Did someone get into the house and etch the letters on the upper chest of the bust without the alarm going off? The groundskeeper maybe? From the basement? No, the pad lock was still fastened to the basement door from inside the hall on the first floor. Maybe there were other entrances in the house that I didn’t know about.
I left the kitchen and checked all the windows and doors; no sign of forced entry. The door that led to the attic was still locked just as I had left it. Nothing in the house was out of place. I did quick check the cameras to the front and back doors with no evidence of anyone on the property.
Was the woman whose image of the bust really one of the bodies beneath the house? Was her spirit trying to tell me something? Door? What door? The hidden door in the basement that led to the secret passage?
I left out the house with the gym bag full of clothes and my black book bag. Walking down the front steps I saw something near the edge of front yard. The, jagged shaped stones that were in the lawn were bigger, taller than before. They somehow grew a couple of inches higher out of the ground. A few yards over to the left were more of them. All the stones spread along the side of the house all the way into the backyard. More weird shit.
I drove to east Ravenswood and lay there in bed at the Lamplighter Inn trying to fully understand what was happening. “DOOR”. What did that mean? Maybe I needed to check the house for another door? I’d have to do a better check of the entire house. Finally sleep came, but not easily.
I woke up around 9:00 am the next day. I remembered I needed to replace the broken lightbulb in the attic so around noon, I visited Pearson’s Hardware. It was among all the other shops and stores downtown, between Marcia’s Vintages and Frank’s Pizza Palace. The store was dirty and needed a broom and mop. I browsed a bit until I found light bulbs, extra padlocks, and some tools.
A man sat behind the front counter reading the Ravensgate Herald. I could only see dirty, dark hair peeking out from behind the opened newspaper he held. The groundskeeper. As I reached the counter, he lowered the paper. It wasn’t the him, this guy was a lot older. The name tag read “Jack” on his button down, gray shirt. Jack rang me up but didn’t say a word, I paid for the items and left.
I noticed the Ravensgate Art Gallery across the street as I stepped out of the hardware store onto Main. Needed to get my mind of things for a minute. I put the hardware items in the car and wandered across the street. Glancing up to my left and I saw electrical workers up on top of the telephone pole repairing the snapped line that almost killed me the night before.
Before entering the gallery, I stopped to look at the artwork displayed in the window, the artists were local. Good ones, there were portraits of Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell, two great economists. Another piece looked like a page taken out of a comic book with flowing panels.
I walked inside, an oval shaped counter was positioned in the center of the main room. Behind it sat a pudgy lady, with brown hair and glasses, wearing a colorful dress, and plenty of makeup. She was eating a giant Italian sub.
“How are you?” she asked with mouthful.
“Great, just thought I’d look around.”
“Sure, glad to have you here, there’s more to see upstairs.”
The place was fairly busy, small groups of people gazed at the art on the walls and sculptures on the floor. Some art was traditional, contemporary, while others very surreal, not my taste. I was reminded of Sandy. Her work should be in a museum.
The second floor was a bit smaller, but they managed to cram quite a few pieces up there. Black and white photographs of miscellaneous things such as garden tools aligned the walls.
There were small sculptures made of toothpicks. None of it really appealed to me. I came across a large metallic sculpture, about five feet high, which was set on the floor. It was in the shape of a woman riding a horse.
“Kind of cool isn’t it?” a female voice said from behind, I turned around. Claire, the barista from the Coffee Nook stood smiling.
“Yeah, sure is,” I said. “The artist is gifted. I could never make anything like that.”
“Well, thanks,” Claire said.
“You made this?”
“Yup, it’s my first piece working with metal, I usually draw and paint.”
“Is any of your other work around here?” I asked.
“Yup, right over there.”
She led me into the next room to a section near the back of the building. About seven of her pieces hung on the wall, some were in charcoal and others in watercolor. She did a few nature scenes which was a lot better than the surreal stuff in the gallery. Many of her oil paintings were of people in public settings like bars or shopping malls; the amount of detail was uncanny.
“This is pretty amazing work. How long have you been doing this?” I asked.
“Since I was a kid, ten years old maybe? I get it from my mom. She’s a professionally trained artist and teaches at the University. I’m not as good as her yet, but maybe one day.”
“Your mom’s done a fine job at showing you the ropes.”
“So, what brings you to Ravensgate anyway? Why would anybody want to live here?”
“I just needed to get away from the city for a while. I bought a house not too far from here, good place to work from home.”
“I didn’t know there were many houses for sale around here, most people stay in these old houses for generations,” Claire said.
“Actually, a friend of mine used to live in the one I just bought. She was pretty new here herself too.”
“The only new person recently was that lady who went missing. You mean that old house on Arkham Road?” Claire asked.
“Yeah, that one.”
“It was all over the news. You knew her?”
“Yeah. She was a family friend.”
“You know, the lady who lived in that place before your friend disappeared too. They still haven’t found her or her husband. My mom knew her. She did some paintings for her years ago.”
“Really?” I said. “Your mom’s work might still be in the house.”
“Would you consider selling some of it? Mom has been trying to get back some of her earlier pieces for years. I’d love to surprise her with some.” Claire asked.
“Tell you what, if you like, come by the house one of these days and have a look. We’ll see which ones are hers.” I said.
“Sure. How about this Saturday? I’m free in the afternoon.” Claire said.
We agreed to meet on Saturday at 2:00 in the afternoon. I talked with Claire for about a minute more then left the gallery. Claire stayed to do whatever artists do in their galleries. I might ask her out on a date that Saturday.
I made it back to my car across the street and I noticed something underneath one of the windshield wipers. It was a small, folded, white piece of paper. I opened it and in hand-written, black ink was an invitation:
Mr. Mendoza, I’ve information that you may need. I am willing to give it to you. If you would be inclined to take this offer, we should meet quickly. I am available this evening at 10:00 p.m. near the riverfront in Ravensgate Park.”
There was no signature and thought it to be some sort of trick of the groundskeeper. Could be a trap. How did they know my car? Could this person really have something I needed?
I put the note my pocket then drove back to the house to change the bulb. On the way I thought about whether to meet the person who left me the note. I may be passing a chance on useful information. It was settled, I would meet the stranger in Ravensgate Park at the waterfront but not without taking proper precautions.
Once home, I left the tools I bought from the hardware store on the enclosed back porch and made sure the basement door was still locked. Then taking with me a flashlight, broom, dustpan, and new bulbs, I marched upstairs to the second floor and unlocked the attic door with the skeleton key. I went up into the attic then replaced the old bulb with the new one and turned it on.
After sweeping up the broken bulb on the floor I took a better look at the furniture and other items stored in the attic by removing the dust covered sheets. There were boxes upon boxes filled with house accessories.
A bureau with a swivel mirror caught my attention, a rocking chair too. I was reminded of the Antiques Roadshow on PBS, which depicted homeowners who brought items and heirlooms on the show from generations ago to have them appraised. Some things were appraised for a lot of money.
From the far-left corner at the front of the attic, I thought I saw movement. There was the old wooden trunk I remembered from the first night in the house. Behind it, standing in the shadows was silhouette of a woman.
Her face became clearer and features defined as he moved forward into the light. Her face was clear. It was the spirit of the woman I saw walk past the study in the hall, the one with the dark hair, whose bust was in the sanctuary.
The large trunk shook violently and loudly for about five seconds then abruptly stopped and the woman disappeared. I went to it, squat down, and unbolted it. Inside were stacks of stuffed envelopes. They were jammed with old photographs which looked to be from the seventies or eighties judging by the style of clothes the people wore.
I shuffled through the photos then stopped when I recognized a woman who was posing in the backyard of the house. It was the woman whose spirit just revealed herself to me. The name Elise was written on the back of a few of them. She indeed was the woman I saw walking the hall.
There were also pictures of a man with a mustache throughout the trunk, Manual Hall I assumed. He appeared often in photos with Elise. In some photos he wore a military uniform adorned with metals and ribbons.
The police apparently thought that the contents of the old trunk weren’t important. I wondered what they took from the house if anything.
Continuing to look through the pictures I came across a photograph of a large group of people at some sort of party. In the background, in the crowd I saw an even more familiar face. Sandy.