Yes, I am finally back to my normal self, despite recovering from a dislocated finger! One of the most annoying maladies that a writer can endure! But I am on the mend, and as a result, I’ve begun another serial short story.
I have been sitting on this story for many years because some of the elements of the story are true, yet, I embellished it a bit, like we writers do. The paranormal constantly enters my life at the most opportune moments. Being a dark fiction writer, it is as if the universe is slowly giving information so I can weave these tales and perhaps enlighten others to the things that exist just beyond the curtain of reality.
This story is a mixture of horror, paranormal and Southern Gothic genres. It’s not true Southern Gothic because it is set in Pennsylvania, but it embodies the elements of Southern Gothic, which is an exposure of the shadows cast
So, without further babbling, let us visit…
The Third Floor – Part 1
When I pulled up to the mansion in the woods, I immediately had the urge turn around and drive off, but my situation left me little recourse. The ominous structure seemed misplaced in such a rural area and exhibited a mixture of both Georgian and Antebellum architectures. Ivy covered the majority of the southern side of the home, with ancient oaks and walnut trees towering over the third level of the home. Moreover, as I looked up into the empty windows, though I could not see anything, I could feel as if something watched me.
I came to this forlorn structure as a result of losing my job as a sous-chef at a prominent French Restaurant just outside Valley Forge. My employer and I differed on several points of technique in the kitchen, as well as how long one should be required to work in a day. When I refused to work a sixty-hour week, he summarily fired me. I was thankful that it was summer as destitution forced me to live in my vehicle.
Fortunately, I quickly found a job posting in the local free paper. The ad was for a private chef, meals and lodging included, as well as a modest weekly salary. It was exactly what I needed, and I attributed the good fortune to providence. I immediately found the nearest pay phone, and scheduled an interview. This one encounter would change the course of my life and expose a new path, one I’d not considered before.
I arrived five minutes early, staring at the house for a few moments before I gained the courage to approach the main door of the house.
An elderly man with a cane, and two large German Shepherds, greeted me. This intimidated me, yet I smiled as warmly as possible and offered a hand.
“Mr. Pebble?” I asked.
“Walter will do, son,” he said. “And you are Zachary Tyler?”
“Yes, sir. Or just Zach is fine by me.”
“Very well, Zach.” He said turning, the dogs watching me with an eerily human quality. “Follow me.”
We entered a large foyer, with a crystal chandelier hanging from the second floor ceiling. To the right of the door, an elegant stair case wound up to the balcony overhead, like the tail of a dragon. We walked passed a large library with a hospital style bed in the middle of the room, then out to a large slate patio overlooking a stream fed in-ground pool, cut from the native granite on which the entire property sat.
Walter motioned to a chair at a wrought iron table. I took a seat opposite him. The two dogs dutifully took their positions on either side of him. Despite his hunched posture, he was a tall, thin man with sunken eyes, the youth long since drained from his body, leaving nothing more than a frail husk.
“Did you say you worked at The Forge?” He asked.
“Yes,” I said. “And to be quite honest, I did not leave on good terms. So, if you plan to call them for a reference, it will probably not be favorable.”
“Have you worked anywhere else around the area?”
I rattled off a few others local restaurants of lesser quality.
The old man nodded.
“And of course, I attended the Culinary Institute.” I added.
“Sounds good enough for me,” The old man said with a nod.
“I live here in the house alone. I have a housekeeper that comes several times a week and cooks for me in the meantime since my last chef quit. And calling her a cook is a bit of a stretch.” He said and then smirked. “There is also my gardener who doubles as a driver, but I would prefer you take that role on as well, considering you’ll be living here. Is that agreeable to you?”
“Of, course,” I said. “Do you have a car, or would you expect to use mine? My car has seen better days.”
“I have a Rolls Royce,” He said with an arrogant smile.
“Yes,” He said. “Now, let’s discuss your salary. Because I am offering you room and board, I offer you two-hundred dollars a week. Is that acceptable?”
I pondered the offer for a few moments. I hoped it would be larger so that I could save money to get myself back on my feet.
“That’s just fine,” I said finally. “What about vacation time?”
“Maria, the housekeeper, can fill in for you if you feel the need to vacation. However, I will require at least two weeks notice, and you can never be away more than five days at a time.”
“Very well,” I said. “Will you be deducting taxes from my pay before hand?”
“No, young man. I intend to pay you in cash. It is none of my business how you manage your finances.”
“Thank you.” I said with earnestness in my voice. As adverse as I was to engaging in illegal activities, that extra percentage would allow me to leave his service sooner.
“Do we have a deal?” He asked.
“Yes, indeed we do, Walter,” I replied with fervor.
“Now,” He said as he stood; the dogs flanked him. “I will give you a brief tour, and then I will show you to your suite.”
He led me first to an enormous kitchen, which seemed to have all new appliances–they were immaculate.
“I eat all my meals in here at this table,” he said. “I am a creature of habit as you will come to find soon enough. Consistency and ritual is the key to a successful life. As such, I typed up the menu for you. You are free to prepare the dishes anyway you like, but you must adhere to the overall essence of the meal.”
“Very well,” I said.
“All the food is delivered to the house, so if you need things that are not on the normal list, you will need to let the delivery service know beforehand.”
He motioned to a door near the refrigerator. “That door leads to the second floor, the servant’s staircase. If you need to be in the kitchen when I am asleep, I urge you to use them. I am a light sleeper, and the dogs are always on alert when I am asleep. Once I am up, I will be unable to go back to sleep. So please be mindful of that.”
“Of course.” I said.
“Very well then,” He opened the door. I’ll show you to your suite.”
With excruciating slowness, he mounted the stairs to the second floor, rising like Jacob’s ladder. Once at the top, I saw the long hall that stretched the full length of the house to the balcony that overlooked the foyer. As we walked, I counted ten doors lining the hall. We came to a double door just beyond the balcony. There were two rooms behind the doors — the master bedroom and a smaller bedroom. There were also two restrooms.
“This is the master suite, and you are free to use it as you will.” He began. “Be mindful that Maria is not responsible for washing your clothes. She will change the bed sheets once a month, but that is it. You are responsible for washing your own clothes and keeping the room tidy.”
“Of course,” I said. “Is there a laundry room in the house?”
“Yes,” He said. “It’s in the basement.”
He turned and motioned to a walnut door, which had a twin at the other end of the hall.
“That is the door to the third floor,” He said. “You are not free to go up there. That is for storage, and there are things strewn about. I’d rather not be paying hospital costs due to carelessness.”
“I don’t plan to snoop around your house,” I said. “Rest assured all your belongings are safe. I’m a cook, not a thief.”
The old man nodded with satisfaction.
“I will leave you to explore the rest of the house. The library and my office are also both off-limits. But you are free to roam the house and use the pool as you like.” He turned and moved to the staircase, making his slow descent. “But for now, I must rest. I will let you settle in. But I expect dinner to be ready by six P.M.”
“Of course,” I said. “Thank you for this opportunity, Walter.”
He looked back at me over his shoulder, “No, thank you for not subjecting me to Maria’s meals any further. See you a six.”
While the pay wasn’t what I wanted, and the idea of being a servant didn’t appeal to me, I was thankful that I wouldn’t be sleeping in my car anymore.
After bringing my belongings in from the car, I started exploring. I had plenty of time to make supper, and it was an easy meal to fix. He simply wanted grilled steak, baked potato and corn — not what I was used to preparing.
The house was larger than I expected. Downstairs, there was a large formal dining room that could seat 20 people and another large formal living room with seating for at least fifty people. Walter must have been quite the entertainer back in his younger days to warrant such accommodations.
After changing to make dinner, I walked down the hall, opening each door and peeking inside. There were six bedrooms, one restroom and a nursery. I couldn’t fathom having such a large family. I am an only child, and my parents had passed only a few years before. It was no wonder that Walter had to amass such fortune.
Thought he instructed me not to go to the third floor, my natural curiosity urged me to at least peer up the stairs. I glanced around carefully and listened for the Walter. I could hear a rattled cough far within the depths of the house. Satisfied, I opened the door slowly as it creaked with disuse. Cold air immediately poured over me like a flash flood, causing me to shudder. This caused me great pause, yet a poked my head inside and peered upwards.
An unnatural inky darkness, enshrouded the ascending steps and the hall beyond. I could barely make out a door at the top of the stairs, and a mini dust devil no doubt perturbed by the sudden movement of air. I stood and watched silently for a few minutes before closing the door again.
I decided it was best to leave the third floor alone for the time being, but something in my gut told me there was much more than boxes and cobwebs hidden away in that dark place. But having just gotten the job, it was best that I waited at least a few days before secretly exploring the Old Man’s dark secrets.
I hurried to the kitchen to prepare the bland meal for the old man, but the chill persisted even as I entered the warm kitchen. There was something more to that house and my eccentric employer.
(to be continued)