by Jessica Jewett
Granny always said a house was a keeper of secrets, and Amy hated that old house the minute she took the tour guide job for extra money during summer break. Three weeks into it, she seriously considered walking away. They didn’t know! How could they? No one else wanted to close up at night. The historical society suits always sacrificed on the altar of escaping before dark.
“Night, Amy!” shouted the new girl as she swung her purse over her shoulder and bolted for the door. Even the new girl understood.
With the latch of the front door, isolation pressed on her as if nothing else existed. She wondered, as she turned off display lights, how such a cavernous 19th century house could feel so claustrophobic. A fleeting thought of being trapped in the darkness of a coffin jolted her so violently that she dropped a feather duster.
“Shit,” she cursed under her breath.
Clearly, the house wasted no time with despotic control. She rushed through sweeping, washing fingerprints off windows and display cases, and climbed a rather overly theatrical curved staircase to the second floor. Really, the architectural drama in those old-fashioned houses amused her. She couldn’t envision a family laughing with each other in such melodramatic surroundings. Whenever she thought of that old family, they looked like a sad painting in a museum. She gave herself over to those mindless ideas to combat the domination of that damned house.
Amy rushed so thoroughly that she nearly missed a series of crayon marks on the floor in the second bedroom. It had been the nursery in its day and people often left their kids there so they could enjoy the tour without distraction, but kids constantly left damage. Irritated, she crouched with a bottle of floor cleaner and a rag. Even if the house was melodramatic, that didn’t mean little brats should be left to ruin original floorboards!
Irrational, overpowering waves of rage spread through her veins with every heartbeat. Somewhere a shadow of rationality peeked from the back of her mind but a new wave of rage obliterated it. Crayon marks long since disappeared but she couldn’t stop herself from scrubbing harder and rubbing her fingers raw with cleaning solution. Stop, her thoughts screamed. Stop! But she couldn’t. It always happened that way. Every bit of damage to the house pushed her into depths of fury.
Only the whiff of sweetness broke the moment. Floral air rolled past her nose, pulling her away from the oppression. She awoke, blankly peering at her hands. The palpable awareness of her quickening heart brought sweat to the surface of her skin. The perfume hung in the air, even bringing the pungent cleaning solution into submission.
Amy laughed at herself and dropped the rag. She reprimanded herself for letting her fear get the best of her. Five groups of school field trips were enough to make anyone a little insane by the end of the day.
Still, the aroma of honeysuckle hung in the air.
Fresh air awaited her on the hallway balcony. She flipped off the light but immediate regret stabbed her. She should have left but a creaking floorboard begged for attention. If she had been in her right mind, the cliché development would have been funny, but she turned to face the interior of the room with foreboding.
Blue-gray shadows undulated and lifted from the floor like a water fountain coming to life. The cloud blocked light from the window. A head formed, then shoulders, a waist, and finally, a billowing skirt faded into the invisible world from where it came. Muted color bled into the feminine figure and Amy recognized the dress from a century past. The honeysuckle perfume became so overpowering that she feared she might suffocate. Everything in her body told her to run.
“Do not walk away from your duty! Finish what you started!” The voice filled the nursery as demanding as it was angry but the elegant woman’s mouth never moved.
Amy’s eyes narrowed. Offense at being ordered around like a housemaid actually overrode her fear. “You don’t live here anymore!”
The figure morphed from an elegant lady to a creature Amy couldn’t identify. The face melted into an elongated, grotesque version of itself and the mouth went so black that she feared it would reveal the doorway to hell. Her eyes darkened and as she floated closer, Amy found her legs again. She ran. She stumbled on the stairs and flung herself out of the front door.
Poor Amy never set foot in that house again, nor did she make fun of the melodramatic oil painting of a family that lived in that house a century ago.Read More