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The New Queen of the Castle
As I pulled into the large ovular driveway, the sky above me looked dark and miserable. A light drizzle was falling upon the windshield of my ancient silver mini-van. It was a purposeless and indecisive rain, the kind that made you wish for a real thunderstorm. I put my car into park, ignoring the squeals and protests it made. After gathering my things, I half-heartedly opened the door and stepped into cold world that lay outside. Immediately the strong gusts of wind cut sharply through my polar fleece jacket and bit at my defenseless flesh. I rushed to the ornate main entryway of a house that seemed familiar and yet faraway, as if from a dream; or more accurately a nightmare.
Indeed this empty and decrepit mansion was not a cheerful sight. Its once pristine landscaping was now neglected and overgrown with weeds. Its formerly pure white and immaculate paint on the entire exterior of the house was now faded and worn, chipping away like all the fond memories it contained.
Yes, I had many fond memories of that place. It had been the home of my father’s aunt and uncle, Mary and her husband Bob O’Byrne, a business tycoon. They had lived there with their five children and their dedicated housekeeper Maggie. Bob was a hardworking and likeable man, while Mary was the queen of their castle. She would only be surrounded with the finest things. Although her temper was fierce, she had a heart of gold. Their maid, Maggie, had come to the United States from Ireland when she was just a sixteen- year-old orphan. She cared for Aunt Mary and Uncle Bob for over sixty years, which had not been an easy task, especially when they got older and became two of the most belligerent senior citizens ever to hit the Midwest. However, she would always have a Hershey bar, a Coke and a smile waiting for us when we visited. That was Maggie, the last indentured servant in America. She did not take Mary and Bob’s deaths well. While I approached the entryway I made a mental note to visit her soon at whatever nursing home she was currently living in.
In order to diminish the spine-chilling effect that the house had on me, I attempted to hang on to those good memories as I turned the key and entered into the deserted house through the elaborate and thick wooden doors. The view of the interior was even more disparaging than the previous sight. Cobwebs were growing in the corners of the ceiling and the European-imported crystal chandelier was covered with dust, hanging like the phantom of eras past.
I took out my small digital camera and began to take pictures. My roommate was writing a paper on the architecture of Howard VanDoren Shaw, so she had requested that I investigate the house for her when I came home for fall break. I still wasn’t sure how she managed to talk me into it.
Not wishing to linger any longer than necessary, I quickly set about exploring the copious rooms of the house and dolefully take the pictures. Why anyone would want to see pictures of such a tragic house remained a mystery to me. Somehow the house was still warm, despite the freezing conditions surrounding it. Never once had I been in the house when it was cooler than eighty degrees. That was Aunt Mary, the hypochondriac, always fearing the tiniest draft, surrounding herself with space heaters and woolen coats.
I entered the ball room first. As a child, I had often danced and twirled about the dance floor with my imaginary Prince Charming. The room that had once made me feel like a princess now caused my eyes to well up with tears. The windows were painted shut and covered completely with dark velvet curtains. No light, or air for that matter, could enter the room. It resembled the inside of a funeral home, making me feel claustrophobic and trapped. I snapped a few quick photos, not bothering to see what they looked like, and moved on to Bob’s library.
Once again, I was met by a dismal view. The library was so dark that I had to use my flashlight just to see what lay not more than two feet ahead of me. The volumes on the mahogany shelves seemed lonely and sad. Picking one up of the shelf, I blew on it so that I could see the title. The dust from the cover went flying up at my face, entering into my nostrils and mouth. I gasped for air and ran to the other side of the room where the oxygen was slightly less toxic.
Bohm. Bohm. Bohm. I screamed as the grandfather clock directly behind me proclaimed to the empty house that it was seven o’clock. My heart was racing and my hands could not hold still. Immediately, I moved on to the kitchen, hoping to enter into a slightly less eerie room. However, in order to get to the kitchen, I had to pass through the long, dark, and winding servants’ corridors. I began walking, yet soon my feet unconsciously quickened their pace until I was sprinting through to the kitchen.
It was like walking into 1956, when the kitchen was last remodeled. It was not as dark as the other rooms, and yet its preservation seemed strange and unnatural. Immediately my ears detected a faint scratching coming from inside the walk-in refrigerator, the door of which was only barely ajar. It took quite an effort for me to fully open the thick and extremely heavy door. Inside, a rat scurried about frantically. Although I had always been afraid of rodents, I was very relieved. A rat was not the worst thing that could have been lurking in there.
After taking two more pictures, I resolved to leave the house before I began to scare myself and imagine things. On my way out of the kitchen, I spotted a curious little thing sitting upon the servants’ table. It was a piece of toast, buttered, sitting on a small white glass plate with many chips around the rim. Intrigued and mystified, I picked up the bread. There was no sign of mold. It could not have been more than two days old.
“Hello? Is anybody there?” I asked timidly. No response. I asked again and was struck with panic when I heard a mumbling coming from the upper level. My fear and intrigue battled with my instinct to run. I told myself that it was probably just the same poor realtor, who had been trying to sell the house for the past two years. So I began marching up the grand, circling staircase. Although, I had told myself there was nothing to be afraid of, I felt my hands searching for the unused can of pepper spray my mom had given me when I left for college.
As I reached the upper level, the mumbling grew louder. I identified it as a woman’s voice as I simultaneously felt the temperature climbing with each step I took closer to the master bedroom. I was certain that was where the sound originated from.
I burst through the door, immediately registering the same furniture and space heaters that had been Aunt Mary’s companions during her years of convalescence. Despite my dramatic entrance, nothing in the room stirred. I walked to the other end of the room, toward the king sized bed, where my aunt and uncle had both died. I had no idea what I was doing. Nor did I want to be doing it, yet I was like water inside a funnel, swirling around and around, but inevitably reaching the center.
The bed was not empty. In it I saw the figure of a woman, wearing a pink and white bed jacket, Aunt Mary’s favorite. However, it was not Aunt Mary wearing the robe. The figure was short and heavy, nothing like her slim and brittle frame. I moved closer to see the intruder’s face and found myself at a loss for words and oxygen. I gazed horrified upon her disheveled appearance and stringy grey hair. Her identity was unmistakable.
“Maggie?” I gasped breathlessly, “Maggie, what are you doing? Are you all right?”
“Where is she? Have you seen her?” She asked in her rusty screech of a voice.
“Who?” I screamed, unaware of the tears streaming down my cheeks.
“Maggie,” she replied, “I sent her down to get my toast hours ago. Where is she? Honestly, I don’t know what is wrong with that girl. I have given her a place to live all these years and this is how she repays me.”
She did not sound like herself. She sounded angry and bitter. I recognized the tone. It was Aunt Mary’s.
“No!” I shouted, “You are Maggie. There is no one else here. What are you saying?” The horror penetrated into my voice and rang through the halls. She paid no heed to my words.
“Where is she? Where is my toast?”