A Haunting Love by Emilee Harris
Coral Cottage resided in a sleepy cove town on the opposite side of Boston to that where Adele’s mother-in-law lived, a fact which instantly endeared it to her. Somewhat out of the way, one had to embark on a steep and winding climb up a road called Mariner’s Lane to reach it. The cliff outcroppings marking the end of the lane gave Adele’s motherly heart a moment of angst, but the majority of the road, though steep, connected to far more gradual descents to the shore below.
She breathed in as deeply as she dared at the window, still shrouded in her veil. The air, crisp and salted, smoothed the frazzled edges of her nerves and set her at ease. At least until they rounded the final curve of the lane and her calm swiftly gave way to excitement.
The house loomed majestic above the bay, its position above the rest of the town giving it the air of a sentinel lighthouse monitoring the sea rather than a family home. Even so, something in the proud building thrilled Adele and called to her the moment she spied it. It offered a distinct sense of sturdiness against the elements and protection from the world.
As they neared, Adele observed the dullness of the paint, a few leaning shutters, and a front garden sprawling jungle-like before the home. But from the foundation stones beneath the porch to the railing of the widow’s walk, she could detect no indication of any major flaw in construction. Not that she knew much about architecture aside from a few words her late husband was wont to include in general conversation, but she felt any truly problematic inadequacies would make themselves known more easily to the viewer. She hoped.
“How is the roof?” She asked.
“What?” Mr. Alderman kept his gaze steadied on the home in front of them, the lines of his shoulders and back compressing and tightening as they neared.
“The roof. Is it watertight?”
“Oh, yes, the roof is perfectly serviceable.” He pulled up to the front gate set between rough stone walls more suitable to an Irish field than a New England cottage, and turned off the motor. “Are you sure you won’t reconsider viewing New Harbor first?”
“That would make no sense, Mr. Alderman. We’re already here. I quite like the place, it’s truly stunning in its craftsmanship.” That much was true and required no architectural background to deduce. The home boasted enough commonplace features to blend in nicely with the town proper, though its position just on the outskirts of the community allowed it some room for experimentation, which the designer took full advantage of.
A balcony overlooking the sea jutted out from French doors on the second floor, a rounded turret graced the cliff-most side of the house, complete with weathervane. Several windows sported stained glass, and the molding framing the porch and eaves boasted delicate carving. Every detail seemed thought out with care. “Who designed the home?” She asked, impatience growing as her guide still made no move to exit the car.
“The original owner,” he responded, still staring pointedly forward, hands gripping the steering wheel.
She pulled on the handle of her door, the resultant click of the latch prompting the man into motion. He scurried out and around to offer her his hand. She would have taken it in any case out of politeness, but an added benefit to his presence was that he blocked some of the wind which still threatened to take her by the hem and cast her into the sea. He also provided the service of aiding to hold down her veil as they made their way up the walk to the front door, beautifully carved and solid enough to withstand centuries of beating from gales.
“I thought you said the owner was a sea captain?” She asked on a gasp once they entered the front entryway, sealing them off from the bluster of the world outside.
“He was.” Offering no further explanation, the realtor moved toward a doorway opposite the front stairs. The size of the portal and tell-tale pocket doors indicated they were entering the sitting room, a fact confirmed a moment later when she stepped across the threshold.
An odd assortment of furniture met them, some of it covered over with sheets to keep the dust at bay. A dark-lacquered Chinese cabinet, whose doors depicted images of cranes and bamboo, sat beside what looked like an Amish-crafted hutch displaying a distinctly English silver tea set.
“The captain must certainly have been a bachelor to have maintained this hodgepodge collection of furnishings.” She mused, running a gloved finger through the layer of dust obscuring the carved detail of a tray table. An odd sort of prickling took up at the base of her skull and down along her back, as though someone were staring at her or had run a finger along her back. She shifted her shoulders against a sudden shiver, turning her attention to the fireplace and a portrait above the mantle. “Who is that?”
The portrait was far from flattering, or even good in terms of skill, but something in the image drew her.
“That’s the original owner of the home, Captain Gregory Daniels.”
She stepped closer, taking in the positioning of the subject, stiff and angular without dimension. He wore the typical uniform coat of a captain, along with the signature hat. One box-like hand clutched a cylinder she could only guess was meant to be a spyglass. Insignificant features, including a sharp nose and chin, were framed by wiry hair and beard in a yellow-orange color which failed completely in its attempt to imitate a natural hue.
Yet, oddly, the artist managed to convey an unnervingly lifelike quality to the eyes. Crystalline blue almost sparkling with… laughter? Furrowing her brow, she leaned in closer, only to straighten again an instant later. Some play of light in that moment almost convinced her the portrait had winked.
“Would you like to see the kitchen?” Mr. Alderman squeaked from behind her, distracting her. She turned in his direction.
“Oh, yes, thank you.” She followed him out of the room, casting a parting glance over her shoulder at the portrait, whose eyes now stared as dull and lifeless as the rest of the piece.
“I understand now why you didn’t want me to come here, Mr. Alderman,” she began as they crossed the hall.
“You do?” He whirled about, eyes ready to burst through the confining glasses.
“It needs a good cleaning. How is it you haven’t put the place in better order? No wonder it hasn’t been rented yet. It must be years since this house was lived in. Or cleaned.”
Another cloud of disappointment tinged with annoyance flitted across the man’s countenance. “It has. Fifteen years in fact.”
“How is it that the house came to be in such a forlorn state? You told me along the drive the captain had died, but had he no family to claim his things?”
“The captain’s next of kin lives in South America and had no desire to sort through the property, only wished to have it rented.”
They moved through the formal dining room, every bit as shrouded and dust-laden as the sitting room, though Adele noted the space seemed just the right size to accommodate her small family with as much grace as a larger gathering. That earned the room a small nod of approval. The kitchen proved spacious enough without leaning toward pretentiousness. A well-lit space designed with efficiency in mind, even if the appliances were a bit dated. From the description in the catalog Adele worried she might find nothing but an over-sized hearth for cooking and a water pump in the yard. This kitchen was outfitted with a full faucet and sink, and a gas range. Perfectly suitable. She turned toward a small breakfast nook in the corner and paused.
“I thought you said the house hasn’t been lived in?” She questioned.
The agent followed her gaze to where a plate of half-eaten food sat on the table beside an open newspaper and a near-empty cup of coffee. “Well, a cleaning woman came in last week.”
Adele’s eyes widened, taking in again the layer of dust lining every flat surface. “I hope you didn’t pay her for her time!”
“As a matter of fact, no, she didn’t stay the day and only got so far in her task as the front stairwell.”
“Mrs. Monroe, I’m sure you can see this house is completely unsuitable for your needs, it would take far too much effort for you to put to rights. Why don’t you let me drive you over to New Harbor?”
“I see no such thing, and we can’t leave yet, we haven’t seen the upstairs.”
“It’s really not—”
“I insist on seeing the upstairs. I’ll take a full tour before making any decision.” Without waiting for a response, she turned on her heel and darted toward the doorway, intent on reaching the stairs and making good on her threat.
* * *
The front staircaseincorporated every aspect of formality one might expect of an upper-class home. Carved and polished banisters guided a guest up a set of carpeted stairs to a landing which displayed a garden scene of stained glass before changing direction sharply to continue the climb to the second floor. The angle necessitated a complete about-face for the person mounting the stairs and as Adele completed the movement she paused to gaze in wonder at this new view of the front entry.
Accumulated dirt on the window muted the effect, but what daylight shone through hinted at potential for a grand kaleidoscopic display when the sun shone fully through the colored glass and danced across both floor and chandelier. Indeed, the prismatic crystals of the chandelier would only heighten the effect. For a moment she imagined the front entry alive with brilliant color as guests arrived for an evening gathering and gasped in awe.
Her first reaction was to wonder yet again at the captain’s foresight. She found it difficult to imagine any man, let alone a sea captain, dreaming up such wondrous details. She shook her head. More likely the effect of the window never occurred to him and was just a happy accident.
“Ha!” The rebuke sounded through her thoughts, causing Adele to start and look about.
“Something wrong, Mrs. Monroe?” Mr. Alderman asked from the base of the stairs. He awaited her response with something akin to eagerness.
“I thought I heard…” goodness, she must be letting the dreariness of the house’s state get to her. Somewhere amid the rooms and halls a gust of wind must have found a sounding board in a crack or flue.
“Yes?” The realtor prompted.
“Nothing, just the wind.” Continuing up the stairs, she came to a hallway with two doors on one side and one on the other. At the end of the hall yet another curious window drew her attention. She couldn’t say she’d ever seen one quite like it. Round rather than rectangular, it carried itself more like a porthole than a proper window.
“The master bedroom is on the left here,” Mr. Alderman chimed from behind her before she had the chance to inspect the window or its view more closely. “The doors on the right are the additional rooms.”
Nodding, she allowed the man to lead her into the main bedroom. The space proved large and commanding, a strong contrast to the modest sizing of the main rooms. Yet, the room maintained the warmth and coziness of the rest of the house. There was space enough for a massive four-poster bed, though it looked as though a reasonably sized bed had been incorporated into the paneling at one side of the room, built-in on two sides, as one might expect to find on a ship. A cozy sitting area comprised of a wing chair and ottoman, plus a side table lounged in front of a gas fireplace, while a davenport desk took up space beside a row of bookshelves on the opposite wall. The focal point of the room, however, was an adornment set in front of the French doors Adele noticed on her initial observation of the house.
“A telescope?” She murmured.
“Unusual, to be sure,” Mr. Alderman confirmed. “But lends a bit of character, I’d say.”
“It certainly does.” She approached the piece, again noting that strange prickling at the back of her neck. Ignoring the feeling, she focused on the telescope. Something seemed odd about it. She reached one small, gloved hand toward it, entranced by the sparkle of polished brass in what sunlight managed to filter through the grimy window.
“Polished!” She stated triumphantly.
“This telescope, it’s polished! I thought there was something odd about it. It’s got to be the only clean thing in the entire house.”
“Well, I suppose—”
The realtor’s words drowned in the distinct rumble of a laugh. Not the creak of floorboards, not the wind in a flue, the rich baritone of a man’s voice rolling through the air, along her spine, and tickling the side of her neck until she gasped.
“That’s enough of a tour!” Mr. Alderman declared with more conviction than he’d heretofore mustered in any of his statements. “Mrs. Monroe, I insist we leave.”
An electrified fluttering took up in Adele’s chest, robbing her of breath. The continued echo of that mesmerizing voice seemed to sound from directly inside her mind, bypassing the efforts of her ears. These experiences so shocked her, she didn’t note the press of Mr. Alderman’s hand on her elbow until they reached the car. Mr. Alderman all but shoved her into the passenger seat and proceeded to race the conveyance pell-mell down the road toward town.
“Stop the car!”
The realtor ignored her.
“Mr. Alderman, I insist you stop this vehicle this instant!”
As though only just realizing his manic state and the potential danger of his erratic driving, Mr. Alderman slowed the car and came to a stop at the next turn-out. “My apologies, Mrs. Monroe. I just— well, now you see why I was so adamant about the house being unsuitable.”
“I see why you didn’t want me to visit the place, I fail to see how it is unsuitable.”
“Fail to see? But it’s obviously— It’s—”
“Come now, this is the twentieth century after all, how can you be so superstitious? Old houses make noise. Creaking floorboards, clanking pipes—”
“Did that sound like clanking pipes to you?” he stared at her agape.
“No,” she admitted.
“It’s an unsavory place, Mrs. Monroe, certainly no place for a lady and her children. I cannot in good conscience allow you to stay there.”
Adele pressed her lips together, shifting in her seat to stare out the back window, though Coral Cottage was no longer visible past the bend in the road. “Couldn’t something be done to… exorcise the captain? I assume it is the captain who haunts the place.” Why she assumed so mystified her, such a compelling voice reverberating through her every fiber and making her weak at the knees certainly didn’t fit the caricature displayed in the former owner’s portrait.
“Believe me, ma’am, I have attempted everything I could think of from calling in the nearest priest to conducting seances. None of it worked and no one who steps foot in that house stays longer than a day. It’s hopeless.”
“But why do you suppose the captain haunts it?”
“Your guess is as good as mine, but they say those who kill themselves are always restless spirits.”
Adele gasped, eyes widening as she craned her neck toward the rear window again. “He killed himself?”
“I’m afraid so. Now, Mrs. Monroe, I’m sorry for this upsetting trip, I am more than happy to take you straight back to Newton. I can’t imagine You have any desire to view additional homes today.”
Facing forward in her seat, Adele chewed on her lip. A reckless thought formed in her mind, refusing to listen to reason. “Mr. Alderman, could you allow me to stay a night in Coral Cottage?”
“Are you mad?” The man swiveled in his seat to stare at her as though she’d sprouted a second head. “What on earth for?”
“I like the place and am of a mind to rent it.”
“Forgive me, but haven’t you heard anything I just said?”
“I’ve heard every word. For myself, I’m not concerned with ghosts. Who knows what the true source of the sound was, but if everyone who visits leaves at the slightest sound, no wonder the place has a negative reputation. Allow me one night. That will prove I have the wherewithal to remain in the home before you go through the trouble of preparing paperwork, and also allow me to ascertain if there is anything in the house which might frighten my children before I agree to rent it.”
Mr. Alderman hesitated in his argument, but a moment later his business sense proved incapable of outweighing his conscience. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Monroe, but I simply cannot allow you to remain alone in that house.”
“I could bring my housekeeper,” she insisted. “A sturdier soul you’ll never meet, why she could spar with the devil himself and come out the victor. You would have no reason at all to fear for our safety.” She held her breath, watching intently as Mr. Alderman waged his internal battle.
He pressed his lips together with such force the surrounding skin whitened, staring out the windshield with intensity as his grip tightened on the steering wheel. “I’ll have to wire the owner for his approval.”
“That’s no problem at all, it will give me time to make arrangements with my housekeeper. When would you expect a response?”
“Within two days I imagine.”
“Perfect, then I shall come in three days. You’ll see, Mr. Alderman, it will be beneficial to us both.”
His expression indicated he held no such hope, but he said nothing as he restarted the car’s engine and maneuvered back onto the road at a much more subdued speed than they’d previously traveled.
Excitement flooded Adele. To have her own living space and the independence that came with it! She would gladly contend with a ghost for that. She only hoped nothing would occur during her stay to force her to renege on the opportunity.