Saturday, February 9, 2008

a true story with pictures

When you work as a housekeeper the second worst thing you can find when you open the door for the first time is a clean house. The worst thing is to find a clean house that's also creepy. I ran into one of those in Providence which, as you may or may not know, is one of the oldest cities in the US. At the time I got jobs from an agency and one autumn day they had a new place on their list and I went by for the key. Usually, the keys were like the ones we all carry but this key was of the big old fashioned skeleton variety.

I had a map, since I wasn't all that familiar with the city yet, and found the address on the East Side where it's mostly steep, narrow and cobblestoned. The houses are big but often built deep into the properties with narrow fronts facing the street. Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design are both in the neighbourhood as is the amazingly enormous Swan Point Cemetary. But more on that another time. Providence was also famous as the junk jewelry capital of the country (Monet, Spiedel etc.) so there were tons of little factories that specialized in watch bands, pins, belt buckles and all the associated metal work with cleaning, degreasing and polishing. Many of them were closing back then as even cheaper stuff came in from other countries.

The house turned out to be closer to the Providence River than to the ivy league schools when I finally found it and to say the neighbourhood was deserted would be an understatement.

The front door led to a dim foyer with the livingroom further along a narrow hall. Inside, everything was neat and clean but musty and dark since the inside doors were all closed and what few windows there were faced the buildings on either side. The floors were dark oak, the walls half covered in overvarnished wainscotting, and the furniture sparse but old and heavy. There was a black marble fireplace and the upper half of the walls were covered in the ugliest paper I'd ever seen.

The main floor also had a long, narrow diningroom filled with cumbersome Victorian stuff - table, sideboard, curio cabinets and chairs. It was hard to imagine more than one person fitting the space. Further along the hall was a library that looked similar to the rest.

The stairway going up was in the foyer so up I went only to find another corridor with closed doors on either side. One door was locked so I passed on that but found four bedrooms and two old fashioned bathrooms - clawfoot tubs and ten gallon toilets. The next flight up led to what had been servants quarters - tiny rooms and almost no light at all. Since it didn't look occupied I decided to dust and be done up there.

I'd been turning lights on where I could find them but the place wasn't bright and neither did it look inhabited. There was no dust or dust bunnies; the fireplace was clean; the bathrooms unsoaped, unstained and unsullied; the bedrooms made up but unslept in. I was in serious need of some grime so it was time to go and find the kitchen. Just beyond the diningroom door were more stairs going down and that seemed the logical place to look.

Ah, kitchen! Geez! That was clean too but I went ahead and found the vacuum cleaner and other stuff in a pantry. I also found a wine cellar, another fireplace with a couch and a couple of chairs, a completely walled-in courtyard beyond some new glass doors, and best of all.. a radio which I turned on.

Have I mentioned I'd been reading H.P. Lovecraft? He lived on the East Side of Providence all his life and is buried at Swan Point. Every year on Hallowe'en an unknown group has celebrated a black mass at his sepulchre.. or at least the signs of that have been found the next day. Lovecraft is easily laughed off if you read one or two of his books at the beach but my experience was reading him while living in Providence and he was very knowledgeable about the old city and its foundations and architectural history. So when he wrote about tunnels and underground chambers inhabited by pale, slimey, slithery, sucking beasts it started to gain a subconscious hold.

So there I was in the kitchen with the lamps and the radio. The house felt heavy and portentous above me but there was a job to be done so, ready or not, I picked up the vacuum cleaner and carried it up the stairs. The lights had gone out so I turned them back on as I went all the way to the top.

I worked up there doing the usual things even though nothing looked cleaner as I worked but I needed glass cleaner so went back down to the kitchen to find some. All the lights were out on the main floor again and once again I relit them. As I went down the back stairs to the kitchen the lights went out behind me. When I got to the foot of the staircase the lights down there shut off and the radio clicked off. I stood stock still and looked all around but could see nothing different and nobody was there. I would almost have been happier if someone was there but there wasn't. I'd had enough.

One minute later I was up the stairs, down the hall and out the front door. I decided to cut through the river park on my way back to the agency to return the key. It was only later I realized a duster was still hanging out of my back pocket.


Scarlet W. Blue said...

First of all, those illustrations are perfect and beautiful on their own, but they really made the story. What a creepy house. I wish I owned it! I'd want the wiring redone and the ghosts removed, but other than that.... Very cool. A friend of mine is interested in Lovecraft, but I haven't read any of his work. He sounds cool, too.

A riveting story. And you're sure no ghosts followed you home? That would be my worry. I would imagine they wanted their duster back.

Gary said...

Great story Susan and yes, the illustrations are wonderful. I wonder what was going on there? Providence is full of ghosts I think...

susan said...

Scarlet - If you lived there I'd visit and I'm sure it would lose its mausoleum quality the second the Jedi walked through the door.

Glad you liked it esp. since I'm planning on more. What the heck is the good of having a blog if you can't be entertaining? Thanks for the lesson.

Gary - We both know for sure Providence is filled with ghosts.. as well as slimey, sibellent, slurping, sucking, giant albino frogs.

Anonymous said...

I'm here because Scarlet suggested I visit. I love this kind of story. Your illustrations are wonderfully reminiscent of Edward Gorey who did the opening art for Mystery! on PBS. So fitting!

Zee said...

what a blast - excellent story!
I also liked the carefully done scetches

lindsaylobe said...

Hi Susan
In relation to your last post I think over time one loses tolerance for too much small talk, and going to an office party to rave on about inconsequential matters.

The USA is still the largest economy in the world, but its share of world trade has halved in the past two decades. When Clinton left power there was at least a sizeable surplus in the Budget, but the current accumulated imbalance and sizeable deficit is unsustainable, you can’t keep writing out IOU’s!! Anyone enough of that and on to your wonderful story and its equisite drawings.

Incidentally I simply love Junk jewelery (not me personally) but my wife wearing it and the bigger and chunkier it is the better!!

What a beautifully written creepy story. It reminds me a friend of mine renting a holiday home with views of the sea, having to leave after only a brief period with his family over strange goings on. The landlord accepted the key and refunded the all rent in full without even seeming surprised about the matter, explaining in matter of fact way some find it unsettling.
Best wishes

fairlane said...

A story with pictures!

My favorite.

It was probably just Satan or "Scarlet" as she's known in the Blogosphere.

Yes, Satan is female.

I saw a picture. In fact, I'm looking at it right now, and she's wearing a red hat.

Gary said...

Fairlane, you're such a charmer!

It's possible that the spirit of your blog is inhabiting any number of houses in Rhode Island...

fairlane said...

See Gary, my response is an indicator of higher intellectual functioning or it could be insanity. I'm not for sure.

If you remember, Ms. Blue was recently complaining about being "Evil."

I'm merely connecting the dots.

Red Hat/Red Hair (Satan's favorite color is red), Evil Blog (Satan has an evil blog), Magic/Hexes (Satan works at "Magic Kingdom).

Need I say more?

susan said...

D-Cup - You may never return but I'm glad you came by this time. I really admire your style.

Thanks Zee! Happy to have shown you my etchings...

Lindsay - It's always so nice to read your measured and well thought out comments. Yeah, I used to really like the stuff with lots of rhinestones.

fairlane - On the contrary, I think Scarlet could do very well as a Ghostbuster in Providence. I admire her abilities as a %#*%buster wherever she goes.

Gary - Now a party at a house fairlane occupied in RI would be worth the trip back. Of course, Scarlet would have to be there too and then we could just sit in the corner and laugh at the wit, spit and fireworks on display. Ahh! to be young again.

Anonymous said...

Susan, I'll definitely be back! I took your RSS feed so I won't miss your new posts.

And I hope you don't mind, but I added you to my blogroll. I'm sorry it took me so long to get over here to see your great work!

Thanks, again, to Scarlet, for pointing me in your direction, no matter how evil she is.

fairlane said...

I must add, whether Scarlet is evil or not, I still think she's the coolest chick in all of Blogdom.

Randal Graves said...

I too, followed the link at Scarlet's place. I love me some Lovecraft and your story and drawings are very groovy!

susan said...

fairlane - We all know where your affections focus. No need to explain :-)

Randal - Welcome to Uncle Cthulu's home for Miskatonic U. Alumni!

I'm working on another.

grannyfiddler said...

goosebumps. you spin a fine yarn. and, at the risk of being monotonously repetetive, great illustrations! thanks for the visit. i, too, will be back for more.

grannyfiddler said...

goosebumps. you spin a fine yarn. and, at the risk of being monotonously repetetive, great illustrations! thanks for the visit. i, too, will be back for more.

pissed off patricia said...

What fun that was. I was there with you as you told the story and I became afraid long before you did. The first lights that went out made me want to grab your hand and say, hey we have to get the hell out of this story while we can.

susan said...

Can I call you G-Fid? Very glad you liked the story and please do return. I have a lot of stories - some better than others but paper is still cheap.

PoP - What a surprise to see your comment this morning. I'm very honored. You would have been good company in that creepy place.

Scarlet W. Blue said...

People are talking about me here. I thought I heard something. Coolest chick in Blogdom but somewhat evil seems to be the general consensus. I'm good with that.

Seraphine said...

I love creepy stories.
Chills and curiosity spent
creatively in narration
are sweet indeed to read.

susan said...

Scarlet - You should be well used to being the talk of any neighbourhood you grace with your presence.

Sera - Knowing you enjoyed the story has made my day. Your consistency and creativity have been an inspiration too.

Perhaps the two of you should get to know each others work since you're two of the most talented and prolific people I've met up here.

Scarlet W. Blue said...

You do flatter me, GF. To have your admiration means so much to me.