THE INHERITANCE

By Pam Skochinski


“Whoa, that house is big!” Mike exclaimed as he stared at the old three-story frame house.

Compared to the surrounding single-story ranch homes, Jane had to agree the house looked huge, and dark, and...

“It looks scary, mommy. Why couldn’t we live over there?” Tommy pointed to the brick and frame house next door.

“Because this is the house Granny left us, dummy,” Mike’s voice was edged with sarcasm.

“Don’t call your brother dummy,” Jane Fairbanks admonished Mike. Tommy scrunched up his freckled face and poked his tongue out at his older brother. She shifted her heavy suitcase from one hand to the other.

“Well, do you think it’s big enough for two boys to run wild in?” Jane asked them to change the subject. “Hmmm, probably not. But, in the back yard there’s still trees left from the big woods where I used to play. This summer we can build a tree house.” Expecting whoops of joy, Jane was surprised when the boys remained silent, still staring at the house.

“Are you sure the power is on?” Mike’s voice quavered. “Are you sure everything we need is in the house?”

Jane sighed and ran a hand through Mike’s short strawberry blond hair. He was too grown up and responsible for his nine years. “The property management officer said so. The utilities are on, so we can turn the lights and heat on as soon as we get inside. He said it’s exactly the way it was when we moved out,” Jane assured him. But was it really? She looked up at the dark windows and wished she didn’t have to live here. She’d never wanted to come back. But, she’d lost everything but her children in the divorce. They had no where else to go.

“What do you mean, exactly?” Mike asked.

“Well, we moved out of the house when I was three or four years old and we left our furniture and other things behind.”

“Just like we did,” Tommy said quietly.

“Yes, just like us. I was too young to remember much. I’m not sure why we didn’t take everything with us. Maybe everything just wouldn’t fit into the new house,” Jane lied. The answer was so much more complicated than that. She’d only been three or four years old, but she still remembered the sirens, the ambulance, and packing her most important belongings into a small suitcase. It was a pattern she’d been repeating most of her life.

“So, it’s got everything we need?” Mike persisted.

“I think so. The attorney said he even put some groceries in the kitchen for us since we’d be arriving so late. So, yes, we have everything we need.”

“Everything ’ceptin’ our clothes and stuff,” Tommy corrected her, dragging his duffle bag behind him. A duffle containing all his clothes and the prized possessions of a six-year-old.

“Yes, you’re right, almost everything.”

“Did Granny die in this house?” Mike suddenly asked, his voice suspicious.

“No, Granny didn’t live here. She lived in an apartment across town. Besides, she died at the hospital years ago. Why?” Jane replied.

“I just wanted to make sure there weren’t any ghosts.”

“There’s no such thing as ghosts. Right Mommy?” Tommy scowled at Mike.

“Right,” Jane assured them both. “Now, let’s get inside out of the cold.”

Stepping inside the house, vague memories began to form; of her mother, sitting on the couch reading stories to her and her brothers; and of her dad, always tired from work, sleeping in the corner recliner.

The boys had run upstairs, and Jane plodded up the stairs, following the sound of their voices to her old room. Her side of the bedroom was decorated prissy pink, the bed made up with a white eyelet bedspread and ruffled pillows. Michael’s side of the room was a monument to model airplanes, action figures and matchbox cars. The boys were zooming cars across the hardwood floor.

“Don’t...” Jane started to reprimand them but the words died on her lips as she smiled, realizing her now grown-up brother would not care if they played with his toys.

She left the boys playing, sounding so much like her brothers --Alex and Michael-- a lifetime ago, and walked down the hall to the bedroom at the front of the house. Her parent’s bedroom. She grasped the handle, but couldn’t bring herself to open the door. Blinking back tears, she left the room unopened. Later, with a fresh coat of paint and new furniture, she’d make up the master bedroom as her own. But, for the time being, she’d sleep in Alex’s old room.

***


Malcolm Wilson spent a lot of time pacing the floor and waiting. Over time, he’d forgotten what he was waiting for. But he was waiting for something or someone important, of that he was sure. The sound of laughter jolted him out of a blank reverie.

“Damn kids.” Malcolm stalked to the window and looked out. He couldn’t see them, but he could hear them. The shrill penetrating sound of their voices put his teeth on edge. He hated kids. Always had, hadn’t he? Well, maybe not always. He smiled wryly. He’d liked himself well enough when he’d been a kid and his own children had been all right. He struggled to remember them, but instead, he had a clear recollection of playing hide and seek in the woods and ignoring his mother’s calls to come inside. He peered out into the twilight, thinking it was about time for those kids to be going home when he saw a flicker of movement at the edge of the woods. He peered closer. Just for a second, he hoped the kids would go off into the woods, get lost, and never come back. Like Samuel.

He shuddered. He’d only had one friend all his life. Samuel Edwards. They’d grown up together, gone to war together, and then come back home to this sleepy old town. He’d married his childhood sweetheart, petite and pretty Martha, and moved into this big old house expecting to have a big family to fill it. Nature had other plans and they’d endured seven long years of marriage with no children. He had gotten a job fixing cars at a nearby car dealership. It was good money but long hours. He’d come home too tired to do much more than fall asleep in his chair while Martha knitted or read. Nothing exciting, but better than the life his friend Samuel led. Tall, red-headed Samuel had lost something of himself in the war. He had no ambitions, but was content to just hang around doing odd jobs for the local real estate agent to help sell houses. He applied fresh coats of paint and mowed lawns and earned barely enough to pay for his apartment and food to eat. Martha felt sorry for him, so, he was at the house a lot. Heck, Samuel ate dinner with them so often a stranger would have thought he lived there at the house.

Malcolm paused, the memory was almost too painful. He’d snuck home from work early one December afternoon to wrap Martha’s Christmas gift, a diamond heart pendant he’d saved all year long to buy. He’d been in the kitchen surrounded by the sweet smell of pies baking for their holiday dinner when he heard it. Samuel’s guffawing laugh. He’d finished wrapping and had just attached the bow with an artistic flourish when he’d heard it again.

Smiling, he followed the sound until he realized it was coming from upstairs. His feet dragged a bit as he approached the bedroom. Perhaps he’d just imagined it? Then, he heard Martha moan, soft, low and sensual. He pushed the door open and it creaked a bit, but not anything as loud as the bedsprings creaked when they saw him in the doorway.

“Malcolm, wait, let me explain,” Samuel stammered. But Malcolm’s mind was numb. He heard nothing; he only saw Martha, naked and wanton in the daylight as she’d never been for him. He didn’t stay to watch them cover their nudity, didn’t listen to the excuses and the lies. He’d just escaped to the woods, to be alone.

When he got back to the house, Samuel was gone and Martha was crying in the kitchen over her burned pies.

They never spoke of what happened, but that night, he left the lights on in the bedroom and took Martha with passionate fury. And in fury, he’d accomplished what seven years of love had failed to do. Baby Alex was born followed a couple of years later by the twins, Jane and Michael. They were Martha’s dream come true and seemed to draw her back to their marriage. Now, instead of silence at the dinner table, she chattered on and on about the children’s activities and accomplishments.

He’d willed himself to forgive and forget. And he did, almost. Until one day when he walked into the house and heard a guffawing laugh from the kitchen. He’d stormed into the kitchen, only to find his boys at the table, playing cards. That’s when the truth hit him. Alex wasn’t his son but Samuel’s; the man he’d once called friend.

That night, he’d sat on the front porch in the cold winter evening and cried. His tears were like ice on his cheeks but, in contrast, seemed to melt the ice in his heart. He realized, with a jolt, he didn’t even know his own family. His wife and kids were strangers. The only person in the world he understood and who understood him was Samuel, and he missed him.

The next day, instead of going to work, he went downtown and hung around the real-estate office where Samuel worked until he ‘accidentally’ ran into Samuel.

“Samuel!” Malcolm exclaimed in a false hearty voice. “How the hell have you been?”

“Fine, just fine,” Samuel replied with a nod. “Real estate has been booming, so I’ve been busy; real, real busy. You?”

“Same-old, same-old,” Malcolm replied. He hadn’t expected Samuel to greet him with open arms, but he hadn’t expected the cold shoulder either. He knew Samuel well enough, even after all these years, to know he was hiding something.

“Well, it’s been nice seeing you.” Samuel shifted his weight and his gaze didn’t quite meet Malcolm’s.

“Yeah, nice seeing you too. We should get together sometime, catch up.”

“Um, sure. Maybe when things slow down at the office I’ll give you a call.”

At that moment, Malcolm knew. He said goodbye and walked up the street. He circled around the block and entered the hardware store across the street from the real estate office. He made his way to the front of the shop and stood looking out the large front window. A few minutes later, he saw Martha walking down the street. Samuel took Martha’s hand and together they went into the office and Malcolm watched as the door sign was turned from open to closed.

He stared, at first unable to believe his eyes. Then, he realized how blind he’d been all these long years. How they must be laughing at him. Was Samuel guffawing with laughter, even now as he and Martha... Malcolm closed his eyes, again seeing his wife naked and pliant in Samuel’s arms. What a fool he was. How many other people knew? Were they all laughing at him? His face burned red with shame and he stumbled out of the store and made his way home to plan his revenge.

Samuel loved to hunt, so Malcolm knew where to find him on Saturday. The woods were eerily quiet as if they, too, were waiting for something. Malcolm spotted Samuel, wearing the traditional bright orange ball cap and vest. There was a moment when he could have abandoned his plan, gone home to his wife and family, and tried to forget what he’d seen yesterday. Instead, he sighted his rifle and without hesitating, fired.

Samuel died where he fell. But it would never do for the body to be found. As a child, he’d explored these woods and knew every creek, cave, and hidey-hole. The old abandoned Winston homestead had a well, and that’s where Malcolm headed with the body.

The search parties never found a trace of Samuel.

Martha cried when she thought he was asleep. But he wasn’t asleep. In a blind rage, he hit her because she was crying, then he hit her when she wouldn’t tell him why she was crying, and he hit her again when she lied and said she hadn’t seen Samuel since that fateful day. His next memory was of an exploding pain in his head.

When he woke in the morning, he was alone. Martha, Alex, Jane and Michael were gone. Years had passed and he’d done just fine. Same old, same old. Yeah, he was a little lonely at times, but that’s what sleep and memories were for.

***


Jane smiled at the children, her rambunctious boys, so much a part of her and yet so different. Sometimes her heart hurt a bit when she looked at Mike, he looked so much like her ex-husband Jason. She was glad Tommy had taken after her with his red-hair and sprinkling of freckles across his nose.

They’d lived in the house a week, but it was already home. Each of the boys had a room of their own, but still spent all their time together. At the moment, they were sitting at the table playing ‘go fish’ at the top of their lungs. It was nice to be able to be noisy without worrying about disturbing anyone. In fact, she was used to living in cramped quarters so when heavy footsteps paced across the empty room above the kitchen she didn’t think anything about it. But the boys were startled.

“Did you hear that?” Mike asked, wide-eyed. “Suppose it’s the ghost of Old Man Wilson?”

“What?” Jane shook her head. “What’s that nonsense? That’s no way to talk about your grandfather.”

“Grandpa’s last name was Wilson? But ours is Fairbanks,” Tommy’s face scrunched up the way it did when he was puzzled.

“That’s because Mommy married Daddy, dummy,” Mike mocked.

“Don’t call your brother dummy,” Jane said automatically.

“Well, the boys at school said the house is haunted by Old Man Wilson. They said he near beat his wife to death and then died himself,” Tommy insisted.

“Well, that’s not true. He got real mad at Granny one night and had some sort of fit. The doctor said it was an aneurism. But, even after his death, my mother couldn’t bear to live in this house. So, we moved and never came back.” Jane shivered. Domestic abuse, such a nice sounding word for broken bones, bruises, and blood. She’d only been three years old, but she had seen the hand marks on her mother’s arms and heard the desperation in her voice as she’d urged them to pack and leave. It didn’t matter that her father had died before the ambulance arrived, her mom hadn’t wanted to stay with the memories. Jane hadn’t understood it then. But later, when her own husband Jason beat her, she’d understood. She was glad to put it all behind her and have a life of her own; to not be afraid all the time.

The wind wailed through the trees outside, and a cold draft swept through the room. Upstairs, a door slammed.

Mike and Tommy exchanged a scared look that Jane intercepted. “It’s just the wind, boys. Old houses are drafty. Really,” Jane insisted. “I’ll have someone come out and seal up all the cracks on Monday, now you go back to your game.”

The boys played half-heartedly until Tommy’s luck changed and he won. “I won, I won.” Clapping his hands, he laughed, a sudden, shrill guffaw.

Upstairs, the ghost of Malcolm Wilson heard that laugh. Samuel? He paused, listening closer. Perhaps it had been the ghost of his old friend Samuel he saw out by the tree line earlier. Was this what he’d been waiting for? Samuel’s return? Then, the wind whistled around the window sill and, somewhere distant in the house, a shutter thudded against the clapboard siding. No, it had just been the wind. “Damned drafty old house.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pam Skochinski has had over 30 short stories published in numerous publications and e-zines, including: Futures MYSTERY Anthology Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Mysterical-E, and Flashshot. Her short story, "The Truth Is Out There", appears in Twisted Cat Tales, edited by Esther Schrader. Pam is on sabbatical from technical writing to spend more time with her children, living in "Pam"demonium with her family in California. More information about Pam and her writing can be found on her website: www.pamskochinski.com


Return to Summer 2007 Table of Contents

2007 SPINETINGLER Magazine - All rights reserved
FEATURED BOOKS