Characters Environments 
Author Marian Parisher-Nichols
Poems and short stories, free to read.
"When I write, I shoot from the hip!"
 
 

House of Riddles

Chapter 1>>> the Aution

 “With the powers vested in me by church and state, I now pronounce you husband and wife.  You may kiss your bride.”  The groom stares briefly at his new wife and she at him.  Her veil only just covers her striking features.  Carefully he lifts and folds it back over her tiara; their lips meet in their first marital kiss followed by a loving embrace.


Grasping their shoulders, the Reverend turns the young couple around to face the congregation.  “I give to you Mr. and Mrs. Shane Hawkins.”


Raven is a stunning young woman of twenty-one, with light green deep-set eyes and high cheekbones, which testify to her Cherokee ancestry.  Her complexion is smooth and glowing, complemented by a narrow tilted nose, full but small mouth, and perfectly straight white teeth.  She wears the traditional white gown with a high neckline trimmed with tiny seed pearls, long sleeves, a satin bodice, and an A-line skirt.  Her straight ebony hair falls to just below her shoulders, curving under slightly, and obscured by a waist-length veil attached to her pearl studded tiara.


Shane is a thirty-one year old cowboy from Arizona; he has close-cut, dark, ash brown hair combed back with no part, an angular jaw line, hazel gray eyes with heavy, umber colored brow, high forehead, a straight blunt nose, and a very deep tan.  Although not handsome in the conventional sense of the word, he still has a stance that draws eyes his way.  He is six feet two inches tall, lean, and muscular.  His stare can be somewhat daunting if directed your way.  He wears the customary black tuxedo with a navy cummerbund, and a red rose in his lapel that matches Raven’s bouquet.


It is a blustery November day in the mountains of North Carolina, where the new bride and groom honeymoon at a winter resort in Boone.  Raven wakes to a strange environment but soon remembers her wedding day and turns to face her new still sleeping husband.  His eyes open and he greets her, “Morning Sweetheart.”


“Morning,” she returns.  “Ready for a day on the slopes?”


“I don’t think there’s enough snow yet for skiing, but we can go hiking if you wish,” he replies.


Raven throws back the covers and jumps out of bed, “I’m getting a shower.  Why don’t you order us breakfast?”


``````


They pass the next days enjoying each other.  Shane is correct about the snow, al-though the ski resorts often make their own, when the weather doesn’t cooperate.  They hike, ride horses along the trails, swim in the in-door pool, just forget about the outside world, and lavish all their attention on each other.


``````

On the last morning of their honeymoon, while having breakfast at the restaurant, Shane scans the newspaper as he does every morning.  An article catches his attention.
“Raven, look at this.”


Raven leans over and looks at the picture that Shane shows her, “Wow!  What a beautiful house.  Is it for sale?”
“Yes, listen.”


Shane reads the ad that is in the paper.  There is an old estate for sale.  It is being auctioned that afternoon and the starting bid will be the amount of the back taxes owed.


“Oh Shane, it sounds like a beautiful place.  It’s very large, six bedrooms.  And what else?” asks Raven.


“Well, there’s a library, living room, family room, two and a half baths.  Let’s see, three acres of land and the house is a two- story completely refurbished home.  There’s a lot of house there.  It won’t hurt to look it over.  I like the location.  It’s close to the reservation where you can start teaching next semester.”


“It also says that the contents - I guess that would be the furnishings, are included in the sale.  I’m not sure about that, we do have our own,” Raven remarks as she scrutinizes the ad a little closer.


“That’s no problem,” replies Shane.  “It can be sold if we don’t care for it and there are always charities.”


“But are we interested in something that large, Shane?” asks Raven taking her eyes from the newspaper and facing him.


“Yes, I think it’s worth looking into,” he replies.


“I don’t know, I was brought up quite modestly,” she smiles faintly.


“I tell you what, why don’t we go, we can have a look, check things out, and then…” here he shrugs his shoulders, “If it appeals to the both of us, we’ll decide then, how does that sound?”


“I say that will be marvelous.  It’s this afternoon, we’d best hurry if we want to look around before the bidding begins,” she says, and then looks at him questioningly.  “Can we ––we—afford something like this?”


“Well we can’t pay cash if that is what you mean, but I can get up most of the money, sell stocks, and cash in some CDs, and borrow the rest.”  Smiling at her, he takes her hand, “You understand, honey, most young couples nowadays have huge mortgages, why should we be any different?”


“But your work is in Charlotte, would you commute or…” she stops, waiting for an answer to her unasked question.


“Charlotte’s not that far, I can run things just as well from there, you’ll see.  It’ll work itself out.  I have this innate feeling that this house is meant for us.”


“Okay, you sound confident.  Who am I to have any doubts?  Hurry, let’s get going!”


Shane chuckles at her sudden enthusiasm.


``````


Later, driving along the rugged mountainous roads in Shane’s SUV, with Shane sitting confidently behind the steering wheel, the long drive becomes a sightseeing outing.  The fall colors are fading but still enough lingers to draw the eye.  Most of the trees are bare; a daring wind plucks the remaining leaves from the branches and they come sweeping across the highway as if on an urgent errand.  Clear skies are giving way to fluffy white cumulus clouds, gathering as if readying for an event.


Shane, wearing a cowboy hat, is from Phoenix, Arizona, where his parents own and run a large cattle ranch.  He has not changed his mode of dress since coming to North Carolina; he still prefers his western garb to any of the local styles of dress.


He came to North Carolina to study architectural design at the University.  With four older brothers, he decided he did not want to stay in the family ranching business but try his hand at something dearer to his heart.  He had met Raven Blackfox while repairing the library at the University; she was just in her first year at the time.


Raven’s mother is Caucasian and her father half Cherokee.  Raven wanted to gain a doctorate in philosophy, so that, with her teaching degree she could go back and teach on the Reservation.  She and Shane began dating, then married five and a half months after her graduation.  Only Raven’s folks were able to attend the wedding, but the Hawkins had said they would visit them at Christmas.


The estate is a hundred miles south of Boone and is a two-hour drive from the motel where they had honeymooned.  They arrive just after the noon hour.  Eventually, they see a huge signpost beside the main highway announcing the auction, with a black arrow pointing towards a long narrow paved path.


Slowing down as they reach the notice, Shane makes the right-hand turn onto the road, “I guess this is the right direction.  I take it the house can’t be seen from the main road?”


“So it would seem,” Raven agrees.

 
The long drive, at least half of a mile, has poplar trees on both sides; most of their yellow foliage has fallen, leaving their lacy branches printed against cerulean skies, giving the feeling of both serenity and melancholy.


Soon, the estate comes into view from under the horizon, and suddenly looms up over the main drive.  It is a very tall and narrow grayish-white structure, with a low veranda supported by rustic posts that skirt the body of the house.  Two small gables sit on either side of the steep tiled roof, their darkened panes glistening from the noonday sun.  There is a tall white picket fence circling the acre the house sits on, a modern day addition.  The house has an ancient air about it and they realize it is of the nineteenth century.


Now arriving at the main drive, they can see a few vehicles parked, as a small group of people moves about the front of the house.  Shane parks their SUV and they join the others.


The air is abnormally still with big white puffy clouds drifting across the sky.  There is nothing to suggest that this will be anything other than a perfect day.


A man wearing a gray business suit and an unbuttoned topcoat is addressing the group.  “We can start a tour of the inside in a few minutes, but let’s see if there will be any more late arrivals.  Shall we wait maybe ten minutes, or so?  Meanwhile, look around outside all you care to.”


With his experience in architectural design, it is more than apparent to Shane that this house has been modernized and completely rebuilt throughout.  True stucco has been added to the exterior walls, new double-paned windows fitted, and dark burgundy shutters, the ones that give a true protection against blizzards that can occur at this elevation, have been added to complete the general appearance of the estate.


The veranda’s floor is wooden planks of treated lumber left to their natural effect, smoothly sanded and sealed.  It sits high off the ground, nearly six feet, with stuccoed concrete steps.  The main entrance door is oversized and painted burgundy.  There are no windows in the heavy door, but a brass knocker embellishes the upper center and a pushdown doorknob provides access.


They walk about inspecting the grounds; the lawn is dormant, the bushes trimmed, and the one birch tree with its white bark is leafless.  There is a flagstone path leading to the back, and as one, the troupe all take this direction.  Attached to the back of the house is a cobblestone walkway bordering the oval pool that is empty and covered.  The guesthouse is far from the main house; between them is the tennis court with artificial turf.


The auction is ready to begin.  No more bidders arrive, and the inside tour is over.  The bidding is held at the back of the house, under the veranda on the cobblestone terrace.  There are no seats.  The starting bid will be the taxes that are owed.


By the end of the auction, Shane and Raven own the property.


It seems that no one wanted to go more than a few thousand dollars over the starting bid, and so Shane gets it on his third bid.  Raven squeals with delight and jumps a little at the thought of moving into this beautiful home in the next coming weeks.


“I can’t believe it!  How did you… we… get it so cheaply?” she gushes as she clutches his arm.


“I don’t question good fortune,” he grins down at her.


The auctioneer approaches them with an outstretched hand and Shane takes it in a warm handshake, “I am glad you young people were able to buy this old place, the others were developers, who planned to demolish it and build a huge shopping and housing complex here.”


“We want to live here, but I wonder why the owners let the taxes back up like that,” asks Raven.


“The rightful owners have disappeared, they’ve not been heard from for five years now.  There are no heirs that anyone knows about; the taxes were not being paid, but the state could not just take procession of the property until a certain time frame, which in this county is five years.  It’s a shame too, ‘cause he had just finished the renovations inside and out.  That swimming pool is new, as is the tennis court.  His wife had a designer to re-do the whole interior, then one day they just weren’t seen around town or at church.  Their mail wasn’t picked up for weeks, and then the sheriff received a complaint from their pastor and came out here to find the place empty.  Didn’t see signs of foul play, the lights were on, but the horses had broken out of their stalls and were running loose.  Just made no sense, none at all!”


As he speaks, the smile leaves Raven’s face.  Then shadows creep in overhead, as storm clouds gather in from the east.  Soon the beautiful fluffy clouds turn dark and the sky gray, as large flakes of snow descend.


Looking about, the auctioneer surveys the thickening snow, “Well!  It’s  about time!  I know the resorts are wondering if Old Man Winter is going to make an appearance before Christmas.  Well, time to git, here’s my number,” he hands Shane his business card, “Call me when you have a number where I can reach you to sign the final papers and hand over the key.”  Without further ado, he pulls his topcoat collar up, and walks briskly to his pickup.  Shane and Raven watch as he and the others leave and soon they are the only ones left.


Glancing at Raven, Shane sees the concern on her face, “What is it Raven?  Yes, I know, it’s an unhappy story; wish we had heard of it before now.  Turns out there’s an unsolved mystery here.”


Raven smiles, not wanting Shane to think she has buyer’s remorse, “Well, there’s nothing to be done about it now.  This snow is beautiful, but shouldn’t we get back to the motel?”


“That we should, unless we want to be snowed in here with no electricity.”  He catches Raven up in a good-natured bear hug, next minute setting her back onto the ground, then together, with their arms about each other’s waists, they race back to the SUV, though the moist snowflakes.


``````


For the fourth time in two weeks, Shane and Raven make the long trip from Char-lotte to Bryson City, North Carolina, a small town they have learned is the closest one to their newly acquired home.  A century ago, it was part of the Cherokee Nation, but over the years the Cherokee Nation has shrunk and now the small principality is no longer a part of that glorious past.


The newlyweds have acquainted themselves with the shopkeepers and the local sheriff, their mail carrier, as well as the employees of the electric company.  The town residents have made them feel welcome.


Without them actually asking anyone, the locals, bit by bit, relate information on the former owners, how well liked and respected in the community they were, but what had happened to the unfortunate couple was anybody’s guess.  It was said that a stranger had visited with Mr. Crickmoore a few weeks before they had gone missing.  The stranger was described as a poor beggar type and that he argued so violently with Mr. Crickmoore that Mr. Crickmoore had ordered him to leave, and then made a report with Sheriff Rod-gers.  The Sheriff was the last person to see the couple when he had gone to investigate the incident and at that time, the Crickmoors were fine, and very happy about the completion of the renovations done to the estate.


The snow still lies deep on the ground, but the day is bright and clear with sunlight dancing off the crystals of snow as they make their final trip.  The air is calm and the clouds stand motionless on the horizon, as if waiting for some mode of transportation to whisk them away to other warmer fields and valleys.  It is December 12 with Christmas only twelve days away, which hardly leaves time to make ready for the visit of both sets of parents.


A cleaning crew, and the middle-aged couple Shane has hired as live-in help, the Morgans, Buck and Sandra, have made the house ready for occupation.  The wife, Sandra, will take care of the house and help with the meals, and the husband, Buck, will tend the grounds.  All the newlyweds need do is stow their personal effects and make ready for the upcoming holidays.


As they arrive at the estate and proceed up the steps, Shane stops Raven, takes the bag she carries and places it on the porch and taking her hands in his, says, “There one more tradition…”


Raven gives him a smile as Shane scoops her up into his arms and carries her across the threshold into the Great Room, where cheers erupt from the moving men and cleaning staff.  A brief kiss and Shane sets her onto her feet.  “Welcome to our new home, Mrs. Hawkins.”  Shane bows low in the manner of the knights of old, and the new house becomes their home.


``````


At first, settling in is overwhelming but with the help of the Morgans, the couple Shane has hired, it soon smoothes out and a routine developed.  The first thing to do is ready the house for the holidays.  Shane and Buck take care of the outside, and they run white twinkling lights all down the fence railing.  The white bark birch is a challenge but between the two of them, using ladders, they manage to outline its bare branches in the same white lights.


Inside, Raven and Sandra are busy adorning the different rooms, but their primary focus is the dining area and the Great Room.  Raven is very pleased with the colossal Frazer Fir she has chosen, and she sets it into the alcove of the extra large bay window at the front of the house.  Jutting out onto the veranda, the bay window looks like a small separate room.  The beautifully decorated Frazer Fir, with over a thousand twinkling lights and a blue white and silver color scheme, gives a frosty feeling to the observer.


The same blue, white, and silver colors pervade the two main rooms, as well as the banister of the stairs that lead up to the second level.  Christmas music plays softly while the smell of pine permeates the air and each window holds a single white electric candle on its sill.


Raven smiles to herself, for, after going through the entire house, she decides that her home looks like something from a magazine depicting the perfect Christmas.  It is late in the afternoon, she is tired, and for the moment, she is alone.  Shane and Buck are finishing up outside and Sandra is in the kitchen preparing a light snack before cooking dinner.
She finds herself on the second floor going through each bedroom for a final check, for she wants their parents to enjoy their visit with them.


Each room is richly decorated in bold colors, no wimpy pastels here; one in midnight blue, another in teal blue, one in forest green, one in bold orange, another in striking purple and still another in rustic red.  All window dressings and furnishings coordinate well with the room’s selected color scheme.  The prior owners, who never got the chance to enjoy the fruit of their labors, did all of this.  Tragedy had struck, they had gone missing, and the mystery to this day is left unsolved.


Raven wanders into the purple suite and immediately feels a pull of energy; so strong is it that she is startled by the unknown force that propels her forward across the threshold and deep into the interior of the room.


A melancholy mood overcomes her, bringing with it great sadness.  There is this sensation to linger in the purple room’s soothing shadows and quiet stillness.  There are two windows spaced four feet apart on the outside wall, and the single electric candle sitting on the sill of each, beams a soft light to both the outside and inside; she pushes aside the curtains, she can see her husband and Buck gathering their tools, finishing up their work.


Twilight creeps in, announcing the end of the day; the skies grow dark as she gazes out on the darkening view, and time speeds up.  How quickly night travels across the heavens.


She has been in here for over an hour looking out the window, yet it seems only a matter of minutes.  She turns back into the darkened room, and shapeless shadows move silently across the floor but Raven does not see.  She does see, however, that the door is shut and she cannot remember shutting it, but she must have.  She doesn’t really even remember coming in here.


Suddenly, realizing the lateness of the hour, she turns and hurries to the door, grabbing the doorknob and pulling to open the door.  Nothing happens, she tugs a little harder. It remains steadfast.  Letting go of it for a moment she wonders if the door is swollen from dampness and has become stuck.  Yet, how could it?  It is warm and dry upstairs, so she attempts again to open the door.  It springs outwards to open quite easily and Shane is holding the knob on the other side.


 “Ahh!  There you are.  Didn’t you hear me calling you?”


“No …” she answers slowly.  “I’m sorry, I haven’t heard anything.”  For a split second, she feels out of touch with reality and time.


“No one has seen you for over an hour,” Shane tells Raven, as they walk back down the hall towards the stairwell.


“Sandra thought you might be in the sauna or napping, but when I checked … well you were nowhere to be seen.  I’ve been calling for a good fifteen minutes, all the bedroom doors were open except this one, and there you were.”


“Oh Shane, I am so sorry, I simply lost track of time.  By the way, that door stuck with me; maybe Buck can check the lock.  We wouldn’t want our parents to be locked in their rooms.  My mother would never let me hear the end of it.”  She smiles as if it is of no great concern.  Nonetheless, concerned she is, not just by the door jamming, but also that she has lost an hour of time and had not realized it.


“First thing tomorrow I’ll check it myself.  After all these years with the house standing empty, it’s a wonder there aren’t more things that don’t work.  Hurry now, dinner is ready and I have to get up early to pick up my parents at the airport.  Have you forgotten they arrive tomorrow?”


“No, I haven’t forgotten.  That’s why I was checking the bedrooms.