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Authors: Janet B. Taylor

Into the Dim (7 page)

BOOK: Into the Dim
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London 121154.04

 

A bundled series of color-coded wires ran along the wall. On this end, they spread out, terminating at the backs of the powerful computers. The other ends disappeared through a small hole in the bricks, near the door.

I stepped toward the row of tall cabinets. A series of black cords emerged from the side, plugged into several wall sockets behind them. As I cupped my hands to peer through one of the frosted glass doors, I felt a hum, then a click and hiss as pressure from my hands caused a magnetic latch to release. The door swung open.

What. The. Frick?

Going down the row, I pushed on each door, until they all gaped open. Until I could see that inside each and every one hung a variation of the same thing.

Costumes. Very expensive, very authentic costumes. Organized by era and size, each lot labeled with three-by-five cards pinned to one sleeve.

 

LATE EIGHTEENTH. FR. COURT GOWN. W-SZ 6

300 B.C. SENATORIAL CLASS MATRON. W-SZ 14

EARLY TUDOR. MERCHANT CLASS. M-SZ 40L

 

Pull-out bins of matching hats and shoes lay beneath each set, along with stacks of coins from the corresponding era.

There must be hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stuff here,
I marveled as I thumbed a pile of ancient gold coins.

My fingertips traced the ivory lace of a frothy gown more ruffles than dress. A cowgirl getup with red leather boots. A scratchy wool cape trimmed in white fur. A starched white apron covering a severe black dress labeled
LATE SEVENTEENTH. AMERICAN QUAKER. W-SZ 12
.

The last cabinet held shelves of wigs secured to dummies' heads, the hair colors ranging from ebony to auburn to a silvery blond, their strands bundled in neat mesh nets.

I nipped at a ragged cuticle until I tasted blood.
Okay. Costumes. Hidden staircases. Underground computers.

The puzzle pieces rattled around in my head. No matter which way I turned them, nothing would click into place.

Cursing under my breath, I started shutting cabinets, hiding the evidence of my snooping. Just as the last one closed, a vibration pulsed up from the floor beneath my feet. It rolled up through my body.

Earthquake? Here? Oh God. Gotta get out. Gotta run. Move!

I couldn't. My body froze up as the files in my mind whipped through everything I'd ever read about earthquakes in the British Isles.

Uncommon. Little damage. The largest on record was a 6.1 on the Richter scale, back in 1931, and . . .

The colorful wires trembled as the vibration increased. A dozen of the lines on the monitor flashed to red. The airport board flipped by so fast, it made my eyes water. I opened my mouth to scream.

Then, abruptly, it all stopped. Everything went blessedly quiet, but oh, I was so done with this.

Whatever little scheme they had going on here, they could keep it. All I wanted was some answers about my mom, then I was outta here.

Peeking out into the wide, empty cellar, I rushed toward the stairs. The instant my foot hit the bottom step, I paused, trying hard to hear over the blood careening through my veins.

Oh. No.

Above my head, moving inexorably toward the hidden closet, came the clomp of heavy footsteps, and the unmistakable sound of whistling.

Chapter 7

T
HE CHEERY TUNE DREW CLOSER.
Adrenaline sparked on my tongue with a metallic tang.

I didn't know these people. But I had a strong hunch they wouldn't like it if they knew I'd been rummaging around in their bizarre secret . . . lair or whatever this was.

Breathless, I glanced back toward the long cellar that arced off into shadow.

Hide.

It was my only thought when I flew toward the far end, tripping as my slippers slapped the rough stone. I rounded the bend and skidded to a stumbling halt. Huge and round, blocking my retreat, stood the metal door of an enormous vault.

I had no time to analyze why there was a bank-size vault hidden beneath my aunt's home.

The rattling of brooms echoed toward me down the empty space. Frantic, I began punching random numbers on a back-lit keypad. When nothing happened, I slapped desperately at the small dark display panel rooted in the stone above it.

Oh crap. Oh crap. Oh crap. How am I gonna explain—

A red light sprang to life beneath my palm. I jerked my hand back just as the panel turned green. Words scrolled across the panel.
HOPE D. WALTON. IDENTITY ACCEPTED.

A metallic click sounded deep within the vault. I had to leap back to avoid getting smacked as the heavy door swung open on greased, noiseless hinges.

My jaw dropped. No time to wonder why the security system recognized me. A heavy tread now stomped down the wooden stairs at the other end of the cellar. I had no idea if they could see this far into the cellar or not. But I wasn't taking any chances. I bolted inside and grabbed the metal bar on the door's interior. I pulled. At first, it wouldn't budge. I jerked and heaved until finally the heavy steel swung back toward me.

Uhh . . . wait.

Too late. I couldn't stop the momentum. The door shut. The locks engaged with an ominous snick. And I was trapped in a cold cocoon of utter darkness.

Oh God. No air. No air. No air.

My diaphragm seized, smooshing my heart into a tiny space. It slammed in my throat like a captive bird trying to escape its cage. My lungs refused to work. Green dots throbbed at the edge of my vision.

Nearly retching in panic, I no longer cared if I was caught. I beat on the door, screaming for someone—anyone—to let me out, but my voice only echoed off the metal, swallowed by the black space and empty stone. For seconds—hours, maybe—I smashed my fists into steel, until my split knuckles ran sticky with blood.

My knees smacked the stone floor. A chill bled through the thin fabric of my robe as I tried to hold on to reason. I snatched at it, but it trickled through my fingers like sand. I lost my tenuous hold. White-hot pain seared through my brain as fear took me. In that instant, I was back inside the nightmare tree.

I lay curled inside the trunk of the hollowed-out tree. Outside, the snow-shrouded ground of a forest clearing sparkled silver with moonlight. Claw-like shadows skittered across the ground as a howling wind whipped the bare branches. I was little, and all alone except for the doll in my lap.

“Don't be scared, Elizabeth,” I whispered to her painted face. “He'll come back for us. He promised.”

A crack from overhead. I flinched, knowing what came next. It happened every time, but knowing didn't help. I couldn't stop it. An enormous, laden branch from high above gave under the clinging weight of ice and snow. It cascaded to the ground, bringing other thick branches with it. Everything went dark. I froze as something scurried across my hand. I cast my doll aside, shoving at the obstruction, but it wouldn't budge. I clawed at the thick wood until my hands bled. When something heavy and leggy dropped down into my hair, I began to thrash and shriek, ripping out handfuls of curls.

Only one thing had ever reached me once I was trapped in the nightmare tree. My mother's voice, leading me out of the darkness. Only she had ever been able to banish the fear and the frost.

Mom.

As I thought of my mother, a warm tendril began to thread through me. My mom was infuriating and stubborn, yes. But also tough and certain in everything she did. She made me feel safe. She made me feel loved. And
she
would never cower here, like a mindless pile of quivering goo, just waiting for rescue.

No.

She would find a way out. Nothing—nothing—ever scared Sarah Walton.

I stood on Jell-O legs and reached out. Blindly, I traced my way around the smooth edges of the vault door. When I touched rough stone, I kept going until my fingertips revealed the smooth plastic and reassuring bumps of a light switch.

I threw an arm over my eyes when a series of hanging fluorescent bulbs buzzed to life. My eyes adjusting to the glare, I stared around at the wooden crates and draped objects that filled the small chamber, which had been carved into bedrock. Booths of smoky glass stood on either side of the vault door. The right one was empty, but the left held a large object suspended on a rod with wires set into stone.

I blotted my stinging knuckles on my robe, then reached out to touch a card affixed to the glass.

 

ARTIFACT 5419. TAPESTRY 182 X 283 CM.

CREATED: FLANDERS/LONDON, 1153. ACQUIRED:

AT AUCTION, BATH, 1789. LC, MM1, CM.

 

Tapestry. Okay. So the second set of numbers are obviously dimensions. Roughly six feet by nine. The rest . . . some kind of code, maybe? Or was it the year? But why would anyone hide a priceless, nine-hundred-year-old artifact all the way down here?

The hermetically sealed door on the front of the booth hissed when I pulled it open. Muted light blinked on inside and cast a sheen over the silky drape covering the object. When I stepped inside and tugged on the slippery cloth, it whispered to the floor, making the horizontal rod sway back and forth. I blinked, my brain unable to parse what it was seeing. My vision tipped sideways. My shoulders hit the cool glass wall as I stumbled back, stunned.

It was a tapestry all right, the colors faded from smoke and wear. And it looked old. Very, very old.

Against a garden backdrop, two blond women in pink gowns stood on either side of a third, seated woman. The blondes stared into the distance, vague and forgettable.

But it was the red-haired woman in the middle who robbed my breath. Her ice-blue twelfth-century gown rippled across her knees, creating the illusion of motion. An opal pendant rested in the hollow between her collarbones. Blue eyes I knew as well as my own peered out of a wide, freckled face. She wasn't willowy like the others, and you couldn't quite call her pretty. Her jaw was too square and the features too strong. Her angry gaze burned through the weave as if she wanted me to feel her rage. The weavers who'd created this work of art had gotten it right. Down to the oblong mole on her neck and the Fourth of July burn scar through one auburn eyebrow.

All the air whooshed from my lungs as I stared into my mother's face, woven into an object that was nearly nine hundred years old.

Chapter 8

M
Y FINGERS REACHED UP TO TRACE THE COARSE FABRIC
of her cheek. “Mama?”

“What in blazes are
you
doing here?”

I whipped around so fast, my neck cracked. A man, dressed in a dark blue uniform that looked to be from the American Civil War, stood scowling at me from the doorway of the booth.

Shocked by his sudden appearance, not to mention the bizarre costume, I could only gape at him. I knew the door to the vault hadn't opened. I'd been facing it the whole time and would've seen it. Heard it.

So where on God's earth did he come from?

“How did you manage to find your way in here?” he said with an incredulous head shake. “You know Lucinda's going to have a right fit when . . .” He trailed off, and rolled wide-spaced eyes toward the ceiling, as if I was an irritating toddler caught playing in her mommy's makeup. “Come on. Get out of there.”

“I—” The words dried in my throat. What could I say?
Yeah, I've been prowling around in your little freak show. And someone better tell me what the hell is going on here.

As his lips tightened in annoyance, I committed bits of him to memory. A little older than me. Broad, sturdy features. Handsome enough, even with the scars of an adolescent bout of acne. The military cut of his straw-colored hair. The perfect posture. The strong jaw clenched in annoyance. Everything about the guy screamed control. Discipline. And irritation.

He also looked vaguely familiar. An image popped into my brain. A face from one of the pictures in the library. Though this guy was blond, his eyes hazel instead of blue, the resemblance to Phoebe's dead father, Michael MacPherson, was unmistakable.

So, this must be the famous Collum.

“You know what?” I shot a thumb over my shoulder at the hanging. “Don't worry about what I'm doing here. I just want to know what the hell
that
is supposed to be.”

“That”—a muffled voice spoke from behind a stack of crates—“is why I invited you here, Hope.”

The boy's frown deepened when the voice commanded, “Bring my niece out, Collum. Since she's here anyway, we might as well finish it.”

Finish it?

Oh, I so did not like the sound of that.

When the muscular Collum reached for my arm, I backed out of reach. With a disgusted snort, he stepped back out of the way. I paused, unable to make my feet move.

“Come on out, Hope,” called the shadowy voice, which, based on the “niece” reference, could only belong to my Aunt Lucinda. “There's no cause for alarm.”

No cause for alarm. Sure. You only caught me breaking into your secret hidden vault thingy.

But the truth was, my aunt's voice didn't sound angry. Just very, very tired.

Deciding to go on the offensive, I shoved past the boy and out of the booth. “Where have you been? I came all this way, and you . . .” My voice trailed off as my aunt stepped around the stack of crates and I took in what she was wearing.

Okay. No.

From the ruffled parasol slung over one shoulder to the wide taffeta skirts of her 1860s-era gown, my forty-eight-year-old aunt looked like a stocky, banana-yellow version of Scarlett O'Hara.

“Yes, well.” Blond ringlets from an obvious wig waggled around Lucinda's plump face as she cleared her throat. “I suppose you have questions.”

BOOK: Into the Dim
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