Though we endeavor
Nothing lasts forever
Old walls must tumble
And lived lives must crumble
For no one is free
From the way things must be.
WoodHaven Orphanage had many children, boys and girls, and it was a happy place, nobody stayed for more that a year before they got adopted. Nobody, except Catalina Harvis. Catalina could not get adopted because she could not keep her mouth shut. She could not help saying exactly what she thought and people usually did not like what she thought. Many parents looking to adopt a child treated the orphans like puppies at a pet store, saying things like "this one is too pale" or too fat, or too dumb. When people came to see Catalina, they said she was insolent, rude, overconfident and stubborn. And she was, she hated that she always said the wrong things and always made people angry, but at the same time she was proud that she had guts. She was never fake and she always acted truthfully
Catalina stayed at the orphanage until she was fifteen. She was considered unadoptable. She could only stay at the orphanage for three more years before she was on her own, and she badly wanted a family. Then one year during the fall a couple came down to see her. They were in their early forties, the woman had long blonde hair with little flowers stuck in it, she was tall and not too fat or too skinny. The man had black hair with little gray tufts in it. Altogether they looked very ordinary.
It took three months but finally Catalina was adopted by the Coffman's, the couple who had come to see her. Juliet and Frank Coffman took Catalina home in December. The day of her departure Catalina wandered through the halls bidding farewell to all the kids and mistresses. Catalina sat backward in the Coffman's Mercedes trying to capture every detail of the orphanage where she had spent her whole life.
It was a long trip from WoodHaven to the Coffman's. They drove through many twisting roads, stopping only once for a picnic lunch. Catalina slept most of the way but she was awake for the last stretch of the drive. They drove on a bumpy road then across a mile lone bridge completely consumed by fog. When they passed the bridge, they drove on a curvy road that turned crazily this way and that. The road was dark with tall oak trees on each side and sheets of moss hanging down from them. The trip ended when the car drove through a tall wrought iron gate and pulled up to a yellow house with black trimming.
The house was huge, it looked like a plantation house from one hundred and fifty years ago. There were thirteen windows, and thirteen big white pillars, and thirteen big steps leading up to the massive oaken front door. Yellow rose bushes were planted around the house and the grass was neatly trimmed. Beyond the two acres where the house sat Catalina could see tall oak trees and tall grasses with little flowers poking between the blades. Compared with the drive the house seemed to be in it's own world where it always seemed to be sunny and bright even if it wasn't. Catalina thought it seemed to be a dream world where everything is perfect and yet strangely unstable.
A strong looking man came out from a shed with a shovel, he wore a hat from which bushy black hair stuck out of. He tipped his hat to her and continued on his way. A middle aged woman with red hair the same shade as Catalina's came out from the front door, she had gray eyes that looked just like the fog from the bridge. She called the Coffmans "Sir" and "Madame" they called her Miss Holstrom. Miss Holstrom came down the stairs to help with Catalina's luggage. She spoke with a slightly Irish, slightly English accent as she said "Ah, so this is the young lady Harvis that is to live with us. She's got the same red hair as I've got." Then she disappeared into the house with Catalina's bags.
Juliet Coffman showed Catalina up to her room. It was a huge room with a big window that had long billowy curtains pulled back from it. The bed was covered with a fluffy snow-white comforter; the bed had four posters and an ivy pattern carved into the headboard. The walls were white with a painted stencil of ivy and purple and yellow flowers around the top of the walls. The chest of drawers matched the bed and had the same ivy pattern. The vanity stand had a tall oval mirror with a carved ivy frame. The floors were wooden with throw rugs here and there. There was a comfortable looking chair and bookshelf in one corner. Juliet said this room was the Ivy room, her own was the Rose room, each room had it's own theme.
The Coffmans' told Catalina she would not start school till January so she could have some time to settle down. Catalina spent her first few days searching her new home. She loved to look at each room, there were fourteen in all. There was the Rose room, Ivy room, Oak Tree room, Grape Vine room, Weeping Willow room, Ocean room, Ice room, Music room, Swan room, Lily room, Wildflower room, Meadow room, and Frank's study which was always locked and another room that was also locked which Catalina called the Mystery rooms. Downstairs there was a living room, a family room, a library, a dining room, a kitchen and a glassed in sun room. Catalina had not yet gone to the third floor where the attic was. The basement was simply a room where canned preserves were kept.
During the day Catalina read in the library or took walks in the woods. Sometimes she talked to Juliet who was almost always to be found gardening her perfect golden yellow roses. She never saw much of Frank as he was always locked up in one of the Mystery rooms. Miss Holstrom was fun to talk to, she showed Catalina all sorts of nice things like trick doors. She also told Catalina stories about the nick-nacks like the music box from Germany. Once when Miss Holstrom was cleaning the Rose room she showed Catalina one of Juliet's jewels, a beautiful emerald on a silver chain. "This is Madame's favorite," she said as she dangle the emerald in the sunlight from the window.
Days were happy at the Yellow House. Every evening the Coffmans and Catalina ate together in the kitchen which was cozier than the dining room. Some days Miss Holstrom cooked and some days Juliet cooked, on these days Catalina helped. Once when Catalina was chopping carrots she cut her finger a little, Juliet looked up from her stew and said, "What's a home if there's not a little blood spilt in it." Catalina thought this was a
really weird sounding saying but Juliet just laughed so she passed it off as nothing. Frank was a writer. Once he showed Catalina one of his books but she found it too dark and morbid for her taste since all of his characters were dead people and ghosts. Catalina loved the Yellow House and she never once missed WoodHaven.
One day While Catalina was walking around the grounds she met the
man who had tipped his hat at her. He was the gardener and he was actually not as old as she thought he was. He was about twenty or thirty something with bushy black hair and eyebrows, he was very tanned from living outdoors most of his life. He name was William Benson, he was very reserved and called Catalina "Miss Harvis" when he talked to her at all. She bumped into him one day and he said "You should be careful around here."
"Why?" Catalina asked.
"Because strange things happen here, it's not all yellow roses." He replied.
"Sure it is." She began to walk away but he followed her and asked "What room is yours?"
Catalina was caught off guard by his surprising question and answered "The Ivy room..." She caught herself and added "But it's none of your business" as she left she mumble "crazy gardener." If her heard her he said nothing.
December was almost over and Catalina was thoroughly enjoying her time at the Yellow House. She was looking forward to school in January too.
On New Year's Eve Catalina was walking through the house when she heard a strange noise. She went upstairs and saw that the door to Frank's study was opened just a crack. She looked through. Juliet, Frank, and Miss Holstrom were talking in low voices and she couldn't hear what they were saying. Catalina went to her room to read for a while.
At eleven O' clock there was a peculiar flicker of yellow light changing to purple. Catalina went down stairs to find the family and ask about the lights. As she walked down the hall she noticed that one of the closets was open so she went to close it but it was jammed. She opened it and Miss Holstrom's head quietly rolled out, there was dark red blood everywhere. The head turned and smiled at Catalina. It's lips parted as if it was about to speak. Catalina had never before felt true raw terror, but she did now as she screamed and rushed through the house calling the others' names. She heard Juliet's voice calling to her from the library so she ran to her. Juliet was propped up in a chair with a knife thrust into her chest, other stab wounds dripped blood down the front of Juliet's white blouse and made a pattern that looked like drops of crimson rain slipping down her shirt. Juliet smiled and said not to worry. Fear gripped Catalina's heart, she was completely sure that a killer was lurking in the huge house, she ran for the front door, on her way she saw Frank lying in the side room, his chest was torn open and a beating heart lay next to him. Catalina could only think about getting out as she screamed one more time and reached for the door.
She threw open the door and William Benson pulled her through. He pulled her half dragging down the yard, down the driveway, and down the pitch black road lined with massive oak trees, the hanging moss looked like ghosts in the moon light. Her chest burned and her legs felt like rubber but still William pulled her on. She had fallen three times and her knees were raw, they had been running forever when William tugged her across the bridge. All of a sudden he shoved her over the side. Catalina was enveloped by the dark icy water. She was so tired from the run that she didn't have enough strength to pull her head up. She sank, her mouth and nose quickly filling with liquid, her arms uselessly flailing in the water.
William Benson yanked her out of the water and into a small boat, she coughed and sputtered all the while shivering as he rowed out to the middle of the water. Once in the heart of the lake Benson stopped rowing, Catalina could hear voices calling her name across the black water "Catalina, come back home."
"What's going on?" Catalina demanded as she wrung her hair dry. William told her the story. Miss Holstrom was dead, the Coffmans were dead, the had been for years, and even the house was in shambles. A spell lay over this place almost all year long so that the house and its inhabitants seemed real and alive. On New Year's Eve ever year, the spell broke for a few hours and they were what the really were. Every once in a while they got lonely so they tried to get others to join them, but only dead could live in the yellow house. So for the spell to work they had to kill anyone they brought on New Year's Eve. This was what had happened to Miss Holstrom who had come as a housekeeper. William himself had been an orphan whom the Coffmans adopted to join them. He had seen them in their half dead, half alive form when they tried to kill him but he escaped and tried to runaway but anyone who saw inside the house could not leave alive, so the spell kept him from crossing the bridge. Yet the spell was not on the bridge itself so William lived but could never go back in the house. He became the gardener.
In the morning William rowed Catalina back to the land. He told her she could stay with him " 'cause even though he wasn't much company he was better than dead people." Catalina lived in his cabin with him for the rest of her life. She was always in sight and around the Yellow House but she never again went inside and she never again saw the beautiful Ivy room. Every New Year's Eve as she sits in the boat in the middle of the lake with William, she wishes she had never been adopted, never seen the Coffmans and their wonderful yellow house. And even though she has William she would much rather have been a orphan without any family making her own lonely way in the real world where mile long bridges didn't trap you in their magic and beautiful yellow houses were just yellow houses whose occupants died and whose wall crumbled and fell in time, and who no one ever remembered when they were gone, but that was OK because at least that was how it was supposed to be.