We were poor, living on pasta and potatoes, when the call came. A miracle job, my husband hired as caretaker for a decrepit estate on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River. The rich, absentee owners let us live in the old carriage house, one of eight buildings that made up the complex. Except for us, the vast, decayed estate was abandoned.
New to town, we heard rumors about the estate: once a Catholic missonary, once owned by a Civil War general, once bought by an alcoholic turkey hunter, once an orphan home for boys. Some boys didn’t do well, we heard. Their bodies buried under slabs of concrete, burned in the firepit, their bones thrown to coyotes in the hills. They disappeared without a trace.
Through dark walkways that led off into shadowy rooms, our little carriage house connected to other buildings. We heard they were dormitories, school rooms, changing stations. We heard motherless sons slept here.
One afternoon, the wind off the bluff echoing through the untended rooms, I heard the sound of laughter. Small children’s voices? Was it just wind? Or was there someone outside? I got up from my desk and listened.
I took hold of my fear, unlocked the connecting door to the outer walkway with all its dark passages, and crept down the hall. Numbers still painted on doors, I wondered about the boys. Were they really torn limb from limb, as one neighbor said? I entered a room and slowly opened the door to a closet.
|Drawing by Jean-Marc Superville Sovak|
Fully dressed bodies of children lay on the floor. I jumped back, stifling a scream. I turned and ran for my husband, working on the property.
When we came back, he went straight to the closet and picked up a body, its limp limbs hanging over his arms. Suddenly I felt foolish, looking at it all floppy.
“It’s a doll,” he said. He tried very hard not to smirk. The ‘bodies’ were only well-dressed, children-sized dolls, left by some lonely orphans who might have been thinking of their lost parents as they lay alone in their cold beds.
Anything scary happen to you lately?