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1Praise for Gerald Lopez




Blue Light By Night, a Layton Shayne Mystery


“There is a lot of suspense and the reader will be doing some guessing. There is also eroticism here and I commend the author on how he managed to work the themes so that everything comes together. I could see that he spent time thinking this story out.”

Amos Lassen Reviews




“This is a thrilling, suspenseful mystery. His ability to spin a tale of mystery, comedy and romance is obviously a talent that I am really beginning to treasure. —fast becoming one of my favorites writers of mysteries and the paranormal.”

Multi-tasking Momma’s Book Reviews






For Love of: Tangi


“A very entertaining read. I was cracking up because it seriously was funny.”

On Top Down Under Book Reviews





Novels by Gerald Lopez





Dueling Divas

(an Avondale Story)



New Eden Tales

Dead Men Tell Tales

City of Dead Men



The Layton Shayne Mysteries

Blue Light by Night

Green Eyes Cry, You Die

Black Hearts Dance

Gray Days, Wicked Ways



For Love of Series

For Love of: Tangi

For Love of: Colt



Miss Lucy and the Pussy Brigade

(Miss Lucy Case Files #1)



All Queers Must Die



Abel Kane Mysteries

Lost Bitches

Only the Young and Beautiful Need Apply



A Grande Romance

(A Grande Mystery)



The Travelers

Samuel: Dying to the Flesh



A Stratham Town Father Andrew Trilogy

A Shared Darkness

Crackpots, Crooks, and Cowboys

Andrew in Paradise



Short Stories by Gerald Lopez

Between Lights and Death



Lily’s Passion

A Lily Courtland Romantic Mystery



Gay Forever After





Horror in Lowden Hall







Gerald Lopez



Begin Reading

Table of Contents

Copyright Information





Copyright © 2018 by Gerald Lopez



All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.





Cover Art Copyright © 2018 by Gerald Lopez





Acknowledgments



My special thanks go to the following:



To Beta readers Joyce and Brandi, for their helpful comments and suggestions.





Table of Contents



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

About the author

Contact the author

Other books by Gerald Lopez





Horror in Lowden Hall





Gerald Lopez





Chapter 1



Inheritance



EVEN THOUGH IT was still pitch black outside, Henry Ayala tossed and turned in bed. No matter what he did, it was impossible to get comfortable. Knowing he had to be out of his grandmother’s old house in two weeks was plaguing his mind. So Henry threw off his covers and hopped out of bed. After pouring himself some orange juice and making toast, he looked around the small house. Everything but the furniture had been packed up and put in storage. The buyers had opted to pay extra for the furniture which was practically new.

What am I worried about? Henry thought. I received a huge amount for this house because of the location and the acreage with it.

At one-hundred-years-old his grandmother had lived a long, happy, life and gone peacefully in her sleep. No one could ask for an easier way to go.

“I need to get out of here before I start talking to the walls,” Henry said to no one but himself.

After padding barefoot to the bathroom, he splashed water on his face, then looked at himself in the mirror. His black hair had become more salt-and-pepper in color, and he actually liked the way it looked. But his thick eyebrows which matched in color, tended to disappear in photographs because they were mostly white with only some black.

“Hell, I’m better off than most, I guess. So I shouldn’t complain.” He ran his hand through his thick hair then down his trim and tight stomach. When he smiled he noticed tiny lines had formed in the corners of his eyes. But he had no really significant wrinkles yet.

Inspiration hit, and Henry decided to put on shorts, a T-shirt, and sneakers, in order to go for a bike ride. Soon he was riding alongside the back road the house was located on. It was a beautiful day in central Florida—not too hot or cold. There was even a light breeze, so Henry was able to relax and let his mind drift as he pedaled.

No one in the family had known about the existence of his grandmother’s second house. His grandmother had sold her other house, the one everyone knew about, and moved in with his mother after the death of his grandfather. She had not shared the information about the second house with anyone—not even her two daughters. The house and acreage had been left to Henry’s grandmother at his grandfather’s death which had occurred only a year earlier. In her will, his grandmother stipulated that the house and land go to the oldest male grandchild, and that was Henry. Being a struggling writer, Henry could definitely use the money. And none of his cousins argued for a piece of the house, property, or funds from the sale. They were well off and didn’t have time to deal with taking care of the property or selling it.

Though he’d done quite a bit of traveling in his life, Henry wasn’t familiar with Llaunvan, Florida. It was a somewhat small town between two larger cities. Hikers loved using the numerous nature trails, and the preserved downtown area and park hosted various festivals and gatherings throughout the year. It was late September, but hadn’t yet started to get cold—typical crazy Florida weather. While in parts of the country people had already dug out their sweaters, Henry was comfortable outside in short sleeves and shorts. Being outdoors gave Henry a sudden rush of energy, and he turned onto the trail leading to the historic downtown area. He’d just gotten off the trail and onto the main street when he spotted a ‘For Sale’ sign. There was a bright red arrow on it that pointed left. On impulse Henry followed the arrow.

Something he’d once heard his film class teacher in college say, popped into Henry’s head. Left hand turns or movements in films usually signified something bad was coming, or rather the characters were headed in a bad direction. Right turns symbolized a happy ending. Henry had actually used that idea in a couple of his books. But the ‘left turn thing’ was in reference to fiction not reality—or so Henry figured.

More ‘For Sale’ sign arrows had led Henry down another left turn and then he arrived at his final destination. He’d never seen anything like it before. Located at the end of a street, it backed up to protected park land. Although it was free-standing there were buildings to the left of it and to the right, making it seem crammed onto its lot. Still, the building dominated the street because it jutted out in front. The dark gray stone building was pie-shaped—narrow in front but wider in back. And it was four-stories tall. The fact it was almost nestled into the tall trees behind it, had kept the building fairly hidden from view. Something about the structure spoke to Henry. Despite its sinister and menacing look it seemed to draw him in.



Chapter 2



It Beckons



THE BUILDING, WHICH seemed more like a tall, stone tower, beckoned Henry forward. He hopped off his bicycle and walked with it toward the row of well-worn steps leading to the entrance.

Henry felt the air grow heavy and stale around him. It was hard to breathe for a moment. When he inhaled deeply through his nose he almost gagged on the smell. For a second he felt like vomiting but coughed instead. He could almost taste what seemed like rancid piss, sweat, and shit in the space around him. Death—it felt as if he were surrounded by death.

“The corpses is what it is,” an old woman with long, wavy white hair said, as she walked toward him. Dark—almost black—eyes shone from a pale, wrinkled face. “Corpses—that’s what your senses are picking up in the spirit, young man.”

“Not so young,” Henry said, and smiled. “I just turned fifty in the beginning of this month.” The smells weren’t emanating from the well dressed woman in front of him, who wore an ankle-length floral print dress with a long, lightweight coat, and flats.

“Aw, fifty is young compared to some,” the woman said. “My name is Olga Floria. You must be Hispanic. They age well.”

“My parents were born in Puerto Rico but raised in New York. I’m a Florida boy—been here since I was four.”

“I haven’t seen you in town before,” Olga said. “Are you on vacation?”

“Nope, I’m seeing to my grandmother’s estate. She passed away and left me her house and acreage. I just sold it.”

“Oh, so you won’t be staying then,” Olga said. “Got somewhere else to go, huh?”

“Not really,” Henry said. “My partner died two years ago, I sold the place we co-owned, and moved into Grandma’s house for a while—so I’m free as they say. What corpses?”

“I thought you’d almost forgotten about that,” Olga said. “This building housed a mortuary for a while… a long time ago. Spiritually aware people can sometimes pick up on the building’s past.”

“There’s more to this place than just that, isn’t there?”

“Much more,” Olga said. “You’ve picked up on that fact, I see.”

“I’m a writer,” Henry said, “maybe I see too much sometimes—mostly in my imagination. I hear a slight accent in your voice, Olga. Where are you from originally?”

“Romania,” Olga said. “I came here when I was just a small child, but a little of the accent remains.”

“Have you been inside this place?” Henry pointed to the building.

“Not since I was much younger. It’s too dark a place and I’m too old a woman.” She smiled. “There’s an open house today so the building is open.”

“Should we be brave and go in?” Henry said, and smiled.

Olga chuckled before replying. “Why not—let’s do it.”

“Let me just park my bicycle first,” Henry said.

The smells from earlier suddenly swooped down on Henry, almost encapsulating him as he walked his bicycle to the side of the stairs. A barking dog startled him as it emerged from the shadows, followed by a hunched figure with a blanket over his shoulders.

“He’s all noise and no bark,” the old man said to Henry as he scratched his long, scraggly beard.

“That’s good to know,” Henry said, eyeballing the white dog.

“There’s a pole in the corner you can chain your bike to—me and Shylo will keep watch over it for you.”

Henry reached into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet, got a five and handed it to the old man.

“This is for watching my bike for me,” Henry said. Suddenly the old man’s dirty, bony hand clutched his hand. Long, unnaturally curving, yellow fingernails wrapped themselves around his palm like talons. Something felt very odd about the situation and the old beggar man.

“Welcome, boy,” the old man said, then laughed and let go of Henry’s hand.

After chaining his bike to the pole, Henry waved to the old man then walked away.

“I don’t think the sprits of dead people or corpses is what I smelled earlier,” Henry said to Olga when he was back at her side.

Olga laughed. “You’ve met the old soldier and his dog.”

“Soldier?” Henry said.

“He was in uniform, wasn’t he?” Olga said.

“I don’t know. He had a thick, gray blanket on over him. It’s a shame for a former soldier to be living like that.”

“Some folks wouldn’t really call it living,” Olga said.

“I suppose not,” Henry said. “There but for the grace of God go you or I. Well, shall we go in?”

“We shall,” Olga said, then took Henry’s arm and they walked up the front steps.

The front doors were extraordinarily high, going way above Henry’s head, and he was six feet tall. Henry opened the door and they went inside.

“Hello,” Henry said, but no one answered. He took advantage of the moment and looked around from where he stood.

The center of the building was open to all four floors. A wide central staircase made of what looked like shiny black marble took center stage in the open space. Wrought iron railings painted black went around the open hallways of each floor from the second to the fourth.

“I love the tile work in here,” Olga said.

Black and white tiles in a checkerboard pattern covered the floor in the immense, open entry room. But the closed, tall, wood shutters against the back wall caught Henry’s attention.

“The shutters and iron railings remind me of New Orleans,” Henry said.

“One of the owners of Lowden Hall was originally from New Orleans, and had the shutters, iron work, and tiles added right before he and his new bride moved in,” a woman said as she walked their way. “Hello again, Henry.”

“Hello, Cecily,” Henry said, then turned to Olga. “Cecily Kenley was my real estate agent when I sold Grandma’s house.”

“Nice to see you again, Olga,” Cecily said. “What made you finally decide to venture inside Lowden Hall again after so many years?”

“Cecily and I are old friends,” Olga said to Henry before turning to Cecily. She admired the Realtor’s pale blue suit and matching heels. “I used to wear high heels all the time when I was young like you.”

Henry looked at Cecily, who was a black American whose family originally came from Kenya. The Realtor had a short, black, bob hairstyle and nice makeup. She was middle-aged and attractive with a petite figure.

“Thank you for the compliment, Olga,” Cecily said, then smiled.

“It was time,” Olga said as she walked around the immense hall. “The time had arrived for me to come inside and face what happened here.”



Chapter 3



Loss



“I ONLY JUST GOT here a few minutes before you two walked in,” Cecily said. “My assistant, who was supposed to have opened the shutters and set up a table with refreshments, just called in sick.”

“People will do that when it comes to this place,” Olga said.

“Yes, unfortunately,” Cecily said. “I’ve got to run to the bakery one street over. Feel free to look around at leisure, Olga. You too, Henry.”

“I’ll give you a hand with the shutters when you get back, Cecily,” Henry said.

“Thank you,” Cecily said. “I appreciate that, Henry. Although, I guess I’d better warn you that people in town think Lowden Hall is cursed. If you feel like taking off I’ll understand.”

“We’ll be here when you get back,” Henry said. And I’ll let anyone who happens to come by know that you’ll return soon.”

“Thanks,” Cecily said, then left the premises.

“Do you believe in curses, Olga?” Henry said.

“Yes and no,” Olga said, while she walked toward the stairs followed by Henry. “As a Christian woman I should say that I don’t. But I’ve seen and known angry men, and even angrier and spiteful women. They would curse a saint. But would God allow someone to be cursed—that’s the real question?”

“God wouldn’t allow it,” Henry said, “or rather he wouldn’t sanction it. But man was given free will.”

They slowly walked up the grand staircase. Olga turned to look across the area below when they’d reached the second floor. Henry looked as well then spoke.

“It’s dark in here, but is that a black fireplace against the back wall?”

“The entire back wall is a fireplace carved out of stone to look like the open mouth of a dragon—teeth and all,” Olga said. “It was put in when the first and second floor housed a curiosity shop.”

“Curiosity shop? What exactly is meant by that? Was it literally the name of the shop?”

“Yes.” Olga sat on the floor for a moment and Henry joined her. “It was something to see, Henry. The entry below us held giant suits of armor, old mannequins, stuffed animals—of the real variety—not the play toy types, and a large but portable Baroque puppet theater. Oh, how I loved the theater! I almost forgot—the fireplace surround was brought to the states from an old castle in Europe.”

“The shop really must’ve been quite the place.”

“Yes, and that was before eBay and online selling—when real treasures could be found in shops. An ex circus performer named Cosmo owned the hall then—back in the fifties. He lived on the third floor with a platonic male roommate who had a daughter and helped around the shop. But apparently no one was around to help Cosmo when he accidentally set fire to the building. The poor man dropped a cigarette into a pile of flammable fabrics. All his wonderful treasures went up in smoke.”

“And what happened to Cosmo?”

“He survived, but moved into an assisted living facility. His beautiful red-haired cousin Emilie Constantine was given Lowden Hall as an early inheritance from Cosmo. By then most of the walls on the lower floor were black from the fire.”

“And Emilie didn’t try to paint them?”

“Oh no, she felt the black color should be accentuated and maintained as part of the character of Lowden Hall. She said that her goal in life was to inspire artists of all types, so Lowden Hall became an artists’ retreat of sorts in the psychedelic sixties. More like a commune filled with lots of highly-sexed young people, and Emilie was the queen bee. But, I digress. The artists, under Emilie’s guidance transformed the hall’s second floor rooms into almost a maze of murals—but for the most part they took the color black as their inspiration. They painted the downstairs black and hung all sorts of mobiles, as well as displayed large art installations. Quite a few of them were worth seeing.” She started to get up and Henry quickly rose to his feet and gave her a hand.

“When was the mortuary housed here?” Henry said.

“In the twenties.”

Olga walked around to the left wing, and looked over the railing to the floor below.

“Be careful,” Henry said. “You don’t want to accidentally fall over the edge. We don’t know how sturdy the railings are these days.”

“They’re plenty sturdy,” Olga said. “A few years ago someone was going to redo the hall and turn it into shops or apartments. They did an inspection, bought the place, and updated the electrical wiring. That’s when my husband—Gheorghe—died. He was retired already, but came in to help one of the electricians who was a friend. Both my husband and his friend were electrocuted so strongly and violently that they were thrown over the edge.”

“Violently?” Henry said. “Were they murdered?”

“No, but I figure the electrocution must’ve been strong enough to hurl their bodies over the railing. No foul play was suspected. Anyway, this is the first time I’ve been back here since even before the incident.” She was silent for a few moments. “My Gheorghe was a good man. After he died there were a few more fatal accidents—I remember hearing about one worker falling down a secret passage located on the fourth floor. He broke his neck and most of his bones. But even in those days nobody ever ventured to the fourth floor. The workman who died had told the other workers he’d heard music coming from the fourth floor. Hearing the music should’ve been his first warning not to go into the fourth floor rooms which had been closed for years.”

“Why would music have been a warning? And where did it come from?”

“Everybody at that time had heard about Vivienne’s music box and—”

“I’m back,” Cecily said from downstairs.

“We’ll be right down,” Henry said, then turned to Olga. “About the music box…”

“That is a story for another day,” Olga said.

“Stay a few minutes if you need to, Olga. I’ll go help Cecily.”

“Thank you,” Olga said, “I will do that.”

Henry walked downstairs, and spotted Cecily setting up a folding table. He helped her open it, then they covered it with a tablecloth, and Cecily set out a box of assorted pastries and cookies. A jug of lemonade and some plastic cups completed the refreshment display.

“You seem to be expecting at least a few interested possible buyers,” Henry said.

“The curious will come out for sure. As for serious buyers, who knows? The price is certainly right, as the seller is definitely motivated. You’re not by any chance interested in buying a property here?”

“A cursed one?”

“It might make an inspirational abode for a writer,” Cecily said. “Lowden hall has worked its magic on all types of artists.”

“There is that,” Henry said. “I suppose we have to open the wood shutters so the light can come in.”

“Yes, but I know what you’re thinking. It’s so much more atmospheric as it is.”

“That’s exactly what I was thinking,” Henry said.

“I agree with you regarding atmosphere, but most buyers like to see the space they’re interested in purchasing.”

They went to open the first set of enormous shutters, and Henry stood back to look at them. The wood was worn and had several splattered colors of light green on it.

“The color is amazing—like old copper when it gets a green patina,” Henry said. “Beautiful.”

“I like the color too, but whoever buys the hall will probably paint them white,” Cecily said. “The black rails will probably go white too—that is the trend these days.”

“That would be criminal,” Henry said.

“You could purchase the hall yourself,” Cecily said as they moved along to the next set of shutters.

“You’re good,” Henry said. “But I doubt I can afford this place. Then there’s electricity, heating, cooling, etcetera.”

“The hall costs less than half of what you got to keep from the sale of your grandmother’s home and acreage. Renting space to other businesses will help with the cost of electricity and other things.”

“What about converting some of the building into living spaces—like apartments or lofts?” Henry said.

“That’s a very real possibility, and wouldn’t take much work or investment,” Cecily said.

When Henry was opening the last set of shutters, a loose piece of wood caught hold of his arm and scratched him. Henry raised his arm to look at the injury. As he did so, blood began to fall in droplets onto the stone wall between the shutters.

“You’re bleeding,” Cecily said. “Let me get a napkin and some Neosporin from my purse.”

Henry watched his blood drip onto the gray stone, get suddenly sucked into it, and disappear.

Cecily returned and wiped Henry’s arm with a wet nap, then applied Neosporin to the wound. She looked around for red drips on the stone but didn’t see any.

“Henry, did you wipe up the blood?” Cecily said.

“No, it… well it—I guess it got soaked up by the stone,” Henry said.

“Now that’s one I’ve never heard in my years of being a Realtor,” Cecily said.

“It’s the stones,” Olga said. “Almost the entire hall inside and out is faced in blood stones.”



Chapter 4



Blood Stones



“BLOOD STONES DON’T sound like something that will help me with the listing,” Cecily said, and chuckled as she put a bandage on Henry’s cut.

“Probably not,” Olga said.

“Hello, is anyone here?” a man said as he walked in with a woman by his side.

“Excuse me,” Cecily said. “Time to get to work.”

Henry carefully finished opening the shutter he’d gotten cut on earlier, then noticed Olga waving him over. The two walked outside onto the cement patio that overlooked protected woodlands.

“The rocks used on this building are spoken of as blood stones,” Olga said to Henry while they walked along the patio.

“Do the stones have some sort of absorbent quality? Is that why my blood disappeared?”

“I don’t know about that,” Olga said. “But the stones have a sordid and varied history.”

“Tell me more.”

“Blood stones earned their name because of having been structural parts of sacrificial altars in different locations around the world.”

“What?” Henry said. “How would they have gotten so many stones?”

“The original owner of Lowden Hall had a friend in Europe who sold him the foundation stones cheaply. Apparently they came from a sacrificial site in Greece that the locals had destroyed. That’s why the stones were so inexpensive—the people wanted them as far from them as possible.”

“Greece? This is a little wild. You’re from Romania, Cecily’s family came from Kenya. Why would people move to this small Florida town?”

“My family felt drawn here,” Olga said. “I’ve heard others say the same about how they came to be in Llaunvan. But few know many of the details regarding why their families chose this town. And I have no idea what would’ve brought people here. Many artists and performers have stopped by Llaunvan at different times to perform. Even the circus came once a year.”

“Did all the stones come from the same supplier?”

“No,” Olga said. “In the nineteen twenties the architect who redid Lowden Hall was also an archaeologist. He finished the stonework using stones he found at old sites. They were also from sacrificial sites as people were usually quick to get rid of them for obvious reasons.”

“How was he able to bring the stones into this country—wouldn’t that have been illegal?”

“Not necessarily back then. Besides, a friend once told me that the archaeologist slash architect and designer was doing God’s work. In my friend’s opinion the architect was dismantling ancient sacrificial altars for the church.”

“Interesting,” Henry said. “This hall definitely has some stories to share with the world, doesn’t it?”

“Maybe it’s just waiting for someone to write them down,” Cecily said when she popped outside. “My guests took the cage elevator up to explore the second floor. Excuse me, I think I heard some other people enter.” She left again.

“She actually did have a point,” Olga said. “Some of the things that occurred on the premises would definitely inspire the right person, and might make for interesting reading.”

“The question is whether or not I’m the right person,” Henry said.

“Exactly,” Olga said. “Just how intrigued are you by Lowden Hall and Llaunvan in general?”

“I’m not really sure yet. Tell me about Vivienne’s music box.”

“To be completely honest I don’t know many details about Lowden Hall just generalized stories. The same tales all the citizens of this town have heard for years.”

“Are these stories more historical or fiction? Maybe a mix of the two?”

“Who is to say for sure?” Olga said. “There are old photographs of Vivienne’s music box in our downtown museum.”

“I didn’t even know there was a museum here. Most of the time I was busy looking through things at Grandma’s house and dealing with the closing.”

“The music box was very ornate and gold gilded. When the lid was opened both a male ballet dancer figure and a ballerina would pop up and dance in front of a lacey gold background covered with semi-precious stones. The music it played was an original composition written for Vivienne. It was a wedding present from her husband Lucien Dumon.”

“Cecily said the Dumons had an architect or designer come in and redo parts of the hall. What was his name?”

“Let me think for a moment,” Olga said. “He was from a French family as was Lucien. Vivienne’s family was originally from France, but she was born on her family’s island plantation. Ferrand was the architect’s last name—Alphonse Ferrand—that was it. I always forget his name. Alphonse and Lucien were childhood friends and inseparable until Vivienne entered the picture.”

“Alphonse really must’ve been a good friend to have moved here from France to help with the hall. Or was he living in New Orleans too by then?”

“All three of them lived in New Orleans before moving here,” Olga said. “They were all very beautiful. Vivienne was known for her golden curls… as was Alphonse, funnily enough.”

“It almost sounds like—no—I don’t even want t say it out loud,” Henry said. “Did they ever find the music box?”

“No, however their rooms or apartments were locked up after Vivienne died. They’ve been left untouched after all those years. A family member enters the Dumon apartments once a year to check on things and see to the rooms. From what I understand, the fourth floor looks like a museum.”

“Through all the owners of the hall those apartments were kept intact?”

“It was always a condition of the sale,” Cecily said, as she walked out with two plates holding cookies and pastries. She handed one plate to Olga and the other to Henry. “So far mostly the curious have come to look around today. Not one serious offer.”

“The day is still young,” Henry said.

“People are especially curious about the fourth floor apartments you mentioned, Olga,” Cecily said. “The sole surviving family member died last year, but the contract states only the next buyer and the cleaning crew can open and look at the apartments now. Even I haven’t seen them.”

“Wait a minute,” Henry said. “Was Lucien Dumon the owner of the mortuary?”

“Yes,” Cecily said. “His father owned a mortuary in New Orleans, and Lucien moved here to open his own establishment with his new bride Vivienne.”

“I’d love to see their apartments,” Henry said.

“All you have to do is buy the hall,” Olga said.

“She said it, not me,” Cecily said. “Come on in and get something to drink.”

Henry and Olga walked back inside with Cecily. After getting a drink, Henry walked over to the far left wall and looked at the fireplace. It wasn’t just the open mouth of a dragon but also its body. The body portion wrapped around the wall beside the open mouth.

“He’s a work of art,” Henry said to Olga and Cecily. “The carving of the stone is very well done, and he’s so shiny.”

“His eyes look menacing,” Olga said.

“Talk about conversation pieces,” Cecily said.

Some more people walked in and Cecily went to greet them. Olga and Henry walked up to the group later and talked to them—they were curious locals rather than buyers.

“Is it OK if I go up to the second floor and look around a little?” Henry said.

“Yes,” Cecily said. “Enjoy yourself.”

“We’ll be up there in a bit to join you,” one of the locals said to Henry.

Rather than use the stairs, Henry took the ornate cage elevator up to the second floor. Once he was inside the first of the second floor rooms, he was surprised to see wood boards covering the walls.

Could these boards possibly be protecting the original murals that were done in the sixties? Henry thought.

He continued walking from one room into another, in what felt like an endless straight line. Then he spotted a side room and went in there. That led to another side room and soon Henry was lost.

Impossible, he thought. This place can’t be that big. Turning in place to get his bearings just had the effect of making him feel more lost than he did already. It doesn’t help that they’ve kept the windows boarded up on this floor.

Suddenly he felt hot and dizzy. Trying to focus he looked up at the ceiling and the multicolor, glass chandelier. It was shaking in place, and then started hurtling down toward him.

There was no way he could move in time. The chandelier hit him on the head and he fell to the floor. He put his hand to his forehead and felt blood. More blood for the hall’s stones. Henry realized he was about to become Lowden Hall’s latest victim.



Chapter 5



The Calling



COLORS SWIRLED OVER his head with such brilliance they almost blinded Henry. He tried to shield his eyes, but could still see the bright, gem-like colors. His only response was to groan loudly.

“It’s alright, Henry. You’ll be fine, Henry.”

The voice speaking to him was, soft, comforting, gentle, and had the slightest French accent.

“The old woman I knew back home told me you’d come one day.”

“Did she?” Henry said groggily.

Long, golden curls cascaded from the woman’s shoulders onto Henry. Somehow he knew she smiled at him, although he couldn’t see her face.

“Promise to write my story before those of the others,” she said.

“Am I bleeding?” Henry said, feeling something running down his face.

“Promise me, please. Time is running out, Henry—as it always must.”

“I promise,” Henry said, wanting to please the woman with golden hair.

A spark of a flame started in one of the woman’s soft curls. It ran up and ignited the rest of her hair. The golden yellow strands suddenly turned black and disappeared in a puff of black ash.

“Wha…wha—t happened?” Henry said, starting to panic. “What’s going on?” He turned his head and saw a pool of blood beside him. “I’m dying—help! Help, I’m dying.”

“Let me have him,” a man said. “Death is always an interesting thing to paint.”

A long-haired, barefoot man appeared in front of Henry next to a red-haired woman in a colorful caftan.

“Red,” another man said, as he walked up with a paintbrush. “Just the color I needed for my mural.” He dipped his brush in the blood by Henry’s head.

“Stupid artist,” a harlequin marionette said, as he floated above Henry’s head manipulated by an unseen hand. “The blood won’t stay that beautiful color. It’ll turn black like everything else in this place.” He laughed eerily.

Henry turned away from them and saw a middle-aged woman dressed completely in black surrounded by two younger males and four females who were also in black.

“Are you still alive, Mr. Ayala?” the woman said. “My children and I would like to know.”

“I… I don’t know,” Henry said.

“Don’t let them bury you alive,” the woman said.

“No—don’t be buried alive,” her eldest son said. “Fight them, Henry! Fight them!”

“That’s Mr. Ayala,” the woman said to her son. “Don’t be overly familiar with your elders.”

“Aaaa!” Henry said, and shut his eyes tightly. “Go away! Go away!

The lights from the chandelier felt warm, but too bright above his closed eyelids, forcing Henry to open his eyes. When he did so he found himself surrounded by barely clad women who wore frightful clay masks. They did a frenzied dance around him, waving their arms around wildly while thrusting their hips, and stomping barefoot around the room.

Laughter filled the room and the marionette from earlier reappeared.

“You call that dancing—that’s not dancing! Wait for it, Henry. You’ll soon see real dancing.”

The women disappeared, to be replaced by a slender but athletic male dancer who leapt into the air, landed on one foot, and began to spin. He was dressed in a pale blue Hussar uniform featuring a tight dolman jacket with a loose pelisse over-jacket. Henry knew what it was because he had worn a similar costume in a school play years ago. But he didn’t wear it with revealing tights like the dancer wore.

While Henry watched, the dancer spun round and round while making his way toward him. The long stray strands of the dancer’s pale, blond hair and ponytail flew in the air as he danced. Henry wanted to move but was held still by the man’s mesmerizing, clear blue eyes.

“You’re new,” the dancer said when he was by Henry’s side spinning like a top. “Help me, please. Do you think you can help me?”

“Help you what… or how?” Henry said.

“I’m not dead,” the dancer said, “not dead.”

After smiling, the dancer jumped onto Henry’s chest and spun rapidly. As the handsome man spun, Henry screamed. Little by little the dancer’s feet bore into Henry’s chest. The pain grew more intense as the feet cut through flesh.

“Stop!” Henry said, crying while blood spurted out from his chest.

But the feet dug in, and the dancer kept spinning faster and faster. Henry’s screams echoed through the room, then he heard it. A soft melody began to play and distracted him from the pain at hand. He turned his head and saw the pretty, blonde woman who had been first to speak with him. This time she held a gold music box while she danced his way smiling.

“Help,” Henry said, and stretched his arm and hand toward her.

“Help,” the woman repeated before setting aflame before his eyes. The fire disappeared, and the woman—now a burnt, blackened creature continued walking his way still smiling.

Henry covered his eyes with his arm and screamed.

Someone moved his arm away from his face. The woman in black with the kids stood directly to the side and over him, while the dancer still spun on his chest. She spoke to Henry in a raspy whisper

“Say that you will, write all of our stories, Mr. Ayala—end this nightmare and agree to tell what needs to be told.” She disappeared.

“I’m not dead,” The dancer said, then reached down into Henry’s chest, yanked his heart out, and held it aloft while it was still beating.

Again Henry screamed and turned his head. The burnt woman was beside him now.

“No one here believes they’re dead,” the woman said.

Closing his eyes tightly Henry screamed as loudly as he could, then reared upward in a sudden movement.

“You’re OK now, Henry,” Olga said.

Henry opened his eyes, and found himself surrounded by Olga, Cecily, and the local man and woman from earlier.

“The chandelier,” Henry said. “It fell on me and cut my head—blood—on the floor.”

“There’s no blood on the floor,” the local man said.

“And there’s no chandelier in this room,” Cecily said, while applying a damp napkin to Henry’s forehead. “Drink some of this, it’s a new bottle.” She helped Henry drink from a bottled water container.

“How long have I been out?” Henry said.

“Not long,” the female local said. “We came up right behind you. I think you triggered a secret passage.”

“You must’ve stumbled and lost your footing when the passage opened—it was just a wall before,” the local man said. “And it is hot in this room. We should probably get him out of here and to a cooler area.”

As they helped him up, Henry turned to Olga.

“The warning sign, Olga. I heard the warning sign.”

“What warning sign?” Olga said.

“It was so lush and romantic a melody she played for me.”

“Who did?” Cecily said.

“Vivienne—it had to be her,” Henry said. “It was the melody from her music box I heard calling me.”

The large, male local had his arm around Henry to support him as he walked.

“I’ve been called here,” Henry said. “Called to tell their stories and let others know the suffering they endured in this cursed hall.”



Chapter 6



Taking Ownership



SEVERAL DAYS LATER, Henry drove to a local eatery in order to meet an old, longtime friend of his that was visiting.

Natalie Lane sat in The Llaunvan Café and listened to her friend Henry Ayala talk about what had happened to him at Lowden Hall. She took a bite of her cinnamon roll, and looked at the excited expression on Henry’s face.

“Cecily gave me two days to make certain I was completely well before she gave my offer to the owners of Lowden Hall,” Henry said. “They accepted the offer quickly, and I closed on the place late yesterday. Apparently they wanted to make sure I didn’t change my mind and back out at the last minute ”

“Does that mean I get the grand tour today?” Natalie said. “I did drive almost two hours from Jacksonville to come here.”

“As if you had anything better to do,” Henry said, and smiled. “You did bring some luggage I noticed.”

“And when did you notice that?” Natalie said.

“I got here after you and walked by your car on my way to the front door—”

“Being curious you peeked inside and saw my luggage,” Natalie said. “Well, maybe I’m seeing someone else after I leave here.”

“Are you?”

“Of course not, dummy. I came to see the hall in person. I’ve been curious about it since you told me about your somewhat sudden purchase on the phone. And that was before you just mentioned the vision or dream you had when you were unconscious on the floor.”

See the hall is about all we can do for now I think,” Henry said. “I haven’t even been in the living quarters yet.”

“Going into that area of the hall should be interesting to say the least. You might find enough valuable goodies in those apartments to make your investment worthwhile.”

“Right now I’d settle for a comfortable bed. The one in my hotel room is lumpy.”

“Did you have time to look up any of the people from the vision you had to see if they’re real or rather were real?” Natalie said as she brushed her long brown hair behind her ear.

“No, but I could guess the identities of a few of them. The pretty blonde with the music box had to be Vivienne.”

“She may have started off ‘pretty’, but charcoaled skin isn’t a great look on a gal.”

“I wouldn’t think so,” Henry said. “And I’d prefer not to remember that part. The original owner of Lowden Hall and his wife had several kids, so I’m guessing they were the ones I saw dressed in black. The marionette was probably connected to the puppet theater owned by the ex circus performer who had the curiosities shop.”

“So what do you think happened to you when you were out cold and lying on the floor?” Natalie said.

“It’s hard to say, Nat. Normally I wouldn’t think I had that susceptible a mind. Although a lot of times I have had dreams related to the last thing I heard, talked about with someone, or even watched on TV.”

“You do have a healthy and detail-oriented imagination. But you don’t usually make rash decisions. So you must’ve had a reason for buying Lowden Hall.”

“I do. The place definitely has stories to tell. Besides, I always felt I needed a hook to draw people to my novels. Maybe the hall can be that hook.”

“Your novels are well written and interesting—isn’t that all that matters?” She drank some of her juice then daintily wiped her mouth with a napkin.

“You put on the red lipstick today and dressed up,” Henry said to change the subject.

“It felt like an occasion,” Natalie said. “And I don’t wear my Chanel lipstick and best suit for just any old meeting. You probably didn’t notice I’m even wearing heels.”

“Wow,” Henry said somewhat sarcastically, then smiled and changed the subject once more. “Being a good writer doesn’t seem to matter if people can’t find you in a flooded market. Being Lowden Hall’s new owner might just bring me some much-needed attention. Lord knows my bank account can use an influx of cash.”

“It’s not like you’re poor, Henry. Since Mack died you get money from his estate or whatever. Your grandma’s place sold for a good bundle since she had all that acreage. And the hall didn’t cost you much—being cursed and all.”

“Thank you for putting things in perspective.” Henry was being sarcastic again, but then he felt bad about his comment and smiled.

“Sarcasm noted,” Natalie said. “But, that’s why I’m here actually—to help you put things in perspective, so to speak. You might be onto something with the hall. It can be a good draw if you handle things correctly. We’ll need to start a blog about the place—making sure to highlight all the spooky stuff. Maybe you can rent out the bottom space for parties-proms, weddings, and the like.”

“I knew there was a reason I was glad you were coming. But what about things back home for you?”

“My divorce from Jake was finalized a month ago, remember. I finally moved out of our place and put my things in storage. I’m in the mood for a change of pace. And being your estate manager should fit the bill.”

“Estate manager—when did I make you the estate manager?”

‘You did tell me on the phone that you needed time to focus on your writing, did you not?”

“Yeah, but—”

“I’ve already got a lead on some possible renters for the second and third floors.”

“There’s a basement where the mortuary was housed,” Henry said. “I’m not sure how to go in there yet. People enter the hall proper through a large entry room that’s more of an open space that’s sort of like a courtyard. There are shutters but no glass windows along the back.”

“Hmm,” Natalie said. “Strange. Is it all French doors or something?”

“No. Well, there are doorways but the shutters sort of act like doors. Otherwise the place is open to the elements.”

“What about rain coming inside the building?”

“There’s a very wide cement porch around the back and an overhang. It would have to be extremely windy for rain to come all the way inside.”

“I’m having a difficult time picturing it. The hall sounds almost gothic with all the stonework, but the inside sounds like it’s built around an indoor courtyard.”

“Because that’s pretty much how it is. I should mention there is a roof over the whole building. By that I mean the courtyard isn’t open to the sky above.”

“How do you cool and heat a building like Lowden Hall?”

“There’s not much you can do in the ‘courtyard’ but the rooms or apartments are self-contained. I’m told some of them have fireplaces and fans. And central heat and air.”

“What? How—when?”

“Remember I told you that my new friend Olga’s husband was electrocuted and died in the hall.”

“Yeah.”

“That was only a few years ago. Someone bought the hall and had updated it with modern central heat and air in the upper floors.”

“So we won’t have to sweat it out on the fourth floor then,” Natalie said. “Or freeze our butts off in winter.”

“Wow—moving in—that’s a big assumption on your part, Nat.”

“I’m trying to be nice here,” Natalie said. “You said you were low on cash, so I figured until we get most of the hall rented out that I would take a free room as part of my salary.”

“That is so nice of you,” Henry said sarcastically.

Henry and Natalie looked at each other and laughed.

“This is gonna be an adventure, isn’t it, Henry?”

“I think so, Nat.”

“We’ve both finished eating, so where to now, boss?”

“The museum where I promised to meet Olga after breakfast, then the hall.”

Since it was only a short two blocks away, they decided to walk to the museum. Henry laughed when he saw the stiletto heels Natalie wore.

“Not the best shoes for walking in,” Henry said.

“I wanted to make sure I looked the part of an estate manager,” Natalie said, then straightened out the peplum of her pink jacket. Did you notice that I’ve lost ten pounds? Now maybe I’m plus-sized and not fat.”

“You look good,” Henry said. “It will be fun having a roomie to share this experience with and run screaming to if any ghosts come to visit.”

At the end of a row of attached shops was the museum. Its exterior seemed to blend in rather than stand out or demand attention.

“I would’ve missed the place, it looks so plain outside,” Natalie said. “It has the same brick exterior as the other storefronts, and not much of a sign.”

“They probably have some restrictions on how people can advertise their businesses, since this is a historic downtown district,” Henry said.

That makes sense, I suppose,” Natalie said.

Henry opened the museum door for Natalie and walked inside after her. He gasped when he saw what was gracing the entrance.



Chapter 7



Direct Encounter with the Past



VIVIENNE DUMON STOOD directly in front of Henry in all her glory. She was dressed in a long satin dress with a sheer overskirt, had a tiara and trailing veil, and held the gold music box. Her long golden curls hung loose to her shoulders. Henry was frozen to the spot.

“The sculptor did a spot on job with her, didn’t he?” a young, tan man with short, black hair wearing a suit and bow tie said as he walked up to Henry. “I’ve seen her before too.”

Henry turned to look at the man, who at the oldest couldn’t have been more than thirty.

“I’m Henry Ayala—this wax figure looks just like the Vivienne in my vision.”

“We sent the sculptor numerous photographs of Vivienne, whom we wanted to make the focal point of our humble museum. I’m Lawrence Staunton.”

“Pleased to meet you Lawrence,” Henry said. “This is my friend Natalie.”

“Hi,” Natalie said. “Is the outfit Vivienne’s real wedding dress or a replica?”

“That outfit and a couple of others were donated by Vivienne’s family,” Lawrence said. “She had a sister who had children.”

“Did you say that you’ve encountered Vivienne too,” Henry said, “like I did?”

“Oh yes,” Lawrence said. “She was very beautiful too. Well until—”

“Don’t tell me she turned into charcoal in your vision too,” Natalie said.

“Ugh,” Lawrence said, then made a disgusted look and rolled his eyes. “It was horrible. I didn’t sleep for days afterward. My poor husband had to put up with me screaming and grabbing hold of him when I had nightmares after the encounter.”

“How exactly did Vivienne die?” Henry said.

“Let me guess,” Natalie said. “She was in a fire of some sort and got burned up.”

“Nice way of putting things there, Nat,” Henry said.

“She’s not far off the mark,” Lawrence said. “Vivienne was trapped in the mortuary when it caught on fire. Poor thing really did burn to death.” He shook his head and shivered. “Gives me chills just thinking about it.”

“She really was beautiful,” Natalie said, as she looked at the wax statue of Vivienne. “I’m surprised her hair was so long in the twenties.”

“Not every woman cut her hair short back then,” Lawrence said. “Some rolled their hair under, in order to do a sort of faux bob.”

“Interesting,” Natalie said. “The dress is certainly of the period.”

“It’s simply gorgeous, isn’t it?” Lawrence said. “The high-low hemline is so beautiful.”

“I love how the sheer layers flow over the satin,” Henry said. “It seems to work for a ghost—the long train and flowing layers all add something.”

“”I’m loving all the bling in the beading,” Natalie said. “And her tiara is amazing.”

“You should see the Egyptian’s evening gown then,” Lawrence said. “You would love it. All gold and black sequins and beads—ahmazing!”

“We’re meeting Olga Floria here, and I don’t think we have time to see much today but we’ll be back again,” Henry said.

“Henry’s an author,” Natalie said. “His first two books were bought by a big publisher but he self publishes now.”

“Really?” Lawrence said. “How fascinating. Where would I find your books, Henry?”

“On Amazon and Smashwords online.”

“He’s going to write about some of the owners of the hall next,” Natalie said.

“Who?” Lawrence said. “No—let me guess. Vivienne and Lucien. Oh, I can’t forget Alphonse and the Egyptian.”

“Bingo,” Henry said. “I had to promise Vivienne I’d tell her story first.”

“She is the most well known of the hall’s ghosts, and a bit of a blabbermouth,” Lawrence said.

“I’ve got to see the Egyptian’s dress,” Natalie said. “I’m sure Olga would wait for us.”

“I can take you straight to it, and if we hurry it won’t take but a sec.,” Lawrence said.

“What the heck,” Henry said. “Lead on.”

They quickly followed Lawrence into the museum. There was no time to focus on any of the things they passed as they were in a rush. When they got to the Egyptian’s dress Natalie gasped loudly.

“Oh my God it’s so glamorous,” Natalie said.

In front of them was a knee-length dress covered in black and gold sequins. The bodice had a daringly low V-neck that was sheer except for strategically placed black and gold beads. In her hand the mannequin held a large, feathered fan with a carved, gold handle. A black and gold beaded headpiece, and low heeled shoes completed the look.

“The Egyptian was a very glamorous woman,” Lawrence said. “Check out the super low back of the dress.”

Natalie and Henry looked at the back of the dress which plunged nearly below the butt.

“Who exactly was the Egyptian?” Henry said.

“She was Alphonse Ferrand’s girlfriend and one-time fiancée,” Lawrence said. “Her name was Mariah Elmasry. Mariah’s last name is actually Arabic for ‘the Egyptian’.”

“That’s neat,” Henry said. “I guess Alphonse met Mariah on one of his archaeological expeditions.”

“You are absolutely correct,” Lawrence said. “Mariah was somewhat of an archaeologist herself. Although she didn’t agree with sending so many of the stones they found here to the hall.”

“Even though the stones were cheap wouldn’t it have been expensive to ship them here,” Natalie said.

“The original guy that shipped the stones felt it was his Christian duty to get the cursed stuff out of Europe for free,” Henry said.

“The Catholic church did a good job of convincing the man to ship them for free,” Lawrence said. “Later, the man’s son continued the tradition because of what happened on the ship The Aphrodite Resplendent.”

“What happened?” Natalie said.

“I’ll share that story once Henry’s finishes telling the hall’s tales,” Lawrence said.

“Naming a ship after a Greek Goddess doesn’t seem like something a devout Christian would do,” Henry said.

“Aphrodite was the name of the shipowner’s wife,” Lawrence said.

“Hello, is anyone here?” Olga said from the entrance of the museum.

“Coming,” Henry said. “How much do we owe you for the tour, Lawrence?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Lawrence said, as they walked back to the front. “Maybe you can return the favor by giving me a tour of the hall’s fourth floor one day.”

“Gladly,” Henry said.

Olga was dressed in a long skirt and top with flats. She also wore a wide-brimmed hat. Henry introduce her to Natalie before turning to Lawrence.

“Why don’t you come with us now to see the hall, Lawrence?” Henry said. “If the boss will let you take a lunch break.”

“I am the boss and owner,” Lawrence said. “Maybe my husband, who’s retired, will swing by and watch the place for a while. Let me make a quick call.”

While Lawrence was on the phone the others engaged in small talk.

“Well?” Henry said, when he saw Lawrence put his smart phone away.

“I can go!” Lawrence said. “My sweet, wonderful husband told me to go ahead and that he’ll be here in a few minutes to mind the museum. He was born in Lowden Hall, you know.”

“Actually I didn’t know,” Henry said.

Lawrence looked at Olga, who responded. “We didn’t get around to talking about your husband.”

“My husband’s mother was a member of the artist’s colony that lived in the hall during the sixties and seventies,” Lawrence said. “She literally gave birth to Morris on the second floor of the hall in one of those blow up kiddie pools. Heck to this day Morris doesn’t know which of his mother’s two lovers was his biological father. He called them both daddy till they died.”

“Which lover did his mother live with the longest?” Henry said.

“The three of them met at the hall and became an instant threesome for the rest of their lives,” Lawrence said. “I told Morris not to get any ideas from his wild mother where we’re concerned. Two is the perfect number for us.”

“We’d better head out,” Henry said. “Cecily will already be at the hall with the keys.”

They all left the museum and Lawrence locked up.

“Our cars are still at the café,” Natalie said to Henry.

“They’ll be fine there,” Olga said. It’ll be faster to just walk to Lowden Hall from here.” She crossed the street, and the others followed along trying to match her quick pace.

“Oh my gawd I am so excited!” Lawrence said. “You don’t know how much it means to me to be getting a tour of the fourth floor of the hall. The museum is always open to you for research day and night free of charge, Henry.”

“And what about me,” Natalie said. “I’m his personal assistant.”

“The same offer applies to you too, don’t worry, honey,” Lawrence said, then looked at Henry. “She’s a real negotiator, isn’t she?”

“You don’t know the half of it,” Henry said. “She’s also my estate manager.”

“That is good,” Olga said. “It will leave you more time to write. I’ve a feeling you’ll be busy.”

“Lawrence, I forgot to ask if you’d ever heard the music from Vivienne’s music box,” Henry said.

Stopping dead in his tracks, Lawrence turned to Henry with a strange look in his eyes as if he were mesmerized.




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