The Victorian house, it’s grounds positively wild from years of neglect, stood silent and secretive. It sat on a small hill with towering ash trees that shaded the white facade to a dull gray. Mabel’s curly brown hair blew in the wind as she looked up at the house. She leaned against the ancient wrought iron fence, holding onto the bars. Though its stone foundation was crumbling, and layers of black paint had cracked and deteriorated leaving rust in its place, the ornate fence was still quite breathtaking.
Mabel stood next to the realtor, Janet, who was a ruffled-looking woman, with creases in her modern, gray pantsuit. Mabel, though—like a ‘30s starlet, with her high cheekbones and dramatic eyebrows—seemed almost out of time. She even dressed the part, wearing a wool coat that went below her knees, and a silk scarf around her neck. Janet guessed that Mabel shopped exclusively at vintage clothing stores.
“When did you say the house was built?” Mabel asked.
“1902,” the realtor replied, after scanning her information packet on the property.
“It’s beautiful—did it cost a fortune to build?”
“Actually, no. It’s a Folk Victorian. Once the railroads came in, people had access to architectural detailing that could gussy up the exterior. The house’s bare bones are really basic.”
“How much did it cost to build?” asked Mabel.
“And with inflation?” she added.
“Roughly $206,000 but—”
“That might have been a fortune for the people building it.”
“Relatively speaking, yes of cour—”
“But, you’re asking for $15,000 less than the original construction price?”
“Why is that?”
“The house won’t sell. We’ve lowered the price three times. We get lots of requests to look at it, but I think it’s mostly out of curiosity.”
“What, people don’t like old houses that look haunted—wait, is it haunted?” Mabel asked, squinting one eye with feigned suspicion.
“No one’s seen anything. No sounds. No recorded deaths. Hell, just to be safe, we had the wiccan lady from the New Age shop downtown come smudge the place, a Catholic priest came, plus a Buddhist monk. A Hindu priest said he couldn’t perform anything until the house was bought, but to call him when it sold.”
Mabel smiled broadly. “Well then, let’s go take a look inside.”
Janet took a key ring out of her purse and used a silver key to unlock the padlock on the gate. With a little push, the gate swung open, and they walked down the long, mossy stone path leading up to the house.
Cranesbill, tangled with Virgin’s Bower and Fox Grape, gave the grounds a sweet smell. Mabel closed her eyes and inhaled through her nose.
Mabel reached the porch door first, but as she made to take the stairs, Janet whistled. Mabel stopped and turned.
“This is the back door of the house. Let’s see the front first.”
“Oh,” Mabel said. “Sure.”
Mabel got back on the path, which curved around the house. As they reached the front, Mabel saw a dirt drive for cars that led out onto a road at the bottom of the hill.
And then she turned to face the house.
“It’s still so beautiful,” Mabel whispered, looking at the gables, trimmed with crescent moons and sunbeams.
“Yeah, but it needs work: windows, electrical, paint. It is a solid—”
“Let’s go inside.” Mabel said.
They walked up the steps, and Janet opened the large oak front door. Beyond the foyer was a wide staircase. The banisters were a dark mahogany, the steps a faded white.
“The house has three bedrooms on the second floor, and a dormered attic on the third. Down here are the parlor, kitchen, and mudroom. Almost nothing has been updated since the 1950s, and even then it was just basic upgrades: electricity, plumbing, heating.”
“Is that the last time the house had occupants?” Mabel asked.
“No, the house was sold by the owner in 1962, and she moved to a nursing home.”
“The one in Newbery.” Mabel said, nodding.
“Probably?” Janet replied, turning to Mabel.
“There aren’t a lot of old folks home in the area,” she said, walking away toward the parlor.
Janet caught up to Mabel and led her through the doorway. “The mudroom is through that door,” Janet said, pointing to one on the other side of the room, “and leads to both the kitchen and the back porch.”
Janet walked toward it. “The kitchen is still quite lovely, actually. Beautiful range and there’s still an old ice box!”
Mabel followed, but as she passed a large bay window, she paused. Mabel knelt to one knee. “Janet, I just need to tie my shoe. I’ll be right behind you.”
When Janet was out of sight, Mabel stood up quickly and walked to the bay window. She pulled the frayed cushion off the bench in the window and lifted the seat, hinged like a trunk lid. On the underside of the lid was a crude engraving in the soft birch wood.
Mabel leaned over to touch the engraving and smiled, rubbing her fingers across the letters.
“Mabel?” a voice said from the staircase.
Mabel stood up straight. She walked out of the parlor and into the foyer.
“Hello, Philip,” she replied as she looked up the staircase and saw a young man standing on the landing.
“Did you have a nice time out?” he said as he began to walk down the stairs.
“I did, but it was a long walk from Newberry,” she replied, “The realtor said people came and blessed the house, said it wasn’t haunted, couldn’t explain why—”
“Mabel, are you all ri—?” Janet said, walking into the foyer from the kitchen.
Janet looked from Mabel to the staircase with a confused expression on her face.
“Were you talking to someone?” Janet asked.
“No.” Mabel said reassuringly.
“Okay. Well, let’s see the rest of the house, shall we?”
“I think I’ve seen enough. I’ll take it.”