Sunday, November 22, 2015

Chapter 7 - Blood in the Mortar ---- Abby pulled into the drive and slid to a halt behind Janet’s car. She noticed that there had been some yard work, but haphazard at best. She found Janet on her knees digging around a clump of weeds in the yard. “Janet! Janet? What are you doing?” Abby saw Janet turn and look at her. She could see a blank smile. It made her feel like a stranger. Janet had lost the animation that she normally did, the sparkle, the conspiratorial grin. “Hi, Abby,” Janet said. Abby watched as she stood and brushed the dirt from her knees and gloves. “Have you come for tea?” Tea? Abby shook her head. This wasn’t the Janet she knew. “Tea? We drink wine. And lots of it,” Abby said. She saw Janet tilt her head and furrow her eyebrows. “Wine? Surely you don’t mean before dinner. I would fix you tea but I haven’t gotten the fire up. Perhaps you could come back later?” Janet had grabbed Abby’s elbow and she was escorting her toward her car. Abby pulled away and grabbed Janet by the shoulders. “Janet! It’s me, Abby. What is wrong with you? Have you lost your mind?” Janet didn’t respond but pulled away and went up the steps toward the front door. Abby walked beside her. “Snap out of it! What’s going on?” At the top of the stairs, Abby felt a chill. The boards beneath her feet creaked. She looked around to identify the source of the cold breeze. Janet opened the door and closed it behind her before Abby could recover. Abby reached for the doorknob and twisted. It was locked. Abby ran to a window to look through but there was nothing in the gloom. Abby pounded on the window as hard as she dared. Then she pulled out her cell and dialed Janet’s number. There was no answer. Daniel watched from an upstairs window. He had to move quickly. That woman Abby would be trouble. He watched her drive away and knew she would return. Not today but tomorrow for sure. He left the upstairs window and went down the back stairway. He listened for Janet moving through the house but heard nothing. She would be in the main room in front of the fireplace waiting for him. He slid open the hidden panel in the hall and went inside the room closing it behind him. He walked over to Lenoir and knelt beside her. He took her hand but this time she didn’t turn youthful and Daniel stayed old. “Finally,” she said. “What do you mean?” “You are going to kill me as you have all the others.” “I could never kill you. I love you.” “I may be old but I’m not deaf. I have heard you with that other woman.” “I’m sorry.” “Just let me go. Take me to a home. I’m old. They’ll just think I’m crazy.” Daniel took a piece of tape and placed it over Lenoir’s mouth. She didn’t resist. She didn’t have the strength. He lifted Lenoir from her wheelchair and carried her to the wall that slid open. Daniel carried Lenoir outside to the basement doors where he set her gently on the ground. With the double covers unlocked, Daniel opened them silently and laid then over, the rusted hinges squeaking slightly. Lenoir saw the stairs leading into the dark space below, as she was lifted from the ground. At the bottom, she was set gently back on the ground while Daniel closed the doors. The room went dark. A beam of light from a flashlight in Daniel’s hand swept the room. A single light bulb hanging from the ceiling came on, controlled from a string hanging from its base in the center of the room. The room had shovels and rakes, a wheelbarrow, a garden hose, an orange thing on wheels and other tools that Lenoir didn’t recognize. The walls were stone and along the inner wall stood wooden shelves, mostly empty except for a few cans and bottles of stuff she didn’t recognize. She knew the basement wasn’t as big as the house and knowing Daniel, there would be a false wall, another room. She had heard the screams from below the room that had been her home for so long. Daniel must have done unimaginable things to women to elicit the screams of pain and terror that had filtered through the floor. How had he hidden it from her before and how long had he been doing it? Since the house was built? Over seventy-five years. When she had seen the change in him and knew she had to leave, he had somehow known she was ready to run and had taken her to the room in the center of the house. He had cuffed her and gagged her. The first few years, he would wheel her around the garden at night but the garden and lawn grew, unkempt. He would carry her up the stairs to the master bedroom and bring back her youth and make love to her that she couldn’t fight. Then the furniture disappeared and the house echoed with emptiness. He was always gentle, careful with her, professing his love but she could never break through his madness. And nobody missed her. What had Daniel told their friends? After time she began to notice the house. She heard the sounds, the groans and creaks as the women screamed, the cold touch of the shadows when she tried to escape, the terror in her head when she fought him or tried to break the spell of the house. But the first time he held her hand and she turned young, she knew the house was something, something to be feared. Daniel moved a hidden latch and turned the center shelf exposing an inner room. He wheeled her through the doorway. Lenoir heard a familiar shifting in the house. It was preparing for dinner. She didn’t fear death, she feared the manner of her death. And what she saw made her pass out. Janet was not in front of the fireplace. She was in the dining room looking out over the garden. She loved standing in the light and seeing the perfectly manicured lawn with statues and flowing water. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw movement. She pressed her head against the window to get a better view. She saw Daniel lift a woman up and carry her down into the basement. She waited to see if he would come back up. When he didn’t, she turned to go out and see what was going on. She entered the main room and stopped. The room was filled with women of all sizes and all ages. They all wore different clothing; some fancy, some just casual, and some in what looked like nightgowns. There were even a few that stood there naked. All looked dirty, hair matted and tangled. They all stood silently facing the fireplace, heads down. Janet started shaking. Where had they come from and what did they want? She needed Daniel. Janet put her back to the outer wall and slipped quietly around the edge moving toward the coat room. Before she could get there, a young girl stepped out from the crowd and faced her. The girl was young and wearing dirty pink pajamas. She held a dirty pink and white teddy bear. She tilted her head up and looked at Janet with big sad eyes. “He killed me.” Janet screamed. Halfway home, Abby got mad and decided to return. She would kick in the door or bust a window if she had to. She got out of her car without closing her door. Looking around for options, she went for the back door. As she stepped around the corner, she saw movement and ducked down behind a clump of weeds. A man, a young man with long hair, was carrying a woman. Abby couldn’t see more than the woman’s legs and long hair. She didn’t know what to do. Should she challenge the man, see what he was doing? He was big and she could tell by looking at his solid frame, he was strong. He set the woman down and unlocked the basement doors. He turned and lifted the woman and carried her down. Abby still couldn’t see the woman’s face. It had to be Janet but the hair looked gray and the legs old and thin. Abby waited behind the weeds, hoping the man would come out and leave. She decided she couldn’t wait any longer and started to stand. When she did, she heard a scream from inside the house. Daniel set Lenoir on a table in the hidden room beneath the house. He laid her out carefully. He softly brushed the hair from her face. Above the table dangled a number of knives and saws. Their sharpened edges reflected the dull light in the room. Off to the side sat a fireplace and hanging above the fire from a wrought iron rod sat a large kettle. The walls were plastered but unfinished. The plaster was an odd colored light brown and troweled over the stones that supported the house. Three walls had been completed and the fourth half finished. Daniel turned and looked at the dirt floor in the center of the room. The earth shifted and cracked opened. Bits of dirt tumbled into the split as it widened into a deep gash. Daniel walked over and looked into the pit. Inside he could see the throat of the house below its sharp teeth, undulating, waiting for the next meal. He heard the house creak and felt the floor lift slightly. It reminded him of a dog begging for a treat. “Soon, my love.” Daniel walked over to a large square post, one of many supporting the house. He wrapped his arms around it and stroked the smooth wood. “Soon, my love.” He softly kissed the beam. The house above creaked. Then he heard the scream. He let go of the beam and looked up. He ran out and pulled the false shelf closed. He climbed quickly out of the basement and ran for the back door. Abby saw the man come out of the basement and run for the back of the house. Once again, Abby felt unsure of what she should do next. Was it Janet that screamed? And why? And who was the woman taken to the basement? Abby got up and ran to the basement. She went down the stairs expecting to see the woman. She froze when she saw nothing but scattered lawn equipment in the small room under the house. As Daniel passed through the dining room, he saw the woman, the one that had been with Janet, running by the side of the house. She was headed to the basement. No problem. He had closed the passage. That woman would never find it. He stepped into the main room and saw them all, all the women he had fed to the house. They all stood facing the fireplace, the heart of the house. They turned their heads and faced him. He hadn’t wanted to kill them but the house needed to be fed and the house kept him and his love, Lenoir alive and young. These women were prostitutes, homeless, runaways, women nobody cared for. At least most were. Then he saw the girl, the one holding Janet by the wrist. She was speaking to Janet. He ran through the room knocking the dead women aside. He reached where Janet stood and broke the connection of the little girl. The women disappeared. “Janet! Janet?” Janet stood there for a moment looking where the little girl had stood. Then she slowly turned to Daniel. She shook her head and looked around. The main room had gone dark and there were no gay people engaged in conversation. There were no dead women standing in the room like sad ghosts. In fact, the house was cold and gray, unfurnished and dirty. Daniel held both of her hands but it wasn’t her Daniel. It was the repairman, looking even older than before, very old. His eyes were sunk into his head and only a few gray hairs lay on his head. The hands that held hers were bony and thin. Daniels teeth were yellowed and gapped from missing teeth and a few hairs sprung from his nose. Janet pulled away. “Where am…who…what is…” She couldn’t form a question as she looked quickly left and right. The past few days were fuzzy in her mind. “It’s okay, love. Just a dream. Just a dream,” Daniel said. He began leading her toward the library. Janet pulled away from him again. “Who are you?” Daniel grabbed her hand and Janet watched as he changed from the old man back into the young strong Daniel. This time, instead of feeling the passion of love, she felt fear. Janet pulled away again. “You. You killed all those women.” “Janet, my love. I would never hurt a fly.” “The girl told me. The little girl.” “They were throw-a-ways. Prostitutes, drug addicts. Nobody wanted them.” “Except the little girl.” Daniel grabbed her by the wrist this time and she felt the hard grip. She tried to pull free but he was too strong for her. “It was for us. For us and our house. For our love.” Janet struggled, twisting and yanking against the hold. When she realized she couldn’t break free, she began to yell. Daniel pulled her toward the hidden door in the library. When Janet yelled again, he hit her. He had to silence her until he could deal with the nosey woman in the basement and he didn’t have time to fight. He slung Janet over his shoulder and took her behind the wall. He placed her in Lenoir’s old chair and chained her to it with two padlocks. He set the keys on a table top where she couldn’t reach them. Abby walked all around the perimeter of the small room, looking for another opening or a cubby the man had stashed the woman. She accidentally kicked a gas can and froze at the sound, which was amplified in the small room. She waited to see if the man would show back up. She hated being in here. It would be a trap. She turned to leave when she heard a voice. “Help! Abby turned and faced the wall. “Hello?” The she turned her ear toward the half empty cabinets. “Help!” It was muffled but it came from the other side of the shelves. Abby pulled at the wooden uprights. When she pulled a shelf it almost came out. She spoke as loud as she dared toward the back wall of the cabinet. “I hear you. I can’t find a way in.” “Help.” Abby traced the entire edge of the wood wall with shelves. It was divided into three sections. She buried a sliver in her finger and jerked it away. She sucked on it as her other hand continued to feel along the edges for a latch, a switch, something that held the hidden door closed. Abby picked up a shovel and used the handle to tap along the back wall of the wooden cabinet. She could hear the thud of solid wall along the edge and then heard the higher pitch of a hollow space behind the center set of shelves. Abby looked down at her feet and saw the half circle scrape marks in the floor. She knew this meant the middle shelf pivoted from the center. She felt along the edge to find the latch. At first, she found nothing. The wood felt smooth and there was no protrusion to indicate anything that controlled it. Abby looked along the sides for any sign of a hidden mechanism. Looking up at the bottom of a shelf, she saw marks not unlike those on the floor. She grabbed the shelf support and moved it sideways. She felt the latch give and the center set of shelves pivoted. Lenoir came to lying on a wooden table. She was looking up at knives and saws hanging directly above her. She tried to get up but Daniel had tied her down to the big wooden table. It hurt her back and old bones. She was too old and too weak to struggle. She twisted, looking as far as she could for Daniel. She called out. “Daniel?” Silence. She saw the fireplace, the mantle above stained with black soot. The room had the odor of death and wet dirt. She laid her head back and stared at the instruments hanging above. She wished they would drop and kill her. She had a feeling it would be better than what lay in store. When she heard a sound on the other side of the wall, she held her breath. What was Daniel doing? She heard the sounds of metal and wood clashing. Then the bang of a metal can rang out through the wall. If it was Daniel, why didn’t he come in? She had to chance it so she yelled as loud as she dared. She heard a voice on the other side, a voice that wasn’t Daniel. She yelled again and then waited. Then she heard the scraping on shelves through the wood. The light coming from the opening was bright and she had to squint. “Holy shit! Who are you?” It was a woman’s voice. “Lenoir, Lenoir Davidson.” “Let me get you out of here.” Abby looked into the frightened face of Lenoir. The woman was ancient. Her hair a rat’s nest, her plain dress faded and stained. The woman couldn’t weigh eight pounds, thought Abby. Abby stepped over to the woman and saw that her arms and legs were fastened to the table. Abby reached for the rope to untie the woman. The light from outside disappeared and Abby saw Lenoir’s eyes go wide and her mouth open to speak. “No!” She turned, knowing the man had returned. Before she had made it halfway around, something hit her on her jaw and the lights dimmed and from far away she heard the old woman yell. When Abby woke, she found herself sitting in the floor with her hands and feet tied. Her lips were covered with duct tape forcing her to breathe through her nose. She could taste blood in her mouth where her teeth had cut her cheek, Her jaw also felt stiff and swollen. From her position on the dirt floor, she looked around the dim room. The man she had seen earlier was nowhere to be seen but standing at the table where the woman had been tied stood an old man, as old as the woman herself. He was looking down at her. Abby didn’t see anger or madness in the man’s face but a gentle sadness. He was speaking softly to the woman. “Lenoir, my love,” Abby heard. “I have loved you always. I have cared for you, protected you.” “Daniel,” Abby heard the old woman speaking. “You may love me but you love this house more, what this house has given you. I want no part of it.” Abby heard the name Daniel. This couldn’t be the man that Janet claimed she loved. He looked like the repairman she had met last week. Where was the man that had hit her? That had carried this old woman down here? “Lenoir. I am so hurt. Have you forgotten our love?” Abby looked up as the man reached out and touched the woman. Abby blinked twice. She was stunned as the man changed, got younger, bigger. He turned into the man that Abby had seen carrying the woman. She looked over at the table but couldn’t see the woman from her spot on the floor but she did see beautiful golden hair hang over the edge of the table. Abby began to panic. She couldn’t believe what was happening right in front of her. It couldn’t be real. It couldn’t be real. She was seeing things. She was dreaming. It couldn’t be real. She saw the man turn toward her. He let go of the woman on the table. He reached down and lifted her to her feet. He pulled the tape from her mouth. “You seemed surprised.” Abby saw the woman on the table, now young and beautiful, except her eyes, her eyes still showed terror. “Let her go, Daniel,” Lenoir said softly. “If you love me, let her go. Keep me. Let her go.” “Oh, Lenoir, how I wish I could. But you know I can’t. I can’t let you go either but we’ll be together. You’ll be a part of the house, the house we love. The house that loves us. I promise.” “What is this?” Abby asked. “What is going on? How can this be possible?” Abby struggled against the grip but she was no match with her feet and hands tied. Still, she thrashed and twisted. “Help!” Abby yelled. Daniel placed the tape back over her mouth. “You can’t see because you don’t love this house. If you loved this house, you could see its beauty, you would see the happy place it is. It’s a house of love. I love her and she loves me. I love Lenoir so in turn, the house keeps us young to love.” “And what do you give the house, Daniel?” “I care for the house,” he said. Abby could finally see the insanity in his eyes and she fought him best she could. Janet woke up in the dark. She reached up to rub the sore spot on her jaw. She found her wrists had been shackled to the arms of the chair. As her eyes adjusted, she looked around. She was inside a small room. There was a bed, a toilet in the corner, a few small tables and lamps, a bed, and the chair she sat in. She realized she was in the hidden room she had been looking for before she met Daniel. And where was he now. Then it came back to her. The dead women, the child telling her to be careful. Daniel was the killer. Now she was captive in this room, at his mercy. How long had she been here? The past few days were hazy like a fading dream. There were parties and food. There had been bright fires and meaningless chitchat. There had been Daniel on the bearskin and on the bed but it didn’t jibe. It had been her imagination or worse. Had she been drugged? She got angry. She yelled for help. She yelled but knew there was nobody to hear her. She saw the dark shadows creep across the floor. Anger turned to fear as she looked for the light that would cause them but in the gloomy room there was little light. The black shapes formed into hands. One crossed her ankle and Janet felt the icy chill. She tried to scream but felt the shadow cross her neck and choke off her air. Abby stopped struggling when Daniel held a knife to her throat. “Sit.” Abby sat down hard on the dirt floor. She watched as Daniel removed the ropes from Lenoir’s wrists and ankles. He picked her up. Abby noticed that she had returned to the old woman Abby had first seen. She didn’t struggle. Daniel carried her to the hidden door. He pushed it open with his foot and walked into the small tool room. Abby heard him tell her to wait there. “I’m sorry I have to tie you up. I’ll be gentle.” After a moment, he came back through the door and walked directly to Abby. He reached down and lifted her to her feet. He put her up on the table. Abby again tried to put up a fight but Daniel took a rope and put it around her neck and tied it tightly to the table, the loop cutting off her air. Abby couldn’t breath. “Hold still and maybe I’ll loosen the ropes.” He cut the rope holding her feet together. He ducked one kick then pulled her foot to one side and tied it in place. Then he grabbed her other foot as she kicked at him. Abby felt about to pass out. The tape kept her from breathing from her mouth and she didn’t feel like she was getting enough to live. She panicked even more but it didn’t help. She saw the light fade then darkness with pinpricks of light. When she came to, the light around her appeared brighter. She pulled her hands and legs and found them tied tight. The rope around her neck was still there and cut into her. She was able to twist her head. She saw Daniel with his arm around one of the support beams and his forehead against it. Then he kissed it softly. He turned and looked at Abby. He walked over to her and looked down. Abby tried to pull her knees together. “Don’t worry about that.” He grabbed the edge of the tape and pulled it away from her mouth. Abby screamed. Daniel just looked down at her and waited. “There’s nobody to hear you. Nobody but me and her.” When he said ‘her’, Abby saw him look toward the ceiling. The rope still cut off the air some but with the tape gone she could breathe easier. “Let me go! Let me go!” “You know I can’t do that. My love needs her sacrifice.” Abby thrashed more feeling the ropes cut into her wrists and ankles but her fear drove her through the pain. “You see, she needs a loving touch but she needs food, too. But don’t worry. You’ll always be a part of the house, a part of us, a part of our love. See?” Abby watched Daniel walk over to the wall that was half plastered. He stroked it softly. “I’ll use your blood to make the plaster. Then after you fall asleep, I’ll feed her your muscle and boil your bones. The bones I’ll use to make more plaster.” Abby continued to pull at the ropes. The pain was excruciating but she had no choice. She watched Daniel reach above her and unhook a knife. The blade glinted off the dull light. Then she saw him bend over. When he stood, he held a white chipped porcelain bowl. She felt the cold edge as he held it against her wrist below the edge of the table. She realized he was going to drain her blood into the bowl and she doubled her efforts to pull free as she screamed. Daniel took another piece of rope and tied it to keep her hand from moving. Abby pleaded with him and she cried. She didn’t know what to do and she didn’t want to die. Daniel took the knife and made a cut in Abby’s wrist. The hot blood washed over her wrist and dripped into the bowl. “It’s a small cut. An appetizer.” She felt the table lift and settle. The house groaned and creaked. Daniel turned and walked away from Abby carrying the bowl. She followed him as she continued to pull at the ropes. She saw him stop at the edge of a crevice in the floor. The dirt at the edge moved. Daniel looked down inside. “Soon, baby, soon. Plaster first, to cover your nakedness. But here’s a taste.” Abby watched as Daniel tilted the bowl and a small rivulet of blood ran into the gash in the floor. Abby heard another sound behind her, soft like a wind through the trees. Then she saw Daniel look toward the sound. He stood up straight. “What? What are you doing? How did you get loose?” Abby turned and saw Lenoir, the young and beautiful Lenoir. But she wasn’t alone. With her were a dozen other women, the dead women Abby had imagined the first time she had entered the house. They moved as a group toward Daniel. “Lenoir. What are you doing?” They moved closer. “I am going to give your love to your house, your true love,” Lenoir said. “Lenoir, you know you aren’t strong enough. Those ghosts can’t do anything. They can’t touch me.” “Daniel. Is that what you think? What are you but a ghost yourself. You’re no more a young strong man than I am a young strong woman.” Abby watched as both Lenoir and Daniel grew old before her eyes. Lenoir limped closer to Daniel. “Lenoir, don’t make me do this.” Daniel held up the knife in his thin arms. Abby could see the danger in his eyes. He was old but Lenoir was no match for him. Lenoir and her band of ghostly dead women stopped. “You’d kill me now? After all the years? Years of love?” “If I have to,” said Daniel. “Drop it old man!” Abby turned toward the door. In walked Janet. Abby turned back and saw the surprise on Daniel’s face. “How did you…how did…” “I had a little help. Now drop that knife.” “I may be old but I can still take you.” “Maybe, maybe not,” said Janet. Abby watched but her vision was failing. She still felt the blood running from her wrist. Janet brought the shovel from around behind her back. She swung it at Daniel who stepped back and dodged the swing. Abby saw the surprise turn to anger but before he could take a step, the edge of the crevice gave way and his leg dropped in. The crevice snapped closed and Abby saw Daniel turn white, his eyes bulging. Then the scream. The crevice opened again and he slipped in further. “No! No! I love you! It’s me! It’s me.” The crevice closed and he screamed again. The gap opened up wide once more and Daniel disappeared inside. It closed with a crunch. Abby saw the light fade and then turn dark. “Your friend,” said Lenoir. Janet turned. She dropped the shovel and ran to Abby. Abby looked pale and the pool on the floor looked huge. Janet grabbed a knife and cut all the ropes. She stripped off her top and used it to bandage Abby’s wrist. She lifted her, but Abby weighed too much. “Help,” Janet asked. She looked around and all that stood in the room were ten ghostly women and an old lady. Twenty ghostly hands lifted Abby and carried her to the tool room. They set her down. “I need to get her all the way out.” The ghost women stood there. Janet realized they couldn’t leave the house. Lenoir hobbled out the inner room and grabbed one of Abby’s arms. Janet grabbed the other. The both pulled and stumbled up the stairs. Finally they got Abby on the grass. Janet got up and ran to Abby’s car. She would have her cell phone. When Janet returned holding the phone, she saw Lenoir at the bottom of the steps holding the gas can. She stood halfway through the hidden door. “Thank you,” she said. Janet looked at her not comprehending what she was doing until she saw the cabinet rotate shut. Janet heard 911 answer. “129 Berry Road. I need an ambulance. We are outside the house.” “What is the nature of the injury?’ “A cut wrist bleeding very bad. Just hurry!” “Help is on the way. Please stay on the line.” Janet kept the phone to her ear and ran down the steps. She banged on the cabinet and yelled. “Lenoir! Lenoir! Open it up! What are you doing?” Janet smelled smoke. She felt the house shift and the groan this time sounded different, angry. She turned and ran back up the steps. The basement doors slammed shut with a bang. Janet grabbed Abby’s good wrist and pulled her away as far as she could while watching the house. She looked up and saw smoke coming up from the chimney. The she saw a light flicker in the window. Then the flicker became flames. The ambulance arrived with a cop car, blue lights cutting the darkness. She ran to meet them and directed the medical technicians to where Abby lay. The medics turned and saw the flames inside. “Is there anyone in there?” Janet looked at them. Just then the center of the house collapsed with a scream that sounded almost human and huge flames exploded up. “I…I don’t…no. We were alone,” said Janet. How could she ever explain? Abby woke in the hospital. She could see the white ceiling and could feel the uncomfortable gown. She felt a bit dizzy as she turned her head. There, in a chair sat her husband. He stood immediately and walked over to her. He looked down at her and smiled. Abby felt him take her good hand and she smiled back. That was when she noticed him getting younger. She pulled her hand away quickly and shifted away. “What’s a matter? What’s wrong?” he asked her. “We can live forever, we can live young.” Abby screamed. Then she woke and looked quickly around the room. She was alone in the hospital room. She looked up and saw a blood bag hanging above with the red tube running to her arm. Her wrist lay bandaged and taped to a board. She shook off the nightmare. She heard the door to her room open. Her husband poked his head around. “Did I wake you?” Abby held still, frightened. What was real and what was a dream, she wondered. She watched as he walked over to her and bent down to give her a kiss on the forehead. He reached out and took her hand. Abby watched his face closely. She saw nothing but the big smile. All the crinkles remained and the few gray hairs stayed gray. Abby exhaled. “You don’t look happy to see me,” he said. “I am,” she said. “I am.” Over her husband’s shoulder, she saw the door open again. This time Janet walked in and again Abby held her breath. She saw a bouquet of flowers in her hand. “Hi. How are you feeling?” Janet asked. “How are you feeling?” asked Abby. “Ready for wine. Gallons.” “And the house?” “Dead and gone. Completely. I went up there today and there is nothing.” Abby watched Janet carefully for a few moments trying to read her. “But you just bought it,” Abby said. “And insured it,” Janet said with a smile. “You going to rebuild it?” asked Abby. Janet saw the concern and smiled. “Take the money and run.” The End

Friday, November 20, 2015

Chapter 6 - Blood in the Mortar --- Janet got up early. She grabbed her coffee and sat down with her pencil and the tablet with the figures from yesterday. It was a big house. It was fifty feet wide and fifty-eight feet long. But the width of the dining room and the library was only twenty each leaving ten feet in the middle unaccounted for. She felt her heart speed up. She drew the layout of the house on her paper and marked where she had found the rotted drywall. There had to be a hidden room. Janet pulled the sheet of paper off the clipboard and grabbed a flashlight. It was barely daylight. That should ensure that the repairman wouldn’t interrupt her. She stopped at her front door for just a moment to think if there was anything else she needed. She considered calling Abby but dismissed it. She didn’t want anyone to know of her treasure until she was sure. She got in her car a drove to the house. Janet stopped in the driveway directly across from the bottom of the steps. She let her gaze rise up to the front door. She took in the width of the house and tried to imagine the hidden space. She looked up at the second floor windows then at each lower windows. Janet took a deep breath and climbed the stairs. She didn’t even take out her key feeling that the door was unlocked and the inside of the house was waiting for her. As soon as she stepped in, she noticed that the light had changed, brightened. People dressed in evening finery were again grouped and engaged in conversation. In front of the fireplace, lit and flickering with flame, stood Daniel. Janet walked toward him. People shifted to the side, giving her a clear path. They smiled and nodded to her as she passed. She nodded and smiled in return as she walked toward him. Daniel stood there relaxed, smiling as she came closer. He reached out his hand and she took it. Her hand fit perfectly in his and she felt the gentle pressure that sent sparks through her. He turned from the fireplace and walked toward the curved staircase and Janet walked beside him. She looked down and noticed she was now wearing a beige gown and low heels. Around her neck she could feel a necklace. She reached up and felt the large cool stones. Daniel led her up the stairs slowly. She divided her attention between Daniel and the people below. The room glittered and the light laughter danced off the ceiling. The heat from the fireplace rose and she felt it in waves over her bare arms. It was perfect. When they reached the top, Daniel led her to the center of the balcony and they both turned to look over the crowd below. All faces were turned up looking at them. Light applause came from the crowd and Daniel tipped his hat. Janet noticed one face out of place; a small girl, a child, stood with sad eyes, looking up. Dirt streaked blonde hair fell over her face. Janet shifted to her right for a better view. A couple below stepped in front of the girl, hiding her from Janet’s view. Daniel placed his arm around Janet and she turned with him and walked down the hallway. She turned back once but the room below was now out of sight. She knew where he was taking her and she felt the excitement build. Daniel pushed the door open and stood back to allow her to enter first. Janet walked in and immediately felt the warmth of the fire and smelled the aroma of burning wood. Two kerosene lamps on either side of the bed added more flickering light. Daniel shut the door. He bent down and she rose up to meet his lips. Passion ran through her veins and she felt herself respond. Daniel broke the kiss. “Do you feel it too?” Janet tried to speak but her throat was dry. She nodded and reconnected with his lips. His hand brushed her hair from her forehead and ran softly down the back of her neck. Janet looked up into his face, into his sparkling blue eyes. He reached around and undid the necklace and laid it off to the side. Then his hand began to undo the buttons on the front of her dress. The tiny buttons in loops ran to her waist. She raised her hands to his shirt and undid the buttons. She stood back as he took his shirt off and tossed it on the bed. She reached out with trembling hands and ran them across the smooth warm skin feeling the solid muscle beneath. Daniel slipped off her shoulder straps and allowed her dress to fall to the floor. Janet stepped out of it and Daniel picked it up and tossed it by his shirt. Janet unbuckled his belt as he undid her bra. She wanted so much to put her burning body against his. They embraced and kissed again. She let Daniel lay her down on the thick black bearskin rug. She heard the crackling of the fireplace and felt the flickering heat. He lay beside her with his legs outstretched. He kissed her again and his lips left hers and journeyed down her body. She lay there with her eyes closed and her heart pounding as her body shuddered with his touch. Love making had never been like this, ever. His soft touch and exploring hands woke parts of her long forgotten. This time she had a name to shout at the peak and she did. And they lay together by the fire kissing and stroking each other. Daniel shifted, getting ready to get up. She grabbed him around the neck. “Don’t go,” she said. “Why?” he said. “Because.” “Because why?” Janet paused. Her heart wanted her to tell him she loved him but her mind rebelled. How crazy was she, she asked herself. Then he kissed her neck softly. Crazy or not, she wanted him. “I’m not sure.” Janet looked at him and he placed his lips against hers and she felt the heat inside again. Daniel lifted her and carried her to the bed without breaking the kiss. She could feel him respond. She let herself go again and once more called out his name. She lay there catching her breath. The bed soft, the light flickering and muted, the room a gentle off-white, and his warm body against him brought a smile to her lips. Could it get any better than this? She could feel his soft lips on her back and shoulder. “Who are you?” “Daniel.” “This is your house?” “It is until it sells. Then I will have to go.” “Go where?” “Far away. Very far away.” She felt his soft kisses move down her back, “You could stay with me,” she said. “No. That would be impossible. I live here and then— nowhere.” “What if I bought this house?” “Then we could be here together, forever.” Janet rolled over and faced him. “I’ll do it.” And she kissed him. Janet left the house at dusk. She didn’t turn back to look this time. She drove home and got on her computer. She added up all her accounts and found she had enough for a down payment if she could talk the owner down. Her credit was good enough to get the loan but she would be strapped to make payments unless she sold her house. So she would sell it. She would live in the house on the hill. Abby had almost forgotten about the incident at the house. She had been busy with her garden and other activities. Or maybe she wanted the memories to fade. She had questioned herself over and over and finally settled on an overactive imagination. She hadn’t heard from Janet but that wasn’t abnormal. Janet stayed busy. When Abby drove by her house on the way to the mall, she saw the ‘For Sale’ sign on the lawn. Abby turned in the driveway and rang the bell. She peeked through a window and saw the house had been emptied. She dialed Janet’s number. Janet answered but she sounded different, an accent? “Janet, this is Abby. How are you?” “Just wonderful. How are you?” “I just saw the ‘For Sale’ sign in your lawn. You’re selling?” “What? I’d never sell this house.” “What? You’re inside? I rang the bell.” “Bell? Oh. You’re at my old place. I’m at my new house.” “You bought that house?” “Why, yes. I love this house. This house loves us.” “Us?” “Why Daniel and I of course.” “Daniel the repairman?” “The…uh…ye…no…no, Daniel. Daniel. He lives here. He loves me and I love him. I have to go now. Bye.” Abby heard the connection end. Shit! What is going on? Abby backed out of the driveway and squealed as she drove back toward town, back toward Berry road.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Chapter 5 Blood in the Mortar - Janet felt Daniel break their kiss. She opened her eyes and looked up at him. He was looking over her head. She saw his brow furrow and his head tilt like he was listening but she heard nothing. He put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her back slowly and carefully, breaking the connection between their bodies. Janet felt cold and pulled to reconnect. Her body was screaming to feel him, all of him but he continued to hold her off. Then he stepped around her and went out the door. For just a second, he seemed to grow old before her eyes and then the door shut behind him. Janet ran her hand down below her waist to cool the fire. Then she noticed in the dark that there was no bed, no rug, no fire. She turned and left the room. She walked down the hall using her hand against the wall for additional support. Her legs felt weak. She went to the balcony and looked down. She saw Abby facing the fireplace but her head was turned and looking down beside her. Abby waited for an answer from the little girl. She saw the girl’s eyes shift up, open wide then she dropped her head and stood like all the others. Abby looked toward where the girl had shifted gaze and saw Janet standing at the rail of the balcony above the fire place looking down at her. Abby looked back to the girl but she was gone. She looked quickly around the room and all the women had disappeared. “There you are,” said Abby. She looked once more around the empty room and began to question what she had seen. It was just an overactive imagination spurred by the dull light. “I was looking for the repairman. I must have missed him.” Janet closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. She had to find a way to reign in her imagination. She went to the stairs and went down to where Abby stood. “Well?” asked Abby. “Well what?” Janet asked. She wondered if Abby had seen the man, Daniel, when he left the room. Or had he gone down the back stairs. “Are we going to finish the measurements?” “Yeah, let’s do that. At least down here.” “Kitchen next.” Abby led the way out of the main room and through the dining room. She pushed open the door to the kitchen. The stove was pushed away from the wall and the old man, Daniel was on his knees with his back to them. His head was behind the stove. “Is it okay if we take measurements in here?” Abby asked. Daniel pulled his head out from behind the stove. Janet stood still, wondering if her Daniel would be the face she saw. When he turned, she exhaled. Do names matter, she remembered her Daniel asking. No, she had said but now she wondered. Had she just taken the first name that had come to her in her fantasy? And why was she fantasying in this old house? Was she going crazy? “Have a ball,” said Daniel. “Just don’t trip over anything.” Janet took the laser from Abby and called out the numbers. As she did, she mentally subtracted the room number for the width of the main room. She didn’t want Abby to know if she found room enough for a secret chamber. Janet skipped measurements in the hallway. She could tell the length of the hall along the back of the house was the same as the width of the main room. Any hidden passages would be in the middle and she didn’t want Abby to have that number in her head. Janet led the way to the library. The dark carpet and dark paneling swallowed the dim light from the windows. The measurements were difficult with the bookshelves along the wall but when Janet looked at the numbers, she could see inches, feet of missing room between the dining room and library. Janet added the missing distance before she called out the number to Abby. “That should be enough,” said Janet. “Only one more room. And the upstairs.” “No. I have what I need. Let’s go.” Abby shrugged. It wasn’t like Janet. She was always meticulous in her work. And she didn’t look herself. She seemed to be miles away. “Are you okay?” Abby saw Janet blink and turn to her. “I’m fine. Why do you ask?” “You seem to be on a trip in your head.” Janet smiled. “Just running numbers. Sorry.” “Let’s go get a glass of wine and you can tell me about the numbers.” “Deal.” Daniel watched from the window as the two women walked down the steps and got in the car. He turned and walked over to the fireplace. The fire lit and the room brightened. Small groups of people appeared and talked among themselves. Daniel looked at his hand as the wrinkles smoothed out and the felt he muscle return to his old body. He felt the hair grow over his ears and fall to his shoulders. “They’ll be back,” he said to the fire. The house creaked. “Two. I owe you two.” The house groaned as beams shifted. “I know. I know. They can’t stop us. The woman will yours before she even has a chance to figure it out and Janet, well Janet… I can only take care of one at a time. I have a plan. You’ll see.” The interior of the house brightened. Daniel stuck his hands out to be warmed by the fire. Janet drove downtown and parked in font of one of their favorite cafes. Janet and Abby both ordered white wine. “Here’s to that old house,” said Janet. Abby lifted her glass toward Janet. “What’s that?” asked Janet. “What’s what?” “On your wrist.” Abby turned her hand to look and saw a smear of dirt on her wrist where her imagined girl had grabbed her. Abby dropped her glass. “What’s wrong?’ asked Janet. She stood and walked quickly around the table with her napkin. She dabbed up the spilled wine best should could. She saw Abby just looking at her wrist. Abby wiped at the dirt with her napkin, watching as it came off. “Are you okay?” Janet asked her. Abby looked at Janet then back at her wrist then at the white napkin now streaked with dirt. Abby started to tell Janet about what she had imagined but stopped short. “Sorry,” she said. “I though I saw a spider but it was just the dirt.” “You probably rubbed against something in the house. It needs a good cleaning.” “Yeah, I’m sure you’re right.” Abby rubbed her wrist with her other hand. Her mind was racing as she thought about the encounter. Be careful, the little girl had said but it was all imagination, wasn’t it, Abby wondered. “You know, Janet, I don’t think trying to flip that house would be such a good idea. It’s too big, too run down.” “You may be right. I just need to check the plumbing and electric. If it’s out of date and I’m sure it is, then there’s no way to justify fixing it.” “Good. I’d feel better if you just forgot about it.” “More wine…for you, not the table,” said Janet. Abby smiled. “Maybe two.” Janet drove home the long way purposefully missing the house on Berry. She wanted to avoid the temptation to complete the measurements and maybe search for the hidden rooms. She would return early the next day when the light was better and the electricity restored. That thought moved her to the question of Daniel. Daniel the repairman and Daniel, her imaginary lover. Why had she imagined that name? The repairman had to be in his late seventies and her Daniel was no more than thirty-five, her age. She realized even thinking of him caused her to heat up again. Home to a cold shower. What was wrong with her? Why was she suddenly so horny, horny enough make up some man? But what a man. She had used her imagination well. She pressed the gas pedal a little harder. She had to get behind closed doors. Abby watched Janet drive off. She watched her car until she rounded a corner and disappeared from view. Then she turned and looked in the direction of the house. It was hidden behind the buildings of downtown but she could see it in her mind. She saw past the driveway, past the front doors, back into the main room. She rubbed her wrist with her other hand. She turned back and got into her car. As she drove home, her mind kept returning to the house. She didn’t believe in ghosts or the supernatural but she couldn’t explain what she had seen and most of all the dirt on her wrist. Abby wondered way the images had come to her. At home, she went to her computer and tried to find any information on the house but other than the normal realtor stuff, there was little. Then she searched missing women in the area. This produced more information but she couldn’t sort it. Between the run-aways and the domestic kidnappings, it was hard to determine what the actual numbers would tell her. Her imagination had produced close to a hundred. She refined her search to teens, hoping to see pictures she could match to the girl she had seen. “Honey? Are you in here?” her husband called out. Abby jumped at the voice. “Yes. I’m in here?” Abby got up and went into the living room to greet him. They hugged and she gave him a quick kiss. “How was golf?” “Winner!” he said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out two, one dollar bills. “Good. We can go to Borneo.” “How was your day?” “I went with Janet to look at a house.” “Ah. How is she? Any new boyfriends?” “No. She keeps so busy she’ll never meet anyone. I think she is doing it on purpose. Afraid of the outcome.” “Shame. She’s a real worker and very smart. Hate to see her hiding.” “Well, if she does this next place neither of us will see her. She’s looking at the house on the hill. The one on Berry.” “The haunted house? Oooo.” “Stop it. Haunted?” “Indeed. When I was younger, we used to cut through the lawn. All of us were scared of it.” “Why?” “Kids stuff. Stories of people in the windows. Groans and screams and stuff.” “What kind of people in the windows?” “How would I know? I never saw any. Never looked. I did have a friend, Thomas Griong. He said he threw a rock at a window and it just bounced off. We told him of course it did, he threw like a girl.” Abby punched him in the arm. “Like a baby, I mean,” he said rubbing his arm. “What do you want for supper?” Abby walked to the kitchen and put the house away in her mind.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Chapter 4 Blood in the Mortar Janet drove Abby to the house and parked in front. She got out and looked toward the front door. She heard Abby get out and shut her door. “Flame thrower,” said Abby. “Huh?” “Flame thrower. That’s what you’ll need for this lawn.” “It needs some work. It will be easier in the winter when everything is dormant and the leaves have fallen. Then you can see the flower beds.” “Flower beds? Where?” “Here’s one,” said Janet. Abby walked over to her and Janet lifted a sheave of weeds. She tapped a stone with her toe. “Jesus,” said Abby. “Two flame throwers and a plow.” Janet laughed. “I can see your eyes lighting up,” Janet said. “You already know where the roses go.” “We love dirt don’t we?” said Abby. “But this is huge. If you’re going to flip this house, you’ll have to hire lawn guys. You and I couldn’t fix this lawn in two years.” Janet shrugged. “How about the inside?” asked Abby. “I have a key,” said Janet. As they went up the steps, Janet wondered if Abby dressed the house the way she did when she first entered. Would she imagine the people, the furniture, the maids? Would she imagine the man? Would he wink? The door opened with a rusty creak. “Probably need a gallon of 3 in 1 oil,” said Abby. Janet let Abby lead the way, waiting to hear what she saw. “This room could use a skylight or something in the center. But what an awesome fireplace,” Abby said. The house groaned. “Jesus, that’s creepy. You sure this place isn’t haunted?” Janet saw the smile on Abby’s face. “Just old,” said Janet. Behind the fireplace, looking out through a hole, Daniel watched the two women. When the house shifted, he looked upward. “Both of them?” he whispered. He turned back and watched them move to the side. The woman named Janet held a small box that shot a red beam across the room while the other wrote down the numbers Janet spoke. Daniel knew they were measuring the house. Janet would be able to tell there were hidden passages. Would she tell the other woman? Daniel turned and walked down the hall that ran behind the fireplace, into the small room where Lenoir sat, and over to a panel on the wall. He opened it up and turned the main switch off. The house went dark. Janet and Abby froze when the few lights that had been lit went out. The light from the windows, although muted, provided enough for them to see. Janet looked over at Abby. Abby shrugged “What happened?” she asked. “I don’t know. I was looking for the power panel last time I was here but I never found it.” Janet considered telling her what she had found but decided not to mention it yet. Maybe later. “Should we go? Call someone?” asked Abby. Janet wanted to finish the measurements but she also wasn’t sure. “Let’s finish the measurements. It’s not that dark in here.” “I’d check the wiring before I bought this place,” Abby said. “I will. Now let’s go to the dining room.” Daniel waited until they were in the dining room then slipped out into the library through the sliding door. He took his tool box which included a hammer, just in case. He slipped quietly through the main room to the front door. He slammed it shut, then walked loudly across the floor. Janet and Abby turned quickly when they heard the door. They watched the doorway to the main room and waited. “Anybody here?” the heard. “I’m in here. It’s Janet,” Janet said. She saw the repairman walk through the door carrying a tool box. It was the same man that she met earlier. “Oh, it’s you,” Daniel said. He smiled to ease the two women. “Hi. I thought I’d take advantage of your offer to look around some more.” “I see. By the way, my name is Daniel.” Daniel stuck out his hand and shook Janet’s. “I’m Abby, Janet’s friend.” “Pleasure to meet you both. Sorry about the lights. I’m doing some work on the power so I had it shut off. Maybe you should come back another day.” “If we’re not in the way, we can see well enough.” Daniel set down his tool box and put his hand around the hammer. He paused for a moment then stood, leaving the hammer in the box. “Well just be careful where you step. I’ll be in the kitchen.” “We will. Thank you.” Janet watched Daniel go into the kitchen then turned back to Abby. “I met him when I was in here this morning. I was looking for the power box and he came up behind me. Scared the hell out of me.” “He seems like a nice old man.” “Let’s get these measurement’s finished.” “Wait here a second. Maybe he can tell me about the wiring,” said Janet. “Fine. I’ll get the rest of this room,” said Abby. Abby watched Janet go through the swinging door. She turned back toward the door to the main room to continue with the measurements. She placed the laser on the wall and pointed it across the room. She steadied it and looked at the number. She slipped the laser in her pocket and took the pencil from behind her ear and wrote the number on the pad attached to the clipboard. She heard a sound from behind her and through the door. She looked up from the pad and looked around the dining room. Shadows in the empty room, created by the dull light from the windows, gave it more of a funeral parlor look than the dining room Janet described. Abby turned toward the sound that had grabbed her attention and went through the door into the main room. She stood in the doorway looking at the room that appeared even darker than the dining room. She tried to imagine it at the height of its use but when she did, it became darker. The room filled with women, a lot of women but they weren’t engaged in conversation, they each stood alone with their heads hung down and shoulders slumped as they faced the fireplace. Their hair hid their faces and they appeared vacant of any animation other than standing. The clothes they wore hung from them wrinkled and loose. A few had no clothes at all and their white skin stained and streaked with dirt. Abby couldn’t help herself. She walked toward them then in between them looking for any that acknowledged her presence. Janet entered the kitchen looking for Daniel. Just one quick question about the electrical panel and then she could finish the measurements. Daniel was not in there so she continued into the back hall. “Daniel?” She didn’t see him in there. She looked up and saw a shadow crossing from the upper stair landing. He must have gone upstairs. Janet went up the stairs to the hallway. It was much darker up here. Only the light from the ends of the hallway provided illumination. She saw Daniel go into the first bedroom on the right, the master bedroom. Janet pushed open the door and felt a flow of heat and the aroma of a fire. She saw the flickering light from the fireplace. A large bearskin rug lay on the floor. Across the room was a king size bed with a black twisted iron headboard and covered by a quilt. On the edge of the bed, one leg cocked and on the bed, the other on the floor, sat Daniel. But it wasn’t Daniel. It was the man from the main room, the man from the stairwell. He sat silently with a friendly grin and his sparkling blue eyes. His long hair parted in the middle fell smoothly across his shoulders and reflected the light from the fire. He was wearing a jacket over a white shirt that had the two top buttons undone. Janet stood silently looking at him but noticing her heart beat increase. She could see how his shoulders filled his jacket and his chest pushed against the shirt and jacket. She smiled. “Hello, Janet. How are you?” His smooth voice washed over her like a fuzzy blanket. “Who are you?” she asked. “I’m Daniel,” he said. He stood from the bed. “Come on in,” he said. “Daniel is the name of the repairman.” “It is. Do names matter so much?” “No.” Janet took a timid step into the room. Daniel walked over to her and stood within inches of her. Janet had to tilt her head back to look up into his face. She could see the darker area of whiskers just shaved. The sweet aroma of white ginger lily came off of him. She felt his hand, soft, on her cheek and she closed her eyes. His fingers gathered her hair and moved it behind her ear. His finger traced the outline of it slowly and she allowed the tingle to race through her. Her mouth felt dry and her lips like cardboard. She wet them with the tip of her tongue. She felt his lips land lightly on hers. They stayed there without moving. She couldn’t help herself. She went up on her tiptoes and pressed against lips. She parted hers and reached up behind his head to pull him in. He joined her in the passion. She felt the electricity race through her reawakening her lust. Her tongue ventured out to touch his lips and then she found his, smooth, wet, teasing. She moved her hands to his shoulders to feel the muscles, hardened as he puled her tight. His chest pressed into her, hard but meshing well with her. She pushed her hips into him. She wanted to feel him respond as her hand dropped to his lower back. Abby walked silently between the women. There had to be more than fifty, more than a hundred. They were every size, every shape, every age from six to sixty. She couldn’t help to notice the matted filthy hair, the crumbs of dirt on them, and their silence. Abby could feel her heart pounding against her chest. Why she didn’t just run from the scene, she didn’t know. Abby bent down to look up into some of their faces. Their eyes were open but blank. She snapped her fingers in their faces and got no response. She turned and looked at the fireplace. Why were they all facing that way? She saw noting but an empty stone hearth and mantle. She looked up at the balcony. A cold hand grabbed her wrist. Abby turned quickly. A young girl in dirty pajamas and a filthy ragged teddy bear stood there looking at Abby. Abby could see the tears in her eyes. “Be careful,” the little girl said. Abby looked down at her. Be careful? “Who are you sweetie? Are you okay?” Abby asked her. “Be careful,” she repeated. “Be careful of what?”

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Chapter 3 Blood in the Mortar Janet jumped and screamed at the voice behind her. She turned quickly. She saw a man standing there holding a wooden tool box in one hand and a small saw in the other. Janet pressed up against the wall in a panic. It took her a few seconds to regain her senses. “Sorry to scare you.” Janet wiped her hand across her forehead. She could feel it trembling. The man stood there quietly. His face was wrinkled and his gray hair short around the cap he wore. He was in baggy blue coveralls. His blue eyes sparkled though he wasn’t smiling. “That’s…that’s all right.” “Are you okay? Do you need to sit?” “No. I’ll be fine. Jesus, you shouldn’t sneak up behind someone like that.” “I didn’t know who you were. The door was open. I was worried there would be vandals inside.” “Who are you?” “I’m the repair man. Juniper Realty sent me.” “I’m Janet. I looked at the house yesterday and wanted another look today. I found the door open so I came in.” “Well I see you found the rotted drywall spot. That’s what I’m here to fix.” “Oh, okay. Sorry.” “Well don’t let me interrupt you.” “No, I better be going. I’ll make an appointment to come back.” “Tell you the truth ma’am. I’ve been fixing this house for more years than I can remember. She’s a fine house. Just needs some love. The seller is highly motivated. I think you could get her cheap. She needs a woman like you to brighten her up again. Here’s a key if you want to look her over without the realtor knowing.” “Well, thank you.” “I work cheap. I can help you with her if you decide.” “That’s nice to know.” Janet smiled in spite of her still shaking knees. She turned down the hall and went through the kitchen, dining room, main room, and out. Once she made it to her car, she turned to look at the house. The paint didn’t seem as faded in the light. Lenoir sat stuck in her wheel chair in the low light of her room. She heard the footsteps going through the house. She was afraid to call out. She had called out before but when she had, a cold dead hand from the dark had grabbed her throat and cut off her air. This time though, she had heard tapping on the wall. It came from the back hallway of the house she knew so well. Then the tapping had stopped. She had heard scrapping near the hidden doorway to her room. Then she saw a beam of light shoot through where the scraping had been. She could feel her old heart skip a beat. Then the light went out for a moment. She heard a woman scream and it sent chills through her. The beam of light returned. She heard muffled voices through the wall, one she recognized. She slumped back in her chair. She waited and hoped but her hopes were dashed when the door slid open. She had to shield her eyes against the light. She recognized the silhouette, her husband. He stepped through the door and it slide silently closed behind him. Lenoir watched him walk over to her. He took a seat on a short chair and looked up into her face. “Lenoir, darling. How are you today?” “You know how I am. Old and tired. Just let me go Daniel.” “You know I won’t do that. I love you. You’re not old at all.” Daniel reached out and touched her. “That’s not love keeping me locked up in here. And you, what’s it doing to you?” “Nothing. It’s doing nothing to me.” “You’re wrong. I’d rather die than live like this.” “Don’t say that Lenoir. I love you. I couldn’t live without you.” “I’ll be dead soon. Then what?” “Don’t talk like that Lenoir. She has kept you alive. She’ll keep you alive because I love you and I love her and you love me and she loves me. I just wish you would love her.” “Love this house? The place where I’ve been held captive? You talk like the house is a living person.” She heard the beams creak. “Don’t say that Lenoir. She is alive. She keeps us alive. She keeps us young.” “Why?” “Because she loves us.” “No, because you feed the demons in her.” Daniel flashed out his hand and slapped Lenoir then jumped up quickly and hugged her. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry my love. Please don’t talk about her like that.” The room got darker and Lenoir saw shadows moving across the floor toward her. They looked like tree limbs, or hands. One crossed her ankle and Lenoir felt the cold of the dead and it ran up her leg. She felt icy fingers probing in her head and she yelled for it to let her go. “Stop it! Stop it!” said Daniel. He was looking at the walls. “I’ll bring you another soon. You saw her. I’ll get her back.” The shadows froze in place for a moment and Lenoir continued to thrash in her chair. Then the shadows retreated slowly and Lenoir quieted. “Thank you, thank you. I promise.” Lenoir shook off the terror that had seized her brain. It had taken all her energy. “I have to go fix the door now Lenoir my love.” Lenoir felt Daniel run his hand down her arm to her hand that he lifted and kissed. Lenoir saw her hand once more looked young, the spots and wrinkles gone. Daniel had also reverted to a younger time, his hair long and his face youthful. He looked up at her and winked. She could see the sparkle in his blue eyes. “I’ll be back later and we’ll make love again, right here on the floor, or in the bed if you like. I love you so.” Daniel let go of her hand and she watched as the spots and wrinkles return. She looked at his old man’s figure as he went back through the door. When it closed, she still saw the beam of light from the hole, then that too was extinguished, along with her hope. Lenoir wanted to die. She had been locked up in here for forty years by her crazed husband who had made some deal with the devil. She had heard the dying screams of women he had enticed. He sacrificed them to the house. She lived because he loved her and had spared her. Lenoir would die someday but she didn’t want to die in this house. Daniel fixed the drywall and extended the latch so the woman wouldn’t be able to find it again. She was pretty sharp though. He had watched her through the false walls. She had already caught on to the mismatched dimensions. His secret rooms wouldn’t be secret long. But there was something about her. Something different than the women he had brought here for the house. He looked at the wall that stood between him and his wife Lenoir. He loved her but she wouldn’t live forever. Could he fall in love again? This woman had quickened his pulse. She was young, strong, and beautiful. When she came back, and she would, he would give her what she wanted and more. He would find out if she could replace his love for Lenoir. He left the job on the secret passage way and went to the main room. He entered through in his tux and top hat. He pulled the tips of his hair over his shoulders. He walked among the groups of people huddled in conversation and took his spot in front of the fireplace. Janet looked at the house through the windshield of her car then completed the circle and drove back home. She was still shaking inside but the scare had already faded and her mind was returning to the house. Had she really discovered a hidden room or did she just see a space between walls? A secret room would be an incredible find. Who knew what may be hidden in there? Even if there were nothing, the value of the house would go up extraordinarily higher as people wanted to own a mystery. She could even decorate it to fit people’s imagination. And the repairman… She reached into her pocket and pulled out the key. She would get her laser measure and get the exact dimensions. Then she would know the size of any hidden compartments. She looked at her watch. It was eleven. She could meet Abby for lunch and then go back to the house for the measurements. She picked up her phone and dialed Abby’s number. Janet sat at the table across from Abby. “So what’s the latest house news,” Abby asked. “Still looking.” “What about that rancher? I thought you were off to make an offer.” “I was but…You know that big house on the hillside off Berry Road?” “You mean that two story?” “Yeah, that one. It’s for sale.” “That would be a monster project.” “I know. I don’t know if I can pull it off but I thought I should at least look at it before settling on the rancher.” “If you don’t mind, how much are they asking?” “Too much, but I think I can bring them down.” “What’s the cost to fix it up? It has to be in the tens of thousands. That place has been empty for years.” “I’m going over there after lunch to do some measurements and pricing. You want to come along? You could help me price fixing up the lawn.” “Sure, why not. We better bulk up on some salad and a couple glasses of wine first.” Janet laughed at that and waved to the waiter. It will be nice to have a second set of eyes and a lookout for repairmen.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Chapter 2 Blood in the Mortar She passed through the coatroom offering her imaginary coat to an imaginary butler. She stepped into the main room. Looking around, she imagined the clusters of people standing about engaged in small talk while two women neatly dressed in white aprons with tight white hair nets held trays of drinks. Across the room, she noticed a man standing in front of the large fireplace with his back to her. His hair fell down across his shoulders. She walked toward him but as soon as she did, he turned toward the stairway. She had to navigate around the clusters of people to get closer. He started up the stairway. Janet nodded to the people who called her without looking directly at them, staying focused on the man. “Miss Janet.” “Good evening, Janet.” “Nice party Miss Janet.” At the bottom of the stairway, she looked up. The man had reached the top. He turned and looked down at her. His hair was parted in the middle and tucked behind his ears. He was slightly tanned and clean shaven. He gave her a boyish grin and winked. He turned and went down the hall. Janet knew that he was headed for a room, one warmed by a flickering fireplace. A room with a large bed covered by a thick quilt and a soft black bearskin rug on the floor. She could feel her heart pounding and a tingle in the pit of her stomach. She knew that beneath that shirt was a muscled smooth chest and that he knew how to use his mouth. He knees trembled just a little. She took a step up. A cold hand gripped her wrist tightly. She ignored it and tried to pull away. “Be careful, Miss Janet.” Janet turned and noticed that the room was empty. She shook her head. The house had sparked her imagination way more that she expected. She left the house and shut the door behind her. She would call the agent on her way home and tell her that the door had been left unlocked. The rest of the night as she tried to balance her accounts, make dinner, even watch TV, she couldn’t erase the image of the man in the house, her thoughts of making love to him on the bearskin rug. In bed that night, she let her imagination run the full course. She shook with her orgasm and wished he had a name she could scream out between her clenched teeth. She relaxed against her pillow and allowed her breathing to slow. “Be careful, Miss Janet.” The words sounded whispered from inside her head but Janet fell asleep before she could grasp their meaning. Janet woke early. She lay in her bed for a moment as she always did, searching out memories of the dreams that always accompanied her sleep. She couldn’t remember any. She smiled. She felt great. She got out of bed and went to the kitchen to get coffee, already brewed. She sat there in the quiet predawn and planned her day. First, she needed to find out exactly how much cash she could muster and how much her lender was willing to cough up. The rancher she was considering would net her an additional twenty maybe thirty thousand. But what about the house on the hill? Even if she could talk them down, could she find a buyer that would want it for the price she would have to ask? Was there a five hundred thousand dollar buyer out there? She could do the lawn herself for very little and most of the inside. The hardest would be figuring out the upstairs bathroom and redoing the kitchen. She needed to go back to the house, go through room by room with a pencil and determine the cost. Maybe the door was still open. Janet got in her car and drove back to Berry Road. The house looked brighter to her, the lawn less ragged. Different angle of the sun she thought. She got out of her car and looked up at the house. How much could she really get for it? She reached back into her car and took out her clipboard. This time she wouldn’t let her imagination take her. Outside or inside? Inside. Janet walked up the steps looking at their condition. For some unknown reason, she hadn’t even considered that the realtor had come back and locked the house. She shrugged and grabbed the large brass doorknob. She turned and pushed. The heavy door swung inward with the expected squeal. Janet stepped inside. She left the door open in case the realtor did show. She didn’t want to get locked in. First was the anteroom. It was big enough to swap out the hooks for a hanger rod and cover it with a folding door. She wrote down two hundred dollars. Hardwood floors throughout, two thousand to refinish. Paint the anteroom, fifty. She would do it herself. She stepped into the main room. The most expensive would be the lighting. Chandelier or skylight? Another two thousand and what about the wiring? She would have to find the electric panel. Janet left the main room and went through the dining room and kitchen to the hallway that ran the length of the back of the house. She was sure she would find it back there. Janet looked along the walls for the familiar box that hid circuit breakers. Not finding it, she returned all the way back through the dining room and main salon. She looked in the library and didn’t find it there. Then she entered the small room. She stood in the doorway and cocked her head. Something wasn’t right about the dimensions. Even with the bathroom, this room should be six feet deeper and a couple feet wider. She went all the way around again back to the rear hallway carefully measuring her steps. The stairs from the second floor down ran across the wall that should separate the hall from the bathroom. Janet stood under the stair and knocked on the wall with her knuckles listening. She didn’t know what she was looking for but she continued. Directly under the landing on the second floor, Janet hit a soft spot. She tapped around it to identify the size. When she did, she saw a crack in the paint. She slipped her fingernail under it and pulled. A big piece pulled away and Janet could see a seam in the drywall under the paint. She pushed at it with her finger and felt the drywall give. She pushed a little more and her finger went through the drywall. She pulled some more away and peeked through the hole. Drywall on the other side. She pushed her hand through until her fingers touched the other side. It also felt soft so she pushed until she felt a piece give away. She bent down to look through the hole she had made. Her eyes were not adjusted to the dim light in the room beyond. She squinted trying to see what was inside. She thought she saw something, it almost looked like a woman in a chair. “Excuse me, Miss,” said someone behind her.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Blood In The Mortar

Janet had driven by the old house on the hill many times. It always took her attention. She could always use her imagination to dress up the old house back to a beautiful mansion that she supposed it had been when it was built in the mid eighteen eighties. She would turn the faded white back to clean and virginal. A candle in each window to add sparkle at night. The metal roof, now with green stains, back to silver. She could imagine the overgrown lawn cut neatly and flower blooming from the gardens that would surround fountains of Greek statues. The bent and broken wrought iron fence she would fix and repaint a gloss black then allow Morning Glories to weave their way around and over. That was the simple part. She wished she could wander through the interior to get an idea of what it would take to fix it. Even after years of passing this house, she would still think about the makeover, then shake her head with a laugh when she totaled the cost. She made good money flipping houses but this project would require more than she had available and she didn’t think she would ever want to sell it. Still, it didn’t stop her from her dreams of digging in the flower beds and caring for a lush green lawn or sitting in a chair on a summer day with a glass of wine, watching hummingbirds hover around a feeder. She also imagined days inside with a cup of hot tea watching out the windows as rain ran down deforming the view beyond. And then it would be past her and she would continue on to where ever her next project took her. Today, Janet was closing on her latest project that would net her twenty thousand. She would take most of it, with some she had in the bank and start the process for her next one, a three bedroom rancher in a good neighborhood that had been in default for a year. She could get it from the bank for little. Janet stopped at a little coffee house after the closing. She was meeting her friend Abigail for tea and a salad. “Janet!” “Abby.” “Congrats Ms. Trump or should I call you ‘The Janet’?” “Stop it. I’m just plain Mrs. Kennedy.” “For God’s sake, drop the Kennedy. You’ve been divorced for two years now.” “Too lazy to change the stationary.” “Hmmm. So what’s next?” “I got my eye on a house in Greenleaves. I’m going to call in an offer this afternoon.” “Well, good luck.” “How are you and Bob?” “Great. Bob the constant golfer and me the constant gardener leave each other alone to pursue our interests and then have dinner and relax at night.” “You are a lucky girl.” “Lucky? Hell, we work together to keep it together…uh, not that you didn’t.” “No worries. I thought I did but maybe the job took too much out of me.” “Or maybe the guy is just a loon.” “Don’t say that. Craig was okay, we just quit meshing, different ideas, different futures I guess.” “Hot babe like you won’t last long in this town. You’ll be hitched up again real soon.” “No thanks. There isn’t a man out there that shares my dreams of the future.” “Give it time, girl. Give it time.” “Don’t worry. I like the single life. I can be as selfish as I want.” After lunch, Janet began the drive home where she kept an office. She was ready to make an offer and get busy again. Her conversation with Abby had opened some old wounds or should she say new ones. Craig leaving had hurt her. She just couldn’t figure out where she had gone wrong. She blamed herself. Did she become so wrapped up in work, she missed all the signs? How long had Craig checked out of the marriage? She didn’t even recall the last time they made love, more than just push, push, snore. She tried to put on a happy face everywhere but her insides were crying. Would she ever find love again, real love, love that would send her work to the backseat where it belonged? She almost missed the sign. Her inner thoughts had blinded her to her surroundings other than the gray road in front of her. She locked up her brakes not even looking to see if anyone was behind her. A loud honking came from a car that passed by her across the double yellow. She jumped but never took her eye off the house, the old mansion. Her eyes swept the rearview mirror to see if there were any traffic behind coming behind her. She backed up until she could read the sign. ‘For Sale – Juniper Realty’ and the phone number. She called the number from her car idling half on and half off the road. “Juniper Realty.” “Hi. This is Janet Kennedy. I see a For Sale sign on 129 Berry Road, the big place on the hill?” “Yes, We just listed it.” “How much?” “Well, we are asking three hundred thousand.” Janet felt her heart drop. That was way beyond what she could afford. “Can I see it?” she asked. If she couldn’t buy it, at least she could look at the interior and complete her fantasy. Maybe the interior was already pristine. Maybe she could flip it for enough to at least spend some time inside and at least get the lawn right. “Sure. When?” “I’m right across the street from it now.” “Oh. Well…okay. Give me twenty minutes. Nobody is home so you can just go up the driveway. Look around the property if you want.” “Thanks.” Janet thought that was music to her ears. She turned her car into the driveway and slowly drove up the winding gravel path. It ended as a circle in front of the main entrance. A few weeds had sprouted through the gravel and taller patches in the center of the circle waved in the breeze. Janet sat back in her seat and imagined the main entrance with heavy double oak doors all lit up. The circle she could see as a mowed, putting green short, spot with a Venus statue in the middle and flowers marking the edge of the inner circle. She could see a line of horses and carriages discharging passengers, women in long flowing gowns and men in tuxedos and top hats. Two butlers bowing and holding the doors for the guests. She could almost hear the violins playing inside and the gentle laughter filling the warm summer night. Her attention was drawn to a single man going up the steps toward the front doors. He stopped just short of the last step. She could see by the form of the suit that he had broad shoulders and although tall, carried no excess weight. His hair wavy light came down to his shoulders and shifted in the summer breeze. Something about how he carried himself had drawn her attention. He put his foot on the top step and then turned toward her. He looked right at her and smiled. She felt electricity tingle through her. Then he lifted his top hat to her and winked. She could feel her blood pressure rise and her heart quicken. The slamming of a car door brought her back to reality and when she blinked, the changes she had made to the house disappeared along with the people. Janet could feel her heart racing. After a moment pause, Janet got out of the car and walked over to the woman parked next to her. “Hi. I’m Janet Kennedy.” “I’m Marie Wadsworth. Juniper Realty. So you’re interested in this house?” “I thought a look would be worth it.” “Did you have a chance to walk around the outside?” “No. I actually just got here.” “Oh. I thought you said you were across the street. I’m a little late and was worried you may have left.” Janet took a quick peek at her watch. An hour had passed. How could she have been sitting there that long? “No, no. That’s fine. I did look around a little.” Janet checked her watch again. Maybe she had fallen asleep. She has been tired lately. “Ready to see the inside?” “Yes,” said Janet. “Lead the way.” Janet followed Marie up the wooden porch steps. Janet inspected them as they climbed. They felt solid. They needed a little care and some sanding, maybe varnish or paint. She looked to the spot where the man she had imagined had stood and tried to reimagine him. She continued up to the porch and waited behind Marie while she fiddled with the lock. Janet turned and looked at the view from the porch. Across the scrubby weedy lawn, she could see out over the small town center below and across to the hills above the valley. She could follow the main street through the outskirts. The golf course was in the distance, the green of the fairways obvious. The neighbors on the left and right were hidden by scrubby trees and vines. She heard the door creak open so she turned back to Marie. “Just needs a little oil,” she said. They walked through the front door into the anteroom where there were coat hooks and a boot rack. When they stepped into the main room, Marie stood aside so that Janet could take in the whole scene. She stood facing a large fireplace bracketed by a double staircase that made a half circle on each side up to a balcony that over looked the room. The floor was hardwood, still shiny in places, dull with wear in others. Doorways outside the stairs led to rooms on either side. Janet looked up at the ceiling two stories above. It could use a chandelier or a skylight, she thought. Behind the balcony was another opening leading further into the house. “Up or this floor first?” “Let’s go up,” said Janet. She followed Marie up the staircase letting her hand glide up the banister. She could feel the envious eyes of her guests on her as she elegantly climbed the stairs. She shook off the play acting and took a closer look at the stairway. It looked solid, no sagging, no creaking. The balcony walkway was carpeted with a faded Oriental pattern. She walked to the center and looked down. For a moment she thought she saw a pattern on the wood floor but dismissed it as the lighting. “What do you think?” asked Marie. “Nice view from here. This must be a bear to heat in the winter.” “We can get copies of the heating and cooling bills for you if you like.” Marie turned and led her down the hallway. A carpet runner covered all but the edges. Janet could see the hardwood floor along the wall that had faded wallpaper. In the middle of the hallway, an overhead light gave off a yellowish glow. There were four doors in the hallway, two on each side and there was an opening at the end. “There were four bedrooms when the house was originally built. A previous owner started to put a bathroom in the last one on the right one but never finished.” “So where is the bathroom?” “There is one downstairs.” Marie led Janet into the first room on the left. It was just an empty room. Again there were hardwood floors and on the wall along the doorway stood a small fireplace. “The fireplace is connected with the downstairs one. It’s a nice touch.” Janet nodded. She walked over and peered out the two windows to the unkempt lawn below. She could see the old flowerbeds that had been taken over by the weeds. She felt the excitement of recreating the lawn. “Ready?” Marie asked. The voice startled Janet. “Ah, yes.” “Are you alright?” “Yes. Just thinking about something.” “Ready to see the next room?” Janet could see concern on the woman’s face. Janet smiled but inside she chastised herself for daydreaming. They walked across the hall to the next room, which was a mirror image of the other, complete with the fireplace. Janet didn’t go to the windows. Marie led the way out and down the hall to the next room on the right. “This is the unfinished bathroom,” she said. Inside the room stood a claw foot tub, a toilet still in the box, and a sink on its side on the floor. They were all at least seventy years old. The room was huge. Janet couldn’t help herself. She saw them all standing in their proper place, a Victorian style bathroom with original fixtures in pristine condition. Not wanting to show the agent her joy, she put on a concerned face and turned. “That will be a lot of work.” “But how beautiful,” Marie said. They crossed the hall to the last room on the floor. “This is the master bedroom,” said Marie. They entered the room and the first thing that drew Janet’s attention were the windows. Every room had two windows on the outside wall, this room had five. Three on the outside wall and two on the back wall. Janet knew what direction the sun rose. She could see herself waking to the morning sun, and not alone. “It’s big. No fire place,” said Janet. Marie smiled and walked over to a pair of doors that Janet suspected covered a closet. Marie opened them and revealed a fireplace. Janet instantly thought of a roaring fire, a bearskin rug, a man with long hair. She turned quickly away feeling something she hadn’t felt in a while. “Well, that’s nice,” she said. She hoped she had sounded non-committal but she didn’t trust her voice. “Are you ready to see the downstairs?” “Let’s go.” Janet followed Marie into the hall. Marie turned left and Janet saw the opening in the end of the hall led to stairway going down. Janet looked down over the rail and saw a hallway running the width of the house below her. The stairs ran along the wall to the right and ended facing a doorway outside. They turned back the other way along the hall. “This leads to the kitchen.” Marie led the way down the hall and turned into the kitchen. Janet looked around the room. It was a mix of old and new appliances. There was a wood stove and an electric range. There was a microwave and a cooking fireplace with warmers. In the center was an island made like a chopping block with a rack above for hanging pots and pans. A counter ran halfway around, Formica, dull, tan with cupboards under them. A tall sideboard stood against the wall that was painted white. A small refrigerator sat next to it. Janet looked at the layout but couldn’t form any remodeling ideas. A kitchen took time and planning and this hodgepodge would take some time. Marie led the way through a swinging door like they have in restaurants with a small round window. She followed Marie into what must have been the formal dining room. It wasn’t large but could hold a setting for at least sixteen people. Cherry hardwood rose from the floor to the chair rail. The floor itself was dark and highly polished wood. A chandelier hung from the middle, the hanging crystal glinting rainbow colors. A few cobwebs linked parts of the gold colored frame. The door out led back into the main room. As they crossed by the large fireplace, Janet surveyed the mantle and the backing. It looked like black marble. They entered the room on the other side. Marie found a switch and the room lit up from fixtures attached to the wall. Janet knew right away this was the library. The bookshelves were mostly empty and dusty. The deep red carpet with a few faded spots silenced their footsteps in the room. Janet could imagine the high back chairs, the cigar smoke, the tinkling of brandy glasses, men laughing at whatever men laughed at. The wood paneled walls where bookshelves weren’t, was dark. The ceiling was a flat off white. Across the room sat a set of doors with wavy glass. Marie walked to them and opened both. “I am sorry about this, but this is the room the last owner used for a bedroom. It could be a fourth bedroom or an office or whatever.” Janet looked around the empty room. Four bare plastered walls with two windows that no light came through. Flat white plastered ceiling. Unfinished hardwood floor, stained in several places. Janet could detect an odor but couldn’t pin it. The room was small, smaller than all the others. There was only one other door. Marie walked over to it. “This is the first floor bathroom.” Janet looked around the corner. It was small, very small; a toilet next to a tub and a sink on the other side. One could sit on the toilet and touch both without bending. Janet turned and walked back through the library and back into the main room. The dimensions in the house didn’t seem right. It was built as a square but… “Anything else?” asked Marie. “Is there a basement?” “There is a small root cellar that is accessed from outside.” “Well, there’s a lot to think about. I want to walk around the property outside if you don’t mind.” “Sure. I can take you.” “Oh, don’t bother. I’m just going to walk around. I’ll maybe call you if I need another look. I have to run the numbers and see if I can make an offer.” “Great. Here’s my card. Call me anytime.” Janet stood on the porch and watched Marie go around the circle and down the gray stone gravel driveway. She looked to her left where her imagination had made up the man but all that she saw was the wood planks of the stair. Janet slowly went down, testing each step for weakness. Her mind was trying to return to the interior but she pulled it back. She turned and went around the side of the house. The weeds had taken over and covered the lawn. She remembered that from upstairs she had seen distinct paths. She looked through the overgrowth for old flower beds and found stones here and there that would mark the outlines. She moved deeper into the property toward the side boundary trying to see the size of the lot. She came to a square wire fence, rusted and supporting briars. She followed along the fence till she came to the end. Then she turned and followed that behind the house. Halfway down, she saw where the fence was bent down, and the weeds around it flattened. On the other side she could see an obvious trail. She looked on her side but couldn’t see anything that would tell her where the trial went on her side. An easy fix she thought. School kids taking a short cut home. She continued until once again the wire came to an end. It was where the black and rusted wrought iron fence began. She followed that to the driveway. She saw where hinges were still attached but she didn’t see a gate. She crossed the driveway and followed the fence until it again met the rusty wire fencing. She walked along that to make sure she completed the property line. She came across another dip in the fence and a trail. She nodded her head. Once she had completed the property line she returned to the center of the lawn and walked around the house. In the back she saw the folded over doors to the root cellar. It was locked with a brand new padlock. She furrowed her brow and pinched her chin. She looked around for no reason then back at the lock. She would have to mention it to the realtor. She continued the rest of the way around looking at both the ground and the side of the house. Once she stood back in front of it, she took one more look at the whole thing as a package. She looked at the front door. It appeared to be ajar. Hadn’t the realtor locked it? Janet when up the steps and across the porch to the door. She pushed on it and it opened. She heard the squeal of the hinges and it jangled her a bit, now alone. Goosebumps rose. She shook them off. She stepped inside.