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As of 28 February 2016, due to decline in my health and chronic illness

Thursday, January 24, 2013

"The Henry House": Part I_January 15, 2013 Short Story Challenge

January 15, 2013 Writing Prompt:

Three neighborhood teens watch quietly as a long black limo rolls to a stop in front of an abandoned house."

Jackie, Carl, and Alan had spent this Friday afternoon at Henry Park, at the edge of town just adjacent to the Henry Woods. Today had been a Teacher In-service Training day, so all the students had been treated to a four-day weekend, since Monday would be official Columbus Day and the local schools were closed for that too. They hadn’t taken their bikes because Jackie’s mom had dropped them off on her way to the city to lunch with a prospective client, so now at nearly dusk they were trudging back home, pleasantly tired but also high from the excitement and fun of the day. None of the three wanted the day to end, and so instead of walking down Walton Street which would lead directly to their neighborhood, Three Hills, they decided to first walk North and then turn West on Hardiman Road, a tree-lined, over-hedged street on the North edge of town.

Back in the latter quarter of the 19th century here in Towson, a great-great-grand of the Henry Family, a logging baron, had erected a three-story Gothic residence on a dirt road which later became the paved Hardiman Road in the 1920’s. Several generations of Henrys lived there, and the house, which was brooding and overbearing, was probably considered spooky even when it was first built. Although this original Henry was an entrepreneur, still he was reclusive and kept his family isolated, the children being tutored at home and his spouse seldom seen. It was even rumoured back then that Caleb Henry had produced his children by immaculate conception: his own. The Henry Family owned all the property on Hardiman Road and the forest to the East, extending for several miles. Even though a recluse, Caleb contributed to the renovation of the County Courthouse in downtown Towson, and his grandson Walter, boen in the 1920’s, deeded Henry Park and the adjacent forest to the City at his demise in 1990, as he had left no known heirs.

Walter Henry’s Will also provided for property taxes in perpetuity on the seven acres enclosing his residence, with the stipulation that the house never be sold, but be allowed to fall into eventual disrepair and then be razed. Nearly 23 years later (Walter had passed in March of 1990, and it was now mid-October 2012), the house still stood, showing not too many signs of collapse. Certainly leaves covered the grounds every wall, the sidewalks went uncleared of snow in the winter, and the city had to trim the front hedges because those were near to the street and not actually on the Henry estate. But the residence itself persevered, standing intact. Not even a shingle was lost in the Big Wind of 1998; no local truants threw rocks at the windows (though the abandoned knitting mill 5 miles east of town was definitely a different story for vandalism), so that passersby, who were few, could see the Henry home intact as it had always been for over 135 years. Imaginative passersby might even speculate that the home was still inhabited!

Alan, Carl, and Jackie knew better of course; like other kids, they had been warned to stay away, not because of any supposed hauntings, but because of the dangers of any abandoned building: roof collapse, weak flooring, broken porch boards, nails, etc. These three were decent boys and not ruffians (like the kids that busted windows and knife-gouged doors at the abandoned knitting mill) and so they left the Henry House well enough alone; in fact, they seldom even thought of it, and the only reason that this evening they would pass it was to take the longer route to their neighborhood in order to extend the day. They had slept till 10 this morning, and would tomorrow; on Sunday Jackie would be up earlier to attend Mass with his mother, but Monday would be another sleep-in day. It wasn’t quite like summer, it wasn’t even as good as Christmas break, but a four-day weekend was nothing to waste! And so they acted to extend this day.

       Ambling around the corner from Woods Road onto Hardiman Road, the three boys laughed, joked, gently punched each other, and generally acted as decent thirteen-year-olds from good families do. These boys had, gratifyingly, missed out on the substance abuse and alcohol consumption too often found in high schools and middle schools these days. They weren’t backward, they simply were more like children of the 1940’s or 1950’s then of the rowdy early 21st century. In fact, they probably could have been transplanted back into the 1920’s, for these were boys who could find gentle fun in bicycling, climbing trees, building treehouses and forts in the woods, and playing softball. They didn’t require the constant stimulation of video games, computers, and TV, although each of the families did have all those items in their homes. Alan and Carl came from two-parent families. Jackie’s mother was a single parent, although by widowhood rather than by design: his dad, a civilian engineer, had been killed in Iraq.

Hardiman Road ran for about the equivalent of six blocks, from Woods Road on the East until Towson Trees Avenue on the West, but the only residence on it was the Henry House, which sat about a quarter of a block West of Woods Road. Except for a section East and South of the home that had been lawn, the road was fully wooded on both sides, and so seldom used by traffic that the boys felt perfectly safe walking in the center of the road. Jackie was telling a joke he had heard at school yesterday in the cafeteria and all three were laughing when suddenly they were startled by an automotive horn! All three spun around and saw just behind them, nearly close enough that the bumper kissed the backs of their knees, an extended limousine, all black, with a darkly-tinted windshield. Jackie waved a half-apology, and all three rushed to the North side of the road, where they stood ankle-deep in leaves and watched the limo pass. Every window on the passenger side, and the rear window too, had midnight tint, and the gloss black paint shone and sparkled even though little sunlight penetrated the canopy of trees overhanging the street—it was almost 7 PM, and the boys needed to hurry on to reach home before dinner time, a fact that they had conveniently overlooked until now. But they stood stationary on the side of the street, watching as this incredibly fancy machine slowed, and then pulled to a stop in front of---the Henry Home!

The driver’s door creaked slowly open, and a very tall man clad in black emerged. At least they assumed it to be a man: perhaps a little boyish chauvinism on their part, and the individual was so tall, slender, wearing a black peaked cap (like a World War II SS officer, thought Jackie, the adventuresome reader of the group), and a chauffeur’s uniform, all spit and polish. Atop his nose were shiny mirrored sunglasses, and these were fixed into an unsmiling and thin-lipped glare at the three boys, who suddenly decided that maybe the long route home was not the best route, and sprinted to their left and back toward Woods Road, sneakers pounding toward Walton Street, where they could corner right and be in their own neighborhood in ten more minutes, safely inside the confines of their families.

At least that’s what Jackie, Carl, and Alan expected to do: run East on Hardiman, South on Woods Road, West on Walton and then corner left to Tremont Avenue, their home street. That’s exactly what they thought they were doing; but they came to realization that they were not at home, they weren’t racing along the surface streets of the town, they weren’t even moving: they were confined, chained wrists and ankles, in a stone-walled cellar room—located deep below the Henry House.

[to be continued—Part Two begins with January 24, 2013 Prompt]

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