SEARCH THE SITE
- - - - -
Title: "This House is Cursed" 2/3
What was going to happen now?
Suddenly the young boy was beside them. "It's Father," he said, and his sweet voice was trembling with fear. "I think he's terribly angry about something. We'd best hide!"
The boy grabbed Nick's hand and Nick grabbed Howie's. They quickly ducked back behind the tapestry and Nick clamped a hand over Howie's mouth--just as his friend had begun to speak.
Nick quickly snapped off Howie's flashlight--glad Howie had somehow managed not to drop it. But his own was missing! Nick moved to peer through the small hole in the tapestry, glad to see the heavy cloth was hanging totally still (as if there were a solid wall behind it).
Inside the room he saw his flashlight lying where it had fallen and rolled, directly behind a large Yucca plant (that somehow still seemed to be alive and thriving). It was still on, the beam illuminating the floor directly behind the huge ornate pot.
Nick could feel himself breaking out in a sweat. He hoped the smell wouldn't be noticeable. And he sincerely hoped the light wouldn't be seen there inside the dark room.
There was a glimmer in the doorway and a dark mist formed there before moving inside. Suddenly where the mist had been, Nick saw the form of the master of the house. The mist-man seemed to be searching the room with his eerie dark eyes.
Nick knew for certain this ghost was looking for him! The very thought was terrifying.
Howie jerked on Nick's sleeve and Nick released his hand. He gave a quick shake of his head to indicate that Howie should be quiet. Somehow Howie understood him--he stared into Nick's eyes and gave a brief nod of acknowledgement.
The boy ghost was behind Howie--fortunately. He was fading in and out of his misty state. It was an unnerving sight. Nick wondered if this lack of control over his bodily substance might be a reflection of the boy's fear of the older ghost who was walking inside the nearby room.
Nick put his eye back to the hole, glad to see that the man had apparently tired of his search and was turning to go. Even before he had turned back to mist and passed through the threshold of the door the air around them grew warmer. Nick breathed a sigh of relief.
"Has he gone?" the boy asked in a timid voice.
"Yeah, it's okay for now. You shouldn't be so afraid of him. He really can't hurt you," Nick said, moving to ruffle the boy's hair. The youth was now as solid as they were. Nick hoped Howie hadn't noticed anything different.
"What's your name?" Howie asked, smiling winningly at the boy.
Nick grinned at his friend. Why hadn't he thought to ask the boy his name?
"Harry. But everyone calls me Hal. I guess my brother never quite got around to talking about me, did he?" the impudent ghost nudged Nick with his elbow and ducked away, laughing. The laughter was eerie. It seemed full of texture. Nick could somehow sense what the boy was thinking and feeling. It was a very odd sensation.
"Hal, does your father hurt you?" Howie asked, shooting Nick a meaningful glance.
"Oh no! Father really isn't a violent man as a rule. He prides himself on controlling his temper. He says 'the control of emotions is the sign of a true gentleman,'" the boy said, the last sentence coming out by rote.
"I'm glad to hear that," Howie said, his voice relieved. "The way Nick was acting, I though your dad was some kind of bully or something." Howie hadn't said he thought the man was a 'child abuser,' but Nick knew that was what he'd meant.
"So he never hits your mother?" Howie persisted, taking a step closer to the boy ghost.
"No, never, sir. By my honor! I don't lie. Even if I do sometimes exaggerate just ever so slightly."
Howie laughed and Nick joined in. Hal was a friendly boy--ghost or no.
"Why my brother never brought you home before is far beyond me. You're quite the handsome one!" Hal's voice was teasing, but there was also an edge of flirtation.
"You're way too young to worry about that," Nick said, cuffing the boy affectionately. It was getting hard to remember that Hal wasn't really his brother. It was actually an awful lot like being with Aaron.
"You two want to be alone--don't you?" the boy said, his eyes shooting back and forth between them. "I'll show you the way! Come on." Then he was skipping down the corridor without a glance back.
"He seems to think that you're his brother," Howie commented, flashing the high power beam after Hal and beginning to walk toward him.
Nick realized that the fingers of their hands were still woven together. It felt good--comforting--to be walking along holding Howie's hand. Actually, it felt more than comforting. It felt...
"What is it about that kid, Nicky?" Howie asked him, glancing into Nick's eyes.
Nick sighed. He'd known that sooner or later he'd have to explain--but he wasn't looking forward to telling Howie the truth. It already sounded crazy to him--and he knew that Hal was a ghost!
"Um... Hal's a ghost, Howie." Nick could barely mutter the words.
"I thought so." Howie's voice was calm and matter-of-fact.
What? Had Nick heard him right?
Nick stopped dead, pulling Howie to a standstill. "What did you say?"
Howie faced Nick and smiled a soft smile. "I said, 'I thought so.' There's obviously something 'not right' about this house. And look at the weird way Hal's dressed. And the way he talks. There's something not-of-this-time about him, Nicky."
"Whew. I'm glad you don't think I'm crazy or something."
Howie laughed softly. "Well, I think maybe we're both crazy to be here, Nicky. But that's beside the point. I sure wish I hadn't let you come here in the first place."
Nick nodded. "I sure wish I hadn't been so stubborn, D. This place is so creepy. But it's worse than that. I kind of feel sorry for the ghosts. Even that evil man ghost."
Howie nodded. "The house needs an exorcism. A priest could do that."
Nick pondered Howie's words. "It needs something. But I'm not sure what. I just think it's creepy that I look like the eldest son. Apparently the dad killed him, Howie."
Howie's face grew pale and alarmed. "What? You're joking!"
Nick shook his head and gave Howie's hand a small squeeze. "No, that's the story. I don't really understand the whole thing, but that's part of it. I guess the son who looked like me didn't end up as a ghost. The mother ghost seemed very glad to see me--just like Hal. So..."
They both turned and headed down the corridor. Hal was nowhere in sight. "I guess we're lost," Howie observed. "I think this could be bad, Nick."
"He'll find us," Nick answered. "I think he's kind of watching over me, in a way."
"Nicky, maybe it's like fate. Maybe you were meant to come here. Looking like the dead son and everything."
Nick cleared his throat. "Um, well, that's not all, Howie. I guess he had a lover. A guy, I mean. And I guess you look like him."
They dropped hands and turned toward each other. Howie shot Nick a glance, his eyebrows raised. "Now that is odd, Nicky."
"Yeah, I know. Everything about this place is odd. I feel like I fell inside a spooky movie or something. Except these aren't like any ghosts I've ever saw in the movies. I mean, you saw Hal! I can touch him and everything. Most of the time, anyway. Hey, and it's not like he knows he's a ghost, either."
"Maybe he doesn't, Nick. Maybe he thinks he's just like us." Howie's soft tone made the thought seem very reasonable.
Nick gestured wildly with both hands. "But he told me his father 'killed' me, Howie. I mean, maybe Hal thinks he's the one who's alive--and I'm the ghost! And he told me he expects me to 'set things right.' The way he feels I should have in the first place. Something about 'taking my man to bed,' and stuff." Nick trailed off, feeling self-conscious.
Howie gave Nick a rueful look. "Well, if I'm 'your man,' Nicky, you can take me to bed any time." Howie turned his face back toward the darkness of the corridor, though Nick could make out his profile in the glow from Howie's flashlight. Nick felt himself blushing. He was just a little surprised by Howie's words--and the flirtatious tone of his voice.
Well, it wasn't as if Howie and Nick hadn't been fooling around for months. They'd grown especially close during the 'Black and Blue Tour.' So much so, in fact, their fans had even commented on it!
If anything, Howie and Nick had played into these rumors about them. But that hadn't meant they'd done anything too serious.
Well, neither of them were virgins with guys. But they'd mainly been satisfied with necking and petting when together. They hadn't really 'consummated' their affection toward each other. They'd let things stay primarily romantic and fuzzy. Lots of sitting around in the concert afterglow, listening to music, drinking wine and kissing.
Nick couldn't imagine a less likely time or place for them to finally be more involved--but what the heck? If Howie was up for it, he figured he could manage equally well...
"Well, I guess we'll just play it by ear, huh?" Nick finally said, at a loss for a better answer.
Howie laughed. "Okay, Nicky. Just remember. I'm ready when you are." There was sweet promise in those words...
Suddenly there was a swirl of mist and Hal was back beside them, grinning. "Sparking? I should have guessed as much." The boy ghost laughed, and they couldn't help joining in.
"We weren't exactly..."
"Oh, I know more than you think, brother. I'm not at all as naïve as mother and father could wish."
"Hal, that's not what I meant," Nick admonished. He couldn't seem to keep himself from talking to Hal as if, indeed, he was his younger brother.
"Well, come along," Hal said, momentarily managing to suppress his youthful exuberance.
They followed him, Howie seemingly complacent about dealing with the ghostly form of the young boy.
Finally Hal seemed to walk off and disappear into the wall on the left-hand side of the corridor. Nick realized Hal had actually walked under (or through!) yet another hanging tapestry and into an adjoining room.
"He's gone into a room," Nick explained to Howie. He touched the thick cloth with one hand. "These tapestries hide the corridor."
"Clever," Howie said, reaching out for Nick's hand.
Nick took Howie's warm hand in his and guided his friend through the opening Hal had created by holding up a corner of the heavy tapestry.
Inside the large room a fire was burning merrily in the handsomely carved fireplace. This room seemed quite cheerful. Nick let Howie gently pull his hand away as they both circled to observe their surroundings.
It was odd. Everything inside this particular room seemed so 'normal.' The unpleasant dampness and chill elsewhere in the house was somehow not as noticeable within this room.
The large bed was the predominant feature of the room. The headboard was huge and appeared to be beautifully hand-carved. It climbed way up the side of the high wall. Nick had never seen anything quite like it. The patterns in the dark wood were highly ornate. Climbing vines with flowers surrounded by fluttering humming birds and delicate butterflies. Nick couldn't keep himself from moving beside the bed to run a hand over the polished wood.
"It's lovely," Howie breathed, his soft words making Nick's face flush. It was ridiculous to be so embarrassed (on and off) with Howie, who was possibly Nick's best friend these days.
But the constant romantic tension Nick was feeling made him abnormally nervous. He felt sensitive to every word Howie spoke and every gesture Howie made.
"I've put some wine to mull," Hal said, nudging Nick's arm with his elbow. The tone of the young ghost's voice was quite suggestive.
"Hal-" Nick started. Howie broke quickly in, keeping Nick from another brotherly admonishment.
"That was thoughtful, Hal. Thanks."
Nick considered. It had been thoughtful, even if Hal was being a bit pushy. "Thanks, bro," he said, playfully punching Hal's arm.
"What was that you said?" Hal asked, grinning into Nick's face.
"Bro. It's short for brother."
"Well, why ever didn't you say so then?" Hal asked, laughing. "You've picked up bad habits in your travels. Father always said you would. Mother cannot abide discussing slang, brother of mine."
Nick gave Hal a tiny shove. "Whatever. Deal with it," he ordered, moving to the bureau and swinging open one of the large doors.
Inside was a large array of period clothing, still in perfect condition.
"Oh, Nick," Howie exclaimed, "try something on! I have a feeling those clothes will be a perfect fit."
Nick drew out a handsome velvet jacket. He slipped out of the sleeves of his jeans jacket and let it fall to the floor. It made a bumping sound as the spare batteries in the pocket struck the wood.
Nick drew on the elegant black jacket. He turned toward Howie and noticed his friend's eyes were shining with delight.
"It's beautiful, Nicky. You look so nice."
Nick moved to the corner where the large oval mirror stood tilted inside its wooden frame. He admired the jacket, stroking it with his fingertips. It was truly a perfect fit.
"That smells wonderful, Hal," Nick heard Howie say.
He turned and watched Hal ladling a deep purplish-red liquid into some large porcelain mugs. Hal handed one to Howie who took a tentative sip.
"Delicious," Howie said, praising the ghost. Hal was beaming.
Nick moved toward the fire. The smell of the wine was intoxicating. "Mulled, Howie?" he inquired, not quite sure what it meant.
"It's really warm and I think there's some kind of spices inside," Howie answered, taking another sip from the mug he was cradling in his hands.
Nick took the mug Hal offered and drank. The taste was delicious! It reminded him of a long-forgotten childhood memory. His parents taking him to dinner at a quaint seafood restaurant and letting him sip from a tiny glass mug.
Nick had called the brew 'hot grape juice,' and was always begging his parents to take him to eat there. He still recalled when the restaurant had caught fire and burned to the ground. It had been a serious sorrow in young Nick Carter's life.
"It's perfect," Nick said, grinning at Hal. "You did this just right."
Hal grinned back then turned to extend his hands toward the crackling fire. Could a ghost feel cold, Nick wondered?
But Hal didn't really seem much like a ghost most times. He just seemed like a boy. A boy like Aaron. Growing up and high-spirited and cocky. It was actually pretty cool to be around him.
So why could Hal communicate with them? Why hadn't the mother ghost been able to talk? Why did the father ghost seem so malicious--so evil?
"Hal?" Nick began, turning to face the boy.
"Do you remember what you said to me earlier? About Father?" Nick was prompting Hal, wanting him to repeat his words for Howie to hear.
"What, exactly, brother?" Hal asked, watching Howie examine the draperies on one set of the long windows.
"About him killing me, Hal."
Hal's smile faded as he turned from examining Howie and stared into Nick's face. Howie crossed the room, his face attentive.
"Yes. I suppose I was far too vehement, though. About Father going to hell. I know it's not what he deserves. I know he regrets what happened. He regretted it the moment the deed was done, in truth, fair brother!"
Nick was glad to hear Hal say so. He was glad to know he wasn't wrong to feel sorry for the father, along with the rest of the family.
"How did it happen, exactly, Hal?" Howie asked, placing a gentle hand on Hal's shoulder.
"Nicholas had gone into the parlor to see the devoted Deborah. She had loved him since childhood, of course--but only as a friend. Her heart belonged to another man--but her family considered him unacceptable."
"She's the young woman I saw with Mother," Nick said, not realizing he was speaking of Hal's mother as if she were his own.
"Yes, indeed so!"
"Your brother Nicholas," Howie said, shooting Nick a pointed glance.
"What? What about him?" Hal's voice reflected his confusion.
"Nothing. Go on."
Nick nodded. He, too, was struck by the odd quirk of fate that would not only make him resemble the deceased brother, but share a common name.
"Deborah begged you to help her. She felt if you agreed to the match her family and our own desired, you both might be able to delay the actual ceremony. During the delay, you might be able to conceive of some plan which would allow her to marry her beloved--and allow you to pursue the charming man beside me." Hal's wink was delightful. Both Howie and Nick laughed appreciatively.
"But it didn't work out that way," Nick stated, waiting to hear more.
"No. No it didn't." Hal's face clouded and his form wavered under Howie's hand. Howie pulled his hand away and they both stared at the ghost.
"It's okay, Hal. Are you up to talking about this now?" Howie asked.
"Yes. Yes, quite. I'm all right." Hal's form became solid again. He was just another boy--if one dressed in strange clothing.
"Father and Mr. D. had signed the marriage contract. That hadn't been a part of Nicholas' plan, of course." Hal glanced at Nick as if for confirmation. Nick nodded. After all, Hal felt he was really explaining things to Howie. Things Nick should already recall.
"Deborah was distraught. You agreed to meet with her to discuss the matter. They were here inside the parlor..." Hal's eyes were fogged. He was obviously remembering this past scene.
"I had hidden inside the tunnel. You'd asked me not to, but I couldn't resist. She came and you began to discuss the situation. She was frantic, afraid you'd now be forced to wed. You tried to calm her. To assure her you were not about to leave your man behind for the ties of matrimony.
"Father had been standing behind the draperies. Each set of the windows there," Hal explained to Howie, "are inside a curved alcove. They are actually windows set inside large doors, which open to the garden. The draperies hang flush to the wall, which creates a large hiding space. Nicholas and I used to play 'hide and seek' there years back."
"He heard!" Howie exclaimed.
"Yes, indeed he did. He threw open the draperies and stormed into the room. He was in the blackest of rages. Tiny Deborah retreated to a far corner, her hands clutched to her breast. And you, brother, stood there tall and proud, facing him down.
"The things he said were terrible, of course. How my brother was trying to disgrace the family name. How a contract--once signed--could not be violated. How his good name would not be sullied by your abominable behaviors.
"He moved to a table and lifted a marble bookend in his hand. I saw what he was about, but his body blocked your view, brother. Nicholas had turned to face Deborah. Perhaps he was fixing to move to comfort her. I couldn't guess. But Father suddenly turned and swung his arm high, letting it fall with such speed to smash into you."
Hal's voice had become quite emotional. His body was shaking--and shifting from wispy to solid and back again.
"Then what happened?" Howie prompted. Nick nodded at this friend. They needed to know all.
"Deborah raced to the now-open draperies and dashed through one of the doors. I could clearly see there was no help for you, brother. So I determined to help Deborah. She'd always been quite kind to me, after all.
"I exited and quickly ran to follow her. I could sense her intent was something bad. When she reached the small bridge that spanned the small lake, she managed to climb over the railing and fell to the water below.
"I didn't consider. It was cold and the lake was well known for icy water and uneven depth. To say nothing of the tangle of growth just below the surface! I jumped in without a second thought and tried to swim to her. But I don't remember it all that well. Just that I saw her become tangled in the weeds and then I was beside her..."
"What happened then, Hal?" Howie's voice was softer now. His eyes caught Nick's. This had to be how both the girl and Hal had perished.
"I was suddenly on the bridge. I saw Deborah walking away up the path toward her home. She wasn't wet, oddly enough. She turned and gave me a sad smile, and then she waved and continued on her way.
"I came back to the house. They laid my brother to rest in the plot under the largest willow. The stone was large and topped by an angel. Mother's grief was so terrible.
"No one ever seemed willing to speak to me. I just continued to go into the tunnels and hide and play and watch.
"Mother fell ill. She wasn't the same after that.
"Father tried to hang himself. But as time passed, things changed. The house had no more visitors. The doors were closed and only Deborah ever comes here to see Mother. At least Mother stopped ignoring me. And I've often wished Father would ignore me again. I suppose he doesn't mean to be so angry and cruel. He's just so sorry...
"Well, I suppose you'd like to think of brighter things now, eh?" Hal said, lifting his chin and forcing a smile.
Howie gave the boy a hug. Nick realized there were tears in Howie's eyes, threatening to spill down his cheeks. He'd come close to crying himself.
"Hey, everything's okay, bro," Nick said, punching Hal lightly in the arm.
"I know. I know it is now. I don't know how you've come back from the dead, but I'm grateful to God for allowing it," Hal said, moving toward the tapestry. "I'm off now. You two enjoy yourselves."
And then Hal was gone.
"He doesn't know he's the ghost. Doesn't know he died in the lake," Howie said, moving to Nick's side.
"She died and he died trying to save her. His mother died from sorrow or some illness. And his father didn't really 'try' to hang himself. He succeeded. But to Hal, I'm the ghost. How weird, Howie."
They moved closer and fell into one another's arms. The bed was beckoning.
"What now, Nick? What do you want to do?"
What Nick wanted to do right now was make love to Howie Dorough. Was this the right time?
-the end part two--back to top of page-