Whispers on the Stairs
“I’m telling you I heard voices!” Calliope spoke softly into the phone, her fingers fidgeting with the cord, twirling it onto and then back off her fingers. There was a charm to these old phones, the cord giving her a feeling of connection that seemed to be missing with the new cell phones and headsets. She was drawn back to the handpiece as she heard her friend asking if she was still there. “Yes, I’m still here! Where else would I be?”
“Well, what did the voices say?” Dorothy asked.
“It was hard to tell. It was very soft. A whisper. But, it sounded like it was saying ‘here’. And another time I think I heard it say ‘they’re waiting for you’.” Calliope replied.
“They? What do you think ‘they’ means?” Dorothy queried.
“I have no idea!” Calliope answered. But, I have heard it the last couple of days when I go up the stairs. During the day, it is more like a quiet murmur, too low to make out. But at night, I can hear the words. The first time, I thought it was my imagination. But, I’ve heard it every time I go up the stairs, always the same thing. Oh, and something more that I can’t quite make out.”
“That would scare the shit out of me!” Dorothy exclaimed. “I think I would be grabbing my stuff and not stopping till I was out the door and as far away as I could get!”
“Well, this has always been an odd old house. I used to think it was a magical place when I was a child. I think I would believe just about anything where this place is concerned. The truth is, there is nothing about the voice or voices that sounds threatening in any way. Its more like the house is trying to tell me something. I’ve looked all around the area where I hear it and I don’t see anything unusual anywhere on those stairs. I suppose its just one of the mysteries of this house that I may or may not figure out.”
“Well, you’ve never been known to be afraid of things any sane person would. I don’t know why I should expect that to change now.” Dorothy sighed, a slight amused tone in her voice. “Other than the voices, how are things going there? Any idea how much longer you are going to be there?”
“I have no idea!” Calliope replied. “This place is like a Wonderland! I start to go through things and then I find something that makes me stop and I lose time as my mind wanders. So many things stir all these memories of my time here as a child. Its almost like time just stops during the day. I pull a book down from the shelf and open it and find I have to take it over to the chair and sit with it for a while. Then before I know it, hours have passed. I tried to go work in the kitchen yesterday, and go through the jars of herbs on the shelves and I swear the smell of something wonderful simmering on the stove fills the air. The more jars I opened to examine, the stronger the smell was. I found myself sitting down at the table with my coffee cup and my mind drifting back. I could hear the sound of the spoon stirring the contents of the pot, the warmth of the stove cooking, the murmur of voices chattering over the rising vapors.”
“Are you sure you want to sell that place Calli? You don’t have to, you know. You can work from anywhere and it just seems to me that place has a hold on you that maybe you shouldn’t discard.”
“What am I going to do with a place like this?” Calliope exclaimed. “Do you know how big this place is? This is a place made for a family. A large family! And it needs so many things done to it to even make it ready for that! Do you know there are rooms in this house that she never even wired for electricity? I have had to wait until daytime to clean some of them because of that! And after dusk, I need to carry a lantern with me or a flashlight if I want to look into them. The truth is, this place is going to cost me a fortune just to even try and put it on the market. And that’s just the house! I think I will need a team of gardeners to clear up the yards here so they are even somewhat presentable. I couldn’t imagine what it would mean to think of trying to care for something like this on a daily basis!”
“Well, was just expressing my feelings dear. It just seems sad to me that you would let go of all the memories that place has for you. I think the stories you have told me of your times there are among the few that I have heard true happiness in your voice. But, I do understand. It would be a huge responsibility and easy to see why you wouldn’t want the burden of it. Enough of that! So, how’s the new project going? Have you been making any headway on it?”
The two of them chatted most of the morning away and by the time Calliope hung up the phone, she realized she wouldn’t get much of anything she had planned done this day. So, she snatched her wide brim hat off the hook and headed out the door and into the sunlight.
She strolled slowly through the garden, letting the scents of the budding flowers fill her senses. As unkempt as this garden was, it was still one of the most beautiful gardens she had ever seen. Even without tending, the plants continued to thrive. Though, the lack of tending had sent them into wildness. The small, carefully groomed plants and herbs she remembered having grown into a lush, near jungle state, its scents almost overpowering as she made her way through.
She came to the other end of the garden and noticed a gate she didn’t recall having seen before off in the corner. Curious, she wove her way through the tangles of branches towards it. The gate almost fell in her hand as she pulled on it. “Well, that’s yet another thing that needs tending!” The branches of low bushes completely covered the path and it took all her efforts to push her way through them to the other side. When she emerged, she froze at the sight before her.
It was an old graveyard. But, what was so surprising was that the entire area was beautifully kept and manicured. All the stones were clean and upright, the grass and flowers tended and cut. She had been at this house a thousand times and she was sure she had never seen this place! She thought she had explored every inch of it. How had she missed this? And who has been keeping it up, she wondered.
She wandered slowly through the gravestones, reading the names and dates. They all seemed rather close together, she thought. And the names! She didn’t recognize any of them. Oh wait! That one over there has a familiar sound to it! She searched her memories to try and pull up why it had a familiar taste to it. But, it was just out of her reach. Ah well. She thought. I guess it really isn’t that important.
She sat down on a small hill at the edge and pulled her notebook out of her pocket and let her mind wander. It was a very peaceful place. But then, she had always been fond of graveyards. She found that if you could still your mind, you could almost hear the voices of the spirits gossiping among themselves. It was a most relaxing way to spend the afternoon. She took a deep breath of the early afternoon air, opened her pen and let the place put its touch on her.
It was almost dusk by the time she headed back. She would have to hurry to get back before it got too dark and she had not thought to bring a lantern with her. She was startled as she reached the gate to the garden when she heard what she thought was the sound of laughter behind her. Straining, she thought she heard words coming from the area. “Soon. It’s almost time.” She shook her head briskly to clear the words from her head and rushed through the garden to get back inside before the last rays died.
It was late by the time she pulled herself from her place in the big chair and the book that had swept hours of the evening away. She set the book down on the table gently, stretched her stiff limbs and grabbed the lantern to head upstairs for the night.
They were louder this time when she reached that place on the stairwell. “Here!” the voice insisted. “Right here. Look! They’re waiting!” She brushed the hair from her forehead and stopped, a long sigh escaping from her chest. Then she set the lantern down and turned up the flame.
“Okay, you win! What’s here? And who’s waiting?” She asked the steps. She allowed her eyes to scan the steps. As usual, she found nothing different here than the rest of the stairs. She allowed her fingers to run across the smooth wood of the stairs, but everything she touched was smooth, no hidden crevices, no marks that might give rise to further inspection. “There’s nothing here!” she shouted at the stairs. Exasperated, she reached for the lantern and then out of the corner of her eye, she spied a discoloration on the wall at the edge of the step she was on. She moved the lantern closer and made out a small rectangular section of wood. “How odd!” she muttered to herself and reached out to touch it. There was a small indentation on the edge of it and when she pushed on it, it made a clicking sound and a tiny door opened.
She sat down on the step, her breathing coming in quick gasps. Would this house never finish with new secrets? She took a deep breath and slipped her hand inside the opening. Her fingertips landing on a small oddly shaped metal object. Slowly, she drew it out and took it in her hand. It was a key! And a lovely one at that. One of those old ornate skeleton keys like the ones they sell in the antique stores. Not like the rusty old ones that came with the house. She turned it over in her hand, admiring it, its giltwork scrolling on the top, let the weight of it cradle in her hand. As she closed her hand tightly around it, she was certain she heard the house sigh and the whisper on the staircase exclaiming “Yes!” and a peal of giggles. Chills ran up her spine at the sound and for some reason, she was suddenly alert as if she had slept the whole night and filled with the energy of a child.
She knew what the key would open! There was no doubt in her mind and she jumped to her feet and bounded up the rest of the stairs and down the hallway.
She stopped before the old door and looked at the carvings on its surface that had always held her fascination. She took a deep breath, opened her hand and slid the key into the keyhole. As she opened the door, closed for so many years, she could hear it breath “Welcome!” as she pushed it open. Slowly, holding the lantern before her, she took her first step across the threshhold, let the light begin to fill the darkness of the room and as the sight of what was before her, her heart filled with wonder and she stepped all the way in and closed the door behind her.
copyright June 24, 2011