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General

Old Mackie’s house had not changed in over two hundred years, a fact that the stubborn curmudgeon was immensely proud of. He took to change about as well a cuprolaminophobe, discarding most modern innovations as worthless pennies. On a street lined with contemporary sleek houses, his stood out through anachrony. Cost was never an issue, for the old man was wealthy beyond measure, but material goods never held much sway for him; he was quite content to wander the grounds of his crumbling estate, surveying the moss as it overtook what was once a path to a now-derelict gazebo, noted the increasing screech of a gate rusting more and more with each rainfall, taking some grim satisfaction in the slow decline of a long-dead architect’s most passionate project. He never spoke of his past. His wife had died young; his children moved away from the abode the moment they were able and never looked back. But Old Mackie somehow derived some sick pleasure from his self-imposed tormented isolation, going on to outlive both his offspring and stubbornly refusing to meet with death until after his one-hundred-and-twentieth birthday.

Neighbours would talk in hushed tones about the man who lived alone in that compact monument to a bygone age. Children would dare each other to ring the doorbell, would concoct stories about the creepy man who lived there and the ghosts he kept for company. He could sometimes be seen staring out the window disapprovingly at activity on the street, be it children playing, cyclists cycling or refuse collection. Mackie left his house precisely once a week, on a Tuesday afternoon, when most the neighbourhood children were at school, most of their parents at work. He wore the same tattered suit, he walked with a wooden cane. He ambled up the street with no urgency, entering the local convenience store where he conspiratorially loaded his basket with groceries, shooting daggers with his eyes at any who dared look at him or his purchases. He would then occupy the self-checkout for as long a time as he saw fit, loading everything into one big bag and returning home. Any neighbours he passed on the way would later recite the tale of how Lord Mackie had descended from his palace to walk amongst the townsfolk.

He rejected any attempts at outreach, from both concerned citizens and charities, becoming bristly and defensive at any implication that he needed help. It was the only time he was heard to speak.


*


Evangeline had just finished sponging baby spit-up off her white shirt when the doorbell rang. She looked in on her infant as she passed the nursery, now peacefully in slumber. She hurried downstairs, hastily tying back loose strands of auburn hair, and smoothing down her clothing. It had been a while since she last spoke with an adult. She opened the door to a short, besuited, bespectacled man with a brown leather briefcase and a head as smooth as a bowling ball.

“Good afternoon, Miss Mackie,” he reached to the inside pocket of his oversized suit jacket and pulled out a stiff, high-quality business card. “My name is Charles Portenay,” he held the card out. Evangeline took it and scrutinised it as the old man shuffled on the doorstep.

“I am here on behalf of Huang, Adebayo and Park estate attorneys. If I may have a moment of your time, I have some information for you regarding your great-grandfather.”

Evangeline furrowed her brow and folded her arms, suddenly aware of the wet stain along her collarbone. “I was not aware I had one. Are you sure you’ve got the right person?”

Portenay looked momentarily concerned, crouching down, and opening his briefcase. He lifted a piece of paper off the top and read it aloud from his crouched position.

“You are Evangeline Mackie, daughter of Roger Mackie, granddaughter of Charlie Mackie, correct?”

“Yes…” she replied slowly.

The attorney slid the paper back into his briefcase, refastened the latches and stood up. “May I?”

“Of course,” Evangeline said, stepping aside and allowing him entry.


Portenay said nothing as Evangeline prepared tea for them both. He sat at the kitchen counter, his briefcase open, taking out pages of documents individually and arranging them, perfectly lined up, on the bench before him. It was only when Evangeline placed a steaming mug before him and took a sip of her own that he finally spoke.

“I am sorry to be the one to tell you this, Miss Mackie, but your great-grandfather passed away two weeks ago.”

“Oh,” Evangeline replied, wondering if she should feel guilty for not feeling more morose.

Portenay took a sip of his tea. His glasses fogged up. He removed them and wiped the condensation with his tie. He replaced them higher up his nose and picked up a document. “And as per his will,” he read, “all my possessions are to be shared amicably amongst my living descendants.” He lowered the document and looked up at Evangeline. “That’s you. And your sister,” a cry came from upstairs, “and your baby, I suppose.”

Evangeline went through a range of emotions. Confusion. Excitement. Confusion again. Guilt, once more. She had never heard anything about her distant relative, and now they were to inherit everything he owned?

“Is your sister around?”

“No… no. She’s at school.”

“We have some legal bits to iron out. Perhaps, when you have a moment, you could both pop by our offices?”


*


The electric car hummed silently along the streets of an unfamiliar but affluent neighbourhood, Evangeline in the driver’s seat and her younger teen sister Melissa beside her.

“So, how come I’ve never heard of this guy?” Melissa asked, examining the ancient key in her hand, running her finger over its teeth.

“I wish I knew,” Evangeline replied sadly. “Dad never mentioned him.”

The road was straight and quiet, the buildings which flanked it almost identical.

“What’s the house like?”

“I’ve not seen it yet,” Evangeline scanned the house numbers as they passed. “Evidently it was built around 1890.”

“Sheeeez!” Melissa exclaimed. “Is it, like, even inhabitable?”

Evangeline shrugged. “There was a letter with the keys. I’m hoping that will explain some of it…”

Melissa dived down into the footwell, rummaging through the document wallet that contained the deed and a plethora of other legal documentation, pulling out an old envelope with no name or address.

“There’s orders to not open it until we ge…”

But Melissa had already torn into it, peeling the flap open enthusiastically, tearing it in several places. She pulled out a single sheet of paper with a short message on one side, turning it over to find its reverse plain.

Dear descendant,” she read. “Love the personal touch!”

“I am writing this note, not knowing who you are or the strength of your character. All I know for sure is you’re a Mackie, and by gum that’s good enough for me! The man who owned the house you have inherited- he was my father.

Granddad wrote this?

There are several things you need to know about him before you enter his- your- abode.

Number 1. My mother died young, shortly after the birth of my sister. Dad was never the same after that. Our upbringing was rough. He was still a young man himself, and lost.

Number 2. We harboured no ill will or resentment to our old man. We tried to help him, but he chose to dwell on the past. The house itself is testament to that, and no doubt its contents are too. To us, growing up, the walls became oppressive, the reminders of the past too painful. Dad was happiest when he was alone with all that, and so we left him.

Damn!

Perhaps you’re thinking we could have done more, that no one should be alone. But let me tell you that over the years we tried, oh how we tried! Interventions, Psychiatrists, you name it, we tried it. Every time we were rebuffed. ‘Why are you wasting your time?’ he’d say. ‘Can’t you see I’m happy the way I am?’

In the end, we just gave up. It was too hard watching him fading into the past. We cut contact. We never spoke of him to anyone, lest they waste the time and energy we did in some hopelessly optimistic dream of ‘saving’ him.

I write this from my deathbed. As far as I’m aware he’s still going strong. I don’t know who will eventually end up reading this, and I can’t say what you’ll find inside, but I hope you’ll forgive our family’s deep dark secret.

Yours sincerely,

Charlie H. Mackie.”

They both sat in stunned silence a spell.

“Damn!” Melissa said again.

Evangeline pulled the car over to the side of the road. They had arrived. Melissa stared out the window at the ageing domicile beside them.

“Yep, def-in-it-ely haun-ted,” she sang.

Evangeline took a deep breath before exiting the vehicle. She walked around the front of the car as Melissa got out. She reached out for the keys.

“Thanks for coming with me, Missy,” she said as her sister placed the keys in her hand.

Melissa placed her head affectionately against Evangeline’s shoulder. The gate opened with an ear-piercing screech, sticking about halfway. The pair squeezed through the gap and walked the overgrown path to the front door. The lock was sticky, but Evangeline was eventually able to jiggle it open, stepping over a pile of mail and into the dark, musty humidity of the hallway.

“This place already gives me the creeps. Like, all the creeps,” Melissa said as she entered, holding herself tightly.

The rooms downstairs acted as a derelict museum to life in another time. Decaying fabrics, peeling wallpaper, heavy wooden furniture – some of which had stood the test of time, whilst others appeared to have succumbed to woodworm, rats or rot. Evangeline walked cautiously from room to room.

“Hey what’s this?” Melissa called from the hall.

Evangeline stuck her head out from the dilapidated kitchen to see her younger sister standing in front of an open drawer, holding up a shiny rectangular box.

“Don’t you pay attention in history class?” she teased. “It’s a phone. From the ’20s or something.”

“Oh, really?” the girl turned it over in her hand, tapping it before holding it up. “Worth anything?”

Evangeline shook her head before returning to the kitchen. She heard the thump-thump-thump of Melissa ascending the stairs.

“Be careful!” she called out after her. Evangeline opened the fridge. She had expected worse. The shelves were clean and somewhat bare, save for four microwavable ready meals, just out of date. She closed the fridge door, noting the dusty, faded calendar stuck to the front. She ran the side of her hand over it, removing a thick layer of grime and revealing a partial month and year- September 79.

Must be when he gave up, she thought.

“Hey, Vange!” Melissa called from upstairs, using a nickname she hated. “I think the old guy was a cop!”

Evangeline walked out into the hallway and looked up the stairs, seeing Melissa swinging a pair of handcuffs off one finger.

“Where’d you find those?” she called up.

“Bedside table.”

Evangeline stomped up the stairs, taking the handcuffs and examining them. “These aren’t police handcuffs, they’re…” she looked at her fifteen-year-old sister’s innocent face. “…For something else.”

“Oh. Ooohh!” she replied. “And how would you know that, Vange?”

“I’m not sure I want you exploring without me. There could be rot or mould or…”

“…More kinky old man stuff?” Melissa jested.

Evangeline threw the handcuffs into a room and closed the door, dusting off her hands. She sighed. “Maybe I shouldn’t have brought you.”

“Yeah, I could have looked after Amanda instead of you leaving her with Rick-from-next-door.”

“I like Rick-from-next-door. He doesn’t charge me,” Evangeline said as she opened another door into darkness. She flicked the light switch. The bulb was red. The windows were covered. A large, round bed sat in the middle of the room, seemingly more modern than the furniture downstairs. She quickly turned off the light and slammed the door shut.

“What was in there?”

“Big spider.”

The quick inspection of the rest of the upper floor passed with no surprises, just ageing furniture, some broken, some hidden beneath dust sheets. Most of the rooms looked like they had not been touched in decades. Evangeline was keen to get Melissa downstairs, away from the adult content of their great-grandfather’s bedrooms. Back downstairs, Melissa went through the rooms her sister had already visited, before meeting back up by the door beneath the stairs.

“Ugh. Creepy,” Melissa groaned as she stared down into the darkness of the basement.

“Mmhmm,” Evangeline replied, reaching for the light switch.

The steps became illuminated with a warm yellow glow.

“Skeletons, Nazi paraphernalia, dolls…”

“What are you doing?”

“Just listing all the horrors that we might find down there. You know, our family’s deep dark secret. Why else would grandpa leave so quickly?”

Evangeline’s mind began to wander, too, as they descended the banally creaking stairs. Her thoughts were more inspired by what they had found upstairs.

“Chains on the walls! Told you!” Melissa exclaimed, pointing at a metal ring mounted onto the brick.

The rest of the basement was bare, but for a pile of boxes in one corner and a large cupboard. Melissa boldly walked over and opened the cupboard before her sister could protest.

“Creepy. There’s a huge teddy bear in here…”

“What?” Evangeline took a few steps towards it.

“Oh wait, it’s like a costume…” Melissa was pulling it out. “With a hole in the crotch!”

She dropped the outfit and stepped back, shaking the very memory of its feel from her hands.

“We should head back upstairs,” her sister told her, closing the cupboard. But Melissa was morbidly intrigued, going over to the pile of boxes and opening the top one cautiously.

“Missy, I said let’s go!”

Melissa pulled out a photo album. “Aren’t you curious about what he looked like?”

She sat down on the concrete floor, legs crossed. Her stubborn teenage determination meant that an earthquake would not pry her away from opening the album. Evangeline could not see its contents, only the shocked expression on her sister’s face.

Ohmygod!” she cried as Evangeline pulled the book from her hands.

Evangeline flipped through a few pages, before hastily snapping it closed and throwing it back in the box. “I guess that’s why he didn’t want his kids in the house.” She walked back to the stairs, while Melissa sat, stunned.

“Our Great-Grandpa, was a furry!”

“Let’s go.”

“And a gimp!”

Evangeline turned and crossed her arms. “How do you know about all this anyway?”

Melissa's limbs finally remembered they could move. She stood up. “We’ve been doing a project on early 21st century subcultures,” she shrugged innocently. “I came across it in my research.”

“Look, let’s go upstairs and forget every seeing all this,” she looked around the basement and shuddered as she finished the sentence.

“You think he found a taste for all this,” Melissa said mockingly, “after his wife died?”

Evangeline shrugged. “Maybe.”

“Sheeez!” Melissa exclaimed.

She dusted herself off once more as Evangeline started up the stairs.

“So, he wasn’t lonely, like, forever,” Melissa said.

“I guess not.”

“He had sex parties in every room of this house.”

“Seems to be the case.”

“Can we go now?”

“Absolutely.”


Evangeline was half-way down the garden path when she spotted an old lady standing by the front gate. She appeared to be in her nineties, with a deeply wrinkled face and hair as white as snow.

“Can I help you?” Evangeline asked as she neared, Melissa drawing up alongside her.

“So sorry to trouble you. I just came to pay my respects, you see?” She had a gentle tone with a tremor brought on by age.

“Did you know my great-grandad?” Melissa asked, suspicious.

“Oh, yes, somewhat,” the old lady replied, fiddling with the strap of her purse. “I have a lot of fond memories in this house.”

“What kind of memories?”

“Melissa, don’t interrogate the poor woman.”

“It’s quite all right, love. Your great-grandfather, myself and a few friends used to get together here several nights a week.”

“What did you guys do?” Melissa asked, crossing her arms.

“Oh, you know, played games, had fun.”

“What kinda games?”

Melissa!” Evangeline hissed. “Forgive her. When did you last see him?”

The old lady thought back a moment, eyes skyward as if the answer were written on a cloud. “Autumn,” she replied, “twenty-seventy-nine.”

“What happened?”

“Oh, you know, out of the blue one day he just announced to the gang he was done. He was almost eighty then. Getting on a bit. And he was old when I met him.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that.”

“Thank you. Hard to believe it's been forty years! I do miss old Big Bear.”

Melissa stifled a laugh and turned away. Evangeline elbowed her in irritation.

“Big bear?” she asked, though she couldn’t say why.

“Yes. We all had nicknames in our little group. He was Big Bear. Then there was Lioness, Mean Dog,” she began counting off her fingers as Melissa shook with concealed mirth. “Harry the Horse, Kylie Kitten…”

Melissa let out a snort.

“And he called me ‘Little Tiger,’” she proclaimed proudly.

Evangeline pursed her lips to hide her amusement. The old lady wished them well and went on her way. Melissa ran up to her sister, tears streaming down her cheeks as Evangeline stoically watched the woman walk away.

Little Tiger,” she whispered in her sister’s ear.

Evangeline could not hold it in any longer. The two of them stood doubled over with laughter on the overgrown front path of Old Mackie’s House.

August 20, 2020 12:01

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4 comments

Ani Lazarova
15:35 Aug 27, 2020

The ending was...wow. Extremely unexpected. I really enjoyed your story. Congrats! :)

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John Maygrove
20:05 Aug 27, 2020

Thank you kindly ;)

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Rowena Tisdale
23:58 Aug 22, 2020

Well-written, and such an unexpected ending! Your descriptions are excellent and the pace and suspense level are even throughout. The secret, as I said, was a complete surprise when revealed, and I laughed out loud.

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John Maygrove
20:06 Aug 27, 2020

You're too kind :)

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