I, Pearl Nightingale, residing at Nightingale Manor, Knife’s Edge, Hythe, declare this to be my Will, and I revoke any and all wills and codicils I previously made….
A soft smile graced her lips, at odds with the words she had written. Humming her favourite lullaby, she continued:
I give, devise and bequeath all my estate, both real and personal, of every nature and kind and wheresoever situate, including any property over which I may have a general power of appointment, to my late friend Amber Everitt’s daughter, Peridot Everitt, if she survives me for a period of 30 days, for her own use absolutely.
Her quiet giggles echoed in the dark corners of Nightingale Manor before being swallowed whole.
“No, Ms. Everitt. I assure you; I am quite serious.” The lawyer- Mr. James or John or something- said, bemused smile on his face.
“So, you expect me to believe, some random woman I don’t even know, a stranger, made me the sole beneficiary in her will? Is that even legally possible?”
“Mrs. Nightingale didn’t have any living family, nor is there any account of distant relatives. In her will, she clearly stated you, her late friend Amber Everitt’s daughter, as her sole beneficiary. I wish I could tell you why, but she left no records of her reasons.”
“I wouldn’t know if my mother even knew her; both my parents died when I was a baby. So, I really don’t know any of my parent’s friends or relatives, if there are any. To me, she’s still a stranger.” I explained, wondering if this Pearl Nightingale was actually my mother’s friend as she had claimed to be.
“But isn’t it weird,” I continued, “that she never approached me throughout her life? Like, if she knew my mother well enough to make me her sole inheritor, then why didn’t she visit me after my parents died to tell me personally? It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Those are all valid questions, but unfortunately I don’t have all the answers you’re seeking.” Then he paused, as if reconsidering. “We are still looking into her case, and when we find those answers, you’ll be the first to know.”
“Mrs. Nightingale wrote her will before she went missing eight years ago-”
“Eleven years after my parent’s death…” I thought out loud, unintentionally interrupting him. She would've had eleven years to approach me, but she didn’t. Why?
“And since it has been eight years, she's been declared dead by Court. Her case became cold, as there were no leads to her whereabouts. However, there has been some discussion to reopen the case now that her will has been read.”
“Wait- she could be alive?”
“The chances are very, very slim. But now all we can do is try to find the answers you’re looking for.”
Rubbing my face, I sighed from exhaustion. Being a third-year university student hadn’t been easy, and I was trying to enjoy my summer despite having a job. And now I had to deal with this mess too.
“I know this is a bit of a shock, but to be honest, you should look on the bright side. Technically, you’ve become a millionaire.”
“What?!!” I exclaimed, not believing my ears. “And you couldn’t mention that earlier?”
A laugh escaped him as he shook his head in amusement. “I had to save the best for last- besides, I knew it would distract you from the minor details. Nightingale Manor is worth that much alone.”
“Oh my god….”
As it sunk in, I realized I could actually pay off my student debt. Not only that, but even after I put money away for med school, I’d have more than enough to buy a studio apartment. All I would need to do is sell the Manor. Immediately, I felt horrible- how could I rejoice if this poor woman was missing, most likely dead?
Something isn’t right.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate of me to celebrate due to the circumstances. I’m still grateful though- I just wish I could’ve met her before she went missing.”
“Yes, you’re absolutely right. I apologize if I came off as insensitive. I just thought it’d do us some good focusing on the positive.” He said, grimacing.
Before I could respond, his watch beeped.
“Well, it’s time for me to depart. It was nice to meet you, Ms. Everitt. I will keep in contact with you and let you know if we find anything else. Here’s my card.” He said, sliding his card across the desk as he stood up.
I gathered the files and keys he had given me, asking, “Would it be alright for me to visit Nightingale Manor? I plan to sell it- it’s not like owning a mansion will do me any good, but the money can pay off some debts.”
“Of course, it’s yours to do as you please. I can connect you to some trusted real estate agents if you wish.”
“Yes, that would be great. Thank you-” I snuck a glance at his card, “Um, Mr. Jones, thank you for all your help. Have a great day!”
“You too, take care.”
The drive to Knife’s Edge had been a grueling five hours, but I was finally here. My beat-up Hyundai Accent had barely survived the journey, and I vowed to buy a new car with my inheritance.
It really is on the edge of Hythe, no wonder it’s called that, I mused. The cutting skyscrapers of Bijou had slowly become soft rolling hills, which eventually gave way to the endless green forests of Knife’s Edge.
The small town hidden in the lush forest was not what I had expected it to be. Instead of the cold, dark place I had imagined was a town full of warmth and life. The town square was covered in flower petals of all shades as they fluttered down from the trees looming above. Children happily ran around barefoot, their mothers watching from the dainty benches that adorned the sidelines.
Now where do I park my car? I asked myself, failing to see a parking lot. I couldn’t see any other cars either, but who would need a car if everything is at walking distance?
Sighing, I parked my car where I probably shouldn’t have, hoping I wouldn’t get a ticket or something. Finally stepping out, I stretched out my sore muscles and gulped in a deep breath of the fresh air. My stomach grumbled as the delicious smell of meat pies reached me from the street vendors that were lined up on the other side of the square.
It was such a nice change from the harsh and unforgiving landscape of Bijou it made me think, I should just move to the Manor and shift to online classes. But I obviously couldn’t live in a mansion alone, much less afford the long-term upkeep, so I shook off the silly thought.
Walking across the square, I smiled at the children and their mothers in greeting. Surprisingly, they didn’t smile back. And when I got to a vendor’s cart, my necked pricked as if I were being watched. I glanced around to see who it was, but no one stood out.
Strange. This whole situation had felt unreal from the beginning, and I wondered if it was just a dream I would wake up from soon. Suddenly, the town didn’t feel as warm or welcoming.
If something feels too good to be true, it probably is.
The pangs of anxiety that had begun when the lawyer contacted me returned with a vengeance.
Something isn’t right.
Now feeling nauseous at the thought of food, I muttered a quick apology to the puzzled vendor and made my way back to the car. The air around me turned frigid from the awkwardness I exuded, and everyone stared with unconcealed prejudice as they watched me get into my car.
I could almost hear them think, Look, it’s a city girl from Bijou… thinks she’s better than us town-folk, doesn’t she?
I was a fool to think the pocket of warmth I had discovered in this town would be extended to me, a city girl. It was reminiscent of being seduced by the smoke of a cottage, hearing it whisper promises of respite from the cold darkness. But when you followed it, you found yourself only able to peek in through the window, barely glimpsing the warmth as the smoke laughed at your naivety.
That’s what it felt like. Like I was peeking in through the window.
Now anxious to get this visit over with, I drove away from the warmth and into the deeper part of the forest, where I knew Nightingale Manor stood waiting.
Nightingale Manor was a fearsome sight to behold.
My heart sunk as I stared at the remains of what would’ve been an elegant two-story mansion with an abundance of land and a private forest. Now, it was simply a shadow of its former self, decrepit and abandoned.
Spiky vine-covered fencing twisted around the property, tall enough to make you wonder what it was trying to keep out.
Or keep in…
Shivering, I reluctantly got out of the car and went to open the gate. Disconcertingly, I felt like it was staring back, as if to warn me away.
When I drove into the property, I realized just how neglected it was. The garden, if you could call it that, looked like it went through a plant apocalypse. If I wanted to sell this Manor, I’d need to renovate the entire thing including the grounds. A project which a broke university student did not have enough money for.
Millionaire, my foot.
That lawyer didn’t bother telling me the state the Manor was in- who’ll be willing to buy this without a reno?
I’m going to give him a piece of my mind. Ugh.
Grabbing my sparse luggage and the keys to the Manor, I slammed my car door a little too hard when I heard something rustle outside. Speed-walking to the entrance was probably a bad idea because I immediately tripped on the crooked steps and fell flat on my face, a resounding thud filling the air.
Swearing under my breath, I picked up my scattered belongings and looked up to the yawning entrance.
It was open.
Looking at the large doorway and back to the keys in my hand, I wondered,
How didn’t I hear it creak open? And who opened it, when only I have the keys?
Unless it opened by itself- which wasn’t possible, with doors that heavy, someone had to open it.
From the inside.
There’s someone in the Manor.
I quickly took my phone out and checked it for signals, but obviously, there were none. And there was probably no internet installed yet either. Ok, so maybe I had rushed coming here without thinking this through. But could you blame me- I had classes on Monday- so it would make sense I’d only stay over for the weekend to sort things out.
“Shoot.” I whispered out loud, hoping to break the unsettling quiet that had settled, nature holding its breath, anticipating what would happen next.
If I was lucky, it’d be a ghost. And I meant that unironically- I’d rather take on a haunting then a potential break in. People were much scarier.
After debating for another century, I decided I couldn’t just stand outside in the cold. I’d take a quick look around the Manor and take stock of its condition, then head back into the town square for some supplies. And hopefully there’d be internet somewhere- despite being remote, the town couldn’t be that backwards, right?
Resolve strengthening, I marched into the Manor, stomping as loudly as I could to let whoever was inside know I wasn’t afraid.
The foyer was horribly dark, and a damp smell lingered in the air. The ancient wallpapers were peeling, and the carpet just looked soggy.
“Ew, ew, eww” I muttered, tightening my hold around my luggage. I was not putting it down here.
Keeping my shoes on, I ventured further into the darkness of the hallway. Flicking on a switch, I breathed out a sigh of relief when a light flickered on, illuminating the hallway. It wasn’t quiet anymore, not with the persistent dip dip of water and occasional clank clank of the pipes inside the wall, but it was still creepy being alone.
Turning around so fast I got whiplash, I found the entrance closed. But there was no one there.
“It’s just wind… it’s just the wind…” Dang it, I shouldn’t have said I preferred a ghost.
Gulping in fear, I ignored the increased thump thump of my heart and started walking in search of a room salvageable enough to sleep in.
Doors lined up both walls of the hallway, and at the end I could glimpse what appeared to be a staircase. Luggage now feeling ten pounds heavier, I quickly walked to the nearest door and peeked in to find a sitting room. The furniture was covered by endless white cloth, layers of dust settling on top. The whole effect was so unsettling, I turned around to leave-
But then I saw something move.
Back turned to the room, I froze in place. When a cold breeze touched my neck, I scrambled into action and ran down the hallway without looking back.
There’s no way in HELL I’m gonna go see what it was, like some dumb idiot in an overrated horror movie.
I was mentally patting myself on the back for acting smartly when the lights went off.
Letting out the most embarrassing shriek in my life, I fell again, but this time hitting my shin on the staircase which I had somehow reached.
Cursing everything I could think of, especially that Pearl woman, I felt around for my phone hoping it wasn’t broken.
But my prayer went unanswered as I cut my hand with the broken shards of my phone’s screen.
Who am I kidding, I can’t even go into a haunted house attraction- how the hell am I going to last the night here?
Giving up on finding my belongings, I carefully took a step in the direction I presumed I had come from. Drowning in fear and self-pity, I almost missed the soft pitter-patter of footsteps coming from the floor above.
Hand coming up to muffle my gasp, I forced myself not to succumb to a panic attack.
Deep breath. In. Out. In. Out.
Quickly taking off my shoes to limit the noise I made, I practically tip-toed forward, praying with everything I had that I was going in the right direction- I couldn’t mess it up, the hallway was straight.
I paused halfway to check for any sounds, but there were none. But when I started again, I heard the footsteps again.
But this time, they were much closer- coming down the staircase.
I shouldn’t have believed that damn lawyer- who the hell would give me their entire inheritance anyways? It’s an elaborate scam, and now they’re going to hurt me. Or worse.
But why would anyone want to hurt me?
No longer caring if they heard me, I broke out into a full run.
But before I could react, I was pushed sideways so hard I felt my ribs crack as I crashed through a door on my left.
I couldn’t move as I clutched my side from the abuse it had just suffered.
“I’m so glad you could make it.” A woman whispered, giggling.
“W-who are-” I tried, but was cut off with a ferocious kick to my side.
“Uh uh… only I get to speak. You listen,” She giggled again, “But this conversation is better downstairs. I live in the cellar, you know?”
I cried out in pain as fingers dug into my arm, trying to pull away- but the woman had more strength than me and I felt her breath on my ear.
“Awe, it looks like you can’t move. Let me help you.”
And then laughing, she pushed me down the stairs which I hadn’t realized were there.
The lawyer hadn’t even told me there was a cellar, I thought, brain muddled from the pain shooting up my spine.
I felt dissociated from my body as I fell down the stairs, as if I was viewing my body being broken from the outside while my inside locked up, too shocked to handle reality.
I heard her come down the stairs and crouch down next to me.
“Do you like Nightingale Manor? I left it for you, after all…” She asked, incessantly giggling.
Her giggle raked on my nerves, more painful then my pounding head and shrieking ribs.
It can’t be… she’s missing-
“P-pearl-” Coughing up blood, I tried again, “Pearl Nightingale.”
“Very good! You’re intelligent, unlike your parents. But don’t worry, you’ll meet them soon!!”
“But w-why,” I croaked out, begging to know why she’d want to kill me.
For the first time, her giggles stopped.
“Why? Because your father killed my family!” She yelled, “He took everything from me!! And because he was a prosecutor with connections, he didn’t even get charged!! It was a car accident, they said, it wasn’t his fault they said- but accident or not, he should’ve been charged!! And your damn mother, my childhood friend, took his side, and left me!!”
Calming down, she continued, “And then they both went and died before I could take my revenge. I was lost in my rage- but then I found out you had survived- and I had hope. So, I spent my years planning and waiting for this very moment. I lived in a disgusting cellar for eight years, neglected my house and gave everything to you.”
“But now, I’ll take it back. Everything.”
And as I felt a knife kiss my neck, I thought,
I knew something didn’t feel right
And a fiery black consumed me.