Thursday, August 11, 2011

"The Crazy Old Lady In The Attic" by Kathleen Valentine (Novelette)

Genre:  Psychological Horror

Short Story Type:  Novelette

Summary: The townhouses on serene, elegant Beacon Hill in Boston are some of the most lavish and expensive in the country. When Stan and Mattie take up residence in the dark and crumbling five-story house that Mattie grew up in, and has just inherited from her grandmother, their plans are to clean it out, fix it up, sell it, and return to their quiet life on Cape Cod. Mattie is overwhelmed by the gowns, furs and jewels in GrammyLou's bedroom. Stan is amazed by the fifth-floor ballroom which has been locked up since the night of Mattie's father's thirtieth birthday party -- the party that ended in the car wreck that killed both of her parents. Now, as they set about sifting through GrammyLou's endless possessions they find mysterious things: a closet full of still-wrapped presents, a marked passage in her grandfather's Bible, and a secret drawer with disturbing content. Mattie soon learns that her entire life has been built on a foundation of lies... that she was raised in a house of horror, by a monster.

"Call me Ishmael," my father used to say. At the time I didn't realize that was the opening line of Moby Dick.

I was pretty little when we drove down to New Bedford and he took me to the Seaman's Bethel on Johnny Cake Hill. We sat in the pew with the plaque that identified it as Herman Melville's.

That's one of the few memories I have of my father, that trip to New Bedford. I don't remember my mother being with us though she probably was. Both of them died a year later on a wet and dismal February night as they were driving back from Boston. They'd been to Daddy's thirtieth birthday party at my grandmother's house on Beacon Hill - the house I subsequently went to live in and grow up in. The house my husband and I have come back to now.

"It's huge," Stan says as we walk up Mount Vernon Street. "Five stories? You lived here alone with your grandmother?"

"And Nell," I tell him. "GrammyLou's housekeeper."


It is a beautiful spring day. All the cherry trees in Boston Common are in full bloom and the air is warm and filled with the scent of lilacs and salt water from the harbor. Wisteria drips from the vines twining over the bowed windows which look dark and grubby.

"Three people in a house that size? All twelve of us lived in a place about as big as one floor of it."

"Well," I laugh, "there was the crazy old lady in the attic."

Stan turns and grins at me. "What?"

"It was sort of a joke between GrammyLou and me." I stare up at the six arched windows along the mansard roof at the top of GrammyLou's house. "Actually, there's a ballroom on the top floor. I grew up in the country and when I came to live here I was terrified of all the noise in the city. GrammyLou always told me not to be scared. It was just the crazy old lady in the attic acting up."

"A ballroom?" Stan can't get past that. "You had a ballroom?"

I shrug. "I've only been in it a few times. GrammyLou closed it up after Daddy's accident. They had a birthday party for him up there the night he died. She didn't even take down the decorations. She just locked the door and refused to ever go upstairs again." I take Stan's big arm and snuggle against him. He's my bulwark against a confusing world. "GrammyLou adored Daddy. She never recovered from his death."

Read Kathleen Valentine's short story on the Kindle or Smashwords.

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