air between us. “So...how’s your job at the auto shop going? Is Murphy still giving you a hard time?” I’m no good at small talk, but I’d have given anything to avoid the silence.
“Not anymore,” Carlos replied with a smirk. “He just likes being a hardass to break in the newbies.”
In the end, it was a useless endeavour, since the silence settled back into place immediately. I sighed and scratched an itch on my head.
“I know you’re just trying to distract yourself,” he said. I looked over at him, and he gave me a knowing glance. “You’re not that hard to read, Callie. I know you don’t like Ramblewood, and I know that you never liked Robert.”
I cringed at the mention of our stepfather. Carlos didn’t seem to notice.
“My point is that I want you to try as best as you can to get along with him in the time you’re here. I know it’s not easy, but Mom missed you, you know. We all did. It would suck if everything just went back to being miserable.”
I wanted to tell him about the overwhelming feeling of discomfort that Kendrick House gives me, but he wouldn’t understand. He’d just chalk it up to paranoia on my part. Instead, I gave a defeated nod. “Alright.”
He smiled and we continued our silent drive. After what felt like forever, we pulled up in front of Kendrick House. It was a massive building, as grey and gloomy-looking as a manor in the woods would be. The bricks that resembled stone; the weathered shingles of the roof; hell, the dozens of windows looking down at us like eyes sent an all-too-familiar shiver down my spine.
“Home sweet home,” Carlos sang as we stepped out onto the gravel road circling in front of the place. I wrinkled my nose and went to get my bags. We carried the stuff up to the front doors. They were big mahogany doors with brass knockers, creepy-gothic-mansion style. They were in pretty good shape, despite the age of this place. Robert probably had them updated every couple of years or something.
Carlos took his keys out of his pocket and unlocked the doors. With a couple of shoves, they creaked open. Aren’t these new? I wondered as we enter the foyer. Why do they creak like they’re over a hundred years old? Whether the doors really were new or not, I could say with certainty that the insides of the manor were old enough to be from my great-grandmother’s time. The huge staircase was in the center of the foyer, and there were archways on either side that lead to different parts of the house. The foyer itself was all burgundy walls and mahogany floors, like being trapped inside a dark meaty prison. It wasn’t hard to imagine the walls pulsating like a beating heart.
“Carlos? Callie? Is that you?” Mom called from the sitting room, which was through the archway on the right. I wondered why she didn’t come out and greet us.
Carlos gave me a nudge between my shoulder blades to go forward.“Yep! We’re coming in!” He replied. I sighed and walked into the room with him. It was a couple of shades lighter than the rustic red of the foyer- more of a rosy hue- and the drapes were tied back, letting the faint light of the cloudy sky flood the room. Mom sat on the old sofa in the middle of the room with a knitted blanket wrapped around her. The TV against the wall next to her played an episode of Alias Grace. She looked at us and smiled warmly. Her right leg rested on the coffee table and I noticed that she wore a grey brace on her foot. I realized that was the reason why she didn’t come out to greet us.
“It’s been a while,” she said as I gave her a hug.
I winced and she hugged me back. “Yeah…”
“I’ll go put your bags upstairs, sis,” Carlos said. “You two can catch up in the meantime.” He gave me the same pointed look as he did in the car, and I rolled my eyes. Then he left the room. I sat in the loveseat next to the couch, facing the TV. “So...how have you been?” I asked.
“Well, apart from this,” she gestured to her brace, “I’ve been alright. I was at work when I fell down a flight of stairs and fractured my ankle.”
“Yeah, it wasn’t fun. But I’m okay now.” She smiled. “Robert’s been taking care of me. Isn’t that sweet?”
A snort escaped me. Robert and the word “sweet” do not belong anywhere near each other, based on my experiences with the man. Mom gave me a disapproving look.
“I know that he and you haven’t gotten along ever since we moved here, but please try to be nice to him? I talked to him after you left, and he agrees that he can be a little… intimidating sometimes. He really doesn’t mean it, you know.”
Somehow I find that hard to believe, but I nodded anyway.
“How are things going for you right now?” She asked, changing the subject. “Carlos told me about what happened with your college. How they managed to lose all that information is beyond me. And wouldn’t somebody have vouched for you about living there for three years? I mean, seriously!”
“I don’t have a lot of friends,” I said. “You know that.”
“Yes, I know. You’re a good old-fashioned introvert, just like your dad.” She stared down at her hands in thought. I knew what that gesture meant- she was trying not to think about something. Probably the divorce- things didn’t end well between her and my dad, and they haven’t talked to each other since. Hell, he hadn’t talked to any of us since, no matter how many times I tried to contact him.
Sometimes I worried that she thought I was trying to get away from her by moving out, just like him. But how could I have explained the truth to her? She wouldn’t have believed me. “I wasn’t trying to abandon you, you know,” I said. “By moving out, I mean.”
“I know, sweetheart.” She smiled, but it felt pained; forced. “You should go unpack. I’ve got to get back to my show!” She winked, and I chuckled.
“Sure. See you later, mom.” I hugged her once more before leaving and going upstairs.