Chapter 12: Missing

I took breakfast as a time to process the overload of information I had acquired in the past forty-eight hours.  I was a smart girl, figuring this out should be simple.

Time travel.

Well, maybe not simple.  Attemptable at the very least.

For the second time in my life I had unknowingly stumbled on a sort of time machine; one linking me to the same day one hundred and ten years in the past.  However, I could not allow this miraculous discovery to sway me from my purpose for staying at Barnard Hall.  But it could help me.  I had wanted a witness to the event.  Who better than one of the victims?  The names of staff members and any guests that might have been visiting or in the area should be fairly easy to come by with Nick’s help.  He would also know his family’s enemies, assuming there were any.  I just had to be careful not to become too personally involved.

I sat my spoon on the table, coming to terms with my future—and Nick’s.  My new acquaintance and his parents were going to die in a little over a month, and there was nothing I could do about it.  I could not tell him—how would I break the news?  Hi, I’m your sister’s best friend from the future.  Oh, P.S., you’re going to die in a fire in August.

Definitely not going to happen.

My decision was made; I couldn’t tell him but I could put all of my effort into solving the mystery of what had happened—and what was going to happen.  Although at this moment I wasn’t sure how much good it would do.  What would be the point? 

Still, I had to try. 

I snorted at what little resolve there was inside of me.  Intentions were grand, but I knew what I really wanted to do.  I wanted to stop it.  But how could I do that?  I had seen the Back to the Future trilogy and knew what could happen if the past was altered.  From my limited knowledge I had devised three theories regarding the possible outcomes from my meddling—assuming I could meddle. 

1.  The family would die anyway.  Everyone died at one point in their lives, right?  Their fate was sealed and, if it was not on the twenty fourth of August 1902, it would be on the twenty-fifth, or the next week, or the next year.  They were from one hundred and ten years ago.  Everyone that old was dead by 2012.

2.  The entire past would be completely screwed up, which would adversely affect his future, or my present.  If the Daltons had not been murdered then maybe I would never have come to live at Barnard Hall.  Maybe I would not even exist.

3.  Nothing.

If I was a betting woman I’d place all of my money on the third scenario.  There was no way that I had the ability, the power to stop something that had happened one hundred and ten years in the past/a month in the future. 

Even though I couldn’t stop it, I had to uncover the facts from beneath the vagueness surrounding the whole ordeal.  Giving up was not an option, not when I had direct access to vital information. 

To start, I needed a game plan and a list of specific questions to ask Tilly’s brother.  They had to be strategic, disguised as an obsession with the past, not a murder investigation of a crime that had yet to be committed.  If Nick became suspicious of my motives he was liable to ask questions of his own, questions I couldn’t answer.

I finished my corn flakes and slurped down the milk, leaving the bowl on the table in the dining room.  It was lazy but I needed to get started before my resolve faltered. 

When I reached the library, the room was just as I had left it: Tilly’s Bible was discarded on the floor, Benny still smiled at me from his perch, and my errant thoughts were scattered over the desktop.

I slumped into my chair and took a deep breath. 

You can do this.

I opened my notebook and looked for a pen in the top drawer.  Inside were three discarded paper clips, a couple of overstretched rubber bands, and an impressive collection of dust bunnies.  Rummaging through the papers covering my desk proved to be just as fruitless.

I moved a stack of yellowed pages and stopped.  The thin sheets in my hand were from the LONDON TIMES newspaper only they had not been on my desk a few days earlier.  Wondering if my memory was faulty, I flipped them over to read the date: August 26, 1982.  My research had specifically dated around the turn of the 20th century.

 Just as I was about to discard the issue, a bold headline of a front-page article caught my eye.

Girl Missing from Barnard Hall

On August 24, 1982, Maria Santos went missing from her home in Barnard Hall.  She was last seen in the house at approximately 9:00 am.  Maria is seventeen years old and is 5’5” in height with long black hair (See Photo).  She was last seen wearing dark denim jeans and a red t-shirt.  Authorities ask anyone who may have information on the girl’s whereabouts to please come forward as soon as possible.

The blank eyes staring at me from the missing girl’s photo sent my stomach churning.  She was stunning—and familiar.  Maria Santos.  Santos…  Rosa’s daughter?  The realization took my breath away.  Rosa had never mentioned a daughter, let alone one who had gone missing thirty years ago.

This story had to be the other incident Beth had eluded to when she had been talking about the curse.  An innocent girl had gone missing and the townspeople had blamed the stupid curse plaguing Barnard Hall.  The thought made me wonder how hard everyone had looked for Maria with such a convenient, supernatural scapegoat at hand. 

I couldn’t help but chuckle darkly at my own hypocrisy.  I had accepted that Nick could have been a ghost and now I was growing accustomed to the possibility of time travel.  Yet at the word curse, another equally implausible superstition, I balked.  Still, the medieval explanation for untimely deaths and missing persons did not agree with me.  There had to be more to the picture.

At first I was angry.  Angry at Rosa for never confiding in me; angry at the stupid curse and everyone who believed in its existence; but most of all, angry at the person responsible for Maria’s disappearance.  Then I was sad.  Sad for the loss of Rosa’s daughter and the loss of the Daltons.  Then I went numb.  Although it wasn’t really a feeling, I held close to the numbness, allowing it to overwhelm my senses.

I walked dully out of the library in search of my housekeeper.  How Rosa could still work in this place was beyond me.  Even if she did not believe in the curse she must have been touched by the stories and whispers through the years.  No one deserved to go through such tragedy.  Rosa was the most loving person I knew.   To have endured the loss of her child and not be tainted with bitterness was miraculous. 

“Where is Rosa?”  I asked Beth when she walked out of the kitchen.  My voice came out sharper than I had intended.  I smiled in an attempt to put my maid at ease from my shrill inquiry.

“She’s in her room, I believe.  Is there something I could help you with?”  Beth’s eyes focused on the yellowed newspaper in my hand and she raised one eyebrow in question.

“No, thank you.”  Heaven only knew what rumors would go around the town if Beth were let in on the details of my present situation.  Her spine stiffened as she returned to her duties. 

Rosa was the only person on Barnard Hall’s household staff who lived on the premises.  Her bedroom was located on the first floor toward the rear of the house.  She had her own entrance from the back garden and came and went as she pleased.  I used to wonder why she wanted to live at work instead of in her own home.  When I was younger, I had attributed her preference to having people around and being constantly needed.  If she lived on her own she would be going back to an empty house every night.  Now I wondered how she could even stand to be near Barnard Hall after what had happened. 

I knocked quietly on the door and the latch gave way with a grating squeak.  “Rosa?”

The entirety of her living quarters was visible through the crack; she was not there.  A blessed relief replaced the numbness.  I hadn’t been sure exactly what to say to my housekeeper if I had found her.  Stuttering through a speech of belated sympathy would not have helped the situation.

A draft from an open window blew the door open a bit wider.  I looked around the hall, saw no one, and stepped inside.  Rosa’s room was a simple rectangle.  The only furniture was a single bed with an old patch-work quilt, a mismatched night stand, an antique armoire, and a six-foot square, golden-framed mirror. 

My reflection in the mirror stared blankly back at me.  This had to be the missing mirror from the yellow room.  Why did Rosa have it?  She had been with the house long enough so she deserved some luxuries, but seeing the mirror here gave me an odd twisting in the pit of my stomach.  Could she know that this piece was essentially a time machine?

I continued to stare, expecting to see Tilly magically appear—or Nick.  No one from 1902 came to visit so I studied my own uninteresting reflection.

The British climate had leeched the life from my skin.  Instead of glowing and freckled, my face was taking on a translucent tint.  Accompanied by my equally pale hair, the look was not attractive.  I tried not to think of why something like my appearance—a fact that had never crossed my mind before—was now an issue.

As I turned away in disgust, something bright from inside Rosa’s armoire caught my eye.  For the time I had known Rosa, she had dressed in black, gray, or some combination of both non-colors.  The fabric spilling out of the container was a brilliant shade of red.  I pulled the door open and saw a chest full of colorful garments.  Each dress had ornate beading on the bodice and flowing skirts so long they had to be tucked into themselves to fit inside the cramped space.  My fingertips itched to touch the silky fabric.

“May I help you, Miss Callista?”  The hard edge in Rosa’s voice made me whip around.  I felt like a child caught with her hand in the proverbial cookie jar.  Rosa walked past me and shut the armoire doors with a decisive click.  She took a deep breath then turned to face me with a solemn expression.

“Rosa, I…”  I’m sorry for rummaging through your private things.  By the way, where did you get those gowns?  No, that wouldn’t work.  She looked like a strict principal, crossing her arms in front of her chest as she waited stoically for my explanation.  I stared at her for a moment, careful to collect syllables into coherent sentences before I spoke again.  “Rosa, you never told me…”

She continued to look at me with a wary expression.  Because words escaped me, I held up the forgotten issue and pointed to the photo of her daughter.  Her face flushed scarlet and she tore the paper from my hand like it was a poisonous spider.

“Where did you get this?” she hissed.

“I don’t know.”

She raised one skeptical eyebrow and waited impatiently.

“What I meant was that I got it from the library,” I clarified.  “It was on the desk, but I have no idea who put it there.  It was not in the room the last time I was in there, of that I’m sure.”

Rosa looked at the black and white memory and smiled sadly.  Her eyes welled with silent tears as she remembered the girl in the paper.

“She’s your daughter.”  I had meant to ask a question, but a statement slipped out.  So much for tact. 

Rosa did not pull her gaze from the article as she confirmed my suspicion with a hesitant nod.  “Yes.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”  The hurt in my voice wasn’t worth hiding.

“You were too young to ask, Miss Callista.”

“I’m asking now.”           

“What would you like to know?”

“What happened?”

“When my husband died, my daughter Maria and I moved from our home in Spain to England.  I quickly found a position at Barnard Hall.  Maria always loved it here.  She used to say the house was magical.”  No longer focused on me, Rosa’s eyes were seeing thirty years into the past.  She smiled slightly at the happier memories.  “One day I was dusting the upstairs hallway and washing the frames on the paintings.  Maria was working in the blue room.  When I had finished, I had gone to help her but she was no longer there.”

“Could she have slipped out some other way?”

Rosa shook her head.  “I had been in the hallway the entire time.  No one had entered or left the room.  Did you know this room used to be my daughter’s?”

“No.”  It was becoming apparent that I knew very little about my housekeeper.  My lack of knowledge was understandable; seven-year-olds tended to be engulfed in their own worlds.  Now I was seventeen and such selfish behavior was no longer acceptable.  This woman was one of the most important people in my world; I needed to get to know the real Rosa.  Continued ignorance toward the only important person left in my life would be inexcusable.

“Rosa, may I ask you something else?”

“Of course.”

“Why do you stay?  Surely after so many years…”  After so many years she couldn’t expect her daughter to come back.  I couldn’t speak those final words so I broached a less depressing subject.  “It must be hard to be in the same place where she went missing.”

She shook her head and searched my face.  Somehow the mood in the room felt lighter.  All of Rosa’s hurt had been swept through the window, captured by a wayward breeze. “Don’t you see?  I feel closer to her when I am here.”

“Do you think she will come back?”  The first couple of days were crucial in a missing persons’ case.  Miracles had happened before but surely after thirty years Rosa could not expect her daughter to come home—could she? 

“No.” Rosa sighed and handed me the newspaper.  “But sometimes it’s like she never left.”

Click HERE to continue to Chapter 13!

2 Responses to “Chapter 12: Missing”

  1. Libby March 9, 2012 at 5:37 am #

    Ok Moving foreward….you have me HOOKED!!! I need Ch. 12 now! This is so good! I am very impressed.

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