We got better things to do!
Connor ignored me as usual and disappeared behind a heavy red curtain. He was itchin’ for trouble real bad. All I could think about was what I should be doin’ next. Didn’t want to leave him there, but I didn’t want to stay neither. Connor’d be so mad if I left him there alone. Though it was his idea, I thought, so how could he blame me at all? Well, I wasn’t goin’ back there in that room. Smelled bad, like a bouquet of dead roses. Dust and grime just about everywhere your eyes fell. Old paintins so dark they no longer made any sense. I just knew this was a bad idea. Sure, we both talked about it for days, even scouted up the stairs in broad daylight when no one was around the Riley Tavern below but ran back down, spooked and all. Heard that a Cornish blacksmith died up there some weeks ago and his soul was restless and yankin’ on any of body’s ears up there and stompin’ around the floorboards and throwin’ crystal glasses at the wall and done scared the soiled doves away from their diggins.
Heard lots of stories. When Connor and me was workin’ this side, we’d see people go up them steps while we’d be deliverin’ milk and flour and we’d never see them come back down. Yet the Lord is my witness; I never wanted to go up here like Connor wanted, and I never thought Connor and me would do it. My heart wasn’t in it. Nor was my interest. I don’t like the idea of ghosts nor soiled doves. I got better things to do with my time than to explore those realms. I liked my own.
That look on his face was like nothin’ I’d ever seen before. He wasn’t himself and he was, what I’d say, possessed. He liked excitement for excitement’s sake. He was influenced by the dark world, by the unknown, and obviously by his own devilish thoughts. And like a devil, he was grinnin’, too, and suddenly flush with excitement. Practically pulled into the dark and creepy room by nothin’ but his appetite as my Granny would say; a thickheaded cravin’ for thin stew. I’d say he was more like possessed by a desire to know’d it all. He just had to know the wickedness behind those dust-weighted curtains and the haunts of the Devil’s underworld. Dang it all. This terrible old place.
I backed away from the parlor and bumped into the old sofa. Felt the damp chill from the opened window and I swear I could feel a thousand clammy fingers all down my spine. I heard a wagon roll down the street below and wished I’d been doin’ the same. Civilized world out there. I stood still as a grave, tried to hear Connor’s whereabouts. Heard nothin’ but a door open and then close. And another door open and close. We should’ve never stepped a foot in this… Come on now Connor, I thought. Can’t even breathe right in this place.
Nothin’ to do but sit. Not ‘fraid of the restless dead man. Just hated the room and the clammy air and the chokin’ perfume. Come on now Connor. Felt a bare spring stab under my left leg, pricked me like the Devil’s pitchfork. I pulled down my hat and punched it back to life, shuffled closer to the window and waited for Connor to come out and put an end to this godforsaken adventure. What more could I do but wait? I wasn’t goin’ back there. Not for all the world. Connor finally accepted my reluctance, told me You just sit on that ol' sofa ‘til I'm done explorin’ the other rooms.
What time was it? The clock on the mantle was long dead. Connor! I told him I wasn’t gonna play around like this. Took one step up on the stair and declared I won’t do it, so just leave me be. You go run like a chicken? He said. Well Lil’ Tom Davis, it’s time we growd up, and stop bein’ ‘fraid of such things. I didn’t think he’d go on like that. What we did together was much a better time spent. We were the best of friends. Fishin’… buildin’ things and savin’ our nickels for the festivals…and drawin’ –and he was the best drawer. And the other things we’d do that’d make an angel blush I’d suppose. I was more than surprised he’d go on like that and forget about things.
This place was dressed like a funeral. I listened for Connor. Heard some shufflin’, but I don’t know what I heard. Must’ve gone to another room back there lookin’ for that blacksmith’s ghost. Place was like a house of haunts. Like a funeral. The stairway comin’ up here was spooky enough. Two unlit oil lamps and a walnut staircase to match the unnervin’ chill. It was like crawlin’ between the walls, and I told Connor that. We be goin’ up someday, he swore, and someday real soon. We can’t just live like what we been livin’ forever, you know? I just thought he was lettin’ weeds grow where we didn’t need them.
A thickheaded cravin’ for thin stew.
I nearly jumped out the window! My hand was grippin’ the curtain and I ‘bout scooted the sofa to the other side of the room.
“Connor? Is that you?”
I swallowed a gallon of cold and clammy air and took a couple of steps towards the parlor. I stopped just at the red curtain, ‘fraid to look in the parlor much deeper and no how would I be takin’ a look behind that curtain!
“Connor?” I whispered, but I wanted to holler. “Connor? We gotta go now, Connor.”
Thump, thump, thump!
I nearly died! I jumped away from the parlor and took to the stairs like a dog from a latherin’, but I told myself to stop. I pressed my back against the wall, wishin’ I was just as flat as one of them hundreds of little flowers on the paper.
Crash! Heard glass break from somewhere inside that dark parlor and then Thump, thump, thump! Oh dear Lord, I cried out. It was the Cornish blacksmith stompin’ round up here, and I just know’d he was comin’ for me!
“Connor! Connor!” I hollered as I took two steps down that cavernous stairwell. “We gotta go now,
Connor!” And I took me another step down. One more thump, and I was shootin’ down the stairs like a bullet, but before I could reach the last step, I felt somethin’ grab my shoulder.
“You just let me go!” I hollered, and I didn’t care if I woke the whole city up.
“Hey Lil’ Tom!”
I stopped in my tracks. “Connor! We gotta get!” I grabbed his arm and ‘bout pulled him down the stairs with me. I must’ve scratched at him like a two cats in heat cuz his shirt was opened and barely hangin’ on his shoulders.
“Hey now Lil’ Tom. You still got them nickels we saved under the floor by yer crazy Aunt Lizzy’s room?”
“Well of course I do, Connor. But, we gotta get outta here. I heard that blacksmith stompin’–“
“Now listen to me, Lil’ Tom. You listenin’? Go back to yer house and go fetch me them nickels.”
“But we need ‘em Connor, for the –“
“Go get them nickels Lil’ Tom an I’ll find us another way to get to that fair up in Tippecanoe.”
I wasn’t sure if Connor was sane. “Where are you gonna be? You ain’t stayin’ here. I ain’t comin’ back here, Connor. No way am I–”
“Go get them nickels and put them on this step. I’ll come by the grocery tomorrow an we can talk about the fair.”
I was sure of it. Ain’t nothin’ I could’ve done to wake him out of it. He needed them nickels and must’ve gotten himself into ample trouble. Wasn’t sure how, but Connor must’ve bartered somethin’ terrible with that blacksmith’s ghost. He was always gamblin’ and bettin’ with things he didn’t have and with things he should’ve never staked in the first place. That’s why I hid them nickels we’ve been savin’. How’d he knew I hid them by Aunt Lizzy’s room was a mystery, but it was just like Connor to find it out.
I flew down them stairs and ran like the Devil on Judgement Day! Fetched them nickels and frankly had to talk myself into returnin’. I slipped through the back window of the Riley Tavern like we had done before and placed the jar of nickels on the first step. I whispered up those stairs for Connor and waited for a response. Nothin’. And just when I was ‘bout to take a step up, I felt a tug on my right ear. Somehow I crossed the Riley Tavern and found the backroom and jumped through that window like a groundhog down its hole without takin’ a breath!
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