The Ghost of Marlow House
Anna J. McIntyre and Bobbi Holmes
If Walt Marlow opened the window, he would be able to hear the breakers crashing along the Pacific Northwest coast and breathe in the damp salty air. He missed the soothing sound of the sea, but he just couldn’t seem to get the windows open these days. Perhaps they were rusted shut; salt air did that sometimes, he told himself.
Two women stood at his front gate. Walt could see them from the attic window. The taller of the two, a young brunette, seemed overly excited. She kept pointing to his house while talking to her companion. He wondered if they intended to stand there all day, or enter the gate and make their way up to his front door. People rarely visited these days.
He used the spotting scope to get a closer look at the pair. A stationery fixture at the attic window, the scope gave him a closer view of the ocean, beyond the row of houses separating his home from the nearby beach. Had Marlow House not been two stories, plus the attic, his neighbors’ rooftops would obscure the view.
The house directly across the street belonged to his old friend, George Hemming. At one time it was the only house on that side of the street. Walt couldn’t recall when the houses to the left and right of Hemming’s had been built or who lived there. George used to come over regularly to share a brandy with him, but it had been ages since his last visit.
The spotting scope brought the two women closer. The brunette’s hair stubbornly refused to stay in place, tossed carelessly by the afternoon’s gusty breeze. She continually brushed wayward strands from her face. Her hairstyle was not fashionable—at least not by his day’s standards. The women he knew—those inspired by the avant-garde flapper—cropped their curls short. However, he found her long wavy hair appealing and feminine, reminding him of a gentler era. If he were to turn back the clock he would assume she was unmarried. In his parent’s day, a married woman typically wore her long hair up, not free flowing.
He guessed she was in her early twenties. She wore a fitted pink blouse over what he assumed was a skirt. Unable to see what she wore from the waist down, he could only make an assumption. What he could see he found appealing and he almost wished she’d make it past his front gate. Walt experienced a brief surge of guilt for such a thought. After all, what would Angela think? Memories of Angela were fleeting and sporadic. There were times he forgot her entirely, and then he would see her portrait hanging next to his in the library and he would think, Angela should have returned from Portland by now. Somehow he had lost track of the time.
He turned his attention to the second woman at the gate. He didn’t find her half as interesting as her companion. She was attractive enough, but he was never partial to redheads. An abundance of rusty curls fell to her mid-back, secured in place by what he guessed was a ribbon. It’s quite obvious she and her companion don’t follow the current fashion trends, he thought. This second girl was a few inches shorter than her friend and wore an unflattering boyish jacket over her outfit. Again he assumed—as he had with her friend—that she was wearing a dress or skirt.
When was the last time I had a visitor? He asked himself. There had been the woman with the clipboard—a manly woman, who wore men’s trousers. She wasn’t much of a conversationalist and the few words she spoke made little sense to him. Of course, there was also Joanne. She came once a week to clean the house.
Walt Marlow had adapted to his solitude; though there were times he missed sharing a brandy with one of his friends or admiring a pretty young woman. From what he could see, the brunette was attractive, yet by the way her lips kept moving she was obviously a talker, not a trait he admired in a woman. Bored with watching the pair, Walt turned from the window and left the room, making his way down the stairs to the parlor. Outside, the two women continued to stand at his gate.
• • • •
Danielle Boatman pointed to the dormer windows protruding from the mansard roofline. “The third floor is actually the attic.” She frowned when something in one of the attic windows caught her eye.
“It looks like there’s standing room up there. Extra living space, perhaps?” Lily suggested as she stood on her tiptoes, clutching the iron gate. Peering over the fence she added, “You might be able to put a couple extra bedrooms up there. A bathroom would be nice, but that might cost a fortune.”
Danielle pointed to one of the top windows. “Lily, look at that attic window.”
“Yes?” Lily glanced upward.
“Do you see anything? There! There it is again!”
Narrowing her green eyes, Lily studied the window. “What? I don’t see anything.”
“I don’t know…like a dark shadow passed by it.”
“It’s your imagination. I didn’t see anything.” Lily let go of the gate and settled back down on the balls of her feet.
“I guess you’re right.” Danielle shrugged then glanced over the yard. “I wonder if some of these trees’ll need to be removed.” She silently counted them. There were at least twenty on the property.
“Trees can play havoc with your plumbing. This place is definitely overgrown. It’s like a jungle.”
“I suppose I should be grateful the plants aren’t all dead.”
“When are they going to be here with that key?” Lily glanced down the street.
Danielle pulled a cellphone from her back pocket and looked at the time. “They should’ve been here by now.”
“I can’t wait to see inside. Are you sure you want to stay at the motel tonight? We could bring our stuff over and just stay here.”
“We already paid for the room. Anyway, I want to see the condition of the property first hand,” Danielle said.
“I bet we can see the ocean from that attic window. I think I’m jealous you get to live here,” Lily said with a laugh. “I wish they’d bring that key.”
A moment later Lily got her wish when a black BMW pulled up and parked in front of Marlow House.
“Danielle Boatman?” the driver called out as she stepped from her vehicle carrying a manila envelope. The woman slammed the car door shut and walked directly to Danielle who offered her hand in greeting.
“It’s nice to finally meet you in person,” the woman said as she shook Danielle’s hand. “I’m Gloria Comings, Mr. Renton’s assistant. I assume you’re Danielle Boatman.”
“Yes. Nice to meet you at last Ms. Comings. This is my friend, Lily Miller.”
“Nice to meet you Ms. Miller.” Gloria quickly shook Lily’s hand then turned her attention back to Danielle. “Mr. Renton was very sorry he wasn’t able to meet with you today, Ms. Boatman. Unfortunately he was detained in New York, and it looks like he’ll be there a few more days.”
“That’s fine. As long as I can get the keys, and I’m assured all of this is finally settled.”
“Oh, of course.” Gloria handed the manila envelope to Danielle. “You’ll find the keys inside, along with all the necessary papers. Mr. Renton instructed me to include a checklist. If you have any questions, please feel free to call me.”
“Is there any chance someone’s inside the house right now?” Danielle asked.
“Inside the house? Not unless there’s been a break in. Why? Have you seen something suspicious?” Gloria asked, glancing at the house.
“She thought she saw something in the attic, but I didn’t see anything,” Lily said.
“The gate appears to be locked,” Gloria noted as she inspected the sturdy padlock. “The cleaning lady was here this morning, and went through the entire house. Unless you find some broken windows or unlocked doors, I seriously doubt you have a problem. I can’t recall any break-ins on this property since I’ve worked for Mr. Renton. But of course, if you want me to come in with you…”
“Oh no, that’s fine.” Danielle opened the envelope and tucked her hand inside, searching for the keys.
“I’m afraid I’m running a little late. I should get going; I’ve another appointment. Things are a little upside down at the office, with Mr. Renton out of town.”
“Of course. I appreciate you bringing this to me.” Danielle smiled, now holding a key ring in her hand.
“Will you be staying at the house tonight?” Gloria asked.
“We rented a room at the Seahorse Motel. I know your office said the inside of the house was in relatively good shape—considering everything, but I think I’d like to have a look and see what needs to be done before I move in.”
“You obviously weren’t deterred by that old superstition,” Gloria said.
“I’m not particularly superstitious,” Danielle said.
What superstition? Lily wondered. She was about to voice the question when her cellphone rang. Moving away from Danielle and Gloria she answered her phone while the other two women talked.
Gloria looked at the vacant house. “I suppose I should get going.” She glanced at her watch. “If you need anything, you know how to contact me.”
Gloria had already said goodbye to Danielle and was just getting into the BMW when Lily ended her phone call.
“That was my mom,” Lily explained as she and Danielle waved to Gloria as she drove off. “She wanted to make sure we arrived okay. I guess I should’ve called her when we first got in town.”
“Bad daughter,” Danielle teased. “You ready to go see my house?”
They turned and walked to the front gate. Danielle stared up at the house, hesitating a moment so she could take another look before going inside. It really is a magnificent property, she thought—and it was all hers. Fumbling with the keys, she searched for the one to unlock the front gate.
“I suppose it would be considered a Victorian?” Lily studied the house.
“I don’t know much about architecture. But after they sent me a photograph I looked online to see what I could find. They call the style a Second Empire Mansard House, or something like that. It originated in France and became popular in the United States in the 1860s and 70s.” A Victorian with intriguing curves and angles, Danielle thought.
“When did you say it was built, 1871?” Lily asked.
“Yes. About a year after the town was founded.”
“Wow, and to think it’s been vacant almost a hundred years.”
“Not quite ninety years. Since 1925. I just hope the inside looks as good as the outside.”
“I still don’t know why they didn’t send you some interior pictures. He couldn’t just snap some with his cellphone?”
“I don’t think attorneys want to spend their time taking pictures for clients.” Danielle unlocked the front gate. “I think Mr. Renton pretty much assumed I’d never come to see the property. He figured I’d just have him sell it.”
Danielle led the way up the stone walkway to the front porch of Marlow House. It had been difficult to see much of the front yard from outside the gate, and now that she had a closer look she wondered if the interior of the property was as neglected as its yard. The plants hadn’t died, but she credited that to the Oregon coast’s damp climate. She wondered when a gardener had last trimmed the bushes or mowed the lawn.
Taking a closer look at the property as she made her way up the front steps, Danielle noted it could use a fresh coat of paint, yet it wasn’t really in bad shape. She suspected it had been painted sometime within the last decade, perhaps even more recent.
“Are you excited?” Lily asked as she watched Danielle sort through the key ring, looking for the key to the front door.
“Excited…a little nervous.” Danielle grinned as she slipped a key into the vintage lock. “Who knows what we’ll find inside?”
• • • •
Walt had just walked down the stairs and stepped onto the landing of the first floor when he heard it—a rattling at the front door as if someone was attempting to spring the uncooperative lock with a key. He had been meaning to replace the lock; Joanne always had a problem with it. Yet, it couldn’t be Joanne, he thought. She had been there just that morning and she only came once a week. Perhaps it was the woman with the clipboard. If so, he wasn’t in the mood to deal with her today.
Whoever was wrestling with the key finally managed to spring the lock. They were just pushing the door open when Walt ducked into the powder room off the front entry hall, leaving the door slightly ajar so he could observe his uninvited visitors.
The first one who came through the doorway was the brunette he’d spied earlier, standing by the sidewalk peering over his gate. Then he’d only glimpsed the upper half of her body and assumed she was wearing a skirt with her fitted blouse. He was shocked to discover she was dressed like a farmer, wearing manly denim work pants, several sizes too small, considering the way they hugged her hips and accentuated the shape of her womanly body. While he appreciated the outline of a woman’s form, it was hardly appropriate or respectable attire for a young woman.
Following her into his house was the redhead, whose manner of dress was just as inappropriate. What is this boldness of women, wearing men’s pants? Walt asked himself. Joanne wore slacks, yet he’d come to accept her manner of dress considering her housekeeping duties. He had to admit, it was more practical.
“I expected it to be covered in cobwebs!” Lily exclaimed as she made her way into the house and looked around the entry.
Cobwebs? Walt frowned, finding that absurd comment highly insulting.
“I told you they had a cleaning lady come once a week.” Danielle closed the front door behind them and looked around the entry. “Wow, I hope the rest of the house is in as good shape as this.”
Walt watched as the brunette carelessly dumped her handbag and key ring on the cherry wood table his grandmother had brought from England. He almost scolded the reckless young woman, yet caught himself in time, not prepared to make himself known—at least not yet. What are they doing here? He asked himself.
The first door they decided to open led to the parlor. The brunette rushed through its doorway, as excited as she appeared to have been when standing outside his gate. The redhead followed her into the room, and Walt could hear their voices as they chatted away. Yet it was impossible to understand what they were saying. He could only make out snippets of the conversation. It was obvious they liked what they were seeing, and while he might have been flattered under different circumstances, he stood silently in the powder room contemplating his choices. Having the pair arrested was one option; after all, he had not invited them into his home.
“I can’t wait to see upstairs.” Danielle walked back into the front entry with Lily.
“I wonder what’s in there.” Lily looked at the powder room door.
Walt stepped back away from the doorway, as the redhead walked toward him. The room was small; there was no place to hide. It housed just a pedestal sink, commode and small oak dressing table. An oval mirror, framed in gold, hung over the sink. Standing with his back to the mirror and sink, he cringed when the redhead threw opened the door. He looked into Lily’s inquisitive green eyes. She smiled in his direction.
“What a lovely little bathroom,” Lily called out to Danielle, who was standing in the entry hall.
“A bathroom? Good, I could use a bathroom.” Danielle walked toward the powder room.
Walt stood silently and watched as the redhead smiled but said nothing, and then turned away leaving him alone in the small room. He wasn’t alone for long. The brunette came barreling in, slamming the door behind her before turning in his direction. She stopped abruptly, her dark eyes wide as she stared at Walt before letting out a bone chilling scream.