I waited until Eli had his hair soaped up in the shower before I closed the bathroom door and yelled that I was going for a walk. I sent Kat a text as I walked through the garden, the moment I was out of sight of the house. Once I crossed into the national park, it was a ten-minute walk to the back road she wanted to meet me on.
“What is all this about?” I said as I hopped in the car.
“I needed to ditch your nannies.”
“So we could what?”
“Investigate ourselves. Neither of them seemed keen to do Quinn a favour so we’ll investigate Thornton House on our own. We’ll find more information in that house then Quinn could give us. Old magical families never throw anything out.”
“Are you telling me we’re breaking into a house?”
“We’re not going to take anything.”
“Cory and Eli wouldn’t be up for this.”
“Are you sure there’s no one there?”
“I’m pretty sure Siegfried Thornton is out of town.”
“I know someone who is really interested in sinking that ship, and I asked before I slipped that paper in your pocket.”
“That sounds slightly unhinged, but I’m willing to take your word for it. Is that who you spoke to when you walked off?”
“Yes. I’ll contact Quinn if we can’t get the information we need here.”
“Okay.” I looked out the window. “If Eli and Cory find out about this, they’ll skin us alive.”
“You just said you went for a walk, right?”
“That’s all he needs to know,” Kat said.
“I guess. I promised there would be no more lies.”
“Do you think the ghost is a sibling of Bethany?”
What I was about to say slipped from my mind as I adjusted to the topic change. “Maybe. That would explain a lot.”
“We’ll find birth and death certificates in that house.” She gripped the steering, wheel tighter as we made our way closer to Thornton House.
Thornton House was on the southern outskirts of Dunn, practically outside of town limits. Thornton House was the third oldest building in Dunn. It was also known as The Castle. It looked like one to anyone who hadn’t seen an actual castle. It was a massive five-story sandstone mansion. The house had been built in the mid-1800s when the area around Dunn belonged to five wealthy landowners, the Arkwright, Lacy, Chesterfield, Thornton and Dominguez families.
I could feel the energy radiating from it halfway down the unnecessarily long gravel driveway. I wasn’t sure if I should enter a place like this at all. Yes, the Lacy and Arkwright houses were old, but they’d been lived in and didn’t have the bloody history of Thornton House.
Several people had been murdered in the home since the first blood bath within its walls in 1887. The entire Thornton family in residence at the time, including their several children, had been brutally murdered; the oldest child just seventeen. The only member of the family was the eldest son, twenty-one-year-old Devin, who had been away at university. There were rumours about Devin’s involvement, but there was no proof. Almost everyone who’d lived in the house on and off since 1887 had suffered an untimely death. I’d even heard rumours about a cult that hated the Thornton family and wanted to drive them from town. The longest in residence since then had been Bethany and her parents.
Could the cult be the group that killed the Thornton girl?
About a minute after the buzzing had built in the back of my brain, I felt nauseous. I knew what was coming when I felt the heart palpitations and shortness of breath. I forced Kat to stop the car and stood on the side of the road, hands on my knees, while my head spun as I took panicked breaths.
Back in the car, I kept my mind fixed on the number of stones on the first floor of the house.
“Are you okay?” Kat was touching my shoulder with a concerned look creasing her features.
“I just need a minute.” I rested my face in my hands to block out the light as I tried to calm down my brain. There were a lot of ghosts in this house, but Jesus, I needed to get a grip.
I sat in my seat for a good ten minutes sipping at my water bottle before I felt well enough to walk into the house. I looked in the car mirror before I walked away from it. My shirt was noticeably soaked in sweat, and my face had paled. I ran a finger over the black bags under my eyes, before I’d convinced myself that only I could see them but now, I was convinced everyone else could, too. I gave my reflection a thin smile.
Kat had parked the car behind a line of bushes, out of sight of the distant main road. Even if someone came down the lengthy drive, they wouldn’t see the vehicle. We were on a back road that only locals used. If someone saw her car, they’d assume it was Siegfried Thornton’s.
Kat and I snuck around the back of the house.
My stomach dropped as she stepped on the first step of the back veranda. “Wait. Cory thinks the Thornton girl was magical. What if there’s traps or something here?”
“Follow everything I do, and you’ll be fine. My main magical ability is Retrocognition.”
She shook her head. “Sometimes I forget that you’re new to this. I can see the past. I’ll know where any protection spells or traps have been placed. Just don’t go anywhere unless I tell you it’s safe.”
“I trust you.” I followed her into the house, hoping we wouldn’t encounter any of the ghostly inhabitants I could feel behind its walls.
It wasn’t long before we found their creepy portrait hall and I came face to face with a life-sized portrait of a ten-year-old Bethany Thornton and her family. She had no siblings apart from an older brother. Had the girl from Short Street been born later or had it really been Bethany?
“I think we look in any room that looks like an office first.”
“I’m not looking forward to going to the attic.”
“You and me both. Don’t touch the sets of armour.”
“You have to be joking.” I looked at the shiny silver suits of armour. They looked like stereotypical props from a tacky medieval or horror film. The lifeless, hollow knights that followed the heroes through the haunted mansion.
“No. Hard metal objects with deadly weapons. They’re perfect to cast an animation charm on.”
I forced myself to take a shaky step forward. “Okay, then.”
“I’ll tell you if anything is unsafe.”
I nodded. I wouldn’t investigate anything on my own; I refused to be the idiot who set off some kind of trap.
We found an office on the third floor that had served that purpose for decades. Every receipt from their business which I learnt was object enchanting had been carefully catalogued in an adjoining room. Kat said it was safe as long as I didn’t step on the threshold when leaving the room. ‘Take one big step when leaving the room. If I step on the crack, I break my mother’s back,’ I repeated the thought inside my mind as I opened the drawer for 1974, the year Bethany had died. I’d start with the year she died, go forward ten years and then do the fifteen years pre-1974. I was sure the answer laid within a couple of years after Bethany’s death if it was Bethany who had haunted that street corner. Kat had gone to look in the main office, hoping to gain an advantage with her extra freedom to move around.
In the back of the 1978 drawer, I found a folder that had been notarized by a justice of the peace. I opened it up and placed the documents on top of the drawer. The first item was a yellowed receipt from a company called Advanced Reforming and under their name at the top of the receipt was the slogan ‘Making your only wish come true’. Only wish? What could that mean? The receipt was for one copy of Bethany Luna Thornton and identity documents to establish the identity as Alissa Thornton. There was a disclaimer at the bottom of the receipt stating that the purchaser should keep the sales documents in case anything untoward had happened to their purchase. The sales documents would provide proof of the status of the subject as a Doubleganger, thus not a living person under any known law.
I grabbed the filing cabinet to steady myself, forcing my feet to stay firm on the floor. The rest of the documents were information that made what a Doubleganger was clear. The Thornton’s had replaced their daughter Bethany with a magical clone. They’d given her the name Alissa and introduced her into Dunn society as Bethany’s cousin. My heart pounded in my head as the new reality sunk in… the Short Street Ghost had to be Alissa. When I got to the next section, I realised it definitely was Alissa. Alissa had died on that street corner in 1976 at sixteen, after fleeing from her murderer.
Bile rose in my throat as I read the court notes from the case. The killer had been found, and there had been a trial. Her killer had been acquitted because she was a clone and not legally classified as an actual person. The killers’ name had been redacted because he’d still been underage when the trial happened.
Fuck! I’d felt what she had in the moments before she’d died.
She was as real as any other person.
Was Cory right? Had she imprinted her desire onto mine? Did a part of her still live in me as something other than a memory?
If the promises of Advanced Reforming made were right, she was physically identical to Bethany and had all her memories before the date they’d been recorded. Alissa had technically been a different person to Bethany from the moment she was created and started forming her own memories, but she was still human.
I wanted to vomit as I forced myself to read the autopsy report. What had been done to her was inhuman. She’d been tortured by the man who killed her before she died. He’d wrote the word ‘imposter’ beside her in her own blood and left her to be discovered by the young boys doing the paper run the next morning. Her killer hadn’t served a single day in gaol. The judge had voted to continue the media blackout on the case to protect the identity of the murderer. There would be no one newspaper with his name in them.
My stomach dropped when I saw the names of the detectives who had investigated the case, Wendell Milton and Dorian Patton. Pop!
Pop had legally been an Alchemist and worked with the Tallow Police. A representative between the magical and non-magical world. Gran had called it a job that a Mage would never sully themselves with. She said it was the perfect trap for Dorian to fall into when he’d arrived in Australia. For a young black man ingratiating himself with a powerful magical community, it was the easiest way to citizenship. I’d never really looked into his life deeper. By the time I was old enough to understand the reality of what he had done, he’d retired. Part of me wondered if he’d became a detective because he wanted to help. Someone had to solve the cases no one else would.
Alissa’s last moments had been hell. I knew they were hell without this report because the last flicker of her existence on earth had projected the pain and devastation into my mind.
It had been someone she thought she could trust.
I let out an angry scream and threw the papers across the room.
I watched as a piece of paper slid across the hardwood floor, across the threshold and into the carpeted office next door. The realisation of what I’d done hit me as I watched the edge of the paper settle on the crack. My heart rate increased, and my breath quickened as I stared at the paper, waiting for what would come next.