Seasons of Time
by Miriam Khan
With her father and his new wife needing time alone, seventeen-year-old, Lara Voight, has no choice but to accept her trip to Spring Mills, Pennsylvania and stay with her step-mom’s grandmother.
On arrival, Gracen, is as cold and devious as her granddaughter, and Lara begins to experience a burning sensation. The only thing to soothe the horrid pain is the aromatic phantom scent that seems all too familiar.
And when Lara learns a girl named Penelope Le Rose was murdered at the mansion, she begins to explore the story further. Gracen is even willing to help, going as far as to show her a painting of Penelope which proves she is the spitting image.
Lara then finds Penelope’s Diary and becomes haunted by visions of a ghostly boy. He seems angry at her growing affection for another.
The more Lara reads the diary, the more she realizes certain people are beginning to resemble those described. One of whom could be Penelope’s killer, back to finish her, too.
The woman who was lying on her bed was beautiful, with hair a reddish gold and a face as pure white and soft as ivory silk. Although bestowed with love and cherished by those who knew her well, she lacked what most would have called “blessed with substantial wealth.” Even so, she imagined she could win the affections of an honorable prince, perhaps a count, a true royal, one who could sustain her heart and flourish within her dreams.
She laughed at her foolishness and stroked the small painting of her beloved, decorated in twine and rose petals she had weaved throughout the night. As she placed a finger to his lips, she marveled at the likeness, wondering if she truly was a gifted artist.
But it was inevitable she would paint him so. He was etched to her mind. Even with her eyes closed, she could see every curve of his exquisite face, the deep earthly heaven of his eyes and sensuous lips. He had betrayed her, yet she still hungered for his touch, she still longed for the press of his lean physique that made her feel light and feverish.
Of course, the wench he craved was rich and that helped her in gaining his attention.
But Elias was hers. Only hers. Not Penelope Le Roses’.
The young woman sat up and grimaced, distorting her cumbersome features.
With her mind set, she knew what to do. She would cast her spell and severe the bond he’d declared for the imposter once and for all.
The sun shifted to the right and I could see the miles of dusty roads and fewer cars up ahead.
Susan, my step-mom, who now even controlled Dad, had insisted I stay with her Grandmother Gracen for some of the summer. It was why my trip to Pennsylvania was a command I had to adhere to. It was why my teeth had been gritted throughout most of the drive from Delaware.
She had practically packed my bags and shooed me out the door this morning. Dad, as usual, wasn’t there to argue in my defense. Not that he would have anyway. He was a renowned surgeon, and had probably been placing a new kidney donor as I chugged out of our driveway; my suitcases packed and my date of return unknown.
Ever since Mom left to be with her personal trainer five years ago, Dad barely looked at me. He just noticed the poodle haired blonde he liked to call Flick, the matchstick woman he rushed all the way home to have candlelight dinners with as I sulked in my room.
Stopping at the nearest gas station that looked as if it hadn’t been visited since the seventies, I took a short break then set off again. It wasn’t long before dotted aspens and maples no longer concealed the entryway to Gracen’s large estate. Terra-cotta stone and the edges of a lavish roof were just about visible. I was told Gracen came from a line of successful merchants and oil diggers. It was why she considered herself a cut above the rest of the residents of Spring Mills. Her inherited wealth was the only thing to keep me from pulling up and hyperventilating.
After parking my cherry red Mustang in the pebble driveway, I took in the place. The mansion was breathtaking, complete with a cylinder roof crowned and decorated with golden leaf detail. It reminded me of a centerpiece to a castle.
My smile vanished though as soon as I got out of the car. I sensed I wasn’t alone. It was as though someone was watching me, and closely. When I spun around, there was no one around. I rubbed the goose bumps popping up all over my arms and shivered, gasping as a fiery heat crawled from my feet to my neck. The air turned sour next, as if the flowers in the crescent shaped garden were decomposing. The added smell of ash and smoke stung my eyes, and the driveway darkened. Slowly, the ground became paved, horse hooves clamored and large wheels of a carriage creaked to a halt. A barrage of screams erupted from the nearby forest as flames licked at my waist.
“Lara. Lara Voight!”
I turned and almost stumbled. The flames disappeared as a man in a black tuxedo came ambling down the stone steps: rake thin and with a silver goatee.
“Lara Voight?” he repeated, getting closer.
“Y-e-s,” I stuttered.
“Where are your things?” he asked, looking at my beat up car.
I tried to catch my breath. It was if the wind had been taken out of me. My legs even shook.
What had happened? Was it heat stroke? Five hours on the road could probably do that to a person. I could sue Susan. It was her idea I came all the way to Spring Mills while she “worked things out” with Dad. I was so easy to manipulate.
“In the trunk,” I muttered.
The man shook his head without a care for the way I was panting.
“Who are you anyway?” I tried to ask.
“Henry.” He held out his hand. His long, boney fingers reminded me of the creature from Alien. “You can give me the keys. I’ll take care of your luggage.”
I shakily did as asked. It wasn’t like I had anything to steal.
“You need to go and see Mrs. Miller before she takes her afternoon nap,” he said gruffly. “You’re late as it is.”
His aggravated tone wasn’t appreciated, but it helped me to feel less disturbed by what had happened.
Who was he? Why was there a strange old man in Gracen’s home? Was he a live in lover no one knew about?
“Who are you to Gracen?” I queried, trying to match his clipped tone.
“Her chau-ffer,” he said, as if I was too dim to know what that was.
He carelessly dragged my luggage out of the trunk and waved me away. He actually waved.
What a jerk.
I ran up the stone steps to blow off steam before I said something I would regret. I couldn’t make an enemy as soon as I arrived.
Inside, the house welcomed me with a cool draft that helped me to breathe a lot easier. The interior was less ambient than expected, with a dark hallway and distressed wood on the floor that was partially bordering the empty walls. My name was called out and I flinched, spinning around. Henry was nowhere in sight.
“Make yourself at home,” a nasally voice said from behind me, making me jump.
An old woman in a wheelchair zoomed my way. Salt and pepper curls bounced on broad shoulders. My heart stopped thumping when I realized it was just Gracen. She wasn’t overly wrinkly for someone close to her eighties.
“Stare all you like.” She harrumphed.
“Sorry. I was—”
“I’m not seventeen, but I have my uses,” she added seethingly, parking her wheelchair in front of me and lifting her chin. “As you can see, I’m Gracen Miller.”
“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Miller.”
“You may as well call me Gracen for now.” She grimaced. “Follow me, Lorna.”
Balling my hands into fists, I watched her wheel away from me. The woman was reminding me of Susan already.
The rectangular room we entered had mismatched furniture cluttered like bonfire piles on either side. Collectable items such as tribal masks, globes of the world, and ceramic Chinese figurines, confused the theme that might have been in mind when decorated.
Unlike the foyer, the walls were lined with watercolor paintings of naked damsels and huntsmen clasping large rifles. Beneath these were pleasant enough antique tables and cabinets. A chessboard beside a mustard leather couch, though, clashed with the pea green walls. It looked like someone hadn’t a clue how to coordinate.
“My husband, Charles, was a prideful hunter,” Gracen said as if to explain. “Would you care for a drink?” She began to pour a murky orange concoction into a tall blue glass.
I was suspicious of the act of kindness. It wasn’t like I got along with her granddaughter to be made to feel welcome. No. I felt extra wary. It was totally unfair of Dad to make me stay here in some stranger’s home. I was even more wary of Gracen’s choice of beverage. But the last few hours in my non-air conditioned cocoon had dried out my throat too much to care in the end.
I waited for her to hand me my drink. Gracen supped it herself before pouring herself another glass. I tapped my fingers on my pants as way to a hint that I was getting impatient. Gracen made the effort to glance at me before pouring a third drink, yet only halfway before roughly handing it to me. Then off she wheeled again, almost riding over my sandaled toes.
“Sit,” she commanded, pointing her crooked finger at a beige leather couch.
I sipped what was thankfully just ice tea.
“Let’s start with a few questions, shall we?” She eyed me.
I nodded, hoping to get on her good side; if she had one that is.
“Susan tells me you’re a spoiled brat.”
I almost spat out my drink but somehow kept smiling. “It depends on what you think is spoiled.”
She harrumphed in that horrible, condescending way of hers. “Do you bathe often?”
Seriously? “Um. Yes.”
“Do you smoke, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, dabble in drugs?”
Maybe this was literally a test. “No.”
Her bushy eyebrows rose in insinuation. “Are you promiscuous?”
My jaw dropped. “Excuse me?”
“Just answer the question.”
“No, you won’t answer the question, or no you’re not promiscuous?”
“No, I’m not promiscuous.”
“Have you ever dated?”
My cheeks burned. “No.”
“Excuse me? You need to speak up.”
“Why not?” She eyed me, this time a lot more thoroughly. “You’re attractive enough, I suppose.”
I sipped my drink. It was starting to leave a bitter aftertaste, a lot like Gracen. “I haven’t…found anyone…yet.”
“I must say you remind me of someone else. She was just as dark, tall, sinewy, but plentiful in the right places. She had your emerald green eyes, too, even your awfully small lips, but a confidence that made up for what she lacked.”
I gritted my teeth for what must have been the fifth time. I’d had a semester of psychology in high school. I tried to seem unfazed by her remarks.
“Really? Who was she?”
“A childhood friend of my mother’s.”
The strained conversation was interrupted by a petite woman who entered from an adjoining room. She patted her brown hair that was pulled neatly back into a ponytail. Her cheeks were ruddy, and her apron was stained with what looked like dark chocolate. She seemed Puerto Rican or Hawaiian. I was never any good at guessing someone’s ethnicity.
Gracen fluttered her fingers at the woman. “This here is Celine. She takes care of all the household chores and serves as my cook, nurse, and maid. The woman can do just about anything.”
Gracen’s compliment sounded chiding. Celine simply bowed like a lifelong servant.
“Celine will show you to your room,” Gracen added, wheeling across the room and out of another side exit.
So that was it? The end of my supposed welcome?
It was more like snoop at my innermost thoughts before leaving me with the housemaid. My summer was going to suck worse than I thought.
Celine had already headed to the dull foyer, explaining the ground rules and what each room contained in her timorous voice. There was a library, a parlor, a ballroom and dining area; a kitchen, downstairs bathroom, pavilion, tea garden, and one elevator.
Elevator? So that was how the old ogress got up and down the stairs.
The house had more rooms than I could have counted, with extra doorways leading to locked compartments at every stop, rooms that restricted me from having a look around more than I should have wanted to. The spiral staircase reached toward a diamond-drop chandelier; a pleasant addition, and the only thing, so far, that I liked about the place.
Celine stopped at the top of the stairs and pointed at a door to the right. “That’s Henry’s room. He keeps mostly to himself.”
“I bet,” I muttered.
“Oh, he’s a kind man at heart,” Celine insisted with a stiff smile.
“Really? You don’t think he’s a little…”
“So it’s not just me he snaps at?” I was grateful Celine was pleasant.
“He can be demanding. But he warms to you once you take the time to consider his reasons.”
“A lonely man is afraid to get too close too soon. But please, don’t mention his family.”
I was about to ask why when she turned and headed to the next room. I took that as a sign to stop poking around in other people’s business. It wasn’t like I wanted to confess that I’d been abandoned by Dad because he was besotted with a horrible witch, I mean Susan.
Celine pointed to her room beside Henry’s, then Gracen’s which was on the other side, clearly separating herself from her employees. The hall bathroom and a pantry for any supplies such as fresh blankets, sheets, pillows, and air fresheners, was next to the broom closet. During our exploration of her cleaning supplies, I decided Celine was kind of skittish but friendly, and spoke English fluently, even if I didn’t have a clue where she originated. She was coy yet happy to offer up a smile—unlike the other two residents.
Susan had obviously sent me here to change my ways or go live with Mom or probably even some hostel. But Mom was living the life I could only dream about, dating guys young enough to be on a sophomore baseball team.
I tried to block out the argument I had with Dad late last night and the way he yelled at me for the first time. He’d apologized and explained he had a lot on his mind. That was when he dropped the bombshell. Susan was pregnant. With twins.
“It’s just here.” Celine’s voice broke me from my reverie. I brushed away a tear that had escaped, glad Celine had her back to me.
We stopped abruptly beneath a dangling piece of frayed rope that looked to be leading to an outline of a pull door in the ceiling.
Was I expected to sleep in the attic?
“You’ll be sleeping in the attic,” Celine confirmed. I could hear the outright pity in her voice. “Mrs. Miller ordered the spare rooms to be fumigated. Right now they’re not…habitable.”
Habitable? Did Dad know about this? Susan? My guess was it was her idea to put me in the attic. My blood boiled and my nails dug into my palms. How could Susan be so mean? Especially after the sacrifice I’d made to help them work things out?
I wanted to think up an excuse not to visit the attic and call Dad to have a hissy fit. But he would have been too busy at this time of day, and it would only have given Susan a reason to gloat. It was something I couldn’t handle right now.
“Fumigated from what?” I asked, pretending not to care as I followed Celine up the slanted stairs.
She was a bad liar. She had even stuttered. A house like this wouldn’t just have had its spare rooms fumigated. Still, Celine was doing her job and obeying orders. I couldn’t take my frustration out on her.
When we reached the top, I decided the attic wasn’t a total horror. With a lick of paint, two weeks dusting, a new window and a dumpster to haul out ninety percent of the junk, it would have been close to five-star accommodation.
“I cleaned up a little before you arrived,” Celine said, adding tedious adjustments to my makeshift dresser—a shoddy cardboard box.
“I can tell,” I lied. Two could play this game. “Thanks, Celine.”
I forced a smile and walked over to my wheel suitcase. It looked like Henry had tossed it on to the floor and stomped all over it. I unzipped the top and bit back the urge to yell and stomp my own feet like a detained five-year old. I probably would have caved in the brittle floorboards and landed in the kitchen.
“I’ll leave you to get settled in,” Celine chirped, backing away from me as if I was holding a loaded musket. “Call me from the stairs if you need anything. And remember, dinner will be ready at six-thirty sharp. Mrs. Miller doesn’t appreciate tardiness.”
I smiled, letting it drop the moment she left me with the contents of an undiscovered rummage sale.
There wasn’t a word or phrase for what seemed to be about to happen in the next few weeks. I was stuck in a dusty hellhole with a grouchy old woman who had little social skills, not to mention a chauffeur who was acting kind of a jackass. Only Celine had the potential to be different. The other two seemed unchangeable.
I headed to my one window to look at something uplifting. I found a nice view, mainly of the darkening woods and a few patches of hills and cattle grazing in the distance. A river trickled west and disappeared among a bushel of leaves and pines. There was nothing unusual about it, just familiar from certain angles, as if I’d once followed the pathway beyond the wooden pole, the one with the lantern hanging from it. I imagined passing through to the opening of gnarly branches. Maybe I had been here as a child, I thought. The closer I looked, though, the more I imagined the light of the moon glowing on the riverbed, gradually illuminating the night. I could see myself gasping for breath, my hands grappling for long blades of grass as I became immersed in frigid water.
Shaking off the vision, I hurried to my bed, my heart thrumming like a wild bird. The scents from the driveway re-emerged like a forgotten memory. This time with a hint of violet and vanilla. My hands burned and a fermenting heat crept up to my waist, bubbling in my chest before cooling down again, making me pant and wheeze.
What was going on here? Where were all the scents coming from? The burning sensation?
Why hadn’t I run away like I’d planned?
Miriam is from Cheshire, England and a family of six siblings. Her love for creativity led to acting at her local theatre before being a lead vocalist in rock bands. During those years, she often found solace penning her thoughts and feelings through lyrics or poetry. She chose not to continue singing in 2006, and two years later she woke up with the idea for The Lebrus Stone, which was published in 2014.