(Set your story in a gothic manor house)
I suppose there isn’t a kid alive in Great Britain who hasn’t been dragged along on a school outing to a castle ruin or a moldy, old albeit elegant, manor house.
Today our group is touring the Gaggafield Moated Manor, complete with a late lunch on the extensive estate grounds. The fields and forests , fox hunting and all of the games horse people like to play in their leisure. If I sound a bit sarcastic it is because this is beyond a “yawner”.
The manor house is a yawner anyway, but the grounds are quite spectacular, the moat and formal gardens, hedge mazes. All of lord's demesne is lovely with fountains and fish ponds and beyond are the lands rented to tenants.
The gardens and estate lands are complete with fresh air and sunshine as opposed to musty drapes and dust covered tapestries of the manor, heaven forbid someone should sneeze, we could all be buried alive in dust particles.
Today I am paired up, by choice, with a school chum who wears a teeshirt announcing “I’m a Geek’s Geek!” He likes being a geek so no use trying to tease him, he wears the name like his armor. He is proud of it and I admire that for some reason.
We tend to lag behind the group of classmates as Geek stops to consult his online diagram or floor plan of the manor he researched over the weekend, probably while I was out throwing mud balls at a brick wall somewhere. Geek is following along on his lighted display as we wind our way through the great hall, the library, music room and master’s private study seen only from the doorway, no admittance to the actual room.
We stop briefly while Geek looks for a better screen resolution or some such thing, to show our progression through the house tour and record of our path. We are shown by GPS, I think, as two flashing red lights. Slouching, I lean back on one of the wooden panels and it suddenly gives way, I’m falling into a dark space. Geek grabs for the edge of the panel as it is quickly closing, he barely gets his fingertips on the panel edge slowing it enough for him to squeeze through.
We stand there in the dusty dark with just the glow of his tablet screen for light. Slowly our eyes become more accustomed to the near dark. Our two red dots are flashing on the display.
Looking around, there are steps leading up to our right and a long dark passage to our left which is the direction our group was heading. Geek follows the passage we are standing in with his finger and it basically parallels the main rooms the group will pass through. Moving his finger along the likely route of our group, he sees that three chambers ahead is the ancestral memorial vault where old coffins and caskets and effigies are on display to show the grandeur of style afforded to their ancestors upon expiration.
I quickly grab Geek by the sleeve….”Come on, hurry, this should be fun!”
We hurry along the passageway with Geek mumbling something about trouble and how close we already are to being expelled.
We step up onto a raised platform along the passage when we see a sliver of light so obvious in the dark wall. There a small square of wood covers a hole. By moving the wood piece we can look out and spy on our group or anyone else in the room. I can imagine the Lord of the Manor or his appointed snoop watching guests and family, or even to watch the servants , how gross really!
I note we have plenty of time to see if my idea will work. We hurry ahead until we are alongside the memorial vault. Now to find the way to open the panel into this room. As we feel along the dark unfinished wood, it becomes apparent from the smooth worn grooves in the rough wood that this door has been used many times.
Opening the panel, I step out and pull Geek from the passage by his shirt, he drags his foot over the threshold and tries to hold open the panel. He is not sure what I’m up to but he is sure it means trouble. He wedges in a small piece of wood so the panel doesn’t close completely and can be easily opened again if he needs to escape.
“Come on, get over here!” I whisper. “Do you want to be in the casket or coffin? Or would you rather just hide behind the statuary?”
Geek’s eyes are round as saucers as he realizes what I am up to. “No Way!” He utters.
I quietly pry open the covering of the coffin. It is tapered at the shoulder line and has a removable lid. It is being displayed on an ornate steel filigree stand that allows it to be raised on one end, the head high. I step in and lay against the musty fabric.
“Close me up!” I hiss at the Geek.
In the distance we hear the murmured sound of a lector’s voice droning on and the background muttering of classmates.
Geek lays the cover over the coffin opening and then he ducks back into the shadows of the statuary in the room.
NOW I WAIT!
The minutes tick by and the Geek knows this is really bad stuff, no denying negative vibes. He leaves his hiding place and opens the panel and hides in the passageway. He is sure somehow he will need to escape without detection. He cannot be expelled from yet another school.
Inside the coffin, I am trying to get my arm high enough to rub my itching and twitching nose. I feel a huge sneeze is very close, the dust is still swirling about and in this coffin space there is dust everywhere.
AND I WAIT!
I hear the guide telling some outlandish facts about burial practices in early times, the voice loud now, just in front of the coffin. I’m not even sure now what I was going to do, how I was going to manage the coffin lid, or just jump out, or? Well I really hadn’t thought it through! But before I had to decide, the sneeze attack began…
THREE VERY LOUD SNEEZES!
The coffin top appears to be lifting up!! The group scatters like a crazy flock of sheep being chased by a wolf. Bumping into one another, knocking the papers from the hands of the guide and spinning him around twice. Kids running this way and that way! It was Mausoleum Madness!
I quickly slipped out of the coffin and looked around for the Geek. I spotted Geek waving from the passage way. I slipped in and the door banged shut. We were running back the way we had come from, looking for the way out again.
Geek stopped so suddenly I crashed into his back. We both lay in the dust while the red light on the display, indicating us, blinked on and off, on and off. We had gone too far and almost ran into the steps going up. Now we pried open the door where we had originally entered the passage and hurried out into the Great Room.
Geek smiles, one of the few times I’ve ever seen him smile and he says, “This will work to our advantage, they can’t blame this on us if we are lagging behind and missed all the excitement. Just play dumb, you should be a natural at playing dumb!”
We brush each other off and casually head for the sound of excited voices and total pandemonium. Nothing like a bunch of excited schoolboys with overactive imaginations to make a racket easy enough to follow.
Above the din we could clearly hear words like, ghost, demons, evil spirits and it was hard not to laugh. One kid insisting he saw the ghost clearly, all transparent and other worldly, just like a smoke like form with glowing red eyes! Another describes what he saw as more of a skeleton in a black robe carrying a Medieval executioners ax. The Geek just moved to the edge of the group and tried to blend in.
Soon they had us all gathered together again and as we made our way back to the Great Hall, I casually looked up to the life size family portraits that hung along the walls, I swear the eyes of one of them moved.
Maybe someone else knew our secret. But who?