THE SINS OF THE FATHER ARE TO BE LAID UPON THE CHILDREN
My name is Jack Evans and I am a thirty year old Investigative Reporter for the Chicago Tribune Newspaper. I am single with no current relationships and have been attending Psychotherapy Sessions twice a week now for years. It was just another Monday morning in the newsroom when an article on the wire jumped out at me. Townsend Mansion in Toronto to be named Heritage Site it read. Normally this would be a no brainer story given to a junior reporter but I grabbed it up and went to see my Editor. I would like to cover this I told him. No way, the story is below you he said without looking up from his desk. Fine I said then I’ll use my holidays and go myself. I could have told him that until the age of thirteen I lived up the street from this edifice and it was not only the cause of my moving but also my lengthy and mostly unsuccessful rehabilitation on a therapist’s couch.
The next morning I showered ,dressed, shaved and took a cab to O’Hare Airport for the one hour and forty minute flight to Pearson International in Toronto. I settled down in my seat next to an older lady who luckily for me slept all the way. At least, I thought I would not be subjected to photos of Grandchildren and besides I wanted to be alone with my thoughts. The Townsend Mansion was by 1961 the haunted house that every town or city seemed to have and the place every kid was afraid to walk by at night. I did not know it’s history on that fateful night long ago. the night that changed my life. It was at that time a run down boarded up reminder of a more elegant era.
How powerful peer pressure is I thought and the desire to belong to the in-crowd when you are thirteen. A gang of grade eight boys called the Rebels were the cool guys at school. On looking back it struck me as humorous what anyone at that tender age had to be rebellious of but I still wanted to be part of it. The group had initiation rites and in my case it meant entering the mansion at night armed only with a flashlight, climbing the stairs to the attic children’s nursery and shining the light out of the round stained glass window to prove to the group (who stood safely across the street) that I was there. It all sounded like a piece of cake in the glare of noonday and the safety of a crowd but that night my bravado went down with the setting sun.
I pried a board off the back basement window and began my slow climb to the top floor. I finally arrived at the upper landing with it’s long hallway that ran down to the double doors of the nursery. I pushed the doors open and entered a large room facing the front of the building. It was a giant playroom complete with rocking horse. books, toys and a small round table with four chairs. At the table, which was placed to one side of the room, were four child sized dolls in frilly dresses. The table was set for a tea party. I walked past and soon realized that the small stained glass window was about six feet above the floor. I shone my light around and found that there were boxes probably packed with books or old clothes. I pushed these to the front wall and stacked them one on top of the other until the tower reached just below the window. I scaled the makeshift ladder until I was able to shine my light out of the circle. With this accomplished I began down when I heard what sounded like the scraping of a chair on the wooden floorboards. I spun around and my light played all over the room finally coming to rest on the tea party. One of the chairs was pushed back a foot into the room and as I stared paralyzed with fear,the doll wearing a long blond wig of curls turned her head and looked up at me. Her face was deformed and hideous. A tiny dwarf with short arms and legs.Her eyes glowed red with hatred and from the folds of her party dress she withdrew a large butcher knife. I fell the last few feet to the floor twisting my ankle in the process and hobbled quickly past her to the door. I made it and was about five feet down the long hallway to the main staircase when I stopped to turn around and look. She rounded the doorframe and came crawling down the hall on all fours with the blade in her teeth like some hideous crab like creature. When she caught up to me she raised the blade above her head. She gave a demented scream and lunged for me. The blade came down and sliced open my right calf muscle. I managed to stand and move away from her as she tried to pry the blade out of the floorboards. My goal was to make the staircase. I looked up and at that minute the apparition of a large man came floating down the hallway. He yelled “Honour thy father daughter and turned to what was probably a bedroom door and went right through it. With the strength of adrenaline I stumbled down the stairs to a side window on the first floor and began to pry at a board. I looked back and she was halfway down the staircase scurring down. I fell through the small window opening and escaped.
The rest of that school year went badly. My grades fell. I began to have night terrors and was now wetting the bed. My parents made the decision to send me to live with my aunt in Chicago. The plane hit a pocket of air turbulence and shook me out of my reverie. I looked up from my aisle seat to see a cute little six year old skipping toward me on her return from the washroom at the front of the plane. She was singing a nursery rhyme as she skipped. “Three blind mice, three blind mice. see how they run, see how they run. They all ran after the farmer’s wife, she cut off their tails with a carving knife. You’ve never seen such a sight in your life, like three blind mice. She was now standing right next to me and she turned and grabbed my wrist. The smile drained from her face and she stared as if looking past me.In a demonic voice she said “If you go in there, she will cut off your tail with a carving knife”. In a second her youthful expression returned and she continued her skipping down the centre aisle. I was visibly shaken and stopped the stewardess with the serving cart for a couple of small bottles of scotch to settle my nerves. the plane landed without further incident and I took a cab to a hotel on the Airport Strip.
It looked just like the hundreds of other rooms I had stayed in while on assignment. In the morning I rented a car and drove downtown to the Heritage Society Office. I took a seat in the waiting room and a young receptionist said Miss Thomas will be right out. Miss Thomas I said out loud. Let me guess a spinster with horn rimmed glasses hanging from a chain, her hair in a bun, a Tweed suit and she smells of old books. “You just described my grandmother” came a voice from behind me “sorry to disappoint you”. She was a beautiful brunette with curves in all the right places. My face flushed red. My apologies Miss Thomas I said, you know us newspaper men, too jaded I guess. Don’t worry about it she laughed. I get it all the time and please call me Susan Mr. Evans. Only if you call me Jack I said. “Deal” she said. We went into her office and I took a seat. She looked me over carefully before speaking. You know Jack, just because I’m a glorified Librarian doesn’t mean I’m an idiot. You didn’t fly all the way up here to take a picture of me cutting a ribbon . No I answered honestly, It’s more complicated than that and I would rather exchange information over dinner in a quiet restaurant then over these musty books and charts. Would my apartment do instead she said? Your Editor said I could trust you she added. You shouldn’t always believe Editors I laughed. Shall we go? she said with a smile. We took my rented car across town and during the ride I told her of my experience in 1961. Quite a story she said when I was through but I can’t say I’m surprised. What do you mean I asked. I mean I for one am all for bulldozing the place and sowing the earth with salt and she added looking out the side window, When you hear my findings you might agree with me.
We got comfortable and she poured us each a drink.So, I said what duties does the head of the Heritage Society perform. Well, I am an expert on all Heritage Buildings and catalogue them with pictures and information. I also take writers and historians to the site.So you have keys to the Townsend Mansion? Yes and I have been there many times conducting tours. You see Jack I have been studying the Townsend Mansion for years now and what I have learned disturbs me. In what sense I asked. she stood up and walked to the window to look out on the city skyline. Do you believe in evil Jack. I mean pure evil, the kind that can soak into the nooks and crannies of stone, glass, marble and wood until the whole structure is a monument to everything that is monstrous. I believe that the Townsend Mansion still carries the evil stain of its former master.
I want you to think of Joshua Townsend as a two-sided coin. The face he showed to the world and the dark flip side he took to the grave. You were not the only person to be traumatized by that house. In the years since you’ve been gone four people have been found dead in there and many more went missing in the area. The Police investigations said that from the time it was boarded up transients and drifters lived there. They were all found dead and mostly devoured.
She picked up a thick folder from the coffee table, turned to the first page and began to read. Joshua Townsend, successful Business Man, Family Man, Deacon of the Church, Philanthropist and respected pillar of society.Married to Elizabeth Stratton and father of two daughters Faith and Hope. That is part of the speech I am supposed to recite. Now for what is not in the official records she went on. Owner of a small fleet of speedboats carrying rum and bathtub gin across the lake during prohibition. I found out from a friend at Police Headquarters that sometimes the authorities got lucky and intercepted his midnight runs and then the cases of whiskey and sometimes the crew went over the side. So I said, turning my glass around in my hand our respected pillar of society was a bootlegger and a murderer as well. That’s just the tip of the iceberg answered Susan. He held his bride captive in that house like a bird in a gilded cage. Why didn’t she leave him I asked? Divorce was socially taboo at the time and she would have become the scarlett woman. The daughters never married, although suiters were lined up around the block and after the death of their parents the girls were only glimpsed fleetingly by passers by dressed in black from head to toe. That seems strange that two beautiful eligible and rich socialites with their choice of suitors would not marry. I was able to locate a diary and it makes for powerful reading. Lets just say for now they hated men. What was the cause of death of the parents. Joshua’s file reads Heart Attack and Elizabeth’s reads Natural Causes but personally I don’t believe a word of it. Why would the authorities go to the bother of a cover up I asked? Townsend was a powerful man with powerful friends and no one, it seems, wanted a scandal. She picked up a layout of the house and grounds and unrolled it in front of me. This is the room I encountered the dwarf I pointed . Yes said Susan the Children’s Nursery. What are these two room here on the other end of the hallway? The daughter’s bedrooms she said. Just as I guessed, on that night I said when I saw the specter enter into one. What’s this building, behind the house I asked. That is the Family Mausoleum where they are all intered. I think we should go there tomorrow and see for ourselves. Are you up to it she said considering what happened to you? I’m not thirteen anymore and I think it’s time to climb back on the horse that threw me. Take the couch and stay here tonight she said, we leave first thing in the morning. One more thing I said before we get there I want to stop and buy two flashlights and a pry bar. I think they might come in handy.
We arrived at first light. Susan, I want to go into the Mausoleum to look at the bodies. It will tell us whether the Police Reports were doctored or not. Well she said looking a little nervous I’ll open the door and you can look all you want. We opened the iron gates at the front of the circular driveway. The Lions perched on each cement post with jaws opened looked as if to spring at any moment and devour us. We next walked around the large estate house to the Mausoleum and Susan inserted the key. The lock and iron door screamed in protest on its rusted hinges when I pulled it open. The room was dark and dank. Lined on both side walls were the vault doors containing the caskets. They were labeled in brass lettering with birth and death dates below. Joshuas was first. Beneath him was Elizabeth. Across on the opposite wall was Faith ,Hope and Charity. I turned to look at Susan who was half in and half out the front door. Who the hell is Charity? I could never find that out she said. Are the police reports accurate asked Susan? Well, there’s only one way to find out and I pried open Joshua’s Vault. I pulled the casket out of it’s hole in the wall and opened the lid. I turned to Susan who looked a little ill. Well, I said you can rule out Heart Attack for a start there are knife cuts on the ribs above the heart unless you consider a knife to the heart cause for a heart attack. I examined the wife and daughters coffins next with the same results.These people were all murdered I said.Lastly I opened Charity’s coffin. It was empty. If I had to guess Charity was the dwarf who attacked me. Didn’t society have a habit of hiding away deformed or mentally ill children in the past? Yes she said unfortunately for them. Susan suddenly threw her back against one wall. The blood had drained from her face. Jack she said are you sure Faith and Hope are in there? They’re here all right why do you ask I said? I went to her and she was shaking. What’s wrong I asked. Oh, nothing much she said jerking a thumb over her shoulder toward the back of the house. It’s just if they are there who are those two dressed in black looking down on us from the top floor bedroom window?
I pushed past her into the sunlight where I shaded my eyes and looked up. There they were glaring at us like the unwanted intruders we were. Their eyes were filled with hate. The wind blew through a crack in the window, The curtains rustled and in an instant they were gone from sight. Let’s get out of here said Susan this place gives me the creeps. I shut the Mausoleum Door and relocked it. I said to Susan “I wonder if our favourite Children’s Doll is still catering tea parties? Let’s go back to your apartment but first make a stop at Police Headquarters. I went in and spoke to a Desk Sergeant who directed me to the Detective who had worked on all four cases. I flashed my Press Card and said I wanted to see the files on the four cases. No way said the cop and besides that Chicago Press Card doesn’t cut any ice here. Fine I said I’ll just have to bring it up at the end of the week just before the ribbon cutting ceremony and I wonder what the public will say to your cover up. Hold on, hold on, he said and opened a filing cabinet looked inside for a moment and then threw an envelope of documents and photos on the desk. Here he said knock yourself out. You can’t prove a thing and now get the hell out of my office. I checked the file out at the front desk and got back into the car.
We drove back to Susan’s and spread everything out onto the Dining Room Table. Let’s read the police files . We read in silence for an an hour. Ok, who goes first I asked? Be my guest she answered. Well, for starters the four murders in the house were not done by transients. The M.O,s match in each case meaning they were all killed by the same hand. Is that it. she asked? No it gets worse. The bodies were mostly devoured as you said, Drained of blood and eaten. What the Hell were the police thinking when they held those bullshit Press Conferences. I don’t care how important Townsend was or how far the mayor’s head was up his ass. You don’t sit on information like this and put the area in mortal danger. Well if you’re done brace yourself because in Faith and Hope’s diary you mentioned when we first met that when you were a kid you saw the apparition of Joshua Townsend go into what we now know as one of the girl’s bedrooms. Yes, I remember. I said. Well he wasn’t going in there to tuck them into bed. His daughters were young ladies of marrying age and he was raping both of them. You mean along with his other sins we can add incest. I’m afraid so, but there’s more Faith became pregnant and then Townsend swore his family to secrecy to, as he put it “ save the family honor” Honor, the man doesn’t know the meaning of the word. Susan covered her face with both hands. I can see it all now. the Deacon of the Church going in their room at night giving them a fire and brimstone speech about Honoring thy father before attacking them.
The diary goes on to say that a doctor was brought in from another city to deliver the baby and was paid a large sum of money. On the night Faith went into labour Hope wrote that things quickly went wrong . In what way I asked? The baby was born deformed with short arms and legs. Due, no doubt to the fact that father and daughter were so close genetically. The doctor was paid enough to hold his tongue and was taken away. The girls hid the baby in the nursery and dressed in black.
I guess that;s why she was called Charity. Elizabeth took it hard and ranted about it being a punishment from God. The family shame was kept locked in the nursery growing up knowing no other world. What little sanity she may have had was lost one night when she probably heard her Grandfather sexually attacking Faith and Hope and she went on a murderous rampage killing the whole family. So, I was attacked by the bi-product of Townsend’s evil. Well I said we will return tomorrow night and put an end to what is going on in there. Our time is running out before the ribbon cutting ceremony.
Susan looked up at me with fear written on her face. In the moonlight she was beautiful and vulnerable. You know Susan I said I have only known you for a few days but from the first I was very attracted to you. I leaned forward to kiss her but she pulled away forcefully. Sorry Jack she said. I have trouble with relationships, it’s nothing personal. Don’t apologize I said let’s just chalk it up to too soon and too much wine. She went to her room and I took my place on her couch. The next day was spent in preparation for our quest for the truth. As the daylight turned to dusk we grabbed the keys and our flashlights and drove to the mansion. It was in total darkness and the air in the entrance hall was stale with a blanket of gloom hanging in the air. We heard the scurrying of feet from the floor above. Someone is upstairs I said turning my light to her face. Or rodents she said. Once the building is proclaimed a Heritage Site restorations will be made. We slowly made our way up the grand stairway finally reaching the top floor.Let’s check the daughter’s bedrooms I said especially the window we saw them standing in. Susan reluctantly guided me to Faith and Hope’s Room. That’s the window she said when we entered the room. I looked toward where she was pointing and saw two mannequins dressed in floor length black dresses standing there. Well I think that solves one mystery I said and as I turned to leave the room I heard a rolling noise on the floor and turned to see the mannequins raise their arms and start moving toward us. We stumbled out of the room and quickly locked the door.
Next we walked to the nursery still shaken from our last encounter. The room was much as I remembered it complete with tea setting and four dolls. I walked over to the table while Susan stood in the doorway. One by one I turned the dolls around to face me. Each was dressed in a frilly party dress and had faces of porcelain. I was just about to turn and tell Susan that we had come to a dead end when I heard a pattering from above. I swung my flashlight up to the corner where I had heard the noise and noticed a small round hole where wall met ceiling. Coming down in strands was a spider’s web constructed of rope. I walked over and gripped one of the strands and gave it a pull. I heard more movement above and shone my light on the hole. Two red eyes glared at me from the darkness. It started to crawl down. It was the deformed dwarf dressed in black on all fours with the knife in it’s mouth. It crawled down the web like a giant spider ready to pounce on a fly. My first instinct was to run but I thought not this time. You’re not dealing with a helpless thirteen year old now. In an instant she knocked me backwards and was on top of me. I heard Susan scream behind me. We wrestled on the floor. I could smell the foul odour of her breath on my face. I managed to wrench the knife away from her cutting my hand in the motion. I raised my arm and brought it down in an arc. It plunged into her back and I pushed her off of me. She lay still and a crimson circle of blood appeared on her back. I couldn’t take my eyes off her she looked like a giant Black Widow Spider. Susan came forward and helped me to me feet. She then bent down and pulled the knife from the monster on the floor. It was dripping with blood. She walked over to me and I put my arms around her and we hugged.
It’s over I said Susan. We have ended the curse of the Townsend Mansion. Not quite she whispered in my ear and with that she plunged the knife in my back and pulled it out. I staggered across the room and fell onto the children’s table. I stared up at her as she was coming for me. Why I asked? You see Jack my name is not Susan Thomas but Charity Townsend. Remember Jack,Joshua was raping Hope also. I am her daughter and it was my family duty to feed my sister. You killed her. You should have died that night when you were thirteen. She then raised her arm and stabbed me in the heart. As I lay dying she said with a maniacal look in her eyes
You see Jack, not all genetic defects are physical and blood is thicker than water.
John P. Stoddart