There was something about the new house that made Carlotta uneasy. The house was quite large. It sprawled out over the hill on which it stood. It was a white three-storey brick house with a grey roof and an elegantly designed interior. Carlotta's mother was beside herself when she saw it.
They had never lived in such a place. They would not have been able to afford a home like this had it not been for the ‘special circumstances’. Carlotta’s mother, who everyone called Bunny, had received a letter from the director of her great-aunt’s estate. Apparently, Great-Aunty Sasha was no longer able to care for herself and her lavish property.
She was thus moving to Maine where her eldest daughter lived. She wanted to leave her property in Trinidad in the care of relatives. Bunny happened to be the first relative who had come to mind. The whole story sounded strange to Carlotta but then again Bunny had always referred to Carlotta as “a cautious and naturally suspicious child”.
Carlotta just could not stop thinking, “Who leaves such a beautiful house to relatives they barely know?” She continued to ponder these troubling ‘circumstances’ as she dragged her suitcase up the sweeping staircase. The hardwood staircase went gracefully from the ground-floor living room up to first-floor sitting room and finally to the second-floor hallway. Bunny had told Carlotta there was also a basement and an attic but those did not count as floors and they had not been given keys for those rooms.
“Another suspicious happening!” muttered Carlotta to herself as she slumped against the wall of the hallway. Why would they be barred from certain rooms if the house was being left in their care indefinitely? Carlotta grumbled her way up to her new bedroom. She had told Bunny that she did not want to have a room all the way up on the second-floor. She gulped at the thought of being three storeys up. What if she fell out of a window? Such a thing was quite possible in Carlotta’s case. Carlotta had a multitude of sleeping problems. One of them was sleep-walking. Another was her night terrors. A third was not being able to fall asleep in the first place. When she finally was able to drift off to sleep, the first two problems would take over. Bunny refused to let her daughter take medication for insomnia, did not see her sleep-walking as dangerous and did not believe that night terrors were any different from normal nightmares. She said her daughter’s imagination was “wild” and “sleeping pills were for working professionals, not school girls.”
Carlotta dropped her suitcase near the door once she was inside the room. The room was perfect for a girl in her teens. It was beautifully decorated and had lots of closet space. The hardwood floor was overlaid with plush, beige carpet. The walls were painted a warm shade of yellow. The centre of the room boasted a four-poster bed dressed in white linen sheets and draped with white, chiffon curtains. Carlotta tossed herself onto this bed and to her surprise, she fell fast asleep.
“Carlotta.” Carlotta awoke with a start at the sound of someone calling her name. She looked at her bedroom door. She had left it open. Someone stood in the doorway. It was too dark to distinguish who it was but she could see the dark outline of the person in the doorway. “Bunny?” she asked. There was no answer. She peered at the doorway. She squinted in the darkness, trying to decipher what was there. The figure was too small to be her mother. It possessed the height of a child. Carlotta felt a chill flow through her. She reached out to the nightstand, feeling for the lamp switch. She flicked it on and a dull, yellow glow filled the room. The dark figure in the doorway vanished and Carlotta could have sworn she heard it cackle as it disappeared.
“Bunny! Mom!” she shrieked. Carlotta sat in the ground-floor dining room. The long table seated twelve. That was way too many for herself, her mom and, Tawny, the housekeeper who still resided there. “Mom, did you meet Tawny yet? How tall is she? Do you know?” asked Carlotta, clutching the cup of tea Bunny had made for her.
“Tawny? No, I haven’t met her yet. Why?” asked Bunny, her brow furrowing in concern. She had made a late-night cup of tea for Carlotta after she had woken up screaming. “Maybe, she was the one standing over me…” whispered Carlotta. “Sweetheart, no one was standing over you. You dreamt that, that’s all. Now, it’s late, so try to go back to sleep.” Carlotta climbed the two flights of stairs back up to her room. She shut the door tightly this time and got into the four-poster bed drawing the curtains about her and then burying herself under the covers. She tossed and turned until she fell into a troubled sleep riddled with nightmares of ghouls lurking in the shadows. She could only tell that they were there in the dark because of the neon green glow of the slits of their eyes.
Carlotta dragged herself out of bed the next morning. She could not forget the dark figure in the doorway or its chilling cackle. Could it really just be her imagination? She had to rule out Tawny. If Tawny was short of stature like the figure had been, maybe Carlotta had mistaken the housekeeper going about her routine for the figure she thought she had seen. Carlotta knew that Tawny stayed in an apartment-like section of the ground floor so that she had her keys and could go undisturbed. Carlotta left the house through the front double-doors and walked along the side of the house.
There was a dirt path that went around the house. It led her to another set of doors. These were the ones for which only Tawny had the keys. Carlotta knocked hesitantly and waited. She put her ear to the door and strained to hear any movements inside. Suddenly, the door pulled inwards, away from her eye. She was left standing awkwardly on the doorstep with her ear facing an elderly woman with a quizzical look on her face. Carlotta quickly jumped around to face the woman and immediately felt dismayed. Tawny was at least a foot taller than she was. Nothing like the child-like figure in the doorway. It could not have been Tawny so then, what was it? Tawny’s question distracted Carlotta from her musings. “Can I help you?” asked Tawny. She looked at Carlotta curiously.
“Um, yes,” said Carlotta, making up her story as she went along, “I’m writing a paper for school on the history of this house so I wanted to ask you some questions. You see, I find old houses like these fascinating. My name is Carlotta…” “Oh so you’re the owner’s relative who has come to stay?” said Tawny in an expressionless voice. “Yes. My mom, Bunny and I…” “Come in. Come in.” Tawny led Carlotta into a richly decorated living room. There were marble ornaments everywhere and a showcase filled with china. The door closed behind them which startled Carlotta but left Tawny unperturbed. Tawny shuffled over to a sofa at the far end of the room. She gestured for Carlotta to sit in the armchair nearby while she settled into the sofa. There was a tea set on the glass table in front of them as well as a tray of biscuits. Tawny waved her hand in a graceful motion, indicating the tea and the biscuits.
“Yes, please,” said Carlotta, now sitting in the armchair.Tawny handed her a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits. Carlotta nibbled one of the biscuits and then politely sipped the tea. “So, you want to know what’s wrong with the house,” croaked Tawny in her deep accented voice. “Excuse me,” spluttered Carlotta, in-between sips of tea. Tawny raised her brows at the young girl. “You don’t find it strange here?” asked Tawny, only vaguely interested. “A little…” admitted Carlotta, “but I’ve only been here a day and Bunny doesn’t seem to think anything’s wrong-” “That thing would not trouble your mother. He only troubles children...” “What thing?” asked Carlotta, letting her biscuit fall back onto its plate. Tawny smiled for the first time. It was a grave little smile that deepened the wrinkles in her face. “Do you know what a Duwende is?” asked Tawny. “Yeah, I know what a Douen is.” “No, no, no. Not a Douen. A Duwende. A goblin.” said Tawny patiently. “A goblin?”
'Yes. It’s sort of a goblin. One that appears only to children.” “I’m not a child. I’m fourteen.”
“If you say so,” said Tawny. “The duwende will live in the wall of a child’s bedroom. As a little girl, Sasha hated this house. I’m sure she’s glad to get rid of it. The duwende will find a new haunt now.” Perhaps, Tawny was crazy, thought Carlotta back IN her room. Maybe, she was crazy. There was no such thing as a duwende. Carlotta found herself knocking on the walls of her room. She knocked on all four of them. She laughed at herself for being silly and turned to exit the room when she heard it. Something knocked back. She turned to where the noise came from and approached the spot. There was a hole in the wall there. It was a perfectly round hole like a peep hole for spying. She grabbed a small piece of paper from her desk and stuffed it into the hole. She knew that this was silly. It was probably just a flaw in the wall but she wanted it covered up anyway. Just in case.
A BUMP IN THE NIGHT
That night, Carlotta lay awake in the dark, listening. She strained her ears trying to pick up the faintest of sounds. There was a soft, scraping sound as though tiny feet had brushed over the carpet. Carlotta shot out of bed and turned on the light. She looked around the room and then she saw it. She let out a blood-curdling scream. There were muddy footprints on the carpet: small and six-toed. Bunny came running into the room. Her face was pale and drawn. Carlotta pointed at the carpet, unable to speak.
“There’s nothing there,” said Bunny looking at where Carlotta had pointed and then turning a concerned expression upon her daughter. Carlotta looked at the carpet. She had only taken her eyes off of the footprints for a moment when her mother had come running into the room. They were gone! Carlotta looked at her mom. She was speechless. “That is it. I’m taking you to a doctor.” Carlotta barely heard her mom’s declaration. She was staring wide-eyed out the window at the pair of eyes that glowed there amidst the darkness. Those slit-like, neon green eyes stared right into her soul and filled her with dread.
TO BE CONTINUED
University of the West Indies