The Portrait Ghost
“The Portrait Ghost” is one of the outstanding stories of the first biannual International Short Story Contest 2018 written by Prerna Vijay, Global Indian International School East Coast, Singapore.
The Portrait Ghost
Adelaide Davenport wore a cerulean coloured gown. It had a clinging bodice at the top and puffs and frills all the way from waist to the bottom. Tiny jewels studded in the gown gave a dazzling look proving that even the smallest things can cause the biggest impact. The dark shade of blue bow neatly tied to one corner of the waist was like a cherry on the top. This magnificent gown was worn by an equally charming young lady whose smile added the same effect on her as the bow did to the dress. Beside her stood a pleasant looking Alton, wearing a black coloured tuxedo matching wonderfully with the woman standing alongside him. Their young teenage boy, Calvin stood amidst them. Calvin’s mannerisms were a reflection of his father and he wore a maroon coloured tuxedo. Clarissa, the seven-year-old stood next to her brother, wearing an adorable periwinkle coloured frock with purple studs on it. Alike mother, she wore an everlasting smile on her face. This beautiful family picture hung on the wall with the other wall decorations in the main hall. It had an outstanding flaxen frame but the angle of the frame with respect to the ceiling made it stand out from any other.
As the sun was setting in, the two young lads staring at the picture were just like the two of the four in it. But they were rather agitated than happy at the moment, even though it was they had been looking forward to moving in into this newly bought house and the brand new family portrait on the wall.
"Stop tilting the portrait Clarrisa" Calvin argued.
"I did not tilt it" Clarrisa replied.
"You did, I can see right through those white lies of yours", Calvin said.
"I didn't lie. I'm telling you. I didn't lie", Clarissa screamed.
"Now-now kids what's going on", a voice suddenly joined the conversation.
"Mother! Clarissa is lying again", Calvin said crossing his hands and drawing his brows together in complaint.
"Back to your rooms to your study", the Adelaide said.
"I'll investigate the painting myself ", she said while ushering her kids to their rooms.
Half an hour through her heavy chores of settling in this new house, Adelaide had already been distracted and had herself corrected the frame thrice. She couldn't help but wonder why it kept tilting over all the time. Eventually, she gave up and dragged her feet to the kitchen, when she heard someone screaming.
Adelaide entered the hall room to see a very sad Clarissa.
"What happened dear?" Adelaide asked.
"Mom my story book is not here anymore! I… I kept it right here on this table in the hall but it's not there anymore!" she insisted on truthfulness of her story and her eyes soon welled up tears.
"Now-now the book will be here… come on lets search the room", Adelaide replied.
They searched and searched but the book was nowhere to be found. Giving up, "Okay we shall search for it tomorrow I want you to sleep right now." the Mother said. "
Okay Mommy", Clarissa resigned to her mother’s orders.
Adelaide determined to call it a day after her daughter was finally asleep. In a short while, her footfall on the floor made a distinctive heavy resounding sound as she walked back to her room. As soon as she turned to close the door of her room she couldn’t help but notice. There it was - the family portrait leaning again.
With terrible fatigue taking over the night passed in a wink. Rushing around for the upcoming long day, Clarissa was searching for her book again while Calvin was running errands for their Mother. The children's Father, Alton was finishing his office work while Adelaide was cooking lunch. This was yet another usual quiet day at the Davenports when Clarissa heard a creak in the hallway outside her room. She got up from her scavenger hunt and went to the hall. She saw the picture bevelling over again.
“Daddy the portrait…” she called out frustrated.
“What’s with the portrait” Clarissa’s dad asked from the living room.
“It’s leaning over again”.
“There must be some problem with the hook” Alton said as he folded his newspaper and glasses while he got up to investigate.
Alton and Adelaide walked up to where Clarissa was standing and he plucked the picture out from the wall. He took a second or two before gently placing it back on the wall. He stood in front of the portrait for a minute examining it closely. Right before Alton could turn back, the portrait tilted back to how it was a while ago. There was a deep silence despite the fact that everyone was having a cyclone of thoughts going on in their minds.
The front door creaked open as Alton said “I think we have a problem here”. Calvin entered in from the door wondering whether his father was hinting to disclose another of his pranks.
“We have to call a priest” dad continued his sentence.
Calvin signed in relief that they weren’t talking about him. But then a notion grew up in his head, “A priest? What do we need a priest for?”
“There might be a ghost in this house” father responded.
“But dad you grew us up to believe that ghosts and such paranormal beings don’t exist!”
“How else would you explain a painting tilt up on its own, Calvin?” demanded Alton
“Dad! My book also went missing yesterday!” Clarissa screamed.
“It was right on this table before I left the room, but when I came back, it was gone!”
“Oh?” Alton said looking at Adelaide.
Adelaide nodded in approval. Alton climbed down the stairs and ambled to the telephone in the hall downstairs. He picked up a bright red coloured phone directory. He brought his eyes closer to the diminutive writings in the book. He turned around to the sofa and bent down to pick his glasses up, still keeping his eyes on the book seemingly afraid of losing the number he had found. His hand fidgeted around the sofa. Alton finally gave up focusing on the book and noted that his glasses were not there anymore!
“Where are my glasses Adelaide, did you pick them up?” he called out to his wife.
“No I didn’t! They must be where you left them” a small reply came from the floor above. Alton looked around for a bit and then he finally threw in the towel. He called out for Adelaide and asked her to come down and read out the number for him.
Soon enough the house bell rang and an old but a weird looking priest entered the house. Wearing a big white gown, his hair let down further from his shoulders and his lips were building a very sly smile. He wore a necklace which had a silver pendant of the cross.
“Welcome! Saint Ignatius” Alton greeted the saint.
The saint entered the house and as soon as he sat on the couch he closed his eyes. The saint started mumbling some words. The speed of his speech changed with every different expression his face portrayed. The random selection of words scared Clarissa which sent her withdrawing into her room. The remaining family members glanced at each other exchanging confused looks. The Saint finally stopped saying what he was and rose up from the couch, his eyes endured close.
“YES” his voice boomed in the whole house. This startled the other three people also present in the living room. “WHAT DO YOU NEED” the saint repeated the same sentence twice.
“WHAT DO YOU NEED TO LEAVE THIS HOUSE, HOLY SPIRIT?” The Davenports were now convinced that the saint was talking to an actual ghost. “AH… YES YES.”
“I AGREE…” After a profound altercation a final harmony was concluded. The priest flickered his eyes open like a torch glimmering on to a dark world. He took a heavy breath.
His devious eyes advanced onto every member of the family present in the living room. “I’m sad to say that it has got to this.” The priest conceded.
“Your family… it’s doomed,” he admitted.
“Why what is wrong” Adelaide questioned.
“The ghost in this house has told me a very sad story,” the priest answered.
“Several years ago there lived a good old man here. This man and his family were respected by everyone far and wide. They were well known by the handsome house they inhabited, and whose doors were always open for any passers’ by, who sought help. Help was always given to those who asked for one, in this magical house.
Not long though, there came a villainous man, who grew jealous of this good man. His heart was filled with hatred, cruelty, jealousy and lust. He plotted to take every good thing from this gentleman and he almost succeeded in his plot. One night, he burnt this house down, and succeeded in bringing down most of it but for this one strong wall in the hall, which didn’t burn because of a very mysterious reason. Unfortunately, the couple lost their lives in this fire. This wall was an epitome of true love of the good man and his wife who built it brick by brick, and no fire could burn it down. The villain however, bought off this land and rebuilt a house. But he and his descendants were soon forced to leave this area completely.
The worried soul of the good man lives in this wall and that’s the reason why the picture keeps tilting as he tried to keep a watch out for evil. I think he feels that his descendants were not paid the price of the wall which they deserved. In order to help the soul rest in peace you must pay off 2,000 pounds to his descendants- the price of the wall”, the priest finally explained the entire crisis.
The family was left spell bounded and speechless. “Who… who is the… the descendant do you happen to know?” Alton asked. “Yes I happen to know,” the saint whispered raising his sly eyebrows, “I.. I’m the descendant,” he announced.
A large sum of money left the pockets of the Davenport family all finally relieved that the ghost will stop haunting them. “It has been a really long day, kids. You all should go and get some sleep” Alton said as he yawned.
Everyone went to their rooms to sleep. The varied snores played a band in the house clearly showing that the Davenports had a very long day. It was about four in the morning, Adelaide woke up to get a cup of water. She got out of bed and walked down the hallway. She couldn’t help but notice the portrait in the hall- and Lo!, it was leaning again once more!.
“Alton?!! Wake up!!! You need to see this!” urged a horrified Adelaide.
By 5 am everyone were up and staring at the picture wide-eyed.
“Mom didn’t that white gown uncle scare the ghost away?” Clarissa asked.
“We thought he did” Alton replied.
“Shouldn’t we be getting our money back?” Adelaide asked.
“No, maybe we can forget about the priest for a while and call in ghostbusters,” Alton said.
“And waste more money?” Adelaide asked.
“I know we shouldn’t do this but we need to get rid of this problem before it eats us up.” Alton said.
“Sigh…” Adelaide’s expression changed. “I guess you are right, we will call them in today at 9…”. Adelaide said. “Let’s go and sleep until then” Alton advised.
Ghostbusters were called in and as they said they were going to be coming over at 10pm the next day. The day flew past quietly and mostly uneventfully. The house unlike the rest in the street glowed up and as the clock hit 10 pm, the doorbell rang in the house, breaking the eerie silence of the house. Four people entered the house each dressed up rather funny. Clarissa couldn’t control her giggles so she burst out laughing. Calvin took her to the room for a bed time story. The four men set up their instruments needed for the night. As the instruments were turned on, random beeping sounds started humming in the house. “I got one!” the smallest of the four yelled. The other three ran behind the first and they ran around the house like youngsters fooling around the house. “It’s here! Come on guys” the man screamed again. The whole night passed away playing hide and seek, and the Davenports had to give up bothering to follow every single details of the chaos the house was put in. Sun rose for the exhausted couple, and the ghostbusters left the house with pockets filled and leaving the family assured of peace.
“We shouldn’t have called them either,” Adelaide said, “I told you it was a bad idea.” She pointed to the angular painting in the afternoon, feeling completely drained and cheated.
“What should we do?” Alton queried feeling helpless as the head of this family.
“Maybe let’s hold this off for today, and focus on your father’s visit this afternoon; maybe he will fetch us a better solution,” said Adelaide.
Both their souls drained off from exhaustion, they looked a contrast dull looking pair far from the dazzling looks in the portrait. They went about busily in daily chores, and preparation for the grandpa who was favourite for the kids. Kids’ excitement knew no bounds today, as they waited eagerly for the gifts grandpa always brought for them.
Alton went to collect his father in law from the neighbourhood station as the clock chimed 10 am. As soon as the car pulled up in the driveway, the house came into a rock and roll, as the kids scurried to greet their grandpa. Rushing and racing past each other both the kids were pushing the other back in order to win the race. Adelaide opened the door, and hugged grandfather. The rumbling from the racing kids suddenly heard a loud and audible crash. Kids had been pushing each other down the hallway, and had hit the picture on the wall, bringing it crashing down in smithereens. This sent the two kids petrified to the spot and adults to rush first to see their kids to safety. While Adelaide and Alton were hugging the kids to assure safety, grandpa Davenport was staring at the smithereens curiously. Alton was the first one to catch and follow his gaze. The picture had opened up to reveal a strange looking golden ball like thing, which had fallen out of its gut.
It only took an instant for Alton, to realise the reason for the painting to adamantly roll over to one side, and to realise what a fool of an engineer he had been, going around for the priests and the ghost busters, while the answer was plain and logical for a trained mind like him. Grandpa was the most amazed of all, as he tried to decipher the strange quizzical but yet, relieved, expressions on the face of his children.