Chapter Thirteen: The Other House
Cora’s eyes fluttered open to view a sodden world. Torrents gushed down the roof, hardly stopping to travel down the window panes but careening instead off the shingles and onto the ground below. Through the drops the wind had tossed against the panes, Cora viewed a beach that looked more like Impressionistic art than sand and shore. She shivered and pulled her things on, adding an extra sweater. She was still not used to waking in cold rooms. Beaumont Street had gas heating; Puddleby Lane was a wood-fire or nothing.
She had slept better last night. Cora stretched and yawned, then perched on the top of her humpback trunk and surveyed the room, half-dreaming, half-alert. The sensation of sitting in the peace of her room—the rain beating atop the roof and the wind trying the panes with feverish hands—was a luxury of the highest order. Cora fancied her room to be a sort of ship’s cabin, what with the water streaming from the eaves and the dull crashing of the bay still heard beyond the sounds of the storm.
She leaned her head against the wall. What would Puddleby Lane bring today? Maggie needed help finishing the unpacking and things of that nature, she knew. But after? Cora’s gaze travelled to the little dormer window and a rain-streaked picture of the Other House through the portal. She had to find out what that light was about. She just had to. After the work was done, she’d ask Maggie to let her explore a little. Maybe during Dot’s nap when she wouldn’t have to cart her around. Tucker could come along. He’d be a comfort if anything too mysterious began happening. After all, there was safety in numbers…right?
* * * * * *
“But, Maggie, it isn’t really raining that hard.” Cora threw her hands out with a desperate gesture and peered out the window.
“Yes it is, look—I’m surprised we haven’t floated away by now.” Maggie pointed to the rain, still pouring off the roof and crossed her arms. “Why are you so eager to get away from the house?”
“Tuck and I still have some exploring to do, Maggie.”
“Yeah, Mama, can’t we?”
Maggie shook her head, but her mouth was no longer so decided. Cora swooped in to seize the moment of indecision. “Listen, Maggie, we won’t go any farther than Captain Boniface’s house, if we even get that far.”
Maggie walked to the window and stared at the storm. The two anxious creases between her eyebrows showed and she bent toward the windows as if listening to the gale. “I don’t like it, Cora.”
“Maggie, it’s just a storm. Please?” Cora grabbed her sister’s hand and pressed it.
Maggie seated herself at the kitchen table, sighing, and warmed her hands on her cup of tea. “I suppose. But take the umbrellas and try not to get wet.”
“Thanks a million times over, Maggie!” Cora flew from the room, lest Maggie change her mind and call them back.
“Oh! And mind you stay away from the waves. I’d rather not have to go fishing in this weather.” Maggie’s voice was nearly drowned by the force of the storm as Cora opened the front door.
Cora hadn’t realized the storm was coming straight off the bay. A wild, determined breeze forced its way into the hall and she had to wrestle the door close. The wind threw itself against the door, howling and trying the knobs, then swept up next to the dormer windows and sulked, making disconsolate noises and shrieking now and again that it had been put off.
Cora raised her umbrella and helped Tucker with his. “Careful, Tuck.” The wind bent their umbrellas and threatened to take Tucker’s away, little boy and all, any second. Cora tried to keep the wind from turning the umbrellas inside out, but it was useless. “All right, Tuck,” she yelled. “Let’s make a dash for porch of the Other House—I’m sure we can figure this out there.”
Cora grabbed Tucker’s hand and they ran through the rain together, umbrellas bouncing along behind, buffeted and twisted by the hands of the wind.
“Gee, let’s hurry, Tuck.” Cora’s hair stuck to her face in wet strands as she tried the latch on the garden gate. The Other House rose, a formidable giant, and watched the proceedings with none too friendly an eye. Cora worried as she brushed the rain out of her face long enough to steal a quick glance upward. She wasn’t sure what it was that frightened her, but the sensation of being watched by the house was unpleasant. “Oh, come on!” Cora’s wet hands were stiffening in the cold and her fingers felt numb and useless. At last the latch gave way and Cora pushed Tucker through, grabbed the bent umbrellas, and dashed to the porch.
She gasped for breath and held Tucker close to her. Maggie was right. The storm was worse than she had taken it for at first. They never had gales like this in Greensdale. Everything seemed so much wilder and more powerful at Puddleby Lane.
“What do we do now, Cora?” Tucker slumped against the faded outer walls of the Other House and grinned.
“Don’t know. We can’t exactly go inside…” Cora turned to look at the door and wondered. “Tuck…”
“You wanna try?”
“If you do.”
“Right.” Cora passed her umbrella to Tucker. “Ann Company says no one knocks at Puddleby Lane—wouldn’t that mean the doors aren’t kept locked?”
“I guess.” Tucker stuffed the twisted remains of the umbrella in an empty flowerpot on the edge of the porch and turned to Cora. “Well, aren’t you gonna try it?”
Cora nodded and turned toward the door. A calm resignation, akin to that she imagined one would feel when heading into a lion’s den, flowed over her as she made up her mind to enter The Other House. She recalled Ann Company’s hesitation to speak of it, and her final reluctant admission that she was scared. Why scared? Because she had heard so many tales of it. Tales that haunt the Brocken, and whisper down the Rhine…The phantom strain of poetry coursed through Cora’s mind, an unbidden but fitting refrain.
But she would not waver in her pursuit. There was a mystery to be solved. The cold brass of the knob zapped Cora’s skin as she put out her hand, and she quivered. Not from quite from fear, not from excitement, but from the knowledge that the unknown and the answer to her mystery must lay behind the door. She twisted the knob but it stuck. For a moment disappointment washed over Cora’s heart like a crashing wave from the bay, and she knew just how much she wanted to solve her mystery.
“Here, let me try.” Tucker dried the knob as best he could with the tail of his shirt and got hold of it with both hands. “Ready?” He wrenched. The knob hesitated then turned, and with a short kick, Tucker and Cora tumbled into the front passage of the Other House. The wind changed directions and sucked the door closed with a hollow bang. All at once the noise outside muffled and Cora could hear the pounding of her heart. Adrenaline rushed through her veins and she grabbed Tucker, holding him close and gasping for breath.
“Lemme go, Cora.” Tucker twitched himself out of her grasp and sat up. His blond hair was dark with rain and his skin glowed ghostly pale in the darkness of the house. The front shutters were, of course, closed, and the only light entered through a row of little diamond-shaped panes running across the top of the door.
Cora stood, her entire body shaking, and helped Tucker up. Why was she being so strange? Why did this house act upon her in such a queer fashion? She knew just what Maggie would say. It was because she had let herself, with her wild imagination, build a lavish mystery around it. Her thoughts had been filled with the Other House all day and night, as if there weren’t a hundred other things worth giving her mind to.
“Cora, you goose.”
She hadn’t realized she’d spoken aloud till Tucker laughed. “Why’d you say that?”
“Because I’m just a little bit scared.”
“You are?” Tucker’s blue eyes demanded an explanation.
“Well, it’s such a gloomy place, and you know I saw a light in the window.”
“Ann Company said it couldn’t have been real.”
“Whose side are you on?” It peeved Cora to have her story questioned. She had seen a light and she would ferret out the reason behind it.
“Aw, don’t be mad.” Tucker hugged Cora. “C’mon. What are we waiting for?”
Indeed. What were they waiting for? An invitation from the glowering, shuttered eyes? Cora turned her back to the windows and squared her shoulders. She was being nonsensical, and if the Captain or Frank saw her, she’d be the laughing stock of Puddleby Lane. “Well, let’s go.”
Cora crept through the house with Tucker close behind. It was situated like their own cottage, only in mirror image. They found nothing in any of the rooms they passed—parlor, kitchen, hall—and Cora began to wonder if there was no mystery here after all. They started up the stairs not daring to make noise least it should awaken something. Echoes. Or spiders. Or—Cora screamed and jumped behind Tucker.
“What? What is it?”
Cora sobbed and laughed at the same time and pointed with a trembling finger to the piece of the parlor visible between the rails. “It was just the woodstove. It looked like someone crouching in the corner.”
Tucker bestowed upon Cora a look that spoke volumes of impatience. “Is that all?”
“Let’s just hurry upstairs.” Cora led the way on tip-toe, sliding her hand along the dust-covered railing. Once-beautiful Oriental carpet ran down the stairs, places in it faded to pastel hues from the tread of many feet. Cora avoided these worn patches—it was only a notion, but she hated the thought of putting her own feet in the steps of people long vanished.
“Why isn’t there anything here?” Tucker’s voice broke the stillness and Cora could have sworn she heard a rustling.
“What do you mean?” Cora whispered.
“There aren’t any chairs or tables or curtains or anything.” This even louder declaration seemed to summon the attention of the eyes in the pea-cock print wall-paper.
Cora clapped a hand over Tucker’s mouth. “Hush. Not so loud, goose.” She beckoned to the top of the stairs and put a finger to her lips. Tucker shrugged and continued on behind her. Cora hardly knew why silence was vital. She knew it, and that was enough. Some faint impression that the house was watching and disapproving of their entry caused Cora’s heart to pound and the blood to rush to her head.
If she didn’t stop soon she’d faint—what a mess that would be. Cora pinched her arm and stepped up the last three stairs into the hallway. “Right….which way to the room where I saw the light?” she said under her breath.
Cold talons of fear gripped her heart and stroked it, whispering icy cobwebs into her thoughts. Cora grabbed Tucker’s hand for moral support and went up to the door in the center of the hall. From what she could remember, this was the position of the candle. They stood for a moment, Cora’s hand on knob, her heart in her throat. The roar of the gale outdoors seemed to swell louder, challenging her entry to the room. A shred of wind, torn from the main body of the storm, lingered under the eaves and wailed, wringing its hands and crying to be let in.
“Why does it do that?” Tucker whispered now and shrank close to Cora.
“I don’t know.” There was no sense in lingering. Her trepidation could not grow more enmeshed with her excitement if she had weaved it on a loom. “Ready?”
Cora froze. “What?”
“What’ll we find in there?” Tucker pulled away from the door and put one arm on the stair-rail.
“How should I know?”
“It won’t be anything…scary, will it?”
“No, silly. I only saw a light. It’s not as if it’s—”
“A robber’s lair?”
“Right.” Cora squeezed her eyes shut, twisted the knob, and stepped through the door.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Puddleby Lane Excerpt: Chpt. 13: The Other House
Greetings fellow writers! My pen, a rather weary and bedraggled, but triumphant pen salutes you. In between the gardening, harvesting and sorting for farmers' market, baking of eight loaves of zucchini spice bread, peeling of 25 potatoes, washing of a myriad of dishes, mashing and whipping of said potatoes, and all the other duties faced by a girl of my station and capacities, I have written a chapter of Puddleby Lane. It follows close on the heels of Cora's arrival to the lane and her new home. The first night she had seen a light glowing in The Other House--a place that is known to be entirely deserted. She is intent on ferreting out this new mystery. Thus my chapter. Now, I am laying myself bare for your much-cherished opinions. Do you think I do well in my description in this chapter? I wanted to instill a cob-webby, delicious, tingling anticipation in the reader as they walked through the scene with Cora...did I succeed, my friends? You must tell me, and tell me true. I know it is just a first draft, and there's room for improvement. Thus, I am allowing you to read chapter 13 of Puddleby Lane: Adieu, mes chers.