THE HAUNTING OF RAVENS VIEW MANSION
Zoe Fisher sleepily stumbled over to her bedroom window only partially aware of the fact that the morning sun might be blindingly bright as she unleashed it from behind her window shade. After several moments she slowly removed her cupped hands from in front of her eyes taking in the burst of green of late spring. She felt a warm glow wrap around her as she realized that it was Saturday. A day of great joy for many reasons for most any kid, but especially for Zoe as this was the day that she and her friend Darren would each earn twenty five dollars for cleaning the old Ravens View Mansion up on the gentle slopes of South Mountain in Frederick Maryland.
Zoe laughed to herself as she dressed recalling how her father, who was the manager in charge of over seeing the mansion now turned museum, had asked if she would be interested in the job, what were his exact words? Zoe thought about it for a moment before flipping her head down letting her long blond hair form a curtain around her oval face as she brushed out any tangles that may have formed over the night. Her eyes lit up with blue sparkles as she tossed her head back at the same moment as the memory swirled back.
“Zoe, if you want to clean the museum on Saturday mornings before it opens, that’s fine by me. But you need to know that a number of families have tried to live their when it was being used as a house and they all ended up moving out a short time later claiming that it was haunted. And from what I hear they all seemed pretty frightened when they spoke about the place.”
That was it that was exactly what he had said when she had asked if she could have the job. How ridicules it all sounded now, oh it had bothered her for a while, but six months had now passed without nary an unexplained thud or door opening, without someone on the other side, since she and Darren had accepted the work. They both had long since turned it into a joke about how these families must have had very over active imaginations about this mansion that seemed to be at complete peace as it gazed down on the valley below.
Zoe skipped breakfast and pedaled as fast as she could as the tall oak trees that lined the mountain road quietly watched her ascent. She and Darren had an ongoing contest to see who could get to the museum first each trying to beat the other so they could do the vacuuming and dusting and not have to be stuck with the musty old smelling bathrooms and kitchen with all its little nooks and crannies. Zoe almost always lost. Today, however, she had gotten an earlier then usual start determined that this would be the day that she would win the coveted vacuuming job.
About half way up the mountain Zoe crossed over what everyone referred to as the South Mountain Creek, to her though it looked more like a river as it sloshed downward. She looked behind her as she continued upward to see if Darren might be trying to make a fast break and catch her on the last leg of the journey. With no one in sight including Darren she slowed her pedaling certain that the vacuuming and victory were hers finally to enjoy. Rounding the final curve the mostly stone built mansion came into sight and Zoe’s excitement rose as high as the trees that still surrounded her until the crushing blow that once again the bathrooms and kitchen would be her responsibility. She could not believe her eyes, for there sitting on the porch with the grin of the devil was Darren swinging slowly back and forth on an old wooden bench swing watching her as she approached.
“Why did you get here so early?’ Zoe blurted out between her labored breaths as she tried to control her disappointment at losing once again. “And where’s your bike anyway?” she said, with a touch of suspicion as she looked around for it.
“I got here early so I could beat you. I can’t stand doing the bathrooms, never could. And I didn’t bring my bike. I got a ride today.”
“Never Could” Zoe fumed inside at Darren’s words, how many bathrooms had he cleaned in his lifetime? He was the same age as she was, ten.
Zoe scrubbed each bathroom to a shiny brilliance soon forgetting her irritation with Darren as she mentally planned on how she might spend her twenty five dollars when her father paid them. And in what seemed like no time at all the only thing that remained was the dreaded kitchen. When she entered the room of old heavy cutting boards and blocks with their dark soulless color she found Darren already there and just finishing up. Zoe was shocked, amazed, but gratefully happy, upon realizing that at least Darren had spared her from this chore. However she was equally amazed at how he had accomplished vacuuming three levels as well as dusting all of the furniture, of which there was a lot and still had time left over to not only start the kitchen but finish it as well. Darren had always been a good worker but to finish this all in less then two hours was almost inhuman.
“You’re already finished all the vacuuming? She asked, still in disbelief.
“Yep.” He replied.
“And all of the dusting? She continued.
“Yep.” He replied again.
“And you were able to do all of that, and the kitchen, this quickly?”
“Do you want to go around and check it to see if it meets with your approval?” Darren challenged her with that same goofy grin he had earlier when she had first arrived.
“No, I guess not, the kitchen is spotless. It’s just hard to believe, you’ve never finished this quickly ever before.”
Darren just raised his arms as if to say, “Whatever, just look around for yourself”.
Zoe locked the front door to the old mansion as they exited. She knew that she had to get the key back to her father before they opened the museum that afternoon. She also knew that her dad had another key but he liked having two incase of an emergency.
“Who’s coming to pick you up?” Zoe asked.
“I don’t know, someone will be along soon enough I suppose.” Darren said as he sat back down in the swing and slowly began to rock back and forth.
“OK then, I’ll see you later unless you want me to wait with you?”
Darren just shook his head.
“Thanks for doing the kitchen. I really wasn’t looking forward to that.”
“I could tell, and you are most welcome.” Darren paused before adding in a very soft voice, “I’ll see you soon.”
Zoe pushed off heading down the pathway towards the road. The ride home was much easier as she could use the speed she would build up going down hill to propel her much of the way without having to pedal at all. It was always such a relief after working up a sweat from cleaning. After a few moments she was nearing the bridge over the creek when she decided to turn around one last time and wave goodbye to Darren when, much to her surprise, he was no longer sitting in the swing. In fact he was no longer anywhere in sight. The only proof that he had been their at all was that the swing still gently swayed back and forth as if it was now being pushed by an invisible breeze. Zoe decided that he must have gone for a walk, but something just didn’t feel right. But she just laughed it off, Darren had done the kitchen for her, what more did she want and why should she care if he was acting just a little strange all morning anyway that wasn’t anything new?
Zoe let the increasing speed of her bike break through the air sending her hair fanning out from beneath her helmet behind her as it waved to the passing trees. Her mind considered the many possibilities that lay ahead of her on this Saturday that had only just barely begun. The curves in the road were now coming fast and furious as the sun peaked down between the tree limbs watching her progress as the mountain grew above her.
And then suddenly Zoe slammed on her breaks almost causing the bike to veer dangerously close to the steep mountain edge on her right. As she came to a stop she could feel her lips freeze even though she desperately wanted them to form words. She could feel the blood drain from her face as her legs turned to near rubber now only barely able to support her weight. If it hadn’t have been for the bike acting as a support she was certain she would have crumpled in a heap to the ground. All of this as Darren road steadily up towards her with little beads of sweat proving how much energy he had exerted to get this far up the mountain as the heat of the morning worked against him.
“Are you already done? Geez that was fast, how did you manage to do the whole house this fast by yourself? Sorry I didn’t make it in time to help you, but my mom made me go with her to some sale for school shoes that she just couldn’t pass up. It was so lame.” At some point as Darren rambled on he began to notice the look of utter and complete disbelief that had now engulfed Zoe’s entire manner. “Are you alright Zoe?”
Zoe wasn’t sure at all how she felt or if she would ever be alright again. The only thing that kept going through her mind were the last words spoken up on the porch and who, or what, might have spoken them, “I’ll see you soon!”
This story is dedicated to Deborah and David Fisher along with their daughter (The star of this story.) Zoe. The rough draft of this story was written in Oakland California during the weekend that Deborah and David were getting married!