The Ravenscroft Key
by V. Blake
2016 by V. Blake
All Rights Reserved
Have you ever wanted to go on an adventure?
What if, just once in your life, you were given a chance to take a journey on a wild, exciting adventure so terrifying that, if you survived, you’d never hanker for another as long as you lived? I have been on such an adventure. I won’t reach my teenage years for another few months but believe me when I say I never want to experience an adventure again as long as I live.
In looking back to the day the horrors began, finding the dead mice lying on our porch should have given me a clue that something wasn’t right. I just assumed my pesky brother put them there as a joke.
I volunteer at the school library three days a week after school. I particularly like working in the loft. The lighting is dim and casts long shadows that give me a good spot to secretly watch people in the main room below. I never know what I’ll see. I’ve seen kisses stolen, hands held, furtive glances, and who’s sneaking into the restricted area. Some people might say I’m nosy but I like to think I’m keeping my finger on the pulse of the reading community. Anyway, if they didn’t want anyone to see them doing whatever it is they’re up to, they shouldn’t be doing it in the library in the first place.
Later that same day when I found the dead mice, I was in the school library loft arranging books in the trolley so the library assistants could put them on the shelves. As far as I could tell, I was alone up there. I nearly fainted when someone shoved me as I bent over the trolley picking up an armful of books. I crashed against the trolley and books tumbled around me on the floor.
“Well, aren’t you the clumsy one,” Lisa snarled.
She was an ugly girl. I know that’s not a very nice thing to say, but it’s true. It’s not her appearance that makes her ugly, it’s her personality – she doesn’t have a nice one. Her family is wealthy and she has the best of everything. You know the type. She wears the latest fashion, has the best in technology, and surrounds herself with a bunch of fawning androids that hang onto her every word and practically beg to be her slave.
Lisa hates me. Yes, she does. She has an over-inflated opinion of herself and gets quite vindictive when others don’t show deference to her. I don’t think she knew I existed until I was given the role of Juliet in the school play. She was given the role of Rosaline. Lisa thought she should play the lead. She thought wrong.
What got her dander up more than losing the role was that Alex was picked to play Romeo. Alex is totally gorgeous! I had a secret crush on him since school started – so did Lisa. Alex chose me to be his girlfriend and Lisa hasn’t gotten over it.
So this must be her revenge I thought as I picked up the scattered books. I wouldn’t put it past Lisa to toss me over the railing and then cry at my funeral. Before I could think of a quick retort Mrs. McMeanie (that’s not her real name, we call her that because, well, you can figure that one out) peered over Lisa’s head.
“Lilly, please be more careful with these old books,” she whispered. I’m sure if she wasn’t in the library she would have yelled.
Lisa tossed her lanky, dishwater-blonde locks in the air, and whispered, “Really, Mrs. McLaren, I can’t understand why you would hire such an awkward, clumsy person. There’s no telling what kind of damage she’s doing to these wonderful old books.”
I wasn’t surprised when Mrs. McMeanie replied, “You’re so right Lisa dear, and when you’re looking for something to do in your spare time, please remember there will always be a job opening here for you.”
I nearly gagged on the smarmy exchange. It’s a funny thing how pleasant McMeanie’s expression could be when she looked at Lisa, and how quickly it would change into a glowering mask of rage when she looked at me. There’s another conquest for Lisa’s personal circus, I thought.
I wasn’t going to apologize even though I knew McMeanie expected me to. I ignored them and picked up the books. When they saw I wasn’t going to rise to their baiting they left the loft. Funny how quickly they arrived just after I crashed to the floor, wasn’t it? Here’s me thinking I’m all alone, and before I know it I’m sprawled like a rag doll. Really glamorous, for sure. I’d just have to keep an watchful eye on that Lisa. I’d keep one on McMeanie too, but I don’t think she would actually try to hurt me, at least physically.
From the corner of my eye I watched them go down the stairs together. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and vowed I’d get even with Lisa one way or another. That girl needed an attitude adjustment and if she kept ragging me I’d gladly see she got it.
I was lost in vengeful thoughts when I tripped over a book lying on the floor. That would teach me for not concentrating on my work. I picked up the book but it was one I hadn’t seen before. I would definitely have remembered.
It was a small, leather-bound book with crumbling pages. The indentation in the cover read, The Private and Confidential Diary of Augustus R. Brown, Bluffy Cove, 1843.
I looked for the library tag that would determine where to file it on the shelves but there wasn’t one. When I checked inside for the library identification stamp a piece of paper slipped out and dropped to the floor.
“Clumsy,” Beth snickered.
Beth was my very best friend in the whole world. We had been friends since the first grade. Our birthdays were on the same day so we’d both be teenagers in a few months. We could hardly wait and were making plans for a joint party – a real, teenage party without balloons and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey.
We probably bonded so tightly because of our hair. I’ve always been called carrots, you can imagine why, and Beth is known as frizzles. Her brown hair explodes from her scalp as though her finger is stuck in a light socket.
She was laughing now as she picked up the paper from the floor.
“Not you, too,” I whispered.
“Yeah, me too. I heard she-who-believes-the-world-revolves-around-her up here with McMeanie. What did you do to her?”
“I think she’s still ticked about the school play. Nothing to worry about.”
Beth opened the paper, and murmured, “What’s this? Look, it’s got your name on it.”
The paper was covered with ‘x’s, squiggles, and boxes. Sure enough my name was scrawled along the bottom, Lilly Pearl Dancy, 4 March 2016. How did my name get on this old piece of paper and why was it dated for next Saturday?
“Someone is playing a joke,” I whispered.
Seeing as the diary was written nearly 200 years ago there was no way my name should have been written in it. Even though the ink looked the same as the old writing it didn’t mean anything. With today’s technology anyone could have printed off a page and put my name on it. I wouldn’t put it past Lisa to have dropped it on purpose just to see my reaction.
“Who’s playing a joke,” Alex asked.
He and Matt came from behind one of the shelves.
Beth held up the paper for the boys to see. I caught Mrs. McMeanie’s glare from below. I was in enough trouble already and certainly didn’t want to add to it.
“Hey, you guys, McMeanie’s on the prowl,” I whispered. “I’ve got to get back to work. I’ll catch up with you later.”
“Sure Lilly,” Alex said. “I’ll wait and walk you home.”
He really was the nicest boyfriend. Not only was he the best looking boy in school, with his shoulder-length blonde hair and brilliant blue eyes, but he had a compassionate nature. He was even nice to my brother which is no small feat in my opinion.
“I want to look through this book while we’re waiting,” Beth said. “There’s got to be some reason why your name is here.”
Mrs. McMeanie got out of her chair and headed toward the loft steps. If there ever was a standard description for what a school librarian was supposed to look like, McMeanie’s image could be on the poster. Tall, skinny, glasses, hair in a tight bun, and the drabbest clothing ever made. Brown was her favourite colour although there were times when she went a little wild and wore khaki green.
You’d think she’d wear those ugly, clunky, leather oxfords that tie up wouldn’t you? I mean, that would finish off the standard wouldn’t it? Not this gal. She wore beautiful, designer shoes. Even with my limited fashion sense I could tell by the way they molded her feet they were made from exquisite leather. High, spiked heels, strappy sandals, knee-high boots, or slip-ons, her selection seemed endless and she rarely wore a pair of shoes more than twice.
“Hurry you guys, she’s coming,” I whispered.
I turned back to the stack of books and heard my friends ramble down the steps,
“Evenin’ Miss,” Matt said.
“Good evening, Matthew,” McMeanie replied.
“Hi Mrs. McLaren,” Beth said.
They were distracting her. We knew she insisted on politeness and in setting a good example so she would never ignore one of the students.
“Bethany. It’s nice to see you’re actually reading something besides movie magazines.”
“Hi, Mrs. McLaren. You’re looking quite nice this evening,” Alex, the charmer, said.
“Thank you, Alexander. I’m looking forward to watching your Romeo this year.”
Was she tittering? Did her voice change when Alex complimented her? I wanted to lean over the railing and take a look but I knew if I did she’d be up here in a flash and probably give me another lecture. One chewing out a night was more than enough, thank you.
I lost myself in work until closing time. My friends were waiting for me on the steps in the twilight when I finally left the building.
Fierce March winds whipped up fluffy snow that had fallen while we were inside. Our little town of Bluffy Cove clung to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean’s north-east coast where strong gale winds blew snow in horizontal directions. The roads were covered with thick ice from sea spray. This wasn’t the slippery ice you get in arenas; this stuff is more like frozen snow. It was a decent boot sliding surface which we normally took advantage of to see who could go the farthest in one slide. Beth and I never won. Tonight we were hunched over and walking into the wind. Brightly lit streetlights guided us toward our homes.
Beth said, “Lilly, you’ve got to read that diary.”
“Yeah, man. It’s got some weird stuff in it,” Matt said.
He reached for Beth’s hand. Alex told me Matt had a huge crush on Beth. So, of course, I told Beth. Then she started to go out of her way to put herself in Matt’s path. You know, seeing him come toward her and then accidentally drop her books so he could pick them up, or bump into him and pretend she didn’t see him. It looked like it had worked just fine seeing as they were holding hands.
“Weird? Besides having my name in it,” I asked.
My nose was so cold it was dripping. I kept sneaking my mitten up to wipe it. I didn’t want Alex to see what I was doing in case he wanted to hold my hand. I wouldn’t want to hold a snotty mitten and I assumed he wouldn’t either. I didn’t want to use my coat sleeve. That’d be real gross. But it had to be wiped or I’d have icicles growing from my nostrils.
“Hey, look at that dog,” Alex cried.
Ahead of us a large, grey dog silently loped down the road. His short bristly fur and rounded back put me in mind of a Deer Hound. His tongue hung from the side of his mouth and he panted as though he had run a long distance. He stared into each of our faces as he passed, then disappeared into the darkness.
“So weird,” Beth muttered.
“What were you saying about that book,” I asked.
Before anyone could answer a cat darted across the road in front of us.
“Jeeze, talk about a scare,” Matt said. “I didn’t even see that coming.”
“What are they doing,” Beth whispered.
She pointed to a parade of cats that lined up along the curb. Cats in all colours, solid, marbled, spotted, or splashed; oranges, blacks, whites, and browns; cats and kittens, big and small. Not one made a sound as they watched us walk down the road.
“It’s like in the book,” Alex sounded quite excited. “Augustus Brown wrote about how the animals all acted strange. It’s starting!”
“What’s starting,” I cried.
I felt as though I had come in at the middle of a movie. You know how that feels.
He ran backwards in front of us. “The demons! They’re coming,” Alex exclaimed.
“You’re nuts, Alex,” I said. “Stop goofing around and tell me what the book said.”
“Honest! The demons are coming,” Alex said. “What Augustus wrote in his diary hundreds of years ago is happening all over again now.”
“Yeah, sure, sure, sure,” I said.
Like there was such a thing as demons! I realize I’m not the smartest person at school but I could tell when someone was pulling my leg.
“I’ll prove it to you,” Alex said. “It all began when ol’ Auggie discovered dead mice on his porch.”
“We had dead mice on our porch this morning,” I interrupted.
“We did too,” Beth whispered.
“Yeah, Alex and me too,” Matt said. “Most of the kids at school did. That’s all anyone was talking about today.”
I remembered how I blamed my brother Woody for putting them on our porch. I didn’t feel bad for accusing Woody for something he didn’t do. I was sure he did plenty of stuff he was never caught for.
“So that’s just a coincidence,” I said. “It doesn’t mean anything.”
“Let me continue,” Alex exclaimed. “So, while Auggie was picking up the dead critters a stranger came up to him and told him demons were coming. He told Auggie it was up to him to stop them from escaping and he’d have to find the key to lock the portal.”
“What key,” Beth and I asked in unison.
“That’s exactly what Auggie said! The stranger started to fade but before he did he said Ravenscroft,” Alex finished.
“Ravenscroft – that sounds like something Jane Austen would have written,” Beth said.
“What’s Ravenscroft,” I asked. I didn’t wait for an answer. “It makes a good story, Alex. But you still haven’t explained why my name is in his book.”
“Jeeze, what’s wrong with the cats tonight,” Matt asked.
More cats appeared along the roadside. They were lined up three or four deep in some places. When we walked in the shadows between streetlights we couldn’t see them, only their glittering eyes. Not a single one made a sound. In fact, there was no sound except our own breathing.
Then the dogs came. They came from behind houses, from underneath wharves, and from the beach. All sizes of dogs, from tiny terriers to giant St. Bernards, settled down behind the cats. You’d think there would be some major fighting between the cats and dogs, but no, they sat as still as statues.
“What is going on,” I whispered.
I was afraid if I spoke too loudly the critters would wake up and attack. I imagined myself lying on the road with a hundred cats clawing me and a hundred dogs tearing at my arms and legs. Yeah, I know, my imagination is a bit extreme.
Alex grabbed my mitten, not the snotty one, and held tight.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said.
We didn’t need to be told twice. We ran as fast as we could and kept looking behind to see if the critters were chasing us. They weren’t. They never took their eyes off us but they didn’t move.
“Let’s go to my house,” I panted.
My mother had opened her own interior design business after Dad left us so she worked a lot of late nights. I had to be nearby in case my brother got into trouble so we usually gathered around my kitchen table after school.
We raced along the centre of the road and, in spite of the early evening hour, there was no traffic. Not a single car drove by us since we had left the library, which was unusual. Normally we were walking single file along the curb when cars were coming or spread out across the road when they weren’t. Of course, at that time we weren’t thinking about anything except getting to my house without being attacked.
We sat at my kitchen table with steamy mugs of hot chocolate covered in colourful, mini marshmallows. I was warming my hands with mine. I couldn’t stop shaking and Beth was shivering too.
“That was weird,” Matt said.
He was sucking up a globby string of marshmallow. I noticed his ears were cherry red from the cold evening air. Matt has the oddest ears, well, the ears aren’t odd, only their size. He insisted he was going to grow into them one of these days. He’d have to live for a very, very long time before they looked normal, as far as I was concerned. Woody said he looked like a car with both front doors open.
“I didn’t know there were that many cats and dogs in town,” Beth said. “I wonder where they came from.”
“It’s in the book,” Alex stated.
“Not the book again, Alex,” I moaned. “You’re confusing fiction with real life.”
“No Lilly, I’m not,” he stated. “You read it and see for yourself.”
“Yeah, okay. When I go back to the library I’ll read it. Happy now,” I asked.
He pulled the diary from underneath his sweatshirt and placed it on the table.
“Read it now,” he said.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Some times guys can be a little dense.
“Alex, are you out of your mind? If McMeanie finds out that book isn’t checked out she’ll fire me.”
“How do you know I didn’t check it out,” he answered.
I could tell by the expression on his face he hadn’t.
Matt stirred his hot chocolate, and said, “Anyway, Lilly, how can she blame you? You were in the loft and didn’t even know we had the book until now.”
“She’ll find a way to blame it on me,” I muttered.
I looked at the little book and my curiosity got the better of me. I’d deal with McMeanie when the time came – if it did.
“So, let’s see what it says,” I said.
Beth laughed, and said, “Just put her on the bus, girlfriend.”
That was a standing joke between us since we were kids. Whenever we didn’t like someone we pretended to put them on an imaginary bus and send them away. We didn’t care where they went, just so they were away from us. It worked and allowed us to keep our cool and not waste good energy on bad thoughts.
Alex opened the diary. A musty smell filled the kitchen. I was used to old book smells in the library but this was extra strong.
“Ewwwww, gross,” Woody cried.
My brother sidled into the kitchen holding his nose. I had forgotten he was even home. Woody is eight years old and has a photographic memory which he uses to bribe favours from me. Needless to say the less time I spend with him the better.
“Go away,” I said.
I hated it when he bugged me when my friends were around.
“It’s my house, too,” he answered.
His curly red head, just like mine, inspected the diary and asked what it was.
“It’s none of your business,” I said. “Now get out of here or I’ll tell Mom.”
“Sure, and I’ll tell Mom you used her lipstick,” he answered.
I groaned. I knew I was beaten again. Why did he have to remember everything?
“Well, sit down and be quiet,” I demanded.
I ignored his smug grin as he pulled up a chair and joined us around the table.
The first page of the diary was covered in splotchy, old-fashioned writing with lots of curlicues and ink blobs. It had discoloured over the years so it was brown at the edges and beige in the middle. The corners were brittle and vanished into ash when Alex accidentally touched it.
“Does it say why my name was on that paper,” I asked.
“What paper,” Woody demanded.
Beth explained and showed the page to Woody. He studied it while we turned our attention to the diary.
“I haven’t been able to find out why,” Alex stated. “But it does explain why the animals are acting weird.”
“What animals,” Woody asked.
We ignored him.
“Wait till you hear this, Lilly,” Matt said. “This guy had dead mice on his porch too.”
“I told you I didn’t put them there,” Woody said.
We ignored him again.
According to the diary, the horror began when dead mice showed up on Augustus Brown’s front porch. Shortly afterwards the animals and birds began to act strangely. His wife grew very nervous and complained of seeing moving shadows and black smoke coming through the floor.
One afternoon when Augustus was scooping up another pile of dead mice, a tall, dark stranger approached him. He wore unusual clothing and his wide hat kept his face shadowed.
He told Augustus that the door to the other-world had cracked open just wide enough to allow minor demons to gather on this side. When there were enough of them they would join forces and shove the door open wider so the stronger and more evil creatures could come out and destroy the town. Augustus was the chosen one. Only he could save the town.
He believed the stranger and asked how he could accomplish this feat. The stranger told him he would have to lock the portal to the other-world before the next eclipse of the moon and to do so he would need the key. Augustus wanted to know what key and where could he find it. The dark man started to fade. Just before he disappeared completely he whispered, Ravenscroft.
“So, what’s that got to do with me,” I demanded.
“Maybe you’re the chosen one,” Woody said.
This time we didn’t ignore him.
“What do you mean,” I asked.
Woody held the piece of paper to the light.
“It’s not a fake. There would be tell-tale marks on the paper if it was. This looks original. It’s a map of a cemetery.”
That could be what it was considering the x’s and crosses marked on it. I asked about the squiggly line and the small box.
“I think the line is a path and it looks as though it’s underground, or under this box anyway,” Woody explained.
He really was quite good at this kind of stuff. I hated to admit it but his sense of logic was phenomenal.
“There is a name written beside the box,” he continued.
He held the paper up to the light once again to read the faded writing.
“It looks like Hercules Ravenscroft.”
Alex said, “The dark man said Ravenscroft. Maybe this is where the key is hidden.”
“And that concerns me, how,” I demanded.
I didn’t want to be the chosen one for anything except a free shopping spree. I sure didn’t want to go poking around in any old cemetery looking for a key. The cats and dogs had freaked me out and I had no intention of getting involved with demons. Who, in their right mind, would?
Woody placed the map in the centre of the table.
“Do you see these symbols,” he asked, and pointed to moons, stars, suns, and squiggly lines that bordered the map. “I’ve seen them somewhere before but I can’t remember where. I think it’s something to do with witchcraft but I’m not sure.”
“Great,” I exclaimed. “On top of demons we’re dealing with witches!”
“I’m not sure about witches,” Woody said. “I’ll do some checking online and let you know for sure.”
His computer was his passion. He could find anything online.
“So Lilly, if you’re the chosen one, you’ve got to find the key and lock the portal before the demons get loose,” Matt said.
“We’ll come with you,” Alex said.
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Finding thousands of little, dead mice scattered on the lawn was bad enough, but when hundreds of silent cats, dogs, and birds began following her everywhere she knew something wicked was coming. After finding an ancient diary, Lilly discovers she has been chosen to stop evil from taking over the town. As if that wasn't bad enough, she had only until the final eclipse of the moon, the next night, to complete her mission. With the help of her younger brother and three friends, they fight their way through overwhelming supernatural odds to find the key.