Helena arrives with her curly chestnut colored hair tied back into a ponytail, with a pair of John Lennon sunglasses perched on a pert nose. She isn’t what you would call a conventional beauty; she’s a little too thin and she has this distracting birthmark over her right eyebrow, but there’s something about her that commands a presence. She speaks intelligently and she always seems to be curious about the world around her. I get lost in listening to her voice because it’s easy to listen to and I’m exhausted. If she keeps talking about whatever it she’s talking about, I’m going to fall asleep not because she’s boring, but because her voice is that soothing.
She punches my arm to focus my attention. She has a decent swing for such a little twig. She tells me that she’s been researching the house, because she left here with such an uneasy feeling the last time she was here. She figured I didn’t leave and mutters something about me being a stubborn fool. Without dignifying her with a response to that, I move onto bringing her up to speed on my current situation. While holding my filthy bed sheet in her hand, she tips her sunglasses down at me and asks me where the ring with the vow on it is. I presumed it was still on the skeletal woman’s finger. She wants the ring, but first she wants to explain exactly what hell I might well have stumbled into.
As it turns out, this house originally belonged to a Shelby Cartwright, who had also once been Shelby Dickenson, Shelby Gatsbury and Shelby Mason. That’s a lot of last names. It would seem Shelby was implicated in several murders during the late 60’s, early 70’s but the case went cold when Shelby herself disappeared in 1972. The story was she fled to Mexico with all the money she had made from her late husbands and their insurance policies.
I squint at my sunglasses-wearing companion and mention that the man who sold me this house was an old timer named Carl Cartwright. He moved into some retirement home on the east side of the city but I couldn’t clearly recall where. I’m lucky I can recall anything at all, with the lack of sleep I’m suffering from, but I have to stay awake. I take her to the kitchen so I can make some coffee. She drags that bed sheet with her like she’s Linus from the Peanuts cartoons. I half expect her to start sniffing it for a scent, like she could transform into a psychic bloodhound and track down the spirit of this reputed black widow.
Her lips form a moue while she continues to wander around my house toting the blanket. I decide that it’d be best if I just stayed in the kitchen and stare at the coffee-maker. The look on Helena’s face is intent and I wonder if perhaps she senses something new. I want to ask but instead I listen to the sound of the coffee pot brewing coffee. In a life suddenly made insane by whispering things in my mind, this simple and real sound is oddly comforting as is the pleasant smell of the fresh brew.
I’m getting impatient for my first cup, so I pull the pot as soon as it looks like there’s enough to fill my cup. I hear the hissing of coffee to waste as I pour so I make an effort to get the coffee pot back under. Because I’m not fully awake, my coordination is on par with a drunken hobo so I nearly smack the coffee-maker into my sink. Muttering something about sons, whores who have no mothers and the All Mighty, I focus my attention and slide the pot into place. Just as my hand leaves the pot, I hear Helena scream. Nearly falling over myself from being startled, I scramble into the living room where she was and instead find the bed sheet peeking around the corner like some diabolical lure. I follow the length of bed sheet and its pinched in the basement door. I know where this is going and I’m powerless to do anything about it. I’m responsible for bringing her here and if she turns up missing, I’m going to be responsible to explain to police that I have a skeletal bitch haunting my house that likes to pull people into my basement. They won’t be able to lock me away fast enough. I have to go down there. The irony is Helena may well be more capable of dealing with something like this than I am, but I still have to look, in case she isn’t as capable as she seems. If nothing else, I might be able to give her a moment to escape.
I open the basement door with a measure of effort. It was as if somebody with considerable strength had slammed it shut, despite the sheet being caught in it. When the daylight pours down into the dark, I see the gleam of Helena’s sunglasses on the next to the last stair. As I kneel to pick them up, I can hear her screaming in the distance; it’s like her voice is carrying from a cave but the basement is too small for that. I listen with greater intensity and resist the urge to call out. If there’s any advantage I might be able to capitalize on, it is the element of surprise. If I can discern where she is without giving myself away immediately, maybe I can get her out of here. While I’ve never considered the success rate of sneaking up on the dead, I really don’t have a better plan.
I follow where boxes have been knocked over and one of those old-style exercise bikes with the big fan blade on the front wheel was tipped aside. I notice too my own muddied footprints in the floor as I follow the trail of sound and physical disruption to a gaping crater in the floor that looks as though it was dug out with the pickaxe sitting nearby. I see my own bloody palm prints on it and know this is of my own doing, my own labor but I don’t remember any of it. I shake off my grogginess, grab the pickaxe and make my way down the crude dirt passageway.
By the looks of things, this was an addition to the house that was later boarded up and forgotten about, in no small part because of the woman that was likely buried alive here. A suspicion I confirm as my feet hit old style wood planks that strain with my weight. Maybe this room was built for Shelby. Maybe Shelby met a man that was indeed her match in more than one way.
I follow the cobbled together wooden and stone passageway until I see Helena. She’s standing there soundless now, before a bricked up wall that looked as though it had been hit with the same pickaxe I was carrying. I let it drop from my hand and I begin to move to her side. She’s still silent when I touch her shoulder and it makes me wary. I know what this spirit can do and I begin to fear she’s doing it to Helena. When I physically turn her to face me, she looks up started, as if I had woken her from one of my own waking nightmares.
She’s inside this room, she tells me before turning her green eyes to the crude brick wall with the hole in the middle of it once more. It’s a small hole. If I did that, I did a lousy job. Then Helena starts speaking again and its not her voice. It’s the voice that’s been haunting me for over a month and its spoken with the same haunting lure that draws me to comply, despite the damnation I know will come of it. She tells me to start digging again, but this time I fight the urge. This time I grit my teeth and I resist the whispering siren of this unfathomable dark.