“Miss Tabitha, I’m afraid I come bearing ill news.”“So. The estate has been settled, then, Mr. Anderson?”“Yes.”“And not in my favor, I presume.”
“Unfortunately not, miss. Please know that I am deeply sorry for my failure.”“Never mind, Mr. Anderson, you argued your best. It was a long shot anyway.”“Thank you, miss.”“I suppose I should like to hear my fate now.”
“Well, the land in its entirety will be turned over to your half-brother, Christopher. Thecottage and its outbuildings will become part of Corsey Hall once again.” “I suppose that was to be expected. Christopher inherited everything else when my fatherdied. I suppose mother and I were fortunate to stay here for so long.” “Regrettably your father left the property specifically to his second wife, your late mother,in his will. You were too young when he died, I suppose, for him to think about providing for you.There is, of course, a bit of money held in trust until you are of age, but, alas, that is still a few yearsoff.”
“So I am left with nothing, then? Penniless and homeless; an orphan cast out on thestreets?” “You are not quite destitute. Your mother has a brother, a Mr. Simon Dufor, who currentlyresides in Louisiana. You shall be sent to live with him.” “Louisiana?”
“To be more specific: New Orleans, your mother’s birthplace. You learned French at herknee so I do not anticipate any difficulties adapting.” “When must I go?” “The deed to the cottage will be transferred to the young Mr. Corsey in three days.Naturally, it will have to be vacated before then.” “Naturally.” “The furniture and household goods must remain, but you may take along any personaleffects. Dresses and shoes and the like; things purchased with your own money.”
“Oh.” “Come now, miss, it’s no time for tears. Here, take my handkerchief.” “Thank you.” “Think of this as an adventure, Tabitha. Time has come for you to set aside your mourningclothes and begin a new life away from Corsey Hall and your peculiar position in the family. Not asyour lawyer but as your friend, I urge you to give New Orleans a chance. I hear it’s quite the uniquecity.” “I shall try, Mr. Anderson.”
“I took the liberty of arranging your travel on my way from the courthouse this morning.I’ll come by with my carriage early Thursday morning. I’ll ride along with you until the stage coachstation, but there we must part.” “Thank you for all you have done for me. Your assistance has been a great help these pastfew months. But I fear the time has come for our association to come to an end. The case has been lostand my only relations willing to take me in are half a country away.”
“Now, now. Just because we shall not see one another any longer does not mean that othermethods of correspondence need be overlooked.” “You would not mind, then, if I were to write to you?” “I await your first letter with eager anticipation. I expect to be informed of every detail ofyour new life in Louisiana.”
“Every word.”“Then I suppose I shall bid you farewell until we meet again?”
“Yes, goodbye Mr. Anderson. Thank you once again.” “I will see you bright and early Thursday morning, ready to commence the first part ofyour journey.”
The frosty, autumn air raced through the open carriage door, sweeping along with it ahandful of pumpkin colored leaves as they broke from the trees.
“Watch your step now, miss,” the footman warned, his tired instruction all butovershadowed by the far-off grumble of thunder sweeping down the mountainside. With a shiver, Tabitha leaned forward in her seat and peeked out at the cold. “Sounds like a bit of a storm coming in,” she mentioned and with a sigh got to her feet.“Best not linger too long.” “Yes, miss,” the footman ceded complacently and offered her his hand.
Accepting it, Tabitha climbed down the couple of rickety stairs, wobbling with thecarriage, and dropped down onto the gravel road. Her uncle’s manor was a rather massive structure – at least three, maybe four, floors tall. Itloomed over the rickety carriage Tabitha had thought accommodating, secure not four days ago; overher small, spindly stature and her only companions and their horses. “It sure isn’t a welcoming place, is it?” Tabitha wondered aloud. The toes of her shoes edged on the densely black shadow, darker even than the night, castby his manor. She shivered, despite the edge of mugginess that still lingered, trying as it might to fightthe cold.
“Well? Don’t you have something to say?” she prompted. Tabitha shuddered once again, more violently than the last time; then puerilely turned herback on the rows of vacant windows with wide-stretching shutters, for an impractical fear thatsomething may pop up at her from inside. “Some sort of reassurance, perhaps, that my uncle’s place is all bark but no bite? Thatthings often look less haunting in the daylight?”
The footman had climbed up the rear of the carriage, using the spokes of the wheels as asort of step ladder. But as Tabitha pressed for a response, he froze awkwardly, with his hands reachingto untie her luggage from the roof and his wide, pale mouth nattering for an answer. “Perhaps, ma’am,” he ceded finally, followed by a large exhale. “Very good, Greeley,” she chirped and, taking pity on the young man, turned her back onhim, as well. As Greeley grunted to undo the ties up above, Tabitha wandered toward the head of thecarriage where the horses were harnessed.
“I don’t suppose you suspect my uncle’s manor is haunted, do you?” she murmured aloud. Behind her the mare in the lead, whom Tabitha had heard called by the name Ramona,startled. She snorted a large breath of warm air into the cold, tossing her raven-black mane andstomping her hooves into the soft ground. “Oh, hush,” Tabitha scolded. “Before you excite the others. Things often look morehaunting in the night.” Shakily, she turned back to face the manor. “Miss Corsey?” Tabitha startled. “Ah, thank you.” She hurried to take her suitcase from Greeley.
“If that will be all, miss?” “It will. Thank you for the ride. And thank you, Mendel,” Tabitha added, craning her neckback toward the front of the carriage to address the driver. Gathering everything up into her arms, she stepped back from her transport. Greeley tippedthe top of his head at her in an acknowledging way; then hoisted himself back up to his place at therear of the carriage. “Carriage ready, Mendel,” he hollered toward the front. Over the crack of a whip, Tabitha hollered last-minute wishes for a safe and quick trip, atthe head of the impending storm. It was unclear whether her send-off was heard, however, as Ramonaled the others in a startling dash for the iron gate.
Tabitha looked back at the only thing to turn toward: the front door.
She pulled her luggage up the front steps, abandoning them against the cast iron rail, andpulled the bell cord. A deep, melodic chime rang throughout the air and faded back to silence as anarrow, dark face of a woman appeared in the door’s window. The door swung open. “Miss Tabitha? Welcome to New Orleans. Come in, come in; you’ll let out all the spirits.” Tabitha swallowed and retrieved her things; then shuffled hurriedly inside at the rapidpromptings. “‘Let out all the spirits?’”
“It’s better than letting in any new ones,” the woman reassured her in a low voice. “I’mHenriette – the maid.” “Nice to meet you,” Tabitha stuttered out of formalities. She glanced around the interior of the entryway. As Henriette had closed the front doorbehind them, Tabitha noted the feeling of the fresh air being shut out. All that remained was themusty, closed-up air that was so chilling to the touch it felt almost as if a layer of water settled on herskin.
“What a late arrival, you poor girl. The bedroom you are to have is this way,” Henrietteexplained, turning her back on Tabitha. She pushed through the nearest set of heavy doors effortlessly and continued down the ill-lit hall, gliding gracefully without bothering a glance to confirm Tabitha’s presence behind her. “I am sorry that your uncle wasn’t here to greet you,” she chattered. “He’s been calledaway on business.” “Is that so?” Tabitha wondered, ducking to avoid stumbling into a low-hanging cobweb.From the corner of her eye, she caught a spider, just as startled by her as she had been by it, turn on itsheels and scramble into the corner of its web.
“Indeed,” Henriette confirmed pointedly. “With him gone, it’s only me in the house. Getsrather lonely, as I am sure you’re capable of understanding. In fact, I was beginning to doubt you werereally coming.” Blushing slightly at the well veiled accusation, Tabitha edged around a table spotted withvarious fractured, dirtied vases full of wilted, crackling flowers.
“Yes, I’m sorry for the delay. There was a bit of a heavy rain at the start; left several of theroads in Virginia just flooded enough to prevent journey for the better part of a week.” “So long as you came, miss. We’ve been counting on your arrival,” Henriette admitted.
Tabitha opened her mouth to clarify just who ‘we’ was – recalling that, since her uncle’sdeparture, Henriette was apparently rendered the sole remaining staff member. But before she couldinquire into anything, Henriette quickened her pace toward another pair of double doors.
“Here you are: your room,” she announced. “I’ve made the bed up myself and started afire. I’m sure the accommodations will do.” “Oh, yes,” Tabitha reassured her and stepped in after the maid. Was it possible that this room was even colder and darker than the last? “There will be supper on the table after you unpack. The dining room is just off theentryway. Should I retrieve you?” “No, no,” Tabitha decided, dropping her luggage just inside the doorway. “I’m sure I canfind it.”
She edged further into the room. It was well furnished: there was a full-sized bed made ofdark wood pressed against the far wall. It had, indeed, been made up in different layers of freshblankets and an autumn-colored quilt. And along with that were a tall dresser, a nightstand, and adesk. Tabitha undid the top buttons of her coat and set her bonnet on the edge of the bed.
“One more thing, Henriette,” she called over her shoulder. “This manor… it’s not reallyhaunted… is it? I only ask because, who hasn’t heard a rumor or two here and there? But they areonly rumors, aren’t they? Henriette?”
Tabitha turned back toward the doorway.But it was already empty. ___
This room was dim at well, brightened only faintly by the smallest flames she’d ever seenburning in a hearth that size. Nevertheless, Tabitha stepped into the dining room.
Just as Henriette had promised, a crimson china bowl sat at the far end of the table, alongwith two goblets and a set of silver wear. It was clear from the tendrils of steam that rose anddissipated into the air several inches above the bowl that whatever dinner was, it was warm – andfresh. Enticed, she unstuck her feet from where they’d planted themselves to the hardwood floor.The swish-swishing of her toffee satin skirt and the light tapping of her shoes the only audible noisesas she walked, Tabitha pulled the stout chair at the end of the table back a foot or two and slipped intoher place.
Another grimy vase housing an arrangement of dead, brittle roses was pushed to themiddle of the table. A little dot of a spider dropped swung from one of the leaves. Tabitha just did herbest to look past it and to the far more intriguing portrait hung beyond. Swallowing her first spoonful, Tabitha was surprised to find that dinner, which turned outto be a thick sort of stew or soup, was full of plenty spices. She grabbed quickly for the goblet full ofwater and swallowed until her mouth cooled.
Despite the spiciness, Tabitha smiled at the full bowl. Inhaling its decadent, diverse scent,she drew her water goblet up in one hand, and her silver spoon in the other. And within a matter of minutes, she’d tucked in the remaining stew – along with her gobletof water, and then her goblet of sweet wine, too. ___
Tabitha was dreaming that she stood at the front of her uncle’s manor. Was she arrivingagain? It didn’t seem like it. The trees were turning colors and balding just as they had been tonight; itwas even the middle of the night and crickets chirped from the surrounding grounds. But as she looked around the front of the manor, it all looked so much fresher; brighter.The windows didn’t seem to leer down at her and she wasn’t driven to avert her eyes from what laybeyond them. And she wasn’t alone.
The hazy images of several young boys – no older than ten or eleven, at most – danced allabout. She could make out no faces; no features that made them out to be anyone she knew or hadseen. She knew only that they were male, of a young age; that they were rather excited aboutsomething or other and moved not around her but rather with her. They chanted and they jeered, darting about the grounds. Tabitha wished the nighttimequieter and listened closer, trying to make out the words they sung:
Solomon Grundy, Born on a Monday, Christened on Tuesday, Married on Wednesday, Took ill on a Thursday, Worse on a Friday, Died on Saturday, Buried on Sunday. This is the end Of Solomon Grundy. The one skipping nearest her reached out and pressed something small and hard into herhand.
Without any warning, all the obscured figures reassembled – again, not around herbut with her, as if she stood in their midst. And suddenly she was aware, without necessarily havinglooked, even, that each of them carried something small and hard in each fist. “Poor Solomon Grundy!” rang out one voice; then, whip! With a jerk of the arm so suddenit seemed involuntarily – though somehow Tabitha found she had the knowledge it was veryvoluntary, indeed – the first boy flung his fistful at the beautiful manor front. “Solomon Grundy! Solomon Grundy! Solomon Grundy!” One by one, the handfuls flew; the little pellets sprayed against the siding, chipping slatson the shutters, scratching up the thick window panes, and clattering lifelessly to the porch.
But, no, the boys were not finished. Whip! Tabitha felt her arm jerk; spasm, almost. Her rock hit the house. Then all together,her included, the little assemblage took off to recollect their weapons, tearing up the front steps. “Took ill on a Thursday; worse on a Friday!” “Took ill? How about went mad on a Thursday?” a voice suggested through cackles. “Yeah! Yeah!” the boys cheered. Solomon Grundy, Born on a Monday, Christened on Tuesday, Married on Wednesday, Went mad on a Thursday
“Won’t you come out, Mr. Grundy?” And yes, there are noises at the door; then at the second floor window. Someone’s about toyell; to chase them from the land, Tabitha knows. And already, her instincts are beginning to smolder;the powerful muscles in her legs are starting to yearn for a good sprint. But as soon as the shutters rattle and a man, a man with a clearer face than the others butobscured from where she stood, appears to incite this sprint: Whip! Whip! Whip! at the second story window.
With a depressed feeling, Tabitha recalled the tendrils of the dream – or perhaps thenightmare – before they faded completely from her consciousness. Only moments ago, hadn’t she been abusing the man at the window with a fistful ofstones? How dreadful.
Tabitha opened her eyes just enough to ensure that she was, indeed, lying in the bedroomat her uncle’s estate. When she first did so, she thought she spotted Henriette standing at her back,near the edge of the mattress.
Tabitha startled; rolling onto her back and scrambling into a sitting position. She openedher mouth to ask if something was wrong. But there was no need: when she looked upon the spot atthe side of her bed again, it was empty. “Henriette?” Tabitha called softly, tentatively. The eeriness that had encroached upon her confidence when she first arrived returned. Andfearing what she may see, she turned slowly to take in all of the room and find where the maid hadscurried off to. But she found the room to be empty.
A rather large clap of thunder sounded deep in the clouds above them, startling the manoritself. With her heart cowering in the pit of her stomach, Tabitha grabbed for the blankets and pulledthem up around her shoulders. Please just listen to the rainfall, Abby, she pled silently with herself. Even if Henriette didcome in, it was only to check on you. She’s already tucked back into bed. Or perhaps you were stilldreaming. Tabitha shivered and drew her arms into herself. There was a spot just below her leftshoulder that felt cold; not like how the rest of her body felt chilly. Rather, like how one’s skin tinglesand shivers after being brushed by something particularly frigid.
It felt as if a snowball had been left resting on her arm all night. Tabitha tucked that arm further under the other and banished further scrutiny from hermind. Listening to the forlorn howl of the wind as it wooshed down the chimney and dispersed itsbreathy chill throughout her bedroom, she cuddled deeper beneath the quilt. But what had it been that woke her up? Perhaps she’d woken herself up; it was a rather barbaric dream. ___
“Who is Solomon Grundy?” Henriette paused on her way out of the dining room and glanced over her shoulder with aslight, almost glad smile.
“No one I have ever met, I am sure,” she replied softly. “Why? Should I have?” “Not in particular,” Tabitha said. “He’s not someone who lived here in the past? Perhapsone of the staff?” “I have always been well acquainted with all of the staff.” “And before you were brought on?”
“The manor was boarded up before then; opened up like a bright, new Christmas gift whenyour uncle got to town. I suppose our mysterious Master Grundy could predate even the closure. ShallI do some asking around?” “Oh, no. I’m not even sure he’s a real person,” Tabitha admitted aloud, staringuninterestedly at her snack of potato bread and coffee. “He’s just someone I dreamt up, that’s all.” “Oh, if many a girl hasn’t been there, miss,” Henriette brushed it off, her smile deepening.She leaned harder on the stair’s railing. “Solomon Grundy, was it?” Tabitha hummed.
“It would seem so. That’s what they called him, at least… couldn’t really tell if that washis name, though.” “Aside from him, I trust your first night here wasn’t too unpleasant?” Tabitha snapped to attention, straightening her back and brushing the loose hairs back fromher eyes.
“No, not at all; I didn’t mean to imply…” she chattered. She slipped curtly from the littletea cup; then lowered it back to the table and prepared herself for the larger question. “And you? Wasyour sleep pleasant? There was quite the storm raging some near midnight.”
Henriette’s smile regained its mysteriousness.“My night was most satisfying.” ___
“Hello? Henriette? Is that you?” Tabitha dropped the fistful of cloth and sewing needle to one hand, swinging it at her sideas she traipsed down the hall. The storm had mostly let up this afternoon. Finally some sunshine – watered down by allthe rain, but sunshine nonetheless – had appeared at Tabitha’s window sill. And spotting it, she hadeagerly abandoned the project of stitching her initials into her new handkerchief and went wanderingaround, opening windows, instead.
There it is again! A soft rattling noise, accompanied by shuffling and muttering so quiet, it was difficult todetermine whether she actually heard it. “Henriette! Which room are you in? Please open the door,” she called brightly, trying thehandles on each of the doors that lined either side of the hall.
Finding each of them locked, and rather quiet when she pressed her ear against their wood,Tabitha worked her way to the end of the hall: to the largest pair of mahogany doors. As she neared,the noises grew louder; surer. “Are you talking to me?” she called through the wood, knitting her eyebrows together asshe concentrated on deciphering the mumbling beyond the wood. The words came in no language she’d ever heard of.
Before she knew precisely what was happening, a loud roar and a crash of things – heavythings, like furniture – falling or scooting across the hardwood floor made her jump back from thedoor. For a moment, all was silent. Even the chanting voice had ceased.
Then, shoving her embroidery into her pocket, Tabitha rushed back up to the door andwrapped loudly, fervently on it with her knuckles. “Henriette! Are you alright? Can you get to the door? Can you hear me?!” Tabitha nudged the door with her hip. But as she rattled the door knob and called toHenriette, or whoever was inside, something else came up behind her.
“What are you doing?” With a sharp, gasping inhale, Tabitha whirled around, her back falling against the doorinstead. As her heart sluggishly let up on its attempt to beat its way out of her chest, she realized shewas looking into the face of Henriette. And slowly, she exhaled. “You startled me,” she breathed. “No matter; did you hear that? It sounded as if everythingin that room was sent spinning. Is there anyone else in the house?”
“There are no more people, I assure you,” Henriette promised brightly. “What of hobos? Runaways? I am sure I heard a voice coming from that room. Do youthink he’s terribly injured?” Tabitha peeled herself off the door and tried the handle, unsuccessfully, again.
“Like I said: no people,” Henriette repeated evenly. “That is your uncle’s study. It’s beenlocked up since he’s been there. And rest assured, there are no other entrances. Not so much as awindow pane in there.” “But you did hear something? Someone, perhaps? Talking?”
Henriette dropped her chin closer to her chest so that when she looked up at Tabitha, it wasfrom the very uppermost part of her eyes. “Many people hear many things in this old house,” she admitted in a low voice. Gatheringher skirts up in her hands, she turned her back on Tabitha and retreated down the hall.
Tabitha watched her go in silence. But just as she reached the doorway at the end of the hall, Henriette glanced back at thesmall, frightened girl through strings of her dark, raven hair. “What do you think it means?” “I-I don’t know; I just got here yesterday… Henriette? Henriette!”
Her pleas were severed by a shrill scream, ripped from her own chest, as the sensation ofcold fingers wrapped around her elbow. Tabitha startled away from the wall she stood against, tumbling into the center of the room.Clasping one hand over her thrashing heart, she looked wildly about for the source of the touch.
Finding nothing there and Henriette long gone, she hastened down the hallway and throughthe first door that wasn’t locked. It was a parlor, equally as dusty and drafty as the rest of the house. Cobwebs dripped fromthe corners and the furniture was draped with dust cloths. Tabitha wandered around just looking, too afraid to touch anything. She didn’t know quitewhat she would disturb.
Suddenly, the image of a young man had appeared in the bottom corner of the window. Itobserved her silently with dark, hollow looking eyes; they didn’t look about the room; nor did theysweep over her. Rather, they focused intensely on her own eyes and narrowed as she spoke.
“Are… are you a ghost?” Tabitha whispered. Its lips remained settled in a straight, grim line. “Well?” A lopsided grin broke out on the young man’s face. He knocked back the brim of his hat,revealing much lighter eyes – navy, actually. And with a chuckle that still sounded rather high-pitchedand boyish, he retracted his arm from inside the hall, braced both hands against the sill instead, andleapt in through the window.
“Well!” Tabitha repeated, huffing the word this time. “You may excuse yourself from thesepremises, at once, boy. Go on, then. Back out the window with you – before I call for my maid.” “Please,” the boy dismissed her commands. “That old soul wouldn’t chase me out if shecould.” “Are you–”
“A ghost? Afraid not. Not that I blame you for suspecting so,” he chattered, producing anapple from the pocket of his dusty working pants. He polished the fruit against the chest of his shirt; then took a rather large, rather rudechomp out of the side of it. “I was going to say a family friend,” Tabitha snorted, feeling the color rise to her cheeks. The boy shrugged thoughtlessly.
“Then who are you to be popping up at ladies from behind windows? You’re going tostartle a poor girl to death one of these days! And do you mind?!” she scolded, motioning with a tilt ofthe head to the fruit he gnawed at, open-mouthed. “Not at all; apples are my favorite fruit,” he chirped. Then, wiping his right hand free ofjuice against his shirt, he held it out for her. “And to answer your first question, I am Julien AlpheusBannett, to be popping up at ladies from behind windows. Nice to finally be meeting you.”
“‘Finally?’” she repeated warily, turning down the handshake by quickly dipping her headin an uninterested, rather bored acknowledgement. “Word of you coming’s been floating around here for quite a while now.” “I thought Henriette was the only staff member here. How should you know who I am andwhen I am to be coming and going?”
“She’s the only hired staff,” Julien corrected, nibbling off another bit of apple skin with hisfront teeth like a rabbit. “I’ve been tending the grounds as a sort of favor since your uncle departed. And now that you’ve brought it up, that’s why I’m here. Your uncle owes me a bit ofcompensation.” “So? Take it up with him.” “He’s a rather difficult character to catch up to these days. I was hoping when someonewas living in the house again, they’d be able to take care of it once and for all.” Tabitha edged around him in the direction of the hall.
“Well, I’m afraid I have to disappoint. I wouldn’t even know how to send word to myuncle; let alone dapple in his finances. You’ll just have to wait until he returns. You can get yourmoney then. But until that time, you have to get out.” She waved her handkerchief at him, corralling him back against the wall and the windowhe had come through. “Won’t you let me out through the front? I am a human being, Miss Corsey.” “Absolutely not,” she decided promptly. “You came in through the window like an uncouthlittle crow and you will exit the same way. Now, go; shoo!” ___
She stood at the front of the manor once again.
Solomon Grundy, Born on a Monday, Christened on Tuesday, Married on Wednesday… Already knowing what she would find there, Tabitha lifted her hand and peered at what sheheld between her fingers.
And No! No, please! she didn’t want to hurl her handful of rocks at the beautiful manorhouse or at the poor man who would peek outside in just a moment. But the other boys were lining upabout her already, and before she could stop it: “Poor Solomon Grundy!” Whip! “Solomon Grundy! Solomon Grundy! Solomon Grundy!” Whip! Whip! Whip!
“Took ill on a Thursday; worse on a Friday!”“Took ill? How about went mad on a Thursday?” a voice suggested through cackles.“Yeah! Yeah!” the boys cheered.
She was suddenly aware that her legs were moving, pounding against the solid, freezingground of their own accord; they carried her up the front steps, tore across the porch, and crumpled totheir knees in the corner where her rocks had landed. Solomon Grundy, Born on a Monday, Christened on Tuesday, Married on Wednesday, Went mad on a Thursday… Quick! Quick! Quick! Tabitha scooped up her share of ammunition, cradling them in thecrooks of her arms.
Then up again she was, falling into line among her brethren. “Won’t you come out, Mr. Grundy?” Oh, no! No! The noises at the door; at the window. Don’t come to the window, sir! Butagain her voice failed her while her throwing arm did not. Whip! Whip! Whip! at the second story window. She couldn’t pretend not to hear the pathetic animal noise that came from behind theshutters. “How do you like that, crazy old man?”
“Crazy old man! Crazy old man!” Whip! “You won’t cast your spell tonight, warlock,” hissed a voice, accompanied by theloudest Whip! “Your evil won’t be done. The whole town’s on its way to make sure of it! Just try andhide in your study. Your evil won’t be done!” “Do you hear us?” “It won’t be done! It won’t be done!” Warlock Grundy, Born on a Monday,
Cursed on Tuesday, Married on Wednesday… And all at once, as the voice she’d heard coming from her uncle’s study entered the dream,repeating the same chant as before, grew louder, more powerful from above, every one of the childrenand Tabitha dispersed about the house. They sung their Solomon song at the top of the lungs anddarted about more frantically than before, arming themselves with more rocks and some with bits ofpaper rolled into crude torches that started to smolder. The man called Solomon chanted louder; harder. The children sang louder. And a similar chorus started from the road that ran at their backs.
Tabitha startled awake and immediately devolved into a mixture of tears and prayers, inthe wake of the wicked nightmare. The wind cried and whined as it twisted through the hearth, extinguishing the comfortingembers and rendering them just as chilled as the rest of the room.
She cowered in the corner of her mattress, holding the warmth tighter to her body thanever before, and tried to shake the cold spot from the spot below her left shoulder. She rolled fartheron one side, tucking her nose into the soft, cotton pillow, and listened to October rage. And she didn’t dare look behind her. ___
The candlelight bounced off the metal doorknob and glowered back in her own face.Squinting again it, Tabitha forced the skeleton key into the lock beneath the handle and gave it a hardturn to the left. There was a satisfying clunk as the door unlocked. Tabitha pulled the key back out and shoved it into the hand that held the candle. For amoment, she remained standing still in the hall; hesitant, but not altogether afraid, of what may laybeyond the door to her uncle’s study.
Something rustled at the end of the hall. Fearing it was Henriette coming to check up on her – or that perhaps Julien had alreadychomped his way through the apple pie Tabitha had spent all morning and afternoon making inexchange for him swiping the study key – Tabitha inhaled deeply and slipped into the room.
She closed the door behind her gently, pressing her back against it and listening for amoment should any footsteps pass. Reassured by the silence from the other side of the door, Tabitha raised the candle andsquinted to make out what lay beyond.
It had been a study at one point, so it seemed. It came with the usual furnishings – a desk,sagging and warped by the piles of journals and sketches thrust upon it over the years; massive, bigboned bookcases that stretched from floor to ceiling everywhere the floor was vacant. But along with all of the scholarly things she expected to find in her uncle’s work placewere strange, foreign possessions. There weren’t too many: a jade colored bottle full of some powder here; a dish brimmingwith an unfamiliar liquid. It was the pendants nailed in the darkest crevices of the room that recalledher dream of the evil warlock the most.
“Solomon?” Tabitha ventured, whispering the name so low that it could scarcely be heardover the wind that thrashed against the exterior of the room. “Did you once live here, too?” She hadn’t quite expected an answer, anyway. But when only the silence replied, Tabithacupped the flame of the candle closer and bent to examine the junk closer.
Piles upon piles of books, cloths, bits of pieces of toys, and other cluttered trinketscrowded the tiny room. Her uncle had simply piled everything he possibly could against the walls,balancing candelabra on night stand on cradle on trunk until all of his things spilled out into the centerof the room as if stretching its fingers desperately toward anyone passing through. Surely the place looked messy. But it didn’t look like anyone had fallen; or any furniturehad crushed a squatter.
Satisfied at least in that matter, Tabitha straightened. As she did so, a rush of chills rushedup her spine, branching out over her shoulders and down through her legs until all of her body feltcold. “Solomon?” There was a thud. “Is it you, Mr. Grundy?”
Was it the flickering light of the candle’s flame playing with her vision, or had the portraitof a little family, now deposited in a corner of the room, slid down an inch or two from its throne atopthe scrap? The portrait jolted again; this time, she was sure. And without another question as to whowas in the room with her, Tabitha leapt for the door.
But before she reached it, her candle was snuffed out by some unseen breath or finger.“Leave me be,” she whispered, frightened.
She dropped her darkened candle to the floor, clinging only to the skeleton key, and leaptfor the door. Feeling the rough wood under her bare hands, she found its edge and traced it to thehandle. Paranoid she’d find it locked, Tabitha gave it a good hard turn and spilled out into thedoorway. ___
Not again! She wanted to cry out in prayer as her eyes focused on the peculiarly accurateimage of the manor’s grounds. But as she tried, she realized she was looking down upon the grounds,rather than out over them. Furthermore, she did so through the thick glass labs of a window pane. Solomon Grundy, Born on a Monday, Christened on Tuesday, Married on Wednesday… That song; that song! How she hated those wretched lyrics and how the loathing of theirsound started in her chest, a little ember, and festered until it burnt like a regular fire! “Poor Solomon Grundy!” Whip!
She jerked back automatically as the first stone made contact with the window. There wasa sharp chink! as it struck the glass of the front door; followed by the hollow sound of it clattering tothe porch outside. “Solomon Grundy! Solomon Grundy! Solomon Grundy!” An immense confusion flooded her thoughts, overpowering even her rage. Why are theyyelling ‘Solomon Grundy?’ Why are they calling me that? I am not Solomon. Whip! Whip! Whip!
Across the frozen grounds and up the stairs came the little devils, their faces twisted intougly sneers and glares as they descended upon the manor to retrieve their weapons. Solomon Grundy, Born on a Monday, Christened on Tuesday, Married on Wednesday, Went mad on a Thursday… they sang incessantly, prompting one another to hurry, quick! They’ve spotted me! “Won’t you come out, Mr. Grundy?” There came another flying pebble. It struck the glass with its own chink! and drop! It hadhit her – or at least, it would have.
The anger; the hatred. All at once, Tabitha was storming up the grand staircase, taking two steps in stride at atime and embracing the tight burning that filled her chest, encouraging it to fuel her wrath. Beforelong, it had accomplished exactly that. She exited onto the balcony, leaning out over the rail. Leave my land! She wanted toscream; to order. Leave me to my business and may no one else be touched by this so-called devil’swork. Don’t you understand? She wanted to know.
Whip! Whip! Whip! Came the pebbles, finding the side of her face without trouble thistime, as if to say No; no one understands your madness. Why don’t you crawl into the recesses of thatstudy of yours and leave the rest of us be? “How do you like that, crazy old man?” “Crazy old man! Crazy old man!” Whip! “You won’t cast your spell tonight, warlock,” hissed a voice, accompanied by theloudest Whip! “Your evil won’t be done. The whole town’s on its way to make sure of it! Just try andhide in your study. Your evil won’t be done!”
“Do you hear us?” “It won’t be done! It won’t be done!” Warlock Grundy, Born on a Monday, Cursed on Tuesday, Married on Wednesday… “Oh, no?” she snarled, the intense, all-consuming violence returning stronger than sheremembered it. Before she realized it was her own lips that were moving, strange and foreign words werespilling down onto the boys. Some sort of incantation? A chant?
The real Tabitha, lying in the hand-carved bed inside one of her uncle’s rooms, twisted andturned beneath her blankets, trying to call out for the malevolent dream to free her from speaking suchunknown commands. But the singing…! The children dispersed about the house and Tabitha was drawn right back to the dream.The song rang up from the grounds below louder and more mocking than before. And is that a second chorus starting from the main road? Without knowing herself where she was going, she was moving: out of the most forefrontof rooms; through the hall; down the stairs.
When she rounded the corner, all that remained was the doorway to her little study – so fardown the passage. Before she knew it, she’d made it inside. She threw the door closed behind her and locked it fast. There! The portrait! Tabitha grabbed the painting of a middle-aged couple and their infant child up off the wall.Something stirred inside of her – a familiarity; a pitying; grief and loss. And why does it feel when I look into these man’s eyes as if I’m looking in a mirror?
A strange mixture of Tabitha and whoever she was to play in the dream tonight, she carriedthe awkward portrait to the wall opposite the door. She set it up against the wall and grabbed shakinghandfuls of powerful bottles, powders, and scraps of scribbled upon paper from all around the room. “Not to worry, Henriette,” she found herself whispering. “They will not stop me frombringing you back. Try as they might to deter me, to delay: I will cast my spell at midnight and wewill all be reunited.” She fumbled with her armful of things, setting to the side all but one.
Tabitha clung tightly to a strange-looking trinket made by two wedding rings, tied togetherwith the strings of an infant’s hair bow. “Separate these, Tabitha,” she blurted aloud. “Throw away my spell and I may find mygirls in Heaven.” But what? It was too late for her to comprehend anything her self within the dream hadordered. There were violent cries and crashes that sounded first against the exterior wall. It shoulderedthe portrait, making it teeter on its frame and shudder at the blows. But just as Tabitha reached out tosettle it, she heard the eerie sound of footsteps high above her head.They’re on the roof.
As if something inside her knew and had resigned to what was about to happen, Tabithaturned to look at the hearth. Took ill on a Thursday, Worse on a Friday… A single sheet of paper doused in a thick, heavy liquid fluttered down as gracefully as itcould and plopped onto the ashes of past nights’ fires. Died on Saturday, Buried on Sunday. One of the boy’s crude, handmade sticks, glowing with fire that burned at one endfollowed, diving for the paper like an arrow shot at a target.
And barely before Tabitha could pull the portrait over her as a sort of shield, there was anear splitting pop! and the paper’s hastily scribbled announcement that ‘that was the end of SolomonGrundy’ incinerated in a flash of flames.
“Help!” Tabitha cried as she awoke, jolting into a sitting position.
Thinking it only a nightmare, Tabitha relaxed her back against the headboard; the rapidbeating of her heart slowed. But the cold touch burned at the spot below her left shoulder. And fromthe corner of her eye, a familiar skirt disappeared through her open bedroom door.
“Henriette!” she blurted. Her body burning once again with the most severe panic and alarm she had ever felt,Tabitha flung the blankets back from her legs. She bolted out of bed and for her doorway. “Henriette!” she called again.
Whether she continued out of flight or boldness, she did not know. And yet she barreleddown the hall in her bare feet and nightgown after the fading figure of Henriette. Clutching at the skirt of her nightgown with one hand and at her heart with the other,Tabitha rounded the corner to the main hallway. “Henriette,” she breathed, slowing to a walk. She approached the maid, who stood facingthe study’s door, with the slowest of steps her quivering muscles could manage. “Please, tell me whatis happening. Why have you visited by bedroom in the night so?”
Still approaching slowly, Tabitha awaited a response. Without acknowledging the girl’s presence, Henriette revealed her right hand; it waswrapped closely around a skeleton key, familiar to Tabitha. “What are you doing?” Henriette stuck the key into the lock beneath the door’s knob and gave the handle a hardturn to the left. “Henriette! Don’t you hear me? We must go back to bed. This is no time to go in there,”Tabitha pleaded, her voice growing more panicked by the moment. “Do you know what kind of evilhappened in there? We should hardly be in the same house as that – that dungeon, even!”
It appeared as if it took Henriette only a single step to disappear into the study. At first, Tabitha stood frozen in the hall, both her lips and feet rendered immovable. But before she knew precisely what was happening, a loud roar and a crash of things –heavy things, like furniture – falling or scooting across the hardwood floor made her jump back fromthe door. “Henriette!” Tabitha shrieked, jolted from her stillness.
She ducked into the study after the maid. None of the things had been disturbed sinceshe’d last seen them. And Henriette was once again nowhere to be found. But the room had filled withan incandescent, eerie sort of glow coming from beneath the portrait. Moments from the nightmares came flooding back to her. “Separate these,” she recalled, though the words returned to her not in her own voice butrather in a masculine one. “Throw away my spell and I may find my girls in Heaven.”
In the strange lighting, without any candle, Tabitha began to dig. She pried the portrait upand flung it against the far wall. Beneath that were layers of cloth and books and discarded journalpages. One by one, Tabitha threw them aside. She spotted something crumpled beneath the rest of the debris. It was sleek and thin; thewhiteness of it seemed to glow in the darkness.
They were bones. And looped around them was an odd little trinket, made by two weddingrings bound by the strings of an infant’s hair bow. Tabitha shuddered and untangled it from the mess. The knot broke easily. The room was flooded with cold air – as if snow was suddenly showering down upon her. ___
The morning light broke in through the window and stirred her from her heavy, peacefulsleep. Slowly, she sat up, her dark hair spilling over her eyes. She thought of the spot just beneath her left shoulder and was surprised to find no chillspreading there.
It’s all this New Orleans food, she told herself, rising from bed and stretching. You reallyshould mind your diet better, Abby. No more beignets for you… they’re only giving you nightmaresabout bullies and ghosts.
Resolved to avoid them better in the future, Tabitha went to the dresser and turned herthoughts to finding an appropriately festive dress for the first of November. But she stopped shotwhen she spotted what lay on top of the piece of furniture. Two wedding rings and the ribbon of an infant’s hair bow rested there in a line.
Inhaling sharply, Tabitha tentatively gathered them into her hands. When nothingwent bump around her and no chills ran up her spine, she gripped her fist around the trinket and threwon a dress. Then she leapt from the spot where her feet had frozen to the floor and dashed for herbedroom door.
“Henriette! Henriette!” she called, flying past the rooms.
“You! You, there! Come here!” she hollered, peering through the front window.
Tabitha backtracked and poked her head out into the crisp morning air. Julien sauntered upto the sill. “Good morning to you, too,” he sounded off sarcastically, dropping his rake into thebushes.
“Have you seen Henriette?” she asked quickly.“Can’t say that I have,” he shrugged aloofly.“Darn,” she grumbled. “Is it my uncle? Has she gone to retrieve him?”
Julien cast her a knowing, and yet cocky, smile as he backed slowly from the window.“Like I said,” he shrugged. “Your uncle is a very difficult man to get a hold of.” “And Henriette?” “Difficult,” he ventured. “And you?” “Not always so.”
Tabitha slumped against the window frame, staring thoughtfully at the trinket in her hand. “I’ve had the craziest dreams about them, lately,” she admitted. “I even had a nightmarethat my uncle was murdered for trying to bring Henriette and their child back from the dead – and thatI broke the spell that kept them all here as spells. “Julien… do you think the manor is haunted? Hmm? Julien?”