The Bruce Mansion
by Edward Reubens
|part 3 of 4|
Just then the pounding ceased. James looked back at the door. When he turned again, they were gone. However, he could still hear voices downstairs. Suddenly, the lights came on, and someone marched upstairs and shouted, “This is the police. Show yourself now!”
James opened the bedroom door. Sleep-deprived, disheveled and ramped-up, James surely looked like a madman on the verge of a mental collapse or a universe-altering discovery. “It’s me,” he stated tranquilly.
His appearance must have alarmed the officer, as he immediately asked, “Are you all right, son? The neighbor reported shouting.”
“I’m all right.”
“You sure? They said the shouting was pretty heavy.”
James asked, “How many people did they hear shouting?”
“Well, just one voice. Yours, I guess. That’s all we heard, too. But unless you’re an idiot, you had to be yelling at someone. Is there someone else here?”
“No, dude, I’m an idiot.”
After further questioning, James claimed to have broken in on a dare and was yelling at his friends outside who were throwing rocks at the window trying to scare him. Impressively quick thinking, I’d say. He did not give away who the friends were, and the police didn’t really care. He was taken to the station and questioned further. He was not detained. That’s how law enforcement works in a small town.
After having just promised to never break into any place again, James broke back into the Bruce house. He returned to his bedroom and waited in the dark. All was silent. When daybreak arrived an hour later, James figured he’d better depart. He looked around the room for one final check, and that’s when he saw it.
On the nightstand, there sat a book. James picked it up. It had a leather cover and was bound. He opened it and read the title page. In large and elaborate handwritten script, it read, “Diary of Winona Bruce.” The following pages were dark yellow and quite brittle, and the entries matched the handwriting of the title page.
James took the book, walked to my house, related to me all that happened, and promptly crashed. This left me alone amazed, bewildered, and with a diary. With a mild feeling of imposition, I took it and read it from cover to cover. Let me warn you here, this just gets weirder and weirder.
According to the diary, on the night of Norma’s burial, Norma visited her mother. Unlike James, Mrs. Bruce apparently could speak to and hear Norma. Mother-child bond perhaps.
Norma told her mother that she had been with her and father ever since she died on the ship to Portland. She had traveled alongside them for the remainder of the move and had been wondering why her mother did not respond to her as before. Mrs. Bruce indicated she had not heard until now.
They discussed Norma’s funeral and how she watched the three bodies look over her grave. She asked her mother who the other man was, and her mother explained that he was a long-time friend of the family, Henry Waits. Norma asked if he was the man who influenced them to move. Mrs. Bruce answered and so on and so forth.
In this manner, Mrs. Bruce and her daughter engaged in small talk for the next few nights. Mr. Bruce, from what we could tell, never knew of these conversations. Norma was either unwilling or unable to communicate with Jon.
It didn’t matter though, as Mr. Bruce was not long for this earth. The foundation of the new home was barely laid before the consumption got the better of him. When the house was built, Norma insisted her body be exhumed with her father’s and both reburied in the cellar of the new house.
To accomplish this, Mrs. Bruce hired a manservant. The boy had been born into poverty and without the capacity of uttering sound. His parents were far too eager to sell, that’s right, sell, the boy to the wealthy Mrs. Bruce.
Mrs. Bruce thought herself lucky in the exchange as she acquired resident manpower that could not scream at ghosts or tell other people of the goings-on in the house. Though the boy was illiterate, he was a fast learner and game for just about anything, including grave-robbing. He dug two quality graves in the basement before setting to work at the cemetery.
When the bodies had been re-interred, and Norma was satisfied with everything, it occurred to her mother to ask her why she was not in heaven. Norma did not know, she only knew she wanted more than anything to grow up a normal girl and experience all the things a normal girl would experience. She wanted to have tea parties with ladies and wear pretty clothes. But most of all, she wanted to fall in love, and perhaps have a family of her own.
Her mother, being filled with compassion upon these notions, cried a great deal and vowed to help her daughter experience all that she could.
Interestingly enough, love did happen, and in a triangular fashion. First of all, the mute loved Norma. It is hard to tell, though, if it was a romantic love or a general familial love. One of her most endearing qualities, I’m sure, was the uncanny fact that she could communicate with him as freely as any two audible beings do. Somehow his unvoiced words were clear to her.
Anyway, it is clear that she thought of him as a brother and the household was just one happy family comprised of a wacko widow, a mute and a dead girl.
Well, the widow went on to fantasize her daughter being wed to the most prominent man in town: city founder and namesake, Henry Waits. She arranged for them to be introduced. Yes, it is as far-fetched as it sounds. Mrs. Bruce records Henry as leaving in a hurry just after meeting her daughter. Go figure.
But, as we have personally seen, Norma has an enchanting affect on men. It wasn’t long before Henry came calling. The first night, Norma was upstairs in her room. When Henry was let into the home, the mute boy walked upstairs, knocked on her door and informed her she had a suitor. Norma went downstairs and, being chaperoned by her mother, entertained Mr. Waits in the parlor.
Unlike the mute and Mrs. Bruce, however, Norma could not be heard by Henry. Mrs. Bruce was called upon to relate her daughter’s thoughts, and feelings to Mr. Waits. The inconvenience was of no consequence, he fell pretty hard. Henry began to call as often as he could.
Mr. Waits, not finding it expedient that his affair should be publicly known, came calling just after midnight. Each visit was the same. He was let in, the mute would walk upstairs and inform Norma, and she would come down to entertain her guest. We believe Mr. Waits to be highly successful at keeping his visits covert. No one, as far as we could tell, ever recorded seeing or knowing someone who saw Mr. Waits enter or exit the Bruce Mansion.
Unfortunately for our boy Henry, Norma was not so stricken with him. The day he offered to marry her was the day he discovered his love was unrequited. Not only did she turn him down, but she asked that he never come calling again. He left.
The next week probably saw Mr. Waits degenerating in his home. After long hours of self-deliberation he apparently concluded to get very angry. He picked himself up and marched himself to the mansion.
After being let in, he insisted on seeing Norma. Dutifully, the mute walked upstairs and knocked on the door. Norma, knowing full well who was waiting for her, did not answer. The boy walked back down the stairs, looked at Mr. Waits, shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.
Henry, clearly spurned, became vile and stomped his way up the stairs. Knowing exactly which room was hers, he began pounding on the door and shouting. He pounded and pounded. He pounded so hard that his knuckles began to bleed. He shouted obscenities and threats.
He promised to find her bones and desecrate them. He promised to have the house exorcised and burned. He promised that her mother would pay for bringing this curse upon him. He promised a great many things, all politicians do, and all the while pounding on the door. And, like all politicians, he delivered on none of the promises.
The mute killed him.
Clubbing Mr. Waits with an oak rolling pin while he stood pounding on the door shouting horrible threats may have solved an immediate problem, but it was clearly the wrong thing to do. Not ethically, of course, but practically.
You see, even after he did all the painstaking labor of finding a quiet spot to secretly dig a grave and assist the lifeless, heavy-set Mr. Waits into it, the very next night, Mr. Waits came back. He came back the night after that.
As far as the journal was kept — up to a month later — he was still coming back nightly. He has probably done so ever since. For at least a month, the household of the Bruce Mansion consisted of one wacko widow, a mute, a dead girl and the disembodied spirit of the town founder and namesake terrorizing them all.
I closed the journal. James was still asleep, but clearly this had to be investigated. That night, I introduced myself to breaking and entering.
Once inside, I searched out the entrance to the basement. It was not easy, and, I dare say, could not be done without the aid of the diary. A small pantry room adjoining the kitchen contained an ingeniously concealed false floor. I doubt the Historical Society itself knows of its existence.
With some effort, the floor could be lifted and placed aside. I marched down a set of ladder-steep stairs, switched on the lamp I had packed, and stood still. There was not any particular thing out of place, but a sudden fear gripped me nonetheless.
Despite there being no movement or sound, I immediately felt unwanted, as if a roomful of people had stopped their conversations to stare at me. The harrowingly empty room began to fill with anger. I had no idea of the size of the room, but I had lost all my desire to explore. I wanted nothing more than to retreat, but I couldn’t. I was petrified!
Tears began to flow as I realized my legs were unwilling to comply and uproot themselves, and the darkness surrounding the lamp light could have housed any possible nightmare. I knew, I just knew the people I imagined were starting to approach me.
It took all my will to command my legs to move. Finally ambulatory, I ascended the stairs on uncontrollably shaking legs. So fearful was I that something would follow me, I did not dare turn my back to the room. Back in the kitchen, hands quaking, I replaced the floor and left the evil house, supposing I would never return as long as I lived.
Enter Gwynn Crosby. Gwynn, as most of the town knows, was a beautiful midnight-haired, shiny-faced, daughter of the owners of the town motel. I fell in love with her the first time I saw her, three years ago. We have been going out for two of those years. Anyone who knows me knows her and how much I care for her.
I had not spoken a word of these bizarre happenings to her except to ask if she believed in ghosts. She said no. I took it no further.
Knowing that James had been in the hospital, she would ask from time to time how he was and if the doctors had discovered the cause. I told her he seemed fine and that no one knew what had happened.
Of course, I wish now I had been more specific. I wish now I had told her everything about James. I wish she had been so freaked out by what I told her that she would have stayed away from James for the rest of her life. Unfortunately for her, I kept silent.
The best I can figure, is that it was Friday that James and Norma decided to take Gwynn’s life from her. It was the following week that they succeeded.
James had spent every night since Monday at the Bruce house talking with the Bruces. Each night their relationship progressed, and they spent quality time discussing various and precious sentimentalities. Each night they were rudely interrupted by Henry Waits pounding on the door. And, each night they left each other with a promise that they would find a way to be together forever.
Sitting at home wide awake in the early hours of the morning, I was surprised to be visited by James. He came around to my bedroom window and rapped upon it vigorously. I welcomed him in, but knew instantly things had not gone well with his lover this night. Tragically, I was right.
With the grimness of a funeral director, he stated, “Dude, I’m sorry, you’d better come with me.”
I took no time to ask questions. I understood the immediacy innately. We took my car and raced to the mansion. Taking me upstairs, James opened the infamous bedroom door and laid before my eyes a scene of sheer horror. Lying on the bed was my darling Gywnn, motionless and bleeding.
“She’s breathing,” he stated.
I vaguely remember stuttering something like, “I will never forgive you for as long I’m alive,” and rushing down the stairs and out the entrance.
I sprinted to the first house I saw and banged on the door, screaming. Then, seizing the front porch rocking chair, I threw it through the window, dashing it to shards. I jumped in, found a light switch and frantically sought a phone. Finding one, I summoned the Waitsburg Volunteer Ambulance service.
By the time the elderly Mr. Kruger made it downstairs to investigate the ruckus in his home, I was on my knees, my head wrapped in my arms, the phone receiver still clutched in one hand and my undone self sobbing quite unbecomingly.
Raising my wet, soppy face to confront him, I saw him look at me, look at his window, and then back at me.
“The front door’s unlocked,” he informed me.
The volunteer ambulance is kept in the fire department precisely one block away in our small town. The on-call volunteers, upon receiving a two-way radio call from the dispatcher, rushed from their homes to the fire department to deploy the ambulance.
By the time I made my way back upstairs of the Bruce mansion, James was gone.
The E.M.T.s found me in a shaken state, gripping tightly the limp hand of my love. They rushed her to St. Mary’s Hospital located in the county seat about 20 miles away. I told the police I had no idea what could have happened to her.
It seemed too heavy a betrayal to name my friend to the police. Though I wanted nothing less than the worst fate to befall him, it wasn’t right to bring the police, an unwanted third party, into this highly personal matter. I would find and deal with James myself.
My love had been rendered paraplegic and slobbering. Confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life, her eyes had rolled to the top of her head where they permanently stared at the ceiling decor.
It was so remarkably heartbreaking to see her in that condition that I did as little as possible. Facilities had been prepared in her home for her special needs, and I returned to her there only once before her final release from life.
I spent all of my time for that duration unsuccessfully searching out James to inflict some sort of foul revenge upon him. To punish with impunity.
At the end of a week, my heart being too full of every variance of sadness and anger that there could possibly be, having nowhere to turn for help in such a bizarre matter, and having no other solution present itself to me, I went to my innocent Gwynn and cried upon her belly as she lay immobile on her bed.
I cried, sobbed, sniffled, and slept on her lap for I don’t know how long. My mental facilities came to adequately working order just before her mother entered the room; and though I was not aware of much of my environment, I knew enough that I was not about leave my Gwynn.
Having come in through my usual entrance of Gwynn’s window, and having not made my presence known to her mother and not feeling it necessary to do so now, I hid myself under her bed for about an hour.
Her mother kept the room dark and just sat for that hour at Gwynn’s bedside holding her daughter’s hand and weeping. During that hour, such a profound feeling of black despair worked itself up inside of me, that I could think of nothing else but the irreparable ruin that had befallen my beautiful Gwynn and myself.
Copyright © 2012 by Edward Reubens