WARNING: Some unseen sex.
Charlotte confronts the door in her mind.
For previous episodes of Victorian Mistress see the Weekly Serial page.
London – 1839
A soft touch on my bare shoulder woke me and I rolled over expecting to see Bran.
There was no-one.
Deciding I must’ve remembered a night he’d come home I curled up to go back to sleep. Perhaps my mind would summon up an interesting memory of him to make up for the time he’d been away, if only I could pick and choose, but there were plenty of possibilities.
Footsteps sounded in the distance. Not Bran’s steps, his were soft as if he was worried about disturbing the carpet.
I sat up, knife in hand, the only time it wasn’t was when my hand had other things to hold onto.
The footsteps were heavy, commanding, with an echo as if a dozen feet were falling in immediate succession. I got out of bed, despite the number of novels I’d read where unfortunate things happened to young women who went exploring at night. I didn’t have the requisite candle, but I was sure Bran and I had done enough damage without me setting fire to his house.
I opened the door and squeezed out into… a much bigger corridor than it should’ve been. I knew this house. I knew this night.
‘Bugger,’ I muttered.
The corridor was thickly carpeted beneath my feet, I could’ve curled my toes and lost them in the pile. There were long tables displaying expensive knick-knacks in the dim light and two suits of armour flanked the double doors ahead.
‘Don’t do it, Charlotte, it’s not real,’ I whispered.
I started walking. I always started walking.
I remembered everything but sometimes my mind couldn’t decide what it wanted to remember, memories got tangled with this one, overlapping and intruding. In the distance there were screams, children sobbing and the rattling thud of a door being pounded. The wailing was the worst. The wail of the workhouse was the most despairing sound I’d ever heard, the depth of its misery was enough to freeze your heart. When priests talked about souls in torment that wail was the sound I heard.
I hissed at a pain in my foot and paused to pull a tiny piece of china from my sole. That didn’t belong in the memory. I edged forward.
My hands found the polished wood and rested against the doors. My forehead touched it.
The sounds were louder. The wood vibrated to their rhythm.
My hands slid down and closed around the cool brass handles. ‘Don’t opened it,’ I murmured, squeezing my eyes tight shut. ‘Don’t open it.’
The screams and wails were rising towards a crescendo.
My hands tightened, my knuckles ached with my grip. ‘Don’t open it. Don’t open it. Don’t open it,’ I said under my breath. ‘Don’t. Open. It.’ I could feel my short nails digging into my skin. ‘Don’t. Open. It.’
A hand touched my shoulder.
I swung round.
I stared at Bran. He gripped my wrist lightly, my knife an inch from his throat.
I was back in the corridor outside the bedroom, near the crack in the plasterwork, caused by a table we’d banged into, a few times. There had been vases on it once. Not thick carpet. No armour. No double doors.
I dropped my knife and he released my wrist. I touched his stubble with my fingertips then cupped his cheek. He pressed into my touch. I pulled him down into a deep kiss. He was always the best cure for bad dreams.
Mrs Stapleton wouldn’t be happy in the morning if she’d heard the sound the table made against the wall. More so if we’d left another crack in the plaster. She certainly hadn’t been happy with the crater the brass bookend had left in the bedroom wall.
Legs around his waist, hands gripping the backs of his shoulders, I pressed my face against his neck and sighed. ‘You have a strange definition of soon, chuckaboo.’
His hands settled lightly on my hips and his stubbly cheek scratched my ear. ‘What were you dreaming about?’
‘Remembering,’ I corrected.
‘Sleep walking is a worrying development,’ he murmured.
If that was a worrying development then he wouldn’t like what happened when I opened those doors. I inhaled his old book and warm whiskey scent letting it draw me back from the recesses of my memory. He was soft and warm and calm.
‘I might know someone who can teach you to control it… better,’ he added, diplomatically.
I drew away to look him in the face. ‘Josef.’
‘How’d you –‘
‘If it wasn’t Josef, you would’ve mentioned it a long time ago.’ I slid my hands down to his rear. ‘And what would Josef know about “controlling” memories.’
Bran looked away. ‘Organising them, maybe. He’s a good teacher, he’s picked up a lot of knowledge in his time.’
‘Are you convincing me or you?’ I grinned and kissed his chin.
‘I’m not sure.’
I chuckled and tucked my head under his chin. ‘I missed you.’
He went very still, not even breathing.
I pretended not to notice. ‘I’ll think about it.’
He exhaled deeply. ‘Are we going to stay here all night?’
My hands glided back to his shoulders and I sighed. ‘Maybe.’
He pressed his face against my hair and held me tightly.
‘Where were you?’ I asked.
‘It doesn’t matter.’
It did matter.