By Jessilyn Rich
I waited until dawn to return to where the house had stood the day before. Overgrown vines had turned black from the heat of the flames, and the whole street smelled of smoke. Most of the old house was now a pile of burnt wood. A few walls still stood of the first floor, the windows blown out, and their frames burnt to a crisp. I could feel the heat that remained from where the fire had been, small pockets of smoke hung in the yard like a Christmas wreath in July. I followed the stone wall around the property, and looked for a place in the bushes to climb through. I knew I shouldn’t be here, but my curiosity was just too much for me. I hoisted myself up on to the cold stone wall and walked through the yard to an iron fence I had seen the night before. I forced open the rusty gate and crept inside the small graveyard.
Four stones sat forming a perfect square in the center. Unlike the rest of the property, it wasn’t overgrown, the vines had been cut back, and flowers were planted beside three of the four stone. Those three stones glistened like glass in the early morning light, as if they had just been polished. The one in the top left corner was dirty, and looked so sad next to the others. I looked around and found not a single flake of ash had floated within the fence last night during the fire. How was that possible? My throat felt dry, like it had yesterday when the door of the old house had slammed shut behind me. I knelt between the first two stones and ran my fingers across the surface, it felt as if I was dipping my fingers in cool water. The names etched on the two stones read Anna Ruth Talbot and Emily Lydia Talbot. My breath caught like fire in my lungs as I read the dates and realized they were only four and six. Was this who I thought it was? I crawled up to the stones resting in the back, I didn’t dare try to stand, I didn’t think my legs would let me. Daniel Michael Talbot was etched into the dirty stone on the left and Lydia McGovern Talbot on the stone to the right.
An overwhelming urge to vomit hit the back of my throat like a semi-truck, and I leaped to my feet. Racing through the iron gate and heaving my breakfast into the bushes near the stone wall, I felt lightheaded and unsure of my legs that were trying to hold me. I began to walk home, wishing I had just stayed in bed that morning. My foolish curiosity was always causing me problems and yet I never learned. I knew the man in the old house yesterday had looked familiar, but it wasn’t until I heard the name again that I knew why.
I had heard my grandmother speak of the story from time to time. It was the kind of story that everybody knew, but no one ever really talked about. It had happened just a few years before I was born. A family in the neighborhood had just disappeared one day. No one knew where they went, or what happened to them, not even their own families. People started to take notice after their dog was found wandering through town and no one came to claim him. The husband’s brother went to check on them but found them gone. They had dishes still in the sink, their clothes still hung on the clothes line, their car sat in the yard, but the whole family never came back. The town formed a search party and looked for days, but not a trace was ever found. A few years after the disappearance, some of the children’s things and the wife’s purse were found in the woods off a highway during a highway clean up project by the boy scouts. People assumed they had been killed, but the police could find no evidence and had little else they could do. The family had made a private memorial for the family behind their home, believing them to be dead. Soon after, the grief just became too much and the remaining family had moved away, leaving the empty house boarded up. It soon disappeared behind unpruned trees and overgrown bushes. No one had lived there since. Old abandoned homes weren’t an uncommon thing in this town since the mill closed. More stood empty than full.
My grandmother had shown me the article she had clipped from the paper right after the disappearance had happened. At the top of the article was a picture of the missing family. It’s how I knew I was right, how all the pieces began to come together. The man I had talked to in the old house yesterday, had been Daniel Talbot.
Categories: Arts & Culture