There are many secrets in Aunt Mae's house. Not all of them are inanimate.
My Aunt Mae died about four years ago. She wanted me to have her house. Ok, not a problem initially. When I googled the address, Google couldn't find it. All that came up was a driveway into a bunch of trees. So I decided to go on the first long weekend coming up. That would be Independence day. The 4th was on Monday and I had saved up time from the previous year. So I had two weeks to size up the situation of what I was getting myself into.
With my backpack in hand, I drove up the driveway. Being two hundred miles from home was disconcerting at best, but not knowing what I was getting into was making my skin crawl.
I unlocked the front door to a stately old house with three floors. Bushes and trees were overgrown and made everything feel creepy, but I went in anyway.
Everything was shaded by the trees, so seeing inside was difficult at first. I managed to find the front closet and set my backpack down. I crept slowly through the living room into the formal dining room and into the oddly shaped kitchen. I finally found the back door which I opened for air.
Walking back to the front door, I noticed stairs to the left and decided to take a look. I intently listened for any odd sound which didn't help my nerves any. About halfway up, a strange feeling came over me as though I was being touched on my arm by someone.
"Come on Jen. Get a grip!" I told myself and continued upstairs.
There were four bedrooms, two on each side of a long hallway. I looked into each one. Each had a bed, chest and a desk and chair. Oddly for me, each also had a fireplace. I'd never known Aunt Mae to have fireplaces in this house. There was no central heat and air either. I dismissed the thought as I worked my way downstairs again.
Again on the stairs I paused when I felt someone touch my arm. Looking toward the wall, I saw no one. I shrugged it off as I went for my backpack.
The night passed quietly as I scoured the cabinets for any remnants of cooking utensils and a way to get the stove going. I found some wood next to the stove and proceeded to figure out how to start a fire. It had been a while since I was in Scouts.
Once my soup was heated, I went into the dining room to eat. The house felt strange. I couldn't put my finger on what the problem was, but I felt there was something wrong. I had about 3 hours of daylight left, so after putting the dishes away, I went outside to check out the grounds.
All the greenery outside was wild. The gardens were not as defined as they had been when Aunt Mae tended to them. There were sheds dotted here and there I decided to investigate those tomorrow. As the sun set, I decided to go inside and find some place to sleep for the night. I locked all the doors and went upstairs.
I chose the first bedroom on the left. On careful inspection, I saw a candle on a candlestick, so I lit it. The eerie glow it gave the room was spooky.
I set the candle at the little desk and sat down to look inside. The middle drawer in the middle had the usual items: paper, envelopes, and a quill pen and a bottle of ink. I hadn't seen anything like this in real life. In another drawer I found more paper and an oddly shaped box.
Upon raising it from it's place it seemed to be lopsided. Carefully, I raised it to the desktop and laid it down. After raising the lid, I discovered a fountain pen set with assorted tips and bottles of ink. Upon examination, it was discovered that each bottle was a different color of ink.
"That's interesting!" I thought as I replaced the top and put it back into the drawer.
In still another drawer, I found that this drawer was shallower than the others. After pulling the drawer out further, I noticed a notch. Sticking my finger in the semi-circle, I gently pulled the panel up to discover a long box. Intrigued, I set the box on the desk, inhaled and exhaled slowly, then opened the lid. Inside were letters, a lot of them addressed to Aunt Mae. That seemed to be the only things in the box, but I was curious as to the contents. I set it aside for the moment.
I reached into the fourth drawer and found bills. Water bills, electric bills, bills for yard work, grocery bills and receipts, you know, day-to-day stuff. I closed that drawer and went to the top of the desk.
I love the romance of a roll-top-desk. You never know what secrets you will uncover in the most unusual places. The first slot contained file folders each labeled with the contents. The next slot had some oddly shaped envelopes each addressed to Aunt Mae. With no return addresses, I slid them back into their place.
A small drawer underneath the slots produced a roll and a half of Elvis stamps. That was interesting as I never knew she was a fan.
In the drawer next to that one, I found a small bag. It revealed a small key, the kind that would go to a small lock box of some kind. That was interesting! I don't know why it intrigued me so much. It wasn't much longer than an inch. It had something etched into the barrel, but I couldn't tell if it was words or a design. Whatever it was, continued around the barrel. It was pretty. I replaced the key and continued searching the rest of the cubby holes and drawers. There was one weird thing I came across. It was a locket. I had seen lockets of many shapes and sizes before, but this one looked like a scroll. I opened it from one of the long sides to find a picture. This man was probably in his mid thirties, nice looking for a man in the 1950's. I studied the picture more, don't know why. The scroll in his hand resembled the scroll shape of the locket. Looking at the other side of the locket, revealed a beveled edge. It looked like a secret compartment. The mystery was deepening. I slid my fingernail between the bevel and the edge. It popped open! The compartment was empty but looked like the same size as the small key I found before.
I retrieved the key from its pouch and attempted to lay it inside this compartment. It was a perfect fit! The questions then became "Why was the key not in the locket? Why was it in the pouch stored in a different place?" Then my favorite question "What did the key go to?"
I laid the locket, key and pouch on the desk. Closer examination showed the etchings on the locket were the same as on the barrel of the key.
For some reason, my eyes got really tired, so I replaced all the items in their proper places and laid down on the bed. Maybe the reasons for what I found would be explained in the morning.
I awoke to find the sun peeping through the curtain on the window. I yawned and stretched as I usually did and decided it was time to meet the new day. After taking care of the morning business, I went downstairs to the kitchen. I heard a new noise I didn't remember hearing the night before. The source was the refrigerator! I don't remember turning on the breakers, so I didn't know that the electricity was on all this time. What a large bill would be due: for four years! My mind went to the refrigerator. I opened the door to find it stocked with fresh food!
"Now wait!" I spoke aloud. "She has been gone for four years!! How could all this be fresh?"
Sure enough, I checked the expiration date on the milk and several other items. Two weeks into the future???? What's going on??? There was no bad smell, no signs of spoilage. It was as if someone had just gone to the store and bought items I would eat and stocked the shelves.
Curious, I closed the door and started looking in the cupboards. In a small pantry, I saw cans, boxes and bags of food!! "Hold On Here!" I exclaimed. I don't remember going to the store. I don't sleep-walk, that I know of. I don't even know where the store is!! Something's going on here.
"Okay." I said aloud. "What's going on here? I didn't buy this food! It is fresh as if I had. Okay, whoever is doing this, fess up."
I don't even know if I was expecting a verbal answer, but before me on the counter appeared a note from out of nowhere. I looked around, seeing nothing moving, returned my attention to the note.
"I am Randolph. I was Mae's husband when I lived here. I bought the food. Don't be afraid. I want to take care of you as I did my wife. -R"
"Ok Randolph," I eked out timidly. "Show yourself."
Before my eyes I beheld the same young man I had seen in the locket the night before. He was the same age, dressed the same way.
"Don't worry, I am not here to hurt you or scare you." He began. "I only want to take care of you."
"As a vampire?" I joked, partially convincing.
"No, I don't do that." He continued, "I want to answer your questions and possibly help you decide if you want to stay. I would be ever so grateful if you did."
"What does it matter?" I pressed.
"My sweet Mae joined me four years ago, as you might know. But I have an attachment to this house I can't explain. I need for you to move here, continue your work and take care of this house. Please consider it." Randolph stated sincerely.
"And what if I choose otherwise," I said not trying to get on his wrong side.
"Then I will forfeit my dream."
"To have this home a retreat for stitchers, quilters and the like."
"My sweet Mae did all of that. She made this home beautiful with her hand work. Each bed has two of her handmade quilts on them. Each room is decorated with her stitching. I'd like it preserved."
"Why not contact a museum or a guild?"
"I've been to their meetings after I left this mortality. Most of them didn't have the love and reverence I have for this home and what Mae did. I need it taken proper care of." he responded.
"What will happen after I'm gone?" I asked like we were old friends.
"I will find someone else, if you don't, to take care of it."
I turned toward the dining room to sit down. Randolph seemed to float behind me.
"Does anyone else know about your presence here?"
"No. Mr. Alexander is coming up the drive now to see who you are and why you are here. Answer his questions as if you hadn't seen me. He will leave after that."
I got up and walked to the front door. Just as I opened the door, an older man was trying to knock.
"Hello." I said.
"Good day. I am Keith Alexander and I look after this place. Why are you here?"
"Well, Mr. Alexander, I inherited this house when my aunt died four years ago. I came to check the situation out."
"You waited four years?"
"Please come in."
I opened the door to allow him in, then preceded him to the living room. "Please have a seat, sir."
"I have been extremely busy with other details of my life until now. I figured that since I have time off, I could come and see what she left me."
"I see," he said slowly. "What do you think? Will you be selling the place and going home?"
"Don't know yet. I haven't finished seeing what's here."
"Very well. How long will you be staying?"
"I have two weeks off, so if I decide not to move in, it will be within that time frame." I responded honestly.
He stood. "Okay. I live next door if you need anything. The grocery store is out to the left..." he pointed in the direction. "...along with other businesses. Good day." He finished and retraced his steps to the front door and left.
I went to the window just off the entryway to watch as he walked down the driveway and out to the road.
When I could no longer see him, I slowly turned to take in the small room.
Bookshelves lined the long wall opposite the windows. An upright piano was in the far corner. I went to it and lifted the lid. Touching a key, I determined that the piano was in good pitch. The tone was clear and distinct. Lowering the lid, I went to the bookshelf. There were several sets of shelves full of books. Classics, history, science, music and fiction. This room was going to hold a lot of my attention.
I headed to the kitchen. It was time to eat. I took a peach from the refrigerator along with a carton of cottage cheese. I grabbed a spoon on my way to the dining room.
I mused on the happenings of the morning as I slowly munched on the food. First Randolph, then Mr. Alexander, then the piano and the books, now fresh food. What was I supposed to think. This was all weird to say the least, but I took it in stride. Maybe Randolph could tell me about the key and the locket.
Next, I washed the few dishes and went outside. I was going to find out what was out there.
The succeeding few hours were spent poking into the sheds in the back. I walked up the north side of the house to the front. I noticed all the overgrown vegetation and what needed to be done to prune it back. The front yard was not much better. The rose garden had been overrun with weeks and a few animal holes had been dug around the house. I walked out to the mailbox. Mr. Alexander met me and handed me the mail he had collected since Aunt Mae passed. I thanked him and returned to the house. I walked on the south side to ascertain the condition and walked back in the back door.
Next I went through the mail out of curiosity. The bulk of it was bills. There were cards from when she passed, but nothing current. I left them there temporarily as I noticed a door off the kitchen. I hadn't seen that before, so I went to see what was beyond it. There was a brand new flashlight on a small shelf next to the door which worked perfectly, so through the door I went..
I immediately encountered a flight of stairs going down. "Basement" I thought and looked for a light switch on the wall. Finding one, I switched it on. Low and behold, lights flickered to life to show me the way. I turned off the flashlight and proceeded down.
I was surprised with the layout. Row after row of shelves came to view. Boxes of all sorts were stacked in the shelves. I walked the entire length of the basement to find a sewing machine, quilting frame, bins and boxes of fabric in mint condition, thread of all colors, even cloth to stitch on and floss in every conceivable color. In the furthest corner, I found an old spinning wheel you see in story books and on the internet. I stood there in amazement! Aunt Mae gathered up all of this and organized it!
"Wow!" escaped my mouth. I retraced my steps and decided to finish my self-guided tour.
Once back in the kitchen, I had to stop and let soak in all I had seen. My sight rested on a washer and dryer in the corner closest to the refrigerator. Strange I hadn't seen that earlier.
Now up to the stairs on the second floor.
Once I got to the third floor, I noticed a large area with upholstered chairs and end tables with lamps on them. To one side was a trash can. The area was big enough to set up a quilting frame. I thought it unusual the quilting frame would be in the basement, but the area to use it was up here. The room was neat with nothing that would show what work had been done in this room by Aunt Mae and whoever else she had up here. I went to the farthest window to look out. I saw the trees and shrubs. Some birds were perched close by. I scanned the room to find another door on the side.
"This is turning out to be one treasure after another." I thought to myself. Through the door I noticed a small bathroom. The fixtures were old, but it added to the stateliness of the home. Turning around, I spied another door. "Ok," I thought. "These door are appearing at strange times.
I looked inside to find a small study, complete with books, a work table, rulers and floss was organized on one wall. The desk and chair were obviously for the composition part of whatever project she worked on. There was a tall filing cabinet in one corner and surprisingly another door. Looking inside that, I found shelving with boxes and more books. I must have inherited by love of books through her. These were books that contained patterns and ideas for projects.
"That would inspire me to stitch," I told myself.
Having explored all there was, that I saw, I retraced my steps to the bedrooms on the second floor. I went through the bedrooms and bathroom to find what I remembered from last night. I went downstairs.
I sat in the living room trying to absorb the feeling of the house and what I had discovered about my Aunt. Mom and Dad had us in other places besides here. I think I remembered coming here once when I was about ten. I don't remember much about the visit. Much to my surprise, ideas came to mind about what I could do living here. I could free-lance during the day and stitch at night. It was strange I would be thinking these thoughts due to the fact that my life was completely different in the city.
A chill ran through me as I sat musing. Looking around I found Randolph sitting at the other end of the divan.
"Hi Randolph." I said, trying not to sound surprised.
"Hi Jennifer." he replied.
"There is something you need to see. It is upstairs in the first bedroom on the left."
"That is the room I sleep in."
"I know." Randolph replied.
"Are you talking about the necklace?"
"Not directly. Read the letters." he said then vanished.
I got up and retrieved the letters from the desk drawer. I remembered them from the first night I arrived. Sitting on the desk chair, I went through them all from the earliest postmark date to the most recent.
In the letters I discovered Aunt Mae's relationship to Randolph. First, he was what was called a "Suitor" then a "Beau" then "Sweetheart" then "Fiance" then "Husband". The letters chronicled their distant relationship. He moved here to marry her. He was very wealthy and had this home built when they married. The letters stopped then.
In the last envelope, wrapped in the letter was another small key, similar to the first. I took out the necklace and tried this key in the locket space. It also fit perfectly. This time something else happened, Randolph appeared.
"As long as you wear that necklace with the key attached, I will appear." Randolph almost whispered.
"What other secrets are here?" I said as I slipped the necklace over my head.
"Many but only one at a time."
"Ok." I agreed.
So the secret for the day was the story of their life before and slightly after the wedding, and the necklace. It was interesting to me that a necklace could be instrumental in Randolph's appearance. I wondered what forces were at work here to produce such phenomenon. I didn't ask.