Sunday, May 19, 2013

(#Twenty-six: Secrets) Wuthering Nights by Summer Day: Inspired by Wuthering Heights

Chapter Twenty-six
     When Katarina arrived at The Hall the next afternoon, Heath was out riding and no one answered the door. Since she’d never met her mother as an adult, she relied on the memories of others. In her bag, she kept her fine cashmere scarf, and longed for more information about the woman in the photographs. Katarina knew there were many images of the young Kate in the boxes hidden in the cupboard. The man who had loved her, perhaps as much as her father (if not more), kept these images tucked away, hidden, along with her mother’s memory.
    Katarina got out of her car. She wore a scarlet coat today and the fierce, biting air made her catch her breath as she walked up to the house. Her dark curls fell in ringlets down her back. The girl took out her mother’s old-fashioned film camera. The camera took amazing photographs and she wanted the particular effect film could create. Katarina snapped The Hall in the morning light, from a distance, then close up on the door handle as the gargoyles threatened her.
    There was an eerie creak, ever present, when Katarina tiptoed into the house.
    Heath suddenly stomped in through the kitchen, taking off his muddy boots in the larder.
    ‘Who’s there?’ he bawled.      
    ‘Just me,’ Katarina said softly.
    ‘Oh,’ he replied, ‘I’d forgotten you were coming. Don’t go to the top floor…renovations,’ he grumbled, hurrying upstairs to shower and change. 
     ‘I just wanted to take your picture…’    
     ‘No…’ he replied quickly.
      He’d always refused to have his photograph taken. It would be a pointless exercise but Katarina was not to know that. She had begun to get used to his mercurial personality and shrugged to herself as she wandered through The Hall. Tucked in a corner, she discovered the Blue Room, which was lit with soft lights, chandeliers hanging from the roof and a hall of mirrors. It was so amazing it had once been featured in architectural magazines.
     The girl wandered through the room catching sight of Heath ushering his dog out of the library. As Katarina glanced into the wall of reflections, hers was there but Heath’s was missing. Of course, Katarina thought. The strangeness filled her world. 
     Katarina was nervous, but as she created art by snapping photographs, her nerves disappeared. By mid-morning, it helped that she had not seen a vision of the woman who’d appeared the night of the storm, nor had she heard her. Silence was littered by the sound of paper being ripped and thrown in the rubbish bin once Heath returned from walking the dog. There was a ray of light under the door of Heath’s library and Katarina got the feeling he did not wish to be disturbed.
      Minutes later, the silence was marked by the loud noise Katarina made, as she unlocked her mother’s bedroom with Hinton’s key. Inside, the room was all but empty. It was like a danceless ballroom with billowing long curtains in place of skirts and open windows and a wet floor where the rain had swept in, for company. As she stood, breathless, sensing a visitor apart from herself, Katarina heard a chewing sound and a striped boiled sweet wrapper fell from the ceiling onto her hair, like a feather.
    Immediately, Katarina looked up; nothing. She noticed the floor around her feet was littered with discarded candy wrappers. They had dropped from the shadows in the roof. Katarina peered closer. In the corner of the large room there was a pile of messy, muddied, riding clothes. The jodhpurs and a jacket appeared to have been recently worn and discarded. As Katarina went to touch the fabric, a bird screeched outside the window. Katarina jumped.  She wanted to take a closer look inside the room when she heard a voice behind her and a man took her arm. 
    ‘I told you not to go in here,’ Heath said.
     He was standing to her right, fully dressed for the office.
    ‘Whose clothes?’
     Heath led her out of the room.
     ‘Please…just ignore what you see here. Most of it is…old washing. Greta must have left it. I’ve made us some tea.’
      Katarina was so stunned she followed meekly.  The interior of the room loomed behind like a secret as they walked downstairs.  
      Heath seemed oblivious to the anomalies of Hareton Hall. In the kitchen, he was more interested in demolishing the honey soy chicken drumsticks Greta had left sealed in a dish. He ate at least three of these while Katarina stood there, sipping tea, even though it was barely mid-morning.
      They observed the view from the parlour of a now famous statue of one of their ancestors (an author or poet, no doubt, Katty thought) that was all but obscured behind a fence. Occasionally, tourists stopped by in summer to take photographs. Sometimes the iron gates would open quicker than they realised and usher those same tourists out of the way. Who knows what these tourists had really seen through the windows. 
     ‘I never planned to open the house and grounds up to the public, but with the worldwide financial situation, my advisors convinced me it was the smart thing to do. I want this house to stay in the family…forever,’ he added quietly.
    Katarina changed the film in her camera as they sat at the table watching day turn to dusk.
    ‘May I?’ Katarina took Heath’s photograph as he turned to take his car keys from the fruit ball. The crystal bowl was full of peaches and Italian oranges. 
     ‘Hinton told me you know our secret. You must have worked it out by now. You can take as many photographs of me as you like. The images won’t come out. I have to go to my office, there’s something going on at work. Greta is coming around soon. Don’t return to the rooms upstairs. They’re locked now. Just shut the door when you leave,’ Heath said, offering no further explanation. Not fond of idle chit chat, he stood up and walked away. 
      Katarina was left to ponder her predicament. Then she remembered that Hinton told her he used to scale the wall to his room when he was a child.
       Katarina wandered outside. The gardens grew wild. According to her mother’s journals, they were once perfectly manicured. Although now unkempt, they appeared lusher than any of her mother’s recollections. The wind began to howl as Katarina followed the path from the surrounding grounds of the estate, towards the lap pool (covered in a blanket of leaves) and past the stables. Katarina noticed a few security cameras which unnerved her, but there were no lights on, so she assumed like everything else, they were in a state of disrepair. It was remarkable how useless the cameras would be in tracking the real inhabitants of the estate, Katarina thought, but then she supposed that was not the reason they were installed. At the gates, beyond the stables, Katarina saw her first sign of human life.
     There was an elderly groom working with a horse - the other horse remained under cover. Both animals were black and sleek with sweat. It was obvious Heath had not been out riding alone.
     ‘Good Afternoon, Miss. Katarina isn’t it?’ he mumbled, looking at her quizzically, as if he’d seen a ghost.
     ‘Good Afternoon,’ Katarina replied.
      ‘I’m George. I’ve been working for the Spencers… forever. Greta said you’d be coming. She got held up at her meeting. She collects her grandson from his pre-school on Fridays…’
      ‘Oh,’ Katarina said. ‘That’s okay. The…owner has given me permission to take photographs...over there.’
       George shook his head as she walked towards the garden. Seconds later, rain started to spit from the sky and Katarina found herself standing near the outside wall that led to the upper floors of the house, contemplating how to climb it. 
        She’d forgotten it was Friday; she’d promised Linus and Hinton that she’d meet them for dinner tonight. Katarina would have to be quick. She would also try to act as normally as possible with Hinton. They hadn’t had a moment alone to talk and Katarina wasn’t sure what to say, but she knew she had less and less recollection of her real life outside the family she was beginning to understand.  She glanced over her shoulder. George was nowhere to be seen. Quickly, she climbed the wall, using the strength and muscles she’d developed from years of riding. When Kat reached the window, she lifted the glass easily and crawled through the dusty ledge, landing on her feet inside her mother’s old room.
      She looked above her, to the roof of the room. It was empty. There was nothing except chandeliers. Then she walked to the hallway and up the stairs. They creaked with every step she took. The girl was compelled to walk higher, to the forbidden floor. Linus had told her where Heath had stashed the keys and she retrieved them from his desk. 
    When Katarina reached the attic, the door was slightly ajar. The curtains were open and blowing in the wind. Rain splayed the sill. The door did not creak when she pushed it further. The rain stopped; birds sang. Outside, a rainbow appeared. She stood silent as the door quietly closed behind her, untouched.
     It was quieter and lighter up here than she imagined. There were no cobwebs. In the corner lay another pile of girls’ clothes, used and unused, thrown into a washing basket. At the top of the pile lay the same bunch of riding clothes, recently worn. There were boots with fresh mud on them discarded in the corner of the room. 
    Kate looked at the carpet; no footprints. Then she looked at the window sill. Mud dripped upon it. An exaltation of larks outside the window announced her intrusion.
    The fine hairs on Katarina’s arms stood up. When she tried to take a photograph through the closed window, the black covering in her camera froze. The birds hushed and through the silence, Katarina heard only the softness of her breathing and her beating heart. She sighed and leaned into the bar nailed on to the attic wall. It occurred to her then that the whole room had been converted into some kind of ballet studio. There were floor length mirrors along one entire wall.  The roof of Hareton Hall loomed above her like one of the great baroque ceilings she’d seen in Italy on a school trip. Only the outside scenery, the wrought iron gate, fragile in the mist, placed her at Hareton Hall as opposed to some kind of Netherworld.
     Just then, a bird flew in through the window, startling Katarina who crouched onto the floor. A scream rang out before she realized it was hers. When Katarina stopped screaming, the sound of another breath took over.
      Slowly, slowly, Katarina raised her head until she looked directly above her. Hovering in the roof beams was a young woman. Sleeping, eyes closed, hair matted across her eyes, her face was obscured. She was curled up in pink cotton pyjamas and seemed no older than twenty-one although it was difficult to tell in the dark. The tiny hint of a corner cobweb touched the edge of her hair. Her arms were folded across her chest. She was cocooned in a pink, mohair blanket.
     Katarina’s scream woke her and the hybrid girl somersaulted down from the rafters. In a split second she back flipped off the high beam and landed on her feet. The young woman, a mirror image of Katarina, opened her eyes where she landed. Then she stood and drank in Katarina’s face as if she could hardly believe the vision was real. With the threat of tears in her eyes, the beautiful hybrid uncrossed her arms and reached out her hand. She walked towards Katarina with an open palm. In the same moment, her image disappeared into shadows, leaving nothing but air.
    The objects in the attic - an antique hairbrush, some ballet shoes in a basket, a used pink towel with cream lace edging, more wrappers of lollipops and sweets - also disappeared in that moment. The only thing Katarina had left was a memory. She stood frozen. Katarina felt sure no one would believe her if she told them what she saw. The girl’s face had been identical to her own.
    The teenage girl backed out of the room then turned and ran down the stairs, two at a time. Her camera strap was still wrapped around her wrist and she heard the snap in sunlight as the film started automatically, winding again.
    George, the groundsman, hovered at the front door.
   ‘The master won’t be happy about you wandering through the house alone.’
    ‘He gave me permission to take photographs,’ Katarina sniffed. ‘Besides, he’s not my master!’ Katarina added. ‘Nor yours. Do you… Do you know what… who is in this house?
    George raised his eyes and pulled some leaves out of the rake he held.
    ‘Yes.’ He spoke in a thick, Northern accent. Katarina could still hear the high, sweet voice of a Lark, singing in the rafters.
   ‘Did you hear that?’ Katarina asked aloud.
    He nodded. ‘There’s been talk of… bloodsuckers here for years. Some like to refer to them as ghosts…makes people feel better I suppose. It’s because they’re up all night,’ he added.  The pretty tune stopped and all that remained was the noise of George’s rake, as if he’d already forgotten what he said.
     Reality seemed to elude all who visited The Hall, except her. Katarina felt sure the secrets held the key to the mystery of her family. The vampire girl in the roof was similar to her and to…her mother. Katarina needed answers. 
    George simply stared into the distance.
    Katarina waited on the front steps. Greta had texted to apologise and re-schedule. It was all that kept Katarina from running away forever. It was late in the day by then and already the sun was setting.
     ‘They say memory is something that exists in a person’s mind forever; we just have to know how to unlock it when we forget something.’ George said out of the blue.
     ‘You must have a lot of memories of this place,’ Katarina replied.
      ‘Oh yes, Miss. What I have seen… ’ he sighed as he walked towards the shed.