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19 May 2010

"The Stolen Mansion" Short Story


Thick patches of fog settled across the darkened streets on the shores of a river running through London. Stunning quiet had befallen the sleeping city as the two o’clock hour rang from the clock tower. A single light in the distance burned with intense enthusiasm, fighting valiantly to stay alive in the blistering cold.

Protected by a thin sheet of glass, the candle flickered earnestly in a window of the largest house on the east side of the river. Every other house from the river to the horizon sat dark and quiet, alone. Tiny signs of life appeared amid the harsh winter silence as a shadow sauntered through the glowing window of the three-story mansion.

A woman’s hand took hold of the light, grabbing the tarnished silver base of the candlestick. Things from her childhood came into focus. A worn rag doll with blonde hair and brown eyes caught her attention. It was nestled on the side of a familiar music box.

The tune had long since faded from the chipped heirloom but the horses on the carousel continued to spin with ease. A smile spread across her face as she twirled the toy with a finger.

These hidden and long-forgotten treasures reminded her of happier times but nothing could quiet her building anxiety; nothing could wipe the reason for entering the mansion’s bone-chilling attic from her weary mind. She pointed the warm light in a black corner of the room, tightening her shawl around her shivering and delicate body. The winter breeze found cracks in the wall, cracks big enough to send gusts of torment through the creaking boards. Her hand continued to shake with fright.

Her large, innocent eyes widened at the thought of finding anything out of the ordinary in the attic. Maybe the noise she heard was as simple as a cat trapped in the eaves of the house or, better yet, a tiny family of birds? There was no reason to unnerve herself in her normal fashion, both will and courage slipping slowly from her body toward the cold hard floor.

She breathed a sigh of relief as the faint candlelight revealed old bedding bundled in the dark corner.

A part of her wanted to giggle at her silliness. How could someone become so frightened and work herself up into a frenzy over a thump in the hours past midnight? Those hours always seemed to heighten fear in everyone, she supposed.

As she turned on her heel, one hand still on her racing heart, she braced herself. Once solid and firm beneath her feet, the floor had become slippery. After almost losing her footing, the young lady turned her light downward. The bottom of her brown leather shoe dripped red.

Gulps of breath lodged in her throat. She wanted to scream but realized she could scarcely breathe. Her nightdress played in the shallow pool of blood at her feet.

Slowly, the candle’s light followed the trail of thick blood to the bundle of blankets. Somewhere beneath the aged family quilt, something was bleeding. Her heart pounded louder than ever as she bravely reached out her free hand.

The thick quilt, made heavier as it soaked, clung to its victim as the young woman tried to tear it away. Every drop of life drained from her body as she saw what rested beneath—

“Father!” she gasped and sank to her knees. Wrapping her arms around the old man’s neck, she attempted to stir him from his sleep. “Father! Father, wake up,” she begged.

Her hands became marked by his blood as she held him tight. But a footstep in the distance behind her ended the moment of silence.

The fear of losing her father quickly quelled to the fear of losing her own life. Whoever brutally murdered her father knew he was not alone in the huge house. The attacker would come after her, too. She had to run and get help.

As she got to her feet, she saw the silhouette of a hooded person. Clearly a man, the figure loomed over her, waiting it seemed. He gripped something tightly in one hand and soon bludgeoned the weapon across her dainty face. Her cheekbones shattered like brittle porcelain. Without so much as a whimper, she fell to the floor, killing the struggling light from her candle.

The mysterious intruder dropped the young woman’s music box near her fallen body as he picked up the quilt that covered her father. With both occupants of the house hidden in the attic, the house and their fortune, if they had any, would be his.

Through tiny slivers of moonlight, he managed to mop up his mess in the dark attic. He placed the heavy blanket atop both father and daughter with extra care and locked the door behind him.

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