BY DR. AGONSON
In the weeks following the death of my under-beloved friend, in the manners and customs most honorable of his final wishes, I sent petitions, inquires, and invitations, so as to obtain for the night of the 15th reservations for the old mansion which his forefathers once knew as home. Sadly, by treachery and deceit, my friend’s father had lost their entire estate when Mathew was but little more than an infant, the reclamation of which had enveloped my dear friend’s life and, I believe, was the reason for his premature exile from that of the material.
It was in the latter portion of his short stay on earth in which I first came to know him, and in his final decade I was perhaps his only companion. More than that, I even joined the quest to reclaim, as he called it, “[His] Pearl of all dreams.” It is for these reasons he asked me to be the executor over his small worldly remains.
His expressed wishes were laid out quite neatly. Since he had little in the realm of friendship I had expected a relatively small funeral reception, but it was explicit whom he wished to attend. The list contained well over fifty names. That was to be the first of many surprises as I did all diligence for my friend’s final requests. Another was a solitary white envelope bidding me open only during the reception, and to follow the instructions therein. I had assumed, though, that the greatest surprise of this affair would have been the list of mourners he wished to attend his funeral, a list of those whom he blamed for the theft of his beloved house.
He had many times related to me the history of his family’s misfortune. With much editing as to odd details and unnecessary plot I will attempt to quickly relate the story of his suffering. He said many times people from the bank came to his father working on a business deal. His father saw the deal as profitable, and after much goings on of details, signed an agreement with the bank to allow their use of his house for a short time. At the end of this there were two copies of the agreement drawn up, each belonging to a separate party. The father was a lawyer and, having no reason for another’s expertise in law, kept his own meticulous documentation of this matter he believed to be of little lasting importance in a secure place.
Soon after, burglars entered the house, and in an attempt to purloin—as my friend believed—the documents that were discussed earlier, awoke my friend’s father, and in circumstances known only to them who were present, slew a man whose son grew up to become a bitter and cynical hunter for their and their employer’s lives. In my attempt to make this recitation brief, I leave out the evidence my friend had gathered proving the involvement of a mastermind behind the failed robbery.
It was following this crisis the bank laid claim to my young friend’s recently inherited estate. They produced documents signed by his father proving his agreement to sell the house and lands for a portion of the money for which the furniture would have sold. Being as his father was well connected in the legal field there were a few attorneys who tried to prove the documents forged. When all attempts to reclaim the house were waylaid, and all searches for the documents kept by the father returned empty, the true motive for the theft was revealed: Gold. Once incorrect ownership was established by the courts, the bank went into the business of mining.
My friend spoke most often of the devastating effects mining had on his beloved home. He would start in a rage, reciting all the destruction he saw until, quietly resigning himself, he began lamenting the loss of all that was dear to him. The house was never torn down. At first they planned to house the miners in it, but through superstition of a murdered man’s vengeful spirit it was never used as such. Instead, it was left to slowly crumble as a sad memory of the only time my friend looked to as the world uncolored by vengeance and spiteful contempt.
My friend knew not how the bank guessed there to be gold under the grounds of his stolen inheritance. The only thing my friend knew was that his father had had a copy of the document and that the robbers had not found it, for they were the only party that came to justice for their crimes, caught red handed.
Few spoke at the funeral as most of the party at some point had dealings with the event’s subject, that is, most had faced his raging accusations and threats. After the funeral, when the reception began, I opened the envelope, but as I was about to reach in found myself distracted as a young woman started to talk with me.
“Of what,” I asked her, “was your relation to Mathew?”
She then related that she wasn’t exactly invited, but that her employer, to whom she was a secretary, had asked her to come along. From her statement I realized her employer was one of those who were most hated by the deceased—the supposed mastermind—but seeing as this would not make pleasant conversation, I moved her attention to the envelope in my hand. Once she had heard its story she wished to view the object inside.
As I extracted a single sheet of paper the thought flashed in my mind that there might be a final piece of evidence inside which would illuminate the truth, proving this place rightfully owned by a dead man. Unfolding revealed one word printed in a normal font in the top left corner of the page. It read, “Upstairs.” I looked to my companion and saw in her expression a shared intrigue at this dead man’s final wish. Together we ascended to the upper rooms.
“But where upstairs?” she wondered aloud.
“There are many rooms up here, but assure yourself the only room of interest for me is that room which fathered the cruel injustice of his life, the room in which his father had breathed last.”
She stared at me incomprehensive of what I meant to convey, but I directed my steps and she followed. There was no reason to alarm her with the knowledge of the silly superstitions about this house, for I saw in her countenance, as she grew closer to me and as her head jerked back and forth looking into each empty room we passed, that she was deathly afraid. Knowing the house’s layout only through what my late friend related to me of his childhood memories, and those were the memory of youth that, though full of imagination, were lacking in detail; I was at first lost in those dark halls of my friend’s dearly desired treasure, but I knew that they would in time lead me to the room of my friend’s first death.
Together the two of us walked in silence, and she grew closer to me at every fear-inducing sound that followed us in our exploration, where every creak and moan was seemingly a chorus of lamentation for the sorrow begotten here. My nerves were never that of steal, and I admit to you now that if my beautiful companion had not been there, and without her frailty for me to protect, I would have rejoined the mocking of graceful respect downstairs.
As the gloom became palpable, I finally came upon a pair of double doors whose description had betrayed none of its authoritative stature. Viewing this magnificent portal standing squarely at the end of the hallway, I began to check my posture as I often did when I was but a child meeting with the headmaster of my school. My partner set herself behind me so as to make a barrier between her and that opposing set of doors.
“Dare we intrude? Dare we pass this terrible threshold? I aspire to no mention of my courage. To such who do let them partake and us be free of this quest.”
She was looking into my eyes as she made her plea; for a moment she swayed me from my resolve, but it was not to be. She had helped me this far, but my friend’s final request would not go unfulfilled. I walked up to the doors and, overcoming my sense of foreboding, threw them open. Looking into the room I saw a figure hunched over as if in pain. I entered with intent to alleviate this creature, but once I was over that threshold the image I saw so clearly found a way to elude all my physical senses. All that was left was the sense that I should run.
I found that I could not run, or move, or breathe. I was, as it were, in some spider’s web, beyond my own help. Eerily I could hear the complaining creaking of rusted hinges as behind me that dreadful threshold was slowly closed.
With a great struggle I fought against this weird force making the night air impenetrable as glass, until finally the hold over me was shattered and I twisted around in time to see that last bit of light from the hallway fading away into a sliver. My beautiful companion stood petrified, like a horrified statue from medusa’s lair. Somehow she had followed me in, and now, like my departed friend, we were enclosed in darkness. Silent as the grave we were; not a breath was heard. Only the soft sounds of a rotting house surrounded us two.
I looked away from her back into the room only to spy that terrible form we had entered to save. He stood there, cold as hate, glaring at me. I found I knew him, his face, his anger, and as he would speak I would recognize a familiar rage. He stood defiantly but slightly bent, clutching his stomach with dripping red hands. His mouth opened as if about to speak and subsequently he disappeared. This seemed to revive my young friend, or else throw her over the edge, and she let out a blood wrenching screech.
I rushed to her aid, giving her one hand to hold while laying the other across her back. I wanted with everything I had to deliver her from this terror and to this end walked her toward the doors. With every step we took the decaying boards under our feet let out vehement complaints, some bulging under our weight, threatening to give beneath us.
It filled me with senseless terror, as if I were some sort of trespasser, an intruder upon something sacred, a desecrator of some unholy temple whose every retreating step condemned him. I peered over my shoulder hoping to not see that dreadful apparition. How much worse it was to run from an empty room knowing it wasn’t empty. Pulling my hand from hers I tried the knob. It turned, but the door was fixed by an invisible will. I fought it a moment until I heard an ethereal voice:
“Stop!” it commanded rattling the house.
Stepping in front of my quivering companion I turned and faced the darkness. There was one window in the room, but a tree had grown close against this side of the house so that this evening the graceful light of heaven’s nightly robes would be no aid to our sight. There was the specter, standing tall and proud, his shoulders back and his chin held up defiantly. It was the chin, I think, that finally made me see what I am sure you, my audience, sees so clearly. Now that I have stopped to write this narrative I believe it must have been the shock, or some madness, that kept me from knowing it instantly. The resemblance to his son was undeniable.
“What are you intruders doing here?” it asked coldly.
“Your son sent us,” my companion whispered.
His pale dead eyes, immovable in their sockets, seemed to fall on her as the phantom finally turned his head toward us. He approached, his steps lumbering like a man weighted down by burdens only sleep could remove, and yet not one creek of the floorboards was heard.
“Why am I awakened tonight?” he said drawing ever nearer.
“Your son—” I began.
“No,” he interrupted.
The uncanny reality—that abominable intrusion into nature which is the tormented spirit trapped here in limbo—now stood in front of me, there and yet not there. Like looking at an impossible cube, the whole of him didn’t fit, but the parts seemed real. It wasn’t that I could see through him; I didn’t see him and yet I did. I saw him, as it were, only in my mind, but the image was so impressive that it was truly there.
“I was not awakened by you,” it said with a snarl. “Who is in my house? What happens downstairs?”
I replied, “Rejoicing mourners wearing sorrowful masks over jubilant hearts. I never heard a dirge sung more cheerily than this evening. Smiles under black veils, celebrations under reverent rites, a funeral party happens downstairs.”
Our room again shook as he bellowed, “Whose?”
“Mathew’s,” squeaked a voice behind me.
Again, the phantom disappeared, but not before letting out a fearsome shriek, shattering the one window. And even as his scream faded, the house shook all the more, as if it and he were one thing, the father’s spirit infused into the moldering woodwork, suffering together for the child that ran up and down these halls. A bust, I had not been perceptive enough to pay it any attention and now know not in whose likeness it was formed, crashed onto the floor beside us. My companion jumped, putting me between her and the now broken clay. The quaking stopped, and the door suddenly fell open behind us, its creaking whine slowly drawn out like the last flickers of light from a dying candle.
In the rubble of the bust, blanketed by grey dust, the paleness of paper, and I know not if by some enchantment of that strange evening or the natural color of the pages, glowed ever so slightly. However this was affected, I found myself, like the proverbial raccoon, ignoring all danger in reaching for that soft glimmer. My companion was at my elbow, wordlessly pleading with me to flee with her out of this haunted room. My hand stretched forward without consideration as she pulled me from the chamber, grasping the off-white sheets. Walking backwards from the room, the variably sized grains of broken plaster rolled off of the discovered document as the young lady lead me into the hall.
Breathless, once she was past the threshold her forehead buried itself in my chest. The locks of her hair, in the excitement freed from the wide brimmed hat she had worn, a hat forgotten to the recesses of that darkened chamber, spilled over her shoulders, the movement releasing a subtle peach perfume. My arms were around her, my hand still clutching the once glowing leaves of paper, and we held each other in the crumbling hallway.
As she clung to me I tried to rotate the typeface into the pale moonlight stretching through the window above us. The pages crinkled, and catching some of her long hair, broke the young lady out of the oppressive horror. Lifting herself from me she turned, and we both looked upon this snatched treasure.
Before puzzling out in that dismal light those long faded pages, we together lost our footing. Deep rumblings echoed up from the earth, their refrains reverberating through the mansion’s moldy rafters. In that instant, the very floor under us shifted out of place, and by the force of that motion we were launched into the air and thrown against a wall. Numb, I crumbled upon the once creaking, now displaced, planks of wood I had traversed, watching the blackness creeping toward the center of my vision, threatening to drag me into unconscious darkness. Calling me back from that dreamless void, my young companion moaned pitifully. Turning, I found her hand and clasped it within mine. In like, she faced me and meekly squeezed. Holding each other, we slowly sat up amid the rubble, resting among the displaced floorboards. She had the papers all crunched in her fist, and panting, seemed to stare at it. To me her gaze again fell, and reaching forward, brought the crinkled document between us. Laying it upon a conveniently placed board, we began to flatten it out, and leaning forward, she squinting, parsed the lines with what light was there.
“So it is true,” she said. “Here is a lease for the bank, that it might use the lands north of the house for the space of a year. Here, this signature must be that of—” she broke, fearing to even mention that specter’s name, “and here, this hand I know. Here is my employer’s mark upon the matter, his agreement to the terms laid out above.”
She was silent then, and looking up from her study turned to me, the moonlight softly glinting in her eye. Reaching over, I took up the pages, and folding these, placed them securely in my jacket. We came up from the rubble, rising to our feet, and turned to retread the hallway we earlier had passed through. The way was harder now that the floor had been upheaved, yet traversed more easily by my companion then when those boards had been more or less securely nailed down, who still closely holding my arm, seemed freed of that earlier trepidation she had known. Her eyes no longer darted from every looming door, nor were the creaks and moans of the rotting timber cause for her to lean closer into me. She simply held close, and together we walked, finding our way toward that assembly of robbers downstairs.
Thus was our adventure, and how I met my wife. A little more needs to be said of the event: We were not able to rejoin the funeral party for two reasons. The first was that a large portion of the hallway had fallen in, and consequentially, we could not reach the stairs. The second was that the party had departed, that is, our falling floor had been their falling ceiling. In one moment, Mathew and his father’s ghost had had their revenge. My wife, though not at that time so called, and I were forced to find another exit. Thankfully, though, I remembered that tree grown by the window, and we found its branches sufficient as a ladder. Flora did not want to return to the haunted study, but humorously, once past the threshold refused to leave until we found her hat. The legal difficulties proceeding were not minor, but armed with the original document, and with the removal of those fifty Mathew had invited, justice was assured.