You know the paranoid feeling of being watched? The prickly way your hair stands up on the back of your neck or the goosebumps rise on your arms for no apparent reason?
Well … sometimes there's a reason.
Sometimes the reason is the large and weathered Victorian house you've just moved into to attend school in a new state. Sometimes it's your three new roommates who seem a little too perfect to be real.
Sometimes it's the feeling you get in the dark or the sound of the wind against the window panes.
And sometimes it's not …
Chapter 1 – Just My Shadow and Me
I stared up at the lofty manor and wondered what movie I'd just moved into. It was probably once a beautiful house. It set lightly a top of small hill. There were beautiful bay windows on the main and second floors right looking over the front yard. The front doors with the stained glass windows were tucked gently into a wide front porch. The blue paint was faded to almost gray and the cream shudders looked closer to dirt colored from the dust that blew in the wind all summer.
It was beautiful in its own twisted, neglected way.
"You must be the new girl," the girl said, smiling warmly at me. "I'm Melanie Forth."
"Hi, Samantha Statten," I said, accepting her handshake. "You can call me Sam."
"Well," she said cheerfully. "Welcome to Edelville, Sam. This is as small town as you can get but there usually a way to find everything you need. We're on the outskirts a little bit but it you follow the road around it'll take you back into town from the south," she said pointing down the road I'd just come from. "That's also the fastest way to the University."
"Good to know," I nodded.
I opened the trunk of my small car and pulled out my large duffel bag and a pillow. It seems I'd have to make more trips for my other bags.
"Let me get those for you," Melanie offered. "I'll be showing you to your room anyway."
"Oh, thank you."
"No problem," she said, hefting the two bags, one in each of her feminine hands. "The other girls are inside, I'm sure we'll meet them along the way."
We entered the front doors and my eyes started wandering. The old house definitely had its charms. The delicate woodwork and original light covers. The dark, rich colored wood floors we walked over. The stained glass windows over each doorway, letting colored light into every room. This house seemed a treasure trove of antique design.
It was too bad I wasn't studying architecture.
I followed behind as Melanie led the way up the main staircase. She was several stairs ahead of me which made her seem taller than she was but when we stopped on the first landing I realized she was tall anyway. Maybe 5'10 or 11. Her long, tanned, arms adeptly lugging my things made me wonder if she was some kind of athlete. Her shiny blonde hair and perfectly made up face suggested otherwise but you never know.
Another girl, this one much shorter, bound from the front bedroom on the second floor and in a mess of terracotta curls. It was almost whimsical the way she skipped to Melanie's side with a face splitting grin.
"Hey Mel, who's this?" she wondered.
"This is the girl who's taking the fourth room," Melanie explained. "Samantha Statten, this is one of your roommates, Livi Williams."
"Hi, Livi. How are you?" I said amiably.
"I'm great. It's nice to meet you Samantha."
"Just call me Sam," I told her.
"Sure. You already seem much friendlier than our last roommate,
she chuckled. "She holed up in that room a lot. I mean, I understand to an extent, that view—whew!" she exclaimed, fanning herself.
"Anyway, Sam," Melanie said, continuing down the hall to another staircase. "Livi knows everything about botany so if you have any questions at all about that, she's your girl."
The second staircase made me wonder where exactly I'd be rooming.
We went up six stairs and then turned a corner, and then another until I was facing the back of the house again. At the top of the stairs, there was a short hallway with two doors. Melanie opened the first of them, spilling brilliant light into the hall.
"This is your room," she announced. "I know its strange being off by itself, but I think it's really the best room in the house. Don't tell the other girls I said that."
"It's very nice," I agreed looking around.
The room had warm yellow walls and that same dark brown wood floor. The trim around the doorways and window was the same intense color but only seemed to brighten the yellow. It was already furnished with a bed, a desk and a dresser. There were two doors on the east side of the room. Both dark six-paneled doors. One led to the bathroom, which happened to also have a door into the hallway, and one led to a closet. I smiled knowing I'd be cramming a lot in there this year.
The View Livi told me about did not disappoint.
There was only one window in the room but it took up quite a bit of the southern wall. It began at waist height and went just about two feet below the pointed ceiling. There were four panes but only the two in the center opened. Strangely, they opened into the room instead of out.
Beyond the wondrous window was the Edeles Mountains and forest. The back yard sloped back into the edge of the woods. I could see so much of the picturesque view from up here. I knew I'd get a lot of use out of these windows. I couldn't wait to see the first storm blowing in.
I turned to the voice behind me and my eyes met with a pair more brown and rich than mine were. The dark-skinned beauty before me had to be the other roommate.
"Hi Tasha, this is Sam," Melanie said. I gratefully acknowledged that she skipped my full name this time but it made no difference.
"Short for Samantha?" Tasha asked, offering me her long fingered hand.
"Tasha is in the room just across from Livi's, she's on the volleyball team with me so we're occasionally MIA," Melanie explained. "But we list all our cell numbers on the fridge just in case one of us needs something."
"Awesome, I'll just unpack a bit then and I'll add mine to the list when I get downstairs again," I offered.
Both girls nodded and filed out but I didn't notice. Something seemed off.
I looked around, recounted my bags, checked that the light was on, and the windows were closed… What was it?
Maybe it was too stuffy.
I crossed the smallish room and opened the windows and a fresh burst of early September air caressed my face and arms. Then without warning, the fresh wind seems to carry a hollow sound on it. My eyes opened in shock looking for an explanation for the strange sound. Almost like … a man's voice?
The goosebumps rose on my arms and I closed the windows unable to fathom the feeling I had, nor the draw to simply stare out those windows into the trees beyond.
I had just spent three days driving alone. Maybe my tired brain was playing tricks on me.
I settled in and ventured downstairs to the small of pepperoni pizza and breadsticks. The other girls were gathered around the green tile island in the kitchen, each with a slice in their hands.
"Oh, Sam! Come eat, we bought a ton!" Livi called, her mouth full.
"That sounds great," I said. "I'm starving."
"So where did you come from?" Tasha asked curiously.
"Henderson, Nevada," I said, taking a seat on the last barstool on the end. "It's just outside of Vegas."
"Cool," Tasha said
"No way, you grew up in Vegas?" Livi demanded, jealously.
I shrugged. I sort of did, sort of didn't.
"That would be amazing. I'll bet you've seen everything."
"I have seen a lot of exhibits," I admitted.
"Oh! Did you see the Human Body Exhibit? Or the Titanic Exhibit?" Melanie asked excitedly. "I saw the Titanic one when it was in New York but I've always wanted to see the Human Body one."
"Yeah, I've seen them both," I admitted. "Some of exhibits we saw for field trips. They were pretty cool."
"Wow, lucky," Livi said into her pizza.
"What about you girls, where are you guys from?" I wondered.
"Well, this is Melanie's family's house," Livi said. "It's been in the family since it was built, so … generations. Her parents don't really need it since they're have their own magnificent mansion so this is the left over house they let us rent so we don't have to live in the dorms."
"Ew," Tasha added in disgust.
"Wow, that's nice of them," I said.
"Not really," Melanie said. "They couldn't care less what we do out here. They pay the utilities for us though, so we don't have to worry about that and then whatever we pay in rent gets dumped into some fund somewhere."
"Yeah, her marriage fund," Tasha teased.
"It is not a marriage fund," Melanie insisted. "It's for … my future … endeavors."
"Like getting married," Livi filled in.
"Whatever reason, I'm grateful," I said, raising my pizza in a toast. "I can actually afford to live here so I am away from my parents and younger brother. So here's to Forth Manor."
The girls laughed and 'clinked' pizzas and started eating again.
"So you girls seem pretty comfortable, have you lived here other years?" I asked.
"I've lived here all of them, obviously," Melanie said. "Livi moved in during sophomore year and has been her ever since."
"Except for that one semester she lived with that weasel, James," Tasha added.
Livi mimicked her, moving her fingers and thumb as though it were a mouth.
"Then Tasha moved in the spring semester of junior year," Melanie finished. "So it's been a while that we've known each other."
"That's cool," I mumbled. "So where did the last girl go? The one who was renting my room?"
The girls looked at each other and then me. Tasha and Livi just started eating again and Melanie turned to me
"She had a humongous course load," she said softly. "I don't think she could handle it, so she went home before the year was up."
I nodded but I didn't believe them.
"So what about you? Do you know any friends out here? Got a boyfriend?" Melanie asked, leaning over the island on her elbows.
"Nope, it's just me," I said happily. "I don't know anyone but you three girls for hundreds and hundreds of miles."
"We'll introduce you to everyone," Livi volunteered. "We know lots of people."
"She means boys, she knows lots of boys," Tasha said meaningfully.
"Come on, now, it's not like that," Livi protested. "There is nothing wrong with flirting."
"Amen," Melanie agreed with a giggle.
After we'd sufficiently stuffed ourselves we sat around the opened living room. There was one large sectional with lounge at one end and two big overstuffed chairs on either side of the fireplace. If you asked me it was a couple of junior high girls away from being a slumber party but I didn't mind. I needed this. I needed to be on my own.
We talked schedules and teachers—miraculously I didn't get any of the crazy ones—and discussed when we'd be in and out of the house. Melanie and Livi both had jobs and would consequently be gone most afternoons but Tasha and I seemed to be destined to become great friends. We had English together and shared our free afternoons. Though both of us were working off scholarships so I was certain we'd be doing homework in our free time and not partaking in girl talk.
Happily, I also learned that I was the only girl in the house to not have to share my bathroom. It was too far from the other rooms for it to make sense and I was ecstatic. The first thing I did when I got upstairs again was take a long and luxurious shower. Then I climbed into bed, my head to the north so I could look out my giant window as I fell asleep.
There were no clouds that night and I could see stars upon stars twinkling vibrantly in the night sky. There really was something to be said for living somewhere without street lights in every neighborhood and flood lights in every yard. It was nice.
I closed my eyes and snuggled into my blankets, hoping to lure sleep to me with my forced serenity. But I seemed to lure something else altogether. A song filled my head, a low, charming melody, though it wasn't quite happy. It sort of made me feel a longing.
I opened my eyes at the voice, automatically looked out the windows.
Please … just remember …
Grasping the little scientific knowledge I had I got up and walked to the window to investigate the voice that seemed to be carried on the wind. At first I couldn't see anything. Then a small glint in the woods caught my eye. The adjusted in the darkness and I could make out the shape of a small house, tucked into the shadows at the edge of the woods. It was one and a half stories and clearly much older than the one I was living in. Still, there was no paint left to speak of and the wood was gray with strain. The windows were dark. I was certain it was uninhabitable.
Then why did it feel as though the house was looking back at me?
The tiny hairs rose on my arms and I backed away from the window, rubbing them vigorously.
"It's just the wind," I told myself. "Nothing to worry about."
Determined not to make my brain think anymore I latched the windows and got back in bed, my back to the beautiful view and the mysterious house.
It seemed quiet as I fell asleep but there was a last, desperate please just as I drifted to sleep.
A/N: This is NOT a ghost story. Just keep reading.
A/N: Also, I've re-editing this lovely book so each chapter will be a tiny bit different. Not so much changes to the story as fixing grammatical errors or mispellings. However, chapter TWELVE had the most added to it, so I would at least read that one. Thanks so much! Happy reading!