Chapter 1: A Productive Lunch Break
The worst part of writing a book, Kimberly decides, is the blank paper that mocks you for not having any tangible ideas to put down. The paper just sits on the desk, all blank and unmarked by the pencil she currently has balanced between her upper lip and her nose. It isn’t fair that all her amazing ideas suddenly cower in the back of her mind whenever she brings the notebook out.
It’s like Bear when I try to vacuum, she muses, looking to the picture near the cash register of a blond-haired little boy sitting on the back of a dog. It’s more a mountain of fur than anything else, but the Husky is good around Nicky and that’s all she really cares about. Too bad they’re not here to distract me from writing.
The thought has barely passed through her mind when the bell over the front door jingles, announcing a customer that clearly can’t decipher the sign that reads closed for lunch. With an annoyed sigh, she tosses her pencil onto the desk and spins around on her stool, fully prepared to tell whoever the idiot is that she will open the bookshop again at one.
“We’re closed,” she says, then narrows her eyes when she spots the person responsible. He’s tall and skinny, though not lanky, his mauve sweater tight around his biceps and his dark brown hair cut shorter than it had been the last time she’d seen him. It looks nice. He must’ve went to that barber I suggested last weekend.
“Is that any way to treat your favorite cousin,” the intruder in question asks.
“It is when they just barge inside,” she returns, though her words are cushioned by a smile. “Hey, Steve.” Her cousin comes to stand next to the glass display case, fiddling with the stack of books she still has to put away. “What brings you to my neck of the woods?”
“Boredom mostly. I also thought I’d swing by and take you out to lunch since I get my paycheck today.” He pauses a moment, nodding along to something he was working out in his head. “Speaking of, can I get my paycheck an hour early? I promised Dee that I’d take her out to that Chinese place that always gives us a discount.”
“They give us a discount ‘cause the food we buy is about an hour away from expiring.” She grabs the checkbook out of her desk drawer, quickly writing out the amount and signing it before sliding it across the counter. “And because the owner liked to bargain with our dads.”
“I do the bargaining now, you know. Carrying on the family tradition of haggling over take-out.” Kimberly giggles at that, remembering the nights their fathers had come home holding the food up like it was the winning lottery ticket. The truth was that take-out had been a lot cheaper than groceries and everyone would get full that night even if the chance of food poisoning was extremely high. “I was thinking about getting the duck.”
“Oh God, I haven’t had that in years.”
“Not since Uncle Sam brought it home that one Christmas.”
“Yeah, I’ve had duck since then and whatever my dad brought home that night wasn’t it.” It’s Steve’s turn to laugh this time, white teeth glinting slightly as he throws his head back. “What were you thinking of doing for lunch?”
“Pizza place down the block.”
“And it’s your treat?” He nods, gaze roaming around to look at all the little figurines she has on the shelf above her desk. They aren’t anything overly fancy, just a handful of glass flowers her grandmother had saved from the old manor house before they sold it to make end’s meat. Back in its day, Summer’s End had been like something out of a fairy tale, set out in the countryside with sloping hills and meadows for a backdrop. Kimberly has driven past it a couple of times, wondering what it must have been like in its glory days.
“We should get going, though, ‘cause your lunch break ends in thirty minutes.” Kimberly stands and shrugs her jacket on, grabbing her purse before following Steve back outside into the warm May air. This close to summer’s arrival and the impending end of classes, a good chunk of her clientele is packing up to spend their vacation with their families or somewhere tropical as college kids are wont to do.
The walk to the pizzeria is done in a friendly silence, their arms brushing occasionally as they go along. The silence is nothing new, they can stay like that for hours and never feel weird after living together until Steve turned eighteen and moved into the dorms at Beaumont University. Emery gets unnerved by all the quiet, but he’s never the one to break it when he notices that it doesn’t bother anyone else.
“Aw, crap,” Steve mumbles when they finally reach their destination, spotting the gaggle of police officers sitting inside. They’re gathered around their usual table beside the large window, all of them dressed in a dark blue uniform apart from one. He’s a civilian, dressed in simple jeans and a button-down, his mop of dark blond hair looking un-brushed. It’s no surprise since his son had taken up the entire morning by refusing to get dressed or eat breakfast before being dropped off at school.
“I don’t see why you have a problem with him,” Kimberly says, frowning at her cousin’s reaction. “He’s a sweet guy.”
“He’s a big baby, Kimberly. You married a grown ass man that acts about like your son does.” Kimberly rolls her eyes, opening the door and shoving Steve inside before he can back out.
“Hey, Em!” Emery and the others turn to look their way, her husband giving her a big smile when he notices her. “Steve, get my usual while I go say hi to the guys.”
“Fine, but don’t think I’m happy about it.” She gives his arm a reassuring pat before crossing the room over to the table just big enough for five men. “And I’m not ordering a side of ranch!”
“Is he in a mood,” Emery asks once she’s by his side.
“Nah, he’s just being prissy today,” Kimberly says, shrugging. It’s nothing new, Emery and Steve have never gotten along, which makes Thanksgiving an awkward affair every year. The go-to method to keep their arguments from escalating is to hand Nicky to one of them and watch them realize they’re acting like complete assholes in front of the one family member that thinks they can do no wrong. “How’s the day going for you guys?”
“Not too bad.”
“We got a new lead on that case Em’s been helping with,” Tony adds, talking around a mouthful of pepperonis. At only twenty-five, Antonio Perez is the youngest in the group, but he had graduated at the top of his class and is quickly following in his mother’s footsteps. He also compliments her cooking, so he’s in Kimberly’s good graces. “We’ll find the bastard in no time.” He claps a hand on Emery’s shoulder, not noticing the older man subtly pulling away.
“Yeah, maybe a few more days depending on my little superpower.”
“That’s great, babe,” Kimberly says, pressing a chaste kiss to his cheek. “When you boys finally do catch him, then we should have a little get-together at our place. I’ll order some tacos and ship Nicky off to his grandma’s house so he won’t have to see his parents getting shit-faced for the first time in four years.”
“Hey, Kimmy, food’s ready,” Steve calls, holding up a pizza box in much the same manner as John Cusack holding a boombox.
“Alright, I’ll let you guys get back to stuffing your faces while you can.” She wraps her arms around Emery’s neck in a hug, breathing in the comforting scent of his cologne. “And I’ll see you after work.”
“Don’t forget that Nicky’s got that parent-teacher conference with the speech therapist,” he reminds her once she pulls back. Kimberly makes a face at that, not much liking meetings of any kind. “That’s the exact same face our darling son made when I reminded him about the meeting this morning.”
“Maybe that’s why he kept throwing his socks at your head. In fact, if these flats allowed for socks, I’d take ‘em off and throw them at you, too.” She looks down at her shoes, suddenly wishing she’d gone with a different pair instead of the cute black ones she currently has on. “Alas, I cannot.”
“And you wonder where Nicky gets his dramatic streak from.” She doesn’t even miss a beat before responding.
“His grandmother, obviously.”
“Well, I can’t argue with you on that point.” Patricia Waterman is well-known for her dramatics, able to get out of speeding tickets and paying full price at grocery stores if only for people to escape her. “You better get over there and eat your pizza ‘cause Steve looks about ready to explode from impatience.” Kimberly looks over her shoulder, spotting her cousin as he begins to shake the pizza box violently.
“That’d probably be smart.” She kisses him again, laughing a little when his stubble tickles her cheek. “I love you.”
“Love you, too.” Before Steve can implode, she walks right past him and to their table set near the back where no one will bother them. Sputtering, he follows right behind her and nearly throws the box down.
“What’s your deal?”
“I only have fifteen minutes to eat before I have to cross town to get back to the college,” he says, flipping the box open and grabbing a slice of the sausage pizza. “Some of us have to work two jobs in order to get by.”
“Get married, it worked for me.” She smiles around a bite as Steve rolls his eyes. “Besides, I have two jobs and they’re both a lot harder than coaching a baseball team.” She furrows her brows, waiting until she swallowed before talking again. “And one of my jobs is your job, too, genius.”
“That’s not the point.”
“What is the point?” He lets out a huff of air, tossing his slice back into the box, only half-eaten. He looks antsy, continuously shifting in his seat as his green eyes look off into the distance. Unbidden, an image of Joyce sitting in her office crops up in her mind’s eye, blurred around the edges. “Joyce?”
“Don’t do that.”
“Then stop thinking so loudly.” Kimberly rubs at her temple, trying to massage away the coming headache. “What about our darling professor has you so worried?”
“Everything’s fine with Joyce.” But he’s looking everywhere except at her when he speaks, his tell flaring to life embarrassingly quickly. Kimberly arches a brow, letting her own slice of pizza drop next to his. “You should eat.”
“So should you.” They narrow their eyes in unison, beginning a staring match that lasts a whole fifteen seconds before Kimberly glances away. “I’ll just ask Nicky about it later.”
“Nicky doesn’t know how to write yet.”
“No, but he’s getting pretty good at sign language.”
“Well, that’s just cheating.” He leans back in his seat, idly plucking a piece of sausage from the mess of cheese and popping it in his mouth. “Joyce is… Well, she’s focusing on her study of you-know-what more than she is me. I’m not saying I feel abandoned, I’d just like to know she loves me for me and not my family history.”
“Have you told her this yet?”
“No, I haven’t had time. Like I said, she’s spending a lot of time in her office at the college and she’s bargaining with people on the phone in her free time. I just about had her bra off yesterday when she remembered she had to go see the caretaker to ensure the guys bringing the equipment could get inside.”
“Yeah, it wasn’t exactly good for my ego. A house built in the nineteen-hundreds is more interesting than—”
“Yeah, I got it,” Kimberly quickly interrupts, cheeks darkening in a blush. He sighs, carding his fingers through his hair only to come up short when he realizes it isn’t long enough for that.
“And while we’re on the topic, you and Emery are still coming with us to the house, right? I don’t think I can handle Joyce by myself if Rose Red decides to eat us.”
“Of course we are. Despite Patricia’s grumbling, it’s money we need if we want to keep the speech therapist.”
“How’s that going?”
“Nicky still refuses to speak, but he’s a fast learner when it comes to writing and sign language.” She frowns as she thinks of her baby, already four and having to learn how to write simple words in order for people to know what he wants at school. “I’m taking him to the doctor next month for another check-up.”
“It’s not a big deal that he doesn’t want to talk.”
“Do you?” Kimberly glances up at her cousin, seeing him more as the older boy she used to idolize rather than the grown man that is just as tired as she is. They’re adults now, but it’s still hard to see him as anything less than perfect. She nods, picking at her lunch with disinterest. “So, about Patricia.”
“Oh no, we’re not turning this conversation around to the issues I have with my mother-in-law.”
Chapter 2: Dreams of Decades Past
It’s late in the evening before Emery is able to find his way back to the apartment, suddenly glad he’d left his phone at home so that his mother couldn’t call and tell him of all the credit card statements that will be sent his way soon enough. As if he isn’t stressed enough by his own bills, he has to worry about his mother’s on top of that. Still, it’s nice that he can escape now, his marriage offering more than just a woman and child he loves.
As he walks into the living room and toes off his shoes, he can hear a faint giggling coming from down the hall. His muscles relax at the sound that means all is well in his world, able to forget the ghostly figures he’d seen just outside the door. Tall and gaunt, the cowboy would have terrified him years ago, but now the sight of him only fills Emery with annoyance.
“Now show me the letter… B,” Kimberly is saying as he comes into the bathroom. His wife and Nicholas are in the bathtub, a line of letters written on the wall with some foam that looks suspiciously like his shaving cream. Nicky points at the right letter, grinning brightly when Kimberly nods. “Good job!”
“He’s got his mother’s smarts,” Emery says, leaning against the sink across from the bath. “Thank God for that.”
“And his daddy’s good looks.” Nicky wipes two of the letters off the wall, working the foam over his cheeks until he has a full beard and sideburns, then turns to face Emery with his little hands in the air.
“Oh, very handsome.” He kneels down, eyes narrowed slightly. “But you seem to have missed a spot.” Emery runs a finger through the letter Q and dabs some of the foam on the tip of his son’s nose, laughing as Nicky smiles at his reflection in the water. “How was that meeting today?” Nicky shrugs, not looking up from his reflection as he begins to draw little shapes along his cheeks. “Kim?” He looks up, but finds his wife doing much the same thing as Nicky, more fascinated by the can of shaving cream than the question. “Seriously?”
“What? It’s not like it was an important meeting. We paid the guy last week and don’t have to worry about that again until next month.”
“Yes, but he wanted to talk with us about Nicky’s progress.”
“So I’ll reschedule for when we get back.” He lets out a sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose between two fingers. It’s one thing for Kimberly to drop their son off before she goes to work in the mornings, but it seems something else entirely for her to attend meetings. It’s like she has a personal vendetta against the things that Emery will never understand.
“Did you at least help him with his homework?”
“Of course.” She bends down to speak into their son’s ear, just loud enough for Emery to hear. “You wanna show Daddy what you did today?” Nicky gives an enthusiastic nod, scrambling out of the bathtub and standing still so that he can get dried and dressed in his jammies. Scooby and Shaggy are printed on the front of his shirt, standing out against the green and blue of the Mystery Machine. “I’ll heat your dinner up as soon as I wash my hair.”
“Take your time, I know you’re tired.” She’s been having nightmares lately, ever since Joyce brought up the Rose Red trip. Just last night, he’d woken up to her twisting violently in their bed, muttering something under her breath that he’d later translated as her great-grandmother’s name. Beatrice Airey is often on her mind in those dreams, like she has a closer connection to her dead ancestor than she does with the rest of her family. Sometimes she’ll stare off into space, seeing things no one else can in much the same way Emery does.
Nicky makes an impatient noise, tugging on Emery’s hand until the older man follows him back down the short hall and across to the kitchenette. Their apartment isn’t very large, but it’s theirs and he can see himself spending the rest of his life here as long as he has his family.
Nicky grabs up a small pile of papers, practically bouncing as Emery takes them from him and looks them over. Most of them are coloring book pages that he’d done in class—none were colored outside of the lines Emery is proud to state—and a couple show that he knows his colors and shapes. A small post-it note in the pile states that he’s having a hard time recognizing his B’s and D’s, but that he’s doing good overall.
“Wow, Nicky, you’re doin’ great,” Emery praises, kneeling down so that he’s on the four year old’s level. “You know what this means? A chocolate milkshake after Mommy goes to bed.” Nicky smiles again, showcasing the small gap between his two front teeth and his dimples. “C’mon, let’s go see what I get to eat tonight.” He scoops his son up in his arms, setting the pages aside on the small table before heading over to the microwave near the sink.
“It’s roast,” Kimberly says, coming into the kitchen. “Your mother dropped it off a couple of hours ago along with a shoebox filled with receipts and credit card bills. I’ll file those under T for trash if you want.”
“If I don’t sort those out, then she’ll move in with us.”
“Or you can take a look at them tomorrow morning, whatever works for you.” He lets out a small huff of laughter, balancing Nicky on his hip as he pulls the plate out of the microwave, steam still coming off the roast and potatoes.
“You two don’t like them so I took one for the team and ate them.”
“Has anyone told you what a great wife you were?” She hums and shrugs, looking like a content house cat that’s just had its back scratched.
“I just think it’s the little things that really build our relationship. I mean, where would we be if I hated carrots, too?”
“Probably arguing over who had to pick them out of our supper.” She nods, taking a seat across from him at the table and sliding a half-finished glass of beer his way. Emery quirks up a brow as he settles Nicky on his knee. “You don’t even like beer.”
“I needed a drink after what I saw on the way home.” She shudders, getting that far off look that only happens when the memories try to pull her down. “There was a little girl on the side of the freeway, her arm…. Oh God, her arm.” Tears gather in her eyes, but she refuses to let them fall, blinking them away as she comes back to herself. “I’m sorry.”
“If we apologized every time something like that happened, then we’d probably be doing it ninety percent of the time.” He gives her a dry smile that she returns, some of the color coming back into her cheeks. “You wanna finish this?” He nudges the glass towards her, but she shakes her head.
“No, I shouldn’t have had the first half of it.” She waves his offer off, shifting in her seat and looking down at her hands as he begins to eat.
They stay like that until he’s finished, none of them quite able to make eye contact as their thoughts carry them off. He can see a little girl just over Kimberly’s shoulder, her sailor dress hanging in tatters off her shrunken form, arm withered and positioned against her thin chest.
Nicky disappears under the table, his arms wrapped tightly around one of Emery’s legs. He isn’t sure if his son can see the girl too or if he’s just reacting to the tensing of Emery’s shoulders, not yet used to the things his parents see on an almost daily basis. He can feel the four year old trembling and reaches down to rest a hand on his head, working his fingers through the curls without taking his gaze off the girl.
“Her name’s April,” Kimberly murmurs, still not looking up. “She’s Steve’s great-aunt and she wants us to come visit.” Her brows twitch and her head tilts to the side, like she’s hearing something faint. “Sh-she says that Steve needs to build.” The girl vanishes a moment later, Emery pushing his empty plate away with a grimace. He feels sick, regretting the meal now that it’s over. “I think I’ll turn in early tonight. Can you handle the baby?”
“Yeah, of course.” He leans up, accepting his wife’s kiss with the same happiness as always. Everything about her is soft and her kisses are no different as she cups his face in her hands. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.” She bends down, pressing a kiss against the crown of their son’s head. “And I love you too, my little prince.”
Dreams are a strange thing when you’re psychic, you can never be entirely sure if they’re just fanciful things or premonitions of events to come. That’s especially true for Kimberly on most nights, tossing and turning with sweat making her shirt stick to her back.
Sometimes, though, the dreams are more like something out of an old movie, things that had happened long ago that Kimberly shouldn’t know about at all. Like how she’d seen her great-grandmother dancing to some upbeat song, the skirt of her dress flaring out whenever her husband would twirl her around. Or how she’d seen her great-uncle crawling his way towards the front gates of Rose Red, his car a burning wreck on the side of the road and a single hand outreached as though if he could just touch the cold iron, then he might survive to see his younger sister again.
When she was younger, her parents would just brush the dreams off as her vivid imagination because how could a five year old possibly describe a dance that was made popular in the early nineteen-hundreds? How could she know about a manor house she’d never even heard discussed before since it had long since fallen into disrepair? But she did know, and she could probably describe Summer’s End in such intricate detail that her parents would have thought she’d hitched a ride there at some point.
It wasn’t until she turned seven that she realized her little ability to know things made the adults nervous. They didn’t like that she knew what bills they were worrying about that week or that she sometimes said things her uncle Alfred had been fond of saying before he died in 1934. And, while she now knew not to say these things to the adults, she could speak freely to her cousin when they were supposed to be sleeping at night.
Crammed into a small bedroom in a crumbling apartment building, Steve and Kimberly had been raised to know that family are the ones you can always depend on, and they’re intent on keeping it that way even so many years later. There are nights where one or the other will get a text that says park, and they’ll know to throw on a pair of pants and some shoes before driving to the old apartment building formerly known as Park Place.
Together, they will curl up on a bench across from the now-vacant lot and just talk through whatever is keeping them up that night. Sometimes it will be Steve telling her about how his rent has been raised and he’ll need extra hours at the bookshop, sometimes it’ll be Kimberly describing her latest dream that seems so jumbled in her head now that she’s awake, and sometimes they won’t speak at all, just taking comfort as their arms press together and warmth spreads through them.
Tonight, though, is a little different than Kimberly is used to. There are no simple flashes of years gone by or a scene of a happy couple played in fast forward. This time her dream is vivid and in color, and she can’t seem to escape; the faster she attempts to run, the more the dream sucks her in like quicksand. Eventually, she just gives in and lets the ancient memory sweep her far away from her bed and into the year of 1909.
Kimberly isn’t sure where she is at first, taking in the elaborate carving in the wood molding, the four-poster bed with the tops shaped into little pinecones, and the view of a sprawling backyard through the windows on either side of the bed. A woman is leaning against one of the walls, dark hair done up in a simple bun and her white, butterfly-adorned dress forming a near perfect silhouette.
The door opening has the woman turning around, revealing delicate features and blue eyes like Kimberly has never seen outside of her dreams. “Is someone there,” she asks, edging away from the wall. Kimberly opens her mouth to answer, only to have someone else beat her to the punch.
“Just me.” The door opens wider and a man steps inside, tall and broad, handsome the way some older men are. He looks to be in his early forties, old scarring along his cheeks and wrinkles around his mouth, his nose a little too small for his face. “I thought I’d stop by and see how you were settling in.”
“Perfectly fine, thank you.” Her voice is soft, barely more than a whisper as she gazes up at the man shyly through her lashes. “Frederick’s up in the library.”
“I’ll talk to him in a moment.” There’s a beat of silence where the pair study each other, unaware Kimberly is just a few feet away doing the same thing. It doesn’t take much to piece it all together, this is Beatrice’s first week inside Rose Red and the man dominating the room is none other than John P. Rimbauer himself. “What do you think of the place so far?”
“It’s beautiful.” Beatrice’s eyes light up and a smile shows the dimples she shares with Nicholas. She takes another step forward, obviously impressed with the manor. “You’ve really outdone yourself with this house, John. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so big.”
“Come now, Bess, your own home was quite a beauty, too. I’m sure Summer’s End will look even better once it’s been rebuilt.”
“Freddy said I could make some small changes to the blueprints once everything’s settled. I was thinking about putting in a little solarium like the one you have here.”
“Near the kitchen?”
“Actually, near the parlor. There wouldn’t be any herbs like there are in yours, just some pretty flowers to make the air sweeter for guests.” She looks excited at the prospect, something Kimberly can understand well after fighting tooth and nail for the little community garden she’d designed for the backyard of their apartment building. “I was hoping Sukeena could help me with it.”
“She’d be honored, I’m sure.” His smile has dimmed at the mention of Ellen’s companion, brown eyes sweeping around the room as though expecting the other woman to appear out of the woodwork. He isn’t fond of her, that much is clear, though Kimberly isn’t sure if it’s because of the woman’s race or just because she has Ellen’s ear. “Well, if you need anything don’t be afraid to drop by my study.” John turns to leave the room only to have Beatrice catch the sleeve of his jacket, fingers pale against the black velvet. He looks at her, taking in her faint blush with raised brows.
“I just wanted to tell you how grateful Freddy and I are that you’re allowing us to stay here until our manor is rebuilt. It’s very kind of you.” John smiles, not a very comforting one, and presses a kiss against Beatrice’s temple.
“Think nothing of it.” The kiss, while it hadn’t been anything scandalous between a brother and sister-in-law, lingered a bit longer than necessary. It’s something that wouldn’t be noticed at first, but the way Beatrice pales suggests it hasn’t been the first time. “I’ll see you at dinner.”
“Yes.” She nods, rubbing her hand against the skirt of her dress as though she’s touched something foul. “Yes, of course.”
Kimberly jerks awake, short hair plastered against her face as she attempts to push the memory out of her head. She hates when that happens, when it just sucks her in and refuses to let her ago until the scene has run its course. Swallowing hard around the lump building in her throat, she pushes the covers off and stands up as fast as she can, almost running into the bathroom.
She splashes some cool water on her face, taking a moment to slow her racing heart as she stares at her reflection. There are dark bruises beneath her eyes, signs of sleepless nights that have gotten even worse since Joyce announced her little road trip. The house eats people and Joyce wants to drag a group of psychics in, that right there should tell the world she’s completely off her rocker.
“It wasn’t real,” Kimberly mutters under her breath, bracing her hands against the cold porcelain of the sink. “It was just a trick.” But she knows it wasn’t, she knows the difference between fake memories and real ones, and the one she’d just seen was too vivid to be fake. She grabs a wash rag and dabs at her face, drying up tears and water all in the same motion.
She’s just about to head back to the bedroom and attempt to snatch a couple hours of sleep, but she stops in the short hallway. There’s the sound of metal on glass, like someone is… Like someone is sneaking him and his son a chocolate milkshake at two in the morning.
Kimberly walks into the living room, trying her best not to smile as Emery and Nicky glance up at her with chocolate around their mouths. Their eyes widen almost comically once they realize they’ve been caught. She tries to appear stern, she really does, but it melts into a smile as she joins them on the couch. “Next time, invite me to your little ice cream fest.”
“You got it, boss.”
The night before the group meeting is relatively uneventful, just Kimberly’s little family eating in her apartment and watching Nicky play. The dinner had consisted of mac and cheese with hot dogs cut up in it, simple and filling for the group of five that occupies the dining area. She and Steve had grown up with it, one of the few quick and cheap meals they can never grow tired of.
The conversation has gone from planning summer barbeques to family stories of summers past and everything in between. Eventually, they trail off for a few minutes, watching on fondly as Nicky builds a small cottage with his Lincoln Logs. They’d been a gift from Steve just last fall, an early birthday present that has earned him the title of the world’s best godfather.
“So,” Joyce asks with a smile, interrupting the peace,” are you guys excited to go this weekend?" The other three adults share matching expressions of not in the least. Unlike Joyce, they fully know what that house is capable of and what spirits it likes to send out on scaring missions.
"About excited as I would be to give birth on the freeway," Kimberly answers with a wry smile. “Which I came very close to doing.” That had been a day she’ll never forget, the thirtieth of October ingrained in her memory for very painful reasons.
“Oh, come on, it can’t be that bad. It’s a dead cell!” It's only dead to people who aren't psychic. Emery shares the sentiment, scoffing at Joyce’s words. He likes her even less than he does Steve, her flagrant disregard of how dangerous the house is only making his dislike increase. "Really, guys, it's going to be fun!"
"The only reason I'm coming is because I'm not letting Steve and Em go without me." Kimberly shifts slightly in her seat as Nicky runs over to her, arms outstretched in a pick me up gesture. She obliges, settling him on her lap with her arms wrapped around his middle to ensure he doesn’t slide off as he wiggles. The four year old seems content to play with an unused fork while the others talk, his curly blond hair tickling Kimberly’s nose whenever he sits up straight. "Have you managed to recruit that one kid you wanted?"
"I'm not sure." Joyce bites her lip, tugging on one of her wild curls as she thinks. Kimberly looks between her and Steve, still not entirely sure she isn't just using him to get to Rose Red because they have nothing in common. Even the Rose Red connection is different—Joyce is obsessed with it and thinks of it as a harmless kitten while Steve hates it and knows for a fact it's an untamed lion waiting to devour the first idiot that walks through its doors.
That must make us the biggest idiots on the planet.
"It's getting late," Steve points out. He’s staring out the window, but not seeing it at the same time. His mind is elsewhere, maybe back at that monster of a house with all of their relatives. "We should get going so you guys can get little man to sleep." Kimberly nods, standing up with Nicholas still in her arms. “I’ll see you guys tomorrow.” He gives Kimberly a long hug, Nicky sandwiched between them until he starts squirming and pushing at Steve’s shoulder.
“I love you, Steve.”
“Love you too, Kimmy.” He ruffles Nicky’s hair, grinning in spite of himself when the little boy shoves his hand away. “What do you say, kiddo, will you be my sidekick tomorrow night? I could use some backup at the college.” Nicky shrugs his shoulders, brown eyes bright with excitement at the prospect of following the older man around.
“If you wanna do that, then you’ll have to be extra good tonight, which means going to bed on time.” Nicky gives his mom a quick hug before making her set him back on his feet. He gives Joyce and Emery hugs, then sprints off for his bedroom. “Wow, that worked better than when we offered to give him money.”
“It’s because he loves me more.” Steve gains a smug expression, though it disappears when Kimberly delivers a light smack to his chest. “Right, we’ll just head out before you break out the flip flops.”
“Be careful tonight, it’s almost a full moon and all the crazies will be coming out.”
“I’m always careful.”
“Tell that to the broken arm you got when you thought it was a good idea to jump off a stack of hay bales at a haunted house.”
The auditorium Joyce has booked for them is one of the smaller ones Beaumont University has to offer, though their assembled group wouldn’t even take up a full row of seating had they been next to each other. As it is, they’re spaced out amongst one of the sections of chairs, a ragtag group of people that look out of place amongst the old brick and arched ceilings of the room.
Kimberly had watched each person come in and navigate their way to a spot; a young blonde woman and an older brunette sticking together in the second row, the former seeming shy despite her gorgeous looks and the latter’s blue eyes shining with excitement behind her square-framed glasses. Behind them is a man that appears to be in his early thirties, skinny with blond hair that looks like he’d just rolled out of bed, seated in the third row by himself with a smile making the corners of his mouth tilt upwards just so. In the fourth row are Emery and an older man that might have been in his mid-fifties if Kimberly has to guess, gray hair tidy, clothing nice if a little worn, and a bolo tie to bring it all together.
Separate there wouldn’t seem to be much special about them but gathered together like this allows anyone to feel the slight pulse in the air that comes with a crowd of psychics. Even Steve, sitting on Kimberly’s left in the first row, shifts in his seat from time to time as though feeling something he can’t explain fully. Not rationally, at least.
“Alright,” Joyce says, taking up her spot on the stage. Everyone’s gaze is drawn to her immediately, her smile bright and comforting as the chatter dies down. “If everyone’s settled, I’d like to begin.” She looks around the room for someone in particular but doesn’t let her disappointment show when she doesn’t find them. “Despite what some people may think, psychic powers have no moral gradient. They’re neither good nor bad much like the technology we use is neither good nor bad.”
She makes the short walk over to the podium, stance confident after talking about this very subject for the past four years.
“Houses are different,” she continues. “Shirley Jackson had it right that some houses are born bad.” She presses a button on the pad in front of her and the lights dim, another button has a picture of Rose Red appearing on the screen behind and to the right of her. Vines cling to the sides of the bricks, climbing higher and higher until they reach the eaves. “Rose Red is the prime example of this.”
“I knew it was big,” the older woman says, almost laughing,” but that’s enormous.” In fact, it’s the biggest house in Seattle, still sparking ooh’s and ah’s from tourists whenever they file in to watch the leaves change. Kimberly can’t wait to see it crumble into dust.
“Yes, Cathy, it’s certainly that. It’s also a dead cell, so we have nothing to worry about.” She keeps repeating that phrase like it’s actually supposed to offer comfort, like no one here will learn how big a lie it is. The picture changes to another part of Rose Red, showcasing the pointed roofs and numerous chimney stacks. “There have been no overt manifestations in Rose Red since 1995 or so. I believe that houses have their own inner lights that may or may not be conscious. If Rose Red ever achieved consciousness, then it manifested itself early.” Another picture in the slideshow, this one showing a busy street from 1906.
“The Seattle of one hundred years ago was a different world,” Joyce says,” more than any of us could imagine. Survival was an actual issue, not a TV show. Bandits were usually the ones to make any sort of fortune, including the man who commissioned Rose Red to be built. John P. Rimbauer is who I’m speaking of, an oil tycoon that had his home built at the top of Spring Street for everyone to see and to impress the woman he was courting. His company, Omicron Oil, brought in money all the way up to 1950, when his wife disappeared.”
The picture switches to one of Ellen Rimbauer, one of the most beautiful women Kimberly’s ever seen.
‘Build,’ a voice hisses in her head, insistent and harsh,’ we must build, we must live.’ Kimberly shakes her head, pressing a hand to her forehead as pressure begins to build.
“…Trouble started even before there was a house,” Joyce is saying, Kimberly only catching the tail end of the sentence. The picture has changed once more to the bare bones of the house, the wood structure reminding Kimberly of a skeleton. “Construction crews worked twenty-four hours a day, most of them Chinese who would work cheap, only stopping when they ran out of lumber. Even then, it wouldn’t take long for more lumber to arrive and whips to be cracked.
“Unfortunately for the workers, the ground they were digging up seemed to drive people insane. On the same day John brought Ellen out to see the house for the first time, the foreman had an argument with one of the teamsters, which resulted in him getting shot. The teamster, Harry Corbin, dropped the rifle back in the wagon and took off to a Seattle saloon for a drink. The police found him there and dragged him off to jail where he later scratched his eyes out and bled to death. It’s my belief that Harry Corbin may have been Rose Red’s first victim. First male victim, that is.”
“He saw Native Americans,” Kimberly murmurs to no one in particular. “That’s why he scratched his eyes out, to make the visions stop.” Steve reaches out and rests a hand on her arm, giving a comforting squeeze as she forces herself to stay in the present. There’s nothing she can do about what happened ninety-five years ago no more than she can change the fact that she has brown eyes.
“What was that, Kimberly?” She looks up and meets Joyce’s gaze without flinching, the headache starting to shift into a full-on migraine.
“I said Corbin was seeing Native Americans in his cell after being found guilty. He felt cursed because he’d been working on top of an old Indian burial ground.” That’s where all the problems stemmed from, disrupting the peace of ancestors far more powerful than some human with a thirst for money. “Sorry to interrupt, Joyce.” She gives Kimberly one last look before continuing with what she’d been saying.
“There’s always been a difference with how the men and women were treated.”
“How do you mean,” the blond man asks.
“All in good time, Nick.” The picture changes to one of a happy family the day of a wedding, the faint sound of clapping heard echoing in Kimberly’s mind. Ellen and John are in the middle, impeccably dressed; four little girls stand in front of them, a preacher in the back, and a young couple to their left. “John Rimbauer and Ellen Gilchrist were married on November twelfth in 1907, just three years after Ellen’s younger sister married Frederick Airey, an up and coming lawyer that worked at Omicron Oil. There was a twenty-year age gap between Ellen and John, nothing too unheard of or scandalous back then.
“By the time they said their vows, Rose Red had been under construction for a year and had already seen three deaths on the property aside from the foreman. One man was decapitated by a sheet of falling glass, another fell from a scaffold and broke his neck, and the third choked to death on a piece of apple.” The picture changes to a completed version of the house, capturing its former beauty. “This is what the house looked like when it was initially completed in 1909 and, in case your memory needs refreshing, this is what it looks like now.” An aerial view, showing the sagging roofs, overgrown ivy, and crumbling chimneys; it’s larger than the last picture, larger even than the pictures from the 1950’s.
“It’s as if it metastasized,” the pretty blonde woman says, confusion plain in her voice. Kimberly would be confused too if she didn’t know the history of Rose Red forwards and backwards.
“How many rooms does the house have,” the old man asks, the sound of a pen tapping against paper audible.
“Depends on the day,” Steve says, speaking up for the first time all night. He’s slumped in his seat, Nicky settled comfortably in his lap and half-asleep. It’s way past his bedtime, but he’s making a valiant effort to keep his eyes open. “You can count on Monday and come up with seventy-four only to come back a week later and get eighty-seven.
“But that’s impossible,” Cathy says, not sounding so sure.
“That’s Rose Red, sweetheart. It likes to keep people on their toes.”
“Exactly how many people have disappeared,” Nick asks, derailing Joyce’s schedule even further. There is frustration in the woman’s eyes, her tense shoulders growing tenser the further off-subject the group goes. “Surely there’s an accurate account of that.”
“Twenty-three since the end of the first World War,” she answers.
“I’d say that was impossible if my wife wasn’t so thorough in proof-reading your work,” Emery says, Kimberly smiling sheepishly. She tends to do her thinking out loud, which leads to her keeping her husband awake until three in the morning while she tries to remember the exact amount of disappearances in total while reading over Joyce’s research.
“I believe I apologized for that already. I brought you a cake the next morning, remember?” Kimberly sure does, she’d ended up falling asleep using her slice of cake as a pillow when her chin slipped off her fist. “Altogether, five men died, and eighteen women disappeared. Rose Red has always been particularly fond of the ladies.” Kimberly pinches the bridge of her nose, not entirely sure why Joyce had chosen to keep that particular line in her speech.
“Please,” Joyce hurries on to say,” remember that we’re speaking about a house that fell dormant years ago.”
“It better be,” the blonde woman says,” because five thousand dollars isn’t enough if it isn’t.” Amen to that.
“When was the last disappearance,” Nick asks. His British accent is nice, reminding Kimberly of her and Emery’s first date; they’d curled up on the couch at his house and watched Jane Eyre, his mother ranting in the background about how Kimberly was a tart who would never steal Patricia’s son away. Well, joke’s on her because she had stolen Emery.
“About thirty years ago,” Joyce says, impatience coloring her tone. “There have been no observable phenomena since—”
“Who was the last one,” the blonde interrupts.
“We’ve got a lot to cover, Pam, so we can’t focus on that right now—”
Steve interrupts her this time around, fingers absently tracing the pale blue veins of Kimberly’s wrist. “It was a woman on the Historical Society’s annual tour. She was with the group when they went up the stairs and no one realized she was missing until the tour was completed. They didn’t find her, but they did find her purse.”
“It was torn to shreds and bloody,” Kimberly adds, seeing it as though it was playing out right in front of her. “She heard a little girl singing in one of the parlors and figured a kid was wandering around without supervision, so she went to find her. I don’t know what got the lady in the end, but it wasn’t very nice.”
“Are you two finished,” Joyce asks, raising her brows. Kimberly and Steve share a look over Nicky’s head, then shrug and look back to his girlfriend. “The woman’s name was Liza Albert. Since her disappearance, the house has been closed to tours. Only the descendants and groundskeeper are allowed on the property. Without the psychic energy to feed on, it seemed fall into a coma. Now it’s classified as a—”
“A dead cell,” Emery finishes, probably as sick of hearing that as Kimberly is.
“That’s right.” If that place is a dead cell, then I’m Elvis. “Rose Red wasn’t finished when John and Ellen got married and they were in no hurry to set up housekeeping. They passed the time with a year-long honeymoon that took them all over the globe from Egypt to Paris and everywhere in between. John’s favorite part of the tour was Africa.” This picture is of John standing in front of a dead elephant, hunting rifle propped against his shoulder as he smiles broadly. “Ellen didn’t enjoy it quite as much. In fact, she nearly died.”
“Was it malaria,” Pam asks.
“Probably not. In her diary, she called it ‘an unmentionable disease carried by men and suffered by women’.” The next picture is of John with yet another hunting trophy to line the walls of their home. All that death makes Kimberly sick to her stomach, not understanding the sport in the slightest. “Doesn’t exactly look prostrate with worry, does he? Thanks to one of the natives in the village named Sukeena, Ellen recovered. When she and John finally took up residence in Rose Red, she was pregnant.” No she wasn’t, she didn’t get pregnant again until they were fully moved in. Kimberly has read and reread the letters and diaries of the Gilchrist daughters, including a passage that said Ellen’s first pregnancy ended in a brutal miscarriage somewhere in France. “January 1909, that would’ve been.
“John thought the house was finished, but he didn’t know the house would never be done. Not in his lifetime, not in hers. What makes Rose Red one of the world’s most fascinating psychic artifacts is that the house continued to grow until its death in 1995 or 1996. Until 1950 changes and additions were made according to the will of Ellen Rimbauer, and her will was iron. After 1950, Rose Red grew on its own. A month after they first moved into Rose Red, Frederick and Beatrice Airey joined them, their own manor house burned in an awful fire. In the fall of 1909, Ellen Rimbauer gave birth to a son.”
“Grampy,” Steve remarks, not overly thrilled about it.
“Your grandfather, really,” Pam asks, the smile clear in her tone. She’s a happy person, probably great with anyone she meets if she’s given enough time to get a read on them.
“I’m afraid so.”
“In her diary she wrote,’ I have called him Adam, for he is the first’,” Joyce says. “Sukeena saw her through the difficult labor and Beatrice a year after that, who gave birth to a son she called Alfred. In her diary, Ellen never refers to Sukeena as her servant. First, she calls her a friend and later her sister. Ellen’s next child was born in 1911, a daughter with a withered arm she named April. She blamed the defect on her African sickness and her husband’s sexual appetites, she wrote,’ In my mind they are one. Damn all men’.
“In the years following the birth of April, Ellen became convinced that her fever, which recurred periodically, would kill her young. That made her easy game for Madame Stravinsky, otherwise known as Cora Frye to police in San Francisco. Not even Sukeena could convince her the old lady was a fraud. Fake or not, Stravinsky changed Ellen’s life in August of 1914.”
“What did she tell her,” Pam asks.
“That Great-gram wouldn’t die until the house was finished,” Steve answers, bored. “Great-gram told her it was finished, and Madame S. told her,’ It isn’t finished until you say it’s finished. Until you say’.”
“Ellen took it seriously,” Joyce continues. “Probably she was right to. Everything else aside, she never had another attack of her African fever.”
“It was probably just psychosomatic,” Emery grumbles from the back.
“Probably just PMS, right, Em,” Steve mocks.
“I wouldn’t be at all surprised.”
“‘The remedy for my affliction is most unpleasant,’” Kimberly recites from memory,”’ though as I understand it, is far less worse than it is, or will be, for John, who has no doubt undergone, and will continue to undergo, a series of injections to an area of the male body that is also unmentionable.’” She turns to look back at her husband with a sarcastic smile, just a faint upraising of the corner of her lips. “That still sound like PMS to you, babe?”
“Sounds like Steve better watch out since diseases jump around on his side of the family.”
“Nicholas,” Steve instructs,” cover your eyes really quick.” Nicky does just that, unable to see his godfather holding up the finger that is considered rude in polite company. As it is, Emery just scoffs and slouches further in his seat. “Alright, Nicky, you’re good.” The little boy giggles, lowering his hands to play with the buttons of Steve’s shirt.
“That’s nice,” Joyce says with a disapproving frown.
“Sorry, Dee, please continue with what you were saying.” She narrows her eyes at him for a moment, probably not believing he’s completely finished at first.
“A new wing started going up the next week.”
“What did her husband have to say about that,” Cathy asks, amused.
“Nothing,” Steve answers again. “She gave him a son in 1909, a daughter in 1911. She had a withered arm, but the son was fine, and his heir was all John Rimbauer actually cared about. In his mind, I’d say Ellen had fulfilled her function and could do as she pleased. Would you agree?”
“Yes,” Joyce allows. “Besides, he had affairs of his own to tend to. Ellen continued to make additions to the house until her disappearance in 1950; over forty years of well-financed eccentricity. When she ran out of conventional things to build, she hired a series of contractors and architects to build unconventional stuff.”
“Such as,” the old man probes.
“The so-called Tower Folly was completed in 1921. John jumped to his death from it two years later.”
“Was it suicide,” Nick asks,” or did he run into something he couldn’t deal with?”
“The certificate claimed it was an accidental death.”
“The gossip said suicide or ghosts,” Steve says.
“And my Great-gran’s diary suggested Ellen and Sukeena played a role in it,” Kimberly adds. “Beatrice didn’t go into any detail, but she said that the other two weren’t very sad after the funeral. Neither was she, to be honest.”
“In any case,” Joyce interjects,” during its active years women in Rose Red had a tendency to turn up missing, and men had a tendency to turn up dead.”
“The bad days are over,” the old man comments. “You’re certain about that?”
“I’m positive, Vic.”
“Than what exactly do you want from us,” Nick queries, asking the question that’s on everyone’s mind. Joyce presses a button and the lights come back on, almost blinding after spending the last ten minutes in the dark.
“First off, how about we all get on a first-name basis? That’ll make things a little less difficult between all of us. After all, this is a difficult enough field without us adding to it. People either don’t understand our goals or refuse to credit our findings. Some people are actively cruel….” She looks lost in her own head, a painful memory that’s dragging her down and away from all of them.
“Research goals,” Steve prompts, getting her back on track.
“Right, yeah. My research goals specify measurable psychic phenomena. Hard data, telemetry readouts, and anomalous energy levels. I want readouts that even the most stupid, sarcastic, obtuse member of this so-called scientific department will have to accept. If I get a little crazy on the subject from time to time, please forgive me. I’ve put in a lot of long days.”
“If Rose Red is a dead cell, how much proof can you expect to find there,” Cathy asks.
“Rose Red is much like a dead frog, apply enough electricity and you’re sure to get a twitch. In this case, you people are my electricity. My goal is a modest one, I just want a single twitch. If I get that my reputation will be secure for the rest of my life. More importantly, together we can legitimize a branch of psychology that has been treated like a poor relation for far too long.”
“Better get it this weekend,” Emery quips,” ‘cause Stevie’s saying bye-bye after that.”
“Tech-Star Condominiums, the future,” Steve says, ignoring the sarcasm. “Soon Rose Red will be a distant memory and the ground will be someone else’s problem.”
“You’re gonna let them tear it down,” Cathy asks incredulously. “But it’s a piece of history.”
“History don’t pay no rent and the kids are broke. It may not be a noble reason, but it means I can keep my apartment and my godson has food on the table for another two months.” He runs his palm over Nicky’s back as he talks, gaze softening as the boy gives him a toothy grin.
“Are we the whole team,” Vic enquires.
“I was hoping for one more, but that’s looking iffy,” Joyce admits, gaze still roving around the auditorium. “If I have to make do with you six, then I’ll count myself lucky. I’ll see you this Friday at two PM sharp in the parking lot. I’m sure it will be a Memorial Day weekend you won’t soon forget.”
For all our sakes, I hope you’re wrong about that.
“The remedy for my affliction is most unpleasant, though as I understand it, is far less worse than it is, or will be, for John, who has no doubt undergone, and will continue to undergo, a series of injections to an area of the male body that is also unmentionable.” —Page 55, The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red
Chapter 4: Ghosts in the Dark
It’s pouring by the time they make it to Patricia’s house after the orientation. They’d promised to drop by and say hello, but it doesn’t take the older woman long to convince Emery that spending the night is best. While Kimberly isn’t fond of the idea—there are way too many stuffed animals in the house for any sane person to be comfortable with—she isn’t fond of driving in this weather either.
That’s why she finds herself wide awake at three in the morning, staring up at the ceiling and consciously ignoring the elephant in the room. The beast is large and takes up the entire nightstand on Kimberly’s side of the bed, its gaze as unseeing as it is unnerving. After the next attempt to fall asleep ends with her throwing the elephant across the room, she gives up on sleeping altogether and shuffles into the kitchen.
It’s a sort of unspoken thing in their family, to gather in the kitchen for a snack if something is keeping them up. Work or ghosts stressing you out? Go eat some ice cream. Bills piling up and starting to resemble Mount Doom? Go eat some cake. Stuffed animals about to make you snap like Jack in The Shining? Go eat some whipped cream. That’s why it isn’t shocking when she finds Emery already there, still fully dressed as though he’s been standing outside in the downpour.
“You okay,” she asks, noting the tension in the line of his shoulders.
“I’m fine,” he answers, shrugging. “It was just Rose Red sending out a warning again. What are you doin’ up this late?” It’s Kimberly’s turn to shrug, opening the fridge and pulling out the spray can of whipped cream. It’s one of the cheaper brands, but it still tastes good.
“The stuffed animals were making me antsy.”
“Try living with them for twenty years.” She scrunches up her nose, moving to stand next to him as he takes in another mouthful of ice cream. “She tried to start a monkey collection in my room until I dumped the box of them out the window. Now I guess she’s more interested in elephants.”
“I love you, babe, but your mother’s insane.”
“No arguments from me.” They lapse into silence, continuing to snack and glancing around the dark kitchen. Nothing seems to have changed since last weekend; the same knickknacks lining the shelves, ostentatious tablecloth, and a stove that might break down at any moment.
It’s little footsteps that break the silence, Nicky appearing a second later in his footie pajamas that he keeps here. Nicholas doesn’t make a sound, pausing just inside the kitchen as he rubs his eyes. He looks exhausted, like he hasn’t slept well in a week even though he takes regular naps and usually sleeps through the night.
“Hey, kiddo.” He glances between the adults, nods, and shuffles forward over to Emery. Already knowing what he wants, Emery kneels down with some ice cream already on the spoon, Nicky licking it off automatically.
“Was Gram snoring again,” Kimberly asks, smiling when her son nods. “Why don’t you get one more bite and then go crawl in our bed? We’ll be there to snuggle in a little bit.” Nicky shakes his head firmly, brows furrowed and bottom lip poking out. “What is it, baby?” He brings his hands up next to his face with his fingers curved like claws, baring his teeth in a silent growl. “You…. You saw something scary?”
“What’d you see,” Emery asks, setting the gallon of ice cream aside. Nicky mimes the beast again and then holds one of his arms against his chest. Kimberly’s heart drops into her stomach, forced to set the whipped cream down before it slips out of her shaking hands. “A little girl?” Another nod, his little hands falling back to his sides. “Do you see her a lot?” A shake of his head this time that has his matted curls swaying.
“Nicholas, I want you to have your listening ears on.” He nods, cupping his ears like he does every day in school. It’s a trick his teacher had come up with to get the kids’ attention, listening ears meaning what she’s about to say is important. “That little girl you saw can’t hurt you, okay? She can’t do anything to you.”
“Mommy’s right. That little girl just likes to scare people.” Nicky chews on his lip, brown eyes glancing around and focusing on something near the backdoor. Kimberly and Emery follow his gaze, Kimberly spotting a faint outline of the blonde girl. She doesn’t see the gaunt form that Emery does or the perfect image that Nicky does, hers is fuzzy and out of focus. “Make a shooing motion.” He does so, the image blowing away like sand caught in a strong breeze.
“And that’s all you have to do from now on. They have no choice but to obey you out here.” Inside those iron gates of Rose Red is another matter, they have their own rules there. “Think you can sleep now?” He shrugs, playing with the black zipper of his pajamas. “How about we all try since you have school tomorrow?” Emery puts everything back in the fridge while Kimberly scoops their son up in her arms, barely registering that he’s getting heavier.
The trio move to their bedroom in the back of the house, curling up in the Queen-sized bed with the quilt drawn up to their chins. Nicky is snuggled between them, one of his hands gripping Kimberly’s tank top and the other tangled in Emery’s hoodie. Since they don’t have pajamas they’ve been forced to improvise, Kimberly ditching her skirt while Emery just decides to sleep in his jeans and hoodie.
It doesn’t take long for Nicky to begin snoring, lost somewhere in dreamland where everything is okay, and no ghosts are lurking. Kimberly tries her hardest, mostly focusing on the way Emery’s hand is warm on her hip, thumb rubbing circles over the bare skin.
“We don’t have to do this, you know,” he says after a while, voice barely more than a whisper.
“I can’t let Steve go in there without backup.” She doesn’t open her eyes as she runs her fingers up his arm, taking comfort in the warmth. “And we really need that ten thousand dollars since business at the shop is about to slow down until classes start up again. You should stay with Nicky.”
“And let you go into that monster of a house with Joyce leading the way? Hell no. I vowed to protect you when we got married and I intend to keep that one.” She smiles a little, a tried one that’s hard to manage. “We’ll get through this, Kim, and then the three of us are gonna take a vacation to somewhere warm.”
“Louisiana’s great this time of year.”
“That’s settled, then. We’ll spend a week in Louisiana rooting through thrift stores, eating fish, and punching alligators in the face if they get too close.”
Chapter 5: This Inhuman Place
The rest of the week passes too quickly for Kimberly’s liking, the three days spent packing and making sure Nicky has everything he can possibly want over the long weekend. In all, there are three bags and only one of them is actually clothes while the other two are toys and the pillow he refuses to leave behind. All too soon, they’re parking in front of the college and it’s time to say goodbye.
“Don’t forget that his naps are always at noon,” Kimberly says as she gets out of the car, shouldering her bag as she goes,” and that he’s allergic to peanuts.”
“I know how to take care of my grandson,” Patricia snaps. “I did raise a fine boy after all, and Nicky’s just like him.” Kimberly rolls her eyes, helping her son out of his booster seat and then out of the old Volvo. Much like everything else, the car looks ready to break down at a moment’s notice, but only Kimberly seems worried about it. She sets Nicky down and straightens his Lion King shirt, tickling his sides to hear him laugh.
“Be a good boy for Gram, alright?” He gives a thumbs-up, eyes twinkling. He’s excited at the prospect of a weekend with his gram, no doubt looking forward to all the shopping they’ll be doing. “I love you so much, Nicky.” He touches his heart and then Kimberly’s, hand warm through the thin material of her shirt.
“Hey, Nicky,” Emery asks, bending down to see him better,” can I get some sugars before I have to go?” Nicholas launches himself up into Emery’s arms, planting a kiss on his cheek and giggling when it’s returned.
“Get your horse out of my car, Kimberly,” Patricia demands, ruining the moment. Scowling, Kimberly gives a short whistle and Bear jumps out of the car. Stopping at her waist, Bear is the largest dog Kimberly’s ever owned and she’s glad to have him. Of course, most of her pride for the Siberian Husky comes from the fact that he never obeys her mother-in-law. “I don’t see how you can stand that thing.”
“He’s a good dog,” she says, patting his head affectionately. “Ain’t he, Nicky?” The four year old runs over as soon as he’s back on his feet, wrapping his arms around Bear’s neck. Bear nuzzles against him, tail thumping against the sidewalk. “Give me some kisses, honey.” Nicky gives her a kiss and then goes back to hugging the dog. “I think he’s more upset over the fact that we’re taking Bear with us.”
“Well, I’d probably miss that dog too if I had you as a mother.” Kimberly, to her credit, doesn’t bite the woman’s head off. Instead she clips on Bear’s leash and carefully unwinds her son’s fingers from the coal-black fur.
“I guess we should get going.” The four other psychics are waiting a yard or so away, gathered on the sidewalk near the large van Steve has rented for the weekend. They’re watching the display, Cathy waving at Nicky and laughing when he repeats the motion enthusiastically.
Emery shoulders his pack and makes to start walking only to have his mother call out. “Don’t make me chase you, Emmy!”
“Mom, I’m okay,” he assures her. They get three feet before she latches onto Emery’s sleeve and yanks him to a stop.
“Oh yes, you’re always okay. Now, listen to me.” As she starts in on instructions, Kimberly sends Nicky a wink and then moves over to join the group. She’s learned from experience that there’s no stopping Patricia from laying down the rules and she’d rather mingle with strangers than listen in.
“Is she always like that,” Nick asks, nodding towards the scene.
“If you think that’s bad, then you should’ve seen her reaction the first time Emery stayed at my place,” Kimberly says. “I thought her head was going to explode.” He smirks, reaching out and running his fingers through Bear’s soft fur.
“…And stay away from that blonde girl,” Patricia’s saying, voice louder than before. “You already married one tramp and I don’t need you shacking up with another.” Pam gives her a look of offense and Kimberly shrugs, used to the barbs after seven years.
“She’s saying that because you’re pretty.”
“Does she always talk about you like that,” Pam asks.
“The only compliment I’ve ever received from her was when I gave birth to Nicky. Even then, she said she was surprised someone like me could make something so precious.” She looks down at her shoes when Patricia kisses Emery, not understanding why he wouldn’t stand up for himself. He has no problems defending himself around anyone else, but it’s like Patricia still owns part of his brain or something.
“I see new frontiers opening up in abnormal psychology,” Nick quips,” how exciting.” Kimberly rolls her eyes, scowling up at the blond as Emery makes his way over to them with Patricia still yelling in the background. The only solace Kimberly has is that Nicky’s being strapped back into his booster seat. “Gosh, the day before summer camp must have been a busy time in the Waterman household.”
“Shut up,” Emery snaps, still trying to get his mother’s lipstick off his lips.
“Babe, he was joking,” Kimberly says. She takes the tissue from him and finishes wiping off the lipstick so he can stop worrying about at least one thing. “I know you’re stressed, but you shouldn’t take it out on other people. We talked about this.”
“I know, I know.” But he’s still grumpy and she doesn’t want the bad mood to affect her own. She pats his cheek before glancing back to the others with a friendly smile.
“He didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“Bad dreams,” Vic asks, bushy brows raised.
“Something like that, yeah.” Nicky had started to see more and more of Rose Red’s little visitors, leading to a long night spent half asleep on the couch with a crying four year old nestled against him. Kimberly would’ve helped, but one of her dreams had grabbed her tight and refused to let her go until Emery shook her awake that morning. “Let’s just say that a certain little boy wasn’t having a good night.”
“Aw, poor little guy,” Pam frowns.
Their attention is captured when Professor Miller strides right over to the van like he owns the entire campus. That’s probably how he feels too, that everyone is trash if they don’t share his views or surname. Well-off or not, his personality resembles a sewer rat. Kimberly scoffs and looks away, arms crossed over her chest.
“Hello,” a pretty brunette woman greets. “Are you the group?” Kimberly’s gaze falls on the newcomers, mustering up a friendly smile when she spots the teenager standing beside the woman. The woman is around the same height as Kimberly, her dark hair barely brushing the shoulders of her coat and a shy smile present on full lips. The teenager has longer, lighter hair and a dimple in her chin, slim fingers playing with a small Raggedy Andy doll.
“The Rose Red group?” At the woman’s nod, Pam continues and shakes the woman’s hand. “That’s us. I’m Pam Asbury. This is Cathy Kramer.” She urges Cathy forward and the two women shakes hands, the cycle continuing until introductions were finished.
“I’m Sissy Wheaton,” the woman says once she can get a word in. “This is my little sister Annie.” She looks relieved to have found the group and exhausted after some late nights. Partying? No, she isn’t the type for that. She probably just works long hours and then comes home and works even more to take care of her sister considering the teen is far away in her own head somewhere. Like Rapunzel in her tower, locked away from the world until she lets down her hair. “I was sure we were going to miss you guys. Traffic was horrible.”
“We’re very glad you didn’t,” Nick speaks up. He gives her a dry smile that matches his sense of humor to a tee. Annie nods towards the dog and Kimberly gives an encouraging smile in return.
“You can pet him if you want,” she says, making sure to keep her voice soft. “He may look scary, but he’s actually a big softie.” The teen holds out a hand, letting Bear sniff it before she cards her fingers through his fur. Bear’s tail wags back and forth at the attention, his head leaning further into her palm.
“Wow,” Sissy mumbles,” usually animals react differently around her.”
“He was raised around a group of psychics, so he’s used to the differences.” And boy is Kimberly glad for that because Bear has helped pull her out of the past more than once when she and Nicky first came home from the hospital. A little nip at her hand and she was thrown back into the present right before her son would start crying.
“That’s great because she loves animals. Isn’t that right?” Annie answers with a vague smile, her emotions blurry around the edges and slippery. Kimberly can’t get a good read on them or any memories that go along with them, but contentment seems to be what she feels most right then as Bear licks her fingers.
“Sister,” Joyce grins, jogging over to the group with Steve walking behind. “Or do you prefer Rachel?”
“Either is fine.” Behind them, the wheels of some bikes begin to spin by themselves, no breeze or passengers around to make them go. “Oh, just stop it, Annie.” At the murmured order, the wheels stop as abruptly as they started with only a faint squeak of well-oiled chains.
“Good God, she’s retarded,” Emery grumbles under his breath. Kimberly delivers a sharp slap to the back of his head, her withering glare letting him know he screwed up.
“If you keep your psychological evaluation of little Miss Wheaton to yourself, we won’t ask you any embarrassing questions about your relationship with your mother,” Nick tells him with a hard stare, voice low so that no one outside the group will overhear.
“How would you feel if someone said that about our son,” Kimberly adds. “All she was doing right then was telling us what she could do in the only way she knew how, Emery, and if you talk bad about her again, then you’ll be staying with Patricia for a week. Understood?” He dips his head in a nod, staring down at his shoes instead of meeting her glare. “Good.”
There’s a second of quiet where Kimberly takes a deep breath to reign in her temper, then Joyce is talking again.
“Folks,” she says, smiling like an excited schoolgirl,” I think we’re ready.” The group piles into the van, Bear seated in the floorboard at Annie’s feet and relishing the extra attention since Nicky isn’t around to provide it. The teenager seems to like it as well, giving her mind something to focus on besides the doll she clutches against her chest.
“I get that you’re cranky,” Kimberly whispers to her husband as they pull out of the parking lot,” but you can’t take it out on a little girl like that.”
“I know,” he whispers back, still not meeting her gaze. “I just didn’t get much sleep last night and we’re going to the freaking House on Haunted Hill where I probably won’t get much sleep either.” He lets out a gusty sigh, running his fingers through his shaggy hair. “I’ll find a way to apologize to Annie later, okay?”
“She’s not going to understand it if you speak, she’s far away from us. Hell, I’m pretty sure the only person she makes an effort to understand is her big sister.” Rachel Wheaton’s emotions are crystal clear, carried on a tidal wave of memories that call out to anyone that can hear them.
The younger woman isn’t psychic in the least, but she’s instinctive and seems to know every trick there is that ensures Annie is comfortable. Annie, on the other hand, has what Stephen King calls a shine to her, glowing like a spotlight even amongst the other psychics in the van. If anyone can make Rose Red spring into wakefulness, it’s little Annie Wheaton and that’s exactly what Joyce has in mind.
The drive to the house only lasts an hour, most of that time spent in traffic as Seattle comes to life around them and people head off for the long weekend. All too soon, the massive house comes into view and Kimberly’s stomach threatens to expel the dry toast she’d had for breakfast. The wrought iron gates are still beautiful despite the vines crawling up them, an elaborate R welded into either side.
Do they stand for Rimbauer or Rose Red, Kimberly wonders as they come to a stop a few feet away. Or maybe something else entirely, like hieroglyphics over tombs that announced a nasty curse waiting for anyone who stepped inside.
“It seems to be looking at us,” Cathy says, voice quivering.
“It is, Cathy,” Nick confirms from the front seat. Kimberly can feel an old memory tugging at her, trying to coax her into letting go of her grasp on the present. It’s different than the usual attempts, this one her own memory instead of a relative’s as her eyes roll up in her head and the scene plays out in sepia tones.
The garden that stretched before her is overrun by weeds and tall grass, scratching at her bare legs as she keeps walking. She’s looking for something, something important, but she isn’t sure what that is yet. There’s a voice, faint like it’s being carried on a breeze, calling her name and drawing her towards the woods on the right side of the property.
“Hello,” she calls, big brown eyes trying to catch sight of the mysterious person. “Who’s there?” There comes a rustling of leaves and then a man is standing in front of her, smiling brightly as though he’s just seen something funny. Kimberly tilts her head to the side, pigtails moving in unison as she tries to figure the man out. “Are you dead?”
“Yes, sweet girl,” he answers, voice slightly accented. He’s pretty and he isn’t scary like the people she sometimes sees, more solid than the usual wisps or shadows. But there’s something inside her, something that sends tingles up her spine, that tells her this man is no more alive than the woman she sees in her dreams. “Did you hear me calling?”
“Did anyone else?”
“Uh-uh.” She shakes her head in the negative, one hand playing with a loose thread on her shorts. “Mama says she don’t hear anything even when the dead people are talkin’ real loud. Steve don’t hear anything either usually, but he heard someone inside.” She turns and points at the massive house rising up out of the earth, bigger even than the castles in her storybook. “He said he was gonna ‘vestigate.”
“You must be careful here,” the man says, kneeling down so that she doesn’t have to crane her head back to see him. “Promise me that you won’t come back.” He holds up his hand and she put hers out as well, letting him shake it like she’s seen her daddy do when he meets with someone that works above him at the library. His hand swallows the six year old’s, fingers cold as they wrap around hers.
“I promise.” Kimberly lets her hand drop back to her side, looking beyond him for something. “Do you know what I’m looking for?”
“Probably the same thing I am. A beautiful woman with eyes as blue as a butterfly’s wing and a voice as soft as yours.” Kimberly’s cheeks heat up in a blush, her head ducking down to hide a bashful smile. That’s exactly what she’s looking for now that the words are out there, the pretty woman she sees dancing through her dreams at night. “Tell you what, I’ll keep looking for the both of us and you run on back to the motorcar. I think your aunt’s looking for you.”
“Kimberly Anne Ravenwood,” the drunk woman yells behind her. “Get your little butt over here before I whoop it!” She bites her lip, running as fast as her feet will let her towards the old station wagon parked in the driveway. Aunt Irene and Steve are waiting there, the former swaying on her feet, purse bulging with a few antiques she’s taken out of the house. “Both of you get in, we gotta get back to the apartment before your parents do.”
The kids clamber into the backseat, neither saying anything as they stare out the window. They don’t have to; Kimberly will figure out what happened to Steve later on while she tosses and turns in her bed. Until then, she’s content to wave goodbye to the nice man that she’s made a promise to. After all, her mama had told her to always be nice to family and she remembers the man from her dreams about ringing laughter and kind smiles.
Kimberly snaps out of the memory with a gasp, brown eyes immediately focusing on the spot where she’d last seen Frederick Airey. There is no blond man with kind hazel eyes there to greet her, just trees that seem to keep going forever.
“Are you okay,” Emery asks, one hand resting on her knee.
“I’m fine,” she says, though even she knows she doesn’t sound convincing. She isn’t fine, isn’t anywhere close to fine, and won’t be fine until she’s home with her son in her arms.
She lets out a shaky breath as the gates swing inward and the van pulls onto the driveway, circling around what must have been a beautiful fountain once upon a time and parking just a few feet from the front door. As she looks up at the cracked bricks and overgrown weeds, another Stephen King quote comes to mind, meant to describe a monstrous hotel yet fitting this behemoth as well.
This inhuman place makes human monsters.
Chapter 6: Birds of a Feather
Getting out of the van proves a little harder than getting in had been, long legs and short ones alike all twisted up in a rush to breathe fresh air. Bear is the last one out, walking alongside Annie as though he thinks protecting kids is his sworn duty. Kimberly isn’t going to complain, smiling as Annie plays with some of the fur atop the dog’s head.
This close, the house appears even bigger compared to her five feet and five inches, the brick carrying a rosy hue that probably helped Ellen conceive its name. She moves over to the large fountain in the center of the circle drive, plucking a few dead leaves out of the dry basin and letting them float to the ground on a faint breeze.
“Hey, Kimmy, a little help,” Steve calls. She nods, wandering over to where the others have gathered behind the van, divvying up the equipment.
“What are these,” Nick is asking as Kimberly joins them.
“House plans,” Steve explains, handing a case off to Kimberly and another to Joyce. “They’re probably about as useful as a fourteenth century map of Africa.” Nick hands the rolled up plans off to Annie with a kind smile, the teenager accepting them without a word. She’s closer to earth it seems, but still far above the others.
“Flashlights,” Kimberly asks, taking another case from Steve.
“Yes, and a coil of rope just in case.” The rope is passed on to Cathy, equipment slowly moving down the line as Steve looks down to Annie. “How are you doing, sweetie?” The teen just looks up at him, like she can see everything whirring around in his mind despite the practiced smile to keep the worry at bay. Steve lets out a sharp breath, eyes snapping up to one of the upper floors as though lost.
“What is it,” Nick asks in concern. “What do you hear?”
“It knows we’re here.” Kimberly follows his gaze, trying to find anything that can scream loud enough that her cousin can hear it. There isn’t a psychic bone in his body, but maybe Rose Red is on a wavelength only he can hear. Well, she amends with a glance at the girl standing just behind her, Steve and Annie, that is. “It wants us here. God help us. It wants us here.”
She strains to hear anything that Steve can, using all of her senses as she stares up at the house. It isn’t until she reaches out to grasp Steve’s hand that it happens. It comes at Kimberly all at once, a jumbling of words spoken in a harsh whisper that seems to echo around them like firecrackers.
‘Houses are alive,’ comes a strange, feminine voice. It rises and lowers as though on a breeze, only allowing Kimberly to catch parts of the sentences. ‘News from our nerve endings… Having bad dreams…. Blind hate of our humanity.’ It fades away gradually until not even Steve can hear it.
“It stopped,” Nick says, looking over at the cousins. “I heard it too, but it’s gone now.”
“What,” Joyce demands. “What did you hear?”
“There were words, but they weren’t clear.”
“They were jumbled,” Kimberly supplies. “It was like people were trying to talk over each other.”
“Exactly. Except it was all the same person, I think, a woman or… I dunno, it was hard to grasp onto. What about the rest of you?”
“I might have heard something,” Cathy says, laughing nervously. “It might’ve just been my imagination, though.” She’s clutching at a carpet bag like it’s the only thing keeping her from bolting, but Kimberly is doing much the same to Steve’s hand. She goes to release it with an apologetic smile, but he holds it tighter. There’s panic in his eyes, the olive green darkening as his emotions run riot.
“But what was it,” Joyce demands again, impatient as she turns her gaze back to Steve.
“How should I know,” he asks defensively. “You know as well as I do that the only psychic claim I have is guessing who’ll win on America’s Funniest Home Videos. You’ve got the test results to prove it.” He meets Nick’s stare, trailing off with furrowed brows. “What?” Nick shakes his head, a knowing smiling turning up one corner of his mouth.
“Pam, can you come with me?” Kimberly looks away from the two men and over at the women as they head to the front doors, then down at her shoes. They’re simple black flats, the same ones she’s owned for going on three years now and will only throw away when they break down completely.
“Kimmy, are you okay?”
“I’m about as good as you are,” she answers, picking up the case she’d dropped earlier. She hadn’t even realized it at the time, but now she’s hoping nothing inside is damaged that will be taken out of Joyce’s paycheck.
“Emers, old boy,” Nick calls, light tone breaking the growing tension,” why don’t you come give us a hand? It seems to be the butler’s day off.”
“Don’t call me that,” Emery frowns, grip tight on the straps of his pack.
“Hey, I helped the two of you move into your apartment and set up Nicky’s crib,” Steve snaps,” the least you can do is carry a couple of these boxes.” Emery grumbles under his breath, grabbing one of the larger cases almost violently and stalking back to the front doors. “You’d think he’d be a little nicer to the man that watches his kid every other Sunday.”
“You just love tormenting him,” Kimberly replies,” and he loves tormenting you, it’s your thing. I’d rather you two stop the bickering and make it to the pumpkin pie before the fighting starts, but at least you haven’t killed each other yet.”
“They’re about to spend three days together in one house,” Nick quips,” so you’ll know what happened if one of them and a shovel turns up missing.”
“That happens and I murder whoever survived.”
“There’s plenty of space for you to dispose of them.”
“You see, Stevie, me and Nick have a game plan, so you two better keep your tempers in line.” Steve musters up a smile, barely more than a twitching of his lips, but it’s a smile all the same and Kimberly will take it. “What you heard just now, with all those voices, it’s probably just because of your family ties to this place. It should stop again when we leave.”
“Comforting, isn’t it? You get to leave your demons behind you while ours cling to us like spider monkeys.” Nick is only joking, the gleam in his eyes makes that clear. The remark is dry like all the others but appreciated. They all need a good dose of humor if they’re going to survive the trauma of this place. “So, how old were you when you got lost in there?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Steve deflects, straightening up from setting another case on the ground.
“You must have been around seven since your cousin was six in her memory. Strange how they intertwined like that, each meeting a relative that was lost on the grounds. Kimberly’s experience wasn’t as haunting as yours was since it was out in the open, but you were trapped in a room with colored light. You felt as though you might choke on the smell of sawdust.”
It clung to everything, Kimberly remembers, his clothes and memories, like it didn’t want to let him go.
“It didn’t, Kimberly.” She glances over at Nick again, grip on the cases tightening a fraction. Mind reader, then. Good to know. “It wanted him back then. What happened to you in there, Steve? What did you see that made you so frightened?”
“Nothing,” he says, trying to sound firm. “I didn’t see or experience anything.” He grabs up one of the heavier cases and stomps off to the front doors, Nick and Kimberly watching him go. Nick steps up to Annie, patting her shoulder with a smile.
“You know, don’t you? As do you.” He glances at Kimberly over his shoulder, the knowing smile front and center. “You can’t quite make it out from all the memories you have stored away in little boxes, but you know it’s there.”
“Sawdust,” she says, nodding,” and something about high turrets or maybe it was towers.” She shakes her head, squinting up at the manor house. “My great-grandpa never smelled like that when I met him.”
“He smelled like flowers that bloom in summertime.”
“It means he was a good person in life. The good ones always smell like our favorite things.” Kimberly smiles at the thought, searching through the vague memories that aren’t hers and usually finding the blond man with a smile aimed at his wife and children. “Come on, let’s go join the others.” Nick leads the way to the front doors, Kimberly and Annie following behind without a backwards glance.
“What were you two talking about,” Emery asks when she’s standing beside him. He isn’t jealous, not the type for that, just curious as she meets his gaze.
“Psychic stuff,” she answers honestly. “And about how we could bury you and Steve in the backyard if you both keep fighting.”
“You can’t bury me in the backyard, I’m the only one that can get our son to sleep.”
“I knew there was a reason I kept you around.”
The front doors swing inward, revealing to everyone a massive entryway. Stone columns support archways far above their heads, the floors made of fine wood with black marble cutting through it to make large squares, a beautiful chandelier hanging above three short steps that leads to a raised portion of the room. There’s a sturdy table set up there with more equipment already set out on it, two curving staircases seeming to grow out of the floor and meet again at the second landing, and a short hall stretching on between the two.
On the walls of the entryway, visible between the massive columns, are paintings of the Rimbauer family; Ellen, John, Adam, and April all dressed in their best clothes and smiling for a painter long since dead. Closer to the table is a painting of two small children, a little boy showing off a missing tooth as he grins and a younger girl with a dimple in her cheek. Where the little boy favors the Gilchrist looks with dark brown hair and gorgeous blue eyes, the girl resembles her father with hazel eyes and blonde hair straight as a pin.
Alfred and Ellie Airey, eight years apart even if they didn’t look it since Alfred still boasted a youthful face. He would be ten in the picture while little Ellie, named for her aunt and godmother, was two. Ellen had probably been behind the painting being done, spoiling all the children as much as she could get away with.
There are animal heads mounted along the walls as well, a parlor branching off on the left that has more doors that lead to even more rooms. The house is like a labyrinth, stretching on and on forever with no hope of reaching its center. On the raised portion of the floor are marble statues in little alcoves along the walls and a grandfather clock that looks pristine, the wood dusted, and the gold-inlayed hands polished to a shine behind the glass.
“My aunt and uncle used to play in here,” Kimberly murmurs to no one, turning around in a slow circle to take it all in. “They’d chase each other up and down the stairs and under the table until they couldn’t breathe.”
“And then they’d beg their mother for a snack,” Steve adds with a laugh. “If their parents were anything like ours, then they weren’t allowed those snacks until they promised to calm down.” Steve’s attention drifts to somewhere on Kimberly’s right and she follows suit, finding Vic holding up the remote that opens the gates. “The caretaker must have left it here when he let in the guys that brought the equipment.”
“Won’t he miss it,” Vic asks, shaking the remote a little for emphasis.
“François probably won’t even realize he left it here. He’s pushing eighty and we’re lucky if he remembers to come by every two weeks to check that the place is still locked up. Besides, the gates will be gone after September.”
“And so will the house,” Kimberly states, setting the cases down on the floor. “Thank God for small miracles.” It’s not until she feels Steve nudging her that she looks away from Vic, catching the tail end of a dirty look from Joyce. The woman hates that Rose Red will be turned into condos, but she also doesn’t have random ghosts showing up in her living room either.
“There’s a flashlight for each of you,” she says, changing the subject. “I suggest you keep it on your person at all times.” Steve hands them out, pulling them from one of the cases he brought in.
“The power’s fine most of the time,” he explains,” but it’s fickle.”
“I have a feeling that looking for the fuse box wouldn’t help us any,” Nick quips.
“Puget Sound Energy wouldn’t do us much good either.”
“But what about the equipment,” Cathy asks worriedly. “Wouldn’t a power outage ruin anything you document?”
“No, everything would switch over to battery,” Joyce assures her. “I think it’s time we got started.” Kimberly glances up at the second landing, spotting a faint shadow as it darts down the stairs, her gaze following it to the doors at the other end of the room right as a strong breeze starts up. The psychic wind carries dead leaves inside with it, blowing Annie’s hair this way and that while Bear’s fur remains untouched.
“Where’s Annie,” Sister panics. She spins on her heal in time for the doors to slam shut with a resounding crack through the entryway, the wind disappearing the second the task is finished. The teenager is unbothered by the noise, her only reaction to reach out a hand for Bear to nuzzle against.
There’s a softer noise and then Joyce is speaking into her tape recorder. “Friday afternoon, 3:17 p.m. We’ve just experienced our first paranormal phenomenon—a phantom draft.” She clicks stop on the recorder and pockets it before looking to the rest of the group. When the wind had started up, everyone shuffled closer to each other and ended up almost shoulder-to-shoulder. Birds of a feather, indeed.
“Joyce, how about a tour,” Pam suggests. The timid expression points towards the blonde wanting nothing more than to run as far and fast as she can, but there’s an excitement beneath it that Pam is falling back on comfortably.
“Right, let’s begin.”
Chapter 7: The Grand Tour
“The only thing I insist on is that you don’t go off exploring on your own,” Joyce says as she pushes open a pair of doors. “The geography of Rose Red can seem unstable.” That’s an understatement.
“We could always sleep in groups,” Pam suggests. “Us girls can sleep in a room like in summer camp.” The excitement is gaining ground, which is a good thing for Pam. If only Kimberly could summon the same emotion, she might actually get through this weekend without losing her mind.
“I’ll sleep with Emery and after midnight we’ll raid the fridge,” Nick jokes, draping an arm around Emery’s shoulders. Emery gives a sarcastic smile before shrugging the arm off, moving closer to his wife. He doesn’t normally take jokes well, but he’s better than he had been when they first met.
“The bedrooms are perfectly safe,” Joyce assures the group. “I just don’t want you all wandering around and getting lost. It’s a big house as you well know, and groups are safer in the halls.” The next doors Joyce opens lead into the kitchen, the checkered tiles on the floor shining under the overhead lights. “I think you’ll find this interesting.”
“You could make Thanksgiving dinner for a hundred people in here,” Cathy remarks, looking around with her eyes wide in fascination. Just like the other rooms in the house, the kitchen is massive with a door on the other side of the room that leads out to the solarium.
“Maybe after the place was fumigated,” Emery says with a criticizing gaze.
“Aren’t you a charmer,” Nick comments. “It’s no wonder you managed to woo Kimberly all those years ago.”
“Was I talking to you?”
“Easy, babe,” Kimberly says with a stern look. “No need to be snotty.” He makes a noise but doesn’t say anything, sending one last glance around the room before they follow the others into the solarium. There’s one nearly identical to this at Summer’s End, though connected to the main parlor and consisting of only flowers instead of flowers and herbs.
“Ellen Rimbauer called this the ‘health room’,” Joyce explains as they all file inside. Most of the plants are dead or in the process of dying, the smell of decay hanging in the air like smog. “We would call it a greenhouse or solarium.” There are white wicker chairs and wooden tables taking up a cleared space near the center of the room, rotting and covered in leaves. “A railroad executive named George Meader, a friend and drinking buddy of John, died in here after the end of the first World War. According to a doctor he was stung by a bee and died of an extreme allergic reaction.”
“Remind me not to spend time in here,” Vic whispers, nodding towards a beehive. Kimberly’s gaze lingers on it for a moment, straining to make out any buzzing sounds.
“As I told you a few days ago, men didn’t do so hot here in Rose Red’s youth.”
“Way to reassure the menfolk,” Nick comments.
“I’m sure you have nothing to worry about. Just don’t forget the buddy system we all learned about in pre-school. If you see someone that doesn’t belong, then do the stranger danger routine and we’ll all come running.” As they get closer to the hive, Vic and Kimberly can see the bees flying around it. Thankfully they seem preoccupied and leave the psychics alone.
“Hey, hold on a second,” Steve says, striding ahead a few feet and scooping something up off the ground. He turns with the object in hand, holding up a cell phone with the red light blinking to show a missed called. “What’s this?”
“Did the caretaker leave that, too,” Vic asks dubiously.
“Considering François is totally against phones of any kind, I highly doubt it,” Kimberly says, arms crossed over her chest. “The equipment guys didn’t leave the entryway in the front of the house and the other workers wouldn’t come in here.”
“Should we call the last dialed number and ask them if their refrigerator’s running,” Nick asks, only half joking. Steve presses redial and holds the phone against his ear, the group waiting with bated breath to see who answers. After a moment, Steve gains an amused smile, shaking his head.
“Hello, Professor Miller,” he says, dodging Joyce as she makes a go for the phone,” this is Joyce Reardon’s friend, Steven Rimbauer. We seem to have found a piece of your property here in Rose Red. Given that we saw you right before we left, I’m confident enough to say you didn’t drop it yourself. However, I’ve got a pretty good idea of who did. The guy who wrote that trashy story in the newspaper, right? I know that trespassing isn’t a very serious crime and abetting a trespasser is probably even less serious, but I bet your dignity would take a huge blow if nothing else. Guess who’s gonna be the cover boy for next week’s newspaper? Have a nice day.”
Kimberly claps when her cousin snaps the phone closed, pride swelling in her chest. If there’s one thing her mother had passed on to both children, it’s the proper way to be an asshole without coming across as too cocky. Alana would be proud to know that lesson has stuck even if the one about not eating in bed hasn’t.
“How can you be sure that that was the Professor’s phone,” Cathy asks, looking as unsure as she had about the whispering earlier.
“Who else would send someone in here,” Joyce demands. “The proof is in the contacts list if you want to take a peek. Fifty bucks says one of them is that son of a bitch, Bollinger.” Bollinger, the college student that had been lurking in the back of the auditorium and snapped a picture right as the group had formed a circle. He’s a cockroach, annoying and always seeming to be underfoot at the worst time.
“If the reporter had the phone, then where’s the reporter,” Emery queries.
“Maybe the house ate him,” Pam says. “That’s what it’s known for after all.”
“The more likely scenario is something paranormal happened and he ran off with his tail between his legs,” Joyce soothes, shrugging it off. “And if he’s still sneaking around, then we’ll find him before the weekend is over. Come on, group, let’s—”
“Are you sure that we shouldn’t notify someone?”
“Why? If he’s here, then he’s trespassing like Steve said. If we get the cops involved, we’re apt to find ourselves with half a dozen officers stomping through the house and roiling up the atmosphere and he’ll win. That pig Miller will win in spite of everything and I won’t let that happen. I refuse!” Her voice rises as she speaks and the last sentence is almost yelled, Steve putting a hand on her arm.
“Whoa, it’s okay,” he assures her. “We’re not letting him win.”
“And Bollinger will get a stern talking to before we throw him out on his ear,” Nick adds in reassurance. The others echo the sentiment, not willing to release the hooks they’re sinking in for anyone that threatens to tear it all away. Joyce smiles in relief, the joint belief the group has in her adding some confidence.
“Care to enlighten us about the rest of the house?”
“It’d be my pleasure,” she nods, still smiling. They all turn and head back the way they had come, reentering the kitchen with its two prepping tables and shining tile floors. Unlike the floor, the tiles making up the walls are small and white, the surface marred by old grime and cobwebs. Joyce hops up on one of the tables, the spool of rope placed next to her and still bound loosely.
“I believe we’re lingering in the kitchen because Joyce wants to tell you about my great-aunt April. Go ahead, Joyce.”
“Are you both sure?”
“I never even knew the kid so go on.” Joyce turns her gaze to Kimberly and the brunette shrugs a shoulder, not caring one way or another. She’s never met anyone involved in the situation, not even when she drives past in order to get home at night. Sure, she catches glimpses of a sailor dress out of the corner of her eye, but she always does her best to ignore April.
“April was six years old when she disappeared. Her older brother, Adam, was away at boarding school and her cousins were visiting. Kim, you wanna fill them in on that account?”
“It was 1917 and my great-gram Beatrice wanted to come visit for a weekend and let the kids play,” Kimberly says. “She and Ellen would talk in one of the parlors about whatever came to mind while John and Frederick drank in the study and pretended that they actually liked each other. Alfred, while sad Adam wasn’t around, was just happy to have another child close to his age to play with.”
“Wait,” Cathy interrupts,” Adam was already at boarding school? Wasn’t he a little young?”
“He was eight,” Joyce informs her with a nod. “John held no trust for Rose Red and wanted his heir far away from here despite how much Ellen protested. It was one of the few times he actually told her no about something. This—” She gestures vaguely around at the kitchen “—was the last place April Rimbauer was ever seen.”
“She and Alfred were having a tea party near the pantry door over there, where they’d been most of the morning after breakfast,” Kimberly fills in, able to picture it like it’s her own memory. Two children sitting a small table with china tea-cups grasped gently in their hands.
“That’s right. Sukeena was watching them as she got things ready for lunch. She stepped into the pantry for what she swore was no more than thirty seconds, just long enough to gather a few potatoes, and April was gone when she came out. She could hear April singing close by, but it was cut off by a scream that had everyone running.”
“My great-uncle witnessed it all and was asked by his parents and April’s about what happened, but he refused to talk. It was like he blocked the entire event out in order to keep going. He was catatonic for three days before he snapped out of it and asked why his aunt Ellen was crying.”
“While he was catatonic, fifty men searched the house and grounds. They found nothing, not even a lock of hair or a thread from her dress.”
“Great-grandfather was convinced Sukeena had something to do with it,” Steve adds. “He had her taken downtown to be interrogated. Ellen objected in the strongest possible terms, but John respectfully declined to listen. Sukeena was taken to a small basement room and questioned for no less than fifty hours; no sleep, no food, no bathroom breaks, and no mercy. She ended up convincing them that she was innocent, but it cost her three teeth, a broken nose and a broken wrist. She was eventually allowed to return home again. Well, the only home she had left.”
“When can we go upstairs,” Emery asks, looking to Joyce for an answer. “I hear that’s where all the weird stuff happens.”
“Aw,” she teases,” your read all my papers.”
“No, my wife reads aloud, and it was either listen to that or try to drown her out with Scrubs.”
“Hey, I’ll take it.” She slides down off the table and Emery follows suit beside her, both smiling. It’s rare to see them getting along—even rarer than him and Steve agreeing on something—so Kimberly isn’t about to screw it up. “Let’s head upstairs and see what we can find.” The rooms have changed when they leave the kitchen behind, a staircase coated in dust and cobwebs winding up far above their heads.
“I didn’t notice that one before.”
“Neither did I,” Nick says, serious for once. “So it’s begun.”
“I think there should be an inscription on the front gate,” Kimberly tells them, staring up at the sharp geometrical points of the balusters. “‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here’.”
“It would certainly fit in with the mythology.”
“Nick,” Joyce calls from the front. “Could you tie the end of your rope to that pole there? If nothing else, it’ll help us come back the way we came when we’re done upstairs.” He nods and secures it without a comment, pulling on it to make sure it will hold.
“Can’t we just bring the plans with us,” Cathy asks, unaware of how naïve she sounds. Like Steve had said earlier, the plans are about as useful as a knife in a gun fight.
“You can’t trust the plans in a house like this,” Steve explains.
“And it’s only a safety measure,” Joyce continues. “So follow me and prepare to be amazed.” Much like the rest of the house, the stairs seem to go on forever, forming a perfect square if you look down from the top. The further up they go, the more changes Kimberly takes in, the wood paneled walls turning to rough brick and the opulence dimming a little as they leave behind the part of the house guests would use.
Waiting at the tip-top is a simple door that leads into a hallway Kimberly has never seen before. It’s disorienting at first, things made small to look as if they’re far away when you actually have to duck to avoid whacking your head on one of the wooden arches.
“Ellen called this the perspective hallway,” Joyce announces, sounding more like a tour guide than anything. And if you look to your right, you’ll see the mangled corpse of a poor maid that John Rimbauer wanted rid of. The thought isn’t a cherished one, but it probably isn’t far off the mark either. “It was her first major addition that an architect didn’t design.”
“She made it up herself,” Cathy guesses, smiling. The excitement is starting to seep into her as well, blue eyes gleaming behind her glasses. “Way to go, Ellen.”
“Actually, it was Sukeena.”
“Her maid,” Emery asks, sounding doubtful.
“Her companion. I detailed this fact in my papers, Emery.” He rolls his eyes, sending his wife a look of exasperation that their son can mimic to a tee. Pam moves ahead of the group, trying the child-sized doorknobs of the equally small doors, moving from one side of the hall to the other with the hope that one will open to reveal something magical.
“It’s so wild,” she says with a bright grin. “It’s like something in a fun house.” She’s careful to avoid bumping her head, moving back to the right side of the hall and jiggling another knob. The group pauses to watch, Kimberly reaching out to run her fingers over one of the crests etched into the oak wood. It’s stained a dark red, just a touch darker than the ruby red velvet papering the walls, smooth beneath her touch. Did my ancestors walk through here once upon a time? Were they happy?
‘We should go back downstairs.’ The whispered words snag Kimberly’s attention and she turns slightly to find the person that spoke. There, by one of the benches that are spaced evenly against the walls, is a young couple. Probably in their mid-twenties by now, the woman sporting blonde hair done up in a casual bun at the base of her skull and the man broad-shouldered with the most gorgeous green eyes that Kimberly’s ever seen. ‘It’s dangerous to wander.’
‘Relax, Ellie, it’s only a house. And besides, I think I can stand up to any illusions this beast of a house throws our way.’ The man smiled and cupped one of her cheeks and the woman smiled in return before both of them dissolved away as though they’d never been there in the first place. Which, she supposes, is partly true. Her grandparents had stayed here a short time while visiting Steve’s grandparents and Nana Ellie had told Kimberly all kinds of stories about the things she’d seen while here.
“Bollinger!” She’s tugged back to reality by Steve shouting, head poked inside one of the rooms. A whole section of the wall has swung inward, revealing a bed carved of heavy wood and draped with moth-eaten blankets, dust motes floating around in a beam of sunlight. “Hey, Bollinger, are you in there?” As if the house is answering, a gust of wind comes screaming out, blowing clothes and hair back with a force that’s almost enough to steal the breath out of her lungs.
“No,” Annie screams, walking right up to the doorway without a trace of her earlier shyness. “You stop that!” The door slams shut with a bang that echoes in her ears, Kimberly groaning as she takes an unsteady step backwards.
“Who else votes that we don’t yell into random bedrooms anymore,” she asks, raising her hand.
“That’s one club I’ll sign up for,” Pam says with a nod. “Do you think that screaming thing happens a lot around here?” Kimberly shrugs, looking around for any sign of the things that go bump in the night.
“With all the deaths and disappearances that have added up over the years, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dracula was holed up around here somewhere.” And, in the spirit of honesty, a Hollywood vampire hanging upside down in some downstairs closet will hardly be the weirdest thing to have ever happened inside Rose Red.
“Sukeena was the first person to hear Rose Red scream shortly after April disappeared,” Joyce picks back up. “In the mid 60’s, a team of scientists spent time investigating Rose Red and heard the house scream several times. They managed to record a couple of them, though they don’t sound half as impressive on tape.”
“What conclusion did they come to,” Nick asks.
“That they were hearing the sound of underground water that was amplified by the old water pipes that run under this part of Seattle.”
“Underground water,” Vic checks dubiously.
“When faced with this sort of phenomenon, people tend to protect their belief systems ferociously. Isn’t that right, Kimberly?”
“My mother did,” she confirms. “Anytime I’d come up and ask her about the nice woman I saw walking through dusty halls in my dream, she’d tell me to stop fantasizing and go pray. I think that’s part of the reason she gave me this.” Kimberly fiddles with the small cross that hang around her neck, the black gems sparkling where they catch the light. “She was afraid that I’d end up like the rest of our family and I’m pretty sure she’d have a fit if she knew where I was right now.”
“Did she ever believe you about being psychic,” Cathy asks, leaning forward slightly to see her around Sister.
“I think so, yeah. We had a few other psychics in our family, dating all the way to my great-grandfather, but they tended to die tragically. My father helped me the best he could, but he didn’t really understand why I could do the things I did.” She lets out a long breath, remembering the nights Samuel had cuddled with her in the living room, just listening to her describe the things she’d seen while asleep. “Isn’t there a reason you brought us up here, Joyce?”
“Yes, right,” Joyce nods, rolling with the obvious segue. “The hallway we’re standing in right now is the last place Ellen Rimbauer was ever seen. John and Ellen moved in on January fifteenth, 1909 when Ellen was just barely in her twenties. She marked the occasion by wearing the same white dress she had on the day they arrived. For many of those years Ellen threw a party on January fifteenth and everybody who was anybody showed up, from politicians to movie stars. When the actress disappeared, the parties stopped.”
“Finish telling us about old Mrs. Rimbauer,” Cathy urges, following Joyce’s lead.
“She disappeared on January fifteenth in 1950 at seventy years old. A maid saw her and wished her good evening and she swept by as though she didn’t even hear her. And that was the last anyone ever saw of her.” No, it wasn’t, Kimberly thinks, looking over at her cousin. She can remember the smell of sawdust that clung to him for days after their first visit to the house as children, the nightmares of a beautiful woman holding a hammer. “Come on. There’s lots more to see and the day is young.”
“Watch your step,” Vic advises seconds before he’s forced to keep Kimberly from tripping over a threshold. “I suppose I should’ve warned you sooner.” They share a smile as she rights herself, following the others out into a new hallway.
“The room we’re about to enter is the gymnasium. Although the exercise equipment is out of date….” Joyce trails off as they enter the new room, the overhead chandelier revealing a glass floor, domed ceiling, and bookcase after bookcase built into the walls. More changes, though not for the better.
“This room demands a particular form of exercise.”
“How on earth…?”
“It’s the mirror library,” Steve fills in as they shuffle inside. Like the prospective hallway, the mirror library is disorienting at first. The glass floor reflects the ceiling above, all the wood supports that curve to keep small glass panels in place. There’s a fireplace and chairs on the left, the mantle decorated by two candelabrums on either side of a small clock. “This room isn’t in the plans, but I remember seeing it as a boy. I was afraid to go in because I thought I’d fall right through.”
“How can they not be in the plans,” Emery asks.
“Do you really have to ask that question when a room screamed at all of us not five minutes ago? They’re not in the plans because Ellen didn’t want them to be and she got away with it because she was dead when it happened. My grandfather made note of it in one of his journals and my aunt Ellie could attest to it when she was still alive.”
“Look,” Cathy interjects before an argument can erupt,” there’s a camera.” She hurries over to it, shifting it around until she sees something that makes her gasp. She hands it off to Nick when she comes back to the group.
“Well, that’s certainly not good,” he says, holding it up for the others to see. “According to the writing here, this belonged to our dearly missing Kevin Bollinger.”
“Mister Bollinger,” Pam calls out. “Mister Bollinger, are you here?” Just like before when someone called his name, the house answers. Instead of wind strong enough to knock you off your feet, the lights in the room extinguish all at once, leaving everyone to fumble with their flashlights until they have them on.
“Nobody panic,” Joyce commands gently. “We all knew this could happen. Just keep your flashlights on and everything will be fine.”
“Maybe we should go back downstairs,” Steve suggests.
“That’s nonsense. Wait, what’s that?” Five yellow beams of light land on a pale mist seeping out of the floor, the flashlights surprisingly steady given the situation. The mist grows as it floats upwards, swirling around the translucent form of a little girl that drifts a few inches off the ground.
“Annie,” the spirit calls, good hand held out. The teen starts forward without hesitation despite her sister trying to pull her back, her free hand held out to match the girl’s. Bear follows after her, growling low in his throat as he creeps forward.
“Annie, don’t touch it,” Nick orders sternly. Annie only has ears for April, walking forward as though in a trance.
“Annie, come here.” It’s like watching some kind of tragedy, Kimberly utterly spellbound and unable to look away even as dread pools in her stomach. The mother in her wants to grab Annie and yank her away from the obvious danger, but something keeps her from acting on the instinct. “Come with me.”
It’s sudden and quick flashes of light that sends April screaming back into this house’s maze, the overhead lights flickering back on.
“How did you know to do that,” Nick asks. Kimberly turns to glance at Cathy, finding that the older woman had snatched the camera back at some point. The flashes must have been from her taking picture after picture, scaring the ghost away.
“I don’t know,” she shrugs. “I just did. Someone take this, I-I don’t want it.” She tries to hand it off to Nick, but Pam holds out her hands eagerly.
“Here, I’ll take it,” she says. Her expression changes to pure confusion the second the camera’s in her hands, a crease appearing between her brows as she begins to whisper. “Try to get some pictures, good pictures, of them being psychic.”
“What’s that supposed to mean,” Emery questions.
“Maybe someone talking to Bollinger?”
“Is he alive,” Steve asks. “Can you tell?”
“He was when he dropped this camera, but I can’t be sure what happened to him after that.”
“I’m gonna bring up my earlier suggestion of heading back downstairs. Maybe this time someone will actually listen, and we can take some time to wonder why all the rooms up here are so angry. Even better, we can pretend they’re not angry and none of this happened. Who’s with me?”
“Easy, you drama king,” Joyce teases. “Let’s go take a lunch break and pick back up later.”
Chapter 8: Tales of the Missing
The hall is different when they come back out; flower vases where there shouldn’t have been, faded wallpaper instead of dark wood, tables where there had been empty space. The only thing that isn’t different is the line of their rope that disappears around a corner. Curiouser and curiouser, Kimberly thinks as she gazes around. Will the white rabbit show up soon and reprimand us for being so late or will it be Red Queen demanding our heads? At this point, it’s anyone’s guess.
“Wait,” Vic calls rushing to the front,” the hallway’s changed.”
“Nonsense,” Joyce starts, but she’s cut off by Kimberly.
“He’s right,” she says. “The house is pulling a Hogwarts on us.” Steve glances at her over his shoulder, arching a brow. “Oh please, like Nicky hasn’t forced you to read that book to him at least once.” Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets has quickly become Nicky’s favorite book and Kimberly can probably recite it from memory given how many times she’s read it to her son. “Does anyone else hear that banging or am I going nuts?”
“I hear it,” Cathy assures,” I just don’t know what it is.”
‘Building,’ a voice whispers somewhere nearby. ‘God help us, she’s building again.’ Kimberly’s gaze snaps to her cousin, recognizing the voice as his even though his lips aren’t moving. The voice had been just as clear as the hammering a few halls down and she begins to wonder if latent psychic abilities aren’t being amplified by the house.
“Steve, what’s going on,” Joyce asks. She catches him by his sleeve when he starts wandering ahead, though his attention seems split between the room with sawdust and where he is right now.
“The building’s started again,” he informs them as Kimberly comes closer. “You wanted to wake the place up, I’d say you got your wish.” Nick comes to stand on Kimberly’s right, sharing a look with her when she picks up on another fragment of Steve’s thoughts. ‘She wants me to help her, wants me to take the hammer. Can’t take it, gotta resist….’
“But who’s building,” he asks,” and what?”
“I don’t know.” ‘We must build, Stevie. That’s what she’d said all those years ago.’ Kimberly winces at the sudden flashes of color that speed through her mind, sunlight through stained glass that puts a colorful picture on the floor. A rose, ruby red and rippling where the sawdust flees under the soles of his shoes.
“You’re lying.” Steve shakes his head on instinct despite the fear blooming in his eyes, a deep fear that can turn to panic at any time. Like a lit match near a puddle of gasoline. “Can you actually not remember or does it scare you to?”
“It’s gone,” Sister interrupts, voice soft. “Whatever it was, it’s stopped.” Everyone’s attention has been fixed on Steve, so her words come as something of a shock, the sudden absence of the hammering feeling wrong somehow.
“Then I suggest we go downstairs before it starts up again.” Kimberly is all for that, following closely behind her cousin as they continue down the hall. It’s only when they turn the corner that everyone comes to a screeching halt, staring on in shock at the dead end that greets them. It isn’t possible, not in the logical sense, the rope leads right up to and then disappears into the wall, taunt where Emery is tugging on it.
“I told you so,” Kimberly mutters. “This place might as well have been designed by Helga Hufflepuff.” Nick gives her an amused look before going to stand in front of the wall, placing his hands on either side of the rope. Kimberly can sense him focusing, the full spectrum of his powers starting to be revealed as he pushes on the wall with his mind. A Jack of all trades, that’s definitely a first for me.
“Annie, I need your help.” Joyce leads her over to Nick, gentle yet firm in how she urges her. “Put your hand here and push from here.” He situates her the way he needs, both of them focusing on the dead end. Like before, Kimberly can sense their focus, the feeling a lot stronger with little Annie working in tandem with him. The entire house seems to shake on its foundations, the rumbling noise like a boulder rolling through the halls.
“Annie, what are you doing,” Sister asks nervously. Annie pays her no mind, putting her other hand on the wall as well as she narrows in her attention.
“Nick,” Joyce starts, curt.
“Not now, Joyce,” he advises. His voice is still soft, careful not to startle Annie. It’s no surprise to any of the psychics when the wall suddenly shoots backwards, the lights going out and then flickering back on as they had in the library. A new hall stretches before them, the end of it hidden in darkness like the mouth of a beast waiting to swallow them whole. Annie giggles, like it’s some puzzle she’s solved before everyone else.
“That wasn’t funny,” Sister tells her, though it isn’t an admonition.
“I think we’ve all had enough excitement for one day,” Joyce says, almost breathless. She likes watching Annie work like that, seeing all the potential wrapped up and held inside one teenager’s mind. “I know another way down from here and there might even be something worth seeing along the way.”
“Are you sure you know the way,” Nick asks, teasing.
“Yes.” They follow her without question, more like children playing follow the leader rather than adults scared out of their minds. Talking is kept to a minimum as they go, Kimberly sandwiched between her husband and cousin as though they have unconsciously agreed to act as personal bodyguards. Much like the men, Bear is sticking closer to Annie than he had been, practically treading on the heels of her shoes.
After ten minutes of walking, they come into yet another room that looks as though it belongs in a fun house. Everything is topsy-turvy, the ceiling made up of green and white tiles with desks and chairs stuck to it while the floor is plain white plaster with the light fixtures sticking straight up.
“Should we look forward to more camouflaged doors, Stevie,” Nick asks as they come into the room.
“Great-gram was never above using a good trick twice,” he confirms. “This was her little joke on her husband’s business life.”
“Did he get it,” Sister asks.
“I doubt it.” Kimberly reaches out to open one of the drawers of an old filing cabinet, laughing a little when a paper falls out. The paper boasts a childish drawing of a few bluebirds and a monster of some sort, the names at the bottom written in blue crayon. “Hey, what’s that you got, Kimmy?”
“Remember that second time we were brought here,” she asks, waving the paper. “We had the run of the house again and decided the filing cabinet needed some files in it, so we added our own.” He laughs as he crosses over to peer in the other drawers.
“Do you think our social security cards are still in here?”
“They should be. It’s not like ghosts would have much use for them.” The next drawer she opens has a pink sock and a white one falling out, Steve’s letting them retrieve their cards. “Why’d we put socks in here?”
“‘Cause we didn’t want our ancestors to get cold feet.”
“I thought you two said you only came here the one time,” Joyce accuses.
“Once with my mom and once with hers, Dee. I forgot about that second trip until just now.” He pockets the cards while Kimberly returns the socks to their rightful drawer, sliding it shut carefully to avoid scuffing the cherry wood. “Door’s right here if you guys are ready.” He gestures at a panel nearby and Vic does the honors, the wall swinging open to reveal another bedroom.
“This house seems to have everything except food,” Emery complains, covering his rumbling belly with an arm.
“I told you to eat breakfast before we left this morning,” Kimberly reminds him smugly. He rolls his eyes as they all walk into another the bedroom and then out another door into a hallway. This hall is padded by a long rug that has tigers and elephants stitched into a green background, clearly meant to represent the African part of the honeymoon. Emery and Kimberly make up the end of the line, Emery in charge of winding up the rope as they go.
“Forgive me for not wanting to eat sugary cereal right off the bat.”
“I’ve seen you eat an entire pie at six in the morning before.”
“That was different. I wasn’t almost thirty back then.” They’d both been twenty-two and it was the only thing Kimberly had in her fridge, both too tired to run to the store or a diner after spending most of the night before working on her second novel. “Now I can barely even look at pie without gaining thirty pounds.”
“Oh, don’t say stuff like that. You look great.”
“I hate to be the one to tell you this, dear, but I think you need glasses.”
“And you just need to buy clothes that are actually your size. The baggy ones you and your mother always pick up are why you think you’re bigger than you are.”
“They hide my stomach.”
“I love your stomach.” Yes, Emery isn’t exactly in Olympic shape, but he isn’t bigger than Texas either and she wishes he could see himself the way she does. He’s perfect and soft and she loves him.
“And I love your ass—”
“Whoa,” Steve cuts in, glaring at them from the front of the line. “Save that for the bedroom because I don’t feel like sticking an icepick in my ear.”
“Mind your own business, Rimbauer.”
“She is my business in case you forgot, Waterman.”
“Just think, Dee,” Kimberly says, ignoring the bickering men. “This is what you have to look forward to. It’s even worse on holidays.” Joyce smiles, but it’s strained this time around. She won’t be sticking around long after they get back to civilization, ditching Steve once Rose Red is a pile of stones and maybe even before that. Steve knows it too, his gaze lingering more on Nick than on Joyce these days.
“It is not worse on holidays!”
“Yeah, what are you talking about,” Emery demands, turning his gaze to her. “We behave just fine at family functions and we’ve got the picture on our wall to prove it.”
“That’s right. We’re all wearing those ugly as sin sweaters and smiling as though we’re not the most dysfunctional family on the planet.” Emery’s cheeks darken and he glares at Steve, the latter remembering too late that it had been Patricia that bought those sweaters. They really were ugly as all hell, though. “Someone get Emery a sandwich before he Hulks out on me.”
“Are they supposed to pull the food out of thin air?” Steve dodges into a room with Emery right behind him, Sister laughing as Steve dances just out of Emery’s reach. It turns out to be the billiard room, an entire wall of it dedicated to old black and white photographs of celebrities that have visited Rose Red at some point. Set on one of the tables is an ice chest, the contents being sandwich stuff and cold drinks.
“Em,” Kimberly calls to get his attention. “I don’t have to pluck it out of thin air, but are you still hungry?” He shoves Steve away and stomps over to the ice chest, beginning to assemble himself a crabmeat sandwich on one of the paper plates. Kimberly is the next to make a sandwich, choosing tuna salad and some grapes before finding a seat in one of the antique chairs. The others do the same, all apart from Emery dragging chairs up around the main coffee table so they’re together.
“All better,” Joyce asks, munching on some grapes. She isn’t really eating much of anything, just pecking at the fruit from time to time like Nicky sometimes does at dinner.
“Could’ve been worse I guess,” he answers grumpily. “There’s too much mayo in the crabmeat.” Kimberly rolls her eyes, well aware of the fact he’s a picky eater. Nothing seemed good enough when they first started having meals at her place, but he’d quickly learned that insulting her lasagna meant getting whacked with a wooden spoon.
“What do you want, big boy,” Nick teases. “Bare-breasted nymphs to kneel at your feet and offer you delicacies from silver platters?”
“I already requested that, but Kimmy said it was too cold in our apartment for her to run around without a shirt on.” Steve spits out some of his water as he slips into a coughing fit, sending Emery a disgusted and betrayed look.
Kimberly smiles all the same, tugging a little on the pink tee she wears. Her wardrobe is nothing to brag about, mainly bought from Walmart or thrift stores, but she’s comfortable in her own skin and it certainly helps that her husband still thinks she’s beautiful.
“Emery, I’d like to keep Steve around for a little while longer,” Joyce says with a smile. “Keep making comments like those and he’ll either keel over or be sent to prison for strangling you. As for your issues with the food, I should have something you approve of ready by dinner time.”
“Before Emery and Steve decide to wrestle again, how about you tell us about the actress,” Cathy proposes, turning in her seat on the couch to look up at Joyce. “I’ve always been a sucker for celebrities.”
“Well, that’s her on Ellen’s wall of fame.” Joyce points at one of the pictures, this one showing a beautiful woman with dark hair that frames an oval-shaped face. “Deanna Petrie was a fairly big star in the forties. She mainly did musical comedies, but she could dance and sing a little. Most importantly for actresses in Hollywood, she was sexy as hell. She was one of Ellen Rimbauer’s favorite guests at her January fifteenth parties. In 1946 she showed up in what Hedda Hopper called ‘the cocktail dress’. It was what she was wearing when she disappeared. She spent most of the night wowing the guests in this very room. The only thing she left behind was a single earring that a maid found the next day. Deanna’s disappearance made Rose Red’s reputation.”
“Yes, no one cared when it was just a couple of maids or the occasional lady,” Kimberly adds quietly. “No one would really care about them, but a celebrity was someone the public loved.”
“Unfortunately, that’s right.” Joyce heaves a sigh, looking genuinely sad for a moment before bouncing back and training her gaze on Annie. The teenager is seated on the couch between Cathy and Sister, playing with her doll and paying the world no attention. Still far away in her own world, better off there instead of in the muck with the rest of us. “Now, Annie, there’s something I’d like to show you if you’re finished eating.” Joyce kneels in front of her, trying to get Annie to make eye contact with no success. “It’s nice, I think you’ll like it.”
“It’s okay,” Sister tells her, patting her shoulder. “Go ahead and I’ll be right behind you.” Bear echoes the sentiment with a soft bark, nudging her knee with his nose. Annie spares a kind look at the Husky before resting her hand in Joyce’s, letting herself be guided over to a short set of stairs that lead up to a small platform. It looks like a miniature balcony, only overlooking the room instead of some beautiful garden.
“Go on up and see what you find.”
“It’s not dangerous, is it?” The others are slowly gathering behind the pair, Bear right on Annie’s heels like before.
“No, not a bit. Go on, Annie.” She goes up by herself onto the platform, nervous fingers playing with crocheted hair.
“Annie,” Nick murmurs. He mimes pressing his hands against a wall when she glances his way, then gives her a thumbs-up. She seems to understand, the vague emotions that Kimberly can grasp onto letting her know Annie isn’t dumb like some people would call her. She understands things in her own way, you just have to know how to get the information up to her.
Annie comes to stop in front of a row of wooden panels, reaching out her free hand to press against the squares. The third one gives way under her gentle prodding, sliding down into the wall and allowing enough space for her to put her head in. Kimberly can’t see anything fascinating from where she stands, but it can’t be anything bad if Bear is so relaxed.
“What in the world is it,” Cathy asks.
“Whatever it is, she likes it,” Sister answers simply.
Chapter 9: Peace and Quiet
After lunch is over, everyone goes back to the second floor to look for bedrooms for the night. Joyce has a basic plan in mind for sleeping quarters and Kimberly would have happily gone along with it had a voice not called out to her. Okay, she’ll admit right here and right now that it isn’t really a voice rather than the start of another memory. They’ve been bombarding her left and right since she came onto the property and it doesn’t look like they’ll stop any time soon.
‘This house is amazing, Elle,’ a woman is saying, appearing a moment later dragging another woman with her down the hall. Kimberly watches them go, slipping her hand out of Emery’s so she can follow. She’s led to one of the main bedrooms at the end of the hall, the same one she’d seen in her dream the other night. Same pinecones carved into the bedposts, same view of rolling hills out the window—dead vines, too, now that so much time has passed. ‘I’ve never seen a house so large before!’
‘Yes, John really put his heart into making Rose Red a reality,’ another brunette says. She shares the same delicate bone structure as Beatrice and the same pale eyes that stand out against the faint tan she’s sporting from a year abroad. ‘I designed this room especially for you, Bess. While I’m entirely sorry for the circumstances of your visit, I am glad to have another confidante here.’
‘I’m just glad to see you again. Your letters were welcome, but it wasn’t the same as seeing you in person every day.’ The women share a smile, fingers entwining tight enough that they turn white. Kimberly hovers in the doorway, feeling like an intruder even though she knows this happened ninety-two years ago.
“—she does this, too,” Emery was saying when Kimberly is tugged back to reality by a hand on her shoulder. She blinks a couple of times before looking back to the others, filing the memory away into a neat little lockbox. “Are you okay, babe?”
“Uh, yeah,” she nods, rubbing at the back of her neck. “It was just…. It was nothing.”
“Are you sure,” Joyce asks, brows furrowed in worry. “You were mumbling something under your breath. It sounded like a name or….” She trails off and the worry dims as fascination takes over. She’s never actually witnessed Kimberly using her little superpower and certainly not to this extent where everything plays out right in front of her. Normally the memories come while she sleeps, but these are jumping out and demanding to be seen.
“Emery and I will take this room.”
“No, but I’ve got everyone down this hall.” Joyce gestures to the right, the row of doors all shut firmly. Kimberly doesn’t have to go look to know the bedrooms are nice, but not anywhere near as nice as the master bedrooms or the one designed for Beatrice. She isn’t the type to demand fancy things, but this is one thing she won’t bend on.
“This was Beatrice’s room and I’m staying in it.” To drive the point home, Kimberly leaves the group behind as she enters the room with her bags in hand. Emery and Bear follow her in, the door shutting quietly behind them after a light kick on Emery’s part. “I don’t mean to sound like a brat.”
“You didn’t,” he says, setting his pack down against the wall. Kimberly tosses her bags onto one of the high-backed chairs set in front of a fireplace on the left wall, running her fingers through her hair. “Everyone out there should understand since they’re going through something similar in this place.”
“Not like this.” She drops onto the bed, only vaguely surprised when a cloud of dust doesn’t suffocate her. In fact, there isn’t a speck of dust or even the smell of moth balls in the entire room, which leads to her wondering if François had prepared it or Bess herself. “Well, maybe Stevie is, but no one else.”
“Yeah, what was that about? Steve can’t even guess which card a magician is holding half the time.”
“It’s this stupid house. It amplifies everything to the nth degree including very faint traces of psychic abilities apparently.” It won’t take much on the house’s part to get her stuck in another memory, forced to watch the scene unfold as a spectator that could no more change what happened than one in ancient Rome could decide to take the lions out of the Colosseum. “How are you handling all this?”
“Pretty well, I think. I figured out who one of those ghosts were that I saw at Mom’s house the other night. Deanna freaking Petrie.”
“Yeah, uh-huh. Let me tell you, she looked a whole lot better in that picture Ellen has up on her wall of fame.” Kimberly can’t help but laugh at the serious expression on Emery’s face, covering her smile with a hand. “You think that’s funny, do you? I’d like to see you handle a chick that’s been dead longer than you’ve been alive.” He’s smiling, though, and his tone is light as he collapses beside her on the large bed.
“If it makes you feel any better, I just saw my great-gran gushing about this room to my great-aunt. Sure, they looked beautiful, but it gave me a killer migraine.” She massages a temple for emphasis, though her smile widens when Emery wraps an arm about her middle.
“You know what the best cure for a headache is?” She hums in response, resting her cheek against his chest as her eyes slide closed. “A nap without any little wiggle worms to interrupt it.” Now that is an idea she can get behind.
“I haven’t had one of those in four years. I wonder why that is.”
“I don’t know, but it couldn’t possibly coincide with us having a child that refuses to sleep in normal positions.” Nicholas seemed to think sleeping should only be done sideways, which led to numerous mornings where Kimberly and Emery woke up with their son lying on top of them and hogging all the covers. How someone so small and can take up so much room in a bed is beyond her.
“I gotta take these pants off first.” She slides back onto her feet, quickly shimmying out of the tight jeans she’d pulled on that morning. She’ll have to move up a size soon enough and she’ll be hard-pressed to find some jeans with the same flower stitching that these have along one thigh and a calf.
“Those pants make your ass look amazing.”
“No, the squats I do make my ass look amazing. These jeans just show my hard work off better.” He snorts and tugs her back onto the bed, pressing a chaste kiss against her lips. He’s always so gentle, it’s one of the things Kimberly loves about him, and he tastes like coffee even when he hasn’t drunk any that day. “Love you, Em.”
“Love you, too, Kimmy.”
He tightens his hold on her as their eyes slide closed once more, and then the room is falling away around them as sleep takes hold.
Chapter 10: Swing Dancing and Old Stories
So it turns out that not sleeping soundly for four years can turn your quick little nap into one that lasts nearly five hours. While Emery decides to just stay in his wrinkled clothes, Kimberly takes full advantage of having a bath without a certain child demanding her attention every five seconds. She soaks for a good thirty minutes before actually washing up, coming back into the bedroom in only a towel.
“Wow, maybe we need to take these vacations more often,” Emery quips, finally looking up from the book he’d brought along.
“What do you mean? I walk around in a towel at the apartment all the time.” Most of them did, it’s a side effect of usually forgetting pajamas in the mad rush to get Nicky clean. It’s not like it’s sexy, her cheeks are red from the heat of her bath water and she knows for a fact that a small streak of hair remains on her left leg even though she’s just shaved. I’ll have to wax when we get home again, that always works better.
“Yeah, but I never get the chance to actually admire that at home.” He waggles his brows suggestively and she laughs, feeling her cheeks heat up further in a dark blush. “That’s all I have to do right now, ogle my wife and wonder how great I must’ve been in a past life to get someone so beautiful to marry me.”
“Funny, I usually think the same thing about you.” He scoffs and shakes his head, tugging on the lobe of his ear in a nervous habit. “You do realize how great you look, right? I’ve never seen someone that could actually pull off khaki pants, but then this guy shows up at my book signing doing exactly that.”
“Yeah, and I was standing right behind him.”
“Nah, the guy in front of you was one of those rude Christians that told me I had a first class ticket to hell.” She makes a face at that particular memory, the man probably in his late seventies and brandishing his Bible like a weapon. “His parents obviously didn’t raise him right because, as a Christian myself, I know there’s a part in the Bible that says to treat people right.”
“You’re thinking of the golden rule.”
“No, Jesus said it first.” She lets the towel drop to the thick carpeting before pulling on fresh underwear and a simple red dress that’s suited to casual gatherings. She slips her feet into the black flats and yanks a brush through her short hair before deciding to forgo any makeup for the night. She’s still tired and doesn’t figure anyone actually cares about the amount of effort she puts into her appearance anyway.
“You ready to head downstairs?”
“I guess,” she sighs, the first one to the door. Emery tosses his book—Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire—onto the bed and follows after her. The book had come out last year, not exactly one of the best in the series but not awful either, and Emery is making sure it’s appropriate for Nicky. Thus far, there have been no complaints other than boredom.
The trip downstairs holds no surprises or jump scares, which is something Kimberly will forever be grateful for. Most of the others are already gathered in the main parlor, dressed about as nicely as Kimberly as they roam around; Cathy and Vic are sitting next to each other comparing Bibles, Joyce is looking over some equipment, and Nick is investigating some of the decorations.
“Well, you’re a lively bunch.”
“I think we’ve had just about as much liveliness in one day as a person can take,” Nick remarks, sending her a smile over his shoulder. With a smile of her own, Kimberly moves to sit on one of the couches with her feet curled up beneath her, shoes forgotten on the ground. Emery drifts over to the organ, beginning to play a moment later just as he’d done for his church when he was younger.
“Do you like your room?” Pam, seated in a chair just a foot and a half away, shrugs with a nervous smile.
“It’s the nicest one I’ve ever been in,” she replies with a laugh. “I keep getting all these fantastic visions when I touch the blankets or even the lamps. Did you know one of the maids kept a small stash of jewelry hidden in secret compartment in there?”
“That’s amazing, Pam.”
“Did you see anything in your room?” Kimberly hesitates a moment, remembering the way Beatrice’s face had lit up upon seeing her room for the very first time and the way she’d gushed at her older sister. “Kim?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah, sorry. When we first approached the rooms, I saw my great-gran and Ellen talking about how much they missed each other during Ellen’s honeymoon. It was just a memory like some of the others I’ve seen walking around here, but it was a strong one. Usually I only see them when I’m asleep.” The ones of Bess and Frederick at any rate.
“Great ones, yeah. Beatrice, my great-gran, and her husband’s manor house burnt down not long after Ellen and John returned from their whirlwind honeymoon. They lived here for four years and had a little boy by the time they returned to Summer’s End.” Pam smiles, bright and infectious, at the story. “Bess and Frederick really loved each other and they loved their baby. They were one of those rare couples that could stand as an example of soulmates.”
“That’s so great. Did they get their happily ever after?”
“Not so much.” Kimberly frowns, recalling the pain in her chest that had nearly made her collapse when she was a child. She’d been nine and was in the middle of gym class when the memory struck her, driving her backwards against a wall as she watched the devastating results of living in Rose Red for too long. “Bess disappeared in the same year as John’s death and Frederick committed suicide on the property twenty years later after finding her necklace in the woods.” Her hand comes up to grasp the necklace, remembering the day her mother had passed it down to her.
“Oh, that’s awful. I guess it’s just more proof that the house is evil.” The blonde looks around like she expects the house to come to life and gobble them up. Kimberly doesn’t blame her. She’s been expecting the same thing ever since they drove onto the property. “Do you think something like that will happen to us?”
“Pretty much.” There’s no use in lying about it, Pam will be feeling the same way soon enough if she isn’t already. Besides, you don’t have to be psychic to know the house is more monster than a structure of wood and stone. It devours its owners and it won’t stop until it’s satisfied, or everyone is dead.
“Emery,” Nick calls, looking away from the suit of armor he’s studying,” are you thinking of dressing for dinner?” The music stops and Emery stands to face Nick, light glinting off the metal frame of his glasses.
“You tell me,” he says sarcastically. “Read my mind.” Nick gives a soft huff of laughter in response and moves on to another piece of furniture. The atmosphere is a comfortable one, reminding Kimberly of winter nights when her family would gather in their cramped living room to play board games as snow fell outside.
“Annie,” Sister calls,” Glenn Miller.” Annie sprints over to the old phonograph from across the room, more interested now in the shining horn than the way Steve stokes the flames in the massive fireplace.
“That doesn’t work,” Joyce says as Annie passes by. “I tried it while I was setting up. Sorry, Annie.” The sisters pay her no mind and there’s a content smile curling Annie’s lips upwards, making her eyes shine in excitement. It’s a nice look on her and Kimberly finds herself smiling as well at the teen’s happiness.
The doorbell rings a second later, everyone standing as Joyce heads to the door that leads into the entrance hall. “Joyce,” Vic starts, but she waves him off.
“It’s alright.” All but Annie follow after her towards the front doors, a little trill of fear rushing through Kimberly when one of the doors refuses to open. It doesn’t last long, however, as Steve tugs on the right door and it swings open easily to reveal a middle-aged man. He has shaggy brown hair that’s starting to go gray and a pair of glasses similar to Emery’s, dressed in a red windbreaker and holding two pizza boxes with soda cans balanced on top.
“Got three loaded for Reardon,” he recites boredly. “Large, with two six-packs of soda.” She has a smug expression when she passes the food and drinks off to Emery.
“And to think you doubted me this afternoon.”
“I suppose you do pay attention on game nights,” he says with a grin. Game nights are every Saturday, they’ll break out Monopoly or Scrabble and make bets using Teddy Grahams. It’s a tradition that goes all the way back to the mid-seventies when Steve and Kimberly were actually old enough to understand the rules of the games.
In the Mood filters through the golden horn of the phonograph as Emery passes off the sodas to Kimberly, Annie coming to stand in the hall with a smug smile of her own.
“I haven’t heard this song in forever,” Kimberly laughs, swaying along to the fast beat of it.
“Not since our wedding when you made me dance with you to it.” She nods, setting the sodas on a side table so she can dance a little easier. People are partnering off already, the sound of shoe heels clicking against wood and marble, skirts of dresses flaring out.
“Do this often,” the pizza man asks.
“Every chance we get,” Joyce lies smoothly. “How much?”
“Uh, thirty dollars and twenty-five cents.” Joyce digs the amount out of her wallet and passes it over, the pizza guy barely paying attention as he glances past them at the grand house. “This is some place. Is it haunted?”
“Yeah,” Emery remarks,” by the ghosts of delivery men who asked too many stupid questions and never escaped.” Kimberly kicks the door shut and sets the pizza boxes in Joyce’s arms before dragging Emery further into the hall. “What? No, Kim, I don’t dance and you know that.”
“Everyone dances, Em,” she says,” even you.” She leads the steps and Emery follows as best as he can, both of them moving along to the rhythm almost instinctively. Kimberly feels as though time has suddenly gone backwards and she’s back in the small venue they’d rented in ’97, dancing with her husband in front of their friends and family. Steve had been standing just at the edge of the crowd, joining in a few minutes later with Kimberly’s mother. Even at fifty-six years old, Alana Ravenwood could keep up with the best of them.
Kimberly is finding it hard to stay awake as Moonlight Serenade plays, a soothing melody that’s fit for late nights and lullabies. Every now and then she’ll nibble on her pizza, only half paying attention to the conversations happening throughout the room. She’s more focused on the movie playing behind her eyelids, three happy kids running through the halls as Frederick chases after them, laughs ringing out and filling Rose Red with happiness.
It’s not until Nick announces that its story time that Kimberly allows herself to be grounded again.
“We’ve heard about the actress,” Nick states, seated in one of the chairs across from Kimberly. “Why don’t you enthrall us with the tale about Mister Posey.” Douglas Posey, the man Steve’s father had been named after and the one they don’t know much about other than the suicide.
“Remember that séance I told you about,” Joyce checks.
“Starring the famous gypsy psychic, Cora Frye?”
“The very same. That was 1914 and the war in Europe was heating up the American economy. Omicron Oil was in clover, the money was rolling in, and John Rimbauer was tired of sharing it. In October that same year he gave Douglas Posey the bum’s rush.”
“According to family legend, Uncle Posey had a taste for cowboys,” Steve adds.
“He liked chaps in chaps,” Nick asks in amusement. “Was he into roping or branding?” Kimberly brings a hand up to her mouth, hiding her smile but not quite muffling the laugh.
“Probably a little bit of both.”
“John Rimbauer bought him out at distress sale prices,” Joyce continues seamlessly. “He was told never to come back to Rose Red, but he did once in 1915. John was in Europe and Ellen was home with the kids, including little Alfred Airey.” She looks to Kimberly and starts up again at a confirming nod. “He snuck inside through the West Wing that was being constructed and was already half up the ladder when the kids came running in.”
“Granddad never forgot Posey tossing him that Tom Mix hat. He wanted to keep it and he threw a tantrum when his mother tried to take it away. He used to tell us kids that he believed the hat was tucked away in the attic along with the vest Posey tossed to Alfred. And the rose, he never forgot April catching the rose.”
“Why did he wait a year to do it,” Sister asks, pizza forgotten. “And why would he do it here?”
“If you wanted answers, then you came to the wrong place.”
“It’s because Posey knew John would be returning home that afternoon,” Kimberly fills in. She pushes an olive to the side of her plate as she talks, more interested in getting them off than the flickering image of the dead man swinging back and forth in front of the mantel. “He wanted to make sure his death would be another stain in the Rimbauer house.”
“Following the suicide,” Joyce picks back up,” John and Ellen kept Adam out of Rose Red as much as possible. As I said earlier, he was away at boarding school when his sister disappeared.”
“He knew damn well that something was very wrong here,” Pam says emphatically.
“The male descendants of the Rimbauer line have mostly stayed clear of the family manse,” Steve continues. “I wasn’t here more than half a dozen times as a kid. I got off on my own just once when I was eight. My mother brought Kimmy and I here while Dad and Kimmy’s parents were all at work. I forgot until today, I think I blocked it out. Nick’s the one that reminded me.”
“That’s right,” Kimberly recalls with a nod. “Aunt Irene didn’t have enough to pay for a babysitter, so she just piled us all in the car and took off. She kept mumbling about buried treasure.”
“She was drunk again, I remember that clearly enough. She was drunk a lot back then.” Still is, that’s why we all agreed to put her in a nursing home. The last straw had been in ’93 when a cop brought her home after he found her sleeping off a three day bender on a park bench. “I know we were all broke. After we lost the oil company, broke-itis had been a family disease.”
“And while your mother was treasure hunting, you got lost,” Nick states matter-of-factly. “You were upstairs before you realized how lost you were. One floor above the mirror library. Or was it three floors? Or ten? Because when this place gets going, when it feels lively and has energy to draw on, Rose Red can make itself as big as it wants. Isn’t that right? Finally, you got to the top and that’s where—”
But they never get to find out what Nick is about to say as the doors to the parlor slam shut with a bang. The entire house seems to come to life, as though enraged by what Nick is saying as the entire room begins to rumble and sparks fly from the lightbulbs all over the room. Kimberly drops to the floor and covers her head as best she can, letting out a sharp hiss when some of the sparks hit her bare legs.
“What is it,” Joyce yells over the noise. “Does anyone know?”
“It’s a cluster manifestation with rising elements, like an earthquake!”
“It’s the house,” Cathy accuses,” it’s coming alive!” Someone hauls Kimberly to her feet and she looks up to find her cousin, his expression stoic as he nods towards the doors. Someone is there, Kimberly can just make out a vague form that shifts in time with the shadows.
Sukeena, she realizes, grabbing Steve’s shirt tightly in her fist. Sukeena working to make the trespassers terrified. And the plan is working as most of the others begin to panic, but Kimberly feels a calm descend on her as she realizes the same thing as Steve. The house wants us, needs to devour the last of its line before it has enough energy to stabilize and build forever.
“How many are there,” Joyce demands, though Kimberly can barely hear her. Well guess what, bitch, she thinks, projecting the words towards the dark-skinned phantom across the room, you aren’t getting us no matter what horror shows you put on display! Soon enough, this place will just be a pile of bricks and you’ll still be a moldering corpse!
There’s a bright flash of light as the flames form a mutilated face, an invisible force sending Emery backwards against the hard floor. The flames die down after that and the house seems to calm, a soft breath leaving Kimberly as a toy baby carriage rolls from the now empty doorway and comes to a stop in front of the fireplace. Things are piled inside it, children’s toys that draws Annie forward like a moth to a flame.
“Annie, don’t touch it,” Sister pleads. Annie just continues forward, gently picking up a Raggedy Ann doll and turning to face the others. It matches her other doll, a perfect set made by the house to bribe a child into joining them.
A Summer Place starts up on the phonograph, a background noise as all eyes turn to the glowing smoke that floats up out of the floor. Much like in the library, the smoke reveals itself to be April as she floats several inches above the ground. Her voice is thin, rising and lowering on some invisible wind as she calls for Annie to join her.
Terror has Kimberly’s feet nailed to the floor, hands shaking at her sides as she watches Annie start forward with an outstretched hand and hope in her eyes. It’s Steve that acts this time, throwing a cup right through April’s head, the glass shattering against the doors seconds before they swing outward again, April vanishing with a pained shriek.
“I’d advise none of you to go wandering tonight,” Joyce says, looking every inch like the cat that ate the canary. “You’d agree, wouldn’t you, Steve?” Everything seems to rush in and fill him in that moment, the stoicism replaced by a deep exhaustion that has his shoulders hunching forward.
“As a matter of fact, I would.”
Chapter 11: Nighttime Wandering
After a drawing of straws, Alfred is chosen to be Kimberly’s guard for the night as her defenses fall to the wayside and sleep claims her. He doesn’t really mind the chore even if it is dreadfully boring to the twenty-four year old. It’s interesting to see some of his sister’s features in this woman, though she got the dark eyes from her father; the same thick mane of hair, same grin that’s bursting with sass, same sharp sense of humor. Kimberly is Ellie all over and Alfred is grateful for it.
Still, as much as he loves the kid, it’s dull as sin to just sit around a bedroom as the humans sleep. All he can do was wander around and wait for morning to come, his only real job to keep the more malicious spirits out so his great-niece has a chance to sleep uninterrupted. And her husband, he supposes, though the latter doesn’t exactly have a likable demeanor.
He scoffs and drops into an armchair, blue eyes gazing around for anything interesting. It hadn’t been so bad a few hours ago, he’d had a chance to listen in the couple’s conversation about their little troublemaker and he was even able to shove Sukeena through a wall back into the recesses of the house. Now it’s nearly two in the morning, the spirits are settling down alongside the guests and Alfred feels like jumping out the window just to see what will happen.
He’s just picking up a book when he hears bed covers shifting and then the sound of bare feet on carpet. “What,” he starts, though soon cuts himself off when he spots Kimberly. She’s pacing about the room, seemingly lost in some sort of daze as she tries to find something. “Oh, uh, you shouldn’t—”
“Find it,” she breathes out, eyes half-closed as she heads to the door.
“You can’t leave your room you’re practically naked!” And hadn’t that been mortifying for Alfred to see! His sweet baby niece dressed only in a short top and underwear. “Kimberly, come back! Oh,” he groans as she walks out into the hall,” Mother’s going to be furious when she finds out I let her go for a walk.”
“Got to… Find it.”
“Find what?” But she doesn’t seem to hear anything, shuffling down the hall towards the staircase that curves down to the first floor. He grumbles under his breath, running after her and attempting to grab her only to have his hand pass right through her arm. This being dead thing is a pain in the ass. As if dying in the first place wasn’t bad enough, his soul is stuck in this godforsaken house with a ton of people he doesn’t even like at the best of times. The only people he can stomach being around are his parents.
Kimberly keeps going, a purposeful stride now that has Alfred on edge. He’d say she’s possessed if he didn’t know any better, bare feet slapping against the marble as she heads straight for the front door.
“Find it now… Find- Before she has it.” Her voice is soft, like it’s being carried on some invisible wind from far away.
“Kimberly,” a new voice calls, followed by hurried footsteps. Alfred turns right as Steve rushes past, the alive man grabbing Kimberly’s arm and jerking her to a stop. “Hey, Kimmy!” He gives her a good shake and she comes back to herself with a deep, rattling breath, brown eyes open wide as she takes everything in. “What the hell were you doing?”
“I don’t…” She trails off and looks around, gaze lingering on Alfred for a moment before it passes on. She saw me, he thinks excitedly, she really saw me! “Why aren’t you in bed?” Steve lets out a small bark of laughter, wrapping his arms around her in a hug.
“I wanted a sandwich. Come on, let’s get you some water.”
“I think I need something a little stronger.” Alfred agrees with that sentiment, wishing for a shot or two of the whiskey Uncle John has hidden away in the false floorboard of his study.
His attention moves to the head of the staircase, taking in the wispy and decaying form of his aunt Ellen. She used to be so beautiful, he remembers, but now she’s moldering skin pulled taunt over her bones with white hair done up in a severe bun.
“She’s not yours,” he tells her firmly, taking half a step forward. “You stay out of her head.” Her lips pull back in a horrific grin, baring pointed teeth more reminiscent of a mangy dog’s than a woman’s.
“She’ll soon belong to us,” Ellen hisses. “These psychics will keep Rose Red building for centuries to come.” Alfred shakes his head, unflinching when she suddenly appears in front of him with a sound like breaking glass. “She will be ours just like you are, dear nephew.” She reaches up a spindly hand to caress his face, but he catches her wrist before she can touch him.
“You’re going to turn to dust soon and I hope I’m there to bear witness.”
Chapter 12: Family Reunion
It’s late when Kimberly wakes the next morning, shoulder sore from how she’d slept on it the night before. Without opening her eyes, she reaches out a hand for Emery only to come up empty, barely cracking one eye open to confirm that she’s alone in the room.
“Fucking early risers,” she curses, forcing herself to sit up. It’s fairly warm in the house, though the wooden floors are like ice without socks, as Kimberly finds out the hard way. “Fucking floors.”
Grumbling, she digs around in her bag until she finds a fresh set of clothes to pull on, deciding on jean shorts and a pale green shirt that hangs off her shoulders apart from the thin spaghetti straps. She forces her feet into the black flats, making a note to glue the sole back in place once they’re back to civilization, before finally leaving the room to explore.
She can hear the sounds of pans on a stove downstairs, but she isn’t ready to face people yet. Well, not alive ones at any rate. The hallway is deserted when she steps out of the bedroom, no one around to stop her as she turns to the left towards a set of stairs she hadn’t noticed yesterday evening.
The building’s started, she thinks with a frown. Adding onto the house and onto Ellen’s half-life. But is it even a half-life if she’s stuck in this place? Kimberly smiles and then laughs as another thought strikes her. Welcome to Seattle, home of the Space Needle and Purgatory.
“If that doesn’t bring the tourists in, then nothing will,” she mumbles as she starts up the stairs. They creak underfoot, her shoes leaving imprints in the dust as though she’s the first person to climb these stairs in at least thirty years. Probably not that far off the mark either. She’s almost halfway up them when a man flickers into existence at the top, his suit faded in places, but his blond hair looking like spun gold. “Frederick?”
“That’s right, little one,” he answers with a smile,” though I suppose you’re no longer the little girl I met all those years ago. Go on back downstairs, there’s nothing up here for you.” She would’ve, but there’s a pulling sensation in her chest, like she’s being guided by some invisible string. A marionette being manipulated by this monstrosity of a house.
“It’s up there. I don’t know what it is I’m supposed to find, but it’s up there.” He pulls something out of his pocket and starts down the stairs, leaving no impression in the dust nor making the stairs creak. “I have to—”
“I believe you’re looking for this.” He holds up a set of wedding bands, both made of yellow gold with intricate designs carved into the one meant for the man and the woman’s curving up to coil delicately around a single diamond. “Bess wanted them to be passed down to our children, but she never got the chance and I didn’t feel right handing mine off without it’s match.”
“Expensive, too.” He holds them out and Kimberly raises her hand on instinct, surprised when the bands remain solid even as Frederick’s passes right through her palm. “You keep one and give the other to my nephew, let that tradition be completed.”
“But they’re yours.”
“And now they’ve been passed on as they should have been ages ago.” He tries to cup her cheek, the air around them growing colder with each passing second. “Go on and enjoy your family, Kimmy, and make sure that grandson of mine knows he is loved.” She opens her mouth, not sure what she’s going to say, but it doesn’t make a difference as he drifts away like smoke on a breeze. There one second and gone the next with only a faint whiff of cologne left behind.
“I promise, Gramps.” It’s not until she turns and starts back down the stairs that she realizes the tugging sensation has gone away for the first time since she was six.
She wanders through the halls for a time before finding her way into the parlor, smiling at Nick as he passes through to another room. She settles down in one of the plush armchairs that has been scooted over by the fireplace, tucking the rings away in one of her pockets so they’ll be safe until she can find a better place for them.
She’ll hand one over to Steve once they’re home again, someplace safe where the spirits in this house won’t be able to snatch them away. Kimberly is tempted to just tuck them away in her bra, but she figures Steve won’t appreciate that very much.
She’s also tempted to fall asleep right in the chair, but it seems time isn’t on her side. She’s just beginning to drowse when a loud chanting and yelling starts up somewhere outside the parlor, Nick and Kimberly meeting out in the hallway to pinpoint where the noise is coming from.
“I think it’s here,” Nick says after a moment. He leads the way into the billiard room and pauses in the doorway a moment as he takes in the scene with shock. Emery is standing near the row of windows, fingers in his ears and talking gibberish to drown out the sound of Vic banging and screaming outside.
“Oh my God.”
Nick seems to break out of a trance, blinking hard and then storming across the room. He pushes Emery roughly out of his way, snarling down at the other man. "He came to you for help and you turned your back on him!" Kimberly feels frozen in place, gaze shifting between her husband and the old man clutching his chest outside. It isn’t until Emery sprints out of the room that the hold on her releases, her senses flooding back.
“Em, wait!” She chases after him, knowing it’s stupid to go around this house by yourself. “Emery!” He begins to yell again, but it’s like the wind is trying to carry away his words. No, not the wind, Rose Red is. It wants them separated so that they’re more vulnerable and easier to snack on.
Her breathing comes out in gasps the longer she runs up the endless stairs, slowly losing sight of her husband the further into the house they go. She doesn’t stop, not even when her lungs feel fit to burst in her chest. She continues to run even though she’s lost count of how many turns she’s made or any idea of how she’ll get back downstairs with Emery if she ever finds him.
Kimberly slides to a stop when she rounds another corner only to find herself somewhere she’s never seen in her dreams or in real life. This is a brand new wing of the house, sawdust still sprinkled across the floors. No, God, please, don’t let this happen. Not now.
She turns, intending to head back to the stairs, but there’s only a wall made up of solid mahogany. She’s lost in the halls, Emery’s cries muffled by the sound of hammers pounding against wood. Kimberly sucks in a deep breath, pressing her hands against the new wall and pushing as hard as she can.
“Come on,” she hisses,” let me out! Help!”
“John, please…” The mousy voice has Kimberly looking over her shoulder, then turning completely when she spots Beatrice standing not too far away with a familiar man looming over her. “We can’t do this here, someone might see.”
“And so what if they do,” he asks, advancing closer and closer until Beatrice is pressed against one of the walls with no chance to escape. “I am the master of the house and our servants know better than to gossip if they want to keep their jobs.”
“Their jobs or their lives?” John seems taken aback by the brief flare of anger in the woman’s blue eyes. “When you get tired of me, will you just have Daniel do away with me like he did Laura?” She pushes hard against his chest, gaining back a foot of space between them.
“What the hell are you talking about? You know damn well that the only women I’ve been with since returning to Seattle have been you and my wife. And I know you still want me, dear Bess.” She closes her eyes, cheeks losing their color. “I know you and Ellen made this little arrangement after Adam was conceived, that you and your husband desperately needed an heir to prove you weren’t useless as a wife.”
“I’m not complaining. In fact, I rather like our affair being known to Ellen, so she won’t complain as much. Does Frederick know as well? Does he know how lovely you moan when I touch you? That his perfect little boy is really mine?” He’s advancing again, his grin only able to be described as sinister.
“Leave her alone,” Kimberly shouts, stepping away from the corner she’d backed into. It’s instinct that makes her do it, a flare of protectiveness for a woman she’s seen so often in her dreams. John’s head snaps in her direction, flesh sagging beneath his eyes and turning sallow under the lights, more a corpse than a man. “You don’t touch her!” Snarling, he begins to march over to Kimberly, hands clenching and unclenching into fists at his sides.
“And what will you do if I don’t obey you,” he demands, voice a low growl. “You’re nothing but a child.”
“And you’re not real.”
"I assure you, Mrs. Waterman, I'm real." He grins, tangling the fingers of one hand into Kimberly’s hair and yanking her head back. She pushes against his chest, using all the strength she has in her to try and get him away so she can make a run for it. “I ought to kill you as I was killed, find a pretty window to throw you through.”
“Sorry,” she grunts, bringing her knee up sharply into John’s groin. “Defenestration wasn’t on my bucket list.” His eyes cross as he sinks to the floor, letting out a long, low groan of pain. “Touch my grandmother again and I’ll do worse than that, Rimbauer.”
And now to find a way out.
Chapter 13: Mommy's Little Scootabout
‘A house is a place of shelter, it’s the body we put on over our bodies. As our bodies grow old, so do our houses. As our bodies may sicken, so do our houses sicken.’ The words echo in Kimberly’s mind, intrusive thoughts that are not her own. It’s like before, when they first arrived and the whispers started, but much clearer now. Horrifyingly clear. ‘And what of madness? If mad people live within, doesn’t this madness creep into the rooms and walls and corridors? The very boards?’
“Stop it,” she hisses, covering her ears with her hands in a desperate attempt to make it all stop. “Just stop it already!”
‘Don’t we sometimes sense that madness reaching out to us? Isn’t that a large part of what we mean when we say a place is unquiet, festered up with spirits? We say “haunted,” but we mean the house has gone insane.’
“ENOUGH!” She screams the word, dropping to her knees in the middle of a corridor with her eyes squeezed shut. She doesn’t want to hear it, these thoughts projected from the mind of their fearless leader. Joyce is beginning to crack, fall apart at the seams, go out of her fuckin’ mind as the house works its magic on her. They probably all will eventually, just like Ellen.
“Kimberly?” The words begin to fade back into woodwork, but Kimberly keeps her hands pressed tightly over her ears. It’s too loud, all these damn thoughts and memories that keep trying to pull her seventy different directions. “Kimberly, what’s wrong? What do you hear?”
“Voices,” she rasps, looking up at Sister as the other woman kneels in front of her. “So many voices.” Sister helps her into a sitting position, both of them leaning against the paneled wall as Kimberly tries to block out the voices of the dead and insane. If the madness has seeped into the very foundation of a house, could it seep into human visitors as well? It’s beginning to look more and more likely.
“I-I don’t hear anything.”
“No, you’re not tuned into the frequency.” Kimberly gives a dry laugh, staring ahead of her. One of my shoes is gone. When did I lose it? Probably during the mad dash away from John after she’d helped her great-gran to escape. The corpse had lumbered after her for a good hour until she finally lost him in one of the servant halls. “Apparently I have a closer connection to this house than I thought.”
“What do you mean?” Sister is looking at her in concern, like a mother that’s just witnessed her child take a bad fall.
“My great-grandpa wasn’t able to get Beatrice pregnant no matter how much they tried, so her and Ellen struck up a deal—Bess would seduce John in order to get pregnant and to keep him off of Ellen while she was pregnant with Adam. Two birds with one stone and all that. Frederick knew, everyone did, but he didn’t care because he also knew she was only doing it to give him an heir. Their second child was John’s too but had inherited its grandmother’s beautiful blonde hair that matched Frederick’s.”
“Oh, that’s… That’s a lot for you to take in. Did someone tell you or…?”
“Bess did when I got her away from John upstairs.” Kimberly’s smile softens as she recalls the way her great-gran had smiled in exhilaration over escaping the parasite. “She said John was just a means to an end and that I obviously take after her Freddy.”
Sister looks ready to ask another question when they’re cut off by frantic screaming, their first reactions to jump up and run towards the sounds. Everyone else seems to follow the same logic, six of the group meeting up in the entryway.
“What’s going on,” Steve demands, voice rising in panic.
“Nick says Vic is dead,” Cathy answers breathlessly. The memory swoops in and Kimberly can’t force it back, seeing Vic as he stumbles across the grounds trying to get away from some vicious trick the house is pulling, a statue that can move and cause heart attacks. And a poor psychic that had thought Vic wasn’t real and now feels guilty as sin if he’s still alive. Because Emery isn’t gathered with the others and she still can’t hear him.
“He is,” Nick says,” just ask Kimberly.” All eyes swing to focus on her, and she shrinks away from the sudden attention. “She saw it all as well and she knows what killed him.”
“Rose Red killed him,” she confirms, meeting Steve’s gaze. “He was drawn outside, and he died.” And he’s still out there, body and soul trapped on the grounds just like all the others here. We’ll be trapped soon enough, unable to break free of this house’s tight grasp around our throats.
“And it will kill all of us if Ellen gets her way.” Kimberly’s gaze is drawn to something over Nick’s shoulder, the sound of heavy footsteps preceding her husband as he comes bounding down the stairs, pale and sweating. She wastes no time in shouldering past the others and wrapping her arms around her husband’s neck, clinging tightly to him as the familiar warmth of his thoughts washes over her.
“Oh, thank God,” he breathes into the crook of her neck, one arm tight around her waist and his free hand against the back of her head. He’s shaking badly, like someone left out in the cold for hours. “I didn’t mean to run. I swear I didn’t. It’s just that my mother’s here.”
“That’s not possible,” Kimberly says as she pulls back to look at him. “Your mother only gets out of bed this early if she knows there’s a sale.”
“I heard her!” He winces and takes a deep breath before continuing, voice lower. “I heard her yelling for me be-before Vic. I thought it was just some cruel trick, but it wasn’t. I…. I didn’t help him, I should’ve—” He cuts himself off, grabbing Kimberly’s hand and tugging her after him past the others. “We need to leave.” He turns to face the group, gesturing vaguely as he continues to speak. “There’s a bubble forming, and I don’t wanna be around when it decides to pop.”
“What in the world would your mother be doing here,” Cathy asks, trying to soothe the rising tensions. It just doesn’t make sense to anyone other than Emery, they don’t know Patricia’s paranoid tendencies.
“She worries about me! To tell the truth, I can’t say I blame her this time around. I just saw Pam upstairs, so I’m pretty sure she’s dead, too.” If Patricia really is here, then so is Nicky. The thought seems to dawn on Steve at the same time, green eyes locking with brown as the worry begins to blossom into full-on terror. The cousins race to the front doors with everyone else hot on their heels, the doors refusing to budge even as Steve rams his shoulder against them.
“No,” Kimberly growls, ramming against the sturdy wood until Cathy pulls her away.
“They’re stuck again,” Steve tells the others, a distinctive tremble of fear in his voice.
“Except they’re not,” Nick fills in, watching on with fire burning in his gaze. He’s just as frustrated as the others, but he’s forcing himself not to react. Reactions are what the house feeds off of, but Kimberly would like to see how anyone else would respond knowing their child was running around on a property where ghosts liked to commit murder freely and gladly. “Ellen wants to feast on us and that can’t happen if she lets us out.”
“Emery, isn’t that your mom’s car?” Emery and Kimberly join Steve at one of the windows, spotting the familiar Volvo with its powder blue paint job and cloudy headlights.
“Yeah, it’s Mommy’s little scootabout,” he confirms, a strangled sob escaping. Sister arches a brow as she turns to look at Emery, opening her mouth to ask something when he cuts her off. “Oh, don’t give me that look. She came up with the name when I was still a kid to distract me from the fact that my dad was sick, alright? And Nicky loves it, too.”
“Looks like she’s blocking another car,” Nick states. And now that Kimberly can tear her gaze away from the empty booster seat, she can make out the form of a nicer, albeit old, car just behind Patricia’s. “Doesn’t look as though anyone’s in it from here, though.”
“Probably running through the woods,” Steve grumbles, meeting Kimberly’s stare head-on. He’s seeing her memories, a family connection that’s running both ways now that they’ve come back to the start of it all. Is he seeing a smaller version of herself talking to a dead man at the very edge of the woods or is he seeing Frederick pushing his way through the foliage in search of a missing wife? “I’m gonna go check the kitchen door.”
“I’ll come with you,” Sister mumbles, hands tugging anxiously on the hem of her top. Nick looks ready to follow, but his lips thin out when Steve shakes his head. It’s subtle, and Kimberly probably wouldn’t have thought anything about it if she didn’t see the lingering touch of fingers against fragile cheekbones in her mind’s eye.
“Kimmy, try reaching out for Nicky in case he really is out there.” She nods, looking back out the window with dread settling in her belly like a lead weight. What if Nicholas really is out there somewhere? He doesn’t know how to handle spirits, let alone ones that can actually reach out and touch him. Hell, he’s just now getting a handle on the whole stranger danger routine!
One thing is for certain, if any of these dead bastards try to harm even a hair on her baby’s head, she’ll find a way to kill them all over again.
Nicky follows slowly after the dark-haired man that’s leading him through the trees, his brown eyes fixed on the stranger’s shoes. He doesn’t like looking people in the eye most of the time, it isn’t comfortable, and he can’t understand why his teachers get upset when he’d rather look at the shiny bracelets they wear or the buttons on their shirts. This man doesn’t seem to mind it and Nicky is grateful—or as close to grateful as he can understand at only four years old.
The stranger likes to talk a lot and Nicky likes to listen to the soft tones of his voice as he goes on and on about the stars. Nicky’s mommy does that too, talks even though Nicky never talks back to her; she doesn’t mind as he focuses more on her pretty rings than her eyes. His mommy is great and his daddy is great and this stranger makes funny faces whenever Nicky holds out a small hand and passes it right through the shiny buttons on his coat, so he isn’t too bad.
“And there’s so many constellations,” the stranger’s saying as they finally come out into the sunshine again. He’s smiling as he kneels in front of Nicky, teeth stained yellow in places from the stinky things Nicky’s daddy calls cigarettes. “My sister and I used to go out every night and just watch the stars appear.”
Nicky nods to show he’s listening, gaze roving around the sprawling lawn as he takes in the dead grass that makes him itch where it grazes the bit of skin visible between his pants and his shoes. He’s a good listener even if no one else knows that, his favorite thing to listen to is the tapes he has about teaching doggies new tricks. He doesn’t even have to talk to make Bear learn to beg, he just has to hold his hand a certain way and the doggie will understand perfectly.
“Look who’s gained some common sense, my little one.” Nicky follows the stranger’s finger, smiling when he spots his parents running outside. “Run to them and do not leave them. This house wants you dearly and I’m not always strong enough to protect you, Nicholas.” Nicky’s brows furrow as he looks up at the stranger, pointing up at him and then making the sign for name. “Alfred Thomas Airey, at your service.”
Nicky’s smile widens and he runs into the waiting arms of his mommy, firmly ignoring the angry spirit hovering nearby with the bright red bandana wrapped round her head.
Chapter 14: The Side Effects of Possession
Chasing a half-crazed professor through the woods with her son on her hip isn’t exactly how Kimberly envisioned her afternoon when she woke up this morning, but here she is. Miller obviously saw something his logic couldn’t handle, and it sent him spiraling if the way he’s running around sans one shoe is anything to go off of.
“Emery,” she yells after a good fifteen minutes of searching. “Emery, wait! Hold on!”
“We have to help him,” her husband says, breathing hard when he finally skids to a stop.
“We can’t even find him.” And it’s true, there’s no more crashing sounds of someone fighting their way past the hanging limbs of the numerous weeping willows or leaves crunching underfoot. Hell, she can’t even hear the panicked yells anymore and the house is half-concealed by the trees and vines. “Let’s just get back inside and tell the others, alright?”
“But—” He cuts himself off, gaze trained on something that Kimberly isn’t able to see.
“Who is it?”
“Vic.” His voice is strained and tears have gathered in his eyes as he continues to stare on in horror, taking a stumbling step back and nearly tripping over a rock. Kimberly reaches out a hand to steady him, squeezing his elbow reassuringly. “Go, go right now!” She hesitates just long enough to hear Nicky whimper and then she’s sprinting towards the house, Emery right behind her in a mad dash for the closest thing to safety they have out here.
“Keep going!” The three of them practically crash into the house, Emery only stopping long enough to slam the door shut before following Kimberly towards the end of the entrance hall where three others have gathered.
Nick is baffled but takes Kimberly’s son all the same when Nicky reaches for him, letting him hide his face in the crook of his neck. Kimberly isn’t going to complain considering Nicky usually refuses to let strangers anywhere near him, but he’s heavier than she remembers and it’s a welcome break. They must share a wavelength or something.
“What happened,” Joyce demands. Kimberly tries not to meet her gaze for too long, not liking the blooming insanity she can see there. “What’s with the hysterics?”
“I saw Vic, that’s what,” Emery shouts. “This stupid house has him lurking around in the woods like the big bad wolf!” Emery is breathless after the run, but he keeps his back straight and his chin up. It’s more than can be said for Kimberly, she’s bent over with her hands on her knees as she tries to catch her breath. I really gotta start going to the gym again. “And I saw the professor, too. He was real enough to push me against a damn tree.”
“That’s not possible—”
“Like hell it isn’t! I just ran after him through those woods trying to get him to calm down! If he isn’t real, then I’m the Easter Bunny! As if that wasn’t bad enough, my mother’s somewhere behind the house and I can’t even help her because those things keep popping up like some twisted version of Whack-A-Mole.”
“Perhaps we should all just take a breath,” Nick advises, voice soft as he rubs his hand over Nicholas’s back in gentle circles that soothes the four year old.
“I’ll calm down when I’m as far from here as I can get! As soon as I get out of here, I’m packing my family up and we’re moving to Canada!”
“What we need to do is leave while we still can,” Kimberly states firmly, using her patented Mom Voice to capture everyone’s attention. “The doors are unstuck, so let’s gather everyone up and get the hell outta dodge.” It’s the sound of footsteps that has Kimberly’s gaze snapping to the left, spotting Sister as she runs up to them.
“Joyce,” Sister calls, worry eating away at her,” it’s Annie, you have to come quick. Sh-she’s unconscious and Steve’s trying to wake her up, but….” There are tears in her eyes and she’s on the verge of a panic attack as she looks on at the group. “Please, just hurry.”
“Where is she,” Joyce asks, the crazed light leaving her eyes if only for a moment. This is a real-world problem, one that can affect her investigation, and she needs it solved as soon as possible.
“In the parlor near the kitchen.” Nicky squirms until Nick sets him down, and then he’s running through the halls as if his life depends on it. Kimberly and Emery waste no time in chasing after him with the others in tow, Nicky seeming to know exactly where he’s going. He bursts into one of several rooms and doesn’t stop until he has his arms wrapped around Bear’s neck with his face buried in the dog’s fur.
Steve gives them all a bewildered look but doesn’t question how a child knew exactly where to go. He holds Kimberly’s gaze for a moment, projecting old memories of Nicky and Bear’s interactions over the years until she gives a slight nod of her head. Some type of psychic ability that works with animals, she thinks. A real-life dog whisperer.
“The phone’s working again,” Cathy says, voice uneven as she holds up the handset. “Should I call an ambulance?”
“Of course not,” Joyce snaps, looking up from where she’d been studying Annie. That’s when Kimberly takes the time to really look at the teenager, the way Annie’s eyes move behind closed eyelids in REM sleep, yet her thoughts still float high above her. She’s getting stronger and that could be a problem if they don’t leave soon.
“To hell with that,” Emery fumes. “I’m getting my family out of this house!” He storms off, Kimberly making to go after him when she feels a slight tug on the hem of her shorts and looks down to find Bear holding her in place by his teeth. She knows from past experience that Bear can hold her down with ease if he really wants to, his muscles bunching as if preparing to tackle her.
“Bear, release,” she commands with a hard tone. The Husky lets out a deep, rumbling growl in response and tugs hard enough that she would’ve fallen had Nick not grabbed her arm. He straightens her with a kind smile, though it disappears when the phone Cathy still holds lets out a horrendous screech. She slams it back down in the cradle, lips pursed in frustration.
“Honey, can you hear me,” Joyce asks, and Kimberly notes that Annie’s woken up. Annie says nothing as she sits up, brown eyes looking around the people gathered and then misting slightly as if she’s fighting a strong daydream. “Annie?”
“That’s not Annie right now.” The teenager tears her gaze away from the dolls and glances at Kimberly, her posture all wrong for it to be Annie. “What’s wrong, Ellen? Tired of my family stopping you from playing your little mind games so you have to use the body of a little girl to do it? I’ve heard of desperate people doing desperate things, but this really takes the cake.”
“You are so different than my sister,” Annie says, accent cultured and practiced,” but you are no less welcome here, Kimberly. And you’ve brought sweet Nicholas as well. He’ll be a fine host one day, a Rimbauer through and through.” She smiles, sharp and cutting as she holds Kimberly in place using Annie’s telekinesis, keeping her from scooping Nicky up in her arms. “These halls are so lonely these days, lacking in the power Rose Red needs to keep building. You’ll forgive me for insisting that you and your friends stay a while longer.”
Kimberly’s seen the house respond to things enough times by now to know that the slamming doors are a different kind of response, one brought on by Annie’s need to be understood. The windows rattle at the force and small cracks splinter the wood of the doorjamb, the very foundation seeming to shift and groan in protest until the silence falls just as suddenly.
“You should check on your husband, he might go into shock otherwise.” And that cold smile never leaves her face, the door to the parlor swinging open silently.
“Stay with Nicky while I get Emery,” Steve instructs, already running out of the room. Cathy and Nick go after him and it takes everything Kimberly has to stay in the room. Bear still has a tight hold on Kimberly’s shorts, his panting breaths hot against her leg. Annie deflates after that, falling back against Sister like a marionette that’s had its strings cut. When she opens her eyes again, she’s back to herself with no Ellen around.
“Are you okay,” Sister asks, cupping her face gently. “Back to earth again?” Annie nods, staring around in the same way Nicky does sometimes. She sits up, though remains slouched against her sister like she doesn’t have the strength to stay upright on her own.
Joyce digs through a medical bag that seems to have come out of nowhere—Kimberly knows she must have grabbed during the run to the parlor, but rational thinking isn’t something she has time for right now, thank you—and readies a piece of gauze with some medical tape.
“Hey, sweetie,” Joyce implores,” can you face me for a second?” Annie presses her forehead against Sister’s shoulder, paying no mind to the nasty gash near her hairline or the forming bruise surrounding it.
“Annie, be a big girl for me. Let her help you.” She frowns but moves her head enough that Joyce can patch her up, looking none-too-pleased about the whole thing. Kimberly doesn’t blame her; she probably just wants to sleep for a few hours after being possessed.
“Do you feel dizzy, hon? Maybe a little lightheaded or sleepy?” Annie doesn’t say anything, cheek pressed against Sister’s shoulder as her gaze becomes unfocused. She’s drifting off, flying high above everyone as she tries to pull her thoughts together into something she can understand better. She isn’t a mute, Kimberly’s heard her giggling and talking on occasion, but she isn’t a big fan of talking when there isn’t a good reason. “How about we stand up for a second?”
Sister nods and all three of them stand, Bear releasing his grip on Kimberly in favor of sitting protectively beside Nicky with his tail wrapped around his ankles.
“I’m gonna go check on Em,” Kimberly says, taking her son’s hand gently in hers. “C’mon, kiddo, let’s go find your daddy.” He makes the sign for follow and Bear lets out a soft bark and trots beside them as they start to walk. Bear had picked up sign language surprisingly well, even the stuff Nicky had made up before he started classes.
At least my baby has some protection inside this monstrosity.
Chapter 15: Knights in Distress
As night falls, Kimberly finds herself sitting in an armchair with her son curled up in her lap, his head tucked under her chin and his breaths deep as he slumbers. It wouldn’t hard for her to peek inside to see that his dreams were of a warm afternoon in a park filled with all his favorite things, but her mind is elsewhere. Actually, it’s still in this house, this very room, but isn’t her family she’s seeing.
Sepia tones, the slight yellowing of old coffee on paper, drapes over the room as the furnishings begin to change, brand new things instead of careful restorations. Moonlight filters in through the window and highlights the form of a young woman that looks to be in her mid-thirties, rich dark hair spilling across her shoulders. She’s beautiful in that fragile, porcelain doll sort of way, the blue of her eyes shadowed by guilt as she turns from the view.
She wears only a simple nightdress and a robe, her feet covered by silk slippers that lets her walk silently out of the billiards room. Kimberly follows close behind, nerves making her stomach cramp as they head down the long stretch of hall that leads to the entrance.
Something bad is going to happen, Kimberly realizes, drawing in a sharp gasp. It’s the night she disappears.
“Was this in the journal?” Kimberly jumps as Steve appears next to her, his voice echoing in the deep gloom that has taken over the house. He’s still dressed in the jeans, dark blue tee, and green flannel he’s been wearing all day, brown hair tousled near the front from him running a hand over it.
“No,” Kimberly says, shaking her head. “It ended the day before she was swallowed up.” There had been a passage about her guilt, how she always wished her children were Frederick’s by blood, but nothing about actually being taken by the house. “‘This house clings to grief and death like a child would cling to its mother, making my own guilt sing. I hear whispering in the night, the house shifting and stretching like a living thing until I find myself unable to sleep. I will not let it stake a claim on my children, though. I refuse to let it steal my babies from me.’”
“Except it stole one anyway.”
“Alfred, it was 1934 and he was far enough on the property for his spirit to be trapped.” She sees that too sometimes, feels the searing heat at her back and bits of metal tearing through her as a car explodes. “I’m sure Gran was furious and gave old Ellen an earful.”
“This is what you see all the time? These memories?” She nods, stopping in a doorway and watching as Beatrice continues forward. Steve is warm as he comes to stand beside her, and he gets quiet as he realizes what’s about to happen.
Beatrice makes it all the way across the room, one foot on the bottom step when the floor opens up beneath her like a yawning mouth. She falls backwards without a sound, arms flailing in a blind attempt to save herself. The floor seals itself back up, a single slipper clattering to the ground and lying at the foot of the staircase as though hoping to join its owner.
Kimberly heaves a sad sigh, turning to look up at her cousin. There’s a sadness darkening his eyes that she hasn’t seen since they buried her mother, his shoulders tensed like he’s expecting some creature to come barreling around the corner and kill them all with one blow.
“You need to come back now, Kimmy,” he murmurs, cupping her face in gentle hands. “Emery’s starting to suggest different ways to knock Annie out, so I need your help.” She squeezes her eyes closed, tearing herself out of the memory and not relaxing again until she feels the weight of her son against her chest. When she opens her eyes again, Steve’s standing across the room with his gaze on her to make sure she’s pulled through.
“Emery,” she says, voice rough,” that’s enough.”
“We just need her out cold for a few minutes, long enough to get off the property,” he insists, shaking almost violently as he fights the effects of blood loss.
“What would you do if someone was threatening our son like that? Huh?” He doesn’t meet her stare, focusing instead on the blood-soaked cloth wrapped around his hand and the remains of his fingers. “You wouldn’t stand for it, so don’t go turning into a hypocrite now. Set an example for Nicky.”
“Sorry if I can’t hold up to your expectations, sweetheart.” She winces at the harsh way he speaks, not used to that tone being directed at her. “Not all of us can keep up a sunny disposition while missing four fingers and having a nasty bit of information on that stupid reporter.”
“What do you know, Em?” She keeps her voice soft, the mothering tone that comes out whenever someone she loves is sick. She finds that it achieves the best results when Emery is in a foul mood.
“Let Nick be the bearer of bad news this time. I’m tired of being the unpleasant one.” If looks could kill, then the glare he’s sporting would have Sister dead on the ground by now. “Mister know-it-all over there has been reading my mind since I lost my fingers.” Nick flushes but doesn’t comment on that as he straightens up from leaning over the pool table.
“The mirror library, yes,” he checks, continuing at Emery’s nod. “I’m afraid Mister Bollinger has claim to being Rose Red’s latest victim. It seems he dragged Emery’s mother into the library this afternoon and made her watch as he hung himself from the chandelier. After that, I’m not sure what happened to Miller or Patricia. Do you have any idea?”
“None whatsoever, thanks for asking. They’re running somewhere around this stupid place.”
Annie begins to hum a familiar tune, playing with her dolls and not registering Steve as he pats down her long hair. Nicky mimics the noise, though he remains deep in sleep as his thoughts climb higher to join Annie’s.
“They’re on the same level,” Kimberly murmurs, looking between the two kids.
“I noticed that when I held him earlier,” Nick agrees. “Have you had him tested yet?”
“There’s one set up for August, but I think I already know what the doctor will conclude.” Nicky is autistic, but he’s low on the spectrum and is able to handle touching as long as it’s people he trusts. Still, there are days where Kimberly feels like a total failure, unable to do anything to ease Nicky’s bouts of anger or understand what it is he wants. It makes her wish she could read minds and figure out what it is her baby needs.
“At least he has someone here he can go to for help. Isn’t that right, Annie.”
The teen doesn’t look up from her dolls, but Kimberly can see her sparing a quick smile in Nicky’s direction as though she’s just heard something funny.
“You know, I can’t help but be curious about something,” Nick states fifteen minutes later, his long fingers playing with the cue ball. “Did you always view us as sacrifices, or did you shove that possibility to the furthest corner of your mind and carry on like it was any given Tuesday?” Kimberly glances up from the book she’s been skimming, the conversation more interesting than James Patterson.
“I don’t know what you’re—”
“Don’t play the part of a fool, Joyce, it doesn’t suit you. Did you have any sort of backup plan in place in case you didn’t get any results? What if this place really was the dead cell you promised it to be?”
“Stop it!” The shout has Nicky tightening his grip on Kimberly’s shirt, eyes fluttering open as he’s yanked out of dreamland. “If I’d known you were crazy, then I would’ve hired someone else for this trip.” Except Nick is the sanest person in the room and the unhinged smile Joyce turns on everyone else only seems to confirm that. “D’you see how crazy he is?” She goes to set her hands on Steve’s shoulders, but jerks back when Nick slams the little white ball down on the pool table.
“I’m a mind-reader and that’s why you chose me. Now sit down before I tell everyone here what you’ve been obsessing over for the past two hours.” Steve and Joyce do just that, Joyce staring ahead of her as Nick comes the kneel beside the leather armchair. “Rose Red will never give you what you want. Ellen Rimbauer designed it to break hearts as hers was broken, to hurt as she was hurt.” To kill the way she always wanted to kill, Kimberly adds silently.
“Then we have to leave before it—”
“Kills us,” Nick interrupts Cathy with ease. “No, only killing us would be too merciful. If we die here, then the house will only use us as batteries until all the psychic power we have has run down. “The only way we’re leaving here is if we can find out what’s keeping the doors and windows locked.”
“It’s Annie doing it,” Emery grumbles. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that one out. She’s doing it because all the ghosts and ghouls are telling her that it’s the only way she’ll have friends, that this is her home and to leave it would break something in her. She can’t understand that the house is lying to her. Joyce does, though, she’s always known and that’s why she wanted Annie here in the first place.”
“Emery’s right.” Nick sighs, standing up and moving closer to Steve in order to put some space between him and Joyce. “You’ve got enough sensitive equipment here to pick up any sort of phenomenon, yet you still wanted psychics. What can we tell you that all your tools can’t, Joyce?”
“You’re all nuts,” Joyce states. She laughs, but the sound is too loud, and the cadence reminds Kimberly of the residents in Doctor Seward’s asylum. Does that make her the house’s Renfield, then? Forced to do its bidding while hoping for a reward?
“No, we’re batteries. You said during your lecture that what we’d be doing was essentially applying electricity to the muscles of a dead frog, but it’s more like the lightning that brought Frankenstein’s monster to life. Annie’s been the one to keep the ball going, but it was Steve and Kimberly that got it rolling in the first place. They have blood ties to the house, they’re the ones it really wants so that it has the complete set. Now that little Nicholas is here, it’s going to tighten its grip to achieve its goal.”
“Last time I checked, me and Kimberly wanna get out of here more than anyone else,” Steve asserts. “Nicky’s little ability hasn’t even fully formed yet, so it’s not him either.”
“True as that may be, Ellen’s still using you the way she is Annie. You must at least sense it.”
“Well, I don’t!”
Steve’s eyes glaze over as a memory takes him, the second one tonight that Kimberly’s aware of. She focuses on his thoughts and follows the familiar cold straight to the attic where a younger version of her cousin is staring with trepidation up at Ellen. His older self is standing in the shadows, just out of reach of the colored light that falls onto the floor and turns sawdust to shades of blood red and dark green.
“Can you see this?”
“Yeah,” she assures him, resting a hand on his arm. “But you need to come back before she can sink her claws into you.” He nods and they drop back into themselves, Sister sending him a worried frown.
“Are you alright,” she asks, leaning forward with her arms on her knees.
“That wasn’t real,” Steve says in answer. “The house is trying to get to me.”
“Are you sure about that,” Nick asks, resting a hand on Steve’s shoulder.
“Not even remotely, but it’s all I’ve got right now.”
“Then let’s stick with what we know,” Emery snaps, almost vicious. “Get the kid unconscious and, if the doors don’t open, we’ll work from there.”
“No one is going to hurt this child,” Joyce hisses, sliding to the floor in order to wrap her arms around Annie. It would almost seem sweet if the hold itself isn’t so possessive, the gleam in her eyes not so manic.
“Of course we’re not,” Cathy soothes, though she doesn’t look too convincing. She’s wearing down, stretched too thin after everything that’s happened. When people get like this, they’re capable of doing anything if it means surviving.
“And there’s the rub,” Nick announces sadly. “We’re in trouble, ladies and gentlemen, very big trouble.” Silence falls over the room after that, everyone lost in their own thoughts about what’s happening. Kimberly barely even notices when Nicky gets down in the floor to play with Bear, watching on in vague amusement as her son goes through the different hand motions that has the Husky doing all sorts of tricks.
Kimberly is almost asleep when she hears the shifting of cloth, her half-lidded gaze falling on where her husband looks to be sitting up. Struggling to, anyway, since he only has one uninjured hand to push himself up with.
“Don’t even think about it,” she mumbles drowsily, Emery falling back on the couch with a scowl. “She couldn’t hear you even if what you were planning to say made any sense to her.”
“Yes, she’s not in the room with us half the time,” Nick agrees. “I can’t see her thoughts.”
“They’re too high,” Steve adds.
“Like Rapunzel in her tower, though her hair’s been cut too short to be of any use in climbing.” Kimberly can hear Steve’s thoughts echoing around in the empty space, jumbled like they’ve hit a wall and fallen to pieces, but then Annie is glancing up at Steve just long enough for Kimberly to realize what’s happened. He can make his thoughts go up high, he can reach her.
‘Think you can convince her to let us go?’ Kimberly’s thought is quiet, but Steve picks up on it all the same as he looks to her. He still seems shocked to be able to do this sort of thing, like when they were children and got away with stealing cookies out of the jar on top of the refrigerator while all the adults remained unaware. He gives a curt shake of his head and Kimberly shrugs, already expecting that to be the answer.
The floorboards squeak as Cathy stands, one of the flashlights in hand as she heads for the door of the billiards room.
“Where are you going, Cathy?”
“I thought some iced tea would be nice,” she answers, pausing halfway to the door.
“You shouldn’t go alone,” Steve reminds her. He looks almost panicked, the expression only deepening when Cathy nearly blinds herself by having the flashlight facing her as she flips the switch on it.
“I’m not, I’ve got God with me.” She leaves without another word, Nick trailing after her once he can no longer hear her footsteps. Kimberly just huddles down further in the armchair, exhausted as she fights off the memories trying to bombard her. She can’t handle them all right now and she isn’t even sure if half of them are the real deal or just some of Ellen’s tricks.
If that bitch thinks she’s getting her hands on my family, then she’s got another thing coming.
Kimberly finds herself walking to the door before a thought is fully formed, mind wandering far ahead of her down a dark corridor filled with cobwebs and half finished walls. She needs to get there before something bad happens that she could’ve stopped, she has to move now if she’s going to make it.
“Kimmy, where are you going,” Emery asks, his voice muffled as though reaching her from underwater. And maybe she is underwater, all of this just a dream she’s having after falling asleep in the bathtub again. Finding out she almost drowned is preferable to all of this.
“I have to go help,” she mutters, padding out of the room bare-footed. No one chases after her and she’s glad to be alone for a while even if it means being the horror movie cliché that usually gets axed before she makes it down one of the spooky hallways. Anything’s better than the mounting tension, so she keeps moving forward.
Whispers guide her, the vague outline of a man keeping her from getting lost as she navigates her way to the upper levels. He’s joined a moment later by another man, this one’s hair a dark brown that matches Kimberly’s instead of a washed-out gold. Frederick and Alfred, she knows without really having to think about it, forming their own version of a secret service. Kimberly snickers at the thought and Alfred winks at her over his shoulder.
“You’re a brave girl for leaving that room,” he tells her, facing front again,” though a bit stupid for coming here in the first place.”
“Are you the pot or the kettle in this,” she shoots back, sounding very much like she’s talking to a normal person instead of her dead great-uncle. After all, weirder things have most definitely happened in this place. “Where are we going, exactly?”
“Focus and you’ll understand.”
“To save Nick and Cathy.”
“You got your intelligence from me,” Frederick informs her smugly. Alfred snorts, but has the good sense to sober his expression when his father shoots him a challenging look. “Not a word from the clown section, Al.”
“Clown section is officially closed,” Alfred nods, but he’s smiling, and he nudges Frederick with his shoulder. And, God, Alfred is so young to be trapped here away from the rest of the world. He’s barely twenty-four, still boasting traces of baby fat in his cheeks that his smiles make obvious. His father is fifty-five, but still lean with barely any wrinkles to crease the tanned skin of his face (and Kimberly is hoping she’ll look that good in her fifties, too).
“You okay back there, sweet girl?” She blinks out of her thoughts and gives an encouraging nod in response. She loves seeing the two men interact, loves knowing that they’re still a family even if they are dead and trapped in enemy territory. They walk another few feet in silence until they reach a corner, the two dead men coming to a halt. “This is as far as we can go.”
“Can’t walk where the halls aren’t entirely finished yet. Go and save your friends, Kimberly, and know that you have our love.”
“I’ve always known that,” she says with a shy smile.
Kimberly pushes onwards, leaving her guides behind as she enters part of the house that’s under construction. Wooden horses sit off to the side, holding hammers and saws of all kinds, painstakingly drawn designs taking up rolls of blueprints. The smell of sawdust hangs heavy here and she’s reminded of that memory Steve had buried in childhood the same way he had buried Easter eggs in the community sandbox.
The farther down the hall she goes, the clearer she can hear talking and she quickens her pace. The talking turns to screaming after a bit and Kimberly starts to run, not hesitating as she rounds a corner into a finished part of the house. She can see Nick just up ahead, his terrified gaze fixed on something in front of him. With a grunt, she tackles him out of the way, both of them tumbling through a wall like it’s made of air, landing on a dust-strewn floor somewhere else.
“God, I’m way too out of shape for this shit.”
Chapter 16: Badass Grandmas and Falling Stones
“Where are we,” Nick asks, pushing against the solid wall they’ve just fallen through. “And how the hell did you find me?”
“No clue on the first one, but my ancestors helped me with the second part of your question. They kind of formed the I Hate Ellen brigade back in the thirties.” She winces as she gets to her feet, shoulder throbbing from how she’d landed on it. The hall they’re in is disused and dark, probably meant for servants instead of the Rimbauers.
“We have to get to Cathy, she’s in trouble.”
“The panel we fell through should let us back out in that hall again.” Sore shoulder aside, she and Nick still throw themselves against the wall as hard as they can, but the wood doesn’t seem to want to budge. “Come on already! Let us out!” She tries once more before backing up with a sigh. “Kick it.”
“You heard me, Nick, kick the goddamn wall.” He takes a step back and braces himself before bringing his foot down hard against the wall, the panel opening and slamming against the outside wall with a deafening bang! “That’s the spirit.” She pats him on the back and shuffles out of the cramped hall, only to find herself in a completely different part of the house than they’d started out in.
“Where are we now?”
“Upper level, probably the third floor.” She takes a good look around, shifting through memories until she finds a useful one. “If we keep following the hall to the right, then we should come up near the attic.”
“But shouldn’t we be going down?”
“Up is down in this place, Nick.” He makes a resigned noise but doesn’t argue as the pair start to walk. They go like that for a good ten minutes, taking turns seemingly at random until they find a set of roughhewn stairs that go almost straight up to what Kimberly knows is a hidden panel in the ceiling. Nick and Kimberly share a look, nerves bursting in her chest and making her heart beat faster.
“Well, ladies first.”
“I’m not that old fashioned if you wanna take the lead.” Because neither of them wants to be the first one to enter the attic when there could be something lurking up there. Isn’t that always the case in haunted houses like this one? The big bad wolf skulking around, just waiting for prey to come to him as they follow the plot of a b-movie. What’s to stop the house from shifting again and locking them up there for the rest of their lives?
“You know, we’d die gruesomely in a horror film.”
“Without a doubt.” They heave weary sighs and force themselves to move, Nick the first to climb up the stairs and forcing the hidden panel open with the sound of wood cracking. When Kimberly gets closer, she can see a rusted lock that had been wrenched out of the frame from the blunt force of Nick’s shoulder.
“Watch out, the floor’s not what it used to be.” She understands what he means once she’s in the attic proper, the floor beneath her feet warped in places from the damp. The attic, it seems, has been pretty much abandoned all these years, like even Ellen’s mojo can’t save the entire house from the elements. “Do you hear that?”
“Shh, just listen.” She strains to pick up anything that isn’t the house settling for the night as the temperatures begin to drop. “Is that Steve?” She reaches out with her other senses, hears the familiar rambling of her cousin’s thoughts just a few rooms over. “C’mon, he’s this way.” They follow the barely discernable sounds through two more doorways until they’re in the highest part of Rose Red, the Tower Folly boasting a stained glass window of green leaves and a blooming rose.
“Nick,” Cathy breathes with a smile. “Thank God you’re alright! When I opened the door and didn’t see you, I thought for sure the house had eaten you.”
“No such luck, I’m afraid. Kimberly came to my rescue with a tackle worthy of the NFL.” Kimberly hides her shy smile by ducking her head, suddenly feeling self-conscious as Nick claps a hand on her shoulder in thanks. “What are you lot doing up here? Oh, and who’s our friend?”
“April,” Sister answers quietly. Kimberly glances up and then follows Nick’s gaze to the corpse lying on the ground, clothed in a white gown with skin pulled taunt over her bones, withered arm tucked against the chest. April looks more like an overcooked turkey now, but Kimberly doubts any turkey in the world has fucking fangs like some kind of vampire.
“How’s that even possible? She’s been missing since 1917.”
“And my great-uncle’s been dead since 1934, but that didn’t stop him or his dad from leading me to you,” Kimberly remarks, crossing her arms over her chest. “Let’s just get back to the others before we find something even worse, like Snape bullying kids in the pantry.”
“Not a fan of old Severus I take it,” Steve asks, looping an arm around her shoulders.
“He reminds me of my ninth grade history teacher. Remember how that guy tried to fail me because Daddy beat him up when they were in high school?”
“Oh yeah, and then Uncle Sam beat him up again when he found out. Good times.” He urges her towards a new set of stairs, but she hesitates a moment before digging out her cell phone. It doesn’t have any signal for her to call for help, but the camera works just fine as she snaps a picture of the corpse.
“Now at least we have proof, so Joyce can’t get bitchy.”
Joyce still gets pretty bitchy.
“Let me get this straight,” Kimberly grouses,” you have no problem believing in a haunted house that grows by itself, but you draw the line at Steve’s aunt lurking around in dark corners for eighty-four years? I took a fucking picture, Joyce!” She holds the phone up for emphasis, shaking it in the so-called scientist’s face.
“Pictures can easily be faked.”
“Yeah, because I’m tech savvy enough to do something like that when I still write out all my manuscripts in pencil!” She lets out a sharp breath and jams her phone back in her pocket, pacing the length of the room to keep from doing something she’ll regret later. Okay, so punching Joyce in the face probably won’t be on her list of regrets, but Nicky shouldn’t see his mom lose her shit like that. “You know what? Fine. Believe what you want to, but don’t come crying to me when Sukeena or Ellen try to pull a Bela Lugosi on your ass.”
“Maybe you should get some sleep, Kimberly. You look like you’re half an hour away from a complete breakdown.”
“Can you blame her for that,” Steve demands, hands on his hips as he turns to level a glare at Joyce. “For God’s sake, she’s been having other people’s memories thrown at her left and right since she got here, and that’s not exactly a comfortable thing to deal with at the best of times! Stop being so obtuse!”
“Oh my, that’s a dreadfully big word for a college dropout.” Kimberly lunges forward with a snarl, Steve catching her by the waist and hauling her back before her fist can connect with Joyce’s cheek.
“What a sharp tongue you have, Grandma,” Sister comments dryly.
“Another country heard from,” Emery quips, voice shaking as he grows weaker. Seeing her husband looking so miserable drains the fight right out of Kimberly, Steve adjusting his hold so that he’s holding her up instead of restraining her. If they don’t get Emery to the hospital soon, then he’ll be dead come morning. “I’m curious, how often do you fantasize about your sister dying?”
“How often do you fantasize about that happening to your son or your wife?” Emery looks taken aback at that, breath stuttering as he glances to the curly-haired little boy using Bear as a pillow. “It hurts to have someone talk like that, doesn’t it? Maybe think before you speak next time, you troll.”
“At least my son isn’t helping this house murder us.”
“Yes, he is,” Kimberly murmurs, dropping down into the armchair she’d abandoned just a couple hours ago. It had been a long walk back to the billiards room and her bare feet has the aches to prove it if anyone wants proof. “The house is amplifying his powers since he’s…. Since he’s technically of the Rimbauer bloodline. He and Annie have been communicating since they met. Isn’t that right, Nicky?” Nicky looks up from the domino he’s holding, giving her a bright smile in response.
“No, he’s barely got any ties to the Rimbauers.”
“I’ll tell you all about it if we get out of here. Until then, try to keep those comments to yourself. Like I said earlier, if you don’t want it said about your son, then you don’t say it about another child. Simple as that.”
“Can you talk to Nicky,” Cathy asks. “Maybe convince him to help us instead?”
“His thoughts are getting too far away for me to reach.” She gives an unamused smile, hanging her feet over one of the chair’s arms. “He’s copying Annie’s processes because he understands them better. She’s more on his level than any of us.”
“What about you, Steve? Do you think you can talk to Annie?”
“Not in here,” Steve shrugs. “It’s like the house has formed its own little forcefield around her and I can’t get through it.” Kimberly’s eyes close as the house’s incessant creaking continues, going up an octave before, out of freaking nowhere, a full-on gust of wind blows through the room. She can’t hear anything over the howling, not even her squeal of surprise when she tumbles to the hard floor and something in her shoulder seems to give.
Emery is up and moving while Kimberly remains on the ground, stumbling against the force of the wind to cover their son from the barrage of leaves and God knows what else that’s being blown around. She grits her teeth, trying to push herself up only to have an intense burning in her shoulder make her collapse back to the floor with a strained hiss.
Through watering eyes, she watches as Annie turns to glare up at Emery, like he’s some monster hiding inside her closet or under her bed. There’s more than that anger, though, there’s a deadly intent that makes Kimberly let out a choked sob. As if guided by a puppet master, the suit of armor across the room begins to move, it hands wrapped tightly around the shaft of an ornamental ax.
“Emery, duck,” Kimberly screams, watching on in horror as he drops to the floor barely a second before the ax swings. The armor swings again, embedding the ax deep in the floor barely an inch from Emery’s head before the suit collapses in pieces to the ground around him. “Emery! Oh, Jesus….” She crawls over to him, using her good hand in order to make sure he doesn’t have any more injuries. “Are you—” She cuts herself off, looking around as she realizes the wind has completely died down once the armor had crumpled.
“Cathy, I think it’s your turn to help us out,” Steve says, looking to her even as she flinches back.
“No,” she protests. “I can’t—”
“We don’t have any other options,” Nick reminds her, voice soft yet firm. “Everyone else has tried to get us out of this place and now it’s your turn to step up to the base. You can do this.” She doesn’t look very reassured, but she nods all the same and lets out a heavy sigh. “Atta girl.”
“I need markers and some paper. If we’re going to do this, then I might as well get Annie to help me out.”
“Kimberly and I will fetch it. I think I saw some in the entrance hall when we first came in.” Kimberly nods and leaves Steve to help Emery up onto the couch, walking out to the long table set up in the entrance hall. Nick stops her as she goes to grab the sketchpads, pressing gently at her shoulder. “Is it bad?”
“It’s probably just a bruised muscle,” she answers, able to use the arm now. “I’ll be fine.”
“Will you, though? Will any of us?”
“We have to be.” She grabs up the books and markers, her and Nick making a fast trip back into the billiards room as Joyce begins a rant on why they shouldn’t try this. Automatic writing isn’t nearly the safest thing to be doing in an obviously haunted house, but it’s the only option they haven’t tried. If this doesn’t work, then Kimberly’s not above using Joyce as a battering ram. Surely her skull’s thick enough to get those doors open.
When they get back into the room, Cathy has seated herself on the floor across from Annie and she takes the materials with a nervous smile. Nicky and Bear are sitting on either side of their new friend, the dog’s tail thumping rhythmically against the rug. Cathy works silently to get everything organized the way she wants it, paying no mind to the way the others are watching her or how Steve is physically holding Joyce back much the same way he’d done to Kimberly just ten minutes before.
“Would you like to try this with me, Annie,” she asks. The teenager’s gaze meets Steve’s across the room and then she’s taking a blue marker from Cathy. “Let’s do it together, alright?” Annie gives a slight incline of her head that might be a nod, watching curiously as Cathy begins to draw little swirls along the first page. Annie mimics the motions, her swirls tight and close together.
“Great job, sweetheart,” Steve praises, drowning out the soft begging Joyce is doing. Sister joins in, nodding when Annie looks to her before her attention focuses back on the paper.
As Annie continues to go, the stone flower vases explode in large chunks that scuff the floor in places, a breeze picking back up. It’s like the house is starting to fall apart at Annie’s silent command, Kimberly scooping her son up to keep him from being hit by anything.
Lightbulbs burst in their sockets, a shower of sparks raining down that burn whenever they strike the bare skin of her arms. Not even the sound of glass shattering can make Kimberly look away from the sight in front of her, Annie writing with a soft smile curving her lips upwards. She’s happy, loves helping people even if no one understands quite how she’s doing it. But Steve does, Steve has a direct line to her in this house and Annie is soaking up the praise like a sponge.
Like all the other times before when something had happened, things go quiet so suddenly that the lack of noise almost hurts. Papers, the ones they’d brought in and the sheet music from the organ, flutter to the ground around them, covering the floor like feathers.
“Joyce?” Kimberly turns at Steve’s voice, nearly tripping over her feet when she tries to back away. Joyce is striding across the room with a screwdriver in hand and Kimberly isn’t about to have these kids get stabbed when they’re so close to getting out. “No!”
Joyce shoves Cathy and Sister out of her way, but she only gets within three feet of Annie when a face made of crackling flames lunges out of the fireplace, forcing her to fall backwards or get burned.
“Not there,” Emery chants, leaping off the couch. “Not there, not there!” The face shoots back into the fireplace with a pained shriek, Emery’s decades old technique still proving useful. He grabs a handful of Kimberly’s shirt and tugs her with him towards the door, only stopping long enough to let out a sharp whistle that has Bear chasing after them. “We’re getting outta here now!”
“No arguments here,” she breathes out.
“What I wouldn’t give for a little morphine right now.”
“Make it to the hospital without passing out and I’ll make sure you get high as a kite, babe.” He lets out a weak laugh, but the sound morphs into a whine when his mother materializes in a mirror, shooting outward and wrapping her stubby fingers around his throat in a tight grasp.
“Come here, Emers,” she yells, the bottom half of her still trapped in the liquified glass. Her free hand wraps around his wrist, shaking the hand with the missing fingers like it’s another of her stuffed animals. “I wanna see if you’ve been cleaning your nails!” Patricia continues to ramble, which isn’t much different than two days ago, but now she’s got black streaks running through her face and is so obviously dead that not even the Scooby gang would have a doubt.
“Help me,” he screams, reaching back with his free hand. “For God’s sake! Help me!”
“Fight her,” Cathy yells back to him. “For once in your miserable life, fight her!”
“Em, she’s not real,” Kimberly tries, doing her best to keep Nicky from seeing Patricia. “She’s just like Vic and all the others! Make her go away!” Emery struggles hard against her, arching back even as she weakens and sinks back into the glass as he chants the familiar phrase of not there.
Steve jumps in once he and the others fall out into the hall, grabbing Emery with both hands and pulling him back as the glass begins to harden again. “I’ve got ya,” he says breathlessly, patting Emery’s back. “Kimmy would never let me live it down if I didn’t save your ass at least once.” Kimberly feels a hysterical giggle rising in her throat but swallows it down.
“Stevie,” comes a smooth voice from behind them. Ellen, basically just a skeleton in her white dress, is floating about a foot off the floor with a hammer clutched in her hands. “Here, take the hammer and help us build. You wanted it all those years ago and now’s your chance to join us.”
“Get the fuck away from my family!” Everyone’s heads snap to the right as Beatrice herself comes swooping in like death in a pale blue dress. And, hey, might as well wear beautiful clothes if you’re stuck as a ghost for seventy-eight years. Frederick and Alfred materialize on either side of her, though Kimberly doubts her great-gran will need their help with the amount of power crackling around her.
“Dear Bess, don’t you have a hallway to haunt?”
“I’ve learned a thing or two since our guests arrived.” She’s bringing her fist back even as she walks, delivering a solid right hook that has Ellen flying backwards down a darkened hallway. With a prim little sniff, Beatrice turns to face the humans that are gawking up at her, a smug grin showing off pearly white teeth. “I’ve been wanting to do that for years now.”
“Oh,” Emery murmurs, breaking the stunned silence,” that’s where Kimmy gets it from.”
“Get out of here, dear ones, we’ll hold the others back.” Kimberly believes it, too. It’s like having her family so close gives Beatrice a rush of strength and she has the stubborn will to put it to good use as she turns to start down the hall after Ellen with the men following behind her.
Nick urges the others forward and brings up the rear as they sprint out of the house, none of them stopping until they reach the water fountain in the front yard. The doors have swung shut again at some point, sealing the place shut from all outsiders. Kimberly isn’t complaining, not when it means safety for her baby boy.
“B-bad place,” Annie states. “Bad house.”
“That’s right, Annie,” Steve agrees,” very bad.” A rumbling sound is growing steadily louder, but Kimberly isn’t concerned since she’s outside. Still on the property, yes, but the van is only a few feet away and she’s absolutely certain that she can use it to ram the gates if she has to.
“It’s the stones again,” Sisters says, as though no one else would be confused by it. There’s an explanation a moment later as a boulder crashes through the front doors like God has dropped it right out of the sky. More follow, crumbling mortar and stone like it’s nothing, glass exploding out onto the lawn and glittering in the moonlight.
“Make her stop,” Cathy implores, sounding close to tears.
“And I don’t want her to,” Steve adds with a grim set to his jaw.
“Let her tear the place down,” Kimberly insists. “It’s the first good thing to happen here since the house was made.” And she means it, to hell with the cursed family house that only brings bad things. As it turns out, watching giant stones crush parts of the house that has tried multiple times to kill you and everyone you love is a type of therapy Kimberly never even knew she needed in her life.
“Let’s get out of here.” Everyone climbs back into the van, no longer worrying about climbing over each other or that the AC only works half the time just that the stupid thing gets them out of range of the stones. The van jerks slightly as a ball of flames explodes upwards into the sky, one of the larger stones having smashed Patricia’s car.
“Well, that’s one good thing that came out of this.” Steve puts the van in park just outside the gates, getting out to look at the damage.
“Hey, Kimmy, look at this.” She joins him at the back of the van, the giggle finally breaking free once she spots her family wandering out into the front yard, looking unscathed and smiling as they slowly begin to float. It looks graceful as the three of them shift into little balls of light, disappearing as the skyline begins to lighten.
“My great-gran is a total badass.”
Chapter 17: Remembrance
The full group doesn’t meet up again for four months, gathering together in front of the house that had nearly torn them apart. It’s broad daylight, the September cold not yet arrived as the weatherman had predicted, and a light breeze is ruffling Kimberly’s hair as she looks at the spot where she’d seen three of her ancestors finally crossover. They’d deserved it after all the hell they’d gone through while stuck in this house.
Steve passes out the roses he’d bought earlier, one for each person present that also represents all the people they’ve lost along the way and the eminent destruction of the family curse. He pauses in front of Nick, fingers brushing against the blond man’s as though the contact is the only thing keeping him sane.
“It’s really over, isn’t it,” Kimberly asks no one in particular.
“It really is,” Cathy confirms, smiling when she spots Nicky’s hand coming up to rest on the small bump of Kimberly’s belly. At three months pregnant, she can still get around just fine even if her husband and son don’t like the thought of her moving too much. It seems Nicky’s inherited his father’s mile-wide protective streak after all. “Do you know what you’re having yet?”
“No, but we’re hoping for a little girl.” She smiles as well, resting her hand over Nicky’s and giving it a squeeze. He grins in return, nuzzling his cheek against her stomach before launching himself up into Emery’s arms.
A little girl, Kimberly knows already. Named for a great-great-grandmother she’ll never meet that saved her mommy’s life.
“We’ve decided to call it Bess until we go have the ultrasound,” Emery adds as though sensing Kimberly’s line of thoughts. “Freddy if it’s a little boy.” The appointment is later that day, scheduled as a way to escape the house in case either of them feel threatened.
“Those are wonderful names,” Cathy says, blue eyes bright. She’s happy again, her smile genuine and not strained by fear. Her attention turns to the teenager on her right, watching as Annie twirls the rose around between her fingers. “Annie, do you know what roses mean?”
“Roses mean remember,” Annie says with a proud little smile. She’s doing better now that she’s used to them all, coming over to the apartment every other Saturday to spend time with Nicky.
“That’s exactly right.”
“Thirty more minutes,” Steve tells them with a relived smile of his own. “Then we can all go get waffles until I find out if I’m having a little goddaughter in six months.” He makes a face and shakes his head a little as his thoughts seem to shift from bright side to dark side. “Unless it’s as impatient as Nicky, then we’re looking at five months while in the middle of the biggest traffic jam in Seattle history.”
“We’re not repeating that,” Emery says. “If that happens, I’ll strangle you with a seatbelt.” But he’s smiling and that softens his words, Steve smiling back in answer. They’re getting along better, which kind of lends some truth to that saying about near-death situations bringing people closer together. And if that isn’t a saying, then it totally should be.
Annie walking to the house is what snaps Kimberly back out of her own mind, Cathy making to go after her only to be stopped by Emery’s hand on her arm.
“Don’t worry, I got her.”
“Yeah, they’re best buddies now that a house isn’t trying to eat us,” Steve quips. Emery pays him no mind, kneeling down next to Annie and watching as she sets her rose down on the dried leaves.
“Who’s that one for?” She doesn’t say anything, but he isn’t expecting her to and just smiles broader. The others join them, setting their flowers down with the stems crisscrossing over each other.
“Hey, set this one down so Kimmy doesn’t have to bend over.” She rolls her eyes as the rose is snatched out of her hand but doesn’t bother to argue. She’d tried it all of her last pregnancy and it worked about as well as a chocolate tea kettle. Steve winks at her, then he’s tugging playfully on a strand of Annie’s dark hair.
“Can you still reach her with your mind,” Cathy wonders.
“No, but we communicate pretty well now. Don’t we, Annie?” She grins and jumps up to hug him, giggling quietly as he spins on his heal.
Kimberly’s phone chimes, the alarm making her nerves spike as it really hits her what all’s happening today. Not only will the house be torn down for good, she’s finding out what her baby is for certain.
“You ready for this, Kimmy?”
“Beyond ready,” she nods, leading the way back to the cars. She and Emery had come in their own car, a nice little minivan that’s perfect for car seats, while the others had all arrived in Steve’s truck. The Watermans leave first with Steve following behind, the cars going separate ways once they reach the main section of the city.
It’s an hour later, when Steve’s working on his fourth stack of waffles and the others have all called it quits, when a text message comes through. He knows what it is without having to look at his phone, what the message will be and how it’ll be phrased for the simple reason of having a direct line to his cousin’s thoughts still.
Beside him, Nick shifts in the booth and digs the phone out himself with no regard for the syrup that drips onto his shirtsleeve after bumping Steve’s fork. He’s a man on a mission since, as he’s frequently reminding anyone who will listen—his mother was fine, his best friend from high school was a bit of a stretch, but Nick even told the boy that bagged up their groceries—that it’s his godchild as well.
And, as he grins and brandishes the phone proudly for everyone at their table to see the grainy picture of an ultrasound and the caption beneath it, Steve finds that he’s been right all along.
Say hello to little Beatrice!