Some people swore that the house was haunted. They claimed to have heard the sound of singing. A female voice, soft and sweet. A woman had committed suicide there years ago. She’d been found hanging from the balusters of the upstairs landing. It caused a sensation at the time. She was the wife of an influential man in the community, a banker named Arthur Mann. Rumor had it that Mann was a womanizer and kept up his shenanigans even after he’d married his young bride. When she found out he was unfaithful, she took her own life. It was a double tragedy, in that she was pregnant. But there was another, more sinister plot line.
Mann’s wife Emma was the only child of a wealthy industrialist, who’d put a considerable amount of money in trust for his beloved daughter. She received the money outright the day she turned 21; just a year after she married Mann. A year later, she was dead, and Mann, the beneficiary of her trust money, was able to pull his bank from the brink of insolvency. People thought that was awfully convenient, but the police could find no evidence of foul play.
Mann had died only three years after Emma’s suicide. Some said he was broken hearted over the death of his young wife and their unborn son. Others were less generous in their convictions. The imposing Victorian mansion had been vacant since Mann’s death all those many years ago.
Jacob hears the singing now. The sound comes floating across the unkempt lawn like an evening mist -- a woman’s voice. He can’t make out the words, but it makes him feel like crying.
Jacob stands in the lee of a cluster of birch trees and cocks his head to the left and then the right, trying to pick up the sound of the singing again, but he’s lost it in the rustle and whisper of the wind shimmering the leaves of the birch. He looks at the trees and follows their white, striated trunks and branches up into the leaves, which the moon has turned to silver.
Clouds scudding across the bruised grey sky slide over the moon. Suddenly it is dark, the wind dies, there is no rustling of leaves, all is silence and stillness, and then the boy hears the singing again; the soft, sweet, melodic sounds of the song floating through the trees. He stops and turns his head, listening. Where is it coming from?
A seedpod shaped like a teardrop and hung from a tiny, inverted parasol of fine filaments floats through the air, touches Jacob’s cheek, and settles on his shoulder. He turns his head, reaches up and, with thumb and index finger carefully takes it and brings it down to inspect. When he looks up, she’s there.
Jacob’s mother is sure that her son is still alive. It’s been seven years since he vanished, and despite an extensive investigation, no sign of him has surfaced. The mother’s determination to keep pursuing the case put an unbearable stress on the marriage and now the mother lives alone. She spends her days rereading newspaper accounts of the boy’s disappearance, and the ensuing investigation. She wanders the streets peering at faces of boys too young now to be her son.
It was on one of her aimless walks that she happened upon the house. It stood in stark silhouette against a hazy sky backlit by a weak evening sun. The house seemed a foreboding presence, crouched there as if ready to pounce. She stood and stared at it. She felt the hairs on the back of her neck bristle. She moved cautiously toward the house.
A cloud passed in front of the sun and the sky darkened. The slight breeze that had been cooling the humid evening turned to a harsh, cold wind, and the mother reached to grasp her straw hat. Her skirt blew and billowed around her legs, and dust blew up into her eyes. She turned her head away.
The scream startled her and as she looked to identify its source, the wind whipped her hat away, and it raced, tumbling across the brown weeds and away from the house. She felt the wind on her body like hands, pushing her away.
Jacob’s mother, hunched against the wind, glared at the house. Summoning her courage, she moved towards the house, struggling against the wind, fiercer now, the screaming growing in intensity. A window screen tore loose and flew at her like a scythe. She ducked it and reached the porch.
As she stepped up on the porch, the wind died and the scream stopped. The sudden silence was as unnerving as the violence before it had been. She pushed aside the broken door and stepped into the house. It was then that she knew. Jacob was here. Her son was here. She moved quickly to the stairs and began climbing, hesitatingly at first, but then with determination, rising rapidly towards the landing; towards the balusters.
The house was torn down in 2007 as part of a larger land development that faltered as the housing bubble burst. A treeless track of weed-infested land stretches east towards the town proper, ending at a desultory creek that is most often just mud.
The area is posted with No Trespassing signs, but teenagers still drive out along the empty streets laid out to deliver homeowners to homes that were never built. In the daytime it’s a great place to learn to drive, or to just raise hell. At night, it’s a favorite make-out destination.
No one remembers the house and its story now; it was so long ago. So when teenagers report seeing a woman walking with a young boy late a night, no one connects it to the disappearance of Jacob and his mother, or to the death of young Emma and her unborn son.
But some teens have cut short their late-night excursions and come home shaken. They think they saw a noose around the woman’s neck, dragging behind her as she walked, hand-in-hand with the boy. People tell them they must have mistaken a shawl for the noose, but they’re sure it was a noose.
When people ask, “But then where is the woman? And what about the boy; where is he?” No one has an answer.