This week I have a new addition to my fiction story inspired by “Dreams in the Witch House.” You can find the first five chapters linked here and this new addition is the major set up for the rest of the story. I hope you enjoy!
As Ari began going through her room again to make sure everything was where she wanted it to be she could swear she heard something. It was so faint that she initially brushed it off, but as she continued to organize and move around the room the noise’s continued presence finally forced her to stop moving. With her attention focused solely on the sound she finally realized that what she kept hearing sounded vaguely like nibbling. It was a faint sort of chipping, chewing sound and after both her dream and the Keziah story the only thing she could think of was rats. She scoured the room looking for anything furry and possibly chewing away on her possessions, but found nothing.
“Okay, just relax, you are in an attic, maybe there is something on the roof like a squirrel or something. Or hey maybe one of those little field mice managed to get in. Everything is fine, just go back to cleaning.”
Ari periodically talked to herself, mostly when she was sure no one could hear her doing it. Being able to hear her own voice out loud normally helped her to move past something she was fixating on. She forced herself to finish up with the desk organizing she’d been working on. With her laptop positioned right she had set up her lap, headphones, and some random little accessories to make the table look a bit more personal. She wanted to keep some space for books and anything she might need to work on for school, but with the area looking close to how she wanted it she thought getting out of the house would be a good idea. Elsie had mentioned there were some cool shops in town and Ari was hoping that she’d be able to connect with her new town a bit more after spending some time actually interacting with some of the folks who lived here. The outfit she’d thrown on earlier seemd like an alright outfit for riding around town and after pulling on her Chucks and grabbing a beanie to wear under her helmet, the only way she’d ever figured out how to keep herself from getting helmet hair, she headed to the garage for her bike.
The house seemed relatively quiet, since her roommates had all been at ECC for at least a year already she sort of expected them to have their own things to do. She was half tempted to stay home and take over the living room to watch tv, but she wanted to push herself to check out more of Essex and just chillng in the hosue wasn’t going to help her feel like less like an outsider. With her focus on finding new things she headed out and hopped on her bike. The trees on her walk were already started to change colors and Ari found herself moving pretty slowly as she stared at the foliage. Essex had a sort of small town charm about it that almost made her feel like she was in some sort of other time. There weren’t a lot of cars on the road and Elsie had explained that since the town was small most people seemed to walk or bike instead of tying to find a place to park their cars. The narrow roads impeded driving a bit, but it did mean that biking was remarkably easy. As she made her way up and down the streets she saw a lot of fun little shops, the sort of place that has a quirky name and an owner who will chat your ear off about everything that just came in. What Ari was really looking for was a library. She’d worked at one for a couple years in her hometown and while she wasn’t looking for a part time job in Essex she always felt grounded in a library. After about a half hour of biking around, during which she’d made note of a coffee shop with a cute cat lounging in the window, she finally found the Essex County library. It was a quaint little building that sported a historical plaque noting it had been in Essex since the late 1800s, Ari didn’t look too intensely at the sign, finding herself too eager to get inside. With her bike locked up she had to resist the urge to sprint up the steps and burst through the large wooden doors at the entrance.
What surprised her once she was inside was how oddly modern the library looked. Based on the exterior she had been expecting dark and shadowy areas with large wooden shelves of books, but instead the area in front of her was filled with flourescent lighting, a bank of slightly out of date computers, and metal bookshelves that were laid out in multiple rows that stretched from the center of the building to the farthest wall. Though it wsn’t what she was expecting, Ari was just so pleased to be in a place full of books. As she wandered through the shelves she decided she’d not only pick up some pleasure reading, but get started on her local history course. Elsie had already given her a run down of the course and it never changed so she’d be able to get her research material before classes even started. After finding an area labeled local Ari thought she’d just randomly see what struck her fancy. To make it a bit more fun she closed her eyes and randomly grabbed a book from the local shelf in front of her. Then, with her eyes still closed, she flipped through the pages and then randomly stopped. Whatever was on that page she decided would be her project. As her eyes slowly readjusted she was a bit startled to see Walter Gelman’s name in the center of the page. She had told herself whatever was on the page was what her project would be about, but based on what little she’d heard of him when Parker told her about his connections to H.P. Lovecraft and the Witch House story she was entirely enthused.
“Well at least I’ll probably have an original project” she muttered as she tucked the book under her arm and headed to the front counter.
With her books stowed away in the pouch on the front of her bike, Ari decided she would head back toward the coffeeshop she saw earlier. While she loved being in libraries the intense lighting often caused issues for her vision. Even with medication on hand, she typically had to avoid any overally bright lighting or she’d wind up with a migraine. Once she made it to the coffeeshop, she thought this would be the perfect place to read without worrying about taking her meds. As she walked in she was pleasantly overwhelmed with the smell of roasted coffee beans. With the crisp fall air outside, she decided the perfect companion would be an Americano and she made herself comfortable at the bar style seating facing the sidewalk. The book she learned was titled, A Brief History of Essex County, though brief did not seem entirely correct. Ari wished she’d brought a bookmark, but she made her way through a large portion of mostly boring text until she finally made it to a mention of Gelman.
“In 1701, the name Gelman appeared for the first time in Essex County when a prominent family’s eldest son came before the town and stated that they would now be known as Gelman going forward. Prior to this event the family had gone by the name Gestleman. After a period of particular poor luck the hope was that by distancing themselves from their former name would help them to move forward with a more prosperous future. Prior to this name change the family had been well known for their connection to the Mathers and for their participation in the local court system. Isaac Gestleman appeared often in the records of the court and appears frequently in the case of Keziah Mason.”
Ari immediately stopped reading and stared with her mouth slightly agap at the appearance of the prosecuted woman in this section. There had been a small mention of her earlier in the book, but merely to say that there had been a witch trial in 1692 in Essex County where Keziah Mason was killed. She hadn’t expected the connection between the name Gelman and Keziah to occur so early. This would mean that Walter Gelman was not just a random person who happened to insist he was tormented by the ghost of Keziah and her familiar. Ari continued to score the book, but she couldn’t find any more details about Keziah and the only other mention of Walter was a short paragraph explaining that he had inspired a story created by H.P. Lovecraft and that following the publication of the story he ultimately purchased the home and remained a recluse there until his death. Walter may not have died like the fictional version of himself, but the fact that he had remained fixated and ensconsed inside the house made it seem almost like the story had still brought about his death.
After finishing her coffee and starting her ride back home she kept thinking about the fact that there were court records that would give her more insight into both Keziah and the ancestors of Walter. She could probably find a way to get access to records if she used her local history course as a bit of an escuse. She could really use the information for what she’d be presenting and while she probably didn’t need to do that much in depth research she felt almost compelled to do it.
The days before school started flew by with Ari having to attend mandatory orientation days and working to complete some of necessary assignments that she learned were due for her basic English, Math, and Science courses. Beyond that she’d been trying to spend some time with Elsie, who took her to all of the bars she loved and showed Ari her favorite parts of the campus, and also get to know her roommates a bit more. She and Becca and spent time discussing their favorite books, Parker had shared their love of gaming and the whole house had taken part in some board game night, and Claudia had attempted to get Ari to like yoga, which didn’t entirely pan out. The environment of the house was really positive and comfortable, though she had continued to notice odd sounds in her room. One night she’d even woken up by what she swore was something running across her floor, but everyone in the house kept assuring her that it was probably just a rogue mouse that was trying to find somewhere safe before it got too cold. During all of this roommate time, Claudia had invited Dustin, Mrs. Smith’s nephew, for a few dinners with them all and he had offered to put in some traps, but Ari wasn’t really comfortable with the idea of hurting what was probably just a little mouse. The small downside was she felt like she just kept keeping her ear perked for the sound of little feet on her floorboards.
Before she realized it the night before school was here. Ever since she was a little kid Ari had always had a hard time sleeping before a school year started. She had gone through possible outfits multiple times and after eventually landing on her favorite boots, some very worn jeans, a new flannel, and a shirt covered in images of some of her favorite media ships. With sleep feeling like it wouldn’t be happening any time soon she decided to try and do some fun reading and at least relax a little bit. After lounging on her bed for a bit and leisurely making her way through the first few chapters of a mystery she heard a new sound. Instead of scratching she could swear she heard nibbling.
“Crap, pop-tarts,” she muttered under her breath. She’d been trying to keep snacks out of her room because of the possibly mouse sounds, but she had brought some pop-tarts upstairs to bring to campus on days where she wasn’t sure when she’d get time to eat a meal. The packages had been on her desk and as she jumped out of bed and over to her desk area she was a little shocked to see a brown shape huddled by the chair seemingly frantically attacking the silver packaging. This was definitely too large to be a mouse, but as she edged closer, now worried she would startle it and cause it to jump at her, she was sure it was still some sort of rodent. Whatever was there suddenly froze and Ari felt her whole body tense as it turned toward her. She realized what she was looking at was a rat, resisting the urge to scream, she watched as the brown rat dropped the pop-tart and instead of running away, which she expected, it slowly moved toward her. Her heart was pouding and she could feel sweat on her back, the rat stopped about a foot away and then just stared at her. Minutes passed and Ari found herself relaxing. The rat was just staring at her and nothing seemed wrong with it. She actually would have thought this was one of her roommate’s pets, if any of them actually had them, based on how it was behaving. Normally Ari wouldn’t do this, but she slowly reached out her hand toward the rat and quietly said, “hi little one, what are you doing in here?”
The rat moved toward her hand and lightly brushed against her fingertips. It then moved closer to her palm and then just sat in her hand as though this was perfectly normal. Ari stroked his head and felt oddly at ease with the creature. As she looked it over, she realized there was a small patch of black fur on his chest that almost looked like an hourglass.
“You’re a cute guy, did someone lose you?” The rat obviously didn’t respond, but it did seem to be listening to her. She’d had a friend in high school who had pet gerbils and while a rat wasn’t exactly the same this brown furry creature reminded her of them. It had to be a lost pet, probably another college student had brought it with them and they must have gotten separated during move in. With so many colleges in the area it seemed more than likely that at least one person had decided to bring their pet rat with them.
“We should figure out who is missing you little one, they are probably missing you.”
Ari remembered that at orientation there had been a mention of an online posting site where you could communicate with the larger community about events, things you wanted to sell, lost things, and sort of anything else you could think of. After spending over an hour scouring that page and trying to see if there was anywhere else online that mentioned a lost rat with a special marking, there was nothing. She drafted up a found pet post and described the rat and how to get in touch with her in case someone was looking.
“I’ll keep trying, I think it’ll be okay if you stay here, just don’t go running downstairs okay?”
She could have sworn the rat nodded from his position in her lap. The bottom drawer of her desk was still empty, she had planned to put completed papers there, but short term it could be a little rat motel. While still holding her new furry roommate Ari found a couple old shirts she wasn’t planning on wearing any time soon and made a small bed. She also opened the pop-tarts and laid them in the bed. With the rat snuggly in the shirts she grabbed a coffee mug and the roughly half full bottle of water off her nightstand and then tucked the filled mug near the drawer so that the rat could get to it easily.
“I’ll find your person, but until then I’ll try and keep you comfortable. There has to be a pet store or something around here so I can get you some actual rat food.”
After all of this Ari actually felt tired and even with a newly found rat in her room she found herself falling alseep easily once she let her head touch the pillow.
Ari again found herself standing in the room that was like her room, but couldn’t be her room. From where she stood she could see that all the candles were lit on the book covered table she had marveled at before. This time though she noticed a brown shape sitting beside on of the books. It appeared to be nibbling on a small bit of leaf and it was staring at an open book as though it was reading somethiing on the corner of the page. As she made her way closer to the table the rat seemed to sense her and it turned toward her. The first thing she noticed was this rat seemed to have the exact same hourglass like marking on it. The closer she got the more this rat seemed to look like the one in her real room. When she was at the table the rat moved closer to her and lightly nudged her hand, much like a cat trying to get you to pet it. She stroked the rat from head to tail and looked down at the open book. It appeared to be a journal and in the corner was a small sketch of a rat with the same marking and the words, Brown Jenkins, the perfect little gentleman. As she brought her hand toward the book to touch the image she felt herself being distracted by a loud beeping noise that forcefully pulled her awake.
She was back in her real life room and she realized her alarm was going off. With sleepy hands she managed to turn it off and slowly return to the waking world. Her first class was obnoxiously early, but at least it was the local history class. As she rolled out of bed she looked over at the drawer that the rat was still curled up in. After the dream she decided to see what would happen and she quietly said, “Brown Jenkins?” She didn’t expect anything to happen, but the rat stirred and looked directly at her.
“That’s impossible, you can’t be, that just can’t be real, right?”
The rat, who had responded to the name from her dream tilted his head as though he was trying to follow her train of thought.
“I think you might have just given weird dreams little one, though do you want me to call you Brown Jenkins?”
Again, she swore the rat nodded.
“Alright, I may be suffering from sleep deprivation and lack of caffeine, but that’s what I’m going to call you little guy. I’m headed to class so you just stay up here and don’t try going into the rest of the house. I don’t want you to scare any of my roommates.”
Brown Jenkins, as she was now going to be calling him, turned in a small circle and fell back to sleep. Ari then spent a few minutes getting ready and after tucking her unruly hair into a black beanie she rushed out. If she was going to make it through this early class she was going to need coffee. The dream was still tumbling through her mind and she couldn’t shake the fact that the rat in her room looked exactly like the rat in her dream. Even though she was distracted she still made it to the coffee shop that she had gone to earlier and was able to grab a coffee to put in her thermos. The rest of the day would just be classes, though she was really looking forward to her local history class she wasn’t sure how much attention she would actually pay to anything with the dream still very much in the front of her mind.
As expected her local history class was just going over the project and Professor Carlyle handed out their official paperwork for the project. Ari heard whispers around the room that he was currently working on a major research project himself and would be even less involved in the course than normal. That was fine by here, she was really hoping to just do her research and not have to worry about this course too much. Before she left, Ari made sure to ask Carlyle for some sort of paperwork giving her permission to access court records for her project. He scribbled something down quickly and told her the best day to go would be a Thursday. Apparently it was close enough to the weekend that very few students were there and the records department was still open until 5, while on Fridays they often closed at 2. He then sort of rushed out of the room mentioning something about a meeting he was already late for.
Ari tucked the note in her bag, but not before seeing it was barely legible.
“Whatever works I guess.”
The rest of the day was devoted to her English and Math courses, which seemed almost exactly like the classes she’d taken her senior year of high school, but she wasn’t going to complain about things being easy this semester. She’d promised to meet with Elsie after her first day of classes to do a sort of decompression session about her ECC expriences so far. While Ari wasn’t super into bars, Elsie insisted that they go to her absolute favorite one, Innsmouth Shadows. Even if the Lovecraft connection hadn’t brought in a lot of tourist activity, there were still a few spots that tried to use the author to their advantage. Apparently the bar did theme nights ever night and she was insistent that Mondays would be Ari’s favorite. Once Elsie got an idea in her mind there was no way to dissuade her so Ari knew she’d just have to go with it.
She didn’t have to bike too far and when she arrived Elsie was no where in sight. They’d agreed they’d meet there so maybe she was running late, Ari really couldn’t rembere her cousin’s class schedule. Once she made her way into the bar she could see why tonight was the night Elsie thought she would like. The entire bar was decorated with plasticky bats and jack o’lanterns she definitely recognized from Target. Everything had a very spooky vibe to it and when she looked up at the televisions above the bar they were playing one of the Halloween episodes of Bob’s Burgers. According to a sign on the wall Mondays were Halloween Night. The only other night that looked like something she would like was Sci-Fi Night, which was Wednesday, and something she might have to come back for. Ari was sure that she could have gotten an actual drink, no one seemed to be IDing people her, but she ordered the non-alcoholic drink of the night, The Cola’s Coming From Inside the House. It was basically a cherry coke with some grenadine added. She sipped it slowly until Elsie appeared with profuse apologies about being late.
“It’s okay, I sort of just got here.”
Elsie offered to grab her another drink, but Ari turned her down and she waited as her cousin ran up to grab a S’Cream Queens, some sort of Irish Creme based drink that Ari thought sounded like it would just burn going all the way down. They chatted a bit about classes and when Ari started talking about her local history project Elsie practically shouted, “I knew it!”
“I knew you’d wind up researching something related to that house for your project. As soon as I mentioned there might be a ghost in the car on the way here you seemed like you would be obsessed.”
“I am not obsessed, it just worked out that way. Thursday I’m headed down to the court house to check out the records. I’m hoping I can get my project done pretty early. Carlyle seems even less worried about folks checking in than you thought he’d be. I guess he has some big deadline coming up.”
“He always has something coming up, even if that is just a maybe sort of meeting with someone. Carlyle really just decides to make himself super busy and then kind of lets his students fend for themselves. At least you managed to get that note for the court records. Though I thought you said you were researching Walter Gelman?”
“I am, but there was this mention about an ancestor being in the Keziah Mason court records a lot so I thought it would help the project to know more about how his family relates back to her trial.”
“So really you are using this as an excuse to look up Keziah. You are so totally into her.”
“What, no…how could I be into her, I don’t know anything about her. Just how, what?”
“You totally crush on anything spooky, Willow in Buffy, Selene in Underworld, Lestat in Interview with the Vampire, when you were little you totally wanted to date Thorn from that Scooby Doo movie.”
“I do not crush on spooky things and Thorn was hot okay. I know like nothing about Keziah, I haven’t even seen a picture how could I crush on her?”
“I don’t know, but I’m sure you’ve found a way, the heart wants what the heart wants.”
Ari balled up a napkin and threw it at her cousin.
“Whatever I’m so not crushing.”
Though as she sat there Ari felt a blush rising on her cheeks and wondering if maybe she should spend a little more time researching Keziah.
End of part two