One can never truly know what transpires behind closed doors, especially heavy old entryways like mine. So pour a cup of tea, pull up a stool, and lean in. I’ll tell you my secrets.
Before I draw you into the tale about the oh-so-strange Lyla, I shall tell you a bit about myself. I’m 150 years old, standing since 1859. An exquisite Victorian architectural beauty. Some may say I’m not as lovely as I’d once been when the world was a bit simpler – when my presence offered my occupants a higher status, perhaps even a sense of nobility. I fondly remember those youthful, carefree days when my floorboards never creaked and my walls held nary a crack. But some with an affinity for history and antiquities would argue the years only added to my charm, not to mention my mystique. After all, they simply do not build homes like me any longer.
Through the decades I have been acquainted with all sorts of characters who have slept under my scalloped roof, peered from the gothic-arched window of my turret, and traced their fingers down my cherry wood banister. I’ve been the pride of some, the downfall of others. I’ve been many things, including a murder site, a birthplace, a boarding house, and even an abandoned slum. Through it all, I’ve remained on this patch of land watching all that happens within my walls.
Let me begin with my recent occupants. The tale of the Chambers’ family is not a very pleasant one I’m afraid, but life isn’t always jam and biscuits, now is it? Mr. and Mrs. Chambers moved in a decade ago with their young daughter, Lyla. Mrs. Chambers was an aging beauty, who insisted on wearing those most distasteful trousers. Yoga pants, as they’re known, but they resemble little more than long bloomers. In my day, the lady of the house wore only the most proper attire. Dresses with all the necessary frills – gigot sleeves and bustles. High necklines and every bit of flesh covered. Those fine ladies wouldn’t so much as consider squeezing into those dreadful britches. But, I digress…
In addition to her unfortunate fashion choices, Mrs. Chambers also had a fondness for drink. She often spent her days in my drawing room, sipping from her glass and staring at the yellowing photograph of her wedding. Her glassy eyes told me her life had not turned out as she’d imagined on that blooming day of sacred vows. After all, what bride dreams of a future of so little rose petals?
Mr. Chambers was a man of means. Unlike his wife, he wore only the most formal attire. Anyone could see he was the biggest toad in the puddle, but he had little interest in his family. He left early each day with his cellular telephone in one hand and a donut from the cupboard in the other, returning only to sleep, wake and repeat his preoccupied exit, leaving the care of his young daughter, Lyla, to his wife.
Lyla. A most peculiar child. As beautiful as the stained glass window that adorns my stairwell’s landing. Golden haired with bright blue eyes and a cherubic face. But underneath it all was a heart as black as tar. Even as a tot, she was as eerie as a touch to your flesh in a darkened attic. At the age of three she’d taken to biting her mother’s cheek and poking her in the ears with anything she could wrap her tiny fingers around. Mrs. Chambers dismissed the behavior, believing it was simply toddler mischief, but the malevolent grin on Lyla’s face told a much darker truth. While the footfalls of children typically tickled my floor boards and their laughter warmed my drafty hallways, Lyla’s presence filled me with gloom, a sense of dread so strong I felt my wood wilt. With each step in her glittery purple sneakers my floors burned. My walls bruised at the slightest brush of her small hand.
Around the age of six, she began to hide decomposing rats and birds in my cellar. Fluids from their shrunken bodies leaked into my dirt floor, emitting the musty stench of death. When her parents weren’t looking, which was often, Lyla would sneak down to my bowels, pull out the small corpses and carry on as if hosting a pretend tea party. As I told you, I’ve seen many things in all my decades, but the sight of this oh-so-spooky child playing with dead things as if they were china dolls, rattled my windows like a blustery February night.
When Lyla was nine, Mrs. Chambers invited a neighbor girl over to play on the swing in the backyard. She hoped having a friend would turn her objectionable daughter into the angelic child she had always dreamed of. After watching the girls scamper to the tree swing, Mrs. Chambers settled into her favorite drawing room chair with a drink, delighting in the sound of giggles. She nodded off for a spell, then a shriek shook her awake. She rubbed her eyes and shuffled toward the back, believing the girls’ play had become just a bit too harsh.
Mrs. Chambers sobered. Her feet pounded against my wood floor. Her footsteps echoed through my cathedral ceiling. She dashed through my kitchen. Stubbed her toe on a table leg. Stumbled out my rear door. Another blood thickening wail pierced the afternoon sky. She ambled to the shed at the far end of my yard. Dragging open the door, she found Lyla. Hovering above the child. Brandishing garden shears. The mother disarmed her daughter, coerced the neighbor girl to never speak of their “little game” and sent the frightened lass on her way. The episode shook my shed windows, but Mrs. Chambers was not so alarmed. Rather than calling the authorities, getting Lyla into a certain form of treatment, or at least telling Mr. Chambers of the horrifying incident, she refilled her glass and took to hiding in her bedroom under hundreds of dollars’ worth of designer bedding.
A week after Lyla’s tenth birthday her little sister, Bridget, was born. The enchanting coos of that pudgy faced babe brightened my every corner and filled each room with a lightness I’d not seen for many moons. Even my cellar felt not so riddled with death, despite the rotting rodents. But, no sooner had Bridget been placed in her high-priced crib when angry marks appeared on her supple flesh. Bluish stains to her pink cheeks. Scratches upon her arms. Mrs. Chambers had severely succumbed to the drink by this time and so kept quiet about the bruises, fearing they may have been the work of too much vodka. In some deep dark corner of her being, however, she suspected an even more frightful truth. For the next two years, Mrs. Chambers abandoned her high priced bed sheets and spent each night stalking my hallways, cigarette in one hand and the old tipsy nectar in the other; a futile attempt at standing guard.
One night Mr. Chambers came home earlier than usual to find his wife out cold in the hallway clutching a bottle of spirits like a child’s teddy. He stepped over his drunken wife and into little Bridget’s room to find Lyla standing over the crib and holding a wrench from his toolbox. When questioned, the cunning child claimed to have tightened to cradle’s screws to keep her beloved baby sister safe.
“What’s wrong with Lyla?” Mr. Chambers asked of his wife the next night. “There’s something off with that kid. You need to get her to a shrink before she hurts someone.”
The wicked child eavesdropped from the hallway, scraping her fingernails into my wall, her fury duly noted by the burning of my fibers. Outside, an owl landed on my balcony, digging it’s talons into my railing. The night bird always knows when darkness is upon us. Mrs. Chambers was not so perceptive. With a wave of her hand and a puff on her cigarette she dismissed her husband’s concern. “She’s a child. She does childish things.”
In the following year, Mr. Chambers gained a promotion, a hundred pounds, and a money-minded mistress, who every so often crept in for a brief rendezvous, while Mrs. Chambers and her children were at the shops. While not working or entertaining his new lady, Mr. Chambers could be found standing outside the open refrigerator door, shoveling spoonfuls of pie. Mrs. Chambers continued her daily affair with drink, while Lyla continued to creep around me like a spider in the dark.
Then suddenly one day Lyla took to spending much time in her room staring out the window with her palms pressed together, as if praying. She also began to help her mother with cooking and cleaning. She even polished my woodwork – not an easy feat. We Victorians love our wood. No more bruises appeared on her sister. No more dead things in my cellar. The once loathsome Lyla appeared to have changed her ways all-together. She had become sweet. Helpful. Happier than she’d ever seemed before. Yet, it was clear there was still something very wrong with her. I could see it in those arctic eyes and that smile – not a jolly smile, but a tiny upturn of her lips that revealed something sinister.
One winter night, the wind battered my sides. Snow coated my roof. Yet, as brutal as it was outside, my interior was even colder. Lyla spent the evening baking an apple pie for her father who was due to return from a business trip. As she mixed the standard confections in a bowl, she removed a vial from her pocket, mixed in the clear liquid, and placed the dessert on the refrigerator shelf. Next, she poured her mother a drink and squeezed several drops of a different liquid. She carried the glass to her mother’s room, watched as Mrs. Chambers consumed her coveted vodka. Lyla then headed to little Bridget’s room. She picked up a stuffed pink teddy bear from the rocking chair. With careful steps, she slowly moved toward the crib. Placed the bear over little Bridget’s face and pressed.
Hours later, Mrs. Chambers’ screams echoed through the night. It must have been the neighbors who called the police. When the authorities arrived, they broke open my wooden door, leaving me splintered. Their heavy shoes banged into my polished wood as they moved from room to room in my downstairs. Finally, they came upon Mr. Chambers in the kitchen. His ample body was laying in front of the refrigerator. My floor, sticky with apple pie filler and blood from his oozing head. His large form weighed heavy against my tile.
The policemen drew their pistols. Walked up my long staircase. Wet snow beat against my elegant stained glass that depicted a rising sun against the morning sky – that blend of gold and blue, which so reminded me of Lyla’s beauty. At the top of my staircase, they pivoted and stepped into Bridget’s room. With a gasp, one of the officers found the poor babe blue and cold to the touch. Lifeless as those rodents in my cellar.
The sound of breaking glass sounded from the hallway. The men came upon Mrs. Chambers fumbling about, sidestepping the lamp she shattered, while babbling and carrying her signature glass. Further down my hallway, a closet door creaked open. Lyla stepped
out, clutching the pink teddy bear that ended her sister’s life. One of policemen held out his arms. Lyla dashed to him, tears streaking her face, wails escaping her lips as she screamed about her murderess mother.
Where Lyla is now, I have no clue. She no longer darkens my rooms, which is most welcome. Yet, somewhere out there, under another roof, lurks a beautiful child with one of the blackest souls this century old lady had ever seen.
So there you are. I warned you it wasn’t a very pretty story, but many of my stories aren’t, as you will see…
Until next time my dear, fair thee well.
Posted in: Short Stories