The Price of Admission

Contributor: Carmen Tudor

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Jenna had grabbed at Doug throughout the entire lights-out ghost tour. The historic mansion’s darkened halls and passages hadn’t affected him at all, so Jenna’s continual grabbing of the back of his shirt caused grimaces the tour guides put down to horrified excitement. They smiled with satisfaction each time the look passed over his features and congratulated themselves on a job well done. The admission price didn’t cover an actual haunting experience; that was left up to the ticket holders.
“Let’s get some photos. The kids will love them.” Jenna seized Doug’s arm and pulled him toward the fountain terrace as the rest of the group followed the guides along the path to the entrance gates. Doug rolled his eyes and followed his wife.
“Maybe we’ll get an orb or something.”
“Maybe.” Shivering in his padded parka, Doug stifled a yawn.
“I’ve never been so scared in my life. The morning room with the little sulking area! The butler’s pantry! Yeesh.”
“The billiards room was all right, I guess. We should go, Jen.”
Jenna snapped a few more moonlight shots of the fountain. “Heehee, what if we checked out that window from the courtyard. We could see if Leila’s ghost is looking down. Spoooky.”
“There’s no ghost in the bloody window.”
The smile fell from Jenna’s face. “I know. I just thought it would be fun.” The camera dangled from its strap around her wrist.
“Didn’t you enjoy it?”
“We need to go. We’ll get a ticket if we don’t move the car.”
Jenna nodded. They followed the moonlit path away from the fountain terrace and toward the east lawns. The gatehouse outline was visible in the distance.
“Bloody lights are out. What’s that about?”
“Doug. Doug. The lights are out. Try the door.”
Doug tried the door. “They’ve locked up already. ’Sokay. We’ll just, I dunno, climb over the fence here and go around.”
Jenna and her husband struggled over the waist-high garden fence and continued down to the main gates. The heavy nighttime traffic sped by on the other side of the high gate. Jenna noticed the padlock first. “What do we do?”
Doug looked behind him toward the gatehouse path. “Did we take the wrong path out? How’d they get out so quick?”
“What do we do?”
“Climb over, I guess.” He rattled the gate.
“I’m not climbing over that. We’re locked in. We’re actually locked in.”
“Be quiet for a sec; I’m thinking.”
“Sorry. It’s just that we’re locked in. After a ghost tour. I can’t belie—”
“Well, it’s pretty bloody obvious, Jen. There is a lock on the gate.”
Jenna’s eyes narrowed and she opened her mouth to speak.
“Don’t start up again. Look, if you want, you go first. I’ll give ya a boost.”
Jenna’s shrill laugh rang out in the gardens. “I’m not climbing that. Let’s go back up to the house. Someone would be up there locking everything up, I’m sure. Come on. Please.”
“It’ll take two seconds to climb over the gate. I’m not going back through the bloody gardens. Bugger that.”
Jenna grasped Doug’s arm, but he shrugged her off. “Wait till the kids here about this, eh? They won’t believe we got locked in the haunted mansion. Eh?”
“It’s not actually haunted. And we’re not locked in. They just locked the gates. It’s hardly exciting. It’s cold, is what it is. I’m going over. If you wanna go back up to the house, I’ll bring the car around. Too cold to wait around for you to make up your mind.” Doug scaled the gate with ease.
His trembling wife met his gaze through the palings. “I can’t believe you’d leave me in the haunted ghost house.”
“It’s not really haunted. That stuff was so fake it was ridiculous. Stupid.”
“Doug. What do I do? I can’t climb that. There’s no way...” Jenna heaved her foot toward the first rail. “I can’t. I can’t.”
“Just go back up to the house then. I’ll bring the car around.”
“I’m scared. You’re not really going? Don’t.”
“It’ll take ten minutes max for you reach the house. Or you can just scale it like I did. It’s bloody freezing. The exercise will be good for ya anyway.” He blew a steamy breath onto his cupped hands.
“I can’t believe you’d leave me in the haunted mansion.”
“It’s hardly haunted. How can you believe that crap? Look, I’ve gotta move the car. We’ll get a ticket if we’re parked there for more than two hours. It’s past two hours.” He hopped from one foot to the other.
Jenna shook her head. “I can’t believe you. I’m going back up to the house.”
“Whatever, Jen. Don’t be long. I’ll bring the car around, but I can’t stop for long—look at all the traffic.”
“I can’t believe you.” Jenna started back toward the gatehouse. “I can’t believe you.”
“Hey, don’t be long!” Doug shook his head. He waited until Jenna’s figure disappeared from view, and then made his way to the car.
Jenna blew her nose on a crumpled tissue as she neared the gatehouse. It was the emptiness of the mansion, she thought, rather than any unusual inhabitants that got to her. An empty room always had that effect on her. She sniffed. Climbing over the little garden fence again was about as appealing as scaling the main gate; she turned toward the fence, and then back toward the direction she’d just come from. The chill path to the fountain terrace was much darker and overgrown, she thought. And so, with a sigh, she headed back for the main entrance gate.
Doug was already waiting by the side of the road. His flashing indicator blinked in a steady rhythm. He checked the traffic in the rear view mirror and called through the open passenger window. “Someone coming?”
“No.” Jenna wrapped her fingers around the palings. “No one’s coming.”

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Carmen Tudor is a young Aussie writer whose fiction has been published in the US, the UK, and Australia. "The Price of Admission" was inspired by getting locked in the grounds of Melbourne's historic Como House one dark and stormy night.
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