William M. O’Brien, Jr.
Terrence Timberlake apparently liked to be alone. In fact, he spent his entire life by himself.
Growing up in a wealthy family, he was never at want. Even when his parents died within seven months of each other, he knew he wouldn’t mind his solitude. As a matter of fact, he inherited a fortune, and then went on to make his own with shrewd investments and the Stock Market.
He chose to live on in the family home, a very large Victorian mansion sitting on two acres in the middle of an old section of a large city in the Midwest. With everything he needed at hand, he spent thousands on improvements and betterments of his family home, even putting in a swimming pool in the sprawling back yard.
So, Terrence grew old with everything his heart desired. Even the solitude he cherished remained with him. He had a housekeeper who came daily at ten and left by twelve and, as he grew older, a cook who lived close by. Although his best friends were his lawyer and his banker, there were hardly any other visitors in the mansion on Seventh Street and Wilson Avenue.
The large home in which he made his comfort was not an ancestral home. It had been built by an obscure family that had made a fortune in railroads in the nineteenth century. With the tragic death of the family head in an accident five years after building the house and moving in, the family chose to move to a smaller abode. Since then the house had changed hands a number of times until the Timberlakes bought it when Terrence was a child.
Now that he was an old man, Terrence began looking for possible heirs and came up with only one, his grand nephew Harry Smolett who, with his wife Lisa, lived in a small apartment in Riverside, California. The source of this knowledge came from the arrival of a single Christmas Card every year for the past eight years. No other correspondence of any kind existed. In short, Terrence was as ignorant of the Smoletts as he could be.
Not so, Harry and Lisa Smolett. They knew all about their wealthy great Uncle, at least as much as Harry could glean from listening to elders far removed from Terrence. From far away the two waited for any word to come from their wealthy relative.
It was not long in coming. Terrence, in his dotage, had been moved by his lawyer to an assisted living facility but had died there, suddenly, after only a ten day stay.
Now, the lawyer had only one person to call.
“I thought the old fart would never die,” Harry slapped the notice down on the table and sat down. “This says he’s gone and this…this Mr. Wilcox wants to meet us in Springfield.”
“I’m sure it’s about an inheritance, Harry.” Lisa gleefully poured a small glass of wine nearby. “Do you know of anybody else in your family that might inherit?”
“None at all. Everybody’s gone, except the removed relatives I used to know.” Now Harry, a smile on his face, rose from the couch. “If we can get a good inheritance we can get out of this place with all its crap and get someplace where we’re a lot better off.”
Later that day, Harry contacted Hiram Wilcox by telephone to be told that Terrence’s will had left everything, including the large old house to him. Also, Wilcox noted that the Smoletts had to come to Springfield to claim their inheritance.
Two days later, the Smoletts, violating a lease, moved out of their apartment and headed east, toward Springfield and what they hoped was a fortune.
Days later, the two found out what their inheritance was, everything.
“From what you say, we can move right in?” Harry asked Wilcox, the lawyer, on the courthouse steps.
“I guess so,” he answered. “I’ve looked and looked for other beneficiaries but you seem to be it.”
“We brought our stuff with us, just in case,” Harry stated and pointed at the U-Haul trailer parked outside of the courthouse parking lot.
Out of protocol, the two visited the fresh grave of Terrence in a local cemetery, then headed for the Timberlake homestead, not too far from the cemetery.
“My God, look at that,” Harry stated and laughed. “Now were in for some damned good living.”
“Harry, why don’t we sell this place and take the money. It ought to be worth a…” Lisa bubbled in the seat beside her husband.
“Not on your life,” Harry abruptly replied. “We’ve lived in shitholes long enough. Here, we’ve got everything we want.” Harry was beside himself. “Why…Why the old bastard even put in a swimming pool.”
“That’s great, Harry.” Lisa looked from the old house back to her husband. “Now we can swim by ourselves in a pool not crowded by other people or even assholes from off the street.”
“You bet, Baby.” Harry now opened the door. “We’ve got it all, now.”
Spending the remainder of the day exploring the large, dark old house and the grounds including the large swimming pool, which was built around a garden, the Smoletts were both amazed at what now was theirs.
The next day, the two emptied and returned the trailer, then settled into the old house as best they could.
That afternoon, Harry happily found a well-stocked liquor cabinet. He poured himself a whiskey and settled on a nearby couch.
Lisa appeared coming down the stairs. “God, Harry. That bedroom we picked has banks of windows in two walls. It’s great.”
“Yeah. That’s why I picked it. You can see everywhere.” He raised his glass to his wife and took a sip.
“I’m going for a swim out back.” Lisa stated at the bottom of the stairs. “I’ve got my suit on under my clothes.”
“Why wear a suit at all,” Harry remarked and laughed.
Harry had two more drinks and then rose to find his wife. He walked through the house to an old office/storeroom off the kitchen and peered through a back window.
He located his wife swimming in a part of the pool surrounded on three sides by trees and shrubs but he noticed another person, back toward Harry, sitting by the pool nearby, watching his wife as she swam.
“What the hell is this?” Harry asked, under his breath. “Don’t tell me we’ve got welcoming neighbors.”
He started for the door and the back steps but stopped when he noticed that the mysterious person was gone. His wife was still swimming in the same area, but the person Harry had seen was gone.
“Who was that out there with you today,” Harry asked his wife as she walked into the living room, wrapped in a towel.
“Who was that? There wasn’t anyone out there with me, Harry,” she replied, running a brush through her hair.
“There was someone out there watching you swim,” Harry stated.
“Who could that be, Harry. We don’t know anyone around here. At least not yet.”
“I swear to God, Babe. There was someone out there.”
“It must be someone who came into our yard.” Lisa turned toward the stairs. “We do have neighbors, you know.”
Later that night Harry was still thinking about the figure he saw by the swimming pool. Even in bed that night, he couldn’t get the picture out of his mind. He figured someone had sneaked onto his property and then left before Harry could do anything about it. Finally, Harry, after resolving to explore the fences around the property, fell into a deep sleep.
Two hours before dawn, Harry was awakened by the sound of footsteps and voices in the room above.
For a moment, he was beside himself, but then realized that someone was in his house.
He had a loaded shotgun in his bedroom closet, so, quickly, he procured it and returned to bedside.
“Lisa. Lisa, wake up,” he whispered as loud as he dared. “There’s someone in the house.”
“What…What do you want me to do about it?” A sleep voice answered. “Call the cops.”
“No, I’m going to take care of this, myself. Do you want to come?”
“Shit, no. I don’t want you shooting me.”
Harry quickly mounted the stairs and headed to the third floor.
When he reached the landing he turned and entered a nearby room just above the occupied second floor bedroom.
Immediately he encountered a rising cloud of dust. Apparently the housekeeper had not been up to the third floor for some time, as there was deep dust everywhere, from floor to furniture.
Also, there was obviously no one in the room.
After examining the room, Harry, coughing, made his way to the hall and into other rooms. He found nothing.
He had turned on lights everywhere he went, but the only tracks he found in the dust were his. Nothing else had been disturbed in any of the rooms. And the disturbances on the floor indicated only one person…Harry.
Perplexed, he wondered if the footsteps had come from the attic. He headed for the back stairs but stopped short of the first short flight. Here the dust was as thick as ever and since this was the only entry to the attic, he decided not to waste his time.
“There’s nothing up there, damn it,” he complained to a half asleep Lisa. “But I’m totally sure I heard noises above. There’s dust and shit all over the place up there and none of it is disturbed.”
Leaving his sleeping wife, he headed downstairs for an early cup of coffee, still mumbling about what he had found upstairs.
At the base of the stairs, he again heard
the heavy footsteps, this time in the upstairs hall he had just left.
“By God, I’ll find out who this is now,” he shouted, running up the stairs.
Again, nothing was there.
Furious, Harry began searching each room on the second floor, slamming doors and shouting. When he got to the room he and his wife were using, he shouted at her.
“Harry, what the hell is going on?” she asked in a sleepy voice.
“Someone’s in our house, goddamnit!” Without another word he charged into the hall and down the stairs, hoping to catch whoever was in the house on the first floor at the front door.
Finding no one anywhere in the hall or the living room, he stopped and listened. There was nothing now but silence.
“What in the name of God is going on here,” he muttered to himself. He turned and entered the dining room only to stop suddenly.
Scrawled in large letters on the wall above a low china cabinet were the words: “Get out, you son of a bitch. Get out”
“What the hell…” He stared, incredulously, at the obscene scrawl on the wall. He first thought that Lisa may be at fault, but just as quickly he realized that she couldn’t be since she had accompanied him through the dining room and up the stairs to bed, carrying nightcaps each just made in the kitchen.
Then it occurred to him. The old man was here. He didn’t want his relatives in his house and he had come back to drive them out. Indeed, it was the only explanation. “His damned, shitty ghost!” he shouted from the dining room.
“What are you saying, Harry?” Lisa shouted from the stairs.
Harry burst through the door into the hall. “We’ve got a damned ghost, Lisa. It’s Old Man Terrence, that smelly, old fart!” Breathing heavily in fury, Harry stopped at the bottom of the stairs below his wife.
“After years of living in shit, we’ve finally got a fine place and now he’s trying to run us out, the damned bastard’s come back to harass us.”
“I don’t believe in ghosts, Harry.” Lisa stopped on the bottom step and looked around.
“I didn’t…I didn’t either until now, by God.” Harry backed up from the stairs and yelled. Indeed, he hadn’t believed in ghosts, or God either.
“All right, you old shithead! You’re not running us off, by God” Now he walked in a tight circle, his head aimed at the ceiling of the stairwell. “Just you try to get rid of us. Just try!”
Then, Harry stopped. When he did, there was silence. A deafening silence.
Harry turned to Lisa. “You want to see his latest shit, besides the footsteps?” he asked, still in a loud voice. “Go look in there.” He pointed at the dining room door.
Harry milled around staring up the stairs toward the second floor while his wife entered the dining room.
“What is it you wanted me to see, Harry?” she asked after a few minutes.
“On the wall, damn it!” Harry yelled. Above that low china case on the north wall.”
“There’s nothing here, Harry.”
Incensed again, Harry headed into the dining room and stood before the aforesaid wall.
Nothing was there. Only faded wall paper. There wasn’t even any evidence that anything had ever been written there, much less scrawled across the wall.
Harry met Lisa in the hall. “What we have here is a paranormal case, Lisa,” he said, trying to calm down. “I just know that old bastard, Uncle Terrence, has come back here to haunt us. To drive us out.”
“I don’t believe in ghosts, Harry.” Lisa stated again, this time emphatically.
“Whether you believe it or not, damn it, he is back.” Harry turned in a circle and stopped in front of the stairs. “He has come back here to run us off. Well, he’s not going to.”
The doorbell interrupted this conversation and a moment later, Lisa opened the door to Mrs. Whitworth, Terrence’s former cook who Harry had told to continue her services for them. She had come to prepare breakfast.
“What’ll it be this morning? Bacon and eggs okay? Or would you like to have an omelet?” the woman asked over her shoulder has she headed down the main hall toward the kitchen.
In the kitchen she went right to work preparing the morning meal.
“Mr. Timberlake always had to have his two cups of coffee every morning, God rest his soul.”
Harry and Lisa stood and watched while the woman quickly prepared two ham and cheese omelets.
“Mr. Timberlake always wanted me to stick around a while and talk while he ate his breakfast.” The woman brought two plates and silverware into the dining room.
“He was always talking to himself, poor man,” she said, setting up two places at the large heavy oak table.
The couple sat, eating their breakfast, while Mrs. Whitworth cleaned up the kitchen and put excess food away.
“I can make some sandwiches for your lunch,” she called over her shoulder while she worked at the sink.
“I’ll set them in the fridge. All you need to do is heat them up.”
“That would be great, Mrs. Whitworth.” Lisa called from the dining room. “We’ll probably go out tonight, though. Thanks.”
Later that day, Harry and Lisa were relaxing in the living room when both heard voices coming from the upstairs hall.
“What the hell is this, now.” Harry jumped up and headed for the stairs. Running up to the midway landing he turned to see nothing at the head of the stairs. At the top of the stairs there was no one in the hall.
Cursing loudly, he went from door to door in the hall, opening each and slamming the door behind him. He found nothing.
Furious, he ran to the head of the stairs to confront Lisa, who had stopped on the landing below.
“I think we got another visit from our damned Uncle,” he yelled.
“He’s…He’s dead, Harry.”
“Once again, he’s a goddamned ghost, Lisa,” Harry shouted, emphasizing each word. “And he’s trying to drive us off. Or drive us insane.”
He started down the stairs. “Well, he’s not going to do it.”
Nothing else occurred that day but when both were in bed late that night Harry realized there had been two voices in the upstairs hall. One of them female.
“Two ghosts,” Harry muttered. He reached over and shook his wife.
“We’ve got two ghosts, Hon.” He shook her again. “That old bastard and someone else.”
“Who….Who…” Lisa, heavy with sleep, turned over on her back.
“I don’t know,” Harry replied, in a whisper. “As far as we know, this guy was a hermit. I mean, he lived alone.”
“Harry, I heard the voices, too. I think someone was in our house.”
“How do you figure that? There’s no one even near this house, much less in it. We’re all alone here.”
The conversation was suddenly interrupted by a deep sigh coming from the hall.
Harry jumped up from the bed and ran to the hall, to find nothing.
“Harry, can you turn on the heat?” Lisa said from the bed. “It’s cold in here.”
“I don’t know…I don’t know what’s going on here now.” Harry turned back to his wife. “What do you mean, cold. It’s June, for God’s sake.”
“But, it’s cold, Harry.”
Now Harry felt the cold himself. “What the hell is going on? Why is it so damned cold?”
Harry ran to the front door, threw it open and bolted onto the porch. There, a blast of hot air hit him in the face. After just a few minutes on the porch, he began sweating.
“I just don’t get this shit!” he screamed at the front door.
He turned back toward the front door, but a glimpse to a window next to the door presented the countenance of a woman, not Lisa.
“Who the hell are you?” Harry screamed, pulling open both inner and outer front doors.
Of course no one stood at the window by the door.
Lisa ran down the hall toward her husband. “Harry, what are you doing now?”
“Lisa, there was a woman standing here just a minute ago,” he blurted toward the oncoming woman. He pointed at the empty space. “There! There, goddamnit, over there!”
Lisa, clearly out of breath, stood before her husband. “Harry, Harry, there’s no one here but you and me.”
Now, Harry calmed down. “I don’t know what that old bastard is trying to do here, but he’s not…not, damn it, going to drive us from this house.” Slowly he walked down the hall toward the large central staircase. “How he is intimidating us, I don’t know. But you can be damned sure it is not going to work.”
Lisa followed slowly behind.
They returned to bed but Harry did not return to sleep. Instead, he lay in bed and tried to listen to any noise that might signify another presence in the house.
There was no noise nor any other indication of a presence when Harry finally slipped off to sleep near the break of day.
The next day Harry and Lisa, after calling Mrs. Whitworth to tell her they were going out for breakfast, searched throughout the house for any indications of incursions or any form of entry which would allow outsiders to slip in and create ghostly disturbances. They checked window unit air conditioners for any of them which could generate a degree of cold they had felt but found that this was an impossibility. These machines could only generate enough cold air to cool down a room. In addition to this, all the windows in the house, including those in the attic, were locked; and the doors of the house, including the doors to second and third floor balconies, were double-locked.
Thoroughly frustrated, the couple sat in their large living room and sipped drinks at dusk. Ahead was another night and whatever it would bring.
“Maybe we should go to a hotel, Harry,” Lisa offered from across the room.
“Shit. You sleep through this crap.” Harry rose, irritable, out of his chair. “What do you have to worry about?”
Lisa went to bed but Harry sat up until the gigantic hall clock struck midnight.
Nothing had occurred so far, so Harry, now nodding off, rose and headed up stairs to bed. In bed he lay and stared at the ceiling, finally after an hour, he slipped into an uneasy sleep.
About an hour before daylight, Harry awoke, suddenly, to an awful cold. On his back he stared upwards at a female figure that seemed plastered to the ceiling. A wet substance dripped from the abdomen of the figure. Some of this liquid fell on Harry and, scooping some up on his finger, almost fainted.
“Holy Shit. Blood!” he gasped. When he caught his breath, he looked again at the ceiling, but the figure was gone. And so was the blood, even from his finger.
He reached over and violently shook Lisa.
“Hey, Hey,” he hollered. “Wake up. Wake up.”
A sleepy Lisa slowly turned over and faced her husband. “Harry…Harry. What the hell are you…What time is it?
Harry left his wife and rushed into the hall.
At the head of the stairs he came face to face with the woman whose image had just appeared on the bedroom ceiling. Only this time the figure was hideously animated.
“What the hell!” Harry screamed.
Unlike the figure on the ceiling, this time it was holding its lower entrails out with both hands, blood running over both hands and onto the floor.
“She…She murdered me…” it croaked, and started forward.
Looking around for something to throw at the monstrous apparition but finding nothing, Harry headed instead back into bedroom.
“We’ve got to get out of here until we can figure out what all the hell is going on in here,” he yelled at his wife, who now was sitting up in bed. “That thing out there in the hall is different from all the other shit we’ve been looking at.”
“What’s in the hall, Harry?”
“A dead woman with her guts coming out. She started coming at me.”
Harry turned and began putting on his clothes. “We can go to a hotel until things settle down here.”
“Harry, I don’t want to go to a hotel. We’ve got…”
“A goddamned house full of ghosts is what we got.” Again his voice elevated. “Now get dressed. We’ve got to go.”
They dressed and threw a few things into a bag and headed down to the main hall. At the front door, they encountered Mrs. Whitworth, the cook.
“Mr. Smolett, where…”
“We’re getting the hell out of here!” Harry yelled at the woman who still stood outside the front door. “These damned ghosts are driving us ape shit!”
“Ghosts, Mr. Smolett?” Mrs. Whitworth put a satchel down and crossed her arms over her chest. “I assure you they are completely harmless.”
“Mr. Timberlake, God rest his soul, talked to them all the time.” The woman looked from Harry to Lisa just behind him. “God knows they were the only people he could talk to.”
“You mean these things were here when he was alive?” Harry now finally calmed down.
“Yes. They’ve always been here. They died in this house God knows how many years ago.” The woman slowly shook her head. “There’s several of them.” She plucked up her satchel and headed through the front door.
The Smoletts, now cowed, turned to follow her, Harry closing the front door.
Over a breakfast of French toast, fruit, ham and boiled eggs, the elderly woman explained all of the aspects of the haunting she knew. She saw no problem at all.
“But some of these things are absolutely hideous,” Harry complained. “I saw…”
“Some of the deaths in this house were horrible.” Mrs. Whitworth laid a dish of toast on the table. “Mr. Timberlake told me about them himself.”
“He talked to these damned things?”
“All the time.”
Harry collapsed back in his chair.
Across the table, Lisa stirred her coffee. “Harry, maybe if we ignore them, they’ll go away.”
“That’s a thought,” Mrs. Whitworth replied from the kitchen. “Sometimes Mr. Timberlake went for weeks and weeks without talking to his friends. Sometimes he even went about the house, looking for them.”
Harry sighed. “Well, I guess we could give that a try.”
“Take one of your pills, Harry. You won’t even hear that stuff at night.”
“There you go.” Mrs. Whitworth shuffled through the door with plates of eggs and ham. “I need a little help sleeping myself. When I take my pills, I’m out like a light.”
That night, Lisa in bed reading beside him, Harry took one of the pills a doctor in California had recommended for sleeping. Up until now, it had always worked, even when he was keyed up, which was half the time.
“Harry, you’re going to sleep like a baby,” his wife offered. “You’re not going to know a thing until morning.”
Harry went fast asleep alright, but toward morning he began to dream.
In a dream he was surrounded in the upstairs hall by a multitude of people he didn’t know. One of them was binding his hands behind him while others had their hands on his arms and waist. They seemed to be yelling and screaming, but Harry could hear nothing.
Suddenly the group began pushing and pulling him down the hall toward the back staircase. When they reached it they pulled him up a straight staircase toward the third floor.
At the third floor they pushed, pulled him up another enclosed staircase toward the attic.
Harry tugged and pulled on his binding and twisted and turned but the group now tightly enclosed on the staircase still held him tightly.
In the attic the group now spreading out around Harry pushed and pulled him toward a large window in a gable that had a door to a balcony.
On the balcony a woman in the crowd produced a rope with a noose which she immediately put around Harry’s neck.
Harry tried to scream but he couldn’t make a sound. He was as silent as the people around him. Again he tried to wiggle free and he jerked his body to and fro but the people around him, together, lifted him up on the railing which ran around the balcony.
Again Harry tried to scream and this time, sound came out and woke him.
Weaving to and fro, his bare feet planted on the balcony railing, Harry found himself still bound and a noose around his neck. Recognizing immediately his situation and the fact that now he was wide awake, after staring downward four stories, he screamed again and threw himself backward onto the balcony.
“Holy shit! They tried to kill me,” she screamed.
Looking around to be sure nothing else had followed him out of his dream, he rose, cast off the noose, and headed for the back staircase. After only a few minutes he was downstairs and waking his deeply sleeping wife.
“Honey, we’ve got to get the hell out of here after all,” he barked at the sleepy woman. “They tried to kill me. They tried to hang me up in the attic. I woke up just in time.”
“What…What are you talking about, Harry?” The drowsy woman flung the covers back and swung her feet over the side of the bed. “You had a dream, Harry. That’s all.”
“I woke up upstairs on the damned balcony on the damned fourth floor! Damn it!” Harry stormed to his side of the bed and grabbed his clothes off a chair nearby. “That’s it, by God. We’re leaving today. I’m not sticking around here for whatever shit there is ahead, but from the looks of things, they’re only going to get worse.”
That day, Harry and Lisa reordered their U-Haul trailer, hurriedly packed it full of their belongings. Then, after calling the realtor and telling him what was going on and that they’d had enough of their Uncle’s house, headed for an apartment complex they had noticed during their time there.
There, they made plans to leave the city. After all, they did have Uncle Terrence’s fortune.
Soon after they made up their minds to move to Florida, not wanting to return to California. After settling in there and making sure there was nothing wrong with the townhouse they bought there, Harry reconsidered his non-belief in the para-normal and, along with it, his scoffing at the idea of the soul and the all important concept of God.