She had been looking forward to this for months. After keeping a steady job for a whole year, Helen had finally earned her first paid vacation. Most girls her age would head straight to Mexico, but that just wasn't her style. Instead, Helen chose to spend her two weeks off with her Grandma Evelyn. It was a long trip from the city to the coast, and the taxi ride from the airport seemed to take forever. But it was always worth it. Grandma Evelyn was the only person who shared Helen's obsession with old buildings, ghost stories, and the facinating history of this town.
She was startled back to the present when the car began its bumpy ascent up the brick drive to her grandmother's house. This was the oldest part of town. The houses here had a different feel to them. Helen had read about some of the families who lived along this street, but she could only imagine the things that went on in each home over the several centuries. Each building they passed was larger and more ornate than the last. Some had been converted into stores or law offices, but a few were still just homes. Grandma Evelyn's house sat at the very top of the cliff. Helen became even more fidgety as the taxi climbed slowly up the steep road. Finally her grandmother's house came into view. She gasped as how majestic it looked against the gray, stormy sky.
Helen pushed shut the heavy wooden door and took a moment to soak in her surroundings. Everything was just how she remembered. The floor was dark green marble, and the walls were walnut with hand-carved trim. To the left was the old sitting room, now with a television. To the right was the library, and straight ahead was the grand staircase. The top of the room was lined with portraits of each generation of the Palmer family. The most recent was hung at the far right, a Sears portrait of Helen's family. It included her father, Philip, and her mother, Rachel, posed akwardly behind a 14-year-old version of Helen with braces. At the opposite end were the oldest paintings, too faded to make out certain features. There was one empty space, eight over from the left. Helen vaguely remembered something about it being burned, but the other paintings around it were not damaged. She made a mental note to ask Grandma Evelyn about that story tonight.
Just then she heard footsteps. "Helen... is that you?" a gentle voice called.
"It's me Grandma!" Helen took the stairs two at a time and gave her grandmother a gentle hug. The old woman was so thin that Helen was always afraid of hugging her too hard.
Grandma Evelyn patted Helen's cheek. "I'm so glad you made it in one piece! I know that road can be very slippery when it rains."
Helen smiled. "That's just a good excuse for us to stay inside!"
"I know, sweetie. There's got to be something interesting to do around this old house." They shared a giggle, then Grandma Evelyn continued. "I do have some disappointing news though."
"Let's have the good news first," Granmda Evelyn smiled. "I didn't get a chance to ready the guest room, so you'll be staying in the master bedroom."
"But where will you sleep?" Helen grew serious.
Grandma Evelyn sighed. "I'm afraid something has come up. There's somewhere I have to be tonight. I'm so sorry, dear, there's just no way around it."
"But, Grandma!" Helen felt panic rising in her chest. As much as she adored this old house, the thought of staying there alone frightened her a little.
"Now, now - no worrying. You're a grown woman now, you can fend for yourself."
"When do you have to leave?"
Grandma Evelyn paused. "Well, it's a very good thing you arrived when you did..."
"You're going right now?" Helen interrupted. "Why didn't you tell me sooner?"
"Like I said, I'm very sorry, but this is something I have to take care of."
Helen started to protest further, but she sensed that her grandmother had something else to tell her. "What is it? Is someone sick?"
"Oh no! My mind takes a little longer to get where it needs to go, nowadays." She always joked about her old age. "There is something, though." She paused. "You were always such a smart girl. I've always trusted you to take care of things."
"I know..." Helen was starting to get nervous.
"If you look in the big hall closet, there's a surprise for you. But be careful, it's very old." Grandma Eveyln sighed. "I found some things in the attic, I thought you might like to see."
"What is it?" Helen grinned with delight. For just a moment, she forgot her concerns.
Grandma chuckled quietly. "I must be on my way. Have a good time sweetie! Be careful."
After fixing herself a light dinner, Helen made her way to the big library. She knew exactly where she was headed - the family records. The books there were more complete than the town library. She trailed her finger along a row of dusty books until she found the year she was looking for. There it was, the volume from 1719. The same year of the missing painting from the foyer.
She gently opened the book and a puff of dust rose out of the stiff pages. The writing was so small and faded, there was no way Helen could read the whole book. She began to skim the pages for something of interest. She was more than startled to see her father's name.
On second glance, it wasn't her father's name exactly. Helen's father was Philip M. Palmer, and the name here was Phillip U. Palmer II. She stopped and skimmed the rest of the page. Phillip with two L's had two children. A daughter, Elsie, and a son, Phillip - of course. Both Phillips were well documented over the following pages, but Elsie seemed to be left out. It shouldn't have surprised Helen, since women weren't seen as important back in those times, but something struck her as odd. Elsie's birth was recorded, as well as a marriage 17 years later, but absolutely no details. And as much as Helen poured over the books, she could not find a record of Elsie Palmer's death.