It was late afternoon in early July and Laira was entertaining her best friend Becky who had come to San Diego with the sole intent of seeing her former college roommate. Laira and Becky were like sisters in many ways, finishing each other’s sentences, knowing exactly what the other meant when something odd was said (which would be perceived as completely confusing to anyone else), and perhaps their greatest connection, their unwavering trust in the other. Becky had been through a lot: broken hearts, liars, cheats, and scoundrels from as early as childhood and her own father. Becky had recently lost what she perceived as the love of her life, so Laira took Becky out on the town in Old Town San Diego to alleviate some of the sadness.
After viewing gem shops, Chinese imported antiques, eating homemade beef jerky, and enjoying the perfect San Diego weather, Laira decided to take Becky some place special. It was a place Laira had been wishing to visit for a long time, but no one was ever willing to see it with her. Laira walked a ways with Becky after deciding to invite her, “Hey Becky,” Laira began, “I’ve been wanting to visit the Old Whaley House for some time. Would you be willing to go with me?”
Much to Laira’s delight, Becky smiled and replied, “I’d love to! I’ve been wanting to go there for some time now, but no one ever is willing to go with me.” Realizing they shared yet another adventurous ambition, Laira and Becky walked two more blocks down the road to reveal a nicely situated, old-fashioned home on the corner of the road. There was a gift shop to their right with steps, which Becky eagerly walked up one by one as quickly as her excitement would allow. Laira with similar enthusiasm followed. Becky approached the counter where a young girl in period dress was waiting with a smile.
“Excuse me, where can we buy tickets to enter the Whaley House?” Becky inquired.
“Right here.” Replied the friendly girl in late 1900s replica attire. “They’re $8 before 6pm.” Laira was ready to treat, but Becky gave her a look that showed she pulled out her wallet first and wanted to treat, so Becky handed the clerk a credit card, paid the entry fee, and received two ticket stubs. Becky handed one of the stubs to Laira who glanced at the stub. Looking at the receipts she had just received, Laira noticed a small mark no larger than the freckle on her arm printed at the bottom right corner of stub. It was difficult for Laira to make out, but to the best of her ability she saw three small circles smudged into what looked like the shape of a sail boat. A sudden chill came over Laira, which Becky noticed and asked what Laira had found.
“Look Becky,” Laira began, “This small mark looks like a small boat with three bubbles on its side.” Peering closer to Laira’s stub, Becky squinted her eyes for a moment. Laira looked on in wonderment at Becky’s scrutiny and for the first time that day was astonished at Becky’s reply.
“It looks like a small black dot to me. Where do you see the shape?”
“Look closer.” Laira began to trace an enlarged version on the neighboring corner of the stub. But Becky continued to look puzzled. “Do you see it now, Becky?” Laira knew Becky’s vision was sharper than hers, so it was odd that Becky should not be able to see something that Laira had noticed with very little scrutiny.
“I’m sorry, I don’t see it.” Becky conceded. It was not a big deal to Laira, but she still wanted to know that at least one other person saw the three circles in what looked like a sail boat. Laira lifted her hand to show the stub to the clerk, but the clerk had disappeared into the office behind the counter. Deciding it was not worth the effort of finding another pair of eyes, Laira continued with Becky to the Whaley House entry.
Laira was in love with the historical background of the Whaley House. She had majored in History during her college years and spent much of her time admiring if not sewing period accurate gowns from the Civil War and Renaissance time periods-her two favorite time periods. Becky and Laira followed the posted signs that showed the entry way in the back side of the Whaley House and showed the stubs to the girl at the door greeting visitors.
It was still broad daylight, so the interior of the Whaley House was well-lit. It was the only time Becky would have been willing to visit, especially since she had a particular aversion to ghosts. Laira entered first and commented on how beautiful the building was. Becky paused at the doorway which was adjacent to a room blocked by glass walls. It appeared to be a guestroom situated with fine furnishings and a warm-colored floral bedspread. Something drew Becky to walk toward that room and a sudden chill of air came upon her.
Becky thought the room was well kept, but there was something about it that bothered her. She suddenly felt a chill on the bottom of her legs, which quickly spread to causing a chill in her back which raised the fine baby hairs at the base of her hair behind her neck. Her mouth began to dry and she backed out of the room slowly, only to feel a slight tug on her stomach as she turned away from it and entered the dining room to the right. Laira was in the dining room enjoying the beautiful setup of authentic chairs, tables and dishware. Becky began to tell Laira of her encounter.
“Laira, I got a really strange feeling when I walked into the room by the doorway. Can you come check it out?”
“Sure, but let’s first take a few pictures.” Laira replied. Laira then took out her camera and asked Becky to pose next to the dining room table. Becky started with a refined pose and then started smiling and adding more energy for her photographer. Laira looked at the preview screen and remarked to Becky, “These are great! OK, let’s check out that room.”
Becky led Laira to the neighboring room where Laira entered slowly. Laira suddenly felt the same wind chill, but her eyes were drawn to something. There were flowers on the bed that had petals shaped like a small sail boat with three small, circular patterns inside the petals. Laira gasped remembering the image from her stub and turned to Becky.
“Becky! Please tell me you see the three small circles in the floral patters on the bed.”
Becky squinted at the bed, “Do you mean the stamen and other flower parts? I don’t see them.”
“No!” Laira blurted quickly. “The little sphere-like things in the petals themselves.”
Becky squinted again and started wondering if Laira needed to clean her contact lenses. “I’m sorry Laira, I don’t see them.” Laira was a little unsettled that Becky had not seen the pattern on the stubs nor the bedspread. But regardless of the disagreement, Laira decided to let it pass.
The best friends continued throughout the house, looking at the courtroom and marveling at the creepy echo, then upstairs to the theater where Laira and Becky pretended to be thespians singing their arias, posing as warriors of the east, or becoming pirates. Laira stopped thinking about the room and the stub long enough to enjoy having a good time with Becky. It was pleasant for Becky as well who had been needing a friend to cheer her up for a long time since the time she allowed her heart to be broken again.
Laira was enchanted by the Whaley House and began to think it would be fun to volunteer in a place where she could utilize her knowledge of history and passion for period clothing. A young girl tour guide in period clothing entered the room. Her name was Kailee and she had been working at the Whaley House for over a year. Laira approached Kailee as to how she began to work at the Whaley House.
“I just volunteered and gave them my hours.” She replied, “I don’t think they’re taking any paid tour guides right now, but I know they’re always looking for volunteers.” Excited to hear the news, Laira grabbed Becky’s hand and raced toward the stairs. Realizing there was one more room they had not seen to the left of the stairs, Laira paused and redirected Becky to the last room. There was a large mirror in the room, which was beautiful and clearly an antique. Laira was charmed by the mirror and asked Becky to take a close-up of it if possible. Becky took a few pictures and then was dragged by Laira in the direction of the stairs. Laira raced downstairs with Becky in tow to the main ticket office. Upon exiting, Laira felt a chill again from the room as if beckoning her to return, but she ignored the feeling and walked quickly with Becky to the ticket office.
Laira asked the clerk at the front counter where she could interview for a volunteer position and was offered an immediate interview in the office located behind the Whaley House. Becky waited outside speaking with one of the historians of the Whaley House and welcomed an excited Laira who 20 minutes later exited the office employed part-time as a volunteer tour guide for the Whaley House.
“You’ll need to come back tomorrow before 3pm for a costume fitting,” the historian Becky had been speaking with remarked. “Be sure you’re here early so we can get everything put together for you in plenty of time for you to work in your costume.”
“I’ll be there will bells on!” Laira flashed her million-dollar smile of enthusiasm to work at such a beautiful and historic site and continued with Becky to the car to drive home.
It was the following day and Laira was excited to return to the Whaley House. Becky had decided to stay home at Laira’s since she had work needing to be done on her laptop, which she brought with her to work on while visiting. Becky decided to drop off Laira to celebrate her first day at the Whaley House and said she would be back to pick her up at 10:30pm when it was time for Laira to go.
Excitedly, Laira walked towards the office behind the Whaley House and met with the historian who introduced her to the costumer. She was a young girl and was very eager to meet Laira, having heard about her credentials in history and passion for the Whaley House history. Her name was Terri, and she escorted Laira into the Whaley House.
With little conversation for having earlier been so excited, Terri calmly escorted Laira up the stairs to the bedroom near the upstairs theater. She let Laira in through a hidden door and instructed Laira to change into the dress to try it on. Terri turned around as Laira changed into the lovely dress with tiny floral patterns in warm color. Laira with excitement turned to Terri.
“Oh this dress is perfect! It even uses the small flower patterns traditional from the time period. I love it! Thank you so much.” Laira paused as she observed Terri’s stoic appearance. Terri had gone from excited and eager to low energy and tired. Terri seemed to force a smile from the corner of her mouth and began to walk toward Laira.
“Come look at yourself in the full mirror.” Terri slowly escorted Laira to the mirror Laira had been enchanted by on their previous visit. Laira admired the dress in the mirror and spun around once. It suddenly dawned upon her. Laira became excited at the sheer thought alone.
“This is unbelievable! I’m in a historic home looking in a historic mirror wearing clothes from the time period. I feel amazing! This is every history buff’s dream come true!” Suddenly, a chill returned to Laira. She looked at the dress and saw the patterns to be similar to ones she had seen before. She looked closely into the mirror and saw three small circles in the petals of the tiny flowers on her dress. The more she looked at them, the darker they became. Until finally, she saw only a black mark on the dress.
Laira turned around and saw people peering into the glass wall into the room where she was standing. They said the room gave them a chill and walked away. Laira turned around and noticed she was in the room downstairs and was standing next to the bed with the petals that looked like sail boats with three small circles inside. Except this time, the bed was covered in blood and had the mark of a person who had just been laying in it. Laira shrieked and ran toward the glass window, pounding on it with all her might. No one noticed she was there.
She saw a door to her left, but it was locked and would not let her use any strength when turning it with her hand. She looked down at her hands as she tried to move the knob and saw streams of blood pouring from her wrists. She backed away from the door now covered in her blood and fell on the bed crying in absolute fear. Laira was drenching the bed with her blood when all of a sudden she heard a whisper.
“Do you like the dress?” It was Terri and Laira was in the upstairs room looking in the mirror. Terri with an energetic smile walked toward Laira and touching one of the long sleeves while admiring the coloring. “This warm color suits you very well! I think you’ll make a fine addition to the Whaley House.” Laira was covered in sweat and looked down at her hands to see that they were no longer covered in blood. She picked up a pillow from the bed in the room to show herself that her hands were still working and gently let it drop to the bed with a sigh of relief.
She took off the dress and handed it to Terri who carefully folded it and placed it in a bag with Laira’s name taped to it. “We’ll keep this stored here for you so that you’ll have it here to change into.” Terri touched Laira’s shoulder and escorted her down the stairs.
As Laira walked past the room downstairs which gave her the chills, she turned to Terri. “What happened in the room downstairs?”
Terri paused and responded in a somewhat weaker and softer tone, “It’s the room where the youngest Whaley daughter slept. It was originally a guest room, but she eventually moved into it. She tried to commit suicide once and failed, but the second time was almost a success. They found her half alive in a room with blood on the door and on her bed. Apparently she tried to get help before she laid back onto her bed, but was unable to open the door. They carried her into the room upstairs where she stayed for quite some time before they fixed the room up and put her back in it.
Laira looked at the room and thought she finally understood Becky a little more. She realized how Becky must have felt when she killed herself after losing her lover. Laira was finally ready to move forward after losing her best friend.Originally published by Deborah Amar on 2 July 2008