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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2110192-Under-the-Skin
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Supernatural · #2110192
A medium investigates a house with a disturbing past.

"Would you like some tea?" asked Tamara Lee, reaching for the kettle as Barnabas Cisneros settled himself next to her.

"Please, but only if there's no caffeine," answered Barnabas. "I find it makes contact problematic."

Tamara poured a cup for him, then the two sat back and watched the steam curl from the kettle, as if it would come alive. Tamara sat on the couch with her hand in her lap. She was in her late fifties, with her blond hair going gray, and lines radiating from the corners of her blue eyes. But she still had an attractiveness about her that Barnabas knew drew others in. From the window in the kitchen, the afternoon sun spilled inside and invaded the dimly lit living room, lighting Tamara from behind like a halo and making her pale skin seem to glow.

"You come highly recommended," said Tamara. "I've had many other mediums here, all fakes."

"And where did you find these 'fakes?'" said Barnabas. "The yellow pages? The internet, perhaps?"

Tamara gave a wry smile and reached for the milk.

"I would rather not talk about it," she said. "It only reminds me how much money I've wasted on this foolishness."

Barnabas smiled.

"Well, then let's move on to your immediate problem. You told me you have a presence in this house."

"Yes, so it would seem. I'm no expert, but I feel it every day."

She gestured around the richly appointed living room. The house was old, but very well maintained. The walls were finished in mahogany moldings, and were decorated with tasteful paintings interspersed with family portraits. The furniture would have fetched a commanding price at any antiques auction. The light fixtures seemed to be a bit newer - nineteen-forties stuff, rather than turn-of-the-century.

"Are the light fixtures original?" asked Barnabas.

"The house use to have gas lighting. All electric now. But gas! Can you imagine the carbon monoxide hazard? People used to die because of those."

Tamara pointed at the Tiffany lamp standing in the corner. It overlooked a mahogany chair upholstered in pale white leather.

"That light comes on by itself almost every night," she said. "As if someone is sitting in that chair, reading. I witnessed it several times. The chain? It pulls down by itself, and the lamp come on."

Barnabas stood and went to the chair. He looked closely at the lamp.

"I don't sense anything specific to this chair, or lamp. Every night, you say?"

"Yes, and that's not the only thing. But it's the most frequent thing. I'm no medium like you, but I've certainly seen enough to know that what's going on here is not natural."

Barnabas shook his head.

"It's the most natural thing in the world for us to want to hold onto what we have," he said, "even if that is a life that has passed."

He returned to the couch and picked up his tea. The steam continued to swirl with every move he made.

"I've seen it many times, but usually in households where someone has died recently, leaving unfinished business. It sounds like a clich I know, but that is the nature of these presences."

Barnabas sipped his tea, and looked into Tamara's eyes, trying to gauge her understanding. Tamara's eyes looked like chips of blue china, and gave nothing away. Uncomfortable, Barnabas set his tea down.

"Look, I don't sense a localized presence, just a general one. A presence about this house, really. It's very unusual. What is the history of this house?"

Tamara sighed.

"A long time ago, it belonged to Henry Marston."

"I've read about him. An industrialist?"

"Owned a string of tanneries. He was the leather king of the Eastern seaboard one hundred and twenty years ago."

"And he lived here?"

"For a while, while his business was growing. He was rumored to be very eccentric."

"Didn't something happen to his family?"

"They disappeared, all of them, in 1905. His wife, Lysa, two sons and one daughter. No trace of them was ever found. He had no other offspring, and died alone."

"Interesting. You seem to know a lot about him. Are you related?"

"Oh, heavens no! But when you live in an antique, you develop an appreciation for its history. Marston is the history of this place."

"I still have questions about this house," he said. "There's something about it, something that fascinates."

There's something about you that fascinates, he didn't say.

"The house has a long history," said Tamara. "Longer if you're living it," she added absently.

"What?"

"What would you like to know?"

"Who else has lived here?"

"My husband, Dale, before the divorce. He lives in Tampa now. My two children Jenny and Lawrence, both grown and moved away. Now, it's just me, in this huge place."

"Has anyone died here?"

"Not in recent memory."

"Henry Marston, perhaps?"

"He didn't live here at the end. I believe he passed away in a hospital. I read a memoir from one of his physicians, saying that Marston was suffering from severe dementia."

"But you said the presence didn't start until three months ago."

"That's right. Have you any record of something like this starting out of nowhere?"

Barnabas wracked his brain trying to remember a similar situation but could recall none. Presences always coincided with traumatic events, usually a death. There was no event Tamara described to him which happened in this house which could be regarded as traumatic.

"I'm sorry, I'm drawing a blank," he said. "This is highly unusual. Especially the physical manifestations. I would like to look around the house."

"Look anywhere you want, Mr. Cisneros. If it helps, in the attic, there are old portraits. Very old. They were here when we moved in. They must have belonged to whomever lived here before."

Tamara led Barnabas upstairs and pulled down the attic ladder in the main passageway.

"The light switch is to the left. Last I checked, it still worked."

Barnabas nodded his thanks and ascended to the attic.

Dust greeted his senses, that and the faint smell of rat droppings. But the dust intrigued him. He had experienced searching old buildings and had become a connoisseur of sorts for dust. This smelled very old. He felt for and found the light switch and turned on a fixture with a bulb which looked like it might have been manufactured by Edison himself. Several boxes, a dress form, and a steamer trunk greeted him, covered in a light coating of dust. The dress form looked grotesque, a female torso with no legs, arms or head facing him impassively. Barnabas examined the boxes and saw what he wanted: PHOTOS written in the side in black marker ink.

He opened the box, waving away the clouds of dust.

A black-and-white photo of three children was on the very top of the pile. Two boys and one girl. The boys looked to be about ten and eleven years old. The girl looked to be about eight. All were wearing clothes that looked vintage turn-of-the-century. Despite the anachronistic clothing, the photo was surprisingly well preserved. The boys were smiling at the photographer, but the girl was not. Barnabas looked closer. It looked like she was looking at something just over the photographer's left shoulder.

The picture had a matte, and written neatly below each child in white pencil was a name: Harrison, Caleb, Margorie.

Barnabas thought for a moment, then decided to try something. He shut his eyes and listened, and at the same time, focused on his skin, trying to sense the air currents. He felt footsteps as Tamara moved around the house below. Other than that, the house was silent.

Barnabas opened his eyes and saw a young woman standing in front of him. Startled, he shut his and shook his head. When he opened them again, he was alone with only the dress form for company. Barnabas looked around, and then did another ten-count to tame his suddenly hammering heart.

This is highly irregular, he thought. If that had been an apparition, it would be the clearest, most concrete thing I have ever seen. But as always, it could have been a hallucination, brought on by wishful thinking. I have to be realistic.

Barnabas returned his attention to the box. He dug deeper, and saw what he was looking for. A portrait of the same young woman he who had just appeared before him.

His heart beat faster again as he examined the photograph. The woman's hair was pulled up into a bun, and she was wearing a black frock, as if she had just come from a funeral. The photograph had a dreamy quality about it.

Barnabas dug deeper and his fingers touched something soft and supple. Suddenly the presence was overpowering, as if he had somehow been transported inside of it. He pulled the object out.

It was a leather key fob, without keys. The leather was of a very pale color, like plaster. The grain was so fine he almost couldn't feel it. He felt indentation in the leather and turned it over to reveal the initials; M. M.

Margorie Marston.

Barnabas shivered, and dropped the fob back in the box. He grabbed the portrait and hurried downstairs.

"Did a young woman live here once? Late teens, early twenties, blond - like you, brown eyes, about five-six?"

"Why, I have no idea. Maybe before I and my family lived here."

"This doesn't sound like anyone you know?"

Tamara shook her head, looking mystified.

"Did you find something interesting?" she asked.

"Does she look familiar?" he asked, showing her the photograph.

Tamara frowned, and took it from his hands.

"I can't really say. I've never met her. Yet, she looks familiar, somehow. Maybe I saw this when Dale was packing the photos away, all those years ago."

Barnabas was now staring intently at Tamara as she examined the photo.

"Do you really believe that?" he asked, on a hunch.

Tamara turned to him.

"No. I know her. Somehow I..."

She stopped, then slowly turned, photo still in hand, and began to approach the chair next to the Tiffany lamp. Barnabas followed, watching every move. Tamara sat down, still holding the photo. Slowly, she reached up and turned the lamp on.

"It was here," she said, staring at the photo. "Here is where I began my rest."

"Who am I talking to?"

Tamara looked at him, and her eyes were no longer blue china, but rather a deep and soulful brown.

"My name is Lysa."

"And why are you here?" asked Barnabas, trying to keep the tremors out of his voice.

Tamara looked at the photo.

"I've always been here."

"You mean in the photo?"

Lysa/Tamara shook her head.

"No, I mean here."

Her free hand touched the bolster of the chair, made of the familiar pale white leather, and a chill crept up Barnabas' spine.

"And part of me..."

Lysa's hand stroked the chair's bolster.

Suddenly, Lysa was gone, but Barnabas still sensed her presence. Tamara was looking at him, blinking.

"How did I get here?" she said.

Barnabas reached out with his hand.

"Get out of that chair, Tamara."

Tamara's eyes, now blue again, were very wide. She took his hand and stood up.

Barnabas was now staring at the chair, and saw right along the stitching near the bottom, two letters: L.M.

A long history in this house, longer if you're living in it, he thought. I just found Lysa. Old man Marston, leather king of the Eastern seaboard, was sicker than anyone suspected.

"Mr. Cisneros, what's going on?"

"I think your property value is about to take a nosedive," said Barnabas.

"What do you mean?"

Barnabas didn't answer, but instead, began calling a number at the FBI, to an agent he knew with an open mind, who would be particularly interested to know where the leather in this antique furniture had come from.

© Copyright 2017 Graham B. (tvelocity at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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