Monday 23rd June
Where to begin? What was it that the King of Hearts said? “Begin at the beginning, go on until you come to the end, then stop.” The trouble is, I don’t really know where – or when – the beginning was. And I won’t get to the end until the day somebody follows my coffin. And maybe the story won’t stop even then.
If anyone at breakfast on Saturday had predicted what was going to happen that morning, I would probably have laughed out loud. But I’m not laughing now. In fact, I’m still trying to convince myself that it was all a ghastly nightmare, that I somehow imagined the whole thing.
I haven’t dared tell Martin about it – though I’m not sure how long I can go on keeping it secret from him. But even if I don’t tell him, he’ll still know, instinctively, that there’s something wrong. And this is the first time, in all the years I’ve known him, when I have absolutely no idea how he’d react…
Helen eased her eyes open and squinted at the unfamiliar surroundings – the crisp linen sheets lightly scented with lavender, the soft lace-edged pillows, and the elegant carved four-poster bed – as the morning sunlight forced its way through the chintz curtains. Wafting up the stairs was the tantalising smell of bacon frying. She lay back and smiled.
She’d had no idea that Martin had been planning this. If she had known, she would probably have tried to talk him out of it. Not because she didn’t want to go away for a romantic weekend to celebrate their thirtieth wedding anniversary, but rather because she couldn’t help thinking they could hardly justify the expense. Having two sons at university was a costly business. But now, with their first “quality time” as a couple in what felt like half a lifetime, she was forced to admit that he’d been right. They needed time out. Sandwiched between supporting Jamie and Luke on one side, and meeting the increasing demands of two ageing widowed mothers and a doolally maiden aunt on the other, they had been neglecting their own needs for far too long.
Next to her, Martin stirred. “Happy Anniversary,” he murmured.
“Thank you.” She kissed him lightly. “Ready for breakfast?”
“Hmm… Not just yet…”
Half-an-hour later they finally hauled themselves out of bed and made their way down to the dining-room. They chose a table next to an elderly, miserable-looking couple, then winked at each other and set up their favourite hotel breakfast-time charade. They had been playing this game ever since their honeymoon, but the reactions of their fellow-diners still never failed to amuse them. In fact, the older they grew, the funnier it became. Martin made a great show of settling Helen into her chair, carefully poured her tea, then asked slightly too loudly, “Do you take sugar?”
The old woman choked on her toast and her knife clattered to the floor. As she bent down to retrieve it, her longsuffering husband shot them a glance which bore more than just a hint of envy.
Yes, Helen thought. We’ve been very lucky….
* * *
The picturesque seaside town was in Midsummer Festival frenzy. The market square was a blaze of colourful stalls and sideshows, and a rousing Sousa march could be heard from the brass band playing on the nearby pier. As they wandered hand-in-hand, soaking up the carnival atmosphere, Martin spotted a tent displaying a barber’s pole.
“Hey, look! ‘Haircuts £5 – no appointment necessary’. That’s a lot cheaper than at home! I wonder if they could fit me in?”
“Why not ask? At least they won’t charge a search fee!” Grinning, she ruffled his thinning battleship-grey locks.
“OK. I’ll come and find you on the pier afterwards.”
He disappeared into the tent.
Helen ambled contentedly along the pier, where the festival attractions continued. Eventually she paused outside a brightly-coloured booth.
Summer Solstice Special
Five-Minute Fortune-Telling £5
Intrigued, she peered inside.
Merelina didn’t correspond at all to Helen’s imagined picture of a “mystic”. She looked about thirty, her short fair hair was stylishly cut and tastefully highlighted, and she was casually dressed in jeans and a fitted blouse.
She smiled welcomingly at Helen.
“Come in….” Her voice was West-Country soft.
Sweeping the room with a glance, Helen noticed images from the Arthurian Tarot adorning the walls. Playing quietly in the background was the slow movement of a Mozart piano concerto. The booth smelled faintly of rose oil and patchouli.
“Now, sit down and relax. I’m going to do the basic three-card Tarot spread – it’s a simple past, present and future overview. As I shuffle the cards, I want you to concentrate on whatever question you want to ask them. Once that question is firmly fixed in your mind, tell me to stop shuffling.”
Helen settled into the chair. Lulled by the calming music and the slightly hypnotic ambience, she found that her subconscious mind had taken over. Her biggest fear – the one she had never discussed with anyone, not even Martin – was now banishing all other conscious thought.
Merelina turned over the top card on to the table. The Lovers.
“This is where you are now.”
Helen couldn’t help smiling. How appropriate, she thought, after last night and this morning…
The second card showed The Tower. Looming, Rapunzelesque, prison-like.
“This is your recent past.”
Captive. Yes, that was how she had been feeling – always at someone else’s beck and call…
What had started out as a little harmless time-filling diversion was now becoming uncomfortably accurate. Helen was starting to feel distinctly uneasy. But Merelina was already turning over the third card. The Wheel of Fortune.
“And this is the future. Now, ask your question. But please be careful what you wish for – because The Wheel of Fortune might just give it to you.”
Helen took a deep breath. Whatever her misgivings, she couldn’t wriggle out of it now.
“I’m worried about old age. I don’t want to end up totally decrepit, or gaga, with no dignity, and being a burden on my family. I’ve seen too many lives blighted by that, and I wouldn’t want to put anyone else through it.”
Merelina was silent. Eventually she said slowly, “That will not happen. You will see…”
* * *
Emerging from the semi-darkness of the booth, and still feeling slightly disconcerted, Helen was dazzled by the bright sunshine. Once her eyes had readjusted to the daylight, her attention was caught by the incongruous behaviour of three men standing at the far end of the pier. The oldest of them was holding what appeared to be an oversized coffee jar. Helen thought, idly, that in profile he looked like a younger version of Martin’s late father. As she watched, he unscrewed the lid of the jar, and, supported by his two younger companions, leaned over the pier railing. The jar’s contents, a copious quantity of coarse pale grey powder, billowed on the breeze and swirled into the sea.
When the jar was finally empty, the three men straightened up and turned to walk back along the pier. It was then that Helen had her first full sight of their stricken faces. She froze.
“Martin? Jamie? Luke?”
For a split second, the youngest man’s gaze appeared to pause as he glanced in the direction of where she was standing. She gasped, and her eyes involuntarily closed as she tried to catch her breath. When she opened them, the trio of mourners had vanished. And Helen was left to contemplate the full meaning of what Merelina had said:
She would see that she would not be a burden on her family in old age…
“Darling – what’s wrong?”
Helen jumped. Still reeling from what she had just witnessed, she had totally failed to notice the newly-coiffed Martin approaching.
Whatever could she tell him?
“I – saw a man. I think he was scattering his wife’s ashes.” She paused, then managed a wan smile. “He – reminded me of your Dad.”
Even heavily edited, the truth was still infinitely preferable to an unconvincing lie.
Martin put a comforting arm around her, giving her the opportunity to hide against his shoulder. At least now he couldn’t see if her face was betraying her. She was vaguely aware of him saying something about a pub lunch.
Oh Lord, she wondered, how long have I got? A few more years, or just a few more days? Shit. If I hadn’t encouraged him to have that bloody haircut, I wouldn’t have seen Merelina and I wouldn’t have seen this. But would that change anything? Would it still be going to happen anyway, even if I hadn’t seen it?
And had Luke, in that brief scene out of its own time, also been able to see her?
She would probably never know. Not this side of the grave, anyway…
Helen would be the first to admit that she had never been the world’s greatest housekeeper, preferring to maintain that an immaculate house was a sign of a wasted life. But she was always meticulous about vital paperwork. Passports, driving licences, medical cards, and certificates of birth, marriage and death were filed away carefully in the same drawer, and everyone knew exactly where to look for them.
It is inside this drawer that Martin will find the letter.
The letter is addressed to Helen, in her own handwriting, and unopened. The postmark bears independent witness to the date: two days after they had returned from their anniversary weekend. Turning the envelope over, he will see the date-stamp repeated across the flap, alongside the splashes of sealing-wax – blood-red against the ghostly white paper.
He will open it, in mystified trepidation, and will read:
Monday 23rd June
Where to begin? What was it that the King of Hearts said? “Begin at the beginning….”
By Cindy von Hentschel
Murder at Maple Grove
You know that little voice inside you that tells you not to do something, yeah, you should listen to it. I didn’t and what I encountered was hell.
I was sitting under the shade of a big weeping willow in our front yard when a FedEx truck pulled up, I had received a packet of letters from my grandfather’s attorney stating that I was the new owner of Maple Grove, an old antebellum mansion that had been in our family for several years, and before that had different owners.
Feeling excited and a bit unsettled, I decided to go check the old place out. It was about a 30 minute drive from home. As I pulled into the drive there was a long line of Maples on either side, thus the name Maple Grove. There at the end of the drive was a big beautiful mansion. It was white, had four columns in the front and a huge wrap around porch, with six wide steps leading up to it.
For as old as the place was, it wasn’t run down looking. I mean, the yard needed tending to, grass mown, weeds pulled, hedges trimmed; all in all, it wasn’t that bad. I took the old key out of the packet I had been given, walked up the steps to the front door when a burst of cold air blew by me. I was startled to say the least, already feeling uneasy, but the clouds had started forming on my way there and I knew a storm was brewing. I opened the door and stepped in. It was beautiful. A large open foyer, a magnificent winding stair case right in the middle leading up to the second floor, and large doors on either side of the entrance. As I stood there, sweeping the room with a glance, I wondered who walked these floors before me.
I walked in closing the door behind me just as it started to rain. Thunder cracked loud and close and I jumped. I found the light switch and turned it on, it flickered a bit before coming to life. I opened the large double doors to the right of the stair case to find what could only have been a ball room. It was a bit musty, and dust flew around and it was empty so I closed those doors and went across the hall to the others and opened them. A large living area with a fireplace and windows looking out over the lawn. Behind this room going into another was a beautiful dining room, this room too was empty like the others. From there a large old fashioned kitchen. Across from there was a wash room/mud room and then heading back up to the front again I found a smaller room which was used as a library.
As I was getting ready to step foot on the stair to make my way up, I heard whispering, then running. Softly, but loud enough that I froze. It sounded like a child running, but I knew that couldn’t be true. I had the only key to the place and It was locked up tight. After standing there for a couple minutes, I didn’t hear anything else. It was must be a raccoon or something lurking around, I heard they could get into attics and walls, etc. I slowly walked upstairs, when I heard it again, the whispering.
I stopped, listening, but heard nothing but the wind brushing the branches of a tree on a window. Coming to the top of the stairs, I decided to turn right and go down the hallway. The first door I opened was large, empty and musty. It was painted white and had a large fireplace. The next room was even bigger, again empty but painted a soft pale blue. Next I went into what was the bathroom. It had been updated over the years, but still had an old claw foot bath, an old sink and toilet.
I found a door leading to the attic, well what I thought was the attic. It lead up to what looked like a very old nursery. Two old twin sized beds was in one corner, an old wooden rocking horse. This was the only room with furniture in it, and the only room that couldn’t have been used in at least a hundred years.
The rain outside settled down, so I opened the two large windows in the room to let in some air. As I stood there looking out the hairs on my neck and arms stood up, and I knew I wasn’t alone. I slowly turned, to see a young girl standing there looking at me. She was about 10 with long dark hair and a white dress that went to her knees, a pink pinafore, stockings, black boots and a large pink bow in one side of her hair. She pointed to the rocking horse, then she was gone. I had just seen a ghost!
I walked over to the rocking horse, examining it. I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, but when I placed my hand on the flat seat, it wobbled. I lifted one end of the seat and it came off. Inside was a locket and a small book. The locket held a picture of a little boy and the little girl I had just seen. The boy’s name was Ben and the girl’s name was Evelyn. They looked to be about 10 years old, and obviously twins.
I needed some fresh air, and as the rain had stopped, I decided to go outside and sit. I found a nice little gazebo with an ornate metal bench in it. As I sat there thinking I had a feeling of being watched again. I looked up at the house, and standing in the nursery window was the little girl Evelyn. She stood there grinning at me, then disappeared. The rain started up again, I ran back up to the house and into the only room that had furniture, the nursery. I took the little book out of my pocket and opened it. It was a diary, belonging to Evelyn Marie Duquette. The first several pages were doodles and poems, then the words started turning sinister. She hated her mom, dad and Ben, she was going to make them pay.
I needed to find answers. I drove back to town and went to the library. I asked the librarian for any information on Maple Grove she could give me. She brought out an old book and told me everything I needed to know was in there. I opened the book and started scanning thru the pages, I stopped after a few pages to find a picture of Evelyn, Ben, and Mr and Mrs Duquette. The Duquette’s were the original owners of Maple Grove.
I then found a newspaper article starting that the entire family had been murdered at Maple Grove, everyone but Evelyn, who was missing A servant, Hattie, had been the one to find the family. She first found Ben, his throat cut and blood everywhere. Hattie ran down the stairs screaming for Mr & Mrs Duquette, bursting into their rooms to find them dead, their throats cut. Evelyn was never to be found.
I drove back slowly to Maple Grove, back into the nursery, sat on the bed and pulled out the locket. I heard a soft giggle and looked up to see Evelyn grinning and softly said “You’re next” My blood rain cold and that’s when I felt small hands around my neck, icy cold. I tried to fight, but how can you fight something that’s not there? The choking suddenly stopped and I could breath. Standing there staring at me was momma. Momma walked with me downstairs and we sat on the porch. Momma told me “Evelyn wasn’t right in the head” “The Duquettes hired Hattie to take care of her.” “For her 10th birthday, Evelyn received a puppy but she wasn’t allowed to keep it in the house, it had to stay in the barn with the horses” “Well, Evelyn decided to sneak it in one night when it was storming, she was scared for the puppy” “Ben warned her to take the puppy back but she wouldn’t, he didn’t want to get in trouble so he told his parents.” “Evelyn had the puppy taken away for disobeying, she was so heart broken.”
“The sheriff thought that it was an intruder that had come in and killed the family, but Hattie knew different.” She saw the small bloody handprints on the sheets surrounding Ben. “That’s so sad, is this why she still haunts Maple Grove?”
I heard crying, I turned looking and saw her standing near the creek pointing then she disappeared. There, near the bank I saw a piece of white cloth. I reached down and started digging with my hands, about a foot down, the cloth was attached to a hand. I used mommas phone to call the sheriff.
When the sheriff came, I showed him where the body was. He and a few others started digging. Momma and I stood by watching. Evelyn’s skeleton was pulled out, a large crack in the skull, her dress raggedy, in her arms she held the skeleton of a puppy.
After we got back to the mansion, and the sheriff and his men had gone, I pulled the diary out of my pocket to show momma, when a sheet of paper fell out and hit the floor. In scraggly writing the letter said “Please forgive me for not saying anything, I was scared. The child was not right in the head. After I found Mr and Mrs Duquette’s bodies, I saw a flash of white out their window. I knew it was Evelyn, she was running towards the barn. I followed her as quietly as I could.” “I heard crying inside, I walked in and in a corner she was sitting holding her puppy and saying “It’s your fault, you made me do it” The puppy was squealing and writhing in her lap. She was so furious that she killed her family over the puppy. “I gathered the courage to speak up and said, “Evelyn, let me help you” “No!” she screamed in horror and pain. “I didn’t mean to, I just wanted to make them pay” “It’s ok, Evelyn, I’ll help you” she stood up ran out the back of the barn towards the woods. I followed her begging her to stop, the puppy still whining, she still crying hysterically. The rain was starting to come down hard again making it hard to see. Next thing I know, I heard a crack, then a splash. When I got over to the creek, Evelyn was gone. The rain was coming down so hard I couldn’t see. I didn’t see her or the puppy. I went back to the mansion and alerted Cook and Fred that I found the family dead and Evelyn gone. We never did find her body, I thought it was washed away by the heavy rains. Please forgive me~ Hattie”
“Well, that explains that. I guess she couldn’t rest until her body was found.” “It oddly makes sense” Momma said. Now let’s go home. As we walked down to the car, I turned to look at Maple Grove one last time. Nothing, I saw nothing. Evelyn was finally gone. I sold Maple Grove, buried the letter Hattie had written and turned over the diary and locket to the library to add to their collection. The librarian said “I heard they found little Evelyn’s body, sad to think that someone murdered her too” “Yes, sad” I said. “It’s mysterious that it was found after you went searching for clues.” “Everything I found, I gave to you, I don’t know what happened, or why.” “Well, I guess some mysteries weren’t meant to be solved” “No, I guess they’re not”
By Brant Landon
Hell Hath No Fury