Part VI - Chapter 33 - Searching for the Book of the Dead

Viva was lost in his work carving wood for a set of cabinets for one of the many kitchens, music and fashion trend setter were just two of his many artistic gifts. Inspiration was flowing freely as he carved intricate designs into the wood despite the cold floor and gothic atmosphere. Viva had chosen to ignore the warnings from the rest of the crew that the roof was “less inclined to be ripped out at a later date.” But Viva was sure that even if the kitchen was scrapped or changed functions, his cabinets would simply be moved to a different part of the house.

“Aaron,” came a voice from behind. Viva dropped the cabinet door onto the floor and sprung to his feet, knife in hand. As he turned, he was relieved to find Whip instead of a ghost.

“You almost lost your head, there Whip! I’m all shook up with everyone’s talk of ghosts.”

Whip sat down next to Viva and whispered, “Got news from Brisco and Ellie.”

“Is he near town yet?”

“He had to drive in from Oklahoma. It’s not a short trip but I think he’ll be here tomorrow.” Viva shrugged and sat back down to inspect his work. “Anyway, Viva, that’s not the point. We need to have salt rounds handy and need to make sure that some kinda Book of the Dead isn’t opened.”

“The Book of the What?” asked Viva as Whip pulled out a crude map of the property that he had asked the Foreman to draw out.

“Book of the Dead.”

“So, do we know what it looks like?”

“Nope. Only that it’s about to be opened and that it’s bad. Really bad.”

“Based on the book’s title, I kinda figured it wasn’t about rainbows and butterflies,” spat Viva sarcastically as he wiped off the knife. “Did a visitor from the future clue us in on who to be on the lookout for?”

Whip looked over the map that he had been studying before shaking his head no.

“These folks from the future aren’t all that helpful,” muttered Viva before complaining aloud, “So, how are we supposed to know what to look for or who to prevent from opening it?”

“Ellie didn’t say so I guess Brisco didn’t know.”

“Well, that’s helpful. Let’s just storm around the house knocking books out of everyone’s hands.”

Whip rolled his eyes before trying to get Viva back on track, “Viva, I need you to take a look at this map.”

“So, what’s this map for?” Viva asked staring at the map that Whip had laid out on the floor.

“After the Foreman drew out the map, Ellie snuck some shot guns onto the property and I dropped them off in one of the two downstairs cellars. I’m giving you a copy of the map with the guns marked off in the map so you know where to pick them up if needed. There are boxes of ammunition loaded with salt rounds with the guns.”

“Boy, I still don’t like the idea of going to the darkest part of the mansion to get guns.”

“You do know it’s been a few decades since I’ve been in my twenties right?” asked an exasperated Whip.

“You’ll always be the kid covered in paint trying to call out Hondo.”

“And why do I put up with this disrespect?”

“Because I always get you to the best places to eat.”

Suddenly, there was a loud noise as though part of the house was collapsing. The two men hurried to the sound and found a group of men working to remove rubble from a basement area.

“What happened?”

“One of the support beams broke,” replied one of the men.

Whip and Viva worked with other nearby workmen to clear the rubble and to help pull a man out from beneath the house and to safety. As the man was moved into the house to await a doctor, the crew began to survey the damage.

A portly gentleman sighed deeply and seemed hesitant to go near the underside of the house. “I thought that the ‘floating foundation’ would prevent things like this?” he complained.

“The foundation can help prevent some things, like earthquake damage, but it doesn’t fix or prevent everything. For safety’s sake, I’m going to need at least a half a dozen men to add more support beams under here and to inspect the rest,” instructed the foreman.

Since dark and creepy basements seemed the logical place to begin the search for an evil book, Viva and Whip volunteered with three other men and the foreman. The portly man was one of the first to disappear, clearly afraid that he would be asked to join the team. Since they were near the hidden cache of weapons, Viva and Whip armed themselves with shotguns pre-loaded with ammunition and bandoliers before taking flashlights.

The foreman had watched the two men don their weapons before asking, “What kind of trouble might you be expecting trouble down there?”

Whip looked at Viva in an attempt to think of a valid reason for carrying weapons under the house. “We hate rats,” explained Viva.

“I’ve yet to see one-“ responded Reynolds, a scrawny and unkept looking workman.

“We’ve seen ‘em!” insisted Whip, less convincingly than Viva. “Big ones.” Whip held out his hands about shoulder width apart in an effort to provide a size to the imaginary vermin.

“Like I said. Rats,” agreed Viva.

“Rodents Of Unusual Size,” mused Reynolds. “Fitting in a house of ghosts.”

“Just don’t blow off a toe in the shadows, specifically not one of mine,” shrugged the foreman before he changed the subject. “I won’t be with you too long tonight as it’s getting close to midnight and I have to be available for Mrs. Winchester at midnight for her nightly séance,” he explained as he led the small group under the mansion.

Once underneath the house, the group had to carefully step in to avoid the damage of the fallen beam and items of storage. Once the men had made it through to the foundation part of the basement, the foreman separated the men into two groups. Whip and the three men were instructed to clear out any rubble and storage items and then load in the replacement beam and an extra support beam where the damage had occurred. Meanwhile, the foreman and Viva took separate lamps and began to inspect the rest of the beams beneath the house.

As they moved through the underground space, Viva could feel the quietness that only comes in dark places. The air was stale and the further they moved from the entrance, the more dead the basement felt. Even the sounds of their footsteps seemed to be enveloped and lost beneath the mansion. Something about the bleak atmosphere caused the hair on the back of Viva’s neck to stick up.

Unable to withstand the eerie silence, Viva stopped to inspect a giant crack along a wall before asking, “What’s this? Should we be concerned?”

“Nah. It’s an old scar. Back from the 1906 earthquake. See it’s a ripple along this wall here. It’s not a load bearing wall so I like to think of it as our Good Luck Charm,” Viva could hear the smile in the foreman’s voice as he gently tapped at the wall, presumably for good luck.

“Were you here for that big ole’ earthquake in ‘06?”

“I was. It took us hours to get Mrs. Winchester out of her room. We had to board up that section of those house and start building in other directions after that. She also had us stop adding floors to the house.”

“Were those parts of the house too unsteady after the quake?”

“Think we could have reinforced it to restabilize it but the real reason for the change was because the spirits wanted us to change directions.”

Silence filled the air again as the two continued to inspect the underside of the house. After a few short minutes, Viva noticed a man with a wheelbarrow pushing a large load their direction. As Viva passed him, the two acknowledged each other with a quick nod of cordiality. However, as soon as the man passed, Viva could see his breath in front of him and a cold shiver went down his spine.

The foreman turned to see where Viva was and noticed that Viva was shivering. “You’ve just met Clive, I assume?”

“The man with the wheelbarrow? Yes, I saw him.”

“Good man,” replied the foreman as he continued walking. Viva was unsure if the foreman was calling Clive or Viva a good man but decided to let it go. Viva still couldn’t stand the silence so took a shot at following up on the cryptic information that Whip and Viva had received from Brisco.

“Have you seen a book?”

“What book?”

“You know a…” Viva stammered on how to describe something he had never seen nor had anyone else from the group seen. “Ahh… a big book?”

“You mean like the ‘Good Book?’ You don’t need to convert me, I already believe,” replied the Foreman.

“No, I mean like a big, bad book?”

“Viva, I appreciate your need to fill the silence down here. It’s a dark silence. But we should probably chat about something else. I don’t have time to read books – good, bad, or otherwise. But I can talk to you about my time here.”

At that, Viva listened to the foreman tell his personal history of the house. The house of mysteries, ghosts, the peculiar widow who owned the house, and her master architect that scarcely anyone had seen since his arrival 6 months ago.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Rachel and Tilly were working the night shift. Both had their uniforms custom made in house and Rachel was glad to see someone as kind and positive as Tilly with an outfit and shoes that actually fit her. They shared a room in the servants’ hall, much to Rachel’s relief. In a house full of ghosts, she would rather share a room than be by herself. As Rachel and Tilly moved towards the main kitchen below the séance room, Rachel reached into her pocket to feel for the salt.

Ellie and Rachel could not get her pistol to shoot rounds made out of salt. Shotguns were the only weapon that seemed to work. And since she couldn’t carry a shotgun strapped to her back while dusting the mantel or making a bed, Ellie thought it might be best if Rachel and Lenore carried large containers of salt in their apron pockets. Maybe they could throw it or sprinkle it around to deter unfriendly ghosts. Unfortunately, “Future Pete” had not provided much information to go on.

Rachel and Tilly arrived at the kitchen just as the servants’ table was being set. Lenore had to move in earlier in the day to begin cooking for the evening shift so there was already a crowd of kitchen staff sitting around her. Rachel elected to sit at the far end of the table away from the rest of the staff. As the group began to pass the dinner rolls, Rachel could not believe how ravenous she felt. She could only assume that the tension in the house and the feeling of constantly being watched by ghosts had increased her anxiety driven appetite. She barely noticed as Tilly took the seat next to her as Rachel heaped food onto her plate.

“So, what did they make you do?” Tilly asked, excitedly.


“I had to dictate a series of nonsensical sentences while walking backwards through a room. What did they have you do?”

“Ladies, we do not discuss the interview process or what it entails. Each interview process should never move beyond your individual experiences,” warned Mrs. Dechant as she passed the mashed potatoes.

“Well, that’s me told,” whispered Tilly. After taking a couple bites, Tilly turned back to Rachel but this time to whisper her comments.

“I about fell to the floor when they told me that I had the job. Not to mention how much we’re going to get paid. I mean, I heard that it paid well. But I hadn’t imagined it would be this much! Honestly, I really applied just to work in such a unique atmosphere.”

“Why?” Rachel asked between mouthfuls with mild interest.

“I want to write like the Bronte sisters. Something about love, ghosts, moors, stuff like that.”

“Is there much of a market in writing like the Bronte sisters?”

“I’m sure that people will always love the ideas of hopeless romances.”

“You mean like Romeo and Juliet?”

Tilly rolled her eyes before responding, “That’s so unimaginative. I mean stories like werewolves and humans or vampires and werewolves or something like that. There’s always a market for a protagonist and a monster or at the very least, a protagonist and the unattainable.”

Rachel still couldn’t see any market for a human and monster story but still found herself asking, “Like a woman and a time traveling man?”

“That might be an option-“mused Tilly. “Although, I’m really more interested in ghosts.” After a few more bites, Tilly changed the subject again. “Have you seen Mr. Adams?”

“No. I didn’t think anyone saw the chief architect.”

“Well, I only met him for a moment. He wanted to chat with me about terminology for when I take notes after the séance is completed by Mrs. Winchester and Mr. Adams. He’s handsome enough to make any girl swoon.”

“Really?” asked Rachel getting bored of the conversation.

“They say that he appeared in a locked up part of the house. Just appeared. Out of thin air! And since his arrival, he’s been helping Mrs. Winchester. But he prefers that no one knows about his involvement in the house. He wants all credit is given to Mrs. Winchester for the building. Doesn’t that sound mysterious? I wonder if he’s a ghost! Think of it! My very first ghost!”

Rachel thought about James for a moment but then pushed the thought out of her mind. If it was James, then why hadn’t he reached out to anyone? What hadn’t he told anyone that he was here?

Mrs. Dechant gave out assignments to each of the maids. Rachel would lay out clothes for Mrs. Winchester, light the fire in a sitting room, and wait for Mrs. Winchester to complete her séance. Meanwhile, Tilly would provide absinthe to Mrs. Winchester shortly before the séance would begin. According to Mrs. Dechant, Mrs. Winchester felt that absinthe and marijuana helped better commune with spirits and increased the spark of creativity to design various aspects of the house. The rest of the séance, she would be posted outside of the door to provide food and tea to Mrs. Winchester, Mr. Adams, and the foreman should anyone become hungry. Following the séance, Tilly would work with the foreman and Mr. Adams to take notes as the men determined how to best complete the spirits’ wishes for the mansion. Mrs. Winchester would join Rachel in the sitting room where she would read to widow from a spiritualist’s guide, before helping the widow get ready for bed around 6 in the morning.

“Wish me luck,” whispered Tilly with a wink. Rachel winked back before quickly moving upstairs to start the search for Mrs. Winchester’s book collection.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

After several taunts from the other men regarding Whip’s lack of speed carrying a shotgun while attempting to help remove old furniture and other storage items, Whip elected to unstrap his gun and leave it by the entrance. Before moving towards the bigger storage items, Whip used a foot to scoot the smaller items out of the way. It almost felt like a city waste area as there were so many small and broken things that were cluttering the floor. Whip kicked a doll with a missing arm to one side, slid a small tower of books with his foot, and decided to toss parts of broken chairs as far as he could. When Whip finally reached his destination, an overstuffed chair, he heard the voices of some men carrying a small end table out of the way. Determined to catch up with the others, Whip picked up a chair but almost immediately set it back down cursing. “The chair must weigh at least 3-4 times more than it should! Viva always gets the cushier jobs, like inspecting the foundation beneath the house instead of moving overweight furniture and large beams around!”

Whip had barely left the under area before he heard a shout from inside, “Take a look at this! This must be the ugliest book I’ve ever seen.”

At the words, “ugliest book,” Whip almost dropped the chair on his own foot. After regaining control of the chair, Whip excitedly placed the chair down without injuring his feet and ran back to the rest of the men. How could I be so stupid? Brisco said that we needed to watch for books around the house and I neglected to inspect the books before leaving the area. When Whip reached the small group of men, each man was holding several books up to their lamps and flashlights to scan each item.

“Let me see that!” commanded Whip as he began to rip the books out of the others’ hands.

There were grumblings among the men as they watched Whip flip through the cover of each book. It turned out to be a children’s book collection but the illustrator lacked any amount of talent. Each book cover looked uglier than the last. Whip felt a wave of relief wash over him as he inspected the last storybook’s cover and spine. None of these items were titled “Book of the Dead” so clearly none of them would cause any issues.

“Nightmarish, eh?” one of the men commented, taking a book from Whip.

“I might take one of these home to my boys as it’s sure to give him nightmares. He likes macabre things like Edgar Allen Poe.”

“People enjoy reading gross things?” asked another man in disgust as he took a book back from Whip and held it to a lamp for inspection. Reynolds remained in the shadows as he reached out and took a book from Whip’s arms. It seemed rattier than the rest, the pages felt like it had an unusual texture and the words were written in red ink. However, since it was wrapped in the same ugly book jacket as the others, it seemed no more dangerous than the rest of the books. Whip relinquished the books to the other men and began looking around the floor in case the mysteriously evil book laid hidden in the dark. No one paid any notice to the shadowy outline of Reynolds as he ran his fingers over each page whispering to himself.

“What have you found there?” the foreman demanded, irritated to see the men standing around instead of working. When the foreman was able to see what the group held, his face changed from annoyance to the sternest face imaginable. If Whip didn’t know better, he would think that they had just shot the foreman’s dog rather than simply uncover a pile of curious children’s books.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Rachel had difficulty finding the sitting room. After several wrong turns into various green rooms, a bathroom, and several doors that opened to walls, she finally found the sitting room. Since it would be awhile before Mrs. Winchester would finish her séance, Rachel could take her time to carefully rummage the room to find the “spiritualist’s guidebooks” and review each to ensure that each would be safe to read.

Rachel looked about the room but there were no books laying out in the open. Rachel sighed. Of course, this wouldn’t be easy. Since she was still recovering from her gunshot wound, it was difficult to open each heavy cabinet door lining the walls and while she found a series of linens, she could not find any books. Rachel opened a door assuming that it was a kind of bureau but found herself in a bedroom with the lights off and a woman lightly snoring. At Rachel’s abrupt entrance, the woman awoke and sat upright in bed.

“Who are you? What are you doing here?” came the whispered demands.

“I- uh – I,” stammered Rachel taken aback by the accidental appearance to the woman. The woman lit a bedside lamp before looking at Rachel again, eyes narrowed. “I say again, who are you?”

“My apologies,” the words were now rushing out of Rachel. “I am supposed to light the fireplace but couldn’t find the matches.”

“Matches? You were looking in my bedroom for matches?”

“I thought it might be a cupboard,” Rachel lamely explained.

“Did you try looking about the mantle place?”

“Yes, ma’am but I’ll check again in case I missed it.”

“See that you do and close the doors after you. If the matches are not above the fireplace and you need to continue your search, be sure to not slam the cupboard doors as you look,” commanded the woman. Clearly this must be Mrs. Winchester’s niece, Mrs. Marriott. Rachel had been told that a niece and grand-nephew lived on the property but as they moved about during the day time, Rachel had assumed that she would not meet either individual.

After closing the door, Rachel went to the mantle place to search for matches. Sure enough, they were easy to find and Rachel decided to light the fireplace and hope that the flicker beneath the doorway would be enough to appease Mrs. Marriott’s ire and enable Rachel to silently continue her search. As Rachel stood by the growing fire, she absent mindedly surveyed the room to determine where might be best to continue the search. As she turned to better survey the room, her hand bumped the chair next to the fireplace. It both sent pain through her shoulder and knocked the blanket off the chair and onto the floor. As Rachel reached down to gather the blanket, fold it, and drape it over the back of the chair, she noticed a couple small books tucked away into the folds of the chair. It was as though these books were precious and needed to be hidden from the world.

“Could these be the books that Mrs. Winchester reads each night? Could one of these be the Book of the Dead?”

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

“I say again, what do you have there?” boomed the foreman’s voice.

“Books, sir,” the man with the macabre son offered.

“We found them beneath the rubble and were clearing them out of the way to bring in the other support beams,” Whip quickly explained.

The foreman sighed. “Give the books to me,” he commanded and most of the men quietly obeyed in turning the books over.

“If you don’t mind my asking,” began Whip, “but what is all of this?”

“Mrs. Winchester prefers to keep her life private. All I know is that she brings these items across the country with her. It’s either the memory of someone dear to her or it’s meant as a peace offering for spirits,” explained the foreman. After collecting the books, he moved to a far corner and gently rested the books out of sight.

“These particular books must be left to rest undisturbed,” ordered the foreman as he turned to face his men.

“Where’s Reynolds?” asked the man nearest Whip.

The group turned around looking for the 4th man in the group, the one who had been muttering and whispering out of the group’s sight. A silence fell over the group as each man looked about the darkness for Reynolds but he was gone. And then out of the still darkness, came the sound of a loud whisper as it was moving further into the darkness.

“Oh my God!” muttered the foreman before he bounded back to the small pile of books he had just set down. He scrambled through each one before asking in a panicked voice, “Did he take a book?”

“I guess so,” muttered a man. “He didn’t want to let it go since finding it in the pile of books.”

Suddenly the whisper was no longer a hush but a voice talking loudly in the dark. Reynolds voice was growing louder and louder as if he were commanding the house and all of its shadows. As Whip listened, it was clear that the words were not a language that he recognized. The sound of the words caused ice to run through Whip’s veins.

I had the Book of the Dead in my hands and let it go!

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