Catherine’s Castle - The Story
The continuing adventures of the Colorado Girls.

Chapter 8

Catherine’s Castle © Linda Pilkington

Note: This chapter is most appropriate for tweens or teens. I have never felt that I could, or should, edit a story to free it of every fearful occurrence. I would rather show that my characters learn to be brave-and to face that which frightens them. However, children may be afraid of imagined characters and stories, and in that case should not read- or have the story read to them.


Summer Dream

A playful wind that began at Brigid’s Well near Kildare, lifted high into the sky and traveled on into the clouds, swirling, weaving and finally growing fierce as it was driven across the world to trouble the midsummer dream of some Child of Cu´chulainn’s.

The wind blew through the open windows, then traveled through the upstairs hallway of the old house to shake the bedroom door, and set the transom above it rattling as if ghostly hands were at work.

Outside the window- the trees in the lawn, and in the woods behind it, bent and rustled. In the distance, thunder rumbled. After a time, a few drops of rain splashed against the window.

She had gone to sleep to the sound of crickets chirping. She had been dreaming about whispering, wicked women.

Half asleep, she shivered and wondered why her room was so cold on a summer’s night.

Again, she shivered in the icy silence, and then she woke-up.

She felt the old fear, and knew that IT was standing in the darkness at the foot of her bed.

She lay still, her eyes half-closed-afraid to look -afraid of what she would see.

IT can see in the dark!”

Lightning flashed so bright that her heart raced, but she stayed still, acting as if she were still asleep.

She wanted to call for her mother, but she could not say the words.

“IT wants me to be awake so it can scare me,” she thought.

She heard someone- in the distance-call out- and then silence and darkness.

There was a rustling sound. IT took hold of her foot.

She tried again to call her mother, but her throat felt frozen. She swallowed and tears squeezed out of the corners of her eyes.

The wind moaned, and thunder shook the old house-but no one else was awake or came to help her.

Slowly, so slowly that it hurt to move, she inched her head under the sheet. She lay as quiet as she could, trying to keep her legs from trembling, and knowing that soon-IT would grab her and take her away into the darkness.

She breathed as slowly as she could, and tried to say a silent prayer. But when the words formed they were not prayers but a call for help.

“Mommy, I’m all alone. It’s dark.”

“I am scared of the storm.”

“Please Mommy, come and help me. Daddy, there is something scary here. Please hear me!”

Minutes passed, and finally she felt IT touch her shoulder. With one desperate surge of strength she jumped out of her bed yelling, “Go away! You, leave me alone!”

“For heaven’s sake, Gwynie!” Melinda stood beside the bed -her eyes as big as her sisters.

“What on earth is wrong with you?”

Morning had come while her head was under the covers. Gwynie was relieved at the bright sunlight, and so happy to see her sister that she began to cry.

“Are you sick?” Melinda looked scared. She felt Gwynie’s forehead with the back of her hand, and then sat down on the bedside chair and pulled Gwynie onto her lap.

Gwynie hid her face on her sister’s shoulder-glad to feel Melinda’s arms holding her.

After a few minutes Melinda asked, “Do you want to go back to bed? I can call the Miller’s and tell them I’ll clean for them later- when you feel better.”

“No, I’m not sick. I’m getting dressed.”

Abruptly, Gwynie stopped crying, jumped down and ran to the bathroom.

Melinda finished dressing, went down to the kitchen and poured cereal into bowls-surprised to find that her hands were shaking.

“Do I tell Popsie or Mother about this?” She questioned herself. But as usual, she couldn’t decide whether the problem should be taken to her parents.

” It was just a bad dream, and it scared her. I just wish that I understood more about kids. That was strange, but sometimes perfectly normal kids do strange things.”

Gwynie came in, sat down and poured milk onto her cereal. Her face had what Catherine had described as, the- “say one word to me and I’ll cry” look.

Melinda silently ate her own cereal. Then she did the last minute chores that had to be done before they left the house.

Raindrops had pooled on the ledge outside of the window. They were already drying, and seeing them, Melinda, a heavy sleeper, recalled the rumble of thunder that had preceded the rain. But the storm had hurried through the city leaving no cooling breezes behind. It was mid- July and the sun streaming in the kitchen window already seemed hot.

Melinda’s father often said that the old Victorian house had been fortunate in its builder, and in its owners. It had never been a luxurious house. But it had been well planned, constructed of fine material, skilled labor, and built with an eye to the comfort of the family that would live there. As the years passed-, it had been owned by people willing to keep it in good repair.

The Emerson’s had taken good care of the house as long as they could afford to, but in the last few years the paint had faded a bit, and the plumbing had grown noisier.

Her forehead puckered with worry, and her stomach cramping with what her mother called “nerves”, Melinda went about the house, making sure that everything that should be turned off was turned off. She remembered to shake the handle on the noisy upstairs toilet, and to shut the windows that had been opened the evening before.

The past residents of the house had left behind an abundance of ceiling fans for air circulation. For the first summer during their twenty- year residence, the Emerson family had needed to use every fan.

Melinda pulled window shades, and switched on fans, starting in her parent’s bedroom, which was at the very top of the old house. Then she moved to her sister’s bedrooms, the fan in the upstairs hall, and then down to the dinning and the living rooms-leaving a cool and gentle electrical wind humming through the darkened rooms.

The yellow  house was of unknown vintage, but its walls were unusually thick, according to modern standards. With the ceiling fans going, the windows and blinds closed, the house stayed cool on the hottest summer days.

Melinda hurried through the house and her thoughts hurried with her.

“It might have been better if we had put Gwynie in daycare for the summer. She probably needs kids to play with. She has hardly seen anyone except the family all summer. At first, she insisted on going with Popsie whenever he went to pick up Mother at work, but she’s stopped that. And since then she has hardly gone anywhere.”

“At the beginning of the summer she was happy-relieved about being out of school. She even agreed to work on her reading this summer. When we are home- I hardly see her-except at our reading practice. She has been as happy as a clam playing with that wooden castle Popsie made her. She’s been out in the back yard every day. She has been quiet, but she seemed fine until this morning.”

Glancing at the clock Melinda gathered up her keys and her bag, as Gwynie-her face still pale- fell into step beside her for the two- block walk to the Miller house.

“Please, please don’t let her be sick.” Melinda pleaded silently. “I can just see us walking into their house and Gwynie upchucking on that white carpet of theirs.”

Gwynie walked on ahead, then stopped-turned and smiled.

“Look, Melin- aren’t they cute!” Ahead a mother robin was feeding her speckled- breasted children. They hopped after her, and when she found some choice bit- they shook their wings and opened their mouths, saying, “feed me”.

Melinda did not comment, but she smiled and nodded at her sister. Her mother had pointed out the beauties of nature to her, once too often, and so Melinda refused to be impressed by it.

“She is better now… It was the storm, the wind and the thunder, she must have had a bad dream-everyone has bad dreams- it doesn’t mean anything. I am not going to worry about it anymore,” Melinda decided.

She walked five paces- considering.

” Last week we got the notice for school registration-could that be it?”

“I’m not a parent-so how would I know?” She impatiently answered her own question.

Then, “The summer is going too fast. I’m not going to spend what’s left of it being my sister’s psychologist.”

She shifted her bag to her other arm and pushed her hair back from her forehead. ” Besides, I know that it has been a fun summer for Gwynie. It has been ok for both of us. We have hardly had one fight.”

“If either one of us had a complaint it would be me. My life has been totally boring because I’ve taken care of her.”

Gwynie hasn’t had anything to worry about.”

“And I’ve not complained even though I’ve done the housework, while being the maid for the entire state-in order to earn my clothes money.”

” I haven’t had any fun-I’ve gone to two movies all summer- and I’ve not been out on a single date.”

” Well, one thing for sure- I won’t admit that when school is back in session.”

Melinda grinned; amused at the list of grievances she had managed to fit into a two-block space of time.

Melinda knew that the quiet summer had been just what she had needed. Taking care of her sister had been a welcome relief from the pressure of High School and the social life that was supposed to be a part of it.

She wouldn’t have admitted it but she wanted time away from her friends. It felt good not to wonder what everyone thought of her. It felt good not to worry about boys or about popularity. It had been a summer to be herself instead of what she was supposed to be. It had been her vacation from growing up.

Before that vacation had begun, Melinda talked to her father about how she would spend the summer. She wouldn’t turn sixteen until August- so most jobs were closed to her. Even after she turned sixteen she still would have no car to get to and from a job. So, they decided that she would spend another summer helping at home.

They had come to an agreement. Her parents were to pay her a small salary for taking care of Gwynie, and Melinda was to earn whatever money she could working for other people in the neighborhood.

Once the word had gotten out that Melinda Emerson would be home for the summer- work offers came rolling in. There were people willing to pay her for house -sitting, house cleaning, lawn mowing, baby-sitting and pet sitting. No one objected to Melinda taking Gwynie along on her jobs. The neighbors were relieved to have somebody honest and dependable to help them even if the “somebody” brought her young sister along on the job; honesty and dependability were becoming rarities in America.

Melinda had worked hard. She accepted as many jobs as she could. To her surprise, she had accumulated quite a hoard of cash to pay for her school clothes and the other expenses that were sure to come up during the year. And along with the money had come an upsurge of self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment.

She learned that she was competent and able. She could do all of the chores that needed to be done as a part of daily life. Jobs that many adults did badly or not at all.

She could clean houses till they shone, she could mow lawns quickly and efficiently and she had managed some of the world’s most obnoxious children.

It wasn’t work that her friends would have envied or admired her for, but that didn’t matter. She didn’t plan on telling them about it. And at the moment she didn’t need anyone else’s admiration or approval because, for once, she admired herself.

“I must have walked a thousand miles this summer. I haven’t exercised once-yet I look better then when I was exercising two hours a day.”

She glanced down admiringly at her slacks-, which now hung loosely over her hips. “Mind you- I wouldn’t want to make a lifetime career of it, but I guess doing hard labor is good for something.”

Later, as Melinda cleaned the Miller house her mind returned to Gwynie. The terrified- the almost wild look- that had been on her sister’s face as she woke-up worried her. Was something wrong with her little sister-something that neither she, nor her parents had discovered?

“Mother and Popsie should be handling this,” she said. For a moment, the fierce resentment that she sometimes felt towards her father and her mother reasserted itself.

“Their minds aren’t on us-or our problems- that’s for sure.”

Then, Melinda like, she relented.

“No, their minds are on the same problem that has occupied them for the past four years- and probably even before- the problem of the survival of the Emerson family.”

Had it really been so many years ago?

And had there been as many thunderstorms during that summer as Melinda remembered? She wasn’t sure. She only knew that by the end of that summer everything had changed.

She recalled how scared the family was when her father had been forced to close the tire store that he had owned and managed. After ten years of bad fortune, closing that store had become a financial necessity. After the closing, there had been so many bills to be paid that it had emptied the Emerson’s savings and left them deeply in debt.

It was a time of frayed nerves. For a long while a sense of dreary hopelessness had settled over the pretty, old house. Her father and mother had known that the family’s future was uncertain at best, but they vowed to bring the family through to better times.

Her parents managed to keep up a front of easy confidence for the world’s benefit. That front was their protection. “After all”- they said, “We have to solve our own problems-so the least the world can do for us is to leave us in peace while we do it.”

” Comments, commiseration, or interference,” would not help them solve their predicament, and so they had downplayed their troubles and reassured their family and friends.

When they were alone, and no longer had to act a part- her father was silent and wore a haunted look. Her mother’s eyes grew sad as she watched the death of their dream.

The girls knew that their mother and father had not abandoned them, but that they were preoccupied with over -whelming responsibilities. For that summer, their parents had seemed unsettled and lost.

The hope- the sense of life’s possibilities was gone. They had lost confidence in the future. When they were alone they wondered if they were strong enough for what lay ahead.

During that time, they had returned to their old custom of pacing together in the “back garden”.

The walks were different than the ones they had taken as a young couple. Now they were facing a serious financial crisis; they were older, and silent, having to accept changes that they had never wanted to make.

Still they were together, and arm in arm. For weeks, every evening they had paced, trying to drive the thought of their losses from their minds so that they would be able to sleep. Knowing that somehow they must stay on their feet, and that they must find the strength to keep moving themselves and their children forward.

Catherine, at fifteen, was a blessing to her family. She turned to comfort her younger sisters and by keeping them cared for and occupied had eased her parent’s minds. Gwynie and Melinda had clung to Catherine, silently following her around the house.

Catherine spent the days and evenings talking to them, playing with them and reading to them.  Often she told them stories, trying to drive away the heavy silences that settled over the house after one of the frequent thunderstorms had passed through the city.

She told stories of lovely ladies, knights and Kings, of dragons breathing fire and destruction. Sometimes she cast her parents as the hero and heroine living in times past-fighting against evil spells and the whispering witches that had cast them.

Sometimes she had her sisters imagine that their house was the castle that the hero and heroine had suffered in. She explained that the house had changed as it had traveled through the ages to the present time. Now only the small tower, (where once a dragon had skulked)- at the top of the house was left- to show that once-in another time and place-the house had been a castle.

On and on, hardly listening to her own words- Catherine weaved strange stories of myths, magic and of monsters. Her sisters gave the stories their full attention, and sat- their eyes wide and their breathing quickening with excitement.

But all the while, Catherine was preoccupied. As she talked she listened for the sound of the back door opening and her mother and father returning to the house. That sound was her reassurance that they were ok, and were still able to take up the burdens of the family.

Finally, there would be the sound of footsteps on the back porch, and Catherine would exhale- feeling that she had been holding her breath all evening. And then, to her relief, her mother was with them. Patting her daughter’s hands as she passed by to take the rolls, for dinner, from the oven.

After dinner, the girls cleaned the kitchen while their parents retired to the office to continue their talk, and to plan what would be done to regroup and to recoup the family’s losses.

And each night, each girl left her sisters, and quietly slipped away, as if to use the downstairs bathroom. Further down the hall and beyond the bathroom was their father’s office. Casually,  as if this was a normal time, and they were answering a normal call of nature, each girl silently stood -listening to what her parents were saying.

Catherine had heard her father say, “After the store is gone there’s nothing left except debt and worry.”

Then her mother’s voice had come out of the darkness, “No Jordan, that isn’t true. No matter what else is gone-, we are left. We are alive, and we are together. We are still a family.”

One night, hidden in the darkness of the hallway, Gwynie heard her mother crying, ” I can’t stay home with Gwynie anymore.”

” You’ve found work- now I must. Oh Jordan-how can we take care of three children without any money? With two, it wouldn’t be so hard-but with Gwynie so young… What if we lose the house? Where on earth will we go?”

Another night, Melinda, on silent bare feet, stole around the corner and stood, shivering alone in the shadowy hall.

“Will I still be your ‘lady fair’?” Her mother asked. There was a smile in her voice, but  she sounded as if she needed reassurance.

” I am a poor king- I never will give you jewels,” her father said. This said in the pretend “kingly voice” that he used when they played “Castle” with their daughters. And then he had gone on; speaking slowly, in his own voice, and bringing tears to Melinda’s eyes.

“A long time ago I promised to take care of you-to defend you against the world. Oh, Melin-I haven’t given you anything except children and worry. And now-no money to take care of them with. I’ve never conquered anything. And now, our every dream, every castle in air-has crumbled… I am a  failure for getting us in such a mess.”

“Conquered? You have fought for ten years- a battle, and with such a brave heart. Jordan, you started out with so little to fight the world with.”

“Don’t tell me that you are a failure. Most men have something to start with when they start a business. They inherit or somehow have been provided money to begin with- you had nothing. A man with enough money to start a business thinks that he has conquered the world if things go well for him-he struts and his ego shines.”

“You had nothing to begin with but your own brains, a huge loan, and your willingness to work. For ten years, you worked harder than any man I have ever known, and you held things together and supported us. You couldn’t help it that there was no margin of safety- when bad luck came it ended our dreams. It is as simple as that. You are not at fault.”

There was quiet for a moment, and then her father’s words were muffled, and peeking again- Melinda saw that his lips were buried in her mother’s hair.

“Heart’s Dearest, whatever happens-you are always the ‘Fairest Lady’ in this land.”

Yes, that stormy summer had changed their family forever. Fear and insecurity had entered the house, and into their minds and hearts. Each of them had faced that fear with the strengths with which their own personalities had equipped them.

Jordan Emerson found something to laugh at. Catherine looked to her own imagination-sure that soon her writing would make them all rich. Melinda grumbled, but she faced one problem at a time, and tried to solve it. Gwynie, too young to know that she had any strength, watched them all, and clung to each one of her family in turn.

Their mother had found comfort and strength in nature. She told her family, “Look at the birds, and the animals; they survive the storms. The disaster comes, it ruins their nests, sometimes it even kills their mates or their young, but they don’t get hopeless or give up- they go on.”

“They don’t complain. They start over and rebuild the nest. We can’t waste time being afraid-we have go on –we have to rebuild the nest.”

And so, after the storm came the calm. And with practice, the family learned to face fear and insecurity, and to use the only weapon that had been left to them- courage.

After the first crisis had been survived, they had to learn to live with the annoyance of not having any money. Whenever something was wanted or needed, it became a crisis- rather than a normal part of life.

At first, being human- and selfish- they took their resentment out on each other. Irritation - anger seemed a welcome relief from despair and for a short while it flared up on a regular basis.

Then one evening, when even Catherine had seemed headed for an explosion –her parents had instituted the “family conference”.

These meetings which took place, on a weekly basis in the dining room were designed to keep the “home fires burning- rather than to let them burn out of control” Their father said.

“The other purpose is for you to decide who gets what, and in what order-they get it. There will be no fights, or temper-tantrums thrown at these meetings; there will be no long suffering sighs or dirty looks either- so cut it out, Melinda,” he said. 

Once the law had been laid down it was strictly enforced, and the meetings became family strategy sessions. The wants and needs of each were weighed, judged and decided.

“Melinda needs a haircut, I need some new socks, Manna needs panty hose so she can go look for a job,” he said.

And then without looking up from his notes, “Quit snickering. You do not have to worry; -your mother will be wearing more than panty hose when she looks for a job. - Now, where was I? Yes, well-Catherine needs a back pack…and there are a few other things…” He trailed off, not sure how to mention plans for Gwynie’s birthday celebration with Gwynie in the room.

One or the other of the girls would begin the planning, “Well the haircut can wait a week-keep your hair washed every day, use smaller rollers when you set it.”

“Manna has to have the panty hose-we have coupons to help on those.”

“Popsie’s socks can be mended for a few weeks.”

“There were some back-packs at that half price store- you could look there- and keep an eye on the sales- we have some time before you have to have that.” Their mother would advise.

And so with saving small change, and with walks, talks, faith and by loving each other, the Emersons had survived those difficult years to confront, once more, another hot and stormy summer.

That afternoon the girls returned home from the Millers, and Gwynie took a sandwich and milk out on the back porch.

Watching her through the screen door, Melinda realized how much Gwynie had changed from the noisy, demanding baby, and the mischievous, funny toddler she had once been. Now she was a quiet child and seldom made any demands at all.

Once she had explored the entire house. And her favorite place had always been her own high ceilinged, narrow bedroom. Now she went to her room only to sleep.

Curious, Melinda left Gwynie to her lunch and went upstairs.

On the second floor, Catherine’s room was just beyond the stairway, then Melinda’s, and next to it- Gwynie’s room. Just down the hall from Gwynie’s room, you could go to the left and up a short flight of stairs to their parent’s bedroom. Or down the hall, beyond Gwynie’s door, you turned slightly to the right and you were in the “tower room” the Victorian- style bathroom that the girls shared.

When Gwynie had turned three, before “our late financial embarrassments” as Popsie called them- the older girls and their parents had worked for a month to make Gwynie’s window lined room a child’s paradise.

Melinda stood looking in. The room was finished in creamy white with Royal blue accents. The inside windows were covered with old-fashioned white-wrought iron shutters in a lacy pattern that let lots of light and air through the windows while keeping the child from tumbling out of them.

They had left the dark wood floor alone-because the grain of the wood was too beautiful to fuss with. On one side of the room was a “big girl’s” bed- on the other a complete and delightful play area. Gwynie had liked her room, and whenever they were home- if Gwynie disappeared for long- it was likely that she could be found in that friendly little room.

Melinda looked around; it was a pretty place. “Nothing to bring on bad dreams here,” she said. 

 There was no closet for monsters to lurk in, because the room hadn’t been furnished one. Some of Gwyine’s clothes hung neatly from wooden pegs that covered the furthest wall-the rest were stored in the dresser and in the upstairs hall closet.

Melinda frowned, “That stupid toilet has more sound effects than a horror movie.”

As she stood shaking its handle, the phone rang-and then stopped so she knew that Gwynie had answered it.

“Cathenon, can I sleep in your room until the next time you come home?”

“I suppose so, sweetie- but why?” Catherine answered.

“I just want to see what it’s like to sleep in another room. I want to pretend that I’m having a sleep-over.”

“Ok-fine go ahead. But why not have a real sleep-over?” Catherine asked.

“I’ll ask Mommy if I can sometime,” Gwynie said.

“What have you been playing?”

“You know the Castle that Daddy made me for Christmas? The one that looks like the picture you painted? I’ve been playing with that.”

Melinda eased down the upstairs extension. She wanted Gwynie to have some time to talk to Catherine.

“Well, something is wrong with that room- because Gwynie has figured out a way to keep herself out of it. This is too much like a mystery, and I’m sick of dealing with it.”

She hurried down the stairs trying to figure out how she could get Gwynie away from the phone. Melinda needed to talk to Catherine alone.