by Sian B. Claven
Home is where the heart is … or the hatred.
You can feel the love and care someone puts into their home just by walking into it. Equally, you can feel the hatred and malice when you step into a home where dark deeds have been done.
Alex and his team of so-called paranormal investigators are given the opportunity of a lifetime when they are able to film inside one of the most haunted, and cursed, locations in their area.
The Jackson Mansion.
The thing that makes this mansion truly unique is that it is built completely underground. Determined to uncover the dark secrets of the mansion’s past, and prove himself a notable investigator, Alex doesn’t care what it takes. The mansion, however, has other ideas, as well as some rather restless occupants.
Claire had been an orphan her entire life, and when she was told she had been adopted by a wealthy family, she couldn’t believe her luck. The Jackson family was well-known in the area as one of the wealthiest families around and Claire would be one of them, a Jackson. Claire Jackson.
She liked the sound of that as it rolled off her tongue in her mind while sitting in the back of the car that bumped along the road, taking her to her new home. Her family had sent it to collect her and she was too excited to think on how strange it was that family hadn’t come to collect her.
They arrived outside a large gate and the car honked three times. All Claire could hear was the rumble of the engine. Two servants ran to the gates and opened them wide for the car to roll by them. They drove towards a large earthen mound in the middle of the grounds.
“Where are we?” Claire asked, looking for a house.
“Why, we’re home, little miss,” the friendly driver said.
“But there is no house?” Claire was terribly disappointed, thinking it was all too good to be true and she was actually merely being dumped somewhere.
The drive chuckled. “Don’t let your eyes deceive you, miss. You’re about to live in one of the biggest family homes ever.”
Claire sat back as the driver pulled up to the mound and got out, opening the door for her. She saw embedded in the embankment were two doors.
She was about to ask about them, when they swung open to reveal the most beautiful lady Claire had seen in her life. Dressed in a gown of midnight blue, and with green eyes that sparkled, the lady walked gracefully out of the doors and waited, her hands folded in front of her.
Claire swallowed and went towards the lady, with the driver following, carrying her suitcase. Two sets of clothes were all she owned aside from the suitcase.
“Claire Jackson?” the lady asked, looking down at Claire.
“Yes, ma’am,” Claire answered, looking up in awe.
“You are now to address me as ‘mother’. You won’t need that suitcase or any clothes you brought. We have catered for everything you will need. Come.”
She turned and descended gracefully down the stairs. Claire followed her, completely forgetting about the driver and her suitcase.
The entrance hall was vast and Claire’s mouth dropped open. She realized a lot of the things she was about to see would be a first.
Standing in the middle of the entrance hall was an elderly man, a younger man, and two small children.
“Claire Jackson,” Mother said, “this is Grandfather Peter, father, and Lucy and Michael, your younger sister and brother. You will be expected to be a good older sister and keep them entertained.”
“Yes mother,” Claire said, struggling with the new word.
Although Mother was absolutely stunning, there was something cold about her words, about the way she addressed everything; it was almost as though everything was clinical to her.
Lucy gave a small curtsy and Michael a short bow before they both greeted her with soft ‘Good afternoons’.
Father came towards her and held his hand out. Claire gave him her hand and he bent, kissing it gently. “Hello, my darling,” father said.
He was taller than mother and more slender, and those bright blue eyes frightened Claire at first, but his words were warm and his smooth voice set her at ease.
Claire smiled brightly as he took her hand in his. “Let’s take you to your room. You’ll need a hot bath and then a change of clothes. A Jackson always looks their best,” Father explained as they walked through the house together.
They went through one of the many doors in the entrance hall, and then an entertainment room where there was a bar and some snooker tables. Another door led into a wide empty room with a stage to one side, and they then entered a hallway. It felt as if they walked forever along this hallway before they reached a pink door.
“This is your room,” Father said, reaching for the handle and pushing it open.
Claire’s mouth almost hit the floor when she saw the beautiful room. While the door was a pretty powder pink, the room was deep pink with red skirting. A large four poster bed sat to one side, with a desk and chair and a toy box overflowing with dolls. To the left of the bed was an open door and Claire saw beautiful gowns and matching shoes. She couldn’t have counted how many, but they all seemed to be in her size.
“Thank you so much,” Claire said excitedly, and entered.
Father and Mother stood at the door and watched her for a moment before Mother cleared her throat. “The door to the right of your bedroom is your bathroom. You are to have a hot bath and scrub with soap, wash your hair and brush it out.”
Claire turned to face her and nodded.
She continued, “You may wear any of your gowns, but will always wear matching shoes. You can ring for a servant by pulling on any of the bell pulls in the rooms; each one has one.” She indicated a rope in the corner. “In the morning a servant will wake you up to help you get dressed and you will join us promptly for breakfast in the Shadow Hall Dining room.”
Claire bit her lip and Father interjected, “Don’t worry; for the first few weeks the servants will help you get around. You just yank on a bell pull and summon one to escort you to where you want to go or if you get lost and need someone to come get you.”
Claire smiled. “Thank you, Father. Thank you, Mother.”
“Very good,” Mother said before lifting her skirts and sweeping out with Father following her.
Claire immediately did as they requested and had a hot bath, scrubbing herself clean before she let the water out and ran fresh water to wash her hair. Once she was sure she was free of dirt, she went to get into one of her gowns. She struggled to figure it out, so she pulled on the bell pull and, sure enough, within a few minutes a young female servant arrived.
“I’m sorry to bother,” Claire said, “but could you please assist me into my gown?”
The female servant nodded. “Of course, little miss, I am here to assist you. My name is Florence, but you may call me Flo.”
She came over to Claire and helped her into the gown before fetching the matching shoes. Claire was fascinated that everything fit so perfectly.
“Would you like me to do your hair, little miss?” Flo asked, indicating that Claire could sit down.
Claire smiled. “Yes, please, Flo, I would really like that.”
She sat and allowed Flo to do her hair and, once done, Flo offered to take her to supper with her parents.
Claire and Flo walked through the hallways talking quietly. Claire quickly learned that it was easy to get lost in the house and often the older servants had to come find the younger servants who didn’t know their way around. The older servants had been working for the Jackson family all their lives, as had their parents and their parents before them. In fact, most had grown up in the Jackson Mansion and that was why they knew it so well. Their children also worked at the mansion, but Flo said they were kept out of sight because the servants feared Mrs. Jackson something fierce.
Claire didn’t blame them. Mother seemed very stern and no-nonsense, and Claire wouldn’t want to bother her either. They reached the dining hall where supper would be served and Claire went to sit with her family, eating her food without saying anything as it seemed against the rules to speak.
Father read the paper as he ate. Mother simply focused on her food. Michael and Lucy also seemed to simply concentrate on their meal without too much hassle.
Claire kept to herself as she ate and waited until after dessert was cleared before she asked politely, “Mother, what about school?”
“What about it?” Mother asked, folding her hands on her lap and looking at Claire.
“Where am I going to go school? My normal school is so far away.”
“We don’t go to school,” Lucy said, and Mother hushed her.
“We do home schooling, dear,” Mother said. “You will be taught here at the house where we can keep an eye on you and make sure you excel.”
“Oh, alright,” Claire said and didn’t say anything more.
“Can we go play now?” Michael asked.
“Yes, take Claire with you,” Mother said.
Claire got up with Michael and Lucy and followed them out of the dining room. Through the weaving hallways she trailed after them until they reached a large room filled different toys, doll houses, rocking horses and even a television.
Michael and Lucy went to opposite ends of the room to play. Claire glanced between them, unsure of what was expected of her. She decided to play with Lucy first, because she was a girl and that might be easier. She approached Lucy who had two dolls in her hands.
“What are you playing?” Claire asked.
“You’re not my sister,” Lucy said, standing and looked up at her. “So don’t bother.”
Hurt, Claire backtracked and went to Michael instead, who was digging around in a trunk full of what looked like dress up clothes.
“Go away,” he said before she could even say anything.
Claire bit her lip and went to the television, turning it on and sitting to watch it. She felt heartbroken that Michael and Lucy wouldn’t even give her a chance. Maybe she should speak to Father and Mother about it. No, maybe if she did that they would return her to the orphanage because she wasn’t a good fit for the house.
Claire would simply have to try and win them over; she would have to think of something.
The days blended into weeks and Claire did everything she could to get Lucy and Michael to like her, but they did not budge. They had lessons together daily with Mother, where they were exceptionally polite to Claire, but they weren’t friendly towards her when it was play time. Claire was expected to join them for playtime; after all, Mother had explained that was why they had a room just for their children’s things, but Lucy always went off to play with her dolls and Michael to do whatever it was he was doing – Claire was unsure. Normally, Claire simply sat in front of the television, watching whatever was on at the time.
Claire gradually found her way around the house and soon didn’t need to ring for the servants to fetch her in the mornings. She always found her way to breakfast, to the room they used as a classroom and to the play room.
On a quiet Saturday morning Claire heard her parents discussing going out that evening to an event. It was the first time Mother and Father had been away since adopting Claire and she was worried about what would happen without them around.
She was reassured by Father that the servants would be there should they need anything, and that she was to ring them if there were any problems.
Claire spent the morning with Mother, knitting a new scarf for winter, before she went off to the play room to spend the remainder of the day with her sister and brother.
She was surprised to discover that they were nowhere to be seen. Claire didn’t know where their bedrooms were, so she couldn’t go looking for them. She wondered if she should tell Mother and Father that her siblings were not where they were meant to be, but then chided herself because that would surely set their hatred for her.
Instead, she turned on the TV and sat to watch a program.
Several hours passed and Claire was sure it was near bedtime. She still hadn’t seen Lucy or Michael and wondered if perhaps they were already in bed or if they were playing somewhere else in the house.
Claire hadn’t considered that before; a huge mansion with so many rooms, obviously there were other things to do. Struck suddenly with a longing for adventure, she ventured out of the playroom and, instead of going right towards her bedroom, went left to see where the corridor led to.
At the end of it she could either go left or go right. She looked left and saw a long passage with many doors, and when she looked right she saw a long passage with only one door at the end. She found it peculiar and decided to investigate the lone door to the right.
Her feet didn’t make a sound as she treaded lightly on the carpeted floor. The beautiful green and red pattern seemed almost ominous when she looked down at it, so she kept her eyes up and trained on the door.
She reached it and reached up, turning the doorknob slowly and letting the door swing open of its own accord. She peeked into the dark room and wondered what was inside of it, when she heard a scurrying noise, like a rat running on a hardwood floor. Shaking involuntarily, she retreated quickly, running away from the room. She heard whatever it was scurrying behind her, and panicked.
Born in South Africa, in the heart of Johannesburg, Sian Claven grew up with a vivid imagination. When she wasn’t immersing herself in books, she was actively creating her owns tories.
At 29 years old, left to her own devices after her sister immigrated, Sian, wrote her first horror book Ensnared and dared to publish it under the guidance of indie authors Toni Cox and Ashleigh Giannaccaro.
Now she has released more than ten books including a thriller and sci-fi fantasy.
In 2019, Sian took up the challenge of publishing 11 books in 11 months.
Sian came second place in the First Annual Indie Awards for Favourite African Author.
Sian’s book, Sylvana, the final book in her Butcher series, made the Amazon top 100 best sellers list in several categories across three countries.
In her spare time, Sian is an avid Harry Potter fan, pop collector and Bingo addict. She resides in Johannesburg with her 2 best friends, their daughter, their 6 dogs and 2 cats.
(yes, 4 of them!!)
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