Novelette “The Portrait – Part 1”

Hello and welcome to my first ever Tanya Tales Novelette called  “The Portrait”. This is the first part of three which will be going live on my blog every Friday for the next three weeks! I am very excited for you to read the story and I hope that you enjoy it. If you like it then please do share the link below on your social media and don’t forget to tag me into it. 

“I want it all torn down. When I return I don’t so much as want to see a vase left behind as a reminder of this hell, am I clear?” Lucinda asked as she instructed the removal team to get to work on the house.

“You don’t want us to keep anyfink? What if we find some’ing expensive?” Asked the removal team leader. He was an overweight northern man whose t-shirt didn’t quite fit his rounded belly and whose trousers sagged a little too low, revealing his ripped, checked blue underwear. Lucinda wished she could tell the arrogant middle aged nobody that he was fired, however she hadn’t been given much notice of the developers arrival and considering that they would arrive within the week, she hadn’t much choice other than to deal with the workman’s unbearable dress sense and irritating questions.

“If you find something of which you believe to hold value, it’s yours. I will repeat myself, which is something I do not make a habit of doing, I want it all gone. And before you ask after things which may hold sentiment, I have a box of belongings on the doorstep all of which are things I wish to keep, if it is not in the box then there will be a reason and so you have consent to dispose of it, am I clear?” Lucinda asked impatiently as the intimidated team nodded in chorus. Lucinda may have been a young city woman but she was old in her appearance. Her hair was always pulled back into a tight bun or ponytail and her clothing, although fashionable, gave off the impression that she was old before her time. It was immediately clear to anyone who met Lucinda that she was a woman in a man’s world. Her pan suits and lack of makeup contributed to this image however the clarity came when you realised how desperate she was to be taken seriously.

“Alright, Alright darlin’ I got it from ‘ere, you go and get your hair dun or somink !” The team’s leader said, hurrying Lucinda away from the crowd of working men. “It don’t take no genius t’ see this ‘ere ‘Fawkes Mansion’ is a big place but we be a big team too. Harry I want you t’ go attic wiv your men, John you ‘nd boys set to’ work on t’ third floor. I want you to go through the kids rooms quick like, throw out everyfink. Sam’s lot do second floor watchin’ ou’ for valuables yeah? Me team will do the first and bottom floor. I want job done by sundown. The demolition boys are comin’ first fing morrow so if you ain’t done all’t work by then you’re working frew t’night and ain’t nobody wants to be working here gone sundown. We’ve all heard the rumours.” He ordered, chuckling with his men as they dispersed towards the house. “Sam wait.” The leader said as he grasped a hold of a young guys arm and pulled him away from the crowd, “Your boys find a fing that could be worth somink you bring it me right?” He sternly expressed, not letting go of the boy’s arm until he nodded complacently and scurried away towards the house.

Lucinda looked on with anger as the misogynistic moron gave his orders. She was beginning to tire of men telling her what she should and should not do especially following her upbringing. Lucinda had lived out her childhood in ‘Fawkes Mansion’. In the beginning her life seemed perfect, she lived in a mansion with her mother, brother, two sisters and father with wealth beyond bounds of imagination. She was the apple of her mother’s eye and most definitely the favourite child. Any toy she wished for she was given and any treat she dreamed of she had. For the first two years of Lucinda’s life she was one of the fortunate few. However things were not this way for long. Her mother soon began to act strangely and her father, a man who had married the trophy wife, hadn’t the interest to stat and nurse her back to health. One day, while Lucinda and her mother had gone for a stroll around the grounds, her father gathered Lucinda’s siblings packed a bag and left. Lucinda and her mother had returned to the house that afternoon to find themselves alone.

Not many people took kindly to a single mother and gossip soon began to spread, especially when word got out that her husband, who had seemed perfectly happy one day, left the next without so much as an explanation. When her father had left, ‘Fawkes Mansion’ seemed to have been robbed of the light joyful life it once held and was now left with an ever darkening mood. The curtains seemed forever drawn and the gardens soon died. Lucinda and her mother were treated as social outcasts, never to be accepted. As a result of this Lucinda’s mother never found work or received a source of income. The house soon became a vacuum of money and the staff, sick of going unpaid, seemed to disappear overnight, that is all the staff other than Gladys.

Gladys had been the house matron. She was a harsh woman in her late fifties who ruled with an iron fist. She had always scared Lucinda, her dark scowl and troubled persona giving off all but a friendly vibe. Upon leaving, the master of the house had asked Gladys if she would accompany him, he had offered her the same job and better pay, yet she turned him down declaring that her services were still needed where she was. Throughout all the troubled times Gladys did not waver, she never expressed any regret of her decision and when the mistress informed Gladys that there was no money left to pay her, she merely smiled before continuing on as if nothing had been said. Gladys was Lucinda’s rock, the one person who Lucinda knew she could trust, the only one who was truly there for her. Gladys was the mother Lucinda wished she had.

“Can I help you with that Ma’am?” A voice asked as Lucinda struggled the lift the box of personal belongings off of the doorstep. Lucinda stood up right sharply, spinning around to find an anxious Sam stood uncomfortably behind her. “I didn’t mean to startle you Ma’am. I’m Luke, I’m helping with the clear out and thought, well wondered, if you’d like some help with that box. Not that you couldn’t do it but if say, you didn’t want to do it or something” He reassured.

“No need to apologies you didn’t startle me at all. And thank you some help would be lovely.” Lucinda said as Sam lifted the box with ease.

“To the car I assume, Ma’am?” Sam asked. To which Lucinda agreed to by nodding and walking alongside him, guiding him towards her car. There was a moment of quiet before Sam began to stutter awkwardly, coughing out his words. “May I ask you something Ma’am?”

“So long as you stop calling me Ma’am, Miss Lucinda is fine Sam.” She reassured with a slight smile.

“Yes Miss Lucinda, sorry Miss Lucinda. I was just wondering if, well, more so why you were, are, so desperate to get rid of this house.” He asked uncomfortably as he reached Lucinda’s car and placed the box of belongings onto the roof.

“That’s simple. The money. If I tear down ‘Fawkes Mansion’ I can build three houses of ordinary size on the land and I will get nearly three times the money I would get if I were to sell ‘Fawkes Mansion’ out right. Besides no one was going to buy the haunted house on the hill. It’s the logical thing to do.” Lucinda said. She glanced towards Sam who had managed to transform from awkward to uncomfortable within moments. “It is alright Sam,” Lucinda agreed comfortingly, placing a friendly hand onto his shoulder before continuing in a lowered voice, “I have lived in this house nearly all my life, so of course I am aware of the rumours. But trust me I have never seen anything mildly ghostly, the scariest thing that has been in that house was my mother and well she’s not a problem anymore is she?” Lucinda trailed off. Lucinda shook herself out of her trance, opening her boot and lifting the box from the room. However as she did so, the bottom of the box collapsed and the few pleasant memories Lucinda held of her childhood scattered themselves across the floor. Lucinda stood for a moment looking on at the mess upon the floor, recognising how typical the situation was. As if Lucinda’s mother dying, losing her job as a result of asking for compassionate leave and being lumped with a supposedly haunted house to sell wasn’t issue enough but now she couldn’t even carry a box without it going wrong. Lucinda took a breath before joining Luke, who had already begun to pick up and pile things back into the broken box.

“Miss Lucinda, I haven’t the chance yet to commiserate you on your loss.” Sam said as he looked up to meet Lucinda’s eyes.

“Thank you.” Lucinda dryly replied breaking eye contact quickly. Another moment of peace passed the pair by before Luke perked up again.

“I hope you don’t think me intrusive Miss, but I couldn’t help but notice it. Your mother kept a journal. She didn’t seem the type.” Sam said as he lifted a leather-bound journal off the ground and placed it on top of the box.

“I didn’t know she did.” Lucinda said confused. Lucinda had packed that box herself yet seemed to have no recollection of a seeing a diary. “I didn’t know you knew my mother.” Lucinda added.

“I didn’t know her that well Miss, but I was your paper boy while I was growing up. We exchanged a few words here and there. Nothing much.” He replied quickly.

“I am sorry. I didn’t recognise you.” Lucinda admitted.

“It’s alright Miss. I only recognised from the house. You’re a bit of a town celebrity don’t you know. You went from the girl who lived in the haunted house to the girl who broke free!” He laughed coyly. Lucinda smiled back, still confused as to how the diary had found its way into the Lucinda made her excuses before climbing into her car and driving back to her hotel.

Upon Lucinda’s eighteenth birthday Lucinda had followed in the footsteps of her father, leaving the house and moving far away. Lucinda had always hated the countryside. She despised the sheep and had no time for the smell and so as soon as she could Lucinda found herself escaping to the city. It was only then that she felt at home, for the first time in her life Lucinda felt stable. She felt as if she had found the place where she belonged and despite her finding herself to be living in a small studio flat in the rough part of town Lucinda’s life had finally settled down. However, unlike her father, Lucinda had not abandoned her mother. Once a month she would travel down and spend the week tending to her mother’s fantasies and when she was not there she was satisfied in the knowledge that Gladys had stayed on at the house as a nurse. Thankfully Lucinda had found paid employment and was finally able to pay for Gladys’ time.

Lucinda’s thoughts had trailed off and before she knew it she found herself back at her hotel. Lucinda climbed out of the car and began making her way towards the hotel but suddenly she stopped. Thoughts of the suspicious journal surfaced in her mind, drawing her back to the car. Lucinda opened the boot removing only the leather-bound journal before closing it once more and returning to her previous act of entering into the hotel.

“Morning Ma’am.” The doorman said as he allowed her entry into the hotel.

“Morning Damion.” She replied, offering up a smile and a nod.

Lucinda made her way up to her room, put the kettle onto the stove and sat herself down into the armchair which faced out over the moors. Lucinda fingered the diary before opening it to an entry about a quarter of the way into the journal and began to read.

“Dear Journals,

It is the 5th of August 1959 and things have only worsened. I am now fully aware of the horrors this house bestows and only now can I see the truth in the rumours. Jonathon warned me not to interfere with the house but I didn’t listen and now I find myself in a predicament. On the one hand I stay and am continuously tormented by the spirits of the house where as on the other hand I leave and risk the house wreaking revenge on my sweet Lucinda. She is young and more susceptible to spirits than the other children. Sometimes she will be playing and all off a sudden stop in her tracks and begin to stare. Her eyes begin to fixate on a space, as if she were watching someone. Other times she will point to nothing at all, Johnathon pretends to think nothing of it however I know that he too is concerned. He was the one who alerted me to “Fawkes Mansion’s” somewhat troubled past. I will write more another time but in this instant Lucinda weeps and I am compelled to go and care for her.”

Lucinda read. She looked at the date again, she could only have been one at the time meaning that this entry was from before her mother’s insanity had flourished and before her father had left. Lucinda had to question what would be revealed in her later entries if these were the ramblings of a sane woman. Lucinda flicked a few pages forward before reading another entry.

“Dear journals,

It is now the 1st of January 1960 and I am not hesitant to say I do not think Johnathan will return. He was the reason we bought this house in the first place. He said it was essential to his work however as soon as his ‘work’ picks up he runs for the hills, leaving me a single mother. Last night I spoke to him again. He spoke with a softer tone this time yet his words were just as harsh. He told me he would hurt the baby had I not replaced the portrait on the wall. When I awoke this morning I did as he had asked. I replaced the portrait and have not heard from his once. Where has he gone? It makes me anxious to have not seen him for so many hours. Usually he is stalking in the shadows watching everything I do. Mocking my every move. He is always there. I fear leaving the house these days in case he is angered and imprints on Lucinda as he has done me. She is only 2, far too young to understand why this strange man watches her so. I must protect her. I must. She needs my protection, her mother’s protection. It has been nearly a half an hour since last I checked on her. Gladys is with her but Gladys is not her mother, she cannot protect her in the ways I can. She would not die for her.”

Lucinda read on, slightly comforted yet still confused. It was comforting to hear such words of madness for they were the only words Lucinda recollects her mother saying to her, it comforted her to feel as if her mother was still present after death. Yet Lucinda was still confused. Perhaps her memory was foggy but she seemed not to remember her mother speaking with such frantic words until Lucinda had hit her early teens. Lucinda looked at the date, exactly a month after Gladys tells her that her father left. Lucinda flicked to the end of the diary for she wondered what her mother had written in her final days if she had been this disturbed so early on.

“Dear Journals,

It is the 4th of May 1988 and I know the end is near. Lucinda is visiting this week and oh I wish she wouldn’t. He goes quiet when she is about and quiet scared me. I lie, silence terrifies me. For it is when he is quiet that I do not know what he is doing. The last time Lucinda visited he made me dangerous. He made me turn on the gas and let it fill the hob. He told me to wait an hour before lighting it up and watching the house go boom. Lucinda stopped it thank god. But now she thinks me crazy. I am not crazy, I am haunted by him. I try so hard to be good. Be good I tell myself. Be good for Lucinda, do not scare my Lucinda. Lucinda would not like me to be bad. She is embarrassed by me. She always has been that is why she left me as soon as she could. But he makes me bad. He tells me to be bad and do bad things. He tells me if I do not do the bad things he will hurt people. Lots of people. He tells me that he can hurt whoever I love, even the children. I can hear Lucinda crying, I can’t get her to stop crying. Hush little baby I sing. Hush little baby don’t say a word, but she doesn’t stop crying. I want to rip my ears off. He is angry too. He is screaming at me to hush her up or else he will. I told Gladys to hush the baby. Hush the baby, I say, hush her before she gets hurt. Gladys tells me that there is no baby. No baby, she says, the baby is 30 now. This cannot be true. How can this be the case when I hear her crying? But he laughs at me and this is how. He taunts me always. He cries like the baby, he tells me the year is 1959 and he tells me to trust him. I have to trust him because it is my fault he is here. It is my fault that he watches over me like a hawk. Lucinda is visiting this weekend. Yes, Lucinda my baby is visiting me. I am excited to see what exotic gift she brings us. I must say us because all things mine are his. He told me so. He told me that we are of one. That is why I must not run because I can’t. He cannot leave and so neither can I. Ever. He tells me it is time. He watches me write this warns me of what he could do. Stop Lucinda visiting, he says or else.”

Lucinda slammed shut the journals. 4th May, the date her mother died. She thinks back and recalls speaking to her that day. She had asked Gladys to install one of these phones into the house and that way the pair could speak. Lucinda recalls telling her mother that she would visit that weekend. She had told her mother of her trip to Brighton and that she had picked her up some sweets. Hardly an exotic gift. Lucinda suddenly thought, she remembered her mother speaking of him while Lucinda was growing up, but never did Lucinda realise that her mother thought there was a spirit in the house. Lucinda’s mind trailed back to the conversation she and young Sam had earlier that day. She remembered telling him that there was nothing in the house and she remembers the frightened look upon his face when she had mentioned the haunting. She realised that it was the fear of a believer, someone who must know the legend inside and out. Suddenly Lucinda felt compelled to hear more of the hauntings. She felt compelled to uncover who ‘he’ was and why he was there.

I hope you enjoyed the first part of “The Portrait.” Leave a comment below to tell me how you found it! Part two will be published on the blog as of next friday and if you cannot wait until then read below for a sneak peak summery of part two! 

Desperate, Lucinda seeks help from some friends, but can they be trusted. Meanwhile her mothers journals reveal more dark and troubling secrets about Lucinda’s childhood and as Lucinda learns the true story behind “Fawkes Mansion” will she be able to to put aside her own feelings and get to the bottom of the mysterious journals!

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