WEP December 2019 Challenge: Footprints


Image by Alex Kovalerov from Pixabay

Genre: Paranormal

Word Count: 1000

Full critique okay, so long as you use the Hamburger Method. Medium well with mustard is nice, and I'll have fries and an unsweetened iced tea with that.

I know that Jimmy Buffett likes his burgers medium rare with mustard, but this is a point on which Jimmy and I differ. I like my meat thoroughly cooked.


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When Dr. Alberta Wilmarth, the Dean of the Miskatonic Department of Archaeology approached Andre Linden to renovate the old Curran Mansion on behalf of the University, he gladly accepted. The one-time thief hoped that having his name attached to the project would attract clients to his struggling construction company. Andre had served one year of a five-year sentence twelve years previously after being caught robbing an import warehouse off Boston Harbor.

Andre had never committed any violent crimes, but being an ex-convict was still a strike against him. In a town like Arkham, everyone knew everyone else’s business. Nonetheless, Andre felt that his business stood a better chance of thriving in the upstate area of Massachusetts than the bustling anonymity of Boston.

Andre was forty-one years old, tall and lean with a chiseled, angular face and graying brown hair with a receding hairline. He sometimes noticed women glancing at him but was unsure if they were appreciating what they saw or just sizing him up.

Dr. Wilmarth hired Andre on Thanksgiving Eve. She hoped that the Curran Mansion could be pulled together enough for Miskatonic’s anthropology and archaeology departments to have their New Year’s Eve party there. Andre told the professor that he’d see what he could do. She was a nice woman and he was sure that she knew her stuff when it came to archaeology, but like most people outside of the industry, she was unaware of the holdups that red tape could cause when it came to even seemingly simple renovation projects.

Alone on Thanksgiving night and wanting to distract himself, Andre headed to the Curran Mansion to draw up a rough plan for the project. The power had been turned off long ago, but his powerful hand torch illuminated everything. At least on the main floor, although all was covered in a thick layer of dust, the structure seemed intact.

Andre was surprised by the sounds of laughter and celebration. He supposed that local kids might be using the old place to party and hoped that the appearance of a gruff-looking middle-aged man might be enough to scare them off. As he headed for the stairs, he noticed that the backyard was lit up bright as day. Curious, he hurried outside.

Andre found himself in the middle of a wedding reception. A striking blonde woman in a silky white gown approached him, smiling. He was struck by the sadness in her deep blue eyes and reduced to the social aptitude of a stammering adolescent when he attempted to apologize for intruding.

“H…hello, Ma’am. Andre…um…me. Uh…Andre Linden, I am, that is. Construction. Um…sorry. I didn’t know anyone was here. I came to fix a thing—um—things. How could I not have noticed that…”

“It’s all right, Andre,” the woman interrupted, touching his hand. “I’m Hazel Curran. We’re celebrating my twin sister Hattie’s wedding today. Last year my brother Henry got married.”

“And you?” Andre inquired. “Surely such a lovely lady…”

Hazel’s shimmering laughter contrasted with the pain and fear in her eyes, and when she threw back her head in mirth, Andre noticed an angry red scar dotted with bumpy pockmarks marring her porcelain skin. Hazel collected herself and linked her arm in Andre’s.

“My fellow, Torrey, keeps pushing me to marry but I don’t know if I want to so soon,” Hazel confessed. “I’d like to live a bit before becoming a wife. Oh, Andre, I’m so glad you’re here. I hope that you can help me find something.”

“Of course,” Andre agreed, allowing Hazel to lead him into the house. “What are we looking for?”

“My pearl necklace,” Hazel explained. “Well, the remnants of it anyway. It was a gift from my old school chum Kenneth for my birthday. It was perfectly innocent—Ken is a man’s man if you take my meaning—but Torrey lost his senses and snatched it off my neck. He made such an ugly scene. Ken is truly a dear, and I felt just awful. I’d love to get the necklace repaired.”

 “Do you remember where you lost the necklace, Hazel?” Andre asked as Hazel led him to the basement.

“It was over there,” Hazel said, pointing to the right corner of the back wall.

Andre felt as if someone had dragged a knife made of ice up his spine. Moisture had eroded the wooden floor and the wet earth bulged through the holes. A fetid odor permeated his nostrils. The light from his torch illuminated pearls dotting the soil.

A rusting shovel lay in the dirt. Andre picked it up and began digging like a man possessed. The shovel struck something hard. Andre continued digging until he had unearthed a skeleton. The remnants of a scarf were wrapped around the neck and pearls dotted the soil surrounding it. Strands of golden hair still attached to mummified skin were revealed as Andre pushed the soil away from the gruesome discovery.

Andre awoke in the hospital to see a worried Dr. Alberta Wilmarth at his bedside writing a note.

“Oh, Mr. Linden, whatever possessed you to go to that place alone at night?” she asked. “When they found you, you were nearly dead from hypothermia. It’s a good thing that woman flagged down the patrol car or you might well have frozen to death.”

“What woman?” Andre inquired, feeling the icy knife run up his spine again.

“Well, it’s a bit of a mystery,” Dr. Wilmarth replied. “Officer Chevalier told me that a glamorous blonde woman in a white party dress flagged him down at the end of the mansion’s driveway. She led him to the basement, and when he turned to speak with her, she’d disappeared.”

“Dr. Wilmarth, I found…”

Dr. Wilmarth gently squeezed Andre’s hand.

“Mr. Linden, you found the remains of Hazel Curran, who went missing on November 28, 1928,” she revealed. “What made you decide to dig there?”

“She did,” Andre revealed. “I followed the pearls from her necklace. They led me right to her grave.”

~Cie~

Miskatonic University is the creation of H.P. Lovecraft. 
Dr. Alberta Wilmarth is a nod to Albert Wilmarth, the narrator in Lovecraft's 1931 tale, The Whisperer in Darkness. She is Albert's niece.


A Special Request:
I would not normally do this, but I need a little help. I am currently running a Battle of the Poems to choose which of my poems will go into the final document for the November PAD Chapbook Challenge. At this point, I only have one voter, the wonderful Elephant's Child
All I need is for people to choose which poem they prefer of the two poems offered in each day's post. No critique is necessary although you can provide one if you want. 
The battle is running all month on the Horror Harridans Writing Sisterhood blog. Please come vote!

40 comments:

  1. This is great! Love the contrast of personalities and the building tension. Nicely done!

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  2. Hi,
    Your story structure is good, which means it was easy for me to enter into the plot and follow where you were going. I also thought that the scenes building up to the point that he went out alone to the house were written very well.
    That Hazel actually led him to where she was buried was a surprised that caught me unexpectedly but rounded out your theme and was a pleasant surprise..
    Good job.
    Have a Merry Christmas and a happy crossover into 2020.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G

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  3. Hazel chose the right man - and I love that she thanked him by flagging down the support he needed.
    I thoroughly enjoyed this - and wonder what other secrets lie behind/between/under those walls.

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    1. This is a story that has the potential to be continued. There was a lot more that I wanted to say!

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  4. He met a ghost? How scary it must've been for him. I was scared just reading about the encounter. At least the ghost had enough humanity left to save his life, after he helped her.

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    1. Thank you, Olga. Hazel wasn't a particularly scary ghost. Andre was lucky that he didn't meet Torrey, the jealous boyfriend.

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  5. What an excellent tale. She found the right man for the job and made sure he survived for his efforts. Excellent! And I'll gladly vote. Good luck!

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  6. This story had a wonderfully creepy vibe to it. I'm so glad he found her skeleton, though. Traumatic as it may have been for him, it may allow her to rest now. And I'm glad she flagged down a car to get him help.

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful story with us!

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    1. Thank you very much. I'm glad you enjoyed it. And thank you for voting in the Battle of the Poems!

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  7. Thumbs up! Enjoyed the read and even more the nods to H.P.Lovecraft. A very satisfying horror flash following the in footprints of a master and a subtle use of the prompt. Well done.

    Happy holidays to you and wish you a brilliant New Year 2020!

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    1. Thank you very much. I wasn't sure how people would react to the fact that this was basically Lovecraft fan fiction, although without any of his non-Euclidian heebie jeebies.

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  8. Well, that was nicely spooky. Glad I'm reading it in the morning and not at midnight. One "well-done" suggestion I have is to change the passive voice into active when you're revealing the skeleton. Passive takes the edge off a suspenseful moment.
    "Strands of golden hair still attached to mummified skin were revealed as Andre pushed the soil away from the gruesome discovery."

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  9. Wonderfully chilling tale. Right up Lovecraft’s alley. Well done. Off to vote on your poems without further ado.
    Merry Christmas and see you in 2020, on WEP, I hope.

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    1. Thank you so much, Susan. Barring being eaten by a being from beyond the stars, I should be around!

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  10. Hi Cie! I loved this, but one of my favourite genres to read and write is paranormal. Loved the tension. I knew she was a ghost of some sort and was glad she was a benevolent ghost. Nice ending.

    Thanks so much for your regular contribution to WEP, Cie. I enjoy your gritty tales. I wish you the very best for the season and hope 2020 brings along with it great happiness.

    I visited HH with the intention of voting but couldn’t see where to do it on my phone. Will check it out later when I’m on my laptop.

    Ciao!

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    1. Hi Denise,
      Unfortunately, Blogger is difficult to beat into submission when it comes to the mobile pages. As if I'd really know what the heck to do anyway!
      Thank you for commenting and for voting in the Battle of the Poems!

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  11. Love your Lovecraft tie-in. The story was very engaging. I think you story could start with paragraph 2. It's very engaging and pulled me right in to find out more. Paragraph 1 is backstory that you could weave into other paragraphs. That's my only critique. Happy Holidays and Happy New Writing Year!

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    1. You know, I think I actually wrote it that way initially but changed my mind. Thank you for the comment.

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  12. Nice and spooky. I would have been FASCINATED if I accidentally found the long-lost remains of the heir of a creepy mansion. And a bit terrified...:-D

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  13. You want Hamburgers but I was a vegetarian - well, piscatarian. Maybe this time, Cie. Anyway, on to your tale. Andre seemed in for a surprise - an unexpected taste perhaps - wandering alone. Was I right to expect horror? You built the setting and atmosphere. Helping a ghost mades for an unexpected twist. Best to prepared for vampires always though. Like the nod to Lovecraft. I'm giving the poems a look but I'm not a good judge.

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  14. An unconventional yarn of how underused buildings are not always uninhabited. Well done.

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  15. A well done tale of a kind and generous ghost who just wanted her body discovered. Loved all the fascinating detail specially this "He sometimes noticed women glancing at him but was unsure if they were appreciating what they saw or just sizing him up."
    I'll try and figure out how to vote for the poetry challenge. Happy Holidays and a wonderful New Year to you.

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    1. I wasn't sure if that was an unnecessary detail. I'm glad you liked it! Thanks for the comment. :-)

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  16. What if all ghosts were like Hazel?? I like her. You built up the story very well.
    Https://soniadogra.com

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  17. Such a fun ghost story. The mystery built up nicely and the characters are likable. I really liked that the ghost wasn't eager for her helper to join her in the after life.
    Nice Lovecraft tie-ins too.

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it! Yes, Hazel was a nice ghost. She just wanted to be able to rest.

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  18. I enjoyed reading this - tense situation with a ghost who did the right thing although she had been wronged herself.

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  19. Nice! Since you warned us it was a ghost story, I wasn't surprised to find them there, but the outcome was unexpected! I'm only a little unclear what happened--did he faint when he found the body, or did something more sinister take place?

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    1. Yeah, I wish I'd had a few more words to explain that. He kept digging to the point of exhaustion, and in the freezing air he developed hypothermia.

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  20. I am going to attempt to get all comments on this thread answered before December is out. I fell into a bit of a dark place. The truth is, sometimes answering comments is intimidating to me. It isn't that I want to ignore you. My psychological issues, however, can make this sort of activity challenging.

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  21. Hi Cie - sorry just got here ... but I did enjoy the read and am sure more stories along those lines would go down well. All the best for the coming year - cheers Hilary

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