The Bruce Mansion
by Edward Reubens
It was not right that our future should be taken away from us like this. It was not right that I would live a lonely, pathetic life. It was especially not right that Gwynn would live no life. When her mother left the room, I decided then and there that I loved Gwynn enough to release her from her immobile existence.
Here I get to say it was a dark and stormy night as it had been all day. So it was that with tear-soaked lips I kissed as gently as I could the breathing corpse of my Gwynn for the last time.
I removed her pillow from under her head and placed it on her sleeping face. Forcing the pillow down with all my weight, making sure to fill her air passages as much as I could with the deadly cushion, I suffocated my beloved.
I packed her over my shoulder, and exited the same way I entered. Creeping my way through the night, surrounding myself with all forms of shadows and darkness, I made my way to the keep of the Bruce Mansion.
I snuck in through the usual way of the back door and headed for the cellar. I had no more fear of it. I belonged there. The room full of people no longer paid me notice; I was one of them now.
Laying Gwynn beside me on the hallowed earth, I dug her grave. In the darkness and in a highly frenzied emotional state, I did the best I could, but of course I didn’t really know what I was doing when I started my gruesome labors.
So were it not for the sudden terror I felt that shook my existence into uncertainty, I would have welcomed the suggestion from the unseen source that said sadly, “Dude, it’s not long enough.”
Immediately following the words, James lit his lantern. While my eyes were stunned by the light, and my body still shaking with fright, he stated, “They’ve been telling me what you’ve been doing. They can totally see you. It’s, like, too short.”
“They’re here now?” I asked
“Yeah, they’ve been totally keeping me company all week. They’re the ones that, like, told me you opened this place up, and all. Thanks, Dude. Oh, and, Dude, while you’re digging, could you make two of those holes?”
James spoke matter-of-factly about the business, but as for me, I was uncertain as to the gravity of my current situation. After all, it was spooky as hell being in subterranean confines with ghosts, my beloved’s corpse, and the man I blamed for her death.
Nor did his appearance ease my tension. His face was only partially lighted by a kerosene lantern. The prominent features of his white face cast impenetrable shadows on the recessed features, hiding them, and making me wonder in my highly sensitive state if any of those features were really there. I gripped the shovel tightly.
“James,” I began with what must have been audible loathing in my voice.
“Dude, I know what you’re gonna say. You wanna kill me and all. Dude, fine, whatever.”
“James, if you try anything on me tonight, I swear I’ll defend myself until one of us dies. Do you hear me? Do you hear me?!”
“I hear you. Just chill, Dude.”
“So tell me right now,” I spewed, “Tell me here and now, what’s it going to be? Because you can’t possibly understand how you’ve ruined my life. And you can’t imagine how I have sought for your blood these last days. And you will never know how my whole blackened, sickly soul hates you now.”
James voice was as unruffled and as calm as any mortal could be when he replied, “I know. I do know. And, Dude, you will be totally avenged this night, I promise.”
I spoke not a reply for the longest time. As I glared into his shadowed countenance, I fell into a kind of trance, it seemed, while trying to comprehend the dark voids in his face. I wondered if I was not staring into the ethereal personage of a ghost. I wondered, perhaps, if I was not conversing with a dead James Watkins. At length it was I who broke the silence.
“James, do you want me to kill you?”
“Yes,” he replied.
James had been living in the secret room for the last week. His location was so simple I cursed myself for not figuring it out sooner.
Among other activities which I’ll explain later, James and his love had spent the week racking their brains to think of a way they could be more intimately part of each others’ worlds.
Considering the fact that he was most likely being hunted by the authorities as well as his best friend; and, therefore, facing the prospect of being separated from his love as he served prison time; and feeling poignantly guilty for the devastation to Gwynn and myself, his demise seemed the perfect solution.
James, therefore, did not look upon death with the least degree of dread, sadness, or fear. He embraced the idea. So it was not out of cowardice or lack of ideas on how to commit suicide that he asked me do the honors. It was his way of being with his woman and giving me some satisfaction for Gwynn’s death.
What a guy!
Besides, he needed someone present to make sure his death wasn’t botched. I gladly accepted, and dug a second grave that very hour.
When I buried Gwynn, daylight was not far away, which was convenient as James felt daybreak would be a good time to die. We marched upstairs together.
Entering Norma’s bedroom, I found that James had punched two holes in the ceiling on either side of a very suitable rafter over which he strung a rope. He had readied a very respectable noose by way of a stepladder which was still underneath it. When I questioned as to whether the apparatus was high enough and sturdy enough, James assured me with unusual confidence that it was.
“How do you know?” I asked.
“Dude, how do you think Norma’s brother killed himself?”
“What?” I asked as if taken aback, thought it really didn’t surprise me in the least.
“Yeah, Dude, this very rafter.”
Supposing the height to be satisfactory, I watched my best friend climb the ladder and sit on its top rung.
He placed the noose around his neck, and said, “Dude, sorry about Gwynn.”
Something happened at that moment. I was finally able to understand James’ feelings for his girl. I thought I had before, but I now know I did. It was real and it was profound. I believe it eclipsed even my deep feelings for Gwynn. He was no longer James my goofy friend anymore. He was a man. My friend James, the boy who once asked me if the sun comes up in the west on the other side of the planet, was a man capable of true, selfless, chivalrous love and accepting all responsibilities and consequences of it.
I grabbed onto the ladder and yanked it free. I let go, it tipped over, my friend dropped not quite the entire distance to the floor, and he died.
Motionless I simply stared at him. Was I satisfied? Was I regretful? Did I feel anything? I’m still not sure. I don’t know why his body fascinated me so, but for about one hour I just stared at him.
He had a knife on the bed stand for me which I used to cut him down. I packed him down to his grave and buried him. After finishing my work, I quitted the house, careful to cover all tracks.
For the rest of the week I was repeatedly questioned about my friends James Watkins and Gwynn Crosby. The police needed any clue they could get to discover what had been done to them, and I seemed to be the only link.
Though the callouses and blisters on my hands earned from hours of continuous digging seemed like very incriminating evidence to me, they went without notice among the law enforcement.
Nevertheless, with James going catatonic earlier in the month and Gwynn paraplegic, there was definitely a mystery to be solved.
The truth, obviously, was far beyond believability, so I refrained from telling it. Instead, I sweated it out. I knew I was the primary suspect, but I also knew they had no motive, weapons, or even bodies.
Still, that pretty much leaves me as the solitary remainder of breathing characters in this story.
Over this past year, I have continued with my studies — and near graduation as I write this — all the while pondering if it is worth making an effort to gain some sort of hope in my lifetime.
What kind of hope? Any kind; I was devoid of all.
Eventually, I came to the conclusion there was nothing left to live for. My untimely death seemed very fitting somehow, and the only thing stopping me from doing it immediately upon my concluding to do it immediately, was the nagging question, “Did James do it? Did he accomplish eternal arrangements to be inseparably side by side with his one true love?” Four nights ago, I broke into the Bruce Mansion for the last time.
I have been here three full days where, through repeated visitations of James, Norma, Gwynn and most all the gang, I have determined enough to satisfy me. So now, before I sign off for good, I will relate to you the last of the facts as I know them.
Shortly after Jonathon Bruce Jr. arrived in Waitsburg and entered into his mother’s home, he went crazy. His mother had written to him about his sister and her romance as if she were still alive. In fact, Jonathon had assumed that by now his sister was probably married to the man.
Even upon arriving he was never told of her death. Instead, he was told such things as “Your sister should appear any moment now”, and “She will probably be bothered again by that overbearing Mr. Waits who won’t take no for answer.”
Imagine his surprise that night when Norma and Henry did their little posthumous routine for him. Not being able to find a way to reconcile this household with reality as he knew it, and being talked into it by his sister, he hung himself from a rafter in her room.
Upon reflection, apparently, he regretted that decision. So when his mother suggested they try a ritual possession, he was game. When her boy-servant was sleeping, Mrs. Bruce tied him to his bed and killed him trying to force her son’s spirit into him.
At that point Mrs. Bruce felt at a loss. She seemed to be the only one left with animated flesh. With tremendous effort for a girl her age, she shuffled the corpses of her son and servant downstairs into the parlor and positioned them in chairs as if they were sitting. After situating herself in her own comfortable seat facing the boys, Mrs. Bruce took her own life by consuming the arsenic solution the townspeople found next to her.
A century or two passed. Jonathon’s ghost had not been seen since his possession attempt, which is to this day a great source of sorrow for his loved ones. I can only hope he found his way to join the only truly peacefully rested family member, his father.
The rest of the disembodied household continued their way of life until the present day. It was in the spring of last year that on a particularly stormy evening as Norma was strolling about the front porch, she spied James at the gate staring at her. She blushed and went back inside to tell her mother. He seemed very handsome.
When he showed up in her bedroom a short spell later, she was delighted. One thing led to another, and they determined that they needed to be together forever. Figuring they knew what went wrong with son Jonathon’s mishap, they decided, in an effort to be together, to try the ritual again. They decided to possess Gwynn’s body with Norma’s spirit.
James made a surprise visit to her house. When she noticed he was not quite himself, she assumed he was still suffering the effects of his unexplained episode a few weeks back.
Apprehensively, she followed him into the Bruce house and he conked her on the head. He then carried Gwynn’s beautiful, innocent, and unconscious body up the stairs like Igor with his quarry. Himself seemingly unconscious, he opened the door of the room and laid her gently on the bed. Present were Norma and her mother.
The ritual had been rehearsed and memorized by everyone present. I know not the procedure, nor do I care to know it. It suffices me to know it was evil, and that it took my beloved from me.
I also know the results of the ordinance. Norma’s spirit successfully entered Gwynn’s body for a time. The possessed flesh of my dear Gwynn arose from the bed, opened its eyes and said, “James, we are one.” James rushed to embrace her, but could not make it to her outreach before a horrifically violent seizure occurred.
As Gwynn explained it to me last night, her spirit self had somehow awoken within her, and began struggling to expel the invading spirit. The battle between the two appeared ferocious to James who stood helplessly watching Gwynn’s body wrench and twist and buck beyond that which her poor frame could bear. When the fight was over, beautiful Gwynn was left paralyzed from a snapped spine, like the mute servant-boy, and the possession failed.
The experiment being unsuccessful, James and Norma were left heartbroken and Gwynn was left without movement of any kind. After a highly emotional discussion, the two lovers concluded to apprise me of their folly.
James passed the week in the secret cellar and kept himself busy by removing Mrs. Bruce and her son from the cemetery and reinterring them in the basement.
The means by which he accomplished the grave robbing was explained to me in detail with a request that I finish the job. You see, the mute still remained in the graveyard and Mrs. Bruce insisted he not be. I have complied, and the basement is now full.
At the end of that week, as you know, I found James. He made the death pact with me, we did the deed, and he is, I’m pleased to report, existing happily ever after with his love, and I have forgiven him all his trespasses against me.
As for Mr. Waits, the whereabouts of his soul is a mystery. I’m told he has not appeared since James died. I will only say, that once in this past three days, as I entered the semi-awake state of a sleeper just before his eyes open, I heard a man sobbing. I know it was not James.
So there it is. Now you know. It was I who killed Gwynn and James. Yet, am I not the victim? And here I sit, having had nearly a year to process the whole affair. In doing so, it has become clear to me that I suffer one of the rare wounds that time never can heal. I hope to change that.
I came into this room in absolute despair, but I will leave this world with beaming hope. For after what I have experienced, heard, and been promised the last three days, I fully intend to be with my love again after this night.
I would like to leave behind Mrs. Bruce’s diary, but I have not seen it since the night I tried exploring the cellar. The damaged bedroom doorknob, and the basement graves are the only evidence besides my testimony to these events. They should all be studied with an open mind. I, myself, have attempted to do just that.
Contemplating the sheer incredibility of this tale, I must consider it is possible that none of this ever really happened. It’s possible that these events are merely the concoction of a mind deprived of a true sense of reality. It’s possible that my friends died for nothing, and it’s possible that there are no ghosts in this house.
Believe as you wish.
Copyright © 2012 by Edward Reubens