Chapter 2 – The Attic Room

The four months since paying the deposit and signing the documents for the purchase of their first home had passed quickly. This had given Molly and Will enough time to sort through and pack up their furniture and belongings to have ready for the furniture removals truck. The relocation would not have much of an effect on Will’s work situation. If anything the new location was closer than where Molly had been living at Paraparumu. The company he work for was based in Hamilton which was approximately an hours drive from Kohutu Bay, and he was able to do most of his work from home. However for Molly, this involved a big change and one she had felt coming for sometime now. Over the past couple of years she had created a very successful business. Having started work as a waitress at the ‘Alice In Wonderland Cafe’, she had also provided tarot readings and massage from the studio apartment above the cafe. Molly had developed quite a following and people travelled to see her from as far away as Auckland. She and Annabelle had been to Australia to work at the Mind Body Spirit Festivals doing tarot readings. However, Molly had felt for some time now that her body needed a change, being well aware of the physical demands from doing that amount of massage daily. Despite the complaints from her loyal clients wanting her to stay, Molly was grateful for the change of direction and location. It was Time and in her heart she knew it.  

All so quickly, that day had arrived in late August – it was moving day! Watching the truck driving off with the contents of their home, Molly and Will locked the door of the bach they had been renting for the last time, handed the keys in to the owners and thanked them for sharing their cottage with them. They had several hours drive ahead of them and wanted to arrive at the house before the furniture truck. They shared the driving, but it still felt like a long journey, and conversation was minimal as excitement preoccupied each of their minds. The long silence made the drive drag out. It seemed to take forever to get to Lockyer. Molly drifted in and out of sleep as Will turned the car off State Highway 1 and drove the last stretch of road towards Kohutu Bay. Through sleepy eyes, capturing a glimpse of the harbour as the road wound down to the waters edge, Molly woke with great excitement as Will drove slowly through the village of Lockyer to Old Quarry Road. He stopped the car before driving down the treelined driveway and turned to look at Molly. “Are you ready?” he asked. Reaching out and squeezing her hand, he kissed her. Returning the kiss, she then looked into his eyes with a smile that said it all. 

The furniture removal truck had already arrived and the men were enjoying their morning tea under the shade of the trees before unloading. The weather, somewhat colder than their first visit, revealed hints of early Spring in the sleepy, overgrown garden. A selection of birds individually voiced their disapproval of being disturbed by the visitors. A cat ran through the long grass, leapt over the dry stone wall and disappeared across the field where the sheep grazed. As they drove slowly down the tree-lined gravel driveway, Molly noticed how many of the naked trees were now budding. Glimpsing up at the second story as they passed the house, Molly was sure she saw the face of a woman again in the window upstairs. She smiled to herself. ‘Where are the stairs?’ she thought, not recalling any obvious access to the second story. It had not seemed of any importance when they were last there with the real estate agent. She brushed these thoughts aside as they drove around the back of the house to find the men ready to unload the contents of the truck. Despite being up most of the night, the couple had the energy of excited children on Christmas Morning as they unlocked the back door to provide the easiest access for the removal guys to do their job. 

Going from room to room, Molly threw open all of the curtains and windows, allowing the breeze to move the stale air out of the house.  The front door required an old oversized ornate brass key to unlock it. The lock, having not turned for such a long time, was more than a little resistant to move, the locking mechanisms needing some oil to encourage them.  “Will, can you please get the can of lubricant? It’s in the front door in the car” she called out to Will, who was out the back of the house unloading the last pieces of luggage from their car.  The lock responded eagerly to the oil. Opening the front door onto the verandah, unaware of the long term resident living out there, Molly disturbed a bird, nesting in the overgrown wisteria. The sudden movement startled both her and the bird, leaving Molly’s heart racing. It flew panic-stricken back and forth until Molly quickly pulled open the screen door on the verandah, giving it a safe escape, and wedged a small scrap of wood under it to keep the door open. She could hear the chirping of baby birds at the corner of the verandah and resisted the urge to take a look, not wanting to unsettle the mother bird anymore than she already had. She hoped that closing the front door would give the bird a little sanctuary whilst they moved the furniture in, and she hoped the bird would feel safe enough to return to her chicks.

Several hours later, after the furniture removal guys had gone, Will and Molly sat down to their first cup of tea. Exhausted, they had decided that making the bed was a priority and that cheese, crackers, fruit and a bottle of Merlot would do for dinner. There was no hot water as yet, having to light the wood stove and see if the early model wetback would yield some hot water in the morning. Everything within the house would probably require upgrading, and they wanted to take their time to find the most suitable products to install. It would mean living rough for a while. Will had already bought on-line a new AGA enamelled wood stove, to replace the old range that currently sat with pride of place in the large kitchen hearth. The spacious eat-in kitchen had been traditionally intended as the heart of the house, just the way they liked it. The kitchen spread out across the back of the building, a door opened out onto a brick paved area beneath a wooden trellis which was covered the budding grape vines. This faced the barn and orchard. A small wooden shed with a brick chimney housed a washtub and copper. Another door in the kitchen opened into the bathroom, where there was an antiquated shower over a claw footed bathtub which had the only means of running water in that room. Against the wall was an old pine washstand with a rose-coloured marble top, and pale green tiles provided a splash back below an oval mirror fixed to the wall. On top of this was an old porcelain jug and bowl, decorated with a faded hint of a pink floral design, covered in years of dust. As was the bath. In the small room next to the bathroom was a seperate toilet, thankfully with a flushing system, and to their delight, it had the original ornately hand-painted porcelain bowl and cistern, the brass pull-chain had a wooden knob on the end of it. There was also a long drop (outside toilet) outside behind the barn. 

Except for the basic fixtures, the kitchen was quite bare, all of its furniture had previously been removed. It had worn polished timber flooring and decorative tiles surrounded the fireplace, together with a large wooden mantle, inside of which was the original cast iron wood stove. The sink was made of white porcelain with a wooden draining board either side of it. From the kitchen, up a couple of steps to the front door was a hallway divided by a carved wooden archway framed with heavy woollen drapes. Beyond this was the entrance foyer, where there was a large wooden sea chest, a great place to store coats and boots for winter. The ceiling was lined with whitewashed timber and the polished wooden floors continued through the house from the kitchen. There was a small pressed metal ceiling rose above the hall lamp which had been converted to electricity many, many years ago. The walls were lined with a soft pink and white floral wallpaper, of large peonies and roses with faded green leaves outlined with just a hint of a gold. The front of the house faced north-east, purposefully positioned to capture the morning winter sun and channel it down the hallway into the kitchen, and also warmed the two front rooms. The verandah sheltered the house from the summer sun when it moved at a higher angle.  The oiled wooden floorboards in the hallway creaked quietly beneath the weight from Molly’s bare feet as she walked towards the front door. She looked up at the fanlight with its beautiful stained glass, this time in more detail, and noticed the design was a rising sun. Coloured lead-light glass inserts lined both sides of the solid wooden panelled door. Standing in the hallway, facing this door, on the right were two large bedrooms side by side, both with French doors opening onto the verandah, a plain fanlight above each one. On the left side of the hallway was a long wall and only one door leading into the lounge room with a wide bay window which faced the front garden, overlooking the remnants of the fountain and circular garden. There was something odd about the wall in the hallway,  it appeared longer than the actual length of the lounge room, as if the room should be bigger, or that it had another room leading off from it. The wall paper was less faded in this area. Molly guessed that it must have been protected from the sun over the years, being that little bit further down the hallway. But it felt like something was missing. It prompted her to remember the window she saw when they first walked up the driveway. Again, she wondered quietly to herself, ‘Where is the access into the attic room?’

In bed before 9pm too tired to stay up any longer, Molly slept soundly and awoke soon after 5am, as the daylight outlined the old drapes covering the French doors in their bedroom. The house was chilly as she tip-toed quietly out into the kitchen not wanting to disturb Will. As she lit the old wood stove, she hoped that the chimney would be clear and that the smoke would not back up into the kitchen. It was not long before the large kitchen was warm and Molly could hear the wetback coming to life. Thankfully there was warm water, despite it being a colourful shade of rusty red and the kettle on top of the stove boiled quickly. Molly made tea and sat on one of the Bentwood chairs at their much-loved old kauri pine kitchen table – all so fitting for such a house, and looked around the room with a feeling of satisfaction and appreciation. Then she remembered the attic room. Where was that access? Maybe there was a manhole in the ceiling in one of the rooms? She poured herself another cup of tea and wandered from room to room. Sipping tea, Molly scanned the ceilings and walls for some clue. In the lounge she discovered a small man hole cut in the timber-lined ceiling. Would that be enough to access the attic room? She would have to wait until Will was 

awake. Returning to the kitchen she decided to make them both some Vegemite toast for breakfast and a fresh pot of tea to take it back to bed. She would have to ignore the urges to explore a little longer, as she placed the tray of breakfast on the bedside table and snuggled back into bed, placing her cold feet on Will’s, rousing him from a deep sleep.

“Mmm….Morning,” she whispered huskily into his ear, to which he winced, “Are those cold feet really necessary? A hot cup of tea would have been nice…”. 

“Voile! Ask and it is given!” Molly replied, and reached over to hand him his cup. 

“I guess I can excuse such unruly behaviour without punishment this time,” Will playfully chastised her.

“Or maybe you need some more cold feet?” teased Molly.

 “Whoopsy, mind the tea!” she shrieked as Will rolled over to grab her, skilfully managing to contain the contents of her cup. Sitting up in bed they enjoyed their first breakfast in The Muse. Between mouthfuls, Molly was keen to share her recent observations with him.  “I think I have uncovered the mystery of the missing access to the attic,” Molly mumbled.

“Oh really? Do tell,” replied Will sleepily.

“Oh come on, show a little enthusiasm Honey!” Molly pouted.

“Maybe after a ‘Cup of Enthusiasm’ – a good strong brew of coffee might help.” Will hinted playfully. Molly agreed and ventured to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee and stoke the fire, keeping the wetback up to temperature for the shower she was looking forward to having. But first – the attic room was beckoning her. After coffee, Will got a ladder and head torch and ventured up into the manhole. Disappointedly he returned down the ladder after poking his head through the hole and taking a good look inside the roof cavity.

“False alarm, it is just an empty cavity space, although it did look like the underside of a staircase.” Now, his interest aroused, he jumped down the ladder,  tapping the wall feeling for some change in the structure, for any hints. His curiosity unsatisfied, he continued into the hallway. “This section of wall sounds more hollow than further up the hallway, which is odd, and there is a different shade of colour in the wallpaper. Almost feels like there should be a door about here in this section of the wall” he said as he continued tapping along the wall on the hall side of the lounge room. “The timber architraves are slightly different along here. Maybe this bit has been added in. But why would they put a wall along here? Actually it feels like there should be another room about here, as the length of this wall and the one in the lounge room don’t add up. Wasn’t there a small window on the outside wall?” he asked Molly.

“That’s what I thought too. Yes, yes! There was a small window but it was too dark to see inside. The wisteria around that side was quite overgrown,” she agreed.“Time for some tools!” exclaimed Will. “But first….ahhh, that shower we have both been waiting for!” And he chased Molly down the hall to the kitchen and into the bathroom. The water pressure was that of an old house with old pipes, but the hot water was very welcomed, despite being a muddy brown colour.

Dressed and ready to explore, Will had fetched the hammer from the one of the packing boxes in the barn and leaned back against the wall in the hallway, contemplating what to do. Molly ran her hand over the wall feeling the panelling beneath the wallpaper and found that there was a join covered by a thin strip of timber running from floor to ceiling, and she could now see where the skirting boards had been joined too. Her eyes lit up as Will ran a knife down the edge of the trim, cutting the wallpaper, he jimmied off the timber strip giving them a clear indication that indeed a wall had been added in. They paused for a moment, contemplating whether to dismantle the timber wall or not. It seemed a shame to damage the beautiful wallpaper. The front door lock clicked, and a breeze pushed the heavy door open, continuing down the hallway, scurrying in with it a flurry of old dried wisteria leaves. Molly smiled and nodded at Will, as he felt along the join between the two connecting walls and began lifting off the timber lining boards with the back of the claw hammer, one at a time. Part way up the wall it became obvious that there was no wall lining on the inside of this structure. Squatting down to see inside, Molly found a dark space filled with what appeared to be the outline of furniture! Grabbing the head torch, she scanned the space with a single beam of light and revealed that indeed there was furniture stacked to the ceiling! She ran to the shed out the back to find another hammer and helped Will remove the boards a little quicker. Working together, in a short time they had a large pile of dusty lining boards in the hallway, revealing a crude timber framework. Breathing heavily they stopped and stared in surprise at what was being revealed to them. They were able to squeeze between the timbers and into the small room. Excited by their find, they had forgotten about the staircase, the entrance to which was concealed by a large cedar wardrobe, purposefully placed at the bottom of it. Stunned by their discovery, Will stuttered, “Wh-what are we going to do with all of this?” To which Molly replied excitedly, “The spare room!” They removed the remaining timbers and skirting board,  and piece by piece slid the furniture on a floor rug down the hall and into the spare room, thankful that it was still empty. With squeals of delight accompanied by heavy grunting, as they realised what treasures they were discovering and moved each of them across the hallway and into the spare room.  The biggest piece, the large cedar wardrobe, was the last remaining piece of furniture to be moved. Too heavy for Molly to help Will lift, they dragged it across the floor on the rug and left it against the wall of bookshelves, revealing the bottom of the staircase. Shafts of dusty light softly lit the room. Catching their breath, what they saw before them left the couple spellbound. Sitting on the floor with mouths gaping open in surprise, Molly looked transfixed at the bottom of the stairs. A cloud of dust particles danced in the dim light creating a veil that reached down to them through the partially opened door at the top of the stairs, the light emanating from the window inside the attic room. Will was about to run up the stairs when Molly grabbed his arm. “Wait!” she whispered sharply, and the urgency in her voice stopped Will in his tracks. “What?” he asked, slightly alarmed by the change in Molly’s behaviour. 

“Ssh! I thought I saw someone up there, actually, I am sure of it!” she whispered to him, urgently.“Honey, that’s not possible!” Will exclaimed, adding, “ This is the only access, no one could possibly be up there”.

“Please, can we wait?” Molly pleaded. “I just feel we need to be…respectful, you know, to the old lady of the house…” she looked shyly at him. 

“Oh o-kaay,” he drawled, reining in his excitement. He remembered Molly’s sensitivity when it came to ghosts and spirits, that she had a very good psychic antenna.

“Let’s look at our new treasures,” she said, distracting him from the staircase. As she took him by the arm and lead him out of the room, Molly looked over her shoulder and up the stairs, hoping to see something move up there, to confirm what she thought she had seen.  Disappointed, she turned her attention to all of the furniture in the spare room. As they stood in the doorway they looked disbelievingly at the collection of treasures. There was everything a well-equipped turn-of-the-century house would have had…chiffonier, chaise lounge, brass bed, dressing table, kitchen dresser, blanket box, kitchen table, a stack of Bentwood chair…the list went on and on. All in original condition, what a gift! Molly felt her energy drop, “Must be time for some more coffee, and…oh my god, it’s after 1pm! Something to eat would be good too.”

After lunch, they spent the rest of the day unpacking their own belongings, making the house feel a little more like their own. The interior actually did not need much work, it had been locked up for so long with the curtains drawn, the sunlight had had no access to most of the surfaces. However, the drapes were a bit worse for wear and would have to be replaced. Tired and satisfied at the end of the day, they collapsed into bed. Will slept without moving, but Molly was restless, her mind overactive with thoughts of what might be going on in the attic room. Her dreams were vivid, fleeting glimpses of times passed, of people she did not know wearing clothes unfamiliar to her. She felt like the silent audience of a play from a time now forgotten. Eventually she fell into a deep sleep. Bright sunlight woke her, together with a cup of tea from Will.

“Morning!” He greeted her cheerfully. “What a great sleep!”

“For some!” Molly groaned, sitting up in bed and grasping the welcomed hot cup between both hands. Will sat next to her. Neither of them said a word, as they looked around their new bedroom, very pleased with themselves. The day ahead was busy with clearing the timbers out of the hallway to be stored in the barn and more unpacking. The house was quickly starting to feel like home. Will had decided to wait for some extra help before moving the wardrobe into their bedroom. That would give Molly time to give it a good clean and waxing with a little furniture polish. She loved that kind of work and was excited about cleaning up all the pieces of furniture in the spare room. The chaise lounge would provide a good extra bed in the lounge room, and was in remarkably good condition, even the upholstery had held together quite well. Surprisingly, neither mice nor borers had found this treasure trove. Keeping focussed on the jobs at hand did not stop Molly’s mind from fantasising about the ‘lady upstairs’. Maybe tomorrow, she would have the time to go up there. She had asked Will not to explore the attic room just yet, not before her. She wanted to sit quietly in the room, to meditate and listen, and say hello to the spirit of Grace Forrest.

The next morning they woke to the sound of heavy rain, and yes, that dreaded sound of dripping from somewhere inside the house. As most old houses do, there was a leak when it rained heavily. Running from room to room, they discovered it was in the kitchen, thankfully only requiring one bucket. Will examined the leak, “It looks like the problem is where the sheets of roofing iron meet between that of the house and what was originally the back verandah, probably where the kitchen had been extended a long time ago. The original kitchen would have been built on the back of the house and over time, it would have been altered to enable direct access from under the main roof. Repairing this can wait for another day, it’s not a major problem.” Both of them needing a break from unpacking, had other things to do. Will had some work to catchup with on-line, leaving Molly to do what she felt was necessary up the stairs.

Standing at the bottom of the stairs, Molly paused and caught herself holding her breath. No one had been up into The Attic since Grace had died. For reasons yet to be revealed to them, the room had been closed off from the world. Already, even before climbing the stairs, there was a sense of magic in the air. Molly took her time walking up the stairs. Smiling to herself, she stroked the smooth timbers of the curved railing with her hands, and felt the aged wooden treads beneath her bare feet. She counted the steps as she walked up the stairs…

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven and then there was a small landing. Pausing at the top of the stairs, she noticed that the door had been propped open by an old flat iron from the wood stove. For a moment it took her breath away, it had such a sense of familiarity… Then she stepped through the door and looked around the room slowly as she took her time to take in the details. The late morning sunlight shone through the small attic window. Filtered by years of dust, the light caught the particles disturbed by the movement of air, which appeared like glitter, sparkling, suspended in mid air. The room was quite spacious. Covering part of the wooden floor was a handmade rag rug in shades of pink, green, burgundy and white. It was faded in one spot only where the moment of direct sunlight was able to reach it over the years. To the left was a fireplace in alignment with the one in the lounge room directly below, sharing the same brick chimney. The mantle was made of honey-coloured Kauri pine, a simple decorative design carved in the wood either side of the fireplace. Inside of the brick firebox was a caste iron grill and a kettle. In front of the fire, covered in an old dust sheet, was an old sea chest which sat between two wing-backed arm chairs, upholstered in a rich deep dusky pink brocade. To the right side of the room was a cupboard, a small pine kitchen dresser on which was a tea set with 8 cups, saucers, cake plates, a milk jug, sugar bowl, tea pot and a large porcelain water pitcher. They were of a matching design, cream with tiny pink rosebuds. In the alcove behind the door beneath another dust cover, was a caste iron and brass daybed, the caste iron bed posts painted a pale milk-wash blue, and there were small porcelain sections hand-painted with pale pink and blue cornflowers. On the bed was a throw made of fine lace backed with calico and a tasselled fringe. Above it, pulled back behind the bed rails hung a mosquito net made of muslin bordered with lace to match the throw. Directly in front of her, beneath the attic window, she removed a dusty sheet and revealed a writing bureau. Also made of kauri, it was beautifully carved and glowed like warm honey in the sunlight. She imagined that these pieces may have been new furniture for Grace Forrest. There was also an old, oak captains chair, the seat and arms of which were well worn. On the wall, to the right of the kitchen dresser, was an unusual painting in a large, ornate gold gilded frame. Simple in design but quite detailed, it consisted of a pair of feathered wings with a small gold halo above them. They looked like Angel Wings! From the ceiling hung a small chandelier, with partially burnt candles still in place. Molly stood in the middle of the room, not believing her eyes, her heart racing and the energy in her hands hot and buzzing, her whole body tingled with excitement. It gave her the feeling of deja vu, there was a strong sense of familiarity she could not yet find words for, more than just a hunch. Goosebumps raced up her arms and across her scalp, making her hair prickle. Her head swooned slightly. Shaking it off, she looked around the room again.   ‘The dust was not too bad considering the amount of time this room has been left untouched,’ she thought. Molly pulled back the captain’s chair and sat in front of the bureau, and gently touched the smooth polished surface with both of her hands. Again she caught herself holding her breath. Smiling, Molly shrugged her shoulders and relaxed back into the chair. Opening the bureau she found a cedar writing slope, a white porcelain ink pot, a jar of ink, a beautifully crafted quill pen, its handle made of whale bone, decorated with small pieces of colourful paua shell, together with some parchment paper. Beneath the writing slope was a leather insert in the desktop, well preserved as it had been locked safely away inside the bureau. Under this was a drawer with an Art Nouveau style copper handle. She pushed back the chair and gently slide the drawer open. Countless experiences had surprised Molly as a tarot reader and now as she was writing about the Spirit World collecting stories that many would not believe, nothing much rattled Molly these days. But…inside this desk was something that was about to challenge everything she had ever experienced or written about before, or even believed possible. Or maybe she had…

There were several things inside the drawer. The first that caught her eye was a bundle of envelopes made of the finest quality paper and tied in a red satin ribbon. Beneath this was a large pile of hand written and typed papers, a leather-bound journal and a wax sealing kit. She held the bundle of envelopes hesitantly. They felt personal and she looked around the room expecting the old lady to be standing  by her shoulder. Molly felt she needed permission to read these. She closed her eyes and began to imagine what this lady may have looked like, of how she would have done her hair, what kind of dress she may have worn. Did Grace Forrest sit here and write in her bare feet, just how Molly liked to… 

Will’s voice brought her back to the present moment, “Still alive up there?” he called playfully from the bottom of the stairs. “Can I come up?”

“Hmmm? Oh sure Honey, sorry I was lost in a daydream,” she replied vaguely.

“Oooh, I can sense another story coming,” he chided, standing behind her and rubbing her shoulders. “Your muscles are tense, must be from all of that lifting with the move”. 

“Mmmm…that feels sooo good…don’t stop” said Molly, feeling her body melt with his touch. He continued to massage her shoulders gently as he looked briefly around the room. “This will make a really cool office for you, Molly. I’m jealous!” he pouted playfully and bent down kissing her neck, his lips finding hers and they are lost in a moment only lovers understand. “Lets go back to bed,” he whispered in her ear. 

What a brilliant idea, it was perfect timing for a Doona Day, as Molly loved to call them. A day when everything else can wait, and only enjoyable things are done in the bed…writing, reading, eating, drinking tea, coffee, wine and making love. Closing the drawer, she patted the top of the desk fondly, and said quietly, “I’ll see you tomorrow. Look forward to meeting you Grace Forrest”. She stood up to meet Will’s embrace, his arms wrapped around her body pulling it tightly into his. “See, nothing spooky up here Honey,” she reassured him. “Ah but we are yet to meet the ghost of the late Mrs Grace Forrest…woohoo,” he teased as he chased her down the stairs and into the bedroom, he made sure that he had pulled the door to the attic shut behind him. He felt a little unsettled about that room. Tackling Molly at the base of the bed, he pushed her over on her back and pinned her arms down above her head, straddling her. Breathlessly she giggled, giving in without any hesitation, and he pulled the duvet over their heads, closing out the world for the day.

Upstairs in The Attic, something stirred. There was magic in the air. The golden sunlit dust particles began to swirl, spiralling upwards from the floor, creating a form, taking on the shape of a woman’s body. The body belonged to Grace Forrest who chuckled as her form came to life. She dusted down her dress and attempted to straighten her somewhat dishevelled hair, and laughed quietly at herself, “Well, my dear, it has been awhile. Time to tidy up a bit, our long awaited guests have arrived!”

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