Sunlight streamed in through the stained glass window illuminating his face. Here on the stone bench he sat and waited. He’d sealed up the secret hallway in the middle of his home, putting wood putty over the seams in the knobless door behind him. No one looking on would ever know that this space is here unless they already knew about it. Here he will wait to receive his reward. His wife and son were supposed to join him but they fled the estate in their family carriage and boarded a steamboat heading south back to her family home in Louisiana. He was not concerned. The stupid woman had deprive herself and their son of an eternity in their own private kingdom. He didn’t need them. He had the amulet which blessed him with wealth, health, and power. Her family owned slaves, but he had something better. He owned souls.
“Sold! To the beautiful young lady in front for $545,000!” The auctioneer yells. Lilly smiles as the men around her glare and sneer at her victory. Mr. Gotz, the auctioneer fishes out a large old key ring to hand to her.
“You are very lucky to have outbid all these real estate flippers,” Mr. Gotz says. Lilly goes through her purse to find her phone, hitting her bank app and transmits the funds.
“So…would you like a tour of your new home?” He asks.
“Yes, thank you,” Lilly says with pride.
“You aren’t from around here,” He says.
“No, no I’m definitely not.” She chuckles as they climb the steps up to the porch of the large Victorian mansion. It is a cheerful home painted in a bright white with colorful trim and accent colors of green and pink. Lilly gazes at the painted details of the spindle railings. Every inch of this home is carved, painted, or stained to exacting standards.
“Are you going to be living in this big house all alone?” Mr. Gotz asks.
“Just at first. I’m going to turn this place into a bed and breakfast,”
“That is an ambitious endeavor for someone your age,” Mr. Gotz says as he looks over the tall twenty-something with platinum blonde hair, blue eyes, and extremely pasty skin. Too pasty.
“Yes this is an ambitious endeavor for me. I just graduated from college; I majored in business management,”
“So why a bed and breakfast?” he asks as he unlocks the front door. The heavy wrought iron keys are original to the house and clank as he twists them.
“I’ve wanted to go into business for myself for a while now, but I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do with myself. I was online looking at real estate for the greater New York area and saw the listing for this house. I saw the pictures of the exterior and knew it had potential to become a bed and breakfast.”
“Yes, but you must be wealthy to afford this place? Surely you do not need to work?” He presses.
“I will now. I have to turn a profit on this place.” She says, feeling slightly annoyed. People in the city would never be so nosy as to press someone about their personal finances.
The house is an old Victorian mansion built in the late 1800’s. It has eight upstairs bedrooms, twelve bathrooms, a large kitchen, and both a finished basement and attic space that could be used for any number of purposes.
“Wow!” She gasps.
“The house is in pristine condition. We don’t know what happened to the previous owner. This place has been sitting vacant for the last five years and we had to confiscate it for unpaid property taxes. The police got involved at one point as we attempted to contact the man, but we were unsuccessful in locating him. Everyone fears something bad happened to him. He dropped a lot of money into fixing this place up and then vanished,” Mr. Gotz explains.
“Well, if I find a dried out mummy curled up in a closet I’ll call you,” Lilly says. “Your cleaning crew did a great job of removing all the dust and cobwebs. This place is spotless,”
“You’re welcome,” Mr. Gotz frowns. He never sent a cleaning crew.
“I’m surprised this estate was never vandalized. You said it sat empty for decades before it was bought five years ago?”
“The previous owner did not buy this property so much as he used old ordinance to sue the county for the rights. There is an old slum lord law on the books that allows squatters that make improvements to a derelict property to sue for ownership.” He says.
“Did you grow up in Maywood, Mr. Gotz?”
“Born and bred my entire life,” He says.
“Why didn’t anyone in town ever notice this place before he came along?”
“Well…um…eh…You know I have no idea. I used to walk by this place every day when I was a kid. I just never paid any attention to it. This place might as well have been a great big boulder or a void. It was part of the landscape of our little town. No one ever thought it was very interesting,” He says as his face flushes with either embarrassment or anger. Lilly cannot tell which.
“The details are beautiful,” She says. She looks at the bannister of the grand curving staircase which is stained a deep cherry brown. Even the risers on the staircase have little embellishments that showcase the value of the property. The mansion is easily worth quadruple what she paid for it, which is a good thing. If she cannot make this bed and breakfast business work she can at least put it up for sale and make a profit from that. The hardwood floors look sturdy and expensive and the furniture has a rich layer of patina.
“I think I’ll set up a registration desk here in the parlor,” She says as she mentally inventories all the items in the room.
They move on to the kitchen which is decorated in a classic black and white color scheme. The appliances are only five years old. They look like they were barely used before the previous owner disappeared. Lilly sees no need to replace them.
Next they enter the library. The cavernous room is filled floor to ceiling with shelves full of books, trinkets, and artifacts. Lilly scrutinizes the carved mantle of the fireplace. It is the perfect spot to place her parent’s ashes. She spies an old painting and wonders if this is the original family that built this place. Lilly grimaces at the sight of all the animal trophies, mostly from Africa. There are several stuffed gazelle heads, zebra heads, a warthog, and even an entire stuffed lion.
“This is my favorite room,” Mr. Gotz says.
“Of course you like! It’s a man cave. If it were just me living here I would get rid of all of this stuff, but if you like it odds are my male customers will like it too,” A chiming sound fills the quiet as Mr. Gotz receives a text on his phone.
“Ah. Sorry to cut the tour short, but I am needed back at the office,”
“Thank you for sticking around. You didn’t have to,”
“It was my pleasure miss. I wanted to get one last good look around this beautiful place. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to call me,”
“I will,” She says as Mr. Gotz turns to take his leave. Lilly continues exploring the rest of the house. The dining room is large and the chandelier; while a touch too granny for her taste did fit in with the rest of the home. The table is long enough to seat 12 people and is the same shade of dark cherry stain as the floor and trim. She leaves this room and walks down the narrow hall into a bright ballroom with marble floors.
“Yes! I can host weddings in here!” Lilly giggles as visions of large lavish parties fill her imagination. The large glass French doors open up to the garden outside and Lilly gets a full view of the back breaking labor she gets to enjoy tomorrow.
“Dandelions and crab grass. Awesome,” She mutters sarcastically. She turns and heads back to the sweeping staircase to continue her exploration.
The configuration of the top floor is odd. The first four bedrooms are easy to get to, but then she has to go down a long corridor to get to the bedrooms on the other side. She puts her hand on the door knob of the first room to find it is locked. The heavy key ring in her hand clanks as she goes through each key until she finds the right one and unlocks the door. She enters the room and reaches for the light switch. She flips it up and down a few times before remembering that she still needs to get the power turned on.
Lilly walks over to the large window on the left and yanks the heavy drapes open to let in the light. The wallpaper is a deep blue color and the wood trim is painted white. She feels like she is in Queen Antoinette’s bedroom. Driving home this feeling, on the far wall, is a very large mirror. It is three people wide and reaches almost floor to ceiling. She loves it. The furniture in this room must be original to the property. Buying any of this new would cost a fortune. Lilly hopes the rest of the rooms in the mansion are this beautiful. If they are, she’ll be able to open up for business within weeks instead of months.
She opens up the large wardrobe. It is not a walk-in closet, but it would do. She notices the door to the right and opens it to find a bathroom. The light pouring in from the window is not enough to illuminate the bathroom properly. She fishes her flashlight out of her purse. Like the kitchen the bathroom is done in a classic black and white motif with subway tiles and a claw foot tub. It is timeless. She also finds something unexpected; another large mirror identical to the bedroom mirror, and also another door which connects to the next bedroom.
She wants to explore more, but puts her flashlight away. The next room is an interior space and will not have a window in it. The window of the Antoinette room (she’s calling it that from now on) looks out onto the dead neglected garden. She heads back downstairs and out of the house to take care of the basics. Water, sewage, electricity, groceries and all the other mundane details that go with starting up a new hotel.
The bed of Lilly’s truck is full when she returns from her shopping excursion. The Maywood General Store reminds her of a countrified Walmart Supercenter. Lilly drags the fertilizer to the rose bed and spends hours pulling weeds and digging in the dirt. It is a little late in the season but she might get some growth before winter hits. She’ll have a head start on next year if nothing else. She turns her head when she notices the lights. Yes! The electricity has been turned on. She looks up to the second floor and notices a stained glass window. It is situated in between the bedroom window of the Antoinette room and what must be the bedroom on the other side.
She jaunts back into the mansion and turns her head to admire the new details she could not see without electricity. She heads up the stairs and jogs down the hallway expecting to find a door leading to some middle room, but finds none. She walks back and forth from end to end to approximate the middle. There should be a door here but she only sees solid wall. She inspects the wood molding and notices what appears to be a poorly concealed crack in the wood filled in with wood caulking and buffed smooth. The wallpaper in this hallway looks more contemporary than the rest of the house. Lilly huffs in aggravation. She doesn’t want to damage the wall just to satisfy her curiosity, and she would have to re-wallpaper the entire hallway if she did. She leaves the mystery alone for now. She has other priorities on which to focus.
Though the house appears pristine she still needs to wash all the bedding and inventory each room for valuable items. An insurance appraiser will need to come out and give her an estimate. She notes that there are five more identical mirrors on the top floor, a painting in the parlor and a grand portrait of a beautiful couple in the ballroom. The other bedrooms are just as magnificent as the Antoinette room but are different in their color and style to set them apart. All of the upstairs bathrooms are set up in a Jack and Jill configuration between two bedrooms making them ideal for family rental. Lilly is grateful for the modern basement apartment that the previous owner installed. The basement is large and has three industrial sized dryers in a grand mud room with a large table. Closed off from the rest of the house is her personal living space complete with its own small kitchen, living room, and two bedrooms.
Her first night in her new home and business is bittersweet. When she stops moving she feels isolated and alone like a lady in Victorian era England or a princess in her private castle. If only the house had a tower. Her mind drifts as the darkness pulls her into slumber and Lilly dreams of things she does not understand.
Mwanawa cowered in the corner of her hut as she listened for the hushed voices and shuffled feet of the men outside. She knew these men. They were the men of her village. Her brother was among them. She tried to hide that she had birthed an albino child from the other villagers, but word spread and the local witch doctor had put up a bounty for her baby’s bones. Wealthy white men came to her country to hunt the big game there. They brought with them big guns and much money which the witch doctor intended to reap from the foreigners by selling them an amulet made from rare magical ingredients. This amulet would bless the hunters with prosperity and good fortune. Mwanawa cradled her child, grabbed her knap sack and ran.
Mwanawa ducked out a hole in the back of her hut and ran down the animal trails she’d traveled since childhood to a destination beyond all she knew. She had no plan beyond running into the bush; into the wilderness in the hope her child might survive the night. She was snatched from behind mere yards away from her hut.
“No! No my baby! My baby please!” She wailed, kicked, and cried as the tears streamed down her face. Her infant was ripped from her arms. The baby screamed as it was tossed to the ground. A machete gleamed in the fire light as it was raised into the air and brought down onto the screaming bundle below.