I have decided to serialize a short story I have been working on. Beginning today I plan on putting up a few chapters in six installments. Hope you enjoy!
A young woman in a stricken marriage is plagued by demonic dreams and restless nights, until a home is uncovered within the forest near her home. As her obsession grows the home’s power over herself and her town threatens their livelihood and their lives.
Gabriella was dead. It was the oddest sensation. A slight tingle that began at the base of her brain and ebbed its way throughout the network of nerves that netted her body. Only it wasn’t in her body, because she didn’t have a body. Putting a hand in front of her face she was aware that she felt nothing, smelled nothing and heard nothing. Not even the thump, thump, thump of blood rushing past her ear drums; the annoying persistent beat that normally would have filled such a complete silence. The urge to laugh seized her, although she couldn’t imagine why seeing as she was dead and she didn’t want to be. It was the lightness that did it, like nitrous oxide without the root canal.
Her nothingness came into focus and she began to understand a gravity to be present here. Perhaps not a gravity but an order to things. What went up, what went down, and where up and down were respectively. She knew these things instinctively. Then she realized in the same instant that she had retained sight, and with this sense she was able to know that she was being watched. Eyes surrounded her, light and dark, blue, brown, green, and amber; in every shade and shape and size they surrounded her, uniform only in their constant possession of a round bead of water that nestled in the corner of each lash-line, waiting to shiver free. The ball of regret shook there for a few moments before finally falling into the nothingness. Suddenly, she felt again. A gnawing feeling within her soul and becoming frightened she summoned her weakened powers of concentration and she could see that these were not eyes but windows.
She was in a house, with windows and doors and furniture. She had a body although she did not care for it as she had when she was living. There was no fear of pain or promise of eventual life. It was just a memento of being human, something she’d become accustomed to. The darkness lifted and a white light flowed through it. The shutters flickered open and closed, like Betty Davis’s eyelashes as she coyly smoked her cigarette. There was smoke, or maybe it was fog, microscopic chips of paint flaking away from the house so quickly it changed color before her eyes.
The fog turned to dust. So much dust it kicked up and swirled as Gabby explored the endless passageways of the mansion. Dark wood, slick as tree sap, covered the walls and floors. Portraits of long dead inhabitants and a plate full of half eaten lasagna, burned lasagna, sat on an ornately carved table. Deep inside Gabby knew she must have made it. Another dish she had burned.
Brushing a palm against a floor to ceiling canvas to remove the grime Gabby found herself staring at herself. A version of herself more beautiful, and well-bred with rosier lips, a happier blush, and a more assertive demeanor made evident by tightly squared shoulders. It was suffocating. Or maybe the dust had begun to have it effects. With a heavy wheeze she attempted to cough but couldn’t. Her body seized and she threw herself forward beginning to panic as she choked on air. Beating her fists into her chest she worked to free the obstruction from her lungs to no avail. She was already dead and still dying. What bad luck is that?
The tightness enveloped her and she felt her arms restricted, her back hot with the fire of a hard assault and finally, with some effort Gabby forced the cloud from her chest. Blinking Gabby found she had begun to tear with the effort, but through her blurry eyes she could also see she was in her bedroom and awake.
“Are you alright?” Mac asked, still half-asleep but awkwardly aware he’d just punched his wife in the back.
Letting out a weak cough just to assure herself she could she nodded, “yeah. I think it was dust or hair or something.”
“You had a hair ball?” Mac asked.
Gabby winced. “Ew. No, go back to bed.”
Mac rolled his eyes and turned on his side, within moment he was asleep. How could he do that, just shut off.
Putting a bare foot to the cold floor she got out of bed and made her way down the stairs and to the kitchen. Grabbing a large steak knife she returned to the hall and, in complete darkness, cut into one of the large moving boxes she still hadn’t unpacked. She shredded the top of one labeled Wedding Gifts. Inside were eight pristine and no doubt expensive crystal goblets her in-laws had purchased for them. They hadn’t bee on the registry. Gabby’s mother-in-law knew how much Gabby looked forward to getting her own mother’s depression glass for the new home, but here they were, someone’s else’s idea of classy. The urge to throw the glass was strong, and Gabby knew the Gabriella in the painting would have smashed it. Instead, Gabby rinsed it and filled it with water.
The house was small but the kitchen was large for their price-range. It had an island with cheap white Formica and leaning on it Gabby could overlook their butcher block table and more packing boxes. They had lived in the house for three months but hadn’t found the desire to unpack. They simply took out what they needed, which probably said a lot for how much superfluous items they’d amassed. A scurry above made Gabby think of the empty rooms above. There were so many places a mouse could find refuge, her studio with blank canvases along the walls, the guest room without guests or furniture, the nursery with an un-built crib.
For the millionth time since moving in Gabby wanted to walk the twelve blocks across town to her parents’ house and curl up in her old room. The Lithuanian couple now renting it wouldn’t be pleased but they could deal. Her parents had put the house on the market the moment she and Mac had graduated college and gotten engaged and even then Gabby had felt it was too hasty. Mac refused to buy it. Too many old memories he said. Like a photo album you buy half filled with someone else’s mementos.
Finishing her water she returned to restless sleep and dusty dreams.
‘Bulbs. Bulbs. Bulbs.’ Gabby kept the chant going and found herself matching the words to her pace. Running had seemed like a good sport to pick up. It was free, time-flexible, and supposedly it freed your mind. Her creative block had come at an inopportune moment as she’d finally been given a bid to illustrate a children’s novel. The introduction had been Gloria’s and accepting help from her mother in-law was like eating glass. Now, she couldn’t produce and there were only eight weeks until her mock-ups were due. The pressure made Gabby run faster and she forgot her shopping-reminder mantra. Her garden would never get any bulbs. This year her little patch of earth would look just as forgotten as the rest of her house did.
Waving to Mr. Withers, Gabby slowed to a jog and stopped, catching her breath and making a show of admiring his newly finished mosaic-mailbox.
“This is mighty fine work.” Gabby smiled, finding herself slipping into the dialect of a 50s housewife, hands on hips and shoulders tilted back for the full effect.
Dave Withers smiled and patted the red and white box. “Rachel sent it from New York. She’s into stone work now.” His face gloomed over and he whispered quietly, “Thank goodness. I was running out of places to put her little cat statues.”
Gabby smiled. She had received a number of flora and fauna miniatures herself. Her high school best friend just kept making them and sending them. Gabby assumed they were a sign of pity. Poor Gabby couldn’t become a struggling artist inBrooklynlike we planned because she got married and moved home, here have a ceramic cat.
“She likeNew York?”
“Oh yes, yes. Always asks about you. I told her about your book. Very excited!” Mr. Withers smiled at the thought of his grand-daughter living in the big city. As the bus driver for all kids south of the highway he knew everyone’s secrets from kindergarten until high school. He was the only one not surprised when Rachel dropped out of college and studied art with hobos in Quarry; Kansas’s answer to an underground art scene.
A loud clang adopted Gabby’s attention and she began to look around for the source. “What the heck?”
“It’s been going on all morning. My wife turned her hearing aid off an hour ago. They’re getting rid of all the trees on the bluff.”
“Oh, wow. I had my ear buds in. When did they announce this?” Gabby’s face betrayed her unhappiness. The forest that dominated the cliff was what gave Cliffwood its name, the town was nothing without the backdrop of a looming oak grove. Turning to examine the bluff Gabby blocked out the morning sun with one hand. She’d been running all morning with her eyes down to the ground to avoid the long glare of the fall sun.
“Oh my g-.” Gabby felt her throat close. She needed to cough but couldn’t. “The dust.” She croaked.
“What?” Mr. Withers yelled begging her to speak up.
“Oh yes. It is a surprise isn’t it. I think the mayor will be quite upset. All that hoopla about getting an ordinance to take down a few trees and then there’s that!”
“What is it? I never knew that was there. I swear, I never knew.”
Mr. Withers eyed her delicately. “I believe you dear. I don’t think anyone did. My wife and I didn’t move here until the 50s. We never heard anything about there being a home up there, especially a mansion like that!”
Gabby watched the bulldozer drop mounds of dirt from its jaws. The home was huge, gigantic really. Despite what she imagined was a considerable age spent in neglect, from this distance the place was perfect. Simple white pillars graces each side and the front, or maybe it was the back, stood strong with large windows looking out onto the town. In the middle the midnight black roof was interrupted by a large widow’s peak. In its prime the home must have been amazing, horse drawn carriages edging their way up the cliffs, torches lighting each floor, there were so many! Gabby pinched herself. Her brain was in shambles, trying, with little result, to pull at threads of a long forgotten nightmare. There was nothing there, yet she knew, beyond reasonable doubt, that this here was the house haunted her, with Betty Davis eyes.