Season of the Beast, chapter 3
April 24, 2013
(Editors note: Season of the Beast is chilling tale of a gripping evil that blossoms in an unfortunate autumn for the residents of a small Wisconsin college town. Ray Bradbury said it scared him. You have been warned. Chapter 3 will be published on Tuesday. The novel in its entirety is available for purchase in paperback and ebook formats on Ballot Press and for ebook formats on Amazon.)
September Week Two
Jeff walked into the new house carrying a backpack full of textbooks, class records, and the personnel information packet from the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. He plopped down his stuff on the round oak dining room table and looked up at the stained glass window casting rosy light on the dark wainscoting.
“Share…? The Professor is home. Where are you?” The echo was delicious, ricocheting up the curved oak staircase in the spacious foyer between the parlor and living room, both of which rested behind closed gleaming pocket doors. Sharon’s voice came floating back.
“In the bathroom.”
Jeff felt like a character from Ray Bradbury’s imagination, wending his way up the stairs of Grandmother’s house in Green Town, expecting to peek out of the red and amber tiles of the tinted window to see a vampire creeping home from the mills to terrify a small boy in his midnight bed.
He found Sharon in front of the beveled leaded glass mirror looking frustrated.
“I have a cold sore,” she said, pointing to her top lip. “And it hurts.”
“Aw, poor baby. Will we have to amputate?”
“It’s not funny. It hurts and it’s ugly and you’re not supposed to have cold sores when you move into a new house and have to go to a reception to meet your husband’s new boss. I’m ugly.”
Jeff kissed the top of her blond head. “C’mon down and let me make you a drink. Tell you all about the first day on the job?”
Sharon flushed. She took the tube of lip balm from Jeff’s hand and tossed it back in the medicine chest.
“I’m sorry, Jeffie. I should be the one making you a drink. First day on the new job and all. I’m sorry. I was even going to get you a present.”
“I love you, Imp. You’re the only present I need, thanks.”
Jeff sat in one of the two antique rocking chairs by the front bay window in the parlor. The old world atmosphere of the place reminded him of George’s house in It’s a Wonderful Life.
Sharon clinked glasses in the kitchen and the house creaked lazily in the cooling afternoon breeze blowing in off Lake Winnebago a few blocks away. Jeff wondered how many people had called this magnificent old place home in the hundred and ten years since it had been built.
He and Sharon had never been farther east than Las Vegas before this, and they were both bowled over to find that the paradigm of the Victorian and Edwardian Midwest still existed. These folks hadn’t torn down old buildings to replace them with cracker-box tract houses, horrible condominiums, or cinder-block strip malls and hamburger stands. The streets in Oshkosh were still lined with hundred year old oak and elm trees. The sidewalks were cracked from decades of winter freezing and spring thaw cycles and worn by the passage of feet from the good townsfolk who still practiced evening walks for their constitution with their dogs and their sweethearts or their husbands or their wives. The ugly present was confined to a strip out along Highway 41, called “The Miracle Mile” by developers, and “That crap out by the highway” by anyone with any sense.
The wood-framed two story houses and fenceless yards looked like movie sets to these two Californians. Jeff had been on the set of the Bradbury movie Something Wicked This Way Comes at the Disney lot in Burbank years ago. Whoever built it had been here in God’s Country to find the model, just like the genius who had constructed Main Street in the Disney theme parks from the reality of places like Elmwood, Illinois, Marceline, Missouri, and Oshkosh, Wisconsin. If this place had been built anywhere in California the price for it would have been over five million bucks, not the ninety-five grand they had paid.
This house on Algoma Boulevard had been built with native hardwoods by one of the founding families of the lumber business as a wedding gift for his only son and his bride. Two enormous rooms formed the front of the house, branching off the foyer, which alone would have made a nice studio apartment in New York City. The parlor was now a library, two walls lined with floor-to-ceiling polished oak shelves fitted with fine brass-hinged glass fronted doors.
Upstairs there was the master bedroom suite with four more large rooms spurred off from the long, dark hallway that led to the rear of the house where a sundeck suspended itself out over the back yard.
The top half-story was a large, open room with a burgundy hardwood floor and a skylight, indicating that someone in the history of the home had been a painter or a sculptor. The atmosphere and the absolutely perfect lighting effect here had encouraged Sharon to say that she would have to give her drawing and painting a try again. With a place like this in which to work, she told Jeff that maybe the talent that had lain dormant since her first year in college might just flower again.
She walked in to the living room and handed Jeff his drink with a little comic curtsy. “To you, Herr Professor.”
“To us, Imp; home at last.”
“Can you believe we actually live in a place like this?” Jeff said.
She shook her head, blond hair shimmering in the warm light. “No. It’s like a dream come true. Such beautiful places ought to be lived in by gazillionaires.”
She surveyed the room. It looked pretty bare, with just the two chairs from the house in California and a cheap Sears coffee table supporting a color TV set. Jeff saw the plans for future furnishing etching her face.
“I hear they have neat auctions here,” he said.
“Auctions. We can furnish this place by going to auctions. Antique dealers come from all over the country to buy stuff in these little farming communities to haul back and sell to the rich city slickers. Just have to watch the papers.”
“I’ll take a note of that, doctor.” She smiled at him. Jeff regarded her for a moment, appreciating the strength and goodness radiating in the soul of this woman from Orange County, California. He knew quite well that it had been hard for her to cope with the poverty of his lifestyle up to this point. He wanted desperately to buy her furnishings and clothes and all the things she had given up when she had married him instead of the lawyer from Fullerton or wherever. It hurt him to be so poor. But, now that he was teaching and making above average bucks again, and had the great fringe benefits and the security of full time work at a profession he loved, he would apply himself to writing and get the book done and, maybe, just maybe, by the end of next year, he’d be in the chips.
What Jeff didn’t know in his self-absorption is that Sharon didn’t give a tinker’s damn for the “chips” and that she was perfectly happy to take things one step at a time, to build a future with him, not on him. Sharon had plans of her own. She longed to get back to the keyboard and on with writing, now that it looked like she might be able to make a living at it. If not, after a year, she was ready to take on some kind of job for herself in Wisconsin, and felt plenty qualified to do so. Right now she was thrilled for Jeff, thrilled at the prospects presented by this lovely house, and was not concerned that it only had two chairs, a coffee table, a dining room set and the bed. She was young and independent of the past where her parents, not she, had the huge home with the servants. There was no hurry about anything now that they were out of Humboldt County, and the auctions sounded like fun for them both.
Sharon smiled at Jeff across the room and watched the lines around his eyes deepen into the roadmap of pleasure. He had a really good face. The wrinkles gave him character, just as they should.
“What time is the party?”
“We have some time,” he said.
She put down her half-finished scotch and water. Jeff took her hand walked back up the stairs.
They made love as the sun fell into flaming splendor and the robins hushed themselves for the night outside in the trees that echoed the flame of sunset in their dying leaves.