Echoes of the Lost Book One
By Tara B. Dobbs (C) 2021
Chapter One: The Path
Grief was heavy on Frankie’s mind. He had graduated from Lowell High School three days ago. Forlorn, his heart heaved. His high school girlfriend, Tiffany, had taken her life a mile into the woods a week before. The memories of that moment plagued his mind; momentary flashes strewn across his eyes. Showing him the few steps to Tiffany’s front door. A moment more, the memory sank upon Frankie’s ears.
Her father said she should have come home for dinner. Then they heard the echo of a gunshot. Within the last few seconds Tiffany’s wavy red hair hid her face. Frankie could still feel the echo of the gunshot blasting right through his eardrums. He wanted to get away from the memories of his darling redhead.
Grappling with unending questions, Frankie drowned his sorrows in booze. The only place he could think of to hide, even for the day or maybe into the evening, was the abandoned Geraci Mansion five miles north of his house.
Frankie walked alongside the curving, two-lane road of the mansion, checking every so often for any oncoming traffic in case a fool should strike him down. The waking summer, only early June, was a hot one in the afternoon sun. The cool shade of the broad maple and oak trees clustered along the road was a welcome sight. Pulling a water bottle from his backpack, Frankie took a swig. He walked off to the side of the road in a collection of unkempt grasses for a mild rest.
Even though Frankie was a man now, eighteen, he still didn’t want to risk catching a ride with anyone. Not even his friends if he could help it. Driving around town was out of the question. With funds tightened to care for his father in the hospital, an extra car was not possible. It wasn’t uncommon for a teenager at his age to not learn to drive, nevertheless.
As Frankie trudged through the tall grass toward the mansion, he recalled the myth of Sisyphus in Tartarus. Forever trapped, rolling a boulder for eternity. Frankie would face something far more serious.
Keeping to the partly kept grassy edge of the road as a walkway, Frankie sighed with relief. The beginning of the black iron fence line with unkempt hedge rows marked the property. A weathered look to the simple spear shaped tops showed the rust of time in decades of wear. After a quarter of a city block’s worth of fence, the simple French flourished gate adorned with a large “G” came into view. To Frankie’s delight, the padlock hung closed, as it should be. The decades-old moss covered “for sale” sign leaned to the side.
With sweaty hands, Frankie held onto the chain to catch his breath. He gazed at the large Colonial-style residence. A wisp of Tiffany’s sweet, freckled face appeared in his mind’s eye. His heart leapt into his throat with the threat of tears.
Trailing the fence, Frankie inspected every few bars in case one was loose enough to squeeze through. Finding none, he groaned as he made his way around to the other side of the property. The only entry way he knew of was the backyard wooden gate. When he was only twelve, he happened upon the mansion while out with friends exploring the town. Going farther ahead than the other three boys with their bikes, Frankie happened upon the sight. Later, he discovered that his three classmates had ditched him. No matter, Frankie’s young mind had thought, this place is far more entertaining.
As he remembered, the busted wooden gate remained untouched. He still possessed a short, thin stature that would easily get him through the break in the wood door. Too bad someone had not yet vandalized the iron bars of the fence line. Through the decades, most of Lowell’s wayward children had left the property alone. The weather wasn’t so kind to the old mansion of two hundred years, though.
The long backyard had grown wild more and more with each season’s passing. Frankie had even held it upon himself to test the ages of the oaks and maples that sprung up over the years. During summer breaks, Frankie would lug yard tools to weed out some of the backyard. His main goal, though, were the saplings. He didn’t want too many trees taking over the grounds. The well-worn four trails from all his loving work remained.
Between the old wild trees, Frankie could make out the mansion with its dark painted wood siding. Large chunks of paint were missing here and there. The occasional wind-blown broken tree branch was stuck dangling in windows. Between the cracks of the patio brick was a lush carpet of moss. No matter the damage it endured over the years, Frankie loved every nook and cranny.
The afternoon sun sat lower in the sky. The shade of the trees cooled the breeze coming through. Frankie sat for a little while to rest.
“Someday, dear Geraci Mansion, you will be mine. I promise,” Frankie said as he got up from his rest to head into the building. But with caution, as always.
Up to this point, Frankie had never dared venture into the building. He always hung out back on the wooden steps away from prying eyes of suspicion. Every so often, he would peer through the grimy windows to take a peek of the ground floor. Protective of his future investment, Frankie longed to walk inside. But the mere chance of breaking a piece of history kept him back. He loved this house not only for himself but out of respect for the Geraci family he had grown to know and love.
Swallowing his fear, Frankie creaked the door open and strode inside. Dust caked every horizontal surface, including protruding freezes on the mahogany panel walls. Encircling a large square black coffee table sat three dark leather couches.
Something seemed out of place with the table. Marcus Geraci had remodeled the old Colonial twice. Later, his nephew Eric did another remodel. Taking out a main wall support had vastly opened the space that would become the living room. Two opposite end staircases along the wall lead to the second floor beckoning Frankie to explore.
Frankie rose before the marble fireplace, gripping the mantle and steadying the oncoming grief within his heart. The tangible memory of Tiffany’s touch across his hand forced him to acknowledge his grief at last.
His cries echoed for a moment in the stillness as his backpack slipped from his shoulder onto the floor. The two bottles of booze tattled together inside. He covered his mouth, instinctively muffling his vocal cries. Frankie dropped to his knees before the fireplace. Holding himself up with both hands, he wailed. His shattered heart echoed up the chimney and out into the coming evening sky.
With tears streaming out of his blue eyes, Frankie groped for the backpack. Sliding the pack close and unzipping the main compartment, he pulled out a half empty bottle of whiskey. The bottles had been part of his father’s collection from the special cabinet. They were his father’s own prescription to battle his pain-ravished body. It would send his father to the hospital for months at a time. Frankie had never even had a single whiff of beer at the parties he attended. Taking his first taste of whiskey today would no doubt be memorable.
Twisting the cap off with a pop, tears choking at his throat as he wrapped his lips around the bottle’s head, he tipped it up. The spicy, warm, golden-brown liquid teased his lips and tongue for a moment before barreling down his throat, causing Frankie to cough and cry at the same time. It didn’t take him long after his second swig to understand the phrase “find your limit.”
He would go for more later, but for now, it was enough. It hadn’t stopped the tears from falling. His wailing cries echoed from his voice box into the empty old house, shaking dust from the rafters.
An hour passed and his tears dried on his face, leaving rivers of salt behind. His light brown, wavy hair was messed up from running his fingers through it in a rage as he had wept. Holding onto the fireplace mantel, his feet slipped from under him. His hands grasped for purchase on one of the daintily dressed female art nouveau statues. Frankie stepped back. A hotness rose in his cheeks as his fingers wrapped around the small form of a breast.
“Oh, pardon me, miss.” Rubbing his neck in embarrassment, he moved away, turning his gaze up the staircase. Stumbling a bit, he braced himself against the mahogany wall. The whiskey’s glorious courage coursing through his veins. Frankie ascended the stairs, cautiously feeling for any loose boards beneath his feet.
At the top was a walkway to another room, which he assumed was a guest bedroom. Turning his attention to the slightly darkened hallway, he saw double mahogany doors. Faded brass vertical handles denoted their age. Taking out his flashlight from his back pocket, Frankie stepped forward. His hand wrapped around the cold brass handle as he pulled slowly, checking if it was locked. With that tiny tug, the door groaned open, allowing Frankie to open it all the way. His flashlight illuminated the interior, exposing an all-consuming black room.
Scattered along the walls were children’s toys from various periods. Wood carved lead figures and a toppled over wooden rocking horse. The room was far too long to be a child’s room. A playroom for children, perhaps, but still too long for such a place. Maybe it was a ballroom? But that would be silly, since the living room was far larger for such needs.
In the furthest end stood an old, pitted brass bed frame. Atop it still laid a feather down mattress. A collection of black and white houndstooth quilted comforters and discolored white sheets lay haphazardly atop the bed. Like everything in the house, the bedding appeared to have been moved by David Geraci one last time. Leaving it unmade since.
Scanning the room, he made a note of the boarded-up fireplace against the main wall. An open wardrobe with clothes still hung inside. Frankie’s attention was drawn to a particular lump poking from behind a wood wall panel. Kneeling for a closer look with the flashlight, he found a large wooden box.
Placing the flashlight under his armpit, he found a brass latch at the side of the box and opened it carefully. The metal hinges whined as they moved. Shining the light into the box, a shimmer of gold embossed leather edging caught his eye. Wrapping his fingers around the spine and front of the book, he lifted it, quick to discover the weight of such a piece of work. How many pages did the binding hold? The volume was slightly larger than an average man’s chest and nearly as long. In the center, not embossed in gold, was a coat of arms.
Laying the book on the dusty floor, Frankie opened the leather cover to the first page. The spine creaked ever so slightly, as did the first page, as though it was made of heavy parchment. Basic printer press paper of the late 1800s wouldn’t look quite like this. These pages seemed to be far older than they appeared.
Turning to the next page, Frankie’s eyes widened as a gasp escaped his lips. Scribed on the page flourished, medieval style calligraphy. Dark blue and silver inks adorned the first letter of an unfamiliar word. The letter itself appeared to be the letter ‘B’ written in dark red ink. The rest of the letters completing the word were in black. His eyes sparkled with joy at the beautiful penmanship. Having taken French in high school and dabbling a little in Gaelic and Latin, a wave of confidence came over him as he turned a few more pages.
Placing the book back into the box and closing it, Frankie gathered the treasure into his arms. He dared not hope this found treasure could be his. Upon exiting the bedroom, a darkly dressed man stood in his path. Frankie stumbled back with a shriek, the book box slipping from his grasp. In a flash, the stranger stepped forward and caught the box with both hands. Opening his eyes, the flashlight still on the man before him, Frankie sighed in relief. Frankie could only stammer a response as the stranger spoke for him.
“Stealing from private property, are we?” the man said, his blue eyes scolding Frankie. Opening the book, the man allowed the flashlight to brighten the contents. “This is not yours, boy! Where did you pluck this from?”
Stepping back, stammering a reply, Frankie swallowed his guilt hard.
Taking a moment, the man corrected his brash behavior as he read the fear emanating off the young man’s body. “I’m sorry. Let me introduce myself.” He bowed and his long ponytail slid to the side against his back. “The name’s Ambros Hayemore. And you are?”
A lump formed in Frankie’s throat. His voice shaking, he replied, “Frankie Bellington…I’m..I’m sorry if this is your house. I…”
Raising a hand to cut him off, Ambros said, “It is for sale after all. It’s not my house yet.” Looking the young man over, he added. “You don’t look to be quite old enough to be in the market for a house, let alone one such as this.”
The sting of his age acknowledged; Frankie took a breath to counter the stranger. “I would like to buy it someday. If the market holds and I do well enough in my adult life, it will be mine.”
Ambros snickered and held the boxed book in front of him, wiping away some dust. “You love this place that much?” Ambros smirked. “What would you do with such an old house as this?” Before Frankie could answer, Ambros continued. “I have a proposition for you, Mr. Bellington. If you can buy this house before you’re forty, then it’s yours. If not, I’ll take it off the city’s hands.”
Frankie chuckled, finally able to relax. “What about the book?” Frankie pointed, still feeling the leather under his fingers from earlier. Like the Geraci Mansion he fell in love with, this book was gathering tight against his heart. It could be said that this was a redirection of pain into something positive. Hopefully not obsessive with a touch of madness.
“Since neither of us is the owner of the house, and no one else is here,” Ambros winked, “You can keep it. I care not to lug something like this around. I’m far too busy to keep track of it.” Ambros transferred the book back to Frankie with care. It was as though he were bestowing the keys to the house itself, holding the book close to his chest like a newborn babe. Ambros watched him closely. Frankie’s role in his quest slowly revealed itself to Ambros.
Stepping aside and letting Frankie out of the room, Ambros followed a few steps behind as they descended the stairs to the main floor. “Nice to meet you. I should head home,” said Frankie. Kneeling by the fireplace, he took off his backpack. Frankie placed the half empty whiskey bottle and its mate into his pack. Gathering the box once more, cradling it tight, Frankie hurried toward the front door.
To Frankie’s surprise, the front gates were open for an easy exit. He ran for the road, leading him back into town. Once he turned the corner, the mansion behind him, chills coursed through his body and a jolt of energy propelled him forward. After a mile on Garber Street, he gave in to hitching a ride home.
Once home, Frankie gathered his house keys from his pocket. The porch light flickered on, making Frankie startle with a momentary bout of guilt. What would his mother do to him for being out past dinner time? Not hearing anyone making their way down the hall to greet him, Frankie opened the front door with slow ease. The hall was quiet. The light wasn’t even on, making him even more aware of the looming doom of his mother’s presence.
Turning on the hall light, Frankie sighed a moment of relief as he eyed a brief note left on the mini hallway table. Wanting to be sure he and the book came home safe, Frankie hadn’t even noticed his mother’s car not in the driveway.
“Mom must be with Dad at the hospital,” Frankie mused with a somber air as he picked up the note. Sure enough, that’s exactly where his mother was tonight. ‘Dona and Frankie: I’ll be home by noon or later. Be smart. Do whatever you want.’ Frankie chuckled, “Already did that, Mom.”
Laying the box gently onto the dining table. Frankie unpacked the booze, placing them back in the cabinet. Returning his attention to the box, Frankie gathered it back into his arms. In his room upstairs, he went to study the book immediately. Within moments of entering his bedroom, a shuffle of bare feet on the carpet came up behind him.
“You’re home late. Mom’s going to be upset,” thirteen-year-old Dona, Frankie’s little sister, said as she leaned against the wall.
“You must not have been out of your room since Mom left to visit Dad. She left a note downstairs on the hall table.” Frankie pointed down the small hall toward the stairs.
“Oh, she did? You sure?” she asked with a gasp of surprise.
“Go see for yourself,” Frankie said as he slipped into his room, closing the door as though he were hiding all he had from her young eyes.
She slipped her foot into the doorway before it closed. “Hey, what you got there?” she asked as she peered through the opening.
“Mind your business. It’s a library book,” Frankie said. “Love you, sis, but could you…?” he motioned to her foot. She looked down, smiled, and slipped her foot out of the opening. “Thank you.” With a click, the door closed. Not peeling himself away from the door yet, he pressed his ear close enough to the door to listen. Sure enough, his sister went downstairs. A scuffle of paper unfolding in her hand.
With a sigh, Frankie moved toward his brown well kept bed, laying the box down as you would a baby on soft cloth. With a flick of his fingers, the clasp fell open. Hands shaking, Frankie opened the box as though it were the first time. The hinges groaned just as they had before. The ceiling lamp brightened the brown leather cover and specs of gold leaf sparkled. The coat of arms could be viewed more clearly now—a three-pronged shield with a side profile opened rose. Atop the shield lay a unique crown with sweeping curves; contrary to the common English or French crowns of Medieval Europe. Frankie’s history studies came in handy.
Thoughts escaped him as his eyes feasted on the next pages he studied. Turning each page, he treated them as delicately as dry autumn leaves about to crumble between his fingers. Surprised by the page’s durability, Frankie began to accept that he didn’t have to be so gentle. He inspected each page with a critical eye for penmanship and structure, and he fell further into a curiosity about what lay before him.
Taking a moment to stretch after sitting for so long on the floor, Frankie took to clearing off his desk. He gathered his tools—fresh lined notebook, red pen, English to Gaelic and English to Latin books. Then he set to work.
Frankie had plenty of time to get himself into college, wanting to start next fall. He knew he would have to take care of his mother and little sister for a while. Suspecting his father’s last breaths were close, Frankie’s plan was to stay home until all was settled. Besides, if it came right down to it, he would have to work a regular job during this difficult time. What better time to get into real estate? He would be that bit closer to acquiring his dream home and proving that eccentric man wrong.
At close to three in the morning, Frankie had a breakthrough. Most of the text was a mix of Gaelic and Latin, with many flourishes of a whole unfamiliar language mixed in. The one sentence he could decipher, having written it down in his notebook, read—”Blessing to those who see. Returning to the Path should never be.”
Pleased with the work he had done, even in one sentence, Frankie bookmarked his place and closed the book and placed it back in the box. Now came the hard part. Where to stash it? He placed it high atop the furthest corner shelf of his closet, covering it leisurely with a shirt atop it.
Turning off the bedroom light and not caring to kick off the day’s clothes, he sluggishly crawled into bed as though pulling a cocoon over his body. Within minutes, he fell into the Dreaming.
The darkened space encased Frankie’s wits to silence as he moved slowly forward. Far into the distance, a single high-backed chair took shape. Wooden legs as lion paws grew from flattened light below to give form to a supposed floor. From the legs, the seated cushion fabric formed olive green, with armed sides topped with curved wood and beaded brass to the upholstery all along the edge of the chair. Frankie, curious with a touch of fear, ventured closer to the chair as it finished its appearance with a curved inward backing, the olive green fabric patterned with a flourish of darker green roses and medieval leaves adorned throughout. Gradually, Frankie moved to face the front of the chair. A male figure with long, pale blond hair sat upon it. His arm was propped up with his head leaning into his curled fist.