These blog battles or short story contests are organised by the one and only Rachael Ritchey. If you think you are tough enough to compete join us!
This week’s word is Time
The Resident’s Ball
Roxy stood in front of the locked door, bare foot and shivering in a flimsy cotton night dress.
The hallway was dark and deserted, and yet she didn’t feel alone. Turning slowly around she ran the beam of her torch across the wall behind her. It found the row of portraits. The former residents of Semper House Nursing Home were watching her from their ornate gold frames.
Her beam was drawn to one face from the past. An handsome elderly man with twinkling blue eyes and a chiselled face. The brass plate underneath his portrait read ‘Stanley Burroughs‘. It also read ‘he died twenty years ago. Stanley had been a much loved resident of Semper House and would be missed by his wife Vera.‘
Roxy shivered as she recalled her conversation with Vera, his wife, earlier that day. Vera’s excited chatter about her late husband echoed in her mind. There was something odd about the way Vera spoke of Stanley. It was as though he was still alive.
Her beam seemed to linger on Stanley’s face. Roxy felt a cold feeling creep over her. It seemed an odd coincidence that she was now drawn to his portrait.
She turned back to the door to notice something lying by the foot of the door. It was a piece of yellow card with the words ‘Resident’s Ball’ and ‘Midnight’ written in beautiful italics on it. What was this Resident’s Ball she asked herself? She knew all the activities planned for the residents but there was no Ball.
The old grandfather clock started to chime, signalling the arrival of midnight.
Roxy pressed her ear to the door to listen for any sounds of life.
She wanted answers to all her questions about Semper House. The nursing home was hiding a secret and she wanted to know what it was.
Sounds of feet moving past her room, whispering voices and doors closing had woken her. In a panic she shot out of bed, believing the noises were from one of the elderly residents, confused and frightened.
As much as she tried to convince herself that the noises were from a resident who needed rescuing, she knew that no one at Semper House suffered with mental confusion. This was one of the mystifying things about the place.
All the residents were well into their centenary years, each one with their mental and physical health still fully intact. Doctors, nurses, pills and medicines were unheard of. No one shuffled, or relied upon wheel chairs or sticks. Everyone walked briskly around the place, straight backed with their heads held high in the air. It was like time had stopped for everyone inside Semper House.
After the first couple of weeks in her new job at Semper House she found herself quizzing the other staff members about the residents.
“What keeps them all so youthful?” Roxy asked the other members of staff during break time, one afternoon. She was met with a wall of blank looks and shrugs of shoulders.
“I can’t be the only one who thinks there is something strange about this place” she persisted, looking from one face to another.
Marjorie, one of the experienced nursing assistants, leaned towards her and smiled. “The residents have discovered the secret.”
“What secret?” Roxy asked, her mind racing with intrigue.
Marjorie shook her head. “You will find out for yourself. It really is quite a spectacle.”
Roxy watched Marjorie rise from her chair. As she was about to leave the staff rest room Marjorie turned and said “no one ever leaves Semper House.”
Roxy’s mind had worked tirelessly to try and work out what the secret at Semper House was. She started to notice other oddities about the residents. They all sat together in tall backed red leather chairs, set out in a tight circle with all members of staff under clear instruction to never move them. Within this ring the residents laughed in union, chattered excited and debated furiously topics of the day. Nobody was sad or lonely at Semper House.
She tried to break the circle of residents by talking to each one individually, searching for a shared interest with which to build a bridge but this proved fruitless. Secret messages were conveyed between the residents with a glance or a hand gesture.
Her heart thumped noisily in her chest as she bent down to pick up the card. It was then she noticed the keyhole in the wooden door, big enough for an eye to catch a glimpse of what was taking place inside the Resident’s Lounge.
As she knelt down the chilling touch of the stone floor tiles against her bare legs made her gasp. Carefully she positioned herself on her knees in front of the oak door.
An eerie blue light started to stream through the keyhole and she could hear the soft tinkle of a piano start to seep through the door.
Her face brushed the smooth surface of the door and she gently placed her eye over the keyhole.
What met her eyes made her stop breathing for a moment. The tired old Resident’s Lounge had been magically transformed into an elaborate Ball Room. There was a grand piano in one corner, an opulent chandelier hanging from the ceiling and a large open space where elegant dancing couples twirled around to music.
Roxy gasped as one of the couples stopped briefly by the door. The lady leant back revealing herself as Vera, one of the residents. She was wearing a breath taking purple silk dress and her grey hair was adorned with an array of feathers and jewels. Her dinner jacket clad partner spun around and Roxy instantly recognised the face. It was Stanley Burroughs from the portrait. She watched as Vera laughed and he started to dance away with her.
It was all too much. She drew back from the keyhole shaking her head and trying to soothe her racing heart. Maybe she was dreaming? Was this part of a nightmare? Stanley had been dead for twenty years.
A warm hand was placed on her shoulder making her yelp in fright. As she looked up she saw that it was Marjorie, holding a torch and smiling at her.
“Have you been watching the Resident’s Ball Roxy?” asked Marjorie.
Roxy nodded but was unable to speak. The sight through the keyhole had rendered her speechless.
“They all come back for the Resident’s Ball” she said quietly, nodding towards the row of portraits lit up by her torch.
“This is what keeps the living residents so young and happy. The Resident’s Ball means they are never alone at Semper House. They get to dance the night away with their departed loved ones.”