Chapter 17: Foul Play

My world was spinning out of control as I closed the bedroom door.  Nick had been called to dinner, and I wasn’t pathetic enough to sit and wait for him.  Leaving my room was one of the hardest things I had done in my entire life.  Being deemed pathetic was almost worth not missing a second of Nick.

I turned from the hall and collided with Rosa as she rounded the corner.  An apology nearly escaped, but the look on her face stopped the flow of words mid-sentence.  She looked like she was going to be sick all over the gleaming wooden floor. 

“Rosa, what’s wrong?  Are you feeling alright?”

“I’m so sorry, Miss Callista.”

“Sorry for what?”

With tears in her eyes she said, “There’s someone here to see you.”

“Who is it?” I did not know anyone in the community and it was a bit late for sincere condolences on the loss of my mother.  My mind raced, considering other possibilities.  Whoever it was, they had upset my housekeeper and for that I was angry.

“The police.”

The police?  They were the last people I had expected to show up at my doorstep.  I straightened and walked stiffly to the parlor.  Two young cops stood from their places on the settee and greeted me with tight nods.  Their somber expressions made my stomach drop but neither said a word to me. 

“Miss Callista, these are Officers John Patterson and James Brown.”

The younger of the two, John, wouldn’t look directly at me.  His partner James had a few more wrinkles around his eyes and deep laugh lines around his mouth.  He would have been handsome if he had been smiling.  James’ eyes connected with my own; his grave gaze knotted my insides.

“What can I do for you, gentlemen?” I said, attempting to infuse at least a hint of welcome in my voice.  I gestured for them to retake their seats and I did the same, choosing to sit on the edge of the chaise. 

The stiffness of their starched uniforms made the pair look more imposing as their spines remained rigid in the feminine atmosphere.  James glanced at his partner for support before responding.  “We are here regarding new information in the case of your parents’ deaths.”  His voice was soft, kind.

“You mean the death of my mother and stepfather?” I corrected automatically.

James nodded.  “You see, Miss Franklyn, we have reason to believe the accident that claimed their lives was no accident at all—that there was foul play involved.”

His words forced all air from my lungs.  I gasped for oxygen but could find none in the vacuum surrounding me.  It had been one thing to think my mother had been killed in an accident; such incidents were unavoidable.  It was an entirely different scenario to find out she had been stolen from this world prematurely by someone else’s hand.

Someone lightly touched my shoulder, and my breathing relaxed.  I looked up and saw James standing there awkwardly.  He blushed, pulled his hand back hesitantly, and returned to his seat.

“What do you mean?” I whispered, wishing I did not already know the crime he was implying.

“The brakes in their BMW, they were cut.”

“So you think they were…” The term wouldn’t come across my lips even as it churned inside my mind.

John spoke up.  “Murdered, Miss Franklyn.” 

Murder was intentional.

Murder.  Murder.  Murder.  The word formed a blood-thickened mantra inside my mind.  I had led a quiet, unobtrusive existence back in New York.  Since I had come back to Barnard Hall my entire world had been warped into some sick, twisted reality where family members have their brakes cut, people were burned alive, and friends were shoved off roofs.  Now there were three murder investigations currently underway, all involving former residents of Barnard Hall.

James reprimanded the younger man’s bluntness with a harsh look.  John immediately found the pattern on the plush carpet intriguing.

“We are investigating the crime as if it were intentional as all of the evidence currently points in that direction.  Do you know of anyone who would consider your mother and stepfather enemies?” James asked carefully.

This was the very question I had been dancing around asking Nick.  Now I was the one being interrogated.

“I can honestly say that I don’t know of anyone but I also haven’t been in contact with my mother or her husband for almost ten years.”

“I understand.  If you think of anything that may help us, please let us know.”

“You may want to ask Rosa your questions.  She had lived with Jim and my mother ever since they moved to England.  She may know better if there has been anything suspicious in the last few months.”

“We appreciate your cooperation.”

 “Is that all, gentlemen?”  There was no point in making my voice sound alive.

The pair exchanged glances before nodding in unison.  They had probably been expecting a fit of hysterics; my cold reaction gave them pause.  But the officers had nothing more to say to me, and I could think of nothing more to tell them.

“I would appreciate it if you would keep me up to date on the progress of your investigation.”

The policemen stood and marched out of the room.  Rosa whispered to the men in the foyer as I studied the worn window frame, noticing for the first time that the white paint was chipping at the edges. 

My mother had sat in this same chair, staring endlessly out the window with the same blank expression I now felt on my face.  I needed to get away, to distract myself.  If I escaped to my room I was liable to see Nick.  There was no telling what would happen if I saw him in my current state.

Instead of returning upstairs, I grabbed my coat and ran past the trio, out of the house.  Before I realized it, I was back in the town cemetery beside myself to my mother’s grave.  The flowers were gone and the dirt was muddied from all the rain.  Surprisingly, tiny blades of grass were already sprouting, pushing through the dead ground around them. 

I fell to my knees and broke down.

“I’m so sorry, mother.”  The words became a chant as I repeated the apology to the emptiness.  For what I was apologizing I wasn’t entirely sure.  Sylvia Franklyn Burns had not loved me, but she had not deserved to have her life stolen from her.  No one ever deserved such a fate.  I had been too preoccupied with attempting to solve a murder from one hundred and ten years ago to see that my own mother had suffered the same fate in the present.

Maybe Beth had been right.  Perhaps there was a curse at Barnard Hall.  A curse was really nothing more than the presence of evil consistently affecting our lives.  There was an unfathomable evil in existence here; my mother and the Daltons had all succumbed to it.  I wept useless tears until I ran dry.  The sensitive skin beneath my eyes ached, rubbed raw by my woolen sleeves.

As hard as it was to accept, there was nothing I could do for my mother.  There was no magical mirror that would allow me to go back and fix what had gone wrong in 2012.  However, there was a mirror linking me to 1902.  I could still find out what had happened to the Daltons.  My mother had the law enforcement authorities and modern forensics on her side.  The Daltons had no one—besides me, which still amounted to zero.  I had to find out what had happened to them.

But what good would the knowledge be if it too was useless?

I made my way to Tilly’s grave and sat down beside her. 

“She was murdered,” I said to the cold stone marking my best friend’s final resting place.  “Just like you.”  The words came out in a whisper.  It felt as though someone else was speaking and I was eavesdropping on the morbid conversation.

“I promise… No, I swear I will find out what happened to you—to all of you.”

I stood and tried to wipe the mud and grass stains from the knees of my jeans.  The motion only set the stains further into the worn material.  As I turned to go, my eyes glinted off the tall tombstone next to Tilly’s.   My throat closed, and I could no longer bring air into my body.  It felt like someone had clawed my lungs from my chest cavity and left the gaping wound to fester.  There, forever beside my best friend, was her brother.  Nicholas Dalton II had died at the age of twenty three. 

I had known when and how he had died, but seeing the proof literally set in stone made the truth more unbearable.  And I could not do anything to stop it.  Even if I found out who had killed them, even if I told Nick about the tragic end he would soon face, I would never be able to change the outcome.  For too long now I had considered the mirror a second chance.  But there were no second chances in death.  Death marked the end, the final page.

I fell back to the ground, disregarding the wetness that seeped into my clothes and the deadness that seeped into my soul.  All my tears were gone so I wailed tearlessly.  Racking sobs convulsed my body until the will to move, to go on living, was replaced with a desire for the numbness of darkness.

I was mutilated inside; my heart fell out of my chest and stopped beating on his grave.  Callista Renée Franklyn died on July 28, 2012.

Despite my Herculean efforts, I had grown dependent on Nick—on the hallucination. Maybe he really was there, maybe he wasn’t.  Either way, I was sure my irrevocable emotional ties to the man made the occurrence unhealthier.  And, in less than a month, I wouldn’t be able to see him ever again. Withdraw wasn’t a strong enough description for the pain I would endure at his death.  The finality of it all was overwhelming.

In that moment I understood my mother’s depression.  Nick and I had not shared what Sylvia and Robert had, yet the loss would be equally as devastating to my sanity.  I still couldn’t agree with my mother’s decision to desert me emotionally, but at least now I could comprehend. 

I abandoned my heart in the cemetery and my ghost floated back to Barnard Hall.   My body trudged up the steps to the second floor and headed straight for the shower.  The muddy clothes I had ruined remained where they fell, and I washed the dirt off my skin.  I scrubbed harder, wanting to feel something, but it was no use.  My skin was raw when I finally dropped the sponge.  I put on my nightclothes and collapsed onto the bed. 

Someone opened the door, but I knew there was no one in my room with me.  The sockets of my eyes ached from the tears I refused to shed in his presence.

“You shouldn’t be here,” I whispered to the deceased man in the room.  He should be in the cemetery where I didn’t want him to belong—a cold, dead, rotted corpse.  Instead he was standing in front of me, a healthy, beautiful young man with a devastating smile, wicked sense of humor, and a mischievous light in his onyx eyes.

Nick must have picked up on the lifelessness in my tone.  “I can leave if you want me to…” he said hesitantly.

“No!  I mean you should not be here at all!”  I shouted.  My tears were unleashed and they poured down my cheeks, falling relentlessly into a puddle on my nightgown.

“Calm down, Callista.”

“Calm down?  You expect me to calm down?” I laughed humorlessly.  “Do you know what happened today?”

He shook his head, his eyes wide as he took in my frantic display.  Reigning in the wildness that now overwhelmed me was a lost cause.  He needed to see the toll this day had taken and how infinitely I would be ruined when the ending came.

“I was told my mother was murdered.  She was murdered Nick.”

“Callista, I’m…”

I held up my hand to stop him.  “She was murdered, and I can’t do anything to change it.  I had to come to terms with being utterly useless.”

“Useless?  Callista…”

I silenced him for a second time.  He nodded, wordlessly urging me to proceed.  The emptiness grew bitter when I realized I was about to do the unthinkable.  The one secret I still held was going to pass through my lips.  It was a selfish, ghastly choice; I was going to tell Nick his future. 

“Then, in the midst of everything, I saw your grave.  Nick, your heart stopped beating August 24, 1902.”

“1902?  That’s this year.”

“I know.”

 “That’s… next month,” he whispered.  His eyes searched my face but could not find the answers they sought.  I was too numb to offer any reassurance that would serve as comfort to the doomed man.

Defeated, I quietly mouthed my assent.  “I know.”

“How?” he pleaded.  His voice cracked, and his eyes bore into mine with a raw intensity that I had never before witnessed.

Abruptly, I regretted my decision.  How could I have been so foolish, so weak?  “Nick, I can’t… I’m so sorry.”

How?” he repeated, pounding his fist on the arm of his chair.

“A fire.  You were in a burning…  The carriage house…”  The words I spoke were not making any sense but I could not stop long enough to filter the information.  My thoughts and premonitions and facts had melted together into a solid mass of mystery.  And now I was sharing the burden of that mystery with the innocent victim.

“How long have you known?”

Although I was reluctant to answer, Nick deserved to know what a deplorable human being I was.  “Since I came back to Barnard Hall.  Since the beginning…”

“You’ve known for that long and yet you’ve never spoken of it?”

“How could I?”

“Did it not occur to you that this was, perhaps, a detail I would be mildly interested in hearing?”

“No.”  No one wanted to hear his own death sentence.

“Why now?”

“Because it is real now.  The event and the consequences, all indisputable.”  I wanted to leave, to run away from everything.  But I knew I wouldn’t.  I wanted to comfort him but I couldn’t.  So I sat there, once again inadequate.

Nick’s reaction was the last thing I had expected. 

He chuckled.

“How can you laugh?”  My voice shook with emotion.  I had been distraught from holding this information inside for weeks, allowing the knowledge to gnaw away at what little sanity I had left, and Nick was laughing.  Tilly’s brother was crazier than I was.

“Callista, I swear I will not run into any burning buildings.  I will even take special care to avoid all fires on that particular date in August if you’d like.  The hearths at Barnard Hall will remain cold and unlit on the twenty-fourth.”

His attempt at humor did not assuage my fears.  He needed to understand that I wasn’t making some errant prediction; these events were set in history.  This had happened.  It would happen again.

“But you still will…”  I was sure of it.

“Despite the lies Tilly has told you, I assure you I am moderately intelligent and have, on occasion, made informed decisions concerning my own safety.  And I don’t have a death wish. Since I’ve met you I have never felt more like living.”

To save him, even if the task was impossible, I told him everything.  “Your parents will be inside with you.”

Nick straightened and clenched his teeth together.  I watched in fascination as his jaw flexed and released.  A purple vein swelled in his forehead and beads of sweat began pooling along his dark hairline.

“Stop it.”


Stop. It,” he repeated with more force, his tone gruff with barely-contained fury.  “Find out exactly what happened and stop it.”

“Nick, I can’t stop it.”


“Nick, for months I’ve been trying but I’ve gotten nowhere.  Time is running out and… and I can’t do it.”  Admitting defeat was the only reality left.

“I’m not asking you to stop it on your own.”

“What do you mean?”

We can.  I swear I will do everything in my power to make sure it doesn’t happen but I need you to help me.”

The time-altering thought had crossed my mind more than a thousand times since I had read the article.  But, even if we could stop the fire, Nick Dalton had to die somehow.  I could not go around helping him cheat death forever, could I?  What if the death he avoided was followed by an end more horrifying?  Could I allow this beautiful man to die in August?  Could I stand by and do nothing?  The date on his grave would serve as an eternal reminder that I had taken no course of action, that I had been useless.

I could not live with that.

His voice cut through my internal questions like a shock of life to my dead heart.  His words came softer now, more thoughtful.  “Perhaps it only happened the first time because you weren’t there.  Maybe you are here to stop it from happening again.”  Nick shuddered as his own words sank in.

How could he literally stare his own impending death in the eye and remain so calm?

“That doesn’t make sense,” I said, trying to wrap my head around the sheer impossibility.  Could I be the difference, the solution?

“Does anything make sense anymore?  We shouldn’t be having this conversation but we are.  I shouldn’t want to be with you, but I do.  We shouldn’t be able change time but…” 

“We can,” I whispered, unconvinced but desperately hopeful.

Nick touched the mirror lightly, running his hand down the even glass.  His forehead was wrinkled with a mixture of worry and concentration then it went as smooth as the mirror between us.  The expression on his face became unreadable. 

If I had to guess, I would have said Nicholas Dalton II was resigned.

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