The brownstone was more than one hundred and fifty years old, standing between two others in a block of rowhouses in Chelsea, just north of Boston, sad and decrepit. The adjoining houses were in better shape, having been renovated a decade or so ago. The house wasn’t cheap, but it had incredible potential. We bought it, Meg and me. We’d been married almost three years then. She was still in law school, and I was a resident in Emergency Medicine at Mass General. The brownstone was ideal. But first we had to make it livable. It had been unoccupied for years. The realtor never did say why.
For weeks we labored every spare minute, cleaning out debris on the first floor, just to make a space so that we could live in. Once we had a kitchen, a bedroom, and a functioning bathroom, we moved in. For the next year we poured time and money into the three-story building. Actually, there were five floors, if you counted the basement and the attic.
One Sunday afternoon, I was battling the aged and obsolete plumbing and wiring on the third floor. A back room had a balcony over a tiny backyard. I wanted to make the entire third floor into the master bedroom suite, including a sybaritic bathroom complete with huge sunken tub, and huge shower. The view from the bed would overlook the back wall, someday festooned with climbing roses, giving a glimpse of the Boston skyline.
As I was bludgeoning my way through walls and removing pipes that were out of spec before Moses was born, I found an old tin box stuck in the wall. I had a hell of a time getting it out. It was about eleven by fourteen inches by five inches, and it was heavy. Together Meg and I manhandled it out into the daylight. The wall studs were barely wide enough to get it out. Anderson’s Biscuits was written in flowing black script across the pastoral scene on the lid.
After wiping off the dust and spider webs and accumulated desiccated insect bodies, I pried it open. Inside there were seven thin, blue fabric bound volumes, all identical. I opened one at random and found it to be a diary. Spidery handwriting took up each page. A quick check confirmed they’d all been written by the same person. Fascinated, I wanted to stop right then and read them, but Meg gave me a look that said I’d better get back to work.
Later that night while Meg lay snoring gently beside me, I pulled out the box and examined my prizes. Finding them dated, I went to the earliest and started reading.
April 17, 1909, My name is Ingrid Johannsen and I have lived in this house all my life. I was born in the kitchen, a few minutes before my mother died. She was nineteen years old, immigrated from Sweden in 1896, sponsored by Arthur Samuels, whose house this is. She was an indentured servant, although they don’t call them that anymore. But the Samuels brought her to America, paid her way, and took her into their house as a servant. She owed them a lot of money. My poor mother never got the chance to be free. I was born in 1899 and am now ten years old. I don’t know who my father was.
April 20, 1909, The cook, Emilda, told me once that when Mother died and left me an orphan, Mr. Samuels was all for sending me to the orphanage on Washington Street in the South End. But Mrs. Samuels said no. She had a daughter not yet six months old and wanted to keep me as a playmate and servant for Elizabeth. In one sense I was lucky. For had I gone to the orphanage, I would have learned about sewing and knitting and household duties. At age twelve I would have been placed in a private home to be trained as a servant. Growing up with Elizabeth Samuels, I have been taught to read and write. I love reading. There is a library on the third floor, but I will go through all the books in It soon. I shall go mad if I have nothing to read. I suppose I could go back and reread the ones I’ve finished, but I want new adventures, new stories, new information. Our teacher, Mr. Sanderson, says I am very advanced for my age.
May 6, 1909, One of my favorite chores is taking care of the beehives. Elizabeth won’t go near them, but the little creatures like me. I put on white coveralls and a hat with a veil on it and I collect the honey. I think the bees sense when I am coming to check the hives. They come out and dance around me. I get to eat a little bit of the honey before I bring it in the house.
My eyes drooped and I put away the diaries. The next two weeks went past in a flurry of work and exhaustion. I was on call in the hospital every other night, covering for another resident. I had no time for anything else but work and sleep. When I pulled out Ingrid’s diaries again, I read a couple of entries each night, most of which dealt with life in the Samuels’ household and the daily routine. Much of the time she was treated as one of the family. Sitting at Elizabeth’s side, Ingrid absorbed knowledge like a sponge. She developed an obsession with the written word and read everything she could reach in the household library, (which I discovered was in the room with the balcony). She read literature, poetry, history, and whatever books were available dealing with the sciences and mathematics. Since her room was in the attic, she habitually sneaked down to the library every night for books. She salvaged the daily newspapers from the garbage whenever she could and read those as well. She begged her teacher, Mr. Sanderson, for more books and he obliged her, lending her books he had acquired over time.
Then came this entry.
July 7, 1909, I must write this down. It will be painful.
Elizabeth and I are usually obedient. Or at least I was. Elizabeth is the youngest child, a girl in a family of boys, who are all grown now, and she is spoiled. Very spoiled. She thinks she is a princess in her own little kingdom. But I thought we were close friends. I know that I have special privileges because of Elizabeth.
One morning a week ago, we had been playing hide-and-go-seek in her father’s closet, when the door opened and the man himself loomed over us. He was supposed to be at his office or we would never have dared to enter his bedroom. He looked down at Elizabeth and frowned. As he opened his mouth to scold her, I stepped out from behind his fine beaver coat and stood beside her.
I took the blame in a whisper, terrified, but I thought it was the right thing to do. Elizabeth stared at me, surprised. Mr. Samuels also stared at me a moment, then rang the bell for his valet. Branson appeared instantly, as if he’d been just outside.
Mr. Samuels waved at me vaguely and told Branson to take me and punish me. He dragged Elizabeth into his study.
Branson regarded me coldly. Then he grabbed my wrist and pulled me along behind him. Down the stairs and outdoors to the garden shed. There he shoved me inside, in the dark, and he came in after me.
Branson’s voice was cold as he said he’d kill me if I screamed or ever told anyone. Then his hands were on me and I whimpered. He slapped me.
He pulled off my clothes, threw me to the filthy floor and raped me. I tried to get away, but he punched me in the stomach and I threw up. I cried quietly until it was over. I will never forget the smell of his disgusting breath or the feel of his greasy hands. I don’t want to write anything more.
I leaned back against my pillow and stared at my half-painted wall, horrified. I went several days without reading the diaries after that. Partly because I was busy, but mostly because I wasn’t sure I could face reading more. Meg was reading them too, but we hadn’t discussed them. Somehow it seemed a very private thing. Just between me and Ingrid. As if I were the only person in the world she wanted to confide in. Finally, one night I picked up where I had left off.
July 15, 1909, Mr. Samuels saw me as Branson dragged me back into the house that day. Blood was running down my legs onto the floor. He stopped us, looking shocked and demanded to know what he had done to me.
Branson smirked when he said he’d punished me his own way.
Mr. Samuels stared at him, then told him that if I should die, Branson was out of a job. He was ordered to take me to Mrs. Tranberg, the housekeeper, and never to touch me again.
Branson seemed taken aback by this, but he only nodded and pulled me off to the servants’ quarters. Mrs. Tranberg had never been particularly friendly to me. I think she resented the position I enjoyed as Elizabeth’s companion. I won’t say friend here. Not anymore. After Mrs. Tranberg had cleaned me up and put me to bed, Elizabeth came to see me. She wanted to know about my ‘punishment’. I lay still, facing the wall and said nothing. After a while she said that I shouldn’t have talked her into playing in the closet, although she had been the one to drag me in. And then she left.
The bleeding continued for hours, but eventually stopped. Afterward I developed a fever and was sick for days. I don’t remember much of the next week, except that Mrs. Tranberg seemed to be there every time I woke up. I don’t think Elizabeth was there even once.
I woke up last night. It was dark except for an oil lamp next to my desk where Mrs. Tranberg sat reading. I called her name. She came to me, concern, and relief in her face, her eyes soft and kind, asking how I felt.
I was shocked by the warmth in her eyes and voice. I could never remember feeling cared for before. She told me I’d been very sick but was getting better.
And she was right. I am feeling better. I know I should be shamed by the rape, but all I am is angry.
When Meg and I finally talked about the diaries, the difference in our attitudes astounded me. I found the story heartbreaking. She only considered it fascinating. She couldn’t consider that it was real – that it had actually happened. To her it was a novel, fiction. Or at least it had happened so long ago that it had no bearing on us, on now. I was obsessed by the story.
She looked at me with those bright blue eyes, brushing an errant brown curl back behind her ear. “You always want to help people. Here is this little girl in horrible trouble that you cannot help. And it’s tearing you up. Now either stop reading the damn diaries or put up some walls between her and you. And I don’t want to hear about her again.”
With that she kissed me and went off to school.
I tried staying away from Ingrid for a week but found that I needed to know what was happening in her life.
August 15, 1909, Mr. Samuels caught me coming out of the library in the middle of the night. The master bedroom is right across the hall. He was very angry, wanting to know why I was sneaking around in the middle of the night. I said I just wanted to get a book to read. He grabbed the book I had selected, a collection of poems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and looked at it and then at me.
Holding the book up, he stared at me. He asked why Tennyson and, surprised, I answered that I liked him.
There was a trace of a smile on his face, something I had never seen before, when he admitted that he liked the poet, too.
We were at the bottom of the stairs that led to the attic. Mr. Samuels sat down on the stairs, and we talked about poetry. His favorites were Byron and Shelley, while I loved Wordsworth. I don’t know how long we talked, but later, he stood up and groaned as if his back hurt, saying that he had to go back to bed. He told me that I could read any book in the library that I wanted. After a hesitation he said he was sorry about Branson and disappeared into his suite.
Further entries told of the deterioration of the relationship between the two girls.
Elizabeth started going out to parties at the homes of people in the same social class as the Samuels, and Ingrid, of course, was not invited. Elizabeth would come home excited and talk endlessly of dresses and shoes and hair styles. Ingrid was bored and Elizabeth became annoyed by her inattention. They squabbled frequently.
February 12, 1910, This afternoon Elizabeth and I were fighting again. We had been shouting at each other when Mrs. Samuels appeared and grabbed my arm. She yanked me away, screaming into my face that Elizabeth was my mistress, that I was a servant and must never, ever raise my voice to her again.
I hung my head, crying.She grabbed my chin and forced me to look at her, snarling that I had been warned.
Then she grabbed Elizabeth by the arm and dragged her off.
I am still crying as I write this. I don’t know what to do. I will have to be careful about what I say. But what if I lose my temper?
That was the end of the first volume.
The holidays came and with them came a tide of pneumonia, influenza, heart attacks, and bleeding ulcers at the hospital. I worked long hours and Meg was studying for finals. We barely saw each other. Work on the house stopped. And I read no more of the diaries.
Two days after Christmas I was studying in the kitchen, unable to sleep. Starting to get drowsy, the text no longer making sense, I heard a humming noise. Looking up, I noticed that the basement door was slightly open. I could hear the roar of the old furnace down below, but above that was a hum, like a distant swarm of bees. Shivering, I crossed to the door and started to close it when I noticed two red lights at the bottom of the stairs. I couldn’t remember anything down there, so I flipped the light switch. There was just the basement – nothing with red lights. I
stood for a long moment regarding the empty stairwell, then shrugged and went to bed.
The load at the hospital began to lighten up after Christmas – fewer sick people, fewer admissions. I went back to reading the diaries. The next several entries were few and far between and spoke of the growing estrangement between Ingrid and Elizabeth. Apparently, Mrs. Samuels had stressed the importance of keeping strict divisions between the classes because Elizabeth became more aloof, treating Ingrid like a servant. Ingrid’s words in the diaries were angry and resentful.
March 3, 1910, I HATE ELIZABETH! She’s being so nasty to me. “Get me this and get me that and run downstairs to see if lunch is ready.” The worst of it is that she’s enjoying it. I always knew she could be mean. But now she’s not trying to cover it up. I am trying to behave as Mrs. Samuels said. But it is so hard.
May 30, 1910, I tried an experiment today. I went out to the beehives without my white clothes and veiled hat. The bees were there to greet me as usual, swarming around me. I opened the hives and started to collect the honey. They landed on my arms, my dress, my hair, everywhere. I just moved slowly so as not to disturb them. It was like they were dancing on me. I could feel their tiny feet moving, tickling. Then when I was finished, I told them I had to go inside and they all lifted off me, circling around a couple of times, then went back into the hives.
The diaries were full of anger and resentment that she could only express in secret. Her one ally, Mrs. Tranberg had been sent away at the end of November with a ‘wasting disease’. From Ingrid’s description, I suspect the woman had tuberculosis.
December 22, 1910, Branson nearly caught me alone today. I have been careful to avoid him since last year but have seen him looking at me when we’re in the same room. I know he wants to do it again. There’s no one I can turn to. Mrs. Tranberg is gone. Mr. Samuels is rarely here. I’m all by myself.
The next entry was nearly six months later.
May 3, 1911, Branson forced the door to the attic in February and raped me again. He threatened to kill me if I told anyone. But who would I tell? The only one I can think of who might believe me is Mr. Samuels. I have no proof. It would be my word against Branson’s. I have reinforced my door. I stole an old padlock I found in a kitchen drawer and a chain from the cellar. He has tried to get in again several times, but without success. I will have to do something. But what?
The rest of that volume dealt with her resentment of her treatment in the Samuels household and her terror of Branson and many entries about her only friends – the bees. Elizabeth continued to distance herself from her former friend. Mrs. Hathaway, the new housekeeper, started instructing Ingrid in her duties.
November 5, 1911, Mrs. Hathaway handed me the dust cloths and mop and told me to clean the dining room today. I worked at it for an hour and went to report to her. She inspected and found fault with everything and made me do it all over again. When she made me do it a third time, I yelled at her and she slapped me. I cannot live here like this. I have read of other lives. Surely there is a place for me somewhere? The only friends I have here are bees.
The entries were heart rending as Ingrid slipped farther and farther into herself and began living a fantasy life.
January 15, 1912, The games Elizabeth and I used to play, I now play by myself. I pretend I am a princess, kidnapped by foul miscreants and forced to do hard labor or be whipped and starved. I know that I will be rescued and find a handsome prince because that is the way stories are supposed to end and if I believe in the prince and the happy ending enough, maybe it will come true. Please?
Spring had come to Boston and flowers were everywhere. The first floor of the house was totally remodeled with living room, dining room, kitchen and bath. We had moved the temporary bedroom up to the second floor, which would eventually be a study/ library/ office for the two of us and two bedrooms, ideal for children with a bathroom between the bedrooms.
One evening I was studying when Meg called out to me hoarsely. I found her in the kitchen, back against the wall opposite the cellar door. Pale and shaking, she pointed at the open door. I saw nothing until I went to the head of the stairs. There at the bottom were two red lights that winked out as I watched. Somewhere a humming stopped.
I slammed the door and got Meg to a chair. “What was it?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Red eyes. They were coming up the stairs!”
I searched the basement but found nothing. Meg was upset for a while, but then I think she began to realize that she had been exhausted and maybe the eyes were just the product of her exhaustion. I didn’t mention the red lights I had seen.
March 2, 1913, He caught me again today. I have been so careful not to go into the cellar when he’s around. Today Mr. Samuels went to Worchester on business and I thought that Branson had gone with him. Midmorning I went down to the cellar to gather some cleaning supplies. I opened the door to the supply closet and he grabbed me from behind and forced me inside. His hand was over my mouth, and I bit it. He swore and threw me down and I began screaming, but he kicked me in the head, and I knew no more for a time. When I came to, he was astride me, grunting. I hit at him and tried to fight, but he is much bigger and stronger. He smacked me across the face and grasped my wrists tightly in one hand while he finished. When he was getting off me, I tried to kick him in the crotch, but only managed to strike his knee. He grabbed my ankle and twisted it until I thought it would break. Kneeling beside me, he slapped me again and threatened to kill me if I talked.
Mrs. Samuels saw me as I dragged myself up the stairs. Branson had just come up a moment before. She must have seen him. She asked what had happened to me. I told her I had fallen down the stairs. She looked at me, at my filthy dress and apron, at my battered face. Then she looked at the door Branson would have used to leave the house.
Staring back at me with a smirk on her face, she told me to get cleaned up before I served dinner. And she turned away.
I am going to kill him.
That night I tossed and turned. I finally got up about 2 AM and went downstairs for a glass of milk and some cereal. I was just sitting down at the new kitchen table when the cellar door flew open. A cold wind with a foul odor blew from the stairwell. The sound of bees filled the air. Two red lights burned in the blackness at the top of the stairs.
“Ingrid?” My voice quavered.
The lights and the sounds disappeared. I found myself staring at the closed cellar door, my mouth hanging open. I had slopped cereal and milk all over the table and floor and myself and I hurriedly cleaned up while I brought my pounding heart and trembling hands under control.
Should I tell Meg? I was fairly certain that she would want to leave the brownstone. We had so much invested in the property that I could not see any way to leave. The financial crunch would be devastating. So, I decided that I had been half asleep and had just had a very vivid dream.
Should I destroy the diaries or finish reading them? I was well into the sixth book, with one more to go. I now knew Ingrid better than had anyone she had ever met. The changes in her were frightening. She was ‘now’ fourteen years old and had been raped multiple times by the monster, Branson. She detested the people she lived with and worked for with the possible exception of Mr. Samuels, although he never had another conversation with her. She was consumed with fear and hatred and kept making references to a plan.
April 3, 1913, My birthday was last week. No one noticed. Actually to be fair, Emilda, the cook, did fix me a rather special dinner that night with a little roast beef left over from the family’s dinner and an apple and even a bit of pudding for dessert. Emilda has always been kind to me. As if she were somehow responsible for me since I was born in her kitchen. I am ready to end my terror. I know what I must do. And soon – before he realizes that I am not just a frightened child.
The next two entries were of the usual sort, complaining that Elizabeth was insufferable with her constant nattering about the fashions at the girl’s private school she was going to. Ingrid’s access to a tutor had been cut off when Elizabeth started attending Mrs. Choates’ Day School for Young Ladies.
I wasn’t prepared for the next entry.
May 13, 1913, Since it was Tuesday, Branson had the day off. But he often stayed around on his days off to see if he could catch me. This morning I saw him at the top of the back stairs, waiting to see where I would go. I worked for a while in the kitchen until Emilda went out to the garden to pick lettuce.
Then I gathered up a basket and walked down the cellar stairs. I turned on the light that hangs just above the stairs, but otherwise the only light came through the windows near the ceiling on both sides.
The furnace was running, and I needed to shovel some coal in, it being a cold, rainy morning. I went directly to the coal bin, picked up the shovel, and waited. The roar of the furnace covered any other sound, but I could see him from the corner of my eye as he crept closer and closer. When he started his rush at me, I swung the shovel around in an arc that connected with his face. He tried to lift his arm up, but he wasn’t fast enough.
Falling back against the hot furnace, he screamed, but the roar of the flames covered his cries. I dropped the shovel and, pulling out the butcher knife from my basket, I stabbed him. His eyes grew round and wide as saucers. He opened his mouth in a large “O” but all that came out was blood, a flood of it. I yanked the knife free and stabbed him again and again and again. He stared at me as he died, as though he couldn’t quite believe it.
I bundled him up in an old blanket I had put down there next to the furnace. Most of the blood had erupted onto this. Then with great effort, I shoved and pushed and lifted him into the furnace. My bloody uniform went in next after I used it to wipe my hands and face. I quickly donned the one I had secreted there earlier. I slammed the door shut on Branson and let the fire have him. The flames leapt up and I could hear him sizzling. The smell would have been a problem, but Emilda and I were the only ones in the house and the smells in the kitchen were overpowering.
After cleaning up the blood, I climbed back up to the kitchen. I washed the knife and put it away. I felt quite faint for a time, but when Emilda came back in, red cheeked and sopping wet, I was able to help her off with her coat and take the lettuce to the sink for washing. I checked the furnace before the family was due home. There was some residue, but not much and I shoveled several loads of coal into the furnace’s hungry maw.
He’s gone. Forever. And I’m a murderer. But all I feel is relief. I’m not afraid tonight.
I sat stunned, unable to take in what she had written. Good God! What she had endured!
I was almost afraid to read more, but after a few days I had to know what had happened. I came home early and sat in the finished living room with the last diary. I have only reprinted a few of the entries.
June 1, 1913, Mr. Samuels was upset when Branson disappeared. He made inquiries, but nothing came of it. The household has quieted down again. I do my work and don’t complain. I am rereading some of the books from the library, since I have gone through every one of them now. And that is how I spend my time. I work and I read and I try to avoid sleeping. There does not seem to be anything else for me.
Killing Branson was horrible. My dreams – Oh, God! – my dreams! I am terrified of sleep. And being in the cellar fills me with dread, almost as if he were still down there.
June 19, 1913, I saw something yesterday down in the cellar. I have been very worried about going down there. The place gives me chills. But I cannot avoid it. In the afternoon I came down the stairs to get some canned goods for Emilda. I went around the furnace-giving it a wide berth and collected the cans. As I started back to the stairs, I saw two red lights in the midst of a darkness blacker than night. I ran, my heart in my throat. Now I am truly terrified of the cellar. What can I do?
July 30, 1913, Mrs. Samuels and Mrs. Hathaway have noticed that I’m not going into the cellar. I have seen the ghost – for that is what I believe it is – twice more now. The air becomes frigid, smelling of carrion, and I hear the sound of the wind in the trees. Then the red eyes appear. The thing hates me and I’m sure it’s Branson. I can feel the hatred radiating off it with the icy cold. Mrs. Hathaway has hit me several times to force me into fetching things. I cannot leave this place legally until I am eighteen. I am desperate.
September 7, 1913, Mrs. Hathaway is dead. It was an accident. We were arguing in the kitchen. She wanted me to fetch a bottle of wine for the family’s dinner from the stock in the cellar. I refused. I told her there was something horrible down there, but she didn’t care. She hit me and I pushed her away, and she fell backwards into the stairwell. I watched her tumble down the stairs. She hit the bottom and just lay there. I ran. Putting on my coat, I fled to the garden and was busily weeding when Emilda came out yelling that Mrs. Hathaway was dead. I don’t think anyone suspects me.
When I had finished reading that entry, I realized that I was crying. My poor, poor
Ingrid. What had life done to you?
December 23, 1913, Mrs. Samuels has gotten meaner and meaner. She makes me work harder than ever since Mrs. Hathaway died. They interview candidates for the position of housekeeper, but Mrs. Samuels finds fault with every single one. Meanwhile I work twelve to thirteen hours every day, until my legs shake with exhaustion, and I sometimes have to crawl up the attic stairs. I cannot go on this way.
December 25, 1913, Mrs. Samuels sent me to the cellar for a bottle of wine after dinner. I grabbed the bottle and turned to leave, but I felt an icy breath on my neck and heard the wind. I screamed and threw the bottle behind me, shattering it. The red eyes appeared, coming closer and closer. Wailing, I retreated. Mrs. Samuels’ voice came from the stairs, shrieking that I had broken the bottle, calling me stupid and careless. I nearly knocked her down racing past her to the kitchen. That thing is after me. I think it’s Branson – and maybe Mrs. Hathaway, too.
January 4, 1914, I collapsed on the dining room floor yesterday. I had been cleaning all day, preparing for a dinner party. While serving the main course, I fainted and dropped two plates. I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. I tried to get up. Mrs. Samuels was furious with me because I caused a scene, but Mr. Samuels told her to be quiet and picked me up. He carried me all the way to the attic and laid me on my bed. A short time after he left, Emilda came up with a dinner tray. I’m afraid to go downstairs. Mrs. Samuels will still be very angry.
I ran into Elizabeth on the stairs. She smirked at me. “Mother’s going to kick you out. She says you’re too incompetent and lazy to stay here. It’s too bad Branson’s not here. He would be happy to take you away.” And she sneered at me. I slapped her. She ran off to tell her mother.
I have returned to the attic. I will wait here for Mrs. Samuels.
Later – Elizabeth and Mrs. Samuels are dead . I have killed them. I waited for Mrs. Samuels in my attic room and stabbed her when she came in. I found Elizabeth in her room, trying on a new dress.
The dress is ruined now.
Mr. Samuels wasn’t here for which I am grateful. He went to New York on business and won’t be back for several days. And it’s Emilda’s day off.
I had to kill them. They hated me. Mrs. Samuels would have thrown me out. I had to protect myself. Didn’t I? The thing in the cellar worries me. I should block up the door.
I wrestled Mrs. Samuels’ and Elizabeth’s bodies down the stairs. Steeling my nerve, I grabbed Elizabeth by the hair, pulling her to the furnace. I picked her up and began to shove her into the fiery mouth, but it felt as if she were clinging to me, trying to pull me in with her. I yanked free of her grasp and, using the shovel, poked her until she was far enough in so that I could fit Mrs. Samuels.
Elizabeth’s eyes watched me as her face singed and sizzled.
Mrs. Samuels was easier to lift and thrust into the flames, but again I felt her hands grabbing at my clothes, trying to draw me in with her. Her mouth opened in a silent scream as the fire took her.
And then I heard the sound of the wind. When I felt ice on my neck and breathed the reek of death, I whirled around and the eyes were there. They seemed far off at first, but came speeding toward me, growing larger and brighter, twin meteors from Hell. The sound of the wind grew to a shriek. I fled back into the kitchen and slammed the door closed. Something slammed into the door from the other side. I backed away but the door crashed open. I flew up the stairs to the library. Barring the door will probably not save me. I hear a wind below me. It’s searching for me. The odor of death is getting stronger and the wind! I feel its icy fingers through the cracks in the door. Oh, God! I am lost.
I will put this volume with the others, in the biscuit box. There is a hole in the wall behind one of the bookcases where I hide these. If someone finds these, pray for me.
It is coming.
That was the last entry. I put the diary down and sat staring into space. Meg found me that way. She dragged me away from the diaries, threatening to burn them. We argued and she stormed into the kitchen. I followed.
“Meg,” I started, but something slammed into the cellar door from the other side, and the door shuddered and rattled. I grabbed Meg, shoving her behind me. The cellar door exploded open, wood splinters flying everywhere. An icy, stinking wind knocked us against the wall. We fell together. I heard Meg grunt in pain as I came down on top of her.
“Run, Meg! Get outside!” I yelled over the shrieks of the wind and the sounds of a huge swarm of bees.
Red eyes appeared in the stairwell.
Meg tried to rise, but doubled over, grabbing at her right side. Her eyes were wide as she stared at the stairwell. The eyes were coming closer. The wind howled and dishes on the counter crashed to the floor. Napkins took wing, flying into the darkness and vanishing. Pieces of broken dishes scraped along the floor and disappeared into the oily blackness that flowed out of the cellar door, red eyes in the center. Bees began flying around the kitchen, bumping into walls. My heart raced and sweat poured down my back despite the frigid air.
“Ingrid!” I called. “Ingrid! I know you will not harm us. Ingrid! Help us!”
The darkness seemed to hesitate, the wild wind calming slightly.
I whispered to Meg, “Get outside.” Instead, she grabbed my belt and pulled herself up to stand beside me, holding on to me tightly.
The blackness began to swirl, eddies forming in the blackness. I could see mottling with grey and brown, like paint being mixed. The movement within the shade became violent and the mottling more widespread. The wind, which had died down, now shrieked around our heads, sounding like a thousand fighting cats. A refrigerator magnet careened off my forehead and blood began to run down my face. Frying pans which had been hanging from a rack vaulted into the maelstrom, pulled into the dark. The window shattered and glass shards flew past us into the blackness. I felt sharp pains as slivers of glass hit my face.
From within the shade a hand appeared, fingers widespread. Leaping forward, I grasped it and was clasped in an icy grip. I heard Meg cry out, but I didn’t hesitate. Reaching farther in, I got a handful of cloth and pulled. Ingrid began to emerge, crying, face scrunched up in agony.
I slid my right hand around her waist and strained. Meg was with me now, both of us pulling on the girl. My right arm was on fire. I couldn’t tell whether it was frozen or burning, but the pain was tremendous. We were all screaming. Then, like a boot coming out of the mud, Ingrid popped out.
The three of us had fallen to the floor and lay in a heap. I looked up and the inky mass had risen up so that it touched the ceiling. The red eyes glowed right above us. It gave out a howl that shook the house and leaned down toward us. Ingrid stood up and faced it, the darkness inches from her face.
“Enough!” she screamed. “No more! You’ve tortured me for too long.” But the blackness swooped down on her and the upper half of her body disappeared into it. I yelled and grabbed her around the waist and Meg held onto me. A banshee howl again shook the house.
I was being pulled into the foul night, my shoes slipping on the tiles. My face was approaching the inky surface. I turned my head but couldn’t avoid being sucked under. I knew Ingrid immediately. A brutish man, two women, and a young girl, surrounded by roaring flames, were pulling on Ingrid. Their faces were horribly burned, and fire spouted from their eyes. I shouted at them to let go, to leave us alone.
Meg grabbed my belt. Setting my feet, I slid my grasp around Ingrid’s shoulders and yanked her back. Meg kept a constant pull. All at once, the bees appeared, hundreds and hundreds of them. At first, they swarmed around us, moving aimlessly, frantically, a wild Brownian motion in a humming mass of bees.
Ingrid screamed “Get them. Stop them. Help us!” Her voice rose in a wail.
The bees became even more frenetic while my feet started slipping out from under me again. Meg’s head was entering the inky mass. Then the little creatures became organized. Instead of an amorphous mass of insects, there were four arrows, brown and humming, aimed at the four people in the blackness. The arrows shot forward and the four became covered with angry bees. I heard horrible screaming. The suction disappeared. The four had let go and the three of us fell back onto the kitchen floor.
Ingrid rose to her knees, tears flowing down her face. She spoke, but I couldn’t hear her words. The darkness backed away, the screams diminishing to a mewling. Then dwindling, the blackness became smaller and smaller until with a little pop, it disappeared. The only sound was the roaring buzz of a thousand bees.
Meg and I lay sprawled where we had fallen, exhausted. Ingrid turned to us. For a moment we gazed at each other, a century apart, but inextricably linked. There were tears in her eyes as she smiled at us. She reached out her hands but became translucent and faded away like smoke in a breeze until she was gone. Meg and I sat on the floor, holding on tight to each other.
Finally, I crawled to the outside door and opened it. A vast cloud of bees exited into the afternoon sunlight.
I was a little hesitant about staying in the house after that, but Meg talked me into making it our home. She seemed to feel that the ghosts had been exorcised. I knew she was wrong. But I gave in.
We finished our schooling and we each got jobs here in Boston. We still live in the brownstone. The remodeling was finished shortly after Meg gave birth to our first child, a daughter that we named Kelsey Ingrid. The house is noisy now with three children and two dogs.
But I know there is still one more resident, up in the attic. At times, I go up there to keep her company. I feel welcome.
* * *
Rhema Sayers is a retired ER doctor who always wanted to write but never had time. After retiring from medicine, she started writing seriously and has had moderate success in being published. She lives in the Arizona desert just outside Tucson with two dogs and one husband.
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