Chapter 3

Written by: Linda Alley

“Wait here.” Vanessa shone the torch at a heavyset door. They were standing at the top of the first flight of stairs. She slipped inside, leaving Damon to study a faded oil painting depicting the death of Socrates. He heard the scrape of a drawer opening. Vanessa re-emerged, her face impassive.


“You can stay here for the night. Take this.” She handed him the torch. “The power’s out. Angus!” 


She snapped her fingers. The terrier reluctantly untangled himself from Damon’s ankles. He watched them fade from his small circle of light, their footfalls silent as they descended.


He pushed open the door, taking stock of his surroundings: a lady’s dressing table with a gilded mirror, a curvaceous chaise lounge and a mahogany wardrobe. The only nod to twenty-first century life was an IKEA quilt that didn’t quite cover the four-poster bed.


Damon kicked off his wellies and climbed in fully-clothed. Pulling the bedclothes to his chin, he flicked off the torch. He rolled onto his back, his limbs heavy against the cold cotton sheets. A clock ticked from the other side of the room, its hand scratching through every second. A rustle under the wardrobe. Probably mice. Damon sniffed. Yes, the smell was unmistakable. But there was something else. A curious, musty odour.


A dark, heavy shape plummeted onto his chest, crushing the air from his lungs. He scrambled for the torch. Vanessa’s dog, Angus, crouched on top of him, their hearts thudding in unison. Damon chuckled, his breath coming out in sharp, wispy clouds. 


His torch’s beam fell on the rug beside the bed. A flower lay next to his snow-crusted wellies. Or rather flowers. Dozens of tiny white ones clustered together. He frowned. There was something familiar about the umbrella shape they formed. 


Scooping Angus up in his arms, Damon slid out of bed. He tugged open the top drawer of the dressing table. It was full of flowers. All white, like that albino rabbit his neighbour had brought to the clinic last month, convulsing in its box. When Damon had examined the hutch, he’d found flowers just like those, growing innocently in the run. Hemlock. The rabbit hadn’t survived. They rarely did.


Damon wrenched open the curtains. High above, a candle flickered in the attic window. Angus whimpered. Inhaling deeply, Damon took the stairs to the second floor. Another staircase, and then at last, the steep spiral ascent to the attic. By the time they reached the low arched doorway, Angus had squeezed himself into Damon’s jumper.


A faint humming pulsated through the door. Light seeped onto the landing, but it wasn’t candlelight.


Damon pushed open the door and blinked. The crate Vanessa had brought up from the car lay empty on the threshold, its contents set up across the floor. A camera gyrated on a tripod. A black box was sending out long-range UV beams. 


In the far corner, Vanessa crouched among a circle of scattered hemlock flowers, a digital recorder clasped in her hand.


Interesting. Looks like someone is into investigating the paranormal. I love the atmosphere created in the bedroom as Damon climbs into bed, cold and weary, accompanied by sounds of a scratching mouse and the smell. Reminds me of my childhood experience of dark bedroom and cold lino floor. Lovely chapter, Linda.
Thanks, Ray. Looking forward to seeing where you take it in the next chapter.
This has gone to a very dark place but the story calls for that - I like it. The introduction of hemlock is genius and the effect it had on the rabbit...great description. I agree with Ray's comments. Superb chapter, Linda.