Chapter 4 : The Hole in the Wall
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The girls erupted with screams of delight when they opened the front door. “Nyah! You came!” Emma cried as she hugged her friend. “Hurry in … we’re just getting started with the fun stuff.”
“I can’t believe your parents actually let you come,” Abbey said, grabbing Nyah’s arm. “And they let you ride your bike all the way here! Blimey, my parents wouldn’t even let me walk to the door by myself.”
“I still can’t believe you’re here …” squealed Emma, jumping up-and-down, unable to contain her excitement. “This is the best birthday ever!”
“Of course I’m here; I told you I would be. Besides, what are friends for?” Nyah smiled.
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Chapter 4 - The Hole in the Wall
Okay … no big deal, Nyah told herself taking a deep breath. You got out without getting caught … you can get back in the same way.
Nyah hated leaving her friends the way she did, with everyone still sleeping, leaving only a note that said she had to be home by breakfast. She hoped that the girls would understand – if not, she would explain everything at school on Monday.
The ride home was dark and rather cold that early in the morning, but she didn’t care … she had had a fantastic time … there was popcorn, a movie, gossip, laughing, and endless chatter. Plus, she had gotten away with it … she actually got away with it! Nothing ‘funny’ happened either, unless you count the lights flickering when she sneezed and no one even thought anything of it! A headache came on near bedtime, but Nyah had remembered to bring a pain pill along just in case, so once she took that, she felt much better.
Nyah rode through the grass, beside the driveway, hoping it would be quieter than the gravel next to the house. Everything was fine until the bike jolted to a sharp stop, the front wheel turning left so suddenly that Nyah’s stomach hit the handlebar and she fell … not into the soft morning grass, but into the harsh gravel. As her knee hit the stones, she let out an involuntary cry.
Pain shot down Nyah’s leg as she rolled over to assess the damage. Blood was quickly seeping through the jagged area in her trousers and she was sure there was more heading towards her sock. “Great … just great,” she muttered, blowing on the nasty cut.
Nyah hoisted herself up from the ground and gently picked up Anna’s bike. There, in front of the wheel was a rock, embedded into the ground, hiding in wait for its next bicycle victim. Nyah kicked at the rock, but it was unwilling to move. She didn’t take the time to insist, and carefully pushed the bicycle towards the garage, limping on her injured knee.
Okay, you can do this, Nyah thought, just up to the porch, through the kitchen, and up the stairs.
The house seemed to be sleeping, right along with its occupants. The sun had just started to announce its arrival to the sky with the orange, red, and yellow hues, which meant that Mrs. Cleary would be headed to the kitchen soon, so Nyah needed to move quickly. On Saturdays, Mother and Father took breakfast in their bedroom, which gave Nyah a small advantage.
Reaching the porch, Nyah punched in the code to unlock the door and was rewarded with a small ‘click’. She stepped inside and quietly shut the porch door. Glancing into the large kitchen, she was greeted with silence. Nyah made her way towards the stairs, pausing to grab an apple from the kitchen counter.
There was no sight of Mrs. Cleary, or even Mr. Whittaker, the groundskeeper, who seemed to be up before the sun every morning. Tip-toeing towards the stairs, Nyah kept reminding herself to be very quiet. She had just reached the second step when she heard something that made her blood run cold …
“Good morning, Pricilla. Out for an early morning ride?”
Nyah stood up a little straighter and turned towards the dining room to her left. There she sat, in the shadows like a cat waiting to pounce … Mother.
Nyah’s breathing became erratic. She knew she was in trouble and was desperate to think of something --- anything that might explain why she was not only up this early, but worse --- outside of her room --- outside of the house. She stared at her mother hoping beyond hope that her mother would only think she had been outside on the property.
“Where were you this morning?” Mother calmly asked.
Think Nyah … think! she screamed silently to herself, her eyes wide with fear as she saw Mother rise slowly from her seat. Think!
“I believe I asked you a question,” Mother said, as she made her way towards the stairs, touching each chair her hand met, “and you will answer me.”
“I was … I just went …,” stammered Nyah, “I, um … was outside.” The travel bag slung over her shoulders pronounced Nyah’s betrayal.
Mother was within a step or two and Nyah’s heart was beating faster and faster, as though it too, wanted to run. But Nyah was frozen to the step -- she couldn’t run -- she couldn’t move, and it was getting difficult to breathe.
Just then, a cold white hand reached over Nyah’s shoulder and tightened its grip. She didn’t need to turn around to know who was standing behind her.
“I do believe a punishment is in order,” Mother said as her cold eyes lingered on Nyah a moment.
“Mr. Whittaker, would you be so kind as to escort Pricilla to her room? I’ll be just behind you,” Mother said to the groundskeeper as she walked towards the kitchen.
Mr. Whittaker jerked Nyah so sharply that she fell on the steps. “Now, now, dearie … wouldn’t want you to go and get hurt, now would we?” he laughed, half-dragging, half-pushing her up the stairs.
“What do you think you’re doing to that child?” a voice demanded from above.
Nyah had been watching the steps and didn’t see the housekeeper coming out of her room.
“I’m doing what the Mrs. told me to, so you best not worry about it,” the old man snapped back.
Mrs. Cleary opened her mouth to protest when Mother came up the stairs, addressing Mrs. Cleary, “Mr. Stewart was called to a very early flight as I’m sure you remember, so I will take my breakfast with the children in the breakfast room. And do remember this time, that Alexander enjoys apples and strawberries on his crepes.”
With that, she dismissed the housekeeper by a wave of her hand. “Oh, one more thing,” Mother said as Nyah continued the forced climb to her room, “Pricilla has had her breakfast and won’t require anything until afternoon.”
The last flight of stairs ended and they came to a halt in front of the little attic door.
“Open it!” demanded Mother, her voice lowered in anger.
Once inside the little room, Mr. Whittaker turned Nyah to face Mother.
Nyah had begun to cry and hadn’t even realized it until Mother insisted that she stop.
She tried to stop -- she really did -- but every deep breath brought a new torrent of hot tears.
“I said you will stop this instant!” Mother yelled as Nyah trembled in fear.
“Yes, Mother,” the girl sobbed, hanging her head.
Mother thrust her hand forward and Nyah shut her eyes and jerked in response, waiting for the first blow. When nothing happened, Nyah ventured a look. Mother was holding a glass of water … and Nyah’s medication.
“Take these now … it will make what’s coming - a little easier.”
Nyah obediently took the medicine and water -- she knew the mind-numbing medication would dull some of the punishment, but how much, she would soon find out, as Mother turned and locked the door.
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Nyah lay motionless on her bed, feeling herself slip in and out of consciousness. How long had it been since Mother left her room? Nyah wasn’t sure.
The sun was already high in the sky when she heard footsteps on the stairs. She opened her mouth to speak … to call out for help … but felt the cuts on her mouth sear open, sending pain shooting through her face again. She tried to move -- something -- her hands or feet, but she was too weak -- too tired. The footsteps died away -- and they were gone.
No, there was something … whispers.
“Please don’t let it be them again,” Nyah silently cried. The salty tears burned down her cheeks and into her hair.
“Nyah,” a voice barely whispered. “Nyah, the door is locked. I don’t have a key. Nyah … Nyah, answer me please,” the voice begged.
I know that voice, Nyah said to herself as her mind wandered.
“Anna,” was all Nyah could say before losing consciousness once more.
“Oh my God, Nyah … I’m coming,” Anna answered, her voice faltering. “It’s going to be okay. I have to go find a key or something. I’ll … I’ll be right back.”
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The sun had now passed the midpoint in the sky and Nyah tried to move to get relief from the glare off the attic window. She had managed to roll onto her left side, when she heard what sounded like large rats chewing through the wallboards of her room …
Now that’s silly, thought Nyah, we don’t have rats ... Mother would never allow it.
But that’s what it sounded like … something large chewing through her wall. And then, just as quickly as it started, it stopped. Nyah was certain she had been imagining it when CRACK! CRASH!
A splintered piece of wood flew past Nyah’s face as a wall board gave way near her bed, allowing entrance of a very frazzled-looking Mrs. Cleary, followed closely by Anna.
They raced to her side, and tears of concern filled their eyes. Nyah couldn’t concentrate, but she was sure Mrs. Cleary had said something to Anna, as Anna took off through the hole in the wall, leaving Mrs. Cleary alone with Nyah.
“Come, drink this,” Mrs. Cleary gently ordered the girl, pulling a small bottle from her apron pocket, “It’s going to taste like fire, but it will help.” She propped a small vial up to Nyah’s lips and poured an amber-colored liquid in her mouth.
Nyah sputtered and coughed as the concoction burned her throat going down. Within moments, Nyah’s eyes were clearer, her pain soothed, and she realized Mrs. Cleary was helping her put on a dressing gown.
Anna reappeared in the hole in the wall with an armful of towels, and in the other, a water jug. The two set about cleaning up Nyah’s wounds, each silently praying for the little girl, and cursing those who were responsible for hurting her.
Even though Nyah’s face looked horrible with one black eye and deep gashes about her cheeks and lips, it was actually her back that held the most damage. Mrs. Cleary had to send Anna for more gauze and ointment.
As soon as Anna squeezed out through the hole, Nyah felt Mrs. Cleary touch each of the spots on her back, muttering something under her breath. With each touch, Nyah whimpered in pain, and Mrs. Cleary apologized, but as soon as she was finished, Nyah felt warmth return to her body and she was able to move without as much discomfort. Mrs. Cleary helped Nyah sit up on the bed, and set about checking her over again.
When Anna returned with the ointment, she seemed puzzled at Nyah’s transformation, but was relieved to see her sister sitting up.
Anna sat gingerly on the bed while Mrs. Cleary applied ointment and gauze to Nyah’s back. Anna shared her sister’s pain by wincing every time Nyah cried out, and reaching out to hold her hand.
“I’m so sorry,” Anna finally said. Tears threatened to fall from her eyes, but she willed herself to be strong for her sister. “It was Alexander!” she blurted out. “He saw you ride away and ran straight to Mother. There was no convincing him to be quiet. She was furious … like I’ve never seen her before. I didn’t know what to do Nyah … I’m so sorry,” her eyes betraying her as the tears fell, leaving behind streaks on her otherwise beautiful face.
“It’s not your fault, Anna. It’s mine … I was selfish for going. I’m just glad neither of you got in trouble,” Nyah managed to say.
“Don’t you worry about us, dear. You just get better. Why, when your father sees what that woman did … well …” and Mrs. Cleary’s thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of a car door slamming.
Mother and Alexander were back from their shopping trip, no doubt a reward for catching Nyah.
“Quick, Anna, grab those things and put them in the east room,” ordered Mrs. Cleary.
Anna set about grabbing the towels, gauze, and ointment.
“Nyah, I’ll ask your Mother if I can bring up a plate of food for you. One way or another,” she said pointing from Nyah’s door to the hole in the wall, “we’ll get you a little something to put in your stomach. Don’t be moving about too much. You need time to heal.”
With a kiss on the top of Nyah’s head, she started for the east room. “Oh, and if you need me, you ring this.” Mrs. Cleary placed a small, delicate bell in Nyah’s hand. Nyah wondered how this tiny bell was going to get Mrs. Cleary’s attention all the way downstairs, but she didn’t question it -- she simply smiled at the gentle housekeeper -- and with that, Mrs. Cleary squeezed through the hole in the wall between Nyah’s room and the east wing of the attic. She gave a tug on the board and the broken bottom swung back into position, nearly covering the hole. Unless someone was looking at exactly the right spot, they would never notice any difference.
Nyah’s mind and body begged for rest and she happily obliged. Nyah carefully moved further down onto the bed and even though it was a warm day, she covered herself up with the thick blanket Anna had brought her and drifted off to sleep, praying she would wake up and this had all be a terrible nightmare, but grateful for the hole in the wall.
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