Leaving the town behind, they drove on towards the castle. Cate could see it clearly, sitting stoically in the distance. It grew larger and larger as they approached. Cate also saw the rolling lawns with their perfect landscaping surrounding the castle.
As they pulled in the drive, Cate couldn’t believe this was her life. Mr. Smythe drove on toward the house as Cate gaped from the backseat. Riley, sensing Cate’s excitement, was darting from window to window to peer out, wagging his tail and eyeing Cate as if to confirm that his reaction was appropriate.
As they approached the castle, Cate could see a few people standing near the front entrance. “Ah, good,” Mr. Smythe said, eyeing them, “I asked the staff to meet us, they’ve timed it well.”
“Probably got the warning call from the village,” Gayle joked.
“Staff?” Cate mumbled to herself, her brow furrowing.
She said it a bit too loudly as Mr. Smythe overheard her and replied, “Yes, Charlie and Emily Fraser. Mr. Fraser oversees most of the handiwork, landscaping and the external landscaping company, Mrs. Fraser provides light cooking and house cleaning. A hired company does most of the other house cleaning. Finally, Jack Reid, the estate manager, a new addition who will also take over most of the handiwork and landscaping from Mr. Fraser soon. Lady MacKenzie hired him just before passing away.”
Cate was impressed. She hadn’t given much thought to the upkeep of the castle, it was good to know someone else had.
Mr. Smythe interrupted her thoughts. “Can I assume that you will keep the staff on?” he questioned.
“Ah, yes assuming they would like to stay on.”
“I think they very much would, Cate,” Gayle answered. “I think they may have been on edge that the new owner would do a clean sweep and bring in her own people. They will be relieved to find out that you are keeping them on.”
“Oh, yes, no, I mean to say, I’d never do that to anyone!”
As the conversation came to a close, Mr. Smythe eased the car parallel to the front entrance. The youngest of the three staff, Jack, approached the car to open doors and begin unloading luggage. Cate scooped Riley into her arms and stepped out of the car. Kissing him on the top of his head, she looked up at the castle and said, “We’re home, Riley, we’re home.”
Cate skirted the boxes, kneeling on the floor in front of the wardrobe. She peered underneath, not seeing much. The room’s light was not bright enough to pierce the darkness under the wardrobe. She cursed herself for not bringing her cell phone. She considered retrieving it, then decided she would make do without it. Steeling her nerves, she closed her eyes and reached a hand underneath, blindly feeling around.
After a moment, she pulled her hand back, too nervous to continue. Her mind ran through various scenarios in which her hand found something she’d rather it didn’t. She would return in the morning with a flashlight. Dusting off her hands, she placed them on her thighs to stand. A moment of impulsivity struck her, and she reached under the wardrobe one last time before leaving.
Her hand struck something. She instinctively pulled her hand back, afraid of what she might have touched. She pressed herself against the floor, squinting into the shadows but to no avail.
She stretched her arm under again, feeling for the object. Her hand found it again. She touched the object in several places. It was cold and felt metallic. She grasped it and pulled. It was wedged against the back leg. She tugged with all her strength. After some work, the object moved. She grabbed hold of it and pulled it out from under the wardrobe.
Cate stared at the unearthed object. A thick layer of dust obscured every surface of the object. Cate blew on it, sending a cloud of dust billowing into the surrounding air. After a few sneezes, she wiped more dust away and beheld the object she had recovered.
It was a brass globe atop a rectangular stand, she surmised it was a paperweight. It was heavy. Cate studied the object, turning it over in her hands. She turned the object over, exposing the bottom. The object nearly slipped from her hands as she viewed the bottom. A thick smear of rust-colored material covered the bottom. Cate’s heart skipped a beat. Was she holding the murder weapon from a centuries old murder in her hands?
Cate sat at the library desk. A blank cursor stared back at her. The penning of her chapter on Douglas MacKenzie, the castle’s first proprietor, stalled. She pawed through her notes, searching for information to add to the chapter. As she searched, the words blurred on the page. Cate blinked a few times, trying to clear her tired eyes. She stared at her notes, finding them incomprehensible. Letters jumbled together into meaningless nonsense.
Cate shook her head, shutting her eyes. When she opened them, the words on the page appeared to be moving. Disgusted, she shoved the papers away from her, realizing the movement was not words but bugs. The insects scattered in all directions, hiding from the light in any dark corner they found on the desk.
Cate pushed back from the desk, standing and retreating a few steps away. While she contemplated what to do, a breeze rustled her hair. Cate snapped her head in the wind's direction, surprised to find an open black hole in place of one of the bookshelves in the room. Cate’s pulse quickened as she stared at the hole. Despite her better judgement, Cate approached the opening, trying to make out anything within. She spotted nothing except blackness.
Cate stood at the edge of the opening. Cool air drifted from the space hidden by the bookcase. She peered into the darkness. A musty smell filled the air inside. “Hello?” she called. A roaring sound barreled toward her. It filled the air around her, sounding like a train barreling ahead of rushing waters. Cate retreated a step as a new sound filled the air. Light and fluttering, Cate barely detected it after the barrage of noise moments earlier.
She shrieked and held her arms to cover her face as papers flew out of the space like bats from a cave at dusk. The black hole continued to spit papers into the library at a terrifying rate until the room’s floor was no longer visible.
Cate swallowed hard as the last few pages drifted through the air before settling in a lazy dance to the floor below. One paper wafted near Cate as it sailed through the air, landing at her feet. Black lettering, bold and thick, appeared on the upside-down page. Cate reached for it, turning it over to read it.
As she turned the page, the black letters turned scarlet red and dripped from the page. In horror, Cate threw it down, realizing the letters were written in blood. A chill shuddered through her body as the image of the single, blood-red word burned in her mind: BEWARE.