Dwayne Davis is a contented hermit working at his new job as caretaker of Ephraim Mansion. The last thing he needs is this new chatty resident, Rose Abernathy, interrupting his peace and quiet. Rose, however, is delighted to have him there. She has been awfully lonely.
The jangle of the key ring in Dwayne’s hand gave him a certain satisfaction. For one, the echo as he moved from room to room was a reminder that this place was his. No, it didn’t actually belong to him, but unless there was some sort of charity event scheduled, from six-thirty in the evening through eight-thirty in the morning it was as good as his own. This sense of ownership was one of the many advantages included in the new job of caretaker of the Ephraim Mansion. For Dwayne, however, the biggest advantage was the frequent solitude. There was peace in the silence of being away from people.
All his life, Dwayne had experienced overwhelming stress in the presence of people, a stress no one else could quite understand. This eventually robbed him of peace and joy. It went way past the stresses he shared with other men who’d grown up Black and fatherless in this society. The unrelenting noise of humanity made it so he couldn’t hear his own thoughts or feel his own feelings. Alone at Ephraim Mansion, he was able to relax and breathe.
Here he could hear the birds chirping. He could enjoy the sound of the breeze moving through the tall grass. He could sense and feel the shifting of the house as it settled into its foundation. He could even notice the scuttling of the occasional mouse. Those were things that couldn’t be absorbed when he was under the buzz of the suburbs, or worse, when he was assaulted by the cacophony of the city.
The Ephraim Mansion had visitors during the day: reenactors, tourists, students on field trips, locals who enjoyed the familiar landmark. They could be loud. But for the most part, the sound was low-level. The mansion was not famous enough to draw huge crowds, but it was the tourist attraction that made the small town of Ephraim, Georgia notable. People came there to learn about the mansion’s history—and to see its ghosts.
Built in 1850, it was most famous for its second owner, the silent film star, Clara Abernathy, who bought it from Jamison Ephraim. In true Hollywood style, she redecorated it lavishly. But even more enticing to the visitors than the talk of the old celebrity was the buzz about the dark Ephraim curse. The Ephraim, Abernathy, and Winston families all had daughters who had died in the house. Some people thought this made the mansion sinister, but Dwayne saw the place as beautiful in a sad sort of way. He had taken care of other landmarks since his college days, but he felt at home here at the mansion, even if he had just settled in. There was something welcoming about it.
From the start, Dwayne made a habit of doing an after-hours walk-through at the close of each day. It was wise to check the rooms to make sure no stray visitors were left. It wouldn’t do to have anyone sticking around, ripping off antiques. Of course, most valuable goods were under lock and key in the downstairs display cases, but Dwayne had to worry about the few items that weren’t tacked down. He also kept an eye out for vandalism. Even an innocent prank could cost the owners thousands of dollars in damages.
Dwayne was sitting at the wobbly table in the compact kitchen of his small apartment at the back of the house. This apartment used to be part of the servants’ quarters. Now, converted into a semi-modern one-bedroom, little more than a studio, it was enough for Dwayne. He owned very little and wanted even less. He had plenty of books on his iPad, a place to store his trumpet, and the kitchen was adequate for preparing the soup and sandwich he usually enjoyed for dinner. He had fixed his food, and after kicking off his shoes and loosening his tie, he sat down with a long sigh.
Propping up his iPad, he immersed himself in a James Joyce novel while he ate. But as he lifted the spoon to his mouth, a noise floated down from a few floors above. Pausing, he sat still and listened. At first, he decided it was nothing, a trick of the wind or a squirrel on the roof, but then he heard it again.
Occasionally, a grad student or other privileged person might be allowed to remain past closing time, but generally Dwayne would get a heads up if there were going to be after-hours visitors. There had been no such notice that evening. Although it aggravated him to slip back into his shoes and risk his soup getting cold, he grabbed his keys and headed upstairs.
Upon entering the pink and gold bedroom, Dwayne was surprised that he had heard anything at all. The girl wandering around in there was so petite it was hard to believe she could take a step that would echo three floors down. By the looks of her, he figured she must be one of the reenactors. She wore some sort of 1920s getup, one of those drop-waist dresses and a long necklace. Her wavy blond hair was topped with a little headpiece. All in all, he thought she did quite well with her costume. A woman as good looking as her ought to have something better to do with her time than hang with those history nerds. But he told himself it was none of his business what she did with her time. Still, how had he missed her when he went through his after-hours check?
“Excuse me, ma’am, we’re closed. Even the actors need to leave.”
The girl was visibly startled. “The actors?”
“Yes, ma’am. You’re one of the re-enactors, aren’t you?”
She paused then nodded. “Yes, I am… a re-enactor.” Looking around, she added, “But I need to stay. I’m working on something… a scene. That’ll be okay, won’t it?”