Rebecca dropped the kids off with an explanation that she had to run some errands. No need to give the family additional cause for concern, she reasoned. She headed to the town’s library, a place she had not yet visited.
“This ought to be interesting,” she thought, wondering just how she was going to find information on the house and the books and worried she would have to ask for help. “Just exactly how will I explain myself?”
Rebecca avoided eye contact with the elderly librarian, although she secretly hoped that the woman had been the town librarian for a very long time. She opted to investigate the card catalog, and was glad she was old enough to remember the Dewey decimal system.
Bill and Dick lived with their mother and father and their Aunt Peggy in Nana Burns’ home on Abbotsford Lane in Germantown, Philadelphia.
Every Sunday the aunties arrived at Nana’s house to clean. Even though some had homes of their own, they always made time for their mother and helped her whenever they could.
Bill was in the upstairs bathroom scrubbing the floorboards on his hands and knees with a wet, cold rag. A young man of 10 years, he had very dark brown hair and eyes and across his cheeks and nose a smattering of freckles. His hands were red from the lye soap and cold water and he was a little tired and cranky. All he could think about was the first fishing trip of the season with his father, Uncle Milt and his brother Dick next weekend.
He clears his throat, stretches, rubs what’s left of the hair on his head and then slowly rises to a sitting position and swings his legs to the floor. He pushes himself off the bed and waddles, stiff knees and hips to the bathroom. The pees keep getting longer and slower. His head is pounding. He arches his back in an attempt to get his body to line up straight. It doesn’t work. He shuffles from the bathroom, through the family room and into the cottage’s tiny kitchen.
Along the way he observes Johnny, asleep (passed out) and snoring loudly on the sofa.
“Best to put the coffee on,” he thought to himself.
He eyeballs the coffee grinds into the percolator and fills it with water. He tries to turn on cooktop but the pilot light is out, so he rummages around for a match and lights the stove and puts the kettle on to boil. Again he rubs his head and searches for some aspirin, throwing a few in his mouth to chew, the bitter taste turns on a switch in his brain and the fog begins to clear.
The phone was buzzing/humming throughout the day with the usual voice mails and text messages. She occasionally glanced down to verify the i.d. She was on a deadline and was not about to respond to all the incoming traffic on her phone…
The phone went off again and she was feeling exasperated. She glanced down in irritation which quickly turned to shock.
“Someone’s in the house,”…and then, “help.”
Molly shared her bedroom with her mother’s sister, Margaret, or as Molly affectionately called her, Aunt Peggy. It was pretty common for extended families to live together during tough times and unmarried siblings, especially, stayed at home until they got married. Aunt Peggy was no exception. However, Aunt Peggy was like no other aunt you could imagine.
Etta stood in the doorway. “Stop it, Alfred, you’re scaring them beyond reason and they need to keep their wits about them,” admonished his wife.
“You know I’m only trying to warn them. They don’t have any idea what they’ve walked into. Just like the last family” replied Alfred, exasperated.
Alfred sat down in the office chair, his elbows leaning on the desk, head in his hands. He was trying to decide his next move.
“All you’ve accomplished is to scare them out of their minds and put Jim in the hospital. He thinks he’s crazy,” replied Etta, smoothing her apron and then clasping her hands behind her back.
“At least Jim’s out of harm’s way. Based on Rebecca’s declaration this afternoon, she doesn’t look like she’s going to give up without a fight. Trouble is, she doesn’t have clue as to what she’s up against. One minute we’re trying to scare them out of the house and the next we’re trying to protect them from …” his voice drifted off, not wanting to remind Etta of their century long battle.
Etta sighed and shook her head. Her husband always underestimated her strength. If he only knew what she had endured at the end he wouldn’t “tip toe” around her feelings all the time. Her thoughts drifted back to that day with the handsome stranger and how she felt, greeting him at the door and welcoming him into their home. A relative from Germany, anxious to deliver family news to Alfred. As they waited for Alfred to return home from work, they chatted about everything and fell into easy conversation. The dark stranger had wanted to freshen up before dinner, could he use Alfred’s shaving mug and razor?
As I ponder the implications of that phone call, Mom taps me on the shoulder and I jump a foot!
“Sorry,” Mom said quietly, patting me on the back.
I put off going in to work long enough. As I head out the door, I stopped to look myself in the mirror. In spite of my inner turmoil, the woman who stared back at me appeared calm and collected, professional. “Fear and anxiety can cloud your judgement,” I remind myself, “I must remain calm, if only for the kids.”
As the rest of the day at work flew by, I had to decide what to do about the evening. Should we stay and take our chances that the house would be quiet this evening? Upon arriving home, I got my answer.
Molly lived in a two-story brick house with her parents, William and Katherine Coyne, her older brothers Bill and Dick, and at various times, her grandmother and aunts and uncles galore on a pretty street in Germantown, Philadelphia. During tough times, families pull together and often open their hearts and homes to help each other out. And so Molly lives in a house full of people whom she loves.
In fact, Molly shares her room with her Aunt Peggy, a secretary by day and a theater actress by night. Aunt Peggy was a wonderful room mate and quite glamorous, Molly thought. Aunt Peggy doted on Molly, taking her shopping to buy pretty dresses and curling her hair.
But in spite of all the aunts, uncles, cousins and friends coming and going, there were never, ever any pets in the house.
The tension is mounting — everyone pretends to be concentrating on the task at hand but there’s no denying the usual signs. Quietly, our higher functioning brains are working feverishly to deny what our primitive brains have already registered — fear. The kind that has the hair on the back of your neck standing up, your palms sweating, your breath coming faster, shallow and moist, and most of all, your heart racing.
Noises coming from upstairs…
She slips by quietly in the dark, down, under, un-noticed or maybe she is noticed but no one disturbs her on her way, her pilgrimage doesn’t require acknowledgement. They have seen her pass this way before.
You see she has some heavy business to conduct. She needs a little guidance. She’s tried going straight to the top — but she’s been more successful with the rock.
She settles in, her cheek pressed against the cold stone.