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       Black Wood, p.4

           Jayde Scott
 
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  “Nope, but I have something much better,” Clifford replied. “I know about the matching world. The magic world where the diary comes from, that is. Without it, the magic diary will not work forever and you'll need the magic mirror and the secret words to open the portal.”

  “Another world? What’re you talking about? What’s it good for?” Emily asked.

  “Whoa! Are there aliens?” Sam staggered back, looking around the room as though a door with a welcome sign might miraculously appear.

  Emily rolled her eyes. Throw in the word magic and all her brother could think of were aliens.

  “The portal’s a mirror right here at Ravencourt Manor. If you open it, you’ll learn to spin your own magic. You only have to say the right words,” Clifford repeated. “Come on. Let’s find it, but I can’t open it myself.” He got up to his feet. “You must have a special mirror somewhere in this house.”

  “There’s one in the bathroom,” Emily said excited, “and then there’s a larger one in the hall.”

  Clifford turned to face her. For a moment his eyes flickered like a star. “No, no. Those won’t work. We need one that can stand on its own with a wooden frame.”

  Emily shook her head. She couldn’t remember any other.

  Sam jumped up from the floor. “Grandma used to have one of those. I haven’t seen it in a long time though.”

  “Maybe it’s in the cellar. Or what about that locked shed in the garden? If we could only find the key,” Clifford said.

  “The shed.” Sam bolted toward the door. “Let’s ask Dad about the key.”

  “Wait!” Emily called. “Sam, doesn’t the attic have a mirror?”

  Her brother stopped in his tracks and turned around. “You mean the one that’s always covered? Of course! Why didn’t I think of it?”

  Chapter 7

  “Well, let’s go have a look, shall we?” Clifford said.

  Emily followed as Sam led the way toward the staircase running to the attic. Clifford was right behind her. They climbed the steep, stony stairs. By the time they reached the next level, they were panting. Emily rested for a minute before she looked around. She hadn’t been here since her grandmother had last shown them the mirror many years ago.

  The long, narrow hall had a single small window to the right. The heavy blanket of dust tickled Emily’s nose and she rubbed her palm over her face to stop herself from sneezing.

  Clifford talked first. “This is the attic? Where’s the mirror then?”

  “The attic’s up there.” Sam pointed at a hatch door on the ceiling. “There should be a hidden ladder somewhere.”

  Emily pointed at the darkest side of the hall. “It’s in the corner.”

  Sam squinted. “Oh, I see it.” He spun to face Clifford. “Grandma had this fitted because of the crows up here. At least one or two build a nest every summer. She even used to find them flying around the house. Once she opened her bedroom door and a crow flew so close over her head it almost landed in her hair.”

  “How do they get in?” Clifford asked, wide-eyed.

  “No idea,” Sam said. “But wherever they’re from, they come every year, punctual like the postman.”

  “Grandma told you that?” Emily asked. She missed her terribly.

  Sam nodded. “Yep.” He set up the heavy ladder, climbed up and pushed against the latch until the door jarred open with a thud. Then he climbed back down. “Grandma was never scared living here all by herself. Dad used to call her one tough lady. He tried to get her to sell the house and move to London with us, but she wouldn’t listen. She said she couldn’t leave Grandpa behind. I’m glad she never sold Ravencourt Manor.”

  Emily shuddered. “Why did she stay even after Grandpa died? Do you think she talked to his ghost?”

  Sam chuckled, then looked at Emily with raised eyebrows. “If I think that? I don’t think that. I know it ‘cause Grandma told me. She said she’d see him at least once a week.”

  A cold shiver ran down Emily’s spine.

  Clifford inched nearer. “Is the mirror up there then?”

  “Yep.” Sam pushed Emily forward. “You go first ‘cause you’re the youngest.”

  “You’re such a chicken.” Emily rolled her eyes, but Sam just shrugged. “I still don’t get what the portal’s good for. What kind of world is it?”

  “A magic one,” Clifford said. “Aunt Aurelie never told me what’s behind the mirror, but she said you need to learn to open it because your grandmother would have wanted you to. You can’t learn until you open the portal.”

  “Wait! Learn what?” Sam asked.

  Clifford shook his head. “I don’t know.”

  Emily stopped in her tracks. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea.”

  “Look, if you want more magic, you need to open the portal. It’s where the magic diary comes from and it still draws its magic from there,” Clifford said. “Are you coming or what?”

  Emily nodded and climbed up the ladder with the boys following behind. Rubbing her arms, she looked around the semi-dark room. Dim light sipped in through two muddy windows that needed a good scrub. The smell of crow poo lingered, faint but there.

  The wooden floorboards creaked under her feet as she pulled a string to switch on a naked light bulb and took several steps forward until she stopped in front of what looked like a huge cupboard covered with a black sheet. Her grandmother had never allowed her to see what was hidden underneath. “This is so creepy.” Her hands trembling with anticipation, Emily grabbed hold of the sheet and pulled it down.

  Sam sneezed. “Someone should dust in here once in a while.”

  “Is that it?” Clifford stared ahead in awe.

  It was the largest mirror Emily had ever seen. The rusty gold frame was thick and adorned with beautiful flowers and gemstones, now dull from dust and years of neglect. Emily’s breath caught in her throat as she looked up. Above the frame was carved the face of a beautiful woman staring down at them. Her eyes glinted like precious emeralds and her mouth was the colour of ripe cherries. As she stepped forward, the woman’s gaze seemed to follow her. In an instant, Emily knew this was no ordinary mirror. The thought made her shiver again and she rubbed the goosebumps on her arms with her hands.

  “It’s beautiful,” Emily whispered. When she looked down she saw Clifford cowering at her feet. “What’re you doing?”

  “Nothing.” He cleared his throat and jumped up, brushing the dust off his pants.

  “Right! Now that we’ve found it what’re we supposed to do?” Sam asked as he walked closer. He seemed back in charge.

  “The words,” Clifford whispered, “Emily must speak the words.”

  Sam glared at him through squinted eyes. “Why Emily?”

  “Cause she’s the one who owns the diary, remember?” Clifford snapped. “Can we get on with it?”

  “Hurry up, Em! I want a diary of my own,” Sam said.

  Emily sighed. “Okay. What am I supposed to say?”

  Clifford rose to his full height and put up his arms. “Porta, manifeste et fac quod vis!”

  “What does that mean?” Sam asked.

  “Shush! Emily, you’re supposed to say those words. Porta, manifeste et fac quod vis!”

  Emily repeated the words several times until she knew them by heart. She looked from the mirror to Sam and Clifford and then back to her reflection in the mirror. Nothing happened.

  Sam frowned. “Why’s it not working?”

  “I…I don’t know,” Clifford stammered. “Something should be happening.”

  “Well, it clearly isn’t and I’m hungry.” Sam stomped back down the ladder. “You’ll have to share your diary with me, Em, ‘cause it looks like I won’t be able to get my own PlayStation.”

  “What about the mirror? Grandma said it should be kept covered at all times,” Emily called behind him.

  Sam shrugged. “Nah, just leave it.”

  “But Grandma—never mind.” Emily grabbed the black sheet from the floor when a c
awing sound cut through the silence. She flinched and her heart skipped a beat.

  “Did you hear that?” Clifford whispered, his eyes as wide as saucers in the dim light.

  “Let’s get outta here.” Grabbing Clifford’s arm, she dragged him to the trapdoor. He moved reluctantly as though he had no intention to leave.

  As soon as they reached the first floor, the smell of food wafted from the kitchen. Emily grimaced. Not again.

  “Ah, kids. You’re just in time. Dinner’s ready,” her father greeted them.

  Clifford averted his gaze and walked past. “Sorry, Mr Jones, I should get going. Aunt Aurelie’s waiting.” He pulled Emily aside and whispered in her ear, “Promise me you’ll try again.”

  What a strange boy. She shrugged and accompanied Sam and her father to the kitchen to have dinner. She’d visit the mirror soon, but first she’d write in her diary and ask for fish and chips and maybe some pudding. As she fished for sausage chunks, Emily decided she had enough baked beans to last her a lifetime.

  After dinner, Emily pulled out the diary from under the bed and began writing when Sam barged in. He jumped on the bed and peered over her shoulder. “What’cha writing? Don’t forget my Playstation.”

  Emily scowled and turned to face him. How could she focus with her brother breathing down her neck? “I’ll get you one if you promise to leave me alone.”

  “All right. You got yourself a deal.” Sam laughed. “I’ll go watch TV then. But don’t take too long.”

  As the door closed behind him, Emily exhaled with relief and focused her attention back to the diary. It still amazed her how the pages turned blank again. The book felt strange in her hand. All beautiful and polished, not mucky and old like before. All of a sudden, she felt nervous. How should she start?

  She decided to get straight to the point. A PlayStation for Sam. Something other than baked beans and sausages for dinner. And then that her mother and her father would finally spend some time together. She noted the magic words at the bottom of the page too so she wouldn’t forget them.

  Porta, manifeste et fac quod vis!

  When she finished writing, she put the pen aside and went about her evening routine, pleased she had thought of everything. Tomorrow couldn’t come fast enough, for tomorrow was the day when her parents would finally get back together.

  Chapter 8

  Emily woke up with a jolt. Something rustled outside her window. She sat up straight in bed and strained her ears to listen. It sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard. Drawing in her breath, she tried to calm her racing heart. The scratching continued.

  Goosebumps covered her arms as she scrambled out of bed and bolted for the door. She tiptoed down the dark corridor, her hand gliding across the brick wall to feel for the door to her brother’s room. When she found the knob, she flung the door wide open.

  “Sam!” she whispered, but no one answered. He was a deep sleeper. Usually, it took more than calling his name to wake him. She jumped on the bed, grabbed his arm and yanked as hard as she could, her leg kicking against the bedframe. “Sam? Wake up!”

  Sam tossed and groaned. “Go away.”

  “You gotta wake up. There’s something outside my window,” Emily said.

  He pushed her hand aside and turned his back on her. “It was just a dream. Now go back to sleep.”

  She shook his arm again. “No, it wasn’t. Listen! It’s still there.”

  “All right.” Sam sat up with a sigh. For a moment, they both kept quiet. The scratching was faint but still audible. “What’s that?”

  “I told you there was something.”

  “It’s probably just a branch,” Sam mumbled.

  “You go and have a look. I’m staying here.”

  Sam’s voice raised a notch. “No way am I going on my own.”

  “Why not? You’re the big brother.”

  “But it’s your room. Whatever’s out there obviously came for you.” Sam pulled the covers around him. “You either tag along, or I’m staying here.”

  Emily heaved a big sigh. “You’re such a sissy! All right, I’m coming with you, then.”

  Sam pushed the sheets aside and followed Emily down the corridor to her room. She heard him swallow a gulp of air before he strolled in, his head darting to the left and right. “You said it was coming from the window?”

  Emily nodded, her stomach in knots. The scratching seemed to have stopped.

  Sam peered into the blackness stretching over the backyard. “There’s no one there.”

  “I can see that.” All was dark as far, the trees and bushes contorted into hideous shapes, and far away on the hill Urquhart Castle rising high against the background of the moon. And then the scratching began again from beneath the window.

  “It’s coming from the ground floor.” Sam’s voice sounded choked as he listened, his head titled to one side.

  Emily pressed her nose against the window to get a better look, but nothing moved below. “Downstairs is the living room.”

  “I think it’s trying to get in through the glass-sliding doors,” Sam said, and Emily gasped. Maybe someone was trying to break in. Sam turned to face her. “Let’s get Dad.”

  Without waiting for her answer, he bolted for their father’s bedroom when Emily pulled on his pyjamas. “No! Wait ’til the morning.”

  “Why not just tell Dad?” Sam said.

  “What if it’s nothing? Besides, Mum’s coming tomorrow, and I don’t want Dad to look tired. They need to fall in love with each other again.”

  Sam seemed to consider her words for a moment. “I get your point. All right, we go check it out, but you go first.”

  “Don’t I always?” Emily mumbled under her breath as she walked down the stairs. She stepped into the living room with Sam a few feet behind her, her gaze wandering to the glass sliding door. No one was there.

  Taking one slow step after another, she reached the door and pressed her nose against the glass as she peered out into the night.

  The creature appeared from nowhere, its face almost level with Emily’s. She jumped back, tripping over Sam, and opened her mouth to scream, but the sound remained trapped in her throat.

  Emily’s legs froze to the spot. At first, she thought the black shape was some sort of large bin bag, but when her eyes met the creature’s red gaze, she knew this was nothing she had seen before. She tried to swallow the lump in her throat when the moon moved from behind a cloud, throwing a glowing cast on the creature, and revealing a shaggy fur and long fangs in a surprisingly human face. Its skin was pale and wilted, the ears dangling just above its shoulders. The long nails looked like rusty razorblades.

  She whimpered, glad the door was locked.

  “Holy cow! What the heck is that?” Sam’s voice asked from behind.

  “No idea,” she whispered.

  Suddenly, a black cat scurried past Emily and Sam toward the glass door, hissing at the creature, its fur standing on its back.

  “No!” Emily bent forward to pick up the cat. No way would she let that thing get her pet.

  The creature’s mouth opened and it let out a low guttural sound before it turned to disappear in the bushes.

  Chapter 9

  “Did you see those nails?” Sam shouted, shaking Emily’s shoulder.

  Emily gasped for air. “What was it? What did it want?”

  “I don’t know but what if it comes back?” Sam shook his head. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”

  They exchanged looks. Sam grabbed Emily’s hand and pulled her up the stairs to his room. He locked the door and shut the curtains.

  “I think we should get Dad,” Sam said, his face as white as a ghost’s.

  “Not before Mum arrives.” Emily pushed her chin out defiantly. Nothing, not even the weird creature out there, was going to spoil her plans to get her parents back together.

  Sam’s lips trembled as he plopped down on the bed. “What do you think it wants?”

  “I don’t know.” Emily
let out a long breath. “But I saw it in the backyard a few days ago.”

  Her brother’s eyes popped wide open. “Really? You can sleep here tonight, okay?”

  “That’s because you’re afraid alone,” Emily said with a sneer.

  “That’s not true!”

  Emily snorted. Of course, it was. He just wouldn’t admit it. Now she had something to taunt him for the rest of their short time in Scotland.

  ***

  In spite of the freaky incident, Emily fell asleep as soon her head hit the pillow. The next morning, she woke up to something licking her face. She opened her eyes and, to her amazement, found the black cat from the previous night cuddled up next to her.

  “Oh, it’s you again. What’s your name?” Emily whispered, stroking the cat’s chubby head. The cat gazed at her through intelligent eyes. “What’s that?” Emily parted the fluffy fur to reveal a dirty silver tag wrapped around his neck. “Sol—ace. You’re Solace. What a beautiful name. Pleased to meet you.” The cat meowed in response and snuggled closer. “Well, Solace, shall we find you something nice to eat, then?”

  Emily jumped out of the bed and went to her room. After she put on a clean shirt and a pair of jeans, she climbed down the stairs to the kitchen. There was no one about. The house seemed a little too quiet for a Sunday morning. Where was everyone?

  She prepared two bowls of cereal, one for herself, the other for Solace. The cat lapped up the milk. Emily took only a few bites and then pushed the bowl aside when she saw the note on the kitchen counter. She jumped up and walked over to read it.

  Went grocery shopping. Be back soon. Behave. Dad

  Okay, so her father wasn’t here, but where was Sam? And where was her mother? Emily frowned and tossed the note in the bin when she heard the entrance door slam shut and heavy footsteps moving toward the kitchen.

  “Good you’re awake,” Sam said upon entering. He plopped down in a chair and took a mouthful of cereal.

 
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