Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Face in the Window

Morbid Greetings, to all of our friends and welcome back to another ghostly tale to chill your bones! Today as I combed over the various tomes on my shelves I came across a book that recants local ghost tales and haunted spots from our region, the North Carolina Piedmont, and thought you would enjoy a selection from it. Today’s tale is called, “The Face in the Window”.

When she heard about the house in rural Forsyth County, Peggy thought it sounded too good to be true. But she drove out with the realtor, Barbara, just to take a look.
The driveway was long and twisting, lined with young pine trees and azaleas. There was, the realtor said, the burned out skeleton of the main house about half a mile farther down. This was the gardener’s cottage, where the Morely family lived after the fire. It’s amazing that the cottage was spared. Even parts of the woods burned. That’s why there were so many young trees around – because of replanting.
Peggy asked, “Was anyone hurt in the fire?”
“Well, the oldest children were away at school. The father died, but the mother and youngest daughter, Sarah, escaped. The woman was burned, I think, and had some scares and Sarah suffered from smoke inhalation. She had weak lungs for the rest of her life. She became a recluse, never married, and rarely spoke above a whisper, they say.”
“How long did they live in the cottage?”
Barbara thought for a moment. “I’m not sure. The childe lived here for the rest of her life, about sixty years, I think. Her brothers sold the place when she died. That buy updated the kitchen area and bathroom. New furnace, new roof. This place and its two acres are separate from the rest of the estate, which is still owned by the Morely family. I don’t know why they don’t clean it up and make use of it, a beautiful area like this. Just the right place for an artist, don’t you think? Shall we have a look?”
Small and neat, the cottage offered Peggy everything she wanted. Colorful area rugs turned the hardwood floor into a jigsaw puzzle with the obligatory missing pieces. There were only three rooms. The living area was one large room, the kitchen at the far end, a stone fireplace on one wall, and a sleeping alcove across the room. A door led to the small but adequate bathroom. On the back of the house was a large room, with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on a clearing. Peggy knew that civilization was only a mile away, but there was no hint of it here.
“There are no ceiling lights out here,” Barbara said, “but you could always plug in a lamp.”
As Peggy admired the room, a voice whispered to her, “You can paint here.”
“What direction are we facing?” Peggy asked.
“North,” Barbara said.
“North. I think I can paint here.”
The voice whispered, “You can paint here.”
“I can paint here,” Peggy whispered back.

* * *

Peggy knew she was dreaming, but she felt helpless to change it. She stood near a large house, wondering exactly where she was. Lost? Could someone in the house help her find the way home? As she walked towards the house, it seemed to move away from her. She couldn’t quite reach the front door. The she noticed a face at one of the windows. It was a child. The little girl was crying.
“I want my house. I want my house. Give me my house. Please!”
Peggy wanted to go to her, to help her.
Then Peggy woke up, tangled in the sheets. She’d moved into the cottage a week earlier, and each night the dream and voice haunted her. Each night she saw the young girl, crying, in the window of the house.
“This is ridiculous,” Peggy said. “I can’t work if I can’t get any sleep.”
She grabbed her warm flannel robe from the foot of the bed, and went to the room she called her studio. Moonlight flooded the room, lighting a blank canvas. Peggy picked up her brush and palette and began to mix some paints. Working in the moonlight, she made a few tentative stokes on the canvas. Then a few more. By morning, the painting had taken form. A house. A large house. The house in Peggy’s dreams.
“That’s good,” a voice whispered.
After that night, Peggy became obsessed with her painting. She slept fitfully, dreaming of the house and the child. When the moon waned so that there wasn’t enough light for painting, she decided to surround her easel with candles. As she lit the first candle, a voice, the one from her dream, shrieked:
“Fire! Fire! Help me!”
Peggy’s hands shook. Slowly, she removed the candle. She decided to paint only during the day.
Finally, after weeks of work, the house was finished. “Now,” Peggy said, “I just have to paint the child’s face at the window.” She tried, but the face in her dreams would not transfer to the canvas, could not be captured. At last Peggy gave up. “I like it better without the face anyway, “she said. Peggy took the frame from another painting. Proudly, she hung the new painting over the fireplace.
As she admired it, the voice whispered to her again. “Thank you.”
Peggy felt suddenly cold. And alone.

* * *

An elderly neighbor, Ruth, stopped by for a visit.
“I have been such a hermit since I moved in here,” Peggy said. “It’s nice to have a visitor.”
“It’s nice to see the inside of this cottage, “Ruth said. “I’ve often wondered what it looked like. I thought that, just maybe, if I took a walk along your road, I’d meet up with you. It worked!”
“You mean that you’ve lived less than a mile from here for twenty years and you’ve never been inside this place?”
“That’s right,” Ruth said. “Old Miss Morely died right after I moved here, and the people who bought the place then weren’t very friendly. Besides that, they were weird. They kept talking about ghosts in this house. Nothing sinister, just a presence. They said it sort of whispered to them sometimes.”
“Ghosts? Whispers?” Peggy felt suddenly weak. “Do you know much about the history of this place?”
“Well after the fire, Sarah and her stepmother move in here.”
“Stepmother? I thought it was her mother.”
“No, “Ruth said. “Her mother died when Sarah was born. People said that Sarah hated her stepmother, even tried to stab her once. I think while her husband was alive she wanted to send Sarah away to school, but the child couldn’t stand the thought of being separated from her father. They were very close, I guess.”
Peggy nodded. “What happened to the stepmother?”
“She was badly burned in the fire. She lived with Sarah until the girl was old enough to take care of herself. Then she just disappeared. Maybe Sarah finally did away with her. Some said the woman killed herself. Some said she went back to Raleigh, to her family. There was plenty of money, so she could have gone anywhere.”
“And Sarah?”
“Old Sarah lived here until she died. They said she was kind of crazy. She really missed the house she grew up in, the one that burned. You have a painting of it, I see. Did it come with the cottage?”
“What painting?”
Ruth pointed. “The one over the fireplace. It’s really very nice.”
“Thanks. I painted that recently. It’s a house I kept seeing in my dreams. I had to paint it or go crazy.”
“Incredible,” Ruth said as she walked over to the fireplace for a closer look. “You may have seen it in your dreams, but it’s the Morely house. Just the way people described it. When Miss Morely became ill, she kept crying for her house and her daddy. She didn’t remember that the house was gone, or that her daddy was dead. There was a nurse who said the poor lady cried most of the day and night. Sad.”
“What caused the fire?” Peggy asked.
“I’ve heard stories that Sarah started the fire. Accidentally.” She frowned. “They said she used to sit in front window with a candle, waiting for her daddy to come home from Winston-Salem. That night, as he was riding down the lane, he saw flames. Sarah’s candle had sparked a curtain, and the fire spread like mad. By the time Mr. Morely got into the house, the front room was ablaze. After he got Sarah out, he went back in for his wife. He had trouble finding her – supposedly she’d been locked in her bedroom. Accidentally, they said again. A faulty lock, they said. Then, as Mr. Morely tried to get his wife out of the fire, the staircase fell in on them. She got burned terribly, but she managed to get out. He died. The house burned to the ground. It was the night before Sarah was supposed to go away to school, I think. Naturally, she didn’t go, and she and her stepmother moved in here.”
Ruth crossed her arms. “I don’t know how they could have said the fire was an accident. I’ve always wondered why Sarah wasn’t arrested for attempted murder. The family didn’t want the scandal, I suppose. Maybe they thought the loss of her father was punishment enough.”
“That’s quite a story,” Peggy said, nervously think of her dreams. “You say she sat at the window?” Are you sure?”
“That’s what folks said.”
“Which window?”
“The front one, second from the front door, but you must have know that because you’ve painted her right in place!” Ruth pointed to the window in the painting.
“What?” Peggy rushed over to look. There, in the second window from the front door, was the face of a child. The child from Peggy’s dreams. And she was smiling.
“Well,” Ruth said, “I guess she got her house back after all.”

As an artist you never know when your muse is going to strike with your newest creative endeavor, let just hope that muse doesn’t turn out to be a ghostly one! Well kiddies, that’s our story for this week. We hope you enjoyed this creepy little tale and dare you to join us again for our next installment!

Xane and Dane Dravor

Story taken from, “Ghost Tales From The North Carolina Piedmont”. Collected and retold by Linda Duck Tanenbaum & Barry McGee.

ISBN 1-878177-13-3

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