“Here’s our new home,” June said, as she drove her car onto the driveway.
“Yeah, sure,” Chloe mumbled from the back seat.
“Huh? Did you say something?” asked June, turning back.
Without waiting for a reply, June opened the car door and leaped out.
“Ooh! This is a dream come true!” she squealed.
Chloe sighed and got out of the car.
Chloe’s life had been struck with tragedy, ever since her mom had passed away when she was a small girl of seven. A few years later, her dad started seeing June and married her soon after. June wasn’t nice to Chloe, and only feigned kindness in front of Chloe’s dad. Her dad grew reserved a while after his marriage, and Chloe lost connection with her only living parent.
Last month, her father died from a sudden heart attack. He had left, what he mentioned, as ‘an old, Victorian house’ to his ‘beautiful wife, June’, in his will.
Chloe tried to shake off her old memories and the whirl of emotions she was feeling and walked towards her new house, but she couldn’t understand why her father hadn’t mentioned this house before and why he hadn’t left anything for her.
The moment she stepped inside, her jaw dropped open. The place was-
“It’s huge, isn’t it?” said a woman with short, red hair. Huge was an understatement.
“We’re the cleaners here. I’m Clara and this is Lisa. Hope you guys have fun. Here are the keys,” said Clara, in a high-pitched voice, handing them to Chloe.
They chuckled nervously and headed out the door. Chloe watched them reverse their car on the driveway, and drive until their car was out of sight.
“Weird,” Chloe said to herself.
She decided to forget about those strange women and explore her new house.
The living room had an antique rug stretched out on the floor, with a sofa set with plush cushions. In the center was the fireplace, above which hung, what looked like an eighteenth-century painting.
The entire house had intricate furniture and it looked like a palace.
‘Did Dad live in this house when he was small? How come he never took us here? Did Mom know about this house? What are the two of us going to do in such a big house?’ Chloe wondered, her mind clouded with so many questions.
“Oh my God. I feel so exhausted,” Chloe said as she jumped onto her bed. She had spent the whole evening unpacking and setting up her stuff in her new room.
She looked at the clock by her bedside.
“It’s already 10?” she exclaimed. “How did I skip dinner?”
Her stomach started making noises in response.
“Right,” she told herself. “I’ll go down and see if June’s made anything.”
Chloe went out her bedroom door and fumbled for the light switch for the passage.
Slowly, she went down the stairs and into the kitchen.
The enormous house, for some reason, seemed quieter and lonelier at night. Or maybe Chloe felt that way because it was a new place.
“Seriously?” Chloe cursed when she spotted an empty pizza box on the island. “She could have bought one for me too.”
She saw Cheerios on top of the fridge and decided to eat them with milk.
“Some dinner,” she muttered, as she scrolled through her phone, while she ate her cereal.
Suddenly, she heard a low thump on the window. She turned her head to the left and almost jumped out of her seat when she saw a handprint on the window.
“Hello, is anyone there?” Chloe said nervously, in a voice hardly audible to herself.
She slowly got out of her seat and went towards the window. She cautiously peered outside but didn’t find anything.
Chloe carefully inched back to her seat. She felt too scared to eat her cereal and poured it down the sink.
The lights suddenly went out. After five terrifying seconds, the lights switched back on.
Chloe clutched her phone close to her, and without bothering to switch off the lights, ran up the stairs to her bedroom and locked it.
She jumped onto her bed and pulled her bedsheets close to her chest.
Chloe could feel something crawling on her face. She opened her eyes and sat up with a start. She could see sunlight streaming in through the curtains and batted away the fly that had caused her to wake up.
The events of the previous night came back to her head, and now, hearing the birds chirping outside her window, she began to question herself. Did that happen or had it just been her imagination?
Chloe got out of her bed and went downstairs after freshening up.
“Did you have to leave the lights on yesterday night? There’s a power shortage in this place,” June said as she sipped her coffee.
Chloe opened her mouth to tell her about what had happened the previous night but then decided against it. June would not believe her, and besides, Chloe felt silly about that now. The sudden switching off of lights could have been because of a sudden power outage. It was an old house after all.
“You haven’t answered my question,” said June.
“I-I’m sorry. I must have, uh, forgotten,” Chloe stammered.
She went to make herself toast and tried to keep her back to June, to avoid her intent gaze. It was best to not get in trouble with her stepmother, especially now that her father had gone. She usually didn’t care about Chloe, but at times, she would suddenly become a strict parent.
“Go open the door,” June ordered.
Chloe sighed as she put down her toast, which she hadn’t even taken a bite of, and walked towards the door.
“You guys?” asked Chloe in disbelief when she saw the two cleaners from yesterday.
“They’ll take care of you while I’m gone,” said June, still sipping her coffee.
“Take care of me? Where are you going?”
“You see, I’m not entirely free like you. I have some work to do.”
“Look, I don’t need to be taken care of. I’m almost sixteen, and don’t need two weird-looking women to babysit me.”
“Don’t you dare talk back to me like that, young lady. I have an important schedule at the spa today, and I’ll only be back late in the evening.”
“You’re going to a spa? That’s what you call work?”
“Just shut your stupid mouth,” June spat at her. “They’ll make you a lovely lunch. Sorry for not ordering dinner for you last night,” she said in a tone that suggested that she was not sorry at all.
Chloe rolled her eyes as she saw June take her mini-handbag and strut out the door.
There was a moment of awkward silence between Chloe and the two women, as they all watched June leave the house.
“So,” Chloe began. “Do you both know how to cook?”
“Ye-yes,” stuttered Lisa.
Chloe went back into the kitchen to finish her breakfast. She put on her headphones and started listening to her playlist. She looked out the window and could see the green grass stretch far out, and end, where a faint line of trees could be seen.
Chloe suddenly felt something sharp poke her arm. She turned her head and saw that it was Clara, poking her arm with her long nails.
“Are you done with your breakfast?” she asked Chloe.
“Umm yeah,” Chloe said.
“You could go out and take a small walk. You know, explore this new place,” she said in an annoying squeaky voice.
“Uhh ok,” Chloe said. What was her problem?
Chloe shrugged and decided to go out anyway. She was desperate for some fresh air.
Chloe put on her boots and went outside.
“Hmmm,” she sighed, as she looked around her. Hers was the only house in this place, and around the house, except for the lone road from the driveway that led to the highway, the grass seemed to stretch for miles around.
Chloe went to the back of her house and trudged through the thick grass. She wanted to go to the woods and explore them.
A cold wind blew. Chloe shivered. She wished she’d worn a light jacket. The days were getting colder as winter was just around the corner.
When Chloe reached the edge of the woods, she turned around to look at her house. From that distance, it looked quite different from how it had looked the previous evening.
It didn’t look like a majestic mansion. It looked somewhat… forbidden.
“Aah!” Chloe screamed. The little black cat that had come from the woods, vanished back into it.
Chloe felt silly for getting scared. “It was just a poor little cat. You’re overthinking too much. Get a grip on yourself, Chloe,” she scolded herself.
Red and orange leaves crunched beneath her as she made her way into the woods. Some trees had already shed all their leaves as though they were eagerly waiting for winter to come.
After a while, Chloe came across a clearing in the forest.
It was pretty dense in that particular area and it was almost dark except for a few rays of sunlight. She saw a blue butterfly fluttering about. Chloe held out her palm and the butterfly sat on it. It seemed to glow in the darkness. It suddenly flew away and Chloe tripped over a hard metal object in an attempt to follow the butterfly.
She nursed her knee in her lap and bent to see what had caused her to fall. She saw a partially rusted iron rod. Chloe tried to pick it up and then found out that it was attached to the ground. She removed the leaves and undergrowth that had grown on it and was surprised to find that it was part of an old railway.
Chloe then heard a creaking sound. She looked to her right and saw an old carriage which was heading her way. Startled, she stepped backward. The carriage moved slowly and came to a halt, right in front of her.
The carriage was old and rusted in places. It had moss hanging from it and its windows were almost opaque, being covered in dust.
The door to the carriage opened without warning, and Chloe cautiously edged towards it. She switched on her phone’s flashlight and stepped inside the carriage. As soon as she stepped in, the door slammed behind her. A strong wind started blowing around her, and she could hear several whispers.
“Chloeee,” whispered several voices. “Weee are waiiiting for youuu.”
Chloe tried to find where the whispers were coming from, but she couldn’t see anything. The strong wind intensified, and Chloe was thrown off her feet. She hit her head and the voices around her started to fade.
Chloe woke up and saw the carriage door open. She got up and ran out of the carriage as fast as she could. When she came out, she saw the blue butterfly she had seen earlier, but didn’t stop to follow it. She continued running, till she came to the edge of the woods, and could spot her house.
She stood there for a moment to catch her breath, then started walking to her house. Her heart was still beating rapidly, and she no longer felt cold. She opened the front door and almost fell in exhaustion.
She saw the two women sitting on the staircase, looking equally exhausted. Their hands were covered in dirt and their faces were dripping with sweat.
“Hey, what’s for lunch,” Chloe asked, barely able to speak.
“It’s umm,” said Lisa.
“Noodles,” said Clara hurriedly.
“It’ll still take a while to make it. It’s umm, not done yet.”
“Umm, ok,” said Chloe, narrowing her eyes at them. She’d been out for almost the entire morning. How had they still not finished cooking?
Her eyes followed them as they disappeared into the kitchen. Something was off about the two of them.
That night, Chloe sat on her bed, trying to make sense of what had happened the past two days. Was everything that was happening around her real or was her mind playing games with her?
Chloe felt her phone vibrate and turned the screen to see who had texted her.
‘Happy Birthday, Chloe. How are…,” read the popup on her lock screen. It was from one of her old friends, Stacy.
Birthday? Her birthday wasn’t until the next…
Chloe suddenly sat up straight. Her birthday was tomorrow, the 22nd of October. Amidst all the commotion– moving to a new house and all the weird events that had happened- she had forgotten about it.
Chloe sighed. What difference did it make anyway? Both her parents were gone, and she had become quite distant from her friends ever since her dad had died. June wouldn’t care less about her birthday. Even if she did celebrate, she’d have to celebrate all by herself.
Chloe woke up to a low thrumming noise. She opened her eyes and saw that it was still dark. She switched on her phone to see what time it was and saw that it was 11:30. She tried to go back to sleep, but the thrumming noise seemed to intensify.
Chloe got up, and as she put her feet on the floor, she could feel a slight vibration. With her phone in her hand, she walked to her door and slowly opened it. She couldn’t see anything but the thrumming noise became louder and seemed to come from downstairs.
Switching on her phone’s flashlight, she carefully tiptoed down the staircase, trying not to make any sound. When she reached the bottom step, she suddenly saw the doorknob turn. With one hand holding her phone, and the other gripping the staircase railing, she stood rooted to her spot.
The door slowly opened with a creak. Standing outside was a man, whose clothes were all old and tattered. As he slowly inched towards the door, his left arm seemed to dangle from his shoulder socket. Chloe watched in horror, as his head then rotated a full 360 degrees, with a sickening crunch of bones. He fixed his gaze on Chloe for a while, before walking towards the basement.
As Chloe watched him go there, she realized that the noise seemed to be coming from down there. Chloe’s initial fear turned to curiosity, as she followed the man, or whatever he was, to the basement, trying to keep a distance between them.
When she entered the basement, her jaw dropped open. The basement was filled with zombies, vampires, witches, and all sorts of creatures, whom she had previously thought to be a part of fiction. All of them were standing around a black circle drawn on the floor. They were chanting something, and the air in the room seemed to be filled with some evil force.
Chloe then spotted Clara and Lisa, the cleaners, and was horrified to see their faces shriveled up, with long noses with warts. Chloe almost gasped when she saw June in a long, black gown, with a crown on her head and thick mascara lining her eyes.
June suddenly met her eyes. All heads turned to look at Chloe, and the whole room fell silent.
“Well, look at what we have here,” June said, her green eyes glowing.
“What are you doing? Who are these… creatures? Who are you?” Chloe asked, blurting out the questions that were filling her mind.
“Awww, our little girl has so many questions,” June said, with a fake look of concern for her step-daughter. “I guess it won’t do any harm to answer your questions. You’re going to be sacrificed anyway.”
“Sacrificed? What do you-”
“Shhh,” June said, with a finger on her lips. “Just listen to me. You’ll find out what ‘sacrifice’ means at the end of my little story.”
The creatures around her started to cackle with laughter.
Chloe shivered, fear starting to creep back into her heart.
“Silence!” June shouted, and an unsettling silence descended on the room once again.
“Let me first begin with an introduction about myself,” she began with an air of defiance. “I am June, the Queen of the Underworld.” She paused, and everyone around her started clapping.
“Ahem,” she cleared her throat. “Today is the day when I shall bring my army from the Underworld here so that we can together rule this world.” There was another round of applause before she continued.
“You, my dear June, play a very special role in this. You were born on a blue moon, which is a very rare occurrence. Today, on your sixteenth birthday, your blood shall be drawn to open the gateway to the Underworld.”
“No,” whispered Chloe, horrified.
“Yes, it shall. I have been waiting for this day for more than a century. I see you’ve visited the old railway line and partially opened the gateway.”
“That carriage is the gateway? Wait, what did I do?”
“Every century, a blue moon occurs in the month of October. The person born on this day has the special power to open the gateway. Now all you have to do is give up yourself as a sacrifice to complete the opening of the gateway.”
“Sacrifice? You’re going to kill me?”
“Yes. Bring her to the ritual circle,” June said looking at Lisa and Clara. Both of them dragged her to the circle, as she protested. Once she was inside, Chloe found that she was not able to come out of the boundary.
“Let me out,” screamed Chloe.
“You can’t. Once you’re inside you can’t come out, unless I let you. Thank you Lisa and Clara for cleaning out this place and drawing the circle yesterday.”
“You’re welcome, Your Majesty,” they said and bowed their heads.
“That’s why you both came yesterday,” said Chloe.
“Yes. And, oh, I almost forgot to tell you. You might be wondering why I married your dad. I had to stay close to you before your sixteenth birthday so that I could make use of your powers. Last month I killed your dad, because I needed to bring you here, and it was quite easy to make that seem like a heart attack.”
“You killed my dad?” asked Chloe, in horror and shock.
“Yes, and this home isn’t your dad’s, it’s mine. I faked your dad’s will and said that it’s his home so that you would easily come here, without any struggle. Now you’re going to help us teleport to the carriage so that we can open the gateway.”
“I’m not going to help you,” Chloe said through gritted teeth.
“Oh, you don’t have to. I’m just going to use your powers to teleport all of us.”
June closed her eyes and seemed to draw invisible threads from Chloe.
Suddenly all of them were outside the carriage in the woods. The carriage looked more menacing now than it had in daylight.
“Let the sacrifice begin!” shouted June.
There was a roar from the creatures around, as one witch held Chloe pinned to the ground, and the zombie, whom Chloe had seen earlier, raised a sword above her.
June and the other creatures began chanting an incantation.
Just as the sword was a few inches above Chloe’s chest, she saw a blinding light, the blue butterfly she had seen the previous day, and then all went black.
When Chloe opened her eyes, she could see the first rays of sunlight. She looked around her, but June, all the creatures, and the carriage seemed to have disappeared.
“You’re awake,” said a tiny voice in her ear.
Chloe turned her head and was surprised to find a little fairy. She was wearing a blue silky gown, which looked much like the blue color of the butterfly.
“Are you the blue butterfly?” Chloe asked.
“Yes, I am,” she replied. “I’m Rosemary, your guiding fairy. Every century, the child who is born during the blue moon in the month of October, has special powers. The evil queen June, along with her creatures, tries to find this special child before her sixteenth birthday, to open the gateway. I was supposed to help you but had been cursed last century by June, who transformed me into a butterfly.
“You opened the portal, sent June and all her creatures into the gateway, and closed it. Nobody has been able to do what you have just done. People have prevented the gateway from opening, but have not sent the queen into the Underworld, and then sealed the gateway. You also released me from my curse. You are truly special,” Rosemary said, a smile appearing on her face.
“But what did I do?” asked Chloe, bewildered.
“You have powers that you don’t know of. You used them to do all of this.”
Chloe lay back down on the grass, not knowing how to process all this. She saw the sun slowly rise above the horizon. She smiled to herself, thinking about how she had probably saved the whole world that day. Her sixteenth birthday would be a day she would never forget.
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