The Big House

written by Robert Vasvary

Karen and I are proud to be illustrating and editing Robert Vasvary’s series of books involving the trials and growing pains and spiritual advancement of Andy Miller, a twelve year old kid living in the south in the mid 1980s forward. We can’t tell you a whole lot about it yet, except for Karen’s Jacket summary which is as follows:

 

Everything is pitch black.
The tunnel walls feel soft and slimy.
A chill runs down his spine,
rising panic stuck in his throat.
The walls are breathing.

Plunged into a world where the boundaries between fantasy
and reality have disappeared, Andy’s thirst for adventure leads him
to precious treasure, true love and unspeakable horror.
In a bid to escape the terrifying realm
of the undead and find the truth,
there is only one way out: an epic showdown between good and evil
that challenges everything he knows about himself and the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Version:1.0 StartHTML:0000000181 EndHTML:0000007340 Foreword:

 

From my hometown in the Appalachian mountains, I remember as a kid, rummaging through “The Big House.” That is what my mother’s family called it. It was a huge two-story home on Main Street built back in the early 1900’s. Filled with relics and artifacts of that era, it revealed so much history it brought another world into my senses. Everything there seemed new and undiscovered, like buried treasure. It was always cold and dark and smelled spicy and musty. Every time I went in the old house, I would notice something new. There was never enough time to see it all. Super high ceilings loomed what seemed hundreds of feet above (at 13, everything seemed larger than life) with ornate carvings of baby angels and ladies’ faces along the molding. Were they angels or demons watching me? I don’t know the artist’s intent but they left me unnerved and exhilarated nonetheless and I couldn’t wait to go back for another visit. One day I found an old silver antique saxophone and through the corrosion and age, it shined directly into my soul.

This was the peak of my investigative years. During these days of discovery, I wasn’t aware that the person I was becoming, I would be for the rest of my life: a mystery buff with a love of the unexpected and the extraordinary…

The Big House is a story about self-discovery, imagination and never letting go of hope. I have dreamed of this house since I was a teenager. I am now middle-aged and I get to share this with my son, who will not have the chance to meet his grandmother, great grandparents or visit “The Big House” except in pictures. I wonder what his ‘Big House’ will be when he begins exploring his world and learning, “Who am I”? Trust yourself is all I can advise. Intuition is the compass of your soul. Ethan, you must be true to your beliefs and allow yourself to become who you want to be. You have only one soul. Let it guide you. And even on the darkest days, if you remain true to yourself, you will never be deprived of light and will always be filled with hope.

 

THE BIG HOUSE

written by Robert Vasvary
© 2011 Robert Vasvary
illustrations by Charlie Read
edited by Karen Gelhaar

Literary Agent and Legal Counsel
Jonathan Hibbert

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worlds Within

Book I

 

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Contents:

 

Book I – Worlds Within                    Book II- Revival

1   The Chase                                                        12   The Twin Rooms

2   The Discovery                                                  13   The Front Line

3   Treasure Hunting                                        14   I Will Survive

4   The Descent                                                15   The Real House

5   Beating Murphy                                                   16   Claudia’s Story

6   The Portal                                                   17   Mother’s Touch

7   Fighting Fear                                                    18   Two Faces

8   The Tour                                                          19   Enduring Pain

9   The Dark Side                                            20   The Clock

10  Free Will                                                             21   The Chase (II)

11  Mother’s Secret                                                    22   Letting Go

23   The Confession

24   Mother’s Intuition

25   Good Spirits

26   The Escape

27   The Key

28   Paradise

29   Home

Foreword:

 

 

 

 

Worlds Within

Book I

 

 

The Chase

“Don’t worry about them, they’re just jealous” Steve said, breathing heavy. “They want to go too.”  Out of wind as well, I puffed, “I would take them if it would bring some peace between us.”

“Forget them Andy,” he demanded. “They would just take advantage of you. They don’t respect anyone or anything, much less themselves,” he said. “They would probably come back, break in and trash the place later like they did at Mr. O’Deele’s workshop.  Don’t try to get on their good side. It’s just not worth it.”

The Hopkins boys were rough, mean punks. Everybody knew their parents dealt drugs and their father beat his wife. Their family was what people call trailer court trash, even within their own neighborhood, which was just over the hill from my house. I always felt afraid to go there and was constantly watching my back even when I had my motorcycle for a quick getaway. They were always trying to pick a fight and throwing threats my way. I was not the only one, though. The police were regular visitors at the Hopkins trailer. The boys were in constant trouble with the police and always wanted someone to be their punching bag. They had a special hatred for me. They knew that I was Steve’s friend and they just could not understand why he would hang out with a kid outside their turf. It wasn’t my fault that I lived in the nice adjoining neighborhood in a decent house and Steve knew that. He was always protecting and defending me when we were in the common grounds called “The Track.”

The track was the remains of an old strip mine behind the trailer court and my neighborhood. It had never been reclaimed properly and a dirt track had been carved out over the years by the kids with motorcycles who lived nearby. It was our playground. It had ramps, roundabouts and huge hills we would challenge each other to climb. Natural obstacles on this irregular track like rocks, trees, bumps and mud puddles made it that much more exciting. It was dirt bike heaven. Behind the track were miles of forest and old strip mine roads that set the stage for our own adventures. It was life in the wilderness of rural Virginia with incredibly beautiful trails, vines to swing on, caves to explore and rocks to climb.

Steve and I had met at the track awhile back when my father had bought me my first bike, a Kawasaki KD125 mountain bike. Before meeting Steve, I would only go there when the coast was clear for fear of getting beat up by the Hopkins boys.

That day, I was riding by myself and the oldest of the boys, Eugene, jumped out from the bushes, stuck out his arm and clothes-lined me, stopping me in mid-air as my bike continued forward into the trees. I rolled down the hill, crashing into rocks and landed in the bushes. Steve was riding his Kawasaki KX175 that day and saw the whole thing go down.

After knocking me off my bike, Eugene smiled at his handiwork as I tried to catch my breath. “Take your pansy ass back home and lick your wounds you baby. And don’t come back!” he yelled down the hill before running to the trailer court to brag to his brothers. I just laid there for a moment, bloody and bruised, wondering which direction my bike went.

I saw Steve take off on his bike for Eugene who was running down the long path that led back to the trailers. Steve revved up the KX in defiance, the engine screaming as he sped up to him. One strike across the shoulders sent Eugene flying into a deep gully off to the right. My fall was bad, but I had rolled and blocked the obstacles with my arms. Eugene wasn’t so lucky. He went face down into the gully, his forehead, nose, chin and chest digging into the gravelly soil before skidding to a stop ten feet down the path.

“Pick on someone your own size, punk!” Steve shouted and gunned his bike in a final act of vengeance. Eugene lay in the gully dumbstruck, holding his bloody face. The two younger brothers, hearing the skirmish, ran to Eugene pulling him to his feet and wiping him off.

“What the hell did you do that for, Steve?” screamed Bobby, the taller of the two.

“He clothes-lined that kid for no reason at all,” Steve said with ferocity in his voice. “The kid was minding his own business riding his bike. That was bullshit and uncalled for. This isn’t your track. If I catch you picking on him or anyone else, I will do much worse the next time. Now get the hell out of here before I get off this bike and kick all your asses.”

I watched as the boys helped Eugene up and down the hill to get him cleaned up. Steve revved his bike again, spun around, popped another wheelie and raced back up the hill to where I was assessing my bike and myself for damages.

“Are you OK?” he asked. Concern registered in his voice but his face showed no sympathy.

“Yeah, I’ll be alright, I guess,” I replied, still shaken up. “I heard I should watch out for those jerks. This isn’t their place. Thanks for defending me.” Showing little emotion, Steve got off his bike and walked over to mine, checking it over.

“I think your gas tank has a hole in it. That sucks. That won’t be cheap to replace. I guess you better push it home so you don’t catch it on fire,” he said sternly.

“Thanks again. My name is Andy. What’s yours?” I asked.

“I’m Steve. I live in the first trailer on the right with my old man. Them Hopkins boys are scum of the earth. If I hadn’t done it for you I would have done it sooner or later. They make everyone here miserable. I wish they would move.”

“Yeah, me too,” I agreed. “This track is fun and I will keep coming here but I guess I will have to watch my back.”

“Just stay away from them. They are real trouble and love to fight,” said Steve. “You’ll have to stand up to them or they’ll keep picking on you. They did the same to me until I kicked Eugene’s ass when I first moved here.”

“Thanks again Steve. Hey, I have a secret cabin I’m working on about a mile away. I will have to show it to you sometime,” I offered.

“Cool. Later,” he said as he got back on his bike. “I’ll see you around.” He cranked up his bike and rode off, the engine screaming like a wildcat.

I dusted myself off and started the long push home. After all of the trauma I had just endured, I didn’t want to catch my bike on fire and make the day any worse. It was a long way home. When I arrived, my mother had a fit and told me I couldn’t ride my bike there any more. I told her that I hit a rock and fell so she would not ground me from the track. I didn’t mention my newfound friend either.

In time, Steve and I became best friends. It might have been a burden for him at times because he was constantly defending me. He always had my back even when he was heckled for being my friend. Steve and I were stuck in different social classes and although he was big and brawny, he was kind-hearted.  I could see it in his eyes, but the Hopkins boys didn’t get him. They were too busy selfishly looking inward. Steve hid his good nature when around them and projected the same rough exterior to fit in. He had an unconditional respect for all that is good in this world and kept it hidden from those who did not have the same capacity. “There are bad apples in every bunch and they are rotten,” he used to say. “We can smash them and make apple wine to keep us happy.” Even though he appeared to be a bully, he amazed me every time he would make comments like this (only around me and his petite girlfriend, Heather). It was difficult to imagine those words coming from such a tough guy. I am glad that he had a tender side. He was a diamond in the rough and on his bike he was like a super hero.

I was careful not to show my face in the trailer court without being in his presence. I knew that none of the Hopkins boys would stand up to him one on one. As a group however, they were like a fierce pack of wolves preying on anyone they thought they could overtake. Yet they hesitated to mess with Steve even in a group. He had a volatility they could sense. They dared not push his limits. One hot August day that changed.

I remember sneaking over to Steve’s house. My mother didn’t like it when I went anywhere near the trailer court or the track. From the entrance off Main Street, I could avoid passing the trailer where the Hopkins boys lived. We had hung out at Steve’s house for awhile, looking at comics and discussing our plans to finish building the fort. I had also mentioned my recent tour of my grandparents’ house, The Big House, they called it. It was vacant now. They had lived in it years ago but now it was no longer occupied and only served as a storage space for decades of weird old stuff and furniture. I told Steve of the house several times and promised him a tour. He insisted we go today, so we left his house but were going to stop by mine so I could buy more time from Mom. We walked up through the trailer court and the Hopkins punks were nowhere in sight. The coast was clear. As we walked through the track and headed around the entrance to the end of my street, we heard voices from behind us. It was them and they were holding rocks. Steve and I didn’t hesitate and started running just as one zipped by my head.

Now they were after us and even though Steve lived in the same community and could hold his own, he was with me and that was not in their rule book. They wanted blood. Today they would punish us both for Steve allowing me to enter their turf.

I was the reminder of their dilemma, poverty. They saw me as a spoiled rich kid in the nice neighborhood even though we were merely the typical middle class family. They could not understand why Steve would hang out with me. More so, they wanted to hurt us because they knew they would never see the mysterious Big House on Main Street. Steve was right. They were jealous. But it was more than that. Eugene had been caught trying to break into the house a few months back. Someone had called the cops and Eugene thought that someone was me!

Every time I looked back, the boys seemed to fall further behind. Soon, they were even out of stone’s throw range. We were home free now, running down the old dirt road from the strip mines that led to the end of my street. We rounded the corner for the home stretch.

“Steve,” I said, “Wait in the tree house until I can ask mom if I can go to old man Kennedy’s store. That will buy us plenty of time to go visit the house. After that we can go there for an RC cola and a Moon Pie. Stay low. Don’t let her see you or I won’t get to go.”

“Sure man,” he said, still out of wind and walking. “I hate that your parents don’t like me. I am not like those savages.”

“I know. It’s not fair,” I said. “I hate being judged too. That’s OK. We will always be friends, man. They will come around some day,” I reassured him. We were getting the same pressure from both sides when we hung out so we had to keep a low profile. In small towns people loved to gossip and label you.

We had slowed our pace to a fast walk, convinced we had outrun them.

“I can’t wait to show you the old house. It may seem spooky at first but it is really cool. It looks haunted but it really isn’t.”

“Wait until you see what I found yesterday. It is awesome! I don’t want to tell you now; I want it to be a surprise.”

From out of nowhere, just as we rounded the corner at the end of my street and hit the pavement, two of the three boys cut us off. We tried to skirt around but Eugene ran up from behind us and grabbed my shirt.

“Traitor,” growled Eugene, as he turned to Steve and wiped the snot onto his shirt sleeve from his dirty face. His face was steaming and red as if his head was about to explode. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Come on man, let Andy go.” Steve demanded. He shoved the punk, breaking his grasp on my shirt but I landed on the pavement with my knee taking the blow.

“Asshole” I muttered in pain. “Leave us alone and maybe you can go next time,” I said, although I knew there was no way in hell they would ever get that chance now. They knew it too, that is why they were chasing us.

Steve grabbed the two punks and yelled, “Run Andy, now!” I wasted no time getting to my feet and hitting a full sprint. Steve shoved the two boys into Eugene, they fell in a heap to the pavement and he took off behind me. We regained speed but they quickly caught up and were right behind us. We could hear threats and profanity getting closer. They were furious and we were scared. I could see that Steve was scared. He never showed fear but this time we had really pissed them off. They were out for blood.

I could see my house and the pine trees that lined the yard just ahead. Once we made it past the pines we would be safe. We were only fifty feet away. “Home free,” I thought prematurely.

They had been chasing us for about half a mile and were starting to gain on us. I looked over at Steve and I could tell he was beat too. That is when I felt a sharp pain above my right kidney and another in the middle of my back. The pain was so sharp I almost lost my balance but dared not stop and managed to stay on my feet and keep running. Then Steve groaned as a big rock hit his shoulder.

“Dammit!” he half screamed and half pleaded, “You’ll get your turn, I swear. Cut it out!”

We were doing all we could just to make it past the pines. Only 20 feet to go now. We cut through my neighbor’s yard and barreled toward the pines. I could see my yard and my mom sweeping the back porch.  Then I heard a loud thump and a ringing sound so loud I thought it was a car horn…It was OK. We made it.

 

 

The Discovery

I remember vividly the day my grandfather gave me a tour of the house.. Under close supervision, he took me from room to room and told me bits of trivia of when our family lived there. I recall being intimidated at first by the house. At the age of 12, I felt certain parts of the house were downright creepy.  It was cold and dark with shadows that seemed to follow us. I would just let him talk as I stayed close by his side and marveled at all the relics.

My attention to detail overwhelmed me at times. I could be right there in front of someone but a million miles away. I was able to inhabit several worlds at once, taking in the sights and smells but somehow not being a part of any one place, just like being on a bus surrounded by so many different people. I enjoyed the full spectrum of people and being a part of the mix but there were so many little things to consider, it was hard to focus. When I did zoom in on one item, below the surface there was so much to learn, just like in The Big House. As he showed me around, I felt inundated by the sheer volume of what there was to explore.

Every corner I turned there was something new waiting to be discovered, secrets waiting to be shared and stories just dying to be told. That is what I saw in the crumbling old books, the faded walls and the dusty furniture. I even wondered about the old fingerprints. Who did they belong to? When were they from? Were the piled up old articles in the same position as when they were last read? Maybe that ashtray holding an old cigarette butt and ashes had been suspended in time since right after the last guests had left the party 20 years before, waiting for someone like me to discover the imprint of that particular moment. Every detail was part of a story that the house had left to share. I felt as if only I was meant to see the details the average person might overlook. It was as if I was reliving the history. My mind was like a blank canvas and I tried looking at things from many angles choosing the best colors and lighting to paint my own picture. Oh, the incredible imagination of a young boy.

As Pappa Joe (that’s what we called my grandfather) showed me the back of the house, he made casual mention of the servants’ quarters where the groundskeeper’s wife had fallen down the stairs and broken her neck. I dared not pry him for details as I didn’t want to become more spooked. Besides, Pappa Joe was a man of few words and we kept it that way. He would only give me information or sincerely respond to my questions when he was sharing his interests, like when he was talking about his antique car collection or as he was giving me instructions in the yard. Most of my inquisitive questions would go to my grandmother, Nini, who would talk with me for hours. As we walked through the servants’ quarters, Pappa Joe’s tone changed and although he was brief and non-descriptive I could tell by his gestures there was something he wasn’t telling me. By now I was really spooked, but I felt safe enough by his side. He was a big man, standing about 7 feet tall. Although he was an old man, with grey hair, most of it having permanently left the top of his head, his wit was that of a much younger man. Despite his soft-spoken demeanor he was still full of life and had a young heart. I admired him. My younger brother, Ben, worshipped him.

Upstairs, rooms were mostly full of boxes of nostalgia only he could appreciate. He kept rambling on about the blessed memories associated with each item. All I saw at first was junk scattered in no particular order. The place smelled of the slow breakdown and decay of worldly possessions combined with Pappa Joe’s cigarettes, an aroma I would never forget.

As Steve and I sat on the huge boulder that was our regular outpost, alert for the Hopkins boys or any other intruders, I told him of that first visit to the Big House. Most times Steve and I would hang out at what we called “The Cabin” and talk about anything and everything, mostly about the next construction phase for the cabin or how to have some fun that day.  And of course he would ask when I was going to invite him over to the Big House. His interest had grown substantially since I started sharing my discoveries of the old place. You could tell by his expression that he was feeling the excitement and fascination I had experienced and was getting anxious to see it for himself. The problem was that my family did not approve of my peers from this side of town. What they didn’t know I had learned: there are good people everywhere and in all walks of life. It wasn’t Steve’s fault that his father had worked in Ohio in a factory, had gotten laid off and in a last ditch effort to find a place to actually survive without the constant humility of poverty, had moved the family here when Steve was just a little kid. Steve said he remembered nothing of those times, only that his father was a hard worker and a man of strength. Like many before him, Steve’s dad had not been blessed with family wealth, opportunity or a bit of luck.

“Some people are lucky, like you,” Steve said, from time to time. “I don’t blame you for having stuff although I know you aren’t really rich or a spoiled brat. You’re just a regular kid.”

I was always amazed by his upbeat disposition despite his situation and the quarters he called home in the trailer court. His mom had passed not long after they had moved here. She was diagnosed with cancer and two months later she was gone. I could tell that he really missed his mother as he avoided talking about her at all costs. What really surprised me was that his father treated me with kindness and Steve was lucky to have his father; his best friend. The man was a granite rock in a sea of sandstone. He had managed to digest all the pain and suffering that life had served up and still managed to be happy with less. His whole world was Steve. And justifiably so; Steve was the coolest friend I ever had. My other yuppie school buddies had no clue of the real world and were so quick to label others who were different from them. I was learning how superficial and judgmental people could be. Steve was my friend, my best friend and no one was going to change that, not even my family. We just had to keep it under the radar. It was a shame that I could not have him over to the house, although we had secret meetings in my tree house when my parents were out. All the stories we shared were eating at Steve, though. He was dying to see the Big House. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe me. He wholeheartedly trusted my stories and could not wait to see the house, despite the dark aspects of it that I had felt. He knew he could do the same. When you realize you have the ability to see beyond the outer surface, you gain a certain inner confidence. Steve was my friend to the end and somehow I would get him in the house to share the adventure.

Our fort consisted of eight huge logs at least 8 feet long, each one more than a foot in diameter lying horizontal to the ground, overlapped in a perfect square. We worked hard with axes to fall the trees and they had to be just right, so we cut only the best and biggest first. After all, a house is only as good as the foundation. Although I knew it was overkill to cut down such huge trees, the bigger the logs, the more sturdy and resistant to intrusion the cabin would be in the end. What I didn’t know was that after chopping down these goliaths, which took much longer than anticipated, it took all the strength Steve and I had to get them into position. The other benefit was that we could get two or three logs of similar width from one tree. To date we had only cut down three monster trees and had 8 logs. The cabin was now almost waist high and was more like a box than a cabin. It had no door (that was a future project) and the harsh reality was that would be as far as we would ever get to finishing it.  It had taken a year thus far. It was on private property but, hey, we were just kids and this land was part of the old strip mine. No one seemed to mind and no one had discovered the place yet (not even The Hopkins boys, as far as we knew). In our world it was a vast stretch of wilderness far removed from civilization even though the road to our school was just down the hill about a quarter of a mile through the woods. Plans for our future grand cabin took up a lot of our time. But the more I visited the Big House, the more Steve was dying to go and before long, our focus shifted from the cabin project to the Big House and my latest discoveries.

Before the first visit with Pappa Joe, I was always curious about the house when I was doing yard work for my grandparents. I was their lawn boy and it was my labor of love and of course, pocket change. On the days when Pappa Joe would be mowing the lawn, I would come down and start raking where he had just finished. I would show up and he would be riding on his old farm tracker with huge rear tires, taking his time, smoking his cigarette and really enjoying his chores.  For the longest time, I thought the house looked like any other old house on Main Street. I was only interested in yard money so I stayed busy, focused on finishing the job and rewarded myself with an RC Cola and a Moon Pie afterward. But the more I worked around the grounds, piling leaves and letting my mind wander, my curiosity grew and my imagination started to run wild.

I studied the old bricks, the window seals with the rotting trim and the smells that emanated from the basement. It was a sweet musty smell that I could only describe as the color purple. I even started making up stories of ghosts and goblins to the point that I would spook myself. Sometimes, while I was raking leaves, I had the feeling someone inside was watching me. Was it my imagination or was someone trying to get my attention? It was a fascinating stalemate. The more my curiosity grew, the more the lack of knowing what was inside led me to invent stories to keep me from exploring it. I was depriving myself of the experience of a lifetime.

It is funny actually. People do the same thing every day. They see something strange and avoid it. They are afraid if they investigate further, they may find something that does not agree with them or challenges who they are. It must be the fear of embarrassment and failure that keeps people from discovering something new. It is safer to stick with what you know. That was not me. I had a desire and the curiosity to see beyond the surface of people and things. Finally, I got the nerve to ask Pappa Joe to show me the house. He just winked at me and said, “Sure Andy, I thought you would never ask.”

After that day when I stepped through the front door with Pappa Joe and got my first impression of the place, each new visit would reveal more details I had not seen before. That is what boys my age thrive upon: adventure! I had no idea what adventures I was about to embark on.

“Each time I go there I see something new that I never saw before. It’s as if the house is revealing its secrets to me,” I told Steve. “It is funny how everything looks average, just like any old house, but once you zoom in and notice the details, the more it changes and the details stand up and present themselves. It is almost as if the house recognizes my desire to discover more each time and is anticipating my return. But I get the feeling there are some things it does not want me to know so as not to scare me away. I think it has a dark side as well.”

“So when are you going to take me along, Andy? I can’t wait any longer,” Steve said impatiently.

“Tomorrow” I replied. “I promise.”

 

 

Treasure Hunting

After my first guided tour with Pappa Joe, I had shown such genuine interest in the house that he told me where the spare key was hidden. The only condition was to always lock up behind me. I now had the key to a whole new world and an infinite opportunity to explore. I had made several visits to the house alone, each time getting more confident and less intimidated. My desire to explore was at its peak. There were old boxes and things piled up seemingly at random. That was the exciting part. The placement of each and everything showed order to me. I could see the history piled up in chronological order. The items on top of the piles within reach were the things most recently used and when I started digging into the past I could not stop. The deeper I dug, the more I was travelling back in time. Despite clouds of dust kicked up from diving into the piles of junk (one man’s junk is another man’s treasure), I felt cleansed and alive by the thrill of the hunt. My mother would not say a word about my pigpen look when I would run in describing the day’s treasure hunt through what she saw as “Pappa Joe’s junk.” She would always advise jokingly, as mothers do, “Please be careful in there, babes. You never know what you may find.” One day she told me, “If you see a ghost, say hi for me! I am sure it would remember me from the days when I lived there as a kid. It may even become your friend knowing that you are my son!” We laughed together at this little joke but there was something about her statement that gave me the chills. Was she trying to spook me? What if it was real?

It is true the place looked like a junkyard. My grandfather was a pack rat, but he was my hero from the moment I stepped into the house. He was a pioneer of sorts, who had the luxury of being raised in a time and place where his family had wealth, culture and exposure to the finer things. He was a mining engineer and had quite the grand reputation in that small coal mining town in Virginia and far reaching counties. In this town he might as well have been the mayor. After all, his father, Napoleon Powell was one of the founding fathers of the town. It is rumored that the bricks for the old house were specially made by two men whom his father hired to come from England. He had the resources, knowledge and the ability to do whatever he desired. Back then, there was little time to be lazy. The world was still growing as the Industrial Age was well underway and there was still much to create and invent. Everything I chanced upon was a time-stamp of progress of the United States of America. It was my own private Smithsonian!

I found a ton of miscellaneous crap like pins that said  “Truman for President,” yardsticks from hardware stores from the roaring 20’s, lighters, canes and my favorite; his medals from World War II. I uncovered so many nostalgic items it felt as if you could walk out the front door of the Big House to find Old Packards and model-T Fords, if not horse-drawn wagons, driving down the dirt road called Main Street. The buttons, the pocket knives, Zippos (he loved them), the pipes, ashtrays and anything you could possibly find at a flea market filled every corner of the house — all piled up in the grand order of time when they were placed there. Aah the history! It was incredible.

Pappa Joe was much more than a mining engineer. He was a literary connoisseur, a politician, an artist, a surveyor, an architect, a land owner and even an auctioneer. He was indeed the captain of his own vessel. Or was he just a nostalgia buff and a jack of all trades? I dared not label him. I wasn’t that close to him, conversationally, at this age. I was merely his grandson and an admirer of his stuff. His world, all encased by a big old house, was my museum, and now part of my world to explore. It had my full attention and was luring me in. I was obsessed.

As I sifted through what most would call refuse, I was as close as I could ever come to history. A history book could paint pictures in time but here, the sense of touch, sight and smell taught me lessons that books never would.

I had covered almost every room and had almost overturned everything in the house when I found a room on the second floor. The doors must have been at least 20 feet tall, made of solid wood and very heavy. The construction of this house was unparalleled, especially compared to the ones built today. The woodwork alone was unbelievable. “Was it walnut, oak or cherry?” I asked myself.  The doors would only open a few inches and I could not squeeze through. They must have been rusted or off track. There were no door knobs, only a keyhole in the middle of brass plates. I slid my fingers into the opening and pulled with all my might, groaning and straining. The doors would not budge. I was determined to get in there. I tugged again and again until I had broken a sweat and exhausted my arms. Huffing and puffing, I leaned forward propping my arms on my knees, trying to catch my breath before my next attempt.  I rested for a moment as the sweat rolled off my brow, when I heard something heavy shift from the other side and scatter across the room. I inserted my fingers in the crack and gave a hard tug. The doors squeaked and gave way, but only a foot and I almost lost my balance falling forward through the crack, scraping my shoulders.

I stuck my head in to peer at the contents. Boxes were piled higher than I was tall. From what I could see, there were narrow passageways between the stacks of boxes that were like crooked, flimsy towers ready to fall at any moment. There were devices and treasures that, upon first inspection, I had no idea what they were. Jackpot! I had to get in there and I was not leaving until I did. These were my grandfather’s treasures, his most precious keepsakes. I was like a pirate who had stumbled onto the booty.

Some of the boxes had fallen forward, leaning against the doors. I was now challenged to move them to get in. I needed to push them away from the doors and I knew it was not going to be easy.  I tried reaching through but I only had maybe a foot to squeeze in and my arms weren’t long enough. The box to the right would not budge as it was full of books and just out of my reach. I kept stretching my arms, my fingers barely making contact, until my body ached. I leaned my belly into the crack, taking a breather as I gazed into the room with pure excitement and wanderlust. How was I going to get that box off the door? I tried again but was soon exhausted and had to take another break. I would not give up and decided I would stay there all night if I had to.

The other issue: I could not go for help. They would tell me the room was off limits. I stood in front of the huge doors helpless and out of options. Frustration consumed me as I cursed my pathetic body. I was almost at the point of giving up when the strangest thing occurred. As if the house extended a sympathetic hand, from behind the left door, a thick old wooden cane fell between the gap in the doors and literally into my hands, presenting me the tool  I needed to wedge that heavy box off the door long enough to slide it open. I pulled the heavy cane up, turned it around and slid it between the door and the box. My arms were stretched as far as they could and by then I knew I would have bruises on my armpits from reaching and struggling, stretching as far as I could, leaning with all of my weight against the opening. I gave it a try but the box pushed away from me into the room, sliding further to the right. “Dammit! This has to work,” I commanded. I tried again but my strength was almost gone. I leaned up against the door trying to rest as long as my impatience would allow. I repositioned the stick and groaned loudly like a weightlifter that was going for a new record. The box gave way and slid onto the floor. The door slid open and I fell forward into the room as more boxes and items fell towards me. I was buried alive but was in the room!  I lay laughing in anguish and disbelief like the first-time gold medal winner who had victoriously pushed himself farther than ever before. I did not want to move for a moment and hadn’t the strength or desire. I had won the fight! I lay there for what seemed like 10 minutes and then pushed the lottery of treasures off me. I spent the next hour putting things in order so I could at least move around the filled room. There was no hurry. Time did not exist, only precious exploration.

I had no idea that it was getting dark and I would be late for dinner which was a reason for my dirty self to be in trouble with Mom. Realizing this, I started working faster. I wanted to see it all right now and I didn’t want to leave. That is when I stumbled onto the case.

It was a black case and even from the outside it had that old musty smell emanating from it, much stronger than anything I had sensed in the house. It was just my luck that it was at the bottom of a large stack of boxes and I had to summon my last ounce of strength to get to it. I pulled it up and propped it on top of other boxes. When I opened it, I was mesmerized. It was a dingy old silver-plated Selmer Saxophone nestled in a bright blue velvet lining.

I gazed at my new-found treasure for what seemed like an hour. I was so entranced with it that I didn’t realize the time. I only pulled my eyes from it when I noticed that there was little light in the room. It was dusk and I was getting cold.  The furnaces had not worked in years and the electricity was not on. I didn’t even care that I was shivering but the realization that it was getting dark and I was still in the house alone suddenly gave me the creeps. No matter how excited I was with my new discovery, being in an old house in the dark triggered fear and chills that ran through my whole body. More importantly, I did not want to get in trouble and lose my privileges. I had to get home as I was now late for dinner. I was told I could not take anything from the house so I closed the case and put some boxes over it to conceal it. I ran out of the room, down the stairs and out the front door locking it behind me. No one had lived there in many years and Pappa Joe knew that I was so in love with the Big House that I would not betray his orders to protect his wealth of collectables. I was no longer exhausted. My adrenaline was flowing as I ran up  the street as fast as I could, past the six houses to get to our house on the hill. I could not wait to share the news of my treasure to my family. That was the first moment in my life where I felt I had a Pirate’s tale to tell.

 

The Descent

I was standing in front of the Big House. The high-pitched screech like that of a train on a collision course echoed in my ears and made my head ache terribly, but the sound was slowly fading. The sun shined so bright in my face, at first I was not sure it was the same house. “How did I get here? What day is it? What is going on? Where is Steve? Did I get permission to go to my grandparents and if so why isn’t Steve here with me?” I asked myself all these questions at once not even able to attempt an answer. Before I could get my sense of orientation, the dark shadows of the front porch started moving.

Usually the front entrance to the place was a bit unnerving. A westerly view and two huge trees cast a perpetual shadow that no sun ever penetrated, the heavy shade giving the house a deserted air. The porch was really large and extended to the left beyond the steps back around to the street and opened in a small semicircle, like a pavilion. With white paint long since deteriorated, bare wood exposed and weathered, the porch looked in danger of imminent collapse. Slats were missing here and there and the ones remaining were rickety. The windows had not been cleaned in years. Cobwebs added to the look of a haunted house. Several broken rocking chairs had retired in the pavilion and were rotting along with the surface boards, becoming one with the decking.

But today, the big old house looked different. The sun had stretched onto the porch, beams of light splayed across the boards. The rocking chairs now looked relatively new and without much sign of faded white paint. The surface of the deck was clean and the windows gleamed in the sun.

 

 

“Ok, what is going on here?” I asked myself out loud. I was just here yesterday when I discovered the saxophone and even though it’s about 4 p.m. in August, the sun should not be shining on the porch. Maybe my interest in the place made my grandparents realize it was time to fix the place up and they hired someone to clean up the porch. The entrance looked almost immaculate. “This looks like a week’s worth of work at least.”

Before I could question this peculiar scene any further, I noticed the front door was wide open. I went into panic mode. “No way! Did I run out so fast yesterday that I left the door unlocked?” Pappa Joe would kill me! I would never hear the end of it and I would be denied access which means my adventures would be over. Then I thought about the saxophone. Fear surged through my body, a chill went down my spine and then it felt like a thousand volts pushing my nervous system into overload. For a moment I just stood there, paralyzed. My head started spinning and my vision went blurry.

Suddenly, the house started growing! It was coming to life in front of my eyes. It was stretching up and around, looking like it was growing a third story, while the porch followed the new angles as the house added more dimensions and windows until it looked like the most beautiful hotel I had ever seen. As it continued to grow, it was moving farther away from me as if the ground was rising, sending it up a hill. I rubbed my eyes trying to shake off my delusions but to no avail. It looked even more real and in focus, the most beautiful house I had ever seen. I hoped that it was all in my head and tried to focus, remembering the saxophone.  Without hesitation, I ran up the porch stairs, fully expecting the first step not to be there, proving it was just a mirage. My foot made contact with the house and I felt an instant of fear but ignored it, thinking only of checking on my precious bounty. As I traversed the stairs I felt as if I was floating, being propelled upward to the front door. I was electrified and petrified all at once, but was not deterred. I pushed through the entrance, making a beeline to the room on the second floor.

I passed through the main foyer and headed straight for the stairs. Out of the corner of my eye, the foyer appeared the size of a cathedral. Hoping that it was just my mind playing tricks on me, I dared not let it distract me from my mission and kept running to the stairs, which by now was a colossal version of the stairs I knew. I heard the front door slam shut behind me and felt another wave of disorientation. I did my best to ignore it and lunged forward, taking the steps two at a time. The stairwell seemed much longer than I recalled extending what seemed like at least three stories. The more I tried to focus on getting up them, the farther away the second floor appeared. Now it felt like I wasn’t moving. “This isn’t right. This isn’t right,” I kept repeating in my head. The blood was pumping through my legs so fast they hurt and my heart felt like it was going explode. I was going nowhere! What was going on?

As I climbed the stairs with all the sense of urgency I could summon, I looked down and realized there was nothing under me. Bolts of electricity coursed through my head again and the screeching in my ears returned, making me grasp my ears in pain. Then everything got extremely bright as if the sun had exploded or a nuclear holocaust was in progress and I could not see!

That was when I started falling; unaware of anything, except that I was in sensory overload. I was spinning out of control helplessly and falling faster and faster. It seemed to last for hours.  I was stuck in some kind of limbo. As I was falling, kicking my legs and waving my arms uncontrollably, I heard a voice whisper ever so softly, “You’re going to be alright. I’m here. You will be OK. Just hang on and stay awake. I have some things I need to show you.” Amidst all the chaos, I must have passed out, for the next thing I knew, I found myself motionless and in total darkness.

At this point I was only aware that I was no longer falling and was lying on the ground and had no idea where I was. The voice I just heard, I dismissed as from my own mixed up head. I felt like I was in a movie, flashing from scene to scene but unable to recall the previous one.  For a moment, I had no recollection of falling or running up the stairs but my head and legs ached terribly. Standing up and looking around in total disbelief, I was not sure where I was or how I got there. It was pitch dark, damp and cool. I could not see a thing, not even the hands in front of my face. I suddenly realized I was holding something that I could not, at first, recognize. It was long and smooth but not heavy. I ran my hands up and down the object, surveying it with my palms. Then I remembered! It was the cane that I had used to wedge open the door to the room full of Pappa Joe’s valuables. It was made of strong wood but was light and easy to wield. “How did I get the cane? Did I make it up the stairs?” My sense of time was no longer continuous. My thoughts were random and it was hard to stay focused on the place I was in now, where I had been and how I got here.

There were so many questions in my head, but for some reason I was not scared or confused. I did not feel lost, but protected and guided. “Why do I feel like I am supposed to be here? How did I get this cane? Am I about to embark on a journey? Who is my tour guide?” I recalled hearing a voice but let all those concerns go, for I needed to know where I was now. For some reason, though, I felt safe in knowing I would be taken care of and that I should just enjoy the ride. It was like having someone I trust putting a bandage over my eyes, holding my hand and leading me to the surprise.

I have always trusted all my senses equally. I was fortunate to have them intact and none were more superior to the others. My intuition gave me security in knowing that my senses would never mislead me.  I learned this lesson early in life, reflecting for a moment when my mother prepared liver for the first time. My gut feeling told me not to try it. I poked it with my knife first. It was firm, like meat, but with a rubbery texture, sorta like the surface I was standing on now. It smelled pungent. Strike two! It looked dark, almost black. That couldn’t be good. And it tasted like YUCK! It had a pasty texture and was very rich and I could not wash the flavor from my mouth, even after a glass of milk. “Never again,” I said to myself. I should have trusted my first impression before putting this foul substance in my mouth. “I do not like liver” will be my answer to this day. My senses knew that and I should have listened.

I again tried to make out my surroundings; so much for having the sense of sight. “So this is how it feels to be blind,” I surmised.  I stretched out the cane and started poking around. Like sonar, the vibrations from striking objects could give me clues. As I jabbed my cane into the emptiness I hear could not hear a sound, not even an echo from my breathing. There must be something protruding. I ran the course of my circumference and all around me was nothing. Above me was nothing. I tapped the cane beside my feet and it felt gelatinous, like mud. It was soft and damp, like earth but I could not penetrate it. It had elasticity and memory, but not like a trampoline. It was a bit more firm.  Every time I pushed downward with the cane, the floor would give, like pushing a finger in your belly. It would expand back to its original position. Was I standing on rubber of some kind? I slowly bent over, leaning on the cane and ran my hand over the surface below me. It was like touching a slimy fish. The next idea I pondered was quite unsettling. I could be inside the belly of an animal! That is silly! How would I know what that would feel like? The next thought was even more absurd:  Is it like being in my mother’s womb? Thinking I could actually recall those pre-birth moments made me almost giggle and then terror overtook me at the thought that I had been consumed by some huge beast. My sense of touch had hit overload by now and I investigated it no more, feeling safe in the fact that I was at least standing on somewhat solid ground.

My nose took the lead now in the investigation as I immediately recalled the smell in this place. The only way I could describe it was that it smelled like the color purple. I immediately recognized it. “Where had I smelled that smell?” It was like I had just discovered it for the first time. This feeling of aromatic déjà vu irritated me as I could not recall where I had met this odor, but I knew I had recently encountered it elsewhere. It was sweet, like candy. In my mind, the word “opium” bubbled to the surface. “That is ridiculous. First of all, I am 13 and have never tried drugs.” I had no clue what it was, where it came from or how it smelled except from the Wizard of Oz where I remember someone saying that it came from poppy flowers like when Dorothy and the gang fell asleep when they were running through the field to see the wizard. My nose was positive of this for some reason. Was I recalling this scent from someone else’s experiences, drawing from their recollection? Again, something told me right then that I wasn’t alone.  A chill ran through me and all of a sudden I was petrified. “Who was there with me, watching me, leading me through this, impressing their thoughts onto my mind? What did they want from me? Where was I going? I want my mother!” As soon as this thought was conceived, I was at ease again. It was almost as if she was right there with me holding my hand. My mom was my guiding light. Or was it an angel? Whoever was with me, I felt completely safe. My curiosity and sense of adventure were in charge again and I went straight back to my Sherlock Holmes mode assessing the facts. By now, I was at the mercy of my senses but they had come up with no answers yet.

Now, I was all ears. At first all I perceived was dead silence. I waited, holding perfectly still, until I could only hear my heartbeat. The more I listened, the louder the sound became; per-thump, per-thump, Per-thump, Per-Thhump, Perrrrr-Thummmp, PERRRRR-THUMMMP. Okay, I was just psyching myself out. I tried to stay focused but I could not hear any other sound. I could have sworn I could even hear the blood rushing through my ears. Swish-whhoooo, swish-whhoooo. “Stop it!” I said out loud and then laughed at my wild imagination. As my hearing adjusted, the sound of my own voice echoed in this place so loud, I was again alarmed. My slight chuckle resonated, but had direction. It had an echo. I was not in a closed area. There was a way out! I filled my lungs only a quarter of the way and said, “Hello.” The response was, “Hello, helllloo, hell-loooow, hell-loow, hell-loooow, helehlehelehello.” It was a trick. It had no symmetry. No traceability. No direction. I tried again but still couldn’t tell the proportions of the chamber I was in. I let out a sigh, and immediately following it, I heard laughter. I was not alone! Now, I felt surrounded and helpless, like the prey of some wild beast. “Remain calm,” I repeated to myself like a mantra and that seemed to help. What was that? It sounded like a little girl. I held my breath, trying to ignore the thunderous sounds of my own body pumping blood through my veins. I waited but heard nothing. I stood motionless, waiting to hear what I thought was a child’s laughter, but again, nothing. I waited longer and it seemed like an eternity, every muscle in my body stiff like rigor mortis. I was so tense my right calf started to cramp. Being one who was born with a major deficit, lack of patience, I timidly whispered again, “hello,” and it was immediately followed by the same laughter, like from a young girl. “Hello,” I said again and received the same reply. Once more I spoke these words, only louder. The response was reciprocally louder as well. I reached out my walking stick in the direction of the laughter and put one foot forward. I was indeed experiencing the world from the perspective of a blind person, taking every step ever so carefully, not putting all my weight on the forward foot until sure, checking twice before shifting my weight and stepping again. I had taken three steps and my confidence was starting to grow. Each time I spoke a bit louder, the voice would respond and soon I found myself speaking and walking in the direction of the source, my pace quickening, but being careful not to slip. The more I spoke, the faster I went until I was in full stride, ignoring the pitch black, but trusting my ears. They told me that I had a ways to go.

I hadn’t noticed that a faint glow had appeared in the distance. Light! I could see light at the end of the tunnel but the light was above me, indicating I was in a hole. I picked up the pace, focusing more on the light now and sparing my vocal cords, but not stopping in fear of losing communication with the girl’s voice. At one point the voice seemed so close as if only feet away. Then I heard a different startling voice crying, “Come back” in a mother’s stern commanding way. I stopped dead in my tracks, fear rising up in me. “Hello,” I said, one more time. No response. Again I tried and received no feedback. I could definitely see the light now and it appeared that I was in a tunnel. The light was bright enough that I could begin to see the walls. They were brown, black, purple and blue and slightly reflective, as if a thin slimy coating adhered to them like an otter’s pelt. There were roots, like the leaves of a fern with very fine hairs covering them.  I had endured enough and took off pulling on the roots and climbing upwards toward the light despite my fear of falling, concentrating only on the light ahead and getting out of this place.

 

 

 

 

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