The old Victorian style house was surrounded by a waist high chain link fence, its gates secured by hardware-store padlocks. A huge magnolia tree almost obscured the sagging front steps.
“I’ll bet this place was a real beauty before the city grew up around it,” I said to my husband, Rory. “Do you think anyone still lives here?”
“Nah,” he said. “It has that deserted look, you know?”
We climbed the fence on a whim. We are really not the kind of people to do such a thing normally, but it was dusk, no one else was around, and I do have an exceptional love of old houses.
In the process of trying to find a way into the lovely old place, we came upon what must have been one of the first swimming pools ever constructed in the city. Obviously still in use, it was filled with crystal clear water. A large concrete dolphin towered over the center of the blue tile pool, spewing water from its open mouth.
Rory and I both turned our heads to the left and discovered a brown, wizened little man in a rather wrinkled white linen suit standing next to a long wooden table. He was using a small pair of gardening shears to trim a tiny, very gnarled oak tree which was growing in a low ceramic planter on the table. “I suppose you’ve come for the seance,” he growled.
I looked at Rory. He nodded almost imperceptibly.
“It’s in there.” The old man gestured toward the house with the scissors.
Rory took my hand as we made our way to a door which stood open at the top of a rickety set of steps. Inside, the light was dim. We had no difficulty adjusting our vision, however, because it had been almost as dark outside.
We found ourselves standing in a long hallway. A low murmur came from somewhere toward the front of the house. It sounded like a small group of people chanting. As we listened, the rhythmic sound became clearer. It sounded as if my own name was being called over and over. How could we resist following something so intriguing? We inched our way down the seemingly endless hallway.
At last, we came to an open door. Beyond it was a group of five or six teenaged boys seated in a circle on a very dusty floor. They were all staring at the wavering flame of a single tall candle.
“Why are we trying to get in touch with this Laurie Smith person? I forgot,” whispered a boy sitting to the right of the door.
His neighbor answered him. “I told you before, Joey. Laurie Smith is the lady who died right here in this house. Now get back to chanting or she’ll never come.”
Just then, a very pale boy sitting opposite the door we had just passed through raised his arm and pointed directly at me.
“Look! It’s her!” someone screamed.
At that, the entire group scrambled up and ran wildly past us, all of them shrieking like banshees. I turned to Rory and laughed. The boys had looked so silly running past us like that! But Rory was pointing at something behind me.
“Laurie, look out!” he screamed.
I looked around. One of the boys had knocked the candle over in his rush to get out the door. It had fallen directly into a pile of old newspapers. I screamed. Flames were already leaping up the curtains covering a grimy window next to me. My skirt caught fire.
Verdeville News, Verdeville, NC
October 27, 2009
Laurie Smith died in a fire at the old Renfro mansion in downtown Verdeville at approximately 7PM last night. Her husband, Rory Smith, is in critical condition at Verdeville Memorial Hospital. Police are uncertain as to why the Smiths were in the building. Funeral services are pending.