Please go to this blog post (first) if you wish to read this story from the beginning.
“I guess I’m a real ‘cheecako,” Sally confessed to the tall, angular man in the khaki, guard’s uniform who had arrived shortly after she’d put all the diaries neatly on a ornate, antique desk of the parlor where she had her notebook computer open.
The man laughed softly, and shook his head. “Maybe so, but don’t take it personally. It’s what we call any greenhorn here in Alaska. It’s okay by me, I was just teasing.
He handed her tight bouquet of delicate, multi-hued, handpicked wild roses wrapped in newspaper. She smiled and took them nervously.
“Thank you. Really, you shouldn’t have,” she said, turning away and walking into the kitchen so he would not notice her expression.
She found a mason jar in a cabinet, half-filled it with water in the sink, and arranged the delicate flowers symmetrically in it, then set the jar on the kitchen table.
“These are beautiful, thank you -- so many subtle hues. It’s amazing how nature just flourishes here in the summer, here it is August and it’s like spring, a riot of flowers.”
“Oh, and I brought this disk from the university library that you wanted, the one with the oral history.” He handed her a flat, labeled box from the wide pocket on his open, khaki guard-uniform jacket.
“I know, I hate to give up this place, even though I never saw it until just this past week. It, and been rented for years. It’s a mess, and needs a lot of work. I couldn’t afford to refurbish it even if they hadn’t offered to take it off my hands.”
“Well, they will fix it up. But that doesn’t help you, as you told me last night, you’re only getting market value for it and that’s not much these days.”
“So, why are you doing all this research on the house? You gonna write a book or something?”
Sally looked at him for a long moment. “No book. I’m a nosy person. I’m like that. I love history.”
“Well, for you it’s gotta be more than history, right? Being family and all.”
“Yes, there were stories in our family, things about this house that haunted my grandmother, and in some ways bent my mother. I was sheltered from much of it, but I have a deep desire to know for real.”
“Okay, I’m going to ask you the question outright, because every gossip around here wants to know: Have you encountered the ghost of your great grandmother, Jenny M., yet?” Bradley said with a big grin.
Sally laughed, a little too loudly, and shook her head. “No. Don’t be silly. These old houses are full of creaks and other strange sounds.”
“Well, you know, it’s required in the lease that you give us at least one ghost story before you leave,” he said.
“I’m sure the Frontier World promoters already have plenty of them to tell tourists once they move the house over there,” she said.
“Last night was sweet. I love the flowers and I really enjoyed your company. I’m flattered, really, dear. But…”
She paused and looked up into his large, puppy-dog-brown eyes. She cocked her head and bit her lower lip. “I told you. I’m nursing a broken heart. I’m not to be relied upon. I’m sorry. But let’s be friends. Okay?”
She broke into a short laugh. “Now – the present, -- is all anyone has. Right?”
“I take that as encouragement,” he teased. “So how much more time shall I tell the commission that you need?”
“Oh, maybe a week. I’ve got to get back to Boston. I’ve got to take a lot back with me and not get bogged down in trying to digest everything while I’m here.”
“You must be used to doing a lot of historical research at the university where you work. Boston University?”
“College. It’s Boston College, and I’m a curator of their music collection, old manuscripts and memorabilia and writings of great composers, for example we have a lot of Aaron Copeland material. Not very exciting, given that I once thought I’d be a concert violinist…”
“Sounds fascinating. I love Copeland.”
“You think we only listen to lite rock up here in Alaska?” He laughed.
“No, I didn’t mean that. Just the coincidence. As a matter of fact, I find you quite a cultivated gentleman – as wall as a handsome trooper.”
“Not exactly. I’m just on the campus police here the university site. Remember? But thanks for the ‘handsome’ part, m’am,” He pantomimed tipping the hat that he wasn’t wearing.
“Sorry. Yes. Touché.”
He didn’t pursue the matter. After he left, Sally read the diaries all through that afternoon, stopping only to make herself a light supper. Afterwards, she went back to the diaries.
She curled up on in a high-backed, Victorian winged sofa and she read long into the night. Finally she fell into a fitful sleep, still not accustomed to the perpetual sunlight of the Alaskan summer that filtered in through the shades and lace curtains of the old house.
The ghost of Jenny M stayed away while she read, and out of her dreams as she slept.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Please go to this blog post (first) if you wish to read this story from the beginning.
The attic was still when she awoke. She looked about and listened. No voices and no movement, only dust motes dancing in beams of sunlight angling in from a small attic window.
The light seemed unchanged from when she had dozed off, but she had a sense of a long time having passed. She had left her watch downstairs. She thought about calling it a day and going back down and taking some aspirins for the headache she’d developed.
Instead, she walked over to the big old steamer trunk the voice had indicated, pulled off its dusty cotton sheet and opened it. Sally’s caught her breath when she discovered the diaries.
There were a score of slim diaries, each bound in reddish leather engraved with gold leaf flowers. The pages were of a high-satin, heavy paper that, to her surprise, still smelled faintly of lavender.
She opened one and read at random. Flowing, neat handwriting in black in filled each page.
”I can say nothing. In silence, I die slowly and keep my peace. When the Skipper arrived, I put on my clothes and made them dinner. The Skipper would have killed him, or Jake might have killed me. I don’t know…I would want the former, but old Skip could hang for it, and where would I be.“
There was a scratch-out, then a blank line. Then: “I’m ashamed. Shame! Shame! I’m ashamed at myself in the mirror, ashamed of the marks on me, somehow. I’m ashamed of cowering naked on the floor trembling at what he would pick up to hit me again. He will kill me. I thought this time he would kill me, but he stopped and went downstairs and I heard him welcome the Skipper as if nothing had happened….”
Sally’s hands trembled and she almost dropped the diary she was reading. The words, “I’m ashamed. Shame. Shame.” Screamed out at her. She’d seen and heard a woman saying these same words into a cracked mirror in the dream she’d had when she’d fallen asleep in the rocking chair.
She gathered all the diaries and took them from the cramped attic, down a spiral back staircase to the kitchen of the Queen Anne, Pacific Victorian house where she’d been staying for the past week.
She proceeded to the parlor and the gingerbread desk where she’d laid other papers and mementos of the woman for whom this house had been built more than a century earlier. She put down the diaries after moving aside a stack of yellowed newspapers, with lurid headlines: “JENNY JURY: DAY 5!” “JENNY’S GOLD MYSTERY” and “JENNY MURDER TRIAL OPENS!”
It seemed now to Sally that the woman who wrote these diaries was everything that she had not been in her 45 years, a woman who had led a wild life, taking chances. Yet, she felt a profound kinship.
Part 1.. Fairbanks.“You’re not going to make a tourist attraction out of me! Y’hear?” She heard the voice clearly, yet it came from no location in the attic.
Ignoring the taunt, Sally kept right on rummaging through the attic. She picked a tattered Bible from a box on the top shelf of a maple bookcase. But She didn’t open it, just looked out into the dust motes and shook her head.
“Ah ha. I saw that! Y’do hear me! This is my house.”
A burst of derisive laughter made Sally almost jump. “Now you’re talkin’ to me. But I don’t exist. Remember?” The laughing voice said. “You must be going crazy.”
Sally hurled the bible across the room in the direction of the voice.
“Easy, there little girl”
Sally wiped her brow with the sleeve of her pale blue sweatshirt and shuddered from a chill at the same time. “I’m not listening to you. You’re a flashback from a bad trip.”
“How can I go away if I don’t exist? Don’t worry.”
“Go away. I don’t believe in an afterlife. I’m an atheist.”
“That’s okay. I’m an atheist myself…”
Sally smirked and shook her head. “Well, if you’re a ghost, you can’t be an atheist. You must be hear to haunt me or save me..”
“Niehter. I’m not here to save anything. But I do have my reasons. First, though, you need to show me a little respect due your kin.”
“You could be my great grandmother, but then you could be me cracking up. It happened once. I was very depressed, and I was suffering from jet lag. I was hearing voices then too, but I had no idea I had slipped into a an aggravated depressive psychosis. Now I do and I can stop this.”
“No you can’t because I’m real. Do you feel crazy? Are you acting crazy?”
“I’m stressed, exhausted. I’m all hallucinated because the 24-hour summer days up here in Fairbanks have messed with my sleep patterns. You don’t exist! Go away!”
“That’s not crazy. That’s just tired.”
“Okay, then: I’ll bite. If you’re real, give me a sign. What else can happen in my life right now that hasn’t already happened?”
“Look in that steamer trunk over there. You’ll find something I’m gonna tell you about now….”
Instead, Sally pulled a sheet off a high-backed, maple rocking chair and sat down to gather her thoughts. She rocked gently and lay her head back, tears in her eyes. She tilted the chair back and crooked an arm over her brow and face, and without intending it, dropped quicky into a brief restless sleep, swept with incomprehensible dreams.
(to be continued...)