Reflections, Echoes, and the Mechanical Shark: Part 3—Bumps in the Night

Bumps in the NightBumps in the Night

Continued from: Reflections, Echoes, and the Mechanical Shark: Part 2—Trick or B and E

His friends were still where he’d left them. But they all looked like cardiac patients in need of defibrillators.

Before Phineas could even say anything, or produce the brooch for well deserved accolades, Peter said to him, “Did you hear that knocking?” Peter’s voice cracked at the edges. With a trembling finger, he pointed to a wall. “It came from there,” he said. “Twice,” he added, his voice giving an extra squeak.

“We were gonna just leave you here,” Ralph said.

Just leave him here? Did these bozos realize what he’d just accomplished? Phineas smiled and strolled to the wall. The knocking was a branch banging against the house or mice feasting on plaster, and these yahoos thought it was Martha the unfriendly ghost. He leaned against the wall. “What, this wall right here?” he said with the coolest grin he could muster.

The other boys stepped back, as if Phineas was taunting a rabid dog.

Phineas produced the cameo. “I got the brooch,” he said, waving it to stress the fact.

“Then let’s get out of here,” Ralph said.

Let’s get out of here? He just found the brooch, Martha Price’s brooch, The Holy Grail of pre-teen adventurers, and all these guys could say was, Let’s get out of here? He didn’t expect ovations and cartwheels, but how about a little credit where a little credit was due? A lot of credit due, for that matter.

“What is your problem?” Phineas said.

“We told you, we heard knocking in that wall,” Ralph said.

“Twice,” Peter’s voice squeaked.

Cousin Jimmy broke his silence. “Phineas, I want to go home.”

Phineas stared at them. He couldn’t believe this. “Look, I just went through this whole house, and I found the brooch.” He held it up again. “And you weenies are afraid of this stupid wall?” He knocked on the wall to emphasize his point.

The wall exploded with flying plaster and shattering slats of wood. The other three boys screeched. A hand latched onto Phineas’s wrist. He turned to see, glowing in the moonlight, the sneering, decayed smile of a skeletal face, dried remnants of flesh hanging from its features like ragged clothing. Its jaw opened in a silent scream as its empty eye sockets fixed on Phineas Wilkes’s pale face.

Phineas was aware of his friends fleeing out the window. He was aware of the skeletal fingers binding his wrist. He was aware of the warm urine running down his leg. He was aware of all this, yet he was unable to react to it. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t scream. He could only watch as another of the skeleton’s hands emerged from the wall and struck, like a cobra, relieving him of his prize.

He was overcome by a swimming, almost drowning sensation as he swooned toward a faint, but the skeletal hand gripping his wrist tightened, and the pain brought him back, releasing the scream frozen in his lungs. He grabbed the skeleton’s forearm, clawing at the coarse, dry bones. The ancient bones shattered in his hand, and he broke free of the thing’s grasp, stumbling backward, falling against the far wall and sliding to the floor. The skeleton held up the cameo brooch triumphantly, and then it fell to the floor, still and lifeless.

The End

Reflections, Echoes, and the Mechanical Shark: Part 2—Trick or B and E

Reflections Echoes and the Mechanical SharkContinued from: Reflections, Echoes, and the Mechanical Shark: Part 1—Martha’s Price

They shot into the backyard in a crouching run—dressed in camouflage and all black, even painting their faces. They told their parents that they were trick-or-treating as commandos. Reaching the Price house, they sat beneath a window. Other than crickets chirping in the surrounding bushes, the night was silent.

Phineas wondered what Cousin Jimmy was thinking about all this. Did he think Phineas was a bold hero or a stupid hoodlum? Judging from Jimmy’s reaction to the tale of Martha Price and her Poe-like demise, Phineas’s image was probably holding up just fine. Besides, what else would they be doing tonight? Actually go trick-or-treating? Watch horror movies and wait for their younger siblings to come home so they could steal their Halloween candy? No thanks. Phineas would rather go for, as his hero, Indiana Jones, once said, “Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.”

“Ready?” Phineas said to the other boys. No one answered.

Most kids on the island knew that the house’s windows were never locked, as if Martha wanted to encourage intruders. Peter gave Phineas a boost, and Phineas opened the window. The house gasped, as if letting out a breath it had been holding for centuries. Phineas peeked in the window. The room was empty. The full moon reflected across the floor and onto the far wall.

Phineas climbed in through the window, sliding over the sill and coming to rest, face first, on the floor.

The place smelled like death.

No. It smells like dust, he assured himself.

He climbed to his feet and surveyed the darkness. No glowing eyes in the room’s doorways. No maniacs charging from the dark with chainsaws. And no Martha.

Phineas popped his head back out the window. “Boo,” he said in a low voice.

His friends gasped. Phineas laughed. “C’mon,” he said.

One at a time, the other boys climbed into the room. They stood in silence, their eyes darting in the dim moonlight.

Phineas held up his hands in a halting manner. “Wait.” he said.

They all froze.

“Did you hear that?” Phineas said.

“No. What was it?” Ralph said.

“I farted,” Phineas said.

The other boys murmured curses.

Phineas pulled a flashlight from his backpack. “All right,” he said, clicking on the light, “I’m going to look around. Who’s coming?”

The other boys glanced at one another, none looking as if he was going to volunteer.

“Figures,” Phineas said. “Fine. You girls stay here and knit, I’ll check the place out.” He walked off with the flashlight’s beam bouncing before him.

Phineas stepped into a foyer, the moonlight spilling through windows like silver fog. Several rooms branched off from the room, and a sweeping stairway climbed into the darkness. The flashlight’s beam brought to life a strange sense of movement, dancing shadows and silhouettes. The shadow of the stairway’s globe-topped banister created an especially lifelike specter ascending and descending the steps.

Phineas peeked into the room to his left, flashing the beam of light across the walls, just to make sure there was no one in there. But there was someone in there, and Phineas’s gasp echoed in the darkness like a gale. On the room’s far side, he saw the fiery face of a glowing, pale specter that looked just like… him. It was Phineas’s own flashlight-lit image mirrored in glass. He pointed the beam at the glass doors of an inlaid hutch. He took a deep breath, scolding himself for almost screaming. He didn’t want to admit it, but it would have been a very girly scream at that, and it was a stupid reflection the whole time. The mechanical shark almost got the better of him, and for a moment, his own reflection had become Martha Price.

He scanned the rest of the room with his flashlight, careful not to look toward those glass doors again. He then returned to the foyer. He’d long envisioned finding his prize upstairs. Thinking long and hard of where the captain would have hid the brooch, Phineas had already ruled out the servant’s quarters—which was a large wing off the house’s vast kitchen. Phineas figured the captain would never trust such a treasure in a place where the hired help could stumble upon it—accidently or otherwise. And for that matter, Phineas could rule out the kitchen, too. The two places Phineas thought most likely the brooch’s final resting place—final, that is, until he found it—were the captain’s study and the master bedroom. Phineas and his friends had actually entered the house by the study, so he figured he’d check there later, should his search upstairs prove futile. Besides, he didn’t want to go poking around the study with his friends there only to have to slink into the other rooms empty-handed if it wasn’t there. He wanted a flare for dramatics. To return triumphantly with the brooch.

Phineas stepped forward to the stairs’ bottom step. He paused a moment, and then began to climb the stairway, stopping a few times, pushing the lingering shock of the dining room from his mind, assuring himself that it had only been a reflection of himself in glass, and that the sounds behind him now were just echoes of his own footfalls. There was no ghost in the dining room, and there was not someone following him up the stairs. He glanced back over his shoulder, whispering, “Just reflections and echoes.”

His heart was pounding, and his arms and legs felt weak. He suddenly wanted to run. He wanted to get out of the house. He wanted to…

He stopped. Stopped his footfalls up the steps. Stopped his spinning thoughts. Would Indiana Jones be scared by reflections and echoes? No way. Nothing’s supposed to get in the way of one’s quest for fortune and glory—not reflections, or echoes, or dart-blowing natives and face-melting Nazis. And certainly not the mechanical shark. Suck it up, buttercup. After all, he’d already proved his muster by winning other adventurous bets. Like camping a night in the supposedly haunted Parson’s Woods, or staring into the Old Stone Church’s stained glass window—which everyone (everyone who is dumb, that is) knows can steal the souls of children and adults alike. This was no different. There were no ghosts in the haunted woods, and no stolen souls in the Stone Church’s stained glass windows. And the reason why was because there are no ghosts, period. Phineas took a deep breath, slowing his heart, conjuring his strength back into his limbs, and he continued up the steps.

He reached the top of the stairway and slashed at the darkness with the flashlight. Countless doorways sneered in the dancing light like the snouts of snarling dogs. He started down the hall, shadows scurrying into corners, the light from his flashlight refracting off curtains of dust. The house was breathing, he was sure of it. It was all around him, whispering, echoed breaths.

A doorway waited at the end of the hall like the opening of a crypt. Phineas continued to creep down the hall toward the room he imagined to be the Price’s master bedroom. He reached the end of the hallway and he peered into the room, dueling the dark with his flashlight. The light caught hold of nothing but far off walls and the wood floor of a sprawling abode. Phineas entered the darkness like a boot sinking into deep mud. He walked around the space, imagining where furniture would have been—a dresser, a wardrobe, a bed where Captain Price entertained his young bride. And she entertained the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker. Phineas’s footfalls were as careful as a stalking leopard’s.

Clack-clack.

Phineas stopped.

He rewound his steps. Then, very slowly, he stepped forward again,

Clack

leaning all his weight forward,

Clack.

There was a hollow, rattling sound where a floorboard shifted.

Clack-clack.

Phineas set the flashlight on the floor, and he clawed at the board with both hands. The board didn’t budge. But a great adventurer wouldn’t have come unprepared for such an obstacle. Indy had his bullwhip, and revolver, and Stetson hat, and what adventurer would be worth his weight without his trusty knife? Phineas retrieved his jackknife from his backpack, unfolding its blade with a click. He pried at the edge of the board, reaching with his fingers to lift it, but it fell back into place. Undaunted, he dug with his blade again, the board’s edge lifting, his fingers finding a purchase, and he was able to remove the board from its place in the floor. He shined the light into the opening.

And there it was. The tiny ivory profile of a woman. Phineas rubbed his fingers together, licked his lips, and he carefully retrieved his treasure. Fortune and glory was his. He would become as much of a legend as Martha Price herself. He stood silent a moment. The house was quiet, even its echoed breathing seeming to cease. The house didn’t seem to know, or care, that he had removed its most hallowed treasure. The flashlight’s beam gave the illusion of movement to the cameo. Or was the figure actually moving? Were the stories about the brooch true? Would it talk to him at any moment?

Yeah right, Phineas Wilkes snorted with a sly grin.

He couldn’t wait to see the look on Steven Mitchner’s face, and the rest of the sixth grade’s faces, when he produced Martha Price’s lost brooch. And maybe, just maybe, he’d tell them that it was moving, and that it did speak. Phineas froze, cocking his head, his hand tightening on the brooch. He held his breath, listening. Something knocked, far off, in another part of the house. A steady thumping. Perhaps a wayward trick-or-treater. Or more likely his idiot friends downstairs. They were either trying to scare him, or trying to signal him for some reason. Maybe someone was coming. Whatever the reason, it was time to go. For one thing, he had his prize, and for another, if those knuckleheads downstairs weren’t causing the thumping themselves, then he’d have to get them out of there before they scared themselves so badly that their underwear would never come clean.

Continued in: Reflections, Echoes, and the Mechanical Shark: Part 3—Bumps in the Night

Reflections, Echoes, and the Mechanical Shark: Part 1—Martha’s Price

Martha's PricePhineas Wilkes said, “Martha Price was a mean tyrant of a bitch that was married to a sea captain in the 1800’s.” Phineas began this tale of Martha Price to his cousin, Jimmy, who was visiting Phineas’s family at their Mystic Island home. Phineas, Jimmy, and Phineas’s two friends, Ralph and Peter, sat on Bishop’s Beach. Peter ate chocolate-covered donuts from a cellophane package. Ralph threw rocks at an empty iced-tea bottle discarded on the sand. It was Halloween, and Phineas thought it the perfect time for a good ole fashioned ghost story. “The captain really loved her,” Phineas said, “like, obsessively. But she was a real harpy. Let’s just say, she was not the most faithful of wives. She cheated on him, stole from him, and some say she even murdered their infant son just to spite him. Even though it probably wasn’t even his kid in the first place,” he added, his voice drenched in the solemn tone of the tale, his eyes gleaming like the dying sunlight reflecting off the ocean’s water.  “Anyway, Captain Price was in one of those, can’t live with’er, can’t live without’er situations, so he killed her, and walled away good ole Martha in their sitting room.”

“What do you mean, walled away?” Jimmy said.

“He made a place in the wall and sealed her in there,” Phineas said.

“I heard she wasn’t even dead when he did it,” Ralph said.

Peter swallowed an oversized bite of donut and said, “I heard that, too. I heard the captain knocked her out, and when she woke, she was in the wall. She died screaming and pounding, and Captain Price just sat there, drinking whiskey until she finally stopped trying to claw her way out.”

“Now she haunts the place,” Ralph said, nodding like a bobble-head doll.

“That’s right,” Phineas said, nodding his head as well. Phineas may have nodded in agreement with his friend, but Phineas did not actually agree with his friend. Oh sure, Phineas believed the tale of Captain Price’s revenge on his young bride’s… ahem, indiscretions. If Phineas didn’t believe the story, he wouldn’t be planning what he planned to do that night. But Phineas laughed at the idea of Martha Price’s tortured spirit searching for peace in the walls of the Old Price House. He laughed at most dumb ghost stories. And Martha’s ghost was among the dumbest. No one would even live in the Price House.  A beautiful, huge Victorian house and nobody even wanted the place. Homeowner after homeowner was frightened off by the tale of murder and the bumps and groans of their new home. But Phineas knew that the people were just scaring themselves, turning the bumps and groans, known to any old house settling, into Martha Price. It was like the movie, Jaws. When it came out, it scared people so badly that some stopped swimming all together. Millions of people turning a silly mechanical shark into an intense phobia.

Well, not him, not Phineas Wilkes, no way. He wouldn’t turn bumps in the night or mechanical sharks into anything. And if Martha Price was walled up in that old house, she’d stay there. Why? Because she was dead, that’s why. And then he’d win the bet. Steve Mitchner betting that Phineas couldn’t find the lost brooch of Martha Price. Mitchner offering up his custom Haro GT bike as stakes. Phineas figured that over the years, countless kids had snuck into the house trying to find the brooch, but they were all turned back, fleeing from the imagined presence of the brooch’s one true owner. But that’s all it was: an imagined presence. Phineas could probably convince half his class to stay away from Lyme Street by telling them disease-carrying ticks infested the bushes. Why do you think they named it Lyme Street? And that’s all they’d need to never walk down that street again.

Phineas decided he was going into the Price House that night. And somehow, he talked Ralph and Peter into being his witnesses and lookouts. And Cousin Jimmy? Cousin Jimmy was just along for the ride, and a killer ghost story to tell his friends back home.

“Anyway,” Phineas said, “Martha wore this brooch. You know, like the ones that are brown and white with a profile of a lady on it.”

“A cameo,” Peter said.

“Yeah, one of them,” Phineas said. “Anyway, after Captain Price killed Martha, he carried that brooch around with him. Some say he even talked to it, thinking Martha’s soul was trapped in it.”

Cousin Jimmy’s Adam’s apple bounced in his neck.

“Well, good ole Captain Price went mad,” Phineas said, “and when the authorities came to take him away, he hid that brooch somewhere in the house, once again sealing Martha’s soul for eternity.”

“Wow,” Jimmy said.

Phineas smiled, satisfied with his cousin’s reaction.

“I heard that when he talked to the brooch, it talked back to him,” Ralph said.

“Wow,” Phineas’s cousin said again.

Phineas let the story hang in the darkening beach’s quiet. He looked out at the waves under the violet sky and said, “I’m going after that brooch tonight.”

Continued in: Reflections, Echoes, and the Mechanical Shark: Part 2—Trick or B and E