A Short Story
by- Tom Kubrak
“Alright everyone- thank you all for coming today.” Nina scanned the average-sized-crowd for the day and then began her sh-peel over one ladies incessant slurping of her special Starbucks coffee. “So, the house was turned over to the state as one of the last standing Victorian homes. My family bought the house in 1907.” Nina paused ever so slightly; gaging her crowd to see what approach she should take next. Every crowd that came in was so different. Nina enjoyed changing up her script sometimes.
“You see, my Grandparents were wealthy. My grandfather was a physician in the city and actually bought the home as a sort of escape from the city and to entertain his friends and clients. My grandfather also was the personal physician to the old Mayor of New York City.” Nina saw a few yawns. Not every approach worked. She saw a few glances of admiration up the spiral staircase. It wasn’t enough though.
She knew most people, since they began giving tours of her old home just this last year, came for one thing and one thing only.
“We also didn’t hear about what happened from 1877-1901 until we were moving out. It was 1946, my father, while I was away at college, began cleaning out the cellar and in the old basement ovens is where he saw it.”
Now she had their attention. The lady with the Starbucks even stopped slurping. Nina wasn’t supposed to allow drinks but she’d be a hypocrite if she didn’t. Plus, this was her house still.
Doesn’t matter if the state bought it. This is my house.
What happened all those years ago made Nina’s head-spin. It was a complete circus. Well- deserved but she was still trying to make her way and the world when it all occurred. Personally, Nina was over the circus that happened with the television news crews and detectives circling her house around the clock for over 3 months.
50 years later though, she knew it was still going on; now just in a more “touristy-way.” They even made a documentary about it 5 years ago. That flew off the shelves at Blockbuster.
“When my father reported it to the authorities. They took him into custody and held him for a week. The word spread like wildfire and my father was accused of being a polygamist, devil worshiper, child abuser, of course murderer, you name it. It took a toll on him. Especially being that he was the mayor it damaged his reputation. But…” She paused again. It was deafening- They were gripped to Nina’s story. The 3 kids who came with their mom and dad even stopped horsing around. The lady had nothing left to slurp. She stood there with her pursed lips on the straw.
“They let my father go after a bone-analysis revealing the age of the bones were from the late 19th century. They immediately checked who the owner of the home was at that time and if he was still living.” Everyone was still gripped by what she was saying. “He was no longer around though to face his crimes. A man who got away with murder. William Wesley, the man who slipped away.”
After the initial discovery and this finding they did a little research on the first owner of the home. William Wesley was from Manchester, New Hampshire. He died in 1905 with no children but his wife survived him and was the one who sold the house to Nina’s family in 1907.
“The police tried to find out if Wesley’s wife was still around but…she passed 10 years before in 1936.” A sigh came from the group.
One of the guests wasn’t having any of it.
“So are we going to do this tour or not?” She said. Nina looked at her with that same dead-smile.
“Of course.” Nina said, pausing, taking her handkerchief out of her pocket. “Yes-let’s get on with it, shall we?”
The house was decorated rather plainly- restored to a state in what it would have looked like in the 1870’s. The town was fortunate to get a donation from a wealthy stock-broker from Boonton to pay for the furniture in that time period.
Unfortunately though, as much as the city tried to fix up the house, the old owners had destroyed a lot of the historical architecture after attempting to change the inside of the house to a more modern look. You could tell in some of the rooms where the crown molding had been scraped away. They went through 3 specialists. None of them could get the exact look they needed.
After the discovery though, and Nina’s family sold the home, it went through 3 more owners until the circus that came with buying the house was put to rest after the city of Boonton finally bought the house. The final owner of the home was quoted in The New York Times saying, “I just can’t take it anymore. Please.”
Once it was officially in the cities hands, a committee was formed to give tours and headquarter the town’s historical committee. The new committee for the house contacted Nina naturally, knowing her work in local history, and how she used to live in the home before the bones were discovered made her highly appealing to the new committee to deliver.
They told her, “We need someone who truly knows the home to give tours.” At first Nina was reluctant, because of what happened to her in that home as a child, but she agreed on the terms that she would make the rules of the tours that the house was allowed to give. The committee willingly agreed to her simple demand. The only one…
“My Old Room is off limits to the public.”
The first weeks tours she gave went smoothly. So did the second week. Nina knew every part of that house and her knowledge showed when some ‘experts’ tried to tell her things about the place that weren’t correct. She got in trouble with the committee a few times for yelling at some Victorian-house-buffs.
She always started the tour off with one simple rule after welcoming everyone, “The room on the third floor with the door closed is off limits. I’m sorry. Please no questions.”
There never were any questions, because Nina always accompanied that same dead-smile when she said it.
No one really cared about that rule though. The tour of the home was just an add on. Everyone’s thoughts when visiting the home, always went to the basement where the bones of the dead infants were found. They wanted to go see the basement where this horror all happened.
It was a shock for everyone in the family and the public when the news was released. Nina on the other hand, barely blinked when she found out after leaving college. Not because it wasn’t a tragedy but because of the torment she faced from her father as a young girl.
What about my story? She thought as she continued to roll through all of the conversations about the house and the tragedy of these unknown children.
Why was Nina giving tours of this home now? Well that was simple: according to her therapist Dolly, “You must face your fear.”
And she did. Nina hadn’t gone back to church for 15 years. She actually stopped believing in God all together when all of her prayers weren’t answered. But she did believe in hell and her old room was hell.
When Nina found out it sold to the city. She remembered looking at the paper that next week, since her friend sent it to her, and just staring at it, for what had to be, 15 minutes asking herself, What does this mean God? Still pulling your bull-shit! You want others to suffer too? Why didn’t you burn it down huh!
Being retired, she had a lot of time on her hands. Her husband died a few years back but Nina got a rather large pension as a nurse practitioner and her 401k was enough to keep her mind off the worry of money.
The only people who knew now about the abuse she took from her father as a young girl, was her current therapist and best friend from college. After Nina told her best friend, she was the one who recommended seeing a therapist.
“I can see it Nina, somethings been up with you from the day I met you. See this woman I know. She’ll help you.”
She never told anyone because of her fathers status in the community of Boonton at the time. He was the Mayor for 5 terms. 1922-25 and 29-32. He was someone the community looked up to and in their eyes, ‘Never could do anything wrong.’
And then he got elected to his final term from 43-44. Nina’s father discovered the bodies two years later while also preparing the house to be sold.
Nina hoped it would ruin his career. She heard the news about her fathers discovery on a telephone call from her mother, but it had the opposite effect. His political career only heightened and he ran for a New Jersey senate seat and won in 1948.
The worst part about it was…when she came to visit during college and high school her father acted like nothing had happened. Maybe he hoped I was too young to remember.
After explaining to her therapist, all those years back, about why her father did this to her it became clear to her that her father did this out of rage for her not being born a boy.
“Your father pleaded with me to give him a son.” Nina remembered her mother saying. ”But when you came out I had never seen a more vicious and defeated look in a man’s eyes. Your father was a feared and respected man in the community and always held his chin high. This though…this broke him and I feared for his sanity.”
“The doctor said he cried in the waiting room. He refused to look at you for weeks. He didn’t hold you until a month later.”
This was month 9 of giving tours of her old home. She was confident in her script now but she began to feel that nervous-frightened energy she felt all those years ago as a little girl.
The ‘Nostalgia’ came back to her in a worried flash today though when she walked past the bathroom and that sound of the toilet running. It was the same sound she heard before her father came upstairs to her room. But what was worse, was when she heard the creaking of the steps caused by some guests. It reminded her of when her father came home from work and went to see her. The blank stare at the wall made one of the guests nervous for her, “Everything okay, miss.”
That startled Nina. “Oh yes sorry.” She continued her tour speech as they finished up the first floor tour, “The restoration of the home took about a year and thankfully, with a generous grant from the state the city was able to restore it back to the way it looked in the 1800’s, except for a few minor things. The house is mostly original.” She smiled dryly at all of them. “I believe they did a good job. What do you all think?” But she didn’t wait for their reply, “Now, let’s head upstairs.”
Nina didn’t say much as they got to the second floor. She kept her eyes from going into the rooms where the attendees went into. She thought it was going to be easier this time. But it wasn’t. Every tour was getting harder and harder and the energy was getting stronger every single time. She thought she might need to see a doctor after this tour.
“Hi-where’s the bathroom?” A young girl said smiling up at her.
“Downstairs young lady.” She offered a glowing smile to her in awe of her precious look at her. “Walk through the dining room and then through the doorway- Go into the kitchen and then in the back there’s a door- walk through that door and you’ll see the bathroom.” She bent down eye level with the 7 year old. ”Understood?”
The girl, hesitated before replying. “Dining room- doorway-kitchen uhhh back door?”
“You got it. Now run-run!”
She stumbled off quickly with her little feet.
Nina watched her until she safely disappeared around the corner. She reminisced about those care-free days as a little girl and got lost for a second. She remembered the abuse starting at about that age and shivered at the thought. Then she quickly got back to her job for the day.
“Alright.” Nina smiled- turned to the girls parents-who watched the whole encounter with admiration. She gave them a reassuring look before turning to the tour group for the day. “Ready? How about we head now to the third floor?”
The floor they were just on was her two oldest sisters’ floor where her parents bedroom was too. Her parents actually gave the two oldest the master bedroom. Nina never figured out why but she remembered her older sisters Augusta and Beatrice rubbing it in her and her other sisters faces.
Augusta and Beatrice were 9 and 10 years older than her. They were both academic scholars. Augusta went off to Columbia, graduating a year early and Beatrice went to The University of Pennsylvania. They had a plethora of choices but decided to stay closer to home.
The old Victorian home only had 2 bathrooms. One on the first floor and one on the 2nd floor.
“As you can see all of us girls were a lot to handle in two bathrooms.” Nina was halfway up the winding stairs. Then she stopped. “When we- my family and I- were living here we decorated these walls with our school paintings. My mother loved it, but my father didn’t.” Nina was a comedian too and the look she gave the group about her fathers disapproval made them laugh.
Although Nina had been on quite a few tours, and she grew up in the old home, it still just didn’t feel right after all that happened to her. And each tour was harder and harder. Something she hadn’t anticipated. She knew her story wasn’t important though. Not if it happened in a house like hers with a bad dark story like that.
Before her parents’ second wave of kids, they were using the attic as storage but the new children, about to be in the home, changed their philosophy out of necessity. Urgently, her stubborn, do-it-all-yourself father, fixed up the home with the little money they had to give the kids more space.
“Alright everyone- to the third floor now.” She scurried everyone over to the stairs. The room on the second floor closest to the stairs was her mothers. She wondered for a moment if her mother knew. Nina never thought about that.
Did she know? Was she complacent in the whole thing? No, there’s no way my mother would’ve just allowed it to happen.
Nina was confused at why this thought was coming to her just now. It just never occurred to her until that moment.
“Go ahead, feel free to explore!” She told the group. “I want you all to get a feel of the different look of these rooms compared to the second floor. Be sure to pay attention to how the architect put a unique touch to each room in the edges of the windows too and the outlines of the doors. Each one he gave his own personal touch to distinguish itself from each room.”
“Woah Mom look!” A small boy called out looking down the spiral staircase. “That’s so cool!”
“Be careful now. You’ll fall over the edge Henry.” His mother said pulling him away.
Nina took a deep breath but smiled. She wondered where the little girl was.
The father of the little girl who went to the bathroom turned back to Nina though. They were halfway up the staircase. “Home building was a lot different back then.” He said scanning in awe of the vast spiral stairwell.
“It sure was.” Nina said, keeping a rather close on the group. Her anxiety began to creep on her again. Usually did when they got close to her old room. She felt the goosebumps run down her arms and legs.
My old room. She thought, looking at the closed door.
Nina listened inconspicuously to a groups conversation. She was a tour guide that didn’t talk to much and preferred to let people see the house themselves. Plus she loved hearing all of the gossip when they thought she wasn’t listening.
“Well I heard the family knew the whole time, but they didn’t want to tell anyone because they’d just bought the home and it would have meant getting rid of it.”
“That’s insane honey.” Her husband whispered. “No one in their right mind would do that.”
“Well rumors are rumors but look at the house Dave? Would be hard to just wave goodbye after you got a killer deal on it. Even in those times that price was cheap. Why so cheap? Oh I don’t know.”
“You’re being ridiculous Valerie. Can we just enjoy the house without all the conspiracies?”
“Sure.” She reluctantly ‘threw in the towel.’
Nina shifted her attention now to A Mother and her older son who looked like intense lovers of architecture. Or at least her mother.
“Look at how gorgeous this place is Nicholas.”
“Yea mom.” His eyes were glued to his phone. “Absolutely.” He said sarcastically hoping his mom wouldn’t notice. She didn’t.
“Are you even looking? Just look at the details.” She looked up and around; everywhere her eyes would hit.
“Yea.” He brought his eyes up for a moment to show her he cared a little about what she was saying. Then he brought it back down to his phone.
The voices were deafening now. The strongest they had been since Nina began giving tours. Nina’s hearing was always good and she came back to the husband and wife in her sisters room who was 2 years older than her.
“Listen Dave.” She brought him in closer. “I think this place is crazy haunted.”
“Haunted?” He laughed questioningly.
“Look around… feel it?”
He was a little frightened at his wife’s seriousness and intensity. “I can see it I guess.”
The floorboard creaked, shocking Valerie.
“You both enjoying yourselves?” Nina asked them coming into their picture suddenly.
“Yes of course thank you for asking.” Valerie shuffled away avoiding any more contact with the odd tour guide, to get into the room they hadn’t seen yet.
The little girl finally returned from the bathroom trip after what felt like an hour, and immediately ran to her mother clutching her leg.
She watched as the family went from room to room. She was enjoying watching the interaction between mother and daughter. She never had one, which hurt her a little but she found a little relief in watching these tender mother daughter moments.
Nina then transitioned her head for a moment to check out some of the other guests to see how they were doing. But it was too late when she finally turned back.
The little girl had opened the door and was about to head into her room.
“Stop there young lady!” Nina said. The little girl froze in terror. Nina grabbed her by the arm and pulled her out of the room. The little girl began crying.
“Hey! What’re you yelling at my daughter for! Get your hands off her!”
“She’s not supposed to be in there. She’s trespassing. Get a grip on your kid will ya?”
The other’s were watching in shock anticipating a fight. The woman was looked like she was going to yell back at Nina but was suddenly calm. The look Nina gave the woman was hard but must have aroused some sort of fear or something in her to just drop the matter.
“I’m sorry.” She grabbed her daughter and walked away. “Jesus Christ.” She said under her breath.
“Now.” Nina turned to the rest of the group. “Now that we all know, again, please continue looking around.”
The rest of the people didn’t move though. They were all pretty nervous. Nina recognized that too. “Please everyone enjoy the place. It’s okay.” Finally they began to filter and mingle through the rooms attempting to act natural like nothing had just occurred.
“Let’s go back downstairs everyone! Next up- the basement” The other people a part of the tour were a little taken back by the yell but a few smiles returned when hearing that they were finally going to see the basement.
As Nina watched the last person begin taking the steps down to the bottom, Nina’s nerves and anger quelled out of her as she began to shake ever so slightly. She made sure this little fit was hidden as she began walking towards her sisters old room to recover quickly before finishing the tour. The Cellar was all that was left. She always saved it for last.
But the energy up there on the third floor had gotten oddly strong. The energy was intense and was drawing her to the place she never wanted to enter ever again. Hell. She couldn’t shake it no matter how hard she tried. The desire and need to enter her old room was too strong to bear.
Why! Why is this happening? She blinked twice and walked toward the door. She placed her hand on the door knob and slowly turned. The palms of her hands were moist.
She felt his presence in that moment. She felt pain. Not the pain she received from him, but his pain. The pain he had of losing out on a son. Her. Me. I was supposed to be his son. A tear came down her face. The voices got louder in her head.
Shhhhh. It’ll all be over in a minute.
Knowing what she was going to face and his soothing voice made it a little easier when she was a little girl, but his cold clammy hands on her back was the worst. That hand she felt again. 50 years later.
Nina was shivering now. On the ground. Shivering and shaking and panting. Almost…Almost.
A burst of strength and anger fused over her. Maybe the anger was rekindled by the women’s rudeness to her rule of not entering the room. She got herself up. I won’t do it this time. I’m stronger than I was when I was a little girl. I can fight back now.
She heard the floor creak violently in anger.
The window that was left open to keep air flowing during the hot summer days whipped shut. But the air oddly turned cold.
“Here.” A voice replied back clear and that of a mans. She was terrified and too vulnerable in the tiny but open room. She lost her gusto and faltered
Nina dropped to her knees. “Do it. I’m here dad! Just do it you bastard!”
The tears began to flow. Nothing else mattered. Nina forgot everything of the now and how far she came in her life. She was a little girl again.
“Do it you fucking bastard!” She yelled, relinquishing herself to his fury and passion.
“Did you hear that?” The women who had a little dispute with Nina said.
“Should we go check on Mrs. Nina?”
Something came over the woman in that moment when her husband asked the question.
Someone else though had already made up their mind and quickly began to head up the steps. “What was that? I gotta go help…”
“No. Get back down here now.” the women replied sharply.
“What! Did you hear that? She could be hurt.”
This time the woman grabbed her arm firmly. “No… We wait. When she’s ready she’ll come back down.” The look she gave her was intense. “Understood?”
The fury in her eyes startled the other women. She shook her hand free. Her grip hurt her. “Okay okay.”
She felt his presence even more. She was ready for him. Unlike those early times. He was in the room with her. She lost all control. Her whole body tensed up, just like it did when she was a little girl.
“I’m ready dad!”
“Just do it! Do it! Fucking do it!”
“Why!? You’re done- you’re done now?” She gave a menacing smile out the window and then broke down in tears. Then…she felt it. The old clammy hand she had felt all of those times. She prepared herself for what was about to come.
“Go ahead dad.”
The pause and the crisp coldness of his hand on her back froze her. There was not a muscle of strength on her now. Her love for him mixed with that too wouldn’t be enough. For the first time she was ready and prepared to take it from him. She tilted her head back in acceptance.
But nothing happened.
Why dad? Why did you do it? Why!
I’m sorry. A voice replied back
A slight airy breeze began to filter thorugh the room. The floorboards creaked. Nin’s strength came back and she close her eyes. She was terrified.
I’m ready to die. I can’t do it anymore dad!
“Our father who art heaven hallowed be thy name…” She began. She hadn’t prayed for a long time but for some reason her faith came back to her. It was the same prayer she told herself after each time. “Thy kingdom come thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Her father forbade any practice of religion in the home. “Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses…” Nina would slip away to the church across the street though after school and pray during this time. God was the only thing that kept her from killing herself. “As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil amen.”
The energy in the room made the floor shake again. Then the breeze became a gust and the window flew open.
….I’m sorry. The voice said whisping away with the gust.
Nina finally opened her eyes and looked out the window that somehow flew open…stunned. The energy she felt earlier was now gone.
The wind stopped. Out of the corner of her eye though she noticed something…
A cross of Jesus Christ.
Who put that there? But she only questioned it for a moment.
They all heard the steps begin to creak. Everyone was silent. The woman was blocking the staircase so no one could go up. They had no idea why but accepted the odd situation praying Nina was okay.
Nina finally reached the bottom of the stairs and delivered her glowing smile. “Hello everyone sorry about that!”
“It’s okay.“ The women who tried to run up the stairs said.
“Now shall we now go and see the finale of this true horror story?”
“Hell yea! I traveled 3 hours to see this basement.” A man who came alone from upstate New York called out.
“Well then lets.” She was on the third step and when she finished the last three steps she made a quick glance over at the women who defied her one rule not to enter her room. How could she have known? I didn’t even tell everyone that in the beginning. I guess I was just hoping.
She gave Nina a nod and a slight lip smile, understanding somehow the whole situation. Nina didn’t understand how she got it but she returned the look.
Thank you. Nina mouthed, nodding at her.
“Alright everyone follow me in,” Nina’s dramatics and excitement were back. “New Jersey’s biggest legend!” She scanned the group and then waved to them to follow her.
Nina opened the door to the cellar preparing for everyone to rush it, but instead the little girl came running up to her in a flash. Nina smiled at her, and then her mother, whom she had the dispute with. She still was amazed at the little girl’s cuteness, but felt bad about getting angry with her. The little girl motioned to Nina that she wanted to tell her something. She obliged and bent down to hear what she had to say as the rest of the group accepted the moment too. Thankful that the anger between the family had quelled.
The little girl looked at the group, giggled, and then cupped her hand and whispered into Nina’s ear, “I’m sorry.”
What did you think of the story?
Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments or shoot me an email
Be sure to follow me on instagram @tomkubrak
Cheers and thank you so much for reading!