Every tear from the eye of that man was worth its weight in diamonds – even though they were so freely shed. There were, however, few things that would incite them. Among them was joy. Another was sadness but only of the purest kind. He was far too used to normal sadness anyway. Loneliness and pain no longer affected him. He lived too long in solitude to care much. He often wished he could say that he preferred his solitary lifestyle but he didn't. He knew deep down that he only remained alone to protect himself. He was too different to be accepted and so wrongly accused of crimes he didn't commit that he would be locked up and alone once again even if he did return to normal society. So he decided he would remain forgotten and hoped that, through the course of his immortal life, he would find a way to somehow mend his broken heart. By using the seasons, he deduced that it had been fifty years since the day his heart had shattered and, so far, he had had no such luck fixing it.
There were few things I hated more than plane rides. The rows and rows of strangers made me uneasy. I've found that each seemed to do one of two things: stare at you incessantly or ignore you completely. If given a choice between the two, I'd choose the latter even though that usually consists of the man in front of me leaning his seat back until he's practically in my lap and the child behind me kicking the back of my seat. The only thing I wanted was to land but, unfortunately, the flight tracker screen on the seat in front of me indicated there was still 30 minutes until arrival. I groaned and leaned back, feeling the thump, thump of the kicks at the back of my seat.
My mind wandered to my final days in New Orleans which had been, aside from the devastating loss of my grandfather, the most depressing time in my life. I was born and raised in New Orleans. My friends were there. My family was there. My education was there. I hadn't intended for this to happen at all but it did. The memory of packing that last box was still fresh and painful as an open wound in my mind. But now I was leaving that world of life and fun behind for an unknown future in some little no-name town in the Midwest. And all this was thanks to a little piece of paper – my grandfather's will.
My eyes shot open suddenly as the captain's voice echoed through the cabin.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking; we've just gotten clearance to land. Please fasten your seatbelts. We'll be landing in 10 minutes." The intercom clicked off.
I inwardly shouted with joy and waited patiently. To my delight, we touched down with 2 minutes to spare and I fumbled with the seatbelt to stand. It was the smallest airport I'd ever seen. People shuffled slowly about as if they had nowhere to be. After snatching up my luggage, I tore out of the airport and was greeted by a chubby old man with a bushy gray beard holding a sign that read, "Babineaux". Recognizing my last name, I approached him cautiously. He grinned.
"Welcome, Miss Babineaux!" he began, "I'll be driving you to your destination. Here, allow me." He ripped my bags from my fingers and tossed them into the trunk of the green and white checkered taxicab behind him. I cleared my throat.
"Thank you, Mister - ?" I paused. "Harold. But everyone calls me Harry!" he finished for me. I offered him a nervous smile as he helped me into the taxi.
"So, where to, Miss Babineaux?" he inquired.
"513 South Main Street, please? The college apartments?"
With a smile from Harry, we were off, cruising past tiny suburb homes and mom-n-pop restaurants. We arrived at the apartments which consisted of only two floors and Harry helped me drag my luggage to the second floor, number 23. For his sweet personality and helpful nature, I paid him for the meter and added in a handsome tip. I had a feeling Harry would turn out to be a good friend of mine after that kind of payment. With annoyed distaste, I unpacked my bags into the already furnished bedroom.
The apartment was small and only included one bedroom, one bathroom, and a kitchen/living room. I sighed and told myself to stop being selfish. After all, this apartment was plenty of space for a college student. I was only 20 and lived alone so what more did I need? But, however positive I tried to make the situation seem, my mind wandered back to how I was forced to transfer from the University of New Orleans to the town's community college. I knew I was being unreasonable by getting angry but I couldn't help it. I finally decided to end the argument with myself by saying, "It's what grandpa wanted." I retired to my bed, still unhappy with my luck.
The next day my boxes full of possessions arrived, surprisingly unharmed. Because I didn't own much of anything, I made short work of moving in. After an hour of staring at the television which must've been from the sixties, I stood, determined to do something productive. Perhaps I'd look around town. I gently cradled my most prized possession, my camera, in my hands as I boarded the town bus. The people in town were kind and friendly. They seemed particularly interested in my camera, all asking if I would take pictures of them which I did politely. No one seemed to understand that I wasn't some tourist's photographer. I was studying to be a photographic reporter and, with any luck, my photographs would be featured in famous magazines like National Geographic or on well-known news networks like CNN.
I paused for a moment at a small book shop and entered. I meandered curiously through the shelves until I spotted an old woman, carrying a stack of books even taller than her. Nervously, I spoke, "Ma'am, may I help you with that?" I heard a grunt in reply. I was suddenly laden with volumes of books so heavy I thought my arms would fall off.
"Nice of you to ask, dear. Now put them on those high shelves right there. That's right, letters S to Z. Use the author's last name." So, without knowing the reason why, I began placing the books on their proper shelves. The old woman, with her wiry gray hair piled high on her head and her wrinkled old hands on her wide hips, smiled and watched me. I finished the job with a volume called "Praying Mantis: Cannibal Insect".
"You're hired." I heard the woman's graveled voice croak out. "Come in tomorrow at 10 am. I'll show you the ropes. Now, I'm closing up for the day. So, would you mind?" She gestured to the door. Unsure of what to do, I followed the woman's order. Had I just gotten a job? In a small town like this, I knew it would be easy but I never knew it would happen so suddenly. I suppose I couldn't complain though. After all, taking pictures wouldn't put food on the table, even if it was just ramen noodles. I needed income badly. Maybe my luck was turning around.
I walked without knowing exactly how far. The pastel colors of the suburban homes fascinated me. How strange they were. They looked to be built in the fifties or sixties but surely the colors were weird even then, right? Each home seemed to be an exact replica of the others, save for an added on garage or perhaps a new fence. I chuckled to myself, imagining that each family in these houses also looked exactly the same but were different pastel colors. Most of the residents were extremely old citizens that had probably lived there 50 years. Many of the community's gossips watched as I passed and whispered hungrily to their friends, no doubt about how I'm new to town. I wasn't sure I'd enjoy living here that much if the whole town was one big sorority. To distract myself, I began pointing my camera lens at random objects, looking for a good shot. It was no good. Everything was just too…monotonous.
Without noticing, I walked into a cool, long shadow. A large hill protruded from the flatlands and bent majestically over the cul-de-sac. Perched atop the peak like a wise old owl, there stood a dilapidated-looking mansion, seemingly crumbling to the ground. What a strange place. As I stood pondering the odd placement of such a historic building, it hit me. From my pocket I pulled a folded stack of papers. A small paragraph was highlighted in obnoxious yellow. It read:
"To my granddaughter, Odette Babineaux, I leave my one inheritance which I received from my older brother when he passed – his mansion home. I give this to her because it is my hope that she will treasure and care for it. While in my possession, I was unable to attend to it due to my age. I pass it to her so she might do what I never could." A small card revealed the address of this mansion. It was just as I thought. This dump is my inheritance? Grandpa expected me to fix THAT? I reread the paragraph. "Treasure and care for", huh? With a sigh of defeat, I trudged forward past the iron gates and up the steep dirt path to the mansion. I might as well give it the benefit of the doubt. Besides, I can imagine there being some great photo-ops up there. At the thought, my excitement was renewed and I broke into a dash.
On the way up, my camera's memory began to fill with pictures of varying elevation above the town and crooked trees along the path. By the time I reached the second set of wicked-looking wrought iron gates, a grin of satisfaction was plastered over my face.
My breath was caught in my chest as I peeked into the courtyard. Even when I could breathe properly, all I could do was gasp and sigh in amazement. The gardens were so trimmed and well-kept. Lush green bushes and topiaries of different imaginative shapes littered the grounds. A grassy green sea monster seemed to swim through the yard and a majestic leafy stag was poised mid-prance. At the center of the courtyard, a foliate hand appeared to stretch skyward with all its might. Flowers were overflowing from their beds and filled the grounds with a sweet, radiating fragrance. If the outside looked like this, I wonder what the inside looks like. So, after nearly ten minutes of picture-taking bliss, I found myself standing at the massive wooden door. With a great push, I felt the door swing open to reveal the mansion.
I stopped, eyes wide and trying to understand. The inside was so…ragged. So dusty. So shoddy. It looked as if it hadn't been lived in for decades which, I suppose, is what I had originally expected but after such a lovely sight as the gardens, I wanted more. Every step I took into the musty air was traced by my dusty footprints on the floor. It was all so wide and open. I swore I could've heard my heartbeat echo. Along a wall were hundreds of cobweb-covered, rusted old contraptions on a conveyor belt. I had never seen such things before. I took a few snapshots of them, dangling from cables, which I found to be rather beautiful in an unusual and unlikely way. I remembered my parents explaining to me that my great-uncle, whose old home I was in, was some sort of genius inventor and I had to say that I agreed. These little homemade instruments were wonderful and weird. The sudden creaking of a floorboard above alerted me. I silently crept to the staircase, snapping a picture or two of the interesting statue covered in spider webs, its arms outstretched as if being crucified. I shuddered at the thought.
The grandeur of the staircase humbled me, made me feel so small and insignificant. For a moment, I wondered if perhaps my great-uncle felt the same way when walking up and down such a regal staircase. I winced as I stepped on a squeaky step. The noise in the still air startled me greatly. I emerged at the top to be met with a gaping hole in the wood roof. A welcome cool breeze tossed my long, wavy, brown locks and swept along my fair cheeks. Click. I took a picture and smiled. This house was incredible. Its past seemed so mysterious and I felt as if every photo I took was magical. I walked to my right toward a broken window. I raised my camera to snap a photograph when, out of the corner of my viewfinder, I saw a bed and scraps of paper on the floor. Slowly, I went to investigate. On the wall above the bed were clippings from magazines and newspapers all brought together like some sort of misfit's collage. Click.
I turned around to face the left side of the room which was shrouded in shadows. Click. I inspected the picture on my digital screen and became puzzled at the slightest glint of light in the middle of darkness. I looked up only to be met with a tall figure, gleaming in the shadows. I gasped and backed away. "Oh my God…" I began,"I'm sorry. I didn't know there was someone staying here. I – I – was just…." The figure slowly approached, menacingly. I almost reached the staircase, ready to break into a run.
"Are you leaving?" I heard a boyish voice whimper. The dark man became half-immersed in the sunlight streaming in through the hole in the ceiling. His face was ghostly white and hair was wild and jet black. I attempted to scamper further away but tripped, scraping my knees in the process and allowing a pained squeak to escape my lips. I heard rushing feet behind me.
"Are you alright?" The worried voice asked. I turned and was faced with multiple blades, reaching for my face. In a panic, I seized my camera and fled. Tears of fright threatened to spill over onto my cheeks as I ran down the hill once more, confused and prepared to never return to that house again.