Somewhere in the night, someone was writing.
Her feet scrunched the gravel as she ran wildly up the tree-lined drive. Her heart was pounding in her chest; her lungs felt as if they were bursting, heaving breath after breath of the cold night air. Her eyes fixed on the house ahead, the single light in the topmost room drawing her toward it like a moth to a candle flame. Above her, and away in the deep forest behind the house, night things whooped and skrarked. From the road behind her, she heard something scream, briefly — a small animal that had been the victim of some beast of prey, she hoped, but could not be certain.
She ran as if the legions of hell were close on her heels, and spared not even a glance behind her until she reached the porch of the old mansion. In the moon's pale light, the white pillars seemed skeletal, like the bones of a great beast. She clung to the wooden door frame, gulping air, staring back down the long driveway as if she were waiting for something, and then she rapped on the door — timorously at first and then harder. The rapping echoed through the house. She imagined, from the echo that came back to her, that, far away, someone was knocking on another door, muffled and dead.
"Please!" she called. "If there's someone here — anyone — please let me in. I beseech you. I implore you." Her voice sounded strange to her ears.
The flickering light in the topmost room faded and disappeared, to reappear in successive descending windows. One person, then, with a candle. The light vanished into the depths of the house. She tried to catch her breath. It seemed like an age passed before she heard footsteps on the other side of the door and spied a chink of candlelight through a crack in the ill-fitting door frame.
"Hello?" she said.
The voice, when it spoke, was dry as old bone — a desiccated voice, redolent of crackling parchment and musty grave-hangings. "Who calls?" it said. "Who knocks? Who calls, on this night of all nights?"
The voice gave her no comfort. She looked out at the night that enveloped the house, then pulled herself straight, tossed her raven locks, and said, in a voice that, she hoped, betrayed no fear, "'Tis I, Amelia Earnshawe, recently orphaned and now on my way to take up a position as a governess to the two small children — a boy and a girl — of Lord Falconmere, whose cruel glances I found, during our interview in his London residence, both repellent and fascinating, but whose aquiline face haunts my dreams."
"And what do you do here, then, at this house, on this night of all nights? Falconmere Castle lies a good twenty leagues on from here, on the other side of the moors."
"The coachman — an ill-natured fellow, and a mute, or so he pretended to be, for he formed no words but made his wishes known only by grunts and gobblings — reined in his team a mile or so back down the road, or so I judge, and then he shewed me by gestures that he would go no farther, and that I was to alight. When I did refuse to do so, he pushed me roughly from the carriage to the cold earth, then, whipping the poor horses into a frenzy, he clattered off the way he had come, taking my several bags and my trunk with him. I called after him, but he did not return, and it seemed to me that a deeper darkness stirred in the forest gloom behind me. I saw the light in your window and I . . . I . . ." She was able to keep up her pretense of bravery no longer, and she began to sob.
"Your father," came the voice from the other side of the door. "Would he have been the Honorable Hubert Earnshawe?"
Amelia choked back her tears. "Yes. Yes, he was."
"And you — you say you are an orphan?"
She thought of her father, of his tweed jacket, as the maelstrom seized him and whipped him onto the rocks and away from her forever.
"He died trying to save my mother's life. They both were drowned."
She heard the dull chunking of a key being turned in a lock, then twin booms as iron bolts were drawn back. "Welcome, then, Miss Amelia Earnshawe. Welcome to your inheritance, in this house without a name. Aye, welcome — on this night of all nights." The door opened.
GOTHIC!: TEN ORIGINAL DARK TALES edited by Deborah Wayshak. Copyright (c) 2006 by Deborah Wayshak. Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA
Excerpted from Gothic! by Deborah Noyes. Copyright © 2006 by Deborah Noyes. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.