In 2008, not many months after I'd begun blogging and was already running out of things to talk about, it occurred to me it might be fun to try writing down a few remembered stories. To make it extra appealing as a project I decided that drawing some quick illustrative pictures would be a good thing. Months later when there were half a dozen of them I opened the 'Adventure's Ink' blog where the stories continued regularly for a while. That blog has been pretty quiet for the last year or so mostly because I ran into some stories not easily told or honestly left out. None of us are always the heroes of our lives and I've been the goat of mine often enough.
I still think about writing and drawing more of them but while I do I thought some of you might be interested in reading the one that began it all. My pen and ink illustrations did improve over time but this is still one of my favorite Adventures and nobody has seen it for a while - out of the five people who read and commented the first time only two are still blogging. It's called:
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 unsettling homes many years ago in Providence, RI, one of the oldest cities in the US. The agency had called me that morning to say they had a new client who wanted a regular housekeeper for their place on the city's east side. When I stopped by to pick up the key it was noticeably different from the usual ones most of us carry - this was a heavy and very old fashioned skeleton key.
I had a map, since I wasn't all that familiar with the city yet, and found the place where the streets are mostly steep, narrow, and cobblestoned. The houses left there 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. Providence had also long been famous as the junk jewelry capital of the country but many of the little factories that specialized in associated metal work were closing back then as even cheaper stuff came in from other countries. The house I'd been hired to clean was in a wasteland of boarded up buildings.
After climbing the outside stairs and opening the creaky front door I found myself in a dim foyer just able to make out the living room further along a narrow hall. Inside, everything appeared to be clean but the atmosphere was 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 lower walls covered in over varnished wainscot above which was faded wallpaper of disturbing design. The furniture was old and heavy and a black marble fireplace under a distorted glass mirror dominated the room. If you get the feeling I was already uncomfortable you'd be right.
The main floor also had a long, narrow dining room 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. It was a big house.
There was a stairway to the upper floors off the foyer so up I went only to find another dark 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. 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, the fireplace was clean, the bathrooms were unsoaped, unstained, and unsullied. The beds appeared to be made up but there were no sheets or blankets under the spreads. The next flight up led to what had been servants quarters - tiny rooms and almost no light at all. As my habit was to clean from top to bottom I decided to go back down and look for supplies so I could begin.
Back on the main floor I found another set of narrow and enclosed stairs leading down from the dining room to where it seemed logical I'd find a kitchen. That was clean too but while I looked for the vacuum cleaner and other stuff 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 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 lit and the radio playing. 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 turned the switches back on. 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 went dark 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. I've often wondered whose house that was..
ps: The original story has been edited a little for clarity. (I'm a better writer now too)