© 2003 Bruce Gaughran
Revised June 11, 2014
We had been house hunting for three days. Debbie and I decided that if we didn’t find something we liked today, we’d go home. Then, as we clear the woods and start up the long drive, we see the house sitting on top of the hill. This place is just what we are looking for. Debbie squeezes my hand and I know she feels the same way.
Carol Winters, our agent, pulls over so we can take in the view. “The house sits on twenty acres. Even though built in the 1840s, the sixteen-inch stone and wood exterior is well maintained. The detached garage was originally a carriage house. You’ll notice …”
We listen to Carol’s sales pitch, but what she doesn’t need to tell us, nor can any picture portray, is the setting. Debbie and I climb out of the car and while holding hands we slowly turn taking in the natural beauty. It reinforces why we want to spend some quality time away from the city. The sun reflecting off the yellows, reds, and browns of the foliage make the forest appear to be on fire. The air smells so fresh.
A piercing screech startles us as two bald eagles soar over the house. They spin, flip and parry as if involved in some ritualistic dance.
Debbie squeezes my hand. “Do you suppose they are here to welcome us?”
“Look,” Carol, who is still sitting in the car, points across the meadow.
A nine-point buck and five doe stand about a hundred yards away at the edge of the forest. The buck, with hair raised on the back of his neck, watches our every move. He challenges our presence by stomping the ground. Then, with the grace that comes from strength, he leaps over a downed tree and escapes into the woods with the doe following close behind.
Debbie and I look at each other and smile.
“Would you like to see the house?” Carol asks as she glances at her watch.
“Yes,” Debbie says and we climb back in the car.
As we step onto the front porch, Debbie sees the two wooden rockers. She runs over and sits down. “Frank, come here.” She pats the seat of the other rocker. “I can see us out here sipping our morning coffee watching our own personal nature channel.”
I nod and hold out my hand. “Come on, Hon, let’s check out the inside.”
Carol pauses, drawing our attention to the front door with a swipe of her hand, and comments, “They don’t make them like this anymore.”
She is right, the front door appears to be made of solid oak with several iron bars bolted vertically in place. I run my hand along one of the bars. “Do you suppose this was to keep the Indians out?”
Carol unlocks the door and steps aside. Debbie and I walk in to the living room. It is huge with 16-foot ceilings. Built into the far wall is a river rock fireplace with a cutout next to it for storing logs. On the left is an open stairway that winds up to the second floor.
Debbie walks over to the large window that faces east and looks out into the woods. “Frank, come here. Look at this view.”
The first thing I notice is the window has wooden shutters. I glance around the room and notice every window has shutters, all mounted on the inside. What is more interesting is that these are not ordinary shutters; they are made of thick oak with iron bars bolted vertically in place.
Just like the front door.
The shutters are the bi-fold type to minimize the interior wall space used. Two locking pins on each shutter gives me the impression that they were not installed for their looks. “Carol, I was joking earlier about the Indians, but these shutters sure make it seem like the original owners wanted to keep someone out.”
Carol chuckles, “I’m not certain why the shutters are on the inside, but they do look sturdy, don’t they?” She again looks at her watch and fidgets with its bezel.
I notice Carol’s demeanor has changed since stepping into the house. She is normally so enthusiastic and talkative.
“Is there something wrong, Carol? You keep on looking at your watch. Do you have another appointment today?”
Carol blushes and shakes her head. “No, I just don’t like driving on these back roads after dark. You know, you could hit a deer or something.” She turns away before I can respond. “Debbie, would you like to see the kitchen.”
The room is a typical country kitchen–quite large with an eat-in area and a large bay window overlooking the back yard. And, like the living room, this window has interior shutters.
“Look, Frank, the refrigerator and stove are new. There is even a built-in microwave.” Debbie walks around the kitchen looking into the cupboards and glances inside the walk-in pantry. “Plenty of storage room in here.”
As Debbie continues her inspection of the kitchen, I decide to check out some of the other rooms. I make my way upstairs and find three nice-sized bedrooms and a small, but usable three-piece bath. All three of the bedrooms have large windows allowing in plenty of light. And, each window has thick wooden shutters. I walk over to the window in the front bedroom, unlock the hasp, and open it. A slight breeze brings in fresh mountain air filling the room with the smell of pine trees. I look out the window and imagine myself sitting in front of this window.
I close the window and relock it. Reaching out to the sides, I pull the shutters together. With the shutters unfolded, the room darkens dramatically. I slide the locking pins into place and test the shutters strength by attempting to shake them. They do not move.
Interesting design. I scratch my head. It would take a battering ram to break through these.
I unlatch the pins and open the shutters. “What’s this,” I mumble as I run my fingers along three long deep gouges on the left exterior shutter face. They almost look like claw marks …
“Frank, where are you?”
Debbie’s shout startles me. I jerk my hand away causing a sliver to sink deep into my index finger. “I’m upstairs, Hon, in the front bedroom.”
I suck my finger for a moment, but it won’t stop bleeding. Several drops of blood fall onto the hardwood floor in front of me. I reach for my handkerchief, then bend down to wipe up the spots. There isn’t a trace of the blood anywhere. Either the wood floor is unfinished, or ...
I hear Debbie climbing the stairs, so I shake the thought away and go to meet her.
After I wind the handkerchief around my finger, I fold the shutters against the wall. It is then I notice that the putty on the windowpanes is still soft. Something gnaws at my insides. There isn’t any roof or ledge outside the window. How did these gouges get here?
“You have to see the master bedroom and library,” Debbie comments as she steps onto the landing. “The library is everything you have talked about. It should hold all of your books, even the ones stored in the basement. And, the master is huge with vaulted ceilings, crown molding and a fireplace.
“This place will be so much fun to decorate.” She looks around, measuring and thinking, as she walks down the hallway. “What are the rooms like up here?”
I catch up and place my arm around her. “Oh, only three large bedrooms. The bathroom is a little small and doesn’t have a shower, but since there is only Katie, it shouldn’t be a problem … at least until she becomes a teenager, or, until we have guests spending the night.”
“That reminds me, the master does not have its own bath.” Debbie pauses for a moment looking at the second bedroom. “We’ll have to go down the hall to use the bathroom. It doesn’t have a shower either. I’m certain that a plumber can do something about that. Perhaps we could add a shower-head above the tub, or, maybe tear out the tub and install a shower.”
“Wait a minute. I thought we weren’t planning on doing much work. This is supposed to be our summer home–our getaway, not our permanent residence. We can get by without a shower for a few months. How about one of those shower hose extensions that fit over the tub’s faucet, wouldn’t that work?”
Debbie looks at Carol who has followed us down the hallway, rolls her eyes and smiles. “Frank is so cheap sometimes. You would think we were paupers.”
Carol smiles as she spins her watchband around her wrist. I check my watch. It is 4:40. “Carol, we shouldn’t be much longer.”
Carol nods and takes a quick look over her shoulder. When she looks back, she isn’t smiling. “I’m sorry, Frank, what did you say?”
Concerned, I ask, “Carol, is there something wrong? You just don’t seem to be yourself this afternoon.”
“Wrong … no, nothing is wrong. I guess I am a little preoccupied with the drive back to town. I hate to ask, but do you think you’ll be ready to go soon?”
“Yes, but if that’s all you’re worried about, I will drive us back to town. That is, if you don’t mind me driving your car.”
“No … no problem at all, but I do need to be back by 6:00. I promised my husband that we would go out to dinner tonight.”
I try to make eye contact with Carol, but she will not look at me. She turns towards Debbie and comments, “If we are done up here, we can show Frank the library and master.”
Debbie grabs my arm and turns towards the stairs, “Come on, Honey, you’re going to love this.”
As we walk into the library, I immediately forget about the shutters. Built-in mahogany bookshelves line the two side walls from floor to ceiling. At the far end of the room is a double window. It looks out across the yard towards a pond–a pond that I hadn’t noticed before.
“Debbie, you are right! What a great room. It is perfect.”
I walk across the room. “Can you believe this view?” I turn around with my arms held out to each side. “The ambiance of this room is something else. This will be perfect for writing my first novel.”
Debbie turns to Carol and smiles. “Frank says he needs his own space. Someplace without a TV and telephone. He sees himself as the next Hemingway.”
At that moment, something tickles the hairs on the back of my neck. I reach up to rub them as I turn around. The double shutters stare back at me. I walk over to the window and run my fingers along the lower left windowpane. The putty is soft. I unfold the shutter, inspect each backside, and find more gouges. Interesting.
I turn to Carol and ask, “Have these windows been replaced recently?”
“I … I’m not sure. I know that the estate wants the house to be presentable, so they spent some money modernizing it. Why do you ask?”
I try to shake off the feeling. “I was just wondering.” I turn to Debbie. “How about showing me the master.”
As we walk through the master, I notice Carol is pacing back and forth in front of the door. She stops occasionally to glance at her watch, so I check the time. It is almost 5:00.
As we finish up the walk through, Carol almost sprints to the front door.
I remember one more thing I wanted to check out. “Carol, is there a basement in the house?”
Carol already has the door open and is stepping out when she stops, turns, and with a puzzled look on her face says, “Yes, I believe there is. I’m just not certain how to access it, however.”
Up until today, Carol had been a great agent. She previewed every home and knew the interiors better than most of the owners. For some reason, she did not know this one. I walk through the hallway, opening every closet door, but cannot find any access point to the cellar.
“Debbie, while I look inside, would you mind going outside and check to see if there is an exterior entrance –like the old storm cellars.
Debbie nods. “I’ll also check out the garage while I’m out there.”
I continue looking, but still can’t find it. I end up in the kitchen where there are only two doors. One leads outside and the other is for the pantry. Sure enough, inside the pantry is another smaller door on the back wall of the storage area. I click on the overhead light to get a better look. Surprisingly, or maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by now, the smaller door is solid oak. It also has wrought iron bars bolted into place.
Even more interesting, there are two deadbolt locks spaced about three feet apart. Why does a basement door have any locks?
I unlock the deadbolts and turn the door handle. The door opens, but not smoothly. The grinding sound in the hinges told me it hadn’t been opened for some time. A strong musty odor crept up the old wooden steps. This must be it.
I looked for a light switch, but couldn’t find one. I check the time and know we need to wrap soon. I’ll come back tomorrow with a flashlight to check it out.
When I turn to close the door, I notice the marks on the cellar side of the door. Gouges … several of them this time. They are all over the door. Some of them are quite deep – perhaps an inch or more into the wood. Just as interesting, there are splinters on the landing and first step. You would think that the last person to clean the house would have swept these up.
I examine the gouges more closely. They look like claw marks. Perhaps the previous owners had a big dog –a really big dog.
As I place my fingers into the deepest gouges, a cold breeze tickles the hairs on my arm. I turn–halfway expecting to see somebody standing there.
I notice something is on the third step, but I can’t quite make out what it is. My curiosity gets the best of me, and I take a couple of steps down into the black hole. By the second step, the temperature must have dropped twenty degrees, and I shiver.
The object on the next step down appears to be a necklace of some kind. I pause for a moment to search the darkness in front of me. There has to be a light switch here some place. Not seeing anything, I take another step down, turn, and bend over to get a better look at the object. It is a necklace; something like an Indian would wear. It has shells, beads, and … claws.
Something makes me want to pick up the necklace. As I touch it, I feel someone or something touch my arm. My entire body goes cold. I jerk my hand back and drop the necklace into the black void behind the stairs.
Sweat runs down my forehead and drips into my eyes. I reached up, wipe away the sweat, and as I withdraw my hand, I notice something on my fingertips. Is that blood?
An unexplained feeling comes over me and the sensation is so powerful that my entire body shakes. There is someone or something down here. I can almost hear it breath. A vile, putrid smell overwhelms my senses and forcing me to gag. Something must have died down here.
I get this feeling that whatever is here wants me–almost challenging me–to come down. My body trembles. I want to turn and run, but my legs will not respond. I am frozen to the steps.
Something tugs on my leg. I resist, but its strength is far superior to mine. Just when I feel I am going to tumble down the steps, I grab the handrail and scream, “No–leave me alone!”
I break free from its grip and stumble up the stairs using my hands to propel me. When both locks are in place, I take another step back. My legs buckle and with both hands braced against the door, I listen to the scraping sound on the other side. I need to get out of here–now!
I step out of the pantry, slam the door, and run. I rip open the front door and run into Debbie.
“Whoa,” I yell while jerking my hands back.
She studies my face. “What’s the matter, Hon, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
My heart is pounding and I can’t quite get my breath. Sucked it up, Frank. You’re forty years old for crying out loud.
My mouth is so dry that I can’t talk. I swish my tongue around my mouth and somehow manage to swallow. “No, I’m fine. I just didn’t expect to see you there.”
For a moment I debate whether to tell her what had just happened, but thought the better of it. I know she will laugh and make some joke about 'her big, brave boy'. I decided to play it safe and not mention it. Besides, I am probably just overreacting.
I take another deep breath and will myself to relax. “I found the basement. The door is inside the pantry. It’s funny that you didn’t notice it when you were checking out the kitchen.”
“That’s strange; I don’t remember another door inside the pantry. Well, did you find anything interesting?”
I glance over my shoulder and see nothing but an empty room. “No, I couldn’t find the light switch.” I looked down at my bloody fingers. Thank God I couldn’t find the switch.
“Maybe Carol has a flashlight in her car,” Debbie comments. “Do you want me to ask?”
A sense of panic rushes over me, “No,” I almost yell, “we don’t want to make Carol late for her dinner engagement.”
“Frank, what happened to your fingers?”
I pull the bloody handkerchief off my one finger and wipe the other ones. I study the lacerations. “Nothing … I mean, it is probably just a few slivers from the door.”
“Let me take a look at it, Honey, you don’t want to get it infected. Maybe Carol has a first aid kit in her car.”
“No–really–I’m fine. They have almost stopped bleeding. We can clean them up when we get back to the hotel.”
Debbie studies my face. I can tell she wants to ask me what is going on, but fortunately she doesn’t. “Okay then. Carol is in the car waiting for us. I swear that she has something else on her mind today.”
“Yah, I know what you mean.” I force a smile. “You don’t think she is trying to get rid of us, do you?”
“I don’t think so, but between the way she has been acting all afternoon, and now the way you’re acting, I don’t know what to think.”
I wipe the sweat from my forehead, take Debbie’s arm, and propel her out the door, across the porch, and down the steps.
As we head toward the car, Debbie stops. “I almost forgot why I came back in the house. The garage has some really neat things in there including boxes of old newspapers. Some go back to the turn of the century.
“One paper is dated December 3rd, 1897. The headline read, ‘Disappearance of Webster family still a mystery’. Frank, it said that a family of four disappeared from their farm and the local authorities had no clues what happened to them. The reporter wrote that this was the third such disappearance in sixty years on the Webster farm. He quoted creditable sources that told him these disappearances are related to a Cherokee Nation petition that he came across as he was doing some research on the farm. In the petition, the Cherokee Nation states the U.S. Government stole the land from them when they were forced to leave and resettle in Oklahoma in 1838. The article said the land, where the Webster house stood, was the sacred burial grounds for their chiefs and medicine men. The petition contends that the land should not be violated.”
When I don’t respond, Debbie looks at me to see if I am listening. “The article went on to say that a Cherokee medicine man placed a curse upon the land.” She laughs. “Can you believe that was the lead story in 1897?”
I stand there with my mouth open. Indian necklace … a curse. I shake my head in an attempt to clear my thoughts. Debbie takes the gesture as my confirmation that she is right.
I reach out for her. “Come on, Hon, it’s almost 5:30. We need to get Carol back to town.”
Carol is waiting in the car with the engine running. When I try to open the passenger door, it is locked. I tap on the window and point at the lock. Carol reaches down and hits the unlock button. “Sorry, I must have locked them by mistake.”
As Debbie sits down, I comment, “Okay, Carol, let’s head back to the hotel. If you want me to drive, I am certain I can handle this beast.”
“No … I’ll be fine. It’s still light out.”
While still on driveway, I catch myself looking over my shoulder one more time. Fortunately, neither Debbie nor Carol notice.
The closer we are to town, the more chatty Carol becomes. By the time we pull into the parking lot of the hotel, she is her old self again. After she put the car in park, she turns and smiles. “Well, we still have three more houses to see. What time should I pick you up in the morning?”
Debbie turns to me with a questioning look on her face. “If it were up to me, I think we found our house. What do you think, honey?”
Do I dare tell her? Won’t I come off as some kind of a nut? “Well, I agree that it has many of the features that we are interested in, but I’m a little concerned with the age of the house, you know, upkeep and maintenance issues, as well as the two small baths that need renovating.”
I look at Carol, “What do you think, Carol? Is there anything else we should know about the property that will help us make up our minds?”
After several moments of staring down at the floorboard, Carol look s me directly in the eyes. “Yes, there is something.” She clears her throat. “I have heard some rumors … and, when I originally heard them, I laughed them off as old-wives tales. But, after walking through that house today, I am not so certain anymore.”
I notice her shoulders sag as she looks at her hands. “Has it anything to do with the shutters and doors?” I ask.
Carol glances up and nods.
“And, the gouges on the shutters and doors?”
“Gouges–what gouges?” Debbie asks.
Carol sighs and her facial muscles relax. “Yes … I thought you saw them. I wanted to say something right away, but you were both so excited about the house. When I first walked into the house, I just thought I was overreacting to the rumors. But, the longer I was there–well–the more I began to wonder if the tales were not true.”
Carol shakes her head. “I’m sorry. I know I am not making much sense right now, but I just don’t know anymore. I guess I am not being very professional when I say there is something creepy about that place.”
I glance at Debbie and see a frown on her face. Her eyes dart back and forth between Carol and me. “Tell us about the rumors, Carol.”
“No one has lived in the house for over twenty years. It is my understanding that the previous owners just disappeared. No one knows what happened. One day they were there, the next they were gone. A member of the family called several times and finally stopped by to see them. When he couldn’t locate anyone, he contacted the sheriff. When they investigated, they found the entire house locked up tighter than a drum. Every window had the shutters closed and locked. And, several windowpanes were broken. The situation was suspicious enough to have a locksmith come out and open the front door.”
Now totally engrossed in the story, Debbie interrupts, “What happened ... were they dead?”
Carol shakes her head, “No, there was no sign of them anywhere. Even more strange, all of the deadbolts and shutters were locked from the inside–that is–all except for the basement door.” She rubs her face before continuing. “The sheriff found that door open. Actually, it had been knocked off its hinges. That was when he noticed the gouges–several deep gouges, like claw marks, were on the basement side of the door.”
With those words, the hair on my arms tingled. Maybe it really wasn’t my imagination running wild.
“I saw them, Hon. The gouges were also on several shutters both upstairs and down.”
Debbie’s forehead wrinkles as she turns to face Carol. “The story is preposterous. The house is 165 years old. How about the owners before the last ones, did they disappear too?”
Carol nods her head.
“What,” Debbie yells. “Oh, come on, this whole thing is just ridiculous. I’m sorry, Carol, but I just do not believe you. I think someone is pulling your leg.” She looks to at me for support. “This sounds as crazy as that newspaper story I was telling you about. What was the name of the farm again, Frank?”
“The Webster Farm,” I reply.
Carol rubs the back of her neck. “I shouldn’t have shown you that place today. I’m not certain what made me do it. I guess I was becoming a little desperate because you hadn’t seen anything that you liked.”
Debbie looks at Carol, shakes her head, and asks, “Why wouldn’t you show us that place. It was almost perfect.”
“Because it is the Webster Farm.”