The saying goes "Someone has skeletons in their closet." But what about the basement? When Luke and Heidi inherit an old Victorian home in quite Philomath, Oregon, they think it will be a dream come true. The house needed work, but it was quiet and peaceful. As they start renovating, they find a treasure trove of expensive antiques. It begs the question "Why would anyone leave this stuff behind?" Heidi starts to notice something is wrong. The house feels weird and something is attacking her. Through research, they discover two different families lived in the house before, one met a tragic end and the other a mysterious one.
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We turned into the gravel driveway. Huge oak trees lined both sides. Underbrush twisted and tangled itself in between and twisted up the massive trunks. The woods behind were dense and dark. No sunlight could reach the forest floor. Poison ivy twisted is poisonous tendrils around the moss-covered trunks. Ferns grew taller than any I had ever seen. I didn’t notice any chipmunks or squirrels. I didn’t see or hear any birds. At the slow speed we drove up the long, winding driveway I thought for sure there would be some sign of life.
The trees and underbrush gave way to overgrown bushes and waist high grass. The house stood in the center of the shaded clearing. The ancient Victorian building looked like it was being reclaimed by nature. Large vines grew up the front of the house, over the railing of the covered wrap-around porch and nearly reached the second story. The moss-covered roof sagged in spots and the siding was gray and weather beaten.
All the windows were boarded up. At each corner of the front, there was a turret that ended in a point above the second story roof. The roof was slightly angled except in the very center. There was a tower with a window facing north, south, east and west. These were also boarded up. The roof of the tower came to a point that reminded me of a carousel top. I had never been inside the house, but I knew that the tower would be my favorite part. When Luke and I looked at the pictures online, I knew I wanted this to be a library and office.
We drove around the circle driveway, and I noticed a marble fountain in the center yard. The four-tiered structure was bigger than any fountain I had ever seen. Around the bottom, four Pegasus horses were carved to look as if they were flying out of waves. The next bowl looked as if four mermaids held it over their heads. The third bowl was held up by oyster shells. Each of the four shells were open just enough to support a statue of Poseidon and his trident. The bottom bowl looked as big in diameter as one of the collapsible family pools. Thick vines grew up, over and all around the fountain trying to hide the treasure.
Luke put the car in park and shut off the engine. In the few seconds of silence, we gave each other a reassuring smile. We both knew this house would take a lot of work, but like everything else we would do it side by side. It would have been nice if the lawyer had told us exactly how much work. The pictures he showed us had to be old ones.
One by one the kids started waking up. Sleepy, grunting stretches broke the silence. Our children were 15, 12 and 7. Oliver was the oldest, next Maddy, and last Layla. As they woke up, they started getting out of the car and inspected their surroundings. Various looks of shock, horror, disgust and confusion crossed their faces. Luke and I stood with our arms around each other, our backs to the house, and watched their faces.
Oliver was the first to break the silence. “When you said it needed work, I wasn’t expecting this.” He motioned to the house. “We should just drop a bomb and build something else. With this child everything was either doom or gloom. There was no middle ground with him. He hardly ever saw the bright side of anything. Everyone told me it was just his age, but it still drove me crazy.
Before Luke or I had a chance to respond, Maddy let a horrified shriek. “My phone doesn’t work! Mom, you guys are ruining my life! How far are we from the mall?”
“The mall is about an hour away.” I responded calmly.
“Does this place even have electricity? Or are we going to be living like the pioneers?”
“Don’t be dumb, Maddy. Of course, Mom and Dad wouldn’t make us live like that. Can I start exploring? Can my room be the princess tower at the top? When was the last time someone lived here?” Layla asked her questions in quick succession, not leaving any room for us to answer them.
Luke laughed and caught her as she rushed towards the house “Wait a minute, Little Miss. We need to wait for the inspector. Once we make sure no one will fall through the floor or get hurt, then we can look around.”
I caught the eye rolling and huffs from the older two. “Listen guys, I know this place looks like a heap, but it is going to be amazing when we are done. There is electricity and running water. We are only a half an hour away from town. I am pretty sure we can even get cable and internet. It will just take a little bit of work.”
Oliver looked at me with a skeptical smirk. “More like a 20-man crew working around the clock for a year.”
“If that is what it takes then that’s what will happen.” Luke replied. “When my grandpa left us this house, he left more than enough money to make it perfect.”
“Then why didn’t he do it?” Maddy mumbled under her breath.
Before I could reply, I heard the sound of vehicles coming up the driveway. The first car I didn’t recognize. I assumed it must have been the inspector. The next was my parents in their SUV. The last was Luke’s parents in their pick-up. I noticed the back of the truck was filled with weed eaters, a riding lawn mower and various other yard tools. Luke greeted the inspector while Layla and I went to welcome our other guests. Oliver and Maddy continued to display their contempt over the situation by shutting themselves in our Suburban.
“Grammy! Isn’t this place amazing!” Layla shouted as she ran to my mom. “Grammy, Dad said I couldn’t explore the house. Can you make him?”
My mom laughed and looked down at the child clinging to her leg like a monkey. “Why did Daddy say you couldn’t explore the house?” She asked. Already knowing that Layla didn’t provide all the details.
“Cause the inspector has to say that I won’t get hurt first.” Layla knew she lost her cause.
“Well then I think we should wait for the inspector. Because no one wants anyone to get hurt.” My mom laughed at the pouting face staring back at her.
When Luke’s parents joined us, Layla tried them. “Grandma Laurel, he is your son, can’t you make him?”
Laurel laughed and hugged her. “We should listen to Dad, Darling. Grammy Diane was right, no one wants to be hurt.”
“Ah, getting hurt is part of growing up.” Jerry, my father-in-law tweaked her nose. He gave me a big hug. “Hey, Joe, do you mind giving me a hand with the stuff in the truck?” he asked my father.
Finally relenting that she wasn’t going to get anywhere with her grandparents, Layla ran off and started exploring the center yard.
My mom turned and looked at the house. “Seems like all it needs is some elbow grease and a good coat of paint. We should get the windows opened up first; get some fresh air going through.”
Luke came out and another round of hugs went around. Jerry and Laurel asked questions about our drive. My mom looked around the yard. Layla was studying the vine covered fountain.
“Where are the other two?” Mom asked.
“They are in the Suburban convinced that we are ruining their lives and dooming them to a life of pioneers.” I answered rolling my eyes.
The men cleared a large enough square that we had a place to put (and find later) the tools. Once that was finished, my mom dragged my stubborn children from the car and armed them with rakes.
“Where do we want to start?” Laurel asked.
The men and Oliver decided to inspect the well, the pump and the exterior of the house. Oliver didn’t look pleased to be volunteered for this task. As they marched through the overgrowth and waist high grass, I heard Oliver complaining about his new shoes.
“I guess we could start in the area around the middle. It seems less daunting than trying to take on the side yards.” I suggested.
Laurel picked up a pair of hedge trimmers, my mom had a machete, and I had a shovel. For a few minutes we just stood staring at the jungle. My mom and Laurel went first with the machete and hedge trimmers. The vines grew under the grass and tangled around my feet, almost tripping me on more than one occasion. We realized after a half an hour of trimming and cutting that the center circle of yard was much bigger than it looked. I tried to trace the morning glory vines back to some point of origin and dig them up. Layla and Maddy kept an eye out for anything that the lawn mower couldn’t run over. As we made our way to the fountain in the center, we found perfect sphere shaped polished rocks, toy cars that looked like they were from the 1960’s and Layla found a tricycle from around the same time.
“Mom?” I asked addressing Laurel, “Did Grandpa say when the last time someone lived here was?”
“No, he never said. I know he bought this place from a family member as a project before he got sick. He hired a company to fix the wiring, update the heating, and the plumbing. I think that is as far as he got before he got sick.”
“Well, if we’re finding stuff that is this old, then it has to be at least a hundred years since someone lived here.” Layla looked at us in a matter of fact tone.
“Layla, this stuff is from when Grandma Laurel and I were kids.” My mom laughed.
You could see Layla trying to process this. I knew it was hard for any child to imagine their grandparents as children. After a minute or two, she shrugged and moved the tricycle to the toy pile. The last patch of grass hid a child sized tractor. It looked like one that my grandparents had on their farm. You could sit on it and either peddle or push your way around. The yellow and green was the tell-tale John Deere colors. Layla rode it over to the toy pile. Then took off running towards our Suburban. She came back with bottles of water for everyone and a confused look on her face.
“What’s the matter, Honey?” I asked accepting the water.
“I think there is still someone that lives here.”
“Why do you say that?” Laurel asked.
“When I got the water, I saw a boy in the doorway. He had on a red shirt and blue shorts and looked younger than me.” She thought for a minute. “But these couldn’t be his because of how old these toys are.”
I didn’t know what to say, I have always believed in spirits and demons. I believed that spirits wouldn’t hurt you, they are just beings that are simply there. They don’t scare people, hurt people, or do anything menacing. Anything that caused fear, hate or anger, I believed to be demonic. My mom knew my views on this, but Laurel and I have never talked about anything like that. We stood there looking at each other awkwardly.
“It was probably just the shadows, Layla.” Maddy rolled her eyes. “Don’t be dumb. There is no one here but us and the inspector and there is no such thing as ghosts.
“Don’t call your sister dumb.” I scolded trying to think of something to change the subject. “Now let’s finish this up and see what other treasures we can find.”
“The bottom of the fountain is big enough that I could swim in it.” Layla bounced excitedly clapping her hands, her mind already off the boy.
The fountain was mainly made of white marble. It looked like the pearls in the oyster shells were real. I also noticed that the mermaids and Poseidon had gems for eyes. The crown and trident were also adorned with jewels. We dug around the bottom and tested the pump. I wasn’t sure where the power for it came from, but the pump started up and water began to flow. It started from a point in the trident. Once the bowl that Poseidon was full, it started running over and filling the subsequent bowls. I sat back and watched the bottom pool fill. I could already imagine having picnics out here in the summer.
“Now, why don’t we walk through and double check the rest of the area, so Papa and Grandpa can mow.”
As we walked the huge circle, we picked up branches, animal bones, and more of the polished spheres. There were enough I thought they might be some sort of decorative border around the circle yard to protect the grass from traffic. There were more toys and other tin cans and glass bottles.
We finished the area at the same time the men and we all met by the cars. Maddy rolled her eyes as Jerry produced a wheel barrow to move our piles. Layla showed them each toy as she put it into the wheelbarrow.
“We will have to have a dumpster pile. Some of these are rusted through.” Luke said as he looked at each one.
“No, Daddy, we can’t. They belong to the boy.”
Luke looked at me confused. I mouthed “later” and he nodded his understanding. He showed Layla where she could put the toys for now, then went to help mow. After we raked the clippings, I notice perfectly round indentations in the ground. The obsidian spheres fit perfectly in the spaces. After I put them all in place, I stepped back. Apart from the huge grass pile, the space was beautiful.
“This space would be really beautiful with some small decorative trees and some flowers around the fountain.” Laurel assessed the area thoughtfully.
Jerry laughed. “Baby, I think they have enough trees.” He laughed again spreading his arms wide as if embracing the wild woods beyond the clearing.
Laurel slapped him playfully on the arm. “I mean some weeping cherry trees or Japanese maples or something like that.”
“That would be beautiful.” My mom agreed. The two ladies started mentioning types of plants and flowers that would go good against the white marble fountain.
Luke wrapped his arms around me. “Those two might be completely different, but they both have an eye for landscaping.” He kissed the back of my head.
“As long as they both realize that whatever they plant, they will be taking care of.” I laughed only half joking. Our mothers could get anything to grow anywhere. They even had annuals that grew back every year. I, on the other hand, am a serial plant murderer. Out of my five house plants, only two remained living.
“Has the inspector come out yet?” My dad asked.
“Not yet.” My stomach let out a loud growl.
Layla looked at me as if it may jump out of my body and attack her. “Lunch time.”
We spread a blanket in the grass by the fountain facing toward the house. Just as I got everyone settled, the inspector came out. Layla offered him her sandwich. He accepted with thanks and told us the results between bites. After he washed the last bite down with a bottle of water, my dad and Jerry started asking him questions that I didn’t begin to understand.
“Oh, Kids, anywhere you see a chalk circle is dangerous. Don’t step there?” the inspector warned.
“Why?” Layla asked.
“Because you could fall through the floor and get hurt.” He explained as he pulled the skeleton key out of his pocket. “The only two spaces that I couldn’t inspect were the basement and one of the rooms upstairs. The doors are stuck. Since they looked original, I didn’t want to do any damage.”
“Which room.” Luke asked.
“On the left hand set of rooms it is the third door on the left.”
The main structure of the house was still in surprisingly good shape, the floor on the first level had a lot of dry rot. The second floor was fine save a couple of loose boards that needed replaced. The tower was also in great condition.
“The first floor will need a lot of work. There is some dry rot in the floor and mold in the walls.”
Once he left, we all sat back down to decide on a plan. From everything that I did understand, the roof was dangerous on the house and the porch. The inspector made it very clear that the roof should be a priority and had given Luke the names and numbers of a couple of companies. The insulation in the downstairs all needed replaced as well as the walls. I knew mold could make people sick, and I worried about the kids.
“I could call Saul and Sam.” I suggested. They were the pastor’s kids that Luke and I grew up with. Saul became a professional roofer and Sam a general contractor. I knew I could trust them to do a thorough job and not cut any corners.
“When Jerry and I had the roof redone, Saul did a really good job at a good price.” Laurel stated.
“I don’t have service out here. Can one of you call him for me?”
The kids cautiously went into the house looking at the floor for the chalk circles. “you guys be careful.” Luke warned. “Stay on the first floor.”
Luke, my dad and Jerry left us standing on the porch and grabbed ladders and pry bars. I hoped that by getting some light into the house, it wouldn’t be so bad.
“I didn’t realize this place would be this bad. It is going to probably take a week or two to get all the materials we need here. There is no way the hardware store has everything in stock.” I pondered half to myself.
I had no idea how I was going to keep the kids safe. Between the roof and the floor, a thousand different scenarios played through my mind. All of them ended with a hospital trip or death. I crossed my arms and nervously chewed on my thumb trying to think. My mom slapped my hand making me punch myself in the lip. When I looked at her, she had that look she used to give me when I was a child.
“Laurel, can you help me get the cleaning stuff out of my car?” She asked. She gave me another look that told me I better not start chewing on myself again. I stuck my tongue out at her as she and Laurel walked down the steps.
I stayed on the porch watching weathered boards fall from the heavens above me. The two women stood behind my mom’s car talking and nodding conspiratorially. Lord only knew what those two were up to. I heard the kids talking in the house. They were currently arguing over who got first bedroom pick. I went back to planning what I was going to do.
When Laurel and Mom came back arms overloaded with the entire Costco cleaning supplies isle, I rushed down to help. I took what I could, and we dodged boards, plywood and nails on our way to the porch. Together we walked in and got our first look at the house.
The sunlight fought desperately to shine through the grim on the windows. To the left of the door I saw a completely furnished sitting room. Mice and other rodents had eaten away the fabric and stuffing leaving behind the wooden frames and some springs. All the tables and lamps looked antique and in need of cleaning and polishing.
The longer I stood there staring into the room, the more I could see how I wanted it. I imagined wooden walls. Not paneling but tongue and groove hardwood walls. Warm, welcoming light would fill the room from the lamps. New hardwood floors with a deep red area rug, maybe an oriental one with neutral contrasting colors. The furniture would be deep and overstuffed. I would have throw blankets over the backs of the couches and chairs. The fireplace would be the focal point of the room. I could already imagine drinking hot cocoa and playing board games in here during the winter.
Then the true state of the space tore through my day dream. The moldy, peeling wall paper hung haphazardly off the walls as if the glue simply gave up. Layers of dust covered everything. As we moved through the room, our footprints were left behind.
We went back into the entry way and went to the right. This was the dining room. A huge Victorian dining table dominated the large room. Sixteen high-backed matching chairs sat around the table. Along the walls were various counter tops and side tables. Along one wall stood a huge china hutch complete with the china. A huge crystal chandelier hung over the table. Laurel took one of the plates from the hutch. She wiped the dust off the back to look for a maker’s mark.
“These are blue Spode Italian dishes. They were made in the mid 1800’s.”
My mother joined in the treasure hunt and started opening drawers. “It looks like there is a complete silver set for 16. There are also serving utensils. It is tarnished pretty bad, but a good soak in some boiling water, then some baking soda paste should do the trick.”
Laurel finished counting the dishes in the hutch. “There is a complete dinner service set for 16 as well.” She still looked awestruck.
She gently placed the dishes back in the hutch. The way she handled them reminded me of a new mother putting her baby to bed. In the cupboards below. We found antique lace table clothes that looked as old as the dishes. The rodents hadn’t found their way into the cupboards, so they were still perfect. Behind the next door, we found dark blue linen napkins with a hand embroidered design in the corner. The thread used was only one or two shades lighter than the cloth. Beside the napkins sat a dark, wooden box. Dark blue velvet lined the inside of the box. 16 ivory napkin rings rested inside. Etched into each was another design that looked like it could have been an embroidery design.
“It looks like these are Italian embroidery patterns. I remember seeing something like this in a book of designs from around the world that my mom gave me.” My mom commented.
“They are beautiful.” I was shocked.
“The ivory is in really good condition. It isn’t yellowing or anything.” Laurel inspected one.
“Why would anyone leave this all behind? Isn’t this the kind of thing that belonged to someone’s grandmother or something?” I asked.
“Yes, these things would have been a dowry or a wedding present.” My mom answered.
We put everything back and continued searching the room. There were other cupboards that we didn’t check. Along the wall with the hutch, we saw a door with double hinges. I opened it cringing against the protesting groans of hinges in need of oil. The hinges were stiff, and Laurel warned me to be careful, so I don’t break the pins. The hinges looked original. I tried my hardest to gently push the door open and not break the pins or roll my eyes.
Finally, we got through the door and walked into the biggest kitchen I had ever seen. Everything seemed frozen in time. A large, wooden dough bowl and rolling pin sat on top of a long wooden island prep table. The dual sinks were porcelain and looked big enough to wash a Malamute in. The other counter tops were stone slabs. They weren’t the typical marble or granite countertops. They matched the natural wood tones of the prep table only in wavy variegated stripes. The various cabinets and shelves in the room all had a similar shape and carvings as the table and chairs in the dining room and wooden frames in the sitting room.
“Have you noticed that all of the wooden furniture and cabinets and shelving all look like antique black forest Swiss carvings? Even the Grandfather clock in the sitting room looks similar.” Laurel asked.
My mom and I turned to look at her. I had no idea how she knew what Swiss Black Forest wood carvings looked like, but I had never heard of it.
“I noticed that it looked similar but had no idea that it had a specific name.” I laughed.
“It looks like all this stuff needs is a good scrubbing.” My mom noticed. “Maybe some updated appliances.”
“Yeah, I think so too. That and the walls.” I agreed.
“Hello! Anybody home?” All three of us jumped at Jerry’s voice echoing through the foyer. When we joined them, Jerry wiped his forehead dramatically. “There you girls are! I was afraid you were lost.”
Luke walked over to me wiggling his filthy fingers in my face as if he was going to smear me with the grime. I laughed and gave him a hug. Our parents walked out onto the front porch.
“All of the boards are off the windows on the first two floors and the circle things on the corners. We are going to wait until the roof is fixed to take the tower boards down.” He paused and looked around at the dim light.
“The windows are really dirty.” I answered his confused look. He was about to say something else when our parents walked in.
“We have all agreed that, if you would like, we can take turns with the kids this summer. Until the roof and the floor downstairs can get fixed. That way you don’t have to worry about them getting hurt or outside while Saul is doing the roof.” Laurel offered.
Suddenly, Layla screamed from somewhere in the back of the house. We all looked at each other and took off running. “Layla! Maddy! Oliver!” I yelled.
“We are over here, Mom.” Maddy yelled back sounding annoyed.
“Can you be more specific?” My dad yelled back.
At this, Oliver stepped out of a room and into a hallway on the left. “Over here!” we rushed in his direction. He looked completely uninterested by the commotion.
Luke reached Layla first. She crouched down on her hands and knees beside a huge wardrobe. “What happened? Are you alright?” he asked checking her for any signs of injuries.
Her bright eyed, grinning face left me feeling relieved and confused at the same time. “Layla, why did you scream?”
“There is a kitten!” she squealed. She crouched back down and tried to coax the animal towards her.
“It was probably a rat, Layla. Be careful or it will bite your fingers off.” Oliver taunted.
“I know what a cat looks like, Stupid.” Layla defended.
Oliver opened his mouth to say something else, but I gave him a warning look. I crouched down beside Layla and helped her coax the kitten out of hiding. Finally, the little thing came out. All his liquid silver colored hair stood on end. I held him out of Layla’s reach until I could see how it would react to people. For not having human contact, the kitten acted very docile. After a few strokes along his back, his hair laid back down. Convinced that it would be safe, I handed the tiny kitten to my eager daughter.
“Layla, he isn’t used to people. You need to be calm and gentle with him or you will scare him.” I instructed.
She nodded and started to pet and coo at him. Pretty soon the kitten’s purr filled the room. I felt amazed that a noise so loud could come out of something so small.
“That thing has a motor on him.” My dad observed.
“Can we keep him, Mom? I promise that I will take care of him and he can sleep in my room?” she pleaded.
To say that Luke wasn’t a cat person would be an understatement. I looked at him and shrugged. He let out a heavy sigh “Yeah you can keep it, but….”
Before he could list any rules or conditions to her keeping the kitten, Layla let out a squeal that sent the kitten’s hair back on end. I realized then, that this kitten had long hair. When he puffed up, he looked triple his actual size.
“Ssssshhhhh, it’s okay,” she paused momentarily, “Sterling.”
I knew there would be no going back now, the silver kitten had a name. “Softy.” I smiled at Luke. The kitten purred contentedly in Layla’s arms. She grinned from ear to ear at everyone.
“Now that we are all together.” My dad got everyone’s attention. “Kids, your Grammy and I along with Grandpa Jerry and Grandma Laurel talked it over. We were wondering if you wanted to stay with us over summer or until your parents get everything safe for you.”
The older two let out sighs of relief and a “thank God”. Layla wasn’t sure. She looked at each of her grandparents then back at Luke and me.
“What about Sterling?” she asked holding the sleeping kitten.
“He can come too. Papa and I are going to take you first. We can stop by the store on the way and pick up everything you need for him. Even a little carrier.”
“For now, I saw a wooden crate in the kitchen, we can make him a bed in there, so he isn’t scared or running around the car.” Laurel offered.
“And he can use my blanket.” Layla’s excitement returned.
“I can’t believe you are letting her keep that think. It probably has fleas or rabies.” Maddy chimed in.
I gave her my best “young lady” warning look. Before I could reply, my mom had a solution.
“Good thing there is a vet close to the house. If you are afraid of that tiny kitten, stay away from it.”
Sterling stretched and started purring again. “Yeah, he looks like a vicious, rabid killer.” Jerry laughed.
Maddy rolled her eyes and out of habit, went to check her phone. Realizing again that she didn’t have service, she shoved it back into her back pocket and stormed out. We left the room and went in search for the crate. Layla shoved Sterling at Luke and ran out of the house to get her blanket. Sterling half opened his eyes and continued to purr contentedly. Luke looked disgusted. I laughed as I took the kitten and snuggling him close.
“He may need canned cat food, mom. He doesn’t look older than six weeks.” I noticed this kitten was extremely skinny. “I wonder where his mom or brothers and sisters are.”
Layla appeared in the kitchen with her blanket and a little stuffed toy. “So, he doesn’t get lonely.” She explained. The kitten snuggled down into Layla’s fuzzy blanket. She looked satisfied and allowed Jerry to carry the crate outside.
Luke and I loaded the kids’ suitcases in the back of my mom’s car and gave them hugs. “I will call as soon as I can.” I promised trying not to cry.
We all agreed that everyone would come back out Saturday for the weekend. After my parents left, we finished unloading the yard tools from Jerry’s truck.
“I will call Saul about the roof as soon as we get home.” Laurel hugged us.
We stood and waved until everyone was gone. Luke and I turned around and faced the house. “I don’t know if this is a dream come true or our worst nightmare.” I joked.
Luke kissed the top of my head. “It is still too soon to tell.”