Saturday, April 19, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker", Part 8

             Karthey was so disoriented from her dreams and nightmares that when she awoke, she almost fell out of bed as she tried to figure out where she was. The buzz of the vibrating cell phone—which by now she had accepted as Cramwell’s voice—reminded her of all the events of the previous two days. How quickly her whole life had changed! Only three days ago, she was attending school like a normal person, then her dad was arrested, and she volunteered to take his place, and now she was living like a prisoner in a giant mansion with a man who refused to be seen by or to speak with her—and this last part had been her own doing!
            Karthey picked up the cell phone and read the latest text.

Take your breakfast in the kitchen at this time, Miss Mavis.

            She smirked at the commanding tone of the text. He never asked any questions; while it was true that on occasion he tacked on “if you please” or something like that, it was always directions he gave. Karthey wondered how on earth the woman in all the pictures could have stood living with him. Or perhaps he had been different then. The redheaded girl shook her head. How could she even fathom him being “different then” when she was not certain of the man’s identity now? And why did she care what he was like? She was only staying in the house, under his neurotic supervision, until her dad could solve the case of the abductions and apprehend the real culprit.

            Karthey went down the left-hand stairs and prepared to cross through the dining room to get to the kitchen. The large double doors to the dining room were closed. Karthey almost opened them, but she heard a soft sound, like someone speaking. Was that Cramwell Fornberg’s voice? Karthey pressed her ear to the thin crack between the doors and listened. He seemed to be talking to someone, but she knew that they both were the only two living people in the house; weren’t they? He mentioned “jelly” a few times; Karthey wondered what he could mean by that. She backed away from the door and swiftly scampered across the entryway to reach the kitchen through the sitting room, on the other side. The longer she stayed around Cramwell Fornberg, the more he scared her.

            Just when Karthey finished breakfast, she heard a strange creaking sound coming from a wooden door in the wall of the kitchen. What could that be? She cautiously approached the door. The creaking stopped. Karthey grabbed the small handle and pulled.
            Inside the small compartment was a stack of dirty dishes. Karthey’s cell phone received another text.

Please wash the dishes, Miss Mavis.

            The compartment was a dumbwaiter. So! Cramwell Fornberg expected her to serve him now, did he? Karthey contemplated ignoring him, but her more industrious side—the part of herself most like her mother—surfaced at the request and she was more inclined to comply.
            “After all,” she reasoned as she carried his and her dishes together to the sink, “he did say please. And I might as well work while I’m here, instead of doing nothing all day long!”

            Karthey finished the dishes and left the kitchen at about a quarter-past-nine. She actually entered the dining room before she thought to check for Cramwell Fornberg. He was not there. Karthey returned to the entryway, wondering where the lord of the house might be. Just then, she saw his gnarled hand appear, gripping his cane, at the entrance to the hall across the way. Desperately, Karthey dove for the safety of the shadows and waited till she heard his slow, creaking step travel up the stairs and fade away as he proceeded further down the opposite hall. The redhead let out a sigh of relief; she had almost come face to face with disaster. She knew, from his appearances in town every day, that he hated being looked in the eye. Who knew what he would do to her if she dared catch his sight right here in his own house?
            Karthey hastily scampered up the stairs and scuttled to her own room, waiting there behind the closed door till she heard Cramwell Fornberg shut the front door behind him as he left the house for the day.
            Once he left, she relaxed. Karthey decided that today she would explore the rest of the house. She began at the library, with all its spooky art pieces, and continued toward the back of the house.
            The next set of double doors after the library led to a smaller room with a large desk and lots of papers on it. Karthey surveyed the disorganized mess; many of the papers seemed to be random strings of letters and numbers, or written in another language entirely. She wondered what a man like Cramwell could be doing, with papers like this.

            “This must be the study,” Karthey remarked, and a gust blowing through the open door behind her sent up a cloud of dust and shook out some cobwebs. Karthey knew she would clean there eventually; there weren’t so many portraits or statues in here, as there were in the library. Further down the hall, Karthey encountered a door with panes of glass in it. Opening this, she gasped in surprise to see a room with walls of glass, open to the fog-shrouded sun overhead. A sunroom! This one had a few stone statues, and a stack of novels by a small couch. Dust covered everything but the statue, the couch, and the novels. Karthey deduced that Cramwell Fornberg must spend time here every day, sitting on the couch, brushing dust off the statue, and reading the novels. His footprints showed in the dust on the floor. A fine layer of dirt covered everything else. Karthey moved on.
             
          The hallway she had been following bent a left corner at the door to the sunroom, and Karthey followed the wall till she came to another door along the back wall. This one was locked. Karthey pulled out the key ring, pausing first and looking up at the CCTV staring down at her, as if to verify that she had Mr. Fornberg’s permission (or at least she was not inviting anther scolding for her curiosity) and began trying the keys from the South key ring, since this door was on the south side of the house. One of them fit, but the handle was stiff and it took a good deal of pushing to get it open. Here was a room Cramwell probably hadn’t been in since the last decade! It was completely dark, and Karthey could only barely distinguish a few shapes in the room. She felt the wall for a light switch. It took a few minutes of careful searching, but at last she found a protrusion on the wall that wiggled a bit at her touch. Karthey carefully pushed it.
            A single lamp flickered dimly on. Karthey could better make out the shapes in the room. Musical instruments, covered by dust-laden sheets! There was a piano in one corner, a harp in another, and various lutes, whistles, and horns leaned carefully along the walls. Karthey stepped into the room and gazed around in amazement. Stacks of music as high as her waist stood on the floor, with shelves full of records and more music.

            BONG!
            A colossal crash made Karthey jump out of her skin. It happened again, and Karthey clapped her hands over her ears as she frantically searched the room for what on earth could be making that noise. At the third stroke, she turned to face the largest grandfather clock she had ever seen. The disc on the pendulum was bigger than her face. So this was the clock that broadcasted the time all over the house! Karthey backed out of the room and—between strokes—hastily shut the door again. She moved on with her self-led tour.
            Another left-hand corner just after the door to the music room, and Karthey found herself walking through a small door into the dining room. As with so many of the other rooms (she was discovering), this too was poorly lit. All the squinting she had to do, and the shadows in every room were beginning to work on Karthey’s nerves. She refused to stand for it any longer.
            She marched straight upstairs to the storage closet and filled the housekeeping trolley with as many boxes of light bulbs as she could fit on there. This done, Karthey Mavis went around to every room in the house and replaced every single bulb. When changing the bulbs in the music room, Karthey made sure that she only went in immediately after the clock struck, and every fifteen minutes, she would have to leave the room while it struck, returning afterwards to finish the job.
            Eleven o’clock came before she realized it. Karthey flew down the hill to the gate, but Derrik wasn’t there that morning. He had left her a note tucked between the bars.

            I love you, dearest sister, he wrote, and I am sorry I did not have time to meet you today. Dad and I are hot on a lead! We found that all of the victims had been taken from street corners. Dad mapped out the locations, and we’re trying to find out more about the places nearby, to see if any of them are connected.
            Dad says that Cramwell also seemed to be investigating the abductions also. Is there a way you can find out how much he knows? I know it might be dangerous; if there’s no way you can do it, we understand. See how much you can uncover without him knowing.
            I’ll be here to meet you tomorrow. I love you! Stay brave! –Derrik

            Karthey trudged sadly back up the hill. True, he had left a note, so she wasn’t entirely left out of the loop; but not seeing her brother’s face, not being able to hold his hand—how much the sociable girl longed for human contact! And not just any human contact, either; Karthey shuddered as she recalled the near run-in with Cramwell Fornberg that morning. She would rather die than have any sort of contact with him.

            She mulled over the second half of Derrik’s note as she finished changing the bulbs in the dining hall. So Cramwell was conducting his own investigation? How would she be able to find out how much he knew, and particularly without the man knowing? Karthey recalled the study; could the papers with the letters and numbers and the strange languages have something to do with Cramwell’s investigation?
            Karthey changed the bulbs in the library last of all. While she circumnavigated the room, she intentionally avoided looking at the paintings, where the woman—not just any woman in Karthey’s mind, but The Woman, the mistress of Fornberg House—stared at her in the garb of a Greek goddess in one corner, a regal queen in another, and on the far side of the room, alternately a spring fairy and an angel. When at last she was finished, she flicked on the switch and surveyed the room. If nothing else, replacing the light bulbs only made it even more evident how dirty, dusty, and cobwebby the house was! Karthey looked at the lone armchair set before the fireplace, with a statue of The Woman on one side, a record-player on the other, and stacks of notebooks and library books all around it. Karthey peeked at the titles.
            Every single publication had to do with codes, ciphers, and cryptology. Karthey wondered why a man like Cramwell Fornberg would keep so many library books, when he had shelves full already. She glanced over one of the notebooks. It had a string of seemingly random letters and anagrams on it, then in clear, straight capitals, SOMEONE WILL DISAPPEAR AT EIGHT TONIGHT. What could it mean?
            Karthey heard the front door open and close. Was it four-thirty already? Cramwell had returned! She hurriedly snuck out of the library and traveled around the back of the house and through the dining room to get to the stairs, knowing that Cramwell would be coming to the library from the other direction. Heart pounding madly, she returned the housekeeping trolley to its closet and went into her room to await further instructions from her captor.
           
            As Karthey waited, she heard the wailing sound, but it struck her now that it was not an animal wail, nor a human one. She recalled the music room. Could the sound she heard proceed from a musical instrument? Karthey was not very well versed in music. She could not identify what instrument made the sounds she heard, but at least she knew the wailing was not something to necessarily fear, though the music itself sounded like it came from an acutely tortured soul. Was Cramwell a musician? It would make sense for a musician to have a music room in his house; what did not make sense was the fact that the said music room appeared completely untouched and undisturbed.
            Once the wailing stopped, Karthey glanced at her cell phone, which she had laid on the little table by her bed. She fully expected it to ring soon, to give her permission to come and eat dinner.
            The text finally came just after the clock struck six.

Dinner is served in the kitchen, Miss Mavis.
Use the left-hand stairs this time.
Please wash the dishes when you are finished.
Do not disturb me; I will be in the library.

            Karthey fairly flew out of the room and down the stairs, pausing briefly to frown at the state of the dining room, which she now noticed in the brand-new lighting from the lamps.
            Dinner was indeed served to her in the kitchen: a plate of steak, potatoes, and green beans, all cold. Karthey frowned as she looked around. There was not even a microwave in this house to reheat her food. She would just have to eat it as it was. The steak was stiff, but it was food, and it satisfied her hunger.
            After she finished the meal, Karthey opened the door of the dumbwaiter and found Cramwell’s dishes waiting for her. She washed all the dishes, enjoying the feel of the warm, sudsy water in her hands. Karthey wondered what Cramwell thought of the new lighting in his home. Surely he would have noticed that she also changed the bulbs in the chandelier. Of course, she could not expect a response from him, though; she chided herself. Cramwell Fornberg only told her what he wanted her to know. She would only hear about the light bulbs if he did not appreciate them. In that respect, then, perhaps the fact that he said nothing about them meant that he did not mind them. This fact heartened Karthey.
           
            Karthey finished the dishes and exited the kitchen, heading back for the hallway with the music room, but before she got there, another text arrived.

You may retire now, Miss Mavis.

            Karthey softly sneered to herself; she did not need his permission for that! Regardless, she realized that Cramwell wasn’t going to let her do anything else or go anywhere else tonight. She grudgingly ascended the steps to her room. She showered, read from the purloined novels until she felt tired, and dropped off to sleep. That night was the soundest sleep Karthey Mavis had experienced since first coming to Fornberg House.