My name is Victoria Raines, and I couldn't ask for a better day to begin my new life. It was a beautiful spring day in late April. As I was driving out of the city, I felt a sense of new relief. Free from the old life which in reality was no life at all. Everything I did my entire married life, which began at the tender age of twenty, was to please and nurture someone else. I must have been happy, I think, or why would I have stayed married and in my situation for so many years.
It was about 10:30 in the morning, as I headed up the parkway towards my destination in Pennsylvania. I was cruising along at around 60 miles per hour. The traffic was quite light. People driving in their cars seemed to be happy. Glad to see winter finally go. I began to think of John. He died so suddenly. I never thought I would be the one to survive. He was always so healthy and athletic. All those mornings of jogging and the weekend afternoons he'd spend at the gym. I could hardly walk up to the bedroom at night, let alone get up extra early to go running. I am not much in the exercise department, that's for sure.
When I received the call I was crushed. John had died at work. A heart attack while he was meeting with his salesmen about the next day's assignments. He had a small insurance brokerage business and earned a pretty good living for the girls and me. The girls always had everything they needed. They were educated in the finest schools and grew to be happy, well adjusted people. Valerie was twenty-five years old and recently married to Arthur. They were living in Washington, D.C.. where they both practiced law and worked for the same law firm. And then there was sweet Melanie. She was so sensitive. She was twenty-one and still in College in Colorado. Yes, these girls were a gift to me. They were more than any mother could ask for as far as children go in one's life. But sometimes, motherhood was not enough. I often felt very lonely and wanted to experience something of my own.
When I was younger, I often contemplated leaving John to find whatever it was I was seeking. But soon, I began to realize that leaving or divorcing him clearly had its disadvantages. Too many people get out of their marriages only to find similar problems in new relationships or single life. Divorce often creates new dilemmas, like having to relocate and dealing with diminished resources. And even when the divorce is amicable, there's so much pain for the children. My daughters were my whole world and I would gladly bear the pain of a maladjusted marriage not to hurt or upset their lives. And then there was John. Basically, he was a good man. Being at this point in my life, married to him for such a long time became a way of life. I no longer had a desire to change this way of life, or maybe the energy, as I did in my younger years. But at times I felt unfulfilled and with no purpose.
My sex life with John, you'd call average. There were no hidden sexual deviations in our closet--too bad. But our union did create Melanie and Val, and I was thankful for that. When John died I was confused and worried. But deep down inside, even as I hung up the phone at the first news, I felt a strange sense of relief I couldn't quite understand. Relief from what? I also felt very guilty about this feeling. John had left the girls and I well provided for. There was plenty of insurance money, our savings were still in tact, and we had a few real estate investments which would provide me with ample income every month.
My grandmother, Emma, had died and left me her estate including this old Victorian house on forty acres of wooded land in Pennsylvania. Gran had inherited the home from her sister Regina and now it belonged to me. John would drive up to check on the place now and then, but I never did get there. I had always meant to go the house but, one thing or another kept me away. The girls in particular, were not very anxious to come along with John and me. The house was completely furnished and one summer John had converted the old stable into a large garage.
But now, after thinking about it for a while, I decided to rent our house on Long Island, and try living in Pennsylvania. I wanted to start anew somewhere. Maybe write a book. With the furnishings and everything in the house already there, it would not be much of a physical effort on my part.
I turned off onto 209 North which led to the little town I would be living near. It was called Brodheadsville. The town was about four blocks long, with your usual library, two churches, (Catholic and Lutheran), a strip mall with a small super market, dry cleaners, liquor and drug stores, and a few small restaurants. I drove past a doctor's house and dental clinic. There was a small florist-craft store combination, and few other small businesses that probably changed hands every year or so. The house was located about three miles out of town, just past the Green Hills Cemetery.
As I drove through the country side, I began to feel very positive about my decision. I knew this was the right move to make. I glanced down on the passenger seat to consult my written directions and began to look for my landmark, which was an old brown barn. When I spotted the barn, I made a left turn onto to, a small graveled road named Highland Road. Once past the cemetery the air took on a peaceful grace and the smell of freshly mowed grass and honey suckle filled the air. I felt strangely calm here.
At the end of the road I had to stop dead in my tracks. There was a rusted old iron gate blocking the entrance to the driveway that led up to the house. The large rusted tin sign read KEEP OUT, and under the black printed wording someone had painted in a scrawly manner -AND THAT MEANS YOU! I imagined it was our caretaker Calvin. It was just about 1 p.m.. and I was getting a little hungry. I had planned to drive up to the house, maybe start a little fire in the fireplace and go back down to that little super market and buy some groceries. I opened the door to the car and got out, and walked over to the iron gate. "Damn it," I yelled out, my voice echoing into the strange silence. There were woods all around me and I couldn't see the house from where I stood. It seems "Old Cal" had supplied us with a little extra protection. The gate was fastened with a big iron chain and a giant padlock weaved through the chain holding it together. I could have kicked myself for not calling him first to warn him of my coming here. Well, rather than even trying to tackle that lock, I decided to drive back to town and call him.
I felt a sudden chill as I drove past the cemetery.
I pulled into the strip mall and walked over to a telephone stall situated on the outside wall of the drug store. After placing my handbag on the little shelf provided, I began digging into my purse for my little address book for Calvin's number. There it was,
717-3309. I punched the numbers into the phone pad and deposited a quarter into the coin slot.
"Hello," a sweet little elderly woman's voice answered.
"Hi, This is Victoria Raines. May I speak with Calvin Parsons. He's the caretaker for my house up at Highland Road."
"Oh, my dear, this is Mrs. Parsons. He just stepped out around half hour ago--had to go up to Scranton, pick up part for our tractor. Broken down ya' know."
I decided my perfect day was taking a turn for the worse.
"Well, Mrs. Parsons, do you have any idea when he'll be home?
She replied in a quizzical manner, "I'd say three or four hours the most." I asked her if she could tell him to meet me up at the house, when he got back.
"Sure thing and I'm sorry, Mam. But perhaps it would have been better had you called earlier before driving up." "Yeah," I whispered, as I let out a silent sigh.
I walked across the short mall to Franklin's super market. As I entered a chime over the door announced my entry. There was a young woman at the counter sitting in front of a cash register. "Good day Mam, " she greeted. I answered back with "Hello" and picked up a small green plastic basket to place my groceries in. I checked my wrist watch, it was just about 2 p.m.. I walked over to the dairy section and picked up some eggs and milk and pulled a few other grocery items from shelves, scattered about the store, and placed them into my basket. The girl at the register placed my groceries into a brown paper bag, I paid for them and walked outside towards my car. I was feeling really hungry by now and the meeting with Calvin was still some time away, so I decided to stop at the local diner and grab a cup of coffee. "The Chestnut Hill Diner" was the name of the cottage type restaurant. I walked in and sat in a booth with a large picture window. The restaurant was almost empty and very quiet, except for the occasional clink of a glass or cup. It was situated at the top of a hill incline. I had felt the strain in my legs as I walked from my car to the restaurant door, but when I sat in the booth I appreciated the builder's logic. The view was spectacular. It looked like a painting, with roof tops of the little houses peeking out from the trees and the two large white church steeples pointing up toward the blue sky. From this view point everything seemed only inches apart. It was so peaceful. I felt like I could have just sat there for days. In retrospect, I should have.
I became so involved with the view, that I jumped when a young waiter walked over to my table.
He asked, "Would you like a cup of coffee, Miss?"
"Excuse me, I didn't mean to jump." "What did you say?"
"I'm sorry Miss, but would you like a cup of coffee?"
"That sure sounds good to me," I answered a little embarrassed.
"I'll take your order when I come back with the coffee."
"Thank you, but I'll be just having coffee."
He returned in a minute with a steaming hot cup of my soul juice--java--. I thanked him, then turned again to look out the window. It was like another world here compared to the hustle and bustle of New York City. The people were different too. They all seemed so relaxed and laid back here.
Some time had passed when I checked my wrist watch again and was surprised to see that I had been sitting here almost an hour. It was just about 3 p.m.. by now, and I decided to start back to the house. I left enough money to cover the bill and tip on the table and walked out of the restaurant. When I got outside the sun was so bright, I had to squint to see. I covered my eyes in salute fashion and noticed a little girl standing by the curb selling flowers. And decided, "Why not?", I picked up a pretty little bunch of Pink Rose buds and when I got back to the car, I stuck the flowers into the grocery bag, and I started out of the parking lot towards Highland Road and my new home. The sun was still shining brightly and when I turned onto Highland Road I had to lower the sun visor to see ahead in the road. Just as I approached the Green Hills Cemetery, a strange thing happened. It was a beautiful sunny day...when suddenly a pair of black clouds rolled over and a creeping thick fog surrounded the immediate area around my car and as far as I could see ahead. I immediately slowed the car down to around ten miles per hour. Startled, I jammed on the brakes. Right in front of me stood a beautiful young woman. She was dressed completely in white, her arms outstretched -- towards me. My heart began to pound. This could not be possible. It was very hard to make out her facial features as the fog surrounded her and she seemed to be standing in a bright light shining from somewhere behind, above or all around her. I just could not comprehend this happening. Slowly, the fog drifted away from the woman just enough so I could make out…..that she was dressed...dressed in a white...in what looked like a...a white death shroud. My heart was beating so fast, my chest felt like it was about to explode. She looked straight at me and she was crying. She then spoke in a tearful voice. "I need your help." I heard her say. I tried to gain control of my reasoning--and tried to calm down. I closed my eyes real tight, but quickly opened them again. The girl was drifting. Drifting across the road. Then, she just vanished into the fog. As quickly as the fog rolled in, it disappeared and the sun came out from behind the black clouds--glaring--blinding me again. I just sat there unable to move, grasping the steering wheel, the only thing that seemed real to me at this point. I heard a voice saying, "Mam, Mam," and realized the voice was coming through the driver side car window. I rolled the window down. An old man with a wrinkled but nice face asked, "Are you Victoria Raines by any chance?"
"Yes, yes, I said.
"Well, I think you've been waiting for me. I'm Calvin Parsons."
I was never so happy to see anyone in my whole life as right now at this moment.
"Did you see that?" I asked.
"The fog near the cemetery gate."
"Mam, the fog?" "Why the sun is shining as bright as can be. But sometimes when the sun begins to go down, it can play some nasty tricks on the eyes."
Probably, that's the answer, I thought to myself. I couldn't explain to this total stranger, the fear I had just felt moments ago. He'd most likely believe I was crazy and in need of help immediately.
Just calm down, Victoria. There has got to be an explanation for what just happened. Maybe it was the sun. I tried to suppress it from my mind as best as I could.
"Thank you for meeting me up here Mr. Parsons"
"No problem." "I'll just follow your car to the end of the road and open that big old lock for you." I stepped on the accelerator, but still a bit shaken by the events of the last few minutes. I slowly drove to the end of the road, stopped in front of the gate and checked my rear view mirror. Mr. Parsons was getting out of his pickup truck. He began fishing through keys on a large ring as he walked over to the gate. When he stuck the key into the large lock, the chain fell to the ground with a loud clang. I jumped a little at the irritating sound. He proceeded to swing the large gate to the right, which opened the driveway to us. He came over to my car and said "I'll follow you up and turn on the heat and lights for you, if you'd like Mam." Still a little shaky, I jumped at the offer.
We drove up the pebbled driveway. My car was still leading. My guess was that the driveway was about 200 feet long, completely wooded on both sides, mostly with Pine trees. The scent of the Pines was so wonderful. Somehow, it reminded of Christmas with John and the girls. At the end of the driveway, we approached a clearing. I must admit, I didn't expect to see the grounds landscaped so beautifully. There were well kept trees and shrubs circling the clearing, and in the middle of this clearing, stood this magnificent white house. I parked the car to the side of the house and Calvin parked behind me. We both exited our vehicles at the same time. Calvin walked up to me. "Do you have any luggage?" he asked. "Yes, in the trunk, thank you." I walked to the rear of the car and unlocked the trunk. Calvin removed my two smaller suitcases and said he'd come back for the two larger ones.
He walked ahead of me and was already on the porch fumbling with the door lock. I stood back a moment to take in some of my new surroundings . The house was in almost perfect condition. It looked as though it had been continuously lived in. The paint seemed fresh looking. The windows and shutters were very clean and well kept. It was two stories high plus an attic floor. The attic windows were panes were stainedglass. Blues, reds and greens. They were very impressive and quite beautiful. There were four steps leading up to the stone porch, which looked like it circled the house completely from where I was standing. There were clinging Rose bushes lining the front of the porch, budding and ready to show off their beauty again soon. Flower boxes lined the entire rail of the front porch waiting to explode with color. I imagined how this would all look in the summer when everything was green and in full bloom. Summer seemed so far away until I arrived here.
I gathered up my grocery bag and began walking up to the house. As I entered into the entrance foyer of this stately house, I could not believe my eyes. Everything was so well kept. No dust. No dirt. It looked as if there was a full service staff still on duty here. It was furnished lavishly, in very good taste. As I walked further into the foyer, I heard a slight tinkling above my head. The noise captured my attention and I glanced upward towards a luxurious crystal chandelier hanging in the middle of the foyer. It seemed to be swaying ever so slightly. I walked back and closed the front door.
As I began walking on into the kitchen, the noise of clanging pipes and water running was coming through the basement doorway, situated in a small room off the kitchen. I surmised that Calvin was busy at work in the basement. Then in one blast, the lights came on and the refrigerator started running. When Calvin came through the door from the basement he said, "There ya go. You have heat in each room, besides the fireplaces, Mam. The boiler's old, but it works fine."
"Calvin, I noticed that the furniture is antique, but it's all in such well kept condition." He removed his cap from his head and with the same hand scratched at his scalp. The other hand on his hip.
"Miss Raines, I don't quite understand it myself. Everything in this house just never wears out. Just stays nice and clean and neat. Like someone was here all the time takin' care of everything."
"I noticed the shrubbery and landscaping are pruned and well taken care of. You've done a nice job all these years."
He blinked his eye lids a few times and said, "Mam, I clean up little bits of twigs and things," and went on to say that he comes up to the house about once a week to check on the place. But aside from picking up a few twigs on the ground, the grounds almost looked like they were tendered by someone else before he arrived. "Maybe once in a while, the house would need a slight touch of paint on the trim, but it was really not hard to maintain. Maybe the house being surrounded by acres of woods, kinda' protects the house and grounds from the severe elements."
"Perhaps," I agreed.
"Well Mam, if there's nothing else right now, I'll let you get settled in and become acquainted with the place."
"Thank you Calvin. I appreciate everything you've done and if you're willing I would like you to stay on as handyman."
"Sure thing, Miss Raines." I could use the extra income." "I'll stop by tomorrow to see if you need anything."
"One more thing. Would you please have the telephone company turn on the phone service for me. I would really appreciate that."
"I sure will Mam, no problem. I'll give them a call first thing." With a cute tip of his cap, he wished me a good evening and walked out the door. I went over to the door and watched him jump into his pickup truck and drive away.
I turned and strolled into what looked like a sitting room and sat on the floral tapestry couch. The furniture was in excellent condition and quite comfortable. There was a green velvet overstuffed arm chair situated to the right side of the couch and to the left side, a Queen Anne style chair upholstered in the same green velvet material as the armchair. The seating arrangement faced a large marble fireplace with a cherry wood mantel. Over the fireplace was a beautiful oval mirror framed in cherry wood to match perfectly with the rest of the wood tables which had been placed around the room.
Between two large side windows draped in the same tapestry as the couch, as were all four windows in the room, was a reading table and two occasional chairs placed on each side. A wood framed brocaded rocking chair sat by a front window. The tufted seat and back rest had the impression of someone who had used the chair for a long time. The impression looked like it was made by a small person. I wondered who it could have been. It sent eerie feelings through me. The thought of me looking at an impression in a cushion of a person who had lived a long time ago. The person was gone, but the impression remained. It was mind baffling.
I decided to start a fire to warm up the house. Calvin had said he chopped some wood for me and left it in the bin out on the porch. I walked through the back door. The logs were placed in a large bin at one end of the porch. Gathering up as many as I could carry, I plunked them into the large metal bin near the fireplace. I was pretty good at starting fires in the hearth. But when John was alive, he always made me feel that this was "the man's job." So I let him believe I was sort of helpless in the area of starting fires. Didn't he ever question in his mind, who started the fireplace when he was out and would come home to find a nice crackling burn going on in the house on Long Island. Do men ever realize the little things women do to protect their masculine image.
I hate myself when I keep dwelling on John's short comings. I probably gave that man more problems than he ever gave me. It's just that I've always felt like something in my life was about to happen--like I was waiting for the other shoe to hit the floor.
The fire was lit and the room took on a nice warmth. I thought it was about time to check the bedrooms upstairs, when I realized I hadn't put my groceries in the refrigerator and started back to the kitchen. As I was walking past the staircase in the foyer, I heard a whooshing, sort of, whisper of breath, but echoed. I stood perfectly still. What is happening to me? I took a deep breath and continued on into the kitchen. I walked over to the refrigerator and opened it. Old but nice and clean inside, I thought, and in not so bad condition. I filled a large drinking glass with cool water, and put the pink Roses I had bought into the glass and set it down in the middle of the kitchen table. After placing the bag of groceries on a small table next to the refrigerator, I started to put the milk container and egg carton into the refrigerator. Suddenly, I felt a slight touch on my back. But with a heavy enough stroke for me to stop dead in my tracks. The eggs and milk carton fell to the floor. I turned quickly to see just who or what had touched me. No one was there, but I heard a gentle giggle in that same echo fashion as before.
God, I hope I'm able to live here alone, I thought. I'm getting the heebe jeebees. Calvin did say, I might hear old house noises and that I shouldn't get scared if I heard anything that sounded a little weird. He said, "old houses have their own noises." Yeah, I guess, those were some of the old house noises, and quite an active imagination on my part. But how about touching? Old house touches too? I sighed.
I looked down at my feet. I was standing in a yellow and white puddle of eggs and milk, slowly spreading on the kitchen linoleum floor. I cried out in disgust. Well, I cleaned that up and was able to salvage a half quart of milk and two eggs. I decided to go upstairs and investigate and then come down and scramble up those two eggs for dinner.
I was pleasantly surprised when I reached upstairs. There were five spacious bedrooms. All neat and clean as the rooms downstairs. The furniture was in the style of the late 1800's. I noticed that Calvin had placed my luggage at the top of the stairs. Picking it up I carried it into one of the bedrooms. I chose the largest bedroom, which faced out to the front of the house. It was a beautiful room with a four poster bed and high pillows. It looked like something out of a Victorian novel. The walls were papered with tiny pink roses. There were two large windows facing the front. The lace curtained windows began just a few feet from the floor and were almost as high as the ceiling. I walked over and opened one window slightly to air out the room.
After placing my two large suitcases on the floor I walked back into the hall. I had noticed a portrait hanging over a small table. The portrait was of a young woman. She had long dark hair and the bluest eyes I had ever seen. She was dressed in a green dress with a high neck lace collar. I wondered if this was Regina, as she did resemble my grandmother Emma, her sister. She was beautiful. I looked over the other bedrooms quickly and noticed the one bathroom down the hall. It was very quaint with a four legged bath tub. The commode had a large wooden box above it. Hanging down from the box was a chain about three feet long with a wooden handle hanging on the end of the chain. I pulled on the chain and the toilet flushed. Calvin had said they had installed indoor plumbing inside the house around 1912. My guess was that's about the last time anyone ever did any modernizing to this house. One thing I kept noticing was that everything was so well kept. It was old, but looked new.
I started downstairs talking to myself. Victoria, you have plenty of time to inspect this big old house. Let's eat.
After I had my light supper, with a little searching I found an old tea kettle. It took me a few minutes to figure out how to turn on the old gas jets on the four legged stove, but I succeeded in preparing myself a cup of tea and took it upstairs with me to prepare to turn in. I was tired from the long drive up and the excitement of my new surroundings and I wanted to get a good night's sleep and a fresh start in the morning. I blamed my tiredness for letting my imagination run away with me earlier too.
I drank my tea and placed the tea cup on the night stand next to the bed and laid down. The bed felt so good. Like it was the most comfortable bed I had ever slept on. I just seemed to sink into it. I must have dozed off for a while. But I was suddenly awakened by a cry. It was more like a wail of someone who was in distress. It was so sad sounding, it sent chills up and down my spine. The cry sounded very much like the cry from the girl on the road. I bolted out of bed and turned on every light in the room. Looking around the room, I saw nothing amiss.
Great, now I was having nightmares. "Victoria." You're a grown woman. You've always wanted to be independent. Here's your chance. That's it! Talking to myself again, really. I undressed and reached into my bag for my large Tee shirt I always wore to bed, and slipped it on.
I glanced at the suitcases and thought about how my clothes would get awfully wrinkled just sitting there in the suitcase all night, but I was just too tired to deal with unpacking. I turned out the lights, walked over to the window and opened it a little wider, jumped into bed and snuggled under the covers. I fell asleep quickly and the rest of the night was uneventful.