A veil of white hung heavy over the hills and gradually setting over the vales, suffocating every tree at their base, leaving the crests visible through the thick layer of white fog, better to say smog. Every industrial town is now facing the crisis of smog during the onset of winter. Wimberley may be a small town, without skyscrapers like Manhattan or New York, but once it was a thriving mining town. It was already six o’ clock in the morning, but still, surroundings were hazy.
Sarah came out from her bedchamber; her hubby Daniel was fast asleep with his mouth wide open, snoring loudly as he took sleeping pills for countering insomnia. Silently, Sarah entered the kitchen, made a mug of steaming coffee and came to the glass-sealed balcony from where she could see the outside landscape. However, there was nothing to see except dense grey fog. The early morning fog loomed over as far as she could see; it was almost tangible, covering everything under a solid, thick blanket, the feeble morning light barely managing to penetrate the haze.
The foggy surrounding was blurred like an old painting drawn on a canvas by a skilled painter. The buildings and trees silhouetted black, two-dimensional, the fog danced across the streets drifting peacefully, infusing the entire landscape with moisture and a weighty silence. Only within a night, she fell in love with the old manor house, which once belonged to Daniel’s great-grandfather.
A peculiar noise broke Sarah’s contemplation; she heard the sound of movements inside the house. Initially, she thought Daniel finally rouse from his sleep, she opened the door of the dining room and tried to see. There was no one in the dining room. She entered and walked towards the bedroom. Her husband was still in a deep sleep under the blanket.
Nevertheless, she decided to see downstairs, especially in the big hall. She carefully stepped on to the wooden steps that should not yield the noise of her slippers. The hall too was empty. Old wooden furniture, abandoned fireplace, large oil paintings, Venetian mirror, heavy silk curtains, and a giant piano were waiting for someone to come. She felt the presence of something or someone, but could not see anything unusual. The wall clock declared that it was half past six.
The feeling of ghostly presence was nothing but an illusion. She came upstairs and again went to the balcony. Though fog was getting lighter, the visibility was still not very clear. Suddenly, she discovered handprints on the steamy glass of the balcony, as someone tried to enter through the glass, but….but…..it was not ground floor!
Gasped in fear, Sarah assumed burglars tried breaking the house. She looked carefully at the vertical streaks of moisture collected on the steamy glass. The handprints were fading away quickly and finally disappeared within moisture.
“Noo,” Sarah cried in fear.
“Sarah,” she found herself in a pair of male hands. Daniel heard her cry and ran for assistance. He was still undressed and looking overwhelmed.
“Are you OK, Sarah?” He tightly embraced her.
“I…I am sorry, I saw something unusual and….”
“What did you see?” Daniel asked.
“Handprints,” she wanted to say, however, there was no sign of that. So, finally, she decided to ignore it.
“Leave it, dear; I thought someone is walking downstairs and screamed unnecessarily. Let’s have a mug of steaming coffee.” She tried to smile.
Daniel looked at the empty mug and smiled, “You have had a mug already, let me make this time.” He looked outside through the steamy glass and remarked, “winter is a bad time for the countryside. You can see nothing except mist and fog. Do you know this place has many interesting tourist spots but bad luck, we cannot see.”
“We can come again,” Sarah tried to say.
Daniel smiled a bit and walked towards the kitchen for making coffee. Sarah followed him.
“I have a plan of selling the property in summer. If I cannot sell, I can lease it out. It can be a good motel or a homestay….”
“Daniel, cannot you keep it and run your own business here?” Sarah asked. She was feeling an attraction to the place.
Daniel remained silent awhile; he poured milk on cornflakes and started smashing eggs for breakfast. Sarah felt a bit awkward; Daniel did not want to come here. He wished to sell the property just after receiving his father’s will. It was her request; she wanted to see Daniel’s ancestral property. She always found old places charming and attractive.
“I am a bit fond of old and antique things, so, I love to stay in old houses, but hardly got such a chance.” She sighed, “Our old memories, teach us many things, add sweet flavors….”
“Sometimes bitter memories darken over the sweeter ones.” Daniel murmured and said, “Let’s break the fast.” He placed cornflakes bowl on the table and Sarah brought scrambled eggs, bread, and butter.
“We have nothing to do here,” Daniel said, “I cannot even drive in fog. So….”
“I have a better plan; can I explore the manor house?” she asked eagerly.
“Yes, you can, but please forgive me,” Daniel said.
“What you are planning to do?” Sarah asked curiously. “Planning to sleep again?”
Daniel tightened his jaws; he did not like if anyone mocked his sleeping disorder.
“I’ll do work in my laptop,” he was not feeling comfortable with her idea of exploring the manor house.
“Oh; if I hurt you, I am sorry, please forgive me, but….” Sarah apologized.
“Apology accepted.” Daniel lightened the situation.
“This house,” Daniel slowly said, “has many stories, hearsay. There was an accident; I don’t know in details, but…..”
“Great, it is haunted too.” Daniel did not find Sarah’s attitude appropriate.
Daniel looked at her thoughtfully but did not reply. They silently finished the food and Daniel opened his laptop in the dining room only. Sarah ignored his cold attitude; she came downstairs and suddenly found a bag full of coal near the abandoned fireplace. She tried to remember. Yester night, when they entered the house for the first time, she did not notice it. She examined the fireplace; now it was not at all looking abandoned. She again felt the presence of someone outside the gate. She opened it and found no one and the freezing fog wrapped around her like a blanket. She covered her head with the hood of her overcoat and came out.
A little girl, five or six, not more than that, ran away from the gate towards the garden fence.
“Hey, who is there?” She shouted. The girl could easily go outside the garden by jumping over the short fence, but she did not. She stopped near the fence but did not try to escape. She turned back and looked at her directly. She felt her cold glance; the girl smiled sadly.
“Hey, who are you?” she asked.
“Effie” the girl replied with a smile, she was not at all afraid of her.
“What are you doing outside? It is too cold to play outdoors…”
“I wanted to give you something,” the little girl walked towards her, handed over a piece of paper. She touched Sarah’s hand; it was as cold as the weather. Sarah opened the paper and found a picture sketched on it with a pencil. When she realized what was drawn on it, she felt perspiration on her face. It was a woman’s picture, but the head was not in place, it was detached from the body and put in the fireplace. Her beheaded body was lying just beside the fireplace, and the head was on the flame. A man, whose face was not visible, standing next to the body with an ax, “NOOO, What is it? Who are you?” she screamed.
“I am Effie,” she again repeated, “She asked me to send this message to you. She is coming.”
“Who?” Overwhelmed Sarah asked.
The girl ran towards the entrance and opened the gate. She vanished in fog leaving the door open. She again looked at the paper; the place had vague similarity with the hall of the house. The horrible drawing was made in the backdrop of the same hall and the fireplace. It was enough for a making a normal person nervous and scared, but Sarah tried to overcome the overwhelming situation. The entire incident was not only unwelcome but also unnatural. The manor house had a history, which Daniel knows but did not want to disclose.
She walked towards the entrance. Suddenly, two women caught her attention. They were milkmaids, probably mother, and daughter, walking side by side with two huge milk cans in hand. The scene was rare in the city, but not in the countryside.
Those two milkmaids stopped before her; the old one smiled and greeted as she knew her from ages.
“Mrs. Duncan, how are you?” she grinned broadly.
Sarah astonished, “Do you know me?”
“Mrs. Duncan,” the old woman looked serious, “I am sorry, I forgot.” She hurriedly stepped back and asked her daughter to follow.
‘Strange, they know that I am Daniel Duncan’s wife.’ Sarah found the entire incident a bit interesting. She and Daniel were married for a month, and their wedding was a low-profile affair, where very few were present. Daniel had no relatives, but a couple of friends to attend the wedding. He forbade her not putting photos in social media.
Sarah found her would-be-husband, a bit mysterious but still accepted his conditions. Since her childhood, she had dreamed of a family of her own. So, when Daniel proposed him for marriage, she could not say no. Apart from some incidents, Daniel usually behaved nicely with him. He had also given her explanation behind his strange behavior that he was suffering from various ailments and now recovering gradually. Her businessman husband spent most of his time outside the apartment they had hired in New York, and she remained busy with her works. So, when she came to know about this place, she insisted to come here. Reminiscing memories, Sarah walked across the garden and came out from the building premise. She opened the gate and stepped on to the road. It was already half past nine, the fog dissipated converted into a simple mist hovering over the fields, stretching in undulating folds between the clumps of trees marked the boundary of each farmstead.
Visibility was better than earlier, she saw, in the distance, on the crest of a slope, there was an endless line of outward projecting stones. Soon she recognized it as a cemetery, not too far from the manor house. She started walking towards it, as the place had some unknown attraction.
The cemetery was situated on a highland, it was a patch of land surrounded by a high boundary wall, and its gate remained closed, but not locked. Very soon she realized that it was a family cemetery, not a public one. Duncan’s family cemetery!
“Madam Duncan,” a male voice called her from the back. Sarah turned back and found an old man with a bald head was standing before her.
“You must have come here to visit the grave. Ah, I saw you in time.”
“Do you know me?” Sarah asked.
The old man smiled sadly. He opened the door and softly said, “You may go inside.”
Sarah entered the graveyard. It was a well-maintained one; the old man might be its caretaker. She found tombstones revealing the names of the deceased and the date of their deaths. It was an old graveyard, must be used for ages. She felt belongingness to the place and also realized that someone was there already. A giggling sound broke her contemplation. She turned back and found Effie. The girl was standing before her.
“Effie, what are you doing here?”
“Did you come here to meet her?” the little girl asked.
“Whom?” Sarah asked.
She brought out another piece of paper and unfolded. The same mysterious sketch was painted there.
“What is it, Effie? Do you want to scare me?” Sarah tried to smile. She was quite sure that the little girl was caretaker’s granddaughter or something like that, who had an obsession with deaths. She composed herself and said, “I did not come here to meet anyone. And, tell me, whose picture it is?”
“Mother,” she replied in a choked voice and ran away from her.
Sarah looked around, saw no one. Suddenly, she noticed the silhouette of a woman in the mist, which was gradually taking shape — a woman of her age, with brown hairs, oval-shaped face, aquiline nose, thin lips, blue eyes but the sad expression on her countenance standing before her, as she was watching her reflection in the mirror. She was about to scream, but the figure disappeared in the fog. She felt numbness in her limbs and a cold current in her spine. She was about to fall onto the ground, but someone caught her on time.
“Sarah,” it was Daniel’s voice, “You should not come here.” He whispered.
Sarah was not getting enough strength to stand on her own feet. She heard the voice of the caretaker, “Sir, I think madam is still unwell and needs medical treatment.”
“Sure, enough.” He said, “Help me to bring her into the car.”
“I am fine Daniel.” She tried to say. However, Daniel did not listen to her and put her in the car by force.
“Please, do not say no. you need medical attention.” He started the car without heeding to her arguments. The car crossed the countryside and stopped before a clinic. Daniel asked her to get down.
“I am fine, dear,” Sarah tried to argue.
Daniel had already entered the clinic. A middle-aged man in doctor’s apron was examining an x-ray report. As they pushed the glass door to enter his chamber, he looked at them and grinned broadly like a long-lost friend.
“Mr. and Mrs. Duncan, nice to see you together after a long time.” he cheerfully said.
She felt a bit awkward, only a month ago, they got married, but here everyone was behaving as intimately as they knew her for ages. Seeing overwhelming expression on her face, the doctor stopped saying anything further. He examined her health and prescribed a couple of medicines.
“Really, I am not feeling sick or ill; why are you treating me like that?” Sarah raised her voice slightly, as they left the chamber.
Daniel sat on the driver’s seat and tightened the seat belt over his shoulder, “May I know what you were doing in our family graveyard?” He sounded unpleasant.
“I am sorry if I invoked any bad memory,” Sarah apologized, “believe me, I was just walking, I saw a girl in our garden, and she said that someone wants to meet me. Do you know I found her again in the graveyard?”
Daniel stared icily, “A girl? How old is she?”
“Five or six; do you know her? Effie?” She asked eagerly.
“She must be an intruder; we should inform the police…”
“She is a child; I thought the caretaker’s granddaughter or….”
“Sarah, very few young couples live in this town with children. The caretaker lives alone. He lost his wife years ago; his children are well settled in other cities and seldom visit him.” Daniel started the car.
Daniel was a bit stubborn and difficult to convey. He went to the police station and filed a complaint of trespassing. When they finally got relief from legal procedures; it was already half past three. Daniel offered lunch in an expensive restaurant before returning home.
“I am sorry, Sarah, you must have found me a bit crazy; but the old manor house had witnessed many horrible things, some of them are still alive. You should not go alone in the graveyard.” He advised.
“So, the place is haunted?” Sarah took it lightly, “my dear husband, don’t forget that I am a nurse. I witness deaths every day…”
“Maybe, but I am a bit uncomfortable with those old memories. That is why I want to sell the house.”
“It is your discretion,”
“Good, if my wife agrees then tomorrow onwards I can start procedures of selling the estate.” He remarked.
Sarah was feeling uncomfortable with the idea of selling the manor house. Her inner sense was telling that Daniel was planning something else and the place had a hidden truth. The girl could not be a trespasser. She decided not to tell him anything about the sketch. It might be a message; the girl wanted to deliver.
When they reached home, it was already dark.
“Today is our last night in the manor house. Pack your things, and we’ll set on the early morning.” Daniel said.
“But we seemed to start on the afternoon,” Sarah said.
“Do you still want to stay here, darling? I cannot.” Daniel bitterly said. Suddenly, his mobile rang. Daniel received the call and murmured, “Unknown number.” He said, “Daniel Duncan speaking.”
Sarah noticed anxiety on his countenance, as something drained out blood from his face. He replied briskly, “Well, stay where you are, no need of coming here; I’ll come.”
He disconnected the line and looked at her apologetically, “I am sorry, urgent work is pending.”
“So, you are leaving me in a haunted house?” she asked.
“There is nothing called ghost or spirit, dear. It is my request; please do not entertain any stranger, infant or toddler he or she may be.” He added. “The place is new to you.”
“But, I don’t think so,” Sarah smiled, “Everyone knows me from ages.”
Daniel looked thoughtfully, “I have uploaded our photos in the facebook, our wedding photos.”
“And you forbade me to do it,” Sarah complained.
“Sorry, we can talk later.” He again got into the car without saying bye or pouring kiss on her lips. Daniel started his car and left her in the old manor house with several unanswered questions and confusion.
She tried to console herself, Daniel’s work might be more important, but her hubby could share it. With a heavy heart, she unlocked the door and entered the hall. As she looked into the fireplace, she again felt the presence of someone inside the house.
Sarah did not feel nervous. She had already faced many adverse situations in her life; she had witnessed the death of her parents in a car crash when she was only eight. Raised in an orphanage, she found her place in a foster home as long as the couple did not have their daughter. Situation compelled her earning before completing the High School. She had financed her own study, nursing training and finally got a position in a private nursing home.
‘Why I am thinking all these?’ She asked herself. After meeting Daniel on a social media site, her life had taken a new course. The man claimed himself as a business entrepreneur but did not disclose much about his business and his family. He impressed her in such a way that Sarah did not think twice before saying ‘yes’ to him. Within a month, their friendship turned into a legal marriage, and she found her new position in society as Mrs. Duncan, the wife of a wealthy businessman with a large estate in Wimberley.
With a heavy mind, she collected her laptop from the bedroom and came downstairs. She opened her laptop and tried to check her e-mails.
As she switched on the laptop, she found it blank for a while, then the screen appeared but not with its usual background but a bizarre background. It was depicting her own beheaded body; the head was on the flame and a man with an ax standing next to her. She shrieked loudly.
She threw the laptop on to a couch and jumped on. The laptop shut down automatically but again the same picture appeared on the screen as a screensaver.
Helplessly Sarah looked around and found flames in the fireplace. She could bet that it was abandoned. She ran towards the entrance and tried to leave the hall, but found the door locked from outside.
“NOOOO” she shrieked.
Overwhelmed Sarah ran upstairs. She found herself in a completely different environment. A woman had similar facial features like her, same brownish hairs and similar voice was singing a lullaby. A little girl no other than Effie was sitting next to her. No doubt they were mother and daughter.
“Who are you?’ Sarah wanted to ask but found her voice choked with fear. Suddenly, the woman stopped singing and looked at her coldly; it was an unnatural gaze, as cold as death.
“Effie?” she tried to converse with the girl. Suddenly she found herself surrounded by mist. She did not lose her consciousness but lost control of her body.
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