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Pieces of Nine: Part VI – Final

Pieces of Nine

Part VI

I spent the next fifty years finishing my education, meeting and marrying my wife Rachel, raising my three children to adulthood, and carrying on my own career in Theoretical Physics as a tenured professor at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Not coincidentally, my main interest in the field of Physics was the study of time. I also held a degree in History with a specialty in ancient maritime cultures, specifically the Phoenicians. I never forgot. And I never forgot my friend Jerry either.

I retired from the University in 2004. Rachel and I moved into the old house on Oslo Street back in Avery’s Point. My mom and dad were long gone. I had retained the house as a sort of summer get-away home. It was well kept. We had looked forward to this time for many years. The hectic University life had been wearing us both down. I planned on writing a few books and articles for science journals in my retirement.

The town had not changed much at all. There were a few new homes here and there in the neighborhood. The patch of woods where the clubhouse had been was all developed now. It was still a quiet neighborhood, though. On a drive down to the post office a few weeks after settling into the old place, I happened down Canterbury Road. My heart skipped a couple beats when I realized I was sitting at the corner of Canterbury and Newport, right where the old Captain’s house had stood. For all those years. I cleared the lump out of my throat.

“AHEM!”

“Are you alright, honey?” Rachel asked.

“Yes… ahem… dear. Just a bit of dry throat.” I said.

“Oh, look. They’re building another new home.” She pointed.

She was pointing to the old Captain’s property. There were construction crews and cement trucks and other tradesmen busily working on the foundation for a new home right there above where that… that thing was buried. I let off the brake and put my foot on the gas pedal and gently accelerated away from that place, hoping that distance would fade it out of my mind. Of course, that didn’t work.

As days went by, I found myself taking my daily walks in the direction of Canterbury and Newport. I watched the construction proceed at a good pace. Within five or six weeks, the home was completed. It was a nice, modern New Englander. I wondered who would be living in it. I wondered how many folks remembered what had been there before. A family moved into the home shortly thereafter. I stopped taking my daily walks in that direction. I put it out of my mind and returned to my retirement pursuits.

Nothing untoward occurred in Avery’s Point for the next few years… until autumn of 2007. That was when the State Police were called out to investigate the disappearance of the family who had been living in the home on the corner of Canterbury and Newport. They disappeared without a trace. The only clue was a series of drag marks on the floor in the basement that led up to a solid wall… an old wall, evidently a part of an older structure.

On Halloween night that year, Rachel and I had been passing out candy and goodies for the neighborhood kids. There didn’t seem to be nearly as many as there were when I was a child. Times change, I guess. Along toward 8PM or so, Rachel and I figured we’d seen the last of the kids. As we settled into our comfortable spots in front of the TV for the evening, the doorbell rang once more. I sighed and got up to answer it, taking the candy bowl with me.

I opened the front door and pushed the screen door open. There was a young boy of about ten or eleven on the porch. He wasn’t wearing any Ninja Turtle or Batman costumes. He was dressed in an old style plaid shirt and dungarees with what looked like Converse All Star sneakers on. He looked up at me.

“Good evening, sir. Is Kevin here?” he asked.

MY GOD! JERRY!

© 2008 V. T. Eric Layton

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Hope you enjoyed it, folks.

Remember life is fleeting. Live it well!

~Eric

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Pieces of Nine: Part V – A Serialized Story

Pieces of Nine

Part V

Jerry reached into the box for the key. I smacked his hand and said, “NO!”

“What d’ya’ mean ‘no’?” he said.

“I mean that we can’t go in there, Jerry.” I answered.

“But we have to, Kev. We’ve come this far.”

“I don’t care. You read what the Captain wrote in that book. We don’t know how to work whatever’s behind that door.” I told him.

I closed the lid on the box and started pulling Jerry by the arm back into the tunnel. We had to leave. We had to get out of that house. I could feel the talisman pulling me toward the door. I could actually feel it. It felt like falling down into a deep pit… like being sucked into a whirlwind. The walls the tunnel started moving in and out, like they were breathing or something. My vision was blurring, all the time Jerry was fighting with me and pulling back downward toward the door.

His arm slipped through my sweaty hand. I fell down and bumped my head. I must have passed out for a short time. I heard Jerry screaming from further down the tunnel.

“NO! NO! No, please… Help me, Kevin! ARRRGGGH!”

Silence… then a loud CLANG!, as the iron door slammed back into its jamb. There was total darkness. The walls no longer glowed as they had before, or had we just imagined that? I had to take flash light out and turn it on. I pointed it down the tunnel toward the room that I knew was just a few yards down there.

“Jerry?” I whispered into the gloom. “JERRY!?” I yelled.

My voice seemed to be absorbed by the granite walls of the tunnel, seemingly carrying no further than a foot or so. I had never been so scared in all my life. I ran back down into the room. I had to. I had to help my friend. When I entered the room with the granite podium and the great iron door, I realized that it was empty… deathly still. The tool bag that Jerry had been carrying was on the floor by the door. The key from the box was in the lock.

I could not bring myself to open the door. I just couldn’t. I realized then that I had peed my pants. There were tears streaming down my face. I was breathing in huge gasps. I took the key from the lock and put it back in the box on the podium. I grabbed the tool bag and ran back up the tunnel. I took the granite steps three at a time till I reached the part of the tunnel where the floor and walls were dirt. I ran on till I ran straight into the wall. I fell back on my butt and shined the light ahead of me. The wall in the basement had closed!

I screamed, “HELP!”

I stood up and began banging on the wall with my fists and the flashlight. The light went out. I screamed again.

“Please! Please open!”

The wall made the grinding noise as it slid back about three feet into the basement. I stopped breathing. I could just make out the dim moonlight illuminating the basement floor. I ran into the basement as quickly as I could, fearing that the wall would change its mind and not let me leave. Almost as soon as I cleared the opening, the wall began to grind back into place. I fell down on the floor under the window and just shivered and shook.

Once I calmed myself just a bit so that I could think, I began to wonder how many people the talisman had lured to their doom over the years. Avery’s Point and surrounding areas had their share of disappearances. I wonder how many were led here, to this basement, in this unholy house. How many? I vowed right then that my friend Jerry would be the last. I opened the tool bag and took out Jerry’s flash light and the box of kitchen matches.

I ran up the stairs into the kitchen. On the center counter there was an old glass oil lamp. It still had a full reservoir. I grabbed it, removed the globe, and lighted the wick with one of my matches. It lit up at once, with a smell of stale fuel oil. I took the lamp into the dining room where there were two other similar lamps. I lighted them with the one from the kitchen. I took one in each hand, leaving one burning on the dining room table, and went into the den/library.

I threw one against the glass covered shelves on the left side of the room. It shattered the glass doors and itself exploded as it impacted with them. The oil in the reservoir splattered onto the old, dry books within. They blazed up immediately. I turned and threw the other lamp against the shelves on the opposite wall, with the same effect. I ran back into the dining room. I took the lamp that I had left in there and smashed it down onto the dining room table. The old, dry tablecloth flamed up.

With everything beginning to burn hot, I ran back down into the basement. I grabbed the tool bag and my lunch pail, which we had left there earlier, and stood on the stool under the window. I shimmied my butt back over the casement and out in the hedges along side of the house. I stood up and ran. I ran all the way back down the street as fast as I could. I ran all the way till I got to the clubhouse in the woods. I didn’t see anyone on the streets. I hoped no one had seen me.

Once back at the clubhouse, I changed back into my costume and tucked the tool bag and lunch pail under it. I tried to act as normal as possible. My heart was beating a 1000 beats a minute, it seemed. I calmly walked back home. When I got there, I emptied the tool bag and carefully put everything back where I had found it in dad’s workshop. I went up the back steps and into the house. Mom and dad were sitting in the living room. Dad was snoozing in his chair and mom was reading a magazine.

“Well, there you are.” Mom said. “You look flushed. You didn’t get sick eating all that candy, did you?”

“Uh… yes, ma’am. I might have eaten too much. May I be excused?” I asked.

“Yes, dear. You go upstairs and wash up. I’ll be up in a bit to check on you.” she said.

I went upstairs and cleaned up and got ready for bed. It was already after 8PM. I’m glad my dad was sleeping. If he’d been awake, he probably would have whipped me for coming home that late. Mom was not quite as strict. She would cover for me, as usual. I doused the lights and climbed into the upper bunk above George. His bed was empty. He was staying over at a friend’s that night. Mom came in a little while latter and made sure I was OK, then she left me alone.

In a little while, I could hear sirens and bells ringing. They were the bells down at the old fire station on Nantucket Drive. I knew why they were ringing. The house burned into the ground that night. The firemen couldn’t even begin to battle that blaze. All those old books and dried wooden furniture and framing went up like so much tender. The fire was determined to be accidental, but no one ever tried to explain what caused it. The town had a bulldozer crew out there a few days later leveling the property.

And Jerry? I was awoken early the next morning by my mother and a crying Mrs. Keene, Jerry’s mom.

“Kevin?” my mom asked, “Weren’t you with Jerry last night?”

“Yes’m” I answered.

“Where did you go?” she asked.

“We went only as far as Indigo, like you said, mom, and then we came back to the clubhouse and ate our candy.”

“Did you walk home with Jerry, Kevin?” Mrs. Keene asked me in between sniffles.

“No’m. We split up at the clubhouse. I came straight home.” I was lying for my life here.

There was a thorough investigation. The State Police were called in. I was grilled like a suspect for a little while. They finally chalked it up to an abduction a year or so later when Harry Dean Carson, the “Kiddie Killer”, was caught and confessed to Jerry’s murder and the murder of 19 other children in the New England area over the past ten years. They never found Jerry’s body. Carson claimed he could not remember where he’d dumped it. In November of 1958, I went to Jerry’s funeral. I cried. I cried many times in that last year and the years after that.

©2008 V. T. Eric Layton (excluding images)

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Next Tuesday, the conclusion of Pieces of Nine. Thanks for reading.

Pieces of Nine: Part IV – A Serialized Story

Pieces of Nine

Part IV

The Captain’s Logbook:

My name is Arthur Barrington. I was captain of the Leslie Marie, a merchant ship out of Portsmouth. On my many travels around the world in the business of shipping, I often entered many strange and ancient ports. One in particular was on the Island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea, where I discovered something that was to change my life forever.

In the year 1853, the Leslie Marie was piloted into the harbor of Nicolaos, on the northern part of that island. We were there to deliver a hold full of olive oil from Genoa. While in the city, I overheard a snatch of conversation between two Cretins in a pub about the “Pieces of Nine”. I was intrigued immediately. I knew what pieces of eight were, Spanish silver coins, but had never heard of pieces of nine.

I intruded on their conversation and bought a round of drinks to soothe their objections to my interruption. More drink flowed. More conversation ensued. Finally, I was invited to meet with them later that evening to be introduced to one who could tell me more about these pieces of nine. I promised to meet with them at the agreed upon time and place and left them to return to the Leslie Marie for a few hours of rest before the evening arrived.

When the time approached for the meeting, I left the Leslie Marie and walked through the cobbled streets to a small residence about a mile inland from the port. I knocked on the door and waited. An old crone opened the door and bade me enter. Inside were my two friends from the pub. Their names were Miklo and Stephan. We sat and chatted for few moments. In a short while, there was another knock on the door. The old crone again opened the door and bade an old man to enter.

The old man was introduced to me as Miklo’s father. His name was Manos Kalergos. He was the Grand Lector of the Pieces of Nine, the keeper of the sacred texts. I was confused now. I inquired as to what this meant. Manos said that the Pieces of Nine were an ancient fraternity that could trace its roots back to the Phoenicians of 2500 years ago. The Phoenicians were an ancient sea-faring race.

I became very interested in everything that Manos was telling me about the Pieces of Nine. I was in port for about three weeks. During that time, I visited with Manos and the others daily. I became obsessed with the things that they were telling me about this ancient brotherhood. I could not learn fast enough. I cannot explain my obsession, but obsession it was, nevertheless. Finally though, I had to depart from my new friends. I left with promises to return. On my day of departure, Manos showed up at the docks and gave me a manuscript that he claimed would explain much about the Pieces of Nine. He was more correct than he knew.

For five years I studied that manuscript in detail. I researched and investigated related information in libraries all throughout Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. I learned much. The most important thing I learned was that Manos and his Pieces of Nine brethren were imbeciles. They were idiots. Their entire fraternity was based on a manuscript that was incorrectly translated from the ancient Greek, which itself was mistranslated from an earlier language.

According to the Greek historian Herodotus, the Phoenicians had a unique goddess, one with no equivalent in other cultures. She was the goddess of time. The Phoenicians prayed to her and she supposedly taught them how to use time and the stars to navigate their ships to faraway places. Her name was Nirne. Again according to Herodotus, she also had a very unique power. She could control time.

Herodotus goes on to explain that Nirne showed the Phoenicians not only how to navigate the seas, but also how to navigate time, which she compared to the sea. She taught that time had waves, tides, and storms, just as the sea does. Occasionally, time will wash things up on faraway shores. This detritus of time was called “feces of Nirne” by the ancient Phoenicians. It was how they explained strange races or cultures of men they met in their travels. They cursed them, calling them “feces of Nirne”.

These idiot Cretins had mistranslated a Greek text from 2000 years before changing “feces of Nirne” into “pieces of nine”. The words are very similar in ancient Greek and modern Cretan. I laugh aloud when I think of this. They had no idea the power they were in command of. They knew not in the least the proper use of their talisman. Oh yes, the fraternity had a talisman. The kept it in a lead lined wooden box. I was not allowed to see it on that first visit to the island.

In these pages, I will admit my madness completely. In 1857, I bought a piece of property in the town of Avery’s Point and paid the architect Burnham to build this house and this underground complex. I paid him well to keep the secret. I also paid well to have him killed a year after completing this project. He fell from a scaffold while working on one of his building projects in Boston. Yes. My madness was great.

Upon my return to the Island of Crete in 1864, I discovered that the old man Manos had died a few years before. His son Miklo was now the Grand Lector. I killed Miklo and made off with the talisman. I stowed it in my stateroom aboard the Leslie Marie and sailed for home. Once I arrived home, I promptly sold the Leslie Marie to a Portsmouth shipping interest and retired to my home in Avery’s Point. I brought the talisman with me. I placed it beyond that iron door that you now see in front of you.

I spent the next ten years studying the texts of the brotherhood. I learned how to manipulate the talisman. I learned many, many things. The entire extent of what I learned you will find etched into the solid granite in the tunnel you came through to get to this room. The language that it is written in is the lost language of the ancient race of Phoenicia. Now you truly see my madness.

I will tell you this, though… the talisman was a gift from the goddess Nirne to the Phoenicians. It gave them the power over time. It allowed them to sail that sea, also. The Phoenicians mysteriously disappeared sometime back around 500BC. The traditional histories state that Phoenicia was conquered by Persia and absorbed into that culture. However, the historian Herodotus mentions the mysterious disappearance of a large portion of the conquered Phoenician people. History brushes this event aside.

So what happened to the Phoenicians? They set sail on the sea of time. Just as myself and my family did centuries later with the help of the talisman. I had taken many such trips before that last one. This is how I learned the ancient Phoenician language. I sailed the sea of time to that point in history when the Phoenicians were at their peak. They taught me their language themselves. They welcomed me as a brother, a fellow sailor of the sea of time. Where am I now? I wouldn’t know.

A final warning: those who lack the knowledge should beware the power of the talisman. To navigate the sea of time is perilous in itself. To be cast upon it with no knowledge of how to navigate it is death.

So ended the Captain’s Logbook entry.

©2008 V. T. Eric Layton (excluding images)

Pieces of eight image courtesy of shipwreck-heritage.org.uk

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Stay tuned, dear readers… next Tuesday – Part V.

Pieces of Nine: Part III – A Serialized Story

Pieces of Nine

Part III

Jerry and I made a fateful decision that day, one that would change both our lives. We entered the tunnel. The walls around us were shored up with wooden planking. The tunnel itself was probably six feet tall and four feet wide. The dirt floor sloped constantly downward at a gentle grade. We silently walked what I judged to be 50 paces or so, maybe 100 feet. This would have put us somewhere under Newport Street, I thought to myself.

In another moment or two, the walls changed to solid granite. The planking ended and the floor became granite also. Instead of the gentle sloping, the granite had been carved into steps leading ever downward. I figured we were maybe 30 or 40 feet below street level at this point. I wasn’t really sure.

“Look at that, Kev!” Jerry said, pointing at the wall to our right.

“What is that? Some kind of writing?” I asked.

“Looks like, but ain’t nothing I’ve ever seen.” Jerry answered.

It looked like some sort of stick drawings and other gibberish. I’d seen writing like this in books at the library, books about ancient Egypt or Greece or some places like that. It was strange. I couldn’t figure any of it out. It was neatly carved right into the granite walls. It continued on as we walked. It could have been an entire book; there was so much writing.

After another 100 feet or so, the walls became damp and oozing. The floor became slippery and wet. The smell was like an old canvas tarp that had been left out in the rain and then thrown in a dark corner of the shed. It smelled green and moldy down there. We were starting to get a bit scared at this point.

“You think we should go back, Kev?” Jerry asked.

“Do you wanna’?” I asked him.

“Dunno. You?” he asked back.

“Who could have made all this?” I wondered aloud.

“The old Captain, maybe?” Jerry suggested.

“Hmmph. I guess so.” I replied.

Just then my flash light slipped out of my sweaty hands and clattered a few feet down the steps in front of me. It went off, of course, so I couldn’t tell where it landed at first. Jerry had his flash light off because we were saving batteries by just using one at a time. Even though it should have been pitch dark in the tunnel, there was a distinct glow down there. It was bright enough that once your eyes adjusted, you could actually see quite well. I could even see my flash light on the step about five feet in front of me. Stranger and stranger. I walked down and picked up my flash light, but did not attempt to turn it on.

About 25 feet further down the tunnel, the narrow walk space widened into a kind of gallery about the size of a parlor in a house, maybe 20 feet square. At the furthest side from where we entered there was a heavy metal door mounted into the solid rock with iron hinges and a lock. It was rusted to a dark brown color. In the center of the room was a podium-like granite stand. On this stand was a metal box about 12 inches square and 4 inches deep. It had a latch on one side and hinges on the other.

We walked up to the podium. Etched on the metal box in Old English script was this:

Step not further another step without ye reading these words or thy doom thee shall meet.

“Kevin, I’m scared for sure now.” Jerry whispered.

“Me too, Jer, but we can’t turn back now. We’ve come this far. Don’t you want to know what this is all about? I asked him.

“Sure Kevin, but I’m still scared.”

I reached out and lifted the latch on the box. Inside was a large leather bound book and the key to the iron door. The cover on the book said “Log” on it. I opened the book. We read the words printed there, not understanding all of what they were saying, but reading it all just the same.

©2008 V. T. Eric Layton (excluding images)

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Next Tuesday, friends… Part IV.

Pieces of Nine: Part II – A Serialized Story

Pieces of Nine

Part II

A few weeks later, just before Halloween, Jerry and I worked each other up to a frenzied pitch with dares and double dares and even double dog dares. We both wanted the same thing. We were just dancing around each other to see who would crack first. Neither of us did. We decided we were going to investigate the old Captain’s house on our own, regardless of Granddad’s warnings and my brother George’s threats to tell my dad. We set the date: 31 October. We set the time: late afternoon, just before the trick-or-treaters came out in search of their quarry.

We went into my dad’s workshop right after we got home from school and stocked up on what we thought intrepid adventurers would need. We got a couple flash lights with fresh batteries. We got a little tool bag that my dad had and stuffed it with a screw driver, hammer, utility knife, some string, matches, and other miscellaneous items. We also went into the kitchen when my mom wasn’t in there and filled my lunch pail with some sandwiches, cookies, and a thermos of apple juice. The time was drawing nigh.

We dressed up in our trick-or-treat costumes, got our candy buckets, and headed out the door. My mother waved at us from the porch and told us to not go further than Indigo Street. She also told us not to eat so much candy that we got sick, like we did last year. Off down the street we went. Once we got to the little patch of woods between our street and Canterbury, we cut through the woods. There’s a clubhouse in there that is sort of community property of all the kids in the neighborhood. We went there and stripped off our costumes, underneath which we had stashed our tool bag and other equipment for our big adventure.

We came out of the woods near Canterbury. We walked south on that street for about 200 yards till we got to the old Captain’s house on the corner. It was just twilight. It was a cool evening. Jerry and I were both wearing our hooded sweatshirts and jeans. I had on my favorite pair of Keds high-top sneakers. Jerry was wearing his black Converse All Stars. The adventure was about to begin in earnest.

Earlier in the week, on one of our reconnaissance missions, we had spotted a broken basement window in the back of the house. It must have been broken after the town crew was out at the house doing maintenance earlier in September. They always fixed or boarded up broken windows when they did their twice yearly visit. That window was our planned point of entry. After waiting a bit to make sure that no one was watching, we trotted around to the back of the house and crouched down in the shrubs near the window. Jerry shined his flash light into the gloom.

The basement was surprisingly clean and tidy. Of course, it was also empty, with the exception of a few autumn leaves that had blown in through the broken window over the past few weeks. I reached in and unlocked the casement. It moved with ease, like it had been just recently greased. The window slid upwards with nary a sound. Jerry slid over the casement and landed on the floor in the basement.

“C’mon, Kevin. We don’t have all night.” he said to me.

“I’m coming. Hush up!” I answered, as I slid my butt over the window casement and dropped to the floor.

There wasn’t a sound to be heard. My ears were roaring with the silence in that basement. It was like all noise was being sucked into some sort of deep hole.

“What do you want to do first?” Jerry asked.

“Let’s explore the upstairs.” I said.

We went up the soundless wooden stairs and into the the kitchen area. You could just make out the huge hearth at the far end of the kitchen. Its dark and massive granite stonework dominating that end of the room. There was a layer of dust on everything, but here, as in the basement, everything was neat and tidy… nothing amiss. The cast iron pots and copper pans were still hanging from the rack above the center counter. There was even a large cast iron cauldron hanging from a hook in the hearth.

“Would you look at that witch’s pot!” Jerry remarked.

“Cook up a good batch of eye of newt soup in that thing, huh?” I said, shuddering at my own joke.

We quietly walked around the ground floor looking into the dining room, where the large table and chairs were still set up. There was even a complex candelabra sitting on the center of the table. It was all green and tarnished. There were spider webs draped across it in random fashion. There were plates and silverware setting on the table as well. We were both a bit surprised to see all this.

“How come no one’s stolen any of this, Kev?” Jerry asked me.

“Heck, Jer. I dunno. Strange though, huh?” I said.

“Damned straight it’s strange!”

“If yer mom hears you cuss like that, she stripe your rear end for you.” I ribbed him.

“Damned straight!” he answered, with a nervous little laugh.

We walked into the large den/library. The floor to ceiling shelves were still full of books. They had glass paned doors over the shelves. The books looked pristine. There weren’t any cobwebs or dust in those cabinets. They must have been nearly air tight. In later years, I would often wonder what the value of the books in that library would have been. There was also a huge desk in the center of the room with a big leather chair, its back to the bay windows facing the street. The front of the desk had an inlay of lighter colored wood in the shape of ship’s anchor.

The desk had papers, books, framed pictures, and an old oil lamp on it. Everything was covered in dust and cobwebs. We looked in the drawers. Nothing looked like it had been touched. There were scissors, paper clips, and other items in the top drawers. There were papers belonging to the lawyer in the file drawers at the bottom. There was even a gold handled letter opener in one of those drawers. I was again struck by the fact that no one had ever stolen anything out of this house in over 50 years. That just wasn’t normal, I didn’t think. Other abandoned homes in town were always vandalized and broken into repeatedly. Why not this one?

We were having to use the flash lights by now. It was full dark outside. We could hear neighborhood kids yelling “trick or treat” up and down Canterbury Road. Jerry and I walked up another flight of silent wooden stairs, these much more elaborate than the ones in the basement, and made our way to the second story where the bedrooms were located. The bedrooms were all dusty and cobwebby, but everything was untouched, just as it was downstairs. If it weren’t for the dust and webs, it would have looked as though the folks who lived here were just out for the evening.

“What now?” Jerry asked me.

“Back to the basement, I guess.” I said.

With that, we walked back down the stairs and into the kitchen. From there we went down the basement stairs and back into the basement. It was very dark down there now. The was no light coming through the small basement windows.

“How are we going to get out of here, Kev?” Jerry whispered.

“What are you whispering for?” I asked him.

“I dunno. Just don’t feel right to be loud. You know what I mean?” he asked.

“Yeah, I guess.” I said.

“So?”

“So what? I said.

“So, how are we going to get out? We can’t reach that window from the floor.” Jerry said, as he pointed to the window high on the wall that we had climbed down from earlier.

“We’ll have to get that stool that was in the kitchen and use it to stand on”. I said.

“Good idea! You go get it.” Jerry pointed up the stairs.

“You go get it!” I said.

“Nyuh-uh!” Jerry retorted.

“Alright. Alright. We both go get it. Happy?” I said.

We both walked back up the stairs and came back down in a few minutes with a stool that we had seen in the corner of the kitchen. The stool was just high enough to give us the boost we needed to climb back over the window casement and exit the house.

“You ready to go?” Jerry asked me.

“I dunno. You?” I asked back.

“Strange, ain’t it. Everything just sitting around. No one’s touched anything.”

“Yup. Strange. What do you think happened to the families that lived here, though?” I asked him.

“Heck! They probably just up and left, I s’pose.” he answered.

“You mean just leave without taking any of your stuff or anything. That would be strange.”

“Is strange. Ayuh.” he said, shrugging.

“Isn’t that the wall over there that your granddad said was where they saw them drag marks?”

“Yeah! We forgot about that. Let’s take a closer look.” I said with renewed excitement.

It was just a bare stone wall with a bare stone floor in front of it. The wall looked to be part of the foundation. That’s the way I remembered it in those drawings we saw at the library, too. To the left was a coal chute and a bin. To the right was our escape window. Behind us was the stairwell leading to the main house. I walked up and tapped on the wall. I stomped on the floor. All seemed pretty solid.

“Open Sesame!” Jerry whispered.

We both broke out into uncontrollable giggles and snickers. We heard a small grinding noise, like something big being dragged over a sandy floor. That shut us up immediately. We weren’t even breathing, I don’t think.

“What was that?” Jerry hissed at me.

“Heck! I don’t know. Sounded like… like…” I hesitated.

“…something big dragging across the floor.” Jerry finished for me.

We both shined our lights at the base of the wall where it met the floor. The wall looked like it had moved maybe just an inch or two inwards toward us. That’s not possible. You could see a section of the wall about four feet wide that was coming disconnected from the rest of the wall. A secret passage, like in the old castles I read about in the stories of knights and fairies? Nah… can’t be! Not here. Not in Connecticut.

“What made it do that?” Jerry asked.

“I don’t know. What were we doing just before it moved?” I asked him.

“Uh… we were laughing.” he said.

“Nah… before that.”

“I said ‘Open Sesame’.” he said.

The wall ground out another inch or two. We jumped back about five feet and held our breaths.

“That’s silly.” I said. “That’s from those Arabian Nights stories… Sim Sala Bim and all that.”

“So?” Jerry replied.

“Why would that open a secret…”

The wall ground out another two or three inches. We stopped moving.

“It happens when you say the first part of those two words, Kevin.” Jerry said.

“Yeah. It just does it when you ask it to, I guess.” I said.

“So? Ask it again.” Jerry nudged me toward the wall.

I planted my feet wide apart and looked directly at the wall and yelled “OPEN”. The wall slid back about three feet revealing a gently sloping tunnel leading into darkness beyond the limits of our flash lights. I looked at Jerry. He looked back at me.

“What do you think is down there?” he asks.

“How would I know?” I answer, impatiently.

“Let’s check it out?” he says, nudging me toward the opening.

“STOP!” I say. “Wait a minute, will ya’?” I plead. “Gotta’ think.”

We took a few tentative steps toward the opening.

©2008 V. T. Eric Layton (excluding images)

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Stay tuned… next Tuesday – Part III

Pieces of Nine: Part I – A Serialized Story

Pieces of Nine

Part I

There was a darkness about the house. That’s the only way I can think to describe it. A darkness that dominated even on the brightest summer’s day. I was eleven years old that cool autumn of 1957. I grew up in a little seaside town called Avery’s Point, just a few miles north of Mystic, Connecticut. My street was one of those stereotypical quiet elm lined ones that you read about in New England fiction. It was an old neighborhood. Avery’s Point was a favorite retirement spot for old salts back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The house was a very old two story Victorian-styled manse, complete with a widow’s walk. No one had lived there in nearly a half a century. The town council sent a crew out to the house twice a year to clean up and trim the yard and the trees. No one ever mentioned who owned the place or why it was abandoned as it was. My friend Jerry and I walked by that house every day on the way to and from school. Most times we never even gave it a thought.

I asked my dad about the house one time. I remember the strange look on his face. He was quiet for a moment, then finally he said, “I don’t know anything about that place, son.” That was the end of that conversation. I tried the same question with my mother a little while later with a very similar response. My older brother George was more forthcoming, but I didn’t believe much of what he had to say about the place. I think he was just trying to scare Jerry and me.

I was a smart little runt back then. One Saturday morning Jerry and I went to the town library. We asked Mrs. May, the librarian, if she knew anything about the old house on the corner of Canterbury Road and Newport Street. Mrs. May gave a little shudder, but as would be expected of a librarian, she got straight down to the facts. Turns out that the house was built in 1861 by a ship’s captain named Arthur Barrington. Captain Barrington had been a merchant seaman all his life. When his tenure upon the waves was coming toward its end, the Captain chose the little town of Avery’s Point for his retirement.

Mrs. May showed us plans and surveyor’s documents for the house and the lot. The architect was a man named Josiah Burnham, a rather famous man in this area of Connecticut. He also designed and built the Mason’s Road causeway and bridge from the mainland to Mystic Harbor Island back in 1862. Mr. Burnham’s plans showed a typical layout for a home of this era. It had five bedrooms, all upstairs. It also had a large den/library on the ground floor with large bay windows facing the street side of the house. The kitchen and upstairs master bedroom shared a granite chimney and flue. There was also a good sized basement below the main structure.

Mrs. May had no further information for us that she would deem worthy of being called “factual”, therefore our quest for further knowledge regarding the house had to continue elsewhere. Elsewhere, as it turned out, ended up being on the porch of my grandfather’s house. Jerry and I went there the following Saturday. My grandmother had become ill with tuberculosis before I was born. She’d been committed to a sanatorium where she died in 1945. My granddad had lived alone ever since. He was a retired merchant marine. He was out to sea in January of ’45 when my grandmother died. He’s never forgiven himself for that, according to my mom.

Granddad was sitting on his porch puffing on his pipe that morning that Jerry and I rode our bikes over to Meadow Street. He smiled his melancholy smile as we got off our bikes and walked up the steps.

“What are you boys doing way over here on Meadow Street on a fine Saturday morning like this, hmm?” he asked.

“We were just riding around, Gramps. How are you today, sir?” I asked.

“Fair to middlin’, son, with a chance for later-day aches and pains. HA!” he laughed.

He eased himself out of his chair and headed toward the front screen door.

“You boys wait here for a bit and I’ll get you some hot cocoa.” he said, as the screen door slammed shut behind him.

A few minutes later he came back out with a tray with two steaming mugs of cocoa, some cookies, and cup of coffee for himself. He set the tray on the small table in between his rocker and the wooden bench we were sitting on and gently eased himself back into the rocker with a grunt and a sigh.

“Go ahead, boys. Dig in.” he said.

We did. After a few minutes of slurping and munching, Jerry poked me in the ribs with his elbow and nodded over toward my granddad, who was nodding off in the rocker.

“Hey Gramps!”

“Huh?” he snorted, as he sat up in the chair looking over at us.

“Gramps, what can you tell Jerry and me about the old Captain’s house over on Canterbury?” I asked him.

“I could tell you boys a lot about that place, but it’ll scare you white. You want that?” he asked?

“Yes, sir. We’d like to know about it. We’re doing a school project together.” I lied.

“Well, here it is then…” he said, sitting up straighter in his chair and relighting his pipe.

My Grandfather’s story:

That damned house was already old back when I was your age, boys. We used to throw rocks at it as we walked by in the afternoons after school, just like you boys probably do nowadays. There weren’t no one living there then either. That was back in about 1910 or 12 or so, I’d say. Just like now, the town would send someone out there twice a year to clean up the place and trim back the trees. Us kids didn’t know why then either. We were curious about the place just like you boys are.

I guess you already know that the house was built by the old Captain back in 1861, right? Well, him and his family supposedly only lived in the place for about fifteen years, then they all disappeared. Ayuh… the Captain, his wife, both his spinster daughters, and the maid. All gone. There weren’t no trace of them anywhere. All the town constable ever found in the way of a clue was a series of drag marks down in the basement that led up to a bare wall and ended.

In 1880 or so, a new family bought and moved into the old Captain’s place. They were a Boston family. He was a muckity-muck business lawyer of some sort. There was his wife and a son with him, also. According to my mother, who told me about these things, the family lived peacefully enough in the old place for about 25 years. Until one day in 1907.

On a cold autumn evening in that year, the constable showed up out front with a few of his deputies. They entered the house and spent quite a few hours in there. Lights were seen going from room to room for most of that time, like they were searching for something. There were no electric lights in that house at that time. Everything was still gas or oil lamps back then. There wasn’t any electricity in this area till about 1911. There never were any fixtures or wiring installed in that place.

Word got leaked to the Mystic Ledger the following week that the constable and his men were searching for the Boston lawyer and his family. They had disappeared just like the old Captain and his family before them. There were supposedly no traces and no clues. The family was never seen again. That house has never been lived in by anyone since that time. There’s been stories of people, kids mostly, going into the house and disappearing. I don’t believe none of those stories, though.

I’m sure you’ve heard the spook stories and the kids’ tales about that place. Hell, most of those started with me and my friends back in 1910-11 when we were walking by that place every day on the way to and from school. Most of what you hear is gonna’ be pure bunkum, but there is one thing that everyone who knows anything about that place will swear is true. Everyone says that the drag marks across the basement floor leading to the bare wall and ending there are for real. The constable saw similar marks after the disappearance of the Boston lawyer’s family, too. What did they mean? No one could venture a guess, then or now.

“That’s about all I know, boys. It’s about time for my nap. You boys get on your way now, ya’ hear… and stay away from that house. Ain’t no good in that place. Never was.” Granddad grumbled, as he heaved himself out of the rocker and headed into the house.

©2008 V. T. Eric Layton (excluding images)

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Coming next week… Part II