The Ghost Next Door
"I can't sell the house?" Lucretia Lewis tried to hide her dismay. If she couldn't sell the historic monstrosity, how would she be able to pay to keep her mother in the nursing home.
"Well, you can sell it. There's just additional funding qualifications for the buyer." The realtor, appropriately named Mr. Sellers, tented his fingertips over a pile of paperwork and began to enumerate the additional hurdles a buyer would have to navigate. "And in this depressed market..." he trailed off with a shrug.
"So, what can I do?" Lucretia knew she was asking the wrong person. Mr. Sellers was a realtor, not a miracle worker.
"Well, you could think about reopening the home to tours or establishing a bed and breakfast."
Those all sounded like great options, only they required something she wasn't sure she could do. She'd need to stay in Merryville, live in Merryville, and face, every day, the empty lot next door.
She shivered, remembering that long ago Halloween night. She'd spent the last ten years trying to forget about two things: the strange disappearance of the house next door and Devon Poe.
Especially Devon Poe.
She pushed through the door with a distinct sense of dissatisfaction. There was only one other option --
and that was to find out what happened to Devon. It was the only way she could move on with her life because she'd loved him. Still did if she was honest with herself. He'd been everything to her, just like she'd been everything to him.
"Where are you, Devon?" Lucretia whispered to the skies as soon as she was out the back door of her house. "You wouldn't of up and left me without a word if something wasn't wrong."
Something was wrong, Lucretia. And it still is. But I will make it right if it's the last thing I do.
"Hello?" She said, looking around to see if anyone was nearby as she was certain she'd heard someone talking to her. "Is anyone there?"
I'm here Lucretia. But it's not the right time for you to see me yet. But soon sweetheart, I will return and then we can be together like we were before.
"Devon?" Lucretia blinked, not believing she could hear Devon's voice as if he were standing before her. How was that even possible? No one was around.
You're not crazy, baby. You can hear me in your mind just like I can hear you. Don't you know by now that you're special. You have a gift. One not many people have. You can hear the thoughts of those around you.
"Where are you?"
Close by for now. Just keep talking to the sky like you are and I'll be able to hear you.
"Why don't you just show yourself?"
Because there are people watching and if I reveal myself you'll be in danger as well.
"Why?" Lucretia asked, her voice quivering. She needed to know the truth of why he'd left all those years ago. "Why did you leave me?"
Why else? To keep you safe Luce. You were the only shining light in my life and I couldn't allow you to fade out. And that's what would of happened if I didn't leave. The people after me would have killed you if they thought I cared for someone the way I did you.
Tears slipped down her cheeks because of his sweet words. Because never once had he admitted how he really felt, although she knew he loved her. She could feel it in the way he made love to her, the pure tenderness in his actions. The way he watched her when he thought she wasn't looking.
"Excuse me Ms. Lewis, did you say something?"
Her feet left the ground as Mr. Seller's voice was heard behind her. "Oh, no. I was just talking to myself."
Laughing under his breath, he said, "That's fine as long as you don't answer yourself."
Lucretia's face morphed into a grimace.
"Now before I leave, have you made any decisions? Do you still want to try and sell the house?"
Lucretia worried her lip. The sound of Devon's voice still echoed loudly in her mind. "I believe I need to think about it and get back with you."
Papers were shoved into his briefcase, thrusting his hand forward they shook hands and Mr. Sellers left.
On the sidewalk, she stood. Wind whipped around her legs lifting the fabric of her skirt. Behind her loomed the empty, hulk of the ancient home. The historical value alone could have brought in a fortune, if there weren't so many rules to selling the place.
You can't sell.
Please love, walk inside the house and talk to me. We can't have others thinking you've lost your mind, now can we?
Lucretia shifted her gaze around the quite neighborhood. A pent up breath was released with relief, no one was watching her mental breakdown.
Following the voices in her head, she walked back to the house. One foot resting on the first step, a ringing noise interrupted.
Cell phone in hand, she answered. "Hello?"
"Ms. Lewis, you'll never believe it! I just got a call from someone who is willing to buy your house."
What in the world was she going to do now?
"Really?" Lucretia asked, unable to believe that the real estate agent she'd hired to sell the house had someone already interested after the house being on the market for less than two hours. Or was Mr. Sellers just good at his job?
"Yeah. If you wouldn't mind I'd like to bring them out there and show them around the property."
"Sure, but not today."
"Because I'm busy and I have to leave for a while and won't be back and I don't want anyone on my property that doesn't belong here."
"Um, sure. Is everything okay there?"
"Everything is fine." She answered, wishing people would stop asking her that. She'd been fine ever since she'd faced the reality of Devon never coming back. Which had taken her five years to do. "But I have to go."
Then before Mr. Sellers could say anything else, Lucretia disconnected. She couldn't talk any longer because she wanted to continue speaking with Devon. Even if it wasn't face to face.
"Why can't I sell this place Devon? There's nothing here for me anymore. You're not here."
You can't sell for two reasons. One this place has been in your family for generations, can you really truly be happy anywhere else?
Lucretia thought about it, pondering her answer. Could she be happy living somewhere else when all her memories of her childhood were here? Not to mention her memories of her and Devon together.
She shook her head. "I guess not. What's your other reason?"
Because there's a book hidden somewhere in your house that can help people like me.
"People like you...What do you mean by that?"
"What are you saying?" Was he dead? Lost to her forever.
That I'm a ghost.
Many emotions darted across her face -- fear, anger, concern. What had happened to him all those years ago?
However it's not what you think. I didn't die.
"Then how did you become a ghost?"
Because I didn't do something that someone wanted me to do.
"And what was it someone wanted you to do?"
Kill the one I love.
Fear and trepidation threatened to consume her. Sweat beaded upon her upper lip as her heart rate increased to abnormal proportions. What could he mean?
<O:pJust listen to me Luce. You can’t sell the house, not yet. I know all about your mother and your money problems. But if you will just help me then I promise I will help you.
<O:pThat’s not important right now. What is important is that we find the book. So will you help me?
Gnawing on her lip with worry, Lucretia looked around the huge hull of the empty home. The furniture was covered in white sheets which lay still. Dust covered every exposed surface. With each footfall an echo reverberated around her. Without her mother within the walls the house was spookier than ever. Could she stay here alone? Could she make it through one night in this place?
<O:pTaking a gulp, she said, “Devon, I’ll help you. But you have to tell me what you meant earlier. What you meant when you said, you wouldn’t kill the one you loved.”
<O:pLucretia waited but there was no reply. “Devon, are you there?” The whispered words which returned to her ears sounded like a shout, but there was still no reply.
<O:pIt felt as if she waited forever. After a time of standing there in the foyer, Lucretia began to wonder if perhaps the trauma of everything that had happened of late was getting ot her. Perhaps everything was nothing more than a fantasy.
<O:pTo keep her mind off what was happening, Lucretia cleaned. Roughly she jerked sheet coverings this way and that. The room smelled of must and mold and she opened a window and turned on a ceiling fan. Now as the sheets came off the furniture they billowed out in the breeze making shapes and loud clapping sounds. A shiver ran up Lucretia’s spine as she worked to ignore the odd noises.
<O:pHumming a tune under her breath, Lucretia continued. The wind coming through the window resembled a whistle, the sound of which blended with her own humming mimicking a song. Her lips pursed together and she stopped. As she quit so did the whistling. Looking around to see if she was still alone she decided once again to make her own music. The whistling began again in earnest.
<O:pThe sound was coming from upstairs. Placing a hand on the wooden railing, Lucretia’s foot touched the first step. As she ascended, cold chills raced up and down her arms. There was something up there she could feel it. But what was it? And if not a what, then who?
She was halfway up the stairs, her heart hammering at a rapid pace when she heard one of the floorboards above her creak.
Someone else besides her was inside her home. How dare they be so bold as to break in while she was there? More to the point, she couldn't wait to see who exactly it was that had the audacity to break in. It wasn't as if she had anything at all of value for them to steal. Most of her furniture and her mother's jewellery she'd had to sell so she didn't lose the house sooner.
Immediately, she remembered what Devon had said about the book in the attic. She raced up the last few stairs, and glanced around the second level of her home. No one was there. However, there was a sprinkle of light illuminating the stairway leading to the attic.
Lucretia tip-toed her way across the hallway, in hopes that her robber wouldn't hear her. At first it was hard because of the few loose floorboards that creaked in her wake, but she managed to get to the stairs without anyone the wiser. She listened for several moments from the bottom. All she could hear was someone rummaging through her measly belongings.
Lucretia shook her head. There was no way she was going to let this robber get their hands on whatever they wanted. Without thinking, she took the stairs two at a time until she reached the top. Then she reached out a hand to twist the knob to open the attic door. Once the door was open, she blinked a few times until her eyes adjusted to the light flashed her way.
"Where's the book, witch?" A nasally voice spoke, and Lucretia frowned. She had the distinct feeling she'd heard the voice before.
"I don't know what you're talking about. What book?"
"The one that Devon wants you to find."
"Still don't know what you're talking about."
Because honestly, she didn't. It wasn't as if there was a book lying around that read HOW TO TURN A GHOST BACK TO HUMAN. Nor had she seen one if there was.
"It's an ancient tome passed down to each generation of your family since forever."
"Well if there's a book like that someone in here, good luck finding it."
"You dare to mock me, witch." Again, Lucretia couldn't help but notice that she knew that voice from somewhere. That the person behind the voice was someone she'd talked to recently. "What happens when you can't find it and your precious Devon is trapped in the state he's in forever?"
"That's not going to happen. I will find a way to help Devon with or without the book."
"And how are you going to do that?" Her intruder said, and before she could answer, the man rushed at her. Lucretia thrust her arms up to defend herself, and something miraculous happened. Her assailant didn't even get close, and instead went sailing through the air.
"What the hell?" Lucretia stared at her hands, only to find them glowing bright yellow.
Six handwashings later, she'd managed to get her hands back to their normal flesh-tone coloring. It would take more than soap and water to dispel the feeling of violation on her soul.
Her first thought was that the intruder had been Sellers. However, the height and weight of the man had been all wrong. In fact, had it even been a man?
She picked up her cell phone, dialed, and waited for Sellers to pick up.
"Mr. Sellers. This is Lucretia."
"Hello, dear. Have you reconsidered?"
"Not exactly," she hedged. "I was wondering who was interested in purchasing my house. It might make a difference in my decision."
"Well, no secret about that." Mr. Seller's chuckled. "Abigail Cartwright. And who better, since she's the head of the historical society."
"Abigail Cartwright?" Lucretia only knew one Abigail. She'd gone to school with a Abigail Perkins.
As if the realtor had read her mind, he continued, "She was a Perkins before she married. She's widowed now."
Pieces of the puzzle were beginning to reveal themselves.
Abby had made no secret of jealousy of Lucretia. She'd always wanted everything Lucretia had - especially Devon. In fact, Lucretia had no trouble picturing Abby as the intruder. What puzzled her the most was why Abby would know about a Lewis family heirloom. A book Lucretia, herself, knew nothing about.
But you do know. Devon's voice interrupted. Remember...
As if his words had opened a door she'd kept closed for far too long, memories began to materialize. Her grandmother and mother falling silent when she walked into a room, the cookbooks kept in a locked kitchen cupboard, and the air of speechless horror in the air the morning they'd looked out their window and saw that the Poe house next door was gone. Not burned down, not blown to bits, not destroyed, but simply gone.
What had really happened that night?
She had a feeling that once she'd figured that out, everything else would be crystal clear. But now she had a place to start looking.
Doors and windows secure, Lucretia headed towards the kitchen. Wind whipped around the house outside causing the walls to groan. The sound of classical music drifted through the air. Turning her head quickly, she noted the ancient Victrola located in the parlor. Around and around went the record, the scratchy tunes filling the air and sending shivers down her spine.
<O:pGulping, Lucretia left the haunting music and continued to the kitchen. The swinging door pushed open causing a squeal to rent the air. The noise grated on her nerves, and she whispered to herself, "I might need to grease that."
Step by step she continued into the room. Before her was the hutch which encased what she thought she sought. There was a drawer within the hutch which had been off limits to her. A lock rested upon it. Several times, as a child Lucretia had snuck into the room and stared at hutch thinking to pry it open only to be caught in the act and sent on her way. But now there was no one here to stop her.
Before breaking the lock, Lucretia ran her hands over the wood of the hutch searching for a key. It was logical that grandmother and mother would have kept it close by. Empty handed in the next few moments she realized she would need another way.
<O:p</O:pBreak it open...<O:p</O:p
We need the book.
The slamming of doors and other unlocked drawers were heard as she pretended to ignore the imaginary person talking to her.<O:p</O:p
Luce, we have to get that book. Without it you won't remember and without remembering you will never be able to help me.<O:p</O:p
Lucretia swiveled, hands rested on her hips as she tried to search out where the disembodied voice was coming from. "Why can't I see you?"
You will. But first we have to find the book. We have to find it before...<O:p</O:p
"Before? Care to finish. I have to tell you Devon this is not funny anymore. If you have rigged this place with a microphone and you’re just piping in your words or you paid someone to break in and scare me then I'm not happy. If you don't give me something more I'm not going to move from this spot!"
Rooted to the ground she waited for something to happen. But she didn't get what she expected. Lights flickered on and off, the music from the other room stopped and started, doors rattled, chairs scooted, and then all was silent. Lucretia spun around in a circle trying to take it all in.<O:p</O:p
A breath of hot air was felt on her neck as she heard, Are you convinced now?<O:p</O:p
Lucretia nodded her head, yet she wasn't entirely certain she was convinced. What did she have to gain from finding this book? Would it really bring Devon back and the happiness she felt when they were together?
"Okay, so where should I look first?"
The better question is where would your mother or gran hide something they'd want no one to find?
She smiled, remembering all the places her mother used to hide things. Every time, Lucretia had found the presents her mother had bought her. Her favourite toy her mother hid from her for being naughty.
"I'll tell you something, Devon, it wouldn't have been my mum that hid the book because she knows I'd always find it. I knew all her hiding places and she never changed them."
So that leaves your gran. That's good, Luce. Now where would she hide something like that book so no one would find it?"
Lucretia thought about it for several moments with a smile. She had known her gran just as well as she'd known her mother. "Knowing Gran, she would have hid it outside. She was always a green thumb. I bet she hid it among the last roses she ever planted if I knew her as well as I think I did."
Then that's where you need to start looking.
"Sure, but first let me get a shovel to dig."
Lucretia headed for the door to the outside, walking past the dozen or so pictures hanging off the wall. They were of her family, many containing her and her mother. Showing how close they'd been in her younger years.
Tears glistened in her eyes for a second, before she realised thinking about it wasn't doing her any good.
Hurry up, Luce. Time's a wasting.
Once she got to the door, Lucretia opened it and stepped outside. She walked out the back, the door slamming hard behind her. She headed for the old steel shed at the back of the property, the moonlight shining down on to the rocky path to guide her way.
As soon as she reached the shed, she opened the rickety doors and slipped inside. Lining the walls were different tools -- hammers, rakes, shovels -- that they'd used over the years. She reached up, and grabbed a shovel down, holding it firmly in her hands like she'd done as a teenager when helping out her father.
Come on Luce. Keep moving. We have to find that book so I can come back to you before it's too late.
"What do you mean too late?" She asked, scared by what Devon had said. Could he not come back after being transparent for so long?
The witch that has my body is going to kill me if I don't join back with my body.
Lucretia raced as fast as she could out of the shed, and across to the rose bushes. But as soon as she stopped in front of them, she noticed something in the distance.
Someone was watching her.
An eerie feeling passed over her. The shadow of a man rested causally against the trunk of a tree. A cigarette clenched between his teeth, glowed red.
Ignore him. Keep digging.
Dirt flew over her shoulder as she worked at the hard packed earth. The rose bushes hadn't been watered in quite some time and the ground refused to yield. Diligently she worked, every now and then glancing back at the tree.
Once when she turned, she noticed that the man had moved away. Releasing a pent up breath, she dug deeper. Earlier she had pried loose the hutch drawer only to find it empty. That was when the idea for the rose bushes had taken root.
On and on she dug, finally the sound of metal striking metal echoed around her. Dropping to her knees her hands dug fiercely at the loose dirt. An object was just below the first layer of ground.
Picking up the small locked box, Lucretia studied it in the moonlight.
You found it!
"Yeah, I did. But, what is it?"
Before Lucretia had time to search the box farther something struck her from behind. The last thing she remembered was a mouth full of dirt as she feel face forward upon the ground.
"You didn't have to hit her so hard."
"She had the box in her hands."
"Listen we may still need her. She may know other things."
"Trust me, she knows nothing. Her grandmother kept the secret of her identity from everyone."
"What about that boyfriend of hers? Do you think he will be a problem?"
The maniacal grin stretched across his face, before he said, "From what the old witch told me, Devon is no longer a concern."