Unravelling SecretsMature

I looked at the small family and their upper-class attire, then the vase in the alcove. The windows were in view, and by comparing those in the painting to the actual broken gaps in the wall I judged where it should be. I walked over and stretched up, pulling down the section of silk hanging there; it was easy enough but the cloud of dust it released caused me to choke, waving the hanging like a matador’s cape. I coughed and rapidly blinked my watering eyes - seeing that there was no alcove revealed, just a section of wall panelled with the same dark wood as the stairs had been made from.

Undeterred, I pulled down the hangings on either side, to get the same result: I worked quickly around the room until the floor was covered in piles of musty crimson silk and the air was thick with dust. I didn’t feel as ashamed as I should have about defacing a beautiful old house; it stood to reason that if someone had covered the alcove over, they were trying to hide something. However, when the dust settled there was no alcove to see; just those mocking panelled walls. But in the flickering orange glow cast dimly by the sputtering candles, something else was visible. Large, long scratches gouged all over into the wood, as though something dangerously sharp had raked down the wall. Who could have done that in here?

My heart thudded erratically as, for the fist time since entering the room, I felt the faint stirrings of fear. They looked like claw marks. What kind of savage animal could get in here to do that? I remembered the farmer that had gone missing and gave an involuntary shudder. I crossed the room to the panel where I had first assumed the alcove was located. This one seemed free of lacerations. I tapped on it gently - the sound echoed. A hollow. As I ran my fingertips over a knot in the wood, there was a faint click and the right side of the panel swung outwards an inch, released by the trigger mechanism. A hidden door. It was too detective-story for words, I thought with a smile. The panel was joined so carefully with the next that the hinges were invisible.

I gripped the edges to open it fully, forcing my fingers through the gap to get a proper grip. I wondered what could have been hidden in there - documents about the house’s history, or ownership at least? Private diaries of the family? Photos, perhaps? I certainly was not expecting what fell out of the small alcove onto my shoes.

The smile slid from my face to be replace with horror as I saw the gruesome remains of a rotting corpse lying at my feet.

I wanted to scream, to let the terror escape, but it was strangled in my dust-choked throat. I covered my mouth with my hand, so repulsed I had to fight against the gag reflex that shook my shoulders.

The corpse was a girl, a few years older than me when she was alive, her bright clothes torn and marred by dirt and the rusty colour of dried bloodstains. Half of her once-pretty face had been chewed away; I had to turn my head to avert my eyes from the grisly sight of the half-eaten mauled body. I stumbled backwards until I was on the other side of the room. Looking instead into the alcove, I saw a pair of rusted, blood-encrusted manacles hanging from short chains welded to the wall. The floor space was occupied by more rags and bones.

I closed my eyes and waited for the rush of disgust and panic to subside. I felt drained, and wished I had never come to this terrible house. It could keep its secrets. The façade of despair was just that - I was sure now there must be something evil within these walls. I was in a room, alone and far from help, with a mangled body. I had never before been unfortunate enough to encounter anything of this nature. There was only thing I could think of doing - getting out of there as fast as I could.

I opened my eyes to take a step towards the staircase, and faltered. There was somebody there. Stood silently immobile. Then the man turned around. I felt confusion, recognition, denial and disbelief flash across my face in quick succession.

The End

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