3.07: THE MANSION
“Where could she be then?” Clarke said, a tinge of panic creeping into his voice. He cupped his hand to his mouth. “Julie? JULIE??”
“Calm down,” Luci soothed. “We’ll find her. Whatever happened, she can’t have gone far.”
“Maybe Jeeves or Mimi saw something?” Frank hypothesized.
Clarke shook his head. “They’re not here. Jeeves is out servicing the car, and Mimi doesn’t spend much time around the house any more, outside of meal times. She’s not keen on the whole fractured family situation.”
“Then let’s check the external security system,” Luci reasoned. “That will tell us whether Julie left, and whether anyone else came.”
Clarke brought them to the security room, where a quick verification confirmed that there had been no activity outside of the mansion. “So where could Julie be?” Clarke said desperately. “And why did we hear her scream?!”
“Is she afraid of spiders, maybe?” Carrie mused.
“Unless?” Frank said, turning to Luci.
The small girl pursed her lips. “Unless it’s not a matter of where she is, so much as WHEN she is.”
“You think she was timenapped?” Clarke asked, eyes widening.
“We were here to set a fixed date for starting travel,” Frank agreed. “Yet for someone to take Julie, the time machine would need at least a few minutes to recharge, right?”
“Okay, so it stands to reason that if someone’s trying that, Julie’s still around, but maybe knocked out,” Carrie decided. “We need to split up and search the house, fast.”
“Whoa! Split up?” Frank protested. “But what if someone’s trying to pick us off one by one?”
Carrie rolled her eyes. “Fine, I’ll check upstairs with Clarke while you two horror movie maniacs scour the basement. Good enough?”
Frank seemed about to reply to her when Luci broke in. “Sounds good,” she agreed, grabbing Frank’s arm. “Let’s do that.”
Carrie nodded and headed for the back stairs with Clarke, even as Frank turned to look at Luci in surprise. “We’re going to take orders from her?”
“Come on, Frank,” Luci said. “Let’s have a talk in the basement.”
Luci tried to figure out exactly how to say what she wanted to say as they descended the stairs. She finally decided to go the direct route, as usual. “Frank,” she began as they reached the lower landing. “Why are you still freaking out about Carrie’s powers?”
He blinked. “Pardon?”
“The earlier comment about things flying through the air?” Luci said pointedly, even as she walked down the hall, opening the nearest door. “The flinching when Carrie talked about losing her mind? I thought we’d agreed that the remark to her father last weekend would be the last reference you’d make to Stephen King’s character.”
“I know. I’m sorry,” Frank apologized. “Still, the fact that we discovered that the fire at the cafe occurred when Carrie was there… well, it’s kind of a freaky coincidence, don’t you think? Like, maybe, subconsciously–”
“No!” Luci countered. “Don’t go there! Our Carrie is not some fictional character with mental issues and telekinesis, Frank. She’s our friend.”
“I know.” Frank peered inside a room where a file cabinet had been tipped over. “But we all saw what Carrie was capable of last year. And you know I’m not keen on the horror genre. So if you didn’t want me to act this way around her, why did you show me that movie in the first place?”
For a moment, Luci found herself at loss for words. Because she realized that Frank wasn’t wrong – some part of her had wanted him to act this way. What she ultimately said was, “Well, geez, Frank, why do you think I showed it to you?!”
“Luci, I’m not a mind reader.”
“Who says you have to be a mind reader??”
He gave her a look of confusion. So Luci clasped her hands in front of her chest and fluttered her eyelashes. “Oh, Carrie,” the young girl swooned. “Don’t go out with Glen, he might be bad news! Don’t worry, I’ll tail him for you, I’ll keep an eye on him, I’ll make sure he doesn’t do anything inappropriate!”
Frank’s eyebrows rose. “This is about me shadowing Glen?”
“Oh for goodness sakes, Frank, don’t you remember ANYTHING about our previous conversations?” Luci said in exasperation. Honestly, Frank was a wonderful guy, but how could anyone that smart also be so dense and unaware?!
Their basement searching ceased completely as Luci’s boyfriend peered more closely at her. “You mean… you really are jealous?”
“Oh, then you were listening. Amazing.”
“And so… you showed me the movie so that I’d be scared of Carrie, and run to you for support?”
So he’d been listening, but not understanding. “I showed you the movie so that you’d remember that someone like Carrie is capable of taking care of herself! So that you’d come to me, not for support, but because… because I’m important too. Even if I’m not the one with powers or a destiny.”
“What? But, of course you’re important, Luci! Why would you think otherwise?”
“Because, I don’t know, it’s like our relationship was stuck in second gear all summer,” Luci said. She found she couldn’t look at Frank directly any more. Was she perhaps in the wrong? “I thought coming back to school would reignite things, but instead you’re more interested in Carrie’s life than you are in mine.”
There was a pause. “I’m sorry, Luci, I never meant to give you that impression,” he said softly. “If you thought I was ignoring you, why didn’t you say something?”
“Oh, what the hell was I supposed to say?” Luci felt tears shimmering behind her eyelids. “A girl can’t simply tell a guy to dote on her, otherwise she’ll know he’s doing it because she told him to, not because she’s actually worth it.”
“You are worth it.”
“See? Now you’re only saying it because I told you to.”
“I’m not.” Frank reached out to tilt Luci’s head back in his direction. “I’m really not. I’m sorry, Luci. I guess it’s just, you’ve always seemed so independent. Heck, ever since you stopped holding back at school, your marks have been in the top five percent for our grade level, even above mine. So it never occurred to me that you might be feeling insecure.”
“Don’t say that! I’m not insecure!” Luci swallowed. “But okay, I guess for your birthday at the start of the month, I still had to go up on tiptoe in order to kiss you, and I… I’m two years too young for our grade, and wonder if maybe you’re getting tired of that age difference. I know I am.”
“Oh Luci, Luci, dear sweet Luci, no!”
“No? You’ve never found yourself holding back because of my age? Hell, would you even still be going out with me, if you hadn’t seen how good I’d look at twenty one?” She knew he couldn’t have forgotten about the time when she had been artificially aged, prompting Professor Linquist to grab her off the street for experimentation. After all, it had been that Luci who had first made her feelings clear to Frank.
“Oh, Luci,” Frank said, brushing a tear from her cheek. “I would still go out with you even if you broke out with a terrible case of acne. This isn’t about physical appearance. It’s not even about intellect. I love you, Luci, because of who you are. You know I do.”
Luci looked up into his eyes, and she saw the sincerity in them, and she felt like a total idiot. She leaned in towards him, her arms moving around him and her cheek resting on his chest as she let out a small sigh. “I… I know,” she admitted. “So maybe I need to hear it more often? Is that okay?”
His arms encircled her back. “Of course it is,” he said softly, hugging her close. “Of course it is, my lovely Luci. I’m sorry if I’ve made you feel at all neglected. I’ll make it up to you somehow… in fact, guess what! I got Joe to handle the business club’s snack table for the upcoming school dance. And rather than simply assume, I should ask – Luci, will you be my date for the evening?”
“Oh, Frank!” Luci said happily, looking up, then hugging him tightly. “Of course! Thank you!” They remained that way for a short time, before she finally pulled back.
“Actually Frank, you know what else didn’t help with this whole mess?” Luci admitted. “Carrie complaining to me at the start of the school year about how much her chest was interfering with her cheerleading, and her other athletic pursuits. I mean, really? All I could think about during her WHOLE rant was ‘So when am I due for a boost in MY cup size?’. Damn it, I’ve seen Grade Nines who are more developed than me!”
Frank swallowed. “Oh. Um. Well, you know, I’ve never meant to imply you were devoid of physical attributes…?”
Luci eyed his expression. “Never mind. Maybe that’s a topic I should be discussing with Chartreuse instead. We should get back to looking for Julie.”
“Yes, please,” Frank said, visibly relieved. “Lead the way.”
Julie moaned as consciousness returned. She blinked her eyes open, saw nothing but darkness, and felt a jolt of panic. It subsided as her eyes began to adjust, identifying a partially furnished, albeit windowless room. She sat up, reaching her hands out to confirm that she was in a small alcove in the wall.
She suppressed the urge to sneeze at the dust tickling at her nose. “Mimi’s really let this room go,” Julie murmured. Was she even still in the mansion?
She thought back. She had been in the washroom, getting the aspirin bottle from the cabinet behind the mirror – and had slipped on a wet patch on the floor. Left behind when she’d splashed water onto her face after bandaging her hand.
Julie held her palm up to her face, peering at the bandage. Her hand still hurt. Right. Because to try and stay upright, she had seized the metal ring on the wall where they hung hand towels. And twisted it. And then, inexplicably, the floor had given out, and she’d fallen… which meant she was… where?
Julie struggled to her feet, trying to peer through the darkness. She stepped outside of the wall alcove. A cobweb or string dangled against her face, and she pulled at it, to get it out of the way. An overhead bulb clicked on. Julie blinked the spots out of her eyes, then let out a low whistle as her location became more clear.
This was a laboratory. Abandoned, to be sure, but it contained cabinets, counters, a sink – and fluorescent lighting overhead, which was still switched off. Julie fumbled her way across the room, towards the only door, where she found the main light switch.
“Where in heck did all this come from?” Julie murmured, once she was in a position to do a full scan of the room. “How is this room inside my house?” She had thoroughly explored the mansion after moving in. True, the basement floor plan allowed for a room of this size, but the only place it could have been was behind a completely walled off area. Walled off…
Julie walked back over to the alcove, and looked up. It seemed that she had landed at the bottom of some sort of overhead chute. Pursing her lips, Julie did some mental calculations, and realized this laboratory could indeed be part of her basement. With access from above.
She made a quick circuit of the room, noting that there were still a handful of instruments in the drawers as well as chemicals in the cabinets. If it weren’t for the dust, implying the room hadn’t been used in years, she might have thought that someone was in the mansion spying on her.
A flash of red caught her attention as she looked more closely at a large safe. Something had been shoved into the narrow space in between said safe, and the adjoining counter. Grabbing a nearby metre stick and fishing in the opening produced a spiral notebook. Julie blew the dust off of it, scanning over the cover.
“Observations and experiments,” she read. “As recorded by Professor Linquist… Professor Linquist?!” Julie looked up. “Of course. He owned this place before we moved in! This lab must have been some secret work area of his!”
The brunette began to riffle through the book, but it seemed to be written in some sort of scientific code. “The others need to see this,” Julie decided. “Heck, they’re probably wondering what’s happened to me. So how do I get out of here?”
She tried the door, finding it to be unlocked. It opened inwards, revealing a wall of concrete blocks – except there was a narrow passage there, which could fit a single person. The passage extended in both directions. “Left or right?” Julie whispered. She peered into the darkness. No way to know. “Right. Let’s see where this goes.”
“Okay, well, I don’t think she’s up here,” Carrie concluded. “Unless she’s in that locked records room, or Jeeves’ room, or is actively being moved to avoid us or something.”
“We can still try those rooms before giving up,” Clarke insisted.
Carrie shook her head. “At this point, if people were stealing Julie through time, I think they’d be gone. There has to be another reason for…“ She froze. “Damn. Oh, DAMN!”
Carrie took off towards the stairway. “We’re up here. Frank and Luci are in the basement. I left the time machine on the main level, UNGUARDED. What if that was the plan? What if it was JULIE’S plan? To hide, and throw us off long enough to take a time trip!”
Clarke frowned. “Carrie, she’s not that reckless, and surely Frank still has the coins…”
However, the blonde girl was already out of earshot. So, with a resigned sigh, Clarke followed her down. He reentered the sitting room to see her staring down at the time machine, on the floor, exactly where they had left it. “See? You need to give Julie more credit.”
“Okay. But it’s SO stupid of me to keep leaving the damn thing where others can get it,” she said, grimacing. “I mean, this is twice in two days. Um, kinda. Look, I think I’d better take it back to my place. I’ll sleep better knowing that it’s still under my bed.”
“Fine,” Clarke granted. “Now can we get back to searching? Because I swear, Julie wouldn’t have run off like this voluntarily!”
“Scratch the basement,” Frank offered, as he and Luci reentered the room behind him. “But there were a couple of locked areas. Storage, maybe?”
“I also wonder if we missed a section – there seemed to be less floor space than I would have expected,” Luci observed.
“No, it’s fine, there’s a section around the back of the stairs which is all foundation,” Clarke assured. “There’s no rooms in that area.”
As he spoke, there came a click and a series of creaks. Then the tall china cabinet against one wall of the room began to rattle as it slid sideways across the carpet. Clarke lifted his eyebrows, as Carrie grabbed for the time machine and Frank stepped slightly in front of Luci.
Everyone watched as Julie emerged from a dark passage, her clothes dusty, with cobwebs caught in her hair. “Actually,” Julie said, letting out a cough. “It would seem that there is a room down there after all.”
“Jewels!” Clarke gasped, running towards her, stopping short from actually grasping her by the shoulders. “What happened to you??”
Julie turned to look at the tunnel behind her. “My best guess,” she ventured, “is that I triggered something by twisting the towel ring in the bathroom while the medicine cabinet was open. It sent me down to this lab where… well, Phil, why don’t you go grab a flashlight so that we can all see for ourselves?”
“Careful, there’s some stairs here,” Julie warned. There was only enough space for them to move single file, so she led the way. Clarke brought up the rear, shining his light forwards.
“I’ll be damned,” Carrie muttered, inching along behind Julie. It was extra awkward, because she hadn’t wanted to leave the time machine behind again – but now she had to walk sideways, with it at her hip. “Like everyone else, I’d heard the rumours about there being secret passages in this place. But I thought you’d discounted that possibility.”
“Seems I wasn’t thorough enough,” Julie admitted. “In the end, most of my searching was done downstairs, around that closed off section. So while I’m sure that there’s no way into it from down there, it didn’t occur to me to check for access from places on the main landing.”
“A china cabinet isn’t the most obvious choice for a passage anyway,” Frank commented. “I’d have gone for a bookshelf.”
“Well, we keep china in it, I’m not sure what Linquist used it for.”
“Linquist?!” came Luci’s voice. “You think that quack was doing illegal experiments down here??”
“I don’t know… maybe you can tell me. He left some logbook of experiments behind.” Less than a minute later, they had all filed into the hidden basement room.
“You know what?” Carrie said, looking around. “This would be an excellent place for us to use for storage, time travel meetings, that kind of thing. It’s in the mansion, out of the way – even Jeeves doesn’t know about it, right?”
“Right,” Julie confirmed. “And I can tidy it up a little for us, and catalog the stuff Linquist left behind.”
“Hold it!” Luci objected. “Have you forgotten how crazy that guy was?! What if he left booby traps behind?”
“He wasn’t always crazy,” Carrie countered. “And I doubt he would have sold this place to a wealthy family like the LaMilles if he’d left anything in here that would take their heads off. That would mean a major lawsuit.”
“Even when he wasn’t crazy, he still wasn’t normal,” Luci shot back. “Remember, Linquist believed that aliens left their children at orphanages in the hopes that they would some day be brought inconspicuously into society. A familiar story for you, right Carrie?”
“My mother was an unwitting time traveler, not an alien,” Carrie said dismissively. “And Linquist had nothing to do with her appearance or disappearance, they happened years before he went off on this tangent.”
“Yet people in the future must have associated with Linquist at SOME point,” Luci countered. “Remember, this guy also also owned equipment for sensing the temporal flux in my DNA. He couldn’t have picked that up at the corner drugstore!”
“Ugh. Point,” Carrie finally yielded. “We should be careful.”
“On the topic of using this place though,” Frank broke in. “It’s not a bad idea.”
“And I’ve decided to clean the lab up no matter what,” Julie put in.
“In which case, I can make sure to be around whenever Julie’s investigating,” Clarke offered.
Luci let out a sigh. “Oh, very well. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.” She held up Linquist’s red notebook. “Can I keep this, at least? To see if I can figure out what this guy spent his time experimenting on down here? I’m sure there’s some connection between that guy and time travel that we’ve missed.”
“No problem,” Julie agreed. “It’s in code though.”
“I can help you work on it, if you want,” Frank offered. Luci smiled back at him.
“Then it’s settled,” Clarke concluded. “Me and Julie will fix this place up over the week, so you could bring coins and technical drawings or whatever down here by, say, this Friday evening.”
“Except that’s the night of the school dance,” Frank reminded the taller boy. “Aren’t you going to be there with Julie?”
Clarke looked sidelong at the brunette. “Well, no. Unless she changes her mind…”
“Oh, Julie, you should come!” Carrie said. “The first dance of the school year? It’s a good opportunity to get you back into social circles!”
Julie shook her head. “On the contrary, my presence would only serve to remind people of what happened between me and Corry at the first dance LAST year. When I not only screwed you and him over, but Laurie Veniti too.”
“No way – or if it does remind them, it’ll only serve to show them how much better of a person you are now,” Carrie insisted. “Come on, you really have been keeping a lot to yourself lately. A dance will do you good. The four of us will stand up for you. I’ll make sure Glen does as well!”
“Glen? You think he’ll be there?” Frank asked.
Carrie pursed her lips. “Yeah. Since he, uh, kinda asked me out – more specifically, to honour him by being his date – and after our cafe meeting became something of a fiasco the other week, I didn’t really want to say no, sooo…” She shrugged.
“Carrie’s right, Julie, you might as well come along,” Luci chimed in. “If you feel uncomfortable, you can always leave early.”
Julie looked around at them. “But…” Her eyes landed on Clarke. “Oh, all right. Phil, we’ll go. If nothing else, we can see Corry’s music group in their first major performance. They’re supposed to be performing when the DJ goes on break.”
“That’s great!” Clarke said, smiling back. “See Jewels? I told you that some people would want you there! You’re simply blowing things out of proportion. After all, since you and Corry aren’t actively fighting any more, what’s the worst thing that could possibly happen?”
As it turned out, Clarke was surprised.
- Another Commentary post is coming this Sunday.
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