NaNoWriMo 2020: Episode 23

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(Read a summary of the story up to now here. Or start at the beginning here.)

Her breath is ragged now that the first shock is turning deliberately into a cold dread that fills her from her chest outwards to the tips of her fingers and sinks to the soles of her feet. She struggles to keep her head above the flood, closes her eyes and waits for the rush in her ears to subside. Calm down calm down, she tells herself over and over until she can force her mind to believe her own words. The fatigue of only a few hours sleep and the weirdness of the past few days is catching up with her and no number of kittens is going to displace this unease.

Slowly Helena bends down and picks up the corner of the cloth between two fingers. Every fibre of her being is screaming at her not to do it, and terror is still coursing through her veins, but she knows that it will continue to do so even if she leaves the bundle be and walks on. After all, until she knows what is under there, she can not know that it will not come at her from behind. And so she pulls until the wrinkles in the cloth begin to shift and the cloth falls to one side on the floor. Helena lets out the breath that she only now notices she had been holding.

Glass eyes stare at her and the ceiling as she tips all of the contents of the sack onto the floor and she almost laughs out loud. A number of soft toys tumble to the floor. Helena giggles and checks the row where she is standing. There is a gap near the ceiling where the sack probably had been stacked. There are boxes on the shelves with hastily scribbled labels: ‘Sinterklaas’. They are leftover toys from last year’s family festival! At least the Trust doesn’t waste them, Helena thinks as she kicks the toys aside and walks on.

There are rows upon rows of archive boxes in the cellar. They become increasingly dusty as she walks on, until finally she almost walks into the wall at the far end. Her feet kick something else aside in the dark. Investigation with the phone light shows a small plastic box and some kind of saucer. Mouse poison! And also against insects, probably. Her searching light shows more of the boxes around the cellar. She turns into the row and follows the labels with light, her finger leaving a dark trail on the grey cardboard. 1922… 1921… 1920! There is only one box of those early years, and the last box, at the top of the rack in the back of the row, exactly where it should be, is the box she is looking for. Helena puts her phone in her pocket so it emanates only a sliver of light, and takes hold of the box. It is surprisingly heavy. She puts it on the floor and opens it.

Voices! All of a sudden, she hears the two men descending the stairs together. Rick is still babbling but the night guard is now talking forcefully back. Their footsteps are loud on the floor of the entrance hall. By the sound of it they are walking to the front doors. She must not get locked in with the guard! Helena starts pitching the contents of the box to the floor and starts reading the papers one by one, hoping and praying to find the one she needs quickly. Maps, permits, hunting licenses! Not what she needs so she keeps digging and sorting. There! There it is, the deed to the grounds and the house… and finally she finds it: the original agreement between Theodore Craay and the Hertogsbos Trust. Panting like a wild animal, she snaps pictures of the separate pages. No time to read it all now! The men are still talking, but she can also hear the clatter of keys on wood. Is he opening the front door now? Panic rising like lava in a volcano, Helena stuffs the old documents back into the box. They crumple and she finds herself apologising to the old paper. Tears are streaming down her face. What is she even doing here? Has she gone completely insane?

Helena puts the box back in its place and starts to run towards the door. Halfway down the cellar her foot catches on something and she stumbles and slams hard into the wall. Lights go off before her eyes and she needs a moment to adjust. The voices have stopped. Have they heard her? Will the guard come to investigate? Can Rick stop him if he does? She catches her breath again, listening intently.

“What was that?” The guard.
“What?” Rick.
“That noise man! Where did it come from?”
“You mean the books that fell in my room upstairs?”
“Was that it?”
“Must have been! You dragged us downstairs so damn quickly, I hardly had time to put everything back properly!”
“Where are you going?”
“Going to check. I don’t want the chairman to think I leave my office messy, do I?” Bless Rick and his sneaky personality!
“You come here! There is a car out there I need to check on and I can’t leave you alone in this building! Come back now!”

But Rick’s footsteps are already climbing the stairs at speed, and the guard has no choice but to follow. As soon as Helena hears how they reach the first landing she dashes to the door. The hallway is empty now and she crosses the distance to the front door quickly and silently. Then she hesitates. Didn’t the guard say that there was a car outside? Still, what choice does she have? Opening the door slightly, she slips out and closes it quickly again, then dives into the bushes of the front garden.

It is about half a minute later that Rick is flying down the front steps and nearly falls face-down into the gravel. “Oy!” he calls, “no need for this sort of thing!” He is clutching a briefcase under one arm, and raises his first with his other. “You can’t do this! I am executive!”

“Well you can just… just…” Henry is struggling to find words in his fury, “You can just executive your way out of here, you hear me?” He slams the door behind him and leaves Rick standing in the light of the garden lanterns. “Psst!” Helena beckons from behind the greenery, but Rick shakes his head almost imperceptibly and starts walking in the direction of the parking lot. Something moves behind the window of the house and casts a shadow on the front lawn. Rick walks all the way down to the car, then gets in, actually waves at the figure behind the window like it were an old friend, and drives off. At the exit of the parking lot he seems to dawdle, turns his blinkers to go left towards the giftshop but that is not the way out and the guard knows it, then switches to the right and drives off down the lane.

All becomes quiet again outside the house until the door opens again and Henry the night guard steps out of the house. He is panting and trembling slightly as he turns to lock the door behind him. Inside, the alarm light is blinking its angry red light. He hesitates at the top of the front steps but he has no choice. He turns his torch on and starts walking towards the only parked car still left on the parking lot. It happens sometimes, youngsters looking for a quiet place to park together, but you can never be sure and those kids are never happy to get caught. But this is not that kind of car. This is an expensive car, black with gleaming chrome accents, the kind of car that is built to impress. As Henry gets closer and shines his light on the windows to announce his arrival, and give anyone a chance to pull some clothes on, he sees two things. One, there is nobody in the car. Two, there is a deep scratch across the hood of the car, like something heavy was dragged over it.

Rick is cursing softly. His shoes are ruined, and the hems of his pants are covered in mud. “I want Greyskull for this, you hear me!”
Helena nods. “You can have Greyskull.”
“And maybe also She-Ra, the way this is going!”
“She-Ra and the basket and blanket, I promise.”
They are sitting side by side with their backs against the high windows of the café. The meadow with the pond where Helena has seen the heron catch the frog just a few days ago, is now rippling quietly in the evening air. Sometimes a car passes on the main road at the end of the lane. Otherwise all is quiet.
“Well? Have you found anything?”
Helena is scrolling through the pictures in her phone. “It is a bit hard to make out! The pictures are not all sharp-“ she shakes her head “-and the print is also not very clear anymore. That was old stuff! Original documents, if you can believe it.” She peers closer at the screen and magnifies various parts of the photos.
“Good ink they used then” Rick says.
“Both ink and paper. No acid, all paper still there” Helena adds almost without thinking. “Very little discolouration.” She sighs. “And I stuffed it into that box like it was last Tuesday’s paper.”
“Yes yes but what does it say?” says Rick impatiently, “And also will you tell me why you wanted to see this in the first place?”
Helena shakes her head. “No. I cannot make you a further part of this, Rick.” She turns to him and looks at his face in the faint light of the stars and moon. His eyes are looking for meaning. And they are looking to belong, she realises, to be a part of something that isn’t just him. She looks at the young man and realises that she never saw before how he was trying to prove himself, how he was constantly looking to be seen by her and Marina, how he was trying to get them to validate his actions and opinions. Well no, she did see that, but it had always seemed to her to be a part of his need to exert power – not as she sees it now, his need to be worthy of the power that they have over him. He looks, in short, like a puppy.

And, Helena thinks, as sweet as a puppy may be, you still don’t show it how to open the box of kibble.
“I am sorry Rick, but I can’t tell you all of it. But-” she holds up the phone screen “-I can tell you parts of it!”
“What can you tell me now then?” He looks hurt. “Although I still think you should let me in on all of it. Marina said something about a light-up necklace or something. What is that about?” he asks, “Look, I risked my job just now!” he continues as Helena silently shakes her head, “Probably still do. And I completely ruined my shoes walking through this stupid field to get to you from the car” he sulks.
“I know, and thank you for joining me again. I felt very frightened by myself in the cellar and I am extremely grateful for what you have done for me. Believe me, I owe you. More than the kittens, possibly.”
He nods reluctantly. “Right. Well tell me what you can tell me then.”
Helena holds up the phone again. “I can tell you, now, under what conditions the Hertogsbos estate was given away to the Trust!” She looks triumphant, but this is not reflected in her audience.
“This is interesting… how?”
“It is interesting if you want to know about the relationship between the estate and the man who gave it away. And his descendants.”
“Why? Are they reclaiming it?”
“They wish! But no. Not actively anyway. And how could they even?”
“I have never seen one of them in the house anyway,” Rick says, thinking. “I had kind of assumed they were all dead.”
“They are most definitely not dead. Well, one of them isn’t at least. I met him last night in Amsterdam. And his car is parked on the other side of this café on the parking lot. Where our friend the night guard just checked it out but was unable to find anything or anyone.”
“That is his car?” Rick makes to get up to catch a glimpse of the car around the corner but Helena pulls him back to the ground.
“Yes! I recognised it among other things by the rather singular decoration on its hood, courtesy of my bike pedal, but there is something peculiar about him showing up here.”
“Apart from coming to the nature park in the dark when it is closed, you mean?”
“Well that is also peculiar,” Helena says evasively, “but what I mean is that he is actually not allowed to be in the park. Or on the former estate, to be more specific.” She waves the phone, its screen casting a blue sheen on her shining face. “He is a descendant of the original owner of the estate, you see? And as such he is strictly forbidden to enter the grounds ever again!”
“Yet here he is?”
“Yet here he is. And up to no good, I am sure.”
“By the power of Greyskull…”

tl;dr Helena snuck into the house – with help from Rick – and took pictures of the original documents, that show that no descendants of the Craay family are ever to set foot on the estate again. Also, a dark car with a deep scratch over its hood has shown up in the parking lot long after closing hours…

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