It was 1801 when the Campbells, a young couple from London, looking for a place to start their lives together and a family, rented Thrushcross Grange in Yorkshire. This beautiful property’s landlord wasn’t exactly a person, it was more of an institution: Lady Robichaux’s School for Exceptional Young Women. And that’s probably what made the Grange affordable to the Campbells at all. The School held the reputation of a safe haven for young witches, those were said to be the descendants of the Avalon Coven, and the predominantly superstitious population of the countryside would rather not be associated with the sort.
But not Timothy Campbell and his wife Emily, in fact they were looking forward to establishing friendly relations with their exceptional new neighbours. That’s what took them from the Grange to the Heights, were the school manor rose from the moorlands, on an afternoon in December. They were greeted at the great wooden doors by a lady who was as unusual as she was warm. She introduced herself as Misty Day, Deputy Headmistress of the School, and welcomed them to the manor with an earnest embrace, instead of the polite curtsy they were used to receiving in London.
Misty’s sunny disposition stood out contrasting the morose atmosphere of the grey afternoon. The fact that she wore her hair down, letting her blonde curls flow down her back, instead of the up-do that was considered fashionable at the time, and wrapped herself in a colourful shawl made her look more like a proper High Priestess from Avalon than a Deputy Headmistress, and Timothy and Emily couldn’t help exchanging a glance, when she turned her back to lead them into the drawing room, and barely suppressing a giggle. This was even better than they had expected.
The two new tenants of Thrushcross Grange were introduced to Lady Mallory, Headmistress of the School and the Coven’s Supreme, who was waiting for them in the drawing room for the tea. Lady Mallory’s appearance wasn’t nearly as quaint as her colleague’s, but neither was it less surprising. She seemed remarkably young for her eminent position, almost girly, with delicate features like a fine ivory cameo. And unlike Miss Day’s wild locks, her honey-coloured hair was well coiffed and ornate with a golden headdress.
But that’s where the difference between Mallory and Misty ended, they were equally sweet and amiable. Mallory seemed clearly more reserved, but her gentle smile and pleasant manners made them feel as welcome as Misty’s embrace had. The small group chatted over tea and biscuits, about what would make a young and vivacious couple leave the agitated life in the Capital for the solitude of the Yorkshire moors. In turn the witches shared anecdotes of the many challenges of running a house full of adolescent, and uniquely gifted, ladies.
“Well, you must be doing a remarkable job teaching them manners…”, Timothy noted, “… you can barely tell there’s anyone else in the house at all.”
That was the first time they saw Misty’s almost permanent smile fail, she and Lady Mallory exchanged a look that seemed to bear a deep understanding between them, but was unreadable for the two guests. “They’ve gone home… for the Holidays. It’s just us two. And the Help.”, Misty smiled again making Timothy relax a little and forget what could have been a faux pas on him. But Emily couldn’t ignore the sadness in Lady Mallory’s eyes. Those big brown eyes, so bright and expressive, avoided meeting the others’ now, and seemed to be hiding a dark heartbreak that should never be seen by anyone else. Emily deliberately looked out the window, in an effort to stop herself from prying any further.
Emily’s jaw dropped at what she saw outside the window. What had been a grey afternoon was now violently white. A snowstorm had hit the Heights while they were having tea, and showed no signs of stopping anytime soon. It was evident that the witches couldn’t simply send the Campbells off into the storm, and the couple agreed to spend the night in the Manor. The group had supper together in the dining room, and Emily noticed the two witches seemed a lot more enthusiastic in discussing the remote past of the Coven, going all the way back to their ancestors in Avalon, than in talking about the recent past and their current students. Timothy was fascinated about the stories of the mysterious island, that had been hidden by their High Priestess behind a veil of mist, during the I Century.
Misty pleasantly accompanied them to one of the smaller rooms where one of the servants was preparing the fireplace to keep them warm for the night. Miss Day introduced him as Mr. Spencer, he was a very pale, with dark circles around his eyes and deep scars showing above the collar of his shirt, but otherwise good-looking young man. He was polite enough, saying he was retiring for the night but that the guests shouldn’t hesitate to call him up if they needed anything, but was the first person in the manor that didn’t seem very inclined to make friends with the new tenants.
Emily was at the window-sit in nothing but her undergarments and a blanket around her shoulders, while Timothy was arranging pillows in the small gap between the two single beds Mr. Spencer had pushed together for them. Now that the snowstorm was over, the cold night was crisp and clear, with the stars shining brightly in a moonless sky. “Tim darling, look what I found…”, she called her husband to join her at the window-sit, “… there’s graffiti on the windowsill!”. “What kind of graffiti?”, he was undressing too, getting ready to throw himself between the covers and call it the night, but indulged his wife’s wishes.
“Letters… probably initials. And little heart shapes… isn’t it lovely?”, she smiled at him.
“Well, look at that”, he joined her by the window, “how many generations of infatuated young witches do you think have defiles this windowsill?”
“A lot, apparently… look”, she pointed with her delicate index finger, “CG&MD… ZB&KS… M&M. Those two didn’t like surnames, I’m afraid.”
“I thought this school was only for girls…”, Timothy frowned, “there’s a Lord M Langdon, here…”
“… and Lady M Langdon”, Emily pointed at a finer writing beneath the first.
“Should we carve our initials there, too?”, he chuckled against the curve of her neck, wrapping his arms around her waist.
“No! At least not until I know for sure those couples had a happy ending… this window could be cursed for all we know!”, she turned her face towards his, and lovingly kissed her husband’s lips.
But the peaceful quiet of the cold night was disturbed less than an hour later. Emily’s shrieks woke every living creature in the manor up, and it didn’t seem unlikely to wake some of the dead ones as well. A wide-eyed and white-faced Timothy holding a hysterical Emily met Misty and Lady Mallory on the landing of the second floor, both witches in their nightgowns and holding candlesticks. Misty was wrapped in another shawl, her hair wilder than ever, while Mallory’s honey locks were neatly plaited in one long braid falling over one of her shoulders. Mr. Spencer joined them moments later, climbing the staircase two steps at a time holding a huge bronze candleholder like a bat, the lit candle dangling dangerously from one end.
“There was a man!! Outside our window!! Just now!!”, Timothy shouted above his wife’s head.
“That’s not possible, Mr. Campbell… your bedroom is on the second floor…”, Misty began in her pacifying manners.
“I swear to God, Miss Day!! I saw him!! Clear as I see you know!!”, Timothy tried his best to stay in control of his emotions, while holding a shaking and wailing Emily against his chest.
“Is this man someone you know? Have you seem him before?”, Mr. Spencer’s voice was raspy, probably from lack of use.
“What? No!! Of course not!! What kind of question is that?”, fright was giving place to confusion in Timothy’s features, while Emily’s remained buried in her husband’s chest.
“What did the man look like?”, Lady Mallory’s voice sounded strangely undisturbed in the middle of all the commotion.
The three members of the household held their breaths while Timothy tried to recall any striking feature on that stranger’s face, and Emily cried out in renewed terror, remembering too. “He had long, golden hair… fine features… and blue eyes… I don’t know! He wore dark clothes, but there was something red too…”, Timothy’s eyes lit up with a memory, “… and he had rings! Large silver rings, I saw them when he slammed his hands against the window!!”. “He was knocking at your window? On the second floor?”, Misty still seemed more confused than worried, but Mallory had covered her own mouth with her hand while Timothy described the man.
“He wanted us to let him in!!”, Emily sobbed against her husband’s chest.
“That’s how he woke us up, to be honest… we heard the sound of his palms and fists against the window… Ssshh, it’s ok, he’s gone now, my love…”, he hastily added after a new cry from Emily.
“Long blonde hair… and blue eyes…”, Mr. Spencer looked at Lady Mallory who was still staring at Timothy, her eyes glistening with tears.
“And silver rings… you heard them.”, Mallory’s voice was still oddly calm.
“You don’t understand!!”, Emily turned around, her face now both scared and furious, “It was a tormented man!! He was striking the window repeatedly!! Screaming to be let in!! And his eyes… the agony in those eyes!! It burned into my soul!! It burned like the fires of Hell!!”
“Mal…”, Misty began but Mallory cut her out with a single look, and turned to the Campbells. “My deepest apologies. We offered you one of the smaller rooms to give you privacy, but I believe you would feel safer spending the night with Misty in one of the larger dormitories…”, she turned towards the servant, “… would you care to join them, Mr. Spencer? For extra protection?”. The servant nodded, but Misty couldn’t contain herself any longer “What about you? Why aren’t you joining us?”.
Instead of responding, Mallory simply walked towards the room the Campbells had just left vacant. Mr. Spencer opened his mouth to protest, but Misty beat him to it “Mallory! You can’t be serious! You’re not going to spend the night in there alone!”. “You keep our guests safe, Misty…”, the heaving of Mallory’s chest betrayed the carefully composed look on her face, “I’ll be fine. You know as well as I do that this ghost would do me no harm.”, with a final smile and a curtesy, she closed the bedroom door.
It was only after they were settled in one of the larger dormitories and Mr. Spencer had gone downstairs to pick up more firewood for its fireplace that Timothy gathered the courage to ask Misty the questions that were shouting in his brain. “Miss Day. That man we saw… you know him, don’t you?”, Misty didn’t say a word, but her eyes said it all. “Lady Mallory called him a ghost…”, it was Emily’s voice now, sounding weak after all the screaming, she looked at Misty her bright eyes wide with fear. Misty lowered her gaze, trying to laugh the situation off. Unsuccessfully.
“This is not a bedtime story you would like to hear, my friends…”, she slowly shook her head.
“Maybe not. But, with all due respect, Miss Day, I don’t think any of us will be able to get any more sleep tonight…”, it was Timothy’s time to try, and fail, to laugh it off, “… maybe if we knew who he was and what he wanted, we would be less haunted by what we saw.”
“Or you could be even more haunted, have you considered that?”, Misty’s tone was not unkind, but she seemed a little frightened herself.
“He showed himself to us, Miss Day…”, Emily’s words were almost a plea, “… we’re involved now, whether we like it or not. But I’d rather know what it is that I’m getting involved with.”
That settled it. With a deep breath, and a silent prayer to the White Witch for guidance, Misty Day braced herself to relive the ghosts of the past.