A Short Story
by- Tom Kubrak
“Alright everyone- the house was turned over to the state as one of the last standing victorian homes. My family bought the house in the 20’s.” Nina paused ever so slightly. Gaging her crowd to see what approach she should take next.
“You see, my Grandparents were wealthy. My grandfather was a physician in the city and actually bought the home to escape the city. My grandfather also was the personal physician to the old Mayor of New York City.” Nina saw a few yawns. She knew most people, since they began giving tours of her old home just this last year, came for one thing and one thing only.
“We also didn’t hear about what happened from 1877-1901 until we were moving out. You see, my father, while I was away at college began cleaning out the cellar and in the old basement ovens, is where he saw it.”
Now she had their attention. Personally, Nina was over the circus that happened with the television news crews and detectives. But she knew it was still going on. Even 50 years after they discovered all the bones and a few pieces of jewelry in the oven
“When my father reported it to the authorities. They took him into custody and held him for a week. The word spread like wildfire and my father was accused of being a paganist, devil worshipper, child abuser, of course murderer, you name it. It took a toll on him. Especially being that he was the mayor it damaged his reputation. But…” She paused again. It was deafening- They were gripped to Nina’s story. The 3 kids even stopped horsing around. “They let my father go after a bone-analysis revealing the age of the bones were from the late 19th century.”
One of the attendees of the daily tour of the home wasn’t having any of it.
“So are we going to do this tour or not?”
“Of course.” Nina said, pausing, taking her handkerchief out of her pocket. “Yes-let’s get on with it, shall we?”
The house was decorated rather plainly- restored to a state in what it would have looked like in the 1870’s.
The old owners had gone for a more modern look and destroyed a lot of the historical architecture. You could tell in some of the rooms where the crown molding had been scraped away. Not even the restoration experts could fix it.
After the discovery though, and Nina’s family sold the home, it went through 3 more owners until the circus that came with buying the house was put to rest after the city of Boonton finally bought the house.
A committee was formed to give tours and headquarter the town’s history committee. The new committee for the house contacted Nina, knowing her work in local history, and how she used to live in the home before the bones were discovered.
They told her, “We need someone who truly knows the home to give tours.” At first Nina was reluctant, because of what happened to her in that home as a child, but she agreed on the terms that she would make the rules of the tours that the house was allowed to give. The committee willingly agreed to her simple demand. One of her demands. My Old Room is off limits to the public.
The first weeks tours she gave went smoothly. So did the second week. But time passed and her third month giving tours she began to feel that nervous-frightened energy she felt all those years ago as a little girl every time she heard the creaking of the steps from her father coming upstairs to see her.
The ‘Nostalgia’ came back to her in a worried flash today though. The blank stare at the wall made one of the tourees nervous for her, “Everything okay, miss.”
That startled Nina. “Oh yes sorry.” She continued her tour speech as they finished up the first floor tour, “The restoration of the home took about a year and thankfully, with a generous grant from the state the city was able to restore it back to the way it looked in the 1800’s.’” She smiled dryly at all of them. “I believe they did a good job. What do you all think?” But she didn’t wait for their reply, “Now, let’s head upstairs.”
Nina didn’t say much as they got to the second floor. She kept her eyes from going into the rooms where the attendees went into. She thought it was going to be easier this time. But it wasn’t. Every tour was getting harder and harder and the energy was getting stronger every single time..
“Hi-where’s the bathroom?” A young girl said smiling up at her.
“Downstairs young lady.” She offered a glowing smile to her in awe of her precious look at her. “Walk through the dining room and then through the doorway- Go into the kitchen and then in the back there’s a door- walk through that door and you’ll see the bathroom.” She bent down eye level with the 7 year old. ”Understood?”
The girl, maybe 8 hesitated before replying. “Dining room- doorway- back door??”
“You got it. Now run-run.”
She stumbled off quickly with her little feet.
Nina watched her until she safely disappeared around the corner. She reminisced about those care-free days as a little girl and got lost for a second before getting back to her job for the day.
“Alright.” Nina smiled- turned to the girls parents-who watched the whole encounter with admiration. She gave them a reassuring look before turning to the tour group for the day. “Ready? How about we head now to the third floor?”
The floor they were just on was her two oldest sisters’ floor where her parents bedroom was too. Her parents actually gave the two oldest the master bedroom. Nina never figured out why but she remembered her older sisters Augusta and Beatrice rubbing it in her and her other sisters faces.
Augusta and Beatrice were 9 and 10 years older than her. They were both academic scholars. Augusta went off to Columbia, graduating a year early and Beatrice went to Penn. They had a plethora of choices but decided to stay close to home.
The old victorian home only had 2 bathrooms. One on the first floor and one on the 2nd floor.
“As you can see all of us girls were a lot to handle in two bathrooms.” Nina was halfway up the winding stairs. Then she stopped. “When we- my family and I- were living here we decorated these walls with our school paintings. My mother loved it, but my father didn’t.” Nina was a comedian too and the look she gave the group about her fathers disapproval made them laugh.
Although Nina had been on quite a few tours, and she grew up in the old home, it still just didn’t feel right after all that happened to her. And each tour was harder and harder. Something she hadn’t anticipated.
Before her parents’ second wave of kids, they were using the attic as storage but the new children, about to be in the home, changed their philosophy out of necessity. Urgently, her stubborn, do-it-all-yourself father, fixed up the home with the little money they had to give the kids more space.
Did she know what happened? Nina thought as she looked back to her mothers room, halfway up the steps to the third floor. “Go ahead, feel free to explore.” She told the group. “I want you all to get a feel of the different look of these rooms compared to the second floor. Be sure to pay attention to how the architect put a unique touch to each room in the edges of the windows too and the outlines of the doors. Each one he gave his own personal touch to distinguish itself from each room.”
“Home building was a lot different back then ehh?” The father of the little girl who went to the bathroom said.
“You got that right.” Nina said, keeping a rather close on the group. The nerves got her and she felt the goosebumps run down her arms and legs. My old room. She thought, looking at the closed door.
The little girl finally returned though and grabbed her mothers hand.
She watched as they went from room to room. She was enjoying watching the interaction between mother and daughter. She never had one which hurt her a little but she found a little relief in watching these tender mother daughter moments.
Nina turned her head for just a moment to check out some of the other guests and to see how they we’re doing. She didn’t see one little group approaching her room before they turned back avoiding that door heading into her sisters old room
Nina listened inconspicuously to another family conversation.
“Well I heard the family knew the whole time, but they didn’t want to tell anyone because they’d just bought the home and it would have meant getting rid of it.”
“That’s insane honey.” Her husband whispered. “No one in their right mind would do that.”
“Well rumors are rumors but look at the house Dave? Would be hard to just wave goodbye after you got a killer deal on it. Even in those times that price was cheap. Why so cheap? Oh I don’t know.”
“You’re being ridiculous Valerie. Can we just enjoy the house without all the conspiracies?”
“Sure.” She reluctantly ‘threw in the towel.’
Nina shifted her attention now to A Mother and her older son who looked like intense lovers of architecture. Or at least her mother.
“Look at how gorgeous this place is Nicholas.”
“Yea mom.” His eyes were glued to his phone. “Absolutely.” He said sarcastically hoping his mom wouldn’t notice. She didn’t.
“Are you even looking? Just look at the details.” She looked up and around; everywhere her eyes would hit.
“Yea.” He brought his eyes up for a moment to show her he cared a little about what she was saying. Then he brought it back down to his phone.
The voices were almost deafening. Nina’s hearing was always good and she came back to the husband and wife in her sisters room who was 2 years older than her.
“Listen Dave.” She brought him in closer. “I think this place is crazy haunted.”
“Haunted?” He laughed questioningly.
“Look around… feel it?”
He was a little frightened at his wife’s seriousness and intensity. “I can see it I guess.”
The floorboard creaked, shocking Valerie.
“You both enjoying yourselves?” Nina asked them coming into their picture suddenly.
“Yes of course thank you for asking.” Valerie shuffled away avoiding any more contact with the odd tour guide, to get into the room they hadn’t seen yet.
Nina paused, not fully grasping what had just happened. But quickly transitioned knowing she had to complete this tour before going home. Maybe it would be her last. The memories were beginning to become too much and avoiding her old room during tours was going to catch up to her.
“Alright everyone let’s head to the kitchen.”
The house was sort of a legend in Jersey now and everyone seemed to want a piece of it. The story of William Wesley was discovered in 1946 when the corpses of 14 infants were found in the basement behind the old coal chamber where they used to heat the house. It was determined by some bone experts and the new DNA testing at the time that the bones were from the mid-late 1800’s nearly a century old. After the initial discovery and this finding they did a little research on the first owner of the home.
William Wesley was from Manchester, New Hampshire. He died in 1905. Nina’s family had bought the house in 1913.
Everyone’s thoughts when visiting the home, always went to the basement and the dead infants. Nina barely blinked when she found out after leaving college. Not because it wasn’t a tragedy but because of the torment she was facing from her father.
What about my story? She thought as she continued to roll through all of the conversations about the house and the tragedy of the babies.’ Why was Nina giving tours of this home now? Well that was simple: according to her therapist Dolly, “You must face your fear.”
And she did by going into the only thing she knew as ‘hell’ again.
When Nina found out it sold to the city. She remembered her looking at the paper that next week, since her friend sent it to her, and just staring at it, for what had to be, 15 minutes asking herself, What does this mean God?
Being retired, she had a lot of time on her hands. Nina got a rather large pension as a nurse practitioner and her 401k was enough to keep her mind off the worry of money.
The only people who knew about the abuse she took from her father was her therapist and best friend from college. She never told anyone because of her fathers status in the community of Boonton. He was the Mayor for 5 terms. 1922-25 and 29-32. He was someone the community looked up to and in their eyes, ‘never could do anything wrong.’
And then he got elected to his final term from 43-44. Nina’s father discovered the bodies a year later while also preparing the house to be sold.
Nina hoped it would ruin his career. She heard the news on a telephone call from her mother, but it had the opposite effect. His political career only heightened and he ran for a New Jersey senate seat and won.
The worst part about it was…when she came to visit during college and high school her father acted like nothing had happened. ‘Maybe he hoped she was too young to recall.’
After explaining to her therapist, all those years back, about why her father did this to her it became clear to her that her father did this out of rage for her not being born a boy.
“Your father pleaded with me to give him a son.” Nina remembered her mother saying. ”But when you came out I had never seen a more vicious and defeated look in a man’s eyes. Your father was a feared and respected man in the community and always held his chin high. This though…this broke him and I feared for his sanity.”
“The doctor said he cried in the waiting room. He refused to look at you for weeks. He didn’t hold you until a month later.”
“What about that room mom- what’s in there?” the girl said returning energetically from his bathroom trip.
“I don’t know, let’s check it out, honey.” The mother replied equally as excited.
“NO! Nina snapped harshly at the family.
“Oh my God what’s wrong?”
“I’m sorry, it’s just.”
“I’m sorry? God almighty you scared us half to death!”
“That’s My Old… “
“I thought everything was…”
Nina cut her off. “It’s off limits, I’m sorry.”
“Off.” She smiled. “Limits.. Okay?”
The women looked at her oddly. Nina was a hard woman to analyze. She hid the years of sexual abuse expertly from everyone. Her own husband, who passed a few years back, never figured his wife out either and never knew of the abuse.
The incessant stare the woman gave Nina angered Nina greatly, but she turned to the group to keep the tour moving so they could keep on schedule.
“Let’s go back downstairs everyone!” The other people a part of the tour were a little taken back by the yell but obliged willingly.
The top floor awed them so they weren’t too happy about leaving but graciously started heading back downstairs as they talked and began walking down the old creaky, original staircase.
The chandelier that dangled from the third floor had been ripped out in the early 1900s and been replaced with a 1960’s replica. But the scar on the ceiling was evident though, as the thick plaster failed to cover it up entirely.
As Nina watched the last person begin taking the steps down to the bottom, Nina’s nerves and anger quelled out of her as she began to shake ever so slightly. She made sure this little fit was hidden as she began walking towards her sisters old room to recover quickly before finishing the tour. The Cellar was all that was left. She always saved it for last.
But the energy up there on the third floor had gotten oddly strong. The energy was intense and was drawing her to the place she never wanted to enter ever again. She couldn’t shake it no matter how hard she tried. The desire and need to enter her old room was too strong to bear. She blinked twice and walked toward the door
She placed her hand on the door knob and slowly turned. The palms of her hands were moist.
She felt his presence in that moment. She felt pain. Not the pain she received from him, but his pain. The pain he had of losing out on a son. Her. Me. I was supposed to be his son. A tear came down her face. The voices got louder in her head.
Shhhhh. It’ll all be over in a minute.
Knowing what she was going to face and his soothing voice made it a little easier when she was a little girl, but his cold clammy hands on her back was the worst. That hand she felt again. 50 years later.
Nina was shivering now. On the ground. Shivering and shaking and panting. Almost…Almost.
A burst of strength and anger fused over her. Maybe the anger was rekindled by the women’s rudeness to her rule of not entering the room. She got herself up. I won’t do it this time. I’m stronger than I was when I was a little girl. I can fight back now.
She heard the floor creak violently in anger.
The window that was left open to keep air flowing during the hot summer days whipped shut. But the air oddly turned cold.
“Here.” A voice replied back clear and that of a mans. She was terrified and too vulnerable in the tiny but open room. She lost her gusto and faltered
Nina dropped to her knees. “Do it. I’m here dad! Just do it you bastard!”
The tears began to flow. Nothing else mattered. Nina forgot everything of the now and how far she came in her life. She was a little girl again.
“Do it you fucking bastard!” She yelled, relinquishing herself to his fury and passion.
“Did you hear that?” The women who had a little dispute with Nina said.
“Should we go check on Mrs. Nina?”
Something came over the woman in that moment when her husband asked the question.
Someone else though had already made up their mind and quickly began to head up the steps. “What was that? I gotta go help…”
“No. Get back down here now.” the women replied sharply.
“What! Did you hear that? She could be hurt.”
This time the woman grabbed her arm firmly. “No… We wait. When she’s ready she’ll come back down.” The look she gave her was intense. “Understood?”
The fury in her eyes startled the other women. She shook her hand free. Her grip hurt her. “Okay okay.”
She felt his presence even more. She was ready for him. Unlike those early times. He was in the room with her. She lost all control. Her whole body tensed up, just like it did when she was a little girl.
“I’m ready dad!”
“Just do it! Do it! Fucking do it!”
“Why!? You’re done- you’re done now?” She gave a menacing smile out the window and then broke down in tears. Then…she felt it. The old clammy hand she had felt all of those times. She prepared herself for what was about to come.
“Go ahead dad.”
The pause and the crisp coldness of his hand on her back froze her. There was not a muscle of strength on her now. Her love for him mixed with that too wouldn’t be enough. For the first time she was ready and prepared to take it from him. She tilted her head back in acceptance.
But nothing came to Nina.
I’m sorry. The voice replied back to her in her head.
A slight airy breeze began to filter through the room. The floorboards creaked. Nina’s strength came back and she closed her eyes. She was terrified. I’m ready to die. I want to see you dad. I miss you.
“Our father who art heaven hallowed be thy name…” She began. It was the same prayer she told herself after all the abuse. “Thy kingdom come thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. “Her father forbade any practice of religion in the home. “Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses…” “Nina would slip away to the church across the street though after school and pray. God was the only thing that kept her from killing herself. “As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil amen.
The energy in the room was insurmountable. Then the breeze became a gust and the window flew open. ….I’m sorry. It whispered away with the gust.
Nina finally opened her eyes and looked out the window that somehow flew open…stunned. The energy she felt earlier was dissipated.
The wind stopped. Out of the corner of her eye though she noticed something…A cross of Jesus Christ.
Who put that there? But she only questioned it for a moment.
They all heard the steps begin to creak. Everyone was silent. The woman was blocking the staircase so no one could go up. They had no idea why but accepted the odd situation praying Nina was okay.
Nina finally reached the bottom of the stairs and delivered her glowing smile. “Hello everyone sorry about that!”
“It’s okay.“ The women who tried to run up the stairs said.
“Now shall we now go and see the finale of this true horror story?”
“Hell yea. I traveled 3 hours to see this basement.” A man who came alone from upstate New York called out.
“Well then lets.” She was on the third step and when she finished the last three steps she made a quick glance over at the women who defied her one rule not to enter her room. How could she have known? I didn’t even tell everyone that in the beginning. I guess I was just hoping.
She gave Nina a nod and a slight lip smile, understanding somehow the whole situation. Nina didn’t understand how she got it but she returned the look.
Thank you. Nina thought, nodding at her.
“Alright everyone follow me in,” Nina’s dramatics and excitement were back. “New Jersey’s biggest legend!” She scanned the group and then waved to them to follow her.
Nina opened the door to the cellar preparing for everyone to rush it, but instead the little girl came running up to her in a flash. She motioned to Nina that she wanted to tell her something. Nina smiled at her, still amazed at the little girl’s cuteness, she obliged and bent down to hear what she had to say as the rest of the group accepted the moment too.
The little girl looked at the group, giggled and then cupped her hand and whispered into Nina’s ear. “I’m sorry.”
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