“It has been renovated several times over the years with several extensions,” she babbles on, checking her pulse, “and it’s close to two and a quarter centuries old, so there’s a lot of history here.” She points upwards. “Those shingles are unique. See that scalloped style? That was popular for a very short time at the end of last century. That’s why you don’t see them anywhere else on this block. Or in this town. We’re all very proud of this house. You thinking of buying?”
I’m only half-listening really. I came here for one reason and one reason only.
I walk past her, never taking my eyes from the tower. It stretches at least twelve stories high, the bricks irregularly shaped and jutting out in every direction. It winds so far off center at times that one cannot help but marvel that it still stands, especially considering it hangs halfway over the cliff’s edge.
Without missing a beat, she pivots. “The tower is part of the original structure. One could say that the tower is the centerpiece; all else was built around it.”
“Hard to be a centerpiece when it’s not in the center,” I comment.
“Ah, yes, well.” She pauses, then, “Haven’t seen you in this neighborhood before.” I don’t answer, hoping she’ll take the hint, but she continues to jog in place and smile.
“So no one has lived in this place since…?” I trail off.
“No,” she confirms, sidestepping the negative topic. “The poor thing needs a good caretaker. Someone who will love it.”
“Why not just sell it to someone for the land? Beautiful view here.” I deliberately avoid her gaze, staring out over the ocean.
“Protected.” The word is sharp. Bitten off. “We would never let that happen.”
“I see. I imagine that’s made it hard to sell. That and the curse.”
She tilts her head, squinting her eyes. “You seem remarkably well-informed. Most know about the murder, of course - that was in the papers - but the curse...that’s not common knowledge.”
“I’m not commonfolk,” I tell her with a smile.
“Then you’ll get along here just fine.” She looks back at the tower. “They told me it was real, but I never believed it.”
“Anyone who stays here overnight goes mad.” I”m just repeating the rumor aloud, but she seems to think I’m talking to her.
“That’s what they say: ‘The place is haunted.’ Bunch of malarkey if you ask me. I think it just needs a good owner.” She peers are me speculatively.
I leave the cliff’s edge to stand at the barred, ivy-encrusted archway that marks the entrance. I wait there, looking inside. She clears her throat.
“Well, anyway, it was nice chatting. I better get back on with my morning run.” With that, she jogs off.
I slowly reach inside my cloak pocket and draw out a small piece of parchment with careful scrawled words on it:
I glance around to make sure I’m alone. Then my fingers move along the arch, slipping from stone to stone and then I feel it: the catch. I pull and a key falls into my palm from a hidden cache. The bars retreat into the floor, giving me time to get through before they slide back into place.
I walk along the house, strolling through the garden outside the tower. There are a number of blooms, but one clings to the stones and I step onto its leaves, which are solid beneath my feet thanks to the key. This allows me to reach the first level of jutting rock and I step onto it. I half-step/half-jump from one stone to the next, making my way around the tower until I am completely above the ocean. One false step, and I would make a sharp descent.
I look at the stones before me. One of them is bad-shaped and I gently push on it. The stones twist inwards to form an aperture and I enter the tower. The wall reforms behind me and I walk into the circular, blood-stained room. I take my cloak and slap at the large, padded chair, clearing it of any dust. Plunking down, I barely have a chance to feel the soft cushion sink beneath my weight before someone is calling my name.
My partner, incorporeal and glowing, manifests in the middle of the room, glaring at me. “Took you long enough!”
“Sorry, I got caught talking.”
“You’re not supposed to be seen, in case you’ve forgotten.”
“I know,” I tell them, “but I was admiring our home. It’s nice to see the place from the outside.”
“Sentimental bunch of foolishness if you ask me,” they grumble, but their eyes soften. “Anyway, did you get it?”
I reach into my cloak, pulling out the formaldehyde. “Enough to keep them in good form for another century.” I place it on the table before me.
I stand up, shedding the body I’d worn. It crumbles to the ground.
“Put that away,” my partner admonishes me. “You know I hate when you leave your things lying about.”
I shrug and repossess the body, walking it over to the closet and standing it with the others, then depart it. My partner comes and places their hands slightly overlapping with my cheeks. We’ve been dead for years, but old habits die hard and I can almost feel their touch. We stand there for a moment, not speaking.
It’s good to be home.