"I guess no one told you that Devereux Manor is supposed to be haunted?"
Amelia paused with trowel in hand, bent on hands knees in the flowerbed, considering Ms. Price's question. The older woman sat forward a little, anxious for a reply, so Amelia took her time formulating one, eventually deciding on: "What's Devereux Manor?"
Ms. Price blinked. "Why, that's this house, dear. Your house."
Amelia sighed and sat up a bit, looking sideways at the house. It was still hard to think of it as her own. In a way it still felt like her father's house, but since he'd never lived here she supposed it hadn't been his either. In her mind it was just "the house", an entity unto itself. "Didn't you know about the Devereux family?" said Ms. Price.
"Never heard of them," said Amelia. She was pulling up the weeds that had overgrown the lot, and Ms. Price, who'd stopped by to "welcome her to the neighborhood" after the moving trucks left, sat on the low stone wall that marked the edge of the property, chatting while Amelia worked.
"I guess folks keep quiet about that kind of thing," said Ms. Price. "But it's a fascinating story, about the Devereuxs and the fire. And of course, the Phantom. Sounds a bit silly when I say it out loud, but I bet you'd love to hear about it, you being a writer and all."
The word "Phantom", divorced of all context, did seem remarkably funny, but Amelia didn't feel like laughing. She hunched over more, pushing her trowel into the dirt, frowning with the effort of digging. It was a hot day, a Louisiana summer, and she was wearing one of those wide-brimmed straw hats that made her feel like an old lady, older even than Ms. Price. She rubbed her dirt-caked hands on her overalls and grunted.
"I'm not that kind of writer," said Amelia. "I write technical manuals."
"Oh? Well how did you afford a house like this? Never mind, don't tell me, I'm being nosy again."
Amelia stretched her neck and back. "Plastics," she said.
"What's that dear?"
"I invested in a plastics company when I was younger. They make computer parts now. That's how I could afford the house."
"Oh," said Ms. Price. "Well. It's good that someone is finally living in this old place. It could use some work.”
"Mmm," was all Amelia said. She knew that the only reason the house hadn’t fallen down a hundred years ago because of a local trust dedicated to preserving antique houses. She also knew how hard the trust had worked to keep the deed from transferring to her after her father died, angry over the structural changes he had made after they, desperate for funds, sold it to him in the 70s. And she knew that Ms. Price was a founding member of that trust and knew perfectly well how Amelia came to own the property. But she didn't see any reason for Ms. Price to know that she knew.
"This was a plantation house back then, of course," said Ms. Price. "Isn't it funny, you owning it now?"
"What's funny about that?"
"Just because you're bla-- I mean, because of your, um, background."
"Funny," said Amelia.
Ms. Price made small talk (very small talk) for another half an hour, then excused herself to "check on her stew." Probably really going to go call one of the other board members, Amelia thought. She shrugged and enjoyed the quiet. Almost half the lot was done by the time it got dark. She should have gone in a long time ago, as there was plenty more work to do with cleaning and unpacking, but something made her want to stay outside as long as possible.
She was just about to stand again when a gleam caught her eye; her trowel had overturned something in the dirt. Frowning, she brushed the loose soil from it, and was surprised to find a lump of gold. It looked like old jewelry, a locket or a pendant, that had been crushed somehow. She couldn't make out its original shape. Odd, she thought. It was heavy in her hand, and cold. She turned it over and over, rapt for a moment. The, without thinking about it, she slipped the gold lump into the pocket of her gardening apron, and almost immediately forgot she'd ever found it.
It was getting very dark now. She heard crickets chirping, real crickets. Reluctantly, she gathered her tools and turned toward the house. Devereux Manor was a fossil of the true Antebellum fashion, a great, looming, brooding pile of a house. Those old southern planters had perfected a style of ostentatious neoclassicalism that stood as a symbol for their dominion over their property. Devereux Manor was a relic, but its peaked roofs and stout columns and blackened windows refused to fade into the past. The dingy whiteness of its walls made it look like an old skull, or a corpse that had just sat up out of its grave. Amelia went to one of the back doors and was about to knock, then felt foolish. The knocker, in the shape of two-faced Janus, stared at her out the corner of its eye.
Devereux Manor was always dark, no matter what time it was or how many lights she turned on (the electrical work had been done during her father's stewardship of the house, and was one of the things the historical trust objected to the most). Amelia went to where most of the boxes of her things were still stacked and changed out of her dirty work clothes, rummaging until she found a clean bathrobe in one of the suitcases. Once she was dressed (more or less), she poured herself a glass of wine in the kitchen and thought about what she wanted to do tomorrow. Get the furniture arranged, she supposed.
She watched the day’s last light stream through the paneled windows, making spider web patterns on the floor and walls of the foyer. She had the gold lump from the garden in her hand, and she turned it over and over in her fingers without realizing she was even holding it. She thought about her father. He'd owned Devereux Manor for decades, but for some reason never lived in it or rented it out. Why he spent year after year living in that hovel in Richmond instead she could not imagine. Maybe he'd been scared off by Ms. Price's ghost stories? Amelia laughed, and it echoed.
She went to the upstairs bathroom for a hot shower (the plumbing was another of her father's additions). The old staircase creaked under her weight. Devereux Manor was a house of long corridors and narrow rooms and high ceilings and uneven staircases, a house full of strange figures carved into banisters and wall panels, a house whose peculiar shapes cast deformed shadows on every wall. Amelia thought that the only reason the house let any light in at all was to make shadows with. She could not admit to herself that she was afraid of this place. Moving in was, in a way, an elaborate pageant to prove that she was not afraid, a way of conquering the house the way the house conquered the land around it. But Devereux Manor was turning out to be crafty foe.
Before showering she locked the bathroom door, though she was the only one in the house, and she stayed in longer than she meant to, using up all the hot water. Drying her hair with a towel, she went to the first floor bedroom she'd set up as an office and worked for a few hours, translating software demos into Portuguese. A set of French doors here overlooked what was now the garden but had been the slave quarters when the house was built. Ms. Price had mentioned some historical anecdote that happened there, but Amelia had not been paying attention.
It was very dark out now. Moonlight cast an eerie glow over the lot. Amelia watched the old trees sway back and forth in the wind. She thought about her father again, about his last minutes, his face buried under a forest of tubes and an oxygen mask. He had been trying to talk to her at the very end, but his voice was hoarse and gurgling, like he was speaking underwater. For a long time she assumed she’d misunderstood his last words, but now she realized she'd heard him correctly and simply not recognized the name: "Devereux," he'd said.
But whatever he'd tried to tell her about the house, it was a secret he took out of this world.
She lay down on the couch, intending just to relax for a moment, but soon she was drifting off to sleep. The last thing she saw, or thought she saw, was a figure at the French doors, a thin man in a old-fashioned cape looking in, one hand pressed against the glass. Was he really there? No, it's my imagination, Amelia thought. And she slept.
Penelope sat at the night table, brushing out her hair. In the east wing, Phillip was at the piano, playing some sonata or another (she could never keep them straight). She counted her brushstrokes in time to his music. The wind was blowing outside, and the French doors rattled. She took a moment to fasten them, pushing the red velvet curtains aside. There was a terrible racket coming from the cabins across the way. She sighed and fretted. What were they up to over there? What would it take for Phillip to keep them in line? Penelope thought about her father. She would never have to endure this if he were still alive.
(Where am I, thought Amelia? This is the room I fell asleep in, but who is she? What's happened to the furniture? Am I dreaming?)
Phillip knocked once and entered. She saw his reflection in the window glass as he stood in the doorway, seemingly hesitating before closing it behind him. He was dressed in a typically unfashionable burgundy frock coat, the cravat at his throat arranged with too-deliberate neatness. He looked tired but pleased, as he always did after an evening of playing. He put a hand on her shoulder. She was wearing only her shift. He kissed her behind her ear and whispered, "Good evening, darling."
"Phillip," said Penelope, "I have to talk to you."
"Can it wait?" he said, and kissed her again.
"Important things should never wait."
"All right," he said, "what is it?"
"It doesn't matter," Penelope said, leaving the doors and sitting on the bed. She went to turn the lamps up, but saw that they were already as high as they could go. It still seemed so dark in here. It was always dark in the house. She rubbed her bare arms, though she wasn't cold. Phillip looked at her, and she looked at the mirror.
(Yes, I must be dreaming, thought Amelia. Strange to have a dream about the house without me in it. And who are they? They look like extras from “Gone with the Wind”.)
Phillip sat next to her, putting his hand on her leg. "Stop that," she said.
"It's not proper."
"But we're man and wife?"
"This is my father's house," said Penelope.
"Not anymore. Now it's our house."
"Your house you mean," said Penelope.
"Darling, what's wrong?" said Phillip.
He put his arms around her. She resisted, but he did not let her go, and eventually she gave in, leaning against him. He stroked her hair.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I've felt awful all day."
"Were you thinking about your father again?"
"No. I mean, yes, but that's not what it is. I was thinking about the Marshall estate, about how the slaves murdered the family and burned the orchards."
Phillip looked baffled. “But why? You were all of a child when that happened?"
"Eva Marshall was the age then that I am now. Imagine dying now, when you've barely lived?”
"Penelope, don't talk this way," said Phillip, stroking her hair more. "I know it's hard to accept that your father is gone, but nothing terrible will happen to us."
"Won't it?" said Penelope. "Something terrible happens to all of us, someday. Why not today, or tomorrow, or the next?"
She went to the French doors. She saw the lights from the slave quarters, heard the tumult of noise. "What if they're out there right now, plotting to scalp and skin us all, like a pack of wild Indians? Or what if they're breeding some plague that will kill us all, and infect the new cotton, and kill everyone who touches it? What if --"
Phillip took her and kissed her. At first she did not respond, but soon she kissed him back. They sat on the bed, and she allowed him to run his fingers through her hair, and to kiss her lips, and the bridge of her nose, and the hollow at the base of her throat. She turned her face away from his and he turned it back, cupping her chin in his hand, and before long she gave up her halfhearted resistance, letting him lay her down and run his hands over her body, pulling her shift away. She looked up at the ceiling, eyes half-closed, barely responding to his kisses, but still enjoying the intimate feeling of his lips brushing hers, like the soft touch of silk on her bare skin.
Phillip's awkward, ungainly way of undressing himself gave her time to look over his body. She was always fascinated by the lily-white smoothness of his hands, those delicate fingers that worked such wonders at the piano, and the contrast with his rough, somehow half-finished features. He was an awkward creature in everything but in those hands, and his attempts to compensate through wardrobe only accentuated that awkwardness. Still, she could not help but admire the lines of his chest and abdomen, and the prominent strength of his forearms, or even the strange, dark purple color of the nipples on his bare chest. Phillip was beautiful, in his way; it was when these parts were animated that the ungainliness of his figure became apparent, as though he were built only for display, never meant to be move.
Automatically, Penelope opened her legs as Phillip lay on top of her. She winced as their bodies tried to settle in, his struggling for purchase on hers. He tried to kiss her mouth but she ducked out of the way, instead gliding her wet lips over the wiry musculature of his shoulders and chest. She felt his heart beating against the inside of his ribs and watched the spastic jumping of his throat under the pressure of his heavy breathing. Phillip was constantly livid with pent-up energy that his body could barely contain. When he played, he rocked back and forth in a kind of religious ecstasy. Evidently it was not enough to exorcise everything that was trapped inside of him.
Phillip's fingers stroked Penelope's hair as she continued kissing his naked body. He was being gentle out of consideration for what he perceived as her disconsolate state. Penelope was certain it wouldn't last. She would be relieved when he gave up the pretense, though she dared not even intimate this more directly. Instead she arched her back, pressing her naked breasts against him, watching his eyes roll under closed lids as perspiration dotted his bare skin. The manic energy pent up inside of him increased visibly; he would only need a little push to let it boil over. Penelope raked her fingernails across his bare chest, scoring a trail of red lines. Phillip's half-grunt, half-growl in reply told her she had judged his disposition accurately.
Moving so fast it took her breath away, Philip seized her, gathering Penelope up in his arms and bending her body against his; she gasped, the smallest of smiles flickering over her face for just a second, and then she cried out as he pushed against her, splaying her already-parted thighs even wider to accommodate him. She bit her lip and winced (though it was mostly for show) as he pushed inside of her, and she felt the reverberations of his trembling all through the core of her.
Penelope turned to the mirror to watch Phillip's reflection as he moved inside of her. She liked to follow the lines of his body, to break him down to just a series of lines and the repetitive motions they made; there were the lines of his arms, positioned just to each side of her shoulders, pushing himself back and forth. There was the curve of his thick thighs, turning up into the smoothness of his buttocks, rising up and down, up and down. The axis of his shoulders remained level, but it, too, rose and fell, and she watched it, enthralled. Phillip's body was akin to a reliable machine, his movements modeled, consciously or not, after the metronome that held such a prominent place in his affections.
But of course, Phillip was no machine, or if he was he was living one; Penelope was aware of the sticky, salty taste of the sweat dappling his skin, the hotness of his ragged breaths against her own bare flesh, the electric sensitivity of the tiny hairs standing upright all over him, and of course, the turgid, swollen pulse of his cock, gorging itself on the lurid wetness of her own too-human body. Most animal-like of all were the guttural grunts and moans coming from his mouth (and, she realized with a start, her own), the discordant melody of his writhing, thrusting, squirming body, too full of flesh to suit the mechanical longings of his spirit. Phillip was a mismatched suite of contradictions, always; beautiful ugliness, awkward grace, stilted passion, animalistic automation, wet heat.
Penelope wondered if she was the spoiler, if the careless, wanton decadence of her body or the detached, jaded stance of her mind was what threw Phillip off center and left him scrambling back and forth between these extremes. She considered how she took him in, enclosed him, encapsulated him, even. She was not well-suited for his ministrations. Fucking me is like playing a piano that's out of tune, she thought, and laughed. She had reduced Phillip now to his least dignified state, that of the grunting, rutting, almost helpless creature experiencing the climax, and she felt a perversely satisfying gush somewhere inside of her. The act of release, the very notion of spilling, seemed remarkably unlike Phillip, and Penelope took depraved joy in having driven him to that point, though when she looked at her own reflection again she saw only boredom looking back at her.
Although it was late, Phillip dressed himself fully again. Penelope put on only her robe, then resumed her vigil at the French doors. She put one hand against the glass. Her shoulders were tense. "Phillip," she said, taking a deep breath, "there's something I want to talk to you about."
"As you've already said," said Phillip.
"Tomorrow I want you to turn out Jeremiah and the other house slaves, and hire back the old staff."
Philip sighed. "We've discussed this, darling."
"No we haven't. You just decided it on your own."
"Is it not my house?" said Phillip, a note of real anger in his voice. He stood at her night table, looking over her combs and perfumes, his delicate pianist's fingers touching them, as if curious to test whether they were solid.
"Yes," said Penelope, her voice dull. "It is. But what if --"
She screamed, and Phillip jumped, and she ran from the window into his arms. He caught her and she buried her face against his chest.
"There's someone out here!" said Penelope. "Someone outside, staring into my window, I saw him!"
Phillip frowned. "It was probably just your imagination."
"It wasn't!" said Penelope, pulling back, actually striking him on the chest. "There was a man out there. But he wasn't a man, really. He looked...horrible." She shuddered. Phillip was about to say something more, but there came a bump and a crash from just outside. "You see!" said Penelope.
Phillip went to the French doors and unfastened them. Penelope backed away. "Phillip, no, it could be dangerous. You didn't see him, he was --"
"Wait here," said Phillip. The night air was limp and humid as he stepped out. Across the way, in the slave quarters, there was a terrible commotion of voices, and underneath it all the constant sound of -- drums? Phillip frowned. What in the name of God were they doing?
The light of the moon showed him that the patio was empty but that the trellis by the window had fallen over. He stopped to right it. Had it blown over, somehow? But there had been no wind blowing a moment ago. Perhaps it had just collapsed?
Something caught his eye. At first he thought it was an ordinary burlap sack lying on the ground, but when he turned it over he almost cried out; a crude but ghastly face had been painted onto it, and two holes gouged out in the center of the eyes. It was a kind of mask, he realized. It grinned at him, and he felt a chill run up his spine. The face of that mask was a face that knew things, things that Phillip did not want to know himself. It was a face that could haunt a man.
He looked at it for a moment, tugging his lower lip in thought, then looked toward the beating of the drums, and then he went back inside, locking the doors behind him. He took a moment to regain his composure before turning to Penelope. She sat on the bed, tugging her hair with worry. "What was it?" she said.
Phillip held up the mask and was about to make some joke, but Penelope screamed again. "That's it, that's the face I saw! I knew someone was out there, I knew it!"
He shushed her. "All you heard was the wind blowing down the trellis."
"There was no wind!"
“There might have been."
"And I suppose the wind made that horrible mask?" She turned to the wall and refused to look at him. He put a hand on her back, surprised as always by how strong and muscular her seemingly petite frame really was.
"It looks like the head of some farmer's scarecrow," said Phillip. "Might have been lying out there for days."
"Someone was out there," said Penelope. Her voice was flat. "Someone wearing that mask. It was probably one of your precious house niggers."
(Amelia blanched; she had never heard that word uttered with so much venom.)
"They're probably planning to kill us all in our sleep," said Penelope. "All because you brought a bunch of god damned niggers to sleep in our --"
"That's enough," said Phillip. He stood, stiff, and marched to the door. Penelope did not look at him even as he left. He heard the sound of sobbing as soon as the door was closed. He looked at the mask, with its ugly painted face, and crumpled it in his hands. He looked at the door of his own room, then back at Penelope's, caught between the two for a moment, unsure where to go, or what to do.
Outside, the drums were beating, beating, beating. All through the night.
Amelia woke to piano music. From somewhere in the house, somewhere nearby, came the strains of a song she did not recognize (some sonata or another, she thought). It took a moment for her to wake up entirely, another to realize that she was hearing music, and a third to realize that she shouldn't be.
She stood (her back and shoulders groaned; she'd been on the couch all night), and as she did she heard something drop to the floor. It was the lump of gold from the garden; she must have fallen asleep with it in her hand (though she did not remember picking it up). Her fingers ached from clutching it all night, and her palm was cold. She frowned, but had no time to consider it further, as the unexplained music was still playing, and if anything had grown louder.
It was the grey-blue time just before dawn, and long shadows slithered across the floor. Amelia stood in the hallway, looking one way and then the other, trying to pinpoint the direction of the melody. It sounded like it was coming from the storage room? She followed it. Still sluggish from sleep, it did not occur to her to be frightened. At most she felt impersonal curiosity.
She came to an old, warped door, one that led to what she remembered as a room crammed with (ruined) antique furniture, draped in sheets. Yes, the music was definitely coming from in there. She put her ear to the door; what was that tune? She should know it, she was sure, but she could not place it in her memory. Without really thinking about what she was doing, she opened the door. Draped sheets fluttered in the draft. Amelia was surprised by how dark it was inside; someone had painted over the windows long ago, and the wiring was no longer functional in this wing of the house.
As she fumbled for a light switch that she knew would do nothing, she realized that the music had stopped, and only then did it occur to her what it might mean that there had been music in the first place. Swallowing the sudden tightness in her throat, she opened her mouth to call out, then thought better of it. She got a flashlight and shone it around; the room was empty except for dusty furnishings, and cobwebs, and the smell of things long unused.
She found a piano against the back wall; ancient, falling apart, its frame warped on every side. She looked closely; there were marks on the keys, marks in the decades of dust, as if from playing fingers. She tapped a key; no note sounded. She tried another and heard nothing. She wouldn't be surprised to find all the strings snapped. Whatever she'd heard, it wasn't this. But she saw the fingerprints in the dust, and a spot on the bench where it looked for all the world like someone had just sat, and she shivered.
Amelia ate breakfast in an automatic fashion, thinking about the music, and the dream of the previous night. Had it been a dream, really? How strange to dream of people she didn't know, people who didn't even exist. It had been about the house though, the very room she slept in, in fact, the room as it might have appeared just after it was built. "Phillip," she said out loud, between sips of coffee, and "Penelope," drawing the vowels out. Who were they?
She dumped the rest of her coffee down the sink. The sound of it gurgling around the drain made her think about her father, and that awful gurgling, rattling noise in his lungs as he tried to speak to her in the last moments; "Devereux." He'd said "Devereux."
There was a knock at the front door. Amelia found Ms. Price on the porch, smiling like the Cheshire cat with a basket full of baked goods thrust out in front of her. "Welcome to the neighborhood!" she said.
Amelia affected a smile. "Well, how thoughtful," she said. "But I thought we had our welcome yesterday?"
"Oh, that was just me being a busybody," said Ms. Price, winking. "This is from everyone. They thought we ought to welcome you properly, and I volunteered to bring it on over, since we had such a nice chat." She leaned in, as if to get as much of her body through the doorway as possible. And I bet you volunteered to get a look at the interior of the house too, thought Amelia, inviting her in.
They sat in what Amelia thought of as the living room (but what Philip and Penelope would probably have called the parlor). Other than the wall of unpacked boxes, the only things visible were Amelia's old sofa and the ancient stone (not brick, but whole stones) fireplace. Ms. Price looked the room over as if she were planning on moving in (which Amelia supposed she very well might be), leaning as far as she could to peer down hallways and up staircases visible through open doors. They talked about nothing at all for a minute before Amelia finally came to what was her mind.
"Ms. Price," she said, "what was the name of that family who built this house?"
"You mean the Devereuxs?"
"That's right, but do you remember any of their first names? Or anything about them?"
Ms. Price was very quiet for a moment, pretending to think hard, although Amelia was sure she knew the entire family tree from top to bottom. "It's hard to say," said Ms. Price. "I learned the whole story so many years ago. Mainly ghost stories, you know. They family is supposed to haunt the house. But evidently it was already haunted even when they lived here. Haunted since the day it was built, if that makes any sense?"
"But their names, Ms. Price?" said Amelia. "You don't remember anything?"
Ms. Price made an ambiguous gesture. "I'm sure I have a book somewhere --"
Amelia put her hand on Ms. Price's arm. "Could you lend it to me, just for a day or two? I'm very interested in finding out the house's story, now that you've whetted my curiosity. I mean, it's important that I understand its historic value, isn't it?"
Ms. Price couldn't very well argue with that. The book she brought looked like a high school text book, filled with lengthy treatises on county figures from the 19th century. The section on the Devereuxs was marked, and the pages were particularly worn. Amelia went to the bedroom (where she involuntarily looked toward the French doors, imagining the red velvet curtains affixed to them, as they were in Penelope's bedroom) and sat down to read:
Archibald Devereux, a tanner's son who made a fortune in cotton in the 1820s, built Devereux Manor in 1840 as a gift to his wife, who died of consumption just a week before they finished construction. That left Archibald alone to raise their son, Andrew, and their daughter --
Amelia paused, then read the name out loud. "Penelope." Her fingers shook a little as she turned the page.
Penelope Devereux married Phillip Rich, a burgeoning concert pianist and protege of her father, in 1851. Phillip took the Devereux name rather than confer "Rich" on Penelope, supposedly as a token of respect for her father but perhaps also because the Rich family line was rumored to be the product of miscegenation. When Archibald Devereux died in his sleep a year later, he surprised everyone by leaving the house and most of the estate to Philip rather than to his own son and daughter.
Amelia's lips moved, outlining the last words in the chapter: "Phillip, Penelope, and most of the slaves and house staff died when a fire broke out in the slave's quarters in the late hours of June 16th, 1852." That was all. No cause of the conflagration was recorded.
Amelia knew, instinctually, that if she turned the page she would find a photograph of the Devereuxs. And indeed, Phillip and Penelope stared up at her on the last page of the chapter. Their faces were bleached and expressionless, as they so often were in pictures from those days, but still recognizable as the couple from her dream.
She closed the book, tapping the binding with one finger. It was possible, of course, that she had heard of the Devereuxs, maybe even seen pictures of them, and not remembered. Those old recollections, jarred to the surface by her habitation in the house and her conversation with Ms. Price, could have manifested in her dreams. Yes, that made sense, more or less, and it explained everything. Everything but the music this morning, and why worry about a little thing like that?
But Amelia could not help thinking about one of the last things Ms. Price had said (or at least, one of the last things Amelia had paid attention to): "It was already haunted even when they lived here. Haunted since the day it was built." And she remembered Ms. Price's mention of "the Phantom" , and the figure lurking at Penelope's window, and the almost-forgotten recollection of a man at the same window as Amelia drifted off to sleep in the very same room.
Haunted since the day it was built.
From somewhere in the house, distinctly, Amelia heard the sound of a piano note.
Phillip stared into the fire, prodding the smoldering logs with the tip of a wrought iron poker. "You have no idea what it's been like around here," he said. "We're living in a kind of hell. Every day it's a new complaint; an intruder sighted, a servant attacked, things missing or stolen, and always the same story, always the same person blamed, whoever the hell he is. Penelope is at her wit's end. She refuses to even leave her room."
"She's not the only one, from what I hear tell," said the other man. "The slaves are in an uproar. I've never seen them so agitated, not even when father died."
(Am I dreaming again, thought Amelia? When did I fall asleep?)
(She saw that it was night again in Devereux Manor, and that Phillip stood at the very same fireplace she'd sat at with Ms. Price that morning. Phillip looked lean and tired, his flesh gone sallow, his clothes a little rumpled. The parlor was dominated by a great, hideous oil painting over the mantle, a painting of a glowering man she guessed must be Archibald Devereux. Just beneath the painting, twin busts of Janus surveyed the entire room, one direction and the other.)
(Phillip was speaking to a man who looked only a few years older than him, a ginger-haired rake with drooping eyelids and the bud of a great white rose tucked into his buttonhole. Amelia recognized him from another photo in Ms. Price's book; Andrew Devereux, Penelope's brother. She felt like giggling at the sight of a real southern dandy.)
"It's no wonder if they are," said Phillip. "Whoever's doing this, he's a perfect terror to them. They complained of him first, you see, and I didn't pay attention. But who would believe that some specter was lurking around, peering in their windows and accosting their children while they slept?
"That's what all this damn drumming is about," he continued. "They think it keeps him away. Superstitious nonsense, of course, but I don't blame them. If I thought it would work, I'd be out there banging a cowhide, too." Philip made a particularly violent jab at a log and then set the poker aside.
"But you think he's real?" said Andrew.
"I know he's real. Penelope has seen him. And the damage he's doing is certainly real enough." Phillip stared into the fire without flinching. "That's why I asked you to come here. This is your house too, Andrew." Andrew put up a hand to protest, but Philip waved him down. "You grew up here, and you helped your father put the estate in order. Whatever's going on, you have a stake in it too, and I owe it to you and the rest of your family to deal with it."
"I'll do anything I can for you," said Andrew.
"Not for me," said Phillip. "For Penelope. We have one more guest coming, and then --"
They stopped when they realized that someone was standing in the doorway, a broad, red-faced man with gray whiskers, dressed in a crisp army uniform and leaning on a cane. Behind him, a slave stood, looking awkward, obviously wanting to prevent the newcomer from barging into the room but not daring to say so.
"Phillip," said the man in the uniform. He limped as he came in. "I hope you don't mind that I showed myself in. I helped build this damn house, I wasn't about to be led around it by some ignorant darkie."
Phillip smiled without humor. "Captain Sidney. Thank you for coming." He nodded to the slave, who departed with obvious relief, shooting an unreadable look at the captain's back as he went.
The captain nodded to Phillip but declined a handshake. He broke into a grin when he saw Andrew, pumping his hand several times and slapping him on the shoulder before sitting in the room's most comfortable chair. "Andrew m'boy, how good to see you again."
Andrew sat, rather tentatively, at his side, while Phillip remained standing. They all three let the silence stretch on for a moment, then as one looked at the portrait, as if deferring to the dead man's authority before beginning.
"Well Phillip," said the captain, "I would guess, judging from all that racket outside, that the local gossips have got it right for a change. They say you have a kind of....ghost, on the premises?" He allowed himself the tiniest sneer.
"Not a ghost," said Phillip, still smiling in an unfriendly way. "A man. A man intent on ruining me, and my business, and my marriage."
The captain turned his cane over and over in his hand. "Is it true that your slaves are calling this man 'le Fantome'?" Phillip nodded, and the captain grunted. "And that he menaces the grounds in some ridiculous cape and mask?" Another nod. "Hmm. And what exactly has he been doing?"
"He's been doing all he can to drive me mad," said Phillip. He moved from the fireplace to the window, pulling open the curtains and looking into the pitch black outside. "This 'Phantom', as they insist on calling him, accosts my slaves, destroys my property, leaves threatening messages for me and my wife, and steals whatever isn't nailed down. This week he killed the horses, all of them, every horse in the stable! The slaves say they saw him making his escape, but no one saw him going in. Worst of all, he torments Penelope. Every night for three weeks she says she's seen him at her window, peering in, sometimes even trying to enter."
"Why haven't you just shot him and been done with it?" said the captain.
"I've never seen him," said Phillip. The drums beat louder and faster outside. "If not for Penelope, I might not even believe he exists."
"Why haven't you notified the constable's office?" said Andrew.
"Those frauds?" said the captain, snorting. "No, for this kind of problem you need the help of real men. That's why -- I say Phillip, I wouldn't object to a cigar." Phillip opened the humidor to both Andrew and the captain, but took none for himself. "Penelope writes and tells me that she thinks this is all the slaves' doing," the captain continued.
"I'm sure she does," said Phillip. "She's suspected them from the start. Do you know what she did three weeks ago? She almost killed Jeremiah. Beat him half to death. He's only now strong enough to get out of bed again."
Andrew choked. "But he was just here? Is he all right?"
Phillip nodded, but appeared grave. "As he can be. She nearly whipped the black right off of his hide. You know how strong she is when she loses her temper."
"But surely she couldn't think that Jeremiah is the Phantom?" said Andrew, shaking his head. "He's the gentlest creature on the face of the earth. Why, father brought him up by hand!"
"Try telling that to Penelope," said Phillip. "She's sure that if Jeremiah isn't the Phantom then he's protecting whoever is. Somehow she thinks this is all happening because I've let Jeremiah and some of the others tend to the house."
"And she's quite right," said the captain, interrupting. He settled further back in his chair. "All this sounds like a bunch of nigger witchcraft to me. Just listen to them out there! Andrew, have you heard about the mask this Phantom fellow wears? Tell me that doesn't sound like nigger devilry?"
"Well I don't see how --" said Andrew.
"When you let niggers live under your roof they get uppity," continued the captain. "Breeding uppity niggers will be the death of us all. Andrew, you're old enough to remember the Marshalls? If you'd kept the old indentured Irish servants instead of letting your pet sambos into the house, Phillip, none of this would have happened. I'll grant you, an Irishman isn't much more than a white nigger, but at least they don't invite the devil under your roof."
Phillip's smile grew wider and more brittle as the captain talked. Andrew jumped in. "Do you have any idea what this person wants?" he said. "A reason he's doing all of this, whoever he is?"
"As a matter of fact, I do," said Phillip, producing something from his pocket. "Do you see this? It's a threatening letter I received the other day, purportedly from the Phantom."
The captain snatched the letter out of Phillip's hand and began to read it. Philip went on as if nothing had happened.
"It says that until I vacate Devereux Manor things will keep getting worse. Notice that it singles me out; only I am to leave. The Phantom means for Penelope to stay."
Andrew shuddered. "What a horrible thought, to be left alone in this house with that monster prowling about!"
"Terrible," muttered the captain, reading the letter to himself again. "What do you think it means?"
"What does it mean?" said Phillip. "It means that I know who the Phantom is."
Andrew sat forward. "You do?"
"Of course!" Phillip spread his arms. "Doesn't it seem a strange request, that I and I alone go? Doesn't that right there tell us who's behind all this?"
Andrew looked confused. The captain made an impatient gesture. "If you think you know something, just spit it out."
Phillip stood directly in front of the captain's chair. "It's a little funny that you should say that, Captain. Because we both know who the Phantom is. Because he's you." Phillip crossed his arms over his chest. He was not smiling anymore.
Andrew's jaw dropped. The captain, baffled, dropped his cigar, and had to catch it before it burned a hole in his coat. When he'd composed himself, he harrumphed as loudly as he could and said, "Me? What's in your head, boy?"
"Don't play stupid, Captain Sidney," said Phillip. "I brought you here because your game is up. You gave yourself away with the letter." He snatched the paper from the captain's hand and threw it into the fire. "I should go, but Penelope should stay, hmm? I find that interesting, in light of the fact that no one pursued Penelope's hand more aggressively than you did."
The captain shrugged. "What of it? I don't deny it. Archibald was my best friend. His daughter grew into a fine young woman, and when the time came I asked for her hand. Archibald preferred you, and he convinced Penelope to go along with his preference, and I've never held any ill will over it. I wish you both the best of happiness."
"Do you?" said Phillip. His voice was ice cold.
"Phillip, honestly, I don't think the captain would do something like this," said Andrew, half standing.
"He's counting on your good opinion, Andrew," said Phillip. "That's the captain for you, everyone has a good word to say about him. It's the perfect cover, isn't it?"
"Now see here," said the captain, his face turning purple, "maybe you haven't noticed, but I very nearly lost this leg to Santa Anna." He thumped his cane against his knee. "How do you think I could manage to be out all night prowling around your grounds and peeking into your wife's window with a hobble like this?"
Phillip glared. "I don't know. I don't know how you're doing it, but I'm sure you're the one doing it, and I've brought you here to ask you, man to man, if you have any honor at all, to put a stop to this nonsense."
Captain Sidney's face was now the color of a plum. He stood, and his words came hard as he struggled to breathe around his indignation. "The only reason," he said, pausing to mop the sweat from his brow, "the ONLY reason, that I don't take you outside and shoot you through the damned head right now, boy, is out of respect for the memory of that man." He pointed to the painting. "And because of the grief that it would cause Penelope. If you were anyone else --"
Before Phillip could reply Andrew stepped between them. "Wait a minute," he said. "There's no reason why, between the three of us, we can't --" He paused, and turned his head a little. The other men watched him, curious. "Phillip," said Andrew, "no one else in the house plays piano, do they?"
Phillip looked confused. "Why in the hell should that matter now?"
"Because someone is playing your piano."
They all stopped to listen (Amelia listened too), and, faintly, from another room, they heard it; the soft, ghostly strains of music.
"My sonata," said Phillip.
All three men left the parlor, following the sound of a discordant tune to the music room. When they arrived they found every lamp but one extinguished, that one sitting atop the piano itself and illuminating a ghastly figure with his hands on the keys, the thick, padded fingers of his gloves accounting for the clumsy, tuneless nature of his playing.
The Phantom was draped in a grey riding cape with a high collar, ragged at the hem. His mask was painted like a grimacing jack-o-lantern,, and his shirt and trousers were baggy, so that his limbs angled sharply against the fabric, giving him the look of a scarecrow made up of tattered hand-me-downs. Behind the slits of his crude mask his eyes reflected the lamplight. His every little movement made the fabric of the mask bunch and shift, so that its expression seemed always to be changing. He did not stop playing as the men entered, except to nod at them, once, in silent acknowledgment, and then went right back to his music, each jarring, clanging note falling on their nerves.
Phillip managed to speak first. "Who the hell are you?" he said.
"Sir!" said the captain. "You should leave these premises immediately. Whoever you are, whatever the nature of your complaint, it should be resolved according to the customs of men of honor."
Phillip looked sideways at the captain. Andrew lingered by the door. The Phantom said nothing.
"Sir --" said Phillip again, stepping forward, and as he did the Phantom leapt to his feet, producing a pistol from the hidden folds of his cape. Andrew shouted a warning but it was too late; a flash and a deafening bang filled the small room, and Phillip fell back, the captain failing to catch him. Andrew ran to Phillip's side and the Phantom spun around, sprinting out the northernmost door, cape swirling behind him. The captain tried to give chase, but could only limp along in the creature's wake.
Andrew warned Phillip not to move, but Philip sat up anyway. Andrew tried to talk him down, but Phillip waved him away and said, "I'm all right. Look, I'm not shot; there was no bullet, only powder. He just meant to scare us."
"He's getting away!" said the captain.
"Not that way," said Phillip, standing. "That only leads to an old pantry. Penelope and Andrew's father used it as a wine cellar. He'll be trapped in there."
The door was stuck when they pushed on it, barricaded from the other side, but all three together broke it open. Inside were dusty, unused wine racks; there was not a soul in sight. Andrew gaped, and even the captain looked surprised. Phillip turned around and around in the tiny space. "But he ran in here. We all saw him, didn't we?"
Andrew nodded, and the captain crossed himself. "He can't have just vanished," said Phillip, clawing at the wall. "He can't have!" Andrew tried to calm him, but Phillip continued scrabbling at the wall, repeating the words over and over. It wasn't until Jeremiah, cowed by the presence of the captain but too panicked to stay away, appeared in the music room, waving both hands, that Phillip stopped.
"Sir," said Jeremiah, mumbling, as was his fashion, but still with an unmistakable note of urgency, "It's Mrs. Devereux, sir. She's in her room, and she's screaming, and we can't get the door open."
"Penelope?" said the captain. "Is she hurt?"
"We dunno, sir," said Jeremiah. "We can't get the door open."
"Useless!" said the captain, pushing Jeremiah down and angling his enormous bulk through the door. Andrew and Phillip followed, Phillip stopping for a second to help Jeremiah back to his feet.
When they came to Penelope's door there was, indeed, the sound of screaming from within, but it was faint and muffled. This time the door was secured only with a flimsy lock, and Phillip broke it down with one charge, almost splintering it in two. The room was in disarray, with the bed askew, the curtains pulled down, the mirror shattered, and Penelope’s belongings strewn over the floor.
There was no one in sight, and the source of the screams was not apparent at first, but then Andrew spotted the steamer trunk in the corner of the room. Heavy lead weights had been piled on top of the lid, and the entire thing was shaking. Phillip ran to it, threw off the weights, opened the trunk, and caught a sobbing Penelope as she burst out, throwing her arms around his neck and falling against him.
Phillip rocked back and forth with Penelope in his arms, tears blurring his eyes. She was blanched and soaked with sweat, her clothes torn and her arms bruised. When she finally talked, the words welled up and burst out of her with little ragged sobs: “It was him, it was him, it was him!”
“The Phantom?” said the captain.
“He told me he was going to bury me alive,” said Penelope. "He put me in there, and I could hear him laughing, and I couldn't open the lid, and, and..." she trailed off, voice hoarse.
“But how did he even get in here?” said Andrew. “We just saw him not five minutes ago in the music room? And then he vanished from inside a closet!”
“I don’t know,” said Penelope. “I just turned around and he was there. And he grabbed me, and he was so strong, and I tried to scream but he had his hand over my mouth and --”
Phillip soothed her again as she broke down completely. The captain looked away, wincing, tears stinging his own eyes. Andrew looked at the steamer trunk, brow furrowed. “There weren’t that many weights on it,” he said. “And there are more here in the corner. We must have interrupted him before he could finish. But wait a minute Penelope, this trunk isn’t yours? He must have been hiding it. Where could he keep something like this in your room without you noticing?”
“What does it matter?” said the captain, voice grating.
“It matters if it tells us how he got in here,” said Andrew. “Penelope, where were you right before you saw the Phantom?”
She pointed to the mirror, where the broken shards reflected a dozen versions of the scene. Andrew walked over to it, looked at his reflection, turned to the room, then turned back to his reflection. Phillip gave him a questioning look.
“Do you see?” said Andrew. “In this mirror you can see the entire room except for the southernmost wall, with the closet door. The closet door...”
He opened the closet and stepped in. After a moment he called out to them; his voice echoed curiously. Phillip went to the closet, the captain limping along with him, and they were shocked to see that the interior was more than twice as deep as it should be, and indeed, it opened into a kind of corridor trailing off into darkness. Right next to the panel that Andrew had slid aside at the back was a stack of lead weights like the ones piled on the trunk. Andrew grinned, clearly delighted.
“Incredible,” he said. “I bet it goes straight to that old wine closet. To think I never knew this passage existed. Did you, Phillip?” Phillip shook his head, astonished. “I bet there are more like it,” said Andrew. “So now we know how the Phantom gets around the house without being seen.”
"That means the Phantom is someone who knows the house very well," said the captain.
"Yes it does," said Phillip, his sardonic smile returning. "Someone who helped build it, for example?"
The captain's eyes went wide. "You must be insane? How can you even suggest that I'm the Phantom when you were standing right next to me when we all saw him?"
"It's clever, I'll grant you that," said Phillip. "You ask me how you can be the Phantom with your bad leg, well I ask you, how do we know the Phantom is just one man? What did you do, captain, hire some actor or circus performer for the part? You are something of a patron of the theater, as I recall. Or maybe some freed slave with no other way of earning a living?"
The captain gritted his teeth. "You miserable little bastard!"
"That's not a denial," said Phillip.
"Phillip, no, the captain would never do something like this to me," said Penelope.
She stood and was about to say more, but then she saw Jeremiah lurking in the doorway, and she pointed and shrieked. "It was him! I know it was him! Just look at his face, there's guilt written all over it!"
Jeremiah shrank back, hands up, muttering a denial, and Penelope actually ran at him, nails raised. Andrew caught her and the two struggled for a moment, Andrew unprepared for her burst of strength. He managed to push her back to the bed as she screamed all the while, "It was him, it was him, that black bastard, I know it! Don't you see how much he hated my father, how long he's been waiting for the chance to pay us all back? 'Oh, Massa so mean to me, oh, Massa's daughter gon pay now,' is that how it is? Is it?"
Phillip stuck a finger in the captain's face. "Will you not even admit your guilt to clear Jeremiah's name? I know you don't have any respect for him, but I thought at least your sense of honor meant something to you."
The captain shook a finger back. "Enough of this, God damn it. I know that little sambo isn't the Phantom and I sure as hell aren't him either, but I know exactly who is!"
"Then why don't you tell us?" said Phillip.
"Because I'm going to deal with this properly, like a real man would," said the captain.
"Now wait a minute," said Andrew, "let's think hard about this. We don't really have any idea --"
"It was Jeremiah!" said Penelope.
"It's the captain!" said Phillip.
"I know who's behind this, I know!" roared the captain.
"But we don't know, none of us know!" said Andrew.
Penelope collapsed on the bed. Phillip went to comfort her, casting hateful glares at the captain. Captain Sidney stood square-shouldered, still as a statue. Andrew sat in the corner, head in his hands, helpless. Jeremiah inched away, a shadow in the doorway, half his face illuminated. All of them were reflected over and over again in the broken pieces of the mirror.
And outside, the drums were beating, beating, always, without stopping, until dawn.
Amelia's eyes opened. She sat up and looked around; was she in the attic? She rubbed her neck (sore again. Would she ever sleep in a real bed in this house?) Yes, she'd been putting away boxes up here and then sat down for just a second to rest. How did she fall asleep here of all places?
But of course, she knew the answer; it was because she'd stayed up all night. Because she'd been afraid to go to sleep. She sighed. Am I losing my mind, she thought, or is this all really happening?
She chastised herself; there was nothing crazy about having dreams. True, they were vivid dreams, more vivid than she ever remembered having before, but so what? And she'd already explained to herself how she could dream about the Devereux's names and faces before knowing about them. She was jittery from the move, and still in mourning. It made sense. It all made sense.
As she went downstairs, she did not admit to herself that she was going to the bedroom to check the closet for evidence of a secret door. Such a door would, of course, spoil all of her neat explanations. She also did not acknowledge that piano music was audible all through the house, and was obviously coming from the storage room, once the music room, the very room where Phillip had confronted the Phantom in her dream. The house seemed tense as she moved through it. Wherever she went, she felt as if someone had just finished an argument there, and left the lingering residue of their anger.
Amelia went to the bedroom (she could not really think of it as her bedroom, and dared not think of it as Penelope's, so it was simply "the bedroom", just as the house was just "the house"), comparing its dimensions to those in her dream. The closet was still in the same place. She hesitated before opening the door; whild thoughts of what might be waiting inside made her heart flutter. But of course, it turned out to be empty, even of her own possessions, a bare space of floorboards and drywall. She ran her hands over the back wall. She would have to get some tools and break through the plaster, and then --
Then what, she thought? What would she find even if she were right? If the secret passage ever really existed, the Devereuxs doubtlessly would have boarded it up after finding it, and likely the various remodels over the years had gotten to any others they missed. Inspecting the closet told her nothing one way or the other. Amelia realized that her hand was hurting, and then realized it was because she was clenching something hard in her palm; the gold piece from the garden. Had she been carrying it the whole time? It felt cold, like always.
What is this thing, she thought, holding it up? If it had ever once had a definite form, it was now just an ambiguous lump. She tried to drop it, but her fingers would not release. Let go, she thought, let go! But she could not. She stood with hand shaking, wrestling with herself. If she dropped it in here, she realized, it would be in the closet all the time. She would think about it whenever she looked at the door. It would be better to throw it away; yes, outside, or in the trash, where she would have no idea where it ended up. And then she had an even better idea; she would give it to Ms. Price, along with her book. Yes, Ms. Price would love to have a keepsake from Devereux Manor.
Amelia was about to leave, but that's when she heard it; the creaking of the hinge as the closet door swung shut a little. She turned, and when she saw someone standing just inside closet, less than a foot away, between her and the door, she thought to scream. The scream caught in her throat when she recognized the intruding figure; the billowing cape, and the ill-fitting clothes, and the burlap mask, its leering goblin face just barely visible in the dim light. The Phantom stood with a gloved hand on the doorknob, so still and silent that Amelia managed to convince herself, if only for a second, that he somehow was not real, and not there at all.
Then he pulled the door shut, plunging them both into darkness, and Amelia knew that she was trapped, with the monster only an arm's length away. There was nowhere to go, her back was already against the wall. She braced herself, jaw clenched, waiting to feel those gloved hands grab hold of her, but nothing happened. She held her breath, listening for the telltale rustle of the Phantom's baggy costume or his boots on the floor, but there was nothing. Perhaps he was waiting for her to make the first move?
Amelia's heart pounded until she thought it would burst. She kept her jaw clenched to hold in her screams, convinced that a scream was what he was waiting for. She would not give in. A single icy bead of sweat traveled from her temple down her cheek, tracing the line of her jaw. She started to feel lightheaded. I can't just stand here forever, she thought. So instead she charged, rushing her attacker in the dark, expecting to collide with him, to tangle with him, to beat him with every ounce of her strength.
Instead she hit the door full force and it sprang open, depositing her on the bedroom floor, shaking, in the long rectangle of grey light leaking through the panes of the French doors. Amelia leapt up and whirled around, looking at the closet, expecting the Phantom's ghastly image to be there, but it was empty again. The bedroom was empty too, and the entire house was silent; even the piano music had stopped. Amelia shook her head, muttering "No, no, no," under her breath. The Phantom had been inside the closet with her, of that she was sure, and the door had not opened again. The closet was too small for him to move past her without touching her, even if there was any other way out. So where was he now?
Amelia dialed 911, then hung up in the middle of the first ring. Who could she call? Ms. Price? Her father? No, she scolded herself, her father was dead. Even so, the urge to dial his old number and listen to the ring over and over was almost overwhelming. She had to put the phone down. She bit her fingernails, lost in thought. She realized she had bitten them down to nothing when she tasted blood.
Finally she went to the dresser, the one she had only filled the day before, and began to empty it. Devereux Manor was not her house. Devereux Manor had never been her father's house either, really, and maybe had never even been the Devereux's. Whoever had claim to it now, she was happy to leave it to them. Her father's old suitcase was big enough to hold almost everything she had. She stopped to get a few essentials from the bathroom and grab her laptop, then loaded everything into the car.
She set the GPS to find the last motel she'd stayed at, the reverse course of her trip of a few days past. She did not look at the mirrors as she pulled away, did not look at the house at all. She turned the radio on and up as loud as it would go, and thought about nothing. Failing that, she thought about her father. It was painful, and the tears made it harder to drive, but anything was better than thinking about the house.
Unbeknownst to Amelia, that flat, misshapen piece of gold was still in her pocket. She felt the coldness of it through her clothes the entire drive, but still never realized that it was there.
There was no point in trying to work. There was no point in going out. There was no point in doing anything, it seemed, so Amelia just lay back on the bed, watching the blades of the ceiling fan go around and around. The motel room smelled faintly of cheap disinfectant; they must have cleaned it not long ago. The quiet was unnerving.
She ran her hands over her face. God, she thought, what am I doing here? She looked at the clock; not early enough to sleep, and she was afraid of sleep now anyway. She stripped her sweaty clothes off, leaving them in a trail on the way to the tiny, white-tiled bathroom. She turned the hot water up as far as it would go and stood in the shower, letting it run and run. After twenty minutes, she was numb to the burn. Idly, she slid her hand down her stomach, over her hips, and between her legs, touching herself without thinking about it, a mechanical reflex more than anything.
Amelia slid one finger up and down the length of her sex, testing the smoothness and the pliancy of the skin. Droplets of water trailed down the line of her hips, and she wetted one fingertip with them, tracing the length of herself again, shivering as the heat tickled the sensitive spots. Casually, she flicked her clit with her thumb and leaned back against the tile, sighing, closing her eyes, letting go of everything except sensation. Steam fogged the shower glass, obscuring the room, giving her a pleasant sense of isolation.
Amelia slid her free hand over body, tracing the curved underside of each breast and then squeezing one, hard. She frowned, then tried again, but no matter how hard she did it it really wasn't as satisfying doing it herself, so instead she circled finger and thumb around one nipple, twisting it. A pleasant tingling heat radiated out from it, so she did it again, tweaking the tip. At the same time she slid one finger up inside herself, feeling her cunt clench tight. She didn't bother to move it, rather just enjoying the feeling of having something inside of her while her other fingers rubbed against the increasingly heated nub of her clit. She growled in her throat, so low that it was barely audible.
Amelia's back slid down the wall, until she was sitting on the floor of the shower, hot water pouring over her, burning. She licked her lips, enjoying the wet, sensual feel of it, and pushed against herself harder, grinding her palm against her cunt, grunting with exertion. A thousand overlapping images spun through her mind, many of them memories; late nights, dark places, cool sheets, sweating bodies, soft lips, soft whispers, and heated screams. She hunched over, the muscles of her abdomen rippling as she pushed, pushed, pushed, biting her own lip until it bled. The hard reverberations in the center of her were spreading out, sending waves up her spine, across her shoulders, down the curves of her figure, bathing her in ragged pleasure.
Her eyes rolled back, and she felt herself becoming wetter and wetter. The pent-up pressure of so many sleepless nights in Richmond, so must anxiety and pain and uncertainty and grief, melted in the heat of raw physicality, draining away one bit at a time. She actually moaned, "Fuck!" to herself, then doubled over, free hand pulling her own wet hair as she shook all over, trembling from the core of her all the way to the outside, then left herself panting and stunned, almost unable to move, a miraculous feeling of lightness gathering just behind her eyes, the inverse of the fog of pain and stress that had taken up seemingly permanent residence there in the preceding months. She allowed herself one, small, barely audible sight of satisfaction, almost contentment, then stood, trying to regain her bearings without completely spoiling the novelty of her mood.
She realized the water had gone cold. She turned it off, and stood listening to the gurgle of the pipes. A mistake, of course; the sound reminded her of her father's dying words, his struggle to speak with fluid-filled lungs, his --
She paused, still naked and dripping in the shower. For a moment the plumbing noise almost really had sounded like her father's voice?
She began to shake.
"Devereux," gasped the water as it swirled around the drain, a perfect imitation of her father's pained final utterance, and then silence. She reached for the taps to turn them on again, then thought better of it. This isn't real, she told herself. I'm tired and stressed out and grief-stricken. I'm hearing things. Even perfectly sane, rational people can hear things, and see things, that aren't real. Or maybe I'm not sane or rational at all. Maybe I am insane. But even that's okay. That's better than believing this is real.
She wrapped a motel towel around her body, not bothering to dry or fix her hair. The main room was dark, and she stretched out on the bed, letting the cool air from the fan tickle her wet, naked skin. There was nothing to be afraid of, she told herself. Just enjoy the silence. Just enjoy the dark. Just enjoy--
She'd left the lights on when she went into the bathroom. Now they were off...
Amelia sat bolt upright, but before she could say or do anything a hand clapped over her mouth. The thick, padded fingers of the gloves nearly smothered her. A body wrapped around hers from behind, thin limbs invested with horrible strength and an awful coldness. Another arm circled her waist, and the grappling figure dragged her onto the floor.
She struggled, but having landed facedown on the carpet with her attacker on top she had little leverage. The unseen figure rolled her over and climbed on top. A small amount of light from the neon sign outside slipped through the blinds, and she recognized the distinctive silhouette of the Phantom's clothing.
His hand was still over her mouth and he leaned against her, pinning her naked body down. Amelia flailed at him with clenched fists, but nothing connected; it seemed as if he was solid only when he touched her, but not when she touched him. He let her struggle a bit more before pinning her wrists together. Amelia could not move, could not fight back, could not cry out. The Phantom brought his face down to hers; she saw the wrinkled cloth of the mask sucking in and out with the panting labor of his breathing. A sour smell of decay came off of him. Amelia flinched as a cold, gloved hand touched her cheek. Oh God, she thought, closing her eyes, please let it end fast.
She waited, but nothing happened. She held her breath, but felt nothing. She dared to open her eyes; the Phantom was gone. And in his place was...nothing? She sat up, or at least, she tried to sit up, only to realize that she did not seem to be able to move. No, that wasn't it; it was more that her body didn't seem to be anywhere at all. Am I dead, she wondered, but then realized that it was rather just like her dreams, and it was then that she recognized her surroundings; the motel room was gone, replaced by the house. Not her house, of course; the Devereux's house. Am I asleep, she thought? No, probably unconscious...
It was night and the lamps were out, but a single, flickering candle flame appeared at the end of the hall, cupped in a hand. It was Jeremiah, Amelia saw. He stopped, as if listening for something, and then nodded to himself and continued on. His footsteps fell very softly on the thick rug. Amelia wondered where he was going. She had never had the chance to get a good look at him before; even in the dark, his face was handsome, though too often obscured by his habit of looking at the floor.
He reached the door at the end of the hall, turning the knob slowly so that it wouldn't make noise. The well-oiled hinge did not betray him. But when the door opened Penelope was there, ghostly white in her evening dress, as if waiting for him. He dropped the candle and backed away, stuffing a hand in his mouth to keep from crying out. Penelope did not react at all, except to pick up the candle before too much wax spilled. She cupped it in her hands and held if in such a way as to cast a flickering glow on her face. She looked at Jeremiah and he blanched.
Penelope ran her tongue over her lips, as if tasting his fear. "It's late, Jeremiah," she said. The slave only nodded, and looked at the floor. She came up to him, holding the candle between them, so that they both stood in the tiny halo of its flame. "It's very late, Jeremiah," said Penelope. With her free hand she touched his cheek. "What are you doing up so late?"
He mumbled something (Amelia did not understand him, but Penelope seemed to). The corners of Penelope's mouth twitched. "Were you going to the parlor? Were you going to talk to my husband?"
Jeremiah looked away. His eyes were wide, and his nostrils flared with heavy, panicked breaths. "What were you going to tell them?" said Penelope. She pushed her body against his. He winced as if he'd been stabbed. She cupped his face, running her nails down his cheek. She moved her mouth right next to his and whispered, "What were you going to tell them, Jeremiah?" She kissed him, and he began to cry, quietly, his chest jumping with trapped sobs.
With a coy smile Penelope kissed the tears from his cheeks, then trailed her lips over the line of his jaw. Her caressing fingers ran over his mouth, which was pursed tight to keep from sobbing. "What were you going to tell them, Jeremiah?" she said again. "Were you going to tell them about this?"
He shook his head.
"Then what?" Jeremiah tried to hunch down, seemingly in an effort to shrink away, but Penelope stood him back up, kissing him again, smiling at his pain. She stuck a hand between them, sliding down the length of Jeremiah's body. He took on a look of resignation, eyes becoming glassy and face assuming a far-away quality. He did not react when Penelope unbuttoned his trousers, sliding her fingers (with their immaculately manicured nails, claw-like) down until she touched his member.
She wrapped her hand around it, tugging it once or twice, trying to get him to react. His expression was dead, emotionless. She sighed, then pulled her hand up to slap him across the face. The crack of it sounded incredibly loud in the twilight atmosphere of the dark, empty hall. Jeremiah looked shocked, and before he could drift away again Penelope stuck her hand back down his pants, stroking the length of him. The mechanics of his body betrayed him, responding to the stimulation, swelling and growing, eliciting a smirk from Penelope's ruby-red lips.
Jeremiah continued to sob quietly as Penelope's hand jerked again and again, running her fingers over the fat head and testing the tiny dribble there. She pushed her body into his, pinning him against the wall. For a moment he resisted, but though the smaller of the two she was stronger, and he dared not exercise his full force against her anyway. She smiled, showing all her teeth, and in the flickering light of the candle he saw her eyes, wide and unblinking.
She kept on, and he did not resist, though his muscles ached and he had to hold his hands behind his back in trembling fists. Penelope teased him with kisses and soft whispers about how many white men would kill to trade places with him now. Jeremiah bit his lip to keep from saying that he would kill to be out of it. Her touch was delicate but firm, and she slid her hand up and down him expertly, aware of exactly how much pressure it took to make him squirm. When she tugged, his body obeyed, against his will, and she giggled, voice thick with perverse amusement.
With a series of quick jerks she pushed him over the edge, and then wrapped her fingers around his shaft while the discharge flowed down and over them. She threw her head back, moaning in ghastly ecstasy, and Jeremiah hit his head against the wall. She bit his lip, though not hard enough to leave a telltale mark, and wiped her hand on his pants. She brought the candle close to their faces again.
"You'll never tell, will you, Jeremiah?"
He shook his head.
"You've never told, have you?"
A shake of the head again.
"You know what would happen if anyone found out about us?"
Jeremiah swallowed. "You'd kill me," he said.
Penelope put the candle back in Jeremiah's hand. He stared at it, face slack.
"Come on," said Penelope. "Come with me. I need you for something else."
Jeremiah looked unsure.
"Phillip and Andrew are in the parlor," said Penelope. "They can wait. I need you to come with me. We're meeting the captain. I can't find my way in the dark."
She moved down the hall, away from Jeremiah and the light, her long white dress trailing behind her, until she became a patch of white in the gloom. Jeremiah hesitated a moment more, wiping his eyes, and then followed.
In the parlor (How did I get here, thought Amelia?), Phillip and Andrew stood side by side at the window, looking out. It was dark outside, like always, but it was a quiet night as well as dark; there were no drums. Phillip drank scotch from a thick-bottomed tumbler. Andrew's glass was still full. He pulled on the sleeve of Phillip's coat and all but shouted at him, but Phillip would not look at him.
"It's worse," said Phillip. "It's worse every damn night now."
"Phillip," said Andrew, "you have to listen to me."
"We had to lock them in their cabins," said Phillip. "Half of them have run away, and I can't blame them. I wish I could run away too." He looked at Andrew out the corner of his eye. "Do you think we'll ever find them, the slave children? Or do you think they're just..." he made a vague gesture, "...gone? Like the Phantom in the locked room, gone?"
"Phillip, they're dead. The letter said that they're dead," said Andrew. "And more people are going to die unless you listen to me. That letter you got this morning, what did it say?" He leaned in. "Tell me Phillip, please."
Phillip's voice went flat. "It said that if I don't leave Devereux Manor tonight, by midnight...Penelope will die."
Andrew nodded. "That's what I thought. And that's why you have to listen to me when I say that I know who's behind all this."
Phillip said nothing, but raised an eyebrow, waiting. Andrew swallowed his entire drink in one go. His face turned red. He fussed with his cuff buttons, and Phillip made an impatient gesture again. Andrew sighed.
"It's my father," he said.
Phillip looked at him fully for the first time. His face registered confusion but then, after a few seconds, he broke into a sick grin, and then he began to laugh.
"I'm not joking!" said Andrew, grabbing Phillip's sleeve again and shaking him. Phillip only kept laughing, peels and peels of diseased cackling. Andrew went to the mantle and pointed at the glowering painting of the elder Devereux. "Phillip, I've thought long and hard about it, and it's the only explanation that makes sense. He's angry, Phillip, that you're running the estate differently than he did. You know how he was, how set in his ways, how angry he could get over even the slightest challenge to his authority?"
Phillip poured himself another drink, snorting. Andrew grabbed the bottle out of his hand.
"You were wrong, Phillip," said Andrew. "The Phantom really is a ghost. And the angrier he gets, the more people will get hurt. Please listen to me. Please."
"Even if I believed in ghosts," said Phillip, hoarse, "your father would never do this to us."
Andrew sighed. "You knew him very well, Phillip, but you didn't know him completely. There was another side to him. Did you ever wonder about these?" He indicated the busts of Janus. "He loved the image. It suited him. You only ever saw one face, but there was another. He could be a tyrant when he wanted to. We were afraid of him."
Phillip looked incredulous.
"It's true," said Andrew. "Especially to Penelope."
"That's a lie," said Phillip.
"Damn it, I didn't want to tell you this, but the first time she refused your proposal he beat her black and blue. I thought he would kill her with the way she was screaming."
"That's a lie!" said Phillip, his voice cracking. He stood with his hand in a fist, arm trembling. Andrew waited to see what he would do. Phillip said nothing for a long time. Andrew started to squirm.
"You know Andrew," said Phillip, "a lesser man than me might accuse you of being the Phantom."
Somewhere in the house, a clock chimed midnight.
Andrew gaped. "Me? But --"
"It makes sense, doesn't it?" said Phillip. "You know the house; no one would question it if they saw you prowling around the grounds; and it's only natural that you might resent me after your father willed you such a pittance and left the rest in my care." Phillip grabbed the bottle and took a drink straight from it. "Yes, a man in the grips of that kind of jealousy might do anything. And now you come to me with this cock and bull story about your father's ghost?"
"Phillip, no," said Andrew. "Phillip, I swear, I have nothing to do with it."
"You showed your hired man where the secret doors were," said Phillip, eyes glassy. "And then you pretended to discover them in front of us so that we wouldn't suspect you, right?"
Andrew opened his mouth to speak, but a voice from the doorway caused them both to start. "I'd be careful how you talked to him if I were you, Phillip" said Captain Sidney. "A man in your position needs all the friends he can get."
"How did you get in here?" said Phillip.
The captain limped in, leaving his cane by the door. He had a black leather case tucked under one arm. Jeremiah lurked behind him, wringing his hands, looking queasy.
"Penelope let me in," said the captain. "And then she sent this to look after me, although I kept telling her I don't need the help."
"Penelope?" said Phillip. "She's not supposed to leave her room!" He wheeled on Jeremiah. "You weren't supposed to leave her, you weren't supposed to leave her for a second!"
"And her room has been a safe place for her so far, has it?" said the captain. His face was ashen. "She's there again now, for all it matters. No Phillip, I'm not here for Penelope, I'm here for you. I think it's time we put this Phantom business to bed once and for all, don't you?"
Phillip looked at the darkened window again. "I suppose that means something?" he said. He slurred his words a bit.
"It means I know who the Phantom is," said the captain. "I've known for some time, but I wasn't sure what to do about it. Now I am." He opened the case and let everyone look inside; the red velvet interior held four antique pistols, polished to a shine.
"And what are you going to do with those?" said Phillip.
"Isn't it obvious? I'm going to take you outside and drill a hole in your skull," said the captain, jaw clenched. Andrew dropped his glass. Phillip did not react.
"Why would you do a thing like that?" said Phillip.
"Because you're the Phantom," said the captain, and spit.
Phillip sighed. "I suppose you have some sort of explanation for why that would make any sense at all?"
The captain took one of the pistols, turning it over in his hand. Jeremiah huddled in the corner, watching. "I admit, I didn't expect you to take it this far," said the captain. "I figured you would do just enough damage to your own interests to throw suspicion off of yourself. But you're certainly thorough, I'll give you that. And now that no one would possibly suspect you, it's time to do the deed, eh? Get rid of Penelope, and then you'll have the house and all of her affairs to yourself. Just like you always wanted, isn't that right?"
He hefted the gun. "I knew it was always about the money with you. I knew a callow little piano player wasn't capable of the kind of love that a real man feels for a woman like Penelope. But I didn't think you'd go this far. Well here," he put the gun in Phillip's hand. Phillip's arm dropped to his side, and the pistol hung from his fingers. "You can at least die like a real man."
Andrew stepped forward, ready to speak, but the captain thrust a pistol at him, too. "What do you say, Andrew, will you be my second? If you feel obligated to be his instead, I understand. Family ties and all that. I'll take the nigger for mine." He dragged Jeremiah by the sleeve and pushed a pistol into his hand. Jeremiah looked as if he'd been burned by it.
Phillip's voice became very quiet. "Captain, I would like for you to leave my house."
"I will," said the captain. "And you with me. Twenty paces on the front green, then we both fire. You'll have the advantage, being younger and fit in both legs. You can't say I'm not giving you a fair chance."
"Captain," said Phillip again, "you'll leave alone, and never come back."
"The hell I will!"
Andrew put his hand on the captain's arm, but the captain shook him off. He raised his pistol and pointed it at Phillip's face. Phillip didn't blink. "I'll count to three," said the captain, "and if you haven't taken it outside by then, then we'll settle it indoors. One!"
"Captain Sidney," said Phillip.
"For God's sake!" said Andrew.
Jeremiah recoiled from the scene.
The captain sneered. "So that's how it is? A coward to the end. Fine then. Penelope may hold this against me, but she's the better for it. Maybe Devereux Manor will have a real phantom now, eh?"
Phillip dropped his gun. He squeezed his eyes shut, tears leaking at the corners. The captain cocked the pistol. Andrew screamed "For God's sake!" again, and then the small room reverberated with the deafening crack of the shot. Phillip cried out, and Andrew ducked his head, and the captain stepped back, (Amelia screamed silently) and the air was perfectly still.
When the smoke cleared, Phillip opened his eyes. He put his hand to his chest and realized he hadn't been shot. The captain sank into one of the chairs, gasping, hand on his abdomen, a red stain already soaking through his coat.
Jeremiah's eyes were wide, but his hand was steady as he set the smoking pistol on an end table.
Andrew ran to the captain's side. The captain tried to talk but a bubble of blood came out as soon as he opened his mouth. Phillip took a few seconds to register what had happened, and then he grabbed Jeremiah by the arm, pulling him to the door. Jeremiah nodded at him once and said, "Please sir, you do it."
"Please sir, you kill me," said Jeremiah. "Your wife, she's a cruel woman. If she finds out what I did..." He turned away. "It'll be better if you do it."
"Jeremiah, I want you to listen to me. You're a free man, as of this moment." Jeremiah's mouth fell open. "Take this key and go to my office, you'll find a letter of manumission in my desk, all ready for you. It was going to wait until the end of the year, but as things are now..."
"But the captain?" said Jeremiah.
"That's nothing for you to worry about," said Phillip. "After all, I shot him. Didn't I?"
Jeremiah shook his head. "No sir, I can't let you --"
"I shot Captain Sidney," said Phillip. "To defend myself in my own home, I shot him. One white man to another. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Jeremiah clenched his jaw, but nodded.
"This other key on the ring opens the safe; there's cash inside. Take as much as you want, as much as you feel safe carrying, and then take whichever of the new horses you like from the stable, and then you ride, Jeremiah. You ride as far away from Devereux Manor as you can before the sun comes up, and you never look back." Phillip closed Jeremiah's fingers around the key ring. Jeremiah only stared at his closed fist for a moment, until Phillip said, "Go!", and Jeremiah wheeled around and ran.
"Phillip," said Andrew, from the others side of the room, "we'll need a doctor."
"I'll fetch one," said Phillip. "The nearest is --" He stopped as he turned around. The windowpane, black as ink all night, was now cast with an eerie orange glow. He ran to it. "Good God!" he said. Andrew joined him, and they both saw the fire raging.
"The cabins; the slaves!" said Andrew.
"We locked them in to keep them from running away," said Phillip. "Barricaded the doors, boarded the windows; my God, they'll burn alive!"
Before either man could say anything more they heard the scream. As one they turned, the captain included, and all at once they said, "Penelope!"
Phillip stood, torn by indecision. Andrew said, "You check on her, I'll go to the cabins."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to save as many as I can," said Andrew.
"But what about the captain?"
Captain Sidney gasped and gurgled out a few words: "Damn fool...'orry 'bout P--"
Phillip nodded, and Andrew ran for the back door while Phillip rushed to Penelope's bedroom. The door was wide open, and the French doors too, letting the night air in. Already Phillip smelled smoke on the wind. The bedspread was covered in blood, but there was no sign of Penelope. Phillip screamed her name, and when he saw a flutter of movement by the trellis outside he ran toward it, just catching sight of the tattered hem of a grey cape. It was only then that he realized he was holding Jeremiah's gun, still warm from being fired, and he raised the pistol now, shooting blindly at the retreating figure. Almost at the same time there was another pistol crack; the Phantom had returned fire!
Lips pulled back in a snarl, Phillip gave chase. The Phantom ran toward the burning cabins; the cavorting flames silhouetted the peaked roofs and, horrifyingly, the twisting bodies of those who had escaped their homes but were too badly burned to flee the area. The wind changed direction and blew smoke into Phillip’s face, stinging his eyes. Fire was all around him now, fire and blackened buildings and a rain of cinders. Again, just at the periphery of his vision, he saw movement, and again the Phantom fired a shot at him. Phillip shouted, “Where is she? What have you done? Come on you bastard, you think you can fool me twice with that trick pistol? Do you think --”
There was another shot, and Phillip’s body jerked, and the hot pain in his ribs told him that it was not a trick this time; the Phantom’s pistol was loaded. And now Phillip could see him, outlined by the flames, arm raised, flickering light lapping at the barrel of the gun. The Phantom seemed ready to shoot again, but instead turned and ran.
Phillip raised his own pistol and squeezed the trigger, a wild, blind, desperate shot, and he saw the Phantom stagger and collapse, like a felled tree. Had he hit him? Was Phillip really that lucky? He tried to walk, but pain burned every inch of him. He fell to his knees, and then to his hands and knees, and slowly, very slowly, he crawled, his hands turning up the loose earth as he inched toward his fallen nemesis.
The screams from all around him mingled with the crackling flames. The fire was spreading, but there was nothing Phillip could do now. His vision tunneled. If he could just make it a few more feet. He had to know. Had to see. He was dragging himself along the ground like a snake by the time he reached the prone figure of the Phantom. He saw a bloody, smoking hole in the back of the fiend’s head, the fabric of the mask was singed. It had been a lucky shot indeed.
It took everything Phillip had left to roll the body over. He clawed at the mask, weak and feeble. “Come on...bastard...” he said. He rolled the mask up. With some effort, he pulled it off. Smoke obscured his vision, stinging his eyes again. He wiped his hands over the Phantom's exposed face, clearing away the soot and blood. Who was it, damn it, who?
The wind fanned the flames, and sparks rained down on them, and in the hellish illumination Phillip finally saw the Phantom’s face and the sightless, unblinking eyes staring up at him, and then...
He collapsed; weak, helpless, fading. The flames spread around the two bodies, one lying atop the other, and slowly, very slowly, they closed in.
Amelia was awake. Or had she ever been dreaming at all? She realized how cold she was, and then she realized that she was standing outside, in her garden, naked except for the motel towel still. She jumped and ran, bare feet turning up loose garden soil. When she reached the outer wall of the house, she looked back at the spot she’d been standing; the same spot she’d seen Phillip collapse on in her dream. Phillip and...
She was not surprised that the doors of the house were all unlocked, though she’d locked them before she left. She was also not surprised to find the lump of gold in her hand. Least surprising of all was the piano music, that same sonata, filling the whole house. She followed it to the storage room. The door was open, and the room was full of light. Amelia almost paused in the doorway, but instead she walked right in. Phillip was waiting for her, of course.
He scooted over on the bench and she sat beside him, watching his fingers move over the old, dusty keys. She held the towel around herself, and paid attention to his face as he played. When the last note sounded, he opened his eyes and looked at her. She smiled a little.
“It’s a beautiful piece,” she said.
“Thank you,” said Phillip. His voice was a bit hollow, just as his features were a little blurry. “I’ve been practicing it for a long time.”
Amelia set the gold lump on the piano. “You gave this to me.”
“Yes,” said Phillip. "To help you see what I wanted to show you."
He nodded. “Memories,” said Phillip. “Memories of the house, mostly. And some of mine.”
Amelia indicated the melted jewelry. “Your wedding rings. Both of them, fused together in the fire.”
“Why did she do it?” said Amelia.
Phillip sighed. “To hurt me, maybe. To get back at me for not loving her the way she wanted. Maybe just as a way to escape. I think she meant to run off with the captain, if she’d gotten away with it. I doubt he would have agreed. I don’t think he had a thing to do with it really, now.”
“How did she do it all? She was in her room the first night, when the trellis fell?”
“She planted the mask before I came in,” said Phillip. “And she forced Jeremiah to wait outside and knock the trellis over at the right time. That’s why she beat him so badly the next day; to make sure he kept quiet. He didn't know what she was planning, and he didn't dare warn the rest of us after that.”
“But the trunk, and the weights?”
“She was always stronger than she looked,” said Phillip. “There was not much weight on the trunk, remember? She ran to her room from the pantry and changed out of the costume while we were still breaking the door down. Then she put on just enough weight to still be able to open the lid halfway and squeeze inside. We assumed from the shoddiness of the setup that we’d caught ‘le Fantome’ in the act."
He sighed, and then put his face in his hands. Amelia wanted to put her arms around him, but somehow it seemed respectful to just let him cry instead. “God I loved her,” said Phillip. “I loved her more than I even knew how.”
“Did she love anything?"
"I don't know," said Phillip. His eyes were red. "I don't know."
He tapped out a few empty notes on the keys. Amelia followed his fingers with hers, but when she touched a key it drew forth only silence. Phillip straightened up after a time, brushing the cuffs of his coat with both hands. “Well, what do you suppose we all shall do now?” he said.
"I have no idea," said Amelia. "What about the Phan -- what about Penelope? She's still here. She brought me back."
"I know. I try to keep her pacified by playing. It helps sometimes, like the drums. But only sometimes. In truth, I don't know what to do about her. I can't leave, and neither can she, and now that you're here she probably won't let you leave either. That's why I thought you deserved to at least know why all this was happening to you. And also because..." he trailed off.
He smiled a little more. "Well, I guess I just wanted you to know. About me. I've been here a long time, and you are a very beautiful woman, after all..."
Amelia blushed and looked away, pulling the towel tighter around her. She shifted in her seat, uncertain what to say for a second. Then: "Phillip?"
“Will you play again?” She leaned against him a little, putting her head on his shoulder. He was cold to touch, but she didn't mind. “It’s such a beautiful song.”
Phillip smiled more. “If you like. It seems I’ve been playing requiems for so long now, I barely remember anything else. But I’ve never forgotten this.”
And he played, and the music passed through the walls, and the floors, and the ceilings, and the eaves, and became a part of the house. Because the house never belonged to anyone, or anything; everything became a part of it. It was a house unto itself, and would remain that way. And the song went on and on, throughout the night. Always.