Dana stands before me in her best cheerleading stance, long pelts of hair hanging across her shoulders like dripping honey.
“The boys weren’t even home, last night.”
“Where were they?” I am trying to sound casual as I don’t quite know where to go with what she’s telling me.
“They were at some kid’s house for a Boy Scout thing. They slept there.”
“Hmmm….” I say. I scrutinize my daughter and her best friend, Reba Fiori standing before me their single story high school a backdrop behind them. They make a beautiful pair. Dana with her pale skin and clear blue eyes; Reba with her milky coffee skin and deep dark ones. They are both flush from play rehearsal and pressed down with backpacks containing the night’s homework.
We are in the car now and beginning the half-hour drive home.
“It’s true, Mrs. D, our house is haunted – happens all the time.” Reba is digging through her backpack.
“Tell me again, what happened?”
Both girls start talking over each other.
“Footsteps - all night - up and down the stairs - mom you wouldn’t believe how loud - I was terrified - then walking through the hallway - and it stopped at Reba’s room a couple of times - I’m exhausted - we didn’t get any sleep at all.”
“Wait. One at a time.” I chuckle as I maneuver the car onto the roadway.
“It’s true, Mrs. D – my mom says that it’s Mrs. Shore – you know, the one who used to run the nursing home. She says she’s just looking after the place. She talks to her all the time.”
I know the house – been there many times. This is the first I’m hearing of a ghost although the setting is perfect for one. A three story majestic home set deep in the woods with dozens of rooms used in the nineteenth century as a home for the elderly. A bronze plaque next to the front door declares it as Shore House. The center hall contains a sweeping staircase and a non-working cage-type elevator complete with the intricate scroll work of another era. Many of the rooms are fronted by walls that are bisected with frosted glass to the ceilings.
It’s a house that is filled with four adolescents, constant activity, music and lots and lots of noise. Reba’s mom, Sherrie is whirlwind unto herself - a creative with multiple projects in varying stages of completion that seem to follow in her wake. Her kitchen is percolates with the aromas of roasts and stews and cakes every single day. She is a busy, busy woman who doesn’t hesitate to add to her agenda on a moment’s notice.
“My mom says that she’s friendly.” Reba continues “She just wants to be kept informed about what’s happening in her place.”
“Well,” I look into the deep brown eyes looking back in my rearview mirror. “I guess she’s enjoying all the activity in the house – she probably just wants to be part of it – nothing to fear in that.”
“I think she watches over us.” Reba smiles.
In the back of my mind, I allow that two teenage girls can work themselves into a fear-frenzy in the middle of the night in a massive house upon hearing a perfectly benign pipe bang but I will have occasion to talk to Sherrie about it.
“Yes.” She says. Her house is most definitely haunted. Possibly by more than one spirit but she feels that the dominant one is Mrs. Shore who had a reputation for running her home with Victorian precision. Sherrie admits that at first she was frightened by the voices and the footsteps but since she began talking to Mrs. Shore, things have gotten quieter and she claims that Mrs. Shore will even offer friendly assistance from time to time by way of finding a lost set of keys or opening doors. I shudder.
Early September, 1996
“Puhleeeeeze, mom.” Dana holds her hand over the mouthpiece of the telephone. She is tapping her foot on the floor and grimacing as if in pain.
“I’ll think about it and talk to dad.” I say. I’m beginning a list in my head of the possible dangers associated with my daughter spending two weeks four states away at Reba’s family’s summer place on the North Carolina coast.
In the end, my list is too small to make the cut and I wave goodbye to Dana as she takes off in the van packed with the Fiori family.
Sherrie has closed up the Shore house. Mail has been stopped. The two feisty golden retriever’s are boarded and the cat is at friend’s house.
I have been enlisted to water Sherrie’s extensive plant collection one time each week while they’re away. I suddenly remember this a few days after they’ve been gone and utilize part of my lunch hour to perform this task.
The day is beautiful. A typically sizzling day in early September. I glance at my watch as I pull my car up to one end of the house where the kitchen resides. I have a busy afternoon at the law firm ahead of me. The unaccustomed silence hits me like a brick wall as I turn the key and open the door.
The house is so very still that it’s eerie and I go about my work quickly and as efficiently as possible.
One of several dining rooms annexes the kitchen and this is where Sherrie has set out her houseplants for me. The massive table is covered in plants and the room is filled with sunlight.
I devise a counting system that enables me to circle the table without missing a plant or overwatering another. I am focused on this system as I slowly circle the table, pitcher in hand.
“Six, seven, eight…”
A loud crash reverberates from the kitchen. I am struck frozen. I remember Mrs. Shore and I feel my knees go rubbery.
A deep breath and I enter the kitchen. Despite the energy and the explosive percussion of the crash, nothing appears to be out of order. Next, I inspect the tiny laundry room adjacent to the kitchen. Again, nothing.
Back in the dining room, I am forced to stick my finger in several pots, having lost track of my counting.
Finally, I begin again: “nine, ten, eleven, twelve…”
Clunk, clunk clunk! Crash!
My spine has turned to ice-cold steel and I hold my breath. I stand here for what seems like hours just listening. My ears strain for any sound. There is nothing. I am afraid to move. I know that I could exit by the front door, avoiding the kitchen altogether if I have to run. This thought emboldens me and I slowly move toward the kitchen once again.
This time, the kitchen has taken on what can only be called an “atmosphere.” Despite the September heat, even more oppressive in a closed up house, the kitchen is absolutely freezing. Thankfully, I see no one. Again, nothing seems out of place until I notice the three two-liter soda bottles laying at the foot of the door that I’d come in just minutes before. Clunk, clunk, clunk. I look around the room and see that one of the counters, clear on the opposite side of the room holds a number of soda bottles with space where three more would have easily fit. There’s no way these bottles simply fell from that or any surface and landed right in front of the door I came through.
I search for an explanation for the crashing sounds which were enormous in their violence but I find nothing.
My breath coming easier now, I decide to take control of the situation and return to the dining room to finish what I started.
I make it a point not to look up from the watering as I say in a loud but trembling voice: “Mrs. Shore, I’m only here to water Sherrie’s plants and then I’ll be gone. I don’t mean you any harm.”
As I finish watering and as an afterthought, I add: “I’ll be back next week, too because they’ll need more water by then. Thank you.”
As it happens, I am saved from further dalliance with Mrs. Shore by an even angrier spectre, Hurricane Fran, who will chase thousands of vacationers from the outer banks and coastal regions of the mid-Atlantic, Dana and the Fiori family included.
When Sherrie asks if the plant watering went okay. I take a deep breath, hand her back her key and say: “Absolutely.”