A strange book is found in an abandoned house. Part I
|As raindrops beat on the windshield, nineteen-year-old Melissa Andrews struggled to keep her car on the muddy country road. The golden retriever puppy on the seat beside her whimpered, and his large brown eyes told her what he thought of her driving.
“Sorry, buddy,” she said, taking one hand off the steering wheel to pat him on the head.
Melissa was home from college for the summer helping her parents on their farm. Her father had asked her to deliver the puppy to his new owner, a farmer named John Miller who lived about thirty miles away. As she was on her way, a thunderstorm had arisen out of nowhere.
Although it was 3:00 in the afternoon, the sky was dark as twilight, except when a bolt of lightning lit everything up with an eerie flash. Rain poured from the sky, and turned the dirt road into a river of mud. As they rounded a curve, the car seemed to develop a mind of its own and jerked back and forth across the road. Melissa gripped the wheel as hard as she could and tried to steer, but the car slid off the road and came to an abrupt stop at the edge of a cornfield. Melissa tried to back up, but the tires spun uselessly.
"This is just fantastic!" she groaned. "I couldn't have picked a worse place to get stuck!"
Melissa picked up the terrified puppy and gave him a hug. “It doesn't look like we're going any further right now," she said. “I guess I'll call your new owner and see if he can come and pick us up.”
She took out her cell phone and dialed Mr. Miller's number but heard only a crackle of static.
“This just keeps getting better and better,” she muttered as she snapped the phone shut. She peered through the deluge and saw nothing but corn on all sides. Scenes from "Children of the Corn" began playing in her head. Then she saw the light, a small beacon barely visible through the forest of corn stalks.
“Come on, boy,” Melissa said. “It looks like there’s a house down the road. Hopefully they have a phone.”
She pulled her hood over her long brown hair, tucked the puppy inside her coat, and ventured out into the rain. She walked toward the light, getting wetter with every step and struggling to keep from losing her shoes in the sticky mud. Finally, she saw the source of the light, a large two-story house on the left side of the road. When a lightning flash illuminated the house, she could see that it had once been white, but most of the paint had peeled off long ago. A broken porch swing hung on the verandah in front of the house. Some windows were cracked with missing or loose shutters.
"Wonderful," she thought "I've gone from "Children of the Corn" to "Dark Shadows."
In spite of the condition of the building, Melissa could tell it had once been a fine place. It was the style of house she could imagine on a plantation in the antebellum South, not surrounded by cornfields in North Dakota. The house did not look fit to live in, but a light shone from a window on the first floor. She walked up the steps of the verandah, glad to be out of the rain, and knocked on the door. There was no answer except a hollow echo of her knock, so she tried the door and found it unlocked.
She opened the door a crack and called “Hello! Is anyone here? My car went off the road. Hello!”
There was still no answer. Melissa knew that entering that house was probably not the most intelligent choice she could make, but she was drawn to the place for reasons she could not explain. Besides that, she was wet, cold, and had a squirming puppy inside her coat.
"If I was the heroine of a horror novel I would regret this," she thought as she opened the door and stepped inside.
The inside of the house was as dilapidated as the outside. Strips of faded wallpaper hung from the walls, and what had once been a grand curving staircase now had a broken railing and large holes in the steps. A dirty mouse-chewed carpet covered the floor, and a bookshelf filled with dusty old books stood against one wall. She squinted, attempting to locate the source of the dim light that filled the room. The crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling had no bulbs, and she doubted the place had electricity anyway.
The puppy whimpered and wriggled inside her coat, so she put him down on the floor. “You might as well run around,” she said. “There obviously isn’t any phone here but at least we can stay out of the rain.”
As Melissa watched the puppy run around the room sniffing everything in sight, she was startled by a noise from the bookshelf. A small leather bound book had fallen out of the shelf on to the floor. She picked up the book and noticed a musty smell that reminded her of the university library and another faint, floral scent--lilacs? “Rebecca Elizabeth Garrett” was written in flowing script on the inside of the front cover, and the faded pages were covered with the same handwriting. Melissa tried to read some of it, but couldn’t make anything out in the dim light.
Suddenly, the temperature of the room dropped about twenty degrees, the lilac scent swirled through the air, and the light grew brighter. The puppy began barking, and the hair on his back stood up as he stared at the rickety staircase.
"What's the matter?" Melissa asked. "There's nobody he--" She stopped in mid-sentence, distracted by a glimmer of movement from the stairs. A girl in a long, flowing white dress stood on the top step. A wild mane of auburn curls tumbled around her heart shaped face as she stared down at Melissa.
“I’m very sorry for walking in to your house, but it was ra—aaah!” Melissa screamed as the figure in white flickered and disappeared. She dropped the book and backed toward the door, but the girl reappeared right in front of her, inches from her face. Melissa opened her mouth to scream again, but could only manage a croak as the girl's emerald eyes locked with her own.
"Wait," the girl whispered, holding up one hand. The book on the floor jerked a couple of times and floated up into her outstretched hand.
"Please take my diary and read it,” the girl said, holding the book out to Melissa. She spoke with a soft southern accent, and her voice trembled with fear. “What I once kept secret must be revealed now. Take it and go. This is a very dangerous place. You must never come back here. Go now!” She shoved the book into Melissa's shaking hands, looked behind her, and vanished in a shimmer of light.
Melissa scooped up the puppy, placed him under her coat, and stuffed the diary in her pocket. She ran out the door and all the way back to the car. This time she did lose both of her shoes in the mud, but that did not seem important now. She glanced over her shoulder, half expecting to see an apparition in white floating behind her, but saw only the dark house. The light that had attracted her to the place was gone.
By the time Melissa reached the car, the rain had stopped, and the sun peeked through the clouds. She pulled her cell phone out, not expecting anything, but now the signal was excellent, and Mr. Miller answered his phone. He arrived in a few minutes with a pickup truck and tow rope.
"Sorry you were stuck out here in this mess," he said as he attached the tow rope to the car. "What happened to your shoes?"
Melissa told him of her adventure inside the house, leaving out the part about the girl in white and the diary.
"You went inside that house?" he asked. "You're braver than I am. When I was a little kid, my older brothers used to scare me with stories about it being haunted. It still gives me the creeps. Are you sure you saw a light? The place has been abandoned almost fifty years. Come on, let's get your car out of this mud. You can follow me to my house and borrow a pair of my wife's shoes."
Later, as she watched the puppy playing with the three Miller children, Melissa asked Mr. Miller and his wife to tell her more about the house. " A guy named Roger Garrett built it back in the fifties," the farmer said. "He moved up here from Georgia and started a horse ranch on that land. He and his family abandoned the place in the middle of the night, and nobody around here knows what happened to them. There were some silly rumors about his oldest daughter being a witch.”
"I don't believe in witchcraft, but I won't even drive past that house," Mrs. Miller said with a shiver. "There's something wrong with that place. It's just plain evil!"
Melissa thanked Mr. Miller for pulling her car out of the mud, said goodbye to the puppy and the children, and headed back home. The diary in her pocket seemed warm, like something alive. Common sense told her that it would only bring her trouble, and she should throw it out the window. However, the desperation in the voice of the girl in white and Melissa's insatiable curiosity defeated common sense in the end. The diary remained in her pocket.
As she drove down the lane to her parents' farm, she thought of how good it would feel to take a hot shower, eat a good supper, and sit by a warm fire and read. She had the perfect book in mind.
To be continued...