I glanced at the Sat Nav as the female voice told me, ‘you have reached your destination,’ then out of the car’s front window. There was nothing but this single track country lane and tall hedges either side.
‘I’ve not reached my destination!’ I snapped.
Driving on, I looked for any sign that I was close. In the full beam headlights, I saw a red arrow pointing onwards and words I didn’t catch.
‘Just little further then. You can do this, Jane,’ I said.
My grip on the steering wheel was tight, my knuckles had gone white a few miles back. I was praying there was nothing coming towards me. The wind was reaching gale force, I could feel the car rocking and the tops of the hedges were beginning to sway drunkenly. Rain drops splattered down once more and I put the wipers on.
The hedges dropped on my right, a tall red brick wall topped with black spikes came into view, half sheltered by trees left to grow wild. I breathed out then in, relaxed my hands and body. I moved my feet over the pedals and slowed the car down.
More wall, more trees, it seemed never ending. The wall dropped lower, the trees gone, replaced with hedge that once had been groomed into shape but was now untameable. I slowed down further, almost to a crawl, I didn’t want to miss the turning after all of this!
A large white sign; Toski Castle jutted out at me from the side view. Huge black open gates that looked like they had come straight out of Hell appeared. They were attached to giant grey stone pillars, upon which sat leering monstrous gargoyles.
I stopped the car and looked through the gates. A dark road led upwards, trees over shadowing it, there was no sign of a building. I glanced at the Sat Nav and saw the little imagine of a car driving through space with a red question mark over it.
‘There’s nothing else for it,’ I said aloud, ‘and if it’s the wrong address then maybe they can tell me the right one.’
I indicted and drove up the driveway. The full beam headlights showed over grow lawn strips on each side, bushes and trees acting as a double boarder. I went down a steep dip, over a small hill and saw a large arched gate house like bridge structure ahead. Through this which wasn’t lit up, was another two hills and the entrance way.
This structure was far grander then the little gate house, it looked like two smaller stone castle towers connect by a high arched bridge. There were glass windows in both towers, though no light shone. I wanted to stop and make it out better but I didn’t want to be any later then I all ready was.
Driving through, I came to the actual driveway of the castle. The road was clear on both sides, gravel had been laid down to create areas to park and little security lights placed low down aided in parking nicely. There were no cars. I recalled in the letter I had received along with the invitation, something about that being the over-flow car park.
I drove on, under another small bridge also sided by stone towers and into the area before the castle. This was a large square of gravel, walled in by ten foot high, large stone sides. Dim lights give hardly any chance for me to full understand the structure. I parked in the left up corner, noticing the lack of other cars.
The car’s dashboard clock told me it was almost seven-thirty PM, the party had all ready started. I looked out of the window but couldn’t make much out in the dim light. Maybe, I was in the wrong place after all? But how many other Toski Castles where in Lancashire? None that the internet had said.
I got out of the car and grabbed my things; handbag, large rucksack, suitcase and my sky blue masquerade mask. Locking the car, I walked up six steps to archway, behind which the castle rose. It was hard to tell in the darkness how impressive this place was. The photos I had seen online showed a Victorian manor house in the style of a romantic medieval castle.
Security lights lit the way but I wondered why there were no lights coming from the windows, of which there were many. Maybe, it had something to do with the spirit of the party and the curtains had all been drawn? There was just enough light to see that the castle looked like something out of an old movie. It give the imagine of having been around for hundreds years but it was only like hundred and fifty odd years old.
The ‘fake’ castle had been neglected and saved often but some parts were still crumbling. The dark walls held tales of mystery and murder, making it just perfect for my best friend Kendell’s New Year’s Eve Murder Mystery Party.
Stepping into the courtyard, I looked for any sign of party noise and movement. Perhaps, I had come to the back of the house instead of the front? Though it didn’t seem likely. I turned around and around, feeling a slight fear that the darkened windows were watching and judging me.
A security light pinged on, making me jump. I laughed it off, now seeing the courtyard clearly. There was a pathetic little fountain in the center; a stone vase tipped above a small walled pond. No water was coming out as it had been shut off for winter. The stone slabs under my feet were dark and wet with rain, which was still falling. The wind had dipped some but only because of the shelter of the walls.
There was a flight of stone steps in front of me leading to a double wooden door. I made my way up and saw a red bell rope danging down. There was a plastic covered piece of paper attached.
I reached for it and read it in the security light;
Welcome to Toski Castle, guests. Please ring the bell once and remember to put on your mask before entering!
Resting my suitcase down, I put on my mask and pulled the rope once. The sound of a bell echoed loudly.
The front door creaked open, darkness spilling out. I felt a tingle of excitement, a rush of nervous and a touch of fear. In a flash, my brain went to horror movies where lost travelers in storms find castles full of mad people and unspeakable things!
The rain suddenly pelted me and not wanting to get my ballroom styled nineteen-twenties, blue party dress any more wet, I hurried inside.
‘Hello?’ I shouted into the darkness.
A candle flickered on to my left then more appeared, even on a chandelier above and soon the whole hallway and grand staircase ahead of me was light up. Both were breath taking! The hallway was full of wood – the floor and the walls all paneled in a dark chestnut, the ceiling was painted white and decorated with a heavenly scene.
The staircase banisters were huge trunks of oak and the bottom pillars held bronze statues of half naked woman holding up old fashioned glass vase for gaslights. A red patterned and gold tasseled carpet ran up the stairs which then divided into a left and right at the top. There on that wall, was a huge painting of a Napoleonic battle scene. Men in red coats and men in blue coats fighting on horse back in a muddy landscape.
‘Wow, this is amazing! Nice trick with the candle lights,’ I added and laughed.
Music, piano and other classic instruments, started playing from some hidden room. I heard the hush of voices but couldn’t figure where they were coming from. There seemed to be too many wooden doors leading off the hallway and all were closed.
I heard the swish-swish of skirts and turned to my right. A figure emerged, in a floor sweeping, white frilly dress with a low cut chest and long sleeves. Covering most of her face was a white feather swan mask and wisps of tightly curled sliver-white hair bobbed on her head.
‘Kendell?’ I asked.
The figure stopped.
‘It’s me, Jane. Sorry, I’m so late. The bad weather and the Sat Nav…You did say the postcode might let me down!’
I smiled and in the pause heard laughter and the clicking of glasses.
‘I see,’ a muffled voice answered back, ‘come, let me show you to a room so you can refresh yourself.’
‘Oh! That would be lovely,’ I cried.
Kendell picked up the skirts of her dress in one hand and held on to the banister with her left. I collected my things and followed her up the broad staircase, half wishing her husband or somebody else, even Kendell, had offered to give me a hand with my luggage!
At the top, we turned left under the terror-stricken eyes of soldiers and horses from the painting. From a nearby table, Kendell picked up a gold candelabra and three candles flames danced in the breeze she caused. Using it to light the way, we went up a smaller staircase and on to a dark landing.
In the dim light of the candles, I noticed the frames of paintings, doors and windows lining both walls. I wanted to talk to Kendell but climbing those stairs had seemed to take all the energy out of me. Instead, I followed the tail of her white dress around corners, up and down stairs, until we came to a door which was slightly ajar opposite a large window box seat.
‘Here, this one is empty,’ Kendell’s muffled voice said.
‘How many people did you invite?’ I gasped, ‘we passed so many rooms!’
‘Some of them are not suitable and others are not bedrooms. You will be satisfied with this one,’ she said rather stiffly.
‘Getting into character all ready! I like it!’
Kendell huffed, shoved the candelabra into my hand and strolled off like an insulted peacock.
‘Wait!’ I called out after her, ‘I’m sorry! It’s very good!’
She turned the corner, the tail of her dress floating out and was gone.
‘Been like that then,’ I uttered under my breath, though I didn’t mean it. I was tried, cold and that wasn’t the grand entrance I had imagined on arriving.
I opened the door to the bedroom fully and went in.
To be continued….