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My Writing Journey

Halloween Treat

The Van Emmerick house was the most feared house in the neighborhood. For ten-year-old Tommy James, it was a dark reminder of things long ago and best forgotten; a relic of the past, old and mysterious, built by people who had lived and died many decades before he was born. He was curious about the past; fascinated with history; and the more he became aware of the house, the more he longed to explore its hidden secrets.

Tommy walked by the old Van Emmerick place twice a day, before and after school. Over the years, he had noticed many interesting details about the house. In the morning, when the sun shone full against the front of the house, two arched windows marking the second story seemed to smile at him with a “good morning!” kind of smile. The dark green paint didn’t seem so faded and cracked. The old stone porch, rudely assembled from local rocks, didn’t seem so forbidding and uninviting. The big plate glass window with the frilly white curtains seemed to sparkle in the morning light.

But in the afternoon, when the sun was low in the sky, making shadows lengthen across the old frame house, the peaked roof with the two small smoke stacks and faded red shingles gave the barn-like appearance of the house a more sinister expression. The entire structure seemed foreign and out of place. The old Victorian ornamentation, placed squarely between the two arched windows, reminded him of death and wrinkled old ladies dressed in black. The tall wrought-iron fence, set in more local rock, surrounded the property with deadly grace, effectively keeping out the curious and unwanted.

Tommy shivered, made the sign of the cross as he always did, and hurried home as fast as he could.

~

“The old Van Emmerick house, you say? Why, sure, I know all about it,” his grandfather told him one crisp afternoon in October. They were raking leaves in his own backyard while his mother prepared dinner in the kitchen. His father was still at work, and his oldest sister had left for her ballet lesson.

His grandfather had lived in Blakeville his entire life and knew a lot about the history of the town.

“Peter Van Emmerick built that house in 1880,” he recalled. “Folks around here have always called it a monstrosity. The architecture isn’t right — doesn’t fit in with the rest of the town. But Peter, being Dutch, was homesick for his own country and built the house to remind him of home. He had six children in that house by two different wives. It’s never been empty, that’s for sure. Old Amy Van Emmerick lives there now. Inherited the house from her mother. As far as I know, she’s the last of ’em. They gradually died out around here, as all old families do. The cemetery is filled with their headstones. I’ll take you there sometime to see the old graves. Would you like that, Tommy? Halloween’s coming up!”

“Sure, Gramps, any time. You know how much I like history.” But privately, Tommy wasn’t so sure. The idea of visiting a cemetery for fun, especially on Halloween, gave him the creeps.

“That’s my boy. Someday, you’ll be teaching history at the high school, just like your old granddad.” His grandfather winked at him, and Tommy stopped raking.

“Say, Gramps, how come nobody ever sees Amy Van Emmerick? I mean, how do you know she’s still alive? She could’ve died and nobody would even know it!”

“Oh, they’d know it, alright. She has a woman who comes in once a week to clean the place up and run errands for her. Selma Baintree — that’s the woman’s name. I ran into her not too long ago, and she told me that the old lady’s not doing too well, getting more frail as time goes by. It’s just a matter of time before the house will be empty, she said.”

“I’m sorry. How old is Amy Van Emmerick? I mean, you must’ve known her, Gramps!”

Yep, that’s right, Tommy. She was my first love.”

Tommy blushed. He couldn’t imagine his grandfather ever being young enough to have a first love. “Why didn’t you marry her, Gramps?”

His grandfather stopped raking and looked at him with a faraway expression on his face. “Oh, I don’t know. The Great War started, and I went off to Europe to fight the Germans. Getting married wasn’t on my mind back then. And Miss Amy went off to school in Chicago. I heard later that she was engaged to a young man from an old Chicago family, but he was killed at Dunkirk. She must’ve loved him very deeply because she came home to take care of her mother after her father died and never got involved with anybody again. She hardly left the house after that and became a regular recluse. Poor Miss Amy! She was the most beautiful girl I ever saw. The biggest blue eyes, and long golden hair like spun flax. She’d beat out the likes of Paris Hilton any day of the week!”

Tommy laughed, then stopped, when a sudden thought struck him. “Hey, Gramps, I just had an idea. Why don’t you go visit Miss Amy before she dies? I bet she’d like that a lot!”

His grandfather stroked his white-whiskered chin thoughtfully. “You know, Tommy, I never really thought about it. It seems like an invasion of the old lady’s privacy. She probably wouldn’t even know me after all these years!”

“Aw, I bet she would. She’s probably lonely shut up in that old place.”

“Maybe so,” his grandfather said. “You might just be right.”

~

“Hey, Tommy, watch this!”

Butch Abernathy pulled an egg out of his trick-or-treat bag and hurled it against the front of the old Van Emmerick house. “That’ll wake up the dead,” he shouted with glee.

The two boys hung onto the wrought-iron fence with sticky fingers, peering through the bars with eager eyes, their hearts racing with excitement. But no lights appeared. The house stared at them with black, lifeless eyes, its silhouette rising silent and dark against the cloudy night sky.

“Let’s go,” Tommy whispered. “It gives me the creeps.”

“What’re you whispering for?” asked Butch. “The fun has just begun.” He rummaged through his trick-or-treat bag and pulled out a large rock.

“No!” cried Tommy, grabbing at Butch’s arm. But it was too late. The sound of shattering glass filled his ears. His heart pounded in his chest until it hurt.

“I’m outta here!” Butch shouted; and grabbing his trick-or-treat bag, he bolted down the sidewalk.

Tommy stood alone on the sidewalk, paralyzed with fear. I never should have come here, he thought. My parents are going to kill me. And Gramps will be so disappointed . . . He couldn’t bear to disappoint his grandfather. But if he left now, who would know? Butch would never tell.

I’m going home, he thought; but as he turned to leave, the wrought-iron gate suddenly creaked open, and Tommy screamed. He ran as fast as he could to the corner, then stopped and looked back. The street was silent and deserted except for an old stray cat. A few jack-o-lanterns grinned brightly in the darkness, but the trick-or-treaters had left long ago, hurrying home before the rain started. A strong gust of wind hurled itself against him, kicking up dead leaves and dirt into his face. Coughing and sputtering, he wiped the dirt out of his eyes and headed down the sidewalk.

The old wrought-iron gate stood open before him, an invitation too tempting to resist. After all, what was the worst that could happen? He would apologize to the old lady and take his punishment liked a man.

Bracing himself, he walked slowly up the weed-infested sidewalk toward the old stone stairs. There was nothing but blackness at the top of those stairs, blackness so deep and dark, it was like a giant mouth waiting to engulf him and swallow him whole. Trembling with fear, he wanted to turn around and run as fast as he could to the nearest, brightest light. But he knew in his heart that he could not face his grandfather as long as the broken window went unpunished.

Heart pounding, he trudged up the stone stairs, peering into the blackness. As he stepped onto the porch, the moon suddenly peeked out from behind a cloud, throwing a pale, silvery beam of light into the darkness and revealing a solid oak door. He raised his hand to knock on the door, when it suddenly opened with a slow, painful groan.

Tommy gasped, and his heart pounded in his ears. Breathing heavily, he stepped over the threshold, hanging onto the door for dear life. He stood still for a moment, listening hard, and waited for something to happen. But nothing did.

As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he realized he was in a large foyer. He rapped his knuckles against the door and shouted, “Miss Amy, are you here?”

Absolute silence filled his ears except for the ticking of an old clock. He pushed the door open wider and stepped cautiously into the room. He felt for a light switch on the wall but found none. Why didn’t I bring a flashlight, he berated himself angrily.

Tommy crossed the old wooden floor and opened a set of double doors to his right. The sweet scent of roses filled the air. Outside, the wind began to howl, and raindrops splattered against the large plate glass window on the other side of the room. Tommy thought he could make out the curved outline of an old Victorian sofa under the window and the globe-like shade of an old lamp next to it. Groping his way carefully in the darkness, he was about to reach out for the lamp when a loud clap of thunder split the air, making him jump, and a bright flash of lightning lit up the sofa through the gauzy white curtains.

A figure dressed in white lay on the sofa, its long white hair spread neatly over a pillow, the wrinkled old face glowing white in the lightning flash, the large, faded blue eyes open and staring at him. The mouth hung open wide, revealing a cavernous blackness, and Tommy waited for the scream that would surely come, but no sound issued forth between those dark, thin lips. The figure’s arms were crossed over its breast, like a corpse, the fingernails long and blue. It was the most horrible thing that Tommy had ever seen in his life, and he screamed and screamed and screamed as he turned and raced for the double doors, tripping over an old ottoman in his path.

But when he looked up, something blocked his exit, a tall figure dressed in white, reaching out for him with long, clawed fingers . . .

When Tommy woke up the lights were on, and his grandfather was cradling him in his arms. “It’s okay, Tommy, it’s okay.”

“It was you!”

“Yes, it was me,” his grandfather said; “And old Miss Amy. I went to visit her, as you suggested, and we cooked up this little Halloween treat for you! Here, I want you to meet her!”

He helped Tommy to his feet, remarking on the wonderful acting job Miss Amy had done. And that make-up! Could anybody else have done a better job?

But when they leaned over the sofa to tell her it was all over, and she could stop playing around now, his grandfather suddenly became silent and felt for a pulse in the old lady’s wrist. Tommy stared, horrified, into those dead blue eyes and the slack, open mouth, and the scream rose up from his tightening throat . . .

Dawn Pisturino

2009

Copyright 2009-2020 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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Bluebeard in Beverly Hills

 

bluebeard

Bluebeard in Beverly Hills

by Dawn Pisturino

My mother, having squandered a considerable fortune, resolved to marry a wealthy man. Several candidates appeared — mostly middle-aged men of diminished means eager to marry a wealthy widow. Since my mother wore her desperation as flamboyantly as a pair of designer blue jeans, she soon found herself without any prospects at all.

When the bank foreclosed on our estate in upstate New York, my mother’s tawny tresses, once stylish and shiny, seemed to wilt around her shoulders. Her lively blue eyes clouded over with despair. And in one final act of desperation, she contacted a distant cousin residing in Beverly Hills, California.

The news startled me. This cousin, I had heard, was so rich, his name regularly topped the lists of the world’s richest people. He refused to have his photo taken or to make public appearances, for he had been born with an unnatural blue beard that made him look so ugly and weird, most women and children ran away from him in fright.

“He wants to marry me,” my mother announced over breakfast one morning.

My older sister, Charmaine, exchanged terrified glances with me. The idea of our mother marrying this ugly, disfigured, middle-aged man repulsed us. But more importantly, dark rumors circulated the newspapers and celebrity gossip shows that Bluebeard, as he was dubbed, had been married several times before, and the authorities could find no traces of his former wives.

In spite of our objections, my mother booked three airline tickets to California. We were to meet Bluebeard at the dock in Marina Del Rey and accompany him on a cruise to Catalina Island aboard his luxury yacht. This should have thrilled my sister and I, but a deep foreboding troubled us both.

And what a strange and terrible creature greeted us at the dock! His eyes glittering with cruel amusement, Bluebeard scooped each of us up in his big, burly arms, brushing our tender checks with his coarse blue beard. His graying, shaggy brown hair contrasted sharply with his deeply-tanned face, giving him the appearance of being half-man and half-beast. Even his teeth seemed unusually long and sharp when he opened his mouth in a loud guffaw and led us up the ramp onto his huge, expensive yacht.

My sister and I cringed with fear, but my mother’s face glowed with youth and excitement. How could we tell her how frightened we were? She would never listen.

During the day, while my mother hung out with Bluebeard, my sister and I soaked up the sun in our colorful bikinis, flipping through fashion magazines and painting our nails. At night we savored fresh lobster tails, dripping with butter, and watched the stars twinkle overhead like millions of Tiffany diamonds spilled across a black velvet sky. Upstate New York seemed far away then, and since nothing sinister had happened, our fears began to fade away.

Two weeks later, relaxed and tanned, my mother married Bluebeard under a billowy white awning at Marina Del Rey. My sister and I were the only guests.

That should have told me something, but I no longer cared about idle gossip or our former life in upstate New York.

I had become entranced with Bluebeard’s house in Beverly Hills, which loomed against the sunny blue sky like a great castle, surrounded by ornamental gardens reminiscent of the great castles of Europe. I felt like a princess, my long yellow hair braided in a single braid and adorned with fresh roses from the garden. I stood for hours before the full-length mirror in my bedroom, applying mascara to my large blue eyes, and modeling dozens of dresses purchased from the fancy boutiques on Rodeo Drive.

One snap of my fingers brought servants that catered to my every need and desire. I hugged myself over and over again, not daring to believe it was true: I was sixteen, beautiful, desirable, and rich.

“Isn’t it fabulous, Jeanette,” Charmaine exclaimed one day, throwing herself across my pink-ruffled bed. “I’m in love, I’m in love!”

Her sing-song voice irritated me, and I pouted in response. “Beverly Hills is full of eligible young men. Robbie Ray offered to give me tennis lessons.”

“That creep! You know what? When Mom and Mr. Moneybags leave for France, we’ll throw a big party. You’ll find your Prince Charming, for sure.”

My face glowed in anticipation. After all, didn’t a princess need a handsome young prince?

A few days later, my mother and Bluebeard boarded an airplane for France.

“The servants will take good care of you,” my mother said at the airport. Bluebeard stepped forward, a great ring of keys dangling from his finger. He handed them to Charmaine and explained which key went to which room.

“But this one,” he told her, indicating a small gold key, “unlocks the closet door in the wine cellar. Explore any room in the house that you like, but never, ever go into the closet in the wine cellar. If you do, something terrible is bound to happen.”

My mother gasped. Charmaine’s face turned a ghostly white. I stared at Bluebeard, chilled by the taunting tone in his voice. He turned his gaze on me, and a slow, sinister smile spread across his face. “You would do well, Jeanette, to remember the story of Pandora’s box.”

I watched my mother walk away with this monster, and my heart cried out: Don’t go! Don’t go! But it was too late. My mother was gone.

Charmaine assuaged her fear by working on plans for a party. I suggested that we host a fancy dress ball, and she agreed. Invitations were sent, a caterer engaged, decorations put up, and the house cleaned from top to bottom by the housekeeping staff. All we needed were costumes.

Charmaine pulled out Bluebeard’s key ring and found the key to the attic. Inside a great leather trunk, we found long silk dresses and big fancy hats. Excitement overcame our fears. Our party would be the hit of the year!

The ballroom gleamed with color and light on the night of the ball. We threw open the French doors, letting in the moonlight and soft summer breezes. The sweet scent of roses perfumed the air.

Our masked guests danced beneath the fire of crystal chandeliers, their colorful figures reflected in numerous mirrors lining the walls. Couples slipped away to explore the house, admiring the exquisite artwork and collectibles from around the world. Charmaine and I puffed up with pride, convinced that we had pulled off a successful social coup.

“Everyone is so impressed,” Charmaine said. “If such wonderful treasures can be found openly around the house, how much more special must be the treasures locked up in the closet in the wine cellar?”

I looked at her in horror. “Don’t do it, Charmaine. Bluebeard warned us not to open that door.”

“Don’t be silly,” she said. “We want to keep our guests impressed, don’t we?”

Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, we crept downstairs into the murky depths of the wine cellar, urging our guests to follow behind. With trembling hands, Charmaine unlocked the door to the forbidden room, ignoring Bluebeard’s warning. A powerful stench of rotting flesh greeted us as she pulled back the door. The floor was sticky with slime. Charmaine gasped, dropping the flashlight at her feet. I picked it up and shone its light around the room. Piled up against the wall were the dead and decaying bodies of several women. Bluebeard’s missing wives!

Charmaine fainted. The guests screamed and scrambled up the stairs. I hurried behind them to call the police.

When my mother and Bluebeard returned home several days later, Bluebeard glared at me and said, “Why so nervous, Jeanette? And you, Charmaine — your face is so white. What have you two been up to in our absence?”

Charmaine handed him the ring of keys, her hand trembling so much, she nearly dropped them.

Suspicion clouded Bluebeard’s eyes. “You’ve been in the closet!” he roared. “Now, you will join the rest of my victims! He grabbed Charmaine by the hair and dragged her across the floor to the kitchen. My mother fainted.

I ran behind, beating Bluebeard’s back with my fists. Angrily, he shoved me away. I fell to the floor, hitting my head on the hard ceramic tile. Just as Bluebeard was about to slit my sister’s throat with a long, sharp knife, Inspector Jack Barnabas and several policemen jumped out of the walk-in pantry. “Drop it, Bluebeard! You’re under arrest.”

Bluebeard made a dash for the door. Bullets rang through the kitchen, bringing him down. A pool of blood oozed across the floor. My sister screamed and threw herself into the arms of Inspector Barnabas.

The ogre of Beverly Hills was dead. Since he had no other heirs, my mother inherited his vast fortune. She shut up the house, paid off the mortgage on our estate in upstate New York, and threw herself into planning a huge wedding for my sister, Charmaine.

Six months later, I walked down the aisle in a rose-colored chiffon gown, carrying a bouquet of pink roses. Charmaine followed behind in a white designer wedding dress. Inspector Jack Barnabas, looking uncomfortable in a black tuxedo, waited impatiently for her at the altar.

Jack and Charmaine lived happily ever after, making me an aunt three times over.

Dawn Pisturino

March 6, 2013

Copyright 2013-2017 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

 

 

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