Authors: Cathrina Constantine
I plowed my sneakered toes into the berm and began to scale the incline. While holding onto the umbrella with one hand, my free arm draggled over the muddy plane for leverage. I slipped and caught myself prior to face planting; my hand was rooted in sludge. Slurping my fingers out of the impacted mud hole, I achieved the tracks.
I scraped my hands on the wooden ties, smearing it with gooey muck and brushed the remainder on my jeans. Then I squinted into a pane of rain to judge the entrance to the Lucien property. After walking a few yards, I dug my heels into the downward berm into the Estate. It was quite a menagerie of undergrowth. I trekked to a deteriorating gazebo with a sagging roofline, finding a brief reprieve from the downpour.
The moldy floorboard groaned under my weight while stepping to the outer edge of the gazebo. The Lucien monstrosity stood bleak and foreboding in the encapsulating shadows. In the uppermost window my eyes caught hold of a dim light; it wasn’t hard to miss in the gloom. Fixing my sight on the window, it then turned black. Minutes later a light shone in the fourth window. Someone was inside the mansion.
Protected from the elements under the umbrella, I snaked between mangles of shrubbery, over the slate path to the side of the mansion to the wraparound porch. Upon finding the opening where Henry had pried a weathered plank from the window frame last week, I dropped the umbrella and squirmed through the hole.
Landing on my hands and knees, I stood and dusted dirt on my thighs while adapting to the dreariness. Thoughts of kicking myself in the ass crossed my mind at this harebrained enterprise. First things first, turn on my flashlight. I advanced through the mansion like a covert spy and winced at the noise of my squishing sneakers. Delineated wet footprints trailed behind me on the crusty floorboards.
My leg batted something hard. “Ooaf…stupid couch.” The couch was again covered with what was at one time was a white sheet, but had faded to grubby yellow. The last time I was here, Henry had discarded the sheet, but he must’ve recovered it since. If he still contemplated a Halloween spookfest, the sheathed furniture provided the room with a haunted feeling.
At the banister I called up the staircase, “Henry, are you here?” My body recoiled at a strident bang. Henry gave me a signal or, a burglar was looking for goodies. If my second scenario held true, then I was shit out of luck.
Not dawdling and clinging to the banister, I breezed up the stairs to the second floor landing. My eye’s adjusted into the extended hallway—a shape floated by with long silvery hair. This time I whispered, “Is that you, Henry?” Either Henry was wearing a wig to scare me, or Monique Baskerville’s ghost decided to make an appearance.
“Up here…” My head jerked to the distinct words coming from above.
“Henry, I just peed myself,”—singing the words—“just in case you’re wondering.” I turned and squelched around the banister to take the third set of stairs. My skin chilled with a creepy feeling that someone followed me. I halted. Whoever or whatever had also stopped.
Like a motorized robot I took one stair at a time—wait and listen, wait and listen. A rustle and sensing a presence, I twisted in place. White misty flecks evaporated into thin air leaving behind a lingering scent. An extremely familiar perfume—
? “Mom, is that you?” I held my breath and half expected her to respond.
Witnessing a ghost loosened my vocal chords, “Henry! I need you!”— and chugged up the staircase faster than a locomotive. “Henry, He-n-n-ry!”
The velocity of my feet was astronomical as I panted like a thirsty dog. For a second time, I heard, “Up here!” Assuming it was Henry, I looped the banister and sprinted to the top story. The staircase had narrowed considerably as I arrived at a slender six-panel door.
I recaptured evocative memories: Twelve years old, holding Mom’s hand exploring the mansion. It was daylight and we were trespassing, though, Mom had said, “Consider this a unique history lesson—”
Like a horror-struck little girl my voice quavered. “He-n-r-y…” Breathing in a hailstorm of dust, I sneezed.
“Bless you…” intoned a remote willowy voice.
“Is that you, Henry?”
Approximately thirty feet in front of me was the mammoth, circular stained glass window. Another keen recollection came to life. The incredible scene played in my brain, remembering it well: Mom and I performing pirouettes and danced as a spectrum of colors entwined our bodies.
Not as prismatic at night and considerably grimier than the last time I was up here. The window centered the main gable that faced the facade of the mansion. Lower, on either side of the stained glass, two rectangular windows. Which one Monique Baskerville dived out of was a source of conjecture.
Jagged holes and pieces of glass were now lying on the hardwood floor. The windows let in delicate night light as my sneakers crackled on the broken glass. Extending my hand I touched the cooled stained-glass and brought my eyes close to a broken gap and peered into the night. My old house came into view and, shocked to witness a female figure. In a memorable flowery sundress, she stood on the path looking up at me—“Mom.”
I blinked. She was gone. My overactive imagination taunted me.
Orbiting to the left, the huge, ornate framed photograph still remained where Mom and I had dragged it years ago. Lightly, so not to damage the photo, I administered the sleeve of my jacket and dusted the black and white print. An attractive man garnishing a head of curly dark hair and a handlebar mustache stood staunchly next to a high-backed Victorian chair. Sitting in the chair, an exquisite young woman was dressed in a lacy wedding gown. She had poufy, silvery blond hair.
The unplumbed eyes of Lucien and Monique looked at me. My bones turned to ice as I gazed at the thin smiles decorating their faces. At the moment the picture had been taken, little had they fathomed what impending tragedy awaited them.
At the sound of a minuscule squeak, I splashed the light on a plethora of cobwebbed debris: an armoire, bureaus, antiquated lamp stands, a mountain of junk from ages past. Then rotating, I saw a partially opened doorway: A constructed addendum to the attic, the room of Louisa Alcott, servant and mother of Lucien’s bastard son.
I shuffled over and shone my light into the room. Bypassing one lone casement window and alighting on a bed. A modern day comforter and sheets were disheveled like someone had just risen, and next to the bed was a small table with a vase. What stumped me was a flowering lily eluding a zesty fragrance.
Entranced, I moved in. My flashlight marked the trumpeting white lily. I touched the milky petals and bringing my fingers to my nose, breathed in its reminiscent scent. Above, a picture frame had been tacked to the wall. I transferred the beam from the lily, its glow chased upward. In dazed alarm, I gawked at my mother. So vivacious in life, a waterfall of blond hair gushed over her shoulders and her eyes twinkled like blue diamonds in her smiling face. Why was her picture hanging in the Lucien attic?
Averse to leaving her beauty, I sheared the light to the disorderly bed. At closer inspection, russet splotches dappled the sheets. Deducing the stains to be dried blood, I found the inability to blink or to avert my eyes from the splotches. Like a warning gong, my heart thunked against my ribcage. What happened in this room?
Grabbed from behind, I jumped. My primal scream reverberated throughout the mansion. “H-h-h..en..ry!”
“For chrissakes. Shut the hell up. It’s only me.” He held my shoulders. “Stop shaking so much.”
“E-e..asy, for…you to say,” I whimpered with a patent catch to my voice.
His arms strapped my trembling body, drawing me to the bed. “No-o-oo…!” Comprehending his objective, I shoved his chest and vaulted from the room like a sword swinging Lucien Baskerville was chasing me. I lost my footing and tumbled down the first flight of stairs. Cringing and scrambling upright, I achieved supernatural adrenaline.
“Leo, stop!” Coming swiftly from the rear was Henry, pounding down the steps.
“You’re out of your frickin’ mind,” I shouted. “I’m out of here!”
I slowed to finagle my dive out of the living room window and onto the porch. My feet skittered to a stop on the bordering walkway which outlined the Lucien Estate. I raggedly inhaled.
Henry jogged up beside me, then bent over to grip his knees catching his breath. “Phew, you sure can run fast.”
On the downside of catatonic, I glanced up at the stained glass window. Feeling impaled with dust mites and itchy all over, I scrubbed my hand beneath my nose like I was trying to separate it from my face.
“What’s the matter with you?” He harassed, fixing his glasses. “My intentions were
honorable. Raping you did cross my mind, but figured I’d wait.”
Cutting my gaze from the window to Henry, I scathed. “Not in the least bit funny.”
“See, I helped. You went from fainting to enraged. My tactic worked.”
“Ummm…” I whacked him in the arm and actually felt better. “Did you see the blood on the sheets?”
His brows pulled tight. “You mean those stains?”
“It’s dried blood.” I raked my hands over my shirt and jeans ridding the feeling of bugs.
“Cool. Ancient blood.”
“It’s not ancient blood.” My adrenaline exhausted, the frantic feat zapped my oomph. I sunk to the sidewalk and sat on the heels of my sneakers. “The room looked like it’d been cleaned, and those sheets and comforter were modern. “Did you see that fresh lily?”
He squatted to his haunches. “Yes. And I doubt the ghost took up a broom and picked flowers to add atmosphere to the room.”
“You saw the ghost too?”
He nodded with enthusiasm. Wiggling his eyebrows, he sung, “Ha-a-unted.” He placed his hand on my knee. “Think—Epic. Halloween. Party.”
“Did you see the picture hanging on the wall?” I needed to ask, making sure I wasn’t imagining things.
“Yes. I’ve seen her before. In your bedroom.” He shed his glasses, and using a fingertip brushed his eyebrow. “A picture of you and that woman is on your desk. I assume it’s your mom.”
I sniffed and nodded. “Why is there a picture of her up there?” I climbed to my feet. “Why?” I looked to him seeking unfounded answers.
Clicking off the flashlight, I stuffed it into my pocket. “I forgot my umbrella on the porch. Go get it, Henry.”
“Me?” He appeared insulted. “I’m not your indentured servant. You go get it.”
“Please, pretty please.”
A disproportionate curl spilled into his mouth. “I’ll get it if you go to the dance with me.”
“How about…” I thought for a second. “I consider your invite?”
“It’s better than an eff-off.” His head tilted. “I’m not totally against a pity date.” He jaunted up the yard to retrieve Nona’s umbrella.
The rains had reduced to a tolerable drizzle. Commencing at a vigorous pace, we made it to Westgate Road by ten o’clock. “Be ready by seven fifteen tomorrow,” Henry said while turning into his driveway. “I forgot my homework in my locker and I want to get it done in homeroom.”
“I’ll be ready.” It seemed like a natural reply. Then I recalled Nona’s advice not to drive to school with him.
Entering my house, Dad’s snores sounded like the roar of a lawn mower. There was an empty whiskey bottle on the cupboard, he was wasted. I scrounged around in the refrigerator, then chowed down a leftover piece of pizza and poured a glass of milk. In the meantime, I phoned Nona to convey the catastrophic events.
“That’s freaky,” she said. “I don’t know what to say to make you feel better, except maybe to stay away from that haunted place.”
“You know Henry wants to have a Halloween party there. He’s contriving all sorts of scary things to jump out at you.”
She grunted into her cell. “I remember sneaking into the Lucien place with you years ago, and it scared me even in the daylight. That oddball Henry is right though, it’d make for one hell of a party.”
After my conversation with Nona, I walked into my bedroom and disrobed, slinging my damp clothes over the chair. My eyes came in contact with the photo of Mom. I picked up the frame and lay on my bed. “Why is your picture in the Lucien mansion? You were there tonight, weren’t you?” I waited for her to speak. “I wish you could tell me what happened. Who killed you?”
“But it’s Monday, Nona. Who goes out on a Monday?” The lunchroom was jamming. Subsequent to the weekends, evasive scandal flared through school like a forest fire. I shifted my butt on the hard chair, experiencing every pang and cramp due to my stumble down the Lucien staircase.
“We do, hun.” She seemed lost in space, playing with a short strand of hair around her finger. “Its girl’s night out.”
“Where are we going?” I concentrated on winding spaghetti noodles on my fork tines. “Not that I’m agreeing to this.”
“Marcy wants to go to that new club on Dumont Street.”
“What kind of club?” I forked saucy noodles into my mouth and spoke with a mouthful. “Don’t you have to be eighteen to get into those places?”
Nona picked at her food. “Why would she ask us to go there if you have to be eighteen?”
“Because, Marcy’s eighteen and we’re not.” Snatching my paper napkin, I blotted my mouth. It came away with red sauce. “She’d love to make us look ridiculous.”
“You’re probably right.” Nona’s lips ruffled to the side. “But I need to go, and I want my best friend with me.”
“What’s going on?” I knew her well enough to know that something was bothering her. “Why is it so important that you go out tonight?”
“Reggie’s getting too comfortable in our relationship.” She appeared harsh with a lined forehead, and ringed her hair behind her ear. “He’s taking me for granted.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I usually don’t walk down by the art rooms, but Mr. Cleaver asked me to drop a message to room 110, and I saw Reggie talking to Missy Charles.”
“So, what’s the big deal? You flirt with all the boys too.”
She dramatically shook her head. “My flirting is not serious, it’s funny, good-natured.”
“Okay, I’ll give you that.”
“You can read body language can’t you?”
“Missy had her back to the locker looking up at Reggie, and he leaned over her with his arm on the locker next to her head. You know, close talking.” Adding an eyebrow tweak, her mouth compressed. “Sounds bad, doesn’t it?”
Not a dating guru, I said, “It’s probably nothing. Reggie loves you.”
“I thought he did, but now—”
“I guess we’re going out.”
After rendering a poignant smile, she managed a brusque chuckle. “Yeah, Baby, we’re going dancing tonight.”
I fussed with my hair and makeup before rummaging through my closet. Nona insisted we dress hotter than hot, and my clothes were moderate and tempered at mild. I chose a vintage dress that hugged my paltry curves and wedged my feet into a pair of red spiked heels. Scrutinizing at my reflection in the mirror, I felt amply outfitted.
Nona and I were meeting Marcy, Blair, and Grace at Club Seven, and for once Dad let me borrow the car. Whether after Mom’s death he thought I’d drive myself off a cliff or smash into a building, he had guarded his immaculate Ford against my grubby little fingers. “You can use the car tonight,” he punctuated with caution. “But I have to work late for the rest of the week. No hanky-panky. I want to trust you.”
“I’ll be fine. You can trust me.” I steamed after his trite postscript, knowing it was in relation to my short-lived drug abuse. “You haven’t had to work late in a while.” Dad wasn’t comatose yet, probably nursing a hangover from yesterday’s all dayer.
“Always gets crazy the closer we get to the holidays. People moving their money around.” Envelopes spread over the kitchen table in random order where he sat writing checks, paying bills. “I just paid the car insurance. No fender benders, okay?”
“Got it.” I strode to the hall closet to search for my raincoat. “See you later.” I pinched the keys from the peg.
“What—no kiss goodbye for your old man?” He tapped his cheek with his finger.
I pecked his cheek and headed out the door.
Nona must’ve been waiting for me, as soon as I pulled into her driveway she strutted out. Her chin held high, polished ebony hair, poker straight riding an inch off her shoulders, and her multihued dress dazzled her voluptuousness. Slipping into the car, her demeanor seemed slightly off-kilter.
“Is everything cool?” I asked.
“I just had a blow out with Reggie.”
“Oh, not cool.” I steered for Club Seven on Dumont Street. “What’d he say?”
“He’s mad because I’m going out with the girls.”
“Really? The guy doesn’t own you.” I noticed her glossy eyes. “It only goes to prove he loves you.”
“I used to think so, but now I’m wondering if he thinks of me as his personal property.”
Deflecting the sore subject I said, “You look hot, girl! I love that dress. Let’s have fun.”
“Absolutely.” She offered a preoccupied smile.
We were admitted into Club Seven regardless of age. The bouncer sighted us from head to toe. “Gimme your hand sweet thing.” He printed an X on my hand with a magic marker, and then Nona. “That X means no alcohol, girls.”
“We figured that out,” Nona rejoined with a sharp edge. The clickety-clack of our heels vibrated in the long entrance into the club. “Have you heard anything from Becket?”
“Not since yesterday morning,” I said. “I saw him in the hallway after sixth period talking to Marcy. Kind of in the same way you saw Reggie talking to Missy.”
We straight-armed the dual doors into a surfeit of bodies grinding to a definitive beat of music. A kaleidoscope of neon blasted the room and smoke whorled over the floor. “Freakin’ gnarly,” I chirped. “There’s the girls.” We wended through the diverse crowd touting a guise of pure hotness.
“Hey. Glad you could make it,” Marcy said, like she really meant it. “Here have a drink.”
“Ah…” I dithered and showed my hand. “I thought this stylish X marked us like the plague.”
“There’s a couple of guys that buy our drinks,” Blair said. “We give them a little tip.”
“Sounds good to me.” In a provocative motion, Nona glided her hands down the side of her hips. “Keep ‘em coming.”
I felt like Nona and I switched roles. I hope there’d be no regrets in the morning.
The night was a nice diversion, whittling away my deep-rooted anxiety. My chest pumped with the rhythmic beat as we united our bodies to the dancing throng. Moving and grooving until my arms and neck felt clammy, I didn’t want to stop even when nature called. I said, “I’ll be right back.” The girls nodded in unison. Since I was the designated driver, it was time to sober up.
While in the restroom, I learned what the name Club Seven insinuated. As depicted on an elaborate lithograph on the wall, it stood for the seven deadly sins: Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Pride, Lust, Envy, and Gluttony. The devils den and having a helluva good time.
Using a paper towel, I swabbed my beaded face and neck and tended to my makeup before heading into the club. Though, I stalled and gazed at the obnoxious representation of lust. Marcy burst through the door just at that moment.
“That’s a real eye-catcher, isn’t it?” she said.
She seemed to be searching the room, making sure the stalls were unoccupied. “I wanted to speak to you in private. Do you mind?”—and gestured me back toward the sinks. While passing the mirrors, she stopped to admire herself. She licked her fingertip and slathered it over her eyebrow. “I wanted to let you know before you found out the hard way.”
I abhorred her uppity tone and expected the worse.
“Becket and I are going to the Homecoming dance together. I just thought you ought to know before getting your hopes up.”