John Ramsbottom John Ramsbottom
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I liked the formal dialogue which supports an upper class lady from upper East Side which I presume is the better side of town. Also he is writing on quality parchment etc. As a piece f writing 'she began' seemed out of place as a reader we know Dear.... s the beginning of a letter. Perhaps add to the description with she bean slowly,carefully, hesitantly to tell us more about er mood and character

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Alice Turner Alice Turner
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Willow Manor


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She had a friend.

Charlotte sat down at her desk and took out a fresh, crisp piece of parchment. She stared down at it for a moment, then over at the picture on the desk.  The two young girls in the gilt frame smiled out as if they had no cares in the world, their arms flung around each other, as they leaned against the sturdy truck of a willow tree.  Charlotte smiled at the picture and dipped the nib of her fountain pen in the ornate jar of jet black India ink.


“Dear Gladys, “ she began, It has been quite sometime since I wrote and even longer since we saw each other. I wanted to write you to let you know that I’ve just been married. Frank is a lovely man, and I would have adored to have you at the ceremony, but we felt it best to have a small family affair rather than a large social engagement.
We’re residing here at Willow Manor, his family’s estate on the upper East Side. I would like to invite you and a guest to come down for Christmas week, no gifts required. I do so hope you’ll come as we have many months to catch up on.
Love always,
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Charlotte blotted the fine paper, and creased it gently, pushing it into a monogrammed envelope. Biting her lip, she rang the bell at the edge of the desk. Almost instantly a tall gentleman in impeccable clothing appeared at the door.


“Madam requires assistance?”


She blinked and then smiled, “Yes, I’m sorry to bother you…”


“Jackson, madam.”


“Yes, Jackson, right…I do believe I’ll remember that before long.  Do you know where I might find some stamps?”


“If Madam will allow me, I will post the letter myself so that madam will not be required to deal with the unpleasantness of buying postage.”


Charlotte tilted her head, allowing the sentence to process before nodding.  As she opened her mouth to agree, her new husband appeared at the door, clapping Jackson on the shoulder.


“I’m sure that will be satisfactory, old chap. Please do see to that, and thank you, sir.”
Jackson’s nose made a slight twitch as he momentarily appraised his master.
“Yes sir, good enough, sir.”


Turning on his heel, he departed with the post.


“Good old Jackson, I do believe the impressive amount of starch in his clothing has gone to his head.” Frank said as the door shut.


“Really, dear. You should be nicer to him. Has he been here quite a long time?”


Frank made long strides across the room and fiddled with the humidor on the mantle, frowning down at the contents, and finally selecting a pipe and tobacco.


“No. He’s part of the new batch that mother selected for the Great Undoing.  Seems professional enough, but sort of stuffy.  I just can’t go in for that, not in this day and age.”


Charlotte watched as her new husband puff heavily on the pipe for a moment and then sigh happily. She smiled warmly at him.


“I was sending a letter to my dear friend, Gladys. I’d love for her to visit us for a few days. Would that be ok?”


Frank glanced sharply in her direction.  He took heavy strides across the room, frowning. He looked out the window that faced out to the sea.


“No, I don’t see a problem with that. When do you think she’ll arrive?”


“I’m sure she’ll write a response before she comes.  I’ll let you know just as soon as I hear anything.”


“Good enough, then.” He nodded, “Well darling, I’m off to the club meeting. I shouldn’t be more than a few hours.”


“Brilliant. I think I’ll read up in my sitting room for a while. Come wake me when you get back.” She laughed.


The afternoon passed pleasantly, and she did find herself napping some in the sun. She  also watching the sea move in and out on the sand of the small beach, and enjoying the sound of the surf crashing against the rocks that created the minor cliff that kept the house from sea level.  She was raised from her reverie by the ringing of the telephone.
Since they had moved in, they had rarely gotten any calls. The telephone was still gaining in popularity, but it remained more a toy for the upper crust in some parts of the country.  They had been fortunate enough that they had been able to update the phones in the house to the beautiful new decorative phones. She had been so excited to pick out her own delicate telephone that was covered in hand-painted roses. She lifted the receiver and with a breathless voice, answered the call.


“Vanderpool residence, this is the lady of the house speaking. How may I assist you today?”
She pondered her opening. She wasn’t sure if she was actually supposed to be actually assisting anyone. She was still questioning her words when a voice on the other end started talking in deep, breathy tones.


“The sea will have its revenge on all Vanderpools…you will get what you deserve.”


“What do you mean? What have we done?”


With a click, the line was disconnected. Charlotte stood holding the receiver  to her ear for a long moment, then slowly lowered it. Her hands shook as she replaced the receiver on the cradle, making it clatter and clang.  The chambermaid from the hallway rushed in and grabbed her around the waist.


“Oh miss, are you quite alright?  Excuse me for saying, but you’re white as if you’ve seen a ghost…madam! I mean, madam…of course.”  


“Oh..no, Maddie…I’m quite alright. Thank you.” Charlotte said, lowering herself into the chair. “Maybe some tea would be nice.”


Maddie perked up immediately.


“Tea…yes ma’am. I’ll bring it up presently.”
Charlotte sat calmly for a moment with her hand over her eyes, breathing deeply. She raised her head at the sound of clattering dishes.  The world blurred in front of her. Suddenly she was no longer in her sitting room, but she was in an oddly decorated room, sitting across from a couple that was sitting on a long sofa. There was a short, long table in front of her that was set with two heavy plates of food and some glasses of wine.  She looked at the people, stunned, and opened her mouth to scream, and immediately found herself back in her sitting room.  Maddie was staring down at her, concerned.


“Ma’am, would you like me to fetch the doctor? I don’t think you’re well.” She said in a low tone.
Charlotte jumped from her seat, glancing around the room quickly.
“Maddie, I’m afraid…I….  Well, I wasn’t just here! I was somewhere else!  Where are those people?” she asked, her voice reaching a shrill peak.


“Ma’am, there’s no one here, and you’ve been here all along. You were sitting with your hand over your eyes.  Ma’am. I’m going to fetch the doctor and the master. Let’s get you in the bed.”


The Dr. Glasgow was a staid fellow of few words, but he was considered to be the most competent doctor in the area, despite his lack of bedside manner. He studied over Charlotte for quite some time before announcing her sound. Frank sat clutching her hand while the doctor explained that she seemed to have suffered a minor shock, but nothing more. Frank barely acknowledged the doctor’s exit, but peered into Charlotte’s face.


“Charlotte, darling, tell me the whole story again. From the beginning.” He begged.


Charlotte explained the situation from the moment that they left each other to the moment that Maddie had put her foot down about her mistress’s health.  Frank stopped her occasionally, asking for minor details and having her describe the voice on the phone, the people she saw, what they had on their plates, the expression on their faces.


“Truly, Frank, they looked as shocked as I felt. I do not believe they were malicious at all! They were possibly victims as well!”


“Witchcraft!”


“Oh, Frank. Don’t be ridiculous. I might have just blacked out for a moment. I don’t believe for a minute…well…now that I’ve had time to consider it, I’m sure that’s exactly what happened. I imagined the whole thing. Let’s not worry about it anymore.”


“You can not worry about it, but I’m going to be for finding out who has endangered your life.”


His forehead creased into a maze of lines, and his mouth was turned down in a stern frown. He stood up and stalked off without saying another word, slamming the door as he left.  
Charlotte sighed. No good could come of making such a big deal of such a little incident.


She left her bed, and began puttering around her sitting room. She hadn’t grown up poor, but she certainly had never had an army of servants to do everything for her.  The rooms had not been redone in such a long time, and one of her duties as a new wife was to make sure they were kept up to date.  She had already received a large package of wallpaper and fabric samples, and people were expecting answers from her so they could get it ordered and up in time for the holidays. It would be relaxing to handle such a task after such an exciting day.  She pulled the large envelopes down from the top of the desk.  
Upon pulling the samples out of the package, a photograph of a young woman fell out.  She picked it up and stared at it for a moment. The lady was quite lovely and stylish. Her hair was done perfectly, and she was done up in the latest fashions. On her left hand was one of the largest rings she had ever seen. It has to be a diamond, Charlotte thought.  She turned the photo over and gasped as she read the scrawling handwriting on the back.


“Ask your loving husband about the woman he said he loved.” It read.


The envelope, she understood, had come directly from Hammersham and Sons Fabrication and Decoration. She couldn’t understand how someone had managed to smuggle something like that in. She had heard stories, of course, that made her leery of Frank at first. He had done so much to win her trust that she hated to believe that anything untoward had happened with a previous love. She honestly hated to think about anybody before her, period.  She stuck the photo in a lower drawer, under some other papers. Out of sight, out of mind, she thought.  It must be true, because she was shortly pulled into the world of velvet upholstery and flocked wallpaper.


She leaned back and rubbed her eyes as the clock struck six pm.  She rushed to her dressing room and changed into her evening dress for dinner.  Frank wasn’t harsh or timely himself, but the staff would become all disgruntled if they were kept waiting. She understood, because they had families and lives as well. She had already tried to impress upon Frank the importance of being respectful to the help. She arrived just as the first plates were being put down.  She smiled as Frank entered shortly after, and she nodded her appreciation.  He merely looked sheepish and took his place.


Dinners at the house were always lovely. Frank’s mother had made sure to hire only the best available for cooking, and it was evident that it was clear she only hired the best for the rest of the staff, as well. Foods were served with the greatest care, the dishes were polished and the silver was shiny.  The linens were beautifully kept, and Charlotte was reminded of this as she sunk down into her feather mattress for the evening.  She had never had a bad night at the house before, but this night was different. She tossed and turned and dreamed of the people she had seen earlier in the evening with the food. They were odd and their world was odd.  She saw them in a brightly lit building that had rows and rows of garishly colored boxes and bottles that appeared to be food. They were putting their selections in a big metal basket on wheels, and didn’t seem to notice her at all.


The only moment that it seemed she was noticed at all was while they were in a large automobile that was like nothing she had ever seen before. She was sitting in the back seat, and the man looked into the mirror above his head. His eyes widened and he began to speak, but Charlotte woke up before she could figure out what he was saying.


She threw back the covers and went about getting ready for breakfast. The morning light was hanging at such an angle that she could tell she’d overslept.  Rushing down to the dining room, she sat and waited for her breakfast to be brought in.  The morning butler brought in her plate, but stopped abruptly when he saw her, his eyes wide.


“Is madam quite alright this morning?”  he inquired.


“Of course, I had a rough night’s sleep is all.  It was just the excitement from yesterday, I’m feeling quite well.” She replied, smiling.


“It’s just that madam is a bit…well, ma’am, I honestly don’t know how to explain it.” He stood looking at her for a moment, tilting his head this way and that.


“Just pick a word.” She said, slightly exasperated.


“Fuzzy, ma’am. That’s really all I have.”


At that moment, the foyer door swung open, and Frank came bursting in with enthusiasm. He stopped dead at the end of the table, his mouth falling open.


“GOOD LORD!” he yelled, “What in the world has happened to you, Charlotte! You..whatever your name is…call the doctor.”


The butler gave a look that said he didn’t believe a doctor would help much, but took off out the door he came in, leaving the plate on the table. Charlotte sighed and rolled her eyes.


“I don’t know what you’re making a big deal of, I’m perfectly fine. There’s nothing whatsoever wrong with me.”


“Well…just look at yourself!” he bellowed.


She looked down at her arms and hands, studying them for any incongruity.
“I see nothing.” She said.


She stood up, pushing her chair back with some difficulty. It seemed to be sliding from her grasp, as if it were covered with oil. She walked closer to her husband and held out her arm.


“Look.” She said, “There’s nothing wrong with me.”


She looked up at him, catching sight of her reflection in the clean glass of the dining room window. She stared and gasped. She walked to the window, and touched her reflection.  Her whole body seemed to be covered with tiny black and white specks. On top of that, the specks were wiggling around, making her appear fuzzy.


“Oh..oh my goodness…  I do see what you mean.” She said, her breath still weak.  
Frank pulled out a chair.


“Here, sit…” he said, gently, helping her into the chair. “Don’t you worry, Dr. Glasgow will fix this up. He’s the best physician in this area and he’ll know what to do.”


The doctor frowned, turning her hand over and over in his hands.


“I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life.” He said in a gruff way. “Lie back for a moment, Mrs. Vanderpool. I’m going to speak to your husband to see if I can get some more information about the situations that have been stressing you lately.”


Charlotte laid back and closed her eyes.  She could hear the hum of her husband and the doctor discussing her condition quietly.  Soon, the sound faded and she waited for them to come back, but neither of them returned. She tried to raise up, but the surface she was laying on had turned hard and cold. She realized that she must have drifted off to sleep, but her head was now hanging backwards off the surface, and her legs were hanging off the other end.  She could hear screaming, but the whole situation had her so confused that she couldn’t tell if it was coming from her or someone else.  She grasped the edges of the hard surface and pushed herself up firmly into a seated position.  


Continuingly disoriented, she looked around her.  The room she was now in was the room she’d seen before when she had encountered the man and woman the first time.  She looked over to where the long sofa had been, and saw the woman sitting alone, her mouth open. The woman’s scream was twindling out into a tiny squeak, and she was slowly rising from the sofa.  Charlotte realized she’d never seen a sofa quite like this one. It was large, brown, and puffy and seemed to be made from a series of overstuffed pillows.


“Ma’am.” She said, “I hate to disturb you, but I find myself not knowing where I am. Can  you tell me where we are?”


The woman continued to stare at her, but gulped several times as if she were trying to speak. She began to giggle a little, and then laughed harder.  She sat back down on the sofa, her hand over her mouth, gasping and laughing.


“You seem to have become quite hysterical, and I would love to appreciate the humor in this as well, but please tell me where we are!” said Charlotte, her voice rising.  She jumped off the black box and stood up. The room spun around her and she sank down to her knees.
“Oh!” the woman yelled, and she ran over, grabbing Charlotte and helping her to the sofa.
Charlotte hung onto her head for a moment, and the room sorted out eventually.  She raised her head and looked at the woman, and then glanced around the room. The faint scent of leather was in the air, along with a slight hint of something floral.

“Dear woman. Where am I?”


“You’re Charlotte Vanderpool.” The woman said, her expression still holding a trace of incredulity.


“Yes, ma’am. I am.”


“Of  the show, Willow Manor.” The woman said, a trace of giggle coming back into her voice.


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