The Wingham Mansion
Slowly, the heavy weight of unconsciousness began to ease its suffocation. Clark felt the webs of dreamless sleep break until he sensed light on the other side of his closed lids. The effort it took to open them was an unusual sensation for the superhero; awakening was normally not this difficult. Yet when he looked around and blearily took in his surroundings, his alertness instantly sharpened and he sat bolt upright, an action that brought conflicting aches and pains shooting from his head and trailing down his body.
Two thoughts simultaneously ransacked Clark’s mind: he wondered whose lavish bedroom he had awoken in because he did not recognize it, and why was he feeling like he had been run over by a steam roller? He was Superman! Such physical exertion only manifested itself when he had undergone extremely taxing missions, none of which currently sprang to mind.
That’s when the events with Miss Wingham and Rose instantly flashed through his mind’s eye. The séance . . . that was the last moment he could recall.
Looking more properly at his surroundings, Clark spotted what looked like early morning rays falling through two oblong windows.
Early morning?! How long have I been out?
Clark dragged his sluggish, heavy body out of the enormous Victorian style bed and crossed slowly over to the window. Gazing out, he could see the sun beginning to rise, which gave his stomach reason to squirm. It had been one or two o’clock in the afternoon when last he was awake. Aside from the troubling comprehension that a whole day seemed to have passed, Clark noted his surroundings. The window he was gazing out of was at least two or three stories up, and it overlooked a familiar large grassy field with a cherub fountain and decorated shrubbery—this was Miss Wingham’s estate.
His lavish environment now made sense, though why he was here was a question burning ever stronger in his mind. He wanted answers, and he wanted them now.
Turning around, he crossed to the door on the left-hand side of the room in the corner. He half expected it to be locked—not that it would have made any difference anyway, his alter ego would not have allowed himself to be kept a prisoner—but it opened freely. Walking through, he stepped out into the narrow hallway. To his left was the end of a corridor, so his only option was to turn right.
It was a long, winding hallway filled with several small zigzagging bends every three doors. Clark lowered his eyeglasses so he could use his x-ray vision to better tell his way through this strange labyrinthine corridor—but nothing was revealed. The wooden framework remained solid and impassible before his eyes. There was no molecular breakdown that allowed him to see into anything extra at all.
Clark’s brows creased in a deep frown. No x-ray vision? That wasn’t right. Out of instinct, he turned on his super hearing, trying to see what he could listen in on. Voices? The steady hum of electricity? His own heartbeat magnified in his ears?
It was an alarming thing to feel his own heart speed up, yet not have the capacity to use anything super to hear it. If he couldn’t x-ray and he couldn’t magnify his hearing, could he fly? Much as he instinctually wanted to investigate that power, he knew this small corridor wasn’t the place to test it. What he could do instead, though, was attempt to lift off the ground an inch or so to hover—but nothing was happening on that end, either.
The last power he could test was his strength, but based on how sluggish and tired he was currently feeling, he had a very good sense on how that outcome would also turn out.
What is happening to me?!
Anger and caution were hammering in tune with his beating heart. He balled his fists together, causing him to become aware of something metal rubbing against the fingers in his right hand. He lifted his hand to his face, and there Clark gazed at the red band on his middle finger. There was nothing but instinct to go off of, no facts or logic he could call to mind, yet he knew that the offending ring was the cause for his sudden normalcy. Which meant Miss Wingham knew about Clark’s dual identity.
Yet . . . was that right? Suddenly he wasn’t so sure. It was the ghost, Rose, who had given him this ring after all. She had shown it in his dreams, had surely placed it in his pocket—he had no idea how a ghost could do that, but it had happened—and then she had appeared to him just as hell broke loose and he fell unconscious long enough to arise to a new day.
He grasped at the ring and pulled. He had no desire to try and help the spirit at this point—she was far too meddlesome with the living than a ghost ought to be. Instead of it slipping off, however, he found resistance; the ring wasn’t budging. He tried exerting more force, scrunching up his face in the effort, but it was like the ring had shrunken two sizes too small and glued itself to his skin. It simply would not budge.
Clark let out a frustrated breath. Now he had the unfortunate proof that his super strength was gone. “Rose!” he called out, his voice filling the thin hallway.
At the hallway’s end came the soft, muted giggle of Rose, laughing as if to say she knew her little joke had been found out. Clark began to advance, moving swiftly. He rounded another zigzag bend and saw a cream colored four-paneled door click shut on the right-hand side. In three strides he was to the door, opened it—and stopped short. He was abruptly looking outside at the green field, and directly below was a steep thirty foot drop. No staircase, no railing, no glass separating one from the drop. This door opened up to the outside without any plausible means of getting down—unless one planned to step off and fall.
As Clark stared with confusion, caught off guard, a sudden gust of wind barreled into him like an invisible fist and propelled him backwards with enough force to send him sprawling to his backside. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the door slam shut, and Rose’s mysterious giggle sounded once more.
Clark swiftly got to his feet, anger welling up from inside. “Come and show yourself, Rose!”
There was more giggling and the echo of footsteps running away. Clark gritted his teeth. He was not in the mood to go chasing after a ghost. He was tempted to try his luck and walk out of the door leading outside and see if he could either fly away or fall with style. He reached for the handle and gave a tug. The knob swiveled, but the door would not open; it was suctioned tightly shut. Aggravated and looking for a reason to test how far gone his super strength really was, Clark gave an almighty tug, but still the door did not loosen. He stuck his foot flat up against the wall and wrenched at the handle for a third time—nothing.
Clark’s adrenaline was now spiking, anger fueling it, but he reigned in his emotions. Getting angry and yelling wasn’t going to help him get out of his current predicament—and he needed to get out of it. The absence of his powers—all of them—was never a good sign. He stared at the red band on his finger curiously. Kryptonite was the only known source that could deprive him of his super abilities, but it was also lethal. Though he felt tired and a headache was now surfacing, he felt no extremely ill effects that the green Kryptonite gave him. What kind of power was robbing him of his abilities? Whatever it was, it had to be powerful, and if it was this ghost Rose that was causing it—or Miss Wingham, wherever she seemed to have disappeared to—he couldn’t afford to start off so hostile. He knew from too much experience that attitudes like that didn’t get a person very far.
Clark took a few deep breaths and settled his racing heart, the anger slowly ebbing away and his mind calming down. Now thinking a little clearer, he took mental stock of his situation. In hindsight, he understood now that he had been lured here by Miss Wingham.
A few days ago he’d begun having dreams, the likes of which had led him to believe there was a deeply sad and troubled spirit reaching out to him, but now he wasn’t so sure. He’d received that strange phone call from Miss Wingham, who just so happened to know about his dreams. He’d thought her a medium with incredible intuition, but perhaps she was controlling Rose and using the spirit for her own ulterior motives—motives he was now very suspicious of given that he no longer appeared to have any of his super powers. He doubted that was mere coincidence. What a dunce he had been for putting on that ring! What was Miss Wingham playing at?
Clark jumped and whirled around. Rose’s impatient voice had spoken directly into his left ear, but she was nowhere in sight as he looked from left to right.
There was no reply.
“I think you’re the one who found me, Rose,” Clark spoke into the air. “So why don’t you come out and show yourself? How about we talk? I would like that.”
Off at the end of the corridor, past a closed door, Clark heard another door slam hard enough for vibrations to shake the wooden floor where he stood. Taking that as a definitive ‘no’ from Rose, the reporter sighed resolutely. Apparently he was going to have to play hide and seek if he wanted any chance of gaining answers from a spirit. With heavy tread, Clark trudged to the end of the corridor and opened the door, trailing the source of the noise. There was a high-polished wooden staircase which he plodded down. Walking across the large square landing, Clark stopped, his brows furrowed in confusion as he stared down at the floor—and the glass-paned window that had been built right into it. It had white painted trim and two white knobs.
There’s a window in the middle of the floor! What in the world?
Puzzling though that piece of architectural design was, Clark didn’t stop long to stare; he was on a ghost hunt. Moving carefully around the window-in-the-floor, he moved past the squared landing and into another corridor, but this one was large and spacious, where the ceiling above was a long glass skylight with bright sunlight spilling onto warm, pale green walls with soft yellow accented trim. The light brown wooden flooring gleamed as the rays of light bounced off its surface. Clark moved silently onward and found a second, longer staircase leading down to his left. He took it. The room it led him to was a dining hall furnished to the nines, though once again, the lavish detail wasn’t what caught Clark’s eye. Looking around the room, he quickly tallied a shocking total of eight oak doors and two fireplaces that spanned across the four walls.
Which door led him to Rose, and why were there so many? Walking tentatively to one, he opened it and found himself staring at a brick red wall. Clark blinked in surprise. He pressed his hand against the surface, just to make sure that it was real. It was.
What kind of crazy fun house had Miss Wingham built?! A door that opened into a wall was absurd! He closed it, wondering how many of the other seven doors led to dead ends like this one. It didn’t make sense, but it would explain why there were so many. Clark was sorely missing his x-ray vision right about now, as it could easily help answer his questions much faster. How in the world was he going to find Rose in such a large mansion that seemed keen on presenting itself as some sort of an extravagant Victorian style mad house?
Clark sighed inwardly. One door at a time, I guess . . .
The reporter moved to the next door, only a mere two feet away. He reached for the bronze handle and pulled when a burst of cold wind suddenly blew on his neck. At that same moment he heard the distinct click of a door opening from behind. Quickly turning around, he stared across the Oakwood dining table and into an opened doorway that appeared to lead into a study.
“Rose?” Clark called out.
There was a distant giggle and her soft, singsong voice could be heard from inside the room. “Fiiiind meeee,” Rose sang.
Clark felt like a fish following a wriggling, squirming worm on a hook. He didn’t want to follow, hated that he was being baited, and yet knew that if he wanted answers, he didn’t have much choice but to go along.
For what felt like hours, Clark played the game. He followed opened doors where Rose’s voice lilted and cajoled, but the places she led him continued to fill his mind with unease. He walked into bedrooms that had no doors, climbed staircases that led directly up to the ceiling or into dead ends, encountered numerous bathrooms but had yet to find one with a tub or a shower, and on and on the oddities went. There was a corridor that shrank and became skinnier and shorter and ended with a three-foot tall door Clark had to crawl through, followed by a very narrow switchback staircase he climbed. It zigzagged at least five times and had several wide, shallow steps, yet the staircase only raised six feet to the next level. Still Rose’s voice called, opening doors and also slamming a few, especially when Clark attempted to give up on the chase—she wouldn’t allow it.
At long last, Clark followed the sound of her running footsteps down a staircase and found himself in a familiar entryway; it was the front entrance to the mansion. His heart soared upon seeing the front door and felt freedom calling his name. He went immediately for it, but should have known what effect his efforts produced. The door—try as he might, twisting and fumbling with the locks and pulling at its handle—would not budge. For a Kryptonian alien who had demonstrated amazing feats of rerouting airborne missiles from their intended targets with his bare hands and stopped an asteroid from colliding into earth, this mere inability to open a sealed door was highly disconcerting.
Clark was losing the end of his patience. He’d played Rose’s game of hide-and-seek for what felt like hours, and still she was egging him on, obviously enjoying the chase. When he heard her giggling voice from inside the receiving room—the source from whence everything began to go wrong—his brows furrowed with impatience. Enough was enough. If she wanted so badly to be found, she had only to reveal herself. He was here, wasn’t he?
Striding into the room with his shoulders drawn back straight, his head held high, he looked around briefly. He half-expected to see Miss Wingham sitting idly at the séance table in the middle of the circle of furnishings, but that had vanished from the room. Instead, an ornately carved glass coffee table sat in its place. Clark wasn’t sure if he felt relieved that the mysterious older-woman-turned-young-again was not in attendance or annoyed, but he found his eyes trailing to the other significant piece in the room: Rose’s portrait, and more importantly, Rose.
There she was, standing right under the painting, smiling just as radiantly as when he had seen her before blacking out. She was more opaque now than he had yet seen her. In fact, she looked solid.
“You found me!” she cried happily, clapping.
Clark did not smile back. “What do you want?” he demanded rather testily.
Rose’s smile broadened, looking rather pleased. “I wanted to take you on a tour first, show you around a bit.”
“Why?” Clark asked, not hiding the exasperation he felt.
“Because this is your new residence. How do you like the room I picked out for you? You didn’t look at it much.”
“My—hang on, what?” Clark asked. “New residence?” he shook his head. “Come again?”
Rose giggled. “You’re going to live here now,” she explained none too helpfully.
Clark gave a short pause. “No,” he answered slowly. “I’m not. Is that why you brought me here?”
Rose’s smile turned secretive. “Well, basically.”
Clark folded his arms and gave a stern look. “I’m not sure why you’d think I would agree to something like that, but I’m afraid it’s not going to happen, Rose.”
One side of her mouth dropped so that her lips pulled into a smirk, her green eyes flashing vividly. The girlish nature in her features instantly vanished. “Yes it is. You’ve already agreed.”
“No,” Clark said firmly. “I haven’t.”
Rose dipped her head forward, staring at Clark’s folded arms. “You voluntarily put on my ring. By doing so, you agreed.”
Clark was tempted to pull out his hand to stare at the offending piece of metal, but he resisted. “I haven’t agreed to anything. I put that on thinking I was going to help you somehow—”
“And you have,” Rose interrupted. “By agreeing to put on the ring, you agreed to help me. And helping me means you will live here. So you have done what you set out to do.”
Clark’s brow creased in a stubborn frown. “Then you are going to be very disappointed, because I will not agree to that.”
Rose’s smirk twitched. “It’s too late.”
Clark unfastened his arms and wrenched at the band, attempting for the second time to take it off, but he had no better results than the first time.
“You won’t be able to take it off, no matter how strong you think you are.”
Clark looked up sharply at Rose’s obvious insinuation. “What do you mean?” he demanded.
Rose’s smile turned wicked. “Your strength passed to me and this house. You’ll find you are no longer super while in here.” Slowly, purposefully, she brought up her left hand, displaying it. Clark felt his stomach shift uncomfortably, because there on her ring finger, glimmering with a light source he could not identify, rested an identical red band. Rose’s eyes flashed triumphantly. “Welcome to my home. For better or worse, in sickness and in health, in life and in death, you will be mine.”