Excerpts


Jump to Chapter 1

Prologue -- Early Summer, 1984

The naked youth comes running out of the night. A slender, white wraith under the full moon, his body is covered with cuts and bruises.

"My God, Emily, no!"

The old woman turns in her sleep, moaning softly.

In her dream she sees him sprinting from the house, the night's stillness punctuated by his harsh breathing and bare feet pounding the grass. He runs, scared and desperate for what he has seen.

And for what he has done.

"It ne'er shoulda happen'd. We ne'er intended no harm."

No, it shouldn't have happened. But it did. It did. And cannot now be undone.

Ever.

"My God, Emily! Stop it!"

She sees the blood once again. Blood everywhere. It was such a surprise—and so unseemly. How ever will she explain it to her parents when they return?

"Quick, we must clean it up!"

The boy has a long bloody slash down his thigh like the stripe on an officer's uniform.

"Come back, Tad! Don' run! Don' run!"

She murmurs in her sleep, "Yes, come back. Please come back."

But she knows it's too late. It was too late—that night, that dreadful, dreadful night—and it always will be.

"We must try 'n forget, forget it e'er happen'd."

But he is still running in the moonlight. After all these years? You'd think it would be finished.

"Ye must ne'er speak of it. Do ye unnerstann? It ne'er happened."

The moon shines down, offering its blue-white light as she searches for him. The night is cold, its chill prickles her skin. The grass is wet on her feet, and there is blood on her nightgown. So much blood! Who'd have thought there'd be so much blood? She calls his name—it sounds strange on her lips after all these years—but there is only silence. The cold stars blink overhead, but the moon keeps its steady eye-full gaze, and she thinks: The moon was the only witness. The moon saw it all.

There is still blood on her hands. It looks black in the pale light. She will have to wash everything. Leave no trace of this night.

Then she sees him, a faint white shadow disappearing into the trees. He's heading for the cliff ledge!

The old woman calls to him—"Come back! Please, come back!"—but he's gone.

She was too late. She's too late again.

Oh Lord, what I have done!

She is weeping in her sleep. "My God, my God, my God..."

"My God, Emily, No!"

The shout awakens her. She lies there, holding her breath, listening for the sound of running feet in the night. But there is only silence.

She must try and forget about that time, she tells herself. Yes, once again erase it from her memory.

No, we was wrong. Ye must 'member it. 'Member it all.

Outside the window, she hears the sound of feet running on the grass, the sound of desperate breaths.

Go find 'im, Emily. Whilst there's still time. Find 'im before he reaches the ledge.

But that happened long ago, she remembers as she lies there. So very long ago, and he's dead. He's been dead now for many years.

Na, he didna' die. 'Tis still happenin'.

And in her sleep-sodden consciousness, in some way she can't explain or begin to understand, she knows that night, that long and horrible night never ended, and that the boy is still running naked and scared in the dark.

Ye must find 'im, Emily. Find Tad. Ye have to stop it.

But how, where-

'Member the attic.

The attic. Of course! The thought rouses her fully awake. She'd forgotten about the attic. She pulls the blankets off her and slowly sits up, her old body weighted down by the gravity of age. She drops her legs out of the bed, letting them find the floor, and sits there, catching her breath, her heart pounding.

Find Tad.

She lumbers up off the bed and staggers out into the hallway without her robe. She goes and opens the door to the attic. It's dark but she doesn't need a light, and she begins climbing. How many years has it been since she'd been up there? Must be decades. Long before William's death anyway. She grunts as she pulls herself up the stairs, fighting for her breath, her heart racing, one step at a time, finding her footfall, straining as she pulls herself up the railing to the next step. Must...reach...the attic.

Her old legs are shaking and threatening to give out. She stops midway to catch her breath and leans heavily against the wall, peering up the black passage. Her breathing echoes around her in the enclosed stairwell.

There's whispering.

She listens. Coming from up there?

No. She remembers, it was from behind the bedroom door. The whispering in the bedroom, that's when she understood what was happening.

"We ne'er intended no harm."

She rests there, hearing her labored breathing, and her mind drifts...

That glorious summer day out on the hillside, remember? They sat there, the two of them, overlooking Seattle and the blue waters of Puget Sound.

"What do you think happens when we die?" she had asked.

"Ho, now there's a cheery thought for ye!"

"No, seriously. I wonder about these things. Don't you?"

"I dinna know. I dinna want to know..."

She shivers from the cold; feels weak as her thighs tremble under the weight of her bulky body. Slowly, she regains her breath, and the question suddenly comes to her: What will happen when I die?

Dinna worry. 'Tis na' to be afeared of. I know that now. But ye must hurry, there's little time left.

She resumes pulling herself up the railing, one step at a time, then another, and another, straining as she makes her way up the stairs, each footfall a solid thud, echoing in the stairwell, until at last, perspiring and out of breath, she reaches the attic and opens the door. A blue moon pours through the window, flooding the room with its ethereal night light. She stands there, looking around the small space, surprised.

But...he's not here.

Of course, he's not here, she chastises herself. You silly old woman. That was many years ago, so many, many years ago. He's long been—

And a new awareness comes over her as she stands trembling in the cold attic tower.

"Oh God forgive me for what I have done," she whispers into the chilled silence, and she begins to weep, for she knows that this will be her legacy, that she will leave a terrible legacy.


Back to top


Chapter 1 — First Sight, Second Sight

It was an old house, one of the oldest houses in Seattle, but never before had there ever been any suggestion that it was haunted. Miss Emily Hargraves, aged eighty-six at the time of her recent death, had lived in it her entire life, and she had never reported hearing strange sounds coming from the attic—although, it's true, she became hard of hearing in her later years. That the Hargraves house might be haunted was proposed only after a series of strange and inexplicable events in the late summer of 1984, some three months after her death, beginning when two young men entered the estate through its black, wrought-iron gates.

A dog's barking brought Mildred Whytecliff to her upstairs sitting room window. She peered out, squinting into the glare of the late summer morning. The excited barks directed her attention to the old Hargraves place next door. She gazed over the hedge that separated their properties and locked onto the front yard. The gate was standing open, and someone was going down the cobbled walkway toward Emily's house.

"There's someone next door," she said to her friend who was sitting in the rocker, reading a book. Mildred picked up her binoculars, lying next to the window, and with a practiced deftness quickly focused them. "It's a man with a large German shepherd. Young man, probably in his twenties, medium height, curly black hair, wearing a red-checked shirt and blue jeans," she said, as if committing these details to memory should she require them later. She craned her neck for a better view and frowned. "Wonder who he could be. Burglar, do you think?"

She had been expecting this. Criminals who follow the obituaries, knowing the deceased's house is vacant and unwatched, just waiting for their chance. But how brazen, in broad daylight no less! Yet another sign of the collapse of social order, she was sure.

"I wouldn't worry about it, Millie," said the large lady in the rocker without looking up from her book.

Mildred continued to watch the man and dog skipping and dancing around each other as they moved toward the house, their play punctuated by the dog's sharp barks. Through the closed window, she could hear the man's muffled laughter and shouting as they dashed and chased each other about the front yard. He certainly didn't act like a burglar, she admitted with something like disappointment.

"Perhaps he's family," her friend said.

Ah, yes, the family. She had heard that Emily's grandnephew was supposed to be moving in. But she hadn't heard anything about a dog.

She tried to focus on the man's face, but her eyes weren't as good as they used to be. She squinted harder, as if trying to will herself sharper vision. Could this be Emily's grandnephew? Had he been at the funeral? She didn't remember seeing him, but then there were so many people in attendance. Wasn't it a lovely service though? Emily would have been pleased.

"That's probably him," she murmured, wobbling unsteadily with the binoculars. "Emily's grandnephew. Earle's grandson."

Earle.

She sighed. Dear man. Such a dear, dear man, and her mind momentarily drifted from the object of her surveillance. She had missed seeing Earle at the funeral. He had been feeling poorly, she'd heard, and hadn't been able to make it to his sister's service.

The black-haired stranger with the German shepherd was now at the front steps. Mildred watched as he turned back toward the gate and called out something. She swung back to the front of the property, swaying a bit unsteadily, and banging the binoculars against the windowpane. Looking through binoculars for more than a couple of minutes gave her vertigo. It must be a sign of old age, she thought, as she regained her balance and steadied herself with a hand on the sash. Why, time was when—

"Wait! There's another one! A second man at the gate." Her heart raced. He was younger and more slender than the one with the dog. She knew that Emily didn't have two grandnephews, and she returned to her original burglar hypothesis. The second man didn't move; just stood there, staring at the house. Keeping a watch out, do you think? Perhaps she should call the police. Or Earle? Did she still have his telephone number? Of course she did.

He stands at the gate, hesitant, his hand lingering on the corroded iron, his fingers curling themselves around its rough coldness as his eyes slide over the old house. This is his first good look at the Hargraves house and grounds. He can see that the landscaping had once been grand in design; but now the estate has the scruffy, unkempt appearance that comes with years of slow and gradual neglect. The yard is enclosed by a raggedy hedge. The flower beds, overgrown with weeds, resemble the sprawling profusion of an English cottage garden. The walkway leading to the house ripples and rolls, the result of great snaking roots underground; the flagstones jut up, with tufts of grass sprouting through the cracks, like a student's miniature display of plate tectonics.

The house's exterior, too, is run down and in need of work, suggesting incipient dilapidation more than recent desertion. Built of black basalt blocks, it strikes him as large and heavy. Somber. On the north side stands a great oak, visibly crowding the house, its leafy limbs like powerful arms reaching out in some unwanted amorous embrace. The south corner culminates in a spindle work tower, a concession to the fanciful architecture of the day, but on the whole the structure is sedate with few embellishments, subdued—he is pleased to see—in its Victoriana. He doesn't care to live in some gingerbread monstrosity. His gaze climbs to the high gables and wanders over the steeply slanting roof. The chimneys rise up like turrets. Beyond and behind them are the crowns of the tall fir trees that form the back boundary of the estate. A building contractor in business with his father, his professional eye takes in the roof, its missing tiles, and the tower, and his eyes come to rest on a small window.

The attic.

A thin film of perspiration appears on his upper lip, and he suddenly feels lightheaded. He tightens his grip on the gate to steady himself—automatically deepening his breathing—and closes his eyes. Somewhere behind his temples, he feels the beginning of a headache; blood pounds in his ears, and a dense pressure creates an echo chamber in his head.

"Hurry up, Jerry! You're going to love this place!"

Reluctantly, he opens his eyes and focuses on the man standing on the porch, waving to him. James Barrett is the grandnephew of Emily Hargraves and is as excited as a small boy in an amusement park. But at the gate, the one called Jerry feels something quite different from excitement. As he looks again at the house, he is surprised to find a strange depression settling over him. He clings to the gate as he hears James calling, sees him grinning, pointing, waving, running to one end of the long porch, leaning around the corner of the house, calling to him again, then running back to the front door, searching his pockets for the key. He sees all this as though from a great distance, strangely detached. Something doesn't feel right, but what this something is remains just beyond his mind's reach. Some might call it a premonition. Those of an earlier, more credulous age might have called it a presentiment of evil. But the young man at the gate belongs to the modern age that believes neither in premonitions nor in presentiments—nor in evil.

James Barrett unlocked the heavy oak door and then glanced back to see his partner still at the gate. There was a strange look on Jerry's face. Was it dismay? Disappointment? James went back to the front steps and called out, "Hey, don't judge the house by the outside. It needs a little work—my great aunt couldn't keep it up by herself—but wait until you see inside. It's in much better condition. Really, you're going to love it!"

Jerry's dizziness began to pass, and he refocused on James, waiting on the porch.

"Jerry, c'mon!"

With a final glance at the attic window, he suppressed the vague discomfort, took a deep breath, and called back, "Coming." He closed the gate behind him and hurried up the walk toward the house.

By the time he reached the porch, James had already gone inside. Jerry stepped into the unlit foyer and was enveloped by the dark wood paneling. The house smelled musty and dank from being closed up these past three months. Doors with leaded glass opened onto rooms on each side of him, and a great staircase rose to the floors overhead. As his eyes ascended the staircase, the pounding returned to his temples. He was beginning to remember something, something about the house. But at that moment, the dog came racing out of one of the side rooms with James chasing after him. He watched as his partner knelt and wrestled with the big German shepherd.

"Do you like it here, Brutus?" asked James.

The animal answered with a sharp, affirmative bark. James looked up, grinning. "He loves it," then he jumped to his feet and grabbed Jerry's arm. "Come on, I'll give you a tour."

It was a large house, designed for a large family and their servants. He allowed himself to be dragged along by James's excitement through the first floor: the kitchen and paneled dining room, the parlor, the library. The cook's quarters, adjacent to the kitchen, had been turned into a pantry and utility room years ago. There was an earthen cellar where the milk and butter had been kept before the days of refrigeration; since that time, it had been used for storage and canned goods. The grand staircase rose overhead, opening onto the second floor, which arced around the stairs like a horseshoe. Down the hall were the master and mistress's bedrooms, connected by a large private bath. Also on this floor were three smaller bedrooms, another spacious bathroom, a sitting room, and a large music room with mirrors around the walls. Here the Hargraves had once entertained close friends and business associates. Two enormous Persian rugs were spread over its polished but dusty hardwood floor. In one corner sat a grand piano—James plunked on it—that was out of tune. On top of the piano lay a violin, also dusty.

The house was redolent of an earlier time, not only in its Queen Anne architectural style, but also in its interiors. Most of the furniture was original; little had been replaced over the years. Embroidered antimacassars were draped protectively and ornamentally on the headrests of the overstuffed—and still surprisingly comfortable—leather sofas and chairs. There were only a few concessions to the late twentieth century: the stove and refrigerator in the kitchen, the washer and dryer in the basement, a small television (black and white) in the upstairs sitting room, and a stereo in the library. The grand dining room table, the mahogany desks and chairs, the paintings on the walls, the wallpaper itself, all belonged to the late Victorian and Edwardian ages, as in many ways had Emily herself.

James continued to dash through the house, dragging Jerry with him, extolling the virtues of each floor, the grandeur of each view, the spaciousness of each room. "And just look at the master bedroom!" he exclaimed with all the enthusiasm of a real estate agent. "Why, you could fit our entire apartment in here!"

It was true. Jerry looked around the immense room with its time-faded wallpaper and antique walnut furniture. Like many of the larger rooms, it had its own fireplace. A stately four-poster bed dominated the space, and an elegant rosewood secretaire sat next to the window, the morning sun highlighting its dark satiny surface.

With a flourish, James threw open the doors to a capacious, walk-in closet, filled with his great aunt's clothes. He stood there, hands on his hips, shaking his head incredulously. "Would you believe it? Every bedroom has a wardrobe like this. Why, we could sublet the closets if we wanted!"

But Jerry hadn't heard him. He was staring into the wardrobe.

Her clothes.

That sensation of incipient nausea was forcing its way back up into his consciousness.

Then he realized that James was standing beside him, waiting for some response, preferably positive. He shook off the sense of dread and disquiet, pulled his eyes out of the dark closet, and, glancing around the room, said, "Yeah...it's great."

But there was a distinct flatness in the tone that had not gone unnoticed. James's hands fell to his side. "What's wrong?"

"No, it's fine. Very..." he looked around the suite, "roomy."

"You don't sound very excited."

"I'm excited." He added a smile as an afterthought.

"Jerry, we've been together four years. I know when you're excited. This is not excited. What's wrong?"

How to explain what he himself could not understand? He shrugged his shoulders. "I guess it isn't what I expected." Yet that wasn't quite right either. It was exactly what he had expected, down to the last detail. Go ahead, try and explain that to James. "It just doesn't feel right to me," he said feebly, hating himself for throwing cold water on his partner's enthusiasm.

James surveyed the room once again and asked in a plaintive voice, "What doesn't feel right?"

Jerry could hear his disappointment. They had been looking forward to this moment for months, ever since James's parents had first invited them to live here once his great aunt's estate had been settled. They were fulfilling a dream—to renovate and live in a magnificent old house. He gave himself a mental rap on the knuckles and sucked in his breath. "Okay, you forced it out of me," he said. He looked around the room. "If you must know...it's the wallpaper."

"The wallpaper!" James cried in disbelief and then started laughing. "The wallpaper?"

Jerry nodded with a look of mock solemnity. "I mean, it's not really us—little faded rosebuds in clusters of pink carnations." He rolled his eyes. "Really, James."

James was still laughing. "No problem. I was thinking of replacing it anyway. Something more...well, twentieth century, okay?"

Then he laughed, too, and as he laughed, his apprehension seemed to evaporate. "Okay then. If you get rid of the wallpaper, I think I can live here."

James threw an arm around his shoulder. "Sure, you just wait. You'll love it once we fix it up. I'm telling you," and he gazed around the room, "this place has great possibilities."