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The Discovery

Chapter One

By Reija SillanpaaPublished 9 months ago Updated 8 months ago 12 min read
The Discovery
Photo by Sonya Romanovska on Unsplash

The diagonal rain beat on the windscreen and the wipers, even on their fastest setting, were next to useless. Condensation spread over the windshield, making visibility even worse as Kati negotiated the narrow, winding road that led to her new home.

“Easy now,” Sam said, her head nearly hitting the ceiling of the retro Mini as the passenger side wheel hit another pothole.

Kati didn’t respond. She was almost bent double over the steering wheel in her effort to keep the car on the gravel road.

When Kati had driven to meet her friend Sam off the plane, the weather had been stiflingly hot. Now the heat of the day had given way to a violent thunderstorm. The lightning and thunder were only a fraction apart.

“Nearly there,” Kati said without taking her eyes off the road as forked lightning spread across the horizon. She turned right into another, even narrower and windier road. “It’s just at the end of this road.”

Another hit of lightning lit their surroundings and revealed a row of neat wooden houses on both sides of the road. Kati pulled into the driveway of the last one. The beams of the car lights revealed a house that still retained some of its former glory, but now bore the signs of decades of neglect.

“So here we are, my new home.” Kati smiled at Sam. She noticed the doubt in Sam’s eyes as her friend took in the peeling paint and hanging gutters. “Don’t let the sorry state of the outside put you off. I assure you it is structurally safe and will not collapse on us. And inside, it’s cosy and one hundred percent waterproof. I promise.”

The house had been empty for almost two decades. The locals had always claimed it was haunted and after the last owners, no one had wanted to spend their money on the dilapidating house. It had been left to its own devices, slowly rotting away until Kati had bought it.

She bought it as a project to keep her mind occupied after the events in London. Events that had resulted in her leaving the city and finding herself back in her small seaside home town after almost twenty years.

“Any regrets?” Sam eyeed the house with one raised eyebrow and puckered lips. A look Kati knew so well. Sam had given her the same look each time Kati had tried to convince her friend everything was well with her Pete.

“About what? Moving here or about buying the most notorious ghost house in town that nobody else wanted to touch with a barge pole?” Kati laughed. She glanced at her friend just in time to see her rolling her eyes.

“Although this would definitely make a fantastic setting for a spooky story,” she continued as lightning lit the sky again, framing the old house against the majestic ancient fir trees.

“You know what I mean.” There was an edge of impatience in Sam’s words. She never had been a fan of flippancy when she wanted a serious answer. “About moving back to Finland and buying this place. It’s not exactly your style. I mean look at it. It’s at the end of a dirt road, several kilometres from the town, yet you never even considered living outside zone two in London.”

“Absolutely no regrets,” Kati said with conviction. She knew her friend worried about her and had doubts about the sanity of her move back home. “I know what I was like in London. But I’ve left that person behind. I had to, you know that. I can honestly say that I am happier here. Honestly, I am.”

She appreciated Sam having a hard time believing her. And why shouldn’t she? After all, Kati had always insisted that London was her home and she would never leave. But after everything that had happened, her mind had changed. She had changed. She still loved London, but it was far too full of painful memories she had needed to get away from.

“I’m afraid the driveway is not in a condition for us to drive any closer to the house, so we’ll just have to run for it.” She switched off the car engine.

As the humming of the car engine stopped, the howling of the wind became even louder and the rain hammering on the car roof was deafening. Without the car lights on, the house disappeared into the darkness of the surrounding trees.

“It’s so dark out there. We’ll need some light to get to the front door.” She pulled her handbag from the back seat and rummaged through it. “I’m sure I have a torch somewhere in this bag. I’d use my phone, but it would get too wet.”

Finally, she found a small torch, which she handed over to Sam. “Ready?”

“Guess I better be unless I want to spend my night in your car.” Sam nodded and gave Kati one of her wry smiles and Kati realised just how much she had missed her friend.

Sam flicked on the torch. They opened the car doors, stepped into the rain, and ran for the front door.

“Here we go,” Kati shook the rain from her hair and inserted the key into the lock. She unlocked the door and pushed it open, letting Sam enter before her. They were both soaked from head to toe just from the short print up the driveway. “We’ll get out of these wet clothes and I’ll get a fire going in the fireplace. We’ll soon be warm enough.”

“I wouldn’t say no to a nice, warming glass of red wine either,” Sam shook her soaked hair as water dripped off her clothes onto the wooden hallway floor. “And you better lend me some dry clothes until I can get my luggage out of the car.”

“No worries, I’ll find you some pyjamas. And I might have bought a bottle or two of your favourite Merlot to welcome you to my new home,” Kati said, climbing up the creaking stairs. “Why don’t you get the wine for us? The kitchen’s on the right and the living room's to the left. I’ll bring you a towel and pyjamas there.”

When Kati came back downstairs and entered the living room with a towel and a pair of pyjamas for Sam, she found her admiring the spacious living room.

“So, what do you think?” Kati asked though she could tell that Sam had expected nothing like this.

She passed the towel and pyjamas to her friend and kneeled in front of the fireplace. Arranging four small logs on top of some kindling, she struck a match. The dry kindling caught fire and Kati watched as the flames licked the logs, lighting them, too. She warmed her hands in front of the blaze and fed the fire a couple of larger logs. “That’ll do nicely.”

“It’s a fabulous room.” Sam had got out of the wet clothes and into the pyjamas. She joined Kati, kneeling in front of the already blazing fire.

“Isn’t it?” Kati couldn’t keep the pride from her voice. She pointed at the ceiling. “The chandelier is an original feature. I can’t use it yet as it needs rewiring, which is not on my urgent jobs list. I also need to get the windows replaced because they let in so much draft and come winter they’ll let out all the heat. That job is on the urgent list before the winter arrives.”

She followed Sam, who had got up and now wandered over to the four floor-to-ceiling windows.

“They look out onto the veranda and the sea is straight ahead. Not that you can see any of that in this weather. I want to replace the windows with folding doors when I get around to sorting them out. That way, you can use the veranda as an extension of this room when the weather is nice. Come, I’ll give you a tour of the house.”

“And then will you tell me the story of the house you keep hinting about?” Sam asked as she followed Kati out of the room and around the downstairs, which apart from the kitchen and living room had not been renovated yet.

“I promise I will,” she said, pushing open the door of a large room that looked like it had once been an office or a library.

“Now, I’m definitely jealous.” Sam ran her hand across the old mahogany shelving. “Bet you can’t wait to fill these with books.”

“If I have any money left for books after I finish all the renovations.” Kati laughed. “But I admit, I have always dreamt of a library like this. With a fire blazing and me just chilling in front of it with a book in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. And a dog or two sleeping at my feet.”

Kati led Sam out of the room and up the stairs.

“As you can see, I still have tons of work to do. I’m getting the rooms I’m using ready first and then tackle the rest once I have recouped some cash. The money I got from Pete has gone a long way, but it’s not endless.”

Kati wondered if Sam would pick up on the mention of Pete. She felt Sam’s eyes on her, but her friend said nothing. Not yet. Her nails dug into her palm, anticipating the conversations ahead. Breathe, she told herself and forced her fists to unfurl and her mind back on the house.

“There are four bedrooms here. Two of them I have done up already, mine and the guestroom. The other, smaller rooms, which must have been the servants’ rooms, will have to wait.”

“No rush, is there?” Sam peeked into the last of the two smaller bedrooms, which Kati had not renovated yet. A musky smell still lingered in the air of the unused rooms.

“Come, I’ll show you your room.” Kati closed the door to the small bedroom and led Sam along the corridor to the guestroom where she would stay for the next three weeks.

“Bloody hell. This room is almost as big as my whole flat in London!” Sam whistled.

“I know. I’m not sure what I’ll do with all this space. My mum suggested running a bed-and-breakfast, but I don’t think I have the right personality.”

“Yeah, you’d end up pouring someone’s coffee over their head if they pissed you off complaining about their breakfast or a hair on their pillow.”

“Oh, how hilarious,” Kati huffed in feigned indignation, but she had missed her friend’s banter. She led Sam back into the corridor and pushed open the door to the last bedroom. “I took this one for myself, as it has a large balcony facing the sea. I took it even though my builders tried to talk me out of using this as my bedroom.”

“Why? It’s such an amazing room. And I love what you have done with it. All these beautiful old details…”

Sam mouthed wow repeatedly, taking in the over a century-old details Kati had painstakingly restored to the former glory. The ornate wall lighting, the cornices, the wood panelling, the old fireplace. She wandered over to the balcony doors. Lightning revealed the path to a seaside gazebo for a few seconds. She turned to face Kati again.

“Of course, this has to be your bedroom. It’s definitely the best of the bedrooms. Why shouldn’t you use it?”

“The builders didn’t want me to use this room because of the ghost. Most of the sightings have been on this balcony. I didn’t expect them to have such strong opinions about it. One of them said working in this room always made him feel like someone was watching him. But let’s get back to the living room, get some more wine, and I’ll tell you the whole story.” Sam nodded and Kati led her back out to the landing and downstairs.

Once back in the living room and settled in front of the fireplace, armed with two fresh glasses of red wine, Kati began her story.

“So, the haunting. I’m not sure about a resident ghost. It never has bothered me, but there definitely is a story attached to the house. Part of which, at least, is true. This town used to have one of the busiest ports in Finland and its own shipyards way back in the 19th century, with ships sailing to all corners of the world.”

“The story goes that one of the wealthiest and most respected merchants of the time built this house for his young wife and their children. One of them was a beautiful daughter, Catherine.”

“Now, somehow, Catherine met and fell in love with a sailor. He was only a low-ranked sailor, and her father did not approve of their relationship.”

“There are different versions of what happened next. Most of them say the sailor drowned at sea, and when the news reached Catherine, she was so heartbroken that she killed herself. Some say she drowned herself, others that she jumped off the balcony in my bedroom. How she died, or even when she died, has never been known for sure. The story doesn’t tell what happened to the father or the rest of the family.”

“Because the entire family vanished, people say this place is haunted. The locals say Catherine cannot rest in peace and keeps coming back. Some people have claimed they have seen her wandering around the gardens with a lantern. Others say they have seen her standing on the balcony in my room.”

“People say she keeps coming back to look for her dead lover or maybe she is looking for revenge. Anyway, ever since the family disappeared, those who have bought the house and tried to live in it, have complained about a ‘presence’ and not stayed long.”

Kati sipped her wine as she finished the story attached to her new home and let Sam digest it.

“I love this house even more now. You know I’ve always loved a tragic love story. I got the chills when you were telling the story. See, my arms have goosebumps.” Sam held her arm up for Kati to see.

“I know. I’ve always loved the house and the story. It’s so tragic. And the story still gives me the chills even though I have heard and retold it so many times. Not that I really believe in ghosts, but is a great mystery.”

“Have you felt anything in the house? A presence or any weird noises?” Sam looked around like she expected something to appear from thin air.

“No,” Kati laughed. “I almost wish I had, but nothing more ghostly happening here than leaky taps and the wind rattling the windows. That spooked me out at first because otherwise, it is so quiet after London. At the start, it was so strange not to hear the traffic or the sirens or the planes flying overhead. Now I’m used to it.”

They fell into a silence both briefly lost in their thoughts. The rhythmic beating of the rain on the roof and the windows filled the air.

“Do you miss London at all?” Sam’s question punctured the silence between them.

Kati had expected the question. She wondered if there was another layer behind it. Something else Sam wanted to ask, but dared not. She decided to answer it at face value.

“No, not really. Of course, I miss you and the few other friends I still had left after everything. But London itself and my life there, no I don’t miss it. I have felt more relaxed, and more at peace since I got here, and all the work in the house is keeping me busy. I’m even sleeping much better.”

She hoped Sam would be satisfied with her answer and would not push for more. She knew they would have the conversations while her friend was here, but not now. Not yet.

“Talking of sleep, I’m done in.” Sam yawned, rolling her head and shoulders. Kati’s pulse slowed down. Thank God, Sam was more tired than up to interrogating Kati tonight.

“Oh shit, sorry, I didn’t realise how late it was. I always get so caught up in the house and its story I lose track of time. You must be knackered after all the travelling. But before you go, there is one more thing I want to tell you.”

She pointed at an old wooden trunk embellished with elaborate carvings in the corner of the room.

“See that trunk over there?”

Covering another yawn with the back of her right hand, Sam’s eyes followed Kati’s pointed finger.

“When I moved in, I had the house cleared of junk from top to bottom and we found this trunk in the basement. Someone had hidden it behind a trapdoor. Since I bought the house with everything in it, it belongs to me. And guess what was in it?”

Before Sam could take a guess, Kati continued, excited to share her discovery with Sam. “When I opened the trunk, I found old diaries written by Catherine and her father. There are also letters to Catherine from a man I think could have been the lover the old stories mention. You know what that means, don’t you? I might uncover the secret of the house. After all these years, I might discover what happened to Catherine and her family.”

- - -

This is the first chapter of my dual-timeline novel that I am currently editing (hopefully for the last time) before sending it off to agents.

I would love your feedback.

MysteryHistorical FictionFiction

About the Creator

Reija Sillanpaa

A wise person said, "Be your own audience". Therefore, I write fiction, poetry and about matters important and interesting to me. That said, I warmly welcome you into my audience.

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  • JBaz8 months ago

    Your opening lines are captivating, and I like how you built your characters. There is potential for the next chapters for sure.

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