A Madness with Gold: Chapter One

PART ONE: THE GAMBLER

The giant creature in front of him resembled a frog: crouching back legs, stumpy front ones, the silvery skin in a color of greenish-yellow. Only it was probably several times mangled into a more hideous form with bulbous warts that seem more like blisters. One would be overwhelmed with disgust at first sight.

It was what Mordred felt, towards the demon that sat – or stood, but the back legs made her look as though she was sitting – in the middle of the alleyway leading towards the hotel.

“Greed… that is my title,” the demon chuckled in a low woman’s voice. It sent a chill through the air. “The one that people say is the most repulsive of all Sins. You, Mordred Reid, seem to fit my title quite well.”

And just a couple of hours ago, he’d been standing at the reception desk of Hotel Mariposa, musing over an important question…

+ + +

If a dice were thrown, what are the odds that I get the number five repeatedly? Mordred wondered, running a dice over his fingers. He tossed it with a sharp flick of his wrist; it bounced across the small table he sat at from his armchair, spun a bit before landing on the four. He turned it back onto the number five, picked it up, then tossed it again, this time loosely. The number five rolled up.

“But a loose toss would be considered partly cheating since I’m basically pretending to throw it,” he muttered to himself.

“We were supposed to be doing our homework,” complained Annika Thatcher across him, throwing down her pen in frustration, causing Mordred to flinch as he realized that he was sitting at a table with his friends. “We’re going nowhere.”

“Sorry,” Mordred muttered, snatching the dice up and putting it back into his jacket.

“This happens every time, though,” Annika scoffed. “Last week, you were trying to figure out how fast you can put back a Rubix cube, which you didn’t manage to do, but you still spent three hours doing it. Trent, say something!”

“Hi,” Trent Kearn replied, looking up from his textbook, which, now that Mordred, and then Annika as well, noticed, was not what he was reading, but the stapled notes he slipped between the pages.

“You’re not studying either!” Annika pulled away his textbook and frowned at his notes, which turned out not to be a written script.

“Hey, give that back! I need to memorize the words for the stage play on Sunday!” Trent snatched it back.

“You guys!” Annika sat back in her chair with a huff. “So I was the only one doing schoolwork, huh?”

“Sorry,” Mordred and Trent muttered at the same time. Trent returned to staring at his script. Mordred stared down at his textbooks. He looked up to Alexis again.

“Okay, so what did you want my help with?” he frowned, and Annika leaned forward back towards their books.

CHANGE ALEXIS TO ANNIKA

“I’ve got an essay to turn in tomorrow,” she muttered, spreading her notes out. “I’m basing it on why I plan to be a lawyer next year when I enter university, so I’ve got to make it convincing.”

“So a life story?” Mordred frowned. “You already researched on the work? You know it’ll be expensive.”

“Which is why I’m going to get a scholarship, and I need you to help me out with the essay I have to pass into the university,” said Annika. “This one will work for both. You’re good at writing, right?”

“I – I guess?” Mordred muttered uncertainly.

“Says the guy who won three essay competitions in a row in middle school on magic spells when he used to be in the Academy’s cram school.” Trent looked up from his script.

“I haven’t won any essay trophies in high school, so I don’t know what that part ammounts to these days!” Mordred huffed. “Anyway, you can just write it how you feel works, Annika. The basic pattern is just introductory paragraph, story-telling paragraphs, and then the conclusion.”

“Yeah, you told me that before, but how do I make it work?” Annika frowned at him. “You look at the drafts I made and tell me which ones suit it.”

“You finished how many?”

“I wrote five. If I have to write another one, then I’ll be done for.”

Mordred dragged her notes over to him, skimmed his eyes over it, then put them down. “Your voice is too robotic and long as usual. Grapple the reader with the first paragraphs; read a novel while you’re at it. You can jump straight into the reason you wanted to become a lawyer. From there, you keep the whole thing short.”

Alexis fumbled with her pen. “That’s it?”

“For now. You write your sixth draft with that, then I’ll-” Mordred looked up as a wiry middle-aged man with graying hair approached their table. He wore a stiff black suit with a striped blue and white tie, and bowed his head to them. “Hello, Albert. What’s up?”

“Mr. Mordred, I brought you a letter,” the man called Albert searched his jacket pockets until he pulled out a cream-colored envelope, with a printed address on the front, as well as his father’s name. “However, there is the urgent stamp on the front. Shall I forward it to him, or do you wish to open it today?”

“I’ll open it,” Mordred flipped the letter to the back, saw said urgent stamp on the back.
he wondered.

He slipped it into his jeans pockets. “When did it come?”

“This morning, sir.”

“I can make up for time later, then. By the way, how is the wedding setup happening? Any trouble?”

“None, except the client calling up today to tell us to change the menu options; his daughter’s fiance didn’t like eggs apparently, so anything with egg had to be changed to something else. But – trouble is somewhere else, Mordred. The casino, if you will.”

“What’s wrong there?”

“Seiden called up earlier saying that a drunk woman’s going berserk at the poker table.

Since thirty minutes ago, and security can’t get close to her to throw her out. I was about to head there.”

“I’ll deal with it, you continue the work with the planners,” Mordred turned to his friends. “Annika, send the draft through email and I’ll check on it more.”

“Thanks, Mor,” said Annika, relieved.

Mordred turned and rushed off through the hotel.

The heir of the billionaire, William Abasscia-Reid, the third richest man in the world, that was what Mordred was known as. It was understandable that his father’s employees kept some distance away from him as he walked rushed through the hotel. He sometimes wondered if they imagined him to be a pompous prat – it was a stereotype of kids his age through their eyes, apparently, and he’d been greeted by people who thought him that way several times and gave him sarcasm when the only exchange between them was a greeting.

Mordred stepped into a wide hallway that took him straight towards a large wooden double-door that he pushed into the noisy openness of the casino.

Hotel Mariposa’s casino. A noisy place where rumors are that millions are gambled here every day, and that strange people were usually the ones that betted highest. On equal rank in fame as the casinos in Las Vegas or Monte Carlo, the employees hired to watch over the gambling that took part here had to be strong-minded or physically able.

From the front, the slot machines greeted him as he entered, and then abruptly changed to a mix of roulette tables, billiards table, the poker tables, leading towards the bar at the back of the place. Nowhere was the casino empty in its 24/7 timeslot; it was only on holidays that the place would shut down.

Mordred made his way to the poker tables, all of which were occupied; then again, it was a rare occasion that he would ever see on unoccupied, especially in this casino. The gamblers that played here were always a wicked sort, the ones desperate for something, be it money, fun, or a high.

But desperate people were the chaotic sort. There had been instances of such incidents where some damage has been caused somewhere there, and it was a fight to get them to take responsibility for it. Not to mention, big name people who came here to kill time; they were usually accompanied by personal bodyguards and the type to cause trouble if displeased with some service.

So he was surprised when he saw that one of these tables has just one woman sitting at it, her legs swinging underneath her chair. Her face was of simple structures: straight, sharp, nose, cheeks, eyes. Her hair was dark brown and curly, with flecks of gold in the lighting of the casino. The yellow dress she wore was short, its straps wrapped around her shoulders so the tattoo on her left arm of a gun and a frog stood out on her skin. She wore no jewelry, much less makeup. There were people nearby who stared at her, as though mesmerized by her studying of a deck of cards on the table; even passerbys glanced at her with curiously on their way around the casino.

“Mr. Mordred? You’re here?” a voice emerged from the crowd, and Mordred jumped and spun around to see Luke Seiden standing by him as though he had been here the whole time.

“D-don’t scare me like that!” Mordred gasped.

Luke chuckled. “Apologies. I rang up Mr. Griffin earlier, so I had not expected you to come here personally.”

“Albert told me what’s going on. That person there hogging a whole table to herself, she’s asking me to show up?”

“That’s right. She’s spent the past thirty minutes there without moving, only telling us to get you to come. What she wants is to play a game with you, a bet included.”

“A bet?”

“A game of cards.” Here, Luke glanced at him with an unreadable expression. “As you’re my employer, I’d like you to sensibly refuse, but… you wouldn’t do that, would you?”

Luke had one particular trait that annoyed people around him: his lack of expression and response to the world, or even if he wore one, you still couldn’t tell what he was thinking. But to Mordred, Luke was Employee of the Year ever since they hired him three years ago that sometimes he wondered if Luke actually had a life outside of work; he was in charge of the gym and had two jobs outside of the hotel as coach for two volleyball clubs.

Mordred started to speak, but instead felt his chest pierce with shock when the young woman jumped to her feet with a bright smile and yelled loudly, “The person I wanted to bet with!” She pointed excitedly towards him.

He winced, as those nearby her or who had been watching her, turned towards him with surprise.

The girl was ignorant of her surroundings, as she went on breathlessly, “Mordred Reid, play a game of cards with me, with a bet on who wins!”

“W-why?” Mordred yelped, but she had rushed up to him.

“It’ll be short! We both draw three cards and whoever has the bigger hand wins!” She didn’t seem to have heard him as she tugged him towards the table. “Three rounds, by the way! Today’s a good day, so I’m definitely going to win against you!”

Mordred found himself dragged over to the table. “B-but I don’t think I can play! I mean-”

“Play!” the young woman whipped around to him with a snap, and Mordred flinched. If strange people playing in the casino was troublesome, a woman was worse.

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Journal #001: NaNoWriMo I will write

By nature, I tend to compile a long checklist of things to do in a day – which usually means, I overestimate how much I can do, so there’s usually more than half the tasks finished when I end the day. It always never feels like I finish because most of the tasks on this checklist usually would take me at most two or so days.

Tomorrow, the first of November, will be the start of a slightly more hectic time of the year. I will do NaNoWriMo and promise myself that this year, this year, I will hit my word count and complete the draft within the month, averaging at least 2000 words a day for the draft. At the same time, I will need to hit at least 500 words, or at most 1000 for a novella I plan to publish soon, called the Lazy Man’s Trap – though I think the title suits a non-fiction book than a fiction novella. To keep track of writing, I’m posting the chapters of my NaNoWriMo draft here when I complete each chapter.

But of all the months of this year, November is usually the busiest. Two drafts, plenty of research for both projects,  a trip to the beach. I need to bake a large cake, too, because this month marks both my dad and brother’s birthday – and I’m in charge of the cake. Not complaining because it’s fun to bake, but that might be one whole day off of writing because most of the day is spent researching how to make it better than my last cake besides the baking part, and I’m an amateur at making the frosting.

I count another day off because I may or may not be going to an auto show with my brother. My brother loves cars, is a mechanic, and lives his life on them. That depends on whether our dad agrees to drive us over because neither of us got our driving licenses yet, so it’s a possibility, not set in stone.

OH, YES, BLOGGING. I’ve passed most of the year with just ten posts here. I’ve been lazy I’m anxiety-prone, so it’s always hard to show myself to the world, even to just be open. And lazy because I tend to write long posts.

So to try to get back to the reason why I created this blog, I will add something new to it: journalling. It’ll be numbered like the above, and it’ll be stuff about my daily life, how I’m doing with writing, and – while I plan it to be weekly, I think I’ll have it pop up as random. I’m a random person, so maybe random. This was random, too, because I just realized that in the history of my blog, I’ve not written a single personal post except in the About page.

All in all, I made up my mind that my priority this month will be to take it easy on work so I don’t fry my brain. If there’s anything I’ve noticed that I’m prone to this year, it’s an increase in headaches, that I burn myself out to the point that I need a break for longer than a week and then it’s hard to get myself back into writing, and that I am becoming increasingly absent-minded that I forget what I was writing an hour ago.

 

The Castle of Gears: Chapter 006

Isaiah opened his eyes and saw a handful of orange lights over his head. Recognizing it as the lamps from the room he shared with Ethaon, he looked around himself.

A dull pain rattled his head, and he hissed in pain.

“Stay still, you hit your head there,” a sharp voice ordered, and Isaiah noticed that Lindon was sitting in a chair beside him. His tone made it clear that the order was not to be disobeyed. Holding a thick book entitled The Medical Journal for FirstAid, he was the only person with him in the room.

Isaiah tensed. “What happened? Where is Master?”

“You mean, Ethaon?” Lindon frowned. “He said he had to go somewhere after he made sure your injury was alright. You were lucky, the accordion only barely hit you full in the head.”

“Accordion?” Isaiah repeated.

“A ninnyhammer thought to hang the accordion up on a chandelier to test gravity the same way Newton did, but with a heavier weight, and did not expect you to come out at that time. That ninny, by the way, is Ethaon himself.”

“Oh,” Isaiah frowned, then grimaced. “I’m not surprised, somehow.”

“When you get used to his antics, you stop finding them surprising, more bizarre, and rather troublesome. I agree.” Lindon closed the book. “You might have gotten a concussion…or so he said, but I’m no doctor. And it looks unsafe to call for help or go to the city at this time.”

Isaiah threw a glance out the window; the rain was still coming down. As he took the moment of silence to study the rain, he began to have an uneasy feeling that it was actually heavier right now.

Lindon frowned. “Right after he checked your injury, he hurried out. I don’t know where he went, but the castle is big.”

Isaiah could see that the lights of the airship was out. He’d thought that Ethaon might have been there if he were to study something – an accident wouldn’t stop him, even if he probably felt remorse if he caused it – but there seemed to be no one in there.

And it was still raining. How long will it be until the Enforcers came up?

“May I ask you something?” Lindon’s question interrupted him, and Isaiah felt a little surprise by the tone of the voice; it was puzzled and hesitant. Maybe Lindon was not the sort to ask questions but search for answers quietly? “Are you…hired by Ethaon as his assistant or his friend? He called you his friend when he told me that he would bring you, but…a friend would not call him ‘Master’.”

Isaiah thought for a moment before answering. “About half a year ago, I was a thief. I was justified in stealing from the rich if it meant I could bring food to my younger siblings.” He noted Lindon narrowing his eyes, then chuckled. “My wages as Master’s assistant and a bounty hunter are enough for me, so I don’t need to do that anymore.”

“So you do work for him? And as a bounty hunter, you say? Why?” Lindon leaned forward with a sparking interest in his eyes. Suddenly, he didn’t seem the stern person he usually was, but a young man curious about something. It obliged Isaiah to continue.

“A few debts, I guess. Mainly, saving my sisters before they were sold to noble houses. I grew up in an orphanage in the middle of a drabby poor town; women who couldn’t care for children would abandon them on the doorstep.”

“Oh. So this was why you stole from others,” Lindon muttered.

“Slowly, day by day, the orphanage started to run out of money, become unable to afford enough food for all the children. There were seven at first, but then, last year, I counted fifty-four. The nurses began to abandon the ill kids because we couldn’t afford medicine. Terrible things back, then, you know. The orphanage began to consider selling the children to survive. The boys would be servants, the girls would be courtesans…” His eyes went to the window, to see the rain coming down harder still. “Master didn’t allow it to happen. I’m still thankful for him.”

Lindon chuckled. “Even if he dropped an accordion on your head?”

Isaiah grimaced. “Aye, that one, not so, but I found out after a long time that one must ignore what he does to be able to live peacefully.” A thought struck him and he sat up abruptly. “Master couldn’t have gone out in the rain, could he?” he gasped.

“Take it easy!” Lindon looked out the window now. “He shouldn’t be outside. Even he would know such a rain makes our grounds dangerous, especially with his troublesome sense of direction.”

“But if he had an idea about the forest, he might just go there.” Isaiah got to his feet, just as Amelia rushed in.

“Lindon, Mr. Ethaon just returned from outside!” she gasped.

Lindon whirled to Isaiah, then cursed. “Is he alright?”

“Endured a slight mudslide, he said,” Amelia gasped. “I will go run the bath, but he demanded to have Isaiah down right now.”

Isaiah slipped past Amelia immediately and found his way back to the foyer, where he saw Ethaon in a raincoat, covered head to toe with mud and drenched through.

“Master, what are you doing?” Isaiah demanded, and stopped approaching when he saw Ethaon’s expression; it was grim and harsh, with reluctance.

Ethaon became slightly relieved when he saw Isaiah. “So you woke up already? Sorry about that. I wanted to test what would fall apart in the accordion if I dropped it from that high.”

“I know your random experiments,” Isaiah huffed. “But why are you out in the rain at this time?”

“This,” Ethaon shed the raincoat and removed a package from his coat, which he wore underneath. The package was wrapped in several layers of brown paper, and Isaiah took it. “Listen carefully, you have to do this.” He muttered something and finished just as Lindon and Amelia came down the stairs to join them.

“Why should I do that?” Isaiah gasped indignantly.

“What’s going on?” Lindon asked, obviously annoyed to have been left out.

“Isaiah, this is important,” Ethaon waved dismissively at Lindon. “Please.”

Isaiah relented in the end; what he’d heard indeed troubled him, but Ethaon did not seem pleased with himself either. “Fine, alright.”

 

The Castle of Gears: Chapter 005

When we left him later, stuffed full with hot chocolate and cookies that Wilden gave us, we were in a good mood. After cutting away from the topic of murder earlier, Isaiah and Wilden had gone off on a discussion of what it was like being a friend of Grandfather and Uncle Marcel, both of whom were, no doubt, famous in Moorwalk.

“But you weren’t listening to us, were you?” he asked as we walked away from the clock tower. The rain had finally stopped, but the yard had shallow puddles of water quite large that I was nearly compelled to jump in them. “The whole time you were studying the clocks. What exactly are you looking for around them?”

“It’s a secret,” I chuckled.

“A secret? Must it be that way?” Isaiah glanced at me disapprovingly.

“Looking for fingerprints that might have been left behind,” I muttered.

His disapproval only grew. “That is…disgusting.”

“Is it not?” I simply smirked. “But we are working on a case that I no doubt may not receive a reward out of except permanent friendship from an otherwise tough-to-please friend.”

“Are you talking about Mr. Lindon?”

I frowned. “Well, he is an important person to me, as a brotherly figure. I grew up around him often before Grandfather died.”

“I’m sorry, but I fear him.” Isaiah dropped his head, observing his nails. “He rather appears controlling, was my first impression, so I’ve been trying to avoid him. Do you think he could have…killed…”

“Lindon a killer?” I scoffed sarcastically. “Sure, of course he’s got enough motive. And emotion to do so. But I do admit that Lindon is a bit strict and uptight. You might call him a douche, an arse, at a first impression. He wasn’t like this back when I was a kid when Grandfather was alive, you know. Hot-headed and foolish, maybe, but he was freer.”

Isaiah looked up and raised his eyebrows. “I find that hard to believe.”

“You would since you don’t know what he was like. Part of that change might have been because he got married too early. It was a social meeting where Lindon was looking for someone to get a loan from for a business project, a shipping company. The person who accepted it was Emily’s father, under the condition that they get married. A business wedding, then.”

“Is it…alright for you to just tell me about it without Mr. Lindon’s permission?”

“Of course it is. It’s a lesson, Isaiah: do not accept such a proposition if anyone ever tells you, even if it’s to take care of your siblings. A decision based on supporting your desires no matter the consequences sometimes doesn’t work out, in the same manner as what has happened today. Once Emily’s family hears of this story, Lindon will get into trouble. Especially for bringing his mistress over while his current wife was still alive.”

“That’s true…but do I really need that lesson?”

“You’re quite hot-headed yourself. How else would you end up with a string of robberies at your age? You’re even a few years younger than me, an age that someone like you should be in school.”

Isaiah made a sound that was a cross between a gasp of shock and a grunt of annoyance. Then again, his entire childhood had been spent robbing houses to provide for his family; frankly, no one was going to accept a boy with such criminal talent anywhere.

“Uncle Marcel is no different either, though,” I added thoughtfully. “He might be a wrinkled old man at this time, but he is still quite energetic. You just don’t see it.”

“Really?”

“You know, the reason he doesn’t want to know who the killer is is the same as mine.” When Isaiah looked at me, puzzled, I continued, “The people who live here, who are our suspects, are people who we care for: the servants, Wilden included. On the other hand, Lindon only cares to clear Amanda’s name. Dr. Jennings on the other hand, even if he is lying, is only an outsider. If I have to find out the killer, this means that someone we trust will be gone. Lindon will do the same like Uncle Marcel did with Aunt Kamillia: he’ll do his damnest to side with the woman he loves.”

“So where do we go from here?” he asked finally, as we reached the front porch of the mansion.

“Do me a favor and start preparing a lunch with the cook,” I replied.

“You’re going to investigate alone? Do you need my help?”

“No need. I’ll be fine. I’ll call you if I need anything.” I dug my hands into my pockets and pulled out the Spider Clock.

Seeing it, there seemed to be a look of understanding on Isaiah’s face. “Alright! I’ll go and help with the cooking.  Yesterday’s dinner was delicious, and now that I think about it, thanks to the incident, we haven’t eaten breakfast yet, have we? Except for the snacks that Mr. Wilden gave us, which were great, but let’s have something filling for today!”

I watched as he eagerly went in the direction of the kitchen and marveled at how he somehow got used to the mansion’s interior while I was still get lost in corridors that didn’t lead to my usual guest room. And I have lived here frequently for a break out of the city.

When he was gone, I went up to the second floor. What I was going to do right now would be seen as absolute rudeness to the Lorrens, especially since it’s one of the things I remember being scolded for in my childhood: snooping around the house. Back then, I used to dig through people’s closets and then run around the mansion in an expensive coat – mostly one of Lindon’s – until someone caught and spanked me.

Still, the older they get, the more secretive my acquaintances seemingly get that the fight to stop looking through their rooms while they weren’t looking got harder. I doubt that Lindon would be happy if he found me in his room despite asking me to find out how Emily died.

There were many empty rooms in the house, except for the wing where the servants sleep when they weren’t here for work, like today. Guest rooms were plenty, but they would only be cleaned if there were guests present.

I passed through the many corridors I found myself on, starting from the row of guest rooms that included mine and Isaiah’s, then came to the servants’ wing, which was empty and quiet, cleaned rather well despite that all except the cook had gone to visit their homes.

Somehow or other, I came to a part of the house that was rarely approached. I’d been led here when I found the floor, thick with dust because no one was supposed to come here, decorated with footprints. They led to a particular room with massive wooden double doors with a carving of birds and roses, which were swung wide open, as were the windows, possible to air it out.

The furniture that used to be in the master bedroom here were all gone, except for the bed, unlike last summer when I came, and were replaced with newer sofas, a walnut dresser, and an elaborately carved room divider behind which was a stand with a pile of clothes.

The bed wasn’t the last of what remained of the previous room; the portrait of Mrs. Marcel Lorren, or Aunt Kamelia to me when she was alive, was one of two around the mansion, with this one showing her in a standing posture with a tea cup. The painting was done at a distance, so her full silhouette was seen in a blood-red dress. Her expression was indistinguishable, but she looked as proud as she always did. It was free of the cobwebs I had seen collecting on it from last year. The silver frame it was fitted in, which I brushed lightly with my fingers now, were polished.

Someone had either been cleaning this room out, and it was probably Lindon. Now that I think about it, Lindon moves the most around the house. Was he planning to move his things here? It would make sense since this was the bedroom of the owner of the castle, and it used to belong to Marcel – when Aunt Kamelia was still alive, that is. Uncle didn’t like coming here alone when she went with the stars.

I clicked open my pocket watch and light shone up as dots, like constellations. The constellations took on the shape of squares and a rough blueprint of the Castle appeared, with one dot standing out, which was my location.  How I got here from my intention to reach Lindon’s current bedroom, I do not know, but then again, I never quite know why I always end up far away from my intended location.

For a moment, I felt a bit of resentment; if it was Lindon who killed Emily, then his motive was obvious. But that’s if she was actually really killed. But if she was killed, then this case would stink of some meticulous planning. For Lindon, who hid nothing when he lost his mood, a premeditated murder was impossible. If he killed her, it would be an accident, and remain an accident. And he definitely would not lie through it…

Or would he? Presently, he was planning to divorce Emily in order to marry Amelia, right? So is that not enough motive to lie? And in front of me, a frequent consultant to the Moorwalk Enforcers.

And then if I considered Amelia’s motives, were she the killer, she could share the same thoughts as Lindon, but Lindon could have told her of my reputation in Moorwalk. Was she the sort who would dare risk my revealing her as culprit as we never met before?

How irritating. Will this be the first time I start doubting my grandfather’s friend’s family?

In this manner?

Trash had been heaped in a corner, and I approached it out of curiosity. I wonder if I could ask Lindon later if I could take all this and bring it back to the airship. But what interested me more was the accordion sticking out of the mess, which I pulled out now.

The air bags were already eaten through by termites, so it was technically useless, except for the weight and the tiny trinkets I could salvage from the inside, so Lindon probably won’t want it. He was the sort that threw the rubbish out when he didn’t need it.

It gave me an idea, suddenly, and I jumped to my feet. Scouring through the rubbish again, I could a thin string and made my way to the foyer – yes, following my pocket watch lest I lose my way again – and reached the top landing of the grand staircase.

I tied the string to the accordion and then, with a strong swing of my arm, I lobbed it upwards and watched as the accordion dangled by the string on the chandelier. I loosely tied the string to the railing, then searched my pocket for a scrap of paper and pen.

“Master, where are you?”

I jumped when I heard Isaiah’s voice. He had exited the entrance from the dining room. “Lunch is finished! Come now!”

“Wait, wait!” I gasped. The dear boy blindly walked beneath the chandelier. “Run, Isaiah!”

By such bad luck, Isaiah did not run but instead turned to my voice, just as the string beside me snapped with a sharp twang. I felt my stomach clench as the accordion fell – and scuffed him in the head.

And he lay on the ground, comatose as a rock.

 

The Castle of Gears: Chapter 004

And we’re back to our Castle of Gears.


The clock tower had two entrances: one from inside the Castle on the third floor, which is a shortcut, and the second being the front door of the tower on the ground outside. Not far from where Emily died, that is.

Wilden, Isaiah, and I entered through the front door, wielding umbrellas to hide from the rain. I walked behind the other two as they talked about whatever it was – something about roses and stakes – but their knowledge of such things sound alien to me. Apparently, anything besides machines and mysteries is alien to me; I can never follow such things. Sometimes I wonder if I give Isaiah trouble with it since I hired him.

I glanced at the Castle. And there is the matter of the murder. Visiting the Castle to clean the tower clock was only just an excuse to check on Marcel and to tease Lindon and Emily, who, in their own way, raised me despite the latter not being that fond of it.

“I haven’t got the fire on so it may be a bit cold,” Wilden mused, walking over to his fireplace. Isaiah, having folded his umbrella, offered to do it. I looked over the room; it appeared the same as it always did since Wilden received his job as the gardener and keeper of the clock: a coffee table surrounded by a sofa and an armchair, a kitchenette in one corner of the room, a chest of drawers that no doubt contained clothes, and then boxes of books. Photographs lined the mantelpiece of the fireplace, pictures of a group that included both Uncle Marcel and Wilden himself, as well as Grandfather von Hald. In a corner opposite the kitchenette, there was a wooden cubicle with a simple yet neat network of ropes and pulleys. The walls were decorated with brass pipes whose beginnings came out of the floor, then ended up into the ceiling.

I figure we won’t be cleaning the tower at this time, not when someone’s died. I have the habit of screeching opera hymns while cleaning, out of the tediousness of the chore, but humor would not be accepted by anyone in the presence of death, would it?

“The storm’s gotten strong, didn’ it?” Wilden said thoughtfully as the fire sprung up and I hung the umbrellas on the coat stand.

“It seems like it will only be for today,” I said, listening to the loud rain outside.

“What’s that sound?” Isaiah had been twisting his head wildly, looking around. “Don’t you feel the tower – uh – breathing? I feel like it’s shaking.”

The brass pipes hissed and shook, with the sound of faint chugging.

“You remember that steam engine I told you about?” I reminded him. When he nodded, I pointed to the wooden cubicle in the corner. “There is a basement here that you can enter, and there is the steam machine. There used to be a staircase where the elevator is now, all the way up to the top floor, but Wilden rarely goes up there these days.”

“Bad knees, it hurts to climb,” huffed Wilden. “I can walk, but not climb. I had my fair share already in my youth.”

“The elevator…it looks relatively new,” muttered Isaiah thoughtfully.

“Last year, when I took  Sinclair here,” I laughed. Isaiah looked pale for a brief moment; he’s had scrapes with Sinclair Wright, a friend of mine whose calculus and algebra abilities are beyond a normal person’s comprehension, and they weren’t his favorite times. “Sinclair built that, several nights working out a plan so Wilden doesn’t need to climb stairs anymore. It’s only up to the next floor above, or down into the basement; there are still the stairs from two floors and up to the clock room.”

“And that’s where I’d like you fellows to go to with me,” said Wilden with a laugh. “The elevator makes it so easy these days. I had expected it to fail shortly after you and Mr. Wright left, but it never broke down.”

“You shouldn’t expect less of Sinclair, though,” I chuckled. “What is it that you want us to come here to see?”

“I recently received a pocketwatch,” said Wilden as he trudged towards it. “I say, it feels as though they are cursing me! Come, let us go!” He laughed again.

“I’ll just wait down here,” Isaiah muttered.

“It’s only one floor,” I said. “Also, you don’t get airsick up there.”

“The floor may give way beneath me,” said Isaiah. “So, no.”

“Well, you’ve never seen how much there is up there,” chuckled Wilden. “And look at me! I think I’m heavier than you are! Come along, Isaiah. I’d like you to see it, too.”

Isaiah groaned, but in the end, he joined us on the elevator, clutching onto the railing. As it began to move upwards, it seemed as though all the blood left his face and what stood beside me was a corpse. Once the elevator stopped, Isaiah sprang off and into the room before giving a cry of surprise at the sight here.

An overwhelming number of clocks furnished this room, which was as large as the living quarters below. They ranged from rusting alarm clocks lining the shelves to cuckoo clocks crowding another wall, to two or three elegantly carved grandfather clocks. Not all were working, but those that did tick-tocked in a quiet symphony. There was only a single desk and chair, and Wilden began to light the gas lights, brightening the room. A large window looked over the rose garden, but it was blurred by fog and raindrops from the storm outside, making it hard to see anything there.

“W-what is this?” gasped Isaiah, staggering into the chair beside the desk, which, further, was littered with tiny gears and springs. “Clocks! Everywhere! It’s just like Master’s house!”

“I recall I told you not to call me ‘Master’,” I grumbled in offense. “And my house is a machine on its own, not a clock collection.”

“I used to be Dr. von Hald, Mr. Ethaon’s grandfather’s, assistant in my youth,” Wilden was approaching a shelf. “Aside from my reckless habit of climbing walls, I tinkered with clocks a lot. Mr. Ethaon, come here for a moment.” He reached over and picked up a tiny pocket watch.

I obliged and took the watch from him, startled. Scratches were evident on it, but it showed signs of having the bronze lid and bottom being polished frequently, but not recently. Wilden’s restoration of the collected clocks was only up to fixing them so they worked like brand new, not by looks. Had one been able to take a closer look, all these clocks are old, with signs of being dropped, broken apart, or grazed.

“The story behind that isn’t that bad like some of these here,” chuckled Wilden as he pulled a bottle of whiskey from a box underneath the desk and popped the cork. “The owner, Mr. Flemming, is a friend of mine at the bar in the city; he died three months ago, though. I bought the watch in memory of him.”

“I see,” I replied, squinting at the Roman numerals on the watch face. “Don’t drink too much tonight. It’s not a celebratory event.”

“I need this! A death on one of the days you pay a visit! It is distressing indeed!” Throwing his head back, Wilder downed a whole half of the bottle before bringing it to the table with a bang. “Care to have some, younguns?”

“No,” I replied.

“No, thank you,” said Isaiah. “I don’t like the taste. It burns my throat.”

“Why, but that’s exactly what I enjoy! I’ve never felt more alive than when I drink!” Wilden laughed whole-heartedly. He tipped back his head and drank another gulp. I was returning to observing the pocketwatch when he said, “Ethaon, I’m old right now, aren’t I?”

I raised an eyebrow, bemused. He was staring out the blurred window, but looking closely, one of his eyes was becoming clouded. “What do you mean?” I set down the watch.

“Well, look at me and the master of the House. We’ve lived beyond the age that your grandfather died at. We are living past the average age a man. I feel as though I might soon follow him.” He turned to me, and the supposed clouded eye became clear so he now looked earnest. “Listen here, if something happens to me, I’d like you to keep my collection.”

I returned the stare before sputtering, “T-the clocks? Is something wrong?”

“I don’t know, but I am quite aware that I do not have much time left.” Wilden heaved a sigh and carefully sat himself in his chair. “I’ve spent years tinkering with clocks that I can no longer part with them easily unless I die.”

“The one who will have to clean them will be Isaiah, since he does my housework,” I replied pointedly, and Isaiah pulled a face.

“Do you not suspect me of killing Lady Emily?” Wilden asked suddenly.

Isaiah snorted out a laugh. “But aren’t both you and Mr. Lorren not even counted as suspects? You both are old, like you say. I wouldn’t think you two can do anything.”

“When it comes to a planned murder, they’re both capable, even if their bodies aren’t.” I raised my voice a little as a warning, and Isaiah stopped.

“R-really?”

“Grandfather aren’t friends with many normal people, otherwise he wouldn’t be called eccentric.” I shrugged. “If only I could turn it down.”

“You still could, since Mr. Lorren doesn’t want to know anything,” Wilden suggested.

“Lindon won’t let me go.” I chuckled wryly. “Uncle doesn’t care to know, but Lindon definitely will not let it go because of Amanda’s presence here. I don’t doubt that he hopes to clear her name because she seems to have the most motive to kill Emily. If returning home means he won’t mind going all the way into the city to pester me to solve this case, then it can’t be helped. I’ll solve it.”

“But you have not answered my question,” said Wilden pointedly.

“You’ve been hard of hearing recently, so I thought you might have thought that the sound of Emily falling to her death was your imagination,” I said. “But I do find it hard to believe that you’re her killer. I can’t imagine you being that type of person. And the fact that you would kill her in front of the place you live in is more a ploy to misdirect if the killer is smart.”

“If I were the killer, I would lie to you.” Wilden’s voice became soft, thoughtful.

The Wraith of Despair

 

Two young children sat on a log in the middle of the forest, weaving thin reeds through and over each other, their fingers moving as delicately as they possibly could. At length, the boy, the elder one, threw an alarmed glance at the sky to see that it had already picked up an orange color.

“Alice, we must go home now!” he gasped, jumping to her feet.

“But I haven’t finished my basket!” Alice complained in exasperation; she had been fighting a frustrating task against a knot that appeared on one of the reeds.

“Nevermind that! It’s almost soon!”

“Soon for what?”

“There’s a wraith that apparently lives in this forest. The adults were talking about it, thinking about driving it out, but no one’s dared to disturb her yet. We’re not supposed to stay out too long either. Let’s go! We can return tomorrow!”

“Unfair, Zeke! You’ve finished your basket, and tomorrow, I would not have time to make it!” Alice scowled. “We need them for our gifts to Father! Mother would not be happy. Even if you tell me that she might excuse me because we were cutting close to the time this ‘wraith’ appears, I would still be put into my room with no dessert because I was too slow.” She gathered her reeds and what was of her basket. “I shall take them home, then.”

Zeke sighed, but he could at least do that much for his precocious younger sister. Still, dessert! Of all things, she worried the most about dessert! Though he supposed that their mother’s baked pears and cream were still the most delicious of all foods. “Alright. Let’s go.”

As they half-ran, half-walked through the thick bushes of the forest, Alice asked after a moment, “What do you know of this wraith, anyway? The adults sometimes make up scary stories to keep us from doing anything. Just like they did with Old Louie’s well. They told us that a devil lives in the well beside his house and that it eats naughty kids that go near it. But those naughty kids who got eaten were just idiots who fell down it and it was an hour before Old Louie found out what happened and called for help-”

“Alice, you think too much,” Zeke sighed. “But I think that this wraith is real. They weren’t telling any child a story, after all. The adults were whispering among themselves, and Mother told us to come home before sunset…did you actually listen to her? You were there, after all.”

Alice pulled a face. “No.”

“…but the wraith seemed to be real,” Zeke continued with another sigh. “I even asked, so this is what I know: this ghost wanders at a certain hour at sunset, as if it is looking for something. It takes the form of a young woman with long hair that looks like a gold river. Her eyes are empty and gray, and they seem to suck you in. She attacks anything and anyone without seemingly thinking, or perhaps for no reason. Just last week, Mr. and Mrs. Belmont were attacked when they came here for a picnic. Two days before that, Henry and Margaret two houses away from us hurried back after a night walk from the forest.”

“Is it not that the ghost only attacks a man and woman together?” Alice prodded her brother cheekily. “You listen to too much gossip as well, don’t you?”

“At least gossip is fun to collect!”

“For us ladies, Zeke.” Alice giggled at the rising shade of red on Zeke’s face.

A light cloud billowed their way, and Zeke stopped in surprise before he could retort back to his sister. It was then that he realized that a fog was beginning to thicken around them.

“Oh, no, we have to hurry!” he groaned. “We were too slow.”

“We can still tell the direction of the road back home, thanks to this path,” Alice frowned, but Zeke noted that her hands were beginning to tremble as she clutched her reeds. He extended his hand, which his sister immediately took and held tightly.

“Listen,” Zeke muttered, “I will lead the way, you look out for the Wraith. If you see one that looks like that, run. Pull me along, because I’m only going to have my eyes on the ground so we can get home.”

Alice nodded.

As they started back on their quick pace, Zeke constantly looked behind him to make sure that it was his sister that he held onto. Wraiths and ghosts are tricky and dishonest creatures. They love to mess around with humans, despite having once been human before. Must be because they were built only on petty thoughts. Maybe that’s why the Wraith attacked a “pair of lovers”, as it seemed to be with the stories of Mr. and Mrs. Belmont and Henry and Margaret. Now that he remembered, the gossip referring to this Wraith of Despair certainly had victims who were lovebirds.

His thoughts on the Wraith did not help his own anxiety, and it was worsened when he finally stopped in the middle of the path. Though he could see a shadow of his own shoes, the path in front of him had blurred out of sight. Even Alice seemed to be fading into the fog despite being close.

“Zeke?” Alice whispered, sounding young. She was already crushing her half-finished basket and reeds without noticing. “Why did you stop?”

“Sorry, I can’t see far ahead of me. We have to slow down for a bit.”

“But what about going home?”

“Calm down, we’ll get there.” Zeke tightened his hold on his sister’s hand. He started a half-hearted step forward when the fog suddenly shifted and split apart in front of him, clearing a space that indicated that he and Alice were in a glade, halfway through the forest back to the road they were trying to reach, as if someone brushed the fog aside.

“My, my, children? I did not expect there to be such young adventurers here,” laughed a tinkling voice, and the two whirled about to it, their hearts nearly jumping out their throats.

The person they saw instead was a young woman with a bonnet and a white dress made of heavy lace. She carried a brightly burning lantern and a handful of candles. She smiled. “Good evening. Gathered reeds to make baskets, I see?”

“You better not be staying here too long, or else the Wraith will chase you!” Zeke gasped.

“You are talking about that ghost that wanders around attacking lovers? Oh, I am alone, the Wraith will not disturb me in that case. The same shall go with you children. You need no longer fear it.”

“Why are you in this forest?” asked Alice in a small voice. “It will be night soon…”

“My house is in this direction. I’ve passed through here at night at night before and I have yet to be attacked.” The woman laughed. “Oh, but this fog is surprisingly thick. Although I prepared for it, I wasn’t expecting this.” She handed Zeke her lantern. “Young man, take this lantern and bring yourselves back home.”

“R-really? But what about you?” Zeke gawked at the woman.

“I have candles. Just allow me to light one, then I shall be on my way. Winning a fight against a fog is nice, but it is cold, and I must continue now.”

She touched one of her candles to the lantern, then turned and started off through the forest. “Goodbye! It is just a short way to the town road, so just walk on!”

With that, she disappeared into the fog, save for the light of her candle that shone even in the cloud. All in a moment that startled Zeke before he could ask if that candle would be able to stay lit in air filled with water droplets.

Finally, giving in to the favor, he turned and held up the lantern. “Alright, Alice, let’s try that again!”

They hurried through the forest again. To their surprise, the time they walked quickly passed as they soon arrived onto the town road. The sky had turned a pretty pinkish-purple color by now, and Zeke sighed before checking on his sister.

Alice was even more out of breath than he was.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

She shook her head wildly, and now that he looked at her properly, she looked more frightened than she did when they realized that a fog had begun. “Z-Zeke, what – what did you think of that woman we passed in the forest?”

“A help? Our savior!”

“Her hair was gold and long, it looked like a river. I would not say it, but they might have exaggerated that her eyes looked dead, but though they seem like she’s in a good mood, the eyes definitely give me the feeling of them being empty.” Alice scowled. “Zeke, that must have been the Wraith herself! Why did you accept her lantern? No, why would you talk to a stranger who walks through the fog without worrying that she might get lost?”

For a moment, Zeke paused in surprise, then the lantern slipped from his fingers and fell towards the ground. It didn’t land and shatter like a normal lantern would have if it dropped; instead, it vanished in a tiny cloud, as if it was also made of fog.

“It’s gone!” Alice shrieked. “D-does it mean that…w-we’re cursed?”

Zeke looked back at the forest, then turned away from it. “W-well, we got our baskets, and I suppose that we do owe the Wraith, then…alright, let’s go home! Let’s tell every married man and woman to keep away from the forest for a while and pretend that we saw no one. The adults won’t believe us if we tell them what happened, anyway. Then again, maybe this might be the last time we see her, too, because she walked into a fog with an unprotected candle! Maybe the candle died because there’s a lot of water in the air!” He spoke quickly in one breath and now, he inhaled a deep gulp of air. “Now, we go home. Quickly.”

Clutching onto their salvaged reeds and baskets, the two children fell into another sprint on the road, half-gasping for air as they hurried back home.

 

Wind & Passing: A Short Story

Eh, I wrote a short story that I thought of after recently heading to the beach on New Years. It’ll delay The Castle of Gears chapter posting, but I’ll eventually get that done in a while. So here’s a little distraction.


The sound of the sea was surprisingly loud as it rolled over the sand, the silence, except for the hot wind, putting Akira’s blackened heart in tranquil.

She walked quickly, almost jogging, but still at a pace considered walking. A light trail of footprints followed her from the crowded area of the resort’s beach to a desolate part of the shore. It had been a long time since she had time alone for herself. Having held back enough anger before it exploded at her unreasonable father and pathetic brother, she’d taken control of her body language and left their hotel room until she was only a tiny dot in the eyes of the holiday goers.

But she couldn’t deny that she almost snapped that time. She could have probably tried to attack her father. In return, he might counter-attack, and the next moment, she would end up with the bruises she would have to hide again. Her father wasn’t the nicest guy; the only reason she accompanied him was as luggage, to blend in with his fellow colleagues who were also on the vacation with their own families. To show that their father was also a caring type, not a family tyrant.

There was a reason Hayato, her brother, recently had a mental breakdown after the police suspected that he might have purposely – in their own words – given their grandfather a heart attack that killed him. Hayato wasn’t right in his head anymore these days; he had been the topic of her disagreement with her father earlier before she left.

She didn’t notice that the anger had blinded her sight except for her intention to appear like a dot from the holiday goers that when she slowed herself to a stop, she stumbled over an unnoticed half-buried rock, sending her plummeting to the ground. Instinctively, she lunged out her other foot and stopped herself from planting her face into the sand.

She gasped; she’d been carrying an ancient Polaroid camera, a gift from her grandmother before her death. Like a charm, she feverishly cared for it and took it wherever she went. Had she hit the sand, she could have damaged it.

The Polaroid. Grandma it to her after retiring from her photographer job, the last of all the cameras she used to own. Neither her father nor brother knew it because it was her and Grandma’s secret, carried everywhere in a lunch bag that also carried muffins to cover it because she claimed her appetite was large.

Presently, she noticed her distance from the resort and sat down on the rock. Angling the camera, she aimed it for the horizon of the sea, which connected to the sky. She contemplated taking a photograph but changed her mind; the film she had was a precious amount; she should just continue searching for the things she really wanted photographs of.

Not that it would be easy to find that “something”. People were out of the question.

A figure had begun to follow the shoreline towards where Akira sat, and she eyed it warily, thinking it was either her father or one of his acquaintances. She was wrong; a youth in shorts and a plain black t-shirt, and what looked like a book in one hand, walking at a relaxed pace. A stranger, ignorant of the world – and her troubles.

Relieved, Akira turned away and plopped herself down onto the rock, stretching her legs and kicking off her sandals. She hadn’t put on any sunscreen so her skin was beginning to turn red. She’d rather keep her skin fair, but at the moment, could not get in the mood to get back to her feet to find a shade or go back to fetch the darned sunscreen.

Her brother. If he didn’t back down from their father just now about staying hidden and pretending the weather got to him just so none of the accompanying colleagues learned of his face and name, if he was still the strong-headed, admirable brother she always saw him as, her mood won’t have been this way. Sure, their father had some good sides, she supposed, but most of the time, he was cold to them, and her brother always kowtowed to him. Akira could consider herself less pathetic than Hayato was at this point. That anger in her, seething beyond her teeth, clawing at her chest, up her throat, had no doubt meant she could no longer trust Hayato to be the same strong person she saw him as.

Maybe the incident in which he’d been falsely accused of their grandfather, Grandma’s husband’s death had been the reason Hayato cracked.

“Say, take a portrait picture of me,” said a voice, and Akira looked up to see the youth who had been walking along the shoreline standing in front of her.

Alarmed, she sat up, stunned to realize she didn’t notice him when she’d been high on alert for anyone she knew who might find her. “What?”

“Take a photograph with that camera. You wanted to use it, didn’t you?”

Akira blinked, looked at the Polaroid, then back at him, turning wary. Men were dangerous, and especially to girls like her who are alone.

“You don’t need to give me a scary face,” the stranger chuckled, and he sat down on the sand at an acceptable distance from her. “I’ll give you my name, too: Rin.”

“What do you want the photograph for?”

“It’s just a request. Like I said, you looked like you wanted to use it. Why don’t you, with me as a model. Only, I’d like to request that I have the picture, too. And – a Polaroid, the black and white type of camera? Isn’t that rare these days? We use digital ones these days, don’t we? It’s interesting.”

Akira frowned at him.

“It’ll just be for one piece of film, right?” Rin, the stranger, chuckled.

She noticed that it really was a book that he carried, a book in a foreign language that she couldn’t discern. The sight of the book made her remember how much her brother, too, loved books. He might know the title of the book, maybe even the plot. Rin, as if waiting, flipped open the novel and began to read.

With a sigh, she said, “Fine, I’ll take the photograph. Let me tell you, though, the pictures in the film come out in sepia, not black and white.”

“Oh? I didn’t know that. I assumed that all old pictures would be black and white.”

“No, not all.” Akira got up with the Polaroid, then knelt on the sand in at an angle in front of Rin, who watched her with interest. “Okay, a portrait photograph, right?”

“Yep.”

She held the camera up and peered through the lens, shifted the angle of the camera with a frown. In the lens, Rin was still watching her, wearing a faint smile; it felt like their eyes met through the camera, the intensity in their look despite his statue-like stillness. Fingers trembling with excitement, she pushed the shutter. And a second time, this one by accident. Rin didn’t miss it, and his smile widened.

When she finished, she waited impatiently for the photograph and the second one to come out. She hastily handed them to Rin when it was done.

His scrutinizing eyes studying the photograph briefly then he cracked a smile of amusement. “Hey, not bad! We could imagine that I came from the past. Although…why did you take two?”

“An accident?” Akira retorted with a chuckle. “Also, you would look like you came from the past if it wasn’t for your clothing style.”

Rin laughed. “That’s right.” He returned one to her. “Keep that. So we could remember the day that you took the photo of a stranger on a beach.”

“Okay,” Akira looked at the photograph again, then watched as Rin continued on his way, returning to the shoreline and going on after the point she stopped at.

When she studied the photograph, she noted the grayish-brown colors and lines that traced out Rin, whose glance and knowing smile seemed to be looking beyond the rectangle of the photograph. If anyone could look so alive on a sheet of film, it was that guy, she supposed.

She glanced at the holiday goers and noticed a familiar figure among them starting this way. Hayato, her brother. Her anger at him and their father, his weakness and her father’s coldness dissipated. She looked in the direction Rin had gone; he was already really far, a dot himself among flat sand and rocks, book and photograph in either hand, his pace as lax as the wind blew around her.

She’d thought he was at unawares of her thoughts; she must have been wrong. He’d clearly approached her as if he knew she was in a bad mood.

Akira stuffed the Polaroid and Rin’s photograph into her lunch bag, slung it over her shoulder, then walked with a brisk pace back towards those holiday goers where Hayato waited patiently for her.