Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sundays with Steve - A Halloween Story

These Sunday's segments are written by my husband, Mr. Jenny. Here's what he has to say about his posts:

I’ve been writing these weekly stories about life in Northern Idaho, as a youngster and as growing into a young man, primarily for our family. And I'm delighted to share them with you. Just between us, I’m anticipating being cranky when some whipper-snapper who may not even be born yet harasses me in 30 years or so with 'Grandpa, tell me about when you were a boy.' That will probably be after the mad cow disease has set in and erased whatever memory is left. So these are the not-so-dramatic adventures of a Baby Boomer in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

A Halloween Story

On occasion the grandlittles ask for a story, usually when driving them home after they spend the day with their favorite babysitter, Mrs. Steve. Last week they asked for a scary Halloween story. I told them this one, adding a bit of detail to this written version.

Dr. Reed and his wife Rebecca had built the mansion in 1919 on timber lands his father had purchased from the railroad 50 years before, a time when the region was empty of people. It was the occasional summer hunting grounds for a small nomadic tribe of Indians, and it also gave up a harvest of camas root each year. There was virtually no civilization in the region, it was an empty quarter on the West side of the Rocky Mountains, devoid of people, but rich in timber and minerals. The nearest railroad was in Spokane, a two- day wagon ride to the South.

The Reeds built the mansion as their wedding present to each other, he over-seeing the two year construction of the structure, and she securing the furnishings and decorations from the finest stores of the East.

Dr. Reed -- Eugene to just a few people -- and Rebecca had met when he was in medical school at Harvard, and she was studying at the exclusive women’s Smith College. The heart attack and death of his father brought him back to the West, and forced him to take over the family tree harvesting business and mining operations. He never did practice medicine, which he always regretted, but he did insist on the title “doctor” be used by all when addressing him. Rebecca viewed the move West as an adventure, she had never been further than Rochester, and for her, it was.

The mansion was of a grand European style, 40 rooms on three floors plus a basement, with each room having one or two fireplaces to warm its massive interior during the cold Northern winters. It still stands today, a monument to a gilded age long past.

Their three daughters sometimes visit the site of their parents’ death, sometimes bringing their own daughters, and now their granddaughters, to the mansion that over-looks Lake Reed, named after their parents. The exterior of the mansion is all stone, excavated just a few miles away and dragged by mule and the army of workers who spent the years building the place. The massive roof is held up by beams hued from large cedars, and still rot resistant today although the winter rains do seep into the top floors now, contributing to the gradual crumbling of that edifice.

Julia remembers the night well, and still shudders in her memories, her two sisters equally haunted by that night long, long ago when they were but girls.

It was Halloween, 1933, an early winter storm has coated the surrounding pine forest in a light snow, giving the girls a promise of the coming holidays when Dr. Reed’s mother and his brother and family would arrive for an extended stay, bringing the girl’s numerous cousins. The snow was not deep this early, but enough to cover the pine boughs and bring down the reminding golden leaves in the forest. Fall had been short that year, Indian summer had lasted until just a few weeks before that first winter storm.

Dr. Reed had sold timber on the thousands of acres surrounding the mansion, and was easily able to afford the help to keep the mansion running: The men who tended the grounds through the summer, who laid in the abundant fire wood supply for the winter months, and who kept the mansion in fresh wild game and vegetables from the gardens. Then there were the maids who kept the mansion running, the cooks, the upstairs maids, the laundress, the nanny’s, and the girl’s live-in teacher, Mrs. Scoggins.

That late afternoon James, the horse barn steward, gathered the girls for their traditional Halloween ride to the neighbors, and a bit of trick-or-treating. There weren’t many neighbors, the closest about two miles away, and tonight they would take the sleigh for the first time of the winter, pulled by the old mare.

Julia dressed herself as a scary witch, her sister Riley as a circus clown, and young Morgan, of course, as a princess. The girls spent most of the day dressing and putting on make-up, so by late in the afternoon, as the early winter sky started to darken, they were ready to delight the neighbors and hopefully, delight themselves with a reward of candy.

The mansion itself would not receive any trick-or-treaters that night, it was too isolated and distant from any neighborhood children, and in the depths of the great depression, there were not many people living in these lands far from any town or city.

The maids did have all 60 fireplaces roaring that afternoon, warming the building against the winter winds. The mansion was brightly light and decorated with fall colors, a pot of chili was simmering slowly on the stove, and the promise of hot chocolate was waiting for the girls return. Spirits were high among the staff, and the girl’s parents were happy to see them decked-out in their costumes. The maids made a big fuss over them, to the delight of the witch, the clown, and the princess. The parents would not be going trick-or-treating with them, but they were anxious to help them sort their candies when they returned in just an hour or so. They fed the girls a quick bowl of chili to hold them over – the girls really didn’t want to eat, they were much more anxious about the expected candy.

James helped the girls into the sleigh that he had brought around to the kitchen door, and with a “hi-ho”, they were off on an evening they would never forget.

Two hours later, the girls and the steward returned to the mansion, well sated with candy extorted from ten different houses. They were chilled, in a good way, from the brisk cold wind blowing on their faces in the back of the sleigh. James brought the old mare and sleigh to a halt at the back kitchen door, and the girls piled out, running into the kitchen to show off their collection to the cook, the maids, and to their mother.

The kitchen was empty. “Hello, hello!” they called out, but there was no answer. “Hello, hello, where is everybody?” There should have been two or three people in the kitchen, but there was no one. The pot of chili was still steaming on the stove.

“Hello, mother, hello? Father?” There was no answer. “Hello, hello!” Nothing. The girls ran to the dining room, then to the parlor, then to the library where Father always spent his evenings reviewing the books of the company. There was no one.

“Hello, hello, is anyone here?” There was no answer.

“Riley,” Julia said, “what’s going on?” “I don’t know,” her sister answered, “but look, all the fireplaces are stoked, someone must have put wood in all of them just a few minutes ago. This is weird.”

“This is more than weird,” said Julia, “they must be playing a trick on us.”

“I’m scared,” cried the princess Morgan. “It’s ok,” said Riley, “we’ll find them,” as she tried to sooth her younger sister.

The girls were convinced that their parents and the mansion staff were hiding from them, but the silence of the building was disheartening, and all they could hear was the winter wind outside, and the crackling of the wood in the fireplaces in each room.

“Riley, let’s go upstairs, “said Julia. “James, James, would you come with us?” James was not there. “James,” Julia cried out, “where are you?” There was no one there. “Wasn’t he just with us,” asked Julia, “Wasn’t he with us in the kitchen?”

“I don’t know,” said Riley. “I’m not sure he came inside with us.”

“I’m scared,” cried Morgan.

The girls ran down the long hallway back to the massive kitchen. It was empty. “James, James, where are you?” He wasn’t there. They ran through the back door, the sleigh and mare where standing there in the falling snow, but James had disappeared.

The girls began to panic, running back into the kitchen and into the mansion’s grand hall-way.

“What was that!?” Julia cried, the goose bumps rising on her arm, and not from being cold. “What,” said Riley, “I don’t’ hear anything.” A sound traveled through the mansion, it could have been the wind outside that was now blowing fiercely. It was a howl, high pitched, loud, but not deafening. “I hear it now” said Riley, “what is that?”

The mansion turned cold, although all of the fireplaces were blazing. The girls turned colder. “Let’s go upstairs, altogether” said Julia, still in her witch costumer. The three girls slowly climbed the grand staircase, one of three in the mansion rising to the second floor. The howling of the wind grew. “Hello, hello!” They kept crying, but no one answered them.

“I’m scared!” said Morgan, “Yes,” said Julia, “I maybe a little scared too.”

They got to the second floor, and found nothing. “Search all of the bedrooms,” cried Julia. “No!” said Morgan, “I’m not going alone.”

“OK, baby,” said her older sister, not really meaning it.

The three girls then ran room- to- room, all eight bedrooms, and covered the entire floor in just minutes. There was no one there. The fires were all burning brightly, and putting out a lot of heat.

The night grew darker, the winter storm building on the outside of the mansion.

“Hello, hello, where is everybody?” they cried. “This isn’t funny anymore, please come out!”

There was nothing. There was no one home.

The girls crept up to the third floor, where the maid’s rooms were, and the girls’ large playroom.
“Hello, hello!, where is everyone?”

There was no one. “How can this be,” asked Riley? “Where are they? Julia, I’m afraid too!”

“Wait, listen,” cried the witch, “Do you hear that?” What, said her sisters, what?

“Listen.” The girls heard it, a clunking noise, right below them, downstairs. “Quick! Let’s go down there.” They ran to the second floor, yelling for their parents, yelling for the maids, yelling for James the steward, yelling for anyone.

“In here,” said Julia, entering their parents’ bed chamber. They ran in, but the room was empty. No one was there. Morgan was crying, Riley was trying to calm her, but Riley was having a hard time too, keeping her fear down.

“Downstairs, quick,” cried the oldest sister, “I think they are in the library.” They ran to the bottom floor, and searched the library, then the kitchen once again. There was nothing.

They were standing in the kitchen, crying, when all three girls felt it, as if someone passed through the room, a rush of air pushing at them, the door to the outside slamming open, and the temperature of the room dropping by 40 degrees in an instant.

They were stunned. They screamed. They ran from the mansion as fast as they could get out of the kitchen door, not knowing what to expect next.

“And we never saw them again,” said Julia, 65 years later, “We never found out what happened to my parents, your great grandparents, or the ten people who were in the house that night. There was never a clue.”

They were sitting around a camp fire on the shore of Lake Reed, watching the evening fall, roasting a marshmallow, Julia and her three granddaughters.

“ I hear from them on occasion, I think, when I’m out here in the evening. I can look up at the old mansion over there , and I sometimes hear that clunk, and I sometimes feel that cold wind, and I sometimes hear that howling I heard so well that night. If I stay up late enough, I can sometimes see a dim light making its way through the hallways. I’m sure it is my mother still looking for us.

“Oh, look now, girls, look now.”

(c) 2010 Stephen J. MatlockThis publication is the exclusive property of Stephen J. Matlock and is protectedunder the US Copyright Act of 1976 and all other applicable international, federal, state and local laws. The contents of this post/story may not be reproduced as a whole or in part, by any means whatsoever, without consent of the author, Stephen J. Matlock. All rights reserved.


Ms. A said...

I'll bet the grand littles love such elaborate stories!

Judie said...

Steve, what a great story! I know the grandlittles were enthralled!

H said...

Oooooh! Spooky! I was quite blasé when I started reading, but then the goosebumps came!

People Who Know Me Would Say: said...

This is one heck of a story, Steve! Excellent!

Maude Lynn said...

What a fabulous story! Gave me chills.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I was taken away by this story. Very intense.

Nezzy (Cow Patty Surprise) said...

Shiver me timbers Man, ya put chills runnin' up and down my spine!!!

Great story Man, ya pulled me right beside those panicked three children.

God bless and have a marvelous Halloween Day!!!

Ames said...

This was an awesome chilling story Steve. I am going to tell it to my grands. They love the creepy stuff.~Ames