Chapter Two – Ashley Valette

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Rain pattered on the windows of the train, blurring the street lights into van Gogh stars. Kat sat in a recliner chair staring out the window. The lights had dimmed, creating a void with the darkness outside. She shivered almost missing the sun that had faded away hours ago, and the rain only made her regret her decision even more. Andie would be at some beach for the week, soaking up the rays and surf. Kat had looked forward to getting away as well but had somehow been roped into responsibility like always. She grumbled and put on her headphones. Kat had an audiobook she’d wanted to listen to, and that was as good of a time as any.

After a few minutes of blissful monologuing, a flicker of movement caught her eyes as a pair of men walked up to her. They wore black suits, and each had earpieces in one ear.

She narrowed her eyes, noting from her training, that they walked in a confident unison, so probably military background. They held their backs in a posture for a possible shoulder holster, which meant each of them were sporting at least one gun. However, in combination with the training, they probably had a conceal-carry license.

Her gaze swiveled to a fire extinguisher on the wall if she needed a weapon. Not only that, but the bags in the bin above her had a hefty weight to them, then there was the knife she had strapped to her left calf for desperate times.

Kat pulled off the headphones when they stopped next to her seat.

“Can I help you?”

One of the men with buzzed blond hair pulled out a small note pad. He skimmed over it as he spoke, “We are looking for a young woman. She’d be around twenty with dark hair and dark eyes. Her name is Ashley Valette.”

Well, she thought, at least I’m no Ashley Valette.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know anyone by that name. I’m sure the conductor would have a passenger list though if that helps.”

The two men stood there a moment longer. Kat began to grow uneasy, but they nodded and continued down the aisle. She let out a weighted breath when they changed cars, glad not to have to use her tactical training on civilians; however, her better judgment knew they were anything but average civilians.

She let out a weighed breath and resumed her audiobook while watching the trees flutter from the wind of the passing train.

Her eyes slipped from focus, blinking through the haze.

After what seemed mere moments, a deep voice called out from amidst the background noise. Kat jumped, but soon recognized the speaker from her audiobook. She blinked and removed her headphones. The trees outside had vanished and were replaced with a well-lit station. Lamp posts stood every ten feet, encompassing the small platform. A small bricked building sat at the end of a short, paved path. The painted sign on the roof read Beaumont Station.

“Crap. We’re here already.” Kat jumped up from her seat.

She snatched up her headphones and shoved them along with her phone into her bag. Kat grabbed her shoes from underneath the seat next to her and pulled them on. She ran down the corridor to the end of the car trailing her suitcase behind, and her bag bounced against her shoulder as the train whistle blew.

“Dammit, dammit, dammit,” she grumbled under her breath.

Kat leaped down over the last couple stairs onto the platform. She set her small black suitcase on the concrete slab next to her, then checked over her bag, making sure she didn’t leave anything back onboard.

The train sputtered out a grinding sound and inched forward.

It wasn’t entirely her fault for almost missing her stop.

If the arrival time had been at a reasonable hour instead of at two in the morning, then she wouldn’t have had that problem.

The early morning silence sent a shiver down her spine. No birds chirped, no crickets sang, just the light rustle of wind between the leaves. Kat couldn’t see anyone else nearby, but it didn’t feel empty as she noticed the skin prickling at the back of her neck.

She breathed out and remembered her training, but it didn’t ease the tension from between her shoulders.

Her best course of action would be to wait for her ride by the tiny building that was supposed to be a station, but more resembled a ticket booth with a door. As she hurried over to wait, she caught sight of glowing tail lights pulling into the parking lot.

The long car gleamed under the few lamps; it was black and sleek with lengthy windows on each side.

Kat prayed it was her ride and her ticket out of the freaky, quiet ghost town. She couldn’t remember Beaumont seeming so bleak, even in the dead of night.

As she rounded the corner, Kat spotted an older gentleman standing next to the driver door of the car. The limousine idled next to the curb. The man had salt and pepper hair and aged lines outlining the curves of his slim face. He had the soft eyes of a caretaker and extended a gloved hand to her as she approached.

“Miss Katharine, good to see you again.”

“It’s been a while, hasn’t it, Walter? I missed seeing everyone.”

He smiled and took her case. His features reminded her of a grandfather, one that would send the best cards or brag to everyone about his favorite grandchild.

“Wonderful. I hope your trip was pleasant, Miss Katharine.”

“It’s Kat now. You don’t have to say miss or anything. Just Kat is fine.”

“Of course, Miss Katharine.” He moved with a slow, yet sturdy stride to place the pack in the trunk. “Please let me know if you need anything over the coming week.” He opened the rear door for her after the case was secure.

“Uh, a week? I thought it was just a couple of days.”

“Oh, dear,” Walter huffed. “Did those dolts at the post office not send you the message? The reading of the Will has been pushed back to Friday. Some sort of scheduling conflict with the attorney, I believe.”

“Oh? Wait,” Kat paused and exhaled a deep breath. She had a feeling of what happened but had been too worried to ask. “So, it’s true then; Uncle Charles passed away?”

“I’m afraid so, Miss Katharine. Please do not worry. The attorney can provide any legal documentation to the school for your absence. Your education should be a priority in this matter.”

“It’s Spring Break, so I have a week to spare anyway. Thanks though, Walter. I really appreciate it.” Kat smiled and stepped into the car. She had a feeling that day would come soon. Her great uncle had already been sick for a few years.

She slid inside the car and sat her bag next to her feet, then checked her phone. The light at the top blinked, indicating a message. The little screen lit up, and she was not at all surprised to see Andie had sent her a text while she was on the train.

Kat replied: Made it ok. OMW to the house. Call you tomorrow. 😊

Walter started up the limo and eased out of the parking lot.

She sat back, enjoying the leather seats, as he turned on a soft classical tune. Kat didn’t mind listening to it, but she worried that she’d be asleep again before they arrived.

“Walter, the manor isn’t far from here, right?”

“Oh, yes, not too long. Just half an hour to the main gate, then another few minutes to the main house.”

“Wow.” Kat blinked in surprise. She forgot how long it took to get back. Yet, it had been a couple of years since she had been back there.

“Please help yourself to refreshments along the way. There is a selection of wines or soft drinks in the mini fridge to your right.”

Wine would only make her sleepy, so she fished around for a Dr. Pepper in the fridge. On the small table next to it sat glasses and a container of ice. The drinks appeared chilled already, so she just drank from the can.

Kat went to set the can in the drink holder and saw a small bulging envelope in the way. She sat her drink in a different holder and reached for the package.

“What’s this?” She turned the envelope over in her hand. No markings appeared on it. The paper seemed to be a thick, eggshell parchment and something slid around inside when she turned it over. Blood red wax sealed the envelope. The mark was of a lion’s head with a cursive ‘M’ below it. She knew her uncle’s seal.

Walter glanced into the rearview mirror. “Ah, yes. That is for you, Miss Katharine. It was to be in your allotment of the will, but I thought it best if it were given to you before you arrived at the house. You will officially receive it on Friday. However, I fear that some of your relatives will have sticky fingers in the house. You should hold onto it until then.”

“So, can I open it?”

“Of course. It is yours after all. Just be sure to tuck it away. We wouldn’t want any spiteful guests thinking that you were receiving special treatment.”

“But it is kind of special treatment, isn’t it?”

Walter winked in the rearview mirror.

Kat grinned and opened the envelope. The wax seal broke and inside rested a large silver key, or not exactly a key. “Is this,” she paused, eyeing the three metal loops woven together. “Is this a Triquetra? It kind of also looks like a key.” She remembered the symbol from a previous class covering semiotics. They had gone over a plethora of symbols, but that one had always stuck with her. She found it beautiful with its never-ending weave.

“You know your symbols, Miss Katharine. It is indeed a silver Celtic Triquetra as well as a key.”

A leather cord had been threaded through one of the loops. “If it’s a key, then what does it go to?”

“I believe your great uncle has the details to the key in his will. You will also receive the box that works with the key.” Walter turned down a large winding road. The few buildings of Beaumont were already long gone behind them.

Kat shrugged and slipped the leather cord over her head.

Outside spurred on a darkness she never knew possible. Miles of shadow stretched out around them. It reminded her of what it would be like to drive through an infinite void. She shivered and decided to stare ahead. The road and grassy edges still appeared before them and gave her some comfort.

“I trust your train ride was pleasant,” Walter said after a few moments.

“Yeah,” Kat yawned. “It was alright. I slept for most of it, but there were some weird guys on the train asking around about some girl.”

“Oh? A girl?”

“Ashley something, I think. I don’t know. They just gave me the creeps.”

Walter glanced at her in the mirror. “They didn’t bother you, did they?”

“Nah. Just asked about that girl once, then left.” Kat settled into the seat and felt her eyes getting heavy again. Walter seemed to notice her tired state and left her to her thoughts. The key chilled her skin but felt good in the warmth of the car.

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