The Haunted House – Part 7

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It took some time to calm her mom down when she got home, Thankfully,her mom’s friend Bernice had stepped in and come over every day Sarah had been missing. The downside was that she was forced to answer an avalanche of questions.

She decided to use Bernice’s extreme curiosity to her advantage. Together, they began to do some research on the history of the house and just who Mr. Shutz was.

There were a multitude of articles in the local paper during the 70’s about the supposed murder of Betsy Murphy and the disappearance of her husband Bernard. Initially, Betsy’s picture was splashed across the front page. Then as the story lost steam, it fell deeper and deeper into the back pages and most often came without a picture.

But then, in a local interest piece, exactly one year after the murder, the paper did an anniversary piece. This time, the picture featured both Betsy Murphy and her husband Harold. Although the photo was a bit grainy, he was the spitting image of Mr. Shultz. How was it possible? He was the same age in the photo from the ‘70s as when she saw him both when she was a child and the other day.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” Sarah said to Bernice as they were discussing everything over tea. “Maybe Mr. Shultz is their son?”

“They didn’t have any kids that anyone knew about.” Bernice said. “Not unless they were hiding him in the basement. Maybe he’s their nephew?”

“Maybe,” Sarah said. “Pretty strong resemblance for a nephew.

“Well, you already know my theory,” Bernice said, folding her hands on the table of in front of her.

“What? That’s he’s really Bernard Murphy’s ghost? Get real, Bernice. There’s no such thing as ghosts. And even if there were, he was far too real and opaque to be a ghost.” She frowned.

Bernice just shrugged her shoulders again. “There’s a reason that house is believed to be haunted all these years. Mark my words. He’s a ghost.”

But Sarah wasn’t listening anymore. Something had just snapped into place. She had another idea forming.

She stood up suddenly from the table and announced she had to go. Her idea fit both the mystery behind the ageless man and her missing two months, She had to go back to the house.

The Haunted House – Part 6

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Déjà vu hit hard and she was instantly thrown back to when she was a child. She turned around to see Mr. Shultz sitting in a chair staring at her through the open doorway.

He stood slowly and walked towards her, but stopped on his side of the door frame. “I knew I should have fired you the moment I saw you.”

She stood frozen in the office. She couldn’t understand how he had appeared so suddenly and quietly and with a chair that definitely hadn’t been there when she first walked in.

“No matter,” he said. “You’re fired now.”

She couldn’t be fired. She was so close to having answers. She didn’t move.

“C’mon. Time to leave. Chop-chop.” He clapped his hands as he motioned her through the door.

When she still didn’t make a move to leave, he sighed in impatience. “Seriously, Sarah, this is the second time I’ve caught you breaking into my office. Don’t make me call the police,” he said, quietly.

She narrowed her eyes and walked towards him. “So you do recognize me?”

He shrugged. “Not at first. But once you broke into my office again, you triggered a memory. Clearly Andrea didn’t do her research on my new assistant as well as I paid her to.”

“What happened to me?” she asked. “Why can’t I remember the time I was gone.”

He shrugged. “You tell me. You broke in, then you ran away.”

“I was a gone for a month!” she said. “How do you explain that?”

“What you do with your time, and where you spend it is none of my business. Now go.”

“Alright, let’s talk about you. That was twenty years ago! Explain how you haven’t aged a day!”

“Suntan lotion and great skin care.” He smiled while simultaneously glaring with his eyes

She glared back at him as she walked by him. “I will figure out what happened to me.”

“I hope you find the answers you’re looking for, but they simply aren’t here.” He shut the front door firmly behind her. Then, she heard the bolt snap shut.

As she walked home, a feeling of dread slowly fell over her like molasses dripping down, dragging her heart to her toes. She’d been fired. She’d never been fired before. And she still didn’t have any answers.

The phone in her purse started buzzing. She yanked it out and saw her text messages, emails, and voicemail blinking. The numbers slowing racking up with each ping. The last time her phone had done that was when she’d gone to Mexico and come back into the country. Her phone had gone ballistic trying to catch up on two weeks worth of missed messages.

But she when she looked at the screen now she barely registered the increasing tally. She only had eyes for the date. It was exactly one month later than she thought. Somehow, she’d just lost another month. A smile slowly spread across her face. Maybe she was closer to some answers than she thought.

The Haunted House – Part 5

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Standing in front of her was the man from her nightmares. She has never forgotten his face. He, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to recognize her. While he appeared to have stayed the same age, she has grown up and didn’t look much like she did as a child.

He snapped the note off the door and skimmed through the letter frowning more and more the further he read.

She stood there awkwardly twisting her hands in front of her, unsure what she should do.

Finally, he said, “I suppose you were the best Andrea could find?”

Sarah just stared back in shock.

“You’ve been told not to go in my office?”

She nodded.

“Alright, well, we’ll see how this goes then.” With that, he nodded his head, opened the office door and walked through, shutting it behind him.

No sure what else to do, she carried on with her day, while doing her best to keep an eye on the door in case he came back out. She didn’t see him all day. At 4 pm, just before she left, she knocked on the door.

“Mr. Shultz, I’m off. Is there anything else?”

Silence.

She knocked again. Still nothing. Tentatively, she tried the handle but found it was locked as was the secondary door. Shrugging her shoulders, she left for the day.

She didn’t see him again for another month. After that, he showed up every month, stayed for a few days, and then left for another month.

She had been working there for six months when she finally decided to break into his office. She had been through every other part of the house and had not found what she’d been looking for. She tried to tell herself that she didn’t care about this job and that it was all about finding answers, but she realized that she was enjoying it in spite of herself.

She spent an entire week researching how to pick locks on Youtube, and practicing on the other doors in the house. The last time she’d seen Mr. Schultz had been 2 weeks ago and she knew that it would be another two weeks before she saw him again.

Just to be on the safe side, she slipped off her shoes to walk as silently as possible towards the door. Her hands were shaking as she tried to pick the lock. It took her longer than usual and her hands were sweating by the time she managed to get the pins to align.

The door slowly creaked open. Standing just outside the doorway, she noted that it looked similar to how she remembered as a child. Papers and books were scattered everywhere. The odd drawings she had seen as a child, she now recognized as blueprints. But blueprints to what? She walked inside to get a closer look, but the moment she stepped through the doorway, the clutter vanished. Every surface was instantly swept clean and the books on the bookshelves went from haphazard piles to all standing erect and orderly.

The desk was cleared with only a couple picture frames on the surface. She reached out to pick one up, but she stopped short when a voice rang out behind her.

“Did you find what you were looking for, Sarah?”

The Haunted House – Part 4

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Things moved quickly after that dinner. The next day, Bernice knocked on their front door bright and early announcing that she was there to take Sarah over to the mansion to introduce her to Andrea, the assistant Bernice insisted Sarah was a shoo-in to replace.

Feeling somewhat eager herself, Sarah willing accompanied Bernice and found herself at the front door of the house that held so much mystery for her as a child. It looked much the same as she remembered. All of the windows were covered, although now it was with locked shutters rather than boarded with clumsy 2 x 4’s. She had a hunch that her childhood break and enter had a little something to do with this change.

The grass was freshly mown, the flower beds that lined the front of the house were weed-free, and the paint on the house looked fresh. Bernice strode up to the door and rapped the knocker. The door opened and she immediately introduced Sarah to the Andrea. Andrea peered at her over her thick-lens glasses for a few long, awkward moments. Finally, she nodded, reached out her hand for Sarah’s resume. She read through it thoroughly while they stood in the open doorway. So far she had not uttered a single word to either of them.

Finally, she lifted her head, nodded, and said, “I’ll be in touch. Thank you.” Then she shut the door. Sarah looked over at Bernice questioningly. Bernice just gave her a encouraging smile. “I think that went well.”

The next day Sarah was called in for an interview. The following day she was hired. The day after than she began training.

“It is important that the house is kept ship-shape at all times. You never know when Mr. Shultz will show up.”

Andrea took her on a tour of the whole house. Room after room was spotless and looked unused. They finished at Andrea’s office, now Sarah’s office. “We have a landscaping crew that shows up once a week. It is your responsibility to ensure they are paid. No one is allowed inside the house unless you’ve hired them and they are to be closely monitored. You are not to bring friends inside under any circumstances.” Andrea showed her all of the files and when things needed to be paid. “If you need Mr. Shultz to sign anything, you need to let him know at least a month in advance by putting a note on his office door.”

“Doesn’t he have email?” she asked.

“No,” Andrea said. They left the office and walked to the other side of the house to the room that Sarah had found as a child. She remembered where the hole in the wall had been. Now, instead of a hole, it was another door.

“Now, this is his office. You are not to go inside.” She stuck a note on his door then turned to her. “He already knows I’m leaving and I’ve explained who you are in this note so he’ll know who you are when he gets back.”

Sarah stared back confused. “Is he in there now?” she whispered.

“Of course not. Don’t be stupid.”

“But how’s he going to see your note if he’s not here?”

“Your job is to do what you’re told. He’ll see it. That’s all you need to know.”

They walked to the front door. “Alright, you have my number in case you need it. I’ll be in town for another couple of months and then I am off on an around-the-world-cruise. Feel free to phone anytime until then.”

With that she stepped outside leaving Sarah staring at the open front door, unsure where to start first.

Over the next couple of weeks she feel into a nice routine. She was always a quick worker and managed to get everything done in the mornings which left the afternoons free to explore and snoop. But after two weeks she was no closer to discovering the mystery of her missing month than before she started.

She had only one room left to search and that was the office. She stood staring at the locked doors trying to figure out her next move.

She still hadn’t seen any sign of her new boss when suddenly there was a great crash and someone muttering and cursing. The door flew open and out stepped the man from her past.

He was still oddly dressed in 70’s apparel and sported a thick brown mustache. He seemed to be the exact same age that he was before. He stopped short when he saw her.

“Who are you and what are you doing in my house?”

She just stared, mouth agape, back at the man that had filled so many of her nightmares.

The Haunted House – Part 3

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PRESENT

Sarah slammed the car door and stood for a moment in her parents’ driveway staring up at the house she hadn’t seen since she graduated. She hated this town and the second she’d been able to leave, she hadn’t come back. Until now.

She was close with her parents, but they always came to visit her. But that had been before her dad died. She opened her trunk and pulled out the duffle bag she stuffed with her essentials. The rest of her things were coming by moving van next week.

Halfway up the driveway her mom, Elise, opened the front door and gingerly made her way down the stairs with her cane.

“Welcome home, hun!” Elise raised a shaky arm up to hug her.

“Hey Mom.” She kept her arm wrapped around Elise’s shoulder as they slowly shuffled back into the house. She felt her body cringed as she walked inside the house that had a felt like a prison all those years ago hiding from the gossip and prying eyes.

“Have you had dinner yet?” Sarah asked.

“Um, no.” Elise thought for a second. “No, not yet.”

“Okay, how about I cook us something.” She left her bag on the stairs to take up later and together they walked into the kitchen.

“Mom, were you cooking something?” Sarah asked, seeing that one of the burners was red hot.

“No,” Elise shook her head and sat down at the kitchen table. She clasped her hands in front of her and smiled at her.

Sarah turned the stove off and tried to quell the ache in her heart. Her dad had told her Elise was getting worse, but she didn’t understand just how bad it was until he was gone. He recently died of a heart attack and with her dad no longer around to keep things running smoothly, Elise seemed to be going downhill rapidly.

She opened the fridge and found half a jar of pickles and a carton milk.

* * *

An hour later, they were sitting in Elise’s favourite restaurant when a couple of her mom’s friends wandered over to their table.

“Well if it isn’t little Sarah! How long did you disappear this time?” Bernice chuckled.

Sarah gave a tight-lipped smile, but didn’t say anything.

“Don’t tease her, Bernice,” Jackie said, patting Sarah’s hand. “Some things are better forgotten.”

Sarah still didn’t know what happened to her for that month she disappeared when she was a kid. As far as she was concerned, it just evaporated. She couldn’t even pinpoint when the gap would have been. She remembered everything from the moment she turned away from Sam and everyone else to go into the house, to the time she ran back out and sprinted home. To her, nothing was missing in her memory.

Because of that, everyone thought she was lying. Some people thought she ran away from home to be with some boy. Others, like Elise, thought she’d been kidnapped, but whatever happened to her was so traumatic, she’d simply blocked it out. Still others just thought she was doing it for the attention and had purposefully disappeared for a month to make people notice her.

To her chagrin, the women pulled up chairs and continued gabbing with her mom. Sarah let her mind drift while they talked. It wasn’t until the end of the meal when the attention swung around to her again.

“I expect you’re looking for a job then, if you’ve moved here,” Bernice said, looking pointedly at her.

Sarah refocused on the conversation and nodded. “In the next few days I’ll start asking around to see who’s hiring.”

“Don’t bother. I have the perfect job for you,” Bernice said, a grin spreading across her face. “The mansion is hiring a new assistant!”

“What?” Sarah asked, confused.

“You remember that old fuddy-duddy who never tells us anything about what’s going in that house? Well, she’s retiring and she’s asking around looking to hire her replacement.” Bernice was nearly shaking with excitement. She reached out and clasped Sarah’s hands as Jackie leaned forward. “You could apply for it and tell us everything!”

Sarah sat back in her chair stunned. She had a different thought. Maybe she could go back and finally figure out what happened during that missing month. Whatever had happened, had happened in that house.

The Haunted House – Part 2

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1992

Sarah snuck around the side of the house and lifted up the board that covered the basement window. Her and Sam had discovered it shortly before the bet and had dared each other to go inside. Neither one had been brave enough.

She pushed her backpack and sleeping bag through the hole and heard it drop to the floor. Then, she slowly crawled through after them. The drop was further than she expected and she stumbled on the landing.

Using the flashlight she’d packed in her backpack, she managed to find her way to the stairwell and slowly creaked up the stairs. Although main floor was lighter than the basement as some early evening sun found its way through the cracks between the wooden slates that covered the windows, it was still dark enough that she needed her flashlight. She used it to find a light switch.

She was surprised to find that the inside of the house looked immaculate. She was expecting spiderwebs, dust, and broken furniture. Instead, everything was beautiful. She was suddenly aware of how weird it would be if the assistant came tomorrow and found her sleeping in the middle of the living room floor. She decided to find a corner where she could hide away. She opened a door off the living room and found herself in a cluttered office. There were papers scattered everywhere with complicated sketches and numbers. They covered the walls, the desk and the floor. Lining the entirety of the far wall was a bookshelf. Books were heaped haphazardly on it and in stalks on the floor.

Along the wall closest to the door there was a giant hole through which she could see back out into the living room. It looked like someone had taken a giant sledge hammer to it and crawled through it. As she bent down to look at it, she heard a voice:

“Hello Sarah, welcome to my home.”

She leapt into the air in fright. Standing just outside the doorway she’d walked through was a tall thin man dressed in a paisley print, orange and brown polyester shirt and brown bell bottom pants.

Rather than walking through the doorway, he crawled through the hole in the wall.

“The question is, now that you’re here, what do we do with you?”

He stood up and stared hard at her. She backed slowly against the far wall, the books on the shelves pressing into her back.

“You’ve seen too much. I just don’t know what to do. You really shouldn’t have come.”

As he took a step towards her, his foot stepped onto on of the many papers that lined the floor and his foot slid out from under him. He landed with a thud on the ground.

Sarah jumped over him and ran out the door. The kids from before were long gone. She ran the entire way home and didn’t stop until she was safely inside her house.

“Who’s there?” her mom called out from the kitchen.

Sara fought to catch her breath as she said, “It’s just me.”

Seconds later her mom flew into the room and pulled her into a bear hug and started sobbing.

“Where did you go?” she asked between sobs. “Where have you been?

“Geez, Mom, get off.” She tried to push her mom away. “I was at Becca’s house.”

“Don’t you dare lie to me.” She shook Sarah by the shoulders. “You’ve been gone for a month and I want to know where you’ve been.” Sarah could feel her mom’s nails digging into her shoulders.

Sarah stared at her mom in confusion. “What?” From the corner of her eye a stack of papers sat on the little table by the door. Her picture took up most of the top page under the block letters of the word “MISSING.”

The Haunted House – Part 1

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1992

Betsy died 20 years ago when she fell down the stairs and knocked her head against the railing. While murder couldn’t be proven, many suspected her husband Bernard of killing her. Shortly after, Bernard disappeared. People suspected he was overcome with remorse and grief and he killed himself. Not long after that, rumours of the house being haunted began.

Their house was the largest house in the little town, located at the very end of May Street. You couldn’t see it from the road as it was at the end of a long driveway which wound up the hill and out of sight into the trees.

The house, or more accurately, the mansion, was older, but well maintained aside from the windows which were long gone and boarded up. The owner didn’t live there and it was mostly abandoned throughout the year. No one except an assistant named Andrea knew who now owned the house and she was very tight-lipped.

Andrea showed up at precisely 8 am every weekday and left at exactly 4 pm. Even though the other townspeople pried her with questions, she refused to answer. Each time she was asked, she simply gave a little smile and shook her head. Some suspected even she didn’t know.

Occasionally, she would hire a plumber, or a painter, or other contract worker, and each time, she would hover nearby, closely monitoring their work. Despite high hopes, no one ever had anything mysterious to report when they left.

The neighbours, on the other hand, had plenty to say. The ghosts, they say, only came out at night. Not every night mind you. Quite rarely, if the truth were told, but when they did it was gossip fodder for months. People reported loud banging, crashing, and even the occasional explosion. Lights flickered on and off. Some even reported to have seen Bernard himself, still the same age as before.

It had been a full year since any mysterious noises or appearances had occurred when Sarah Miller officially finished grade 5. It was the first day of summer holidays, and normally she’d be thrilled, but for the first time she wasn’t excited it was summer. In fact, she’d been dreading today.

She had lost an ill-advised bet with her best friend Sam and the loser had to sneak into the house and spend the night by themselves. They’d bet on who could sell the most chocolate bars for the fundraiser their school was running. She’d been winning the whole time. That is, right up until the last week when his entire family came into town for his older brother’s wedding. Suddenly aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents were buying up chocolate bars left and right. Not to mention, Sam was the youngest of 10 kids. All of his older siblings were back in town, some with wives and kids of their own. She lost by a landslide.

When she made the bet, she was sure she’d win. It didn’t even occur to her that there might be a possibility that she might lose. She was terrified of ghosts.

That afternoon, she packed her backpack and sleeping bag and just before the streetlights usually started to flicker on she called to her mom who was in the TV room and announced she was off to Becca’s house for a sleepover.

“Ok, have fun! Be home by 10 tomorrow.”

No problem there. She planned to run home as soon as the sun blinked over the horizon.

When she got to the driveway at the very end of May Street she found a small crowd of kids waiting for her.

“Took you long enough,” Sam smirked. “I thought you were going to chicken out.”

She glared at him and hoisted her sleeping bag up onto her shoulder. “Never.”

She stood as tall as she could and with as much determination and courage as she could muster she stepped on the footpath and followed it up the hill.