First of all, Happy Thanksgiving everyone. We might not celebrate in the UK, but we can still be thankful for the gifts we’ve been given. I’m thankful for my two beautiful daughters, my supportive family, and my friends.
It was thinking of my internet friends, and realising I’ve been absent for so long, that prompted me to take part in Sue’s photo challenge this week. That, and the fact Sue’s prompts are awesome, so thanks for the inspiration, Sue.
Rosalie pulled her hat further forward, until it covered half of her face. She still had a problem with light, and yet every part of her skin – the parts uncovered at least – craved the warmth of the sun. The breeze against her bare arms was a soothing touch, as soothing as the presence by her side.
Taking a deep breath, she began to cross the sprawling grounds of the Davison estate. They knew she was there, had given permission for her excursion. It bothered them, Rosalie knew, but she couldn’t let that deter her. They all had ghosts to put to rest, and the Davison family owed her a lot more than access to their land.
Still, when she stepped onto the path that would lead her back into the past, she felt her heart accelerate. When she reached the end, her skin felt raw and sensitive. The breeze no longer soothed, it irritated, and yet she didn’t turn back.
The low whine from her companion had her glancing down. She bent to tangle her fingers in his shaggy mane. “It’s okay, boy. I just need a minute.”
Ben whined again, and Rosalie saw something close to a reprimand in his deep brown eyes. He didn’t want her to be here either, or perhaps he was as terrified as she was; caught up in his own memories of what transpired.
“It’s important,” she whispered, as though she needed to defend herself. “I have to do this.”
He barked once, unsettling the quiet air around them and sending a few creatures scurrying into the underbrush.
If he had a voice she imagined, he would have told her to get moving.
Ruffling the fur along his neck one more time, Rosalie continued. This time she didn’t hesitate, not even when she came to the steps she had once viewed as a mountain too hazardous to climb.
At the bottom, she paused. It hurt her eyes, but she pushed her hat back so she could face what lay in front of her. It was easier after a little time and distance. She almost managed to see what others probably saw – a hidden treasure within the hillside. Almost. All the time in the world wouldn’t change the reality of what it had once been.
Her eyes drifted to the narrow opening. At one time a makeshift door had hung on rudimentary hinges. She hadn’t known how flimsy it was at the time, but she could still remember the sound when those hinges tore free and the door fell. Or perhaps that was only in her head – the sweet, sweet sound of freedom. After all, the door was covered with so much foliage she was surprised when it didn’t swing right back into place.
“It’s time,” she whispered, whether to Ben or to prompt herself, she wasn’t sure.
Rosalie’s breathing was laboured by the time she made it inside. It was cold, dark and damp, just as she remembered, but she had no intention of venturing any further than the entranceway.
Removing her hat, she placed it on the floor along with her bag. Then, with slow steady breaths, she removed the blanket and spread it out.
Her eyes were burning with unshed tears, her muscles aching from the tension, but she managed to sit with her back straight and her eyes on the mound of earth she knew was there, but couldn’t see.
“I’m sorry it’s been so long,” she whispered, finally allowing the tears to fall.
Ben padded over to sit beside her. He dropped to his stomach and laid his head on her knees.
“I wanted to come sooner, but I…” her words trailed off. In truth, she hadn’t been well enough to make the trip.
Ben whimpered, the sound vibrating against her leg and shaking a memory loose.
She had been terrified the first time she saw him, but not that day. That day he had taken more punishment than she had. Her master, the one she now knew was Warren Davison, had kicked Ben so hard he hit the wall.
At first, when he didn’t get back up, she thought he was dead. Then Warren had moved over to him, cursed him to hell and back, and stormed from her prison without looking back.
Rosalie had dragged herself to the wounded animal and cradled his head in her lap. The familiar weight had past and present bleeding together until she swore she could fee every bruise, every scar on her soul.
“You saved me, you know,” she whispered, running her hand through Ben’s fur.
She’d done the same that day. Soothed him without words until he had lifted his head and butted it against her hand. How long they sat in the dark she had no way to tell. She only knew that when Ben finally moved, what he did next changed the course of her life.
He had crawled across the floor, his short, sharp breaths searching until he stopped to paw furiously at the hard ground.
Rosalie had followed the sound, terrified that Ben would discover her secret – the weakened section of flooring that she had spent an eternity uncovering. At the time, she hadn’t known that Warren had been the one to weaken the earth. She liked the idea that he had unwittingly provided her with the tools to aid her escape. If he hadn’t dug up the earth in the first place, she might have died in the hell he created.
Ben had found her secret that day, and though she tried to stop him, he had pawed the ground until she sat back and let him do his worst. As time ticked by, she began to fantasise that he would dig them to freedom. She could almost see the light, a light she hadn’t seen in so long her very cells craved it.
And then he had barked, startling her out of the fantasy and pulling her straight into a nightmare. She had crawled over to him, feeling inside the soft earth until her hand hit something cold and hard. The scream building in her lungs broke free when she realised what it was – a body.
Rosalie covered her mouth to hold in the sob. That day she had cried into Ben’s fur until her throat was raw.
“I wanted to thank you,” she whispered, dropping her hand to her chest. She missed the heavy weight of the necklace against her skin, a necklace she had found that day. Simone Beatty, the girl Warren had murdered, had been clutching the chain in her hand.
How Rosalie found it, how she knew how to use it, she might never know. But as she began carefully laying the earth back into place, Simone’s hand had opened as though she were offering Rosalie a talisman.
It had taken a long time, but Rosalie had used the heavy, silver crucifix to further weaken the hinges that shuddered and creaked whenever Warren closed her in.
After her escape, she had put the necklace around her neck and refused to take it off. Not even the nurses managed to convince her. It gave her the strength she needed to get through the weeks that followed; the endless questions, the unearthing of Simone’s body, and the start of her long recovery.
“Thank you for the gift,” she said, louder this time. “Thank you for lending me your strength and support.”
She bent to kiss the top of Ben’s head. Her faithful friend, a friend who hadn’t left her side since Warren’s parents had released him. A friend who had once tried to protect Simone, and who had never given up his goal of saving her. She was no longer trapped beneath the cold ground, she was free, and so was Rosalie.
“I’ll take good care of Ben for you,” she said, rising to her feet. “And I want you to know he takes really good care of me.”
As she moved towards the doorway, a breeze ruffled her hair and as it lifted from her shoulders, so did the weight she had been carrying in her heart for months. The room felt truly empty now, as though Simone had been waiting to say goodbye.
Thanks for stopping by.