I've inhabited this house for nearly two hundred years and watched generations of my family take their first breath and their last. I know their secrets. My name is Thomas Merchant, I was the previous corporeal Merchant, and I remain here to protect this house forever.
I wasn't even dead when the first realtor knocked on our door and shoved papers and a business card at me before even saying hello. I told her to go away, but she kept leaving flyers, sending me letters, and calling me at least once a week. She returned again, and I asked her why she was so determined to list my house. She said, "Well, you're probably going to want to have a smaller place, move to assisted living? And such a large property would bring you money for the best older adult facilities "?
My reply: SLAM!
But that incident made me consider what would happen to her (the house, that is) after I died? I didn't feel that old at seventy-five, but planning might be a good idea. So, when I did die, at age ninety-eight, I stayed. As the last heir, I'd decided that it was my duty to ensure she was properly cared for.
My wife died twenty years before me, and I had no social life. I died in my bed, so my body stayed there until the mail piled up and someone called in a wellness check of all things! I watched them take my poor old remains away, but I stayed on.
About a week later, a different realtor brought a couple in, which was very worrisome. How did she get a key? I immediately disliked these two, and when the Mrs started pointing to walls and doors, saying, "We'll knock that down and move that, change those out.", I'd had enough. I was new at haunting, but I had to get rid of them; I discovered I could make doors open and close, the nursery chair rock., and flicker the lights! All three of them fled and did not return.
Next, a couple of gentlemen visited and mentioned turning her into an Inn with a restaurant, which I didn't like. More talk of ripping out this and digging up that, and then one mentioned gutting the kitchen! They had to go! I opened and slammed more doors, scraped a chair across the kitchen floor, and knocked a large vase off a side table while they stood near it. What a horrendous crash. Its glass shards flew everywhere! I laughed as they ran out the front door, and I think they heard me because they looked over their shoulders.
Finally, a real estate developer wanted to tear her down, clear the property build an apartment complex! He died when a large oak limb fell on him while he inspected the grounds.
After that, rumors that this house was haunted and dangerous circulated, people stopped coming, and peace was restored. Kind neighbors from the tiny post-WWII houses surrounding us like an unsightly rash began to watch over her, so I left them alone. They nailed large boards over her windows and doors and kept her safe from vandals, squatters, or arsonists.
Finally, a suitable person showed interest in her, Robert Cooper, and he owns her now. He hired people who restored her electricity and water and replaced her furnace. He replaced kitchen fittings with original period brass, no plastic for her! And she has a new roof, which is essential for houses because a leaky roof brings mold and rot, then death.
Robert's elderly mother, Martha, lives with us too. She is very suitable and adores the house and gardens. Martha is delighted with our library and refilled empty shelves with her nineteenth and twentieth-century literature, art tomes, and botanicals!
However, to my horror, Martha almost lit a cigarette! Robert won't allow it; oh, thank you, Satar Mater! She said it was a rare treat but would forgo it for our safety and health. Fire is such a threat, and I'm relieved that Robert only uses the fireplace in the sitting room, as eight rooms contain one. Fire makes us so nervous.
Yesterday I watched workers clear out the overgrowth of vines and weeds and remove the dead trees. I worry that someone will find the shed in the far corner of the garden and what's inside, as I wouldn't want anything to ruin her reputation.
We sit on the fifty remaining four hundred acres, with only one acre fenced in. Our remaining property is now a dense forest filled with ancient trees, ferns, and wild berry bushes. Neighborhood children rarely venture far into unfenced grounds because their parents filled their imaginations with stories about a resident monster and assorted murders that happened here. And they're right.
Life is pleasant for the three of us, and Spring and summer passed quietly. Martha reads aloud in the library, and I enjoy this very much, especially when she reads Chesterton, who makes me laugh. I think she may have heard me the other night when she read, "Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese," I had a good belly laugh, and Martha put her book down and looked around the room. Some folks see or hear the dead. I'll have to be more careful.
Robert prepared the garden for autumn, mulching the roses, cutting the Wisteria back, and pruning the yews. I'm concerned when he pokes about in the far corner of the fence line and finds the shed, even though saplings and vines cover it, which will require a tremendous amount of work clear the way to the door. Robert has many other projects in line, but lately, he often talks about the shed and sees the door and its large padlock. .on the door. He searches for the key from time to time. . I'm sure the old lock has rusted shut, and the large key went missing years ago. It's called a skeleton key, which I find both humorous and disturbing.
It's that time of year when all the tiny houses surrounding us have prepared for Halloween. I've gotten used to it, but the costumes and decor grow darker and sadder every year, with more zombies and fewer princesses. Some zombie costumes are quite realistic. Martha bought a large amount of candy and sat just outside the gate to pass it to the children. She enjoyed it immensely and said it would make us more of a part of the community. I'm not too fond of that idea, but we'll see where it leads.
I'm happy with Martha's choices of music, especially Vivaldi. And she still reads to me, even though she thinks she's just reading to Robert or herself. Mercifully, neither one of them bothers with television.
But all good things must end. One afternoon, Robert came through the back door and into the kitchen with his clothes covered in dirt, leaves, and garden debris and his shoes caked in mud! His hands shook when he drank a glass of water. This is not like the Robert I've come to know. Martha went into the kitchen and asked him what had happened.
"Mom, I . . ." He drank some water and started again. "Um, you know how I wanted to explore the garden shed?"
'Yes," Martha said, and her face pruned into a look of concern. "Take a breath Dear," she patted his shoulder and sat across from him.
Robert's voice quivered when he said, " I was raking leaves around the shed, and I found the key! I used the power saw and hacked my way to the door, and it took some work and WD-40, but I opened that lock! I went inside, " Robert's voice shook. He took a breath, let it out slowly, and continued, "All I saw at first was an overturned wheelbarrow, and I stepped inside and fell through the floor!
"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, but sit down, Mom, please. I need to tell you this, and then we'll decide what to do."
"There is a . . .human skeleton under the floor . . . Mom, a dead person! Jesus! I work in IT, not CSI."
Martha got a glass of water for herself, took a sip, then sat back down and said, "Well, Son, you know this house is ancient. They used to bury their dead on family grounds, and wealthy people even had their own chapels and cemeteries. It might not be as bad as you think."
Robert didn't answer. He nodded and started to say something, then rose and went back outside. I watched him from an upstairs window as he returned to the shed.
Later, Robert returned to the house and told Martha that he had found a couple of items in the soil beneath the shed; a wooden shoe and a heavy brass angel. He put everything back the way he found it. And locked the door. He lifted the key from his pocket to show her the large, rusted relic.
"Mom, we need to do some research before we call anyone. I don't want police and reporters trampling all over the place. There are several old boxes of paperwork in the library, and let's go through them; hopefully, they'll help us sort this out.
After hours of sifting through old letters, legal papers, and several journals, they found some answers at the bottom of the third box.
Martha lifted a large manilla envelope and carried it to an easy chair. They found a journal and a collection of newspaper clippings, and I became apprehensive.
Martha read the Journal, and Robert began sorting the newspaper clippings on a side table. I watched Martha, hoping she'd give up after so many pages of childish gossip and what they had for dinner. But Martha persisted and came to a folded piece of stationary inside the Journal's back cover. As she read, her eyes opened wide, and she called, "Robert! Listen to this!"
Robert interrupted her, "Wait, Mom, I think I know who's in the shed. He brought newspaper clippings and laid them on the table. "He was a murderer! Sentenced to life for murdering a bank manager during a robbery. They were transporting him from the prison to a hospital because he faked appendicitis and murdered the driver and the guard! Jesus! He escaped and was never found!"
Martha said, "Well, that makes sense. This Journal has some pages missing, but the entire event is recorded here by a girl named Emily. She must have been a child when she wrote: To whoever Finds This: July 4, 1922, A man came into our house in the night. He walked with a clumping sound. I guess that's why Daddy heard him. There was a lot of shouting and then a loud thud. I heard Mama say something. I'm unsure what it was because I was at the top of the stairs. It was still dark outside, and I watched Daddy drag a man into the back garden, dig a hole, and roll the man into it. The man's foot came off! I've never been so scared!! I heard Momma crying out back too. Daddy put his arms around her and took the angel statue from her hands, and threw the man's foot into it. They stood there for a while, and I was very tired, so I went to bed. They didn't call a doctor or the police or anything. They didn't know that I saw it, and I never told anyone because if they put Momma and Daddy in jail, I'd have to go to an orphanage like the girl in my library book.
Robert showed Martha the newspaper photos of the convict and read her the stories about how he was never found. According to his cellmate, he carved a foot, or a fake shoe, from a wood block. His name was Tim Gordon. He injured his foot on some rusty wire on the prison grounds, and it became infected, and they had to amputate it. He wanted to look more normal, so he made the shoe!
"There is a wooden foot carving and a brass statue in the hole, and I didn't understand when I saw them. I think Emily's mother struck the man and knocked him out, and Daddy finished the job, but who knows?"
What should we do?" Martha asked while putting the items back into the box.
"Well, part of me wants to call to police, but we've put so much time, money, and work into this place, and what if they decide to dig up the whole grounds or maybe start checking for clues in the house. Damned reporters will swarm us, we'll never have peace here again, and we might even have to sell." Robert said.
Martha nodded, "and I'm sure at a huge financial loss." She said, sinking back in her chair and rubbing her temples.
" We have no choice, and it was so long ago. Tomorrow I'll buy new floorboards for the shed. I'll leave the . . . skeleton and other stuff in the grave, and replace the old boards, and screw new ones over the top. It won't look suspicious, with the shed being so old. All, then I'll replace the wheelbarrow and all our old garden tools inside and lock it up again, and this time nobody will find the key. I'll make sure of that!" Robert said.
"I agree, son. If it's been a secret for over fifty years, it may as well stay that way. I love it here so much, and this will ensure we can stay the rest of our days," Martha said.
Or perhaps longer than that!
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.