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By D. A. Ratliff
Candice Webb forced herself to take a deep breath.
What was she thinking? She had just driven three hours from the city to her hometown based on the cryptic words written in a letter from a woman she had never met. Since the day after she graduated high school, she had not set foot in Martinsville and had no expectations or desire to return. Then the letter appeared in her mailbox bearing no postmark, only her name scrawled in precise cursive writing with a fountain pen across the ivory envelope.
Twilight was falling as she arrived at the house and in the dim light of the car’s overhead dome, she reread the letter. She needed all the courage she could muster to exit the car.
We have never met but you have been to my home. I am Glenda Addison and I reside at the Addison Estate in Martinsville.
I will be leaving my home soon and while preparing to leave, I noticed a locket wedged in the floorboards on the second floor. I did a bit of investigative work, and I discovered it might be yours.
I would like to return the locket to you. Would you please join me for tea tomorrow evening at seven o’clock? You know the way.
Her heart caught at the word locket, her grandmother’s locket. She was ten when her grandmother died and her grandfather had pressed the locket into her hand and told her to wear it always. She had lost it only a week after he died, and her mother had cried for days. She never told her mother where she lost the locket. But she knew. She had lost it in the house at the end of the stone-paved walkway. And Glenda Addison had found it.
Her fingers trembling, she opened the car door. Leaving her purse under the seat, she locked the car and slipped her key fob into her skirt pocket. Time to face her past.
Her leather-soled boots echoed on the old stone pavers as she headed for the house. Fog clung to the tops of the tall pines and she shivered in the chilly late October air. Should have worn a heavier sweater. Her heart raced as memories of the last time she walked along this path flooded her thoughts. She was twelve and was with Jimmy Liston and Randy Parks. They had cajoled her into coming with them to check out the abandoned Addison house. A night she would just as soon forget.
A soft glow shone through the windows of the ground floor, but the bright light coming from a second-floor window illuminating the path caught her attention. A moment of sheer panic rushed through her as her heart pounded like a bass drum. That was the room. That was the room where… no, she put it out of her head. She was here to get her locket. That was all.
As she approached the house, her amazement grew. When she, Randy, and Jimmy had come to explore, the grounds were overgrown, the paint on the front door and window sills peeling, and the shutters falling off.
Now, even in the growing darkness, she could tell that the grounds were immaculate. As she reached for the doorbell pull, she noticed the paint looked fresh. What a difference fifteen years could make. She held her breath until the door opened. A pair of ice-blue eyes met hers.
“Miss Webb. You came.”
Standing before her was a slender woman in her forties, Candice guessed. Her raven black hair pulled into a severe bun with an ornate pearl and emerald hairpin sticking through it.
“I did. Thank you, Ms. Addison, I am grateful that you found my locket.”
“Come in, dear. We will discuss what you have lost.”
The interior, in shambles when she was fifteen, was well furnished. Elegant lamps and polished wood filled the room where broken lamps and layers of dust had existed fifteen years ago. As she followed Glenda into the parlor, she attempted to tamp down her growing unease. The only sounds she heard were the rustling of Glenda’s silk dress, the ticking of the Grandfather clock, and the beating of her heart.
“My dear, please have a seat.” Glenda gestured to a beautifully upholstered settee, while she sat across in a small armchair, tucking her black silk skirt around her legs. On the table between them sat a china teapot and two delicate bone china cups.
“May I pour you tea?”
Candice cleared her throat, worried she could not talk but she managed a thank you. She waited as the woman poured the tea. Taking her cup, she took a sip of the hot liquid before she spoke.
“You have done a remarkable job remodeling this house.”
Glenda’s eyes bored into hers, a slight smile curling the corners of her mouth. “You would certainly know about the condition this house was once in. How many years ago was it now since you were here?’
“Uh… I — I was twelve, so, fifteen years.”
“Yes, the house was certainly a disaster then. No one had lived here for many years.”
“Was it your parents who lived here?”
She smiled at Candice. “In a manner of speaking…” She sipped her tea. “This house has been in the family for many years. My parents were among the many that lived here.”
“I am surprised that you found the locket after all of these years.”
“Ah, the locket. It was a surprise for me as well. I only found it a short time ago.”
“In your letter, you said you were leaving here. It seems a shame after making this house so beautiful.”
Gazing around the room, Glenda’s eyes fell on a portrait of a man that hung over the fireplace mantle. “My time here is at an end. Just this one small task left to do.” She sat back in the chair. “My dear, why don’t you tell me about that night that you came to explore.”
Candice’s palms were clammy, and she was trembling. She did not want to recount that night but had known since she got the letter that she would have to tell what had happened. She inhaled such a deep breath her chest heaved. “It was a dare. We were twelve. I had a crush on Randy and he and Jimmy wanted to come here. The house was rumored to be haunted. Of course, it wasn’t but I came with them to show Randy I wasn’t scared.”
“Were you scared?” Glenda’s voice was taunting, and Candice’s chest tightened. Coming here was a bad idea.
“I will admit to being apprehensive, but I didn’t believe in ghosts. I was afraid some homeless guy might be living here.”
“But there wasn’t a homeless person, was there?”
“Uh… no, there wasn’t.” Candice stared at her host. Why had she not noticed how gray Glenda’s skin was.
“Tell me exactly what you did here.” This time her voice was different, weaker, sharper.
“We came in the front door which was barely hanging on its hinges. We walked through the first floor. Jimmy got the idea that there could be something of value left. So, we started looking through drawers and closets. Randy and I didn’t want to, but we were scared of how crazed Jimmy was becoming. We didn’t find anything, and we wanted to leave but Jimmy wanted to go upstairs.”
“Yes, upstairs, where you lost your locket.”
“Yes, but we didn’t find anything up there.” Candice realized her voice was shaking and higher pitched than normal. She took a breath and tried to keep her voice even. “I really need to start back home, Ms. Addison. Could I have my locket?”
Glenda rose. “But of course, my dear. It is upstairs. Follow me.”
Upstairs? Candice did not want to go upstairs but she wanted her locket. She had no choice other than to comply. As they climbed the stairs, she thought how effortlessly Glenda navigated the stairs.
Her heart pounded furiously as she followed Glenda. They turned at the top of the stairs and headed to the room. The room. The room where the light that shone so brightly on the path was located. Glenda entered and turned toward her.
“Come in, my dear.”
She took a step into the room and felt relieved. Glenda had redecorated the room as well. What she had feared was not there. Glancing about the room, she spotted the locket lying on top of a low chest. As she started to walk toward it, she panicked. She could not move. In vain, she struggled to move her legs, paralyzed with fear.
“Not what you were expecting, is it?
“Wha…. What is happening?”
“I only want to hear the truth of that night.”
“Truth? I told you, we came here on a lark. Then Jimmy got all crazed and wanted to find something to take.”
Glenda moved closer to her. “Oh, my dear, you saw him, didn’t you?”
“Y—yes, we did.”
Walking to the area of the now highly polished floor, Glenda pointed to a spot. “He was right there, fell where I stabbed him. He wanted the family money, the only reason he married me.” She raised her head and turned toward Candice. “He poisoned me, but I discovered what he had done. It was too late then, but I wasn’t going to die alone. He came up here to find my jewelry box, but I hid it. I walked in as he was tearing the room apart looking for it.”
Candice could barely take a breath but when she did, her breath was visible as the room turned frigid. As she watched, Glenda’s skin was grayer, her face thinner as if she was wasting away. She managed to eke out a question. “You—you killed him?”
An evil grin stretched across her mottled skin and the older woman laughed. “Yes. Yes, I did. I thrust the sterling dagger my father gave me for protection into his chest and watched him die. Then a few hours later, I died.”
A small scream escaped Candice. Her voice trembled but she managed to speak. “Why are you here? What do you want?”
Her face more skeleton than flesh, Glenda balled her bony fingers into fists. “His soul was able to leave this plane. But not mine, his family forced to me stay here because I’d killed him. His family was powerful, and that power extended into the astral plane. I cannot cross into the otherworld. I am cursed to remain here or enter the netherworld.”
She spun around, the silk dress now loose and swirling around her diminishing frame. “That night, I welcomed having guests, even if they were three bratty children. I was lurking in the house, but you couldn’t see me. I watched as you touched my things as if they had no meaning. I grew tired of you and the greed. Just like him. Looking for something of value, something that was mine. I followed you upstairs and almost cackled with glee when you spotted his body. Only a skeleton then, the flesh long gone, his clothes dusty and tattered from age.”
She paused, closing her bulging eyes for a moment. “I decided to scare you. I moaned. You were so startled that you fell, and that other boy grabbed you, yelling that you needed to get out of here.” She pointed to the dresser. “The necklace caught on a raised nail in the floorboard and ripped from your neck as the boy pulled you up. The three of you ran. I followed you as far as the front door.”
“Jimmy…. What happened to Jimmy? He left us at the end of the path. Randy made me come with him. We never knew what happened to him.”
“He was a foolish boy and was going to steal from me. He came back. He had spotted the sterling-handled dagger, his prize. I was not going to allow him to take it. I flew out of the shadows. He was so scared that he fled. But he tripped and fell down the stairs, dead before he reached the foyer. I didn’t mean for him to die but I didn’t want him to steal from me.”
“Why are you doing this?” Candice tried to move, filled with horror as Glenda’s skull was beginning to show under disappearing flesh.
“I am not an unkind person. You did nothing to me, and the locket is of value to you. I could sense that. I accepted my fate. The netherworld awaits me. But…” She paused. “I felt a need to return what was of value to you. I had my belongings taken from me. It was the least I could do.”
Glenda was now only a skeleton. “I created this illusion so that you would feel at ease. I cannot maintain it much longer. Take your locket and go. Now..”
As the control Glenda had over her released, Candice nearly fell to her knees. Struggling, she made her way to the dresser and grabbed the locket. It was icy cold. Turning, she was looking into Glenda’s rotting eyes. Those eyes looked toward the floor where the man’s skeleton, the dagger visible, was now lying. She screamed and ran from the room as the beautiful house began to turn into the ruin she had visited fifteen years before.
Reaching the top of the stairs, she tripped over ripped carpeting. Grabbing the banister, she descended as quickly as she dared only to stumble over an object at the foot of the stairs. She tumbled onto the Oriental rug, dust flying from the impact. She turned over and screamed again. It was a skeleton, and it was wearing the shirt Jimmy was wearing that night. As she scrambled up, Glenda’s voice echoed from the second floor …flee now.
Candice ran through the overgrown yard and across the crumbling stones of the path to her car. Shaking she tried the car door. Locked. Key? What did she do with the key? Pocket, in her pocket. She managed to get the door unlocked and sighed with relief as the car started. She drove away.
Two days later, she remained in her darkened apartment in the city. Drapes drawn to keep out the sunlight. The heat turned up because she could not seem to get warm. Why had she gone? She remained shaken by what she had witnessed. She thought about contacting Randy, but he was now an accountant in their hometown and married. She decided telling him would not change anything.
She didn’t believe in ghosts. It was a hallucination. The only explanation that made sense. Her eyes drifted toward the coat closet. No, no hallucination. When she arrived home, she had placed the locket in a box and tucked it away on the closet shelf. It had happened.
Deciding she needed a distraction, she turned on the TV. The local noon news was on, but she barely listened until a word caught her attention. Addison. She raised the TV volume to hear a reporter, standing on the path in front of the Addison house.
“That’s right, David. This is a bizarre story. This house has stood empty for over sixty years. Sheriff Pratt said that no one, not even kids came out here. However, this is where it gets bizarre. Two nights ago, a man who had taken a wrong turn drove down this little-used road and spotted a light coming from an upstairs window and a car here. He mentioned it to the owner of the town’s only restaurant who told the sheriff. Sheriff Pratt held a press conference a few minutes ago. Let’s listen.” The TV switched to an image of the sheriff.
“The man told us it was too dark to tell what kind of car, but I sent a deputy out to check on it the next morning. He found the remains of three people, Marcus and Glenda Addison and a twelve-year-old boy, Jimmy Liston. Rumors were that the Addisons abandoned the house after his family suffered a huge financial loss about sixty years ago. Jimmy Liston’s parents reported him as a chronic runaway about fifteen years ago but never found. We believe he may have been seeking shelter and at some point, fell down the stairs and broke his neck.”
Shivers raced from her core to her extremities. It was real. She had been there, and Glenda was a ghost.
She rose from the couch and retrieved the box. She needed to make certain the locket was real. Opening the lid, the soft rose gold of the antique locket glinted the glow from the TV. She touched the oval locket with a fingertip and drew her hand back rapidly.
The locket was icy cold.
Please visit D. A. on her blog: https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com/