The clock next to her bed read 4:00 AM and all was quiet except for the storm still raging outside. Jennifer felt a little restless especially after her first night. She decided to get up and maybe take a walk so she would think about that first night to ease her mind. So with a burning curiosity so she looked around the rather large bedroom and while exploring her walk-in closet she noticed a silk hooded cloak in the closet and tried it on. Amazed at how well it fit her she checked herself in the mirror.

Oh wow look at this clasp. I’ve never seen anything like this.

She clasped the cape at the neck. It looked like two Gothic winged cherub angels. This is a bit heavy but understandable as it appears to be made of wool with silk lining. This must be from the Victorian Renaissance era. I’ve seen things like this only in movies.

“Oh I so have to try this. Besides I bet its cold out.” Seeing her reflection in the mirror Jennifer smiles and her mind turns to wondering about Shaldorn Manor and Castle grounds.

Wow this is gorgeous; it is a shame people stopped wearing this kind of stuff.

Her curiosity drove her to explore more of Shaldorn Manor. Continuing through to the hallway just outside the bedroom which led to a stairwell leading downstairs to the kitchen, the opposite end of the kitchen showed a double doorway which lead to a patio area.

Stormy out tonight, and with lightning and thunder

She shielded herself from the rain with the hooded cape and walked over toward an iron railing. She opened the small gate with Gothic railing and onto what looked like a garden area. The trellised moonlight through the treetops was more than enough visibility to reveal the flashlight left by the grounds-keeper. She picked up the flashlight and tested it. Oh good it works

Better take this with me in case I need it

Lighting revealed moss clinging in the shade of the ancient walls like a straggly beard. The once proud turrets had crumbled in places giving the impression of a bedraggled ruin. Its battlements glistened with the flashes of lighting in the cold fall air, their ragged outlines blending into the rocks behind. Windows like great slits in the thick walls, central open air courtyard, and a pond choked with weeds, Shaldorn Manor reflected in the pond. The trees surrounded the Manor like great armies defending their citadel. Their armored trunks and branches reached out in the air as if to protect the grounds. This great expanse of green enhanced the Manors creepiness and beauty as its portcullis made out of hard iron guarded its passages. The grey stone outer walls seemed eerie in the night.

The symphony of the lighting and thunder, and the eerie sensation of an ominous present being veiled behind the darkness, watching her every move caused her heart to beat faster. It was so acute; she could feel eyes examining her frame. She went inside a door across from the garden leading into another part of the Manor. All at once, a fierce gust of wind blew through, rippling the mighty oaks surrounding her, and chilling her to the bone.

Startled she made my way through a doorway at one of the tower ruins and into a long hallway. With her hand she flapped the water droplets off my cloak and pulled it over my head. The storm outside subsided at least for now. Reaching the other end she noticed a staircase leading down. The moon cast a silver light onto the stairs. Adding more light with the flashlight gripping it tight, and with fearless intrepidation she began the descent down the ancient stone staircase. The cold damp air wrapped around her like a heavy coat of chain mail as the light from the flashlight revealed what appeared to be an extensive room with shelves at one end.

This room is very old

The dampness of the room gave way to an occasional rat scurrying about. At one end of the room was a massive wine cellar filled with bottles some of which appeared dusty but others clean with labels facing up as though someone took great care of it. Furniture in the room was covered in white cloths dusty from their lack of use. At the opposite end of the room was what appeared to be a doorway of some sort? As she approached it the light of the flashlight she carried revealed a shadow in the corner which drew nearer, silent coming closer and closer.

I wonder if it’s one of the staff

“Hello, John, Cindy is that you?”

Boy it’s getting cold in here

Straining her eyes to see the dark apparition across the room, a clutching fear possessed her. Pressing her hand against her chest, she tried in desperation to slow its rapid pounding. The figure paused in mid-step as she held her breath for a moment. It frightened her sending shivers down her spine. There was a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, telling her to run. She tried to still her escalating panic but told herself she was safe for the moment.

Hesitating hands outstretched a sensation passed through her body and she felt piercing cold fill her. Gasped hair standing straight on her body, shock and fear occupied her immediate thoughts. She wondered could it be a ghost or maybe this place is feeding her imagination. What was that?

She continued walking toward the door at the other end of the room. Opening the door led her outside. The night air had a chilling bite to it and she gave an involuntary shiver tightening the cloak around her. Rain pelted the top of her head except for the streaks of lightning scattering across the heavens. Walking toward an area of the Manor property she’d never seen before she noticed a gate.

Reaching out she could hear the crack of the heavy, iron gates splicing the sound of thunder around her as she pulled it shut. As she walked through the garden toward a bench at the other end, the cottonwood trees loomed tall and dark along the side, casting weird shadows from the flashes of lightning. Each burst of lightning silhouetted the gargoyles atop the corners of the mansion against a dazzling display of light in the sky.

Something caught the corner of her eye and she swept her flashlight in wide arcs around her, wondering if the lightning was playing tricks on her. Or was she imagining things. Sitting down on the rotting wooden bench seat, she had a good view over the whole of Bonnyshire. Spread below her the lights from the houses speckled the darkness like fireflies. The thunder started up again this time much closer. She jumped as an explosion cracked the air, lighting stretches across the night sky in a display like an outstretched hand.

Frightened she decided to get back to my room and get some sleep. It’s late I better get back

She headed back inside and up the stairs, down the hall and through the kitchen back to my room.

I’ll start finding out more about this tomorrow.

It was morning; the sunbeams shown through the bedroom window like a flashlight in the fog, she opened the window crisp fall air filled the room. Today after breakfast I will get a plan together and a to-do list. Maybe I can find out more about this Witherston fellow.

Entering the dining room she sees John sitting reading a local paper “Good morning John” she said with a smile “Ah good morning Jennifer”” John smiled back

“Oh man I’m so hungry, you wouldn’t believe the day I had yesterday. Oh and last night was stormy. Lightning streaked across the skies and I could see Bonnyshire below. It was something let me tell you.” she kept talking while eating like she hadn’t had any food in days.

“Interesting article I better keep this one. Well it looks like you’re hungry. Feeling any better?” John said smiling

Chewing her food and sipping the juice she started telling John about her day yesterday. “Mm I was in the library and well…I was grabbing one of the books when I noticed what looked like a small door. I practically crawled in and found a small box, inside was a key and a poem. I wasn’t sure what the key was for exactly but I needed to exchange some American money anyway so Cindy asked the driver that brought me here to drive me in town to the bank. While I was there I met Mr. Driscoll who knew my uncle and it turns out it was a key to my late uncle’s lock box.”

“Wow you had quite the day yesterday; sorry I missed all the excitement. Hidden passages huh, didn’t know there were any but it doesn’t surprise me with this place.” John said grinning

“Well it turns out the key I found inside the wall was to open the bank box but it didn’t open the ancient lock box inside of it.” “

Another box…wow” John said

John’s eyes now focused on me setting the newspaper down leaning in. “It seems Mr. Driscoll knew that the ancient lock box needed its own key which he pulled out from his desk. He told me my uncle gave it to him”. “Ok yeah and?” said John

“Mr. Driscoll handed me the key and I opened the metal box. Inside was a good sized piece of old leather and other papers”. John’s eyebrows squinting now

Jennifer leaned in toward John looking around not wanting anyone to hear our conversation. “There is old writing on it but I can’t make out what it is saying and a code on the leather with a man and a shovel and what looks like a headstone”.

“Strange”, John said

“We could take it to my friend at the University. He is a pretty good linguist and scientist. I would be happy to go with you if you’d like.”

“I would really appreciate that John”. Looking into Jennifer’s soft blue eyes John begins to realize there may be more here than friendship. But he knows for now she needs a friend. Jennifer was to learn there were more mysteries, more intense surprises awaiting her than she ever dreamed. Her talents and strengths were about to be stretched beyond her imagination.

Would she triumph?