to hear you whisper
 

Chapter 9: In the Strange House

November 22, 1958

Out in the parking lot, Paul held open the passenger side door of Brian’s jalopy as Di climbed into the back seat next to Honey. “So, why do I have a feeling the reason no one’s told me exactly where we’re going means that I won’t exactly like where we’re going?” she asked.

Paul sat in the front seat, closed the door behind him, and then turned around to face his beautiful girlfriend. He spoke in a falsetto, apparently trying to imitate Di’s voice. “There are antiques, paintings, and art, all housed in a Hudson Valley mansion which we’ve been invited to explore.” His voice dropped back to its normal tone. “In your own words, ‘What could there be not to like?’”

“That was just to convince you to come along, but, Paul, have you not met Trixie?” Di teased. “I’m surprised you didn’t question me more, just knowing her. Trixie explores run-down mansions, not glorious estates. Ten Acres burned down, so I know it’s not that home. The Martin Manor ruins are just that—ruins. There certainly aren’t any objets d’art hidden there.”

“Nice detective work,” Brian commented as he followed Dan’s blue and white car out of the lot and the two vehicles headed toward Glen Road.

Di laughed easily. “Not really. I’m kind of hoping it’s either Mrs. Pritchard’s place or maybe the Burnsides’ home, but there’s nothing mysterious about either of those, so I doubt it is.”

“And that leaves ...?” Paul asked curiously.

Di thought for a moment and then looked over at Honey with a slightly horrified gaze. “Please tell me it’s not—is it?”

Honey merely nodded in response.

“Oh, gleeps. I should’ve stayed home.” Di banged her head against the seatback in front of her.

“I’m still in the dark,” Paul grumbled. “Where are we going?”

“Dark about covers it.” Brian stopped at the intersection and then glanced at the back seat. “But before we get there—”

“Get where exactly?” Paul asked, still not guessing.

“Lisgard House,” Di moaned. “But wait—Fay said she was staying there? As in living there? Really?”

“Yes,” Brian affirmed. “Her mom works for Mr. Gregory.”

Paul clutched at his short, dark hair. “Not just a dilapidated mansion, but an actual haunted house. The haunted house. No, no, no. Just let me out here. I don’t mind being called a wimp.”

“Nuh-uh!” Di reached over the seat and grabbed onto his shoulder. “Don’t you dare leave me alone in that place.”

“You won’t be alone. Brian and Honey will be there with you,” Paul pointed out.

“And you’ll be there, too.” Di winked at him.

“Honey, I can’t drive much slower.” Brian frowned in the rear-view mirror. “You’d better tell Di and Paul whatever it is that’s going on between you, Dan, and Fay.”

Di looked at Honey, concern filling her violet eyes. “You have been awfully quiet. Is anything wrong?”

“No, everything’s all right.” Honey wondered how she would explain the situation in just a few short minutes. “It’s just that Fay knows Dan from before and Dan doesn’t want her to know that he knows me—or Regan either for that matter—so we’re pretending he just works for Regan and we barely know each other. Oh, and he’s acting, um, kind of, well, ’thuggish’ is how Mart put it.”

“Mart? The walking thesaurus, Mart?” Di giggled. “He must be slipping.”

“I’m not even sure I followed that. I just have more questions.” Paul started ticking them off on his fingers. “Knows her from before what? Why doesn’t he want her to know about you or his uncle? How well does he know Fay? And I still don’t know why we’re going to look at artwork and antiques in a haunted house.”

“He knows Fay extremely well,” Honey grumbled under her breath. “Dan thinks Fay and her mom may be planning some kind of robbery,” she explained at a more normal volume.

“Robbery? That makes some sense.” Brian flicked his turn signal on and pulled the steering wheel to the left as he maneuvered onto the country highway. “I can’t imagine why they’d pretend the place is haunted, though.”

“Because it is haunted. Okay, focus, robbery. So, we’re looking for whatever it is they might want to steal?” Paul frowned briefly. Then out of the blue, he chuckled. “Thuggish? I’d expect hooligan or ruffian from Mart, but not thuggish. Is that even a real word?”

“Not that I know of,” Di answered. Her violet eyes were full of mirth despite her misgivings about their destination. “Then again, it’s Mart. It may well be.”

“And Fay—how well do you know her? Or is it just Dan that knows her?” Paul tapped his fingers against the door nervously.

Honey frowned briefly before answering. “Just Dan. I mean, I know her a little bit more since last night, but I wouldn’t say that I really know her. Dan knew her back when they both lived in the same part of the city.”

Paul glanced at Di and then back at Honey. “Do you think the rumors are true? Would Dan know?”

“What rumors?” Brian asked, glancing over at the passenger seat. “I hope you’re not spreading any, whatever they are.”

“No, I haven’t repeated them to anyone,” Di quickly replied. “But I can’t help wondering, too.”

“The kids at school are saying she probably got pregnant and had a baby—to account for her having missed so much school.” Paul grimaced. “It doesn’t help that she’s such a flirt with the guys.”

“I hope you don’t spread stuff like that around.” Brian sounded disgusted. “I really doubt there’s any truth to it, anyway. There’s all sorts of reasons she might have missed some school, or she could have just been held back a couple of times for bad grades.”

Honey hadn’t thought much about the rumors Paul and Di were referring to. She tried to ignore that kind of nasty gossip and had discounted it all as untrue from the start. But now she had second thoughts. Fay had admitted she had sex. And she’d mentioned she wasn’t used to going to school, implying she’d skipped a year, or maybe more. Her stomach seemed to be twisting itself into knots. What if it is true? What if ... what if she did have a baby—Dan’s baby? No, I can’t even think about that! It’s utterly ridiculous. Stop worrying about things that are unlikely and worry about the things that you know are true. Like the strange events from last night.

Brian pressed on the brakes as he approached a stop sign, although it seemed to Honey like the car had lurched rather suddenly. She pitched forward slightly, bracing herself against the seatback, feeling even more nauseated than she’d already been.

“Of course, you’re right.” Di stated cheerfully. “I’ve often worried I’d be held back with my grades.”

“Agreed. I mean, not about your grades, about spreading rumors. I just wondered if Dan would know the real reason, not that it’s any of our business.” Paul stared out the window at the road ahead. Then in his typical way, changed the subject again as Brian turned onto Glen Road. “And why have I let myself get talked into going into this haunted house with all of you?”

“The house isn’t haunted,” Brian stated calmly.

“Sure it isn’t, if you say so,” Honey agreed, looking out the window, her arms folded across her stomach. The trees and shrubbery started to thin out and she could just make out the tall iron railings that surrounded Lisgard House. “But can I just wait in the car?”

It wasn’t long before the massive gates of the historic mansion loomed uninvitingly at the end of a short driveway. Brian continued past them and soon turned onto the side road that led to the smaller gates and the home’s back entrance.

“I’ll keep you company.” Paul frowned as he responded to Honey’s suggestion. “You think I’m kidding, but I can’t go in there. My cousin made me go in there on a dare once when I was seven years old.”

“You’ve been inside before?” Di asked.

Paul nodded silently, never tearing his eyes from the massive home in front of them.

Brian parked behind Dan’s car and then opened his door. “And survived, I should point out.”

“There were dead animals on the walls. They didn’t survive.” Paul did not open his door.

“I don’t remember seeing any dead animals.” Honey shrugged her slim shoulders. “But I’ll grant you that it is spooky in there. All that dark paneling everywhere—ugh.”

Di turned to her, still seated in the back seat since Honey hadn’t budged and Paul hadn’t gotten out of the car yet either. “When were you in this house?”

“Last night.” Honey frowned. “Trixie and I spent the night here.”

“Okay.” Paul finally opened his door. “I know when I’m beat. If Honey can spend the night in this horror show of a home, I suppose I can drag myself back inside after all these years. In broad daylight. With a large group of friends.” He started to step outside, but then stopped and turned to stare at Honey. “But you’re refusing to go back in. Why is that, exactly? All I remember from back then is the dead animals looming over me.”

“No dead animals. Just loud noises, people yelling, Sarah Sligo banging on the door for help, and then black smoke billowing in under the door.” Honey shuddered at the memory.

“I’ll take the dead animals over that any day.” Di wrapped her arms around herself. “I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going in, either.”

“Now wait just a minute. That’s a little too incredible to believe.” Paul squinted suspiciously up at the mansion. “I’d say that sounds downright theatrical. And where there’s theater ....”

“Hear, hear.” Brian agreed as he glanced at the door. “So, are any of you coming? The others are already inside.”

“Theater? Are you saying you think someone staged all that?” Honey mulled over the events once more. She had just accused Fay of the same thing in the diner, but she hadn’t believed Fay had, or even would, do such a thing; it had just been an excuse for being there with Dan. But now, she wasn’t so sure.

“I wasn’t there, but I do think it was all just some elaborate set up.” Brian frowned as he continued to stare at the house. “At least the garbled version I heard from Trixie this morning. I’m just not sure why someone would pull that kind of a prank. Maybe it relates to Dan’s robbery theory, though.”

“Against my better judgement, I’m in.” Paul stepped out of the car just as a chorus of bullfrogs sounded in alarm. “Because now I have even more questions.”

“Hey!” Mart had walked back outside and was jogging toward them. “Aren’t you guys joining us?”

Di climbed out of the car. “Trixie did want my opinion on any artwork there might be inside. As long as we all stick together, I’ll go in.”

“Come on, Honey. I’d rather you didn’t stay out here by yourself.” Brian held out his hand to her.

She took the offered help out of the car but still stood there a short moment, frowning. It had all seemed so real when it was happening, but it was pretty far-fetched. Maybe it had been set up. But, if it wasn’t Fay or her mom, then who would do such a thing, and why?

 

Inside, the house was just as dark and gloomy as she remembered. She trailed far behind Dan and Fay, who were at the front of the crowd of teens, as Fay led them down the dark hall.

“This wainscoting could be sanded down and stained a lighter color,” Mart commented, fingering the dark wood paneling. “And these walls—who paints their walls navy blue?”

“The Lisgards. Or maybe Mr. Gregory.” Di shrugged a shoulder. “It’s definitely not the way I would decorate a home.”

“I’m pretty sure it was one of the Lisgards. Probably Mr. Caleb Lisgard,” Trixie stated.

Ahead of them, Fay turned the corner. “This is the main entrance here. There isn’t a single place in this house that I could say that I like, but I think this is one of the creepiest rooms.”

They turned the corner with her and Paul let out a small shriek. “Aaiiieee! It’s the dead animals!”

Honey nearly screamed herself—more because she was startled by Paul then by the room. Although, in his defense, the room was scream-worthy. The entry way was long and wide. Huge mounted game trophies lined the walls, and each of the stuffed animals’ eyes seemed to follow her as she stepped further into the room. “It’s awful.”

“It’s actually not as horrible as I remember,” Paul admitted after a few seconds. “They all seemed bigger and scarier when I was seven.”

“The animal heads are creepy enough, but honestly, it’s this that really gets to me.” Fay pointed to a framed painting on one of the walls.

Honey was struck by it immediately, but not in a creepy way. It’s bright vivid colors and the subject matter contrasted greatly with the rest of the dreary surroundings.

“Why, that looks like a Picasso.” Di approached the painting and studied it closely. “It might even be an original. I know there was a period where he did lots of clowns and harlequins.”

Dan scowled at the image. “It’s a creepy clown. I don’t like clowns. What makes you think it’s an original?”

Mart walked up to the framed canvas. “Can I touch it?”

“No!” Fay shook her head. “Mr. Gregory brought that here with him, to cheer up the place, he claims. I don’t find it the least bit cheery, though. Anyway, please don’t touch it. I don’t want to get in trouble if anything happens to it.”

Mart nodded his head and he and Di both peered closely at the artwork.

“It looks like an actual oil on canvas,” Di finally stated. “If it’s a reproduction, it was done to make it look as authentic as possible. But there’s no way to tell for sure without removing the canvas from the frame, I don’t think.”

“Mr. Gregory says it’s real. A lot of the artwork and furniture are supposed to be really valuable,” Fay admitted.

Trixie glanced at Honey and nodded her head. “That’s partly why I wanted to tour this place. It’s like a museum, isn’t it?”

Fay gestured with her hand for them to follow. “The living room is through here. It’s the room Mr. Gregory seems to spend the most amount of time in.”

Once they entered the room, Dan turned around to face the other teens. “Fay’s been telling me the story about this place—but if Sarah Sligo was burned alive inside this house, and the house burned down—then it must have been rebuilt since then, right?”

“It has,” Brian affirmed. “One of the other Lisgards had it rebuilt to be a replica of the original home.”

“And the furnishings?” Paul fingered one of the chairs in the room. “I imagine it had to cost a small fortune to replace all these things.”

Trixie shrugged. “They weren’t as antique then as they are now, since it was rebuilt over a hundred and fifty years ago.”

They moved from room to room, each room with dark paneling, darkly-painted walls, and dark heavy curtains keeping out any hopeful rays of sunshine. Fay pointed out valuable paintings and antique furniture throughout the house.

Honey lost track of which room they were in. She knew a little about antiques, but was more familiar with European styles. Her mother always liked redecorating but usually bought imported furniture. Most of the pieces in the Lisgard House seemed to be American-made, colonial style she guessed. And the paintings, while they looked real enough to her, she couldn’t be sure. She was even further from being any kind of art expert than Di. So, she stood back and watched as the others examined the pieces more closely.

While everyone was occupied, Dan caught her eyes and mouthed something to her, but she had never been good at reading lips. Still, the brief connection with him reassured her.

Brian had gotten on the floor and was looking underneath the coffee table. A short while later, he poked his head out from under it and frowned deeply. “This is interesting.”

“I’ll say,” said a deep voice from the door. “Just what’s going on here?”


chapter 10: the company of strangers