Supernatural Fiction posted November 5, 2013


Exceptional
This work has reached the exceptional level
Maggie's desire for a home is greater than fear of death.

The Homestead

by Crystal Vail

Maggie quickly moved her mail truck down the line of mailboxes. She tried not to feel the skeleton’s smile as it bored a hole in the side of her head.  She would not look at him today.  She would not stare at his stark white bones and stupid grin.  If Maggie kept ignoring him, maybe he would go away.

Yeah, right.

She had worked the same mail route since she started 30 years ago and every day he was there, leaning casually against a locked metal gate on the other side of the road. The gate was located about halfway down a long weed-strewn driveway that ended at an empty lot surrounded by overgrown trees and shrubbery.  Grass fields and distant farms were the only neighbors connected by a row of mailboxes on an old highway outside of town.

The lot wasn’t always empty.  There used to be a two-story farm house with a large open attic and a balcony overlooking the front yard.  It was built in the middle of the 1800’s and was home to multiple families throughout the decades.

Tragic accidents and strange deaths seemed to plague every family that lived in the home.  The last owner simply walked out after his wife committed suicide.  He left everything in the home.  Rumors and legends grew over the years as to what caused all the mayhem on the property. Teens pulled pranks around Halloween and vandals cleared out the valuables before the city finally burned it down and removed all remnants about 15 years ago.  When Maggie dared to steal a look down the path, she could still see an outline of the home in the growth of the trees.  It was actually a lovely home before it started to fall apart.  She had secretly wanted to see the inside.

Maggie couldn’t keep her gaze away and finally glanced at the skeleton for just a second.  It was enough for him to notice. With his bleached fingertips, he tipped his black bowler hat toward her with a big grin of pearly whites.  The years of standing casually against the fence had not inflicted any change or damage to his bones.  His slight movements were always smooth and deliberate.  

On her first day of work she noticed him and hid in the back of the mail truck for what seemed forever. Once her heart slowed down and her legs regained their strength, she peeked out the truck window and realized that he had not moved.  He was not coming towards her.  He never moved.  For 30 years he had never moved from the gate.

That first day, she immediately went back to the post office and told her boss what she had seen.  He stared at her and then laughed.  He claimed it was just teens trying to scare passing drivers.  He then became serious and told her if she didn’t finish the route on time that she was fired.  She finished the route and then returned the next day.  She was a single woman with no family or supports to speak of and truly needed the job. It took a couple of months before she quit shaking and messing up the mail across from the homestead.  She never told another soul. Nobody would ever believe her.

Seeing the skeleton was only part of the mystery.  Every few years or so, mail would be addressed to a Harold Krum at the same address. It was always a postcard with an early picture of the homestead on the front and just one line on the back, “Will you be attending? Yes or No.”  Every postcard had the yes circled.   No name or address.  She would deliver the postcard, then check the mailbox the next day and it would be empty.  Someone always collected the mail. One time she saw a police car at the homestead, days after a postcard, but nothing mentioned in the news.  

The only growing solace Maggie held was that she was retiring at the end of the week.  Her pension would be enough to take care of herself and two aging siamese cats, Darcy and Sassy.  She had one more week of not staring at the skeleton.

When she reached the homestead’s rusted mailbox at the end of the long row, her heart skipped a beat.  The red flag was up.  That had never happened before.  She opened the box and inside was a letter.  She pulled it out and examined the envelope.  There was no stamp and it was yellowed from age.  The return address listed the name she already knew, Harold Krum.  The mailing address was also just a name.  A scream caught in her throat as she read her own name in loopy black ink, Ms. Margaret Allred.

Maggie did not finish her route that day.

She arrived home hours before her shift should have ended.  Darcy and Sassy were sound asleep on the couch.  They stretched and shared a drawn out yawn.  Maggie sat on the couch and her furry babies wrapped themselves together by her side.  She absently stroked their ears and stared at the envelope in her other hand.  A battle rose within as to whether she should open it or burn it.  She read somewhere you shouldn’t burn evil things.

It had to be evil, right?  It had to be from the skeleton?

At one point, she tore a small part from the edge and then set it back down in her lap.  If it was the same letter as the others, then inside should be a postcard wanting to know if she would be attending.  If she didn’t open it, she would never know for sure.  If she did open it, would she say yes?  What happened to the others that responded?  She never saw a report in the news, but she had heard rumors.  Rumors of kids finding a body.  Rumors of police not wanting to go out and check on the property.  Shadows developed from the sinking sun and soon filled the room. Only a small lamp provided light by the corner of the couch.  

Her kitties had finally had enough of their day long nap and began circling a ceramic bowl in the kitchen.  Maggie stood and placed the letter on the wooden kitchen table.  She turned her back towards it and filled the ceramic bowl with kibbles. Once they had their fill of dinner, she scooped up a cat in each arm and headed to bed.  With a chair lodged against her bedroom door handle, she crawled into bed and left the lamp on.  

Maggie woke the next morning to Darcy purring in her ear.  She stretched and for a moment all was right in the world.  She walked into the kitchen to make breakfast for everyone and pretended not to see the letter. She even casually placed a dish rag over the envelope as she cleaned up the kitchen.  

It was evening before Maggie made it back around to the row of mailboxes by the homestead.  She had left this part of the route for last.  The sun was just starting to dip below the distant mountains when she looked over at the gate.

The skeleton was gone.

She finished the row of mailboxes and nothing was in the homestead box.  She sat there and stared at the gate, then scanned the entire property and surrounding fields.  There was nobody, no skeleton.  She got out of the truck and slowly walked down the path, but stopped a few feet away from the gate.  She squinted her eyes to focus as the sun was starting to fade.  There appeared to be another yellowed envelope attached to the gate.  She looked around and then hurried the last few steps to the gate and grabbed the envelope.  She didn’t need to read the name on the front.  She knew it was for her.

When she arrived home, she sat at the kitchen table and stared between the new envelope and the dish rag.  She set the envelope down and slowly lifted the rag.  There was nothing underneath it.  She peeked under the table and along the floor.  The original envelope was gone.  She looked back at the new envelope and it was then that she noticed the small tear on the side, the one she had made the night before.

The next day she called in sick and then the next.

On Friday, her boss called and asked her to please come in as they had a party planned for her.  She made a few attempts at a feeble cough and said she was too sick to do her route.  He promised that she would not have to deliver mail, just come to the party.  She finally agreed and hid the letter under the sofa pillow before she left.

Many co-workers came and went throughout the day, wishing her the best in retirement.  They asked her what she planned to do now.  She didn’t really have an answer and just shared stories of spending time with her cats and reading the stack of books waiting on her nightstand. She finished the day in good spirits and enjoyed all the attention, even though most were just there for the cake.  

As she was heading to her car, a co-worker ran up to her with a flower box filled with long stemmed white and black roses.  “Maggie, these were just delivered for you.” The woman handed her the box, gave one final hug and left.

Maggie set the box down on the hood of her car and opened the clear lid.  She rubbed the smooth petals and breathed in the aroma.

Who sent them?

She dug underneath the roses and pulled out an envelope.  It was yellowed with age and again, her name was on the front with a small tear on the side.  She left the roses on the hood of her car, sat down in the driver’s seat, shut and locked the doors.

It’s time to end this madness!

She ripped open the envelope and inside was a letter and the postcard.  The letter was written in the same heavy yet elegant black ink as her name on the front.

 

Dear Margaret Allred,

Congratulations on your retirement! A celebration will occur on Friday, September 28th in your honor.  The festivities will begin at 8pm.  Please RSVP if you will be attending.

Sincerely,

Harold Krum



Maggie folded the letter and then looked at the postcard.  It was the same one she had seen before, a picture of the homestead on the front and one line on the back.

Today was the 28th.  It didn’t give her much time to decide.

A party?  In an empty lot? Who is Harold Krum?

Maybe this was a joke, a joke that had been building for 30 years.  It couldn’t be her old boss as he died a few years back.  She hadn’t told anyone else about the skeleton or the postcards.  Maggie backed out of the parking spot as the box of roses fell to the ground.  She drove towards the homestead.

She pulled straight up to the last mailbox and then stared at the gate.  No skeleton.  It was actually more unsettling to not see him after all these years.  She looked down at the postcard, circled the yes and placed it in the mailbox.

That night she paced around her one bedroom house, wearing a path through every room.  Several times she tried talking herself out of going.

What if something bad happens?  Who would take care of my cats?  She paused for a moment - who would miss me?

She had never married nor had children.  She only had a few friends in the neighborhood that she waved too on occasion or who brought her sweet treats around the holidays.  She never really felt as part of a group.  She mainly kept to herself and found comfort in her cats.  It could be days or weeks before someone noticed she was gone.

Around 7 o’clock she stared at her closet.

What do you wear to a party with a skeleton in the middle of an empty field?

The invitation didn’t state a dress code.  She finally settled on a pair of black slacks and a yellow sweater.  She thought the bright yellow would be noticeable from the road if there was trouble.

Trouble?  I'm insane for seriously considering going?  What is wrong with me?

Maggie ignored her inner shouting and put on a pair of good winter boots. It was getting colder and the ground would be misty.  She hated for her toes to get cold.  She watered the plants, put the cats and a full bowl of kibbles on the front porch.  Darcy and Sassy stared at the new surroundings with displeasure and rubbed up against the front door.  Maggie picked up each and gently kissed them on the nose.

At 7:50pm, Maggie’s car cleared the hill overlooking the homestead.  She hit the brakes abruptly and stopped in the middle of the road.  The lot was no longer empty.  There stood the homestead, in its prime with bright lights shining through every window.  It was like a beacon calling to her.

Maggie continued down the road, turned into the driveway and drove through the now open gate, straight up to the front door.  As she stepped out of the car, she could hear laughter and band music coming from inside the home.   Nervousness was quickly overtaken by joy and excitement as to what was about to happen.  She walked up the front porch stairs and knocked on the front door.

Nobody answered.

She looked toward the side windows and could see silhouettes of people walking past them in the folds of the thin curtains.  She thought maybe the music was too loud and they couldn’t hear her knock.  She finally turned the knob, opened the door and walked into a large entryway.  Warm air filled her lungs with a delicious mixture of pumpkin pie and warm bread.  The aromas she remembered from her childhood, standing in grandma’s kitchen during the holidays.  Her fears were erased as she embraced the warmth throughout her mind, body, and soul.

She looked around and there was nobody to greet her. All the lights were on as she peeked into each room.  They were empty.  Not a stick of furniture. Smooth wooden floors with not a smudge or track. Where was the music and laughter coming from?

Everyone must be upstairs.

A wide staircase rose before her to the second level.  She eagerly walked up the steps and took the path to the left. It curved back towards another smaller stairwell that led to the attic and the large balcony overlooking the front lawn.  She saw a light at the top of the stairs and heard footsteps above her.  She giggled as she embraced another scent from long ago, her father’s aftershave. She would always climb in his lap and rub her cheek against his after he would shave.  She would carry his scent upon her cheek throughout the day.  He always made her feel safe and loved.

She climbed to the top of the stairs and paused.  The attic was pitch black except for light pouring out around the closed double doors leading to the balcony.  The aromas grew heavier and the music louder with every step towards the balcony.  She grabbed both of the smooth copper knobs and pulled open the double doors.  A blinding light warmed her now smiling face.  She was overcome by a wave of love and belonging she had so long forgotten and now strongly desired.  She was finally home.  

Maggie walked out onto the balcony to a roar of welcoming cheers.  The doors closed behind her with a sudden rush of dead silence and blackness.

 

******************

 

Around 1am, the phone rang.  A man who had been in deep sleep reached for his cell phone.

“Blakeman,” grumbled the man.

“Sir, there’s been another death at the homestead,” said the voice on the phone.

Detective Blakeman didn’t say a word, but hung up the call and stared into the darkness.  He had been working homicide for almost 25 years and had investigated several deaths at the old homestead.  He already knew what he would find.  The broken body of an older man or woman as though they had jumped to their death. There would be no next of kin to notify.  The politicians would want to keep the story from leaking. People were just starting to forget the old place and a new death would stir up the crazies again.

The first couple of deaths were thought to be suicides, as it appeared they had jumped from the balcony of the old homestead.  That was why the city burned the house down.  Unfortunately, that didn’t stop the deaths.

How could someone jump to their death in the middle of an empty lot?

He was hoping to finish out the last years of his career without another incident at the homestead.  He tried to accept that he would never be able to solve the mystery.  There were only two bits of evidence that tied all the deaths.  The first was a postcard from a Harold Krum, found near the bodies.  The second was a skeleton, in a damn bowler hat, no less.  Always standing in the distance, watching.  No one else seemed to notice him and Blakeman never mentioned the skeleton in his reports.

Who would believe him?    



Halloween Horror Story contest entry

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I wrote this a few years ago and received great constructive feedback. I'm contemplating writing the next chapter of this story. Maybe flush out the Detective's role in this mystery. Thought I would give this another polish before I move forward. Thanks!
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