The Legend of the Chatsworths

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

Malc and Ruth purchase an Old Victorian

The Legend of the Chatsworths

A Story by Lea Sheryn

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Malcolm and Ruth buy a Victorian Mansion to fix up and flip.

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The Legend of the Chatsworths

By Lea Sheryn

 

The tall house stood imposingly upon the edge of the cliff.Beneath it, the surf roared tempestuously, the waves crashing furiously against the rocks at the base of the precipice.Glancing at Ruth, who sat beside me in the passenger seat of the SUV, I knew we had the same thought: We were really in for it this time. 

 

The house was a three-story turreted Victorian with a widow’s walk between the two towers.To say it was in disrepair was an understatement.The paint had been weathered off until the original color was unrecognizable; the front veranda sagged dangerously.It was not as advertised but that is what we get for buying property sight unseen. 

 

Since the 2007 recession, Ruth and I have been purchasing properties on auction in the view of fixing them up to flip.When each of us lost our office jobs, we turned to the real estate game in order to make a quick buck.We’d faced the misfortune of making a bad purchase on occasion but the one that faced us now was by far the worst of the lot.

 

Slowly the SUV crept up the steep road leading to the top of the cliff.The closer we got to the house the more Ruth shrank back into her bucket seat.It was as though she were willing herself as far away from our current location as possible. 

 

“It’s probably not as bad as it looks, Ruthie.”I tried to be cheerful but wasn’t actually feeling it. 

 

“It is as bad as it looks, Malc,” my wife responded as she reached out to grip the dash with white knuckled fingers. 

 

“Ok, it is as bad as it looks,” I responded, “but we’re stuck with it, my dear.We’ll clean out the ghosts and make a bundle on it.” 

 

“Ghosts?” Ruth asked with a tremble in her voice.I knew, instantly, I’d said the wrong thing.

 

“Not to worry, love,” I stated to reassure her.“There’s no such thing as ghosts.”At this point, as we drew closer to the old house, even I had my doubts. 

 

As I drew to a stop in front of the decrepit old Victorian, I realized the totality of how bad it was.The lopsided dwelling sagged dangerously toward the edge of the precipice.If the cliff eroded any further, the back wall would dangle in thin air.It wouldn’t take too much more for it to take the slide into the roiling sea below. 

 

“How much would it cost to move it inland to a safer location?” Ruth echoed my immediate thought. 

 

“More than we have to put into it,” I glumly retorted as I braced myself to exit the vehicle.Although we had purchased the place at a rock bottom price, I figured we had already paid too much.The old Vic should have been condemned.How it even made it to the auction site was beyond me.“Well, I expect we better take a look at it, Ruth old gal.”I reached over to pat her jeans covered knee.“It belongs to us now.” 

 

“Couldn’t we rescind the offer?” my wife tentatively asked. 

 

“’Fraid not, darling.Unfortunately, a deal’s a deal.We’re stuck with this monstrosity.All we can do is make the best of it.”With that statement made, I swung open the SUV’s driver’s door and, for the first time, put my foot on my new soil.This was going to be the last time I bought property sight unseen, I strongly assured myself.“Coming?” I asked when I had moved around the vehicle and opened the door on Ruth’s side. 

 

“No.”Her lips were tight, just one thin barely perceptible line.The negative word barely had room to escape. 

 

“Have it your way,” I stated, swinging the door shut.I hadn’t gone a dozen steps before Ruth was at my side, her hand gripped tightly in the bend of my elbow.Step by cautious step, we edged closer to the old Vic. 

 

“It looks nothing like the photos,” Ruth murmured as we stood looking up at the eyesore that greeted us.How right she was!The gallery the site had offered pictured a stately old gingerbread house with a quaint scrollwork veranda complete with ladies and gentlemen sipping tea in delicate china cups while swaying back and forth in rockers.A boy pushed a girl on a swing hung from an oak on the lush green front lawn.The fact that the photos were black-and-whites hadn’t daunted us; we thought we were buying a real gem this time around.“Let’s go, Malc.I’ve seen enough.” 

 

“The least we can do is look,” I responded, bravely moving forward.With my wife still clutching my arm, we made our way around the side of the dwelling.In the side yard, a splintering of decayed boards sent my left foot into an abyss of empty space.Ruth was just able to yank me back to firm ground before I plummeted even further.“An old well,” I explained when I was able to steady myself. 

 

“This place is dangerous, Malc.We’d better go.” 

 

“Just a little longer, love.I just want to see if there is any chance of making a go of this.It was a lot of money to plunk down just to walk away.” 

 

“We can sell it on, Malc.We were suckers.There has to be someone else who will buy into this?"same as we did.” 

 

“Maybe.Let’s go a little further.” 

 

Slowly we moved toward the edge of the cliff until it was Ruth’s turn to stumble.Squatting down, I discovered she had tripped upon what seemed to be the foundation stones of another building.All that was left of it was one side, the other three looking as though they had already made the tumble into the sea. 

 

“Lighthouse, perhaps,” I decided as I glanced out to sea.It would make sense to have one in such a hazardous locale.The waves crashing upon the jagged rocks below suggested the need for one.“The sea has claimed it.How long ago, I have no idea.” 

 

Extracting the large keyring from my front jeans jacket pocket, I turned my steps toward the old Victorian.“You’re not going in there?” Ruth squealed in terror. 

 

“Why not?” I answered, determined to check it out.“We might be able to extract a few antiques.Maybe make some of our money back.” 

 

“You’re crazy.” 

 

“Am I, love?” 

 

“Yes.” 

 

Nevertheless, Ruth accompanied me inside.Whether it was from fear of being left alone or curiosity, I couldn’t guess.Stepping into the foyer beyond the screen and storm door entrance, we were confronted by two identical doorways that opened with different keys.“A duplex,” my wife whispered as each entrance revealed duplicate sitting rooms.“It looks as though the house was split into two dwellings at one time.It wouldn’t have been built like this.” 

 

“You take one side and I’ll take the other,” I suggested as I stepped toward the left-hand doorway. 

 

“Shouldn’t we stay together?” Ruth tentatively questioned. 

 

“It’ll be all right,” I nonchalantly responded.“No such thing as ghosts, remember.” 

 

“No such thing…” she murmured as she entered through the right side. 

 

The parlor greeting me was much as I would have suspected.The settee and chairs were draped with white dust clothes, the mantlepiece held an assortment of framed sepia photographs depicting a bygone era with two large silver candelabra anchoring each end.A painting of an old sea captain dominated the brick chimney.Cobwebs abounded, draping corners in intertwined silks.A musty scent filled the air. 

 

Beyond lay the dining room?"a rounded chamber with bay windows facing the sea.And then the kitchen?"fitted with ominous looking eighteenth-century fittings, rusted with time.Mounting the back stairway, I discovered three bedrooms and a makeshift bathroom complete with claw-footed tub on the second floor; the third contained attic space crammed with an odd assortment of castaway furniture and trunks.A circular staircase led into the turret.What I found was the fittings of a lighted beacon, perhaps installed after the lighthouse took it’s plunge into the tempestuous sea below. 

 

When I stepped out upon the widow’s walk, I felt the dangerous sag of the roof beneath my feet.Gingerly crossing to the opposite tower, I discovered a collection of navigational charts and a worn old globe of the world.The family who once lived in this strange old house must have had close ties to the sea. 

 

Instead of chancing another attempt at the widow’s walk, I exited the tower through the left-hand circular staircase.The other portion of the house was much the same as the one I had already explored.Still since there was no sign of Ruth, I became concerned and thus hurried my footsteps to the first floor. 

 

“A diary, Malcolm,” Ruth stated as soon as I appeared in the front parlor.

 

“Don’t tell me you read all of it in this short time?” I asked. 

 

“Oh, it’s only about fifteen pages,” my wife responded.“But it’s very intriguing.You see, it’s written by this young woman: Clara Jane Chatsworth.She married Captain James Chatsworth and moved into this house shortly after their honeymoon.They lived in this portion of the Victorian while the family of Jason Chatsworth lived in the other side.The two brothers never got along however they inherited this place on the passing of their father and mother.Being at war against each other, they split the house into two sections.Jason living with his wife, Jemima, and two children Cynthia Ann and Colin, in the left side while Captain James lived on the right.Shortly after Clara Jane arrived, her husband departed on a sea voyage.On the night he was set to return, a nor’easter was brewing; the sea was boiling below.For whatever reason, Jason?"he was the lighthouse keeper?"doused the light in the turret above.You see, Malc, the proper lighthouse had already been destroyed.Clara Jane argued with him to relight it; she begged and pleaded with him throughout the night.However, the light was never relit.In the morning, Captain James’s ship was found smashed on the rocks below; his body and those of the ship’s crew were found floating offshore.Clara Jane swore revenge upon Jason Chatsworth and his family.” 

 

“Impressive story.And now you’re going to say Captain James continues to haunt this derelict old ruin.” 

 

“Well, perhaps,” Ruthie conceded as she nibbled on her lower lip.“You see, when I finished the diary, I looked it up on Wikipedia.The Legend of the Chatsworths.After Captain James’s death (or murder, if you would rather), Clara Jane did take her revenge on Jason and his family.She stabbed them to death in their beds.After she completed her gruesome task, she took herself up to the widow’s walk and threw herself over.Suicide.It was a storm filled night; thunder and lightning filling the air.The incident wasn’t discovered for nearly a week later.” 

 

“Not to fear, love,” I consoled, drawing her into a hug.Her shoulders trembled beneath my arms.“It’s over and done with, years and years ago.The Chatsworths can’t hurt us now.”As I spoke, the pressure in the air dropped considerably as thunder roared overhead.“I’ll tell you what, let’s get out of here before it rains.There was a nice little hotel down in the last village we passed.We can put up there for the night and decide what to do about this place in the morning.” 

 

“Good idea,” Ruth agreed.We didn’t make it to the door before the deluge hit. 

 

Swallowing the huge lump that formed in my throat, I solemnly stated: “Looks like we’ll have to camp out here instead.”

 

“Couldn’t we make a run for it?” Ruthie asked.I heard her gulp down her own lump. 

 

“We’d never make it, dear heart.Not in this.You can’t even see the SUV from here.”As the rain slammed down, the sound of the house creaking filled the air. 

 

“Malc, I’m scared.”

 

“Don’t worry, Ruthie,” I responded, steeling myself against the fear that beat in my heart.“We’ll be all right.We can explore a little more.” 

 

“I don’t want to explore, Malc dear.I just want to go and hide.” 

 

“Then we’ll just stay put,” I suggested as I glanced around the room for a means of entertainment.Snatching a candelabra from the mantelpiece, I fidgeted with my lighter until the candles were glowing warmly.“Why not read a book?There are plenty here on the shelves.”Pulling a worn copy of Melville’s MOBY DICK, I reached forward to hand it to Ruth then changed my mind.Perhaps it wasn’t the best choice under the circumstances.Reaching for another, I felt the bookshelf move inward.Giving it a hard shove, it swung in a bit further.“Ruth!Look!A secret passage.” 

 

“Malcolm! NO!” my wife shrieked as I took a step over the threshold.“Please don’t go in there.” 

 

“I’ll just take a peek.Won’t be a minute.”Before she could say another word, I moved beyond the bookcase.A set of steep stone steps lay immediately at my feet.Undaunted, I took the first one then the second.Fifty steps down and I was in a narrow passage leading toward the ocean.The scent of salt water permeated the air.Startled by the touch of Ruth’s stone-cold fingers on my hand, I grasped it tightly before making another move.I hadn’t expected her to follow me.“Stay close,” I whispered. 

 

Moving forward, step by cautious step, with the candelabra held aloft above our heads, our figures cast strange shadows upon the stone walls.This was a scene one could only expect in an old horror movie or the cartoon show SCOOBY DOO, I thought to myself as I grasped the unreality of our predicament.Still, there was no turning back. 

 

“Malc, look!”Ruth’s finger trembled as she pointed ominously toward a slight bend in the tunnel.Standing ghostly in the recess of the turning, the sea captain awaited us, scabbard drawn.Full grey beard, squinted eyes, his hat tilted jauntily to one side, he was a tall figure dressed in captain’s garb.For a minute, I believed he was real.

 

“Shadows, love.”A slight movement of the candelabra, as he was gone.Another move and he was back, then gone again.“See, nothing to fear.” 

 

“He was there, Malcolm.You saw him too.”I had to admit I had seen him.“Let’s go back,” Ruthie pleaded.Instead I took the turning in the passage and continued the exploration until we reached a wide cavern filled with barnacle and seaweed encrusted crates. 

 

“Ammo and rum,” I exclaimed, as I read the labeled contents of the crates.“Looks like our Captain was a smuggler.” 

 

“What’s that on the wall?” Ruth breathed. 

 

Holding the candles high against the damp wall, I read the words written in bold strokes of whitewash: “I ASKED YOU TO STOP!NOW PAY THE CONSEQUENCES!JASON”

 

Well, it didn’t take us long to hightail it back to the house.Firmly closing the bookcase door shut behind us, we left one horror behind only to be left with the original one.Ruth by this time was completely terrorized.Again she asked me to abandon the property, but the storm continued the rage outside.We had to hold out until morning.If we snuggled close on the couch, perhaps we could alleviate some of our fears.Having agreed to the immediate course of action, with a swift movement, I grabbed the dust cloth off the couch with a flourish.How Ruth screamed!“Ghost, Ghost, GHOST!” she shrieked, her voice going up several octaves. 

 

“It’s just the dust cloth,” I declared, sorry for my action.“Come, sit down and I’ll hold you all night long.” 

 

Slowly she moved toward me and sat, stiff backed on the settee.Taking my place beside her, I draped my arm across her shoulder and pulled her into my embrace.Exhausted, we must have drifted into sleep only to be awoken by the call of soft voices. 

 

“Get out,” came the voice of a small girl.“Get out,” echoed the tones of a small boy.Overhead their transparent bodies floated as they continued their call. 

 

“Leave this place, leave, oh please leave.”This time a spectral woman appeared in the folds of the drapery; her wailing was filled with tears.Still, the children continued to chant from overhead. 

 

Overpowering the smaller voices, a loud male one shouted out: “GET OUT NOW!”The phantom lighthouse keeper strode into the room, his finger pointed threateningly toward the door.Ruth and I didn’t require any stronger invitation than the one given.Within moments, we were running through the muddy drive toward our SUV.Yanking the doors opened, we flung our rain-soaked bodies onto the bucket seats.Turning the ignition, I slammed the gearshift into reverse and spun the wheels deeper into the sludge.Although we felt safe in our vehicle, we were still in the thrall of the Old Vic. 

 

As we sat transfixed with the derelict relic of a dwelling before our eyes, a tremendous crash filled the air as the precipice gave way.The Victorian held on but for only a moment, tilted viciously over the edge, it swayed forward, hung in space for one instant then disappeared over the ledge. 

 

After a stilted moment, Ruth whispered, “They saved us, Malc.The ghosts saved our lives.”I had to agree. 

 

In the early morning hours, when the torrents stopped, I was able to find a few old boards to wedge beneath the wheels of the SUV to release us from the quagmire that made up the dooryard of the Old Vic.We didn’t stop driving until we were over state lines and found a cozy room in the closest Days Inn. 

 

By mutual agreement, Malcolm and Ruth officially left the real estate business behind.


Submitted: October 25, 2020

© Copyright 2020 Lea Sheryn. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Joe Stuart

I enjoy a good supernatural mystery, Lea, and you didn't let me down with this one. It was a pleasant change to have the ghosts save the protagonist's lives. Ghosts can be nice sometimes too. You did build up the tension, though, and the story could have gone in a quite different direction. I'm glad it didn't. (I wonder if the house was insured.)

Sun, October 25th, 2020 9:32pm

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