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Christopher's Diary: Secrets of Foxworth

V. C. Andrews

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  Early Days

  “Where are you going today, Dad?” I asked.

  It was Saturday, and he hadn’t mentioned any new construction job. I had come out of the kitchen, where I had just finished the breakfast dishes, and I saw him in the entryway pulling on his reluctant knee-high rubber boots, the muscles in his neck and face looking like rubber bands ready to snap. He already had his khaki “aged like wine” leather coat and faded U.S. Navy cap on. His tool belt lay beside him on the oak wood bench he had built, its heavy leather belt curled on itself like some sleeping snake. It had been a birthday present from my mother nearly ten years ago, but with the tender loving care he gave it, it looked like it had been bought yesterday.

  I wasn’t surprised to see him dressing like this. It was October, and we were having weird weather. Some days were cooler than usual, and then suddenly, some days were much warmer, and we also had more rainy ones in Charlottesville for this time of the year. Whenever anyone complained about the unusual changes in the weather, Dad loved to resurrect an old ’50s expression, “Blame it on the Russians,” rather than just saying “Climate change.” Most people had no idea what “Blame it on the Russians” meant, least of all any of my friends, and few had the patience to listen to any explanation he might have. Dad wasn’t old enough to personally remember, of course, but he told me his father had said it so often that it became second nature for him, too.

  “Oh. Didn’t I say anything about it at breakfast?”

  “You didn’t say much about anything this morning, Dad. You had your nose in the newspaper most of the time, sniffing the words instead of reading them,” I reminded him. He said that was something my mother would complain about, too. She used the exact same expression. She told him that eating breakfast with him was like sleepwalking through a meal.

  My reliance on any of my mother’s expressions, whether vaguely remembered or coming from my dad’s descriptions, always brought a broad smile to his face. As if he had tiny dimmer switches behind them, his hazel eyes would brighten. Perhaps because of his constant time in the sun or his worry and sorrow, the lines in his forehead deepened and darkened more each year. His closely trimmed reddish-brown full-face beard had been showing a little premature gray in it lately, too. Dad was only forty-six, and ironically, there was no gray in his full head of thick hair, which he kept long but neatly trimmed. He wore it the same way he had when my mother was alive. He said she was jealous of how naturally rich and thick it was and forbade him to return to the military-style cut he had when they first met.

  “Got to go inspect this mansion that burned down a second time in 2003. Herm Cromwell called me at the office just before I left yesterday, and I promised to do it today and get back to him even though it’s the weekend. Bank’s open half a day today. He’s been working hard on taking the property off the bank’s liabilities since that nutcase abandoned it and went off to preach the gospel. Herm wants me to estimate the removal and see if the basement is still intact. The bank has a live one.”

  “A live one?”

  “A client considering buying and building on the property, which, after two fires and all that bizarre history, hasn’t been easy to sell. Why? What are you doing today? What did I forget? Was I supposed to do something with you, go somewhere with you?” He pulled his lips back like someone who was anticipating a gust of bad news or criticism.

  “No. I’m not doing anything special. I was going to pick up Lana and hang out at the mall.”

  Lately, Lana and I had become inseparable. I was close with many of my girlfriends, but Lana’s parents were divorced, and sometimes her problems seemed close to mine, even if divorce wasn’t what made my father a single parent.

  He relaxed, smiled, and shook his head gently. “ ‘Hang out?’ You make me think of Mrs. Wheeler’s laundry. She still doesn’t have a dryer in her house. Don’tcha know they call you kids ‘mall rats’ these days? I hear they’re coming up with a spray or something.”

  I laughed but nodded. Ever since I got my driver’s license last year, I looked for places to go, if for nothing else but the drive. As I watched Dad continue getting ready to leave, I thought about what he had said for a moment. And then it hit me: inspect the foundation of a mansion that had burned down a second time?

  “This property you’re going to, it’s not Foxworth Hall, is it?”

  He paused as if he wasn’t sure he should tell me and then nodded. “Sure is,” he said.

  Foxworth, I thought. I had seen the property only once, and not really close up, but all of us knew the legends that began with the first building, before the first fire. More important, my mother had been third cousin to Malcolm Foxworth, which made me a distant cousin of the children who supposedly had been locked in the attic of the mansion for years. So much of that story was changed and exaggerated over time that no one really knew the whole truth. At least, that was what my father told me.

  The man who had inherited it, Bart Foxworth, was weird, and no one had much to do with him. If anything, the way he had lived in the restored mansion only reinforced all the strange stories about the Foxworth family. He had little to do with anyone in the community and always had someone between him and anyone he employed. They called him another Phantom of the Opera. He had family living with him, but they had different names, and people believed they were cousins, too. One of them, who lived there only a few years before dying in a car accident, was a doctor who worked in a lab at the University of Charlottesville. Except for him, the feeling was that insanity ran in the family like tap water. At least, that was the way my father put it when he was pushed to say anything, which he hated to do.

  “I’d like to come along,” I said.

  Three years before my mother had died, Foxworth Hall had burned down for a second time. I was just five years and five months old at the time of her death. I really didn’t know very much about the place until I was twelve and one of my classmates, Kyra Skewer, discovered from gossip she had overheard when her mother was on the phone with friends that I was a distant cousin of the Foxworths. She began to tell others in my class, and before I knew it, they were looking at me a little oddly. Because everyone assumed the Foxworth family was crazy, many believed that their madness streamed through the blood of generations and possibly could have infected mine. The stories about the legendary Malcolm Foxworth and others in the family were the kind told around campfires at night when everyone was challenged to tell a scary tale. This one’s parents or that one’s uncle or someone’s older brother swore they had seen ghosts and even unexplainable lantern lights in the night.

  Few tales were scarier to me or my classmates than this one story about four children locked in an attic for more than three years. All of them got very sick, and one of them, the youngest boy, died. Some believed that their mother and their grandmother wouldn’t take them to a doctor or a hospital. From that, others concluded that either both or just the grandmother maybe wanted them all dead. Part of the story was that the young boy might have been buried on the property. And on Halloween, there was always someone who proposed going to Foxworth, because the legend was that on that night, the little boy’s spirit roamed the grounds looking and calling for his brother and two sisters, even after the second fire. Some of my friends actually went there, but I never did, nor did Lana or Suzette, my oth
er close friend. The stories those who did go brought back only enhanced the legend and kept the mystery alive. Some swore they had heard a little boy moaning and crying for his brother and sisters, and others claimed that they definitely had seen a small ghost.

  Whatever was the truth, the stories and distortions made the property quite undesirable ever since. Since Bart Foxworth had abandoned the property, it had been quite neglected and eventually fell into foreclosure. So it was curious that someone was considering buying it. Whoever it was obviously was not afraid of the legends and curses. Bart Foxworth, in fact, was said to have believed that his reconstruction of the original building still contained evil, and that was why he left it and didn’t care to keep it up. It was said that he believed that God didn’t want that house standing. It was as though a dark cloud never left the property. People accepted the curse. Where else could you find a house with that kind of history that had burned to the ground twice? Who’d want to challenge the curse?

  “Well if you want to come along, Kristin, get moving. Put on some boots and maybe a scarf. I have a lot to do there and want to get home for lunch and watch the basketball game this afternoon,” Dad said, and he clapped his black-leather-gloved hands together. “Chop, chop,” he added, which was his favorite expression to get someone moving.

  My father had a construction company, simply called Masterwood, which was our last name. “With a name like mine,” Dad would say, “what could I eventually do but get involved in construction?” Masterwood employed upward of ten men, depending on the number of jobs contracted. My mother used to keep the books, but now Dad had Mrs. Osterhouse, a widow five years younger than he was whose husband had been one of Dad’s friends. I knew she wanted Dad to marry her, but I didn’t think he would ever bring another woman into our home permanently. He rarely dated and generally avoided all the meetings with women that anyone tried to arrange. For the last five years, I did most of our housework, and even when my mother was alive, Dad often prepared our meals, especially on weekends.

  Right after serving in the navy, where he got into cooking, he had been a short-order cook in a diner-type restaurant off I-95. He met my mother before he began taking on side work at construction companies. She was a bookkeeper at one of them. Two years later, they married and moved here to Charlottesville, Virginia, where they both put their life savings into my father’s new company. They didn’t deliberately come here because she’d once had family here. My mother had never been invited to the Foxworth mansion, and hadn’t ever spoken to Malcolm or anyone else who had lived there. Dad said they not only moved in different circles from the Foxworth clan but also lived on different planets.

  “Okay,” I said. “Wait for me.”

  I ran upstairs to put on warmer clothing. I was actually very excited about going with him to Foxworth. I always thought Dad knew more than he ever had said about the original story, and maybe now, because we were going there, he would tell me more. Getting him to say anything new about it was like struggling to open one of those hard plastic packages that electronic things came wrapped in. When I came home from school armed with a new question about the family, usually because of something one of my classmates had said, he rarely gave any answers that were more than a grunt or monosyllable.

  My cell phone buzzed just as I was turning to leave my room. It was Lana. In my excitement, I had forgotten about her.

  “What time are you picking me up?” she asked. “We’ll have lunch at the mall.”

  “Change of plan. I’m going with my father to Foxworth.”

  “Foxworth? Why?”

  “He has to estimate a job, and I promised I would help, take notes and stuff,” I added, justifying my going there. “Someone wants to build on the property.”

  “Ugh. Who’d want to do that? It’s cursed. There are probably bodies buried there.”

  “Someone who doesn’t care about gossip and knows the value of the property,” I said dryly. “It’s what businessmen do, look for a bargain and build it into a big profit.”

  My father said I had inherited my condescending, often sarcastic sense of humor from my mother, who he claimed could cut up snobs in seconds and scatter their remains at her feet “like bird feed.”

  “Oh. Well, what about Kane and Stanley? We were supposed to hang out with them, me with Stanley and you with Kane. I know for a fact that he’s expecting you.”

  “I never said for sure, and he was quite offhanded about it.”

  “Well, you never said no, and I know you liked him before when we were out. Emily Grace told me her brother told her Kane said he thinks you’ve grown into a pretty girl.”

  “I’m so grateful for his approval.”

  She laughed. “You like him, too. Don’t play innocent.”

  “That’s all right. You never want any boy to take you for granted,” I said. “It’s good to disappoint him now and then.” She was right, though. I really wanted to be with Kane, but I wanted to go to Foxworth more. I couldn’t explain why. It had just come over me, and when I had feelings this strong, I usually paid attention to them.

  “What? Who told you that? Are you reading some advice to the lovelorn or something? You’re not listening to Tina Kennedy, are you? She’s just jealous, jealous of everyone.”

  “No. Of course not. I’d never listen to Tina Kennedy about anything. Gotta go,” I said. “Dad’s waiting for me. I’ll call you later.”

  “Don’t touch anything there,” she warned. “You’ll get infected with the madness.”

  “You forgot I had the shot.”

  “What shot?”

  “The vaccine that prevents insanity. It’s how I can hang out with you,” I added, and hung up before she could say another word. Besides, I knew she wanted to be on the phone instantly to spread the news. I was returning to some ancient ancestral burial ground, and surely the experience would change me in some dramatic way. They all might even become a little more afraid of me, but probably not Kane. If anything, I was sure he would find it amusing. He could be a terrific tease, which was one of the reasons I was a little afraid of him.

  Laughing, I bounced down the stairs. I had my blond hair tied in a ponytail, and because of the length of my hair, the ends bounced just above my wing bones. Both my mother and I had cerulean-blue eyes, and part of the legend of the attic children was that they all had the same blue eyes and blond hair. The fact that I supposedly looked like them only enhanced the theory that I could have inherited the family madness.

  I had never seen a picture of them, and Dad told me that he and my mother hadn’t, either. In fact, no one had seen any picture of them when they were shut up in the attic or even soon afterward. There were some drawings in newspaper stories, but their accuracy was always in question, as were the facts in the stories. Supposedly, the children who survived the ordeal never talked about what had happened, but that didn’t stop the tales of horror. They were always reprinted around Halloween with grotesque drawings depicting children scratching on locked windows, their faces resembling Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream, making it all look like someone’s nightmare. In a few weeks, those stories and pictures would appear again.

  Years later, three of the children, as the story goes, returned to Charlottesville just before the second fire. Dad said neither he nor my mother had ever met any of them. Some people believed that the older sister had begun an affair with her mother’s attorney husband and that her mother was driven to madness and had actually been the one responsible for setting the first fire, which had killed Olivia Foxworth, Malcolm’s wife, who was an invalid at the time. The details remained vague, and none of the facts had been substantiated, even after the mansion was rebuilt and another Foxworth moved in many years later, which only made it all more interesting.

  I could never understand it. If the story about the children locked in an attic was true, why would the children want to return to Charlottesville, let alone to Foxworth Hall? That would be like a prisoner wanting to return to h
is jail cell. Why revive such painful memories, unless those memories were really just the product of someone’s wild imagination? And why would her mother’s husband want to have an affair with a girl that young?

  Maybe more important, why would she want to have an affair with him? No one knew where the older brother and sister were now. Some say they changed their names or left the country. The cousins who moved into the second mansion never told anyone anything, either, and even if Bart Foxworth had said something, it wouldn’t have been believed. It was like that campfire game where you whisper a secret into someone’s ear and they whisper it to the person next to them, who does the same, until the secret works its way back, and by then, the original secret is so distorted it barely resembles what the first person told.

  It was like pulling teeth to get Dad to tell me anything. If I brought home another tidbit and persistently asked him about it, he would finally say, “I wouldn’t swear to any of it being true. As your mother used to say, exaggerations grow faster than mold in a wet basement around here. I told you, Kristin, forget about all that. Just thinking about it could poison your mind.”

  Just thinking about it could poison my mind? No wonder the Foxworth property was an ideal Halloween hangout, populated with ghosts and moans and screams. But how could I help wanting to know more? I didn’t tell Dad about it because I knew it would upset him, but on many occasions when new kids were introduced at school or at parties, someone would say something like, “You know, Kristin is related to the famous Foxworth children on her mother’s side.”

  Inevitably, the new kid would ask, “Who are the famous Foxworth children? Why are they famous?”

  Then someone would go into one of the versions of the story, with everyone looking to me to tell them more. They were very skeptical when I said, “I don’t know any more than you do about it, and half of what you’re saying is surely the product of distorted imaginations.” I’d walk away before anything else could be said to me, not as if I wanted to hide anything but acting more like I was bored with the subject. Of course, I wasn’t.