DREAM HOUSE, Parts 1-16
DREAM HOUSE #1 – Linda Palund
Lailah inherited the house from a complete stranger. Well, actually, he wasn’t, objectively speaking, a complete stranger, but you could not really say she knew him. At least, not any better than the rest of the poor men at the Veterans Administration Hospital, where she had volunteered to work one year as part of her degree.
It was only one Wednesday a week and he was just one of many poor old soldiers who had returned from some war or other, she’d never asked which one, too shell shocked to live out in the real world. She’d assumed this by the glazed look in his eyes and his lack of conversation along with the absence of any noticeable limp or wounds that could account for his hospitalisation. Anyway, that was what the nurses all whispered in her ear as they pushed her out on to the dance floor or shoved a guitar in her hands to lead a sing along.
She was a “Candy Striper” working at the VA Hospital, but her role was suppose to be in “arts and entertainment” to match her degree and which she had thought meant she’d be designing plans for Veterans’ Administration Arts’ programs or creating entertainment calendars or anything except what she usually wound up doing, which was waltzing around the parlour in the frail arms of an old soldier.
She had tried not to draw too much attention to herself, always wearing her long red hair pulled back in a tidy bun at her neck, her Candy Striper Apron modestly down to her knees and she never wore a short skirt or high heeled shoes. In fact, she looked as prim as any 19 year old University student could look in the 1990s. She did all she could to play down her youth, although of course the men made a point of remarking on this very thing every time she saw them, even though she did everything she could think of to keep from arousing lust in their fragile hearts.
Despite her precautions, one year after her graduation from UCLA, she found herself the sole beneficiary of old Martin Easkot’s will, which, in his words, left:
“for her sole use and pleasure, unencumbered by taxes or liens, my family home in Stinson Beach, California and the 5 acres of woodland surrounding it, along with all outbuildings on the property and all items of furniture left inside. I regret that the family no longer owns private access to the beach itself, but everything else within the property line belongs to my heir, Lailah Levinson.”
And he even spelled her first name correctly!
What a blessing for the astonished Lailah, who had mistakenly hung up on the poor lawyer the first time he had tried to contact her, thinking him a crank. It was all she could do, when the news finally sunk in at his offices on Pacific, to keep from leaping across his desk, crushing him to her breasts and kissing his kindly bald head.
She was living in San Francisco by then, working as a waitress in a cafe on 24th Street and sharing a flat on Elizabeth Street. A year of knocking her head against the copywriting world had just about deflated her ego as far as it could go and the prospect of having a home of her own, one she didn’t have to pay rent or even taxes for, well it was all too good to be true.
Nevertheless, it was true, so when she and Carol, her very best friend and flatmate, drove over the Golden Gate Bridge with most of their earthly possessions, to see for themselves, they were nothing less than astounded.
The house turned out to be on the far side of the village of Stinson Beach, just after a hazardous turn around a rocky outcropping along the road leading to Bolinas. The house sat up high on the hillside, overlooking the beach, surrounded by overgrown gardens, themselves surrounded by a huge wall of evergreen trees.
But what an amazing house! As Lailah drove up the steep drive, she and Carol beamed at the beautiful, white painted, New England style home. It might have been old, and Lailah already knew it had been built in 1883 by Martin’s Great Great Grandfather, but it was real and it was solid and it was all hers!
DREAM HOUSE #2 – Frank Ruffolo
Lailah turned her ancient Ford Escort up the drive and parked it in front of the enormous wooden porch that surrounded the house like a moat. If there had once been a formal driveway, it had long since been erased by the unruly garden, which spread its weedy tendrils up to the porch. An eerie silence descended upon them as soon as Lailah turned off the car’s engine. A silence as formal as a deserted library; no birds, no breeze, no clicking insects.
Lailah and Carol climbed out of the car and stood for a moment at the base of the front steps, staring in awe at the huge white pillared porch, still grand even with its peeling paint. Carol took a step back to get a better view of the entire house and caught her breath. Was that an old woman peering down at them from behind the lace curtains? Startled, she tapped Lailah on the shoulder and pointed toward the window, making Lailah shriek from her unexpected touch, but when Lailah looked up, she only saw the evening sun reflected in the glass.
“Did you see her?” Carol asked excitedly.
“See who?” answered, Lailah, suddenly feeling chilly in her light blue cardigan and wishing she had worn her leather jacket. She hadn’t noticed the mist creeping in from the sea behind them.
DREAM HOUSE #3 – Madison Woods
Lailah looked up to the window and saw nothing but yellowed lace behind dirty glass panes. Carol was white as slaked lime.
“Are you okay?” Lailah asked her.
“I’m not going in there,” said Carol.
“It’s just a tad unkempt, nothing a little elbow grease won’t mend,” Lailah retorted. Carol had already turned and was speed-walking to the car.
“Fine. Wait in the car if you want.” Lailah stepped up to the heavy ornate door. Before she put a hand on the knocker she looked back at Carol, who shook her head emphatically. “Fine,” she muttered under her breath. She’d barely touched the knocker when someone ran up behind her.
“I changed my mind,” said Carol, who had already scrambled from the car and made it back to the doorstep. “Did you notice the mist coming in from over the water?”
At that moment the door swung open with a swift and smooth motion. Lailah had expected there to be much creaking and groaning on the hinges. The door looked as if it hadn’t opened in ages. No one stood beside, or as far as she could see, on the other side of the door.
“Should we just go in?” she asked Carol.
“Oh, Hell no,” she answered and grabbed Lailah by the arm. “We’re not going in there. Haven’t you seen any of those old movies? Nothing good can come of this – let’s go.”
DREAM HOUSE #4 – Sofia Day
As Carol dragged Lailah away from the house, the mist began to change. They froze mid-step as the blanket of clouds appeared to be morphing into shape. The blanket weaved in and out, dancing a deliberately slow and seductive dance. Lailah and Carol watched, each with their own set of brows knit in confusion.
“What is that?” Carol whispered.
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s just the wind or ….” Lailah’s words faded into the breeze as the shape took on the form of a person.
Lailah was the first to react, she gripped Carol’s arm. “Let’s get the HELL out of here.” But Carol was immobile. Her entire body was convulsing with fear.
“CAROL!” Lailah shouted, her voice sounding frantic. “PLEASE, MOVE.”
Carol turned her wide eyes on Lailah and when their eyes met Lailah knew they were in trouble. Carol’s face had been drained of all its color and the look in her eyes petrified Lailah. Tears began to flow freely down Carol’s cheeks. Looking behind Carol, Lailah saw the mist, now a man, walking toward them with an ease that was disconcerting. She began to shake Carol.
“Listen to me! If you don’t move right now I…” but before she could get the words out the man had made his way to where they stood.
“May I help you?” He asked in a silky voice.
“You… Y-You… How… T-The mist… and now…”
“Yes. I came through the mist. I was out in the fields.” He pointed a long slim finger in the direction he’d come. “I am the keeper of this house and the owner hasn’t been here for quite some time. It’s been awhile since we’ve had any visitors. What brings you ladies here today?” His accent was strange, none that Lailah could place, and the lines that creased his ashen face seemed as ancient as the Pompeii ruins.
Trying to make sense of what he was saying. Lailah considered the possibility that he’d only been walking through the mist and their active imaginations had gotten the better of them. The more she considered it, the more it made sense. No person could turn to mist and back again in the blink of an eye. She sighed in relief and laughed a little.
“I’m so sorry, I thought. Never mind. My name is Lailah Levinson and this is my friend Carol Ferguson.” She glanced at Carol whose color was beginning to resurface. “I’m sorry to have to tell you that Mr. Easkot has passed. I have inherited this house and the property. I’m surprised no one’s contacted you?”
“We don’t have a telephone in the house and I’m not sure if Mr. Easkot told anyone we were keeping the house for him.”
Lailah looked around the property at the unruly lawn and wondered how good a housekeeper this man could be. “I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name.”
“Please forgive my rudeness, my name is Alexander Hathaway.”
“Well, Mr. Hathaway…”
“Please, call me Alexander.”
“OK. Alexander, would you mind showing us around the house and the property.”
“WHAT?” Carol dug her nails into Lailah’s arm. The pain and the shock of her cry, after the long silence, startled Lailah. “Have you gone completely insane?”
Lailah pulled her arm free of Carol’s grasp. “Excuse me Alexander, I need a moment with my friend.” She sneered the last word and led Carol away from Alexander.
DREAM HOUSE #5 – Caroline Gerardo
Lailah did not heed Carol’s warning, “Who cares about a few cobwebs in your hair! I am going in there with or without you.” Something about Alexander Hathaway reminded Lailah of a childhood friend. His thin posture revealed a slight curve of his spine and his full lips covering his teeth smiled gently.
Lailah strides ahead to the front door. She does not rap the metal knocker, the door is already slightly open.
DREAM HOUSE #6 – Narielle Living
Lailah pushed all thoughts of the open door from her mind. Right now her big concern was why her friend Carol was acting like a character from a bad horror film.
Not that there’s anything scary here. There, if she thought it enough it would be true.
They had unpacking to do, and Lailah was looking forward to getting set up in her new home. This would all work out fine, but first she had to see what she’d inherited.
Stepping into the entryway, Lailah felt a slow spread of gratitude creep through her. The expansive staircase in front of her, the paneled wood walls, the antique furniture… it was all hers now. Even better, the beach was directly across the street. This was a dream come true.
“Wow.” Carol had apparently decided to join Lailah.
“This house has seen many generations and varieties of people. Would you like a grand tour, or shall I show you to your rooms?” Lailah felt a moment of gratitude for Alexander. His presence would likely make their move to this house much easier, and maybe he could answer a few questions along the way.
Without warning, a cloak of fatigue settled over Lailah. “We’ve got lots of time to get to know the house, I think we’d better get settled first.”
A breeze blew down upon them. Get settled first, yes. The whisper came from the top of the staircase.
DREAM HOUSE #7 – K.D. McCrite
The exhaustion laid hold of her, sucking out every ounce of energy. Lailah leaned against the wall, overwhelmed by weakness and a sudden cold that seemed to come from the very marrow of her bones.
“Lailah!” Carol gasped as Lailah slid down the wall, clutching at nothing. Carol knelt beside her and shook her shoulder, “Lailah! Are you all right?”
Lailah heard her friend but merely speaking took more strength than she had.
Alexander rushed to them.
“What has happened?” he asked.
“I don’t know. She just went down.” Carol paused, then added, “She’s been under a lot of stress. Maybe she’s just . . . ”
Alexander checked Lailah’s pulse, a cool, dry touch against her wrist.
“I’ll take her upstairs. Why don’t you make her a cup of tea? You’ll find everything you need in the kitchen at the back of the house.”
Lailah felt herself gathered up, her body as loose and scattered as a mound of fresh laundry. Upstairs was the last place she wanted to be. She tried to protest, but words did not come.
He carried her up slowly, seemingly without effort. In a dusky room where curtains were drawn, he laid her on a bed, then tenderly tucked a warm cover over her.
“Shall I call a doctor?” he asked, peering into her eyes.
Lailah simply looked at him, silently begging to be taken out of this room and back into the light.
Alexander straightened, smoothing her hair from her forehead.
“I’ll be back in just a minute.”
She watched, helpless, as he left her alone in the murky dimness of the room.
And from out of nothingness she heard a whispered, Welcome back, Lailah.
DREAM HOUSE #8 – Carlos Repuesto de la Tabla
While Lailah rested upstairs, Carol ventured into the kitchen to make her some tea. Looking around, she was taken aback by the size, and the age, of the kitchen. There was an old Wedgwood stove on the back wall, appearing to be in perfect condition. It even had a wood burning facility. Carol thought, “that might be pretty useful if the electricity goes out.”
She found a kettle, checked to see it was clean inside and put some water on to boil, happy to see the stove worked. She found several teas in a cabinet on the wall facing the stove, herbal teas mostly, which she was also pleased to see; it would be best for Lailah if she had something restful and without caffeine.
“Lets see, what have we here?” she mumbled to herself. “Wolfbane – hmm, don’t know what that is… Mandrake root? That either. Henbane? Cinquefoil? Mugwort? Hellebore?” Carol picked up box after box. “Isn’t there anything here I’ve heard of?” she asked herself, just before finding a box of Valerian root at the back. “Ah, there we go, that’ll make her sleep for awhile.”
Carol made the tea and while it was steeping investigated the kitchen. There was a door to the right of the stove that led to a laundry porch, without washer or dryer, but with wooden shelves with some dying plants on them next to the back door. Trying the handle of the back door, she found it locked, but noticed an old fashioned key hanging from a nail next to the door. It fit the lock and with some effort she managed to turn it and open the door.
Immediately, the pungent smells from the foliage outside assaulted her senses. It may have been completely overgrown, the greenery coming right up to the back door, but she could see there was still a garden entwined in the coils of the wild vines and brambles. Part of it was an herb garden; there were also tomato plants and some squash that had grown to the size of beach balls.
“Hmm, we could cook one of those and have food for a week,” she thought, “or carve an evil face into one for Halloween!”
DREAM HOUSE #9 – Linda Palund
“Oh Hello, dear.”
Carol jumped back into the doorway, her heart caught somewhere between her chest and her mouth. Was one of those huge squashes actually speaking?
“Oh, dear, I didn’t mean to startle you.” And the sweetest looking little old lady Carol had ever seen arose with great effort from where she had been kneeling in the pumpkin patch. She beamed a warm smile at Carol while she wiped her hands on her apron and tidied some very ripe tomatoes that were escaping from the basket beside her.
“I’m Mrs Anvers, dear. Didn’t the lawyer tell you I’d be here?” She had the softest white hair, almost like candy floss framing her small jolly face, and her downy skin creased in pleasant folds around her mouth.
“Well, no. He just told Lailah the house was hers and gave her the keys – and that was that. He didn’t say anything about anyone else being here…”
Mrs Anvers rolled her twinkling blue eyes, “Oh, that’s so like those lawyers. Of course he called me right away and told me you were coming. I’m the housekeeper, you know. No one has lived here in such a long time, well, I’ve been rushing around like a lark in a tiger cage trying to get this place ready for you.”
“I think I saw you in the upstairs window when we arrived.”
“That was me, I was dusting the window sills when I saw your car drive up. Then I had to hurry down the back stairs to tidy the kitchen before you came in.”
“But Alexander, Mr Hathaway, said you didn’t know we were coming. He said you had no telephone…”
“Oh, that’s Alex for you. He won’t get himself a mobile phone. Says they give him headaches. He’s another one, I tell you. I had to send my nephew Arthur out looking for him just this morning. What an impossible man!”
It was all too much for Carol and she sat down on the steps and just stared at the lovely old woman and wondered who else was going to show up.
“He nearly gave us a heart attack when he walked up through the fog.” Carol said. “We weren’t expecting anyone to be here.”
“Oh, he loves to do that, sneaking up on people. He just loves the drama, that’s the Eastern European in him.” And Mrs Anvers chuckled charmingly, and shook her soft white hair. She picked up the basket of vegetables and Carol could see leeks and carrots and even some potatoes nestled in under the tomatoes.
“Alex is the caretaker here – and he likes to play the watchman.” Mrs Anvers picked some insects off a tomato, and smiled over at Carol again. “I guess he thinks of himself as a sort of guardian. It makes him happy to keep folks that don’t belong here away. He lives in the flat over the Carriage House when he’s not visiting his family in Europe.”
“Right over there, child, on the other side of the garden, see? That wall with all the ivy. It’s all a bit overgrown, you can hardly see where the driveway is anymore. No one’s had a car here in years. While Master Easkot was in hospital, there wasn’t much for us to do, except keep and eye on the place, more or less, so that’s all we’ve been doing for these past several years….”
“I don’t understand. Are you living here now?”
“Oh, goodness no, I live in the village with Arthur, but Alex stays in the Carriage House. He’s always stayed in the Carriage House. But, I’ll be coming everyday to do the housekeeping, now that you’re here. And Arthur will be helping me with the odd jobs and deliveries and such.”
“I’m confused. We didn’t expect all this.” Carol looked off towards the ivy covered wall that must be the side of the old Carriage House. But just at that moment, a grey streak leapt over the wall and landed with a thud on the ground beside the old woman.
“My, goodness!” cried Mrs Anvers, and Carole was relieved to see that even the old woman had been startled by this latest apparition.
“Oh, it’s you, Heathcliff!”
“Hearhcliff?” Carol now saw that the gray streak had materialised into a very large and rugged looking gray tabby cat, with huge tufted ears that had visible chunks bitten out of them, and a mashed up face that made it look more like a pugilist than a cat.
“That’s our cat, Heathcliff, he belongs to the house, too,” said Mrs Anvers proudly, and she reached down as if to pet him, but he shied away with what sounded like a growl and walked off into a flower bed, his burr filled tail flying like a ragged flag behind him.
“He won’t let anyone pet him, but he always likes a bit of milk and any leftovers we have on offer. Arthur says he’s half bobcat. He’s been through some kind of mill, that I can tell you.”
The old woman leaned toward Carol now, and patted her knee. “Now, don’t you worry. We’re all paid by the estate. We’re employed to look after the house in perpetuity and that’s what we’ll do. Now, come on back into the house and I’ll start fixing dinner.”
DREAM HOUSE #10 – Carlos Repuesto de la Tabla
Lailah lay in the darkened room, too weak to get up, yet gripped by a feeling of dread that made it impossible for her to sleep. What was she doing here, collapsed in a strange bed on her very first visit to her new house?
She had somehow lost her usual energy. She was totally enervated. She knew she ought to be up and about, exploring the house and its contents, but somehow, this exhaustion, this bug or allergy or whatever it was, had flattened her like a steamroller. She couldn’t move.
Thankfully, Carol came in to the room a few minutes later, carrying a mug of tea. She had told Lailah that it would help her relax and hopefully she would take a little nap. Carol found a nightshirt in her bag and ordered Lailah to change into it. That decided it: Lailah smiled weakly and promised Carol she would drink the tea and let herself relax and surrender to sleep for a bit.
The tea was pleasingly hot and gave off a sickly-sweet fragrance, but it tasted okay. She sipped it slowly while Carol chattered away about the cool old kitchen, Mrs Anvers, and the overgrown but salvageable garden.
She listened dreamily to the tales of all the unexpected denizens of Mr Easkot’s house, but was relieved to find that eveything seemed to have a quite pedestrian explanation. The mysterious face in the upstairs window, that had so startled Carol on their arrival, was only sweet old Mrs Anvers, the housekeeper, and that terrifying apparition in the mist, actually was the caretaker, Alexander Hathaway, who was merely an old school European gentleman, rather than a ghost.
A wave of contentment washed over her and before it receded, she was asleep. Carol heard the change in Lailah’s breathing and knew she had fallen asleep. With a sigh of relief, she closed the drapes and turned out the bedside lamp. She tiptoed out of the room, closing the door gently behind her and trotted softly down the stairs to find whoever and whatever awaited her next.
It was the light that caught Lailah’s attention at first, a bright, searing light streaming around the edges of the door. There was a door in the wall where there hadn’t been one a minute ago. The intense light from the door’s edges only made the room she was in seem darker, for someone must have turned off the lamp and shut the heavy drapes.
As she lay in her bed, her own senses became suddenly heightened in the extreme. She could feel the blood pumping through her arteries, the insistent beat of her heart driving it. She seemed to be feeling all of her skin at once; it felt smooth, dry and receptive. She stood up and could feel the weight of her body on the soles and heels of her feet as she stood by the bed.
She air of the room lay still against her skin. She felt as though she could hear every single thing in the room, as if the walls were breathing ever so softly. But it was the light that drew her, it was so bright…
She didn’t remember a door being there before, but she began to feel an uncontollable desire to go through it. Although she knew it must only lead into the next bedroom, she had to see for herself. The feeling overwhelmed her, as if something on the other side was calling to her; drawing her into that other room, something so strong it felt primal, almost sexual, as it pulled her towards it.
But when she reached the door, she realised that she could not open it. There was a massive brass door knob in the very center, the kind a front door might have, but she could not turn it; neither the door nor its handle would budge at all.
Yet the light kept streaming in around the edges, such an incredibly bright light, drawing her in. She had to open the door! She had to see what was on the other side!
Why wouldn’t this door open! She pushed at it with all her might, then pulled until her hands were raw; she crashed her shoulder into it until she was sure she would break her arm. She was crying now. She had to get through! She needed help; she screamed for Carol.
Carol had padded silently down the staircase to the entry hall and circled around through the dining room to find her way back to the kitchen. Mrs Anvers was already starting to prepare dinner; a big pot of water was beginning to boil and the cheerful old lady was emptying a bowl of peeled potatoes into it. “Oh, hello again, dear.” Mrs Anvers greeted her. “I hope your friend Lailah is feeling a bit better. I thought nice comfy mashed potatoes might suit her.”
“Oh, thank you so much, Mrs Anvers. She finally went to sleep. I think the tea did the trick. Mashed potatoes sounds great — she doesn’t eat meat, you know.”
“That’s perfectly all right, dear, we can make some vegetable gravy with these mushrooms. We grow them in the cellar.”
“There’s a cellar?”
“Of course. Every good old house has a cellar for storing root vegetables and coal for the fireplaces. The perfect place to grow mushrooms, though I think there were some that stayed here once that grew a different sort of mushrooms. Not exactly ones for food, if you know what I mean.” She turned and gave a sly wink to Carol.
“Why, Mrs Anvers! Did you partake of those musrooms? Tell me more!”
“Oh, no, dear, not my thing really. But for a while, when Master Easkot was a young man, we had hippies living in this house, back in the Sixties of course. I don’t think there are hippies now, are there?”
Carol laughed. “Well, there still are, believe it or not, but I think they’re probably pale imitations of the first ones. They do take the drugs, though. In fact, probably a lot more drugs than the original hippies did.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that, dear. The ones that were here seemed to take drugs every night and day. Powerful ones, too. Why, they would stay up all night just staring at one another as though there was something happening, even though we couldn’t see anything. Still, I don’t doubt there was something happening.”
“Uh… how did you know this? Were you there too? I mean, you were a lot younger then, so I wouldn’t…”
“You wouldn’t be surprised? No, I wasn’t like that. But I could get around a lot better back then, and I’m ashamed to say that I spied on them. Peered through the windows at night, hid out in the forest in the day. I was fascinated by them. I guess I was about the same age as they were, but I was a thousand miles away from their… lifestyle, I guess you call it nowadays.”
“They took everything you could think of and smoked marijuana day and night. There was one fella that came around with that Indian drug, Peyote. He always seemed to have enough for everyone, even though he didn’t look like an Indian. Then there was another, I always thought there was something off about him. He didn’t dress like them, he dressed normal, like a businessman. He always had lots of pills and the hppies didn’t really take pills that much. That man and Rick, the main hippie, they’d stay up all night just staring at each other and, I’ll tell you, they didn’t look like they were having fun.”
“Wow. I had no idea this place had a history like that. And they grew mushrooms?”
Mrs Anvers laughed, “Oh yes, that was the beginning of this story, wasn’t it? They did indeed, in the cellar, and ate ’em as fast as they could grow them.”
Just then, a terrifying scream came from upstairs followed by Lailah’s frantic cries for help. “Carol! Carol! Help me!”
Carol started for the dining room, but Mrs Anvers stopped her, saying “Take the back staircase, dear” and opened what Carol had thought was a pantry door in the back of the kitchen, revealing a flight of stairs leading up to the second story. She practically flew up the stairs and rushed to Lailah’s bedroom.
DREAM HOUSE #11 – Linda Palund
“Carol! Where are you? Help me!” Lailah kept calling, “I can’t open the door! Help me, Carol!”
Carol ran down the darkened hallway to Lailah’s bedroom, not stopping to put on the light. When she found her way to Lailah’s room, she could barely make out the dim figure standing by an open window.
“Oh my god!” cried Carol, for it looked as if Lailah was about to climb over the sill and leap out into the night!
“Lailah! Lailah, Stop!” She shouted from the doorway and ran over to her. She grabbed Lailah by the shoulders and pulled her away from the window and back towards the bed.
Lailah fell back onto the edge of the bed, and sat there as if stunned, silently staring down at the floor. Then she began to shake her head, as if she was beginning to remember something and her long red hair swept across her thighs. A few seconds later, she lifted her face, brushing her hair back from her eyes, and looked up at Carol with an expression of complete wonderment and surprise, “Oh, Carol! It’s you! Where did you come from?”
“I was down in the kitchen. You called me. I thought something terrible was happening to you!”
Lailah looked perplexed at this. “But, I was just sleeping. That’s all.”
“You were standing by the window!” Carol exclaimed. “It looked to me like you were planning to climb out there!” Carol walked over to the window and gazed outside. Actually, the wide porch roof below provided something like a roof terrace. If Lailah had succeeded in climbing out, she probably would have been safe.
But Carol shut the window anyway and made certain it was locked, closing the drapes once again for good measure. “Anyway, you scared the hell out of me. Are you really all right?”
Lailah was climbing back into the bed. She suddenly felt terribly tired. She didn’t remember getting up at all and now she only wanted to be back in bed. “I’m fine. I just feel a little weird, like I have sleeping sickness or something. I just need to lay here a little bit longer, then I’ll get up, I promise.” And she looked up at Carol with a sweet smile that Carol could barely see in the dimly lit bedroom.
“Okay, then.” Carol said and sighed. “But, Mrs Anvers has already begun to make dinner, and I am coming back to get you as soon as its ready.” And she smoothed Lailah’s hair back from her forehead, adjusted the pillows behind her head once again, and slipped quietly out of the room and down the back staircase to the kitchen to let Mrs Anvers know that everything was alright. Lailah fell back into sleep.
DREAM HOUSE #12 – Frank Ruffolo (edited by Linda Palund)
While Lailah lay in the gloomy bedroom, a dark figure stood in front of the house. He stared up at Lailah’s bedroom window, his eyes filled with a sinister desire. As he stood there, a cold mist seeped from the depths of the forest and swirled around him, then spread over the garden until it completely surrounded the house, engulfing it in an icy grip.
An owl flew past and its haunting cry echoed across the grounds, startling Lailah in her sleep so that she leapt from the bed and rushed to the window, pulling back the thick drapes. She could see a dark figure silhouetted agains the fog. He seemed to be staring up at her and she could feel his eyes on her, piercing through the mist. They seemed to pierce into her very soul. Then, as she gazed, transfixed, the figure disappeared, dissolving back into the fog. She heard the owl again.
Terrified, Lailah stumbled across the room, nearly falling over a misplaced chair before managing to find the light switch. The warm glow from the ceiling fixture brought only a moment of respite for she was suddenly desperate to get out of that room.
She knew she was only wearing the short nightshirt that Carol had given her, but she didn’t care. She had to get downstairs immediately. She flung open her door and ran down the stairs, finding her way toward the kitchen.
Carol was a out to take enter the hall, heading to the dining room to set the table, when Lailah burst through the door, nearly knocking her over. “Lailah! Is everything okay?”
But Carol could see that she was not okay. Lailah did not seem to recognise her and stared back at her as if she was seeing Carol for the first time. “I have to go outside now.” Lailah declared simply. “I’m being summoned.”
“What are you talking about?” Carol asked, for she knew something was terribly wrong. Lailah’s lovely face had no expression, but her eyes seemed huge, wide open and as big as an owl’s searching for its prey. “Oh, my god, Lailah! You look… You look like you’ve been hypnotised!”
But Lailah paid no attention and tried to push past her, ” I have to go out now. I’m being summoned. He’s waiting for me!”
Carol grabbed Lailah firmly by the shoulders and shook her as if she were a child; exactly the way you are not supposed to shake a child, Carol thought. “Lailah, Listen to me. You’ve got to wake up! You don’t know what you’re saying!” But Lailah only stared back at Carol, her face a blank, and tried to break free.
“You don’t understand, Carol. I have to go. I have to go outside. I am being summoned.” she repeated.
Just then, Mrs Anvers walked in from the garden carrying a sprig of basil, but when she saw what was happening, she acted quickly. She opened a cabinet above the sink and took a small blue jar from a shelf, unscrewing the lid as she rushed over to Carol.
“Here, dear. Put this under her nose. It will revive her.” Carol had no idea what it was, but she took the jar, holding Lailah tightly by one shoulder, and holding the open jar under Lailah’s nose. For a moment Lailah continued to struggle, but a second later she blinked her eyes, looked dreamily at Carol, and collapsed into her, sliding to the floor in a heap.
“What’s happening to me?” she cried and began to weep loud heartbreaking sobs.
“Oh, dear, oh dear.” clucked Mrs Anvers. “This will never do. Let’s get her into one of these chairs.” And she helped Carol pull Lailah up onto one of the wooden kitchen chairs by the table where Lailah put her head in her arms and wept some more.
Through the door Mrs Anvers had left open, the haunting hoot of an owl echoed in. The kitchen fell silent but for the sobbing girl. “There, there, dear. I know just the trick” and Mrs Anvers opened another cupboard and brought out a bottle of brandy. “This will help all of us,” She declared as she took three tumblers down from another shelf.
She poured out a glass for each of them, but carefully administered her medicine to Lailah first, ” Now you just take one little sip, dearie, it will help you forget” and she made Lailah drink one small sip at a time, while Carol drank hers down in one gulp.
Lailah was still gently sobbing, but she looked gratefully up at Mrs Anvers through her tears and did as she was told. The brandy seemed to be working its magic. Carol breathed a long sigh of relief and Mrs Anvers wiped away Lailah’s tears, finally getting a chance to take a sip of her own medicine. But the calm was broken again by another unearthly cry of the owl, this time sounding as though it was right outside the door. Carol walked over to shut the door; she saw the owl was sitting in the garden on a cypress tree branch. It looked to Carol like it was watching them. She shut the door.
Lailah looked desolately over at Carol, “You don’t understand. He was calling me. He keeps calling me…” then her eyes shut as she fell back asleep.
DREAM HOUSE #13 – Sofia Day
Lailah’s despair sent a flash of heat through Carol. Instantly, she was on fire. The heat coursed through her, warming her face, and reaching out to the edges of her limbs. Red-hot flames danced in her eyes and she saw nothing but red. The rage became palpable and she tasted blood as her teeth bit down hard. She’d had enough of this house, of the uncertainty, and above all else the fear. It was time to do something about it!
Unclenching her teeth she searched around the kitchen, looking for the first weapon she could find. Her eyes settled on the fireplace tools and without hesitation, she walked over and picked up the poker. It felt cold in her blazing hands, but she ignored the foreign sensation and began marching toward the back door, but before she could reach it an iron hand clamped down on her arm stopping her in her tracks.
Carol followed the length of the weathered arm to find Mrs. Anvers’s eyes boring intently into hers.
“Where are you going?” Mrs. Anvers asked. Her voice becoming powerful and demanding. Nothing like her usual cheerful, kind voice. Carol could not make sense of it.
“I’m going to kill the thing!” Carol spat through her teeth.
“Oh my dear, you don’t want to do that! Besides, your friend needs you.” The gentle voice again. Gingerly but firmly Mrs. Anvers took the weapon from Carol’s hand. “Go tend to your friend, I will handle this.”
Confusion welled up in Carol, she wanted to be the one to destroy it, to finally release the built up rage. But as she stared into the deep ocean of Mrs. Anvers eyes they began to soothe her fury. Inhaling deeply, she nodded, and returned to the sleeping Lailah. Feeling defeated, Carol wrapped her arms around Lailah and she began to cry.
Morgan Anvers stepped out into the darkness of the garden and leaned the poker against the wall. Her eyes searched for him and found the owl arrogantly perched on a nearby branch. They stared at each other for a long moment before either of them spoke.
“You’re not welcomed here,” Morgan said.
The owl leaped from its post and as it made its way down, transformed into the man.
“Come now dear Morgan. That’s no way to greet an old friend,” he said.
Morgan’s eyes examined his smooth, handsome face, his russet skin emphasized his hazel gray eyes and raven black hair. She felt something close to pity for the poor boy, then remembering everything he had done to her, the pity dissipated.
“What do you want Benjamin?”
“The same thing you do.”
“I seriously doubt that. Leave, or I’ll be forced to−”
“You dare threaten me?” He hissed and came toward her.
Morgan began chanting,
“Touch not me nor mine, creature of mesh thou are, creature of flesh and blood you be…” Benjamin, recognizing the familiar words took a step back and glared at Morgan.
“You wretched old woman,” he nodded and gave her his most wicked grin. “I’ll leave now, but I will return.”
Then he jumped into the air and flapping his wings, disappeared into the moonlit sky.
DREAM HOUSE # 14 – Narielle Living
Carol’s body burned with the same feeling she’d had just before she had put those foster home bullies in their place. As a kid, she tried to take her time getting used to each new home, trying to learn what was what and how she fit in. She was careful, because that’s what a foster kid had to be. Inevitably, the other kids in those houses took advantage of her quiet behavior, seeing it as a sign of weakness.
She felt the same way now. She’d come out here with her best friend, ready to embark on a new life, a new adventure. Except things were not what either of them expected. She felt as if she was being taken advantage of again.
What else was new?
Whatever it was, whatever strangeness was happening in the house, it was obvious Carol had to do something. Even if that something meant dragging her dream-state friend Lailah out of here, she couldn’t sit back and wait any longer.
Lailah was back upstairs, still sleeping, meaning it was time to go outside and see what Mrs. Anvers was up to. The sound of a ticking clock could be heard in the hallway, a gentle reminder to hurry, hurry. Carol would have to take the chance that Lailah would remain in her bed.
Decision made, she marched outside, ready for battle.
The night was still blanketed in a darkness so profound it took a few minutes for her eyes to adjust. The only sound she could hear was the distant pounding of surf, a comfort even in her current state of frustration.
Feeling something brush against her legs, Carol looked down to see Heathcliff winding around her. She smiled at the creature. “Somehow I knew you’d be out here. I have a feeling I know what’s going on here, I just can’t remember it. It’s as if I’ve read the script but don’t know my lines.”
The cat sat and stared, as cats will.
Carol took a deep breath. “Okay then, let’s go slay whatever needs to be slain. That’s probably the only way I’m going to get any answers.”
“Slaying dragons tonight, are we?” The voice was behind her.
Spinning around, Carol faced the man who Lailah had seen standing in front of the house. In a moment, recognition dawned. “I know you,” she accused.
He smiled at her. “It’s been a while. You were just a child the last time we met. How are you, Carol? I’ve been waiting for you and your friend to come out and play.”
Dream House #15 – Linda Palund
“Wait a minute.” Carol called out. She was a bit shaken, but she wasn’t stupid. “I must be dreaming. You don’t really exist. You never existed! I made you up!”
“You mean, you thought you made me up, my sweet.”
“What do you mean, I thought I made you up?”
He shook his head sadly, “You needed me then, don’t you remember? You asked me to come and save you. And I did. I took you away with me. Far away from all that petty business in the home. All those brutish boys and ugly old men. You wanted me to come and take you away. You asked for me. You prayed for me!”
And then the memories began to flood back into Carol’s confused mind. Yes, she remembered now. There had been no escape from those boys, those brutes, those old men. Wherever the authorities put her, they would always be there, sneaking into her room, sneaking into her bed, always trying to get her alone somewhere in the house. There was nowhere she was safe. They would always find the key, even to the bathroom. She could never escape them. She could never get clean.
Their filth always seemed to find her, touching her, staining her, making her sick with their awful demands, their hideous hands and filthy mouths. How she had prayed for a savour, for a friend, for anyone to come and take her away.
And then one day, he had come to her. He had come to her and carried her off to a house, this house. That was why it was so familiar to her. She had been here before, but she thought it was all in her mind. She had always thought she had escaped into her own mind, the only place where they could never reach her.
“No, you can’t be real.”
“Well now, real is only a matter of perception, my dear. I am as real as you are right now.”
“But why do I feel you are… bad now? You weren’t bad before when you helped me; have you changed?”
“Oh, no, I never change” he laughed. “Well, except for my shape, that is. At night, I like to become an owl. I can see so much better in the dark, and an owl is so much more regal than a bat, don’t you think?”
Carol sat down on the back steps again. She didn’t know what to think. Then she began to wonder why she didn’t feel the cold. She knew it had been a chilly night, but somehow, she was warm now. That burning she had felt, could she have a fever? Was she hallucinating all this now? How could this really be happening? She was talking to a figment of her imagination, for god’s sake!
“Excuse me, sorry to interrupt your little reunion.” It was Alexander, looking sleek and handsome as he emerged from the shadows beside the carriage house wall.
Benjamin turned his head ever so slightly to acknowledge Alexander’s arrival. “Always a pleasure to see you, old man.”
“And I, you, Benjamin. I see you two have met before. I must say, I am surprised, for it is the other lovely young lady who is the new owner of our house. It is she we have been expecting to shelter and to protect.”
” Well then, you might call this a happy accident.” Answered Benjamin. “Although, naturally, I cannot conceive of any such thing as a coincidence. All is quite fated, as you well know, my friend, so I have been expecting both these two young ladies for quite some time.”
“And you have been up to your old tricks again, or so Morgan has informed me.”
” I am sure you can not blame an old Thummin for trying.
“And I am sure you will forgive an old Urim, if I ask you what your business is here and what these two lovely ladies have to do with you?”
“Ahh, Alexander, my old friend. Even you must realise that I have been sent here to seek out these ladies specifically, and that this one has already been given over to me?”
“And you do realise, Benjamin, my old friend, that this house is our legacy. That we have been assigned to watch over it, guard it, and deliver its occupants when their time comes, but not before.”
“Ah, yes. But, as I said, you know me, you will have to forgive me for trying to move things along a bit quicker.”
“Certainly not!” Answered a firm, but feminine voice. It was Mrs Anvers. She stepped out of the Greenhouse, spade in hand and with Heathcliff the cat marching boldly alongside her. “I told you before. You are not welcome here. It is not your time.” Heathcliff walked straight up to Benjamin and snarled a cat-like snarl and sat down between Carol and the man, staring up at him with a steady gaze, as cats do, his battered ears perked up expectantly.
Carol’s head was swimming. This was completely amazing and beyond anything she had ever dreamt. Now, the mists had died away, but with the light shining out from the windows of the kitchen, the remaining wisps of mist seemed to settle around Mrs Anvers head like a halo. Alexander stood by, hands behind his back, looking tall and incongruously elegant, dressed as a butler in his well fitted dark suit, while Benjamin looked small and lithe and terribly attractive with his youthful face and long dark hair. He seemed to have something very like a cape draped over his shoulders.
“Why, Morgan, so nice to see you again so soon.”
“I will not ask you again, Benjamin. You will leave these women alone.” And she began to chant once again, “Touch not me nor mine, creature of mesh thou are, creature of flesh and blood you be..”
“Have it your way, Old Woman! Goodbye, Carol, I’ll see you in your dreams — very soon.” He bade everyone a gracious farewell, and sweeping his cape gracefully around his shoulders, vanished, just like that.
Carol stared up at Mrs Anvers and Alexander, who were now smiling benevolently down upon her.
“What was all that about?”
“Oh, my poor dear. I’m afraid you have fallen asleep. You’ve had such a lovely dream though, haven’t you?” And Mrs Anvers bent over Carol and caressed her burning forehead, and instantly, Carol fell asleep, collapsing against the door frame.
“Help me get her upstairs, will you, Alex?” Alexander bent down and easily, lifting Carol as if she were no larger than a cat, and carried her through the kitchen. Mrs Anvers moved swiftly to open the backstairs’ door for him.
“What a bother that fellow is. We will have to be on our guard the entire time now. What a bother!” And she shook her sweet white head and turned to the stove to make a fresh pot of tea, as Alex tread lightly up the stairs with his sleeping burden.
Dream House, #16 – Carlos Repuesto de la Tabla
Carol and Lailah awoke to the early morning light streaming into their room, accompanied by the sound of little birds warbling in the wood beyond the window next to their bed. “Mmngh… “ Lailah yawned and stretched her arms, arching her back. She felt like she had been asleep for days, but now the mists of sleep were dispersing to reveal a clear vision of the musty old room and the sunny day taking place outside the window. Carol stirred next to her, waking a bit more slowly, but to just as clear a mind.
“G’morning, baby,” Lailah leaned over her, smiling. “You awake? I’m starving! How about you? Wanna go out to breakfast? I think there’s a diner here in town.” She slid out of bed and opened the front window, letting a light breeze and the smell of the sea blow in.
The breeze woke Carol the rest of the way and she too realized she was hungry. And hungry to be outside in that cool air, amongst trees, sand and sea. And out of the house. She jumped out of bed too, surprising Lailah with her sudden energy. Carol, who had slept in her t-shirt — she couldn’t even remember going to bed — found her carryall bag and pulled out some fresh clothes, quickly slipping into her jeans and clean dark brown t-shirt. She looked at her watch. “It’s not quite nine; I better go down and tell Mrs. Anvers not to make us breakfast.” She slipped her sandals on and sped downstairs, calling back “Get dressed Lai; I wanna go out soon!”
Lailah, bemused by Carol’s alacrity, found the clothes she had worn yesterday folded neatly on a chair, no doubt by Mrs Anvers; it wasn’t Carol’s style. Lailah dressed, like Carol, in jeans and t-shirt, hers a black 49ers T with “San Francisco” across the front. She wasn’t a football fan, but it was the only tasteful 49er shirt she’d ever seen, so she felt compelled to buy it; the red logo looked good with her hair. When she got downstairs she found Carol and Mrs Anvers in the kitchen talking. There were pans on the stove and eggs set out, but nothing had been cooked. She smiled and murmured a “good morning” at Mrs Anvers who asked her how she was feeling. “Oh, I seem to be just fine, Mrs Anvers. Thank you so much for taking care of me. I don’t know what came over me…”
“I expect it was nothing, dear. Sometimes we just wander into places that might bring up past associations that can be a bit overwhelming. I know you don’t know the house, but you did know Martin Easkot, and he was very tied to this house, you know.”
Carol, slightly too loudly, interjected. “Lai, we better get a move on, we don’t want to miss breakfast!” She did not want to hear the house mentioned.
The girls walked into town, really just a collection of buildings that lined the Coast Highway. They walked along the shoulder of the two lane road, heading toward the Seaview Cafe while a procession of Sunday motorcyclists, mostly on Harley Davidsons, rumbled by. The Seaview was a one storey, flat roofed, weatherworn blue-grey building between the highway and the beach. It was the size and shape of a large house trailer, but had big plate glass windows on the sea side and an open door that led to a small deck with tables.
The deck was full, but they found a table inside, sat, and perused the large plastic menus. After a few minutes, a scruffy, middle-aged fellow in worn jeans and a faded, orange and blue striped T-shirt came to their table and asked what they’d like. “Ooh, coffee, please, for both of us. Mugs. We need it!” Carol waid.
“Been partying a bit, have ya? he asked with a sly smile.
“No, no, “ said Lailah, “we just had a… difficult night’s sleep.”
“Where are ya stayin’? At the Dunes Motel? Saturday nights there can be bad” he laughed.
“No, we were at the Easkot House” offered Carol.
“The Easkot House — what were you doin’ there? Nobody stays there, least not since I been livin’ here. And I been here quite a a few years.” He seemed disturbed by this news, and Carole decided it would be best to end that conversation just as Lailah began to answer.
“Oh, I’m the new…” Carole kicked her under the table and interrupted.
“I’ll have the heuvos rancheros — if they’re good.” She smiled sweetly up at him then quickly turned to Lailah “And you, darling?” She wanted him to think about anything but the Easkot House. She just had a feeling.
“Uh, yes, I’ll have the Garden Omelette with wheat toast” Lailah offered, and the waiter left.
The coffee was surprisingly good, the mugs big and hefty, and Lailah and Carol relaxed into conversation about yesterday, the house, and it’s inhabitants.
Lailah began. “Carol, what happened yesterday? I mean, I feel fine right now but…”
“Yeah, I know, it was like you were allergic to something. Or maybe, like Mrs Anvers said, you have some connection to this house through Martin Easkot.”
“But I hardly knew him!”
“Well, maybe he knew you then,”
“But what happened while I was asleep?” Lailah asked.
“Well, it’s hard to say. First you had a dream, strange, like a waking, sleepwalking dream. I was downstairs with Mrs Anvers when we heard you shouting. When we got up there you were trying to climb out the front window, but you thought it was a door, a door apparently into another room that you really, really wanted to get into. Anyway, we got you back in bed and back to sleep.”
“God, I don’t remember any of that!”
“But wait, there’s more” laughed Carol, imitating a late night TV commercial.
“Don’t tell me, a pack of Ginsu knives…”
“No, but more sleepwalking and dreaming. You came downstairs like some zombie, saying you were being called outside. Summoned, you said.”
“Wow, I must have been having real B-movie nightmares.”
“Oh, you were, all right. And you were crying, but Mrs Anvers gave you something and Alexander carried you back to bed, voila, here we are!”
“Yes, eating! Back to our normal state. This is delish, but sleeping for 12 hours, then eating this huge breakfast… I’m going to have to get some exercise. Fancy a run on the beach after breakfast?
Carol, never much for the exercise thing, was now glad she’d worn sandals. “Aw, no, baby, got the wrong shoes on. But you go ahead. After we have another coffee.”
Lailah smiled at her, then asked “What about you? What did you do all that time I was sleeping and dreaming?
Carol paused, thinking. “Well, I’m not exactly sure. I fell asleep too, downstairs, and I had dreams too. But I don’t really remember them. In fact, I don’t even know how I got to bed… But I do remember some things. Mrs Anvers was there, and Alexander, and there was this owl outside that was really bothering me. It was incessant, that hooting. Then there was something else, it had to do with that… but I can’t remember. I do know, though, that we both seem to have some connection to this house. and I don’t think it’s the same connection, and that I just completely do not understand. There is certainly more to know about it. But it’s your house, babe, and you can do what you want with it! So when in doubt, decorate!”
Boy, I’ll say! I’d really like to get rid of those big heavy drapes in the bedroom.”
They finished their coffee, paid the bill, and strolled out to the beach. The sun was high, the little breeze kept it from sweltering, clouds dotted the sky, small groups of people dotted the beach. They were at the south end of the beach that extended north a couple of miles. The waves weren’t big, but there quite a few surfers out.
“Are you gonna run?” Carol asked. “It might be a little warm with jeans and a t-shirt on, but at least you’ve got running shoes on.”
Lailah laughed. “Oh, absolutely. Maybe I’ll run into a cute surfer boy along the way! And if I get too warm, I can take my shirt off; my bra looks enough like a bathing suit top.”
“Well, in that case, I’m sure you’ll find a guy” Carol responded acerbically. “I think I could just drink coffee all day. Don’t bring a boy home unless he wants to carry boxes. And then leave. Not too sure about that house yet and I’d like to keep sleeping together if you don’t mind, but I don’t think I’m ready for a threesome.”
Carol left Lailah doing stretches and made her way back to the Seaview for that coffee.
DREAM HOUSE #17 – Linda Palund
Running along the beach wasn’t as easy as Lailah had imagined, and she began to feel a lot hotter a lot quicker than she thought she would. The sand was gorgeous, soft and white, but so fine that her feet sank in too deeply and each step felt as if she were running through quicksand.
She headed down to the shore, where the sand was hard and damp, feeling solid under her feet. Now she had to be careful not to veer too far over to where the foamy tips of the waves washed over the sand or she would wreck her running shoes, for the tide was coming in.
It was cooler down by the shoreline, but she still felt too hot to keep running, so she paused to remove her shirt. She was wearing her little red bra underneath that she knew would pass for a swim suit top, so she tied her shirt around her waist and continued running, hopping nimbly around the few waders and sea shell collectors along the shore, and enjoying the light breeze from the sea. Then she reached the great outcropping of rocks and barnacles that marked the end of the main beach. She couldn’t run any further. She had forgotten that this barrier separated the beach from the cove in front of her new home.
She paused to catch her breath and surveyed the situation for a few minutes. She could climb over the rocks, which might be fun or dangerous, depending on how slippery and jagged they were, or she could take the path up to the road and walk along the road until she met the path leading down to her own beach. She decided to walk up toward the road. She could see the path pretty clearly now. Someone had made a set of stairs out of old railway ties, and cleared away the long grasses that grew in ragged tufts on the sandy verge that separated the beach from the road. It was pretty decent – and since she was exploring anyway, she would take this opportunity to find out how easy it would be for Carol and her to get down to the beach from their house. They might not have their own private beach, but it was definitely separate from the main beach at Stinson.
She reached the stairs and climbed up effortlessly. There were still very few cars passing down the road. She looked up to see the white house sitting up on the hill, all by itself, looking glorious, set against its backdrop of tall trees. Her little red car was still parked in front, but now she could see someone, a young man perhaps, raking the driveway. That’s good, she thought, but she turned away and kept walking along the verge, past the big rocks, to where she found another set of steps leading down to what she thought of as “her cove”. She hadn’t noticed it before, but a low seawall started up at this point, only about three feet high, and made of some sort of combination of seashells and cement. It wasn’t unattractive, and she wondered if the Easkots had built it as a defence against flooding long ago.
The steps there were actual steps, made from the same combination of seashells and cement. It had an iron railing on one side, which was pretty handy, as the slope down to the beach was rather steep at that point. The massive rock outcropping made a great barrier, and gave the cove its shelter as well as its shape. It was made up of enormous black rocks, some of them at least 20 feet high and was exceedingly picturesque. Sea birds fluttered and flew from them and Lailah wished she could see a seal now to make the morning absolutely perfect.
She jogged down the steps, barely touching the iron railing, but she stopped on the bottom step and sat down to take off her sneakers. Expensive as they were, she decided they would be safe there for awhile, and she left them on the step and walked across the warm sand to the shore. The sea stretched out in front of her, a deep green, sparkling in the sun. The waves reared up, but broke gently on the sand, and everything seemed warm and peaceful. To the North, she could see the tip of Point Reyes, but mostly she gazed along her own shoreline, admiring the glistening sand and the shiny black rocks that emerged from the water when the waves receded. If only she could see a seal, everything would be perfect.
Wait, she thought she saw one! A small black head emerged from the water near the tip of one of the big rocks. It was a seal. Oh, but no, it wasn’t a seal after all. It turned out to be just a person covered in a wetsuit, and carrying a surf board under its arm, and in a few seconds it was standing up and walking out of the sea, water pouring down its wetsuit. It waved to her and Lailah waved back for no apparent reason, and wondered ruefully, how anyone could dare to surf on her beach.
In a few more seconds, the person was out of the sea and standing just a few feet away, pulling off their head gear and shaking our their hair. Laila was amazed to see that the surfer was actually a young woman.
“Hello!” Said the surfer, smiling a broad toothy smile. “Are you the new owner?”
“Uh, well yes, of the house back there, you mean?”
Now, the girl reached out to shake Lailah’s hand and she laughed a light little laugh. ”Don’t be too surprised. I’m Helen, Arthur’s girlfriend. He works up at the house sometimes. He’s up there gardening right now.”
Lailah shook the girl’s hand, still wet from the sea, “Oh, I see. Yes, I’m Lailah. And you’re right, I am the new owner. We’ve only just started moving in. My girlfriend Carol’s with me.”
“That’s amazing. Boy, no one’s lived there for ages – and I mean ages. I’ve lived here for five years and no one has lived there in all the time I’ve been here.”
“Well I guess the old owner’s been sick a long time. I met him at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Los Angeles! I guess he must have been the last of his line.”
“Wow! I heard that he left you the whole house, lock stock and barrel.” They were walking up the beach together toward the stairs now.
“Yes. It surprised me, too. But now, I love it. Only, I’m not so sure about what I’ve let myself in for. Somehow, I just love the house, you know? Its so beautiful, and yet…there’s something about it that kind of scares me…”
“I know what you mean. The house is beautiful, but there have been a few times when Arthur’s brought me inside with him, just to check that everything was all right and the roof wasn’t leaking. Stuff like that. Of course, the electricity wasn’t turned on, so it was a little extra spooky, but still. It kind of gave me the chills. But I’d love to see it all lit up and warm with real people living in it. I bet its way different.”
Helen stopped now. There was a towel and some sandals tucked behind a rock near the steps that Lailah hadn’t noticed before, and Helen started to peel off her wet suit. Lailah just stood there and watched the tan body emerge from the black suit.
“Guess you stay pretty fit out here.” She couldn’t help remarking.
“Yeah. I love to surf and I love to swim, so whether there are waves or not, this is a great place to live.”
“So, do you know the rest of the people who look after the house?”
“You mean Arthur’s aunt, Mrs Anvers? And that spooky guy, Alexander Hathaway?”
“Arthur’s aunt has quite a reputation in the village for being kind of a, uh, hmmm, Shaman, I guess. or a healer? She knows everything there is to know about herbs and plants. Mixes up her own essential oils and folks go to her for cures. Like for allergies, or migraines, or just about anything. She’s terribly nice, but I can tell you, she can be really tough too. She doesn’t take any shit from anybody – especially not from Arthur. He works for her, and believe me, she makes him sweat!”
“That’s good to hear. I was kind of taken aback by all these people being here. I thought it was just going to be Carol and me and now we have an entire household staff. And then, when we arrived, the house looked pretty unkempt – and uncared for, considering the number of folks working here now.”
Helen sat down on the rock and was brushing the sand off her sleek tan legs with the towel. “I guess they didn’t much bother about the house while no one was living there. They had a small stipend to tide them over, just to make sure no disasters happened, and that Alexander Hathaway character seemed to spend a lot of time in Europe, so it was just Arthur doing the caretaking, and of course, Mrs Anvers uses the greenhouses, so they were always around to make sure no strangers – or squatters entered the property. They always kept their eyes on it – and Arthur and I use the beach here, so we kind of look out for it, too.”
Lailah sat down on the bottom step, next to Helen’s rock. “Well this is all kind of overwhelming. Still, this is just our first morning here – and we did have a nice breakfast at that cafe – The Seaview? in town, and I had a brilliant run on the beach, so I guess everything will be all right; we’ll just have to take things in stride.”
“I’m sure you’ll settle in nicely,” and Helen turned and beamed her pleasant smile at Lailah again. In fact, Helen was a very pleasant looking girl. Lithe and tan with light brown hair, full of natural highlights, big blue eyes and charming freckles that danced across her well defined cheekbones. Small breasted and small waisted, she was wearing a tiny black swimsuit and she looked damned attractive to Lailah, who smiled back, and was suddenly aware that she was only wearing a bra and not a swimsuit at all.
“Yes, I’m sure we will.” She stood up and untied her blouse and slipped it back on, while Helen looked up at her, smiling brightly and squinting against the sun. “I’d better head back. would you like to come up and have something cold to drink?” She asked, wondering at the same time, what exactly was on offer in her own kitchen.
“That would be cool. If you don’t mind…Then I can say hi to Arthur, and introduce you!” She stood up and gathered her things together, hanging the wet suit over one arm and carrying her board under the other. “You better go ahead, I need to stow my gear away in my car and slip on a dress. Don’t want Mrs Anvers to see me like this.”
“Oh, that’s okay. I’ll wait for you by your car.” Lailah was at the top of the steps now, and could see what must be Helen’s car, a small white dodge sedan, with a roof rack. She walked up to it and waited.
“Great,” Helen came up and leaned her board against the side of the car as she unlocked it. Then she threw her gear into the back seat and lifted the board onto the rack.
“Do you need any help?”
“Oh no, I’ve been a surfer girl all my life and with these new light-weight boards, everything is so much easier. It just takes me a second.” And it did. Then she poked around in a beach bag she kept in the front seat and pulled out a little green knit dress and slipped it on over her bathing suit. “There. How do I look?”
“I think you’ll pass.”
They walked across the empty road together and up the pebbled drive toward the house. Arthur was nowhere in sight, but the driveway was swept clean and when they reached the top of the drive, Lailah could see that he had cleared away the brambles and brush from the entrance to the Carriage House. She’d be able to park her little car inside the carriage house now – and maybe, when they brought the rest of their belongings over, she could store some of their extra things inside. In fact, she could store those awful drapes in there!
“So there you are!” A musical voice rang out. It was Carol, trotting happily down the front steps to greet them. “And you’ve already brought a friend!”