New Winslow S4E1
The Alderidge House was one of New Winslow’s finest mansions when it was built in the mid-nineteenth century. However, by the time the twentieth century rolled around, it was falling into disrepair. The Alderidge family had fallen on hard times as illness took away many of the young men and women in the family. By 1920, only Rosalind and her young son Samuel remained of the family’s New Winslow branch. Rosalind was a proud woman who loved her son fiercely and from all accounts, the affection was mutual and the two were happy in the home.
However, with plans for the Quabbin Reservoir being drawn up by the state of Massachusetts, communities were still unsure of how the land and its value would be impacted. Rumors flew about which communities would be disincorporated and flooded in order to provide this water source for the Boston area. This led to instances of speculative real estate purchases by wealthy individuals and corporations from both in and outside of Central Massachusetts. With rumors flying that the government would be buying property at face value, some savvy businessmen scooped up as much property as they could. A few improvements here and there would bring up the value, allowing them to sell it at a profit. Some got more ambitious still, creating entire businesses with the intention of making a profit, then selling them to the state government when the time came.
New Winslow was not immune to this behavior. Despite the fact that the town does not border on the Reservoir as it is today, this was uncertain when the plans were still being drawn up. So property on the western edge of the town became a prime target for speculators. Among the most prominent was Elmwood Financial, a real estate investment firm with plans to build on the property they purchased. However, while several local families were willing to sell their homes at a loss to avoid gambling their future with the government, Rosalind Alderidge refused to do so.
Missy’s voice broke Iris’s concentration, and she looked up from the second volume of Harbinger history to see the other woman standing next to her in The Countess Bed and Breakfast’s sitting room. “I’m not sure,” Iris admitted. “Not much beyond rich people looking to get richer on other people’s desperation.”
“A tale as old as time,” Missy said, nodding her head thoughtfully as she sat on the overstuffed chair on the other side of the table from Iris’s own.
“The part I’m reading now is promising,” Iris continued as she set the book down on the table. “When the reservoir went in, there were land speculators in New Winslow. Even though it didn’t end up bordering the reservoir.”
“I’ve heard about that,” Missy said. “I know the most famous one was the group that built a golf club on the land in order to up the property value before the state came in.”
“She doesn’t mention anything about a hotel specifically, but I feel like it makes the most sense here. And there’s a whole segment about the Alderidge place and the owner’s refusal to sell.”
“Sounds like a lead,” Missy said with a smile.
“Feels like it, but I can’t say for sure.”
“You’re the psychic.”
Iris didn’t quite know what to say to that, so she just laughed.
“Speaking of psychics,” Missy continued. “The footsteps are back.”
“No!” Iris groaned. “She said she was moving on. I made it very clear to her, especially since I wanted her out of Olivia’s body immediately.”
“Well, someone is back to their old strolling habits up there,” Missy said. “I heard it clear as day this morning and when I told Anna, she said she’d heard it again too.”
Iris sighed. “I can go up there and take a look.”
“You don’t have to go right now,” Missy said. “The ghost clearly isn’t going anywhere. So finish up what you’re doing here. We can set up an appointment so you can bill us properly.”
As though Iris hadn’t been using their library and eating their cookies for weeks now as she researched. But she’d already tried that argument with Missy before and she knew it was a losing one. So instead, she just continued to speculate on the ghost.
“So if the painting ghost is gone, could there maybe be a second intelligent haunting in the house?” she asked. “And painting ghost just happened to get caught up in it?”
“If I had to guess, I’d say this building is completely full of hauntings, intelligent and otherwise,” Missy said. “This one is repetitive though, so there’s also a distinct possibility that it’s an imprint.”
Iris stood up. “See, now I have to check.”
She started up the stairs for the fourth floor, Missy right behind her. Slightly winded as they reached the top, Iris gazed around the long, dim hallway. A wooden chair sat by the stairwell entrance and she tried not to think about what had happened when she’d brought Olivia here. The way Olivia’s eyes had rolled back as the ghost forced its words out of her throat. Or the way the other woman had sobbed in the car the whole way back to her house.
No wonder Olivia had no interest in setting foot in this place again. And if that ghost was back after all of that, Iris was going to be pissed.
She walked into the center of the hallway, her footsteps echoing on the rough wooden floor. The hall felt small around her, like the walls were slowly sinking in to wrap around her body. It was a deeply unsettling sensation, to say the least.
Trying to ignore her first impressions, Iris closed her eyes and took a long breath, trying to clear her mind. After a moment she could feel the impression of some kind of energy outside of hers and Missy’s. It felt young and sad. And solo.
Iris opened her eyes. “Yeah, it’s just the one,” she said. “It’s intelligent too. I can feel the way the feelings adjust. It’s too subtle to be an imprint.”
Missy didn’t look fully convinced. “Are you sure it’s the one walking around?” she asked.
Iris didn’t like the flash of irritation that went through her when she was questioned, so she tried not to let it show on her face. Missy didn’t have to automatically believe every word Iris said. “I’m sure,” she said. “It’s not the painting ghost though, so we’ve got someone entirely new here.”
Missy started back down the stairs and Iris followed. “Do you want me to do anything about it?” Iris asked as the wooden floor turned into plush green carpeting underneath their feet.
“Nah, I think we’re fine,” Missy said. “I didn’t expect our painting lady to be the only spirit in the house, not with so much history and so many antiques. As long as no one is getting hurt and nothing is damaged, I suppose we can just live and let live.”
She paused, then laughed. “In a manner of speaking, that is.”
Iris laughed too, her mind already turning back to the Alderidge House and the new information she’d learned from the Harbinger.
According to later accounts, Elmwood Financial’s plans for the property they purchased in New Winslow’s westernmost neighborhoods changed depending on who was speaking to the company. While they seemed interested in long-term investments, their spokesmen were always cagey about revealing any details that might impact their plans. However, the most common answer was that they intended to capture the wealthy summer visitors that would have previously gone to the well-known vacation towns in the Swift River Valley.
This had to be the hotel that Harbinger had so casually mentioned in the first volume of her history. Hand trembling slightly as she flipped the page, Iris read on.
They purchased several lots surrounding the Alderidge house, including the land directly beside it that had previously belonged to the McBride family, close friends of the Alderidge’s. However, regardless of the numerous offers, Rosalind Alderidge would not budge. According to reports, Elmwood Financial’s offers became more generous, growing to include a resettlement budget to help the family find a new home. These offers were temporary, however, and eventually Elmwood Financial decided to try to intimidate the family out of their home.
Good, good. This was exactly what she needed. And if she hadn’t fucked up so badly at the Historical Society last year, maybe she would have had this information months ago.
While Rosalind and Samuel Alderidge were hesitant to sell, this was not the case for all of their neighbors. Indeed, David Richards, the man who had scooped up the McBrides’ home after the tragic death of their son William, readily accepted Elmwood’s offer. In total, four large plots of land became Elmwood’s property between 1925 and 1926.
No, this wasn’t what she needed. What about the intimidation campaign? What had happened to the Alderidges?
Then Iris read back the last paragraph and paused. The home had been sold after the death of the McBrides’ son. Wasn’t that the same story Missy had given her about the Countess’s origins?
She stood up and walked out of the parlor. The main foyer was empty as she walked through, her footsteps muffled on the carpet. She walked past the front desk and toward the small dining room, opening the door to peek inside.
Missy was in there, putting a few dishes away. She turned as the door opened and smiled at Iris. “Hey, I didn’t know you were still here.”
Iris’s face heated up a little. “I, um, I was still reading the Harbinger book.”
“Ah. Anything exciting turn up?”
Missy turned back to the dishes, carefully setting tea cups on the shelf. “Actually, yeah,” Iris said. “Remember how you told me the family who owned this house in New Winslow lost a son? Was that the McBride family?”
Missy paused, a cup halfway on the shelf as she thought. “Actually, I think it was,” she said, turning around. “I’ll need to look back through the records, but I believe that was the family’s name. They sold it to someone, who then sold the building to someone who brought it here to Petersham. Why?”
“I found a huge lead on the hotel,” Iris said. “And I can’t shake the idea that this hotel has something to do with the curse. It hasn’t come up in any other town history except for the Harbinger. But apparently the man who bought the land from the McBrides sold it to a company who planned to turn the land into a hotel.”
“When was this?”
“It said around 1925.”
“Our records show the building moving here in the 1930s, if I recall correctly. But that doesn’t mean they’re accurate. Do you think this hotel was built on the McBride land?”
“Partially. Harbinger says another family refused to sell and it turned to intimidation, but I haven’t reached any details yet. She doesn’t seem to have a set organization system.”
Missy laughed. “Sounds like a historian.”
Iris was about to say she’d read a bit further tonight, but then the clock in the corner caught her eye. “Is that clock accurate?” she asked, stomach sinking.
Missy glanced over at it. “Sure is.”
Shit, she was meeting Andrew at the store in twenty minutes. “I have to go,” she said. “Can I come back in a couple days and look through it more?”
“Of course,” Missy said. “And I’ll check our records and let you know what I find.”
“Thank you!” Iris called as she hurried out the door.
As Iris got into her car, she felt a familiar presence hovering just outside of it. Fear mingled with irritation as she realized it was Roland. Her car was warded, he couldn’t get in. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t try to wait her out.
“What do you want?” Iris demanded through the closed window.
There was no audible answer, but Iris could feel a trace of something, like energy sliding along her closed door the way a raindrop would. But she couldn’t feel any emotion or understand what he was doing. All she could do was watch the space where that energy seemed to be, watch it run in a random pattern down her windshield.
Was it a message? She waited a moment, trying to focus her whole mind on deciphering it. The energy seemed to shimmer, but it wasn’t physically there. Instead, it almost seemed like he was projecting it and she was translating it. But maybe it was something important. Maybe it even had something to do with the case.
The lines ran randomly over the windshield, glowing zigzags she could only see in her mind’s eye. But then they seemed to swirl together, ebbing and flowing until they were sliding into place. She held her breath, waiting to see what he was going to say.
The glowing light was so powerful that she was almost surprised it wasn’t actually burning into her windshield. It made a circle that went flat, then squeezed into an oval, then a tube.
And then a dick. Glittering on the windshield, only visible with Iris’s sight.
Iris sighed. “Thanks, Roland,” she muttered, starting up her car.
As the car roared to life, she blinked and shook her head, trying to shake the image of the sparkling penis out of her concentration. It faded out, disappearing with a flash that, even though it wasn’t really there, still left afterimages in her vision. But as she drove away from The Countess and back toward New Winslow, she realized she couldn’t sense Roland was near her anymore.