Sarah was sitting sideways in her battered, leather armchair with both legs draped over the arm. Her long, raven hair cascaded down her back as she lounged lazily, rereading the solicitor's letter, over and over again, in case she had missed something of importance. It had been handed to her as she prepared to leave the hospital last night. Sarah wasn't in her right mind at the time. She hadn't thought to ask why her grandmother's solicitor had foreseen these circumstances when no one could have possibly predicted her grandmother's stroke.
She was surprised to see him there within hours of her grandmother's passing, but Sarah was completely submerged in her grief that she barely gave it another thought.
They say bad karma often came in three's and she'd had her fair share of bad luck already. She had lost her job this month and along with it, her only source of income. Then there was the matter of her landlord selling the house from under her feet. And now, the only family she had left, her grandmother, had sadly passed away. The only consolation that brought her comfort was that she got to hold her hand as she took her last breath. The final rattling sound as the air left her grandmother's lungs, followed by the flatline tone from the life support machine was when Sarah truly felt alone in the world.
Ten minutes was all it took for the life essence to drain away her colour, turning her from fleshy pink to a deathly grey. It was as if the Angel Of Death had bestowed a kiss upon her lips and taken her soul from her body. That wasn't her grandmother lying on the hospital bed, it was nothing but an empty vessel. She didn't look anything like the woman who had helped to raise her, or the woman who had been her rock ever since her parents had died. Sarah felt that it was only fair that she cared for her grandmother in the same way that she had dedicated so many years of her life caring for Sarah.
She was always keeping her in check, motivating her and prompting her to drag her sorry arse out of bed every morning and go to university. She was the woman who cooked her favourite meals and cheered her up when she was feeling down. Her grandmother was like an oracle of wisdom and without her advise, Sarah felt as if her life would fall apart.
Sarah had spent the whole night and morning crying until her eyes stung raw and all her tears had been spent. Her dark hair was a stark contrast against her pale skin. The dark circles around her eyes made her look gaunt and sickly. Her milky-white skin held transparency that revealed the blue and purple veins beneath, so prominent that she could trace the patterns with her finger like a motorway road map. She almost looked ghostly, and if it wasn't for the rhythm of her own beating heart that proved she was living, her friends joked that she could easily pass for a corpse. She was exhausted with fatigue and stress. Now that her role as her grandmother's carer had ended, she felt as if she no longer held any purpose. She hated feeling useless, but that was exactly how she felt.
Her late employer wasn't sympathetic when she requested leave to tend to her dying relative. She was given an unreasonable ultimatum and was left with no other choice but to quit her job. She wished she could've found the right words to defend herself, but when sitting face to face with her intimidating boss, her mind had gone completely blank. She barely said a word, instead she just nodded, told him she understood, then went to clear out her desk.
She had enough funds put aside from her parent's life insurance policy that would sustain her for a further few months. This also meant that she would need to seek alternative employment before her money eventually ran out. Her parents had tragically died in a boating accident when she was just fourteen.
She slipped in and out of depression for the first two years. She then had to repeat her final year in high school, in order to get enough GCSE's to see her through to the sixth form. Then from there, she went to the university of Chester and left with a BA (hons) qualification tucked under her belt. She worked so hard to fulfil her dream of becoming a journalist, and now her dreams lay shattered around her feet. The local paper she worked for was a small step on the ladder of bigger and better things. Only now her dreams felt beyond reach as she saw them slipping further and further away.
She was now a grown woman of twenty-six. She had no other choice but to stand on her own two feet. There was nobody left who she could turn to for help, which meant she would have to sort this out for herself.
Sarah perused the letter, long and hard. Her blue eyes scanned back and forth over the confusing legal jargon, unsure whether or not it was a hoax. Her grandmother had lived in an old gatekeeper's house on the edge of an abandoned estate. She was familiar with the grounds. She often visited her grandmother when she was a child, but that was before she came to live with her after her parents died. She used to love playing in the nearby woodland. Her father had made her a swing out of an old piece of rope and a fallen tree branch and she wondered if it was still there. She hadn't ventured into those woods for years. Not since she left for university and got a place of her own. She had forgotten what it was like to be a carefree child and secretly wished that she could turn back the clock.
She wouldn't wander beyond those woods. The thought of what lay yonder sent chills down her spine. Beyond the small patch of forest was an abandoned manor house. That place gave her the creeps. From what she could remember, it looked run down and dilapidated. Sarah thought of the house that 'Miss Havisham' lived in: a character from the novel 'Great Expectations'. How the heartbroken old lady had allowed her lavish home to fall into a sad state of decay. She wondered if the place held bad memories and that was why the owners abandoned it. It also toyed with her mind, whether or not, it was haunted. Her grandmother would chuckle and wander into a dream-like state whenever she inquired about the owners.
Sarah thought that it must've belonged to some wealthy aristocratic family who had just left it to fall into rack and ruin. She was beyond shocked to read that along with her grandmother's gatehouse, she had also been left the derelict manor house as well. Whatever would she do with the place? She hadn't the money to restore it. Nor would she wish to live within such close proximity of it. A visit to her beloved grandmother was one thing, but to live there in her gatekeepers house, all alone, was an entirely different matter.
Had she been given the opportunity to sell the property, she would've answered straight away. Within the terms and conditions of her inheritance, there was a clause. She was never to sell the property and it was to be kept within her bloodline, passed down throughout each generation.
Sarah was still single and with no one yet on the horizon, how was she supposed to fulfil her part of the bargain? What if she never married? What would become of the property then?
It seemed to her that fate was forcing her hand through a series of unfortunate events. Given the choice, she would never choose this life for herself. The thought of living alone, miles away from another living soul sent chills through her heart. The cold winter nights would soon draw in and with it would come the snow.
Deep within the rural Cheshire countryside, none of the back roads were ever maintained. She was likely to end up snowed in and left destitute, completely vulnerable and many miles away from the nearest inhabited dwelling.
The phone rang from where it had been left on the windowsill. Sarah craned her body around and stretched to grab it. She saw the withheld number and frowned, unsure whether to answer it. As a rule she didn't answer the phone if she couldn't see who it was from. She would let them leave a message on the answering machine.
Worried that it may have something to do with funeral arrangements, she answered, "Hello?"
The gentleman announced himself in a polite and professional manner, "Good afternoon, Miss Brixton. My name is Francis Heartly, your grandmother's legal advisor. Have you taken the time to look at the information I gave to you?"
"Yes, thank you. I have some questions though," Sarah replied.
She had many questions that she wanted to ask. She always forgot what she wanted to say when put on the spot. She thought it seemed sensible to write down her concerns so that she wouldn't forget them later. She immediately looked around her living room, in search of a pen and paper.
"I'm sure you do. It would be unnatural if you didn't. Why don't you come to my office and we can go over any concerns you have," Mr Heartly reassured.
"Alright, do I need to bring anything with me? Any identification?" Sarah asked.
Mr Heartly chuckled. "That won't be necessary, Miss Brixton, just bring yourself."
It occurred to Sarah that he could be telling the truth and that she had, indeed, inherited an estate belonging to her late grandmother. She decided to throw caution to the wind and take the plunge.
"I'll be there within the hour," she replied.