Copyright © 2013 Ben Kesp
Climbing the tree lined ditch, the briars cut through his lower legs, piercing his skin. Red lines soon mark his legs. The small woodland offers some relief from the heavy summer rain as Carlos continues to move inwards eyeing a clearing ahead. Annoyed that he hasn’t waited at the bus stop for the next bus, it won’t be due for another hour. He feels confident that he can walk to the town where he is staying; but after some wrong turns, he gets lost. He curses his stupidity. He is nearing the end of his holidays and succeeds in creating an unwanted adventure. Upon reaching the clearing, he spies a large old house looming strong through the heavy rain. It is grand with three floors and poorly maintained grounds. His eyes rest for some time on the old building through the rain, until he spots her. How long has she been watching him? Standing by a window on the first floor is an elderly lady. She beckons to him. Carlos continues to focus on her for a few seconds longer before exiting the trees and racing towards the house in the heavy rains.
As he arrives at the house, he finds the front door is slightly ajar. Knocking gently, he pushes it open, entering a large and spacious hallway decorated with many portraits and tapestries. The air is heavy and reeks of a musty smell, offering relief from the cold wet rain. Closing the door behind him, his eyes are quickly drawn to the elderly lady standing on the bottom step of a grand stair case. Surprised at her sudden appearance it unnerves him. She is dressed in a full length blue and white night dress with her grey hair tied in a bun. He stares unsurely at her.
“Hello,” Carlos starts, wiping the rain water from his forehead and eyes. “I got lost and was trying to find shelter in the trees from the rain. I didn’t mean to trespass.”
“There is a bathroom at the bottom of the hall; go and dry yourself,” the lady replies emotionless, continuing to hold her gaze.
Carlos nods, moving forward in the long hallway towards the bathroom. Glancing behind, he sees the lady hasn’t moved. Doubts form slowly in his thoughts whether he should have entered the house. He notices the bathroom hasn’t been cleaned for some time and there is one towel hanging on a slightly rusty rail. The smell of stale air is strong making it difficult to breathe. He dries his hair and legs, but his t-shirt and shorts are soaked through. Returning to the main hall, he finds the elderly lady seated by an elegant fireplace in a large room next to the hall. She beckons for him to enter with long bony fingers. He complies, sitting opposite her. Smiling politely, Carlos observes the room. More portraits and large canvas oil paintings decorate the walls. His eyes fall on the very long dining table standing in the centre of the room that dust has laid many layers on.
“This is a very big house you live in,” Carlos observes as he returns his gaze onto the elderly lady.
“Yes, it is my husband’s ancestral home, built in 1768. I lived here with my husband and two sons. Now it’s only me, I’m alone here.”
“Where are your sons, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“My sons stopped visiting me many years ago.”
“You must find it very lonely?”
“My husband was an extensive landowner and merchant. He employed many people. An issue arose one summer when many of the warehouse workers demanded better conditions and higher pay. They threatened Frederick, that’s my husband’s name, and he laid them off. They rebelled and marched in numbers here to the estate. They dragged him from the house, and all I could do was to keep my two sons safe as I was held back by some of the men. The estate labourers did not stand to protect him but sided with the mob on condition they wouldn’t harm me.”
“What did they do?”
“I watched in horror as they dragged my husband along the ground into the back courtyard, stripped him and tied him to a wheel of an old cart. I looked on helplessly as he begged and pleaded with them to stop. They laughed and placed straw around him. They drenched him in paraffin oil before setting him alight.”
A shiver runs up his spine as Carlos listens intently to the elderly lady’s shocking story.
“That’s Fredrick there,” the elderly lady continues, pointing at the large portrait above the fireplace. The lady falls silent. An uncomfortable feeling descends. She does not speak.
“Are you okay?” Carlos asks gently.
“I’m getting tired, I must rest. If you continue straight by the trees, you will come across a little walled enclosure. You must pass through it and you will meet the main road.”
Carlos stands acknowledging in a nod. Reaching the hallway, his eyes rest on the lady sitting quietly in the chair.
“Thank you,” he states, but only silence answers him. Exiting the house, the cool fresh air following the rains is welcoming to him. He moves forward towards the trees, and along by the clearing he spies a low stone wall with an iron gate. The enclosure Carlos assumes as he enters the small black gate tripping over a line of barbed wire coming face to face with a head stone. A shout reaches his ears. A middle aged man wearing a dark green rain coat, a hat and carrying a long black stick faces him.
“What you up to boy?” the man shouts, approaching him.
Carlos relates his story of getting lost and the elderly lady that gave him shelter from the rain. The man's penetrating eyes pierce into Carlos.
“You met poor old Abby Valee. She’s a lonely soul and likes to tell the story of her husband to anyone who passes by that can hear,” the man replies relaxing his demeanour.
“It was tragic how her husband was killed and that she witnessed it all.”
“It sure was, and she was never the same after,” the man answers pointing forward. Carlos follows the direction of his finger to the stone with the words Abby Valee etched into it.
“It was tragic how she died too, hanging herself from a banister in the front hall of the house. Her body rests here, but her soul will never leave the house. Her two sons do not visit anymore. I look after the place keeping away the vandals,” the man replies, wrapping his rain coat tighter around him, pointing ahead. “Continue down by the tree line and you will meet the main road. The bus stop is another five-minute walk after that. Hurry now, the next bus to town is in twenty minutes.”
Carlos maintains his focus on the looming house standing before him. His head is light and the sound of the man’s voice drifts from him. The tap on his shoulder snaps him back to a groggy reality facing the man.
“Get walking boy, you look like you saw a ghost,” the man laughs moving from Carlos towards the house. Carlos continues forward on unsteady legs with a rising sickening pang sitting in his stomach while his thoughts rest with Abby Valee.
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