THE RAVENSGATE CHRONICLES: UNHOLY AWAKENING
“Just a raccoon,” Sandy said, eyeing the ceiling. “There’s a hole in the roof… you know, old houses and all. I have to get it fixed soon.”
That’s a huge raccoon, I thought. I was positive someone was walking around up there.
“Are you sure someone’s not up there?” I asked. “Maybe I should take a look…I could change that lightbulb.”
“Oh no, no worries,” Sandy said with a smile. “I’ll look into it later.”
Perhaps it was just a raccoon like Sandy said, and my imagination was toying with me because of the old Victorian house. I didn’t argue further, but I was still uneasy. We walked down to the first floor, and Sandy offered to show me the basement.
“I transformed a small room downstairs in the cellar into an art studio. I’ll finally have the time and space to work on my sculptures. It’s where I keep the kiln, clay, plaster, and marble. I’m working on some pieces now actually.”
Before she opened the basement door, which was in the hall across from the bathroom and between the kitchen and sanctuary, my cell phone rang. It was work, so I took the call. My private security company was having a legal issue. There had been an attempt on a client’s life, and I was needed back at the office.
“I’m so sorry, Sandy; it’s an emergency at work. I really hate to cut the visit short, but I have to head down to Detroit. I want to see your art studio. I can come back on the weekend. How about that?”
“Sure, I understand, work is work,” she said, disappointed.
“You’ve got a really great place here. You deserve it. Promise me you’ll make your famous arroz con pollo when I come back?”
“It wouldn’t be famous if your mom hadn’t taught me how to make it. You’ve got a deal,” Sandy said and walked me to the front door. She sent me off with a hug, and I went to my black Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.
She smiled, waved, then closed the door.
As I pulled out of the driveway onto Arkham Road, I felt bad for leaving so abruptly. Driving farther away from the house, I glanced in the rearview mirror and noticed an old worn-out white Lincoln coming down the dirt road behind me. It pulled into Sandy’s driveway. She had another visitor.
I was happy for Sandy and her new house, old as it was, but it left me unsettled. Was there really a raccoon or were there footsteps in the attic?
I didn’t make it back for arroz con pollo that weekend. The emergency with work kept me busy, so I canceled. I couldn’t keep up with anyone, much less Sandy. I texted and called her but she never responded. Weeks turned into months, and still no contact from her. It was almost six months later when I decided to visit Ravensgate to see what was going on.
After the long drive north, I pulled into the driveway from Arkham Road and parked in front of the house. I walked up onto the high porch and knocked on the oak door. No answer. After a few more knocks with no response, I peeked inside the picture window. A gap in the curtain allowed me to see inside and catch a glimpse of the living room.
The antique furniture was still there. The fireplace and the painting of the house above were barely visible. For a split second, I couldn’t see anything. A black shadow inside moved past my view, blocking my vision. Someone was inside. I knocked on the door again and still no answer.
Unable to see much more, I decided to check the back of the house from where I heard noises. I walked along the right side of the Victorian, where the driveway led to the garage. Embarking on the backyard, I saw a tall man in his late forties, standing there in front of the garage, his back toward me. He wore a yellow, long-sleeved, button-down shirt and jeans and shut the garage door.
“Excuse me,” I said as I walked further into the yard.
The man looked over his shoulder and glanced at me. He had unruly, greasy black hair with slight streaks of grey that stopped at the back of his neck. Deep lines penetrated the sides of his mouth and eyes. His skin was worn.
“You’re on private property,” he said, irritated. I didn’t expect the attitude.
“I’m looking for my friend. Is Sandy around?”
“She’s not here. I said you’re on private property.”
“A friend of mine used to live here. I just wanted to have a look…”
“She’s gone. Don’t live here no more.”
“She’s went missing. Ain’t you seen the news? The police said she up and left. ‘Abandonment,’ they said. The house was searched, and there’s nobody in there.”
“Are you the owner?”
“No. Groundskeeper. Now, since we both know there’s nothing here, you best be on your way.”
I almost said something smart-assed back but held it in. I turned around and headed for the front yard. The man followed. I opened the Wrangler’s door and sat in the driver’s seat.
The man stopped in the driveway in front of the Jeep. “Like I said, there’s nothing here for you.”
I was annoyed but withheld my Scorpio nature and said nothing. Instead I gave him a dirty look, then drove off. Time and place for everything. On the way back, I stopped at a gas station, filled the tank and did a quick internet search on Sandra Breyer in Ravensgate on my phone. The asshole was right.
The Ravensgate Herald, the local paper, did a brief story on her. The article said it was a missing persons case. It started when she stopped making her house payments on the land contract. The owner came by to check on her, but no one answered. Fearing Sandy might have had some type of medical emergency, he called the authorities.
The article described the odd nature of the disappearance. Police surmise that she might have found a boyfriend and took off. That was possible, but it wasn’t like Sandy to leave everything behind. Weeks went by and still nothing. The house stayed vacant after Sandy disappeared and her car was repossessed.
For weeks it weighed on me: the footsteps in the attic, the movement in the window, the groundskeeper so eager to get rid of me. Who owned the house?
Then the vivid dreams started. It got to the point that I was having dreams about the tour Sandy gave me of the Victorian. I was inside the rooms again, the living room, the study, the sanctuary. The part where I’d wake up was when I’d hear footsteps in the attic.
Were the dreams telling me something? Was Sandy still alive in Ravensgate, kidnapped or held hostage somewhere?
There had to be something more, something the authorities missed. I tried to find the owner of the house via the internet with no luck. I ended up driving back to Ravensgate days later to check the city courthouse records and learned who the owner was: one Dale Ortman, a local landlord. A quick Google search of the name and I was able to contact him. I showed some interest in buying the house and arranged a meeting at the Victorian in July.
I pulled up to the house as he waited on the porch. The tall African-American man with a graying beard and mustache invited me into the Victorian. We sat in the living room. The house looked exactly the same, except there was a white marble bust of a woman on the fireplace mantel. It wasn’t there before.
I opted not to bring up the groundskeeper just yet. After a few minutes of small talk, we got to the purpose of my visit.
“How did you acquire the property?” I asked.
“I bought the house when it went into foreclosure. The previous owners stopped paying the mortgage,” Dale said. “After buying the house from the bank, I couldn’t rent it. No one showed any interest.”
“Did anyone else try to bid on it?”
“No. Certain folk around here want to buy up everything. Luckily for me the city made an error with the public auction date for this house. It was auctioned off the day before the date listed on the Ravensgate city website. I showed up interested in another house but won this lovely lady without competition instead. I ended up selling it to the last tenant on a land contract, but she stopped making the payments so that ended the deal.”
“Would you be willing to sell again? I’ll buy it cash.” I offered him a price more than the current market value.
Dale paused, then looked at me. “You must really like this house.”
“That I do. I love fixer-uppers. But I’ll purchase it at the said price on one condition only.”
“And that is?”
“Leave everything that’s in the entire house here, the furniture, the paintings, everything that the previous tenant owned. I like the style.”
“Everything comes with the house anyway. It’s all yours if you want it.” Dale said, smiling.
It wasn’t long before the purchase agreement was drawn up for the Victorian. We closed the deal a few weeks later, and I moved my things from Detroit to Ravensgate.