This is an original story. All characters are created by me. If you wish to use any or all of these characters in your own stories, feel free to do so - I only ask that you send me an e-mail with the link to the story if you put it online.
The characters, events, place names and companies depicted in this story are fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, events, places or companies is purely coincidental.
This story refers to a loving relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
NOTES FROM THE AUTHOR
Written September-October 2008.
If you want to get in touch with me, here's my address: email@example.com
- Once again, thank you for your help!
THE FIRST DAY - THURSDAY, OCTOBER 23rd
Hayley Ralston pulled over her stationwagon by the large sign welcoming her to the small town she could see through the windscreen.
'Bensontown, huh? It looks like all other small towns I've ever been to,' she thought.
She opened her attaché-case and checked the street on her hotel reservation. Main Street #4 - that shouldn't be too hard to find.
It wasn't, and before long she parked in front of Lizzie's Hotel. Hayley was glad she had remembered her down jacket, because as soon as she opened the door, a very chilly breeze came rushing in. She shuddered as the wind mussed her short, blonde hair and she pulled the collar even higher. She grabbed the attaché-case from the front seat, and then took a suitcase and the protective bag with her laptop from the rear of the car. She closed the hatchback, and pushed the little button on the remote to lock the doors.
She looked up and down Main Street. Leaves of all colors were flying merrily around the near-deserted street. Looks like Halloween wasn't tourist season here.
She went through the large double doors leading to the lobby. She dinged on the bell on the wooden counter, and soon a heavy-set woman in her early 40's appeared.
"Hello, and welcome to Lizzie's Hotel, Miss. I'm Lizzie Hanson - and you must be Hayley Ralston?"
"That's right. I have reservations for a room," Hayley said and handed the woman the documents.
"Indeed. It's not often we have a celebrity guest staying here, so I've upgraded you to the Honeymoon Suite. No additional cost, of course. I hope you don't mind?" Lizzie said, and smiled.
"Well, no, but the Honeymoon Suite..." Hayley said.
"Oh, don't be fooled by the fancy name, it's just a way of saying it has a king-size bed," Lizzie said and winked at Hayley.
"In that case, how can I refuse," the blonde woman said, and laughed.
"Are you here for business or pleasure?" Lizzie said, as she waited for the computer to process the reservation.
"Business. I'm doing research for a book on supernatural phenomena."
"Oh, that's sounds SO interesting," Lizzie gushed.
"Well, I think it is."
"You're here for 'The Weeping Lady', then?"
"Yes. Yes, I am. Is she well known around here?"
"Oh yes, she's Bensontown's main claim to fame," Lizzie said and laughed.
The computer beeped, and the woman turned her attention to the screen. A printer spat out a page with the confirmation of payment.
"Tell me, Miss Ralston, how does it feel to see your name on top of the bestseller lists?"
"Well, it's... different."
"I'll bet. Here it is, room 412. The top floor. Here you go," Lizzie said, as she handed the key to Hayley.
Hayley put down her bags, and checked out the hotel room. Very nice, with two large windows overlooking the street, a tastefully furnished livingroom, and a small kitchen with all the appliances one would expect in 2008.
She had to laugh when she saw the king-sized bed in the junior-sized bedroom. How on earth they had managed to get that in there, she'd never know. She hung her jacket on a hall-stand next to the door, and went straight over to the radiator to turn the heat up a bit more.
All in all, Hayley was impressed. This was a lot better than what she had expected.
After a brief visit to the bathroom, Hayley plugged her cellphone into her laptop and began the tedious task of wading through her e-mails.
THE SECOND DAY - FRIDAY, OCTOBER 24th
The morning dawned clear and bright, but the wind was still blowing fiercely.
An old man at the town's local newspaper had told Hayley Ralston that she needed to go to the public library for details on The Weeping Lady, so here she was.
As she walked into the library, she was instantly brought back to her childhood. The smell of linoleum and dusty old books was the same no matter which library she visited.
An elderly lady was sitting at a desk, knitting. Hayley decided to cut to the chase, and went straight over to her.
"Hello, Miss, how may I help you?" the librarian said kindly, and put away her handiwork.
"Hello. My name is Hayley Ralston, I'm an author, and I'm currently working on a book about supernatural phenomena. I was told by Mr. Jackson from the newspaper that you have a book about 'The Weeping Lady'?"
"Well... I believe we do. Just a moment, I need to check," the librarian said, and got up from her chair.
A few minutes later she came back with a copy of the book.
"Here it is, Miss. Do you want to lend it, or just read it in our reading room?"
"Just read it, thank you," Hayley said.
"All right, that's right over there," the librarian said, and pointed to a glass door that led away from the main hall.
"Thank you," Hayley said and smiled.
The librarian returned the smile and went back to her knitting.
In the reading room, Hayley put the book down on a table, and pulled out a chair. She opened her shoulderbag, and pulled out a notebook and a box of pencils.
Hayley had been traveling the country for four years, exploring, and some times exposing, the local ghost stories. For some reason, she felt this particular story would be very exciting to get to the bottom of.
She looked at the book. It was made locally, but to a very high standard, and the cover art was very evocative.
She opened it, and looked at the credits page.
'The Weeping Lady - The Tragedy of Jessica and Mary-Ann (c) 1983 Rita van der Zwaan. All rights reserved'
Hayley wrote down the name of the author. If she was still living here, Hayley might get some additional info out of her.
Soon, she became so engrossed in the story that she didn't hear the door to the reading room creak open behind her. Soft footsteps crossed the linoleum, and suddenly somebody cleared her throat right behind Hayley.
"Jesus!" she screamed, and jumped in the air. Her knee connected with the underside of the table, and sent the box of pencils flying.
"Oh dear!" the librarian said, and grasped her chest, just as startled as the author.
"Oh, it's you..." Hayley said, and tried to get her heartrate back to at least human levels.
"I called out your name twice, Miss. I'm sorry I scared you."
"Yes, ok, I... didn't hear..." Hayley said, while collecting her pencils.
"I just came by to see how you were doing... I have a mug of tea for you. Careful, it's hot."
"Oh, thank you! It's an exciting book!" Hayley said, and laughed.
"It is. I knew the author. She was a friend of mine."
" 'Was' ?"
"She passed away. It's a few years ago now," the librarian said, and picked up a stray pencil that had rolled onto the floor.
"I'm sorry to hear that. I have a few questions, so I was hoping to get in touch with her. Perhaps you can answer them, if you don't mind?"
"Well, I don't really know anything about that tragic affair... I'm sorry."
"All right. How do I get to the mansion from here?"
"Take Main Street towards the old mill. Just before you reach it, about three miles out of town, there's a road off to the left called Falconer Drive. You can't miss the mansion once you're there," the librarian said.
"Thank you," Hayley said, and motioned to go back to the book.
"I have to warn you..." the librarian said, and put her hand on Hayley's shoulder.
"... that place really is haunted. I wouldn't go there if I were you!"
"Well, thanks for the warning, but it's my job, so..."
"All right, but don't say I didn't warn you!" the librarian said, and left the reading room.
Hayley shook her head, and chuckled. The tea was still too hot to drink, so she turned to the book; she was soon lost to the world again.
'Most people in Bensontown know about the tragic story, but there's always a new generation growing up who doesn't know what we old folks are talking about. For their sake, and for Jessica and Mary-Ann's sake, here are the main details: At the turn of the century, Mary-Ann Falconer lived in the mansion with her partner. She was ahead of her times, because her partner was a woman, Jessica Quinn - unheard of in those days. One day in late October 1908, Jessica was on a business trip out of state when Mary-Ann had a riding accident. Her horse slipped on some wet rocks, and she was thrown from it. She hit her head on a sharp rock that penetrated her skull. She died instantly.'
"Oh, how horrible!" Hayley said out loud, and picked up the mug of tea. She blew on it a couple of times, and started to sip it.
'Jessica returned a day later, having broken off her trip because she could feel something had happened. They apparently had a connection unlike any I've ever heard of. The popular legend has it that within days, Jessica went insane from the loss, and she killed herself. Fact is that Jessica disappeared without a trace. The police couldn't find any evidence of a crime because her body was never found, but not long after, the first sightings were reported.'
Hayley sat back in the chair and sighed. This was just so sad. Once again she had the feeling that this would be a much more interesting story than the last few she had written about. She sloshed the last few drops of tea around in the mug before emptying it, and read on.
She started to flip through the pages until she found a reproduction of an old sepia-toned photo. Hayley briefly looked at the picture before reading the caption.
'Jessica Quinn and Mary-Ann Falconer, taken on Mary-Ann's 30th birthday, October 15th 1908, ten days before she died...'
Hayley looked closer at the two women on the photo, and suddenly her blood froze to ice.
Jessica Quinn was a tall woman with long black hair, and next to her was a shorter woman, with blonde, flowing hair and sparkling eyes... Hayley's eyes, Hayley's lips, Hayley's cheeks... her own face was staring back at her from the page of the book - in a photograph that was a hundred years old.
"Oh my god..." Hayley whispered in a trembling voice. The empty mug slipped from her fingers and hit the floor, breaking in two.
Hayley insisted on paying $20 to the librarian for breaking the mug, even though the older woman refused the money.
After leaving the bill on the counter, Hayley had left the library in a hurry, anxious to get as far away from the book as possible. She wasn't easily spooked, but seeing her own face in that book had really rattled her.
She walked down Main Street, and found herself outside a small bar. Even though it was barely noon, she needed something to calm her nerves.
It looked like a cozy little place, with soft music playing from a jukebox. A large, bearded man in his late twenties was busy washing and drying glasses, and hanging them on a rack above the bar.
She unbuttoned her down jacket and sat down on a high chair. The bartender came over to her.
"Welcome to Sammy's Bar & Café. What'll it be, Miss?"
He grabbed a bottle and a glass, but stopped before he had poured anything into it.
"Is everything all right, Miss? You're really pale," he said concerned.
"Yeah, I... I'm fine," Hayley said and smiled weakly. How the heck could she explain to the barkeep what had just happened to her.
"Tell you what, how about I make you an Irish Coffee instead? You look like you could need that. I'll guarantee it'll nip any headcold in the bud," he said, and laughed.
"Sounds great, thank you... oh, hold the whipped cream, please." Hayley said.
The percolator started bubbling, and before long, the barkeep put down a large mug of Irish Coffee on the counter.
"That'll be $5, Miss. Enjoy!" he said, and smiled when she gave him a $10 bill.
"Thanks - I will. Keep the change," Hayley said, grabbed the mug, and looked for a table.
The Irish Coffee warmed her from the inside out, and Hayley soon felt better. She picked up her notebook and flicked it to the right page.
She read it again, and again. And then once again for good measure. She had written down the main details from the book on Jessica and Mary-Ann, but they didn't make any more sense now than they had done when she saw them for the first time.
Hayley wasn't a religious woman by any stretch of the imagination, or even superstitious, but there was something at work here that she couldn't explain. She was beginning to feel she had been summoned here. She had chosen Bensontown by putting her finger down randomly on a list of towns with interesting stories... but maybe 'The Weeping Lady' had chosen her instead,
Hayley suddenly got an idea. Instead of running away, she'd do what she came for, and dig deeper into the story. She did enjoy a good mystery, and this one promised to be one of the most intriguing ones she had ever come across. She emptied the mug, and went up to the bar.
"I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name before?"
"Sammy. I'm the owner."
"Hi, Sammy, I'm Hayley," she said, and put out her hand.
"Pleased to meet you. Wait a minute, are you Hayley Ralston? The author that Lizzie hasn't stopped yapping about for the last three weeks?" he said as he shook her hand.
"Yep, that's me," Hayley said and grinned.
"Oh wow. Hey, would you mind signing our celebrity wall?"
"Yeah, it's right over here. Come on!" Sammy said excitedly.
"Whenever there's someone famous in here, I take a picture of them, and ask them to sign somewhere on this wall," he said, and pointed to several autographs spread out across the wall. Some of them were actually pretty big names from the world of sports and entertainment.
"Sure thing, Sammy," Hayley said, and picked up a pen. When she was signing, Sammy found a digital camera, and said...
The camera took the picture, and as usual, the flash almost blinded Hayley.
"It'll be up by this afternoon," he said.
"You print them out yourself?"
"No, my girlfriend works down in the bookstore. They have a top of the line photo printer. It's gonna be great, look, it really caught your sparkling eyes," he said, and showed Hayley the picture on the small display.
A chill ran up and down her spine as she remembered another picture she had just seen of a smiling woman that looked so very much like herself.
Hayley walked up and down Main Street for the next hour and a bit, looking at the sights of the charming little town. It had a very rustic feel to it, and all the buildings were old. It didn't require much imagination to see how the town had looked when Jessica and Mary-Ann had lived here. The cars were new, of course, but nearly everything else wouldn't have looked out of place back then. Hayley couldn't help but wonder if the two women had walked on this exact sidewalk a hundred years ago.
She came to the bookstore and paused to look at the many books. A young woman was busy putting up the usual trinkets for Halloween, and carved pumpkins and little resin witches on broomsticks were prominent in the window.
An idea formed in Hayley's mind. She dearly wanted to solve - or at least explore - this mystery, and what better way to do so but to buy the book about Jessica and Mary-Ann. Hayley usually preferred to do her own research, but such a gift shouldn't be overlooked.
A small bell rang as she opened the door to the bookstore. The young woman came out from a back room to greet her.
"Oh, hello, Miss Ralston! We're so honored to have you in our store!" she said, and put down the cardboard box she was carrying.
"I guess news travels fast, here, huh? You must be Sammy's girlfriend?" Hayley said, and laughed.
"That's right. I'm Becky. We sell both your books, you know! 'Ghostly Tales From Rural America' - they're going well, actually."
"Really?" Hayley said, and couldn't help but smirk.
"They're right over here, if you want to see them."
"Well, I already know how they look like," Hayley said with a grin.
"Of course you do, silly me."
"I actually came to ask if you had Rita van der Zwaan's book about The Weeping Lady...?"
"We do. It's $19.99 hardback, or $10.99 paperback."
"I'll take the hardback, please," Hayley said, and pulled out her wallet.
"It's such a tragic story, don't you think? Is that why you're visiting us? Are you working on a new book?" Becky said, as she put the book into a 'Welcome to Bensontown' carrier bag, and punched in the price on an old cash register.
"Yes to all three. Have you read the book?"
"Yes, many years ago, but I don't really like spooky stories... oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply I didn't like your own books," Becky said and blushed.
"It's all right, Becky, I'm not that vain."
After a hefty dinner in the restaurant adjacent to Lizzie's Hotel, Hayley went back to the Honeymoon Suite and got down to business. She plugged her laptop into the socket, and started her word processor.
She typed in the various items she had written down from the book, and her brain was already working on how to get the most out of this story.
There were two things that needed to be done. 1 - tomorrow she would go to the cemetery and try to find Mary-Ann's grave, and 2... go to the mansion and see for herself if this was all just hearsay, or an actual phenomenon. So far Hayley hadn't actually seen any evidence of an apparition, and while Rita had collected a great deal of reports on sightings for her book, a lot of them had been made by young people, and not all had been sober when it had happened. No, Hayley needed to see for herself.
She did that for all the stories in her books anyway, but the shocking discovery of seeing her own face in a photograph from 1908 gave this particular story more meat on its bones than many of the other ones Hayley had seen over the last four years.
Her cellphone rang, and she got up from the desk to pick it up.
"Hayley Ralston speaking."
'Hi, Hayley, it's Heather'
"Oh, hi. Checking up on me?"
'Yes. That's what editors do to their favorite clients.'
"Sure. What's on your mind?"
'Well, I have to be honest, Hayley. I've been looking at the first three chapters of your new book, and... I'm sorry, they're just not good enough. They need a lot more zip, if you know what I mean.'
Hayley put her hand over the phone and sighed. She walked through the suite, and sat down on the leather couch.
"Zip?" she said a few seconds later.
'Yeah, you know - action.'
"As soon as I meet Count Dracula or the Wolfman, I'll let you know," Hayley said.
'Ha, ha. I hate to tell you this, Hayley, but if you don't find better stories for the rest of the book, this one will barely make the top-15 - and it certainly won't go higher than 12th, 13th.'
"I'm working on an interesting story right now. That might have some zip for you."
'Oh yeah? Where did you go again? Hicksville?'
"Bensontown. I can't give you any details yet, Heather. But it's more spooky than the others. Well, it is to me, anyway."
'Good. It can't get any less spooky than The Ghost Of The Forty-Niner, Hayley. That was just a snoozer.'
"If you say so."
'I do. Listen, I have to go. Break a pencil!' Heather said, and laughed at her own joke. She hung up before Hayley had a chance to make a snappy comeback.
Hayley threw the cellphone down on the couch in disgust. Not enough zip! Zip this, Heather, she thought and chuckled over the mental image. Jessica and Mary-Ann would provide plenty of zip, of that Hayley was certain.
THE THIRD DAY - SATURDAY, OCTOBER 25th
The cemetery wasn't open for visitors until 11 am, so Hayley milled about in the small town. She said hello to a couple of people who recognized her, and she signed one or two autographs. Today was really autumnal. The wind was fierce, and it was overcast. The dark gray clouds looked like they could drop their watery content on the town at any moment.
To fight the cold, Hayley had the collar of her jacket way up to her ears, but it didn't really help. She had bought a pair of gloves in the leather shop, but even so her fingers were frozen.
The small clock on the town hall chimed 11, and Hayley started to walk back to her car. She had a cemetery to visit.
The cemetery was about two miles outside of town. Hayley pulled her stationwagon into the parking lot which was located next to the town's old church. She turned off the engine, and found her notebook. In her notes, she had written down all the details she could find in Rita's book about Mary-Ann's grave. She put the notebook and a digital camera in her pocket, and ventured out into the October cold.
She had a major case of the willies. 'Jeez', she thought to herself, 'I am standing in the middle of a graveyard, surrounded by nothing but dead people!'
She walked among the graves, reading all the names of the generations of people who had found their last resting place there. She soon noticed the Falconer Mausoleum. In fact, she couldn't have missed it even if she had tried. It was a large building set on a separate grassy field, and by the look of it, it was made of some kind of dark green marble.
An old and rusty metal door blocked the opening to the Mausoleum, and there were five plaques prominently placed on the front of the building, telling the world who the people inside had been when they were still alive.
1878 - 1908
1876 - 1917
1842 - 1920
ELIZABETH ANN FALCONER
1851 - 1930
RAYMOND FALCONER, JR.
1870 - 1956
Hayley wrote down the names and dates. Henry and Raymond Jr. must have been Mary-Ann's brothers. The date of death of 1917 for Henry hinted at World War I. It must have been a big loss for Raymond Sr. and Elizabeth to lose another child so soon after their daughter's death.
She tried to move the metal gate, but it wouldn't budge an inch. Hayley had a flashlight on a chain around her neck, so she turned it on and looked inside. She could see five stone caskets placed on stone shelves. Three on one side, two on the other. At the top of the right side, there was an empty space. She briefly wondered who that might have been for. It was impossible to see which one was Mary-Ann's.
She turned off the flashlight, and rubbed her hands together to get some warmth in them. She stepped back a few paces and took several pictures of the mausoleum and its surroundings.
For the last picture, she zoomed in on Mary-Ann's plaque. She couldn't feel any emotional connection whatsoever to the words. It looked like going here had been a waste of time.
No, she needed to get to the bottom of this. And to get there, she needed to go to the mansion - and she needed to meet Jessica Quinn.
After Hayley returned from the cemetery, she connected her camera to the laptop, and started transferring the images she had shot. While that was going on, she settled down in a comfy chair with a cup of hot chocolate from the microwave, and Rita's book.
She went through it carefully, studying all the pictures - she still got the chills whenever the woman that looked exactly like herself was on them - and she slowly began to understand what it must have been like to live back then.
She skipped the foreword she had already read the other day in the library, and went directly to chapter 1.
'This area was much more secluded and rural at the turn of the century. There was a local train line that connected Bensontown to the larger cities, but that closed down when the automobile gained widespread popularity.
The Falconer family moved into the area in 1890, and they quickly became prominent citizens. Elizabeth Ann Falconer, Mary-Ann's mother, was elected to lead the Bensontown Women's Society - a fancy name for what was essentially a knitting and gossiping club.
The Falconers were apparently very well off, as they not only owned the mansion, but also several buildings in the town. Most unusually, the deed to the mansion was transferred to Mary-Ann on her twenty-first birthday, her parents moving out to live in Bensontown. Their house on Main Street was later turned into the movie theater.'
Movie theater? 'Hmmm...' Hayley thought. She hadn't noticed a movie theater when she walked around town. She would have to ask Lizzie about that. Hayley returned to the book.
'Jessica Quinn was first heard of around 1904, when a rumor spread in the town that a strange woman had moved into the mansion.
They were seen many times walking around town arm in arm, or *gasp*, hand in hand, and predictably, it caused a great uproar among the more conservative people living in the town.
The uproar only intensified when it was discovered that Mary-Ann was in fact romantically involved with Jessica, and the local minister had them both banished from his church.'
Hayley rolled her eyes and cursed under her breath, before taking a sip of the hot chocolate.
Rita van der Zwaan went on talking about when the mansion had been built, and she had drawn a very detailed floor-plan of the mansion and the surrounding area, explaining carefully where the various sightings had taken place.
This was the part that really interested Hayley. Rita had been very thorough with the reports, and they were printed in full length in the book. Hayley leafed through some of the clearly exaggerated ones until her eye caught one from 1967 where a police officer had witnessed 'an unexplainable phenomenon' first hand.
'RZ: This recording is made April 3rd, 1983. State your name and occupation, please.
HS: Harry Swenson, Deputy Sheriff, retired.
RZ: When was this event?
HS: An evening in late November, 1967.
RZ: That's nearly sixteen years ago, are you sure you can remember it all?
HS: That event is etched into my brain, ma'am.
RZ: All right. What exactly happened that night?
HS: I was driving home after finishing my shift. As I went past the Falconer Mansion I noticed a light in one of the windows. I knew the mansion was abandoned, so I reckoned a hobo had lit a fire or some such. I stopped, turned the car around, and drove up the dirt road. The light was still on when I got there.
RZ: Just to interrupt, what time was that?
HS: Nearly half past eleven, pm. Anyway, I went inside and asked if anyone needed help. That's when I heard a woman crying upstairs. Before I could react to it, the crying stopped and an apparition appeared on the staircase. It looked like a woman, but it didn't sense me. I have to admit I was pretty scared by then, so when the apparition started moving in my general direction, I made a beeline for the car and got the hell outta there.
RZ: How did your superiors react when you told them?
HS: They put me on sick leave for a month, and then I had weeks of mental evaluation after that. It was a pain in the... backside I can assure you.
RZ: In closing, where did the apparition appear?
HS: It came out of the first room on the right on the second floor.
RZ: All right. Thank you, sir.
HS: Thank you.'
Hayley put the book away. Now she knew what to look for.
Later that afternoon the weather turned to the worse. The rain was pouring down, and Main Street was completely deserted. Hayley felt like talking to someone, so she went down into the Hotel lobby where she found Lizzie busy reading a paperback.
"Hi," Hayley said.
"Oh, hello, Miss Ralston. Is there a problem?"
"I'm bored!" Hayley said and laughed.
"The weather really drags today, doesn't it?"
"I don't want to interfere with your work, but... I actually have a story about 'The Weeping Lady'..." Lizzie said.
"Oh?" Hayley said interested.
"Yes. Why don't we sit down over there. I don't want to have my celebrity guest standing because of me," Lizzie said, and pointed to a couch on the far side of the lobby.
Once seated, Lizzie started talking.
"Well, it was about 25 years ago now. Me and a couple of friends were cruising around one Saturday evening, like we always did. I've always lived here in Bensontown, and I love this place, but it's never really had much in the way of entertainment for older kids, you know?"
"Can you remember what the time was?"
"Oh, I don't know... maybe 11:30 pm or so?"
"Right. Please go on," Hayley said.
"Anyway, some of my friends suggested we drove out to the mansion on a dare. None of us wanted to look like chicken, so we headed out there. Once we were there, we ran around the house a couple of times, you know, kids' stuff - but suddenly we could hear a woman crying. Very clearly. It scared the stuffing out of us..." Lizzie said.
"And it couldn't have been the wind, or an animal...?" Hayley said.
"No. No way. It was a woman crying. Trust me on that one."
Hayley looked at her watch. 11:20 pm. She had stopped her car at the top end of Falconer Drive, which led to the deserted mansion. The wind was blowing strongly, and the many weeping willows around the house were swaying this way and that.
She put the stationwagon into Drive, and slowly cruised towards the mansion. As she came closer, the lights on her car illuminated the walls of the large house. Dark and foreboding, it looked exactly like a haunted house should. Many of the windows on the first floor were broken, but nearly all on the second floor looked intact.
Hayley drove around what had once been a fountain in the courtyard in front of the main entrance to the mansion. She placed the car so she could make a swift exit, if need be.
The rain had eased off, so Hayley didn't need the umbrella she had bought. 'It wouldn't have done much good in this breeze, anyway,' she thought. She put her notebook and a pencil in her pocket, then stuffed her camera and some gloves into a small backpack. She hung her flashlight around her neck... She was ready.
According to Rita's book, the mansion was abandoned after Mary-Ann's death and Jessica's disappearance, and it remained empty until the early 1930s when Raymond Jr. moved in after the death of his parents. However, he and his servants quickly discovered the mansion was haunted, so he moved back to live in the townhouse instead. He continued to own the mansion until his death in 1956, after which the large house was left to its own devices.
The front door had stood the test of time remarkably well, and Hayley had to push with all her strength to get it open. She moved the flashlight from left to right in what appeared to be a hall. Broken furniture, old carpeting, doors slapping in the breeze, everything was just like Hayley expected it to be. A corridor stretched out in front of her, out of the range of the flashlight, and a large staircase went up on the right of the main hall. All the sightings compiled by Rita van der Zwaan pointed to the second floor, and the first room on the right hand side of the small hallway. Rita had presumed it might have been their bedroom.
Hayley walked a few paces into the lobby and examined the staircase. It looked solid, so she tried to put some weight on the first step. It creaked, but held. Slowly, she ventured upwards, one step at a time.
When she reached the top step, Hayley thought she could smell something. She couldn't put her finger on what that smell might be, but it was definitely organic.
Her question was quickly answered as a fat rat scurried across the hallway, right in front of her hiking boots. She jumped back, but the rat was long gone.
She pointed the flashlight down the small hallway. Nothing out of the ordinary there. She slowly turned the light around and got a good look at the landing at the top of the stairs.
She had come this far, she might as well go all the way. Carefully, in case the floor was rotten, she moved towards the first room on the right. She peeked inside. The door had fallen off its hinges and was lying on the floor in the middle of the room.
She stepped inside, and gave the room a once-over. It might've been a bedroom once, but now it was empty, save for a large closet without a door, and an ancient dresser placed against the wall on the far side of the room. The drawers had been removed, and the large mirror on top of it was broken.
She walked towards the closet, but stopped abruptly. She had heard something. What it was, she couldn't recognize... It sounded a bit like a breeze blowing through the hallway. Maybe it was another rat, or...
Hayley's flashlight went out, and she found herself in total darkness. "Oh god, this is scary," Hayley's voice rang out. She couldn't turn the flashlight back on. She clicked several times on the little button, but it was dead.
A pinpoint of light in the center of the room she was in suddenly grabbed her attention. Within a second, the small light had expanded into a fully fledged... GHOST!
A specter made up of a pale blue energy cloud was suspended in mid-air no more than four feet away from her. It appeared to be a woman, with very brightly colored blue eyes and long, dark hair.
Hayley could almost feel her heart stop beating, and she grabbed the flashlight so tightly her fingers were aching. Every instinct in her were screaming for her to run, but her feet wouldn't listen. Her eyes grew wider and wider as she looked at the creature in front of her.
The ghost didn't seem to notice her. Gently, it floated towards the window where it appeared to look outside. The sound of crying filled the little room, and Hayley could see the ghost's shoulders shake.
'Why couldn't I save you? Why couldn't I save you, my love?' an ethereal voice said, filled with despair.
Hayley couldn't help but make a croaking sound over the incredible sadness in the woman's voice.
The ghost turned around, and only now spotted the intruder. The ice blue eyes of the apparition drilled their way into Hayley's mind. She saw the ghost lingering for a few seconds before it seemed to... recognize her?
A pale blue tendril was formed from the body and it stretched out towards Hayley.
'You've returned...' the ghost said, and moved closer to Hayley. This broke the trance Hayley was in. Her legs listened to her commands again, and she bolted from the room and down the stairs.
Behind her, she could hear the ghost cry out, followed by heartbreaking sobs.
Hayley ran as fast as she could across the courtyard. Halfway there, the flashlight came back to life, and the sudden light spooked her so much she slipped and fell face-first into the wet gravel. She scrambled to her feet and continued running towards her car. She fumbled with the door, but finally managed to open it and jumped in. She turned on the engine, and drove out of the courtyard in a shower of gravel from the spinning wheels.
When she reached the paved road, she slowed to a halt and looked back at the mansion. She could still clearly see the blue light in the window, but as she was looking, the light faded away, and the mansion was soon as dark as it had been when Hayley had arrived.
Her heart was thumping so hard she had chest pains, and her forehead hurt like hell. With trembling hands, she turned on the roof light in the car and looked at herself in the rear view mirror.
She had an inch-long abrasion above her right eye, and several drops of blood had dripped down and onto her cheek. She shuddered when she remembered how Mary-Ann had died - exactly one hundred years ago.
With a final look at the mansion, Hayley drove off, and headed back to her hotel.
THE FOURTH DAY - SUNDAY, OCTOBER 26th
Not surprisingly, Hayley couldn't calm down after the ordeal, so she spent most of the night writing down her thoughts on everything that had happened out in the mansion. When the clock on the town hall struck 4 am, she was done and promptly collapsed on her bed.
She fell into a deep sleep, where all her dreams were about dark-haired women, and how life might have been at the turn of the last century.
When she woke up a little past 11 am, one thought still lingered in her mind. Jessica and Mary-Ann were still separated. Jessica's remains were never found, so she had never been buried.
Jessica would never find peace until someone found her bones, and saw to it that she was buried alongside Mary-Ann.
Someone... Hayley's mind reluctantly connected the dots. That 'someone' was her. That was why she was here. It had to be. Hayley groaned and hugged her pillow. But how?
After a long, hot shower and a quick breakfast Hayley left the hotel to get some fresh air. The weather had improved, so Hayley decided to walk from one end of the town to the other. She had plenty of things on her mind, and before she knew it, she had walked for nearly an hour and a half.
Her rumbling stomach told her it was time to eat something, so she headed for Sammy's Bar.
"Hello, Miss Ralston... good heavens, what's happened to you?" Sammy said as she entered the bar.
Hayley touched her tender forehead. Over night, her right eye had developed quite a shiner, and she had a big, red lump just above her eyebrow.
"I had a little accident," Hayley said, and shrugged.
"With what? A sledgehammer?"
"I slipped on some wet gravel and fell, that's all."
"That's plenty. Come on, let me get you something for that eye," Sammy said, and started to reach down behind the bar.
"No, it's all right. Don't bother. I've had a couple of painkillers, and I'm fine," Hayley said.
"Are you sure?"
"Oh yes. Anyway, I'd like a mug of coffee and two ham-and-cheese sandwiches, please."
"Comin' right up!"
Hayley found a table and started gathering her thoughts. The walk had done her good, and she had mostly digested her meeting with the 'other side'. One thing had been proved - 'The Weeping Lady' was no hoax...
Sammy put down a tray with the coffee and the sandwiches and collected the money.
As she unwrapped the first sandwich, Hayley worked out the battle plan for tonight. She was going back to the mansion, and she was going to tell Jessica Quinn that she wanted to help her.
'She might kill me just to get some company,' Hayley morbidly thought, and a chill ran down her spine.
"Hello, Miss Ralston," somebody said, interrupting Hayley's dark thoughts.
"Hello, Becky. The bookstore's not open on Sundays, I gather?"
"That's right. Thank goodness. If it was, I'd never get to see my boyfriend. This bar is always open, and he seems to think it's more important than me," she said, a little too loud.
"Heard that," Sammy said from the other side of the bar where he was polishing the shiny surface of the counter.
"Good," Becky said, and winked at Hayley.
The author unwrapped her second sandwich, and Sammy came over to give Becky a little smooch on the cheek.
"You need anything, Miss Ralston?"
"No, thank you, I'm fine. Oh, by the way, I read in Rita's book that the Falconers had a house where the movie theater is now... but I can't find a movie theater anywhere?" Hayley said, as she ate the sandwich.
"The cinema's long gone. It burned down in... oh, 1994 or so. If you look out of your window in your hotel room, you should be able to see a new building off to your right. That's where it was," Sammy said.
"I see. Thank you."
"Is your research going well?" Becky asked.
"Oh... that's... going just fine, Becky," Hayley said with a nervous smile.
"Glad to hear it. Well, I won't bother you anymore. I just came to say to Sammy that I expect him home shortly," Becky said, again a little louder than necessary.
"I'll be there, don't you worry about that," Sammy said and pinched Becky's backside.
A few hours later, Hayley re-read the things she had written last night. After making a few additions here and there, Hayley began writing in earnest. The hours soon flew by, and when the clock chimed 11 pm, she had finished the first several chapters of this part of her new book.
'Heather, this one's definitely got some zip,' Hayley thought, and chuckled to herself. She shook her head. She had traveled all over the United States doing research for her books, and she had seen some very strange things along the way... but this one took the cake.
As she closed her laptop, there was one question on her mind - how would Jessica respond? From reading the reports on the sightings, Hayley knew she was the only one the ghost had reacted to since it started haunting the mansion. "You've returned..." Jessica had said to her.
Hayley got up, and went into the bathroom. She turned on the light and studied her bruise in the mirror. Her eye and her forehead looked like she had gone a few rounds against a prize fighter, and the injury was still sore.
Overcome by a strange feeling, she went back into the livingroom, and grabbed a pen from her attaché-case. She looked through the drawers, and found some stationery. She sat down at a table, and started writing.
She signed the letter, folded it, and put it into an envelope. She looked at the blank front of the envelope for a while, and then wrote 'To be opened in case of my death - H. Ralston'.
She left it on the table, leaning against a pepper shaker.
Not long after, Hayley stood outside the mansion and looked with great trepidation at the crooked trees and the scary looking house.
"I can't believe I'm doing this," Hayley said out loud, and thrust her hands into the pockets of her jacket.
She sighed, and checked her equipment. She had been forced to buy a new flashlight, as the glass on the other one had cracked when she fell on the gravel last night. Her camera was in her pocket, and she had a thermos with hot tea. Satisfied, she started walking towards the front door.
Hayley took a peek into the room where she had seen the ghost. Nothing. She shone the flashlight at her watch. 11:22 pm, nearly the same time as last night.
'I guess I'll have to wait,' she thought, and walked into the room. She huddled down in the corner, and opened the thermos.
'At least I have plenty of tea...'
Fifteen minutes later, and Jessica still hadn't shown herself. Hayley shifted uncomfortably. Her knees were aching, and she needed to walk around to loosen up her legs.
She sighed again, and came to the conclusion that Jessica wouldn't be showing herself tonight. She collected her things and was about to head outside when the flashlight went out.
Within seconds the room was bathed in a pale blue light. Hayley didn't dare turn around, because she knew what... or rather who, was behind her.
'I've waited so long for you, my love...' an ethereal voice said.
Hayley turned around and looked straight at the ghost. Her heart started beating wildly, even if she felt reasonably safe.
"Hello Je... Jessica," Hayley said.
Jessica put a hand on her mouth, and ghostly tears ran down her cheeks.
'You're so beautiful... I knew you'd come back to me...'
"I'm... I'm not..." Hayley started to say, but stopped. She felt a growing fear at the back of her mind. What if this went wrong?
"I need you to show me your remains... so you can be together with your love..." Hayley said to Jessica.
'But you have returned...?' the ghost said.
"I'm not Mary-Ann, Jessica. I... just look like her. I'm not her."
The ghost floated a few feet away from Hayley, who released a breath she hadn't even noticed she'd been holding. Suddenly the temperature in the room dropped dramatically, and mortal fear washed over Hayley. Jessica's beautiful features started morphing into something far more demonic, and a horrible growl filled the room.
The ghost suddenly closed the distance between itself and Hayley, and roared into the woman's face:
'GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!'
Hayley screamed insanely and thundered out of the door and down the stairs. Halfway down, she lost her footing and fell heavily down the final dozen steps. She landed at the bottom of the staircase and her head crashed against a panel with sickening force. She twitched once, and was then still.
Jessica's demonic form swooshed out of the room, intending to follow the fleeing woman, but stopped with a jerk as it saw Hayley lying still at the bottom of the stairwell.
A long, heartfelt sigh was heard from the ghost, and after a few seconds, she was transformed back to her normal appearance.
She started floated silently down the stairs towards the stricken woman.
Jessica sat down and caressed Hayley's golden hair. After a while, she began humming a song that she and Mary-Ann had loved to sing together.
Hayley slowly came to. Tears were running down her cheeks from the impact and the shock. Her head throbbed mercilessly, but she still tried to get up. Black spots were floating in her vision, and she felt like her head had caved in. Suddenly she noticed the pale blue light right next to her, and she panicked and pressed her back against the wall with a terrified look in her eyes.
Jessica was sitting next to her on the staircase. Hayley wanted to run away as fast as she could, but she couldn't even stand up.
'Please help me'
That was the last thing Hayley had expected to hear. Her heart was still pounding in her ears like a runaway freight train, but she managed to calm herself down a little bit.
'I'm sorry I became angry with you...' Jessica said in a very sad voice, and stretched an arm out towards Hayley. She tried to draw back even further, but the ghostly hand merely touched her cheek, leaving a tingling sensation.
'All right, this is it... it's now or never,' Hayley thought. She tried to summon all her courage, but her voice was still trembling as she spoke.
"Jessica, I think it's possible to re-unite you with Mary-Ann - if you only show me where you died... we can bury your remains next to your love, and then you'll be together until the end of time..." Hayley said, half-speaking, half-whispering, before waiting for an answer from the ghostly being.
Jessica nodded. She got up and floated away from the stairs, out into thin air. She settled down on the floor, and went directly for what looked like a door to the cellar.
'Where's she going...?' Hayley thought confused. She got up and shakily followed Jessica across the floor - and then the ghost floated through the wall and out of sight.
An old, rusted door handle suddenly started to move by itself, and then it fell to the floor. The door to the cellar opened with an agonizing creak. Jessica stood patiently on the other side.
'Come. It isn't far.'
A very dark staircase went downwards from the ground level. It was very dark, and Hayley fumbled her way down. Fortunately, the light emanating from Jessica made it slightly easier for her.
When she reached the bottom she could see they were in a pantry. Rows of shelves lined the walls, and there were old tin cans here and there. A broken kerosene lamp stood on a small shelf.
Hayley looked around. There was nothing out of the ordinary in here either, and she remembered reading in Rita's book that the police had already searched this part of the house thoroughly.
"Where are you taking me?" she asked the ghost.
Jessica didn't answer, but floated to the far wall. She pointed at a section of shelves.
'Here. Secret door,' she said.
Hayley pushed and pulled on all the shelves. When that didn't work, she tried to wiggle the old wood around, but all she succeeded in doing was ripping one of the shelves off. Jessica floated up towards the ceiling and pointed at a latch.
"I can't reach that!" Hayley said frustrated, and started to look around after something to stand on.
She spotted a chair made of metal, and dragged it over to the secret door. The rusty chair barely held up, but with a little effort, she reached the latch and depressed it. A section of shelves swung open, and revealed another staircase, going down.
Moldy, stale air assaulted Hayley's nostrils, and she crinkled her nose. Jessica led the way, and they were soon standing in a smallish room that Hayley presumed could have been a shelter from the Civil War.
Sitting on a chair, half-leaning over a table, was a skeleton. A small bottle was still in the skeleton's hand.
"Oh, Jessica..." Hayley said.
'Poison. Death came quick and painless for me.'
The ghost turned to Hayley, and caressed her cheek again.
'Please help me find peace,' she said.
"I will, Jessica. I promise," Hayley said, and she felt tears well up in her eyes.
Jessica looked at her own skeleton.
'When I returned, some helpers had placed my love in the room upstairs. I tried to hold her, but... we never got the chance to say goodbye. Her eyes looked straight at me, those beautiful eyes... but she couldn't see anymore. I became so very angry with her...' Jessica said, and closed her eyes. For a moment she seemed to fade away, but then she regained her composure.
"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to, Jessica," Hayley whispered.
'I've kept it inside for so long... I have to tell you. But not here,' Jessica said, and looked away, guilt etched across her face. She started floating towards the door.
A few minutes later, they were standing in the livingroom.
Jessica had been silent since they left the skeleton, but Hayley knew that all had not been said yet.
'I blamed my love for dying and for leaving me, so when her family came to bury her, I didn't go with them,' Jessica said, and sighed deeply.
'A day later, it finally dawned on me that the only thing I lived for had been taken away from me... I was overcome by guilt and pain, and I lost my mind. I wandered aimlessly around the house for several hours before...' Jessica's voice tapered off, and she looked towards the pantry.
'But then I was doomed to stay here for all eternity,' Jessica said, and large, crystal tears started running down her cheeks.
"I'm so sorry for what happened to you, Jessica. But everything's going to be all right now, I promise," Hayley said.
She reached out her hand, and tried to touch the ghost. Her fingers went through the blue cloud, and a tingling sensation spread up her arm. A blue tendril was formed out of Jessica. To Hayley's great surprise, the ghost was able to grab hold of her, and for the briefest of moments, Jessica squeezed Hayley's hand.
Hayley walked slowly back to her car. She glanced at her watch. Nearly 1 am already - she must have been unconscious for longer than she thought. Now that the adrenaline had left her, the pain returned, and by the time she started punching in numbers on her cell phone, her head was throbbing so hard she had to close her eyes.
'Sheriff's Office, how can we help you?' a voice said from the telephone. Hayley opened her eyes again, and was momentarily stunned to see Jessica waving to her from the bedroom window on the second floor. The ghost slowly dissolved, and the blue light faded away.
'Hello?' the lady said on the other end of the connection.
"Sorry, I'm here. My name is Hayley Ralston, and I've found some human remains," Hayley said, and began to give the details on where she was.
Several hours later, Hayley staggered into the hotel lobby. She had told the deputy that drove her home that she could take care of herself, but she had to admit she wasn't feeling her best.
Lizzie was on the night shift, and when she saw the author, she jumped up and gave her a helping hand.
Upstairs, Lizzie fumbled with the keycard to Hayley's room, but finally opened the door.
"You have to tell me what's happened, Miss Ralston, I'll burst if you don't!"
"I had a little accident. I fell down some stairs out at the mansion..."
"Which mans... the Falconer mansion?!" Lizzie said shocked, as she guided the author to the bedroom.
"Yes. I..." Hayley said, took off her jacket and her boots, and sat down on the bed.
"... I found her. I found Jessica Quinn..."
"I found her," Hayley said and fell back on the wonderfully soft bed.
"I know you're working on the book, but really, wandering around in a haunted house past midnight... by yourself!"
"I wasn't alone..." Hayley slurred, and fell asleep.
"But..." Lizzie said, but no answer was forthcoming.
Lizzie turned off the light in the bedroom, and was about to leave the apartment, when she spotted the envelope Hayley had written earlier next to an open book lying on the table.
She recognized it as Rita's book, and picked it up. It was opened on an old sepia-toned photograph of two women standing outside the mansion. Lizzie read the caption,
'Jessica Quinn and Mary-Ann Falconer, taken on Mary-Ann's 30th birthday, October 15th 1908, ten days before...'
Lizzie's eyes darted from the photograph to the woman sleeping in the bedroom, and back to the book. She felt her nape hairs stand on end, and her face lost all color. Her mouth gaped open, but not a sound came out of it. She dropped the book like it was on fire, and ran out into the hallway, slamming the door behind her.
In late November, Jessica Quinn's remains were released from the custody of the Sheriff, and she was given a proper burial. She found her final resting place in a new grave that had been created next to the Falconer Mausoleum - and when Mary-Ann's casket was moved from the mausoleum to the new grave, Jessica and Mary-Ann were finally reunited.
In a fierce storm in late January, the Falconer mansion partially collapsed when an oak tree was uprooted and fell against it.
When her book was published, Hayley Ralston had another big hit on her hands. It soon became a bestseller, and she used some of the money to buy the land where the mansion used to be.
'The Weeping Lady' was never heard from again, but after a while, several people swore they had heard what sounded like two women singing when they passed the cemetery after dark...