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Starlight Manor

Part One

By angela hepworthPublished about a month ago 14 min read
Top Story - May 2024

“First things first,” the white-haired boy commands over his shoulder. His voice is imperious as always, firm with a jurisdiction well beyond his mere fourteen years. “Don’t ask questions.”

Behind him, Lise nods rapidly, nearly stumbling over her own two feet in the process.

The forest they’ve been trudging through for the past four hours is thick with fog. Lise can barely see anything but the rocky soil underneath her own bare feet; even Alois’s wispy white-blond hair is lost in it. Based on the momentum of his long, powerful strides, the boy seems to have paced himself quite well for their long journey. Lise, on the other hand, is sweaty, winded, and absolutely miserable, running on nothing but pure willpower in order to keep up with him.

Realizing her unspoken response to Alois was, like everything around them, lost to the fog, Lise squints hard in his direction. She focuses in on the sharp lines of his face, still encased in the impenetrable haze, and aims her response there.

“Got it,” she says.

Says is being generous, since she moreso pants out the words in Alois’s direction instead of actually speaking them to him. She can’t help it—she hasn’t traveled this far by foot in her entire life, and certainly not without a moment’s rest. She can’t even catch her breath, let alone talk normally, as her chest rises and falls in drastic, exhausted heaves.

“That’s easy enough,” she adds on, making sure to not sound like she’s dying this time.

“Second of all,” the boy continues, ignoring her unusually cooperative response with that smooth, swift lack of consideration of his—it’s been coming quite naturally to him on their trip so far, Lise has noticed. There’s a sharp snap of what sounds like bone underneath his left heel; he pays it no mind. “No speaking to anyone unless you’re spoken to first.”

Lise opens her mouth, finding herself all too ready to retort, before Alois shoots out a hand in front of her face, glowering back at her. “None of it, Lise.”

Lise manages to hold back a sigh. For someone so skillfully adept at bossing people around, her friend has always been terrible at offering even the slightest bit of elaboration.

“Right,” she says glumly, defeated.

For what feels like the hundredth time today, she has to jerk her head sharply to get her hair, windswept and hopelessly matted, away from her face. She could easily craft a quick, flimsy little hairband of thick grass or twine—if she could see any grass or twine through the fog, that is. Even with the knowledge that she wouldn’t be able to see much with her hair back anyway, Lise thinks the feeling of her tangled, dirty curls whipping her in the face is going to drive her insane. She’s mere moments away from ripping her shirt, the only one she has with her, in two to tie her hair back. It’s that or ripping her hair clean off her scalp.

After a few more moments of silent trudging through the forest, contemplating the reason for Alois’ last strange, high-strung rule, she stops dead in her tracks, her gaze snapping to the back of Alois’s white head again. “Are you a secret prince, Alois?”

She doesn’t even see his head turn before Alois’s icy blue eyes are piercing her through the fog like a knife; Lise swallows a gulp. “Didn’t I just say no questions?”

He’s using that voice again: that irritated, exasperated voice that makes Lise feel like an idiot. Despite them being the same age, and even the same height, that tone instantly makes Lise feel ten times smaller. “I was just—”

“You do know what you’re coming here to do,” Alois says intently. His gaze bores into her own, unrelenting. “Don’t you?”

“Of course I do,” Lise reassures him. “To—”

“To work,” Alois interrupts her, because of course he does. “To earn enough money to support yourself and your brother for a long time. And to leave it all behind the moment you’re done.”

Lise blinks as he promptly turns and continues trekking up the terrain, once again leaving Lise in his dust.

“Come on, Lise,” he orders over his shoulder. “Try to keep up.”

This time, Lise lets the sigh blow out through her cracked lips without bothering to stop it.

For as long as she’d known him, Alois had always been a mystery. Three years ago, she and her brother had gone for a stroll in the woods, the blazing heat of the Wobenn summer sun beating down hard on their arms and faces and backs. They had just been ready to turn back when they saw him—a young boy, curled in a fetal position under the birch trees. His skin was scratched and filthy, and his body was rattling with the violence of his cough. He was shaking, burning with fever. And he was all alone.

The unexpected situation offered them no time to speak, to plan what to do. Their only option was instantaneous action; they’d taken him home immediately, intent on saving his life.

Lise had slung him over her shoulder with an ease that had not surprised her older brother, nor herself. She had always been wickedly strong, perhaps oddly so, ever since she was a child. She had never questioned it. It simply was what it was, and what it was to Lise was a gift. She quite liked it about herself, her strength. It surprised people, and it made it easier to leave an impression on them. It made her feel confident and powerful, useful to others and to herself. But that day, it had not. That day was the first time in Lise’s young life she had ever felt true fear, and that fear encompassed all else in its stead.

Aeriel’s transition before Lise’s eyes from cheerful big brother to Wobenn’s most well-renowned young doctor was a change that had scared Lise at the time; in hindsight, she couldn’t have been more grateful for the way he knew to enter doctor mode out of sheer necessity. Because Alois had been close to death that day, closer than Lise knew Aeriel wanted to admit.

After they’d settled him down into a cot on the floor of their hut, Aeriel ordered her around that entire night about how to tend to him—fetch him plenty of water from the lake, mix this pain remedy or that sleep medicine into his drink and make sure he finishes every drop, hold a cold cloth to his forehead, make sure he’s still breathing as he sleeps. He had her keep an eye on Alois while he slaved over his herbs and medicinal paraphernalia, desperate to find a cure for the boy’s deteriorating state. He forced various foul-tasting medicines down Alois’ throat; he poked Alois’ arms with copper needles. He injected him with treatments that Lise couldn’t even begin to guess the purpose for. She didn’t understand any of it, not at all. That was what made it all so terrifying. Her ignorance of the situation at hand. Her lack of understanding whether the boy they wanted to save would live or die.

But slowly yet surely Aeriel proved himself successful, and Alois got better. And as soon as he had recovered fully, he told them he had nowhere else to go, and Aeriel and Lise had looked at one another with a sort of contented relief mirrored on their faces. With how hard they’d worked and wished for him to heal, he had already become a part of their family; they hadn’t been ready to let him go. Aeriel told Alois as much, and that had been the first time Lise had ever seen him smile.

From there, Lise and Alois became nearly inseparable. They explored every inch of Wobenn together, with Lise as Alois’ guide. Alois struggled immensely to get used to life in the village, which Lise found endlessly amusing. For someone so intelligent, as Lise knew Alois certainly was, he was ignorant about so many simple things. He had never seen huts of wood and clay before, had never built or repaired them. He had never cooked meat or fish over the stove. He had never even been out in the pouring rain with his palms open, had never licked the sweet freshness of rainwater off his cheeks and lips.

The only thing Alois exhibited any adept level of skill at was spearing fish in the lake. Lise had fumbled with her spear the day she first demonstrated to Alois how to catch a fish, how to wait for just the right moment to strike. It had taken her four clumsy stabs before she managed to catch one, holding it up triumphantly for Alois to observe: a catfish, small and meager and viciously ugly.

Alois had nodded serenely and knelt beside the lake. His hands were comfortable, almost natural as he operated the sharp tool; he jabbed it with such speed and precision three quick times in succession, and he lifted his spear to triumphantly hold up three wriggling lake trout, one absolutely massive in size. Lise had scowled and moped in silence the entire trip home.

Life was different with Alois, lighter. There were no other children Lise’s exact age in the village, so it often felt like they were the only two people in their own little world. But there were still struggles, as there had always been. Hunger was one. There were only so many creatures in the woods and fish in the small lake for one village to eat; some nights were unluckier than others, and Lise lay there in bed with her stomach rumbling, hearing the matching roar of Alois’s own stomach as he slept beside her. And the two didn’t always get along. In fact, they rarely did. They argued a ton, sure, but it was the way siblings argued, or perhaps the way an old married couple did—as Aeriel so embarrassingly put it. But things were better with him, and Lise loved him. She loved him with the full and true fierceness of her heart and soul. And although he never said it, Lise knew he loved her too.

But as much as she loved their time spent together in Wobenn—at home, in the lake, on the farms or in the woods or fields—she had always wanted to know about Alois’s past. About the people who’d raised him, the place he’d come from. About how he’d ended up alone in the woods that day. But every time she brought it up to him, poking and prying at the mysteries of his former life, a coldness would come over her friend’s face like a sheen of ice. He never answered any of her questions about him. He never shared a thing about himself, not ever. So Lise had stopped asking.

Until, that was, Alois had told her just yesterday that he was heading back home for the week, and he wanted her to come with him.

She had no idea what had changed. Alois tended to speak in half-truths and deceptions; it was in his nature. He doesn’t lie outright but through omission, concealing parts of himself and his life away. So he had not mentioned to Lise why he was deciding to go home after all this time. Perhaps Alois felt he had unfinished business there. Maybe he decided he missed it. He sometimes wrote and sent letters to someone back home, Lise knew that; maybe he wanted the chance to see them again. There had to be some other reason besides granting Lise the opportunity to earn them some quick and easy money that Alois had for going back home.

She knows she should have pried. She knows she should have insisted that Alois tell her why and how they would be doing this, where they would be going, how they would get there. She should have at least tried to get some information out of him, even knowing that Alois would most likely stay tight-lipped about this strange, sudden desire to venture back into his past after three years’ time.

But when faced with an invitation of the promise of adventure, Lise could never refuse.

Now, in the nearly fifth hour of their long, relentless journey through the woods, she desperately wishes she would have.

“I’m trying to keep up, Alois,” she insists, kicking yet another pointy rock out of her way. “But I can barely even see a thing through this fog. And my feet are killing me.”

“It isn’t my fault you’re too much of a pauper to afford a pair of shoes,” Alois says to her. Rather nastily, in Lise’s opinion.

“I have a pair of shoes back at home,” Lise informs him irritably. “You know that.”

“Then it’s not my fault you were too much of a moron to remember to bring them along.”

“I would’ve had time to grab them, if a certain somebody hadn’t bolted into the forest without me,” Lise retorts. She takes a careful, wide step over a murky pond; Alois, even with his scowl of annoyance, allows her to clamp onto his hand to pull herself across.

“I was planning on giving them to your prissy ass anyway,” she adds, gripping onto his hand tighter, “since I never even need them. Aeriel wouldn’t, either.” She thinks wistfully of Aeriel for a moment, her kind and courageous older brother, still fast asleep in their cottage and clueless of their current whereabouts. He won’t panic—at least, Lise hopes he won’t. She’s often gone with Alois for days on end, so he’ll probably assume she’s off on one of her innocent adventures as always. She’ll be sure to earn enough money to get him a nice gift before they return, in case he wants to throttle them for disappearing on him for so long. “Wobenn is all grass.”

“And mud,” Alois adds. Lise is close enough to him to see his lip curl. “And piss and shit.”

“Says the forest dweller who was bathing out in the swamp,” Lise snipes back, “before me and Aeriel took you into our pissy, shitty home.”

“I was not,” Alois huffs, and the two meet each other’s eyes and can’t help but smile.

They’ve always been this way; they can’t help but bicker, even now.

“I think it’s time to take a break,” Lise suggests to him, because she’s just about hit her limit. She’s trying to go for a tone that expresses a calm, mature intelligence rather than the pure desperation she feels, but her statement still comes out as more of a plea, and her voice sounds twice as high as usual.

Alois, for the second time today, looks back at her like she’s stupid. He reaches for her, grabs her arm, and yanks her forward. Lise stumbles after him, blinking as her eyes reassess the world around her.

They’ve finally reached the end of the forest, their feet on solid, flat ground.

Alois lifts his arm and points ahead of them.

“Look,” he says, and Lise squints through the sudden ray of sunlight to follow his finger up to the view in front of them.

In the near distance, just beyond the outskirts of the forest where they stand, the fog has finally cleared, and a winding gray pathway begins. Lise follows the stone trail all the way up to a large black mansion of brick and steel, and it’s larger than any building she has ever seen. There are high columns on each side of the house, about six pointed peaks splayed across its roof, and countless ovular windows so big they look like doors. The massive house is built rather peculiarly, so that the left and right sides of it jut out further than its center where the front door lies, like the building itself closes in around its inhabitants once they walk in, encasing them in its dark vastness, trapping them within its walls. Lise counts one, two, three balconies, and that’s just from what she can see.

“Whoa,” is all she can say, dumbfounded at the sight.

Alois looks rather nonchalant as he smiles, but his smile is tight and taut, and there’s a crease of something akin to dread in the corners of his eyes. His eyes stay fixed on the house, sharp and unblinking, as he plants his hand on the back of Lise’s sweaty neck to drive her wobbly legs forward, his own fingers clammy and cold against her skin. “Ready?”

“I’m ready,” Lise tells him excitedly. She frowns and cocks her head to the side at the strange intensity on her friend’s face. “Are you?”

The boy doesn’t look away from the mansion as they walk, as if steeling himself to be prepared to step inside its doors. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Come on, this was your idea.” Lise takes her first step onto the pathway, the stone cool and lovely against her sore soles. She nearly sighs out loud at the pleasant feeling. Alois just grimaces, not meeting her eyes. “Plus, it’s only a week.”

“Only a week.” He repeats her words back, as if to convince himself.

Intent on diffusing his sudden tension, Lise leans in, bumping their shoulders together. “You didn’t tell me you were rich, Alois,” she jokes. “No wonder it took you so long to get used to Wobenn.”

Alois shrugs. “I don’t miss it.”

“Not at all?”

“Not at all.”

Around them are wide expanses of grass, greener than Lise has ever seen, stretching farther than the eye can see. Towering maple trees curve and curl about the lawn near the mansion, and a long row of perfectly trimmed hedges line the outskirts of the house in a symmetrical, orderly sweep. Flowers of all sizes, shapes, and colors peer out from the grasses from which they bloom, voluminous and delicate, spattering the deep green grass with reds, pinks, whites and yellows, oranges and purples. The smell of the air is heady and floral and sugary sweet, a soft, cool breeze filling Lise’s nose with scents of natural, soothing, intoxicating luxury. Of lavender, of jasmine, of fresh roses in bloom. Of pure, rich spring.

“You sure must have hated your family,” Lise says distractedly, awestruck as she takes in the view of the lush greenery all around the mansion’s stone pathway, the vibrant colors of the flowers, the radiant, idyllic beauty of the plants and trees, “to have ever left this place, Alois.”

At her side, Alois just sighs and steers her back on track with the hand on her neck.

“Pretty much,” he says.

“Well, no matter what happens between you guys, you're still their son. You’re family!” Lise gives him an encouraging little shake. “What are they going to do, kill you?”

She laughs.

Alois, very pointedly, does not.

Lise is the one to knock on the door in three polite little raps. The solid ground underneath their feet is still, almost deathly so, and Lise is about to knock again when the wide door slowly creaks opens. A tall, elderly man is standing there to greet them. His gray eyes widen when they fall upon Alois.

“Alois Starlight,” he whispers, his gravelly voice soft and awed. Lise’s eyes widen as the man drops his head into a low bow, his body nearly folding in two. “Welcome home.”

PsychologicalShort StoryMysteryHorrorAdventure

About the Creator

angela hepworth

Hello! I’m Angela and I love writing fiction—sometimes poetry if I’m feeling frisky. I delve into the dark, the sad, the silly, the sexy, and the stupid. Come check me out!

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  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  2. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

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    Original narrative & well developed characters

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Comments (11)

  • Aarav Rohilla22 days ago

    Congrats to be on Top Story!

  • Anna 30 days ago

    Congrats on Top Story! :)

  • Z.a.i.n.t.zabout a month ago

    i find you, very very interesting, UNIQUE - I love unique..

  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarranabout a month ago

    Back to say congratulations on your Top Story! 🎉💖🎊🎉💖🎊

  • Melissa Ingoldsbyabout a month ago

    You got a good head for pacing and dialogue 👌💕great work

  • Silver Serpent Booksabout a month ago

    Oh man. I am so hooked on this. You have a real way of spinning a story that just sucks me in. The characters are so clear and the world is vivid. It's all so great. Congrats on the Top Story!

  • Christy Munsonabout a month ago

    Congratulations on another wonderful Top Story! You have a command of dialogue that brings such texture to your writing.

  • Muraliabout a month ago

    This is a fantastic story! How did it end?

  • Hannah Mooreabout a month ago

    Feels like he is using her as a sheild!

  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarranabout a month ago

    I don't like Alois at all. Lise may be okay with the way he's treating her but I'm not. So arrogant and he's super shady about his past. I wonder what's gonna happen now that they've arrived at his mansion

  • Kodahabout a month ago

    I like where this is going! Can't wait for part 2!! 💌

angela hepworthWritten by angela hepworth

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