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Robert Peach

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In a Manor of Speaking
By Robert Peach
Monday, March 29, 2010

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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A new twist

There was no other way to say it. The house was haunted. Having lived there, now, for just over a month led to certain conclusions that Tommy could not ignore. Strange voices in the middle of the night could be heard gently whispering through the hallways of the old southern plantation left to Tommy by his grandfather's passing. Footsteps heard unmistakably throughout the house, slowly fading into the distance as they made their way across the old wooden floors, left a tingling chill which ran up Tommy's back with uneasiness during the quiet nighttime hours.

The heritage had been in his family for many years now, Tommy himself having spent his childhood growing up here. He wasn't sure, and tried hard in remembering, if he'd noticed these occurrences happening when he was a young boy, but nothing came to mind as he found himself walking through the foyer, out the front door and into a sun-filled day.

The front foyer was the separation of two wings, one leading to the great room, sporting a large brick fireplace on the outside wall, and filled with chairs, tables with doilies and a few small divans arranged to provide closeness and comfort during conversation. Tapestry and paintings covered the walls between the few tall standing bookshelves full of antique literature, while the oak-wood paneled walls dimmed the lighting to a quiet peacefulness.

The dining room and kitchen occupied the other half of the lower portion and was seldom used by Tommy now that he lived here alone. He felt it useless to clutter an area so large with just his presence and chose instead to take his meals to the front porch, sitting in the same chair his grandfather had used for so many years.

From the central part of the main foyer could be seen a grand staircase leading upward to the many rooms of the second floor, all of which were now vacant but one. Tommy chose to keep his childhood room at the end of the west wing. It was the same today as it was the day he left to attend college. There were posters of rock bands tacked on the walls, while perfectly balanced model airplanes floated mysteriously hung by fishing line from his ceiling. A small desk with a reading lamp capitalized the side window, affording a panoramic view of the cotton fields that surrounded the outlying country. Tommy was just a few years into his studies when he received the tragic news of his grandfather’s passing and left the dormitories to come home.

His parents were killed in a car accident two years after his leaving for the university, and had this not happened, they would still occupy the house today. His grandfather, being much too elderly after their deaths, left the care of daily chores to the few maids that lived in the servant's quarters to the backside of the manor. After his passing, two months earlier, the house was left much the same as Tommy had remembered from his childhood years. Nothing had been rearranged, as if time had stopped for the old mansion.

Tommy stood on the freshly painted white porch and looked toward a pair of antique wooden rocking chairs. He could picture his grandparents sitting there now, enjoying the evening with small talk, while holding hands together as he played on the grass in the front yard, catching fireflies and collecting them in his mason jar. Theirs was a lifetime of seventy years together before his grandmother had passed away. Old age took its toll and one day she decided to continue sleeping, leaving Tommy's grandfather quite saddened and very lonely. He'd found it difficult to let go of the love he had for so long, and the rest of his days were spent with head hung low, waiting for the time when he could be with her again.

The pillars supporting the upper floors were of gothic-style carving and looked brand new with its fresh coat of paint. The upkeep of the house was costly, but well worth the effort as one stood looking at the beauty in the detail of the porch railing that wrapped around both sides of the manor, showing off much elaborate intricacy of the wooden lace between each post, along with the gracefulness of the snail-swirled patterns at each end of the large railings. It was truly a work of art and very well cared for. Much love had gone into the building and refurbishment of this beloved home over the years.

Many acres of apple orchard stood in front of the colonial home. Standing in perfect rows across the green sway of grassy land, the trees were left squat by the many years of pruning to create a lush, bountiful harvest each year From the large porch one could see the few workers scattered here and there taking the necessary care to preserve this years harvest. Just to the side of the orchard was a space filled with a small community of honey bees. These were kept to allow for a faster pollination across the apple trees, also allowing the honey to be used as food for the household.

The late summer day was mild, shaded more so by the large oak trees that stood in the front yard of the house. Taking one last look around, Tommy decided to go back inside to resume his work. Feeling there was little choice between college and taking care of the plantation, Tommy chose to come home and continue with the overseeing of the apple orchards. Having been established now for many years, there was little for him to do except the book work. He stopped in occasionally to check with the field supervisors, but they had been there as long as he could remember, and this left Tommy with a confidence in knowing things were well cared for.

The office was located to the back and was quite small in comparison with the rest of the house, allowing just enough room for a large steel-paneled desk, twin filing cabinets and a chair. To the left of the desk was a large picture window, framed with white shutters with pine-green colored trim. Sitting back comfortably in the chair, Tommy gazed wistfully for a moment at the back yard then reached for the stack of shipments awaiting his approval. There was still much to organize and he had not felt much ambition to start since his grandfather's funeral. He thought back again with a melancholy playing in his mind to his childhood years, and all the fun he'd had growing up before starting with his work-at-hand.

Thinking to himself that it was a nice day outside and he did not want to waste it sitting behind a desk, Tommy hurriedly began the daily routine of signing off on orders. It was quiet in the room, the only sounds heard in the large house were that of the two maids doing their cleaning for the day, when suddenly he felt a presence behind his chair, which sent shivers up his spine and back down again to his toes. Standing up quickly to make his way to the door as fast as he could, Tommy turned as he reached the threshold and looked back into an empty room, half expecting to see a vision of a ghost standing there.

"Look, I know you're there, so just come on out", he shouted into the office. Nothing. A deafening silence overtook the room as Tommy stared with fright at what should be a person standing in front of him. He took a step into the room, eerily scanning all corners with widened eyes. There was nothing there, but still he could feel something. As if from emptiness, a voice, hollow and shrill, spoke. He could smell the breath as it escaped past unseen lips and into his nostrils, feel the faint whisper of breeze as the words floated past his ears, "Put it back."

Tommy assumed he was imagining things as he made his way through the front foyer as fast as he possibly could, heading outside to his grandfather’s rocking chair and sitting to catch his breath. It had to be his imagination, he thought to himself, as there was no other explanation to the strange voice he had just heard. But it wasn't just the voice, as he slowly remembered the breath he could smell and feel on his face as the words were being spoken. He sat there filled with fear as he listened again inside his head over and over, "Put it back."

That night passed peacefully for Tommy, and although he expected more strange occurrences, he awoke the next morning feeling refreshed, yesterday's happenings now a fleeting memory in the back of his mind. He'd started out feeling uneasy as he laid there in his darkened room trying to doze, but slowly his body relaxed and he fell in to a deep sleep. This morning, Tommy was ready to start fresh and began organizing all the small projects that were put off during his mourning.

Harvest time was approaching fast and the cotton bolls were swelling nicely, ready to be stacked in their modules. Although he was never expected to work the fields, Tommy watched every year with interest as the strippers came through, separating seed cotton from the burr to be stacked in the fields waiting to be shipped to the local gin markets. It would be his job to sort and sign the necessary paperwork needed for shipping and collections, and then send his completed reports to the business accountants.

After his light breakfast of toast and orange juice, Tommy, with daunting memory, hesitantly made his way to the back office, slowing down even more so as he approached the door which was still ajar. While reaching to push the door open even further, he took a moment to rethink yesterday's strange events. He still did not quite believe what he thought he'd heard and passed it off as a creaky floorboard in the old settling house, as he cautiously made his way into the darkened room.

The sun hadn't quite made its way around, and in the shadows it was difficult to distinguish the furniture clearly. Rather than stay in the office for the day, Tommy thought to take his work to the great room and continue without having to think about the strange occurrence from yesterday afternoon. Walking closer to the desk, Tommy realized he was not alone in the room and slowly turned around again, looking into the corner behind the door. There was a small enclave leading to a hidden closet where boxes of old paperwork were stored. Standing there, illuminated in the shadow, was a figure of an old women in a long ballroom dress fashioned in the style from many years ago, her arms slightly raised from her sides with palms stretched toward Tommy as if pleading for help. "Put it back", she whispered. "Put it back." Slowly, she raised her hands together as if praying and brought them to her face, and then, staring intently toward Tommy, she kissed the wedding ring on the finger of her folded hands.

Tommy wasn't afraid. Recognition unfolded on his face as he realized this apparition standing in front of him was that of his deceased grandmother. There were no daunting feelings this time as he calmly walked in her direction. As clearly as he could first see her, the closer he got the more Tommy's grandmother faded away till there was nothing again but an empty corner. He wondered why she would be here like this and he felt saddened in the remembrance of her plea and the heartbreaking look upon her face.

Thinking there may be an answer inside the closet, Tommy approached the storage area located behind the doorway entrance, which was paneled with a hidden latch within to gain access. While fumbling for the string hanging off the ceiling light, Tommy tripped and during the fall and reached out for balance, grabbing hold of a box on the upper shelf. Both he and the box fell to the floor, and in the crowded space Tommy watched as all its contents spilled around him.

After regaining composure, Tommy put the scattered contents back into the box and took it to the desk for further investigation. Inside were letters, hundreds of them, all to his grandmother and signed by his grandfather. Letters of love and dreams, affection and desire for his one true lady, each with a flower petal pressed inside the folded page, preserved in beauty all these many years, very much the same way grandfather felt about Tommy's grandmother. Digging further revealed a white, silken jewelry box and Tommy curiously opened it with widened eyes, for inside was the most beautiful locket he had ever seen.

The solid gold heart-shaped locket was elegantly engraved with two angelic faces on the front, each looking toward the other from either side. Flowing designs from the neck of each figure swept to the lower portion, wrapping around in swirling trails. In the thin area where the two halves were attached, a small candle with a burning flame was carved between the two faces, as if to keep the flames of love burning forever between these two souls.

Opening the locket revealed a photo of his grandfather on the left side, but the other side was blank with nothing but an empty frame to show. Upon closer inspection, Tommy noticed faint scratch marks along the edges of the right side, indicating a small photo had occupied this space at one point in time. He was curious as to why it was blank and thought it should have a heart-shaped cut photo of his grandmother in the space that was unoccupied. He closed it again and read the inscription on the backside. "My love for you will live forever.” Tommy remembered these words from his younger days, as words his grandfather would quite often say this to grandmother as he gently touched her cheek every time he got up to leave her side.

The next four hours found Tommy poring over all his grandfather’s letters, each dated and every one a confession of grandfather's love for his soul mate, and in reading, tears found their way to Tommy's eye's as he discovered the history between these two, and the passion they had shared for seventy years. Toward the end of the stack, one letter came to Tommy’s attention as he learned of a secret from his grandfather.

The gold locket had been a gift on their 50th wedding anniversary, and the photographs had been taken just that year, as well, to be placed within. After grandmother's passing, there were still many letters grandfather had written. But age was taking its toll and arthritis had set in, making if difficult to continue. He had trouble getting the locket open to see her face within; therefore, he had removed it and placed it within a new holding spot -- small plastic sheath, hidden in a small pocket on grandfather's rocking chair.

The chair held the last clue, and while grabbing the locket, as fast as Tommy could run, he made his way to the foyer, through the door, knocking his shoulder on the jamb in his haste, and stumbled onto his Grandfather's chair. He sat there a moment to catch his breath and stared intently at the arms of the chair. Both rockers were constructed mainly from oak and there was nothing to indicate a pocket of any kind to keep the photo.

Sitting back to look off into the distance, Tommy placed his hands on the arms to rest a moment longer. “The letter said it was here,” he thought to himself, but he didn't see where it could be hidden. Shifting to get comfortable, Tommy moved his hand along the arm of the chair, and in so doing felt a small prick on the palm of his hand. And there it was! Staring him in the face, on the side of the rocker, in the wood of the arm toward the front curl was a slot purposely cut out to hold the small sheath. Tommy gently slid the photo out from its hiding spot and stared at his grandmother's face. In his grandfather's passing, the photo had never found its way back into the locket.

A glorious orange-red sunset filled the skies that evening as Tommy sat in his grandfather's antique rocker. Holding the locket in his hands, the photo having now been replaced once more to its rightful home, Tommy looked back over the past month's happenings and found a smile on his face as he felt the presence of his grandmother sitting next to him in her rocker smiling at him.


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