Stede pushed open the door with a grunt of effort and a squeal of hinges. A long cobweb fought the losing battle to stay together and fluttered down against his ear, drawing a yelp from him as he batted it away. The light shone across the dust coated floors, all the way up the authentic oak shelves obscured with even more dust, and to the half collapsed chandelier in the center of the room. So. It was a bit of a fixer upper.
It was perfect
Stede had been divorced for about a year when he’d first gotten the idea to purchase a library. More specifically, his ex wife Mary had suggested it, and he’d practically hit himself with how obvious it was. He basically already owned one, it just wasn’t public. But Stede Bonnet couldn’t go about purchasing a normal old library, no. He wanted something big. Fanciful. With history. And near the ocean.
He strode proudly into his new purchase, assessing just what had made it so cheap. Broken boards marred the beautifully lacquered floor, half the shelves were collapsed or splitting at the seams, and the furniture- broken or otherwise- was all stacked at one end of the room. Cobwebs and dead bugs speckled everything he could see. Stede nodded solemnly to himself. “Well, Bonnet. You picked a good one.” He needed to list out what to do. Everything was so much easier when he had a plan. He smacked his hands together to get the collecting dust off, and turned back to the ornate double doors he’d left open to get some light.
He nabbed a piece of paper from his car. Best to mark everything down first and then make a route through it. A crisp autumn wind curled around his neck as he stepped back towards the doors, and they started to swing before slamming hard. Stede jumped. He’d seen it happen, but still flinched. Such a reaction was only natural, yes? Loud sounds and the sort. He walked back up the steps and tried the handle, grunting when it stuck. “What?” Was it locked? Maybe the door was busted; it had been a rather hard slam. Stede tried again before gruffing, and on some bizarre instinct, knocked. “Hello? Can I come back in please?” He tapped his foot angrily. He wasn’t sure who he was talking to, maybe the lock that had possibly engaged. The handle opened on another try. Perhaps there was someone in here after all. Or maybe he was just a bit odd. He was the kind of man to apologize to mannequins and thanked machines for working. Who could say?
Stede checked the dust for footprints, but only his tracked through it. Must just be the door acting odd. He twirled the pencil between his fingers as he stepped through towards the broken bits. The ground level needed the floor patched up, shelf repair, new furniture, a good dusting and overall clean. A couple window panes needed replacing, along with the chandeliers in dire need of repair, but nothing he couldn’t handle. He listed these off, then paused at the wall. A large painting hung over the ash filled fireplace. The figure brushed into the frame was imposing, arms stretched wide with a sword in one hand and the other reaching for a gun, and a large mop of hair obscuring the man’s face. Right. The entire reason he bought this particular library. Supposedly, Blackbeard- the dread pirate Blackbeard had holed up here while on the run. He’d drowned off this very coast, in fact! It hadn’t been a library then, but after his death it had been dedicated to him. This painting was extremely well preserved, all things considered. The paint was cracking, and a hole was worn through the canvas near the side, but nothing an expert restorationist couldn’t fix! Stede wrote that on a different portion of the paper, as more of a personal project.
The second floor looked better off than the ground, but it was still under disrepair. Similarly cracked window panes, dust and cobwebs, and broken shelves could all be done at the same time as the first floor. A couple smaller paintings needed restoring, but that was just another part of the personal project. The third floor needed roof repairs, and the expansive window overlooking the ocean was broken. The ghost of puddles darkened the wood under holes in the ceiling, and Stede hoped that was the extent of the damage it caused. He wasn’t renovating or anything, but water damage would really put a damper on his mood.
Stede tapped his pencil to the paper as he stood by the window, watching the rolling waves lap at the shore. Deep moody clouds hung heavy over the town, making the calm sea look poised and threatening. As if Poseidon would call down the heavens at any moment. He breathed out. “Storms coming.” He murmured. “Better block up the holes.”
The storm did indeed come. All he’d managed to do was toss a tarp over the broken window and hope the ceiling could keep out most of the water, if the damage to the floor was anything to go by. Stede found a small collection of rooms to the side that he could use as staff rooms, and currently hunched down in what he’d make a personal office (or maybe a bedroom). Someone had broken glass in here, but besides that and the dust, it was probably the room most put together. Rain and wind lashed the window something fierce as he pulled his coat tight over his shoulders; a crackle of thunder made him yelp. Stede never had been good with storms. Even as a child, when the first flash of lightning filled the windows, he would run and huddle under his blanket. His father never liked that. Said it was coward’s behavior. He wished he had a blanket to hide under now. The ocean’s fury could be heard through the walls, throwing sand and surf up against the hill.
Another clap of thunder sent goosebumps rushing over his arms, and he pulled his coat tighter against his shivering body. The swaying and creaking of the library didn’t help matters much either. Every rolling boom sent a tinkling of the glass chandeliers through the halls, and bowing wood groaned in protest against harsh winds. Stede figured he’d have to get used to this; storms happened near the ocean, pretty often. Light probably would help such an occurrence. Once he got this place fixed up, storms would be little trouble. He’d have books to keep him company, and plenty of light and tea.
A series of clunks brought his attention to the propped open door. Something probably fell over. Or was rolling. That couldn’t be footsteps. Stede’s heart pittered faster against his chest as the sound approached his room, and he shrunk back. A shadow stretched into the room, and a figure filled the gap in the doorframe, heavy breathing shaking their shoulders.
“H-hello??” Stede pushed back across the floor. He probably looked pathetic. “I don’t have anything on me to steal! So don’t bother!” The door pushed open by a sopping arm, leaving a trail of drops on the wood.
Lightning illuminated the man through the window. All Stede caught was a mass of hair on his head and face, and deep brooding eyes boring into him. And leather, lots and lots of leather. The man took a step in. “Calm down, mate. I ain’t here to rob you.” Rough verbose notes rumbled through the room. “Just got caught in the storm.”
Stede ran his eyes from the figure to the trail of water. Oh bugger, he was right. How foolish he must seem! “Oh! Oh, my apologies.” He rushed to stand, smoothing his fancy coat out and walking over. “Nasty thing, that storm,” it almost sounded like he was scolding said storm, “I’m afraid I can’t offer much in the way of warmth. If I tried to light a fire, I’m worried I’d burn the house down with the soot caught in the chimney.” He laughed nervously, pulling the man in. “Goodness, you’re freezing!”
Indeed he was, his skin was positively frigid. The man blinked, then shrugged. “Oh, eh. Didn’t really notice.” He pulled some clinging strands of hair from his face as he made his way over to the window. “Honest? I didn’t even think anyone else was here. You just come? Never seen you before.”
“Yes! I know the place isn’t the cleanest, I do apologize, but I’ll fix it up in no time!” Stede knew first impressions were everything, and he’d already squandered it by being afraid. He needed to present well now. “Do you live in town?”
The man had been examining the window curiously. “Something like that. What would you fixin’ this place look like?”
Ahah! Interest! He just had to not over do it. “Just standard stuff, really. Replace the broken windows, patch up the roof and floor, sort through the broken furniture. I’m hoping to keep as much original material as possible! I’m pretty sure the chandeliers could be saved, along with a lot of the shelves.” Stede motioned around. “Everything needs a good clean, as you can tell. After I get everything functional, I’m thinking of a nautical theme? Oh, maybe that’s cheesy, but I have all these trinkets I can decorate the place with. I have something of an interest in pirates, which is why I was partial to buying this place. What with the history. You live here, you probably know it, but this place once housed Blackbeard!” He paused when he saw a scowl cross his guests face. “...I’m rambling. I apologize.”
The man looked surprised by him stopping. “Hm? Oh, no. Nah, it’s not you.” He shrugged. “Just, pirates ain’t my thing. But hey, it sounds good. Like you know what you’re doing.”
“I haven’t a clue, actually.” Stede moved closer to the window to watch the ocean with him. “I just had a bunch of books, and figured having a place to put them would be nice. I don’t use all of them all the time. Why not let others? I really didn’t expect it to be such a project.” He chuckled. “I don’t mind, though.” Silence settled over them, only disturbed by a crack of thunder. Stede wondered if he’d said something wrong again, but the man turned.
“I’m Ed, by the way.” The man was clearer now through the pane. He was pale, and the area around his eyes was a bit sunken. But he was beautiful. A mostly grey beard framed high cheekbones, and wavy black and grey hair cascaded down his back. A scar ran the length of his face, dark against his already deeply tanned skin. Ed also looked absolutely soaked as well. His clothes clung to his limbs and his hair hung limp and heavy with a slight shine. But he wasn’t shivering.
Stede was so caught up in staring that he almost missed his manners. “S- Stede.” He cleared his throat. “Stede Bonnet.” He offered his hand, but then lowered it quickly at the look he got. “You know, I’m not too familiar with the area. Do you think you could…?”
“Maybe.” Ed looked back to the window sharply. “Dunno. Can’t make any promises.”
His heart sank a little. He’d overdone it. Again. Stede nodded slowly and stepped back. “I’ll uh. Yeah.” They stayed in the room for what felt like forever, but eventually Ed stepped back. He still looked wet, which was weird, but maybe he just retained water.
“Storms clearin. I better-” He jerked his thumb to the side, moving to the door without waiting for a response. Stede had settled down on the floor by this point, and he looked up.
“Wait, Edward-” Stede hurried to the door where the man had turned, but when he looked around…
He was gone. Only the faint sound of water dripping remained in his wake. He gaped. Goodness. Ed must be fast.
A couple weeks passed. Stede had managed to hire a couple people to repair the roof and windows- he needed to make sure the house wouldn’t flood first- and got to work on removing the furniture that was beyond repair. Mary called to check on his progress. They were lucky in that they weren’t bitter about the divorce. Both of them hated being married, but they made decent friends, Mary tethering Stede to the ground when he started having flights of fancy. He also didn’t mind Doug all that much.
He’d also gotten himself somewhat familiarized with the town. The only other place with books was a small bookstore called Queen Anne’s Used and New Books , but the selection was sparse. Not that he was happy about that, but it meant he wasn’t just giving them something they already had. A couple people asked after the library, but after informing them where it was most excused themselves. Was the location that bad? Stede managed to snag the attention of a young man who seemed bored to death working in one of the two grocery stores located on opposite ends of town. His nametag said Lucius and he seemed completely flippant at first.
“No one’s going to want to go up there, you know?” He said as he bagged up his purchase of eggs.
“That library. People are scared of the place.” Lucius flicked open another bag. “This lots real superstitious.”
Stede hadn’t been expecting conversation, nor for him to know about the library. Although, maybe news spread fast. The funnily dressed guy at the library on the hill. “...Are you?” He wasn’t sure he wanted to know what the superstitions were, but it seemed like he’d be told regardless. Maybe not Lucius, but someone would.
The boy stared at him for a moment before huffing just slightly. “No. ‘M not. Just don’t like libraries.” The way his eyes started to wander suggested otherwise.
“Well, maybe you’ll like mine.” Stede grabbed a couple of his bags. He’d done this dance with his kids a few times. “I’m still working on the inside, but I do know I’ll need a few people to help run such a big space. You look at wits end down here, and I think you’ll enjoy the pay.” He smiled slyly. “Unless you’re scared too?”
“I see what you’re trying to do.” Lucius scoffed. “...But maybe I will. Just to make you regret inviting me.” He pushed the final bag of groceries over toward him while making some intense eye contact.
He just laughed. “Well, hope I see you there.” Stede loaded the cart and walked out. He’d been almost everywhere by now, and he had yet to run into that mysterious Ed again. Maybe he lived just outside of town; he did say ‘something like that’ when asked if he lived here. That wasn’t a resounding yes. He hoped he would run into him again, even if just to apologize for how he acted upon their meeting. If he felt brave, maybe he’d invite him to check out the library, no matter the state of it. There were huge improvements already, and he was itching to show them off. Stede loaded up his car and drove back to the library.
The people working on the roof had also offered to help with the floors, which he’d gladly accepted. They’d gotten the electricity running, and Stede had set up his living space by this point. The workers were used to him popping in and out by now, and he’d even managed to get on speaking terms with a few.
A large man the others called ‘Wee’ John was hauling the broken boards out as he drove up. He tossed them into the pile they were collecting. He looked up. “Almost done with the broken ones, boss.” He motioned towards the heap. “Should be able to put down new ones this week.”
“Perfect! Thank you, John!”
John hesitated before sighing. “You know, they say this place is haunted.” He turned back to Stede. “It’s why there’s only a couple of us here willin to work on the old thing. And why it’s takin so long.”
“Oh.” There it is. He figured it was something of the sort, a ghost or a monster lurking around the building. Stede almost scoffed, but that would be rude. “Well. I don’t mind. I’ll pay you for any overtime. You and your men just make sure it’s done proper.” Wee John nodded, but he was still hesitating. It seemed everyone was scared of the house, whether they said it or not. He could work with it though. “Hey, if I were a ghost. I wouldn’t want to live in a house that’s falling apart. So I like to think if there is someone… haunting the place, they’d be alright with us doing some upkeep.”
This gave the man some pause. He scanned over Stede for a moment before a smile tried to quirk at his lips. “...I s’pose.” He pulled out a small notepad and jotted down some numbers. “We should be done innnn… ‘bout a week? Give or take.” John nodded his head at the car. “Need help with those?”
“Oh? I wouldn’t want to trouble you with it.” Stede smiled as he popped the trunk. Maybe they were indeed a superstitious lot, but they were friendly.
John crinkled his nose. “You ain’t gotta worry about me charging you, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s just bein nice.”
Stede flushed. “Oh, no ah-” He had somewhat been thinking about it. To save himself from sticking his foot even further down his throat, he just gestured him over. As he grabbed the bags, he lifted his head back to the house. Through the large window on the third floor, a form stood, arms folded behind its back and obscured by the shadows traipsing the property. When their eyes (he assumed) met, it raised an arm to wave at him. Stede blinked, flicking his wrist to wave back. Someone clattered some boards, causing him to jump and snap his head over.
When he looked back, they were gone.