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The Trials Of Turner Cottage
Melissa watched the little fish swimming placidly in the pond. She felt the sun shining warm upon her face, and she heard the birds twittering in the trees. But even in the friendly air which surrounded Turner Cottage, Melissa sensed a subtle danger. Somehow the whole cottage – beautiful garden and all – seemed to be warning her away. But there was nothing she could do. Her mother was set on buying it. “It’s too good to be true,” her mother had said, “I can’t believe we can afford such a place!” but Melissa hated that phrase – ‘too good to be true’ – because it meant a catch. When Melissa didn’t know what the catch was, she was always on alert.
Several minutes later, the removalist van arrived. They were at Turner Cottage – luggage and all – ready to move in. “What was wrong with our old house, mum?” Melissa sighed, “We could’ve stayed. There was no problem over there – no problem at all.”
“Do stop whining, Melissa! There’s nothing wrong here, is there? Come on, Luke. Let’s go inside and wait for the removalists.” with that, Melissa’s elder brother and her mother turned on their heels and went inside, leaving Melissa alone.
Melissa sat down heavily on the ground and watched two burly men leap out of the truck and stagger up the drive, carrying the cardboard boxes which contained her and her family’s furniture. Slowly, her attention wandered, and turned back to the thought which had haunted her mind for three, long years. Her father. When Melissa had been nine years old, her father had disappeared. Everyone had declared that he’d run away of his own accord – even Melissa’s mother – but Melissa didn’t think so. She knew him. Her father had always been closer to her than to anyone else in the family, and Melissa remembered playing soccer and even riding horses with him. She missed those times more than anything else, and deep in her heart she felt she had to find him – whatever the cost.
Ten minutes later, Melissa stood up. With a deep breath, she entered the house. It was big, alright – but an eerie darkness seemed to consume the very air. Melissa couldn’t say what it was, but something wasn’t right. “It’s cold in here, mum.” she shivered.
“I won’t deny it could use a little brightening up!” her mother beamed, her hands on her hips, green eyes sparkling, “But that’s what I do best! Don’t I, Luke?”
“You sure do, mum.” Luke nodded. Melissa gave him an icy stare. He’d always stuck up for his mum, and they’d both team up to make her life a misery. The main reason was because they were jealous that – as long as he’d been with them – Melissa’s father had doted on Melissa, and they believed that he’d spent most of his time and money on her. What they didn’t realise was that the only reason Melissa’s father had preferred her was because of Melissa’s nature. Melissa was kind and gentle, unlike her cold and sulking mother and brother.
Some days later, Melissa and her family had moved into Turner Cottage properly. Melissa was pleased that she was still going to her old school, only now she had to catch a bus. But that was a good thing, because Cara and Julian, her best friends, caught the same bus – and got off only one stop before her on the journey home. It was about three o’clock after school, and Melissa was just getting on the bus with her friends. “I feel so sorry for you, Mel.” Julian sighed sympathetically, “If you ever need any help, just ask us.” he smiled reassuringly, running a hand through his thick, dark hair. “Julian’s right, Melissa. We’ll help any way we can.” Cara agreed, her big, blue eyes shining as she gave her friend a hug, “Are we clear on that?”
“Definitely. Thanks, guys.” Melissa fought back the tears which threatened to overflow, a result of relief, joy and sorrow. She turned her gazed out of the window and sniffed, summoning up the courage to return home. “They’ve thrown out most of dad’s things,” she murmured, “they’ve wiped out everything – there’s no untouched room belonging to him like before, not even a tie or a shirt! They want to forget him.”
“Hi, mum.” Melissa whispered under her breath, hurrying past to her room. Her mother simply ignored her and carried on reading her paper, not even bothering to look up at her daughter. “Hi.” Luke answered solemnly, “How was school?”
“Great, which is more than I can say for my time at home. Anyway, Luke, it’s not like you really care. Stop the formalities, okay? It doesn’t fool me for a second.” she brushed away a tear and rushed past him to her room. “Hey, Melissa! What’s wrong?” he cried, frowning. Melissa shook her head tiredly, “You’re wrong.”
In her room, Melissa threw herself on her bed and sobbed bitterly into her pillow. It just wasn’t fair. If only her family would listen to her, they’d know that it wasn’t her fault her father favoured her over her mother and brother. Still teary-eyed, she slipped off the bed and sat down on her floor, and punched the floorboards angrily. There was a crack and one of the floorboards gave way under her fist...
“Oh, goodness!” Melissa exclaimed, gazing down the hole. Underneath part of a damp cellar was revealed, filled with cobwebs and dust. She took a deep breath, feeling as if the cellar was coaxing her down – and she gave in. Slowly and gingerly, she lowered her feet in and dropped down the four or five feet to the bottom. Her feet eventually hit a cold, stone floor, reminding her she’d forgotten her slippers. Melissa took in the scene. The whole thing was made of grey, mouldy flagstones and the cellar reeked of old the old wine which had probably once been stored there. Something here drew Melissa in further – connected to her and wouldn’t let her go. She blinked helplessly in the dim light, shivering from the cold. As she stood there, her eyes fell upon a small bit of glossy, coloured paper. Hastily, Melissa snatched it up and examined it. It was a postcard, dated from this very house – meant to reach her former home a year ago. It was in her father’s hand writing and ran thus:
I am missing you very much. I just want you to know I’m okay and that I haven’t deserted you. Something went wrong and I’m being held captive in a place near this big cottage. This postcard is the courtesy of my captor and I have both food and drink. I should be back soon, and I apologise for this belated letter.
Love, your dad.’
As Melissa put down the postcard with a trembling hand, she felt a shiver run down her spine. Her father must still be here somewhere – and she had to find him! Forgetting about the cellar, she jumped back up to her bedroom and picked up her telephone to dial her friends. They’d help her, and as long as she had them Melissa was alright.
The next morning, Melissa and her friends were off to school – much earlier than usual. They caught the early bus to school, so that they had some time to discuss the matter before class began. “Hang on, let me get this perfectly straight,” Cara said in a business-like manner, “you say your father’s somewhere around here – and that we’re going to find him.”
“Well, yeah. It’s not so crazy is it?” Melissa frowned. The bus stopped, and the three kids got off – thanking the driver on the way. “Crazy?! It’s an awesome idea!” Julian grinned. “We should start right away. Can we come over this afternoon? We could look for more clues in the cellar.”
“Oh, right – I never thought about that.” Melissa felt like kicking herself. She’d been so busy thinking of the different places her father could be hidden she’d shut the cellar out of her mind almost on purpose. “So, can we come?” Cara insisted, glancing expectantly at Melissa, “If there’s a problem, we get it. We know what you have to put up with each day.”
Melissa flashed them a faint smile, “No, it’s alright. You can come. Let’s get our detective work rolling!”
That afternoon was hot and dreary, and the three friends were all too grateful for the air-conditioned bus. They leapt up with relief, and took window seats up the front. Melissa quietly smoothed out her navy skirt. This was the first day in a long time she wasn’t dreading going home. She was truly thankful for her amazing friends. The bus ride seemed shorter that day, probably because Melissa was so preoccupied. There was just so much on her mind right now, she even forgot to look out for the regular bunnies when they passed the lake. “Ready, guys?” Melissa asked carefully, as they walked up the drive to her house. Julian nodded confidently, “We sure are.”
When they entered the house, Melissa’s mother jumped up from the sofa. “Oh, Melissa! Who – who are these people?” she stammered, looking aghast. “They’re my friends, mum. Is there a problem?”
“Not at all, not at all! Take them to your room, Melissa! Quickly, now!” forcing a smile, her mother gestured to Melissa’s bedroom door, then hurriedly sat back down. Melissa saw her frowning as she turned away, and blinked back her tears. Presently, they all filed into Melissa’s spacious but dull bedroom. Melissa pulled back the curtains and a beam of sunlight fell upon the tense faces of the three kids. Bending down to the floor near her bed, Melissa felt the floor. “Here it is,” she exclaimed wistfully, “let’s hurry.”
A couple of moments afterwards, the trio of friends were standing in the cellar, gazing around uncertainly. The room was grey and daunting, and eerie shadows stretched into the dark recesses. “Wait a moment!” Julian’s excited voice cut through the awkward silence like a butcher’s knife, “Look at that!” everyone looked at what Julian was pointing to. A perfectly round sapphire was set in the ground in the shadows of the wall, completely unnoticeable. “Amazing!” Cara murmured under her breath, “It’s real, Melissa! Feel it.” Cara took her hand away gently as Melissa came forward. Suddenly, Melissa tripped on her sneaker lace, and fell to the floor. Her hand hit the Sapphire heavily, and there was an ear-splitting creak. The back wall of the cellar was moving!
A moment later, Melissa, Cara and Julian were staring wide-eyed at a steep staircase which descended into the depths of the hill. “A secret passage? Julian, Mel, we’re in a movie!” Cara trilled. Melissa gave Julian a dubious look, saying, “Well?” Julian simply shrugged, deciding not to reply. “What’re you all waiting for? Let’s go, Mel!” Cara sprang into action, grabbing Melissa’s wrist firmly and pulling her down the stairs. Yelling to them to wait up, Julian followed.
The stairs were narrow and the ceiling low, causing the three to walk along the passage crouching, and in single file. There were no railings and the flagstone wall towered up on either side of them. Cara was the first, with Melissa behind and Julian bringing up the rear. It smelt badly of old water, and the stairs didn’t seem to end. After a long time, Cara let out a cry of relief, “There’s a light down here! The passage’s ended!”
“Thank goodness!” Melissa breathed.
“At last!” Julian agreed. The kids entered what seemed to be a small foyer facing a little room. The room was closed off by a bolted door of strong oak, from under which a bar of light came through. “What’s in here?” Melissa inquired, pushing back the bolt. That’s as far as she got. A steel door underneath the stairs the three had just entered by eased open, and an icy voice whispered, “Who are you?”
Melissa, Cara and Julian whirled around, only to come face to face with a lean, beady-eyed man. “I – I’m...Melissa, sir.” Melissa stammered, shocked, “This is my house – my cellar. Who’re you?”
“Ah, the beautiful Melissa. So clever, so loving! Much I’ve heard about you, miss.” the man was about fifty, with grizzled hair and a nasty smile, “Are these your friends?” his voice sounded like nails scraping a chalkboard...with vengeance. “Yes. How do you know me? Who are you?!” Melissa was afraid now, and Cara took a step back. “So innocent!” he tutted, “But you don’t know me. I’m Harry Treffers.”
“You’re Harry Treffers?!” Melissa looked startled, “It was you!” with that, Melissa fainted. “Melissa!” Julian dropped to his knees beside her, but she was unconscious. “Just like him. Let’s not dawdle, Harry!” speaking to himself, Harry Treffers reached out to grab Julian – but both Julian and Cara had figured this guy wasn’t in the running for the world’s most angelic man. Julian jumped away, and while Harry was focussing on catching Julian, Cara took off her sneaker.
It didn’t take a moment to knock Harry Treffers out with the sturdy Nike. As he dropped to the ground, senseless, Julian and Cara rushed back to Melissa, who was just coming round again. “Harry Treffers...” Melissa groaned, struggling to stand. “Easy, Mel.” Julian helped her up, asking softly, “What is it? Do you know who he is?” but Melissa wasn’t listening. She ran across the room to the oak door, throwing all her weight against it. The bar of light gradually widened as the door scraped open. Julian and Cara exchanged worried glances.
“Dad!” Melissa’s jubilant voice echoed through the whole cellar. Julian rushed to the door, with Cara at his heels. The sight that met their eyes left them speechless. A man of about forty – with sharp features just like Melissa’s – was holding Melissa tightly in his arms. Both were crying silent tears, but smiles were plastered on their faces.
A year passed, and Melissa’s life was finally back to normal. Harry Jeffers, her father’s jealous business partner, was in jail. Melissa’s mother and brother now understood why Melissa was her father’s favourite, too – and Melissa had never felt so content before. The family had decided to stay at Turner Cottage, with the memories of their adventure. Melissa had already told her family how she’d found her father, and how she’d known Harry Treffers because her father had often spoken about how he was intent on bringing him down. As a result, her family now thought the world of her – but that wasn’t why Melissa felt so happy. She was pleased just because she had her loving father back – and she knew there were many more chats, stories, soccer games and horse rides with her father to come! In addition, Melissa was glad that finally – after a sad and morose three years – her life was normal again...all because she’d triumphed over the trials of Turner Cottage.