Chapter 4: 1990
“I don’t like it here. I want to go back to Philadelphia,” young Emily Stewart complained to her parents. Her mother ignored her, taking stock of the furnishings in the old manor house they had just purchased.
“We might be able to sell some of this old junk.” Frowning, she turned glaring at the antiques as if they had insulted her. “Maybe recoup some of our wasted money,” Mrs. Stewart grumbled.
“This place is great. We got a good deal on it. Just a few renovations and we’ll have an awesome bed-and-breakfast.” The gleeful voice seemed out of place against the frowning faces. “Besides we can use some of this stuff. I mean it is period correct for the house.” Mr. Stewart smiled, pulling dusty sheet after dusty sheet from the old furniture. “Come on, Em, you’re going to have a great time here.” He didn’t notice the looks on his wife’s and daughter’s faces, looks that said he was the only one enjoying the experience.
A thundering pounding from above turned all three faces to the ceiling.
“It sounds like somebody stomping around upstairs,” Emily whispered. Her fear caused her to grip her stuffed bunny closer.
“Must be the old plumbing.” Mr. Stewart frowned. “That is gonna be costly.”
“Oh great.” He sighed. “There’s more of my money gone.”
“Honey, this was your dream too.”
“This was never my dream!”
Emily slowly disappeared as her parents’ voices rose like they always did when it came to money or this house. She paused at the foot of the staircase. Cold seeped down from above. Emily shivered as she backed away. She wandered down the detritus-strewn hall to the kitchen. Cabinet doors hung wide, revealing empty shelves or a few cracked dishes. The floor was strewn with shattered plates. Emily frowned. “Why can’t people leave stuff alone? There is no reason to destroy this stuff,” she stated, picking up half a plate to examine the wheat pattern on it. “Bet it was a bunch of stupid teenagers,” she explained to the plush rabbit.
“It wasn’t,” whispered a voice behind Emily.
The shard clattered to the floor. “Who’s there?” Emily’s eyes searched the corners of the room. She was alone. She backed quickly into the hall. Her parents’ argument was reaching new decibels. Shaking the voice from her head, she stared at her bunny. “Must have been them fighting.” Deciding on the other direction, Emily made her way into the large banquet room. More dishes lay scattered and broken on the table and floors. The centerpiece was dead and dry. Dust lay thick on everything.
Something, moving maybe, caught her attention through a door at the end of the room. “Hello?” Emily called, taking a step forward. Light was spilling from the inch or two between the door and the frame. She was sure a shadow passed by. Emily rolled her shoulders, moved her head from side to side, as she had seen her father do when he was determined to do something. She pushed on the door, but it resisted. Frowning, she pushed harder. Rusty hinges broke free. Creaking loudly, the door unveiled a large conservatory. All the plants were brown, tan, and brittle. The glass was filthy, letting in muted light. Several statues and busts littered the room. Movement in the corner of her eye caught her attention. There was someone standing there.
Emily was stunned to see a very pretty young woman standing partway behind one of the old busts. She was looking away from Emily as if scared of her. The girl wore a long gray-wool coat even though it was very warm in the room. Emily saw the woman was missing a shoe, but that wasn’t the only thing odd about her. There was something less about the woman. Her face seemed kind yet sad. A trick of the light. That must have been it. That was what caused Emily to see horrors on the girl’s face. Such pain, it caused her to look away. When she looked again, it was the pretty face again.
“Hello?” Emily questioned. The young woman moved out of hiding. She looked up to face her as if just noticing her.
“You shouldn’t be here,” the woman whispered.
“Um, no, it is you who shouldn’t be here,” Emily replied, placing her hands on her hips. The bunny swinging by a leg held tight. “My parents bought this place; it is ours now.”
“No, it isn’t. He will not like you here” was the whispered reply; the woman was looking up toward the house’s second floor. Emily turned to follow the gaze.
“Who won’t…?” When Emily turned back, the woman was gone. She searched the conservatory but couldn’t figure out where the woman had gone. Emily’s mother calling returned her to the front room. Emily’s father was not there. The tears on her mother’s face were barely dry, but the anger was still in her eyes.
“Where is Dad?” Emily quietly asked.
“Upstairs to investigate the horrid plumbing or something else wasteful,” Mrs. Stewart grumbled.
“I met a lady in the garden room,” Emily stated.
“That’s nice. Does she want to buy this pit?”
“She said a man wouldn’t like what Dad is doing here.”
“Well, they aren’t the only ones.” Mrs. Stewart growled, pulling a heavily dusty cloth free from a statue. “How many of these damn things are in this place?” she shouted.
A howling cry spread from the back of the house to the front parlor. It seemed to come from the upstairs, gaining in hatred as it spread. Emily covered her ears, crouching under a table. Her mother stood with her hands on her hips, as Emily had done, staring up at the sound. “What the hell has your stupid father done this time?”
Mr. Stewart threw open the front door. “What the hell is that?” he called over the din. Mrs. Stewart spun in shock to see him enter.
“What did you do?” she demanded.
“Me? I’ve been outside this whole time!” The smell of cigarettes followed him in. The sound faded. Emily left as a fresh fight began about the sound and the smoking.
Emily couldn’t remember a worse time in her life. Over the next few weeks, the troubles and tensions grew. She would watch her mother or father move a piece of furniture. Within hours it was back in its original place. The person who moved it would blame the other or Emily. The shouting would start all over again. If they decided to get rid of something, Emily’s father would swear and struggle to get it out of the house. Several pieces could not be taken through the doors. Emily’s mother would scream about her father not wanting to get rid of anything. They would fight and fight about how he wasn’t trying hard enough while he complained she did nothing to help, only nag. When he finally did get something out of the house to the car, the car wouldn’t start. This, of course, led to another scream fest, as Emily put it. With all the troubles with cleaning and tensions, little work was actually getting done. The only thing that Emily could see had changed was much of the dust and many of the broken items had been able to be removed. What was still there was anything that was whole. It sat scattered in the rooms or on the front porch.
Trying to avoid her angry parents, Emily spent more and more time alone. She had tried many times to find the woman in the conservatory but with minimal results. She would catch a glimpse or see her watching from the halls. Emily had given up trying to tell her parents about the girl. They never listened. The few times Emily was able to speak to the woman, it was always the same: Leave the house before it is too late. Leave before he gets angry. In the end Emily gave up on trying to make friends with her. She never could even get the woman’s name. On top of that, her parents thought it was only an imaginary friend.
One afternoon, Mr. Stewart was on the front porch smoking and seething about the most recent exchange with his wife. Mrs. Stewart, for her part, was curled up in one of the ornate chairs she wanted desperately to get rid of. Her temper still burned as she finished a second bottle of wine. Avoiding the smells of cigarettes and wine, Emily was miserably pushing an old metal car she had found in one of the bedrooms around. Her hand shook over the toy. Dust rained down on her as the heavy thumping above started. Emily tried to ignore the sounds until the howl started. The toy forgotten, Emily ran from the room. She collided with her father at the bottom of the stairs. Mrs. Stewart was in the doorway of the sitting room ten feet away. Emily was being helped up by her father; the stink of smoke burned Emily’s nose. It was worse than normal. It smelled of rotten eggs and something far worse.
On her feet, she ignored her father’s apologies. Emily was staring at her mother. Seeing his daughter’s distraction, he turned to his wife. Mrs. Stewart was standing straight-backed, wide-eyed with a shaking finger pointed behind Emily. Emily turned slowly to see the young woman standing there. It was then that Emily noticed she could see through her. The girl’s head hung down; the look on her face was so sad it made Emily want to cry. Beside her, Emily could feel her father shaking and sputtering. His head swiveled from the girl to his wife and back again. The look in his eyes was begging this to be a joke.
“You must leave. He is coming,” whispered the woman.
“What the hell is that?” Mr. Stewart cried, grabbing Emily as he rushed to his wife. Emily grabbed her mother’s arm, trying to pull her to the front door. Mrs. Stewart couldn’t or wouldn’t move. The ghost stood unmoving, head still down, repeating her warning.
“Go now before it is too late. He is angry.” The young woman’s sad eye turned to the hall. She vanished as another howl followed by a cold wind and heavy footfalls thundered from above.
A half-empty wine bottle shattered. Mrs. Stewart was screaming. Her cries mixed with Mr. Stewart’s. Emily shut her eyes tight. At the top of the stairs stood hell itself. Eyes of pure hatred blazed out of white flesh pulled tightly over a skull that broke through along the sharp cheeks. A bony finger pointed out of a filthy rotted sleeve at the huddled family.
“Get out!” boomed the horror.
Emily was in her father’s arms. Her mother was still screaming. Her father was yelling and pulling his wife with him. She threw off his arm and flew through the door. In a blur they were outside. Three car doors slammed. The front door stood wide open. Down the stairs they could see a cloud of black descending, the face from the top visible through the smoke. The car burst to life. Emily found herself sliding around in the backseat. She turned to take a last look at the house, a house she would never set foot in again. In a window in the conservatory, she saw a figure standing. Emily shut her eyes tightly, willing the vision to go away.
The family returned to Philadelphia where the divorce was final, the house was sold, and Emily spent many years in therapy trying to convince herself it had never happened.