Chapter 15: Still tied and bound
“I guess it could be worse.” Chloe shrugged to the girl with the vase statue. “I have the run of the place.” She looked at the scattered books that littered the conservatory. It was true that she had free run of the downstairs of the grand old house. Rarely did the evil from upstairs venture out of the master bedroom. Even though she had books and the ability to go outside, she could never go more than a few feet from the house before the pain started. Over the years Chloe tried many times to leave the grounds of Sterben Hall. She had made it to the road once. It was after that time that she had given up, resigning to spend her days in the house. Time slipped by. Chloe did not need to sleep, but she found that she would become unaware of the passage of time.
She became used to being alone in the house. Neither the couple nor the woman had ever returned to the house. It was as if she would suddenly notice that time had passed. She watched as the once-proud house became rundown and cold. Children would throw rocks through the windows or sneak in to smoke and drink. This kind of disrespect annoyed her. Chloe had come to think of the empty house as her home. Times when it looked like something untoward was going to happen she would make her presence known. Whether it was blowing out candles or a well-placed groan, it generally had the same effect. She would be left alone again. When her haunting did not have the desired effect, the outcome was still the same. The people would find their way upstairs, and when that happened, it was guaranteed they would never return. The seeping anger chased everyone away.
Chloe was floating over the spot on the floor where the old well was. The late-day sun caused her to be completely transparent. She was having a staring contest with the cold-stone eyes of an ugly bust of a Greek goddess when she became aware of a sweeping sound in the conservatory. Looking over the goddess’s head, she noticed several men and an older woman cleaning up the dead plants. Intrigued, she decided to watch for a while. This wasn’t the usual intruders. Bright light returned to the conservatory over the next few days as the windows were cleaned. All through the rest of the house, the boards were removed and windows replaced. During the day it was a flurry of activity. Cleaning and moving and banging. Chloe feared they would awaken the thing upstairs. The workmen never seemed too interested in going up to the second floor. They would take some of the old furniture up there but quickly return.
Chloe thought it was odd that several of the pieces of really fine furniture were moved to the front room. Over several weeks the group added many other antiques and oddities. They filled the dining room with dishes and hutches and display cabinets. The conservatory was again full of plants and old gardening equipment. Books were added to the library; they were all older-looking books, but they were new to Chloe. Tables and cabinets covered the halls, the formal living room, and the billiard room, everywhere. Chloe found this very strange. Then one day people began to come to the house. They came and went, buying and selling curious things. Some of her statue friends were carried away, but new ones came in to replace them.
Chloe liked having people in the house. She liked the noise, the smells, and the conversations. She didn’t understand some of the things they talked about, but she was interested. She did notice that furniture that was original to the house was never sold. People would get near it then quickly move away. This made Chloe happy. She felt connected to the furnishings and did not want any of it to go. Then one day something happened that altered Chloe’s world. Some old magazines began to show up. She recognized Life and Time and a few others. She saw some that she had actually read before she died. Then she would look through these after all the people left. She found out about the Second World War, Vietnam, civil rights, and, to her astonishment, the moon landing. So much had changed; if she could leave the grounds, would she even recognize the world? With every new acquisition, Chloe would get excited. This meant something new for her to learn about or remember. Then after a couple of years, something happened that changed the house and Chloe’s world yet again.
A large truck pulled up to the house. Men began to unload a lot of bedroom furniture. Chloe thought very little of it until the men began to move the ropes that blocked off the stairs. They were taking the furniture up there and making a lot of noise. After the second load was up the stairs, she knew there was trouble.
“I didn’t think it was that cold out.” The woman shivered heading to close the open front door. Reaching it, she felt warm. “That is odd.” Somewhere above her a door slammed. There was a tremendous crash followed by a thundering of feet on the stairs. “My word! Is everyone all right?” the woman shouted.
Wide-eyed with terror, a man skidded to a halt in front of the woman. “Mrs. Sellers! There is something up there. I’m not waiting around to find out what it is,” a workman explained. He glanced back up the stairs then hurried for the door. The second man bounded down the stairs and out the door without a word to Mrs. Sellers. Chloe knew they had disturbed it.
“For heaven’s sake!” Mrs. Sellers exclaimed, heading to the stairs. Chloe flew to her, making herself known. She appeared on the stair right in front of the very shocked woman. Mrs. Sellers screamed at the appearance of a transparent girl. Her scream felt like it pierced Chloe’s head. She knew it was the scream that sent the sensation through her. There was cold and hate flowing around her. Despair as Chloe had never known filled her. Mrs. Sellers was running for the door now. Chloe was backing away from the darkness. It spread and pooled and flowed like smoke slowly forming a hulking creature with burning eyes. Chloe backed away. A tongue of shadow flicked out at her. Recognition lit in the eyes; they burned with unrestrained distain. The shadow turned into a fist that flew past Chloe’s head. She was speeding away, the darkness lumbering after her.
“Leave me alone!” called the rasping voice as the creature bounced off walls. Pictures crashed to the floor. With a wave, a cabinet full of figurines flew at her, propelled by long streams of darkness. Chloe screamed. She was down the hall. A clock smashed to the ground just behind her. She was in her conservatory. Like smoke hitting glass, the thing pooled and swirled at the steps. Fear flickered through those burning coals. Chloe sank chest deep into the floor where the well was. In a flash the thing was gone. Chloe wept.
It took several days before Chloe left her sanctuary. When she returned to the rest of the house, the first thing that caught her attention was that nothing had been cleaned. The shattered clock and broken cases still littered the hall. In the other rooms, everything seemed untouched. After a week, Chloe began to wonder if Mrs. Sellers or anyone was ever going to return. She wandered through the artifacts and broken detritus. She hated the thing that skulked upstairs, hated Edgar. She was angry with the workmen who disturbed it. She was angry that she was alone again.
Mrs. Sellers never returned. After a month different men came in to move a lot of the antiques out. They were almost finished when Chloe heard them on the stairs. Anguished moments passed as she tried to decide between helping and safety. Any moment now they would wake him up. She could already feel the atmosphere chill. She couldn’t let them be attacked. She didn’t know if it was possible, but she was sure she couldn’t let the workers get hurt. Judging by the damage caused the last time she had encountered the malevolence, she was sure he would try. Making a decision, she appeared at the bottom of the stairs.
“You must leave,” she called. Three frightened faces peered around a corner looking down at her. Relief washed over her. “You need to come downstairs,” she beckoned, motioning them to come to her.
“Don’t go down there!” one of the men cried. “She will pull you to hell.”
“She wants to kill us,” another shouted, disappearing from view.
“Go back to the grave!” called the third.
“No! Wait, what?” Chloe was confused and annoyed. Their shouting was going to wake him. “Wait, you need to…” Her explanation was drowning in the yells of the men. Without warning a porcelain figurine flew through Chloe’s chest, smashing behind her. Now she was angry. “Fine! You don’t want to listen to me?” A satisfied smile crossed her face before she cursed herself. The slamming of a door followed by heavy footfalls turned all faces to the far end of the hall. “Well, now you’ve done it.” She frowned.
Screams filled the upstairs. The men were at the top looking between Chloe and the unfurling shadow. It took her a moment to realize why they were not retreating. It was because of her. They were terrified to come near her. Quickly she hid herself. With their path obstructed, the men still didn’t budge. Not until the first man tumbled down the steps did his fellows follow. Chloe could see the hand imprint, red on the face of the fallen. His comrades pulled him to his feet. In a daze they dragged him as they ran from the house. Staying hidden in the shadows Chloe gasped as the shadows flew to the door throwing it wide. Everything that wasn’t original to the house began to shoot through the opening, smashing and splintering on the walk and lawn. The screams of rage mixed with the violence of the purge sent Chloe back to her safe place. After a couple of hours, the smashing and crashing stopped. It was replaced with the sounds of furniture being slid around.
Again it took a few days before Chloe ventured back into the main part of the house. She was surprised to find all the original furnishing back in place, covered in sheets to keep the dust off. Then she watched as those sheets change from white to gray as the years wore on. She wandered through the old house feeling alone, cut off from the world outside. Rarely did anyone set foot through the door. Occasionally she would see children through the windows; they would point at her and run away or throw rocks. She stopped looking out after that. Words the men had said stuck with her. They blamed and feared her.
The next time the boards came off the windows, Chloe was less interested in what was happening. Every time someone would come to make a change or look at the house, she would ignore them. With every visit, all would be quiet until they reached the upstairs bedroom. Then it would all start again. She would hear them scream, hear them running down the stairs, out the door. Occasionally they would scream about the gray girl, the evil ghost, and she knew they didn’t differentiate between her and what had was now Edgar or remnants of his worse traits.
Several experts came to the house. Mediums, researchers, and ghost hunters all came to find the gray girl. They would hear her weeping. They would try to make contact with her, but she didn’t respond. She was in hell. She couldn’t figure out what she had done to end up here, trapped with the man who had ended her life. When the intruders would finally make it upstairs, Chloe was happy. They would open the bedroom, and Edgar’s hate would send them running for the hills. He would then rage through the empty halls, screaming to be left alone. She did her best to accommodate. She hated him. When he was near, she felt that hatred grow. It scared her to the point that she rarely emerged from the conservatory anymore. It got so bad that she would do whatever she could to drive people away before they woke him. She knew she was the only ghost they blamed. She hated them all now. She felt the anger, and it frightened her. She did not want to become what Edgar was.
It came to pass that Chloe rarely wandered or appeared. When the people would come, she would stay hidden. It came to the point where only children would sneak in on dares, or teens looking for a secluded place. She would remain hidden unless they threatened the house in some way or tried to go up the stairs. She had made it very difficult to access the stairs, blocking it with furniture and knocking out flashlights and candles of the would-be adventurers.
Boards covered the windows, and a fence enclosed the yard. Even the children stopped coming. Chloe avoided the rest of the house. She was stuck forever in the home of the man who had killed her. Sometimes she would fall to the anger. She had destroyed all the mirrors. She could see herself in them, forever young and alone. The violence of her death did not mark her features. It was the injustice of it. Her only sin was refusing a ride. This gave him the right to run her down, shatter her body, and take her from her family, and then trap her eternally with him in his home, forever fearing his presence.
Chloe sat alone on the battered settee letting the tears flow; anger and sorrow streamed down her face. Edgar was to blame for all of this. He got to live his life. She didn’t know how long he had lived or how he had died. She didn’t even know what year it was. She had been thrown down a well, fought to return to the surface, only to be trapped, while he most likely had lived a long and happy life to die and leave his evil behind. It was too much to bear. On top of all that, there were people in her house. People she did not want in the house. Anger burst forth, she was on her feet, arms outstretched. The crashing of an ugly marble bust brought three men running. She stood pointing at them as they skidded to a halt.
“Get out of my house!” she boomed.