“We need a gardener,” the raspy woman said to me over the phone.
“Of course, Miss Mulberry,” I replied with a toothy smile on my face.
I had received a call from none other than Vanessa Mulberry, the head of the Mulberry Estate. When I heard her voice present itself on the phone, I knew who it was almost instantly. The voice was unmistakable.
“I require a full time gardener on my estate. You will have your own residence situated an acre away from the house. Needless to say you will be a busy man. Is next week too soon for you to start?” she said almost insultingly.
“Next week is great! See you then! Have a lovely evening, Miss Mulberry!”
With that, I slammed down the phone and danced for joy around my kitchen. This was great! I would be living in and working for the Mulberry Estate, and would be getting paid a substantial amount of money for it. The Mulberry family had been in the town for around three-hundred years or so. Their plantation was around seven acres, which in this area, was a huge amount of land. Of course, that business ended abruptly when the abolition of slavery came about, but right after this, Edward Mulberry popped his clogs and then a massive amount of cash landed in his family's lap. They sold off some of their land, and they only owned three acres from then on. With the money, they created a new family business. In 1955, they created Mulberry Food For You, a company that took off big time. It became the biggest business in the area, and it still continues to this day.
So I turned up at the beautiful residence the following Monday. I hopped out of my van and wandered towards the house with a watering can in one hand, and a pair of gloves in the other. I wanted to show them that I was ready and eager to take care of their land. The house had a very historical vibe to it. It was white, with old windows with wooden shutters. The roof was a pallid grey colour, and the house was surrounded by beautiful shrubbery and flowers. Before I could reach the old wooden door, it opened suddenly and I was greeted by an older woman wearing a blue dress, and she wore an unmistakable face.
“Miss Mulberry. How lovely to meet you.”
I greeted her with a warm handshake. She looked up with saddened eyes and addressed me.
“Lovely to meet you to dear. I won't stay long. Now I apologize in advance for this Mr. Winters, but I have a party tonight for the new maid at around 8:00, so we're going to be a little noisy shall we say, ha-ha. So don't be alarmed if you hear anything odd. We have dinner parties regularly here.”
“Oh it's fine ma'am. I've probably heard worse, ha-ha.”
She stared blankly at me, as if I'd just stepped in some ungodly substance.
“You'll be joining us next week, won't you Mr. Winters? Why, we're having a party just for you. You know, to give you a proper welcome."
“Yes of course. I'll be along. You can count on it!” I replied with enthusiasm.
“Good good. Well, here's a map of the estate. Once you know your way around it would be wonderful if you could hand it back to us. I've written your daily routine on the back. I hope you enjoy working here, Mr. Winters.”
With that, she raised a half smile and proceeded back into the house. I stared at the map for a while, trying to gather my bearings. Once I had worked out where my residence was, I wandered over through the grounds and past the lake to get to it. This place wasn't as big as I had thought. I mean you could see the house from where I was going to be living. My place of residence was an old wood cabin at the edge of the lake. The first thing I noticed was a funny smell in there, but I figured it was something I would get used to. I had never lived by a lake before, but I was sure that this kind of smell was not present in log cabins.
I enjoyed my daily routine. It kept me busy. Watering the plants, planting new flowers, removing the dead leaves off of trees, etc. I mowed the entirety of the grounds three times that week (she was strict on that). It was tiring, but I earned a good amount of money for it, and it kept me occupied. Miss Mulberry never checked on me though. I found this to be rather peculiar. No knock on the door. No letter. Nothing. I knew what I was expecting on my first night. Who would think that a dinner party would be so noisy? I opened my door at one point and I could hear them laughing away in the distance. At one point I heard someone literally scream with laughter. That party sounded like a good welcoming gift for the new maid. I was to have mine the following week.
It was day three of the new job. I was wandering past the lake, heading towards my van that was parked beside the house. I was yet to unpack my equipment. I was ambling along when I was startled by a young woman. She was wearing a long purple dress. Her hair was blonde and she was wearing the most beautiful jewelry. She had wonderful blue eyes.
“Hello there.” I greeted her with a smile.
She looked up at me and she stopped in her tracks. She looked very confused.
“Oh sorry. I didn't mean to startle you.” I apologized to her.
“Can you... can you...”
“Can I what?” I interrupted her accidentally.
“Nothing,” She replied.
She then slowly wandered off past me. I turned to face her and our eyes met. She still looked very confused. I shrugged it off and continued towards the van. Maybe she recognized me? From where? I certainly hadn't seen her face anywhere before. If I had I would have surely remembered. She was stunning. Aside from that little blip in my routine, my day continued as normal. Evening came around, I retired to the cabin and began to watch some TV. It had been a long day for me. I put some food in the oven, and I collapsed into my chair.
Knock Knock Knock
I turned my head towards the door. I clambered back out of my chair, stumbled over to it and opened it slowly. I was faced with the stunning woman from earlier.
“Oh. Hello again.”
“Erm, hi. Is it alright if I, erm, come in?” she asked hesitantly.
“Yeah sure. Why not. I've got some dinner cooking if you want to have some?”
“Oh no, it's ok.” She replied. My attempt at wooing her failed miserably.
“Well what can I do for you?”
That look of confusion revealed itself on her face once more.
“I just wanted to say hello I suppose.” She stared into my eyes with a cold expression.
“Well hello there. I'm Travis. Travis Winters.”
I reached out to shake her hand. She didn't take kindly to it. She grabbed her right hand with her left and stepped back.
“I'm not going to hurt you or anything. I'm just trying to be friendly.” I assured her.
She looked around the room, gazing at all the fine details that surrounded her.
“I hope you don't mind me asking, but who are you exactly?” I questioned her.
“I'm Laura. The new maid.”
“Oh yes! Miss Mulberry mentioned you a couple of days ago. How did the party go? Sounded great! I could hear you from here!”
“I, erm, yeah, the party was good.”
“You alright? You seem a little on edge. Is something wrong? Ah, it's me isn't it? I apologize. I tend to go all out on people if you know what I mean. I just want to make a good impression”.
“It's me. Not you. I was a little, no, in fact very confused earlier on. I just didn't expect to see you. I didn't expect anyone to see me around actually.”
“What do you mean? I mean you wouldn't see too much of me perhaps because I'm all over the grounds, but of course you'd see Miss Mulberry around the house.”
“It's just odd. I, oh never mind. I'll stop bothering you now. Goodnight.”
She turned away and stormed out the door.
“No wait! Hold on!”
She had gone. She must have run very fast. I couldn't see her anywhere. This woman was very peculiar. I spent the rest of my evening wondering what she was confused about. Maybe she misheard Miss Mulberry on the phone or something. The job might have been something she wasn't expecting. Whatever she was confused about was rubbing off on me. I began to feel lost. I began to feel like maybe I didn't belong. But it was only day three after all. I didn't 'belong' here at all yet.
The days went on. I saw no-one else. It was just me gardening in the middle of this huge estate. Laura was nowhere to be seen either. She could have quit. I will admit, she didn't look like the type of person who would want to be a maid, whatever that means. She was too glamorous. Too well dressed to be doing cleaning all day long. Maybe her job was part time?
I couldn't let these questions bug me. I had too many bugs to deal with when clipping the dead leaves off the oak tree. It was a very hot few days. The sun was roasting me. I felt like a chicken in an oven. On top of the heat I had to do all this business. The Mulberry’s were very precise about how their land should look. But who was I to question them? They tell me what to do and I do it. Simple.
Day six was the hottest day of all. I remained shirtless the entire day. One of my questions was answered that day. Laura hadn't quit. I saw her strolling past the oak tree early in the afternoon. I was watering the chrysanthemums and there she was, ambling away in the distance. I called her name and begun waving at her like a mad thing. She turned towards me, stopped in her tracks and glared. I put my arms down, after I realized I was overdoing it a bit. She continued on her stroll. I looked up again to see if she was still there. She had already gone back towards the house. What was she doing? She certainly wasn't cleaning. That's for sure.
That evening had a solemn feel to it. I was looking forward to the party tomorrow. I would finally have some human company other than Laura. I had just finished mowing the grass at the edge of the ground. I headed back towards my van briskly. I wanted to get indoors now. I was exhausted. Once I reached the van I yanked open the doors and lowered the ramp. I drove the mower into the van, and once I hopped off, I straightened out some of the tools. That van needed sorting. Once I had finished rearranging my things, I leaped out the van and turned around to shut the doors. As I did so, my heart dropped as I came face to face with Laura.
“Jesus Laura! Wow you scared me there. Got me back for the other night did you? Ha-ha!” I tried to humour her.
“Sorry. I saw you from across the drive and thought I should apologize for the other night. I must have looked like a lunatic.”
“No, no. It's fine. We're both settling in.”
“Travis. I’ve already ‘settled in’ as you say.”
“Well that’s good. I’ve got this party tomorrow. Should be fun.”
“Travis. You can’t go to that party.”
“Why not? It sounds like a good laugh.”
“Just don’t go to it. It didn’t do me any favours.”
“Why sure it did! It must have helped you get to know the place a bit better? Surely?”
“It did more than that Travis. I don’t want to scare you.”
My smile slowly began to sink into a frown.
“What are you talking about?” I asked with a look of worry growing on my face.
“Just leave Travis. It’s the best thing to do. I don’t want to expla— please Travis.”
“I don’t know what you’re on about Laura. Sorry. Look I’ll speak tomorrow or something. I should be getting back now.”
I slammed the doors on the van and I hurried back to the cabin without turning back. Strangely, as I rushed back, the only question I asked myself was about her outfit. Why did she always wear that formal dress? She looked like a supermodel, strutting around the grounds as if advertising a new range of clothing. I went to bed that night completely fired up. In fact, I became less tired. My mind began whizzing around the place. Truth be told, I felt somewhat worried. What was Laura warning me about?
The seventh day of being a gardener at the Mulberry estate had now begun. I had it marked in my diary as ‘Party Day.' The day consisted of mowing the lawn, and removing leaves from the gutters of the house. This was the only day of the job that I didn’t enjoy. There was no sign of Laura anywhere. I didn’t see her wandering the grounds. I didn’t see her through any of the windows of the house, because the curtains were drawn in every room. The family obviously likes their privacy I thought.
Once I had finished removing the leaves, it was already 5:00PM. I had to get ready. I headed back to the cabin and put on my best suit. I may have been a bit too obsessive about the whole thing. I tried to smooth it out so it didn’t have creases. I checked if there were marks and stains and whatnot.
I was paranoid. The feeling enveloped me on my way to the house. My stomach began to churn. I was anxious about meeting the family. Maybe Laura was there? Hopefully she was. There would be someone there I could somewhat relate to, even if she did make me paranoid. I walked up the old white steps to the front door. I stood facing it for a good minute or two.
“Right Travis. You have got to be nice. They need to get a good impression of you.” I said to myself.
Knock Knock Knock.
I stood back from the door and stared at it in anticipation. I could hear the loud echo of footsteps ringing through the house. The door creaked open loudly.
“Ah Mr Winters! How lovely to see you.”
“Miss Mulberry.” I replied, extending my arm for a handshake.
Her frail hands almost made me jump back. They were freezing. She moved aside inviting me in to her humble abode. I stepped in, and I looked up. This was their hallway. A large room painted white with pictures of their ancestors, hung on the walls surrounding me. The stairs were in front of me and on the left. Big wooden stairs they were; that hugged the wall, and sharply turned right before going up even further, and into the upper levels. The wooden floor gleamed in the light.
“This is a wonderful house you have here ma’am.” I complimented her.
“Yes it is. Would you like to come this way Mr Winters?”
She began walking straight ahead, through another doorway. I followed her while resting one hand on my nervous stomach. She led me to a dining room. The walls were a light red, and they were filled with more paintings. Gold plating adorned them and surrounded me. Each plate bore red marks on their centre. There was a fireplace on the far side of the room. The picture frame above it had no picture in. There were words. They read:
‘Mulberry Food For You’
On my left was a long wooden table—with three chairs to the left and right. These chairs were full. People of all ages were sat upon them. They didn’t look at me when I came in. The two chairs on either end were meant for Miss Mulberry and me.
“Mr Winters. I’d like to introduce you to my family.”
With that, they all shot up like rockets and they stood dead still. Miss Mulberry walked around the table pointing at them and telling me who each of them were.
“This is Casey. This one is Elizabeth. Over here is Amelia. This little man is Edward. Beside Edward there is Thomas, and finally we have James.”
“Hello everybody.” I said cheerily.
Not a sound.
“Take a seat Mr Winters.”
I sat down rather awkwardly and I looked at the table, only to notice that our plates were empty. Miss Mulberry must have noticed my confused expression because she immediately addressed me.
“We eat at seven.” She said sternly.
I looked to my side at the clock in the hall. It was 6:53. I turned back to look at the family. They all stared straight at me with absolutely no expression. I didn’t want to speak first. I thought it would be rude, but it would save me from this incredibly awkward feeling. I sat with my arms rested on my knees, tapping my fingers for something to do. I glanced up occasionally. Every time I did, they were gawping at me. The only noises were the ticking of the old grandfather clock in the hall, and the noise of my stomach angrily rumbling at me.
I had to say something. Granted, this was making me feel uncomfortable to say the least. Yet I could not muster up the courage to say something. In the presence of such a wealthy family, they should speak first. They did not. They remained dead quiet.
The children got up without saying a word and they all walked over to the end of the room. They went into a door on the right. Once they had all entered the room, they slammed the door tightly shut. Miss Mulberry continued to stare into my eyes.
“Sit comfortably Mr Winters.” She finally spoke.
She rose from her seat, turned towards the door and menacingly walked towards it with all her muscles completely tense. Nothing flowed in her. She walked very stiffly towards the door on the right, and she entered the room and slammed the door. My only company now was the ticking of the clock.
I observed the room. I couldn’t stand up and wander in the hall or anything. She could be back in any second. I gazed all around at the pictures and plates that plastered the walls. I heard banging around in the room on the right that made me jump out of my skin. It sounded like pots and pans being thrown about the place. Sounded like a big meal they’re making.
The noise from the kitchen became louder. The children were mumbling away to themselves. I couldn’t tell what they were saying amongst the loud clattering in the next room. I could make out Miss Mulberry’s voice quite clearly.
“It’s nearly time children.” She said excitedly.
The ticking of the clock became louder. Nearly time I thought. I glanced back at the plates on the wall. I noticed the ticking more now. It was louder than ever. I thought I could maybe help out the kitchen to speed things up. I was starving. I got out of my chair and slid it back under the table. I looked back up towards the door as I began walking towards the room. I took one last look at the plates that surrounded me. Then the ticking stopped.
I turned around and I was surprised at who I saw.
“Laura? What are you doing here?”
“I’m sorry Travis. I really am. I tried to tell you. I- I- really did try.”
“I don’t understand. What are you talking about?”
Laura moved to the right of where she was standing. Behind her was another golden plate. I walked closer to it and was confused at what to look at.
“What are you trying to show me?”
“Just look Travis!”
“I don’t underst—“
My expression dropped. I looked at Laura, and then back at the plate. I understood exactly what Laura was trying to show me. I didn’t want to. But I knew what she wanted me to see. The plates had names carved into the top of them. The plate behind where she was standing read:
A red mark was splashed along the plate below her name. I looked at the plate to the right of hers. It had no red mark on it. I read what it said over and over again.
The door creaked open behind me.
“We’re ready to eat Mr Winters.”
I looked to Laura, and then back at the family. The look on their faces chilled me to my very core. The children were grinning from ear to ear. Miss Mulberry however had no expression. She merely stared at me, as if she absolutely despised me. No smile. No twinkle in her eye. She gave off nothing. That's when I knew what they wanted to do to me.
I turned towards the hallway and I began running. I headed towards the front door. I could hear them scuttling after me. I reached for the handle. I pulled it as hard as I could. I leaped out of the house and I turned to look at my pursuers. I stopped in my tracks. The door was now closed. I looked in confusion. My pursuers were gone. The lights were still on, but there was no-one out here to be seen.
“I’m sorry.” Said a voice from beside me.
I spun around to see who was talking to me. Laura.
“Come with me. I’m sorry about what you’re going to see.”
She held out her hand and looked in my eyes deeply. Tears streamed down her face. I slowly reached out for her hand, and when I clasped it, we began walking. We didn’t run. We walked calmly. I didn’t turn around to see if there was anyone around. I felt different. I wasn’t scared anymore. I felt sad. I felt that a part of me was lost. I felt like something in me had been torn away and I could never get it back. Deep down, I felt like I knew what Laura was going to show me. We turned a corner and she pointed at the window beside us.
“You don’t have to look if you don’t want to.”
I stood just outside the window, peering in. There were the family, enjoying a good meal inside their warm home. I looked at what was on the plate. A severed arm. Tears began streaming down my cheeks. Laura turned me around and tightly hugged me.
“You’re here Travis. You’re not in there. Remember that.”
“Where do we go?” I asked her.
Laura led me away from the house. Before I went with her, I took one last look in the window at what used to be me. She held my hand, and we both strolled into the grounds. We walked into the night. The old oak tree swayed in the breeze. The water in the lake was completely still. An unmistakable voice of an old woman filled the grounds.
“Hello? Is that Sally’s Spooks Investigators? Can I hire you? Yes. I believe my estate is haunted...”
Written by Elliot Cowling