Authors: Anna Drake
Copyright ©2015 by Anna Drake
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
’d hate to know when trouble is headed my way. Being blissfully clueless protects me from experiencing life’s meaner moments until they actually arrive. And so it was on this day.
It was a Thursday. I was seated in my favorite chair with knitting in hand. Blackie, my cat, lay in his basket next to my feet. Andrew, my resident ghost, hovered near the window. He was watching the day’s heavy rainfall and rattling off ways to improve Blackie’s life.
Yeah like he cared diddly squat about my poor cat.
Andrew turned to me and started in again on his list of improvements. “You really must put Blackie out at night. It isn’t good for a cat to be locked up indoors all the time. Besides, he’d get more exercise that way. That would help with his weight.”
Blackie lifted his head and glared at Andrew.
I pulled more yarn free from the skein. “That’s sheer nonsense. Blackie isn’t the least bit fat.”
“Well... if you’d look at him objectively, you’d see he’s not exactly skinny, either.”
I shook my head. “The vet says cats should always be kept indoors. He claims it solves most of the problems people have with cats.”
Andrew scoffed. “I suspect your cat could stand up for himself quite well out in the wilds or anyplace else for that matter. He’s not nearly as helpless as you’d like to believe.”
Andrew was a recent addition to our household. He had appeared in my living room shortly after my move here. He was the ghostly remains of a young man I’d loved during my college days. I’d hoped to marry him some day, but he’d died in a tragic auto accident before that could happen.
I turned my attention back to my knitting and wondered again what had brought him here?
The here I’m referring to is a little town called Hendricksville. It straddles the Illinois River midway down the state. Since I would turn sixty-five on my next birthday, my daughter had talked me into making the move. Having me near her made Megan feel better about my living on my own, and I saw my grandsons more often — which was always a win in my book.
I looked down as Blackie chose that moment to climb out of his basket and pad off toward the kitchen.
“Don’t worry,” I called out after him. “I’ll never turn you out of the house… day or night.”
Andrew shook his head and folded his arms over his chest. “Will you never stop spoiling that thing?”
I glanced up and studied the handsome man. He had asked me once if I was pleased he’d come back into my life. I hadn’t known what to say. I had never put much faith in ghosts, so having one banging about my house seemed a bit odd. But if I
invented him, I only wished I’d have created one who got on with cats.
Andrew raised his head. “Company’s coming.”
I frowned. “That’s strange. I didn’t hear a car.”
“It’s our new neighbor. She’s scurrying over on foot.”
“But It’s pouring buckets out there.” I pushed myself up out of my chair.
Ellen Locket and her husband had moved to town a little less than a week ago. They seemed a nice enough young couple, although why she was head my way today I couldn’t imagine.
She rapped on the screen door. When I answered, I found her standing on the porch with her hair plastered to her head. “Oh, you poor thing,” I said, swinging the door open. “Come in. Let’s get you dried off.”
Ellen stepped inside, looked around the room, and whispered, “I thought I heard voices. I don’t want to interrupt anything.”
“Don’t be silly. I was just talking to myself.” I laid a hand on her arm. “Please, don’t tell anyone you heard me. It would be so embarrassing.”
She gave me a shy smile, “I won’t.”
I nodded my thanks. “Now, let’s get you out of those wet clothes.” I led her to the bathroom and handed her a towel. “I’ll fetch a pair of slacks and a top. Once you are dried off, we’ll have a nice cup of tea and a chat. How does that sound?”
She nodded in agreement. ”You’re very kind.”
“Nonsense, what are neighbors for?” I scurried off to my bedroom and pulled out some clothes.. “Okay,” I said, when I rapped on the bathroom door a few minutes later. “You can bring your wet stuff to the kitchen when you’re decent. I’ll run them through the dryer.”
She opened the door a crack and plucked the clothes free from my hand. “Thank you.”
Ellen arrived in the kitchen not too much later. By then, I had the tea kettle heating up on the stove. I glanced over and saw again her worried face and asked. “So what brought you rushing over in all that rain? You didn’t even bother with an umbrella.”
Ellen’s mouth opened and closed several times. “Um…,” she finally said. “I was sorting through some of the things in the attic when I found it.”
I accepted her handful of wet clothes and set them in the sink. “Found what?”
She raised her gaze to mine. “It was wedged inside an old trunk, you see.”
“Well…. that’s just it. I’m not quite sure what I’ve found.”
I motioned her to take a seat at the table.
“You’re talking about one of your trunks? One you brought with you when you moved here?” I crossed to the counter and poured tea into two cups.
“Ah… no. It’s something the McNays left behind.”
Harold and Helen McNay were the elderly couple who had sold Ellen and her husband their house.
“Was it in your agreement that they could leave things behind?”
“No, it wasn’t. And my husband’s very upset that they have.”
I“And not without good reason. It’s no fun, cleaning up someone else’s mess. Have you called the real estate agent to complain?”
She sighed. “It’s not the stuff, you see. I don’t mind dealing with things. It’s just that I’m not sure what I’ve found. And I sure as heck don’t want to touch it.”
“It’s upset you?”
She chewed her lip and nodded. Blackie jumped onto her lap and purred loudly.
He seemed to have a way of knowing when humans were in serious distress.
She reached up and stroked his head.
“Can you be any more specific about what it is that you’ve found?”
She blinked as her large, doe-like eyes studied my face. Then, after grabbing a deep breath, she said, “I’ve never seen anything like it…. Now, don’t take this the wrong way. I think it might be a dead body.” She looked at me and frowned. “But it can’t be, can it?”
“Because a body would decay, right?”
“So... what is this thing?”
Well, at those words, I simply had to go see
We took off for Ellen’s house huddled under the shelter of my largest umbrella. As we walked, she kept her arms wrapped tightly about herself. She was obviously still reeling from what she had seen.
Proceeding across the wet grass, I reminded myself that this
we were trudging toward might not turn out to be a body. Ellen had been under stress from the move. Moving is, after all, a great deal of work. Plus, when we had first met, she had struck me as being a bit of a nervous person.
Still, if it was a corpse, they are always a shock to come across. I could still recall the sight of my first one. I slipped an arm around Ellen’s shoulders and told her that everything would be fine.
After reaching the house, she swung the back door open. “There’s a staircase on the second floor. It leads to the attic.” I nodded, and after setting the umbrella on the back porch to drip dry, I followed her to the the first-floor staircase. Arm in arm, we set off on the long climb to the attic.
Under the beam of her flashlight, we stared at the object that had so upset my companion. It was obviously a corpse, but it looked completely dried out. I pulled my cell phone from the pocket of my slacks and began pressing numbers.
Ellen watched me. “Are you calling the police?” she asked softly.
“Yes. I’m phoning a detective I know. His name is Daniel Oberton. I worked with him recently on another case. I can assure you, he’s an excellent man.”
Ellen shuddered. “I’m so glad you’re here to handle this.”
“Try not to worry. Oberton will know just what to do.”
My good detective arrived at Ellen’s house a little under twenty minutes later. He was the lead detective for the Weaverton Sheriff’s Department. The sheriff’s office handled crimes in Hendricksville. Hendricksville was simply too small to afford to maintain its own police force.
He’d worked the last case here, the one in which I’d found the body.
Oberton stepped inside the house and nodded at me and introduced himself to Ellen. He was a large man with dark hair and a square chin. He also had an uncanny ability to fill whatever space he occupied. When we arrived in the attic, he seemed to dominate that vast space, too. He was accompanied by the department’s only other detective, Harold Blake, who was younger and smaller.
Ellen led the men over to the trunk and shined her flashlight beam inside it. The two men stood there a minute without speaking. Then, they turned and studied the space around us.
It out stretched out wide and dark. A hardwood floor ran full length of the attic. One lone light bulb hung at the end of an electrical cable toward the center. It provided the only lighting, and its weak glow struggled to penetrate space around us.
“Get ahold of the State Police,” Oberton told his partner. “Have them send the crime techs. Tell them we’re going to need additional lighting.”
After the techs arrived, they immediately hustled about installing the extra lights. Their movements stirred the stale air around us, which smelled faintly of dust, and mothballs, and dry rot.
Once the lighting was in place we returned to the trunk. Oberton stared at the body for a long moment. Then stepped aside to give Blake a better view.
“I’ve never had to work with a mummy before,” he said.
“So that’s what it is? A mummy?” Ellen asked.
I shook my head in confusion. “Who would know how to mummify a body today? I was under the impression that sort of thing went out with the Pharaohs.”
Oberton shrugged. “The mummification could have happened on its own. It’s a warm, dry attic. Under those conditions, it’s possible for it to have occurred naturally. I should get a better feel for it after the coroner takes a look.”
“I wonder who she was?” Ellen asked, her gaze shifting back to the detective.
Oberton shrugged. “That’s one of many things I’m going to have to find out. You don’t have any suggestions, do you?”
She shivered. “None at all. The trunk was here when we moved in. I only came across the body today because I’d come up here to clean, and decided to take a look inside.”
“Was it locked?”
“Yes. I’m afraid I forced it open. But I didn’t want the trunk here. I wanted to have it removed. But I felt compelled to check it first.”
“Who did you say you bought this house from?”
“I’ll have to track them down. It looks like they have some explaining to do.”
I stared at the poor creature. “How old do you think she was when she died?”
Oberton shrugged. “I’ll have to let the coroner unravel that mystery, too. For now, I couldn’t even hazard a guess.”
I glanced up at him. “Do you think the body’s been here long?”
He shrugged. “I doubt she died yesterday. It would take time for a body to dry out like this.” He shook his head. “Again, maybe Doc Alger can come up with more specifics.”
He turned away from the corpse and faced us. “Let’s get you good ladies out of here. For what it’s worth, this is now a crime scene.”
“You think she was murdered?” I asked.
“I doubt she climbed inside that trunk of her own free will.”