Isabel’s Ballroom

Isabel Jane Calhoun

Dear Daughter

Dear Friend

June 5th, 1989-March 25th, 2005

Upon this piece of stone she is just a name and a date. To me, she was a friend, an inspiration, and a reason to live. I guess I should also add that I knew her for a total of about 5 hours. Looking back at it, I wonder the same thing again and again: would it have happened if we didn’t meet? I know that it is worthless to ponder this now, as her body lays six feet below us, but I can’t stop wondering.

Those hours that I spent with her were the best, the worst, the most exhilarating, and the most frightening moments of my life. I’ve gone over the time I spent with her again and again. I’ve come to the conclusion that I made 3 mistakes while with her. Those mistakes brought her to where she is today. If I had only known what I know now, she’d be standing here beside me. That’s not how it worked out though. All I can do now is close my eyes and remember that beautiful face of hers…

Mistake I

It was one of those perfect Fridays. The type when the sun is up with the clouds, making a perfect union between warm and cold. The wind barely breezes, giving you the feeling of freedom. That’s how it was when school let out on the evening of March 25th. It truly was a perfect Friday. You could tell by the smile that every kid on campus had.

Then, why wasn’t I smiling? I should have been one of the happiest kids in school. Instead, a cold feeling had been growing in my stomach for the past few weeks. I started feeling like I was turning into one of those kids at school who acts all sad and gloomy just to get attention. When I thought about it, I had nothing to be depressed about. My grades were great, and so were my friends. I had just gotten my license the week before. I just didn’t understand it.

That’s when I saw her. She must have been new because I sure would have remembered a face like that. It was her brown eyes that drew you in. They were those shy, withdrawn eyes. The type that look like they’re sinking back into their sockets. Her hair was flowing, light brown, and just beyond her shoulder. Beyond that, she just followed the styles. If it weren’t for those eyes, she would have blended in with every other girl in that school. I couldn’t just sit back and stare.

“Hi.” It was a pretty simple greeting, but she jumped a little, as if she wasn’t expecting anyone to talk to her.

“Hi.” That was the first time I heard her voice, and it was like an angel’s. We talked for a while. This was her first week in town. They had moved here from New York, but she wouldn’t tell me why. She did say that she was enjoying the small-town lifestyle though. After a nice conversation, we noticed the empty halls.

“Do you have a ride?”

“My dad said that he would pick me up, but I doubt that he will.”

“Oh, well, I just got my license last week. Do you want a ride?” That was mistake number one. If I had never asked that question, everything would be fine today. I would have never have gotten involved in the things to come. But, of course, that was not the case. She agreed to it and before I knew it, I was driving though the richest neighborhood in the city.

“You live here?”

“Yeah, my dad made a fortune as a trader on Wall Street. It’s the one at the end of the street.”

When she said that, my heart almost stopped. 611 Evergreen Avenue. That house was the reason this small town was known on a national level. Five years ago a happy family of nine lived happily in this mansion. One night in midsummer, the wife of the house got a call from the hospital. Her husband had been in a major car accident. He died that night. The following night was the real story. The police were called to the house after a neighbor called in to report possible gunshots. When they got to the house, they found every child in their own bed, with a bullet wound between each of their eyes. A note was found on the woman’s bed saying that the house was her husband’s. His death would not change that. They never found the woman. Many people believed that the police just gave up searching through the endless rooms and hallways looking for her. People have been afraid to even approach the house ever since.

“Do you want to come in and stay for dinner?” At that time I was a little to overwhelmed to notice the hint of fright she had in her voice. I was ready to turn down the invitation when I looked over at her. It was those eyes again. There was no way I’d be able to reject the invitation.

Mistake II

The driveway leading up to the mansion was long enough to make it feel as if we were no longer connected with the rest of the world. The clouds above us grew nearer and darker as we approached the house. By the time we parked, rain was starting to fall, and the sun could not be seen. As I got out of the car, I couldn’t help but shiver. Isabel seemed to be affected the same way. It was one of those houses that leaned over you. I thought I could see a slight mist surrounding the house, but I just assumed it was coming from the falling rain. The house itself was darker than the clouds that now consumed the sky. It had plenty of windows, but as we got closer you could see that each one had its curtains closed. The front door had to be at least ten feet tall. It was made purely of wood, making it look like the entrance to an old cathedral.

She pushed the front door open, sending the echo of the creaking door through the house. The inside felt old and musty. You could barely see the dust building up on the wooden walls because it was so dark. I shivered again, but this time it was because of the cold. It felt colder in there than it did outside.

“Here, I’ll show you around. I’ll show you my favorite room first.”

She took me through the hallways. I heard pieces of creaking wood echoing through the hallways. As we walked, I tried to count how many doors we had passed, but I had lost count after 50. After what seemed like an hour of traveling through the tall, cold, and dark hallways, we arrived at our destination. It was at the end of one of the several hallways. They were double doors and even taller than the one at the entrance. She pushed them open and I stood there in awe.

It was a ballroom. It was the exact opposite of every other room we had passed through. The lights from the chandeliers above shone light upon the barren wooden floor below. The massive windows on the other end of the room were in the form of an arch. The curtains pulled on them were not as dark as the ones that covered the rest of the house. Portraits of people from the past covered the walls in places where there were no windows. I took just a few steps into the room, and I felt a freedom that had been repressed by the rest of the house. For the first time, I saw Isabel smile. That smile quickly faded when a voice echoed through the house.

“Isabel. It’s time for dinner. Make sure to bring your friend.” When I looked back over at Isabel, the glee was gone from her eyes. It was now back to the sullen look she had when I first saw her.

“How did he know I was here?”

“It’s better not to ask questions. Come on.”

That was mistake number two. To this day I’m still confused about the relationship between the two of them. I still don’t know how her father knew I was there. There were so many questions I wanted to ask her. I passed up this opportunity to ask, assuming I could just ask them some other time. Little did I know that that was my last opportunity.

We wandered back through the mess of hallways until we reached what looked like the dinning room. This room was just as dark as the others. If you looked up, you would have noticed the lack of a ceiling. I assumed there was a ceiling, but it was probably consumed in darkness. Sitting at the table was a very business looking man. He had on what looked like an expensive suit and tie, his hair was perfect, and his handshake was firm. His voice was the problem. It sounded like the voice of an aging redneck with a beer belly.

“Hello, I’m John Calhoun. Please sit down, I just made some spaghetti.”

We all at down at the table and began eating. For a businessman, his small talk was weak. He seemed to be more focused on Isabel, as if he were angry at her bringing me here. I quickly became uncomfortable with the situation. I gradually found more and more interest in the spaghetti until John finally talked.

“Please excuse me.” He sat up from the table and left the room. I looked over at Isabel. Her eyes were filled with what looked like worry. We sat there in silence as the rain outside began to pick up. The spaghetti in front of us sat there, cold and untouched. I shivered once again. Then, just outside the house, a strike of lightening flashed. It was followed by thunder that shook the house. We sat up from the table. That was when we heard it. A gunshot echoed through the hallways.

Mistake III

With a strike of fear, we rushed back through the hallway, following the echo of the gunshot. It didn’t take long until we realized that it had come from the ballroom. We ran through the dim hallways until we finally got there. As we pushed our way through the double doors, another strike of lightening flashed outside the ballroom windows. The power went out, but the light from the flash allowed us to see the figure of a businessman lying in the center of the ballroom with a bullet wound between his eyes. A scream louder than the thunder erupted from Isabel. The flash of lightening had disappeared and we were shrouded in darkness. The lights had gone out. Isabel latched to my shoulder, sobbing.

My voice was trembling as I talked, “We need to get out of here.”

I turned around with Isabel still grabbing onto me and started back through the hallway. She was still sobbing. I could hear the rain outside, pouring down harder than ever before. I tried to feel my way through the hallway. I had been through that hallway three times before and I could almost visualize the way out. If only I had counted the number of doors.

Another flash of lightening flashed just outside, lighting up the hallway for just a moment. For just that moment I could see the front door. I was ready to dart for the door when a gust of cold air passed by us. I felt Isabel’s hand slip away from me. That was mistake number three. The hallway was shrouded in darkness, once again. I started yelling out her name. I couldn’t leave without her. Then, with another flash of lightening, I heard that awful sound again. The sound of a gunshot echoed through the hallway. I knew what had happened. The rest was just a blur. I got away from that place as fast as I could.

And now I stand here, looking down at her name. I will always remember her. Those eyes, that smile, the scream, and the sobs. I will remember it all. I may have only known her for those few hours, but I will remember her. Isabel Jane Calhoun.

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  1. Pingback: Day 39 in Peace Corps Morocco | Richard T. Reilly

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