Sylvia’s house was a monstrous paradox. Situated in the suburbs of New Orleans, it looked quite pleasant from the outside with, balconies, porches and wrought iron railings. Encased in an exquisite garden with climbing ivies and rosebushes it gave the impression of a coquettish lady about to take on a flirtation. Its inside, on the other hand, was writhing with spasmodically darkening shades and creaky stairways, with its rooms getting lost in each other in an endless maze. Yet, Sylvia loved her house, so much so that she wouldn’t leave it unattended even for few days. That was until I got a job in The French Quarter and considered moving there permanently.
Sylvia asked me to stay with her, at least for the beginning few months, which would free her to travel a bit. I accepted because she was an old friend and also because I was short on money.
Before she left for San Francisco, Sylvia took me to visit the Higgins house. It was one of those supposedly haunted places around New Orleans. On our way out we stopped at the gift shop and she bought some trinkets for her cousins. Also she fell in love with a locket for herself and paid quite a large sum for it.
Two nights after Sylvia left, while I was getting ready for bed the electricity went off. Thinking that I would be sleeping anyway, I paid no attention to the darkness surrounding me. I groped my way and slid under the covers. ‘This is so gross,’ I thought since I mostly read a little before dozing off. I was set in my ways in my stale world since mostly I had lived in isolation; plus I didn’t like the dark.
Just as I was falling asleep, I heard a sudden crackle and pitter patter. ‘It must be raining,’ I thought, ‘with a thunderstorm on the way.’ Yet, all fell quiet after a while.
“Mama!” It was the wailing of a baby. I sat up. To my knowledge there were no babies in the surrounding houses. Even if there were, the houses were so far apart that it would be impossible to hear one.
As soon as the baby’s crying stopped, my bedroom door shook from its hinges with loud persistent knocks. I knew I had locked all the doors. Who on earth could be sharing this house with me? A burglar, a rapist, an ax murderer? The more I sat frozen with fear, the more the knocks came, one after the other with no interval in between. I couldn’t take it anymore. Also my scare had given in to curiosity. If it were someone to harm me, he could just shove his way in. There were no inside locks on the doors.
I got up and pulled the door open. Nobody! Except for a rustle and a whiff of breeze. But in the dark something was forming. Something in grey light. A while later, I could make out a feathery shape.
“Oh please!” A woman’s voice said. “You have no light. I’ll light my candle.”
Suddenly a woman appeared in the haze of a brass candle she was holding. She was dressed in an attire of a century ago. I was dumbfounded.
“I came for my locket, please,” she begged. “Without it, I can’t get my baby.”
“I really don’t have your locket and I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I stammered. “I don’t even know you.”
“Then please help me find my locket. Someone took it from the house.”
“The Higgins House, down by the river.”
I gasped in fascination. She was talking of Sylvia’s locket. “My name’s Paulette,” she continued. “Let me tell you how it happened. According to most, I was ugly as sin. So my parents forced a young captain in the Union army to marry me…”
“Oh no, please don’t believe it. You are very beautiful,” I said. “Some people don’t know where to look for beauty.”
Paulette, that poor tormented soul, probably talked the whole night through. It seems that she had a baby but her husband left her for another woman. He also took her baby away and wouldn’t give it to her unless she returned that locket which was used to belong to the husband’s mother. I told her I’d do my best to find the locket and return it to the Higgins House, but in the meantime I asked her to say the Lord’s Prayer, hoping that a higher power would lift her spirit up from the prison of time that she was locked in.
Next day I called Sylvia. “Sure, Sweetie!” she said. “I left it in the top drawer of my dresser. Take it back. Don’t worry about it. Things like that happen in New Orleans all the time.”
When I returned the locket, the lady in the gift shop exclaimed, “Again! Paulette came to you too?” Then she told me the rest of her story. Paulette couldn't return the locket because she couldn't find it. Not believing her, her husband barged in her house and shot her to death in front of all the servants. That locket was found decades later locked inside the hidden chamber of an old hutch.
I guess where ghosts are concerned clocks obey no rules and time freezes. I pray for Paulette regularly. As for me, my finances have improved so much that I now have the tiny house across from the Higgins House. I hope that maybe someone will hear my prayers. Maybe Paulette won’t feel ugly anymore because she now has made friends with someone from another time.
A dark house...
a sudden sound...
a baby cries...
a knock on your bedroom door...