Fiction Mystery Drama

"Hey Chloe, get down here, I want to talk to you right now"!

Chloe hurried down the stairs to the living room where her mother was standing in front of the fireplace pointing at a framed picture on the mantle.

"Why did you put that there"?

"I didn't" Chloe responded taken aback by her mother's overly aggressive gesturing.

"Um, I think you did because you are the only other person in this house and I didn't put it there so it had to be you".

"No, it wasn't me and I have no idea what that picture is about so why would I put it there"?

The framed painting was of an old house with an elderly couple and a small child standing in front. In the distance was a wheat field and farther away a snow capped mountain that towered over the valley. In the corner of the painting was a faded signature and date, TJ Stand, 1733. Chloe wondered who TJ Stand was and how they ended up with a painting by him. She took the frame down and set it in a box on the floor that she would take to the donation center later in the day.

"Hey mom, who was TJ Stand"?

"I have no idea and frankly I don't care. I need to start planting the rose bushes so while I do that you get rid of the picture and put the one that was there back".

"Put it back, I don't know where it is".

"It's probably where you stashed it when you put that one up". Her mother stormed off in the direction of the kitchen and Chloe could hear her gathering together the tools she would need to pot this season's rose bushes.

"I told you, I didn't put that painting up there so I have no idea where the other one is" she said to herself. This was getting to be aggravating since she really didn't like being called a liar. She turned and hurried up the stairs to the attic where she would look first. When Chloe opened the door and flipped the light switch she saw it, there in the corner leaning up against the Christmas decoration boxes stacked in the corner. She grabbed it and took it back to the living room and placed it on the mantle. It was a framed painting of a blue whale breaching the water. It was a beautiful picture but not one that held any sentimental value.

"Mom, I found the picture and put it on the mantle. I'm going into town to drop this box off at the donation center; is there anything you need while I'm out"?

"No, but hurry back because I'm going to need your help", the back screen door slammed shut behind Chloe's mom.

The drive into town was uneventful and when Chloe pulled into the parking lot of the donation center she parked the truck, grabbed the box from the back and headed inside. She walked straight to the back of the store where donations were left and rang the bell at the desk.

“Can I help you”, the lady asked?

“Yes, I want to donate these items and wondered where I should put them”.

“Just leave them right there, I’ll get to them later today. Do you need a receipt”?

“No, that’s fine, thank you”.

“You’re welcome, have a blessed day”, she spun around a returned to the back of the store where she busied herself unpacking other donated items.

Chloe took note of the box and the picture inside and decided to check on the painter over the weekend. Right now she needed to return home and get busy on the rose bushes. When she pulled into the driveway she immediately went to the garden where her mother was planting and set about doing the business of gardening. For some reason the dirt smelled old and musty not the usual fertilizer odor she was used to but she put it out of her mind and started making furrows for the roses.

Chloe woke with a start and noticed the time, it was 3:00 AM, she’d been startled by a loud noise coming from downstairs. She got up and put on her robe and headed in the direction of the sound. When she stepped into the living room and flipped on the light switch she saw it, the painting was on the mantle again the same painting she had left in town.

“What the hell is going on” she whispered to herself, “that can’t be there”. She rubbed her eyes, turned off the light and waited for a few seconds. When she turned the lights back on the painting was still there. Chloe immediately ran up the stairs to the attic and opened the door, again the whale painting was leaning up against the Christmas decoration boxes stacked in the corner. She was aghast and grabbed the painting and rushed back downstairs to replace the painting on the mantle, if her mother saw it she would be furious. Taking the painting to her room she found a blanket and wrapped it up to take it to the donation center first thing. She’d get up early and head to town before her mother ever realized what was going on. Before heading back to bed she pinched herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming, she wasn’t and her arm hurt, she was awake.

At 6:30 Chloe got up and dressed quickly and headed downstairs carrying the wrapped painting under here arm. She grabbed the keys, heard her mother stirring in the kitchen and hollered out,

“Mom, I need to get to town I forgot something yesterday. Can I get you anything while I’m there”?

“No, thanks for asking though, see ya when you get back. Be safe, love ya”!

“I’m going to stop at the Library so I’ll be a couple hours”.

“OK sweetie, see you later”.

Chloe stopped at the espresso stand and ordered a large coffee and decided to hit the library first. She wanted to look into TJ Stand first before she donated the painting again.

 The library was relatively small but had a good research area so she headed there first. Stopping at the desk she asked the librarian where she should look for information about TJ Stand and saw the smile that crossed the librarians face. She lit up and told Chloe a story she’d never heard before.

“Well, TJ Stand was the original founder of our little valley in the early 1700’s. He was a painter from England that came here to make his fortune but was never successful at that so he decided to settle this area first. He called this township Snowden in honor of the mountain that claimed his beloved son when they came here. His wife and daughter survived the trip across the mountain but his son fell into a chasm and was never found. It was a tragedy of unimaginable grief, one TJ never fully recovered from.  The few paintings he completed were sold off for pennies and after 3 short years the family disappeared and were never heard from again. Nobody knows what happened but some suspect they were killed to make way for immigrants from Ireland. The town’s name was changed to Centerville, and it grew up from there. The saying is that there is one painting which was never found and is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars because it has clues to what happened to TJ and his family. I don’t know if it’s true but wow, how awesome would that be”.

“Do you have any idea what the painting was”?

“Sure, it was of him and his family standing in front of their home. The house is gone now but the place that was built in its place is a nursery where beautiful rose bushes are sold, I have our gardener buy there every couple of years. The yellow roses are so sweet smelling and absolutely stunning”.

Chloe was in shock they had built their house on the very property TJ Stand had owned. 

“Do you have any pictures of the painting, I’d love to see it”?

“As a matter of fact, I do. I’ll just go get the book written about this man. It is a good read”.

The librarian returned with an open book and showed her the picture of the painting. It was the same, it was the one in the truck.

“I’d like to check this out if it’s OK”?

“Sure, when you’re ready to leave stop at the desk and I’ll have it ready to go. Can I have your library card”?

Chloe gave over her card, took a deep breath and headed for the front desk, questions were stuck in here head. Why was the painting in her house, how did it get there and what happened to the Stand’s.

When Chloe got home she took the painting into the house and placed it on the mantle alongside the painting of the whale. With the book she’d just checked out from the library in hand she went to the garden where her mother was already working at mixing fertilizer. Chloe placed the open book on the table and called her mother over and started telling her story.

“First of all, you are not going to believe what I’m about to tell you but it’s the truth. Yesterday you told me to get rid of a painting you thought I had placed on the mantle, but mom I didn’t and took it to the donation center and left it there.  Early this morning I was startled awake and went to find out what had wakened me and found the painting I had returned on the mantle the whale picture was once again upstairs in the attic. I decided to find out about the painting because there was no reason for it to be on the mantle. Something weird was happening so I decided to stop at the library and ask some questions.

It turns out the painter, TJ Stand, was the original founder of this little town and he named it Snowden in honor of his son that was killed when they made their way to this place in the early 1700’s. The grief was too much for them and the entire family disappeared after 3 years. All of the paintings were sold off except one, the one we have. How we ended up with it I don’t have a clue but we do have it and it’s worth a lot of money. According to the librarian it will tell us what happened to the family”.

“This is a joke, right”?

“No mom, it is not and I kept the painting, it’s on the mantle. I think we should check it out maybe solve a mystery and get rich at the same time”.

“OK, let’s get these plants potted and check out your theory”.

By the time they finished with the rose bushes it was late afternoon and they were hungry. Dinner consisted of snack food since neither of them wanted to waste any time looking into this mystery.

“Chloe, grab two magnifying glasses and we’ll pour over this painting to see what is hidden”.

“I don’t even know what to look for, the librarian didn’t give any hint as to what might be obscured from view she did say they ‘disappeared’ so she thought they could have been murdered, but how would he have known so I’m thinking not”.

As Chloe and her mother scanned the painting they noticed something odd, a well was obscured at the back of the property hidden under a bush.

“Look at that, it’s a hidden well, let’s go check it out”.

Together they gathered tools to uncover the well and find its opening. After clearing the debris they found what they thought was a well but was instead a shallow grave and inside were three bodies, two of them were wrapped in sheets and the third was laying across the top of them, there appeared to be a hole in the side of his head.  When the coroner had finished his examination it was determined that TJ Stand had killed his wife and child out of grief and then himself. Time had hidden their bodies but they would now would be buried in the town’s cemetery. Apparently, the ghost of TJ was so distraught with what he had done he was determined to make find a way to get someone to look for himself and his family and lay them to rest. 

The painting was sold to the town for $1.00 and hung in the library. The story of TJ Stand and his family was written in the town’s history ledger so that people would never forget the sorrow of the loss that led to such a tragedy.

The End

March 12, 2021 20:24

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