“I can’t believe I came all the way to Scotland for this wild goose chase.”
Jerry looked up from his iPad and glared at Devin.
“We will either find the answer, or prove it’s a myth,” he said. “Either way, we’ll have an episode for Mysterious Castles.”
Devin turned and looked over the facade of Glowers Castle as Jerry continued.
“People have said for years there are more windows on the outside than the inside, and now we have the proof.” Jerry pointed to the screen. “The CAD analysis says there are 67 windows outside, but the maps of the interior only indicate 66, so it’s true,” he said. “There’s a secret room, and we’re going to find it.”
Devin shook his head as he looked at the castle. “What a ramshackle hodgepodge.”
“Yes, but when I overlay the interior map with the scan of the exterior, we should see a mismatch, and that will tell us where the hidden room is.”
“Is anyone in residence?
“No, the Earl is in Edinburgh and the staff is off for the holiday,” said Jerry. “We have the whole place to ourselves, for one day.”
“Well, that’s good,” said Devin. “We won’t be embarrassed.”
Jerry stared at the picture and snapped his fingers. “There! It shows up clearly!”
Devin ran around him and looked over his shoulder.
“That small window where the oldest part of the castle transitions to the medieval priory. It doesn’t show up on the inside map.”
Devin picked up his camera equipment. “Let’s go then.”
The two walked into the castle, with Jerry holding the iPad and leading the way. “Stay close behind me, this place is a maze.”
They went up a few cramped staircases and down some narrow halls until they stood next to a large and wide wooden staircase.
“This leads to the level where the Lord and Lady had their private quarters in the 17th century,” said Jerry.
Devin started to climb the stairs, but Jerry waved him back.
“Actually, from what I can tell, that window is on this level, right here.”
“You mean the secret room is under the staircase? Just like Harry Potter, I suppose?”
Jerry walked around a wall and into a hallway. “Let’s go into this study here.”
Devin followed Jerry and pointed. “That bookcase–records show the middle section opens into a small hidden space.”
Devin put the camera down, and walked over. He tugged at it the bookcase, then yanked it. It swung open.
“This is the secret room? It’s tiny.”
“No, it’s an old priest hole,” said Jerry. “This is well-known, it’s not what we’re looking for.
“Yes, there’s no window,” said Devin as he walked inside.
“You have the tape measure. How deep is it?”
Jerry frowned. “This may be what kept people off from finding the real secret room.”
“What makes you say that?”
Jerry peered at the iPad. “The internal map shows the staircase is 26 feet wide. There’s 16 horizontal feet unaccounted for under the staircase.”
He looked up. “See if there is a door on panel the far wall.
Devin began to pound and push on the old boards. “Hey, it sounds hollow here,” he said. He pried outward with his fingertips along an edge. It jiggled. He then pushed inwards. The board swung back
“We found it!” he said.
The doorway and ceiling were only six feet high. The light was extremely dim but they could see on the outside wall a small narrow window.
“We did it man,” said Jerry. “After hundreds of years, we’ve found the secret room!”
He looked inside. “Brilliant. Hiding a secret room behind another secret room!”
“Oh, my god, this is awesome,” said Devin, as he stepped outside and came back with the camera. Jerry shone the flashlight around the interior of the small room.
As Devin walked back inside with the camera, Jerry put his hand on his chest. “Ok, brace yourself.”
“What’s the matter?”
“Look.” Jerry shone the beam of light along the dark floor until it came to a desiccated corpse.
“Yes, now we know the secret. Somebody was sealed up in here,” said Jerry. He bent over. “From the style of his clothes, I’d say maybe the Regency Period.”
“His hair was long and white, he was pretty old,” said Devin. “Look at the way he’s clutching his chest.”
“Yes, it looks like he was in pain. He probably died of a heart attack”
“In that case, what was he doing in this secret room, alone,” said Devin, as he shone his own flashlight around the interior. “Oh, damn!”
Jerry pointed his flashlight in the same direction and saw the light gray recumbent figure of a young woman.
They walked over. “This is a tomb,” said Jerry.
“I wonder why the body was laid out on a couch?”
“Probably some kind of secret burial,” said Jerry. “It’s very well preserved, she was obviously embalmed. This old fellow must have had something to do with it, and he dropped dead one day while visiting.”
“Maybe some old lover he kept secret to avoid scandal,” said Devin.
“Her dress definitely looks Regency,” said Jerry.
“So what do we do now?”
“We need to take all kinds of footage, because when we leave we have to notify the authorities we found two corpses,” said Jerry. “We’ll probably never get another chance to get back in here.”
He pointed to the camera. “Get footage, while I look for clues.”
Devin picked up the camera and pointed to the corpse of the old man on the floor. Jerry looked it over.
“Dang, I don’t dare go through the pockets, I’d be interfering with police investigation,” he said. “Get a clear image of his face. Maybe we can identify him from some old painting or record of some kind.”
A moment later, Devin swung the camera around.
“Now, it should easy to identify her,” he said. “She’s perfectly preserved, she looks like she’s just asleep.”
The camera’s bright light shone across the young woman’s body. As the beam touched her face, her eyelids fluttered.
Devin looked at Jerry. “That’s creepy, I didn’t know a corpse could react to light.”
Jerry walked over and peered at her face. “I must be hallucinating, but I swear her nostrils flared.”
He looked back at Devin. “She can’t be breathing, can she?”
“Get out your cell phone, it has that real annoying high pitched alarm,” said Devin.
Jerry pulled it from his pocket and punched a button. He held it close to her head.
Ding! Ding! Ding!
Everything went dark as Devin dropped the camera. “She opened her eyes!”
Jerry shone his flashlight in her face. She squinted and groaned.
“Oh, my god, she’s alive,” said Jerry.
She tried to form words but only rasped. Jerry reached in a pocket of his jacket and pulled out a plastic water bottle. He held it to her lips. He reached a hand behind her head and tilted it upwards as she took a sip.
He saw the gray pallor was a thin layer of dust, which fell away as she moved. He looked back at Devin. “Give me a hand here, let’s carry her outside.”
Jerry put his arms under her shoulders, as Devin took her legs. They carefully slipped through the door and out the priest hole into the spacious study.
They set her down gently on a couch. She blinked at the light.
“Doctor… Doctor Esporte!” she gasped.
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” said Jerry. “I think your friend is dead. We found a body on the floor of that small room.”
She blinked a few times and looked at the two men. “Then I thank you,” she said very thoughtfully. “For finding me.”
“What were you doing with the old man in the hidden room?’ asked Devin.
“Dr. Esporte is a mesmerist,” she said. She began to look around. “Where is Lord Roger? You won’t tell him, will you?”
“Who is Lord Roger?” asked Jerry.
“Gentlemen, this is his estate, Lord Roger Meribel, and I am Lady Meribel. How would you not know this? Are you robbers?”
Jerry knelt down so he could look her in the face. “Lady Meribel, did Doctor Esporte put you in a hypnotic trance?”
“Yes, he said he could help me,” she said, looking towards her hands. “You see, my Lord wanted an heir, and I am afraid of childbirth. But I wanted to make him happy, and one of my Ladies in Waiting said the Doctor could use his powers of animal magnetism to put my mind at ease.”
“So you arranged for him to treat you in a secret room, so no one would know,” said Jerry.
“Yes, he said when I awoke, my fear would be gone. The last I recall, I drifted off to a peaceful and blessed rest,” she said. “Where is the Doctor?”
“When we found the room, it was apparent from the Doctor’s posture on the floor he suffered a heart attack,” said Jerry. “You were still asleep on the couch.”
“Goodness, then, how long was I asleep? I am covered in dust!”
“What day was it when you met with Doctor Esporte?”
“It was May 14th,” she said.
Jerry took a deep breath. “What year?”
She looked him up and down, and then looked at Devin.
“Your apparel…” she stammered.
“What year, Milady?”
“Eighteen hundred and eighteen.”
Jerry looked back at Devin, who rolled his eyes. He looked back at Lady Mirabel.
“The Doctor was good at his calling, he certainly gave you a good rest.” He laid his hand on hers. “You have been asleep one hundred ninety-seven years.”
“That is not possible!”
“I’m afraid it is, and if I recall the history of this castle correctly, once you disappeared they assumed you had fled because of some–what was the term used?–‘marital infelicity’. The Lord spent considerable resources trying to find you, to no avail. He later remarried, but was childless, and upon his death the estate was passed to his younger brother,” said Jerry. “Whose descendants possess it today.”
She took his hand. “Help me sit up.”
She swung her feet onto the floor. “I am very thirsty.”
Jerry looked at Devin. “I’ll get the cooler from the van,” he said.
After Devin left, she stared at Jerry. “Is this possible?”
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
“You quote the Bard of Avon,” she said. “You are a man of some erudition.” She shifted forward. “So does the King of England still sit on his throne?”
“You have a Queen, Elizabeth the Second,” he said.
“Wondrous, a proud name reborn. Are you an American?”
“Yes, is it that obvious?”
“You speak fluently but strangely, you can only be an American.”
Devin walked in with a small cooler. He set it down and opened it.
“We have some cold water,” said Jerry.
Devin handed her a dripping bottle of water. She grasped it, then quickly let go.
“Oh, my!” she said as it bounced onto the floor.
“What is it?” asked Jerry.
“The glass is soft, I thought I crushed it!” She stared at the bottle in amazement.
Devin picked it up. “It’s not glass, it’s made of plastic.”
“It certainly is plastic,” she said as she took it again. Jerry unscrewed the cap.
She took a sip and looked at the pair. Devin raised an eyebrow, but Jerry spoke up. “We’re not gentlemen, Milady, you can gulp if you wish!”
She nodded and quickly drained the bottle. She held it out.
“Another one, please.”
As she drank, Devin leaned over to Jerry. “So what do we do now?”
“Nobody will believe her story, and she’ll be trotted off to the loony bin,” he said. “And wait until we get away from the castle. She’ll freak out at the 21st century outside. That will only make it worse.”
“So what do we do?”
“Yes, gentlemen, what do we do?”
They both turned and realized she had heard them. “I would suppose you think because I am a woman you can just pretend I’m not here,” she said. “My hearing is quite excellent.”
She stood up. “One reason I feared childbirth was because it killed a woman I greatly admired, Mary Wollstonecraft.”
“Why does that name sound familiar?” asked Devin.
“She was the mother of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, who wrote ‘Frankenstein,'” said Jerry.
“Frankenstein! I just read a book last week about the German student of science, Frankenstein,” she said. “But the author was ‘Anonymous’.”
“Mary Shelley put her name on it a few years later,” said Jerry. “It’s still a very famous book. If you admired her mother, you must have read ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’,” said Jerry.
“Yes, I did, in private, of course,” she said. “It was my desire to solve my own dilemma that led me to seek help from Doctor Esporte.”
“Wasn’t Lord Meribel of any help?”
“Men of his class do not have any sympathies for their wives.”
“Time has changed, but then some things perhaps haven’t,” said Jerry. “Come with us, we will help you into this ‘undiscovered country’.”
Devin coughed. “So you have some sort of plan, Jerry?”
She smiled. “Yes, Jerry, what is your plan?”
“Excuse me, I never introduced myself.” He held out a hand. “Jerry Brandt.”
Devin leaned forward. “Devin Cataldo.”
“I am Amelia Priefert, Lady Meribel,” she said. She held out her hand.
Jerry kissed it, and then took it gently.
“Let’s get out of here before anyone returns.”
As they stepped outside, she stopped and stared.
“What kind of metal carriage is that?”
“It’s called a van,” said Devin.
“Where are your horses?”
Jerry looked at Devin. “We’ll explain that once we’re inside.”
Devin opened the driver’s door. “Where are we going?”
“Remember the cottage with the ‘For Let’ sign we saw on the way here?”
Devin rapped sharply on the wooden door.
Jerry opened it and smiled. “Dev, you made it! Come inside. Amy was just making some tea!”
Devin walked in and took off his cap. “Wow, this place looks great, I wouldn’t have recognized it.”
“Looks much better than when you last saw it doesn’t it?”
“The last time I saw you, you were sitting in this falling down cottage, with rain coming through the room, with one light bulb and no gas,” said Devin.
“And no income,” said Jerry. “Just my meager savings.”
Amy wiped her hands on a dish towel at the sink.
“It’s good to see you again, Devin!”
He walked over and gave her a hug.
“You both look great. How’s domestic life treating you?”
“Couldn’t be better,” said Jerry. “Pull up a seat.”
Amy brought over a teapot. “Would you like to have some scones?”
“Love to, it’s a long drive out here. I’m famished.”
Jerry waved a hand. “As you can see, we’ve have the place remodeled with the money Amy’s made.”
“Is that a microwave I see in the corner?” asked Devin
“Jerry has been introducing me to the modern world these past two years,” she said. “I even watch the telly, and I’ve learned a lot from it.”
“I also gave her an old-fashioned typewriter, which she can more than handle,” said Jerry.
“I noticed,” said Devin.
“Its workings are wonderful, with the keys and springs and rollers,” she said. “But Jerry says in a year or so I will be using a computer and be completely modern.”
Devin reached inside his coat and pulled out a shiny hardcover book.
“I picked this up at Symposium Books. ‘Through a Beveled Pane’ by Amy Glower.”
He handed it to Amy. “You wrote this, Lady Amelia?”
“Yes, I have. When Jerry showed me how to use the type-writer machine, whose function I very quickly grasped I knew there was a way for me to easily set down my recollections.”
“We were starving, and then suddenly I realize I have the epitome of a Regency author at my fingertips. As she types the pages, I scan them and turn them into text,” said Jerry. “Then I edit and proofread. You’ve seen the finished product.”
“But how did you sell this to a publisher, Lady Amelia?”
“I didn’t, Jerry did.”
“Amy Glower’ is my pen name,” said Jerry. “Amy doesn’t exist. She can’t really exist, a young woman with no documentation in the modern world.”
“The book is getting fantastic reviews,” said Devin.
“Yes, and you can see what we’ve been able to do with the money rolling in,” said Jerry. “It’s been a life saver.”
Devin smiled. “I almost dropped my coffee when one reviewer wrote, ‘The accuracy and attention to detail is astounding. It’s almost like being there.'”
“Of course, I was there,” said Amy.
“You’re going to be the next Queen of the Regency Romance,” said Devin. “But where did you get the plot line?”
She laughed. “Oh, that’s a true story that anyone at the time would have recognized,” she said. “But it is of no matter now. Everyone is dead. I simply changed the names.”
“Now that we have an income, we hope to start a family,” said Amy. “Times are freer now, no one cares that we live as man and wife without benefit of clergy.”
“Who’s your literary agent?”
“We don’t have one yet, we sold it through a open submissions slush pile,” said Jerry. “We need to sign one up.”
“Hey, remember I interned at a literary agency when I was in college,” said Devin. “I can be your agent.”
“That’s a great idea, since you’re in on our little secret anyway!” said Jerry.
“We would be honored if you represented our literary interests,” said Amy.
“It’s a deal then!” said Devin as he shook their hands.
He reached over and flipped open the book. “Will you sign it for me?”
Lou Antonelli started writing fiction in middle age; his first story was published in 2003 when he was 46. He’s had 105 short stories published in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, India and Portugal in venues such as Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jim Baen’s Universe, Tales of the Talisman, Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine, Greatest Uncommon Denominator (GUD), Daily Science Fiction, Buzzy Mag, and Omni Reboot, among many others.
His collections include “Fantastic Texas” published in 2009; “Texas & Other Planets” published in 2010; and “The Clock Struck None” and “Letters from Gardner”, both published in 2014. His debut novel, the retro-futurist alternate history “Another Girl, Another Planet”, was published in Jan. 2017 by WordFire Press.
His story “Great White Ship”, originally published in Daily Science Fiction, was a 2013 finalist for the Sidewise Award for alternate history. His short story “On a Spiritual Plain”, originally published in Sci Phi Journal, was a finalist for the Hugo award in 2015.
His first professional science fiction short story, “A Rocket for the Republic” (Asimov’s Science Fiction Sept. 2005) was the last story accepted by Editor Gardner Dozois before he retired after 19 years.
“The Yellow Flag” his 100th published short story (Sci-Phi Journal Aug. 2016) set the record for all-time fastest turnaround in genre fiction. It was written, submitted and accepted between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on May 6, 2015
A Massachusetts native, Antonelli moved to Texas in 1985 and is married to Dallas native Patricia (Randolph) Antonelli. They have three adopted furbaby children.
You can visit his blog at This Way to Texas or his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/lou.antonelli.3
Image by Nick Bramhall