He scowled down at me, at least, I thought it was a scowl. It was so dark I could hardly see where I was walking.
"Then why didn't you wait in the car?"
"Because I didn't want to be alone, in the car, in the dark, miles from nowhere."
I scanned the area to my right with straining eyes. The moon came out now and then and bars of light would flood the drive with tangled bars of moonlight, but it was only a temporary help and did nothing to light the woods that surrounded us on every side.
He chuckled. "Dummy. How can you be miles from nowhere?"
I punched him in the shoulder with my free hand. "I'm not a dummy. And if you're a long way from nothing, you are miles from nowhere."
I stumbled and clutched at Johnny to keep from falling. I don't know why I'd agreed to come out here with him. We were thirty miles from town, but it had sounded fun. I'd heard about the Truesdale mansion all my life, but no one ever brought me here. There were rumors, of course, about ghost and midnight parties attended by long-dead guest but I didn't know where the story originated or any details about the house. My parents trusted me and I suppose it never occurred to them that I'd even attempt to come here because they'd never forbidden it. I felt bad about it now, but the excitement had been too much for my 17-year-old brain to handle. Johnny was attractive and persuasive.
He stopped and hissed at me. "Listen."
A rustling to our right sent me into Johnny's side and I held my breath.
"Do you hear music?" He smiled down at me.
I shook my head vehemently. "Why would I? No one lives here."
"Nope. No one has lived here for decades."
"Why is that?"
He started walking again and I was dragged along. I could have let go, but that wasn't going to happen.
"The story is that old Truesdale threw a huge surprise party for his only daughter's return from Europe on the evening of her 18th birthday. She'd gone on some kind of world tour, you know the kind the Victorian elite took back in the day."
I didn't know, but I nodded anyway.
"Anyway, they had this huge party with all their rich friends. People came from as far away as New York and Boston."
He shifted his shoulders and covered my hand with his. It was warm and I snuggled against him.
I prompted him. "What happened?"
He looked down at me. "What? Oh.. well, old Truesdale went all out. He ordered a small orchestra to play music and tables with all kinds of food. He'd invited at least a hundred people and they were dressed in fancy dress, men in their tuxes and the ladies with their jewels. His daughter's girlfriends stood around giggling with their boyfriends on their arms. People were dancing and laughing and talking. It was amazing. At least, that's the story."
"And?" I prodded him. It was like pulling teeth to get the story out. It was fascinating because I'd never heard this part.
He glanced at me, his excitement suddenly dimmed. "She never came home. Her ship sank and she drowned."
"Oh, Johnny, that's so sad. So, they waited all night for her, dancing and partying?"
He didn't answer the question but said, "I think it is right up here. They said at the end of the drive there would be a light."
Johnny laughed. He started walking faster. "Looks like they're expecting us."
I looked up at him, considering telling him to slow down. His excitement seemed out of place for the story he told me.
The tunnel of trees that surrounded the drive gave way to a broad expanse of lawn with grass nearly waist high. Trees still lined the drive but were much further apart than what we'd just traversed. Beyond, I could make out a looming blackness that I presumed was the house but I couldn't make out any lights.
I stopped and cocked my head to one side, listening. "It is music!"
He laughed and dragged at my arm, tugging me toward the house. "Come on. The party's already started."
The lanterns were stationed along a walk that ran the full length of the front of the house and I could make out a few structural details. It was a huge Georgian mansion with a gabled roof, Corinthian columns, and a full second-floor balcony. I halted in the middle of the drive and stared, open-mouthed. Johnny moved forward a few steps but stopped and turned to smile at me.
"That's impossible," I whispered. From every window, and there were many, dim flickering lights now shone. Shadows moved across the large windows at one end of the house. I rubbed my head.
Johnny laughed. "Come on, silly."
I stared at him. "What is going on? Is this some kind of joke? No one has lived here for decades."
He caught my hand and tugged me along as he moved toward the front door. "No. Let's go see what's inside."
I gave a token resistance, lagging behind him as he strode up the steps to the door. Something didn't seem right, but I couldn't see what. I'd heard the place was abandoned, dilapidated, and some tragedy had happened here but since I'd never had any interest in such places I'd never bothered to get details. Obviously, they held parties here and Johnny had brought me along.
I held back. "I'm not dressed, properly, Johnny. I don't know these people."
He ignored me and opened the carved wood door and pulled me into the hallway.
Music swirled around me like a breeze and there was a smell of some kind of flowers. At my expression, Johnny leaned close and whispered, "Lilacs."
I could hear laughter and there were several people coming down the stairs. They smiled and waved at us, and drifted through an arched doorway to our right. Johnny caught my elbow and led me in that direction. We stopped in the door and stared.
It was just as he described it. A small orchestra was at the back of the room and tables along the wall were ladened with food. On one was a fountain and people filled their glasses from it. Jewels glittered at the necks of beautifully clad women dancing with suited men. A group of girls passed us, giggling and giving Johnny flirting glances.
"You want to dance."
I couldn't speak, but I stared at him. "What is this?"
"What?" He frowned down at me. "A party. For Eliza. She'll be home tonight."
I stepped back. "Johnny. Who is Eliza?"
A booming voice caused me to jump and I whirled. "She's my daughter. This party is for her." He shook Johnny's hand. "Glad you could make it, my boy. So glad you brought another friend for Eliza."
My hand flew to my mouth and I smothered a sob. 'Oh my God." I was in a house of crazy people. I glanced toward the door. Straightening my back I started toward it. "I'm sorry. I have to leave. I forgot I told my Mom I'd be home by nine."
I nearly made it before Johnny caught my arm. "You can't leave. We just got here. Eliza will be home any minute."
"No." I jerked my arm away. "She won't be home any minute. Remember, you told me she never came home."
He laughed. "This party is for her. She'll be here."
I whirled away and raced for the door and pulled the brightly polished knob. The door opened and I started to move forward only to find myself facing a brick wall. I slid my hand along the surface and felt the rough brick and mortar joints scratch my palms. My breath rasped in my throat. No. This isn't right. I turned to stare at the two smiling men standing behind me.
"Let me out."
They smiled. The older man held out one arm and said, "Come, my dear, and enjoy the party. When Eliza gets here, Johnny can take you home."
I could hear the blood rushing in my ears and my heart pound so loud it sounded like drums. I rushed to the nearest window. I could just open it and step onto the porch and be gone. Once I made it to the highway, someone would give me a ride. Or maybe a farmhouse was nearby and I could get help there.
With shaking hands, I tore at the curtains and reached to open the window. Through the reflections in the glass, I saw the same brick that barricaded the doorway. I pounded on the frame. My heaving breath left fog on the glass and I turned away and ran to another window, and then another. Every window was bricked. Sobs tore at my throat and I stumbled back into the hallway. Perhaps upstairs I could find a window or the doorway to the balcony. I could jump down. I'd seen a small tree in one corner near the railing.
They still stood in the hallway, smiling and watching me.
I clutched Johnny's sleeve. "Let me out, please Johnny. I want to go home."
"After Eliza comes home." He caught my hand. "Let's dance."
I could feel my eyes grow wide and my mouth open. I wanted to scream, but no sound came. Music flowed around me like a breeze and the scent of lilacs fill the room. Eliza never came home. She drowned at sea.