Chapter 1

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Josephine Lyttleton-Bradley had never been this far from home before.

In all fairness, that statement was very possibly a lie. No matter how unbelievable it may have seemed, Josie had no idea how far from her three-story, brick row home in London’s western edge she was right now.

The carriage had been rolling across the mud-covered paths for hours, but it was just as possible she was circling her familiar neighborhood, as she was a hundred miles away.

One thing was certain. Her parents – sitting in the cover of darkness on the bench across from the fourteen-year-old girl – had made an unprecedented decision to put her into this predicament.

Unfortunately, she didn’t know what had compelled them to take her to Great Aunt Donatella’s rural manor instead of back home.  Why, Josie didn’t even know she had a Great Aunt Donatella – or was she Father’s great aunt – until another carriage speeding in the torrential downpour nearly ran them off the road. It was then – in that fortuitous moment after their weekly trip to the theater – they solemnly announced her exile.

Of course, they didn’t call it an exile. They referred to it as an extended holiday. A chance for Josie to get to know her distant relatives. A happy occasion she was to embrace.

But she knew very well; it was an exile.

She’d done something to make them cross. Whether it was neglecting her French lessons (je ne sais quoi? more like je ne sais blah) or her penchant for joining the boys in their impromptu cricket matches, they finally realized that they were better off without her.

It was bound to happen; Father had always wanted a boy. But why now?

Why were they speeding through the English countryside, dodging the water-filled carriage wheel ruts amidst streaks of glowing white lightning crashing around them? Why couldn’t this trip wait until morning? Why didn’t they give her a chance to pack her few personal belongings?

The crack of a whip and the neigh of a horse drew Josie’s attention to the curtain-covered window. Cold droplets of water splashed into her face as she pushed the fabric aside before the carriage abruptly slowed.

Josie nearly fell off her bench, but grabbed the door to steady herself. Accidentally pushing down on the latch, the girl fell out of the carriage as it came to a screeching halt.

Luckily, a deep puddle of mud cushioned her fall.

Expecting Mother and Father to scold her for the stunt – and at the same time commend themselves for their foresight to get rid of her– Josie stood up and wiped the muck out of her eyes.

It was just in time to see the carriage door close and hear Mother’s final words. “Good-bye, my darling. Please forgive us. We will meet again.”

And with that, the driver cracked the whip, and the horses continued on their way. Josie watched as the black carriage drove away, leaving her all alone on the side of the road in the black of night.

Her body shivered as her light cloak soaked up the ever-present rain, taking its coldness down first to her skin and then all the way to her bones. She didn’t know whether to cry from sadness or scream from fright, but as another strike of lightning illuminated the cloudy sky above, Josie saw that she wasn’t standing on the side of just any road.

A few paces away, behind a stone wall topped with iron spikes, loomed a stately manor house. Although its windows were dark, Josie was certain this was her intended destination.

Great Aunt Donatella must live here, and from the looks of it, she will, as well.

Josie frowned.

It’s only a temporary arrangement. Mother and Father will quickly realize how much they miss her and will no doubt be back in a day – two at the most – to collect their only child.

Squaring her shoulders and raising her chin, Josie began walking toward the nearby gates.

Temporary. That’s all. She’ll make the most of it until then. This was a lovely old house. The garden appeared a bit overgrown – the ivies had already claimed half of the stone façade – and there were a few missing shutters, but everything changes, all things decay. That was just a part of life. How bad could the people who live here be?

Author's Note: Thanks for checking out my first attempt at Gothic Horror. What did you think? If you were Josie, how would you feel in this situation? Don't forget to vote with the little star and add this to your library so you can get updates about new chapters.

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