81 Ratclif Circle

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It seems like forever since I’ve written anything on here…I’ve been so engulfed in my current project I haven’t really been in the frame of mind to write much else. That part hasn’t really changed much, so since I can’t seem to form enough sentences to write anything other than my WIP, I may as well share some of that instead…

So, here is a little sample of what I’ve been working on. Mind you, there has been very limited editing, this is pretty much just how it flows from my brain and out through my finger tips, so be forewarned – there will be mistakes 🙂

81 Ratclif Circle was by far the largest house on the cul-de-sac. It was also the ugliest. While Bryze was certain that it must have been a gem in its time, what remained of it now was decrepit and appeared to be slowly disintegrating. The dark red paint was chipped and faded most everywhere. Where it remained solid, there were dark yellow and brown streaks running in a  downward motion, most likely from an extensive leak in the rain gutters, if not the roof itself. The long and narrow windows displayed shreds of deep green curtains, when they had any window treatment at all and were encased by shutters of warped wood and flecks of white paint that had somehow managed to remain attached in spite of the fact that the splinters of wood appeared to be barely holding on to each other and were likely to crumble at the slightest touch or breeze. Which likely explained the fact that the majority of windows had only one shutter left, or worse yet, pieces of shutters, neither of which would do much good in the event of a storm.  To top it off, the mansion had the distinct feeling of one that was haunted with a sadness that seemed to seep out through each of its weathered imperfections.

Bryze was about to insist that her mother shift into reverse and abandon this place of deprivation when she noticed an undeniable highlight amidst the rubble and despair. On the back left corner of the battered structure craned a tower, reaching higher up than even the tallest peak in the roof. At the very top, situated only feet below the rim of the dome, was a window. My room, Bryze thought as tingles shot down her spine in excitement. She was about to point it out to her mother when they were interrupted by a tap on the driver’s side window.

Everyone in the station wagon had been glued to the sight in front of them and not a one of them had taken notice when the dark silver Cadillac Seville pulled up beside them. Nor had they seen the tall, slender man who had gotten out of the vehicle and approached theirs.

Startled by the man’s sudden appearance, Faith struggled for a moment to roll down the window. Finally she was able to grab a hold of the lever to manually lower the glass in their old station wagon.

“Mister Galahad?” she asked with a shy smile.

He bowed his head slightly.

“Yes, indeed, but please, you must call me Percy. After all, we’re practically neighbors now.”

“Alright then, Percy it is,” Faith agreed as she nodded at the children to get out of the car.

Percy took a step back as she opened the car door and exited as well. A moment later, he was leading the way up the long walkway up to the wrought iron gates that led into the courtyard and eventually up to the front door. Along the way, Percy briefly inquired about their trip before moving on to telling Faith everything she needed to know about the house. The list of problems far surpassed the issues they had been able to see from the driveway, and Faith was busy making mental notes of all the things that would need to be handled immediately.

Moving at a much slower pace and following several feet behind the adults were Bryze and her little brother and sister, along with Ava, their dog.  Once inside the courtyard, the two smaller children happily began to run around, thrilled to be able to stretch their muscles as well as their vocal chords. Even though Bryze was eager to get inside the house to look around, she chose to sit down on the edge an old claw foot bathtub that sat alongside the outer walls of the courtyard.  As she pondered the events that had led to the bathtub’s relocation to the courtyard, she leaned back against the wall and watched Garret and Shelby as they chased each other around, winding in and out of the pillars that lined the front of the house and hiding behind the various pieces of random furniture that had been left behind in addition to the tub. They weren’t the only ones enjoying themselves. Ava was having a field day taking in every scent imaginable as her nose inched its way across the ground. Bryze smiled at the site of her old friend and relished in the fact that Ava would no longer be limited by the dog park or the gravel covered back patio they had lived with back in the city.

Bryze heard the sound of footsteps echoing over tile coming from the foyer and her attention returned to the man who had set everything in motion and brought them here. Percy Galahad was possibly the tallest man she had ever met. He towered over their mother, who wasn’t exactly short herself at 5’8. Everything from his face to his fingers was long and slender, so much so, it made his appearance nearly comical if one focused for too long on those attributes. Judging from his mannerisms and the ease in which he moved, he couldn’t be nearly as old as his deep wrinkles and white hair would suggest. His round sunken in eyes, were so dark Bryze had been unable to determine their color, but what she had noticed was the way he looked at things with such an inquisitive nature it had almost made her uncomfortable as his curious stare bored into her upon their arrival. Thankfully, it had been brief and he had returned his attention back to her mother almost instantly.

Percy’s demeanor was friendly and jovial in a way that seemed second nature to him and yet, Bryze couldn’t help but feel that there was something just slightly off in his behavior. It was almost too natural like it had been rehearsed and now he was simply going through the motions following a routine he knew inside and out because he had done it a hundred times before.

The sound of Shelby crying yanked Bryze from her thoughts of Mister Galahad and she quickly ran to her sister’s side to see what the problem was.

“What happened?” she asked as she strategically examined first the little girls face and head prior to moving her way down to the hands and knees while she waited for an answer.

“I falled,” Shelby wept as she lifted her chubby little finger to point at something just a few feet away.

Certain that the only thing bruised was her sister’s pride, Bryze kissed her forehead and helped her back to her feet. Then she stood up herself and walked over to the unidentifiable object that had caused the upset in the first place. When she squatted down beside it and flipped it right side up, she was surprised to see that it was a steel gauntlet. The metal was tarnished and two of the fingers had been crushed, but it was a gauntlet nonetheless.

Stunned, Bryze held the glove in her hands and stared down at it. I don’t know why I find this so hard to believe, she thought shaking her head. I was perched on the rim of a bathtub not two minutes ago, for Pete’s sake! Curious, she glanced all around the courtyard in search of the remains of the knight in armor from which the hand had come. There was no sign of him anywhere in the courtyard, so Bryze proceeded into the house, the heavy gauntlet still in hand.

Once inside, she came to the grim realization that the power had not been turned on yet. The thought of spending the night in this house was already a bit unnerving, but doing so without electricity and the gift of light was downright frightening. All of the curtains were still drawn and what little daylight was left was meekly hovering around the open entry way, unable to shine any further than the red and gold semicircle tile inlay at the foot of the door. Determined to uncover the mystery of her partial coat of arms, Bryze pulled her cell phone out of her pocket. She had hardly had any use for it since her mother had given it to her a few months ago. Even though most of her friends at school had been toting phones around with them for quite some time, Bryze had never expected to get one for herself. She was old enough to understand that their family struggled to make ends meet most months, and adding any extra expenses, especially for something as trivial as a cell phone was out of the question. However, when Bryze and Ava wandered off one evening and lost track of time after spending the afternoon at the dog park, Faith decided peace of mind was worth the additional ten dollars a month it cost to add a second line to the plan she already had. Bryze had happily accepted the phone, but hadn’t bothered with it much since receiving it. In fact, even now, the only number in her contact list was the one from her mother’s phone. The only time she had really found it handy was on nights she couldn’t sleep and wanted to do some late night reading without waking her little sister. For such a small screen, it gave off a remarkable amount of light. Light that she now made use of once more as she began to examine her surroundings. The foyer was as grand as she had expected, although she had to admit that the tall ceilings reaching up to the roof and exposing the halls on the second floor were somewhat daunting as the black emptiness of the room came down upon her where she stood. At the center of the entrance hall were dual stair cases, each curling their way along the high walls and up to the second story. What lay beyond them remained hidden by the darkness that had swallowed the house from the inside out.

Bryze took a few steps further into the shadows and held her phone up to the wall. It was covered some type of a blue and silver wallpaper. She reached up and let her fingertips scroll over the design. It was textured. She couldn’t be sure, but the silver markings, while matted down and worn over time, were still soft like velvet to her touch. The light blue background had been faded from years of sunlight that presumably once shone through the tall windows that scaled the front side of the house and the paper had bubbled and begun to peel in sections. In spite of all the wear and tear it had endured, somehow it had managed to maintain its beauty. Bryze’s finger affectionately traced the swirls of the design traveling upward until she reached the bottom side of a wooden frame. It was so big that Bryze had to take a step back to get a better look at it, while still trying to stay within a suitable distance for using the dim glow of her phone for lighting. There was no way of viewing the painting in its entirety with the little light she had, so she did it in sections. Starting at the bottom and slowly working her way up. The higher her gaze reached, the more her body tensed. The little hairs on her back began to stand on end and an involuntary quiver shot up her spine and through her body. The painting she was standing in front of was a portrait. Or, at least it had been at one point. Now, the image that remained was nothing more than a mutilated corpse that had not only been beheaded, but had been brutally rid of his upper limbs by the same sharp blade that had been used to cut out his face. There was no telling who the man had been, or why he had been so dismembered, but whoever had done it, had done so passionately, slashing the canvas brutally as they went.

Horrified, Bryze stood frozen in place with her eyes glued to the disturbing scene before her. As much as she wanted to erase the image from her mind, she simply couldn’t bring herself to look away, until she heard the booming voice of Mr. Percy as he and her mother came strolling in from the corridor to her left.

“I see you’ve found the poor fellow who lost his head over a woman. Not the first man to do so, I must say,” Percy called over to Bryze in his strange joking manner.

“Excuse me?” she muttered, unable to make sense of his words and how they tied to the massacred painting.

“He’s quite a sight to behold isn’t he?! Ah yes, you know what they say…hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

He was standing right beside her now, with her mother following close behind. Bryze heard a sharp intake of air as her mother came close enough to view the portrait for herself.

“Oh dear, what happened? Some sort of vandalism?” Faith asked.

Percy shook his head, smiling strangely.

“’Fraid not. It’s an entertaining story though, if you don’t mind my telling it.”

“No, of course not, please do!” Faith encouraged the man, eager for an explanation that wouldn’t make her stomach turn and her skin break out in a nervous rash.

“Well, as you probably already know, the last people to live in this house were your great grandparents miss Bryze, one Mr. and Mrs. Picard. Eleanor and Arden Picard to be more precise, and I do believe these are poor old Arden’s remains we are standing in front of. You see, Arden was a rather friendly old dog, if you catch my meaning, and while Eleanor devoted her life to raising a family and making a home for them, Arden was busy entertaining himself elsewhere. Well, as you can imagine, Eleanor wasn’t too pleased when she found out. She packed up their four children and left him behind in this big old house, but not before destroying everything that he held dear, including the portrait he had had painted of himself on his fortieth birthday. Rumor has it, the woman who painted it was one of his many mistresses. Whether or not Eleanor was aware of that I don’t know, but I think it adds to the story, don’t you?” He turned to look at Bryze as he finished.

Realizing that he expected some form of response, she gave into a nod. Before she had a chance to verbalize her thoughts, her mother broke in.

“Well, that is quite the story! However, I don’t think it will be suitable for the other two, so perhaps if we could just take the whole thing down before they see it…”

“Yes, I believe that would be best.”

Percy immediately lifted his long arms above his head and reached for the frame, carefully lowering it from the wall. He looked around the room for a moment in search of a place to store. When he recognized a coat closet near the front door, he ventured over to it, painting in hand. Seconds later, the morbid image of Cheating Arden Picard was stored away out of sight, if not out of mind.

The light from Bryze’s phone went out. Her eyes had grown so accustomed to the glow that it took a moment for her to be able to see again in the dark of the room. Apparently she wasn’t the only one having a problem.

“Percy, I think maybe now would be a good time for us to check that breaker in the power box,” Faith suggested as she carefully maneuvered her way closer to the door.

“Yes, of course. Follow me, it’s right out here.”

Bryze watched as the two dark figures left the foyer and disappeared in the dusk of the courtyard.  She heard her mother call to the other two, and in turn heard their disgruntled responses as they unwillingly followed her orders to fall in line behind her. Meanwhile, Ava had exhausted her sense of smell on the exterior of the house and had wandered in through the front door in search of Bryze.

“There you are bubba. Have fun out there? Yeah, I bet you did,” Bryze chuckled as she knelt down to rub Ava’s floppy ears. The large dog licked her face appreciatively.

“You up for another adventure? I still haven’t found the rest of this guy,” Bryze said thoughtfully as she felt the weight of the heavy steel glove still resting in her hand.

“Although, I’m starting to think that may be a pattern around here,” she added grimly as she scrolled her index finger over the screen of her phone to reactivate the light. With Ava at her side, she slowly moved from room to room. Arden’s portrait hadn’t been the only one displayed in the house. Painted images of faces, Men, Women and children, lined the walls in every room she entered. A strange sensation of recognition simmered on her conscious mind, and yet she knew she had never seen any one of the people depicted in the portraits before. They were complete strangers who felt oddly familiar. Bryze did her best to ignore these feelings and shove them to the back of her mind where they wouldn’t bother her, but her efforts were futile.

When she took her last step on the staircase leading to the second floor and entered onto the platform that followed, she found herself at the beginning of yet another long dark hall. Slowly she moved forward, willing herself not think about the possibility of Arden’s beheaded ghost coming flying out at her through one of the many doors that lined the hall. As she approached the end, Bryze felt a sudden glimmer of hope. It was slightly tinged with anxiety and fear, but given that Ava hadn’t run for the hills yet, Bryze locked in on her goal and kept going. There, only a few feet away, was an outline of an upright object that stood at least six feet tall. The closer she got, the more certain she grew, that it had the stature of a man, a coat of arms to be more specific, and as long as it didn’t suddenly move, Bryze would be close enough to determine whether or not this was the knight who had lost his right hand.

Bryze fumbled with her phone to try to cast more light on the statue in front of her. Before she had a chance to get a closer look, the entire house lit up. Almost simultaneously, a loud clang erupted from the second floor where Bryze had dropped the gauntlet on the tile floor. In the darkness the portrait had been hidden from her, but now the bright lighting streaming from every lamp in the house made it perfectly clear. The face staring back at Bryze from the canvas was identical to her own.

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