Sometimes when I write I have an idea of where I want the story to go but more often than not it doesn’t actually end up there. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the story is terrible, it’s just not the story I exactly had in mind. This is one of those stories that ended up in a different direction.
There is an old, abandoned plantation house in the woods about a mile and a half from any well used trail. It was built over a hundred years or so ago. Through the years the grand house that it used to be had seen several tragedies. Stories about murders and suicides and terrible accidents that had happened over the years in and around the house are urban legends in my town that have been embellished again and again every generation.
Abruptly, in the middle of the night twenty some years ago, the original family that built the house up and left. It was such a strange event to happen in a small town like mine. One day they were there and the next they weren’t. They never said a word to anyone. And no one ever said they heard from them again either.
After the family left the house had changed hands several times, but no one stayed longer than a year. Finally, the bank stopped trying to sell it.
Rumors quickly spread about the place being haunted. School aged kids would dare each other to go into the house, but no one would. No one, except me.
I stood on the porch and stared at the door, the paint peeling off in large chunks. I looked down at the grass and vines starting to poke their way through the boards and make their way up the wall. It was if the forest was trying to reclaim it.
I reluctantly reached my hand out to open the door and froze when it slowly creaked open before I even touched it. My hairs stood on edge but it did not deter me.
The atmosphere immediately changed upon me when I entered the house. The air was thick and despite the warm summer day, it was cold. I stood in the doorway trying not to run away and trying to run at the same time. My heart pounded as I took another step in.
There was no sound. The birds that chirped, the wind that blew were noises that ceased after I walked in. I could see the dust dance around midair in the few rays of sun that shone in from the door. It was as if they welcome the sun’s warmth.
The house, though dust-filled, seemed to withstand the test of time. Everything looked as though they had been untouched. The house on the inside in no way reflected the house on the outside. Pictures still hung straight and neat on the walls. The runner in the hall looked pristine. The furniture, though covered by white sheets, looked in good condition. The grand staircase looked as bold and beautiful as it must have in the house’s glory days.
I made my way through the thick air leaving the light that the open door let in. The house was filled with shadows. What little light the heavily curtained rooms let in gave life to the strange figures on the walls. I was shaky at first, half expecting the shadows to move about the room. But other than the dust, I was the only thing that moved about the house.
The vast house held room after room which I investigated, each one more grand than the last. There was a grand piano in one room big enough to hold a hundred people. Several windows covered the walls and from the high ceiling hung the most beautiful crystal chandelier. I opened a curtain to let in some light and reveal a bright wooden dance floor.
I stood in the sunlight marveling at the room that must have held the most magnificent parties and for a moment forgot where I was. When the luster of the moment faded away I let the smile fall from my face. I then walked back out into the dark hallway and slowly made my way up the stairs. I ascended letting my hand trail up the rail.
I poked my head in the first room and gaped at its splendor. The golden trim on the walls went perfectly with the dark wooden furniture and red drapes. I stepped in, the room colder that the hall, and stared into the eyes of a beautiful painting. A young woman in late 1800’s garments, crimson dress with golden trim to match the room, stared back at me. Her dark eyes and hair illuminated her pale, flawless skin. The painting was so lifelike I half imagined her plump red lips curl into a sassy smile. There was something captivating about her eyes and caught myself wondering if the painter had done her justice, perhaps she was more beautiful in person. I reluctantly stepped out of the room with the image of the painting still in my head.
The other rooms didn’t hold half as much grandeur as the red room. But they were all color coded. The blue room with its light blue walls and navy drapes. The yellow room with its cream and yellow walls and furniture. The green room with green carpet and walls. All of them were beautiful but none of them held my attention like the red room.
When I came to the end of the hall there stood a beautiful grandfather clock. The dark wood seemed to glow as I ran my hand over its smooth surface. The clock obviously no longer worked. Its gold and opal face was missing both hands and a few chains had fallen off the bottom. Still, as I looked at it I could sense it had so many stories left to tell.
Suddenly a sleepy feeling came over me. The air that was thick at first started to dissipate and I began to feel dizzy. I looked over to the right and saw a door that I had not seen when I came up to the end of the hall. The walls were bright white and the air was warmer. I walked over to one of the chairs facing a shelf still filled with books and sat down.
It was the fire that woke me. I heard the crackling of flames and I immediately jumped up. The room was dark except for the fire gently glowing in the fireplace. My heart raced. I went to the window and threw back the drapes revealing the night sky; the moon and stars peering down on me.
Then the grandfather clock struck and I screamed, my heart skipping with every “clang”. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten.
Shaking with fear, I slowly poked my head out of the door and into the hallway. I saw only shadows but unlike the placid ones downstairs, I watched as these shadows danced across the walls. I was too scared to breathe but I somehow managed to take several shaky, tense steps towards the stairs on the other end of the hall.
The sound was muffled at first but as I got closer to the stairs I recognized the music of a piano. I continued to creep slowly, trying to avoid the patches of light that each room’s fireplace let escape into the otherwise dark hallway. I froze again when I came upon the first room at the top of the stairs: the red room. I could hear the noises of someone shuffling around. My breathing became ragged and choppy, and then stopping altogether when the lady from the painting glided gracefully out of the room and down the stairs.
I followed the phantom woman down the stairs in disbelief. Her solid form elegantly taking each step, her hand gently caressing the rail. I could hear her feet touch each stair. I could hear the rustle of her dress. If my heart wasn’t pounding as loud as it was, I swore I would have heard her breathe. If she heard me she did not acknowledge my presence, but continued down the stairs. When she turned down the hallway, I watched in amazement as the doors to the ballroom opened unprovoked. The sound of music rushed out of the doors and flooded my ears. My eyes grew wider as I took in the spectacle of several couples dancing on the magnificent floor under the incandescent splendor of the chandelier. I could feel my lips curl into a smile as the image of what I had envisioned earlier play before me.
The doors slowly closed again muffling the sounds of the piano once more. I stood, my heart pounding with excitement, in the hallway with only the flickering light of candles to keep me company. I made my way closer to the door. I could see the shadows of the figures dancing in the light that shown under the door. I slowly reached out, turned the knob and pushed the door open.
I gasped as I walked into an empty, dark and silent room. The only thing left was the cold air and myself. The room that I had seen in the daylight, where I had stood in wonder of what it once was, had changed. I spun around scared and confused. The chandelier was now hanging by a thread. The floor was littered with dust and debris. The piano was missing a leg and leaning to one side. Taken over by a wave of confusion, I ran from the room. Paintings that I had seen perfectly placed on the walls now lay in pieces on the floor. Cracks and water damage covered the floor and ceiling. The runner, so pristine and perfect when I walked in, had holes and snags. I welcomed the sounds of the night as I opened the door and ran all the way home.
No one, of course, believed me. If I had not seen it with my own eyes I would have thought I was crazy, too. I have never entered that house again, but I think about it from time to time. I want to go back and, perhaps, capture what I saw. But I’m too afraid. Too afraid of proving that I might actually be crazy. Yet, no one else is too eager to prove me wrong either.