Saturday, April 12, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker", Part 7

             Karthey hardly knew what to think. This Cramwell Fornberg was certainly a queer man! She cautiously climbed the stairs on the left. The hallway was completely dark, but Karthey saw a switch on the right-hand wall. Dare she switch it?
            “If I’m going to be here,” she reasoned with herself in a low voice, “I might as well get used to the idea!” She reached out and flicked the switch.

            The lights burst on, immediately as dim as the rest of the ones she’d seen so far. Karthey wondered how old the bulbs were. She found the third room on the right and went inside. She turned on the light (dim again, though brighter than any of the others) and surveyed the place she would call home for who knew how long.
Second floor
            The closet held many cleaning implements, but there was still plenty of room, as if she had several dresses. The bed looked like it had been made a long time ago, and never touched again for a very long time. The colors were light pastels, and the carpet was white—glowing eerily in the moonlight. The window at the back of the room looked out into the wide, fog-shrouded fields behind the house. There was a wide window seat with plenty of cushions just below it. Karthey was mildly surprised to find a room with such feminine furnishings in a house where only a man had lived for over a decade. Karthey set her suitcase on the window seat. She quickly checked the corners of the room. No CC cameras in here; she breathed a sigh of relief.
            On the small dressing table next to the head of her bed was a ring of keys. She imagined that there were many doors in this house she would need to go through, and each of those doors had a lock. She wondered if he intended to text her with directions as to which key led where when she began work in the morning.
            Karthey pulled her nightgown out of her suitcase and put it on, placing her clothes neatly in the suitcase when she was done. She looked down at her wrist. She was still wearing her lucky coral bracelet. Frowning, she removed the bracelet and stuffed it in the bottom of her jewelry box. Some luck it had brought her! She resolved not to wear it for as long as she had to stay in this house. Having done this, Karthey sighed and surveyed the room. She noticed a small door on the other side of the bed. This led to a small bathroom with a shower, toilet, and sink. Her eccentric host had certainly seen that she was well provided for.
            Karthey brushed her teeth and flopped onto the bed. It was soft, not at all uncomfortable, and the covers were warm. Karthey Mavis closed her eyes and fell asleep right away, but it was far from a pleasant slumber.
            All night, she dreamed of the awful things that might happen while she was there: supposing Cramwell might actually be a beast during the hours he spent at home, or supposing she broke something—what exactly would he do to her if that happened? Supposing he kept a most appalling secret in the forbidden room; supposing he was a mad scientist, and his laboratory was behind that door, and her curiosity got too much for her, and she went there, and he conducted all manner of bizarre experiments on her, as punishment? Supposing he wasn’t a man at all, but a ghost who could make himself look like a man; supposing it was a punishment for killing his wife, and he needed to find the kidnapper who was stealing people from Precinct before his soul could finally have rest?

            Before Karthey realized it, morning came.

            At eight-thirty the next morning, Karthey awoke to the sound of the cell phone vibrating on the table. She opened it.
You will notice the key rings I gave you are four interconnected rings. These correspond with the four sides of the house. The keys are engraved with the corresponding doors they unlock; the doors are numbered left to right facing north in both the front and the back, and from the back to the front of the house on the sides. I will be leaving the house at nine-thirty. Don’t try anything I have told you not to do, because even when I am not at the house, I will have a monitor with me to continue watching the cameras, and none of the keys I gave you will unlock the gate, which I will lock behind me. Do not cause trouble for me, Miss Mavis, and there will be no consequences. I will return at five o’clock.

First Floor
            Karthey shuddered; she knew what she heard at five o’clock. Now she was actually in the house, she wondered if she would be forced to witness it; part of her entertained a morbid curiosity: did he really sing, or was it something else that wailed for half of that hour?
            Karthey got out of bed and dressed herself. As soon as she left the room, the cell phone vibrated again.

By now I should not have to remind you to have this cell on your person at all times.
You may take your breakfast in the kitchen at this time, Miss Mavis.

            “Where is the kitchen?” Karthey wondered aloud. Mr. Fornberg must have heard her, because instantly a reply came over the cell phone.

The kitchen is down the right-hand stairs, down the left-hand hallway, through the door to your left and down the stairs, the room on your right.
You will find a variety of foods there; choose at your leisure.
            Karthey blushed and made her way down the stairs, following the directions given. As she walked, she noted that, true to what he had told her, every corner held a camera, so that there was no angle where she could not be seen. She found the kitchen, and next to that a small pantry with various foodstuffs (in small amounts) in it. She chose a box of cereal, poured it into a bowl, poured milk over that, and ate it. When she finished, Karthey washed her bowl and headed back upstairs.           
The hallway was dark and musty-smelling. Cramwell had probably not been back there in years. “If I’m going to live here,” Karthey whispered to herself again, “I might as well make this place habitable!”
Karthey returned to her room and pulled the cleaning tools out of the closet. She picked up the key ring. N1, N2, N3… The keys were engraved, just as he had said. Karthey decided to explore the rooms in the same hallway as the one she was staying in, the west wing of the house. Immediately to the right of her room, she found shelves of cleaning solutions, supplies, and extra items like toilet paper and light bulbs, all covered in dust and unused. She also found a housekeeping trolley. She filled this with as many things as she could and set about cleaning the big, dark hallway.

Karthey vacuumed the thick, dull-green carpet first, sucking up cobwebs and dust alike, then moved to polishing the wainscoting with a cloth and some wood cleaner she found. Halfway down the hall, Karthey heard Cramwell leave the house and close the door behind him. Immediately, she stopped what she was doing and entered the large room at the front of the second floor to watch and make certain he was gone. Out of one of the front bay windows, she saw him trotting his merry way down the lane. Karthey fingered the key ring on her belt, and swiftly snuck downstairs toward the library, in the east wing of the house. She only peeked in to see what was in there (books—what else would she expect?), then moved to the door on the right of it: the cloister Cramwell Fornberg had mentioned. He should have known she’d be curious. Karthey grabbed the east-wing key ring and began trying out the likeliest keys.
            She jumped guiltily when the cell phone in her pocket vibrated.

I warned you to stay out of that room, Miss Mavis.
You are in my house to stay, not to meddle.
Leave the vicinity immediately, if you please.

            Karthey raised her eyes to the corner; she had forgotten about the cameras. She bent her head down to obscure her face from view as she stuck out her tongue in defiance. With nothing else to do, she returned to the hallway and resumed cleaning it.
            Karthey finished at about the time the large grandfather clock somewhere in the house (she could tell it was large by the way the sound filled the whole house, but she hadn’t yet been in the room where it stood) chimed the first of eleven times. Karthey quickly put on her coat and scarf and ran down the lane.

            Derrik was waiting for her, just as he promised. Karthey could not open the gate, and it reached up as tall as the hedges, but brother and sister reached between the cast iron bars and clasped hands.
            “Derrik! I’ve missed you!” Karthey gasped, feeling the tears begin to itch the backs of her eyes, in spite of her efforts to stem them.
            “Karthey, you promised me you wouldn’t go on my account, remember? Just say the word, and I’ll climb over those hedges myself to get you out!” Derrik set his mouth as if he intended to enact his plan right away.
            Karthey forestalled him with a shake of her head. “This is not for you, Derrik; it’s for Dad. How’s he doing?”
            Derrik sighed and hung his head. “He misses you, Karthey. Every day when he gets home from work, he always brings that little stool you always sat on next to his chair, and rubs the spot on the armrest where you always put your hand when you leaned against him.” Karthey watched as her brother’s expression turned grim, “But he’s working hard. He’s collected all the police reports, the witness statements, the victim profiles, and he pores over them every day. Today we are going with a detective to investigate everywhere someone has been taken.” Derrik looked over his sister with not a little concern. “How are you doing? Has he tried—have you seen The Cram yet?”
            Karthey shook her head. “It’s really weird; I have a cell phone,” she pulled it from her pocket and showed Derrik, “and he communicates by text, but I have no idea where he is in the house, and he never talks to me.”
            “So does he have you, like, quarantined to one room or something?”
            Karthey shrugged, “Well, so far he has given me free rein around the house and the grounds—except one room. I really haven’t been everywhere yet. But I am not bored; he lets me clean around here, and there seems to be a lot to explore.” She pressed her lips, “I just really miss you like crazy. It’s like I’m living in this house all by myself,” she shook her head and laughed softly at herself, “And I’ve only been here sixteen hours!”
            “I’m just glad you’re safe,” Derrik said, “The paper just ran the story of Alivia’s disappearance,” Derrik hesitated, “I need to go; I promised Dad I’d meet him at the café at noon. Stay brave, little sister!”
            “Tell Dad I love him, and I wish him the best of luck!”
            Derrik looked into his sister’s eyes and saw that she really meant, “I wish Dad would solve this thing and I could come back home tomorrow!”
            “I will, Karthey,” Derrik said. “Goodbye.”
            “Goodbye, Derrik.”

            Karthey returned to the house, nosed around the kitchen for lunch, and afterwards decided to explore Cramwell’s library.
            The first thing she noticed was the profusion of paintings, statues, figurines, and busts, all of the same woman. They were not so prevalent in any of the places in the house she had been yet, but she counted no less than four marble statues in various poses, three busts, and two paintings on each wall. Karthey wondered who it was; could it have been Cramwell’s wife? She shuddered at the ghostly faces that seemed to be staring at her. She knew she would never clean this room. She scanned the dimly-lit shelves for some familiar titles and brought them upstairs to her room. She had just reached the hallway in front of her room when the clock struck half-past-four and Cramwell returned from town.
            She read until her cell phone vibrated.

You may take your supper in the kitchen, Miss Mavis.
Please use the left-hand stairs and proceed to your right, through the dining hall, down the north hall, and to your right to reach the stairwell to the kitchen, which will now be on your right.
You will find freshly-purchased produce in the larder.
I will be in the library until eight o’clock. I wish to remain undisturbed.

            Karthey sighed and rolled off her bed. This Cramwell Fornberg certainly was an exacting fellow! She left her books and went to the stairs, but on a whim, she deliberately headed for the right-hand flight of stairs instead of the left one. Her cell phone buzzed before she reached the second step.

Your insubordination is tiresome.
Please use the left-hand stairs as I have asked.

            Karthey meekly crossed to the opposite stairwell and entered the kitchen via the dining room. She found everything as specified, and cooked herself a solitary meal of chicken, beans, and rice, and a salad to go with it. She was so accustomed to the silence of the house that she almost jumped out of her skin when the wailing began.
            She had never considered how loud it would be in the house, if she could still hear it echoing all the way at the bottom of the hill. Here, even in the kitchen, it filled the house in much the same way as the ponderous chimes of the grandfather clock. The horrible caterwauling twisted Karthey’s gut so much to hear it that she could not eat as long as the sound lasted. At last, as the clock struck the half-hour, Cramwell—or whatever it had been—ceased wailing and Karthey could resume her meal in peace. Once she was finished, she washed and dried her dishes, and decided to retire for the night.

            As she crept past the library on the way upstairs, Karthey was surprised to hear lively music coming from behind the door. Why would a man like Cramwell Fornberg be listening to music like that, especially just after the awful wailing he had just subjected them both to? She held her breath until she reached the top of the stairs, then went straight for her room and closed the door firmly behind her.

            Karthey’s second night in Fornberg House was no better than the first. In her dreams, Cramwell kept an enormous cat that wailed every night, and all night it chased her around the myriad halls of Fornberg House, upstairs and downstairs. Karthey awoke the next morning sweaty, even more tired than when she had gone to bed, and firmly convinced that if she spent too much longer in this mansion, she would end up like its owner.