Bennett Scott heard a creak, like someone stepping on a weak floorboard. His eyes opened wide. There it was again, now in the hall not far from his door. He definitely was not imagining it, and no one else was in the old Victorian house, except Mara, who was running the electric mixer in the kitchen downstairs at that moment.
Ben, a lanky sixteen-year-old with wavy auburn hair, stepped to his bedroom door and quietly eased it open. He peered surreptitiously into the hall. She was there again! Not more than ten feet away, he saw the same figure he had seen two nights before, an attractive but rugged looking woman, apparently in her forties, wearing a medieval-looking leather jacket. This was not his “overactive imagination,” no matter what the Professor thought.
The phantom’s head began to turn in his direction. He quickly closed the door. He wasn’t imagining that she was transparent either. Whether she was a ghost or not, this time he had seen the painting at the end of the hall right through her body.
The Professor had scoffed when Ben had told him about seeing a ghost, and Mara had shivered and said he shouldn’t fool around with such ideas. But something was there in the hall now, and if supernatural beings actually existed, there was one that Ben definitely did want to see. After taking a moment to work up his courage, he called through the door. “Mom? is that you?”
There was no answer.
Opening the door again, he looked out into the hall. No one was in sight. Had he imagined it? His eyes could be playing tricks on him, and those mysterious noises might be no more than the groaning of the creaky old house.
To check his memory out, he had to take another look at the woman in the photograph on the Professor’s bureau. Venturing out into the hallway, he walked cautiously toward the other end, feeling like a four-year-old. He was going to the master bedroom, as he had so often gone during his childhood, to see the picture of the woman the Professor refused to discuss. His guardian, who was usually kindly in his gruff way, got angry whenever Ben had tried to press him about the photograph, but that didn’t stop Ben from imagining his own answers.
The doorknob to the master bedroom squeaked as he opened it, and Ben winced. He didn’t want Mara to know he was invading the Professor’s private quarters. Mara was the Professor’s cousin and housekeeper, Martha Gaines, who lived in the tiny matching white cottage just across the creek that ran through the middle of the Professor’s oak-shaded yard. She was the gem of the household, cooking delicious meals, cleaning, and trying to keep track of Ben. When Ben got hurt, it was Mara who had always patched him up. When Ben was worried, it was Mara who reassured him.
Yet, as close to Ben as she was, Mara had never been willing to talk with Ben about that picture or his parents. All Mara would tell him was that she hadn’t been around in those days and wouldn’t pass on gossip about things she hadn’t seen for herself. His parents seemed to be the one subject that could make her grumpy, and Ben vividly remembered the pain of the Professor’s belt in the spankings he’d received for upsetting Mara when he was young.
Ben had quickly learned to squelch his questions and avoided pressing either his guardian or Mara about his parents. All that he knew about his mother was the story of her being “lost,” as the Professor put it. He knew even less about his father, who had never been mentioned in accounts of his mother leaving the infant Ben under the Professor’s care.
Returning his thoughts to the reason he was sneaking into the Professor’s sanctuary, Ben stepped quietly into the darkened room and went across to the mahogany dresser. He picked up the photograph in an old gold frame next to his guardian’s prized sharpshooter trophy.
Now, holding the picture up in the light from the hall, Ben again studied her image. She was even prettier than the figure he’d seen—or imagined he’d seen—in the hallway, but the stern expression was similar. The face in the photograph had always seemed tense to him. With a wry smile, he admitted to himself that, after all these years, he still entertained the childhood fantasy that she was his mother and that his father was the Professor himself.
Suddenly, a motion in the glass covering the picture caught Ben’s eye. The transparent woman was briefly reflected there. Ben spun around, trying to see the apparition directly. The doorway was empty.
Ben dropped the picture and ran to the door, but there was only empty hallway.
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