During the renovations of her Queen Anne Victorian home, Anna Hughes discovers a hidden room, complete with furniture, a trunk full of treasures – including a diary – and shadows hovering over it. Available from Amazon.
Whack! I swung the hammer, and the hole in the attic wall widened. Even through the plaster dust, I swore I smelled flowers. Roses and something else—lily of the valley—that was it. One more whack and a section of the wall collapsed.
"Ben, look!" I stepped through the opening and stared into the room. A dusty, women's antique French desk stood in the center of the large room. The wall behind it held book shelves still lined with books. Two chairs grouped, in front of the window, around a table that held a tarnished silver tea set.
I spun around the room. "My God, what is this?" Pictures hung on faded rose wallpaper. Dim light, from the dirty, stained glass window in the alcove, cast eerie shadows. "This is unbelievable."
Shadowy figures in the corner of the room beckoned to me. At first I thought my eyes were playing tricks. Between the dust and the dim light, but no, the shadows were there, plain as day. They hovered over a carved trunk.
"Ben, do you see that?"
"See what?" Ben brushed the dust off his hands.
I held back a giggle. I couldn't help it, he looked so uncomfortable. This wasn't Ben's cup of tea. I was still trying to figure out why he helped me. He stepped through the opening and looked at me.
"Shadows over that trunk." I held back, dying to know what was in it, but half afraid to go near it.
I sighed. The look on Ben's face said it all. "Cobwebs, right."
"There you go again. You and that overactive imagination. I suppose now you're going to go ahead with the renovation." He took a couple steps into the room, stopped next to the desk, and opened a drawer. "Hm, Look at this." He pulled a sheet of stationary out of the drawer. "Mary Elizabeth Gilbert, wonder who she was."
I took the stationary from him. A bouquet of lily of the valley embossed the top of the page. Again, the shadows appeared and beckoned to me. "Those aren't cobwebs, Ben. Look."
Like I didn't know the difference between shadows and cobwebs. Definitely shadows. Willowy figures hovered over the trunk. Come open it, they seemed to say. There was a sense of urgency about them, yet I didn't feel threatened. Giving in to the urge, I hurried to the trunk and lifted the decorative lid. "Oh, look at this!" I lifted a pearl handled hairbrush out of the trunk. "It's beautiful." A shadowy figure floated above it. Then, I lifted out a corset and held the tiny form in front of me. One of the shadowy figures moved closer, almost on top of me.
"Ugh, I can't imagine having to wear one of these." Suddenly, my stomach and chest tightened. I lost my breath, gasped, and sunk to my knees. The corset fell from my hand. The shadows backed off. I was finally able to take a deep breath, and let it out slowly.
When I opened my eyes, Ben stood over me. "Are you okay? What happened? You looked like you were going to pass out."
"I...I don't know. I couldn't breathe. It felt like someone was squeezing the life out of me." I looked at the corset lying on the dusty floor. What just happened here? A shadowy figure lingered nearby. What was it trying to tell me?
"I think we better get out of this dust for a while, get some fresh air." Ben helped me to my feet. "You can come up later. I know how anxious you are to go through that trunk. There's no stopping you now, is there?"
I hated to leave, but Ben was right. I had inhaled an awful lot of dust. "Ben do you smell flowers—roses or lily of the valley?"
"All I smell is plaster and years of dust. Roses, are you sure you're okay?" He furrowed his brow and gave me one of those disapproving looks that said I was nuts. I hated that look.
"I'm fine, just a little woozy. You're right, probably from all the dust." So Ben hadn't seen the shadows, and he didn't smell the flowers, so what. I looked back through the opening, and they were there, big as life. I sighed and reluctantly followed Ben downstairs.
After a quick lunch and something to drink, I stood, anxious to go back to what I now called my treasure trove. I love old things. That's why I bought this old Victorian house. Sure, it was a fixer-upper, but that was part of the charm and fun.
I needed a quiet place to write. Someplace I could retreat while work was being done on the rest of the house, and the attic fit the bill. Besides, I needed a place of my own, away from Ben.
Ben had noticed the stained glass window from the outside a couple weeks ago. I hadn't noticed it when I bought the house. I'm sure Ben was sorry he mentioned it to me. Not that it mattered; I was still planning on renovating the attic. The window was the only reason I managed to talk Ben into tearing down the wall. Not that he believed me. He thought someone just covered over the window from the inside. He only went along because he thought it would prove me wrong. Ben liked to do that. But I knew I was right this time, and I took great satisfaction in proving him wrong for a change.
I had been drawn to the attic ever since I first saw it, even without knowing about the window. And I wanted to help with the renovation, but it didn't take a brain surgeon to know there was a lot I couldn't do. Electrical work for one and the whole house needed rewired. Thank goodness, Connie told me about Chad. Hopefully, he was still interested in doing the work, and Ben's rudeness hadn't turned him off.
Downstairs, Ben dusted off his clothes. "I hope you're going to hire someone to finish this. You know I'm not cut out for this kind of work."
I sighed. Luckily, Ben had helped this much. "You know I'm going to hire Chad, if he's still willing to do the work, that is. You were awfully rude to him."
"I think you should find someone else. I don't like that guy."
"He comes highly recommended. Connie says he's tops in his field." Of course Ben was going to give me a hard time about Chad. His dislike was evident right from the beginning, and he didn't do a thing to hide it. "Besides, I liked him. He didn't have to suggest we knock down the wall. He could have charged me for it. I think he's honest."
"I don't like this, Anna. This whole renovation thing is crazy."
"Come on, Ben. Just help me finish knocking down that wall. There's not much more to do. I'll call the contractor later."
I didn't like the way Ben looked at me. Like he was sorry he offered. He hated dirt. Besides the fact he was sweating and the plaster dust mixed with the sweat probably made him feel gritty. He was going to back out and leave me to finish the job. I wasn't sure I could handle it. "Please, I really need your help." Begging usually worked with Ben. He loved to hear me beg.
"Oh, what the heck." He shrugged. "You're right, there isn't much more to knock down. Guess that's the least I can do. Besides I'm already dirty. Once we get that wall knocked down, I can take a shower and call it quits. Okay, I'll help with the rest of the wall, but that's it."
I smiled and kissed him. "Thank you." How Ben was going to survive here with all the renovation going on, I didn't know. Even as a kid, he said he hated getting dirty. While the neighborhood kids played in the dirt, he sat in the air conditioned house, reading. I could picture him. Serious-minded Ben didn't like things other boys enjoyed, like sports. He still didn't.
He followed me up the steps. "Let's get this done."
Back upstairs, we knocked down the rest of the dividing wall. All the while, I watched the shadows move back and forth between me and the trunk. What was in there? I couldn't wait to find out, but I continued to help Ben. He'd have a fit if I quit.
"Why do you suppose someone sealed up this room?" I tried to ignore the shadows flitting in and out of my vision. They definitely wanted my attention.
"I have no idea." Ben knocked down the last of the dividing wall. "There, we're done. Now let your contractors finish the job." He brushed off his hands. "Why I offered to help you is beyond me. Can I leave now?"
I laughed. I couldn't help it, he looked so pathetic. Pathetic and so dirty. I appreciated the fact he helped me. Really I did. Ben didn't particularly like the old Victorian and couldn't understand why I insisted on buying it. Oh, well, he'd get used to it. He'd have to if we were going to get married. This was my home, and I was in it for the long haul.
"Maybe someone was hiding a past." I ignored Ben's question. Seldom did he ask permission for anything, and staying dirty a few more minutes wouldn't hurt him.
"It's like someone walked out of this room and built the wall. They left everything just as it was." Again the shadows appeared and disappeared. Maybe they held the key. I was dying to dive into that trunk.
With the last of the wall down, I began the clean up. Ben stood by while I put chunks of plaster and pieces of lathe into an old box. I could see all Ben wanted to do was jump into a shower.
Finally, he apparently couldn't stand it anymore. "I'm heading for the shower." He turned and hurried down the steps before I could answer. Not that I cared. Right now I was better off without him. I barely glanced at him. "Go ahead. I can clean up."