After hanging all the lights, and trimming the tree, I stoked the Yule Log. I glanced at my watch. My heart beat a little faster and a sheen of sweat tingled over my skin as anticipation curled in my stomach.He will be here soon.I had enough time to change into a silk dress and fashion my hair into a glossy braid which draped over one shoulder to lie on my breast. The house creaked quietly, buffeted by the gale hurtling across the heath, and flattening swathes of grass and heather.Drawing the velvet curtains, I sat on the couch, rested back and let the glittering star on top of the Christmas tree fade out of focus. My eyelids drooped, and sleep crept into my bones. When I opened my eyes, the room reflected the pale gray light of dawn. The fireplace was coal-black, and cobwebs hung from the Christmas tree like those on the candelabra centerpiece on the table of Miss Haversham’s wedding breakfast in Great Expectations. The decorations were gone! I leapt to my feet and choked on plumes of dust billowing from the satin fabric of my dress. My blonde hair wore a gossamer fine layer of fibrous debris, and fear clenched my heart. Sweat trickled down between my shoulder blades, laying a trail of goosebumps in its wake. The clock on the mantel said 7 a.m. So, he’s 12 hours late! I shivered in the semi-darkness and crossed to the window. Tugging a curtain aside, the blood red sky heralded the dawning of a summer’s day and the heat of the brocade fabric penetrated my stiff fingers. Nothing made sense. Pulling open the door I rushed from the room, down the hallway, and threw open the front door. The flat landscape stretched into an unwelcoming desolate expanse, and my carriage was no longer in the driveway. Where was Harker?“Harker?” No matter how loudly I called, though my vocal chords ached with the effort, my voice merely whispered in the air. “Harker!” I yelled, and my mouth filled with cold air rushing from my lungs. The sun bathed my face, and it seared my skin. I touched the ancient wood of the front door and my palm burned. I backed away in petrified confusion. What’s happening?A rumbling noise filled the air as I retraced my steps, returning to the refuge of the sitting room. I closed the door and leaned back against it. The rumbling noise grew louder, gravel crunched beneath something heavy, and then became a quieter noise of footsteps walking towards the house. Someone whistled as they crossed the threshold and paced the floor outside. “Hello?”I swallowed. I couldn’t speak. I didn’t know the voice and nothing would make me reveal myself. “Hello? You said 7 o’clock. Where are you?”Is he talking to me? Easing the door open, I caught sight of one leg and arm wearing a black suit. The man pressed one hand to his ear as though it was hurting. What is wrong with him?He turned suddenly, whipping back in the direction from which he came, and said, to no one, it seemed, “Look. The house is only on sale because of the ghost stories. But come on, people die in houses all the time. It’s July 25th. They can’t trace any descendants of Ms Phillips. If we don’t make an offer today, the house will go to auction. Ms Phillips? I didn’t understand. My mother? No, mama died. And me?Suddenly uncaring of being discovered, I strode to the window and yanked back both sets of drapes. The cobwebs on the tree were not cobwebs. It was covered in ash… and there on the couch was a skeleton with a black snake-like brand charred into the bones of her chest where her braided hair had lain. The coal in the hearth had spilled out, and I finally understood the burning sensation in my skin.