I was asked to attend a book signing on Saturday night at The Book House here in STL, and another tonight at the Rendezvous Cafe and Wine Bar in O’Fallon, Missouri. For both, I needed a spooky tale – so here it is:
Abby made her way north, through the darkness. She’d hated to leave the girls behind but it was much safer for them to remain at the cave. With no communication at this distance, she was completely disconnected and she deeply felt the utter solitude of this journey.
As daylight broke through the clouds, she reached her destination, the DeMenil mansion. Or what was left of it.
The four stately columns lay burned and blackened in craggy heaps on the front lawn. The ancient oaks were toppled. The enormous twin brick chimneys were simply…gone. Shadows played among the ruins, some dark and foreboding, others fleeting as the sun touched them.
Colonel Barton hadn’t played any favorites when he’d determined that the best way to stop the rebellion was with his bombs and his choppers. Abby shuddered, remembering her escape from the city…with Emmy. Her city. Gone at the whim of a madman. Or, more likely, a man who followed the relentless orders of his superiors, those in charge of the new government, those who wished to obliterate all independent thought, all freedoms.
Abby rested for a few minutes, taking a long drink from her water bottle. Then she made her way carefully through the chaos to back of the mansion, to where the cellar doors stood askew as if giant hands had ripped them from their hinges.
She shined her flashlight down the stairs.
Satisfied that the scurrying sounds were merely rodents, Abby slowly descended, keeping close to the inside wall. At the bottom, she peered into the deep darkness that her light could barely penetrate, looking for a path to the supposed doorway.
For decades, probably much longer, rumors had swirled around the area; they spoke of caves and caverns and passages, far below the city of St. Louis, where breweries had once flourished and even slaves had huddled for sanctuary as they fled Missouri. Abby had heard, too, from the handful of old Indians in the area, that there were connections from here clear to Chicago. If, she supposed, one wished to go to Chicago; not her. Things were much worse up there, or so the grapevine suggested.
Slowly, Abby began to make her way through the towering piles and stacks of old junk. Some of it, she noticed, appeared to once have been priceless antiques but were now merely more obstacles in her way. Much of the first floor of the mansion had fallen through, compounding the issue.
At last she saw it, nearly hidden behind a large, tilted armoire and assorted small tables.
Setting down her flashlight, Abby moved the smaller pieces carefully, although she wondered why she was bothering. Surely they were beyond hope by now and besides, who would ever come down here to retrieve anything? Or have a use for it?
The armoire, however, was hopelessly wedged into its spot.
Abby sat down for a moment to rest, contemplating a new strategy. Suddenly, the hair on the back of her neck prickled and she rubbed her arms, trying to warm herself. She held her breath, listening. Nothing. Muscles tense, she grabbed her light and shined it around, watching and waiting.
She set the light on the floor at her feet and stood, giving the armoire another chance to budge so she could pry open that door. Straining with her arms and back, pushing hard with her legs, Abby gave one more mighty shove.
The armoire flew across the room, splintering into pieces with a loud crash.
Abby blinked. No way that could have happened, or should have happened. She knew her own strength, and she knew that, at most, the heavy wood could have moved a foot or so to allow her to break the lock on the door. Inexplicably, she shivered again.
Shrugging it off, she reached for the old-fashioned padlock on the door.
It fell into her hand. The door swung wide.
Abby gasped. A hand appeared…almost, but not quite, transparent. As she watched, an arm appeared, solid and seeming so real that she could touch it. It was followed rapidly by the full figure of a man, tall and slender but slightly stooped. He wore an old-fashioned striped suit, and a felt hat. Abby felt as though she were watching an old movie, no color, and silent.
She nearly glanced around to see if anyone else was present, but was afraid that if she looked away he would disappear. She stood there, transfixed, her feet rooted firmly to the dusty floor, her jaw dropped.
With a sad smile, the man bowed and gestured gallantly toward the dark passage beyond the door. Shaking herself mentally, Abby nodded at him and scurried through the opening. She stopped to look back, but he had vanished.
The open lock was still clenched tightly in her hand as she made her way through the darkness.