Authors: Brenda Hill
The House on
An abandoned home on a northwoods lake,
dreams of a seductive lover from another time.
Lindsay wants the hundred-year-old home to heal her troubled marriage,
something unseen in the house wants her.
© Copyright 2013 Brenda Hill
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This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously.
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While I’m currently a California-based author of three mystery/suspense novels, I lived for several years next to Serpent Lake in Crosby, a picturesque town of less than three-thousand in north/central Minnesota.
During the long, snowbound winters, I would walk my dog past homes owned by snowbirds, those owners who spent the harsh winters in warmer climates, and imagine stories that might take place in those houses sitting cold and abandoned during the sub-zero winters.
I always strolled through the lakeside park to gaze in wonder at Kahnah’bek, the twenty-foot-high fiberglass serpent statue reigning supreme over the grounds. There, during the quiet that blanketed the land immediately after a snowfall, I’d let my imagination soar.
The House on Serpent Lake
is the result.
Mike Midthun, Dispatch/Records Mgr/Evidence Tech, Crosby, MN Police Department and super nice guy. Thanks for taking the time to answer questions and to photograph various sites for me. Although I lived next to Serpent Lake for a number of years, the pictures helped to refresh my memory.
Kd Foreman, Director, Lead Investigator - Cal~Para Paranormal Research Organization. Thanks for tolerating the endless questions on a fascinating subject and for allowing me to see and handle some of the equipment you use during an investigation. I hope I got it all right.
Joanna Lattery, Mayor of Crosby, MN, my thanks for being so gracious. Charles Barnum III, Attorney at Law, Jason Evans, attorney at Law, Paula Traylor and Jessica Holmvig with the Crosby Chamber of Commerce.
Mae Phillips of Coverfresh Designs, Jason Anderson for formatting, and Annie Seaton for editing.
Fellow authors Victoria Howard, M. Jean Pike, Libby Grandy, Millie Hinkle, and Merri Hiatt. To friends Maxine Piotrowski, Elizabeth Walker Persons, Linda Powell, Brandon G. Cole, D.C., Mary Bowman, Bob and Sheila Dearmore, Janice McFarland, and to first reader Lea Daniels. Thanks y’all, for your encouragement and support.
And always, my love and thanks to Roger & Debbie Bowman, who dropped everything countless times to respond to my SOS calls. To Amanda, Kyle, and Sean, the lights in my life.
A brief hushed whisper floated up the stairs and disturbed the young woman’s dreams.
Frida Peterson woke.
Listening intently, she lay in the feathered bed and wondered what she’d heard. From the window, the normal night sounds from the north woods behind the house were in full concert—chirping crickets, buzzing katydids, and from the marshy area skirting Serpent Lake in front of the house, frogs bellowed, the cacophony of their sawing, hiccupping noise almost drowning out the other sounds.
But nothing out of the ordinary.
She listened a few more minutes, then closed her eyes and tried to go back to sleep.
Then she heard it again. A woman’s soft moan, a sound so out of the ordinary that she caught her breath. She sat up.
Who could be making those sounds in her parents’ home? The only other women who lived in the house were her mother, her adopted sister Berina, and Tilly, the maid. Her mother and father were visiting her aunt in St. Cloud over seventy miles away, and Berina had gone to bed early this evening. To finish her library book, she’d said, something about a cattle ranching family in Texas. Tilly was in her fifties, and the sound had come from a much younger woman.
Frida slid out of bed, crept across the hardwood floor, and cracked open the door. After several minutes of silence, she began to think it was her imagination, but just as she turned to go back to bed, she heard a soft thump, then a man’s curse.
Someone was in the house.
Her brother? It couldn’t be. He’d recently married and he and his wife lived in Deerwood on the other side of the lake. Besides, he wouldn’t visit in the middle of the night.
She stood so still she barely breathed. Who was it? What did he want? Crosby had always been a peaceful town, and she had grown up feeling safe. Why would someone want to break into her parent’s home?
Maybe he wanted to rob them. Her father was president of the bank in Crosby; maybe the intruder thought he kept money at the house. With her parents away, tonight would be the best time to take it.
What could she do? At eighteen and the oldest, she was in charge. She could call the town policeman, but the phone was downstairs in the parlor. She could scream, but since their house sat on an isolated lakefront clearing a quarter-mile from town, no one would hear her.
A muffled cry shot upstairs.
It sounded like Berina.
Frida hurried down the hallway and threw open the door to her sister’s empty bedroom.
He had Berina!
Stumbling on her long nightgown, Frida ran to the gun case on the landing, her unbound hair flying behind her, and yanked open the door with such force that it slammed against the wall. Glass shattered. She froze, listening. He had to have heard the noise.
She didn’t have much time. She bypassed her father’s rifles and grabbed her six-shot revolver, a handful of .22 bullets, and loaded them as she flew down the oak stairs. She just prayed she wasn’t too late.
“I’m coming, Berina!”
Loud whispers and scuffling sounds came from the parlor.
She ran into the room. There, beside the divan, a man with his back to her was adjusting his shirt. Berina sat up, crying and buttoning the top of her nightgown.
Frida pointed the gun and fired three rounds into the man’s back.
Everything froze. Even the night creatures went silent.
The man stiffened, turned and faced her, his face frozen in shock. Like a fan folding in on itself, he slowly crumpled to the floor. Berina, her face and gown splattered with blood, screamed and fell beside him, gently cradling the man’s head in her arms.
Tilly rushed into the room, tying her chenille robe.
“Oh, missy, what have you done?”
Soundlessly, her eyes wide, Frida stared at the bloodied man’s face. The gun fell from her hand and hit the oak floor.
A sound, a wailing, keening cry of agony filled the room. She didn’t know if it came from Berina or from her.
Galen, the man she loved with all her heart, the man she was to marry in three weeks, was dead.
Something about the abandoned old house struck Lindsay Peterson as familiar.
It sat about a quarter-mile past the modern homes lining Serpent Lake, off a deeply-rutted trail skirting the aspens and pines of the Minnesota north woods.
They drove closer, Lindsay shading her eyes against the setting sun’s glare on the lake. Beyond low-hanging branches, she could see the two-story house and several outbuildings in a clearing by the water.
“We’re here.” Eric guided the rented Blazer along the ruts to a detached garage. “I know it’s been a long day, but let’s take a quick look before it gets dark.” He killed the engine and lowered the windows.
Mosquitoes invaded the car and whined around Lindsay’s head. When one lit on her arm, she slapped it and wiped the blood speck with a tissue.
Eric bounded out of the car as if his aunts were still waiting to welcome him, but Lindsay sat frozen, her gaze moving over the house, lingering at the large side window. She knew that house, knew how the rooms were arranged, knew how it felt to wake each morning with her window overlooking the woods in the back of the house. She caught phantom aromas of fresh biscuits from the oven, the huge lilac bushes around the outhouse coupled with the earthy scent of the water.
She nearly wept with longing.
“Come on,” Eric said, waiting for her in front of the car. “Aren’t you curious?”
At the sound of his voice, the déjà vu dissipated, floating away as if it were a dream she couldn’t quite remember.
Frowning, she looked back at the house, which was now simply neglected property her husband had inherited. This was her first trip to Minnesota, so she couldn’t know anything about the house and grounds. She must have seen pictures or Eric must have described his childhood home so thoroughly she felt she knew every detail.
That’s all it was, wasn’t it?
Firmly pushing away her doubts, she emerged from the car. After the long flight from the west coast, followed by another three-hour shuttle from the Minneapolis airport, all she wanted was a hot meal and a comfortable bed at the motel. But Eric was his aunt’s only surviving relative and Lindsay wanted to support her husband even if it meant touring the dilapidated property at dusk.
She stepped onto an overgrown lawn littered with twigs and bits of pinecones and followed her husband through thick patches of dandelions gone to seed. Wisps of soft white fuzz floated in the air.
The house hadn’t fared any better. Curls of white paint hung over blackened windows, and bare rotting wood spread under chipped paint.
“I don’t understand it,” Eric said, forging ahead, his long legs cutting through tall grass to the front of the property. “It’s such a nice place, at least it used to be. I wonder what happened?”
Following him, Lindsay couldn’t venture a guess, especially when she spotted the fully-screened front porch facing the water. True, it might be sagging, but it fronted two-hundred feet of sandy beach and the tree-lined lake. How ideal it all seemed, even with the house in its current state of disrepair.
“Maybe your aunt failed to make arrangements for caretakers after moving to the nursing home,” she said.
“Aunt Frida wouldn’t forget. Grandpa built this place, even cleared the land himself, and she’d never let it deteriorate. Besides, her attorney was supposed to take care of all that.” Hands on his hips, he considered the house. “I just hope the inside is okay. All hardwood floors and a huge rock fireplace. You’ll love it. Aunt Frida used to tell stories about Grandpa searching the countryside for just the right stones.”
“It doesn’t look vandalized,” Lindsay said. “Just neglected. But we’ll find out when we pick up the keys in the morning.”
Eric headed toward a faded log building about twenty feet from the house. A rusty shovel leaned against the side, its splintered wooden handle enclosed in cobwebs.
“The old storage shed.” He jiggled the lock. When it fell open, he disappeared inside. Lindsay smiled, her pride in her husband overriding her fatigue.
He was such a nice-looking man, one of the lucky ones who improved with age. At forty-seven and even with a little thickening at the waist, his bearing was proud and strong.
And he was tall enough so she didn’t tower over him, something she’d agonized over since her teenage years. Once again, she thanked the fates for bringing them together two years ago. After a failed three-year marriage in her early youth, she hadn’t bothered with much of anything except raising her son—until she met Eric and the world came alive.
She lifted her face to the gentle breeze that whispered across the lake, stirring leaves in the oak trees and gently ruffling her hair.
Suddenly, as though eyes were watching her, little prickles chilled the back of her neck. Whirling around, she stared at the darkened windows in the house, but she saw nothing except the black panes standing as sentries, guarding the house’s secrets.
Eric emerged from the shed and closed the squeaky door and joined her on the beach.
She glanced back at the house and it seemed normal. Old, in need of repair, but normal.
Eric brushed cobwebs from his shoulders. “Pretty well cleaned out except for some old tools. Strange, though. Someone’s half-eaten lunch and an old rusted thermos were splattered on the floor. Someone left in a hurry.”