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Echoes in the Walls

V. C. Andrews

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  “ALL OF US commit sins in our dreams,” my mother once told me when I was a little more than five years old and guiltily described a dream I had about watching Enid Austin fall through thin ice on Lake Wyndemere.

  “She screamed and screamed and reached for my hand, but instead of helping her, I put my hand on her head and pushed her farther down in the icy water until she disappeared, Mummy. I saw the bubbles stop,” I confessed. My voice trembled. I was afraid God would punish me for wanting it to happen and so vividly envisioning it.

  Enid was a girl in my first-grade class who had told others in my class that I was illegitimate. She had told my classmates that I was against the law because my mother had given birth to me without a husband. I had no legal father.

  My mother was right about dreams. But I thought that in fantasies, we could get revenge also, brutal revenge, and when we woke up, we would feel satisfied as well as guilty. Wasn’t that better than actually doing it?

  But it was in dreams where we could do other immoral things, too. We could steal and enjoy what we had taken. We could trip our mean teachers and other mean adults and watch them fall down stairways. We could see bullies break their arms or legs and enjoy watching them writhe in agony, crying hysterically.

  Looking back, these childish dreams seemed silly, but when I was older and the woman in me was beginning to emerge from under the swirling and bubbling cauldron of childhood, I had sexual dreams about Ryder Davenport. I didn’t know yet, of course, that he was really my half brother. Even in my daytime reveries, we held hands, we kissed, and we saw each other naked. When I was older, some of my nighttime fantasies were so intense that I woke up wet and frightened at my own overwhelming passion.

  The kisses and caresses I had envisioned in dreams became real shortly before I learned how we were related to each other. And when I dreamed about them, even after I had learned it all, I understood that there was a deeper part of ourselves that was defiant of rules and laws, no matter what the threats or the consequences. What my mother once told me was ever so true in this mansion. The sins of childhood dreams paled before the bright glow of my adult transgressions and the transgressions of others older than me here. However, not any edict, not any biblical commandment, and not even my mother’s deep and painful disappointment could stop me from slipping gracefully and lovingly beside Ryder when in sleep I fantasized being with him. In my dream, we were always already both naked but very innocent. We were like Adam and Eve before the snake.

  His kiss began almost brotherly, on my forehead, my cheek. His hands remained on my shoulders. There was space between us but no room to retreat.

  Take a breath, step back, Fern Corey, I told myself in my dream.

  I should tell him, I thought. He should know before he goes any further.

  But then he might stop.

  Oh, be still, my troubled heart; otherwise, he will step back, and it will end. I will wake up and be alone in the dark, so unsatisfied and raging with frustration.

  I swallowed back the words that would condemn us. I didn’t care. His hands were moving to my breasts. He was growing harder. My head fell back against the pillow. His lips were on my neck. He was telling me he had the same passion for so long, a passion that had made him ache every morning.

  Yes, I thought. I’ll risk hell.

  He moved softly, almost flowed between my legs. I turned to welcome him. The child in me was sinking. It gasped and disappeared. We were so close now. It was happening.

  And then I saw my mother in the doorway. Her face was twisted in a grimace of utter shock, her eyes never as big or her lips as twisted.

  She brought her hands to her ears, covering them before she screamed. No!

  And I awoke.



  I SAT AT my computer desk by the window of my upstairs bedroom facing the front lawn, the walkway, and the crescent driveway to Wyndemere House that exited onto Lakeview Drive. For the past few minutes, I hadn’t had a single thought. The snowfall had hypnotized me. Every ten minutes or so, it fell in larger flakes that looked more like shavings from a bar of soap. From the way the leafless trees swayed, I could see that the December wind had picked up, too, and I knew it had to be very cold, because it blew in over Lake Wyndemere, a five-mile-long lake that our property abutted on the border between New York and Massachusetts.

  I heard the familiar and expected growling sound of the Davenports’ tractor. It seemed to vibrate the walls and floors, even in a house as large as this. I gazed down and to my left to see Mr. Stark, the estate manager, come around the left corner of the mansion to plow the driveway. His clothes glistened with the moist flakes that clung to his hat, coat, and pants, causing him to resemble a polar bear at the North Pole. Poking out from under his hat and between his earmuffs, his face was the color of a ripe turnip. Later, I might tease him and call him Rudolph the Red-Nosed Polar Bear.

  It had been snowing all morning and now was at its heaviest, fulfilling the weatherman’s weeklong promise of a white Christmas. At this hour, surely seven or eight inches had already accumulated. I could barely distinguish the driveway or Lakeview Drive. The sticky snow, which Mr. Stark called the worst kind because it was so heavy, had already turned the hedges into crouching ghosts and made the leafless trees look like gawking white chalk skeletons. Not a car had gone by during the entire time I had been sitting here watching the storm and studying how the flakes struck my windows and immediately changed into tears zigzagging across and down. To me, it was as if the mansion was having a fresh cry. With its history, it had so many reasons for grieving periodically. Lately, I felt like crying along with it.

  “We’re in for it,” Mr. Stark had told me earlier when I saw him having a mug of coffee with my mother in the kitchen. The snow had just begun in earnest. He was leaning against the counter and clutching his mug between his thick fingers as if he was already shivering. He wore a brownish-white cable-knit sweater with its turtleneck collar, which my mother had bought him on his sixtieth birthday. As usual, when he was inside the mansion, he had pushed the sleeves up over his thick, muscular forearms. My mother said he reminded her of one of the Clancy Brothers, her favorite Irish singing group.

  “Only he can’t carry a note across the room,” she said in front of him. He wasn’t insulted. Instead, he smiled with delight at being ragged, especially by her. My mother often had the effect of turning him into a little boy again. His eyes would warm, and the sternness in his face would melt and disappear. Years would fall away like red and yellow November leaves.

  “Who’d know about that better than your mother?” he asked me, nodding as if he wanted to convince me and keep me from quickly coming to his defense, which I often did. “Someone who herself sings like a canary.”

  “And didn’t earn enough to build a canary’s nest doing so, thank you,” she said.

  My mother was whipping up pancake batter. She had her raven-black hair, the same color as mine, pinned back with two thick ivory combs, and she wore a plum-colored cardigan, a white blouse, and matching plum slacks. It wasn’t ever possible to catch my mother looking sloppy or half dressed once she had stepped out of her room. She thought that was disrespecting not only yourself but also
those who couldn’t avoid seeing you. I saw she had risen earlier to set the table, something I would usually help her and Mrs. Marlene do. I certainly should have been helping this morning.

  Mrs. Marlene, who had been in charge of the kitchen and meals for as long as I could remember, was off on holiday visiting relatives, and my mother had assumed all her duties, beginning with preparing today’s breakfast for my father, Dr. Davenport; my half brother, Ryder; my half sister, Samantha; and myself. Mr. Stark would eat before us so he could get to work.

  Seeing the bed tray set out on the counter, I knew my mother would bring Ryder his breakfast this morning. Over a month now since his return from the hospital and therapy, it was no longer necessary for her or anyone to do that. He was able to get around the mansion on his own quite well, although he rarely went wandering about these days. But he didn’t need any special nursing care. My mother enjoyed spoiling him, though. She always had.

  “In for what?” I asked, yawning and stretching.

  I was still in my lavender-pink matching robe and slippers, an early Christmas gift from my mother because she said my old set was “knackered,” which was her British expression for something terribly worn out. She clung to so many expressions like that, expressions that were among the few things that brought a hint of a smile to Dr. Davenport’s face nowadays. His smile would start with a playful light in his sterling-gray eyes, start to ripple down his firmly sculpted cheeks, and then stop and sink back inside to wherever uncompleted smiles lived in frustration. I was sure it was getting crowded there. Even Christmas couldn’t free what depression had chained to his walls of sorrow.

  My mother always said “Happy Christmas” rather than “Merry Christmas,” too. It was her way of clinging to her youth, to the life she had left in Guildford, England, when she came to America to become a professional singer, now well over twenty years ago. She had no real traveling money and had to work as a maid on an ocean liner to get “across the pond.” It was a decision that had estranged her from her father, who had forbidden it and had warned that if she left, she would be ostracized by her family.

  “Step out of that door and never come back” were words still resonating even after all these years. But she was very determined, defiant, and full of expectations planted in her mind by friends, family, and most influentially her high school music teacher, expectations that wilted even before the blush had left her ambitions.

  I often wondered where big dreams for your future went when they died. Was there a cemetery in the sky with big tombs to house Movie Star, Singing Star, Pianist, Baseball Player, Football Player, Doctor or Lawyer, and even Astronaut, all the ambitions people had for themselves, ambitions that never had materialized?

  What would be the name on my tomb of dreams? I could sing but not half as well as my mother. I could dance better than most my age, but I didn’t see myself doing it professionally. I didn’t want to be an actor, either. Nothing in the world of entertainment held any promise as it did for so many of my classmates. I tolerated science and math, sometimes enjoyed history, and did love to read. However, right now, I saw no career for myself as a writer or a teacher, a doctor or a lawyer.

  I wasn’t supposed to worry too much about it yet. Few my age had specific vocational goals or even seriously thought about it until we were confronted by college plans or post–high school life, but I couldn’t help wondering what was out there for me and why I didn’t care or wasn’t, like some of my friends, full of glorious images of myself splashed on the covers of magazines or visions of myself being rich and living in my own beautiful home. The cover of my magazine, Fern’s Magazine, was stark white, with a big black question mark at the center.

  If you had no ambitions, were you like a kite whose string was broken and was now vulnerable to the frivolous wind?

  It was certainly how I felt . . . aimlessly gliding through the days, the weeks, the months since it had all happened, that terrible day, that terrible storm that twisted my heart into a knot.

  Would it ever unravel?

  “Probably a foot or more of snow by evening,” Mr. Stark now predicted, to explain why we were in for it. “And with this wind, drifts that will mount up higher than a twenty-five-hand horse before it’s over.”

  “Oh, go on with yourself, frightening the girl with the unbelievable,” my mother said, spinning around on him. She was always protecting me these days, even against horrendous images. “There’s no such horse. Twenty-five hands. Pure poppycock.”

  “Yes, there is,” Mr. Stark insisted. “I read about him in the Guinness World Record Book.”

  “You were drinking your second or third pint of Guinness, you mean.” She waved the air between them as if she could push his words away. “Nevertheless, after you eat something, you bundle up out there, George Stark,” my mother warned him with her eyes full of reprimand. “That sweater is not enough today.”

  Mr. Stark had been working at Wyndemere since long before my mother arrived, and whenever she was in the mood to tell me about her early days and my birth, she admitted she had needed his daughter Cathy’s help caring for me as well as caring for Ryder when I was born nearly three years after him. For over twenty years, Mr. Stark was her “rock-solid tree, never wavering no matter how strong the wind.”

  There was almost twenty years’ difference in age between them, but it didn’t matter how old Mr. Stark was. My mother still treated him as if he was one of her wards, and he usually followed her orders. Whenever he didn’t do that, like dressing appropriately for very cold weather, she would bawl him out until he raised his hands in surrender and did whatever she had told him to do. For most of my life, he and Cathy, who had become a nurse working in the hospital where Dr. Davenport was head of cardiology, my mother, and Mrs. Marlene were really the only family I had.

  Now, because of the Revelations, Dr. Davenport’s and my mother’s confessions, I finally had a father as well as a half sister and a half brother. That meant Ryder’s and Samantha’s paternal grandparents, long gone, were mine as well. What they had inherited from them, I had inherited. I was a member of the family that owned Wyndemere, the seventeen-bedroom house and the grounds of rolling hills and trees that seemed to go on forever. There was a pool and a tennis court and a barn for equipment. The landscaping was elaborate enough to require a dozen grounds people. I knew many girls my age would be envious of me because of the size of my room, the ballroom, and the game room, but I had good reason to wish the truth of my birth had remained a deeply buried secret.

  Who would be better off not knowing how she had come into this world?

  Me, that’s who.

  I turned from the window of tears when I heard Samantha come into my bedroom. Since Dr. Davenport’s confession that he was indeed my father and since his subsequent divorce of his second wife, Bea, their daughter, Samantha, had drawn much closer to me and dependent on me, even though I knew she was jealous of me as well. I still had a mother, and now I had a father. Everyone, including myself, had yet to openly acknowledge that I had a brother, too, Samantha the most reluctant.

  Contrary to what most mothers would want in a divorce settlement regarding their children, Bea requested only holiday visits, and she often missed those, even missed Samantha’s most recent birthday because she was on a fashion-buying excursion in Milan, Italy. We already knew she wasn’t coming on Christmas, and Samantha wouldn’t be joining her to celebrate the holidays. Bea was in London and had sent Samantha’s gifts two weeks ago, probably when it was most convenient for her.

  When so many gifts arrived, my mother said, “The woman is trying to buy off her conscience.”

  I understood why my mother thought Bea should feel guilty. These were the most important years for a mother and a daughter, years that were supposed to draw them closer, not further apart. Like most girls in the eighth grade, Samantha was quite into boys, and the rippling emotions her hormones were stirring brought a daily crisis of one sort or another. I remembered well when it had hap
pened to me, but at least I had my mother to listen to me and advise me.

  Especially these days, the moment Samantha’s eyes opened every morning, she was gasping with questions about herself. Sometimes one would be half formed and put on pause because she had fallen asleep before she had explained fully what she wanted to know. The next day, she’d come into my room to finish her question or remind me of something that had been troubling her like a bad itch.

  “Should my breasts ache when I get my period? Do boys pretend not to see you so they can bump into you and touch you on your behind? Do boys really kiss you on the nipples when you make love? Why do they call it an orgasm? It’s such an ‘ugh’ word. Pictures of organs are so ugly.”

  She relied on me more and more for insights about sex and relationships, not that I was any sort of expert. I had no special boyfriend and had yet to go on a single date this school year. According to what I heard some of the boys had said about me after I turned two down, I was supposedly too distracted with myself to keep their interest anyway. Later I heard that more than one had said going out with me would be like going out with someone who was deaf and dumb. To kiss me would be like kissing a mannequin. I knew they were embarrassed that they had asked me and been rejected. Their egos were bruised, but what they had said about me wasn’t all that far from the truth. I really wished Samantha wouldn’t come to me with questions about romance and sex. It stirred up my own longings.

  I had retreated to my room right after breakfast. Before the snow mounted too high, Mr. Stark was going to drive Dr. Davenport to the hospital in his four-by-four truck, which he claimed could travel through an avalanche. My mother was worried for both of them, but Dr. Davenport said that he had to put a stent in someone’s artery. He hated losing a patient, but “it would be doubly devastating to lose someone close to Christmas.”

  Despite that, I knew he was a little nervous about getting to the hospital in this storm. He was unusually quiet at breakfast. It was a winter storm that had taken the life of his first wife. The first snowfall surely revived the terrible memories. It had for every year since.