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My destination was a town called Bradbury. I’d never been there before and had only ever scene it on a map. It was about 90 minutes south of the large college town where I had spent five years as an undergraduate.
Upon arriving, in the early morning, after one night’s stay in a motel outside Salt Lake City and a second stop-off in Denver to take in the nightlife, I was amazed to discover how much the town resembled Mayberry.
One nearly expected to see little Opie rounding a corner on his way to the fishing hole.
With covered bridges, steeped churches, an old-fashioned soda and ice cream parlor, a beauty salon/barber shop and storefronts with windows displaying all manner of things from antiques to television sets; I was amazed when the town sign informed me the population was “over 5,000 and growing strong.”
Could have fooled me.
This place hadn’t seen growth since Theodore Cleaver hit puberty and moved away.
I parked my car in front of the office of the local real estate agent and climbed out. In the window were displayed listings for various houses.
I closed my eyes and pointed my finger.
“Spacious 30,000 sq. ft. farm-house, 15 minutes from town square; 4 BR. 3 Bath, Full Kitchen with gas appliances. This house is a slight fixer-upper, but has a good story. It’s just charming for a do-it-yourself couple looking to start a family.”
It was inside my price range. I dialed the number on the bottom of the listing and made an appointment for later in the day.
I looked at the picture above the listing in the window. It was indeed a big old-looking house; two stories with green shutters and a white picket fence.
If one squinted and used a bit of imagination, one could almost see a family posed in front of it. A dad, a mom, three kids, and a golden retriever; all of them smiling for the camera, perhaps wearing Santa caps as it was for the family’s annual Christmas card.
I ripped the listing off the front window of the real estate office, already knowing the house would be mine.
Anything to keep them from abusing that poor golden retriever.
I dug in my jacket pocket for the scrap of paper on which I had written the address of Bradbury Central High School. I looked around, it was nine o’clock in the morning and the town square was already rather busy. Across the way was the hair salon. I walked across the street and into the little salon. The women looked up as the bell above the door jingled.
A young girl behind a little white desk stood up and smiled. “Hi, do you have an appointment?”
“No. I was just hoping to ask for directions to the High School.”
The middle-aged man in the chair closest to the door perked up. “You’re Mrs. Hawkes?”
I turned to him. “Yes.”
“I’m Jean Peters. Social Studies.”
Despite being only halfway through his coloring, Mr. Peters stood up and offered his hand to shake. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. You’ve been quite a topic of conversation around town.”
“Well, the school board hired you without giving up a heads up. We didn’t know a thing about you. All through the summer conferences someone raised you as a topic of conversation. I must say, I was expecting someone older. I’m pleasantly surprised.”
He noticed the girl behind the reception desk still standing. “Oh.” He walked over, the foil in his hair bouncing comically, “This is Brenda Wilson,” he said, patting the girl’s shoulder. “She’s going to be one of your students this year. Isn’t that right, Brenda?”
“Yes.” Her hands clasped together nervously over the buckle of her white short shorts. “It’s nice to meet you, Miss Hawkes. I’m looking forward to taking your class. The only other option we have is German and…” Brenda made the international sign for gagging. “Nine spriken ze,” she giggled.
I nodded politely and smiled at her joke.
After shaking both their hands, I fingered the zipper on my jacket and tried to look as though I were at a loss for words. “So, which way to the school? I’m supposed to check in and sign some things.”
Mr. Peters’ eyes swept quickly down to my neckline and back up again, it was fleeting but I could tell he’d gotten a good look. “Right-O,” he said, resuming his seat so that the tall stylist could continue her work on his hair. “Only a week before we begin the fall term, right? It’s two blocks down, right on Elm and then half a block more and you’re there. Hope you like it here.”
“I hope so too.” I smiled at him and waved goodbye to Brenda as she set back down behind the reception desk.
As I walked through the door, back out into the sunshine, I couldn’t help but know that behind me Mr. Peters’ eyes were watching my backside through the salon’s front window. I paused on the curb, moving my hands to my hips as if taking a moment to breathe in the air. It smelled surprisingly clean, only a hint of car exhaust, extremely noticeable to someone who’d spent so long in L.A. I stepped down off the curb and began crossing the street.
I casino oyna wasn’t paying too keen attention as, with a loud roar, a motorcyclist whizzed up and swerved abruptly to avoid me.
I jumped backward and watched the bike falter slightly before the rider regained his control and braked to a stop in the middle of the street.
He wore a helmet with a visor, his face hidden behind the windscreen so that when he whipped around to look at me all I saw was myself reflected in yellow and orange.
His broad shoulders and torso were clad in a bruised but flattering brown leather biker’s jacket, a near clone to the one I had draped over my arm.
There was an awkward pause in his movements as he almost lifted his visor to yell at me, but then, deliberately, he put his hand down, deciding against wasting his time. In a moment he popped the clutch and spewing only a tiny bit of exhaust he sped off and was gone around a corner.
I stared after him.
Curiously, a moment passed as I contemplated the shape of him. There was something, I didn’t know what, about him.
Crossing the street to my mustang, I didn’t really linger on him after that brief instant.
Sure, it had been my fault for not looking both ways before stepping into the street, but the fact that he hadn’t lifted his mask to berate me was, at that moment, just evidence to my mind that he had been in a great hurry.
Anyway, I didn’t care. I wanted to just get the paperwork at the High School wrapped up, receive my course requirements from the office, and get to some place where I could rest after an early morning on the road.
My butt was raw from resting so long in the red leather driver’s seat of my 2+2. I needed a long hot bath complete with self-servicing tension abating therapy.
Bradbury Central High School was an old fashioned two-story building in the style of the 1950’s municipal building; lots of windows with aluminum hand-rails leading up the front steps to the main doors. I half-expected Olivia Newton John and John Travolta to come hand-jiving out the front entrance, but much to my dismay the only person I saw was a squat little janitor washing the exterior windows.
“Hello. I’m looking for the central office. I need to fill out some paperwork.”
The little fireplug of a man looked over his shoulder at me and then back to his work. “Principal left a few minutes ago. Got tired of waiting. You were supposed to be here at seven. He’s got more stuff to do than wait around for some Spanish teacher.”
I grimaced at the back of the old man’s head and turned to walk back to my car.
“He left a packet of papers for me to give you if you showed up though. It’s in the office. I’ll take you in.” He plopped his shammy-cloth down in the bucket of soapy water along with his squeegee and started walking briskly toward the building’s front doors.
I followed him as he unlocked the front door and then held it for me. “Name’s Bruno.” He looked me up and down, like a man who could care less. “Nice jacket,” he said, as I passed by him.
“Thanks, I stole it.”
“Old boyfriend. Long story.”
The main office was right next to the front door.
He unlocked the door and went inside, I waited in the hall for only a moment before he returned with a manila envelope and handed it to me. I opened it and leafed through the papers inside; W-2, staff directory, copy of the summer news letter.
As I skimmed over the course requirements for my class, Bruno kept talking. “The boss said to just bring them by tomorrow morning and give them to the receptionist. Her name’s Connie. If anything breaks or a kid pukes in your class don’t hesitate to call.” He brushed past me and strode quickly to the main door. “Come on, I got to lock up.”
“Yeah, sorry.” I rushed to catch up and scurried through as he held the door for me. “Thanks, Mr. Bruno.”
“Just Bruno, Miss. I never really got around to qualifying for the Mister part.” He grunted his farewell and waved me off, returning back to washing his windows.
I stopped at the town gas station and showed the attendant the picture of the house I had taken from the Real Estate Agent’s office window. He gave me directions and within ten minutes I was turning off the paved road and onto a long gravel driveway lined with tall oak trees.
It wasn’t a very long driveway. I’d probably need an Indian scout to find my way to the mailbox every day, but that was neither here nor there.
As the house grew in the distance, I saw that it was quite secluded and charming.
On either side of the driveway, beyond the trees, wide-open meadows spread off for about a mile in either direction. The house was obviously a remnant of a large working farm that had been divided up over time, sold off bit by bit. I came out of the tunnel of foliage and into the turnaround courtyard. A small Honda Accord was parked directly in front of the house and, as I braked to a halt, a tall willowy woman, about 30, dressed in a saggy sarong and long pleated skirt, climbed canlı casino out of it. She pointed to a small white garage off to the right side of the house.
I pulled my mustang inside and shut off the engine.
The woman waved as I climbed out of the car. “Hello,” she said, meeting me at the open garage door. “I’m Emma Towns. I guess I’m your real estate agent.”
“Lillian Hawkes,” I said, shaking her hand. I looked up at the big old house and nodded my head. “I’ll take it.”
The woman, Emma, smirked and cocked her head. “You’re sure you don’t want a cottage? I have one in town. It’s walking distance from the school.”
“How did you figure I wanted to be near the school?”
“You’re the new teacher, aren’t you?” She shrugged and turned to stare with me up at the house’s white stone front. “News travels fast around here,” she said. “Can’t blame us all for gossiping. You’re the first person to move into town in a long time.”
I dug in my purse and took out two large stacks of bills. I passed them over to her. “Cash okay?”
“Done. Here are the keys.” Emma handed over a large key ring with at least a dozen keys on it. “There’s one for every door in the house plus a master pass key. It has its own well so you already have running water. The house was built in 1878 by Captain George Handle…”
“It’s a very historical house. In fact, many of the town’s people can trace their families back to this house. That’s kind of why I think you should reconsider the cottage. Another party was really hoping to reclaim the place…”
“They snooze they loose, right?”
Emma gave me a bit of a rye smile. “You’re kind of a wrecking ball, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, I’ve been called that before.”
“So, care for a tour?”
“Not today. I need to unpack and shower. I’ll figure out where everything is on my own.”
“Well, at least let me give you this.” She walked back to her car and opened the rear passenger side door. “You’re lucky I keep one with me at all times. I didn’t have time to run over to the market and order one special.” From her back seat she produced a gift basket wrapped in cellophane. “There’s coffee beans, a little bottle of champagne, some chocolates, bath beads. Those will come in handy considering the house is without showers.”
“The two bathrooms were converted in the early part of the 1910’s, showers hadn’t really caught on back then. If you want a shower I can put you in touch with a couple of good contractors. It’ll be expensive but they do good work for the money.”
“I’ll make do,” I said, taking the gift basket. “And the coffee will come in handy, too.”
“I figured as much. There are a few scented candles as well. I’d keep them close if I were you; the power has a tendency to go out from time to time.” Emma began walking slowly over to her car, talking over her shoulder as she fiddled with her keys.
“I’ll come back tomorrow to pick up the signed forms and see how you’re getting on. Until then I’ll keep your deposit and payment in my safe at the office. You go on inside while I fill out a receipt for this money. I’ll leave it on the counter and show myself out.”
“Which way to the master bathroom?”
“There are two master bedrooms and two master bathrooms. One on either side of the top floor. The captain and his wife unfortunately took a long while to become accustomed to each other so they had the place built with separate rooms.
“Both bathrooms are the third doors from the landing on either side of the house and they connect to the respective bedrooms up there.” She pointed up to an enclosed upper deck that ran along the front of the house. “Notice how the upper patio connects them?”
Emma smiled, as if watching some imagined scene playing out in her head of the two lovers from the past kissing passionately in the late afternoon sunshine.
“They had fourteen children together,” she said. “Something tells me they didn’t spend as much time apart as the floor plan suggests.”
After a second, Emma floated back to reality and opened her car door. She ducked inside a moment and then stood, plopping a receipt booklet on the roof of the car. “It’s a lovely house,” she continued, as she counted the bills and then wrote in the booklet. “I know you’ll be happy here. Maybe tomorrow you’ll let me tell you about the place.”
With that, Emma tore the receipt out of the booklet, walked back to where I still stood, and handed it to me. She circled back around to the driver’s side of the car. “Have a good night,” she said. “Don’t let the noises bother you, it’s an old house.”
“Noises?” I asked.
“Well, now that I’ve got your money I assume it’s safe to tell you that a lot of people believe the house is haunted.”
I smirked. “Yeah, right,” I walked over and spoke to her as she rolled down the window. “Are you saying the captain and his wife will be clanking chains all night and I won’t get any sleep?”
The agent smiled at me. “Oh, clanking chains isn’t in their repertoire. But, kaçak casino I’d keep the bedroom door locked, just in case.”
“In case of what?”
“In case one of them mistakes you for someone you’re not.”
She gave a sly smile as she rolled up the window and started the car. I waved and watched her drive away down the gravel lane to the road.
I suddenly felt a sense of abysmal loneliness envelope me. I shrugged a chill away and turned to my car. I grabbed my overnight bag and trudged toward the big front doors, juggling keys, welcome basket, luggage and purse as I went. A roll of thunder caused me to jump and suddenly it was raining.
“Shit!” I ran for the cover of the recessed stone entry-way.
Once safe in the pseudo-shelter I looked up at the dark grey clouds. They had seemed to come out of nowhere. I turned to the large oak double-doors. Something carved into the woodwork.
“Accipere quam facere praestat injuriam.” I knew it was Latin but wondered for a moment what it meant. The key was old and rusty but it worked in the lock with ease.
I pushed open the front door and entered my new house.
It was dark inside. I leaned over and flipped the light switch nearest the door but nothing happened.
“Well, here’s a good start to things.”
From what I could see I was in a large entrance hall with a big chandelier overhead and lots of old paintings adorning the walls.
A central staircase led from the large entrance hall up to a small landing. It then split, going up to two separate galleries with four doors on either side of the house. At the base of the stairs were two large doors on either side of where I stood and when I leaned over I saw that two narrow hallways led behind the stairs to a least two more rooms at the back of the house.
I walked over to the door on my left and found the key that fit the lock. I tried the lights in there to the same affect. No power in the house.
Before closing the door I took in the furnishings.
It was what someone might have called a front parlor back in the day. There were several stuffed chairs and a fireplace with a nice woven rug in front of it. No television, no stereo, nothing but a bunch of old magazines in a rack, and shelves-and-shelves of books. I closed the door and moved back to the main entrance hall where I’d dropped my bag along with the welcoming-basket.
I dislodged the bath beads and the scented candles from the cellophane and ditched the basket at the bottom of the stairs. I climbed the stairs with my over night bag and the bath beads and veered left. I figured if the bedroom was the last door at the end of the gallery, then the bathroom was the third door along the gallery leading toward the front of the house.
I tried the knob. Locked.
I tried three different keys before I figured out which was the skeleton key. The bathroom was spacious with a white marble floor and copper fixtures on the large cast-iron tub. Immediately I stripped off my jacket and tank top and hung them on a hook I found just beside the door. I sat on the lip of the bathtub and cranked the hot water spigot.
With a sharp groan the water spilled out.
I pushed the metal plug into the drain and left my hand under the faucet until the water was nearly scalding.
As the tub filled slowly, I went over to and unlocked the door that led to the master bedroom. It wasn’t large but a pair of French doors led out onto the white-washed balcony.
The sun was dipping low in the sky and a golden glow was playing across the window. I closed the door and, topless, I walked back out onto the gallery with the keys jingling in my hands. I ambled back to the first two doors along the corridor. Behind door one was a coat closet stacked with shoe boxes, some of them very dusty and old.
I had an impulse to go rummaging but I figured it could wait until the next morning. I closed the closet door and moved to the next.
Door number two opened into a small room with a large wooden desk and several bookshelves; obviously a study.
I stepped inside and ran my fingers along the edge of the desk. It was clean and tidy.
“Ms. Town must have had a made come through,” I thought.
I walked over to the bookshelves and brushed my fingers along the spines of a collection of large black ledgers with numbers along them. The numbers started at ’78 and went on to ’99 before starting over at ’00 and going through to ’18.
I pulled out the one that read ’78, it was obviously the oldest on the shelf. I flipped it open. It was hand-written in a very fine masculine scrawl.
“September, 1878~ Daniels and I are both optimistic about the annual yield. Irrigation problems from the previous three seasons have been righted and crops appear to have stood up well against…”
I flipped to the inside cover of the ledger and found the name of the man who had kept it.
“George A. Handle, a record of crops and seasons anno. 1878.”
I suddenly felt something, like a slight breath on my ear.
I jumped and dropped the ledger on the floor. Just as I bent to pick it up I remembered the bath and rushed out, letting the door to the study latch behind me. I made it back into the bathroom just in time to prevent an overflow.
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