Chapter 8: Safe Keeping

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“I want to give you something,” I said shyly to my best friend.  For weeks I had thought about my decision to give Tilly this present; it was important for me to show her how much she meant to me.  She had made England a happy place to live.

 “Why?” she asked, surprised. 

 “Because you’re my best friend.”  Tilly was my only friend.  Unless you counted Mrs. Santos, but she was always too busy cleaning to really be able to play with me.

 “You’re my best friend too!  But Callista, I don’t need payment to be your friend.”

“I know but I want to give you something anyway.”

“Are you sure?”


My gift wasn’t completely selfless.  I wanted Tilly to be reminded of me when I wasn’t around.  Despite my pleas, my mom would not let me stay in my room all day and I didn’t want Tilly to forget me.  If she had a constant reminder then I would be impossible to forget.

Tilly hesitantly reached through the mirror to take my offering.  Benny was not much, but I loved him.  Tilly would love him too.

“I can’t take him, Callista.  Benny is your favorite.  Your father gave him to you.”

“But I want you to have him.” 

Tilly cradled him in her arms like he was a real bunny.  This had been a good decision; Benny would like his new home, and I could still see him and play with him if I really wanted to.

“We can trade.  It is the only way I can accept him.”  She handed me her doll, but I could not reach out to take her.  Marta was new; Benny was stained and sort of falling apart.


“Why not?” 

“It’s not an even trade.”

“Of course it is.”

Couldn’t she tell that Benny was not nearly as special as Marta?  “No, Benny is just a silly toy.  Marta is new.” And beautiful.  And breakable. 

“Benny is perfect, and I love him already.  Thank you, Callista.  I know just the place to put him for safe keeping so Nicki can’t steal him.”


“I will hide him in my secret place.  I’m the only one in the whole world who knows where it is!” she vowed. 

“Can you tell me?”  Would she tell me such an important secret?  Would she be mad that I had asked in the first place?

“Only if you promise to never tell Nicki.  Somehow he always discovers my hiding places.  He has spies everywhere.”  Her eyes searched the empty space for eavesdroppers.

“I swear.”

Tilly was thoughtful for a minute.  She was just about to whisper something when her mom yelled for her; the faceless voice sounded high—and cheerful.  I hid behind my bed and cradled Marta.  The doll’s ringlets softly tickled my cheek. 


A loud clap of thunder woke me from my nap.  Then a flash of lightning brightened the room for a millisecond before allowing the shadows to resume their conquest of the space.  My heart pounded in my throat as my nerves tingled with vivid memories.  I had sat down on the miniature window seat to process information; what little I had and the overwhelming amount I still needed. 

The closeness of the walls and window had helped me collect and focus my errant thoughts.  In order to fit on the tiny ledge, I had pulled my knees up beneath my chin.  Instead of being cramped, the space felt cozy.  Sitting here made me feel like I was a little girl again, stealing away to where I was not supposed to be. 

Except this was my house now, not his.  I was allowed to go anywhere I wanted.

When I shifted my weight, my legs cramped as the blood rushed to meet my toes.  It felt like a thousand needles were being impaled into my extremities when I attempted to move.  I stretched, lost my balance, and fell off the seat, pulling the tan cushion unceremoniously behind me.  Silently thankful there was no audience present to witness my severe clumsiness, I steadied my weight on the edge of the sill and bent to pick up the sun-faded cushion.

Just as I returned the pillow to its place on the seat, a pair of hinges gleamed beneath the window frame.  Feeling along the front edge of the box revealed a tiny gold latch that blended with the warm grain of the wood.

The hinges creaked, and dust floated from the interior of the compartment as I lifted the lid.  There was no light filtering through the window so I was left staring blankly into the black hole, considering my next move.  For a brief second I contemplated the whereabouts of a flashlight.  Then impatience kicked in and, disregarding my fear of spiders, I reached inside.  My hand returned from the blackness clutching a small leather bag and a book.  With the treasures in hand, I grew braver and returned to search the grimy perimeter of the box one last time. 

I recognized the soft object beneath my fingertips before I had the chance to examine it.  Benny was dusty, someone had reattached his button eye, and he still had a red stain marring his grey fur; beyond those changes he looked exactly as I had remembered him.  The weight of his small body felt right in my arms.

But it was not right.

The library had been off-limits before today; I hadn’t been allowed to trespass into Jim’s private lair and I hadn’t wanted to.  Surely I would have remembered intruding and hiding my favorite toy inside a secret compartment in the forbidden room. 

So the question remained: how had Benny gotten in there?

I carried my newly acquired possessions and to the desk.  The leather pouch produced five glass cat-eye marbles and a blue-jeweled flower pin.  Benny smiled at me from the desk and assessed me through sightless eyes.  I couldn’t help but smile back at the innocence he represented.  Part of me simply wanted to ask how he had gotten stuffed in there.  Talking to Benny had helped ten years ago, why not now?

Instead, I picked up the book and brushed off the cover.  The brown leather binding of the Holy Bible was cracking at the corners; the pages were yellowed with age.  I flipped idly through the worn sheets; the movement released the familiar smell of ink on aged paper.  When I saw the name scribbled on the inside of the front cover, a piercing scream filled the empty room.

It took me a moment to realize the noise was coming from me.

My hand reverently traced the crooked letters, each line and curve branding my fingertips.

Tilly Dalton 1892

Without another thought, I dropped the book to the floor and ran unsteadily out of the room.  At this point, what my household staff thought of me was irrelevant.  If they whispered that I was crazy I would agree with them wholeheartedly.  Maybe one of them would have the decency to commit me.

My legs carried me up the steps and past the room where I had taken up residence since my return.  I came to an exaggerated halt in front of the third door on the left, my childhood bedroom.  I stood outside and waited, attempting to build the courage that would allow me to open the door.  My hand reached out to touch the doorknob, expecting the metal to burn me.  The smooth coolness of the brass handle had the opposite effect; it calmed me.  I filled my lungs with a deep breath and turned the knob. 

Nothing happened. 

I tried again; still nothing.  I jiggled, twisted, and shoved, but the barrier keeping me from my childhood would not budge.  Answers waited on the other side of the door and they would continue to haunt me until they were uncovered.  Tilly’s ghost was locked inside, calling for me to release her. 

“I’m coming, Tilly,” I whispered to the vacant hallway.

Short of busting down the door, without a key I could do nothing more—at least not tonight. 

Defeated, I returned to the yellow room.  The warmth on the walls had seeped between the slats of the oak floor.  It was lonely in this room, lonely and haunted with memories.  At least it had felt like someone had cared in my old bedroom—even if that individual had died in 1912.

This bedroom was driving me crazy.  Perhaps I needed to sleep somewhere else, in a room where I had even fewer memories.  In frenzy, I threw my belongings back into my bag.

“Surely you aren’t leaving at this hour,” Rosa announced disapprovingly from the doorway.

At least she had not asked why I had left the library screaming like an idiot.  “No,” I answered, still packing.  “I’ve decided to move a different room.  The bed in here is lumpy, and I have not been able to sleep very well.”  At least the second part was not a lie.

She was thoughtful for a moment.  “Your mother’s room is…”

“No!” I screeched, stopping her mid-sentence.  Facing that room and the associated reality would have to happen, but not tonight.  There was no telling what would happen if I went into the master bedroom in my current state.

“The other bedrooms have been shut for a very long time, Miss Callista.”

“A hotel would work too,” I suggested.  Then I would be able to get out of this place for a solid rest.  Who knew?  Maybe I would gain some sense and never come back.

“A hotel would be silly at this late an hour; there are plenty of rooms here.  I can prepare the blue room.  It will be ready for you tomorrow,” she offered kindly.  Rosa never asked questions and never judged; for that I was thankful.

“Don’t go through all the trouble.  You keep this place in immaculate condition.  I’m sure it would be fine for me to stay there tonight.”

“When rooms are closed they tend to… smell.”  Rosa wrinkled her nose.  “It would be no trouble for us tomorrow,” she reiterated, walking out the door.

I followed her into the blue room and calmness replaced the panic.  The cool periwinkle paint masking the walls made the space more inviting.  This room had a connecting door to a bathroom, so it was more convenient too.  Why hadn’t I been given this room in the first place? 

The area smelled musty from disuse but it was a familiar scent that lingered in most of Barnard Hall.  It was clean enough for me to sleep here tonight—at least that was what I told myself.  After a day or so of being open, the smell should thin out.  I tossed my bag on the thick Persian rug and helped Rosa open the heavy, blue velvet curtains.  Moonlight seeped through the glass and cast wicked shadows on the carpet.

Rosa tsked at the dust that floated away from the fabric.  “I will have someone clean this room tomorrow,” she vowed disapprovingly.  “Are you sure you won’t wait until then?”

“It’ll be fine, Rosa.  Really.”

I was barely listening to her as she went around the rest of the room, turning down the bed and preparing for the night ahead.  In the corner, opposite the marble fireplace, was a white sheet draped over a large box.

Without conscious effort, my feet carried me over to the shrouded piece of furniture.  The dimensions were eerily familiar.   I tugged at the airy fabric and it floated to the floor.

Instead of seeing a dark-haired little girl, I stared disappointedly at the reflection of a young woman in the gilt-framed mirror.  It had been a foolish expectation, but I had been hoping to see someone else. 

My face looked haggard; the circles under my eyes had gone purple and bruise-like and my cheeks were hollow.  My golden hair was pulled away from my face in an unkempt bun with wispy strands attempting to escape. A smudge of dust painted my chin and coated my dingy t-shirt. 

How long had I actually looked the part of a mental patient?

I studied the piece, a task I had been too preoccupied to complete ten years ago.  There were four cherubs assessing my smooth reflection, one guarding each corner.  Ornate scrollwork intertwined with vines along the frame.  Once again, I was shocked by the sheer size of the piece of glass.  The frame had to be at least six feet tall.  A dark figure appeared on my right, and I jumped back.

“Exquisite, isn’t it?” Rosa asked from behind me, her voice reverent.

My voice refused to work, so I nodded.  This was the same mirror that had been in my room when I was little, the one I had played in front of and slept alongside, and the one that had housed my imaginary friend.  But it couldn’t be the same. Jim had…

“To the best of my knowledge, there used to be one in every bedroom here at Barnard Hall,” Rosa said, interrupting my internal musings.

“There were six of these?”


“Hmmm…”  If that was the case then where was the one from the yellow room?  And the last time I had gone into the master bedroom I hadn’t seen a mirror there either.  The colossal size was not exactly what I would call inconspicuous.  Where had the missing mirrors gone?

“The room is livable, for tonight anyway,” Rosa said curtly.

Explaining to her that I had been haunted in the yellow room would only get me committed quicker.  She turned to leave, but I stopped her.  There was one more change that had to be made tonight.

“Rosa?  Will you help me do one last thing?”

Like ten years before, Rosa helped me move the heavy bed so that it sat next to the mirror. 

The arrangement itself made no sense.  The largest, most important piece of furniture in the room was now shoved into a tight alcove; most of the wooden floor became empty, unused space.  A large square of dust marked the spot where the bed had stood for decades.  There were slight dents where the heavy mass had melded with its surroundings. 

When Rosa left the room, an odd sense of rightness settled over me, a sense of belonging. 

I crawled into my bed and did not feel so alone.

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