My house has a secret. A secret kept behind a closed door. A secret that led my mom to commit murder.
Lately, the same secret has begun plaguing me. Voices ring out in the night. Visions appear of people dressed in sweeping ball gowns and elegant top hats, of quiet servants trapped in their love for each other, unable to be together because of their master’s obsessive, cruel control—it all leads back to my mom. Something terrifying happened, something my mom discovered. And the worst part is, I don’t think it’s over yet.
My brother warns me not to open the door--even my best friend, Todd, tells me to ignore this impulse. But I'm tired of ghosts and secrets and lies. All along the answers have been at my fingertips, at the mere turn of a knob. All I have to do is open it.
I mean, seriously, would you be able to resist?
Hauntingly beautiful and daringly mysterious, if you like intrigue, the newness of first love, and the paranormal twist of the unexpected--all mixed in with a dash of spooky--then open the door to Cortney Pearson's Phobic today.
Cold rushes over me like a thousand tiny spiders. I lift my head, and the room ripples as if I’m looking at it under water. Imperfections appear as the ripples slow: cracks along the crown molding; smudges of soot surrounding the fireplace. The house looks more real than ever—less like a newly renovated showroom and more like a well-worn and loved item. It takes on a golden sheen, like color fading from a photograph.
It’s too real to be a dream, but it makes me wonder if the illusion shifting over my eyes is genuine. I blink. The washed-out haze doesn’t lift.
Footsteps snap my spine—I thought I was alone. An elegant young woman in a wine red dress cascades through the room, solidifying the scene so it’s more reality than vision. I wait for her to notice me, to say something, but she pays me zero attention.
Short sleeves trimmed with fringe hang off her shoulders, exposing a bit of cleavage. Her waist is tiny, and then the skirt thickens with a bustle at her backside and a train dripping in layers of ruffles.
Fear seizes me for several moments, moistening my skin, but it fades to intrigue. I nearly open my mouth to ask who she is, but I’m afraid to speak or even move, in case the vision or whatever it is vanishes.
“It’s lovely on you, Ada,” says a man’s voice. I jerk; I hadn’t noticed him, but he’s behind me, below the arched ceiling in front of the curved bay windows. He wears a vest and high-necked white shirt and bow tie beneath a dark suit. Talk about dressed up.
“Miss Havens, if you please, sir,” she corrects. Half of her dark hair is piled high on her head, and the rest of it twists in ringlets down one side of her neck.
“If you wish.”
Ada, Miss Havens—whoever she is—can’t be much older than I am. Black gloves climb up to her elbows, and she tugs on the fabric at her hips.
“It is too much, sir,” she says, fiddling with the ringlets in her black hair and the flat straw hat tipped forward on her head. “I fear I am overdressed.”
“Nonsense,” says the man, stepping toward her, a top hat tucked under his arm. Wrinkles sprig around his eyes, but he’s not bad-looking. For an old guy. He pulls white gloves onto his fingers. It’s obvious he’s at least ten years older than Ada is, if not more.
“To anyone who asks, you are merely my guest, nothing more. No one will suspect—”
“I am your servant, Mr. Garrett. You should not expect so much of me.” She tips her head to the side while worry makes lines on her pretty face.
A servant? Now I recognize her. She’s the girl from that picture! She’s way more sophisticated now than she was in that shot.
Mr. Garrett’s expression darkens. An air of blackness clouds his face, and the look sinks my stomach. He storms at her, the top hat falling from his hand. It lands with a soft clunk on the hardwood floor. Ada shrieks, and her skirts rustle as she dodges back like she’s afraid he’ll hit her.
“As you say, Ada. My servant. I gave you your life. And in return you will do as commanded. Shall I toss you back into the streets with none but extreme measures to make a pathetic excuse for a living?”
I tiptoe around so I can see her face. She’s pale with fear, but she never breaks from his gaze.
I try to figure out if being his servant means he owns her, but I’m not sure. I’ve seen Jane Austen movies and stuff, but I don’t really know that much about how things were back then.
He gives her a small smile. It’s anything but reassuring. “You will accompany me on this sojourn.” She opens her rosebud mouth to answer, but he cuts her off again. “A party. That is all it is.”
I can tell it takes all she’s got to keep her head level with his. She smoothes her hands over the skirt again. “I have never been an actress, sir. I shan’t be able to pretend I don’t know why you are there—”
“You shall pretend,” he says with threatening softness, baring his teeth. “Or I won’t have to go to this gala to find what I need.”
His dark eyes bore into hers, and she lowers her chin, her ringlets hanging around her face. I shudder at the unspoken threat that he’ll use her for whatever it is instead, and I spring forward.
“Who do you think you are?” I say, unable to help it. “It’s obvious she doesn’t want to go.”
Neither of them even flinches. His glower holds Ada’s obstinate attention, as if I’m not there at all. I want to step between them, to yank the girl away, but Ada’s eyes turn glossy, like she’s choking back tears.
“Very well, sir,” she says.
More footsteps join the room, and the three of us turn to find a boy in a long-sleeve cream shirt, brown vest, suit coat and pants. He has chiseled features and an innocent charm, like his chin, those brown eyes and the curve of his mouth can’t help being so appealing. I’m talking crazy pretty-boy hotness.
Ada dips her chin to her chest and smoothes out her skirts. And the boy can’t keep his eyes off her. I wouldn’t be surprised to find drool leaking from his mouth.
“Miss Havens—” he begins.
Mr. Garrett doesn’t seem to notice. “Is everything in order, Thomas?”
Thomas pries his devoted stare from Ada long enough to look at his boss. It takes a few ticks before he seems to remember the protocol. He tucks his hands behind his back and gives a slight bow.
“Yes, sir. Your arrangements have been made in the lower level. The tables are set—”
“Very well, very well,” Mr. Garrett says, waving Thomas to be quiet. Thomas admires Ada from a distance, winning her regard in return. A soft blush travels from her throat up to her cheeks, and the room fills with a heat so scorching I want to shield my eyes. A thousand words travel between their gazes, a thousand promises, a thousand secrets.
Mr. Garrett cottons on, and a resentful expression darkens his face. He steps backwards, one hand at his chin, analyzing the two of them.
“Does she not seem the very peak of a blossoming maiden, Thomas?” Mr. Garrett asks.
“She does indeed, sir,” Thomas says, straightening and resting his hands at his sides like a trained pony.
Peel your eyes off her, idiot! Can’t you see he’s setting you up? I want to shout it, but I keep my mouth shut.
Mr. Garrett slinks along, circling the two like a snake. “Won’t it be a shame she must don her work attire once the night disperses?”
“Not so,” Thomas says, “for Ada—Miss Havens—looks well in any attire.”
I snag my lower lip between my teeth. Ada notices, too. Instead of following Thomas, her glance traces Mr. Garrett, who closes in at her side. He takes the dangling black ringlet closest to her cheek, leans in, and smells it. The girl stiffens. Her bare shoulders tremble.
Thomas seems to realize his slip in praising the girl, because he sniffs and straightens. “Will that be all, sir?”
Ada’s face blanches from across the room, like she’s saying, Please don’t leave me.
“Yes, society will look favorably on my blossom. While I—” His white-gloved finger trails down her cheek, and a tear follows. Her hands shake, but she holds as still as a street sign.
A racket comes from outside. A carriage with huge wheels and being pulled by a white horse stops in front of the house. Some guy in a suit and squat hat sits at the front with the reins in his hands.
“Your ride awaits, Mr. Garrett,” Thomas says with a crack in his voice. Mr. Garrett offers Ada his arm, but she lifts her chin and glides forward, ignoring the gesture and the sinister satisfaction on his face. The elaborate, ruffled train of her red dress shuffles in her wake.
My legs grow rubbery. In place of a river of asphalt outside, the street is made of dirt. Another horse-drawn carriage rickets past. The brick homes I’m used to are gone, and only a few houses are there instead. Extravagant Victorian homes, with wide porches like mine.
Ada lifts her skirts and climbs into the black carriage, displaying her dark, heeled boots that lace up the sides; a style I’ve only ever seen in pictures or museums. Mr. Garrett follows her into the carriage, and then the image is shattered by Joel’s old Ford Taurus rattling its way into the driveway.
I blink again as color sifts back through, refreshing my surroundings. I try to regain my bearings and readjust to the world as I know it. The pavement. The trees and short brick homes. Little Davy Stevens riding his bike down the sidewalk. Night air tacks goose bumps all down my arms, and I rub them away.
“You okay?” Joel asks, grabbing a briefcase and his suit jacket from the backseat. All along Hemlock Avenue windows overflow with brilliant light, and cars dot the curb. Everything from the vision is gone, as though it never happened.