Sarah sat on a bench silently watching as a train passed by on the other side of the tracks. It was melancholic somehow with the wrr and screech of the metal cars obstructing the silence , in a not entirely unwelcome way. By chance she caught the eyes a little girl in a red hat gazing out of one of the car windows. The little girl waived but was gone too fast for Sarah to reciprocate. It had left her wondering. Who was she? Where was she going?
She imagined her on her way to visit a grandmother she’d not seen in a while. Imagined the little girl running up to a short older woman with a cane and white curly hair. Then jumping into her arms, feeling complete joy. She chided herself.
Sarah had a habit of g etting carried away like this, w hen it was brisk and rainy and she was alone. It was all too easy to escape to her imagination and let the real world fall away.
“Attention the Outbound Train to Sligo has been delayed, the new departure time will be 21:30, I repeat the new departure time will be 21:30. Thank you for your understanding.” a man’s voice boomed from the overhead speaker thrusting her out of her day dreaming.
She looked down at her watch and sighed.
‘Three more hours then…’ she thought drearily. What was supposed to be a day trip to Boyle's "Lonely Castle" had some how turned into a much larger event. At this rate she was likely to get back home closer to midnight and she wondered briefly if she should not just pack it in and find an inn for the night. It wasn’t as if she had anything to rush back for.
She had been warned that moving to Ireland would be lonely but it had just seemed like an adventure too good to pass up. So with dreams of rolling hills, romantic castles, and devilishly handsome Irish rogues, she boarded a plane as the new international exports liaison for Dunberry Foods – Sligo branch. It had all sounded important and magical. She supposed it had been in a more realistic way. She had rolling hills and castles to spare. The men had at first seemed mysterious and endearing but after a few months the novelty of their accents had worn off and she realized that yes, they were in fact men like all other men. Her important role with the company had turned out to be more customer service than strategy focused but still she could not complain.
And yet ..
And yet she found it near impossible to make friends. Adult friendships were hard at the best of times she’d reasoned. If you could not meet new people through existing friends, coworkers, or significant others it was near impossible. It did not help that she often felt left out of coworker ’ s jokes. She wanted to find them funny but couldn’t for the life of her understand why they were so funny. Knowing that explanations typically ruin the joke to begin with she found herself si mply smiling and laughing quietly, w ithout much to contribute. She was sure her coworkers thought she had no personality at all.
However, she was not one to dwell. If she didn’t have friends she wouldn’t let that stop her from exploring, from going to all the places she wished, from seeing that castle in Boyle though it was 2 hours away… or so she had said to herself this morning when she was making coffee and wondering what the hell she was going to do with herself the whole day.
In a way she was proud of herself. She came, saw, and conquered as it were.
And yet there was an unsatisfied stillness that wafted around her and a resignation that she simply could not shake. It left her sullen and introspective. She chuckled to herself, she really was getting more self-centered by the day.
‘Come on feet’ she thought having decided it best to find an inn for the night rather than brave a return trip home in the small hours. Perhaps th ere was a boujee resort nearby. She could treat herself, it was not as though she was spending her money on going out. Pulling out her phone she realized with horror she was near 20%. Regardless what she did next getting to an outlet was high priority. Not wanting to risk draining the battery on looking for a B&B she decided the station manager would be a better resource anyway and turned toward the kiosk station.
The station manager was much younger than she expected. He was in his 30’s she’d say with dark hair and mismatched blue grey eyes. She was caught in them a moment as she felt a wave of nostalgia wash over her. Looking down she attempted to collect herself.
“Hello” Sarah began with her customer service voice. “I wonder if you can help me?” The young station manager flashed her a smirk.
“Hello, How may I be of service?” he replied. His voice smooth and Sarah wondere d if in fact it had sounded curiously suggestive. She brushed it off.
“Yes, well I was wondering if you knew of a good B&B or resort near by?” she asked trying to pinpoint why she was getting a distinct feeling of déjà vu. She pushed the feeling down thinking that she must just be tired and still too caught up in her imagination. It was after all highly unlikely that she’d met this man before.
“Oh” he smiled knowingly. “You’ll be wanting The Abbey then. A lovely manor house just up the road. Lovely view of the mountains.” He trailed off rummaging through a few business cards before sliding one under the glass. Sarah picked up the small red and gold card. On brief inspection it seemed interesting enough with a tagline that read ‘where all your wishes will come true’. She doubted that.
Adding a thank you to the station manger she walked away already typing the website into her browser and missing the way the manager stared after her. He seemed calculated. All the good nature from their earlier interaction wiped away by the mischievous smirk he now wore. Sarah of course did not see any of this and felt no impending sense of danger.
From what she could tell, The Abbey was a gothic style manor house that sat on 100 acres. It appeared to have a long drive outlined with shrubs and large topiaries leading to a massive iron gate and a circular courtyard. Sarah took a look at some of the expansive rooms. Each equipped with a large lit á polonaise. It was perhaps the easiest decision she’d made to click book now. She was prompted to call and found that the attendant answered within one ring. The woman on the other end assured her that there was a room available stating that they would even send a car to collect her at the station. It had turned out that the driver had just taken another guest into town and that he could collect her in under 10 minutes.
Sarah could not believe her good luck and began to feel excitement for the night ahead. Everything seemed to be falling into place easily enough. Having secured the driver, Sarah returned to the station manager to give back the business card but curiously found no one in the booth.
‘He must have gone on break’ she mused absently setting the card under the glass partition and making her way to the street side of the platform. She did not have to wait long. As promised a black English style cab with the license plate 09-RN-6006 pulled up driven by a very short man with dark russet hair who eagerly jumped out to greet her.
“Ah you must be Ms. Williams then. I’m Riggen ” He announced in a thick Irish accent. “Get left by the train then? It seems I’m always picking up someone left by the train” he continued ushering her over to the car before she had a chance to even say hello in return.
“Are there any bags to collect?” he asked politely opening the door for her.
“No, it’s just me” she replied kindl y as he closed the door then ran around to hop into the driver’s seat with excitement.
“Now then Ms. Williams where is it your wishin ’ to go?” he winked and smiled at his little joke and Sarah found herself laughing along lightly caught up in his jovial energy.
“Straight to The Abbey I suppose” she responded smiling.
“Now where’d you learn that rubbish” Riggen continued with a laugh. “It doesn’t even begin with I wish ”
“Very well,” she chuckled. “I wish to be taken to The Abbey right now” she proclaimed with a laugh feeling as though for the first time in a while she was in on the joke.
“As my Lady commands” responded Riggen in mock seriousness. He then began to regale her with tales of other guests he’d carted from here and there barely pausing for breath. It was clear to Sarah that it was not necessary for her to participate apart from a few "oh wow" and "uh huhs " interjected at strategic moments of silence.
After a while, they fell into a comfortable quiet. The town faded from view and the countryside lay out before them. Vaguely it seemed they’d been traveling a long time, though how long she could not say. She found herself increasingly more and more exhausted and was surprised how difficult it had become to keep awake. She attempted to focus but in the end her eyelids felt like weighted bricks and she succumbed to sleep.
She awoke to the sound of a car door slamming closed and the back seat opening swiftly.
"There we are Ms. Williams. Welcome to The Abbey" Riggen announced with pride as Sarah's eyes attempted to adjust to the light. Strangely it had become quite dark though she was sure she couldn't have been traveling long enough for it to be night already. She'd left the station around 6, or so she thought. Climbing out of the car she glanced at her phone. Dead.
"Of course" Sarah thought with a sigh.
"Riggen, Do you have the time?" she asked as he merely shrugged something about not wearing a watch. He led her toward the massive stone mansion. Her eyes were wide with wonder as she took in the large stone archways illuminated by torchlight lanterns. She could tell that in daylight the arches would be covered in ivy and flowers and she looked forward to exploring more fully in the morning.
Riggen led her through the massive double doors into a dimly lit lobby every bit as awe inspiring as the outside. The floor was covered in stone tiles that matched the great stone staircase at the center of the roo m. The ceiling spanned two levels at least and vaulted at the top with what appeared to be frescoes of nymphs in a forest. Sarah was in awe. How did she not know about this place before? Had she known she would have planned to stay at the Abbey from the beginning.
“Good Evening” Sarah was interrupted by the appearance of a tall blonde woman in a maroon suit. “You must be Ms. Williams”
The woman smiled as Sarah nodded and led her over to the reception desk. “Here is your room key, you will be staying in our Princess Suite on the second floor. Do you have any personal items you need taken to the room?”
“No, it’s just me” Sarah replied and shrugged. “This is more of an impromptu visit” Sarah laughed, and the woman smiled an odd knowing smile. What she knew, Sarah wasn’t sure. Yet she had a strange feeling she was missing out on something particularly important.
“Do not worry; we have laid out everything you need in your room. We have also prepared a costume for tonight’s event.” She continued as Sarah became increasingly more confused.
“Tonight’s event?” she asked bewildered as to why she would need a costume or how they would even know her size.
“You didn’t know?” the woman replied astonished. “I apologize for not making you aware, tonight is a special event for the Abbey. We are honoring the God’s of summer with a dinner in the Garden a nd a special ceremony. Followed of course by dancing and cocktails.”
“Oh I” Sarah started feeling as though she was not entirely prepared to attend any kind of event, especially alone. She wasn’t sure if she was up to forcing small talk on strangers after a long day of sightseeing. The woman seeing her trepidation began selling the event as the highlight of summer and a must see to the point where Sarah began to wonder how she’d never heard of the Abbey or this Summer Festival before.
“Elainne” a commanding voice caught their attention and the woman, Elainne, immediately turned in deference to the tall blonde man who had approached them.
“You must not pressure the guests” He continued as Sarah found herself staring at him. A waive of nostalgia running over her so strongly that her breath almost caught in her throat. His voice, the confident smile, and those eyes, one grey, one blue, why did she feel like she knew him? And Why did she feel like she should be running away?
“It’s you ..” she found herself saying absently. The room seemed to stop a moment as if the air had been sucked out. He was staring at her oddly with what appeared to be apprehension or was it something else she couldn’t name?
Outside she heard the start of an engine breaking the spell. She immediately blushed and looked away flustered by her inappropriate outburst.
“No, I, I’m sorry I don’t know why I said that. You just look familiar that’s all, I” She continued stammering on unsure of what just happened. Peering up at him she saw a flash of, was that disappointment?, waft over his face. It was replaced almost immediately with a firm smile. Sarah found herself looking properly now wondering how his eyes could be so cold and his smile so warm.
“I seem to have one of those faces.” he chuckled his voice dripping with sweetness, but his eyes did not match him at all. Elainne laughed uncomfortably to his right appearing suddenly much shorter and Sarah began to feel anxiety pool lightly in her stomach. Something felt off and she couldn’t place why. He seemed to sense her discomfort and with a grand smile he made a slight bow.
“I apologize, I have not introduced myself.” he said smoothly taking her hand in his and placing a soft kiss at her wrist. “My name is Jareth.”
“Sarah” she replied almost in a daze. He smirked and chuckled as if she’d made a joke. Sarah frowned feeling very out of place. She both wished to be very far away and at the same time that she’d put on more makeup this morning.
“I am the owner here.” he continued casually. “If there is anything you require during your stay, you need only ask.”
“Thank you.” She answered softly finding it suddenly difficult to look him in the eye. Inwardly she screamed at herself to get it together. So he was handsome? And the owner of a stunning manor house.. that didn’t mean she needed to fall into a puddle at his feet. And yet she found her words catching in her throat and her heart beat quicken and pound in a way it hadn’t done in a very long time.
“I do hope we’ll see you tonight” he carried on seemingly unaware of the effect he was having on her. Taking the key from Elainne , who Sarah had completely forgotten was there, he rasped a soft “Allow me.”
Then he took he liberty of leading her up the grand staircase toward her room. She remained quieter than she’d have liked as he explained the history of the house and the significance of the ceremony being held there. She found herself lost in the low tenor of his voice, not paying particular attention to the words he was saying until they arrived at a large ornately carved wooden door.
“ Here we are.” He said handing her the key and letting his fingertips graze hers a beat longer than necessary. “I look forward to seeing you later this evening. Until then, Sarah” he smirked, bowed slightly and then was gone, seeming to vanish as she turned from the door to the hall once again. Sarah was left feeling more than a little confused and oddly heated from their brief exchange. Shaking her head to compose herself she turned the key and stepped into her room letting the door close softly behind her.