Old Lessons

Submitted into Contest #64 in response to: Set your story in a Gothic manor house.... view prompt

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Contemporary Historical Fiction Teens & Young Adult

The rain lashed at the windows and the wind howled through the trees. The curtains had been drawn hours ago, and yet a draft from somewhere kept blowing one of them open slightly, though nothing was visible in the grim night outside.

“Worst. Summer holiday. Ever,” Katrina sighed.

“Well be fair, we did come to Scotland. What did you expect?” her father said. She tried to glare at him, given it had been his idea after all, but he hadn’t even looked up from his newspaper. Since arriving two days ago he’d become as archaic as the house. Seriously, who still read newspapers any more?

“The weather forecasts were wonderful for last week,” Katrina’s mother said. “We brought this rain with us. The old Roberts’ family curse. Can’t go anywhere without it raining.”

“Urg.” If Katrina had to hear about that one more time she was going to go crazy. Though at least that would break the monotony of this time capsule. For once she couldn’t even turn to her sister for help; after Sofia’s break-up with her boyfriend last month, she’d gotten really tedious. This holiday was a great chance to ‘unplug and just find myself again’ she kept saying, and she currently had her head buried in some self-improvement book.

The clacking of her mother’s knitting needles was the last straw for Katrina. “Whatever. I’m going to bed. Nothing’s going on any how, so I might as well sleep my life away.”

“You do it often enough at home anyway, darling,” her father said, and Katrina wondered if he’d even notice if she swore at him. Her mother definitely would though, so Katrina settled for a sneer before she stormed out the room. When her mother called good night she didn’t reply. How could this be a ‘good’ night after all?

Worst. Holiday. Ever.

Stomping through the halls didn’t do much to ease her frustration. The thick carpets muffled most of the sound, and the rest was lost to the vast echoing corridors. Once again Katrina was caught thinking about how ridiculous it was that they were the only guests at the manor house. All this space and just the four of them. Stupid pandemic. If it had been her and some of her friends that would be a different matter. They could have fake pool parties in the stupidly large bathrooms, or party in the dining room like royalty. They could actually have fun, and fill the place with some life.

Katrina was so caught up in her combination day-dream and sulk that she wasn’t paying attention to where she was going. After being stuck in the house for two days while her family ‘decompressed’, whatever the hell that meant, she thought she knew it inside out.

She was wrong.

That didn’t hit her until she came round a corner in the staircase and was confronted with three doors, all right next to each other, as if even the fittings were intimidated by the size of the building.

“What the hell man. Stupid damn manor, with its stupid damn stairs.” She tried to turn round and retrace her steps, but there was only a blank wall behind her now. “Wait… how did that happen? Oh, come on. I can’t be asked with this crap. I just want to get to my room and sleep through this stupid excuse for a holiday.”

But the doors were still there, and now the room was getting darker as well. Though she’d never admit it, a flicker of panic raced through Katrina. Trying her best to radiate boredom she stormed over to the right hand door and opened it with a shaking hand.

She wasn’t in the same house any more.

Katrina couldn’t put her finger on what it was that told her that. Maybe it was the taste of the air, far more humid and pungent than the dusty stuff she’d been breathing in, or maybe it was the fact that she couldn’t hear the rain any more. There was something seriously different with the place she was in now, and her heart started pounding.

“H-hello?” she called down the corridor. “Is this some sort of a joke?”

The corridor didn’t look like any that Katrina had seen in the manor house. The windows were high and small, with dull fittings, and she realised this had to be one of the staff passages. Her father had gone exploring them yesterday, but Katrina had sulked and tried to get a Wi-Fi connection instead of going with him.

“Hello?” she called again, still trying to decide if she wanted an answer or not.

Footsteps sounded further down the corridor and Katrina looked back at the door. It wasn’t like that place made more sense at the moment anyway, so she crept forward. A teenager came round a corner, laden with a bundle of coarse blankets.

“Hi,” Katrina said with a wave and a grin, doing her best lost tourist impression.

The girl screamed, and Katrina turned and ran. Back down the corridor she flew and through the door, slamming it shut behind her and leaning against it.

“No. Nope, not dealing with that.” There was no way she could deny the old-school style of clothing the girl had been wearing. Or the fact there weren’t supposed to be any other people in the house with them.

By the time her heart had stopped racing Katrina had gone cold, the sweat from her fear and exertion cooling and catching the draft that always blew through this damn house. Even here, in a box with three doors, there was a draft across her face. As much as she hated it, Katrina knew that standing there wasn’t going to get her unlost, so she turned to the middle door.

This one opened up into a wide, airy corridor, a full ten feet high and just over that wide. Full height windows lined one side and thick wooden doors the other, with sideboards and elegant armchairs spaced along the length of the corridor, making it into a room of its own.

“Now this is more my scene,” Katrina muttered to herself, though her walk still didn’t have its usual swagger.

There were no carpets here and her shoes clicked on the floor and echoed down the hall, drawing way more attention to her presence than Katrina wanted. The sky outside was lighter, not the full brightness of daytime, but the soft dimness of dusk. Everything was so clean and the air was fresh, with a hint of lavender to it.

Katrina was halfway down the hall and just about relaxed again when she heard the scream. It came from one of the rooms and was so loud and powerful that her blood froze. Cheery hallway or not, she had to get out of there. If only her body would listen to her.

The door that the scream came from opened and a man peered out. When he spotted Katrina he came out into the corridor, staring at her but not really seeing her. All she saw was the blood on his shirt.

“Are you the midwife?” he asked in a thick Scottish accent.

With a strangled cry Katrina turned and ran, the thudding of her shoes soothing now. Each one of them meant she was getting further away from the freaky guy in the blood-stained evening wear.

As she burst through the door her feet caught on the carpet and almost sent her head-first into the stupid wall that shouldn’t exist. Stumbling and falling she caught herself and slammed the door again, leaning against it as she took huge sobbing breaths.

“What. The. Hell.”

Only when her pulse had settled did she register what the man had asked, the accent falling away as she replayed it countless times in her head. That eased some of her panic, but she was damned sure the owners would’ve mentioned if there’d been a pregnant woman at the house.

There was only one door left now, and Katrina didn’t want to know. “I’m not opening it,” she told the room as she sat down on the floor. “I can wait. Just give me back my bedroom.”

Waiting meant thinking though, as there was nothing else to do, and it didn’t take long for Katrina to realise that she couldn’t block both of the doors she’d been through so far. She could sit in front of one, but then there was nothing to stop the other one opening, and after lots of debating she couldn’t work out which one she feared most.

In the end she swallowed her pride and opened the third door.

This was another wide hallway, but there was no furniture here. The windows weren’t as tall either, and had thick black lines drawing patterns across them, like in old movie taverns. Once again it was bright, but as she passed one of the windows Katrina saw the snow piled up in the corners of it.

“Okay, that proves it,” she said, barely loud enough to hear. “There’s no way even Scotland gets snow in summer. I’m somewhere else. Some when else, at least.”

After last time she walked close to the windows, keeping a careful eye on the doors in case anyone else tried jumping out at her. There were worn rugs across the stone floor, thick lumpy things that hadn’t been made for the room. Some of the rugs were folded up to fit into corner or layered over each other for extra padding. Mismatched as it looked Katrina was grateful. Hopefully no one would hear her coming this time.

She had reached the very end of the hall before she heard anything. It was a faint groan, and at first she thought it was the wind outside. A quick glance out the window showed a still world though, as far as she could make out anything against the blanket of white. As she was still trying to work out what the sound could’ve been, the smell hit her.

Katrina gagged and clapped her hands to her face. It smelt like hospitals, but old ones where everyone was dying. And not the clean dying either… this was sickly and twisted and just thinking about breathing in the same air made her want to throw up.

There was another groan, another death sigh from one of the rooms. This time Katrina didn’t need to see a person before she started leaving. She didn’t want to see a person, not if they were responsible for the smell. She’d never thought of smells as contagious before, but if they were this one definitely would be.

She walked back to the door, only breathing in when she had to, but when she heard a door open behind her she ran. By the time she made it out the world had started fading and she collapsed onto the floor. As she turned to close the door she spotted a woman frowning with as much confusion as Katrina felt. The door slammed shut and the chill from the wintery landscape passed.

“You and me both lady,” Katrina panted. “Wish I knew what the hell was going on as well.”

The rancid smell still lingered in her nostrils, and combined with the oxygen-deprivation the world went dark for a moment. When Katrina could see again she was sat on the landing outside her own bedroom.

The confusion, the sensations, the panic… it was all too much for her, and for a moment she sat and cried. When that passed she stood and turned back to the stairs, for a second thinking about going back to join her family. Then she shook her head and went into her room. A shower, with lots of body lotion, then sleep. Clearly the isolation was getting to her.

.

Up in the rafters the two ghosts watched as Katrina carried on, with no outward signs of what she’d just been through.

“That was a little mean, don’t you think?” one said to the other.

“She doesn’t seemed to have been bothered by it at all though.” There was a definite sulk to that one’s voice, even though it was gentle as a breeze through a graveyard.

“Well… I suppose. What’s the plan for tomorrow?”

“Let’s see what she does during the day. But I don’t think it would hurt to show her some more of the house’s darkest days.”

With bitter smiles the ghosts drifted back into the ceiling.

October 24, 2020 01:42

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2 comments

Jay Stormer
18:52 Oct 30, 2020

Interesting idea, well constructed, and written. It is not the sort of thing I would normally read. I notice that one category is "Teens & Young Adult". Since I am close enough to my eighth decade to smell it, I don't fit that demographic. My previous writing has been 50 years of scientific papers and reports. However, I think it is one of the best things I have read on Reedsy.

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Crystal Lewis
15:14 Oct 28, 2020

Ooh I like this and I liked the ending. It was almost humorous at the end there. Nicely done. :) Feel free to read any of my stuff.

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