This week, for my October Halloween story, I have Jazzi and Ansel attend a house walk, and Jazzi sees a lot more than renovations and decor.
Halloween Open House
Jazzi climbed out of the pickup before Ansel could circle to open the door for her. Her tall, handsome Viking grinned. “Excited much?” he asked.
She pulled the booklet with the houses open for viewing from her jacket pocket. “We get to see what other people have done to their houses. Maybe we’ll get some ideas for our next flip.”
The older neighborhood north of town was full of stately, larger homes. The entire street, from Lake to State, about five blocks long, had banned together to do a Halloween walk to raise money for the Philharmonic, and twelves homes were open for viewing. Cobwebs stretched across bushes in front yards. Oversized spiders dangled from tree limbs. Orange lights glittered in bushes and trees.
Ansel grinned when they walked to the first porch and three life-sized witches, stirring a cauldron, cackled as they passed. He’d bought the same decoration to put in their basement.
A skeleton greeted them in the foyer of the three-story Georgian home. A nice touch. The volunteers inside were all dressed in costumes, but Jazzi’s gaze slid to the marble floor in the hallway, the wide dramatic staircase that led to the second floor, and the high ceilings with chandeliers. A hostess gestured for them to start with the room to their left and circle to the back of the house, then the front room on the right before going upstairs.
The first room took Jazzi’s breath away. The study was paneled in dark wood and lined with bookcases that went from floor to ceiling. Every shelf was filled with books, some of them with worn leather covers and yellowed pages. A velvety easy chair nestled in the corner with a floor lamp spilling light beside it. As she admired the chair’s deep crimson, a lovely young woman chose a book from a shelf and settled onto its cushions, curling her legs under her. She’d pulled her lustrous, dark hair into an updo and wore a long dress with puffy sleeves, a tight waistline, and a floor-length bell-shaped skirt.
Jazzi stared. “Is that girl part of the Halloween theme?” she asked Ansel.
He followed her gaze and frowned. “What girl?”
“The one in the chair.”
He shook his head, giving her an odd glance. “I don’t see a girl.”
“But she’s. . .” Jazzi stopped in mid-sentence. The young woman was gone. She rubbed her eyes, straining to see, but she wasn’t there. Had she imagined her?
A man cleared his throat behind her, impatient for them to move on. They were holding up the line. She and Ansel hurried into the dining room, one of the largest she’d ever seen. A gleaming mahogany table stretched long enough to seat twenty people comfortably. White wallpaper sprinkled with violet-colored flowers adorned the walls, and a huge bouquet of white and purple flowers sat in the center of the table, directly under the heavy chandelier with its three tiers of crystals that lit the room.
Jazzi could imagine dinner parties given here with the table set with fine china and crystal glasses. Not her style. She and Ansel invited twenty people to their family meal every Sunday, but they preferred casual entertaining. Nothing fancy. Still, she could appreciate a formal setting like this.
As they moved to the kitchen, she stepped back into a corner so people could pass her. She wanted to take her time to enjoy it. Kitchens were her and Ansel’s favorite rooms. Every inch of this one had been renovated with white cupboards, granite countertops, and stainless-steel appliances. As she was admiring the hand painted tiles of the backsplash, the scene before her blurred. The cabinets morphed to solid maple, and a pump provided water for the sink. A black cast iron stove sat in the corner. Blinking, she tried to make sense of what she was seeing and was about to leave when the same young woman entered the kitchen door. Her arms full of produce from her garden, she spread it on the wooden worktable, then went to a simmering pot on the stove to check its contents.
“She isn’t real.” Jazzi said the words aloud, and the woman turned to lock gazes with her. Her cobalt blue eyes filled with tears and she whispered, “Help me.”
Goosebumps raised on Jazzi’s arms. When she rubbed them to get warm, Ansel lowered his head to study her.
“Are you all right?”
She shook her head. Nothing was right about this. Swallowing hard, she whispered, “She’s here again. She asked me for help.”
He turned to the stainless-steel, six-burner stove, pinching his lips together. “I can’t see her.”
“I can.” But as she said the words, the woman disappeared. Ice ran through her veins. What was happening? She looked up at Ansel. “Do you believe me?”
“Yes, but I don’t understand it.”
Bless him! He didn’t doubt her, even when she doubted herself.
He sounded concerned. “Do you want to see the rest of the house, or would you rather leave here to go to the next one?”
“I want to finish this.” She wasn’t sure if she meant the tour or the woman’s story.
Ansel nodded and reached for her hand. He held her close to his side.
The living room was wide and spacious like theirs. It had several seating groups and two easy chairs facing the large fireplace. Fake flames crackled in the gas insert. The room was warm and inviting with overstuffed furniture and antique tables. They left to climb the stairs to the second floor.
Five large bedrooms and three baths opened off a hall wide enough to walk side-by-side. When they reached the last bedroom at the end, Jazzi took a deep breath. The room ran from the front of the house to the back with its own private bath. A king-size bed with a canopy was the main focal point. Again, she stepped to the side to let people pass.
The soft gray walls morphed to soft brown wallpaper with rose and white flowers. The young woman bent to make her bed, pulling up a heavy rose-colored comforter and fluffing pillows to lean against the walnut headboard. Then she turned, smiling at a man chuckling at some private joke, standing on the opposite side of the bed. He was as dark and handsome as she was beautiful. But as Jazzi watched, he faded from view. When he was gone, the woman turned to her, tears spilling down her cheeks, and whispered again, “Help me.”
Jazzi had to stifle a sob. The woman looked so sad, so stricken. How could she help?
Ansel tugged her closer to his side, offering her comfort. He waited until she regained her composure. When there was a lull in viewers, they went to see the master bath. The tiny tiles on the floor suited the gracious style of yesterdays. A clawfoot bathtub nestled against the far wall, and double vanities took up the wall on their left. A walk-in shower sat opposite them.
Jazzi motioned to the long, wood framed mirror above the vanities to comment on it when the double sinks faded, becoming an old-fashioned wooden wash stand, holding a bowl and pitcher of water. She heard water sloshing and turned toward the tub. With a gasp, she stared. The young woman struggled in the clawfoot tub, raising her head above the bubbles in her bath to gasp for air, as a tall, heavy man with gray hair pushed her head back under the surface. Water splashed across the floor until the struggles stopped and the man straightened. When he turned to leave the room, Jazzi got a good look at him. An aged version of his son. He walked past them, unseeing.
Jazzi’s body shook, and she reached to hold on to Ansel to steady herself. He gripped her and put an elbow under her arm to lead her down the stairs and out of the house. The backyard was alight with pumpkin lights strung from one tree to another. He led her to the back corner to stand in the shadows.
“What did you see?” He studied her face in concern.
She choked out the words. “Her father-in-law drowned her. I just watched him.”
His lips pressed together in an unhappy line. “She wanted someone to know.”
“I feel so sorry for her. She looked so happy with her husband.”
“This happened a long time ago?”
She nodded. “No running water. A pump in the kitchen and wash stand in the bathroom.”
“It had to be close to when the house was built. Probably at the beginning of this neighborhood.”
She let out a long sigh and leaned against him. “I’ve never experienced anything like this. I hope I never do again.”
He gestured at the pumpkin lights. “It’s Halloween. The time the veil between the two worlds is supposed to thin.”
“It’s never thinned for me before.” And she liked it that way. They stood there a little longer, letting her heartbeat slow down and the cold leave her bones, but when they started to leave, she jerked to a halt and tightened her grip on Ansel’s hand.
She was standing in a cemetery, surrounded by gravestones. A tall, impressive carved monolith rose in front of her with DORANTE carved into it. Her gaze shifted to the seven granite stones in a row ahead of it. Ogden (1822-1901). His wife, Hilda (1826-1904). His daughters, Martina (1854-1942) and Lenore (1856-1879). Martina’s husband, Lawrence (1853-1940). Ogden’s son, Pierce ( 1859-1894), and Pierce’s wife, Camille (1861- ). As she frowned at the empty date for Camille’s death, movement caught her eye. Camille’s ghost rose out of the ground from Pierce’s grave and whispered, “Help me.”
Jazzi nodded. Now she knew what Camille wanted. Turning to Ansel, she said, “We have to dig up Camille’s body and bury it where it belongs.”
“Do we know where to find it?”
“Her father-in-law buried her in her husband’s plot.”
“Are we going to finish the tour?” He didn’t look as enthused as he had before.
“Not this time. I need to call Gaff.” Her detective friend had worked with her long enough, he might believe the story she was about to tell him.
Gaff not only believed her, he helped her dig into the cold case. They found old newspaper clippings about how a young, beautiful wife disappeared three days after her husband died of a high fever from diphtheria. She left no note, no way to find her. She simply left and never returned. The father of her husband reported that she was never a stable or dependable person, and that it didn’t surprise him that she’d run away. She came from a rich family that spoiled her, and that while she gave a substantial amount of money to his son to start his business, her only interests were giving large dinner parties and entertaining herself.
When Jazzi read the aged article to Ansel, he grimaced. “The dad wanted his son’s business and knew that if he got rid of the wife, he could do as he pleased.”
That’s what she thought, too, and when she went with Gaff to meet Martina’s granddaughter, she was sure of it. The young woman had the same dark coloring as Pierce’s ghost. The girl sadly shook her head when Gaff explained that they’d come to question her about her missing relative, Camille Dorante.
“My grandmother could never understand why Camille ran away. She often told me what a beautiful, kind woman Camille was, and how perfect of a wife she was for her brother.”
“But Ogden never liked her?” Jazzi asked.
She shook her head. “She was everything he despised—graceful, loving, generous. According to my grandmother, her father was a hard man. Her mother was just as cold. But her younger sister, Lenore, was an indomitable spirit full of life and laughter.”
“But she died young?” If Jazzi remembered, she was only twenty-three.
“Polio. Everyone swam in the river in the summer, and Grandma suspected she contracted it there. But Lenore never believed in clinging to sorrow. She believed in living life to the fullest and instilled that in her siblings.” The girl leaned forward. “By the way, I’m Jennifer. And I’m curious. Why are you asking about this now? It happened before I was born.”
Jazzi took a deep breath, feeling uncomfortable. “I had a weird thing happen when I went on a house tour and saw Camille’s ghost as we went through her home.” She explained.
“Camille’s buried in Pierce’s grave?” Jennifer thought about that. “The ground would have still been freshly dug three days after his death. It would have been easy for Ogden to bury her over his casket.”
Jazzi nodded. “We’d like to dig up his plot to find her bones. I think she wants people to know what happened to her and to have a proper burial.”
The girl nodded. “If you find her, my family and I will pay for her funeral and we’ll be there when she’s finally laid to rest.”
Two weeks later, it came as no surprise when Camille’s bones were found where she’d shown Jazzi they’d be. No grass grew on Pierce’s plot or the empty one next to his. It was as though Ogden’s sin had blighted it.
True to her word, Jennifer and her husband paid for a lovely casket and were there when Camille was lowered into the ground. They all sucked in deep breaths when the minute Camille’s grave was filled, lush grass spread over it and her husband’s.
Jennifer blinked back tears. “She’s free now. So is he. He must have stayed behind with her.”
Her husband cradled her shoulders just as Ansel cradled Jazzi’s. Even Gaff looked caught off guard. Finally, they all turned to leave the cemetery. On the drive home, Ansel reached to pat her hand. “You did a good thing, but I don’t want to meet any more ghosts on Halloween, not even nice ones.”
She took a shaky breath. “Agreed.”