by R.W. Van Sant
It was his first time alone in the old house. He found it unnerving. It was quiet; he could hear every creak as the house responded to the wind that was growing outside. He could even hear the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks in the cove. Jerry walked over to the stereo, put on an old Eagles cd and turned the music up. He did not see how Ted survived in the house for a month alone. Looking around at all the work done on the place answered that question.
Ted had forgotten how to relax. Perhaps he had as well. Jerry realized that his entire life has become, dive, study, and learn. He grasped how much he missed just hanging out with Ted and laughing. After the dive, he would get Ted to lighten up a bit. Perhaps a couple of tickets to Disneyland might be in order. Depending on how the coffee went, he might have to pay for three tickets. If Ted reconciled with Rebecca, then maybe he would ask Ellie to go and make it a foursome.
A loud thumping broke his reverie. It ran down the hall from upstairs. It did not sound like walking; it was more like a door shutting. He knew that he was alone. No one could have broken in. What could they hope to get, unless they suspected Ted was after treasure. What if Becky was a diversion to get him out of the house? Maybe someone waited until the front door shut to rob the place. Maybe it was old Teller’s ghost. Jerry sighed and pushed such irrational thoughts from his head.
He forced himself up from the couch and went up the stairs to investigate. The hallway was empty, and all the doors were closed. The thumping grew more urgent. A few terrifying steps up the winding stairs to the widow’s watch and he could see the new padlock. The sound did not come from that door, which was good as he had no desire to go up there again.
First, he checked his room. It was secure, windows closed and shutters shut tight. He could see the moonlight shone on the cove below. The trees were bent slightly, indicating that the wind was growing in strength, but nothing else was moving. Striding down the hall, he made sure Ted’s room was secure. That left the other two rooms. He had not been in either of them. Until then, he had not even thought of entering them. Ted had kept him too busy to explore the house.
The first door was stuck and only opened when Jerry hit it with the full force of his shoulder. The room was dark and musty. It had been shut for a long time. The light switch did not work, and the light from the hallway illuminated the room’s dusty, cloth-covered furniture. Ted was apparently using it for storage, which explained why he had not mentioned it. The staleness of the air bore witness that the room could not have been the source of the sound.
Jerry walked to the final room. An old latch, secured by an antique lock, threatened to bar his entry. As he approached, Jerry could see that the wood around the latch had splintered. Someone had forced it open. Jerry could not tell if the damage was recent or not. The knob, hinges, and lock were all tarnished and disused. The wood of the doorframe looked old and was cracking along its entire length. Whoever broke the door in hadn’t used much effort.
Jerry remained quiet, straining to catch any sound that might indicate that an intruder waited on the other side of the rotting wood. The increasing wind only increased the house’s creaks and groans and made his job more difficult. But the room needed searching to be sure the house was empty. Quietly, he backtracked down the hall to retrieve a lamp from the first bedroom, just in case he ran into a burglar or ghost.
One, two, three, four, he counted to himself; he turned the knob, forced his weight against the door, and burst into the dark room. Once inside, he could hear the shutter outside the window banging in the wind. The growing storm had most likely jarred it lose. He would have to try to secure the shutter, or it might fly off or break the window. The light switch turned on a dim flickering bulb, which illuminated a small library. Dusty shelves, mostly empty, lined the walls. Next to an unused fireplace were a couple of reading chairs with a table between them. It looked like a movie set for Sherlock Holmes and appealed to Jerry’s academic sensibilities. He felt that if it were clean and repaired that it might be his favorite room.
The floor was cluttered with old boxes. Jerry almost tripped over them in the flickering light as he made his way across the room to inspect the shutters. A beautifully carved table stood directly in front of the window, ink marks covering its top. If Ted did not mind, Jerry would move the old writing table into his room. Piles of boxes inhibited his attempts to move it, but he did manage to get things pushed aside enough to get to the offending window. The shutters started to bang more furiously.
He opened the window and tried to grab the flapping screen. His hand took a few good hits before he managed to pull it closed. The metal latch that once held it shut was twisted to the point of uselessness. The planks were loose in several places, and Jerry knew that they would not last long if he let them go, but he could not see anything in the room to secure the defiant wood.
He looked into some of the nearby boxes for something to tie the shutter closed. One of the boxes was full of rolls of large parchment. Curiosity drove him to unroll one to reveal a sketch of the reef, below it was some fantasy drawings of a monstrous fishlike creature. At least someone in his family had some artistic aspirations, he thought and put the drawings away.
Searching the boxes led only to more sketches, notebooks, and knickknacks, but nothing that he could use to secure the shutter. Jerry removed his belt and fought to gain a grip on the rooting wooden plank, which swung ever more wildly in the wind. It took him several moments to work the thin leather between the gaps in the shutter planks, but eventually, he re-secured the wood to the house wall so that it could no longer flap. Jerry knew that it would not last too long. He liked his belt and wanted it back eventually, but the repair job would hold for the night.
Tired and nursing his sore hand, Jerry sat down and looked through the rolls of paper. They were sketches and charcoal drawings. Several were of the fishlike beasts. It looked almost shark-like, but the proportion on the fins was all wrong. Jerry could not tell if the artist was trying to make it look as though it was climbing on the reef or swimming around it. They reminded him of a crude graphic novel. He vowed to himself to learn more about that side of the family when he had more time.
There were several renderings of the house and the cove. Some were pictures of people whom he could not identify, except for one sketch that looked like it may have been of a teenage version of his grandmother. Exhaustion and fading excitement was starting to take its toll on Jerry. He put the sketches back in the box and stood up. At least now, he knew how Ellie felt. For a few brief moments, he had allowed himself to consider the possibility that the house was haunted. He grabbed the lamp and returned to his room and to bed.