CHAPTER THREE: WALKING ON A DEAD MAN'S SECRETS
Mary Hazel Upton
BLOG POST FOR MARIETTE'S NIGHTMARE HOUSE PAGE
OCTOBER 4, 2016 TUESDAY BLOG POST FOR STORY IN PROGRESS
GAIN UPTON WITH OLD HOUSE IN BACKGROUND
PHOTOGRAPH BY HAZEL FERN HENSON
OCTOBER 24, 1982
Gain is working on a project outside the old house. He has his saw horses set up outside and boards for the project on them. I don't remember what he was making at the time, but he was always building something. Mama took this photo while they were up visiting us on that long ago October day. I scanned the original photo from one of Mama's photo books into the computer. I have this photo as the lock screen on Cell Phone Boy and as the wallpaper on Laptop Computer Boy this month. I redecorate my computers and phone each month with new photos.
WALKING ON A DEAD MAN'S SECRETS
It was the following Saturday, the week before Thanksgiving, and one week after Curt and Mariette had worked pulling up burrs behind the old house, and one week after Mariette's nightmare. The week had passed uneventfully in the routine details of Curt going to work each night, and Mariette keeping house and writing. She hadn't had anymore nightmares, and had begun to think that perhaps she wouldn't have anymore. Except for the nightmares, her dreams were usually forgotten with the morning light.
Mariette's parents, Roy and Nettie Hensley, were going to help her and Curt with more clean up work on the new property today. They were to meet Curt, Mariette, and Meaghn Louise at the house in Carrollton Location. Right after breakfast Curt had left to pick Meaghn Louise up. Meaghn Louise lived in the nearby city of Libertyville with Curt's ex-wife, but he had visitation rights. Eight year old Meaghn Louise spent one weekend, sometimes two weekends, a month and part of her summer vacation with Curt and Mariette.
Mariette was bubbling over with good spirits this morning as she washed the breakfast dishes and planned what to serve for lunch. It promised to be another unseasonably warm November day, and Mariette decided to have a picnic. It would be her first "company" meal in their new home. Last week's nightmare and the misgivings she'd had about the old house were the farthest things from her mind as she packed their lunch.
Roy and Nettie Hensley also lived in Libertyville. They'd moved to Libertyville shortly after Curt and Mariette had been married, the year Roy had taken early retirement from the Clock Soap Company in Midway. He'd worked there for thirty years, and according to his union contract he was entitled to "thirty and out". After thirty years he was glad to see the last of the Clock Soap Company where he'd worked on the assembly line. He and Nettie had wanted to live closer to Mariette. She was their only child, that they'd had late in life, after Nettie had given up hope of ever having a child.
"We're retired now. We can do whatever we want to," Roy had told Nettie. "There's nothing to keep us here in Midway." So they'd rented the house they'd built when they were first married. "In case we change our minds," Roy, ever cautious, had decided. So far, they hadn't changed their minds, and the rent from the house in Midway paid the rent on the house in Libertyville.
Libertyville is about 17,000 population. Auto City has a population of a little over 50,000. They are two more of those numerous cities and towns adrift in the vast cornfields of central Indiana that are only known to and important to those who live there or in the surrounding area. Libertyville is most memorable for the State Hospital just outside of town. Auto City is mostly known for the General Motors and Chrysler plants there, which give it its name. Carrollton Location, an unincorporated town, is a wide place in the road where time has stayed slowed down to the pace of a century ago and that progress passed by. The twenty-five people who live there like it that way. Carrollton Location consists of a dozen houses on either side of State Highway 29. There is a long out of business store and an old abandoned brick church falling to ruin. Curt's and Mariette's place is the next to the last house on the west side of the road before Highway 29 continues on to the major city of Indian City, fifty miles to the south. A neatly lettered sign just south of the old church informs people passing through that they have just entered Carrollton Location. Few of them notice. Another sign on Curt's and Mariette's side of the road warns motorists that the speed limit is 45 miles per hour. Few of them pay any attention to that sign either.
Curt, Mariette, and Meaghn Louise were the first to arrive at the Carrollton Location house. This was the first time Meaghn Louise had seen it.
"Dad told me all about the house, Mariette," Meaghn Louise said, as Curt pulled up in the driveway of the Carrollton Location place.
"Oh, wow!" she exclaimed. "Is all this land yours?"
"Yes. There's an acre and a half."
When Meaghn Louise looked puzzled about exactly how much land an acre and a half was, Mariette laughed. "It's a lot. It goes all the way back to that field back there."
"What field? It all looks like a field to me."
Mariette laughed again. "I'll show you later. First, though, do you want to see the inside of the house?"
"You girls be careful," Curt warned as Mariette and Meaghn Louise started for the house. "I don't think there's any loose boards in the house, but there could be."
"We will," they both promised.
Sometimes Curt treated Mariette like she was close to Meaghn Louise's age. Most of the time Mariette didn't mind.
"It's cold in here." Meaghn Louise pulled her thin jacket closer around her slender body.
Meaghn Louise was a pretty child, who sometimes seemed older than her eight years, perhaps partly because she was so well behaved. Perhaps it was also partly because of her high intelligence. She loved to read, and made straight A's in school, which she also loved.
"It stinks in here!" Meaghn Louise wrinkled her nose in distaste.
Mariette laughed. The remark was typical of Meaghn Louise, who also sometimes surprised her by abruptly dropping her grown-up ways and showing her true age.
"All old houses smell musty," Mariette explained. "It's because it has been empty and closed up for so long. It'll be all right after we clean it up, and open the windows, and air it out."
"Oh." Meaghn Louise didn't look wholly convinced, but she eagerly followed Mariette in their exploration of the old house.
Meaghn Louise was a tall slender girl with waist length brown hair that she usually wore in a single braid tied with bright ribbons. Already she was becoming interested in clothes and jewelry. She was friendly and well liked by both adults and other children, but she could play for hours by herself, making up imaginary games with her stuffed animals and dolls.
Although it was a bright sunny morning outdoors, the time in the old house might have been late afternoon. Dusty shadows clustered in the corners of the rooms.
"It's spooky in here." Meaghn Louise shivered as Mariette showed her the walk-in pantry.
"It's just because there's no electricity and everything's old and dirty," Mariette explained, hoping she sounded more confident than she felt. The old house was spooky, but still she felt that weird excitement again as she explored the walk-in pantry with Meaghn Louise.
"Can I have this room for mine?" They were in the first small room off the hallway now. Meaghn Louise was eagerly checking out the small room off the hallway now. She was eagerly checking out the walk-in closet and looking out the dirty window panes of the one window.
"We'll see. We'll have to see what your father says first, but I don't see why not."
"Oh, goodie! I can see a big tree from my window. Birds will probably build nests there this summer and I can watch them. Maybe Dad will build a birdhouse for me."
Mariette smiled. She didn't really care which of the two rooms Meaghn Louise had for "her" room and doubted if Curt would either. He usually left housekeeping matters to her. The other room would be more suitable for her office and library anyway. It was about the same size as the room Meaghn Louise wanted, but it had no closet to take up space she could use for her bookcases and file cabinets. The larger bedroom overlooking the big side porch, she'd already planned to use as the master bedroom.
Mariette's and Meaghn Louise's discussion of how Meaghn Louise's room should be decorated was interrupted by the sound of a car in the driveway.
"It's Grandpa and Grandma Hensley!" Meaghn Louise was off, and out the door, running to meet them, as quickly a small bird in flight.
Mariette followed more slowly. As she stepped into the bright sunlight, she realized just how cold and dark it had been in the old house. She had been in unoccupied houses before, but surely this one was a bit chillier and more filled with shadows than usual? This line of thought was pushed from her mind as she ran to greet her mother, who was stepping out of their little Chevette.
"Mama! Daddy!" Mariette hugged each of her parents in turn. "I'm so glad you could come!"
"You know we're always glad to help you and Curt," Nettie Hensley replied. "Besides we couldn't wait to see your new home."
Nettie was a short, plump, motherly woman in her early sixties. She was wearing a sleeveless blouse with a bold tiger hiding in a jungle print and chocolate brown pants that she'd sewn. Roy Hensley was a bit taller than his wife and thin. His graying hair was cut in a crew cut. He wore new blue jeans and a red t-shirt. He was in his late fifties.
Curt had arrived on the scene now, and was leading his in-laws in the direction of the house. Meaghn Louise tagged along behind, chattering away to her Grandma Hensley about how she was going to decorate her room. Once inside the house, they split up into two groups. Curt and Roy went off by themselves to discuss how necessary repairs could be done, leaving the women deciding how to redecorate.
"Isn't it neat, Mama?" Mariette exclaimed. "And just look at this big walk-in pantry. I've never had anything like that before."
Nettie agreed that the old house was neat. She didn't want to put any thoughts into her imaginative daughter's head, but the old house made her feel somehow uneasy. The feeling decreased, but didn't completely disappear, as they left the walk-in pantry.
Mariette continued proudly showing off the rest of the house to her mother. The old house had been built at the turn of the century, in the early 1900's. The front part of the house consisted of the kitchen with one door going out to the west. There was a small covered entrance over that door. Walking back toward the east, the walk-in pantry was on the right. A little farther along there was another pantry with shelves extending the height of the ceiling. Both pantries had doors. A row of windows on the north side of the kitchen gave a view of the orchard and the Arone's place. Continuing to walk east, the kitchen gave onto the large dining room that extended the width of the house. The north facing windows continued in the dining room.
Now Mariette, Nettie, and Meaghn Louise had to make a right turn, walking south through the dining room. Another door on the south end of the dining room opened out onto the ornate old porch, now falling to ruin. On the west side of the house, to the walkers' right, was the small bathroom. It had been added on as an afterthought when indoor plumbing came into use. There was a rusty washbasin on the left, a toilet in the back, and an ancient bathtub on left. A faded print curtain showing Little Bo-Peep herding her sheep covered the south facing window.
After looking over the bathroom, Mariette, Nettie, and Meaghn Louise retraced their steps to the dining room. A long narrow hall connected the dining room with the large living room. One doorway opened off the right side of the hall to a small bedroom with south facing windows. The windows in this room and the rest of the front part of the house were tall, narrow, and old-fashioned, surrounded by wide ornate wooden molding. A connecting door led into the second bedroom. This one had no closet. The windows faced south and east. Turning to the north, their left, the three women found themselves in the living room. They could have also entered the living room by proceeding east down the hall, bypassing both bedrooms. Or, from the outside, they could have entered either the east or the north door. The east door had only a small covered entrance. The north door opened onto a big old-fashioned porch, half overgrown with wild raspberry vines. The living room windows looked east, but both doors also had windows.
Walking toward the north, a single door opened off to the west, their left side, into the last bedroom. It was about double the size of the two smaller bedrooms. There was a medium size closet in the south end of the room. This room's windows looked to the north, the same narrow, old-fashioned windows that seemed to measure with a miserly measure, the light they let into the rooms. A single door with windows opened to the east onto the big porch. So had the long ago architect laid out the old house.
Mariette and her guests had caught up with Curt and Roy now, who were discussing how the walls in the master bedroom could be insulated.
"You're going to have to have insulation," Roy told Curt. "They didn't build these old houses with any insulation at all. Freeze to death in the winter without it."
Curt nodded. "I know."
"We'll have to put up furring strips and use roll insulation. Then you can put up paneling." Roy paused and looked at Curt for approval of this idea.
Curt nodded again. "That's what I figured on doing. Probably be best to take these old windows out and put in new ones too, and take all these wide boards off."
Curt took his pocket knife out and chipped a piece of the fading white paint off the wide molding around the window. Underneath was a layer of Pepto-Bismol pink. Removing that revealed a dusty purple, then a crayon yellow, a chocolate brown, and then finally the naked wood. Curt and Roy shook their heads in disbelief.
Watching Curt attack the old house with his knife, Mariette felt almost as if she was being cut too. The first small stirrings of dismay at his plans to modernize the old house surprised her. She realized then how much she loved the old house. She wouldn't say anything to her husband in front of their guests, but later when they were alone she must make him understand that they must not modernize the old house anymore than necessary. They must not destroy its original character. The urgency of this sentiment scared her just a little, but somehow she knew she was right. The old house's past was their future. She didn't know how yet, but she knew in that second that somehow the old house was going to make them rich. The realization was like an electrical shock going through her, a magnification of the tingling feeling she felt in the walk-in pantry.
"We'd better show your folks the outside of our new place," Curt was saying.
"All right." Mariette heard herself answering as if from a long ways away, and mechanically turning to follow the others outside. It was almost like walking in a dream.
Then the feeling was gone. The sunlight was bright, and real, and strong as she stepped outside. But the small secret conviction that the old house was going to make them rich beyond even her wildest dreams remained.
"This was an old garage, but I don't see how it can be saved," Curt told his guests.
The old garage was merely a wooden shell with a dirt floor. Close to it was the foundation of a big barn that had burned. Behind these was an ancient and unsalvageable outhouse. Beyond these buildings stretched the burr overgrown field.
After showing Mariette's parents and Meaghn Louise around, Curt organized everybody into work crews.
"Why don't you pull up burrs, Meaghn Louise?" Curt showed her the stack of burrs he and Mariette had started when they were here last week.
Meaghn Louise was soon happily uprooting the troublesome plants.
"We'd better burn some trash today for sure. Wind's out of the east and not very strong," Curt decided next.
In central Indiana you seldom get a day when the wind is calm, so you'd better take advantage of it anytime you get it. The amount of burnable trash the renters had left scattered around the property was truly astounding. Curt showed everybody where to stack the trash next to Meaghn Louise's burr pile. After he had them all working, he walked around, trying to set the standing burrs on fire with his cigarette lighter. Pulling them up one by one, he already saw, was going to be a hopeless task. The burrs stubbornly refused to burn though. A single plant would catch on fire, and the fire would spread a bit, and then go out. He finally gave it up for the time being as a hopeless task, and went back to helping the others collect and stack trash.
"That's enough for now," Curt said at last.
He lit the huge pile of paper and burrs. It caught fire immediately. For the next two hours they all worked feeding the fire. Nettie, an amateur photographer, stopped often in her work to record the whole scene on film. She got numerous shots of the old house, of Mariette, of Meaghn Louise, and even of the "gas tank ghosts.".
"What's for dinner?" Curt asked at last, pausing to wipe sweat off his face. The noon day sun was actually hot, and they had all taken their coats off.
"Hamburgers if you'll start the Coleman stove for me," Mariette replied promptly.
"You've got it." Hand in hand, Curt and Mariette walked toward the old house, where Mariette had set the Coleman stove on an old green table someone had left in the kitchen.
"Need any help?" Curt asked after he'd gotten the stove started.
Mariette shook her head. "No, there's nothing to do except fry the hamburgers. I thought we could picnic on the porch since I don't have any furniture except a table in my house yet." She giggled.
"All right. Let me know when it's ready, or if you need any help."
Before leaving, Curt maneuvered Mariette into a dark corner of the kitchen and stole a quick kiss. Mariette felt fireworks going off inside her as she ardently returned his kiss.
After he left, she continued wondering if what she'd felt was only because of Curt's kiss, or if it was something more, something to do with the secret of the old house. Because she was convinced that the old house did have a secret, and that secret was surely centered in the pantry. She remembered the electrical shock feeling she always got when she was in the walk-in pantry, and wondered how it would feel if Curt was to make love to her in there. She'd have to talk him into letting her find out.
These idle thoughts were soon pushed out of her mind as she made the hamburgers into patties, and laid them in the skillet. Once the hamburgers were frying, though, Mariette went over and began exploring the walk-in pantry more thoroughly. It appeared to be an ordinary enough old timey pantry. It was very dark inside, though, and she couldn't see much. Strange how dark and cold the old house always was. She'd noticed it again as soon as she'd come inside to start dinner. Now she felt thoroughly chilled, and thought about going outside and getting her discarded sweater. She decided against it though. The hamburgers were almost done, and she'd be going back outside in only a few minutes. She wanted these few minutes to continue exploring the pantry.
Mariette was in the back of the pantry now, unknowingly walking on the very spot where Simon had hidden his silver, walking on a dead man's secrets. As it always did, the feeling of dread slowly began to grow until the excitement mixed with dread became more terror than excitement. Finally she could not stand it any longer. She decided that the hamburgers probably needed to be turned. As she turned to leave the pantry, she heard the slow squeaking sound of a door opening. She charged out of the pantry, nearly running over her mother, who was just entering the kitchen.
"I came to see if you needed any help," Nettie explained.
"No... I'm almost done." Mariette felt foolish and tried not to let her mother see that she'd scared her. She doubted if she was fooling her mother, though, who seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to her daughter.
"I didn't mean to scare you," Nettie answered, confirming Mariette's assessment of the situation.
"You didn't." Mariette sighed. "Not really. It's just that the old house seems so sort of spooky sometimes when I'm alone in it."
When her mother didn't reply, Mariette went on, impulsively deciding to confide in her mother, at least partially. "Do you feel it too? Does it seem darker and colder in here, like it's always full of shadows even when the sun is shining outside?"
"It's because it's been shut up so long and there's no electricity," Nettie replied quickly.
Mariette wasn't about to let her mother get away with that easy reply. "No, really, Mama, don't you feel something, especially here in the kitchen?"
"Imagination is a powerful thing, Mariette." The last thing Nettie wanted to do was have her daughter start having second thoughts about the new home she and Curt had bought.
"Come into the pantry, Mama. Wait a minute first." Mariette expertly flipped the sizzling burgers before leading her mother into the pantry.
"Stand right here." Mariette directed her mother to the exact spot where Simon had buried his money. "Concentrate and tell me if you feel anything."
"What am I supposed to feel?" Nettie felt a crawling sensation of evil as she stood on the floorboards beneath which the bags of coins were hidden.
"No fair. You're supposed to tell me."
"I know I feel foolish." Nettie moved away from the miser's treasure. She knew if she stood there one moment longer she would have to let her daughter guess her feelings.
"All right." Mariette stood aside to let her mother out of the pantry, a vague feeling of disappointment settling over her, an old gray feeling like the old gray boards of the house. "Maybe I'm just crazy."
"You're imaginative, Mariette, and you sometimes let your imagination run away with you."
The subject was closed for now between mother and daughter, but Nettie knew that whatever had been started when Mariette and Curt bought the old house was far from over. She pushed the unpleasant thought from her mind as she usually did with things she'd rather not think about.
"Let me get a picture before you take those hamburgers up," Nettie said.
"Fake!" Mariette giggled as Nettie posed and snapped several photos of Mariette frying the already done hamburgers.
"Dinner's ready," Mariette called at last.
She and her mother carried the hamburgers out to the porch where Mariette had already set out potato chips, buns, mustard, catsup, mayonnaise, pickles, brownies, and pop on the red checkered picnic tablecloth.
After dinner everybody worked half heartedly until the sun started sinking lower in the western sky. Finally around 3 P.M. Curt called a halt to the work, and made sure the fire was out. It was considerably colder now. The wind had changed directions and was coming out of the northwest. Their perfect day had somehow disappeared, and they were reminded that winter was just around the corner.
"Thanks for the help," Curt and Mariette told Roy and Nettie, who were getting ready to drive home.
Curt and Mariette would take Meaghn Louise home with them for the night and return her to her mother Sunday afternoon.
As the last car drove away, the old house watched impassively. After everyone had left, loneliness crushed back down on Simon again. And that night he began to count the days until Mariette would return to the old house again. And he also began to wonder what he could possibly give her that would be worthy of someone so special as Mariette. Because he wanted nothing more than to make her happy, and to give her whatever she wanted most. All Simon wanted was the privilege of loving Mariette and worshipping her from afar.
That night Mariette dreamed about Nightmare House again. The house in her dreams was the old house, grown monstrously impossibly huge.
MARY HAZEL UPTON
PHOTOGRAPH BY HAZEL FERN HENSON
PHOTOGRAPH MODIFIED BY HARRY EARON BARNES
I have no date for when this photograph of me was taken. It was probably in the early 1980's, around the time the photograph of Gain was taken that is also used on this blog post, because the old house was still standing and so is the tree. In 1986 the old house was still standing although Gain had already hired people to start tearing it down by then. The tree, which later died and had to be cut down, was still standing then too. I remember the people that were hired to do the work of tearing the old house down burned some of the discarded boards too close to the tree, and Gain was very mad because they had damaged the tree some, although I don't think that was enough to have killed the tree at that time. The tree, like the old house, was on the property when we bought it and both were very old.
The original photo showed both Gain and me. Earon was making a website sometime in the late 1990's especially to publish the Nightmare House chapters as I finished writing them and sent them to him. I had started writing the book in the mid 1980's and was still working on it. He wanted a photo of me to publish with the story on that website and also his other website,The Miss Lucy Westenra Society Of The Undead, that he'd made for his friend, Lewis Sanders. Earon had published some of my vampire short stories on The Miss Lucy Westenra Society Of The Undead website also. The original photo was of Gain and me both, but I cut Gain out of the photo before I sent it to Earon to publish. Earon, an artist, and computer expert, retouched the photo to replace my arm, which I'd had around Gain, and to make it look like I was standing by myself in the photo. He published the photo on the August 16, 2000 Miss Lucy Westenra Society Of The Undead website.
I copied Earon's version of the photo from his page on the Internet Archive. Several of the pages for The Miss Lucy Westenra Society Of The Undead website are preserved on the Internet Archive. When I get time I will look them all up and also look up on the Archive how to link to the pages so that his material can be preserved and read by more people.
In the meantime, here is the address for the main Internet Archive website. There are many, many free books, magazines, and movies on it. It would take a very long time to look at everything there! Probably it couldn't be all read in one lifetime! They are trying to preserve everything that is out of copyright and making it free for anybody with a computer to download or read online. You probably can't find Earon's pages without the address. I could not find his long ago website without the address that he gave me originally and that I saved. I had no trouble finding it on the Wayback Machine with that information. I will publish it as soon as I get time, and link to his pages when I get time to read the Archive's instructions for doing that. There is a lot more to read there, though, and so wanted to include this link now so you could read some of it if you want to.
I haven't gotten back to the Archive for awhile, but when I get time I like to just look and see what obscure books are preserved in their library and download some of them for my library.
CHRYSANTHEMUMS AT POPLAR HOUSE
PHOTOGRAPH BY MARY HAZEL UPTON
Story to be continued. Hopefully, I will be able to post a new chapter in November 2016. The next chapter, titled Thanksgiving in Paradise County continues Curt's and Mariette's story with them making a weekend trip at Thanksgiving to buy 17 acres of land in Paradise County, Tennessee, near the area Curt grew up in. Paradise County is the fictionalized version of Claiborne County, Tennessee. I will be posting photos of the real property Gain and I had on the Powell River that Curt's and Mariette's property on the Paradise River is based on. They won't be selling the old house ever, but part of their story, especially in future books in their Nightmare House series will take place in Paradise County. When I write these new chapters I have old diaries that I kept from that time plus photographs, and will use some of them when writing the chapters. The next chapter, Thanksgiving in Paradise County is already written, and I will try to get time to type it up, and look up, and scan some of the old photos to illustrate it so that it can be published as a Thanksgiving present for everybody!