Hello and welcome to the first ever Novelette on Tanya Tales called “The Portrait”. This is the second part of three which are going live on this blog every Friday. To see part one of the Novelette head over to The Portrait – Part 1
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Within what seemed to be less than a minute Lucinda had collected her belongings and scurried out of the hotel.
“You are a busy lady aren’t you?” The doorman warmly mocked as Lucinda skated past him on her way back out. Lucinda smiled absently as she threw herself into her car, safely placing her mother’s journal on the seat beside her. She knew how strange it would have appeared had anyone known her true intention, had anyone known that the only reason Lucinda kept the book with her was through fear of it disappearing or of her losing her last connection to her mum. Lucinda took a breath as she pushed her foot down and sped her way onto the road.
Lucinda began to wrack her brain for any reference to ‘him’ before. Yet there seemed to be nothing. Her mother had not seemed the type to believe in apparitions she was far too religious. It was then that Lucinda realised her religious obsession began alongside her madness. Her mother would always warn her to behave as god was watching over her. She would tell Lucinda that they were special because god was looking out for them, offering them help after her father had abandoned them. She would tell her that whatever happened was gods will and that they must not defy it. As a child Gladys would always reassure Lucinda that this was her mother’s way of coping with her father’s leaving however as she made her way into adolescence Lucinda assumed that her mother had begun on her religious experience as a way of coping with the truth that her madness would eventually be her end.
Once again Lucinda’s journey had been hastened by her thinking and before she even knew it she found herself at the house. Lucinda got herself out of the car, picking up the journals as she went and marching herself into the house with authority. Lucinda flew into the hall, darting her way around busily working men.
“What you doing back ‘ere darling?” The team leader asked. “This ain’t no place for woman.” He continued as he placed a hand on the small of her back and attempting to guide her out of the house.
“Remove your hands from me if you wish to keep them.” Lucinda reinforced. “I am unsure if you have forgotten but I am your boss, I hired you and I can just as easily fire you. I have a right to be wherever I wish to be whenever I wish to be there and you have no right to tell me if I may or may not do so. Now tell me, where is Sam?” Lucinda asked.
“Second floor miss, sorry miss.” He sheepishly replied.
Lucinda marched her way up the winding staircase at the end of the hallway. As she reached the first floor Lucinda began to feel a cold, unwelcome familiarity. It was the kind of feeling Lucinda had attempted to escape when she had moved out, when she had left her mother in the house alone. Lucinda walked passed a room and peered inside. It was her father’s old study. The room appeared untouched by the workmen, insinuating that they had not yet reached this section of the house. The desk still sat before the window, a large stream of light pouring in and over the old leather desk chair. The room still housed every painting it had when Lucinda was a child. They hung proudly on the wall ready for a visitor to pay them some attention. On the floor the same rug lay still. One fraying edge curling inwards while the other was pinned down by the desk leg. As a child Lucinda was forbidden to go into this room, at first it was because it were home to all her father’s important paperwork. However, after her father had left, Lucinda’s mother still refused Lucinda entry into the room. Thinking back Lucinda realised that her presence was forbidden due to her mother’s confidence that one day her father would return, feeling guilt ridden and seeking to come home. This never happened.
Ever so occasionally, while Lucinda was either sneaking out or back into the house, she would pass the study in the early hours to hear her mother sob to herself. Once or twice Lucinda recalled glancing inside the study to check her mother was alright. Both times Lucinda opened the door a crack and saw her mother curled up in the desk chair, an old blanket pulled around her waist, glancing longingly out of the window. Once or twice Lucinda had looked in but never had her mother known. She was far too proud a woman to have allowed her daughter to know that she sat alone and cried sometimes.
“Sam!” Lucinda shouted as she spied him at the top of the stair case. Sam was busy directing his team as they cleared out the second floor, shifting chairs and the lighter furniture first before he even thought to combat the beds. Lucinda looked on to him. His smile stretched across his face as he interacted with his colleagues, leading them in a friendly but efficient manner. Lucinda watched Sam’s light hearted wit and suddenly flashed back to one of the few memories she had of her father. He was stood in the downstairs hallway in front of the portrait of a Guy Fawkes throwing Lucinda into the air and catching her again. Gladys stood telling him to stop and a cheeky smile stretched across her face.
As she passed by the room she saw her old school room at the end of the corridor. Memories of a frustrated Gladys standing in front of the chalk board resurfaced. A slight smile graced her face as Lucinda remembered how irritated Gladys would become when Lucinda would not listen. “Lucinda,” Gladys used to say “Do your work or no ice cream after supper.” Lucinda used to be humoured and a little irritated at this statement. She was humoured as not often did she want any of Gladys’ homemade ice cream as it tasted more of frozen sand than of ice-cream. Yet Lucinda also recollected the irritation she felt when she thought of how teachers at a school wouldn’t be able to band their students from ice cream after dinner so why Gladys should be allowed to was beyond her. Lucinda watched as two clumsy looking men hoisted up the old, mouldy desk Gladys used to sit at and tried to fit it through the door way. The door was clearly too small for the desk to fit through however the two men seemed determine to make it work. Hoisting it backwards and forwards until they manage to find it jammed between the frames.
“Miss Lucinda? Is everything alright? I didn’t expect to see again today!” Sam declared as he spotted her standing at the bottom of the stairs. She looked somewhat spaced out as she stood in her old home as it was pulled down and deconstructed around her. Sam finished giving his order before trotting down the stairs towards his boss. Sam looked somewhat concerned upon nearing Lucinda as she seemed heavier of heart that she had earlier in the day as well as much paler. He knew not whether he should question her health again for he knew that she didn’t appreciate male concern and so eventually decided against pressing her and allowing her to open up independently.
“I am alright thank you Sam, I just wished to seek your expertise.” She admitted. Sam looked at her indicating for her to go on however Lucinda felt the prying eyes. She could feel the invasion of her privacy by the other workmen questioning why she wished to speak to the youngest and weakest member of the pack. She turned around to catch workmen whispering and judging her and so she decided she needed more privacy. With a few exchanged looks it was decided that Sam would follow Lucinda to a place she deemed private enough. Sam traipsed behind Lucinda as she marched down the stairs and along the hallway towards the front door. A shiver made its way down Sam’s spine as he passed the portrait of Guy Fawkes in the hallway. ‘Fawkes Mansion’ was one of the mansions whereby the eyes of the paintings seemed to follow you as you passed them by. It was the kind of place whereby each portrait seemed so life like that the only explanation could be that the portrait captured a part of the beings soul.
As the pair stepped out of the front door Sam realised that the time must have met midday for the sun was so central in the sky making it feel almost impossible for you to escape the glare. Each step the pair took seemed to cover their shoes in a red dust which workmen seemed to attract wherever they were to go. Lucinda walked to her car, opening the passenger door indicating for Sam to get in before walking around to the driver’s side and getting into the car herself. Upon the pair’s entry into the car a heavy burden seemed to be lifted off of their shoulders for Lucinda felt Sam, in his youth, was the one being who would not judge her for enquiring about the houses haunting rumours.
“Miss Lucinda, I don’t wish to sound rude or as if I am pressing you but what ‘expertise’ of mine is it that you require?” Sam asked carefully.
“I need you to tell me about this house.” Lucinda replied.
“Alright, it’s a mid-16th century build with gothic design which appears as if someone began renovations to modernise it, which is apparent in the hallway and dining room, but were disturbed and …” Sam began, reeling of the facts that he had memorised before beginning the job.
“No.” Lucinda interrupted abruptly, “I mean I need you to tell me about this house being haunted.” Lucinda went on to spell out.
“Miss Lucinda I don’t feel it my place to relay the rumours of workmen to my boss.” Sam refused. Lucinda looked at Sam she could tell that he was somewhat stuck between a rock and a hard place as he debated whether he should betray his co-workers or whether he should be spending his work hours gossiping. Lucinda laid on her thickest ‘damsel in distress’ look. She battered her eye lashed and bit her lower lip as she looked pleadingly towards Sam. Sam looked back at her, clearly torn in his decision. Lucinda looked back at him realising that her femininity clearly didn’t appeal to this boy. With a breath Lucinda established a plan she was sure would work.
“I can pay.” Lucinda offered, opening her purse to reveals several notes. Sam thought carefully before establishing the value of the money before him. He nodded complacently as he agreed to tell her the story of the house.
Inside Sam’s head he had a plan. Of course he wanted to help Lucinda but to what extent he had not decided. He did not know if helping this woman was worth losing the respect of his friends and colleagues over. Sam mulled the decision over in his head before another issue arose. He realised that perhaps Lucinda’s questions were not coming from a place of curiosity but more from a place of grief. Sam thought back to the time his mother had been ill. He remembered the panic his family experienced. He thought back to the way that he and his brothers pulled together for the first time ever and of how he would not have gotten through it without the help of his family. Then Sam thought of Lucinda. A strong woman of course, however she was alone following the passing of her mother. He was no fool. He had heard the rumours of her father running away with a French maid and taking all of the children with him, leaving Lucinda to fend to herself in a house with a mad woman. Sam thought about how difficult it must have been for Lucinda before deciding that he would share all he could with this strong woman.
“You’ve seen the portrait in the hall?” Sam asked rhetorically. “Before today, before I saw the portrait I was unsure of whether the tale were true. But as soon as I laid eyes on it, as soon as I saw the portrait sat crooked on the wall I knew that it was all true.” Lucinda looked at Sam intrigued. She knew a brief history of the portrait. She knew that it was painted by the first owner of the house and was a resemblance of his friend, but why it held any importance Lucinda did not know. “The portrait is of Guy Fawkes.” Sam explained. There was a moment’s pause followed by a splutter of laughter from Lucinda. She laughed an uneasy laugh of which she herself did not know how to stop. She laughed a little longer before looking to Sam to see that he were not laughing. In fact he looked more serious than he had looked all day.
“You are joking aren’t you?” Lucinda prompted. But Sam simply shook his head. As a child Sam had grown up surrounded by older siblings. His siblings were all older, stronger, braver and bigger than Sam was and so, being the runt of the litter, they took to teasing him and trying to scare him. At first it worked. Every night a different sibling would sneak into his dark room and relay to him a ghost story about witches and zombies and ghosts and wolves which turned to men. Every night they would tell him story on story until he were too scared to sleep. Every single night his siblings would find humour when their little brother would sneak out of bed to find a way of letting some light into his room. Sam grew up surrounded by scary tales and eventually he stopped finding the horror in them. Eventually Sam became fascinated with the stories his siblings would tell. Eventually Sam went as far as researching into them himself. He would spend hours at the library finding any and all stories of mythical creatures and ghosts and ghouls he could. A few years ago he stumbled upon the tale of haunting in his town. He read of Guy Fawkes and his curse on the top of the hill. So Sam was used to tales of Guy Fawkes but also realised that speaking to anyone else these tales would be absurd.
“Yes. Did you never wonder why your house held the arsonists name? He was friends with the man who owned the piece of land of which your house is built. Some argue they were more than just friends but there was no dispute over the fact that the owner of the land was obsessed with Fawkes. He built the house in his honour and had the portrait of him painted and hung where all visitors could see it in the hallway. As the tale goes on the 4th November Guy made his way to this house. He told his friend that if he were not to return to the house ever again, he should never remove his portrait from the wall.” Sam explained.
“Why?” Lucinda questioned in disbelief.
“Fawkes explained that the portrait was so accurate that it had captured a part of his soul. As long as the portrait was undisturbed he would rest in peace, however if the portrait was disturbed his spirit would be too.” Sam explained.
“Wait, go back.” Lucinda ordered.
“To where? 4th November? Obsessed with Fawkes? Portrait, the spirit?” Sam asked.
“To when you started telling me about the house, you said it looked like someone had started to modernise it.” Lucinda said, looking down at the diary in her hands. She swung the book opening flicking from the back of the journals forward. As she neared the beginning Lucinda found an entry titled ‘New Start’.
“What are you looking for?” Sam asked. For a moment Lucinda had completely forgotten that the young man was sat in her car. He was looking at her curious and desperate for an answer. He had slowly become somewhat invested into their investigation and Lucinda’s secret realisation managed only to draw him further in. Sam glanced at the journals in Lucinda’s hands feeling as if he had been excluded from something. “Miss Lucinda?” Sam asked.
“Yes, well.” Lucinda said. “I found these journals in my mother’s belongings. Three books bound together and well they explain everything from the day we moved into this house to the day she died. 18 years summed up in 3 books.” Lucinda summarised. “There is a journal entry, right at the beginning it explains how my mother wished to renovate the house. She said it gave her a cold feeling and she wanted to warm it up.” Lucinda concluded. Sam looked at Lucinda then lay a hand on the entry, glancing over in an attempt to read the page. He looked up at Lucinda before deciding it safe to ask if he may read the entry. Lucinda took a moment to agree before reluctantly handing the journals over to him.
“This is a gold mine.” Sam said after reading through the page. “The house is cold, the paintings are creepy, Henry told me not to, Gladys is helping me … Miss Lucinda these journals are, well a gold mine!” He said again. Sam looked at Lucinda. A worried look had graced her face yet she was determined not to give up. Lucinda took a breath as she paused to think of how insane her day had become. She had begun the day readying herself to say goodbye to her mother and now she found herself on a goose chase trying to find out if her mother was being haunted by the ghost of Guy Fawkes.
“It mentions Gladys, doesn’t it?” Lucinda asked Sam. Sam was still sat, book in his hands hardly believing what was occurring. He nodded, filing his finger down the page to where Gladys’ name was mentioned.
“Henry’s reluctance to let me redecorate has been grating on me. I am nought but a bored house wife a trophy wife. I have been off loading onto Gladys. She has been a wonderful confident over the last few weeks. She agrees I should have more in my life than being a mother or else I am to go insane.” Sam read aloud. “You don’t think she moved the painting do you?” He asked Lucinda. She looked at him with unease. She didn’t know what was possible anymore. Her mother was being haunted and her house was occupied by the spirit of Guy Fawkes.
“I do not know. This doesn’t make any sense. I may not know much about hauntings, in fact I know very little. However I am sure that the wooden cross was supposed to be a symbol to ward off evil.” Lucinda explained clumsily.
“It is, religion acts as a block.” Sam agreed. His confidence slowly turned to confusion before looking at Lucinda once more and asking why.
“My mother was religious. Surely you have seen the crosses around the house.” Lucinda stated. Sam thought back to when he entered the house. He had seen the symbol of the cross either side of the door upon entering and in fact had spied a few hidden away around the house. Sam sat confusedly. He did not understand how a woman protected by religion had been haunted. It made no sense, it defied all the rules Sam had learnt over the years.
“This Gladys woman.” Sam began. “She seems to know a lot. Do you know where to find her?” Sam asked. Lucinda nodded reluctantly. She hadn’t seen Gladys since her mother had died and now she was more than worried that her presence wouldn’t not be a welcome one. She took a breath before ordering Sam to buckle in. He did as he was told, never once taking his eyes off of Lucinda. He wondered if may be she were as stable as he had earlier concluded or if maybe she held too many emotions to be able to make a good judgement. Lucinda turned the key to her car, speeding away down the dusty road.
I hope you enjoyed part 2 of “The Portrait.” The third and concluding part of the story will be published on my blog as on next friday! However, if you can’t wait until then read below for a teaser of next weeks conclusion!
It is a race against the clock as Lucinda and Luke look to a familiar face for help. Having been warned that they must act quickly, will Luke and Lucinda make it in time or is someone else about to be doomed to the torture of “Fawkes Mansion”. With strong themes contained throughout.