III. A Light in the Canopy
“You’ve got to be shitting me.”
turned. Ben had stopped in his tracks. There was their beacon of light, shining
brightly from two large windows. Other than the moon, it was the only
illumination in the darkness.
hair on the back of Noelle’s neck bristled as she looked towards the grand
estate. She walked towards the property but a sturdy gate stood in her path.
She fingered the chain that wound between its wrought iron bars. “Hmm. No lock,” she announced towards the others and
unraveled the rusty chain. Its coarse texture picked at her gloves.
not going in there,” said Ben.
objections aren’t going to stop me.”
their urgent need for help, Noelle took steps towards the house in trepidation.
Ben followed close behind her with Kim in tow. The path to the entryway was
long and wide but covered in snow and shadow.
don’t know what’s worse… Not being able to see the full extent of what’s
around us or the thought of having you shine that light around so that we could
see what’s around us.”
are you talking about?”
do you think it’s better to close your eyes when you’re afraid? Thinking it’s
your imagination and that it will all go away? Or do you prefer to shine that
flashlight around so we can see what we’re walking into? Don’t tell me you’re
keeping the light in front of us because you would hate to see me trip and
keeping it in front of us so I can see where we’re going. Stop panicking.”
place doesn’t give you the creeps?” Ben’s dark eyes roved. The details of
the property grew with every step they took.
just a house, Ben.” Noelle swallowed hard, disliking the uncertainty in her
In the middle of nowhere.”
don’t know that. There could be a small town just a mile farther down the road.
Maybe we’re not as far from her dad’s as we think”
don’t we take our chances?” Ben turned back towards the gate.
She ran towards him and laid a hand on his shoulder. He turned but kept his
eyes on the property as though it were alive. Noelle took a deep breath and
rubbed her temple. “I am exhausted. I have a splitting headache. My toes have
gone numb and I am so cold that I can actually feel it in my bones. My best
friend is hurt, which I feel personally responsible for, and I’m stuck in the
wilderness with a flamboyant homosexual who cries like a girl at the sight of
his own shadow.”
not flamboyant.” He readjusted Kim in his arms while listening to Noelle’s
nodded his head but refused to meet her gaze.
took a step towards him. “Look, I know we have our differences and maybe if the
whole thing with Peter hadn’t happened we would have started out on a different
foot but we didn’t. I’m not saying that we should forget the past, shake hands
and be friends. You know me well enough to know that’s not how I work. But I’ve
been running myself ragged this entire week to make sure that everything would
be perfect for Kim’s birthday. Despite what has happened this evening, I’m
still trying my best to keep us safe. Not because I care about you. Not because
Peter cares about you. But because Kim does and it’s what she would want. I’ve
got a million things running through my head right now and I’m trying my best
to remain cool so that we both don’t lose it.”
running through your head?”
keep replaying the accident in my mind. Could I have reacted faster? Could I
have driven smarter? Did I do the right thing? That car is a rental and I don’t
have liability insurance. How will I be able to afford the damages? What’s
going to happen to Kim? How will I tell her dad? Will he hate me? Can he ever
forgive me? Can I forgive myself? Can I get us out of this? Where are we? The
first draft of my thesis paper is due in a week and I haven’t started. And it
may just be my nerves but I think I have to pee.”
chuckled. “It’s nice to be reminded that you are human even though you don’t
often choose to show it. Thank you.”
be the first to admit that I’m not the best in emergency situations.”
doesn’t mean I can’t use your help,” she said.
it’s any consolation, Peter always speaks highly of you. He said that your
unwavering attitude is what drew him to you in the first place.”
why’d he pick you?”
now,” Ben said in light offense. “I can be decisive, just not fearless.” He
shivered as his eyes went back to the estate.
would you prefer it if I shined the flashlight around the property? Or would
you rather close your eyes and pretend we’re not here? I’d offer to give you
the flashlight but your hands are full…”
this some sort of peace offering?”
cease fire. For now,” she said.
agreed and watched as Noelle waved the light up and down the path. Small bits
of a vastly overgrown and unkempt landscape came into view. Covered in snow,
the hedges were uneven and half strangled with ivy. The trees appeared
lifeless; their trunks were twisted and hollowed. A nearby birdbath had fallen
into disrepair. The tall grass poked through the snow in several areas and was
overrun with weeds.
creepy,” said Ben.
sure there’s a reason. This place has probably long been abandoned and some
looters left a candle burning or something.”
one bright ass candle.”
the owners died and the electric company somehow forgot about this place?”
snorted. “Your maybes are half as bad as my what ifs.”
Maybe it’s a little far-fetched but we’ll find out soon enough. Come on.”
Noelle pulled Ben along by his arm.
walking through the overgrown gardens and down the long, graveled path they
finally came to the entrance. When they reached the porch, Noelle looked up to
see that the overhead light’s electrical base dangled from the ceiling.
“That makes me feel so much better about this place,” Ben said under his
called out as she knocked on the door. “Hello. Hello?” She pressed her ear
against the wood but could not hear any response, not even the creaking of
steps or the shuffle of feet.
that light still on?” asked Ben.
me check.” Noelle stepped back onto the gravel path.
she said running back towards the door. “Two windows fully lit on the second
floor. Someone must be inside. “Hello?” She knocked again but still there was
no reply. “What time is it?”
shrugged, unable to see his watch with Kim in his arms. “Nearly one in the
morning, I’d guess. I don’t see any cars. What
is it?” Ben asked, regarding her facial expression.
hear something. It’s faint but it sounds like… scratching.”
tell me you’re joking. I won’t be mad if you tell me now.”
don’t want to appear like a peeping tom…” Noelle rested her hand on the door’s
you want to appear like someone who is breaking and entering?”
pushed the latch down with her thumb and looked at Ben with excitement as it
clicked. “Just entering.”
we’re going to freeze out here. We need shelter…at least until sunrise. Please,
Ben. I know what you’re thinking. No more what ifs.”
door opened with a loud creak. Noelle entered first. The heels of her boots
produced two solid thuds that echoed into the void, causing the hair on Ben’s
neck to stand on end. He remained in the doorway, shivering like the last leaf
on an autumn tree. He took a deep breath to try and calm his nerves but the
stale, thick air sent him into a fit of coughs, causing him to drop Kim. Noelle
rushed to her side.
you all right?”
Ben croaked. He recovered and leaned against the door frame. “Swallowed some
wasn’t talking to you.” Noelle held two fingers against Kim’s neck again. “She
feels cold but she is still breathing. Do you think we should try and wake
shrugged. “I’m no doctor.”
neither. We could try giving her water but I’m afraid she’ll choke or
something.” Noelle cradled her friend in her arms. “Maybe we shouldn’t have let
her fall asleep? I’m afraid she’ll never wake.”
at a loss.” He placed a hand on Kim’s shoulder and gently shook her. “Kim? Kim.
Kim!” A deep growl came from the far side of the room. Ben stood and backed
towards the door. “Did you hear that?”
Noelle’s eyes darted across the room’s shadows. “I heard it.” Images of the
creature from the road took over her imagination. “There might be a wild animal
in here. I didn’t think about that.” She held Kim tighter and turned on the
flashlight. “Do you see anything?” The light passed over every corner of the
room but only revealed bits of peeling paint and dust covered surfaces. Noelle
called out but there was no answer, nor any sound of movement. “It’s so quiet.
Maybe we’re just really tired and a little spooked.”
don’t think we would’ve imagined the same thing. There must be a light
Noelle tossed him the light. He flicked the flashlight around the door and
found an ivory switch covered in a thick layer of dust.
we are. Guard your eyes,” said Ben, half expecting it not to work.
squinted as the room flooded with light. It poured from an enormous chandelier,
dangling from the two story ceiling. A carpet of dust covered what once would
have been a beautiful hardwood floor. Bits and scraps of chipped paint and
wallpaper had been pushed into various corners. The foyer was empty besides a
few lingering books on a nearby shelf and a small table upon which there was a
vase filled with the long decayed remnants of flowers. To the left, a large
staircase curved up towards a loft and the adjoining hallways on the second
wonder how long those lights have been burning upstairs,” said Noelle.
you still want to stay here?” Ben tucked the flashlight into his pocket.
choice do we really have? It looks like no one has been here for a while. I
don’t see how that can harm us. Besides, we need a place to stay. Think there
is a bed or sofa that we could rest her on?”
check one of these side rooms?” Ben ventured. “I don’t trust leaving her out in
the open especially if an animal might be in here.” There was a second growl.
Noelle bit back laughter as Ben looked sheepishly down towards his stomach.
animal all right. There are some crackers and sandwiches in the bag.” Noelle
took her hands away from Kim long enough to take the backpack from her
shoulders and toss it towards Ben. “Do you feel comfortable looking by yourself
or do you want to switch places?”
go together,” he said, bending over to retrieve the sack. “I’ll rest Kim on
that table so she is at least up off of the floor. We’ve got the lights on so I
feel a little better.” With a hesitant look out front into the shadowy
courtyard, he finally shut the front door and turned the deadbolt, securing
them inside. “Did you want to look for that room upstairs? The one with the
we should find a phone first. There’s a chance the line is still active if the
electricity is working.”
Ben said, pointing towards the loft. Against the railing was a small wooden
table with a coiled phone cord hanging from its side.
smiled at him. “Good eyes.”
snatched some crackers from the bag and set it on the ground. Whilst tearing
the package open and cramming the peanut butter filled sustenance into his
mouth, he took hold of Kim and positioned her limp form on top of the table in
the center of the room, pushing the vase of dead flowers aside. He tried his
best to make her look comfortable, draping the blanket back over her form and
balling his scarf up into a makeshift pillow. Double checking that the front
door was secure and locked, he turned his attention back towards Noelle.
treaded every step with caution and cringed at every creak, waiting for the
stairs to crumble beneath her. The deep red carpeting that had been placed upon
them had worn thin and in some places, exposed the mahogany wood underneath.
The banisters that remained intact were joined together by cobwebs and the
railing danced when she pressed against it. When she reached the top, she could
see it more clearly.
by more dirt and grime was a black rotary phone. Setting on a lonely end table
against the wonky railing, its cord ran across the loft and into the darkness
of another hall.
poured in from a large circular window that overlooked the back of the grounds.
The view was massive, revealing the vastness of the mountainside. “We must be
right at the summit,” she said to Ben. “The view from up here is amazing.”
coming up,” he announced.
turned from the window. There was a delicate armchair near the phone that
leaned to one side, having broken two legs. A dark green, leather couch nearby
had lost its luster. Another bookshelf, equally neglected, displayed thick
tomes on medicine and science. Noelle plucked one from the shelf and wiped its
fabric cover, the dust forming clumps as it tried to cling to the wordless
why no one thought to loot the phone,” Ben said as he arrived on the second
placed the book back and walked over towards the railing.
held his face to the large window and blocked out the light from the room with
his hands. The reflection of moonlight against the snow highlighted the jagged
headstones of a small family graveyard.
snorted. “Typical. No. Stereotypical.” Ben turned away from the window. “I’ll
go back down.”
wiped the some of the grime from the phone and held it to her ear. “It’s dead,”
she called down to Ben. She looked down over the railing and watched Ben’s face
fall as she placed the phone back on its base.
would they have electricity and no phone?”
shrugged. “What are we going to do now?” His lanky frame slumped against a nearby
wait until morning.”
Ben did not even try to hide the disappointment in his voice. He had been
holding onto hope that she would somehow change her mind.
have to do. I would like to try one more thing though. I want to try and reach
the attic to see if we can get a signal on my phone. That’s our only other
option for the night.”
sighed and stood from his post. As he released his weight from the bookshelf,
there was a loud thud followed by the clanking of chains and gears. Noelle came
down the steps with the enthusiasm of a child on Christmas morning. The
bookshelf on the ground floor gave a loud shutter and separated itself from the
wall. Ben looked at her in disbelief. Noelle reached forward and tried to push
the bookshelf further but it would not budge.
a spoken agreement, Noelle grabbed the flashlight from Ben and squeezed her
thin frame behind the bookshelf. “Come on,” she called from the darkness.
Giving Kim one last glance, Ben followed.
the bookshelf was a spiral staircase made of wrought iron. Noelle’s shoes made
a soft clank as she followed it down. The air was much cooler down there but
more crisp and moist than that of the air in the rest of the house. When they
reached the bottom, she scaled her fingers against the wall and found a large
do they have down here?” asked Ben. “Old Sparky?”
placed her shoulder underneath the switch. Using both hands, she pushed and the
dusty device creaked in protest then locked into place with a click. There was
a thump, then the springy sound of electricity. Gradually, a small lantern
warmed the room with its comely glow.
the house’s grand exterior, the lower room was about the size of a hospital
room. Its walls were made of stone and what little of the floor that could be
seen was made of dark slate. The small room was filled to the brim with old
medical textbooks stacked several feet high. Old cupboards aligned the walls,
overstuffed with aged papers and dusty scrolls. Small jars filled with liquids
of ranging shades set atop the cabinets. In the middle of the chaos was a small
desk. Though it was also piled with books, there were not quite so many and to
Noelle’s great surprise, not quite so dusty.
looks like it’s been handled recently.” Ben pointed out the fingerprints on the
looks like it’s been handled a lot through the years,” she said as she opened
the book. A few sheets were unbound and gently tucked back within the folds.
pages towards the front were faded beyond comprehension but Noelle continued to
flip through them, taking great care not to tear them. It was not long before
she found a page she could read. The handwriting was elegant and thin. Within
the fine script she deciphered several names and dates reaching as far back as
first legible entry had a faint line through the name of Radu Dinescu. Beside
his name it read: Ziua de naştere. 6 Aprilie 1313. Ziua de moarte. 2 Iunie
1349. Ciuma. 36.
sort of record,” she said. “Birth dates. Death dates.”
shrugged. Disinterested, he grabbed the flashlight from the table, taking time
to explore every nook and cranny that the old lantern could not reveal.
this is amazing. Come look at this. It’s enormous. Do you know what language
this is? I don’t recognize it. Though it does seem familiar.”
flipped the book over and began going through the pages backwards. There were a
few pages in the back left blank without a trace of ink. However, as she
continued, what she saw on the next inked sheets were not names, but drawings.
There were drawings of men and animals as part of one body, drawings of
otherworldly creatures being sacrificed or worshipped and drawings of
unfamiliar symbols and what looked to be ritual instructions.
kind of doctor was this guy?” She was immersed in the torturous scribbles until
she finally flipped far back enough to reveal the last name on the family tree
and the only one without a line through it.
Beglitzi. Ziua de naştere. 14 Ianuarie 1970. Ziua de moarte.
the empty death date were two words. Written in a more masculine hand, they
read: Sunt mort?
you know what ‘sunt’ means?” she asked Ben.
loud commotion came from the other side of the room as Ben shrieked and knocked
over a mountain of books.
please come tell me what I’m looking at.”
rose from her chair and navigated her way towards him. She rested her hands on
his shoulders and moved him to the side so that she could get a better glimpse
of his latest discovery. Setting at about three feet tall was a small
refrigerator packed to the brim with bags upon bags of what looked to be blood.
reached forward and grabbed one of the bags at the top of the pile. Labeled on
the front, the bag read, “Laszlo. O-.” Noelle pulled another bag out and
another but they all were labeled the same way.
I guess,” Ben said, still perched on the floor at Noelle’s feet.
do you mean?”
are all labeled O-. It’s a rare blood type that can be donated to anyone who
needs it,” he explained. “Not sure why they needed so much.” He stuffed the
packets of blood back into the refrigerator. “But there is enough blood in here
to create a new person.”
looked over her shoulder at Ben and saw that all of the blood had drained from
his face. “Sorry,” he said, reaching for the wall for support. “I really don’t
you seem to know a lot about it.”
with the territory,” he said. “My parents are doctors.”
we should go back upstairs,” Noelle suggested, shutting the refrigerator door.
nodded, rose to his feet and dusted off his pants. He led the way back up the
steps. With one last look at the book, Noelle walked over to the large electrical
switch and flipped it downwards. When she reached the top, Ben’s fists were
shoved into his jean pockets, his frame rigid and skin pale.
you still want to try the attic?” he asked, handing her the flashlight.
have to.” Noelle took a deep breath and began trekking up the main staircase.
“But first I have to pee. I’ll look for a bathroom. Can you check on Kim?”
nodded. “Take your time. I’ll wait here with her.”
stomach eased as her bladder emptied into the pot. Pleasantly surprised that
the plumbing was still in order, she tore the first layer of toilet paper from
the roll and discarded it hoping that the layer underneath would be more
suitable. The white walls of the bathroom were stark and void of any
decoration. The combination shower and bathtub was stained and lacked a curtain
to hide its ugly nakedness. Pulling her pants up, she pushed the toilet handle
down and walked over to the sink.
soap on the ledge was caked in dust but it served its purpose. She splashed
water on her face and tried to clean the wound near her temple, massaging it
with soapy fingers. “That’s not so bad.”
She shrieked as Ben came rushing into the bathroom. He closed the door behind him and leaned against it, wide-eyed and trembling. “There’s someone else in the house,” he said.
Copyright © 2015 Regina Bethory. All Rights Reserved.
Interested in reading the whole thing? Laszlo (The Chronicles of Noelle, Book 1) is available here.