The place was only opened at Halloween time. It was a two story Victorian of monumental ugliness. It had, from the appearance of the street, a sort of box-like, rectangular visage, like a long square stone head at Easter Island.
The windows were vacant and eye-like rectangles of black. Long black eyelets peering out into the world.
Of course it was supposedly haunted. Sure enough, it was opened as an attraction by a local women’t group every Halloween. This was to secure additional funds for the domestic violence shelter.
The lot of them trooped in–four children and two adults–and felt the first few tinges of excitement at the perceptibly cool air, the deep, rih aroma of must and age, as they stood, looking up at the bottom of the stairs.
As always, the theme was the Lizzie Borden Murder House. They waited a few minutes in the foyer.
“She seems so life-like,” said one of the little girls, examining a mannequin dressed in an ancient Victorian hoopskirt, black, with long frilly sleeves.
The dummy was holding a candleabrum. When the dummy spoke to them, the adults froze, worried looks crossing their faces. The children shrieked and laughed excitedly.
“Welcome to our humble abode, the abode of the Borden family of Fall River, Massachusetts. Or should I say, Fallen River? [sinister laugh]”
The mannequin, which had become a tour guide (who had played the part of a stiff very well, thought one of the adults) came forward, and, holding out hand as if to say, “Follow me,” said “Follow me! Enter freely of your own will, and leave some of the happiness you bring. Here in the parlor, we have the late Mr. Borden. As you can see, someone has left quite a mess in here…”
One of the adults wondered if children should really be allowed to see such sights, but the others were thrilled and delighted to enter the parlor and view the wax mannequin with its surfeit of blood and what looked like raw hamburger covering its collapsed face. Blood was spattered dripping from the wall behind the sette upon which the elder Borden reclined. the room itself was an authentic museum display, but rough around the edges; it was assembled in a hurly burly fashion, by folks that apparently had taken great delight in stuffing it full of every antique they could find, whether or not it belonged, logically, to a living room ensemble.
There were an old-fashioned organ, a number of tables spilling forth with Daguerrotype photographs, various end tables with frilly, doily coverings arranged in a haphazard, even careless manner. There were actual mannequins, faceless embodiments of a bygone age, wearing stiff Victorian costumes, positioned about.
In an alocove, an old-fashioned photographer bent, his head covered by a funereal black cloth, at the massive box which was his insrument. Posing stiffly for him, another faceless mannequin forever posed in her massive, ponderous dress.
“Faceless dolls. So creepy.”
“Yeah, it really gives me the willies. Say, was this here last time?”
Her companion, a woman named Jill, pointed to a huge green stove that now rested in a corner of the room. It looked like an ancient cook stove.
“They really ought to put more thought into this place. Who the hell keeps a kitchen stove in the living room? Er, kept, I mean. Past tense.”
Her companion smiled a tight little smile.
“Yeah, but the kids like it. And it is Halloween. Oooh, aaah!”
She put her arms up in front of her face, her fingers splayed out.
“C’mon, we’re going to have to get going if we’re going to get them trick or treating before the night ends.”
“Sure. But, we still have to see the upstairs.”
Her friend looked down at Mr. Borden. The hamburger or whatever the hell it was they had spread on his face along with the stage blood was going to start stinking pretty soon. She wanted to be gone before it did.
Suddenly, Jill’s friend Jen looked up, noticed their illustrious guide (who had been explaining the details of the murder: “…Lizzie went to the door, told the neighbor woman, ‘Fetch help. Someone’s killed father.’ Of course, most likely it was Lizzie herself.”) was vanished. Another Halloween trick? She wasn’t sure, but she suddenly went out into the hall, saying “Miss? Miss? Excuse me?”
She looked up at the top of the stairs. A lonely figure was standing up there. Another Victorian. Their tour guide.
She went back into the living room for her children and friends.
“Ready for the upstairs gang?” she asked.
“Our guide is waiting.”
(It has been noted that the upstairs of the actual Borden home is a monumentally bizarre collection of rooms and no hallways, bedrooms opening into eachother. What psychological effect this living arrangement had on the subsequent tragic events can only, for the reader, be a matter of conjecture. We suppose in this particular spook house reproduction of the upstairs rooms, the death scene of the unfortunate stepmother Abbie Durfee Borden was recreated with a kind of macabre panache.)
They walked out into the vestibule, to the foot of the stairs. Jill fell behind while the rest of them followed he dark, ponderous shape up the curving staircase, which was lost in shadow above.
Jill suddenly realized someone was standing behind her on the stairs. She turned, her heart racing a little.
A large woman with frizzy hair and a dark, sheer skirt, too small for her ample backside, presented herself cheerily. Smiling, she held out her hand.
“Hello. Pleased to meet you. I’m Lizzie Borden.”
For some reason Jill found herself saying, as if to reasure herself, “You mean, you’re an actress. Supposed to be LIzzie Borden.”
To which the woman replied, with a little confused downturn of her mouth.
“No. I’m Lizzie Borden. Lizzie Borden. [Pause] You know, history doesn’t lie.”
To which Jill replied, “So, you’re an actress, playing Lizzie Borden. Must be fun.”
And now the woman looked as if she was getting a little steamed. Her ears burned bright red, and she thrust out her hamhock hand again to shake, saying, “No. I’m Lizzie. I’m Lizzie Borden. I’m really LIZZIE…”
Jill felt she might be in the presence of an insane person.
“You know,” said Lizzie, “history doesn’t lie.”
Red droplets fell from her clenched fist to the carpet below. Jill wondered if the woman had, inadvertantly, crushed a sprig of grapes.
“So…you’re an actress?”