A Work of Short Fiction
We turned down our new street, Maple Grove Road, with Beth smiling, and looking back at the kids, Tommy, and Amanda, who were in the back seat screaming “We’re home.” I was not sure how far ahead of the moving trucks we were. We were probably a little more than an hour ahead of them. Maybe I could have timed it a bit better and not been in such a rush, but at least we would have a chance to look our new home over once more before we filled it with our lives.
“We’re not quite there yet, just a little farther on down to our house.” Beth was telling the children. I slowed as we drove towards a man and a woman walking what looked to be a setter. They stopped with the dog, who sat obediently, as we passed by. The man and the woman both waived to us and smiled.
“We are early, maybe we should have stopped and introduced ourselves.” Beth said looking back at them. I glanced in the rear-view mirror. They had continued their walk, on down the road. “There will be plenty of time for introductions,” I replied. “Besides, I wanted to give the house another once over, before the moving trucks arrive.”
“Always have to be early to everything.”
I didn’t look over, but I knew she was rolling her eyes.
The road ended with a cul-de-sac, and there were only a few other homes on the street which was one of the selling points for us. There was the age difference though, our home being over one hundred years old and the others all being built recently. Our realtor had told us that it was once a large estate and that parcels were separated and sold off for building lots only in the past few years. Anyway, we were happy to have the street’s crown jewel, a magnificent classic Victorian home.
We were coming up now on our mailbox, the landmark to our new home’s drive. The loose grey rock in the long driveway crackled as we turned in, and I slowed so as not to kick up too much dust. The driveway was about three hundred yards long and curved around to the right of a beautiful stand of large maple trees. You could not see the house from the road. It wasn’t until you rounded the maple trees that our home could be seen.
A hawk flew in front of our CR-V and landed up high in the tree farthest in from the drive. “Wo-o-o-o, did you see that?” Tommy asked. “Yes, I imagine we’ll see plenty of birds and animals out here Tommy,” Beth answered.
“I love this house already!” Tommy almost shouted, in reply.
Amanda added, “We’re going to be able to explore every day, maybe there’s treasure buried somewhere around.”
“Well, I doubt that, but you never know.” I said looking over at Beth who was smiling and shaking her head yes, in feigned agreement.
We had driven slowly past the stand of trees now and the house stood, in the distance, etched against the sky like a glorious portrait from one of the masters. The grand front porch stood out to me, and Beth agreed this was a fantastic outdoor space with so much potential.
We were pulling up now just in front of the house. The front door was centered, with large windows on each side. The roof of the porch was ornamented with spandrels. Ornate woodwork adorned the entire exterior in classic Victorian fashion with the crowning turret rising high on the left end of the house.
Tommy and Amanda had already unfastened their seatbelts and were out of the CR-V. Amanda yelled “We are going around back to the tire swings!”
“Go on in, I’ll be around back” Beth said looking back in the car at me. She turned and headed around to the back with Amanda and Tommy. I was still sitting in the car and turned my attention back to looking at the front of the house.
I got out, closed the car door, and headed up the steps of the front porch towards the front doors. When I placed my foot on the boards of the porch, I had a twisted déjà vu moment. The house seemed very familiar like I had been here before, but that was the only thing that was familiar, and the feeling faded quickly. I guess I was just excited knowing that this was my home now.
I stood, staring at the front door for the first time as the new owner. I slid the key in and turned the knob to the right opening the front door to my dream house. I entered the foyer with doors to the library open to the right. Straight ahead was the main stair case that led to the upstairs bedrooms and sitting rooms. To the left was a side hall that went back towards the second stair case that led to the turret.
I turned my attention back to the right, and I walked in to the library. I immediately noticed the portrait hanging over the fireplace. “Why in the world did they leave the portrait?” I said aloud to myself. It had to be a family member of the previous owner, a stoic woman, short hair, with no smile, but with bright eyes that looked through you, not at you, the kind of eyes that followed you as you moved.
I stood, returning her stare, and smiled, as if that would change her emotionless expression. No one ever smiled in portraits of that era. Something to do with long exposure times, I was once told. Her dress had a lace white collar.
Why would they have left it, I thought to myself this time. Beth didn’t like it, so I would have to take it down before she came in with the kids. It gave her the creeps and that amused me. I thought that maybe I should leave it up, but knew, in the end, it was a thought that I would not act upon. I continued for a moment to gaze into her eyes, then broke off our staring contest. She wasn’t going to change her expression for me anyway.
I walked back through the rear library doors to another large room, I believed to have been used as a formal dining room. I walked to the rear of that room to the window and looked back at Beth, Tommy and Amanda playing on the tire swings. I started to wave, but they were not looking my way. They were laughing, fully engaged in having fun. They were going to love it here, I thought to myself. We, were going to love it here.
I turned and walked back to the library, my library. A cold chill came over me as I re-entered the room. I now noticed a book at the far corner shelf. I hadn’t noticed it before and there were no books that I remembered when we first toured the house with the realtor. I went over to the book and pulled it off the shelf. There were no markings on the spine, so I opened it. It seemed to be a diary or journal, very old, worn, with browned pages.
I flipped to the front looking for a name, but I could find nothing. I continued looking for some indication of who had composed page after page of these beautifully hand-written words. As I flipped through the book, I heard, no, I felt whispers. I could not tell if they were from a man or a woman. I could not tell what the whispers were saying, nor could I feel the physical presence of anyone. The hair on the back of my neck was standing up now. It was if electrical static was filling the room.
I carefully closed the book and returned it to its place on the shelf as quietly as I could. I began to walk back towards the rear library doors to make sure Beth and the kids were still playing, but I was interrupted by a sound coming from the left end of the house. I stopped and turned back towards the foyer, listening for a moment.
I called out, “Beth?” I listened intently, but there was no answer and I didn’t hear any other sound. The whispers had stopped. Maybe the noises I sensed were simply a draft, moving through the empty house. I walked out of the library, and into the foyer. Looking around in different directions, I called out again, “Beth?” There was still no answer.
I heard what sounded like footsteps on the left staircase that led up to the turret. There was a small room up there that the kids loved when we had shown them the house for the first time. I called up the stairs, “Hello?” There was still no answer. The door at the top squeaked as if it was slowly being closed, or at least that is what it sounded like. I heard the distinct sound of a door latch clicking shut.
Though feeling pretty freaked out, I thought Beth must have been playing on my natural fears that she always loved to play with to give me a good scare. She often hid when I was walking through our old house and jumped out to surprise me, as if it was the funniest thing in the world. Juvenile, but effective every time.
I walked over to the staircase and, placing my foot on the first step, I listened one more time and then headed up the stairs at a quickening pace, then slowed as I neared the landing. I stopped and stood on the step, second from the top, motionless and silent, listening. I heard nothing.
If Beth was doing this, where was Amanda and Tommy? She wouldn’t have left them by themselves outside. Between the portrait, the book, the whispers and now this noise up the stairs, I felt off. A queasy feeling started to unfold in the pit of my stomach and a string of crazy thoughts rushed through my mind, that I quickly tried to dismiss like stamping out a fire that refuses to be extinguished.
I took the final step to the landing and inched forward as if my feet were sticking to the floor. I slowly turned the knob and opened the door that I thought had just been closed. I gradually swung the door wide, creating the same squeaking sounds I had just heard before coming up to the turret.
There was a woman standing at the rear window staring out, her left hand up at her forehead as if to shield her eyes from the glare of the sun. With her back still towards me, I stood motionless and said firmly, “Excuse me, hello?”
She turned around slowly to face me. It was the woman from the portrait, the same stoic look and her eyes piercing through me, not looking at me.
She started towards me. “Where have you been? I have been waiting so long to see you and I have so much to tell you.”
I rose from my bed, quickly with a gasp, waking Lori up. She turned to me. “Are you, all right?” “What’s the matter?” I was sweating profusely, and nauseous chills had me shaking. Wiping the cold sweat off my forehead, I managed to say “Yes, I’m fine, it was just a dream.”
“A bad one I take it?” was Lori’s response.
“It was the recurring one I keep having, you know, the one with the house.”
Lori was more awake now, sitting up, looking at me. “Oh, that one. Was it the same house as always, but at a different location?”
“Yes, on a hill behind a stand of trees this time.”
“Was it also a different family, who was it this time?”
“The wife was named Beth, and the kids were named Amanda and Tommy.”
“And the woman, was it the same woman in the same place in the tower thing room as she always is?”
“Well at least did you finally figure out who she is this time?”
“No.” I said.
“You always say she seems familiar, like you should know her,” she replied.
“Yeah, I don’t know, and the house always confuses me.”
Lori thought for a moment and simply grunted “Hmm.” She fluffed her pillow and turned to her left side. I turned back on my right side. We both tried to get back to sleep.
In their rented storage unit used to house everything shipped directly from his grandmother’s home that they had yet to sort through, the portrait of his great-grandmother that he had never known about, remained unseen, waiting, along with all the other belongings, with so many stories to tell.