As my controbution to the blog party for today I decided to write a spooky story in celebration of the season.
I hope it isn't too long for on here =)
Everything was ready.
The servants had been working for weeks to get everything perfect for tonight. Anything less than perfect would be unthinkable. The guests had already begun to arrive. The carriages rattled over the cobblestones as they released their elegant passengers and moved on. Not even the threatening storm clouds had been able to keep the fashionable away from her gala. Soon it would be time to make her entrance.
It was all perfect. A last glance in the mirror showed her nothing out of place. Time to prepare for her entrance.
Her gown had been specially made months ago. The silk and lace hand stitched by the finest seamstress in San Francisco. No expense had been spared to have her crowning jewel complemented and displayed. The palest rose pink would give her ivory skin an ethereal quality. The diamonds that Edward had given her as her wedding gift would sparkle around her neck and pick up the gold from her curls.
The trail of her skirts swished as she glided down the hallway toward the head of the stairs. Any moment Edward would open the doors to his rooms and join her. She could hear the musicians warming their instruments below. They would strike the first waltz as she and Edward reached the bottom of the grand curved staircase that Edward had designed himself. The perfect couple dancing on the perfect night.
The head of the stairs was just ahead and the doors to Edward's apartments were just to her left. Her brow furrowed for a moment as she noted that Edward had not appeared. He must be running behind, she thought.
But tonight must be perfect and timing was everything. She would just hurry him up a little.
As she reached for the knob on the door to his sitting room the door burst open, forcing her to stumble backwards. What she saw coming out of the room forced her even more off balance. Floundering she took another step backwards and flung her arms out to try and catch herself on the railing at the head of the stairs but missed.
As she fell thunder rolled out of the sky as the storm broke. She could feel her bones breaking on the steps her husband had designed. And her heart filled with a blinding and consuming rage.
“ Oh honey it's perfect.” Rowena squealed as her husband unlocked the door to their newest treasure.
“ I have no idea how we could get this for the price we offered. The owners must have been desperate to sell.” George's words echoed on the marble in the grand foyer of the mansion they had just bought. “Just think, in a few months this will be San Fran's newest B&B. Owned and operated by Mr and Mrs Barton.”
“ I bet whoever built this place had been grand. They would have had grand parties every night, and the grand people would have come to see and be seen. Oh I can just imagine it. How perfect it was.” She swirled around the wide space at the base of the stairs. George chuckled a bit at her imagination
“Long way from Pomona, isn't it?” He grabbed her hand as she twirled past and pulled her into a slow waltz around the space.
“ Now it really is perfect.”
“I propose a toast.” Said George. “ To the fools who sold this treasure trove to us for a song.”
The first week of the renovations had gone well. They had found the ground floor to be in almost excellent condition. The Realtor had told them that previous owners, of which the mansion had quite a few, had kept those rooms in top condition modernizing where needed. So now there was a gourmet kitchen and central heating and air conditioning, as well as a host of antiques from the original owners.
They had taken a cursory tour of the place before they had put in their offer and the second floor had needed some work, but was in decent condition. They would only need to update some of the rooms to make a spectacular set of suites.
After taking a second look at the second floor they concentrated on the suite of rooms closest to the stairs first. The furniture was in good condition, if a bit worn, so Rowena refurbished it while George recovered the walls in a deep blue to compliment the dark wood. These had obviously been a man's set of rooms. They screamed masculinity. This would be their Presidential Suite.
Once those rooms were finished they moved from the hotel room they had rented and started to spend the night in the house.
To celebrate their first night they had a nice romantic dinner in the grand dining room. They ate steak from the antique china with golden G's hand painted on them, and drank wine from crystal goblets in the flickering light of two silver candelabras.
Rowena chuckled and touched her glass to his. “What fools they be” she quipped.
"Now my dear, I shall take you up to my rooms, and have my wicked way with you my dear.” With a twist of an imaginary mustache he bounded up, swept her into his arms, and carried her up the sweeping staircase to their room followed by the echo of their laughter.
Hours later Rowena woke to the sound of a thunder booming. As she looked around the darkened room silence settled once more. She slid out of bed and crossed to the window. The night sky was clear, no storm clouds in sight. She frowned and shook her head.
“Must have been a dream.” She sighed and started to head back to bed. As she was reaching for the covers again she heard a soft sound coming from the sitting room. They were alone in the house, and George was snoring softly beside her.
What could that sound be. She really hoped they didn't have mice. She slid back out of bed and headed to the sitting room door. As she got closer to the connecting door the sound got clearer, and she could make out sobbing.
“Oh crap, I hope someone didn't break in” she muttered under her breath. She thought about waking up George, but the sobbing sounded so forlorn it tugged at her heartstrings. She grabbed a candlestick from the dresser and slowly swung the door to the sitting room open.
A blond woman was sitting on the sofa near the fireplace. Her blond curls were touched by the moonlight from the window and fell onto her shoulders in a style that seemed out of place. Her sobs shook her shoulders and her hands covered her face. Rowena couldn't quite make out the color of her dress in the moonlight but it seemed to be a pastel, for it was silvery in the moonlight. And it looked like it had come from another century.
Oh great, she thought. We've got historical burglars.
As she entered the room the woman stopped weeping and slid her hands down her face, so that Rowena could see her eyes just above her fingertips. They were blue. In fact they glowed with an eerie blue light. And they were very, very angry.
Then she was gone.
Rowena's heart pounded in her chest. She felt the scream sliding back down her throat. What the hell had just happened.
“Maybe I'm still dreaming” she muttered and pinched herself. The sharp stinging pain told her she was awake. She went to the sofa and felt the spot where the woman had been sitting. It was cool. There was no indentation to show a person had been sitting there moments before. The only thing out of place was the odor of rose perfume hanging thick in the air.
“ Ok, so I'm just hallucinating then.” She turned and started to head back into the bedroom. “ I think I'll just go to bed and pretend I was dreaming.”
As she passed through the doorway back into the bedroom a cold blast of air shot past her and she heard an angry whisper next to her ear.
“It was supposed to be perfect.”
The next day they started on the suite across the hall from their rooms. Rowena hesitated to tell George about what had happened to her the night before. Who wants their husband to think they're nuts, right?
She decided to test the waters a bit.
These rooms had been a woman's. The pale walls had been washed out, but at one point they had been a deep rose in color, and the paneling and furniture were a honey gold in color. The furniture was more delicate too, and the dressing table in the bedroom had the bits and pieces that screamed female.
Rowena had looked forward to starting on this set of rooms and had been brimming with ideas. Now she felt nervous. Were these the rooms of the woman from the night before?
When they were cleaning up in preparation for painting she decided to bring it up, subtly.
“Honey, do you wonder about the people who lived here before?”
“ I wonder how they could have ever let it go.' He replied.
“ No I mean the people who built this place. I wonder what happened to them. The realtor said that the people we bought it from weren't related, so what happened to the people who originally lived here?”
He shrugged. “ I suppose they grew old and fat on their riches and died of over indulgence. Then their heirs squandered the fortune they had built. That's the usual story.”
“Do you ever wonder, you know, if they perhaps stayed behind to see what was going to happen?” She chewed her lip a bit. Should she just come out and tell him?
“What like haunted the place?” He started to chuckle. “ Nope, no spookies here, just dust bunnies. Only simpletons would think there were really ghosts.”
Ok, so she wouldn't tell him. She sighed.
Of course there isn't, I just wanted to make sure you weren't, you know, scared.” She put on a smile and flicked her dust rag at him.
Over the next few weeks work progressed steadily. They finished up what Rowena had come to call The Lady's Suite and had it marked off to be their Honeymoon Suite. The rest of the rooms on the second floor went just as quickly until they were ready to begin on the third floor.
Her nerves were beginning to be wound pretty tight. Everyday she would see little reminders of the woman she had seen in the sitting room.
A chill breeze in a room with closed windows and doors. The scent of rose perfume drifting heavily through a room. Once she saw part of a pale pink skirt swish around a corner. But always there was the weight. The weight of anger. The weight of disappointment. She was amazed that she hadn't noticed it from the first time she had walked in the door, it so pervaded her senses now.
At night she would wake to hear a storm rage that didn't exist rage outside her window and she would hear weeping from the sitting room. She never went to investigate.
If George didn't remark on the smell of perfume she would have thought that she was going mad.
The third floor had originally been for the servants and she and George had decided that they would make this their private retreat, creating a full apartment for themselves. They had interviewed and hired a contractor for that, so all they had left to do was wait and start on the advertising for their bed and breakfast. They would stay in the Presidential Suite until their quarters were finished.
They had set a date for the grand opening of The Manor. In just a few days they would be officially open for business. George was working hard at securing the staff they would need to run the establishment while Rowena organized a photo shoot for their advertisements and promotional material. Their first weekend was booked solid and the rest of the month looked to be filling up nicely.
There was starting to be a nice buzz in the community about the project and The Manor looked like it was going to make a grand premier. They had even planned a open house party for the opening evening, to let the locals see what they had done to the place. It looked to be one of the prime events of the season.
She had taken to spending her afternoons and evenings in the large attic, searching through the boxes and trunks stacked up in search of some information about the original occupants of the house.
Eventually she found several trunks full of gowns that looked similar to the one she had seen the woman wearing, though none of them were the dress itself. The initials on the trunks were CG. At the bottom of one she found some letters from a woman named Eleanor who had written to a Claire. So the woman's name had been Claire.
The last dated letter had talked about how happy Eleanor was for Claire that someone named Edward was throwing her a gala. She gathered that Edward was Claire's husband.
Rowena searched around and found another trunk with the initials EG and opened it. Inside she found various pieces of men's clothing and a ledger with a bunch of numbers in it. The name on the inside cover was Edward Grovner. So she had been Claire Grovner. If it was the same woman.
And if she wasn't stark raving mad.
Hell, maybe it was a tumor, like in Phenomenon. Then she would at least get super powers for a while, before it , you know, killed her. Yup she would hope it was a tumor.
But before she headed to the neurologist she would just make sure that the woman wasn't Claire Grovner.
She called a goodbye to George as she passed the front Parlor. He was busy giving one of the new maids instructions. He had been so thorough and understanding to take that on she was beginning to feel guilty about this little quest she had started.
Well a trip to the library and she would be on track to help George as much as he deserved.
She sat at the computer in the library's reference section and looked at pictures of men and women gaily dressed in the fashions of the late 1800's. They had really seemed to live it up. The articles that the reference librarian had set up for her were all about the grand parties they held and who was seen where. And of course the gossip. Apparently San Fransisco society had been a hot bed for just about every sin known to man back then. Or at least that was what the authors of some pretty nasty articles would have you believe.
It didn't take Rowena long before she found the engagement announcement for Claire Darby and Edward Grovner. The picture of the happy couple showed a man in his early thirties, dark haired and handsome, with a carefree smile as he squired his bride to be. The woman was a beauty with golden curls and alabaster skin.
It was the woman she had seen. Even without seeing the piercing blue of her eyes in the old black and white photograph, she recognized her.
She read on, looking for any reference to the Grovners. Edward had been the son of a steel baron who had added to the family's coffers by breaking into the railroad scene. The couple had had a fairy tale courtship, followed by a society wedding. The honeymoon was reported to be short, just a mere four months, and had taken them to the hot spots in Europe. Their first official society gala had been scheduled for a year after their marriage to the day. All expected it to be spectacular as it was to be held in their newly completed mansion that Edward had built especially for his bride.
Then tragedy had struck. On the night of their gala Claire had mysteriously fallen to her death down the front staircase. The guests had gathered in the front hall and her body had landed practically at their feet. Everyone who was anyone had been there and the whole thing was considered to be the most horrific experience in the lives of all involved. The gown she had been wearing was described in length.
It had been described as a pale pink, like the first blush of a rose.
Rowena closed down the computer, picked up her purse with a shaking hand, and headed out of the library.
When she got back to The Manor she went up to their room and laid down on the bed in her clothes. As she stared out the window she heard weeping coming from the sitting room. She rolled over and pulled the covers over her head.
The night of the open house party at The Manor was cloudy.
She did a last check through all the guest rooms to make sure everything was just right. She Took a look in the mirror in the Lady's Suite and checked that her make up was still all in the right spots and that her dress was on straight, no runs in her panty hose. She looked perfect.
As she was leaving the Lady's Suite she heard the housekeeper they had hired greeting their first guests. She and George really should be down there. Time to find him and spring her surprise gown on him.
In a bid for normalcy Rowena had gone out and splurged on a gorgeous gown for the event. She wanted to look perfect for George tonight. He had put such work into the place, getting ready for tonight. The past few days had been hectic and had taken her mind off her discoveries, but she would have to tell him about what she had seen and found out. Maybe tonight, after all the guests left.
It was all going to be so perfect. There already seemed to be a golden glow on the evening.
Rowena crossed to the door of their sitting room. He had to be ready by now.
She opened the door and was met with the shock of her life.
She stumbled backwards as she was assaulted with the image of George in a torrid embrace with a woman that Rowena recognized as one of the maids that he had recently hired.
As she flailed her arms in a bid for balance the image shifted until she saw a man whom she recognized as Edward Grovner straightening his obviously mussed clothing while a half dressed maid scuttled out the door and stared at her in shock.
As she tumbled down the marble stair she felt her bones break against the luxurious burgundy carpet that George had picked out especially to surprise her. When she finally came to rest at the bottom of the stairs darkness began to close in. As she felt the last of her life leave her body an ivory hand reached down and helped her to her feet. She looked into fierce blue eyes that glowed and felt a rage fill what was left of her being.
It was supposed to have been perfect.