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Emily woke with a slight headache which she found unusual. She stretched, yawned and slipped out of the single bed, testing the coolness of the wooden floor with her bare feet. It was still dark but a chink of dawn hinted through the high-up curtainless windows. Emily dressed quickly and, deciding it was best to leave Rose asleep for a while longer, descended the back stairs and made her way along the corridor that led to the drawing room.
Suddenly she shivered and stopped. A creeping sense of coldness along the nape of her neck reminded her of the time she had swum deep off the Margate coast and hit an unexpected trough of chilly water. It was as if, for a moment, winter had returned - though she knew a warm day was forecast. She put the notion rapidly out of her mind and bustled away, nearly colliding with the open door of the linen cupboard that, for some reason, had been left ajar. It did remind her that she should air one of the guest rooms as a young visitor was expected later that day. No one knew much about him - but they all needed to be ready as he might turn up at any time.
Emily made her way upstairs, thinking the Ivory Room would probably be best. But something made her pause as she reached a painted black door with a gold 'M' above it. She knew where the key was kept hidden and, after a furtive look over her shoulder, retrieved it and silently slipped her way inside.
She had always been both intrigued and a little wary of this place. It was unremarkable, apart from being slightly cooler than the other rooms on this floor, because its external walls abutted the east tower - a castellated turret which remained the same today as when it was built. Emily had been told that if you sat still and concentrated carefully, voices could be heard through the stone - children singing a lullaby - it had been said. Emily tempted fate and perched on the edge of a small single bed - just a frame, no mattress - listening hard. But no sound came.
She left and locked the room, wondering why this room was never used. It did have a lovely view over the garden.
Emily went about her business quietly for the rest of that day which, as the family had all gone out shortly after breakfast, didn't amount to much. It occurred to her how heavy the air hung - a feeling of tension - like the lull before a storm. She couldn't even hear the birds. Also more troubling, she couldn't quite shake off her headache.
A little after 8.30 that evening, having collected up the last of the glasses from the Blue Room, she stood in front of the hall mirror and adjusted her hair and smoothed the wrinkles out of her sleeves. Lily then called out that supper was ready so Emily, realising how hungry she was, made her way along to reach the familiar set of stone steps leading down into the basement. Again, some sense of a warning made her stop.
Gripped by a feeling of foreboding, which seemed ridiculous to her, she held back. 'Don't be silly. There is nothing to be frightened of,' she told herself as she grasped the metal handrail tight. Taking a deep breath, she slowly descended into the darkness.