Chapter 1 of my story
In The Footsteps of Another
Molly exhaled bit by bit as she compared the address on the street sign with the address on the paper. Noticing it was the same, she pulled her car onto the circular driveway and inched to the front of the three-story brick colonial. The last time she was here was when she was about ten.
Glancing to her right, she noticed rows of trees now pretty much barren. To her left was overgrown grass about a foot high. It was early November and the sun had already set.
She stopped her car by the front door and got out. There were signs of some dead plants near the porch. She would have to check them out in the morning.
She exhaled again as she realized that this was not her two-room studio apartment in the city. This huge house was inherited from her Great-Aunt Claire, her grandmother's sister. Molly had only been in it a few times as a child.
After taking the keys out of the ignition, she picked up a couple of small boxes and headed for the porch. When she inserted her key into the lock and turned, it seemed the house brightened. All the lights near her turned on as though someone had just flipped a master switch.
Opening the door, she glanced up then around before putting the boxes down. Retracing her steps twice more, she deposited the two last loads of her worldly possessions and a small bag of groceries, and then locked the front door.
Molly began to look around. It seemed strange to her that all the lights would go on at the same time unless they were all on a timer. She made a mental note to ask Mr. Babcock, her great-aunt's attorney.
Glancing at her watch, she noted that it was quarter to six. That made it a seven-hour drive from the city. No wonder she was tired.
She picked up her laptop and a suitcase, heading upstairs. The mahogany balustrade added stability to the appearance of the staircase. She had always loved this railing.
Once on the second floor, she made her way to the first room with a door. Upon opening the door, she discovered a crackling fireplace against the outside wall. The warmth greeted her as she stepped in.
Molly looked at the furnishings: a four-poster bed, a large chest of drawers, a roll-top desk with wooden chair and a small rounded table next to the bed.
"Simple." She mused. "Nice" was the only other word she could muster.
Just then she heard a thump behind her. Her heart jumped into her throat. She turned to see no one. She looked both ways outside the door, but only saw her possessions. This was not where she left them. Fear crept into her spine.
"Okay, who are you?" she called out apprehensively. The last thing she really wanted tonight was to encounter someone strange. Seconds went by with no answer.
"Who are you and why are you here? She managed in a more authoritative voice with less fear.
Still no response.
"Are you the caretaker?"
"Come on, this is not funny." She continued looking, This time expanding the search to the other rooms on this floor. Each room was empty.
She went back to the first bedroom, unpacked her belongings, and laid her laptop next to the desk away from the fireplace. She glanced around again, still unnerved by the thud of her boxes just appearing outside her door with no one visibly around.
She peered around the doorway. Seeing no one there, she cautiously went back downstairs.
Once back at the front door, she noticed the bag of food missing.
"Okay, Whose here? Answer me! This is not funny." Molly said with conviction.
No answer came.
She followed the long hallway on the first floor past a set of double doors on each side.On the right was a single opened door. The light automatically came on to illuminate a small but well appointed half-bath. 'Motion sensor', she thought.
"Terrific idea," she muttered to herself, closing the door behind her. Once she left the bathroom, she made her way into the kitchen.
She noticed a relatively new refrigerator and stove. The cabinets were made of walnut as near as she remembered. She also noticed a washer and matching dryer. Beyond that, she noticed shelves.
As she stepped near the entrance a light came on. Perusing the shelves, she found canned fruit, meat and vegetables as one would get from the store. She noticed that some of the expiration dates were eighteen to twenty-four months in the future.
'Fresh food', she thought.
Then she noticed the non-food items: lanterns, ropes, sleeping bags, a tent, barrels of water, matches, candles, a compass and other hunting, fishing and camping gear were also stored on the shelves.
"Why would Great-Aunt Claire have purchased all of this?"
She walked to another corner in what she had guessed was a pantry or storage room and discovered an upright food freezer stocked with everything anyone could want. It reminded her of her empty stomach, so she retraced her steps to the refrigerator.
The food inside was very fresh according to the expiration dates. She saw that the food she had purchased had been put away. As she continued her investigation, she pulled out something to eat and prepared it. The other food appeared to be very fresh.
"Maybe Mr. Babcock arranged for all of this," she considered half-audibly. "That would make sense since he would have been the only one who knew I was moving in this weekend."
"How odd! She continued musing. She thought of the lights and her moved belongings.
It seemed out of place to see a relatively new washer and dryer next to cabinetry this old. No doubt there will be this same feel throughout the house.
She washed her few pieces of dishware and left them to dry in the drainer, then checked to make sure the back door was locked before she left the kitchen. The lights went off by themselves.
She headed back upstairs to the room she had unpacked in. Considering the peculiarities she had experienced, she hadn't thought her great-aunt so electronically savvy.
She determined to find the computer in charge of the lights in the morning. She was still unsettled about the luggage, and more than curious about the food.
Molly re-entered the bedroom as the light switched on without human intervention. She saw the fireplace take on a life of its own as the flames rose over the logs.
'Wasn't that lit when I came in the first time?" She scratched her head, disturbed because of all the oddities of this house.
She began looking around the room. The small round table appeared to be Queen Ann style. There was a lamp on the table. The shade had a border of battenburg lace around the top and bottom. It appeared as though the spindle and lamp base were of one piece of walnut, she guessed. The base edge had been rounded and smoothed. The tabletop contained a crocheted doily under the lamp, which radiated around the top edge and rippled gracefully almost to the floor that added a quiet elegance to the room.
Molly's eyes moved to the four-poster bed. The top-most quilt was the Lone Star pattern in shades of yellow and blue. She remembered her mother helped to make it. Molly's fingers followed the quilting stitches. Her memory fired up as she remembered that Grandpa Joe's work shirt was represented along with her mother's apron and her own church dress she wore when she was about eight years old. As the words reverberated though her mind, she remembered the comfort it gave her knowing that she was still connected to her family even though they were all pretty much gone.
Her eyes rose to take in the fireplace. Now a cheerful, roaring fire, it warmed the room. It's light aided in showing the carvings of the jambs and mantle. The whole scene seemed peaceful.
Between the fireplace and the window was a painting of her Great-Aunt Claire in her early '30's painted about 1932, so the plate said. Claire was painted with her dark hair pulled back. Her eyes, though a beautiful shade of blue, reflected sadness. Her mouth seemed a little tense and emotionless. She was in a black dress sitting in a chair. She was portrayed as a reserved woman. The dress had a high rounded neckline but as it was an upper body portrait, the only other details were the small buttons down the front of her bodice.
As Molly studied the portrait, she seemed to sense what Great-Aunt Claire was feeling when it was painted. She perceived that it was just after her husband had died. She could also feel great responsibility placed on her shoulders, as if her husband's untimely passing had made her a single mother.
Molly moved toward the roll-top desk near the corner. A floor lamp brightened it; almost to draw attention to its construction and detailing. The wooden rolling desk chair easily made way for her to open the top.
As the lid silently slid up its tracks, Molly noticed a lone envelope addressed to her on the desktop. Sitting in the chair and looking about the room, she opened it.
Several pages came out. The top page read:
"April 10, 1998
I am your mother's Aunt Claire. If you are reading this, I have passed on. I have left this house and the remaining fifty acres to you. I talked to your parents a few years ago. They said out of all their children you would be the most likely one to take care of this grand old house and property.
There are a few things I need to inform you of, so I shall begin.
First of all, you will undoubtedly come to find that someone is staying here with you. There is no reason to fear. Sylvia has been with the house and its occupants for more than two hundred years. She came with her parents when she was a child. After she passed on, her spirit stayed behind serving, cooking, washing and more through-out the years. We have learned that she likes to be thanked for what she does. She's happier if the residents are not too demanding."
"Okay." Molly spoke uneasily. "There's a spirit here. Then I guess it's this 'spirit' who turns on the lights, lights the fireplace and everything else. She's probably the one who brought my things up here. So in reality, I'm living in a haunted house. Lucky me?!?!?!?" She looked around the room to see if there was any clarification. Nothing moved.
Continuing with the letter: "Over the years, there have been new appliances purchased and household changes made. The bathrooms were put in the 1940's and updated in the 1980's. I purchased the refrigerator in 1992. The washer and dryer were purchased in 1995. A lot of the furnishings are antique Queen Anne style, one of a kind and very valuable.
Molly, there is money in a bank account in town. This money has been saved over the years from fruit sales from the orchard out back. Enclosed is the paperwork on the account. Have Mr. Richard Babcock go with you to the bank to get all the assets transferred into your name. PLEASE REMEMBER: If used frugally, the money will last indefinitely.
Papa had a cellar dug near the back door. There are several things in there you need to look at. He had it re-enforced with cement to keep that part of the house level. He was laughed at for years.
Sylvia knows everything else you may have questions about. She's nice, so please don't be afraid of her.
Molly, I trust that you will come to love this house and property as I do. I could not live anywhere else.
Your Great-Aunt Claire"
Molly inhaled. As she did, she noticed some writing on the backside of the last page. She turned it over to find:
"August 11, 1998
I am to die soon. If I can, I will stay behind to help you get settled. Don't be afraid. All you have to do is ask me. If I'm here, I'll answer. If not, Sylvia will.
Your Great-Aunt Claire"
Molly set the rest of the pages on the desk. She thought about what the letters said. Sylvia was a servant. She's a ghost?!?!?! And what about Great-Aunt Claire? Dare she speak out loud? She loved her Great-Aunt, but she never really believed in ghosts.
Molly picked up the papers again. The next several pages had something to do with the bank and the next few talked about the orchard. A few talked about the house and basic family history. She let a long yawn escape. Setting the papers down, she stood up.
She was going to find a bathroom. 'The note said 'bathrooms', so logic dictates there's one on this floor', she thought, getting her gown and robe out of the tall dresser.
Leaving the room, she walked down the hall trying all the doors until she found it. Upon arriving back in her room, she looked for a light switch to turn off the lamps. She flipped it off and went to bed. She was too tired to think.