Continued from: The Old Stone Church: Part 1—The Church
“Does the bell ring every hour?” Holly asked. She glanced at the church nestled into landscape, not so far in the distance.
“Mostly. But some will tell you that it rings when it wants to,” E.B. Richardson answered. This was the first time that Holly saw the playful twinkle leave the old woman’s eyes.
Holly cocked her head, about to say something, but instead, she scribbled the woman’s statement in her notebook. Holly said to the old woman, “Again, I really appreciate this, Ms. Richardson.”
“Please, call me Betty,” the old writer said.
Holly Harwich sat on E.B. Richardson’s front porch. The rocking chair she sat in was angled slightly toward the famous children’s book writer’s own rocking chair. Both chairs were angled so that they could see the Stone Church in the distance.
“Okay, Betty,” Holly said with a smile and playful twinkle in her own eyes. “Well, again, I thank you for talking with me. I can’t tell you how much of an honor it is to speak with you. My mother used to read your books to me when I was a little girl. My favorite children’s books were Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale and The Goblin’s Song.” Holly grinned shyly, saying, “I was a bit of a late-bloomer, and I totally identified with Belinda the Elf’s plight for self-fulfillment.”
“That is sweet,” Betty said. “I’m very glad you enjoyed them.”
Holly smiled shyly again and said, “Anyway, with that out of the way, I was told that you would be able to spin the most accurate and interesting tale about the StoneChurch.”
“Well, my dear,” Betty said, “I have to tell you, most people on the island can tell you the history of the church, but to get true accuracy, you need to speak with Nathan.”
“Oh, I intend to,” Holly said, “But I feel there may be family prejudices involved in his account of things.”
“And I would most likely bring my own prejudices to the story, I’m afraid.”
“Well, I understand your friendship with Nathan may give you pause, but I also feel your loyalty to him will make you want this story to be accurate.”
“You seem like a bright girl, Ms. Harwich,” Betty said. Holly wondered why the twinkle was absent from the woman’s eyes again.
“Please, call me Holly.”
“Okay, then, you seem like a bright girl, Holly. And a nice girl. I’m not quite sure why you would want to write this book.”
“It’s an amazing story. Even you have to admit that.”
“No, I don’t,” Betty Richardson said, a little dreamily. “The church has its history, as all old buildings do. But this building, as with all old buildings with history, is not haunted. When something is around long enough, bad things happen surrounding it. The church is not haunted. It’s old. And the Stone family is not cursed. Just unlucky.”
“Well, then, Betty, I want to write this book because I am a writer, and this is a story to be told.”
“Fair enough,” Betty said. “Just know that some rabbit holes aren’t meant to go down, but seeing as you seem persistent, and it’s better you get correct information from me than legend and conjecture from others, I will do my best to help you.”
“Thank you, Betty,” Holly said with her own twinkling eyes. “Maybe we can just start with a simple background of the church.”
“Well, why don’t we start with you telling me everything you know about the church’s history,” Betty said.
Holly looked down at her notebook and flipped through the pages, saying, “Well, I only know what has been written, I want to get deeper into…”
“Just tell me what you know so far,” Betty said, “So that I know what gaps need filling.”
“Okay,” Holly said. “Well, I know The Old Stone Church was erected in 1872, built with stones from Damon’s Point.” Holly paused and said, “Now is it Damon’s Point or Demon’s Point? I heard it referred to as both.”
Betty smiled, “It is Damon’s Point, named after Captain Charles Donaldson Damon, whose ship, The Dutch Horse, wrecked off the island’s coast, but residents call it Demon’s Point. Some claim it was known as Demon’s Point before Damon’s Point. The native tribe to this area called it Mahìngan or Windigo. I believe one is their word for wolf, the other a spirit. I’m a little rusty on my Algonquin. And, like Demon versus Damon, another favorite blissful confusion for the town’s folk is that no one is quite sure if the Stone Church was named for the church’s building material, or for the surname of its builder.”
“So, it was Harold Stone that built the church,” Holly said, confirming a fact she obviously already knew.
Holly was hoping that Betty would pick up the story’s reigns here, but Betty simply responded, “Correct.” There was a brief silence. Betty said, “Continue.”
Holly said, “Harold built the church and he built the Stone family’s house next door to the church. Now, I’ve heard both the Stone family’s house and The Price House called the Stone House.”
Betty said, “Often, people confuse The Price House with the Stone’s house because The Price House was built using the same Demon’s Point stones as the church. Whereas the Stone family’s house is a wooden structure. For this reason, sometimes The Price House is referred to as The Stone House. There is much to Mystic Island’s history that is confusing. But go on with what you were saying, dear.”
Holly referred back to her notes, saying, “Harold was known around town as being very wealthy, and very eccentric. ‘Odd,’ was the word most often used for him. And, subsequently, odd would be the word used to describe most of the Stone Church’s caretakers throughout the years. Harold was also a perfectionist, another trait held by the rest of the Stone family. Harold wanted the best of everything, and he had the money to do so. The family had made their fortune building ships throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and his need for perfection could be seen in the way he built his church. From having every stone brought from Damon’s Point, to the wooden pews being imported from Germany. And he had the two stain glass windows that adorn the church imported from England. They had belonged to a 16th Century church that had burned down in 1871. The windows having miraculously survived the fire.”
“Miraculously?” Betty said.
“Well, yes,” Holly said. “They say there was no way that lead glass could have survived such heat, and that it was either miraculous or supernatural that the windows did not perish in the fire.”
“My dear,” Betty said, “We are going to deal with facts here, not legends. The windows survived the fire by luck or coincidence. You understand that?”
For a moment, the old woman’s face was set stone, and Holly said to the old woman, her voice low and penitent, “Yes, ma’am.”
“Good,” the old woman said, her features softening. She said, “Please, continue.”
“Okay,” Holly said. “Well, Harold’s odd behavior became odder and more alarming throughout the years, until, in 1893, at the age of 70, Harold was found cowering in a dark corner of his house. His body was trembling and his skin cold, and he gripped rosary beads with white knuckles. He died two days later, and it is said that the undertakers had to break his fingers to extract the rosary beads.” She looked at the old woman to confirm she had this part of the tale correct.
The old writer just nodded.
Holly paused a moment and then continued. “Despite the unspoken rivalry between churches, Harold’s son, James, buried his father in the St. Sebastian’s Church cemetery. And then James moved his own family into the Stone House, immediately taking over his father’s fortune, business, and duties as caretaker of the church. This did not bode well with James’s brother, Noah, although Noah never would have wanted to be caretaker of the church. Noah went on to start the Stone and Weston Law Firm.” Holly added, “I am familiar with the firm. I had to go through Vincent Stone to get permission for the book.”
“Mmm,” Betty hummed, allowing the sound alone to indicate her opinion for Vincent.
Holly continued. “So, it turns out that James, aside from several personal scandals in his past—including a supposed tryst with Martha Price, among other things—didn’t have much luck with the church. Some of the most tragic moments of the church’s history befalling his tenure as caretaker. Among the tragedies was the incident in 1899 when several people were injured in the church during a massive brawl that broke out during a sermon. And there was the famous jail-break, when the three men that had escaped from Springback Prison, and caused days of carnage, had all claimed a sinister force in the church had compelled them to commit their crimes. And, most tragic of all, James’s own five year old grandson, Benjamin, was found dead lying before the church’s alter. There was varied speculation as to how the boy died, or even got into the locked church, but at the time, the medical examiner swore the boy died of natural causes.”
“That is true,” Betty said.
Silence hung between the two women. Holly thought maybe the old woman was going to pick up the reigns of the story again. But she didn’t.
Holly asked, “Benjamin was James’s daughter’s son. Correct?”
“Yes. His daughter Carol,” Betty said.
More silence hung between them. When the silence became too deep, Holly said, “So, then James died in the Stone House two days after his grandson’s funeral, and his son Frederick took over the duties of the church.” She paused, reading through her notes. She said, “In 1922, Fredrick’s youngest son, Harold, began showing strange behavior, especially whenever he was in the church. Harold was sent to Mystic Mercy’s Ward 6. And at the ripe old age of fourteen, he leapt from his hospital room’s window, impaling himself on a wrought iron fence.” She paused.
“That is true,” the writer said, but then said nothing more.
Holly continued, “Well, it was now said around town that the Stones were doomed. Fredrick died when he fell off the Mystic Island Bridge, although most said he jumped, seeing as days earlier his daughter had hung herself, naming Fredrick as her sexual assailant in her suicide note. So it was now up to Fredrick Jr. to take over the church. And Fredrick Jr. was very well respected. He never married and had no children. He was quiet, but described as very friendly and helpful, and generally in good cheer. So it was a shock to most when he was found hanging from the rafters of the church’s high ceiling. Most marveled at how he was even able to have climbed up there to do it, seeing there was no ladder found at the scene, making the medical examiner’s finding of suicide greatly debated around the island. The church was somewhat abandoned for several years, until Fredrick Jr.’s nephew Nathan came of age and chose to become the new and current caretaker of the facility.”
“That is right,” Betty said.
Holly said, “I understand that Nathan has his uncle’s reputation and disposition. But several people around the island are waiting for the Stone Curse to grab him.” Holly paused, waiting for some reaction from Betty. None came. “That’s what the islanders call this series of mishaps. ‘The Stone Curse.’ And there is much argument as to whether the family is cursed with some genetic mental or physical problem, or if the curse is supernatural in nature. There are those that say the stained glass windows of the church are haunted, and if you stare into them long enough, they will steal your soul. There is another legend that the pews were salvaged from one of Vlad the Impaler’s temples, and that the wood’s stain was rendered with the ash and blood of his victims. Others say the stain was rendered from the ashes of burnt witches.”
Holly stopped. E.B Richardson’s eyes now looked as if incapable of ever holding any twinkle, or any kind of friendliness at all. But still, the writer smiled and said, “Well, dear, it already sounds like you have all the information you need for an entertaining book.”
Holly said, “So, I guess I’m hoping you will fill in the gaps. Everyone said that you know the most about the church.”
“I’m afraid I have nothing more to offer you. The Stone family is not cursed. Some of them were just unlucky, or bad natured, or both. And as far as the windows being haunted or the pews being cursed, that has about the same validity as my fairy tales.”
“So there is nothing more you can offer me, even on a personal note about Nathan?”
“Nathan is my good friend. And as for any personal notes on his character, you’ll be able to determine that when you meet him. You’re better off, I think, to just leave this story alone,” Betty said.
The women sat in silence for a moment. That silence was broken when the church’s bell rang out one distinct gong.
To Be Continued