The Student News Site of Marian University

The Student News Site of Marian University


The Student News Site of Marian University



The Place Where it all Began (Chapter 2).

  • By Julia Akre

    Character recap:

    Elizabeth Westworth: 15 years old. She recently lost her grandmother, a parental figure for most of her life. 6 hours away from the place she grew up, Elizabeth has now enrolled in a private academy school her grandmother attended but never spoke of. Why did her grandmother resent her old school so much?

    Josephine Noil: Upperclassmen who first welcomed Elizabeth to Nightingale Academy for Art and History. Seems to reduce sophistication.

    Charles Richman: Polite gentleman who helped Elizabeth after she slipped out of her automobile. Seems to be well known and in the same class as Josephine.

    Amila Abbot: Step-sister. Sour and rude to Elizabeth when they are alone together but transformed into a different person when someone of importance is around.

    Mysterious gentleman: Opened the door into the castle-now-turned-school as Elizabeth arrived. He seemed very familiar to her, like a sense of nostalgia, but she could not remember where she knew him from.


    Elizabeth stared at her plate as she sat in the large, dimly lit dining commons. Her bowl full of fake flavors and overdone ingredients. Who knew a fancy academy like this would serve such disappointing meals.

    She thought about her grandmother’s cooking. Of the carefully simmered onions and meticulously selected chicken. Grandmother would let Elizabeth cook with her from time to time when Elizabeth had finished all of her other schoolwork. It was a big incentive for Elizabeth. Often times when she helped, the clean-up process became faster afterward.

    Grandmother never let her get too close to the open flames of the stove and oven, but did, however, let the young girl keep the place nice and tidy. She also encouraged Elizabeth to become more comfortable handling a knife. She tried to bring up the discrepancy before about no stove with hot fire, but the freshly sharpened knife slicing into carrots or meat was okay. Her grandmother never gave a straight answer, too consumed in the cooking process. And by the time the food was ready, Elizabeth couldn’t remember to ask.

    And now she would never know. Elizabeth pushed her broth for the 50th time.

    “It’s probably a good thing you’re always spaced out,” a clipped female voice said.

    “What?” Elizabeth sat up straight in her low wooden chair. She looked around at the long rectangular table she sat at. Amila – her new step sister – sat on the opposite side of the table giving her an annoyed look. When did she get there? “Sorry, could you repeat that?”

    Amila rolled her eyes and went back to her own dwindling plate of food. “I can’t believe Father agreed to let you come here.” She stuffed her face with a spoonful of mashed potatoes – or what Elizabeth hoped were mashed potatoes. She herself didn’t have the stomach to try them. What she would give to be allowed to make her own food. “But it doesn’t matter, I suppose. With your inability to pay any attention to those speaking to you, and clear lack of social skills and awareness, you’ll be out of here soon enough. The classes here are so much harder than back… wherever it is you’re from!”

    “Wiltshire,” Elizabeth filled in, wincing a little at the clear slight.

    “Oh, whatever. I can’t believe I have to be associated with you. Bad enough are my brothers always getting into messes and everything they – and now you – do will be traced right back to me.”

    “Is there any particular reason why you sat down with me?”

    “Because until I can cut you from my reputation, people seeing someone of the Abbot name sitting alone by his or herself, sulking into their soup, is a bad look. If you really want to be of use and not feel like a burden, get a life, sit with people and be in the background as much as possible.” Amila said, her voice pushed into a forced calm. Bent into an unnatural shape. It was a slight note, hardly detectable, but her whole demeanor seemed to be running on nothing but willpower to stay afloat.

    Amila was tired. Some anxiety weighed on her.

    “How much sleep did you get last night?”

    Amila sighed in what I could only interpret as disbelief. “You are truly hopeless. I was trying to give you advice but you insist on letting that mind of yours be filled with air.” she stood up, neatly packing her plate and smoothing her skirts of any unwanted crumbs. “Well, so be it. You will not last long, anyway. Just do me one favor and deny any relation to me until you somehow manage to get your life in order.” She strode off. The few other people in the commons nodded or waved to her as she walked out.

    She was well known, then. Elizabeth tried to imagine a life like that. To have so many people know your name; greeting and talking to you, to always be on your guard because someone is watching. Elizabeth took her step-sisters’ words to heart. She would be here for the foreseeable future, after all. But then what? What good is an elite school like this if you never make connections with the other families here? But were the Abbots her family?

    No. Amila made that clear. Elizabeth’s family was far away or gone forever with only a wish and a prayer keeping them near.

    Elizabeth shook herself and packed up her dinner as well, no longer having the stomach for it.

    The dining commons were large; she noted again as she walked out. Many long rectangular tables lined with short-legged chairs made up most of the hall. Smaller circular tables encompassed the space closest to the kitchens on the far right wall where the buffet-styled food court sat. Windows leading out to the back patio covered most of the back wall. Elizabeth looked through them, at the darkening sky and the land slowly arching up. She had yet to sit outside. But now the trees and overgrown wildlife looked wicked, the shadows overflowing. The very sight sent shivers down her spine. It felt like something from just behind the trees had the same idea of peering through the glass and found her gaze.

    She wanted to wait and see if something moved, but the longer she stood, the more foolish she felt, so she turned away and kept going out of the room. They lined the halls outside with many electric light bulbs. The shock of seeing armed guards still took her by surprise. Now and then, she noticed when they shifted locations or men were relieved of their stations and replaced. The only explanation they gave her was “it is for the safety of our students.”

    Elizabeth looked away and refocused on the light bulbs, a fairly new invention and one of which the old castle had forced onto it. Despite some backlash of redoing a historical site, the school board had every legal ability to run wiring throughout all the major hallways and some classrooms and offices. The castle still had gas-lit torches, but the lightbulbs, in Elizabeth’s opinion, were far nicer.

    She followed the trail of lightbulbs down different corridors until something caught her attention. After stopping and admiring a portrait of a young lady draped on a garden bench, donning a beautiful summer dress did she hear voices being raised.

    “The only reason you’re still here is because my father gave you a recommendation! You lowlife, what do you even do in that cave all day? Thinking of ways to make others miserable?” with some shock Elizabeth recognized the harsh, angry voice to be Josephine! The upright, level-headed girl that first introduced her to the school.

    Elizabeth peered into the room.

    “And how about yourself? Wasting your time and energy on things you hate all to make dear old Dad happy. Does he still not know what you want? Guess you’re planning on taking it to your grave, which if you point another accusatory finger at me might be faster than you think.” The accused said. She looked over and recognized him as the boy that held the entrance door for her. Elizabeth had hardly seen any of them in the past weeks. To see them fight like this took her by surprise.

    “Josephine, Jonathan, can we all just calm down for a moment,” Charles chimed in, though his words fell on deaf ears. Elizabeth didn’t see him standing in between the two until he spoke. His hands held up, and his eyes held dark shadows. How long had this fight been going on?

    “Real rich coming from you, Jonathan. Your twisted brain probably thinks you’re doing me a favor. But you aren’t,” she pinched the bridge of her nose, “look, just tell me what you did with it, or did your little brain forget already?”

    “Insulting my intelligence again. What? Did you run out of flaws to poke at? How disappointing, there’s so many.” Jonathan casually crossed his arms but still seemed to radiate anger. “And for Heaven’s sake, I didn’t touch it. Why on earth would I need something of yours?”

    “You’ve got to be kidding me!?”

    “Elizabeth!” Charles explained, a hint of relief in his smile, finally getting the attention of Josephine and Jonathan. Elizabeth jumped as she heard her name, not expecting to be seen. Everyone stared at her, shocked. “Please come in, come in!” She sheepishly came out from behind the door, the entire room became more in focus.

    The party stood at the front of the music room. They designed it with an orchestra in mind. The front of the room was down a few flights of steps where each level had rows of seats and music stands, some full of sheet music, others left bare.

    “I didn’t mean to overhear, the door was not shut all the way, it was hard to miss.”

    “Sorry to make you worry. An item has been taken, and we were simply discussing its whereabouts,” Josephine said. Her demeanor stiffened. She grew taller, more like the in-control woman Elizabeth met. Her shoulders set back. She looked more dignified than how she was a moment ago.

    “Is that what that was? I thought -” Jonathan began but was soon cut short by Josephine’s glare, one which Elizabeth thought could slice wind in two.

    “Yes!” Charles spoke up, drawing all attention onto him. “Unfortunately, one of Josie’s items was stolen.”

    “I’m sorry to hear,” Elizabeth said, her eyes beginning to examine the room instinctively.

    “You won’t be able to spot it. We have turned this place upside down and inside out trying to find it.”

    “That’s not what I… so what happened?” Elizabeth asked. Before Josephine could point her finger at Jonathan again, Charles replied.

    “We don’t know. All we know is that the door was locked after practice three hours ago. Josie reserved the room at 7 to practice her solo for the upcoming concert. However, when she came in, it was already unlocked with seemingly nothing taken except…”

    “A very important journal. It has all my solo notes and I need it.”

    “And you think Jonathan stole it?” Elizabeth asked.

    “Why did you bring her into this?” Jonathan said, seemingly more pissed off. “Who cares what she thinks about this?”

    “But what motive could he have to take it? There has to be another explanation. Not only is it dangerous to break into a classroom in the middle of the day with all those guards stationed about, but to only take something that is yours, Josephine is going beyond a little prank.” Elizabeth finished, stepping off the last step.

    Jonathan stared at her for a moment before stepping closer, declaring, “I care what she has to say. See Josie, maybe Elizabeth here can talk some sense into you if you refuse to listen to any of us.”

    Josephine sighed and wrapped her arms around her stomach.

    “Josephine, do you know of anyone who would want to sabotage your performance? Maybe a jealous peer or slighted lover?”

    “Are you serious? How many books have you read to come up with a question like that?” Jonathan sounded almost disgusted.

    “No, no she has a point,” Josephine said. “What would you do with a book like that?”

    Jonathan threw up his hands and rolled his eyes. “Now you believe me.”

    “There is one person that comes to mind now that I think about it. Clara, she’s a year above me and has tried to convince Madam Carville to reconsider the solos every time I get one. Though I can’t imagine her going this far.”

    “Then let’s start there. I can go talk to her. Because we don’t know if she did it, let’s not go throwing accusations.”

    Josephine straightened her back, stretching out her anger and frustration Elizabeth hoped. “Very well. Though I do not know where she will be.”

    “Leave that to me,” Charles said. “I know over half the school and the other half knows about me.”

    Jonathan leaned into Elizabeth and whispered, “for all the wrong reasons, rest assured.” Elizabeth stifled a laugh.

    “Just give me ten minutes. I’ll at least have a starting point.” Charles walked up and out of the classroom, the entourage on his trail.

    Elizabeth watched as Charles bounced from one passing student to the next. Some with smiles of recognition, others with shocked confusion as the tall handsome socialite came up to them, all smiles and calm demeanor. He was right. People knew of him. After a few minutes of going down a few halls and even in some study rooms, did he come back with his signature grin.

    “Well?” Josephine inquired, as eager as Elizabeth was to know if he had come up with something. “Did you find out where she is?”

    “Would I have come back if I hadn’t?” he said.

    “Of course not,” Jonathan said. “You would have simply abandoned us.”

    “Come now, anyway. She was last seen heading down the stairs near the dining hall 40 minutes ago. No one has seen her come back.”

    “What is Clara doing down there? Is she out of her mind?”

    “What’s down the stairs?” Elizabeth looked around at them as though their faces could provide answers. They met her with only concern.

    “You’ll find out soon enough, Miss Detective,” Jonathan said, an uneasy amusement in his voice.

    The party led Elizabeth back down the path she had come. Only instead of taking a left to the big double doors leading into the dining hall – now sealed shut, signaling meal time to be over – they turned right.

    The space in front of them, to anyone who wasn’t looking, would only register as a wooden wall lined with intricately carved details like most of the spaces here. However, as they approached, Elizabeth noticed small lines creating the shape of a thin door. And sure enough, when Josephine pushed, the wood curved in, opening up to gray stones arching down. Getting farther away until the light could no longer reach. Josephine and Charles exchanged glances.

    “Hurry! Before someone sees,” Charles said.

    Josephine lit a match. “I hope this works,” she said. Elizabeth watched her bring it to some small cording coming out of the side of the wall. As it lit, so too did the staircase down. Torches illuminated one by one as the fire traveled down to the depths of the school’s basement. Elizabeth pinched her palms in excitement. Not only was this the lead to the missing item, but could also be a clue to her own grandmother’s elusive behavior!

    Josephine went in first. Then Charles and Elizabeth followed suit, eager to see everything she could.

    “Is this really a smart idea?” Jonathan said from behind Elizabeth, taking up the rear.

    “No, but it’s the only one we have,” Charles said. “And when were you the voice of reason?”

    “I’m always the voice of reason, you all just never listen.”

    “So what do we know about what’s under the school?” Elizabeth asked no one in particular.

    “Nothing much, only rumors.”

    “I’m relieved that the torch rumor was correct,” Josephine chimed in.

    “Though I’m confused about how Clara got in here. It’s usually locked.”

    “Most likely the same way she got into the music room, with a stolen key… or she knows how to pick a lock.” They all stayed silent until the bottom of the stairs came into view, an opening at the bottom illuminated only the floor, suggesting a larger room behind. “So no one has been down here before, I take it.”

    “Another correct guess. Maybe we should have told a teacher what was going on. This is just a little… unsettling,” Jonathan said.

    Unsettling was right. The opening led into an extensive cavern, light trickled in from unknown sources. The white illuminating the space created a light smoky glow. Tall stone pillars stretched up to the ceiling, seemingly cut from the stone that used to occupy the space. However, the architecture was not what stopped the party in their tracks, holding their breaths… suppressing their screams.

    Out a ways crouched a figure Elizabeth knew too well.

    Amila with a book in her hand. Her palm up, outstretched to something Elizabeth had never seen before.

    It was a long, thin creature, its arching back stretched up like a cat, but it was much… much larger. Its pitch-black fur looked as though it was rolling off like a candle just extinguished.

    Someone gasped. Amila and the beast turned to where Elizabeth stood in the entrance, and like the flame of a candle, the creature flickered away.