(Once again, but unedited from last year. Because I like this story. And it's Halloween.)
A Short Story by
Louis Charles Lohman
She was so happy with her new home. It was a corner house with an iron fence around two sides and a deep porch that ran across the front and down the street side of the house. It was so homey and so comfortable.
It was old, too. Very old. It was Victorian in outward appearance, with gingerbread touches and a tall spire on the corner of the third floor. The real estate agent had said it was built right after the Civil War and then expanded in the late 1800's. The rooms were large and airy, very unusual for a house from that time, and the ceilings were tall and ornate, with molded plaster frills and filigree in all the downstairs rooms. There was a parlor in the front, and a formal dining room adjacent, a study and sewing room across the hall and a butler's pantry and kitchen at the rear of the main floor. Upstairs were the several bedrooms and on the third floor was the ballroom. A real ballroom. That, if nothing else, sold her on the house.
Over the years the house had been meticulously maintained, so there had never really been a need for restoration. It was magnificent. It had thick walls and was quiet inside, the outside world, its noise and bluster, was effectively shut out.
There was, however, one little, niggling problem.
There was a room in the house where she felt 'uncomfortable'. In fact, there was a spot in the room where she felt afraid, and if she stayed in that spot long enough, she would get the most searing headaches, that started with a tickle at the back of her neck and just exploded into the worst headaches she had ever had in her life. The formal dining room, then, became a room she avoided. Her husband experienced no such fear, and no such pain, but he said he thought it felt cold at that spot, in the middle of the room. Cold that gave him shivers, like a draft down the back of one's neck.
One day, not long after they'd moved in, she looked out the window to see a small old lady looking up at the house. Just standing there, outside the fence, looking at the house. She saw her again the next day, and the day after that. On the fourth day she saw her she decided to find out who this little old lady was. She walked outside, only to find the old lady was gone. And the next day, when she saw her again, the same thing happened. The old lady was nowhere to be seen.
"There is definitely something weird going on here", Jay said. "First you get headaches. And I feel a cold spot in the same place you get headaches. And now there's this little old lady you see, who keeps disappearing. Sally, I don't know what's going on here, but we have to find out. I have an idea. Why don't you put a plate of those cookies you made together and we'll go across the street to see Mrs. Morgan. I mean, she's lived in that house for a million years, right? If anybody around here is going to know any stories about this house, I'll bet it's her."
And so it was that Sally and Jay walked across the street to the home of Mrs. Philomena Morgan, the old lady who introduced herself on the day they moved in as being sixty years the widow of Phineas Morgan, banker and victim of a hit and run driver, all those many years ago. A lonely woman. Lonely and full of the business of her neighbors, as any woman with that much time on her hands would be.
"Hi, Mrs. Morgan, Sally and I have brought you some homemade cookies."
"Isn't that sweet of you? Come in, come in Jay, and you, too, Sally. My, you are such a lovely girl. You don't mind if I call you Jay, do you? Or shall I call you Mr. Booker?"
"No, no. Jay is fine."
"Well then, do come in and sit down. I'll get Jenny to get us something to drink. What would you like? Tea? Coffee? Milk, perhaps?"
"Oh, milk is fine for me, Mrs. Morgan. What about you, Sally?"
"Oh yes, milk for me as well, please?"
"Fine, fine. Jenny, bring us a pitcher of milk and some glasses, will you girl? Thank you. As for you two, please call me Mena, 'Mrs. Morgan' sounds so formal."
"Thank you, Mena."
"I suppose you're here about old Mrs Twilliger."
"Mrs. Twilliger. You've been seeing an old woman, standing by the fence, looking up at the house, right Sally?"
"Well, yes, I have. But how did you know?"
"Dearie, I've seen you come out of the house twice in the last two days, run to the fence and look over, both ways, up and down the street, with a very puzzled look on your face. I have seen that look before. And I suppose that you, Jay, found the cold spot and you, Sally, have found a spot in the old dining room that gives you headaches."
"How did you know?"
"I have lived my whole life here, within these four walls. I'm willing to bet I've seen 30 different families in that house. No one stays there more than a couple of years. And there have been long stretches of time where the house has sat empty. Anybody who has ever lived in that house has seen Mrs. Twilliger. Men feel the cold spot. Women get headaches. It's all very sad, really."
"What's 'very sad'? Sally and I would really like to know what's going on here. Can you please help us?"
"I can tell you what I know. What my Grandmother knew, actually. What Grandmother saw. And then told me all about as I was a little girl. I have known this story all my life. No one has ever asked me about it. All I have ever heard are complaints about headaches and coldspots and mysterious little old ladies, usually as people were moving away. Sometimes they just left the house in the middle of the night and never came back. But no one has ever asked. And I think the house has been waiting for someone to ask. More like Mr. Twilliger has been the one waiting, really, than the house."
"I don't think we understand that, Mena. What do you mean the house or, or .. or Mr. Twilliger has been waiting? Waiting for what?"
"Waiting for someone to care enough to ask, of course. Silly boy. Drink your milk, now, and I'll tell you all about it."
"Whatever you say ... this milk is delicious!!! Isn't it honey?"
"Yes, it is. God, I've never tasted milk this good."
"Oh, it's just pure milk, that's all. Right from the cow. Just pure milk. Anyway, Mr. Twilliger was a fireman and he lived in that house with his 4 year old daughter and his mother. Mr. Twilliger's wife had died giving birth to the girl and she was the apple of his eye. Mr. Twilliger was very handy, and was electrifying the house, over the strenuous objections of his mother, I might add. She was old fashioned and didn't trust the electric, at all. She was sure the house would burn to the ground. But he was so proud of the house and he wanted to be the first to be electrified. He stripped out all the old gas pipe and put in electric wire and plastered rooms and just did all kinds of work to modernize the house. The last major thing left to do was to hang the new electric chandelier in the dining room. Old Mrs. Twilliger had just left the house to go to evening mass, when the chandelier fell from the ceiling and killed that little girl. Mrs. Twilliger must have seen it fall and heard the girl scream, because she dropped dead right on the spot. Right outside the fence. Mr. Twilliger was so beside himself with grief. Grandmother said she had never seen a man so distraught. He worked for a month to finish the house, because he HAD to finish the house, don't you know, and then he hung himself from a light fixture in the ballroom."
"Why that's terrible. Such a sad story. Those poor people. That poor little girl. And that poor house. To be the site of so much tragedy. It's just so sad. So very sad. I'll tell you this, Jay and I aren't leaving. We are NOT leaving."
"Well, that's nice to hear, Dearie. You two are such a lovely couple. I'll be glad to see somebody finally love that house."
"But the house is in such good repair! Sally and I have often remarked about how well kept the house is. How can it have changed hands so many times ... been vacant for long periods of time, and still be in such good shape?"
"That would be Mr. Twilliger. He keeps the house up."
"Mr. Twilliger? How ...?"
"I think that's enough for tonight. You two had better run along home, now." She rose and started herding them toward the door. "I'm sure in good time all of your questions will be answered. But I have no more answers, now. So go to your home. It's waiting for you, you know. It's been waiting a long time, I think. Good night, now, good night."
And with that she closed the door behind them.
Sally and Jay crossed the street and walked up the stairs to their home.
"She sure got a bit spooky at the end there, didn't she?"
"Oh, Jay, I think she's charming. She's just a sweet little old lady who has been alone just a bit too long, that's all."
"Just the same. This whole thing is just a bit weird. I do love this house, though. I hope old Mr. Twilliger knows that."
"Oh, I'm sure he does. That is, of course, if he's really here. Say, you don't suppose he watches .. you know .. us?"
"No, somehow I don't think ghosts are voyeurs .. but that IS an interesting notion."
They walked down the hall and into the dining room.
"I can see where the chandelier hung - you see, there's little dimples in the plaster I never really noticed before. Say, you know what? I don't feel the cold spot .. I don't .. I really don't. It's gone."
"Really? You know, I don't feel like I did before, either. I'm not feeling, you know, uncomfortable."
"Come stand over here."
"No, I don't think so. Not yet anyway. I'll just stand over here by the windows, thank you. Jay LOOK! It's the old lady. And she's pointing across the ...JAY!! Call 911. Mrs. Morgan's house is on fire!!!"
Jay ran into the hall and called 911, then ran out the front door and stopped dead in his tracks. The whole house was completely engulfed in flames. There would be no way to save anyone in that house.
When the first fire truck pulled up and the firemen jumped off and started pulling hoses off the truck, Jay started yelling at the nearest fireman.
"There's two women living in that house!!! There's two women!!! Mrs. Morgan and Jenny are in there!!!"
"Are you drunk or somethin' fella? That house has been vacant for 20 years. We get small fires in there every once in a while. Kids, you know? Just kids. Looks like they did it this time, though. Did it good."
"I'm telling you, they're in there!!!"
"Look. There's nobody living in that house. I've been here on fire calls 4 times in the last two years. There's nobody in there. Now get back so you don't get hurt."
"We were there!! They were there!!! What's your name? I'm going to report you to your supervisor!!!"
"Twilliger. Fireman First Class Jason Twilliger. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a fire to fight. Go in the house, sir. Go take care of your house."
Suddenly, the roof of the house across the street fell down into the burning building, and blast of hot air, cinders, dirt and dust blew across the street forcing Jay to turn away, throwing his arm up across his face to protect his eyes.
Sally came running out onto the porch.
"Oh, JAY! That house is almost gone. What's taking the fire Department so LONG???"
"What are you talking about? They're right .... here ..."
He had turned to see that the firemen and their truck were gone. As if they had never been.
"Sally, go in the house and make sure all the water is turned off. I've got to get the hose out."
"You're not going to try to fight that fire with a garden hose, are you??"
"No, Sally, I'm not. I'm going to wet down the face of the house. I've got to take care of this house. This house. It's our house, now."