Chapter 1 – Alive in my memories
Sabrina was supposed to stand and wait at the main door of the manor. Her master would leave to Paris tonight and it was her duty as a maid to be there to bid farewell and safe travels. That and to deliver her master a backpack filled to the top with various travel supplies. Better encumbered than sorry... And yet, as soon as the silver light of the moon penetrated through the windows, thus breaking the darkness of the old house, the girl couldn't help but be attracted to the painting that dominated the main hall from its place over the hearth. The way light and darkness were playing tricks with the faces of the family depicted on that large portrait mesmerized the girl, who started to levitate her ghostly, ethereal body in melancholic silence to take a better look at the blue eyes of one of the girls painted in oil. From there, her mind traveled back in time until the day the painter delivered the final brushes to these eyes in that very same hall...
"And... done!" proclaimed the famous gerbil painter Lawrence Willmann. "You can move now if you wish. Stretch, rest, have some water..."
Geegaw Hackwrench, renowned alchemist, rubbed the back of his neck and quickly walked to the painter's side to admire the finished work. His twin daughters ran out of the room gleefully, feeling relieved after three hours of standing still. Isabel, the wife of Geegaw, just contented herself with drinking a glass of red wine from the nearby cabinet.
"Wonderful!" exclaimed Geegaw truly astonished. "Herr Willmann, I couldn't believe it possible, but you have made my wife and girls look even more beautiful! Like angels sent from heaven! Izzy, come here and take a look!"
The blue-eyed, blonde mouse in rich red and black satin dress walked towards the portrait, glass of wine in hand. "For the price you asked, Herr Willmann, I actually expect you have painted me more glorious than the pope! If not, then..." She tilted forward to examine the painting, while the painter gulped nervously fearing the worst. Her husband, however, didn't notice the artist's uneasiness. His eyes were fixed on the way Isabel's bright and flossy hair, tied in a long braid and adorned with gold garments, which was falling elegantly over her left shoulder.
"Not bad..." the female mouse admitted. "Finally someone managed to capture my aristocratic air... not like the other so-called 'artists' we hired before you. And the freckles... yes, disguised as I ordered. An acceptable work, I must say" Isabel took another sip of wine disdainfully.
"Oh come on, Izzy..." Geegaw complained playfully. "I like your freckles!"
"Well I don't like them, dear husband... If I'm going to be immortalized for future generations in a portrait, it better shows exactly what I want it to show!"
"And... what about our daughters? They look like little princesses, don't they?"
Isabel took a quick look at the images of the twin girls. Gadget, always with that absent expression on her face. Only God knows what was that girl musing over while old Willmann painted her over the canvas. Lawhinie, on the other hand, had taken the family portrait session more seriously. She put on her favorite clothes and makeup, and even adorned her hair with a flower from the garden. But then again, there was it, that snarl and defiant stare that always made the girl look like a little demon. Isabel sighed heavily. Couldn't her daughters be... normal?
Just then, the girls in question rushed into the room. They stopped right in front of the family portrait and stared at it at the same time, examining the images with curiosity. Their parents and the painter alike fell silent, waiting for the inevitable critique.
"Herr painter!" exclaimed Lawhinie upset, while her sister continued the examination. "You forgot to paint my servant!"
"Uh? what servant, little one?" replied the old artist a bit confused.
"Sabrina, of course!" continued Lawhinie glaring at him. "She sat next to me the whole time!"
"W-who did you say?"
Isabel took Lawhinie violently by her arm and apologized to Willmann. "Oh never mind my girl... she is talking about her imaginary friend! You know, kids these days!"
Lawhinie glanced at her mother with rage. "No! I already told you, mom! Sabrina is real, and she is my faithful servant! Let me go look for her so she can be painted at my side!"
"Lawhinie, quiet now!" ordered Isabel angered. "We've talked about this before! Do you want me to send you to the asylum? Where all the crazy humans and rodents are locked forever?"
"What? No! I don't want to go there!"
"Izzy, please..." Geegaw tried to calm down her wife. Then, he picked up Lawhinie on his arms. The scared girl promptly wrapped her arms tight around him. "Sweetie, what do you say if we go out and look together for your friend at the gardens?"
"Oh sure dad!" The girl nodded. "She likes to bring me flowers for my hair. She must be there now...".
"Geegaw!" Isabel protested. "Don't encourage her!"
"Come on Izzy, let the kids be kids! Gadget, want to come with us?"
But Gadget was in her own world, staring intently at the portrait. Suddenly, she turned back to old Willmann with a curious look on her face. "Herr painter" she asked innocently. "What is the color green made of?"
"Green? Well... green is made of blue and yellow, my dear" the painter explained.
"Oh I already know that! Let me rephrase the question... what are the ingredients you use to create the green paint?"
"Ahh the ingredients! Well, all my paints come from the human workshop near the market. In there they mix color pigments, linseed oils, turpentine..."
Young Gadget tipped her chin pensive. "Mmhh... turpentine"
Lawhinie overheard the conversation between Gadget and Willmann and shook her head. "Gadget, you are so boring..."
"Now now..." Geegaw patted Lawhinie's shoulder. "Knowledge is never boring. Maybe one day your sister will create new colors for paints or clothes, can you imagine it?"
"I imagine we would become richer..." noted Isabel mockingly.
"Herr painter, can I borrow this?" asked Gadget picking up the green paint can.
"Sure sweetheart, what will you..."
"Thanks!" said Gadget, who immediately ran upstairs to her room.
"Have fun sweetie!" exclaimed Geegaw with a broad smile. "Now Lawhinie, let's go to the garden so you can tell me more about your servant. Do you pay her well?"
"I give her cookies, but she doesn't eat them, so I think she likes to work for free"
"Oh I see". Father and daughter walked out through the main door.
Upon being witness of her family's antics, Isabel decided it was time for another sip of wine.
"My lady..." Old Willmann interrupted her musings, visibly distressed. "About that imaginary friend of your daughter..."
"Don't worry about it..." Isabel replied with a dismissive gesture. "It's just a silly game of her"
"Actually, I just remembered a girl with that name that used to live nearby..." Suddenly, Willmann opened her eyes wide. "No!, she lived in this same house! Many years ago. God, many decades ago!"
The mother of the twins arched her brow. "What the heck are you talking about?"
"It's actually a very sad story" Willmann sighed and shook his head. "Her name was Sabrina Voigt. Such a gentle and lively girl! Always smiling, singing, dancing around. She and the rest of the town's kids used to play hide and seek after school, and since she couldn't resist to sing or whistle some melody while hiding, it was pretty easy to spot her. She was an aristocrat, but a kind one, not like..." Willmann stopped abruptly upon seeing Isabel's irritated stare.
"Anyway, one day Sabrina fell in love with the son of a wealthy banker. Seriously in love. Soon she stopped playing with us as her whole attention was dedicated to him. The boy received songs, poems and all kind of innocent gifts from our friend... but it wasn't enough for him. He deluded the poor girl for some weeks and then broke her heart. Sabrina was left devastated. She stopped to sing, to play, even stopped to eat... I suppose she thought she wasn't good enough to be that guy's girlfriend. Then, out of despair, she... umm..."
"She... what?" The blonde mouse tapped her fingers impatiently, not noticing the watered eyes of the old gerbil.
"She... committed suicide. Poisoned herself in her own room"
"My, what an idiot!"
Willmann dismissed that last comment and just wiped the tears away with his handkerchief. "After that scandal, both families moved away and this house was put on sale. And... yeah, now I remember... that poor girl's room was over there, at the north corner of the upper floor. I know that because she once invited us here to show us her collection of puppets! That night she performed a play with them. gosh, it was so fun!"
"That's Lawhinie's room..." Isabel mused slightly perturbed. "And... just out of curiosity... what did your late friend Sabrina Voigt looked like?"
"Well, I was very young when she died, but I mostly remember her red hair. Short but wild red hair tied in a pair of little braids that fell on her shoulders. She was a pretty mousette. Slim, gracious and kind, so very kind. Joyful too, at least until he met that boy.. You know my lady, now that I think of it, I'm probably the only one left who still remembers her"
Isabel decided that was a good moment to end the conversation. "What an interesting tale, Herr Willmann... but hey, look at the clock! It's getting late and I don't want to take anymore of your precious time. Come with me, I'll show you the exit so you can go and keep remembering your friend in the comfort of your own house"
The painter tried to protest as he was dragged by Isabel to the exit door. "But, your daughter mentioned..."
"Oh please" Isabel said as she led Willmann outside. "I'm sure Lawhinie heard that name at the market and liked it. It's a very common name. And catchy"
"I guess you are right" admitted the old artist downheartedly.
"Of course I'm right! Here, fifteen gold nuggets for the portrait, as we agreed. Also... sigh one more nugget for the can of paint my daughter Gadget took from you."
"Oh she is a lovely girl! And Lawhinie too!"
"Sure they are! Auf Wiedersehen, Herr Willmann!" Isabel closed the door on the painter's face. "Damn, for a moment I thought he would start crying on me! What a"
Suddenly, a noise like glass shattering came from the main hall, where she had been a minute ago.
On the floor next to the portrait stand, the bottle of wine Isabel was drinking from was indeed shattered to pieces and its contents spilled all over the floor. Also, a flower from the garden was laying nearby. The blonde mouse stared at the scene in somber silence.
"Just great..." She pondered. "Not only I have to stand being married to a fool of a wizard and having two weird girls as daughters... now it turns out we moved into a haunted house... sheesh, the things I do for gold!"
With cold blood and lidded eyes, Isabel looked around the hall. "Hey you! Idiotic, lovesick ghost girl!" she said to the walls and the ceiling. "Did I upset you? You want me to apologize? You better think twice... and guess, just guess, who will have to pick up these glass shards once she returns from the garden? Heh! That's right"
"Hey, Sabrina! What are you doing?"
The ghost snapped out from her reverie, and spinned around looking for the source of that voice. There, beneath the shadows of the hall, stood a female mouse. A female mouse with blue eyes and long blonde hair, wearing a red dress with black bodice. The maid stuttered aghast. "I-Isabel?"
"Isabel?" Lawhinie lighted up a candle passing her palm over it. "You mean my mother?" The witch wrinkled her nose at the sole mention of her parent.
"Oh excuse me, my lady Lawhinie!" the ghost bowed her head embarrassed and floated down to floor level. "I was just... uhm..."
"Never mind..." The witch dismissed it and looked up at the portrait. The moonlight had long passed by and the hall was again covered in shadows. "I don't know why I keep this painting" she complained. "The family depicted there doesn't exist anymore. I even dare to say it never existed!"
"Please don't say that! Your father and sister loved you very much!"
Lawhinie turned her candle towards the smiling, mustachoed mouse of the portrait. "My father was... he was just... heck, my mother played him like a fiddle. But both of them are long dead. And even my sister has left this house. I'm afraid you and I are the only ones left, my faithful servant." She looked back at Sabrina and gave her a grinning smile.
"Yes! However, It's a shame the painter of the portrait didn't notice me sitting at your side that whole time"
"He kind of did it" replied Lawhinie with a wink, and Sabrina joined her in complicity. There, on the portrait, one of Lawhinie's paws was being held firmly by her mother; the other paw, however... was half opened, as if gripping something in the air.
Lawhinie's smirk disappeared suddenly, as she turned around and walked towards the entrance door. "Enough of it, I'm already late to catch the night coach to Paris. I'm not looking forward to it, thought... the stench of humans sickens me! Humans and common rodents! *shudders* I just wish I was recovered enough to fly the whole distance" She touched her bandaged arm and grimaced. "Alas,I can't concentrate enough with this pain"
"But my lady, then why don't you wait some more here at home? It's been only three days since you came back…" Unconsciously, Sabrina leaned forward to hold the witch's paw.
"Because I can't!" answered Lawhinie raising her voice. She didn't notice the gesture of her servant nor her quick recoil. She just stared at the door with fiery eyes. "All my enemies are out there, plotting and making their moves! And I'm so close to turn the tables on them. I just need that damned grimoire! I will finish the job Bethany Lombardi started. I will get rid of Mephisto and his contract! I will even... even save my sister!"
The witch took a deep sigh, while her young servant looked at her with a warm, sympathetic smile. Sabrina had always suspected that deep inside, Lawhinie felt guilt for having convinced her naïve sister to sign a deal with the devil, if only to make sure the ancient legends were true.
"I thought I was strong enough" Continued the witch with her voice now breaking in rage. "but when I crossed paths with these 'heroes', I almost ended up dead"
The ghost girl cringed in silence trying not to think about that.
"So yes, I will follow Mephisto's advice one last time. I will go to Paris and find that wizard, become his apprentice... whatever it takes to grow stronger and defeat these chipmunks!"
"This is not fair" The crestfallen ghost shook her head. "It sounds so dangerous, why can't I go with you?"
"Huh? You know you can't leave this house" Answered Lawhinie turning her blue eyes to her. "As my know-it-all sister once told us, you are bounded to this place forever"
"I didn't want this to happen!" Sabrina whined disappearing and reappearing in front of her master. "I didn't imagine it when I..." Her voice broke there. She looked away hurt. "When I..."
Lawhinie noticed crystal clear tears running down her servant's pale cheeks and felt like she should do something, and so she did. She hugged the cold, ethereal figure of Sabrina and spoke softly to where her ears were supposed to be. "It's ok, girl... you had no idea. You were only fifteen years old then"
"Many girls are married at that age..." replied the ghost brokenhearted.
"Yeah, I know… Where did I heard that before? Still, no need to be sad, once I become the most powerful witch of the world, I'll find the way to take you out of this house. We'll move together to the palace the humans will be forced to build for me. There I'll be crowned as the all-mighty empress of this world. And of course you will be my one and only 'maid of honour', it sounds great, doesn't it?"
"I... yes" answered Sabrina wiping her tears. "As long as I can be with you"
Lawhinie smiled at her young servant. "Of course you will! But for now, I must leave". The witch weaved her fingers and the doors of the manor opened by themselves. She grabbed the backpack by its straps and... couldn't lift it. On the contrary, the heavy backpack made her stumble some steps backwards.
"Hey, what did you put in here? Stones?"
"Oh, of course not, my lady!" Sabrina answered sheepishly. "I filled the backpack with food, camping tools, maps and a easy-to-open healing potion, which I hope you won't ever need... *tee-hee*"
"Hmpff! I see, but... how did you carried it here?" Lawhinie asked, knowing too well her ghost servant wasn't strong enough to carry even a set of dishes.
"Well, I just put the empty backpack here and brought the supplies one by one"
"Heh! You are such a smart girl" Lawhinie petted her servant's unreal braids, much to Sabrina's delight.
Once outside, The witch commanded her broom to hover at her feet. She tied the backpack to the base, mounted on the stick and floated around back to where her maid was standing. "Take care of the house for me, Sabrina. I will be back in a few weeks"
"I will, my lady... just be careful, ok?"
Lawhinie grinned full of confidence. "Let my enemies be careful of me, dear girl, for I will burn them to ashes!" Laughing madly, the blue-eyed witch rose into the air and flew away, leaving her servant waiting for the desired answer.
"Just... be careful, my dear Lawhinie" whispered Sabrina to the night sky.