Nocturne, Part 1 of 4

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NOCTURNE
Part One

The house was perfect. Perfect for me, anyway; I don’t need a lot of space. The single bedroom and full bath were upstairs; The downstairs held only a small kitchen, a half bath and an all-purpose room. The old guy who had owned it before — Richard Kelly, according to the tax records — had allowed trees and shrubs to grow between the house and its nearest neighbor, so it had the privacy I craved.

What really sold the house was the view. The back of the house faced the Atlantic, and a narrow path wound through massive slabs of lichen-encumbered granite to a narrow and rocky beach, some fifty yards below the ridge where the house was located.

The day I went to see the house was perfect, too. Brilliant white clouds scattered across a cobalt blue sky; crispness in the air that would not last long into the summer morning. From the ridge, I could see whitecaps stretching far out into the Gulf of Maine.

“You won’t find many places like this,” the guy from Century 21 said. Bill Davis. That was his name. For some reason I had trouble remembering it. Or him, really. Might have something to do with his penchant for stating the obvious, the completely obvious, and nothing but the obvious.

Blah, blah, blah. It was just a conversation about value, about offer and acceptance. I understood those. How they worked; the rhythm of them. The dynamics. “It’s a tear-down,” I countered without having to give it any thought. I had no intention of taking a wrecking ball to the house, of course, but any other buyer almost certainly would. In an age of McMansions, a modest structure would not long survive on such a perfect piece of property.

“Location, location,” chided Bill. “You can’t beat it — or even match it.”

I was eager to be rid of Boring Bill. “Look. You said the family wants a quick sale, no fuss no muss. Fine. Four seventy-five, cash, no Hubbard, no inspection, if we close by the end of the month. They can take whatever’s inside, or leave it. I don’t care which.”

“That’s way below what they’re asking,” he warned, precisely as if I was unaware of that fact despite having looked at the listing online.

“That’s my offer. Tell them it’s a last best, too.”

“I don’t know how well that’ll go down, Phil.”

I was annoyed at his use of my first name. I hadn’t asked him to call me that, and it irked me that he just presumed. Everyone just assumes you’re good with it, and I’m not. I’m afraid my response was a bit sharper than usual. “Then why don’t you find out for me?”

* * * * *
Ten years, I’d lived in New York. Ten years. And I was able to take all my worldly possessions with me in a rented SUV. My rented furniture went back to the company.

There were no tearful goodbyes. No stops at a favorite watering hole, buying one last round for my buds. I didn’t have any of that — watering holes, friends, whatever. I was a workaholic, completely useless in any environment that required skills that were social rather than technical. I’d done well, financially, but when I was offered the big step up on the ladder, I decided it was time to walk away instead.

My life sucked, and I couldn’t even say why. I just needed to figure myself out, and a tiny, secluded house on the rocky New England coast seemed like as good a place as any, and better than most.

After three days, it was almost habitable. The family that I’d bought it from lived down in Georgia; near as I could tell, they had no use for old man Kelly and even less for his stuff. No one came up to sort through it. So I’d taken a lot of trips to the local dump, clearing out his oddities. He’d died at home, in his own bed, so I did feel compelled to get a new mattress. The rest of his furniture was fine, though. Worn and dated, but I didn’t care about that.

I thought the old man must have been a lot like me. He hadn’t had a lot of things. Not even a lot of clothes; the closet and bureau were almost empty, and what was there wasn’t even worth giving to the Goodwill. The kitchen was spartan, and I didn’t need much more than what he had. It was fine.

But he’d passed away half a year ago or so, and everything needed a thorough cleaning. It felt good, really. Simple tasks that I could perform, that gave immediate results. And I was making a running list of the things I would need to take care of. Electric outlets that didn’t work; a bit of a leak in the toilet; a few warped boards on the stairs that creaked excessively. That sort of thing.

I nearly jumped out of my skin when the doorbell jangled. I hadn’t expected any visitors and honestly didn’t want any. Probably some salesman. I made my way to the front door from the kitchen, drying my hands.

The door was solid, with no peephole, so I had to open it to find out who rang the bell. Something to add to my “fixit list,” I thought. With a sigh, I school my features not to scowl — no use getting off on the wrong foot — and swung the door inward.

A middle-aged woman with a plump figure and a pleasant smile stood on the stoop holding some sort of baking dish. “Good afternoon!” she said. “I’m Sue Gallagher, from next door. Welcome to the neighborhood!”

“Uh, thank you.” I was about to extend a hand in greeting, but realized she didn’t have a free one. My mind momentarily froze. What am I supposed to say to strangers who show up unexpectedly, being friendly? “I’m, uh, Philip Beauchamp.” Something more, right? “Won’t you come in?”

The pleasant smile never left her face; if anything, it got deeper. “Maybe just for a minute. Pa’s sleeping, but I don’t like to leave him alone very long. Alzheimer’s, you know.”

I stepped aside to let her in, thinking of what she had said. “No, I didn’t know. I’m . . . sorry?” I should be sorry about something like that, right?

“That’s all right,” she said. “We get on. Here, I baked you a pie — my apple’s the best in the whole county. People say it’s to die for!”

I took the pie from her, uncertain whether I was supposed to offer her some. The whole “neighbors dropping by” thing was not part of my experience, and I was feeling tense. “Well, thank you again,” I said, figuring that was always safe. “I’m afraid I haven’t really gotten settled yet, or I’d, ah, offer you something.”

“Don’t you fuss about that. I’m just glad to have someone living here again— and it’s a big plus that it’s someone closer to my age.”

She looked like she was in her mid forties, give or take. “I’m thirty-two,” I said, maybe a bit abruptly.

The smile never wavered. “That’s great,” she said cheerfully. “Though you might find it’s a bit dull in this neck of the woods! Now listen. You need anything — cup of sugar, whatever — I’m just next door, and I’m home most of the time.” She looked around. “Nice cleaning job you’re doing!”

Something about the way she said it made me ask, “You’ve been over before?”

“Me? No. Old man Kelly, he kept to himself.”

“Okay. Well . . . thanks again,” I said, unsure where to go with the conversation. “I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around.”

“Right. Philip, then? See you around.”

Philip! But . . . neighbors, right? Neighbors call each other by their first names. Be stupid for her to call me “Mr. Beauchamp,” wouldn’t it? I saw her to the door and breathed a sigh of relief when I’d closed it behind her.

I brought the pie into the kitchen, set it on the counter top and stared at it. Do you keep pies in the refrigerator? On the counter? Do you cover them? There were easily six slices in the pie. I could push it to eight. What would I do with all that pie?

I googled it. Pie dome? Yeah, no. Didn’t have anything like that. Who am I, Martha Stewart? Fridge, then. Fine. Plenty of room there.

I’d gotten some supplies at the Wal-Mart in Portland when I passed through and it was just about dinner time. A can of Manhattan Clam Chowder and some saltines. Afterward, I hemmed and hawed, but figured I ought to have a slice of pie, too. It was just sitting there.

By 9:00 pm I was tired enough from the day that I decided I could go to bed a bit early. I went upstairs and brushed my teeth, making sure that my electric toothbrush ran the full four minutes, and I hit each quadrant front and back. “Keep good habits,” Mom used to say to me, when I was small. “You keep them, they’ll keep you.” That’s me, a kept man.

When I turned to go back to the bedroom, I noticed something hanging from a hook on the back of the bathroom door. I examined it closely, but there was no doubt at all what it was, and a very expensive specimen of the type: a woman’s nightgown. Ivory, plain except for lace at the bust and the hem, long, narrow shoulder straps like that pasta dish I liked at Olive Garden. Linguine, I thought. How had I missed it before?

I ran my finger down the fabric. It was smooth, silky smooth, cool to the touch. I couldn’t imagine what it was doing here. The old guy had lived alone, and everything about the place had screamed “bachelor.” My apartment in New York had the same feel to it. Sue Gallagher said he kept to himself.

Well . . . Nothing I needed to figure out. I would just have to toss it, along with his clothes, when I made the next dump run. To ensure that I didn’t forget about it — or forget again, since this wasn’t the first time I’d used the bathroom — I took it off the hook, folded it over, and set it on top of the narrow desk with the weird mirror that faced the big picture window in the bedroom. I was surprised at how heavy the fabric was, especially since it had looked so insubstantial.

The moon was low on the horizon, but bright enough to cast shadows in the room when I shut off the lights. In the quiet, I could hear the Atlantic thrusting against the boulders, down on the strand below the house. It was a soothing sound, and I floated down into a deep sleep.

My eyes fluttered open sometime later; I could tell because the moon was now higher in the sky, seemingly smaller and much, much brighter. Its silver light illuminated the room, allowing me to see everything clear and sharp.

I was not alone in the room!

A woman was sitting at the desk, her back to me, rhythmically brushing her long, black hair. I could only see the back of her head and her shoulders, pale and white in the moonlight, a very recognizable set of linguine-shaped straps bisecting each shoulder blade.

“What are you doing here!” I intended it as a bark, but it came out more like a frightened squeak.

She ignored me. The rise and fall of her hand as she guided the brush through her thick mane was hypnotic. I stared at it for twenty strokes, then thirty, my heart pounding, trying to work up the courage to confront her again. To say something— anything— to break the spell.

My eyelids felt heavy and I fought to keep my eyes open. Despite my best efforts, I blinked, and blinked again. It was harder to get them open the second time, and harder still the third. But with a supreme effort of will, I managed it.

The morning sunlight was streaming into the room, and I was alone. I had always been alone. I lay still for a moment, shaking off the strange dream. Then I checked my phone and found it was already 7:45.

Time to be up and doing. I got dressed, grabbed the inexplicable nightgown from the back of the chair by the desk, went downstairs and put it with the rest of the old man’s clothes.

To be continued

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Comments

spooky !

can't wait for more!

DogSig.png

So far so spooky...

Off to a good start, I wonder where you will take this. I'm quite sure that it will be good though

Philip sounds more than a bit Aspergers so far, but I'm sure that he will soon come out of his shell, one way or another..

Alison

I can just picture

Andrea Lena's picture

the delicate movement....the caress of the comb... I know a frightened squak would have escaped my lips. It feels like there might be a never-ending array of soft and sheer clothing just waiting to appear. Perhaps not, but I can't wait for the next visit! Thank you!

  

To be alive is to be vulnerable. Madeleine L'Engle
Love, Andrea Lena

Manhattan Clam Chowder

Patricia Marie Allen's picture

An abortion and a waste of perfectly good clams. I'm surprised that even Walmart would stock it in Portland, Maine... the quintessential heart of New England.

I got dressed, grabbed the inexplicable nightgown from the back of the chair by the desk,

Didn't he fold it and put it on the desk?

Hugs
Patricia

Happiness is being all dressed up and HAVING some place to go.
Semper in femineo gerunt
Ich bin eine Mann

Quite the tale

Dee Sylvan's picture

You're leaving a few breadcrumbs for us, hmmm. Electric outlets that didn’t work; a bit of a leak in the toilet; a few warped boards on the stairs that creaked excessively, pie to die for, narrow desk with the weird mirror.

Sounds like a lovely place overlooking the Gulf of Maine. I can't wait to see what happens tomorrow night. :DD

DeeDee

Lets see

A delicious spooky tale in daily doses. Count me in. I just know this is going to be good.

Campbell's Manhattan Clam Chowder is food for the gods. The taste is sublime. And only a god could survive the sodium content of canned soup.

Ron

Setting the stage.

Sunflowerchan's picture

I consider myself adopt at horror, but you have done something few writers have. When I read your last line, I felt a cold chill pass over my spine and a brief flash of something wicked popped into my head. I know your talents, your a master story teller and your skill in crafting well thought out scenes is beyond compare. Something tells me, that we, your adoring readership are in for a real treat! I first read this story earllier today between culling produce and restocking dairy, as I read, I cursed the clock, from keeping me from reading this masterful piece, but now that I've had time to read it fully, and to sink my teeth into your wonderful prose. I can honestly say, you have given me something to look foward too. Thank you for sharing this lovely piece with us and I await the tomorrows episoded with a baited breath and crossed fingers.

The Animated Nightgown

joannebarbarella's picture

First seen in the bathroom (where it was previously overlooked!), moved to the top of the desk in the bedroom, worn by an apparition in the night, and picked up from the back of the chair in the morning.
I hardly think it's a disposable item.

Of course, you will reveal to us who was wearing it! And who will wear it from now on!

Interesting that the nightgown……

D. Eden's picture

Suddenly appears after a visit from the neighbor. A neighbor who apparently hasn’t seen the inside of the house, yet comments on what a nice cleaning job Phillip is doing. Yeah, there is no way the nightgown was there before and he simply missed seeing it.

Also, a mirror facing a window through which the moonlight shines? No one would put a mirror facing a picture window - and why comment about the moonlight shining on the mirror unless it means something?

Es, he did fold the nightgown and place it on top of the desk. Yet in the morning it was over the back of the chair - the chair the mysterious woman was sitting at.

How much you want to bet that the nightgown is back in the bathroom the next night?

And as to the comment about Manhattan Clam Chowder - well, it beats the hell out of New England Clam Chowder. Potatoes, cream, and clams? Blah! Dull, dull, dull.

I might also mention that in my experience, most Mainers can be very insular. In years of time spent in Maine, I never had anyone pull the “good neighbor” bit with me. Yeah, I have trouble believing that the neighbor just happened to show up to say hi and drop off an apple pie, lol.

D. Eden

Dum Vivimus, Vivamus

To die for

this story is. ,-)
I wonder if someone died for Sue's apple pie.
So Sue baked apple pie for the whole county? Or was that just a figure of speech?

Thx for a nice start^^

Clam Chowder

Many years ago I had a trip to the States. First stop was in the Boston area and my host introduced me to his beach-collected then home-cooked New England clam chowder and I was hooked. He advised me on other variants, Manhattan and southern style and warned me that the last might prove a disappointment. As I travelled South down the eastern states I sampled the local chowders which varied in detail each time until in New York I encountered Manhattan style. It was good but the tomato was one addition too many. My route then took me West, and I never got round to the southern style. (It is only now that I found from Wikipedia the vegetable- and thickener-free southern style is from Rhode Island which was not one of my pause points)!
I look forward to enjoying your story as much as the fondly rememberd clam chowders. This first episode indicates that I will!
Dave

Friendly or Spooky

BarbieLee's picture

Hope his housemate is one of the more friendly ones. I'm guessing if the nightgown was "heavier than usual" it's from an earlier century. Just how old is this home he is now living in and who were the earlier occupants? One of them didn't want to leave?
Hugs Emma
Barb
Life is meant to be lived, not worn until it's worn out.

Oklahoma born and raised cowgirl

Interesting beginning. And

Interesting beginning. And with the Manhattan Clam Chowder he was from New York City, so what do you expect.. He probably used Worcestershire sauce on a good cut of meat. Give me good old New England Clam Chowder!

The story has a good start, it'll be interesting to see what happens on All Hallows' Eve. And a white nightgown. Hmm.

Teddie

Very visual - and intriguiing

Iolanthe Portmanteaux's picture

I like this a lot - it's some fine writing. I'm looking forward to the next three installment.

You've got a lot of elements to work with. This will be fun!

- iolanthe

Adjustments . . . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

So, it’s clear that this format (a story spread over four days, with mystery and suspense elements) is going to require me to do something I don’t like, which is to respond to the comments as a group, rather than individually, at least until the final segment. I’m so sorry — it feels inhospitable! But it will be too easy for me to give away the store if I don’t, and I do want to leave some suspense!

So, let me talk about the things I can talk about. Like Clam Chowder. As between the New England, Rhode Island, and Manhattan varieties, I have my own preference, and Mr. Beauchamp has his. It’s probably more significant that he eats soup from a can, and his Italian restaurant of choice is Olive Garden. I mean, he lived in New York City, where there are LOTS of excellent Italian restaurants, and he likes Olive Garden. Say no more.

Alison is on the money with the diagnosis, though it’s no longer called that in the more recent versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

I guess I can confirm that the behavior of the white nightgown is a bit . . . uncanny. Maybe. But, I mean, he could just be forgetting things, right? And having weird dreams. Who doesn’t have weird dreams? I have weird dreams, certainly. Don’t you? :)

Thank you all for your lovely comments — I hope you like the rest of the story! I’ll post the next segment a bit later today.

Hugs,

Emma

I have no objection to grouped comments

especially when we might expect you to be preoccupied with working up the next part (as descibed in your pre-release).
Many authors just soak up (or ignore?) all comments. They do not reply either individually or as a group. You are an exemplar in your frequent response, and also your willingness to comment on other authors' postings, which shows that you take in what you have read.
Dave

Intriguing

Erisian's picture

This is an intriguing start, though it does leave a specifically important question absolutely unanswered...

...namely was the pie actually any good?!?!

I mean, sure the whole dress apparition thing is mysterious and dream-spooky, but the pie!! McIntosh? Granny Smith? Gala?? Too tart? Too sweet? Just right?? And what about the crust! Curious readers (like me!) need to know! :)

Thanks Emma! Will read the next parts soon! <3

Unreliable narrator

Emma Anne Tate's picture

When it comes to food, I think you will find that Phillip Beauchamp is a very unreliable narrator. :)

Emma

Only one thing's for sure:

Only one thing's for sure: Philip didn't die for the pie (or from it). :-)