Ridgemoor Manor is supposed to be empty. I mean it’s also supposed to be haunted so I don’t think it can be both. Empty and haunted.
Mama went to school with Jonathan Ridgemoor so it hasn’t even been that long. It’s just the weeds and peeling paint that make the house look so decrepit.
“Martha, this is so stupid,” I say crossing my arms over my chest.
“Oh come on, Betty. Don’t be such a Fuddy-Duddy!” Martha replies pulling my arm off and looping it with hers as we walk, our Mary Jane’s tapping in synchrony along the street. “And, Jimmy said he’s bring Roy.” She nudges my side with her elbow, like Roy means something to me.
“It’s just an old house. What’s the big deal?” I whine, my voice high and pitchy.
Martha shakes her head while she laughs, her blonde curls bouncing. “If it’s just an old house, Betty Marshall, then a quick gander won’t hurt nothin’. Oh look! There they are!”
She squeals at the boys and I think she looks like a pig as she prances over in her pink gingham dress, smudgy black lines up the back of her legs. I sigh and follow. Martha and I have been friends since we could walk, but lately she’s been completely khaki-wacky, especially when it comes to Jimmy.
Heavy iron thunders and I’m conscious, bit by bit and then all at once. From a corner of my stone-walled cell, the scent of burning violet flowers chokes me. My stomach curdles. I try to roll away from the corner with the incense stick, and my ribs sear with pain. Right. Beto kicked me so hard I couldn’t breathe.
At the thought of the guard captain’s name, I want to spit, but my lips are mashed. The inside of my mouth and half of my face is bloodied. With my tongue I probe the slanted edge of a front tooth. The exposed roots tingle. Guess they’re done using me for my looks.
Footfalls sound heavily at the end of the hall, and I relax my body against the crackling straw. If they think I’m waiting for them, planning something, they’ll do worse than break my ribs. Then voices banter, muted through the stone and wooden door. Shift change.
The newcomer is the basso voice, the heavyset guard with piggy eyes. Replacing the young one with the deformed ear. The one who sometimes gives me a little extra food or water. Slitting my eyes, I see he’s put rations through the slot for me. If only I can get to them before Piggy realizes I’m awake.
“What’s happening outside?” asks Ear, stopping too close to my cell. “I heard the sound of troops, horses leaving. Are we at war?” His voice cracks.
For the second time that week, Cassidy woke in an unfamiliar place. Pieces of hay pricked her back through her thin nightgown. The movement of hooves stomping on dirt, and wings flapping in the rafters above shocked her further awake. A barn, she must be in a barn. The darkness clutched at her, hemmed her in like an oversized comforter. The salty tang of blood hung in the air stronger than the animal musk or hay. It turned the darkness into something fearsome. Something alive.
She stood on shaking legs, the front of her nightgown heavy, wet, and chilling on her skin. With sticky fingers, she pulled the material away from her chest. It sent up a dizzying aroma of blood-tinged air. She cringed before licking her chapped lips, and breathed a sigh of relief when they didn’t taste of copper. Her eyes adjusted and made sense of the shapes around her. The bales of hay stacked behind her. The ladder that lead up to a loft. The horses eyed her warily from their stalls. When she held her hands up to her face, the congealed blood streaked across her dusky skin.
Her stomach clenched as she searched her scalp for a wound. Her fingers brushed unbroken skin, and she shivered down to her bones. For seventeen years she had been waking up in strange places. Her mom put extra locks on her bedroom door; she slipped out of her second-story window and woke up near the eighth hole on a country club’s green. Her mom nailed the window shut; she managed to pry it open using a nail file and woke up in the park on the other side of town. All these things she did while asleep.
She squeezed her eyes tight waiting for a headache to bloom behind her eyelids. Nothing happened, and the fear she’d done something terrible crept in. Nested deep in her psyche. After a careful once over, she couldn’t believe that nothing hurt except the soles of her bare feet—blistered and raw—but the blood came from somewhere. Someone?
“Hello?” she whispered. Then louder, “Is anyone here?”