By Sophia Kantsevoy, Age 14
The Bryn Mawr School
© 2022 by the author
Brooding night skies swirled above empty streets as the bus approached its next stop. Though most of the (admittedly few) passengers riding the bus at such a late hour had long dozed off, the swaying of the old bus and the pitter-patter of the freezing rain having faded to the edges of their minds, one traveler sat up straight, alertly staring out the darkened window. The glass had already been darkened by sheets of relentless rain, yet as the vehicle made its way through the tangled web of rural streets that surrounded the attentive passenger’s destination, the night seemed to grow even darker.
At last, the bus pulled into the intended stop, and a thin, automated female voice announced the location: Lunatine Lane. With a rumbling reminiscent of a pensioner getting up from a chair, the coach’s old doors slid open, inviting the autumn evening chill into the bones of the passengers. Slipping her hood over her russet-brown hair, the alert rider rose from her seat and stepped off the bus. She reached into the canvas messenger bag and rummaged through her belongings until her fingers brushed upon the cool metal of her flashlight. With a satisfied smile, the traveler pulled out the light and clicked the button. For a moment, the surroundings lit up, and the woman could make out the empty sidewalk she stood on, but the glow was only temporary, and, with a dejected whimper, the flashlight went out a second later. No matter how the woman fiddled with the button, the light refused to reignite. Annoyed, the wielder tossed the useless tool back into her bag. Buttoning up the canvas container, she placed it under her duffel jacket to keep it out of the chilling rain. With the flashlight being a no-go, the young lady glanced upwards at the sky, hoping that the moon would make an appearance, but it didn’t stir from the blanket of clouds it was wrapped in. Disappointed, the traveler stared up at the lonely metal pole beside her, hoping to make out the numbers written on the sign hanging from it, but they were rendered illegible by the night. Still, the street name the bus voice had announced matched the one that had been printed on the directions the woman’s boss, house-flipping mogul Henry Doberton, had given her the week prior, so she resolved herself to keep going. Glancing at both sides of the street, the woman could make out no houses poking through the blackness, and as she didn’t wish to keep standing around in the downpour, the traveler began running up the street.
The young woman hadn’t spotted a single building by the time she reached the hill that marked the end of Lunartine Lane, but as she stared up at the tall mound, the lady noticed an enormous dark shape sitting atop it. That does seem like the size of property Mr. Doberton would be interested in renovating, she thought to herself. The sidewalk the woman had been following gave way to a cobblestone path at the foot of the hill, and, deducing that the shape at the top must be her destination, the young woman began running up the winding path, the rain pounding down on top of her.
Wind picked up around the traveler as she ran, lifting the edges of her jacket and flicking her hood off of her head. She quickly put the hood back on and held it tight to her head as she kept running, until the brunette lady at last reached the house at the edge of the slippery path. The building seemed even larger up-close than it had at the base of the hill. It looked like a classic 1850’s manor: rectangular and symmetrical, with a large double door and a myriad of evenly-spaced windows. Yet, despite its impressive size, the mansion didn’t emulate wealth: the bricks making up the walls were stained black with soot, holes broke up the roof’s tiles, and the many windows were dusty and cracked. Clearly, this house has been abandoned for quite a long time. The woman ran towards the double doors, hoping that years of disuse and poor Northern English weather would have destroyed their locks. She twisted and pulled the doorknobs with as much strength as her rain-chilled muscles could muster, but the door refused to give way. The woman kept pulling, and with a great amount of creaking, the stuck doors gave way. Elysia Wards had entered the manor.
Elysia found herself in a completely dark, albeit rain-free room. She took her bag out from under her coat and unbuttoned it, hoping that one of her possessions might somehow help her see. Her slender fingers brushed along many traditionally useful objects: her paint swatch book, a notepad and pen, a variety of tools, and an antique knife that had once belonged to her father’s grandfather, but the only light-producing device in her bag was the broken flashlight. With no other option, Elysia pulled out the light and clicked the button. Remarkably, the flashlight flickered to life. At last, the woman could finally see what was around her.
Her now-illuminated surroundings reminded Elysia of a once-grand foyer. The musty wallpaper was ripped in many places, cobwebs covered the walls, and two couches stood at random angles. Still, the room had a remarkable lack of weather damage- perhaps the doors getting stuck had created a seal from the outside weather. Elysia took a miniature hammer out of her bag and hit it against the wall, aiming for a spot where a tear in the wallpaper had revealed bare plaster. A solid thunk echoed around the foyer in return, breaking up the low sounds of the raindrops dancing on the house’s roof. The walls seem decently strong for a house of this age… it’s surprising that it hasn’t been flipped and resold already, Elysia thought to herself. She always kept a knife in her bag: after all, all the explorers in the history books in her academic parents’ libraries had always brought weapons with them on their missions, so why should she be any less prepared than those explorers? The young woman took the knife out of her messenger bag and carefully cut off a small piece of wallpaper. Placing both the knife and the wallpaper scrap into her bag, the assessor made her way towards one of the doors leading further into the mansion. She pushed the door open and saw what looked like a drawing room. It was in a similar state of decay as the foyer: the dark table was dusty and rotted, the couches smelled of mold, and ripped paper was scattered around tall shelves. Still, none of that seemed too hard to fix, and a house this big would surely fetch quite a substantial price tag.
Heading through a few more doors, Elysia reached a particularly dilapidated room. It was absolutely enormous and had clearly once been filled-to-the-brim with grandeur, but as the woman gazed around it, the only decor she spotted was dust and cobwebs. There was a large hole open to the sky in the ceiling, and through it Elysia could see that the rain had stopped. A silvery full moon sent glittering rays into the house, bathing the strange room in light. The assessor pulled the notepad out of her bag and took note of this, then exited through a set of luxurious double doors continued walking through the labyrinthine mansion.
A few rooms later, Elysia found herself in a chamber filled with bookshelves. It had probably once been quite a nice library, Elysia reasoned, although, in her mind, all libraries were “quite nice”, especially old ones such as the one she was currently standing in. She’d grown up surrounded by bookshelves: when her parents went to work at their universities, they’d leave Elysia to read in the great academic library that stood in the center of the school campus, and many of her favorite memories were of reading in a big leather armchair in that very building, surrounded by sheltering shelves. The library in the mansion, however, was not quite as comforting: it was covered in several layers of dust, many bookshelves were rotted, and a strange silver light illuminated the room. Elysia walked around the shelves, searching for the source of the light, until she at last stumbled upon a bright orb sitting on one of the shelves. It was silver and glittery, reminding Elysia of a full moon, and was attached to a light-colored wooden base. Somehow, the wood of the base was in perfect condition, completely untouched by dust and rot. Gazing into it, the assessor could truly imagine how grand this mansion must have once been- all silver marble and polished candelabras. She struggled to pull her gaze away from the shimmering sphere; it was just so bright and beautiful, and the rest of the house was so dreary! Looking away from it felt like pulling apart two strong magnets, but, with great difficulty, Elysia managed to pull her gaze away.
The assessor continued moving through the house, taking note of its many wonders and imperfections, until she reached a monumental staircase. Its wood was dark with rot, and something wet glistened on the steps: clearly unsafe to climb, and would have to be entirely replaced if this house ended up getting flipped. But this house is so beautiful… surely it wouldn’t hurt me? Elysia laid her hand on the rough banister and carefully ascended the staircase, noticing that there seemed to be light coming from somewhere above it. As she reached the top of the steps: the young woman found the source: a tall, unbroken window with a silver circle etched into it. Moonrays filtered through the glass, bathing the landing in light. Elysia placed her hands beside the window, careful not to damage the glass, and gazed into it.
She couldn’t help but lose herself in the view: a serene moon, painting her reflection in strokes of shimmering silver. Twisting herself this way and that, Elysia reveled in the house’s beauty for several minutes, unable to break away from the beautiful sight. Still, she knew that she had to keep inspecting the manor, so, with a great sigh, the assessor turned away from the aperture and kept walking.
Elysia soon found herself in a chamber she assumed must have been a bedroom. The remains of a bedframe stood in the center of the room, its four posts extending towards the ceiling. A brick fireplace was situated on the wall parallel to the frame, and only when she stared at it did Elysia realize that she had been shivering; the second story of the mansion was strangely cold. The assessor wrapped her jacket tighter around her body and knelt down to review the condition of the bedframe. As she finished her inspection, something inside Elysia beckoned her to look at the fireplace, and as the woman turned towards the hearth, a silver flame sprang to life inside it. Surprised, Elysia jumped backwards and nearly ran out of the chamber, but her heart persuaded her to stay. It’s so cold here… I’m sure the mansion just created that fire to warm me up! She inched towards the flames and extended her hands towards them, warming up her frozen fingertips.
After several minutes of sitting by the fire, Elysia stood up and headed out of the bedroom, thanking the timely fire for its much-needed warmth as she exited. She kept moving through the house, inspecting and taking notes on various elements of it. Eventually, the assessor entered a small, cluttered room. As she ran her hands over the variety of objects, many of which were dilapidated to the point of unrecognizability, that filled the room, Elysia imagined what they would have been used for back when this house had been lived-in and glorious; a tall wooden pole must have held up the finest hats, and the stained globe would have been used to teach geography to the home owner’s children! As she pondered these ideas, Elysia saw something out of the corner of her eye; a strange, light gray figure dashing across the room. When she raised her head, however, the woman lost sight of the figure. That must have just been a strange layer of dust, or a trick of the darkness, Elysia reasoned. Shaking her head to clear away the strange, false vision, Elysia exited the room.
As she focused on her examinations, the young woman spotted another glimmer of silver running past her, and as she kept walking through the mansion, more and more of these figures- some nearly human-shaped, some merely clouds of light- made their way past her. Strangely, all of these tricks-of-the-imagination seemed to be hurrying in the same direction: towards the grandiose staircase leading to the bottom floor. Hoping to convince herself that these fake visions were truly not real, Elysia retraced her steps back to the staircase and carefully made her way down it.
At the base of the staircase, Elysia could make out a clear figure: a glowing silver lady in an extravagant Victorian gray dress hurrying towards a half-rotted door. As the figure reached the doorway, she seemed to pass through it. Curious, Elysia decided to follow her.
The silver woman gracefully made her way through the hallway, passing through several doors and a multitude of hallways: the strange, bright figure clearly knew where she was heading, and Elysia’s legs soon grew tired from chasing her. Eventually, the figure reached a pair of familiar double doors: the ones that the assessor had passed through on her way out of the room with the hole in the ceiling. There’s no reason for any person to go into such a decrepit room, Elysia thought, trying to convince herself that the figure she had chased was simply made-up. Still, there’s no harm in checking?
Elysia pushed open the rotted doors and was stunned by the sight they revealed; the walls, which had been patchy and musty mere hours earlier, had become covered by light golden paneling with white fleur de lis decorating each panel; the crumbling floor had been replaced by gorgeous marble; candelabras stood in delicate holders beside tables of dainty refreshments; crystal chandeliers hung down from a hole-less ceiling. Yet all of these fantastic decorations paled in comparison to the beauty of the true star of the show: the guests.
Hundreds of silver beings, all wearing perfect suits and costumes, danced like a flock of birds in the center of the ballroom. Detailed Colombina masks covered their faces, and their hair was styled into the elegant curls of a bygone era. A faint and enticing operatic tune floated around them, and Elysia wanted nothing more than to join in the dance. The dirty, decayed room had become a paradise of splendor.
As if responding to her desire, a tall man dressed in 19th century costume weaved his way through the sea of dancers to approach Elysia. He kneeled down, extending his hand, and the woman quickly extended it. The man pulled her through the crowd to the very center of the ballroom and the music grew louder as they began to dance.
Elysia could sense slight shifts in the music; a few songs had passed; but she wanted nothing more than to keep dancing. Her partner was perfect: he was familiar with every song, and he confidently moved through all the steps. As he pulled Elysia into a twirl at the climax of a song, she felt something hit against her waist:: her messenger bag.
The solid thump took her out of the lovely moment. This can’t be real! None of this was here when I first came through this room! Elysia thought to herself, confused and frightened. She wrenched her hand away from the man, interrupting their dance. The music grew fainter as the assesor stuck her hand into her bag, hoping to find something, anything that might help her find reality.
Elysia’s fingers struck the cold metal of the antique knife, which had been in her family since her great-grandfather had found it in an abandoned trench during the first Great War. She took the weapon out of her bag and brought it up to her eyes, praying that it could somehow make her see reason.
Reflected in the cool blade was a rotten room with silver moonrays perforating its darkness.
The knife fell to the ground with a sharp clink! as Elysia’s partner reclaimed her frozen hand. The music picked up around her as Elysia Wards kept dancing.