Nat jolted awake as the car swiftly turned the corner onto Applewood Crescent. She wrinkled her nose in disgust at all the neatly trimmed hedges and elaborate houses standing elegantly in a row along the crisp, clean pavement. She hated snobby, posh people and despite having never actually met them, she was absolutely sure she would hate her aunt and uncle too. “Natalie, try to be polite, please,” her mother reminded her impatiently, “and for the last time, take your suitcase too; I’m not always carrying everything” she finished with an exasperated expression on her face. Stubbornly, Nat got up as slowly as possible and deliberately dragged her backpack on the floor, making an irritating scraping noise as she reached the steps. Biting back a grin, she watched as her little brother struggled to try and carry both their suitcases up the foreboding steps to the house, tripping over his own feet as he stumbled into the intricate pillar guarding the house. Just then, the front door swung open and a tall, imposing woman opened it.
She was extremely tall, with strict, sharp features, and greying hair pulled back into a tight bun. Glasses were perched on her nose, and she glared down at Nat menacingly. However, she broke into a smile when she saw her mother, and welcomed them into the house. “Come in, come in. I apologise for the mess; it’s been quite a busy day! I’ll have some cookies ready in just a moment. She laughed slightly at Jack’s beaming smile. ‘How could he trust her so easily? What witchcraft was this woman capable of that she could make my snivelly little brother cheerful?’ Nat thought. Reluctantly, she shuffled inside, making sure to flick a few pieces of mud on the pristine white carpet.
Keeping her eyes fixated on her dirty, worn trainers, she trudged along as she followed the blue welly boots and tall black high heels in front of her, not bothering to admire the surroundings. She already despised the place. “And this will be my home for the next few days…” she thought, frustratedly. She had never asked to come here. Relatives, especially annoying ones, bored her to death, almost as much as school and reading did. The only bit that was different was that it wasn’t compulsory to visit relatives, so why should she bother? She would much prefer to be outside, in the fresh air among the trees and the animals in the woods, with her best friend Tilly. Usually, they would climb trees, dive in piles of leaves and set campfires all autumn. Now she had no idea what she would do. Listen to some boring conversations about news and the government, or watch her bratty older cousins obsess over makeup? She pretended to gag, then suddenly realised she had lost sight of the blue wellies, and was just walking on her own through a corridor. Startled, she stared around wildly, but her mother and her aunt had vanished. Panic bubbling up inside her, she ran back to the fork between the two corridors, but there was still no sign of them. She tried one room, and then another, but they both appeared to be storage cupboards. Why would you have two storage cupboards next to each other? It seemed a bit pointless, but she had other worries. It was probably just another weird habit of snobby people, to just buy more of everything.
She kept searching, but after a few minutes she still was lost, and even more confused then before. Suddenly, she heard a noise, and stood up a bit straighter. Following it into another passageway, it seemed like it had faded slightly. A shiver crept down her spine, and strange shadows flitted across the walls. An ominous shadow was creeping up behind her, or was it the chandelier swaying in the breeze? The candlelight danced mischievously across the walls. Where was the sudden breeze coming from? Suddenly, she heard footsteps approaching her, and sighed in relief. But it wasn’t her aunt approaching her. The footsteps were louder and heavier. She darted around the corner, but no one was there. Terrified, she lurched back, crashing into her mother and Jack who had appeared behind her. “I, I- “she started, but her mother cut her off. “I don’t know how you managed to get lost already, we were right in front of you,” she laughed, “but save the excuses. It is a big house after all.” Natalie bit back her terror, breathed in and out a few times, and spoke again. “Thanks mum. These corridors are quite scary.” He aunt, who had just reappeared, glared at her sternly. “Scary?” she asked. Nat forced a nervous laugh. “Umm, yes. I thought I heard someone coming, and then there was no one there.” Her aunt forced a smile back. “You must be imagining things. Come on, here is your room.”
As it turned out, she hadn’t strayed far anyway. Her room was right next to a storage cupboard which was a few corridors along. Despite her terror, and annoyance from earlier, she hadn’t anticipated a room this luxurious just for staying three nights. A large window stretched across one wall, with a desk overlooking the manor’s huge garden, and a cosy armchair in the corner of the room, a towering bookshelf stood next to it. The double bed against the left wall had a bright white cover, and was decorated with a variety of comfy, blue cushions. The floor was wooden, but there was a fluffy grey and white rug in the centre of the room. The bright white sunlight almost blinded her as she stepped inside. “Wow. This room is much more than I expected. And one for each of us, as well. This was very kind of you,” Nat’s mother said as she looked around. “You’re welcome,” said Nat’s aunt kindly, and they left Nat to ponder the day’s events as they left to get freshly baked cookies.
She collapsed on the bed and was about to drift asleep (it was one of her favourite things to do, after all) before she realised, she had plenty of time to explore the garden. The flat expanse of land with some neatly trimmed grass, and ornamental flower pots placed in each corner of the paving stones, wasn’t interesting by itself. However, at the edge of the garden there was a small gate leading into the woods beyond it, and no one was here to tell her not to go into the woods by herself. She opened the door to her room, and stepped out into the corridor. The floorboards creaked as she ventured through the dark twisting halls. The place was like a labyrinth, so big and complex you might never be able to find your way out. The garden, however, should have been easy to find, as the back door was in the large hall that they had entered from as well. Suddenly, though, the sound Nat had heard earlier started again. Distracted, she darted along the nearest corridor. Hadn’t her mother gone this way? The faint humming grew closer and closer. She turned the corner to see a maid, skipping a long and singing. She breathed out, and suddenly the maid noticed her. She smiled slightly, but as she turned away, she swore she could see a hideous beast behind her, with vicious claws and a grotesque smile. Alarmed, she turned back around, but there was no one there. Her heart was beating rapidly. She regretted searching for the garden now, but it was too late. A hand clamped over her mouth and dragged her into the storage cupboard.
“What were you thinking?” a voice hissed.
“What?” Nat stuttered, petrified. Spinning around, she saw a girl, slightly older than her, with dark brown hair swept into elaborate braids and cold green eyes.
“Sneaking about the place, not looking around, following the sirens,” she replied exasperatedly.
“Sirens?” Nat asked frantically.
“No, I meant… nothing,” her voice faltered. I stared around at my surroundings. What I thought had been a storage cupboard was actually a grand room, with plush furniture and the bright white carpet that I despised. There was an empty grey fireplace, coated with dust, and two withered plants on either side. I stared back at her.
“Umm, sorry, I didn’t realise you weren’t a maid. I’m Ariana. You’re Madam Green’s niece, aren’t you?” she said.
“Madam Green? Oh, never mind. Yes, I am her niece. Natalie, by the way, but most people call me Nat,” Nat replied.
She smiled, “Well, hi Nat. What brought you here anyway?”
“We’re just visiting. Lots of interesting things have been happening though, and I’ve only been here for an hour or two.”
“Interesting?” she asked.
“Yes, I’ve been hallucinating, I think, and hearing strange voices. Sorry for sneaking around anyway, I was just looking for the garden.”
“That’s ok. Many relatives have ended up getting lost here, and I usually have to help them find their way around.”
She led her out of the room, and directed her to the garden. “Do you want to explore the woods?” she asked mischievously. Natalie grinned as if in answer.
When they arrived back inside for dinner, Uncle Samuel joined them for dinner, as well as Ariana and some of the other maids. My aunt glared at her as the wet muddy autumn leaves which had been stuck to her jacket, landed on the old-fashioned rug. Her uncle, however, chuckled merrily and beckoned her over to the table. Ariana rolled her eyes, and Nat pretended to be oblivious to her aunt’s discomfort as her coat steadily dripped mud all over the carpet. She loved watching snobby people squirm, irritated but wanting to retain their polite, composed demeanour. She hung it up carefully, and made sure to knock the other coats as she left. Everyone was staring at her, so they didn’t notice Ariana silently giggling.
Afterwards, they walked back up to her room, Ariana making sure to lead her the right way. However, as they turned a corner where her room was, she spotted a painting shift slightly on the wall. She went to readjust it, and was sure she saw the painted rabbit twitch. She reached up towards the painting, and Ariana brushed past her, knocking her hand into the painting. Into the painting? The paint certainly looked real, but she felt uneasy as she reached towards the canvas again. Her hand disappeared. She reached right through, and a cold sensation swept along her palm. Ariana hurriedly pulled her away, but she knew what she had seen. Staring in awe at it, she turned, and crashed straight into her aunt. Ariana started to apologise hastily, as Nat stood staring at her aunt in shock. The woman was transforming.
Blinking rapidly to wake herself from the surreal dream she must be having, she could only watch as her aunt suddenly transformed into a beaming, happy woman, with a worn but cheerful expression, staring down at her. Despite her simpler clothes and less of a snobby attitude, she had the same eyes and face, except it was crinkled into a smile.“It seems that you, Nat, have discovered the secret of Copperhill Manor.”