November 2002 A Conscious Evolution Newsletter
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Volume 1, Number 3

Opinions presented in Metamorphosis are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of others associated with the newsletter.


Canterbury Manor

(a work of fiction)

 By Virginia Brittony D’Archangel

It’s a fine thing to be young and in love and setting off on an adventure, with no need for a plan or elaborate arrangements. So my mother had said when Brent and I stopped by the family farm to let the folks know we were heading out from our native Iowa for a second honeymoon on the eastern seaboard. We would rent a car when we arrived, and then leave the airports and cities behind, taking in the sights of the ocean and the countryside, going wherever the more rural roads might take us.

Mother’s words came back to me with lovely sweetness when I awoke this morning in a cozy seaside bed and breakfast – Powells’ Place. Our first afternoon of driving had brought us here yesterday evening. I, Catherine Reynolds-Stevens, Iowa farm girl, recently turned housewife, would now be an intrepid explorer of the rugged northeastern coast, along with my dear husband, who had been sweet enough to declare that I deserved this second honeymoon, although our first was only a year ago. We awoke in a comfortable old-fashioned four-poster, while big pink roses peeked at us from the cheery wallpaper, seeming to shout, “Good morning! Good morning.” A pleasant breeze wafted through the open windows, as white lace curtains billowed back and forth to the rhythm of the birds chirping their morning songs. The day did indeed look promising. I closed my eyes, the better to impress it all into memory, and snuggled closer to Brent. I was always so very content in the arms of this man, whom I loved with my whole heart. “My Cathy,” he murmured. “My wife, my love.”

The day could not have begun more perfectly, and as we headed down to breakfast, I couldn’t help but exclaim over our good fortune. The Powells, an attentive older couple who ran the place, served us a hearty breakfast as we sat at one of the tables on a large porch attached to the old Victorian house. Our table was situated so that the ocean was in perfect view, sparkling a very brilliant blue-green. The sun shone upon us with a welcome blessing. We clicked our coffee cups together for a toast, and smiled into each other’s eyes.

“Perfect,” I exclaimed again.

Mr. Powell, heading our way with the coffee pot, startled me with his response. “Funny thing about perfection,” he said in a gravelly voice. “It isn’t meant to last.”

“Now George,” his wife said sternly. “What a thing to say. Can’t you see they’re young and in love?”

“Funny thing about youth,” the old man muttered, as his wife shooed him back inside the house. “Another thing that isn’t meant to last.”

“Now, don’t you kids mind him a bit,” Mrs. Powell said with a smile. “He’s just an old sea biscuit who’s been steeped too long in our local lore. Along about this time of year, an old fisherman’s yarn about youth and beauty starts weighing on his mind.”

We suppressed our giggles until both of the Powells were safely out of sight, and then got down to the business of planning the day’s drive from the bed and breakfast at Middlebury northward to places even less populated along the rocky coast. The Powells had described a little fishing village we would find, about a half a day’s drive away, and it sounded like our kind of place.

Soon, with the adventurous spirit of two young explorers, we were in the car and on our way. The morning drive was as beautiful, leisurely and enjoyable as we expected, and we arrived at the quaint little seaside village of Logansport enthusiastic and hungry. We found the perfect place for lunch – a restaurant called The Pilot House, decorated with a nautical theme and set right by a dock where we could see boats of every kind. Like a happy teenager, Brent gave me a thumbs-up and that special smile of his. Seafood seemed the appropriate thing to order, so he had the fish special of the day and I decided on some tasty shrimp.

We were so absorbed in conversation that at first we didn’t notice the darkening skies outside. But when we took leave of The Pilot House, it was quite obvious that our sunny day had gone cloudy on us. As we got into the car to continue our trek, a sudden cold chill ran through me…a chill that went to my very bones! Brent, ever aware of my feelings, noticed immediately.

“Cathy! What’s the matter? Are you okay?”  

Not wanting to put a damper on our day, I lied. “Yes, of course. It was just a chill. Gee, I hope I’m not coming down with a cold or something. I would really hate to spoil our trip.”

“Oh, you won’t spoil our trip, honey. It’s just that you were expecting the sunshine, and then it has to go and get cloudy. But we won’t let that bother us in the least! Hey, girl, here we are on the East Coast,” he said as he planted a kiss on my cheek. “Just like we planned.” He smiled that beautiful smile that made me fall in love with him all over again, and I felt comforted. 

But as we left the village of Logansport, the skies seemed to be getting even darker, and so too did my usual feelings of cheerfulness. The day that had started so perfectly seemed to be spiraling downward as we drove farther north.

From the window of the car, I could see the ocean churning. Seagulls flew overhead, and lightning flashed in the distance. As Brent kept driving ever northward on this winding road, which made its twists and turns along the seaside, there seemed no longer to be even a trace of civilization in sight. The ocean, which had been so sparkling blue earlier in the day, was now greyish green and turbulent. It appeared to be foaming at the mouth with each huge wave that crashed to shore. Brilliant flashes of lightning lit up the brooding sky off in the distance.

The day had certainly made a drastic change. I was no longer charmed by the eastern seaboard. Now I was afraid. “What in the world is the matter with me?” I thought. This was not like me at all. I never allowed weather to affect me...in fact, I rather enjoyed a good thunderstorm now and then. “So what’s the problem, girl? Straighten yourself out now!”

But try as I might, the overwhelming feeling of something unnamable trickled over me as though someone were pouring a vile evil concoction into my very soul. I must have looked as grey-green as the roaring ocean, foaming and crashing alongside us.

“Maybe we should stop at the next roadside inn, and check in so you can rest. What do you think?”

“Nah, Brent! We can do that later. Let’s just keep driving and enjoying the scenery. I’m okay. Really I am.”

“Okay, hon, whatever you say. Onward we will go.” There was that winning smile again. The man was just adorable, and I felt foolish to make him worry so.

I wanted this second honeymoon to be as lovely as our first. And so I affirmed silently, “I will not get sick! I will not get sick!”

The afternoon sky was really getting dark now. The coming storm was mimicking dusk, which really wasn’t that far away. Thunder gave a little roar in the distance, every now and then.

I had been successful in bluffing Brent about how I really felt so we could keep moving on, but minutes later I regretted that I had. It suddenly seemed so lonely, with nothing in sight but an endless, dark, serpentine road by the sea – a sea that was getting wilder by the minute. Where had the seaside summerhouses gone? The dogs? The horses we’d noticed earlier? We should at least see a deer or a rabbit or a squirrel...  It seemed to me now that we were the only two people in the world. Even with Brent by my side, an incredible despair crept over me. How many miles had we come since leaving the little resort where we had lunch? It seemed we had been driving for hours.

“Brent?”

“Yes, honey.”  

“Do you have a roadmap? I’d kinda like to know where we are.”

“Catherine, we were going to play this by ear, remember? Just drive along and stay wherever we wind up when darkness sets in.”

“Yes, I know. But do you have a map?”

“No, Cathy. I’m sorry. I didn’t think we were going to need one.”

“Okay.”

Of course, he could tell it was not okay. “Cathy?”

“Yes.”

“Tell you what. I’m going to stop at the very next motel or roadside inn that we come to, and we’ll settle in for the night. How does that sound?”

“Oh Brent, that sounds wonderful!”

The flashes of lightning were becoming more frequent and the thunder roared almost continuously now. The ocean waves looked fearsome, like giant green fingers reaching out to grab us. Then came the downpour. Sheets of rain driving so hard that we couldn’t see out the windshield anymore. Brent pulled the car over to the side of the road. 

“Cathy, as soon as the rain lets up and I can see my way again, I’m going to turn around and head back toward the little village where we had lunch. Logansport, wasn’t it?”

I nodded.

“There’s nothing up here that would indicate we’ll be coming to an inn anytime soon. There aren’t even any road signs. So it’s back to Logansport we’ll go. Does that sound like a plan to you?”

“Oh, Brent, it does.” 

In spite of the storm and the ominous feelings I had been experiencing, I felt reassured for the first time in hours…reassured that we would finally be escaping some unknown bogeyman. Brent turned the engine off and held me tight as the winds came up and the blinding rain came down in torrents. The car rocked back and forth like some jerking carnival ride, the lightning flashed, the thunder crashed, and the ocean waves kept up their threat, like some ravenous monster eager to devour us.

I really don’t know how long we held each other or how long the storm kept up.  I only know that suddenly it stopped, and all was silent.

Once again Brent gave me that adoring smile of his. “Well, hon, we rode this thing out like troupers, didn’t we?” 

“Oh Brent, I’m so glad we have each other. I couldn’t have gone through that all by myself!”

“Sure you could have, Cathy, but I’m glad you didn’t have to. Now I’m gonna turn this thing around and start heading the other way. The village is probably a couple of hours away yet, but at least we know it’s there, and we don’t know what in heck is up that way,” he said, gesturing toward the north.

He turned the key in the ignition. Not a sound. He tried again. Nothing. “What the heck?” he muttered, with a puzzled look. I tried to match his puzzled look, but I probably only managed to look frightened.

“Don’t get discouraged,” he said. “I’m going to look under the hood. It can’t be anything serious.” He got out, lifted the hood of the car, and appeared to be giving everything a thorough inspection. Then the hood banged down, and Brent got back into the car.

“Strange, but I can’t see anything wrong,” he said. “I’m going to try it again.” But again he turned the ignition key and again got no response. Now he looked rather helpless as he gently tapped his fingers on the steering wheel and stared out the window. 

Suddenly, his face perked up. “Look, Cathy!” he shouted. He was pointing northward, toward a glow in the still dark and cloudy sky. “There must be a house up there!”

I saw it too, but to me it looked more eerie than friendly.

“Cath! That means we can’t be too far from a telephone. Let’s go and find out.”

As much as I didn’t want to be stuck out in the middle of nowhere, I wasn’t sure I wanted to investigate where the glow was coming from, either. I let out a big sigh.

“Come on, honey,” he said. “It’ll be all right. Country folks are friendly. With a phone call, we’ll be out of this mess in no time.”

Reluctantly, I got out of the car and started walking down the road alongside Brent, into the damp misty haze. Rounding a bend in the road, we beheld a sight straight out of some gothic horror film. We both took in a deep breath.

“Wow, Cathy! Would you look at that!” Perched upon a high bluff partially hidden in the mist was a huge old mansion, resembling a castle with towers and turrets. The glow we had seen was coming from some windows on the ground floor, but it didn’t look like the glow of any electric lights I’d ever seen.  

“Brent!” I said breathlessly as I grabbed his arm tightly. That same feeling of apprehension, that chill, that dread which I had felt earlier, came over me again, only this time, the feeling totally overwhelmed me! “I’m not sure I want to go any farther.”

“Cathy, this is the only sign of civilization we’ve seen anywhere for miles. If we’re going to get any help, this is the place. Now brave up, girl. Remember I’m with you. Everything’s gonna be all right.”

My darling Brent. I did love him so very much and always felt completely safe with him. So in spite of the dread I was feeling, and against my better judgment, I smiled, tried to “brave up” as he suggested, and agreed to go on.

We started walking up the hill toward the big house, which looked spooky and surreal in the early evening mist. My legs did not want to move. But move I did, even though every step was an effort. We went through an iron gate and up some stone steps. When we finally reached the front door, we could see CANTERBURY MANOR elaborately carved in wood, just above it. Brent lifted the ornate knocker and knocked. 

A dignified-looking old gentleman with white hair and gnarled white eyebrows opened the door, dressed in a black suit and tie. His face and hair were illuminated by a lighted candelabra he held in his hand. “Perfect!” I thought. “Direct from the casting department! Just what I need to add to my willies!”

“Yes? May I help you?” he asked in a voice that had a bit of a British accent and sounded far more gentle than I was expecting.

“I hope you can. I’m Brent Stevens and this is my wife, Cathy. We’ve got a little problem, and I was wondering if you might let us use your phone. You see, we were heading north on the road out there when our car broke down, and I can’t seem to figure out what’s wrong with it, so I thought maybe I could...”

“Come in, come in,” the old man said, before Brent could finish. “You don’t want to catch your death of cold out there in the dampness.”

We followed him through the double doors and into a spacious entryway right out of another century. Again, I was struck by the feeling that I had happened into a lavish movie set designed to evoke times past, with breathtaking results! From the ceiling hung a huge crystal chandelier, glittering brilliantly with more candles than I could count. It was not an electric chandelier, but one aglow with innumerable flames. A wide staircase led up to a balcony. 

“Come this way, if you please,” he said, leading us into another room just off the main entryway. “Please make yourselves comfortable.” He motioned toward a sofa facing a huge fireplace. “You seem to have gotten a bit damp out there. The fire here will dry you out and warm your bones.” 

Brent and I sat down, grateful for the warmth. Directly above the mantle hung a painting of a strikingly beautiful young woman dressed in a white flowing gown, with long black hair cascading down her back. “Whoa...wouldja look at that!” I whispered to Brent. 

As the old man placed the candelabra on a nearby table, I looked around the richly furnished room, not believing my eyes. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves flanked the hearth on either side. Statuary, huge flower-filled vases, and large mirrors in ornate gilt frames were placed around the candle-lit room in a fashion that gave the eyes a most pleasant visual treat! A musical instrument with a keyboard, resembling a harpsichord, stood in the corner.

“I’m afraid I can’t help you folks with a telephone,” the old man said, walking away from the table where he’d placed the candelabra. “You see, we have none here.”

Brent looked as though he couldn’t believe his ears, and me? I was certain that we’d stumbled onto the set of a period movie. 

“Miss Elizabeth prefers it that way. Nor do we have electricity, as you’ve probably noticed.”

“As a matter of fact, I did,” Brent said. “But I thought maybe the storm took it out.” 

“My, my, no,” the old man said. “Miss Elizabeth likes to keep things as in the past, as much as possible. We don’t allow such inventions here. We don’t need them.”

Brent and I looked at each other in disbelief. “No phone, huh?” Brent said.

“No phone, sir,” he answered. “But I’m sure Miss Elizabeth would most certainly want to offer her hospitality and invite the two of you to stay here until morning. By then, your car might possibly be operating again. Perhaps the rain soaked something it shouldn’t have.”

“That is most kind of you, sir,” Brent said as he looked at me, trying to read my face, which I’m sure had to look drained, white and emotionless. He could only have drawn a blank from me.

“By the way, you may call me James,” said the old man. “I am the butler here. We also have a cook, a maid, and a caretaker.”

“Whoa!” exclaimed Brent. “Don’t you find it just a bit primitive caring for a place like this with no modern conveniences?”

“Not at all, sir! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll inform Miss Elizabeth that we have guests. She is resting in her room at the moment.”

“No! No need to do that, James!” Brent protested. “Please don’t disturb her. We’re not really guests. Not in the true sense of the word. We’re just some strangers who came barging in out of nowhere.”

“Oh, but I’m sure she would want to come down and welcome you. She is probably awake now, anyway. This is about the time that she usually awakens from her afternoon siesta, as she likes to call it.”

James hastily exited, and we could hear his footsteps on the staircase as he went “...to fetch Miss Elizabeth,” Brent mouthed to me. We looked at each other and both giggled.

“I can’t wait to see Miss Elizabeth,” I said.

“Me neither,” said Brent. “Let’s see...she’ll be mousy, prim, proper, middle-aged...”

“With glasses and a granny bun,” I added. 

For the first time in hours, I felt a certain gaiety. Maybe staying here overnight wouldn’t be so bad, after all. It was certainly a beautiful place, if not as cozy as the bed and breakfast where we had stayed the night before. 

Then with a more serious look, Brent asked, “So what do you say, Cathy? This offer of hospitality couldn’t have turned up at a better time! I’d say it’s a heck of a lot better than staying in the car.”

“Well, Brent,” I sighed, “as you know, when I first saw this spooky-looking place, I didn’t even want to come to the door, let alone stay overnight here. But after giving it a closer look, it doesn’t appear to be that creepy after all...outside of the weirdness of no electricity or phone, that is. James seems a very friendly sort, and probably ‘Miss’ Elizabeth is too.”

“Then you’ll stay?” Brent asked.

“If ‘Miss’ Elizabeth asks,” I answered in a light mood, which felt good after an afternoon of trying to fight off the dark clouds that had been surrounding me.

We heard footsteps and looked up to see James walking in with a young woman who was an exact duplicate of the young woman in the painting hanging over the fireplace, right down to the flowing white gown. She was stunning! And oddly, for all her preference for old things, she was seemed even younger than we were, appearing to be barely out of her teens.

“Hello,” she said with a friendly smile. “I’m Elizabeth Bradford.”

Brent immediately got to his feet, rather clumsily, I thought, which was unusual for him. “How do you do, Miss Bradford. I’m...I’m...Brent Stevens and this...this is my wife...ah...ah...”

“Cathy!” I said, and nodded a hello. 

“Yes, I know,” she said. “James has been telling me all about you and your plight. I’m really sorry to hear about your trouble, Mr. Stevens, but I want you to know that James was correct when he told you that I’d insist you both stay here the night, and before you say anything, I want you to know that I won’t take no for an answer.”

“Th-thank you, Miss Bradford,” a still wide-eyed Brent said, a little breathlessly. “Ah...Cathy and I here, were...ah...just...ah…discussing that possibility, ma’am, wh-when you came in, and we both think that it is extremely kind of you to give us shelter on a night like this, when otherwise we’d have nowhere else to go...” The words came tumbling out of his mouth like those of a silly nervous schoolboy, so discombobulated was he by her strikingly attractive appearance!

Seeing Brent’s fascination with her youthful beauty, Elizabeth took on a new radiance that made her even more gorgeous...if such a thing were possible.

“By all means then. You are staying. James, go and prepare a room for our guests.”

“Yes, Miss Elizabeth. Right away.”

“Wait a moment!” Elizabeth said. “Before you go, please bring some hot tea for our guests.”

I thought tea sounded great, and it was good manners alone that kept me from shouting out how hungry I was. Our last meal had been quite a few hours ago. “Tea sounds perfectly wonderful, Miss Bradford,” I said. 

“Yes, it does,” said Brent, having regained some composure.

“Very well then, James, our guests would like some hot tea.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” the butler replied.

“You have a beautiful face, ah, place here, Miss Bradford,” Brent said, after James left the room.

“It’s been here more than a century,” Elizabeth said, giving my husband a rather alluring look. “My ancestors were shipbuilders.”

“How interesting,” Brent said. “Do you live here alone?”

“Yes! Quite alone,” she said, easing herself gracefully into a wing chair by the fireplace. “Except for James, whom I absolutely could not do without. And then there’s Esmerelda our cook, Ellen the maid, and Sheffield the caretaker.” She hesitated a moment, and then went on. “I am very content here, Mr. Stevens. We have beautiful gardens, a library full of wonderful books, and a pianoforte when I am moved to play music.” She was truly a vision of loveliness, sitting there by the fireplace, looking as though she had just stepped out of that painting. No wonder poor Brent lost it at the sight of her.

“Tea is here, ma’am,” said James, walking in with a tray that held a lovely china teapot and three matching cups.  

“Ah, James, you are very efficient, as usual,” Elizabeth said.

“Shall I pour, Ma’am?” he asked.

“No, thank you, James. I will pour.”

James placed the tray on a low table in front on the sofa where we sat, and Elizabeth picked up the teapot, poured tea into one of the delicate cups and handed it to me. “Mrs. Stevens,” she said.

“Thank you,” I replied as I took the cup.

She poured a second cup and handed it to Brent. “Mr. Stevens.”

Taking the cup, he thanked her, and then she poured herself a cup. The tea was good, but very hot, and Brent and I sipped ours slowly. Elizabeth left her own cup untouched.

“Miss Bradford, I don’t think I’ve ever tasted this particular flavor of tea,” I said.

“It’s a very special tea that we have imported from a very special place,” she said quite seriously.

“And where might that be?” asked Brent.

“Oh, now, if I told you, it wouldn’t be special anymore, would it?” she said, fluttering her dark eyelashes at him. I could not believe such brazen flirting, right before my eyes.

“I suppose not,” Brent said, and took another sip.

In spite of her ravishing beauty, I did not consider Elizabeth a threat. In fact, I felt more pity for her than envy. Here was an eccentric creature with great beauty, but she was doubtless a recluse, living her life in the past, as though it were a century ago. A gal with some of the cups missing out of her cupboard – that’s what my mom would say.

I noticed a big yawn come over Brent. Poor guy. He’s got to be terribly tired, I thought. I was feeling just a bit on the tired side myself. As I continued to drink the unusual but flavorful tea, I found myself stifling a yawn, realizing just how contagious yawns could be. Then suddenly I found myself very sleepy, and was hoping that I wouldn’t embarrass myself by falling asleep right there on Miss Elizabeth’s couch.

“Brent,” I said, intending to suggest an early retirement to our room, since I wasn’t sure how much longer I could stay awake...

Looking to see why he didn’t answer, I was startled to find that he had fallen asleep. “Must make my apologies to Elizabeth,” I thought, and turned her way. For a moment I wasn’t sure if I was looking at her or at the painting, so still she sat, with a smile that seemed not quite real. Then I saw two of her...then there were three. “I...I...” I struggled to speak as everything started turning black. My last thought was that we were going to embarrass ourselves after all by falling asleep right there on her couch...just too, too, tired...

*** ***

As I awakened, I couldn’t make out a thing, because there was nothing but total darkness surrounding me. Where was I? My head was throbbing. Where was Brent?  Panic seized me!

“Cathy, are you awake?” It was a whisper that came from Brent, whom I could finally make out, lying beside me. We appeared to be on a bed. I pressed my hands against my head, which would not stop throbbing.

“Yes, Brent, I’m awake! Where are we? What happened?” I asked. I felt so groggy.

“Honey, I don’t know. I just woke up myself. Apparently, we are in a room at Canterbury Manor, but I sure don’t remember coming here.”

“I don’t either,” I said. “The last I remember, we were sitting on a couch talking with that woman.”

“Same here, Cath.” 

“We must have been totally exhausted, to have fallen asleep there,” I said. “How do you suppose we got here, in this room?”

“Cathy, I’ve been asking myself the same question, and I can’t come up with anything that makes any sense.”

“I wish we could turn on a light,” I said, “but if I recall correctly, there is no electricity here, right?”

“Right. I’m going to get up and find the entrance to this room. There may be some lighted candles in the hall.” 

In the darkness, which we were adjusting to, I could make out Brent feeling his way around the room to find the door. 

“Found it, Cathy!” he said.

“Good.”

“Except...it seems to be locked.”

“Why would it be locked, Brent? We’re guests here, not prisoners,” I said in jest. 

“I don’t know, Cathy, but it is. Hey, there’s a window over there.”

He was right. Moonlight was filtering through a many-paned window, casting little diamond-shaped patterns on the floor. I ran to look out. There was a full moon just emerging from behind some clouds, and directly below us was the ocean, its giant waves crashing against the rocky shore.

Still half-joking, I said, “Well, it looks like using this window for escape is out of the question.”

Brent was still at the door. “Cathy, this is seriously locked, and I’m beginning to get a pretty uneasy feeling about it.”

“Brent, what are you saying?”

“I’m starting to think that maybe it’s locked on purpose, and we’re guests here, whether we want to be or not.”

This was like some nightmare. I should have heeded those uneasy feelings I had coming up here. “Are you serious?”

“I’m serious honey, but that doesn’t mean the situation is serious,” he said. 

“What do you mean?”

“I mean there can’t be much to be afraid of...a young not-quite-right woman and her dedicated old manservant. That’s all we ever saw, despite the talk of a cook and a caretaker. So let’s not let our imaginations run away with us.”

Suddenly we heard footsteps in the hall, followed by a loud knock at the door! 

“I’d open that door for you, but it seems to be locked,” Brent said.

“You must leave!” came the urgent response. It sounded like an old woman speaking.

Then we heard more footsteps and Elizabeth’s voice. “Aunt Molly,” she said, “you know you shouldn’t be out here!”  

Then came an unearthly, blood-curdling cackle that made my hair stand on end! Brent pulled me to him and put his arms around me. I know he could feel my heart beating wildly!

A third voice spoke. “Molly, Molly, what are we going to do with you?” It was James. “It was naughty to leave your room and disturb our guests. Whatever are they going to think?” When we heard the footsteps retreating, I sighed in relief and moved back to sit on the edge of the bed.

“Wow, Cathy! I don’t know what to make of that,” my husband whispered, as he joined me there.

“I don’t either,” I whimpered. “But I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my life.”

He held me close and stroked my hair. “I’ll admit this is all pretty weird honey, but I still don’t think there’s any good reason to let it spook us. A couple of women and an old man? Heck, they can’t be all that dangerous. So I’m going to ask you to brave up again, while I think of a way to get us out of here. Okay?”

I couldn’t speak without my voice breaking, so I nodded. A few moments passed in silence, and then we could hear footsteps in the hall again, only this time they seemed to be running. The lock clicked and the door flew open. Standing there with a lighted candle in a candlestick was an old woman, her white hair wildly disheveled, her wrinkled face marked by eerie shadows in the flickering candlelight.

“Oh my God,” I thought, stifling a scream. “It’s a witch! A hag! A crone!” My skin crawled!

“You must leave!” she said. “You must leave at once! This is the night of the full-moon sacrifice, and you are in great danger!”

Before we could comprehend what was happening, Elizabeth suddenly appeared behind the old woman, grabbed the candlestick from her, and ran into our room.  She moved quickly to the window, put the candle to the draperies and set them ablaze. Brent leapt to his feet, grabbed me and moved toward the door, but Elizabeth was quicker. Tossing the still-burning candle on the bed, she pushed old Molly out the door and slipped out after her, pulling the door shut behind her just before we could reach it. In the burning room, we heard the lock slide shut.   

The room began to fill with smoke.

“On my God, Brent! What are we going to do?”

He ran to the bed, beating at the flames with his bare hands. Unbelievably, the door flew open once again. The old woman had somehow outwitted the young.

“Come, my children,” the ancient lady said. “I must get you out of here. We cannot have another sacrifice to the flames.” She led us to the staircase, and from there we made a run for it, running for our very lives...down the stairs, through the ornate entryway and finally outside and down the stone steps. Only then did we pause long enough to notice that the old woman hadn’t made it out with us. 

“Oh, Brent, we have to go back for her! She saved our lives.”

“You wait here; I’ll go back,” he said, heading back into the house.

I waited nervously for his return, willing him to hurry with all my might. I could see the fire was spreading throughout the mansion. I was terrified that he’d be trapped. Finally I saw him coming back out the door – alone.

“Let’s get out of here,” he said, running down the stone steps to me. “The old woman refuses to come. She says her place is here, with Elizabeth, come what may. She says the outside world doesn’t exist for her at all. But with the way that fire is spreading…their world is doomed.” He shook his head, grabbed my hand, and we raced off down the road.

The car was where we had left it, and we fell against it, panting and trying to catch our breath.

“The old one said the only thing that mattered was for us to get away,” Brent said. “Cathy, let’s hope and pray this thing starts.” We got in, he turned the key, and like magic it started up.

As we headed back in a southerly direction, we could see the sky glowing behind us, where Canterbury Manor stood. We rode in silence, each lost in our own thoughts.

We arrived in Logansport at dawn. The Pilot House was open. Open 24 hours for the tourist trade, no doubt. A lone customer sat at the counter with a cup of coffee, reading a newspaper. Brent and I took a table near the door. The waitress, a girl of about 18, strolled over, coffee pot in hand. I asked her if she knew of Canterbury Manor. 

“Can’t say I do, ma’am, but I’m not from around here. I just work in this town during the summer.”

The older man at the counter set down his paper and turned around. “Did I hear you say Canterbury Manor?”

“Yes,” Brent answered. “Yes, you did.”

“What about it?” the man asked.

“Well, I’m afraid I have some bad news to tell you about it. There was a fire there last night, and it quite likely has burned to the ground.”

The man picked up his coffee cup and came over to our table. “Say that again?” he said.

“My wife and I were up there last night when the fire started, and we were lucky to get away with our lives. There was no place around to report it, and I’m afraid by now it’s too late for any help. But as soon the sun comes up, which looks like it’s not that far away, when the city offices open up, I will make a report to the proper authorities.”

“Mind if I sit down here?” the man asked.

“By all means, please do,” Brent answered.

“Mister,” the man said, after taking a sip of his coffee, “Canterbury Manor burned down a hundred years ago.”

“Of course, you’re kidding me,” Brent said to the man. 

“I’m afraid I’m not,” he replied.

“But we saw it there last night. We were inside it. We were talking to people there.”

“I see,” said the man. Then, turning to the counter where the waitress was busying herself, he said, “Melissa, would you bring more coffee, please?”

“Be right there, Fred,” she said and quickly brought over a fresh pot and set it down on the table.

Fred took off his glasses. “Mister, maybe it wouldn’t be a good idea to report that fire. And before you do any protesting, you’d better let me tell you about a story that’s been told by folks around these parts for quite awhile now.”

“Okay,” Brent said. “Let’s hear it.”

“Well, in the first place, nobody around here even goes near that place...that place where the old mansion stood. Most folks say they get a real eerie feeling just being around that place, and some swear that sometimes they see the sky all aglow at night by where that mansion stood, just as if it were on fire again. ’Course, it’s all talk. Just an old fisherman’s tale. But we got lots of superstition around here.”

“Go on,” Brent said. “Tell us the talk.”

“See, three heiresses and their servants lived up in that old mansion a long time ago. I know the story well. Most people around here do. Their name was Bradford.  Minerva, Jane and Elizabeth.”

Brent and I took in a deep breath simultaneously, with that bit of news.

“Elizabeth was the youngest, and very beautiful, they say. And she was also used to getting her own way. It seems that the young Elizabeth was very stuck on herself and suffered from a great fear of getting old and ugly. She thought about this so much that one day, they say, the devil himself materialized before her eyes with an offer. He told her he could grant her eternal youth and beauty, even let her keep her servants too – but not without the necessary sacrifices.”

Brent took my hand. “Sacrifices?”

“That’s right. Human sacrifices. Two to seal the bargain, and two more every 25 years thereafter, on into eternity. They say her sisters were the first to be sacrificed, that night 100 years ago, when the manor burned down.”

Fred poured himself another cup of coffee and stared out the door, studying the sky. “Say, there was a full moon last night, wasn’t there?” he said, and glanced at me.

I nodded, afraid to trust my voice.

“So there was,” he said. “Stormy as it was, I didn’t see it myself. You know, they say that’s when the old place reappears on the bluff, every 25 years on a full-moon night, along about this time of year. In fact, they say the manor is still there in between times, but mortal folks just can’t see it. And no one can go in or out of it except at the appointed time, every quarter-century, when the moon is full. That’s when Miss Elizabeth gets her 24-hour opportunity to lure in a couple of folks to sacrifice to the flames.”

Fred paused, and gave us a long, hard look. “Of course, it’s a bunch of hooey,” he finally said. “But some folks here really believe that story to be true.”

A shiver ran through me.

“Oh, what’s the matter with me?” he said, putting his glasses back on with a smile. “I nearly forgot to tell you about Aunt Molly.”

“Aunt Molly,” Brent said, staring down into his coffee cup with a sad and worried frown.

“Aunt Molly,” said Fred. “She lived there with the girls, the story goes. Kinda daft, but clever in her own way – like that Mr. Dick character...you know, that friend of Betsy Trotworth, in the book David Copperfield?”

Brent nodded.

“Well, they say Aunt Molly was on to Elizabeth’s evil intentions from the very start. She tried in vain to persuade Elizabeth not to go through with it, and Elizabeth, not wanting any interference, kept her locked away in a room, claiming that Aunt Molly was crazy.” Fred raised his coffee cup in a kind of salute, drank what was left and set it down decisively. “Quite the story, aye?”

“Quite the story,” Brent agreed, giving my hand a squeeze.

“Now, here’s the kicker,” the storyteller said. “You folks might like this part. See, the way they tell it is that if Elizabeth is able to find two people to sacrifice during the short time the house is visible, she goes on living, even though veiled from the rest of the world, for another 25 years. Now if she fails, the game is up. Canterbury Manor and its residents go down in flames, forever.”

Brent took in a deep breath. “Well, it looks like she didn’t make it this time,” he said.

The two men shared a long, level look. Finally, the older man leaned back in his chair, smiling a slow, knowing smile. “It’s just an old fisherman’s tale anyway,” he said. “Even if it was a full-moon night, 100 years hence.”

“That’s right,” said Brent. “Just a lot of old hooey.”

He rose from his chair and smiled at me with that same marvelous smile that always made me feel so fine. “Come on, Cathy,” he said. “Let’s go home.”