It was getting dark yet Liza continued to drive on. Partly because she was desperate to find a place to spend the night and partly because she was running out of fuel. The fact that not even a signboard directing to a motel worried her even more.
“What the hell”, she exclaimed as suddenly the road became rocky and uneven. As she kept driving further, she realised that somehow because of the lack of road lights she had taken a series of wrong turns somewhere. And now she was going somewhere she didn’t know.
Twice she thought of turning back but the thought of running out of fuel even before she could reach the main road feared her more and than the thought of getting lost again. Her only comfort was the fact that the road she was on had been used by motor vehicles before. So at least there was hope.
Somewhere ahead she saw that lights glowing in the dark, half relieved half-scared she drove on towards them. The light as it appeared, came from a building, halfway closer to a castle than a mansion. Her heartbeat rose. Suddenly as she neared the gate, Liza saw something with gleaming green eyes jump on her windshield. Shocked, surprised Liza lost control and the car stirred hard to the left and crashed onto the gate wall.
A small lump had begun to form on her forehead from where it had been bit by the steering wheel. Turning the car light on, she looked about for the bottled water. But failed to find it.
“Alright let’s get you started”. She abandoned her search and turned the car key. But it didn’t start. The fuel indicator blinked red.
“Oh come on!”, She hit the steering wheel causing the horn to sound.
“Shit! Stop!” It stopped.
In the silence that followed the horn, she heard the silent tap on the glass window. At first, she thought she was dreaming.
Tap.Tap. There she heard it again. Frozen, she turned to the window, her heart in her throat. Her eyes met those of an old man. He was bald in the centre with grey hairs on either side. With the torch casting an eerie glow in his face, it was enough to make her scream. Except she didn’t for the small sunken eyes had life in them and the toothless mouth was covered in a smile. Liza rolled her window down, finding some courage.
“Sorry for the crash”, she muttered.
“No worries madam. But I could like for you to step out of the car.” Said the man, his broken teeth causing more air to move in and out than was necessary resulting in the words being heard with a slur. “My master wishes to see you.”
“Yes. Do not be alarmed.”, Saying so the old man opened the car door for Liza and smiled.
Reluctant, Liza got out of the car and walked alongside the man, her eyes searching for blunt, heavy objects, should she be faced with the need to rely on violence to make her escape.
As they walked inside the gate, Liza could see the light in the far distance, indicating the door to the manor in front of her. When they reached the door, Liza noticed that the brass locker has a coat of arms; two swords crossing each other with a crescent on the top.
Odd she thought as he looked at it. She had never seen one before.
“It represents the family. This is the family of swordsman and great hunters. The crescent is to honour the goddess of the hunt, who favoured many of their successful hunts. “, provided the man beside her as an answer to the question that had only just begun forming in her mind.
“Which family is it?”, Liza asked, eager to know at least the name of the family whose manor she was about to enter.
Queer name, Liza thought.
He pushed open the door, with a force Liza didn’t think he had and then stood aside to let her pass. As soon as she passed in the door slammed shut.
The receiving room was illuminated enough to allow Liza to make out the furniture and objects placed around it. It was difficult for Liza to make out the structure of the manor, but she had managed to establish in her mind that the door opened in an about a six-foot passage that terminated into a receiving room in the centre of the manor. Through this room then, the man leads her through a door onto its left.
At its door, he asked Liza to wait outside while he lighted the room.
“Make yourself comfortable madam, and I shall seek my master immediately”, saying so he left after asserting that she was seated on the couch.
Having had a moment to herself since the crash, thoughts rushed into her mind. The first of them acknowledged that all her belongings including her purse and the duffel bag, except her cellphone were in the car. The second, made her realise that she was thirsty. And the third suggested finding help online.
The second thought was completed first with the jug present on the table in front. There weren’t any glasses nearby so she drank straight from it, causing it to spill a little on her.
“What the..it tastes strange….come now Lizz maybe it’s because the jug is of copper …you know reaction and stuff..it’s okay.”, She thought.
As her thirst was satisfied she looked about and realized one thing about the room. The room that she was in was partially lighted by electricity and partially by oil lamps and lanterns.
“Weird”, she thought.
Then she flicked on her cellphone and was just about to make a call when,
“I’m afraid we don’t have cell reception here”.
Liza was startled. Her eyes moved from the phone screen flashing a similar message to the source of the strong voice she had just heard.
“I’m sorry for startling you miss….”, He said stepping away from the doorway into the room.
“Liza…Liza Page.”, she muttered.
“Miss Page… I’m sorry. Allow me to I introduce myself, my name is Rowan Maladay, the master of this house and estate.” He said, stretching his arms wide to his side. Then stepping forward she shook hands with her.
“Pleased to meet you. But I’m not pleased that you crashed my gate.”
This seemed to put Liza at easy and she managed a chuckle.
“I’m sorry”, she said, observing the man keenly for the first time since he had entered the room.
‘He looks roughly around my age. But there is something that makes him seem old, maybe it’s the lighting or the mood of this place. No, it’s his clothes, they could belong to his grandfather! But if I ignore all the other things and just concentrate on his eyes, there’s something in there. Something which speaks of some mystery, the corners of his eyes seemed to wisen almost as if by age…’, She thought.
“Miss Page, please sit down”.
“What?” Liza snapped out from her reverie.
“Sit down”, Mr Maladay waved his hand to the chair opposite to where he sat.
“Oh! Ya!.. Sorry, my mind tends to wander a little”, she said as took a seat.
“Whose doesn’t!”, He said, shrugging his shoulder, marking it as the first activity that he had done since entering the room that made him seem his actual age.
For a few minutes, they sat in silence, not sure what to say. Liza utilized this time in observing the room while Maladay tried to focus on nothing particular.
“It’s getting late…”, Maladay broke the silence.
Liza nodded, unsure of what could come next.
“…We usually have a room prepared for a guest, should I ask for it to be present to you?”
Her confusion and fear were expressed on her face, as she weighed in her options.
“I assure you of the room’s safety. Sturdy locks on the inside, nothing can harm you. Should you consider it?”
Feeling little assured, Liza nodded her consent.
“Very well then”, he stood up and offered her his hand, “Shall we?”
They walked out of the room into the dark passage when, “My bag! My keys! They are all in the car!”, Liza said.
“Don’t worry. I’ll have Jamie deliver those to your room.”
They went up the stairs onto the first landing and into the first room on the left. On the stairs, they passed Jamie, the old man who showed Liza into the room and a maid who was introduced to be Isabell. Jamie was asked to get her belongings and Isabell to get her a hot cup of chocolate.
They reached the room that had been assigned to Liza.
“Have a good night’s rest. And I shall have someone take care of your car first thing in the morning. There’s a bell by the bedside and I’m last on the corridor should you need some help. Good night”
Saying so they parted, Maladay walked straight ahead where he mentioned his room was and Liza walked inside.
“Wow”, she exclaimed loudly as she saw the room. A four-poster bed occupied the centre of the room, facing the door. Two windows stood on either side of it. A table and a chair rested on one side and a closet on the other side of the bed. A wooden partition separates the room from the bathroom in the back.
Just as her preliminary observation was coming to an end, she heard a tap behind her. It was Jamie. He entered the room and quietly left the bags by the bedside and left smiling a polite good night.
Removing the jacket that she was wearing, Liza was about to open her bag when another tap on the door caused her to turn back. Now, it was Isabell with a cup of hot chocolate.
“Thank you”, Liza said as she took the cup from her hand. Walking back inside, Liza ensured that the room was firmly shut before enjoying the cup of chocolate by the window.
It too tasted a bit strange, Liza thought. But this too she dismissed the difference of recipe. With the soothing warmth of chocolate feeling her body, Liza slipped into the many soft folds of the bed and instantaneously fell asleep.
Unless we hear from Liza herself we will never know what she dreamt of. But whatever it was, it had taken hold of her mind and body. And they react with equal agility.
Her breathing could increase as if she has been running. Her fingers could claw at the bedsheets, whether or not she thought she was scratching the floor or someone we will never know. Her back would arch at times, goosebumps covered her body and at times she cried as if something was hitting her. Screams and howls filled her mind. To her mind, the sensation alternated, either she was being chased to death or she was chasing someone to death. Yet her eyes remained close.
Tossing and turning she slept through what was remaining from the night.
With the early rays of the morning, she woke up, covered in sweat. Slowly the room she was in came to light. Stepping down from the bed she walked towards the window, barefooted.
“Odd”, she thought, looking at her now dust-covered feet. The sun was half over the horizon, as she looked out of the window. The window that she looked out from, looked at some of the entrance to the manor and the right side wing.
It was then that she noticed that the wall that surrounded the manor had at places collapsed and a thick ivy had begun its ascent on the wall of the right-wind. Liza turned back from such a site and exited the room. She walked along the passage and into the parlour that she was in, but there was nobody about. All the way that she walked she became increasingly aware of the amount of dust that had settled on all the objects around it.
‘These guys seriously need some cleaning to do.’ She thought.
“Hello?? Anyone there???” She called.
She made her journey back onto the first floor and walked further until she reached the room Maladay had indicated as his, taking her bag, on the way with her. Once there, she knocked on the door. No answer. She knocked a second time. Still, silence followed. The third time, she knocked a little harder and as she did so, the door swung a little inside. It was open.
“Um…hello Mr Maladay. No one’s about so I came to your room.”
She slowly pushed open the door and walked inside.
“Mr Maladay?”, She called again, noticing the room was empty.
She made her way to another door inside the room, assuming him to be there, she called him again. No answer. She decided she’d better look downstairs.
As she turned to go, her eyes caught sight of something. Close to the bed, there was a pool of dark red liquid. To Liza, it looked like it had dried. Liza drew closer almost as if it was pulling her. The red pool wasn’t just near the bed, splatters and spots were there on the bed sheets itself. One such spot stood apart, and as Liza looked closely at it, she realised what it was. It was the print of the hand. An image flashed in front of Liza.
It was from the dream she had last night, the one where she was killed near her bed, and a pool had formed by its bedside, just as it did, in Maladay’s bedroom.
Liza screamed with such intensity and such sharpness of voice, she never thought she had such strength. Gasping, trembling she ran from the room holding her bag close to her. She ran down the stairs, through the door and out of the gate. Without even glancing twice at her car, she ran through the road she had driven through yesterday. She ran like never before, the terror gripping her tightly. It was as if she ran blindly, noticing nothing that was around her. So it was no wonder that she tripped over a stone, bruising her knee badly. Yet she got up and ran, not noticing the blood that had started to flow from the bruised knee.
She reached the main road, from where she had taken the wrong turn. Waving frantically, she yelled at each passing car to stop. But her dishevelled appearance and mud-covered clothes from the fall, made the drivers of the car, to drive as swiftly as they could. One car that stopped, drove with utmost urgency after he heard her repeat her tale in monosyllable of blood, possible murder and empty house.
It wasn’t until an hour later when a man stopped by. By now, Liza had grasped the cause of so urgent an exit of others and stuck to the story of her car breakdown when this particular man had stopped.
Luckily, he had the equipment to tow her car to a service and gas station not more than a quarter of an hour away!
Throughout those fifteen minutes, Liza sat, still clutching her bag, the man who introduced himself to be Juan, took a few curious glances at her.
They stopped at the gas station opposite a dinner. With the fuel tank fill and her car, ready to hit the road, Liza was about to make her exit, when Juan stopped her.
“Could you like to grab some coffee?”, He asked, nodding towards the small dinner across the road. “You could do some good with it.” He added.
“Okay”, Liza replied, allowing him to lead the way.
One espresso and some fries down and Juan felt she could talk.
“If you don’t mind me asking”, he said cautiously, “what happened to you? How did your car end up there?”
Liza stared at him then shared her tale.
“You don’t mean that old falling down manor?” He asked. Surprise and shock were written all over his face.
“And you saw Rowan Maladay and his servants?” Suprise and shock now seemed permanent on his face.
“Why? And can’t we do this on the way, we have a murder to report.”
“No, we don’t. Because he died a long time ago. Sixty years to be precise!”
“What?” Liza almost lost the hold on her cup.
“Yes, sixty years ago. Maladay was a generous fellow always welcoming strangers and troubled travellers into his abode. But fate was against him. Some drug was mixed in all their foods by a new servant that Maladay took in. It screwed their mind and one fatal night, Jamie, Isabel and Rowan killed each other off. Only Isabel’s child managed to escape and ran to the police. When police arrived it was too late. They had killed each other off and there was a pool of blood in Maladay’s room exactly as you described. It turned out that the new servant was none-other than Maladay’s half brother wanting the entire property to himself. The police manage to piece things together with the child and the autopsy and that wretched fellow died not months ago in jail”
“I had a dream last night of being chased and killed and killing in turn. But it’s not possible. I saw them yesterday!”
Juan looked on at her. Any hopes Liza had of his bursting in laughter at fooling her disappeared.
“You are serious?” She asked, frightened.
“Of course I’m serious. That child who ran to the police was my grandfather.”
Liza stared at him. Speechless, the colour draining from her face.
“Here, search the web if you don’t believe me”, Juan said, tossing his phone towards her. The web proved that Juan was right.