She pulled her coat tighter around her, the wind feeling like a GRIM BEAST that was tearing at the fabric to try to get inside.
As DARKNESS descended, the RUSTLING of the leaves sounded more OMINOUS than she ever remembered. Long FORGOTTEN SORROW was creeping nearer, PERCHED to swoop down and take over her SOUL again.
Once she reached the old house, she peeked through the only still UNBROKEN WINDOW she could reach. She had expected it to be bad, but nothing could have prepared her for the DISASTER she saw inside.
Alice shivered with GRIEF at what she saw through the only unbroken window on the porch. It was also the only one not covered with a board. Taking the old key out of her pocket, she steeled herself to enter Great Aunt Edna's house for the first time since she'd left for college all those years before.
There was no ELECTRICITY, of course, so she'd brought a large battery operated lantern with her. The door didn't want to open at first, but she doggedly kept at pushing it until it gave way. In fact, it gave way faster than she expected, and she was launched with almost VIOLENT force into the home she'd grown up in and that her other relatives had tried to take from her.
She was hit with waves of MELANCHOLY, just as she had known would happen. All the therapy in the world couldn't erase or ease these SENSATIONS and feelings, just prepare her to deal with them. The house was a wreck, all the furniture topsy-turvy and covered with the dust and cobwebs of the years. Evidence of rodents and spiders and who knew what else was everywhere. Evidence also that the relatives had taken whatever they wanted and destroyed the rest in their searches before the sheriff had locked the place and told them to stay out until the estate was settled.
Great Aunt Edna had adopted her when her own parents were killed in a very mysterious accident, their car plunging into a RAVINE because the brakes were damaged. Edna had always maintained it was no accident, although she'd only told Alice that after she was old enough to understand.
Walking across the foyer Alice turned her head away from the kitchen where the MURDER of her aunt had occurred. Hurrying into the LABORATORY where her parents and then she and her analytical chemist aunt had worked, she saw with relief that the bench with the hidden drawers was intact and it did not appear anyone had figured out what was in there.
"Our 'relatives,' and I use that word loosely," Edna had told Alice right before she left for school, "will stop at nothing to get this house, my money, and our secrets. When I go, they are going to fight my will, try to run though the money keeping it in court, and stop at nothing to get what your parents and I were working on and what you and I have almost perfected."
At that point, Edna would LAUGH and add, "They will try, they will not succeed. Eventually you will get it all. Even then, do not trust that you will be safe until the experiments are completed and the patents applied for, and under your name, too. You are young enough and smart enough, just like your parents. No matter what they throw at you, don't give up or give in, and make sure your own will is iron clad and leaves everything to the family you will have one day. Promise me!"
Alice had promised, and Edna had given her a KISS. She remembered like it was yesterday, and tears stung her eyes. She winked them back as hard as she could, and started opening the hidden drawers. All the work was there, Edna must have heard whoever was coming for her and got it all secreted and herself into the kitchen to use the phone to call for help.
She thought about how it would AMUSE Aunt Edna if she could have known the details of all the relatives had tried to do from that moment until the estate was settled in her favor. She wished her aunt could see her now, and hoped that somehow she did.
They tried to beat me, tried to dry up the money for college, tried to steal everything Edna and my parents had worked for, even tried to turn this beautiful home into a SLAUGHTERHOUSE and a wreck, Alice thought, but they didn't succeed and they never will.
VISIONS of what the house once was and would be again when she got finished with it helped drive out the NIGHTMARES Alice sometimes had. The bad dreams involved CHILDREN being chased through TUNNELS by a CLOWN. They would eventually be cornered by a stagnant pool of RED WATER, and she would awaken realizing she was one of those being chased. Somehow she also would realize, when she awoke, that under the make-up the one doing the chasing was one of her relatives.
At every RECURRENCE of the dream, she would wake up and go get out the plans for the house, poring over every detail. If it was late enough in the morning, she would call one of her FRIENDS and ask for suggestions or just talk over the agenda each had for the day. They knew Alice still needed COURAGE to finish what she and her aunt had been working on, and to get the house back in order, and they shared freely.
As difficult as it was to simply go about her business, Alice knew she could not HIDE, that although they stayed away as the restraining orders commanded, her relatives knew where she was and kept up with her. She had never had ASTHMA before, but working with the choking clouds of dust in the house left her wheezing. She would go back to the hotel, regroup, and go back again with the workers. No way was she going to let them see her weaken.
Alice pushed aside the DIARY she'd retrieved from one of the hidden drawers of the workbench and tried to gather her thoughts. In the SEVEN weeks since she'd taken possession of the house and gotten all of the other properties and moneys put into her name, she had done wonders in getting workers in to do the repairs.
The house was very close to being ready for her to occupy, in fact, she really could have moved in the week before if she'd not minded the unfinished bits. Her excuse that she did not want to live in a house while it was being remodeled was partly true, and partly it was that she was still HAUNTED by everything that had happened in that house since the last time she'd lived there.
In two days she would FLY out to the destination wedding of one of her dearest friends, and she did not want to cloud the joy of the occasion with TALES of what she was going through. When the work crew was finished at the house for the day, if she stayed for any length of time every moment was a spine TINGLER. She knew no one was there, and did not believe in ghosts, but couldn't USHER out the feeling of something INVISIBLE being there.
I'm a scientist! she would sternly tell herself. My parents were scientists, and my Great Aunt Edna was a scientist, and I have everything I need to finish the research we were working on, and gain patents on chemicals that will revolutionize how we deal with garbage materials that can't be recycled or composted or reclaimed in any other way. WAX dripping off of a candle shouldn't spook me, a RAVEN flying suddenly past my front door shouldn't make me SCREAM. My mood shouldn't swing like a PENDULUM, from elation at the work that's getting done on the house to terror that one of my relatives will show up and harm or kill me. Somehow, some way, I have to get a grip, I can't let fear of them win.
“I like what you’ve done with the place so far!”
Alice’s friend Eugenie had come back from the wedding to visit for a couple of days. As much as she’d tried to hide it, Alice’s behavior the whole long weekend had been enough to AROUSE suspicion among her friends that she needed more tangible help than just the occasional phone call.
The ANCIENT, BEDRAGGLED garden in the back yard now had a NARROW row of delicious smelling HERBS growing in it, and more was going to be plowed under to be made ready for growing vegetables the next season. An UNWIELDY gate led to the still very DUSTY barn where Alice was storing items from the house that she wasn’t yet sure she wanted to keep.
When Eugenie had learned about the “keeping things I’m not sure about” from Alice, it had been the FORTUNATE excuse she needed to say she was coming to help her decide. “Sometimes you need an outsider’s eyes to help you EVALUATE these things,” Eugenie had told her.
Many of the items were too FRAIL to survive long in a barn, Eugenie had decided after a cursory inspection. She put on her thinking CAP to come up with a plan, and finally got Alice to agree to let her EXECUTE it before she left. A donation truck was coming to get almost all of the items early the next week.
“As you can see,” Alice said, “this turns the once toxic substances inert and makes them recyclable.”
Alice and Eugenie were in the lab among the COPPER and glass tubes and the HUM of the machines where Alice was trying to EXPLAIN to her friend what some of her experimentation was about.
“You science people are EDUCATED way beyond me,” Eugenie laughed. “I majored in history for a reason and only have a TENUOUS grasp of what you are talking about.”
“Well, you don’t have to understand everything about how cars and computers work to use them,” Alice noted, “so you don’t have to understand this much either to know it will be useful. It’s a BRANCH of chemistry my parents and Great Aunt Edna and I were working on, and it will have a DECISIVE effect on the recycling of previously non-recyclable toxic materials that everyone will someday NOTICE.”
“It’s great to see you excited about the research and about all the work you’ve done on the house,”Eugenie said. “It’s really a NEAT old place.”
“It’s too quiet when I’m here by myself,” Alice said. “The relatives who wanted to steal this place from me can still UNITE and cause a lot of harm.”
“What can they really do?” Eugenie asked. “I think you are too worried about people with very little power over you.”
“The TRUCK that hit my parent’s car and knocked them into the ravine was never found because it was being driven by one of those relatives, it was no accident,” Alice said quietly. “And Aunt Edna was murdered by someone they hired, it was not just some ILL-FATED burglary gone wrong.”
“Are you sure?”Eugenie asked, and Alice answered, “As sure as we are talking right now.”