Scarlett peered up the attic steps as Greyson fumbled around for a light switch. Turning her torch back on, she shone the beam along the bare narrow walls and staircase. Unlike the rest of the hotel, all grandeur had been lost here. A thick layer of dust and spider webs lay around, though they had been recently disturbed. Boot prints and paw marks of a dog trailed their way upwards and down again.
‘Found it,’ Greyson uttered and clicked a switch.
Two naked bulbs pinged on and started to buzz softly. They were positioned at the top and bottom of the stairs, so their dim light was unable to cut properly through the lingering darkness.
Scarlett nodded as she pushed away the creeping feeling on the back of her neck.
Greyson turned on his torch and slowly climbed the steps. They creaked under his weight, the sound adding to the eeriness that weighed heavily in the air. Scarlett shuffled after him, keeping her torch down as a guide to her feet. At the top, Greyson paused again and looked for another light switch. As she waited, Scarlett flashed her torch around. There were three corridors to pick from and each looked lined with doors. Just like the stairs though, a layer of dust and cobwebs decorated the area.
Scarlett rubbed her chest, feeling the heavy, still dry air settling into her lungs. How long had it been since someone had last been up here?
More naked bulbs came to life overhead and Scarlett saw what Greyson had said the police had stated. Only some of the bulbs were working, so the dim light came in patches. Trying to look through the gloom, she also wondered if they had searched every room. She looked down at the floor and saw a trail of prints in all directions.
‘Where should we start? Forward?’ Greyson asked in a low voice.
He moved to the first door and Scarlett closely followed him. Her breath caught in her throat as he swung open the door and they both looked in. From the light of their torches they could see a cluster of old wooden children’s desks and blackboards. Greyson slowly moved in, the floor groaning loudly under him. He swept his torch around, but there was no way anyone could be hiding. Scarlett studied the blackboards, but couldn’t make anything out of their wiped surfaces.
‘Next one?’ Greyson called over his shoulder.
She nodded and they left, closing the door behind them. The next room also held more classroom furniture. Then the third and four were empty. Reaching the fifth, they found it locked. Greyson rattled the handle, but the door did not give.
‘I left the keys down there. I’ll be right back,’ Greyson stated.
‘Okay. I’ll check the others on this side,’ Scarlett replied.
‘I will be.’
Patting his shoulder, Scarlett moved to the next door, whilst Greyson walked back. She put her hand to the cold handle and turned it. The door did not open. Leaving it, she turned and tried the end one on the other side. It was locked too. Wondering what was up with that, Scarlett moved to the next one. Just before her hand touched the handle, she heard a soft whispering. Pausing, she flashed her torch down the corridor, but did not see anything. She opened her mouth, Greyson’s name on her lips. The whispering tickled her ears again. It sounded like a female voice asking a question, but Scarlett couldn’t make the words out.
Shaking her head, she turned back to the door and tried the handle. It was locked.
Stepping to the next, the boards groaned under her and she decided that really that’s what she’d heard. Or maybe it had been the wind through a gap or even Greyson muttering, she laughed at that and tried the next door.
It easily opened on to an empty room.
She jumped slightly at his voice, ‘Yes?’
Closing the door, she waited till he had joined her and for a few minutes they searched through the keys and tried them in the locks. The keys jingled nosily, breaking the deathly silence that seemed to have taking up residence in the attic. Metal scrapping metal echoed then faded and the rattling of handles became too loud.
‘I give up,’ Greyson moaned, ‘I can’t see properly and there are too many unlabelled keys.’
‘Let’s try these then,’ Scarlett said, pointing out the other doors that they had not opened.
The last few revealed more school supplies, including some old science lab equipment, books, bookcases, tables, desks, chairs, photos and documents.
‘I want to take these. Maybe there’s something interesting them,’ Scarlett said about the last two items.
Greyson glanced at her from looking at an old photo. It showed a group of boys posing on the front steps of the manor. He shuffled through a few more that all looked the same then gathered them together with some others.
‘We can leave them at the top of the stairs and collect them on the way back.’
‘Fine. What about the rest of this stuff though?’ Greyson asked.
He looked around at the stacked chairs and a shelf containing animal organs. Feeling a tightening in his stomach, he turned his torch away from the dark liquid jars and back to his wife.
‘I’m not sure yet. Maybe get a dealer in? Here can you take these?’
Nodding, Greyson helped her collect the photos and papers. They stacked them at the top of the stairs then checked the last room on that corridor. Like the first they had looked in, it contained blackboards and desks. Scarlett walked in and looking closely at one of the boards, saw faintly the five and ten times tables written in a loopy hand.
She shook her head and they left.
‘Which way now?’ Greyson asked.
‘To the left,’ Scarlett said and went to the first door.
‘I can’t believe children lived up here,’ Greyson spoke out.
Scarlett, her hand still on the handle turned to him, ‘I guess no one really cared back then and don’t forget the other floors probably looked the same as this one.’
‘Maybe it wasn’t so bad then…’ Greyson mused.
Scarlett opened the door and looked in. Out of the gloom rose sharp teeth and flashing eyes. She cried and jumped back, crushing Greyson, who quickly caught her. Shoving her behind him, he looked into the room then laughed.
‘What is it?’ Scarlett screeched.
‘A stuffed bobcat or something like that,’ Greyson chuckled.
Scarlett peered past him, fighting for breath and to calm her racing heart. She saw the small spotted cat enclosed in a glass case. Greyson walked in and his torch lit up more animals. Scarlett saw birds of prey, a sausage dog, rats, a domestic cat and an array of butterflies.
‘These must have belonged to the school,’ Greyson muttered.
‘Or the original owners of the manor house,’ Scarlett suggested, ‘I don’t like them.’
She shivered and turned away. Brushing her hair back and holding her torch in both hands, she waited for him to re-join her. Resting against the wall, Scarlett looked into the dusty corners and tried to turn her thoughts away from the encroaching darkness.
Greyson appeared in the doorway, ‘maybe we should call it quits?’
‘No. I want to see what’s in these other rooms. I’m okay. Just wasn’t expecting that,’ Scarlett stated, ‘you open the next one.’
Greyson paused, ‘as long as you’re sure?’
He walked out and opened the next room. The door squeak then came to a sudden stop. Scarlett felt her breath catch in her throat and she tried to tell him to be careful, but the words wouldn’t come out. Instead, she watched Greyson trying to lean around the door and shine his torch into the room. He gave the door a shove, but it still would not move.
‘Something must have fallen and got wedge,’ he said.
He closed the door and moved onto the next one. As he reached it, Scarlett heard a small sound. She turned, lifting her torch up. The sound came again. It was a door moving. She fixed her eyes down the corridor and listened as the door continued to creak open. A flicking of movement caught her eye and a shadow seemed to detach itself from the wall. The door clicked shut.
Wetting her lips, she glanced at Greyson over her shoulder, but he had disappeared. Swallowing and keeping one hand on the wall, she walked backwards slowly. A floor board squealed. Scarlett gasped and spun around to look down. The beam of the torch shook, but she couldn’t see anything other than the dusty floor. Looking up again, she quickly walked into the room Greyson was in. He was looking at more piled desks and chairs.
‘Did you hear that?’ she asked him, breathlessly.
‘No,’ he replied and turned to her, ‘what was it?’
‘A door moving…’
‘Like the one I just opened?’ Greyson suggested.
‘No, it was one of the others…’ Scarlett stopped, her own words sounding silly.
‘It was nothing. There’s a drift from below. You can feel it.’
Scarlett pressed her lips together and walked out of the room.
‘Scarlett? Let’s go back now. Somethings…not right up here,’ Greyson called after her.
‘There’s a room I want to check first,’ she shouted back.
Sighing, Greyson hurried to join her at the top of the steps.
‘It must be this way,’ Scarlett muttered to herself and started walking down the right hand corridor. In her head, she count the rooms till she reached what she thought was about the middle. Her hand reached for the handle. She felt Greyson come to her side then she pushed open the door.
Shining their torches in, the light revealed two rows of small metal framed beds on either side.
‘Wow. Did they just leave these here?’ Greyson uttered.
Ignoring him, Scarlett walked into the room and straight to the window. She lifted the heavy curtain and looked out. She could see the darkening gardens far below her, but the angle was wrong. Letting the curtain drop, she left the room and tried the next one.
‘What are you looking for?’ Greyson asked.
‘Before…’ Scarlett started then shook her head.
She opened the next room and walked in. Like the other next door, beds lined the wall. She went to the window and lifted the curtain again. The angle still seemed to be off. Dropping the curtain, she spun and headed out.
‘Before what?’ Greyson picked up.
‘In the garden, I saw something up here…’
Greyson grabbed her shoulders and brought her close to him, ‘tell me!’
‘A curtain moved,’ she replied nervously, ‘and I wanted to really make sure it wasn’t my mind playing tricks on me…’
‘Oh, kitten,’ Greyson breathed and hugged her tightly.
‘I don’t believe in ghosts,’ Scarlett mumbled into his shoulder.
She felt tears pricking her eyes and took a few deep breaths of his familiar scent.
‘Let’s go,’ Greyson murmured.
‘Okay, but let me just check this room.’
Before he could stop her, Scarlett had left his arms and was opening the door. She stepped in and he followed her. She went to the window, lifted the curtain and looked out. She could see the bench she had been sat on fully now. Breathing deeply, she let the curtain go and looked at the floor.
In the torch beam, she saw the bare footprint of a child.
To Be Continued…