Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ghosts in the Library by Patricia Crandall

Beatrice hears the tale behind the haunted library in Patricia Crandall's creepy short.

Beatrice Calkins stood before a bookcase on the second floor of the Furman-Hibbs Library. She wrinkled her nose and sniffed. A foul odor wafted up from an open shaft at the highest point in the high-ceilinged room. She covered her mouth and nose with a handkerchief. Suppressing a gag, she turned and scuttled down the staircase to the first floor. She went to the front desk and stared at the dozing elderly librarian. She gently shook Ida Riley's shoulder.

Ida quivered. She awoke slowly, and yawned. "What is it?" she sat up abruptly.

"There's a bad odor on the second floor, Ms. Riley. The smell appears to be outside coming through the vent." Beatrice shivered as a bone chilling cold enveloped her. "And, it's much too cold and drafty in here all of a sudden. The temperature must have dropped thirty degrees in seconds."

With obvious stiffness, Ida arose and hobbled around the desk. She murmured, "It's the ghosts doing their mischief."

Beatrice felt the blood in her veins turn to ice. "A haunted library?" She raised her eyebrows. "Wait 'til I tell Henry. He's complained ever since we've moved here that Lancaster Village is too quiet for his tastes." She leaned forward and said, "Tell me about the ghosts."

A staff member wearing a tag printed, Connie, pinned to her green sweater, took charge of the front desk as Ida escorted Beatrice into the reading room.

"Please have a seat," Ida invited.

She poured two cups of fragrant mint tea and set them on linen placemats protecting an old-fashioned mahogany table. They sat across from each other on faded armchairs tacked down with embroidered antimacassars.

Ida began in a ripened voice, "Imagine a great gothic villa on a cliff overlooking the Hoosac River..."

Candlelight flickered in the boudoir where Louise Kinney sat curled upon a window bench. She looked up from her crochet work as fifteen-year-old Elizabeth bounded into the lavender-scented room. The young girl paced back and forth, "I'll not go to the library with you tomorrow, Mama, unless you say I may go with Irene to Miller's Store. Papa said 'no'." Elizabeth dropped down on the pastel Persian rug, and turned her pouting face upwards. "Irene and I want to talk about Lady Margaret's dinner party before the dance, our Latin lessons, how to dress our hair..." she trailed off, twisting the ends of her waist-long hair.

Louise set her needlework down "Oh, sweet heaven, Elizabeth, I don't wish to agitate your pa tonight. He's tired and ornery from the trip to the State House in Albany. He's been lobbying all day. He's weary and wants your company this evening." She locked eyes with her daughter and thought to herself, "Furthermore, I know you intend to meet the chap who works at Thorpe's Pharmacy. I'll deal with that matter later."

"Pooh!" Elizabeth tossed her golden brown ringlets. "Papa wants to go to his club and play cribbage and have a toddy with his boring friends. Then he'll come home to be with you, after sending me off to bed. He doesn't want to spend time with me."

"Elizabeth!" Louise's eyes went huge as she tried to comprehend. "It's rude to speak of your father that way."

Knotting her hands at her sides, Elizabeth pressed, "Miller's Store... Irene... I must go, Mama. I'll be late."

Louise stood up, her shoulders sagging, her thoughts wandering back to a time when she desired a child more than anything her husband's wealth could provide. After several years of a childless marriage, a specialist confirmed to her and Omar it wasn't likely she would be able to conceive a child. Providence had something else in mind. A year later, Elizabeth Mary Kinney was born on Friday, March 13, 1893.

Louise grasped the back of a chair. Her nerves were strung tight. "Very well, go or you'll be impossible to live with. Be in the house one half hour before your curfew. Perhaps that'll appease your pa."

Elizabeth raced to the door. Her hand flitting over the brass knob.

"Elizabeth!" Louise called loudly. "Be prepared to have a discussion with me when we return from the library tomorrow morning."

"What discussion, Mama?" she turned and asked.

"We need to discuss the fact that you are meeting Mr. Haynes most evenings and not Irene."

Elizabeth tilted her head back tauntingly and raced across the hall to her room. She gathered a shawl and a carpet bag then bounded down the stairs. She flew past her father sitting in the library reading a newspaper and dashed through the front door. She called out, "Bye, Papa. Mama said I could stay out past my curfew."

Louise padded into the hallway and descended the hand-carved staircase, pressing her hands to her ears as her husband demanded shrilly, "Will you tell me what is going on with Elizabeth?"



Next morning, at the Furman-Hibbs Library, Louise spied two books tucked beneath a shawl in Elizabeth's cloth bag. After ensuring that her daughter would not see her, Louise eased the books out of the bag, catching her breath as the worn jackets displayed couples in varying degrees of undress and ardent embraces. Upon thumbing through the contents of the books, Louise's face registered disgust.

She walked over to Elizabeth, her skirts swishing across the floor and placed her shaking hand on her daughter's shoulder. "It hurts me deeply, Elizabeth, that you've attempted to smuggle these books out of the library. I forbid you to read them."

Elizabeth pulled away. "You're old-fashioned, Mama. All of my friends read these authors. I want to read them!"

"Your father will be livid with these choices. I'll choose books for you." Louise slid her hands over book jackets on the A shelf. "Little Women by Louisa Mae Alcott. Here, read this one."

Elizabeth turned her back and went jauntily down the aisle without saying a word.

Making an effort to control her anger, Louise tossed the forbidden books into a pile to be restocked on the library shelves. She was about to put her hand on a cookbook her mother-in-law had recommended when a large tome fell off its perch and struck her head. Her forehead throbbed in needles of pain as she peered through a space between books into the next aisle. Elizabeth stared at her, vindictive and hateful.

"I've already done the things in those books, Mama. I've done more!" She whispered, stupid, willful pride on her face.

Louise couldn't believe it. The pain in her head flashed, the reality of what her daughter was telling her sunk in. How could she bring such shame on the family? If her pa knew... it would ruin all of them.

Her heart seized - was it breaking? The pain radiated outward, down her arm, as real as anything she'd ever felt. Her heart was breaking and she could feel it.

Then, in that moment, she felt a rush of anger, of fury, at her willful daughter, at the fact that her life and her family was spinning out of her control. She felt like someone else had taken over her body then, a raging, vindictive demon.

She rushed to her daughter and reached for her throat. With an improbable strength in her tiny hands she pressed her fingers until the girl fell like a rag doll onto the floor. All she wanted to do was help the girl see reason, to make her stop her rebellion. She hadn't meant to hurt the girl, not permanently. She stood there rigid, regret seeping into her bones as she saw the limp body of her daughter, her flesh and blood, at her feet.

"I've lost my senses," she breathed, reason slowly returning to her anger-addled brain. Regret flooded her. What had she done? "Elizabeth!" she cried, throwing herself down on the ground and crying hysterically. "Here is Mama, come back to me. Come back, I beg you. I love you." She stifled her cries by pressing her hands to her face and was convulsed with weeping. She felt and fondled Elizabeth's face and hands, and kept crying. "Get up, Elizabeth. Speak to me. Speak to your poor Mama." Suddenly a heart-piercing cry, as of a burning sharp agony, rang out from her throat. Then, clutching at the pain in her back traveling around to her chest, her body went limp and collapsed beside her daughter.



After pouring more tea and returning the teapot to its cozy, Ida lowered herself into an embroidered, cushioned chair. Her eyes slanted as she spoke, "It's been reported that the spirit of Omar Kinney has been seen pacing back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the library. Witnesses say he is trying to force his way into the building to be with his wife and daughter. Their spirits have taken residence here."

Beatrice closed her eyes and meditated. She said in a soft voice, "I feel their presence. I sense the horror of a mother being provoked beyond reason by an uncontrollable rage to kill her daughter. I do not have children of my own but I feel the despair of this woman." Her heart was palpitating.

A strange look came on Ida Riley's face. "I have four children and I can identify with a mother's rage. One of my boys is estranged from me," she admitted. "I've lost my temper many times with Bo but I was wise enough to turn around and walk out of the room. I could not imagine doing him harm. Today, we call it anger management." She toyed with an antimacassar draped over the back of a wing chair. "Louise slipped into a black hole and the outcome was tragic."

"Tell me, Ms. Riley," Beatrice leaned forward, "whatever happened to Omar after he learned of the shocking deaths of his wife and daughter?"

Ida explained, "Omar walked away from all business and social commitments, leaving a void in this community. So many people were out of work due to the closures of various stores and an iron factory. Approximately a year to the date of the tragedy, the Kinney Manse, barn and outbuildings burned to the ground. Omar's charred body was discovered in the remains of the master bedroom. The fire inspector said it was arson and Omar was the arsonist."

Beatrice gestured toward the stairs, "I read in the newsletter that at a great expense to Friends of the Library, new windows and frames have been set in on the second and third floors, and moldings sealed to keep out the stench and the unexplained cold."

Ida sighed. "To no avail, regrettably. The amount spent is written as a loss in the ledger books. I'll write another memo to the staff and board members." She jotted down, "Complaint No. 204 - drafty, cold second floor and foul odor," on a piece of paper bearing the library logo. She set it on top of a stack of papers in the letter bin.

Beatrice said sharply. "This building needs an exorcism!"



On the second floor of the Furman-Hibbs Library, Father Leo Branigan, flanked by Ida, Beatrice, and several board members, raised a crucifix as he commanded, "In the name of Jesus Christ, cast out these spirits. Let the high priests of God be in their mouths, and a two-edged sword in their hands."

Louise Kinney floated through a bookcase to the legend D. She tucked away her favorite book of poetry by Emily Dickinson and stood alongside her daughter, Elizabeth, reading a selection in "I Passed This Way," a book of poetry by Patricia Crandall. Her eyes grew large and she turned around in a full circle, taking slow, timid steps.

"Mama, what are you doing?" Elizabeth stared.

Louise stood still, with her eyes in a trance.

"Mama, what's wrong?" Elizabeth clasped her hands over her heart.

Louise fluttered her eyelids. Her lips curved upwards and there was a flush on her face. "Come, Elizabeth. It is time to join Papa."

Outside the library, a slender, dark form drifted in a shimmering radiance above the marble steps leading to the entrance. Omar Kinney extended his long, skeletal arms to Louise. She wafted into them.

Omar reached for his daughter's bony hands and raised her opaque fingertips to his charred lips. All together, they vanished.



It was a fresh spring morning when a small group of Lancaster residents stood huddled together in the chilly air at the quaint St. Bonaventure's Church cemetery. Ida Riley and Beatrice Calkins prayed along with the congregation while Father Branigan officiated at the Mass of the Dead offered for the souls of Omar, Louise, and Elizabeth Kinney.

After handfuls of earth were tossed on the graves, the little party drifted away.

Three weeks later, Ida, wearing a perky straw hat, and Beatrice, in a floral silk scarf tied beneath her chin, returned to the cemetery to view the Kinney graves. Clusters of snow drops illuminated by a brilliant morning sun, blanketed each grave resting on a sloping hill.

"Amen," Beatrice blessed herself.

"Amen." Ida threaded her rosary in her fingers. "The library can once more be a place of tranquility."

"Halleluiah!"

"Did you say something?" Ida asked Beatrice, sensing a palpable fear.

Stunned into silence, Beatrice turned ashen and shook her head, no.

The two women nearly knocked each other over as they tore out of the cemetery, not being the least bit curious to glance back.

11 comments:

  1. A haunted library! (Sadly more and more of our libraries are becoming ghost towns, particularly the book side of the house as we Kindle and iBook our way away from the printed page.) Fun story, to be classified in the "chill" section by the Dewey Decimal System ;-) Keep writing!

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    1. Thank you for your comments. It is difficult for me to categorize my stories. I write without inhibitions and they come out twisting and turning to a surprise end.

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  2. A playful spine tingler: would that all dilemmas could be resolved with an effective exorcism! I liked the placement of age-old parent child tribulations and power struggles into this Gothic tale, illustrated by some well observed behaviours between the protagonists. thank you,
    Ceinwen

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    1. I like your comment: a playful spine tingler and will use it for advertising purposes. Thank you for reading.

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    2. Thank you for reading and commenting.

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  3. loved the dialogue and the atmospheric descriptions and the conflict between Generations, as mentioned by Ceinwen , a really first class Story.

    Mike McC

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  4. Loved the humour of your ending! Your story contained so much it could form the basis of a novel.
    Beryl.

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  5. Hi Patricia, it could be any town, any library and any graveyard, that is the key to a good ghost story ...it could happen to you. An interesting read and and perhaps it could easily be transformed into a short novel as all the events are capable of being expanded. I would suggest though, and this is just an aside from me, some of the dialogue seemed a little forced..do people actually speak so formally? I maybe wrong what do you think?

    James.

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  6. Perhaps the sign of a good short story is that it creates the impression that it would work as a novel. I think the author's hard work has paid off here. Enough has been stripped away to leave us with just what we need. There's a skillful balance between humour and creepiness. However, I certainly wouldn't want to dissuade the author from expanding the story if that was something that interested her.

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  7. The tension between Elisabeth and Louise was wonderfully done. Good prose style and editing. I didn't have to backtrack over any sentences or passages.
    Good one Patricia :-)

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  8. As a former librarian and current library school professor, I give you my professional seal of approval. This is a fine, well-crafted story.

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