That night about fifteen minutes before 10 pm, I made my way down to the front hall. I did not see anyone else. While waiting I started looking at the pictures on the wall illuminated by the moon. One, in particular, called to me. It looked like a scene out of a fairy tale.
It showed a white castle rising into a stormy night. The full moon peeked between the clouds as lightning lit up the sky. I could almost hear the thunder. A forest surrounded the castle. In front, a man dressed in shining armor with blond hair strode towards the castle. A blond woman in a red dress, stood at the top of a turret, hair blowing in the wind, as she watched the knight approach.
Reaching out a hand as if to touch the man, I whispered, “What happened next?”
“It’s a painting,” a deep voice answered, “nothing happened next.”
Swinging around I looked at Caden and replied, “Well, yeah, but paintings tell a story. I would expect this one to be part of a series.”
“Why?” he asked as I heard footsteps and voices of girls coming to join us.
Answering as I turned towards the stairs, I said, “This one is in the middle of the story. I would expect at least one painting to show what happened before with the reason the knight strides to the castle and the woman stands on the turret. I would also expect at least one after to show the end.”
“What woman on the turret?” Emma asked as she and Kylie approached. All the girls from my rooms but Liz followed them. Jackie had a red-haired freckled girl next to her.
“In the painting,” I said motioning to it, then turned to Jackie. “Jackie, who’s your friend?”
“This is Adley,” she introduced.
“Hi, Adley,” I greeted, noticing the other girls surrounding the painting. “Who is your hall monitor?”
Adley smiled shyly, “Miss Dragus. She said I could join.”
I nodded, but before I could say more, Kylie asked, “Miss Delfian, what woman?”
“She’s on the turret, at the top of the castle,” I replied, turning to the painting pointing my flashlight on it as the moon had already moved on. It was different. The painting had changed. Now it showed the castle we were in on a sunny day with no people in it. Maybe I had motioned to the wrong painting. I looked around but could not see the stormy castle anywhere. I looked up at Caden, my eyes shining with confusion, “But,” I stuttered.
Caden stepped next to me, putting a hand on my shoulder, and addressed the girls, “Miss Delfian and I will take any of you that want to around each full moon, once a month, but we have a few rules.” He waited until all the girls looked at him before continuing, “First, we all stick together, no wandering off. Second, no sneaking out at any other time.” The girls nodded and he finished, “Anyone found breaking the rules will no longer be allowed to join us. Do you agree?”
Each of the girls said yes. While he presented the rules, I stared at the castle painting still trying to figure out what I had seen.
“Okay,” Caden announced with a smile. “Let’s go hunting.”
Taking my hand, Caden led us from the castle as I shook my head trying to focus on the hunt rather than the disappearing painting.
The full moon and our flashlights provided our light. We had decided to start with circling the castle to see if any mysterious doors had appeared. As predicted, we did not find anything, but the girls seemed to have fun. Caden pointed out star constellations and told stories about how they were named. An hour passed quickly. At the end of the hour, we ended the hunt until next month. I walked the girls back to their rooms.
I gave my girls fifteen minutes to complete night routines before I came to turn out lights. Then I went back to my room, but I couldn’t get that painting out of my head. I knew I had seen the stormy scene. Shaking my head, I returned to the front entrance. I had to look one last time. The painting still showed a sunny day of this castle with no people. I shook my head and turned to head upstairs, wondering if I had let my imagination run away with my mind.
Just as I reached my room, I heard a door shut down the hall. Wondering if someone had tried to sneak out, I started moving farther down the hall. I didn’t see anyone, but I kept moving. Turning I walked to the door I had picked open my first day here. This time the door was open.
Walking through, I stopped on the landing, closing the door. I waited for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. The bright moonlight helped me to see a little. Not hearing anything, I started to walk up the circling stairs.
At the top of the stairs stood a door. It looked to have been made out of dark wood. As I walked closer, I noticed carvings. The carving showed a crown circling the base of a tree. The tree had no leaves. It looked dead. Above it had marks that looked like it could have been words in a different language. Curious, I reached my hand towards the black doorknob.
“Stop!” a voice commanded. Jumping I swung around to see Caden standing in the shadows behind me.
Placing a hand to my chest as an attempt to calm my racing heart, I gasped, “Caden?”
He stepped closer to me in the light of the moon. At first, my eyes saw him dressed in armor, like the painting. When I blinked he was dressed in the same jeans and blue button-down shirt from earlier.
“You should not go in there,” Caden said, quieter.
I looked back at the door asking, “Why not?”
He hesitated, and I looked at him. Then he said, “It leads to the roof and can be dangerous at night. Also,” he grinned at me getting really close he whispered, “We should be in bed. Let’s go.” He winked at me and took my hand.
Flustered at his nearness and implication, I let him lead me down the stairs. I had just started trying to figure out how to let him down gently when he stopped at the landing on my floor.
Turning to me, he leaned down and gave me a kiss on the cheek. Opening the door, he pushed me through saying gently, “Go to bed, Cassie.”
I nodded and started walking to my room, my mind racing. When I reached my hallway, I turned and looked back towards the door, but could not see anything in the dark. Reaching my hand to my cheek, I wondered what had just happened. Shaking my head, I hurried back to my room. Surprisingly, an hour had passed in what had only felt like five minutes. Tonight had been weird with disappearing paintings, Caden in armor, and that door that called me. Pushing it out of my head, I put on some light music and went to sleep.
That night, in my dreams, I could see the door at the end of the hall. I hurried towards it. The door had the tree and crown on it, only this time the tree was covered in leaves. Just as I reached it, I could hear Caden yelling at me to stop, but he sounded far away. Far closer I could hear whispers and felt surrounded by darkness, though I could see the full moon shining in the windows. Scared I reached for the silver doorknob and turned it. Just as I opened the door, I woke up, my heart racing in terror.
My clock read 6:00 in the morning. Time for me to get up. I dressed more quickly than normal, slightly agitated from the dream, even as it started to fade. With plenty of time left, I left my room. Walking quietly down the hall, I could hear some movement behind some of the doors. Turning I made my way to the side stairway.
When I turned the knob, the door was again locked. Taking a quick look around, I quickly picked the lock and let myself in. Then I hurried up the stairs. I had to see what was behind that door, but when I reached the top, there was no door. A stone wall stood where the door had been only six hours earlier.
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