This story is by Connie Martinez and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Kate jolted awake as the bus rolled to a stop in Milford. Giving herself a moment to wake up and get her bearings, she glanced at her watch and groaned. Sighing, she confirmed her fear; she had missed her connection. Her bus had been held up in traffic for over forty minutes due to an accident on the highway. She rose to her feet slowly, yawning and stretching the sleep out of her cramped muscles.
“Excuse me, Miss. You dropped this,” said a passenger, handing her a book. “Ghosts of Sullivan County,” he smiled, “it’s a good one. This area is brimming with ghost tales.”
“Thanks, it did keep me up last night” grinning, she accepted the book.
She was returning from a get-together with friends from college. Her car was on the fritz, so traveling by bus was her best option. She grabbed her backpack, slipped on her jacket, and made her way to the exit.
Kate entered the small bus depot with wooden benches lining two walls and the ticket window straight ahead. Walking up to the ticket window, she explained her dilemma. The redhead, whose name tag read “Genny,” shook her head sadly. The following bus would not arrive until 9:00 am the following morning.
“Is there a hotel or motel nearby and an uber or taxi service I could use?” Kate asked hopefully.
“No, there is a local taxi service about twenty miles from here, but nothing is running around here on a Sunday night.” Pausing a moment, she said, “there is a Bed and Breakfast, The Blue Iris, within walking distance. Let me get their number for you.”
The girl stepped back into the office and, sorting through a cardholder, handed Kate the number. “The new owners inherited the house and have done a fantastic job restoring the old girl. It was empty for years, and the story was, it was haunted,” she said with a laugh, then gave her the directions.
Kate thanked her for her help and purchased a ticket for her bus ride the next day.
It was mid-October and already quite dark. The streetlamps resembled gas lamps of old. Shops were decorated with pumpkins and corn stalks, and some windows were playfully painted with black cats and witches. She could have stepped into a Norman Rockwell print if she did not know better. She passed a Post Office and other closed shops on her way to the Blue Iris Inn.
The house was set back from the street on a large lot. It was an old Victorian-style home with dark blue siding and lighter shades of blue and white trim, with broad red accents. A wide front porch with wicker furniture gave a welcoming appearance.
It was a beautiful home. A black wrought iron fence guarded the front and driveway with gates that led to a covered portico on the right side of the house and a detached garage that had been converted from an old barn or stable. The owners had given a great deal of care to the landscape.
Looking up at the house, she felt relieved, “Nothing haunted looking about this,” Kate thought. A welcome change from the motel chains she usually stayed at. Opening the creaking gate, she walked up the brick path that led to the entryway. She had hoped to be sleeping in her bed by morning, but that would have to wait. She would call her mom and let her know what happened later.
Before she could use the bell, the front door opened, and she was greeted by a petite, dark-haired woman dressed in gray tailored pants and a blue silk blouse. She gauged her age to be fifty or thereabouts. Another woman, older, with similar coloring and size, was dressed in a nightrobe. They ushered her into the vestibule and introduced themselves as Claire and Carol Jennings.
After making introductions, Kate apologized for her unexpected arrival, “I will not be any bother.”
“Nonsense, we are glad to have you,” Carol said, giving a sideways glance at her sister, “we have put you in the Rose Room for the evening. We can take care of payment in the morning. You will be our first guest,” she smiled, then giving her sister what looked like a cautionary look, she said goodnight, and left the room.
Claire piped up, “It is late. I will show you to your room.” and gestured for Kate to follow up the staircase.
Turning left at the landing, they proceeded down the hall to a door at the end, which opened to the Rose room. It was spacious and overlooked the gardens on the left side of the house. Two tall, paned windows looked out onto a gazebo.
“This room belonged to our Great Aunt Rose” and was one of the first we re-finished,” Claire said with pride in her voice. “We were lucky; most of the furnishings were already here. This house has been in the family for generations. We did have to repair some damage and completely gutted the kitchen,” she laughed. “We tried to bring it back to its heyday, yet with all modern conveniences.” Motioning to the fireplace, “all the fireplaces in the house are gas. The controller is on your bedside table, along with the key to your room.”
“This is beautiful,” Kate gushed as she admired the Queen Anne style furnishings, an overstuffed wing chair in a rose color print with a matching ottoman was placed to the right side of a fireplace. A brass floor lamp sat by its side.
Hanging above the white marble mantel was a large oil painting of a young dark-haired woman dressed in a long flowing white dress with a blue iris print. Dark flowing locks framed an oval face with piercing blue eyes. She was sitting on a scrolled marble bench beneath the same gazebo witnessed through the windows, surrounded by blooming azaleas. She held an open book in her white-gloved hands, gazing out into the distance with a forlorn expression.
“What a lovely portrait,” Kate said, mesmerized by her beauty.
Claire nodded her head appreciatively. “Yes, she was my Great Aunt; her father commissioned that portrait on her 18th birthday.”
Kate admired the rest of the room, taking in the massive four-poster canopied bed dressed in rose satin bed coverings, the fine furnishings, and the Persian rug that covered the mahogany floor. She noticed a book lying on the bedside table. She thought it bore a resemblance to the one in the painting. Glancing back at the painting, she gave a startled cry. The woman’s head had turned to look at her with a pleading look, pointing to the book in her hands. Kate dropped her bag to the floor.
Claire rushed to her, alarmed. “My dear, what is wrong,” she asked, putting her arms around Kate, who was shaking.
“The portrait,” Kate said, pointing to it. Then saw it was the same as when she first saw it. “Forgive me,” she said wearily, rubbing her eyes and shaking her head. I, I…could have sworn I saw that picture, the woman……” then stopped, feeling foolish, “I must be more tired than I thought.” Glancing again at the portrait.
Claire looked at her great aunt’s portrait and back to Kate with a frown. “Come let me show you the bath.”
The door to the right of the bed led to the en suite bathroom. The white porcelain clawfoot tub caught Kate’s attention. White ceramic tiled walls crowned with a rose pattern tile border covered the walls. The floor was tiled in black and white diamonds. Looking at that tub, Kate could not wait to take off her grimy clothes and spend a luxurious hour bathing in it.
“A good soak and sleep will put you right,” Claire remarked, and “there will be coffee and pastry downstairs for breakfast. Before I forget,” she said, pointing to a panel on the side of the bed, “each room has a working intercom. A throwback to when they had pull cords to summon a servant,” she laughed. “It connects to our rooms on the first floor.”
Hesitating a moment at the door, she said haltingly, “this house is old, and you may hear creaks, and other sounds of settling, or creaking noises, or ……….,” here she did not finish, then continued, “but if you feel anything bothering you, please don’t hesitate to use the intercom. Then wished her “Goodnight” as she closed the door.
Kate felt a chill. Remembering what she thought she saw in the painting, she retrieved the key and locked the bedroom door. Eyeing the book, she stashed it in the bottom drawer. “Out of sight, out of mind,” she joked to herself. As an afterthought, she picked up a silk scarf lying across the chair and covered the portrait. Feeling better now, she picked up her phone to call her mom and went to fill the tub. Wasn’t her mother always telling her she had an overactive imagination?