* * *
Richard and Michael crept into the stair hall towards the back of the house. The steps went up to a landing above and, in addition to the obvious back door, there was a door on either side at the back of the hall. It felt like someone was watching them. The hairs went up on the back of their necks.
â€œWish Iâ€™d brought my helmet,â€ Richard muttered.
â€œI donâ€™t like this,â€ Michael whispered. â€œLetâ€™s wait at the bottom for the rest of them.â€
They heard a noise like splashing water off to the left somewhere. They also saw, just for a moment, the other children walking around the back of the house through the window in the back door.
â€œYou wait here for them,â€ Michael said. â€œIâ€™m going to go check out that noise.â€
â€œYou sure?â€ Richard said nervously.
â€œYeah yeah, Iâ€™ll be fine.â€
Michael walked into the room in the back. It was as dirty and dusty as the ones in the front of the house and he saw a large archway with sliding pocket doors partially opened leading to one of the front rooms. Another door went off to the right and he saw dirty windows looking outside and back of the house. More debris was in the room and wire hung from the ceiling.
He looked out one of the windows and saw a brick courtyard surrounded by a damaged gallery. He thought the sound might have come from that direction. Looking around, he crossed to the room towards the front of the house and found a doorway that led out to the courtyard.
* * *
Alone at the bottom of the stairs, Richard heard a floorboard creak above. He looked up but didnâ€™t see anyone at the top of the stairs. He backed towards the front door, standing in the doorway between the stair hall and the foyer.
* * *
There were doors all around the gallery but the one towards the back of the house, where Michael was more and more convinced the sound had come from, was ajar. He crossed the gallery to it and found it opened into a tiny hall or antechamber with doors in all four walls. He heard another splash. It came from the door directly in front of him.
* * *
Billy headed back around the back of the house.
â€œBilly!â€ Teddy said.
â€œI think we should check on our two comrades who bravely went in the house,â€ Jebidiah said.
Ella-Marie walked onto the portico and inside.
â€œI feel confident following her,â€ Jebidiah said.
He followed, Teddy clinging precariously to his back.
* * *
Richard turned when he heard someone enter the front door and was relieved to see the other three.
â€œWhere-Whereâ€™s Michael?â€ Teddy said.
â€œHeâ€™s â€¦ uh â€¦ he went ahead,â€ Richard said nervously.
â€œWhere?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œAlone?â€ Teddy said.
â€œAnd you justâ”€â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œHe said to wait for you,â€ Richard said. â€œAnd then weâ€™ll go join him.â€
â€œJoin him where?â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œWhere did he go?â€
â€œHe went that way,â€ Richard said, pointing towards the back of the house and to the left.
â€œWhy did he venture alone?â€ Teddy said.
â€œHe insisted,â€ Richard said.
Ella-Marie headed towards the back of the dirty house, Richard trying to push past her and lead the way. There was a little struggle in the hallway as the two fought to be in the lead.
â€œListen, I-I love this power struggle but did you see anything recently?â€ Jebidiah asked. â€œAnything happen?â€
â€œI heard a creak,â€ Richard said. â€œA creak upstairs. And I think he heard water splashing.â€
â€œThatâ€™s enough to get my heart pounding already,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œJebidiah, your heartâ€™s pounding,â€ Teddy, still on his back, said.
â€œAll right, all right,â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œWeâ€™re going to stick together. Okay?â€
They all crept into another room that was dirty and dusty. A door stood on the wall to the right and an archway with pocket sliding doors was to their left.
â€œMichael!â€ Ella-Marie called.
* * *
Billy went to the back of the house and started looking through the vines. He wondered if something or someone might have climbed up them but they appeared completely undisturbed. There were no leaves on the ground and they didnâ€™t seem to very sturdy anyway. He doubted heâ€™d be able to climb up them and he was pretty small.
He walked into the courtyard on that side of the house and saw it had a cement floor. More debris lay within it and there were panels with slats built to create a gallery or outdoor hallway with broken doors upon them. He saw doors leading into the house and the wing off the walkway. He crossed the courtyard to the gallery.
* * *
Michael pushed the door open and found himself in some kind of a bathroom. Dirty tiles covered the floors and the lower portion of the walls. A single, shuttered window stood in the wall to his right. A large brass washtub stood near a drain in the floor. The tub appeared to be filled with dirty gray water and was about five feet long by a couple of feet wide and just as deep. A spigot stuck out of the side of the tub near the drain.
â€œNasty,â€ he muttered.
He crept towards the tub and looked at the drain. There was a tiny drip of water from the spigot. He reached down and turned the faucet on the drain. Water started spewing out, almost directly into the drain. He turned it back the other way to turn it off and the faucet snapped off in his hand.
He turned to leave and heard a bubbling from the washtub behind him. Thatâ€™s when he noticed the door to the room was closed. He dropped the handle, gave the tub a look, and saw that, as the water in the washtub was lowering, two black mounds were being revealed. He turned and ran to the door but found it wouldnâ€™t open. It was stuck. The water was splashing loudly out of the spigot behind him.
He kicked the door, knocking out one of the panels. It was not quite big enough for him to get out.
â€œMike?â€ he heard his sister call.
â€œEl!â€ he cried out.
* * *
When Ella-Marie heard Michael yell from somewhere in the house, she ran to the window where she thought his voice had come from. She looked out of the grime into a gallery and courtyard but saw no sign of him.
â€œMike!â€ she called again and heard him call back to her in return.
It sounded like he was in that wing on the other side of the courtyard.
Richard ran through the archway with the pocket sliding doors and found a doorway that led to the north wing.
â€œThis way!â€ he called.
He ran through the door to the gallery. The others followed.
* * *
Michael tried to kick out another panel but only managed to shake the door in its frame. Then the water stopped spraying out of the washtub, leaving only the persistent dripping. There was a noise behind him of something wet moving.
Michael turned around and raised his hands in a boxing stance.
Sitting up in the washtub, mostly obscured, was a colored man. He was soaking wet and had gray hair. He wore old, out-of-date clothing. Terrible bruises were evident on his neck, nasty purple marks. The old man slowly looked his way, and the two locked eyes.
Michael felt the room seem to spin and he felt like he was going to fall as he saw the old man.
Then the features of the man changed as he became pale and white and took on the features of his older brother, Jonathan, who glared at him and shook his head at him. Then he seemed to lay back down in the tub. Michael stared in terror at the washtub, unable to move.
* * *
Billy looked around the gallery and thought he heard the others calling to each other somewhere else in the house. He noted four doors leading into various rooms nearby, some of them with a few glass panes still set into them. The door to his right, which led into the main house, did not have a window like the others.
He realized Blitzer wasnâ€™t with him and when he looked towards the back of the house through the courtyard, he saw the dog sitting some ways behind the house just looking at him.
â€œStay!â€ he shouted at the dog.
He headed into the main house.
* * *
As the others entered the gallery on the north side of the house, they didnâ€™t hear anything.
â€œMike, are you okay?â€ Ella-Marie called.
Only silence answered her.
â€œWe should check all the doors,â€ Teddy said. â€œQuickly.â€
â€œMaybe straight ahead first,â€ Jebidiah said.
Richard ran to the door straight across the gallery that looked out onto the courtyard. Ella-Marie ran to the nearest door, which stood on the left, and kicked it. It crashed open to reveal a smallish room with a single window that, other than dust, dirt, and debris, was empty. She ran to the next door.
Richard arrived at the door and saw it had glass mounted into it that was intact. He put his shoulder to the door and hear something snap in the handle. It flew open. In addition to the dirt, dust, and loose debris, a coffin sat on the floor in the center of the room.
Ella-Marie ran to the next door and tried to kick it open but it merely rattled in its frame. One of the panes of glass set in it shattered.
* * *
Michael turned away from the horrible tub and grabbed the handle of the door, pulling it violently open. He fled the room and heard Richard call his name.
â€œIâ€™m right here!â€ he said, exiting the antechamber into the gallery.
â€œMike!â€ Ella-Marie called, turning away from the door she was standing in front of. â€œGod! What is wrong with you? Why didnâ€™t you answer me!â€
â€œI did!â€ Michael said.
â€œI didnâ€™t hear anything!â€ she replied.
â€œI answered you twice.â€
â€œBut not the third time!â€
â€œYou called me a third time?â€
â€œYes! Are you okay?â€
* * *
Billy walked through the house and, as he did so, he thought he heard weeping or crying coming from somewhere nearby. He heard Michael and Ella-Marie arguing and stepped out into the gallery around the other courtyard where the rest of the children were.
â€œAre you scaredy-cats crying?â€ he squeaked.
â€œMichael, what have you found?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œThereâ€™s a body in there,â€ Michael said.
â€œA what?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œBody,â€ Michael stammered. â€œThereâ€™s a negro body in the tub.â€
â€œOh God, what happened?â€ Ella-Marie said.
She put her hands on his shoulders. Michael sighed.
â€œFor a second, he leaned up â€¦ looked at me â€¦ and he looked like our brother,â€ Michael said.
â€œIâ€™m interrupting!â€ Billy squeaked. â€œAnybody else hear that crying?â€
Everyone ignored him.
â€œYour brother is a negro?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œNo,â€ Michael said. â€œNo no no no. He changed.â€
â€œHold on!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œGuys, thereâ€™s someone crying back there!â€ Billy squealed.
â€œEverybody shut up!â€ Ella-Marie shouted. â€œWe need to figure out what to do!â€
Billy went back through the doorway to the main house.
â€œRichard?â€ Jebidiah said. â€œWhere is Richard?â€
â€œThereâ€™s a coffin,â€ Richard said.
â€œA coffin?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œA coffin,â€ Richard said.
â€œIf thereâ€™s a body in there, weâ€™re not touching it!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œI think heâ€™s dead but he sat up,â€ Michael said.
â€œThatâ€™s why I didnâ€™t want to bring the wheelchair,â€ Teddy whispered into Jebidiahâ€™s ear.
Ella-Marie closed the door to the antechamber that led to where the body was.
â€œWe need to stick together and we canâ€™t do this if Billy keeps running all over the damned place!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œThen letâ€™s go find Billy,â€ Teddy said. â€œIf weâ€™re not going to go touch the body then lets at least stay together.â€
â€œBut the coffin!â€ Richard said.
â€œWell-well, I think the most safe and sanitary things of all is the crying rather than the dead body or a coffin that could possibly have a dead body,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œDid you check?â€ Michael said.
â€œThe coffin?â€ Richard said.
â€œWhy would you open a coffin?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œI havenâ€™t opened the coffin,â€ Richard said.
â€œLetâ€™s not be concerned about that right now,â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œWe need to make sure everyone is in the same place.â€
â€œWas it Tommyâ€™s coffin?â€ Jebidiah suddenly said.
â€œI donâ€™t know!â€ Michael said.
â€œWhy would it be here!?!â€ Ella-Marie said.
Richard looked into the room. He had heard Mr. Hill was getting a pine coffin for Tommy. The one in the room seemed to be a nicer coffin of a more expensive design. However, looking more closely at it, he noticed it had three hasps and three staples on top of it where the lid met the body of the coffin, each held shut with a solid lock.
The others had looked into the room as well.
â€œWe should go find Billy,â€ Richard said.
â€œWhy would a coffin be locked?â€ Jebidiah asked.
* * *
Billy headed through the room to his left, through a set of sliding pocket doors, into one of the back rooms of the house. He thought the crying was coming from behind yet another closed door towards the back. It was a soft sobbing.
â€œHey, is there anybody in there?â€ Billy squeaked. â€œJill? Marjorie? Billy Number Two? Jimmy? Zach?â€
The crying continued.
He turned the doorknob and found it not locked so pulled the door open. The empty, dirty room had shelves on the walls, some of them having long-ago fallen to the floor. There were doors to his left and right; he guessed they led outside from the light coming under them. A dirty, shuttered window stood in the wall directly ahead of him.
Though there was no one in the room, the noise of someone crying continued. He looked up at the ceiling but saw nothing out of the ordinary there, not even the ceiling medallion or wires were evident in the room.
He closed the door. As soon as he did, the crying stopped. He felt a shiver run down his spine.
* * *
â€œI mean, itâ€™s a nice coffin,â€ Richard said. â€œThere could be something nice in there.â€
â€œLetâ€™s go find Billy!â€ Michael said.
â€œWhy would they put three locks to ward off grave diggers?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Richard said. â€œIâ€™m not a coffin maker.â€
â€œWe can speculate about this later!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œItâ€™s spooky,â€ Jebidiah told her.
â€œYeah, but we need to find Billy!â€ she said.
â€œFine, letâ€™s go find Billy,â€ Richard said.
As they turned to head back into the main house, Billy walked out onto the gallery again.
â€œHey yâ€™all, I couldnâ€™t find the crying person,â€ he said.
â€œYou just gave up?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œThanks for just running off like that!â€ Ella-Marie said sarcastically.
â€œWell, I meanâ”€â€ Billy said.
â€œAs per usual.â€
â€œâ”€as per usual, it was â€¦ it was gone. If I waited, itâ€™d be gone too. Still.â€
â€œWhy would I ever listen to you?â€
â€œTeddy, what are your thoughts on the coffin?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œI think anything with three locks is â€¦ something worth investigating,â€ Teddy said.
â€œIf it is for grave robbers, why have they not buried it?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œAre any of the locks already open?â€ Billy asked.
â€œI donâ€™t think we should open the coffin,â€ Richard said. â€œI mean thatâ€™s â€¦ thatâ€™s â€¦â€
Yeah, but are the locks unlocked?â€ Billy asked again.
â€œâ€¦ thatâ€™s awful,â€ Richard said. â€œI donâ€™t know. I didnâ€™t check.â€
â€œWeâ€™d have to get the locks off somehow,â€ Michael said.
â€œLet me see if I can put all this together,â€ Teddy said. â€œThis place is supposed to be abandoned. You think youâ€™ve seen a person. You think youâ€™ve heard a person crying.â€
â€œI heard a creaking upstairs,â€ Richard said.
â€œHeâ€™s heard creaking. We found a coffin with three locks on it.â€
â€œAnd itâ€™s clean.â€
â€œAnd itâ€™s clean. If there happens to be another body here or something of importance, this could get the sheriff involved and solve all of this right here. I say we open the coffin and find out whatâ€™s going on.â€
â€œShouldnâ€™t we check on your body that you say moved?â€ Jebidiah said to Michael.
â€œNo,â€ the boy replied.
â€œAgreed,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œDo we need to open the coffin?â€ Richard asked. â€œWe have a dead body here.â€
â€œIt looked as if it had been strangled or something,â€ Michael said.
Billy went into the room and looked at the coffin. He found the padlocks were fairly new and required a key. They were all clicked shut, which he carefully checked. The hasp and the staples were also new and screwed into the lid and body of the coffin. He didnâ€™t think there would be any way to get the coffin open with some heavy tools.
Richard suggested they go upstairs, thinking there was someone up there. Or something. Ella-Marie said no one was going to go on their own. Everyone should be with someone else. Teddy agreed with that. There was a general agreement and Richard led the way back to the main part of the house. Jebidiah looked back at the door Michael had come out before he left the area behind the others, Teddy on his back.
They all entered the stair hall and then headed up the steps with Richard in the lead. Halfway up the steps, one of the treads collapsed under his foot and he felt something pierce his shoe and his foot. He let out a shout and jerked his foot out of the hole. It hurt intensely and he saw blood on the stairs. He fell backwards, hopping down a step, as all of this friends put up their arms to stop him. Blood dripped from his foot.
â€œGod, what happened?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œI donâ€™t know!â€ Richard said. â€œThe floor fell out - the step â€¦ whatever it is. Something stabbed me.â€
Michael looked into the hole where the two pieces of the tread had fallen. A foot down, several knives and nails stuck up.
â€œYouâ€™re lucky your foot isnâ€™t more hurt,â€ he said.
Ella-Marie shoved Richard up against the banister and ordered him to take his shoe off. She found a round hole in his foot, like a nail, and wrapped his foot tightly in his sock before having him put his shoe back on. Billy, meanwhile, reached into the hole and grabbed the handle of one of the knives, eventually pulling it free. It proved to be an old, rusty kitchen knife.
â€œWhy are these down here?â€ Ella-Marie asked.
â€œAre they rusted?â€ Richard asked.
â€œTetanus!â€ Jebidiah said, pointing at Richard. â€œTetanus just as I said!â€
â€œEveryone be careful with your steps,â€ Michael said.
â€œIt seems someone doesnâ€™t want us to go to the upper floors,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œThen we must!â€ Teddy said.
â€œTeddyâ€™s newfound bravery inspires me greatly,â€ Jebidiah said.
Billy tapped on the next tread up the steps. Then he moved to the next one and the next one and the next one, leading the way up and testing the stairs as he went. The others followed after him, Richard limping and trying not to put too much weight on his hurt foot. Jebidiah asked for help as he carried Teddy and Michael made sure he didnâ€™t lose his balance.
The second floor had a hallway that ran from the front of the house to the back. Doors stood on each end of the hallway, some light coming in through the dirty glass mounted on them. There was a door at the top of the stairs and three other doors in the hallway making two on either side. Another staircase went up over the staircase they had come up.
As they watched, a door towards the front of the house and to their left slowly closed.
â€œYou got that knife, Billy?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œYeah,â€ Billy said.
â€œHope you know how to use it,â€ Richard said.
â€œLetâ€™s go check it out,â€ Michael said.
â€œTeddy, I trust you have my six oâ€™clock,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œAlways,â€ Teddy said.
Ella-Marie led the way to the door with Richard close behind. Billy followed them. The others approached more slowly, looking around nervously.
When Ella-Marie touched the door knob, it felt like ice. An uncomfortable and terrible feeling assaulted her as she turned the knob and pushed the door. It creaked slowly open, revealing a man hanging by his neck from a rope from the rafter in the center of the room. His face was purple and puffy, and his tongue stuck out of his mouth, black and swollen. There was a stench in the room like rotten meat. As the three watched, the apparent dead man opened his eyes and stared at each of them.
As suddenly as he was there, the man was gone, leaving the children shaken.
â€œMike â€¦â€ Ella-Marie muttered.
â€œDead guy!â€ Billy cried out. â€œThereâ€™s a dead guy!â€
â€œMike,â€ Ella-Marie said as the other three boys finally reached them.
â€œWhatâ€™s going on?â€ Michael said.
â€œThere was â€¦ there was a man â€¦ right there!â€ she said.
â€œHanging,â€ Richard said.
â€œLike you said!â€ she said. â€œLike â€¦ how â€¦?â€
â€œHis face was purple.â€
â€œHow could he have gotten downstairs and â€¦ here â€¦ but you said he was â€¦ negro â€¦â€
â€œThey could be two different people,â€ Michael said.
â€œWhatâ€™s going on?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œWeâ€™re here now,â€ Teddy said.
Ella-Marie, Richard, and Billy could all still smell the stench they had noticed when they came into the room.
â€œDo you not smell that?â€ Ella-Marie said.
Jebidiah, Teddy still on his back, entered the room. There was some dirt and dust within, but otherwise it was empty.
â€œNo,â€ Michael said.
â€œItâ€™s like a rotting corpse,â€ Richard said.
â€œItâ€™s a terrible stench,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œLike meat,â€ Richard said.
Jebidiah sniffed but smelled nothing. Neither did Michael or Teddy.
Michael closed the door.
The other three doors were already closed.
â€œWhat are we even here to do?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œTo see if we could find the person who did something to Tommy,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œOr clues,â€ Teddy said. â€œClues. Anything.â€
â€œWhy would Tommy have just gone out of his window?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œNothingâ€™s making any sense,â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œWeâ€™re not tying up any loose ends here.â€
â€œWell the only thing that wasâ”€â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œItâ€™s just getting stranger and stranger!â€
â€œThe only thing that was put here recently was the coffin. And if we saw a light here last night, it looks like the only thing that weâ€™ve seen so far that could have been put here. It could be that the coffin was moved in and the light was on because the people were bringing the coffin here â€¦â€
â€œAlso, I just want to say, it seems the coffin is the only thing that we have seen that still remains there,â€ Teddy said, â€œwhile these other things, I have not personally seen.â€
â€œThatâ€™s true,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œObviously, we could look into every room and see if we can get anything, but if, like you say, there are more, strange things or terrors that go away â€¦â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œLetâ€™s go back to the coffin room,â€ Michael said. â€œThatâ€™s my vote.â€
â€œSo, weâ€™re not going to the third floor?â€ Billy squeaked.
Jebidiah went to the door at the end of the hall towards the front of the house. Peering out, he realized he could see the railroad tracks in the distance, once he cleared away some of the dust. He guessed the front of the house, or perhaps the north side, was where Billy had seen the light come from.
â€œIf there was a light on in the house, it had to have come from one of the rooms in the front side of the house,â€ he said. â€œSo, we could check all the front-side rooms to see if thereâ€™s any evidence of people being there before we go back to the coffin, just to make sure weâ€™re not missing anything.â€
â€œBrilliant,â€ Teddy said.
Jebidiah suggested they check in the room across the hall from the room that had allegedly had the body hanging in it. Michael opened the door.
The rough and dirty room beyond looked like it had been inhabited. An old kerosene lantern stood on the mantle of the fireplace, along with a few other items: a few tins of food, an empty bottle or two, and other personal items. A large jug sat near the fireplace and there was evidence of a fire there. A table stood to one side and the remains of a bed, more of a box filled with hay, was to one side. Someone had apparently been living in the house. On the table sat a golden handle. The room smelled of wood smoke.
â€œThis might be where the light came from,â€ Michael said.
The handle appeared to be a rod with connectors on either end. Michael went over and picked it up. It was relatively heavy. Billy, Ella-Marie, Jebidiah, and Teddy all recognized it as a coffin handle. Billy realized it was not a match for the handles on the coffin theyâ€™d found downstairs.
â€œWhy would a piece from the coffin be up there?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œBecause they brought it here and it broke in transit,â€ Teddy said.
â€œI donâ€™t know about it, guys,â€ Billy said. â€œThat doesnâ€™t really look like the ones on that coffin.â€
â€œWell, I guessâ”€â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œIâ€™m not saying that itâ€™s not weird,â€ Billy said. â€œIâ€™m just saying itâ€™s not from that coffin.â€
â€œSo, could there be another coffin?â€ Michael said.
â€œHow is any of this related?â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œItâ€™s got to be here for a reason.â€
â€œWell, it seems to me like the people who stay here took the coffin,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œAnd â€¦ Billy, you said you saw a man last night in the woods.
â€œYep,â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œAnd also the light.â€
â€œBut he said he disappeared into thin air,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œYep,â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œIt couldnâ€™t have been human.â€
â€œI mean that noose man also disappeared into thin air.â€
â€œThere arenâ€™t people that arenâ€™t human,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œ Could they have been the same?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œListen, I havenâ€™t seen any disappearing men,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œHe was too far away to tell the race.â€
Billy sifted through the bed of straw with his knife, trying to see if he could find anything within. He didnâ€™t find anything after a few minutes of searching, going so far as to pull out the old, slightly smelly hay. He thought he could smell a musky smell, like someone who hadnâ€™t bathed had been sleeping in the bed.
â€œI vote we go back to the coffin,â€ Michael said.
â€œGuys, we got one more floor,â€ Billy squeaked.
Billy went to the stairs up and started checking the steps with his knife again. They were all solid.
The third floor was a little darker as the windows were much smaller and there was a slot between the wall and the outer wall of the house. There were two doors on either side of the hallway, all of them open. Billy went back to the lived-in room and retrieved the lantern. Unfortunately, none of them carried any matches. Billy thought it felt chilly up in that horribly hot place.
Jebidiah suggested peeking into the rooms quickly and then leaving. the others agreed.
They peeked into the rooms and saw that the nearest one across the hall from the stairway had another coffin within. It had dirt on it but was otherwise relatively nice. They saw it had the three hasps and staples, each of them closed with a lock as well.
â€œAll right, gang, thereâ€™s another coffin in here, but it looks like itâ€™s been here a while,â€ Jebidiah said.
Michael compared the handle he had found with the coffinâ€™s. They did not match.
The door right next to it opened into a dirty room with a coffin within as well. It was not as nice a coffin, but was better than a plain pine box. There were wooden handles on the sides. It, too, was locked shut.
â€œHey, coffin number three everyone,â€ Jebidiah said nervously.
He was shaking with fear.
Across the hall from that room, still on the front of the house, the bedroom contained another coffin. It was clean but still not as nice as the first one theyâ€™d found. The handles didnâ€™t appear to match the one Michael had.
â€œCoffin number four!â€ Jebidiah shrieked. â€œItâ€™s a new one! Whatâ€™s going on?â€
The last room on the third floor was empty except for dust, dirt, and debris. However, there was a cleared space in the center of the floor where something had obviously been at some point. It seemed to be coffin-shaped.
â€œAmazing!â€ Jebidiah said hysterically. â€œOh good!â€
â€œWhere is it?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWe should â€¦ we should open one,â€ Teddy said.
â€œTeddy!â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œJebidiah, set me down beside the nice coffin, please,â€ Teddy said.
â€œAre you quite sure, Teddy?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œIâ€™m not. Donâ€™t talk me out of it.â€
Jebidiah took the man to the last room theyâ€™d looked at with a coffin and put the boy down on the dirty floor next to it. He started to examine it as closely as he could. Jebidiah asked if he could see what was in it but the thing was locked down tight.
The coffin wasnâ€™t dirty or dusty and was probably a decent coffin, though not as nice as the first one theyâ€™d found. Teddy had read Dracula by Bram Stoker and a few folklore stories about vampires. He had also read the Varney the Vampire series of stories. He knew that mythical vampires lived in coffins during the day and reverted to dead bodies if they were struck by sunlight. He knew they bit people in the neck and fed on their blood and could only truly be destroyed by a stake to the heart. He remembered Dracula had bit people three times before they became a vampire, or perhaps fed them some of his own blood to change them. Crosses and crucifixes warded off vampires and they left no reflections in mirrors. Garlic repelled the things and they couldnâ€™t cross running water or enter a home unless invited. Dracula was strong and immortal, looking old until he feasted on blood, which made him young again.
â€œWell, what do you make of it, Teddy?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œHold on, I have an idea,â€ Teddy said.
He put his ear to the coffin but didnâ€™t hear anything. He knocked on the side of the coffin to no effect.
Michael went to the coffin and slammed the handle he had found onto one of the locks, trying to break it. It had no effect.
â€œDoes that handle fit with any of the coffins?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œNo,â€ Michael said. â€œThis handle doesnâ€™t fit any of them.â€
â€œHm,â€ Teddy said.
â€œIâ€™ve been keeping track,â€ Michael said.
â€œSo, thereâ€™s possibly a fifth coffin,â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œMaybe,â€ Michael said.
â€œLooks like it to me,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œBut itâ€™s not here.â€
â€œWe could go back downstairs and check the second floor,â€ Michael said.
â€œWe could ask around,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œSee what happens this night. I mean, unless we find a way to open any of these coffins, I donâ€™t think we check and see if thereâ€™s anything actually in them.â€
A door slammed downstairs and they all looked at each other nervously.
â€œLetâ€™s go back downstairs,â€ Michael said.
Jebidiah picked up Teddy and, after he quickly looked into the rooms to make sure none of the coffins were open, they carefully walked down to the second floor.
â€œIf anyone is too weathered by the things they have seen, I can go,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œBut, I am of faint heart.â€
They examined the room across from the stairway on the second floor and Michael and Billy noticed that, though there was only dirt and debris in the room, there was a cleared spot in the center of the floor that was the right size for a coffin. Billy was certain there was a coffin there.
â€œAt least six more coffins,â€ he squeaked. â€œOr no â€¦ still five.â€
â€œSix more?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œFive. Five more still. It could be six.â€
â€œSo â€¦ ten? What are you â€¦?â€
â€œSo, missing coffin again,â€ Michael said. â€œNot good.â€
They looked in the room at the top of the stairs and found it held an older coffin with verdigris-covered copper handles and fixtures. Richard peeked into the rooms off both of those rooms and found a locked coffin in each of them. None of them matched the brass handle Michael carried.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t make sense that they would store them in different rooms on different floors,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œOr that they wouldnâ€™t smell in the summer or be locked from the outside,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œUnless they were assigned rooms?â€ Michael said.
â€œAssigned rooms?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œYeah?â€ Michael said.
â€œFor a coffin?â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œI think unless we try to look for more keys or things to do, it might be best to get information,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œI say we just check the last few rooms and then go back to town,â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œIâ€™m pretty spooked,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œWhat are we trying to figure out today. Do we want to try to find a match for the handle? Do we want to try to find keys for the locks? And how long do we want to stay? Do we want to check every room?â€
Billy went to the inhabited room but came right back, having returned the lantern to the place he had found it.
â€œI was hoping we would find all of it, but â€¦â€ Teddy said.
They realized there were several rooms of the ground floor they had not yet explored. Jebidiah suggested they explore the rest of the rooms quickly and then decide if they should go back to town and talk to someone. Teddy noted they should return better prepared now that they knew something serious and perhaps supernatural was taking place there. Ella-Marie pointed out the plantation was the only lead they had to what had happened to Tommy. Jebidiah wanted to decide what to do after exploring things.
They agreed and went down to the first floor. The only room they had not been in within the main house was empty aside from debris. However, the north wing proved to have more coffins in the front and back bedrooms.
Michael refused to enter the bathroom there. The others found the room empty and dry and holding only an empty brass washtub full of cobwebs.
When they explored the south wing, they found a coffin in each of the three bedrooms.
None of the coffins they found matched Michaelâ€™s coffin handle. All were different types and designs, some of them with dirt or dust upon them. Others were clean. All of them were locked closed with three locks.
By the time they had explored the whole house, they all felt dirty, dusty, and tired. When they headed out of the house, Billy went out through the south courtyard to get Blitzer. He brought the dog around to the front of the house where the others had gathered on the portico. It was so hot.
â€œI am both scared and disappointed,â€ Jebidiah said.
Teddy told them everything he had read about Dracula and vampires.
â€œI didnâ€™t want to jump to conclusions, but thatâ€™s a lot of coffins,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™ve maybe jumped to the conclusion that Tommy might be becoming a vampire if the marks have disappeared. So, I think even though it may be a bad idea, we should open up his coffin somehow at the funeral while itâ€™s daytime.â€
They looked at each other.
â€œMaybe we could just say we want to see Tommy one last night,â€ Teddy said. â€œWe donâ€™t want to remember him in his pajamas, naked, cold, and in the rain.â€
â€œI gotta give him these pennies,â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œLetâ€™s just see what happens if we open the coffin in the daylight,â€ Teddy said.
â€œAll right,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œAnd if we have to make another quick run back by here tomorrow once we know more or something like that. You said that sunlight destroys them, right?â€
â€œMany things destroy them, but no,â€ Teddy said. â€œBut we can come back, better prepared, with the knowledge that I have.â€
â€œAnd, as much as it bothers me to see these coffins, if theyâ€™re all locked up, except for the ones that are missing, it seems pretty safe,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œCould they be opened?â€ Richard said.
Teddy remembered stories of vampires coffins being opened up after several people had identified the dead as being seen after their deaths. When the coffins were opened up, they found, under six feet of soil, in a closed coffin, the vampire, bloated, blood on their mouths, with long fingernails and hair. He was unsure how a vampire got out of the its coffin from under six feet of dirt and returned without disturbing the soil above.
They all returned to their homes and got cleaned up. Richard walked to Doc Underwoodâ€™s house and told him of stepping on a nail at the plantation. Doc Underwood cleaned the wound and gave the boy a tetanus shot as well. He sent the boy on his way and he went home to get ready for the funeral.
* * *