Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Franklin Castle - Chapter 1

Table of Contents
Floor Plan 

 The wallpaper separated from the plaster, pieces dangled along the wall in curled strips. Archer Ryan inspected a large piece at the top of the third floor stairs. With a gentle tug, he pulled the section away from the wall. The yellowed flower print disintegrated in his hands.
Archer shook his head. A shock of bright red hair dropped across his eyes. With an unconscious flick of the wrist, he brushed the strands aside. With the same hand, the iPhone slipped from his grasp and clattered to the ground.
A small muffled voice emerged from the fallen mobile device. “Archer, what’s going on?”
Archer retrieved the phone and looked into the camera. “Sorry, Jules,” he said. “Just like the house, I’m falling apart. I guess when you buy a hundred year old house; problems are bound to arise, both with the house and the owner.”
“What did you expect?” Jules said with her round face visible on the small screen.
“You’re right, for the price I paid, I should be happy anything is still standing.”
Archer changed the view to look out and held out the camera in front of him so Jules saw what he did. He stepped off the stairway into the third floor library and strolled down the row of shelves, panning the camera while he ran his finger down the spines of the books, creating a cloud of dust. Each book appeared in an advanced state of decay.
“It looks like many of these books are first editions from the 1950’s,” he said. “The Wall by John Hersey, Steamboat Gothic by Frances Parkinson Keyes, and This I Believe by Edward R. Murrow. They should be valuable. However, with their condition in such poor shape, the books are probably worthless. I think the only future for the books will be for kindle in the fireplace for heat when I’m broke and cold in the winter.”
“You won’t be broke. I’m sure you will invent some new software app and get rich all over again. And besides, you could keep these book and actually read them, you geek,” Jules said. “Put down your Kindle for a minute and look at three dimensional books.”
“Keep them, oh no,” he said. “Besides print being dead, the castle is already enough of a firetrap. I read that last winter some homeless man was cooking rat downstairs and nearly burned the place down with all the papers in here.”
“That’s a pleasant image,” Jules said. “Are you turned off by the concept of antique home ownership yet?”
“No, Jules,” he said. “I will not let this spoil the reveling in my conquest. This is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. I wish you could be here for the celebration rather than working out in the Valley.”
“You have the next best thing. You should invite your mother to join you.”
Archer laughed. “Oh, no, my mother will not be here for this. My whole family thinks I’m quite demented for buying this house.”
“This place just reeks of nineteenth century opulent traditional style. So stuffy. So bourgeoisie. So unlike you,” she said.
“What do you mean it is unlike me? I love every part of this old house,” Archer said.
“Oh, yeah, that bright red hair is so nineteenth century,” Jules said. “Speaking of which, it still looks pink after Antwan botched your dye job last week. Are you ever going to fix it? You should sue over that.”
“I thought it looked pretty good,” Archer said. “I like how it clashes with my yellow checked pants and red tennis shoes.” Archer panned the camera down at his pants and shoes.
“You look like you’re wearing clothes that even Goodwill rejected,” Jules said.
Archer panned the camera around the hall of books. The north side of the library, beyond the stairs, opened into a large hallway that lead to two rear bedrooms and a bath.
“The built-in bookshelves look beautiful,” Jules said.
“It breaks my heart to know that behind the shelves lay patches of rotted wallboards,” Archer said. “I’m afraid all these shelves will come down with the walls. On the surface, this place doesn’t look too bad and it is functioning. Move my furniture in, and I should be able to live with the renovation crew.”
Archer continued with the tour. “Set in the west wall in the middle of the books is a remarkably preserved functioning stone fireplace.”
“Perfect to burn all the worthless books in,” Jules commented. “I can’t believe I’m actually encouraging someone to burn books. You know, now that you have a stately mansion, you must adopt a fake British accent.”
Archer laughed and intoned in his best English inflection. “The south wall contains a large picture window with an expansive view of Franklin Boulevard,” Archer started to laugh. “I can’t do the accent. My father would turn in his grave knowing that a third generation Irishman does anything British.”
Archer tried to wipe his sleeve on the glass. “If you could actually see Franklin Boulevard through the streaks of age and grime on the glass pane, you’d see a small park across the street.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Jules said.
Archer turned around and bumped into a pile of broken furniture. He fell forward and the mobile phone slipped from his hand and slid across the floor.
“You’ve got to stop doing that to me,” Jules shouted.
“Sorry, dear,” Archer said as retrieved the phone.
He walked through a door in the east wall.
“This is my favorite room in the house. This will be my master bedroom,” Archer said. “And it’s a good thing that you can’t smell the rotten smell coming out of this room. A little Listerine and we’ll be much better for a while.”
Archer swept the camera around the room. The unique bedroom served as the rounded turret on the front corner of the house. The circular wall consisted of five windows, each six-foot tall and rose from the wainscoting. Archer arched the camera view to the ceiling turret where it formed a steeple above the bed. Visible wooden support beams converged at the top to support the point. The evening sky peeked in through several absent boards.
“This will be an incredible room when finished,” Archer said.
A fancy chandelier hung from center of the turret. He flicked the light switch and expected that the fixture to brighten the room. Disappointed, Archer found only a dim beam of light from a single functioning bulb creeping across the ceiling. Even the halogen light that filtered in the windows from the streetlamp provided more illumination.
“Now the part you’ve been waiting for,” Archer said. He set the phone on a shelf between the windows at an angle where Jules would see him clearly. Archer laid a folder and a shopping bag on the table next to the window. He opened the manila folder revealed various closing documents related to this house, which Archer signed a little more than an hour ago at the attorney’s office. A newspaper clipping attached to the front of the folder displayed the title: “House of Evil.”
Archer held the article up to the phone and read the first few paragraphs of the text to Jules. He stopped on a line near the bottom of the first paragraph.
No one can live in this house,” he finished. “So, Jules, with that ominous note, we shall proceed with our inaugural house warming festivities.”
He moved a decrepit wooden straight-back chair to the table and sat down. His gaunt lean frame made the chair groan. Archer opened the shopping bag and removed a rectangle box labeled Parker Brother’s Ouija Board. Archer purchased the glow-in-the-dark model at Target on the way to the house. He ripped open the box like a kid on Christmas morning. Without taking time to read the instructions, Archer set the board on the table. The cardboard square depicted the alphabet in two curved rows followed by a row of numbers from one to nine followed by zero. The words “Yes”, in the top left corner, and “No” in the right corner. The bottom of the board read “Good Bye”.
Archer tore open a plastic bag and removed a white, heart-shaped object called the planchette. It contained a plastic window on the narrow end to see the numbers and letters below. The concept is that a ghost will move the planchette around the board, spelling words and answering questions. He dropped the object on the board, and lightly touched both index fingers to the planchette.
“Now let’s see if there are really any ghosts here like they say,” he said aloud.
Archer sat immobile at the table. His hands lingered on the planchette, in anticipation of something happening.
From above him, Archer heard a clink. He looked up and saw the dingy chandelier sway in a slight circle.
Archer furrowed his brow. “I’m seeing the chandelier move, Jules,” he said. “I don’t know how this is possible since there is no air conditioning and I can’t feel any draught up here.”
The hairs on the back of Archer’s neck rose. “Something is in here,” he said. “Are you hearing any voices, Jules?”
“I’m hearing some background sounds,” she said. “I can’t tell what they are.”
“Maybe there are some kids outside.” He stood and peered out the window. The road and park were empty. “Not coming from outside. The sounds seem to be all around me. It sounds like children. It is getting louder. Do you hear it?”
“I hear something now,” Jules said. “It’s children.”
Archer felt panic rise in him. “I’m touching the spirit world, Jules,” he said. “This is freaking me out.” He started to rise from the chair, but stopped and took a deep breath.
“No, I am going to get through this,” he said. “This is the reason I am here. I bought this house because of its haunted history.”
The sound of giggles and shoes shuffling on the wood floor increased, despite the lack of any physical form. Archer felt a tap on his left shoulder. It seemed so real that he looked in that direction. When he did, an unseen hand tapped his right shoulder.
“Jules, they’re playing with me!” He laughed while the invisible children ran around his chair. “I could get used to this. I can live with this.”
Archer felt a shock when the planchette moved on its own under his fingers. “It’s moving, Jules,” Archer said. “I’ve never used Ouija boards before. I thought they were phony. But, look at this! My Halloween party this year is going to be such a hit.”
The plastic window on the planchette stopped over the letter “H”, next to “E”, then “L”. The object paused for a moment before it slid to “O”.
Archer furrowed his brow. “H-E-L-O? What does it mean?” Archer said. “Hello? Are you saying hello?”
“Ask them something,” Jules said.
“Are you having fun playing today?”
The planchette moved to the word “Yes”.
The murmured sounds died down and the footsteps stopped. Archer experienced the sensation of a soft touch on his shoulder that differed from the playful taps of the children. The touch comforted him.
“What’s going on?” He asked.
The planchette began to move over letters. M-O-M-S-H-E-R-E.
Archer considered the message for a moment. “Is Mom here?” He asked.
The planchette moved to “Yes”.
Archer’s face widened with a large, toothy smile. “I feel so many emotions. I feel love and a giddy joy inside,” he said as giggled.
He began to sing a song, Best of Both Worlds by Hannah Montana. All the activity stopped in the room.
“What’s wrong?” He asked.
“Archer, you moron,” Jules said. “Unless these children died in the last two years, they’re not going to know a Hannah Montana song.”
“Good point,” Archer said.
He began to sing London Bridge. Soon, the spirits reacted by humming along with him. Archer swayed back and forth to the tune.
“Why would anyone be afraid of this house?” Archer asked. “This is going to be great.”
“I can’t believe what I’m seeing,” Jules said. “I wish I were there.”
“Are you recording this?”
“How convincing of evidence do you think it is?” He asked.
“You could probably have faked this whole thing, so by itself it doesn’t mean very much,” Jules said.
Archer started another song. “Ring around the roses, pocketful of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall—“
Like a kill switch, the sensation changed. The warm feeling ended abruptly and a new experience started. It began like a tickle inside, a sensation so subtle it nearly escaped his notice. The transformation alerted no concern in Archer right away. He experienced an imperceptible acknowledgement of something different in the room. The pressure in the room dropped, similar to the atmospheric change before a storm. The air contained a hint of electricity.
“Archer, what’s going on?” Jules asked.
“Something has changed.”
The mood started to transform. Increased energy swept through him, he felt the movement of the unseen children run from the room. The warm maternal hand on his shoulder vanished. The new sensation inside his body intensified to the pit of his stomach.
Archer lifted his hands from the planchette and wrapped his arms around his chest. He perceived anger and hatred becoming palpable in front of and inside of him.
The planchette on the Ouija board began to move without Archer touching it.
“Is it moving by itself?” Jules shouted through the phone.
The object moved with fast and deliberate action. Dread crept though Archer’s body while he watched the planchette.
“Who is this?” Archer asked.
The planchette stopped on “D”, then “E”, then “A”, before it moved across the board to stop on “D” again.
“Dead?” Archer whimpered. “I’m sorry.”
Archer’s stomach churned and he vomited on the Ouija board.
The Ouija board flew from the table, slammed against the wall, and fell to the ground. Lying on the wood planks, the board tore into pieces.
Archer sat for a moment in the chair, rooted to the floor, unable to move.
The chandelier above his head swung in wide circles.
He gathered the energy to push up from the chair and ran from the room. The door slammed behind him. The only memory Archer retained of leaving the house was the sound of Jules’ voice through the phone still placed in the room.
She was calling his name.

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