Stainless steel and triple glazing
Part 3 of my “12 Short Stories” for 2023
Based on a prompt by Mia from deadlinesforwriters.com
Warning: Mentions death, but not too scary
From up here, you can see most of the Flatworth House estate: the rolling, luxuriant landscape with the lake, the trees, and the flower beds. The first couple of willow catkins have appeared lately, and I love how much softness they add to the scenery. From outside, the window is wet from last night’s rain. Good. The trees and flowers have not seen too much water this last winter, so every little bit is welcome. But even without those fresh green leaves, I could stand here at the window and let my gaze drift over the grounds outside forever.
Last night, I stayed up here in the attic again. At some point, it was fully decorated and furnished, so it’s very cosy and also peaceful. The cushioned ledge inside the eastward window is probably my favourite place to spend the early hours. The single glazing and the drafty frames may not be great for insulation, but this way the windows let through the happy birdsong from outside even when they are closed.
The wiring on this floor is completely shot. Then again, I don’t actually need a light to be comfortable or to find my way around the attic. Downstairs, some of the sockets still work. At least I think they do. One of these days I may find the energy to worry about this development, but having electricity is not that high on my list of priorities.
I have always loved this house and the gardens around it. This has been my home and my refuge for such a long time now. All the more annoying when these disturbances keep happening, seemingly from out of nowhere. What is worse, they turn up with increasing frequency. They make the weirdest of noises, apparently trying to spook me into leaving. I am determined to not let them succeed.
From the great hall downstairs, I can hear him, the latest in a long line of nuisances and the most persistent so far. I wish I knew what to do about him. As it is, for the moment I decide to remain calm and quiet. And resist the pull that is bound to make itself felt soon.
I was given a choice a long time ago — to either move on or stay here. As if I would ever have considered leaving this place. My first chance to escape that poor and loveless family, to be someone people respected, if only in a way. It may not have been a perfect life, but to me it was all I could have hoped for, considering all the other options.
Oh yes, there it is: the rhythmic banging downstairs. It is hypnotic and difficult to ignore. Why can‘t they just leave me be?
I turn my attention back to the gorgeous colours of the sky, with the sun rising higher above the hills behind the golf course. Someone should really look after it. Not that I am going to take up golfing soon, but still: The clumps of grass and weeds running rampant somehow spoil the otherwise perfect appearance of the Flatworth premises.
The pull is getting stronger now. I wish they didn’t have that much power over me. Not wanting to be dragged downstairs without any dignity, I decide to move through the door of my own accord. The staircase will never fail to take my breath away with its dark and smooth oak panelling, the colourful tapestries, and the deep purple carpet. I notice a few spiderwebs here and there and wonder what I should or even can do about them.
In this part of the building, the windows have been fitted with triple glazing and plastic frames, and the air is much warmer than upstairs under the roof. Someone must have assumed they would be able to sell the place for a better price if they made an attempt to meet modern insulation standards. At least they took great care to match the original look.
With less draft, the smell in here is much more representative of the centuries these walls have seen. The hall smells of dust and leather, of polished wood beams with just a tiny bit of decaying wool. It smells of home and safety.
I notice that the chandelier has also turned a tad dusty. Not too much to keep me from marvelling at the hundreds and hundreds of immaculately carved crystal pieces. They catch the morning sun’s rays and reflect them in a symphony of rainbow sparkles. Some time ago, the Flatworth family had a recurrent debate about it. Some thought it was just too glittery to fit in with the overall character of the elegant manor. As for me, I still don’t mind the glitter and have spent a large portion of my existence just basking for hours in the light’s dance through the crystals.
Another highlight of this big open space is the grand mirror with its richly carved frame. The wood has turned dark from how long it has been hanging here. When I move past it, I catch my own reflection and linger for a bit. I didn’t use to be so very pale back then, when I was much younger. When I joined this household, I was even initially teased about my tan, which had been the result of so much work in the fields. Now, my skin is as softly translucent as are my garments. There is a reason for the nickname people use for me when they think I am out of hearing range. I don‘t mind what they call me. What I do mind is not being left in peace.
I glide down the stairs. Noiselessly and also gracefully, if I may say so myself. Decades of practice have not gone to waste. You wouldn’t even hear a sound without the lush carpet. What a pity that I used to be clumsier in my youth; maybe otherwise things might have turned out differently.
I peek over the banister and see him downstairs. He has his grandfather’s face, but his body posture does not speak of nobility or family pride. His clothes have seen better days, too. His hair looks like it has not been cut for a month too many. It’s also started going grey.
Every time he appears, he tries out some new tricks to get rid of me. Today, he sits cross-legged in a circle of some whitish, powdery material. He is fanning a glowing piece of charcoal on a burner, a good distance away from his usual collection of shiny devices. The small, rectangular one seems to be the one producing the noises.
Can‘t even be asked to do the drumming himself. There is still hope at least, that today he will forego the chanting. It doesn’t achieve anything anyway, and he is not the best at holding a tune, so everyone benefits from him skipping it altogether.
‘You again!’ I shout, mainly to make him aware of my presence.
He looks up at me with an unreadable look on his face. If I were in his place, I would have mixed feelings too. Still, he could do himself an enormous favour and stop these constant visitations at last, which are just wasting his time and mine.
Finally, he answers. ‘Yes, it’s me again. Don’t think I have given up! There are still a lot of things I haven’t tried; a lot has changed since back in your days. See this here?’
He stands up in his circle and picks up a machine. It consists mainly of a metal cylinder the size of a hat box with a handle. It has a grey hose attached that ends in a nozzle. The hose wobbles as he shakes the device at me.
I laugh. ‘I hope you didn’t spend a lot of money on it. You have watched too many of those moving pictures. What do you expect to accomplish with that thing? Well, you could clean the carpet while you are here.’
‘Laugh all you want!’ he shouts back. ‘You’ll see.’
He goes back to fiddling with his charcoal, emptying a small bag onto it. The aroma of incense hits me. There is something in it that makes it harder for me to stay here on the upper level in front of the mirror. I feel my feet being forced deep into the carpet, almost touching the oak beam underneath.
‘New recipe’, he grins. ‘For stubLillian spent three years training as a healer. Now the day of her last exam is here.born cases. I ordered this resin from a witch in Sweden, famous for her success. And before you ask, I am willing to invest a lot of money at this stage. It’s really personal now, and I want you gone. And it’ll all be worth it once I sell this ghastly old place. They can tear it down and turn it into a golf resort for all I care! As long as I get my money at last!’
My choices are to either give in and move downstairs by myself or to be dragged through the wood of the steps. It would not actually be painful, just really unpleasant. He doesn’t need to know. Neither does he have to be aware of the fact that metal, on the other hand, really will effectively hold me.
He obviously hopes that it will. It increasingly seems like this confrontation might turn out more tricky than usual. I begin to worry a bit, careful not to let it show in my face while I walk down the steps.
‘Let’s see your little vacuum cleaner then,’ I say to him and wink, probably more for my benefit than his, because he still stands there with his head held high, grinning.
‘A fitting end to the White Lady! Ha! I found out the truth about you, by the way. A servant! My family took you in out of pity because your father was such a drunk. Your family was going to be kicked out of the little hut you lot may have called a house! Just imagine, people actually do believe there has to be some noble backstory behind you still hanging around!’
He leans out of his circle to plug his contraption in. This time, he is the one who winks as he flicks the switch. Then he directs the nozzle at me. It makes my stomach vibrate unpleasantly. I wish my feet weren’t glued to the spot. He lunges forward, but I bend to the side, so he misses and almost stumbles out of the circle.
I dodge his second attempt, but then he begins just sweeping the nozzle back and forth sideways. And then it catches. The hem of my dress is sucked in first, and for a silly moment, I wonder if the skirt will rip, leaving me exposed.
Oh God, it’s happening! I am stretched and squeezed all at the same time, rushing through this narrow tunnel of rubber! No! No, I can’t be trapped in this tiny box;! it is unbearable! The noise, the darkness! Is he laughing? I need air! I need space! This can’t be happening; why is there nobody here to help me?
I hear him shout over the fan’s whirring: ‘Ha! This is what you deserve! And this is where you will stay forever!’
The switch clicks and the noise stops at last, but that only gives my other senses more opportunity to realise the horror I am in. In my rising panic, I try to push at the sides of my prison. I should not have teased him that much, I see that now, but please, I can’t spend forever in here, compressed like this.
‘You are making a lot of noise for a lady!’ he chuckles.
‘I wonder what I should do with you. To be honest, I hadn’t thought that far ahead. How do you feel about being buried next to the golf course? Or I could just throw you into the lake. This is supposed to be stainless steel, so it’s not going to rust anytime soon.’ He sounds excited.
‘The good thing? I don’t have to decide now. Let me just pack my things and go home first.’
My prison tilts to the side, an extra unpleasant jolt to my stomach. Like he is leaning over. What does he need to reach for? A loud pop and another jerking motion, I guess he has just pulled the plug. But what is this crackling, like lightning? Am I falling? Has he dropped the metal box? Why?
Sparks! All around me there are sparks, blinding me! The metal casing screeches and rips apart: I am free again! The relief! Out of the corner of my eye, I see him sitting on the floor, the white circle scattered, but I am not going to wait around here any longer.
I zoom through the open door at the side of the hall, in the direction of the kitchens, and onwards along the narrow corridor. At its end, there is another staircase, not lavish or polished but grey and bare. I remember running up and down these stairs. Even in my boring grey uniform and the white headdress, I was young and happy then, enjoying the rush of speed, skipping and jumping. Now look at me running again, only this time not for fun!
At the foot of the stairs, I stop and try to find my composure again. It’s not as if I have to recover my breath, just my thoughts. The wall catches me as I lean back, making me wonder if the socket blowing was really just a coincidence. What are the odds, even with the state of the wiring being what it is? The idea of Flatworth House having my back is a great, if unexpected, comfort.
I hear steps coming closer. He is running, too, and catching up. There are three levels to climb until the landing at the top. I know I am faster than him, but there is nowhere to go up there. No wood to pass through to escape outdoors, just stone and glass. Damn the triple glazing and plastic frames! I rush upstairs anyway.
Up on the top level, I hear him wheezing behind me, but what really makes me shiver is the memory rushing back. This is where it happened. There is still a big chunk of the banister missing, and this piece of floorboard is still sticking out. Nobody thought of repairing any of this afterwards. Nobody ever comes up here, not since the young girl stumbled and fell.
There he is, out of breath, and I want to warn him. I hold out my arm, which does nothing to stop him, of course. He careens through the gap, tilting over, turning around in the air one last time, reaching out to me. His mouth is open, and his eyes are wide with surprise.
I wonder if he will be offered the same choice down there as I was. And if he will also choose to stay.
Would you like to read more of my stories? You can find them here!