She stood at a crossroads where four hallways came together. She frowned and looked down each identical corridor. The back of her neck itched; it felt like the eyes of long-dead people in the portraits on the walls were watching her. Clenching her hands into fists and stamping her foot, she screamed, “Let… me… out!” Her words echoed down the hallways, “Out, out, out… ” She leaned her back against the wall and slumped to the floor. It felt like she’d been searching for a way out for years. Pulling her knees to her chest, she hid her face and cried.
Persephone whistled. “This place is huge!” She spun around staring up at the enormous glittering chandelier that hung from the vaulted ceiling above the foyer.
Kay’s face was hidden behind a glossy information booklet about Alston castle. “And super haunted! Look, Persie,” Kay said as she waved the brochure in Persie’s face.
Persie laughed. “I’m just here for the amazing Gothic architecture.”
Kay rolled her eyes. “Boring! I’m just here for the ghosts.” She turned and tiptoed away from the tour group.
Persie grabbed Kay by the hood of her bright red jacket as she snuck by. “Whoa there, ghost hunter. Don’t wander off. Mom gave me the car on the condition that I keep a close eye on you.”
“Awww, come on. We’ll never see any ghosts at this rate!” Kay pouted. “Besides, I won’t get lost. There’s a map.” She pointed to a small, tan-colored diagram of the castle on the back of the booklet. It had seven red numbers denoting the grand staircase and the six main rooms on the tour. Hallways crisscrossed the diagram in all directions, seemingly at random, making the map look like an abstract painting.
Persie took the booklet, turned it ninety, and then one hundred eighty degrees before crossing her eyes and sticking out her tongue. “Real helpful. We stay with the group.” She handed it back to Kay.
“Geez, you sound like Mom,” Kay said.
“And you sound like a child. You’re twelve. Act like it,” Persie said with her hands on her hips.
“Yup, just like Mom!” Kay said with a grin.
Persie opened her mouth to argue but Kay cut her off. “Ok, fine. Gimme your phone so I can take pictures. Maybe I’ll catch a ghost in one!”
Persie rolled her eyes. “Whatever, just don’t lose it.” She handed over her phone and they both followed behind the tour group.
The guide droned as she walked backward out of the foyer, “There are 217 rooms in Alston castle. This doesn’t include the carriage house, stables, keeps, and other buildings on the property. Stay close. Many corridors connect with three or four hallways at a time and can be quite confusing as you can see from the map.”
They passed the grand staircase and the twin marble statues that stood on either side. Each statue was of a woman who stood with her arms wrapped around a small girl. The girl had her face buried in the woman’s dress.
The group entered an enormous library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and three overstuffed blue wingback chairs. The room smelled familiar, like aging paper and leather. Persie perused the dozens of books on the shelf closest to her. She ran her fingers over the leather spines with a smile. Whoever had collected these books had chosen every one of her favorites including all of the Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes novels. Her fingertip lingered on the first Sherlock novel, A Study in Scarlet.
Persie turned to show Kay and frowned. Kay had been standing next to her a moment ago. Persie stood on her toes and scanned the tour group. She didn’t see a red coat anywhere. “Seriously?” she said under her breath. She stepped into the hallway and looked both ways. There was no sign of Kay. Movement in the room across the hall caught her eye; a shadow passed near the door. Persie narrowed her eyes and rehearsed the threats she’d use when she collared her errant sister.
She crossed the hall and entered an ornate sitting room. Four gold couches faced each other. “Wow!” she said, eyeing the buttercup yellow wallpaper, rugs, and curtains; they were the same delicate color she’d begged her mom to let her paint her bedroom. Kay was nowhere in sight. “Kay! This isn’t funny! We’re gonna get lost.” There was an open door at the other end of the sitting room. Persie turned to see the tour group exit the library and head down the hall. Noting which room they entered, she dashed across the sitting room and stepped through the door. She grinned. It was a billiards room containing five ornate green-felted tables. Heavy red drapes hung from the walls and the low-hanging chandeliers cast a soft, warm light. She sighed and looked longingly at the pool cues before shaking her head. Kay wasn’t here either.
“Kaylah Lenore Simons, come out now or I’ll make sure Mom grounds your ass good!” Persie hissed. There was only silence. Her mouth drawn in a tight line, she turned and trotted back to the sitting room. She skidded to a halt inside the doorway. Instead of the gold sitting room, there was an office with six drafting tables. Dark purple drapes were drawn tight. She moved to the nearest table and unrolled the blueprints. Each was a sketch of one of the seven areas on the castle tour. The next table had sketches for what Persie guessed was a museum or concert hall. She smiled and traced the lovely curving lines with her finger. “I’d love to design something just like this!” She winced. “Not if Mom kills me first.”
Persie hurried to the door at the other end of the room, hoping to find the hallway and library. She turned the handle but the door wouldn’t open. She slapped it with the palm of her hand before stomping back to the billiards room.
Poking her head inside, she saw the green tables and red curtains. There was a door at the other end. “I guess I got turned around.” She shrugged and walked to the door. She stepped through. Her mouth fell open. The room contained nothing—no furniture or rugs. Her skin tingled as a cold sweat broke out across her body. “What?”
She turned back toward the billiards room and gasped. The door was closed. “Kay? This is so not funny! You’ll be toast when I tell Mom!” She twisted the doorknob with trembling hands. The door opened with a creak. She peered in and her eyes went wide. Instead of the billiards room, it was the library. “How’d that happen?” Persie went inside and heard a click behind her. She spun around. The door was shut. She pulled in a shaky breath. “Kay?” she whispered. She pressed her ear to the door and listened. There was a bang as if a door slammed shut somewhere. Persie gasped. It was quiet for several minutes after.
She cracked open the door and fell back two steps. In place of the billiards room was a corridor. She leaned out while clutching the doorjamb as if the hallway might swallow her. She wrinkled her nose at the musty smell. In the dim light, she saw everything was covered in thick dust. The faded wallpaper was cracked and peeling in places. “Um… ” She chewed her bottom lip. There was a closed door to her left. It was the only one.
Persie tiptoed down the hall to the door. “Hello?” she said as she slowly opened it. It was dark inside. She hesitated a moment before stepping in. “Hello?” she whispered. The room seemed to be empty with no furniture or rugs, but the dim light from the hall couldn’t penetrate the thick shadows at the far end. She shivered in the chill, dank air. She took another step. And another. “Kay? Please be you.” The door clicked shut behind her, plunging her into complete darkness. She turned and pulled at the knob. It wouldn’t budge. “Let me out!” She banged on the door. There was a soft laugh behind her. All the hairs on her body stood on end. Persie whipped around, her back pressed hard against the door. The ice-cold knob dug into her hip. Her eyes were opened wide, but she couldn’t see anything. A floorboard groaned. She froze. She felt the air in front of her face move as if someone had walked past. She swallowed hard. Someone chuckled in her ear. She shrieked and yanked on the door. It opened. She stumbled into the hall.
She ran, turning down corridors at random. Nothing made sense. Some hallways were well-kept while others were full of cobwebs and decay. Some of the rooms she passed were dark and empty. Others were the same rooms repeating over and over: the library, billiards room, sitting room, and office. Persie tried to keep going in the same direction, hoping she’d come to an exit at some point, but the corridors kept branching in all different directions.
After passing the gold sitting room for what seemed to be the twentieth time, Persie came to a crossroads of four corridors. She stopped to look down each identical hallway before collapsing against a wall. She yelled as loud as she could, “Help! Please! Let me out!” Her cries echoed down the halls. She screamed until she was hoarse. No one came.
She swiped at the tears that crept down her face. She clenched her fists and yelled, “Fine! If you won’t let me out, I’m breaking out.” Persie marched to the nearest room, determined to climb out a window. She grasped the thick velvet drapes and yanked them open. “No,” she whispered. There was only a solid wood-paneled wall. She shook her head. “No!” she screamed.
Persie ran to the next room. It was the office. She threw open the purple drapes only to find another blank wall. “No! No!” She went to the next room—the gold sitting room. There were no windows behind the drapes. The next room was the billiards room. It also had no windows. She went to the next room and gaped. She was in the gold sitting room. Again.
Her shoulders slumped and her lower lip trembled. Persie stumbled to the nearest couch, collapsing on it. She had no idea how she would ever find Kay and get out. “I give up,” she whispered. She curled up and cried until she fell into an exhausted sleep.
Sometime later, a door slammed. Persie started awake. “I’m not falling for that again,” she said, sitting up and rubbing her gritty eyes. She yawned and stretched. A floorboard creaked in the hall. Persie froze. She stared wide-eyed at the doorway. Another creak. This one was right outside the sitting room.
She slid to the floor and crawled behind the couch farthest from the door. She lay down and peered underneath, leaning her cheek against the wool carpet. The dust made her nose itch; she breathed through her mouth. A shadow glided across the floor in the corridor. It stopped and moved again. Her heart battered her rib cage. Please be Kay! she thought. Minutes passed. Another door slammed. Persie covered her mouth to stifle a shriek. The sound was further away this time. She waited a while longer before standing and peeking out the door. No one was there. The hallway was silent. A few rooms away, there was a closed door.
Persie ran away from it. She passed through several intersections before she finally stopped, out of breath. She leaned over, panting. When she lifted her head, dozens of Persies stared back at her. She blinked and fell back against the wall. So did the other Persies. She walked into the room. “Woah,” she whispered. The walls were covered with mirrors. Even the floor and ceiling were mirrors. Seven small, mirror-topped tables were scattered around at random. She thought of the brochure and sighed. “The Room of Memories. This is what Kay wanted to see.” Some of the mirrors were cracked, the pieces further splitting Persie into hundreds of distorted fragments. She twirled and all of her fractured images spun with her; it was a dizzying effect that left her gasping.
She squinted at her reflections. “Yikes, I’m a mess,” she said, moving closer to the wall. As she smoothed down her unruly hair, her face blurred. Her eyes changed from gray to green to blue and back. Her nose grew longer, wider, shorter, and then narrower. Her hair grew wavy and then straight. Her face blurred again. She jumped back, squeezing her eyes shut. When she opened them, she looked normal. She touched her face. All the identical Persies did the same.
She shook her head, turned to leave, and stopped. Something shiny on top of one of the tables caught her eye. On the nearest table was a large silver key. She picked it up, turning it over in her hand. There was a tiny word engraved on the otherwise plain key: Foyer. A door slammed somewhere. She jumped. In the mirrors, she saw a flash of bright red streak down the hall. “Kay! Come back!” Persie spun around and sprinted after her.
No matter how fast Persie ran, Kay stayed ahead of her. All Persie could see were snatches of scarlet every time Kay turned down another hallway. “Stop!” Persie yelled. The narrow walls of the corridor gradually widened until she entered the foyer. The grand staircase and its twin statues loomed behind her. “Where are you? Stop running, dammit!” She turned about but there was no sign of Kay.
Persie glimpsed a glowing green light on the far wall. She jumped up and down with a laugh; it was an exit sign pointing to her right. She followed it to the giant oak doors that marked the entryway of the castle. There was a thick chain running through the handles with a silver lock as big as her head. Persie reached out to tug on the lock. “The key!” She was still holding it. With trembling hands, she slid the key into the lock and turned it. The lock screeched as the tumblers released. It opened, crashing to the floor with a bang. Persie smiled and moved to open the doors.
She turned. Kay stood at the top of the grand staircase.
“Where the hell have you been? We need to get outta here!” Persie shouted.
“No,” Kay said.
Persie frowned. “Come on, I’ve been lost all day. I thought I was losing my mind. I wanna go home. Now!” She moved toward the bottom step.
A fleeting smile passed over Kay’s face. She looked at her feet and sighed. “You can’t leave, Persie.”
“I’m sorry. It’s been so long since–” Kay sighed again and pushed back her brown hair. Gray streaks appeared in it. She grew several inches in height. Wrinkles emerged around her eyes and mouth. Her shoulders stooped.
Persie’s eyes widened. “What’s happening?” she said, backing away.
“Alston was our favorite place. I liked to pretend it belonged to just you and me. So I made a replica.” She tapped her temple with her index finger. “I wanted to remember everything about you. Everything you loved.” Kay glanced at the statues and smiled. “Remember how you would hold me like that when I had nightmares?”
Persie opened her mouth and then closed it. She nodded.
Kay’s smile slipped into a frown. “Time destroys everything. It chipped away at our castle, year after year. Now it’s just a jumbled maze of ghosts,” she said. Tears pooled in her eyes. “I can barely remember what you look like.”
Persie’s hands were clasped so tight, her knuckles were as white as the marble statues. Her body trembled. “I don’t understand,” she whispered.
“I know. I’m sorry. It’s been fifty years and I still can’t let you go. I love you, my dear sweet Persephone.” Kay smiled again as tears ran down her face. Thin cracks appeared on her body. They lengthened until they covered every inch of her. They grew wider. A blinding bright light shone out of them. Then her body exploded into thousands of sparkling mirror fragments that tinkled as they hit the ground. They flowed down the steps, making the grand staircase look like a waterfall of diamonds.
“Kay!” Persie stepped forward, reaching out for her little sister. Tears poured down her face. She blinked. The docent standing behind her droned on about the contents of the library while pointing to the floor-to-ceiling shelves full of books.
Persie ran her fingers over the leather spines of the books and smiled; they were all her favorites.
She turned and scanned the room.
Kay wasn’t there.
Something moved in the room across the hall.
“Kay? Come back, you’re gonna get lost!” Persie hissed as she chased the shadow of her sister.