By Evelyn Horan
“It couldn’t happen, Jan.”
Eighteen-year-old Matt shook his head, removed his black and gold varsity football sweater and flung it into the back seat. His face was ashen. “Not in the 21st century,” he muttered, “just couldn’t happen.”
He settled back in the driver’s seat, glancing quickly at his friend. “Sorry, Jan, I knew I should’ve given this old Camry a tune-up before we drove into San Simeon to my cousin Brad’s birthday party tonight.”
He sighed. “And now, here we are on the way home, and we’ve got car trouble.” Slapping his fist on the steering wheel, Matt stared up the drive to the crumbling, white-columned, colonial-style mansion. On either side, tall trees hovered like black shadows in a forest of unattended shrubbery.
Jan put an anxious hand on his arm. “What happened, Matt? Tell me.”
“Okay,” Matt said, breathing deeply. “I go up to the house, right? And this old man wearing a black suit and a black tie comes to the door. And I tell him about the car — that I want to use his phone because I left my cell phone at home.”
“Yes.” Jan’s blue eyes widened with anticipation.
“He motions for me to follow him into the living room and leaves me there. I make the call. Remember the Chevron station we passed about three miles back down the road on the outskirts of San Simeon?”
“I called the station and told the garage mechanic that the carburetor started choking and coughing, so I turned up the drive of a huge, white mansion on the hill just off Highway 1, and then the engine died. He said he knew the place, and he’d be out with a tow-truck right away.”
“Well,” Jan said calmly, “If the tow-truck will be here soon, why are you so shook up?”
“I’m getting to it.” Matt took a deep breath. “While I’m standing there in this l890’s creepy-looking house, I see a parrot in a cage in the corner. Then I see a cat sleeping on a rug in front of a rocking chair. And I think — that’s cool.” Matt chuckled softly. “Yeah, real cool! I go over to get a closer look at the parrot. It’s still — very still. Then I go over to the cat — a nice, fat, white Persian. I reach down and stroke her. The parrot and the cat are both stiff.”
“I don’t understand — ”
“They weren’t alive, Jan,” Matt whispered. “Just stuffed!”
“But I —”
“So I’m going to leave, and the old guy’s standing alone, just watching me quiet-like. Then he says, ‘Aren’t they charming? They belong to my wife.’ He crosses the room to a doorway and tells me he wants to show me something beautiful — really beautiful.”
“I wanted to get out of there then, but I figured I should humor the old guy, so I follow him into a small room. He flicks on a dim red light.”
Matt turned and faced Jan. “Now, get ready for this, — hanging from the wall, ceiling to floor, were long black drapes. Guess what was in the center of the room —”
“A chalk-white coffin!”
Jan gasped. “What did you do?”
“Nothing. Just stood there frozen — taking it all in.” Matt closed his eyes. “Behind the coffin was a stand with a vase of long, white carnations. Ugh! I’ll never forget their sweet smell. Awful.”
He sighed and leaned his head back against the neck-support.
Jan shuddered and rolled up her passenger side-window. “Then what?”
“The old man asks me to look inside. I did. Sure enough, inside is this old gray-haired lady, laid out in a long, white lacy dress.”
“Uh-huh, she was dead all right — and for a long time. That was enough for me! But I made myself take it slow, and I tell the old guy she’s beautiful.
“He just smiles softly and says, ‘Thank you.’ Then I say, ‘I’ll be going now,’ and he waves good-bye, still standing there at the coffin looking down at her.”
“I’m scared,” Jan whispered. “Let’s push the car down the road — away from this place. That old man is a nut.”
“Good idea,” Matt said looking back, “the tow-truck will see us better on the highway.”
“Let’s do it now,” Jan said, opening her door.
A yellow light flickered on the porch of the old mansion. A tall figure in a black suit stood in the lighted doorway and watched Matt and Jan push the Camry back down the driveway. Then he turned and slowly closed the door.
The young couple pushed the car to the side of the two-lane road, climbed inside, and waited. In a few minutes a tow-truck slowed and pulled around in front.
The mechanic hopped out leaving the lights on, illuminating the Camry. “Car trouble?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Matt said, “I think the carburetor died on me.”
“Let’s take a look.” The mechanic set a large battery-operated flashlight on the hood.
“As we were breaking down, I turned into the drive of that old mansion up there,” Matt said, motioning to the dark house at the top of the hill.
“Yep, that’s a weird place,” the mechanic said, removing the air cleaner. He gave it a couple of slaps against his leg. “Everybody in town says the old guy’s gone off his rocker. Rumor is he’s got his dead wife stashed away up there.”
“He does,” Matt said. “I saw her.”
“Yeah, he’s got her preserved in a glass-covered casket.”
“I can believe it.” The mechanic nodded. “The old guy was the town undertaker ’til he started losing it upstairs.” The mechanic pointed to his head and made circles with his forefinger as he stooped to look under the hood. He took a screwdriver and worked at adjusting the gas flow to the carburetor.
“The old man retired and nobody saw much of him anymore. He’d drive his wife into town for groceries. She’d shop and they’d go back home. That went on for a long time. Then they both stopped coming into town.”
“Well, someone should pass the word on to the sheriff,” Matt said, leaning under the hood. “Tell him what’s going on.”
“Right!” the mechanic agreed. “I’ll mention it to him when I get back. Tell him he’d better get out here for a look-see.”
The mechanic pulled a clean rag from his pocket and wiped the dirt off the carburetor. “I imagine the gas is about settled by now, since the car’s been sitting a while. You get inside and try to start’er up, okay?”
“Sure,” Matt said, climbing in behind the wheel.
“Okay, turn’er over!” the mechanic said.
Matt pressed down hard on the accelerator. The Camry coughed and sputtered, and the engine caught on weakly.
“Hold her steady, now,” the mechanic called. “Keep her running.”
He continued making adjustments until the engine grew stronger. Then he leaned his head in the driver’s side of the car. “That oughta do it,” he said. “When you get home, better look into a new carburetor. This one has about had it.”
“Sure thing,” Matt said, standing outside the Camry. He fished in his back pocket for his wallet. “Here's my auto club card.”
“Follow me to the truck. I’ll have you fixed up in a jiffy,” the mechanic said.
He reached in the tow-truck for his clipboard and made a few notations on the worksheet. Matt signed the bottom of the paper. The mechanic gave him the carbon and returned Matt's card.
“Thanks a lot,” Matt said. “Sure appreciate you coming out here for us.”
“That’s my job,” the mechanic said.
“Be sure and check up on that old guy,” Matt reminded.
“Yep, first thing when I get back to town.” The mechanic turned back to his truck.
At that moment a tall figure in a black suit appeared in the tow-truck’s headlights carrying a shotgun under his arm.
“My wife thought I should come down and check on you,” the old gray-haired man said softly. “I brought my shotgun in case you were in some kind of danger.”
“We got her all fixed up,” the mechanic said quickly, hopping into his truck.
“Yes, everything’s okay, now,” Matt said. “We’re in no danger.”
“Then you must come up and have a cup of coffee with us.” The old man smiled. “My wife would like some company.”
“Well, ah, thanks a lot,” the mechanic said, starting up his truck. “Can’t do that. I’m due back at the station.”
“Are you quite certain?” the old man asked. “My wife will be very disappointed.”
“Yeah, sorry, but I gotta make some more road-calls.” The mechanic nodded to Matt as he drove away. “I’ll take care of that other business pronto,” he said.
“Matt,” Jan called anxiously from inside the Camry.
“Yeah, Jan,” Matt said lightly, “Be right there.”
The old man followed Matt to the car. “You are coming up for coffee aren’t you?” he said, anxiously, shifting the shotgun to the crook of his arm.
“Sure thing,” Matt said quickly. “You lead the way up. We’ll follow in the car.”
“If you don’t mind, I’ll ride up with you,” the old man said. “I have problems walking.”
“Certainly,” Matt said, giving Jan a helpless shrug as he opened the back door. “This is my friend, Jan.”
The old man settled down in the back seat with the shotgun across his knees. “Good evening,” he said. “My wife will enjoy your company.”
Matt parked the car in the drive. He and Jan walked to the porch followed by the old man carrying his shotgun. He stepped in front of them and opened the door.
“Please enter,” he said.
Jan clung to Matt’s arm.
“This way.” The man led them into the kitchen and motioned for them to sit at the round oak table.
“We don’t have company often,” he said, holding his firearm in his lap.
Coffee perked on the stove. “And my wife dearly loves company.” The old man chuckled happily as he poured coffee into three mugs. “We’ll take our coffee in the parlor beside Rebecca,” he said, giving Matt and Jan a cup of steaming, black coffee.
“Come,” he said. They followed him into the parlor.
“Rebecca,” the old man said softly, standing beside the white coffin, “we have company, dear.” He motioned for them to come in closer.
Jan’s knees almost collapsed, but Matt held her firmly. She clutched his arm tightly as they peered over into the glass-covered coffin at the tiny, gray-haired old lady.
“Say hello to Jan, Rebecca,” the old man said, gently tapping the glass top.
“Oh, she’s sleeping,” he explained apologetically. “I thought surely she’d wake up for company.” He sighed. “Well, we’ll sit here at the little table and wait for her to wake up.”
They sipped their coffee silently, in the eerie shadows of the red light.
“Would you like some more coffee?” the old man said.
“No thanks,” Matt said, hurriedly running his fingers through his hair. “We gotta get home.”
“Oh, no,” the old man said firmly. “You must stay the night. Rebecca wouldn’t think of you going home at this late hour.”
“Thank you,” Jan said, slowly rising. “The coffee was good, but my parents expect me home soon.”
“Rebecca will be pleased to have you stay. She loves company. Follow me upstairs to the guest bedroom,” the old man said.
“My mom and dad will be worried,” Jan said. “I need to call them.”
“Is it a local call?” the old man asked slyly.
“No,” Jan said.
“I cannot allow a long distance call,” he said emphatically. “I’m on a strict budget since I retired. No more talk. Up the stairs with you!” He nudged Jan with his shotgun. “It’s bedtime for all of us,” he said.
Jan gave Matt a helpless look and turned to climb the stairs, followed by the old man.
A loud banging sounded on the front door. Startled, the old man turned. Behind him, Matt sprang forward and knocked him down hard. He sprawled across the floor as the shotgun slid across the hardwood floor toward Jan.
“Get the gun, Jan!” Matt cried, as he flung the door open to several police officers.
“The old guy was holding us here with that shotgun,” Matt explained, as Jan handed the firearm to an officer.
The officers placed the trembling, frightened man in handcuffs. “The mechanic told us all about it,” an officer said. “Where’s the lady?”
“In there,” Matt said, with a nod to the parlor.
“Don’t hurt Rebecca, please,” the old man begged tearfully.
“Don’t worry,” another police officer said, patting the old man’s shoulder. “We just want to see her.”
In a short time Matt drove down the drive, away from the crumbling mansion, as the squad car followed closely behind, with its demented passenger safely secured in the back seat.
Matt turned south on Highway 1. The squad car headed north to San Simeon.
“What a nightmare!” Jan exclaimed, choking back a sob. She shuddered and murmured. “That old man is so looney!”
“It’s all over,” Matt said, patting her shoulder. “The police saw everything. Soon that old guy will get some psychiatric help.”
“And his poor wife will finally get buried.” Jan added.
“Everything’s going to be all right,” Matt said quietly. “But, I’m really sorry this happened, Jan.”
“It’s okay,” Jan said. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“Try and forget about it, if you can,” Matt coaxed. “I’m taking you home now.”
“Sounds good to me,” Jan murmured. “I’ll be glad to get home.”
“And you can be sure, next time we go out on a date, this old Camry is going to be in first rate condition. I’m not interested in any more car trouble!”
“Right!” Jan said.
“Put your head on my shoulder,” Matt said, gently giving Jan’s arm a little squeeze. “You’re a cool girl! And sleep if you feel like it. I’ll have you home in about thirty minutes.”
“Thanks.” Jan stifled a yawn. “But I think I’ll stay awake for the next adventure!” She tried to smile.
“Oh no,” Matt said, grinning. “I’ve had more than enough adventure for one night!”
“Me, too!” Jan agreed. “Enough to last me for a long, long time.”
Evelyn Horan is a former teacher, counselor with a Master’s Degree in Education and Life credentials in Elementary Education, Secondary Education, Pupil Personnel Counseling and School Psychologist. She has written books, stories, and articles for youth and adults, both secular and religious.
Copyright © 2015 Evelyn Horan. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!