Ridgemoor Manor is supposed to be empty. I mean it’s also supposed to be haunted so I don’t think it can be both. Empty and haunted.
Mama went to school with Jonathan Ridgemoor so it hasn’t even been that long. It’s just the weeds and peeling paint that make the house look so decrepit.
“Martha, this is so stupid,” I say crossing my arms over my chest.
“Oh come on, Betty. Don’t be such a Fuddy-Duddy!” Martha replies pulling my arm off and looping it with hers as we walk, our Mary Jane’s tapping in synchrony along the street. “And, Jimmy said he’s bring Roy.” She nudges my side with her elbow, like Roy means something to me.
“It’s just an old house. What’s the big deal?” I whine, my voice high and pitchy.
Martha shakes her head while she laughs, her blonde curls bouncing. “If it’s just an old house, Betty Marshall, then a quick gander won’t hurt nothin’. Oh look! There they are!”
She squeals at the boys and I think she looks like a pig as she prances over in her pink gingham dress, smudgy black lines up the back of her legs. I sigh and follow. Martha and I have been friends since we could walk, but lately she’s been completely khaki-wacky, especially when it comes to Jimmy.
“Hey baby-doll,” Roy croons leaning in too close. I can smell the booze on his breath and the grease in his hair. I take a step back.
“Hello, Roy,” I say staring at the dust-burdened panes of Ridgemoor Manor’s windows.
The sun is dipping below the horizon leaving red streaks in the sky and a fading light that catches on the peeling white-gray paint on the shutters and trim. The rest of the house is muddied green. The lawn is a riot of thistles and tumbleweeds. No one has cared for the property since the night Jonathan Ridgemoor ran screaming down Main Street and jumped off the bridge into the dark, swirling currents of the Mackenzie River. Mama said it was grief over his sister who ran off with some tramp, her body found broken in a ditch a few weeks later.
“Nice sweater,” Roy continues, fishing a flask out of his jeans.
I tug my sweater down and tighten the scarf at my neck. Roy makes my skin crawl. He holds a flask out to me but I shake my head. I scoot closer to Martha who’s enraptured with Jimmy’s story of his brother’s latest letter from Europe.
When it’s dark, we climb up the sagging steps. Martha’s a giggling mass leaning on Jimmy. I try to avoid Roy but when he offers an arm, I feel obligated to accept. His shirt is stiff under my fingers.
Jimmy tries the door and is surprised when it swings open easily. I swallow down my own giggle as he falls inside and lands with a thump on the fraying Persian carpet. We turn on our flashlights as he picks himself up and dusts off his sweater.
Jonathan’s mama had decorated the house in overtop the elegance that he never had the heart to change. Jimmy and Martha stand with mouths open as they take in the gilt mirrors, the crystal chandelier, the velvet couches. I close the door and glance up the stairs. Everything is dark.
Roy staggers into a table and I wince as the fragile china dog slides off and shatters on the floor, spraying white flakes like snow across the floor.
“Roy, you knucklehead! Watch it,” Jimmy hisses at his friend. Roy takes another drink from his flask. Jimmy rolls his eyes and we all know Roy is sauced. I find myself supporting more of his weight so he doesn’t ruin Jonathan’s house. Our flashlights bob around the room making orbs in the mirrors.
“Wow! I always knew Mrs. Ridgemoor was a bit of a glitterati, you know. But I had no idea it was all still here,” Martha prattles.
“But did you know what Mr. Ridgemoor did?” Jimmy asks ominously. He means Jonathan’s father. No one ever called Jonathan Mr. Ridgemoor. The wind has picked up outside and it rattles the windows.
The light from Martha’s flashlight bounces as she trembles. “Wh-h-hat?”
“He was the undertaker,” I reply quietly, running my fingers through the dust on the coffee table.
“Only until they found out about him,” Roy hiccups.
“What do you mean?” Martha asks in a small voice. She’s clinging to Jimmy, eyes wide with fear.
“He was diggin’ folks back up. No one knows where half the bodies in town ended up. Man was wacky.”
I wince at the insult. Something upstairs shifts and the ceiling moans. Martha lets out a cry and Jimmy is forced to put an arm around her. Roy looks at me expectantly and I remove my hand from his arm. He pouts but I turn to look out the window.
“That wasn’t it at all, you know,” Jimmy counters. “He dug his daughter back up. Only her and brought her back here. Refused to give the bones back.”
“Do you think they’re still here?” Martha asks. The house groans in the wind and I glance up the stairs again. Still dark.
“Don’t think Jonathan ever found them,” Jimmy says rubbing the barely there stubble on his chin.
“Maybe we should go?” I suggest. “I mean, what if the cops come by?”
“We’ll feed them a line, Betty. Don’t worry,” Jimmy says pulling Martha closer and giving me a wink. “Let’s just check out the upstairs.”
I sigh and follow them up the carpeted steps. Roy leans against the railing at the top of the stairs, swaying a bit.
“You guys go on. I’ll just be a minute,” he says. I hope he doesn’t spew all over the place.
We head down the hall to the Ridgemoor’s bedroom. This door is locked. Jimmy slams his shoulder into it twice before kicking it in. The door splinters from the lock and Jimmy pushes it the rest of the way open. I stand at the door, nails digging into the frame.
Its Martha’s light that finds them, placed like family photos along the top of a long, low dresser. Skull, followed by ribs, the beam of light shuddering down the line until it rests on the small gray toe bones. Her scream pierces the air and she knocks me down as she runs from the room. Jimmy follows her, but I hear the footfalls clamor to stop at the top of the stairs.
I sit up and rub my head. Roy has a stuttering light on Jonathan who’s dressed in a too big mortician’s black suit, making him look as pale as a ghost. Jimmy grabs Martha and pulls her down the stairs and out of the house, her screams lingering behind them.
Jonathan takes a heavy step toward Roy and he lets out his own shriek, drops his flashlight, and flees stumblingly out of the house.
Jonathan comes over and helps me up. My flashlight shines up between us as he pats my arms to make sure I’m alright.
“I’m fine, Jonathan,” I say placing a hand on his arm. “You really should lock the front door, you know.”
Stay tuned for extra content this week from Anne. Join us every Monday next month when we post four more tales on a new prompt.