House Of Whis­pers Haunt­ing new se­rial

Part One: Are the dark dreams plagu­ing Ju­dith sim­ply a re­sult of her frus­tra­tions… or do they have a mean­ing?

My Weekly - - Contents - By Bar­bara Beaton

The tall spire and white­washed tim­ber frame gave the house the ap­pear­ance of a New Eng­land church, and its ec­cen­tric shape dis­tin­guished it from all the other houses in the small town of Palmer­stone: a per­fect pen­tagon.

The house stood on short struts be­neath its porch, wide steps lead­ing to a carved wood door. The wrig­gle space be­low the porch was over­grown with weeds and, here and there, pieces of rusted farm ma­chin­ery peeped out.

The red tiled roof spread out like five wedges of a gi­ant cake, the slen­der spire on top point­ing to the grey Mas­sachusetts sky like a bony fin­ger. A tall weep­ing wil­low brushed the roof with its gen­tle touch, while a huge oak stood guard to the left, its mas­sive trunk reach­ing as high as the spire. There was a weather vane atop the spire that turned lazily this way and that, as if it couldn’t quite de­cide which way the breeze was blow­ing.

Three worn steps led up to the ve­ran­dah that ran the cir­cum­fer­ence of the five sides. The south face formed the front porch. Its door, in­laid with am­ber stained glass, bid a warm wel­come in spite of the heavy oak carv­ing. To the left sat five wicker chairs ar­ranged around a round ta­ble, and to the right a porch swing creaked gen­tly, as if rock­ing an un­seen sleeper.

The house was sur­rounded on four sides by over­grown grass lawn and a tall white­washed picket fence, against which once-loved but now for­got­ten shrubs and rose bushes lan­guished. The fifth side faced onto a bro­ken stone path­way that led to a barn, its wood pan­els weath­ered sil­ver-grey with age. Be­yond was the weed-stran­gled waste­land of long-aban­doned farm­land, and be­yond that a large and darkly brood­ing for­est.

A shabby sum­mer­house stood at the bound­ary be­tween lawn and land, its wooden pan­els crum­bled with time and the el­e­ments.

Sud­denly the paint on the pan­els started to blis­ter and turn black. In stark con­trast, bright orange flames climbed its walls, burst­ing free from the roof and strain­ing to reach the sky. A woman’s face ap­peared at the win­dow, con­torted with fear as she screamed…

Ju­dith woke abruptly, swal­low­ing the scream in her throat so as not to wake An­drew. She was hot and her hair stuck to her fore­head. Slowly, as if un­sure they would work, she swung her legs over the side of the bed and gin­gerly stood up­right.

As she walked to the kitchen of her tiny New York City apart­ment she had a strange sen­sa­tion of im­pend­ing doom. In the gloom of the night – made more alien by the green glow of a neon sign across the street shin­ing through the win­dow – she tried to hold on to the images in her dream, sens­ing it was im­por­tant she re­mem­ber.

Mov­ing around on au­topi­lot she poured a glass of wa­ter, mulling over the dream that woke her in a state of ab­ject ter­ror. She’d been hav­ing the same dream a lot lately.

It started off in­no­cently enough – the house was the same ev­ery time. She felt at home in it, as if she be­longed there, even though she knew for cer­tain she’d never seen the house be­fore – but then the tone would shift, the brood­ing dark­ness rum­bled in like thun­der­clouds…

Then the fire would start… and that woman’s face at the win­dow…

Yet there was some­one else in her dream – the darkly sin­is­ter fig­ure of a man, and the more she strug­gled to see his face, the more shrouded he be­came.

Ju­dith hunched over the break­fast bar, her long black hair hang­ing for­ward,

“Peo­ple don’t SIT ALONE in the MID­DLE OF THE NIGHT if noth­ing’s wrong”

ob­scur­ing the drained ex­pres­sion in her brown eyes. She leaned on her el­bows, hold­ing her glass up in both hands as if in a ges­ture of rev­er­ent of­fer­ing.

She didn’t hear An­drew come into the kitchen as he shuf­fled past her to the fridge. He took out a car­ton of milk, leaned against the fridge and took a long swig from the car­ton. Boy­ishly rub­bing the sleep from his eyes he asked, “What’s up… can’t sleep?” Ju­dith stared past him. An­drew bent to­wards her and waved his free hand in front of her face.

“Hello? Ground Con­trol to Ma­jor Tom…” He perched on the stool next to her. “What’s wrong, Jude?”

“Noth­ing’s wrong,” she an­swered,

star­ing va­cantly into her glass.

An­drew brushed her hair from her shoul­der.

“Come on,” he said. “Peo­ple don’t sit alone in the kitchen in the mid­dle of the night if noth­ing’s wrong. We promised no se­crets, re­mem­ber?”

Ju­dith looked at him. His curly, sandy-blond hair was flat­tened on one side where he had been sleep­ing and his blue eyes were clouded with the rem­nants of the kind of deep, un­trou­bled sleep that was now a dis­tant mem­ory for her.

She de­cided now wasn’t the time. Their live-in re­la­tion­ship was too new to bur­den him and be­sides, she wasn’t even sure her­self.

She slapped her thighs with fake op­ti­mism as she rose from the stool.

“Re­ally, it’s noth­ing. Just a bad dream, that’s all.” She poked a fin­ger at him in mock anger. “And how many times have I told you not to drink from the car­ton? It’s un­hy­gienic.”

The next day, Ju­dith had al­most for­got­ten about her tan­gled dreams as she sat in the kitchen again – this time light and airy in the crisply bright sun­shine of early Oc­to­ber – watch­ing An­drew rush around get­ting ready for his day in the news­pa­per of­fice.

Ju­dith had the lux­ury of work­ing from home… well, she told her­self it was a lux­ury. Truth be told, she’d been made re­dun­dant from her post on the same pub­li­ca­tion An­drew worked on.

It was where they met. They were both writ­ers, but where An­drew was happy dig­ging up dirt on celebri­ties, she felt she had more to say… or she would if she could get over this writ­ers’ block.

Af­ter the whirl­wind that was An­drew left for work, Ju­dith sat in her kitchen en­joy­ing the quiet. Af­ter a fast-burn­ing ro­mance, he had moved into her tiny apart­ment six months ago and she loved him dearly, but there were times when she longed for soli­tude, to wal­low in si­lence, to just sit and think.

An­drew never sat still for a sec­ond, al­ways too busy to think – why stop to smell roses when there could be an en­tire botanic gar­den around the next cor­ner? Of course he was a New Yorker born and bred, mar­i­nated in the hec­tic pace of city life. Ju­dith came from the tiny town of Palmer­stone, a stone’s throw from Salem, Mas­sachusetts – yes, the place of the fa­mous witch-hunts. She got so tired of field­ing that one when­ever she met some­one new.

Un­like An­drew’s huge, sprawl­ing fam­ily, she had only one rel­a­tive left – the woman she called Nanny who had brought her up af­ter her par­ents died in a car crash when she was a tod­dler. She had loved her grand­par­ents dearly and was al­ways es­pe­cially close to her grand­mother.

Ju­dith had never asked about her par­ents. Might now be the time? Per­haps Nanny could shed light on th­ese weird dreams?

Snap­ping out of her rev­erie, she glanced at the kitchen clock – dammit, how did it get to al­most eleven? She must have been day­dream­ing for two hours! Quickly she put to­gether fresh cof­fee and a chicken salad sand­wich and took it to what she op­ti­misti­cally called her of­fice, which in re­al­ity was the broom closet next to the bath­room. It had just enough room for a tiny ta­ble and fold­ing chair and if she left the door open, she could sit at the desk with her key­board plugged into her tablet.

No won­der she had dif­fi­culty get­ting creative in this cramped lit­tle cor­ner – how she longed for more space!

She opened the files on the tablet’s screen and started to rum­mage through old notes. There had to be some­thing here she could use to form the ba­sis of her first best­selling novel. She sighed, wish­ing for a life more ex­cit­ing, a life that would yield the bones of a story wor­thy of the invit­ing shelves of a high-end book­store.

Ju­dith woke sob­bing. Smoke from the flames still clutched at her throat, sweat drenched her trem­bling body. Vi­sions of the fire and the stench of burn­ing flesh still filled her senses. Far away she heard a fa­mil­iar voice… “Jude? You OK?” The voice grew closer as her mind cleared. She felt a gen­tle touch on her arm and with­drew, still afraid.

“Come on, wake up, Jude…You’re dream­ing again.”

An­drew was half sit­ting, the mus­cles of his left arm stand­ing out as they sup­ported the weight of his body. He leaned for­ward, stretch­ing his other arm to­wards her to smooth the sweat-damp­ened hair that clung to her face.

“Geez, Jude, that’s three nights run­ning,” he said. “Are you all right? Can I get you any­thing?”

His eyes brimmed with sleep and con­cern as he kneaded the back of her neck, gen­tly pulling her to­wards him.

She felt safe in his arms and the fear and con­fu­sion of the night­mare be­gan to drift away. That’s all it was, she told her­self firmly. A night­mare, that’ s all.

Calmer now, she pushed gen­tly away from him.

“It was just a bad dream. I’m fine now.” She knew she sounded un­con­vinc­ing. An­drew sat cross-legged on the bed. “They’re get­ting worse,” he said. “They say con­stant night­mares are a sign of a trou­bled mind. Jude…” He frowned anx­iously. “We… you and me… we’re all right, aren’t we?

Ju­dith sat up and touched her hand to his face. “Oh, Andy, of course we’re all right. Th­ese night­mares, they’re…” What were they? Ju­dith couldn’t even be­gin to ex­plain them.

An­drew took her hand and rose from the bed. “Why don’t we get a drink?” he said. “Then tell me all about it.”

Silently Ju­dith fol­lowed him into the kitchen. The sud­den glare as he snapped on the flu­o­res­cent light brought her back to re­al­ity. She perched on one of the high stools, hugged her arms around her­self, and watched as he moved about the kitchen mak­ing hot milk spiked with honey and herbs.

His red robe looked in­con­gru­ously cheer­ful against the pris­tine white of the kitchen as she brooded over what she was go­ing to say. In this harsh light her night­mares seemed even darker and more sin­is­ter, and yet also so much more un­real. The sound of tea­spoons clink­ing against china mugs was brassy in the still­ness of the early hours. Ju­dith sud­denly found her­self re­luc­tant to talk about her dreams. “So, tell me all about it.” An­drew turned care­fully, a bright blue mug in each hand. He placed one in front of her and sat fac­ing her. Putting down his mug, he leaned on both el­bows and smiled en­cour­ag­ingly.

“I don’t know where to start.” She shrugged, sud­denly feel­ing fool­ish.

Reach­ing for­ward An­drew cov­ered her hand with his, warm and re­as­sur­ing. “Start at the be­gin­ning, Jude,” he said. She sipped her drink, felt the hot liq­uid in her throat, its hon­eyed taste lin­ger­ing in her mouth. How could she ex­plain that this house she kept dream­ing of seemed to be call­ing to her, reach­ing out to her? How could she tell him she felt an over­whelm­ing need to find it and dis­cover what it wanted from her?

Hes­i­tantly, she started to speak… T he next evening, An­drew laid a hot dish of pasta bake on the edge of the same break­fast bar that, in the light of day, showed no signs of Ju­dith’s mid­night con­fes­sions.

He nudged the dish past crock­ery and cut­lery, winc­ing as the heat seeped through to his tea towel-wrapped hand.

“Hot, hot, hot!” he said, press­ing his other hand to Ju­dith’s shoul­der so she wouldn’t come up against the dish. “We re­ally need a big­ger place,” he added.

“Well – un­til one of us wins a Pulitzer, it’ll just have to do,” she re­torted churl­ishly.

“Hey, I didn’t mean…” An­drew frowned. He dis­en­tan­gled his hand from the tea towel and took Ju­dith’s hand. “It’s no won­der you’re stressed out with th­ese night­mares,” he said gen­tly. “Have you thought of mak­ing them use­ful… use them in a story plot?”

“Andy – I can’t even think straight af­ter them, can I?” “I know, but the next day you could – ” “Not if I can’t get past this writer’s block,” she in­ter­rupted.

“It’ll pass, Jude. In the mean­time I’m still earn­ing a reg­u­lar pay check.” He paused in the process of dish­ing out steam­ing spoon­fuls and shot her a side­ways glance. “I know, I know – it’s not a big enough pay check, but soon…”

She looked far from con­vinced. Un­de­terred, he picked up an over­loaded fork­ful of pasta still con­nected to the plate with strings of gooey melted cheese, as if re­luc­tant to be parted from the rest.

“Care­ful – it’s hot,” he warned, but pro­ceeded to wolf it down any­way. Be­fore he’d even swal­lowed, his fork dived in for an­other foray into the cheesy mounds, but then he paused, fork hov­er­ing inches from his mouth.

“I’ve been think­ing about what you said, Jude…”

“For­get it. They’re just silly dreams.” She waved dis­mis­sively.

“Hmmm. You didn’t seem to think that way last night.”

“It’s amaz­ing how dif­fer­ent things look in the light of day,” she said, busy­ing her­self with pour­ing wine into two glasses.

How could she EX­PLAIN that this house SEEMED to be CALL­ING to her?

“But they’re get­ting worse and maybe if you could find this house, they’ll stop.” Ju­dith shrugged. “So I go on some wild goose chase all over Amer­ica to find a house I’ve only ever seen in my dreams? Re­ally?”

“It does give a whole new mean­ing to the term ‘dream house’,” An­drew said, but when she frowned he quickly added, “But I’ve been think­ing… you should re­search, see if you can find this house.”

“Oh, Andy, you know I don’t have the time for that.”

An­drew had al­most fin­ished his meal. She had not yet even picked up her fork.

“Why not? Re­search­ing might spark ideas, break that writ­ers’ block. There’s no rea­son th­ese dreams shouldn’t come up with the plot for a novel, is there?” Ju­dith sim­ply raised one eye­brow cyn­i­cally. “Come on, what harm can it do…?” he urged.

She sighed and started to pick at her mac-and-cheese while An­drew scraped his plate clean then took it to the sink.

“I know!” he an­nounced, al­ready pleased with him­self be­fore he’d even ex­pressed his idea. “A change of scenery will melt away the stress – and get your creative juices flow­ing.”

“So where do you sug­gest? We aren’t ex­actly rolling in spare cash for a va­ca­tion, are we?” “You could visit with Nanny.” “What? Go back to Palmer­stone?” “Why not? It’s so close to Salem and if that spooky ol’ place doesn’t in­spire a de­cent story, I don’t know what will!”

“Go­ing back to Salem and its ghosts is hardly go­ing to stop the night­mares.”

“Don’t be daft, Jude – there’s no such thing as ghosts. But you said you were al­ways happy when you were with Nanny, so stay­ing with her for a while will do you a world of good.” “I don’t know, Andy…” Ju­dith loved Nanny dearly, but she wasn’t so sure about Salem; she couldn’t get out of that area quickly enough when she had grad­u­ated.

“Why don’t you call Nanny and see what she says?”

“I sup­pose…” Ju­dith twirled her fork list­lessly in the rapidly cool­ing pasta.

“You haven’t seen her in… how long has it been?” He didn’t wait for an an­swer. “I know she’ll be happy to hear from you – so call her tonight,” he went on as he ran hot wa­ter into the sink.

“Cof­fee?” he asked, not notic­ing she hadn’t swal­lowed a sin­gle bite of her meal.

That feel­ing of im­pend­ing doom with which Ju­dith so of­ten woke th­ese days now lay in the pit of her stom­ach like a moss-slick stone. It was mid­night and she sat star­ing un­see­ingly out of the bed­room win­dow, her face bathed in the eerie glow of green neon. An­drew’s soft snores formed an in­stru­men­tal back­drop to the noisy chaos roil­ing around in her mind…

Ear­lier that evening she had in­deed called Nanny, who had agreed with An­drew’s sug­ges­tion that she spend some time “back home” as she called it.

Ju­dith had never hid­den any­thing from Nanny, and be­fore she knew it, she had told her about the night­mares that had re­cently started and were get­ting more fre­quent. “Oh, deary me…” Nanny had said. “It’s just stress, I sup­pose,” Ju­dith replied. “Af­ter los­ing my job. That’s why Andy thinks I could do with a break.” “Yes, yes… of course…” She had sud­denly no­ticed how Nanny seemed fret­ful, dis­tracted, us­ing the kind of tone that usu­ally meant there was some­thing awk­ward that needed to be ad­dressed, but she was skirt­ing the is­sue.

“Is some­thing wrong?” Ju­dith had asked, puz­zled.

“Well…” Nanny had sighed heav­ily on the other end of the phone. When she spoke again, it was with the kind of de­ter­mi­na­tion you need to do some­thing you re­ally do not want to do. “I’m glad you called, dear…” She had paused to steel her­self, but then ev­ery­thing tum­bled out all at once.

“Oh, Judy. There’s so much I have to tell you… things I should have told you a long time ago. I’m so sorry, Judy – truly, I am. I thought I was pro­tect­ing you, you see… but now…”

Ju­dith’s stom­ach had done som­er­saults at the sound of her grand­mother’s ner­vous tone. “Nanny, what’s wrong?” “I can’t say over the phone, dear. An­drew is right – you need to come on over and visit. Then I can tell you ev­ery­thing – all the fam­ily se­crets.”

“Fam­ily se­crets? Nanny, stop be­ing so dra­matic! What se­crets could our fam­ily pos­si­bly have?”

“Oh, ev­ery fam­ily has its skele­tons in the closet…”

“And most of them should prob­a­bly stay there,” Ju­dith had replied jok­ingly, try­ing to ig­nore the per­sis­tent lit­tle voice tug­ging at her sub­con­scious.

How­ever, the next thing her grand­mother said had left Ju­dith reel­ing.

She’d sat there, star­ing out into space for sev­eral min­utes af­ter Nanny had blurted, “Oh Judy, I’m not your grand­mother… your mother wasn’t my daugh­ter.”

“Oh, Judy. There are THINGS I should have TOLD YOU a long time AGO…”

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