Uliginous #AtoZChallenge

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Uliginous: growing in wet or swampy ground.

 

Euric knew the Swamp of Maidswell wasn’t a place anyone should go, yet here he was trying to pull his knee length leather boots out of a boggy patch. Swearing, Euric give his right boot a hard tug and tried to move forward. There was a loud slurping sound and the mud returned his boots though they were covered in dark brown and green slimy mud.

Stepping onto a thick mossy bed, Euric caught his breath. The stench of the swamp filled his nose and mouth, it smelt like rot, dead animals and bad gases. It was something no one could ever get use to and the thick cloth Euric had wrapped around his face didn’t help much.

He took a few extra moments to look around. There seemed to be nothing but little islands of green or brown moss surrounded by green- grey waters. Sometimes there was a small tree, being dragged down by draping moss, reeds growing out of the murky pools and skeletons.

Euric had seen plenty of bodies and skeletons before, the life of an adventurer came with all that. He had even fought undead skeletons once but he was hoping on this quest they wouldn’t appear. He guessed the remains around him were from people who had gotten into difficulty out here which was easily done.

Turning, Euric looked and saw his two companions coming over to join him; the druid Alibus had tied his long white robes up and was wadding though a pool to the right of Euric in new knee length boots which had taken lots of persuading to convince the druid to buy.

‘You can’t go into the Maidswell Swamp with sandals on!’ Euric had cried at the market two weeks ago before they had set off on this quest.

Using his long staff for support, Alibus stepped up beside Euric and began getting his breath back too. The druid looked drained and the large bug bite on his neck was weeping pus again. Euric patted Alibus’ shoulder, hoping his friend was going to be okay.

A loud spitting sound and cursing in elfish, made Euric and Alibus look over their shoulders. A tall, golden haired elf female struggled to shake a giant grey slug off her thigh length red boots. With a high kick, she sent the slug flying and stomped over to join them on the mossy mound.

‘I think this is the most stupidest thing you’ve ever agreed to, Euric!’ the elf snapped.

‘You knew the risks, Nimue,’ Euric said in a controlled voice.

There was light flapping of feather wings and a small brown owl appeared out of the darkening grey sky. She drifted down to the group and landed on the druid’s shoulder.

‘What news, Kiko?’ Alibus asked then leaned in as the owl began twitting away.

Euric and Nimue waited then Alibus translated for them, ‘the skull is close by, we are heading in the right direction and there’s a storm coming.’

‘Good to know,’ Euric said and started walking again.

Drops of fat rain drops began to fall and a rumble of thunder echoed over the near flat land. The water of the swamp rippled and the all ready wet ground welcomed more water. Frogs and toads began croaking loudly.

The three adventurers pressed on for a few minutes as the rain around them grew thicker. Lightening forked the sky and the thunder rumbled closer. Then Euric pointed ahead and shouted, ‘there’s the giant Hangant’s skull!’

Just though all the green and rain, they could see a white-grey skull growing larger ahead of them. They hurried on and struggling through a deep pool, they made it to the giant’s skull. It stood as tall as a castle tower above them, the huge empty eye sockets seemed to be looking down on them and judging them. There was a large, jagged crack in the forehead which widened as it ran all the way down the back of the skull.

Through a missing tooth, Euric, Alibus, with Kiko hidden in his robe’s hood, and Nimue stepped inside. Darkness swallowed them for a few moments then the druid cast light on his staff and they could see they were not the first to use the inside of the skull as shelter. The reminds of a fire from months ago was in the centre and landed out against the back of the skull were two human skeletons.

‘What happened to them?’ Nimue asked.

Alibus inspected the skeletons then give a shrug, ‘don’t know. But their things are here,’ he added pointing to two leather bags and a few other things left in a pile.

‘Can we get a fire going?’ Euric asked, kicking the ashes of the last one.

Alibus nodded and using his staff, he created a real but magical fire.

Euric sat down, dug in his pack for a water bottle and some food. Nimue began looking through the abandoned things for anything useful. Alibis walked around, his light showing that there was nothing else inside the skull then he joined Euric by the fire and let Kiko dry off.

‘Sounds bad out there, I’m glad we made it inside,’ Alibis said.

‘We shouldn’t let our guard down though,’ Euric answered, ‘the stories might say that the Maids of the swamp hide during storms but we all know they aren’t the only danger around here.’

‘The bugs are!’ Nimue cut in.

A smile flickered on Euric’s face, ‘anything worth taking?’

‘No. If they had anything worth taking, it’s gone all ready,’ Nimue answered as she came to join them, ‘right. What do we do now?’

Euric looked up at the massive domed roof of the skull above them, ‘we look for the Trailing Fumewort,’ he spoke, ‘it should be around here somewhere. Remember not to touch it or breath it in.’

Alibus nodded, ‘it has small orange flowers that let off a poisonous scent, pin like purple spikes which are also poisonous, black leaves and a thick twisting vines. Death comes within minutes from it’s dual poisons.’

‘Lovely,’ Nimue muttered sarcastically.

‘The white roots, however are the opposite,’ Alibus continued having not heard her, ‘they bring life and cure all illness.’

‘That’s why the wizard Thuneas wants it then,’ Euric spoke.

A boom of thunder went off outside startling them all. Nimue drew her long bow, arrow notched in a blink and moved towards the closest gap in the teeth. An unsettled feeling rose the hairs on her skin.

The lightening flashed and in the few seconds of light, Nimue didn’t see anything through the cloud of heavy rainfall. It was hard to tell if there was anything about even with the elf’s sharp eyes. Perhaps, the feeling was because of the current nature of their shelter?

‘What is it?’ Euric whispered.

‘Not sure. Let’s look for the Fumewort and go. I really don’t like this place.’

Euric nodded and their search continued.

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Ceraunophlia #atozchallenge

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Ceraunophilia; loving thunder and lightning, finding them intensely beautiful.

I’m attracted to lightning. There’s just something about the raw power of a storm that draws me and fascinates me. I’m not sure how or why my love came about but it might have to do with the first storm I saw.

It was a family holiday, I was five and we were at a zoo. We heard the rumble of thunder and I remember asking what that sound was and then what the flashing lights in the sky were. We ran for the shelter of a cafe as the rain hammered down and the storm raged right over head. My baby sister cried, like a lot of the children round us but I pressed my face to the window and watched the pretty lights in awe.

After that, any thunder and lightning storm interested me and I would check the weather forecast to see when one was due. Sometimes, I’ll travel to a location to capture a storm and I watch lots of recordings online.

People might call me a storm chaser, but that’s not really what I do. I just enjoy watching lightning and listening to thunder.

 

(Join in the challenge here; http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com)

Salt

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Doctor Roy Parker stood on the end of the pier, huddled in a huge winter coat and looking around. Everyone thought him mad to take a seaside holiday in February but he embraced it. The quietness at the out of season resort, the emptiness of the beach and town, no worries or cares, created a perfect escape from an intense twenty-four hours- seven days a week hospital job.

Resting his arms on the rotting wooden rail, Roy watched and listened to the gale force winds creating mini sand storms along the beach below. Out at sea, the wave tops were whipped into meringue peaks which then crashed onto the shore and got left behind by the large rasping, rolling salty water.

Rain started falling, fat drops plopping onto the wooden boards, the damp sand and stormy sea. Roy didn’t mind, this was nature at one of it’s wildest moments and he could just become lost in the raging weather. He balanced himself against the elements, letting them sweep everything away for a good while.

The wind became more violent, throwing sand and waves upwards to Roy. A tingle of danger went through him and the Doctor decided he’d had enough for the moment. With rain and sand grains clinging to him and sea salt the only thing he could smell, Roy finally turned away and walked back to the large dome cafe that dominated the middle of the pier.

He opened the door and was greeted by a gentle warm hug of air. Choosing a seat near a  right hand side window, Roy noticed he was the fourth customer in the cafe. Two old ladies in their seventies or eighties, sat a few tables away in the center row, were enjoying a meal. To the far left, next to a rain coated window, a young man in his twenties or thirties, sat with his eyes closed and hands around a white mug. A yellow Labrador guide dog sit at his feet, tongue lolling, face attentive.

The rest of the tables, though set for customers were empty, giving an eerily abandoned impression to the place which the weather made all the more real.

Looking towards the counter and kitchen area, Roy saw a bored teenage girl at the till putting a brownie onto a plate. Listening, he heard a soft brush of musical notes coming from the kitchen along with the smell of mingled hot food and coffee.

Roy picked up the plastic covered menu wedged behind glass salt and pepper shakers and a bottle of vinegar. He scanned the deserts and drinks list then turned the menu over to see the meals. There wasn’t a lot of choice but that wasn’t a surprise.

Meanwhile, the waitress took the brownie to the blind man and spoke to him for a few minutes. She patted the guide dog’s head. Roy got the impression they knew each other which in this small town was easy to believe. Then the girl turned, coming towards him whilst digging out a paper pad and pen from her white apron bag.

‘Hi, what can I get you?’ she asked in a fake bright voice.

‘A pot of tea,’ Roy answered.

The girl noted it down.

‘And fish and chips.’

The girl made to nod then replied, ‘if you order the special it comes with tea, bread and butter.’

‘Is that a pot or just a cup?’ Roy asked, avoiding the temptation to look at the menu again.

The waitress thought for a moment as if she had forgotten or was deciding something, ‘I can make it a pot,’ she stated and wrote on her pad again.

‘Thank you,’ Roy said.

The girl walked off and disappeared into the kitchen. Roy listened for voices but the wind, rain and sea were in storm mode and all other sounds were now blocked out. Turning to the window, Roy watched the rain pounding against the glass and clouding the view which he imagined on a nice summer day was a picturesque beach.

He was lost in his thoughts for awhile, so when the waitress appeared with his tea, Roy was slightly startled.

‘There you go,’ the girl said as she set a tea pot, milk jug, sugar bowl and cup down.

Roy thanked her as she headed back to the kitchen then looked at the mismatched and dented tea set. The poor sliver colored tea pot had seen better days, the rim of the sugar bowl was chipped and the darker sliver milk jug looked like it could fall apart. He gingerly poured the steaming tea and fridge cool milk into his tea cup.

‘Excuse me, Sadie,’ a man’s voice called loudly.

Roy looked about and saw the blind man trying to attracted the waitress attention.

‘I’ll get her for you, dear,’ one of the old ladies spoke.

‘We are leaving now, Mark,’ the second replied.

‘Thank you, Iris and Lilly. I want to leave too,’ the blind man answered, ‘the storm sounds bad, so I’m going to get a taxi.’

They both got up. The first lady, who was wearing a powder pink felt coat and had a hint of pink in her white permed hair, walked slowly to the counter. The other lady dressed in a pale blue felt coat and with blue wisps in her white hair, went over to the blind man.

Roy watched, wondering if they were twins or sisters or friends.

The waitress appeared at the counter, talked to Iris or Lilly then picked up a phone.

The old lady went back to her sister or friend and after saying goodbye to Mark and his dog, headed for the door.

Roy braced himself to feel the bite of the wind as the door opened but he was sat far enough away that he felt just a whisper of the chilly wet air. He picked up his tea and took a few sips, feeling warmth sinking into him.

The girl appeared at his side and placed two plates down, one had two slices of bread and small pot of butter, the other held his fish and chips.

‘There you are. Is there anything else you need?’ she asked.

‘No, thank you,’ Roy answered.

With a single nod, the girl swept away and over to the blind man. She talked to him, no doubt saying she had ordered a taxi.

Roy arranged the plates of food how he wanted them then put salt and vinegar on his fish and chips. He picked up his knife and folk from the white napkin and started eating. It wasn’t the best meal he’d ever had but it tasted great today. The chips had just a crunch to their outside and were soft in the middle. The fish was lightly and crispy battered, soft and tender inside. With the added salt and vinegar the whole thing came together in one celebration in Roy’s mouth.

So distracted was he, Roy didn’t noticed the blind man leaving till he felt a touch of cold. Looking up and towards the door, he saw the man going out and the waitress helping him. She closed the door and hurried through the cafe into the warmth of the kitchen.

Alone, Roy took a moment to glance around then carried on eating. The fish was tasty, though the salt was drying out his lips and he had to keep licking them. He drink some more tea to help. Unable to stop, he ate quickly, forgotten how he’d built his hungry by a morning walk in the town, then along the edge of the beach and around the pier.

He was finished before he knew it. Pouring the last of the tea, Roy hugged the cup and listened to a rumble of thunder in the distance. He looked out of the window and though it was hard to think the weather had gotten worse, it seemed just that.

Roy finished his tea and sat relaxing for a few minutes. Coldness crept over him and he felt stiff in his legs and back from the plastic chair. Perhaps, it was just his imagination but he felt a slight rocking motion.

Getting up, he went to the counter and looked for the girl. A door labeled kitchen was open in the back wall and Roy could hear radio music more clearly now.

‘Hello? he called, his voice sounding loud in the empty cafe.

‘Coming,’ the girl called back.

She appeared, trying to turn a scowl into smile.

‘The bill, please. And if it’s not too much trouble could you phone me a taxi?’

‘Here you go, the girl said and handed him a slip of paper, ‘and yes, I can. Where are you going too?’

‘To the Mermaid Hotel,’ Roy replied as he dug out his wallet.

The girl took his money and made the call. He listened as she said the address of the cafe and the hotel. She hung up the phone and turned back to him, ‘The taxi will be a few minutes and pick you up from the pier enterence.’

‘Thanks,’ Roy answered, he added a ‘goodbye,’ and went to the door.

Preparing to step out into the storm, Roy took a deep breath and opened the door. Rain that felt solid hit him and the strong wind tried to force him back. Roy wrestled with the elements, hurried out and back along the pier.

‘It is swaying!’ he cried.

Daringly, he looked over the safety rail and saw the sea waves arching upwards around the wooden supports. Imagines of the pier collapsing, the buildings crashing down and himself thrown into those violent waves flashed through his mind.

Panicked, Roy ran off the pier, slipping on the wet boards and dodging the small buildings and stalls that were dotted around. He made it safely to the enterence which was an indoor hallway connecting the street to the pier.

Huddling inside there, water dripping everywhere, Roy looked out for his taxi. A rumble of thunder made him jump then laughing loudly, Roy let all his fear go. Of course, the pier was moving! It was built to do so! How else would a wood and iron structure survive the sea? And the storm was only that and nothing to be scared over.

A red car pulled up outside, horn blaring.

Roy opened the door, walked out and got into the taxi.

‘The Mermaid Hotel,’ he said to the reflection of the driver’s face in the rear view mirror.

‘Right O,’ the driver spoke and peeled the car away.

Build Again #TaleWeaver

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The island was use to all kinds of storms which was why I had decided to move here to study them. Newly waving my degree and happy to be finally striking out on my own, I was naive to adulthood and the overall consequences of surviving storms.

My first one was an evening thunder and lightening storm out at sea. I sat on the roof of my new bungalow house with my binoculars, camera and notebook in hand, watching and recording the fascinating scene of lightening bolts striking large waves.

After that, there were tropical storms which whipped the wind and rain into a frenzy that crashed down trees and damaged houses. A violent sea storm that causes a cliff to fall and low down houses to be flooded. More thunder and lightening, including one that started a fire in a patch of woodland.

I studied them all, publishing reports and making my wages at the weather station. Of course, I felt some of those storms’ effects but I was never threatened. However, six months in and there came a report from the mainland about a possible hurricane hitting us.

I was the one who picked up the message and brought it to my supervisor to read.

‘Chances are it’ll miss us, like the last two,’ he said then took the report to the boss.

So, no need to worry then.

Throughout the month, more and more warnings came in and with a week to go, the hurricane wouldn’t be ignored anymore. We had been putting out the word, recommending that people prepared for the worse and should think about leaving for safer mainland cities.

I excited, my first hurricane! decided not to bother returning home except to collect somethings then moved into the accommodation next door.

Whilst everyone else was protecting their homes by putting up wooden boards or metal sheets, stacking sandbags, then stocking essentials and either leaving their homes or hunkering down in storm shelters and basements, I was in my element watching the  hurricane growing.

When it hit, something finally clicked in my body and the urge to flee grew so much I had no choice but to go and join the other weather station employees in the shelter. The winds were over 100 MPH causing trees, houses and everything else to be tossed around, I could here these constant sounds of the wind roaring and things crashing. The rain pelted down like stones. I could also make out the sound of the sea in the background, which was swelling around the island as if trying to claim it back.

I don’t know why it took till that moment, huddled on a camping bed under a sleeping bag, wide awake, watching the electric lights flicking then finally dying that true knowledge of my situation kicked in. A million thoughts flooded me and the flight instinct screamed but there was nowhere to go. I reasoned with myself, eyes fixed on the metal door, that if I went out there death awaited whilst in here there was a chance of surviving.

I felt terrified, sick and emotional all at once, shakes racked my body, the noise wouldn’t stop in my head. I bolted up, hands over ears, screaming and screaming. It didn’t help though because I could still hear the hurricane.

Everyone tried to calm me down but I was beyond human contact. My supervisor sat with me, repeated talking. I guess tiredness made me stop in the end. Everything was damp with my tears and loud with my panic. Blinded, deaf and numb, I just remembered, my supervisor getting me to drink water and take some pills.

‘Those will calm you and these make you sleep,’ he explained.

Like the electricity, I was out for the rest of the hurricane.

When I came to, I was alone and silence pressed heavily on me. I got up went to the bathroom, had a shower and brushed my teeth. Dressed, I walked out of the shelter and saw that everything had changed.

Trees broken in to bits, lay across everything and things underneath them; houses, cars etc were crushed into almost unrecognisable pulps. The weather station was gone, blown apart as if hit by a bomb. Most of the other buildings looked the same, as if they had been wiped away. Those that still stood were flooded and only fit to be knocked down.

Boats that been in the harbour were now on land, sticking out from the remains of houses and trees or laying in lakes that had once been fields. Roads had given way, creating dead ends and blockades to places. Rubbish and peoples’ belongs were scattered everywhere that it would be impossible to reunite things when the clean up began.

I walked slowly, trying to pick patches of dry and clear-ish to step. My mind was reeling, I had only seen scenes like this in photos and on TV. There was just too much to take in and I could smell the sea so harshly my nose was sore.

I reached a small group of people, picking things out of the remains of the weather station. My supervisor waved me over.

‘How you feeling?’

‘Okay,’ I muttered.

‘Look at all this!’ he said picking up a piece of twisted metal, ‘oh, well. When we rebuild, more hurricane proofing is needed.’

‘Rebuild? How can you?’ I cried, ‘everything is just…gone!’

‘Not everything. We are still here.’

He had a point.

‘Don’t let this put you off,’ he added, ‘it’s not all bad.’

I nodded and with nothing else to do, went and helped where I could.

From that moment, I give storms greater respect and I made my job more about helping people survive them then just studying them.

 

(Inspired by; https://mindlovemiserysmenagerie.wordpress.com/2019/02/07/tale-weaver-209-rebuild-7th-february/ with thanks).

 

The Murder Mystery Party (Part 4)

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I felt strong hands gripping mine and pulling them back. I tried to wiggle out but I was too confused by what had just been said to realise fully what was happening.

‘I am arresting you for the murder of Louisa Pitney,’ Chief Inspector Macklain declared.

I felt a bit of metal on both my wrists, I went to move and he had handcuffed me!

‘Wait!’ I shouted, ‘this isn’t right! I had nothing to do with it! This isn’t how the game was meant to go!’

‘We will have to lock her in her room, Chief Inspector,’ Kendell announced, ‘the storm is too bad for any of us to leave.’

‘And have a murderer under the same roof as us?’ Crispin yelled.

‘Do not worry, I have the only key to that room. She will not get out.’ Kendell cut in.

‘Let me go!’ I cried, ‘you’ve got this all wrong! I didn’t do anything!’

‘Come along now, Missy,’ Macklain spoke.

He started to drag me out of the room, I tried to kick him and anything else I could. I struggled hard against him moving me. Doctor Guilford and Kingsley came to assisted him and with three men dragging me off, I couldn’t fight the all them.

Still screaming my innocence, they half carried me half pulled me, upstairs and along all the corridors and staircases to my room. Kendell followed behind with a determined air. I tried to appeal to her but she wouldn’t listen.

At the door, the Chief Inspector released me from the handcuffs whilst Kingsley let my right leg go to open the door then they flung me inside like a sack of potatoes. I hit the floor hard in the darkness, bashing a knee and biting my lip. I flayed about then sitting turned to face the four of them standing in the doorway.

‘How could you?’ I cried, ‘that was too much!’

‘Not enough for a murderer like you,’ Macklain snapped.

‘I didn’t do it!’ I yelled.

Scrambling to my feet, I flew at them but hit the closed door instead. Macklain had slammed it shut before I could reach it. Hammering my hands and fists on the door, I screamed like a mad woman, repeating over and over for them to let me out and that I didn’t do it.

Sometime later, exhausted, I sank to the floor, my back to the door. My face was soaked with tears, my hands blooded. I curled up and tried to collect myself. It was all meant to be a fun game but it didn’t feel like it anymore, it felt too real to be anything else.

I wiped my hands and face on my dress, not caring anymore. Slowly, I got up in the dark, I felt my way around and turned on the lamps. My stuff was still on the bed, so I took it off. Then remembering the little bathroom, I went in there and cleaned myself up. I also took off my clothes and changed into the fleece pajamas I had brought. Whatever happened next, I’d had enough for one night.

I got into the bed but I couldn’t sleep, so I lay there my mind turning over things.

More time passed. I heard the sound of footsteps and whispering voices outside. A key was turned in a lock and a door creaked open. People moved into the room.

I turned my head to see and saw Doctor Guilford and Kendell coming to the side of the bed.

‘I’m not playing anymore, Kendell,’ I told her, ‘and if you’ve come to apologise to me I’m not accepting it.’

I made to roll over but my body was too stiff and tired to move.

I heard a clicking and glanced to see what it was. Kendell was holding an old fashioned black leather doctor’s bag and from it Guilford was pulling out a needle and small glass bottle of clear liquid.

Panic flood me, making my body jerk into action. I scrambled up the bed, my back hitting the headboard.

‘What are you going to do with that?’ I shouted.

‘It will help you sleep,’ Guilford said, as he drew the liquid into the needle.

‘No! You are not sticking that in me!’ I yelled.

I made to fling myself across the other side of the bed and towards the floor but before I could, with the expertise of a doctor use to patients running, Guilford had stabbed my arm with the needle.

I cried out and flopped down on the bed, breathing hard.

‘There, she will not be any trouble now,’ Guilford announced.

I sat up, stared at the tiny needle mark which was fast fading then looked at them both, ‘what was that? Why are you doing this?’

Guilford and Kendell didn’t answer, they turned away and out of the door once more. Locking it behind them.

I felt waves of sleep drifting over me. I settled down in the bed again, my eyes closing and unable to fight, I fell into a heavy sleep.

 

I was standing in the hallway by Jarrett and Louisa’s half open door. My hands were weighed down, handcuffs? No, a black metal bucket full of coal. I placed that on the floor and looked inside the room.

Louisa was at the dressing table, adding finishing touches to herself. She was currently trying to put on a pair of pear drop earrings. Jarrett was storming around the room, shouting at her and Louisa in turn would shout back at him.

‘How could you? I knew it was a mistake to come here!’ Jarrett yelled.

‘These are your friends, not mine,’ Louisa snapped back.

‘You always blame everything on me! Well, I am not the one having an affair, am I?’

‘Remember the Anderson’s summer garden party? You got blind drunk and kissed everyone! I had to drag you away before the police were called!’

‘I did not make love to anybody!’ Jarrett roared.

‘I would not describe it like that….’ Louisa responded, coldly.

Jarrett huffed about, ‘I should never have married you. I know you only did it for the money.’

Louisa turned to him, ‘and what are you going to do about it?’

Jarrett stopped moving, he was facing me, though he didn’t seem to see me. I saw his face change colour to a deep red, his cheeks and chest swelling. He flexed his hands, balled them into fists then opened his fingers into claws.

He spun and launched himself at her. Louisa screamed but was too slow to get away. Jarrett landed on top of her, his hands aiming for her throat but because she was sitting down he missed and they tumbled to the floor together.

They fought wildly, like mad cats, Louisa screaming loudly, trying to get away and Jarrett stopping her, grabbing at her. The room became chaos, items and furniture flying everywhere. Then Jarrett cornered her, his hands wrapped around her throat. Her hands beat at him but she didn’t have the strength.

I heard the breath catching in her throat, her last struggling and I saw how transfixed Jarrett was, the hate consuming him, his hands squeezing.

My fingers curled around the door, I wanted to burst in and stop him but I was frozen.

Louisa flopped in his grasp. Jarrett let her go and she sank to the floor. Jarrett stumbled back, looking at what he had done but no shock crossed his face. He walked around the floor, scattering more things then from somewhere, he took out a small knife and went back to Louisa. He slashed her wrists, dumped the knife and breathing hard came towards the door.

Grabbing up the bucket, I fled down the hallway and into an empty room at the end. I snapped the door shut behind me and press my back to it. I tried to stop my fast breathing, to be quiet, I prayed Jarrett hadn’t seen me, that he wouldn’t come for me next.

 

My eyes fluttered open, everything was out of focus and my mind was foggy. I tried to look at the ceiling but my head hurt too much. I shut my eyes and tried relaxing, I controlled my breathing, counting as I breathed in and out. I could feel my heart racing and there was an edge of panic in my body.

It took a long while for me to be calm. Opening my eyes, I saw the ceiling clearly above and as I listened I could hear nothing but myself.

Getting up, I all but crawled to the window, my body ached all over. Outside, it was a clear morning, the sky a winter grey and weak light battling the last of the night’s shadows around the castle.

I rubbed my neck and hobbled into the bathroom. Even though, I wasn’t a fan of baths, I took one. The water felt so hot and soothing, like nothing from the night before had actually happened. I lay in the tub, drifting and breathing in the cooling steam. When the water started to cool too much, I got out and wrapped in a towel, searched for some warm clothes to put on.

Once ready, I went to the bedroom door. Flashbacks from last night rolled through my mind. I took a deep breath, stepped up and tried the handle.

It turned and the door opened with no problems.

Confused, I walked out and looked around. The corridor was still and silent. Walking out, I didn’t focus on remembering the way, I just went. The castle seemed dead, time had stopped and I was like Sleeping Beauty, though now awake and wondering what had happened.

I made it to the grand staircase. Going down, I looked through all the rooms and found them similar to last night; most ready for a large party to take place. In the dinning room, the fruit, wine bottles and glasses were set up on the table untouched. In the kitchen, food was prepared to be served or re-heated. There was also sealed boxes of wine on the floor. In each fireplace, wood logs and coal were stacked up ready to be lit.

I got an odd feeling that something really wasn’t right here. I went back to the entrance way and stood looking around, feeling utterly baffled.

I heard noises from outside, a distant car engine? Voices and footsteps, someone laughing and heavy things being put down. Keys jingled then turned in the front door lock. The double doors opened.

A group of people were stood there, some held boxes. For a few moments their faces were happy and excited then they spotted me and their expressions changed to shock, worry and confusion.

‘Jane?’ Kendell’s voice asked.

She handed the box she was carrying to her someone else and stepped forward.

I looked at her, Kendell was wearing black jeans and a cream blouse. I tried to picture her in the white frilly dress and swan feather mask from the night before. It was hard to tell but she didn’t look as slim and her hair was a darker sliver.

‘Jane, what are you doing here?’ Kendell question.

‘I came last night,’ I replied in shaky voice.

‘Last night? but the party is today. How did you get in?’

‘You let me in,’ I answered.

Kendell glanced back at her husband, who shrugged then she turned to her other side and at a man who was holding a bunch of keys in his hand.

‘I wasn’t here,’ Kendell spoke, ‘are you feeling okay, Jane?’

I rocked back on my feet, my head swimming. I touched my hot forehead then twisting around, went and sat down heavily on the third step of the grand staircase.

Kendell came over. She sat on the step beside me and wrapped her arms around me. I hugged her tight, breathing in the fresh damp air and warmth off her body.

‘Tell me what happened,’ Kendell requested in a low voice.

I wiped my face, a few tears had fallen.

The group of people had abandoned their boxes and come over to us. Kendell’s husband sat down on my other side. With a quick glance I realised the other people were bar staff, waiters, kitchen staff and the man with the keys an owner of the castle.

‘It’s all right, Jane,’ Kendell said.

I took a shuddering breath, ‘I don’t know where to began. I’m not sure what happened now.’

‘Just try.’

‘Well, when I arrived there was a party going on and everyone was dressed in nineteen- twenty clothes and had masks on. Like your invite said,’ I began.

‘There was no party here last night,’ the owner interrupted me.

I stared in shock at him, ‘but there must have been! There were people here!’

He shook his head.

Kendell grabbed my hand, ‘go on,’ she uttered.

‘Then the murder happened!’ I continued, ‘and I thought the game had begun. But things went horrible wrong. I was accused of being the murderer! I got arrested and locked in my room, then a doctor injected me with something and I fell sleep. I had this dream, I think and I saw the real murder happen and who actually did it. Then I woke up and was walking around the castle but everything was like nothing happened.’

Kendell pressed her lips together and studied me hard.

Her husband patted my knee in sympathy.

There was a small cough and a teenage girl with dyed red hair, dressed in blue jeans and a red uniform t-shirt stepped forward.

‘There was a story my grandma told me,’ the girl in a soft voice said, ‘about an unsolved murder that happened in the castle in the twenties. It was on a stormy night, a day before new year’s eve, during a masqueraded party.’

I felt sick and faint, my vision began to swim.

‘Because the killer was never found, though the husband, I believe, was suspected, legend says that party haunts Toski Castle to this day still,’ the girl finished.

I tried to swallow the bubble in my throat. I still couldn’t think clearly. The silence pressed hard down, nobody daring to even breath and everyone watching me.

‘It was the husband,’ I whispered finally, ‘he killed his wife, Louisa.’

‘There wasn’t enough evidence against him, grandma said,’ the girl explained.

I looked down at my hands, they were shaking. What had happened last night? Had it been real? A dream? Had I really seen ghosts reacting an unsolved murder from the twenties?

I don’t know but even today I am still haunted by that night.

The Murder Mystery Party (Part 3)

 

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Jarrett’s voice faded but the word dead seem to echoed.

A man, wearing a simple black mask, pushed forward from the crowd, calling out, ‘I’m a doctor, let me through!’ He reached the first step of the grand staircase and turned to look back at us, ‘I am sure everything will be fine,’ he said calmly.

‘Fine!’ Jarrett shouted, ‘she is dead, I tell you, look!’

He ran downstairs, stopped four from the bottom and showed us all his blood stained hands. There was a shocked gasp from the crowd.

A woman cried out and fainted, far to my right, a few people caught her. Voices whispered, fading in and out. I didn’t catch what any of them were saying clearly. I could see the worry, disbelieve and shock on the faces nearest to me though. Everyone was acting really well!

A young man pushed through, he was wearing a green mask just around his eyes. He spoke out, ‘I shall assisted you, Doctor Guilford!’

‘Thank you, Kingsley,’ the Doctor said, with a nod.

‘Let me through,’ a man’s voice called from somewhere at the back, ‘I am Chief Inspector Macklain! What has happened here?’

He was dressed in a proper dinner suit, complete with white handkerchief in the top pocket. His mask was black but he had pulled it off to reveal a face a lot older then his years, he had seen a lot of police action. His hair was thin with too much worrying and he had a large drooping moustache that was going grey. His dark eyes roamed the party as if seeking out the murderer all ready.

‘Louisa is dead!’ Jarrett wailed and stumbled down a step.

‘It’s all right, old boy!’ Doctor Guilford spoke.

‘I will get to the bottom of this,’ Macklain added as he came to the front of the crowd.

‘Me too!’ Am Jarrett’s younger brother, Crispin,’ a teenage male called out from the side.

He walked over and joined Doctor Guilford, Kingsley and Macklain at the bottom of the stairs. I noticed he was dressed differently from the other men. He was wearing white trousers, a red and white pinstriped jacket, a red bow tie and a white shirt. He had blond hair and his mask was gold colored.

‘Oh, I want to help too!’ I cried, putting my hand in the air and doing a little jump.

People glanced at me then I moved forward.

‘What can you offer, madam? Are you a nurse?’ Doctor Guilford asked.

‘No, but I’m a mortician.’

A ripple of stiff laughter came from the crowd.

‘Okay, an assistant mortician, newly qualified, as some of you know,’ I added.

‘I am sure we will be fine without you,’ Macklain said.

‘No, I am helping!’

Pulling a childish face, I hitched up my dress and stomped over to the staircase. I went up, feeling everyone staring at me as if I had announced some great evil. Reaching Jarrett, I took him in. His half white half black mask was askew, his face flushed and his body shaking.

‘Led the way,’ I demanded.

Jarrett nodded and walked up the stairs, I followed and so did the men. At the top, I snatched up a sliver candelabra but found as Jarrett walked down the left corridor that electrical wall lights were on. Still, I felt the candelabra was giving me some kind of power, so I clutched on to it.

Walking by, I could see the storm was still raging outside. Rain coated the windows, the wind was howling like a wounded wolf, the thunder determined to make itself heard and the lightening strobe flashing. It felt like the perfect night for a horrible murder in a spooky castle miles away from anywhere else.

An excited but nervous chill came over me. What was going to happen next? Who would the murderer turn out to be?

Jarrett led us back to the hallway I had first met him on then off to the left, up a flight of stairs. We were all silent through this walk. At the top, he paused at the first door which was wide open.

‘I can not go in,’ he said, ‘I can not see her like that again.’

‘Stay here then,’ I said and handed him the candelabra.

Stepping into the room, I saw it was a total mess. Bedding was strewn everywhere as were clothes, books with were flung about, a few rip pages here and there, there was also glass on the floor and damp stains on the rugs. The overwhelming smell of lots of perfume hit me full in the face.

Where was the body?

I looked harder and saw on the other side of the four poster bed, the back of a limb hand, fingers curled inwards, raised up like a tried child trying to answer a question in class.

‘Do not touch anything,’ the voice of the Chief Inspector said from behind me.

I stepped to the side and let the men in. The Doctor and Kingsley walked carefully around the other side of the bed. They began speaking in low voices.

Being careful not to walk on everything, which was really hard, I joined them and stared down at Louisa.

She was laying at a strange angle, her upper body slummed against the bed frame. Her right hand was raised, blood trailing down her arm. The left arm was fallen at her side. Her eyes were open, fixed on some point ahead, a startled expression on her pale face. Her lower body was sprawled out across a scrunched up rug, her legs wide open and only one shoe on her foot. The other shoe, I spotted poking out from under a pillow.

She was wearing a dark green dress with a large bow at one side but it was blood spattered. Her blonde hair was loose about her face and the bed, there were flecks of blood on the strands. There was also a pool of blood around her left arm which when the Doctor held it up, I saw a slash across the wrist.

‘Doctor?’ Macklain asked.

I jumped a little, being so focused on the body I’d not even noticed the Chief Inspector moving to my side.

‘Her neck has been broken,’ Guilford answered, ‘her wrists cut as if to make it look like suicide. There is bruising around her throat, hand marks and also bruises to her arms.’

Macklain nodded.

I opened my mouth but the words didn’t come out. I wanted to say what a good actress Louisa was or was it a good life dummy? And also how great the murder scene had been set up but it felt all too real.

Sick rose in my stomach, I made a whispered, ‘excuse me,’ and walked out.

Standing in the hallway, I took a few deep breaths then noticed that Kendell had joined Crispin at Jarrett’s side against the wall.

‘Louisa?’ Kendell uttered.

I gave a quick shake of my head and turned away. My stomach was rolling over, ‘where’s the nearest bathroom?’

Kendell took my hand, led me down the steps, passed two closed doors then into a white bathroom.

I went to the sink, ran the tap and splashed water on my hands, arms and face. The cold water helped remove the nausea and shock. I also took a few handfuls of water to wet my dry mouth.

‘That was too real,’ I uttered, ‘she looked like a real body. I wasn’t expecting that. How did you do it?’

‘I…did not do anything,’ Kendell said stiffly, her voice still muffled by the feather mask.

I turned to her, water dripping off my face. She handed me a white towel which I used.

‘Who do you think murdered her?’ I asked, ‘wait, I’m not allowed to ask you because you probably know,’ I laughed.

Kendell looked hard at me.

‘Unless you don’t either, because you hired the actors?’

‘Actors?’ Kendell questioned, ‘there are no actors here.’

A loud knock at the door interrupted us. Kendell flung it back and the Chief Inspector was standing there.

‘I am sorry to intrude, but I need to question everyone. Please come to the dinning room now,’ he said.

‘Of course,’ Kendell answered.

Macklain turned away and she followed him. I dropped the towel on the hand rail and trailed after them. We went back the way we had come, finally down the grand staircase and into the dinning room, where I had gotten my glass of wine before. It was now gone from the table I noticed.

‘Please be seated,’ Macklain spoke.

Kendell sat down at the head of the table. I took the only other empty chair to her left. Beside me was Jarrett with his mask off, looking extreme pale and upset. He was also handsome, but now was not the time. Next to him, his brother and the rest of the chairs were filled out with other guests, all still had their masks on.

There were a few men standing around, looking at different things in the room as if they found a great interest in them. I noticed how they avoided looking at anyone else.

‘What is your name, Miss?’ Macklain questioned.

I looked at him, realised he was addressing me and replied, ‘Jane Walker.’

‘Mr Pitney says he found you wondering the hallways before his wife’s death, is that true?’

I thought for a few moments then said, ‘yes, I was lost trying to find my way down to the party.’

‘What time would this have been?’ Chief Inspector Macklain asked.

I pressed my lips together and tried to remember what my phone screen had said. The numbers wouldn’t come to me.

‘Do you recall at all?’ Macklain pressed.

‘Well, it was after seven when I arrived, I remember seeing that on my car’s clock but then when I came down to the ballroom, I heard it was almost nine. I didn’t think that much time had passed though!’

‘Yes, it was almost nine, Chief Inspector, when Miss Walker joined me,’ Kendell spoke stiffly, ‘ I can not tell you want time she arrived at.’

‘And you, Mr Pitney, what time do you think it was when you meet Miss Walker in the hallway?’ Macklain questioned.

‘It was around half past eight,’ Jarrett said gently.

Macklain rounded on me again, ‘do you remember hearing anything at that time, Miss Walker?’

I wiggled in my seat, feeling the pressure of all this questions. I didn’t realise this was going to be so intense! It was meant to be a game after all!

‘Let’s see,’ I spoke, ‘I remember hearing shouting, an argument, maybe? I followed the voices then I heard a door slam.’

‘What was the shouting about?’ Macklain shot at me.

‘I never heard any clear words.’

‘Did you see Mrs Pitney?’

‘No.’

‘Then what happened when you met Mr Pitney in the hallway?’ Macklain inquired.

‘I told him I was lost and asked if he could help me find the party. He did so,’ I answered.

‘Did you seem him again afterwards?’

‘No. He went back upstairs. I was with Kendell the whole time then, until I heard screaming and I joined everyone with going to the entrance hall,’ I explained.

Macklain paced away from me, went behind Kendell’s chair then came back again and went behind Jarrett and said in a low voice, ‘where did you go, Mr Pitney?’

‘Back to my bedroom,’ he answered, ‘I wanted to apologise to…to Louisa….’ he took a deep breathe then carried on, ‘when I got to the room, the door was open and she was…dead!’

‘What had you been arguing about, sir?’

‘Nothing! It was nothing!’ Jarrett shouted and slammed a fist into the table.

We all jumped.

‘Quiet, brother. Be calm,’ Crispin spoke and laid his hand on top of Jarrett’s fist.

Jarrett stared at me, hate in his eyes.

‘It was you,’ he hissed.

‘Me?’ I questioned, putting a hand to my chest.

‘You were jealous I was married!’

‘What? I don’t even know you!’ I responded then laughed nervously.

‘She would have had the time to go back,’ Kendell declared, ‘it would have only taken a few minutes!’

‘I? Kendell! What are saying? I had nothing to do with it!’ I cried.

‘It would have been easy for you, especially as no one knows who you are!’ Kendell exclaimed.

My next words died on my lips. I looked around the room with wild eyes.

‘What do you mean, Lady Whitwood?’ Macklain inquired.

I frowned. Lady Whitwood? Kendell’s last name was Steveson. Had she given herself a character name for the murder mystery game? Perhaps, everyone else had done to and that’s the other reason why I didn’t recognise anyone.

Kendell took a deep breath and accusingly said, ‘Miss Walker is a stranger amongst us! I did not know her when she came to the door, though she was dressed for the party. When I made inquires after her no one admitted they knew her.’

I froze, not sure what to reply to defend myself with, nor where any of this was going. I had a strange feeling that the murder mystery game had gone wrong somehow.

‘I know who she is!’ Jarrett shouted, ‘my childhood sweetheart! She followed me here, tricked her way into the party and murder my poor wife!’

Scrambling to my feet, I stood up and screamed, ‘that’s not true!’

Jarrett and Crispin also got to their feet.

‘She does sort of look like your old sweetheart,’ Crispin added, thoughtfully.

‘She is Jane Duneshaw! Arrest her, Chief Inspector! She is the murderess!’

‘No!’ I cried.

To be continued….

The Murder Mystery Party (Part 2)

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I walked into the bedroom, the light from the candelabra didn’t show me a lot. I looked for a light switch on the wall but couldn’t find one. I turned on two lamps either side of the double, four poster, red velvet curtain bed and another lamp over a little writing desk. There were other candles dotted around which I decided to light.

With that, I could see the medium size room; the bed with side tables and bedding box at the end against one wall, an empty fireplace and a small door in the wall opposite. On the left wall where the door was, stood a small oak wardrobe in the corner. On the last wall, a small window and the writing desk. The wallpaper was old fashioned flowers on a cream background and the floor was covered by four or five dark rugs.

I dumped my stuff, took off the masquerade mask and went to the little door. Opening it, I walked in and found a tiny bathroom. There was a sink with a mirror above it, toilet and a small bath. It would do for two or three nights. I wasn’t a fan of baths though so maybe I could find a bigger bathroom with a shower in it to use?

Going back into the bedroom, I started unpacking and noticed how quiet it seemed. I could hear some of the candle wicks crackling as they started burning, the wind and the rain rattling the window and myself moving stuff but I couldn’t hear the sounds of the party. Not thinking about how I was going to find my way back down the grand staircase, I got what I needed out and set the rest aside.

I looked at my phone and saw I had no signal, not even enough for an emergency call to be made. I put the phone in the small blue beaded bag I’d brought with me. I could look for signal if I needed it later, but I knew in castles it was unlikely, all that thick stone blocked out things.

Taking of my wet dress, I went to the wardrobe. Opening the door caused the wooden hangers to rattle. I grabbed one, hung my dress up then searched for a plug socket for my hair drier. I found one next to the bedside table, though I had to unplug the lamp. Switching the hair drier on, I give my hair a quick dry, I had been to the hairdressers that morning for a twenties bob style and didn’t want to mess around with it. Then I dried my dress.

Halfway through the hair drier cut out. Frowning, I checked the plug and it was still work. I shook the hair drier and spent a few minutes trying to get it back on but it was dead. Giving up, I tossed it on the bed and slipped the dress back on. Over the top, I put a paler blue cardigan on. I re-did my makeup, placed a few other things inside the bead bag, put the mask back on and was ready to go.

A rumble of thunder caused me to pause. I looked over at the window, there was only darkness and rain splatter.

‘A thunder storm?’ I spoke aloud, ‘that wasn’t forecast.’

As if in answer, a flash of lightening struck and the thunder rumbled again. I shivered and opened the bedroom door. It was pitch black and I couldn’t see. Tutting, I turned back and picked up the gold candelabra Kendell had given me. Then realising I couldn’t leave the other candles lit, I blew them out and turned off the lamps too.

Just by the glow of three candles, I began to make my way along dark corridors. The storm came into full force as I walked. I could the wind howling, making things creak and groan in the castle, rain hit the windows causing them to shake and every few minutes the thunder would rumble like the hungry stomach of a giant followed by a flash of white lightening.

Fear spiked me, vanishing all other emotions and thoughts. I tried not to think of horror movies, supernatural things and anything unsettling. I concentrated on trying to remember the way Kendell had brought me. Was it left here or right? Down or up this staircase? Passed the painting of rearing white horse or not?

I heard shouting voices and stopped. I spun about, trying to decided where they were coming from but everything echoed in the castle. A door slammed, I jumped and cried out, the noise had been so loud it must be close by!

A figure appeared, stomping down a staircase. I couldn’t see much and scared, I tried to tug myself into a doorway.

‘Who’s there?’ a man’s voice called.

I peered out at him but still could only make out his outline. He moved forward and I almost made a dash back the way I had come.

‘I’m sorry,’ he spoke softer this time, ‘I didn’t mean to startle you. I’m Jarrett Pitney.’

‘Jane Walker,’ I breathed.

I stepped away from the wall and held the candelabra up. I could see him better now. He was tall man around six foot, with short black hair waxed back, the mask he wore was half black half white and came down over his cheeks, he had blue eyes and full pink, wet lips. He was wearing a black dinner suit with a white shirt, bib and black bow tie.

‘Are you lost, Miss Walker?’ he asked in a hushed voice.

‘I’m afraid so. Could you help me find the party?’

He nodded and held out his arm. I took it and without another word, he led me the correct way. A few minutes later, we were at the top of the grand staircase, the painted horses and men of the Napoleonic battle scene staring down at us.

‘You should be all right now,’ he said and dropped his arm from mine.

‘Thank you,’ I replied.

He turned and walked back the way we had come, the darkness swallowed him. I wondered how he knew the way without any light. Maybe, he knew the castle well? The sounds of music and voices drifted up to me.

I walked down the staircase and found that some of the doors leading off from the entrance hall where now open. Light was pooling everywhere and I could smell warm food and burning wood.

Putting the candelabra down on a table, I walked to the first open door and found an empty parlor. There was fire burning happily in the fireplace in the opposite wall, plush armchairs and two seater sofas were scattered about waiting to be used. I tried the next room and found six chairs around a circular table that was set up for afternoon tea. Another fireplace was light, on both sides of which where bookcases and portraits on the walls.

Stepping out, I followed the distance voices towards the back, behind the grand staircase. There I walked through double doors and found myself in a ballroom. A handful of people were walking about, only two couples were dancing and there was a small orchestrate on a stage in the far corner. The air smelt of fire smoke, winter spice and flowery perfume.

All the men were wearing fancy evening suits. The young women were in twenties flapper dresses and the older women more modest dresses. I looked down at my costume and decided it just fitted in. Staring into the ballroom again, there was no one I recognised but then it was hard with everyone wearing masks.

Feeling better, though wondering where everyone else was, I spotted Kendell in her white frilly dress and swan feather mask off to one side near a glass door. She was talking with a man in a blue dinner suit and both had wine glasses in their hands.

Thinking I could do with a drink, I looked around but saw no table or bar or waiter in which to get one from. So, I crossed the room and went to Kendell. As I neared I caught some of their conversation.

‘I did not want to turn her away,’ Kendell was saying in a low voice.

‘It could spoil everything! This has never happened before!’ the man snapped back.

‘It is almost nine O’clock, it will be over soon.’

I stopped, ‘nine O’clock?’ I cried, ‘I didn’t even realise I’d been upstairs for that long!’

Kendell and the man spun to look at me but most of their expressions were hidden by the masks. The man had dark brown hair and his mask like a leering red face.

‘Are you feeling better now?’ Kendell ask.

I nodded as the man sulked off.

‘I could do with a drink though!’

‘Of course,’ Kendell uttered.

She took my hand and placed it in the crook of her arm. Before I had time to tell her how odd that was, she was leading me out of the ballroom, down a corridor and into a dinning room set for around twenty people. There was a bowl of fruit in the middle of the table, a tray of glasses and few bottles of wine.

‘Help yourself,’ Kendell stated.

‘This is odd, didn’t you hire any staff?’ I asked.

Kendell didn’t reply.

I choice a red wine, uncorked it and poured myself a glass.

‘I guess it must have cost A LOT to hire this place out!’ I said then carried on, ‘especially, on New Year’s Eve! I hope I’ve not miss much. I’ve been looking forward to this. I’ve always wanted to do a murder mystery game night and now you’ve made it happen.’

I took a few sips of the wine and turned to Kendell. She was gone.

‘Kendell?’ I called.

A long, high pitched scream echoed through the room.

Almost dropping my glass as I placed it on the table, I hurried back into the hallway. It was empty, so I dashed to the ballroom.

The scream came again, more desperate and female sounding. The ending was blocked by a loud blast of thunder.

In the ballroom, people had froze, looking towards the double doors then everyone left, talking in low voices about what could have happened. I joined the end of the group. More people came out from other rooms until about twenty-odd, maybe thirty of us were all gathered in the entrance hall.

‘This is it! The murder has happened!’ I said excitedly.

‘Murder?’ a woman’s voice said at the side of me.

I nodded and went to speak more but there came a rush of footsteps and Jarrett appeared at the top of the grand staircase.

‘She dead!’ he yelled, ‘my wife, Louisa, is dead!’

To be continued….

The Murder Mystery Party (Part 1)

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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….

Adrift #FFfAW

The days and nights had become one long stretch of nothing. It seemed there was only the sea and the sky left, the rest of the world has just gone. Dad and son sat in the tiny dingy, thinking, sleeping, daydreaming, hallucinating, hoping and praying to be saved. The sinking of the fishing boat haunted them but they were far away from that now and everything else. Large waves rocked the boat, the sky grew black, another storm was coming and this time they might not survive.

(Inspired by; https://flashfictionforaspiringwriters.wordpress.com/2018/11/26/fffaw-challenge-193rd/ with thanks).

A Summer Storm #WritePhoto

In fields full of flowers we would spend our summers; playing, talking, reading, kissing. Standing at the edge now, I could see her still, running in a flowing white summer dress, the hem brushing the steams of the flowers as her hands trailed across their petals. She was laughing and looking back at me as I chased her.

A soft rain began to fall, darkening my clothes. I ducked under an oak we had used as shelter many times. If I pretended for a few moments, she was on the other side of the trunk, counting as we played hide and seek.

The rain came down harder, dripping through the leaves above. A rumble of thunder echoed across the fields. I shivered and wondered, why had I come back here? Had I really thought she would be here waiting for me? Lightening lit up the grey sky. The hairs on my arms stood up, it was unsafe to stay here.

I began running back to the village, the rain soaking me and the thunder clapping. I was crying, my chest hurt, I felt crushed with wanting what I could no longer have. She was gone forever and she would never run through those fields again.

 

(Inspired by; https://scvincent.com/2018/08/09/thursday-photo-prompt-summer-writephoto/ with thanks).