I lay on my bed, in a deep warm nest of blankets, afraid to open my eyes. I know what I’ll see when I do, and no amount of wishing or hoping will make it go away. But somehow, keeping my eyes shut is even more frightening than confronting the truth of what is happening, and so slowly, carefully, I open them. Not completely, that would be too much. Instead I lift my lids just enough that I can see through the curtain of my eyelashes into my darkened bedroom.
It is still there. I knew it would be. I stare at it, thinking that if this were a dream, surely I would have awoken by now. I don’t understand exactly what I am seeing or why it frightens me so much, but I cannot deny the fact that I am completely terrified.
Floating just across the room from my bed is a fuzzy, black orb. Something primitive and instinctual in me recognizes the fact that I am looking at something unnatural, something that doesn’t belong. I feel it to the core of my being, and I had felt it every night since I had moved into the beautiful old Victorian house that I had scraped together the last of my savings to buy.
I’d been in love with this house since I was a little girl. I used to walk past it with my grandmother and dream of living in it one day. But whenever I would pause on the cracked sidewalk in front of the crumbling mansion, by grandmother would always tug on my hand.
“Keep walking, Bella,” she’d say to me, making the sign of the cross. “There is nothing for you to see here.”
Once I had dug my heels in and protested, and I’ll never forget the look on my grandmother’s face when she knelt next to me, carefully tucking a strand of my dark hair behind my ear.
“When bad things happen in a place, sometimes the place itself becomes evil. Stay away from that house, cara,” she said, clutching the plethora of charms she wore around her neck. I could see that her fear was real, so I didn’t protest, but I knew my grandmother was just being superstitious. Something about the house called to me, and from the moment I’d seen its turreted beauty, I had wanted it to be mine.
My grandmother was long gone, but I clutched her beaded rosary to my chest as I lay in my room, frozen with fear. Logically, I couldn’t explain my response. Although I’d seen the orb every night for weeks, it had never harmed me. But logic has no place in the dark hours before dawn, and I couldn’t wish away my fear. It was a palpable, physical reaction. Every quick breath I took seemed loud and panicked, and the sound of my drumming heartbeat pounded in my ears.
I wanted this to be over. I opened my eyes wide and stared directly at the orb. It fluttered and shook for just a second before gliding up my wall and across my ceiling. I followed it with my eyes as it flew above my bed and into the wall behind my headboard. It was gone. I raised myself up on my knees, my white nightgown bunching around my legs, and reached out to touch the spot where it had disappeared. There was nothing there.
When daylight came, the terror I’d felt the night before seemed to burn away with the sunshine. I was almost able to convince myself that my nightly visitor was nothing more than a dream, but the dark circles under my eyes proved otherwise. I sighed and headed off to work.
My coworker, Samantha, noticed my tiredness right away. “Another bad night?” she asked, and I nodded. I had told her about my nightly visitor, and she was worried about me. The concern was etched on her face.
“I could talk to the priest for you,” she said. I loved the fact that she never doubted my story. I hated the fact that she was trying to solve my problem for me. She’d already had me sprinkle my room with holy water, put charms all over my house, and she’d even forced me to attend a meeting of the Beacon County Ghost Hunters. That had been a complete bust, but a guy who thought he’d been abducted by aliens did ask for my phone number.
“No thanks, Sam,” I said, rubbing my weary eyes as I began to sort through the files on my desk.
“Do you want to get a drink after work?” she asked, tugging on a strand of her chestnut colored hair.
I shook my head. “I can’t. The contractor is coming today to look at the bathroom sink.” I managed to smile at her. “The joys of having an old house, right? Leaky faucets and ghosts,” I said, but Sam didn’t smile back.
After work I stood in front of my house, feeling the same rush of joy I felt every time I saw it. “Mine, mine, mine,” I whispered as I walked up the stone pathway. I tossed my briefcase on the couch and ran upstairs to change into comfortable sweats. The doorbell rang just as I was pulling my dark hair into a ponytail.
Jeff, the contractor, stood outside, all sun bleached hair and brawny muscle. Sam said I hired him for his looks, but that wasn’t exactly true. I hired him because he knew this house better than anyone, and loved it almost as much as I did. He’d bought it when it was a crumbling heap and had painstakingly restored every inch of it before selling it to me for a profit. He’d enjoyed the project and I’d ended up with a completely renovated Victorian jewel – with a ghost and a leaky faucet.
“Hi, Bella,” Jeff said, giving me a smile. “Is it the sink upstairs?” he asked. I nodded, holding open the door for him.
After he pulled out his tools, I perched on the edge of the tub and watched him work. “Can I ask you something, Jeff?” I asked.
“Sure,” he said, looking up from the sink. He had bright blue eyes and a craggy face that was handsome without being the least bit pretty.
I hesitated, worried about what Jeff might think of me, but decided to ask anyway. “When you were working on this house, did you ever see anything unusual?”
“What do you mean?” he asked, his face suddenly going very still.
I shrugged. “I don’t know, noises and other weird stuff.”
Jeff went back to work on the sink. “You know the history of this house, don’t you?” he asked.
“Well, the real estate agent told me some story about a lost girl,” I said, hugging my arms across my chest. “Is that what you are talking about?”
“It’s a little more than that,” said Jeff. He sighed and sat up, absentmindedly playing with the wrench in his hand. “This house was built by the Huntington family, and Cecilia was their only child. Cecilia’s parents were extremely wealthy and extremely strict. They were also complete snobs. They had their sights set on her marrying a wealthy steel baron, but Cecilia fell in love with a poor boy from a less than reputable family and wanted to marry him. Her parents were livid and tried to force her to marry the other man, but to no avail. They said she ran away, but the boy in question denies it. He was convinced they had done something to her and he believed that until the day he died.”
“How do you know that?” I asked, my voice barely a whisper.
Jeff looked at me once last time, a long, searing look. “Local legend,” he said. “The boy was Thomas Findlay.”
“The founder of the college?” she asked. “But he was a millionaire.”
“That was later in life. He never got over Cecilia, and he never gave up on trying to figure out what had happened to her. He was a friend of my great grandfather. My grandfather used to tell us about it all of the time when I was growing up,” said Jeff. “But your family is tied into this, too.”
“How?” I asked.
“Because your grandmother was born in this house. Her mother worked for the Huntington family, and she lived here when she was a girl,” he said. “She followed Cecilia around everywhere, like a little shadow.”
My mouth dropped open in shock. My grandmother had never even hinted that she’d lived here. “My grandmother was terrified of this house,” I said. “She told me it was evil.”
Jeff stood up and lovingly stroked the antique fixtures on the sink. “I don’t think this house is evil, but I think that evil things may have happened here. Maybe your grandmother saw or heard something that scared her when she was a little girl.”
I thought about my grandmother, and the raw terror I had seen on her face when she’d looked at this house. She’d never once passed it without averting her eyes and making the sign of the cross. If she had witnessed something traumatic here as a little girl, her fear would be completely understandable.
Jeff was watching my face carefully. “Has anything strange happened to you here?” he asked.
I decided to throw caution to the wind. “Yes,” I said, clearing my throat. I told him about the floating orb in my bedroom, and he listened, nodding.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “I hated working in that room. I always heard noises and felt like I was being watched. It wasn’t until later that I figured out that had been Cecilia’s room. This might sound strange, but maybe Cecilia is trying to show you something. Since she knew your grandmother, maybe she trusts you,” Jeff looked away embarrassed. “Can you show me where the orb disappears?” he asked.
I nodded, relieved that he did not think I was crazy, and showed him the spot above my bed. Jeff put his ear against it and pounded on several parts of the wall.
“It’s hollow,” he said. “If you want, I can make a hole and we can see what is back there.”
I nodded, a shiver creeping up my spine. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see, but I felt compelled to end this. I watched as Jeff slid my bed out of the way and used a large hammer to make a hole in the creamy yellow walls of my room. After a few swings, the hole was large enough for Jeff to peek inside with a flashlight.
“Bella,” he said, his voice tight. “Call the police. I think we may have just found Cecilia Huntington.”
When the police arrived, Jeff told them that he’d discovered the body while installing a new light fixture and I was grateful for his deception. I didn’t want strangers to think I’d lost my mind, but I felt like Cecilia had trusted me to find her. Maybe the house calling to me all of those years had actually been Cecilia calling out for help, and hoping someone would listen. Her nightly visits weren’t about frightening me, or having revenge. Her parents had died a long time ago, so there was no one to prosecute for her murder. She just wanted to rest.
That night I lay on my couch, under the quilt my grandmother had made me, and slept peacefully until the warm, rising sun caressed my face. Jeff was sleeping under a pile of blankets on the floor. He hadn’t wanted to leave me alone, but I knew that I was going to be fine. I looked around the parlor of the elegant old house that now belonged to me completely. “Mine,” I whispered as I fell back asleep.