The Secrets of Hawthorne House
by Donald Firesmith Genre: Teen Paranormal Mystery
Fifteen-year-old Matt Mitchell was having the worst summer imaginable. Matt’s misery started when a drunk driver killed his mother. Then Matt’s father moved him and his sister to a small town in rural Indiana, as far as his grieving father could get from the ocean that his mother had loved. At the new high school, three bullies were determined to make Matt miserable. And to top it off, Matt learned that the recluse who lived in the dilapidated Victorian mansion next door was none other than Old Lady Hawthorne, the town’s infamous witch and murderer. Matt’s terrible summer was turning into an awful autumn when something quite unexpected happened. Old Lady Hawthorne’s niece and her three children moved in next door, and Matt met Gerallt.
The sun had just set as Matt, now transformed into a youthful vampire, walked out his front door to join Gerallt and Gareth for their planned evening of house-to-house candy extortion. Rising in the east like a pale pumpkin in the sky, a full moon peeked out from behind wispy translucent clouds. The temperature was dropping rapidly, and Matt drew his cheap black and scarlet cape around him with a flourish before striding out into the gathering darkness.
A thin mist was rising from the dew-drenched grass, forming a low layer of fog that darkened the shadows beneath the row of oaks lining Hawthorne Drive. Matt looked next door at the old Victorian mansion and was amazed by its transformation. Each tall window of the Hawthorne House framed a single colorful candle, burning with flickering flames of yellow, orange, or red. A few candles even burned with the same sickly shade of green that illuminated the bottom of the twin streams of smoke rising from the mansion’s massive stone chimneys. The green glowing smoke bubbling out of the chimney pots rose only a few feet before cascading down the gabled roof to become a low-lying fog. Matt was surprised to see a black shape suddenly swoop through the smoke, only to be followed by another and yet another. Large bats fluttered around the twin chimneys and the three towers, feasting on clouds of ghostly moths seemingly drawn to the pale green smoke. Matt had seen the occasional brown bat before, but never so many and never as big as these.
Only the short attic windows were without candles. Yet, while watching in wonder at the fluttering forms, Matt would have sworn that out of the edge of his vision he had seen a pale figure briefly looking back at him from one of the darkened windows. He looked back at the window, but the ghostly shape had vanished as quickly as it had appeared. It sent a shiver up his spine.
Walking slowly over to the Hawthorne’s gate, Matt admired the fantastic cobwebs that covered their fence, bushes, and even the lower branches of the trees. Not the thick cottony store-bought stuff he’d seen at the neighbor’s houses, they appeared to be real spider webs. Each one was outlined in diminutive droplets of dew and hosted what looked like a large black spider sitting smugly at its center. Matt was impressed; the webs looked expensive, and it must have taken lots of work to drape them so realistically.
The gate creaked mournfully as Matt opened it. Thirteen of the most intricately carved jack-o-lanterns he’d ever seen lined the front walk. Each had a different expression, some friendly and some almost terrifying, and every one worthy of wonder and envy. They were so incredible that Matt thought Gwyneth, her mom, and great aunt must surely have worked all day on them.
The fog was getting thicker. Gazing into the darkness on either side of the twin rows of carved pumpkins, he could just make out fairy rings of large, white toadstools around teepees of dried corn stalks and several giant pumpkins at least a yard across. To his right, what looked like a real skeleton hung suspended by a hangman’s noose from a lower branch of the huge oak in the corner of their front yard. To his left, another pair of realistic skeletons sat hand in hand in the small gazebo next to the fence between their houses. Clearly, Matt thought, the Hawthornes went all out on Halloween.
The covered porch was lined with more of the marvelous jack-o-lanterns. Cobwebs hung from the newly painted gingerbread trim and between the ornately turned spindles of the recently repaired railing. Leaning over to take a closer look at one of the webs, Matt jerked back in shocked surprise. Both the big black spider and its web were real! Turning in amazement, he went to the windows for a better look at the colored candles; they too were real with flickering flames burning yellow, orange, red, or green.
A geek by day, Donald Firesmith works as a system and software engineer helping the US Government acquire large, complex software-intensive systems. In this guise, he has authored seven technical books, written numerous software- and system-related articles and papers, and spoken at more conferences than he can possibly remember. He's also proud to have been named a Distinguished Engineer by the Association of Computing Machinery, although his pride is tempered somewhat by his fear that the term "distinguished" makes him sound like a graybeard academic rather than an active engineer whose beard is still slightly more red than gray.
By night and on weekends, his alter ego writes modern paranormal fantasy, apocalyptic science fiction, action and adventure novels and relaxes by handcrafting magic wands from various magical woods and mystical gemstones. His first foray into fiction is the book Magical Wands: A Cornucopia of Wand Lore written under the pen name Wolfrick Ignatius Feuerschmied. He lives in Crafton, Pennsylvania with his wife Becky, and his son Dane, and varying numbers of dogs, cats, and birds.