I stared up at the tall spires of my Uncle Clive's huge mansion, trying not to look awestruck. Behind me, I heard the hooves of the horses pulling the carriage that had brought me over here clip-clopping away on the stone pathway. Still, I couldn't pull my eyes away from it. Long, swirling vines of green ivy were creeping all over the ancient walls composed of huge, smooth boulders, finding their way into even the smallest cracks. The copper roofs of the tall spires, which I could tell were once a gorgeous bronze, were now flaking and crumbling down, but just as majestic nevertheless, with the sun glinting down on them, causing them to shimmer. It looked like something out of a fairytale.
“Chrissy! Hurry up! We've got to unpack and move into our new rooms!” called my cousin Jane. I reluctantly turned away and picked up my briefcase. I hurried after Jane, following the winding stone pathway that ran through the perfectly mowed green lawns. Dense, leafy hedges towered up around me, seeming to close in on me. White lilies bloomed in these hedges, and I thought of my mother. As I ran, I tried to ignore the growing, uneasy feeling that I did not belong here. For the tenth time, I wondered why I was at this beautiful castle in the middle of nowhere, though I knew the reason perfectly well. I simply questioned why this was the path fate had led me to.
When I was three, my father went missing. I was too young then, and did not truly understand what death was, nor did my mother want to burden me with such a thought. For eleven years, I simply thought my father was on a long journey and had not returned yet. Then two years ago, when I was fourteen, I started to question. Why has father never come back to visit? You say that he loves me, but why hasn't he come to see me even once? What kind of journey was he on? If he can't come, can't he at least write a letter once in a while? Why can't he even write to us?
My mother was deeply disturbed by these questions of mine, and with the added guilt of not telling me the truth, she finally broke and told me. Before she had answered my questions, she had told me not to be too upset because of the truth. However, after she broke it to me, I went into shock. I didn't eat for days. I didn't leave my room. I didn't talk to anyone. For weeks, Mother tried to reach me, but I ignored her. And then, a month later, the news of the death of her brother, my Uncle Clive, really hit her hard. This, along with the constant worrying over me, caused her to fall sick. I really felt guilty then, for ignoring her attempts to comfort me and making her worry over me.
Every day after that, I would sit by her bed, saying, “Mother, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, this is all my fault. I'll accept father's fate, I'll do anything! Just get better! Please, mother! I'm sorry!” Each day, I brought her a white lily that I had picked from the meadow outside, since it was her favorite flower. But this was all to no avail. Her condition worsened, and two weeks after she fell ill, she passed away. After that, I was all alone, with no family or relatives to depend on. At times, I even felt like I wanted to be dead. I had a noose ready in my room, but I never brought myself to step into it. I just couldn't. Why? I deserved to be dead. It was my fault that my mother was dead.
One week after her passing, I received a letter in the mail. It was very brief and not very specific, but it was all I had. After all, I had nothing to lose.
Hello, Chrissy. I am your cousin Jane, your Uncle Clive's daughter. I heard that your mother passed away recently, a few weeks after my father did. You must be in grief, and I am very sorry for your loss. However, we must find a way to carry on in this world, and I have a suggestion. Uncle Clive and I have lived in a small apartment since I was little, but recently, I found out that my Uncle had left a whole mansion to me in his will. I never knew that my father had possession of a huge mansion like this. It seems that, quite recently, you have found out a few secrets of your own that you never knew before. I now own Clairefield Mansions, and I would be pleased to know if you would like to join me in the residence. If you agree, meet me at Shojack Station at 6:30 on August 14th. I will arrange for transportation to Clairefield.
Thank you for your cooperation.
I packed the few possessions that I valued, then followed the directions of the letter and met Jane at Shojack station three weeks later. We traveled to the residence by carriage, and soon, I was where I am now.
I looked around. We were inside the mansion now. The smooth, granite walls of the high-arched hallways echoed the sound of me and Jane's footsteps into other hallways that stretched farther than the eye could see. The only source of light were thin shafts in the walls, blowing drafts of cold air in. Far away, I heard the sound of dripping water. I shivered. It was so dark and cold. I hurried to catch up to Jane, trying to make conversation to shake off the uneasy feeling I was having.
“So, Jane, why did you and Uncle live in such a small apartment if you had a huge residence like this?”
She glanced at me. I had a feeling she thought I was bothersome. “Father wasn't very specific in his will, but before he died, he told me that this place is haunted.”
She glared at me. “Do you seriously think it's true? I, for one, don't even believe in ghosts.”
“No, no.” I've had enough death around me. With so much death, who would be scared of ghosts, if they were even real? I bet this was just Jane's version of a stupid joke. Death is something that should be treasured. I remembered all those times I had stood on a chair and stared at the loop of rope hanging in front of my face.
She looked at me strangely. “Well, anyways, before he had died, Father had said that the whole house is haunted, but the 'ghosts' mainly gather around the gardening shed.”
“Where is that?”
She grinned at me. “So you're scared? Hmm? I bet you wouldn't dare to go there at midnight!”
This truly made me angry. I was not going to back down from this. I was definitely not scared.
“Fine!” I said. “I'll go there at midnight, and I'll prove to you that I'm not scared! In fact, I'll bring you something from there! Death is not a thing to be scared of!”
She grinned a grin that just aggravated me even more. “Right. Well then, if you haven't chickened out by then, bring me the oil lamp in the farthest corner of the shed. That'll be, as you said, proof that you went in.”
Why had she even invited me to live here if she was going to be so impolite to me? Just to make fun of me?
We were at the door to our rooms now. She opened one door.
“This is my room. Yours is across the hallway. Now leave me alone.”
I turned to glare at her, but she had already gone into her room and closed the door. Hesitantly, I put put my hand on the handle, pushed open the door, then stepped in.
The room was just like any other part of the mansion – made out of smoothed marble. It made the room seem cold and empty. There was nothing inside the room other than a bed and a vanity, a desk with a mirror. On the table was a glass of water. One lone white lily was blooming in it.
I dropped my suitcase and ran towards it. The times when I was in doubt of myself was the time I needed my mother the most – a picture, a thought, even a fading memory of her calmed me down. I picked it up and stared into the plethora of white petals; I lifted it to my face to smell it. I sighed, and remembered all the times my mother and I had had together. I tried to remember her face. It shocked me that I couldn't; I could only see the long wavy hair falling down her back in my mind's eye. Her long, wavy hair and her bell-like laugh.
I put the lily back on the vanity and lay back on my bed, staring at the ceiling. My mother's lily had given me courage. I would definitely go tonight. I would prove to my cousin and everyone else that I was not scared.
. . . .
Silently, I slid on my overcoat and tiptoed towards the door. It was time. A quarter to midnight. I turned around to close the door, then saw the white lily. I walked back to take it with me. I needed my mother's help tonight to help me cope, too.
I clenched the edges of my coat around me as I made my way through the grounds. It seemed to be getting colder by the minute. The shed, in the distance, was growing closer as I trudged towards it. When I finally had my hand on the doorknob, I smelled flaking paint and rotting wood. And under it all, the cloying sent of white lilies.
I shook my head. I couldn't be chickening out now. I pushed the door open and stepped inside.
It smelled like musty wood mixed with dust inside. It was dark and cold, but for some reason, I wasn't scared anymore. As I took another step in, I saw that there was a pile of freshly picked white lilies on the ground. That must have been where the smell had come from earlier. I shook my head at my stupidness. There was nothing to be scared of. There were no ghosts here. I was right, Jane must have been playing a joke on me. I walked to the corner of the shed and picked up the broken oil lamp.
Then I felt a hand on my shoulder.
I spun around. There was a glowing blue form in front of me, slightly taller than me. Its hand was outstretched and on my shoulder. I tried to step out from under the hand, but found that I couldn't. The hand was cold and the coldness spread out, traveling down my spine. I covered my mouth to keep myself from screaming.
I blinked. The blue form seemed to be taking the form of a human. Blue, satin robes, the same color as the skin of the ghost – I had decided that it had to be a ghost now – seemed to take shape around its body. Hair sprouted from its head. Long, wavy hair.
“M-mother?” I saw her face turn towards me. I heard her bell-like laugh. My voice grew stronger. “Mother?”
She reached out to touch my face, then put her hand on my chest. It went right through, to my heart. It felt cold. A soothing cold, like putting ice on a wound.
“My dear daughter...” Her voice was so kind and gentle. I felt like I was floating. “My dear Chrissy... Have you missed me? Have you?” I nodded slowly, as if entranced.
She laughed her bell-like laugh again. Then she frowned. “Will you leave me, Chrissy? Chrissy, I have missed you too.” Her voice grew desperate. “Don't leave me! Please!” She touched my face again. I hated to see my mother unhappy.
“No, no! I won't leave you, mother. I promise! I promise to come visit every night! I won't leave you!”
She turned to look at me. “Yes you will! Of course you will! You will come and visit in the beginning, but then you will start to forget. You will forget about me! You have to stay here. I will make you!” I stepped back. This was not like my mother.
“M-Mother... I don't think you should do this! I-I...” I stopped. There was another glowing blue form standing next to my mother's ghost now. It was a man, and though I hadn't seen him since I was three, I immediately knew who it was.
“Father!” I rushed towards him to throw my arms around him, but ended up falling through his figure.
“See?” said Mother. “If you join us and never leave, you can hug us and embrace us. You will get to know your father. If you simply choose to forget about us, you will never feel our touch again.”
“Yes,” said Father. “Join us.”
I stared at her, jumbled thoughts piecing together in my mind.
“Yes, yes. I will join you, Mother, Father. I will, don't worry. I will find a way.” I set the oil lamp down and walked to the corner of the shed. I took a rope off a hook on the wall, curled it in a loop, then stepped on a chair and tied it to the ceiling. Just like old times. But this time I was actually going to do it.
I stepped off the chair. I could feel the rope tightening around my neck, and it felt like I was falling... Falling into the arms of my mother's cold embrace.