The Lure of The Night Ch. 01byMini_Sinclair©
Desperation leads to disaster. It forces you to leave the safe cocoon you have built over the years and venture out into the wild. Desperation would even make you forget—if only for a short moment—that you shouldn't expose your ugliness to the world. Desperation might also make you forget the ugliness of the world itself.
Millie Foster took one look at the Ashford estate and grimaced. What was she doing here? She didn't belong in the outside world. How would she deal with the staring—the judging?
"You staying or what?" the cab driver shot out impatiently as Millie appraised the mansion just a few feet away.
"Just a second," she shot back, glancing briefly at the pudgy driver before turning wary eyes back to the house.
It was beautiful, laden with history and background. And she would explore every inch of it with gusto.
This new job was a big opportunity for Millie. For the first time in her life, she had a chance to truly showcase her talents as a historian. She would help decorate the old mansion for the new owners. She would also be able to do her own research, gather enough information about the mysterious-looking Victorian mansion to... what? Write a book about it? Sell the information to some obscure journal that catered to history buffs? Whatever. She would do something with it. Opportunities such as this don't happen every day, especially to someone like her.
Mr. Morris, the new owner, was planning to turn the old house into an exclusive club and casino that would cater to wealthy, important men. In other words, he wanted the place to become an Edwardian-themed gentlemen's club. A new-money web entrepreneur, Mr. Morris wanted to climb the social ladder as quickly as he'd made his first billion, and he was quite certain that this new business venture would catapult him to the very top of the crème de la crème of high society.
"I'm bringing back the class and exclusivity of old times," Mr. Morris had enthused. "No one will be able to just barge in. If anyone other than society's A-list tries to access our club—" He shook his head. "Not going to happen. Not here." He'd sounded as serious as a heart attack.
At first, Millie thought she wouldn't get the job—one good look at her and the man would run off in horror—so imagine her surprise when Mr. Morris had called her just two days ago, saying that he needed her right away. He'd made it clear that she would have to stay at the mansion to oversee historical details such as costume and home design. The Ashford estate would be her new home, at least for a little while.
It had been a shock, getting this job. She thought she had scared Mr. Morris away when she walked in and showed him her face. She didn't show her face to very many people, not since the day she discovered she was scarred for life. But he seemed kind, if somewhat pompous, and had the grace to gloss over his weatherworn features into that of politeness after the initial shock of seeing her scars.
Millie touched the deformity on her right cheek and sighed. She hadn't looked at herself in a mirror for years. Not since the day she woke up in a hospital, her face covered with a bandage, not knowing what had happened or how she'd gotten there.
To this day, she had no recollection of the events that had left her scarred for life. She went to bed one night and woke up in the hospital many weeks later. The events that had led her to that hospital were a big blur. If only she had a clue, or inkling, about how she'd ended up alone and deformed...
That was in the past, she reminded herself. It was time to move on and live a semi-normal life. This job was a lifesaver. She needed to save money for those reconstructive surgeries that had, until now, been beyond her financial reach. Maybe, just maybe, she would be able to make it happen now. She would, of course, leave the Ashford estate the second the club-slash-casino opened its doors for the beautiful people. She had no interest in making this her permanent home.
Her eyes skimmed the estate. It was built in 1844 and part of the left wing was burned down in 1911. It had been rumored that its landlord, a Mr. Alexander Benjamin Ashford III, the son of a wealthy jewelry merchant, had set it on fire after discovering his wife in bed with another man. Mr. and Mrs. Ashford died in the fire—their bodies consumed by the flames. Rumors circulated the estate for years, claiming that Mr. Ashford's ghost resided in the mansion and scared away various new home owners. That was supposedly the reason why the house had been abandoned for almost seventy-six years, for its last owner closed down its doors in 1934.
The mansion had been restored over the years, but Mr. Morris wanted it to look exactly like an Edwardian house, complete with turn-of-the-twentieth-century furnishings and customs. The staff, or, as Mr. Morris said, the "hired help," was supposed to wear period clothing, and they had to behave like the underlings of those times. Modern technology was not allowed, at least not during work hours. Cell phones, laptops, tablets, iPods, e-Readers, or whatever new gadget was currently hot in the market, were not allowed in the premises. All staff members would live like in the old days—no ifs or buts. That was the main reason Millie was there. She would be a consultant of sorts, imparting information on the manners and mores of the early 1900s. She had gone to college for this very purpose. Her dream, one she'd thought lost, was finally coming true.
She paid the cab driver and scooted out of the car, a small suitcase in hand, slamming the door shut. The autumn chill hit her face, making her shudder a little. She had no idea what to expect from this place, but at least they wouldn't involve lonely nights in front of the television, avoiding the horrified gazes of both strangers and acquaintances whenever she made a halfhearted attempt to be social.
Gathering her courage, she shuffled over to the entrance, glancing over her shoulder at the cab as it sped away. Great. Now she had to stay. There was no going back. She would have to talk with others, and they would catch a glimpse of her face. Time to face the music.
She covered her right cheek with her chestnut-brown hair and hoped for the best. Perhaps Mr. Morris had warned the staff members about her appearance, and told them to ignore her half-covered face. It had been bad enough getting strange looks from Mr. Morris during the first half of the interview—looks of terror, followed by something resembling pity—she didn't want the same reaction from all of her colleagues. In any event, she would avoid socializing as much as humanly possible. She was here to work, not make friends.
Clutching her purse and suitcase, Millie smoothed down her black turtleneck sweater and knee-length skirt and craned her neck to take in the massive scope of the house. It resembled a Victorian castle—with graying stones and large windows. The sun had set, the sky turning into the bluish shade of twilight. The faint moonlight shone above, casting a phantom-like shadow across the house.
Something flew up from the roof. Crows. Their cawing echoed through the air.
Fighting off a shiver, Millie stalked up the great stone steps that led to a large wooden door. She rapped the great brass knocker, which was roughly the size of a bowling ball, and just as heavy.
Calm yourself, Millie. This may be your one and only chance to make things happen. To make money. To have a career. To have a life.
The heavy oak door swung open, revealing an aging, heavyset, glum-looking woman wearing a turn-of-the-century version of a maid's uniform. She even wore one of those ugly white caps made popular by spinsters during the late Victorian era. The woman sighed and glared at Millie, wiping her large hands on her dirty white apron.
Millie smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. Apprehension took over, and now she wished she had stayed home. "Hello, I'm here for the—"
"You must be Melinda Foster," the woman cut in, her voice hoarse and sharp. "Mr. Morris has been expecting you. Follow me."
She followed the woman through an enormous foyer where a double staircase was situated. The staircase was divided into two sections, left and right. A faint breeze from a slightly open window stirred the air, crinkling the crystals of an enormous chandelier just above her head. Millie gasped. The house was enormous, not to mention gorgeous. All of it. Even in its deteriorated stated, it looked grand and imposing. It was something right out of a Bronte novel—Thornfield Hall come alive. For a second, Millie beamed with hope. Maybe coming here hadn't been such a bad idea after all.
"Watch your step, hon," the woman croaked, glancing over her shoulder at Millie. "Stairs haven't been fixed yet."
The stairs seemed endless, and they creaked with each step. Millie had gone three stories now, and she was fighting the urge to pant. She hadn't done this much exercise since... Come to think of it, she had never done this much exercise, period. After all, watching TV and reading novels all day long didn't require a great deal of physical activity.
Over the banister, she could see the polished hard-wood floors shine down below. She reached the top of the stairs and encountered a large painting of a man and a woman in Victorian clothing on a wall facing the landing. The woman was seated, and the man stood behind her, one large hand on her delicate shoulder and the other one behind his back. The woman's titian-colored hair was wrapped in an elaborate chignon, pretty ringlets spilled down her delicate shoulders. She wore a blue gown, the neckline so low her breasts looked as if they were about to pop out of the confinements. She was beautiful—ethereally so, with eyes as large and hazel as Millie's.
The man on the painting was the exact opposite of the woman. He was tall, dark, handsome and mysterious-looking. His dark eyes were slightly narrowed, as if in brooding contemplation. Millie stopped in front of the painting, transfixed. Were these the original owners? Were they—?
"That's Alexander Benjamin Ashford III and his wife Meredith," the maid informed her. "The original lord and lady of the Ashford manor." Her eyes twinkled with amusement when she added, "They say that this place is haunted, that Mr. Ashford's ghost drifts from room to room at night, looking for innocent girls to uh... quench his ghostly needs." She threw her head back and laughed as if she'd said the funniest, cleverest thing in the world.
Millie said nothing as she turned her gaze back to the picture. There was something eerily familiar about them. Uneasiness pierced her; she didn't know why. Crossing her arms over her chest to ward off a shudder, she started after the maid, who was still chuckling to herself.
They walked down a long corridor to a large wooden door. The faux-maid knocked on the door and waited. Sighing, Millie cast a curious glance at her surroundings. The corridor was dimly lit, giving the hallway an unearthly, spooky appearance. To the far left, there was a set of double doors, secured by an old lock. The doors looked like they hadn't been opened since the house burned down a hundred years ago.
"Where do those doors lead?" Millie asked.
The maid's brows furrowed, her lips thinned. "That's the main bedchamber. It was completely destroyed in the fire. The owners were unable to restore it and the doors must be locked at all times."
At that moment, the door in front of them swung open, revealing Mr. Morris in his best Edwardian finery. He looked like the real-life version of the Monopoly Man. "Ah, Miss Foster. I've been expecting you. Do come in." He sounded like a bad Shakespearean actor.
He moved aside to let Millie in. She swept past the maid and let herself in, but not before glancing back at the two double doors on the far left... and catching sight of something odd. A shadow crossed past the doors. The silhouette of a man in a black cloak. Cold fear surged through her, and she momentarily froze.
"Did—did you see that?" she asked, gasping.
"See what?" the maid said, glancing at the double doors. Mr. Morris frowned.
Millie closed her eyes for a second and shook her head. No, it was nothing. It was just her imagination—she was seeing things that weren't there. It wouldn't be the first time. She opened her eyes and took a deep, shuddering breath.
"Nothing," she answered wearily. "I thought I saw something."
"Mr. Ashford's ghost, perhaps?" the maid asked, a hint of amusement glimmering in her beady blue eyes. Millie turned pale.
"Marla," Mr. Morris said warningly.
Millie sighed. She hadn't been here for fifteen minutes and was already regretting her choice. Was it too late to call a cab and go back home?
Wary, she moved past Mr. Morris and rushed into his office.
There she is, after all this time. Such a long wait, but it was worth every second of it. I would have waited forever for her though. Forever wouldn't have been enough. In actuality, I'd only waited one hundred years—a century of solitude, pain and hatred for the woman who ruined my life and turned me into the mere apparition that I am now. I can't reverse this curse, nor am I allowed to rest in peace, so why should she carry on with a new life, in a new body, while I waste away in the ruins of our old home?
Meredith, my darling, my sweet torment. You have no idea what is in store for you. This is karma calling, and it's here to collect.
By definition, karma is payback for actions committed in a previous life. And I—Alexander Benjamin Ashford III—is karma personified. You, Meredith, will pay for everything you did to me, and I'll do it the same way you had done it. First I will seduce you, and then I will crush you to bits. I'll give you pleasure like you've never experienced before, and then I shall take it all away. You will be scarred in the inside as well as out. Your vanity has been taken away, and now it is your soul that shall be possessed. And you will carry that pain with you for as long as you live, which will be a very long time. I will make sure of that. My curse, this damnation I've been forced to endure for so many years, has finally worked in my favor.
It is time, my darling. Brace yourself. Let the seduction begin!
Millie heard a soft rasp on her bedroom door and twisted around in time to see Marla enter the room carrying towels and blankets. She dropped it on the bed and then frowned at Millie.
"Why are you in bed?" she inquired. "It's only six o'clock. Don't you want to go downstairs and meet the rest of the staff? Dinner is going to bed served in an hour."
Millie shuddered at the thought of meeting people. "No, I—I'm still tired from my trip."
"So you'd rather have your dinner here?"
"I'm actually not that hungry."
Marla nodded. "Well, rest up all you can then. There's an early morning meeting tomorrow. Mr. Morris has a big announcement to make."
"Something about revamping the club's theme, but I'm sure he'll tell us all about it tomorrow." She glanced around the room and sighed. "All right, I'll let you get some sleep now. If you change your mind about dinner, just pull the bell and I'll be right up with the tray."
Millie nodded a thank you, her big cotton nightshirt crumpling around her waist as she sat up in bed. "Marla?"
Marla was about to leave the room when she turned. "Yes?"
"Those people in the portrait. You know, Mr. and Mrs.—"
"The Ashfords?" Marla cut in.
Millie sat up straighter in bed, bending her knees to her chest. "Yes. That thing you said about—"
"Alex's ghost?" Marla finished for her again. "I was just messing with you, kid. Don't worry about it."
"But is it true?" Millie persisted. "I mean, have people said anything about Mr. Ashford's ghost haunting this house?"
Marla smiled and, smoothing her hands on her apron, nodded. "What, are you afraid of ghosts?"
I'm afraid of many things, but not particularly of ghosts. "N—no. I was just wondering. This is an old house, and I've heard quite a few things about it. So is any of it true?"
"Depends on what you've heard." Marla moved to the front of the bed, her hands inside the pockets of her apron. "But if you're referring to Alex's ghost, well... there have been stories. Many stories, actually. Naughty stories, if you get my meaning. I don't think you'd want to hear any of it—"
"Oh, but I would!" It was her turn to interrupt. Then, upon hearing her own words, her cheeks flushed pink and she looked down at her hands. "What I mean is, I wouldn't mind hearing about them."
"The stories are quite... explicit."
Millie sighed. "I... don't mind."
Marla shrugged and moved over to the bed where she plopped unceremoniously on to the mattress. "All right, if you insist."
She settled in bed, next to Millie, and wrapping herself around one of the blankets that she had deposited upon the bed, she settled down in front of Millie and stared into the distance. "There was one particular story that presumably took place just five years after the house's left wing was engulfed in flames. A nice family moved in from France. I believe their name was Deveraux. A middle-aged married couple with an eighteen-year-old daughter. They only used the house's right wing. Most of it was habitable at the time, and the lands were so beautiful and the gardens so picturesque during the summer that the couple didn't think twice about moving in. The smell of smoke had gone and everything looked almost normal again. They moved to America hoping to improve their finances. The daughter was going to marry a wealthy merchant from Boston. The wedding date was set up and everything. But suddenly the girl—her name was Sabine—began to behave strangely. She seldom left her bedroom, and when she did, she hardly spoke. She no longer seemed excited about her wedding. She grew more withdrawn with time, spending every single waking moment in her bedroom, and no one knew why."
Millie fidgeted in her bed, absently flattening the hair that fell across her right cheek. She had a feeling she already knew where the story was heading.
"The reason she never left the room," Marla continued, "had three words—or is it four? Maybe five? Anyway, it was Alexander Benjamin Ashford III. He visited her bedroom, demanded sexual favors from her, then left her for days and days at a time, driving the poor girl mad with heartbreak and longing. The more aloof Alex's ghost was, the more desperate the girl became. It all ended one terrible night—the night Sabine went in to her parent's bedchamber."
Marla paused, rubbed her hands together, and turned inquisitive eyes to Millie. "Are you sure you want to hear the rest of this?"
Impatient, but not wanting to seem rude, Millie nodded. "Please, do. I love ghost stories."
"This isn't your typical ghost story."
"I know," Millie smiled. "And that is why I want to hear it. Please continue."
Marla rubbed her hands together again, a playful smile teasing her lips. "Sabine had heard strange sounds coming from her parents' bedroom. It wasn't the usual sound of her father's loud snoring, but a different sound altogether. This sound filled Sabine with dread, for she knew that something peculiar was going on. Turning the doorknob, Sabine entered her parents' room, only to stop in her tracks when she heard the unmistakable groan of pleasure from her mother, swiftly followed by a pleading moan. For a mortifying moment, she thought she had walked in on her parents during their intimacy and was about to walk out when a figure stepped from the shadows and situated himself in front of Mrs. Deveraux. The girl's mother was on the bed, her brown hair fanning out like a blanket behind her. Her legs were raised almost level with her hips while her fingers traced lazy circles around her full breasts. The figure before her just stood there and watched, his eyes drawn to the area between the woman's legs where the glistening, swollen lips of her vagina lay parted.