Alastor whispered into her ear, “You’re too late to save them!”
Clarissa’s first instinct was to push the fiend away, but then she remembered that a person cannot physically move a ghost! She irately bit back, “What do you mean?” When she opened her eyes, she was bewildered to see that all of the walls of her home had vanished! Her room stood alone on a stage, and she had a view of the entire town… What was left of it anyways! All of the buildings were smoldering and in shambles! She went down the staircase, and when she got down to the street, her eyes widened in sheer horror as she beheld bodies lined up throughout the borough! She nearly vomited from the weight of it all, and once it sank in for her, she furiously bellowed, “Alastor, you demon! How could you?”
His cackle emanated across the atmosphere above her, and as she screamed out her emotions, the spirits of the fallen rose up and called out to her, “Clarissa! Clarissa!” She couldn’t face them, it was all her fault…
“Clarissa!” Gabrielle shook her in order to jerk her out of her slumber.
“You’re still here!” Clarissa gazed around her chambers and then noted, “Everything is still here…”
Gabrielle deduced, “I think you had a bad dream.”
Clarissa reckoned that she was correct, but it still took a minute for her nerves to refrain from shaking. “He destroyed it all! Colfrith was obliterated, and everyone died! That was quite literally my worst nightmare!”
“Well, we’re not going to let that happen in actuality, are we?” Gabrielle challenged her.
“You’re right! There’s still time to ensure that ghoul does not succeed!” She leapt out of bed ready to take action, but then she noticed that Gabrielle was still in her pajamas. “I’m so sorry to have waken you!”
Gabrielle assured her, “You didn’t! You weren’t alone in your nightmares! I dreamt that the letter you got yesterday came from Alastor, and it was addressed to Brenner. You were curious as to what it said, and when you opened it, you unleased darkness that consumed the entire village!”
Clarissa recalled, “The letter! I completely forgot about that! I don’t even remember seeing who it was from! You don’t suppose…” Gabrielle’s expression fell at the prospect of her vision coming to light, and Clarissa concluded, “Well, we must investigate it now!”
The two ladies crept down the staircase and eyeballed the piece of mail as though it were a snake ready to lunge at them as soon as it became aware of their presence! Clarissa’s mind reeled with the possibilities of what it might contain; if Gabrielle’s premonition proved to be true and the post was marked for her late husband, she couldn’t imagine what he would have communicated to him! Assuming that it held an actual message… They inched closer and closer until… “Oh, it’s from Kenneth!” Clarissa delightfully declared. “Unless Alastor did that to trick me into opening it…”
Her hands trembled as she reached for the envelope, and Gabrielle watched in total nervousness as she broke the seal. Clarissa peeked inside and showed it to Gabrielle… “Oh! It appears you received an actual letter from a non-diabolical man! We really permitted our imaginations to run wild, didn’t we?” Gabrielle chuckled in relief. As Clarissa pulled the paper out, Gabrielle’s interest in the contents intensified. “Am I allowed to know what it says?”
“That remains to be seen…” Clarissa poured through the message, and the further she read, the broader her grin became!
“Did he declare his undying love for you?” Gabrielle pressed her.
Clarissa explained, “He thanked me for my hospitality, and then he expressed his profound appreciation for me saving his life! He then tells me he hasn’t abandoned our mission and will do everything he can to discover remedies to help curtail the issue! He closed with wishing me well and hoping I’ll stay safe so that we can meet again!”
With a wry smile, Gabrielle stated, “So, that’s a yes!”
“He never voiced those words!” Clarissa disagreed.
“People often relay their feelings indirectly! He doesn’t have to utter that exact phrasing to get the point across!” Gabrielle argued. Clarissa didn’t seem totally sold on that concept, but she could see her becoming flustered, so Gabrielle probed, “How do you feel about him?”
Clarissa bowed her head as she blushed. “He’s a nice fellow!”
Gabrielle prodded her, Very! Handsome and charming too!” Clarissa turned away to hide her embarrassment, and then Gabrielle asked, “What will you write in your reply?”
“I’ll inform him that we spent a lot of time researching cures to our ghostly conundrum! But first, we must do that task so that I’m not lying to him,” Clarissa answered her. Gabrielle looked slightly disappointed that she no longer desired to spill any salacious gossip, and she begrudgingly stepped away from the table. Clarissa retrieved the books she borrowed from behind the bar, and as she set them by her seat, she remarked, “Perhaps fortune will favor us and we’ll uncover the solution in the beginning of the literature I choose to study first!”
“Maybe I’ll pay a visit to the Cole household,” Gabrielle considered out loud. “Drusilla is quite fond of reading, so maybe something in her collection can aid us in this endeavor!”
Clarissa mused, “It couldn’t hurt to query about it! Unless her father decides to interfere! I wouldn’t put anything past that grump!”
Gabrielle brushed that notion aside, “If he upsets either of us, then he’ll lose his deposit and his reception plans will tear asunder since he won’t be welcomed here!”
As Gabrielle ascended to the upper level, Clarissa tittered at the picture she painted. While Gabrielle got dressed, Clarissa flipped through the tome in front of her. She frowned at its apparent lack of usefulness, and she prayed that this would change as she carried on. After a bout of silence, Gabrielle made her jump slightly when she shouted, “Hey, there’s some books in this area! Would any of them have helpful information?”
“I doubt it!” Clarissa responded. “Those were my late husband’s business materials. I’m not sure why he had them, he rarely participated in any professional-.” Suddenly, she heard a large crash blare out from above her, and she immediately sped up to check it out. “Are you alright, Gabrielle?”
“Call me Gabby!” she requested.
Clarissa puzzled, “Huh?” When she walked into the room previously occupied by Kenneth, she saw Gabby’s right leg stuck in a newly formed hole in the floor! As she assisted her in getting out of this scrape, she surmised, “So, you’re not terribly injure, are you?”
Gabby laughed, “Not a chance! And my friends call me Gabby. After everything we’ve been through, there’s no need for anymore formalities!”
“Fair enough!” Clarissa grinned. She glanced at the gap on the ground, and then she frowned as she pronounced, “It appears as though we’ll have to take Mister Cole up on his offer sooner than I anticipated!”
“Where are you going, Drusilla?” Cornelius inquired to his daughter as she passed through a seating area situated before a bustling factory full of sawing, axing, and packing.
Drusilla hid an envelope behind her back, and she over-sweetly replied, “Nothing!”
Cornelius commanded, “Give it to me!” Drusilla reluctantly did so, and Cornelius expected to unearth the worst. It perplexed him when he beheld what she aimed to keep hidden. “It’s a letter to Aunt Martha!”
“I know! I just wanted to get you going!” Drusilla cheekily informed him. His expression grew stern, but before he could admonish her, she added, “I’m bored, Father! I’ve grown weary of being here all day! I’d rather go back to spending all day taking care of the household! Why do I need so much supervision?”
“I…!” Cornelius spotted Clarissa and Gabby standing within their vicinity, so he swiftly switched what he intended to convey, “We’ll talk about this later!”
Clarissa cleared her throat out to rid herself of the awkwardness gained from this interaction, and then she notified Cornelius, “I apologize for the interruption, but The Leafy Taverne needs lumber to repair a dangerous section of its flooring…”
Cornelius rather reluctantly acquiesced, “Very well! I suppose we cannot risk any of our guests getting injured! Phineas!” One of the men sanding down planks of wood stopped what he was doing and rushed over to do his bidding. “Fetch this lady… What? Will four boards do?”
“Actually, one board will suffice,” Clarissa disclosed.
“Take four in case more problems arise,” Cornelius advised her. “I want no mishaps to transpire on my wedding day!”
Clarissa shrugged. “As you wish.”
Cornelius reissued his order to Phineas, “Give her four boards.”
“But, sir!” Phineas objected. “That’ll make us short for the Rockfall purchase! And there isn’t a lot of useable trees out there to make up for any dearth!”
“Fine! During my reception, you can occupy the quarters that she spoke of!” Cornelius shot back. Phineas still seemed reluctant, but he heeded his direction nonetheless. While Phineas retrieved the items, Cornelius questioned Clarissa, “What caused the damage? It’s not a frequent occurrence, is it?”
Clarissa assured him, “Oh, no! It was a totally random site that was hollow underneath!”
Cornelius contended, “Hollow places are never random, especially when it comes to architectural structures! Someone always puts it there for a reason- usually for secretive purposes…” Cornelius gave Drusilla a reproachful look, and she shifted in a guilty manner.
Gabby and Clarissa’s discomfort renewed, but luckily for them, Phineas returned with their ware. “Here you are, Miss Harbin! I’ll hand them over to your laborer.”
“She’s my employee,” Clarissa corrected him. “She’s a free woman who earns a wage. We’ll split the burden.” As Clarissa grabbed some of the timber, Phineas’ visage contorted in confusion, but when he turned to Cornelius for clarification, he espied that Cornelius was rolling his eyes. Clarissa caught a glimpse of Drusilla’s despondence, so she kindly offered, “I have to bring a letter to the post shortly, so I’d be happy to bring your letter there!”
“Oh, thank you!” Drusilla chirped as she set her correspondence on top of the wood.
Cornelius raised an eyebrow at that preposition. “I didn’t know you had any acquaintances outside of our county…”
Clarissa took offense at his insinuation, but she kept her cool as she educated him, “As a matter of fact, I do! He’s a lieutenant in the Continental Army, and-.”
“You’re communicating with that traitor?” Phineas grumbled.
“Traitor? He works out of the fort you played a part in building!” Clarissa pointed out.
Phineas defensively uttered, “That was a mistake! But it wasn’t our fault! Alastor pretended to work for the other side, so naturally, we took his word as the truth!”
Clarissa was shocked to hear loyalist rhetoric from a man who was once a devout patriot! She could only assume that the vengeful spirit had a hand in swaying his allegiance, but she also estimated that it would have been futile to try to persuade such a hard-hearted individual into accepting the reality of the circumstances in this war! Additionally, Cornelius’ grimace plainly worried about a disturbance in the workplace, so Clarissa opted not to quarrel with Phineas. She bad Cornelius, “Have a good afternoon!”
“Wait!” Phineas blocked Clarissa and Gabby from exiting. “I can’t let you leave until you promise you won’t associate with that anarchist!”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous!” Clarissa brushed him off and attempted to weave herself out of his barricade.
Phineas lowered his arms to halt her departure, and he seethed, “If you won’t swear to it, you won’t leave!”
Clarissa spat, “You can’t keep me here!”
“Would you like to bet on that?” Phineas growled.
“She won’t write to him, okay?” Gabby fibbed.
Phineas snarled, “You’re a liar!”
The entire assembly line halted to witness this scene, and Cornelius pled with him, “Phineas, please! Just let it go!”
In a deep, frenzied voice very different than his own, Phineas bellowed, “Stay out of this!”