Welcome to FROST HARROW, my new modern (1990s) gothic horror series! If you’d like to support this and my other work, go to www.CushingHorrors.com and become my patron! You may also enjoy the Scribe Award-Winning MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE – In print, for kindle, and for all e-book formats. And check out my retro-horror-comedy classic CANOE COPS VS. THE MUMMY as well as my other books. Now… On with the show!
NINE – FROST HALL
Ivy tipped the cab driver and walked up the long driveway toward Frost Hall. She and Grant had decided it would make things easier if he didn’t drive her home.
It was nearly six o’clock now, and the two of them had enjoyed a wonderful day together, renewing their acquaintance. At noon Ivy had left a message with the Frost butler explaining she’d make her own way home. Of course, she knew her uncle would be upset that she hadn’t followed his plan for her recovery.
But a day with Grant had been better medicine than being doted on by the family servants. Her arm ached, and she felt weak, but the exertion had been worth it. Her ribs hardly bothered her at all.
In front of her, the towers of Frost Hall loomed in the afternoon sun, casting long shadows eastward. The building’s many chimneys, mostly breathless in these days of gas furnaces, stretched into the darkening sky. Windows stared out of more gables than Ivy could easily count. The building dominated both the landscape and all those who dwelt within its many rooms.
As she walked to the house, Ivy calmed her mind and prepared for the expected scolding. She felt relieved she’d at least made it past the gatehouse without being noticed. The rows of ancient trees lining the driveway would protect her from view at least a while longer.
Ivy tried to push her anger at her uncle to the back of her mind. Getting angry with Daniel Frost never did any good. In fact, nothing Ivy ever did seemed to make much of a dent on her uncle. He retained the same, superior, authoritative demeanor at all times.
Ivy wondered if he’d been that way before his first wife died. Of course, that had been before she was born, but Ivy couldn’t imagine Uncle Dan ever being less uptight. She did remember Dan’s second wife, Alyssa—Tony and Morgan’s mother. Or more accurately, she remembered Dan and his ex-wife fighting.
For a moment Ivy wondered how Tony had turned out so normal with such a bastard for a father. Then a rueful smile crossed her face. In the Frost family, it was she and Tony who were abnormal.
She walked up the driveway past the East Wing drawing room, passed under the covered entryway, and opened the large oak doors leading to the foyer. Cobert, the family’s tall, dignified head butler, greeted her at the door.
“Good evening, Miss Ivy,” he said, just a trace of his English accent showing. “Your uncle has been wondering about you.” His voice betrayed neither concern nor disapproval.
“I imagine he has, Cobert.”
The butler raised one dark eyebrow, a real display of emotion for him. “The family is preparing for dinner. Will you be joining them?”
“I suppose I shall,” said Ivy. “Will you please have someone bring my overnight bag up from the gate? I didn’t want to carry it all the way up the driveway.”
“Very good, Miss. Will you be requiring anything else?”
Not unless you’ve got a supply of happy pills for Uncle Dan, Ivy thought. But she said, “No, thank you, Cobert.”
As Cobert left to carry out her request, Ivy crossed the room to the great staircase and ascended. The lush Indian carpet muffled footsteps effectively, rendering the mansion eerily silent. Ivy almost bumped into her cousin Colin between the second and third floors before she heard him coming.
Colin was tall, thinly built except for a slight paunch in the middle. He had brilliant, curly red hair and a flashing smile perfected by years of dental artistry. His dark violet eyes reminded Ivy of a cat’s eyes. Something predatory lurked behind them.
“Ah, Ivy,” he said, grinning as he stepped back to avoid her. He had the smile of a practiced liar. “So here you are. Father’s been wondering where you ran off to. Some private assignation, I imagine, eh?”
Ivy frowned. Colin always imagined the most tawdry excuses for other people. Probably because his excuses were usually tawdry themselves.
Before Ivy could answer, he continued his thought. “I imagine it must have been difficult being laid up so long without any… companionship. Sorry I didn’t visit, dear, but I’ve been unusually busy lately.”
Ivy didn’t want to know what he had been busy with. She felt sure what ever he’d been up to, it was no good.
“I hardly missed you,” she said, flashing what she hoped was an appropriately insincere smile.
Colin continued on his way down the long stair. “Just make sure you don’t miss dinner, dear. And perhaps you could talk to Cobert about having the south elevator fixed. We really must stop meeting like this.”
Ivy mounted the rest of the stairs and then navigated her way through the mansion’s twisting back corridors to her room. She’d decided before she entered the front door that it would be best to change her clothes prior to dinner. No sense in giving her uncle any casual hints about the fun she’d had that afternoon.
Frost Hall was an immense building, the kind that would have done a Winchester or a Hearst proud. No one currently living there knew exactly how many rooms the mansion contained. Nor could any of them guess what secrets some of those rooms might hold.
The entire West Wing of Frost Hall stood disused (it had been deserted for years) and many parts of the mansion seldom saw human traffic. The whole had been piled up by long generations of the Frost family since Elihu Frost first laid eyes on the manse’s cliff-side site in 1851. Often, succeeding builders had worked at cross purposes, turning the mansion into a maze of oddly-shaped rooms and winding corridors.
The quality of the carpentry remained excellent throughout the building’s long construction. The beams were solid oak, joined mortise-and-tenon style. The brick and stonework had been done by the best masons money could buy. No expense had been spared in the plastering or papering or trimming. Fine rugs covered the hard-wood floors. Many of the mansion’s windows still contained hand-blown glass. Portraits of Frost ancestors and museum-quality paintings adorned many of the building’s walls. And the cost of the furnishings inside the manse could have fed every citizen in Frosthaven for a year.
Even Ivy’s grandfather, who had frittered away a large portion of the family fortune, hadn’t managed to denude the house of its grandeur. Frost Hall dwarfed all those who visited or lived inside. It compared favorably to some European palaces.
That the whole building had once been inhabited amazed Ivy. But that had been in the old days at the beginning of the twentieth century, when the family was more numerous and before her grandfather squandered much of the family fortune on his own failed schemes and personal vices.
Ivy’s room on the third floor sat nestled in a southwestern spur of the little-used north wing. The room lay far from the mansion’s usual traffic patterns. Many of the servants had rooms closer to those of the main family than Ivy.
The odd situation arose both from Ivy’s own wishes and those of her uncle. When her (wayward) parents had died, Daniel Frost had refused to rearrange the household so Ivy could occupy her father’s old apartments.
To Ivy it appeared as though her uncle was punishing her for her parents’ decision to move to New York City. Since her return, that feeling often seemed justified. However, after a few months in a dingy corner of the East Wing, Ivy decided on her own to put even more distance between her and the rest of her relatives.
Over the last two years, both sides had come to regard the arrangement as almost natural.
Ivy’s room faced the mansion’s deserted West Wing and had a nice view of the tower called the “Moon Room.” Ivy had explored the abandoned wing some as a child (all the Frosts had) but gave it little thought since returning. The years weighed heavily on the mansion, as did many unpleasant memories.
Occasionally, Ivy imagined she could see lights in the forgotten halls. But whether these lights were real, or merely reflections from the main house, she never cared to figure out.
Like many of the mansion’s chambers, Ivy’s room was dominated by dark oak paneling. She’d scandalized the family last year by taking down the ancient wallpaper between the panels and painting the newly-exposed plaster white. The renovation made her room one of the least oppressive in the building. It looked almost Tudor in style, with white walls and dark beams and wainscoting.
Ivy turned the brass handle and opened the heavy oak door to her room. Someone had closed the curtains while she was gone, and dark shadows filled the chamber. The room smelled musty, like old cologne. Ivy wondered if she’d just forgotten what the old place smelled like during her absence. She switched on the lights and drew open the drapery.
Nothing had changed during her hospital stay—at least nothing she could account for. But, somehow, things seemed slightly out of place. She wondered perhaps if one of her cousins had decided to poke around while she’d been gone. Colin might do such snooping. So would Morgan. Maybe some of the others, too.
But though several of her cousins might be crass enough to rifle her chambers, all were clever enough to cover up any obvious evidence of intrusion.
Uncle Dan could also have taken it upon himself to do so—in Ivy’s own best interests, of course.
Ivy sighed and flopped down on the bed. Be it ever so gruesome, there’s no place like home, she thought. She rested a few moments, then rose, stripped off her bright, casual clothes, and selected something more somber from her wardrobe.
Changing with her cast proved cumbersome, but Ivy soon figured which outfits would make her transition back to normal life less difficult. A sleeveless brown dress seemed the best option for tonight. She straightened her skirt and gazed at her reflection in the mirror.
The accident had made some changes, but she still recognized the features that gazed back at her: wavy black hair, roundish face, blue-grey eyes, full red lips. The dressing on her neck remained an unwelcome addition, but at least the doctors had removed all but one bandage on her face.
She peeled it back and examined the wound. It looked to be healing nicely. She doubted it would even leave a scar. Despite her misgivings about her uncle’s motives, she felt glad that the family’s insurance would cover reconstructive surgery on her neck. She hoped they’d be able to do the work soon, though the doctors insisted she regain some of her strength first.
Spending the day with Grant had made her feel worlds better. She propped her hands on her chin, leaned her elbows on the dresser, and sighed.
A movement behind her in the mirror caught her attention.
But when she turned she saw only shadows.
I’ve been away from this old place too long, she thought. It’s starting to give me the creeps all over again.
It had taken her a long time to adjust to Frost Hall after moving back in. The mansion seemed even more forbidding to her as a teenager than it had when she was a child. The first few months she’d seen ghosts around every corner. Now of course she saw only the normal kind—the memories and expectations people bring with them.
Still, every once in a while, the old manse would remind her who held dominion within these dark halls. The house was its own master, no matter who sat at the head of the dining table.
“Ohmygosh! Dinner!” Ivy gasped. She tossed the bandage in the trash and scooped her medallion from where she’d laid it on the dresser while she changed. Then she raced out her door to join the family.
TO BE CONTINUED…