The Monsters of Morley Manor
If Sarah hadn’t put the monkey in the bathtub, we might never have had to help the monsters get big. But she did, so we did, which, given the way things worked out, was probably just as well for everyone on the planet—especially the dead people. I bought the monsters at a garage sale. Actually, it was more like a whole house sale. And not just any house. It was Morley Manor, the huge old place at the end of Willow Street.
Every kid in our town knew Morley Manor. It was the weirdest house in Owl’s Roost, Nebraska, so scary we didn’t even trick-or-treat there. It had three towers, leaded glass windows, and a big iron fence with spikes on the top—though you couldn’t see that much of the fence, because the base was overgrown with enormous weeds. Each tower had a lightning rod, which is probably the only reason the place hadn’t burned down. Lightning seemed to strike there a lot. My father used to claim that Morley Manor had its own weather system; not only was it darker and gloomier than anywhere else in town, it seemed to be the focus of every thunderstorm that passed through.
I was in sixth grade the year Old Man Morley died. (I know it’s not very polite to call him that, but it was the name everyone in town, including the old people, used.) He didn’t leave a will, and as far as anyone knew he didn’t have any relatives, so the state claimed the house and put it up for sale. Despite the fact that we all thought the place was weird, we were really upset to find out that the guy who finally bought it planned to tear the old mansion down and build a new house altogether.
“You can’t blame him,” said my mother, when we were discussing this in the back room of the flower shop that she and Dad own. “I can’t imagine anyone wanting to live in that old monstrosity.”
She adjusted a chrysanthemum, looked at it critically, then pulled it out of the vase and threw it away.
What she said about Morley Manor was true enough, I suppose. But I knew I was going to miss the house, since it was the most interesting place in town.
Of course, being the most interesting place in Owl’s Roost, Nebraska, isn’t all that hard.
Anyway, the weekend before the wreckers were supposed to start, my parents went to a florists convention in Los Angeles, leaving Gramma Walker to take care of me and my little sister, Sarah. Gramma had been staying with us a lot since Grampa died three months earlier, so Sarah and I were used to having her around. Gramma’s pretty deaf, which can make it hard to talk to her. But we never minded when Mom and Dad left her to take care of take us. Why would we, when she tended to bake cookies on a daily basis and was a lot less strict about us eating in the living room?
That same weekend the new owner of Morley Manor had a sale to get rid of all the junk inside. Sarah and I figured he was going to use the money to pay the wreckers.
The sale was on a Sunday afternoon. The demolition was supposed to start the next morning, which was Columbus Day. Since we kids had the day off from school, most of us were planning to be there to watch.
Just about everyone in town went to the sale, even though it was pouring rain. After all, it was the only chance we’d ever have to get a look inside the old place. We asked Gramma if she wanted to come with us, but she said no. She acted kind of weird about it, too. But then, she had been a little odd ever since Grampa died. I could understand. His funeral was the worst day of my life, and I knew Gramma loved him even more than I did, though that was hard to imagine. I hadn’t slept very well for the first month after he died, and I had cried a lot. I still have one of his old pipes in my sock drawer. Sometimes I take it out and smell it, just to remember him better.
Anyway, with Mom and Dad out of town, and Gramma Walker deciding to “be a homebody,” Sarah and I went to the sale on our own, sheltering ourselves from the pelting rain with the big black umbrella that used to belong to Grampa.
“You sure you don’t want to go?” we asked again, just before we left.
Gramma shook her head. “It makes me too sad.”
“Why does it make you sad?” asked Sarah. Asking questions is sort of a hobby with her. She’s like a hunter-gatherer for information. When she was a baby, and I swear I’m not making this up, her first word wasn’t “mommy” or “daddy” or even “no.” It was “why.”
She’s been saying it about three thousand times a day ever since.
Gramma sighed. “I’d just rather remember the house the way it used to be.”
“You’ve been inside Morley Manor?” I asked in astonishment. As far as we kids knew, no one except Mr. Morley had been inside the place for years.
“Oh, I used to go visit there all the time,” she said. “Until—”
Her face got all puckered up, and she shook her head. “Oh, it’s not something I like to talk about,” she said. “Now you children run along and have a good time.”
Then she shooed us out the door.
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