#1 The Mirrors at Barnard Hall (Chapters 1 & 2)

10 Jan

 

I am posting a draft of the first two chapters of my story The Mirrors at Barnard Hall .  The amount of feedback I receive [from those of you who have nothing better to do than read my work] will determine my posting frequency.  For now, here’s a preview of what’s to come:

Callista Franklyn knows the year is 2012; however, the handsome stranger living in her antique mirror is determined to convince her that she is 110 years off the mark.

Jenny

Chapter 1: Dormant

I walked through the door of my family’s stately mansion in the English countryside and instantly felt seven years old.  The cavernous foyer and polished marble floor greeted me with the same hollow echo from ten years earlier.  The air in the space was cold and clammy.  If the temperature were to drop a few degrees, I would be able to see the mist of my own breath.  The house smelled like the centuries of history it had endured; it was a familiar and heady scent.

Painted portraits captured in frames of all sizes lined the darkened hallway as it disappeared around the corner.   Each brush stroke brought the former occupants to life as they stared at all who entered their ancestral home.  For anyone else the sightless eyes would probably seem disturbing.  I had always thought of the previous owners as gatekeepers and guardians of the old home.  The stories of their lives, although written long ago, made the house feel… occupied.

Above the pictures, suspended from the vaulted ceiling, the chandelier glittered and sparked the room with enchantment.  Thousands of crystal jewels caught the last rays of the evening sun and tossed rainbows into the shadowy recesses.  Colors churned and danced, vibrating out of reach along the winding staircase.  The wide wooden steps curved in an elegant swoop and connected with the marble tiles below. 

It wouldn’t have been surprising to see a woman, wearing an ornate ball gown and powdered wig, appear at the top and descend from the family rooms above.  Barnard Hall, its history and mysteries, made events like that feel possible. 

I shook my head to dispel the fanciful notions the old brick structure had lodged in my mind. 

I was exhausted from my flight but I wasn’t ready to go upstairs just yet.  Instead, I escaped to the first room on my left.  The formal parlor was decorated in the height of Victorian style; the sheer opulence made it feel as though the Queen of England would be stopping by for tea at any moment.  The thick plaster walls were enhanced with a satiny wallpaper of tiny blue flowers tangled with a mess of scrolled stems. 

The spacious room felt overcrowded, crammed with lavishly feminine antiques.  From the furniture and patterned wallpaper to the valances and tea set, everything mimicked the elegant curves of a woman.  A deep buttoned sofa with an undulating back and luxurious chairs with heavily lacquered wooden accents surrounded a low rosewood table.  A chaise lounge waited patiently, abandoned beside the unused white marble fireplace.  Every flat surface overflowed with knickknacks, paying homage to various art movements throughout history.

Despite its beauty, the room, like most of Barnard Hall, had remained unused for too long.  The drawing room had been meant for entertaining; that purpose hadn’t been fulfilled in the twenty-first century.   The lifelessness filling the space was palpable.  Each seat cushion was glaringly empty and the lush carpet lingered, hoping for footfall.  I steeled myself against the damp air and crushing emptiness.

In the stillness faint voices wafted from some other room down the hall.  In a house this old, one couldn’t help but hear unexplained noises amidst the silence.  So many lives had played out on the stage of these rooms and the residual effects were understandable, expected.  People had laughed, stolen kisses, and drawn their last breaths here.  Who could blame their memory for enduring?  But there was nothing otherworldly about these sounds.  Immediately I recognized our housekeeper’s voice; her heavily accented English brought a smile to my otherwise expressionless face. 

I closed my eyes and was taken aback at how much the house had not changed in the past ten years.  Why had I been expecting a difference?  Perhaps it was because I was different. 

When I had been seven, my stepfather had bought Barnard Hall.  Jim Burns had always dreamed of living abroad and had acquired the means to do so when he married into my father’s fortune.  My mother, Jim, and I had moved from Georgia to England that May.  I had just finished fourth grade and I’d had to leave the only home I had ever known—and the sunshine—to move to a foreign country and live in a mausoleum. 

Surprisingly, the experience had not been distressing for me.  Incessant rain had kept me from playing outside as I had at home, but this house had held secrets and treasures to be uncovered.  Every day had been a new adventure, its ending unwritten.  I’d had no friends in Savannah to speak of so there had been no one to miss—besides my dad.  But he was never coming back so missing him had been futile. 

Back in Georgia, my parents had insisted that I attend public schools instead of the private schools prized by members of the upper class.  “It will help you socialize with a broader range of kids from all economic backgrounds.  I don’t want to raise a snob,” my dad had said. 

It was ironic that I had been the one ostracized—like it was a bad thing my family had been wealthy.  I was overly intelligent too, which was another mark against me.  Skipping the third grade meant I was a year younger; none of the other students had wanted to befriend the baby in class.  To make matters worse, I had been quiet and I had sat in the front of the class willingly, which classified me as a nerd.  Everyone around me had come to the conclusion that I was weird and to be avoided.

Not two months after my dad had passed away, my mother married Jim Burns.  Jim had worked alongside my dad at the firm for years.  They hadn’t been more than business acquaintances; my dad had been established, and Jim had been a new hire.  From a distance, the two had looked very similar.  Both were tall with blonde hair and beach-worthy tans.  But there had been many differences between the two that were not visible—vital differences.  My dad had been a good man possessing a strong moral compass, liked by his co-workers and everyone around him.  Jim… well, Jim hadn’t been any of those things.

“Miss Callista?”

Rosa Santos, Barnard Hall’s housekeeper, stood in the doorway and offered me an unsure smile.  It was unsettling that, after all these years, I was back.

“Rosa?”  I stood and walked somberly to her.  We waited a beat, not sure how to progress.  This was a morbid reason to be reunited; I had come home to bury my mother and her husband.  However, I had not seen this woman in ten years and was relieved to my core to be near her again. 

The dead could wait.

I collected Rosa in a hug and squeezed with all my might.  At first she was startled with my lack of propriety and overwhelming enthusiasm, but the tension in her body soon eased.  It felt good to be held, to feel welcomed.  I pulled away to give her a slight smile.  The tightness around my face made the movement feel awkward; the muscles in my lips were unused to the motion.

“Rosa, it is so good to see you again.”  The relief in my voice surprised me.  We had only been acquainted for that summer long ago; it was remarkable how three months could impact a person’s life so completely.  The woman in front of me had assumed the role of my champion back then.  I had a feeling she would do so again if I needed her to.

“The same to you, Miss Callista—although not under the present circumstances.”  She squeezed my hand reassuringly. “It has been much too long.”  When I shifted nervously she sensed my unease.  The reason for my absence was not the subject for a homecoming.  “What have you been doing all of these years?”

“School mostly, then college.”

“I have spoken with your Aunt Mildred off and on through the years.  She had said you were graduating from university this year.”

“Yes.”

Rosa tightened her grip on my hand.  “I cannot believe you are graduating already!  You are much too young to be finishing your education.”        

“I skipped a few grades along the way.”  And I had taken classes in both summer semesters and during intersession.  It was astonishing how quickly a diploma could be obtained when a person possessed a one-track mind—and no social life.

“You always were a clever child.”

A lump of emotion had found its way into my throat and blocked my response.  It really had been too long an absence.  At first the separation had been forced, an edict no amount of begging had been able to overturn.  Later though, I had accepted my place away from Barnard Hall and what the old structure had represented.

“Here I am, chatting endlessly.  You must be hungry from your journey, Miss Callista.”

Was I hungry?  At this point I was too disoriented to feel anything.  We’d had meals on the plane, but I could not remember if I had eaten them.  Airplane food—even in first class—was average at best.  Microwave ovens weren’t among the best ways to prepare chicken breasts or salmon filets.  I didn’t think I was hungry so I shook my head, not trusting my voice to remain steady.

“Poor dear, you’re dead on your feet.  Off to bed with you.  I have the yellow room prepared.  There’s wood in the fireplace, and I took the liberty of having your luggage brought up.”

Wordlessly we both started toward the staircase.  My fingers trailed along the banister, smoothed to an unnatural texture from years of countless palms sanding with the grain.  It was a relief that Rosa did not expect me to stay in the master bedroom.  Being in the room where my mother had spent the past ten years, knowing she would never return, was not something I was prepared to face now—or ever.  The longer I could put it off the more likely it was that I would survive the whole ordeal.

The door to the master suite remained closed as we continued down the darkened hallway.  I followed Rosa into the yellow room and sucked in a deep breath; the night-chilled air stung my lungs. At first glance it appeared as though one-hundred years had not tainted the room.  The walls were brightly painted with liquid sunshine.  Crown molding stopped the walls from continuing on to heaven, announcing a clear separation from the textured plaster above.  Abstract shadows were cast on the high ceilings and quivered around the poorly lit edges of the room.  The quilt covering the bulky sleigh bed was dotted with the same pale roses from my childhood memories.  

I turned from the bed to stare at the logs in the cold fireplace.  They were dormant, waiting for a spark to bring them to life. 

That’s how I felt… dormant.  Always waiting.

Rosa lit the kindling, and I watched the tinder catch.  The logs turned red with sparks, and eventually the flames warmed the air in the increasingly-cozy room.  The fire was blazing before I found the energy to move from my spot by the hearth.  The heat felt good against my chilled skin and my goose bumps finally smoothed out, but the warmth did not penetrate deeper.  My heart remained cold, unlit.

Upon closer inspection of the cheerful room, hints of aging were apparent in the glowing firelight.  The gleaming wooden surfaces weren’t dusty—Rosa would never have tolerated that.  But there were some distinct scrapes and dings in the solid furniture.  The floor-length velvet drapes were slightly frayed at the ends; the golden tassels used to pull them back were unraveling. The thick Aubusson carpet had a few more stains than it had ten years ago.  The small imperfections made the space more real, lived in.  It was hard to believe that Barnard Hall had housed families who had used the rooms for something besides existing.

Before bed, I walked over to the built-in window seat.  The yellow room afforded one of the best views of the wide back lawn and the carriage house that stood against the wooded property line.  The smaller building was a miniature replica of the larger house, paying homage to the clean lines and 18th century Georgian architecture of Barnard Hall.  Slivers of moonlight seeped through the ever-present clouds and reflected off the windows like mirrors, making the empty structure look occupied—or haunted.  My eyes involuntarily searched the night-darkened glass for some form of life.  The skin along my spine prickled like someone had dusted my back with cobwebs.  I had never liked the building but there was no explanation for the uneasy feeling that now settled into the pit of my stomach. 

As I stared out into the faded day, light raindrops converged on the solid pane and chased one another toward the sill.  My breath fogged the glass, and I resisted the childish urge to draw in the grey moisture; there was no need to be a pest and create more work for the staff.

A draft made the windows groan, and I shuddered.  Choosing not to freeze all night, I changed quickly into my night clothes and sought the warmth and comfort of my bed.  I snuggled under the covers and rubbed my legs together, using the friction as a primitive source of heat.  The mattress was lumpy, but it didn’t matter.  The endlessness of the last few days had taken its toll, and my weary body quickly succumbed to sleep.

Chapter 2:  Tilly

I hated him. 
I wanted my daddy—my
real daddy.

Warm tears slid down my sticky cheeks, and I allowed them to form a puddle on my bed.  If I licked my lips I would taste the salt on my face.  This time I wasn’t embarrassed for acting like a baby; he couldn’t see me cry in here.  My room had always been my own personal escape, a place for me to hide from the rest of the world.  He couldn’t see me so I could cry all I wanted to and there was nothing he could do about it.

I picked up my stuffed rabbit, Benny.  His stringy smile was always there for me.  Seven was too old to be playing with a ratty stuffed animal—Jim had told me so.  Last week my stepfather had thrown Benny away, and I’d had to rescue him from the full garbage can.  He still smelled a bit like rotten bananas but it didn’t matter.  Even a stinky Benny could make me feel better when I was sad. 

He wasn’t real, but sometimes I talked to him anyway, and he always listened; his big ears were good for listening.  Benny never talked back, but I knew he understood my problems.  He was smart for a rabbit.  His steady smile reminded me that, although I rarely saw them, smiles still existed.  I hugged his worn body to my chest and closed my eyes.  I would never be too old for Benny, no matter what.

“Why are you crying?”

My eyes shot open, and I scrubbed at the moisture on my face before looking around my room.  Someone had been watching me cry.  My cheeks got hot but there was no reason for me to be embarrassed; there was no one in the bedroom with me.  I looked down at my rabbit, wondering if maybe…

“I said, why are you crying?”  The voice asked, louder this time.  It sounded high, like a girl’s voice.

“I’m not,” I countered automatically, my voice shaking.  Benny’s mouth hadn’t moved, but…

“Yes, you are.  Your face is all wet.”

“So?”

“So, why are you crying?  I won’t tell anyone,” the voice promised.

 I chewed on my lip while I decided what to do.  I had always told Benny everything and knew he could keep a secret.  Just because he decided to talk back for the first time didn’t mean I couldn’t tell him what was bothering me.  Talking had always made me feel better before.  “My stepdad tried to make me eat liver, but it’s gross.  I won’t do it no matter what.  He caught me stuffing it into my napkin so he sent me to my room without dinner.”

“I like liver.”

I snorted.  “Rabbits don’t eat liver.”

“I’m not a rabbit, silly,” the voice giggled.

 A shadow by the corner window caught my eye.  I tiptoed over to the gold-framed mirror at the edge of my room.  These mirrors were in some of the other bedrooms in my new house so the angels staring down at me didn’t catch my eye anymore.  I peeked around the frame where it leaned carelessly against the wall.  The hidden person giggled again.  Someone was playing tricks on me.

“Hello!”

 The reflection in the mirror caught my attention because it wasn’t my reflection.  I had yellow hair; my mom had called it spun gold back when she had loved me.  Back home in Georgia I had played outside all the time so I still had a tan and a lot of fading cuts and bruises on my knees from where I had fallen down.  My dad would always say I wasn’t clumsy; my big feet and long legs just got in the way.  Then he would laugh and promise that I would grow into them someday.  He had promised a lot of things.

The girl in the mirror staring back at me was short and pale with black, curly hair.  And she was smiling.  One of her front teeth was missing.  I had lost that tooth last year.  The tooth fairy had left me two dollars instead of just one because it had hurt so much when my dad had pulled it. 

“H…h…hello,” I returned.  I wasn’t really scared of the girl; after all, she was smiling.  But I was confused.  How had she gotten into the mirror?

“I’m Matilda Dalton, but you can call me Tilly, everyone else does.  Except my brother, he calls me all kinds of really mean names instead.”  Her hands curled into tiny fists and she put them on her hips. 

 I took note of my own stance; my hands were behind my back and I was pinching my thumb with my fingers.  After careful thought, I decided it would probably be rude if I did not to introduce myself.

“I’m Callista.  People just call me Callista.”  Although I really wanted a cool nickname like Tilly. 

“I like the name Callista.  I think it is quite pretty.”

“Um, thanks.”

“Callista, Callista, Callista.  Would you like to be my friend, Callista?”

I poked the cold glass with my finger.  How could a person be friends with a decoration?  But if mirrors needed friends…

“I guess…” I’d never had a friend before so a friend made of furniture was better than no friend at all.  My heart swelled inside my chest, filling with excitement.  Maybe this England place wouldn’t be so miserable after all.

“I was sent to my room too,” Tilly admitted with a toothless grin.

“Why?  You said you like liver.”  I stuck my tongue out at the thought of the yucky meat.  How anyone could eat it was a mystery. 

Tilly laughed.  “I do like liver.  But I like cookies too.”

“Cookies?”

“I stole cookies from the kitchen.  Mum caught me and had to hide them from me.  Then she sent me to my room.”

“You stole them?” I gasped. 

“Sure!  Haven’t you ever stolen anything?”

“No.” Stealing was bad.  My punishment would be harsh if I ever took anything I was not supposed to have—which was anything fun or cool.

“Not even cookies?” she asked, shocked. 

“No.  I’m not allowed to have any sweets.”

Tilly seemed surprised.  “No sweets!  Why not?”

“Because they will make me fat.”  My mom had always said that if I gave in to temptation now it would be harder to resist later in life when something called my metap-olism slowed down. 
           
“Do you think mommy is beautiful?” she had asked.

“Yes, mommy.”  Sylvia Franklyn Burns was beautiful.  Her hair was the color of fire and her eyes looked like the grass.  She was always in magazines with other beautiful girls too but my mom was the prettiest.  When I grew up I wanted to be just like her.

“I didn’t become beautiful by eating sweets,” she had reminded me.

My new friend Tilly was beautiful too but in a different way.  Her dark curls were pulled back with a pink ribbon that matched the apron over her white dress.  She wasn’t fat at all and she ate cookies.

Tilly laughed.  “That’s silly.  You really have never had a cookie?”

“No.”  They had always looked yummy in the store, decorated with frosting or sprinkles.  Some were boring circles but others looked like green dinosaurs or red clowns.  But I wasn’t allowed to eat any of them.

“Hold on.”

“Where are you going?”

“Downstairs.”

“Tilly, I thought you were supposed to stay in your room!” 

“No one will see me if I use the servants’ stairs.”  She grinned mischievously before sneaking out the door. 

I looked back at my own door, knowing I would never sneak out if I wasn’t supposed to.

Five minutes of waiting felt like a lifetime.  If Tilly had been caught she would not be allowed to be my friend anymore.  She had left because of me; all of it would be my fault.  She could be beaten or worse.  I jumped and hid behind my bed when her door opened, terrified that someone had come to yell at me.

“Callista?”

I stole a look over my mattress and saw Tilly looking for me.  “Where did you go?”  When she saw me she shook her head with a smile.

“Downstairs.  Don’t you remember me telling you?”

“But where downstairs?” I whispered so she wouldn’t get into trouble because my voice was too loud. 

“To the kitchen.”

“Why did you do that?” 

“To get a cookie,” she replied matter-of-factly, holding up the dessert like a prize.

“But I thought your mom hid them from you.”

“She’s not very creative.  She always hides them in the same spots.”

“Are you going to eat it even though you’re not supposed to?” I whispered, curious.

“No, you are going to eat it!”

“But I’m not allowed!” I shrieked, realizing too late how noisy I had been.  Jim hated it when I was loud.

“I won’t tell, silly.  Catch!”

And just like that, my new friend tossed the cookie at the mirror, and it landed by my feet.  I rushed to pick it up, staring at it reverently as it crumbled in my hand.  I sniffed the small pieces, and my stomach growled.  My belly was awfully hungry since I had refused to eat the liver.  Surely just one bite wouldn’t hurt…  If I felt fat after the first taste then I would stop.

“You’re supposed to eat it, Callista!”  Tilly laughed.  As commanded, I took a bite.  “Do you like it?”

The sweetness sank into my mouth as I chewed.  I nodded my head and offered my friend a shy smile.  She bounced and danced around her room, and I giggled at how crazy she looked. 

That June I had my first cookie—and my first friend.

***

I woke with a start, shooting out of my bed and looking around my room, disoriented.  Only it was not my room; it was a room in a house I had not been in for years.  I fell back onto the mattress and attempted to control my breathing. 

In. Out. In. Out.

My heart no longer tried to escape my chest as it slowed to its resting pace.  In the early-morning darkness I attempted to logically analyze my dream. 

My return to the house had obviously drudged up some long-forgotten memories from my childhood hallucinations.  The vision was only in my mind, easy to dispel.  Yet, I swore I could taste the chocolaty chunks in my mouth.  The dream had felt so authentic; I had been seven years old, and Tilly had been real. 

No, she hadn’t been real.  It was important to focus on the facts of the present instead of the more fanciful notions created in a seven-year-old kid’s imagination.  The dull light streaming through the window, that was real.  I touched my chest and felt my heart beat beneath my palm.  I was real. 

My mother’s funeral later today, that was real too.

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14 Responses to “#1 The Mirrors at Barnard Hall (Chapters 1 & 2)”

  1. Tammy Jones Thomas January 10, 2012 at 7:41 pm #

    Great read! I can’t wait for more!

    • movingforeword January 10, 2012 at 8:45 pm #

      Thank you, Tammy! I’m extremely excited to share this with the world 🙂

  2. Tammy Jones Thomas January 11, 2012 at 12:41 am #

    Kelly is now hooked and waiting for more also!

  3. tricia linden January 13, 2012 at 1:33 am #

    You have a grand way with words. I can feel your enjoyment in writing. Great start. Enjoy always, T

  4. Levi Brandenburg January 14, 2012 at 9:02 am #

    Very nice! I’m hooked so far!

    • movingforeword January 14, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

      Thanks, Levi! Hopefully the story will keep you tagging along until the final page!

  5. Cindy January 14, 2012 at 6:57 pm #

    Jenny, this is really good. You have me hooked

    • movingforeword January 16, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

      Thank you, Cindy! I only hope I can hold everyone’s attention until the last chapter!

  6. artfulhelix January 20, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    I loved it. I can’t wait to read the other two post you already have up.

    • movingforeword January 20, 2012 at 11:09 am #

      Thanks so much! And I really appreciate you sharing! 🙂

  7. artfulhelix January 20, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    Reblogged this on artfulhelix and commented:
    My artist of the day, A very talented writer. I read the hole post, but shortly after I had started I knew this would be my artist of the day. She has two other posts up already with more chapters. I can’t wait to read them! I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did. Happy reading, and don’t forget to let her know What you think!

  8. Rebecca Williams January 20, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    This is really good…Im artfulhelix’s mom she shared your piece …keepup the good work !

    • movingforeword January 20, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

      Thanks, Rebecca! I’m so happy both you and your daughter stumbled upon my blog! Glad to hear you’ve enjoyed reading so far.

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