All the time she had been living in the house she had wondered where the spiral staircase led to. She stood at the bottom, looking upwards with one hand on the wood banister and the other clutching the edge of her skirts. She had long guessed that the staircase must lead to another floor. However, from studying the outside structure of the house, she had never been able to see this other floor.
During the summer months when the wild moor weather finally give itself over to the lazy warm days, she would spend as much time outside as possible. She would walk through the gardens or out on the moor, ride to and through the villages, enjoying the sunshine and the fresh air. In the gardens, she would walk around the great house and count all the windows on the floors. There were three floors and hundreds of windows, none of which seemed to belong to the place the spiral staircase must led to.
Glancing down at the lantern she brought with her and placed on the bottom step, she wondered if she should have brought some candles. Was tonight actually going to be the moment she walked up the stairs? She recalled everything her grandfather and his servants had told her.
There’s nothing up there, it’s a folly, you know a fake structure? Your great great uncle had it put in to play games with his city guests. Don’t go near it. That side the house is no long stable nor is it suitable for nice young ladies to roam about in. Stick to the main building and don’t put your nose where it doesn’t belong.
It leads to the old attic rooms, but when they put in the new roof they closed them all up.
Who knows? It’s probably just old rooms that no one uses any more, like a great many in this place.
Up there? It’s just a storage room. With lots of unwanted junk that no one could bear to part with and has been long forgotten. No, I’ve never been up there but my father was the head butler before me and told me that himself.
They say that’s where they hide her…the monster child of Lord Humbleton. She was born with only half a face, one arm and twisted legs. The Lord locked her away in those rooms, which were the four floor of the east wing. He had the windows bricked over because he didn’t want anyone to see her. They say she died up there before she reached her fourteen birthday. And you can hear her crying and screaming still, late in the night when the house is silent.
She shivered at the thought of that last part and tried to convince herself that story couldn’t have been true. There were no family records of Lord Humbleton having a daughter. He and his wife had had three health boys, but it had always been rumoured by servants and the villagers that there had been a four child.
Picking up the lantern, she decided that tonight was going to be the night. Quickly glancing around, she placed a foot on the spiral staircase and become to climb upwards. She let her hand slide across the banister, which after years of polishing still felt smooth against her skin. Her other hand held her skirts slightly higher and knocked against her leg. She held her breath and followed the twisting steps upwards.
At the top was a small wooden door.
Dropping her skirts, she reached out and touched the doorknob. She twisted it to the right and pressed against the door. It didn’t open. She turned the brass knob to the left and tried again. She pushed hard, but the door didn’t move. Sighing deeply, she let her hand drop to her side. I should have known it would be locked, she thought.
Stepping back, she studied the door in the light of the lantern. There was nothing unusual about it, beside from being the plainest door she had seen in the whole house. The wood looked like it had never been in vanished or painted. The brass doorknob was scratched badly and next to it was a small keyhole. She pressed her fingers to the keyhole, as if to take a measurement. Pulling a face, she was about to turn away and declare this adventure a lost cause, when an idea came to her.
Placing the lantern at her feet, she stood on her tip toes and stretched out her arms to the top of the door frame. Slowly, she ran her fingers along the lipped edge, feeling years of dust brush against her fingers. Speeding up in her desperation, her fingers swept the across the end of the frame and hit something. A loud clattering sounded on the floor. Dropping to her knees and she fumbled in the dim darkness. Her fingers closed around something and she pulled it into the lantern light.
A dull brass key, the size of the door’s keyhole lay across her dirty palm.
Smiling, she stood up and placed the key inside the door. She turned it and the doorknob at the same time and was reward with a clicking sound. Pushing the door open, she stared into the darkness. Collecting the key and lantern, she walked in and pulled the door to. Walking forward, she saw a small side table. Placing the lantern and key upon it, she looked around. Old egg shell blue paint covered the walls and the floor boards were bare. The room was large, but she couldn’t see it all with the lantern’s light.
Picking up the lantern and key again, she walked forward and out of the darkness the room and its contents began to take shape around her. She saw a bookcase half filled with books, small tables and chairs on which were vases, dolls and candle holders. A very old fashioned rocking horse, who’s expression looked frenzied and nightmarish. There was a door in the far right corner.
‘It’s a nursery,’ she whispered.
The air and dust stirred at the first voice in years to speak in the room. She licked her lips and went to the other door. Turning the handle and pushing against it, the door opened. She shoved it harder to create a large enough gap for herself and then stepped through. Straight away she saw the child’s bed opposite her. Four posters held up a drooping canopy and the bedding was made up as if in readiness for the sleepy girl.
A wooden bedding box lay across the foot of the bed and there was a small table with a candle in its holder and a book beside it. She walked in further and saw a wardrobe and desk further to her right. Turning to the left, she notices that a heavy curtain lay across some of the wall. Going to it, she touched the curtain with her finger tips then used the lantern to find the end. Wrapping her fingers around, she pulled the curtain back quickly. A brick wall met her eyes and on closer inspection, she saw that a window had once stood in its place.
Letting the curtain fall back, she left the room, closing the door behind her. She walked across the nursery and towards the door. Her thoughts swirled and she couldn’t help but think that the story of Lord Humbleton’s deformed daughter was true. Opening the door, she walked out and turned around. She had a last look at the nursery then closed and locked the door.
As she replaced the key on the door frame lip, she heard a soft crying. Frowning, she pressed her ear to the door and listened as the crying continued. The bare floor boards creaked under the weight of feet and she heard the rocking horse began to rock. She scrambled for the key and hurried to fit into the keyhole with shaking hands. Twisting the brass knob, she flung open the door and shone the lantern light inside.
Her eyes darted around and she watched the shadows fleeing the light.
There was nothing moving and the sounds had stopped.
Breathing deeply and blaming herself, she closed the door again and locked it. Returning the key once more, she turned and hurried down the stairs. At the bottom, she fled down the corridor and ran straight back to her rooms. Opening her door, she spun inside her bedroom, turned back, closed and locked the door behind her. Breathing deeply, she placed the lantern on her dressing table and lit a number of candles.
Sinking on to her bed, she tried to catch her breath, but the knowledge that she had disturbed something made it harder for her to calm down. She pulled off the dressing gown, which was slightly dust covered and tossed it on the floor. She slipped out of her slippers too and let them fall on top of the dressing gown. She wrapped a blanket around herself and listened.
The house was silent and she couldn’t even hear the wind and rain knocking against the window. Scolding herself for being silly and letting the noises of an old room get to her, she settled down on the bed. Laying her head on the pillow, she watched the candle flame flickering against the wall. Her eye lids felt heavy and she could feel the waves of tiredness. Her eyes began to close, but just before they did she saw a dark shadow taking form next to the door.
Her eyes flashed open and she jumped up from the bed. It was just a trick of the light! She told herself, but the shadow was taking form and before her eyes the image of a girl appeared. A girl with only half a face, one arm and twisted legs.
‘Why did you leave me?’ the girl’s wispy voice asked.
She opened her mouth and screamed.