The Manse

The Manse

A Story by Beth
"

A dream I had a while back.

"

  My name is Sadie Molcum. How I tremble to tell you this, my very name. In times past, I was proud and successful. Now, I become alarmed at innocent shadows and terrors plague me every night. For who has endured what I have, and lived to tell of it? Certainly none under the same duress as I experienced. I can testify to that.
     The year was 1872. I had just won my finest goal of gaining a position at the prestigious North School, and my spirits were high. They had thrown a welcome party for me �" all of the resident teachers and students. Champagne was in abundance, and uncountable confections were devoured. Cheeks were red with cheer and the broad hall shone with the candlelight of a thousand braziers. Even the Matron herself attended. Oh, she treated me sweetly, recounting the history of North School, telling me that everything I hoped for was within reach. She had been Matron for uncounted years, and yet still wore her dark hair piled high on her unblemished head. Of age there was not a trace. I attributed this oddness to having lived a fulfilling life. For who grows old when they are enriching the lives of others? The children were my passion.
     I was to teach Politics and Language Skills. The first few weeks were pure bliss. Despite the playfulness of normal children, they were well-behaved and bright �" the crème de la crème. Parents sent their children from towns throughout the country to this distinguished academy, renowned for its long-standing history and strong educational program.
     The school itself was housed in one of the oldest, grandest buildings of the city. Towering high over the street in its stony splendor, it had the look of an ancient chapel. Gargoyles studded the entrance and guarded the roof. Slender spires pierced the sky, and numerous windows opened to the front courtyard, which was protected by a sturdy, wrought-iron gate at the end of the red brick walk. Oh, it was splendid. And I was the luckiest woman in the world to have this opportunity to showcase my abilities here. I was the only female teacher, in fact, aside from the great Matron herself.
     But the old saying is true. “Things that appear too good to be true usually are.” I soon found this out, and now, as my hair is gone gray and my skin turned to parchment, the memories still reduce me to tears, to uncontrollable trembling and renewed nightmares. It is as if I am living it again.

     The weeks passed swiftly, and in the rigors of my teaching, I rarely saw the Matron. The times I did, she never once turned my way or recognized me with her voice, though she studied me with her eyes. Deep, dark grey eyes, she has. I found myself disturbed by their brilliance. She had a habit of sweeping through the halls, her long dresses and cloaks billowing out behind her. She was a grand lady, proud and tall and beautiful. But one afternoon, after my students had left, I was wiping the blackboard, my back to the door. The Matron swept into my room. I could sense her presence without turning �" she had that effect. She drifted through the room, picking up little artifacts that I had brought in for my students, and replacing them again. She spoke kindly and asked how the job was treating me. I had feared she had forgotten me, and the assurance that she had not was like balm to my soul. She invited me to stroll with her through the halls of the school. I accepted.
     We walked together for many minutes. She was strangely quiet, and I tried to fill in the silence with comments about the building's workmanship.
     “Was this place built to be a school, or was it originally meant for another purpose?” I asked.
     She said nothing, gazing toward the end of the hallway as if she could see something I could not. I glanced at her again. Then she turned her face, disinterested.
     “The building has been around many, many years. It is beyond my scope to imagine what its first purpose was.”
     I decided to keep my mouth shut, and continued to walk with her. We reached an elevator. Wrought iron bars curled around the outside, lending it the appearance of a beautiful cage. We stepped inside, and she pulled a tasseled rope in the corner. We descended. Still she said nothing, eyes fixed straight ahead.
     Soon our descent stopped and the doors clanged open. We stepped out. I stared in surprise. We faced a vast hallway in ruins. It was nearly as wide as a subway tunnel. Broken furniture littered the floor, pieces scattered in silent confusion. Dust and cobwebs hung thick on all surfaces. Thinking back, I should have fled. Even though I lose myself in that maze of web and unknown rooms, still better it would have been.
     I looked at her still face. She must have sensed the question on my lips, for she answered. “No one comes down here these days. This once was the school.”
     The piles of furniture sat dead and unmoving. I shuddered. The Matron turned to look at me. “Come further,” she commanded. So I did.
     This time in the elevator, the Matron seemed to change. She stood taller and prouder, her shoulders flung back and chin raised. “I will show you my domain,” she said. My spirit shrank from her. But what could I do? The elevator still sung.
     Down and down we went, further into the bowels of North School, until I imagined that the building had roots all the way to the center of the earth. Still the elevator sung. I may have dozed off for a few seconds. Then we hit the bottom with an unsteady bang. The doors swung open. Was it my imagination, or had the iron on the door really been that old and corroded when we had started out?
     The hall was bare. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling, but there was no sign of life. A fine dust lay on the floor, which creaked beneath my feet. The lady beside me was striding now, and despite my sense of impending danger, I scurried behind, eager to catch up. Stopping before a gray slab of a door, she turned to look at me, her eyes deep and black within the paleness of her cheek. She took my arm in her strong, long-fingered grasp and announced my doom.
     “You have served me well, Sadie. But I have a different use for you.” She laid one hand on the door. It swung slowly inward, creaking like the lid to a weathered coffin.
     Her body blocked my view. Perhaps that is why I did not struggle. Perhaps it was the magnetism of her voice, of her persona. “You will stay here with me,” she announced. “You will learn to serve my pleasure.” She moved to the side and wrenched me forward until I stumbled and nearly fell. She jerked my face to hers with one strong motion.
     “You will never escape.”
     I knew not what she was saying. Her black eyes glittered and a lock of dark hair fell into her face, giving the appearance of something other than school matron. Then did I struggle, though in vain. One flick of her wrist and I fell backward into the unknown. My scream echoed eerily until the hard ground came up to silence it.

     I expected it to be dark when I woke. But the light filtering through my closed eyes was a dull white. The air was deep with the musky scent of fine dust all around. I dared not open my eyes. I knew I was not dreaming. An indeterminable amount of time passed before I at last gained the courage to look around. I did so with my fingers first, unwilling to view where I lay lest the horror stay with me forever. Oh, that I had never opened my eyes. Better to be blinded, to have them gouged out of my face with red-hot pincers than to see what I saw. Better to have died right then and there.
     But after my fingers had determined that I was lying on hard concrete covered in thick layers of dust, there was nothing for it but to look. It was light, but light of a kind that I had never seen before. The origin of that light is still a mystery to me. It was a dull white, nearly grey light that sank into every surface. The room was large, larger than my ample bedroom in the North School. There were only four walls made of stained cement. But that was not what I saw.
     Tall piles of decaying bones stood at random throughout the room. Piled higher than my head, they were menacing threats of what was to come. The dust came from them. I stood in horror, my shoe heel catching on the end of my skirt. I turned. The room was full of these piles. There were no windows, no doors �" nothing save the piles of dusty bone. I dared not move for the scattered limbs near me. Where I had landed after my fall from the entrance was simply a pile of dust. I tried to calm myself to no avail. Sinking down again, I sat clenching and unclenching my fingers, twisting the hem of my jacket. I frantically scanned every surface of the wall, of the floor, of the ceiling, looking for escape. There was none. The door I had entered through was gone, no cracks to show where it had been. I lowered my head to my knees and rocked. This had to be a dream.
     After several hours of despair, I tried calling for help. My voice was timid at first, then stronger and more desperate. I screamed for what seemed like days, until my voice gave out and my throat burned with each breath. Still only echoes. I remembered the empty hallways above, how the matron had taken care to show how isolated I was to be. I shivered in anger. The light burned on. There was no counting of hours, no counting of days. How can there be days when there are no nights?
     I was becoming unbearably thirsty. The dry dust in the air only served to exacerbate this problem. My head throbbed unmercifully. I had left my hair up in its teacher’s bun, but now reached up to loosen it. I sighed. Still, I dared not move for the bones. Time passed.
     Behind me, a door opened. I whirled. An unnoticeable slab in the wall had slid open, and I caught sight of a gruesome face leering out at me. Glittering eyes peered malevolently as a malformed hand pushed a clay pot inside. Water sloshed, sounding loud in the stillness. The hand reappeared a few seconds later and tossed a piece of meat in. The meat landed on the dusty floor and bounced, leaving a greasy stain where it had been.
     Despite my overwhelming thirst, the evil in those eyes left me firmly rooted where I stood. For a long time, I kept my eyes on the spot that had opened. No more movements came from the area. After it seemed an eternity had passed, I was as alone as I was before. My throat ached, and the thought of water overcame all else. My foot inched forward. I winced as it came into contact with what looked like a femur. It immediately dissolved into dust. My stomach heaved, but the water called strongly to me. Preservation mattered �" nothing else.
     I finally reached the water, and, lifting the pot, gulped it down. When I was finished, I stared at the empty pot in remorse. Who knew how long that was to last? Was this my last drink before death came to turn my body into just another scattering of dry bones and dust? I did not touch the meat; it was covered the dust of many bones.
     Time passed, and my mind began to wander. I thought of my past, of all my former lovers. I imagined teaching again in my classroom. Then the door clanged open again, and the evil eyes sent in water and food. Though I was faint with hunger, I could not bear the thought of eating meat covered with the dust of dead things. Eventually, I took my jacket and used it to clear a spot where the meat landed. The next time the door clanged open, I had my first meal. It was the leg of a bird. When I was finished, I placed the bone along the wall I had claimed for my own, the place I had landed. This counted for one day.
     One day shortly after the normal feeding, the door opened again. I looked up in surprise, terror beating at my heart. It was Her. She stood regal, though she wore a black gown worn through with many holes. A red, moth-eaten cloak covered her shoulders. Her black hair lay long and thick down her back, and cruel eyes slid over my wasted frame. How had I never recognized that cruelness she possessed? I clutched the greasy meat in my hand and stared back at her. My mind had gone numb. Behind her appeared the monster who fed me. He was a man, but huge and threatening. His misshapen grin leered at me. The Matron stepped in, delicate shoes crushing the bones beneath like so many forgotten flowers. The Monster brought in a chair for her to sit upon. She said nothing. I stood warily, the piece of meat unheeded as it dropped to the dusty floor. I was aware of how I looked. She had not taken cognizance from me yet. My dress was wrinkled and torn, stained with grease and dust and tears. My hair was loose, straggling around my shoulders. I had lost the pins one night in a fevered dream. Yet I stood, anger blooming in my chest.
     She beckoned. I came.
     “How is my little pet?” she crooned. My unused voice cracked unintelligibly, and I lunged forward, fingers crooked to tear out her eyes. The monster stepped forward and knocked me away to roll across the floor, crushing bones as I went. He glanced at the Matron. She nodded. He exited the room, and came back with a length of chains. I struggled, but he placed them around my ankles and my wrists. Their heavy edges cut into my skin, and I staggered to take a single step.
     “My pet must be gentle,” came the sweet voice of the Matron. “Oh, you have nothing to say?” She mused. “Perhaps I will come down to visit you more often, my pet.” They turned and left.
      That night I dreamed that I was chained in a prison with groans and whimpers sounding all around from the other prisoners. When I woke, I was chained, but the cries were all mine.
     Time passed, and the chains became easier to wear. I fostered anger in my heart as the pile of my collected bones grew larger. So many days had passed. The Matron came about once every ten days. She came to taunt, to muse, and sometimes to anger. She would bid me to kiss her feet, or to stand for hours at her side. Most times, however, she simply watched and mused. Her manservant would bring a lash, and whenever I angered her with my silence or actions, she bid him to use it. My clothes became tatters, and my mind grew ever feebler, though I dared dream of my escape.
     I began to pass time by counting my day-bones. For such I called those bones that were fed to me in order to count the days. My pile was large, and growing. One month grew into five, and my hair was getting longer. My knees became callused from crawling about the floor. One year, two years of the same unending routine. My back was scarred from hundreds of lashings, my body wasted from lack of exercise. I tried to keep my mind strong. Five years, eight years. I counted my bones and retold myself old stories of the past. Of my happy childhood near the green lakes of France. Of summer vacations to the beautiful Alps. Once, I caught sight of a new face through the doorway. It was a man. He disappeared behind the wall.
     And still my imprisonment continued.
     One day the Matron came to visit. She was restless, and looked at me as if she had never seen me before. She instructed her manservant to release my chains. My hopes, so long suppressed, bloomed. She took my arm and supported my weak frame through the door which I had entered ten years before. I had a glimpse of the hallway outside of my room. It looked exactly the same, and yet so different. My eyes welled with tears. She took me to the old elevator, and we stood inside. The iron cage sang as it raised us to that first level she had shown me so long before. Furniture still littered the great hallway, and cobwebs hung from every corner. She turned my face to hers, eyes shining in the blackness of the hall.
     “I am being very generous to you, my pet.” She paused. “I have caused great pain to you, but it has helped you grow. Tell me,” she said. “If the tables were turned now, would you be as generous to me?”
     Perhaps it was anger at all my lost years. Perhaps it was my feeble mind. Perhaps it was because freedom was so close.
     “I would lock you in that dungeon and chain you there until you rotted and became just another pile of bones,” I spat.
     She looked up and nodded; no emotion on her face. She pulled the tasseled rope in the corner of the cage. The great hall, and its promise of freedom disappeared from view as we descended once again. My keening wail was lost on the Matron. My weak efforts to strangle her, to mutilate her, all wasted. The manservant said no words, but clapped on the irons again. This time when I fell backward into that dull white room of bones, no sound escaped my lips.
     The following months I searched for ways to end my life. The chains were too short to strangle myself. The lash was not strong enough to induce death. I abandoned all food, but then the manservant forcibly fed me. I realized that my attempts were futile. The Matron came to visit just enough to keep my mind from growing completely insane. The old duties were resumed, of kissing her feet, of standing for hours. My pile of bones grew twice as large. I gave up counting them and sat listlessly in a corner, reciting old poems of the forgotten world.
     My hair was turning gray, I saw. How could this be, when I was a mere thirty one at the time of my imprisonment? I clung to hope that it was the dust making it so. For how I could realize the years stolen from me?
     Time passed amid the steady light of that room. More bones crumbled beneath my touch than flowers graced the meadows of my childhood France. I created a daily routine in which I kept my limbs from withering. Every day I walked around the walls of the room until the door opened and food was tossed in. Then I ate. Then I walked again. I slept when I needed to. Years passed. I saw my hands grow gnarled and wrinkled. My eyesight dimmed. I occasionally caught sight of an unfamiliar face, but these occurrences were so far apart that they brought no hope.
     One day, the Matron brought a cloak with her on her visit. She bid me don it and even released the chains so that I could do so. She brought me once again from the room of bones and led me to another room. She gave me a basin of water and bid me clean my face. I can only imagine the state I was in. She allowed me to wash my hair, which I gratefully did, though the water ran away in foul-smelling streams. She told me that she was taking me back to North School for the evening. She gave no reason why. I hoped and prayed that she would kill my body there, where she had taken it.  
     We entered the elevator, she and I and her manservant. We ascended past the great empty hall, and continued rising. Then the elevator doors swung open into a cacophony of sound and color.
     I was stunned. Not another person had I seen for thirty-five years during my life of captivity. Not another color than the red and black of the Matron, the yellowish gray of the bones and walls. Not the light of candles or of sunlight or the moon. Here there were dozens of gaily dancing people in plumed hats and fancy clothes. Tall windows stood from ceiling to floor, flooding the floor with the light of the sun. I stood in shock. A part of me wanted to flee, to go back to the familiar room with the dusty bones and hard cement. The other, more alive, part of me, only wanted to stand right here and soak up the sunlight. I closed my eyes in rapture. Even the tall presence of the Matron could not take the sunlight from me this time.
     I suppose the Matron thought it safe to leave me for a while. Her manservant prowled the crowds. I looked around at the people. There was a man, who looked much like I felt I looked. His eyes were stunned and wary, his clothes old and shabby. His back was crooked and body wasted. He stood stock still, taking in the scene. I marked him for a fellow prisoner and wondered how many there were. 
     A black-haired woman pushed her way to my side. She said nothing, but looked at me and made a small gesture with one hand to a man who was also headed my way. They took positions on either side of me. Frightened, I glanced at them, but the lady smiled and I felt no fear. The man was tall and strong, a steadying presence though I did not know his name. I dared not trust my voice to ask questions.
     The dancing people in the hall continued with their revelry and drinking. I saw the Matron chatting gaily with several people. The manservant was still prowling on the outskirts of the crowd. The Matron raised her glass, and there was a loud cheer. I spotted a young man edging his way toward the balcony. The matron saw him too.
     “Stop him!” she cried. The man burst into a run and, dodging the reaching hands of the manservant, flew over the railing. I lost sight of him after that.
     The man and woman at my sides grabbed my arms and began dragging me toward the elevator. I struggled. Two other men threw a large sack over the head of the man I had marked as a fellow prisoner. They picked him up and carried him toward the elevator where I stood. An elderly man pulled a young boy onto the elevator behind us. The man at my side had a pistol in one hand.
     The Matron screamed, and her manservant turned. Seeing us all crowding onto the elevator, he charged across the hall. Gaily dressed men and women scattered chaotically out of his way. He drew a handgun as he came close to the elevator.
     “Quick, the rope!” the woman next to me hissed. The two men in the corner turned to grasp it. But the Matron’s servant was there, muscling his way onto the elevator with us. My heart thudded wildly. The man at my side grappled with him, eventually blocking him out of the cage.
     The infuriated manservant fired round after round through the wrought iron into the crowded elevator. I was crushed between two people into the corner of the cage, so no bullets found me. But the sack with the man in it sprouted spots of blood in numerous spots. The man in it writhed in agony, and went still. The young boy screamed, and buried his head in his grandfather’s waistcoat.
     Then the elevator was descending. The shots ceased, and only the sound of a quiet lullaby and childish hysteria was heard as the grandfather softly sang to the boy. And still the cage descended.
     “How far down does this go?” I heard the woman ask.
     “Farther down than you could dream �" it goes down into hell itself,” one of the men darkly replied.
      In my confused state of mind, I was dreading the time when I would be caught. How would I explain to the Matron that I had not purposely tried to escape, but was carried along with everyone else? I knew the punishment would be terrible.
     The elevator stopped at the great hall with broken furniture and cobwebs. The man and woman hustled me out, and the two men carrying the bloody sack with my fellow prisoner, followed. The grandfather and boy came last, the boy still crying into his grandfather’s coat.
     We all walked down the hallway, taking care to remain quiet. The men hurried us on. The corridor turned and twisted for the longest time. A strange smell grew in my nostrils the farther we walked. My weakened legs grew tired, but fear kept my feet moving.
     Then we reached the end of the hallway. It opened up in an archway to the outside.
     It was raining. I thought I would die of pleasure from the sweet smell and feel of water. The men carrying the wounded man hurried ahead and, turning into the street, disappeared from view.
     Throngs of people crowded the road ahead, and we reached the outside in a matter of minutes.
     The grandfather and child scurried off to one side, losing themselves in the crowd. I was left alone with the strong man and the black-haired woman. They ushered me into the midst of the crowd, protecting me from jostling elbows and bodies. The very sight of so many people, the fresh air, and the unfamiliar sounds all worked to render me senseless. I walked along in a daze, propelled only by the arms of my two companions.
     I realized that we were headed toward a subway. Suddenly, the man stopped, looking ahead.
     “I think the bar will be best,” he said. I followed his eyes. The Matron’s manservant stood at the entrance to the subway, scanning everyone in the crowd. I quickly ducked from view. My two companions turned me about and we hurriedly set off in the other direction. The lady spoke quietly to me.
     “Walk with us and do not say a single word. Don’t even say ‘sshh’. They can find and indentify your voice.” I was too terrified to say anything at all.
     We reached the edge of the crowd and walked down a deserted street. The man suddenly turned and took the steps to an abandoned building. It was small, with a glass front guarded with iron bars. The man produced a key, unlocked the door, and we crowded inside. It was dark and quiet.
     The woman held my arm comfortingly as the man rummaged in the back of the room. There was a short countertop, which the lady led me behind, out of sight of the windows. There was a cushioned chair which the lady gently pushed me into. I was aware of how I must smell.
     My knees were shaking, my teeth chattering, and I was waiting for the Matron to show up and take me away again, back down to the dusty dungeon with the lashes and chains.
    The lady sought to comfort me. She had soft black hair around her face.
     “See?” she said. “Look. The windows are shaded. The door is locked. We are safe here.” Her words calmed me a little.
     We sat behind the counter silently. The strong man kept watch from a doorway behind us. After a time, he whispered, “The guard just walked past. He did not see us. We will have to watch out for him.”
     I wondered who these two were �" these two rescuers of mine. In time, they explained.
     After I had disappeared, the families of several of my students had petitioned the government to make an inquiry into my disappearance. Apparently, I was not the only person gone missing from the school. In fact, looking back into history, a great many people had mysteriously vanished from the place. The parents formed a coalition and hired a private investigator firm to infiltrate the school. That was the job of my two protectors. It had taken them eight years to infiltrate properly and remain out of suspicion. It took fifteen more years before one of them was able to catch a glimpse of me and know that I was still alive. It had been thirty-five years since my capture. Thirty-five years in chains amid bones and lashes. I could feel the years in my body. I wondered how it was that the Matron had not changed.
     I still wonder how it is, but now I suspect I know the truth. It is too terrible for me to utter. It is too frightening for words, and thought of as fantasy in this world. Let me tell you that fantasy is real. And though I now have been free for nearly ten years, I am not too ashamed to admit my terror at the memories of my imprisonment, and of the ageless Matron who even now searches for me.
     I have my own tiny home now, and a man at my side whenever I venture out. That isn’t often, for sometimes I catch glimpses of a tall, black-haired woman, or of a man who resembles her servant. At those times it is all I can do to keep from crying out and attracting attention. So I sit inside. I sit near a window cracked open at all times so that I can smell the sweet scents of the seasons, to breathe the fresh air, so that I can keep watch on the streets. My hair is now washed and my body clean. It took two days, but a more blissful two days I have not experienced. I have a cat, a comforting presence of softness and life.
     Yesterday I saw the familiar face of my fellow prisoner. Bullet wound scars ravaged his body. He walked with a limp down the concrete pathway strewn with autumn leaves, but he was alive. That is all anyone can say. I am alive.

© 2011 Beth


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Reviews

I really enjoyed this story and how you timed the flow and pacing just right. It is a well written piece and I love that your character, despite that she is now free, will NEVER be truly free from the horrors she experienced. I can only imagine what type of damage was done to her psyche. Bravo!

Posted 9 Years Ago


what a great story. you really put a lot of effort in telling it, and it shows. good job.

Posted 10 Years Ago


I enjoyed this piece quite a bit. You have definitely developed an individual tone that keeps the reader going. My only advice would be to show, not tell, and maybe go through this piece again with a fine-toothed comb adding a little more detail.

Posted 11 Years Ago


Wow that was a dream...I think I would've woken up and had to change the sheets lol. Very very very well written by the way. I could actually feel the pain and torment this woman was going through and see everything she could see...very intense. I can't wait to get a copy of one of your published works one of these days.

Posted 12 Years Ago


A great story with mystery and intrigue woven with rich descriptions, very nice work.

Posted 12 Years Ago



Very down to earth, yet very imaginative story. Had the sense of a dream throughout but not overly done.

And it all worked out well in the end....sort of...;)

Very nice.

S

Posted 12 Years Ago


Amazing. I know how you think, writing a story off of a dream. I've done that before too. I thought that maybe you should put the part about fantasy and how it is very real at the beginning instead of near the end.
I liked the way you held the suspense and the complete feeling of confusion by not explaining why the Matron did all this. The dark gothic style added to the mood also. Great job!

Posted 12 Years Ago


Wonderful story telling. I like the plot and the underlying themes which are present. The characters are well constructed as well as the gothic romantic sort of setting. It seems to me, you perhaps have a fond interest in the classics as I have and it shows in your style. Very interesting story. Thanks for sharing.

Posted 12 Years Ago


One of my favorite writers, and the one that first really grabbed my attention so many years ago was Edgar Allen Poe. When I started reading your story, the first thing that popped into my head was "She writes in the old style, and sounds a bit like Poe." I don't know if you meant to, but in both writing-style and subject matter, "The Manse" is reminiscent of that 19th century genious's work.

Very well-done, ZoeJane!

Posted 12 Years Ago


beautiful...

Posted 13 Years Ago



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Added on July 6, 2008
Last Updated on September 12, 2011

Author

Beth
Beth

Phoenix, AZ



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