Part VII - Chapter 41 – Clean Up, Everybody Do Your Share

The ghost had been correct as the sleepy nearby neighbors and surrounding town awoke and went about its day as though nothing had happened. As our exhausted heroes and survivors of the mansion’s events carefully watched the town move about their day, it was clear that no one woke up during the night to see the dome covering the mansion. No one heard the screams of the dying or the bugle of the skeleton scout on his winged creature. If pressed, no one would have recalled the stench in the night as the undead passed through the streets on their way to and from the house.

The undead returned to their graves without much fuss while a confused cemetery landscaper awoke to see the entire cemetery a mess. All of the graves looked to have recently been disturbed with varying degrees of dirt to cover the bodies or caskets. Having slept so soundly and seeing a bottle curled up in his arms, he assumed that he had imbibed a bit too much and failed to protect each burial plot from grave robbers. In an effort to save his job, he hurriedly went around to each grave to ensure that the caskets and bodies were covered. Afterwards, the landscaper did his best to hide the disheveled dirt with flowers and grass to give it the appearance of peace. As he moved from grave to grave with sweat pouring down his face, he vowed that wild horses would never drag this secret out of him.

The mansion’s gate was locked per the widow’s commands, but it did not matter. Visitors were not welcome and so no one would try the gate and find it locked. If Teddy Roosevelt could not get a tour of the mansion, why should the neighbors suspect anything amiss as it was always cloistered away?

Mrs. Winchester’s niece, who had been spent the night locked in a closet with her son, was seen leaving the house early to visit the local newspaper. This was not necessarily unusual. The widow was known to occasionally have odd or superstitious requests of staff and not all employees were able to find permanent residence. Seeing Mrs. Winchester’s niece leaving the local newspaper, merely led the locals to speculate on what wild whims were demanded of Mrs. Winchester and to assume that new job postings would be seen in future newspaper advertisements.

The only aspect that seemed to stray from routine was the number of times the niece visited. Normally, the niece visited town once a week, but today she was seen leaving the mansion twice in a single day. On her second trip in the afternoon, she was seen carrying a large stack of envelopes. The local post office was surprised to see so much correspondence from a reclusive widow who spoke few words to anyone outside of her immediate family or closest staff.

For Frank, the postmaster general, the temptation was too great to ignore. He held a letter to the light but it was a hard to make out more than a handful of words. He tried several more before he found a letter that was in dark enough ink that he could make out the words, “I am sorry for your loss” in beautiful penmanship. He squinted and was able to make out the phrase, “While this cannot replace… I send this in gratitude for service…” Well, those phrases were too much for him to contain and he shared the phrases with his wife to get her theory on what was occurring at the mansion.

She placed her plump hands on her wide hips before scolding, “After calling me a gossip at the church social last week, you can’t expect my help in this matter?”


“No Frank, you called me a gossip in front of all my friends! And all I was doing, was saying that young Valentine seemed to be spending too much time with the milkman, George. At least, more than is appropriate for a young lady.”

“That’s different, Matilda-”

“Don’t you Matilda me! Sometimes, you are honestly a bigger gossip than any woman!” before storming towards the kitchen. In truth, she was curious about the letters but she would not be moved from her righteous pedestal. She would punish Frank for embarrassing her, even if it meant never knowing the latest gossip about Mrs. Winchester. Surely, the letters meant nothing out of the ordinary for such an already unique and odd woman.

“Matilda, don’t you find it suspicious-“ implored a desperate Frank, looking for any kind of ally in researching this new strange behavior of the Winchester household.

She waved her chubby hands in the air as she took a bite from her second breakfast of the day. “That house is weird and will always be weird. It’s best that we leave it alone and never think of it again.”


“I have spoken!” she commanded and held her hand up to show that the conversation had ended before continuing her meal and tea.

This small conversation was typical of the nearby houses as the town had universally decided that since Mrs. Winchester was determined to remain aloof and eccentric, it was in the best interest of all to ignore her existence as best as possible.

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Behind the gates, the bells rang to signal an all clear for those who had survived the night and might still be in hiding. An informal roll call began in an effort to determine how much of the staff were still breathing. Once completed, each individual was sorted by Mrs. Dechant and given a location or a task. She moved the staff who needed medical care into a sitting room to be treated by the local doctor who had been called to the house. As he studied each injury, he felt that if he were on a battlefield, this group would have been at the front of the army. However, Mrs. Dechant paid him handsomely for the day and stated that there had been a scaffolding accident. He knew that the extra payment was to further their story rather than to investigate an alternative truth and honestly, the amount of money he was getting for the day had bought the household whatever story that they wanted him to tell.

When the doctor had arrived, Lenore had taken over a kitchen and became a mother hen to all of the survivors. She could not cook in her favorite kitchen as that room was littered with beheaded bodies but the benefit of working at such a large house was the access to several kitchens. Lenore did her best to ignore the cabinets that Viva had been working on the evening before and instead focused on instructing two of her staff members to cook while she made it her mission to feed and ensure that each person was given small breaks throughout the day. It had been a tragic and terrifying night. Facing the new day meant that comfort food, real comfort food, would be needed today of all days. When Lenore wasn’t encouraging individuals to eat, she was wearing her mayoral hat and listening to individuals process their emotions enough to continue their work. Lenore knew this was not a time to be overcome by emotions and she knew that mental and physical breaks would be needed or else the tragedy would be too all consuming for the survivors.

Meanwhile, the individuals deemed healthy and strong enough to move bodies were asked to join James outside. James separated his group into different sections. Some men would work digging graves in a corner of the yard in an effort to bury the beheaded dead away who could not return to their graves from potentially prying eyes. Other men were tasked with carrying the bodies of deceased staff members to an area of the house to be prepared by maids for the burial ceremony scheduled to occur under the cover of darkness. The time had not yet been determined but Mrs. Dechant expressed Mrs. Winchester’s wish to have a ceremony at the house in an effort to honor the fallen.

The last group were the remaining maids assigned by Mrs. Dechant to identify bodies. It ended up being a gruesome task of identifying which of the beheaded individuals were staff and which were undead. While most of the undead returned to their graves, there were still several unidentified bodies who were assumed to have been originally from the cemetery but had been removed from the main body or too rotted away to return to the cemetery. Out of all of the girls assigned to the task of identification, only one had a strong enough stomach to place the heads with corresponding bodies.

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Mrs. Winchester began writing letters to the families of the staff who had passed over the night. A little-known fact that history often forgets is the generosity of Mrs. Winchester towards her household staff. Not just in their salary but towards their children’s and grandchildren’s education. With each letter she sent to deceased employee’s family, she enclosed a generous check. However, as she sealed each envelope, there was a familiar ache in her heart. For all of the millions that Mrs. Winchester had inherited, not a penny could replace the pain that she felt after losing her daughter and husband. She would trade it all in a moment to have her husband and daughter with her again. She sighed and with pain shooting up her arms, she would start another letter. There were so many letters to send and a funeral to plan. Arthritis be damned! She thought but with each word she wrote, the simple task became more excruciating.

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

Brisco, Rachel, and another workman did not join James’ task of moving bodies but focused on trying to enter the cellar that Socrates, Whip, Viva, and Pete had entered. When Ellie had spoken the counter-curse and the grounds shook, all of the furniture pieces that the workmen had loaded out of the way were now blocking any entry or exit beneath the house. To make matters worse, the farthest reaches of the root system had tried to escape the fire and had wrapped itself around each piece of rubble and furniture blocking the entryway in an attempt to cling to life. When the fire managed to kill the heart of the evil tree, the outside roots had fused to the furniture causing everything to be tied together. It took hours to not only move items out of the way but to hack at the fused root system. The three worked tirelessly determined to help locate any survivors from under the house.

After several hours in the sun, Lenore personally brought plates of food to the trio when they had refused food the last three times people had attempted to convince them to take a break.

“Brisco, you aren’t good to anyone if you faint,” she commanded as she placed a firm hand on his shoulder and gently pushed him to sit down.

“I’m not about to give up on anyone. Besides, I can ride for days without sleeping and live on one meal a day,” he retorted.

Lenore laughed aloud before continuing, “Oh honey! You were never that tough. Besides, we aren’t in our 20’s anymore.” She placed the plate into Brisco’s hands as she squeezed his shoulder. “You aren’t giving up. You’re just taking a 5-minute rest.”

Rachel sat beside him and moved the food around her plate. The lump in her throat was too big to swallow anything. Seeing Rachel’s discomfort, Brisco attempted to break the silence and stress of the moment.

“Don’t worry. You look worse than you feel.”

“What?” exclaimed a shocked Rachel. “Why the hell would you say that?” she demanded.

Brisco laughed, which momentarily broke the tension. “At least you survived the gunshot wound. I can only imagine the beating your mother is going to give me when she next sees you.”

She smiled faintly, before asking, “Afraid of my mother, are you?”

“The only thing more terrifying than Crystal Hawkes, is Lenore Lonefeather.”

“What about me?” Rachel asked innocently.

“You’re not quite there yet but I’m sure that your mother and Lenore will get you to their level of fear wielding soon enough.”

“Does that mean you’ll recommend me to have more fight scenes and less damsel in distress?”

Brisco was rescued from responding because at that moment, someone began to shout from inside the pile of rubble. It was Ellie calling for help with a body.

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

After changing into a pair of pants and shirt, Ellie went outside to join the search for her friends. Watching the men give Rachel the menial task of hacking at dead roots, Ellie elected to not join the group for instructions but instead began to search around the house for another way in. She snuck around to the basement that she and Brisco had been assigned to the night before and after 20 minutes or so, found a small crawl space that might lead to the other basement. Unfortunately, the area around it had partially collapsed in on itself which would make getting through quite difficult. Ellie tried to make the hole a little bigger by kicking at the surrounding wood but it did not budge, which caused Ellie to assume that this was the reason why no one else was bothering with this area of the house.

Determined to not be deterred she abandoned the task of making the hole bigger but attached a flashlight to her belt and slowly crawled into the manmade tunnel. It took longer than she would have liked and certainly managed to cause several scrapes and bruises but she finally made it in. She stood and turned on the flashlight to study the dead world of the cellar that had swallowed the lawyer, bandit, sheriff, and deputy. As she looked around the underbelly of the house, she was amazed that the mansion itself had remained intact. Maybe there was another spell or force separating the house from the basement. Who knows? Only the ghosts and shadows would know and they were particular about what they wanted to share with corporeal beings such as herself.

She turned her attention to the ground and noticed that most of everything had turned to ash. The forest of branches and roots had been destroyed and Ellie could feel the cement beneath her feet. She continued to walk through the underside but the smell of burnt flesh became overwhelming. Ellie held in her urge to vomit but began to count bodies. She could count at least seven and it was impossible to tell which body was which. She choked back her tears but was determined to keep looking around for a survivor. If the house had survived, why couldn’t her friends have survived?

Time seemed to slow down as she wandered the underside of the house; nothing had remained aside from ash. Whatever battles had occurred beneath the house would not be known by the corporeal world, just by any spirit who had watched the scene unfold. As Ellie continued to move through the house, she found herself hoping that the group of men she watched enter the basement had either escaped or died quickly. Dying by fire seemed a truly horrible way to die.

Ellie tripped and dropped her flashlight. For a moment she stood in terror and darkness, unable to find the ability to scream or to move. Had the weird slithering roots she’d briefly seen the night before somehow survived this fire? She carefully stooped down to her feet and lifted the flashlight with shaking hands. But even with the flashlight, it was difficult to see what had tripped her. Ellie felt her mouth go dry and she carefully brushed away the ash to reveal, not a root but an arm. Before she could hold it in, she shouted in excitement. This arm was unscathed by fire!

She then began scooping away the ash and dirt in search of the rest of the body that owned the hand. Ellie’s fingers began to hurt as she continued to claw at the earth, tears of hope began to well up in her eyes as she continued to scratch away at the earth. She could hear the shouts of Brisco, Rachel, and other workmen respond to her calls and pick up speed on the other side of the cellar doors. She could feel the skin on her fingertips begin to bleed as she continued to dig away at the dirt. Yet she did not slow down as she continued to uncover the body. Finally, enough of a face was revealed and she could shine her flashlight onto it. She began to shout, “Oh my god! Pete! You lived!” She gave him a large hug but found that he was not breathing. Ellie began to shake him in an effort to wake him up. No matter what she did, Pete did not move or wake.

Ellie didn’t know when Brisco and the rest of the men had arrived. She was aware that Brisco and his men dragged Pete’s body out and into the sunlight. She still felt like she was in shock as Rachel led her to the outside where the sun temporarily blinded her eyes. The world around her felt like it was running slow. Her world felt truly shaken, as if gravity no longer trapped her feet and the sun no longer stood in the sky. Pete’s dead? Of all the impossible things from the night before, how could Pete die?

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

Evening finally came and all of the bodies from under the house and throughout the grounds had all been sorted. The household had arranged to have the memorial services for all parties at midnight as the mourning bells would seem like the normal séance bells to the outside townspeople. Brisco and his friends were in varying stages of grief for their lost friends. Rachel was in a state of denial, hoping that the bodies were misidentified as she had little experience with death outside of shows or Hollywood. James was feeling angry about the evening’s large loss of life and Lenore was trying to be brave despite the sorrow she felt at losing so many people in a short amount of time. Brisco watched Ellie and noticed that she seemed emotionless, not out of denial but rather an overwhelming sense of pain.

Brisco could feel grief already eating away at him. He could not eat dinner and didn’t really listen to what the people around him were saying. Perhaps it was about the pending memorial services or maybe it was about sleeping arrangements. Realizing that he didn’t want to be social, Brisco asked to take a nap in Socrates’ room prior to the midnight service. However, arriving in the room seemed to make Brisco restless and he soon found himself rummaging through Socrates’ things. Brisco found socks hanging from a bureau door and Socrates’ briefcase spilled out over the desk. Brisco absently searched through the books that Socrates had left strewn about the room, not really looking for anything but to think of how inconvenient and amusing it was to travel with Socrates. Games of rock, paper, scissors for a bed, Socrates’ snoring, and the lawyer’s odd theories about unpacking one’s belongings. The memories caused momentary smiles for Brisco and he even lifted the mattress to find Socrates’ suit pressed between the mattress and box springs. The smile faded as Brisco realized that it would not be worn ever again.

“I had a feeling that you would still be awake,” Ellie quietly stated. Brisco turned to see that she had quietly come into the room. She had switched into a black dress for the midnight service but her hair was still untied. She was holding two beers and offered Brisco one of the bottles before sitting on the bed and opening one for herself.

Brisco avoided her gaze while taking the beer. In an effort to fill the silence he stated, “I see you finally changed from yesterday’s nightgown to this evening’s gown.”

“I am convinced that all women will dress for comfort instead of fashion one day in the future,” she retorted.

“As in living in their night clothes?”

“Why not? The world keeps changing, why do women have to endure daily tortures for the sake of fashion?”

“Is that in the Woman’s Suffrage Articles?” asked Brisco, only mildly paying attention.

“I haven’t read it yet, have you?”

“You won’t see me complaining about that idea,” Brisco responded distractedly as he took another drink from his beer. Ellie’s face also fell as she looked about the room.

“I know that I am going to be taking women’s rights back a few years and at the risk of sounding weak, would you mind holding me?”

Brisco turned to her in confusion. “Still afraid?”

Ellie didn’t respond but her eyes filled with tears which caused Brisco moved to the bed to sit beside Ellie and to hold her but he couldn’t think of anything to say. He was unable to think of anything hopeful to say to Ellie. Instead, the two curled up on the bed and tuned out the world around them.

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