Welcome Home

I lay awake feeling the cold air swirl around my bed. The sweat, though my skin was ice cold, prickled my entire body. Something – or someone – was calling me; a soft, gentle child-like voice full of pleading and wretchedness. I sat up and looked around me. There was no one there. The moon illuminated my room, casting its light through the large balcony windows. It was just as it always was as my eyes swept cautiously around the walls. The wall paper still wore the same complicated patterns of flowers swirling around the walls and the dark mahogany furniture stood like sentinels in the dark. The heavy velvet curtains blew with the wind that forced its way in the cracks in the worn window frames. Nothing had changed, and yet – there was this ice coldness that filled my room and I was overcome with an intense feeling of fear.
“Clara,” whispered the sweet gentle voice again and I groaned. “Clara, come, come to me.”
I put my head in my hands. No, this cannot be. My mind was racing and I felt myself shudder. The voice… it was familiar.
“Who is it?” I cried out. “Where are you? Are you in the wardrobe?”
With a sudden feeling of panic, I remembered how she used to hide in there sometimes. When I came to my bed at night, she would wait until I was asleep and would frighten me half to death by calling my name out in the night, making me think there was something ghostly in my room.
“Claraaaah,” the voice called again.
“Stop it! Stop it!” I jumped out of my bed, ready to run if I had to. “You’re dead! You’re dead!”
Sarah, my older sister had been gone for months now, and I had been so traumatised by her death that I had had to be sent away to recover. They had found me by her body at the bottom of the long staircase. So I was told; the one that wound its way down from the first floor landing to the great reception hall at the bottom of the stairs. Her neck had been broken and her face was contorted as if she had seen something that had badly frightened her. I don’t remember any of it, just that I woke up one morning to be told that she was dead and I had been lying there in my bed, mutely, for days. Then I screamed and I couldn’t stop. No one knew why I was screaming, least of all me. And so it was that I was sent away to stay with my Aunt Florence in Hanley. Now I was back, my first day home since that terrible tragedy had happened in Fallowthrop Hall. I was home amongst the servants who treated me with kindness, my father whom I adored and my step mother who I tolerated for my father’s sake and all the things that made life bearable, such as my books, my paints and easel, my inkpens and writing paper. Or so I had thought.
Sarah was gone, the sister that had made my life a misery. The days of torment were dead, just as she was. Life would be peaceful now, wouldn’t it? They said she had tripped on an old wooden toy that had been left at the top of the stairs. It had been mine and I was told not to blame myself. I must have left it there accidentally. I wanted to hug that old wooden horse that I had left there on the stairs. I wouldn’t blame myself. It was an accident. But oh, how joyful I was that such an accident should have happened. Well you would understand if you had known what Sarah had done to me most of my life. Sarah had been the beloved one in the family. She was the daughter who was beautiful, kind and endearing. The daughter who made everyone feel alive. I was the plain one whom everyone overlooked for Sarah. I hated her for the things she did to me, but I loved her too. Yet, she was not gone, was she? I could hear her, smell her and feel her presence. No, she was not gone.
As I breathed deeply, I took a step toward the wardrobe. I had to see if she was still there, tormenting me like she used to. They had said that I would probably never remember what had happened that day and although I tried hard to remember, I could recall nothing.
My hand reached for the wardrobe handle. I could hear her laughing in her familiar, sweet girlish way. She had touched everyone’s hearts. I could feel her vibrancy; even in death it haunted me. I should never have come back here, I thought. Because she would never let me live here in the peace that I had so longed for. Why Sarah? Why could you have not just let me be?”
My hand was shaking as I opened the door of the wardrobe. I looked into the darkness and walked in. I couldn’t see. It was very dark. Suddenly the door closed behind me and I heard her giggling. I struggled to open the door and when I couldn’t open it I cried out to her, begging her to stop tormenting me.
Eventually the door opened and I almost fell right back into the wardrobe with the impact of it. Relieved I stepped out of it and there before me she stood, pale and wraithlike, her neck twisted horribly to one side. My breath was gone and I couldn’t scream.
“Welcome home Clara,” she said.