Lacy Capelle stood before the crumbling gates of the Sheridan manor, looking like an ant against the grandness of the house. She wrapped her coat tight around her body with her trembling and rigid hands. One of those very hands clutched the thin slip of paper that read a heartfelt goodbye from her dearest Anton and the other inched towards the rusty gate doors.
Just beyond the gate stood the manor, alone on the moor aside from a train track. It stood deserted and high with peeling paint and windows shut from years of disuse, the tips of the manor covered by the thick fog. Not a single person ever set foot on the moor, let alone come close to the gates of the Sheridan manor, not after the word of the deaths reached the townsfolk.
Lacy slowly pushed the gate open, roughly taking in a breath as she heard its loud creak. She wiped the dust off on her coat and stepped inside the compound. Dead weeds sprouted from the ground, brushing against her legs and the naked trees stretched their gnarly branches out as if they were grabbing at the hazy air. Pair that with the dense fog and it was enough to make the burliest man tremble. Lacy looked around and sped up. It was 'cause of the eerie feel that she decided that she rather be inside. Yet, as she neared those damned decrepit peeling doors that were hanging off of two hinges, she began doubting whether this was something she wanted to do.
It was all to prove whether she was brave enough since the lads in her town made a mockery of her. They’d said Anton liked his women fiercer, not fiercer than him but perhaps strong enough to hold off an intruder while Anton went and grabbed weapons. At this Lacy had said women weren’t supposed to be strong and that everyone knew men were supposed to be the fearless protectors. They had responded, “That’s true. But Anton is different.” And those very words were the reason Lacy stood, eyes wide and body shaking, creaking the doors of the Sheridan manor open.
She gently shut it, careful not to make the slightest noise, and turned back around, still gripping Anton’s letter for her life. It was dark inside, but she decided against using her flashlight just yet. She was standing in the foyer, a space with only a lone red chair that leaned crooked against the wall. Something putrid filled the air and she wrinkled her nose, trying not to gag.
She walked deeper into the manor, entering the kitchen that had counters with layers of dust as thick as her finger and scurrying mice, and then entering the living room. A wooden table rested in the middle of the room and two peeling loveseats were placed against the bookshelves. Staring at the couches, she couldn’t help thinking of Anton.
He’d pleaded with her, got down on his knees with his hands clasped in front of his men. Lacy, with tears filling her eyes, had apologized and told him that she had a purpose to serve. They quarreled about it but Lacy had stood her ground, even after being reminded that several women had died around the manor, but one specific woman and apparently most recent had fallen on the tracks just as a train was coming. Ethel Wallace.
A light thud sounded from behind Lacy. She gasped and swiveled around. Nothing. She reached into her satchel and fumbled around inside until she found her flashlight. She quickly turned it on and shone it around the room, again being met with only silence and the beetles running in between her legs, trying to crawl up them. She whispered a prayer and turned away from the loveseat and towards the winding staircase.
She was here to find a brush. They'd said if Lacy was really going that she needed to find a brush marked with a star and bring it back to them. A few of them said that when the manor was in pleasant shape, their forefathers inked the handle of a white brush with a star. They never mentioned the location, sending a skeptical Lacy off to a place with scarce information.
She lifted the end of her dress with one hand as she slowly climbed the staircase and held the flashlight with the other. As she moved higher up, the chillier it got, her slender arms underneath her coat becoming prickled with gooseflesh. She tried to keep her heavy breathing at bay and continued forward. The light shone on a few portraits of women lining the wall and a blank one that perhaps didn’t get to be filled yet, light leading the way. Lacy’s eyes widened as she stared at the women, an eerie feeling swimming around in her gut. It was only her fearful brain playing tricks on her. She hurried up the remaining steps.
A dim hallway was what she entered when she set foot on the second story. Rooms lined this corridor and Lacy felt her feverishly beating heart drop down to her knees when she knew she’d have to open them and search for the brush.
She inhaled and walked onward, lowering her flashlight. The windows ahead were boarded up but allowed a few small streams of light though outside was still foggy and gray.
Lacy opened the first door, grimacing as it gave a loud creak. She picked up her flashlight again and shone it around the room. It was small and full of boxes. She scurried over to them and crouched down, back pressed against the wall so that she could see if anything crossed in front of the door. Not that it would happen. Say, was it even a sure thing that this place wasn't just old and broken? Were the stories about the Sheridan manor not mere superstitions?
Lacy scoured the boxes, glancing at the doorway for any sign of all things strange. And there were none. A bit discouraged at not coming across the brush, she lifted her dress and stood up, quietly walking out of her current room and entering the next one.
It was a bedroom, and one not too shabby, Lacy noticed. A poster bed and two velvet couches sat there. Lacy went and settled down on one couch, her mind now focusing on her grumbling stomach. Nervously, she pulled out a loaf of bread she’d packed in her coat pocket and took a small bite, maintaining ladylike manners even in a place like this.
Lacy’s heart ached at the thought of Anton. He was a good man and their courtship was well approved of from both parties. She wondered how his parents would react knowing she went off in search for a brush to prove young men wrong and further impress their son.
Lacy opened her eyes and thought she saw a figure pass in front of the doorway. She screamed and slapped her hand over her mouth. Standing up, she fingered the dagger Anton had slipped to her before her journey. She walked towards the door and looked around her. Her eyes only fell upon a quiet and empty hallway, but now darker than when she’d arrived.
Stepping back inside the room, she gently shut the door and locked it with a key that was hung on a wall nail. She tiptoed back to her spot on the couch. Heart thudding, she remembered why she’d even set foot on the moor. This was all for Anton. She was going to prove she was worthy enough for him. Perhaps he'd see he needn't wait any longer and propose.
Tucking her barely tasted loaf back in her coat pocket, she peered outside. Night had fallen. The gloomy and dark outside was now pure black against her window so that she couldn’t see if anything was out on the compound.
Like Anton had told her, she shouldn’t travel once it was nighttime. Come tomorrow early morning and the brush was not found, she was to journey back immediately. Although the lads knew Anton longer than she, Lacy was still sure in her heart that if she entered town with a brush marked with a star or without, Anton would still be enamored of her and ‘twas this peaceful thought that prompted Lacy to get up and prepare the bed for the night. She placed the key on the desk and pulled back the covers and slipped inside, hand clutching the dagger.
Now, despite all horrors and thoughts of them, incredibly, she was able to drift off into a stirring slumber and then a deep one and this would’ve continued had it not been for that small noise that stood out in the dreadful silence. A click. Lacy’s eyes widened and she dared not move an inch. Under the covers, she enclosed her hand around the dagger in her satchel and surveyed the possible cause with only her eyes.
Eyes adjusted and looking around, nothing seemed out of place and she almost missed it as the room was too dark, but then she didn’t. The door. It was open. Lacy’s heart hammered inside her chest and she murmured silent prayers as she slipped out the dagger and quietly stepped out of the bed. She glanced at the desk where she placed the key and it was still there.
Fierce was but a word if the one who exhibited it was no more. Anton would understand. She pressed against the door jamb and slid out of the bedroom, as quiet as could be, and shone her flashlight in the hallway. She was met with nothing. She pursed her lips and crept forward, wondering if she had gone mad. Wouldn’t one think they, too, had gone mad if they were in Lacy’s shoes? Was it not one’s mind playing tricks on them?
Lacy’s forehead broke out in a cold sweat. She would have to disobey Anton and travel by night. She turned around and gasped. In front of her stood a shadow. Its mouth was gaping and took half of its face, and in the place were eyes sat were black sunken holes. It reared its head back with insane speed and lowered it again, the eyeless holes now filled with demonic ones.
Lacy fell to her knees, screaming, and rushed to the staircase on her fours. She dared not look back at that thing. Not paying any mind to injury, she threw herself down the staircase, landing with a thud. She didn’t halt once before dashing to the doors of the manor but didn't get to open it before she felt an icy scaly hand grab her ankle.
Lacy shrieked and clawed at the ground, her eyes shut tight, not wanting to turn around. It sank its nails into her flesh. Lacy screamed with tears pouring out of her eyes.
The whistles of the train sounded as it passed them and left down the moor. When the last faint whistle was blown, the creature convulsed. Lacy's raw throat gave it's last shriek as it lunged for her.
And it just so happened that when Lacy was no more, the empty portrait on the staircase had a new face on it.