It was storming outside. It was nearly always storming at the Carlyle House. There wasn’t any kind of scientific explanation for it, as far as Coretta Stump knew, but there you had it.

Of course, it hadn’t been storming the day she’d toured and bought the old Carlyle House, oh no. It had been sunny that day, and the manor had seemed warm and inviting, the perfect place to open the bed-and-breakfast she’d always dreamed of.

She had heard the rumors about the ghosts, of course. But Coretta was a Stump, and Stumps did not hold with such nonsense. They were of a sturdy peasant stock; ghosts were for people who had too much time on their hands. So Coretta had bought the place right then and there with every penny of her life’s savings. She thought about that day often now. 

“Excuse me, miss?”

“Yes, how can I help you?” asked Coretta. She smiled at Mrs. Davis, who had checked in with her husband the night before. 

“The lights in our room keep flickering on and off,” Mrs Davis said.

“Ah, my apologies. You know these old houses, the wiring’s always a bit dodgy, especially during a thunderstorm.”

“But the lights don’t seem to be flickering out here,” said Mrs. Davis.

“Quite right you are,” said Coretta. “Probably just a dying bulb then. Why don’t you and Mr. Davis help yourselves to some scones in the kitchen, and I’ll replace that for you.”

“Thank you,” said Mrs. Davis. “Also it’s quite strange, there’s a cold spot in the room, but it’s not by the window like you’d expect. It’s right in the middle of the room.”

Coretta Stump forced a laugh. “Old mansions love their quirks, don’t they?” she said. “I’ll stoke your fire and find an extra blanket for you.”

But Coretta did not grab a new light bulb, a fire poker, or an extra blanket. She waited until the Davises were safely in the kitchen, and then she grabbed her spray bottle and climbed the stairs to their room.

Coretta heard a ghostly whisper as she entered the flickering room.

“Oh, shut up,” she said. She started spritzing the room with holy water. The ghostly whisper turned into a hiss.

“Serves you right, you wanker,” said Coretta. She aimed the holy water at the cold spot, at what she hoped was his face. The lights stopped flickering, and the cold spot disappeared. Coretta nodded in satisfaction. She hung a crucifix in the window for good measure, covering it with the curtains so the Davises wouldn’t notice.

Coretta was making her way back to the front desk when Mr. Kent found her.

“Sorry to bother you,” he said. “But we can hear a voice singing in our room.”

“Ah, that’s Miss Lambert,” said Coretta. “She’s a regular customer, often in town performing. Opera singer, you know. I’ll ask her to give her vocal cords a rest.”

“Must be a Halloween-themed show, eh?” said Mr. Kent. “She sounded more like a ghoul than an opera singer.”

“Yes, I imagine it’s difficult to get the balance exactly right. Probably why she’s practicing.”

Coretta Stump grabbed a bundle of sage and a book of matches and went back up the stairs. But before she made it to Mr. Kent’s room, Mrs. Crenshaw came running down the hallway, looking terrified.

“There’s a voice!” she yelled. “Someone’s screaming over and over. It sounds like they’re getting murdered!”

“Calm yourself, Mrs. Crenshaw,” said Coretta. “That’s probably just the family staying in the room below you. They’ve got toddlers. Twins.”

Mrs. Crenshaw shook her head. “My sister told me not to stay here,” she said. “She said this place was haunted.”

“It’s not haunted,” Coretta said. “I’ll talk to the family, ask them to quiet down.”

Mrs. Crenshaw shook her head again. “I’m checking out,” she said. “I can’t stay here.”

“Listen,” Coretta used her most soothing voice. “It’s late, and you’re upset. Why don’t you go down to the parlor, pick out a book, curl up by the fire for a bit. I’ll talk to the family. If you still want to leave afterwards, that’s fine, but I can’t have you driving on the dark country roads with your head in a jumble.”

Mrs. Crenshaw nodded this time. “I suppose I should take some time to calm down.” 

“There now,” said Coretta. “You go relax. I’ll get things straightened out, and then I’ll put the kettle on.”

Mrs. Crenshaw went downstairs. Coretta walked into Mr. Kent’s room. Sure enough, she could hear a voice singing wordlessly. Coretta lit the sage, let it burn for a few moments, then blew on it until the embers let off smoke. 

“Spirit, leave this place,” she chanted as she wafted the sage around the room. “And for God’s sake, take your bloomin’ songs with you. You weren’t talented in life, and you’re not talented in death.”

When she’d finished in Mr. Kent’s room, she went into Mrs. Crenshaw’s. She lit the sage again and let the smoke fill the room. This time, though, the voice did not fade away into nothingness. A scream pierced the night.

“Spirit, leave this place!” Coretta yelled over the scream. “No one wants you here!” 

There was silence. Then the scream started up again. 

Coretta groaned and yanked off the chain that was around her neck. She held the crystal pendant out like a sword and stabbed the air with it. The screaming abruptly stopped.

Coretta Stump sighed in relief and put the necklace back on. 

“No wonder you were murdered,” she muttered. “I’d like to bring you back to life just to kill you myself.”

She went down to the kitchen, tossed the sage remnants in the bin, and put the kettle on for Mrs. Crenshaw. Then she rummaged in the liquor cabinet and poured herself a tipple. She took the last scone and devoured it in three vicious bites. She hated Halloween. Friday the 13th was awful, and full moons always came with a few extra headaches, but nothing was as bad as Halloween. 

When the kettle whistled, she brought a steaming cup and saucer to Mrs. Crenshaw. 

“Oh, thank you,” said Mrs. Crenshaw. 

“It’s the least I can do,” said Coretta. “I’m so sorry about those children. Do you still want to check out?”

“No no, I was being daft,” Mrs. Crenshaw said. “I suppose with it being Halloween and all, and with what my sister said…”

“And it’s an old house,” Coretta said kindly. “Old houses always seem creepier in a storm.” 

“Yes well, I should probably just get to bed,” said Mrs. Crenshaw.

“I’m about to turn in as well. My room’s the one at the end of the hall; please don’t hesitate to knock if you need anything.”

Mrs. Crenshaw thanked her again and went up to bed. Coretta doused the fire in the fireplace. The flames went out with a hiss. She shut off the main lights, letting the nightlights guide her as she made her way up the stairs and down the hall to her room. She opened the door.

Her clothes were strewn everywhere. The curtains were ripped and torn, the rod they hung from askew. It was so cold she could see her breath. Coretta sighed and turned toward the closet where she kept the space heater. 

She let out a small scream. 

On the wall above her bed, written in blood, were the words Hello Coretta.

“That’s going to take ages to get out,” she growled. 

She kicked on the space heater, grabbed a bucket, mixed a bleach solution, and started scrubbing.

“Get out,” a voice behind her rasped.

You get out,” Coretta snarled. “I am sick to death of all of you. If you don’t leave me alone, I’ll kill myself and come back as a ghost, and then I’ll hang about you all day and bother you to no end. I’ll scream in your ear day and night, until you wish you could die all over again to be rid of me. Only you’ll never be rid of me, because I am Coretta Stump, and I am not going anywhere.

She waited for the ghost’s response. Silence. Coretta spent an hour scrubbing out the bloody message, and still not one peep from the ghost. She poured salt in a circle around her bed anyway, just in case. Then she went to sleep and dreamed of nothing.

Coretta woke early the next morning, still grumpy as she made her way downstairs. Something shifted on the wall behind the front desk. No, not on the wall — in the wall. The wallpaper was moving like someone was trapped behind it. Suddenly, a hand stretched out from underneath the wallpaper. It grabbed Coretta’s arm. Coretta snatched the check-in binder from the desk and slammed it against the hand. It let go of her and disappeared behind the wall. 

The bell above the front door jingled. Coretta whirled around and painted a smile on her face.

“Welcome to the Carlyle House. Checking in?”

November 01, 2019 17:57

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