63: A Sound from Above

At least it was the top floor as far as the elevator was concerned. Edmund was positive he had counted five floors of windows when he had ridden up in the carriage with Matron, but for some reason the elevator only went up to level four. Perhaps there were different stairs for the rest of the way, he thought as he wandered around, looking for some method to get to the fifth floor.

He couldn’t find anything. Some of the locked doors looked big enough to hold staircases, but Edmund couldn’t see any stairs when he peeked through the keyholes. Perhaps there had been some mistake when the builders had constructed Moulde Hall, he thought. Maybe they had given it an extra floor and there wasn’t anything up there; just a large empty space without walls, furniture, or decorations.

Edmund was about to move on when a soft shuffling noise reached his ears. He looked around, but the hallway was as empty as every other passage he had seen. He paused for a moment in case something was following him, but there was nothing. He took a few more steps when he heard the susurrus again.

At first he wasn’t certain if he had really heard the noise, or if his over-sized pants had simply brushed against a nearby statue. As if cued by his thoughts the shuffling noise reached his ears once more, and he realized the sound was from above. Edmund looked up at the ceiling–a foolish behavior, he realized almost instantly.

He stood still, staring at the ceiling, straining to discern exactly what was making the noise. He held his breath, wishing the sound of his blood in his ears was not so loud. He stood for minutes with the only sound the storm raging outside.

Then, a faint ticking began to echo through the walls, and a deep resonance grew like a rushing wave. Within seconds, the mansion was ringing four-o-clock. Had Edmund not been listening so carefully, he wouldn’t have heard the floorboards above his head squeak just before the hour struck.

Floorboards didn’t creak without being stepped on, Edmund reasoned, so someone was up there. He guessed that he might be somewhere near the east tower. Wasn’t that where he had seen the strange white figure rushing past the window when he was arriving in the carriage? Could it be the same thing he had bumped into after leaving the dining room?

Four, Matron had said. Four others lived with her, and Edmund had only met two.

As quietly as he could, he carefully crept along the hallway, trying to locate the exact position of this strange noise. It was hard to hear it clearly, tall as the ceiling was. And no sooner was he certain he knew where this noise was coming from than he would hear it again a foot or two away. Edmund stepped carefully, stalking the sound as carefully as he could.

As he strained to hear, the sounds of nearby conversation slowly took the place of the soft movements. Then, as quickly as he had heard it, the sound vanished, subsumed into the soft voices from behind a nearby door.

The Thing had vanished.

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