Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Into Thornwood || Chapter Nine

By Becca

Chapter nine

          Thornwood was far grander than she had imagined. 
          She must have looked like a fool, wandering through each room as if in a dream. If this was her prison, she could not have asked for a more luxurious one. 
          With a smile she opened the French doors to a sea of sunshine. It came pouring in though the rows of tall windows and filled the ballroom with brilliance.  A childish impulse drew her out onto the dance floor. She twirled and danced with an invisible partner to imagined music.  Her skirt unfolded and billowed, fluttering like wings with the movement.
          But then she stopped short, the room still whirling. Caprice’s scolding voice, very clear, came to her mind. “You are acting like a silly little girl. You are far too old for such nonsense and should be conducting yourself with propriety.”
          She would not say that now, would she? 
          After father’s death, Caprice changed. Cecile once hated the way Caprice spoke to her. Now, after these months of silence, she only wished that Caprice would speak.

          Peering through the sliver of light, he frowned as she suddenly stopped dancing. What happened? It stepped back from the door; afraid she might have sensed a presence. 
          She was happy, a genuine smile brightening her face, but it all faded in an instant. Hearing footsteps, he looked into the ballroom and watched as she left through a side door.

          Cecile strolled down yet another hallway, staring up at the portraits that lined the walls. Painted eyes seemed to follow her and every time she turned around they looked straight ahead, but that eerie feeling never left…. someone was watching her.
          The paintings were old, perhaps ancestors of the Eilert family? Most of the people had pleasant faces, solemn, but not cruel. She almost wished the automaton was there to tell her who they were. 
          She paused a moment at one. It was newer than the others, though equally dusty. A small family looked out from the canvas. In the center of the painting sat a beautiful woman- with a delicate and kind face. She held a young child in her lap. Behind her stood a dashing dark haired man, his hand lovingly resting on her shoulder. The child had his father’s looks; a curly mop of black hair topped the darling face. 
          Is this the Eilert family? Mr. Bernard Eilert, the brilliant inventor and his wife. The automaton said nothing about their son… 
          Beside the portrait, there hung another painting that caught her attention.  Within a tall gilded frame, there was a forest; a cheerful green forest with golden sunlight filtering through the leaves.  Weaving around the base of the trees was a thin path- she had seen this before. It was the forest surrounding Thornwood. At the base of the painting was a dainty signature; she bent down to read it. Amid the flourishes she made out a name. Felicity Eilert.
          Cecile straightened, still admiring the painting. “You are a very gifted artist Mrs. Eilert.”
          The scene was so life like. Cecile stepped closer and smiled at a tiny red bird perched on wisp of a branch. The detail was breathtaking, she almost felt as if she could step right onto the path. Without thinking she reached out and touched the canvas, but it was not canvas. Her fingers pressed against the hard surface and it gave in with a click. Holding her breath, Cecile took a step back as the frame released and swung out from the wall, revealing a spiral staircase. A tingle bolted through her spine.
          “Could it be this simple?” She murmured and stepped into the dark.  Running her hand over the wall, she found a knob. With a push, a dim yellow flicker came from above, strengthening in a few moments. The painting closed behind her with a snap.
          Could this be his stairway? Would this lead up to the door-less room at the uppermost story of the mansion? Metal clanged underfoot as she swiftly climbed, anxious to discover what was waiting at the top.                   
          When the spiral suddenly ended and the stairwell opened, Cecile found herself in child’s nursery. Everything was tidy and it’s it place. A bed in the corner was neatly made and love-worn teddy bear sat against the pillows. Toys and children’s books filled rows of shelves. Drawn curtains hung over the windows. Cecile flooded the room with light as she pulled them back. This must be that little boy’s room, the curly haired boy in the portrait. 
          She noticed a small figure on the shelf and picked it up. It was a metal man, quite similar to the automaton, and a key jutted from it’s back. Curious, she wound it up, set it on the floor and smiled as it jerkily marched in a wide circle.  
          “If Mr. Eilert left…” She interrupted it’s promenade and held the little man as it’s arms and legs waved back and forth. “Then what happened to Mrs. Eilert and their little boy?”
          A flailing movement in the corner of her eye turned Cecile back to the window. A chestnut mare was rolling happily in the lush grass far below. 
           “Oh Diamond! I had forgotten about you, though you seem quite well all on your own…” 
          From the window she had a very good view of the grounds and also of the expanse of Thornwood. A conservatory branched off from the main building, and settled down amidst a rose garden. But as she looked closer, she sensed something was wrong. The plants had grown up the iron frame and into broken windows, but the remaining panes of glass were darkened and streaked with soot.  
          There was fire here. Why had the automaton not mentioned it?  Cecile knew she had not seen every room on the first floor, for the secret door hiding the staircase was too enticing to ignore. But now she could not let that unanswered question burn in her mind. A door opposite the window opened onto a familiar hallway, and the main staircase brought her back the first floor.
          “Now,” She looked around at the all the passages, each one tunneling deeper into Thornwood. “Which one, do you suppose, will take me to the conservatory?” 
          A loud twanging crackle broke her musings. “Why do you want to go there?”  
          Cecile shrieked and spun around. The automaton stood very close, towering over her, and the question was repeated. 
          “Why are you looking for the conservatory?”
          She stumbled back, grappling for an answer. 
          “I-I  saw it from the upstairs window and it looked as though there was a fire-“
          “And were you going to put it out?” The fizzling voice was laced with sarcasm. 
          “Of course not! You interrupted me before I finished. I was going to say, it looked as though there was a fire-“
           “Yes there was. You needn’t bother yourself with that though.”  Her nerves strained when the automaton interrupted again. 
           “And why not?”
           “Because it happened a long time ago.”
            She tried to stay composed, but she was simmering inside.  “Oh did it now? But what does that even mean? Mr. Eilert left a long time ago, there was a fire a long time ago, and this house was left to rot a long time ago.  My mother died a long time ago!” Her faked calm ended with a shout.
           Cecile drew in a shaky breath, and the gears hummed and ticked.  She saw her mother’s pale face upon the pillow, hand clasped weakly over her own. Paper-thin lids fluttered over her bright blue eyes, and then sank heavily, closing forever.
            “I’m sorry.” She whispered. “I should not have raised my voice.”
            The automaton walked past her and down the far corridor. “Come with me.”
            Cecile hesitated, suddenly dreading what it would lead her to.
            “You are curious, are you not?” It waited for her, head rotated around to an unnatural extent.      
             A chill scuttled down her spine and then she followed along. They walked past many closed doors, with heavy clanging footsteps as the only sound, and then he halted. A double door of massive size loomed at the end of the hall.
            “Well, here it is. Go on, open them. If you are really intent to see what happened.”  
            She looked questioningly at the automaton, and then slowly approached the doors. The knob turned with ease and the hinges groaned.
             The scene beyond was far worse then she expected. It was not the conservatory, though she could see into it through the disintegrated wall. 
            It was a library, burned and blackened. Fragments of charred bookshelves lay where they had fallen, singed paper and ashes covered the floor. The charcoal skeletons of furniture poked up among the scorched piles of books. A mangled ladder leaned against the wall.
           The wind came sweeping in and lifted the pages off the ground, blowing them high into the air. Swirling, fluttering, they rose up to the vaulted ceiling and came spiraling down as the air grew still.  One came dancing down within Cecile’s reach; she caught it between two fingers and the edges crumbled at her touch. 
            She looked close at the seemingly empty page, and tears sprung to her eyes as she saw a handwritten note in the corner. 
             “To my darling Felicity.” Her voice quavered as she read aloud. “I wish you every happiness on your birthday and many more to come. You have made me the luckiest man in the world; I’ll love you forever. Bernard.”
             Cecile turned quickly and saw the automaton standing in the doorway. 
            “What happened to her?” The sound was just a breath. “Please tell me.” 
            All was quiet. She could hear the paper and ashes rustle as a breeze came through. Then she heard a strange noise. Could it really be- was it crying?  Not proper human sobs, far from it. But the wordless buzzing from the automaton could hardly be interpreted anything else. Cecile stared with disbelief as the huge metal man began to cry.
           “This-” It choked out. “Is where my mother died.” 
            She thought of the curly haired child and stared at the automaton in disbelief. “But how-?”
            It seemed to recover and cut her off briskly- “Come to the top story, I’ll tell you everything.”


  1. OOOOHHHHHH!!!!!!! I can't wait to read more!!!!!!!

  2. I wasn't able to read this as soon as I liked. Love it so much!!

  3. DUN DUN DUN! Whoa. You never end in a straight cliffhanger, but you always end with something so tantalizing that it makes me want to keep reading and reading and reading! *scurries to find next chapter*


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