Isla has had one hell of a morning. She walks into her apartment after being “let go” from her job as a recreation assistant at the assisted-living home she has worked at for the last three years. The reason she has been fired is for going on vacation for two weeks and sudden complaints have come up. Things like “walking around aimlessly, and not putting equipment away” were mentioned. The funny thing is Isla’s “walking around aimlessly” was going to interview new seniors as her supervisor had told her to. The “equipment not being put away” started when they hired this new assistant. She left all of her things out and never cleaned them up, leaving Isla to do it. Because of that she didn’t have time to put away any of her own equipment. She asked for help from both her supervisor and the other assistant but never got it. Funny right?
Honestly, she could care less what the idiot general manager thinks of her. But that’s not what is bothering her. As she straightens out her striped sweater, she feels her heartbeat increase after what just happened to her.
A Ford 4x4 pick up truck nearly runs her over as soon as she got to her apartment building. It dashes through a red light like she isn’t even there! It’s astounding how many bad drivers are in Calgary, Alberta. She sighs and goes to make herself a cup of chai tea to calm herself down. The hot spicy tea already has her insides warming up again and her heart settling down. Now Isla can focus on her dream of being a blogger. She happily thinks of that as she puts her jacket into the coat closet.
Isla walks to her work desk and looks out her window while she drops her mail beside her computer. It is so rainy and foggy today that it is spooky. It is October, so it stands to reason that it should look scary outside with Halloween coming up. She walks back to her desk to check her mail, only to find an intricate invitation addressed to her. Intrigued, she opens it and reads.
“Dearest Isla Brennan, you are cordially invited to a luxury retreat at Thorn Manor at 5:00 PM, Friday, October 23. Prepare for a week of fine dining, elegant accommodations, and ultimate relaxation. The address is as follows: 18673 Viewfaire Drive South. Bring this invitation. See you there.”
There is no name of the sender on this invitation but Isla decides to accept this offer. Who knows? Maybe it will be a great first blog post.
utside of the address, Isla sees a ten-foot black wrought iron gate with six other people standing there. She gets out of her car and walks towards the other people.
“Is this the retreat for Thorn Manor?” She inquires to the group.
“It is dear.” Says the short red-headed sharply-dressed lady that looks to be in her sixties. “I am so psyched that we get to be here!”
“Speak for yourself.” A grim-looking business man with slicked black hair in an Armani suit snaps. “How the hell is there no reception out here?!”
Isla raises an eyebrow at the man and says, “Wow!”
“I’ll say.” Says a middle-aged gentleman with a friendly face and a round belly. He looks from the man to Isla and gives her a friendly smile while holding out his hand to her. “Hi. I’m Dennis Murray but my friends call me Duke.”
As she shakes his hand, Isla gives him a smile. “Hi. I’m…”
Suddenly, the intercom to the left of the gate interrupts with static that soon turns into a feminine voice saying, “Good evening guests. Welcome to Thorn Manor, please come in.”
The gates shutter and with a screech, they slowly open towards the fog. The six people including Isla reluctantly step forward through the gates. The fog seems to lift and they see a grand ranch-style mansion before them. It looks like a haunted house to the extreme.
“I’ve never seen a place like this.” Isla says silently to herself.
“Oh I know!” An elderly woman with a cane hears her as she walks beside her. “It looks like all those glamorous mansions you see on TV.”
Isla raises an eyebrow to a woman, they clearly have different tastes but when Isla takes a second look at the manor, she could see why the woman would think so. It is beautiful in a dark, gothic kind of way. Isla silently orders herself to give this place a chance.
On the front stoop, greeting them are two people. One of them is a tall slender man with an emaciated face that looks like a pale shrunken head and big glassy eyes bulging out like a bugs. He wears a black suit and tie with an impeccably clean shirt. To the left is an elegantly dressed woman in a fuchsia lace dress that shows her slim figure. She has a short platinum white bob hair cut, pale blue eyes, and fair ethereal skin. The way this woman stands with her hands on her hips shows that she is a woman in charge. Isla feels both drawn to and intimidated by this woman.
The lady in lace walks down the steps with a wave of her hand and says. “Welcome honored guests. I trust you all have your invitations?”
With her inquiry, everyone pulls out their invitations and waves them in the air. The tall man stands still and blinks at the guests. The lady in lace, lets out a gentle smile and gracefully moves to the side. “Come on in. You must be chilled to the bone. We have some dinner and drinks waiting for you in the dining room.”
The guests bend down to pick up their suitcases when the lady tells them. “Oh please leave your belongings. My associate will take them to your rooms. Please come inside.”
The business man and Duke walk up the entry stairs followed by the red-headed woman, a young brunette woman in jeans, and an elderly man coming up behind. Isla sees the elderly woman with the cane struggle up the stairs. She runs to her and holds out her arm.
“Would you like a little help?” Isla says thoughtfully.
“Oh, yes. Thank you honey.” The woman says with a look of both gratitude and joy. As they slowly climb up the stairs together, the woman asks her. “Do you always help complete strangers?”
“Well I know what it’s like to need help but be afraid to ask for it.” Isla explains. “I used to work in a care-facility but now I am looking to be a writer.”
“Oh how lovely!” She says smiling as they reach the top of the steps. “I was a writer. I mean it was mostly short stories and articles as opposed to a novel but that is what I was.”
Isla smiles at the lady and holds out her hand. “My name is Isla Brennan.”
“Rosie Cartier.” The lady shakes her hand. “Thank you for your assistance dear. Now let’s go inside and chew on some chow. I’m starving.”
Isla laughs but before she goes inside, she looks out to see the tall man gather three of the biggest pieces of luggage on the ground. It’s funny how she didn’t notice him walking past her and Rosie on the stairs. The way he picks up the luggage is a bit odd. He doesn’t struggle with any of them and the way he held them on his shoulders makes him look like a circus performer. He is clearly stronger than Isla originally thought. When he looks towards her, she turns away and walks into the house towards the dining room.
Everyone including the lady stand in the dining room. It is a simple room with brown walls but it has beautiful pictures and antiques placed randomly. Isla sees a long serving table with some small appetizers sitting on a few trays. A plate with cheese, cooked asparagus and three different tomatoes drizzled with balsamic vinegar around the plate. The next plate has a puff pastry with cooked tomatoes, shaved parmesan, and ham with a small salad beside it. Lastly, a wooden tray contains a variety of pastries with butter, jam, and a variety of berries. It is the most beautiful looking meal that Isla has ever seen. She grabs a plate and dishes up a little bit of everything. It smells as good as it looks. At the end of the table she grabs a china cup that looks like an antique tea-reading cup to get some tea. Isla smiles at it and makes a silent promise to get this tea cup as often as possible.
The lady in lace turns to the crowd and speaks. “I’m sure you all are wondering why you are here. I will tell you that you all have been randomly selected to enjoy our retreat here which I hope you will find most comfortable. Why don’t we go around the room and introduce ourselves? What is your name and what made you accept our invitation?”
The lady looks to Dennis sitting beside her as he sips his scotch. He nearly chokes on it when he realizes that the woman is hoping he would start.
“Oh! Excuse me.” He coughs and wipes his mouth with his sleeve. “Alright. My name is Dennis Murray but please call me Duke. It’s been a long time since I’ve been on vacation, so I decided to accept this invitation in order to relax and enjoy retirement.”
Everyone murmurs their greetings to Duke as he nods to everyone and shakes the hand of the red-headed lady next to him. Next, she is the one that speaks. “My name is Mary Peters and I am an artist who will never retire. It’s all I am and all I know. I am here to get some much-needed inspiration for my next exhibit.”
A smile and a nod come from everyone around her except for the brooding business man. He clearly knows that he is next but to save himself from any further frustration he speaks up. “Okay, well. My name is Frank Weller and I am a lawyer. My boss forced me to be on vacation or else I would be fired, so here I am. Excuse me I have to find somewhere in this hole that has a phone signal.”
Frank, strides away from the circle in a very unfriendly manner that leaves everyone in the room staring at him in awe. Asshole. Isla says in her mind, finding herself disliking Frank a little more. After the shock of Frank’s departure, the group look to her as she realizes it is her turn to speak.
“My name is Isla Brennan and I am a brand-new blogger. I’m here to write a great first post for my new blog.”
“What’s it called dear?” Mary asks running a hand through her messy red hair.
“I’m not sure yet.” Isla says. “But it will be all about traveling to strange and interesting places.”
“Sounds good.” The elderly man with small square glasses next to her says. “My name is Herbert Lowell and as you probably guessed I am retired. I used to be a car salesman. I am here because I am curious as to why I was invited.”
“Yes, why are we here, Miss…” Rosie asks the lady in lace. “Oh, what was your name dear?”
“Please put all your worries to rest.” The lady in lace says calmly resting her palms together. “I assure you we sent these invitations out randomly. We just picked random addresses and you were the ones selected. It is nothing more than mere luck. Now please continue, I would like to learn more about everyone.”
Everyone looks to Rosie and she introduces herself. “My name is Rosie Cartier and I am a writer like the young Isla over there. I am here because at my age you are lucky to get an adventure like this.”
The room looks to the last person who hasn’t spoken yet. She blushes and says. “My name is Carla Vaclavik and I am a firefighter. I have never been on a trip of my own and after fighting that devastating blaze down town, I figured I could use some me time.”
The lady nods at her and looks around at everyone again. “Welcome to all of you. If you are finished with your meal, I will be happy to lead you all to your rooms. Please just leave your dishes on the table. I will take care of them.”
With another graceful wave of her hand, the lady leads everyone up the stairs across from the front door. The rest of the people follow her but Isla stays behind and looks suspiciously at the lady in lace. No one seems to realize that she did not answer anyone’s questions nor did she give them her name. Never-the-less she follows the group up the stairs, curious to see what is next.
The lady opens the bedroom door and turns the lights on in Isla’s room. As she steps aside, Isla walks in and her breath is taken away. The room is darkly romantic. It has two small crystal chandeliers over the bed, a dark cushioned headboard with equally dark curtains. Each of these decors have different colors and styles that she did not know would go together but it does. There is a wood burning fireplace with a floral chair in front of it. Over the mantle are little hanging plants in various little birdcages that is peculiar but beautiful. The bed itself has floral, fluffy, and solid pillows. The comforter is completely black with a white fuzzy shawl at the bottom on it. Isla could not wait to get in that fluffy bed later. She sees the slender man put down her laptop bag and suitcase beside the desk.
“Thank you for bringing up my things.” Isla walks up to him happily. He looks at her, grunts, and walks out of the room.
The lady in lace looks at him and turns to face Isla. “I’m sorry about him. He’s mute and can’t speak.” She explains with a warm smile. “I hope enjoy the room.”
Isla turns towards the lady to ask some questions but she is already gone with the door closed behind her. Isla goes to the door and puts her ear to it. She listens to the lady showing another guest their room. She will have to catch the lady in lace later but for right now she really wants to get started on her notes for her blog post. She grabs her laptop from its bag and sets it up on her bed.
As the minutes slowly change, her eyes get heavy and her sight gets blurry. She did not want to stop typing on her computer but she falls asleep before typing her last paragraph.
That night, darkness runs thick in the house and everyone is in their rooms sound asleep. Everything is silent until a light tapping on the wall starts. It’s unnoticeable at first but it gradually turns into loud rhythmic banging. Isla sits up groggily in her bed with her eyes not yet focused. She hears this banging right out side of her door and then it makes its way down the hall. It sounds so strong like it’ll burst down the walls.
“What the hell is that?” She says to herself as she takes off her glasses. A loud scream fills the room and seems to surround her. Isla jumps out of her bed and shouts. “What’s happening?!”
She rushes out of her room and sees the other guests in the hall as well. There is no more banging but by the look of their faces, everyone has heard the noises.
“Did you all hear that?” Mary says breathlessly running a hand through her red messy hair.
“The banging and the scream? Yeah!” Carla worriedly says. “Someone must be in trouble.”
Isla makes a note of who all is in the hallway. Duke with his concerned face is present, along with Frank who has an annoyed look on him. Carla and Mary are there and so is Herbert who is fiddling with his glasses. But Rosie isn’t out of her room. Is she the one who screamed?
The lady appears, holding a candle stick and the tall slender man behind her at the end of the hallway. Even in her demure lacy white nightgown, the lady looked absolutely perfect. She opens red lips and says, “Is everything alright here?”
“We heard banging and a scream.” Duke says concerned.
“And Rosie isn’t out of her room.” Isla says. “I think we should check on her.”
“Good idea.” Mary nods towards Isla.
The six of them go towards her room and Carla knocks on her door. “Rosie? Are you alright?”
Just then, Rosie opens her door, dressed in a long blue floral nightgown with her hair all done up in rollers. She puts on her glasses and says cheerfully, “Oh! Are we having a slumber party?”
“No Rosie.” Isla shakes her head and asks her. “Did you hear banging or a scream?”
“No.” Rosie calmly says, shaking her head. “I take my hearing aids off at night. I was just about to use the bathroom when I put them on and heard you all knock at my door.”
“Oh, we are sorry ma’am.” Herbert politely says. “We were just concerned.”
“So, if that wasn’t you screaming, then who was it?” Frank said agitatedly, “And what was with that damn banging?!”
“If you will allow me to explain.” The lady in lace says standing a few feet behind the group. “As you are all aware, the house is very old. What you have heard was the pipes banging against the wood and the scream was the steam escaping from them. It happens a lot.”
Everyone looks at each other, knowing that is the most logical explanation for what’s happened. They all retire to their rooms while Isla looks back at the lady and the man heading towards the attic which she assumes is their quarters. What the lady said about the pipes makes sense to Isla but she can’t shake that there is something more going on here. She knows she will have to find out.
The next morning, Isla walks into the dining room with everyone already sitting at the table. The lady in lace and the tall slender man bring out the food for the breakfast buffet. The lady wears a purple lace dress that stops just above her knees with a V-neckline. The tall slender man wore the same suit he did yesterday.
The lady in lace looks to Isla and smiles. “Good morning Isla. I trust you slept well despite the interruption from the pipes.”
“I slept fine thank you.” Isla smiles at the lady and takes a seat beside the head of the table next to Duke. “I hope you all weren’t waiting for me.”
“No we just got here ourselves.” Duke says cheerfully to her.
“Just don’t ask for a fucking cup of coffee around here.” Frank says crossly.
“Language!” Mary looks to him and nudges him with her elbow. “We’ll be having everything in a moment. Why don’t you just chill out!”
“No kidding!” Isla says to him. “Don’t be so rude!”
“Please everyone.” The lady in lace placatingly puts her hands up to calm the table. “Breakfast is ready and there is plenty of tea and coffee for all you.”
Everyone gets up and goes to the long table serving as a buffet. In the line, Isla grabs a plate and looks at all the food. She decides on going for the mushroom, spinach toast with poached eggs on top. There is also fruit salad so she grabs that to go with her selected breakfast. With her plate loaded up, she grabs her cutlery and sits back down in her chair. As she eats her eggs, Isla notices that Rosie isn’t with them.
“Hey. Where’s Rosie?” Isla asks the table.
“Probably sleeping off her meds.” Frank says curtly.
“You hush up young man.” Herbert says pointing to him. “Have some respect!”
Everyone else ignores Frank and looks to the lady. “I’m afraid she had to leave on a personal emergency. I’m sorry for her but after breakfast, I would love to show you our garden.”
The guests murmur in agreement. Although suspicious of the lady, Isla loves the idea of touring around a garden. She just hopes that Rosie is okay. She goes back to eating her breakfast and joins in the jolly conversation with the other guests except Frank (of course). When everyone finishes their meal, the lady stands up and announces.
“Alright everyone. If you all would like to get your jackets, I will take your dishes and show you the garden.” She smiles as everyone stands up and goes up the stairs.
The tall slender man shoots her an unhappy look. She returns his gaze and says. “You know why I didn’t tell them the truth. We don’t want a mass panic on our hands.”
He grunts at her and starts picking up the dishes. She starts picking up the trays and following him into the kitchen. Silently they both clean up and say nothing to each other.
The lady in lace opens the door to a massive garden. Even to call it a garden isn’t quite the word it’s more like a jungle. The entry is a circle of stepping stones with some small trees around it. After the circle there are a variety of bushes both exotic and common. Every now and again there are flowers of every color to be seen. It is the perfect place to have a garden party.
Isla walks down the steps in awe. She looks to the left to see a pure white stone statue in the shape of an angel. It is beautiful and yet there is something spooky about it. It’s like it is going to open its mouth and talk to her.
“What’s with this statue?” Isla asks, turning to the lady in lace.
She points to the tall slender man and smiles. “He makes them in his spare time.”
“You are very talented.” Isla says to him. He doesn’t reply but the tall slender man’s mouth changes to what could be described as a smile as he nods towards Isla.
“Everyone. Feel free to explore these gardens. You might find your peace of mind here.”
The group all go in different directions. Isla and Duke head to the northwest, Frank goes to the north, once again trying to find a signal for his phone. Mary and Carla go to the northeast while Herbert walks inside alone. The lady in lace watches everyone walk away and turns to look at her pensive colleague.
“You know the plan.” She says to him. “If we stick with it, everything will be fine. Be sure to check the pipes and the walls. We don’t need outside forces upsetting our guests.”
He nods to her and turns to walk back inside while she turns, looking towards the garden. She knows that they have a plan but she prays that they will be able to stick to it. There has to be no interference or else this will all be for not.
Isla and Duke walk around looking at all the exotic plants. Isla kneels down on the ground to take a closer look at a spiky red flower that she recognizes. It’s called a blood lily but it is not native at all to Calgary. It originates in Africa, mainly around Senegal. How can it grow here? She wonders.
“It’s amazing this garden.” Duke says and Isla turns to look at him. He has a peaceful but sad look on his face. “My wife and I were going to travel the world. She wanted to see all the gardens of the world. She loved plants.”
“Loved?” Isla inquires. “She doesn’t anymore?”
“Delilah died six years ago of a stroke.” He sighs out. “I miss her everyday. Her smile, her kindness, her sense of adventure.”
As Duke shakes his head, Isla stands up, and walks towards him. She takes his hand in hers and says. “I’m so sorry Duke. You must have had a beautiful life together.”
“We did.” He says, smiling sadly at her and gives her hand a squeeze. “I treasure every moment I spent with her.” Duke pauses for a quick moment and looks towards the path. “Shall we continue? I’d love to see what else is in this garden.”
“Me too.” Isla says smiling at him.
He leads the way as they walk across a bridge above a small pond. Both of them notice that the plants get more exotic as they walk along the path. Duke and Isla walk out to the clearing and get a perfect view of the Thorn Manor.
“You know this is one adventure I don’t think I’ll ever forget.” Duke says smiling at Isla.
“Me either. I always wanted an adventure like this but I never…” Isla interrupts herself when she sees a horrific sight.
At the window, Herbert stands looking out, as if he’s staring out in space. Behind him is a dark translucent apparition with long black stringy hair, colorless eyes, and a mouth that is inhumanly long. The sight of its teeth protruding out of its chin has Isla fearing the worst. Without saying anything to Duke, she points to the window. The shocked, fearful look on his face says that he sees it too. The two of them start to run towards the house.
When they reach inside, they frantically call out Herbert’s name. The lady in lace walks towards them, sees their worried faces and asks in concern. “What is going on?”
“Something is in Herbert’s room!” Isla says frenziedly. “I think it’s going to hurt him!”
Isla and Duke dash up the stairs, and run down the hallway to Herbert’s room only to find his door is locked. Isla shakes the door knob but it just won’t budge. Duke tries to break down the door by shoving his upper body into it but it just won’t budge.
“What’s going on?” Frank says walking up to Isla and Duke.
“Herbert’s in trouble!” Isla says. “There is someone in his room.”
Frank doesn’t think twice, He throws himself into the door with Duke. It takes three tries but they manage to break the door open. They see Herbert lying on the bed like he isn’t in trouble at all but fast asleep. Isla runs to him and shakes him awake.
“Mister Lowell? Herbert?” She says frantically, “Are you alright?!”
Herbert grumbles awake and looks to Isla. “Wha…wha… What is it?”
Isla looks at him confused. “There was someone in here with you. You were right by the window.”
“No after our hostess showed us the garden. I felt a little tired, so I came up here for a nap. I’ve been sleeping ever since.” Herbert says sleepily.
“You see. Nothing is wrong.” The lady in lace walks into the room. “He’s just fine. The only people that are here are us.”
“I’m not the only one who saw this!” Isla says, frightened of the way the people in the room are looking at her.
“No, you’re not.” Duke says calmly walking to her and holding her hands. “I saw the same thing you did but are we sure of what we saw?” He pauses as Isla looks at him and says nothing. “Maybe what we saw was some trick in the light. It happens.”
Isla sighs as she is quieted. She looks to Herbert and says. “I’m so sorry. I really thought you were in danger.”
Frank mutters angrily under his breath and Duke walks out of the room with the lady in lace. Isla is about to leave too but Herbert grabs her hand. She turns to face him and sees him smiling at her.
“Thank you, for coming to rescue me.” Herbert says and pats the bed beside him, inviting her to sit down. As she does so, he continues. “There are not enough people who care enough to break down a door for someone they barely know. Don’t ever lose that. There should be more people in the world like you.”
Isla tears up a bit as she gives him a big smile. She can’t remember the last time someone actually thanked her for her heart being in the right place. She squeezes his hand lightly to thank him. She stands up and faces him.
“Do you feel well enough to come for tea?” Isla says. “Apparently our hosts are going to throw one for us.”
“No I’m going to skip that. When you get to my age all you want to do is rest more and eat less.” Herbert says with a combination of wisdom and amusement.
“Okay.” Isla turns away but stops at the doorway, “Herbert. Thank you.”
He happily waves at her and then gets comfortable on his bed again. She closes the door behind her even though it is slightly off its hinges and starts walking down the hall. She sees the lady in lace leaning up against the wall, waiting for her. She had her arms crossed and a small smile on her face. Isla looks at her, feeling ashamed and starts walking with her.
“I’m sorry about your door.” Isla says as they walk. “I’ll be happy to pay for the damages.”
“Oh don’t worry about it.” They lady says, “We can fix that easily. That is the benefit of this old house. It survives.”
“I really am sorry for the trouble I caused.” Isla says again. The lady puts a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“Anyone would have done the same. I would have too.” She says. “Now why don’t you come down and have some tea.”
Isla nods at her, knowing that is just what she needs right now.
After tea, Isla goes back outside and looks out to the garden. She enjoyed the tea and the company, even with nasty Frank. After the scones and little cakes, Isla feels her food coma come in waves. She can see how this garden could be tranquil but there is something eerie about it. Isla can’t shake this feeling that when she steps out into this garden, it’s like stepping into a cemetery. She descends down the stairs and looks to her left to look at that statue only to get an unpleasant surprise.
There isn’t one angel statue there now but two of them. They are very different. The first one she would describe as a feminine angel where as this new one is masculine. They both seem to be watching her. This really creeps her out. She turns and goes back into the house instead of going for another walk in the garden.
She walks into the living room to see Duke, Frank, Carla, and Mary all doing different things. Mary is sipping tea and reading a book. Frank is pacing while drinking a glass of straight scotch. Duke too is drinking scotch but he is sitting and doing a crossword while Carla is looking at the books in the bookshelf. Duke looks up at her and notices Isla’s distress.
“Are you alright, Isla?” Duke sets his puzzle down and walks towards her. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Again?” Frank says in a snarky manner.
“Shut up Frank.” Mary says putting her book down and going to Isla. Carla and Frank stay where they are but they look inquiringly at Isla.
“No nothing like that, I just saw another angel statue in the garden.” Isla says shakenly.
“So what?” Frank says.
“So what?” Carla says looking perplexingly at Frank. “Where did it come from? If that tall man made it how did he do it so fast? That is weird.”
Without another word, the five of them go out to the garden to see these statues. Isla leads them outside to garden where they are faced with the two immaculate angelic statues.
“Those faces. They seem so real.” Carla says shuddering.
“They’re not okay?” Frank abruptly says. “What is the big deal? He finished another statue. How is that weird?”
“That quickly?” Duke says, “And where did he keep it? Statues don’t just appear like this Frank. A hard-nose jerk like you would be the first to see that.”
“Hey old man! Don’t you call me a…” Frank aggressively points his finger at Duke only to be interrupted.
“IT MOVED!” Mary shrieked pointing at the masculine statue. “The statue! I swear I saw it turn its head.”
“I’d believe it.” Carla says. “These statues are too creepy and real.”
“Wait!” Isla says and looks at Mary’s book. “This is the collected works of Rosie Cartier?”
Mary gives the book to Isla and she studies it. It is so old that the cover of the book has pieces missing. Isla reads the publishing date which is 1957. The back cover has an old picture of Rosie in her youth. Isla’s heart stops in fear as she compares the picture to the angelic statue. The face and hair are completely identical.
Mary and Carla look at the picture and see it too. Duke and Frank come up behind and look at the picture as well. They could see the resemblance. It is undeniable.
“I’m sorry.” The lady in lace stands behind them wearing a black, sparkling lace dress with the tall slender man beside her looking mournful. They turn to face her as she continues. “We should have told you all. We just want to make this transition easier for you and not cause you all to panic. If you all would come inside, I’d be happy to explain everything.”
“Why?” Frank says striding towards the lady as if he is going to punch her but sticks his finger in her face. “So you can kill us all in there and turn us into your lawn ornaments? I don’t think so! I’m leaving, by force if necessary, and I’m going to get a fucking signal to call the cops!”
The lady puts up her hands trying to pacify Frank. “You’re being irrational. Listen we are not killers we are…”
“FUCK YOU!” Frank yells and striding towards the house. “I’m gone!”
Out of the sky a loud roar is heard. The grey clouds start swirling until what looks like a combination of a tornado and a clawed hand slowly appears out of the sky. The lady in lace gasps and the tall man’s eyes go wide with fright. Frank stops walking when he is halfway up the steps. He looks up fearfully at the tornado claw as it grabs him. He screams in pain as the nails dig into his torso like drills in the skin. His screaming continues as he is being pulled into the swirling clouds but stops after he vanishes.
Slowly a thick fog rolls over the stone fence of the garden. The lady fearfully orders. “Everyone inside! Now!”
Isla, Duke, Carla and Mary all start running towards the house with the lady waving them through. The lady comes up behind them while the fog slithers into the garden. She quickly runs into the house and bolts the doors.
“Lockdown the whole house. I’ll defend everyone in the living room.” The lady yells to the tall slender man inside the kitchen.
He grunts in response and races with long his spindly legs upstairs. The lady leads everyone into the living room before bolting all the windows with shutters. Everyone sits around the coffee table looking anxiously at the lady in lace. Her face is full of regret as she walks gracefully to the center of the room.
“I’m so sorry. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” She says sincerely. “I should have explained all this right from the start. I just didn’t want to frighten you all. The reason why you all are here is because you are recently deceased.” She says sadly while the people listen to her in silent shock. “My associate and I are called shades. We help people who have passed into the next realm whether they are good or evil. Its our job to see to it that you make it to the gates of the next world safely. Sadly, there can be interference.”
“Interference?” Isla asks.
“Demonic attacks, just like what happened to Frank.” The lady says.
The whole room goes quiet as the lady talks. “I don’t know how these demons broke the barrier. Did anyone here do some kind of spell work, get a curse placed on them, or conjure any spirits?”
“NO!!” The whole room shouts unanimously. They talk over each other when Carla pipes up, “Wait! Wait!”
Everyone goes silent when Carla lifts her hands up to say. “I remember that Frank was yelling and screaming in his room about how he should have taken up some corporate bitch’s offer and that this was the curse she placed on him. But now that I think about it, I think he might have said “witch” and not “bitch.” He just got so loud that I had to get out of my room for a while.”
The lady nods at Carla. “Yes, that would be why we are having troubles.”
Duke stands up and walks towards the woman. “So, we are all really dead?”
The lady in lace nods at him as she clasps her hands. “I’m afraid so.”
“Why didn’t you tell us sooner?” Isla asks gently.
“We set this up as a retreat because it helps people feel comfortable and safe. When they finally realize what has happened to them and that they are dead, the souls turn themselves into statues so they can remain safe on this journey. It can be a long and unpredictable one at that.” The lady says giving a dry smile, hoping that everyone would see the irony.
“So where will we end up?” Carla asks, suddenly looking like a lost child. “I don’t want to go to a horrible afterlife.”
“You all are good people.” The Lady in Lace says. “I have no doubts that there is a place for you in the Nether Realm but it is all up to you.”
A huge bang hits the back door and surprises the whole room. The lights in the chandelier start flickering like a lightning storm. Above the door is a small circular window and everyone sees the fog flow around it. The fog at the little window starts to swirl until a demonic face starts to take shape. The teeth are like the fangs of a wild beast, the evil eyes take on a jack-o-lantern shape, and the face itself looks like it belongs on a skeleton. As quick as it appears, it vanishes.
“We have to get rid of them.” The lady says to the tall slender man who appears on the stairway. He strides and grunts at her as he goes towards the door. She looks towards the guests and says. “All of you stay here. We can keep you safe but only if you stay in the house.”
With that, the four of them watch the lady and the tall slender man go out the front door. In minutes, they see a bright light flash out the slivers of the window like a camera flash. Isla guesses that is how they are fighting the demons outside. She turns and looks around the room to see her three companions with sad looks on their faces.
“I can’t believe it.” Carla whispers with tears streaming down her cheeks. “I guess I didn’t make it out of that fire. What will happen to my Mom, Dad, Sister, Boyfriend?”
Isla walks to her, sits beside her and holds her hand. Carla leans her head on her shoulder and sobs. Isla could not fight her own tears as they start flowing out of her eyes. “I know how you feel. I just lost my job and decided to follow my dream. Now that I think of it, I guess that truck didn’t miss me and I miss out on my dream.”
Duke walks over and sits next to Isla clasping his hands like he doesn’t know what to do with them. “I was going for a walk in my neighborhood. I found myself feeling very short of breath and a numbness going up my left arm. I thought it passed but clearly not. I came here because I thought I needed to find a way to relax.”
Mary who is sitting on the chair beside Carla leans towards the group and says, “I was setting up my space at the farmers market and I fell off the ladder. I was surprised that I wasn’t hurt but I seems I was.”
Mary reaches her hand and puts it on Carla’s shoulder. The four of them sit around and comfort each other. Carla dries her tears and pats Isla’s hand. She smiles and looks at everyone in the room.
“Thanks everyone.” Carla takes a breath. “There was so much I wanted to do. I wanted to get married, have a couple of kids, but I guess I did save lives that day.”
“You did.” Duke says. “You’re a hero. I am a firm believer that there is a special place in heaven for people like you who sacrifice their lives by saving someone else’s.”
Carla sighs and for the first time being there, looks completely content. “Whatever is next I’m ready now. I only hope my family will be okay.”
“They will be fine.” Isla says plainly.
Suddenly, Carla starts to glow from the inside out. Little lights like stars start to surround her as she smiles. In a small flash, Carla disappears into the lights. Everyone looks at where she once sat in awe.
“Where did she go?” Mary asks.
“I think she became a statue.” Isla says. “I think she is at peace.”
“How do you know?” Mary asks.
“I don’t for sure but that’s what the lady says that happens when we are at peace. Remember?” Isla replies.
A strong wind pushes up against the window and knocks over the barricades onto the floor. Isla looks outside to see the lady in lace fight off these creatures in the fog with these balls of light. It is almost like an acrobatic dance the way she manipulates them. The way they float around her and fly out towards the monsters, remind Isla of poi dancers. The tall slender man looks just as graceful. He has a long light in the shape of a sword. The way he twirls, thrusts, and reposts makes him look like a combination of a dancer and expert fencer. It is really something to see.
“We are all dead and we must move on.” Mary calmly sighs and Isla sees what she is doing. “I’m not afraid anymore, I’m ready to go to the next life.”
With a smile on her face, Mary starts to glow and disappear the same way Carla did. It’s just Isla and Duke left. With a sigh, she sits beside Duke. She doesn’t know what to say but he does.
“When my wife passed away.” He begins to tell her. “I was so lost.” He looks at Isla and smiles. “She was a lot like you, you know. Curious, brave, and never once gave up on life.” He takes her hand and continues. “If you ever go back to our realm. Don’t give up on your dreams and don’t give up on life. You want it? Fight for it.” He turns away from Isla, who is now in tears. “I can’t wait to see my wife again.”
A smile appears on his face as he vanishes. Suddenly, she finds herself feeling strong. Isla turns to the window and looks at the fog monsters outside, trying to get past the shades. This time she is no longer afraid of the demons. With this renewed strength she walks towards the front door.
While the lady and the man are still battling the demons, Isla bursts through the front door and looks towards the sky. She fearlessly looks at the demonic face in the clouds that took Frank. Isla pays no attention to the lady as she is running towards her yelling incoherently. All she could hear is the sound of her own heart beating as the demonic face hovers in front of her.
“You don’t frighten me.” She says plainly to the face. “You will never take me and you will never get into this house.”
The creature roars at her and lifts its massive claw to swipe at her but suddenly it stops as soon as a white light shines though the clouds. The creature turns its massive torso to look at the light. Slowly, the light trails up its body and it can’t move. It turns back to Isla and tries to strike her but instead its hand goes through her. She glares at the creature and in one motion, she pushes its face with the palm of her hand. The creature screeches in fear as it flies out towards the light. The demon wails in unbearable pain and shrivels into the light. The clouds slowly fade and the manor is surrounded by a bright blue sky.
The lady runs up to Isla and puts a hand on her shoulder. “Are you alright?”
“Yes.” Isla says smiling at her. “In fact, I’ve never been better. I think I’m ready to be in peace.”
The tall man walks up to the lady and she smiles amusedly at Isla. “Actually, with that ability you have just demonstrated by ridding this place of the cloud demon means you are very much alive.”
“Yes.” The lady explains. “No one who has passed has that ability, only the ones who are still meant to stay in the Earth Realm. With this new development, we can offer you a choice.”
Isla searches their faces and listens closely. “You can go back to your realm with some major irreversible damage to your body but be granted with a life of happiness and success. Or you can stay perished and come back with us to the Nether Realm where amazing things await you there. No judgements or punishments, just your choice.”
Isla thinks about this decision. It is going to be hard to go back but it could still be a great life or she can go and have a great afterlife. She remembers what Duke told her before he vanished. “Don’t give up on your dreams and don’t give up on life.”
Isla looks to the two shades with a teary smile and says. “I want to got back to Earth.”
The lady in lace smiles and the tall slender man nods happily to her. The lady holds on to her hands and the tall slender man puts his hand gently on her shoulder. Suddenly, he looks so kind and friendly. Isla has to ask him.
“How come you can’t talk?”
He shakes his head at her and looks to the lady to answer. “He doesn’t remember. But a fun fact about him. Kids love him, he has a way of putting them at ease. It’s sad that he looks so frightful when we are in the Earth Realm. He’s almost faceless. We don’t know why that is either.”
“I can see that.” Isla says smiling at him. She takes their hands and looks at both of them fondly. “I’ll never forget you.”
“We’ll see you again in another fifty years or so.” The lady says. “Be happy.”
Isla feels warm and safe as the light surrounds her. The lady and man vanish before her but she can almost see them waving to her.
A year later, Isla is paralyzed from the neck down. After she woke up in the hospital, her family and friends have been there to help her. With their support and extensive physical therapy that she still does, she manages to be able to use her left finger to steer herself around in her motorized chair. As she approaches at her desk, she is ready to make her next blog post.
“Alexa, start computer.” She orders to her mini google. “Alexa open a new word document.”
Isla never stopped writing. She talks into the microphone in her computer to create her article. Her blog has become a huge success. It is about the life of a paraplegic and how she finds joy in her everyday life. Also, her book that she named “Thorn Manor” has been a real hit around the world, so she never has to worry about money again. After she finishes her article, she gets ready to print it.
“Alexa, print word document.” She says and with a whir of her printer she drives herself over to the printer and has it fall to the tray in front of her.
With a happy sigh, she makes plans to go to the coffee shop across the street to meet up with Carla’s family whom she has befriended. Carla’s sister, Beverly is also her nurse by happy coincidence. She turns her motorized chair to see that Beverly is tidying up the kitchen and putting her dishes away.
“Beverly,” Isla calls. “You want to go to the coffee shop with me and visit the rest of your family?”
“Sure.” She smiles at Isla while she hangs up her dish towel. “But this time dessert is on me.”
Isla chuckles at her. Beverly and her family are really good to her. They always make her a new and unusual drinks that they set up for her to drink from a straw. The customers in the cafe have gotten used to seeing her around so she doesn’t even get the looks that she used to. In fact, everything is blissfully normal. It’s not perfect but her life has been wonderful with all the right people in her corner. She doesn’t know what tomorrow will bring but she knows that at this moment she is happy.
Special Thanks to: