The house Elena grew up in was far too big for a family of three. It towered over her, taller than the trees, and folded itself around the expanse of dying brown grass laid in front of it. The shutters on the windows were bolted shut, and the door was the same.

Elena raised the heavy brass knocker and struck it against the door, the sound like a gunshot in the tranquil afternoon air. The silence quickly returned, and the knock was unanswered. Elena knocked again, twice more, but was met with nothing. She eyed the windows around her with more scrutiny than before, but nothing stirred, not even the wind. Tucked into the corner of the step she found a small key.

She made up her mind and pushed open the door, the rusty key having barely fit into the lock. The door creaked open, letting in a few rays of sunlight that made the heavy dust swirling up starkly apparent. She waved her hand in front of her face to clear it as she entered the old house, calling out, "Mother? Father?"

There was no answer, and the foyer was dark, the curtains all drawn. She deposited her suitcase beside the door and meticulously began opening each one, and the windows and shutters too, for good measure. She thought that if she'd done this when she was younger, she might have gotten scolded, letting in the chilly autumn air like that, but the stuffiness inside the house was already making her feel as if she couldn't breathe properly.

She unpacked her suitcase in the nice guest room upstairs, forgoing her old childhood bedroom in the nursery. There was no need to go back there, now.

Once that was done, she wandered through the house, looking for any sign of life at all. Her footsteps echoed, and the shutters all screeched when she opened them. There was little food in the kitchen, though there had never been a surplus when she was a child, certainly not enough to warrant all the space provided. What she did find was preservatives, jams and pickled vegetables and such. Everything was tidied and put in their proper places, no signs of rushing, no signs of any kind of struggle or foul play.

Elena only brought herself to check her parents' bedroom after the sun was dipping towards the horizon, and only once she realized that they may have left a note in there. She climbed the stairs to the hallway in the east wing, hesitantly approaching the master bedroom.

Just then, she heard loud knocking from downstairs, muffled by the distance yet unmistakable as their ornate brass knocker. She looked back at the door once, and quickly went back downstairs, holding her skirts up to not trip over them, and rushed over to the door.

She pulled open the door, eager to see who it could be, asking "Mother?" When she saw the person she thought maybe Father, for he was a man, but it was certainly not her father. He was wearing a dark suit with a long coat and a wide-brimmed hat, with silver buttons and a silver pocketwatch, carrying a cane and a black bag. The bag had a curious symbol on it, a staff with wings fluttering at the top and two snakes entwined around the rod, each staring at Elena with a slitted green eye. She had seen it before in hospitals.

"Afraid not, were you expecting someone?" the man asked. Wordless with disappointment, she only nodded. "Ah. Well, do you know where Mr. and Mrs. Gallego are?"

She shook her head. "No. I haven't seen them since I arrived this morning. I'm their daughter, Elena Bosch." His eyes found the ring on her finger, and she quickly covered it with her other hand. "I've just returned from Europe. Pleasure to meet you, and you are?"

"Dr. H. Gabriel, at your service. I had an appointment today, but I suppose I'd better head back home, unless you have anything you would like me to look at," he offered. They shook hands.

"No, that won't be necessary," Elena said. "Though, I am curious; was this a scheduled appointment? Were my parents expecting you here? When did you last speak to them?"

"I was following up on our last meeting from a couple of weeks ago, if you must know. If you do see them, give them this, and ask them to contact me when they can," Dr. Gabriel explained. He unclasped the black bag with the caduceus on it and extracted a small bottle, some sort of tonic, with her mother's name inscribed on it. She accepted the bottle, and he stepped down from the porch while Elena began to close the door. Then he turned around, she paused, and he glanced side to side, as if about to confide a secret. "But of course we'll be seeing each other here tonight at the party, yes? Surely you will be attending?"

Elena laughed. "A party in my house? I don't believe so. It's been quiet as the grave ever since I arrived a couple days ago."

"Hmm. Well, I hope that you'll reconsider. We would love for you to join us." He tipped his hat to her, and didn't stick around long enough to answer her questions.

Her parents used to have parties. She recalled hearing them faintly, echoing up through the house to her room when she was young, voices talking and laughing, sometimes shrieking or shouting, sometimes music. They woke her up in the middle of the night, later than parties should have been held, but because she was a child she didn't know any better. When she couldn't sleep she could listen to them continue all the way until dawn, though she had never been brave enough to leave her room. Her parents taught her to be frightened of strangers, and she knew where she was not welcome besides.

So it was with great trepidation that she climbed into bed that night, slipping between the soft bedsheets and settling into the pillows. She laid there staring at the ceiling, mind occupied with what the man had said, and the things she remembered hearing as a child. Her home in England had seemed so blessedly quiet, during those years she was gone. Now she was afraid to close her eyes.

In between one second and the next, there was silence, and then there was sound. It was a low sound that she quickly got used to, but its suddenness made her bolt upright regardless. Her eyes immediately located the clock on the table next to her, lit up by the moon, a minute past midnight. Faintly, nearly too quiet to make out, she could hear the indistinct sounds of talking, laughter, and music. She swung her feet out of bed and pulled on her slippers and robe over her shoulders, pressing her ear against the bedroom door as she tied the sash around her waist. The voices had grown neither louder nor quieter, as hard as she pressed her head against the wood.

Elena opened the door and saw only darkness. Peering left and right, she could make out the details of the hallway with the bright moonlight shining in through the windows, but what was more relevant was the faint candlelight she could see under a door at the end of the hall. She closed her door as quietly as she could and tiptoed towards it, keeping close to the righthand wall. Still, she could not make out what the voices were saying, or what music was playing, though she was only a foot away, stopping and listening at the door.

With barely a thought to her indecent appearance she opened the door. She was startled to find only darkness, and the noise had grown no louder or quieter. Elena shoved the door fully open, marching into the room. There was no trace of any source for the flickering light she had seen through the crack under the door, and the room remained empty, with only some dusty bookshelves and a desk neatly organized with stacks of stationary.

Elena heaved a breath, steadying herself with one hand still on the doorknob, and realized that the noise was coming from somewhere else, somewhere downstairs. Of course, as faint as the voices were, they had to be emanating from another section of the house, she reasoned. She closed the door to the study and carefully made her way down the stairs, her hand brushing through the dust on the railing the whole way down.

The foyer was dark, and she thought perhaps the sounds were coming from the sitting room, or perhaps the dining room, or the drawing room. She heard a particularly rancorous round of laughter that must have come from the library, and spun around mid-stride to chase it. The library was black and empty.

She let out a frustrated grunt and leaned against the wall. For all intents and purposes, the house was completely dark, and completely empty. But she knew what she could hear, and she could hear several people, music even, and Elena knew that she was not crazy. Perhaps they were hiding from her. She began methodically opening and closing each door she came across, even the closets and the washroom doors.

When Elena slammed the cupboard door in the kitchen pantry, someone spoke to her, a voice loudly jarring the silence of her own desperation and frantic movements.

"Elena?" the voice asked, and Elena flattened herself against the wall in fright. "Please, I didn't mean to startle you." It was the man she had met earlier that day, Dr. Gabriel. "It's lovely to see you again. Would you come and join the party?"

"What party?" Elena asked, eyes narrowing as she tried to compose herself. "I've just looked in every room in this house. How did you get in here?"

"I've been in here. We heard you slamming doors and thought I ought to go and make sure you were alright." He was holding a lit candle, casting wild shadows about the hall and over his face, but he seemed sincere.

Elena was cautious. "What party?" she repeated, through gritted teeth. He only offered his arm; Elena huffed and drew her robe about her, threading her arm through his. He gently escorted her down the hall, back into the foyer, and from there into the library at the center of the house. The voices and music, she could still hear them, sounded neither louder nor quieter as they grew closer.

Dr. Gabriel did not hesitate to turn the ornate brass handle, swiftly pulling Elena along into the room beside him, leaving her blinded at the sudden presence of light. She had been in the library only moments before, in her desperate search, and it had been cold and empty and desolate. It was no longer so.

"It was only Elena," Dr. Gabriel called to the assembled group of people. Those who had turned to look nodded, and turned back to their own conversations. Elena goggled at the scene, wondering how what must have been fifteen- no, twenty? Was it possible as many as twenty individuals were gathered in her parents' library? The gentlemen were regal-looking in their stiff collars, the ladies were splendid in their gowns, a handful of people sprawled across the couches and the floor by the fireplace, some older men were seated around a table. An old woman was reading a book in the corner, rocking in a chair as if she had always been there, and a little boy was stacking playing cards into a castle under the loose supervision of a young couple at the window seat whispering together. A woman younger than Elena was browsing the books with sharp eyes that only looked up towards the newcomers for a moment.

"Elena! What were you doing in the hallway?" The man at the window seat stepped down, calling to her. He seemed around her age, perhaps younger, as did his companion. Elena looked to her left for Dr. Gabriel, but she suddenly her arm was empty, and after quickly scanning the room she found Dr. Gabriel had moved to converse with the crowd in front of the fireplace. They all seemed raptly interested in what he was saying, but Elena could not hear him, since he was talking softly.

"Have we met?" Elena asked, returning her attention to the strange couple. The woman giggled, following after the boy. They both had thin brown hair, the man's cropped close and the woman's hanging loose around her shoulders, which were bare in the deep black dress that was hanging from her frame. Their faces were pale, and their eyes were dark. They seemed at ease, looking at her with casual familiarity, as if they had only seen each other yesterday.

The woman spoke in a quiet, subdued tone, holding out a hand, "Mariah Halifax. And this is my brother, Anthony Halifax." The man nodded, not her lover but her brother. Elena met each of their eyes, sizing them up, and shook her hand, and then Anthony's.

"Do you know where my parents are?" Elena asked. It was the only thing she could think to say to them. They clearly believed they were supposed to be here, allowed to be, even though it shouldn't have been possible. She'd sworn the library had been empty.

"They usually prefer to stay out of the festivities, always have," Anthony answered, eyes drifting around the room. "It's not uncommon for them to stay in their bedroom for the duration of the night. You might find them there."

Elena, not having expected a real answer, just nodded, unable to speak. "...Thank you," she finally said. She wondered about the sounds she had heard as a child, the parties her parents had constantly been hosting in the dead of the night under her floors. Could it be true that they had never actually been in attendance? "How long have these parties been happening? The last couple years?"

Just then, the card castle on the floor collapsed, and the little boy let out a wail that silenced the room for a second while every head turned towards him, and even the gramophone was silent besides the static that sings between songs. The only one who didn't look up was the old woman in the rocking chair, who continued to read. Elena wished she could see what she was reading, from this distance across the library. The book didn't appear to have a cover, just a neutral white binding.

Though the boy calmly returned to stacking the cards, from somewhere in the room, a baby began to cry, and one of the women sitting by the fire stood up with the infant in her arms, looking around for help as she tried to soothe it.

Dr. Gabriel was upon her then, flicking open his black case with the caduceus imprinted on it. He rummaged through it and retrieved a silver flask, and passed it to the woman, who held it to the infant's mouth. It stopped crying, and closed its eyes in contentment as it drank. Dr. Gabriel took it back shortly after, and the baby did not cry anymore.

"What did you give him?" Elena asked as she wandered over with Mariah and Anthony, eyeing the flask as Dr. Gabriel put it back into his case, clasping it shut again.

"Wine," Dr. Gabriel said. "It should calm him."

"You can't give wine to babies," Elena protested. "It's not good for them!"

The woman looked at her curiously and shrugged her shoulders. "It can't do much else now, dear," she said. "I'll pour you a glass. Mariah, be a sweetheart?" Mariah accepted the child into her own arms, bouncing it gently and holding it close. Elena wondered how the two knew each other, if they were close, as she trusted Mariah with her baby.

Dr. Gabriel returned to sit on the plush armchair by the fire, where a young girl with pink bows in her hair was draped over the back, who smiled at him familiarly. Elena wondered if she knew him from his work, or somewhere else. Why were all of these people in her house?

The woman who failed to introduce herself popped back from the table with the old men crowded around it, holding a glass of wine, which she passed to Elena with a smile. "Come sit with us by the fire, dear, you must be chilly in those clothes."

Elena nodded, taking a drink of the wine, and followed her to the loose circle consisting of two armchairs and two couches arranged around the fireplace, where she remembered sitting and reading for hours alone in this room, head hanging upside down from the chairs. The woman sat next to another woman who looked very similar to her, and Elena wondered if the two were related as well. She gestured Elena to sit on the couch across from her, the only empty seat.

There was a very old woman sitting on the couch next to the empty seat, but Elena sat down regardless. The elderly woman gave Elena a bright, content smile, welcoming her. As she sat down, she felt watched, and noticed an equally elderly man on the second armchair, smoking a tobacco pipe.

Finally Dr. Gabriel came to her rescue. "Elena," he said, standing. "Allow me to introduce you to everyone." He started with the elderly woman, "This is Christine Gallego. That is Frederick Halifax, his daughters Anne and Thomasin, and his great niece Alexis." Those applied to the old man smoking the pipe, the woman who had invited Elena to the couch and her elder sister, and the young girl alternating between sitting on the floor and draping herself over the furniture.

"A pleasure to meet you," Elena said. "Are you all related?" Anne and Thomasin, the sisters, exchanged a glance, as if they were holding back grins. Frederick started hacking, having apparently choked on his tobacco, and Dr. Gabriel quickly arrived to thump him on the back.

"Of course we all are," Christine said, smiling serenely. There were lines around her eyes that made her appear very alert, though the eyes themselves were cloudy and far-away.

"Do you… That is, may I ask what you are all doing in my house, in the dead of night?"

"That's a question for Maxwell Senior," Dr. Gabriel said, gesturing over to the table with the other elderly men.

She stood, nodded, and took a drink of her wine, tasting more bitterness than she expected. She walked directly over to the oldest man at the table, asking, "Maxwell Senior?"

The man laughed boisterously at her. "Never in my life. Maxwell Junior, try again," he said, hooking his thumb at the man at the head of the table, who was watching her with a sly smile. She nodded, refusing to be embarrassed, and approached the other man.

"Elena Bosch, pleasure to meet you," she introduced herself to the man. He was old, and stern-looking, lines in his face dragging his features downward from his deeply receded hairline, tucked into the cravat around his throat.

Maxwell Senior stood and fetched a chair, putting it at the corner of the table next to himself. "Yes, please, sit down. I've been eager to finally speak to you, Elena."

"Why is that?" Elena asked cautiously, sitting down. There were four other men at the table, one of them apparently Maxwell Junior, but they seemed to be focused on their discussions and the pile of dominoes lying on the table, their minds in one place and their hands in the other.

"It's been so long since we all last saw you, has it not? How have you fared these years?" He spoke to her as if he really had known her years ago, though of course, she had never met him before. He was familiar, though. She could not place it, but she had seen the man someplace else, before, just like many of the people at this party.

"I've been in Europe," she answered, seeing no reason not to engage the old man.

"So we heard. With that man, Bosch, yes? Fine young fellow, good prospects?"

"Yes, that man." Elena was not wearing her wedding ring, and she keenly felt its absence as she instinctively went to touch it. She softened her voice, "He passed away some months ago. Did you not hear?"

"We heard," he repeated, carefully, looking at her like he was measuring her. "So you've returned."

"Yes, my parents sent for me as soon as they heard. But I haven't seen them at all since I arrived."

"They were not proper caretakers for this house, were they?"

"Well, we only moved here after I was born, when my uncle died and left it to us. It's a big house. Built just over two hundred years ago, back in 1700, you know." Elena did not know if he knew when the house was built, but he did at least seem somewhat knowledgeable of it, even concerned for its wellbeing. If the old man knew more than he was letting on, she wanted to understand. Perhaps she could provoke him into talking.

Quite, oddly, then, her attention was pulled away by the little boy who had been building with playing cards on the floor. He was standing now against the wall, and his bright blue eyes were locked with hers from across the room. He was looking at her solemnly, and she found herself rapt in whatever he had to tell her. Slowly, her eyes following his every movement, the boy pointed up above his head, to the mantle above the fireplace. Elena looked over to the fire, and at the portrait hanging there, and she froze in her seat, a chill washing over her.

Maxwell Senior was speaking, though Elena had not been listening. She looked very quickly back and forth between him and the painting the boy was pointing out to her, her eyes darting wildly, as she came to the conclusion that the man in front of her and the man in the portrait- which had been in the house much longer than she had been alive- were one and the same.

She hurriedly looked back to the boy, but he was back on the floor, beginning his castle once again. "Who is that child?" she asked urgently, interrupting what Maxwell Senior was saying.

"Toby, Junior's boy. Terribly tragic what happened to him," Maxwell Senior sighed.

"...Is he dead?" Elena finally asked. He let out a loud guffaw, bringing the attention of the room briefly back to him.

"Not as long as he lives here, he isn't!"

The next day Elena found herself in the library once again, where dust lined the shelves and the fireplace was empty even of ashes. She traced her fingers down the spines of books in wonderful shape for their age, preserved for years until her parents had let down the upkeep of the house, as Maxwell Senior had said. She sat down on the same couch she had been sitting on the night before, and a plume of dust rose up around her, making her cough.

Tucked into one of the shelves she found a pack of cards, and she assumed they were the ones Toby had been playing with. She looked around her surreptitiously before sliding them out onto the table and starting to stack them, into the card castles she had built when she was younger, but had never mastered. While in England, she had had plenty of time to learn, so it took her no time at all. When she finished, she left the library, another thought having occurred to her.

Maxwell Senior was the man pictured above the fireplace, meaning he was her grandfather from seven generations ago, having died nearly two hundred years previously. But she had seen some of the others before as well, she knew she had.

She found them easily enough, lining the corridors of the house, scattered through each section. She recognized many of them from the party, and there were many more that had not been there, including a celebrated war hero. As she wandered, she recalled as a child making fun of these pictures, and wondered if the ghosts could see her all the time. She was surprised to see that Toby, the little boy, and Alexis, the girl no older than sixteen, were in fact each born many decades before her, and that they had each died incredibly young, not a day older than they now appeared. More disturbing, she found inscribed on the backs of the pictures that Alexis had been smothered in her sleep, and that Toby and his siblings Mariah and Anthony had all died of "illness", with no more details than that. Anne had died along with her baby in childbirth, leaving her sister Thomasin to end her own life some months later. Frederick had died in a fire due to his cigars, and Elena could still see the burn marks embedded in the study carpet as evidence. All of them, all the ones she had met, had died inside the house.

By the end of the day Elena's eyes were heavy, and her feet dragged. She was grateful to collapse into bed for a few short hours before the nightly haunting began once again, but she was not afraid this time.

She awoke sometime later to an abrupt presence of noise. This time, she could hear only one or two voices, but they were too quiet to make out. She lay still and listened for a moment with her eyes closed, but the sounds never formulated into clear words. Carefully, she opened her eyes, half expecting to see someone in the room with her, but she saw nothing in the shadows cast by the moonlight. The voices continued, consistent in tone and volume, never pausing for rest, as if she were listening to a radio announcer from another room.

And then Alexis was there, without warning, without announcing her presence, without even opening the door. Her face was cast in shadows but Elena noticed that her pale cheeks were red- not pink, but red. The noises and voices had not stopped, but had grown more varied, as if several different people were whispering to her. "Aunt Thomasin says you are to wear proper clothes this evening," Alexis said. She pulled Elena's suitcase from under the bed and began rooting through it, wrinkling her nose at most of what she found. "Not like last night. This dress should do."

She handed it to Elena, who wordlessly accepted it and went behind the divider to slip into it, a deep emerald green evening dress which trailed on the floor behind her around her ankles and gathered around her elbows. It was an old dress, one that she had retailored every few years in order to maintain its use.

The younger girl approached Elena and twisted her hair into a knot on the top of her head, and nodded grimly. "That should appease her. She hates it when Aunt Mariah wears hers loose."

Partway through their walk to the library Elena again paused in front of her parents' bedroom door. As with the rooms the night before, she saw candlelight and the voices sounded as if they were coming from directly behind the door. "Alexis?" she asked.

"Aunt Alexis, to you," she corrected, clearly quite proud of the fact, though she stood a head shorter and still had knobby knees and elbows, a roundness in her face. "Please respect your elders."

"...Aunt Alexis. Do my parents ever attend these parties?"

Immediately, her demeanor changed, turning up her nose and looking down on the door. "We don't talk to them. Rather, they don't talk to us. There is a lot of bad blood, there. None of it should affect you, of course," she added, as if to reassure her.

Elena reached towards the doorknob, furrowing her brow, and was startled when Alexis slapped her hand away. "You don't need to know," she said in a low tone. Her face neutralized and she took hold of the hand she'd slapped, establishing a tight grip on Elena. "We should get going, we're late. People will talk."

When they arrived at the library, she was greeted with a chorus of welcoming smiles and calls of her name, but when the library door closed behind her, she frowned again. She could still hear the whispering voices, but even now they sounded as if they were coming from the hallway outside. She hadn't noticed the night before, too wrapped up in confusion and apprehension.

Alexis tugged on Elena's sleeve, informing her, "It's your turn to hold Benjamin tonight," nodding towards Anne and the baby. She left Elena then to fold herself onto the floor in front of the hearth, relaxing once seated as if the tension over her body had been cut away. She said nothing, and stared at the room, eyes wandering, vaguely tapping her finger to the music from the gramophone.

Tonight Elena also noticed how slow everything seemed, how her family members each sat immobile in their places, entirely unchanged from the night before. The only exception was Ava, the woman browsing the shelves with keen eyes, and Toby, who was approaching Elena with a toothless, childish grin.

"Elena!" he said, "Thank you for showing me how to do it!"

"Do what?" she asked, and he was already pointing excitedly behind him at the completed card castle on the floor. "Oh, you're welcome. What will you do now?" He gasped, and looked suddenly lost, head drooping down to look at the floor.

"I… I don't know."

From across the room she somehow heard Anne clear her throat. When she glanced over, she was pointedly holding the baby out in front of her, and Elena had no choice but to leave Toby and rush to accept the child. Holding it was bittersweet.

"Do you have any?" Anne asked.

Elena shook her head. "I've tried, many times. My husband and I…" she sighed. "We were never able. I've made my peace with it, and so had he, so I thought."

Anne looked aghast. More than that, every eye in the room had centered on Elena once more. Dr. Gabriel, who had gone unnoticed until that moment, said, "I may be able to help with that, if you would let me." Murmurs broke out, people began nodding and their attention gradually faded one by one.

Privately, leaning over to Dr. Gabriel, she answered, "Thank you, but I'm quite certain. I've had the opinions of many doctors over the years, and there is no helping me."

"If you're certain," he said. "...Regardless. May I have a word with you, outside?" Once in the hallway with the library put behind them, Elena heard only silence. "What brought you back here, Elena?"

"The letter from my parents. They said they heard what happened and it was time for me to come home."

"And you can verify this was from your parents?"

"It bore my mothers' signature."

He shook his head. "The house called you here. And now you can never leave it."

She searched his face for some kind of hint that he wasn't serious. He couldn't be serious. And yet, he looked as deadly as the grave, and Elena already had proof of uncanny things wandering the night. She narrowed her eyes at him, taking a firm step back and putting a hand on her hip, shifting the baby she still held to her side. "The hell I can't. Who the hell are you?"

"Just someone keeping an eye on the place," he held up his hands, placating. "I have no connection to this house or this family."

"Take this," she said, thrusting the baby at him. "I'm leaving now."

He didn't argue with her, only asking, "Are you going to say goodbye?"

"These are strangers to me. Even their kindness has felt backhanded and darkly motivated." She stalked across the house back upstairs to the guest room, not sparing a glance at any other doors falsely promising whispers or light or parents behind them.

Around the corner, Anne appeared in front of her, holding the baby. "Who will help me take care of him?" she asked.

"Not me," Elena answered. She brushed past Anne, but her arm was grabbed by Anthony as she passed in front of the drawing room.

"Who will tell us about the modern world?" he asked, Mariah standing coldly at his side. Elena didn't answer, yanked her hand away, and continued onward.

Alexis stood at the foot of the stairs with tears streaming down her face. "Who will be nice to me when you're gone?" Elena slowed for a second but forced her body to keep walking.

"You have to teach me new games!" Toby tried to trip her on the stairs.

In the hallway Ava told her, "I was hoping that perhaps we could read together." Elena snorted and continued on. Her relatives lined up in the hallway like the portraits they hailed from, each appearing one after the other.

One of the men who had been sat at the table was standing in front of her parents' room. "I never got to know my sister, I was hoping to get to know my niece." That must have been her uncle Daniel, the one who had given them the house upon his death twenty-three years ago. Her mother, and especially her father, had not remembered him kindly.

"I had so many stories to tell you," great-uncle Frederick said between inhalations of his pipe.

Christine, her mother's mother, only stood and looked at her sadly, not saying a word. Thomasin similarly only gave her a cutting gaze, looking her up and down before turning away. Maxwell the Second and Maxwell Junior wore twin scowls.

Just before she reached the guest room Dr. Gabriel made one last attempt to stall her, reaching his hand onto the wall to block her path. "Elena, wait. Listen, please. You will not like what you find behind this door, I can assure you."

She ducked under his arm. "I can leave this house whenever I want," she affirmed. She briskly shoved open the door and dropped to the floor to fetch her suitcase, opening it and lighting the candlestick, shoving her things in haphazardly before slamming it shut.

She stood up, finally caught sight of what was lying in her bed, and screamed, stumbling backwards and catching herself on the vanity. It was Elena. It was Elena, lying there, but she was contorted and her skin had turned strange colors and was she very much no longer alive. Her lips were purple and her face was swollen, blood and bile trickled down from her lips. Her arms and legs were twisted and curled against her body, as if she had been thrashing until falling still and stiff, and her hair was similarly matted and disarrayed around her. She wore her white nightgown, but it was now blood stained and soiled. Her fingernails were encrusted with blood and skin from where she had clawed at her own neck, which sourced a pool of blood streaking down onto the bed.

Immediately tears burst from the Elena's eyes that were not bloodshot and bulging and unseeing, and she turned her face away to bury it in her hands. She let out shuddering sobs before stumbling back through the door she'd entered through, running in a frenzy to her only egress.

In the foyer, the old woman Elena had identified as her great aunt Mathilda, finally looked up from her reading and looked at Elena with eyes that were identical to her own, desperate and searching.

"Go, escape for us. Escape for me," Mathilda whispered. Elena forced herself to take a breath and gave her a firm nod.

Mathilda's father and head of the Halifax family, Maxwell Senior, guarded the front door. "It's far too late for you, you know," he said. "Had you been married and a mother like a proper young lady, you could have lived a very generous life in this house."

"What is wrong with my life?" Elena challenged.

He chuckled. "It was of no value to me. Our family name will die with you."

"No," Elena gasped out. Satisfied, he stood aside and allowed her to access the front door. Outside, the sun had just begun to turn the sky pale, chasing out the darkness as she was chased from her home. Throwing herself down the stairs as she took off running, stumbling as her skirt caught under her shoe. The fabric tore off, leaving a strip of lush green to mock the dying grass.

Her only desire was to leave the house, to get away from the stifling oppression and secrets and decay. She kept going down the long road, as fast as her feet would carry her in her nice shoes and her skirts weighing her down. Her hair fell out of its pin with one fell swoop, sprawling down her back and across her eyes until she shook it away. The path stretched in front of her, brown dirt bordered on either side by rancid grass and a dark, thick forest beyond. She saw herself approaching a structure in the distance, and ran on, spurred by a destination. Maybe she could get help, or reach safety, or ask for sanctuary.

She stopped abruptly as soon as the house came into focus. She nearly tipped over from the sudden halt of momentum, pinwheeling her arms to stay balanced. She spun around, searching the direction she'd just come from, and then back to the house before her. She hadn't escaped at all.

Elena took a lunge to her right and started running again, directly into the trees. She emerged onto a dirt path, this time much closer to the house itself. "You can't keep me here!" she yelled, for the benefit of the ghosts, or her parents, or Dr. Gabriel, or maybe for herself. But the words were a lie.