The setting sun caused crazy zig-zags of shadows to fill the woods. I stepped carefully to make sure I didn’t trip over a root or other hazard. We came to a small stream, possibly a ditch between property lines, and I stepped across. It wasn’t difficult, but being the ‘gentleman’, I held out my hand to Lyndsey to help. She took it and stepped carefully over the bit of water. We took a few steps and I felt her hand slip out of mine. I looked back at her. She blushed slightly. I remembered Jessica’s words about pretending to be afraid so she could hold my hand. I knew those words must have been going through Lyndsey’s head. I smiled back at her.
“Can you remind me one more time why we have to cut through the woods?”
“It’s a remnant from childhood, I guess,” she said. “We were always told that the cops watched for cars out front and that they would arrest anybody trying to get to the mansion for trespassing. I actually think it was to make the journey more adventurous. You know, to get into the spirit of things. Why, are you complaining?”
I laughed. “No, no, it’s fine. To tell you the truth, it’s fun and makes me feel like a kid.” I pulled a small but bright LED flashlight out of my pocket. “As long as we have these for our journey back through the woods after dark, all is fine.” I put the flashlight back. And continued.
We came out onto the lawn off to the side and slightly to the back of the mansion. We passed close to an out building. A part of the roof had caved in at one point and the whole structure leaned, but it appeared stable, at least for a while.
“I guess the carriage house is still standing, despite what Galvin said. He told me that it had collapsed over the winter. Do you want to go in?”
Lyndsey shivered visibly. “No!” I looked at her, questioningly. “Sorry,” she said. “The place has an evil feel about it. I hear that over the years that although they’ve done work on the main house, they have barely touched the carriage house. Every time someone comes up to work on it, they always quit after a day or two. I remember the last time. I must have been 14 or 15 at the time. Some contractors came in, did a little foundation work to the mansion, replaced a few windows and did some other stuff to make sure it doesn’t just fall down. Then they moved to the carriage house. They started shoring it up, putting in new beams, replaced a broken window. Stuff like that. Then they moved to the foundation. Not one person came back the next day. They couldn’t find another contractor that would even touch it.”
“Any rumors on what happened? I mean back in the day, not with the contractors.” I said.
“None that I’ve heard. Originally this is where the original house was, what they call ‘the farmhouse’. I’ve heard there was fire in it that killed old John Goode. The house stood empty for years before they tore it down and built the carriage house.”
Galvin had said that Thomas had built the carriage house right away, but I knew Galvin wasn’t always right. In fact, I often wondered how often he was totally wrong. He knew the stories, legends and rumors, but I was beginning to wonder about the facts behind them.
We walked around towards the front of the mansion itself.
“Are you sure it isn’t locked?” I asked.
“Well, not totally, but pretty sure, yeah. They always try to lock it up, but it seems to unlock itself every time they try. They even once put four steel bars across the front and used these huge locks on them. They were gone the next day.”
The front steps were very solid and I was surprised at how fresh the paint looked once we were up close.
As if knowing what I was thinking Lyndsey said, “The Goode family keeps this place up. They send someone out every 10 years or so to paint and repair. Every twenty or thirty years they do bigger renovations, but always to make it look like 1821.” She laughed. “The story is that when they first renovated the place, back in the 1920s, every time anything went against the 1821 theme, the next time someone entered the building they discovered that it had been destroyed. They finally gave up and always put it back as it was when Martha was alive.”
I could see the framework for the four large bars that had once been put across the doors. I walked up and tried the door. It opened. The hall was dark, but I could see furniture lining the way. We ducked into the first room on the left. A bit of glow from the evening half illuminated the room.
Getting my bearings, I could tell that we were in a formal dining room. The table was large, with about a dozen chairs around it. There was other furniture, but my eye was caught by the wallpaper.
“They should open this place up as a museum,” I said. “I’ve been in several historical homes that weren’t half as beautiful as this.”
Lyndsey walked along the wall, tracing out some of the patterns. “No, Martha would chase everyone out.” She turned to me. “She does that, you know.”
“She chases people out?”
Lyndsey nodded, though it was getting dark, so I couldn’t see her well. “I have heard that on a rare occasion she tells special people stories, but for the most part she runs people out.”
“Have you seen her?”
She nodded again. “Yeah. Remember, I was just a kid, but I saw her pretty much anytime I was here after dark. She’d show up, say, “Get out!” and we’d leave, running all of the way back to the car. If I caught even a hint of her, I wouldn’t even look over my shoulder to see if she was following.” She laughed. “But I kept coming back. Kids! On the other hand, I did come up here a few times without going into the house itself, just standing outside listening to the music. I could imaging the fancy ball, the people dancing. It was magical.”
“I would think the idea of seeing a ghost would draw even more people in.”
She shrugged, her finger still on the wall. “But then some might come in looking for the lost book and try to tear down the walls.”
“That’s a new one on me. What book?”
“I don’t know. There are a million legends about this place. One is that everyone is looking for some lost book. Not sure why. Does it lead to a treasure? I don’t know.”
I watched Lyndsey as she followed the patterns around the wall. The patterns weren’t totally abstract but created a pastoral scene, almost more of a mural than wall paper. A small bit of gold shone through the window and made Lyndsey glow slightly. I took a step towards her, drawn by the beauty of the vision. She looked at me and smiled. I came up close and reached out.
There was a loud sound outside just as my hand touched her shoulder.
We both jumped and I pulled my hand back. The house held its breath, waiting for something to happen. I heard the front door creak open and footsteps in the hall.
“Shit,” I said. “We’ve been caught.
We left the dining room. Although it was almost pitch black, I could tell that there was nobody in the hall. I heard more sounds and faced the door, staring into the nothingness. The sound of carriages coming up and dropping guests off was clear and distinct. People were arriving. I could hear them, like the shadow of a sound, as they entered the house and walked to the stairway behind us.
“The party is about to start,” Lyndsey said. “People are showing up. We’ll get some music soon. Unless…”
I could barely make her out next to me. A chill wind blew in from behind us. Lyndsey lightly grabbed my arm and drew herself a little closer.
“What are you doing here!?” A woman’s voice shouted from behind us. Someone had come in after all. We were caught.
I slowly turned to face the voice. A middle-aged lady with more than a passing resemblance to Mrs. Adams, stood in the hall. I didn’t even think to wonder how I could see her in the dark. She stood erect, appearing stately even though she was wearing the tatters of an old party dress from the early 19th century. I knew instinctively that it wasn’t Mrs. Adams or anyone else living.
“We have come to see you, Miss Goode,” I said.
“One doesn’t just barge into another person’s house, like a thief in the night,” she said. “In polite society, we only visit if we are given an invitation. I have not given either of you an invitation. Until I do…”
I could hear the music start from the third floor. Martha turned her head to look towards the stairs. When she turned back she was a teenager. She glowed radiantly in excitement. Her dress was new and beautiful. She smiled shyly at me.
“The ball is getting started. Tonight will be fabulous,” she said. “This is the first time Mother is allowing me to join. I have watched through the door, of course, but to actually get to dance, oh my. And with men.”
Her eyes sparkled and she half winked at me, but then she looked down, shyly. “I hear Samuel is going to be here. I hope so. I want to dance with him all night, hold him tight…”
She looked me in the eye and smiled, a very flirtatious smile. She reminded me more than a little of Jessica when she was sixteen. “Of course, some day if Samuel can’t make to a ball, I’ll have to invite you. Can you dance? I can show you some of the hidden rooms in the house. Will you come if I brought you here?” I nodded. It was amazing how much Jessica looked like the girl flirting with me. “I might send an invitation some time. Expect it. I’d like to have you.” She winked. But then, as if just seeing Lyndsey on my arm, she frowned. “Of course the invitation would be for you alone. We can’t dance and what-not with three, can we?” She flashed me the cat about to pounce smile that Jessica sometimes used when her flirtations were the deepest. “And I really want to ‘what-not’.” I shivered. She took a small step closer, continuing to give me that smile.
There was a loud noise from upstairs, she turned her head again. When she turned back, she was a very old lady. More than just old. She appeared to have been dead for a few days and had begun to decompose. The dress was rotten and falling off of her. I could see her skull through the peeling skin.
“But you weren’t invited tonight! Get out! Now!”
Lyndsey’s grip on my arm tightened to the point of pain. I turned us both around and we half ran, half stumbled in the darkness to the door. I could sense the shades of still arriving guest pass through us. We rushed outside and across the lawn. I could feel Lyndsey shaking. Damn. We ran a few yards out.
“Stop,” Lyndsey said. “That’s far enough. She isn’t following; she won’t leave the house.” She was still shaking.
I turned her to face towards me. “Are you all right?”
“Yes.” I realized that she was shaking because she was laughing. “I can’t believe it! Martha Goode was flirting with you. Martha! Flirting! Just like Jess!” She looked at me, a strange look in her eye. “So, big guy, you going to come for her?”
“Uhm, sure.” Something about the way Lyndsey said it made it sound dirty.
“And she wants to have you. You up for that? To do ‘what-not’?”
I realized that Martha hadn’t said, “have you over”, but “have you.” In fact, I realized that most of what she had said to me could be taken very sexual.
I laughed. “As longs as she stays young and pretty, sounds good to me. In fact, it could be a very Goode evening. But if she….”
Lyndsey hit my arm, a little harder than I thought necessary. “You men are all alike.” But she laughed. “Come on, let’s go. Don’t turn on the flashlight until we reach the woods.”
I could hear the music coming from the mansion. The top floor was lit up and I could see the shadows of people dancing. We turned and headed back via the path we had used approaching the mansion. A dark cold grabbed us from the carriage house as we walked by, so we rushed until we reached the woods. We took our time picking the way in the dark with the flashlights. I gave her my hand again to cross the stream and she dropped it even more promptly on the other side. Neither of us said more than a couple of words as we walked.
When we finally were back in the car, we just sat.
“That was, uhm, interesting,” I said.
“Yeah, definitely.” She paused, looking straight out of the window, before turning towards me. “So, when do you want to return?” There was, an impish smile on her face.
“Maybe I need to wait for an invitation.”
She punched my arm again, though not as hard.
“If you come up here on invitation alone, don’t bother asking me after that.” She smiled
“If I’m invited, you’re invited. We come together. Oops, I mean…” She laughed.
I put my hand on hers, which was sitting on her thigh.
She smiled, then removed her hand so she could start the car. My hand stayed resting on her thigh and she didn’t seem to notice or care, but as we turned onto the road, it slipped off. I didn’t try to replace it. I sat back in my seat and watched out of the window, facing away from Lyndsey. I could tell she just watched the road and didn’t look at me. We drove home in silence. Once in town, she didn’t pull into my drive, but stopped in the road in front of my house. She turned towards me. She wasn’t smiling. My heart dropped a little.
“That was fun,” she said. She said it lightly, but I could tell she was telling me to get out of the car.
“Yes it was. See you tomorrow.”
She did smile at that, but was still sending me vibes that she wanted me out of the car.
“Tomorrow,” she said.
I stepped out and closed the door. She drove off immediately.
I was shaking my head as I entered my house. I had never had as strange of an evening in my entire life. What did it mean? Not just Martha, but Lyndsey’s odd behavior?